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Jump In, Nobody Cares – Microsoft E3 2012 Press Conference Analysis

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If you’re looking for the Microsoft of 2009 you’ve come to the wrong place. They have E3 2013 booked instead. Thank you for your time.

Of all three console manufacturers, the next-gen white elephant in the room loomed no larger than it did at Microsoft’s E3 press conference.

While not quite a train wreck raging with the fires of fanboy discontent, the Microsoft press conference was nevertheless the weakest of the three (narrowly beating out Nintendo’s second time screw up at unveiling the WiiU). Of the three manufacturers doing press conferences at E3 2012, Microsoft had the least stakes to play for since they weren’t trying to reinvigorate a flagging handheld or attempt to relaunch a brand new home console in the eyes of Joe Consumer.

Still, while the bright-spots were very few and far between they nonetheless were still there, beginning unsurprisingly with 343 Industries Halo 4.

Halo 4 – The fight starts, again.

There really wasn’t anything else at the presser that even remotely approached the same level of gravitas.

It was common knowledge that regardless of whatever else Microsoft was going to announce, that Halo 4 would be the centrepiece of their briefing. It was generally accepted thinking that Halo 4 was to be the solid and dependable title that would back up more significant, surprising announcements.

As it turned out there actually weren’t any terribly significant or surprising announcements and as luck would have it, Halo 4 actually stepped up to the plate; sneaking up on us all and delivering some of the most solid looking gameplay the series has seen for a long time.

Boasting a dramatic live-action introduction which segued into an in-game cut-scene, followed by some sumptuous jungle based gunplay, Halo 4 boasted polished visuals, classic and brand-new weaponry and a completely brand new foe for the eponymous Master Chief to combat (the cool looking tech/insect hyrbid race known as the Prometheans) . In short, Halo 4 looked every bit like the presser centrepiece for the Redmond software and hardware giant at E3.

Besides ‘just’ having a solid presser centrepiece, Halo 4 fulfilled another mandate; it reassured gamers that the Halo franchise remains in safe hands since creators and long-time custodians Bungie, left the IP in Microsoft’s hands in 2010.

Indeed, new developers 343 Industries have made fired an indomitable opening salvo for the new Halo trilogy – laying the sort of blueprint that should give gamers a confidence restoring glimpse into the state of Halo for the next seven to ten years.

DLC Announcements – When Exclusivity Fails You Let Them On Stage Anyway 

A popular Microsoft tactic for the last few years has been to secure timed exclusivity on downloadable content for perceivably popular third-party releases. This year was no different with Microsoft getting first dibs on DLC for Tomb Raider, Resident Evil 6 and Call of Duty: Black Ops 2.

One thing that did surprise was that two of the games at their conference didn’t have any DLC timed exclusivity tied in with them. The highly anticipated Splinter Cell: Blacklist, was simply demonstrated for nearly ten minutes with no mention of exclusive features or DLC for the Microsoft platform (interesting given Conviction’s 360-only release), and South Park: The Stick Of Truth, was talked about on stage briefly by series creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone, but again, no exclusive 360-centric features or DLC were announced.

Unless I’m missing something, it seems a tad pointless for Microsoft to showcase multiplatform titles at their presser without the promise of any content unique to the Xbox 360 platform.

Effectively, they are freely showcasing titles that may be bought on competing systems with no unique differential (at this point at least) to convince customers to stick with the 360 SKU. That, ladies and gentlemen, is madness.

Like Clockwork – Social Apps & Nike Plus

Continuing their relentless crusade to ensure that the 360 is the centrepiece of the living room, Microsoft announced that more social apps would be available to users in the forthcoming months and that they had also entered into a partnership with sports label Nike, to create ‘Nike Plus’, a Kinect focused workout title.

Normally, multi-media and social stuff like this would be a sore-point of contention with many folk where press conference time should be dedicated to gaming, it’s innovations and additional related possibilities. In the context of their showing and realising the point of the Xbox 360’s life-cycle that we are in, it serves to fortify the notion that Microsoft are in a holding pattern until next year, where they get to announce and gleefully showcase their next lump of money-gobbling plastic to the world.

Essentially then, they can get away with devoting nearly a half a hour to this sort of the stuff now, but next year, where we expect to be over-fucking-whelmed by a cascade of quality first-party and third-party titles for the system that they would want us to purchase later that year, this sort of shit really isn’t going to fly.

Gears of War: Judgement – Entering The Breach Between Generations

Leaked just hours before the Microsoft presser was due to commence, this newest entry in the Gears of War saga was rumoured for good while, with the murmurings of both Bulletstorm developer People Can Fly and the game being a prequel, being accurately founded.

Set as a prequel to the events witnessed in the Gears of War trilogy, the primary protagonist has shifted from the gruff and muscle headed Marcus Fenix to the gruff, muscle headed and venom-tongued Baird. Based on the ever-so-brief snippets of video that have been released, gameplay-wise the game appears to have endured an equally conservative shift with People Can Fly taking the route of least resistance in showcasing a game that looks nigh-on identical to Gears of War 3.

For a developer new to such a big, blockbuster franchise this cautious and minimally risky entry in the series makes sense given the solid set of expectations that fans have for the series and also the fact that we’re in the twilight years for the platform that birthed this hugely successful IP in the first place. For those of us wanting to see the IP branch out and strike out onto some new ground, we’re very likely going to have to wait until its next-generation debut.

In actuality though, while Gears of War: Judgement looks like perfect franchise stop-gap fodder as we carefully make the leap between this generation and the next, the stigma of carrying such a moniker shouldn’t really be any cause for concern – it’s still a Gears of War title and by proxy of that fact; it still looks to be extremely solid.

In short, franchise-fans should remain entertained by this latest installment, but it won’t attract any new blood to their player base given the relatively safe road that the developers have travelled here in regards to the gameplay and new features.

Limp Wingmen – The ‘Other’ First Party Titles Forza: Horizon,  Fable: The Journey & Dance Central 3

Another franchise that is getting a spin-off title prior to its proper next-gen debut is Microsoft’s Forza Motorsport series with the introduction of Forza: Horizon. Distancing itself from the track-based simulation shenanigans that the series is known for, the Playground Games developed Forza Horizon is instead much more reminiscent of games like Test Drive Unlimited with its focus on open-world exploratory driving and motorsport lifestyle.

The official trailer for the game that was released at that show (which you can see below) was predictably showy; high on sizzle, low on steak and it’s really in the gameplay footage that managed to sneak out just before the show and after that we can get any sort of indication of the game’s quality.

To this end Forza Motorsport filled a strange a niche in the Microsoft presser – it appeared in trailer form to let everyone know that Microsoft have another first-party in the tube that isn’t called Halo or Gears of War, but did little else besides. Other than a mere, albeit flashy confirmation of it’s existence, no gameplay was shown or feature-set talked about on-stage – a somewhat troubling vote in confidence in the title given that we are now less than four months away from it’s launch.

Another game that only appeared in trailer format (and is also due for release in a few short months) was Lionhead’s Fable Kinect title, Fable: The Journey. Whilst they had the decency to make the trailer in-game, they should have had more decency to not even show it all. The game looked horrendous quite frankly – coming across as little other than a Kinect-driven light-gun title, the title looked uninspiring, rough and just downright awful. Take a look at the trailer below and cringe away:

Next up was Harmonix’s Dance Central 3 which was showcased by a combination of sizzle-reel trailer and Usher, of all fucking people, doing his jive-thang on stage and reminding us that A) Nobody can dance like him and that B) Nobody wants to. Really, his presence was merely there to market the ‘new’ feature of being able to mimic the dance routines of famous artists and also to reinforce the fact that Microsoft are THAT hip company who have their finger on the pulse on everybody under twenty-one years old.

In the end though, while certainly solid-enough based on the fact that little else will be changed over it’s highly accomplished predecessors, Dance Central 3 feels like more of the same instead of a little of something new.

Arguably, like the majority of the Microsoft first-party line-up, Dance Central 3 reeks of the fetid smell of conservatism; a smell bourne of Microsoft’s desire to save all of the really good stuff for their next-generation debut and as a result, serve as poor first-party wingmen for Halo 4 later this year.

Microsoft Smartglass – How To Make 2004 Seem New (and relevant) Again.

One thing that Microsoft made a rather large noise about at their conference was Microsoft Smartglass. Effectively a piece of connectivity tech, SmartGlass allows gamers to link their Xbox console to their smartphones and tablet devices for a number of different supplementary tasks and activities.

Microsoft believe that this is a difference-maker when it comes to new and involving gameplay experiences. It isn’t.

In one instance in which this was shown, EA had a player devising NFL strategies in-game on a Windows tablet, allowing instantaneous play of their chosen strategy in the game. In another example, Halo 4 developers 343 Industries displayed an interactive codex of information while Halo 4 was playing, in addition to a slew of matchmaking and other multiplayer features being done on the small screen instead of the TV.

While it sounds like a nice thing to have, it by no means sounds essential – it’s function and purpose consigning it to an extra-curricular augmentation of the gameplay experience rather than a meaningful addition to it. Smartglass then, provides Xbox 360 (and likely 720) owners with the sort of companion-like gameplay experiences that Nintendo DS owners have had for nearly eight years now. While the tech remains interesting at face value at least, I remain less than optimistic that many devs will look at the extra screen available to them and not proclaim “Yay! MAPS!”.

Microsoft @ E3 2012 – Conclusion

Boasting a barely perfunctory line-up of safe titles, you get the impression that only a small handful of folks at Microsoft give any sort of shit about the first-party fortunes of the console with the rest of the Microsoft Hive busying themselves for the unveiling of the next Xbox at E3 2013.

With the exception of the Microsoft SmartScreen – a tech that effectively gives 360 owners the same gameplay possibilities as Nintendo DS owners have had since 2004, everything else that was on display in their conference could largely be seen coming a mile off.

Halo 4 was a large (if unexpectedly spectacular) part of their line-up alongside an expected showing of previously announced first-party spin-off properties in Forza Horizon and Gears of War: Judgement. While Halo 4 certainly performed it’s vocation admirably as their centrifugal first-party offering, but backed up by some relatively limp and unexciting company in the form of Fable: The Journey, Forza: Horizon and Dance Central 3. Gears of War: Judgement was really the game that Microsoft should have positioned alongside Halo 4 to propel the 360 into next year where the veritable flood of triple-A third-party software would likely continue to buoy the platform to growth anyway, but alas, this was not to be.

Demonstrations of multiplat blockbusters such as Tomb Raider, Resident Evil 6 and Black Ops 2 did the usual shtick of combining fresh looks at these games alongside announcements of timed exclusivity on DLC for the Microsoft platform, despite some of them being given precious show time without any exclusivity announced at all.

Continuing on, further exposition of forthcoming social and TV applications continued to be an unfortunate hallmark for Microsoft at E3 alongside showings of Kinect fitness title Nike + and naff looking Kinect exclusive titles like Fable: The Journey.

Really it wasn’t so much the content that was there that troubled, more instead; it was the content that wasn’t. Things that would have bolstered their anaemic software offering such as details of the forthcoming Summer of Arcade were omitted from the presser altogether (they were announced on the official blog hours later) in favour of having Usher flail about on stage for nearly ten minutes in some vague attempt to shill the dance routine features of the next Dance Central title.

Overall then, if Microsoft didn’t seem like they were trying to capture the hearts and minds of all us at E3 it’s because they weren’t. As I write this article, Microsoft is readying the next generation successor to the Xbox 360 and as sure as I am that Microsoft are glad that E3 2012 is over, I’m just as sure the next year, everything that they’ve held back will be brought to the fore to make that machine have the best debut possible.

Well, they better do at any rate.

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Written by bitsnark

July 1, 2012 at 8:50 pm

Ubisoft to Bring The Big Guns To Eurogamer Expo 2012 – Assassins Creed 3, Far Cry 3 and Just Dance 4 All Playable

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THIS is one reason why you should be heading to the EG Expo this year – playable Assassins Creed 3. Playable Far Cry 3, also at the Expo, is another.

The Eurogamer Network has announced that Ubisoft will be present at their annual Eurogamer Expo show this year in some force indeed.  Assassins Creed 3, Far Cry 3 and Just Dance 4 (which will have a bus all to itself) as well as other Ubisoft titles will be all playable at the event.  Bravo indeed.

Really, if you consider yourself any sort of gamer you should come along – it’s chuffing brilliant.  You get to play the latest games before they are released, attend developer sessions with some of the industry’s best talent, unearth some fine independent games in their Indie Games Arcade and have packets of Chilli Heatwave Doritos tossed at you every time you try and leave the place among other things.

It’s brilliant I tell thee.  Grab your tickets here before they all disappear like Jimmy Carr’s stand-up career.

Like games? Got a ticket? No? SORT IT OUT.

The Eurogamer Expo is due to take place this year on September 27-30 at Earls Court in London.

Written by bitsnark

June 22, 2012 at 3:10 pm

Coming Zune – Microsoft To Unveil Apple iPad Rival Next Week

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According to a ‘solid’ source from entertainment website The Wrap, Microsoft is set to reveal a tablet next week that will represent its entry into rival Apple’s stomping grounds with its own branded tech-slate.

Current gossip has it down that the company has scheduled a secretive event for Monday at 3:30 p.m. June 18 in Los Angeles, whereupon it will make a mysterious “major” announcement.

That major announcement is thought to be nothing less than Microsoft heralding their desire to aggressively enter the tablet market with a product of their own.  Current rumours are saying that it’ll run on Windows RT; a tablet specalised version of Windows 8 that only supports downloaded software available from the Windows Store.  I also imagine it’ll make generous use of the SmartGlass technology that the Redmond giant announced at this year’s E3.

My take? It’ll likely be a case of history repeating itself as it did with the ill-fated Zune Player; the Microsoft tab will likely be the most powerful lump of slate on the market, but it just won’t have that crucial trendy market prescence that Apple possesses in buckets.  I expect it’ll sink without a trace twelve or so months after launch given the fact that I just don’t think they’ll be able to offer anything different enough to get folks to invest.

 

Remember this? Microsoft is hoping you don’t.

 

 

Written by bitsnark

June 15, 2012 at 9:04 am

Microsoft E3 2012: Summer of Arcade Details (Shunted from the conference because MS thought you preferred to hear about social apps instead. And Usher.)

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Bit of a public service thing going on here.

Completely absent from their E3 presser were any details about their ‘Summer of Arcade’ promotion for this year that typically, Xbox 360 owners have come to enjoy.  For the uninitiated, The Summer of Arcade promotion typically brings together four or five highly regarded Xbox Live Arcade titles during the Summer period.

In the past, the promotion has spawned and raised awareness of such gems as Braid, Limbo, Shadow Complex, Trials HD and the seminal Castle Crashers.  This year, auidences wouldn’t have had a fucking clue what was going on in this year’s promotion as the details of which were left on Major Nelson’s Blog over at xbox.com instead of being an actual part of the Microsoft presser itself.

No, MS in all of their wisdom, thought that the vast gaming massive would much rather want to see unveilings of region-specific (read: The US) social apps and Usher on stage for a total of nearly forty-five minutes, than running a two-minute sizzle reel of five really quite decent looking summer gaming attention grabbers.

Anyhow, below you can find a list of the Summer of Arcade games (dates and prices will be announced shortly it seems).

Oh, and you’re welcome.

(Taken from the MS Blog)

  • “Deadlight” (Tequila Works/Microsoft Studios). “Deadlight” is a puzzle platformer, where the player must take advantage of the main character’s agility to solve obstacles, and dodge zombies, manipulating the many interactive elements of the scenery. With more walking corpses than bullets, the feeling of danger is constant.
  • “Dust: An Elysian Tail” (Humble Hearts/Microsoft Studios). As the mysterious warrior, Dust, your action-packed journey will take you from peaceful glades to snowy mountaintops and beyond. Battle dozens of enemies at once with an easy-to-learn, difficult-to-master combat system, and uncover the story of an ancient civilization on the brink of extinction as you fight to uncover your own past in a gorgeous hand-painted world.
  • “Hybrid” (5TH Cell/5TH Cell). “Hybrid” is a pioneering third person shooter set in the near future, where global conflict exists between a species known as the Variant and a rebel human faction known as the Paladins. 5TH Cell strives to give players a completely new gameplay experience never seen before in the genre.
  • “Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater HD” (Robomodo/Activision). “Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater HD” takes the best elements of the classic “THPS” games and gives them a fresh update to create an all new skateboarding experience. Tapping into fans’ muscle memories, and combining sharp visuals with the best controls ever in a Tony Hawk game, the feel is cutting edge yet timeless.
  • “Wreckateer” (Iron Galaxy/Microsoft Studios). “Wreckateer” uses Kinect to put you in control of a massive castle-wrecking ballista. With the help of Wreck and Tinker, travel the land and destroy 60 castles using six magical projectiles, and explore the infinite ways you can wreak havoc with “Wreckateer’s” fully-dynamic destruction.

Written by bitsnark

June 4, 2012 at 7:29 pm

E3 2012 – Microsoft Press Conference: Fable: The Journey Trailer

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During their E3 presser, Microsoft snuck in a little trailer for forthcoming Kinect-only title, Fable: The Journey.

I have to say that this trailer didn’t do much for the game at all; making it come off as some sort of fantasy based light-gun game (with your hands obviously), instead of the carriage and horse riding adventure element that they showed initally.

See for yourself:

Fable: The Journey is due later this year exclusively for Kinect on Xbox 360.  *Shudders*, I’ve just realised what that makes me sound like.

 

Written by bitsnark

June 4, 2012 at 7:06 pm

E3 2012 – Microsoft Press Conference: Call of Duty Black Ops 2 On-Stage Demonstration Shown

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Perhaps the largest non-surprise of the presser (besides all the social app tripe naturally), was the unveiling of an extended gameplay sequence for Call of Duty: Black Ops 2.  The demonstration offered little in the way of surprises that would knock you on your ass, but the new(ish) setting did provide a few new gameplay opportunities such as deep-impact sighted rifles which shoot through the side of trucks and all manner of drone and remote tech to aid you in your latest patriotic mass-murdering spree.

Continuing their precedent of hoovering up time-exclusive DLC rights, Treyarch confirmed that 360 users would get first dibs on day one DLC.

I’ve embedded the gameplay demonstration below, see what you think:

Call of Duty: Black Ops II will come out on 360, PC and PS3 platforms this November.

Written by bitsnark

June 4, 2012 at 6:56 pm

E3 2012 – Microsoft Press Conference: Halo 4 Unveiled

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Microsoft went full-bore with their unveiling of the Halo 4 single-player campaign showing off both a live-action trailer and over five minutes of in-game footage.  Take a look at the videos below, detailed impressions will follow later.

Halo 4 is to be released on Novemember, 6th 2012 in both standard and limited edition formats on Xbox 360.

Written by bitsnark

June 4, 2012 at 5:53 pm

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E3 2012: Microsoft, Sony & Nintendo Press Conference Preview

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It’s that time of year again – where game journos everywhere somehow manage to write these huge, in-depth articles with their one free hand.


With E3 2012 due to start next week and with a number of publishers kicking off their own pre-E3 showings beforehand (yes Konami, I’m looking in your direction), I figured that now was as good a time as any to lay out on the table my expectations of the ‘big three’ for the show.

I’ll be taking a look at what you can expect from their E3 press conferences and playing a bit of devils advocate when it comes to predicting what might happen with each of them.

And likely getting all it horribly wrong.

So! Let’s get this shizz on the road then shall we?

This year’s E3 effectively marks the lull before the storm.

That storm is the next-generation of consoles from the ‘big two’ which are due to arrive from late 2013 onwards and it’ll be at next year’s E3 that Sony and Microsoft respectively, start firing their inital salvo of next-gen bliss at the public at large.

Until that happens, expect more denials and ‘we don’t comment on speculation’ than you can shake a hairy stick at; since until each of those platform holders announce their next-gen plans, they’ll look to keep the focus on the hardware that they have out in the market right now.

That also means, don’t expect any next-gen hardware announcements at E3 from either Microsoft or Sony as was previously rumoured. So for the love of Cthulu; temper your expectations accordingly and don’t start whining when the inevitable lack of an Xbox 720 or a PS4 unveiling causes you to cry into your beer – it simply isn’t gonna happen this year.

Right, we done with that? Brilliant.

The only company really that is going to be unveiling anything remotely resembling new hardware will be Nintendo, who, being the very fortunate sods that they are, will be getting a second bite at the console unveiling apple that they so cackhandedly fluffed last year.

So in addition to being the (hopefully proper) coming out party for the WiiU; the focus on new software and services for the here and now will likely form the crux of any showing that both Sony and Microsoft put on at E3 this year.

With that in mind, let’s cast our eye over first what potentially the Redmond based software giant will come up with this year.

Microsoft Press Conference Monday, June 4th – 5:30PM BST

A relatively muted performance from Microsoft seems likely this year, given that most of their eggs currently reside in the 2013 next-gen basket.

Make no mistake about it, if you didn’t know what the centerpiece of their showing was going to be this year then you are blind, ignorant or stupid. Or a fruity combination of the three.

It will be of course, the 343 Industries developed Halo 4.

Halo 4 – Start the fight.  Again.

Halo 4 is interesting because it really is the first major Halo title (Anniversary not be counted for obvious reasons) not developed by previous long-term custodians of the series Bungie, but instead by 343 Industries; a mish-mash of ex-Bungie staff and other folk from MIcrosoft Studios. The effect that the change in codeshop will have is already quite evident.

Whereas with previous Bungie developed games in the series, like Halo 3 which introduced the innovative ‘Forge’ mode, this newest 343 developed title appears to instead prefer to take pages out of others playbooks instead of looking to itself for new innovations.

Indeed, the first in the brand new ‘Reclaimer Trilogy ‘, is to have new single and multiplayer features that sound, familiar, for lack of a better word. Features such as a perk system, a progressional player system (where you can accrue XP), armour and weapon modifications and the uninspired named ‘Spartan Ops’, have been seen before in another game that i’m sure isn’t a million miles from your thoughts right now,

Still, despite the apparent lack of creative vigour in what otherwise remains a solid feature-set, the game is apparently set to a deliver a sandbox FPS experience much more in line with what was seen in the original Halo. It falls therefore, to Microsoft to ensure that their Halo 4 demonstration knocks it out of the fucking park; leaving people with a very real contender in their minds to Black Ops 2 almost inevitable Q4 domination.

Halo still has a ton of consumer pull as an IP and Microsoft know it and so going on that logic, I really hope that they make the biggest noise about this game that they possibly can.

I would certainly like to see a great deal of in-game footage from the single-player campaign as well as a few multiplayer levels on the showfloor, so that at this stage (just five months away from release), folks can get the measure of the Halo 4 experience and just why they need in their life and in their 360 come November.

It’ll probably also give the BBC News a couple of new logos to use in their reports too.

Expect to see this guy a lot at the Microsoft E3 presser. A whole fucking lot.

New Gears Of War – Didn’t we say goodbye?

Fulfilling the wet, testosterone dreams of Gears fiends everywhere, comes the news that there will be one more Gears of War title released this generation. Quite literally leaked just a few moments ago at the time of writing, this is the one game that Microsoft could nominate to share some of the top billing spotlight with Halo 4.

Apart from the fact that we can expect a ‘new Gears of War at E3’, we know practically nothing about what this new entry in entry in the ever-popular series will bring outside of the mysterious cover shown by Game Informer as seen below:

Cuffs? Yeah, that’ll be Marcus Fenix doing his prison rounds then.


The current rumour is that while Epic are beavering away on a new Gears of War trilogy for the next Xbox, using the Unreal Engine 4 no less, Bulletstorm developers People Can Fly have been given the reigns to develop a series of prequels for the franchise.  This is not a bad thing; not a bad thing at all considering how well Bulletstorm turned out.  Nevertheless, I expect that we’ll see a trailer of the game, which may even be entirely CG just to set the scene, but I doubt we’ll see much more than that due to Microsoft wanting Halo 4 to have it’s time in the sun and not worry about cannabilsing the sales of a fellow first-party IP. 

Despite the lack of any real visual stimulus outside of the aforementioned trailer however, I would expect the first real gameplay details of the game to be unveiled.

Black Ops II DLC timed exclusivity – keeping the sheep at home

Expect Microsoft to once again be in full ‘grabbing bastard’ mode when it comes to securing timed exclusivity for DLC for this latest entry in the Call of Duty franchise.


Call of Duty titles on the PS3 have, to Microsoft’s advantage, been largely shoddy when compared to their 360 counterparts; hampered by bugs and poor online performance and just on that alone, it’s easy to see why people mostly plump for the 360 version each and every year (the 360 pad certainly lends itself better to the FPS as well, but I digress). Being the shrewd and largely sly individuals that they are, it makes sense that for this year, Microsoft once again clamber back upon the DLC timed exclusivity wagon and stick it to Sony.

Really, I’d be mortally surprised if they didn’t do this, especially in the light of Black Ops 2 being the ‘cuts and pastes from MW3 article’, ‘most pre-ordered Call of Duty title of all time’. So yeah, count on timed exclusivity and count on Microsoft making a big deal about it by positioning Black Ops 2 themed 360 hardware bundles come Yuletide.

Kinecting with the masses 

*Insert Harry Potter Kinect, Fable the Journey, Kung-fu Super star and London 2012 logos*

As has been traditional for the last three conferences, you should fully expect a solid focus (for better or worse) on Kinect games in development. Principally, titles which echo popular culture such as Harry Potter Kinect and London 2012 will be given top billing and inevitably, some utterly cringe-worthy on-stage demonstrations too.

As well as the popular stuff though, I would also expect a spotlight on some of the more quietly promising stuff too, such as Lionhead’s Fable spin-off, Fable: The Journey and the recently announced Kung-fu Superstar.

One game I wouldn’t expect to see as part of the Kinect lineup is the Crytek developed Roman battler ‘Ryze’, since by all accounts that would appear to be shifted into the realm of the next-gen Xbox and will likely be positioned as a launch title for that machine; likely serving to highlight the improvements of potentially more advanced Kinect hardware over the current iteration.

I would expect a much greater focus on core and non-toddler Kinect titles (we probably won’t see the likes of Pixar Rush or Disneyland Adventures this year) this year, along with a surprise or two from Microsoft’s internal studios (Rare) and maybe from a third party such as Ubisoft.

Ultimately However, if you’re not fan of Kinect, expect to be bored shitless – the device remains central to Microsoft’s plan to elongating the life of their seven year console and as such, will be given a great deal of showtime to further realise that objective and increase sales (19m and counting apparently).

Oh and Milo is still as dead as a doornail, so don’t even bring that up (though the technology does live on in part, within other games such as Fable: The Journey).

Expect a more varied offering of Kinect games at this year’s show.

A Light Smattering Of Non-Kinect Focused First Party Exclusives – We need more!

Remember the famous “Ten games that you can only get on 360” part of their E3 2009 conference? I do, and many other 360 owners do too, but since their obsession with Kinect began back in 2009, Microsoft’s E3 line-up has consisted of progressively less and less non-Kinect, first and even third party offerings.

The whole approach, quite frankly, is a bit batshit given the fact that Microsoft are looking to anchor themselves as a true bastion of core gaming. They really need to realise that a LARGE proportion of core gamers who own their console, just aren’t sold on Kinect right now – they want a solid line-up of both first party and third party offerings across full retail and XBLA formats.

However, I just don’t think Microsoft are going to deliver on either front in the volume that we’d like.

I expect to see the likes of Forza spin-off Forza Horizon to be present and accounted for, alongside the admittedly middling to slim possibility of a Halo 2 HD remastering being unveiled. Apart from that… i’m not really sure what to expect. Both Fable IV and a true Forza sequel will likely receive their showing as part of Microsoft’s E3 2013 next-gen presser. That’s effectively two of their primary first party franchises out of action for this year – three if you include the recently leaked Gears of War title which, and let’s be realsitic here, doesn’t have a hope in hell of making a 2012 release.

On the XBLA side of things, I expect the usual Summer of Arcade sizzle reel, with Tequila Games’ tremendous looking Deadlight being the undoubted highlight. If I had to guess, other standouts would include competitive FPS Counter Strike: Global Offensive, the wonderful Retro City Rampage, novel FPS Hybrid and maybe one surprise.

Which may, or may not be Killer Instinct HD. Or Shadow Complex 2. Or Infinity Blade Kinect.

Seriously though, I think Summer of Arcade will be pretty decent this year, i’m just not counting on a great many surprises; if any at all.

Xbox Live: More entertainment and social apps that nobody outside of Uncle Sam’s realm gives two shits about

Expect to see some more of this stuff. You’re probably not going to be able to use it.  Great eh?

One thing that has continued to crop up with alarming regularity at Microsoft’s E3 pressers of late, is the inclusion of more and more social and entertainment apps into the 360 dashboard such as Facebook, Twitter, UFCTV and HBO:GO. Again, I would expect more apps of a similar ilk to also be announced at the presser, further reinforcing the Redmond giant’s desire to make the Xbox 360 the center of living room.

And just like before, I wouldn’t imagine that many of these apps would make it over to the EU/UK either, given Microsoft’s propensity for thinking that only North American folk attend their presser and own their console.

So it’ll be at this point in their conference that you should feel compelled to make yourself a snack, grab yourself a drink or take an extra-long dump; whatever passes the time for you best really.

One thing that won’t be part of their presser this year in regards to Xbox Live, will be the long rumoured third-tier of access. Xbox Live ‘Platinum’, or whatever they deign to call it will, like most of the stuff that won’t be there this year, form a key piece of the puzzle for next year’s next generation Xbox unveiling.

After all, a brand new tier would likely infer some sort of new change to the online experience that would likely be a crucial selling point for the new hardware; rather than being utilised for a console that is about to enter it’s eighth year on the market. So then, if a third tier of Xbox Live even exists, it won’t be at this year’s presser.

Conclusion

Of the three platform holders, I fully expect Microsoft to be the most muted in terms of new and unique core game experiences. This would be due in no small part to them saving the next iterations of some of their best first party franchises not called Halo, for the next generation Xbox unveiling next year.

Halo 4 will get a lot of love both in the conference and on the showfloor. I’m hoping for a flood (if you excuse the pun) of single player details; aided by an on-stage demonstration (no CG cut scene bollocks here please) and a further fleshing out of the multiplayer side of things. Halo 4, to all intents and purposes, is one of their main primary hardware sellers this year alongside the benefits that timed DLC exclusivity on Black Ops II will bring. Therefore I expect them to make a big fucking noise about it to ensure that it stays in the public’s conscious long after the show has ended.

As always, expect a lot of Kinect love but with a more mature/core focus this year – there are 65 million 360 owners out there and less than one third of them own a Kinect; so Microsoft would be silly not to try and broaden the demographic that the hardware appeals to.

There will be surprises, as there are in every presser, but I wouldn’t expect them to be as numerous (or as potentially exciting) as seen in previous years.

Sony Press Conference – Tuesday, June 5th – 2 AM BST

Sony will be packing a well-rounded conference this year says I.

Just like rival Microsoft, Sony will also be clutching a number of cards tightly to their chest in regards to their *BIG* software announcements – since the majority of them will be used in unison with the inevitable Playstation 4 announcement NEXT YEAR, and not this year.

With that said though, and like the previous two years, they will certainly come out with a much more rounded software offering – especially where first party exclusives are concerned. This leads us quite neatly to…

Vita is dead, long live Vita

The Playstation Vita. The most powerful dedicated handheld gaming platform on the market right now, the machine should be every core gamer’s veritable wet dream. It can produce home console visuals on the move, can cross-play with the PS3 and is generally a very sexy piece of kit. Yet, despite all of this, the machine continues to track below expectations across the globe; with the machine repeatedly doing worse than its predecessor the PSP in Japan, much less the all-domineering Nintendo 3DS.

Sony, despite all of their PR bluster and spin-laden bullshit are very aware that the Vita isn’t performing up to an acceptable standard at retail. With that in mind, I fully expect their presser to be the most Vita focused one yet. Expect a strong ‘Vita is alive and well’ message, starting with the announcement of a small, but significant price drop (the French are enjoying an ‘experimental’ price drop which started on June 1st for two weeks), succeeded by numerous game announcements.

In terms of new software for the handheld, I would expect a proverbial flood of third and first party announcements. Rumoured third-party AAA games such as Assassins Creed 3 and Call of Duty look set to make a splash alongside the usual versions of Q3/Q4 releases such as FIFA, Need for Speed: Most Wanted and many others. I would also wager on the likes of Final Fantasy Type Zero showing up alongside Killzone Vita, a new God of War and a Gran Turismo title; to really bolster the system’s software line-up. And really, it’s going to be the software that’ll be the tipping point for many folks who may have entertained the possibility of picking up a Vita. Sure, the price point helps, but if the games are excellent and numerous, they will come all the same.

In addition to a solid software showing and a possible price cut across both SKU’s (£30 I would reckon, in each case), it wouldn’t surprise me to see Sony pimping new Vita bundles; likely leveraging the first-party stuff that they’ll have coming out later in the year such as Killzone or Playstation All-Stars for instance.

Put simply, if Sony are unable to sell you on Playstation Vita after their presser, you’ll likely never buy one at any other time.

Sony will be doing everything they can to remind us that the Vita isn’t on the way out. Expect a shitload of new software announcements for the beleaguered system.

What about big brother? The PS3 software line-up

As well as a strong line-up for the Vita, Sony will be keen to ensure that the PS3 isn’t passed over too heavily in favour of its portable counterpart.

One game which will certainly form an integral part of their presser will be Playstation All-Stars; Sony’s poorly veiled attempt at a Super Smash Bros-alike using the somewhat weaker mascots of the Playstation brand. The game itself will likely be demonstrated on stage at length and it wouldn’t surprise me at all for the demonstration to involve cross-play between the PS3 and Vita versions.

Also, expect Scheduled Maintenance to be announced as a secret character. Probably.

Next up will likely be the cracking looking God of War: Ascension. Few words can stir-up the whiners and complainers more than ‘multiplayer’ being used in association with a game which has traditionally prided itself on an excellent single-player campaign. It happened with Mass Effect and it happened when God of War: Ascension was announced.

The problem, y’see, with multiplayer modes being announced for games like this is that they very often come across as an afterthought and lack the same amount of effort and vim that was put into the single-player side of things – hence all the moaning and crying into rivers. God of War: Ascension though, stands on its own in so far as the multiplayer actually looks extremely robust and worthwhile if early impressions are anything to go by. If not demonstrated on stage, I would at least expect a new trailer for the game, which sadly won’t make the 2012 release window – instead making its highly anticipated bow mid-2013.

Another game that will likely get a share of the spotlight, but again, won’t come out this year, will be Naughty Dog’s impressive looking The Last Of Us. Positioned as some sort of post-apocalyptic adventure with a father and daughter pairing, the game appears to want to put real emotional weight behind the characters with some seriously jaw-dropping character motion-capture and intense situations. Apart from the basic premise however, we actually know precious little about this hugely promising title from the codeshop that spawned the multi-million selling Uncharted franchise. It’ll be at the E3 presser then, that the game should hopefully be given some time to shine and show the world what sort of gameplay we can expect to get stuck into come 2013. An on-stage demonstration would be nice, but if that doesn’t happen, I’ll take a gameplay trailer thanks.

Expect to see these three feature quite prominently in the Sony E3 presser. I’m sorry did someone say something about The Last Guardian?

Sony’s E3 presser will also mark the likely debut of the next title from Heavy Rain developer Quantic Dream. Little is known about the title and rumours are that it will resurrect the previously canned ‘Infraworld’ moniker, but gameplay wise we can make some educated guesses as to what to expect – lots of QTE’s, lots of cinematics and a plot that starts off being cool and then grows more and more nonsensical as the game goes on. Still, despite my own reservations regarding the title, I’m sure it will remain a big hit for them, but like the last two titles that I’ve mentioned it too won’t make it to release this year either.

The problem is as I’m sure you can guess by now, is that a lot of the big hitting exclusive titles that Sony are prepping; The Last of Us, God of War: Ascension, new Quantic Dream title etc.. are all due out next year, leaving slightly slim pickings for this year such as Sly Raccoon 4, Ratchet and Clank: Full Frontal Assault (I prefer that title for the record) and, um, that’s probably about it at this point.

So hopefully on that score at least, Sony will have some surprises in store to tide us over for this year.

Speaking of surprises…

On cloud nine; Sony’s Cloud Gaming Collaboration

One of these companies will form a partnership with Sony to allow cloud gaming on the Playstation platform. But which one?


The current darling on the E3 rumour mill as far as the Japanese consumer electronics giant is concerned, is the potential buyout of a cloud-gaming company to coincide with an upcoming service announcement at E3. Currently, there are only really just two players in the cloud gaming field – OnLive and competing service Gaikai.

Of the two, if recent reports are to believed, it is in fact Gaikai which are current front-runners, as echoed perhaps by their enthusiastic invitation to E3 journos everywhere stating: “Gaikai has some major announcements in store for E3 that have the potential to change the future of video games, game consoles and how we play,”.

The real question of course is why Sony would be pursuing cloud gaming in the first place and how they would seek to integrate it into their current spread of products and services. As far as the ‘why’, the only thing that makes sense is choice. Basically, I could imagine Sony utilising the cloud gaming service to allow people to stream the newest PS3/PSN titles in lieu of downloading it or acquiring a physical product. Essentially, it would just exist to allow customers that extra avenue of freedom when it comes to choosing how to play the newest PS3 and PSN games. In terms of the ‘how’, presumably the cloud gaming side of things would be used through an app from the XMB, much like how you would load up Netflix or LoveFilm for example.

May main concern with this whole scenario though, is that the technical infrastructure simply isn’t strong enough to support this ambition. Internet speeds pretty much the world over simply aren’t up to the task (especially here in the UK), and right now a free trial of either OnLive or GaiKai on what would typically be termed a ‘good’ internet connection (I’m thinking 20mbps plus here) shows a noticeable amount of latency and much lower level of visual detail than what would be deemed acceptable by the masses. To be fair, the fact that such tech even exists is a minor miracle, but we just aren’t at the point yet where the technology which underpins these grandiose ideas is sufficient enough. Regardless, if this is going to be a real thing at E3 (which I suspect it is), it’ll be very interesting to see how Sony and their cloud gaming partner attempt to mitigate these seemingly insurmountable technical issues.

The fall and fall of the Playstation Move

Seemingly unconcerned with trying to match the larger selling Kinect motion control system, Sony have appeared to largely given up on their motion control accessory as any sort of competitor to the Microsoft device. Indeed, Move support for titles is sparse when compared to the Microsoft strategy of quite literally shoving it down everybody’s throats (every first-party MS game has some sort of Kinect functionality by mandate).

With the exception of the very recently announced Sports Champions 2 and the forthcoming Resident Evil Chronicles HD (a Wii port no less), there really isn’t much on the horizon for fans of Sony’s motion control accessory. Really, this will be the last chance for them to make any significant impact with Move this generation since the PS4 will either have the tech in some sort of advanced form or simply not at all, if the device continues to flounder with such little software support.

Conclusion

Of the two companies not named Nintendo, Sony certainly seems better equipped to put on a more compelling and varied conference in regards to games and original content; on paper anyway. For one thing, they have two formats at their disposal and in the case of one (the Vita), they’re desperate to reinvigorate it in the public eye and showcasing lots of lovely new games seems like the best way that they’re going to achieve that.

The PS3 will likely receive a surprise or two too, but in a similar situation to Microsoft, the bulk of the gaming bliss will arrive next year – leaving just the usual multiplats and odd first-party title to hold up the fort for Sony before the year closes out.

The cloud gaming partnership which has pretty much characterised Sony in the rumour mill as of late, will make a debut I believe but really won’t be the game changer that a lot of people suspect it will be. The significant technical hurdles facing this tech at present, coupled with the lack of exposure that it has had versus common distribution methods for gaming content, mean that it’s announcement will likely be met with a whimper, rather than the bang that Sony would like.

At the end of the day, I expect Sony to deliver a strong conference; eminently focused on Vita with PS3 owners being thrown a first party bone or two to keep them happy. Make no mistake, before the focus shifts to the PS4 at next year’s show, Sony will do everything in their power to make the Vita a much more compelling offering to Joe Public and I believe that their conference will fully reflect this through.

Nintendo Press Conference – Tuesday, June 5th, 5:00AM

Nintendo really have a singular goal and purpose this year – get the WiiU showcased (again) and get it on people’s shopping list. Everything else can go to hell and stay there. Truly. The 3DS continues to generate impressive software and hardware numbers globally, so I expect a couple of title announcements for that; if only in a half-hearted attempt to steal some of the thunder Sony will be attempting to generate with the resurging Vita, but other than that it should be all WiiU and nothing else.

As far as they’re concerned, their ‘next-gen’ will start before this year that we’re already halfway through is out with Wii U and they should conduct their business at this year’s E3 accordingly.

Wii U give Nintendo another chance?

Nintendo are tremendously lucky bastards indeed. Rewind to last year’s E3, where they unveiled their Wii successor to the eager audience of captivated journos and retail partners; the reception?

Elated and confused amongst the Nintendo faithful; mixed and confused amongst everybody else.

Nintendo largely failed to solidify any sort of identity with the Wii U; okay great, the machine can produce HD visuals and has a tablet controller that can use wirelessly streamed content but what can it actually do? Sure we saw the usual cheesy proof of concept sizzle reels, but where were the on-stage demonstrations, the first-party support, actual in-game footage from WIP titles? Where was any of that stuff?

It just screamed of a product being unveiled too early – Nintendo themselves didn’t know what to do with it or how to market it and whoever planned their E3 presser strategy needs to be shot in the face for booking one hour for the ENTIRE presser and taking the first TWENTY minutes of that up with a fucking ZELDA CONCERT.

That’s just FORTY minutes, give or take, to unveil and showcase a brand new home console and all the bits and pieces that go along with it.

Shot in the bloody face I tell you. 

Nintendo absolutely cannot afford to make the same mistake again this year and are lucky to have another chance to correct all of last year’s wrongs. By all accounts the machine is due to go on sale worldwide in just over six months’ time; so the machine, what it can do and the software support that it’s going to have should be clearly solidified and defined in people’s minds.

This is their second (and last) bite at the apple to sell the WiiU and tell us everything we need to know about it and on that score, I think Nintendo aren’t going to disappoint.

Games – It’s all about the games

Expect the second coming of the WiiU at this year’s E3 to be accompanied by a great deal of on-stage demonstrations, bolstered by a myriad of first-party and third-party titles. Leading the charge will be a new Zelda title (likely due out next year), New Super Mario Bros 2 and the long-in-development Pikmin 3. Nintendo have never been (well, since 1995 anyway) about shock and awe tactics with visuals, so while the Zelda title will be the prettiest of the lot (not to mention illustrative of the Wii U’s graphical capability), I expect that it will best personify the new innovations that the new console is capable of; once again illustrating the mildly troubling knowledge gap between Ninty and their third parties when it comes to the creative use of their hardware.

Speaking of third parties, like their ringing endorsement of Kinect a couple of years earlier, it would be reasonable to expect that Ubisoft would be at the front of any third-party charge. This would seem like a sure bet given the way that they’ve been talking about the console recently; they would essentially be on-stage evangelising the new platform with a variety of software which utilise the Wii U’s unique feature set. They’ll be keen to point out the unique features of Assassins Creed 3 WiiU and Rayman Legends over their multiplatform equivilents and will likely be given a fair bit of on-stage time to do so, as well as shilling their own casual brands such as Raving Rabbids and Your Shape Fitness Evolved.

Further afield, Ninty may also bring Randy Pitchford in from Gearbox Software on stage to demonstrate the Wii U version of Aliens: Colonial Marines which the software developer has been gushing over for months saying that it ‘could be the best version available’. Don’t expect the third party support to end there though, I am expecting Ninty to showcase a long sizzle reel of all the third-party games in development for the console to really hammer home the idea that Nintendo have gotten the third-party core support issue nicely squared away.

In regards to surprise game announcements, I could quite easily see F-Zero making a triumphant return to the console in blistering sixty frames per second, 1080p form.

Another first-party title that’s within the realms of feasibility would be a Wii U version of Metroid. Not to mention a new Donkey Kong title. Or a new Kirby title. Ninty really are in priviledged position in that they have a hugely deep pool of first-party bliss from which to draw surprise software announcements from.

So really, look for Nintendo to go completely mental with game announcements to bolster the arrive of their new shiny bit of plastic this year; they’ll have a lot to talk about.

Online – Friend codes need to die

A key and very crucial part in enrapturing the core audience that they so desperately want to reclaim will be their online offering. Therefore, expect them to unveil a much more comprehensive online strategy – one that encompasses a much more user friendly online multi-player UI, coupled with a Wii U ‘eShop’, which would allow day one downloads of new releases; not to mention an exhaustive virtual console offering and unique ‘WiiU Ware’ games.

This will be the one area which I think they might stumble given their past transgressions with friend codes and the hideously outdated online capabilities of the Wii. That said they have made some really positive strides in this area with the 3DS, some i’m hoping that they improve on what they’ve done there and give us an online offering that is at least in the same ballpark as Xbox Live and the Playstation Network.

First step though – the whole friend code thing needs to be put in a shit-filled metal box and shot into the sun. It’s shit, embarassing and has just been pointlessly counter-intuitive since day one.

No more of this please. It’s not the 80’s anymore; people actually have internet handles now Nintendo.

Under the Hood

Before we start flapping our gums about resolutions, frame-rates, CPU’s and GPU’s, the one, most important thing in my view that the console MUST do, is retain its backwards compatibility to the Wii software library and accessories. For all of the well-trodden talk that people don’t buy new consoles to play old games remains the horrible, underlying truth that if it wasn’t there, people would complain that much more loudly about it -especially if such a feature existed in a competing product. It’s a crucial goodwill advantage over both Sony and Microsoft who have almost completely shunned the practice in recent years and a great way to ease the migration of the 100 million plus existing Wii owners around the world to the WiiU.

With that promise hopefully fulfilled, we’ll next get an overview of what the machine can do from a graphical perspective along with plenty of examples to back that up. Now, again, Nintendo has never been one to (recently at least) extol graphical prowess in market where they are a disruptive force – typically perferring to talk with input innovation rather than on-screen asethetics.

This time however, Nintendo must surely realise that having a console with HD visual capabilities, is now a bare neccisity to remain relevant in the eyes of Joe Consumer.

Without getting into all the acronyms and technical jargon, all you need to know is that the console is in the same ‘ballpark’ as the 360 and PS3, with developers giving varying accounts of how powerful it is; likely based upon their coding accumen with the machine coupled with how advanced their dev kits were at the time.

Regardless, we should get a much clearer idea of how powerful the console is at E3 and if I were a betting man, I would say that the console will easily be comparable to the 360/PS3 with some games even looking better than their peers on those consoles.

Additionally, I imagine that the majority of Nintendo fans will be giddly with glee to see the likes of Zelda and Mario finally strut about in gorgeous HD, and if they they’re not; they’re clearly lying. And quite possibly blind.

As far as the tablet controller goes, Nintendo have been making a number of changes to the original design which will finally get it’s fifteen minutes of fame at E3; along with a number of revisions to it’s capability (expect a much shorter wireless transmission range).



More of this please. Really, let’s have more of it.


Conclusion

This E3 really is Nintendo’s to lose. Sony is tied up trying to keep the Vita alive and Microsoft is doing just enough to keep the 360 ticking over until next year’s next-gen Xbox unveiling at E3 2013, where Sony will also unveil their the PS3 successor. That means, Ninty has the distinction of having some new (sort of) hardware to show and software to pimp which always gets people excited and goes down well. Make no mistake though, they have to succeed here because if they do not, they might not fare so well against the next-generation cascade which will crash down upon them next year.

Written by bitsnark

May 31, 2012 at 9:12 pm

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