As many were expecting, there weren’t any hardware reveals at Microsoft’s E3 press conference today, but the company had no shortage of software announcements to give us a good idea of what it has in store over the course of the next year.
On the game front, Microsoft showed off a number of game trailers for big name games, including Halo 4, which kicked off the show; Gears of War: Judgment, the fourth installment in the series, starring Baird as the protagonist and coming in 2013; Forza: Horizon, coming October 23, 2012; South Park: The Stick of Truth, which has you take on the role of the new kid in South Park and is due out March 5, 2013 with DLC coming to Xbox before other platforms; Fable: The Journey, a Kinect title due by Holiday 2012; and Dance Central 3. While Dance Central 3 did not have a release timeframe, the trailer showed that players will get to learn moves all the way from the 70s to the 00s, and the announcement was accompanied by Usher doing a live performance of his latest single, “Scream.”
Other previously unannounced games that were revealed at the press conference included a third-person hack-and-slash in a fantasy setting, Ascend: New Gods, which is from the makers of Toy Soldiers and coming in 2013; LocoCycle, a game revolving around some sort of advanced motorcycle (details were few and far between in the extremely short teaser trailer), from ‘Splosion Man’s Twisted Pixel and also out in 2013; and Gore Verbinski’s Kinect title, Matter.
A number of playable demos were shown off during the press conference, giving viewers a glimpse of actual gameplay rather than just teaser trailers. The first demo of the show was for Spinter Cell: Blacklist, which is due out Spring 2013 and has protagonist Sam Fisher heading to Middle East to combat terrorists that have a “blacklist” of US targets they intend to attack if America does not extract its troops from their countries.
Though it was very familiar in some aspects — like the ability to tag targets for slow-motion, automatic executions — there were some new features that were shown off. Sam can now run, vault, and slide over objects in a parkour-style manner while shooting flagged targets, which one of the Ubisoft reps referred to as “killing in motion.”
The game also features Kinect support. For instance, Kinect voice commands could be used to call out to enemy soldiers while hidden in cover to lure them into traps. And at one point in the demo, they were also used to call in a missile strike.
Also shown off were Wreckateer, an XBLA Kinect game launching this summer, and a couple of EA Sports titles, including FIFA 13 and Madden 13, both with Kinect support. Joe Montana made an appearance to play a little bit of Madden 13, and despite the fact that there was a slight delay between his commands and when they were executed (the most noticeable being the approximate one-second wait between when he said “hike” and when the ball was actually snapped), he was able to issue commands and even call audibles with relative ease as the quarterback.
Other big-name demos included Tomb Raider (out March 5, 2013), Resident Evil 6 (October 2, 2012), and Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 (due November 13, 2012 and with which Microsoft closed its show), all of which will feature Xbox-first DLC.
Among one the more significant announcements that Microsoft made was the official unveiling of Xbox SmartGlass, which aims to connect TVs, Xboxes, phones, computers, and tablets for a seamless multimedia experience. “Your current devices aren’t smart enough because they don’t work together,” said Mark Whitten, the head of Xbox Live as he introduced the technology.
While SmartGlass can do things we’ve seen before — like allow you to start watching a movie on your tablet, and then have it switch over to your TV once you get home — Whitten also demonstrated some of its more impressive features. He put on an episode of Game of Thrones via the HBO GO app on Xbox Live. While the episode was playing, a live map of Westeros (the fictional world in which the TV show takes place) appeared on a tablet, indicating where the current scene was taking place, as well as where the other characters were currently located. As a fan of the show that’s consistently overwhelmed by the sheer number of characters, locations, and storylines that take place simultaneously, I can say that Whitten could not have selected a better show with which to demonstrate SmartGlass.
And SmartGlass will also enhance gaming experiences, as Whitten showed off how plays could be called (or drawn!) in Madden by using a tablet during the game. There was also a brief clip demonstrating how someone playing Halo could unlock new info on the game’s companion app, Halo Waypoint, and immediately pull it up on their smartphone or tablet. It even showed that multiplayer requests could pop up on these other devices and that they could be accepted, immediately saving the player’s single player game, exiting, and switching over to multiplayer.
Other big news included the announcement of Internet Explorer coming to Xbox, allowing for full internet browsing on the console for the very first time. Whitten showed how the browser could be navigated with voice commands via Kinect, but thanks to SmartGlass, he was also able to navigate by using the touchscreen on a smartphone (or tablet). When he pulled out his phone to use as a remote for the browser, he was able to drag his finger along the touchscreen to move an on-screen cursor, but could also pinch to zoom and tap to click.
Unfortunately, Whitten made no mention of the release timeframe of SmartGlass, but he did mention that aside from being available on Windows Phones, tablets and PCs (and would be supported by Windows 8), it would also be available on iPhone, iPad, and Android devices.
Kinect and Xbox Live Grow Stronger
Microsoft’s head of Marketing and Strategy, Yusuf Mehdi also took the stage to show off some upcoming Kinect enhancements, including the ability to use voice commands to search for movies by genre and to select movies by name and through which service you wish to view them. Kinect will also be expanding to other countries and will soon include support for other languages, a feature Mehdi demonstrated by issuing commands to the Kinect on stage in Spanish.
In terms of content, also introduced was Nike+ Kinect training for the platform, which, aside from having workouts for you to perform using your Kinect, also has features like a virtual “trainer” to keep you abreast on your progress (which includes notifications via phone when you’re due for another workout) and the ability to challenge other users to workouts via Xbox Live.
On the subject of Xbox Live, Mehdi also announced that new providers are teaming up with Microsoft to provide more multimedia content, including Nickelodeon, Paramount Movies, Machinima, and Univision. For sport lovers, UFC, MLB, NBA, and NHL content will all be coming to Xbox Live as well, complete with features like the ability to listen to home or away audio broadcasts when watching certain games. ESPN on Xbox will also be seeing some improvements, like live programming, including SportsCenter and game coverage; content from ESPN, ESPN 2, ESPN 3, and ESPN U content will all be featured on Xbox Live.
And finally, Medhi announced Xbox Music, though he was very light on the details. “It’s your music, your way,” was more or less all he said before showing a trailer for it. And while it was not clear whether or not it was intended to replace Microsoft’s existing Zune service, the trailer did seem to show off certain features like cloud play over multiple devices like smartphones and tablets.