|Microsoft E3 Analysis|
|Posted: 06.06.2012 13:11 by Joe Robinson||Comments: 0|
As we move towards the twilight days of this generation of console hardware, it’s clear that some companies are pulling out all the stops to keep their platforms relevant. In Microsoft’s case; not only is it making sure the Xbox 360 fits in with the new generation of Microsoft products and software, but it’s also evolving the console’s mandate to be more than just a games machine.
Sony took this stance with the PlayStation 3, but in recent years that idea seems to have fallen by the wayside somewhat, and they were never as aggressive as Microsoft is being now. It’s a shame, because this means that Microsoft’s E3 conferences haven’t really been that exciting for a couple of years now. E3 2012 could almost be called pedestrian – no surprises, no rocking the boat, just efficiently covering all the bases, ticking all the boxes, and thanking us for our time. This is the same company that cheekily announced a 360 port of Final Fantasy XIII three years ago... I wonder where that flair has gone.
Granted this year Microsoft had a fine opening with the Halo 4 gameplay demo, which not only showed off the stunning new visuals and engine, but also showed combat, new weapons and enemies, as well as finishing off with a nice little teaser. The demo was preceded by a live-action segment, which could possibly have doubled as a teaser or proof-of-concept for the Forward Unto Dawn web-series that is going to precede the game. This, more than anything, has put to rest some personal reservations that I had about the franchise, although I noticed that they changed how the Grunts look. This detail, whilst wholly insignificant, highlights to me that 343 aren’t against making visual or functional changes simply because they can, and that kind of thinking worries me. Still, the demo impressed, and for the moment they get the benefit of the doubt.
There were other highlights as well - the new South Park game, The Stick of Truth, was probably the most down-to-earth presentation in the whole affair. It’s looking like everything you want out of a South Park game, and Trey Parker and Matt Stone were refreshingly entertaining simply because they clearly weren’t on a script. And they took a cheeky dig at Microsoft, which is always fun. Apart from that, it was all pretty much a standard affair. Exclusive DLC partnerships were announced for Resident Evil 6, and the new Tomb Raider, as well as Black Ops 2. Microsoft has been good at getting these exclusivity deals, so 360 owners at least will be pleased that this trend is continuing, with a wider range of games as well. Trailers for the new Gears of War game (Judgement) and FORZA: Horizon were shown – nothing special there - and we got gameplay demos for Tomb Raider, Splinter Cell Blacklist and Resident Evil 6, all of which had more action than sense but there you go. There was also Just Dance 3, but that doesn’t count. The show ended with a Call of Duty: Black Ops II demo which, whilst impressive in its own way, dragged on a bit too long.
These gaming segments, as welcome as they were, barely made up half the show though – a lot of time was given to Microsoft’s other initiatives. The software giant’s new favourite ‘thing’ seems to be the entertainment deals – which fits in with what I said at the beginning of the evolution of the 360. This year was no exception: yet more sports and entertainment partners were announced, including Machinima, Paramount, Nickelodeon and NBA/NHL Live coverage, with a total of 35 new partnerships coming to Xbox Live. Most of these deals are probably going to be US specific, at least to begin with, so non-US territories don’t really have a lot to be excited about at the moment. Microsoft’s announcement of Xbox Music as well showed that they’ve perhaps finally given up on Zune. I almost fell asleep when Nike came on stage and started talking about their new fitness game (as if there isn’t enough of those) but at least we saw some ground-up Kinect software being talked about, as opposed to simply adding functionality.
The most interesting part of the conference was undoubtedly the announcement of ‘SmartGlass’, which despite sounding like something a door-to-door windows salesman would offer (I initially thought it was some kind of accessory that you placed over an existing screen or something) is actually, for lack of a better word, an app. Not just any app though – this piece of software is supposed to allow for a wide range of functionalities – from turning the local device into an extra controller, to turning it into a ‘companion’ product for movies or TV shows, to allowing simple cross-platform connectivity. Watch a film on your phone, and you can pause it and pick up where you left off on your PC.
It can also add ‘second screen’ functionality to gaming, turning ordinary mobile devices or tablets into companion devices for games. The two examples shown for this feature demonstrated both active – where you make alterations on the fly using the SmartGlass device as another controller, to passive, where as you pass an object you get extra information about that object sent to the SmartGlass device. Much like a lot of Microsoft products this year, it’s designed with Windows 8 devices in mind, but it’ll also be available for iOS and Android devices, although I wouldn’t rule out dedicated Windows Phone/Windows 8 features.
This is part and parcel of keeping the Xbox 360 in line with competitors – if Apple do end up moving into the console game space properly, it could involve existing devices like the iPhone or the iPad, and let’s not forget what Nintendo are doing with the Wii U controllers. This goes someway to stay in line with both, and it can probably deal with whatever Sony comes up with as well. Fredrik Wester – CEO of Paradox Interactive and a very intelligent man (also the best CEO interviewee ever) believes that there will be one more hardware cycle before the big three start integrating into the TV’s or perhaps other devices.
If he’s right, I think E3 2012 is going to be where it all started, for realz: Nintendo have the Wii U game pad, Sony have, well, they’re still working on that I suppose, and Microsoft has Smart Glass. This idea of connecting devices and platforms is becoming increasingly popular amongst the tech community, and it’s only a matter of time before Occam’s Razor kicks in and all these different devices are melted into one.
Microsoft’s Press conference was definitely the weakest out of the lot (possibly tied with EA, but they were weak for other reasons), but there were some highlights, and more importantly there was something for everyone. Which, in a way, perfectly sums up what Microsoft want the Xbox 360 to be all about.
Oh, and a Web Browser.