As we dash from Microsoft’s E3 press conference to EA’s, we wanted to give you our quick impressions of Microsoft’s E3 volley before we really dig into the meat and potatoes of it later tonight.
Microsoft clearly knows where its bread and butter lies: Xbox Live. As such, most of the innovation we can expect to see from Microsoft this year lies in its online service, not necessarily its game lineup. Sure, the Xbox 360 event launched with real-time demos of Fallout 3, Resident Evil 5, Fable II and Gears of War 2 … but the bulk of Microsoft’s press conference lay in Xbox Live and digital-distribution announcements.
Probably the biggest news from Microsoft was a complete and total redesign of the Xbox Dashboard. This fall, Xbox 360 owners will no longer see the “blades” interface. Instead, the Xbox 360 Dashboard will be represented by rolodex-like cards that represent your Gamercard, Recent Games, Videos/TV shows and Photos. Cycling through these “cards” is as simple as a press of the thumbstick, and the cleanliness of it all is much more refined than the current blades setup.
The new Gamercard “card” will also be augmented by a new Mii-like “avatar” that gamers can customize by height/weight/clothing, even going so far as to adorn their avatar with seasonal clothes (how long until we see “microtransactioned” fashion lines?).
Once this new avatar is created, it will represent gamers anytime they’re online, from appearing in the new Xbox Live Friends List “lobby” to being their digital version in online Xbox Live Arcade party games. Although not a new concept (see the aforementioned Mii as well as the characters in Sony’s “Home” interface), the Xbox 360 Avatars should be a nice addition for gamers who are addicted to party games, as you can create a “group” and bounce from shared photos to party game to real-time chat seamlessly.
The party leader’s avatar, if a Netflix subscriber, will also also be able to invite anyone on his/her Friends list to watch a movie from their Watch Now Queue for free. This is an exclusive partnership for Microsoft, and although it’s a definite coup, we wonder what the real benefit will be for Xbox 360 owners.
Microsoft’s other coup is Final Fantasy XIII being available day-and-date on Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. Like the GTA IV deal with Rockstar, this move levels a Final-Fantasy playing field for Microsoft that had previously been tilted decidedly in Sony’s favor. The trailer that Square-Enix displayed was absolutely gorgeous, from lifelike (no really, they were) CGI sequences to a select few in-game shots. Square-Enix also announced FF XIII will appear on Games for Windows, begging the question of whether Xbox 360 owners will be able to enjoy cross-platform play with PC gamers. After all, it worked for Shadowrun, so maybe Square Enix can deliver the same functionality with a game that’s actually good.
Everything didn’t come up roses for Microsoft, though. A new game from Codemasters called You’re In The Movies will let gamers use the Xbox Live Vision Camera to film themselves doing crazy minigames a la the original EyeToy on PS2, but then those clips will be assembled into a campy movie a la a 1950s horror flick. The silence in the auditorium when this game was announced and displayed was deafening. Five people will buy this game…all Microsoft or Codemasters employees.
Other highlights of the conference included Portal: Still Alive, an Xbox Live Arcade-exclusive sequel to Valve’s Portal puzzle game, as well as the announcement of Xbox Live Primetime, a “channel” that will let gamers participate MMO-style in digital game shows and win real prizes. Although this sounds cheesy, its implementation could actually be really fun, kicking off with an MMO-style version of “1 vs. 100” this fall that will use gamers’ new Avatars to be digital contestants.
We’ll have more analysis about Microsoft’s Xbox 360 E3 press conference later today. Until then, we invite you to discuss everything E3 in our forums.