E3 2012: The Microsoft Outlook

There was a lot of hype heading into Microsoft’s E3 press conference. There was a promise of footage from the upcoming Halo 4. In the run up to E3, the biggest expected announcement was for Smart Glass which was believed to allow for media sharing between XBox 360s and (non-BlackBerry) mobile devices. And we were expecting all sorts of Kinect games and apps to be unveiled.

The presser led off with the Halo 4 trailer which contained both live-action and CG elements. The interesting thing to come from the trailer itself is that a new enemy has been introduced into the series (presumably to keep it fresh [the editorializing is part PlayStation/PC fan-ism and part disappointment we’re getting fewer and fewer epic new IPs]).

There were other XBox 360 exclusive games unveiled at the presser. Gears of War: Judgement and Forza Horizon were unveiled. GoW is still GoW. Forza Horizon has moved off the track and onto the streets in a style that seems reminiscent of EA’s Need For Speed series.

Speaking of game introductions, the presented third-party games all had Kinect support built-in. Splinter Cell: Blacklist, a new Fable game (which was said to appear more shooter-ish than classic Fable games), FIFA 13 and Madden 13 were all demonstrated with their Kinect functionality. So if you enjoy yelling at an AI ref who’s on your TV screen, EA Sports has you covered. Nike unveiled a Nike+ Kinect training game. I always thought fitness programs would be one thing Kinect would be able to blow everyone else out of the water with and it sounds like Nike+ will be the new fitness game benchmark.

Other third-part world premieres at the Microsoft press conference included the new Tomb Raider game/reboot (whose first DLC is a 360 exclusive), Ascend: New Gods (I didn’t know about the old gods) and Twisted Pixel’s new LocoCycle. We also saw footage from Resident Evil 6, the South Park RPG called The Stick of Truth (Sweet!) and Call Of Duty: Black Ops 2.

Not surprisingly, Kinect and XBox Live offerings were again a big focus for Microsoft. The plan is to double the entertainment offerings on the Xbox over the next year. They presented a number of new features including Nickelodeon video, Paramount movies, NBA Gametime League Pass, NHL GameCenter and Watch ESPN. Microsoft is also launching XBox Music which will also be available on Windows 8 products (a sort-of first-party Spotify).

Near the end of the press conference, Microsoft revealed the much-anticipated Smart Glass app. This will connect your XBox to your Windows, Windows Phone, Android and iOS devices (so us BB folks are out of luck). Apple fans will recognize it as similar to AirPlay apparently (I’m not an Apple guy and don’t apologize for it). You can push media from running on your mobile device to your XBox and vice versa. Your mobile platform will provide supplementary data to what’s on the screen while it plays. Not only will this work for entertainment but also for games. A Madden demo had the game on the screen with a playbook on a Smart Glass enabled Windows 8 tablet. Basically, Smart Glass appears to be a game changer for entertainment and will likely cause Apple headaches before launching Apple TV.

The focus for Microsoft wasn’t on the games or on the next console generation. The focus is on integrating multiple platforms and making the XBox the hub of that platform. It’s almost as though Microsoft is targeting Apple’s platform integration but working across multiple operating systems (including Android and iOS) instead of just the one (like Apple). The emphasis on Smart Glass as a selling point will probably work a lot better than Kinect as the emphasis on Kinect this year is for voice commands rather than sub-par games. As a non-XBox person, I see more appeal in Smart Glass (even if it doesn’t integrate to BlackBerry) than in adding voice commands to games. The irony of all this is that Nintendo unveiled a 360-esque controller in their Sunday video stream while Microsoft unveiled Wii U-esque tablet control in their presser.

On the next page, we have trailers and videos for some of the games and features from Microsoft’s press conference.


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