E3 '09: Xbox Media Briefing

Waking up in the morning makes me cranky. So do long lines to whatever. In this case, waiting outside the Galen Center at 9:30 in the middle of a gigantic rat maze line, crowded with people wasn't making me any happier. The consolation was the expectations of what would be going on inside, and I have to say, this year's Xbox 360 Media Briefing didn't disappoint.

The show began with the opening cinematic for The Beatles: Rock Band - which was great in itself, moving on to a demo of the actual game in action. The major difference here is that you can have up to three people singing now, with three individual voice bars appearing on the karaoke bar on the top of the screen. There are extra bonuses for when the singers are in perfect harmony (Triple Fab, Double Fab), similar to the Unison Bonus we already know.

After a very crazy video presentation in traditional Beatles videoclip style, the first 10 out of 45 tracks (all master recordings edited for quality) were announced:

  • I Saw Her Standing There
  • I Want To Hold Your Hand
  • I Feel Fine
  • Day Tripper
  • Taxman
  • I Am The Walrus
  • Back in the U.S.S.R.
  • Octopus's Garden
  • Here Comes The Sun
  • Get Back

Full albums will become available as DLC, with Abbey Road being the first, shortly after the game's launch. All You Need Is Love is available through DLC as well, and proceeds from the song will be donated to Doctors Without Borders. On stage to celebrate the world premiere were Olivia Harrison, Yoko Ono Lennon, Sir Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr.

Since today was supposed to be about "showing, not telling" we moved on to a series of world premieres, trailers and on-stage demos for several titles that wowed the crowd.

Tony Hawk presented Tony Hawk Ride and the new motion-controlled board, which offers intuitive controls for players of all skill levels. We will no longer play Tony Hawk by pressing button combos, but by stepping onto the skateboard deck and doing the movements ourselves with out feet. I'm guessing this is another way to land me on the floor, but should be a lot of fun.

Modern Warfare 2 (notice no Call of Duty on the title anymore?) showed an interesting and tense sequence of events: from ice climbing to a breath-taking near fall, some stealth gameplay, FPS sequence with lots of shooting and explosions, and finally some shooting action while riding a snowmobile.

With FFXIII we witnessed part of a fight and the summoning of Odin, but we won't be seeing the game until Spring 2010.

From there, we moved on to a series of Xbox 360 exclusives:

  • Shadow Complex, Epic Games' first XBLA title, a side-scrolling shooter/platform expected Summer 2009
  • Joy Ride, an avatar kart racing game that will be entirely free to play for everyone this Winter
  • Crackdown 2
  • Left 4 Dead 2
  • Splinter Cell Conviction
  • Forza Motorsport 3, described as "the definitive racing game for this generation", coming in October
  • Halo 3 ODST, expected September 27
  • Halo Reach, a very quick sneak peek of what's coming Fall 2010, but those who purchase Halo 3 ODST will have a multiplayer beta invitation for it
  • Alan Wake, the supernatural shooter coming Spring 2010
  • Metal Gear Solid Rising (but don't expect Solid Snake)

But not all is about games. There are a series of partnerships between Xbox360 and other companies that make it a more interactive and social console. For example, Last.fm will bring radio stations to Xbox Live Gold members with no additional cost. Netflix will bring movies and TV series with just a simple click. Sky TV will offer UK and Ireland sports fans all the coverage they can get with no need for additional hardware.

At the same time, Xbox is redefining their video service making every movie available in full 1080p HD, turning them into instant downloads, and making them available in 18 countries. You will also be able to enjoy movies, TV shows and music with other Xbox users in a virtual livingroom: your friends can watch or listen to whatever you are watching or listening at the time.

As for socializing, there are now partnerships with Facebook and Twitter. You can check your friends' status updates, profiles and photos using the Friend Linker on Xbox Live. You can even share those rare and precious moments in gaming with them by taking screenshots and uploading them to Facebook instantly. Twitter also lets you post instantly straight from your console. Both features should arrive this Fall.

But it didn't stop there, and the major revelation this year revolved around two questions: can we go beyond the controller? Can we make YOU the controller? And the answer is yes, with Project Natal.

Project Natal is the codename for the new motion sensor control system that turns you into a controller. Whatever gestures you do are translated into the games. Plus, it also recognizes faces and voice, so you can sign into your account by stepping in front of it, browse the dashboard by gesturing with your hands, activate features by simply telling the console to "play movie" or "find" a particular user. And the great thing is that this will work with every Xbox 360 console already released, and every Xbox 360 console to come.

Steven Spielberg came on stage and he too was impressed. He said that this "is not about reinventing the wheel, it's about having no wheel at all". Microsoft is taking us into a new era of interactivity without having to release yet another system, introducing a level of control not thought possible. We saw demos of Ricochet and Paint Party in action, but obviously the best was last for last.

Peter Molyneux introduced us to Milo. Milo is a virtual boy who interacts with you and is actually able to recognize your emotions by analyzing speech changes. I have to say, this was as creepy as impressive. What we saw was an actual intelligent conversation between a person and a character, each reacting to each other as people would when chatting face to face. You are even able to draw something on a piece of paper, hand it over, and Milo will reach out and pull it into his "world". The point of this demo was to show a connection to a virtual world, and here we had this woman's reflexion in a pond, her hands touching virtual water which rippled as she moved. And Milo is just pure AI. Unbelievable. The only thing missing here is Milo popping out of the screen and crossing over into our world. It is THAT real.

With a new focus on socializing, sharing, interacting and turning the player into the best controlled invented, I'm sure Microsoft managed to wow the world. It sure wowed me!

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