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E3 2012: Microsoft press conference summary
by Linford Butler

Yesterday, Microsoft hosted its annual E3 media briefing in Los Angeles, the first of the conference series this year.

At the opening of the conference, Microsoft's CEO, Don Mattrick, promised that his company were on a "mission to make the entertainment you love more amazing", boasting the "greatest line-up of games ever" and announcing that Xbox entertainment was, for the first time, to move "beyond consoles, and onto your phones and tablets."

This year's conference seemed to be characterised by a competitivity on Microsoft's part, one-upping competitors in an effort to ensure that Xbox and its ecosystem remain relevant in a market increasingly saturated by mobile gaming. There also seemed to be somewhat less variation than in 2011, yet Kinect integration - whilst still pushed - seemed less shoehorned in to Microsoft's products.

None of the company's announcements were really groundbreaking; instead, Microsoft seemed to focus on bringing minor updates and augmentations to the existing groundwork that it has already built.

Here's a summary of the details we found out and the events that unfolded.

Halo 4

The show began with a live-action trailer of Microsoft's upcoming blockbuster, Halo 4. The basic premise seemed to be the story of the UNSC launching a ship to peacefully head into space to explore the far reaches of the universe. Graphically lovely, the gameplay footage shown indicated satisfying and weighty weapon mechanics, and nice weapon styles, with from-the-hip firing indicating strong influence from the first game. It felt perhaps a little grittier, and a little more brutal, and the demo was closed by promising us that "an ancient evil awakens".

Splinter Cell: Blacklist

Stylistically, Ubisoft's upcoming title seems to be focussing on skill, entertainment value, gritty brutality and lots of slow-motion. The demo showed Assassin's Creed influences in its ledge takedowns and climbing mechanics, whilst the game generally appears to be cover-based. Players can mark enemies for smooth, cinematic execution sequences. Revolving around the Blacklist, "a terror ultimatum of increasing attacks upon US interests", the game will ship in Spring 2013 with the promise that it will be "the most ambitious Splinter Cell yet".


With Kinect in FIFA 13, players will be able to command the action on-pitch without ever interrupting the action or being forced to navigate menus. The enhanced voice commands include player substitutions and other tactical decisions, which can be made on-the-fly through the new enhanced Kinect voice commands. FIFA 13 with these functions will be released in various languages this autumn.

Madden 13

Again, vocal controls enabled through Kinect were the focus, designed to allow the player to choose formations and address specific players. With Kinect voice commands, Madden 13 will hit shelves on 28th August.

Gears of War: Judgement

A trailer was shown, with very few details actually announced. However, from the looks of things, we can expect fire and lots of it when the game launches next year.

Forza 3: Horizon

A new trailer showed off the extremely detailed vehicles in the game, and notable were the small details such as photographers on the track which really augmented the game's realism and fidelity. Forza 3: Horizon will be coming on 23rd October.

Bing and video

Yusuf Mehdi took to the stage to discuss Bing and the Xbox Dashboard functions. Microsoft announced that they will be extending Bing voice search through Kinect to twelve additional countries, and Xbox owners will soon be able to search for their favourite films and television programmes according to genre. Over the next year, the company said that they "plan to double the experiences we can bring to you," starting by announcing that Nickelodeon, Paramount Movies, Machinima and Univision will all join Xbox's list of video providers. Furthermore, the console's portfolio of sports coverage will also increase, becoming your "new home for sports" with the addition of NBA and NHL as providers and 24/7 live ESPN programming coming later this year to Xbox.

Xbox Music

Microsoft also unveiled their new on-demand music offering, the aptly-named Xbox Music, a "world-class library of over 30 million music tracks". The service will be accessible via the Xbox 360 console, or your tablet or smartphone. The service will boast social integration aspects which will allow you to see what your friends are listening to, and will also allow you to create playlists of music according to a genre or type, through a feature called SmartDJ.

Nike+ Kinect Training

Stefan Orlando of Nike made an appearance to discuss "the future of fitness" on Xbox, announcing a partnership with Xbox which will see a fully-fledged, personalised training regime made accessible to Xbox owners via Kinect. Features include in-depth information regarding your training, and reminders to exercise sent to you via your phone. Kinect Training will launch this Christmas.

Xbox Smartglass

Microsoft made an effort to stress the importance of cross-compatibility within the Xbox ecosystem in its conference this year, demonstrating the potential for cross-device interaction between the Xbox 360 and Windows 8 tablets and smartphones. The company are calling this cross-compatibility 'Xbox Smartglass', which will see Windows 8 tablets compliment your media by giving additional information or another outlet for rich media to enhance the experience. For instance, you can start watching a film on-the-go on your tablet, and then transfer it once home to your television, at which point the tablet will provide in-depth information on the film playing on your television, such as a cast list. Smartglass concepts included how it could be used to plan runs in Madden 13 or to read and manage intel and inventory contents in Halo 4. Furthermore, it works with all the devices you already own - your existing television, smartphone and tablet.

Internet Explorer for Xbox

Enabled by Kinect and Smartglass, it was announced that an adapted version of Internet Explorer 10 will come to Xbox 360 this autumn, "the web, transformed for TV". With a simplified, minimalist graphical design strongly based upon the Windows 8 Metro scheme, the browser can be controlled through voice commands (enabled by Kinect). Furthermore, your phone or tablet can be used as a mouse to control the browser on your console, using Smartglass, including pinch and zoom functions.

Tomb Raider

Tomb Raider was demonstrated, which saw a level of the game which focussed on the high-adrenalin action of the game rather than the puzzle elements as at last year's E3. Lara was shown using a bow-and-arrow (a common theme this year, it seems), being shot at, picking up weaponry, jumping gaps, ziplining and pushing adversaries off the edge of cliffs. The focus in the action sequence appeared to be thinking about and finding clever and effective ways to dispatch enemies. Definite strong points of the demo included the voice acting, which was believable and well-crafted, and upon the graphics and sound effects, whilst the XP-system-based gameplay also looks extremely strong. There was a definite influence from series such as Uncharted, with big action sequences, such as Lara falling from a plane, plummeting as her parachute fails to open. Furthermore, Microsoft announced that the first piece of DLC for Tomb Raider will be launched first on Xbox 360.

Ascend: New Gods

A fantasy-influenced action title in which large, beastly creatures attack one another with oversized weapons, to be launched sometime in 2013.

Resident Evil 6

Capcom made an appearance to speak about Resident Evil 6. The demo given showed off fully-integrated jumping, rolling and cover mechanics, and a dark and gritty feel, with close-up executions and brutal mêlée action. We also saw that helicopters will be pilotable, controlled through prompts and QTEs. Again, DLC for Resident Evil 6 will come first to Xbox 360 before other platforms.


An olde-worldy castle-destroying title, which uses Kinect controls to throw and guide cannonballs towards enemy fortresses, with the aim of destroying them. Graphically extremely cartoon-influenced and clearly aiming at a family and young person audience, it will launch on Xbox Live this summer.

South Park: The Stick of Truth

A trailer was shown for a new South Park game, created in the programme's distinctive 2D cartoon style and featuring its trademark bad language and tasteless jokes. The creators aimed to make "a game where you're the new kid, trying to become the fifth of the four boys", and wanted to give the game the feel of interacting in an episode of the TV series. The Stick of Truth will launch in March 2013.

Dance Central 3

Usher performed his new single in order to demonstrate its accompanying dance moves, which players of Harmonix's Dance Central 3 will be able to learn on the game when it hits shelves.

Call of Duty: Black Ops 2

Alongside the in-game demo, it was announced that all Black Ops 2 DLC will launch first on Xbox 360. The game centres around the basic concept of "what happens if the enemy gets hold of the keys?" Starting slightly differently than past E3 demos, the protagonist was shown in a vehicle with the female President of the United States, as the country is under attack by an enemy known as Mernandez, who is using US drones against the country to kill off the G8 leaders and topple capitalist governments worldwide. Development of the format has definitely been focussed on, with influences from the likes of Battlefield and Ghost Recon evident in the minimalist HUD and the incorporation of gadgetry into the tried-and-tested 'aim-and-fire' format. Furthermore, the linearity of the series seems to have been slightly challenged in that there appears to be multiple choices which the player must decide between at various points. Weapon handling seems slightly heavier than usual, more akin to the weightiness of weapons in the Battlefield series, whilst the sound effects are much improved and much more satisfying than in previous Call of Duty titles. It still appears to lead the player through by the hand to some extent, putting the focus on action rather than the player considering tactics. The game will launch on 13th November 2012.
- Linford Butler

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