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E3 2009: Microsoft Press Conference Highlights

While Ani-Gamers does not have reporters present at E3 this year, we are nonethesless striving to bring you up-to-date coverage from and opinions on the show through the reporting of other websites. Without further ado, here’s what went down at the Microsoft Press Conference.

Corporate Vice President of LIVE, Software and Services John Schappert began by setting a countdown of sorts: There would be ten games shown off during the presentation that featured never-before-seen footage or features, or were entirely new announcements. The first big reveal was not a game announcement, but details for The Beatles: Rock Band, which boasted three microphones at a time for a total of six players during the demo of “Day Tripper.” The songs currently confirmed for the game are “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,” and “Get Back,” and the entire Abbey Road album will be available for download not long after the game drops on September 9th. Let me just say right now that this game looks like one of the coolest things in recent years. If it permits four-part harmonies, then I’m so going to rock “Paperback Writer” like there’s no tomorrow. (Check out the game’s debut trailer from E3)

Surprisingly, Microsoft announced Crackdown 2, the sequel to the Xbox 360 open-world action game that achieved mild critical acclaim, but was widely seen as nothing more than a ticket for the Halo 3 beta. Apparently Microsoft thought it was a strong enough franchise on its own to get a sequel. After that came one of the biggest new game announcement of the conference: Left 4 Dead 2 (which totally should have been called Left 5 Dead). Few details are confirmed just yet, but we do know that it will be an Xbox 360/PC exclusive, and will hit stores (and Steam) on November 17, 2009. The CG teaser trailer shows a new cast of characters, and a new setting – New Orleans. That’s quite an interesting choice, especially considering the scenes of devastation and urban unrest that occurred there in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.

It’s not a Microsoft press conference without Halo, and Bungie was in full swing yet again this year, despite no longer being owned by Microsoft. They presented details (and a trailer) for Halo: ODST, which takes place in New Mombassa, “weeks before the start of Halo 3.” Included in ODST will be a multiplayer beta invite for Bungie’s other game, Halo: Reach. Presumably the game will follow the plot of one of the Halo novels, which details the “Fall of Reach,” but I’m not personally familiar with the story’s particulars. The only piece of information that Bungie provided was a teaser trailer (featuring no gameplay footage), with the words “Drops 2010.”

The conference also boasted showings from the Xbox 360 version of Final Fantasy XIII, which will eventually see its release in 2010 and the Chair Entertainment/Epic Games-developed sidescroller Shadow Complex (formerly Empire: Alpha Complex), which is based on the Orson Scott Card novel Empire. Splinter Cell: Conviction was present with a rather impressive demo video boasting some gameplay reminiscent of Assassin’s Creed. Of course, there was also a trailer and gameplay footage from Alan Wake (releases in 2010) and the announcement of Forza 3, which ships in October.

Finally, Schappert announced Joy Ride (trailer here), a new free-to-play XBLA kart racing game that uses Avatars as characters – a clear attempt to grab some of the success of Nintendo’s Mario Kart Wii.

The biggest announcement of all came from the hardware side though. Sure, Microsoft announced the ability to edit your Netflix queue on your 360 (a feature lacking in previous versions of Netflix on 360) and a partnership with Facebook and Twitter that will make it possible for you to never ever get up from your Xbox in your entire life. But what has everybody talking are two simple words: Project Natal.

According to the videos and demos shown by Microsoft, “Natal” (named after the word for “birth”) seems to be, in essence, a motion controller, sans the controller. It is a camera that captures the player’s movements and translates them into game actions by (presumably) fitting the person to a virtual ball-and-rod structure. Other features include facial recognition, object scans for things like skateboard designs, voice recognition, and AI interaction. The trailer (shown above) is full of Wii-level silliness, which actually highlights the true reason why Microsoft is trying to implement such a revolutionary change – they are losing to Nintendo, and they are looking to change that. While I’m generally opposed to playing a game without something physical involved (since there’s no physical feedback), I’ll admit that the idea might be just crazy enough to work. The question is, can it actually cut into the Wii’s market?

I’m going to say no, at least for this generation. The Wii has already grabbed mainstream attention by “doing it first,” and the name “Wii” has a much better ring to it than “Project Natal.” The technology being pioneered here by Microsoft is revolutionary, certainly, and I would love to see it work, but I’m afraid that it will be just as wonky as the Wii. If Microsoft has a product of equal quality but with inferior marketing, they simply cannot hope to win the fight for the casuals.

But let’s just get this straight: Natal is similar to things like the Wii and OnLive in that it’s crazy and unlikely, but if it works, it will completely and utterly change the landscape upon which video games are played. I applaud Microsoft for taking such a major leap, whether it ends up working out for them or not.

[via 1UP]

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