LOS ANGELES — Declaring victory over the PlayStation 3, if not the Wii, Microsoft kicked off E3 week with a slew of announcements designed to take at least a small bite out of Nintendo's success while also going for Sony's jugular.
"We will sell more consoles worldwide this generation than PlayStation 3," Don Mattrick, senior vice president of interactive entertainment business, said halfway through an often loud, high-energy and confident presentation. To cap off a 90-minute presentation full of shots at the PS3, Mattrick brought out Yoichi Wada, president of Square-Enix, to announce that "Final Fantasy XIII," long thought to be a PlayStation 3 exclusive, would also be released on the Xbox 360 when the game launches (no timeframe was given).
The Microsoft briefing took place in the massive West Hall of the Los Angeles Convention Center, the hall that used to house half of the E3 show. This year's smaller version of E3 will only take place in the foyer of E3 and closed-door meeting rooms. Still, about a thousand reporters and game creators packed the Microsoft event.
The Xbox 360 maker highlighted four games as the premier upcoming hard-core gamer's games for the system. Don Mattrick, senior vice president of interactive entertainment business, launched presentations of the quartet: "Fable II," "Gears of War 2," "Fallout 3" and "Resident Evil 5." (Those last two are also coming to PS3.) Mattrick said those games account for about half a billion dollars in projected sales.
Some notes about those games:
» "Gears" is the much-hyped sequel to the 360's first blockbuster action game. Its showing began with a striking trailer that featured protagonist Marcus Fenix in a massive underground firefight while a voice-over despaired about a "rendezvous with death." A live gameplay demonstration showed some of the M-rated sequel's new features: the ability to use enemies as shields; the presence of flame-throwers wieldable by hero and enemies; a slightly brighter, orange-tinged color palette; and the presence of dozens of characters on-screen. It also teased the ability to ride the game's elephantine beasts, the Brumacs. The game's release date was announced as November 7.
» "Fable II" is a fantasy role-playing game. " 'Fable II' is finished," the head of the game's development studio, Peter Molyneux of Lionhead, announced as he took the stage of Microsoft's briefing. He cued up the game's opening scene, a dramatic depiction of a bird's flight over one of the game's cityscapes. The bird defecated from midair, the camera closed in on the dropping, it hit the game's lead character in the head — and no one at the Microsoft briefing laughed. Still, Molyneux then showed a new idea: Players of "Fable II" can elect to have orbs appear in the world that represent other players in the game. Clicking on those orbs immediately links the two players into a co-op game. The game is set for October release.
» "Fallout 3" is a fall-scheduled role-playing game set in postapocalyptic Washington, D.C. (imagine shooting-infected survivors as a nearby radio chirps "Yankee Doodle Dandy"). "Fallout 3" head designer Todd Howard revealed that "extensive" downloadable content will be offered for the game exclusively on Xbox 360 and Games for Windows — read: not PS3.
» "Resident Evil 5" is the latest game in the famous horror series, this one set in Africa and featuring a series first: online co-op play. One player controls hero Chris Redfield; the other controls heroine Sheva. If only one person is playing, the console automatically controls Sheva, though Redfield can be made to call out to her for assistance. The game's release date was announced for Friday the 13th in March 2009.
Microsoft carved out part of its conference to highlight the achievement of music games, citing millions of downloads and stating that 80 percent of all downloaded songs in gaming are purchased through the Xbox 360 (as opposed to the PS3). First, a developer of "Guitar Hero: World Tour" said that Van Halen and the Eagles are exclusive to the "GH" series. Metallica's next album, Death Magnetic, will be released simultaneously as a regular album and a playable one in September through "Guitar Hero III" (and, in the fall, "World Tour"). "Rock Band 2" was reconfirmed as a timed exclusive to the Xbox 360, launching in September on that platform before it hits competitors later in the year. The game's 84-song soundtrack was revealed, including three highlights: the first single from Guns 'N Roses' Chinese Democracy, a song from Bob Dylan and music from AC/DC. By year's end, 500 songs are supposed to be available for "Rock Band 2," including tracks released for the first game in the series. Microsoft announced a karaoke game called "Lips" and brought out singer Duffy to sing one of her hits while the game played it in the background.
Microsoft also highlighted a major revision of its operating system that radically changes the look of all the Xbox 360's menus and channels. This service, launching in the fall, is centered on an avatar-based view of the Xbox dashboard that replaces the system's blade-based menus. On a gray background, flat panels represent content in the system (games, movies, etc.) in a format that resembles the album-cover view available on iTunes. Players can customize big-headed avatars, dressing them in outfits. The avatars will be sharable among friends. The new system replaces buddy lists of friends with a shared virtual room. Up to eight friends can have a "party," swapping photos. A new service was also announced called Xbox Live Prime Time, a game show channel that allows at least 100 players to compete against one another. A video game trivia challenge will also be offered over the Prime Time service.
The company announced that Netflix will be available as a download service exclusively for the Xbox 360 (again, no PS3) and that movies downloaded from the service will be viewable in the new Xbox eight-person party mode.
Microsoft also announced a new "Galaga" for release in August and an Xbox Live Arcade-exclusive expansion of "Portal" coming in the fall. A port of the original "Banjo-Kazooie" was also announced for Live Arcade, while the first 360-exclusive downloadable episode for "Grand Theft Auto IV" was confirmed for the fall.
Mattrick announced that more than a billion dollars has been spent on Xbox Live since the service's launch and that the 360 has 10.3 million units in homes in the U.S. (compared to 10.2 million Wiis).
Every year, Microsoft makes a play for more mainstream gamers. This year, the company is doing it with the release of a movie-trivia version of the DVD game Scene It? and a camera-enabled mini-game challenge called "You're in the Movies." The latter game records clips of players jumping through activities and then condenses the performances into silly B-movie-style shorts.
Nintendo did its best to spoil the Xbox media briefing by sending reporters a text message two hours prior to the Microsoft event, hyping the Wii MotionPlus, a small plug-in that is supposed to increase the motion-sensitivity of the Wii remote.
The Nintendo briefing and Sony's showcase will take place Tuesday morning in Los Angeles.
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