E3’11: Thoughts from Microsoft’s Media Briefing

Timely as ever, I am pretty late to this press conference recap party so I’m gonna do this in short order for the stifled attention spans of us all. Just some quick thoughts and bullet points from Microsoft’s Media Briefing.

I was, of course, stuck at work for the show so I had the true social media experience of following along on twitter (from my Blackberry even) and periodically sneaking onto Joystiq to catch some of their live blog photos. I got the same instantaneous shock as those in attendance… but some of the context didn’t come until later when I was able to watch the thing myself. The ‘fist bump’ moment — where two kid actors playing Kinect Disneyland Adventures delivered their scripted lines horribly — was way different in my head. I thought it was a couple of grown men playing Modern Warfare 3.

Speaking of which, I don’t care at all about Modern Warfare, Call of Duty, Gears of War, modern military shooters, or even FPSs much anymore. What did blow me away was the Tomb Raider presentation by Crystal Dynamics. In an almost Sam Raimi homage, a young Lara Croft is repeatedly beaten up as she escapes some kind of subterranean cultist lair. The puzzling didn’t involve archaic machines that magically function thousands of years later and there were no animals being shot, not even a single gun. The visuals looked great all around; from Lara’s animations to the ample fire effects and the bokeh particle stuff. I was worried about how linear and QTE it looked but word from the show is that there is the more traditional exploration stuff, so that’s good.

Next up on my hit list was the Mass Effect 3 demo although I was already sold on that before it started. Kinect voice commands looked neat for a minute but reading out a dialog option only to have Shepard repeat the sentiment seemed awkward. Like they should’ve gone all the way and let us read out the entire script or just skip this “feature” entirely. The only other thing that bugged me is that your teammate icons still appear at mid-screen which is where Shepard’s ass is for 80% of the game.

The New New New New Xbox Experience — the Fall Dashboard update that looks like Windows Phone 7 — seemed like a good looking refresh but there sure is a lot of wasted screen space. Not that I want more 7/11 ads on my screen but more or bigger tiles for more content would be nice. Even with the Kinect/Bing voice searching I feel like it’s going to take more time than it currently does to track down exactly what I’m looking for. Youtube support is great but about three years too late to really mean anything. The ‘Live TV’ stuff is where it’s at and though I doubt I’ll ever subscribe it finally brings to life the all-in-one set-top-box dream that the video game industry has been chasing since the 90’s.

UFC fake gambling seems like a far cry from the way more impressive stuff they’ve already done with 1 vs 100… and seriously, that UFC President guy used to be a fighter right? He won the title by defeating the former President in the ring. Guy is huge! I already said I don’t care about Gears but I forgot to throw Halo into that blacklist so let’s cut right to the Kinect stuff.

look at all this stuff I kinda don’t really wanna do…

Like the Kinect Fun Labs that I played around with (and will totally post videos of once their site is working), Kinect at E3 2011 seems like a halfhearted proposition. The concepts are all cool: fighting through Rome in Ryse, spellcasting with my hands through Fable: The Journey, exploring Disneyland, playing with Cookie Monster, killing Sith Jedis, playing more sports (I’ll always give golf a shot!). But we already know what the execution is going to be like. I’m not even going to try Kinect Star Wars because it looks tiring and repetitive in ways I’m already exhausted from. Even I, the stalwart Kinect supporter, am getting tired of it being shoehorned into everything and blown from minigame collection into way-too-long full game experiences. The head tracking in Forza 4 is probably the best use of Kinect I’ve seen from E3.

And then there was some Halo thing. The one thing I loved about it is the storytelling concept I have officially dubbed the ‘inside-out wake-up call‘; the journey from the cellular level out to reality for a character coming back to life that was so memorable in Mass Effect 2. Love that stuff.

There’s not a lot of exclusive stuff coming from any of the Big Three this year that demands my adoration. Even the Dashboard stuff which I’m usually stoked for only got a lukewarm ‘ok, cool’ reaction. It’s definitely a third-party E3 for me.


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