E3 ’08, The Press Conferences – MS Edition

We’re now well into July. That can mean only one thing. Fireworks! Not the explodey kind, but more of the “OMG new games!” sort. E3 2008 is now under way. Several companies have had press conferences already, chiefly among them the big 3, Microsoft, Nintendo, and Sony. Here’s a little run-down on the big (and not so big) announcements made at these conferences, and my general impressions so far.

Microsoft kicked off their show on Monday morning, a day earlier than the competition. The general vibe of MS’s show was that there are many games in the pipeline, several new games are coming out this year, and some major updates are coming to the 360’s user interface. While there wasn’t much in the way of brand new, previously unannounced games, the games they demoed were impressive. A little Fable 2 action was shown, some Gears of War 2 was played, Resident Evil 5’s co-op was demonstrated on stage (looks good!), and several trailers were shown. A few new Xbox Live Arcade games were mentioned (but not played), including Uno Rush, Geometry Wars 2, and my favorite, Galaga Legions, a PacMan CE style version of the classic shooter.

Perhaps even bigger news than the games were the upcoming features to the 360 interface. The existing “blades” design will be replaced in the Fall with a more simplistic one. On top of the redesign, several new features will be added, such as the avatar concept, a virtual Mii style clone of yourself that will essentially take the place of your gamer picture.

MS also announced a partnership with Netflix. Any movies and tv shows that can be watched on Netflix’s website will work seamlessly with the 360. The feature is free to all Xbox Live Gold subscribers who are also Netflix customers. Finally! The other big feature that I find ingenious is that the Fall update will also bring the ability to install games to the hard drive. You will still need your disc in the dvd drive to verify that you own the game, but otherwise your game will stream off of the hard drive if it has been installed. Loading times should be reduced, game performance will theoretically improve, dvd drives should quiet… I can’t find a negative to this. Everyone go buy the 120 gig hard drive!

The final, I mean, “final” announcement during MS’s press conference was a big one. Maybe the biggest one in recent E3 history. Final Fantasy XIII. No longer a PS3 exclusive, the game will launch simultaneously in Europe and North America on the 360. It will remain PS3 exclusive in Japan. Either they felt it was a waste of time to make it available to all 5 Japanese 360 owners, or they’re afraid of angering Sony gamers in the homeland. One thing is for certain; English speaking gamers are freaking out on the message boards. Reading the angry, depressed, desperate posts is a great way to kill to an afternoon.

I’ll have a write-up on Sony and Nintendo’s press conferences posted tomorrow. Unfortunately, nothing much came out of either of their shows. Nothing as earth shaking as Square-Enix’s announcement at the MS conference. Footage from all three conferences can be found over at Gametrailers.