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E3 2010: Microsoft Press Conference

14. June 2010

As a huge game nerd, I try to follow E3 every year as much as I can. Say what you will about the diminished amazement from years past (on top of this not being one of those “next-gen” years), I still find myself drawn to the event like a kid to candy. It may be that I follow along with other gamer nerds simultaneously, adding to the excitement as we rejoice and hate on the same aspects of the show. Whatever your opinion, I’ll be following E3 2010 and commenting on the reveals here on The Yoko Critic.

Today was the Microsoft Pre-Show Press Conference. Half of the fun for enthusiasts is to rate each of the Big Three’s shows to determine who “won” the show; as immature as it sounds, it definitely sets the tone for the following year. Many people know about Sony’s lackluster 2006 showing (do the phrases “giant enemy crab,” “massive damage,” or “Five-Hundred and Ninety-Nine US Dollars” ring a bell?), which juxtaposed Nintendo’s Shigeru Miyamoto’s emulation of a full orchestra with the system that was just being known as the Wii, and far fewer remember Nintendo’s rather disappointing show in 2008, with one Ravi Drums flailing about on air drums.

In my opinion, Microsoft was closer to the disappointing end of the spectrum this year than they have before. They focused on their new Kinect product (announced last year as “Project Natal”), and the new Xbox360 slim redesign. Not a small part of the show covered “non-games,” as they showed a new system menu utilizing the Kinect, and how one can navigate the dashboard with hand movement and voice commands. Also shown was a video chat system that connects through Windows Messenger to allow users to communicate directly with others who own the Kinect system and watch videos together. You can have Kinect save pictures of you playing its games, such as Kinect Adventures, and post them to Facebook. While I am a big proponent of social media, I’d rather not share pictures of my fat ass flailing about in front of the TV, thank you. Finally, Microsoft announced a partnership with ESPN to share sports games in real-time, allowing users to choose teams with the Kinect system. This is a neat feature, that surely allows sports fans an easier time watching the games, but for many gamers who don’t care much about sports, this features is incredibly lackluster.

On the actual video game side of things, most of the press conference was boring. Opening with gameplay of a new Call of Duty game, and announcing an exclusive deal for Xbox users to get CoD DLC first might impress the legions of CoD fans, but  many of us who are jaded ( at best!) with the overworked franchise and Activision’s need to milk their IP every year were couldn’t care. Other previously-announced games were showcased in the same tone; while Gears of War and Fable (both in their third iteration) footage may impress fans of those games, the rest of us saw the same thing as the previous games. I will say, as someone who’s played the series from time to time and had fun doing so, the Halo Reach trailer was neat, if only for showing off the space battle scene. Granted, that’s nostalgia at work, as I’ve spent my fair share playing the Rogue Squadron games. While the full line-up of Kinect games was shown, the only thing that caught my eye was the announcement of Dance Central by Harmonix, who you no doubt recognize as the mind behind the first Guitar Hero and the Rock Band series of games. I’m not into dancing games, but if Harmonix is behind it, my interest is definitely piqued. The rest of the Kinect games seemed like Wii rip-offs, with Kinect Sports and Kinectimals.

The best news out of the conference were the details behind the new Xbox 360 console. Aside from being much smaller and sleeker than the original model, it sports a 250 GB HDD, internal 802.11N WiFi, five USB ports, and HDMI port.  It also has a dedicated Kinect port, as the attachement will require a separate power dongle for use with the original console. Also important was the news that they are priced the same as the Pro console at $299 and are available immediately; their older brother is no longer being made, but Microsoft will continue to sell them until their stock is gone. Unfortunately, the new system does not support the older hard drives (although Microsoft will sell a data transfer cable for around twenty dollars) nor the older Memory Units, forcing people to stick to thumb drives if they want to take their gamertags and save data with them.

So how does this all apply to me? I’ve talked about the disappointing game line-up already, but what about the Kinect and new console? I find it ironic that both Microsoft and Sony are now attempting to emulate the Wii with motion controls, where the latter was being mocked a gimmick and toy just a few years ago, but I’m willing to give Microsoft points for attempting to add to the idea. Being able to operate your console without need for a controller or remote or wand, to simply reach out to move menus and tell your system what to do smacks of science fiction to the point that it’s a bit chilling. The actual games impress me less than what Kinect means not only for the Xbox, but also television and computer systems. I like the new console in the same way I like the many version of the Nintendo DS. I don’t have a need to get the new system and will be sticking with my current one until it invariably “red-rings” or some other misfortune befalls it. The bigger hard drive, onboard WiFi, and HDMI impress me at that price point, but not enough for me to replace a perfectly good console, especially after I’ve already invested in solutions for it.

Tomorrow, both Nintendo and Sony have their events. I will be catching Nintendo’s in real-time, but I’ll have to watch Sony’s at about this time tomorrow. I’ll leave you with this nostalgia bomb.

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