The Grumpy Man’s Musings of Microsoft at E3.

Note: The following article is wild opinion and should be taken with a fistful of salt. These views are not those of MCM Buzz, just of a sad man, old way before his time. It may also contain slight language, euphemism or other themes not suitable for the young.

I don’t envy Microsoft at all, not for the next 2 years or so at least. They are arguably in the most difficult position of all the console manufacturers. Nintendo have their new console and Playstation have their new hand-held, not to mention the processing power advantage and not being hamstrung by a lack of a Blu-Ray drive. Even to a lay-man like myself, it is clear that Microsoft have to stress their advantages if they aren’t to suffer considerably in the next two years.

 

As a nice little warm up, some 3rd party titles were showcased. For the most part it was standard E3 teaser trailers with some Kinect crowbarred in. A particular mention must be made to Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon: Future Soldier, with Kinect you are the controller. Think of how much you will be immersed in the game by firing your gun with hand movements. Unfortunately the hand motions required seem to emulate fisting a cow rather than shooting a firearm but oh well, what do I know about warfare? I’ve herd it is rough (see what I did there!).

 

Confident in their stride now, it was time to detail what would keep the fans faithful for the hard times ahead. If their box can’t be the most powerful, it could be the most useful. With an expanded demonstration of voice controls, the suitably chirpy actress navigated basic menus with the power of her voice. Imagine how much less tired your poor digits will be by not pressing left or right on the D-pad 3 times. Genuine news came in the way of Youtube, Bing and live TV streaming with the providers of said streaming were announced as Sky and Hulu although specific pricing details were not confirmed. Microsoft are keen to cater to all audiences though, so if two greased-up nearly nude men are you cup ‘o tea you’ll be pleased to hear that the UFC are writhing their way straight on to your NXE, Hooha!

 

With the gaming oriented crowd beginning to flag it was time to placate the crowd with some exclusive titles for the Xbox360. First out the door was a rather sedate Cliffy B and Gears of War 3, double chainsaws substituted with social network mogul Ice-T, free to express opinions in greater than 140 characters, it wasn’t necessary to be honest, you heard more from his on-screen counterpart as he and Cliff got their bromance on by shooting at a giant squid monster. Nothing out of the ordinary here apart from some great animation, especially from the Silverback mech suit, no mention to Kinect integration was made.

Yeah I have my name in 10ft letters. What of it?!

After the announcement trailer of Kinect first-person brawler Ryse (very reminiscent of Zenoclash), it was time to take it back to the old-school. Despite a lack of Bungie, the remastered version of Halo Combat Evolved Anniversary (HD remake of Halo 1 to you and me) was announced. Featuring a remastered campaign (co-op compatible) and multiplayer deathmatch, Halo Combat Evolved Anniversary promises to be everything every console shooter has been for the past 10 years, splendid. Oh and speaking of the Halo universe, you know, with the story arc tied up in a nice tidy bow? Well you’d be wrong, 343 Industries are keen to continue the saga with their debut trailer of Halo 4. Aye, come 2012 you’ll be lobbing plasma grenades and kiting bullet-sponge enemies in a whole new iteration of the game. No substantial details were revealed, suffice to say the future contains explosions and screaming people, I can’t wait. Catch the debut trailer here.

 

Up next was some unadulterated car love in the way of Forza 4. This holiday promises the racing game with the least amount of getting in a car and driving fast. One technique of never setting a lap time is looking at your car for extended periods, or maybe the greater reliance of the social side of racing (?), where all manner of wallpapers can be made for your car. If you have the misfortune of falling into the driving seat of your car and find yourself at the start line, rest assured the Kinect head-tracking will ensure you’ll get a stiff neck by not moving your head at all throughout the race. I wonder if the Collector’s Edition will come with a neck brace?

 

It was time for a dream, a vision, a pure voice of what Kinect could be. Cue silky-skinned dream-weaver Peter Molyneux and Fable: The Journey. I know we’ve all been taken in before, we’ve all been burned by the P-man’s promises. I’m not falling for it again, Peter, you haven’t changed at all and I’m a bigger person now… Oh what? Really? Oh go on then I’ll hear you out. High drama in Albion! The proverbial has hit the fan and it is time for heroes to be tempered in a baptism of fire. Well when I say baptism I mean on-rails quick-time event and when I say fire I mean over exaggerated arm movements. Sure it was nice to see the Kinect tech work with a sitting gamer, even if it was steering a horse. Be still my beating heart ’til 2012.

You've hurt me before, Peter. I just don't know if I can trust you again.

You may have noticed my snippy tone thus far, granted I’m never the most jovial in a room but the next announcement really whizzed on my chips. Coming this winter, with heavy Kinect involvement is… Minecraft. You know, the indie classic from one-man-band Notch. The PC hero, man who can’t be bought by the man. Oh apart from it seems he has been totally bought, and he has brought Minecraft with him, an exclusive no doubt. Of course the previous 2 years on PC don’t count. You know what? I hope these console gits have the wave their fricking arm 20 times to dig out a single block of dirt. I doubt it will matter anyhow, I very much doubt the console masses will get MC, they are often accustomed to a more, shall we say, guided experience rather than a free-form experience where you have to use your imagination. And breathe deeply, relax, find your power animal…

 

It is time to replace the liquid rage coursing through my veins with something far sweeter. Raising the saccharin quota comes two kiddie-friendly Kinect titles. First up is Kinect Disneyland Adventures, every magical experience of the great park is realised for the home console. One wonders if they also recreated the time I got the runs behind Space Mountain from the dodgy pasta salad. Anyhow, you are free to explore the park or go on any number of rides or just hang with Mickey M. The experience shown seems tantamount to a mini-game collection (or should that be Minnie-games?), but a fully licensed collection. If just one ounce of Disney magic can permeate the Kinect jankiness this could be an attractive title. Not to be outdone it was time for masters of left-field, Double Fine to show off their new title, Sesame Street: Once Upon a Monster. It remains to be seen if Tim Schafer can inject some of his kookiness into this child oriented title. Displayed instead was cutesy father and son bonding through the oft disused medium of the Cookie Monster. Good on ’em is all I can say, it isn’t really my sort of product but it seems they at least care about what they are making.

Awwww.

*Zaroooom, Zarooooom.* What is that sound? If you said a lightsaber scraping the bottom of the barrel you’d be right. Kinect Star Wars promises to make you the Jedi you always secretly knew you were. Even though I wasn’t conceived for the first 2 movies, I can’t really recall the whole story arc taking place on rails. No fecking wonder they could nail an entire droid army, their targeting algorithm seems to have been programmed by Stevie Wonder and only wish to attack in single-file, one at a time. Between this and The Old Republic I can see people really starting to get a bit arsey with old Georgie Lucas.

 

Closing out the show was more Kinect pimping. Lord knows Microsoft have had enough trouble creating the killer application the unites all gamers in Kinect appreciation. Instead of searching for the holy grail of wholesale peripheral acceptance, instead Microsoft are crowd-sourcing this task with Kinect Fun Labs, akin to XBLA for Kinect. Expected are mini-games or smaller applications for Kinect that the owners of the Dev kit have constructed. A couple of the likely results were detailed. First up was People Scanning, why go through the stress of choosing ears that look like your own, or a pair of slacks that are just so. Now Kinect can do it for you! Simply position your face in the frame then your body and Kinect will make an entirely lifelike and realistic avatar. *Note: You must look exactly like the demonstrator and be wearing the exact same clothes for the Kinect to “detect” what you are wearing and spit out the pre-rendered avatar which has been sat on a hard drive for months.* The next example tech was Finger Tracking©. Notice that little copyright symbol there? You’d better because the demonstrated technology wasn’t finger tracking as you know it. Instead of tracking each individual finger in a Minority Report-style navigation, the Kinect can apparently detect whether you are holding up some fingers on your hand and change the effect accordingly. Future potential criminals needn’t be quaking in their boots, it is clear in its current revision, domestic motion detection really isn’t there yet. Finally we see the return of Object Capture. Remember how you can totally scan in a skateboard and the Kinect system will recognise it as a skateboard and become a usable asset? Well this pipe-dream is back, ready to be quietly canned again after this E3 business has died down. It simply cannot work. With the amount of pre-defined objects they would have to program in, not to mention their individual behaviours and physical relationships it is simply inconceivable. If any company had the technology to recognise, comprehend and animate any object you placed before it, it would be a revolution in artificial intelligence, textbook material for the history of computing, not some naff mini-feature buried at the end of a demonstration. Prepare to Object Capture a hand waving bye-bye.

Never gonna happen...

 

And so ends another busy presentation for Microsoft. As I detailed at the start, their unenviable position is trying to convince the trade and public of the longevity of their old technology. However by promising the world last year MS were destined to reap what they had sown by creating applications for Kinect, even though widespread opinion said it was a quick cash-in to grab a slice of Nintendo’s pie. All in all though Microsoft did an admirable job of damage control being hamstrung by the foundations they laid last year. Hopefully they can move forward and make the 360 the most useful box under your TV, however one wonders what the hardcore gamers may think.

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