Let's separate the Xbox hype from the Xbox reality. Every year's massive E3 gaming event includes big press conferences that promise gamers awesome things. One year past last E3, let's see what Microsoft and friends said would be in our Xbox future — and what did or didn't come true.
Repeating my foolish mission of one year ago, I have been re-watching E3 press conferences. I have subjected myself to the full and pretty fun June 1, 2009 Microsoft press briefing. This was a big event, full of hype, much of which became reality.
As you will see in the following hindsight-enhanced rundown, a few themes prevailed:
1) Release dates that appeared in trailers were more solid than release dates muttered on stage.
2) Things that were called exclusive had only about a 50-50 chance of really being exclusive.
3) Man, that Project Natal sure looks like it can do amazing things!
Microsoft and friends, your E3 2009 promises are being checked today - exhaustively.
Background: The Microsoft press briefing occurred on June 1 in Los Angeles. This showcase lasted one hour and 53 minutes.
The Beatles Rock Band was the first game shown at the Microsoft event. Harmonix boss Alex Rigopulos was the first person to speak to the crowd. And his boss, MTV Networks president Van Toffler was the first person to promise anything: A 9/9/09 release date for The Beatles: Rock Band.
Ten of the game's songs were revealed in the game's debut trailer. Rigopulos promises the downloadable release of full albums, "the first of which will be Abbey Road in its entirety available shortly after launch."
Rigopulos said that the song All You Need Is Love would be offered for download "exclusively through Xbox Live."
Verdict: More correct than incorrect. The Beatles: Rock Band came out on the 10th anniversary of the Sega Dreamcast, as planned. The remaining songs from the album Abbey Road were released on October 20, which qualifies as "shortly after launch" as far as Kotaku is concerned. Two more albums were released as downloadable content by mid-December. But here we have the first of many erroneously-labeled exclusives. All You Need Is Love was issued for the Wii and PlayStation 3 several months after it was offered as a Doctors Without Borders charity release for the Xbox 360. (Later in the press conference, then-Microsoft Xbox vice president John Schappert also referred to All You Need Is Love as an Xbox exclusive. Oh well.)
The surviving members of The Beatles took the stage and started riffing. Quickly, they get to hyping/assessing/promising. Ringo Starr said, "The game is good. The graphics are very good. And, uh, we were great!" Paul McCartney mouths: "I was great" and then points to Ringo, waving his hand in his former drummer's direction, suggesting Ringo wasn't so great. Then, McCartney says: "We love the game. It's fantastic. Who would have ever thought we would end up as androids?"
Verdict: Ringo was right that the graphics were very good. But Paul's prediction that they would end up as androids has so far proved inaccurate.
Microsoft's John Schappert, giving his final Microsoft press briefing before taking a job at EA, says that this is the year of showing, not telling at E3. "You're not going to see charts and graphs about sales figures or attach rates." He did promise 10 world premieres of games that had never been seen before. He promised new ways to connect with friends and "revolutionary new experiences for everyone."
Verdict: Microsoft restrained themselves and the press conference concluded with nary a chart or graph.
The 10 "world premieres" were, maybe, possibly...
1) Tony Hawk Ride (although word had leaked of the game and its board bit by bit since the previous December)
2) Modern Warfare 2 (although a conceptual trailer announcing the game had already run at the Game Developers Choice Awards in March)
3) Final Fantasy XIII (well, only a premiere in that this was the first time we saw live Xbox 360 gameplay)
4) Shadow Complex (brand new!)
5) Joy Ride (brand new!)
6) Crackdown 2 (brand new!)
7) Left 4 Dead 2 (brand new!)
8) Splinter Cell Conviction (hmm… we had seen this one before, but not with its then-new design)
9) Forza Motorsport 3 (brand new!)
Not 10) Halo 3 ODST (couldn't be.. this game was announced already)
10) Halo Reach (brand new!)
Wait, 11?) Alan Wake (I know we're at 11 and we'd heard of AW a while ago, but we hadn't seen it. So maybe this is one the 10? Who knows!)
Tony Hawk revealed the Tony Hawk Ride skateboard controller. He told us how it works. It senses motion, detects grabs. He predicted that the game would "allow anyone to grind rails, Ollie, catch big airs off vert ramps, even if you've never set foot on a skateboard." He said the game will come out later in the year and offered this hype: "We've got plenty of difficulty levels and I think this is going to deliver an entirely new kind of physical, social gaming on Xbox 360. And it will allow players of all skill levels to battle for skate supremacy in time and trick-based challenges from the comfort of their living rooms."
Verdict: The game did come out later in the year. It did work as Tony Hawk said it would. But the game failed to give the Tony Hawk game line the boost that Hawk's hype implied it would. Critics hated the game.
A trailer for Modern Warfare 2 debuted, reiterating the announced release date of November 10, 2009. Afterward, then-Infinity Ward studio head Jason West played portions of MW2's Cliffhanger level live on stage.
Verdict: The game hit its release date.
Schappert said that Activision and Infinity Ward would release two map packs for Modern Warfare 2, both of which would launch first on Xbox Live.
Verdict: True. The first map pack, the Stimulus Package, was released in early May on the PlayStation 3, a little over a month after it hit the Xbox 360. The second map pack is coming out for 360s this first week of June. It has no official release date yet for PS3 or PC.
"We are happy to announce that we are targeting a Spring 2010 release," Square-Enix producer Yoshinori Kitase told the crowd.
Verdict: Wrong, in a good way. The game beat the spring in the U.S., launching on March 9, 2010.
Schappert promised that everything else mentioned in the press conference from this point on — all games, demos and experiences — will be exclusive, will only be on Xbox 360. Following that logic, these "exclusives" include Shadow Complex, Joy Ride, Crackdown 2, Left4Dead 2, Splinter Cell: Conviction, Halo 3 ODST, Halo Reach, and Alan Wake
Verdict: Well, kinda sorta true. The Left 4 Dead 2 trailer did correctly show that the game would be coming to not just the Xbox 360 but the PC. Splinter Cell Conviction also spread its exclusivity from Xbox 360 to PC. None of these games has been released for the PlayStation 3 or the Wii, which was probably the point.
Wearing a Bill Gates mugshot t-shirt, Epic Games' Cliff Bleszinski told us that Shadow Complex will have more than 120 hidden items and a campaign that lasts more than 10 hours, "with a lot of replayability." He said the game will be out in the summer.
Verdict: Pretty much correct. Not everyone needed 10 hours to clear the game, but it did come out in the summer, did have lots of replayability and, well, contained 112 hidden items based on my last count (but that doesn't include the game's 15 main weapons and tools, so I'm giving him this one).
A new Xbox Live Avatar racing game called Joy Ride made its debut in trailer form. Schappert said it will be free to download and free to play. "Joy Ride is coming this winter to Xbox Live."
Verdict: A concerned headshake. Not only did the game not come out in the winter, but its Xbox.com info page is busted. Uh-oh.
Left 4 Dead 2 got a debut trailer and a release date: November 17.
Verdict: 100% accurate.
Ubisoft creative director Max Beland said that Splinter Cell Conviction will be out exclusively on the Xbox 360 in the fall of 2009.
Verdict: But the game missed the fall, shipping in the winter of 2010 instead, and was released on the PC in addition to the Xbox 360.
Forza Motorsport 3 was declared to be "the definitive racing game for this generation" by Schappert, who says it will be out in October. That phrase was soon repeated nine times by the game's director, Dan Greenwalt during the presentation. The director said the game will have more than 400 cars.
Verdict: The game hit its release date, had the promised 400+ cars, but is it the "definitive racing game for this generation"? Well, the game the Forza guys surely thought they were competing with, Gran Turismo 5, still isn't out.
Halo 3 ODST gets a release date: September 22, 2009.
Halo Reach is shown in teaser trailer form, with the phrase "falls 2010." Bungie's Joe Staten says that people who buy Halo 3 ODST will get access to Reach's multiplayer beta.
Verdict: The game is supposed to be out September 14. Not technically the fall, but they didn't exactly say it would be fall. ODST did indeed get people into the 2010 Reach beta.
Alan Wake was shown, played live on stage and gets a spring 2010 launch date. It looked like this:
Verdict: Which, if you played the game recently, you'll notice is not what the game's heads-up display looked like at all. Work in progress, people. Oh, and the game did come out in spring 2010.
Schappert said that Last.FM is coming to the Xbox 360 via an "exclusive partnership." Said it will be available to Xbox Live Gold members before the end of the year.
Verdict: So far, so accurate. Last.FM has come to the 360 and not the competing consoles.
Schappert said that Netflix queue-updating will be integrated into the 360's Netflix app. He also said Sky TV will be streamed to 360s in England. And he introduced a Zune-branded Instant Streaming in 1080p feature, a watch-it-now service for people who have a lot of bandwidth. He showeds that people will be able to watch movies and Sky shows together, with their Avatars gathered in one place.
Verdict: All of this was released as planned, as promised.
Felicia Day demonstrated Facebook on the Xbox 360, a result of a Microsoft-Facebook "partnership" that Schappert wisely did not describe as exclusive. She said that a feature called Facebook Connect would allow gamers to share screenshots of their in-game accomplishments with their Facebook friends, posting those images into their Facebook account. She said a future edition of a Tiger Woods game will use this feature.
Verdict: Facebook did come to Xbox 360s, didn't seem to be terribly useful, but the screenshot-sharing option seemed nice. It has not been widely integrated. In fact, if you know any games that support it, tell me.
Day said Twitter is coming to Xbox Live. In the fall.
Hideo Kojima arrived to tell us that he is bringing the Metal Gear Solid franchise to Xbox 360. "I can confirm that the next major release will be called Metal Gear Solid: Rising and that development is currently underway [for] the Xbox 360." He then showed former Metal Gear pushover turned badass Raiden in a Rising trailer.
Verdict: There is some confusion over whether Kojima was saying that Rising would be an Xbox 360 exclusive. It seems that it will not be and he never did say it was. More confusing was Kojima saying at this Xbox press conference that Rising would be the "next major release" in the MGS series, only to then reveal the PSP's Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker one day later at the Sony press conference. Kojima has since described the ambitious Peace Walker as a full-fledged sequel to the PS3-only Metal Gear Solid 4, which makes Rising an interesting upcoming game but not technically the next big game in the franchise. Sorry, Xbox fans.
Project Natal was unveiled. "You are the controller," we are told. A live-action trailer theoretically showing Natal in action shows a teenager dodging his way through a martial arts game, a girl driving through a racing game as if she is holding an imaginary steering wheel, a dad who then jumps out of his seat and pantomimes changing the tires on the girl's car (in a nice touch, the daughter takes a swig of water while he does this), a younger boy using his body to control the movements of a Godzilla-like monster, the driving girl now kicking at her TV to score a soccer penalty kick that her mom fails to block, a boy scanning his skateboard into Natal (tagline: "Use your own gear"), the driving girl having the Xbox recognize her by face to log her in and then sync her to a video chat with a friend who then gestures to a virtual dress that is swiped onto driving-girl's video projection of her body, allowing her to see herself in the dress…. AND a game show game uses voice recognition to determine which member of this family is correctly answering a trivia question. The parents also swipe through the Natal interface to select a movie and tell the system "good night" when they are done watching it.
Verdict: Boy, I hope Project Natal can do all that! Microsoft Xbox senior vice president Don Mattrick does refer to that trailer as "a small glimpse of our vision for the kinds of amazing experiences that Natal will enable." Do I see a loophole there?
Mattrick says that Natal will be compatible with every Xbox 360 ever sold.
Verdict: To be determined, but this should be a given, yes?
Microsoft checked off another box in the hyping-a-motion-controller playbook and brings longtime Wii booster and longer-time occasional game developer Steven Spielberg to the stage to discuss the virtues of controller-free gaming. Spielberg lamented that 60% of the U.S. households don't contain a game console and hopes that removing a controller from the mix will help those who are intimidated by console gaming and controllers to get in on the action. As Spielberg prepared to walk off, Mattrick says he can't wait to see what the director and his teams come up with. Spielberg replies: "We'll come up with some good stuff."
Verdict: A Spielberg Natal game? Haven't heard a thing about it. But bear in mind that Spielberg came up with Boom Blox, the motion-control block-bashing game for the Wii.
Project Natal creative director Kudo Tsunoda showed a few Natal prototypes. First, he showed that, as soon as he walks up to the Natal sensors, they recognize his face and load his Xbox profile onto a 360. He then shows motion-capture, making an Xbox 360 avatar move in concert with his avatar. This allows him to show us what the bottom of an Avatar's shoe looks like. He swipes through the Xbox 360 dashboard with swipes of his hands.
He loaded up a single-player kickball-meets-handball-meets-Breakout game called Ricochet. "This isn't a game where you end up on the sofa just using some kind of pre-set waggle commands," he says, promising that Natal recognizes full-body-tracking motion detection.
Next was Paint Party, an impressive tech demo that has its on-stage demonstrator flinging imaginary paint at a virtual canvas. He used voice commands to change the color of the paint he's flinging. He and the lady who played Ricochet pose together to create an elephant silhouette. Tsunoda said that Natal enables things not possible on other consoles.
Verdict: It all worked on stage. But it's not out yet, and, what if the Natal tech has changed since E3? What if?
Peter Molyneux showed a video of Project Milo, the virtual-boy that interacts with an Xbox 360 user via Natal. Molyneux said that Milo is recognizing the emotion of the lady who is using the demo and talking to Milo. The lady, Claire, appears to be having a conversation with Milo, checking if he's done his homework, deciding to go play a hand-driven fishing game. Claire draws a picture on a piece of paper, holds it up to the Natal sensor, and the paper appears to be handed to Milo, who then holds it in the virtual world.
Verdict: People, including me, tried Milo at E3 and much of what was in the video did work.
Final Judgment: Decent performance, Microsoft, but that Natal stuff.... I don't know. Is it really going to do all that? The release date accuracy was pretty good, but that Metal Gear thing was confusing and the Natal stuff was incomplete. Impressive roll-out of promised dashboard features. Overall, you're getting a B.
Nintendo, you're next.