Hello again you beautiful misfits. My name’s Matt and in this episode of my Pixel Burn E3 Blitzkrieg I’ll be tackling the Microsoft conference. This video contains scenes of witchcraft and soul-searing death stares, so viewer discretion is advised.
The proceedings began with a montage of videogame characters. including Lara Croft, Marcus Tossface from Gears of War and The Most Boring Man in the Halo Universe, extolling the virtues of competition. Like they’d all been possessed by the ghost of Ayn Rand. That it was also set to a piece of Hans Zimmer’s score from the Man of Steel soundtrack only compounded this weird “survival of the fittest” vibe it gave off. Which was at least somewhat interesting from a psychological perspective.
Also note the phrase: “Jump Ahead” shown at the end here. We’ll be coming back to that later.
Following this parade of pixelated personages was Bonnie Ross of 343 industries, whose appearance immediately triggered a fight-or-flight response in the primitive reptile part of my brain.
Now I have nothing against Bonnie Ross whatsoever. She seems like a very nice lady. The thing is, whenever she appears on a stage I know the next thing I’m going to see or hear is something about a-
Whereupon I immediately want to re-read Larry Niven’s Ringworld, to remind myself what GOOD science fiction is.
What’s there to say? It’s Teh Haloes! Fans of the series were no doubt thrilled by all this, but to me it was just an endless dirge of “Covenant, Covenant, Covenant, Master Chief, Master Chief, Covenant, Guardian, Master Chief, Covenant, Covenant, Prometheans, Keeper, Promethean, Master Chief, Forerunner, Master Chief.”
The one shining light for me during this bit was Nathan “Captain Tightpants” Fillion, playing a character whose name is Buck and was there to…make this presentation slightly less insufferable for me. There was also some multiplayer gameplay presented by a chap called Josh Holmes, who waxed excitedly about the game’s new Warzone mode that…oh enough of this bibble. Moving on!
Not a moment too soon came Recore, billed as an XBOX One exclusive from Keiji Inafune and “the makers of Metroid Prime,” the combination of which sounds like the title of a weird Harry Potter knock-off. Part of a series starting with “Keiji Inafune and the Bastards at Capcom.” Still, I’m pretty sure “the Makers of Metroid Prime” have an actual name you know. Unless the studio is actually called “the makers of Metroid Prime.” But that would be like a Japanese studio that makes RPGs calling itself…I dunno, “Tokyo RPG Factory.”
Anyhow! Recore! It’s about a girl with a robot dog. Christ, what is it with bloody dogs this year? Did every developer in the industry have some traumatising “Marley and Me” moment recently?Who fight some robot spider things and wait for it, wait for it…you know the dog’s going to die. Any second…now! There, the robot dog blows itself up to save the girl and…hang on, why’s she plugging the glowing ball it left behind into…what?
Wait a second. Why was she so sad when the dog blew itself up if she knew she could plug its glowy blue brain thing into another robot?
Oh no. My inefectual robot dog is now a huge walking tank with exactly the same mind and personality. What a tragedy.
The High Priest of Xbox, Phil “Chameleon” Spencer then emerged on stage to unveil perhaps the biggest announcement of this particular conference: backwards compatibility! From Autumn this year, all Xbox One owners will be able to play all their old digital or disc-based 360 games again, on their new console, without much hassle and completely for free. There are some caveats however. To make a 360 game work you’ll need to download a small-ish compatibility file, which isn’t too big a deal in and of itself. Publishers also have to approve games for backwards compatibility, so don’t expect to be playing all your favourite 360 games on your Xbox One straight away.
Although I do recommend you grab a pre-owned copy of Red Dead Redemption while you can. If you don’t already own one. Which you should.
There’s not much about this that I can be snarky about really. It gives existing 360 owners an incentive to “upgrade”, gives the Xbox One a much-needed selling point over the PS4, and clould provide a big boost to the Xbox One’s current anaemic lineup of games.
Not bad for something former Xbox Live VP Marc Whitten said wasn’t possible because: “The system is based on a different core architecture, so back-compat doesn’t really work from that perspective.”
And remember that “Jump Ahead” statement shown at the end of that opening montage? Yeah, this does rather contradict that somewhat, doesn’t it?
Anyway after that audience-pleasing bombshell came the Xbox One Elite Controller, described as “an elite controller for elite gamers” with “hair-trigger locks,” “swappable components” and a whole load of other gubbins that presumably means something to someone out there. One detail Microsoft didn’t mention however was the price, which is ONE HUNDRED AND FIFTY DOLLARS!
Jesus Christ. I could buy a pre-owned laptop for that much. Or that collector’s edition of Fallout 4 with the real-life PIP boy doohicky, and I’d still have some change left over.
Which is my clumsy segue to the reappearance of Fallout 4 overseer Todd Howard, minus the snazzy jacket he wore during Bethesda’s conference and with absolutely none of the swearing. Mores the pity.
Todd was here to show off some more previously unseen Fallout 4 gameplay footage, this time catering more to the guns-and-explosions crowd than the die-hard appreciators of facial customisation and dialogue options. There were some story and character interaction elements too involving a bunch of survivors holed up in a government building…whom you save by getting into some power armour and wiping shit out with a minigun. After which Todd dropped another bombshell, by announcing Fallout 4 on Xbox One will have mod support.
No! Nots the precious! Filthy sneaksy console players can’t haves the precious!
According to Todd Howard, any mods created on PC will be able to be transferred, shared and played on Xbox One completely for free, making Xbox One owners the first console gamers to enjoy what was previously the exclusive domain of PC gamers.
Much like the mythical titan Prometheus stealing fire from the Olympian gods: if Prometheus drank Mountain Dew and the fire was realistic horse genitalia.
Before you Xbox One owners out there get too excited however, Bethesda have since confirmed that Fallout 4 mod support won’t be implemented until early 2016, and it’ll be on PC first. Still, on behalf of my fellow PC gamers I would hereby like to welcome Xbox One owners, in advance, to the weird and wonderful world of mods,
We have such sights to show you!
COO of EA, Peter Moore then arrived to pimp-out EA Access, their subscription game service where you can pay £3.99 per month to play a bunch of EA games like Titanfall and Dragon Age Inquisition, as well as get early access to upcoming EA games.
[“I know a lot of out there’re excited to play our next big title Madden NFL 16”]
He then introduced Plants Vs Zombies: Garden Warfare 2 to the tune of Kenny Loggins’ “Danger Zone.” A slight guilty pleasure of mine admittedly, so I enjoyed it while I could. I mean I’m sure it won’t pop up again during E3 at some point, and certainly not to spoil a sweet, tender moment with a whiplash-inducing tonal shift. That’d be crazy.
Another thing that failed to excite me was Forza Motorsport 6, because it’s just car porn and you all know how I feel about car games. Then a whopping great fancy car got lowered down onto the stage, because the industry is incredibly poor and cannot hope to survive without you all buying nickel and dime DLC. As well as the perpetually exhausted-seeming Dan Greenawalt, who seemed a bit more wired this year than in previous E3’s, Henry Ford THE THIRD was also on stage to harp on about cars. Needless to say I couldn’t care less, although this segment did include some very nice historical footage.
None of which featured Henry Ford the Third’s granddad receiving a medal from the Nazis, for some reason.
Thankfully the trailer for Dark Souls 3 appeared to rouse me from my car-induced coma. It was a cinematic jobbie of course with no gameplay, but then this is Dark Souls so you already know what to expect. And the trailer did a great job conveying the series’ dark and familiar tone, overflowing with classic Miyazaki grimness, despair, desolation and huge monsters. That’s Hidetaka Miyazaki by the way, not Hiyao Miyazaki. One helped bring to the world an experience that spiritually and emotionally ravaged people, leaving them either drenched in their own tears or screaming with rage…and the other is the creator of Dark Souls.
Laurent Detoc, president of Ubisoft le America, appeared with a bonjour to talk briefly about Rainbow Six: Siege. Specifically to announce that it will also include free copies of backwards-compatible Rainbow Six: Vegas 1 & 2, which is bloody nice of them. We were then shown some supposedly “authentic multiplayer” footage, which was about as authentic as you might expect.
Every plays works together flawlessly as a well-oiled machine, nobody swears, and not one person brags about shagging another player’s mother.
After all that triple-AAA stuff the conference kicked into Indie mode, starting with a montage of indie and other smaller games coming to Xbox One. Games such as Westerado, Sword Coast Legends, Below, Ark, The Behemoth and bloody Goat Simulator of all things.
Chris Charla of ID@XBOX then came on stage to introduce some indie developers and let them talk about their new games, much like Sony did for E3 2014.
The first being Steve Gaynor of Fullbright, creators of Gone Home, to show off Tacoma. A sort of sci-fi Gone Home that also looks kinda like Bioshock, only without the combat or dystopian societal collapse, that challenges players to solve one simple yet pressing mystery:
[“What has happened to the crew of Lunar Transfer Station Tacoma?” CLIP]
They all became lesbians?
We then saw some of Ashen, an open world multiplayer game where you cooperate with other players to solve puzzles and fight nasty gribblies, and somewhat visually reminiscent of Shadow of the Colossus with a Dark Souls tinge.
After that was “Beyond Eyes”, a game in which you play a blind girl navigating the world through her remaining senses. I particularly like its watercolour-esque visual style.
Then there was the bloody charming Cuphead, which absolutely nails that old 1930s cartoon aesthetic and seems like it could be controller-snappingly difficult too.
Chris Charla then returned to the stage to announce “Xbox Game Preview.” Or in other words, Steam Early Access for consoles. But wait! Unlike Steam, Xbox Game Preview will actually be curated by Microsoft themselves and every game on it will have a free trial version. Some of the first games to come to the service will be Elite: Dangerous, generally considered an example of early access done reasonably well, and Day Z – the poster child for horrible early access experiences.
Which was the cue for Dean “I can’t be arsed to finish a game” Hall, creator of Day Z, to come on stage and pimp his next project, ION. A sort of space mining and construction simulator type thing that looks like a game version of the movie Gravity. That is if I can even rightly call ION a game, because according to Dean Hall:
[“I want a game that is not a game”]
You already made one. It’s called Day Z
[“For the past year I have been working-“]
Really? Because I’m pretty sure Day Z hasn’t
Anyway, things quickly shifted back to Triple-A development with some gameplay for Rise of the Tomb Raider, showing Lara Croft seeking a lost city in some mountains somewhere. Frankly it doesn’t look much different from 2013’s Tomb Raider reboot, although that’s no bad thing because I quite liked Tomb Raider. And it was actually nice to see a gameplay segment without loads of gunfire, or Lara dying gruesomely from visual penetration metaphors.
Up next was Rare Replay, a collection of supposedly classic games from developer Rare including Banjo Kazooie, Conker’s Bad Fur Day, Perfect Dark, Viva Pinata and others. Announced with a trailer that played so heavily to nostalgia I felt like I’d actually travelled back in time.
But then much to many people’s shock and astonishment, Rare announced a brand new game! Which, if you know anything about Rare, is like someone turning up to their own memorial service, after having been missing for so long they were declared legally dead. Called “Sea of Thieves” it starts out looking like a survival sim before shifting to looking like an MMO. Two genres I have practically zero time or interest for nowadays, but…it’s about pirates. With big piratey looking ships that ye man with a crew of other scurvy players. And there be undead pirates! And ship combat! Yarrr, this be stirring the call of the sea within me shrivelled black heart.
Ahem, anyhow we then got yet another trailer for Fable Legends, narrated by Lena Heady who plays Cersei Lannister on Game of Thrones. Voicing the game’s villain, quelle surprise, but then she does play villains so well. And at least she’s not hurting for work!
There was then an announcement of Microsoft partnering with Valve VR alongside their existing partnership with Oculus. Presumably so Microsoft don’t have to develop their own VR headset, like Sony’s doing with Morpheus.
Which leads us to the Hololens segment, introduced by Lydia Winters of Mojang. Wait, what? Mo-YANG? Nobody told me it was Mo-YANG? I’ve always called it Mo-JANG! Great, now I look like a twat. Thank you so bloody much Mo-YANG. Lydia was here to show off Minecraft running on Microsoft’s new Hololens technology and JESUS CHRIST! Nevermind harnessing new technology, Lydia here looks hell-bent on harnessing our souls.
And Microsoft demonstrated precisely how they would do just that, using a so-called “Special camera” to transform Minecraft into Witchcraft before your very eyes. Through the dark, occult power of Hololens, Sax Persson of Microsoft Studios summoned forth a blocky world from a nearby table and gazed down upon it, lord of all he surveyed. Nothing could escape his sight, not even diamonds under the ground. He even called down lightning LIKE A MALEVOLENT GOD!
Basically, to all you parents out there, this was Microsoft announcing that they now own your children, mind body and soul. You’re not their mummy or daddy anymore, oh no. They’ll soon have new mummies and daddies…made of gold blocks and cobblestone.
After that nightmarish vision of the future came a vision of the recent past, in the form of Gears of War Ultimate Edition. Remastered versions of Gears of War one, two and three coming to both Xbox One AND Windows 10. Well now I’m definitely not in a hurry to upgrade to Windows 10.
We were then shown footage from Gears of War 4. It was tricky to tell at first since there was precious little in the way of the series’ overblown, gung-ho “Ooorah” bollocks. That and neither of these two characters looked like golems carved out of ham. The guns have chainsaws on them though, which is how I know it’s a gears of war game. There was also a creepy castle, some giant sea-louse inspired monsters and other…stuff that might significant to some people.
Some of you may be thinking I couldn’t give two shits of Gears of War 4. Well done! You guessed correctly.
And with that the show was over, with Phil Spencer returning one last time to bring an end to the proceedings.
Despite my snark, this was a solid conference with a real sense of Microsoft coming-out-fighting. Not all their swings were hits for me personally, but it was absolutely about the games. So much in fact that it kind of felt a bit like trying TOO hard in places.
Better that however then any TV and fantasy football bollocks, which seems to have been well and truly shoved to the sidelines. Backwards compatibility was a genuine show-stealer and definitely gives the Xbox One a much-needed boost against the the PS4. The fact it’s also completely free was another surprise kick to Sony’s teeth, on par with Sony’s own infamous “disc in hand game sharing” moment from E3 2013
The showcasing of individual indie developers was another strong point of the conference, bringing a real sense of variety to the lineup on games on display.
Overall while not quite as compelling for me as the Bethesda one, this was still one of the strongest Microsoft conferences I’ve seen in years. So well done Microsoft. You did okay, but I still have Sony’s, Nintendo’s and other conferences to get through. Alas, you’ll have to wait for those, because I am not a perfect, immortal machine.