In Real Life

Thoughts On Microsoft's E3 Conference

Man, it seems like so long ago, but only six hours have passed since Microsoft’s E3 conference ended and, with the madness of last night’s fevered Liveblog behind me, I’m starting to wonder precisely what I should be getting excited about from Microsoft over the next year.

The conference was pillared by two blockbusters: Halo 4 and Call of Duty: Black Ops 2, so let’s start with the positives.

Halo 4 actually looks a little bit spectacular. It feels otherworldly in the way the first game felt, a feeling previous sequels could never replicate. Featuring a host of inventive new enemies and some seemingly crazy new weaponry, Halo 4 actually felt really fresh, and didn’t need to resort to the typical ‘wow’ of set pieces that most trailers tend to resort to. It seems as though the Halo ‘sandbox’ has been preserved, with just a little bit of extra panache thrown in for good measure.

In that respect Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 was a more traditional E3 demo. Explosions and such like. Very Call of Duty. Personally I was a little disappointed that Microsoft ended on a game that played precisely as we expected. We didn’t even really get to see any of the features that supposedly distinguish Black Ops 2 from its predecessors.

A handful of other games dazzled me, but few surprised me. Trey Parker and Matt Stone onstage presenting the South Park game was brilliant, mainly because they so easily skewered Microsoft’s focus on ‘taking’ over the living room: “How many times have you been watching an episode of South Park and thought, ‘I’d like to watch this on my television, while hooked into my mobile device, which is being controlled by my tablet device, which is hooked into my oven, all while sitting in the refrigerator,” said Trey Parker.

Genius.

And speaking of Microsoft’s living room ambitions — the ambitions themselves were predictable, but I found the way in which Microsoft is attempting to take over your living room is quite ambitious, fluid and — more importantly — sensible.

Microsoft Smartglass is a device that allows you to integrate your smartphone or tablet to the Xbox 360. When I first heard the talking heads rabbling about this, I assumed it would be limited to Windows Tablets/Phone only — but no, apparently it supports all tablets and phone, which is an absolute masterstroke. The idea is that Smartglass works with the devices you already own — and I think that’s a great tagline.

Plenty seemed to complain about the time spent with Smartglass at Microsoft’s E3 conference, but TV/Gaming with an extra screen via a tablet or phone is a very real thing, it’s something Nintendo is obviously working on, and something Apple is trying to push with some of the iPad’s capabilities. The Smartglass is an interesting innovation, and I’m really interested to see how it can be integrated into gaming.

But yeah, a lot of this stuff seemed to come at the expense of games, so when Microsoft dragged out the whole, ‘we’re taking over US cable, and you should watch sports on your Xbox 360′ thing… that sucked.

So, overall, not enough games. Not enough to get excited about. No real new exclusives of note, and an interesting diversion with Smartglass.

Probably one of the weaker E3 showings from Microsoft I can remember.


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