Microsoft GC Conference
The live-text log. FIFA and PES exclusive!
Right! Hello again. Here we are at the Microsoft stand, having braved the perils of the cavernous glass central hallway in the Leipziger Messe and the slightly suspicious tasting coffee. There's a mini colloseum in the middle of the stand, and about 200 people are milling around in here - I say "about 200", meaning "an indeterminate number that looks like Quite A Lot." A wraparound screen is showing off a looping promo reel.
There's a laptop with a 360 pad on stage, and the steering wheel - announced at E3 - is visible behind the scenes. What are the odds on a Forza Motorsport 2 demo, then? 360 pods with screens are facing the stage.
There also appears to be an actual car of some description under a silver sheet next to the part of the audience which is filled with English hacks. Forza 2 related, maybe? Tom speculates that it could be something to do with Project Gotham Racing 4, but then again, Tom was so addicted to PGR3 that he had to take up smoking again when he finished all the challenges in the game, so that can be safely dismissed as the raving of a madman.
Dum de dum. What else can we speculate on wildly, in an entirely unfounded manner? Well, ther's a silver projector device on the stage, presumably some kind of teleprompter or reading aid - OR PERHAPS IT'S THE XBOX 720?!? (That should get us a breathless link from some blog sites.)
Someone who shall not be named from one of those Xbox 360 magazines (you know, the ones that come on bits of dead tree) says he's never been so uncomfortable in his life. Presumably he was expecting some form of giant Xbox mountain rather than a small German coliseum. Colloseum? Word says BOTH of these spellings are correct. A mystery!
"Speech" from Arrested Development is on the screen. They're beginning with his recording bloopers. There's a Live Anywhere logo too.
It's going to last for 90 minutes apparently, which is a bit worrying since I only have 70 minutes of laptop battery remaining. REINFORCEMENTS BITTE.
Stephan Brechtmann is Microsoft Germany's home and entertainment chap (that's the division that runs the Xbox and so on). He's on stage now, talking about how bloody huge Games Convention is. He's not wrong - the show here is bigger than E3, and with a higher meat content in the burgers, I'll wager.
Now he's talking about the Microsoft stand. He likes it, which is nice. Apparently it's "welcoming". Well... It does have some sand on it, and chairs. They gave us free water, too. We'd say it's downright hospitable.
Arrested Development, Project Gotham Racing, "and more", all coming up! "Extremely great entertainment" - not just great, kids, but EXTREMELY great.
Chris Lewis, the European Xbox boss, is up on stage. He's harking back to last year's pricing announcement, which came at GC 2005. Now he's talking about the momentum of Xbox 360 - they hit 1.3 million units across Europe in June.
That "contributes very significantly" to the 5 million unit mark they reached worldwide during the same timeframe, he says. Now he's re-asserting the company's claim that it's going to hit 10 million units by Christmas, although he does cite that as a shipment figure, not a sell-through figure, which is an interesting distinction.
With more than 160 HD games out there, it's "an undeniable success," according to Lewis. "Europe is the battleground for the console business."
It's a battle for hearts and minds - as we'll see in the next 80 minutes or so.
Microsoft is going to keep growing the business in Europe, Lewis says - with one move being to bring more European countries on board. We'll be seeing launch details for the Xbox 360 in Eastern European countries in the coming months, he says.
In fact, here are a few now - Xbox 360 will launch in Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic and Slovakia on November 3rd. The core and main systems will both be available, and Microsoft will be launching localised games for those regions.
Project Gotham Racing 3, Kameo and Perfect Dark Zero will all be available at those launches, he promises.
"Some of you may know that Xbox 360 was the official licensed console of the FIFA World Cup."
He introduces a guest - aha, it's Hugues Ricour, who Tom interviewed only yesterday! Small world. He shows off a FIFA 2007 trailer - it's not clear whether this is in-game, but it looks very nice. Perhaps a little more cartoony than the last game.
Now he's talking about the details outlined today in our interview, which you can find on the front page of the site because I don't know if links work in our live text system, and I don't want to risk breaking it to find out. The need for athletic motion, football intelligence, variability...
"At EA Sports, we are really trying to blur the line between the virtual experience and the real experience." We're not sure how blurry the line between lying on a sofa and running around a field can get, but it sounds good nonetheless.
Ronaldinho is on screen (in-game), dribbling (the ball, not down his chin). Changes pace quickly, shifts his weight around to run and turn. Foot-planting is accurate due to inverse kinematics, apparently. Which is nice.
Now he talks about responsiveness, and reiterates that the ball is a completely detached element with its own physics - you can see this, in fact. When he stops touching it, it rolls away from the player.
Okay, enough tech demo nonsense - he starts up a full game. Graphically, it's quite similar to the previous game, but there's a distinct difference in the animation.
"The motion is very fluid and realistic," he points out. He's not wrong, but he DID just score a very easy goal from 25 yards. He's outlining how the game's adaptive AI is very realistic.
Now on to Xbox Live stuff. Again, none of this will really be news to anyone who's read today's interview, but... There's a Live Broadcast option in the menu. You select league, and then team. It has a huge list of news culled from ESPNsoccernet by the look of the logo. A radio podcast plays over the top, too.
FIFA 07 is out this autumn (sorry, "fall" according to this chap), then. NHL, Need for Speed and The Godfather are coming to the 360 as well. "We love this thing," apparently. It "makes next-gen really shine." A bit like the players in FIFA, then.
(Sorry, cheap shot!)
Now Martin Bachmayer, head of marketing, is on the stage. They got "Speech" to introduce him, and there was a lot of muttering and fumbling. The translator is giggling into my headset. Oh dear.
It's "showtime," according to Bachmayer! Could this be the Hasselhoff appearance we've all been waiting for?!?!
It's time for news. That will have to do. A couple of promises were made in 2005, he says - a console by Christmas '05, which they did. A good price, which they did too.
"This year we'll make more commitments." They'll integrate all the lessons they've learned. With Xbox Live, he thinks they've made the breakthrough in Germany. More than 50 per cent of German Xbox 360 users are on Live.
Aha, the girls are unveiling the car next to us! It's a BMW / Mini brand deal they're announcing.
Time to chat about Live Anywhere (you KNEW it was coming) - he's introducing Rich Wickham, the director of the Games for Windows business.
He's going to chat about reinvigorating Windows, "the world's biggest gaming platform." There's a developer video reel running now - some chap who worked on Company of Heroes says Windows Vista is ace. Bill Roper says it's ace too, and he really likes the My Games folder. Some chap from Age of Conan thinks Vista is ace too, because it has parental controls. Bill Roper is back. He's had a really hard think about it, and Vista is STILL ACE.
Now they're showing a video of Hellgate London, which is presumably also ace, although whether it's on the same scale of ace-ness as Windows Vista is very hard to determine.
The producer of Crysis is up now. He reckons Windows Vista is... Wait for it... Ace! He's very excited about HD. "So much hinges on your ability to see detail on the character," says some chap - the Company of Heroes man, perhaps? We're not sure what that has to do with Windows Vista, but it's probably ace anyway.
The chap responsible for Flight Sim X is up. He thinks Vista is... Oh god, you get the idea. IT'S ACE. Actually, Flight Sim X looks really nice.
Oh, that last guy WASN'T the Company of Heroes chap. But the real Company of Heroes chap is back up, and saying broadly the same thing, so that's okay.
End of video. What have we learned today? Vista is ace, that's what! Make sure to cut that phrase into your forearms and post pictures of the resulting self-harm on LiveJournal, or Microsoft will become angry.
Windows for Games is a platform approach, we're told, and DirectX and Live Anywhere are the keys.
"If you see a title with the Windows for Games brand, you're getting a quality game," he says - with parental controls that will work on Vista, etc. It's all about consistency.
Vista will have "more games in more genres than any other game platform out there," he claims. Flight Sim X, Halo 2, Age of Empires 3 expansion and Zoo Tycoon 2 expansion logos pop onto the screen.
We're getting a demo of Flight Sim X in a bit, apparently. As for third party support, aside from the other stuff we've mentioned, Lego Star Wars II will also be a Games for Windows branded title, as will the new Broken Sword, Lord of the Rings Online, and Rail Simulator. This will start this year, so presumably these games will work on Windows XP too, since Vista isn't due out until some time in 2007.
Let's do some trailers. Halo 2 looks remarkably like Halo 2. Alan Wake. Flight Sim X again. Crysis. Age of Conan. Rail Simulator. Hellgate. Lego Star Wars II (looks brilliant!). Shadowrun. Zoo Tycoon 2: Marine Mania. Lord of the Rings: Shadow of Angmar.
That's the lot - it's all familiar stuff, and only really a quick glimpse at each. Moving on to chat about accessories now.
"We're bringing back the Intellimouse Explorer 3.0, because that's what consumers wanted." A new mouse, too - a partnership with Razer sees them doing the HABU Laser Gaming Mouse. It glows. A lot.
Xbox 360 wireless accessories will work with Windows this autumn. There's a headset jack for PC headsets too.
Scott Andersen from the Flight Sim X team is on stage. He's "really excited," but the question on everyone's lips is - DOES HE THINK VISTA IS ACE? He's not said anything on this important topic yet. For God's sake, stop keeping us in suspense, Scott!
Instead, he's talking about Flight Sim X. Great new feature - missions in the game. He's showing off the Red Bull Challenge mission, playing with the Xbox 360 controller wirelessly and flying through markers. We're expecting sprays of aerterial blood from hardcore flight sim fans at the back of the room to hit the stage any minute.
It looks pretty intense. He's doing huge turns, zooming through the gates; he goes vertical, swings around and goes through a gate sideways. Very intense, in fact. It's a pretty cool demo, and the game is due out "this holiday", which means "before Christmas" to us Europeans.
Flight Sim X will also support DirectX 10 when Vista ships next year (he pins down that date as January, but I bet he wouldn't be prepared to take a small gentlemanly wager on that topic). He's still not told us if he thinks Vista is ace :(
They're showing a mock-up of how it might look on Vista. Basically - really nice water.
Quick Crysis trailer, now. Nothing new, but very pretty.
Going back to the 360. "Let's talk about this." Oh, go on then. We're moving on to Forza 2.
"You can almost like in real life, really scoot along the roads." Once again the focus is on detail - suspension, drafting, etc.
The cars are zooming along - one spins out, gets all crumpled up, then rejoins the race. The demo ends. Turn 10's doing a good job by the looks of it. It's out "this winter" - whether that actually means before Christmas or not is anyone's guess, but since Flight Sim X was touted as "this holiday," the distinction may be meaningful.
Now for another key game - Chris Kimmell shows off Viva Pinata. "It has even inspired a cartoon TV series," he tells us. It's all about broadening the audience - and this is the tip of the iceberg, apparently.
He explains what a pinata is, and we head to Pinata Island to see Rare's take on the idea. It's a similar demo to the one we saw at E3 - a world built up with a load of animals and buildings.
It's all about fostering relationships between pinatas and, er, stopping them from bursting. Sounds like some kind of obesity-treatment health farm. The demo is incredibly jerky by the way, although to be fair, there's a huge amount happening on screen.
He talks about how you can personalise your pinatas and your world. There are up to 60 species in the game, each with a personality of their own, and you can trade items and pinatas online with friends (hell, you could even trade them with enemies or total strangers, I bet). The TV show will include tips for the game, too, handed out by some frightening looking animal, no doubt. Peculiar looking game, all in all, but it's undeniably cute. Due out this Christmas.
Now we're talking Xbox Live. It's a "worldwide success story". Carcassone, Alhambra and Die Siedler von Catan are all joining Xbox Live Arcade this year. Your guess is as good as ours, frankly - any Continental readers care to enlighten us ignorant island-dwellers about what on earth that lot are?
More detail on Xbox Live Arcade. There's a showreel of Pac-Man, Frogger, Galaga, StreetFighter II, Cloning Clyde, Texas Hold 'Em, Time Pilot, Scramble... New board games, too. Oh, apparently the English for the one we mentioned is "Settlers of Catan" - I still have no idea what that is, mind. That's it for XBLA.
"We have a constant flow of innovation" on the 360, he says. Aha, we're on to the HD-DVD player. It's still due at the end of this year. A woman in front of us is walking out! She must be absolutely disgusted by HD-DVD. SHAME ON YOU.
He's not being specific on the date for the HD-DVD player. We're seeing Serenity being played on HD-DVD. YOU MUST ALL BUY THIS. You can still look at your Gamercard while playing a movie, which I'm sure is a feature you've all been waiting for. We're only getting "autumn this year" as the date, though. Bah.
Wireless headset, now, and a wireless wheel too. They're both due in "fall" too. What the hell was wrong with the word "Autumn" in the first place?
There'll be a Wireless Gaming Receiver for Windows PCs too, out later this year. XBox Live Vision - 49.99 Euro, 89.99 Euro with a 12 month Gold pack.
Games, Games, Games, Games, More More More More... All we need now is "Developers, Developers, Developers, Developers" and a fat man dancing like a crazed monkey. No such luck. Where's Hasselhoff, dammit?
No Hasselhoff :(
Mobile next. "The start of this vision."
Chris Satchell from the Game Developer Group turns up to talk about Live Anywhere. He better be quick - we've only got 20 minutes of battery left...
They're doing a Windows Mobile demo of Xbox Live's community elements. You can view achievements, games, and friends, and check messages. This is all stuff from E3, obviously. They're showing off beaming a gamercard from one mobile phone to the other - you can accept / decline invites, and so on. It appears on consoles or phones, whichever you prefer.
Moving on to XNA, and how you can build your own games. "Tankbuster" app from Garage Games - he's making a 2D game. Drags in a foreground, and an airplane... He resizes the propellor, and makes it spin. Pulls it up and shows that you can fly the plane with keys in a quick demo.
Now he adds some hills, and resizes them with the mouse. Adds some mountains in the background. It looks a bit like Metal Slug. Adds in a cartoon tank - these are all pulled from "Templates".
"But we already have a lot of shooting games on Xbox 360." He's built a game called Culture, where you create a flowery world where you have to surround weeds. That gets rid of them, and then you get a very flowery planet. They aim to bring things like this to 360 to keep people interested.
Partnering with 10 universities, with 5 in Europe - Hull, Nottingham, Bradford in the UK, and 2 in Germany (Karlsruhe and Munich). They'll be putting XNA in the curriculum.
Hands back over to Chris Lewis. He's "thrilled" - talks about third parties. "The industry has responded fantastically well." Another trailer reel - Lost Planet, Table Tennis, and a nasty technical glitch. Here we go again - aha, Brothers in Arms: Hell's Highway, Mass Effect (oooh). Some NHL game nobody in Europe will really care about - ah, the 2K Games one. FEAR. Too Human. Viva Pinata again. MotoGP '06. Battle for Middle Earth 2. Sonic the Hedgehog (same stuff we saw at E3). Madden. All this stuff is playable on the stand, apparently!
World Series of Poker, Saints Row, Smackdown... Enchanted Arms, Test Drive Unlimited, NCAA Football 2007... The reel ends!
Pro Evolution Soccer 6 gets its own extended trailer, now. To be perfectly honest, it looks like a slightly prettier version of the PS2 game [he typed PS3 originally, but meant PS2 - "The keys are next to each other," he protested - Tom].
"Xbox 360 is the home of next-gen football."
Real news at last! PES6 and FIFA 360 will be next-gen exclusives for 12 months. That'll put the killer pigeon among the cats! "Xbox 360 owns football," intones Lewis.
Stephan Brechtman comes back to close the press conference. He's recapping - Games for Windows, Windows Vista (it's ace, remember?), 360 games (games games games games). Thanks very much for coming. Hurrah! It's all over, with five minutes of battery to spare!