Microsoft today heralded the next wave of "truly next generation" Xbox 360 games, in the words of Peter Moore, including Halo 3, Fable 2, Forza Motorsport 2, Shadowrun, Alan Wake - now exclusive to 360 and PC - and Grand Theft Auto IV.
The latter is due out simultaneously on PS3 and Xbox 360 next October, but 360 will also enjoy exclusive episodic Rockstar content - not necessarily GTA, but a significant strategic partnership nonetheless. Epic Games' Gears of War was also shown, played by designer Cliff Bleszinsky, and drew gasps of appreciation from the crowds.
Microsoft chairman Bill Gates also put in an appearance - to talk about the company's ambition for the convergence of Windows Vista, Xbox 360 and Windows Mobile platforms under the banner, "Live Anywhere".
Examples of Live Anywhere functionality included cross-platform game invitations, the ability to see what friends are doing on their other platforms, and things like the facility to transfer cars to someone's account in Forza Motorsport 2 - allowing them to tweak the performance on a Windows Mobile, edit decals on Windows Vista, and play on Xbox 360 depending on their whereabouts.
Furthermore, Microsoft promised a "renaissance" in PC gaming - thanks mainly to Vista, which it sees as a games-driven operating system - and demonstrated Crysis. Peter Moore said the company was making a huge commitment to the format, which "won't be the land of misfit toys" any longer. We then saw Microsoft's Scott Henson use a 360 to buzz Major Nelson with a Shadowrun invite on his PC, and the pair played against one another - Henson using the 360 pad and Nelson the PC's keyboard and mouse, with full headset support too.
Microsoft also announced a raft of new Xbox Live Arcade titles including a Lumines puzzle game with licensed Warner Bros. music, introduced peripherals including a wireless Forza steering wheel, said HD-DVD would be with 360 consumers this Christmas, and promised high-def TV content through Live Marketplace as soon as this evening - in the shape of a Gears of War making of "docu-drama", due to conclude on MTV next week.
The sighting of Halo 3 at the conference would normally be expected to win the most headlines, but in truth Microsoft's conference - lead primarily by Peter Moore - featured a lot more new information than many had anticipated. The brief Halo 3 trailer appeared at the very end, featuring a Master Chief being told "This is the end of the world", watching a giant, city-sized circular structure in a wasteland erupt in white light under the gaze of hovering spaceships, before concluding on a 2007 release date. The trailer - along with several others - is available now on Xbox Live Marketplace for 360 owners to view.
But there were also significant announcements in Fable 2, Forza Motorsport 2, the exclusive signing of Alan Wake - the trailer for which featured more in-game graphical content than any of the others - along with a CG trailer giving us an idea what to expect from FASA's PC and 360-exclusive Shadowrun first-person shooter and a very impressive walkthrough of the first level of Gears of War, which is due out this year exclusively on 360.
"By this holiday we'll have over 160 games to choose from," said Moore, presiding over a trailer reel a mile long featuring most of its previously announced forthcoming 360 titles. Rare also appeared to show off Viva Piñata, which sees Microsoft exploring outside its coveted 18-34 demographic with a game aimed at gamers of all ages - in which players build up a garden of piñata creatures.
Microsoft's own garden is certainly blooming - in spite of the vast scale of its competitors' software announcements, which had lead some to expect a weaker third showing. Stay tuned as we bring you more in-depth news on the various aspects of the conference, or read our live text commentary archive for a point by point run-through of what happened.
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