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Microsoft E3 2012 Press Conference Liveblog


Steve Ballmer Sells Windows1.0

Presented without comment.


The First Halo 4 Info Dump

Color me unimpressed.

Don’t get me wrong, I still hope 343 Studios comes out with a banging new Halo game, but after the debacle that was Halo: CE Anniversary edition, I’ll need first-hand proof that Halo 4 isn’t a dud before I believe it.

I mean, look at the stuff they highlight in this video (with my commentary in bold):

  • A clever reason why there are red and blue Spartans fighting each other. (Who CARES?! Is an elaborate backstory going to make up for subpar gameplay? Because that’s the first thing I’m going to think of when you draw attention to things like that.)
  • The story being integrated into the multiplayer experience. (Competitive Halo multiplayer has never been about telling a story. If it’s there and doesn’t detract from the gameplay, sure, I’ll take it. But it’s not something anyone has been clamoring for.)
  • The sound effects have been completely redone. (Whoopty ding-dong)
  • Players will be able to customize their loadouts and unlock gameplay changing features ala Call of Duty. (This is the biggest red flag for me. To me, one of the most elegant parts of a Halo deathmatch is that it starts everyone off on equal footing equipment-wise. You start giving players who have spent the time to grind out enough XP to give themselves a discernable starting advantage, you start going down a slippery slope of game balance issues. I’d rather lose matches to people who outmatch me with skill, rather than unlocks. This is an especially big issue for a game like Halo, where people don’t die in one hit like other modern war shooters.)
Now, I know it’s still early in the information dissemination cycle for the game, but the stuff 343 Studios has decided to tout in its first public information release is curious at best. It’s as if they were running out of ideas to improve the franchise as is and are grasping at any sort of “improvement” feature checklist features they can. I just hope my intuition pans out wrong on this one because Halo truly is my favorite big budget gaming franchise.

Microsoft Releases Xbox LIVE iOS App

I’ve been playing with the new Xbox LIVE iOS app this afternoon and have to hand it to Microsoft – this thing looks slick. It’s got the new Metro UI that’s on the new Windows Phone and now the Xbox 360. The app looks and performs wonderfully even in iOS, especially on the iPad where it literally turns your iPad into a mini Xbox 360 dashboard. If you use Xbox Live with any sort of regularity, there’s no reason not to get this app asap.

Currently, it’s got the basic functionality of things you’d want to do away from your Xbox, like check/send messages, achievements, and friend activity. You can even check out some streaming video content from the Xbox LIVE team. You can’t, however, browse the Xbox LIVE Marketplace and make downloads or purchases. This would be the logical next feature add and I’d be surprised if Microsoft didn’t implement this sooner rather than later. After all, allowing players to impulse purchase content on the go can only do good things for Microsoft’s bottom line.

Here’s a list of features from Major Nelson:

Some of the features include:

Read and send messages to friends
Manage your friends list, invite new friends
Read and Edit your full LIVE profile (name, bio, motto)
Change your avatar features/items with the avatar closet
View and compare your achievement progress with friends

Download the iOS app here for free

via Xbox Live’s Major Nelson


The Xbox 360 Is Still Selling Well

From The Official Microsoft Blog:

· Xbox 360 sold more than 960,000 consoles in the U.S. alone, with more than 800,000 sold within a period of 24 hours.

· More than 750,000 Kinect for Xbox 360 sensors were sold in the U.S. – standalone and bundled.

It’s amazing that a 6 year old console can still do these kinds of numbers, though keep in mind that that 24 hour sales period spike was undoubtedly due to a $100 price cut on the 360/Kinect bundle for Black Friday. The 750k quote for Kinect sales is also a little tricky as it includes sales from said Black Friday bundles too.

Nevertheless, with numbers like these, why would Microsoft need to rush out an “Xbox 720” next year?

via The Official Microsoft Blog 


Video Review: New Xbox 360 Silver Controller With Transforming D-Pad

**Updated 11/11 with fix for the mirrored video from the previous embed. Plus a neat little title!

So you may or may not have heard that Microsoft is putting out a new controller for the Xbox 360 on November 9th. It’s got a nice silver finish and has newly contoured joysticks and a magical transforming d-pad that will help you pull of shourykens a lot better.

I got my hands on one last week and have put together a mini-review video below.

TL;DW – It’s a nice improvement and worth the money if you were planning on getting a new controller or need one with a good d-pad. It’s not a ZOMG BUY THIS NOW purchase, but you won’t want to go back to the old one once you’ve gotten it.


Microsoft Brings Big Name Japanese Developers To Kinect

Tokyo Game Show is this week and that invariably means tons of wacky game announcements from creative Japanese game developers. Microsoft’s keynote at the event yesterday was comprised almost solely of Kinect titles and I have to say, they’ve trotted out some talented developers.

Here’s a short list of exclusive titles announced at TGS via Major Nelson’s blog:

codename D (Grasshopper Manufacture, Microsoft Game Studios). From the famed markers of “killer7” and the “NO MORE HEROES” series comes “codename D” from SUDA 51 for Microsoft Game Studios. You must fight for your life to survive an evil amusement park filled with twisted and eerie creatures. With “codename D” for Kinect for Xbox 360, you are the controller as you unleash devastating effects to destroy enemies and objects.

Project Draco (Grounding, Microsoft Game Studios). The director of the cult hits “Phantom Dust” and “Panzer Dragoon,” game director Yukio Futatsugi, brings you an epic 3-D flying shooter. With the magic of Kinect for Xbox 360, you will be able to nurture and learn to communicate with your dragon as you develop its skills and train it as a partner in combat. Then join friends on Xbox LIVE to feel the rush of flight as you take to the skies together and experience breathtaking vistas and engage in thrilling battles.

Haunt (NanaOn-Sha, Microsoft Game Studios). Gather friends and family to delve deep into a haunted house dripping with mystery — you’ll need every ounce of your wit and cunning if you hope to unravel the veil of rumors that hide its darkest secret. Dodge traps and outwit ghosts, ghouls and frights that lurk with glee around each and every corner. Take a deep breath and immerse yourself in “Haunt,” spooky fun for Kinect for Xbox 360. (FYI: NanaOn-Sha was the creator of Parappa The Rapper)

Steel Battalion Heavy Armor (Capcom, From Software). This all-new game revives the fan-favorite “Steel Battalion” series. With the support of Microsoft, Capcom and From Software join forces to bring this groundbreaking collaborative project to Xbox 360. Manhattan, 2082: In a world where computers and almost all modern technology have been lost, the greatest nations of the world continue to battle for supremacy. The American army lands in New York to begin its first big offensive of a long ground war. Soldiers fire from the trenches as scorched bunkers belch black smoke. As comrades continually fall to the unrelenting crossfire of bullets, the Vertical Tanks make their relentless advance. Experience the battlefield as never before with Kinect for Xbox 360.

Rise of Nightmares (SEGA). “Rise of Nightmares” offers a spine-tingling horror experience that uses the innovative new controls of Kinect for Xbox 360 to give players the ultimate fright. Using their whole body, players will experience fear and tension as never before in this exclusive Kinect horror adventure.

While these were all just announcements (They’re all supposed to come out in 2011), I have to admit that every single one of these games at least sounds intriguing. Plus, with the track record these developers have, gaming connoisseurs can’t dismiss these titles (and by extension, the Kinect) outright. Combined with Mizuguchi’s upcoming Child of Eden, I’d say there’s a bunch of reasons to give a long hard look at motion gaming.

I’ll reserve judgment until I’m actually playing some awesome games with the Kinect, but Microsoft has made a big step forward in showing that the Kinect is not just a useless $149 addon to play Wii Sports knockoffs.


Xbox Live Subscription Prices Set To Increase


1M Gold:  $7.99

3M Gold:  $19.99

12M Gold:  $49.99

Starting Nov 1, 2010

1M Gold:  $9.99

3M Gold:  $24.99

12M Gold:  $59.99

A couple of days ago, Microsoft announced an across the board price increase for its Xbox Live service that will go into effect on November 1, 2010. You can check out the price increase for the US in the handy table above. Basically it means a $10 increase in the yearly price (because if you use your Xbox with any degree of frequency, it’s silly to pay the inflated rates for anything but the 12 month rate).

Now, get up in arms about it if you want, but there’s really nothing much you can do about it other than stock up on 12 month Gold cards if you see them at a deal. Diligent bargain hunters have never had to spend more than $39.99 for 12 months of LIVE. In days past, $29.99 12 month card deals were more common than not.

Maybe this whole thing is a stunt to get a whole bunch of people to pay up front for multiple years of LIVE because Microsoft has so magnanmously set up a page where you can lock-in a $39.99 rate through them directly.

There’s no two ways about it, it sucks. And having a price increase on Xbox LIVE isn’t exactly a good way to ingratiate yourself back in the good graces of the gaming community after the debacle that was the Kinect pricing announcement.

But at the end of the day it’s $10. We’ll have to just deal with it and move on. Maybe take some mental notes like Lebron James.

Don’t worry, MSFT, your day will come.


Peter Molyneux TED Talk Shows Milo As A Potential Kinect Killer App

Ah, the days of E3 2009. Where the Microsoft Kinect (then Project Natal) was still new, wondrous, and offered a world of possibilities. Back then, one of the more interesting demos was of Milo, an AI boy you could interact with like a real human. Since then, nary a peep has been heard about Milo from his creator, Peter Molyneux (Fable, Populous).

Until now.

Molyneux whipped out Milo at his TED talk earlier this year and it looks a bit more fleshed out as a “game,” as opposed to merely a tech demo. Apparently his goal was to create an environment and interface where humans can interact with an evolving AI as if it was human. No input devices needed, just a Kinect and your bad self.

If you’re time-starved, you can skip to about 9 minutes where the interesting interactions take place. Molyneux reveals that Milo’s AI will “live in the cloud” and evolve from various peoples’ playthroughs. It has the promise of being truly revolutionary stuff for the video game/interactive entertainment industry. Though the Milo demo is ultimately unexciting in subject matter (Milo’s biggest problem is adjusting to a move from England to New England), it’s leagues more interesting than pantomiming through Wii Sports knock-offs.

Well, at least until Milo turns into Skynet and conquers us all.


Postgame: Limbo Review

I had a tough time playing Limbo.

It wasn’t due to deficient game playing skills on my part or any bugs or faults with the game’s programming. No, I had a tough time playing through Limbo because I was genuinely unsettled by the hauntingly melancholy game atmosphere with its grainy black and white visuals and sparse, yet disturbing ambient sounds and audio cues.

You may think I’m talking about a new survival horror game, but I’m not. Limbo is a 2D platforming puzzle game.

“How is this possible?” you may ask. Just watch this short trailer:

I found it appropriate that the protagonist of the game is a young boy because a lot of what disturbed me in Limbo scared me as a child. I have a ghastly fear of spiders, insects, and man eating plants that crystallized in my youth somewhere between the piranha plants in Super Mario Bros. and the insects in Daikatana.

Death in Limbo is also an infinitely more powerful on screen event because it is happening to a little boy. My first death happened via running into a bear trap on the ground. The trap chomped my boy into an aerial concerto of bloody body parts which then collapsed limply to the ground. It quickly became obvious that I wasn’t going to be playing Rayman.

One particular scene early in the game has you walk by a white butterfly on the ground who flies off towards a tree that is clearly harboring a giant black spider lurking in the branches above. I must have spent a good five minutes sitting in my chair, paralyzed. I saw no obvious route around the tree, yet there was no fucking way I wanted to walk under three giant spider legs. Given that the game had established a precedent for grisly deaths by that point, I especially did not want to see what this spider was going to do to the little boy.

Eventually, I excruciatingly faced my fears and found a way past the spider situation. The game may “just” be in black and white, but the realistic animations of the boy and the world combine with the game’s desolate atmosphere to create a completely immersive experience.

Who are you? Why are you here? Where are you?

These are questions Danish developer Playdead want you to wonder about while playing through Limbo. And they did, in fact, linger in the back of my mind throughout the game’s first half, especially with the appearance of other humanoids (dead and alive). However, as the game progressed, I found myself caring less and less about these things and just focusing on what my next destination was and how to reach it. In other words, gameplay became the driving motivational force, not the search for greater meaning in the story.

A word about the gameplay: much of it is based on a “die first, figure out why after you respawn” paradigm. During your first playthrough you should expect to die often and die unexpectedly. This may sound like a frustrating nightmare, but for the most part isn’t, because there are bountiful checkpoints that place you close to your place of death. However, there are a couple of places in the game where I repeatedly yelled “Come on!” at my screen because I could not discern a certain goal and the death checkpoint forced me to play through a previous section before I could take a crack at it again.

Comparisons to Jonathan Blow’s breakthrough “indie” game, Braid, are bound to pop up due to both games belonging to a similar genre. I’ll take a shot at declaring a “winner” by saying that Limbo doesn’t quite reach Braid from both a gameplay and narrative standpoint. Overall, Limbo’s puzzles aren’t as elegantly designed as Braid’s. Many of the more difficult ones require precision timing and button pressing dexterity to solve problems, rather than imaginative and cereberal solutions. That’s not to say Limbo is poorly designed – there are some wonderfully devious puzzles that give a real sense of fulfillment once you figure them out. It just doesn’t feel as naturally rewarding as Braid did.

Braid’s narrative benefited from the use of prose in its introductory and ending sequences. These words really tugged at me emotionally and provided context for the story it was trying to get across. Limbo, on the other hand, does not have one word of text within the game. It relies solely on its greatest strength, its visual and audio atmosphere, to convey its message. Limbo starts off strong in this regard, but the sense of uneasy wonderment slowly peters out until the ending is reached. It’s an ending which I feel tries to capture the same level of existential meaningfulness as Braid, but ultimately falls short.

Having said all of this, Limbo still comes highly recommended if you enjoy playing puzzle platformers and/or delight in immersive and unique art styles. It’s unquestionably the best downloadable game I have played in 2010 thus far. Just be warned if you have qualms about viewing gruesome child deaths or have fear of giant insects.

One final tip: Don’t read the game’s description on Xbox Live Marketplace if you can avoid doing so. I think the game’s ultimate meaning is far more interesting and thought provoking were I not to have read the short premise on the description. For me, it was a throwaway fact that served to only narrow the possibilities of the game’s conclusion.

Limbo costs 1200 Microsoft Points ($15) as a downloadable title from the Xbox Live Marketplace. There is a trial version that encompasses the first two game chapters.

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