XBox pushes the boundaries at Microsoft E3

A host of new XBox titles at E3 this week. Most surprising for me was the first. Beatles Rockband. What were the politics involved in bringing Apple Corps to the table to produce this. Did they just do it for the money, or do they think that the time is right for the XBox to become more of a central media centre. It was certainly done one hundered and ten percent, with appearances from Olivia and Yoko, then Paul and Ringo who were allowed the luxury of talking. I wasn’t too impressed by Sir Paul and his chewing gum. Sometimes that man has no style.

e3-beatlesThe extent that XBox have gone to with the tracks is amazing. Fully remastered versions of 45 titles, with ‘All you need is love’ exclusive to the XBox; I assume that means that the Beatles titles will become available on iTunes as well then. ‘All you need is love’ proceeds will all go the the ‘Doctors without Borders’ charity; does this mean that you have to buy tracks within game, after the first ten included?

e3-tonyhawkMore big names rolled out after the band left the building; Tony Hawks with a new techno skateboard. That looked cool and it sounded relatively easy to start with. I would imagine that it might even be more difficult if you have already done real boarding as the brain might want to move the muscles into different positions.

Demos of Modern Warfare 2, not really a game for me, but perhaps I could play in the snow scenes while using the skateboard in snowboard mode. Finanl Fantasy 13 was there with more extreme graphics than ever. Shadow COmplex from Epic is another exclusive title. Joy Ride is another exclusive but this time free to download – you simply have to buy cars and tracks online (although the tracks are shareable). A different monetizing method that is becoming more common. Splinter Cell Convictionis another exclusiv demo.

Turn Ten thinks they have the definitive racing game, Forza Motorsport 3, but I saw a demo of the Black Rock SplitSecond software at Imperial yesterday. That look more exciting than just racing a car. However, the on-stage Audi 3 in flame red was almost outshone by the rendering of the on-screen version. Again XBox live will be community driven with sharing of content. There are ‘players’ out there that make money from custom paint jobs and tuning for other people. Almost like the SecondLife selling economy. Some people will spend more in virtual than they do in reality.

Halo 3 ODST will be there of course, but they also showed a glimpse of their secret project which had some great views from space. Halo Reach was the name due next year. If you buy ODST however, you’ll get access to the beta version. Remedy showed the Alan Wake story, spooky mystery to solve here, but not til Spring next year.

e3-skytvWhat else in innovation? Music from Not much applause here! XBox Live will give this free to Gold members later this year. Netflix has been big in the States, but this will be improved soon so that you don’t need to go via your PC, just browse and play, Also, for non US users, Sky Television will now give the same benefits in the UK. XBox will also be able to see ‘instant watch’ movies and Sky TV channels; live Test cricket and Premiership football in the new season. The Zoom video channel opens this autumn, full 1080p library, instantly (?), from 8 countries to 18. We can also share this experience with others in a multiroom environment. Some sort of sync play, which might help in bandwidth if all users are in the same time

e3-facebookAnother new alliance is with Facebook. Social networking is getting bigger. Facebox on XBox is a custom experience with a combination of friends from XBox and Facebook. Share photos, post your status and get your friends status as well. Facebook Connect is then able to save screenshots and text into your profile. Initially on Tiger Woods? More will come later.

e3-twitterTwitter is to be on XBox live, with just the same live feeds as normal. These apps appear to be full screen apps though. You need to swap from one to the other. It would be nice if we could get this sort of update keyed over a game…? The new menus replaces the blades graphics for the most part and looks similar to other offerings, but it looks modern and works in most modes.

e3-metalgearsolidWhat else do people want? Metal Gear Solid! Rising will be the first in the series on the XBox. Microsoft thinks that their platform is complete – what about Mario? Lol.

e3-trackingMicrosoft then thought that the controller may be a barrier, so where can we get past this limitation, especially for newer users? They will make YOU the controller! All from image recognition for the view of the players. Not sure how this will do in real life. We’ve tried a few different systems on the PC with some success but lighting and skin types may cause problems. (Compare it with the Sony Playstation version in this video). Looked a good demo though. You can even try on clothes in 3D. A quiz game taking in multiple players actions and audio from the players was impressive. Was that facial recognition? It’s Project Natal. A breakthrough sensor that tracks 3D movement and senses voices; wow. It will work with every XBox360. No new console – what a bonus idea. The visionary director Steven Spielberg then walked on. Microsoft certainly know how to put on a show. A ‘new era of interactive entertainment’. Put together by Kudo Sonodo. He demo’d the new dashboard – it can sign you in by looking at you; the avatar puts itself into the same position as you with its full body motion capture. The dashboard can be navigated using hand movements. The menus needed no controller and the game demo was impressive but hard to tell whether it was working. These were tech demos.
e3-silhouetteThe ‘pose’ command in the following splash painting demo gave a pretty good idea of how clean the body outline is seen by the sensors. It looked very good and quick, but again we shall see what non-perfect lighting might do. The development kits are going out today.

Peter Molineaux from Lionhood pushed the new-interactive thought that Natal will change the landscape. Facial recognition, emotion recognition; the ideas will surely bounce around all the developers. Graphics have improved to push the Xbox boundaries. The fish reminded me of the water on the top of the Microsoft surface – they’ve taken the good experience across. Clever tricks. More work for the creatives.

This is big money territory, bigger than movies in the top studios. So many people work on these titles and the amount of data going into each title is pushing the limits of the production systems. Expanding the team doesn’t necessarily make it quicker. The code is becoming a small part of the production; compiling all the revisions of graphics in the production pipeline is where more efficiency is needed. Maybe procedural textures or intelligent repurposing tools will improve this. We shall of course need more team members for all the new effects. Exciting.

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