Xbox 360 Article

Microsoft Press Conference

Natal, Beatles, Halo, Hawk, TV, socialised

Microsoft's big briefing kicked E3 off early and in some style. More akin to a rock concert than a gathering of gaming geeks. This felt like the moment where the barrier between those that game and those that don't simply went away.

Seeing Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr step onto centre stage for Rock Band Beatles said it all. This was truly mainstream gaming. They were there not only there to endorse the new game but announce ten of the tracks from the game when it is released in September.

This was to set the tone of the Microsoft event as the name checking and audience pleasing continued through their morning show.

Next up was Tony Hawk. On stage with Activision's new skateboard peripheral in hand he was keen to reclaim the skate board video game crown. Keen to show how to make a proper Skate game, he described how the (wheel-less) board controller is placed on the floor and ridden just like a real skateboard. It was hard to deny that this newly finalised peripheral offered the simplicity and directness that attracts so many people to skateboarding.

The lights went down and you could here the crowd's expectation as gameplay of Modern Warfare 2 was put to the screens. Looking a match for the highly acclaimed Call of Duty: Modern Warfare and threatening to become a spin off franchise in its own right, Modern Warfare 2 looked stunning with mouth watering visuals, interactions and set pieces.

Splinter Cell: Conviction impressed along similar lines with visual impact and hard hitting audio. What stood out here though were the little touches. The ability to approach levels as the player sees fit, sandboxing their way through each challenge combined with the in game projection of flashbacks and objectives to create a flowing experience that lets the player dictate the pace.

Other franchises were also given plenty of attention with details on Crackdown 2, Forza 3 and Left 4 Dead 2 getting whoops of approval from the eager crowd. This was rounded off with gameplay from Halo 3 ODST leading into the tease announcement of a new game in the Halo series, Halo Reach.

Celebrity appearances then continued with a big scoop for Microsoft. Hideo Kojima on hand to announce the longstanding Sony exclusive series, Metal Gear Solid, coming to the 360 as Metal Gear Solid: Rising. This led into an impressive gameplay session with Alan Wake. The over the shoulder survival horror game looks to have come a long way since we last saw cinematics.

Closing out the show was a slew of names usually found in the browser rather the games console, Microsoft stole a jump on both Nintendo and Sony by bringing not only a free Last.fm service to living rooms via their console, but also full screen TV access to Facebook and Twitter. More impressive name checking from the 360 camp.

The briefing was rounded off by perhaps the biggest and most impressive item. Project Natal promises to remove the final barrier between casual players and video games by removing the need for a controller. We listened as Stephen Spielberg spoke about the ground breaking technology that was demonstrated to work in near magical fashion.

Then who better to put the icing on the cake than Peter Molyneux, who put some flesh and bones on the camera controller Natal concept with a demonstration of how players could use its face and body detection to interact intuitively with in game characters. Just a few weeks with Project Natal has resulted in the amiable Milo character, a school boy as likeable as you could imagine. We watched as the player waved, spoke, gestured and generally related to the little chap.

We came away from the conference with a sense that this is a bunch of people who understand how hard they have to work and how much they have to spend to keep and hold the attention of their audience.

The impressive celebrity roll call underscores more than ever the need to engage on the level of personality rather than technology. Something epitomised in Project Natal's removal of the controller.

As Don Mattrick said in closing, we are now seeing the barrier separating video game players from everyone else simply disappear. And from where we were sat it was a compelling (and exciting) argument.

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