E3 2010: Microsoft Losing Focus?

By Drake

Part of the E3 2010 Convention Report Collection

First up to bat this year is Microsoft, and I must say their video left me with mixed feelings. After last year’s major announcement of Project Natal (or, as I call it, The Origins of Skynet ), I was expecting quite a few major announcements to reinforce last year’s incredible display previewing the capabilities showcased through Milo and Kate.

Milo and Kate
 is a game showcasing the beginnings of research into an emotional artificial intelligence, and boy did it succeed in convincing me that game developer Lionhead Studios succeeded. In the 2009 video, we saw a woman interacting with an AI character capable of recognizing the faces, voices, and emotions of those on camera and actually showing emotion in response. It’s pretty cool what using built-in cameras that track the skeletal structure of a person, a microphone in the sensor, and some brilliant AI programming can do. The interactions between Claire with Milo in the video were truly phenomenal, especially a part where Claire passes a paper with a drawing to the AI by having the sensor scan the paper, after which Milo takes the virtual page and looks at it.

However, this year did not live up to last as Project Natal, now known as Kinect, hasn’t really reached the same level of sophistication shown in Milo and Kate. Most of the titles at best were games similar to those found on the Wii. Don’t get me wrong, I love the Wii and Nintendo for what they’ve given the world, but after the promises of last year, the best we can hope to see on launch day are a majority of racing games and the Xbox version of WiiFit called Your Shape? Even the Xbox avatars closely resemble their Wii counterparts. There is, however, one game releasing at launch in the same vein of interaction as Milo and Kate called Kinectimals that basically lets players adopt one of many virtual animals and play with them as you would your own pet. I have to admit that the demo was pretty cute, and it gave me some hope that the future isn’t all bleak on the Kinect front. Well, that and a trailer for an upcoming Star Wars game using Kinect technology that is slated to come out next year (that’s more like it!).

So while it may be a while before Kinect takes off, I have no doubt it will within the next year or two as titles that can take this technology and properly use it to its full potential are developed. I’m not sure I can say this for the rest of the Xbox franchise, though. Why, you ask? The answer is quite simple! Microsoft is trying to do too much with the Xbox Live service, and using that to appeal to gamers by integrating popular social utilities, like facebook and Twitter, as well as services including Netflix or ESPN streams of sporting events. Honestly, if I cared to do any social networking or watch a basketball game, I’d rather just hop on the computer or flip over to the ESPN channels directly. This isn’t to mention using Kinect to make the already gimmicky announcements all the more gimmicky by showing how easy it is to stream movies or music using simple voice commands, or using hand waves to control video chat with others. I question how many people would actually be convinced to get an Xbox 360 based on social networking, video chat, or streaming movies. I would honestly hope and wager not too many.

This press conference wasn’t all bad in my eyes, though, due to the announcement of some upcoming video games such as Fable 3,Metal Gear Solid Rising, Gears of War 3 and Codename Kingdoms which promise some stunning graphics packed with fun gameplay. There were also Halo Reach and Call of Duty: Black Ops, which seem to have decent campaigns in the works. Shocker!

All in all, the press release was a big disappointment for me on Microsoft’s part because I felt they were just trying to copy the Wii’s capabilities and not go beyond, and their new gimmicks in Xbox Live are just that – gimmicks. I will, however, give them due credit for the good games they have coming soon.