SANTA MONICA, Calif.--Last year, those wishing to attend Microsoft's Electronic Entertainment Expo briefing had to negotiate a herd of celebrity impersonators and bodyguards, only to then have to cram into a darkened auditorium. This year, the journey to the Redmond, Washington-based computer giant's game event was much more pleasant. After a brisk walk through picturesque California streets during sunset, visitors arrived at the press briefing's venue, Santa Monica High School.
Already far more pleasant than most public schools, the space was transformed into a Shinjunku-esque maze of verdant neon. Between the ample trees on the ground, every white light had been swapped out for a bright neon one, giving virtually every surface an eerie but beautiful green glow.
After clearing minimal security, attendees were ushered into an open-air auditorium that's design would be unthinkable anywhere other than Southern California. But most people in the audience weren't in town for fun, sun, and surf. They'd come to attend the E3 Media & Business Summit, and to this particular event to see what the first company out of the next-generation gate has up its sleeve.
Microsoft's press briefing comes at a difficult time for the company. Its Xbox 360 has been taken over in sales by the Nintendo Wii, and following increasingly widespread reports of hardware failure, the company recently announced an unprecedented extension on the warranty for the Xbox 360.
After a week of both taking flak and receiving praise for its move, what would Microsoft have in store tonight? Will it announce a passel of new games like last year? Will it reveal more about the ambitious Live Anywhere service? And what about the whole gaming-on-Zune thing, anyway? GameSpot News is on the scene, blogging the event live with all the latest.
[8:30] Loud techno plays, gaggles of industry types exchange pleasantries.
[8:31] There's a band set up to the right of the stage--can we expect some Rock Band or Guitar Hero action tonight?
[8:32] A voice comes over the PA--the show is about to begin. It politely tells everyone to shut up and sit down.
[8:32] This place is filling up fast! Lights are coming down! Howls of delight issue from the crowd.
[8:33] Five Halo fans from Illinois are being brought on stage. Halo music plays as stars are shown on a huge screen. Camera cranes go nuts over the audience.
[8:34] Oh snap! The "fans" are a band--a lady fiddler backed up by a keyboardist, bassist, drummer, and guitarist. I didn't know the Master Chief liked prog-folk...
[8:35] Fiddler lady is going nuts on stage. It's a Halo hoedown! Yeeeehaaaaw!
[8:35] Lights going ballistic now. Obviously Microsoft has planted a few in the audience for "cheering."
[8:36] Numerous scenes from Halo 3 flash on the large screen as the music and lights come down. Well, that was...artistic.
[8:36] Oh, they're not done! Big finale! Some genuine cheers follow.
[8:37] Peter Moore takes the stage.
[8:37] Moore: "When they heard the music of Halo, they heard rock!"
[8:38] Moore: "Welcome to the New E3. It's a bit different than last year."
[8:38] "Every demo and game you see here tonight will be out this year."
[8:39] Harmonix takes the stage.
[8:40] Moore is playing Rock Band with Alex Rigopolous. "Let's turn it up to 11!"
[8:41] He's tanking...BADLY. Laughter from the audience. Blond singer trying to be dead serious as crowd cracks up.
[8:42] They cut Moore's amp, he was so terrible. But they bring it back on. He's not doing half bad now, and it's cool he's a good sport.
[8:42] "Big close!" Great success!
[8:43] Rock Band will have The Who, The Strokes, Nirvana, and more.
[8:44] New trailer debuts for...Viva Pinata: Party Animals! New party game that's heavy on the Horstachios.
[8:44] Game is being developed by Krome Studios, according to the trailer.
[8:45] Mass Effect is next--here comes the trailer.
[8:46] Trailer starts--Keith David in the voice-over house! Game looks vastly improved--unbelievably sharp graphics.
[8:46] "Your species has to learn its place!" You think he's the villain?
[8:46] MASS EFFECT COMING IN NOVEMBER!
[8:48] Now comes the business speak. Moore touts the fact that people will spend more on games than on music.
[8:49] 5.6 million 360s sold to date. It has the highest installed base of any console. Since Wii/PS3 launch, $2.4 billion has been spent on 360 accessories, games, and hardware.
[8:51] Says 2004 was the perfect storm of gaming with Halo, Madden, and Grand Theft Auto IV. Says three franchises will drive one-third of all sales this holiday season.
[8:55] Go to video montage! Call of Duty 4, Stranglehold, Guitar Hero III, Beautiful Katamari, Lost Odyssey, NBA: Live 08, Mass Effect, Fatal Inertia, Medal of Honor: Airborne, Tiger Woods 08, Ace Combat 6, NHL 08, Assassin's Creed, Spider-Man: Friend or Foe, Simpsons, Splinter Cell: Conviction, NASCAR 08. Eternal Sonata, BioShock, Madden NFL 08, Tony Hawk's Proving Ground, Crash of the Titans, Harry Potter, Half-Life 2: Orange Box, Bee Movie Game, Rock Band, and Naruto will all be available this year, apparently.
[8:55] Jeff Bell, Microsoft corporate VP takes the stage.
[8:56] New game--Scene It?, based on the popular board game, will come with video clips in high definition and a new controller.
[8:57] Controller and game "designed for whole family." Game will come with controller and "cost the same as a regular Xbox 360." He also touts Naruto.
[8:58] Trailer for Naruto rolls. Great, if you're a Naruto fan. Otherwise, not so much...
[8:58] (What kind of ninja is blond, anyway?)
[9:00] Bell: "We're bringing the best of entertainment to the Xbox 360...announcing all-new EA Sports titles will "run twice as fast" as last year's games. Brings in New Orleans Saints' Reggie Bush to vouch for that fact.
[9:01] Surprise! Bush is a fan of the 360 and Madden. He plays Bell in Madden.
[9:01] Bush: "I got to watch you Microsoft guys--you guys cheat, man."
[9:02] Bush quickly beats Bell in some "spontaneous" Madden action. Apparently, onstage pawnage of executives is the new black at this year's event.
[9:03] Bell: Now over 7 million Xbox Live users. He jokes, "Only half are here tonight!" (Heyo!) Microsoft now aiming for 10 million users by next year's E3 (assuming there is one...).
[9:04] Forty-five million game downloads from Xbox Live Arcade to date.
[9:06] XLBA montage: Hexic 2, classic Sonic, War World, Sensible World of Soccer, Every Extend Extra Extreme, Wing Commander Area, Track & Field, Spyglass Board Games, Golden Axe, Space Giraffe, Super Puzzle Fighter II, Marathon 2: Durandal, Switchball, Tetris, Puzzle Quest, Buko Sudoku, among others.
[9:06] Original Sonic the Hedgehog and Golden Axe are going on XBLA tonight.
[9:07] On to Video Marketplace. Two thousand hours of content, $125 million spent on the service since launch.
[9:09] Deal with Disney to bring movies to XBLM: Tarzan, Hunchback of Notre Dame, Hercules, Emperor's New Groove. From Touchstone, the movies include Waterboy, Unbreakable, Armageddon, Brothers Grimm, Bringing Down the House, Coyote Ugly, Primeval, The Queen, and Venus. All available tonight, all in HD.
[9:10] Bell: "All big hits from Disney will from now be available on Xbox Live." Xbox Live Video marketplace coming to Europe and Canada.
[9:11] Xbox 360 Elite coming to Europe on August 24.
[9:11] Microsoft Games Studios head and corporate VP Shane Kim takes the stage, saying, "Everything starts with the games."
[9:12] Touts Lost Odyssey, Mass Effect, Blue Dragon, and Halo 3.
[9:13] Forza 2 is biggest game in Europe, says Kim, before introducing a Project Gotham Racing 4 demo. The game itself is confirmed for a September release.
[9:14] Demonstrators confirm motorcycles will be introduced in the game, with real-life bikes from Honda, Ducati, and others.
[9:15] Demo looks slick. Great lighting effects as bike races through rainy Shanghai streets, popping wheelies.
[9:16] Cue PGR4 trailer. Staggering crisp graphics as a motorcycle races a car through a snowstorm in the woods and a rainstorm in various cities.
[9:17] Kim back on stage now, touting Alan Wake, Fable 2, Too Human, and Halo Wars.
[9:18] Also reminds world that, yes, director Peter Jackson is still working on a Halo movie.
[9:18] Cue Lost Odyssey demo.
[9:19] Onscreen, an immortal warrior complains about "lifetimes of pain." I think I feel a case of the Quickening coming on...
[9:21] Kim back on stage to announce new Games for Windows with some "familiar faces." Viva Pinata and Gears of War (surprise!) with "all-new content" and a level editor.
[9:21] Enter Cliffy B.
[9:23] Cliffy B. says Gears of War on PC will have five new single-player levels, and new multiplayer modes and maps.
[9:23] Cliffy B. demos a new level where Marcus Fenix takes on the brumak, the giant creature from the Gears of War trailer.
[9:25] It's an impressive fight. Smooth graphics as Marcus pumps the behemoth full of lead. Dom dies (naturally) and just as the brumak is about to fall--he pauses the game. "I don't want to spoil the surprise," he jokes.
[9:26] Moore back in to tout Windows Live for PC. New partners whose games will have Live Achievements are THQ, Sega, and Eidos.
[9:26] Moore also says that the Unreal Engine 3 toolset will soon have built-in support for Windows Live.
[9:29] Windows Live game montage: Bee Movie Game, Flight Simulator, Hellgate: London. Age of Empires III: Asian Dynasties, BioShock, Crysis, Universe at War, BlackSite: Area 51, World in Conflict, Age of Conan, Lost Planet, Kane & Lynch, Company of Heroes: Opposing Fronts, Zoo Tycoon 2: Extinct Animals, Juiced 2, Viva Pinata, and Spider-Man: Friend or Foe, among others.
[9:30] Moore back on stage, gives props to BioShock for being PC/360-exclusive, then introduces Call of Duty 4 trailer.
[9:32] Game shows US Marines fighting it out in Middle Eastern country before showing commando raid on rogue Russian forces. Looks like they just shot off some ICBMs. "Moscow in flames, missiles headed our way. Film at 11."
[9:33] Infinity Ward developers get on stage. They've been working on COD4 since COD2 wrapped. One dev promises the studio is "going deep and going hard," eliciting chuckles.
[9:34] Demo starts. Two British commandos in Ghillie suits take out some sentries. Lighting effects are fantastic, graphics crisp--this is a top-notch production all around.
[9:37] The two commandos infiltrate a building after sniping some "tangos." They run through a field and some woods, then hit the dirt as they approach some foes. A battalion of troops backed up by three tanks is coming right at them--demo is cut off.
[9:38] Infinity Ward guys say the Call of Duty 4 multiplayer demo will be Xbox 360 exclusive. Go to charlieoscardelta.com for more details.
[9:39] From out of nowhere, the Grand Theft Auto IV trailer. Moore gleefully announces both trailers shown so far are running in real time on the Xbox 360. Second trailer, released last month, rolls. What, they couldn't get a demo together?
[9:41] Moore says two exclusive new GTA IV episodes will be released in spring 2008. "The Xbox 360 is the only console where you can get the complete Grand Theft Auto IV experience," he boasts.
[9:41] Moore talking about Japanese support, talks about series debuting on the console for the first time...cue Resident Evil 5 trailer.
[9:42] Very creepy trailer shows zombies running amok in a North African village. Full trailer on Xbox Live on July 26, but this is the one game shown tonight that won't be out until 2008.
[9:43] Moore cedes the stage to Ubisoft's Jade Raymond. Howls of approval from many male members in the audience.
[9:44] Raymond demos Assassin's Creed in real time. Titular killer, Altair, is on top of a Jerusalem rooftop, then jumps down into a pile of hay.
[9:45] The assassin walks through the crowd. To show off the detailed character, he punches out a beggar who slows him down.
[9:46] Altair then kills someone and flees the scene with some fancy acrobatics. He escapes into a building only to find it's a trap--four swordsmen confront him.
[9:48] With a flurry of vicious-looking combos, Altair makes short work of the swordsmen, then goes after their leader in a gravity-defying rooftop chase.
[9:49] The chase goes through the streets of Jerusalem, knocking pedestrians out of the way before Altair finishes his quarry with a wicked death blow.
[9:50] Moore's back on stage. Comparing Halo trilogy to the Star Wars trilogy.
[9:51] Hold the phone! Cue a live-action trailer directed by Neil Blomkamp, the would-be director of the indefinitely delayed Halo movie.
[9:51] Short shows the interior of a USNC weapons factory. Assembly lines make warthogs as space marines suit up in armor.
[9:52] Pelican dropships load up on troops, getting ready for a big battle. If the Halo movie looks like this, I'm already in line.
[9:52] Trailer abruptly ends, leaving many disappointed.
[9:53] Moore then almost causally whips out the Halo 3 console--it's green and gold. [Later, Microsoft confirmed it would have a 20GB drive.]
[9:54] Microsoft also releasing a whole range of Halo-branded accessories to match the console. It will go on sale September 25 alongside the game, but no pricing information is announced.
[9:55] Moore wrapping up, wishes everyone well. "But before we go, let's make sure we finish the fight."
[9:57] New Halo 3 trailer! Earth is in flames. Terence Stamp voice-over shows action aplenty. New enemies--brutes in armor and what looks like flying grunts. Master Chief is hip-shooting a Gatling gun. Cortana looks like she's in trouble.
[9:58] And that's it! Crowd starts filing out...then the fiddler returns!
[9:59] Band tries to convince crowd not to go, but they're piling out en masse, having sat on concrete for an hour and a half.