E3 2016 – Microsoft Conference Recap

Originally published on Trevor Trove on June 13, 2016

E3 “officially” kicked off today, as usual, with the morning conference from Microsoft.

Let’s see what dumb things I predicted for this one:

1. Gears of War 4 kicks off the show with gameplay and trailer focused on the three main characters. It is still unfathomably dark.
2. Xbox One Slim announced for this holiday season at $299. Xbox 1.5 announced for 2017, 2TB system with more power at $399.
3. Sea of Thieves Release Date: November 1. People will be able to sign-up for a Beta following the conference. 
4. HoloLens multiplayer Minecraft showcase. 
5. Summer of Arcade Returns, featuring Below, Adr1ft, Inside, and the big gets Undertale and Stardew Valley.

Before the Xbox conference, Phil Spencer delivered a somber message about the Orlando shooting.

Then the conference segued into the Xbox One S slim design that leaked yesterday with a sizzle real of the redesigned specs.

Phil Spencer then came back out (wearing a simple original Xbox shirt) to introduce that the Xbox One S would launch in August “starting at $299” (so most likely the 2TB version will bit a bit pricier).

First game/developer out of the gate: Rod Fergusson to show Gears of War 4. Announcing that the game will support the Xbox Play Anywhere program, meaning it’ll be cross-buy and cross-play on Xbox One and Windows 10. Every co-op mode (campaign, multiplayer, and Horde 3.0) will feature cross-play between Xbox One and Windows 10.

Laura Bailey – voice of Kate in Gears 4 – came out to play a live demo of a mission from the campaign. Mission showed off a good team dynamic with competent AI. And was actually visible, starting off in a surprisingly well-lit dust storm, before moving inside to a factory building of some sort, then back outside. And woohoo for accurately predicting the Marcus Fenix tease at the end of the demo. While some voiceover played, they continued on to announce a special edition Gears of War 4 Elite Controller.

Next, Rukari Austin, Community Manager came out to reveal a new character for Killer Instinct: General Raam from Gears of War, available for free this week.

A Forza Horizon 3 trailer highlighted the beautiful graphics the series is known for. Ralph Fulton from Playground Games game out to showcase the game running on three different rigs: an Xbox One S, a high powered PC rig with steering wheel, and one with mouse and keyboard (I think). They showcased some live Co-op Campaign gaming with simple one-button switchover. Coming as an Xbox One and Windows 10 Play Anywhere game September 27.

Up next, a Recore character introduction trailer. Giving short moments to what appear to be the player character Joule and some of the support robots she’ll travel alongside: Mack (the dog bot from the reveal trailer last year), Seth (a spider bot), and Duncan (“the heavy hitter,” also seen in the original trailer).

From Square Enix, Hajima Tabata and Matthew Kishimoto came onstage to play a bit Final Fantasy XV on Xbox One stage. “Square Enix on Microsoft’s stage?!” Twitter said. “Remember Rise of the Tomb Raider?” I replied. Showcasing a battle with Titan, the demo was intended to show the size and scope of a fight against one of the game’s ridiculously large-scale enemies. I don’t know how well it played though. It’s probably much more tactical and enjoyable in the moment, but on the stream it just looked like a lot of trying to avoid Titan’s arms and occasionally swinging the sword a bit. Eventually, a seemingly-canned animation of the party throwing Blizzard spells to freeze and shatter his arm rounded out the demo. As previously announced, the game will launch on September 30.

A sizzle reel announcing the leaked Underground expansion for The Division played. But the director of the conference cut to a wide shot of the audience at the very last moment so I had to squint to see that this is what was actually being announced for a June 28th release. That’s a big pet peeve of mine at these shows: when directors pull opt for a dynamic shot instead of highlight the critical information you want shown to the hundred thousand people tuning in online.

Patrick Bach from Dice came out next to follow-up his EA appearance yesterday and showcase Battlefield 1 on the Microsoft stage. EA Access players on Xbox can start playing the game October 13, ahead of the October 21 release date. Then the same trailer from yesterday played to round out the segment.

Mike Ybarra, Head of Platform Engineering, came out to highlight that the network is continually being improved upon. New Xbox Live features coming soon include Background Music, Language Region Independence, and Cortana. Clubs on Xbox Live will allows players to create custom communities. Looking for Group is “like a want ad for multiplayer.” Arena on Xbox Live will allow people to compete in tournaments. All coming this fall.

Lydia Winters and Saxs Persson from Minecraft came out to announce that players across iOS, Android, and Windows 10 can now play together cross-platform. Then they had a demo showcasing an iPad, Xbox One, and Oculus Rift all playing together, thanks to this “friendly update.” Minecraft Add-ons will launch later this fall allowing texture pack adjustment. More news will be revealed at Mine-Con in September.

Xbox then showcased a video announcing custom controller designs. Very colorful and flashy if you’re into that. But again the director cut away to an audience shot so I didn’t get a glimpse of the website to go to order your custom controller.

This led into a trailer for Inside, the new game from the team behind Limbo, available June 29. Chris Charla, Director of ID@Xbox came out to hype up the game a bit, announce that Limbo itself is free for players on Xbox One, and talk about other ID@Xbox titles to expect. Cuphead, Outlast II, Deliver Us the Moon, Flinthook, Far, The Slime Rancher, Shadow Tactics, Figment, The Culling, For the King, Beacon, Stardew Valley, Hand of Fate 2, Below, Raiders, Bloodstained, Yooka-Laylee, and Everspace all made appearances in the sizzle reel.

Ark Survival Evolved will be part of the Play Anywhere program and come to Windows 10 later.

Guillaume Provost from Compulsion Games came out to reveal a game coming to the Xbox Preview program next month. We Happy Few has a somewhat Bioshock-esque retro art style and feels like a psychological thriller. Coming to the Preview program July 26.

Up next, a teaser for Gwent. Damien Monner from CD Projekt Red, came out to announce the formally the game. Closed Beta coming September 2016.

Next came a cinematic trailer for Tekken 7 by Bandai Namco with an impressive showdown between Akuma and Heihachi, followed by a match between the two. Coming “Early 2017.” Katsuhiro Harada game out with a translator to announce Tekken 7 is coming to Xbox and will feature story Xbox Live Gold members can get Tekken Tag Tournament 2 free through the backwards compatibility 

Dead Rising 4 was announced with a cute over-the-top trailer set to “Jingle Bell Rock” except that the director again kept cutting to the audience so I could barely see what they were trying to show with it. As a result I had to go look up the trailer afterward to see that it’s coming this holiday season. I know the game leaked but I’ve never played the series so I didn’t really pay attention to see if the leaks had already announced it for this year.

Shannon Loftis, Head of Microsoft Studios Publishing, came out next to celebrate the work of Microsoft Studios and their 13 original titles (which I think they were hoping sounded more impressive in rehearsal) and introduce Hideki Kamiya from Platinum Games to show off Scalebound. The live demo showcased a co-op battle with a mammoth beast that reminded me a lot of Sin from Final Fantasy X. The juxtaposition of watching the players shoot arrows at this beast made me chuckle as it looked like a few ants trying to topple a person. Scalebound will be another Play Anywhere title in 2017.

Sea of Thieves from Rare was the next titled featured, with a trailer showing some dynamic visuals playing alongside a little girl creepily singing a sea shanty. Craig Duncan from Rare came out (wearing a Goonies shirt) to talk up the game and show a gameplay trailer featuring Rare fans thrown into the game with no prep. Three crews got to their ships, figured how to sail, and then proceeded to battle on the high seas. An all-around enjoyable demo so good job to whoever it was on the marketing team that came up with that idea.

State of Decay 2 trailer came up next. Coming in 2017. Trailer showed of people fighting zombies and stuff, as you might expect.

A pretty gorgeous looking cinematic trailer for Halo Wars 2. Dan Ayoub came out talk about the game. The game will be another Xbox Play Anywhere title coming February 21, 2017. And the leaked Beta of the game is indeed available for the next week.

Phil Spencer came back out to close the conference by introducing Project Scorpio. Developers and Microsoft team members presented in a series of talking heads about the power of the system and emphasizing that they “no one gets left behind.” All of the Xbox One games will work on the Xbox One, Xbox One S, and Project Scorpio. And Project Scorpio is poised to be the most powerful console ever developed when it launches in Holiday 2017.

This was a weird conference for me to watch. I caught the first part of it live but then I had to go off into meetings and watched the rest of it intermittently throughout the day, despite having been kept pretty up to date via Twitter. That said I think this was a really strong conference for Microsoft. They started and ended with the new hardware and did a solid job bringing in developers like Todd Howard to explain why they support the decision to work on this iterative system. The games line-ups were diverse, ranging from Gears 4 to Forza to Minecraft to Sea of Thieves. Honestly my biggest complaint (and one it seems I was not alone on) was that the person directing the conference over-emphasized large crane audience shots during a lot of the trailers, often when “critical” information like release dates were being shown so it made it incredibly difficult to see watching on a computer monitor. This is always a pet peeve of mine but I don’t think it has ever been this egregious.

Anyway, how did I do on my predictions:

1. Gears of War 4 kicked off the show (after the Xbox One S reveal) with gameplay and trailer focused on the three main characters. It was NOT unfathomably dark. But it did end with the Marcus Fenix moment almost exactly as predicted (“Welcome home, James.”) .50 points (for guessing it’s placement in the show, gameplay trailer focus on the trio of characters, and the Marcus Fenix tease). 
2. Xbox One Slim announced for August starting at $299. Project Scorpio announced for Holiday 2017, no price announced. .50 points (for guessing the Xbox One Slim price and the next iteration launching next year).
3. No release date or beta announced for Sea of Thieves. There was a “thrilling ship battle” as predicted but it was not an onstage demo and people are apparently giving me crap for how I’m doling out points so . 0 points (because screw you Alex O’Neill from Irrational Passions). <3
4. No Hololens. Though they DID showcase a lot of Minecraft including blowing something up. But again. 0 points
5. No return for Summer of Arcade. A lot of ID@Xbox games were shown in the sizzle reel, including Inside, Below, and even Stardew Valley but again. 0 points.

So all told I wound up with 1.00 / 5.00 points. Not half bad considering Xbox is probably my weakest area of expertise out of these conferences.

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