The last 48 hours have seen a series of ups and downs regarding my views on Xbox One. As the Ghosts demo faded to black and the countdown to E3 shone in vivid green across the screen I was relatively upbeat. We’d seen some new hardware, been given a taste of what new functionality it would bring to the living room, and were but a few short weeks from another data dump in LA. A quick trawl through my Twitter feed however and it would appear not everyone was thinking the same. A silly name, an ugly box and a dearth of games lead to one scathing comment after another. My mood deflated.
Now, with the naysayers decrying Microsoft with full gusto, I still stick to one thought: that presentation was not for us. Not for those who have built up five-digit Gamerscores, the dedicated midnight-launch enthusiasts willing to pay the high price of early adoption, or the lovers of Fez. This was a show for the broader market. Just take a step back and just look at the items that were the focus of the presentation.
Before the first mention of Xbox One had faded from the auto-cue there was talk not of games but mainstream media. Of television, of Skype, of surfing the net whilst watching films, this was a play for the living room that many had predicted.
When games did appear it was the classic trinity of guns, sports and cars. Each can be appreciated by the connoisseur and casual player alike but as franchises they represent what gaming is to the general population. FIFA and Call of Duty alone representation annual releases that Joe Public will come back year after year to play, proving crucial to the success of any platform.
Taking up the bulk of the hour, these two key aspects should have told us everything we need to know. This was a bid to be a wider news story than simply being splashed over Eurogamer and IGN, this was a play to crack larger markets. The executives had grander visions, especially as they were broadcasting live on TV in the States. Quite how that panned out it’s hard to tell in our hobby’s very opinionated and heated bubble, but it’s fair to say that we were not its primary audience.
That said I was fairly philosophical about what was shown. The initial media demonstration was pleasing without blowing me away. Most of what we saw appeared built into the operating system, responding quickly as Don and his friends flicked between Star Trek and Skype. As someone who uses their consoles – of all persuasions – as media centres these new traits intrigued me, especially the opportunity to “snap” multiple items together onscreen. I can imagine already imaging watching a film whilst playing a snapped version of next-gen Hexic or, visa versa, playing through an RPG with iPlayer in a sidebar keeping me entertained as I grind.
If it’s as simple as Kinect makes it seem too then so much the better. The inclusion of the camera as standard with the console I think is a good decision. I believe that half the problem with any peripheral is the install base; even prolific successes, such as the harddrive with 360, can never be taken for granted as there are always some who are without. Only when everyone has it can it truly flourish as developers will consider it more worthy of attention. Personally I’m hoping for more joint control schemes whereby players use both controller and pad to interact with their games. Throw in smartglass and you’ve an interesting set of inputs, but like so many of the more interesting points this was brushed over. There were scant examples of how any of this higher fidelity tech could be worked into your Xbox experience other than the rather lacklustre one of browsing the Internet.
Whether this avoidance of drilling deep into too many pieces of tech was again so as not to put off the more casual viewer is arguable. What it meant was that the new machine’s specifications were quickly trotted out (though confirmed in more detail in a technical panel after the main show) and tantalising words like cloud computing, personal DVR, and being always on were dropped in casually. What half of them do is still a mystery, we just know they’re in, almost mentioned in passing so as to appear nonchalant about their appearance.
The biggest news was of course Stephen Spielberg’s involvement with a live action Halo TV series. Not quite the Halo 5 reveal that we’d hope but as both a Spielberg and Halo fanboy I almost fell off my chair with glee. Between that and Remedy’s involvement with game-come-TV-show Quantum Break and the rumours that Microsoft are bringing back Heroes as an Xbox exclusive, the Redmond company look to be branching out their media production. Could this be where our Xbox Live Gold subscription money goes? Are they turning themselves into a cable channel?
This of course is but one of many questions left unanswered. The lack of specific detail on so many topics, from Gold to second hand sales, from how the TV software sits in Europe to the unknown 15 first party games in the first year, is odd. In the past these conferences were designed to fill you in on every aspect of a console’s launch and leave you in no doubt that the next morning you’d skip down to GAME and hand over your preorder slip.
This felt different. It was an error on Microsoft’s behalf that so many dedicated gamers were expecting the traditional unveiling and no mitigation was put in place to either lower that expectation or fill in the blanks afterwards. This can be seen in the handful of interviews I’ve read with games journalists doing their best to extract nuggets from Phil Harrison and alike in a bid to make up for the deficiencies on stage.
How I feel, however, is that this was an hour long teaser. That probably wasn’t the intended result but I’ve had a taste and I want to see more. There was enough promise in the hour to pique my interest and seeing the same Final Fantasy trailer for a third time wasn’t going to enhance that any further. Yes, it was disappointing not to see games, more disappointing that we didn’t see traditional games using Kinect and smartglass in interesting ways, but that’s what E3 is for.
To have two hardcore conferences in the space of three weeks was never going to happen. The space in between was never enough time for developers to spit out two unique demos of the same game and so the only logical conclusion was what we got. What we saw there was the hour of filler that companies often get lambasted for at E3, it’s the reveal of a YouTube app, the vitality sensor, that sales figures. With that out the way then hopefully in LA we can concentrate on the meat: the games.
The shape of the box never mattered, it’s just going to hide under my telly; the name of the box never mattered, I bought a “Wii” after all; the amount of power never really mattered, as long as it was comparable to PS4 then it’s all going to be ok. What matters is what the box can do. I saw a snippet on Tuesday and I can’t wait until E3 to see more.