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Microsoft’s E3 2015 Keynote

Let me first start by admitting my bias. When the first XBox was announced, I was excited, but ultimately felt that Microsoft did not belong in the console manufacturing business. Lackluster exclusives on the first Xbox, combined with what I perceived as nickel-and-diming the customer with XBoxLive Gold membership, solidified my opinion. This opinion was only further compounded by the XBox360’s hardware failures, and (in my opinion) continued lack of interesting exclusives.

That aside, today’s Microsoft E3 Keynote was, to say the least, exceptional. There was hardly a 2 minute break where they weren’t showing off something new and interesting, or staggeringly innovative. I am simply shocked by how fantastic that keynote was. Sony and Nintendo have a hard road ahead of them if they’re going to impress now. To summarize:

The show began with a montage of previously announced games. Nothing new or exciting, but this helped to drum up support. Then, the elephant in the room takes the stage. 343 Industries introduces Halo 5. There are two spartan squads – one with Master Chief, and one hunting Master Chief. They lead with the question, is Master Chief a hero, or a traitor?

After this point, the announcements are rapid fire. They didn’t spend a long time with each game – just enough to build interest.

First up, a new XboxOne exclusive – Recore. This game is being brought to us by veteran developers from Retro Studios (creators of Metroid Prime), and Keiji Inafune (creator of Megaman). Showcased with a cinematic pre-render trailer, this game features a girl with a cute robot dog companion. This dog’s personality appears to be able to be inserted into multiple robot chassis.

Then, to follow up the huge game announcement, Microsoft dropped yet another bomb, announcing backwards compatibility with XBox360 games, native on XboxOne, with retail discs without charging for games you already own, while also supporting digital downloads for some Xbox360 games. It even allows XBoxOne players to play multiplayer with Xbox360 players who are playing the same games.

After backwards compatibility, they showcased a brand new controller known as the XBoxOne Elite controller. This controller features swappable components, so that you can place the d-pad where the joystick is, etc. This is great news for gamers with physical disabilities, and will likely be making huge waves over at AbleGamers.

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Then, Todd Howard took the stage for more Fallout 4 info. They showed the Power Armor a bit more (revealing that it really does seem like a mech suit), and dropped yet another huge bomb – mods created on PC will be transferrable to the XBoxOne for free. Yes, console mod support! The only game I can think of that ever allowed custom mods on a console was Unreal Tournament 3 on PS3, which was extremely limited, so this is a huge announcement.

Then, EA took the stage, announcing madden 16, and discussing EA Access. Titan Fall will be joining EA access in the EA Vault. Then, they showcased Plants vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare 2.

Forza 6 was shown next. The game will feature 26 locations, with over 450 tracks, releasing September 15th 2015.

After this, FromSoft took the stage with the Dark Souls 3 world premier. The pre-rendered trailer featured on giant enemy. This enemy appeared similar in design to “The Last Giant” boss in Dark Souls 2, but wearing a suit of armor.

Dark souls was followed immediately by Ubisoft. Laurent Detent took the stage to discuss The Division, the “next chapter in the Tom Clancy family of games.” He describes the game as a deep and realistic multiplayer shooter, and after a brief trailer, reveals that the XBoxOne will feature an exclusive beta available in December.

Afterward, he showed a new trailer for Rainbow Six: Siege, showcasing the gameplay, with a focus on the destructible environments. The game will also launch along with re-released versions of Rainbow Six Vegas 1 and 2 on XboxOne.

Then, independent games became the focus. First was an extended look at “Gigantic” from Motiga games – an extremely colorful free to play third person multiplayer action game featuring giant guardians which the player can summon. After, we were treated some some rapid fire trailers, including: Cuphead, Rise and Shine, The Mean Greens (which appears similar to the classic game Army Men), Flash Flood, The Solus Project, Westerado, Sword Coast Legends, Outward Adventure, Goat Simulator, Game 4 (from The Behemoth, who created Castle Crashers), Below, Ark Survival Evolved, Recruits, and Superhot.

This was followed by an extended look at Ashen, Xbox console exclusive independent puzzle game with horror elements. This looked kind of Dark Soulsish, and featured characters with no faces.

Sherida Halatoe from Tiger and Squid then introduced “Beyond Eyes” – a game which stars a blind little girl. This game looks like a watercolor painting come to life.

This is a game you truly have to see in motion to “get” it. It looks positively gorgeous.

Then Chad and Jerry from StudioMDHR showed more of Cuphead. This game, if you haven’t heard of it, has the aesthetic of a 1930s cartoon, with the precision of a 16 bit platformer. It is a game which features nothing but boss fights, with extremely detailed bosses. The release date was announced as “Coming 1936 (plus 80 years).”

Yes, that is actually what the game looks like. It’s incredible.

After the indie showcase, they announced a new pilot program called the Xbox Game Preview Program. This program allows gamers to buy and play a selection of games while they are in development. In other words, this is an Early Access program, but with a twist: every game in the program has a free trial, so gamers can decide whether they want to jump in early, or wait and see how the game progresses. This program will be introduced with The Long Dark, Sheltered, Elite Dangerous, and DayZ. Elite Dangerous and The Long Dark will be available today through this program.

Following this announcement, Dean Hall (creator of DayZ) took the stage. He announced his new game, Ion, which is exclusive for XboxOne and PC. “I want a game that is not a game” says Mr. Hall. “I want a game that is a Universe. Built not on scripts and quests, but on the laws of physics, biology and chemistry. A simulation MMO that explores mankind’s expansion into space.” No gameplay was shown, but it sounds a bit like Eve Online, except set on the frontier of space travel.

Afterwards, Crystal Dynamics took the stage, revealing gameplay of Rise of the Tomb Raider. Rise of the Tomb Raider will be a timed exclusive for XBoxOne. The graphics of this demo were spectacular, with fantastic ice and snow effects, and great climbing animations. The survival elements are confirmed to be returning.

Afterward, banners of classic rare games were shown. Battletoads, Perfect Dark, Conker’s Bad Furday, Banjo Kazooie… Craig Duncan from Rare hits the stage. This is the 30th anniversary of Rare, and to commemorate this, they are releasing a classic Rare games collection.

Then, they showcased a new exclusive from rare, titled “Sea of Thieves.” Set in an extremely colourful fantasy pirate world, this first person multiplayer online game appears to be an open world pirate role playing game. They noted that this is the most ambitious game Rare has ever created – and yes, it features ship to ship battles against groups of other players!

After Rare left the stage, another XboxOne and Windows 10 exclusive was announced. Fable Legends, a Free to Play online game. Kudo Tsunoda took the stage to discuss it, confirming cross play with Windows 10 and XboxOne, even allowing players to transfer files between consoles.

Kudo then announced a new relationship with ValveVR, and noted Microsoft’s commitment to making Windows 10 the definitive platform for VR, with partnerships with both Oculus VR and Valve. Then, he mentions Microsoft Hololens and its “mixed reality,” introducing Lydia Winters from Mojang (Microsoft’s recently acquired developer of Minecraft).

Lydia was genuinely excited about players’ creativity, and took a moment to speak about how touching it was to be on her journey with Mojang. She promoted Minecon 2015, and then introduced developer Sax, who helped her showcase a new version of Minecraft built specifically for Microsoft Hololens. This new version can display Minecraft on any surface, but that is just the beginning. Augmented reality allows Minecraft to be shown on a tabletop as a full 3d model you can walk around and interact with. This looked legitimately amazing, 100% completely unreal. It’s like living Lego. The hololens observer can watch players in real time, add markers to direct them to interesting areas on the map, and even act as a god creating lightning strikes.

Earlier this year, this is the image that Microsoft used to promote Hololens. I didn't think it was possible, but now I'm not so sure.
Earlier this year, this is the image that Microsoft used to promote Hololens. I didn’t think it was possible, but now I’m not so sure.

Last, but not least, Gears of War co-creator Rod Furgusson took the stage to reveal Gears of War Ultimate Edition, an HD remastering of the original Gears of War, exclusive for the XBoxOne. “This is the first, at its best. Loaded with new content, at 1080p in 60fps.” says Furgusson. “Oh yeah, and I wanted to give you one more taste of something we’re working on.” Then, the show closed with an extended gameplay trailer for Gears of War 4. The graphics here are fantastic, and it seems to be more on the horror end of the spectrum similar to the first Gears of War. Gears of War 4 will be coming in the holiday of 2016.

At the end of the show, Phil Spencer thanked the audience, and revealed that more new first party game reveals would be coming at Gamescom.

Overall, this was an excellent showing from Microsoft. I’ve been thoroughly underwhelmed by Microsoft at E3 for the last few years, but this year they really aimed to impress. They almost exclusively showed games and new features, and didn’t even take a moment to discuss sales figures. This is exactly the kind of show everyone should aim to have at E3.

Remember to keep checking in for our coverage of E3. If you missed Bethesda’s keynote, read our coverage here; if you missed the Oculus keynote, read our coverage here; if you want to keep track of our predictions, check out the AYB Content Team’s predictions here, and as always, thanks for reading!

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