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'Microsoft Pre-E3 Conference' Coverage

by Corey Owen on May 16, 2004 @ 1:19 a.m. PDT

Before E3 officially kicked off, several of the biggest publishers have their annual pre-E3 conferences where they give speeches about past achievements and look ahead at things to come. Micrsoft had its pre-E3 conference on Monday, and we were treated to some exciting Xbox Live news, footage from the new Forza Motorsport racing game, several announcements, but above all, a live demo of Halo 2 multiplayer. Read on for our report ...

Monday, May 10 – Microsoft kicked off E3 with a bang in front of a packed house at the Los Angeles Shrine Auditorium. When Microsoft comes, they come big, and this year was no different. They had plenty of big announcements and several great in-depth looks at some of the upcoming blockbusters. All the big boys were there, including Jay Allard, Peter Moore, and Robbie Bach, each with a specific area of Xbox’s future to discuss. So without further ado let’s explore the future of Xbox.
They got off to a quick start, showing great-looking trailers for Fable, Conker: Live & Uncut, and Star Wars: Republic Commando. To warm up the crowd before Jay Allard came out, they showed a bizarre, albeit entertaining movie, starring three Microsoft developers and three stand-ins for Sony developers. Hired by Donald Trump, who played himself, to create a console with great online functionality, Sony and Microsoft went head-to-head in the marketplace of ideas, where Sony sat around, ate pizza, and played Halo while Microsoft interviewed gamers and put together their own system. In the end, Microsoft emerged the victor, taking a few potshots at Sony while simultaneously winning the rights to make and market Trump: the MMORPG, based upon the life of Trump himself.

It would be unwise to speculate, but perhaps Microsoft has been drinking.

The next announcement was Microsoft’s answer to the Eye Toy. With this incredible new peripheral, you will be able to have video conferences with up to five friends from the Xbox dashboard, as well as send video invites to your friends. This feature was presented by Jay Allard, talking to Jenny McCarthy and another cohort, all in real time. The next announcement was the creation of the online Microsoft Arcade. This service will allow you to download all your favorite classic games from the ‘70s and ‘80s, as well as newer PC titles such as Bejeweled, and some new party games that you can play split screen or on Xbox Live.
This will be available as an update to the dashboard, which will let you browse through the available games and download the ones of your choosing. After showing off the new peripheral and the new arcade service, they gave their XNA spiel and showed a new movie of what XNA can do. In only six weeks the same team the created the CRASH demo shown last month at the GDC created a new and improved crash demo with not one, but two vehicles. Both cars and the environment were as detailed as the one from the original crash demo. This time the cars were sent into a head on collision with disastrous results. Pieces went flying all in luscious real time, with no framerate issues in sight.

“Enough toying with us,” you say, “show us some games already.” That’s exactly what they did. A montage of games trailers erupted onto the scene and the crowd went wild. Most of the clips are simply updated trailers from games we are already excited about like Full Spectrum Warrior, Chronicles of Riddick, Starcraft: Ghost and Fable, just to name a few. Two new additions were updated trailers for Conker and Kameo, both of which look better than ever. Conker especially looked great, thanks to some new fur shading being used on him that really added a lot of life to the character. Kameo looks to have shed her somewhat kiddy clothes, in favor of a more cutting edge look.

After the montage, Jay Allard announced that they had secured the lead designer of Everquest to make a PC- and Xbox-exclusive MMORPG entitled Vanguard. They had only a few snippets of art from the game so it is hard to tell just what the game will look like, but they did mention that it is being made using a modified version of the latest Unreal engine.

Next came the world premiere of Halo 2 multiplayer. What was to follow almost brought a tear to my eye. It was so beautiful. The level they showcased was a beachfront level named Zanzibar, in which the Marines are to assault a base defended by the Covenant. You heard right; it has finally been confirmed that you can indeed play as the Covenant. From here on the new information began flowing like a waterfall. Firstly, you will be able to use the Covenant plasma sword while playing as either Covenant or Marine.

The second, and much larger, announcement is that vehicles are completely destructible. Each shot will send pieces flying and actually impair the mobility of the vehicle. After a vehicle is completely disabled, you’d better run, because there is a secondary explosion that occurs a few seconds after incapacitation that is devastating. The Ghost has been overhauled to include a new boost feature, which can be used to either speed away from an onslaught or turbo into an enemy on foot to trample them.

The Warthog has also been given a makeover. Not only do you have the machine gun mounted on the back, but also a rocket launcher.
Oh, and the physics. My God, the physics. These were demonstrated using the much improved rocket launcher. The rocket launcher has been overhauled to include a heat seeking-type functionality that allows the rocket to trail after your opponent if you lock on for a few seconds, much like the AVRiL in Unreal Tournament 2004.

The marine took to the high ground and locked onto a covenant driving the Warthog below. After a few seconds, he locked on and let her rip. The rocket followed the Warthog and slammed into the rear of the vehicle sending the driver flying and displaying the much improved physics engine. The best way to describe the new physics would be “rag doll” for vehicles. After the Warthog was hit by the rocket, the force sent it flying realistically into a parked Ghost which was damaged by the impact, and ended up exploding. The whole scene was very impressive.

Bungie’s representatives then showed off the new destructible environments. Shooting a rocket at certain points on a map will cause damage to it, and parts will even break off realistically. Other parts of the level, like the mounted gun turrets in the Covenant base, could be totally blown up. There was also a big piece of machinery in the base that could be shot, which would cause it to fall down, enabling you to use it as a bridge to gain access to other parts of the base.
Overall the Halo 2 demo lasted for about ten minutes, and what we saw was very impressive, to say the least. The graphics were top notch, with great use of bump mapping that really upped the texture detail. The lighting was also very impressive, especially from the weapon effects. Unlike last year’s E3 single player demo, this one was a little hard to judge in terms of gameplay as they only had 2 players in the game and were really just showing off what the new engine could do and not so much how the gameplay would play out. But fear not, Halo 2 multiplayer will be fully playable on the show floor starting tomorrow and we will have a full hands on report as well as new media for you.

Finishing off the Halo 2 news, Peter Moore announced that they have a locked street date, which he actually had tattooed on his right arm. That date is… November 9th, 2004! Please stop e-mailing us asking when Halo 2 will come out!

The excitement didn’t end there. Over the loudspeaker, interrupting a fairly boilerplate speech by Robbie Bach, came the all too familiar voice of the EA spokesperson. The curtains lifted, and the President of EA, along with all of EA Sports 2005’s cover stars, including Muhammad Ali, came on stage to announce that all of EA’s future titles will support Xbox Live. This is not limited to their sports lineup either; titles like Goldeneye: Rogue Agent, Timesplitters 3, NFSU 2, and Battlefield: Modern Combat will all also support Live.

All I have to say is that it’s about damn time, and I’m glad the two could settle their differences.

Microsoft closed the show by announcing a brand new racing title called Forza Motorsports. This game is set to change racing sims forever. Billed as the most realistic racing game ever, you are able to customize every aspect of your vehicle to your specifications. This means you can buy the car of your choosing from a large assortment of vehicles. Then you race to earn money so you can modify your ride. The modifications can be purely cosmetic meaning new body kits, spoilers, tinting, paint jobs and others. These mods can also be engine customizations that actually will increase proformance.

Forza promises to allow you to fully tune your ride to your liking with hundreds of different parts to buy and upgrade. The realism goes beyond car customizations to include incredibly realistic handling and engine physics as well as an unprecedented level of car destructibility. When you hit a wall, pieces will fly, fenders will crumple, glass will break, but the damage is not just cosmetic. Your car’s performance will be adversely affected by the damage you take. No longer can you hit that wall on the turn and expect just a little slow down. Now you will notice your handling is worse and you may notice lessened engine performance. All of these features are bundled into an impressive looking racer, with slick graphics and fantastic track design.

All in all, Microsoft delivered an impressive show with one of the best lineups in gaming history. The new camera peripheral and video conferencing service looks to further revolutionize the online gaming community. Their new Xbox Arcade is a great way to relive the classics or introduce them to new gamers, as well as provide some fun party games that you can play with your friends. Halo 2 looks like it will live up to the hype and then some which is not an easy task. EA is finally on Live, and not a moment too soon. Starting this summer, Xbox owners will get their first taste with NCAA Football. Finally, Forza Motorsports is shaping up to redefine racing sims with beautiful graphics, unprecedented realism, and full customization.

Thomas Wilde and Eric Peters also contributed to this article.

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