E3: The Microsoft press conference - full report

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Microsoft has just officially kicked off E3 2008, with a packed press conference to announce a slew of new games and peripherals for the Xbox 360, with the confident claim that Xbox will sell more consoles than its rivals, Sony's PlayStation 3 and Nintendo's Wii.

The 360 party!

Microsoft's head of strategy and business development, Shane Kim, flanked by his avatar on the large screen behind him, welcomes the crowd:

"Hello, and welcome to the party! We're inviting more people to 360 than ever before. Last year we featured an amazing lineup of games, and this year is no different."

The games

Games wise the 360's line-up is looking impressively strong - with breathtaking demos of Bethesda's Fallout 3, Capcom's Resident Evil 5 (out 13/3/09), Peter Molyneux showing off a 'finished' Fable 2 (finally out in October this year), Epic's poster boy, Cliffy B showing off Gears of War 2.

For the arcade fans a Geometry Wars sequel game is also unveiled, to much appreciation from the crowd, along with a sequel to the original Galaga called Galaga Legion.

GLADOS from Portal also pops up at once point to annouce a "2008 exclusive" for Xbox 360, Portal: Still Alive - the sequel to Valve's superb game.

For the hardcore RPG faithful, Square Enix president, Yoichi Wada announces three major 'timed exclusive' titles for 360 in development from the Japanese giant - Infinite Undiscovery (Sep 2008), Star Ocean: The Last Hope (Spring 2009) and The Last Remnant (due Christmas 2008).

The man from Square Enix also shows some tantalising footage of Final Fantasy XIII for 360 - yes, that's right, another PlayStation exclusive bites the dust - telling the crowd: "At long last, the day we have all been waiting for has arrived. It gives me great pleasure to unveil this to you today. An Xbox 360 version of FF13, the latest in the FF series, is planned for release! We believe that releasing a 360 version of FF13 will allow us to provide a game to even more fans in NA and across the world."

Kids and karaoke

Shane Kim talks up 360's GTA IV's exclusive downloadable content (a "huge event") and mentions that over 1000 games will be available on 360 by the end of 2008.

Rare demo the new Banjo Kazooie and show off a new Viva Pinata: Trouble in Paradise clip. Rare also announces that the original and much-loved Banjo Kazooie will be released on Xbox Live Arcade this Christmas.

Next up, a few casual games are announced - with Scene It: Box Office Smash to be the first title to make use of the 360's new avatars and Codemasters and Zoe Mode developing a 360 exclusive called You're in the Movies, in which players make cheesy B-movies with the Xbox Live Vision cam. TechRadar foresees much hilarity and embarrassment coming from this game this coming Christmas!

After discussing the new versions of Guitar Hero and Rock Band, both due this coming Christmas, Shane Kim then demos new title Lips from Microsoft Game Studios - Microsoft's answer to Sony's SingStar karaoke game franchise, in which you can sing along to your own tunes from your Zune or iPod.

A developer describes Lips as follows: "Lips breaks new ground by being the first game to let you sing from your own music collection. Lips features wireless, motion sensitive mikes."

Welsh songstress Duffy is wheeled out on stage to sing her hit tune 'Mercy in Lips, as it is announced she is one of the featured artists in the game. Expect to be hearing much more on Lips and its interesting new 360 microphone peripheral in the coming days.

The sales stats

Microsoft always likes to roll out impressive hardware sales figures and stats at E3, with Don Mattrick, senior vice president of the entertainment biz telling the assembled games journos:

"Today, our industry belongs to everyone. As the popularity of games spreads fast around the globe, we're registering our biggest year ever. According to a PWC forecast... games are now the leading driver of ALL entertainment spending. This is a breathtaking achievement, all of us are thriving. Especially those who love to play games... let's take a look at this growth, and how Xbox 360 is fueling it."

"When it comes to hardware, we're in fantastic shape. According to NPD, we're leading the market with the largest install base in the US, more than 5m ahead of PS3; in software, ahead as well, 2.7b in the last 12 months. In the last year 3rd party revenue outpaced the Wii and PS3 combined.

Mattrick adds: "I'm willing to declare here, today, that Xbox 360 will sell more consoles worldwide than PS3 and Wii. We'll offer an array of consoles with prices for everyone. ...A year ago, 6m people were connected to Xbox live, and it's doubled, a new member joining every 5 seconds."

Mattrick goes on to announce a new partner for Xbox Live video marketplace - NBC and Universal, providing shows like Monk, The Office and Battlestar and movies such as 12 Monkeys, The Bourne Supremacy, The Mummy and The Chronicles of Riddick. The European Xbox Live video marketplace gets a new partner in MGM and Constantin Film.

The future of Xbox Live

John Schappert, head of Live services is up next to demo a new interface for the 360 dashboard featuring those Rare-developed Mii-style avatars, describing it thus:

"The new look and feel is more fun, more social, and simpler to use. You'll have a Gamercard, but there's also something new... it'll be more personal with avatars. Express your personality and style, share it with your community and friends. ... pants, shirts, hats... everything you need, it's all here."

A rep from Rare adds: "Create, share, and have fun with all of your friends... but avatars are just the beginning. The new Xbox is tailored for the living room. Here we are at the community channel -- instead of a list of friends, you actually see them. You can chat with or send messages to your friends, but there's something new: create a Live party, private groups of up to 8 people, always connected and chatting as a party."

Endemol TV partnership

Microsoft next announces a partnership with TV company Endemol (they of Big Brother fame) in the XBL "primetime" channel, set to feature a massively multiplayer game show coming to Xbox Live later this year in which players will be able to win real prizes.

An MS rep describes it as follows: "XBL primetime combines the best of TV and of games to provide an entirely new gaming experience... and the best part, you'll all be able to win real prizes. This is opening the next frontier in entertainment. Developers are flocking to XBL Primetime asking how can we play?"

Intriguing stuff and we should have more on XBL "primetime" in the coming days. Stay tuned for full reports on both Nintendo and Sony's E3 'pressers' at around the same time tomorrow evening.



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