1.) Microsoft unveiled the 3D motion sensing and facial/voice recognizing “controller” project named Natal.
Microsoft promised the moon in its demo video for their Project Natal, carrying the tagline that it would “make ‘you’ the controller” and that, as the controller is the current “barrier separating game players from everyone else,” with Natal, “the only experience you need is life experience.”
As above, Microsoft demoed racing games, fighting games, and simple sports games using full body spatial recognition that let you hold up virtual steering wheels, duck, weave and deliver punches, and kick goals using nothing more than their physical actions.
But the company also took that a step further, promising full facial recognition — demonstrated by walking in front of your TV and having the Xbox 360 instantly log you in to your personal account — and object scanning, like holding up your own skateboard and having it instantly placed in a game. Microsoft added that the system could function just as well in a multiplayer environment.
For real world use, apart from a ringing endorsement by none less than Steven Spielberg, Microsoft called up Fable producer Peter Molyneux to demonstrate Lionhead’s project Milo — a virtual friend that they promised could carry on fluid conversations with full voice and emotion recognition, and demoed sleight of hand tricks like drawing on a piece of paper, holding it up to the Natal sensor, and having Milo “receive” that same paper in the virtual world, with additional recognition of what you’d drawn. 2.) Microsoft is pushing the set-top capabilities of the 360 even harder through 2009.
In addition to the pre-E3 announcement that it would be rebranding the Xbox Live video marketplace as ‘Zune Video’ — and now promising instantly-launching full 1080p for all movies and TV shows — Microsoft announced that last.fm would be coming to the service this fall in the same way as it partnered with Netflix, bringing streaming music to the console.
And Netflix, too, will be ramping up its on-console capabilities this fall to let you browse its library and add videos to your queue without having to come back to the PC. In the UK, Sky TV will be added to the service with both instant-watchable archive videos and, for the first time, live TV broadcasts of cricket and premier league football matches.
On top of that, the company renewed its vow to bring Live Party — the long-promised feature that will let online friends stream the same music, movies and TV simultaneously — to Xbox Live later this year, a feature it had originally planned for the launch of the New Xbox Live Experience last fall.
3.) Microsoft is bringing on-demand games to the 360.
Microsoft waited until after the presentation to drop this detail, but, as with its Xbox Originals initiative that lets you download original Xbox titles, it will be digitally delivering a selection of older Xbox 360 titles later this year: Mass Effect, BioShock, Assassin’s Creed, Lego Star Wars, Call of Duty 2 and Burnout Paradise led the demonstrated lineup.
4.) Microsoft is bringing social networking to the 360.
Other new features set to debut this autumn: the full integration of, of all things, Facebook, letting you browse activity and photo feeds, and adding a new feature, the Friend Linker, which lets users see both their Xbox Live Friends and their Facebook friends in one unified area, and link/invite users to either.
On top of that, Xbox 360 games will be getting their own integrated Facebook Connect features, which — starting with EA’s Tiger Woods PGA Tour — will let you share screenshots and activity feed text straight to your Facebook profile in real time.
And, of course, going one step further, Xbox Live will also be getting its own version of Twitter, which lets you browse and post in HD from your living room.
5.) Microsoft is wooing more of Japan’s developers.
Square Enix had already announced it would be bringing its Final Fantasy franchise to the Xbox 360 for the first time with Final Fantasy XIII, but, as long teased by Konami over the past several weeks, producer Hideo Kojima announced that development was underway for Metal Gear Solid Rising, the first Xbox 360 chapter of the game.
Rising will mark the return of Metal Gear Solid 2 star Raiden, and promises, according to its tagline, “lightning bolt action”.
6.) Microsoft is dabbling further with microtransactions, and is hawking its exclusive lineup.
Microsoft briefly showed the first game from its recent Vancouver studio acquisition — BigPark, made up of former EA and Distinctive vets — with Joyride, a racing adventure game starring your own Xbox 360 avatars that will be free to download and play, but will cost Microsoft Points to customize your cars and characters.
Other exclusive games demoed throughout the proceedings: Crackdown 2, Left 4 Dead 2 (trailer and artwork here), Splinter Cell Conviction, Forza Motorsport 3, the Halo 3 ODST expansion and the briefly teased Halo: Reach, Alan Wake, and, of course, the opening blowout of Beatles: Rock Band (first gameplay trailer here), with Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, Yoko Ono Lennon and Olivia Harrison all variously taking the stage to give their official blessing to the dedicated, interactive retrospective of the band’s career.
7.) Microsoft is not saying anything further about games on Zune.
But, finally, after first teasing the Game Developers Conference in 2008 with news that indie developed XNA games — currently delivered under the Xbox 360’s Community Games banner — would be able to run on handheld Zune devices, and freshly announcing the Zune HD, Microsoft was surprisingly mum on handheld gaming during its E3 press conference.