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Microsoft's E3 press conference this past Monday was a star-studded affair from the moment the lights flicked on.
The company used this opportunity to bedazzle the crowd waiting to catch a glimpse of what the future holds for the Xbox platform. Attendees had the opportunity to see first-hand well-known celebrities such as Ex-Beatles Sir Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr, pro skater Tony Hawk, famed producer Hideo Kojima, and the legendary Steven Spielberg. It was a sight to behold, and Microsoft certainly delivered a thrill-a-minute performance.
During the conference the company's gaming division announced some upcoming titles coming to the Xbox 360 including Forza Motorsport 3, Left 4 Dead 2, Crackdown 2, Halo: Reach and the biggest surprise of the show - Metal Gear Solid: Rising.
Also announced during the media brief was a slew of customized social media applications coming to the Xbox 360 dashboard this fall, including Facebook and Twitter. Popular music streaming website last.FM will also be coming free for Xbox Live Gold members, along with Sky TV for U.K. and Ireland users. Finally, the console's Video Marketplace will be re-branded as the Zune Video Marketplace and will feature streaming 1080p movies and TV shows on-demand.
The finale had Canadian-born Microsoft SVP, Don Mattrick, unveil Project Natal -- a revolutionary new way to play video games with no controller required. The device uses a sensor to track your body movement and recognize your face, even listen to your voice. It was quite a sight to behold and opens up a whole new world of possibilities.
I had the rare opportunity to chat with Xbox Canada's Platform Manager, Craig Flannagan, just after the conference to get the scoop on what new products and services will be coming to the Xbox 360 system.
We began the conversation by discussing The Beatles: Rockband, which we both agreed looked amazing. Craig informed me that the game is expected to launch on Septemeber 9, 2009. The game will include 45 classic Beatles songs including Day Tripper, Taxman, I am the Walrus, Back in the U.S.S.R., Octupus's Garden, and Here Comes the Sun. Full albums including Abbey Road will also be available later on as downloadable content. As an added bonus for Xbox 360 fans, Craig said that All You Need Is Love will be released exclusively on the console with all proceeds benefiting Doctors Without Borders. I was definitely impressed with Microsoft's commitment to help fund this important international medical humanitarian organization.
Next up Craig and I chatted about Xbox Live Arcade exclusive game Joy Ride. First off, Craig said the game is being developed by Vancouver-based BigPark and will be a free, DLC-supported title. I mentioned to Craig that lately we've seen a trend of Avatar integration in games such as A Kingdom For Keflings and the Xbox Primetime game 1vs100, and asked him if we will see more games soon with this feature. He said "absolutely" we'll see more games with Avatar integration and that personalizing the Xbox experience is a key focus for Microsoft.
We also touched upon a few Xbox 360 fall exclusives such as Crackdown 2, Left 4 Dead 2 and Forza Motorsport 3. I asked Craig what game he's most excited about playing this fall and he enthusiastically said Forza Motorsport 3 because the game "is absolutely gorgeous". He continued by saying he has a new tv and "can't wait to show it off to friends." After watching the debut trailer for the game, I certainly have to agree with Craig -- the game looks absolutely stunning in action. The game will feature 400 cars from 50 of the world's leading manufacturers. In all, the game will include 100 renowned real-world tracks and exotic road courses from around the globe. Talk about a massive game.
After we had the video games behind us, the conversation moved to Microsoft's announcement that both Facebook and Twitter will be coming to the Xbox dashboard this fall. According to Craig, the Xbox 360 will be receiving customized versions of Facebook and Twitter, tailored to fit nicely into the Xbox experience. It really does sound like a fantastic pairing of great games and huge social networks. Not only will you be able to connect with friends and family over Facebook and Twitter while using your Xbox 360, Microsoft is also introducing a new feature that will allow you snap a photo of supported games in-action and instantly be able to upload it to share over Facebook. Very cool!
Finally, no post-Microsoft press conference conversation would be complete with asking a few questions about the absolutely incredible tech demo of Project Natal (pronounced "nuh-tall). While Craig said there is no announced release date for the technology, he did say that they were "real demos" during the conference. He further went on to say that Microsoft's push is for innovation and to break down the "barriers to play". There is already significant interest among producers, including most notably Steven Spielberg and Lionhead guru Peter Molyneux. Craig said that having such big name supporters of the technology is "proof-point" that Microsoft is at the forefront of innovation. Interestingly enough, Project Natal developer kits are already arriving at Microsoft partners this week.
I asked Craig if he had any final words before we conclude the interview and he had this to say:
"We love where we are at now.We think with the announcements today it further solidifies our commitment with the hardcore, and welcomes new gamers. This is kind of our wheelhouse. If you break down that last barrier of control, we think big things will happen."
Personally, I couldn't agree more.