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Brier Dudley's blog

Brier Dudley offers a critical look at technology and business issues affecting the Northwest.

June 14, 2010 at 10:37 AM

E3: Microsoft unveils new Xbox design, Kinect sale date, ESPN

LOS ANGELES — Any concerns hard core gamers may have had after Sunday night’s family-friendly Kinect launch event were allayed when Microsoft’s E3 press conference opened this morning with a bloody and thrilling preview of “Call of Duty: Black Ops.”

Even the rats in the tunnels of Laos shimmered in the flash of a revolver in the preview of the shooting game coming to market in November.

Then Don Mattrick, head of the Xbox group, came on stage and announced an exclusive deal with “Call of Duty” publisher Activision to get expansion packs first on the Xbox through 2012.

Mattrick noted that it’s the 10th anniversary of the Xbox business and mentioned the Kinect device in a quick introduction before a demonstration of “Metal Gear Solid Rising.”

“Were transforming the way you play games, the way you enjoy entertainment and the way you connect to friends and family,” Mattrick said.

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Then the show continued with more previews of upcoming versions of beloved hard-core games.

After some bloody slashing with a samurai sword, the “Metal Gear” demo ended with a funny bit with the warrior slicing watermelons.

Phil Spencer, Microsoft game studios chief, came on stage and talked about how games have entered mainstream culture. He also noted that all the following demonstrations would be of Xbox exclusives.

More vivid, fast-paced action ensued. “Gears of War 3” was shown — in four-player co-op mode with the new female lead characters — by developer Cliff Bleszinski.

“Fable III,” an adventure game based in the 1700s, was shown by Peter Molyneux, creative director of Microsoft’s European game studio, and Spencer announced an exclusive partnership with Crytek.

The crowd hushed, though, when Bungie’s Marcus Lehto came out and gave the first showing of the “Halo: Reach” campaign.

“I can’t wait,” the Canadian journalist next to me said.

A highlight of the preview included the “Saber,” a jetlike rocket ship that Halo’s Master Chief gets to launch into space and control in an outer-space dogfight.

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With ears ringing, the show switched to Kinect, the motion controller formerly known as Project Natal.

“Imagine a world where you can watch a movie without a remote, play a game without a controller,” Xbox VP Marc Whitten said.

“This is what happens when technology gets out of your way.”

Engineer Ron Forbes showed how voice and gestures can be used to control Xbox entertainment with Kinect. He signed into the console by waving at the Xbox, and called up a special Kinect menu with a second wave.

After calling up a movie, Forbes controlled its playback with voice controls, saying “Xbox, pause,” for instance, to pause a movie.

“Video Kinect,” a video chat feature, worked well in a live demo between Los Angeles and Dallas. Across the bottom of the screen, during the conversation, the Bing logo displayed links to news, sports, TV, movies and music.

One of the callers used her hand to drag a movie up so both participants could watch it together, on a window between the two chat windows.

Whitten said the video chat service will link to the “hundreds of millions” of people using Microsoft’s Live messenger network.

Also announced was an exclusive partnership with ESPN that’s putting live and on-demand sports events on the Xbox. The deal includes more than 3,500 sporting events in the first year, including ollege football, basketball, soccer, NBA and Major League Baseball.

ESPN’s Josh Elliott and Trey Wingo were on stage, using voice commands to call up a game and initiate an instant replay with a voice command — “Xbox, replay.”

The ESPN service is free to people with Xbox Live gold subscriptions that cost around $60 per year, which makes Xbox Live an intriguing alternative to cable TV.

“Kinectimals” — a Kinect pet game that makes Webkins look prehistoric — was demonstrated with a girl showing how she can play with her virtual tiger cub, even spinning a jump rope for the animal to hop over on the screen.

Kinect goes on sale Nov. 4, Spencer announced. He and the company, however, did not announce a retail price, although speculation is it’ll sell for about $130.

Mattrick did reveal a new, smaller Xbox 360 with built-in WiFi and a 250 gig hard drive that will be available in stores later this week. It’s glossy block with an angular shape and chrome highlights. It’s going to cost the same as the current 250 gig model — $299.

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Comments | Topics: bungie, Call of Duty: Black Ops, e3

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