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May 22, 2013 at 5:12 PM

Q&A: Microsoft Games boss on Xbox One lineup, Spielberg’s Halo and more

Microsoft’s unveiling of the Xbox One console on Tuesday mostly showed off the system’s entertainment capabilities.

The next big Xbox event, on June 10 in Los Angeles, will be mostly about games.

For a preview I buttonholed Phil Spencer, vice president of Microsoft Game Studios, on Tuesday.

Microsoft image of Phil Spencer at Tuesday’s Xbox One event.

Spencer wouldn’t reveal much about the Xbox One’s lineup of games beyond his announcement that 15 exclusives, including eight new franchises, are coming to the console in its first year.

But he shared thoughts on the realism of upcoming games, what could be done with the “Halo” television series Steven Spielberg is producing and more. Here’s an edited transcript of our chat.

How does the scale of your launch lineup compare to what was done for the Xbox 360?

We are significantly more invested in games at the launch of Xbox One than we were for Xbox 360. We’re a bigger organization now all-up, and we’re funding more first-party partners in working with us for development. Games are the soul of what this box is about. We know, as a first-party, we’re going to step up and build the exclusives.

How does your launch lineup stand up to the PlayStation 4’s?

I don’t know much about their lineup yet. I’m proud of what we’re putting together. I think the gamers will be excited to see more at E3.

How about compared to the Wii U?

I don’t know their exact numbers, but I do know that, at the launch of any console, exclusive content’s incredibly important. So we’re eye-on-the-ball on that. I’m not a hardware guy, I build the software. I think software’s what causes people to go out and buy things, the experiences, the games they want to see. So that’s where I’m focused.

You announced “Forza Motorsport 5” at launch but no other exclusives were disclosed.

We’ll be announcing the launch lineup at E3. We’re just kind of hitting the PR beats with it. Forza (pictured) is one that I was incredibly proud of the team and the work they’d put into that asset and the way the game’s coming along. so I wanted to show it.

FM5 - 06 - Xbox Reveal - 2013-05-21

Are we in the uncanny valley now – with such realistic games?

Our challenge and our opportunity with everything we build is to try to make things great. I like it when we try things that are new that other people haven’t done before. That’s kind of the role of first-party. I’d love to say we get it right 100 percent of the time.

It seems like we’re “right there” with cinematic quality in next-generation games. Are you trying to get games that look like movies?

If we look at the games that launched on 360 vs. where [we have] ended up – if you look at the games now, later in the generation – the developers and artists will get better with the hardware over time.

But we’re starting off with such a strong box that the cinematic realism is showing up.

The thing I’ve always been somewhat envious around television is their ability to tell a story. When you’re playing a game, there’s obviously this interaction with the controller that can break up the storytelling sequence for people who either don’t get through a section or repeat it or frankly just aren’t able to play a game or desire to play a game.

So it’s interesting for us to try to use both mediums both to tell stories. And when you have things that look more realistic and you can build hyperrealism on screen, it gives the storytellers more tools to stories. So I think you’re going to see more storytelling and character and art in the games in this new generation.

How about the “Halo” series with Steve Spielberg? Is he just going to do a TV show or will it be a hybrid show and game?

One of the reasons we started a first-party television studio with [CBS veteran] Nancy Tellem is because we think that some things we’ve learned in gaming over the last decade around some level of interactivity, community and social can work in television.

Definitely anything we do with “Halo” and Steven Spielberg will take advantage of the fact that it’s running on a box you can interact with, that you can communicate with your friends, that you can share stories and parts of the experience.

We haven’t landed exactly what we’re going to do, but it will be more interactive than just a normal television screen. If you see people doing this today – if you watch “Game of Thrones” on the HBO Go application — they do a really nice job of giving you some highlights of what’s going on with the scene in case you’re out of sync with the story or the books. So I think you’re going to see that kind of work just accelerate.

So he’s not just going to hand over a can and have you play the film?

No, but I do think there might be avenues where that’s how people watch it, just like we did with “Forward Unto Dawn,” the “Halo” series in the fall. You could just simply watch that on Machinima or buy the Blu-ray. A lot of people will watch it that way and that’s fine.

But for people watching on an Xbox you’ll want to make sure that it understands the box that it’s running on and takes advantage of the unique capabilities of Xbox One.

So will you have to watch the Spielberg stuff on an Xbox One?
No, if you’re watching it an Xbox One, you would have a different level of functionality.

Just like “Game of Thrones” when viewed with Xbox SmartGlass?

Or our sports stuff. You can clearly watch football on CBS or Fox here in the U.S. and you’ll see a football game. If you’re watching a football game on Xbox One, what you’ll see is something that has a different level of interactivity.

Why don’t you build your own fantasy football game?

We found a partner in the NFL that obviously is native to their league and has a lot of unique assets. I think it will be a great partnership with us.

Comments | Topics: e3, Forza 5, halo


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