The historic Shrine Auditorium was the setting as Microsoft showed off their 2004 lineup of games -- for XBOX as well as XBOX Live (Microsoft's online gaming service) -- and, as usual for the King of Computing, no expense was spared. A lavish reception before the Main Event was packed with people buzzing about what was to be unveiled, as they sampled shrimp and chicken and drinks galore.
Then, finally, the "show" began. The highlights:
First, a short film (apropos, since the Shrine HAS, after all, been the site of many a movie award gala). But this was no ordinary movie, it was a clever spoof of "The Apprentice" called "THE NOVICE" -- and yes, it actually starred The Donald. Trump sent two teams (from XBOX and Sony's Playstation2) to make the best live multiplayer gaming environment. Naturally (no suspense here), Microsoft triumphed (and for the amount of dough it must have taken to hire Trump, he BETTER have told the PS2 guys "You're All Fired" -- which he did). Why did XBOX Live (TM) win? Because, said the film, they talked to gamers and made sure they were happy, plus added a combination of features no one else has (like broadband capability for every box, voice chat, and much more).
Also announced: Microsoft XNA (TM), which will allow developers to make great games for the PC as well as the XBOX -- hence lowering the costs to develop games for both platforms. ("SOFTWARE" was definitely the recurrent theme and most used buzzword at the press conference -- and why not, that is what made Microsoft the titan it is.) Microsoft plans to take "social communication" to the next level with XNA, announcing that "Vanguard: Saga of Heroes," a Windows-based massively multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG), will use voice and notification software tools from Xbox Live in the Windows gaming world. (Yes, these two worlds may indeed be converging!) "Vanguard" will be integrated with MSN Messenger in mobile devices, cell phones and more, allowing players to be notified if their friends are online and want Johnny to come out and (virtually) play. Perhaps Microsoft wants to slay the powerful AOL Instant Messenger giant by flexing its gaming muscle? Only time will tell.
Getting back to more fun stuff, I enjoyed the announcement of "Xbox Live Arcade (TM)", coming this fall, which seems targeted more to Gen X'ers and Boomers; these will be the "casual games people love to play with their families", and will include puzzle games like "Bejeweled", card games like poker, hearts and bridge, and classic action and arcade faves like Namco's "Dig Dug" and "Galaxian(c)". Kinda like "TV Land" for game fans.
Some of the "gamer games" demo'd for the capacity crowd included HALO 2 (due out November 9 --- the date was even tattooed to a speaker's bicep, "and yes," he said, "this DOES mean 2004")... a game called CRASH, which features expensive sleek suped-up cars crashing into walls, or each other (sounds simplistic, yet this game casts a bizarre spell, especially in slo mo and from multiple angles, so I am sure this will give teenage boys hours of thrills)... then announcements of DOOM 3, FABLE (TM), and perhaps the biggest news: EA Sports games are coming to XBOX Live. (Electronic Arts bestsellers like Madden Football, Tiger Woods Golf and more should arrive this summer). Microsoft brought out a half dozen top athletes to make the point -- including, to my astonishment, the greatest boxer of all time, MUHAMMAD ALI. He never said a word, but Ali's mere presence brought down the house, as he received a roaring standing ovation.
Sounds like Microsoft is not content to just be a part of the games landscape, but is making a major move to be the undisputed heavyweight champion. They just might succeed -- especially in the realm of networked games. After all, as a final slide pointed out, XBOX Live has almost one million subscribers after only a year or so, while it took media giants HBO, AOL and TIVO about 5 years each to achieve the same milestone.
So... with all his success and riches from the PC domain, and XBOX apparently on the way to reshaping the games world, I guess the only question left is: when will Bill Gates get HIS own reality show?
Entertainment and Technology Writer
Writer/Editor, The Rose Review
Freelance Writer, LA SPLASH magazine
Writer/Reporter, Radio Parallax, KDVS FM
Published on May 11, 2004