2013 is the first year that Microsoft has any form of a presence at Gamescom. Their strategy when approaching the European E3 has been different from its fellow gaming giants. In an interview with Major Nelson before Gamescom, Phil Spencer, Microsoft Studios VP, stated that it was important for the press to talk directly to the developers themselves, rather than sit through a conference with the Microsoft “Suits” talking about the games. Did this strategy pay off? Or was Microsoft overshadowed by the much larger Sony and EA press briefings?
Microsoft spent very little time talking about new console features, but a few things were clarified and announced. The self-publishing feature on the Xbox One has been detailed. Microsoft has extended a helping hand to independent developers with a program called ID@Xbox. Anyone with proven talent can apply to become an Xbox One “Registered Developer” and receive two dev kits, free of charge. Microsoft is also offering aid in the form of a global support team, developer forums, and local events. This is a big step from the Xbox 360’s restrictive policies. When discussing the new initiative, program head, Chris Charla had this to say:
As we thought about the new Xbox One and how games could harness the technology, it became clear we’re at a great moment in time where the independent development scene has matured and changed dramatically. In talking with scores of independent developers over the past year, it’s clear they are ready for new ways to develop and reach customers. So, we’re acting to meet the needs of the development community and in turn, enable a proliferation of games for Xbox fans.
It is a well-known fact that not all indie games live up to the standards of the industry, in fact, some can be quite awful. One of the fears in entering this generation of self-publishing, is that there will be no way to sort through the garbage to find the gold. Microsoft has a few new solutions to make your experience easier. 3 categories will help you to sift through various game titles, Trending, Recommendation, and Spotlight. Trending shows what your friends and the entire Xbox community are playing most. Recommendations highlight the games you will like, based on what you play. Finally, Spotlight features the games that Xbox believes to be its greatest titles at the moment. On top of that, it seems like Achievements and the Game DVR will be available with all games.
Some final announcements were specifically about exclusive content and games. Call of Duty: Ghosts will now have dedicated servers provided by the Xbox cloud and undisclosed exclusive content from The Division was announced. Xbox One is getting more exclusive content with FIFA 14: Legends, this is a feature that gives Xbox One players some of the sport’s greatest legends. Peggle 2 is now a confirmed timed exclusive for Xbox One and Mojang’s new title, Cobalt, will come to Xbox 360 and Xbox One. Perhaps the largest announcement of the day has been Fable: Legends, Lionheads take on Dungeons&Dragons within a video game. European console bundles were announced today as well. Call of Duty: Ghosts will have a bundle but there is no confirmed price, however, the far more exciting bundle has been the FIFA 14 one. Not only will it be packaged in the console, FIFA 14 will be free with all European preorders.
After the half-hour presentation was over, the press was free to explore and test out all of the Xbox One games hands on. The real standouts, are Ryse: Son of Rome, Kinect Sports: Rivals, and Killer Instinct.
Ryse: Son of Rome has taken a lot of heat for its seemingly overuse of quick time events. Developer Crytek showed us that Ryse can have visceral, combat centric gameplay on top of being a cinematic experience. They also premiered a co-op game type called Gladiator Mode where two players fight a set amount of enemies within the Coliseum. There seems to be a variety of maps within the Coliseum. In many ways, Ryse redeemed itself from its showings at E3 and Comic-Con.
Demonstrating just what the Kinect can do, Kinect Sports: Rivals offers one to one motion and amazing facial replication. The only available sport to test was Jet Ski racing but it offered motion accuracy never seen before in a Kinect title. The game is able to replicate a cartoonish version of you with stunning accuracy, it is almost creepy. While Kinect Sports: Rivals, isn’t on to many gamers lists to purchase, it definitely shows what Kinect can do.
Details regarding Killer Instinct was one of the most prominent aspects of Microsoft’s Gamescom. While Double Helix didn’t reveal any new characters, they announced the roster size. There will be six fighters at launch with two more being added sometime afterwards. This will only be the first season of characters and more fighters will be released at the end of next year. To get the first season of eight characters with additional skins is $20. However, if you are a true Killer Instinct fan, the Ultra Edition will be $40 and include additional classic and concept skins for the characters and the entire original Killer Instinct. While multiplayer for the original game is not available at launch, Double Helix has confirmed that it is in the works. As previously announced, Jago will be free to all players, but if you only want to buy one character, it will cost $5. If you purchase multiple characters individually and want to upgrade to the full game at a later date, the $20 package will be adjusted accordingly.
Microsoft’s decision to take on Gamescom in this manner has seemingly worked out in their favor. While not having a long conference took the control away from Microsoft, allowing the developers to discuss their own titles let them to clearly show what’s good about their games. Quite simply, this is the first time we have seen the Xbox team operate efficiently since before their May 21st reveal.