In this series, we will take a look at some of the biggest announcements from each publisher conference during last year’s E3, and see what has come of those announcements almost a year after they were made.
Microsoft entered into E3 2014 playing a game of catch up that looked very similar to PS3’s chase during Gen-7. Marred by the botched announcement of the Xbox One in 2013 that came as a result of convoluted DRM policies, the console’s always online restrictions, the overplayed idea that the One was an “entertainment console”, and what amounted to a completely tone-deaf response to consumer’s reactions to these policies, Microsoft knew that they had a lot to prove at E3 2014. Fronted by Head of Xbox Phil Spencer, the Xbox conference was a 90 minute onslaught of game after game after game. The media and fans of the console alike received the message with great appreciation. It was the right move for the console, showing the fan base that they were still committed to bringing amazing exclusive titles to the Xbox. Below are five of the biggest announcements from Microsoft’s E3 2014 Media Briefing.
Halo: The Master Cheif Collection
How do you get a room full of Microsoft fans to collectively throw $60 a piece at you in the middle of a conference? Tell them that all 4 Halo games following the story of Chief are going to be on one disc. Tell them that every map ever created will be made available to play via multiplayer. Show them a hyper realistic remaster of the entire Halo 2 campaign. Promise access to a beta for Halo 5 close to a year before its launch. Announce that each game’s multiplayer will stay true to its original gameplay. To put a cherry on top, tell them that it is going to release before the end of the year.
And how do you get an entire franchise fan base to reign down internet fire and ire on you in an instant? Release a game so broken that it took months to get it functioning in the way it was originally expected to.
Now, let’s not be completely doom and gloom. Out of the gate, Halo: MCC got a lot right. The 4 campaigns worked brilliantly. For many, simply having the ability to play through Master Chief’s story with the beautiful 10th anniversary Halo 2 remaster was worth the $60 price tag.
But we can’t ignore the fact that much of Halo‘s success was due to its online multiplayer functionality, and the fact that it was broken from the outset was unforgivable for a lot of fans. Server issues ran rampant throughout the experience. In the very beginning, players had to wait 10-20 minutes between games if they were one of the lucky few even able to get into an online match. The party system continuously kicked random members out of games. The ranking system was missing in all but one playlist at launch, and Chief lovers felt rightfully slighted.
Since launch, the game has been getting progressively better, and at this point the online experience is much improved. Finding games is quick, the ranking system is slowly being implemented in the more popular playlists, more and more playlists are being made available, and the party system is much more stable. A lot can be said about 343’s handling of the launch of this game — maybe it was too rushed, maybe it was too ambitious — but we can’t deny that they listened to their fans post release and did what was needed to fix the issues, even if it wasn’t as timely as many would like.
In what was possibly the strangest game announcement of E3, Microsoft announced a reboot of the Original Xbox (classic?) Phantom Dust. The announcement was met with a bit of confusion. “Many gamers have no idea what this game is about, and who can blame them? The original version was released back in 2005 for the first Xbox, and since then Microsoft had abandoned the project altogether.” wrote Vamien McKalin of Techtimes, right after the announcement. Having only sold 110,000 copies when it was originally released in 2005, the series was not really on anyone’s radar as being a game worthy of revisiting, but Xbox hyped the Darkside Games Studio project in between games like The Witcher 3 and The Division.
The weight of Microsoft’s demands for the title and budget concerns ultimately amounted to the title’s demise. Darkside Games Studio was shut down in January of 2015, sending the project into development limbo. While Microsoft claims they are still interested in developing the reboot, at the time of this article’s writing there is still no word on Phantom Dust being handed over to a different studio.
Ori and the Blind Forest
If not for Halo: MCC‘s announcement, Moon Studio Games’ Ori and the Blind Forest would’ve stolen the show. Xbox was quick to scoop up console exclusivity for the charmingly atmospheric platformer and place it right in the center of their games-centric E3 presentation. Featuring equally stunning music and visuals, the initial trailer for the game left the audience in awe. By it’s release on March 11, 2015, anticipation for this title had reached a fever pitch.
And Moon Studios delivered in a grand way. Featuring some of the most pixel-perfect platforming ever seen in gaming, alongside an emotional story, highly addictive gameplay, and a near perfect soundtrack, Ori and the Blind Forest is an early contender for many gamer’s personal game of the year. Selling enough to become profitable within the first week, the game proved that there is still a place for metroidvania style platformers, and that the powerful 8th generation consoles can do more for the genre than ever before.
As Microsoft was winding down the show, they continued to place their foot on the accelerator. “Games, games, games” was the Xbox mantra in 2014, and their final major announcement showed a pre-rendered trailer for Crackdown 3 — exclusively launching on Xbox One. The sandbox style 3rd person shooter was an incredibly successful franchise on the Xbox 360 selling just under 3 million copies between Crackdown and Crackdown 2.
While not much else is known about the upcoming title, the nature of the reveal trailer was sign enough that the game was still in the very early stages of development. We can expect to still see this game in the not so distant future, but don’t be surprised if this is a late 2016 early 2017 offering.
Since both the Xbox One and the PS4 were announced, it has been the general consensus — between having the more difficult platform to develop on and having a parity clause that knocked out many smaller studios — that the Playstation 4 was the indie developer’s console. It was a large selling point for Sony. The indie scene has allowed them to bolster their game library and has given gamers a variety of unique, low-cost experiences.
Touted as “an amazing lineup of exclusives, blockbusters and a vibrant catalog of games from indie developers,” ID@Xbox promised to bring more parity between the Microsoft console and it’s Sony counterpart. Games such as Guacamelee, Never Alone, Cuphead, and many more were announced for the Xbox One.
Over the last year, ID@Xbox has released a slew of games on the Xbox One. While the PS4’s indie lineup is still more robust, games such as Contrast, The Golf Club, and Thomas was Alone have found their way onto the One. The most successful ID@Xbox game since its announcement would have to go to the Xbox Exclusive chaotic 8-player eSport #IDARB. Helped by the fact that it released directly to Xbox’s Games with Gold program, the heavy customization options, and the hyper-addictive gameplay, #IDARB was downloaded over a million times with a week of it’s launch.
There is still a lot of catching up to do on this front for Microsoft, but the ID@Xbox program was a show of good faith to indie developers who had latched onto the Sony platform. It is a program that will only get stronger as Xbox continues to develop it.