The Microsoft Masterplan - Xbox Truth Emerges - Kutaragi-mocking Shocks Industry

The unstoppable media-converged communication tool trundles on.

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Microsoft's E3 press conference this year brought the Xbox several steps closer to achieving what was the Trojan-type goal from the beginning, with media and communication convergence jostling with videogames for the world's attention.

An aggressive Microsoft wowed audiences with what was, without question, its most vehement attack on Sony, with the software giant focusing on its online technical dominance.

After years of "knowing our place as the newcomers" rhetoric, Microsoft's approach to the console race switched, with an unusually flat J Allard introducing a movie the firm has commissioned to illustrate its points.

Using a parody of the Donald Trump reality TV show The Apprentice, in which Trump sought to enrol an employee, Microsoft showed two teams vying for online approval. Team Microsoft featuring Allard and former Sega exec Peter Moore went up against Team PlayStation, headed by PlayStation craftsman Ken Kutaragi. Incredibly, Microsoft decided to portray Kutaragi as a bumbling, pizza-scoffing oaf, a move that amused the amassed crowd as much as it offended.

The outcome - Trump says to Team PlayStation, "You didn't talk to customers, [your online plan] has been a complete and utter disaster," rounding off with the accusation that it relied on "peripheral garbage" to function. Incredible stuff indeed.

Peter Moore asking jokingly if Live! should be bundled with a new version of Chu Chu Rocket perhaps says more about the man's character than a thousand hours of preaching from a press conference stage.

The entire event was orchestrated by head Xbox evangelist J Allard, with the man seeming somewhat deflated when he opened the show. Keen industry analysts will be aware that Allard is a joy to watch on stage, with his enthusiasm for Microsoft's wider philosophy and its unarguable furtherment of the sector. He recovered well towards the middle, and was back to his old self at close - perhaps nerves, perhaps complacency, perhaps - knowing J as we do - a blistering tequila hangover, but there was a noticeable 'something' missing from the Xbox frontman at the top of the bill.

Allard went on to do what was effectively the recently-departed Ed Fries job of talking about gaming specifics, something that he obviously enjoyed a great deal, sharing responsibilities with the Bungie team and Peter Moore. This is in stark contrast to Fries' unmistakable reluctance to take on the role of chief protagonist at last year's X03.

In terms of the conference as a package, Fries' absence was somewhat unusual. We have been to a fair few Xbox events and there is a well-established flow to proceedings, with Allard, Fries and Bach running the show. It was strange not to see Fries there, as he was always the true gamer in the pack, loved by the development community and adored by fellow gamers. He somehow operated as a buffer between the mega-corporation that is Microsoft and all of the social, economical and political baggage it carries, and the games industry. With this element missing, it becomes much easier to stare into the eyes of the beast...

...Especially when the next announcement from Microsoft was to unveil a fully spec'd communication tool for the Xbox, a decision that negates yet another strand of the console's unprecedented duplicitous pre-launch positioning. A reaction to the recently revealed EyeToy Chat - a project we exclusively exposed at the beginning of this year - the as-yet untitled software/peripheral combo will see up to five users be able to communicate in a single session, and will incorporate videomail, a feature introduced by former Playboy centrefold Jenny McCarthy. Which was nice.

Perhaps the most important revelation during the evening was the addition of file-sharing to the Xbox Live service, without doubt the first step towards in-living room digital media rights management. Later this year, users will be able to swap movie and music files at will - something that Microsoft said would never happen. "Video communication is the next step," proclaimed Allard, "...that will revolutionise communicating" and result in Microsoft's opposition "...getting even smaller in our rear view mirror."

With Peter Moore taking the stage, the street date for Halo 2 was revealed as November 9, an announcement that was rightly met with absolute jubilation. The game, as played out in the previous section of the conference, looked sublime, a true piece of videogame craftsmanship that will dominate its genre. Investing in Bungie and enabling the firm to create the game it wanted is the crowing glory of the Xbox's life to date - a valid reason for the machine's very existence.

Other games, however, did not go down so well. Doom 3 (its new logo making it look like Doom Cubed - someone needs to fix that) made an immediate and unwanted impression on the audience. The teaser opened with a statement that explained that the entire featurette was game-engine, direct from the Xbox. This may have been something of a mistake. It looked to have some serious frame-rate issues, though looking at the build on the showfloor today, this is not reflective of the game as a whole, with the code coping well, albeit presented in demo form with only smaller rooms accessible. We can reveal that the final game will be capped to 30 frames per second to cope with the GPU-busting level of detail, and the game is unlikely to see a release this year.

It was strange that Tecmo showed nothing new at the conference, especially given Moore's rapturous introduction. However, this situation may have changed at time of going to press.

Again illustrating Microsoft's aggression in the marketplace, a Gran Turismo-killer was unveiled, carrying the title Forza Motorsport. It will offer 150 cars from 60 manufacturers, including the TV ad-friendly offerings from Ferrari and Porsche. Most important is the fact that it will be a true simulator with a full damage engine, something that Polyphony never managed to agree with the world's famously precious car manufacturers.

Proceedings came to a close with the long-expected announcement that Electronic Arts, the driving force behind PlayStation 2 online in the US, would be releasing Xbox Live! Compatible games this year, offering a full EA Sports line-up as well as franchises including Burnout 3, TimeSplitters and Battlefield.

Comments

ohms 13 May 2004 12:39
1/9
what a bunch of dicks.

in contrast nintendos conference was superb. granted, a lot of that hung on the zelda unveiling and miyamoto coming out with sword and shield at the end. great stuff tho. :)
config 13 May 2004 12:52
2/9
So... Microsoft finally and completely goes back on its promise that the Xbox is "all about the games". How long before Xbox will have DVR capabilties (with TV schedule listings) and hook into Microsoft's mTunes store? Heh.

As for Forza Motorsport, if it's done right there is no doubt in my mind that it will crush GT - regulars might have noticed I'm far from quiet about my critisicm of GT's lack of realistic damage and performance hinderance.

G.
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Warzone 13 May 2004 20:10
3/9
I won't bother replying to dolts who'll talk bad about something or someone no matter what they do. Just this: "COOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOL! Nintendo announced a new Zelda and Mario game!!!!" Next up: "Pope is catholic. World in shock". Point and laugh stuff.

>"You didn't talk to customers, [your online plan]
>has been a complete and utter disaster," rounding
>off with the accusation that it relied on "peripheral
>garbage" to function. Incredible stuff indeed.

As I said, considering that people will slam them to hell and back whatever they say, the played their biggest card: let's try to look cooler than Sony, see how many PS2 were actually SOLD instead of placed. Gee whiz, never would have thought: rateo sell/placement is near zero. Microsoft looks cooler and now everyone wants one. Except saying 'I buy Microsoft' in a public place is hanging a "down with communism" sign and running around Tien An Men square: few things are more inviting to a bullet to the back of the head than that. It requires true guts and true commitment: sale, not placement.

And that's not considering that what they're saying is the sad truth.

>...Especially when the next announcement from >Microsoft was to unveil a fully spec'd >communication tool for the Xbox, a decision that >negates yet another strand of the console's >unprecedented duplicitous pre-launch positioning.

So... Sony releases the Eye Toy. ET: Play becomes one of the biggest hits ever, nevermind that it's on the bottom rung of gaming. Sony also unveils the PSX, gung-hoing to disaster as we speak, and now Microsoft unveils adversaries to these products.

Yet, Sony is "expanding their market, in a fascinating and deep proposal", while Microsoft is "negating its own standards one after the other". Next up, Sony "cuts the console price, showing deep affection for the home user and an understanding of the market" while Microsoft "slashes prices, hoping to get ahead in a market where it's obviously a massively, gigantic failure and showing that it has still to get its pacings from leader Sony". Oh, wait! That already happens, too. No double standard in political press, no double standard in gaming press.

>"Video communication is the next step," >proclaimed Allard, "...that will revolutionise >communicating" and result in Microsoft's >opposition "...getting even smaller in our rear view >mirror."

Considering that entire competition to Windows consists in Linux, and the "we're cooler" attitude that's working...



>Other games, however, did not go down so well. >Doom 3 (its new logo making it look like Doom >Cubed - someone needs to fix that) made an >immediate and unwanted impression on the >audience. The teaser opened with a statement >that explained that the entire featurette was >game-engine, direct from the Xbox. This may have >been something of a mistake. It looked to have >some serious frame-rate issues

John "what's C++?" Carmack + Vicarious" two-bit console porter" Visions = disaster.


>Again illustrating Microsoft's aggression in the >marketplace, a Gran Turismo-killer was unveiled, >carrying the title Forza Motorsport.

Forza Motorsport? Yeck. Not that the GT4 Prologue scam won't hurt GT4 sales.

>Proceedings came to a close with the long->expected announcement that Electronic Arts, the >driving force behind PlayStation 2 online in the US, >would be releasing Xbox Live! Compatible games >this year

This is what hating Microsoft brought them: huge money loss, 'cause nobody wanted the Xbox version of their games due to lack of online - and nobody wanted the technically inferior PS2 versions.
kinigitt 13 May 2004 20:33
4/9
Nice work making unbiased and responsible journalism Spong! Seriously, coverage of anything microsoft on this site is met with unrelenting cynicism and childish sniping, yet the articles concerning Sony (another huge, heartless corporation, by the way) are washed over with fanboyish praise and worship. Grow up. Microsoft should grow up too, then you guys wouldn't have an excuse to feature so much nit-picking and rubbish on the site.
config 13 May 2004 21:41
5/9
kinigitt wrote:

[...]

Funny, we get the same rant from PS and Nintendo fanboys too. Besides, everything MS does should be met with cynisicm, considering they have more than one previous.

G.
Joji 14 May 2004 00:58
6/9
I'm a Nintendo fan, but at the end of the day I'd prefer to own all systems to enjoy different games. If the games ar good I'd like to be there, be it Xbox, ps2 etc.

A good friend of mine always said to me that Xbox was more of a stepping stone for MS, and he's probably right. That dipped toe in the bath is to test the water. Xbox2 should really prove if they know what they are doing.

MS must find their own identity, and not try to be so hell bent on matching Sony, toe to toe. If their Kung-fu is good enough folk will soon join their school.
Alan is my first name 14 May 2004 05:00
7/9
To reiterate a bit, I just have to say that file sharing, sequels, trying to be cool and teleconferences with Jenny McCarthy arn't exactly where I think the gaming market needs to be going.

I could be wrong, but that hasn't happened since I went driving during opposite day.
DoctorDee 14 May 2004 07:12
8/9
Alan Poole wrote:

>To reiterate a bit, I just have to say that file
>sharing, sequels, trying to be cool and
>teleconferences with Jenny McCarthy arn't exactly
>where I think the gaming market needs to be
>going.

Except for the tele-conferences with JMcC part, I'm with you all the way.

All day, outside E3, we have been urged to visit the ESPN stand and check out Jenny McCarthy's new moves in NBFL2005. I didn't even know she played baseball/gridiron/ice hockey or whatever. needless to say, we haven't found time to wander on over there yet.

But I still would love to "teleconference" with Ms McCarthy.

Please note, "teleconference" in this sense is used as a euphemism for unprotected penetrative anal sex.
Coxy 1 Sep 2004 20:46
9/9
this proves just how shallow microsoft are they can't stand the fact that they are the worlds NUMBER 2 console so they take it out on their rivals! and this is suppposed to make you want to buy an xbox?...

to be honest for a short period i was thinking of buying an xbox but after this i definately am not, how could i buy a console from such an arrogant and big headed company!

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