After Nintendo teased aspects of its next console in a web-based pre-conference Sunday night, Microsoft offically kicked off this year's Electronic Entertainment Expo with a green-hued feast of gaming, motion control and entertainment apps.
The Redmond, Washington-based publisher began their conference by debuting an in-game and live-action trailer from Master Chief's newest installment, Halo 4. The Chief squared off against non-organic enemies in the trailer, eventually acquiring technology from the ancient Forerunner race.
The future of the Xbox 360, drawn into question before the conference, was addressed by Xbox chief executive Don Mattrick. With no plans to tease or unveil new hardware, Mattrick relied on games and entertainment options to market the seven-year-old console.
Microsoft attempted to boost its lagging Kinect peripheral with franchise-based games like Fable: The Journey, as well as voice commands in traditional games like Madden NFL 13.
The Xbox 360's entertainment options have also been enhanced, allowing for voice Bing search by genre and language. Nickelodeon, Paramount, Univision, and gaming hub Machinma will be added to the console's video app hub. The NBA, NHL and WatchESPN also signed on as content providers.
Microsoft debuted a companion app service called Smart Glass, which aims to supplement console gaming with apps on smartphones and tablets. Windows Phones were highlighted during the conference, but it's reasonable to believe Smart Glass will also appear on iOS and Android devices.
Ubisoft debuted Splinter Cell: Blacklist, further extending Sam Fisher's decade-long stealth franchise. Blacklist will utilize Kinect voice controls, which have surfaced in many action/strategy games since the perhiperal's launch. Still unknown how non-gamers will react to their gamer friends and family yelling at their televisions.
Electronic Arts also tied Kinect controls to their signature FIFA and Madden sports franchises. Former NFL quarterback Joe Montana (nonchalantly) demonstrated the technology. There was noticable delay from Montana's commands to the game during the demonstration.
Treyarch provided a lengthy look into Call of Duty: Black Ops 2, which moves the shooter franchise into the future alongside the Modern Warfare series. As a finale to the conference, Black Ops 2 was a safe (if uninspired) choice.
Microsoft played it safe once again this year, falling back on established franchises and further attempting to integrate Kinect into user habits. Unforunately, the gaming community is starting to get impatient with Big Green as its competitors have teased or unveiled new portable and console hardware in recent years.
Still, Microsoft's advantage with entertainment options is vastly outpacing its rivals. New apps for Nickelodeon, NBA, NHL and WatchESPN push the console ever-closer to "cable-box killer" status. The SmartGlass technology could further intergrate Xbox into a user's living room routine, and is a direct shot at the touchpad controller from Nintendo's Wii U.
The Xbox 360 has a clear advantage in melding console gaming with entertainment, but gamers follow these E3 conferences for groundbreaking news. Microsoft offered little beyond Halo 4 to inspire the hardcore gaming base.