Microsoft opens up E3 with loud, energetic press conference

Having already released news of the price cut for the Xbox 360, what will the company announce beyond progress on well-known games? We bring you live updates.

The line to get into the Microsoft E3 press conference snaked back and forth throughout the West Hall at the Los Angeles Convention Center Monday morning. Daniel Terdiman/CNET News

Updated at 12:35 p.m. PDT to correct the news about "Final Fantasy XIII." It is coming to the Xbox 360 but not exclusively. Also, the item about R.E.M. earlier gave the incorrect status of the band's new album. It has been released.

LOS ANGELES--Once again it's that time: big hype for giant press conferences by the video game industry's biggest names.

In this case, we're talking Microsoft, and its annual Xbox 360 bacchanalia.

Here at E3 , which kicks off unofficially Monday morning, it's craziness, excitement and anticipation rolled into one, even though this event is scaled down considerably from the last time it was held at the Los Angeles Convention Center two years ago.

The doors opened at 9:30 a.m., but because everyone coming into the press conference had to have a special "passport" with a bar code, the line to get in snaked oddly back from the doors to the exhibit hall, somewhat akin to the queues at Disneyland. It felt inefficient and unnecessary. But I suppose Microsoft wants to be sure that no one who's not supposed to be in the hall gets in. The upshot is that the scanning of the bar codes on people's passports was very slow.

And while this is the new-style E3, which is no longer the huge, massive, chaotic free-for-all it was through 2006, there are still some elements of the old event.

For example, while E3 in 2006 officially banned "booth babes," the scantily clad women who stand around looking pretty and attracting all the male gamers, Microsoft had greeters throughout the hall who were clearly meant to play something of that same role. To be sure, they weren't dressed in skin-tight, skimpy outfits, but they were universally thin and pretty and it was hard to see that they were there for any other reason than eye-candy to keep the geeks in line happy while they waited for seemingly ever to get in.

Now, the press conference is about to begin, and we will see what Microsoft has to actually announce. It already unveiled its Xbox 360 price cut , and no one really knows what it has to say that's news.

Stay tuned to this blog post over the next hour or so for regular updates.

Though there are no longer supposed to be 'booth babes' at E3, Microsoft had a large group of women dressed like this who were serving the role of greeters. There were no men serving this role, and all the women on hand were thin and pretty. Daniel Terdiman/CNET News

Update 10:36 a.m. PDT: Todd Howard, game director of Bethesda Game Studios, is showing off the first live gameplay of Fallout 3. The game is a seriously post-apocalyptic experience, and his demo followed a very odd cartoon of life in a nuclear bunker.

Update 10:42 a.m.: Now Capcom is showing the first public, playable demo of Resident Evil 5.

Update 10:47 a.m.: Capcom says Resident Evil 5 will come out in a simultaneous release in the United States and Europe on March 13.

Then, Peter Molyneux, creative director of Microsoft-owned Lionhead Studios, comes on to announce that "Fable II is finished. All that innovation and drama has come together and we've finished it."

And, then Molyneux announced that the game will feature co-op play on Xbox Live. "We've got this dynamic landscape that changes. That means you want to invite people in."

Finally, Molyneux announced that Fable II would be released this October.

Update 10:55 a.m.: The game that many consider the most-anticipated of the year, for Xbox, at least, is Gears of War 2 from Epic Games. Epic's design director, Cliff Bleszinski, has stepped onstage, and is now demonstrating the co-op play of the game. Of course, for anyone who's been to an Xbox event over the last several months, seeing Gears 2 in action is nothing new, in and of itself. But for a game that is guaranteed to sell millions of copies, it seems that anything is news.

Update 11:01 a.m.: Bleszinski says Gears 2 will be released worldwide on November 7. He also added that the game will now feature five-player "horde" action, allowing up to five players to take on increasingly aggressive locusts.

Update 11:06 a.m.: Xbox head Don Mattrick just said that he's declaring that Xbox will outsell Sony's PlayStation 3 and Nintendo's Wii this generation. That's quite a claim, given that there are still likely several years to go in the generation.

Mattrick also said that since the Xbox was released, consumers have spent more than $1 billion on the console and its live component. And that, with the goal of increasing its entertainment options, Microsoft has just signed deals with NBC and Universal to make new movies and TV shows available on Xbox Live. The new content will be available as of Monday.

Xbox Live will feature an entirely new look and feel starting this fall. Daniel Terdiman/CNET News

Update 11:15 a.m.: Xbox Live head John Schappert has come out on stage and announced that Xbox Live is getting a full redesign this fall.

Schappert said the new Xbox Live will be tantamount to giving Xbox a full update, all via software. This will be, he explained, based on the new My Xbox channel, which will have a new look and feel and tabs for photos, videos, music, and games.

In addition, the updated service will feature avatars, allowing users to create personalized characters for themselves that they can use throughout Xbox Live.

The new Xbox Live community will feature avatars, and allow everyone to personalize their experience even more than previously. Daniel Terdiman/CNET News

Schappert said that Xbox Live will also have a new partnership with Netflix, allowing users to access movies and TV shows from their Netflix queues via Xbox Live. Further, users will be able to share those shows and movies with their Xbox Live partners.

Update 11:38 a.m.: Without question, one of the biggest video game hits of the last few years is the Guitar Hero franchise. Now, Guitar Hero creator Red Octane's president, Kai Huang, is on stage, and he's talking about the next innovations from the hit series.

The next iteration of the game, Guitar Hero World Tour, will be out this fall. The game will feature a fully wireless music kit, including drums and cymbals. It will also include an eight-player "battle of the bands" feature.

More interestingly, from a user-created content perspective, the next Guitar Hero will include a "music studio" that will allow users to make and share their own music online. That will mean, as I understand it, that, using the system, players will be able to make their own new music and distribute it via the online Guitar Hero network. This is called "Guitar Hero Tunes."

Additionally, Huang said, Guitar Hero World Tour will include three R.E.M. songs from the band's new album.

And, Metallica is joining forces with Red Octane and Guitar Hero. The band's entire forthcoming album, "Death Magnetic," will be available as downloadable content for the game at the same time the album is released, first for Guitar Hero III, and then on Guitar Hero World Tour when it is released in the fall.

Update 11:49 a.m.: Not to be left out, Rock Band was also featured prominently in the Xbox press conference.

Rock Band publisher Harmonix's president and CEO, Alex Rigopulos, came onstage to announce several new elements related to the forthcoming Rock Band 2.

Rigopulous said that Rock Band 2 will be released this fall exclusively for the Xbox 360, and that Harmonix has gotten rocker Axl Rose to agree to release a new track from Guns N' Roses' long, long-awaited album, Chinese Democracy, exclusively for Rock Band 2.

In addition, Bob Dylan and AC/DC will both be licensing songs for the game, the first time either artist has done so for video games.

Update 12:05 p.m.: Finally, maybe the loudest applause of the day was for the announcement by Square Enix that it's much-anticipated Final Fantasy XIII will be coming out on the Xbox 360, though there was no specific date announced. It's a big win for Microsoft to get the Final Fantasy franchise on Xbox.

 

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