Xbox takes center stage, opens E3 2009

It seems likely that some kind of motion-sensitive controller will be high on Microsoft's agenda for its video game console during its press briefing Monday.

The video game world is centered on the Galen Center at the University of Southern California Monday morning, as Microsoft prepares to start is annual E3 press briefing. Daniel Terdiman/CNET

LOS ANGELES--It may be an off-year in the video game console, but you wouldn't know it by the lines outside the Galen Center at the University of Southern California, where Microsoft is having its annual E3 press conference.

Expected announcements include some form of motion-control system; new features and offerings for its popular Xbox Live service; and several hot new games, both from its own publishing outlets and third-parties. Among them is "Halo 3: ODST."

This blog followed Microsoft's announcements--including its new motion-control system, upcoming games, and several new features being added to the Xbox Live service--as they came throughout the 10:30 a.m. keynote.

Beatles: Rock Band will feature 45 in-game songs. Full albums will also be available for download. Daniel Terdiman/CNET

10:33 a.m.: Microsoft opens the press briefing with a lovely video from the much-anticipated and forthcoming "Beatles: Rock Band."

The game will feature 45 Beatles songs, including: "I saw her standing there," "I Want to Hold Your Hand," "She Said So," "Day Tripper," "Taxman," "I am the Walrus," "Back in the U.S.S.R.," "Octopus' Garden," "Here Comes the Sun," and "Get Back."

It will also feature never-before-heard live studio chatter from the members of the Beatles. And in addition to the in-game songs, players will be able to download songs and albums. That feature will commence with the entire "Abbey Road" album. Further, the song "All You Need is Love" will be available solely on Xbox Live.

Then, in a big surprise, Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr come out on stage. "The game is good," said Starr. "And we were great."

"Who ever thought we'd end up as androids?" jokes McCartney.

Beatles Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr come on-stage at the Microsoft Xbox E3 press briefing to announce Beatles Rock Band. Daniel Terdiman/CNET

10:49 a.m.: Next up on stage is world-famous skateboarder Tony Hawk, who unveils "Tony Hawk: Ride," a new skating game that features a skateboard-shaped controller. Players of the game will "ride" the board, allowing complex maneuvers and a (somewhat) realistic skating experience.

To be sure, the new controller is highly reminiscent of Nintendo's Wii Balance Board. Xbox has needed something like this. But one wonders if the board controller will have the wide range of applications that Nintendo's Balance Board does.

Famous skateboarder Tony Hawk introduces Tony Hawk: Ride, a new skating game for Xbox. Daniel Terdiman/CNET

11:00 a.m.: The next big demonstration features Square Enix's Yoshinori Kitase and Motomu Toriyama showing off the first preview of "Final Fantasy XIII" for the Xbox 360. They say the game is targeted for a spring 2010 release.

11:22 a.m.: Microsoft Corporate Vice President John Schappert spends the next 20 minutes introducing the developers of a series of upcoming games for the Xbox platform--and the games themselves, of course.

Among the titles that were showcased were "Joy Ride," from newly-acquired Microsoft Games Studio addition Big Park; "Left for Dead 2"; "Splinter Cell: Conviction"; and "Forza Motorsport 3."

11:32 a.m.: Perhaps the most-anticipated new Xbox game is up next: "Halo 3: ODST." The game, which takes place weeks before the start of "Halo 3," puts players in the role of a rookie solider separated from his team.

The goal of the game is to survive, covering a lot of ground, staying alert for unexpected help. But players will have new Halo weapons to work with, including a new low-light vision mode.

"Halo 3: ODST" is expected to be released September 22.

But Halo fans will have more to look forward to. Bungie Studios, the franchise's developer, is also working on another Halo title, "Halo: Reach," which is expected to be released sometime in 2010. "Halo 3: ODST" players will get an exclusive invite to the new title.

Halo 3: ODST
Perhaps the most anticipated game for Xbox is Halo 3: ODST, which will release on September 22. Daniel Terdiman/CNET

11:44 a.m.: Of course, no Microsoft E3 press briefing would be complete without a bunch of new Xbox Live announcements. And, intent on not disappointing the faithful, Schappert says Microsoft has been working on a series of improvements to the service.

First up, Schappert announces a new partnership with Last.fm, which will bring millions of songs to Xbox Live members. Xbox Live Gold members will be able to access the service for free. He doesn't say what the cost would be for other members. (Disclaimer: Last.fm is owned by CNET News parent company CBS Interactive).

Schappert also says Microsoft has updated the way Xbox Live members will be able to access movies and TV shows. To begin with, he says U.K. residents will now be able to access movies and TV shows through a partnership with Sky TV, all with no additional hardware.

Here in the U.S., meanwhile, Xbox Live members will now be able to watch their TV shows and movies with no downloads and no delays. In other words, they will be available instantly, and in full 1080p high definition. And that's why Microsoft is calling this part of Xbox Live "InstantOn 1080p HD."

Finally, Xbox Live members will now be able to interact with both Facebook and Twitter through their consoles. They'll be able to share photos with Facebook friends via Xbox Live, and be able to see their lists of Xbox Live and Facebook friends simultaneously.

As for Twitter functionality, Xbox Live users will be able to post tweets directly from their consoles, without a PC.

12:05 p.m.: But the big news, as always, comes last.

Microsoft finally unveils its new full-body motion-sensitive controller. Called by its code name, Project Natal, the new technology sits near the Xbox 360 console, and allows Xbox users to control their games, movies, and other Xbox media without touching any hardware.

During a video presentation, players are seen interacting with games and movies simply by waving their hands, jumping up and down and doing other things with their bodies--but not ever touching the controller.

Microsoft Xbox Senior Vice President Don Mattrick says that Natal will work with all Xboxes, including those that have already been sold, and any that will be sold in the future.

To demonstrate interactive media and entertainment industry acceptance of the new technology, Mattrick brought legendary film director Steven Spielberg on-stage to talk about Natal.

"I've been asking the crucial question: How can interactive entertainment become as approachable as other forms of entertainment?" Spielberg said. "The vast majority of people are just too intimidated to pick up a video game controller...Despite the size of (the video game) industry, still 60 percent of households do not own a video game console."

Stephen Spielberg at E3
Film director Steven Spielberg came on-stage during the Xbox briefing to wax rhapsodic about Project Natal, Microsoft's new motion-sensitive control technology. Daniel Terdiman/CNET

Mattrick didn't say whether Natal had, in fact, come from 3DV Systems , or whether it had been developed in-house.

12:07 p.m.: A live demo the technology features a woman playing a game called "Richochet" on-stage. It allows her to kick a series of onrushing balls solely by kicking her legs in the air.

Project Natal demo
A Project Natal video shown during the briefing demonstrated that users can literally interact with their Xbox by reaching out to it. The technology recognizes human body movements and translates them into complex maneuvers on-screen. Daniel Terdiman/CNET
 

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