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E3 2007: Microsoft kicks off the E3 press conference season

Microsoft fires the first shot in the always amusing press conference wars by hosting its annual event late Tuesday evening.

While the main portion of the E3 Summit kicks off on Wednesday, Microsoft has fired the first shot in the always amusing press conference wars by hosting its annual event late Tuesday evening.

Master Chief, ready to finish the fight.

Packing journalists and analysts into a Santa Monica high school outdoor auditorium was an unusual choice, to be sure. The company put on their typical high-gloss presentation, which is traditionally the best stage-managed of the big three (the other two being Sony and Nintendo), which probably says more about the button-down Microsoft corporate culture than anything else. With a live band, smoke machines, and an actual man-made lake at the floor of the stage, it was a small taste of classic E3 excess.

Even though the Xbox 360 is the oldest current-generation game console on the market, Microsoft put its best foot forward, touting carefully parsed sales figures and the system's genuinely large software selection.

Microsoft VP Peter Moore led the audience through a series of slides showing the 360 hardware outselling the PS3 by a margin of two-to-one, and showing how the 380 is responsible for more game sales than the PS3 and Wii combined.

Most of the highlights concerned high-profile upcoming games, including:

  • Halo 3: The third installment in this popular sci-fi first-person shooter. Xbox 360 exclusive.
  • Mass Effect: Sci-fi RPG, from the same team behind the Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic games. Xbox 360 exclusive.
  • Lost Odyssey: Fantasy themed Japanese-style RPG. Xbox 360 exclusive.
  • Rock Band: EA's answer to Guitar Hero, complete with drums, guitar, bass and a microphone. Officially debuted at the Microsoft press conference, although leaked gameplay footage has been going around for some time. For Xbox, PS3 and possibly Wii.
  • BioShock: Eagerly awaited action/adventure. Exclusive to Xbox 360 and PC.
  • Call of Duty 4: Modern update to the WWII shooter, exclusive to Xbox 360 and PC.
  • Assassin's Creed: Buzz-heavy stealth/action game about a Crusades-era assassin.
    Microsoft's Peter Moore and friends demo Rock Band.

    All these titles are set for retail release by the end of 2007. Moore pointed to an industry prediction that Halo 3, along with the upcoming Grand Theft Auto IV and Madden 2008, could account for one-third of all holiday game sales. All three games will be available on 360, but only Halo 3 is a console exclusive.

    On the hardware side, we saw the new Halo 3 edition Xbox 360, which seemed like a standard 20GB Xbox 360, done up in Spartan Green, the official Halo color. Also revealed was a new handheld controller with one giant button (and four small ones) that will come bundled with am Xbox version of the family-friendly board game Scene It? -- but the less said about that, the better (at least judging from the dead silence that greeted its announcement).

    Reggie Bush demos Madden 2008.

    Xbox Live, the most mature of the game console online platforms, has hit 7 million members and will include new downloadable content from Disney, starting immediately, plus further integration with Windows Live, allowing for cross-platform PC/Xbox play in select titles. So far, the PC version of Live has failed to excite PC gamers, who are generally aghast at paying for online multiplayer gaming--traditionally free for them.

    As a final treat, Microsoft ran a short trailer for the only game featured that won't be available this year--Resident Evil 5, by Capcom, followed by an extended look at Halo 3, which inspired the best line we heard all night. As the Halo 3 slogan "Finish the Fight" flashed onscreen, one attendee, worn out from hours of sitting on a thin foam pad on the concrete bleachers, mumbled, "Finish the fight? How about finish the press conference?"