Day 2 of the 2013 Comic-Con International found me roaming the San Diego Convention Center, taking pictures, visiting booths in between the panels I was scheduled to attend. The Marvel games panel was next on my list and after reconnoitering to make sure I was in the right area, I found myself with an hour to kill. I saw security letting people in to Hall 6A where the Marvel games panel was going to be held and asked, “What panel is this?” They replied, “Xbox One starts in 5 minutes – go right on in.” Those are four words you rarely hear from convention security, so I actually hesitated before I walked in, convinced they were putting me on.
Because Comic-Con is more about movies, TV shows and comic books, maybe it shouldn’t have been surprising that while the hall was relatively full, there were plenty of seats available. The moderator, Larry “Major Nelson” Hyrb introduced a panel that included Ken Lobb, Microsoft Game Studios Creative Director; Justin Robey, RYSE: Son of Rome Producer; Nick Burton, Rare’s Senior Software Engineer; Josh Bridge, Dead Rising producer and Dan Greenwalt, Game Director of Forza Motorsport 5.
Since the Xbox One’s unveiling at the Electronic Entertainment Expo in June, I’ve heard more criticism than excitement for the new console, so I was very curious to hear for myself why Xbox enthusiasts should be excited about Xbox One.
Ken Lobb started off by introducing Project Upload, a game DVR feature on the Xbox One that activates when the player says, “Xbox record”. This feature stores the last 5 minutes of your game locally which you can then compile and edit with other clips to produce a video complete with music and/or voiceover. The “Xbox record” voice command will grab the last 30 seconds of play and include it in the 5 minute recording. That means if you just finished an epic flurry of moves, by saying “Xbox record” you immediately save it for posterity. Another feature Lobb was excited to share was the intuitive recognition by the controller to recognize who’s holding it. If you customize your controller a certain way, should you hand it off to another player to take your place for a few minutes (although I’m not quite sure why you wouldn’t just pause the game), the controller will reset it to the customized configuration of the substitute. Provided the other player has a saved profile on the Xbox One. This seemed to impress the audience but I was left a little puzzled. Is Microsoft assuming the other player won’t have a controller of their own? Or is the scenario where there’s always one more player than there are controllers a very common one?
Dan Greenwalt’s introduction of Forza Motorsports 5 piqued my interest a bit more. Showing a clip of the only revealed track set in Prague, Forza Motorsport 5 looks extremely sleek and visually gorgeous. Set to release with the Xbox One launch, Greenwalt explained the core tenets in the development of the game was physics, opponents and graphics. Programmed specifically for Xbox One, Forza’s multiplayer components can actually match you with yourself. As you play the game information on your style of driving, the tracks you pick, the tactics you take is collected and a “drivatar” is created who’ll drive just like you do. Greenwalt emphasized how this release is more than a racing game. He called it a car game with a more open world feel that allows player-generated content with AI elements that take full advantage a new physics model specifically created for Xbox One by Calspan Corporation, a tire research company. With rumble motors that simulate 3 dimensional feedback you can “feel” the ABS and chassis, he says. For the less confident drivers an auto-assist helps steer and brake, a feature you can turn on and off as needed.
Justin Robey was the most animated of the panelists when he showcased Crytec’s RYSE: Son of Rome. The Xbox One “SmartGlass” feature is taken full advantage of by RYSE, which gives players a secondary on-device experience away from the console. The SmartGlass app allows players to get notifications of where friends are in a particular game with updated game stats. You’ll have access to game clips for gameplay replay. The Timeline feature gives you assistance with particularly tricky areas of the storyline while the Hero interface allows you to customize your hero with downloadable content, earned or purchased. Built on the Windows 8 UI, the SmartGlass appears to allow easy navigation through the separate sections.
What I found more fascinating about the game was the “making of” video that shows theater actors using Imaginarium Studios’ performance capture technology, lending the game a very realistic feel. With the full motion capture, emotion, action and story merge in an impressive display.
Nick Burton, with subdued excitement, talked about the greater fidelity the Kinect camera captures for the newest release of Kinect Sports. This version includes Wave Race, Rock Climbing, Bowling and Target shooting. Using a 1400 point mesh to generate the mask, the Kinect produces a near-replica of your face and a generously more athletic version of your body to create your avatar. As Burton stated, “Robustness of data capture from the camera is insane.”
Josh Bridge of Capcom received the most enthusiastic applause when he introduced Dead Rising 3. One of the more impressive parts of his presentation was the comparison of the maps from Dead Rising 1, 2 and 3, as the size doubled, then tripled with each incarnation.
Bridge emphasized how advances in design allowed a more dense spacing that allows players the freedom to explore the more open world design and play “how you want.” He also gushed about wallpaper. Yes, wallpaper. “The attention to detail of interiors allowed for another level of immersion not found in previous versions.”
The zombies are more detailed, randomized, and not cloned. Also, gore fans should be happy to note that every zombie is anatomically detailed. Meaning if you bust them open, you’ll find guts. “Even weapons are also customizable,” Bridge announced as he displayed a player wielding a light saber, or “laser sword”. Dead Rising 3 also takes advantage of the SmartGlass with its own out of the game experience. Breaking the fourth wall, players can get a call from Otis from Dead Rising 1 with information from the Zombie Defense and Control (ZDC) network that can lead to extended gameplay.
A very brief and rushed Q&A session followed the presentations. The first question was more of a demand from an attendee who asked the panel to “Sell me on the Xbox One.” Major Nelson handed the attendee the Xbox One controller. The guy was clearly unimpressed and expressed his discontent with a shrug which many in the audience responded to with boos. Apparently showing your indifference gets you an invitation to hands-on demo by Major Nelson himself.
Other gamers asked about the Xbox One’s backwards compatibility, essentially, “Will I still be able to play with friends who stay with Xbox 360?” to which the panel said no. They explained Xbox One is built on a totally different codec and will not be compatible cross-platform.
One gamer stressed, now that he was a gainfully employed adult, his limited schedule for gaming doesn’t allow him time to wait for games to load. Lobb answered that “Instant is the new ‘blank’ – it’s one of the most important components in programming now. How fast can you resume a game? In seconds.” He also indicated Xbox One would allow for concurrent recording or uploading while playing.
One gamer expressed his frustration with how far away he had to stand from the camera and in a small apartment it limited his mobility. When asked about the camera’s sight distance, Burton empathized, saying “I live in the UK; everything’s small, so we took that very much into account when designing the new Kinect camera.” Burton assured the gamer the “you can play all the Kinect games from within a meter away. The camera’s field of view is wider & deeper.”
Projected to launch in the winter with 15 games, and according to Lobb, “with tons coming down the pipeline,” Xbox One sounds promising. If Microsoft can deliver on this promise, Xbox enthusiasts are in for some exciting times. But at a suggested retail price of $499, that’s one pricey if.