Wednesday, May 28, 2014

[E3 2014] Microsoft Predictions

I'll be breaking up my predictions into platform specific (Nintendo, Microsoft, and Sony), along with a post dedicated to third-parties. I don't have a schedule, but expect all four posts to be published before E3's start. Check out the hub for other prediction posts as they're published.

Microsoft has to run a marathon next month. They've teased the future, but haven't shown anything tangible. They've announced two key pieces for their future: offering the Xbox One without Kinect for $100 less (which I've covered in great detail), and Halo 5: Guardians is a real thing, but not until next year. The hype train is about to leave the station for Microsoft, so all aboard.

The Expected

We should be getting (in the very least) a proper trailer for Halo 5: Guardians on stage at E3, but how is Microsoft going to go two years without Halo on the Xbox One? Frankly, they're not. That's why Halo 2 Anniversary Edition will be announced for a 2014 release. This isn't speculation, this is grounded in reality; 2014 is the ten year anniversary of Halo 2. Bonnie Ross, GM of 343, had said last year "in 2014, Halo combat will truly evolve and your journey with Halo on Xbox One begins." Yes, that was last year, but she remained adamant during the Halo 5: Guardians announcement that Halo on Xbox One starts this year, and it's good to know; this would come to be the second holiday season without Master Chief. 

There are some saying that a Halo collection is imminent, combining Halo 1-4 (minus ODST and Reach) into a mass collection for Xbox One. While this makes sense - bring all major Halo releases on to Xbox One so players can "catch up" - I don't see this happening. While Bonnie's statement is fairly vague - she just mentions the franchise, and not a particular entry - she does slightly hint to a semi-full franchise remastering on the Xbox One, specifically "in 2014, Halo combat will truly evolve". Although her words could hint to a semi-full franchise remastering on the Xbox One, I feel repackaging Halo 1-4 into a mass collection feels like too many games at once. Microsoft isn't too keen on the multi-game HD re-releases that Sony made popular so many years ago. One at a time appears to be how they go about things, here, but a Halo collection could very well be a steroid shot into Xbox One sales.

New retail configurations are expected, as Microsoft has already confirmed the white Xbox One will be released this year, but a larger HDD in the system is still rumored. I'm still not buying an Xbox One until I can buy one in white. Have you seen the white Xbox One? Jesus shit, it's sexy.

Dat two-toned controller. Mmmmm...

The Anticipated

For what Microsoft has been doing since last year with the system itself, Microsoft should be talking about the future of system updates. They keep teasing it, so I'm hoping for talks about a revamped Family Share plan, tied in with a digital library. Just like what it was last year, but without the "24 hour check-in" if you have the disk in the system. This is the compromise many asked for before Microsoft Don Mattrick blew their lid, and shit canned the whole thing. Family Share will come back, seeing as how popular it's becoming (seeing as Steam is doing it now). I want Family Share so I can share games with friends/family (especially my younger brother). I would like a digital library so I can be lazy and just scroll through them from my couch and play what I want (or store the discs in a box and save shelf space). This also does help the industry in policing the used game market, which has become an awful place, severely degrading the value of games. I don't want the unnecessary restrictions. It's possible to bring in the future of gaming without shitting on everyone.

They just announced the ability to use external drives (which was going to be a prediction of mine), but I feel all Xbox One's should be fitted with a 1 TB HDD. Sure, using external drives is nice, especially since they support sizes of at least 4-motherfucking-terabytes, but that 500 GB drive is formatted at 362 GBs, over a fourth of the storage instantly gone (my PS4 is formatted at 407 GBs). The $500 configuration should get a 1 TB HDD upgrade, while the Xbox One in it's current form (with Kinect) drops to $400. This is your price drop without sacrificing further system fidelity. You also get faster read/write times with larger disc density. Please, Microsoft, if there's one thing that you can pull a 180 on that I won't rip you apart for, it's this: do not release the Xbox One without Kinect. It'll only hurt you further.

Microsoft also has franchises that we haven't heard of on the system. Key in point, Gears of War. Microsoft has since bought the franchise from Epic, and now, Black Tusk Studios in Vancouver is your development team. Yes, Microsoft only announced them buying Gears from Epic in January, that doesn't mean development started after the purchase. Considering as weak as Judgment was, also made by another studio (People Can Fly, who did Bulletstorm), I'm concerned for what the franchise is going to do now. Fresh blood is always welcome, and I do hope this new team can help breathe new life in to the franchise. There is a silver lining, here: Rod Fergusson. He's the executive producer and director of production on the first three games, and is now at Black Tusk, overseeing development. He should be able to keep the team grounded in what the franchise does, but give them enough freedom to make an awesome Gears game. 2014 release is ambitious, but there's no way Microsoft will want two key franchises battling it out at the same time, so holiday 2015 won't do. Holiday 2014 or, more likely, early 2015 (as late as the summer), for a new Gears of War game.

The Wild Card

Oh boy, and you thought I had fun with Nintendo.

My original thought for a Microsoft wild card was to drop the price of the Xbox One to $400. We already saw that happen, but the difference is that Microsoft removed the Kinect (Note: The Xbox One with Kinect still exists; the Xbox One (Dis)Kinected Edition will be $400). I was expecting them to take the hit on the Kinect, and just drop it to $400. This keeps the Kinect - a vital piece of the system - with it, developers still can develop for it without fear of adoption rates, and gamers can still get in on the motion tracking, voice-enabled jazz, as poor as it is. Sadly, their announcement earlier this week threw a Lowe's worth of wrenches into this, so we're going to have to really think weird here. 

My new wild card for Microsoft at E3: start using Rare's IPs. Now that the Kinect is no longer in the box, this could play in the favor of Rare, as they won't be so restricted to the "Kinect Whatever" games, and would have some freedom. Recently, OXM got a hold of Phil Spencer, asking exactly what Rare is doing. Effectively, they're "evaluating what they want to do next." Kinect Sports Rivals launched just last month, and I'm sure it doesn't take 200 people to make that kind of a game. I'm almost certain they've been hard at work at something that's not Kinect-focused, as not to experience burnout.

Now, I am fully aware of the history of Rare, from Nintendo owning 49% of stock and not actually owning the company, to the Stampers brothers having nothing but disdain towards Microsoft (yet still respecting Nintendo), to all the places you can find former key Rare developers after the mass restructuring they went through. It's not possible to have the "Rare magic" since Microsoft's Rare is nowhere near the same as Nintendo's Rare from 20 years ago.

Regardless, Microsoft has plenty of IPs they just sitting on. Give us a true Banjo-Kazooie sequel. Let's hear more of Conker that doesn't involve censorship. I'm sure Rare would be able to do better with Killer Instinct, rather than another unproven studio, whose latest release is just a shitty console-to-handheld port. How about a reboot of Battletoads? Titanfall seemed to do well, so let's get some more mechs going with a reboot of Blast Corps.. Remember the realistic concept art for Kameo? Let's see that become reality with a Kameo sequel. Finally, what about another first-person shooter franchise that Microsoft could should breathe new life into, and bring Joanna Dark back and revisit Perfect Dark. These are all franchises Nintendo would kill to have back as something on the Wii U, and Microsoft should very well make good on their purchase and start getting back to the franchises they now have the rights to, and are doing jack shit with.

Or, you know, sell Rare to Nintendo, who can actually do something with all of these IPs.

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Sony is your next contender. Lots of PS4, Vita, and "where the fuck is our first-party games" talk.