If you asked Microsoft, they'd probably say their flashy keynote address at E3 signaled the day the Xbox 360 grew into its own as an entertainment center, rather than a dumb old video game console. Here at Maximum PC, we view it a little differently: we think Microsoft's keynote address at E3 signaled the day that PC gaming fell off of Microsoft's radar.
Maybe that's not quite fair. Microsoft did have one – count 'em, one – PC game on display at the premier gaming expo in the world. Then again, Age of Empires Online was announced almost a year ago. And Mojang announced plans to port its mega popular Minecraft to the Xbox 360. If you count that, then the number of big Microsoft-related PC game announcements on the first day doubles to a whopping two. Meanwhile, the Windows Phone got eight new games.
Even if the lack of PC attention gets you down, Microsoft still had plenty of cool things to show off at E3. Not surprisingly, most of them centered around the Xbox 360, which continued its evolution into an entertainment hub.
Xbox Live gold members already get access to Hulu Plus, Netflix and ESPN (although Hulu and Netflix require separate subscriptions). At E3, Microsoft announced deals to add YouTube and UFC to the mix. We all know what YouTube brings: "Cookie Monster Sings Chocolate Rain." For those of us who would rather watch intense violence than silly videos, the UFC deal brings live pay-per-views, behind the scenes footage, interviews and classic fights to your console.
Microsoft also said they're bringing live TV to the console later this year, but pretty much clammed up after that. Maybe the final deals haven't been signed yet? Still, they must be close to completion to make the announcement.
Eh, the Kinect was kind of cool at first, but to be honest the lack of variety and the abundance of kid-friendly games kind of cooled our enthusiasm after the initial burst of excitement. Microsoft aimed to change that at E3 2011. Microsoft's motion-sensing device delivered in a big way, with several new games and features on display.
Kinect Fun Labs offers amusing, silly things to do that take advantage of the Kinect's motion sensor, like giving yourself googly eyes. One cool function will snap a picture of you with the Kinect, then create an Avatar doppleganger of your ugly mug. It could be awesome, especially if it offers more support for epic beards than the Avatar editor's current paltry options.
Wait. Did we call the Kinect a motion-sensing device? Scratch that. The Kinect still handles those duties, but the future of the device seems to rest in the Kinect's voice recognition capabilities. Microsoft unveiled plans to bring an Xbox-tailored version of Bing to the Xbox 360 that allows gamers to search Netflix, Hulu, ESPN and the various Xbox marketplaces just by saying some search terms. You'll be able to boss around the rest of your console, too, watching videos and picking applications using only your voice.
Plain and simple: Xbox Live's account recovery process sucks. Microsoft finally listened to gamers' complaints and is bringing the power of the cloud to the Xbox 360. Coming soon, your gamer profile and save game data will be uploaded to Microsoft's servers, so you can access your Microsoft Points and Gears of War 3 saves at your buddy's house.
E3's about the games, and Microsoft had several top-tier offerings on display: Elder Scrolls: Skyrim, Gears of War 3, COD:MW 4 and Bioshock Infinite all blow our socks off, but nothing compares to the end of the keynote, when we got our first glimpse at Halo 4. Forget ODST and Reach, Master Chief's back around Christmas 2012!
Some of the blockbuster games shown included Kinect functionality. Forza 4 and Mass Effect 3 both plan on supporting the device. Mass Effect 3's live demonstration was especially cool. When BioWare co-founder Dr. Ray Muzyka said, "Liara, singularity," Liara used the singularity biotic power. Simple and effective.
Kinect's actually getting dedicated games for grown-ups, too. Kinect Star Wars rekindled the awesome "I am Jedi, hear me roar" feelings we originally got from Star Wars games on the Wii. Rise of Nightmares and The Gunstringer bring even more adult-oriented goodness to the Kinect.
Microsoft unveiled a few more things worth a quick mention. This year's fall update will see a completely overhauled UI. A new "Beacon" feature lets friends see which games you kinda feel like playing, even if you aren't playing it currently. It's mildly cool, but Microsoft might be stretching the social media idea where it doesn't need to go. Windows Phone also saw a small handful of games announced, plus the release of an app that lets you customize your Xbox Avatar and send messages to 360 users.
Turns out us jaded PC gamer types aren't the only ones left feeling a bit out-of-the-loop. Hardcore console gamers have taken to the Internet in droves to complain about the heavy – some might say overwhelming – focus on the Kinect at the big show. If you remember, the Xbox 360 used to pride itself as being the console of choice for serious gamers, and the sudden turn to the casual side has the hardcore screaming that all they want to do is shoot each other in the face online. Is there room for both Kinectimals and the curb-stomping Locust Horde? We've all heard homophobic pre-teens shouting obscenities in Halo. Is voice recognition a good idea? Wouldn't it be great to have Microsoft highlight, I dunno, just five PC games? Feel free to leave your thoughts in the comments.