Microsoft @ E3 2015 Preview & Analysis

Ah, the Microsoft E3 press conference, the annual circus act showing us all the latest in Call of Duties, Halos, and more CG trailers than should be legally allowed at a gaming expo. But I shouldn’t rag on past misgivings. Microsoft showed a change of heart at E3 2014, and change has quickly descended upon this year’s expo.

For the first time in quite a while, Microsoft won’t be the first press event at E3– that title going to Bethesda the day before. But the Xbox One-centric press event is still the first of the major first party developers, and that means they’ll be trying to pull the trigger first as they lay out their plan to bring their console to the forefront of the generation.

Microsoft at E3 2014

Last year, the biggest announcement, as it always seems to be when it comes to the Xbox, was surrounding Halo, specifically with The Master Chief Collection, which, while presented as a very cool idea and followed up by the announcement of a Halo 5: Guardians multiplayer beta, ended up being a fairly large disappointment upon release with all sorts of bugs in online matchmaking.

But that wasn’t even close to the biggest surprise, which came in the form of another first party exclusive in the reboot of the cult classic Xbox game Phantom Dust, which was recently stripped from the developer that had been working on it for months and now sits in limbo. Other exclusive titles announced at the event included the lovely Ori and the Blind Forest, Crackdown and Rise of the Tomb Raider– which only barely loses the title of “worst game title at E3” to Bethesda’s Battlecry. However, as a completely opposite example, Capcom announced the Super Ultra Dead Rising 3’ Arcade Remix Hyper Edition EX plus α. That was cool.

Then the multiplatform games began showing up, which were all virtually absent from the previous year’s event. Call of Duty, which had taken a break the year before after having been shown at the Xbox One reveal event, opened the show with its most recent iteration. Something similar could be said for Assassin’s Creed, which had a game in Microsoft’s show for the first time in years. The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, made its second Microsoft E3 appearance and Tom Clancy’s: The Division.

Fleshing out the lineup were also the usual indie demo reel, Inside, the next game from the Braid developers, Sunset Overdrive, Fable Legends, and Project Spark.

So what can we expect from Microsoft’s E3 2015?

Games We Know About

Phil Spencer has stated that this year will be more focused on first party and other exclusive titles than any Microsoft E3 Press Conference that has come before it. Now, I don’t entirely believe him, but my expectations are that 2013’s presser (as I had mentioned previously) might end up being the closest comparison.

There is little doubt that Halo 5: Guardians will make an appearance. In 2012, Microsoft led off the show with Halo 4’s story trailer, and I expect something similar out of this one. But that’s only the first of many Microsoft games we know about.

Halo 5

Rise of the Tomb Raider and Crackdown were both announced last year and I expect to see them here once again. Alongside them, but more curious in nature are Phantom Dust and Scalebound. All four of these games received CG trailers at last year’s E3, so one might assume that we’ll get some sort of gameplay this year. But the latter two games are also unknown quantities Phantom Dust is, as mentioned, only a cult classic and Scalebound is a new IP, but it’s possible both show up merely for the allure of a hardcore fan-base. Only the latter seems likely, though. With the studio that had been working on it recently shutting its doors, the future of the Phantom Dust reboot lies in limbo, and I don’t think we’ll see it show up for quite a while, if at all.

Other known games that we might see include Fable Legends, Below, and Quantum Break, the latter two of which are both games that we didn’t see at E3 last year, but have been on Microsoft’s docket for quite a while. Considering they’re scheduled for release this year, it seems obvious they will both make some sort of appearance.

The easiest prediction for me, since games in either franchise tend to make appearances for Microsoft every single year, Forza Motorsports 6 is most certainly going to get at least a small amount of attention thrown its way. And while not announced, I fully expect to see the first glimpse of the new Gears of War game that we’ve been hearing about for quite a long time. It’s one of Microsoft’s biggest two series, so to have both it and Halo in the same conference would be spectacular. However, at this point, it is essentially known that Gears of War is being ported to the Xbox One (gameplay footage can even be found online), and many are expecting a full compilation along the lines of Halo: The Master Chief Collection to show up first, instead.

Gears of War

Courtesy of Kotaku

The most interesting game that Microsoft could show off if they felt like it, is Telltale’s Minecraft: Story Mode, which we’ve heard a small bit about but would be an interesting addition to Microsoft’s lineup, considering how it still isn’t attached to their brand despite their ownership.

Expected Announcements

So I already mentioned that we know that Black Tusk Studios are working on a new Gears of War title, but there are quite a few other studios under Microsoft’s wing that we can expect to see games from. First, though, the ones I don’t expect to see are the reported games being developed by Team Dakota and Lionhead Studios, since they are just coming off of or finishing other games (Project Spark and Fable Legends, respectively). I don’t expect anything from them until 2016 at least, unless Microsoft wants to start ramming out the CG trailers again… though I would not put it past them.

Other than that, there are three other studios with known games in development– those being Twisted Pixel (LocoCycle), Rare Ltd., (Kinect Sports Rivals), and a new studio in Decisive Games, who are reportedly working on a new game in a classic strategy franchise. Of course, that limits it down to classic strategy franchises that Microsoft owns, so chances are that it will either be a new Age of Empires, Rise of Nations, or Halo Wars. My money’s on the first of those three, though I have to wonder if it would even make an appearance as the game is much more likely only going to be for PC. Phil Spencer IS expected to be at the PC Game Show on Tuesday night, so it’s certainly possible.

Rare Ltd. may or may not have a game to show off this year. They did release Kinect Sports Rivals last year, so it’s possible they may not be ready, but they are a rather large developer so even if any game they reveal wouldn’t come out this year, they could possibly still show one. A lot of noise has been made over the ex-Rare developers at Playtonic and their extremely successful Kickstarter campaign for what they describe as the spiritual successor to Banjo-Kazooie in Yooka-Laylee, but there have been signs from folks at Microsoft that they may be planning a new sequel to the original franchise. Phil Spencer was in great support of having Banjo get voted into Nintendo’s Super Smash Bros., which, to me, only makes sense on the business end if it would help work as advertisement for a new game they’re trying to sell. However, whether or not Rare Ltd. would be the ones to develop it if it does exist remains to be seen.

It’s a definite possibility that whatever Twisted Pixel is working on shows up at some point in the presentation. The biggest reasons it wouldn’t be is if Microsoft is holding them for another presentation, such as Gamescon in August, or if they don’t feel the game they’re putting out is large enough for their main E3 presentation. Their last game, Loco-Cycle, was not received well at all by critics and I can’t imagine it sold well, either. But before that, the studio was well known for the ‘Splosion Man series, which, while doing well by itself, was still more of an indie game than a big spectacular showing. Unless they have some new IP up their sleeve that looks significantly interesting, Microsoft may just leave it for the show floor or not at all.

The last thing we might expect to see but that has a definite possibility of not getting shown is Episode 2 of SWERY65’s mystery game D4: Dark Dreams Don’t Die. Episode 1 released last year and was well liked by those that played it, and by Swery fans in general, but it didn’t sell well whatsoever. There’s been some speculation that Microsoft just dropped the project altogether, but we do know a PC port is on the way and Swery recently showed a single still image of what he says is from Episode 2. If Microsoft still wants to push their attachment to all types of gaming, including the weird Japanese ones, it couldn’t hurt to get a small trailer for D4: Episode 2 in there.

Besides that, there isn’t much else exclusive that’s easily predictable on Microsoft’s docket. We could see something from Press Play, who made Kalimba and the Max games or something from BigPark, who made the Kinect Joy Ride games.

Multiplatform Games 

One of the biggest things that really makes Sony and Microsoft’s press conferences differ from Nintendo’s, or even the 4 other 3rd party publishers with events this year, is how often they’ll rely on games they don’t even make. Indeed, with the exception of Halo, most games the general populace will pay the most attention to are going to be those made by these 3rd parties. This is why you’ll see Call of Duty show up at Microsoft’s press conference almost every year. It’s why Nintendo has struggled with the Wii U and it’s lack of support from anyone other than Nintendo themselves. It’s why half of Sony and Microsoft’s press conferences are probably going to be showing off games they do not own. The question then is: which of those big two companies are going to get which third party games?

You can guarantee at this point that Sony will not have Call of Duty: Black Ops III– since they never have Call of Duty– and Microsoft always seems willing to pull them into the press conference. As mentioned previously, the one year the franchise wasn’t there, it was instead at the Xbox One reveal event, and Battlefield 4 took it’s place during the E3 presser. So whether it’ll be there again seems entirely reliant, at least to me, on whether Microsoft or Sony gets the big games EA has on its docket the next year and a half. Titanfall 2 is expected to be multiplatform, but the original was a Xbox One exclusive when it released last year. If Respawn is ready to show it, does Microsoft pull the trigger? Or instead will they be gunning for the much more anticipated shooter that we know EA has this year in Star Wars Battlefront?

Sony seems to have its fingers closer to DICE’s development team, exemplified by the beta for Battlefield: Hardline during last year’s E3 and the clear insistence on trying to counter the early access to Call of Duty content on Xbox platforms with things like exclusive content in Destiny and other shooters. With the added expectation that EA is probably going to want to hold the first public gameplay footage of Battlefront to its own conference, it’s much more likely that we see Call of Duty: Black Ops III at Microsoft’s press event, as well as Titanfall 2, if Respawn will even have it ready for this year’s E3.

Last E3, EA only announced 6 new games at their press conference, and almost all of them didn’t show anything substantial, and several were even only conceptual. A year following a rebuilding presser, most of EA’s games are ones we can more reasonably suspect to debut at their own show. That includes things like Mass Effect, Mirror’s Edge, the Visceral Star Wars project, and whatever the hell that Criterion game from last year turns out to be.

So what about the other big developer with a press event that day? Last year, Microsoft hosted the first gameplay trailer for Ubisoft’s Assassin’s Creed Unity, but with the dud that that game turned out to be, who knows if they’ll want to have it’s sequel back again? Still, the series is a very large one, and Microsoft did and does still have an Xbox One bundle with Unity and Black Flag, so maybe they saw something in the sales data for it that makes them bring in Syndicate. Microsoft got more gameplay footage of The Division last year, so they might bring that in again. It’s just more likely that Ubisoft saves any new announcements for their own presser and shows secondary gameplay and trailers at Sony’s event like they did with Far Cry 4 last year.

The same issue arises with Square Enix, who has their press event the day after. Deus Ex, Just Cause 3, and Kingdom Hearts 3 are all being published by that company, and no gameplay has been shown for any of them. As a Japanese company, Sony is also much more likely to get any footage or gameplay than Microsoft– highlighted by Kingdom Hearts and Final Fantasy XV showing up at Sony’s presser in 2013. So when it comes to publishers that are running their own press conferences, the best remaining bets seem poised to come from Bethesda, if they come from anyone at all. Doom and Fallout 4 are both expected to be shown off at their press event the day before, so perhaps something from those companies trickles back down. Personally, I doubt it. Bethesda is well known for their games on PC, and this year, we’re actually going to have a PC showcase. If we get any game from Bethesda at another press event, it’s going to be that one– though I’ll admit Microsoft is the only expected choice after that.

With how many exclusive and first party games that Microsoft announced at last year’s E3 that have yet to release, and how many more they’re expected to show off this year, it’s likely we get a repeat of the kinds of games shown off at Microsoft’s 2013 E3 presentation, where virtually all games were exclusives, and the only exceptions were games not being published by EA or Ubisoft– Metal Gear Solid V and Dark Souls II.

That being said, MGSV (and the now-leaked Dark Souls III) may make a repeat appearance, considering it will be releasing in a few months. Otherwise, I’m sure 2K and Warner Bros. will be more than happy to fill up the remaining slots.

The most well known and anticipated 3rd party games they could add to the schedule include Mad Max, Homefront: The Revolution, and Rock Band 4. The last of which seems the most likely. Harmonix showed off Dance Central and Fantasia: Music Evolved at last year’s Microsoft E3 presser, and Rock Band 2 was exclusive to the Xbox 360 for about a month. Considering the broad appeal of the franchise, a spot in Microsoft’s event seems likely.

Bold Prediction

So for this whole article, I’ve spent most if not all of my time trying to rationalize what could be announced based on what we know developers are working on, past E3 shows, and other known quantities. But before I finish, I ought to get one big, dumb prediction in there that– to be honest, I don’t think will happen– but that’s why we call it bold, don’t we?

In January, Microsoft announced the HoloLens, or Windows Holographic, a mixed reality computing platform meant to display virtual elements (i.e. holograms) alongside real world objects. Immediately, many considered what HoloLens could do for video games. But considering how recently this technology was announced, there’s no way it shows up at E3, right? Maybe.

Hololens

Courtesy of The Verge

Currently, about a fourth to a third of Microsoft’s studios are working on HoloLens projects. We have no idea what they’ll be (in fact, I wonder if the developers even know at this point), but maybe that’s wrong and they’ve been developing the technology for a while and will have something interesting to show.

This bold prediction is not an optimistic one, though I suppose it is in the sense that we’ll see something. What I mean is that I don’t think any of us will be impressed with Hololens if Microsoft shows it. At minimum, HoloLens is a vague, mythical thing we’ll get a small segment of buzzwords and ominous big ideas about. At most, it will be a drawn out Kinect-style presentation that bores everyone to death– because that’s what it would have to be.

Which is why I don’t think it should happen. But hey, they did the Kinect things for multiple years, so you never know.

Microsoft’s 15-Game Predicted Lineup:

  1. Halo 5: Guardians
  2. Gears of War Remastered
  3. Gears of War 4
  4. Rise of the Tomb Raider
  5. Fabled Legends
  6. Quantum Break
  7. Forza Motorsports 6
  8. Crackdown
  9. Scalebound
  10. Banjo-Kazooie Title
  11. D4: Dark Dreams Don’t Die, Episode 2
  12. Call of Duty: Black Ops III
  13. Dark Souls III
  14. Rock Band 4
  15. Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain
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