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Microsoft Pre-E3 Press Conference

Last night, Microsoft took us all on a wonderful date. Fancy food, good drinks, and a great show made for the fabulous evening. But as all dates go, one must analyze the substance of their escort. This particular evening, sadly, the aesthetic was much more intriguing than the depth behind it.

Chips shaped like ice cream cones filled with gourmet mango salsas and skewered meats served with apple martinis started the evening off with a bang. All of this served inside the amazing ambience of the Shrine Auditorium (for all those that are not Hollywoodphiles, that is where they used to hold the Oscars.) But, enough about the bought and paid for excitement, the buzz generated by what Microsoft had to show was, sadly, not as good as the surroundings in which they chose to display it.

While Microsoft did have some exciting titles to show off, nothing (with the exception of their one big announcement) was a shock or even a surprise. The titles that Microsoft displayed looked great, as expected. They showed Shrek 2, set for release later this month, Unreal Championship 2, Full Spectrum Warrior, MechAssault 2: Lone Wolf, Conker: Live and Reloaded, the amazing looking Fable, and Star Wars: Republic Commando.

More splash and fanfare for the Xbox came through a five minute spoof of The Apprentice called The Novice, starring the Don himself. Yes, Microsoft spent the money to have Donald Trump attempt to demoralize Sony about their supposed lack of gamer support in the online world. More glitz and glamour, still barely any content.

Trump's inclusion in the press conference was to talk about the online community that Xbox Live has created. This is an obvious point of which Xbox should be extremely proud. With the pending introduction of video chat and the use of the Xbox Live Dashboard to locate friends and leave voice mails for them, Xbox Live's 450,000 user base is soon to increase dramatically. The money spent by Microsoft was shown in this instance with the voice chat held between J Allen, head of the Xbox group, and Jenny McCarthy. Another service which will be offered online will be Xbox Live On Demand, featuring classic arcade gaming which will be downloadable onto Dashboard. This service will feature many favorite titles, the three featured being Dig Dug, Galaxian, and Bejeweled.

Microsoft is using the addition of the online tools to coax the more casual gamer into the world of online gaming and chatting. Their focus is to increase their market share by enticing those that normally would not spend the money on an expensive system to do so by making things easier and more like the computer. The future, they feel, is in online communication. By establishing an online presence focused at the casual gamer, many more individuals will be ready to take the plunge into online gaming. This is precisely the idea being capitalized upon by Microsoft.

Microsoft discussed a lot of software, all of which has been shown at other events (many E3 2003.) As shortform as possible, enjoy this listing of games that were shown either in gameplay format or as trailers: Sudeki, Showdown: Legends of Wrestling, Chronicles of Riddick, Outrun 2, Harry Potter: Prisoner of Azkaban, Kameo, Element of Power, Godzilla, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 2, Mortal Kombat: Deception, Hot Wheels Stunt Track Challenge, Spyro: Hero's Tale, Jade Empire, Driv3r, Shark Tale, ESPN NFL 2005, Star Wars: Battle Front, Madden 2005, and Spy Ops. Everything looks amazing and worth the wait for the titles.

Microsoft's Peter Moore gave the announcement of the night when he said that they had a release date for the most anticipated title of 2004. Halo 2 will be out in plenty of time for Christmas… this year! The release date, which was "tattooed" on Moore's arm, is November 9th. He claims that this is set in stone. According to Moore, this date has been reported to sales staff and is going to be the date that the title is ready for purchase. I guess we will see how that goes.

The most exciting moment of E3 has already come and gone for this writer. For the announcement of EA developing titles for Xbox Live, the greatest legion of sports stars appeared onstage. Marshal Faulk, Emeka Okefor, Carmelo Anthony, and Larry Fitzgerald showed up to tout Madden, March Madness, NBA Live, and NCAA Football, respectively. Then, the coup de grace of the glitz and glamour of the evening was the great one himself, Muhammed Ali. Yes, I was a hundred feet from the greatest boxer to ever live. What an honor!

The conference was great, but it is often like a blind date turns out. The outward appearance is good, maybe even great. The date is fun, so you don't have time to think about what you are getting yourself into. Then, you go home and reflect on the date and find that there was no substance, just a pretty face. Let's hope that the year turns out to be more than a pretty face for the third of the big 3.

By Emily Rutherford - 05/11/04

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