Microsoft kicked off E3 2015 with a media briefing that mostly included first-looks at anticipated game sequels and new IPs, and also a dash of exciting software and hardware announcements. It’s all for you after the break.
First and foremost, Xbox One is getting backward compatibility. In other words, Xbox One owners will soon be able to play Xbox 360 titles on their shiny current-gen consoles. How it works is simple. All Xbox 360 digital titles you previously downloaded on your 360 will automatically show up in the “Ready to Install” section on your Xbox One. Collected 360 games on disc? Not a problem–pop the disc into your Xbox One and the console will begin downloading a digital copy of that game to the HDD. For 360 games you own on disc, you will be required to keep the disc inside XB1 in order to play it. It’s important to note that not all Xbox 360 games are currently available to play on XB1 today; in fact, the backward compatibility catalog currently includes 22 games. That number will grow in time, according to Microsoft. Xbox One Preview Members have access to the catalog starting today, and by the time it arrives to the general public via a software update, the catalog will offer over 100 classic titles. Microsoft says it’s “the most popular and highest rated Xbox 360 titles” and gamers can submit what titles they’d like to see added via Xbox Feedback. Of course, all 360 games running on XB1 can take advantage of current Xbox Live features such as screenshots, broadcasting, game DVR, and game streaming with Windows 10. Developers needn’t touch their 360 games to make any of this work; all they have to do is approve a title for it to enter the Xbox One Backward Compatibility catalog. “With Xbox One backward compatibility, we won’t charge you to play the games you already own,” said Microsoft at the briefing. No doubt a dig a Sony, a company that charges its PS4 gamers a fee to access its back-catalog via the PlayStation Now game streaming service.
A solid chunk of the briefing was allotted to Microsoft’s initiative to support independent game developers. ID@Xbox now has over 1,000 indie devs working on games for Xbox One. To keep this party going, a new pilot program has been announced called Xbox Game Preview. It allows gamers play a selection of indie titles while they are still in active development. This brings devs closer to their fans by engaging with them on a more intimate level; in essence, gamers can jump into a game that’s still being developed and provide feedback to make it better directly to the people who are making it. What’s great is that every title offered with Xbox Game Preview will come with a free trial, so gamers can test it out before spending money on an unfinished title. If you enjoy helping track down and squash bugs, get it! If the game is too choppy for your taste, you can hold off until development progresses down the line. Microsoft says select games will launch with Xbox Game Preview over the next year including ION, Sheltered, The Long Dark, and Elite Dangerous. The latter two are available to play on Xbox One starting today.
Though Microsoft waited to unveil this next software announcement during its post-briefing show, it’s one that cannot be glossed over. Coming this holiday is a “completely redesigned experience” for Xbox One. Like it did with the 360, MSFT is drastically revamping its current-gen console’s user interface to keep it fresh, fast, and more social than ever. The new Xbox dashboard does away with the Windows 8 “live tile” style and replaces it with a much more consolidated and speedier UI. There are three sections to note. Home displays your recently played games and apps in a scrollable list format; scroll to the bottom of it to find your pins. The next tab, Community, prominently features your activity feed along with a “Trending on Xbox Live” list featuring popular games, videos, and players. The third and final tab is Store which continues to house purchasable content such as games, TV, movies, music, apps, and more. Go back Home and you’ll notice new icons in a neat vertical row on the left-hand side. Push left to reach this “quick menu” that provides fast access to your friends list and parties, notifications, messages, and settings. This menu can be accessed wherever you are on the console. Playing Halo? Double-tap the Xbox button your controller and the quick menu will appear and layer on top of the game. It’s meant to help you invite friends or send a message in a snap so you can return to your game or other video content. Last, this major UI upgrade also brings with it Cortana. Microsoft’s digital assistant, originally born on Windows Phone, is now coming to Windows and Xbox. Your console, paired with Kinect, will still respond to the same voice commands as before, but now it’s much smarter and can understand more natural language and advanced commands thanks to Cortana. You can say things like “Hey Cortana, is Amanda online?” or “Hey Cortana, start a party and invite Amanda” or “Hey Cortana, record the last minute and share it to my activity feed” and she’ll get the job done way faster than you having to dig through menus and press buttons. Scrub to 54:47 to see the new dashboard in action; it’s here too.
Moving on to hardware, there’s a brand new Xbox Elite Wireless Controller for all you pro gamers out there. I’m just going to start throwing things out there so keep up! On the front of the new gamepad, you can swap between a variety of metal thumbsticks and D-pads for personalized control and ergonomics. Around back, there are four slots for interchangeable paddles and the two triggers support Hair Trigger Locks. The thumbsticks, D-pad, ABXY buttons, paddles, triggers, and bumpers are fully customizable using an app that will be made available on Xbox One as well as Windows 10 (both platforms support the controller). Trigger min/max values, thumbstick sensitivities, you name it. You can create multiple controller profiles on the app and load up to two of them onto the controller (a switch on the front under the Xbox button allows for quick profile swapping). The highly customizable controller comes bundled with a set of 4 paddles, 6 thumbsticks, 2 D-pads, and a carrying case to hold it all. Get a closer look at Xbox.com, and preorder at Amazon today. The Elite releases in October at $149.99.
Side bar: Though it wasn’t touted at the briefing, last week Microsoft detailed a new Xbox One SKU that includes a 1TB HDD, a digital copy of Halo: The Master Chief Collection, and a new wireless controller packing a 3.5mm stereo jack to support the gaming headset of your choice. Also, the bumpers have been fine-tuned and the new controller can receive wireless firmware updates. The new XB1 SKU ships June 16 at $399.99. Also shipping that day is a standalone version of the new controller, which will come in standard black and a “Special Edition Covert Forces” camouflage hue, at $59.99. Lastly, this fall, Microsoft will sell the Xbox Wireless Adapter for Windows allowing gamers to connect their Xbox One controllers to their Windows 10 PCs wirelessly; it’ll sell for $24.99. For more details, video, and pictures, click over to Major Nelson’s post.
Before getting to the games, there’s one more thing. Microsoft sent out Kinect architect Kudo Tsunoda to talk about the company’s all-in attitude when it comes to virtual and augmented reality gaming. Just this past week, VR pioneer Oculus announced a partnership with Microsoft; when its Oculus Rift virtual reality headset releases in Q1 2016, it will ship with an Xbox One Wireless Controller. Additionally, Xbox One games will be playable on the Rift by streaming them to the headset via Windows 10. At launch, this will have the gamer viewing the title inside a “cinema” and it won’t feel like a true VR experience. In time, though, there’s no doubt MSFT and Oculus will dream up ways to further integrate XB1 games with virtual reality. On that note, Tsunoda made a new announcement at the briefing, telling the world that Microsoft is also getting in bed with Valve and its ValveVR technology “to make Windows 10 the best platform for VR gaming.” Currently Valve is working with HTC on VR hardware, so we’ll have to wait and see how this partnership plays out.
And then, of course, there’s Microsoft’s very own holographic computing device HoloLens, powered by Windows 10. The augmented reality headset was demonstrated at the briefing with a first-look at a new version of Minecraft built from the ground-up for it. First, the world-building game was projected onto a wall and then even cooler it was transferred to a coffee table where the HoloLens wielder was able to fully explore the game world in 3D. Watch the impressive demo here. Cross-play functionality is supported across Windows 10 devices including the Surface tablet. Gaining a firm grip on third-party VR tech and its own AR tech, Microsoft is preparing for battle when Sony decides to finally unleash its in-house VR experience, Project Morpheus.
We’ve made it to the games! Microsoft said it more than once that this is “the greatest games lineup in Xbox history.” Scroll down, take a look, and click the titles to view their respective trailers. Sony, you’re next!
Halo 5: Guardians / 343 Industries / Xbox One exclusive / Out 10.27.15 / Preorder today
*The next Halo lets you control two squads: one led by the Master Chief and the other by Spartan Locke. The campaign supports single-player and four-play co-op play. A new online multiplayer mode called Warzone supports 24 players with AI-controlled adversaries and maps four times the size of previous Halo maps. Another mode called Arena is pure 4-versus-4 competitive combat.
ReCore / Comcept, Armature Studio, from Keiji Inafune / Xbox One exclusive / Out Spring 2016
Fallout 4 / Bethesda Game Studios / Out 11.10.15
*Fallout 3 comes bundled. Fallout 4 mods created on PC will be transferrable, playable, and sharable for free on Xbox One.
Plants vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare 2 / EA / Out Spring 2016
Forza Motorsport 6 / Turn 10 Studios / Xbox One exclusive) / Out 9.15.15 / Preorder today
*Features the new Ford GT supercar, 26 world-famous destinations, over 450 Forzavista cars, 24 car multiplayer, and it runs in 1080p/60fps.
Dark Souls III / From Software / Out Early 2016
Tom Clancy’s The Division / Ubisoft / Out 3.8.16
*Beta coming exclusively to Xbox One this December.
Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six Seige / Ubisoft / Out 10.13.15
*Xbox 360 titles Rainbow Six Vegas & Rainbow Six Vegas 2 are coming to Xbox One via Backward Compatibility this holiday season (those games will come free with Rainbow Six Siege).
Gigantic / Motiga / Xbox One exclusive / Release TBA
*Beta available this August. Free to play on Xbox One & Windows 10.
Tacoma / Fullbright / Out 2016
*Coming first to Xbox One and PC.
Ashen / Aurora44 / Console exclusive / Release TBA
Beyond Eyes / Tiger & Squid / Out Summer 2015
*Coming first to Xbox One and PC.
Cuphead / Studio MDHR / Console exclusive / Out 2016
ION / Bohemia Interactive / Release TBA
*Coming first to Xbox One and PC. Available today with Xbox Game Preview.
Rise of the Tomb Raider / Crystal Dynamics / Xbox One exclusive / Out 11.10.15 / Preorder today
Rare Replay / Rare / Xbox One exclusive / Out 8.4.15
*Marks Rare’s 30th anniversary: 30 games for $30, including Rare classics such as Banjo-Kazooie, Conker’s Bad Fur Day, and Perfect Dark Zero.
Sea of Thieves / Rare / Xbox One exclusive / Release TBA
Fable Legends / Lionhead Studios / Xbox One and Windows 10 exclusive / Out Holiday 2015
*Free to play with Xbox Live Gold membership. Supports cross-device multiplayer.
Gears of War Ultimate Edition / The Coalitio / Xbox One exclusive / 8.25.15
*It’s the original Gears of War remastered for Xbox One in 1080p/60fps. Playable beta available today for free for one week only.
Gears 4 / The Coalition / Out Holiday 2016