Xbox Canada’s Jeff Rivait discusses Microsoft’s upcoming lineup.
For most hardcore gamers, the jury is still out on Kinect. After all, there’s not much crossover between the audiences for Call of Duty and Kinectimals. Microsoft, however, is rolling out a slew of adult-oriented games like Rise of Nightmares and adding Kinect support to proven franchises like Mass Effect 3, so they’re definitely hoping to expand the market for hands-free gaming. At E3, we spoke with Jeff Rivait, the Core Games Product Manager for Xbox Canada, and he tried to sell us on a lineup that places a plethora of new Kinect games alongside old favorites like Gears of War and Halo. You’re free to draw your own conclusions – as always, we’re going to reserve judgment until we actually play the games – but keep reading to find out more about the integration of Kinect, the future of Halo, and the historical impact of Gears of War.
Comics & Gaming Monthly: Kinect was the big focus for this year’s press conference. What titles do you expect to have the biggest impact? What games have the potential to win over new fans for the technology?
Jeff Rivait: Not only do we have the sequels for the two best selling Kinect games from launch in Dance Central 2 and Kinect Sports: Season Two, we have some incredibly innovative experiences that are engaging and unique that can only be found on Kinect with Kinect Disneyland Adventures, Kinect Star Wars, and Once Upon a Monster. Those are the games that are really going to bring Kinect to the next level and help it appeal to people who are probably fans of those franchises first, and not necessarily gamers.
CGM: Beyond those titles, you’ve also got much more traditional third party support with games like The Gunstringer and Rise of Nightmares. Do you think the more traditional hardcore Halo/Gears of War crowd is going to take more interest in those titles that offer a more grown-up experience?
JR: I think that’s the vision, especially with things like Rise of Nightmares. It’s a pretty core appealing game with the first person melee combat. Then when you look at the integration with EA and Mass Effect 3 and their sports games and with Ubisoft and their Tom Clancy franchise, they’re integrating Kinect in a way that is not going to alienate those fan bases or gamers who are adamant that they hate motion controls. Their controller-based experiences are going to be just as compelling. For those gamers who are open to Kinect – and I’m not going to say motion-based gaming, because Kinect is so much more than motion – there are features coming to those games that open them up so that they don’t have to learn button commands to command their squad in Mass Effect 3.
CGM: Mass Effect 3 is an interesting example because it’s still – I assume – playable without Kinect. Are you going to try to do more of that, where you have games that incorporate Kinect to add something extra to what’s already a standard controller experience?
JR: Oh, definitely. There are quite a few examples that we’ve shown this E3. If you look at Forza Motorsport 4, there’s Kinect integration there that’s pretty compelling. You can get up close and personal to the cars of your dreams, and you can actually use your hands to grab hot spots and open a door or open the hood, and things like that. In terms of gameplay, you could be playing with the controller sitting down, and if you have a Kinect sensor, it can track your head so that you can peek around different corners when you’re going into turns to get a better angle. It may sound very simple, but it’s really innovative and compelling for those people who are hardcore racing fans.
CGM: It almost sounds like you’re describing Kinectimals for gear heads.
JR: Forza has always been about car passion, and you’ve never been able to get this close to these hundred thousand dollar cars. The cool thing about Kinect is because the technology is so accessible; there are fathers and sons who might share a passion for cars. It’s a great way for them to interact with it together in their living room, as well.
CGM: Moving away from Kinect, you’ve also announced Halo 4 and you’re re-releasing the original Halo. How are those titles going to move the series beyond its past, particularly now that Bungie is no longer working with the franchise?
JR: The [Halo: Reach] Defiant Map Pack marked the first time that 343 and Certain Affinity took the reigns of Halo in terms of game development, and it was a hugely successful map pack. The fans loved it, it felt like it was true to Halo, and I think that helped reassure people that they don’t need to worry about Halo.
In terms of what we announced, Halo: Combat Evolved is one of the top one or two things that fans have asked for, and it’s finally coming to celebrate the tenth anniversary of Halo. For people who’ve been with Xbox from back then, the gameplay is going to feel like it did – you’re not going to lose that – but over the top of that are these slick new graphics that make it look like Halo: Combat Evolved was released today. You’re now getting achievements for the first time. You can do co-op over Xbox Live. The multiplayer is going to work in the Reach Engine, so that’s going to feel a little more modern. It’ll also be integrated into things like Halo Waypoint, which we know Halo fans love.
The second big announcement, which was a nice little surprise at the end of our presser, was Halo 4. All I can say right now is that it’s the return of Master Chief. It takes place right after the events of Halo 3, for anyone who has finished it and seen the ending. It’s coming Holiday ’12, and marks the beginning of a brand new trilogy in the Halo universe.
CGM: So there are plans to make another full trilogy? Is the story going to feature the same factions, or there going to be new groups beyond the Flood and the Covenant?
JR: Other than what we’ve already announced, I really can’t share any more details.
CGM: I figured it was worth a shot, just because the trilogy did wrap up in that nice, neat way. But you also have Gears of War 3 coming this year. Where might that franchise be headed in the future?
JR: Gears of War 3 will be the finale of that trilogy in terms of the main story arc, but Gears of War has become a massive franchise. It’s spawned action figures, comics, novels; they’re even working on a movie. The fans are so passionate and it’s definitely not going to go away despite the trilogy ending. But anything specific beyond Gears of War 3, nothing I can talk about this point.
CGM: So the rumors that keep popping up about a Gears of War with Kinect compatibility are just about a tech demo or something?
JR: Not even that at this point.
CGM: It’s all speculation that we’re not supposed to talk about?
JR: Yeah. But when you look at the momentum we have coming out of the beta, close to 1.3 million played the beta, and as of right now we have over 1 million pre-orders, which is just massive. One of the fastest pre-selling games we’ve ever had.
CGM: Could you talk a bit about that? I’ve seen the stats for the beta, and the number of bullets fired was in the billions. Were you expecting that kind of response, and how did you feel about that reception?
JR: It’s incredible. It definitely exceeded expectations and reinforced our feeling that Gears of War 3 will be the biggest exclusive this holiday. It’s had a great showing at this E3, and there’s a lot of news already out there.
CGM: Gears of War wasn’t the first cover-based shooter, but it was the one that pushed that style into the mainstream. Where does that locate Gears of War in the history of gaming, given everything that’s happened since? Is there a constant pressure to improve and to continue to innovate with that franchise?
JR: Definitely. For the first part of the question, I read a great article recently – I totally forget where it was, so I apologize – but it was explaining that Gears of War took all these features that may have appeared in other games before – cover and that kind of thing – but it perfected it and put it all together in a way that had never been seen before. That’s why Gears of War was that initial first big blockbuster on Xbox 360.
In terms of the pressure to innovate, I think when you have a franchise the size of Gears of War with so many millions of units, people have invested themselves in the fiction of the universe, so you definitely want to make sure you’re keeping that high quality. That’s the primary reason they love the game, and you want to make sure you deliver every time. With some of the improvements – dedicated servers for multiplayer, new types of multiplayer like Beast Mode – there’s going to be a lot in Gears of War 3 that the Gears of War fans are going to love.