I had my predictions for the MS conference. A focus on hardcore, a focus on casual, and a surprise trailer at the end. I was pretty much spot on, but it was the surprise at the end that I wasn’t expecting. I thought for sure we would see a trailer for Bungie’s new IP, as there has been a ton of viral marketing for it on Bungie’s site as well as a mention of a “surprise” coming the week of E3 in their podcast, but no.

Instead MS pulled out one of the more surprising announcements I’ve seen in recent years, Final Fantast XIII is coming to 360 in NA and Europe. Seriously, who saw this coming? This never showed up in any rumor mills and really seems almost like a last minute deal, and because of this, surprised a lot of people.

Personally, it does nothing for me. I own all the consoles and I’m not into RPGs to begin with, but I can definitely see how this will have an effect. The big question remains though… when is the game coming out? According to Square, they want to finish the Japanese PS3 version and then begin work on localization while starting the port of the 360 version simultaneously. So by the time this game is even ready to hit NA and Europe, the current console wars will most likely be in it’s last year or two and as a result probably won’t have much of an effect on the outcome.

But that’s enough about Final Fantasy. Other standouts at the conference for me were the Gears of War 2 single-player demo, which looked really slick. The 3 min bore fest that was the ‘LIPS’ performance. The face-in-hands display of ‘You’re in the Movies’. And the “FINALLY” moment of the new dashboard update.

Actually for me, that was the greatest news to come out of the MS press conference. The dashboard is finally getting a much-needed redesign, plus Avatars, while a clear rip-off of Miis, still looks pretty cool. From the sounds of it, MS is going to do a lot more with Avatars than Nintendo has done with Miis and I’m looking forward to diving into the new dashboard and it’s features.

If I were to choose a “winner” for the press conferences, I think Sony and Microsoft are clearly battling it out for first place. To me MS had the single most surprising announcement, but Sony had the best lineup of games, as unorganized as their presentation felt.  And Nintendo… well I enjoyed EA’s press conference more than Nintendo. Not much else to say.

By David Doel – 07/16/08

Screenshots for Microsoft’s E3 2008 Press Conference