Lauren Goode

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Microsoft Unloads the Latest for Xbox: Shooters, Sports and Songs

In just a few minutes, Microsoft will take the stage at this week’s E3 videogame conference in downtown Los Angeles.

The software maker first introduced its Xbox 360 gaming console seven years ago, and it hasn’t been refreshed since — the longest console cycle for any company in the videogame industry. Still, it’s not really expected that we’ll see brand new hardware at today’s event.

What we will be keeping an eye on: More news surrounding upcoming software titles, including Forza Horizon, the highly-anticipated Halo 4 game. Also expect to see some key software partners taking the stage alongside Microsoft.

And in recent months, Microsoft has been expanding its media and entertainment offerings through the console, with recent data showing more people are watching Web stuff on Microsoft’s machine than on the iPad, iPhone or any Android machine, anywhere. Also, Xbox Live users are now watching more movies and TV and listening to music than gamers are using it to play online games.

Will Microsoft dare to stray from the traditional gaming talk to introduce more media apps for Xbox?

We’ll find out shortly.

9:20 am: People are still climbing into their seats at USC’s Galen Center, where my AllThingsD colleague Tricia Duryee and I will be providing live updates. It’s a nearly full house.

For all the gaming fans unable to make the show in person, here’s a shot of the entrance to the event.

Because we haven’t heard enough of Gotye lately, “Somebody That I Used to Know” is now playing overhead.

9:30 am: And we begin! Microsoft kicks off the event with a dramatic starship/military/world domination montage.

9:32 am: It’s Halo 4. Cheers from the crowd.

I missed the memo about bringing earplugs. We’re still in the middle of an intense, electrifying game of Halo 4, being played out on the big screen.

The Galen Center is dark, with smartphone screens dotting the crowd.

Halo 4, for those who don’t know, drops on November 6 of this year.

9:38 am: Microsoft’s Xbox Director Don Mattrick takes the stage, saying Xbox is now the number-one-selling console worldwide.

9:41 am: And now, another videogame montage. More combat scenes, brutal killings.

It’s Ubisoft’s Splinter Cell Blacklist, which was leaked ahead of this event.

Blacklist features single-player co-op and spies vs. mercs. It ships spring of 2013. Expect to see more at the Ubisoft event later today.

9:47 am: Now Andrew Wilson from EA Sports takes the stage. He’s talking about FIFA 13. (There are 13 of them?)

FIFA 13 will utilize voice recognition technology and will be available around the world this coming fall.

9:49 am: Joe Montana is here — promoting Madden 13.

Madden NFL 13 will also use voice commands. Montana says he’s excited to give the game a go, as it makes him feel like he’s “back on the field again.”

He starts using the voice command feature on stage. It’s kind of fun to see Joe Montana calling plays to a console.

Fittingly, he’s calling a 49ers game. Wonder what he thinks about Alex Smith’s performance (on Madden NFL 13, of course).

The game hits stores on August 28th.

9:52 am: Mythical creatures and impossibly realistic computer-generated humans appear in this next little montage.

Then head of Microsoft Studios, Phil Spencer, walks out.

9:54 am: He teases Forza! But first, a trailer to the Gears of War saga.

9:55 am: Now Forza. Forget Nuremberg: This Forza game is set on the open road.

Fancy sports cars are veering off the road, hitting trees, speeding off.

Forza Horizon hits the market on October 23.

9:57 am: Now we hear from Yusuf Mehdi, senior VP of Microsoft’s Online Audience Business Group. We’re seeing more Xbox voice command functions, with a focus on the media apps from Hulu, Netflix, etc.

He’s speaking in Spanish to Xbox, calling up foreign-language apps, showing how the Xbox can be used for entertainment around the world.

Paramount movies, Nickelodeon, Machinima and Univision are new content partners. Machinima gets the loudest applause — not surprisingly. This is a gaming crowd.

Now, on to sports.

The NBA is coming to Xbox, Mehdi says. NBA League Pass will give access to hundreds of games.

NHL Game Center Live is coming to Xbox, too.

ESPN on Xbox is about to get even better, he continues. Xbox already carries some ESPN content, but now: ESPN, ESPN2, ESPN3 and ESPNU. Mehdi mentions that SportsCenter, Mike & Mike, all live and all in HD, are coming to Xbox 360.

Other set-top boxes, like Roku, already have deals for MLB content, as well as NBA League Pass and NHL Game Center live, by the way. And in almost all cases, consumers still have to pay for those packages or monthly access passes.

But the ESPN deal is notable. What’s still unclear is what the payment structure will be for this cable content. (AllThingsD’s Tricia Duryee has more on this in her write-up here.)

10:03 am: A video montage shows high-fiving bros on couches watching this awesome sports content via Xbox.

10:04 am: Now, a new streaming music service: Xbox Music, available on the console, tablets and phones.

Last fall, it was reported that Microsoft’s earlier music device and service, Zune, was finally, officially dead. Let’s see if the new service sticks.

10:06 am: Here’s Stefan Olander, Vice President of Digital Sport at Nike. He’s the Viking-looking guy who’s been promoting the Nike+ FuelBand in recent months.

He’s walking through Nike+ Kinect training, showing how the Kinect sensor will recognize your fitness movements while the new program calculates your movements and your NikeFuel score. NikeFuel, for those who don’t know, is Nike’s new currency for energy exerted during a work out.

Marc Whitten, head of Xbox Live, comes out after the Nike+ Kinect video.

So far, this event is heavy on teases, light on details.

10:12 am: He introduces Xbox SmartGlass, which sounds not unlike AirPlay. He can start a movie on his tablet (Windows 8, naturally) and pick it up where he left off on his TV at home.

The tablet becomes a device for contextual information about the movie, he says.

10:15 am: With Xbox SmartGlass, the tablet acts as a kind of enhancement controller for games as well. We’re seeing how a gamer can pause Halo 4, check his tablet for the specifications of the gun he’s using, then resume the game on the TV. (Update: The app will be available on iOS and Android as well as Windows mobile platforms.)

10:17 am: Internet Explorer is coming to Xbox this year.

He demonstrates how a movie can be watched through an IE Web page on TV, via the Xbox.

Now, we’re looking at an interactive auto Web page, via IE on Xbox.

The Xbox SmartGlass app on a tablet is controlling the Web page navigation.

Whitten emphasizes that SmartGlass works with the devices you already own: Xbox, TV, tablet, smartphone, etc. Unclear on which operating systems, though. (Update: SmartGlass will work on iOS and Android in addition to Windows mobile devices.)

10:22 am: Now two guys from Crystal Dynamics, creators of Tomb Raider, take the stage.

Lara Croft looking as fierce as ever in this clip.

10:27 am: Microsoft’s Phil Spencer is now back onstage.

Here come the world premiere exclusive titles, he says:

First, from Signal Studios, the creators of Toy Soldiers, the miniature army game that came out a couple years ago and will be featured in the Windows 8 Consumer Preview Store: Their new game is called Ascend New Gods.

Second, from Twisted Pixel, there’s a Kinect game from the director of “Pirates of the Caribbean,” called Matter.

10:32 am: Now, a preview of Resident Evil 6, the franchise even some hardcore gamers admit to being afraid of playing by themselves.

This one looks like a Michael Bay movie on steroids.

(With zombies.)

10:37 am: Now, a much tamer presentation of Wreckateer from Alex Ruiz.

Wreckateer’s coming to Xbox Live this summer, she says.

10:39 am: Next! A dramatic rendition of a South Park video game. Yes, really. Laughs.

The Stick of Truth comes out March 5. And now a surprise visit from Trey Parker and Matt Stone.

They immediately poke fun at the idea of the interconnected, multi-device game-player, asking, how many of you want to play a game that’s connected to your tablet that’s also connected to your oven while you’re sitting in the refrigerator?

But really: We wanted to create a game where people feel like they’re in South Park, they say.

10:43 am: And just as quickly as they entered, they’re off, joking about procrastinating on creating the game as they do everything else.

10:44 am: Next up, Dance Central 3. AllThingsD’s Tricia Duryee is getting excited next to me. I think she’s even dancing in her seat.

Whoa — and we’ve got Usher on stage, singing and showing off his moves. (You, too, can dance like Usher if you play Dance Central 3!)

10:48 am: Usher wraps, to applause.

Don Mattrick up again.

He makes a joke about “ushering in” entertainment.

Groans.

10:50 am: Now, Call of Duty: Black Ops 2. All new content will launch first on Xbox 360.

One thing that sets this version of the popular first-person shooter game apart from its earlier software counterparts: This one is set in the future, around a 21st Century Cold War, while the others have focused on historical battles and wars.

Gamers can preorder it now, the game’s Web site says. Xbox 360 is already listed as a console partner on the game’s official Web site, alongside Sony’s PlayStation 3, and the game will be playable on PCs.

10:58 am: The future looks bleak in Call of Duty: Black Ops 2, for the record.

The first-person shooter can also steer a floating, futuristic military sky-vehicle around the apocalyptic game stage.

11:05 am: That’s a wrap. Some main takeaways: As expected, we didn’t see new hardware, but that was about as likely as us seeing a new iPhone prototype at D10 last week.

We got more glimpses and details surrounding key software franchises like Halo 4 and Forza Horizon, as well as Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 and Dance Central 3. Plus: The South Park game, which will likely generate some buzz. Will Cartman and the gang translate well to the gaming screen?

And the Nike+ Kinect integration might lure some Nintendo Wii users who have been using the console for fitness-related activities.

The most interesting announcement is probably SmartGlass, and how that will impact both the gaming and entertainment experience in the “connected home” — at least, those with Xboxes.

On to the next E3 event!

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