Tales of the future
Given that both the Xbox One and the space-time continuum still exist, we can expect 2015 to - in the traditional fashion - present a steady stream of events and developments for Microsoft. What will they be? I do not know. I am neither an omniscient cosmic overlord, nor a mega-computer capable of working things out really damn well using maths. Nor a Jesus. Only these people know the future for sure. I am but a humble human being. But being less humble than most, I can have a damn good guess, putting two and two together to make the future in a relatively educated way. That is what I am going to do here.
Its going to be an interesting old year, what with Microsofts steady comeback from launch-day disaster, and its undoubted intent to catch Sony good and proper over the last 12 months. Between games, hardware, successes, and potential, winsomely hopeful failures, theres going to be plenty going on, and I reckon Ive got a pretty good idea of how things are going to pan out, based on previous experience, current trends, and (no) science*. So click on. Read my ten big predictions, and then come back in 12 months to slap me heartily on the back for a job well done. Or accuse me of devilry. Or laugh at all of this being wrong. The choice, as they say, is partially yours.
Kinect won't make a comeback
Nope, breathe easy. Microsoft has let that one go, at least for the foreseeable. Between MS's current stance of 'Games for proper gamers, yeah?', and the device's perceived position as antithesis to such - not to mention its total lack of practical usefulness for anything at all, even with the improved hardware of the Xbone edition - there's just too much miserable stink attached to the Kinect name right now for it to be a viable, visible part of Microsoft's strategy.
We might see it used to quietly, shamefully navigate menus during on-stage demos throughout the year, but in terms of meaningful game announcements? Devs won't be using the dead-eyed privacy thief any more than you will. ie. They wont be using it at all ever at all.
TV will make a (slight) return
Dont assume MS will ever give up on its grand, king-of-the-living-room dream. Okay, so said dream may now be woefully out of date - given that any household device from your toaster upwards can now run Netflix, negating any need for any One True Media Centre - but Microsoft has been so committed to cross-media partnerships (and the money that comes with them), that this part of the Xbones great game-focused u-turn is almost certainly going to transform into at least a moderate s-bend over the course of this year.
We wont get any more all-TV, all the time presentations. We wont get hours of E3 dedicated to pointless split-screen viewing, and distract-o-vision web-browsing options that no-one will ever use. But TV, film and sports partners will start to be mentioned again. Games for at least the foreseeable future will remain the focus of MS Xbone presentations. It knows thats the key to maintaining the upward PR swing of the last few months. But once the gamers are satiated, the install-base bigger, and the overall audience that bit more mainstream? Awkward on-stage handshakes between execs and sports-dudes aplenty.
Gears of War 4 will be at E3
Gears of War 4 (or whatever its called) will have a presence at E3. It will be utterly necessary for Microsoft to present another key, AAA exclusive by then. Halo 5 wont be far off release. Quantum Break might well already be out, and is an untested game that MS cant 100% bank on, despite its very worthy origins with Remedy. Itll be too soon for another Forza. All of that means that the slate is going to be looking pretty bare. Even if its nowhere near ready for release (and it almost certainly wont be), Gears presence will be required in order to strengthen the prospective Xbox owners mental roadmap to the future.
What will we get? Maybe just a CG trailer. A very brief gameplay teaser perhaps comprising a limited, on-stage demo showing off basic, key gameplay features if were lucky. But thatll be enough. Given the new games status as a sort of sequel, sort of reboot, sort of no-one-knows-what-the-hell-it-is not to mention its new developers undoubted desire to establish itself as trustworthy there will be plenty more to fill out an E3 slot with. Also chainsaws.
Halo 5's multiplayer will collapse like a dead cow at launch
As great as its content technically is, in practical terms, Halo: The Master Chief Collection was only half the game it should have been in the weeks after launch. The reason? The multiplayer was only theoretically there. In that it was present, but didnt bloody work. Near-total connectivity failures made it less a nostalgic trip through Halo multiplayer past, more a nostalgic trawl through Halo multiplayer lobbies gone by. Except that it used new interfaces, so it wasnt even that. It was pretty rubbish, is what Im saying. As a first look at 343s Halo on Microsofts next-gen tech, it was worrying en mass.
And while I currently have no doubts about the quality of Halo 5s multiplayer gameplay (everything weve played so far, and continue to play in the beta, has been brilliant), its impossible to shake the fear that we might be in for a repeat of the aforementioned clattering network-shambles once the final game tackles the full brunt of launch-day traffic. Indeed, while Matt has been having a great time doing our beta diary, he has confided to me choking back a single, stoic tear that hes certainly run into a few slow connections and lobby resets along the way. Of course, a beta is no sign at all of a final games functionality, and after all exists precisely to iron such things out. But all previous issues in consideration, we wouldnt at all be surprised if Halo 5s online isnt quite as stellar as it should be on day one. Cross everything. Fingers, eyes, legs, toes, everything.
We'll get a new, 'proper' Rare game at E3. It will split opinion
We know that Rare is working on a new game, and were pretty damn sure that its going to be at least an attempt at a return to the studios traditional, pre-Kinect form. Thats very, very exciting news. In October, Xbox boss Phil Spencer said that he didnt want Rare to just become the Kinect Sports team (thank God), and later tweeted that the studios new game would be a uniquely Rare game, as it should be.
But what exactly does that mean? After all, while certain keystones of creativity, personality and look define the studios more authentic games, the dev has been nothing if not eclectic over the years. And since joining Microsoft, its been pretty damn experimental indeed when allowed to. Viva Pinata was a fine RTS disguised as a kid-friendly animal breeding game, lacking core appeal on the surface but possessing fathoms of it below. Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts and Bolts half-satisfied the series original N64 audience by simply existing, but its new focus on vehicular creativity confounded as many as it pleased. After a few years stuck on the safest of safe projects in Kinect Sports, it wouldnt be at all surprising if Rares return to Rareness came alongside a snarling need to innovate. As such, prepare for the possibility of something a bit odd.
We'll get a (slightly) smaller machine for Christmas
The Xbox One is a monstrosity. No two ways about it. Whatever you think of the machines capabilities and games, gazing upon its current physical countenance is akin to having a dump-truck swung hard into ones face by an angry, super-buff 80s robot, whos screaming army drills in a horrible, electronic voice made mostly of static. That, clearly, needs to change.
Microsoft is on the offensive now. With the Xbox Ones early PRpocalypse (hopefully) behind it, and the gap between it and the PS4 starting to narrow, 2015 is the time to aggressively gussy up the machines overall appeal. Making it not look like a VCR sculpted with angle grinders would really help in that respect. Dont expect a price cut, but do look out for a (slightly) smaller, (hopefully) less severe-looking machine to compete with the PS4s sleek, minimalist angles near the end of the year. Yes, console redesigns usually come a good few years into a machines life, but so do custom colours and massive price cuts, and MS has already embraced both of those in its desperation to get ahead.
MS will show off Titanfall 2, but it will not be an exclusive
Theres every chance that Titanfall 2 will be superficially tied to MS through its marketing, but in terms of meaningful release-format truth? Itll come out on everything. Well, the Xbone, PS4, and PC, anyway. Not like, steam engines, or food blenders, or digital radios. Or the Wii U. Thatd just be ridiculous.
Yeah, Titanfalls Xbox One exclusivity didnt really serve anyone well. Respawn Entertainment was forced to release its (rather excellent) new series to a vastly reduced audience, and one that, on console, turned out to comprise the smaller slice of the player pie. EA presumably made a decent amount of money out of the tie-up deal, but the reduced availability of the game did nothing to help build Titanfalls early reputation through the all-important word of mouth. Plus, Microsoft got the usual flak for stealing a game from PS4 owners, though that admittedly doesnt mean too much in the great scheme of things. Titanfall 2 will probably be seen in 2015, will probably be a rather expanded experience compared to the somewhat focused first game, and will almost definitely go multiplatform. Though Microsoft will spend the whole year running around firing off green party poppers and honking like a seal to distract you from that fact.
Scalebound will be Microsoft's latest grab at Japan, and will thus make little impact
Oh Microsoft, when will you realise that Japan will never care? Although little has been communicated of Scalebound, MS collaboration with Bayonetta developer Platinum, bar last E3s CG trailer, it seems blisteringly obvious that its fated to be the Xbox Ones unspoken grab at the Monster Hunter market. Just think about that trailer. A focus on challenging, singular fights in a medieval fantasy setting? Check. A monster companion (possibly one of many, who were guessing can be customised through training)? Thats a poke at Pokemon right there too, Ill bet.
Developed by the hottest Japanese third-party dev around, everything about Scalebound feels calculated by Microsoft to straddle the eastern and western audiences as efficiently as possible. One problem though. Japan has already failed to register interest in two Xboxes in a row, despite similar early efforts with Blue Dragon and Lost Odyssey on the 360. Also, no-one outside of Japan and very niche western audiences actually cares about Monster Hunter, a fact oft-ignored by those niche westerners shouting very loudly about Monster Hunter. Coming from Platinum, theres every chance Scalebound will be great. But theres very little chance it will hit big when it lands.
Crackdown will be demoed at E3, but will be clouded by The Cloud
Theres no definite release date for the new Crackdown yet, but well definitely see it previewed a fair bit over the course of 2015. The aforementioned need to fill the exclusives schedule will see to that. Interesting point though: As good as a new-gen Crackdown might be (and with original designer Dave Jones overseeing it, it has every chance to be marvellous), I reckon that it will be presented less like a game, more like a tech demo for The Spellbinding Majesty of The Awe of The Power of The Cloud. Yeah, theyll still be banging on about that this year. Theyll be banging on like an angry drummer.
You see Microsoft is really, really invested in the idea of cloud technology, and particularly its own perceived status at the vanguard of said off-site processed frontier. Cloud tech is the one element of the original Xbone manifesto inoffensive enough to have survived launch, so theres no way anyones going to give up on it now. Where does Crackdown come into this? Simple. Last year, MS demoed some fancy new, in-game destruction science, utilising cloud-based co-processing. The design of the buildings destroyed in that demo? Crackdown. However great the new game might be in its own right, to Microsoft, its a Trojan Horse for showing off cloud tech. And with the cloud having failed dismally in regards to The Master Chief Collections multiplayer, you can bet that its involvement in Crackdown will be sold hard to compensate. As long as it works.
Phil Spencer will go 'full-indie' at E3
After taking a fair amount of (relatively) good-natured flak for the try-hard pseudo-dissolution of his robotic corporate persona by way of the frequent adorning of indie game t-shirts in public (in truth a process akin to slapping a steak on a Rock Em, Sock Em Robot, painting it pink, and calling it a Real Boy), Spencer will go all-out to convince the world of the legitimacy of his underground, left-field tastes this year. Riding out onto the E3 stage on a Sinclair C5, he will present the entirety of Microsofts 2015 conference wearing a plaid shirt hung lazily over a Powerpuff Girls tee, atop sprayed-on-tight red leather trousers and silk, elaborately embroidered Japanese slippers.
He will have grown a gigantic, scruffy beard, and sport glasses with rims as thick as a giant Redwood. Each game discussed, from Below to Call of Duty: Even More Advanced QTEfare, will be described in relation to its true nature as a metaphor for the death of a parent, and in between reveals hell regale us with endless stories of the last time he hung out in his favourite retro-Bosnian absinthe theme-bar, smoking corncob pipes with Steve Gaynor. By the end of the show, in an act both echoing and lampooning the mainstream-courting, wannabe-cool of Peter Moores GTA 4 tattoo, hell roll up his sleeve to reveal an imitation of Manic Street Preacher Richey Edwards notorious 4 Real arm-carving. Only hell have used a red marker pen, and spelled it 4R3@1, because thats more legit and hacker-style.
Boxes of potential
So there are my predictions for the hallowed halls of the Chief. But how about you? Think I've got anything radically right or wrong? Reckon there are any other dead-certs I've missed? Have any particular wishes or daydreams you'd just like to air in case the simple act of writing them out makes them come true? Hit the comments.
And while we're on a new year kick, why not stick around and have a look at parallel PlayStation predictions? And then just go crazy, and check out our selection of game characters'(probably hopeless) New Year's resolutions.