Shannon Loftis is a very important person at Microsoft. Her official position is General Manager of Microsoft Studios Global Planning. That's global planning. That's a lot of planning. Shannon was at E3 2016, to sign deals and talk shop and plan stuff, like very important people do; and because I was there too, I had the chance to meet up with her, to talk about All Things Xbox for ten minutes, in a nice room with a wonderfully plush carpet. For real, the carpet game at E3 2016: on point.
What follows is mostly, naturally, a Solid Pro sticking to a Company Line, with the occasional flash of something off-rhetoric. Comes with the territory. That said, I really like Xbox's line-up of games right now, especially those coming from the indie sector, and Rare's pirate jolly Sea of Thieves looks like just the best fun. And while the S model Xbox One is likely destined to die a sad, lonely death with a six-terraflop successor coming so soon after it, it is a very pretty machine, isn't it? And it stands on its side, which the current one doesn't do, which will be a relief for gamers short on shelving square inches. (See: me.)
VICE: Hi Shannon. I saw the Xbox E3 Briefing. A lot of games got wheeled out. Some we knew about. Some we didn't. Anyone would think this was E3 or something. And I have to say that the indie bunch, collected under the ID@Xbox banner, the likes of Below, Inside, Cuphead, We Happy Few and Deliver Us the Moon, were probably the most exciting of the showcased releases, for me.
Shannon Loftis: Well, we've been supporting indie games on Xbox since the Summer of Arcade in 2008. I'm super excited by what we've got coming up. It's a huge variety of games, too, and what I love about ID is that those games give a voice to a whole new type of game developer, a whole new generation of them. We're seeing some of the most original thinking through these games, and some beautiful artisanship.
Cuphead, obviously, is a game that we've had for a couple of years now, and it will come out this year. Seeing the reaction to We Happy Few has been unbelievable, and that is one twisted world, let me tell you. It's set in this alternative, dystopian 1960s England, and it is just incredible. There are a lot of stories to be told in that world. And I've not personally had the chance to put my hands on Inside yet, the new game from Playdead, the studio that made Limbo; but everyone I know that has, they've told me it's game of the year material.
I'm not even sure what kind of game Inside is yet. It seems to be a side-scroller, like Limbo, but beyond that, do you have much of an idea?
Well, because I haven't played it, I'm not sure either. But I am absolutely going to find a way to play it. But, of course, we showed off a lot of our triple-A games yesterday, too. ReCore is coming out first, in September. It's produced by Keiji Inafune, who worked on the Mega Man games and is the creator of many memorable characters; and is directed by Marc Pacini, the creator of Metroid Prime. It features Jewel, who is a super-powerful, strong, young girl who is awakened on Far Eden, which is where humanity's relocated to after we've trashed Earth, to find that the robots that were supposed to take care of people have turned against us. Well, some of them at least. And there are things all over the planet that are just completely broken, so she has to fix the planet while battling enemies, with robot friends to help her. It's really fast. You get different robot companions that help you complete different tasks.
Here's the E3 trailer for 'Inside', which nobody really knows much about, it turns out. Definitely creepy, though.
I don't think anyone took ReCore to really be a triple-A game when it was revealed at E3 last year. It doesn't look like a Gears, or a Forza.
Well, the interesting thing about the game is that it's a $40 release, but there's a hell of a lot of game coming for that price. Gears of War 4 is the real revival of that series, and it's Rod Fergusson's (of Microsoft-owned Canadian studio The Coalition) chance to continue the story of, well, this actually has Marcus Fenix's son in the lead role.
And we saw Daddy Fenix Himself at the end of this year's trailer.
Yes, you did, that's right. He's looking a little grizzled these days.
Well, he has been through a lot.
That he has, it's true.
But what game are you, personally, most excited for?
I know I shouldn't say this, but the one I am most likely to put the very most hours into is Forza Horizon 3.
I don't think many people in the crowd were anticipating that announcement. I mean, we ran a piece on VICE, with games we wanted to see, and one contributor – shout out to Chris Scullion – said he was hoping for a third Horizon. But him aside, I don't recall anyone really mentioning it, unless I've been deaf to an expectant chorus.
He was on the money. What I love about this series, above other driving games, is that it has a lot of heart and soul. And it's just beautiful to look at. There are many different ways in these games to have fun, and the Turn 10 team behind it has this really nice cadence going on of going a Horizon game, and then a Motorsport one, and then a Horizon. For the Forza fan, there's a lot of really satisfying variety there. And the Australian landscapes in this one are stunning, trust me, with the wildlife everywhere, when you're driving.
Presumably the wildlife gets out of the way? You don't want a dead marsupial on your bonnet. (Hey America, "bonnet" means the hood.)
Yes! Oh, yes, I've not killed any wombats yet.
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I've got to ask about the way the Briefing began with the Xbox One S, the slim, pretty sexy if I say so myself, new model Xbox. No offence, but it's certainly an improvement on what came before it, a unit so bulky and ugly you could take it into a wrestling ring and it'd be the weapon of choice beside a folding chair and some barbed wire wrapped around a two-by-four. But then the show closed with a whole new console, the more powerful Project Scorpio, which is out in late 2017. What was the thinking there? Some might call it bold, others naïve, to have two consoles coming out so close to one another, one of which is inarguably better than the other.
I don't think that anyone's done that before, certainly. It was an interesting thing to do. But you know, the real message is that Xbox gaming is transcending the boundaries of a single console, or any platform-specific feature. What I love about us being Microsoft is that we can continue to invest in hardware innovation, without sacrificing compatibility. Traditionally, the console market has been in this rhythm of launch, and then there's a closed eco-system of services and games and accessories and everything, which is all tied to this one console. And then this console gets exhausted, and you have to start over.
So what we're talking about, between the Xbox One S, which is out next autumn (I think Shannon means August, as in this August, which is when the console is out), and Project Scorpio, means we can innovate with new hardware but stay current with gaming trends, and gamers can just decide when they want to take the next step. And they can do that with confidence as the games and accessories, and friends, all come with them.
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I guess it is offering a kind of fluidity between console generations – or halfway steps on the way to the next one – that we've not seen before, which makes it more like changing components in a PC.
Yes, that's right.
And the cross-platform chatter, of which there was a lot, about integration between Windows 10 and the Xbox One. That's the Big Deal for you guys right now, I'm guessing?
Well, the point of doing that is, again, to tear down boundaries between gamers. Killer Instinct is now cross-platform across all of its seasons, and we've seen a tremendous uptake in the number of matches between PC and console. So what that says to me is that there are more people playing these games right now, and they want more input devices in order to play with their friends on other systems. It doesn't matter if you're sitting on a couch or at a desk, there shouldn't be any reason that you can't share a game with a friend with a different set-up.
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