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Microsoft, Sony battle for hearts of video game fans EA pumps passions into ‘FIFA 15’ virtual soccer players

LOS ANGELES, June 10, (Agencies): Microsoft and Sony grappled on Monday for the hearts of hard core gamers whose devotion could determine whether Xbox One or PlayStation 4 rule console play and Internet Age entertainment. The rival console makers aimed squarely at hard-core video game players in grand press briefings, unveiling blockbuster titles and touting content or opportunities only available on their respective systems. Microsoft opened fire with “Halo” and a barrage of other titles for play on its new-generation Xbox One consoles. Sony shot back in a return salvo lead by keenly anticipated “Destiny,” the first new franchise from Bungie Studios revered in the gaming community for creating Halo. “Our vision is grounded in an uncompromising commitment to gamers,” said PlayStation group chief Andrew House. “Destiny will help us define this next generation of gaming.

PS4 owners will be able to play an online test version of Destiny starting Thursday and through the coming weekend. Sony is even launching a white PS4 in September as part of a Destiny game bundle when the game is released. Exclusive PS4 games touted included a new “The Order 1886.” Powerhouse titles heading for consoles, but sometimes will special content tailored for one or the other, include exciting sequels to franchises including Batman Arkham, Uncharted, Assassin’s Creed, and Far Cry. Microsoft announced the release for later this year of an addition to its popular science fiction “Halo” series called “Halo: The Master Chief Collection,” s well as other exclusive titles “Sunset Overdrive,” “Forza Horizon 2,” and “Dance Central Spotlight.”

“We are committed to delivering amazing experiences that will help define this generation of games and delight the millions of passionate Xbox fans around the world,” said Phil Spencer, head of the Xbox division. “Our goal is to make Xbox One the best place to play games this generation.” Microsoft brought the focus back to games in a shift from stressing how Xbox is evolving into a multipurpose entertainment center for films, television, music, and more. Sony goes into the video game industry’s biggest annual trade show with an edge, its PS4 having trumped Xbox One in sales since the competing consoles hit the market in November. Microsoft played to its strength with a “Halo Master Chief” collection for Xbox One that will let people play installments from the game dating back to previous generations of Xbox.

Typically older games aren’t compatible with new-generation consoles, but the collection brings the array of “Halo” titles to Xbox One as a draw for new players as well as fans interested in replaying the past. “It’s massive,” said Bonnie Ross, general manager of 343 Industries unit of Microsoft Studios behind “Halo.”
“It is also setting the groundwork for the future.” The Master Chief collection will contain a live action series based on the franchise and produced in collaboration with filmmaker Ridley Scott. The “Halo Nightfall” series is coming to the Xbox Live service for online game play and digital content, according to Microsoft. While many blockbuster titles from third-party studios or publishers have versions tailored for both platforms, Microsoft and Sony are keen to convince gamers that their console is the better place to have fun or find entertainment.

Sony and Microsoft have also been courting independent game makers to add quirky or innovative new titles uniquely to their respective consoles. Spencer touted that downloadable content for a keenly-anticipated “Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare” game, complete with a character played by a virtual version of actor Kevin Spacey, will arrive first on Xbox One. “Advanced Warfare” is slated for a November release. The title by Insomniac Games is due out on Xbox One in October. Microsoft and Sony each touted projects to let people create and play their own games on consoles. “PlayStation is the best place to play today, and in the future,” Sony’s House said. The rival console titans and game studios will be showing off coming titles at E3 through Thursday.

Microsoft focused exclusively on hyping titles coming to its Xbox One and Xbox 360 consoles during its presentation Monday ahead of the Electronic Entertainment Expo, the game industry’s annual trade show. The new Xbox One games included a fresh installment of the open-world romp “Crackdown”; a reboot of the Xbox action game “Phantom Dust”; the original dragon-centric adventure “Scalebound” from developer Platinum Games; a sequel to the 2013 “Tomb Raider” reboot titled “Rise of the Tomb Raider”; and a “Halo” collection that will bring four prior installments of the sci-fi shooter to Microsoft’s latest console. Spencer began the 90-minute presentation by noting that Microsoft changed features of the Xbox One, which launched last November, after listening to consumer feedback.

“You are shaping the future of Xbox, and we are better for it,” Spencer told the crowd and cameras broadcasting the event. “Today, we are dedicating our entire briefing to games.” When the company initially unveiled the Xbox One last year at its Redmond, Washington, headquarters, Microsoft billed the $499 console as an “all-in-one” entertainment hub for the living room. Following criticism, Microsoft backtracked on several requirements for the console, including that it must be connected to both the Internet every 24 hours and to its motion-detecting Kinect sensor. The company began selling a Kinect-free version of the Xbox One on Monday for $399.

Microsoft Corp. has lagged behind Sony Corp. since both companies began selling their latest consoles last November. Microsoft has sold 5 million Xbox One consoles to Sony’s 7 million PlayStation 4 units. However, both companies have outpaced the sales of their predecessor consoles — the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 — during the same time period. “We will continue to listen to you, our community, and will continue to make Xbox for you,” Spencer told the crowd at the conclusion of Monday’s event. “That’s not just my personal commitment, but the commitment of the entire Xbox team.” Electronics Arts is letting virtual soccer stars in “FIFA 15” get psyched, or angry, on field just like their real-world inspirations. A new version of the global blockbuster sport game infuses on-screen players with “emotional intelligence” designed to let them show how they feel about missed passes, brutal tackles, teammates, opponents and more.

“We want our fans to feel the highs and lows of the drama that is football, and experience the emotional rollercoaster that plays out during a match,” said EA Sports executive producer David Rutter. “We’re now able to immerse you in the game and let the story of the match unfold based on new commentary, crowd activity, and the natural reactions of the players, which make every game unique.” “FIFA 15” on-screen players will express ranges of emotions that evolve based on how a game is going, and have attitudes about on-field allies and opponents. The game was among an array of titles showed off by California-based EA at a press briefing on the eve of the Tuesday start of the colossal E3 video game trade show here. EA said it tapped into the improved power of Xbox One and PS4 to make game play and graphics more realistic. Versions of the game are also being tailored for prior generation Xbox and PlayStation consoles, along with the Nintendo Wii.

“Visually, this is the biggest step the FIFA franchise has ever taken,” Rutter said. “We set out with the goal of creating atmosphere, players, crowds, and pitches that not only look like they do on match day, but also feel like they do when you play or watch football — it’s a level of immersion we’ve never been able to bring to the game before.” EA added full-body defending to separate opposing players from the ball, and strong defenses will be well rewarded. Team strategies right for situations are also encouraged. Sony Corp announced Monday that it’s bringing new installments of the popular video-game franchises “Uncharted” and “LittleBigPlanet” to the PlayStation 4 as it celebrated the 6-month-old game console’s marketplace triumph.
Sony also premiered “Abzu,” an undersea odyssey from the creators of the award-winning “Journey,” and “Entwined,” a psychedelic 3-D flying game. And it showed new highlights from the steampunk thriller “The Order: 1886” during its annual presentation at the Electronic Entertainment Expo in Los Angeles.

On the hardware side, the company said it will bring PlayStation TV, its video- and game-streaming device, to North America and Europe this fall. The $99 device lets users stream video, older PlayStation titles and games for Sony’s hand-held Vita system to any TV. The “micro-console,” which debuted in November in Japan as PSVita TV, also lets PlayStation 4 players send the action to a second TV. On July 31, Sony will launch the open beta of its cloud-based PlayStation Now service, which will allow players to stream classic games from Sony’s older consoles onto newer devices such as the PS4, the hand-held Vita, Xperia cellphones and Bravia TVs. Sony is also demonstrating Project Morpheus, its virtual reality headset, at E3. That project, however, won’t be available to consumers for at least another year.

Sony has led Microsoft Corp. since both companies began selling their latest consoles in November. Sony has sold 7 million PlayStation 4 consoles to Microsoft’s 5 million Xbox One units. However, both companies have outpaced the sales of their predecessor consoles — the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 — during the same amount of time. And Sony’s lead is far from insurmountable. That makes exclusive titles like the just-announced “Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End” and “LittleBigPlanet 3” more important. But one much-hyped PS4 exclusive, the racing game “DriveClub,” was conspicuously absent at this year’s E3 presentation. Many of the games Sony showcased Monday — including Ubisoft’s “Far Cry 4,” Warner Bros.’ “Batman: Arkham Knight” and Deep Silver’s “Dead Island 2” — will also be available on the Xbox One, although Sony promised exclusive content or early beta access for each.

One exclusive that will appeal to comic book fans: A live-action drama based on Brian Michael Bendis’ popular series “Powers” will begin airing on Sony’s PlayStation Network in December.

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