Xbox at Gamescom 2013: a focus on games big and small

The launch of a new game console is a fairly unique event in this industry. Unlike a smartphone or tablet, you don't see a new one released every year, or even every five years, and you likely don't have to worry about it feeling outdated a few months after you buy one. This year, we're getting two, with Microsoft and Sony jockeying for position to be the choice of gamers this holiday season. We saw that sparring at E3 earlier this summer, and it was again on display at Gamescom in Cologne, Germany, where Sony made news with a release date for the PlayStation 4, among other things.

We didn't get a date for the Xbox One from Microsoft, but the company did have plenty of other things to announce and show off. Read on for a recap -- or a refresher, as the case may be.

If there's one theme that ran through both Sony's and Microsoft's presence at Gamescom, it's a bigger focus on indie developers. With Sony, we saw announcements of a number of indie games for the PS4 and Vita, along with some key deals that will see games either exclusive to or making their console debuts on Sony consoles. For Microsoft's part, its big announcement was an initiative of its own: the Independent Developers @ Xbox program, or ID@Xbox for short.

We already knew that the Xbox One console itself would act as a dev kit (albeit not immediately at launch), which could be a boon for indie developers, but ID@Xbox is a concerted effort to foster indie game development. It will let indie game makers sign up to become a registered Xbox One developer, which not only nets them two dev kits and access to Microsoft's toolset (both free if they're approved), but promises to speed up the process to make their games available on Xbox Live.

Speaking with us at the show, Xbox VP Phil Harrison said that he hopes Microsoft will "have to deal with tens of thousands of games" as a result of the program, and that it "will demonstrate that our platform is a really attractive place for creators to build games for."

Of course, Microsoft isn't neglecting things on the big, AAA game front, either. There's been some 50 games announced for the console so far, 23 of which will be available at launch. That latter batch includes titles like Watch Dogs (shown below), Dead Rising 3, Battlefield 4, Call of Duty: Ghosts, Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag, Killer Instinct and Ryse: Son of Rome.

EA's sports titles are also well represented, with 2014 editions of Madden, NBA Live and FIFA on deck, the latter of which is notable for a couple of reasons. For starters, EA has confirmed that you'll be able to carry over a season from current-gen consoles to next-gen (PS4 and Xbox One, alike), and Microsoft has announced that all consoles pre-ordered in Europe will include a free copy of the game. The FIFA Ultimate Team feature will also be exclusive to the Xbox One and Xbox 360 versions of the game.

Beyond the launch lineup, you can look forward to some much talked-about games like Destiny, Mirror's Edge 2, Metal Gear Solid V, and the console-exclusive Titanfall. In something of a surprise, EA also announced an exclusive Boss Mode for the Xbox One version of Plants vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare, which will let you use both Kinect and SmartGlass to play the game from a top-down perspective.

There will also naturally be a new, as yet untitled Halo game, and Microsoft used the show to debut the latest entry in the Fable series, Fable Legends, which will boast four-player co-op play for the first time. According to Microsoft, 38 percent of its announced titles so far are exclusive to the Xbox One, and 37 percent are new IP as opposed to sequels or new versions of an existing title.

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Beyond all that, we also got a more in-depth look at both the next-generation Kinect and the new Xbox Dashboard, as well as the rather unique Project Spark, which promises to let you build your own game worlds with the aid of Kinect. And, as we mentioned earlier, we had a chance to sit down with Xbox VP Phil Harrison to talk about the ID@Xbox program and his own gaming background. Now, about that release date...