Pay attention to the game consoles on the horizon ...
In Barcelona, Spain, on Wednesday (September 27), Microsoft made the aggressive claim that the Xbox 360 is the definitive platform for gaming's next five years. Fans of "Halo" and Peter Jackson might agree.
Onstage at 1 p.m. EST, Microsoft's vice president in charge of video games, Peter Moore, announced that Jackson and partner Fran Walsh, both of whom are producing the upcoming "Halo" movie (see "Microsoft Announces 360 Games, Nabs Peter Jackson For 'Halo' "), will open a new Microsoft-backed interactive-entertainment studio called Wingnut Interactive with a launch project based on "Halo."
"It's not 'Halo 3' or '4,' " Jackson said at the Barcelona event. "It's not the film. But it is based on those amazing worlds." The project will be created in conjunction with "Halo" developer Bungie.
The director spoke briefly of his Wingnut vision. "Instead of making a film, we make a form of entertainment you can watch and enjoy ... but you interact with the experience."
Saying he intends to "design a new way to tell stories," Jackson noted that the "Halo" project and a second endeavor from Wingnut won't be classified as games or movies but as some sort of hybrid. "I'm imagining these are interactive entertainments that are not for the hard-core crowd." No release dates were given for the projects.
The Barcelona stage also served as the platform for the premiere of a concept trailer for "Halo Wars," a real-time strategy game from "Age of Empires" developer Ensemble Studios. There was no release date for that either, but the "Halo 3" 2007 release was confirmed again.
Microsoft also revealed that "Grand Theft Auto IV" — which will launch on next-gen platforms October 16, 2007, in North America — will support two downloadable missions exclusive to the Xbox 360. According to an 11-page press release documenting the Barcelona announcements, the mission packs provide "hours of entirely new gameplay" and will be available just months after the game's release.
Other new Xbox 360 titles announced in Barcelona include sequels to the "Project Gotham Racing" and "Banjo Kazooie" series and a "Marvel Universe Online" massively multiplayer game. The Marvel game, which is being developed by Cryptic Studios ("City of Heroes"), will be playable on PCs. Two years ago, Marvel sued Cryptic for infringing on its intellectual property, but the sides settled in late 2005.
Microsoft also announced that the classic game "Doom" is now available for play on Xbox Live Arcade, the 360's online service for downloadable games. And the company announced that 2K Games' "BioShock" and the "Splinter Cell" game coming after this year's "Splinter Cell: Double Agent" will be exclusive to the Xbox 360.
"I think if you're a gamer, the best place to come into is the Xbox 360," Microsoft's director of advanced technology Scott Henson told MTV News. He said the announcements verified Microsoft's strength, even in the face of the upcoming PS3 and Nintendo Wii.
Microsoft's biggest announcements involved things that will happen sometime after 2006 comes to a close. In fact, buried in the sea of news was confirmation that "Crackdown," a "GTA"-style game showcased as part of the Xbox 360 holiday lineup last month, is slipping to 2007. Two other games once touted for 2006, "Forza Motor Sport 2" and "Too Human," are also on hold until next year.
Despite those delays, Henson said, "There isn't a better holiday lineup on any platform that's nearly as strong as Xbox 360." He pointed to "Gears of War" as the platform's biggest game for the holidays. Microsoft will also publish the kid-friendly "Viva Piñata," and the system will support a host of third-party racing, shooting and sports games, though few are exclusive to the system.
The company will also sell a $200 add-on that plays high-definition DVDs, a countermove to Sony's inclusion of a Blu-Ray player in the PS3, which also allows specially encoded movies to be viewed at high-def resolutions.
By contrast, in 2001, when PlayStation 2 was wrapping up its first year of release and facing the coming launches of the first Xbox and Nintendo GameCube, Sony was able to boast holiday exclusives in "Grand Theft Auto III," "Metal Gear Solid 2," "Final Fantasy X," "Devil May Cry" and "Ico." All those games would ultimately be considered among the best ever released for the platform.
If Microsoft won't have a similar murderers' row of exclusives, the question consumers may ultimately be left to wonder is which console will play a more impressive version of the games they can buy this fall and early next year. Sony would have people believe it's the PS3, of course.
Henson naturally vouches for his company's machine: "At worst case for us it's a jump ball in terms of performance," he said. "Best case, there are actually areas where we outperform them. So I think in the end, analysis people are going to see parity or games that look better on Xbox 360."
Seeing will be believing soon enough.