Rumor Control: The Trust No One edition. Halo gets the RTS treatment and games that watch gamers

Also this week: A trillion Xbox 360 launch titles, J Allard's extreme accident, the Prez in Madden, and not one single Revolution rumor.

RUMOR #1: SWAT 4 and World of Warcraft are spying on PC gamers.

Source: WoW forums and an expose by tech-savvy Nationalcheeseemporium.com.

The official story: Attempts to reach VU Games, Blizzard, and in-game ad company Massive Incorporated for comment went unanswered.

What we heard: When gamers are playing games, they're often not doing what true Americans are supposed to be doing--being subjected to an endless barrage of advertising and giving up personal information to corporations. It appears that a few PC games may be doing the old red, white, and blue some patriotic justice by taking a page out of 1984. Gamers who recently updated their versions of SWAT 4 to version 1.1 are finding a new enemy: in-game advertising (see screens). Now, while brand names work well in some games (the cities in Forza Motorsport come alive with real advertising on building facades), a poster hawking the Sci-Fi channel's Tripping the Rift in a run-down supply room in SWAT 4 hardly seems realistic--or effective. According to nationalcheeseemporium, strings of programming code deciphered also reveal that someone, somewhere, gets info on how long a gamer puts his reticule on specific ads. And over in Azeroth, WoW gamers have been complaining about privacy issues. The online role-player grabs information about hardware specs, IP addresses, and operating systems that gamers have "in order to assist Blizzard Entertainment to police users who may use 'hacks,' or 'cheats,'" according to the game's Terms of Use contract (yes, the very same contract that WoW players HAVE to agree to play the game). Are these cases of an impending Orwellian society or just a case of some reclusive gamers not wanting companies to know anything about them? In this case, both. VU's sneaky inclusion of in-game advertising with a recommended patch is very Big Brother, but Blizzard is only aiming to make sure its game runs smoothly.

Bogus or not bogus?: You are being watched, probably even by the FBI, as you read this. Not Bogus.

RUMOR #2: The Halo franchise is being reworked as a strategy-based simulation game.

Source: Various conspiracy theorists in the gaming industry who read a Halo 2 survey dispatched by Microsoft.

The official story: Say it with me: "Microsoft does not comment on rumors or speculation."--official Microsoft spokesperson.

What we heard: Microsoft recently posted a survey asking questions about Halo 2 and its multiplayer map pack. Nothing special here, right? Well, not exactly. A few clues prompted some to see this as simply more than market research. Case in point, Question #17: "Do you regularly or occasionally play Simulation games on a console or PC?" Why would Microsoft ask Halo players such a thing? Next clue: An e-mail informing gamers of the survey says, "Commanding the battlefield takes strategic thinking." Anyone who has played Halo 2 knows that the only thing one commands in the game is the direction bullets fly. These clues spawned one eagle-eyed GameSpot editor to be rich with curiosity, and he promptly galloped to the conclusion that a Halo-themed strategy game may be in the works. Logic says that if Solid Snake can be featured in a card-based strategy game, then Master Chief could meet the same fate. Right? However, given developer Bungie's track record with its popular franchises (Marathon was always a FPS, Myth was always an RTS), it seems unlikely that you'll be reading the text "M Chief needles Covenant Elite for 20 points of damage."

Bogus or not bogus?: We have to say Bogus on this one. If only because the thought of the Chief moving across a hexagonal board is creepy.

RUMOR #3: EBgames.com has leaked the list of launch titles for the Xbox 360.

Source: Numerous online sources.

The official story: See below.

What we heard: Apparently, rumors of a release date for the Xbox 360 aren't enough, as gamers want to know what games will be available for the next-gen console when it hits stores. While some games are almost certain to be launch titles (Project Gotham Racing 3, Ridge Racer 6, Kameo: Elements of Power), nothing has been absolutely confirmed. A listing on EBgames.com, however, shows a healthy list of titles shipping on November 1. Gaming sites immediately picked up on this and promptly declared "Xbox 360 launch lineup revealed?" The EB Games Web site often lists product pages for upcoming games, and it has indeed been a great source for revealing games, release dates, and platforms. Most of the time... In fact, many of the Xbox 360 game listings include the fine print: "The ship date and retail price have not been confirmed and therefore are subject to change." Further investigation, specifically about the list, yielded this comment from an EB Games rep: "All dates are estimates, as vendors have confirmed nothing yet. As soon as we get the information from them, we will update the system." When GameSpot spoke with Peter Moore at this year's E3, he mentioned that "up to 40 games would be available at launch." He then defined "launch" as a period of three months from the console's release. The likelihood of all these games being available the day the 360 hits shelves? Not good.

Bogus or not bogus?: This is a solid, concrete, definite, mostly Bogus (OK, now we're covering our bases). Sure, some of these games will go home with day-one sales of the Xbox. The question is: Which ones?

RUMOR #4: Microsoft corporate vice president and chief XNA architect J Allard got a boo-boo from mountain biking.

Source: A posting on gaming nuthouse Games Asylum.

The official story: See below.

What we heard: J Allard's extreme makeover isn't limited to just wearing some nifty clothes and cleaning the old dome. Real cool kids would see straight through that feeble attempt by PR people. No, to really get in with the hip kids, one has to do something...extreme! Allard's mountain biking fetish has been documented before. The Xbox guru, in a strange metaphorical coincidence, apparently likes biking uphill more than downhill. With the upcoming Xbox 360 launch nearing, Allard's method of stress relief is needed more than ever. Recently, reports surfaced that J took a spill and ended up in an emergency room. The word from a Microsoft spokesperson was: "J broke his wrist in a mountain biking accident. He's doing A-OK." It's unclear whether J was performing 360s at the time.

Bogus or not bogus?: Not Bogus. Get well, J.

RUMOR #5: Madden NFL 06 is going Bush league by including the president and his Florida-governin' sibling, Jeb.

Source: A Madden NFL 06 movie on EA's Web site showing the Republicans in virtual action on the gridiron.

The official story: "Please note that the video is a special animation created especially for the Governor's visit to the Tiburon studio."--EA Web site.

What we heard: Jeb Bush was subject to yet another perk of being governor of the Sunshine State. George W.'s brother visited Tiburon Studios in Orlando this week to show his support for the launch of Madden NFL 06. The video shows Jeb lining up as a wideout for the Miami Dolphins and George W. in the secondary as a Dallas Cowboys cornerback who's assigned to cover Jeb. As one would guess, given that Jeb made the visit to the studio, the younger Bush runs a fly route toward the end zone. The QB, identified only as "Number 7," bombs one out to J.B., who makes a two-handed grab and flattens the nearest Cowboy. The only thing that stands between him and six is the most powerful man in the world, his brother. George may be presidential in real life, but apparently in Madden, his tackling rating isn't worthy of the White House. Jeb easily bowls over George and somersaults into the end zone for the winning score. It's clear the video features in-game footage, and the mugs are definitely of the two Bush brothers. However, seeing isn't always believing, as an EA rep confirmed that "[EA] just did that for fun today, since Governor Bush was in the EA Tiburon office for a visit. [The Bush brothers] are not actually in the real game." What happened to "If it's in the game, it's in the game"?

Bogus or not bogus?: Bogus. We're trusting EA on this one, as we haven't seen any unlockable celebrities in the Madden series since Team Ecko in Madden 2001.

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