Rumor Control: Three Xbox 2s and Ridley Scott's Halo: The Movie

[UPDATE] Also this week: Valve's warez ruse, an N64 adaptor for the GameCube, and EA sneaks into the Chinese market.

Rumor #1: The Xbox Next will come in three different models.

Source: UK hardware site and online tabloid The Inquirer.

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

What we heard: The past two weeks, Xbox rumors dominated the forums, the most juicy of which said that there will be not one, not two, but three versions of Microsoft's new console: the hard-drive-less Xbox Next, the Xbox Next HD, which will come with a hard drive, and the Xbox Next PC, which will be both an Xbox and an entry-level PC. And there may be some substance to this scenario, since customer testing of an "Xbox Next PC" supposedly took place earlier this year.

Bogus or not bogus?: Here's hoping this rumor is not bogus.

Rumor #2: Valve has deliberately released a "warez" version of Half-Life 2 to nab game pirates.

Source: Hardware and PC site The Guru of 3D.

The official story: Initially, Valve did not answer requests for comment. [UPDATE] However, later it issued the following statement: "Valve did not put out any kind of fake key or fake warez or hack instructions to trap people."

What we heard: While cruising the forums on HL2Files.com, the "Guru" apparently came across a warning from a member. Said warning read as follows: "Recently, one of the HL2Files.com members here alerted me of a pirated warez version of Half-Life 2, apparently released via the Bittorent network." Said poster e-mailed Valve CEO Newell, who reportedly replied with this icy response: "We're running a bit of an experiment. We're keeping track of the accounts that do this and will be shutting them off." [UPDATE] Well, as it turns out, we were wrong. Valve staged a massive anti-piracy sweep on 11/23 and suspended 20,000 Steam accounts, claiming it had definitive evidence that the account-holders "to access Half-Life 2 without purchasing it."

Bogus or not bogus?: We originally said Not Bogus, but rumor-predicting isn't an exact science. Bogus.

Rumor #3: Nintendo is considering making an N64 adaptor for the GameCube.

Source: A poll on Nintendo.com.

The official story: "No comment." --Nintendo representative.

What we heard: While visiting Nintendo of America's Web site, this editor was struck by the poll on the home page. Instead of the usual humorous game references, the poll featured questions that read like a marketing questionnaire. It asked, "What level of interest do you have, and how much would you pay for an adapter that allowed you to play N64 cartridges on the Nintendo GameCube?" The possible answers were: "Very interested, and would pay up to $39," "Very interested, and would pay up to $49," "Very interested, and would pay up to $59," "Not interested at all, and don't own an N64," and "Not interested at all, although own an N64." Such a peripheral would make GameCubers with fond memories of Star Wars: Rogue Squadron drool. But those same players probably drool quite a bit--because they're idiots, since you can buy an N64 console at GameStop for just $14.99. Granted, it's preowned, but between that and eBay, you can get the console and virtually any N64 game for a lot less than $39, let alone $59. Still, Nintendo has had loonier ideas. "I know they have all kinds of crazy s*** internally for the 'Cube which they prolly ain't gonna release," said one source close to the company.

Bogus or not bogus?: Bogus, as long as there's a steady supply of used N64s around.

Rumor #4: To help crack the Chinese market, Electronic Arts has formed a $60 million joint venture with Beijing-based online game operator Optisp.

Source: China's 21st Century Business Herald business journal.

The official story: "We don't have anything definitive to say about that right now." --Optisp CEO Jing Yang "[That's] rumor." --EA representative.

What we heard: EA's presence at October's ChinaJoy game show in Shanghai revealed its interest in China's billions of consumers. Besides setting up a supersized booth on the show floor, EA announced that it was opening a studio operation in Shanghai, and would station its recently named worldwide head of online games, Erick Hachenberg, there.

These major events drowned out chatter about an "imminent announcement" linking EA and Optisp in a joint venture. Or at least it did until China's 21st Century Business Herald reported the following (as translated by GameSpot):

"On November 10, high-ranking Optisp officials from Beijing, Shanghai, and Guangzhou met in Shanghai to discuss Optisp's joint venture with EA. An unnamed Optisp spokesperson says that details on their collaboration with EA will be released soon. On November 11, this newspaper interviewed Optisp CEO Mr. Jing Yang on the topic, but Yang avoided any questions about the collaboration between Optisp and EA. 'We don't have anything definitive to say about that right now,' Yang said. However, according to a Optisp employee who declined to give his name, a joint-venture company between Optisp and EA was established about a month ago, with EA as the major shareholder, and EA has invested 'no less than 500 million yuan [$60 million]' in the venture.

According to an unnamed analyst, at present, a portion of Optisp stock is state-owned, so EA cannot be the main shareholder of Optisp itself. At the same time, due to policy restrictions, foreign companies cannot take up the bulk of the Chinese gaming market. However, Optisp is willing to enter into the joint venture to strengthen its own R&D [budget]. EA also stands to benefit from working with a Chinese partner company familiar with the Chinese gaming industry."

Bogus or not bogus?: One "nondenial denial" plus another "nondenial denial" equals one "Not bogus."

Rumor #5: Ridley Scott will direct the film version of Halo, with Ed Harris and Samuel L. Jackson in the starring roles.

Source: German site Sci-Fi News and Ain't It Cool News, the most loathed and loved movie-info site on the Web.

The official story: "Microsoft does not comment on rumors or speculation." --Microsoft spokesperson. "No comment." --Warner Bros. representative.

What we heard: In a bit of a coup, Sci-Fi News scored the first pictures of the storyboards for the Halo movie, of which there are several on the site. It also claimed that the same source said that the project will be announced shortly in Variety, with full cast and crew details. According to the site, Ed Harris will play Captain Keyes, the Pillar of Autumn's doomed captain, and Samuel L. Jackson will play Sergeant Johnson, the hard-boiled UNSC space marine who assisted the Master Chief's Covenant-killing crusade. Sitting in the director's chair will be none other than Ridley Scott, director of sci-fi classics Alien and Blade Runner and arguably the most intense war film ever made, Black Hawk Down.

The mere thought of such talent bringing Halo to the screen is enough to give any geek heart palpitations. However, on the other side of the planet, Ain't It Cool News was telling a much different tale. AICN received a tip from an informant claiming to work at Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment. According to said informant, two designers from WBIE-owned Monolith were in a meeting with Warner Bros. executives about the game adaptation of the 2006 sci-fi movie 2176, about "a futuristic retelling of the Revolutionary War." During the discussion, the subject of the Halo movie came up. According to the "WB informant," Warner Bros. approached Bungie at this year's E3 about acquiring the Halo film rights. Their response? "Unless you got the writer and director of the original Alien, everyone can go fish." And, according to AICN, Scott had already passed on the project, based on the script. However, since Halo 2 sold 2.5 million copies the first day, Warner Bros. has asked Scott to reconsider--and AICN says there's been no answer yet.

Although the quality of its writing has lowered the bar for online film journalism to ant-height levels, AICN has been a steady source of Hollywood rumors for nearly a decade. Many are false. But many are spot-on, and the one posted today rings truer than its German counterpart.

Bogus or not bogus?: Bogus, although we'd love to be wrong on this one.

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