Spot On: The other X04

There's no cold shoulder for the Xbox in the Great White North as Microsoft lays out the red carpet for Canadian journos.

TORONTO--Microsoft's annual “X0” games showcase was scrapped in Europe this year. Instead, the company decided to opt for smaller, country-specific events. Microsoft’s “X04 Canada” took place on Tuesday in Toronto, as planned. And why not. At 34 percent share, the Xbox enjoys the largest chunk of the console market in Canada--more so than in any other country in the world.

More than 250 people attended Canada's X04 event at Sound Emporium, a bar in the heart of Toronto’s nightclub district. As with early XO events in Toronto, the goal of these informal gatherings is to give the media hands-on time with upcoming first- and third-party games for the Xbox platform.

No speeches. No formal presentations. No celebrities. No performances by Alanis or Celine. Just games.

That said, Peter Moore (pictured), who joined Microsoft 18 months ago as corporate vice president of retail sales and marketing for Xbox International, was in attendance to chat with the Canadian press. Joining Moore was general manager for Xbox Live Cameron Ferroni and Microsoft Game Studios’ Chuck Blevins.

Blevins’ demo of Halo 2 was a near-identical spiel to the one given at the Electronic Entertainment Expo in May--designed to show off the game’s graphics, destructible environments, and vehicle tweaks and the player's ability to wield two weapons at a time.

Eight-player Halo 2 matches followed the brief presentation, pitting four-on-four in a game of capture the flag in the Zanzibar outdoor level (also seen at E3). Provided by BenQ, the large-screen LCD TVs were lined in a circular fashion so that all gamers could see each other's faces while playing. The tense, three-minute rounds spawned plenty of yells and trash-talking from participants who were clearly thrilled to lay their hands on one of the most eagerly anticipated games of the year.

Throughout the gameplay, Blevins discussed the various Halo 2 multiplayer modes and community features planned for Xbox Live when the game launches on November 9.

Moore, when asked what Microsoft is doing right with its positioning of the Xbox, turned the conversation to Xbox Live: “The games speak for themselves, but I have to say Microsoft has done a phenomenal job at dragging the gaming community into what is the future of gaming, and that is online,” said Moore, who made similar predictions as president and chief operating officer of Sega of America.

“Whether you’re just downloading new rosters for your favorite sports games or playing an intense multiplayer action game, I believe the future is online gaming,” added Moore. “And we’re doing it right.”

Microsoft is certainly betting on it--more than 150 games will be Xbox Live-enabled by this holiday season.

Other playable first-party titles on display included Fable, Forza Motorsport, Blinx 2, Conker: Live and Reloaded, and Zoo Tycoon 2 for the PC.

The Forza code was the same as at E3 (not to mention the same level). Four Xboxes were connected for multiplayer games. Perhaps the build wasn’t as polished as it should have been, since more than one journalist mentioned that the game didn’t feel like the “Gran Turismo killer” the Xbox would need to compete in the racing genre this holiday season.

The most-talked-about third-party game was Ubisoft’s Splinter Cell Chaos Theory, the third chapter in the critically acclaimed action stealth series, which is currently in development at Ubisoft’s Montreal studios. Two levels were playable at X04--a bath house and a bank--both of which showed off the game’s nonlinearity and incredible visual presentation. Ubisoft also had a playable version of the darker Prince of Persia 2, also in development at the company’s Montreal studios.

Many other third-party publishers made the trek to the Great White North to show upcoming games at their respective stations, including LucasArts (Star Wars: Battlefront, Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic II), Electronic Arts (Def Jam: Fight for NY, NHL 2005, Tiger Woods PGA Tour 2005), Buena Vista Games (Tron 2.0: Killer App), Sega (OutRun2), Activision (Call of Duty: Finest Hour, Tony Hawk’s Underground 2, Shark Tales), THQ (The Incredibles, The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie), and Tecmo (Dead or Alive Ultimate).

Following the six-hour event, a few Xbox Canada execs did the only noble and Canadian thing for their US visitors--they went for a beer, eh?

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