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Source: UK game-news Web site Computer & Video Games.
What we heard: Back in July, Valve Software CEO Gabe Newell made a surprise appearance at Electronic Arts' Summer Showcase. He was there to help unveil several new games that EA would distribute: the dimension-hopping shooter Portal, the resurrected Team Fortress 2, and the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 versions of Half-Life 2: Episode Two.
At the time, Valve said all the new games would go on sale alongside the PC version of Half-Life 2: Episode Two in the fourth quarter of 2006. That didn't last long, though. Just over a month later, Valve's director of marketing, Doug Lombardi, revealed that all versions of Episode Two would now launch in the first quarter of 2007. "It's just sort of classic Valve being overly aggressive on our dates," Lombardi told the Eurogamer Web site, a delay that he later confirmed himself.
Now, it appears that the game's release has slipped yet again. According to Computer & Video Games, Lombardi now says Valve is "now targeting summer 2007" for the release of Episode Two, which comes with Team Fortress 2 and Portal. (The PS3 and 360 versions of the game also include the original Half-Life 2 and Episode One.) No reason was given for the delay, but knowing Valve's perfectionism--and history of missing deadlines--it wasn't entirely unexpected.
The official story: Lombardi, who seems to spend a lot of time in Europe these days, proved too elusive to be asked for comment.
Bogus or not bogus?: C&VG is usually pretty solid, so this looks not bogus. Also, don't be surprised if Episode Two ends up on many gamers' 2007 holiday shopping lists.
Source: A picture snapped at a Microsoft Gears of War launch party last night by Flickr poster Plaid Ninja.
The official story: "We have not made any announcements at this time. Regarding a larger hard drive, it is always a possibility. The device is modular and there's the possibility that different hard drives will be available in the future. To reiterate, we have no plans to announce such an accessory in the near future."
What we heard: The specter of a 100GB hard drive has been brought up a number of times before, most recently last month in the form of a presentation at the Korean X06 event. And just like every other time it's come up, Microsoft is pointing out that it hasn't made any announcements. So since those previous rumors weren't followed by announcements of a larger hard drive, why is this one any different?
Well, for starters, yesterday Microsoft announced its impending introduction of on-demand video content for the Xbox 360 in the form of downloadable TV shows and film rentals, some in high-definition. With full-length HD movies taking up 5GB on the hard drive, there will soon be more demands than ever placed on 360 players' 20GB hard drives, many of which are already packed with ripped music, downloaded content, and Xbox Live Arcade games.
However, the appearance of a larger-than-normal hard drive at Microsoft's press event last night is a far cry from confirmation that the company will release such hardware options into the consumer market anytime soon. The gaming press is well accustomed to trying games out on non-standard hardware, from development kits to debug units; it doesn't mean those things are going to show up at Wal-Mart next week.
That said, Microsoft designed the system with a detachable hard drive in the first place, so larger drives are a very likely part of the company's master plan. And given yesterday's announcement, the crunch of hard drive space is likely to become a problem for gamers sooner rather than later. Still, for the moment, there's nothing concrete.
Bogus or not bogus?: Bogus for now.
The official story: A Microsoft rep said the company had no comment at this time.
What we heard: Microsoft released its Fall System Update for the Xbox 360 today and Internet forums were quickly buzzing with reports that the update had "bricked" users' consoles, rendering them unable to play games or even boot up normally.
While Microsoft is staying mum on the subject, the bulk of speculation is that the Fall Update is intended to brick Xbox 360s that have been modded. However, some posters are reporting problems with unmodded consoles being bricked, and forum-goers at Xbox Scene are saying that the update is not consistently bricking modded consoles.
Furthermore, Team Xecuter is reporting that bricked consoles can still be repaired relatively painlessly, and that Microsoft isn't banning GamerTags or specific systems from Xbox Live, something that would seem a distinct possibility if the company wanted to come down hard on modders.
So what's the deal here? If Microsoft intended to brick modded consoles, it didn't do a very thorough job of it (perhaps a warning shot to make people think twice about modding systems?). If it's an unexpected bug with the Fall Update, it seems convenient that it's happening primarily to modded systems.
Still, the few reports of the Fall Update bricking unmodded systems are troubling. While fixing the system might be an easy thing for people who cracked their systems open in the first place to mod them, it's still not something the average gamer is bound to be capable of doing.
Whether intentional or not, it seems the Fall Update is turning some Xbox 360s into paperweights. But with varying reports about who it's happening to and why, and Microsoft not explaining what's going on, there's no sure way to say which 360s will be affected by the problem.
Bogus or not bogus?: Not bogus.
Source: Worthplaying.com citing an Avalanche Studios interview in Swedish game mag Kong.
What we heard: Though not a raging success in North America, Just Cause has been fairing quite well in retail in the UK, where it stayed on the region's top 10 all-formats list for four weeks after its September release. This success was apparently enough of a sign to begin work on a sequel, according to Internet reports.
Gaming site Worthplaying.com cites an article in Swedish gaming magazine Kong, in which Just Cause developer Avalanche Studios (also from Sweden) apparently cops to a sequel's development. Worthplaying says Avalanche CEO Christofer Sundberg reveals that his studio is already working on a sequel and that the game will abandon the Far Cry-esque island paradise for a "VERY large city environment" (caps in original).
The game will also reportedly go multiformat again but this time will focus on the next generation--specifically the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360.
Though taking translations from foreign publications often ends up in a game of "telephone," this bit of scuttlebutt is likely legitimate. Avalanche has a grand total of one game under its belt (Just Cause), and given the game's success and potential, it seems like a smart business move to pump out another one of Rico Rodriguez's adventures.
The official story: Eidos rep--"We don't have any comment on this as of yet."
Bogus or not bogus?: Officially? Bogus. Unofficially? Not Bogus.
Source: Scans of Swedish gaming magazine LEVEL, partially translated by a poster on Gaming Age Forums.
What we heard: Last week, Bungie mentioned in its weekly update that it had shown off early builds of Halo 3 to a variety of gaming press outlets and that magazine articles on the visit would start hitting mailboxes shortly.
It appears that Swedish mailboxes are plum stuffed with Halo 3 news, as purported scans of the latest issue of LEVEL have hit the Internet with gobs of info about Bungie's highly anticipated first-person shooter. The multiplayer-focused sneak peek dished out details on new weapons, vehicles, and features for the game, some of it expected, some not so much.
First, the bad news for hermitic gamers: According to the magazine article, Halo 3 won't have bots. If Halo 2 is any indicator, there shouldn't be any shortage of human opponents to frag online, but antisocial players or those who tire of powergaming play styles won't be able to fake their multiplayer fix. According to a translation on GAF, LEVEL quotes a Bungie rep as explaining that the developers would rather spend that time working on the weapons, levels, and netcode for the game.
Speaking of weapons, Halo 3 will apparently feature a few new ways to off opponents. The Spartan Laser should help players open up vehicles like so many sardine cans, while the self-explanatory nail grenade should be a real hit at parties. There's also a Brute spiker to play with.
As for new vehicles, the Mongoose ATV that was once intended for Halo 2 will be available. Although it lacks firepower of any kind, the Mongoose seats two and should be good for getting Spartans where they need to be ASAP. And while it isn't quite a vehicle, the "Man Cannon" will launch players across the map unprotected on air streams. Gamers launched by the cannon will be vulnerable to enemy fire, but they'll also be able to fire back.
Bungie's also switching up some of the familiar Halo gameplay, according to the scans. For one thing, the X button will no longer reload. Instead, players will use the left and right bumpers on the Xbox 360 controller to independently reload their primary and secondary weapons. As for what the X button will do, Bungie is keeping that under wraps for now. In another tweak, players' secondary weapons will be visibly slung over their backs at all times, so players will no longer be able to conceal the fact that they're carrying around four-foot plasma swords in their pockets.
Finally, the scan indicates that the limited-edition release of Halo 3 will be called the "Legendary Edition" and will come packed in a replica of the Master Chief's helmet. The four-disc set will include the game, documentaries and developer interviews, Red vs. Blue content along with other Halo tie-ins, and HD cutscenes from the whole Halo trilogy.
The official story: Microsoft isn't talking, but Bungie today put up a news post acknowledging that magazine scans with new Halo 3 content had started hitting the Web and threatening a permanent ban for anyone posting them on the company's forums.
Bogus or not bogus?: Not bogus, although we hope the term "Man Cannon" is the result of a translation error.
Source: The aptly named Blizzard Entertainment fan site Blizzplanet.com.
What we heard: For years, rumors have bounced around that Blizzard is secretly developing a third installment in its groundbreaking Diablo role-playing series. Just this past February, a flurry of speculation followed the posting of several job listings for leads to join "the team behind Diablo I and II" for "an unannounced PC project."
Now, the rumor forge is heating up again, thanks to an interview with Richard A. Knaak, author of three Diablo-based books--Diablo: Legacy of Blood (2001), Diablo: The Kingdom of Shadow (2002), and Diablo: Moon of the Spider (2006). Knaak has also written novels based on Warcraft and the Dungeon & Dragons Dragonlance spin-off. He is currently penning a series of novels featuring the classic fantasy character--and future massively multiplayer online role-playing game hero--Conan the Barbarian.
To promote his forthcoming Diablo book, Diablo: The Sin War: Book One: Birthright, Knaak spoke with Blizzplanet.com and took questions from its readers. However, the biggest bomb came from a site staffer going by the handle "Medievaldragon," who casually asked if his latest book--the first of a trilogy--would "impact in the storyline of Diablo 3 the game."
Knaak responded candidly, saying, "The ramifications here will be used for any future project...and I ain't writing for a dead game. ." (Emoticon in the original.) Later, when asked by a reader about Diablo, he repeated his loaded words. "I am not writing for a dead world...but a world with dead," said Knaak, adding, "'Nuff said!
The official story: As it has in the past, Blizzard danced around any inquires about the status--or existence--of Diablo 3. "We love the Diablo universe and are definitely interested in returning to it at some point in the future," a rep told GameSpot. "However, at this time, we're wholly focused on completing the upcoming expansion for World of Warcraft."
Bogus or not bogus?: Not bogus that someday there will be a new Diablo game. But with the WOW expansion being delayed until 2007, it appears that Blizzard has its hands full at the moment.
Source: Game Informer Online via unnamed, untraceable sources.
What we heard: Current and future Xbox 360 owners are eagerly awaiting any news coming out of the Halo 3 camp. Guarded by a steel curtain info embargo, details on the game are as scarce as unhumped corpses in multiplayer sessions of Halo 2.
What Halo fans do know is that the game is currently scheduled to come out sometime in 2007--hardly specific enough for the series' rabid fan base. However, that release window may have been narrowed slightly if a report from Game Informer Online is correct.
The Web site states that "sources" have tipped it off about a Halo 3 demo and that it will be released "in the first half of 2007." And that's really the nuts and bolts of the rumor...just some hearsay.
Gaming Business 101 states that demos for games should be released near the game's retail release for maximum effect. So does that mean the retail version of Halo 3 will arrive in the first half of 2007? That bit of information remains up in the air.
Shortly after the game's announcement at E3 2006, Bungie admitted that the game was already playable and had "surprisingly polished looking graphics." In fact, the trailer for the game was running on the game's actual engine in real time. All aspects of the game are undergoing testing now, and Bungie has even shown off early builds of the game to some print publications.
On the other hand, Halo: Combat Evolved for the Xbox was released in November 2001, followed by the oft-delayed Halo 2 in November 2004. Using this life cycle of three years per Halo chapter puts Halo 3 squarely in the November 2007 range, and that doesn't account for any additional development time due to next-gen technology and new hardware. Plus, as anyone who waited anxiously for Halo 2 can tell you, delays are becoming the norm in game development these days.
Unfortunately, in terms of a release date, that leaves Halo fans back at square one. While progress on the game is looking good, Bungie has a reputation for being a perfectionist and will likely release the game--all together now--"when it's ready."
The official story: Microsoft rep--"Microsoft does not comment on rumors or speculation."
Bogus or not bogus?: Too early to call.
What we heard: Lots of gamers are upset with the way Lumines Live! has been released on the Xbox Live Marketplace. Gamers who download the Q Entertainment puzzle game for 1200 Microsoft Points ($15) are finding that it isn't exactly a full-featured version of the game.
The game includes a dozen "skins" (graphic and audio overhauls that don't change the underlying gameplay), a time attack mode, and an online multiplayer mode. In order to expand the game to include more skins, skins with music videos playing in the background (a feature touted when the game was originally announced), and multiple opponents for the player-versus-CPU mode, players will have to purchase a series of additional content packs.
The Xboxic article points to a posting by an xbox.com forum-goer who claimed to receive a message from Microsoft's customer service about Lumines Live! The supposed message follows, typos, tortured grammar, and all:
Thanks for contacting XBOX Customer Support,
Luminous(sic) Live is known to have some issues regarding unsatisfactory in it's (sic) download. Please wait until Monday to see wether (sic) we have any updates regarding this issue. Do not download or purchase anything else that has to be dealt with Luminous (sic) Live. Until then, feel free to contact us via telephone for any updates of this issue and what we can offer you.
For any questions regarding this issue, please contact Xbox customer support on http://www.xbox.com/support/contact/
Thanks for time and support,
XBOX customer service team.
A post last week on Gamerscore Blog, a site run by Microsoft's global marketing team, acknowledged that some of the company's communications about the game's downloadable content haven't been detailed enough, saying, "Believe me, the message is being heard." So obviously Microsoft has noticed some unhappy gamers in relation to its handling of Lumines Live. The question is whether or not the angry voices out there are enough to pressure a pricing change on a just-released game.
The legitimacy of the customer service note is clearly in question. Aside from the writer's inability to spell the name of the game properly and his or her multiple grammatical errors, he or she actually suggests that the recipient not buy something. If Microsoft didn't want people buying and downloading the game, it would be a simple matter to pull it from the Xbox Live service temporarily, as it did with Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3 last weekend. It also suggests that the person contact customer service by telephone, but then fails to give a phone number.
The official story: Microsoft had not responded to a request for comment as of press time.
Bogus or not bogus?: Even without word from MS, all signs point to bogus.
Source: A snapshot from Korean game site Game Inside, reporting on a Microsoft event in Korea.
What we heard: So far the response to downloadable demos, trailers, and game content on Xbox Live Marketplace has been overwhelmingly positive. So positive, in fact, that gamers are downloading files at record-setting rates.
The premium Xbox 360 came stocked with a 20GB hard drive, but with most demos hovering in the 500MB to 800MB range (and some topping 1GB) Xbox 360 owners are beginning to feel the pinch when it comes to available hard drive space. And with upcoming downloadable expansions such as the Knights of the Nine expansion for The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion and bonus packs for Grand Theft Auto IV expected to take up lots of room, hard drive space will be a necessity for 360 owners. Now it appears that even when its 2K9, gamers might still be able to hang on to that demo of NBA 2K6.
At the Microsoft-centric X06 Korea, some pictures of a bigger Xbox 360 hard drive have surfaced courtesy of Korean game site Game Inside. The photos appear to have been taken during a presentation hyping the new Xbox 360 accessories that are on their way, including the force feedback steering wheel, the wireless headset, and a 256MB memory card.
But what's of real interest to gamers starving for more HD space is the image of a hard drive emblazoned with the phrase "100GB." There isn't any other information on the hard drive (in English, anyway), and Microsoft has not announced anything on this side of the pond.
This isn't the first time the world has heard about a 100GB Xbox 360 hard drive. Back in April, a Spanish gaming Web site reported that a Microsoft insider said the company was working on a 100GB hard drive. Then again, the mole also said that Xbox Live Vision would be called "My Eye on You," that Gears of War would be out by Halloween, and that the HD-DVD peripheral would be $100.
The official story: Microsoft was unavailable for comment as of press time.
Bogus or not bogus?: Not bogus that a larger hard drive is in the works. Even with Microsoft not saying a word, it's obvious it needs to expand the capacity of the Xbox 360's hard drive sooner or later.
Source: British game-info site Eurogamer.
What we heard: At Microsoft's pre-E3 06 press conference, Xbox marketing chief Peter Moore drew audible gasps from the audience with a surprise announcement. Brandishing a mock tattoo of the Grand Theft Auto IV logo, the executive announced that the much-awaited sequel would be released "day one" on the Xbox 360.
The news marked the end of the traditional GTA release model, which saw every game from Grand Theft Auto III forward debut on the PlayStation 2 and not arrive on the PC and Xbox until at least nine months later. The delay prompted many to buy a PS2 just to play GTAIII or its successors, Vice City and San Andreas. Indeed, many gamers had started saving for a PlayStation 3, assuming that the same delay would apply.
While GTAIV's planned debut on the 360 was news enough, Moore went one further. He announced that "Microsoft and Rockstar have entered into an exclusive deal to provide episodic content via Xbox Live Marketplace" for GTAIV. At X06, Microsoft detailed the exclusive content as "two epic episodes of GTAIV via Xbox Live, each with hours of new gameplay available only on Xbox 360 just months after [GTAIV's] release."
Now, a report has surfaced that may make the 360 GTAIV episodes not appear to be as much of a coup as they seemed. Citing a source close to GTA developer Rockstar North, Eurogamer reports that the PS3 edition of GTAIV will be getting its own episodic content in "the form of brand new areas which will link into the main GTAIV game world." According to the source, one should "think of the [GTA IV] world as a large island--the new downloadable areas will be like smaller islands linking into it."
The official story: Rockstar reps were not available for comment as of press time.
Bogus or not bogus?: With more and more AAA games jumping on the episodic content bandwagon--we're looking at you Oblivion--updating the PS3 GTAIV seems likely, especially if Rockstar is already planning a similar scheme with the 360. However, nothing's official...yet.
Source: A posting packed with screenshots and game details on the PS3forums message boards.
The official story: Sony did not return a request for comment as of press time.
What we heard: This week Sony is holding a Gamers Day, a press-only event that gives the company a chance to show off its upcoming games, and make a few announcements. This Gamers Day is a little more anticipated than most, given that it comes less than a month before Sony the PlayStation 3's November 17 launch in North America, and is expected to answer a number of questions surrounding the machine.
One of those questions is "What games is Sony planning for its digital distribution service?" The answer to that may have leaked out a little early, as a poster on PS3forums by the name of "Elder " appears to have preemptively dumped a slew of Sony screenshots and game details onto the Web.
While Elder's post has new pictures of Untold Legends: Dark Kingdom, Full Auto 2: Battlelines, and Marvel: Ultimate Alliance, the real attraction is the list of "e-Distribution" games. From Sony, there's Blast Factor, Lemmings 2, Go Sudoku, Swizzleblocks, Criminal Crackdown, and the previously announced flOw.
At first glance, Blast Factor appears to be a shooter in the mold of the Xbox Live Arcade games Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved or Mutant Storm. However, the details promise "integral use" of the motion-sensitive Sixaxis controller, noting, "By tilting left and right, gamers can push enemies around the play field, but need to be careful as some might enemies not react as expected."
While the other new games on that list aren't detailed, some information can be gleaned from the screenshots. Go Sudoku is a flashy version of the puzzle phenomenon that includes a multiplayer mode supporting at least four players. Lemmings 2 appears not to be a port of the early '90s PC and console follow-up to the classic puzzle game, but instead an original game with a visual sheen more akin to the Worms series of games.
Finally, Swizzleblocks is a grid-based block puzzle game with a multiplayer mode, and Criminal Crackdown is a complete mystery, with the only information posted being a cartoon drawing of a criminal crook fleeing the police with a bag of money in one hand and the Mona Lisa in the other.
While the third-party games lined up for PS3 e-Distribution weren't detailed or shown in screens, they were named. There's the TV game show Wheel of Fortune, a PS3 version of the PlayStation Portable racer hybrid Gripshift, and Crash Carnage Ciaos, which is either a typo that should read "Crash Carnage Chaos," or perhaps something combining mass destruction and Italian greetings.
The sheer volume of assets in that thread, the number of new screens for existing games, and the fact that Sony has a press event scheduled for this week (always a prime time for leaks) is convincing enough to buy into this one.
Bogus or not bogus?: Not bogus.
Source: Speculation based on the appearance of an achievements list for the game at www.achieve360points.com.
The official story: We have not made any announcements at this time. --A Microsoft rep.
What we heard: A list of achievements for the eagerly anticipated Xbox Live Arcade game Lumines Live recently hit the unofficial Achieve360points.com site, prompting some fans of the musically inclined puzzle series to speculate that it would be this Wednesday's Live Arcade release.
When the game was announced at the Electronic Entertainment Expo in May, it was only slated for release "later this year." There's still plenty of 2006 left for Lumines Live to slide onto Marketplace, but there's no reason it couldn't be this week. A presumably final version of the game was already reviewed in print months ago, and Microsoft needs to get on the ball with releasing Live Arcade games. Even at the rate of one new game per week, Microsoft will fall short of its stated goal of 50 Xbox Live Arcade games available by the end of the 2006 holidays.
Unfortunately, there's nothing concrete to suggest it will happen this week, only a slew of circumstantial evidence that suggests a release is imminent.
Bogus or not bogus?: An obligatory bogus, but it has to be released one of these weeks, right? Right? Is this thing on? (Taps microphone.)
[UPDATE 10/17] This one's now officially not bogus, as Microsoft today announced that Lumines Live will hit Xbox Live Arcade at 1 a.m. PDT Wednesday morning.
What we heard: Given the amount of hype that is going into the launch of the Xbox 360 game Gears of War, it would seem that pumping out a demo would be a priority for Microsoft Game Studios. The marketing team behind the game has already held public events for common folk to try the game out before its release in November, so it also make sense that a demo would be appearing on Xbox Live Marketplace soon.
Unfortunately for those eagerly anticipating a free trial of the game before it is released, it doesn't appear that a demo will be out before the game hits stores. In early August, Mark Rein, president of Gears developer Epic Games, said, "I don't see any way we could do a demo before the game comes out." He went on to explain that making a demo would take up valuable time that could be spent polishing up the retail version for its release.
But today, a few gamers think that Rein may have been putting up a smoke screen, with a surprise announcement of a demo coming soon. Some keen-eyed Web surfers tipped off Xboxic.com to a page on the UK branch of Xbox.com. In a page header promoting content downloads for Marketplace, a graphic clearly reads "Gears of War Demo" (pictured above--click to enlarge) alongside already released games Frogger, Pac-Man, and Joust. What's more, on the page for game demos on Marketplace, there is clearly a picture of Gears of War.
So that's it, right? A Gears of War demo is on the way, and likely soon given that it's up on Xbox.com now.
Once again, it looks as though gamers' parades are getting "Rein"ed on. On the Gears of War forums, Mark Rein addresses the issue with a resounding, "No"--and it wasn't just about a prerelease GOW demo, it was about a demo in general.
"There is no Gears demo and there won't be before launch. I suspect that is a generic header with the Gears image in it," said Rein. "There aren't any plans at the moment to make a demo of Gears. We have other things we're going to be working on as soon as Gears has gone gold but I can not elaborate on them at this point in time." Later in the thread, he said that he has asked Microsoft to take the page down. As of press time, the image remained on the site.
Rein leaves little hope for gamers with his comments, so it appears as though Gears of War will be out-of-the-box only.
The official story: Microsoft rep: "We have not made any announcements at this time."
Bogus or not bogus?: Bogus. The Locust Horde is spared a few more days before they're riddled with bullets.
Source: The finale of the expansion pack Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War - Dark Crusade.
What we heard: This week, the few hardcore PC gamers who already bought, played, and finished Dark Crusade were treated to a tantalizing teaser. When players complete their conquest of the planet Kronus in campaign mode and the credits roll, the game cuts back to an outer-space shot of the blue planet where all the action took place. Then the camera slowly pans backward to reveal another dusty-looking planet that appears to be wracked by warfare, with explosions popping up all across the surface. The slow pan continues further along to show yet another, reddish planet, where fighting also seems to be taking place. The screen goes dark and in big block letters, "2007" appears.
The postcredits sequence implies that, at the very least, an expansion to Dawn of War will be released next year, perhaps combining the series' trademark real-time strategy battles with some sort of space-exploration element. This would certainly make sense in the context of the Warhammer 40,000 universe, in which multiple warring factions are always vying for intergalactic supremacy. Some have taken that the shot shows two planets as a sign that THQ and Warhammer developer Relic are readying not just one, but a pair of expansions--or possibly even sequels--to Dawn of War.
The official story: "That's awesome that you guys finished the game! Unfortunately, we aren't currently announcing anything, as Dark Crusade just shipped...Feel free to speculate!"--THQ rep.
Bogus or not bogus?: Not bogus that THQ is readying at least one Dawn of War product. And, given that the original Dawn of War and the Winter Assault expansion have sold more than 260,000 units to date combined (according to the NPD Group), a second expansion also seems likely.
Source: Straight out of the Xbox Live Pipeline, a Microsoft-owned Flash-based site.
What we heard: Back in August, unconfirmed warnings were issued that Microsoft might charge people money to advance in Q Entertainment's upcoming Xbox Live Arcade title, Lumines Live! Earlier today, it appeared those reports might have been totally off base, as Microsoft's Xbox Live Pipeline site had a listing for Lumines Live! that indicated the game itself was "FREE."
But just as the pitchforks and torches were being put away, GameSpot editors noticed the site also gave Lumines Live ! the rarely seen rating of EC for Early Childhood. While a toddler could possibly come of age in the time it takes a game of Lumines to ramp up in difficulty, this sounded a little suspect. It was especially suspicious given that the Entertainment Software Rating Board gave the original Lumines (which unlike the Xbox 360 version does not feature video of Madonna undulating in the background), a more restrictive rating of E10+ for Everyone 10 and Older.
An inquiry to Microsoft yielded answers to all our questions.
The official story: "The information posted about Lumines Live on XboxLivePipeline.com is inaccurate and we apologize for any confusion. Lumines will be available later this fall on Xbox Live Arcade and more details will be shared closer to its launch. However, the title will not be free and the rating is still pending."--A Microsoft spokesperson.
Bogus or not bogus?: Bogus. Keep the pitchforks at the ready.
Source: See below.
What we heard: With game press outlets in virtually every language but Esperanto, often things get lost in translation. Case in point: this week's rumor that Ninja Gaiden Sigma, the revamped and PS3-bound version of Ninja Gaiden Black, is coming to the Xbox 360.
The rumor got the most exposure on the widely ready NeoGAF forums, which sourced an article on the Japanese-language site GDEX--in which the only words in English were "PS3," "Ninja Gaiden," and "Xbox 360," followed by a "?". (NOTE: The title of the thread has since been changed.)
Obviously, that means that the PS3 version of Nina Gaiden Sigma is coming to the Xbox 360, right? In short, no. The GDEX story links in turn to an article on the German site Xboxfront, which bears the title "'Ninja Gaiden Sigma' nicht für Xbox 360." Auf Deutsch, that means "'Ninja Gaiden Sigma [is] not for the Xbox 360."
"Now it's official," reads the article. "The action title Ninja Gaiden Sigma, which was first announced at this year's Tokyo Game Show by Tecom, is staying PS3-exclusive...reports [Japanese magazine] Famitsu Xbox 360." The Xboxfront/Famitsu article goes on to say that Team Ninja head Tomonobu Itagaki will return his focus of development to the Xbox 360 in the future.
The official story: Tecmo reps did not respond to requests for comment. However, Itagaki himself professed his Xbox 360 loyalty in an interview on GameTrailers.com, in which he talked about how he has little to do with Sigma, which is being produced by his Team Ninja associate Yousuke Hayashi.
"People who are supporters of Xbox should view this as a good thing," he said. "What I've done is pass the baton over to someone else. I can focus even more of my attention on making new games for the Xbox 360. ... My home base is the Xbox 360, and I'm going to continue to make games [for it] at the same pace, if not faster."
As for which games, Itagaki would only say that after he finishes Dead or Alive Xtreme 2, "my next game is going to be what everyone's expecting."
Bogus or not bogus?: One sarcastic NeoGAF poster put it best: "A Japanese site reporting about a German site reporting about an article in a Japanese magazine? Makes sense." Bogus.
Source: UK game-info site Computer and Video Games.
What we heard: Ever since the first Battlefront hit consoles in fall 2004, the series has proved a cash cow for its publisher, LucasArts. Mixing Battlefield-style combat with Star Wars lore, the first game was a hit on the PC, Xbox, and PlayStation 2. It quickly blossomed into a full-fledged series, with a sequel proving popular on the same three platforms and the PlayStation Portable the following year.
Now, according to C&VG, the series is getting a third installment, courtesy of UK-based design house Free Radical. According to the site, the TimeSplitters developer, which recently inked a long-term deal with LucasArts, has been given the franchise. If true, the news basically all but signals the end of LucasArts' relationship with original Battlefront developer Pandemic, which is already shopping the sequel to Mercenaries to other publishers.
So where does the next-gen-console part of the story come in? Well, since LucasArts' deal with Free Radical is for next-gen consoles, it stands to reason that, if the studio is working on Battlefront, it is making the game for a new platform. Which platform, exactly, you ask? That's unclear, but it's worth noting Free Radical did wow Electronic Entertainment Expo goers with Haze, the futuristic first-person shooter it is developing for the PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, and PC for Ubisoft.
The official story: When asked to comment on a) the Free Radical-Battlefront report and b) the next-gen Battlefront rumor, a LucasArts rep succinctly responded, "I can do neither. This is all just rumor and speculation, to which we don't comment."
Bogus or not bogus?: That Free Radical is working on Battlefront? Probably not bogus. Given Pandemic's exit from the scene, it seems logical to hand the Battlefront license over to a shooter-centric studio. As for one of the best-selling Star Wars franchises of all time coming to next-gen consoles? That's a no-brainer: not bogus.
Source: A Famitsu interview with Gran Turismo creator Kazunori Yamauchi that sprung up in the Beyond3D.com forums.
What we heard: Microtransactions are a white-hot topic in the gaming biz. Publishers love them because it's an easy way to scoop up easy revenue. Gamers love them because they can pick and choose what they want to add to their game for a few bucks.
Well, that's the theory at least. Some of the more vocal gamers have expressed displeasure over the choices and prices of content, claiming that several items aren't worth what publishers are charging (horse armor ring a bell?). On the other side of things, some publishers are being forced to lower prices on online content after dismal sales. In short, the business of microtransactions is off to a cool start.
If a post on the message boards of Web site Beyond3D is true, gamers haven't even seen the tip of the iceberg. A forum member who goes by the nom de plume "one" posted his/her translation of an interview with Gran Turismo creator and Polyphony Digital president Kazunori Yamauchi that originally appeared in Japanese game magazine Famitsu.
The interview allegedly says that the Gran Turismo debut on the PlayStation 3 will come in two forms, one called Gran Turismo HD: Premium and one called Gran Turismo HD: Classic.
Premium will feature "the full graphics power of the PS3" and include 30 cars and two courses, with the option to buy more of each later. There will allegedly be one mode--a casual racing mode--that doesn't include the typical GT gameplay of winning races and acquiring cars and medals.
Classic will (racing fans brace yourself) come with no cars or courses and is basically the demo that was playable at the Electronic Entertainment Expo. According to the translation, 750 cars will be downloadable for 50 to 100 yen ($0.43 to $0.86) each, and 50 race tracks will be downloadable for 200 to 500 yen ($1.72 to $4.30) apiece. The translation also states that cars will be released on a monthly basis, with some being available in limited quantities. New modes and tuning kits may also be downloadable.
There was no mention of how much the games would cost or if they would be included as a pack-in with the PlayStation 3.
It's obvious that publishers are still a bit confused as to how microtransactions are going to sit with gamers. But if such a scenario comes to pass, Sony could have a full-fledged riot on its hands, if the scathing comments in the Beyond3D forums are any indication.
The official story: Sony had not responded to requests for comment as of press time.
Bogus or not bogus?: We're hoping bogus but abstaining until something more official emerges.
Source: A lengthy article on MTV News.
What we heard: At its pre-Electronic Entertainment Expo press conference in May, Microsoft stunned attendees by announcing that Grand Theft Auto IV would be released on the Xbox 360 the same day and date it arrives on the PlayStation 3. Though Sony reps would later play it down, the development meant that the long exclusivity window that prior GTA games had on the PlayStation 2 would not survive the next-generation console transition.
But while Grand Theft Auto III, Grand Theft Auto: Vice City, and Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas all appeared on the Xbox, no GTA game ever made it to the GameCube. In fact, the only GTA games to make it to a Nintendo platform were the handheld top-down titles Grand Theft Auto (Game Boy Color, 1999), Grand Theft Auto 2 (GBC, 2000), and Grand Theft Auto Advance (Game Boy Advance, 2004).
However, now comes word that the Wii might be carjacked by the GTA franchise. Speaking to MTV News at last week's Wii press conference in New York City, Nintendo of America president and COO Reggie Fils-Aime revealed that the Mario Factory is in talks with Take-Two Interactive, parent of GTA publisher Rockstar Games. "I'll be spending some time later today with the folks over at Take-Two to see what type of support they can give our console," he said. So far, Take-Two has only expressed interest in using Wii's motion-sensing functions for a baseball game.
Though he didn't mention any specific titles to MTV, the outspoken executive did say that Nintendo wants the Wii to have more adult-oriented content than the GameCube did. That console's catalog was dominated by family-friendly offerings, although it had several notable M-rated games, such as Killer7 and Resident Evil 4.
"The fact is there will be M-rated content on the Wii console," said Fils-Aime. "EA has already announced that they're bringing [the GTA-like crime game] The Godfather to our console. And we want every single best-selling game to be available on Wii. Whatever that content is."
The official story: Fils-Aime's comments have ignited a firestorm of speculation among prospective Wii buyers and GTA addicts. However, they are not official confirmation of plans for a Wii GTA--or any particular Take-Two title for the platform. Requests for comment sent to Nintendo, Take-Two, and Rockstar had not been returned as of press time.
Bogus or not bogus?: Not bogus that Take-Two and Nintendo are talking. As for GTA on the Wii? The once-unthinkable notion now appears to be a possibility.
Source: A recent story posted on popular gaming blog Kotaku.
What we heard: At the Electronic Entertainment Expo in May, Microsoft took the wraps off its external HD-DVD drive for the Xbox 360. Since then, the software behemoth has clarified several questions about the add-on. First up, it has said the drive will be for movie playback only, meaning that, for now, games on the next-gen HD-DVD format will be a far-off possibility.
Secondly, Microsoft has claimed that the combined cost of the 360 console and the HD-DVD drive will be less than that of the PlayStation 3, which sports an internal Blu-ray Disc drive. The PS3 comes in two models--a $499 20GB-hard-drive-equipped version with no HDMI video output and a souped-up, 60GB-hard-drive equipped edition, which goes for $599. By that calculus, Microsoft could sell the 360 HD-DVD drive for as much as $299 if it were using the $299 core Xbox as the "cheaper" benchmark--or as little as $199, were it to use the premium $399 360 as the point of reference. It could also go for as little as $99, were it to use the premium $399 360 and the bare bones PS3 as the point of reference.
Now, word has emerged out of Japan that the 360 HDD will be on the cheaper side. According to Kotaku, sources in Tokyo's Shibuya shopping district have learned that Microsoft will start selling the 360 HD-DVD add-on for around 20,000 yen on November 22. The price means that the add-on will likely go for around $199 in the US, given the exchange rate and previous pricing schemes for game consoles in Japan and the US.
The official story: "We have nothing to announce at this time."--Microsoft rep.
Bogus or not bogus?: [UPDATE] Not bogus. This has since been confirmed at Microsoft's pre-Tokyo Game Show press briefing.