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Source: A News.com story from late last week.
What we heard: According to the News.com story, Microsoft designed the Xbox 360's compatibility with the phenomenally successful portable music player without the support or consent of the gadget's maker, Apple. Xbox digital-entertainment executive producer Jeff Henshaw is quoted in the article as saying that Microsoft approached Apple to make the two pieces of geek kit officially compatible, but Apple balked. "So we went in and built all of the support we could," Henshaw then said.
That limited support means that music ripped to an iPod off of a user's own CD will be 360-compatible, but songs purchased through Apple's iTunes software will not work on a 360 due to the software's antipiracy measures. But because the Xbox 360 isn't officially compatible with the iPod, what compatibility remains could potentially be removed with an iPod firmware update if Apple so chooses.
On the one hand, it seems petty to cut out the limited Xbox 360 compatibility that lets users move only music burned from their own CDs to the Xbox 360 (using the iPod essentially as a handy way to get it from point A to point B) when Apple doesn't have a direct stake in the console wars. On the other hand, seeing as how the company recently started charging royalties to companies who make accessories that use the iPod's dock connector, it would make sense to send the message that unofficial iPod compatibility is frowned upon, and can be undermined with a simple software update.
Apple has also shown willingness in the past to protect its golden goose from the perceived scourge of unofficial compatibility. When RealNetworks started selling (unofficial) iPod-compatible digital music through its Rhapsody online music store last year, Apple updated its software to break that compatibility. RealNetworks later circumvented that and once again offers iPod-compatible downloads. Whether Apple couldn't figure out a way to once again lock out Rhapsody-downloaded songs without affecting the rest of a user's music, or if it just didn't feel like spending resources going back and forth with RealNetworks breaking and unbreaking the compatibility is anyone's guess.
We could see Apple doggedly trying to protect its control over all things iPod, but as RealNetworks and hackers around the world have shown, software security measures are made to be circumvented. If Microsoft is serious about making the 360 iPod-compatible, we're guessing they create workarounds for whatever protection schemes Apple can cook up. In the end, it's probably not worth the hassle or the resources for Apple to try and break the 360's compatibility when Microsoft only uses it as a selling point for the machine, and not an actual source of revenue.
If RealNetworks can get away with unofficially supporting Apple's iPod on songs it's selling for a profit, Microsoft can likely do the same to keep what is at best a nice feature of its new machine, but not something that's going to drive sales. Besides, Microsoft touting iPod compatibility is just free advertising for Apple, and doesn't exactly reflect that well on the numerous Microsoft-compatible rival MP3 players.
Bogus or not bogus?: We'll go out on a limb and say bogus, but Apple's not exactly the most predictable company around.
Source: British gaming site Computerandvideogames.com
The official story: See below.
What we heard: Considering its success on the current-generation Xbox, the probability of Fable going for another go on the Xbox 360 is about 99 percent. The original game was the product of Peter Molyneux's Lionhead Studios and was centered around the developer's trademarks: choice and morality. As gamers progressed throughout the game, their characters became a product of their gameplay. Do good, and see it reflected in a godly glow. Do bad, and see a demonic façade manifest.
However, game developers know that can't just pretty up the graphics, throw in some new "good" and "evil" appearances, and add more dungeons to the realm. They'll need to rope in fans of the fledgling franchise by adding some spiffy new features, and Web site Computerandvideogames.com claims to have knowledge of a big one.
According to the site, a source recently interviewed Molyneux, who gave the dish on one of the game's biggest additions. The unidentified source says gamers will once again begin as a boy and will be accompanied by a puppy. The dog will travel with the player's character throughout the game, and it will undergo similar transformations as its owner. Be a do-gooder, and watch the pooch glow like Rin-Tin-Tin. Raise hell across the countryside, and see the dog turn into a medieval Cujo.
Even CVG seems to take the claim cautiously, as it contacted Lionhead to confirm the claims of its trusty source. However, it was immediately met with a "no comment" from the developer. When GameSpot contacted the Fable team at Microsoft Game Studios, we were met with an identical response, but with an added smiley emoticon.
Bogus or not bogus?: The old "my friend said that his cousin knows this guy who said..." tunnel of info isn't always reliable, but we're taking the fifth on this one. Gamers will find out soon enough if and when the game is announced.
Source: The celebrated script-snatchers at Latinoreview. (WARNING: Review contains strong language.)
The official story: Attempts to contact representatives at Halo distributor Universal Studios went unanswered as of press time.
What we heard: Latinoreview has been a source of early reviews of film scripts. Last week, reviewer El Mayimbe gave the world its first peek at the Splinter Cell movie script (the same week as a leak of the possible plot for Splinter Cell 4). While the rundown of Sam Fisher's first big-screen foray was indeed interesting, El Mayimbe dropped a not-so-subtle-hint that he had an even bigger scoop in store: a review of the highly guarded script for the Halo movie.
As fans know, Halo is expected to blast onto the big screen in 2007. Its developer Bungie and publisher Microsoft opted to make the movie on certain conditions. Microsoft paid novelist and screenwriter Alex Garland (28 Days Later, The Beach) $1 million to pen a script using a set of guidelines put forth by Bungie's creative directors, and then it shopped the script around to studios via couriers dressed as series' hero Master Chief.
Though the Halo franchise has made $600 million and counting, several studios passed (due to Microsoft's rather stark demands of creative control and monetary compensation) before Fox and Universal took on the project. However, all parties agreed to let Lord of the Rings director Peter Jackson executive-produce Halo, which will feature special effects from his personal studio.
Though El Mayimbe said he wouldn't have the Halo script until November 9, today he posted a review on the site. In short, he LOVES it. Though the oft-excitable reviewer has previously heaped praise on many screenplays, he seems particularly taken with this draft of Halo, calling it a "tour de force" and giving it his highest rating of five stars.
El Mayimbe does a fairly in-depth job at laying out Halo's first act, which combines elements of the original Halo game and the novel Halo: Fall of Reach. The opening sequence is right out of the latter, which chronicles large-scale battles between Covenant armies and a whole platoon of cybernetic SPARTAN troopers. Without letting too many spoilers slip, El Mayimbe says the film will sport familiar ships, such as The Pillar of Autumn and Truth and Reconciliation, as well as enemies like jackals, hunters, and elites.
Perhaps most impressively, El Mayimbe says the game's visceral violence isn't watered down in the script, which he calls "the Saving Private Ryan of video game movies." "We got headshots, bodies being cut in half by the swords of the Stealth Elite," he wrote. "We see what kind of damage plasma grenades can do and yes we get to see the horror of flood infection vessels--heads snapping back and torsos exploding."
But how trustworthy is Latinoreivew? Its past reviews of critically lauded blockbusters, like Batman Begins have been pretty much spot-on. But is the script the real deal? Since NBC-Universal isn't talking, we don't know for sure. We hope so, though...
Bogus or not bogus?: We're going on faith and saying not bogus. That said, many-a-great script has ended up becoming a mediocre movie. Hopefully Jackson will assure a quality final product.
Source: Reports from numerous sites collated together on the hardware-happy Arstechnica.
The official story: "Microsoft does not comment on rumors and speculation."--Microsoft autoresponse.
What we heard: With the Xbox 360 still set for a November 22 launch, many gamers are realizing that they will be getting their first taste of sweet, sweet next-gen goodness in fewer than three weeks. However, a lot of people haven't been able to lock down a preorder of the console, which has become near impossible to get online unless you want to fork out $2,000 for GameStop's Omega Bundle.
Most gamers chalked up the 360 supply issues to general platform-launch woes. However, Arstechnica offered a much more conspiratorial theory. They propose that Microsoft is engineering the supply chain so the Xbox 360 will sell out at most locales. Why? Two reasons. First, widespread sellouts would create the appearance that the console is so popular that retailers can't keep it in stock. And actually, it wouldn't be an appearance, as it would technically be true. Then the media would pick up on the shortages, generating even more buzz about the console and giving it more free publicity.
Such a wily approach would fit right into Microsoft's publicity campaign. The company has jumped onto the viral marketing bandwagon with both feet, using the infamous ilovebees.com alternate reality game (ARG) to promote Halo 2 and ourcolony.net to give the world its first glimpses of the Xbox 360. After using ARGs to hype Xbox 360 contests, the company has now launched another one to promote the Xbox 360 launch.
Though not an ARG, an artificial 360 shortage would also set the stage for a new technique called targeted marketing. Practiced by companies such as San Francisco-based Ammo Marketing, this rather insidious selling style targets "influencers," people whose behavior others want to emulate. Companies hire influencers to use their products in the hopes their friends will see them using said product and then emulate said friend's behavior.
In the case of an Xbox 360 shortage, only the hardest-core Xbox fans will go to the lengths it would take to obtain the console, like waiting in line overnight. Eager to show off the coveted item they were luckily enough to get, these ubergeeks will become miniature 360 evangelists, inviting all their friends over to play. Then those friends go out looking for the hard-to-find consoles, locate one, and then show it off to all their friends...who then all want to get one, und so weiter.
But is there any evidence that Microsoft is manipulating supply to artificially create demand? Sort of. Arstechnica refers to several well-respected Web sites that have received e-mails from readers claiming to be retail employees. Kotaku posted a report from an anonymous Target clerk saying each location is only getting 10 to 50 units of the console. Each Target location has also been instructed to preprint a giant "Sold Out" sign in advance to slap on the front window the minute the last next-gen machine is gone.
But while preemptive signage could be chalked up to mere retail prudence, an e-mail sent to Gizmodo indicates a far more sinister plan could be at work. It comes from an alleged worker at a Norwegian store, which says that every retail location in the country is only allowed 20 360s, regardless of size. (Scandinavian social democracy in action!--ed.) To get them, "According to the reader, 'each shop or chain has to sign an agreement saying that they will sell out of all 20 consoles on the release date.'" In addition, the Gizmodo source claims "Microsoft Norway even said themselves that they're gonna use the 'Sold Out' as a marketing strategy to hype the console."
But will 360 sellouts actually generate positive hype? Well, one thing's for certain: When a platform launches with much fanfare and doesn't sell out, people notice. Just ask Sony. Despite solid sales, the PSP was branded a failure by many just because there were still plenty on store shelves during its first weeks on the market.
Bogus or not bogus?: There will be an Xbox 360 shortage, no question. Whether it's deliberate or not can't be definitively proven.
Source: Various sites, most citing an entry on Wikipedia, are tolling a death knell for director Uwe Boll's career.
The official story: See below.
What we heard: According to the Wikipedia entry, people invested in Boll's films to use the losses as a tax write off, and changes to German tax law set to take effect in 2006 will prevent that from happening. Boll has become somewhat notorious of late for scooping up the film rights to a number of games and quickly turning around box office turkeys with them. So far the director has struck out with adaptations of House of the Dead and Alone in the Dark. An early review of BloodRayne was not kind (nor was Boll's apparent retort), and we've still got adaptations of Dungeon Siege, Far Cry, Hunter: The Reckoning, Postal, and Fear Effect in the hopper.
Right off the bat, we can tell you that the bit about German tax law changing is not bogus. For a look at the current tax law and how mainstream movie studios take advantage of it for any kind of production (not just guaranteed bombs), check out this April article published in the Web-based magazine Slate. In short, Germans who invest in German-owned film ventures can take a tax deduction on their money whether the film has gone into production or not. This gets taken advantage of when studios play a shell game with the ownership of their films, selling it to German owners who will write off their investment before the studio buys it back for less money than the film was sold for in the first place. The German investors get their tax write-off, the studio defrays some of the movie's cost, and both sides walk away happy.
However, this is far from the only tax loophole movie studios take advantage of. According to the Slate article, Paramount managed to make Tomb Raider, a film with an on-paper budget of $94 million, for under $7 million. The German tax law loophole only accounted for a little more than $10 million, while a similar loophole in British law saved another $12 million. The real windfall for Paramount came from selling distribution rights to the movie to six countries where the Tomb Raider property was especially popular with teenage boys. Those deals in Japan, Britain, France, Germany, Italy, and Spain alone brought in $65 million.
E-mails sent to Boll from GameSpot seeking comment about how he expected the change in German tax law to impact his ability to raise capital for his films went unreturned. However, it seems unlikely to end his career, as some have predicted. First and foremost, a number of countries have similar tax breaks to encourage local film production that could be exploited to secure funding. Second, if Tomb Raider is anything to go by, it's the distribution rights that bring in the big bucks. Boll's not dealing with properties of that size, but he is targeting a number of dormant and second-tier gaming franchises that can likely draw enough interest from the gaming crowd that it shouldn't be hard to find distributors willing to pay for them. He also sprinkles the films with some surprisingly well-known stars who just aren't at their career peaks, further adding to international distributor appeal.
A more cynical site might even suggest that Boll is a business genius, intentionally cultivating an Ed Wood-like cinematic car-wreck culture around his films that makes them must-endure experiences for gamers. The licenses and fading star power he picks up will make their money back in distribution rights and ticket sales from morbidly curious gamers, and whatever tax law loopholes he can take advantage of along the way are just icing on a rotten, rotten cake. On the other hand, why would a steely-eyed business genius feel the need to get behind the camera for every one of his films and subject himself to the never-ending parade of critical evisceration? You have to figure that on some level, the guy just loves making movies.
Bogus or not bogus?: Bogus. Anyone resourceful enough to get a BloodRayne movie made won't be stopped by a simple tax code amendment. Or anything short of silver bullets and holy water, we suspect.
Source: The supersleuths over at The Gaming Age forums.
What we heard: Ubisoft recently updated www.bewaresamfisher.com, the Web site for Splinter Cell 4. The URL's name was probably originally thought of as a warning to franchise star Sam Fisher, all-American hero and US government special-operative nonpareil.
But new info indicates that it may have been a different kind of caution: Beware of Sam Fisher.
The Flash-based site features three images that piece together parts of the game's upcoming story. Included in the three pics is a newspaper clipping with the headline "Student Killed by Drunk Driver." Reading on, visitors find out that the victim's name is Sarah Fisher, Sam's daughter. A second image shows a black and white photo of what one would presume is Sarah, and the third image is of Sam Fisher's dishonorable discharge from the supersecret spy agency, Third Echelon.
However, that info wasn't enough for one GA forum member. Dissecting the site, it was discovered that the image files were organized sequentially, and s/he eventually found 20 images and posted links to them. Ubisoft responded quickly by renaming the images and rendering the links useless.
The big ruckus? According to the pictures Ubisoft didn't want people to see, Mr. Fisher became a wanted man for robbing banks and was eventually arrested. The most striking piece of evidence (image 1) shows a poster depicting a bald Sam Fisher with "BEWARE" in large print. While gamers are used to Fisher being somewhat of a lone wolf, this image--complete with Fisher bearing a shaved head--makes it seem as though the agent has indeed gone off the deep end.
Further information from the images (which may or may not be authentic) show that Fisher had little or no regard for civilian casualties (even using some as human shields), went on his crime spree armed with an automatic weapon, and after dozens of successful bank robberies, was arrested without incident or resist on his final attempt. These are all things atypical of the gruff-but-patriotic agent.
When asked for comment, a Ubisoft rep played coy, saying only, "Looks like Sam is going through some tough times."
Forum posters immediately hypothesized (some quiet adeptly--developers take note) about the game's upcoming plot. They range from Sam Fisher snapping because of the death of his daughter, to the whole affair being an elaborate cover story to allow him to infiltrate a criminal organization, much like 24 hero Jack Bauer did between the second and third seasons of the espionage-centric television series.
Though the prospect of controlling an unremorseful rogue agent is interesting, don't count on it happening. With antiviolent game bills going into effect next year, in addition to pressure from politicians about gratuitous violence, it's unlikely that Ubisoft would endanger one of its top franchises by making its leading man go loco for no good reason. Then again, you probably never thought you'd see a sickly, 50-year-old Solid Snake running around with a mustache either...
Bogus or not bogus?: He made do some bad things, but count on Sam ending up as the good guy.
Source: An interview with Microsoft Japan's Xbox operations chief Yoshihiro Maruyama in Famitsu Xbox.
The official story: A Microsoft rep declined to comment.
What we heard: One of the biggest hardware shortcomings detractors have pointed out about the Xbox 360 is its reliance on the standard DVD format for its games. In August, Japanese developers weighed in on the system, with From Software producer Masanori Takeuchi lamenting Microsoft's decision to go with DVD as the standard system format. Takeuchi said that his Xbox 360 launch title Enchant Arm had already swollen to two discs and might even need three by the time it ships.
Bill Gates commented in June that the Xbox 360 might be upgraded in the future with an HD-DVD drive, something that would technically allow the system to run games off the higher-capacity discs. However, Maruyama indicated in the interview that the disc format would be used only for movies and not for gaming purposes.
"It's a possibility, but it won't have any relationship to gaming," Maruyama is quoted as saying. "If the Xbox 360 uses a next-generation DVD drive in the future, it will only be used for watching movies that run on next-generation DVDs. The format for games will remain as [standard] DVD. That's not going to change."
While it seems odd to add on hardware that could benefit game developers and then disallow them from using it, Microsoft might have good reason for it. Introducing an HD-DVD-equipped Xbox 360 would create at least three (and possibly four, if it came with or without the hard-drive add-on) significantly different hardware setups for developers to work with. Microsoft has already indicated that it wants every Xbox 360 game to play on a no-frills core system. While that simply won't be possible for some games (like the massively multiplayer Final Fantasy XI), it's understandable that the company would want to limit the number of different hardware configurations on the market, both to make things simpler for developers and to reduce confusion on the part of consumers.
However, if consumer confusion isn't that big a concern for Microsoft, there's no reason why publishers wouldn't be allowed to release games on both DVD and HD-DVD, much like PC publishers currently offer some games on both CDs and DVDs.
Bogus or not bogus?: Xbox Famitsu is certainly reputable, Maruyama would know better than us what Microsoft's ultimate plans for the 360 are, and the case can be made for having an HD-DVD without HD-DVD games. This one appears not bogus.
Source: Tech news and rumor site Theinquirer.net.
The official story: Microsoft declined to comment.
What we heard: When it was unveiled on May 12, the Xbox 360 was touted as having some the burliest hardware of any console yet. Though the PlayStation 3 trumped it statwise just days later, the 360 still has plenty of processing horsepower under the hood. Specifically, its custom-designed IBM processor has three processing cores, each capable of handling two threads, or two separate applications. But while the grand total of six threads gives the 360 a lot of processing power, it also makes programming for the console hard, because developers will have to manage resources between all the processes.
Well, according to a rumor that surfaced this week, developers rushing to have their games ready by November 22 came up with a novel shortcut to evade the pitfalls of multiple threads--just avoid multiple threads altogether. According to the Inquirer, a unidentified Microsoft presenter at the Fall Processor Forum let slip that "the first generation of Xbox titles, all of them, are single threaded." The author doesn't identify the speaker in the article, most of which is devoted to kvetching about the quality of 360 games. However, just hours later, the same author published a more in-depth article about a multicore presentation given by Microsoft software architect Herb Sutter. Since no other Microsoft speaker presented at the FPF's six sessions, it is likely that Sutter said it. It would also jibe with the subject of his presentation--which, according to the Inquirer, was about the "poor state" of multithreading software for multiprocessor cores.
But is it true? Historically, the launch lineups of games for each console don't take advantage of the hardware, simply because they don't know how to fully exploit the new platform--just compare Halo's graphics to Halo 2's. Combine that precedent with Microsoft's down-to-the-wire push to have games on shelves by November 22, and single-threaded games become a distinct possibility.
[UPDATE] Well, over the weekend, eagle-eyed reader Mike Scott pointed out that in GameSpot's October 27 video Q&A with the designers of Condemned, one developer said the studio is using the Xbox 360's second thread to give opponents improved artificial intelligence. Since Sega said the game will go on sale alongside the Xbox 360 on November 22nd, it turns out the Inquirer was wrong.
Bogus or not bogus?: Bogus, apparently.
Source: An interview with MTV News
The official story: Attempts to contact Artest's agency went unanswered.
What we heard: If you didn't know the name Ron Artest before November 19 of 2004, you sure knew him after. The temperamental talent for the NBA's Indiana Pacers and former Defensive Player of the Year is known as much for tightening the screws on ball handlers as he is for missing a few screws. The small forward was handed the NBA's biggest suspension for an incident not involving betting or drugs, but for leaping into the stands and introducing his fist to some Detroit fans' faces in "The Malice in the Palace," an incident some sports writers referred to as "the NBA's 9/11." His extended vacation left Artest time to pursue his other interests, including embarking on a rap career, spending time with his family, and making video games. [cue screeching tires]
Yup. Artest told MTV.com that he's working on a new game that combines two things he's known for: basketball and fighting. However, according to the interview, the game won't let players fight on the court. Nooo, that wouldn't be classy. Players who have a beef with each other can take their scuffles to a boxing ring to avoid getting suspended by the league. Artest plans to unveil the game in early 2006, but he didn't mention any platforms, developers, or anything else, for that matter. The game will feature "playground" legends, and it won't be NBA-sanctioned.
Ron Artest says a lot of crazy things, but he follows up on them. He once said he was producing an R&B album. He did. He promised to release his own rap album, which comes out in the next few months. Is Artest making a boxing/basketball game? We'll say yes, if only for the fear of him running into our offices and beating the pulp out of us. Remember Sony's ill-fated Road to Sunday, which combined football with pit fighting? Such potential genre clashes just don't work. If Artest's game makes it all the way to retail, I'll fight Ben Wallace myself.
Bogus or not bogus?: A hesitant not bogus on its conceptualization, but a hearty bogus on its realization. You go, Ron.
Source: Several online reports citing the Swedish daily newspaper Aftonbladet.
The official story: See below.
What we heard: It sounded too bizarre to be true, but at the same time ridiculous enough that nobody would bother making it up. The Monday edition of Aftonbladet reported that a round of resignations swept through Gizmondo Europe after some employees' ties to Swedish organized crime had come to light.
The paper reported that more than 10 years ago, now-resigned Gizmondo Europe executive officer Stefan Eriksson was convicted of crimes in connection with the Uppsala Mafia, which got its name from the town where it based its operations. Two other employees also turned in resignations stemming from former ties.
No doubt the biggest resignation in the midst of all of this was that of Tiger Telematics cofounder and chairman Carl Freer, who co-owned third-party developer Northern Lights Software Limited with Eriksson. Northern Lights was paid a little more than $3.5 million to develop Chicane and Colors, two titles actually being developed in-house by Gizmondo Europe-owned studios. On September 29, Freer paid this money back to the company pending the outcome of an investigation into the transaction. The Northern Lights debacle is just the most notable in a series of shady payments and business arrangements detailed by the company in an SEC filing from last week.
Another SEC filing from the same day confirms the resignations, saying Eriksson left "to pursue a new entrepreneurial venture," while Freer "believes that the Company has passed the incubation stage where his entrepreneur skills are most effective," and also plans to pursue other entrepreneurial ventures.
With Freer gone, Michael Carrender, CEO of Tiger Telematics, will step into his role, while a decision has yet to be made regarding Eriksson's now-vacant position.
A Gizmondo spokesman today told GameSpot that the company first became aware of the allegations of mafia ties late last week, and that the company has "taken immediate steps to rectify the situation."
While Gizmondo does perform background checks on its employees, the spokesman said that typically background checks only go back as far as seven years, and so Eriksson's convictions of more than a decade ago wouldn't come up. As far as Freer is concerned, no allegations of mob ties have come up, and Gizmondo is currently unaware of any past criminal convictions for its cofounder. Interestingly enough, both Freer and Eriksson will keep their stock in the company.
Gizmondo's corporate site doesn't address any of this, but it does boast the increasingly apt slogan "Business as unusual."
Bogus or not bogus?: Not bogus.
Source: An art book handed out by Microsoft Game Studios along with review copies of Age of Empires III.
What we heard: When Microsoft Game Studios and Ensemble Studios sent out copies of Age of Empires III to game news outlets, they came with the customary tchotchkes. Among the swag was a hardcover coffee-table book titled Art of Empires. As the title suggests, the book features luxuriant prints of concept art and graphics from the first three games in the Age of Empire series.
However, it was the last page of the handsome tome that got the most attention. There, under the heading Age of Empires, were five images--a Spartan Warrior, a medieval knight, an 18th-century Redcoat, a Vietnam-era US GI, and a futuristic soldier--each above the respective roman numerals I, II, III, IV, and V. Since the Age of Empires III ends in the 19th century, the two latter images and numbers led many to believe that Ensemble and MGS were already developing modern-day fourth and futuristic fifth entries into the series.
Unfortunately, MGS was quick to dismiss that any games were in the works...yet. "It's concept art only and not a confirmation of new versions," a rep told GameSpot, saying work had not begun on Age of Empires IV, let alone V. However, given the series' popularity, expect at least two more installments in the franchise in the years ahead.
Bogus or not bogus?: Currently bogus, eventually not bogus.
Source: The Hardware headz at Joystiq.
The official story: Microsoft didn't respond to requests for comment.
What we heard: Last week at the Digital Life expo in New York City, a Joystiq reader was watching a demonstration of the Xbox 360. When the demonstrator showed off one of the system's utility screens, it reportedly showed that the hard drive attached to the machine had 38GB of memory left--18 more than the 20GB one available at the console's November 22 launch. Joystiq used this tidbit to further bolster its theory that Microsoft is readying 40GB and 80GB 360 HDs to make the 360 "a trojan horse for direct-to-consumer broadband delivery of triple-A titles."
Joystiq's theory is sound for a number of reasons. One is that digital delivery is fast becoming publishers' preferred means of selling games. It lets them cut out the retail middlemen, and it also means the company saves on manufacturing and packaging. And Microsoft would surely love to become the sole digital distributor of Xbox games and add to the revenue it already receives from each game sold.
But is it true? Well, the lack of evidence makes this particular instance impossible to prove beyond a shadow of a doubt. However, its worth noting that Microsoft has gingerly danced around the subject of whether it will sell larger-capacity HDs down the line. One concern it must be having is the piracy that dogs the current-generation Xbox. Since the console is made from stock PC parts, it also is very easy to swap out the Xbox's 8GB HD with a larger-capacity HD. After the installation of an alternate dashboard and a game-copying application, a modded Xbox with a larger HD can let users rip games like iTunes rips an audio CD.
However, the fact is the 360 will be a much harder nut to crack than its predecessor. Besides the numerous unnamed security measures Microsoft said the console has, the fact that the 360 is "always online" will make it easy for Microsoft to detect pirated consoles and ban them from Xbox Live, as the company does now. Given that one of the Xbox 360's main selling points is its online functionality, many would-be modders will balk at the prospect of being shut out.
But, make no mistake--the Xbox 360 will be cracked sooner or later, and someone will find a way to rip games onto its hard drive. Those determined hackers will certainly welcome the eventual "multiterabyte add-on storage options" that Joystiq is predicting, should they come to pass.
Bogus or not bogus?: Not bogus. Larger-capacity HDDs are all but certain--it's a question of when, not if.
Source: See below.
What we heard: With World of Warcraft playing musical chairs in the "top 10 PC games" chart, interest has never been higher in its forthcoming expansion pack. So little wonder then that forums were aflame this week following a rumor that the expansion pack would be titled The Burning Crusade. The thermally tinged name sounded like something that Blizzard might cook up, as evidenced by the subtitle of its last Warcraft III expansion--The Frozen Throne.
The source was an image of the November cover of The Games Machine, an Italian games magazine owned by UK-based Future Publishing. GameSpot obtained a scan of the cover of the November Games Machine. That wasn't the problem. The problem was that we obtained two covers of the magazine: one hyping The Burning Crusade and the other promoting Brothers in Arms: Earned in Blood. The dual covers could mean only two things: Either one magazine cover was fake, or they were both legit--and Blizzard asked the magazine's publisher to yank the story. Either way, it won't be long until we find out what the title is, because the World of Warcraft expansion will be playable at BlizzCon next weekend.
Bogus or not bogus?: Probably not bogus.
Source: The now-defunct Web site www.vicecitystories.com.
The official story: Rockstar reps did not return requests for comment.
What we heard: Given that it is prompting many people to buy a PSP just so they can play it, the success of Grand Theft Auto: Liberty City Stories is pretty much a foregone conclusion. So it stands to reason that its developer, Rockstar Leeds, is tossing around ideas for a sequel. Since LCS shares the same setting as Grand Theft Auto III, the next PSP GTA will probably take place in the eponymous setting of Grand Theft Auto: Vice City.
For about four bright shining hours this week, it looked like that was the case when a site surfaced at www.vicecitystories.com. Consisting of a simple black page with the VCS logo and the words "Coming 2006 to PSP," it looked very similar to both the teaser pages for Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas and LCS. Problem was, the site looked too similar. The fact it urged visitors to preorder the game over a year before its release raised some serious red flags. Traditionally, Rockstar has waited until around five or six months before each GTA's release to bring its Web site online.
Sure enough, within hours of going up, the site--which was registered anonymously through DomainsByProxy.com--went down. But was it legit? No way, according to Gtaportable.com, which reports the URL is actually owned by Neil Christie, the British proprietor of the Gtapsp.com fan site. That theory grows a lot more sound when one looks at Christie's personal Web site, which shows he has nice sideline, cybersquatting GTA-related URLs. But the most damning evidence came from Christie himself, who allegedly told Gtaportable.com that he threw the site up "just to fool people."
(Author's note to Neil Christie: I want the 54 minutes of my life that it took to write up this rumor back.)
Bogus or not bogus?: Bogus, although it's probable that the next PSP GTA will be set in Vice City.
Source: A forum thread on Xbox365.com.
The official story: "Microsoft does not comment on rumors or speculation."--Microsoft spokesperson.
What we heard: Here we go again. It appears that Microsoft has started yet another viral marketing campaign. The first signs surfaced on the Xbox365.com forums on October 13. That's when a poster named "Lutz" started a thread titled "The beginning is nigh" above a photo of a curious, approximately 100-foot-wide symbol carved into San Francisco's Ocean Beach. The symbol displays the Roman numerals for 8, 1, and 6 in between a circle and a hexagon. Later on in the thread, Lutz posts two more pictures of the same symbol appearing in a field in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and another beach in Jacksonville, Florida.
When asked what the symbol was, Lutz's sole written reply was, "I will enlist the help of the truly committed, but first you must solve my puzzle." That statement sounds very much like the puzzle challenges on Ourcolony.net, the teaser site that helped hype the release of the Xbox 360. So it was little surprise when, within a few posts, fans were already speculating that the numbers were a date--8/1/2006--and that said date was the release of, in the words of one poster, "OMG! HALO3!!"
Yesterday, the connection between the pictures and the Xbox 360 became a clearer. That's when the site Hex168.com went online. It purports to be the Lutz World Report, a conspiracy newsletter written by one Dr. Jason Lutz from his subterranean bunker in Saskatchewan, Canada. It warns of increased "sightings" of the crop-circle-like "hexes" and warns of the megapowerful hex known as Hex 168. It turns out that name is a clue. An Xbox365.com poster of the number-crunching variety found that if one takes 168 as a hexadecimal value and then converts it into binary code, it becomes the sequence "0001 0110 1000." Put the three together into "000101101000" and that converts back to "360"--just the sort of nerd-friendly hint Microsoft's viral marketing campaigns are known for. The Hex168.com site also sports a countdown clock that ends on noon, October 18.
Today, members of the games press got proof positive that the whole hex business is indeed another viral marketing ploy. Late this afternoon, members of the games press were sent an e-mail "tip" with pictures of the oh-so-mysterious hex sign on various objects and still more mysterious text that sounds like the mutterings of a half-crazed pagan prophet. "The sign is a puzzle, and it is a promise: 'I will bring them together to witness the New Beginning before the rest of the world. And I will reward them with a physical manifestation of the power of this sign.'" It also says the sign will appear at four college football games on Saturday, October 1: Duke University vs. Georgia Tech (Durham, North Carolina); Syracuse University vs. Rutgers (Syracuse, New York); Rice University vs. Tulsa (Tulsa, Oklahoma); Connecticut vs. University of Cincinnati (Cincinnati, Ohio). It also gives this bloated oath: "At noon on October 18, the true purpose of the sign will be revealed, and the truly committed will have their chance to experience the New Beginning before the rest of the world."
But for all the mysterious portending in the body of the "tip" e-mail, there's no question about its humble origins in Microsoft's hype machine. Bearing the subject line "TIP: the beginning is nigh for 360 fans," the e-mail was sent by none other than 4orty2wo Entertainment, the marketing firm that originated Ilovebees.com.
So what will be announced at noon on October 18? While not impossible, chances are it will not be Halo 3. A more probable outcome is that the company will use the date to unveil either the Xbox 360's final game lineup or the game price point. There's also the possibility of its being something along the lines of Origen360.com, which teased the world for weeks about...a contest in Europe that Americans can't even play.
(Author's note to 4orty2wo Entertainment: I want back the 76 minutes of my life it took to write up this rumor.)
Bogus or not bogus?: 100-to-1 it's bogus. Any takers?
Source: A job listing on the Blizzard Entertainment Web site.
The official story: "Microsoft does not comment on rumors or speculation."--Microsoft spokesperson; Blizzard Entertainment reps declined requests for comment.
What we heard: Part gossip, part geek fantasy, the World of Warcraft Xbox 360 rumor has been around for a while. Prior to E3 2005 in May, scuttlebutt was rampant that Microsoft would announce that the massively multiplayer role-playing game was coming to its next-gen console at its press conference. The company did indeed announce a 360 MMORPG...problem was it was Final Fantasy XI, which is already available for both the PC and PlayStation 2--hardly a system-selling title.
Were WoW to become available for the 360, though, it would be a much different story. Given World of Warcraft's popularity--it already has over 4.5 million subscribers and has been among the top five top-selling PC games since its 2004 release--many gamers would gladly buy a 360 just to get in on the Azeroth action. Also, the PC hardware required to run the game costs several times the hard drive-enabled 360's $399 sticker price.
Enthusiasm for a 360 WoW was flared up with the recent discovery of several Blizzard job listings for next-generation console positions. The site has positions for next-gen engine programmers, next-gen tools programmers, and next-gen game physics/collision programmers.
So will the Xbox 360 be WoW-ed? It is a possibility. However, a more likely scenario was outlined this past February, when Blizzard sent out a product catalog that announced that Starcraft: Ghost was "coming soon to next-generation consoles." Though a rep said the ad was a misprint and denied the long-delayed console game was in development for next-gen platforms, the game's current release window, Q2 2006, is the same as that of the PlayStation 3. Mere coincidence, perchance?
Bogus or not bogus?: Not enough information to say either way, but we're hoping not bogus.