Halo Wars demo dated at Microsoft CES keynote

Sci-fi RTS trial due out February 5; Windows 7 beta begins this week; 10 billion hours of "gaming and socializing" clocked on Xbox Live.

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[UPDATE 1/8]: Microsoft this morning retracted the announcement that the Halo Wars shipping date had been moved up to February 28, saying only that "There was some confusion at the Microsoft CES keynote yesterday." The game is set to be released on February 26 in the Japanese and Asian markets, February 27 in Europe, the Middle East, and Africa, and March 3 in North and South America.

LAS VEGAS--While the rest of Sin City was counting down to the new year, the Consumer Electronics Association was hard at working setting up for the 2009 Consumer Electronics Show. The massive expo attracted about 130,000 attendees last year, and began with former Microsoft chairman Bill Gates' 13th--and final--keynote address. The biggest game-related news out of that event was that Xbox Live had hit 10 million active users, a figure that increased by 7 million in the following 12 months.

This year, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer took over emcee duties from Gates, and once again thousands of journalists and technology glitterati gathered to hear him speak. After negotiating several layers of alternately clueless and aggressive security, the throngs packed into the Palazzo Ballroom atop the Venetian Hotel and Casino. For gamers, expectations were low, given that unconfirmed reports pegged the biggest gaming news as being new footage of Halo 3: ODST and Halo Wars, two games announced months ago.

However, none of that footage appeared. The middle third of the event was devoted to gaming, with Robbie Bach, head of Microsoft's entertainment and devices division, presenting. Against a backdrop of two previously released trailers for the game, Bach announced that a Halo Wars demo will be available on Xbox Live starting on February 5. As for Halo 3: ODST, the executive reminded the audience that the game is still set for a fall 2009 release.

Robbie Bach gets his game on.
Photo credit: CNET.
Robbie Bach gets his game on. Photo credit: CNET.

The rest of Bach's presentation focused on the notion of "connected entertainment"--a seamlessly shared experience on televisions, phones, and PCs. After talking up the much-maligned Zune audio player, "which won over critics last year," he heaped praise on Windows Media Center, which now has 10 million active users. After trotting out the Xbox 360 stats released earlier in the week-- 28 million sold and counting--Bach said that 2008 was the best year yet for Microsoft's game division. Additionally, the company sold more consoles last year than any other year all the way back to the launch of the Xbox in 2001.

Bach then brought up Xbox Live's newly reached 17 million active-user milestone, and emphasized that 3 million users were added just in the past quarter. Bach said XBL users have increased their friends lists by 33 percent since the introduction of avatars in November's New Xbox Experience. As a result, there have now been more than 10 billion hours of "gaming and socializing" on the service.

1 vs. 100.
Photo credit: CNET
1 vs. 100. Photo credit: CNET

Next it was on to the delayed Xbox Primetime feature, which is now coming this spring. The new functionality will let players gather together on XBL and share a live, real-time experience. As an example of the possibilities, Bach showed off 1 vs. 100, an Xbox Primetime trivia-based gameshow hosted by a Guy Smiley-esque avatar. Bach took on three opponents from the crowd to answer multiple-choice questions to score in-game (not Microsoft or Gamerscore) points. To emphasize the real-time nature of the event, the host engaged in real-time banter with Bach and his opponents, which included a Bill Gates doppelganger avatar.

Bach then attempted to demonstrate how the Netflix video streaming works on the 360, which now has the support of 45 movie studios and TV partners worldwide. After winning a battle with an uncooperative controller, he whipped out a Windows Mobile phone with an app to let players edit their Netflix queues on the go, an example of the "connected experience." As of today, over 12,000 titles from Netflix are viewable via the 360.

The Kodu editor in action.
Photo credit: CNET.
The Kodu editor in action. Photo credit: CNET.

The subject quickly turned to music games, with Bach declaring that "We're winning in that space" and announcing that 60 million tracks from Lips, American Idol, the Rock Band franchise, and Guitar Hero series have been downloaded on the Xbox 360. Without mentioning any names, he said that the publishers of those games have told Microsoft that 80 percent of all downloads are on the console.

Next up: Community games. Later this year, Microsoft will release a new utility called Kodu, based on an application designed to teach kids how to program. In its current form, the program is designed to introduce people to game design by being easy enough for a child to use. To prove his point, out came a 10-year-old-ish boy named Sparrow, who began editing a game he made with blinding speed with the 360 controller. Looking like a simplified version of such programming utilities as the Unreal Engine 3, the tool lets players tinker with wire frames, edit event timing, tweak colors, and speed up or slow down gameplay. Bach ended by saying that his division is helping "connect your entertainment experience" no matter what your age.

Sparrow vs. Bach.
Photo credit: CNET
Sparrow vs. Bach. Photo credit: CNET

The rest of the Microsoft CES keynote had next to no game-specific announcements. After being preceded by a human beatbox battle, Ballmer then took the stage. After praising Bill Gates' charity work, he took a jab at former Yahoo CEO Jerry Yang, saying that he wouldn't be friends with him on Facebook. Then he turned serious, taking about how he believes that "our digital lives will get richer" despite the increasing number of people in the poorhouse.

To that end, Ballmer said that Microsoft will continue to invest in the future more than any other tech company, to take advantage of opportunity in three areas. The first is the convergence of the three screens people watch every day: the PC, the TV, and the mobile phone. Explained Ballmer, "It's no longer just about the desktop, it's about a broader vision." That vision? A seamless experience that moves from one device to the next through what Ballmer repeatedly referred to as the online "cloud."

How will these be brought together? Unsurprisingly, Ballmer thinks the key will be Windows--not just on PCs, but on phones as well. To that end, he fired up a clip showing off new PCs from Microsoft partners including Sony, which touted a Blu-ray-enabled laptop. (Another laptop from Samsung was curiously named the X360.) In case anyone in the audience didn't get the point, Ballmer bellowed "I am a PC, and proud of it!"

You want a piece of this, John Hodgman?!
Photo credit: CNET
You want a piece of this, John Hodgman?! Photo credit: CNET

Then, the subject turned to Windows 7, the successor to the less-than-well-received Vista system. The beta for the system is being released today to select customers, and is opening up worldwide on Friday.

Although flashy and user-friendly--and very Macintosh-like--the OS did not have many bells and whistles for gamers. The new instant-networking HomeGroup feature will let people stream music and photos from their PCs to their Xbox 360s without the traditional network setup. A pop-up translation box in Internet Explorer 8 will also make scouring Japanese and European game sites for news much quicker.

Next it was on to Windows Live, the cross-platform connectivity service that Gates touted behind a small army of bodyguards at E3 2006. Ballmer announced a partnership with social-networking site Facebook, and a deal with Dell to make PCs with Windows Live preinstalled. He also unveiled a new long-term partnership with Verizon to allow Microsoft Live Search from any Verizon phone.

For more on the non-game-related details of Ballmer's speech--including a peek at some touch-screen future tech--check out GameSpot sibling site CNET.

Got a news tip or want to contact us directly? Email news@gamespot.com

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Avatar image for Jfisch93
Jfisch93

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@ dmish82: they have to, otherwise it could make the ps3 sales higher, and microsoft will do ANYTHING (certainly not buying exclusive DLC) to keep ps3 sales down. The sales are close, even with the 360 being out a year before. KZ2 is gonna rock this year. Halo wars will be a failure.

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Avatar image for xplosiv_shift
xplosiv_shift

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i dn care... gow is gud enuff to make me own a xbox!

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thrashunreal

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Well... Windows 7 looks promising!

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Franzkill

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@Scout013 I could not agree with you more about Windows Vista. I'd I'm keen on trying out Windows 7 too. Also can someone please confirm when the Mythic Map pack will be released for Halo 3. Others are saying this fall while some are saying it will be released alongside with the Halo Wars standard and special editions. I'm not too sure.

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mastriania

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Windoze is total grandma code.

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Scout013

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To Valcrist09: We wont know how good Halo Wars is until the Demo...and do you honestly believe that the Halo series is crap? Halo 1 and 2 were landmarks for shooters with great graphics and gameplay for the times. Not to mention Halo 2 being the first console game to support online matchmaking. And Halo 3 is still the #1 playing Live game out there. On a lighter note, some interesting stuff here. I'll definitely be checking out Windows 7, though it doesn't seem to be much of an improvement over Vista. Oh, and to all those saying that Vista sucks, go buy it. It's way better than XP and isn't nearly as bad as people have it seem to be...

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jimbob_1977

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Meh, just buy Endwar and let halo die...die....die I tells ya

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valcrist09

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Halo Wars looks Terrible, Just throw halo infront of something and its instant money, IMHO the Halo series is utter crap in everyway, so much over hyped garbage, Halo brought nothing to the FPS world that no FPS before it already had...

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endocrine

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WIndows 7 just looks like they stripped down the irritating features from vista. We'll see if 7 becomes another ME like Vista did. Heres hoping for Windows 8 in 2010. Isn't microsoft asking for another monopoly lawsuit by having dell automatically install live onto every computer they make? Not that there is any real competition to live,..

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stalepretzels

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For a very long time Str4ider. Though, I think GoW is Microsoft's strongest link for anything. Halo has become it's own genre: tough voices behind a bunch of space armor. Gears of War is unique along the lines of style. A mix of steampunk, art deco, and chainsaw bayonets ends up making a GoW a totally different experience. (for style, not gameplay)

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Avatar image for Str4ider
Str4ider

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how long can microsoft keep on sucking money fom halo

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Avatar image for necronaux
necronaux

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Been waiting for a while for this. Hope I'm not dissapointed.

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datniccah187

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Can't wait to check out the demo. I'm excited about some new Halo in whatever form it may be.

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bennae66

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actually Kane was on a little crusade against 'the man' so i guess the avatar you use fits. you dont have to answer my previous question, its been answered for me

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bennae66

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im a big fan of my non bricked 360. Zoomer you seem to be riding a crusade against it. you dont own one, do you? invest in it as a 2nd system and you will find it increasingly difficult to poke fun at. and with that and as a ps3 owner i can say without bias: the ps3 is an overpriced bluray player with a game function tacked on. and i say that as one of those very people that bought one. do you have the guts to criticize your own console?

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Zoomer30

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heheh, the only question I have is this: How many 360s will Halo brick THIS year? Pretty simple formula: big release = large amount of play time = bricked 360 I still remember when people where blaming Halo 3 for their broken machine, took them awhile to figure out it was due to the 6 hour marathon that cooked the machine, not the game.

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NoseWeed619

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Action packed. Glad it was though. Wish that I could of been there...

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Media_Mind

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I don't see a huge audiance for an RTS Halo...

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planetkyle

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I'm a Mac user who loves Xbox 360. Apple, Microsoft, Sony, whatever...They are all mega buck companies who focus on revenue. But that revenue enables them to make blockbuster products that take millions to develop. So we should be psyched...Can't wait to see what Microsoft brings to the xbox 360 this year (if it comes close to 2008 I'll be happy!)

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rmoorevtps3

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why are there no brutes as another enemy? ahhh oh well february is kz2's month

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Un4givingAsault

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why does Halo wars come out soon for EU and Japan then NA? Not angry, just i bet there all happy then finally get a game before anyonelse

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shenron43

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always fun to see what microsoft is up to.

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Zloth2

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Guess that's why you don't know what you're talking about, WizengamotX? I've had Vista for almost two years now. The only game that needed a patch for Vista was Gothic 3, and that game was a bug-fest anyway. I'm actually using IE8 Beta 2 right now. It's got some nice features. When you get it, highlight a word in some text and right click on it, and check the accelerators out. Search for the word on Google, Wikipedia, a dictionary, or whatever right then and there. Nice. Now if we could just get beta 3 out. IE8 is handy but still very much beta.

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WizengamotX

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Oh and to those complaining about the new X360 interface (I don't know why, because as far as I read, the article has nothing to do with that subject) -- mine loads almost instantly. I cannot seem to get enough of my X360. The Guild, Horror Meets Comedy, and my extensive and superb game collection are just three of dozens of reasons why the X360 is a well made console.

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Avatar image for WizengamotX
WizengamotX

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I just hope Windows 7 will not require additional patches for pre-2005 software support, as Vista did. Gah. Vista requires patches for material released today in order to run as intended. Good thing I waited out and have XP Professional V2002 SP3.

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Drazule

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@ fistfight You forgot Microsoft Smash Bro's! On a serious note I do like Vista and I never had any problems with it. But come tomorrow I am eager to try #7

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okassar

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Vista was thrown in for some revenue on the side,I'm sure they knew it was pretty bad given the high expectations we have of the amazing Microsoft.It was sort of the "transition" into a much better Windows.Windows 7 looks and sounds great,can't wait to get the full version,and I hope it has more compatibility with the 360(not that we have a good amount already,the 360 is a great media center). I can't wait for Primetime either,that looks fun,not to mention that it's unique, I've never really seen anything like it before. Halo Wars looks promising too, I'm hyped for the demo.

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xmen1414

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@ fistfightsg: But i dont agree with the anyother game!

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Phazevariance

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I've been usign Windows 7 for a few months now (pre beta of course) and it actually runs faster than Xp with less ram footprint. For a beta, its nearly as stable as vista already. Honestly, I think they will get this one right, plus its fully backwards compatible with vista 100%. (even drivers)

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vf21x

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@Sendmn23, Dude, don't take this the wrong way but you need to get a life. There are other things to do than just playing games. All in moderation I say...

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dj_c4

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And @ fistfightsg Halo The Cooking Game would be dope. MASTER CHEF!

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dj_c4

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Unfortunately I have to agree with vf21x. I could care less who enjoys what console, but when it comes to news it's nice to have a neutral party. I couldn't even finish reading the Gamespot coverage... I went to a different site. the really lame attempt at snide sarcastic humour got boring really fast. Nothing wrong with 360 but GameSpot writers suck. The only reason to stick around is unions. and they are falling apart and broken...

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Sendmn23

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Really I'm not surprised that Microsoft is doing so well...... Really I'm not... I'm guilty of spending my entire vacations from work online playing Halo 3, and Gears of war 2...... I love my X-box 360!!

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ratavaquera

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bah, sometimes my 360 takes 30 secs to load the "New" Improved Interface... yea, 30!! seconds.. L2Make OS

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fistfightsg

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next for xbox360 will be halo 4, halo wars 2, halo 5.7, halo wars the origins, halo meets gears of war, halo the cooking game and then end of the year halo gear in fable world.... god is there no other game???

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vf21x

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Hey Gamespot, where was the attitude and biased reporting in this story? You dished it out for the SONY conference but remained very professional for this MICROSOFT story. How sad of what you have become.......360 fanboys!! I am glad Jeff G. is no longer here!!!

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BigDaddy973

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I love my Xbox!

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togo2828

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Wow Windows is really trying to be number one in everything aren't they.... Oh well i'm not a windows person anyway, but more luck to them y'know

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slyfoxmccloud

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....Um does anybody else notice that....Sparrow is a girl? I think somebody got confused with Fable 2...but thats definetly a girl in that picture...

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Vasot

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Window 7 >>>> Vista Windows 7 is faster, more reliable, and makes it easier to do what you want from Windows Vista Windows 7 BETA was pretty good and it seems it will be the true successor of Windows XP. Vista is a FAILURE like Windows Millenium was...

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Inconnux

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Do a search and you will see that Win7 beta performance blows Vista out of the water. Hopefully they will get it right after the Vista failure. I'm still adopting a wait and see attitude with Win7 but it sounds like good news for gamers... Note that Vista sold 80 million business licenses that were not activated! Microsoft has to do something and quickly. Good news for Halo fans... sounds like xbox live is going to be real busy this year.

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joevit

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I think this year will be slow for 360. Not in what they sell but games. The next gen xbox will be here soon. I dont know when. Not to say the 360 had its last good year.

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buzzguy

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I have no problems connecting my 360 to my Vista laptop. Are you using Mediacenter? I find it cumbersome, and unrealiable, so I just stream through WMP 11. Works like a charm for my videos and music.

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klugenbeel

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Windows Vista has been a nightmare for me to Link up to my 360, it's actually the only complaint i have with Vista. I hada few bugs with Vista here and there back when it first came out (yeah i jumped right onto the Vista band wagon), but since SP1 its been great, better than XP in so many ways, don't get me wrong XP was great for its day. Now with Vista all patched up and fixed it is better than XP in my opinion, but its still a freakin' pain to link my 360 to my Vista machines (Asus Gaming Notebook and iMac). For some reasno after i get the codes punched in, the last step in syncing the 360 and CPU fails. Hopefully Windows 7 will be easy as pie to do.

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why9090909090

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quick question.. is there a way halo wars is multiplayer via splitscreen?havn't read into this so if its been stated, just let me know

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lord_doom45

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na killzone 2 out around the same time me getting that i ll get this some time after.

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hotdork70minus1

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MS will wait for E3 to bring out some more guns. They had a great Holiday and all they have to do is be solid for the next Holiday. Alan Wake looks really good I must say.

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Expo_Smacko

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Looks good.

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Zoomer30

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Keys for success for Balmer in 2009: Xboxs that dont break, OS's that dont break, and an antiperspirant that WORKS!

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lightwarrior179

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MS aren't having as packed year as they did during 2007 and 2008 (especially). Hopefully those exclusives that they do have will perform enough to make 2009 a good year for them.

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