Rumor Control: World of Warcraft 360 and Vice City Stories

[UPDATE] This week: Hex168.com--Conspiracy site? Halo 3 announcement? Lame contest promotion?

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RUMOR #1: World of Warcraft is coming to the Xbox 360.

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.

RUMOR #2: Halo 3 will ship on August 1, 2006.

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 which 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 circlelike "Hexes" and warns of the megapowerful Hex, Hex 168. 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 would appear at four college football games on Saturday, October 1: Duke University vs. Georgia Tech (Durham, NC); Syracuse University vs. Rutgers (Syracuse, NY); Rice University vs. Tulsa (Tulsa, OK); Connecticut vs. University of Cincinnati (Cincinnati, OH). 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 portends 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 either unveil the Xbox 360's final games lineup or game price point. There's also the possibility of it 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. [UPDATE]: Guess what? It is.

(Author's note to 4orty2wo Entertainment: I want the 76 minutes of my life it took to write up this rumor back.)

Bogus or not bogus?: Bogus.

RUMOR #3: Rockstar Games has unveiled Grand Theft Auto: Vice City Stories for the PSP.

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.

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

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