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Rumor Control: Xbox Next launch date and the N-d of the N-Gage

This week: More Nintendo Revolution murmurs, next-generation Burnout and Need for Speed, and new Halo 2 maps coming next month (or not).

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Rumor #1: According to a press release accidentally leaked by Electronic Arts, the Xbox Next will have a holiday 2005 launch.

Source: What Engadget aptly called the Weekly World News of the gaming press, SPOnG.

The official story: "Microsoft does not comment on rumors or speculation." --Microsoft spokesperson.

What we heard: Proudly trumpeting its "world exclusive," SPOnG told the world this week that it had laid its hands on a press release for the new Need for Speed game. Although it didn't, say, post the release text in its entirety (if it was an e-mail) or a scan (if it was in paper form) as evidence of its existence, the site eagerly dished on the secrets the document allegedly contained. Besides planning to release the next NFS for all current major game formats in late 2005, SPOnG asserts that Need for Speed: Most Wanted will also "…simultaneous ship with the Xbox 2 platform." Ergo, the Xbox 2 (aka Xbox Next, aka Xenon) is coming out at the end of this year. Within hours, dozens of sites were reporting the info in the SPOnG story as gospel. But if even it is true, the news isn't that shocking. In an interview with GameSpot at CES, Microsoft's Cam Feroni said of the upcoming showdown between the Xbox Next and Sony's PlayStation 3, "If you've got a Christmas with one but not the other, it's not going to be theirs."

Bogus or not bogus?: Probably not bogus.

Rumor #2: The next Need for Speed and Burnout games will both be next-generation.

Source: The same SPOnG article.

The official story: "We have made no announcements regarding the next Need for Speed game, [but] it's an important franchise to EA and we're always looking at new game concepts and designs." --EA spokesperson.

What we heard: Just one SPOnG story was good for a double dose of scuttlebutt this week. Besides "revealing" the Xbox Next release date, the phantom memo the site cites also had details about Need for Speed: Most Wanted, the next game in the Need for Speed series. Besides saying the game will be an Xbox Next launch title, SPOnG explains the game in great detail, saying, "Most Wanted takes the series back to its roots, with police chases making up the body of the gameplay." It also outlines a "rap sheet" system by which "a player's notoriety is upped by performing more-dangerous maneuvers in the view of following police." According to SPOnG, Most Wanted will also feature four-region, real-time weather and worldwide online multiplayer action. The story's level of detail gives it some degree of credibility. But at the end of the piece, the air of semilegitimacy is dispelled by this throwaway line: "Oh, one more thing! Burnout 4 is slated for Xbox 2 launch."

Bogus or not bogus?: NFS: Most Wanted--if bogus, very creative. Burnout 4--too little information to go on.

Rumor #3: Nokia is stopping research and development on its N-Gage mobile phone/game deck.

Source: Tabloid-esque UK hardware site The Inquirer.

The official story: "No, we are not abandoning the N-Gage, we remain completely committed to the platform." --Nokia spokesperson.

What we heard: With the N-Gage not exactly flying off store shelves, more and more cynical industry watchers have been laying bets on when the portable format will be carted off to the gaming graveyard. They saw the first sign last week, when Nokia announced it was laying off up to 350 employees from the research department of its Multimedia Business Group. Since that group is responsible for N-Gage development, word quickly spread that the bells had begun tolling for the platform. However, American representatives for the Finnish phone colossus are adamantly saying it isn't so. In fact, they're talking up the N-Gage as the next big thing. "We have been getting strong reviews for our recently released titles, like Pathway to Glory and Pocket Kingdom" a Nokia rep told GameSpot. "[We] are currently getting ready to launch SSX Out of Bounds. We have many outstanding titles arriving this spring and summer and we look forward to showing more of what the N-Gage platform has to offer."

Bogus or not bogus?: Officially: Bogus. Unofficially: So, when is this N-Gage craze supposed to start, anyway?

Rumor #4: A Nintendo insider has leaked many details about the company's next-gen console, the "Revolution."

Source: That limitless wellspring of game-industry effluvia, the Gaming Age Forums.

The official story: "Nintendo does not comment on rumors or speculation." --Nintendo of America representative.

What we heard: A GAF poster republished information he claimed originated from the "first person to give decent DS specs." Though the original source admits his information has only "a 65 percent chance of being accurate," he makes some claims that, if true, would be pretty innovative. One, he confirms a rumor that was widely circulated last year--that the Revolution's controllers will incorporate gyration technology. It will have dual processors, four controller ports, built-in broadband, and an Xbox-esque hard drive that can store downloaded and saved content. (Can you say, "Son of 64DD?") While the Revolution will be backward-compatible with GameCube games, it will not have Game Boy Advance or DS connectivity. Instead, it will link up to the vaunted Game Boy Evolution, the near-mythical successor to the GBA. Games in development include--shocker--a Mario game, a Zelda game, and a Super Smash Brothers game. But when the poster's source asked his inside source at Nintendo what "revolutionary" functionality the console would have, the mole balked. He would only say, "If you think too hard you'll never guess what it is. It's nothing 'new,' technically speaking. It's just something that hasn't really been applied to video games yet." Sounds pretty good--for a thirdhand account on a forum of word-of-mouth information that has, by the author's own admission, a 35-percent chance of being wrong.

Bogus or not bogus?: We'll see at E3.

Rumor #5: Microsoft will release new Halo 2 maps on February 9.

Source: A thread on the GameSpot Community forums.

The official story: See below.

What we heard: The poster who started the thread claims he was browsing the Bungie Web site when he came across what looked like a test screen saying, "New Maps!" dated 2/9/2005. When he reloaded the page, the screen was gone, but the poster just happened to screen-capture the image before it disappeared. As evidence of his find, the poster put up an image of the screen cap---which would look pretty authentic, if it weren't suspiciously small. As several later posters in the thread pointed out, one of the most common tactics by Photoshop forgers is to shrink images so telltale clues of fakery are too tiny to see. However, it turns out the screen did originate from Bungie--during a test of its old site. "It is an old screen of our beta site filled with nonsense from the internal beta," a rep for the studio told GameSpot. "The new map is actually Lockout."

Bogus or not bogus?: Bogus.

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