X06: Halo Wars revealed at Microsoft briefing

Wildly popular FPS franchise spawns RTS spin-off; Splinter Cell 5 to be PC, 360 exclusive; Assassin's Creed demo'd.

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As the dust from the 2006 Tokyo Game Show settles, the gaming-news presses are being revved up by yet another major event. That's right: If it's September, it must be time for the annual X0-(insert abbreviated year here) event, which annually draws hundreds of journalists to a random European city where Microsoft touts its latest gaming wares. (Microsoft also stages a Canadian X0 event each year.)

Last year, attendees did their preevent localization in Amsterdam, where high art and low vice were in abundant supply. For X06, the locale is Barcelona, the Catalan capital that was the redoubt for the Republican resistance during the Spanish Civil War. Nearly 70 years later, the cosmopolitan metropolis is host to a motley crew of a different sort--a polyglot assembly of jet-lagged reporters waiting to hear what the first horse out of the next-generation console gate has in store.

6:47 pm (Barcelona time): We've all shuffled into the Teatro Nacional de Catalunya here in Barcelona, Spain. Microsoft has redone it with its signature green-and-white motif. We've made our way into a theater-style auditorium that's got 360's arranged on a stage under a massive video screen.

6:52 pm: The large room is getting chatty as we all wait for things to kick off in a few minutes. Random phrases that appear to be gamertags are slowly cycling on the video screen.

6:58 pm Most everybody's in now, though some folks straggle in as cameras are set up, laptops fire up, and everyone waits for the conference to kick off.

7:04 The music has faded and Rare's Banjo and Kazooie make their way across the screen in a rendered sequence. The scene ends with the pair opening up into a bright new world.

The front door to X06. No, you can't come in.
The front door to X06. No, you can't come in.

7:05: Microsft's Chris Lewis has come out and welcomes those in attendance to this year's event. Lewis calls Xbox Live the premiere online console gaming service, says Microsoft has delivered on its mission of making gaming better for gamers, and says they'll keep pushing to get better in the future.

7:08: Xbox Live evangelism time. Lewis says they've delivered on their mission to deliver new experiences to gamers. He says they're not content to rest on their laurels and that Microsoft will continue to evolve the service. He then touts the 1,500 pieces of content on XBL. He says 60 percent of all Xbox 360 gamers are online, as opposed to 10 percent for the original Xbox. More than 80 percent of the consoles that are online are downloading content.

7:09: Lewis announces that tonight on the Marketplace, players can download a Kane and Lynch trailer, which will debut exclusively on Xbox 360 and PC. Another game, Crossfire, will also debut exclusively on the two platforms.

7:10: Lewis then says X06 will come to the Marketplace over the next few days. He references the Leipzig Games Convention and his announcement that the next Winning Eleven and FIFA titles would be next-gen exclusive on 360. Now he says Sensible Soccer, the classic 94 Amiga game from Codemasters, will be coming to XBLA.

Euro chic meets gamer geek at X06 in Barcelona.
Euro chic meets gamer geek at X06 in Barcelona.

7:11: Next up for Live Arcade...Doom.

7:13: Montage time. Doom split-screen Lumines Live. UMK 3. Totem Ball. Defender. Assault Heroes from VU games. Sensible Soccer is listed as early '07. Doom is available tonight for download.

7:13:Peter Moore takes the stage and thanks Chris and congratulates him on the Xbox 360's start in Europe. Moore says the Xbox 360 model is that the console's power is equal part hardware, software, and services. He says, "Only the Xbox 360 delivers on the promise of the next generation." He also says the 360 will deliver on three promises: "Your games. Your friends. Your lifestyle."

7:17: Moore's talking figures now: 160 high-def games this holiday. He emphasizes the system's high-def support, saying it will support movies and games in native 1080p resolution.

7:18: Moore calls Epic's CliffyB onstage to talk Gears of War. Cliffy picks up with the two main characters trapped in an open square with Locusts surrounding them. He says the crowd will be able to play the game today, single, versus, and co-op, drop-in and drop-out. The demo finds Marcus Fenix and Dom Santiago dealing with some murderous locusts in a war-torn square. We see guns, bugs, action, and chainsaws splattering blood on the game's "camera." Europe release date November 17, US still November 12.

7:21: Moore calls Gears of War the best-looking game on any platform coming out this year, then moves to talk about the difficulties of a worldwide launch. "It wasn't perfect, but in the end it's clear that all the blood, sweat, and tears were worth it." Moore says MS is committed to treating every market like a main market.

7:22: Moore references the recent India launch and looks toward the South African launch. The Xbox 360 will be available in 32 countries less than a year after its debut. He talks about the different lineup of games aimed at different regions, Trusty Bell for Japan, Madden for the US, and the soccer games for Europe.

7:23: Moore presents a coming-soon montage: Forza 2, Lost Planet, Lego Star Wars II, Gears of War, FIFA 07, Crossfire, Blue Dragon, The Darkness, Viva Pinata, Alan Wake, Battlestations: Midway, Shadowrun, Fable 2, FEAR, Fuzion Frenzy 2, Splinter Cell: Double Agent, NBA 2K7, Halo 3, Tony Hawk's Project 8, Kane & Lynch: Dead Men, Tiger Woods 07, DOA X2, WWE SmackDown vs. RAW 2007, Crackdown, Mass Effect, Winning Eleven 2007, Call of Duty 3, Need for Speed: Carbon, Stranglehold, Virtua Tennis 3, Rainbow Six Vegas, Sonic the Hedgehog, Team Fortress 2, and Shrek the Third. Moore says MS is excited about reaching out to casual players with titles like the new Banjo and Blue Dragon. He talks about the Viva Piñata TV series, saying it's had 2 million viewers already after only a few weeks on the air. Then he turns to a Viva Piñata trailer.

7:27: The Viva Piñata trailer is playing now. The game is bizarre but has a good sense of style. The theme song is catchy and the mating dances between the Piñatas are hilarious. Moore says that last week at TGS, fans stood in line for two and a half hours to play Blue Dragon. He says it will be coming to Europe in 2007, as well as to North America. Then he shows a Blue Dragon trailer. The trailer starts out with a heavy dose of the game's action, showing the hero's party and a few villains, then moves to cover some more somber scenes.

7:28: The subtitled trailer is playing now, showing off a bunch of cinematics and highlighting Toriyama's art, Uematsu's music, and Sakaguchi's scenario design. The development team on this project is a regular supergroup.

7:31: Moore says Blue Dragon will help Microsoft break into Japan. He then talks about creating new franchises for the fan base, mentioning Mass Effect, Crackdown, and Alan Wake. He says to expect to hear something new about Halo 3 by the end of this year.

7:33: Moore introduces Project Gotham Racing 4 with a trailer. A car revs up and tears through a desolate, almost futuristic sci-fi landscape. Lots of weird energy effects and a total eclipse as the car--and the teaser trailer--skids to a stop. Moore then talks about the next evolution of Xbox Live now, driven by Grand Theft Auto IV. He brings up the October 16, 2007, North American launch of GTA IV and says Rockstar will continue the GTA story with "two epic episodes" launched "within months" of the game's release. Each episode will be exclusive to the 360.

7:34: Switching gears, Moore turns to Assassin's Creed. "Now you'll see it for the first time right here on Xbox 360," Moore says, introducing Jade Raymond, the game's completely stunning producer. She says Assassin's Creed is "inspired by historical events," and she shows a live demo, warning that there might be glitches and popping.

7:37: The demo finds Alteir, the master assassin, mounting a horse and riding into a town. His target is thought to be in the center of town. Alteir walks through crowded streets, turning sideways to struggle away from people.

7:38: The next bit of the game highlighted is freedom. Alteir shoves people around and pushes them down for no good reason, calling attention to himself from passersby. Alteir jumps up to grab the ledge of a nearby building and starts climbing up the entire structure using architectural details like window ledges. Raymond likens it to free-running, or parkour.

7:39: The demo now shows off the "intuition" view that lets you single out people who need killing. Once the target is sighted, we see our boy engage in "social stealth" by blending into a pack of monks so he can get near his target and get his kill on.

7:40: Alteir departs from the group right behind the target and jams a knife in his neck. Then it's time for the getaway. Raymond likens it to American football, saying the crowd is now a bunch of obstacles, and if you run into them too fast, you'll fall down. Alteir's escape route is cutoff, and it's time for the fight. Raymond mentions that the fighting is realistic just in time to see Alteir cut down by a single blow from behind by an enemy.

7:42: The crowd applauds loudly, and a jealous Moore comes back saying he doesn't remember getting applause like that when he took the stage. (Of course, he doesn't look like Ms. Raymond.) Now he mentions BioShock. It will be exclusive to the 360 and Windows this spring. Moore says that like all great psychological thrillers, it's dark, disturbing, and not always what it seems to be.

7:43: The BioShock trailer starts with a washed-out voice talking about a utopian society he built, Rapture, far under the sea. Things have gone wrong in Rapture, and then an ethical quandary is posed to the viewer. "Would you kill an innocent to save yourself? We all make choices, but in the end, our choices make us." The trailer then shows a first-person view of a player dragging a spooky little girl out of her hiding hole and menacing her before her giant robot guardian comes to the rescue. As for the little kid? The robot turns out to be friendly and they hold hands.

7:46: Moore talks about Lost Odyssey's appearance at the Tokyo Game Show and confirms it will be released in Europe and North America. He introduces a demo of the game, mentioning that it's a work in progress and needs to be optimized. Nicky Yamaguchi from Microsoft Game Studios intros the demo, saying it's the first time the game is being shown outside of Japan.

7:47: The demo appears to be the same one given at Microsoft's TGS press conference and mixes CG cinematics with gameplay. The scene is a massive battlefield thick with soldiers, living and dead. A prerendered sequence opens up with troop carriers rolling to a halt and letting dozens of soldiers out on a battlefield. They are quickly cut down by a hail of enemy arrows. Another wave of troops charges, and war machines start to get involved. As the enemy apparently stands triumphant, the downed soldiers are resurrected, with one soldier in particular tearing through the ranks viciously.

7:48: There's a pause in the action and now the player-controlled part takes over. It's one against a horde, with the player character going through menus to choose targets and slashing them, with helpful numbers appearing above their heads to indicate damage done.

7:50: After a relatively uneventful stretch, an enemy war machine comes to the fore and spews fire at the player in a prerendered cutscene. Now in battle, it lobs a fireball at the player to do some damage. The soldier retaliates, taking out one of the machine's two flame cannons. A second back-and-forth exchange leaves the machine defeated. The war machine topples over as the player turns and walks away. The demo is over, and the crowd applauds.

7:53: Moore apologizes for the sound not being cued up properly on the demo, and encourages the crowd to play the game themselves. Now Moore is talking about Lost Planet and says the multiplayer and single-player will be playable at X06. Moving to the West, he brings up Splinter Cell. He intros a video for Double Agent with "never-before-seen footage."

7:55: The video sets up the game's plot, with Fisher going undercover to infiltrate a terrorist cell. A Fisher voice-over says, "Killing thousands to save millions...No one should have to make these choices." Then the trailer takes a turn for the Hollywood, with fast-paced guitar music, quick cuts, and the movie voice-over guy talking about Fisher going further than he's ever gone before. Moore says the "next installment" of Splinter Cell will be exclusive to the Xbox 360 and PC--but he apparently doesn't mean Double Agent.

7:57: Moore brings up Forza Motorsport 2, saying it will have "over 300 cars on disk" in a shot at Gran Turismo HD. An early build will be on the show floor.

7:58: It's time for HD-DVD! The external drive is due in mid-November 2006 in North America for $199.99, in the UK, France, and Germany for €199.99 (£129.99), and other territories in 2007. [CORRECTION] The player comes with the Peter Jackson's King Kong the movie--not the Official Game of the Movie---on HD-DVD and the Xbox 360 Universal Media Remote.

8:00:Games for Windows are getting a big push with a bunch of sexy titles like: Halo 2, Company of Heroes, Alan Wake, Flight Simulator X, Crysis, Age of Conan: Hyborian Adventures, Rail Simulator, Hellgate London, Lego Star Wars II, Shadowrun, Zoo Tycoon 2: Marine Mania, and Lord of the Rings: Shadow of Angmar.

8:03: It's Live Anywhere time now, with Moore talking about the service's easy-to-use interface being consistent across all platforms. The next title supporting the Live Anywhere vision is introduced with a teaser trailer. It's Marvel Universe Online, from Cryptic Studios and Microsoft Games Studios. Apparently, those kids have now put that lawsuit behind them. Marvel Universe Online will be exclusive to the 360 and PC, an obvious counter to Sony Online Entertainment's upcoming DC Comics-based MMOG.

The now-svelte Peter Jackson reveals the new Halo game.
The now-svelte Peter Jackson reveals the new Halo game.

8:05: Moore says there's a partnership that will deliver completely new stories to Xbox Live. Microsoft Game Studios introduces Lord of the Rings director and Halo executive producer Peter Jackson. Jackson takes the stage to hollers and loud applause. He says the first project has been in the works for about a year. He talks about a "not quite a game, not quite a film" experience. He wants to take stories that could become films but maybe won't, and bring them into the world of games.

8:06: The game will be based on Halo!!! It's not Halo 4, and it's not the film, but it will be based in the world of Halo. It will NOT be a traditional game. Is this the much-rumored "Forerunner" game?

8:07: Jackson speaks! "Instead of making a film, we [will] make a form of entertainment that you can watch and enjoy like you would a film," but with interactive elements, he says. Jackson thinks the technology is to the point where games and film can blend, "and the fun of this is going to be figuring out where they can blend." He says it won't be especially for the hardcore game crowd. Moore says this means Microsoft is working on Halo beyond the movie, and Bungie is working on content beyond Halo 3. There will also be an all-new series based on stories from Jackson and Walsh.

8:07: Moore brings Chris Lewis back to the stage to help close the show. Lewis says it's been an amazing night of announcements, and he says it's "very clear" that the 360 is leading the next generation of entertainment. Oh, and "One last thing..." he says, apparently forgetting something. Riiiiight. Here it comes.

8:09: A trailer begins. There's a Warthog from Halo. Lots of them. They're tearing through a barren field with a few Scorpions. Another group of space marines is under attack. The Covenant wipes out the last of that group and prepares for the incoming Warthogs. A full-scale battle erupts, with tons of vehicles left and right. Spartan Group Omega shows up. "If they want war, we'll give 'em war." A logo for "Halo Wars" appears. The game is apparently a real-time strategy title for the Xbox 360 EXCLUSIVELY. Its official Web site is now live.

8:10: The show's over.

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