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Microsoft Powers Up Xbox 360

Microsoft powers up Xbox 360

Xbox 360 rocks!” billionaire Bill Gates proclaimed to a packed Shrine Auditorium audience during a pretaped skit shown at Microsoft’s E3 press conference Monday night.

The event, featuring presentations by Xbox executives Robbie Bach, J Allard, and Peter Moore, served as the second official unveiling of Xbox 360. Microsoft used the briefing to flesh out details for its new console and unleash its intriguing new lineup of game titles.

Microsoft had initially shown Xbox 360 on cable network MTV last week but offered few details then as to its specifications. At the press conference, however, Bach informed the audience that the backward-compatible Xbox 360 will debut this holiday season, with anywhere from 25 to 40 games available at its launch. Among these promised launch titles are Tecmo’s beautiful 3D fighter Dead or Alive 4, Bethesda Softworks’ epic RPG The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, and six Electronic Arts games, including Need for Speed: Most Wanted, The Godfather, and Madden NFL 06.

“We are here to celebrate the launch of the world’s most powerful gaming system,” Bach told the audience. Videos for Xbox 360–exclusive titles Lost Odyssey, Project Gotham Racing 3, Gears of War, Dead or Alive 4, and Call of Duty 2 did not outright confirm Bach’s statement, but they were nonetheless highly impressive in their graphical quality

and hinted at great things for the fledg-ling console.

Bach, Allard, and Moore touted Xbox 360’s power and great appeal. Moore promised, “In the HD [high-definition] era, we’re going to develop the Zen of gaming,” and he was topped by Allard, who said, “Next generation, a billion people will play our games.” In addition to these ambitious statements, Microsoft offered more news the conference attendees wanted to hear—including an announcement that Japanese gamemaker and former Xbox holdout Square Enix will produce titles for Xbox 360, starting with a version of its massively multiplayer online role-playing game Final Fantasy XI.

Beyond its games, Xbox 360 will be compatible with competitors’ products, such as Apple’s iPod and Sony’s handheld game system PSP. Console users will be able to stream video via Xbox Live; send messages to their friends via text, voice, or video; personalize their system’s interface; purchase music and movies; chat with other gamers via a video camera; and access game demos and episodic content. To this end, Microsoft announced it will provide free Xbox Live access straight out of the box with its new console, with a higher level of service available for paid subscribers.

Although the focus of the conference was largely on Xbox 360, Microsoft has not forsaken its Xbox. Microsoft plans to support the console through 2006. More than 2 million subscribers will be active on Xbox Live as of June 2005, and 200-plus games will see release for Xbox this year. To confirm its commitment, Microsoft showed videos for such diverse titles as Ultimate Spider-Man, Half-Life 2, Conker: Live & Reloaded, Batman Begins, Star Wars Battlefront II, Gauntlet: Seven Sorrows, and Kingdom Under Fire: Heroes.

by greg orlando

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