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business

At first glance, this story probably will inspire a lot of "duh, so what" responses. After all, modchips are used to do lots of things to your Xbox console, nearly all of which Microsoft doesn't want you to do.

They can let you play illegally copied games. They can let you modify your Xbox in ways that permit cheating on Xbox Live (although for the most part it can't stop them from detecting you). It can also let you run unrelated software on your Xbox, such as the Linux operating system, turning it into a codec-agnostic media player or even a budget PC. Neither of those things generate additional post-sale revenue to Microsoft, and some even make the company look bad (hee, hee! Linux on an Xbox!) or could draw the ire of organizations like the RIAA towards Microsoft if they are seen as contributing to infringement by, say, supporting codecs like DivX which are alleged to be used primarily for pirating video.

So what's not surprising is Ozymandias' latest blog entry where he details the reasons why Xbox owners might mod their box and the reasons why he can't "condone" it. He completely bypasses the cheating issue and never once mentions Xbox Live, so I'll also leave that mostly out of this. He does propose three reasons why he can imagine someone might mod an Xbox:

  • the ability to copy and play pirated games
  • the ability to play import games
  • the ability to add new functionality (such as running homebrew software)

Nobody reasonable is going to argue that easy access to pirated games is bad for Microsoft, bad for the platform, and bad for deveopers. No one is going to expect Microsoft to condone using a modchip for this purpose.

Where this goes wrong is when Ozymandias decides he needs to pile on the piracy issue and make a lot of the same bogus generalizations that have been thrown around for the better part of two and a half decades now.

Click "read more" below for the entire article.

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If you need any more proof that what goes around, comes around-- usually to end up smacking you in the face when you turn around-- read this story at Joystiq alleging that not making Halo 4 would be stupid. I saw the story linked at HBO.

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We're extremely late in mentioning this article, but Gamasutra did an interview with Wideload Games founder Alexander "The Man" Seropian last month as Part 2 of their Tour of Chicago. Seropian's post-Bungie startup is based there, as Bungie was prior to the Microsoft buyout.

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There's been a flurry of activity around the backwards compatibility feature of the Xbox 360 lately. Clearly, this has been a tough feature for Microsoft to make, maintain, and to promote. Just under 250 original Xbox games are compatible with the Xbox 360, which is less than a third of all the games available.

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San Jose Mercury News columnist Dean Takahashi has written a second book about Microsoft's foray into the console gaming business. Released as an eBook, The Xbox 360 Uncloaked: The Real Story Behind Microsoft's Next-Generation Video Game Console also offers some interesting perspectives on the development of Bungie's Halo franchise.

That the fate of the new console should be tied to Bungie's flagship game is certainly no shock; since 2001 Bungie's series of shooters have been system-sellers for the Xbox, and Halo 2 has had a stranglehold on the top spot in Microsoft' Xbox Live online gaming service since it was released in late 2004.

Takahashi's book claims that Bungie became caught in a struggle between the hardware and software sides of the Microsoft Games Division over how to best promote both the platform as a whole and individual games, and that eventually Hamilton Chu, Pete Parsons, as well as other Bungie staffers, and Ed Fries, who spearheaded the buyout of Bungie by Microsoft, were all casualties of it in one way or another.

The below text is a sort of "executive summary" of the book, including many the points where the stories of Bungie and Halo intersect with the business of Microsoft Games Studio and the division of Microsoft that makes the Xbox and the Xbox 360. Excerpts from Takahashi's book are reproduced here with permission of the author. All quotations and paraphrases of statements by personnel currently or formerly of Microsoft or Bungie, whether identified by name or not, are taken from the book; no one contacted for this article wished to comment for the record at the time of its publication.

Click "read more" from the front page for the entire article.

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The Escapist has the third part in a series by Warren Spector of Deus Ex fame, currently heading up Junction Point Studios. It's not about any specific title, but about trends in the gaming industry; specifically increasing costs. Near the end, there's a bit about Wideload Games:

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As the philosopher once said, "we demand rigidly defined areas of doubt and uncertainty". Those areas certainly are a bit less defined these days, as rumors about Bungie, its flagship Halo franchise, and the Xbox it rode in on are flying fast and furious.

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Recently a poster in the HBO forum retorted that he wasn't even bothering to read the latest Bungie Weekly Update because it only contained generalizations and secrets; nothing concrete.

Whether one is itching for Bungie to say something about what it's working on or not, I felt that going to the effort to say that one wasn't going to the effort of reading the Update oneself to determine if there was new information in it or not was a bit silly.

This sparked debate about a number of related issues, into which the idea was injected that Bungie isn't saying anything because they have nothing they want to say.

I won't summarize the entire exchange in any more detail; the thread in the HBO forum is still there, so those who have not yet taken a look may do so.

I think it's assumed that Bungie has nothing they want to say right now. The question for months now has been why there isn't anything Bungie wants to talk about. Especially when Frankie is writing that things are going so well and there are so many cool things and that he wants to talk about them but he can't.

That creates the impression that not only does Microsoft want to talk about some new project that may or may not be "Halo 3" but can't (or rather does, but then recants) because Bungie hasn't announced it, but that individual employees also want to talk about this new project, while others say that there isn't anything they want to talk about.

There either is, or is not, a pink elephant in the room. I think many of us would just like it acknowledged whether or not it's really there, even if we don't get any details whatsoever on what kind of pink elephant it is or when it is going to be released in stores. If it's there, we can reassure ourselves that we're not seeing things. If it's not, we can all go back to our twelve-step programs and try to put our lives back together.

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While some are joining Bungie, others are leaving to make their bitemark on the world on their own. GameDaily is reporting that developers from the Halo and Half-Life teams, including Hamilton Chu and and Michael Evans, formerly of Bungie, are forming a new studio called Giant Bite.

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[image:10010 right hspace=5 vspace=5 border=0] Longtime Bungiefen and former developer at Free Radical Max "mad.max" Dyckhoff has been hired by Bungie as an AI Engineer. What will he be working on? This:

Seriously, Damian and I have a plethora of very cool ideas for things the AI characters can do that will draw you even deeper into the game world. I will be implementing behaviours in characters that will really engage the player – possibly even making them want to marry them.

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This has gone beyond amusing into the realm of annoying. Shane Kim, GM of Microsoft Game Studios, responded to a question about Halo 3 thusly:

Shane Kim: I call it The Mythical Halo 3 - we haven't announced any such game yet! Obviously the Halo franchise is very important to us. When you have Bill Gates being quoted fairly constantly, talking about a game, you know it's important to the company. But his recent comments reflect the position accurately. Which is that, if there were a Halo 3 we would be careful about how we announce and introduce it.

Does anybody honestly believe that Microsoft's chairman doesn't know what's going on with a product like Halo and has to be reminded before repeatedly making public statements? Does anyone honestly not believe that what actually went on here is that Gates spilled the beans-- more than once-- and then had to be reined in to respect the right of Bungie Studios to control their own announcements about what games are under development?

Of course Bungie should jealously protect whatever rights for self-determination they received in terms of the buyout; but for everyone else, this game isn't fun anymore. If there is actually a Halo 3 under development, then the final revelation that it does, in fact, exist, is going to evoke universal reactions of "no kidding". If it isn't, then Microsoft has been playing coy all this time when it could have just said it was giving the Halo franchise a rest for awhile to let Bungie work on something else. They haven't said that. In fact, at this time, if it were announced that Halo 3 was NOT under development for the Xbox 360, you'd probably see Microsoft's stock take a hit, as if there's no system-selling game coming out once the supply problems are taken care of, there'll be little reason that all the Halo and Halo 2 fans have to upgrade. They might have survived such negative consequences had they made such an announcement right after the launch of Halo 2. But everyone is expecting Halo 3 now.

Either Halo 3 is currently in development for the Xbox 360, or we've all been so fooled by Microsoft's application of reverse psychology that our brain matter has turned to mush.

Incidentally, Bungie knew that people would be scrutinizing their last update-- a video tour of their offices which for reasons of secrecy doesn't actually feature much of their offices, unless you count Starbuck's, the alley outside, a storage area and the air conditioners part of the office-- for clues about the next project, so the titles "Pimps At Sea" and even "Marathon 4" were prominently featured on whiteboards for our amusement.

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Dean Takahashi, author of Opening the Xbox and gaming columnist for the San Jose Mercury News, has written a feature story about Microsoft's ambitious plans for the Xbox 360.

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Two major categories of news in this roundup: Stubbs and Xbox 360.

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Doesn't anybody want an Xbox 360 Core?

Our own poll here shows that even people who don't want an Xbox 360 outnumber those who want a Core. It's understandable; hardcore Halo fans want to play their old Halo games on the Xbox, and that requires a hard drive.

In all seriousness, does anybody want a Core? Microsoft isn't even offering it in the Japanese market, where the old Xbox did very poorly, and so backwards compatibility is a non-issue. Xbox360News is reporting that the US may have upwards of a million Xbox 360 units for the launch date, but that a mere 20% of those are Cores.

Are even those going to be sold, except to people pissed off that they can't find a full-fledged Xbox 360, but are willing to add the HD and wireless controller later just for the privilege of getting their hands on the console immediately? If the percentage of Cores shipped was actually higher, I'd suspect a massive bait and switch maneuver was underway.

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NewCityChicago's Mike Schramm has produced a nicely researched little feature on Alex "The Man" Seropian; it includes a brief history of Bungie, with a proper tip of the hat to Marathon as the genesis of Halo, and an introduction to Wideload and their brainchild, Stubbs the Zombie.

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