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Major Nelson confirms that in the US, the weekend of March 31 - April 2 will be the first that Xbox Live Silver members will get access to Xbox Live Gold features for free, including network multiplayer.

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Part One of Simon Dupuis' Portal of Sigma scenario for Marathon has been released. Information about the release, which includes the first chapter and 11 net levels, can be found at Scenario News over at marathon.bungie.org. The files themselves can be downloaded from the Lh'owon Ar'kives.

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About five years ago, I wondered that the introduction of a PC-like console, plus a network service like Xbox Live, might lead to consoles and console games that were just as buggy as their PC counterparts, and that would require constant post-purchase updating to fix the many glitches.

That day is now here.

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Some Halo-related and not-so-Halo-related news for today:

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Achronos writes at Bungie.net that the playlist update is complete. Last week's update at Bungie.net detailed all the changes. The bottom line is, if you can still see playlists like Head to Head-- which has been deleted-- you're not seeing the changes, and you need to logout and then login to Xbox Live again.

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Microsoft has listed all 200 or so games they say that the Xbox 360 will be backwards compatible with, as well as revealing that all such games, not just Halo and Halo 2, will be automatically upscaled to 720p. Microsoft's VP for the Xbox Product Group, Todd Holmdahl, also did a Q&A about the 360's backwards compatibility.

As mentioned earlier, the hard drive accessory is necessary for backwards compatibility, in order to store the "emulation profile" for the game you're trying to play. The hard drive comes preloaded with early versions of the profiles for Halo and Halo 2.

NOTE: Marty "the Elder" O'Donnell warns that this early version of the emulation profile for Halo and Halo 2 has serious problems with audio, and urges everyone to get the new version via XBL or Xbox.com before playing:

Without the update the audio will suck. Without the update you will think that your new Xbox 360 is broken.

Other profiles can be downloaded from XBL or installed from a CD, either one you burn yourself after downloading profiles from Xbox.com on your computer, or on a CD ordered from Microsoft.

Saved games will not be transferred from old Xboxes.

This week's Bungie Update mentions that texture pop-in on Halo 2 should be "slightly improved" due to the new box's DVD drive. Copies of Halo and/or Halo 2 running in emulation on Xbox 360s are compatible in network games with players running those games on original Xboxes. Halo 1 still doesn't support Xbox Live, and won't. The

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Frankie's Weekly What's Update at Bungie.net promises that the lack of information about.. whatever it is they're doing isn't just to spite us all:

We're torn between two goalposts (worst metaphor ever!) which are; waiting til' we're comfortable about talking about it, and being very busy making it. I know that's frustrating, but it's a complicated business and we're not just being jerks.

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Frankie was quick to point out (as usual) that the (disastrous) results of the latest Humpday Challenge are up at Bungie.net.

The Cayote Cavegirls took two games out of three against Bungie, with the second game being a draw due to a power outage. In the words of Frankie:

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All Xbox 360 games that use Xbox Live for online play are going to share a single method for doing matchmaking: a system called TrueSkill and based on methods similar to those used for ranking chess players. IGN has an in-depth look at the TrueSkill system with its creators.

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Bit by bit, the new features of the revised Xbox.com website are coming online. The My Xbox and new forums appear to be working now. One of the more interesting features in My Xbox is the much-touted Gamercard feature, that shows a personal avatar, your Zone, your Rep, and your Gamertag.

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Frankie's latest Weekly What's Update at Bungie.net makes up for in important details what it lacks in epic scope.

Namely, it mentions the over fifty thousand XBL accounts permanently banned, the over $175,000 raised for Katrina relief efforts by the Fight the Flood campaign, and how a seven-foot tall female Spartan killing machine looks without a gun.

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Xbox.com is carrying an official notice of a 24-hour outage of Xbox.com and Xbox Live on October 24, 2005, in preparation for a new look for both the service and the site, including the launch of My Xbox in early November and the Xbox 360 launch in late november.

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Frankie's written a Bungie.net primer on the new Team Hardcore playlist, arranged with the input of Major League Gaming. To help Frankie stay alive more than two ten seconds in Team Hardcore, he enlisted the help of MLG's own director of communications, Dolbex.

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Xbox 360 users will have their "gamer card" showing their XBL gamertag, picture, last five games and "gamerscore" tightly integrated into a new version of Xbox.com, including the new forumsm says Major Nelson in his latest blog entry.

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Multiplayer game aficionados who use Macintosh computers have been hampered by a lack of a VOIP program compatible with the popular TeamSpeak software. No more. The first beta release of TeamSpeex has just been released. Go try it out. Thanks IMG.

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