Microsoft reveals the Xbox 360
(continued from previous page) ...multimedia capabilities, the 360 will be able to link up to a Microsoft Media Center PC for further functionality. "If you have a Media Center on your home network, you can stream music, you can stream photos, or you could stream high def sports and high-def movies from your media centre over your Xbox 360," said Allard.
The Xbox 360 will also come with complimentary access to the next generation of Xbox Live--sort of. Again, as previously rumoured, Xbox Live will soon come in two flavours: Xbox Live Silver and Xbox Live Gold. The silver version of the service will be free to Xbox 360 owners and will give gamers access to basic next-gen Live services.
First off, Silver subscribers will be able to create their own Gamer Profile. As J Allard mentioned in his GDC keynote, this will have several components, including: the "Gamer Card" summary of its owner, a "Gamerscore" summary with said owner's on- and offline gaming achievements (which will also be listed separately), and a "Reputation" showing how other gamers rate the owner via an eBay-style feedback system. This will also list the owner's preference of GamerZone (see below).
Xbox Live Silver will also give users access to the Xbox Live Marketplace, which will allow players to download "new game trailers, demos, episodic content, new game levels, maps, weapons, vehicles, skins and other types of new content on demand," according to Microsoft. While some of this content will be free, as Allard outlined in his GDC keynote, most will cost a small amount of money via microtransactions of less than one dollar. But rather than charging their credit cards for every five-cent Project Gotham Racing III decal, Xbox Live subscribers will have to pre-purchase blocks of credit, either directly from Microsoft or via prepaid cards from retailers like GameStop.
The gamer profile will also denote which "GamerZone" the owner prefers. That's right: to separate the n00bs from the 733ts, the new Xbox Live is broken down into four zones: "R&R," for casual players; "Pro," for the hardcore; "Underground," for "those who take an alternative approach to gaming," according to Microsoft; and "Family" for all-ages gaming.
Not just for games any more, voice chat in the new Xbox Live will now be accessible to Silver subscribers whenever the 360 is on--making it a de facto alternative to the phone. "You no longer have to be playing the same game or in the same game session to communicate," said Microsoft. "You can be playing a game while your friend is watching a movie."
Xbox Live Silver also includes access to massively multiplayer online games, though subscription fees to said games still apply. But to engage in online multiplayer sessions with any other type of game, gamers will have to shell out for Xbox Live Gold, the 360's premium service. Xbox Live subscribers will be able to swap their current accounts for Gold accounts for free.
Besides facilitating online play, XBL Gold will also feature the video chat functionality Allard demonstrated at E3 in 2004, although it will require the purchase of an EyeToy-like peripheral for the "video camera ready" console. Gold members will also be able to enter multiplayer online tournaments that Microsoft plans on staging, as well as participate in "Xbox Live online programming" such as celebrity gaming sessions and contests.
But for all the details Microsoft did release today, several major questions about the Xbox 360 remain unanswered. Foremost among these is the console's price, which analysts estimate will run between $299 and $399--and some predict will be $360. Nor did Microsoft address whether or not there will be more than one version of the Xbox 360 on store shelves at launch.
Microsoft also danced around the subject of backward compatibility for the time being. "The obvious point that comes up that's always interesting to talk about is backward compatibility and it's something we will talk about at E3," said Bach. "We haven't been public with what's happening there for a lot of different reasons and that will end on Monday night. That's one of the few things I am bound by my own NDA not to discuss."
However, Bach did make one thing abundantly clear, the Xbox 360 will arrive by Christmas 2005 in all territories. "The last thing I'll say is just to confirm we will be ... (continued on next page)