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Phantasy Star Universe Xbox 360 users with an Xbox Live Gold account will be able to participate in Sega’s upcoming open beta test for Phantasy Star Universe on October 11. Sega’s official Phantasy Star Universe site has the details of the open beta. The test itself will run from October 11th through October 18th, and will let users experience some of the online multiplayer functionality of the game. According to the site, the beta will be available on the Xbox Live Marketplace sometime between October 11th and October 12th.

The Xbox 360 version of Phantasy Star Universe should hit stores on the same date as the PC and Playstation 2 versions, October 24th. Xbox 360 users will have their own servers; while PC and Playstation 2 users will be able to interact with each other online, Xbox 360 users will only be able to see other players with the Xbox 360 version of the game. For the final version of Phantasy Star Universe, Xbox 360 owners with either a Silver or Gold account will be able to play online. Phantasy Star Universe will cost $9.99 per month to play. Hopefully the online beta will help Sega avoid the server meltdowns that plagued the Japanese launch of the Playstation 2 and PC versions.

Read More | Phantasy Star Universe


Burning CrusadeA forum post from Blizzard’s official World of Warcraft site indicates that the company is laying the groundwork for the first external closed beta testing for their upcoming expansion pack, Burning Crusade. According to the post, selection criteria included past PTR contest winners and BlizzCon attendees, but Blizzard is looking for a wide demographic for their first phase of beta testing. Future beta opportunities will expand this group in the future, but to finally have word that Blizzard is opening up the new content to external users is a great indication of progress towards a final release.

Read More | World of Warcraft Forums via GamerScan

X06 Barcelona

Microsoft is making a download of their opening announcements for the start of X06 in Barcelona available at Xbox.com. Microsoft announced a new game in the Banjo & Kazooie franchise coming from Microsoft Game Studios. For Xbox Live Arcade, Microsoft announced that Doom would be available starting tonight on Xbox Live Arcade. Other Live Arcade games announced include:

  • Sensible Soccer
  • Contra
  • Ultimate Mortal Kombat
  • Small Arms
  • Gyrus
  • TotemBall
  • Defender
  • Assault Heroes
  • Heavy Weapon
  • Settlers of Catan

In terms of upcoming games, the Japanese RPG Blue Dragon will be available in the US and Europe in 2007. Bungie will have an announcement about Halo 3 by the end of the year. Project Gotham Racing 4 was officially unveiled. Rockstar announced that Grand Theft Auto IV will have two exclusive episodes available for download on Xbox Live. Ubisoft demonstrated Assassin’s Creed interactive gameplay for the first time ever. Bioshock was announced as an Xbox 360 and Windows exclusive. Lost Odyssey was confirmed for the US and Europe, with a trailer showing some of the battle gameplay. More than 500,000 gamers downloaded the Lost Planet demo, and both multiplayer and single player gameplay will be available on the show floor. Splinter Cell: Double Agent footage was shown, and the sequel will be exclusive to the Xbox 360 and on Windows.

The Xbox 360 HD DVD was confirmed to be available in Mid-November 2006 in Europe and the United States for $199.00 US, 199.99 Euros, and 129.99 British Pounds. The package will also include remote, and for a limited time King Kong on HD DVD. Moore also discusses Microsoft’s Games for Windows initiative, and indicates that Windows Vista is still on track for a January 2007 release. Moore also revealed the first preview of Marvel Universe: Online for the Xbox 360 and Windows.

Peter Jackson spoke at the presentation and announced that he has formed a partnership with Microsoft Game Studios. His first project will be an interactive entertainment title set in the Halo universe, apart from Halo 3 and the upcoming film, and Jackson will also be creating a new interactive game series based on original IP. Finally, the presentation wraps with a trailer from a Halo real-time strategy game from Ensemble Studios, called Halo Wars.

The video should be available online soon on Xbox.com at the link below, and should be available as a download via Xbox Live.

Read More | Keynote Summary at Xbox.com

Read More | Xbox.com

The Game InitiativeOne of the more exciting panels at the Austin Game Conference was a panel simply called “MMOG Rant” as Gamespot reports. On the panel were representatives from several different MMORPG publishing houses, including NCsoft, Bioware Austin, Sony Online Entertainment, and former employees of Turbine Entertainment and Mythic Entertainment.

While Blizzard wasn’t represented directly, World of Warcraft certainly received a lot of attention from the panel. Complaints ranged from problems with post-sale service to issues with copycats, financing, innovation, and execution. Other than the post-sale service, the issues the MMORPG development community seems to be facing is similar to the game industry as a whole. While venture capital seems to be flowing into genre developers seeking to build the next World of Warcraft, the big problem seems to be that investors are literally looking for the next World of Warcraft. Getting funding for innovative or unique projects seems to be as much of a problem in the MMORPG realm as it is in console or PC gaming. The article offers an unvarnished look into the frustrations of MMORPG developers.

Read More | Gamespot

Phantasy Star Universe According to a report on PSO-World, Sega’s launch of their latest in the Phantasy Star series, Phantasy Star Universe has been rescheduled for October. The game went on sale this past weekend, but server problems have forced Sega to pull the Japanese game servers offline as of September 3. Sega has issued an apology letter to gamers, and stated that 30-day free trials will be reset when the game re-launches. In PSO-World’s translation of the letter, Sega will re-open the Network Mode Service on September 6. During September, Sega will be trying to troubleshoot and fix any issues with the online service. On October 1, Sega plans to have the service fully back online, and all free trials will start counting down on that date. Hopefully, Sega can work through their problems quickly; the game is scheduled to ship in the US on October 24, 2006 for the PC, Xbox 360, and Playstation 2.

Read More | PSO-World

World of WarcraftIn the MMORPG arena, World of Warcraft has become the dominant game title. The game has so completely dwarfed its competition and gained so much popularity that others in the industry are now wondering about the impact this is having on the rest of the industry. With so many subscribers and the amount of time that dedicated fans plan the game, some PC game developers believe that Blizzard’s success comes at the expense of other PC game titles. Wagner James Au at GigaOM investigated this trend to see World of Warcraft could be depressing PC game sales. Au cites Warren Spector with some anecdotal evidence:

“…it does seem logical to assume that a game that’s sucking up as much free time and available capital from so many people is going to cause a drop in game sales… I know several people… who play more WoW and less of everything else these days.”

Still, industry analysts disagree. The NPD Group, which tracks video game sales, indicates that the industry had been slumping prior to the release of World of Warcraft. Another analyst from DFC Intelligence also disagreed. Certainly Microsoft seems to believe that the issues plaguing PC game sales can’t be traced back to Blizzard.

Microsoft is seeking to simplify the process of buying a Windows game. They are also trying to unify the marketing of games for Windows under a single banner, much like console games are today. Mark Rein blames Intel’s integrated chipsets for killing the category, but one could just as easily point to the rapid growth of laptop sales versus desktop sales. While desktop users can pretty easily upgrade their hardware, for most laptop owners, this is next to impossible. While today’s high end laptop plays current games well, two years from now that same laptop may be at the low end of the scale. Frustrations with copy protection technology like Starforce can’t help matters either. There are many potential reasons why PC gaming may be losing marketshare; blaming one of the few successes in the field seems like an odd conclusion to make.

Read More | GigaOM

Burning Crusade Naga

Dean Takahashi of the Mercury News was recently able to get a preview of the new Burning Crusade expansion pack for Blizzard’s World of Warcraft. He was able to talk with lead designer Tom Chilton and Shon Damron from public relations. The expansion is still on target for the end of the year and the beta program is set to begin soon.

Chilton covers some previously known territory; the level cap gets raised to 70, and there are two new races: the Draenei for the Alliance and the Blood Elves for the Horde. Then Chilton releases new details about the starting areas for the new races. According to him, the new areas will increase the world size by about 30 percent. Blizzard also revealed some new characteristics for the races, and some details about the new level 70 region, Hellfire Peninsula. Finally, Blizzard also released some new screens for the expansion pack as well. With all the new content, expect World of Warcraft fans to have all available time stolen towards the end of the year.


Read More | Mercury News

Draenei Shaman

Blizzard recently announced a serious shake-up to the class balance in World of Warcraft: The Burning Crusade. In a post on their website, it was revealed that gamers playing the new races would have access to classes typically available only to the opposing faction. The new Alliance race, the draenei, will have the shaman class available; previously this was a Horde exclusive. Similarly, the Horde’s new blood elf race will be able to select the paladin class. In World of Warcraft, the idea behind the two classes was initially to give each faction access to a unique class with its own abilities and weaknesses. Breaking this wall should allow Blizzard more flexibility in class tuning, so that game play balance will be easier to maintain. It will be interesting to see if these changes will be enough to address the Alliance versus Horde population imbalance that one typically finds online. The Burning Crusade expansion should ship before the end of the year.

Read More | World of Warcraft

Final Fantasy XIReports have been circulating that Square-Enix was planning a follow-up to their massively multiplayer online RPG, Final Fantasy XI. This sequel was supposedly due to appear on the Xbox 360, Playstation 3, and Windows Vista platforms. Today, Square denied such rumors, stating that there were no current plans for such a game. Instead, additional expansion content is being actively developed for Final Fantasy XI. Also, Square restated their E3 announcement: there will be a new online title for next generation platforms, but they insist this will be a completely new MMORPG. 

Read More | Square-Enix

Half-Life 2EA recently hosted the Summer Showcase to highlight some of their upcoming products, and Gamespot blogged a live report from the presentation.

Mythic was there, and showed off the E3 Warhammer Online trailer, but there was no information on their work on Ultima Online.

Valve’s Gabe Newell was also there. He first talked about the latest upgrades to the Source engine for Episode 2. Then, he showed off the prototype for a new game with a working title of Portal. Team Fortress 2 was shown and features a new look and feel; the game has been remade to have more of a 60’s era spy movie sensibility. Half-Life: Episode 2 will apparently hit the PC, Xbox 360, and the Playstation 3 on the same day. Console gamers will also get all previous Half-Life 2 content, so it looks like the Xbox 360 Half-Life 2 rumors were true.

Other game titles discussed include the recently announced Lord of the Rings: The White Council, and the six Wii games that EA announced earlier. Need for Speed: Carbon was shown for both Xbox 360 and Playstation 3 and apparently looked very similar. There was other mystery content announced that could not be talked about, so hopefully more information about those titles will leak out in the near future.

Read More | Gamespot