Preview: Xbox Live on Windows Phone 7 and launch games

Late last night (likely past your bedtime, unless you've got some super cool parents), Microsoft revealed the launch line-up of games and revealed some additional Xbox Live functionality for Windows Phone 7. Since we didn't get to put our fingers on the new interface and games in NYC like our dear friends at Engadget, we hopped on over to MS PR's digs in San Francisco offices yesterday to test it all out. First on the docket: games.

Microsoft is expecting to launch with a ton of games -- as for when, it's tentatively scheduled for "Holidays 2010." Apparently it's determined by the phone manufacturers, but Windows Phone 7's games launch is already looking to dwarf the launch of Xbox Live Arcade on the Xbox 360. I spent the majority of my time with five games:

This is a puzzle-platformer with a co-op spin. You control two different characters (one red, one blue), switching between each to solve puzzles with the ultimate goal being to unite the two. Using an on-screen d-pad to move around, the combination of art style and extremely easy-to-get-into gameplay made this a favorite for me. Plus there are even some cool three-dimensional puzzles where you move around the world a la Super Mario Galaxy. Very neat!

An isometric shooter/action-RPG with tons of customization options, Harvest was mostly a graphical showpiece for Microsoft, presenting how the phones can produce some very strong visuals. I noticed hiccups that affected the frame rate, but they were too few and far between to ruin the experience -- it ran at 30fps for the most part, and had some really clean textures. The gameplay itself felt a bit stale: the mech moved to slow; there weren't very many different attacks available; and the few environments I saw felt constrained -- but I didn't get enough time with it to really get a sense of whether that would be de rigeur. Still, impressive visuals on such a small device.%Gallery-87931%
Max and the Magic Marker
This is a platformer with a Kirby's Canvas Curse-like drawing interface where you literally draw platforms into the game world -- you know, just like in the WiiWare game with the same name? You may have noticed some problems when Engadget was demoed the game with drawing platforms and interacting with them, but when I got my hands on it, I had no problem whatsoever. It was a pretty pleasant time and the touch-screen controls were really responsive.

Rocket Riot
I'm not gonna lie: I briefly thought about running out of the place, firmly gripping an LG phone loaded with Windows Phone 7, after just a few minutes with Rocket Riot. CodeGlue's retro-inspired jetpack-fueled shmup sucked me in the second I started playing it. Using the left side of the touch-screen, you control where your character flies around and, while swiping in directions on the right side of the screen, you'll launch rockets in that direction. Pick-ups allowed me to do spread shots, a la Contra, while others turned my rockets into downward-dropping death from above. Surprisingly, utilizing this dual-input method didn't take up too much of the screen.

Crackdown 2: Project Sunburst
Utilizing bing maps (meaning you can play in any major city, your backyard or any map you can bring up through bing), this tower defense game is pretty cut and dry: you set up turrets and defenses, trying to stave the constant onslaught of freaks. One of the neat things about this was that the enemies were smart -- troops wouldn't simply meander about the map, they actually used streets and surface roads to advance. This means you don't get troops who will just walk over buildings and pretty much ignore the real-life obstacles around them.

Xbox Live
After spending time with some of the games, it was time to check out the Xbox Live integration. Users who are logged in through the phone will have their Xbox Live status displayed as such -- sadly, you can't join party chats or video chats your friends are in on their consoles through the phone, though future functionality wasn't ruled out. Because it's an open development platform and a lot of the features are tied to the hardware, a dev could ideally create a game or app that actually lets you conduct video chats from phone-to-phone or phone-to-console.

Most of the stuff you saw yesterday was available here, giving us a look at using Avatars and the barebones Avatar Marketplace currently available in the build. While the reps wouldn't let me log in with my own Gamertag, I was promised that setting up a profile on the phone is as simple as signing in with your Windows Live ID -- think: I then asked if the phone could be used to transport profiles between consoles (or, heck, even game saves, using it as a storage device), but that functionality wasn't something that was on the table right now.

So most of what I saw was already shown yesterday: through the free day-one DLC, Avatar Extras, you'll be able to poke and interact with your Avatar in fun ways, but it's all very cosmetic. Perhaps more promising is what the tech will allow devs to do: the built-in level or flashlight applications could be tailored to game experiences, should a dev go down that road. It's pretty much up to them.

Microsoft confirmed that whether you're a Silver or Gold subscriber, you can load your profile up on the phone and peruse the marketplace. The phone is being positioned more as a transitional experience -- folks get the phone, they make a profile on there and pick up some games and, Microsoft hopes, will want to get an Xbox 360 and bring their persona over there. While I can't comment on the potential there, I can say that it's a pretty alluring experience for current Xbox Live users.

Finally, here are some random tidbits from my session:
  • When purchasing content, you'll have the option to either pay the exact amount in cash or add the price of the content to your monthly bill -- no Microsoft Points here!
  • Bluetooth gaming adapters aren't ruled out, so if a dev wants to implement that tech, they can
  • The LG phone did have a QWERTY keyboard, which is available for devs to utilize
  • Xbox Live features will only be available to devs who go through Microsoft to publish the games -- Indie Games can still be published on the phone for free or however much those devs want to set the price at
  • Windows Phone 7 will support Mac OS "in some way" and you'll be able to sideload content onto the device -- everything will pretty much be done through Zune
  • Achievements will be capped at 200 Gamerscore per game -- it's up to devs to come up with the specific Achievement conditions, obviously

This article was originally published on Joystiq.