Joystiq hands-on: 1 vs. 100 (Xbox Live Primetime)

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Joystiq hands-on: 1 vs. 100 (Xbox Live Primetime)
Originally announced during E3 2008, the Xbox Live Primetime channel and its flagship "program," 1 vs. 100 are finally close to going, well ... live. We recently participated in a 1 vs. 100 Live episode, competing against players locally in San Francisco, as well as Los Angeles and Redmond, Washington. While we found the core of the game very similar to other video game "gameshows" (Buzz! Quiz TV for PS3 comes to mind), the live presentation -- including the opportunity to win Microsoft Points and XBLA games -- is undeniably engaging and ambitious.

Read on after the break to hear about our experience and to find out what to expect from the first "season" of the game that may very well eat your social life.

The One and The MOB compete for a share of 10,000 Microsoft Points ($125) per episode.

The setup of 1 vs. 100 is identical to the primetime TV show of the same name. Thousands (Microsoft couldn't provide an exact number) of Xbox Live Gold members can join the live games -- planned for Friday and Saturday nights -- bringing Silver members along, given they're on the same console and don't mind missing out on the ability to win prizes. (More on those in a bit.)

One player is chosen at random to be "The One," while 100 more are selected for The MOB ("Mass of Bodies"). Everyone else is in the virtual audience, but can still play along. Microsoft reckons that during the several rounds that comprise each two-hour-plus live game, every player will likely get a chance to be in The MOB.

The questions are presented in rapid-fire fashion, with mere seconds to choose from three possible answers. (Don't even think about Googling -- there's not enough time. Plus, you'd be a cheater!) Microsoft has a team of writers producing original questions for every show in the 14-week season, eliminating the possibility of repeat questions. If The One answers correctly, that player stays on for the next question. Otherwise, another One is chosen. Members of The MOB drop out as they miss answers and don't return. Eventually the stakes get very high.

It's possible to play locally with up to three other people on a single 360, or join up with friends (or strangers) online to form four-person teams. These four can converse via voice chat, although the game also supports standard Live party chat.

The live shows (there are also nightly Extended Play games which are entirely automated) are hosted by Chris Cashman, a comedian and actor who observes the game from a production studio at Microsoft HQ. He was heading up our session and is a large part of what makes the live show so compelling. Apart from commenting on the game in progress, he'll call players and chat with them "on air" (players will be able to opt out of this when signing up), read players' emails, chat with "special guests" in the studio and generally be very funny. (He certainly was when we played.)

Microsoft has a team of writers producing original questions for every show in the 14-week season.

Now, back to those high stakes. While 1 vs. 100 is undeniably fun, addictive and even free-to-play, its most compelling aspect for many will be the real prizes handed out during each live show. The One and The MOB compete for a share of 10,000 ($125) per episode; technically, if you're extremely good, you could take it all. Also, everyone in The MOB is competing for a free copy of that week's selected XBLA game. It's awarded to the top three point scorers each round and anyone who makes it into the last 10 MOB members standing.

Microsoft will also hold a once-per-season giveaway of Zunes and other electronics, which players can enter by taking part in the nightly Extended Play sessions. Placing among the top contestants will reward players with virtual raffle tickets for the drawing.

1 vs. 100 is free to play, but, as we learned (and saw,) it will be advertising supported. The arena is sponsored, the "show" is sponsored, and there will be commercial breaks during each session. But, hey, it's free -- and, as we found, the breaks are a very good thing; the game gets intense.

We asked Microsoft if there are any plans for cross-overs between the 360 game and the actual network show, such as the potential for top online players to appear in a televised broadcast, and were told "no" -- although the idea seemed to go over very well with the game's producers.

As we said at the outset, 1 vs. 100 doesn't revolutionize games, but it was incredibly engaging in our experience, thanks to the live presentation and chance to win real prizes. Plus, the questions were very good, not to mention especially current. We anticipate the live games being fairly massive weekly events that will ultimately make this a bona fide hit. We'll be playing -- will you?
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