We've known that proper Xbox Live gaming (powered by XNA) was coming to Windows Phone 7 devices, but we'd yet to see any of that thumb-spraining goodness in action besides a brief demo and a few developer videos. Well, Microsoft has finally come clean with details about its launch strategy for the platform, and from where we sit, it's definitely looking pretty promising. First off, the company has announced a full list of launch titles for WP7 handsets, including some familiar names and franchises like Castlevania, Halo: Waypoint, Star Wars, Crackdown, and Guitar Hero, alongside a handful of newer properties like the ultra-cute ilomilo, produced in-house by Microsoft Game Studios. In total, the company will launch with over 60 game titles, with new offerings appearing every week in the Xbox Live Marketplace, just like its big brother console version. We've got all the details, a full list of the launch titles, and our hands-on preview after the break -- so read on to get the scoop!
Besides just announcing some games today, Microsoft has also shown off the full feature set of Xbox Live integration in Windows Phone 7, and users of the service should be pleased to discover that there's not much missing from the version they know and love. Live on WP7 will allow for full avatar integration (we're talking fully rendered, interactive avatars) along with customization (clothes, accessories, and more). The company has even crafted an avatar-centric version of familiar phone utilities like flashlight apps and levels, adding some whimsy to what would normally be pretty staid affairs. Additionally, messaging, friend lists / status, achievements, and leaderboards (with friend comparisons) are all here as well, making for a pretty complete mobile Xbox Live experience. And also just like the console, every game will have a try-before-you buy demo to check out before spending your hard-earned cash.
We had a chance to sit down and play some of the new games (Rocket Riot, Crackdown 2: Project Sunburst, The Harvest, ilomilo, Bejeweled, Max and the Magic Marker, and Uno) as well as check out the Live feature-set, and here are our first impressions:
We'll preface this by saying that both the hardware and software we demoed was still unfinished (the latter being the Samsung Taylor dev phone and the LG QWERTY model we broke news of on the Engadget Show). Regardless, the gameplay for the arcade titles seemed excellent, with frame rates holding fast even during graphically intensive 3D sequences (such as the chaotic, scattered-pixel play of Rocket Riot). The Harvest, while a bit familiar to our eyes, still showed the graphic promise of the platform. Gameplay was definitely well suited to a touchscreen device, though Microsoft's Kevin Unangst told us that developers could target controls for both touch and QWERTY-equipped phones (provided that a touch version was always present). The screen response seemed accurate and sensitive, reacting quickly to our input. Particularly in the Crackdown title -- a tower defense game "set in the Crackdown universe" -- pinch zooming, rotation, and finger tracking was excellent.
Besides just standard gaming, it looks like Microsoft will try and leverage some other components of the platform. In the aforementioned Crackdown 2: Project Sunburst, the game utilizes Bing maps to create levels (not unlike the PSN title The Last Guy), and logic in the software is able to recognize things like roads for enemies to make their way down. A unique concept for sure, and the kind of thinking we hope we'll see more of on this platform. Though we didn't get to see a lot of titles (we particularly would have liked to see something like Castlevania), the polish and speed of the games we played was definitely competitive with iPhone or Palm Pre gaming.
We didn't get a chance to peruse the Live Marketplace because the phones were offline, but we did get to play around with cached elements, and we felt right at home. Updating and tweaking your avatar was fast and straightforward, as was finding friends and checking up on achievements or messages. Unfortunately, for the launch of Windows Phone 7 there won't be any true multiplayer options besides turn-based games, though Kevin seemed to indicate that head-to-head gaming (whether over a local or wide network) was in the roadmap. It only makes sense considering this is Xbox Live we're talking about, and it seems like something that would have been baked in from the beginning. We may be a little spoiled from the variety of multiplayer titles on the iOS platform, but that was one knock against Microsoft here. One other small issue we noticed was that game load times seemed long -- a little too long. Again, Microsoft says things are still unfinished, so we're hoping this is a side effect of debugging and non-optimized builds.
All in all, it's a promising picture for Microsoft. The company has the clout, the community, and most importantly the cash to pull this off, but as with all modern smartphone platforms, success can't be judged on one aspect alone. To make Windows Phone 7 really work, the folks in Redmond will have to hit the right note on not just gaming, but the basic user experience, hardware, applications, and carrier partnerships. Based on what we've seen of Xbox Live on these devices, we think the company can check at least one of those boxes off.
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With Xbox LIVE and a Blockbuster Title Lineup, Windows Phone 7 Marks a New Era in Mobile Gaming
First wave of Xbox LIVE titles from award-winning publishers announced for the launch of Windows Phone 7.
COLOGNE, Germany - Aug. 17, 2010 - Today at gamescom 2010, the world's largest consumer-oriented games showcase, Microsoft Corp. premiered the first wave of Xbox LIVE games launching on Windows Phone 7 this holiday. With even more games and applications to come, Windows Phone 7 is putting the power of Xbox LIVE into the palm of your hand - from Xbox LIVE Avatars to staying connected with friends, Xbox LIVE is now at your fingertips, anytime, anywhere.*
"We believe that no matter where life takes you, the best in gaming and entertainment should follow," said Marc Whitten, corporate vice president of Xbox LIVE at Microsoft. "Windows Phone 7 takes a different approach to handheld gaming, utilizing Xbox LIVE, Microsoft Game Studios, leading game publishers, and innovative indie developers, to create powerful, shared experiences for everyone."
The Games You Want, Played When and Wherever You Want Them
In a sea of games, apps, gadgets and gizmos, the biggest obstacle can be finding the game that's right for you. Only Windows Phone 7 has a Games hub featuring Xbox LIVE, creating a different kind of mobile gaming experience that puts the games you want front and center. Xbox LIVE games on Windows Phone 7 will be specially selected from the top names in mobile, PC and console game development, making the best mobile games even better, thanks to Xbox LIVE. With try-before-you-buy demos, Xbox LIVE leaderboards, turn-based multiplayer, Achievements and more, Windows Phone 7 brings the quality, consistency and community of the Xbox experience to gamers on the go.
Windows Phone 7 also will be supported by content from Microsoft Game Studios (MGS), providing strong first-party gaming titles and intellectual property for the phone. For Xbox fans, this means that Windows Phone 7 will offer companion titles to familiar names, such as "Halo: Waypoint," and "Crackdown 2," extending the experience of their favorite Xbox 360 franchises.
"Windows Phone 7 is the launch of a major gaming platform for Microsoft," said Matt Booty, general manager of mobile gaming for MGS. "Just like we've done with Xbox 360, our charter is to push the envelope and deliver definitive games that maximize the platform. We will have an incredible lineup of MGS titles, and that's just the beginning."
The most creative minds in game development are bringing the biggest franchises to Windows Phone 7. The first wave of launch portfolio titles includes Xbox LIVE games from the likes of Gameloft, Konami, Namco Bandai, PopCap and THQ. Whether you choose to play a gem of a puzzler with "Bejeweled™ LIVE" (PopCap), bring down the house with "Guitar Hero 5" (Glu Mobile), fight off a destructive alien invasion in "The Harvest" (MGS), paint your way out of a corner with "Max and the Magic Marker" (PressPlay) or defend your city in "Crackdown 2: Project Sunburst" (MGS), the first wave of games announced in the launch portfolio of Xbox LIVE games on Windows Phone 7 has something for every mobile gamer:
"3D Brick Breaker Revolution" (Digital Chocolate)
"Halo Waypoint" (MGS)
Additional titles in the launch portfolio will be released between now and the Windows Phone 7 launch this holiday season; once the phone launches, new Xbox LIVE titles also will be added to the games portfolio every week.
Xbox LIVE: Bringing More to Your Mobile Gaming
Xbox LIVE on Windows Phone 7 unlocks a world of games and fun and directly connects you to a global community of more than 25 million active Xbox LIVE members. Windows Phone 7 is the only phone that seamlessly integrates Xbox LIVE and provides unique mobile gaming experiences:
Avatars. Connect to your Xbox LIVE profile and Avatar, or create a new one if you don't already have an Avatar or Xbox LIVE profile; take your 3-D Avatar and props with you on the phone with full closet access.
Friends. Bring your Xbox LIVE friends with you everywhere; compare Achievements, challenge rivals to your favorite game, and even see who's online and what they're doing on their consoles, PCs or phones.
Game access. Easily view and launch your full game library from a single location; find, try and buy new games either in the Marketplace or Games hub.
Achievements. Earn, view and track Achievements, view Xbox LIVE leaderboards and build your Gamerscore across Xbox 360 and Windows Phone 7 - every time you play an Xbox LIVE title.
Messaging. Communicate with all of your Xbox LIVE friends, any time you want, through Xbox LIVE messages.
Multiplayer. Invite, connect and play against friends on other Windows Phone 7 phones or the PC with turn-based (asynchronous) multiplayer gaming.
Spotlight. Access Xbox LIVE Spotlight feeds, including the latest game titles, breaking news from Xbox LIVE, game tips and tricks, and more.
About Xbox LIVE
Xbox LIVE is the online entertainment service for your Xbox 360, connecting you to an ever-expanding world of games, movies, TV, music, sports and social entertainment. Xbox LIVE lets you play the best games, enjoy the largest on-demand library on any console, listen to millions of songs and share the fun with friends around the world. This holiday season, Xbox LIVE will come to Windows Phone 7 and put the power of connected entertainment in the palm of your hand. Xbox LIVE is also the exclusive home of controller-free online entertainment through Kinect, making your Xbox 360 more intuitive and interactive than ever before. With an active community of 25 million people across 26 countries, expanding to 35 this fall, Xbox LIVE, together with Xbox 360 and Windows Phone 7, provides you with instant access to the entertainment you want, shared with the people you care about, wherever you are. More information about Xbox LIVE can be found online at http://www.xbox.com/live.