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CES: Gates talks games

Microsoft shifts Las Vegas into gear.

Microsoft boss Bill Gates delivered a CES keynote in Las Vegas last night that kept gaming at its core and showed an extended vision for connectivity between Xbox 360 and Windows Vista.

Making several announcements - including an IPTV service for Xbox 360 and Live play between Vista and 360, both of which will be made available this year - Gates and Microsoft's entertainment head, Robbie Bach, delivered yet another compelling update to the corporation's involvement in gaming.

Shifting gears

After queuing for over two hours to get a seat at the speech, attendees were greeted with an intro movie during which Gears of War was shown prominently - along with footage of "youths" using the Xbox 360 DVD remote.

Gates came on to a storm of camera flashes, the scene suddenly reminiscent of the chaos everyone in the room endured to get through the door. Sweeping platitudes and reams of figures about the success of the PC and Windows finally gave way to a hands-on with Vista, which launches in the US later this month.

A Vista feature called Windows Live was the first application shown to hint at the way games have been integrated into the new version of the OS. Using the Xbox 360 controller, the audience was flown around Las Vegas on a fully 3D modelled map reached using Windows Live through a link for the Hotel Bellagio in the new version of Word. The controller, apparently, can be plugged into any Vista PC to play any Vista game.

A few video desktops and digital photo applications later, the next reference to gaming came in the form of a brief mention during a section on the HP MediaSmart Server - a home data networking system which hooks up to Microsoft's new portable media player, Zune.

Bach to the future

Then Gates brought out Robbie Bach, president of the entertainment devices division and perennial favourite of 360 lovers. Mobile, music and games are his bag, said Gates. Bach talked at some length about Zune and mobile phones before finally touching on gaming. He started with Games for Windows, saying Vista "will revitalise gaming" for the platform - and adding that 200 million people already play games on Windows every month.

"One of the cool things about Games for Windows is that, while it's for hardcore gamers, it's for casual gamers too," Bach said, before showing a video to prove it.

AOE III The Warchiefs, Supreme Commander, Shadowrun, Alan Wake, Spinword, Luxor 2, Bioshock, Flight Simulator X, Bliss Island, a new Train Simulator, The Lord of the Rings Online: Shadows of Angmar, World in Conflict, Hellgate: London, Company of Heroes, a PC version of Geometry Wars, Lego Star Wars 2, Halo 2, Age of Conan - Hyborian Adventures, Crysis - all of these games got an airing.

Then the meat. Bach spat the words: 10.4 million consoles sold worldwide by December 31, 2006, with the machine now sporting 160 titles in 37 countries. Hitting the 10 million mark before the end of 2006, as Microsoft pledged they would, is big news, and Bach certainly knows it.

"We're setting records every step of the way for a console at this stage of its lifecycle," he said. And with over 2.7 million copies of Gears of War sold, "That title is now a Halo-like franchise," he added - claiming more than 300 titles will be available for the machine before the end of this year.

Moving onto Xbox Live, Bach claimed the service now has 5 million members, and that it's the most popular network service on TV.

Living the dream

He demonstrated Live on Windows with the help of a lady called Lisa who played a game of Uno with an Xbox 360 controller on a Vista-running laptop. "It's drop dead simple," she said.

Live looks pretty much the same on Vista as it does on 360. We saw a Friends list, and Lisa found a guy called Albert playing Geometry Wars on Xbox 360 (he was sitting in a "lounge" on the stage). Live will hit Vista this summer, according to Bach.

There was more, specifically the HD-DVD add-on drive and Xbox Live video. Bach pushed Media Center and how it can link to Xbox 360, and showed slides of partners offering downloadable video for Live video. Lisa demoed it using the DVD remote, downloading Superman Returns in hi-definition.

They showed IPTV running on a 360. "This is going to be the next generation of channel surfing," said Albert, demonstrating how users can browse through hundreds of channels.

He pointed out that users can chat to friends through their headsets while watching TV, and accepted a gaming invite for Gears of War whilst viewing a programme. "This is everything I want," said Albert. "It's all in one box. It's all on Xbox 360." IPTV will launch on Xbox 360 during "Holiday 2007".

Gates came back out, but before anyone could stop him, he launched into a discussion about cars and futuristic homes. He demoed voice and touch-screen technology in a kitchen, and showed off live mobile technology standing next to a dummy bus stop. "Because I'm so used to bus stops," Gates smiled.

Hasta la Vista

Microsoft looked brutally confident at CES last night, and those Vista and 360 announcements should be genuinely exciting for gamers. Also highly significant is the 10.4 million sales figure Bach bounced around the stage, and in terms of gaming, it's doubtful anyone will be talking about much else at CES over the next three days.

All eyes now will turn to the Vista launch for both business and home users and gamers in general, and GamesIndustry.biz will be taking a much better look at the new Windows this week.