Last week, journalists in San Francisco (including IGN) were invited to have their backsides whooped at NFL Fever 2003 by two of Microsoft's number. The difference to usual was that both Microsofters would be in Chicago, which for the uneducated (hands up, including me) is thousands of miles from San Francisco. At the heart of this long-distance multiplay experience was the long-awaited Xbox Live online gaming service and its various components; the 100Mbps network adapter inside the Xbox console, the Xbox Communicator headset, and a healthy internet connection. Not to mention NFL Fever 2003, which will be one of the first (and in the US at least, one of the most popular) titles to take advantage of the service, connecting two Xboxen with up to four human players on both. Xbox Communicator is described as a small, comfortable headset with a left earphone and an almost anonymous microphone, which plugs into a memory card-shaped adapter in the back of the Xbox controller. The adapter includes a volume knob and a mute function, and the voice data beamed back and forth can already be masked by the player's choice of voice in the profile setup. We don't know much about American Football, truth be told, but it sounds as though NFL Fever 2003 is shaping up to be an excellent addition to the expansive genre, and editors from IGN reported last Friday that lag during the experience was minimal, limited to a couple of hiccups; a second's pause during play at one stage and the two-second lag of Xbox Communicator. However, the most important news is that the game is said to have been delightfully responsive, unlike the attempted online shenanigans of Dreamcast-based sports games. All the signs are good for Xbox Live at the moment, but the real test will come when the service goes live this winter, and we're anxious to see how it copes with the volume of users who will pick up the $50 year's subscription, free game and Xbox Communicator pack. With titles like Unreal Championship on the way, it shouldn't be too difficult to test the capacity. Microsoft's is certainly the most impressive of all three platform holders' online excursions in the West at this point, if only because the project actually bears fruit. In Europe at least, Sony and Nintendo are virtually anonymous at present. The issues of capacity, connectivity, text input, community policing and so forth still need addressing, but we're slightly happier now that somebody at least has seen it working, and we look forward to hearing more about it. Related Feature - Xbox Live Demodulated
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