X02: Money No Object

Article - Kristan's back from X02 in Seville, and it was a rollercoaster in more ways than one

Day One

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Life is short, press conferences are not

After last year's bizarre crotch grinding antics in Pierre Cardin's playboy space mansion, Microsoft had to go some to beat the sheer other worldly opulence we witnessed down in Cannes for X01. So in true money-no-object style the venue of choice for X02 was a theme park in Seville. Yes, the first assignment for Eurogamer's new Editor Kristan Reed was an all expenses paid trip to Spain to go and play games, ride rollercoasters and be plied with free alcohol. Sometimes, dear reader, life is sweet.

But despite such treats and luxury, games journos can be a bunch of ungrateful, miserable sods, and who are we to buck the trend? Yep, near enough everyone spent their time at X02 whining like spoilt children about everything including the standard of our hotel, the still moo-ing beef burgers and the inability of the Spanish to understand even the most loudly delivered English phrases (such as "where's my fugging laptop!", as delivered to the perplexed cloakroom staff).

But the grimaces turned to grins once we were delivered to a local theme park, and discovered that this was to be our playground for the night, and that we were encouraged to consume as much free food and booze as possible. Naturally, we couldn't wait to ride the rollercoaster, log flume and the ride-that-we-can't-find-the-right-word for-but drops-you-from-a-great-height, despite the fact we'd stuffed our faces with hot 'dogs' (yes, we did wonder), burgers and booze. Healthy this job aint.

Following consecutive rides on what was possibly the best 'coaster ever, we were informed that our hosts were ready to blind us with news that would restore our faith in the world's most powerful games console. It's a tough job, but if you're going to do it, you may as well sit 600 Europeans in front of a lake, hire an enormous sound rig and blast lasers into their faces. We weren't sure whether this was some kind of Orwellian corporate attempt at brainwashing, but in the words of our American friends it sure was "whoop ass".

Straight afterwards, the endearingly unhinged Scot Sandy Duncan bounded onto the stage with a 'Life Is Short' t-shirt on (what are you trying to tell us, Sandy?) and proceeded to chuckle his way through a speech reminding us how powerful the console is, admitting they messed up on pricing, and how far Microsoft had come over the past couple of years in turning a meeting of 20 blokes into a full on assault on the "digital entertainment" industry.

03b
The Stamper brothers swap shirts with Microsoft

So over the ensuing half an hour, we experienced wise words from luminaries including Ed Fries, J Allard, Peter Molyneux and the diminutive Yves Guillemot, who repeated their mantras that the Xbox Is Powerful and the Xbox Has A Hard Disk and Broadband and that 160,000 Xbox titles are coming out before Christmas, give or take 159,840.

Okay, choice is fine, but 160 titles before Christmas? Are they having a laugh? 99.9 per cent of Xbox owners, I'm quite confident, would be more than happy with half a dozen triple A exclusives, rather than the splurge of sub standard chaff we're going to be presented with. Am I talking to myself here? Anyone heard of quality, not quantity. Grrrr.

And with that rant over, we got the long awaited news of the Xbox Live launch, which happily is being phased in this year across eight European nations, rather than next as could've happened (although our Scandinavian readers won't be too impressed). The initial 3,000 limit on subscriber numbers will no doubt cause a few feathers to fly, but the £39.99 price point will go down well with everyone except the most ardent freeloader/tightwad.

Of course, Molyneux was wheeled on to give us a glimpse of Fable or 'The Future Of Role Playing Games', and, as ever, this disarming man delivered a refreshingly uncorporate account of why the game rocks, adding the obligatory "We can only do this thanks to the power of the Xbox" mantra. Interesting that the newly announced Sudeki was also billed as 'The Future Of Role Playing Games'. Ah well.

J Allard, comedy facial hair aside, is always one of the most likeable Yanks around - although the other Jay - Wilbur - drew Fred Flintstone comparisons in his growling Texan attempt to whip up rollercoaster obsessed journos into a frenzy with his news of the sublime Unreal Championship being one of the launch titles for Xbox Live. "DO YOO WANT SOOOME?!" he roared. "Um, well…yeah, actually", mumbled the far too reserved Brit contingent. But seriously, Jay. Calm down - we're not pissed yet.

04b
[Insert joke about size of Xbox controller]

What we did want, obviously, was to be put out of our misery and have confirmation of the worst kept secret in the world ever - a.k.a the Rare deal - and Ed Fries, cheekily, tried to give the impression he was about to dismiss talk of the intense speculation, but instead cued up an amusing render of Conker carving up the Xbox logo into the word 'Rare', with Banjo, and the various other Rare owned properties striding about. It was, of course, yet more proof that Microsoft is in this business for the long haul, and more proof that it has, indeed, more money than God.

And the frankly bizarre sight of the Stamper brothers ensued, with the shy retiring figures joining Fries on stage to swap shirts, football style - although predictably they didn't say a word. The more things change, the more they stay the same.

But let us forget the vague mumblings of the pint sized Yves Guillemot of Ubi Soft, who plodded onto the stage replete with Splinter Cell cap. "Yes, it's true - we've made a good game," he should have said. Instead, the lure of beer and rollercoasters proved too much, and the audience clambered up the amphitheatre steps before he could spoil what had actually been one of the better press conferences - and certainly Microsoft's most slick and impressive yet.

What followed blurred into an alcoholic fog, but poor Groove Armada had possibly its lowest ever audience, as the notoriously dance shy games audience found more entertainment in being subjected to g-forces. At the end of what had been a fine evening, the decision to put the journos in a hotel 15 miles from the PR and marketing types probably saved the games industry a five figure sum, as 60 odd British journalists can certainly help max out those expense accounts, given half the chance.

Day Two

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Seville, the-day-before-yesterday

Thanks to the designated hotel's 'no late drinking' policy, it was actually possible to make some sense of the second day's proceedings. But only just.

Basically, 15 rooms, with as many as eight games per room, were dotted around the same theme park we partied our arses at the night before. To be honest, there wasn't a huge amount we hadn't seen before at E3, ECTS, Activate, EA Play or any number of other industry events of late, and each game of note will receive coverage of its own in the coming week.

But our personal highlights were undoubtedly screaming abuse at the unfortunates during a 'Live' demo of Unreal Championship. Yes it is pretty much UT on the Xbox, but it looks great, and the voice communication transforms the game into an essential title that any FPS fan will want to own. Elsewhere, Splinter Cell is still breathtaking, Colin McRae Rally 3 took the piss out of the PS2 version, Steel Battalion on a 50 inch plasma TV was jaw dropping, Metal Gear Solid Substance got its first showing in Europe, but with the exception of Sega's tremendous line up, other third parties displayed a succession of titles that are also appearing on rival platforms. Great titles aplenty, but you have to wonder if that $375 million wasn't better spent on ensuring that forthcoming killer apps (e.g. TimeSplitters 2, Vice City, Burnout 2, etc etc) were exclusive to the platform.

The problem for Microsoft right now is, that once you take the Xbox's offerings out of isolations, the competition is simply too strong. But as any Microsoft watcher will know, it will do pretty much anything to win a war.

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About the author

Kristan Reed

Kristan Reed

Contributor

Kristan is a former editor of Eurogamer, dad, Stone Roses bore and Norwich City supporter who sometimes mutters optimistically about Team Silent getting back together.

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