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E3 Notebook: Xbox 360

Epic Games had perhaps the most liberal definition of a game being available "at launch." Although the Xbox 360 is scheduled to debut on store shelves this holiday season, Gears of War won't be available until sometime in 2006, company developers said. Indeed, the title might not be available until up to a year after the Xbox 360 is launched.

Gaming: A Spectator Sport?

Among other Microsoft-touted features: The Xbox 360 will allow users to watch online games in a "spectator mode." The idea is that just like sports fans who tune in to watch televised football and basketball games, gamers will want to watch other gamers compete, Microsoft says. The feature will allow active gamers to study the techniques and tricks fellow enthusiasts employ to get through various games. Meanwhile, casual gamers will be able to watch tournaments featuring the best players on the network.

It remains to be seen how much of a draw this will be. Most of the gamers at the conference seemed much more interested in taking their turn playing games than watching others do the same.

One thing each console maker is stressing this time around is backward compatibility; each of the new consoles from Microsoft, Sony and Nintendo will be able to play games designed for the game machines they are replacing.

But some developers are apparently working on what might be called "forward compatibility" also. Microsoft's Rare Studios, for instance, is upgrading Kameo: Elements of Power, an unreleased fantasy title originally developed for the Xbox, for the Xbox 360. As might be expected, the new version looks much more detailed when compared side-by-side with the original version. The pathways feature distinctive cobblestones, for instance, and the main character in some scenes fights with thousands of individually rendered trolls. Unfortunately, one part of the Kameo upgrade wasn't so impressive: The eponymously named lead character's features appeared dark in most scenes, making her facial expressions and sometimes movements hard to discern.

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