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Is Microsoft Smoking Crack?

I sit in anticipation on a plane bound to LA, waiting for my chance to witness the dawning of a new era in console gaming. It has only been a year since I was last at E3, seeking all the information I could find on the newly announced Xbox console. My eagerness led me behind closed doors, where I watched a demonstration of the technical demos running on the Xbox hardware. Amazed and astonished, I patiently waited for the 2001 E3, where I could finally begin to see the games in action.

After arriving at E3, I became a little concerned when very few publishers had Xbox titles in development. My mind quickly drifted back a few years, the E3 before Sega launched the Dreamcast. Most developers were taking a "wait and see" approach to the Dreamcast, as they were not sure that the console would succeed. Despite the few titles being shown by third party developers, Sega had a magnificent booth, providing many incredible titles, which went on to lead the Dreamcast to success during its early days. Surely Microsoft had something similar going on in their booth this year...

When I made my way to the Microsoft booth, I instantly noticed that the size of the booth was at least half the size of both Sony and Nintendo's booths. A large video screen showcased the front of the crowded booth, looping a promotional video for the majority of Xbox titles at E3. Munch's Oddessee and Halo were the two titles showcased in the booth, while the much talked about Obi-Wan title was missing from the lineup at Microsoft's booth. Other "big titles" present included: NFL Fever, Mad Dash, NHL Hitz, and Amped.

Eager to get a hands on look at these titles, I began to play each one. I was immediately frustrated and disgusted by the slow frame rate, choppy game play, and lackluster feel to each Xbox title. While Munch's Oddessee was fun, it is by no means an AAA title that you launch a system around. Munch and Abe may be unique characters, but they are nowhere near to the star level that Sonic, Mario, and Crash hold. I was so concerned with the unimpressive gameplay in the Xbox titles that I walked to each station to ensure they all looked and played the same. Even the four-player version of the mighty Halo played like a cheap rip off of Perfect Dark than the high caliber title we have been lead to believe.

Something was wrong and I had to find out what was happening. Were these actually the titles that would lead the Microsoft Xbox to victory over the Playstation 2 and GameCube? My quest for the truth lead me to LucasArts booth, to look for Obi-Wan. Once inside, my eyes gazed upon the best Xbox title at the show. LucasArts had taken the former PC title and transformed it beautifully on to the Xbox, utilizing the controller to wield the lightsaber like a Jedi and navigate throughout the game world with ease.

I inquired one of the developers, who wished to remain anonymous, as to why Microsoft was not showcasing Obi-Wan in the front of their booth. I was told that Microsoft told LucasArts that Obi-Wan was not good enough to be displayed at Microsoft's booth this year! Why would Microsoft not allow a gem like Obi-Wan to be showcased at a booth in desperate need of a must-have launch title? I searched for more answers...

I found my way to another booth, which shall remain nameless. I was met by an individual who wishes to remain anonymous that joined the PR team at Microsoft, in hopes of being part of a dominate team that would take over the console world. After only two weeks, this individual left and returned to their prior position at their old company because the Xbox game lineup was a "joke."

In fact, virtually every person I was in contact with over the course of E3 suggested that Microsoft had one of the worst displays at the show. However, nothing prepared me for what I was about to discover...

The Dreamcast had one launch title that became a hit for Sega. That title was none other than Soul Calibur, by Namco. While Namco will not "officially" confirm this, I was told that there was a certain title, which appears to be Soul Calibur 2, that Namco was preparing to launch on the Xbox during the November launch date. However, Microsoft informed Namco that they were not going to approve the title for the launch and it would have to wait and be released later. After this, Namco has taken their Xbox title and decided to, more than likely, never release a single game on the platform. Instead, I was lead to believe Namco has almost decided to bring it over to the GameCube instead.

While Microsoft is new to working with third parties and launching new hardware, one would think that there has to be someone up in Redmond with more brains, which can help guide Microsoft to a successful launch and partnership with developers. While there are promising titles from LucasArts and Sega, which should prove to be very successful during the early days of the Xbox, will Microsoft continue to treat developers like they have Namco and LucasArts? Will developers support Xbox if Microsoft has a reputation of a bully?

Most of these questions cannot be answered one hundred percent. However, one thing is for certain, Microsoft definitely had a poor E3, while Nintendo and the GameCube stole the show. I once believed that Xbox could win the console war. However, a year later, I am left scratching my head, puzzled by the idiotic actions Microsoft has pulled on third party developers. While these early mistakes aren't fatal, they must be dealt with soon or the Xbox will be nothing more than DVD player with no developer support.

By Kaleb Rutherford - 01/09/02

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