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Microsoft at Gamescom: The Round-Up

Gamescom has kicked off in earnest over in Germany, beginning with a few announcements from Microsoft.

Gamescom may not be quite as big an event as E3, but it's still an important one -- and notably, it's one that the public can show up to alongside the press.

While a lot of interesting stuff still goes on behind closed doors, it's generally not all that long before interesting information starts seeping out -- and it also tends to be a time for various announcements from big publishers and hardware manufacturers.

Microsoft didn't hold a formal livestreamed press conference this morning, but did hold an event at which a number of announcements and confirmations were made. We're still waiting on a launch date for the Xbox One, but in the meantime, there's some intriguing stuff to digest.

Indie Self-Publishing

Microsoft's indie program will be known as ID@Xbox (Independent Developers at Xbox), and was developed in collaboration with more than 50 developers in order to try and make it as close to what they wanted as possible.

Each registered developer on the program will receive two development kits at cost price (though eventually retail kits will be usable as dev kits), and using these they'll have access to the full power of the console -- including cloud services, Kinect and all Xbox Live features such as SmartGlass, online multiplayer and achievements. While the current Xbox Live Indie Games program on the 360 allowed access to online multiplayer, developers were locked out of providing other Xbox Live features such as achievements, so this is an immediate step up.

Microsoft is already taking applications for the ID@Xbox program via this website. Priority will be given to developers who have a "proven track record of shipping games on console, PC, mobile or tablet," implying that the platform isn't quite as completely open as it perhaps could be. This might actually be a good thing, though -- it might lead to better quality control than platforms such as Xbox Live Indie Games and even the App Store offer at present.

Some developers are concerned about discoverability, but Microsoft claims there'll be "rich search scenarios" using voice through Kinect, whatever that means. Microsoft isn't demanding exclusivity from participants in the program, but does ask for "day one parity" with other platforms.

A number of developers are excited about the prospect of the new program, among them SpyParty creator Chris Hecker, who said he was "really excited" that Microsoft had paid attention to feedback from developers.

Others remain wary; Thomas Was Alone creator Mike Bithell expressed some concern on Twitter regarding a clause that seemingly allowed Microsoft to set prices without consulting the developers, but it seems that developers will still receive either their wholesale price for their games, or the standard 70/30 split, even if the game is put on sale.

The first phase of ID@Xbox will get underway this fall, presumably in time for this first wave of developers to get their games out in time for Xbox One's launch.

Fable Legends Coming to Xbox One

A new instlallment in the somewhat variable-quality Fable series is headed to Xbox One. Fable Legends, as it's called, will include 4-player co-op -- hopefully implemented better than the terrible multiplayer modes of past Fables -- as well as SmartGlass compatibility.

The game is set 400 years prior to the first game, during the Age of Heroes. As is normally the case in the series, you can play as either a hero or a villain (or somewhere in between) -- SmartGlass players will be able to act as villainous mastermind, setting traps for the 4-player co-op party and otherwise making their life a misery.

There's no release date as yet, but it's unlikely we'll see this until 2014. Here's a trailer to whet your appetite.

PopCap Launching Two Titles on Xbox One First

Both Peggle 2 and Plants vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare will arrive first on Microsoft's next-gen platform. Peggle 2 will be a launch title for the new console, while third-person shooter Garden Warfare will arrive sometime next year.

We're still yet to see anything substantial of Peggle 2, but you can probably once again expect some combination of bouncy balls, pegs and the desecration of classical music. Garden Warfare, meanwhile, was actually unveiled back at E3, complete with gameplay footage.

Killer Instinct Pricing Revealed

Free-to-play fighter Killer Instinct will be available at Xbox One's launch, with six characters available.

The game comes with a single character for free -- this was previously announced as Jago, but current promo information doesn't mention him specifically -- and additional characters will be available "starting at" (uh-oh) $4.99.

There are also bundle deals for those who would rather buy larger chunks of the game outright rather than piecemeal. The Combo Breaker pack costs $19.99 and includes the first six characters (the initial six, plus two more before they launch for individual purchase); meanwhile, the Ultra Edition costs $39.99 and includes the aforementioned eight characters along with accessory packs, new costumes and the original Killer Instinct arcade game.

That's actually not all that unreasonable, though eight characters for $20 is still a little slim compared to some other commercially available fighting games on the market. Let's just hope this doesn't take the greedy free-to-play route with additional paid-for consumable items and/or play-throttling systems such as energy mechanics.

Ghosts! Ghosts!

Call of Duty: Ghosts will offer dedicated servers on Xbox One thanks to "the power of the cloud," apparently. It'll also be available in a special bundle with Xbox One, sending a pretty clear message about the new system's target audience.

A new trailer also introduced some new multiplayer modes, both of which sound pretty fun: Crank causes you to power up with every kill, but you also explode if you don't get a new kill at least every 30 seconds. Search and Destroy, meanwhile, causes you to drop a tag upon your death -- if a team-mate grabs it, you get to revive, but if an enemy grabs it, you're out of the round.

Football... No, Wait, Soccer

Finally, there were a few interesting pieces of news for fans of EA's popular soccer franchise FIFA. Firstly, pre-ordered Xbox Ones -- in Europe, at least -- will include a digital copy of FIFA 14 at no extra cost "while stocks last." (Presumably this means "stock of little cards with download codes on them," because the concept of "stock" when it comes to digital games is just absurd.)

There's no word as yet if a similar deal will be coming to the States, but, alongside the existence of the Call of Duty bundle, it's another clear statement of the audience Microsoft is aiming for with its new box.

EA also announced that Xbox versions of FIFA 14's popular Ultimate Team virtual collectible card game mode will receive exclusive legendary players in gold booster packs. These include Dennis Bergkamp, Freddie Ljungberg, Ruud Gullit, Pele, Patrick Vieira and Gary Lineker. As someone who loathes and detests soccer, I have no idea who most of these people are, though I do know that Gary Lineker now spends most of his time advertising a popular brand of potato chips in the UK.

Each Legend will "have unique attributes based on their skills and flair during the peak of their careers, and will be randomly inserted into FIFA 14 Ultimate Team Gold Packs beginning at the launch of the Xbox One." It sounds as if these virtual cards will also be available on the 360 version, though -- hopefully we'll find out more from EA's press conference later today.

This strong pushing of FIFA 14's Xbox One version is an interesting decision, and perhaps not an altogether wise one -- by the time Xbox One arrives in November, the game will have already been available for two months on other platforms, so it's not unreasonable to assume that the hardcore soccer game fans will have already picked it up and be invested in playing on their non-Xbox One platform of choice. Still, new Xbox One purchasers likely won't complain at getting a free game.

What Do You Think?

Anything exciting here? Has anything here pushed you in one direction or the other when it comes to Xbox One? Personally, as an unabashed fan of colorful Japanese games and more "niche" titles, I don't feel there's that much here for me, though I'll be interested to see what -- if anything -- comes out of the ID@Xbox program.

As ever, I am just one person, though; let's hear what you think.

Tags: microsoft News

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