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Category: Xbox

CES 2012: Hands-on with Alan Wake's American Nightmare on Xbox 360 [Video]

The future of video games is increasingly shifting from discs to downloads over Internet-connected consoles, phones, tablets and PCs.

Microsoft Corp. is aware of this trend as much as any other player in the gaming industry and rolls out multiple promotions a year to bring attention to games available for download through its Xbox Live Arcade storefront on the Xbox 360 console. And next up for Microsoft is the Xbox Live Arcade House Party, which starts Feb. 15 and includes the launch of one game a week for four weeks. 

At the Consumer Electronics Show last week in Las Vegas, I went hands-on with Alan Wake's American Nightmare, which will be the first game to roll out in the month-long promotion.

AW American Nightmare - Arcade Cemetary

Alan Wake's American Nightmare is a sequel to the on-disc game Alan Wake, which was released in 2010 to critical acclaim for story-driven game play that mixed a psychological thriller plotline with the action of a third-person shooter.

The game, which focused on a fictional fiction writer named Alan Wake and his quest to solve the mystery of his wife's disappearance in a small Washington town, was also praised for its inventive use of lighting, with Wake spending a lot of time running around in dark forests at night with a flashlight and a gun.

In Alan Wake's American Nightmare, the game's hero finds himself in the deserts of Arizona. The impressive lighting effects are back and shooting mechanics are solid. I tried my hand at the new title's Fight 'til Dawn survival mode, which pits players in a 10-minute scene with wave after wave of enemies attacking. (You can check out our hands-on with the new game above.)

The game play was intense and challenging, and it should be a satisfying experience for fans of the original Alan Wake game as well as those of shooting games such as Dead Rising, Left 4 Dead, Resident Evil and the Call of Duty series' zombie modes.

Alan Wake's American Nightmare will also have a campaign of about four to five hours, depending on how much time a player spends exploring and digging into the game's story, said Oskari Hakinnen, a spokesman for Remedy Entertainment Ltd., the developer of the series.

For those who haven't played the original Alan Wake, there's no need to fret. Hakinnen said that the sequel will pick up where the first title left off story-wise, but it was written in a way that won't confuse those who are new to the world of Alan Wake. Pricing for the game hasn't yet been disclosed.

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CES 2012: Sesame Street Kinect shows promise of TV voice, gesture control [Video]

At the 2012 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, we saw a bit of a scramble by TV makers such as Samsung and LG to show off what they working on or releasing in the coming year that would allow us to control our TVs using voice, gesture and facial recognition.

Many technology pundits and analysts have said these sorts of announcements, which also took place at last year's CES, are in response to rumors that Apple is working on an "iTV" that will offer a new way of controlling a TV and maybe even how we pay for or watch channels and TV shows.

But as many video-game lovers out there know, TV voice recognition, gesture controls and facial recognition are already here in the form of Microsoft's Kinect motion-sensing camera, which is an accessory to the Xbox 360 home gaming console.

However, Kinect is just getting started, and currently has a small number of apps. And it's still a device that sells for about $150 and requires an Xbox 360, which starts at $200. Make no mistake, there will be a cost of entry to the future of TV.

At the 2012 Consumer Electronics Show TV makers such as Samsung and LG showed off TVs with voice, gesture and facial-recognition control, but such controls are already here in the form of Microsoft's Kinect motion-sensing cameraAt CES 2012, Microsoft showed off a bit of what the future may hold for Kinect, the Xbox and TV with demonstrations of its latest Kinect-enabled app for the Xbox, called Sesame Street Kinect (you can see our demonstration of the app in a video atop this article).

Sesame Street Kinect is what it sounds like, episodes of the long-running children's program tailored to use the Kinect camera. And what Kinect can do is really impressive.

Since 1969, children around the world have sat in front of TVs repeating back the alphabet, colors, words and numbers to characters on Sesame Street (I did it when I was a child). Until Sesame Street Kinect, which is set to release later this year at an unannounced price, the characters on the screen couldn't respond to the viewer's actions. Now, to a limited extent, they can.

The demonstration we saw featured the Grover, Elmo and Cookie Monster characters prompting viewers to interact by either saying certain words or moving in certain ways.

For example, we took part in a demonstration in which Grover drops a box of coconuts and asks that the viewer pick them up and throw them back to him.

I At the 2012 Consumer Electronics Show TV makers such as Samsung and LG showed off TVs with voice, gesture and facial-recognition control, but such controls are already here in the form of Microsoft's Kinect motion-sensing cameraf the viewer stands up and moves in the way that they would throw an imaginary coconut (don't throw a real coconut unless your trying to break your TV) then Grover catches each one in his box, even reacting to how hard the Kinect interprets the viewer's throw to be.

The experience was a lot of fun for a room of four adults, and I imagine kids will enjoy this sort of thing too. Jose Pinero, am Xbox spokesman, said a similarly interactive app from National Geographic is coming this year as well.

Although Microsoft has sold more than 66 million Xbox consoles and more than 18 million Kinect cameras, the tech giant realizes it has something bigger than just video games on its hands with Kinect.

Both Kinect and Xbox Live are headed to Windows 8 later this year. Hopefully, that will mean more interactive "two-way TV" apps like Sesame Street Kinect, and more apps related to media outlets such as ESPN and National Geographic.

There are also rumors that the company is working to get Kinect built directly into TVs, which would very likely place Xbox Live and Kinect in direct competition with Google TV and Apple's expected entry into the TV market. That's a living-room showdown I'd like to see.

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-- Nathan Olivarez-Giles in Las Vegas

Nathan Olivarez-Giles on Google+

Twitter.com/nateog

Photos: Sesame Street Kinect in action. Credit: Armand Emamdjomeh / Los Angeles Times

Black Friday: Microsoft Stores offer deals on PCs, Xbox games

Microsoft store. Black Friday brings discounts.

There's a lot of hype and anticipation for what the Apple stores may or may not have on sale this Black Friday. But Apple rival Microsoft has retail stores too and the tech giant is already talking about the discounts it'll offer and a few of them look pretty good.

There are fewer Microsoft Stores out there than Apple stores, but if you stop by one, you'll find $100 gift cards (good for use at Microsoft Stores, of course) given away with the purchase of a new PC from 12 a.m. to 6 a.m. on Friday.

The Microsoft Stores are also offering a holiday shopping promotion tied to how much a consumer spends that will begin for Black Friday but run through Jan. 2, 2012. When more than $100 is spent, a shopper will get 15% off in-store, 20% off when $500 or more is spent and 25% off of purchases of $1,000 or more.

There are also Black Friday-specific discounts, which were listed on the Microsoft Stores' Facebook page, that center around one of Microsoft's most successful products: the Xbox 360 video game system.

The Kinect for Xbox 360 motion-sensing camera bundled with three games (Fruit Ninja, Gunstringer and Kinect Adventures) is selling for $99 rather than the normal $149.99 -- Amazon.com is currently offering the same discount.

Xbox games are seeing price drops as well with Assassins Creed Revelations; Batman: Arkham City; Forza 4; NBA 2K12; FIFA 12; Battlefield 3; and Call of Duty Black Ops all selling for $28 each, down from a regular price of $59.99, among other discounted titles.

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— Nathan Olivarez-Giles

Twitter.com/nateog

Photo:  Microsoft Stores, this one in Mission Viejo, are offering Black Friday deals. Credit: Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times

Kinect is coming to Windows, but are TVs next?

Kids playing video games on Kinect for Xbox

We've known for months that Microsoft's Kinect motion-sensing camera technology would make its way to Windows. But now we also know that Kinect on Windows won't use the same hardware as Kinect for the Xbox 360 video game system.

"Since announcing a few weeks ago that the Kinect for Windows commercial program will launch in early 2012, we've been asked whether there will also be new Kinect hardware especially for Windows," Craig Eisler, the general manager of the Kinect for Windows team, wrote in a company blog post. "The answer is yes; building on the existing Kinect for Xbox 360 device, we have optimized certain hardware components and made firmware adjustments which better enable PC-centric scenarios."

Kinect for Windows will also get its own Software Development Kit to make use of the PC-specific hardware that will deliver features and capabilities unique to the stalwart operating system, Eisler said.

So how will the Kinect for Windows differ from the Xbox hardware?

"Simple changes include shortening the USB cable to ensure reliability across a broad range of computers and the inclusion of a small dongle to improve coexistence with other USB peripherals," he said. "Of particular interest to developers will be the new firmware which enables the depth camera to see objects as close as 50 centimeters in front of the device without losing accuracy or precision, with graceful degradation down to 40 centimeters."

With the new hardware being able to see people at a closer range, Kinect for Windows will be able to be used in a wider range of environments than the Kinect for Xbox, which was designed for living rooms with wide open spaces for people to jump and move around to play games without a controller.

This so-called Near Mode was "one of the most requested features from the many developers and companies participating in our Kinect for Windows pilot program and folks commenting on our forums, and we're pleased to deliver this, and more, at launch," Eisler said.

As to when Kinect for Windows will arrive in stores, Microsoft hasn't said just yet. The current Kinect for Windows SDK is built for Windows 7, but Windows 8 is set for release sometime next year.

But it seems that the company's ambition for Kinect might extend beyond the Xbox and PCs and into TVs, according to the News Corp.-owned digital magazine, the Daily.

"Sources familiar with the subject told the Daily that the tech giant wants to aggressively push the Kinect into as many living rooms as possible, even those without its Xbox 360 gaming systems," wrote Matt Hickey, a reporter for the Daily. "Microsoft is said to be in the early stages of licensing its Kinect technology to television hardware manufacturers like Vizio and Sony."

If Microsoft were to add its motion-sensing Kinect technology into TV sets, using gestures to control the TV rather than a remote, it would place the firm in competition with Google TV and Apple's rumored eventual entry into the TV market.

If this all plays out, our living rooms and our office spaces will probably get a lot more interesting (with a lot more waving hands and arms to be seen) in the next couple of years.

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-- Nathan Olivarez-Giles

Twitter.com/nateog

Photo: Children try out a video game that uses Microsoft's Kinect for Xbox 360 motion-sensing camera at a media event Oct. 18, 2011 in New York. Credit: Jason DeCrow / Associated Press Images for Microsoft

Microsoft giving $25 in apps to Windows Phone buyers

Game apps for sale on Microsoft Windows Phone Mango

Microsoft is looking to generate a Windows Phone sales boost this holiday shopping season by giving away $25 in free apps and games through the end of the year.

The offer is good for all Windows Phone handsets purchased between Nov. 2 and Dec. 31 by consumers in the United States, said Michael Stroh, a Microsoft spokesman, on the company's Windows Phone blog.

To get the $25 app card, new Windows Phone owners have to fill out a form at windowsphoneappcard.com. Oddly enough, the card comes by mail and not as a digital credit.

Microsoft said in its terms and conditions that it will give away one card for each Windows Phone sold (as long as the owner applies for the app card of course) and that each person can claim up to five cards for five phones.

A major strike in the past against Windows Phone has been an overall lack of apps and games, and while the touch-centric operating system still lags behind Apple's iOS and Google's Android on the number of apps available, it is growing. The blog All About Windows Phone reported recently that the Windows Phone Marketplace now has more than 40,000 apps for sale.

The tech giant will accept card requests until Feb. 14 -- Valentine's Day.

So, if you're considering buying a new smartphone sometime soon this holiday season, is this offer enough to make you go Windows Phone over iOS, Android or even Research In Motion's BlackBerry phones?

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-- Nathan Olivarez-Giles

Twitter.com/nateog

Photo: Xbox Live game apps for sale on Microsoft's Windows Phone Mango mobile operating system. Credit: Armand Emamdjomeh / Los Angeles Times

Microsoft: Zune hardware dead, apps still alive

Microsoft's first-generation Zune players

Microsoft's Zune was never much of a contender against Apple's iPod as far as portable music players go, and now, finally, the Zune hardware is dead.

However, the Zune brand and the music-buying service associated with that name isn't going anywhere, according to a statement posted to Microsoft's Zune.net:

We recently announced that, going forward, Windows Phone will be the focus of our mobile music and video strategy, and that we will no longer be producing Zune players. So what does this mean for our current Zune users? Absolutely nothing. Your device will continue to work with Zune services just as it does today. And we will continue to honor the warranties of all devices for both current owners and those who buy our very last devices. Customer service has been, and will remain a top priority for us.

So there you have it. The Zune as hardware is finito, but the Zune lives on as an app, as a place to buy and consume music in Microsoft's Windows Phone operating system.

2009's Zune HDNot mentioned in Microsoft's blurb -- the Zune on the Xbox home gaming console. Currently, the Zune is the Xbox 360's music-buying and -listening app.

The move to end production of Zune hardware was a long time coming as Microsoft hadn't updated its Zune player line since the release of the Zune HD in September 2009.

In March, reports began swirling that the Zune hardware was getting the ax, but at that time Microsoft neither confirmed nor denied the rumors.

But don't feel too sad for Bill Gates' iPod fighter. The Zune's influence on Microsoft has been a major one as the tech giant used the player's touchscreen software as an inspiration when it rebooted its mobile efforts with Windows Phone 7 last year.

Windows Phone 7 has, in turn, influenced the development of Windows 8 (for desktops, laptops and tablets) and even the ever-changing user interface of the Xbox 360. And so, the Zune can be given a bit of credit for contributing to the direction of the three of the company's most important products -- Windows, Windows Phone and Xbox.

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-- Nathan Olivarez-Giles

Twitter.com/nateog

Upper photo: Some of Microsofts original Zune portable music player devices, released in 2006. Credit: Microsoft / AFP/Getty Images

Lower photo: Microsoft's Zune HD, released in 2009. Credit: Microsoft

Microsoft says, again, that Xbox Live is coming to Windows 8

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Microsoft is bringing Xbox Live, its blockbuster online gaming and entertainment service, to Windows 8.

Larry "Major Nelson" Hryb, an Xbox spokesman, confirmed the addition of Xbox Live to the in-development Windows 8 operating system, which will run on PCs and tablets, in a blog post on Wednesday.

"We are confirming that we will be bringing Xbox LIVE to the PC with Xbox LIVE on Windows," Hyrb wrote. "Bringing Xbox LIVE to Windows 8 is part of our vision to bring you all the entertainment you want, shared with the people you care about, made easy."

Hryb's announcement, however, isn't the first time that Microsoft has said Xbox Live will be included in Windows 8. Mike Delman, Microsoft's vice president of global marketing at its interactive entertainment unit, confirmed the team of two of the company's most successful products in June at the E3 video game expo in Los Angeles, in an interview with the Seattle Times.

This week, at Microsoft's Build developers conference in Anaheim, Microsoft gave away tablets loaded with an early version of Windows to attendees. The tech giant followed that up with a public release of the pre-beta OS -- but in both versions, while some prototype games were included, an Xbox Live app was not.

Hryb said that more details would come down the road, as Windows 8's development continues.

Delman had more details back in June. He said: "Live will be built into the PC. It will be the service where you get your entertainment" such as games, movies and music across the Xbox home gaming console, Windows tablets and Windows PCs.

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-- Nathan Olivarez-Giles

Twitter.com/nateog

Image: A screenshot of Xbox Live running on Windows 8. Credit: Larry Hryb / Microsoft Corp.

Microsoft's Windows 8 to have Xbox Live built in

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Microsoft is building its Xbox Live online gaming and entertainment service into its upcoming Windows 8 operating system.

Mike Delman, vice president of global marketing for Microsoft's interactive entertainment unit, told the Seattle Times at E3 2011, that Xbox Live will become the central application through which consumers will buy media -- games, movies and music -- across a variety of devices.

What is surely not a coincidence, Microsoft also said during its E3 keynote that Xbox Live on the Xbox 360 is getting a new look -- one that incorporates the company's "live tile" design seen on Windows Phone 7 handsets and which it has said will be central to the look of Windows 8.

Xbox Live currently only runs on the Xbox 360 home console and Microsoft's Windows Phone 7 devices.

"Live has been successful on the Windows Phone," Delman said in the Seattle Times report. "Live will be built into the PC. It will be the service where you get your entertainment. We were talking about it -- you will not just see consoles and handhelds at this show next year, this show's going to morph into other devices."

Delman also said that the way Xbox Live will work across devices -- whether consoles, phones, or Windows 8 PCs and tablets -- will be similar in approach to some of its competitors for entertainment sales online.

"There will be a lot of similarities in design and service philosophy," he said in the report. "Whether it's us or Apple or anybody else, people want to be able to navigate through multiple devices in a certain ecosystem very seamlessly so we're committed to that."

But while Apple has a central entertainment storefront in iTunes, which sells iOS apps, movies, music and games, Microsoft's offering are spread across various online marketplaces, but that too will change, Delman said.

"Xbox Live will be the pervasive media service across devices," he said in the report, later adding that Microsoft has "a ton of assets" and that "unifying the assets will be good for us and good for consumers."

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-- Nathan Olivarez-Giles

Twitter.com/nateog

Photo: Microsoft demonstrates new user interface for its Xbox Live service during the Electronic Entertainment Expo in Los Angeles. Credit: Ricardo DeAratanha / Los Angeles Times

Nokia to use Microsoft's Windows Phone in taking on Android, BlackBerry, iPhone

Elop and Ballmer

Nokia is set to pair its hardware with Microsoft's Windows Phone software in an effort to fend off the increasing success and competition from its rivals; Apple's iPhone, Google's Android operating system and Research In Motion's BlackBerry handsets.

The Finnish company made the widely expected decision official on Friday morning during a London news conference. 

"The entire smart phone market is growing rapidly, and we should be setting the pace," said Nokia Chief Executive Stephen Elop. "The game has changed. The game has changed from a battle of devices to a war of ecosystems."

In a Nokia internal memo leaked to the media Wednesday, Elop used much more dramatic language, writing that the company was "standing on a burning platform" with "more than one explosion -- we have multiple points of scorching heat that are fuelling a blazing fire around us."

Microsoft's Windows Phone software, currently in its seventh iteration, will replace Nokia's Symbian operating system on the majority of handsets from the company after the two firms complete a partnership agreement, Elop said.

Neither Nokia or Microsoft offered any specifics dates on when the agreement between the two tech giants would be finalized or when the first Nokia Windows Phone would hit retail, though Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer said the process had begun.

"We're already working together to create the first Nokia Window's phones, and we've reached out to chip vendors, mobile operators and developers, and you'll hear more from us in all of those areas over the next weeks and months," Ballmer said.

The agreement will also give Microsoft access to Nokia's worldwide mapping and navigation services and access to large cellphone carriers in international markets that it hasn't had before, Elop and Ballmer said in a statement.

"In this partnership with Nokia, Microsoft brings its Windows Phone software and the brands mobile consumers want like Bing, Office and of course Xbox Live," Ballmer said Friday.

Nokia's mapping and navigation technology will be integrated into Microsoft's mapping services, such as maps used in the Bing search engine, and Microsoft's adCenter business will also sell and distribute ads across Nokia phones, the companies said.

Although Nokia is choosing Windows Phone 7 as its main strategy in smart phones, the company made clear that it is not planning to completely abandon its Symbian and under-development MeeGo operating systems.

Once the "long-term strategic alliance" is finalized, it will end up as a major departure from Nokia's past strategy in the smart-phone market, which had the home-grown Symbian at the core.

In January, Android dethroned Symbian as the world's most used smart-phone operating system -- a title Symbian had held since the inception of the market about a decade ago. Google's Android OS is comparatively young, having debuted in 2008.

Elop is fairly new to Nokia, having been hired as CEO last September from a senior executive position at Microsoft. He is also the first non-Finnish citizen to run Nokia, a company that is looking to him to turn around its large losses of market share in crucial markets such as the United States and Asia.

Nokia accounted for about 41% of the global mobile phone market in 2008, but that number fell to about 31% in 2010, according to the Associated Press. Despite the falling numbers, Nokia remains the world's top seller of mobile phones.

Below is a video of the Nokia news conference with Elop and Balmer.

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-- Nathan Olivarez-Giles

Photo: Nokia CEO Stephen Elop (left) and Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer announce that Nokia will carry the Windows Phone as its main smart phone platform during a news conference Friday in London. Credit: Nokia / Getty Images

Video credit: NokiaConversations via YouTube

My BlackBerry is not working! [Video]

If you've ever had a problem with a BlackBerry smart phone or an Apple computer, this skit from the BBC show "The One Ronnie" should definitely bring a smile to your face.

A bit of credit goes to the Laughing Squid blog, where we came across this.

And one note, the line about a frozen BlackBerry in the skit, "let's try it on orange" is a reference to Orange, the UK mobile carrier.

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-- Nathan Olivarez-Giles

twitter.com/nateog

Video: BBC via YouTube

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