While 2008 may not be over, we thought it would be a good idea to explore the future for Microsoft Game Studios in 2009. Their current policy – which was implemented in 2007 – is to hype up their portfolio for the current year and avoid speaking about anything that won’t release within the year’s timeframe. Sure there are some exceptions to the rule, such as Halo Wars and Alan Wake, but both have been delayed more often than not.
So let’s ride this train out of town and journey into the habitat that Microsoft wants to avoid talking about – the year 2009.
The Confirmed Titles of 2009:
First up: Halo Wars. It has been confirmed that Halo Wars will arrive in Spring 2009 after being delayed from this winter’s lineup. It was shown behind closed doors at E3 this year and was received with a warm reception. Having personally played it, I can attest to this and confirm that the title is shaping up to be a real barnburner. There were a few downsides that stuck out such as the graphics that were trumped by the superb controls that are being implemented.
Outside of Halo Wars, there’s only four other titles currently confirmed for a 2009 release and that’s Microsoft Train Simulator 2 for the PC, Forza Motorsport 3 and Ninja Blade for the Xbox 360, and South Park on the Xbox Live Arcade.
Microsoft Train Simulator 2 will be taking full advantage of the Microsoft Flight Simulator X graphics engine and should arrive around the holidays in 2009. South Park won’t be a port of the Nintendo 64 first-person shooter, but rather it’s rumored to be a strategy title with all the known and loved characters. Outside of that, not much information has been spoken about South Park; it’s likely that this will remain true until the ball drops for 2009. As for Forza Motorsport 3, it has been said to feature over 400 cars and 100 tracks – truly epic if this rumor holds water – and slated for a fall 2009 release date. Lastly, not many details have been revealed on Ninja Blade besides the developer, From Software and a few videos.
The Rumored Titles of 2009:
With only four confirmed titles for 2009, you can guarantee that Microsoft will unveil more as time passes on. There are already a few “soft-confirms” for other titles that are in the cooker for Microsoft Game Studios such as Alan Wake, Peter Jackson’s Halo title, and new titles from Rareware.
Alan Wake is actually the only title that we officially know about because the others are either still secret projects that have yet to be revealed to the media by Microsoft or they haven’t officially been named yet. Alan Wake is likely going to be one of the main centerpieces for Microsoft in 2009, so we expect to hear more from the team over at Remedy Entertainment when they are ready to fully present the title again to the media.
Peter Jackson’s Halo title has been labeled “Halo: Chronicles” more often than not, so we’ll stick with that and continue to use it to save confusion. Halo: Chronicles is set to be an episodic video game developed by Microsoft’s studio, Wingnut Interactive. With the help and assistance of Bungie Studios, if Halo: Chronicles indeed does ship in 2009, it may be one of the most anticipated titles on any console.
Concerning Rareware, an interview conducted with Nick Burton let loose the information that half of Rare’s development teams are working on secret projects. If my calculations are correct, Rare should have three titles in the fold that have yet to be shown to the mass media. I came to this conclusion as Rare has their third entry into the Banjo series, the sequel to Viva Pinata and the debut of Xbox Live Avatars all releasing in 2008. While I may be overestimating how many secret titles and/or teams are within Rare, there has to be at least two titles. But for the sake of Rare fanatics, I’ll continue to assume there are three titles in the works.
Burton spoke on the possibility of Kameo 2 (Rare wanted to make it, but were never assigned to create one), Lunar Jetman (Burton wants to do it and there are ideas floating around for it) and the return of Conker (stating, “We'd be stupid if we didn't [bring back Conker], like we have done with Banjo, if we didn't have Conker back at some point.”).
I’ll go ahead and make the assumption that Conker is probably on his way back to stardom with having read Burton’s stance on the franchise. For the second rumored title, it’ll probably be something similar to Lunar Jetman for the Xbox Live Arcade. If the upcoming releases of the two previous entries in the Banjo-Kazooie franchise on the Xbox Live Arcade are any indication, Microsoft and Rare will be exploring the XBLA on a more persistence basis.
As for the last, it’s a toss-up between Perfect Dark 2 and Killer Instinct 3. In a perfect world, we’d get both but that’s not going to happen. KI3 can probably be considered one of the larger fabled games within Rare (outside of GoldenEye 007 for the XBLA) and Rare has often teased the possibilities. With Perfect Dark 2, it’s an intellectual property that Microsoft and Rare would be stupid to not explore more of – the 360 crowd loves shooters – and if they return the franchise to its roots, it might be the next big thing for Microsoft to concentrate on exploiting.
Moving on, there are three other titles that are supposed to be in the works for Microsoft. One of them may turn out to be published by another publisher, but with Bungie Studios history with Microsoft, there’s a pretty good chance that Microsoft may end up being the publisher. Bungie Studios reportedly had their announcement for their next big project cancelled at E3, but it’s only a matter of time until it shows up again.
The other two titles have less information made public than Bungie Studios’ project and those are projects from Lionhead Studios (Fable 2/The Movies) and the Ensemble Studios (Age of Empires III / Halo Wars) team. Lionhead Studios will see the release of their highly anticipated Fable 2 this fall, so we’ll have to await its debut on store shelves to hear more about Lionhead’s next video game. If they answer the prayers of gamers, it could end up being the revival of their B.C. project or Dimitri.
Franchises that are up in the air:
There are three titles that Microsoft may be publishing or co-publishing in 2009. The first two are Jade Empire 2 and Mass Effect 2. Bioware is now under EA’s direction, so the fate of these two titles are still in limbo concerning if they are going to be co-published by Microsoft. Bioware in the past said they were working on two titles for the 360 when they first announced Mass Effect (not including the trilogy) so they may have already put a lot of time into pre-production on Jade Empire 2. Though, I will admit this is very unlikely as their second title for the 360 is supposedly Dragon Age.
The third of these three titles is Kingdom Under Fire II. After the release of Kingdom Under Fire: Circle of Doom in January, Phantagram and Blueside Inc. released a press release that Kingdom Under Fire II is well under way and will incorporate MMO aspects for its online mode. Nowhere in the press release was there a mentioning of it being published by Microsoft as it’s currently in production for the PC, Xbox 360 and PS3. Microsoft may have officially let Kingdom Under Fire slip away into the distance as it hasn’t sold amazingly well here in the states or in other territories.
Well that concludes our study and look at Microsoft’s 2009 portfolio. There’ll of course be many other titles that we don’t know about, but we can only report what we know and have heard so far which is unfortunately very little as of this moment.