Microsoft signs up new game developers to Xbox

With just over a month left before it makes its first foray into the home game console business, Microsoft Corp. has added the support of three Japanese computer game makers to its Xbox plans.

As the Tokyo Game Show got underway here Friday, Microsoft announced the three companies are developing a total of five games for its new console. The Xbox will hit shelves in the U.S. on November 15 and in Japan on February 22, 2002, Microsoft says.

The company scored a coup with Koei Co. Ltd., which announced it is exclusively developing a new version of its history simulation game "Nobunaga no Yabo Ranseiki," or in English "Nobunaga's Ambition: Chronicle of Chaos," for the Xbox.

Game developer Genki Co. Ltd. announced it is working on two Xbox games: "Zan Kabuki" and "Phantom Crash." The former is described as a swordplay action game developed by the same team which produced "Kengo" and the latter is a fighting game in which robots use camouflage to do battle.

Additionally, Microsoft and Sega unveiled an extension of their pact with the news that Sega's two most famous gamemaking studios are working on one game each for the Xbox. Sega-AM2 Co. Ltd. will develop a version of its hit "Shuemue II" game, while Sonic Team Ltd. is developing a version of its networked role playing game (RPG) "Phantasy Online" for Microsoft's new console. Sega had previously announced a range of games for the Xbox.

Microsoft's pleasure at getting Sega's top two games development teams to work on Xbox titles was difficult to disguise for Ed Fries, vice president of games publishing, who called the news "One of the most important things that was announced today."

He credited both Yu Suzuki, who heads the Sega-AM2 team, and Yuji Naka, in charge of the Sonic Team, as two of the most talented members of an incredibly talented team at Sega and underlined the importance of them working on Xbox titles.

"That's a very important announcement because it brings Yu Suzuki, one of the most talented games developers, onto the Xbox," he said of Sega-AM2 joining the development effort, and added, "The announcement of (Phantasy Online) coming to Xbox is really important because online is an important part of Xbox. When we launch our online service in Japan, we will launch it with Phantasy star online." The company plans to launch its online service in the U.S. in the middle of 2002 and later the same year in Japan.

For Microsoft, getting talented, brand-name game developers working on Xbox titles is important if the console is to have a chance of beating Sony Computer Entertainment Inc.'s PlayStation 2 and Nintendo Co. Ltd.'s Gamecube consoles.

Expanding the relationship between Microsoft and Sega, which dumped its own console earlier this year in favor of producing software for other companies, will be the top level of business this weekend when Bill Gates, chairman and chief software architect of the Redmond, Washington-based company, meets Tetsu Kayama, chief operating officer (COO) of Sega, according to Fries.

Gates is also expected to make an appearance at the Tokyo Game Show on Sunday afternoon at the booth of Sega.

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Martyn Williams

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