Xbox LIVE launches in South Africa Summer 2010

Hot off the heels of the E3 game conference in the USA, Microsoft South Africa confirms that Xbox LIVE is heading to South Africa.

South Africa – 14 June, 2010 – Microsoft today announces its commitment to launching Xbox LIVE in nine new countries – Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Czech Republic, Greece, Hungary, Poland, Russia and South Africa – delivering the core gaming and entertainment features that have made Xbox LIVE the world’s premier online gaming destination.

“Xbox LIVE is about building communities and connecting people to each other and to great content. This expansion is another step toward our vision for LIVE – to deliver the entertainment you want, shared with the people you care about, wherever you are in the world,” said Marc Whitten, General Manager, Xbox LIVE.

The service will be available this summer and will focus first on delivering the core gaming and community features that have made Xbox LIVE the world’s premier online gaming destination, including matchmaking, friends list, Achievements, Gamerscore, a tailored Games Marketplace and more.

“This is an exciting step forward in the experience we can deliver to our loyal and committed Xbox communities,” states Yvette van Rooyen, Product and Marketing Manager, Xbox 360 South Africa. “Xbox fans in South Africa will now be able play the best games in the industry with the 23 million other Xbox LIVE users across the world who have made this their online gaming destination of choice. “

Naturally this is fabulous news for South African gaming, but we all knew it was coming, just didn’t know when exactly. It makes sense though with the rollout of Windows Phone 7 using Xbox LIVE features. Now all we need to get is a firm date of when and what will happen with Xbox LIVE accounts for early adopters – will we need to/be able to migrate across countries for billing purposes or will the restrictions be lifted entirely.

I told you all Xbox LIVE will be coming to South Africa.

Windows Live ID to finally support OpenID

It looks like the Windows Live team is at it again. They’ve taken the plunge at PDC 2008 and committed to supporting the OpenID initiative.

All Windows Live product teams are committed to supporting open standards where such standards are relevant to our work and when they reach a sufficient level of maturity, and the Windows Live ID Team is no exception. We have been tracking the evolution of the OpenID specification, from its birth as just a dream and a vision through its development into a mature, de facto standard with terms that make it viable for us to implement it now.

We look forward to making it easier for our users to access the Web sites they use, by reducing their need to create additional identity accounts. That is the promise of OpenID. We are happy to support that goal by providing OpenID-based sign-in functionality to Windows Live ID account holders.

This may not seem like much but its Microsoft validating an open standard and making every one of their Hotmail and Passport users have ubiquitous access to a growing number of OpenID-enabled websites.

Well done to the Windows Live team.

Microsoft Silverlight 2 released

After many months of beta testing Microsoft Silverlight 2 it has been officially announced that it will release today, the 14th of October 2008.

A release build was expected to emerge sometime in November so it seems the team is very confident with the RC0 developer-only build that emerged recently. Unluckily for my team we just released our new product on Friday based on Silverlight 2 beta 2 under the Go-Live license thinking we had at least a month before Silverlight 2 released to fix up compatibility issues. Looks like this week is going to be a busy one for us.

Here is a snippet from the official press release:

Silverlight 2 will be available for download on Tuesday, Oct. 14, at http://www.microsoft.com/silverlight. Customers already using a previous version of Silverlight will be automatically upgraded to Silverlight 2.

What is awesome though is that Microsoft will soon release an extra set of Open Source controls known as the Silverlight Control Pack including a DockPanel, ViewBox, TreeView, Accordion and AutoComplete control.

Xbox 360 price-cut for South Africa

Awesome news for the local gaming industry. The Xbox 360 was by far the prominent console platform at rAge Expo 2008 once again and it just goes to show how committed Microsoft South Africa are in succeeding in this market.

JOHANNESBURG – 6th October 2008 – Microsoft today announced the new lower ERP for its entire Xbox 360 family of consoles in South Africa. Enjoying evenings of entertainment at home with friends and families has never been more affordable and fun. Everyone has the ability to play high definition games, watch movies and share pictures, live out their musical fantasies and star in their own Hollywood classics — all from one console, starting at an estimated retail price (ERP) of only R 1799.99.

From today, Xbox 360, which includes a 60GB hard drive and one wireless controller, will have an ERP of R 2699.99. The Xbox 360 Elite, which comes with a massive 120GB hard drive enabling consumers to store huge quantities of content, will have an ERP of R 3499.99. The Xbox 360 Arcade console, perfect for those wishing to make their first foray into the gaming and entertainment world of Xbox, will have an ERP of R 1799.99.

The new ERPs are part of Microsoft’s ongoing strategy to open up the ultimate in high-definition gaming and entertainment to an even wider audience, with something for everyone.  To date and testament to this broadening approach, Xbox 360 has broken through the six million mark in Europe since the lower ERP’s were recently announced abroad. Along with the new Xbox experience, the Xbox 360 platform is offering a stunning games portfolio for all ages and interests this Christmas, with new titles for music lovers, family-friendly games, and exciting blockbuster titles for the committed gamer.

“We’re proud to be expanding the reach of Xbox as the first next-generation console to break the R2000 barrier, making the platform significantly more affordable than competitors” said Marc Batten, Head of, Microsoft Interactive Entertainment Business South Africa.  “History shows that the majority of console sales happen after this price point has been breached, and we’re well positioned to take advantage of this mass market pricing.  We’re passing on the benefits of being the first console to sell over 20 million units worldwide, and of the ever-expanding ecosystem of Xbox, to consumers. 

“In addition, with shoppers tightening their belts and feeling the pinch of prices on the rise, staying in is becoming a more viable form of sociable entertainment. In the line up for Christmas, you can expect over 90 new games launching including some really innovative entertainment experiences. Together with these groundbreaking new price points we hope to continue to enjoy fantastic momentum in South Africa.”. Adds Batten

Bringing Music Games to Life

Whether you’re an aspiring groupie, songbird or big-haired rocker, this Christmas Xbox 360 transforms your living room into a thrilling soundstage for you and your friends. No other system connects you with all the music you love:

· “Lips” (iNiS/Microsoft Game Studios). “Lips,” an all-new music franchise exclusively from Xbox 360, is the only singing party game that offers wireless motion-sensitive microphones and a robust and diverse list of songs representing multiple musical genres, ranging from pop, rock and dance to hip-hop, country and R&B.

· “Guitar Hero World Tour (RedOctane/Activision). The latest instalment from the No. 1 best-selling video game franchise of 2007, “Guitar Hero World Tour” will transform music gaming by marrying the exhilarating guitar gameplay of “Guitar Hero” with a cooperative band experience that combines the most advanced wireless instruments with revolutionary new online and offline gameplay modes.

Xbox 360 Is the Life of the Party

Xbox 360 truly gets the party started with a wide-ranging portfolio of exclusive games for the whole family, including:

· “You’re in the Movies” (Codemasters/Microsoft Game Studios). Get ready for your close-up. “You’re in the Movies” brings the cool factor to kitsch as you live out your dreams of becoming a scream queen, zombie or kung fu fighter. Premiering exclusively on Xbox 360 this holiday season, “You’re in the Movies” is the first and only game of its kind to literally transport players into a magical world of cinema mixed with the hilarious world of improvisation.

· “Scene It? Box Office Smash” (Krome Studios and Screenlife/Microsoft Game Studios). “Scene It? Box Office Smash,” the revolutionary movie trivia game on Xbox 360, will ignite your game night this Christmas with totally new questions, movie puzzles and more high-definition (HD) content from real movies including some of Hollywood’s latest blockbusters. With the New Xbox Experience, players can literally put themselves into the game through custom avatars that respond to play and react to one another throughout the course of the game. 

· “Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts” (Rare Ltd./ Microsoft Game Studios). Available exclusively on Xbox 360 in November, from the creative masterminds at Rare, “Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts” is an action-adventure game that breathes new life into a franchise that has entertained people of all ages for a decade. In a platform genre first, players create their own abilities by building vehicles for Banjo to pilot over land, sea and air in a variety of Challenges where their choice of vehicle and tactics determines the course of the adventure.

· “Viva Piñata: Trouble in Paradise” (Rare Ltd. /Microsoft Game Studios). In this sequel to the colourful sleeper hit “Viva Piñata”, players can venture outside the boundaries of the immersive and ever-changing garden to retrieve exotic piñata species from two new lands, the Dessert Desert and the Piñarctic.

The Biggest Blockbusters of 2008 and Beyond

With the most popular blockbuster games to date and some highly- anticipated titles in 2008 and beyond, Xbox 360 is the pre-eminent place to play all the big titles that gamers thirst for, including the following:

· Fallout 3 (Bethesda Softworks).  Included in “Fallout 3” is an expansive world, unique combat, shockingly realistic visuals, tons of player choice, and an incredible cast of dynamic characters. Every minute is a fight for survival against the terrors of the outside world—radiation, super mutants, and hostile mutated creatures.

· “Fable II” (Lionhead Studios/Microsoft Game Studios). This Xbox 360 exclusive action role-playing game offers players an epic storyline and an unprecedented level of freedom and choice. Every decision defines who the player becomes and influences the evolving world around them.

· “Gears of War 2” (Epic Games/Microsoft Game Studios). “Gears of War 2” is the most anticipated Xbox 360 exclusive title this holiday season and will be released worldwide Nov. 7.

· “Tomb Raider: Underworld” (EIDOS).  “Tomb Raider: Underworld” represents a new advancement in exploration-based gameplay. As fearless adventurer Lara Croft explore exotic locations around the world, each designed with an incredible attention to detail resulting in breathtaking high-definition visual fidelity that creates a truly believable world and delivers a new level of challenge and choice.

· James Bond: Quantum of Solace (Treyarch/Activision Inc.)  James Bond is back to settle the score in Activision Inc.’s Quantum of Solace video game.  Introducing a more lethal and cunningly efficient Bond, the game blends intense first-person action with a unique third-person cover combat system allowing players to truly experience what it is like to be the ultimate secret agent as they use their stealth, precision shooting and lethal combat skills to progress through missions.

· Prince of Persia (Ubisoft).  “Prince of Persia” is set in a land rooted in ancient Persian mythology, with the Prince finding himself caught in an epic battle between the primal forces of light and darkness.  Master the acrobatics, strategy and fighting tactics of the most agile warrior of all time. Grip fall down the face of a building, perform perfectly timed acrobatic combinations, swing over canyons, buildings, and anything that is reachable. 

Megarom’s impressive rAge line-up

Megarom Interactive logo Megarom is going to have a busy stand next month at rAge 2008 with some pretty awesome games coming out this year. In particular I’m keen to get my hands on Far Cry 2 as well as for some more play time on the new Call of Duty and Star Wars.

Their press release follows:

Fourways, South Africa – 15th September 2008 – Megarom Interactive (Pty) Ltd., South Africa’s leading interactive video game importer and distributor, today announced its lineup that will be on show at the rAge Expo to be held from the 3rd – 5th October 2008 at the Coca-Cola Dome at Northgate Shopping Centre.

As in previous years, Megarom will be showcasing the biggest upcoming and recent releases from a number of its publishers. These publishers include Activision, Ubisoft and Take 2.

From Activision, Megarom will be showcasing Star Wars The Force Unleashed, Call of Duty World at War and Guitar Hero World Tour. From Ubisoft we will be showcasing Tom Clancy’s End War, Shaun White Snowboarding, Far Cry 2, Brothers in Arms Hell’s Highway and Prince of Persia. Bioshock and Midnight Club Los Angeles will be on show from Take 2.

In addition, we have developers from Ubisoft coming out from Europe to give demonstrations on their respective titles. Two developers are coming from the Far Cry 2 development team and a developer from the End War team will also be here. A schedule of the demonstrations will be made public at a later stage.

Aside from this powerful lineup, there is the Guitar Hero III competition that is going to be running on the Megarom Interactive, MTNLoaded and Xbox360™ stage. Entries are filling fast with only 41 remaining places in both the Legends and Casual competitions. For more details of these competitions, go to The Lair’s website on: http://www.thelair.co.za/rAgeGH3Legends.html for the Legends competition and http://www.thelair.co.za/rAgeGH3Casual.html for the Casual competition.

Megarom ensures a fantastic experience from the stand and stage. We promise this will be the biggest rAge for us.

See you all on the 3rd – 5th October in Johannesburg at the Coca-Cola Dome in Northgate.

Xbox 360 announcements from Leipzig

Looks like the run up to the 2008 festive season is going to be quite a busy one with some good interactive titles planned for release on the Xbox 360 platform. Its great that there should be a game for every member of the family. I’m personally keen to try out Lips and the new Scene It trivia game as I know how much fun Singstar and Buzz were on the PS2 platform.

Here is the South African press release:

LEIPZIG, Germany 20th August 2008 – During this year’s Games Convention at Leipzig, Germany, Xbox 360 presented its forthcoming range of entertainment offerings. The visitors of Europe’s biggest fair for PC- and video games were shown a unique range of titles, and Xbox 360 was once again able to underscore its leadership role in the field of digital entertainment.

Blockbusters for both the whole family and committed gamers – the 2008 lineup

Xbox 360 offers a broad range of entertainment. From now through to Christmas and beyond you can expect a top-class line-up of titles that offer the perfect games for everyone’s taste and interests. The highlights are:

· Lips (iNis / Microsoft Game Studios): Exclusively on Xbox 360, Lips will be released in November and offers unique new music features. Lips will come with numerous localised tracks, with new songs by national and international artists being added on a regular basis. But that is only just the start: For Lips is the first game that allows players to sing from their own music collections. Players become stars at every party with the help of the motion sensitive microphones, which reward high-impact performances. Developed by Keiichi Yano of Gitaroo Man fame, Lips takes a totally new approach when developing this music game. Available for Christmas 2008

· Fable II (Lionhead Studios / Microsoft Game Studios): Peter Molyneux’ most recent opus is one of the most anticipated games of the year 2008. It will offer an unequalled level of freedom of choice and create a new gaming experience. Every decision has an immediate impact on the fate of the hero and his surrounding world. The game’s role playing experience has also been enriched further by a co-op mode: gamers can play with friends either sitting together on the sofa. The game will be available in Europe from the 24th October.

· Too Human (Silicon Knights/ Microsoft Game Studios): With Too Human, fans can expect an epic action game with several RPG elements. A fantastic story, in-depth character design and an extraordinary technical level underlines the reputation that precedes Silicon Knights. After almost ten years of development, the long expected sci-fi-epic will be available from the 29th of August – exclusively for Xbox360.

· You’re in the Movies (Codemasters/ Microsoft): Become a movie star with You’re in the Movies: gamers are filmed acting out film roles, from a kung-fu fighter to a zombie using the Xbox Live Vision camera.  You’re In The Movies is the first game that allows you to become part of a movie and the result is different every time. Available from November 2008.

· Scene It? Box Office Smash (Krome Studios and Screenlife/ Microsoft Games Studios):  Scene It? Box Office Smash is the second Xbox 360 instalment of the popular movie quiz.  Totally new questions, puzzles and many movie clips in HD quality ensure a party atmosphere. Available from November 2008.

· Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts and Bolts (Rare Ltd./ Microsoft Game Studios):  Two of the most popular video games ever are back – exclusively on Xbox 360. From the developers of Rare comes Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts and Bolts, an innovative action adventure. Players are given plenty of material to design their own vehicles, and also get to choose how Banjo and his friend Kazooie overcome obstacles which come their way.

· Viva Piñata: Trouble in Paradise (Rare Ltd./ Microsoft Game Studios): From early September, players can leave the boundaries of their gardens and discover the whole new world of the Piñatas. In two new regions, the arctic and the desert, new and unknown animals are hiding.  Designed by Rare, Viva Piñata: Trouble in Paradise is a colourful entertainment experience for the whole family. Up to four players can create their gardens simultaneously or compete in the talent show P-Factor. Viva Piñata: Trouble in Paradise will be released on the 5th September.

Source: South African press release. For the US press release see Xbox Press

Visual Studio 2008 Service Pack 1 released

image If you are a developer using Visual Studio 2008 and have tried to install SQL Server 2008 on top of it, you might have noticed that it doesn’t want to install. According to KB956139 Visual Studio 2008 Service Pack 1 is a required if you intend to use certain features like the the SQL Server Management Studio.

The good news is that Visual Studio 2008 Service Pack 1 has been released to MSDN. It weighs in at a hefty 831MB so hopefully it will have lots of cool stuff and performance improvements not to mention support for the .NET Framework 3.5 Service Pack 1 release that has already shipped as part of SQL Server 2008.

SQL Server Spatial Tools now available on CodePlex

Isaac Kunen has posted details about the new SQL Server Spatial Tools project on CodePlex containing functions that can be used when working with the new SQL Server 2008 spatial data types.

The core idea is that instead of pushing up more samples showing how to extend our spatial functionality in text, we can put them in a more usable form.  Beyond just showing off some samples, though, we’d like to assemble useful code into a toolkit that provides some real functionality over what we bake into the server.

For a list of the goodies that the package contains take a look here and go and download the source code.

SQL Server 2008 ships

Microsoft SQL Server 2008 The other day during the Tech-Ed South Africa 2008 closing keynote it was announced that SQL Server 2008, formerly code-named Katmai, had gone gold and would release onto MSDN the same day. This is awesome news and the team has worked hard on this release.

The most important new features in my opinion are:

  • Spatial support in the form of the new GEOMETRY and GEOGRAPHIC data types with support for the Open Geospatial Consortium (OGC) standards.
  • New support for storing date and times, namely the DATE, TIME, DATETIME2 and DATETIMEOFFSET data types.
  • Sparse columns that reduce the overhead of NULL data on the disk.
  • Page compression to reduce the I/O costs of storing and retrieving data at the slight cost of processor performance.
  • Filtered indexes to provide optimised query plans for commonly used and under-performing queries.
  • Change Data Capture (CDC) to record changes in data across tables, seamlessly.
  • Intellisense in the SQL query editor when working against SQL Server 2008. Hopefully support for older versions is added soon.

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You can see all the new features over here and the download is currently available on MSDN and TechNet.

Over the next few weeks I’ll be testing the new features and I’ll post my findings as I go. I’m eagerly waiting for Map Server for Windows to add support for SQL Server 2008 as I’m sure it will kick the collective butt of PostgreSQL and PostGIS.

Time to monetize your gaming creativity

XNA Creators Club Online We all knew it was coming and finally its confirmed and coming to an Xbox 360 console near you later this year. Using the free XNA Game Studio 2.0 coupled with Visual C# Express Edition from Microsoft you can now not only design and build your own games to run on Windows and the Xbox 360 gaming console, but now you can share them with the community through the Xbox LIVE network of over 12 million members. I’m assuming the new feature will be delivered with the New Xbox Experience later this year called Xbox LIVE Community Games.

As a Premium member in the XNA Creators Club, you’ll be able to submit any complete Xbox 360 game you’ve created in XNA Game Studio to the Creators Club community at http://creators.xna.com, for peer review. Other Premium Creators will check to make sure your game is safe to play. If it is, you’ll set a price point – between 200 and 800 Points – that people will pay to download your game.

Once the game is reviewed and the price point set, you’re done. The game is listed on Xbox LIVE Marketplace, and you’ll get a check every quarter, for up to 70% of the game’s total revenue in your own currency. Depending on your game’s success, you may even have your game advertised on Xbox 360 and other Microsoft online properties.

Just imagine – your game in the hands of millions of Xbox 360 gamers around the world: that’s the power of Community Games.

Make games, Make money But wait, that isn’t even the best part. You can also put a price tag of between 200 and 800 Microsoft Points on your game and you’ll get a quarterly payment from Microsoft as users buy your game. Well you’ll actually get 40% to 70% of the revenue depending on how its marketed but normally it will be a 70% revenue share. Wicked stuff isn’t it? I think so.

The only big drawback right now is that its only available to XNA Creators Club Premium members in the U.S., Canada, U.K., France, Italy and Spain for now. They plan to add more countries to the list later in the year.

Head on over to the XNA Creators Club site and sign up, download the tools and while you are at it, enter the XNA Dream-Build-Play Challenge 2008 and win. Thanks Microsoft, this is an awesome idea for the aspiring game developer and a great way to grow the game developer community.