Slave to the Game

Filling you in on the oddball gaming news

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Microsoft Corp. on Wednesday said its "Halo 3" video game rang up a record-smashing $170 million in retail sales within its first 24 hours on sale at U.S. stores.

The figure does not include international sales in 37 countries, which could add tens of millions to the tally.

In comparison, the top grossing box office movie release, "Spider-Man 3," racked up $151 million.

"Spectacular," said Michael Pachter, an analyst with Wedbush Morgan Securities.

Analysts say strong sales of "Halo 3" could be enough to push Microsoft's Entertainment and Devices Division into the black for the quarter ending Sept. 30. The division has lost billions of dollars since launching its Xbox video game console business in 2000. The Redmond, Wash., company has promised to reverse those losses and turn a profit from its games business this fiscal year.

"Halo 3" is regarded as a critical component in Microsoft's strategy to win the race against Sony Corp.'s PlayStation 3 console. Microsoft, which has spent millions of dollars in a marketing blitz to promote the game, is betting "Halo 3" will spur consumers to buy its Xbox 360 console and play the game online through the company's Xbox Live service.

"Within the first 20 hours alone, we've seen more than a million Xbox Live members come online to play Halo 3," said Shane Kim, corporate vice president of Microsoft's game studios.

The game's previous installment, "Halo 2," grossed $125 million its first day out in 2004.

Learn the delicate art of survival, the Master Chief way.

by Greg Orlando

Knowing is half the battle, sayeth noted pundit G.I. Joe. The other half, at least for the first-person shooter Halo 3, is getting the basics down. Using these simple tips will help you begin your journey to Halo mastery.

Or they'll at least keep you from dying like clockwork every six seconds.


Step One: Know thy enemy...

The simplest thing you can do to stay alive in Halo 3's single-player adventure is to understand your enemy. You'll be facing a host of Covenant forces, from bumblebee-like drones to hulking Brutes. Each type of foe has its own set of reactions, battle tactics, and weapons. Once you know what a given enemy class is capable of, and what it's going to do in a given situation, you will be well prepared for a meaningful dialogue with it -- by which we mean kill the rat bastard and mock its corpse.

Diminutive grunts, for example, will panic in the face of pressure; kill the Brute leader they support, and the Grunts will throw up their arms and scatter. Jackals serve as snipers and, on the game's heroic difficulty level, are crack shots. When they're around it's best to use stealth to kill the ground enemies they support so as to find a good vantage point from which to snipe them, or else move from cover point to cover point to avoid their deadly fire.

Later on, during the Flood levels, Halo 3 becomes more of a run-and-gun affair. Here, it's not so much necessary to recognize the different Flood types, but rather escape from them. In fact, shooting some of the Flood is just asking for trouble; the little, twitching, bulbous-headed Flood (Flood carrier forms) will explode when shot, releasing a horde of tiny parasites in the process.


Step two: It's tool time!

Do not neglect your tools. They're handy in so many ways.

Bubble shields are invaluable, especially when Master Chief's facing a host of enemies and cover isn't readily available. Dropping one will give you the time you need to reload, recover lost shield power, and plot a new strategy.

Portable gravity lifts can be dropped in doorways or narrow corridors, creating a perfect trap for foes. Any enemy foolish enough to wander over one will be thrust upward toward the ceiling and rendered helpless. From here, it's easy to either shoot them or lob a grenade toward the generator (the generator will then hurl the grenade upward) to dispatch the trapped foes.

A power drainer is great to use on a concentrated group of enemies. It rapidly depletes enemy shields, and will kill anything stupid enough to remain in its area of effect. Players can then follow up the drainer's destructive attack with grenades, or simply plow through the problem spot with little resistance.

In multiplayer games, other players' radar can be temporarily wrecked with a radar jammer. This is great for players who like to take the high ground and snipe suckers from a distance, or for less experienced players who rely on praying and spraying (with the battle rifle, machine gun, etc.) or those who like to dispatch their foes close up with melee attacks.


Step three: Learn this combo...

The ability to wield two weapons at once is a godsend in Halo 3. Covenant enemies such as the Brutes now use armor, and taking them out while it's intact is really tough.

It may seem like an unlikely combination, but the pistol and pistol combination (human and Covenant plasma) works extremely well against armored or shielded foes. Charge up the plasma pistol by holding down the fire trigger (either left or right, depending on which hand the plasma pistol is being held in, and shoot when the pistol begins to hum and shake. This will knock out shields and destroy armor, allowing for two or three quick shots with the human pistol-a surefire way to destroy any foe.


Step four: One last thing...

Always aim for the head. One well-placed head shot is worth 5-10 hits on an enemy's body.

Just hours after die-hard fans finally got their hands on a copy of "Halo 3," blogs brimmed with reports that special limited-edition packaging is scratching the video game disks.

While the scratches don't appear to be keeping gamers from playing the last installment of the popular trilogy, it's a rough patch that Microsoft Corp., which has faced several Xbox 360 glitches in recent months, could have lived without.

Microsoft, which owns the studio that makes the Xbox-only "Halo 3," responded quickly on its Xbox Web site with details for a replacement program. Customers can fill out a form and send in their scratched limited-edition disks for a free exchange through the end of December.

"We have identified that there are some instances of blemishes on discs as a result of the packaging," said Microsoft spokesman David Dennis in an e-mailed statement. "This is a small fraction of the total number of Halo 3 games shipped and sold, and is a limited production version of the game."

Microsoft is selling the limited-edition version, which comes in a tin with bonus behind-the-scenes features and a making-of-the-game documentary, for $70. A regular copy of the game costs $60, and a "legendary" version, which comes with a replica of the helmet worn by game protagonist Master Chief, costs $130. The game officially went on sale early Tuesday.

Richard Mitchell, the lead writer of the Xbox 360 Fanboy blog, said one of the disks that came in his limited-edition set is scratched but the damage didn't seem to interfere with its playing.

"Who wants to pay full price for something scratched?"

Brian Crescente, Kotaku.comThe AP received several review copies of "Halo 3" in limited-edition tins. Both the game disk and an "essentials" disk had come loose from plastic housing designed to keep them in place. The game disk had been scratched but seemed to work fine.

"It sounds like it's just an aesthetic thing, though who wants to pay full price for something scratched?" said Brian Crescente, managing editor of Gawker Media's video game blog.

Microsoft has been plagued by Xbox 360 problems in recent months. In July, the software maker said it would spend more than $1 billion to repair broken Xbox 360 consoles, and in August it disclosed that some Wireless Racing Wheel game controllers were overheating and smoking.

Since its launch, the Xbox 360 has outsold Sony Corp.'s next-generation PlayStation 3 console, but it hasn't been as popular as Nintendo Corp.'s Wii. Investors and analysts are watching whether Microsoft can turn a profit in the division that makes the Xbox 360. Microsoft, which expects to hit that milestone in the current fiscal year, has said "Halo 3" is one part of its strategy for reaching that goal.