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Welcome to Microsoft Pri0: That's Microspeak for top priority, and that's the news and observations you'll find here from Seattle Times technology reporter Matt Day.

February 18, 2009 at 9:55 AM

Sony readies PlayStation 3 push with much-anticipated ‘Killzone 2’ on tap

After three straight months of declining video game console sales, Sony is hoping to start 2009 with a bang as one of the most-anticipated titles for the PlayStation 3 hits stores Feb. 27. With “Killzone 2,” the company hopes to showcase the power of its game console and take some momentum away from Microsoft’s Xbox 360. Killzone 2 screenshot.jpg

“Killzone 2” is a first-person shooter, exclusive to the PS3, that wowed the assembled video game press when Sony showed a brief clip from the game at the Electronics Entertainment Expo in 2005. Los Angeles Times game reviewer Pete Metzger described the debut in his K2 review today: “The short video, presented without explanation, was an amazing futuristic war game with visuals that exceeded anything that could be done at the time. Quite simply, we couldn’t believe our eyes; there was no way a game could look that good.”

Peter Dille, senior vice president of marketing for Sony Computer Entertainment America, said “that infamous trailer got a lot of people talking about not only ‘Killzone,’ but the power of the PS3. Since that time, ‘Killzone’ has gone through kind of a roller-coaster ride from a public perception perspective … Would it really deliver on that promise?”

He pointed to the game’s Metacritic score — 92 out of 100 after 54 reviews — as evidence that the game is meeting or exceeding the high expectations set for it.

“We think this is going to be a nice hardware mover for us and really get the year off to a nice start,” Dille said in an interview this morning, adding that the company expects the 2009 games line up to “generate new found momentum behind the PlayStation 3.”

Hardware sales

Microsoft’s Xbox 360 launched a year ahead of the PlayStation 3. But the follow-up to the record-selling PlayStation 2 has been unable to close the gap in console sales thus far. The Xbox 360 has outsold the PS3 in the U.S. in 13 of the last 18 months. (Although the Nintendo Wii has outsold both of them combined in 11 of the last 18 months.) And in the 2008 holiday season — a critical period for the video games industry — Sony saw PS3 sales in the U.S. decline compared with 2007, according to the NPD Group.

Dille pointed out that the PlayStation brand, including the last-generation PS2 and the PlayStation Portable, was, in aggregate, No. 2 at retail in 2008. The PS3 is on track with Sony’s goals, he added.

“We were tracking real well against the 360 until they made their price drop down to $199, stripped out the hard-drive, and offered that [Arcade] unit,” Dille said. “And obviously in this economy, that offering resonated with people.”

He said the industry, in 2008, was driven by the Nintendo Wii — “appealing to a different segment of the market” — and Microsoft’s price cut.

“We’ll play those cards at the right time for us,” he said.

Anticipated titles

Microsoft has several highly anticipated and exclusive titles coming for the Xbox 360 this year, too. “Halo Wars,” a strategy based riff on the space combat series that made the Xbox, is due out March 3 from Microsoft’s Ensemble Studios. Another “Halo” title, “Halo 3 ODST,” (for Orbital Drop Shock Trooper — a class of soldier in the game), is coming in Fall from Kirkland-based Bungie Studios.

Excitement over both “Killzone 2” and “Halo Wars” has peaked in recent weeks, according to Gamefly, a game rental service that tracks titles in its customers’ rental queues as a proxy for the most-anticipated titles. “Killzone 2” was the first PS3 exclusive to hit the top of the list, for the week ended Feb. 9, but “Halo Wars” took the top spot for the week ended Feb. 16. Sony, meanwhile, has seen the strongest pre-sales for “Killzone 2” of any first-party game for PS3.

‘Horsepower under the hood’

Dille said “Killzone” does things with the PS3 that other titles haven’t yet done.

The game is huge — 40 gigabytes — something possible because of the PS3’s Blu-ray Disc drive. That allowed developer Guerrilla Games to pack more graphical detail into the game. And the graphics aren’t diminished during multi-player gaming, Dille said. The artificial intelligence of the enemies is better and more sophisticated and there are more levels of difficulty.

But Dille still sees much more for game developers to do on the console.

“There’s no way [‘Killzone’] is taking it to its full potential. … The PS3 is a very deep ocean and folks are really still only scratching the surface,” he said.

“The PlayStation 3 just had its second birthday,” Dille continued. “[Microsoft] is further into their cycle. But, we’re two years into what we always talked about as a 10-year cycle and PlayStation has always had a bit of a deeper learning curve because there’s more horsepower under the hood — I think that was true of PS2, it’s certainly true of PS3 — so this is not the end of what you’ll see from PS3 by any means.”

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