Microsoft, Peter Jackson to form game studio

Called Wingnut Interactive, the New Zealand-based game shop will join in Microsoft's "Halo" efforts.

Microsoft on Wednesday announced that it will be creating a new video game studio in collaboration with "Lord of the Rings" and "King Kong" director Peter Jackson.

The studio, which will be called Wingnut Interactive, will be a joint partnership between Microsoft Game Studios and its subsidiary studio, Bungie. It will work on the creation of a new title in the hit "Halo" series of games .

Jackson and his Academy Award-winning screenwriter, Fran Walsh, will be directly involved in the creation of the new "Halo" title.

In addition, Microsoft's Ensemble Studios, creator of the hit "Age of Empires," will create another new "Halo" title, "Halo Wars."

Microsoft also said Wingnut Interactive will work on the creation of an entirely new video game, though it would not give details about it.

The news came as part of a series of announcements in Barcelona, Spain, where Microsoft is holding its X06 Xbox press event.

According to Scott Henson, director of the Xbox Advanced Technology Group, the new "Halo" games will likely come out sometime after the

Henson was otherwise tight-lipped about the new "Halo" titles. He did say, however, that both "Halo" titles would run only on the Xbox 360--excluding Sony's PlayStation 2 and PlayStation 3, and the original Xbox.

Wingnut Interactive will be based in New Zealand, Henson said. But he would not elaborate on the business terms of the deal.

There's no question that the arrangement with Jackson and Walsh, who collaborated on the wildly popular "Lord of the Rings" trilogy (also produced in New Zealand), and who are known for innovative storytelling, is a coup for Microsoft. The software giant has been putting a great deal of effort into differentiating its Xbox offerings from the forthcoming Sony PlayStation 3 and Nintendo Wii next-generation consoles.

While it's unknown how the market will respond to the PS3 or the Wii, it is clear that Microsoft has not been standing pat on its year head-start in the next-generation console wars. Since its November launch of the Xbox 360 , Microsoft has been putting a lot of effort into bolstering its Xbox Live offerings, its accessories and the overall number of games available.

And while "Halo 3" is still in the hopper, it is noteworthy that Microsoft is able to announce two further titles in the market-leading series, even before the next title comes out.

While there have been some successful titles for the Xbox 360, notably "," "," "" and others, none have had the success that "Halo" and "Halo 2" had.

Microsoft announced several other initiatives from Barcelona.

Among them is the Wednesday release of the first-person shooter classic, " Doom ," for Xbox Live Arcade, as well as an announcement that Microsoft has struck a deal with Rockstar Games and Take-Two Interactive Software to provide exclusive "Grand Theft Auto IV" content for the Xbox Live marketplace shortly after that game is released in October 2007.

Also, the company confirmed that its Xbox 360 HD DVD player, which will hit store shelves in mid-November, will cost $199 in North America, and will include Peter Jackson's "" and a universal remote.

In addition, Microsoft said it is working with Ubisoft on the release of the next title in the popular "Splinter Cell" series and that upon its release, it will be console-exclusive to the Xbox 360.

Rounding out the major pieces of news from X06 on Wednesday, Henson said Microsoft is working with Cryptic Studios on the future release of the online game "Marvel Universe Online," built around the Marvel Entertainment world of comics. Henson said that title will be available only for Xbox 360 and Windows Vista.

 

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