October 2, 2002 may not mark a special day for most, but for some it opened up a whole new world of gaming with the release of Microsoft’s Xbox in New Zealand. One year later and Microsoft took the liberty of celebrating the Xbox’s first birthday with a party in the Town Hall located in central Auckland. Of course, this was no ordinary party. Aside from the previews of games there were also appearances from some of the big names from the New Zealand music industry. Bands like Goodshirt, King Kapisi, Pan Am, Deceptikonz and Pluto just to name a few.

Of course to top it all off, not only was there beer and wine to celebrate the night, but also playable beta code of some really fantastic titles due for release soon. The likes of Project Gotham Racing 2, Top Spin, Counter-Strike and Stacey Jones Rugby League were all on display. Mario Wynands of Sidhe Interactive (SJRL developers) challenged us to a match of Rugby League and we can safely say that much fun will be had with this title come its release later this month.

This was all good and made for an excellent night but then there was a surprise announcement made to the attendees. We cannot contain ourselves any longer! Xbox Live will be released locally in December 2003. The service that has already bought together over 750,000 gamers worldwide is set to expand down-under about two months after our cousins across the ditch.

"Frankly, Xbox Live is an awesome service," says Wilf Robinson, director of Xbox NZ. "Gaming just went global! You can pit your skills against anyone, anywhere in the world. For sports nuts, the XSN service will also enable you to record all of the statistical results of games and get involved in leagues and tournaments world wide."

Those are some pretty strong words from Wilf and we can say first hand that, so far, Xbox Live does deliver. First time users will have no problems at all setting up an Xbox Live account as long as they have a current broadband connection. Once the Xbox is connected you insert the Xbox Live disc, then configure your Xbox by following the instructions and then select a user name that you want the world to know you by. That’s it, you are good to go.

For those unaware, Microsoft already knew this day would come, one only needs to look at the already impressive line up of Xbox Live enabled games available in New Zealand. From early release titles such as Ghost Recon, Unreal Championship and MechAssault to the recent releases of this year like MotoGP 2, Midtown Madness 3 and the hugely popular Return to Castle Wolfenstein. These are only a few that scrape the barrel and we haven’t even begun to mention the games that have downloadable content. You want new levels for Splinter Cell? You got it. How about a whole new “Capture the Flag” modification for MechAssault? It's there.

For those who don't want to muck around, all Live-enabled games come with a quick match option where you can join the closest match available. Enter the game and get ready to talk smack to the other gamers with the Xbox Live headset. This voice activated headset comes free with each Live kit and simply plugs into the controller. No annoying wires on the floor for your dog (or mum ;)) to trip up on. Bare in mind that this picture of the Xbox Live! kit does not depict the New Zealand packaging. It is just here as a guide to show you what to expect for your cash.

This upcoming Christmas promises to be a season that we can all be jolly about, with upcoming Live-enabled games such as the astounding ESPN Sports titles, Project Gotham Racing 2, Top Spin, Counter-Strike, Amped 2, Links 2004…. Whew! One game that has been recently released overseas is Crimson Skies with one review saying this is the best Xbox Live game to date. Allowing up to 16 players to battle it out in in their planes with modes like deathmatch, team deathmatch, capture the booty and more.

Here at Gameplanet our hands are already sweating with anticipation knowing that this service is finally going to give everyone a chance to put their game where their mouth is. Beating your friend in split screen is one thing, but being the best in the world? Sorry, but there is only room for one and you’ll have to battle them for the title. If you think you have what it takes you can pre-order your Xbox Live kit here. See you online in December! [Darn right - I'm gonna whoop your ass - Ed.]