When Microsoft took the wraps off its Surface family of tablets this week, one thing was surprisingly absent: talk about gaming.
It was surprising in part because, earlier in the day, rumor had spread far and wide that the new tablets would be called Xbox Surface -- and they would have a gaming slant that incorporated Microsoft's popular game machine in a big way. Clearly, that didn't pan out.
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While rumors are often wrong, this lack of gaming news also was surprising because gaming has been so very important to the tablet business so far. Gaming apps have been the most popular category in Apple's App Store and, despite grumbling from hardcore players, touch screens have wooed players far and wide to the fold.
But perhaps the lack of game-related Surface talk on Monday was most surprising because, frankly, it seems the Surface tablets (especially the Pro model) could make awesome gaming-on-the-go machines – ones that elbow the iPad right out of the way.
Though many of the specs are not yet available for the two models of Surface tablet and info on apps remains a big question mark, this much we know: both the Surface for Windows RT and Surface for Windows 8 Pro have USB ports, which surely means that mice and perhaps even Xbox game controllers will be supported. Combine that with the Surface's two keyboard options (complete with directional arrow buttons) and you're well into PC gaming territory.
Meanwhile, the Surface for Windows 8 Pro -- sporting an Intel Core i5, Ivy Bridge-based CPU -- runs Windows 8 natively which could mean PC gaming may have its first true path to a tablet. No, we probably won't be able to run the newest games at their highest settings, but these portable tablets will likely have enough muscle to offer a solid gaming experience. Meanwhile, the Surface tablets have an HDMI port so you can easily pop what you're seeing on your tablet screen up on your TV screen.
Let's add it all up: lightweight, touch-screen tablet, mouse, keyboard, Xbox controller. That equals pretty good news for hardcore and casual gamers alike. So what do we want to play on this machine. Here's a look at a few of the titles that tempt us:
"Skulls of the Shogun"
This forthcoming strategy game is a good example of the shape Microsoft would like gaming to take in the future. That is, "Skulls of the Shogun" is an indie game being developed not only for the Xbox 360 (downloadable via Xbox Live Arcade) but also for Windows 8 PCs. And as soon as Microsoft revealed its Surface tablets Monday, the developers at 17-Bit revealed they would be making "Skulls" playable on both tablets as well.
Jake Kazdal, creative director at17-Bit, told Wired that the Surface version of the game would come with “three distinct, discrete control schemes.
"You can play with mouse and keyboard, you can play with iPad-style touch controls or you can plug in a controller," he said.
And that's part of what makes the Surface tablets sound so enticing -- whether you like to play your games with a controller, a mouse or by running your fingers across a screen, you can play the games you love the way you want to play them.
"Gears of War: Judgement"
Mark Rein, vice president and co-founder of Epic Games (the folks behind the Unreal Engine and "Gears of War" franchise) has made it clear that he thinks the Surface news is good news for gamers.
As soon as Microsoft announced the tablets, he tweeted, "Microsoft NAILS IT! Way to go Microsoft! Surface looks AWESOME! Can't wait to get some Unreal Engine games on those babies!"
And he went on to write, "Microsoft: I suppose, being a proper Windows 8 device, that Surface will fully support the Xbox game controller. If so: bravo!
Well then, let's see it Rein. How about you bring "Gears of War: Judgement" to the Surface Pro, complete with Xbox 360 controller support? Just an idea.
Maybe this is just pie-in-the-sky dreaming, but it would be pretty cool if Microsoft's forthcoming "Halo 4" game could be played on Microsoft's forthcoming Surface tablet.
"Halo 4" is, for the time being, is only being pitched as an Xbox 360 title. But surely fans would like to take Microsoft's signature series on the go (and be able to play it with an Xbox 360 controller to boot!) But if the full "Halo 4" game isn't playable on the Surface Pro, surely Microsoft's recently-revealed Xbox SmartGlass application will offer plenty of "Halo 4" "companion content" for the tablets.
With the Surface Pro running Windows 8 natively, we're guessing we'll be able to use the online Steam service to download PC games straight to the tablet. If that's the case, that opens up a world of PC gaming for this light, portable device.
I'd certainly love to be able to take "Portal 2" on the road. Buy the "Portal 2 - Two Pac" from Steam and you and a Surface-owning friend can play the cooperative campaign together on the road. And with a tablet on you at (nearly) all times, that'll give you plenty of time to explore the 35,000 user-generated "Portal 2" maps that are now available.
"World of Warcraft"/"Star Wars: The Old Republic"
Pick your poison players. Whatever your personal massively multiplayer online addition happens to be, surely having the ability to get your fix via an easy-to-carry-PC-like-tablet sounds like good news to you.
As we've said, some of the internal specs are still unclear and we're still waiting to hear about 3G/4G access, but if the Surface Pro can run "WoW" or "SWTOR," then you can get your MMO fix just about anywhere, anytime. The question is: Is that a good thing ... or a bad thing?
Unlike Nintendo and Sony, Microsoft has stayed out of the handheld gaming business. But it seems reasonable that the Surface tablets could be the Big M's way of getting into the portable gaming business (in addition to the game-rich plans they have for Windows Phone 8, of course).
Since it appears the Surface slates will support an Xbox controller, one of the things I'd love to see is a way to access the catalog of Xbox Live Arcade games on the tablets. You'll find great games like "Limbo" and "Bastion" there. Meanwhile, the eerie puzzle platformer "Deadlight" (see the trailer above) is just one of the intriguing titles coming to Xbox Live Arcade this summer.
While Sony is busy promoting the cross-game compatibility between its PlayStation Vita handheld and the PlayStation 3, it would be a smart move on Microsoft's part to bring the massive Xbox Live Arcade library to the Surface.
These are just a very few of the games that come to mind. What are some of the games you'd like to be able to play on a Surface tablet and why? Please let us know in the comments section.
Winda Benedetti writes about video games for msnbc.com. You can follow her tweets about games and other things on Twitter here @WindaBenedetti and you follow her on Google+. Meanwhile, be sure to check out the IN-GAME FACEBOOK PAGE to discuss the day's gaming news and reviews.