A looming question among ardent video gamers is when Microsoft will release "Halo 3," the next installment of the blockbuster game responsible...

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A looming question among ardent video gamers is when Microsoft will release “Halo 3,” the next installment of the blockbuster game responsible for much of the Xbox’s success.

If their Web sites are an indication, retailers are expecting it to arrive between May 15 and June 2.

Best Buy’s site yesterday listed “Halo 3’s” release date as May 15, right around the time of the annual Electronic Entertainment Expo, a major games-industry trade show in Los Angeles. Target’s Web site at Amazon.com said it would have the game available on June 2, and both sites were taking pre-orders.

Xbox chief Robbie Bach denied the Best Buy shipping date.

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“I don’t know what this is, but the information is simply wrong,” Bach said via e-mail.

The retailers could be speculating about the timing, although sometimes their Web sites inadvertently reveal details of hotly anticipated products. Best Buy could not be reached for comment.

Speculation about “Halo 3’s” timing is rampant among fans since the game won’t be ready when Microsoft ships its new Xbox 360 console on Nov. 22.

Bach, president of the Microsoft Entertainment & Devices Division, just returned from an Xbox press event in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, where he downplayed Chairman Bill Gates’ earlier comments that the game would ship next spring, when Sony is expected to release its competing PlayStation 3 console.

” ‘Halo’ is something we’ll ship when it’s ready,” Bach told the news service.

“Halo,” which takes game players through an episodic science-fiction tale, is Microsoft’s best selling Xbox title and gave the console a vital boost after they were launched simultaneously in 2001. “Halo 2” was released in November.

Brier Dudley: 206-515-5687