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Weekly News Round-Up 8/3/10

The ApocalyPS3


This week much raging did take place, because for an entire day, the Playstation Network became unavailable to users of any PS3 that was not a slim version, due to an internal clock error, aptly dubbed the “apocalyPS3”. Apparently these consoles registered 2010 as a leap year and thus rage quitted on themselves, rendering many PSN trophy-enabled games unplayable. The issue apparently resolved itself, according to the official Playstation blog, without an update needed and it has been reported that some users lost trophies and even saved game files – we feel for you folks! Many cynics and conspiracy theorists were quick to rise up and claim it was a secret plan by Sony, initiated in order to force people to buy the new slim version of the PS3. While this is clearly crazy talk, from malleable metal headwear enthusiasts, there are increasing doubts as to whether Sony can continue to compete with other online gaming services/marketplaces. Either way, Hitler isn’t a fan.

Insanity Ward

On March 1st, after a slew of rumours and reports of security turning up at Infinity Ward and other such things, it was discovered, first via a Facebook update reading “Jason West is drinking. Also, no longer employed.” That the aforementioned co-founder of Infinity Ward was let go by Activision, the parent company, and shortly after Vince Zampella, the CEO suffered the same fate. Activision announced that it was taking the franchise in a new direction. Apparently the two heads were talking to other companies, looking to take their own direction with Call of Duty, as the contract between the two companies is due to expire this autumn. Naturally Activision, and it’s head Bobby Kotick didn’t want them messing around with their gold mine and promptly fired them on grounds of breach of contract due to insurbordination– at least that’s the reason they give. The craziness didn’t stop there however, Zampella and West bit back, filing a lawsuit claiming Activision simply did it in order to avoid paying them the (what clearly must be) substantial royalties from MW2. Since then, it has been reported that Activision are now frantically searching for documents linking the two with EA.

Activision are clearly looking to go the mile with CoD, having already announced a non-FPS version to be released by newly founded Sledgehammer games, the next instalment to be developed by Treyarch and another “unkown” developer to make yet another. Activision Publishing CEO Mike Griffith wrote in an internal memo, which was leaked, that Infinity Ward was still essential to the franchise, so we’re just gonna have to wait and see how this whole thing plays out. Personally I find it hard to believe that the heads of Infinity Ward deserved such a fate; the landscape could have been a whole lot different if they had smoothly transitioned to a company they felt more comfortable with. Unfortunately, it looks as though Activision are going to drive a once great franchise into the ground by overselling and bastardizing it.

Portal 2

Thank the lord, more and more Portal 2 news has been leaked recently; Yes, the eagerly awaited sequel to the genius little 2007 game, is in full swing for a reported Christmas release this year. Amongst a whole host of other tid-bits, it’s been discovered the unique puzzle game will have multiplayer coop which could make for some very complicated and intricate sections, and looks to be a standalone title, meaning an even more fleshed out game hopefully – awesomeness. If you want to read the rest of the spoiler-filled details, look here.

Recently Valve updated the original game, with some audio files, some encoded, some are morse code, which players could listen to via the radios in certain sections through a mini game. These files sent many fans on a treasure hunt ending in a series of images. Along with other confusing information, Valve also updated the ending sequence, you can see that here. Personally, I cannot wait – I’ve found Valve rarely disappoint and you’ve got to give it to them for constructing such complex little games for its hardcore fans. And oh yes, in other Valve news, Steam is officially coming to the Mac, presumably along with TF2, Half Life 2 etc so rejoice!

Tax Breaks

Last week Shadow Arts minister Ed Vaizey MP, restated that the Tories, if elected would seriously look at fiscal support for the UK games industry, stressing the importance of the industry in the current business landscape. He explained that the industry needs the help that any other industry does, and that’s tax and regulation reduction. He went on to say that other countries do indeed receive active support from their governments so much of the UK’s talent is being bled to other countries and thus it’s his “absolutely number one priority” to “level the playing field”. This comes shortly after Brown, the Prime Minister promised to look help support the industry in much the same way, after praising its importance in terms of the global industry. Although this appears to be a case of everyone jumping on the bandwagon prior to an election, it’s still nice to see that this is something they reckon it’s worth lying about; at least it’s a little more of the recognition the industry deserves.

And Finally…

Battlefield: Bad Company 2 was released this week, and being a fan of the franchise since Battlefield 2, I’m loving the hell out it – it’s a whole lot more strategic and the environments are beautiful and literally, explosive. Anywho, if you want to pick it up, but are stuck in your stubborn noob-tubing Modern Warfare 2 ways, take a look at this video and get yourself in the right mindset! Oh, and Not-so-weekly picks on Tuesday!


March 7th, 2010
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News 25/2/10

Call of Duty: Nam’?

Well there was speculation and rumours that this year’s inevitable serving of the Call of Duty franchise would be based on that war with most tenuous and controversial of motives, Vietnam, and it seems all but confirmed. A recent LA casting call for Call of Duty-related “voice over/motion capture” for an Activision “video game” and described character, Frank Barnes as being part of an elite Vietnam unit. There appears to be four major characters – a fiercely patriotic veteran, a very physically fit black man, a 30-something white military tactician and a cold, Russian-born, martial arts trained female. So as you can see, the game is already bursting with originality right off the bat; and you can bet your blown off limb that this 7th instalment will be squished to the brim with movie take-offs, clichés and line from any number of Nam epics. Having bashed Treyarch, there’s still a possibility that a further improved multiplayer experience could save the title – I think we can all agree that Infinity Ward’s MW2 just attempted, in many respects, to achieve too much and failed to reconcile and balance all the features. Either way, expect to be flung into a hail of weeping comrades, unnecessary deforestation and hippy-bashing.

CoD 7: Vietnam?

Project 10 Dollar

Sounds cool right? This suave codename actually stands for EA’s new policy to combat loss of sales due to second hand purchases. This directive is the result of a brainstorming session in New York last year headed by EA CEO John Riccitiello and came into effect with Dragon Age and Mass Effect 2, to be used here onward, allowing customers who buy games brand new to benefit from a slew of free content, and charging the thrifty second-handers or anyone late on the scene fairly substantial sums for the DLC. With Dead Space 2, a couple of Need for Speeds and Crysis 2 hitting the shelves this year, along with a promise to provide DLC for every title accordingly, this is a pretty big effort and was no doubt decided upon by Riccitiello ominously looking out on the world from the top of a skyscraper, with his hands behind his back (the name just requires it!). In a climate such as ours now, with the Games Industry increasingly succumbing to the force of recession, I for one admire the strategy – free content for being an enthusiastic gamer? I’ll bite; It’s just another clever use of price discrimination and although some may feel differently, increased first hand purchases can only do the industry good.

Just Be-Cause 2

Square Enix, to the delight of pyromaniacs and Michael bay fans alike, and of course me, released some trailers for Just Cause 2 recently. The series of promos titled Anatomy of a Stunt feature the game’s protagonist, Rico, performing all manner of ridiculous and insane tricks, showing of the improved physics engine. The game boasts in-game video capture as well and is due out in March. I can’t really say anymore, just watch and switch off your brain!



How The West Was Won Made

Red Dead Redemption is shaping up to be a veritable groundbreaker, pushing the boundaries, both literally and figuratively – checkout any of the trailers, and then wipe the salivation off of your keyboard. But, you’d have to have been living under a very heavy, liberal rock to not know Rockstar is no stranger to breaking new ground, whether you believe it best left untrodden or not. In a recent interview with IGN, the co-founder of Rockstar, Dan Houser explained how the simple values of Rockstar made the basis for its hugely successful games, most notably the GTA franchise. With many games in the genre being almost innately described as “like GTA but.” (and usually not up to the same standard) it’ll be interesting to see how Redemption fares, as it’s one of the only games that can proudly and rightly hold the aforementioned description. I’ve no doubt that it will be an achievement of its own though, the voice acting looks phenomenal and the combat looks set to truly capture the intricacies of action which cowboy films made popular.

Houser went on to say how the controversy over certain Rockstar games has been misplaced (we’ve all seen the fox news clip where the douche claims the goal is to fuck a prostitute and then kill her) and that though many claim it has only helped the game in terms of publicity, this was not the case, as gamers don’t go out to buy a game solely because it’s controversial, but because it’s a good game – the only thing that’s happened is ignorant media corporations and parents think they know something about it. There’s a lot more about their philosophy of game creation and some interesting points in the full interview, definitely worth a read. Whatever your view on the company and it’s games, there’s no doubt that it is, at the moment, going from strength to strength, and it appears as though Take-Two, Rockstar’s parent company, believe in them as well, having opened a new publishing HQ in Japan, in a time other publishers are laying-off by the bucket-load, set to publish Episodes from Liberty City as its first release.

Console Yourself

No new hardware, or at least consoles in the “near future”; at least that’s the news from EA chief financial officer, Eric brown who, at a recent conference, said he did not expect “a sharp and distinct console transition like we’ve seen in the past”. It seems fairly logical as well – yes, there’s a huge increase in demand for games compared to the last generation, but people are playing any one game for so much longer due to quality, downloadable content and online multiplayer.  Speaking to shareholders, Brown explained that consumers’ needs are fulfilled by today’s current technology, with nothing considerably better than the HD consoles to upgrade to. Although there’s been no word from the major console companies, hardware such project Natal prove their ambitions lie elsewhere. Just as well, as developers, specifically, Remedy (creators of the soon to come Alan Wake), told GI that they’re in no hurry to make the transition to another generation of consoles, although reportedly (ID CEO Todd Hollenshed told VG247) Microsoft are the best position to make the next move, having had their consoles out for a while with all the costs recouped. Personally I’m happy with what we’ve got; the investments made on copious amounts of games warrant a much longer life on this cycle, and as the innovators of the industry have shown with increasingly technologically impressive titles and hardware accessories.

[UPDATE: Jack Tretton, the CEO of Sony Computer Entertainment America, stated that he is convinced the PS3 will enjoy a ten year life cycle]

Natal Vs. the Arc

SCEA SVP of PR Rob Dyer has confidently claimed that line-up behind Sony’s Arc will beat out Microsoft’s “PR Barrage”. He said “From Sony’s perspective, rather than go out and do a whole PR barrage to give everybody the ‘happy, happy, joy, joy’ news,” said Dyer, “we’re going to show up and have a line-up of products to show people rather than having a lot of great statements to say, ‘This is what’s going to happen.’ This might have some substance if we hadn’t already seen both in working order. Natal is nothing less than groundbreaking if you believe the Microsoft executives or at least, completely original, if you don’t, whereas Sony’s offering seems to just an extension of the Wii’s thang, and possibly worse. Dyer’s argument was that with Natal it means writing games with a whole new codebase to work with the system, but with the Arc you can use the same PS3 code and therefore there will more diversity and innovation. Fair point, but the hardcore gamers who primarily own PS3s and 360s aren’t exactly akin to the idea of motion control anyway, and it they were they’d have a Wii, but where Natal has the edge is in the originality of the whole system. Put it this way, I’m not keen on the whole motion control to start with, so I’m unexcited and unimpressed with the Arc, but at least the Natal’s innovative system has me wondering, and at $25, wanting to give a whirl.

Microsoft’s Aaron Greenberg stated a couple of days ago, that they were going to be careful with what they release for the Natal and doesn’t want to dump everything and anything onto the market. So this kinda confirms that there may be less games out for Natal to start with, but will the quality offset this? The Analyst Michael Pachter certainly thinks so, predicting the Natal to outsell Arc 5 to 1. Either way, those legendary developers at Valve are going to be chuffed, as they recently went on record as saying they hope there’ll be more “shitty party games,” and are keen on using the Natal, and possibly Arc (as they recently said they would try to give the PS3 some loving) to make a real impression and “not [to] make shitty games I wouldn’t want to play if I had to use a joystick.”

Despite the codename of Sony’s motion controller being much cooler, the Natal looks to be undeniably superior – all that’s left now is to hope we can incorporate the word “fail” into the Sony controller’s real name, if it isn’t in fact Arc.

Finally

Here’s an awesomely terrifying presentation given by Carnegie Mellon assistant professor of entertainment and technology, Jesse Schell, at the DICE summit the other week about the evil genius of the casual games, and more importantly the future as a whole…

February 25th, 2010
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News 20/2/2010

Awards, old games, new games, announcements and speculations!

DICE Awards

The 13th Annual Interactive Achievement Awards were held at the D.I.C.E Summit, which focuses on industry innovation, in the city of sin last Thursday, and appropriately, developer Naughty Dog took home a staggering 10 awards for Uncharted 2, including Game of the Year and Outstanding Achievement in Art Direction. Batman Arkham Asylum and Modern Warfare 2 also won multiple awards. Naughty Dog’s success is all the more admirable considering the AIAS Awards are generally thought to be the most prestigious and revered accolades in the games industry. Important figures also gained deserved recognition; Doug Lowenstein who virtually created the infrastructure of the industry himself by forming the Entertainment Software Association (the Games industry trade association), spearheading the creation of ESRB, founding E3 and providing council on many legal matters the software industry faced, received the Lifetime Achievement Award. Though he had his critics, he has undoubtedly been invaluable to world of gaming and software. Mark Cerny, the man responsible for such classics as Crash Bandicoot, Jack & Daxter and many many others, was awarded the Hall of Fame award, and rightfully so; his dedication to the industry and the experience he has accumulated along with it, has proved extremely useful to individual companies and indeed to the industry as a whole. The usual suspects (Uncharted 2, MW2, Batman and Assassin’s Creed 2) have also all been nominated for the BAFTAs, due to be held next month, so we’ve only to wait and see who comes out top(naughty) dog.

Predictions & Forecasts

Evan Wilson, an analyst working for Pacific Crest Securities, has predicted that digital sales will increase by 34% in 2010, despite debate over this contentious issue, but physical copies will not take a hit as a result, due to industry growth, accounting for the rise in digital sales. He told Gamespot that “obvious factors…such as game delays, the economy, and the fall of the music genre, have simply added to the one main issue that we have faced all cycle: growth of development costs has outstripped sales growth”. He went on to say that large cutbacks in staff and whole studios are a result of this phenomenon. Promising IPs and interesting games were (and are being) ditched due to the lack of profitability, at the expense of innovators and gamers worldwide. Finally Wilson made tangible predictions on sales of hardware, tipping the PS3 to sell 5m, from last year’s 4.3, the 360 to stay stagnant on 4.8m and a decline in sales of the Wii (because just about everyone and his dog..and his cat, has one) to cause total hardware sales to drop.

John Riccitiello, the EA CEO, used the wonder of hindsight to predict state that price cuts for consoles were too late, last year, to effectively combat the recession, with the 360’s and PS3’s coming in August, and Wii’s in September. EA took a number of large financial hits last year, and had to cut staff and studios, so it’s unsurprising some are looking for people to blame, and the hardware companies are an easy if not appropriate target, nevertheless, Riccitiello firmly believes that 2010 is shaping up to be good for EA due to “great quality and improved marketing”. Personally, I believe it’s looking as though a lot hangs on Medal of Honor and Crisis 2, potentially the breakthrough games.

X10

Speaking of predictions and the future, Microsoft naturally had their own, which they gleefully announced at this year’s revived X10 event. The software giant claimed 2010 to be its “biggest and most breakthrough year yet”, with a number of highly anticipated games and useless avatar gear set for release. Aaron Greenberg, Director of Product Management at Microsoft has said Natal will have a lifespan of around 5 years and then proceeded to spout the Molyneux-esque dribble about changing the way we interact with games etc – I’ll try to reserve judgment for now, unless of course they plan to explore Natal’s capabilities in the pr0n market….moving on swiftly. X10 also brought the news that a “big franchise” would be making its way on to Natal, though it was unclear which. All I can say is please please please don’t ruin something good!

Microsoft have also declared that Perfect Dark is coming to Xbox Live in early March. The classic shooter has been updated to withstand the unsympathetic HD, with far greater polygon numbers for character and weapon models and updated textures. Machinima interviewed Ken Lobb, Creative Director for Microsoft Game Studios about the revamped N64 title, so here it is. In other Microsoft news, the Windows 7 Phone will support Xbox Live and a Zune Music function, but personally, it just screams mediocrity when I hear Zune or a Windows phone, but at least Apple-haters will have salvation. On a less trivial note, market research firm, FADE, have found that Xbox Live Arcade sales are up 34% year-on-year, with Battlefield 1943 out on top, (which by the way, is awesome and on offer on XBLA) showing that the console interfaces are becoming alarmingly important in the major companies’ business model and proving the success of the entertainment interface, with the 360 looking to be topping the bunch currently.

Release Dates/Announcements

With a new year settling in, the major publishers have begun to set out the plans for releases, and it’s shaping up to be one hell of a year or two. THQ are planning to reveal both a new Red Faction title, and a Saints Row sequel; hilarity will inevitably ensue, in the good sense. Activision are lining up a new Call of Duty, though lower profile than the 2009’s mammoth MW2, another Tony Hawk (God help us all), yet another iteration of the inexplicably popular, but irritatingly addictive Guitar Hero, a Spiderman and a James Bond, so originality all round; apparently they plan to trim the music-based titles, probably a good move for everyone. EA have set plans for a slew of big hitters for the opening of next year including Dead Space 2, a new Dragon Age, a new shooter IP from Epic games and yet another tired revamp of the need for speed franchise. One of the company’s key attacks this year is the reboot of Medal of Honor….”Medal of Honor”; It’s due out this fall and promises excessive realism with regards to tasks and objectives, so you can truly simulate squandering tax dollars; additionally dedicated servers have been hinted, but this could be just a cheap ploy to entice the PC fanboys early on. Electronic Arts claim to be focusing on quality as opposed to quantity this year and onward – big words, but figures do demand a new approach.

Recently Peter Molyneux proudly announced to us that at x10, with his revealing of Fable 3, he would “piss off” a lot of people due to some yet to be announced reason (and also briefly claimed Natal to be as revolutionary as the mouse). A clever PR stunt you might be thinking? Nope. It turns out to be that Fable 3 has no Health bar or experience points, but is the same otherwise – apparently hes managed to piss a lot of people off boasting of the innovation of previous incarnations of Fable in the past, but when he’s sure that he’s going to upset people, no one gives a toss; crazy world! Anyways, Fable 3 is set to release in late 2010.

Bethesda also revealed Fallout: New Vegas a couple of weeks ago, to the delight of myself and many other budding wasteland survivors; a trailer, similar that of Fallout 3’s was released and shortly after a collection of information, reportedly from PC Gamer, came out. Some of the most exciting stuff goes as follows: Hoover Dam will supply electricity, the three main factions are Caesar’s Legion, New Vegas Residents and New California Republic (those familiar with Fallout 1 & 2 will I’m sure appreciate the return of the old school factions and location), there’s a reputation system in addition to Karma, presumably distinguishing what people know and don’t know about you and there will be a Hardcore mode where the player will be forced to drink water to survive, sounds lovely! Here’s the rest of the beef.

Sales

Last month, Shepard’s galactic gallantry broke January records, with Mass Effect 2 selling 572,000 copies in just 6 days, and of course, the space opera has gone on to hit the 2 million mark and shows little sign of stopping, coming in at number two overall in the charts, only pipped at the post by Super Mario Bros. Not so brilliant was the news that this January, every part of the industry decreased on last year, overall by 13%, according to the NPD, so rainbows and lollipops all round, however, one must take into account the bumper December beforehand. Perhaps slightly more positively, a selection of new IPs managed to break into the top 20 in terms of sales, also according to the NPD with MAG, the 256 player madness FPS, Darksiders and Bayonetta, the unashamedly idealised ass-kicking, bespectacled girl shooter/slasher coming in at 13, 14 and 17 respectively – maybe there’s hope for originality yet.

Finally, I’ll leave you with news that (news flash!) casual gaming makes money, hence Europeans spending over a billion on it last year and that this trailer is bat-smashingly awesome.

February 21st, 2010
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