News

Weekly News Round-Up 23/3/10

I’m a tad behind on the latest news since my last full article about GDC ’10, which had a record breaking 18,000 attendees, having had a recent power outage, but fear not! The gaming goodness is now here and fit for consumption!

Heavy Rain's DLC features Madison Paige

On the DL

A number of released and unreleased games are getting the DLC treatment – it seems it’s the only way forward for any half-worthy franchise. Peter Johansson, lead designer on Just Cause 2 announced forthcoming DLC, following the game’s release on March 23rd, yet he insisted the content already existent in the game is, to say the least, extensive, he qualified this, in an interview with Eurogamer, by bragging he’d completed only 60% of the game, but had racked up 55 hours. Modern Warfare 2 is getting it’s first “stimulus package” to cure sufferers of Mapathy on March 30th for Xbox Live, at a whopping 1200MS – unfortunately healthcare insurance doesn’t cover this one. The map pack includes Crash and Overgrown from CoD4 so you can relive the glory days/nights! And to top it off, a double XP system will be put in place the following weekend April 2nd – 5th. Dragon Age: Origins has a new expansion out titled Awakening and Bioware teased, that in theory, they could release infinite DLC packs like this. Finally, Quantic Dream’s interactive depression title, Heavy Rain, is receiving its first DLC, named The Taxidermist. The content revolves around Madison Paige, and acts as a short prequel story for the character.

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Gaming Blues

Unfortunately the recession is still rearing its ugly head and indeed, backhand, as the recent weeks have seen a number of layoffs – our thoughts go out to them. Rebellion, perhaps most famous for its recent Alien Vs Predator, handed pink slips to around 20 of its staff in Oxford, UK and IGN has reportedly also, been forced to let a number of its junior members ago, despite recent financial success for the media company. However there is one man we’re not sorry to see the back of , Australian Attorney-General Michael Atkinson, famous in the Australian gaming community for his refusal to allow a R18+ game certificate, and vehement battle against video games. Fortunately the over-sensitive Atkinson has stepped down.

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360 Degrees worth of Xbox-ness

Microsoft are always looking for ways to fiddle with Xbox and thereby make more cash and occasionally, genuinely improve our experience, so here are a few rumours/updates. According to a report by Joystiq, the 360 will be receiving a firmware update this spring. The document they claim to have a hold of states “USB Mass Storage Device Support on the Xbox 360” so be sure to check back here for updates on that. In addition, Microsoft are releasing a 250GB standalone 360 HDD, as advertised on the Xbox Dashboard.

Send off your 360 with dignity

A patent, filed by Microsoft back in 2008, for a streamlined DLC system for Xbox Live, has now been approved. The system apparently lets you download available content without having to leave your game lobby, so you can jump in with friends even if you don’t have the content prior to joining the lobby. Presumably this will be pushed out the doors fairly quick now the patent’s approved. Also, the Xbox Live Marketplace release schedule for the next week or so has been revealed and is here.

Finally, Daniel Ek of Spotify, the music service, reportedly told SXSW goers that he’d like to see Spotify on the 360. Granted this is not news, really, or even a rumour – but I signifies that there’s a good chance of this becoming a reality. Ek said that he wants to make music like water, and though personally I’m not keen on it being sole reason the human race and life exists on earth, but you get his meaning.

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DRM Woes

Steam UK is now without the friendly Italian assassin we know and love, as a number of Ubisoft’s main titles that use the much-maligned DRM software, including Assassin’s Creed 2, have been removed. Despite speculations that this decision was taken by Valve due to the controversial DRM, and Gabe Newell’s stance on the subject, Ubisoft told VG247 that it has “nothing to do” with the DRM issues and is simply a business decision, that only applies to the UK.

Command & Conquer 4: Tiberium Wars was released last week, and it was proudly announced it had, in fact, no DRM – fantastic you’re thinking, however it does require an Internet connection to play at all times. It’s a shame to see any franchise follow in the steps of Ubisoft, as this software is damaging to the market; pirating is a problem, but other large companies like Valve manage to get along alright – in fact if every company could be something like Valve we’d live in a better, albeit quirky world.

We do have one partial victory though – in Battlefield: Bad Company 2’s most recent patch, all DRM was dropped from Steam-purchased copies, in DICE’s ever increasing effort to impress the cool kids (and it’s working).

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Bad Company Fights Back

So speaking of Bad Company 2, although it’s nothing like Modern Warfare 2, it seems to have pitted itself against it. The first person shooter, having sold 2.3 million units, and topped March sales records in Europe and North America, released a public service announcement video the other day:

In case you missed it, the video pokes fun at Modern Warfare 2’s original video F.A.G.S. PSA, which was pulled after complaints over the obvious. On top of this, DICE plan to release a playlist update for all original owners of the game free of charge (part of Project Ten Dollar) on March 30th in direct (and fierce) competition with Modern Warfare 2’s exorbitant map pack, and plan to release paid DLC in the near future. I thought DICE’s decision to release Bad Company 2 in March when MW2 was beginning to become a tad samey, was a savvy decision, but you’ve got to respect them for going up against the behemoth this month – courage or stupidity? Either way it’ll be interesting to see how the two battle it out.

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BioWare

My beloved BioWare are now busy at work extending Mass Effect 2’s universe and experiences with DLC and after having seen what Greg Zeschuk had to say at GDC, that, as he put it, “It’s [DLC] not like a piece of lunch meat”, but rather part of a long term vision, to extend the lifetime of the game for consumers and publisher alike, after having put so much work into the original game – I’m fairly confident we’ve got some galactic delights in store. First up is Firewalker hitting tomorrow, March 23rd, on the Cerberus Network with the new Hammerhead Tank and 5 accompanying missions, then there’s a character appearance package for Thane, Jack and Garrus on the same day but (unfortunately) for $2 and finally Kasumi’s Stolen Memory on April 6th, for a modest 560MS. Additionally, if you’re interested in some input from BioWare about how Mass Effect 3 will shape up, there are a couple of articles here and here, thanks to VG247, explaining the company’s development and teasing their approach to the final instalment.

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For Your Consideration

There are a number of high profile games in development due for release this year or early next year, and GDC brought the chance to get a better idea of how each developer is tackling their game, so here’s some updates and articles, mainly thanks to VG247, again.

–> Medal of Honor

Medal of Honor, EA’s answer to Call of Duty, despite lacking a much-needed “u” in it’s title, is under full-swing development at the moment and apparently has “cool toys” and aims to portray a number of different viewpoints in the Afghanistan war.

–> Killzone 3

Guerrilla Games, creators of Killzone, are convinced they haven’t pushed the PS3 to its limits yet, in terms of graphics, and presumably mean to implement said visuals in Killzone 3 which has been promised by Jack Tretton, though release date rumours range from April to 2011.

–> Halo: Reach

Bungie recently released some details on Halo’s swan song, Halo: Reach, in regards to matchmaking – undoubtedly fans will be obsessing over each scrap of information as we speak, such are that strange breed.

–> Fable 3

Peter Molyneux, aside from other daily activities such as proclaiming the rise of the PC again, praising Quantic Dream and promising the first thing that enters his mind, has recently tweeted that he’s worried about the first 30 minutes of Fable 3 due to a lack of combat. In other Fable 3 news there will be twitter support, episodic content and one last “big” reveal at E3 (I ask to readers, for sanity’s sake to take “big” with a large handful of salt, due to source material).

–> Rockstar

Rockstar co-president Dan Houser, in the most recent issue of GamesTM, stated that developing Red Dead: Redemption has been “challenging”, despite the company’s vast experience. Additionally, speaking to Edge, Rockstar has said that LA Noire is taking a different approach to the usual Rockstar open-world game, relying less on action and more on interaction other subtleties. It’s fantastic to see Rockstar pushing itself, to be original but also build off of it’s unique and unquestionably brilliant sandbox-gaming heritage.

–> Star Wars: The Old Republic

BioWare, regardless of its other strong franchises, are taking on what is clearly it’s biggest undertaking, (its first MMO) Star Wars: The Old Republic. EA aim to secure 2 million subscriptions for the game due to be release in a year’s time, though I suspect, if VG247’s early preview is anything to go by, it’ll be a lot more than that and may rival World of Warcraft. CEO Ray Muzyka, teased that TOR will have some “twists” regarding payments, but added that it will mostly follow the traditional business model of MMORPGs, and the twists will be well integrated into the story and mechanics. With things like micro-payments being a contentious issue for many hardcore MMO players, who makeup a large percentage of the market, BioWare will have to be careful about how they handle this – lets hope their passion for story and great gameplay will makeup for lack of experience in this particular genre.

–> Sega

The once great Sega are apparently announcing a Natal Project at E3. Its unkown with it will be a new IP or whether they will bring back a much-loved story from the many in the depths of their games history. And Lastly, creators of the upcoming third-person shooter, Vanquish, Platinum Games of Sega, are to make a PS3 version first, before the 360, because the Playstation 3 is untrodden territory for Sega, and thus they want to avoid a “shoddy” port.

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Odds & Sods

Every week there are a number of odd bits of news I can’t justify a whole section on nor think of a brilliantly unfunny title for. Try to read the following as TV news headlines with epic music in the background.

  • According to the Sydney Morning Herald, Microsoft is already developing a Natal 2. [This probably isn’t as surprising as it sounds, if it is true, as it’s most likely internal development that’s taking place all the time at the company’s headquarters – it’s unlikely to stay stagnant just because the Natal’s almost ready.]
  • Game Informer have yet more scoops on the Portal 2 world, now with new characters, including new loveable sentry bots.
  • The movie adaptation of Kane & Lynch is to star none other than Bruce Willis (that sounds about right) and Jamie Foxx (wait, what?), respectively.
  • GameStop will reportedly have shortages of Wiis and PS3s until the summer, according to the company’s Executive VP of merchandising, Tony Bartel.
  • Nintendo have are due to release the 3DS in March next year, to support 3D gaming, with a sharp screen and analogue sticks.
  • Vice President of Epic Games, has confirmed there will be no Gears of War this year, in order to stay out of the way of blockbuster titles and the Natal. [When questioned on the April 2011 rumour he answered, “you’re kidding right?” – take what you will from that]
  • The Playstation 3 is the heaviest console of all time.
March 23rd, 2010
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Reviews

RPG Ponderings

Earlier I was thinking about the games we’ve got lined up this year, and I got thinking some more…and then I figured I’d write down these useless thoughts:

The all-knowing Wikipedia defines RPG video games upon the originals like Dungeons and Dragons, noting that it’s mechanics and style has often been simply re-skinned, with a few minor differences, forming the basis of the traditional Role-Playing Game. I’m sure many have pondered the classics over and over: Neverwinter Nights, Baldur’s Gate to Zelda: Ocarina of Time, so on and so forth, but I’m no expert, especially on the more retro and Japanese titles, so I’ll stick to discussing the future and present of this genre, remarkable though those classics may be. So what sets RPGs apart, for me personally, in light of games like Mass Effect, which almost defies the genre, is their ability to let the player control more than one simple aspect or role. In Call of Duty you run around, shooting and blowing stuff up – nothing wrong with that I might add, but Fallout 3 for example, lets me create weapons, pickup random objects, or trade, as well as unleashing my real life-induced anger.

The genre itself is inexorably drenched in ambiguity, and this, I feel, is a fantastic thing, to be cherished, for the loosely defined guidelines allow and encourage innovation where other games might be afraid to stray off the path of what’s known to work. Of course, there’s a tried and tested stereotype RPG that many love, just look at the hordes (literally) of gamers indulging in World of Warcraft night after night, but RPG’s lend themselves to originality if the developer chooses to follow that path because, as I discussed before, they allow you to explore any aspect of the role you’re taking on, and they are often closer to problems and choices we face in real life than other genres; For instance, I know for a fact that choosing whether I help someone with a problem, or take advantage of them is a decision I more often come across than deciding whether an M16 might be more accurate with a laser sight on it or not.

Another feature many would argue is paramount in RPGs is choice and decision. The ability to choose one’s own path is held dear by many, and while it needn’t be forced arbitrarily into every game, it’s something that gives certain games that real personalisation of an experience. One matter in particular seems to perplex and annoy certain reviewers over and over, and this is the mother Theresa/Hitler problem, meaning when the game only allows you to follow one of two very clichéd and predictable paths of extremity – it’s either unquestioningly helping, without thought of self preservation or slaughtering all involved then defecating on their corpses…well not quite that but the issue still remains. Shades of grey is where it’s at…No, not the 1986 EP from Christian rock ban The Choir; I’m talking about exploring the options in between the two extremes. It is perhaps more time consuming to create a story with such subtleties, but infinitely more rewarding. Dragon Age: Origins had a good crack at this, and the original Mass Effect, with it’s new approach to the morality system (Paragon and Renegade), not only made things a little more interesting, but redefined they way your character would be judged. Indeed, all the time the leading RPG developers: Bioware, Obsidian, Bethesda etc, fortunately for us, are looking at new ways to improve this mechanic. Obsidian’s upcoming Fallout: New Vegas has both a Karma system to reflect your character’s morality and a reputation system, in order to distinguish how people perceive you and how much of bastard you really are – other genres just don’t get this kind of attention to innovating such specific game mechanics.

Then there’s the setting – Ben “Yahtzee” Croshaw, commented recently in a review of Dragon Age: Origins that it’s amazing how our society is so bent on escapism that the words “standard fantasy setting” can be taken seriously. The generic world with elves and dwarves that Tolkein essentially created is tried and tested but it’s nice to see new RPGs deviate a bit – obviously there’s your space setting (KOTOR/Mass Effect) but a previously untapped era is that of the Victorians/Industrial Revolution. Lionhead Studios’ Fable 3 is taking this route, and I commend them, though certain usual RPG elements have been stripped from this sequel – It’ll probably fall a great deal short of what any of us would hope for; Nevertheless this period was pivotal in the real world’s history, and the dark, dirty streets haven’t ceased to fascinate modern fiction fans yet. Alpha Protocol is doing it’s bit to spice up the RPG landscape as well, and I think, if implemented correctly, with enough significant choices, and obviously, solid gameplay (Mass Effect’s improvements in the sequel showed us that shooter RPGs need serious groundwork on gameplay as well as the rest of the frills) it could give us something fresh and fancy to chew on.

Now I know I’ve rambled on a lot about Bioware games already, but they really do stand out, particularly as they’re one of the only developers who attempt to add a true love mechanic with at least a little choice. Undoubtedly this goes hand in hand with they’re ability to convey cinematic and narrative brilliance, but it doesn’t mean other designers couldn’t learn a thing or two. As they say, “love changes everything” and if you do, at least on some level, feel involved (and you’re more likely to with choice), it reinforces and enhances the story and the gravity of decisions; and if you don’t buy that, it’s always nice to have the fairer species to brighten up the place, as it were.

The difficulty with the genre lies in what it’s trying to achieve; it is by nature ambitious – to create something of a real life for the chosen character and setting without it becoming mundane, yet making customisable and diverse enough for it to be fleshed out sufficiently. In this sense the developers of these games bear the heaviest weight on their shoulders, and some of what we’d love to see (bigger worlds, more characters, more customisation and objects) is simply constrained by time, which in turn is controlled by money – the very reason they exist. I’d gladly welcome any technological advancement that can improve this situation, but bigger isn’t always better, as for example, Mass Effect 2 showed us. Some complain that they can’t do anything they want when they become Shepard, that they have to save the universe, and are forbade becoming a Janitor or whatever. I can understand where they’re coming from, but Shepard’s mission is predefined in some senses and it’s the way it plays out where the choice comes, and they relationships with different characters. Only by partly pre-defining the story and character can Bioware possibly offer the same fantastic, narrative-rich, experience.

So if RPGs, and other games too, can be related to sophisticated narrative adventure, like all literature, why does the debate about games as art still rage on? Interactivity I suppose is the key; whether or not the viewer/admirer should have input. There are countless examples of installation and modern art that have allowed, encouraged and required audience participation, and we could get all deep about it, but honestly, I don’t understand how anyone could argue that certain games aren’t art or artistic. The very art that makes up character models and world design constitutes art, let alone story, lighting and intriguing themes – it’s the player’s individual experience of the game combined that makes it art, for art, as I think many would argue can be a very personal thing – it’s how your brain reacts to visual imagery, feelings and sound – simple as that.

Role-playing games let you see how you might handle a certain role, whether that be a specific king or hero or a loosely defined wanderer in any world you can imagine. It is truly ingenious that we are able to carve out our own paths, and if nothing else, to boast to others how got rid of Zaeed in the suicide mission on purpose. It’s the personalisation, and how it affects the outcome, and this is why developers often get lost in the possibilities and neglect the gameplay. At least, this year, the worst we can expect are new settings, stories and characters and the best we can hope for is innovation and originality, that will, with any luck, push the industry, so rabid and grasping for the money in our pockets, forward, allowing it to hold itself up. Thanks for reading my thoughts on some admittedly, quite basic stuff, that I find very interesting to ponder upon – weekly news round up sunday!

March 4th, 2010
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News

News 21/1/10

DLC! It seems its all the rage this week, and not surprisingly, as companies are beginning to realize the huge benefit of DLC to increase games’ longevity and indeed, profitability. We’ve got Bioshock 2 DLC confirmed, day one, free DLC for Mass Effect 2 and some dodgy leaked info on the Modern Warfare 2 DLC. Along with that we’ve got NPD sales report, predictions and release dates…and some dates that are no longer release dates.

Modern Warfare 2 DLC

So here’s the scoop on the MW2 Map Packs: A hacker on YouTube claims to have found 6 brand new maps, including the white house, and a separate Map Pack with remakes of CoD4 classics – here’s to hoping. You can check out the video here. Also at CES last week, it was indeed confirmed that Xbox Live would be getting the first Map Pack exclusively to begin with, for at least 30 days – sorry PSN Puckers!

Mass Effect 2 DLC

Bioware have announced The Cerberus Network – a system available to Mass Effect 2 owners, that is, brand new copies, which will give updates and news on upcoming DLC and the like for free. They are currently planning two sets of DLC, both free, one which drops on day one and another shortly after. They promise to deliver new vehicles, weapons, missions and even a new alien chum!

NPD Sales Report

Last week the NPD released it’s most recent data report and surprise surprise, Modern Warfare 2 is the best selling game of 2009, totalling over $1 billion in sales so far, topping the Xbox 360 charts and becoming America’s fourth best selling game of all time. The Sims 3 topped out the PC chart, with MW2 coming in at 5th, presumably suffering from the rage over no dedicated server support. The Wii also secured an impressive number of high placings with it’s “games” – curse you Wii Fit!

Release Dates

In terms of release dates, Splinter Cell Conviction has been pushed back…again; but what with the recent CES there’s been quite a few announcements, so here they are:

  • Sony Motion Controller – Fall 2010
  • New Assassin’s Creed Title next year (supposedly with a multiplayer feature)
  • Natal Christmas 2010
  • Nintendo DS2 predicted 2011
  • Fable III 2010

Market News & Predictions

It hasn’t been a great year for EA – Its closed down studios, taken significant losses and as a result, has recently lowered its’ forecast – under the current CEO John Riccitiellio, EA has reportedly destroyed $11bn in market value, according to former EA senior executive, Mitch Lasky, on his blog. Analysts are predicted something falling through sooner or later and an acquisition looks highly possible; certainly Disney seems interested. Last week it was announced they are planning less games at a higher quality, the operative word being “planning”. Things could get interesting here.

January 20th, 2010
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