Rumor Control: Microsoft buying Midway and more Need for Speed

Sequels to Devil May Cry and Fuzion Frenzy join Warren Spector in yet another scuttlebutt compendium.

RUMOR #1: Microsoft is planning to buy Midway Games.

Source: A sample analyst update from stock-recommendation site InvestorsObserver.com.

The official story: No comment.

What we heard: After this rumor spread like wildfire through the forums, we traced its origin back to a Thursday stock alert that jumbled together several analysts' recommentations. Underneath the all-caps heading "DYNAMIC MARKET OPPORTUNITIES" was a paragraph that talked about how Viacom chief Sumner Redstone recently bought 4.8 million shares of Midway stock for $16.5 million, bringing his ownership of the publisher to 28.4 percent. The next line read, "Now, the world's most famous chairman could be about to join in too." The report then reasons that since "the Microsoft chief badly needs more video games" to compete with the PlayStation 2's 67 percent US market share and that Midway Games' stock price has dropped 75 percent over the past 12 months, a takeover could--could--be in the air. Nowhere does it mention that the "Chairman"--who is referred to by the surname "Gates" once and is never mentioned as "Bill Gates"--has bought a single, solitary share of Midway stock. Nor does it offer evidence why Gates would buy a struggling third-party publisher with an aging catalog when Microsoft publishes and develops plenty of titles already? Then again, what's a few hundred million to a guy with $46 billion in the bank?

Bogus or not bogus?: Bogus.

RUMOR #2: Electronic Arts has started developement on another Need for Speed game.

Source: An anonymous tip. Yes, we get these.

The official story: "No comment." -- EA's Director of Studio PR David Lee.

What we heard: After being prodded by an excited reader (who gets big kudos), the GameSpot news desk looked up the owners of the dead URL www.needforspeedmostwanted.com. Sure enough, the proud parent of the Web address, which was "born" (or registered) on January 27, 2004, is none other than one Electronic Arts of Redwood City, California. But while EA's publicists demurred, the fact that the publisher is preparing a third Need for Speed Game is about as shocking as another Duke Nukem Forever delay. Besides having a taste for sequels, EA also has a proclivity for making buckets of ducats. Furthermore, the Need for Speed series has been one of their best-sellers ever, with Need for Speed Underground still riding high in the charts nearly four months after its release. Is it any wonder that they want to return to the well?

Bogus or not bogus?: Not bogus.

RUMOR #3: Capcom is working on another Devil May Cry game.

Source: Online Asian action 'zine Kung Fu Cinema (who has since removed any mention of the game).

The official story: Calls and e-mails to Capcom were not returned.

What we heard: Former tae kwon do champion and current stuntwoman Stephanie Cheeva recently talked with KFC about her work on Rise to Honor. Besides doing motion capture work, Cheeva also played Michelle in the the PlayStation 2 beat-'em-up. However, despite her deep reflection on the challenges of having supermodel looks and a third-degree black belt, it was the setup to the interview that caught gamers' eyes. In the introduction, interviewer Danny Shamon dropped this line: "Also in 2003, she has worked as a motion capture artist on video games such as Spawn[: Armageddon], Jet Li’s Rise to Honor and Devil May Cry 3." Since Cheeva doesn't mention the game anywhere in the interview, we were ready to put this off as a typo. However, while scanning Cheeva's personal Web site (strictly for research purposes, of course), we came across this intriguing line in the "What's New?" section: "November 20th, 2003 - Stephanie flys to Japan to shoot a new RPG. Details will be posted once they become available." While nobody in the know would call either Devil May Cry a role-playing game, it's easy to see how a nongamer might interpret the fantasy adventures as such.

Bogus or not bogus?: Probably not bogus. Cheeva can come beat us senseless if we're wrong...or if we're right, for that matter.

RUMOR #4: Ion Storm is joining Crystal Dynamics to develop the next Tomb Raider.

Source: The Official Xbox Magazine by way of Shacknews.com.

The official story: "Wish I could give you an answer." -- Ion Storm director Warren Spector.

What we heard: Given the dismal reception that Angel of Darkness received, the next Tomb Raider will make or break the series. Eidos knew that all too well when they transferred what was once their flagship franchise from Core Design to its internal studio Crystal Dynamics. However, according to the story in Official Xbox Magazine, Eidos has tapped longtime collaborator Spector to oversee the game's development. And for such a high-stakes project, he would assuredly bring his Ion Storm crew on board. However, when we talked to Spector, he would neither confirm nor deny the OXM report. "Eidos isn't talking about Tomb Raider publicly at this time," he said via e-mail. "Since I'm part of Eidos, my lips are sealed."

Bogus or not bogus?: If she wants to stay in the game, Lara Croft needs all the help she can get. Hopefully not bogus.

RUMOR #5: Fuzion Frenzy 2 is in the works.

Source: A product page on GameStop.com.

The official story: "We're trying to get GameStop to take that page down." -- A weary-sounding Microsoft rep.

What we heard: Although it was supposedly Bill Gates' favorite Xbox launch title, Fuzion Frenzy never really caught on with the the gaming press or the public. Given the slim likelihood of a sequel, we figured the GameStop listing was a speculative SKU--until we read the description. After starting off generically, it got specific, saying, "Players will be able to select from a roster of characters before participating in the more than 50 individual events filled with frenetic action and helpful power-ups." Then it got really interesting: "The biggest addition to the sequel is Xbox Live support, allowing players to challenge users from around the world. Statistics and top performances are automatically saved to an online profile, with a ranking system available to distinguish skilled players." Either that's wishful thinking from a very creative data-entry person with initimate knowledge of the first Fuzion Frenzy, or it's the description right off the sell sheet.

Bogus or not bogus?: Not bogus.

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