This Week in Games: April 14, 2012

More Steam Box buzz, Epic's Cliff Bleszinski talks next gen, Mass Effect sells lots, rumors of a Grand Theft Auto V release this October, and Sony applies a much-needed system update.

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In the absence of solid PlayStation 4 or Xbox 720 news at this year's E3, all eyes will be on Nintendo as it unveils solid release details for the Wii U, and increasingly on the folks at Valve as speculation about its Steam-branded PC/console hybrid intensifies. Let's start with this week's news about that…

Steamed Apples?

After denying that it was working on something in the hardware space, there was new evidence this week that the company is, in fact, looking at producing something in the near future. In a number of job listings on the company's website, the firm has offered a few hints on its future direction, though all of it is open to interpretation and by no means proof of the fabled "Steam Box." Three of those current listings mention hardware projects; Valve is looking for an electronics engineer to join its hardware team, which is creating "whole new gaming experiences," according to the posting. "For years, Valve has been all about writing software that provides great gameplay experiences. Now we're developing hardware to enhance those experiences," it continues. Valve seems to be working on a wide range of devices, with the duties of the potential hire including to "produce new types of input, output, and platform hardware." Valve is looking for a firmware coder too.
Could the companies be working together on hardware? User interface? A future iteration of the App Store for games? Apple's A6 CPU as the heart of the Steam Box?
That role will involve writing firmware for "various input and output devices." Finally, the company is also looking for a psychologist. As well as having to "provide relevant insight into human behavior in order to shape gameplay and customer experience," whoever fills the role will have to "research compelling new hardware technologies" as well.

This news was followed later in the week with further intrigue in the shape of Apple CEO Tim Cook visiting Valve's headquarters in Bellevue, Washington. Little is known as to why this meeting took place, but there is plenty of fuel for speculation. Could the companies be working together on hardware? User interface? A future iteration of the App Store for games? Apple's A6 CPU as the heart of the Steam Box? Or was Tim Cook simply visiting a cool, successful company with a super-smart CEO? Neither company is saying a word about the meeting, but what do you think is most likely? Let us know in the comments.

Next-Gen Games News and Your Mom

If Valve is working on a Steam Box, it would certainly shake things up for the next generation, and that gives us the perfect segue for this week's roundup of next-gen console info. Not that there was a huge amount of it.

First up, a new report that came to light this past Monday claims Nintendo's upcoming Wii U console could retail for around $300 at launch. Citing "sources closely involved with manufacturing and distributing Nintendo products," Canadian site Forget the Box reports the total cost of materials required to manufacture the Wii U console, including the Wii U controller, is estimated to be around $180, with materials and components costing Nintendo an additional $50. Based on these estimates, the report claims Nintendo is likely to finalize the cost of the Wii U to be no less than $300 at retail when it launches before the end of the year. "Cutting production costs to maximize profits is Nintendo's main concern with the Wii U," the source said. What do you think? An appropriate price for the system? And with that in mind, what price do you think the new PlayStation and Xbox will launch at?

Though not specific to any new system, Epic Games design director Cliff Bleszinski told us that a leap in visual fidelity is an "essential step" that Microsoft and Sony need to take with future-generation consoles. Speaking with us at PAX East 2012 last weekend, he said he wants a leap in visual fidelity to be a big part of next-gen systems. "Face-melting graphics," he said. "I really want our next-generation consoles to pass what I call the 'Mom Test.' So that if you were to show this console and games to your mom, she would be like, 'Wow, that clearly looks better than your last console.' And it's an essential step that needs to be taken by both Sony and Microsoft." Bleszinski also noted that he hopes for "always-connected consoles that basically require an Internet connection. So that I can just wake up in the morning and say, 'Oh a new demo has been downloaded on my hard drive, so I can check it out.' As well as considering streaming gaming from the cloud, which would be very nice."

Bulletstorm Sequel Canned

Staying with Epic for a moment, Epic Games president Mike Capps confirmed this week that work began on a Bulletstorm follow-up before developer People Can Fly shifted to a new project. "We thought a lot about a sequel, and had done some initial development on it, but we found a project that we thought was a better fit for People Can Fly," he said. "We haven't announced that yet, but we will be announcing it pretty soon. I'd love to go back [to Bulletstorm]," he added. "I think there's more to do with Bulletstorm. Heck, it kind of ended wanting more. I'd love to see another project, but right now we don't have anything to talk about." Regarding the original, Capps said the foul-mouthed first-person shooter didn't live up to publisher Electronic Arts' expectations. "I think Bulletstorm was very critically successful, and I think a lot of folks really enjoyed seeing something new," he said. "From a sales perspective it was good, but not amazing. I think EA was hoping we'd do better."

Grand Theft Auto V This Year?

Rockstar has so far been typically coy regarding a release date for Grand Theft Auto V, but some info leaked out this week thanks to Rockstar North animator Alex O'Dwyer's giant oops in his online resume where he listed the game as an October 2012 release. Not exactly outside of the realm of possibility considering Rockstar's history of launching GTA titles in that month. Predictably, O'Dwyer's resume has since been yanked and (unsurprisingly) the company has not responded to requests for comment. What are the odds of this being true? Pretty high, although parent company Take-Two Interactive has already confirmed another huge title for October in the shape of BioShock Infinite.

There's Only One Sony

As Sony preps for its next-generation system in 2013, it has some bigger problems to clear out of the way first. Its projected net losses for the just-finished fiscal year went from bad to worse on Tuesday. The electronics giant announced that it would be taking a net loss of ¥520 billion ($6.4 billion) for the year ended March 31, compared to its previously announced forecast of ¥220 billion ($2.7 billion). The announcement comes just days after Japanese news outlet Nikkei reported that Sony is planning to lay off 10,000 employees, which is about 6 percent of its workforce, by the end of the year. On Thursday, newly appointed Sony CEO Kaz Hirai detailed the company's strategy for the future in a presentation for investors. Titled the "One Sony" approach, the system update for the company focuses efforts on the company's three core business units: digital imaging, games, and mobile. In the game unit specifically, Sony said it plans to continue to deliver "exhilarating entertainment experiences" for the PlayStation 3 and PlayStation Vita, as well as leverage its other gaming endeavors like accessories and peripherals. Sony will also aim to increase sales by adding new titles and subscription services to the PlayStation Network.

Mass Effect 3 Surprises No One, Operation Raccoon City Surprises All

As you probably could have predicted Mass Effect 3 was the best-selling game in March, selling 1.3 million units across the three platforms it was released for according to NPD data released this week.

Incredibly, more than 582,000 copies of the game were sold, proving that the Resident Evil name is still able to drive sales regardless of quality.
That overall figure covers only physical retail copies of the game and does not factor in digitally distributed versions for the PC or PS3. Incredibly, a whopping 943,000 of those were the Xbox 360 version. What was less predictable, however, was the number two game for the month, the moderately crappy Resident Evil: Operation Raccoon City, which was broadly criticized for being a weaksauce Left 4 Dead wannabe that was only able to muster a fairly pathetic Metacritic average score of 53. Incredibly, more than 582,000 copies of the game were sold, proving that the Resident Evil name is still able to drive sales regardless of quality. Perhaps the biggest disappointment of the month was Sega's well-received sci-fi shooter Binary Domain. The game launched in late February, and despite being available for most of the NPD tracking period, it sold only 20,000 units.

Resident Evil 6 Moved Up

Though not directly related to the above news, the timing of this next news is certainly fortuitous: Capcom announced a revised release date for Resident Evil 6 this week. Previously due at the end of November, the next "real" entry in the storied franchise will now be available October 2. Executive producer Hiroyuki Kobayashi said the decision was based on positive fan reaction to January's announcement trailer for the game, in which the originally intended release date was revealed.

Shout "Fus Ro Dah"

The folks at Bethesda are still taking their sweet time when it comes to dishing any information on the first DLC pack, but we did get two pieces of news from the world of Skyrim this week. First, there will be a free update coming on April 23 that will add more than 200 Kinect voice commands to the Xbox 360 version of the game. Among the promised commands will be all of the game's dragon shouts, as well as a bunch of menu options. Other options will include the ability to save and load games, as well as access the player's inventory. Additionally, follower commands and hotkey equipping are being built in. A full list of voice commands will be revealed "in the coming weeks," Bethesda said.

Bethesda Game Studios parent Zenimax Media last week applied for a half-dozen trademarks on "Fus Ro Dah" in a variety of contexts. In addition to covering the phrase's use in video games and related services, Zenimax's trademark applications would also grant the company rights to use "Fus Ro Dah" on clothing, toys, backpacks, cosmetic bags, board games, sporting equipment, headphones, cell phone cases, and more. When asked about the filings, a Bethesda representative told GameSpot the company was "simply protecting our game and game content."

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