This Week in Games: April 7, 2012

Unnamed sources say that the Wii U kinda sucks, the Xbox 720 and PlayStation 4 are basically identical, and people hate day-one DLC more than they hate having their home taken away from them. All this and more inflammatory nonsense in this week's recap.

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Wow…what a week! Electronic Arts stumbled from PR crisis to PR crisis, every next-gen console story cited an "anonymous source" rather than an actual person, independent game studios went Kickstarter crazy, and we all got "I'm Han Solo" stuck in our brains. Also, PAX East! If you couldn't make it to Boston this weekend, be sure to check out the livestreams.

This Week in Next-Gen Games News

It was a busy week this week for rumor churn across all three new platforms. First up, it's entirely possible that the Wii U will launch on November 18. Or maybe not. Who knows? Nintendo-focused site Wii U Daily credited an internal e-mail circulating among staffers at Japanese retailer Media Land early in the week with the news that the Wii U will debut in North America on that date. As you'd expect, this consequently got picked up and recredited all over the Internet. Nintendo, unsurprisingly, is utterly silent on the subject.

If you believe an unnamed source working on an unnamed project for an unnamed studio at an unnamed publisher, the Wii U isn't really a next-gen console.

The next day, we were treated to some more Wii U drama in the shape of "anonymous developers" saying that the console kinda sucks to reporters at GamesIndustry International and suggesting it didn't have the graphical horsepower to compete with either the Xbox 360 or PlayStation 3, despite being able to output HD video. "There aren't as many shaders, it's not as capable. Sure, some things are better, mostly as a result of it being a more modern design. But overall the Wii U just can't quite keep up," said a source. So…there you go. If you believe an unnamed source working on an unnamed project for an unnamed studio at an unnamed publisher, the Wii U isn't really a next-gen console. Didn't we know that already?

Shifting gears to PlayStation 4 now, we learned from another mystery source (this one cited by VG47) that the design ambitions for the Orbis (are we really calling it that yet?) were set "at least" two years ago, and Sony is "confident" that it will release the console ahead of Microsoft's next Xbox. The source also noted that Sony has clued in select partners (Ubisoft was specifically called out) about the console, and these developers are "already working on it." This falls in line with previous scuttlebutt, which suggested certain studios were developing titles for next-gen Sony technology. Additionally, the site claims that parts of the PlayStation Vita's launch hardware were altered to make sure the PS4 and PS Vita could interact in a similar way to the Wii U and its tablet controller. Orbis games will allegedly be playable using the PS Vita controller's twin sticks and touch screen.

If you want to plunge still deeper into rumor and speculation, another (guess what!?) anonymous mystery source told IGN that the PlayStation 4 would utilise custom chips based on AMD's A8-3850 APU and the Radeon HD 7670 GPU and that this is essentially the same hardware that will be used in the next Xbox; if true, this would mean that Sony's next-gen console would be graphically identical to Microsoft's next-gen effort. Let us know what you think of that in the comments below.

It's like two PCs taped together.

Think the Xbox 720 is getting off without a rumor started by an "anonymous source" this week? Well, you'd be wrong. This one told VG47 (again) that the next Xbox will require a constant Internet connection as a method of fighting piracy. No further information concerning this was offered. Other "details" include word that the system will ship with a Blu-ray drive. This matches up with news from January, but jars with a report from last month, which said the next Xbox would ditch a disc drive entirely. As for specs, multiple (anonymous, of course) tipsters told the site that the next Xbox will sport two graphics processing units (GPUs), with one source saying, "It's like two PCs taped together." Graphics cards in the system are believed to be equivalent to AMD's 7000 series GPUs, but "not CrossFire or SLI."

0x Who and the What?

Remember when Markus "Notch" Persson started dropping hints that he wanted to make something like Elite? Well, this week we got a glimpse of what he's thinking in the shape of 0x10c. The game will be set in a parallel universe where space travel is de rigueur for corporations and the rich, and the incorrect development of a deep sleep cell has rendered a number of the population asleep for longer than intended. Waking up in the future, the deep sleepers find a universe on the brink of extinction. The game will include space battles against AI and other players, as well as mining, trading, and looting. Additionally, the game will boast an advanced economy system, and single- and multiplayer modes connected via the game's multiverse.

Shadowrun Returns

Shadowrun is (usually) considered a pretty awesome franchise. It had a bit of a rough patch in 2007 when Microsoft turned it into an awful online first-person shooter, but prior to that it was all good stuff. The original pen-and-paper cyberpunk RPG was released in 1989, and it has remained an iconic example of the genre. In 1993 it was turned into a great RPG for SNES (and later Genesis) by Data East, and many gamers have wanted something more like that ever since. Well, now you can add Shadowrun to the list of cult favorite franchises looking for fan-funded revivals. Shadowrun creator Jordan Weisman and his studio Harebrained Schemes launched a Kickstarter project this week to raise $400,000 for development of a new game, called Shadowrun Returns, and achieved that goal in just 28 hours. It will be a 2D turn-based role-playing game for a single player, and Harebrained Schemes is also promising an interactive story, with narrative work provided by a host of experienced Shadowrun authors and designers. "The game we want to make is very humble by modern blockbuster game standards but it is still way beyond the ability of a small start-up to fund by itself," Harebrained Schemes said on the Kickstarter page. "The restraints on the license from Microsoft made it impossible to get established publishers interested in Shadowrun and so it remained just a dream for a long time until Jordan saw the recent successes of some other veteran designers on Kickstarter."

Return to the Wasteland

For those of you who don't know why so many people got excited about the prospect of a sequel to Wasteland this week, here's a quick history lesson. The original was released in 1988 by Electronic Arts for the Apple II, Commodore 64, and PC and was to all intents and purposes a precursor to the Fallout franchise. It was set in the mid-21st century, following a nuclear war in 1998, which turned the planet into a barren wasteland. Hence the name, d'uh. The game mechanics were based on tabletop role-playing games like Tunnels and Trolls and Mercenaries, Spies and Private Eyes, which were also created by some of Wasteland's creators. Players controlled a team of US Army Rangers based in the Southwestern United States who were assigned to investigate a series of disturbances throughout the area. The game was notable for many reasons; chief among them was that it was one of the first-ever titles to boast a persistent world where any changes to characters or the environment were stored throughout the entire experience.

So, that was all 24 years ago… What's going on now? Brian Fargo, who was part of the original Wasteland team before moving on to found Interplay (which published Fallout), announced this week that his company InXile Entertainment would be producing a sequel and would be funding the effort through a Kickstarter project. The initial ask for $900,000 was achieved in the first 42 hours, and the project has since raised more than $2 million. This in itself was remarkable, but what made further headlines this week was the news that Fallout: New Vegas developer Obsidian Entertainment said that their team would assist with development if InXile raised over $2.1 million. By Friday this week that goal was met.

Want More Larry?

Capping off the trifecta of Kickstarter-themed stories this week was the word on Monday that Leisure Suit Larry creator Al Lowe and Replay Games were looking for $500,000 to start indie remakes of the classic adventure game series. Originally announced last October without mention of crowd funding, the Leisure Suit Larry remake is intended to be an overhauled version of the character's debut 1987 adventure game. In addition to high-resolution graphics, the game is intended to feature a modern point-and-click interface, full voice work, additional jokes, and compatibility with mobile devices. Hopefully it will also attempt to sever all ties with the reprehensible "sequel" by High Voltage starring Larry Laffer in 2004 and the critically savaged Leisure Suit Larry: Box Office Bust in 2009.

So far, the project isn't attracting quite the same level of support as Shadowrun Returns, Wasteland 2, or Double Fine's Adventure, but it has raised $200,000 after just five days. If the project should surpass its funding target, the extra money will be used to translate it into additional languages, move it onto more platforms, create an orchestral soundtrack, and add on to the game itself.

EA Hatred and the Mass Effect Legacy Continues

Mass Effect, FIFA, and The Sims publisher Electronic Arts is the worst company in the United States, according to the results of more than 250,000 votes on consumer affairs blog The Consumerist. EA knocked out Bank of America in the final round to secure the title, winning the site's "Golden Poo" award. Seriously folks? Electronic Arts is worse than a bank? EA also beat Best Buy, Sony, and Comcast, while Bank of America took down Citibank, Ticket Master, Wal-Mart, and Chase. In the final round, Consumerist voters hated on EA with 64 percent of the total vote. I guess day-one DLC and the Mass Effect 3 ending are worse than having your home taken away.

"The extended cut DLC will expand on the existing endings, but no further ending DLC is planned. Though we remain committed and are proud of the artistic choices we made in the main game, we are aware that there are some fans who would like more closure to Mass Effect 3."

But wait! There's movement on that last point. BioWare announced that downloadable content is on the way that could salvage the ending to Mass Effect 3. Is fleshing out the last few minutes really going to make fans happy? Or just give them another reason to bake angry cupcakes? "BioWare strongly believes in the team's artistic vision for the end of this arc of the Mass Effect franchise," reads a line from the studio's statement on the subject. "The extended cut DLC will expand on the existing endings, but no further ending DLC is planned. Though we remain committed and are proud of the artistic choices we made in the main game, we are aware that there are some fans who would like more closure to Mass Effect 3. The goal of the DLC is not to provide a new ending to the game, rather to offer fans additional context and answers to the end of Commander Shepard's story."

EA's beleaguered public relations group had even more work on its hands this week though. VP of corporate communications Jeff Brown confirmed for GamesIndustry International on Thursday that the publisher has received thousands of letters and e-mails from people angry about the inclusion of gay romance options in Mass Effect 3 and Star Wars: The Old Republic. The letters suggested that EA had been pressured by pro-LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) groups to include the options and that dissenting opinions were being silenced in the publisher's forums. Brown denied the former accusation and responded to the latter by saying EA doesn't tolerate hate speech in its forums. "Every one of EA's games includes ESRB content descriptors so it's hard to believe anyone is surprised by the content," Brown told the site. "This isn't about protecting children, it's about political harassment."

THQ Smackdown

The games industry is usually way too polite and nice to itself. Everyone is cordial and respectful, and hardly anyone ever really talks smack about their competitors. It's a wonderful environment to work in, but it makes for dull stories. This week we had an unexpected change of pace, as Take-Two CEO Strauss Zelnick declared at the MIT Business in Gaming conference that THQ "won't be around in six months." Why does he think this? "THQ's strategy was licensed properties, first and foremost. License stuff from other people, whether it's UFC or WWE or a motion picture property, and make a game around that," he said. "And our approach, since we took over the company, is 100 percent owned intellectual property. [THQ's] strategy didn't work and the execution was bad," he added. "To put it another way: the food was no good and the portions were small." We reached out for some kind of retort, and a THQ representative told GameSpot, "Obviously, Mr. Zelnick's perception of THQ is outdated and inaccurate. His comments are irresponsible and false. Perhaps he would be better off commenting on his own business."

FIGHT!

Other Things We Liked This Week

Harmonix unveiled Rock Band: Blitz.

Amazon Prime Instant Video on PlayStation 3.

Super Meat Boy for iOS is being cooked up from scratch.

Eyebrow Interactive's Closure.

The Devil May Cry HD Collection.

A Thing That Happened This Week…

…that we kinda wish hadn't. Especially as it's now stuck in our brains for all eternity.

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