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Source: Prolific Web-trawler Superannuation.
What we heard: With the Duke Nukem license in legal limbo, it appears that 3D Realms and its parent company, Apogee Software, have decided to sell off another of its intellectual properties, Prey. According to a US Trademark and Patent Office filing, on June 22 the Texan developer transferred the Prey trademark to the Radar Group, a Scottsdale, Arizona-based intellectual property company. In March 2008, Radar announced it had partnered with Human Head Studios and an unnamed studio to develop Prey 2 (pictured bottom), one of six projects listed on its official Web site.
The Radar Group was cofounded by Scott Miller, its current chief creative officer. A 34-year game-industry veteran, Miller also founded Apogee--later rebranded as 3D Realms--and cocreated three of its top IPs: Duke Nukem, Max Payne, and the original Prey. That game was first announced in 1996, then canceled, only to be resurrected and released on the Xbox 360 and PC in 2006.
Among Miller's other feats are negotiating the 2001 sale of the Max Payne IP to Take-Two for $48 million and helping id Software cocreate the Wolfenstein IP in the 1990s. Miller's salesmanship and connections apparently came in handy on July 15 of this year, when the USPTO filing shows that the Radar Group handed over the Prey trademark to ZeniMax Media. In late June, ZeniMax stunned the game industry by buying the long-independent id in a deal for which it raised $105 million.
Finally, last week, ZeniMax filed a flurry of trademarks to use the Prey name in PC games, console games, downloadable content, online games, television shows, comic books, strategy guides, and novels. In addition to the trademarks unearthed by Superannuation, GameSpot found that ZeniMax also holds the Prey trademark when it comes to T-shirts, hats, and other apparel.
The official story: ZeniMax and 3D Realms reps had not returned requests for comment.
Bogus or not bogus?: Not bogus, since Five USPTO filings prove that ZeniMax now owns the Prey IP. Now several questions remain: Will Human Head continue to develop Prey 2? Who is its mystery partner? When will ZeniMax release the game? And how much did it pay?
What we heard: If Clover Studios had to go, Okami represented a fine swan song. The studio, which formed in 2004 under a number of Japanese gaming industry heavyweights, was shut down by Capcom in October 2006, not a month after the acclaimed action adventure saw release for the PlayStation 2 in the US. That game was ported to the Wii in 2008, courtesy of God of War: Chains of Olympus developer Ready at Dawn.
It now appears as if the Okami franchise may live on beyond its Wii port, if a relatively new trademark filing with the Japanese Patent Office is any indication. As first spotted by Siliconera and translated by GameSpot, Capcom filed to trademark the term Okamiden with the JPO in July 2009 (application no. 2009-051624). In its description, items ranging from video game software to mobile phone straps and collectible trading cards could be covered by the trademark.
Unfortunately, the trademark filing does not offer any additional details. However, with the Tokyo Game Show set to run September 24-27, Capcom still has a substantial venue yet open to it to make the reveal.
The official story: Capcom had not returned requests for comment as of press time.
Bogus or not bogus?: With so little information to go on, this one's bogus for now. However, Capcom certainly has the option open, even if it did shut down the studio that made the well-received original.
What we heard: Less than a month before the 2009 Electronic Entertainment Expo, leaked in-game footage of what appeared to be Ubisoft's Beyond Good & Evil 2 popped up on popular video-sharing Web site YouTube. The footage appeared to presage Ubisoft's blowout for the game, which was first announced as part of UbiDays in May 2008. However, such was not the case, as the game was conspicuously absent from Ubisoft's E3 presence.
It now appears as if Beyond Good & Evil 2 isn't just unready for primetime--it may not be happening at all. According to Gamersyde staff writer Colin Solal Cardo, Ubisoft confirmed to him that Beyond Good & Evil 2 has been placed on indefinite hold.
"I got confirmation at Cologne's Gamescom that Beyond Good & Evil 2 is on hold for now. No idea if it's def or temporary but it sucks," reads a post Cardo made to micro-blogging site Twitter.
Indeed, assuming the confirmation Cardo received is accurate, this wouldn't be the first time Ubisoft has distanced itself from its May 2008 announcement of Beyond Good & Evil 2. Speaking to IndustryGamers in July, Ubisoft North America executive director Laurent Detoc addressed the aforementioned leaked in-game footage, casting a substantial shade of doubt as to whether the game will see release.
"Whether or not [Beyond Good & Evil 2] comes out remains to be seen anyway, but we didn't want to abandon that IP because it has a cachet and authenticity about it," Detoc said. He later continued, "Well, I didn't say there's definitely going to be another game. I said something had leaked, which means we've been working on some Beyond Good & Evil stuff, but whether there's going to be another game or not, that's something for the future."
The official story: Ubisoft had not returned requests for comment as of press time.
Bogus or not bogus?: Not bogus that Ubisoft is on the fence about reviving Beyond Good & Evil 2. Whether or not development has officially been suspended remains to be seen, however.
Source: See below.
What we heard: Enough already. After weeks of speculation and numerous retail leaks, snowballing rumors of an imminent Xbox 360 price cut have reached avalanche-sized proportions. Adding further weight is a scan sent to tech blog Engadget of a purported flyer from retailer Target announcing both the 60GB Pro and 120GB Elite models will be discounted to $249, and $299, respectively. The ad was quickly followed by a subsequent photo reportedly from a Best Buy flyer sent to gaming blog Kotaku showing identical price drops.
The new ads come just days after Engadget posted another $299 Elite flyer, purportedly from Wal-Mart. That ad appeared to confirm the new Elites would not ship with either an HDMI or component video cable. The newer scans, though, do not indicate what is inside the Elite boxes but do say it will come with a free controller when purchased at Target.
None of the leaked flyers confirm rumors that the Pro will be discontinued. However, another image sent to Engadget appears to back up earlier reports that the Pro model has vanished from the Elite's new packaging, auguring its imminent demise.
The official story: "Microsoft does not comment on rumors or speculation." -- Microsoft spokesperson.
Bogus or not bogus?: Not bogus. Though earlier flyers have been obvious fakes, the Target and Best Buy ads appear to be legit, and the sheer volume of leaks is only given further weight by Microsoft's stony silence on the subject. With the question of "if" all but answered, it is now a question of "when," with the timing of the flyers--typically included in Sunday newspapers--pointing to August 30.
Source: An FCC filing brought to light by PS3 News.
What we heard: Even though news of the PlayStation 3 Slim redesign leaked out six ways from Sunday before its official unveiling today, it was not for lack of surreptitious behavior on Sony's part. Just look at the FCC filing in question, which consists of radio test reports for 120GB and 250GB versions of Sony's slimmed-down PS3. The filing was not actually made by Sony, but instead by Sand Dollar Enterprise, a Foster City, California, outfit that shares an address with Sony Computer Entertainment America. Then there's the Sand Dollar contact name given in the filing, SCEA senior vice president of legal Riley Russell.
So clearly, this is a Sony filing. And although it doesn't explicitly include the PS3 Slim moniker, the filing lists the model numbers of the two systems as CECH-2001A and CECH-2001B. Sony's own press pictures of the PS3 Slim display the machine with the CECH-2000 model number, while the system's spec sheet lists its product code as "CECH-2000A."
Of course, a PS3 Slim with 250GB of hard drive space falls right in line with Sony's penchant for multiple hardware configurations. The standard PS3 has been available in 20GB, 40GB, 60GB, 80GB, and 160GB packages, with or without PlayStation 2 backward compatibility, and with or without bundled games like Uncharted, Metal Gear Solid 4, and Killzone 2. Clearly, it's not a question of if Sony will tweak the PS3 Slim configurations offered to consumers, but when.
The official story: "We are not commenting at this time." - A Sony representative.
Bogus or not bogus?: Not bogus that Sony is prepping a 250GB PS3 Slim package for possible release. The real question is when Sony will release it, what it will cost--and what Sony will pack in to the box to sweeten the deal.
Source: The Star Wars cantina of game discussion known as the NeoGAF Forums.
What we heard: On Tuesday, the Web lit up with news of an inflatable horse-riding peripheral for the Wii. Today comes word that Nintendo may not be limiting its simulated conveyance to the equestrian realm. NeoGAF user "Kswiston" has posted a purported market-research presentation slide that shows what appears to be a bicycle-peripheral-based Wii game.
According to the slide, the unnamed $89.99 single- and multiplayer title will let players "pedal their way to fitness!" Accompanied by pictures of a round white pedal controller with three resistance levels (pictured top), it will have more than 30 maps based on actual locations. Accompanying images show a variety of locales on all continents except Africa and Antarctica, including Monaco, Paris, and the Grand Canyon. A Hawaiian level is also shown.
The Wii biking game will also feature more than 60 activities, with road races, downhill, dog-walking, and pedal-powered paragliding on display. Though the cardiovascular-intensive game will track calories burned with a Wii Fit-like interface, one of the activities its simulates is a high-fat barbecue, with players cranking the pedals to simulate turning a spit roast.
Speaking of Wii Fit, Kswiston also posted a slide that appears to detail Wii Fit Plus, the sequel to NPD's best-selling non-PC game of 2009 from January to June. Though not named specifically, the title is described as "a new version game of Wii Fit" (sic) and will feature "original Wii Fit activities"--something no non-Wii Fit game could do. These activities can be combined with just six new training and yoga exercises into workout playlists like EA Sports Active, or players can choose from preset 20-, 30-, or 40-minute workout routines. The game will also feature workouts targeted at certain parts of the body, including abs and arms, as well as stress reduction techniques.
Besides the workouts, the slide promises Wii Fit Plus will sport 15 new balance board minigames, including skateboarding, "rhythm kung fu," and a series of flapping games involving a chicken suit. The game will let players weigh their dogs or cats directly--versus subtracting the weight in the original Wii Fit--and, judging by an image, will allow players to create Miis for their pets. The game will apparently cost $29.99 on its own or $99.99 when bundled with the Wii Balance Board.
Finally, Kswiston said there was a third game in the market-research presentation, which featured resistance bands a la EA Sports Active, as well as video of the pedal device in action.
The official story: Nintendo reps declined to comment on the slides.
Bogus or not bogus?: Looking not bogus. The pictures look at little complex to be mere forgeries, and the descriptions carry a very Nintendan tone. Adding credibility are the Miyamoto-esque flourishes like the barbecue simulator and chicken suit, as well as the fact that the Wii Fit Plus slide shows a senior citizen--reportedly one of its target groups.
Sources: See below.
What we heard: Next week, the first GamesCom will kick off in Cologne, Germany. The successor to the Leipzig Games Convention, which drew more than 200,000 attendees last year, will be Europe's biggest gaming event by far. And now, judging by the increasing percolation of speculation, it will likely have global importance as well.
As anticipation grows that Microsoft will reveal a $100 price drop for the 120GB Xbox 360 Elite at its GamesCom conference on August 19, Sony Computer Entertainment has pulled back the curtain slightly on its own Cologne plans. Reports out of the UK have Sony confirming that one of the items on the docket will be the European launch of the PS3 video store. However, given that the announcement of the video store's North American launch took only a few minutes at Sony's 2008 Electronic Entertainment Expo presentation, that leaves the company with plenty of time for other announcements.
What else will Sony unveil? One publication claims to have the answer. The Web site of Hong Kong-based magazine GameWave declares that the long-rumored PS3 Slim will be the centerpiece of Sony's event. Though the magazine echoes reports that the console will be cheaper and thinner than the current model, its claims are undermined somewhat by the fact that its cover shows a fan-created concept image of the console (bottom). The design is markedly different from the images purportedly leaked from a Taiwanese factory in May (top), which were important enough to warrant legal threats from a mysterious law firm.
Adding to the increasing PS3 Slim speculation are rumblings from European retailers. Furthermore, following reports that Sony is ramping up PS3 hardware orders after cutting manufacturing costs by 70 percent, British industry magazine MCV claims that stocks of the console have dried up in the island nation. It quoted an "anonymous spokesperson for one of the UK's largest national retailers" as saying, "We've been told not to expect any further [PS3] hardware deliveries until September."
The official story: "Sony does not comment on rumor or speculation" - Sony rep.
Bogus or not bogus?: Looking not bogus, according to Wedbush Morgan Securities' oft-quoted game-industry analyst Michael Pachter. "All of the rumors floating around suggest that a PS3 price cut and introduction of the PS3 Slim is going to happen by the end of the month, and GamesCom is the only significant event between now and then," he told Industrygamers.
"We have seen reports out of China about increased PS3 component orders, have seen pictures that look real of the PS3 Slim, and have seen recent reports of declining PS3 stock in Japan and Europe, with comments from retail that they have been told not to expect new supplies of PS3s until the end of August or early September. All of that points to the possibility of an announcement at GamesCom."
Source: Gaming blog Kotaku.
What we heard: Industry chatter continues unabated that Microsoft is on the verge of rejiggering its Xbox 360 hardware lineup.
Currently, Microsoft offers its hardware in three tiers: the $199 hard-drive-less Arcade, the $299 60GB Pro, and the $399 120GB Elite. However, according to a Meijer circular obtained by gaming blog Kotaku, Microsoft plans to officially replace the 60GB Xbox 360 Pro with the 120GB Xbox 360 Elite model at the $299 price point as early as August 30.
The change to Microsoft's Xbox 360 SKU lineup has been a hot topic since June. Late in the month, the same source that tipped Ars Technica off to the console's price cut in September 2008 informed the tech site of Microsoft's purported current plans.
Further corroborating evidence emerged last week, when Kotaku received a telling box shot from a retail source purporting to show the new packaging of the hard-drive-less, $199 Xbox 360 Arcade. Unlike the boxes of models shipped earlier this year, the box omits any mention of the 60GB Xbox 360 Pro, indicating that Microsoft would indeed be phasing out the SKU.
Should Microsoft be on the verge of cutting the Elite's price in September, the company certainly has a high-profile venue to make the announcement. Leipzig Games Convention successor GamesCom runs August 19-23 in Cologne, Germany. Microsoft was mostly silent at the 2008 Games Convention--an event that drew more than 200,000 attendees--but the publisher expects to hold its GamesCom press conference this year on Wednesday, August 19, at 1:00 p.m. PDT.
The official story: Microsoft had not responded to requests for comment as of press time. However, the publisher has been keen on responding to similar inquiries with the standard company line: "Microsoft does not comment on rumor or speculation."
Bogus or not bogus?: Looking increasingly not bogus.
Source: World of Warcraft enthusiast blog WoW.com (formerly known as "WoW Insider").
What we heard: The site cites "multiple sources close to the situation" who claim two new races will be added to WOW as part of a rumored new expansion called "Cataclysm." For the Alliance faction, the upcoming race will purportedly be the lupine Worgen. Meanwhile, the Horde will reportedly receive the once-neutral Goblin race.
The suspected leak comes after previous speculation that the Goblins and Worgen would be added to the 11-million-strong massively multiplayer online role-playing game's roster. On July 17, the fan site MMO Champion said it was convinced the two races would be playable after Blizzard revealed Goblin and Worgen novelty masks for its in-game Halloween-themed festival. Previously, only playable races were granted such distinction.
The reported name of the supposed upcoming expansion, Cataclysm, was trademarked by Blizzard on June 26 for everything from computer games to greeting cards. When GameSpot inquired to the developer on the trademark filings, the company declined to give any further details on the title, including whether the cataclysm label would be applied toward other game series or a new one altogether.
Although the latest WOW expansion--Wrath of the Lich King--did not add any new races, its predecessor, The Burning Crusade, added the Blood Elves and Draenei when it was released in January 2007. The latter had been known about since December 2005, when an advance edition of Computer Games Magazine revealed the new Alliance race.
The rumor comes 10 days before BlizzCon 2009, which runs from August 21-22. The developer has traditionally used the convention to officially announce new titles, including both games and expansions. The Burning Crusade was unveiled at BlizzCon 2005, and Wrath of the Lich King was unveiled at the event two years later.
The official story: "We haven't made any announcements in regard to any new races for World of Warcraft and don't comment on rumors or speculation." -- Blizzard rep
Bogus or not bogus?: WoW.com accurately predicted the previous two add-on races, the Blood Elves and Draenei, well before their official revelation by Blizzard. However, WoW.com had reported based off disclosed sources and cited concrete game data to back up its claims, such as screenshots, audio files, and video clips. The site's new blog post, on the other hand, only goes off anonymous sources and dubious novelty-mask image files. But with BlizzCon right around the corner, the veracity of WoW.com's sources will soon become clear.
Source: Film enthusiast site IESB.
What we heard: In June 2006, unconfirmed reports claimed that famed filmmaker Steven Spielberg was in talks to direct a World of Warcraft movie--a gig Spider-Man director Sam Raimi would land three years later. In October 2006, another top-selling game, Halo, would see its planned film adaptation put on indefinite hold and its would-be executive producer, Lord of the Rings helmer Peter Jackson, move on to new projects.
One of Jackson's projects is producing the computer-animated version of the classic graphic novel The Adventures of Tintin: Secret of the Unicorn--which Spielberg is directing after he wraps the just-announced remake of Harvey. Now, in an incestuous twist all too common in Hollywood, comes another unconfirmed report saying that Spielberg may take over as executive producer of the Halo film, which remains in development limbo.
According to an article posted late Friday on IESB, Spielberg's production company, DreamWorks, is in "active negotiations" with Microsoft to acquire the Halo film rights. Previously, 20th Century Fox and Universal Pictures were partnering to distribute the film, which was reportedly doomed by studio rivalry and concerns over its $160-$180 million production cost.
According to IESB's multiple sources, DreamWorks wants the Halo property to be the first in a series of summer blockbusters it would release through its newly minted distribution deal with Walt Disney Pictures. (In a further touch of irony, DreamWorks had been negotiating with Universal just days before the Disney deal was struck in February.) Apparently Spielberg was sold on the project after being "blown away" by the latest rewrite of the Halo script by G.I. Joe screenwriter Stuart Beattie. (The original Halo screenplay was written by Alex Garland, who penned the script for the cult zombie-apocalypse film 28 Days Later and the dark travel novel The Beach.) Beattie's script is itself based on Eric Nylund's 2001 novel Halo: The Fall of Reach, which is believed to be the basis of what looks like Bungie Studios' final Halo game, 2010's Halo: Reach.
The official story: "We're glad there's still a lot of enthusiasm in the entertainment industry surrounding the idea of a Halo movie. That said, the Halo feature film remains on hold as we focus on projects like Halo 3: ODST and Halo: Reach. We have nothing further to share with respect to plans regarding a Halo movie." -- Microsoft rep.
Bogus or not bogus?: Though there's only IESB's word to go on, Spielberg-produced Halo looks plenty plausible. Besides being an avid gamer, Spielberg has strong ties to the gaming industry in general, having helped craft the original Medal of Honor and, more recently, having codesigned the Boom Blox games with Electronic Arts. Spielberg is also chummy with Microsoft and was on hand at June's Electronic Entertainment Expo to talk up the possibilities of the forthcoming Xbox 360 motion-sensing camera, Project Natal. Whether that relationship translates into an executive producer role for the filmmaker remains to be seen.
Source: Gaming site Shacknews, spotting a handful of retailer Web sites.
What we heard: Initially, the PC edition of BioWare's fantasy role-playing game Dragon Age: Origins was expected to ship before March 31, 2009. However, to the collective groan of all who had been waiting for the game since it was announced in 2004, EA said in February that the PC edition of the game had been bumped to this fall to coincide with the launch of the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 versions. That date was eventually honed down to October 20.
Now, it's possible that even those many months of extra development time won't be quite enough. As first spotted by Shacknews, a handful of retailers have updated their online databases to indicate that Dragon Age has been pushed to November.
GameFly, which owns Shacknews, now lists the Xbox 360 edition of the game for a November 3 release, with the PS3 date pegged to November 19. Tech gear wholesaler Newegg lists both console editions as coming November 4, while the PC edition has retained its October 20 date. CD Universe, on the other hand, has the Xbox 360 and PS3 games holding onto their October 20 date, but the PC edition has been bumped back to November 4.
Notably, two of the largest retailers don't reflect any change at all for the heavily anticipated game. According to Amazon's and GameStop's online databases, Dragon Age remains on track for its announced October 20 launch.
Retailers are often tipped off by publishers of changes in a game's release schedule so that they can accurately allocate shelf space and promotion. However, their online databases are far from the final source of information concerning any given title.
The official story: [UPDATE] Over the weekend, BioWare confirmed that Dragon Age has indeed been pushed back to November. "Dragon Age: Origins will be released on November 3rd in North America and November 6 in Europe on the Xbox 360 video game entertainment system and PC. The PlayStation 3 version will follow later in November."
Bogus or not bogus?: Not bogus.
Sources: See below.
What we heard: Last week following a bleak earnings report, Sony CFO Nobuyuki Oneda told analysts that his company has reduced PlayStation 3 production costs by 70 percent since the console's November 2006 launch. Though Sony has never officially released a production price for the PS3, figures from hardware research firm iSuppli pointed to the per-unit manufacturing cost of the console now being just $252. That's well below the 80GB console's current $399 cost at retail and enough to make a $299 price point still profitable for Sony.
Though Sony CEO Sir Howard Stringer appeared to dismiss the notion of the console being profitable last month, Oneda's comments reignited speculation of a PS3 price cut. That, in turn, refocused attention to photos purporting to be a new, 120GB slimline version of the console which surfaced in May. Like the PS2 Slim introduced in 2004, a smaller form factor would let Sony save millions on manufacturing and shipping costs--and might be the reason for the huge savings Oneda described.
Though Sony continues to remain silent on the prospect of a price cut (see below), the past week has seen a series of reports that indicate something is afoot in the PS3 supply chain. Over the weekend, Amazon's German store posted--and then pulled--a listing for a "PS3 Konsole Slim." Next, the semi-reliable Taiwanese hardware news site Digitimes reported that Sony has "placed significant orders for key Sony PS3 components," doubling demand and leaving suppliers scrambling to churn them out.
There are also indications that retailers are taking steps to clear out existing PS3 stocks. Taming blog Hatimaki was passed a purported scan of a notice sent to Japanese stores by Sony asking them to remove all current 80GB displays on August 9--shortly before the rumored launch window of the new, cheaper console. Then, the US Amazon store has significantly discounted the 160GB PS3 Uncharted bundle, dropping its price from $499 to $449--just $50 more than the $399 80GB SKU.
The official story: "We don't discuss or comment on rumors or speculation."--Sony rep.
Bogus or not bogus?: Not bogus that there is a disturbance in the PS3 supply force. If it's not a cheaper PS3, then what is it?
What we heard: Edge of Reality's Cipher Complex charts the travails of one John Cipher, a secret US government operative who is tasked with investigating a downed recon satellite. It could be considered apropos, then, that so little information regarding the modern-day first-person shooter has been doled out since the game was announced in June 2006. To date, Sega has only released a handful of screenshots and some concept art for the game.
Now, the reason for Cipher Complex's radio silence appears to have surfaced. As spotted by the increasingly prolific Superannuation, the LinkedIn profile of a former Edge of Reality producer indicates that Sega pulled the plug on the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 game earlier this year. "Producer for Cipher Complex that was canceled by Sega," reads the job description of Rob Brown, who served on the project from July 2008 to January 2009.
Oddly, if Cipher Complex has been canceled, Sega and Edge of Reality have made no outward signs of saying so. The game's Web site remains wholly intact, if devoid of content, and the developer's Web site continues to promote the project. Still, Sega has been less than forthright with other canceled projects this year. Notably, the publisher didn't confirm the cancellation of Obsidian Entertainment's Aliens role-playing game until June, four months after the information initially surfaced.
The official story: Neither Sega nor Edge of Reality had responded to requests for comment as of press time.
Bogus or not bogus?: Barring some kind of vendetta, it seems unlikely that Brown would fabricate Cipher Complex's demise, so this one's looking not bogus. Officially, though, the game remains on Sega's books.
Source: A report on the financial Web site Market Watch.
What we heard: With no end to the global recession in sight, many nervous publishers have been pushing their games out of the 2009 holiday season. One-time 2009 titles include Sega's Bayonetta, Ubisoft's Splinter Cell: Conviction and Red Steel 2, and Take-Two's Red Dead Redemption, Mafia II, and BioShock 2. The world's current top third-party publisher, Activision Blizzard, also recently postponed its high-profile new IP Singularity until the first quarter of next year.
Now, though, worries are spreading that Activision Blizzard may soon announce a much bigger schedule change. In particular, Market Watch is wondering if fears of a Starcraft II: Wings of Liberty delay are behind the publisher's 14 percent, 30-day stock slide. As evidence, it points to several analyst notes which raise the specter of the game slipping into 2010.
"While it is not inevitable that Starcraft II is delayed, the speculation is running rampant that this is the case," said Signal Hill's Todd Greenwald. Brean Murray's Jess Lubert got even more specific, saying, "The beta testing for Starcraft [II] hasn't started yet. If it starts in August and takes 5-6 months, then launching the game this year is next to impossible."
The official story: Shortly before last month's Electronic Entertainment Expo, Blizzard CEO Mike Morhaime said that he expected the first of the three Starcraft II installments to launch by year's end. However, he gave the typical Blizzard caveat that it would only ship when it was done.
Morhaime's words were echoed today by a Blizzard rep, who would only say the following: "Development on Starcraft II is progressing nicely, but as with all Blizzard games, we won't release it until we feel it will meet our high standards and the expectations of our players."
Bogus or not bogus?: With Blizzard remaining mum, GameSpot asked two top game analysts whether they thought Starcraft II: Wings of Liberty would be delayed. One believes it will, the other is less sure.
"Starcraft II will likely be delayed into Q1 or Q2 of next year," declared Jesse Divnich, director of analyst services at Electronic Entertainment Design and Research. "The rumors of a Starcraft II delay are rampant, very similar to the same rumors that existed with Splinter Cell. And like Splinter Cell, the parent publishing company is not going on the record to dismiss these rumors…probably for good reason."
As evidence of a delay, Divnich points to Activision's announcement last week that it will release its quarterly numbers the afternoon of Wednesday, August 5. "Pre-announcing the delay of Starcraft II without informing investors on how this may or may not affect the company's financial health is borderline illegal and in bad taste. With their quarterly call just around the corner, we can expect Activision to make a firm decision on whether or not Starcraft II will be hitting store shelves this holiday season." He pointed out how Take-Two Interactive announced BioShock 2's delay via a conference call.
Webush Morgan Securities' Michael Pachter is less sure that Starcraft II has left 2009's orbit. "Nobody actually knows," he declared. "Blizzard quite likely made a flawless game, so the beta test is not going to be about discovering bugs in the software. It's all about balance of gameplay, making sure that the three races have equal powers, weapons, defenses, etc. Blizzard has probably gotten pretty close already (the friends and family beta is going on right now), but until they get 30,000 people playing 20 hours a day, it's going to be tough to know if everything is perfectly balanced. Will this take more than 4 months? Who knows."
The oft-quoted analyst does think that the massive media push behind another Activision Blizzard holiday release will act as an insurance policy. "Activision has taken steps to mitigate the possible delay by deciding to advertise the heck out of Modern Warfare 2," declared Pachter. "They hope to drive higher sales of the game this fall, partially or fully mitigating the loss of sales from a potential Starcraft II slip."
That said, one thing Pachter is absolutely confident of is that Starcraft II: Wings of Liberty will soar at retail. "I think Starcraft II will sell 4 million its first quarter, and 2 million in the three quarters thereafter," predicted the analyst. "I'd bet that 3/4 or more of these units are international."
Source: See below.
What we heard: Deus Ex and Thief creator Warren Spector shocked many in 2007, when Disney Interactive Studios announced that it had purchased the famed game designer's Junction Point Studios. One year later, Spector gave the first real clue as to his current work, saying that he was collaborating with Disney Feature Animation and Pixar. And in late 2008, an online report surfaced that the game in question may be titled "Epic Mickey."
Today, more evidence has surfaced suggesting that Spector's current project is indeed titled Epic Mickey, as well as what may be concept art for the in-development game. The first of a pair of online resumes unearthed by data-mining blog Superannuation shows what appears to be concept art depicting a postapocalyptic, steampunk-esque Magic Kingdom.
The artist, whose LinkedIn profile indicates he previously served as a concept designer at Junction Point Studios, posted six concept shots in all. Notably, one shot, titled by the artist "goofy zombie," depicts the notoriously addled sentient canine as a cyborg of sorts, with sprocket-spun joints, a wooden leg haphazardly tied onto his femur, a missing arm, and a hollow eye socket.
A second shot, which the artist titled "sea transport," shows what appears to be the Disney Land's iconic Epcot Center and Mickey's water tower affixed to the back of the whale that swallows Pinocchio and his father. Yet one more shot, bearing the moniker "castle side," shows what appears to be Cinderella's Castle precariously perched atop a reaching pillar of rock, high above an industrialized wasteland.
According to a second resume dug up by Superannuation, Epic Mickey will, at the least, be coming to the Wii. Also a concept artist, the developer started at Junction Point Studios in June 2009, where he has been busy "designing and painting concept/inspirational artwork" and "painting 'boxouts' for locations"
The official story:Disney Interactive Studios had not responded to requests for comment on the resumes as of press time.
Bogus or not bogus?: Looks not bogus.
Source: Gaming site Superannuation spotted a number of updated user profiles on professional networking site LinkedIn suggesting that Midway Games' Chicago outfit has been renamed WB Games Chicago.
What we heard: With Warner Bros Interactive Entertainment acquiring most of the assets of the bankrupt Midway Games, it was clear changes were in the offing. Indeed, they came quickly, with Midway's Newcastle studio shut down the week after the acquisition and employees at its San Diego shop and Chicago headquarters all given 60 days' notice.
With the still-indepdent Midway winding down operations, the fate of its main internal studio--which was bought outright by Warner Bros., building and all--is coming into focus. The Superannuation report links three different LinkedIn profiles one reportedly stating "I work at WB Games Chicago (used to be Midway Games Chicago) on the Mortal Kombat team," and another listing the job title, "Head of WB Games Chicago." As of press time, the profile linked to the former quote did not exist on the site, while the job title of the latter profile was listed as "Head of a Game studio in Chicago at WB Games Inc."
However, the third profile linked, that of a WB Games recruiter and former Midway project manager, continued to reference a WB Games Chicago. One of the recruiter's current employers was listed as WB Games Inc., with the additional clarification that, "The WB Games family of studios includes Monolith Productions, Snowblind Studios, Surreal Software and WB Games Chicago."
The official story: A representative with Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment had not returned requests for comment as of press time, and attempts to contact the studio directly were unsuccessful.
Bogus or not bogus?: Not bogus. A rebranding is likely imminent, but the apparent changes to those profiles and the lack of any comment suggest WBIE doesn't want them known about yet. Whether that's because the name isn't finalized or the publisher would rather make a major press event out of any change is uncertain.
What we heard: Silicon Knights' future seemed to be locked into a definitive course in 2005, when studio president Dennis Dyack announced that his Norse mythology-infused sci-fi action role-playing game Too Human would be a trilogy. However, following Too Human's weak critical and commercial launch in August 2008 and an ongoing lawsuit with Epic Games over Unreal Engine 3, the future of the franchise is anything but clear.
Still, Silicon Knights remains at work on an undisclosed number of other projects, one of which was apparently unmasked by the Canadian government last week. As part of an announcement detailing 56 government grants to a host of media companies, Telefilm Canada said that Silicon Knights had received funding for work on a "console or portable console game" titled "Siren in the Maelstrom."
No other details on the project were revealed by the Canadian culture agency. Less clear is what the name could refer to. In addition to the aforementioned Too Human trilogy for Microsoft Game Studios, Silicon Knights has also signed with Sega to develop a largely under-wraps new game. According to court documents associated with the Epic Games suit, Silicon Knights' Sega collaboration will be a single-player-only PlayStation 3 exclusive with a unique camera control scheme.
The official story: "Silicon Knights is busy working on several exciting projects. Unfortunately, it is too early to disclose any details."--A Silicon Knights representative.
Bogus or not bogus?: Not bogus that the Canadian government has offered Silicon Knights money to make a game currently titled Siren in the Maelstrom. However, what exactly that project is has yet to be revealed.
Source: Internet-mining site Superannuation.
What we heard: Superannuation has been on a tear of late, unearthing an abundance of United States Patent and Trademark Office filings and online resumes that point to a variety of publishers' potential plans for the future. And if the site's latest nugget of information is to be believed, Disney Interactive Studios doesn't plan on returning to its new off-road racing franchise Pure anytime soon.
As spotted by Superannuation, the online resume of a former Black Rock Studios artist states that Disney scuttled plans to publish Pure 2 on the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. The artist, who accordingly worked on the project in 2008, posted a number of shots along with his resume to advertise his work, including concept shots of two different ATVs seen from various angles for Pure 2.
Pure met a strong critical reception upon its release for the Xbox 360, PS3, and PC in September 2008. However, the game's retail performance was less impressive, with the title shifting just shy of 300,000 units across all platforms in the US through June, according to the NPD Group. Black Rock Studios--known as Climax Racing before Disney purchased the UK outfit in 2006--is currently at work on Split/Second, a cinematic racer due for the Xbox 360, PS3, and PC in early 2010.
Like many others within the game industry, Disney has been feeling the impact of the global economic downturn. In January, the publisher trimmed headcount at Propaganda Games, which developed 2008's Turok revival. At the same time, Disney consolidated its Avalanche Software and Fall Line Studios locations, which resulted in more staff reductions.
The official story: Disney Interactive Studios had not responded to requests for comment as of press time.
Bogus or not bogus?: Likely not bogus that Disney halted development on Pure 2. However, with Split/Second speeding toward release early next year, there's nothing stopping Black Rock Studios from returning to the franchise in the future.
Source: A Microsoft patent application reported on by Siliconera proposes a system that would compensate users for swapping out their avatars with corporate mascots, possibly with virtual food for their virtual pets.
What we heard: With the next Xbox Live update set for August 11, Microsoft will begin monetizing its system-wide avatars by selling virtual clothes and accessories for actual money. The company is looking into more ways to pull money from Xbox 360 players' counterparts, as its patent application reveals.
Filed in December of 2007, the application seeks to patent a scheme that would see Microsoft split advertising revenue with users two different ways. In one example, players could swap out their existing avatar with an advertiser-specific avatar and then proselytize the brand to other users. Such a move would mimic the real-world practice of "influencer advertising," where popular people are paid by companies to promote brands by pretending they actually like them.
In a potentially Orwellian turn, those interactions would be monitored for content and effectiveness, and the pitchman would be paid accordingly with goods or currency, actual or virtual. One of the proposed implementations of this would impact avatars' virtual pets in a style reminiscent of National Lampoon's timeless "If you don't buy this magazine, we'll kill this dog" cover.
"For example example [sic], the compensation may include virtual food to keep a virtual pet, such as a virtual dog...alive and functioning," the application states.
The application also gives specific examples of what substitute avatars a corporation could insert.
"If the advertisement is for a movie (e.g., Transformers) prominently featuring robots that transform into vehicles, the avatar may be one of the robots featured in the movie," the application reads. "In another example, if the advertisement is for cereal (e.g., Trix) that is associated with a rabbit that enjoys eating the cereal, the avatar may be the rabbit. In yet another example, if the advertisement is for a digital media player (e.g., Zune from Microsoft Corporation, iPod from Apple, Incorporated), the avatar may be the digital media player."
The second monetization method covered by the application would see players compensated for interacting with an ad. For example, players could choose to watch an ad and then take a quiz on the key details of the spot afterward. Questions would be selected from a pool based on the users' demographic information, purchasing history, and purchasing preferences. Correct answers would reap the same array of virtual or actual goods and currency.
It's worth noting that Microsoft's patent application is platform neutral. Its use of the term "avatar" is not directly tied to the Xbox 360 system of avatars, and the application specifically states that the ad scheme could be used for "any suitable processor-based device, such as a computer or a gaming device. Exemplary gaming devices include the Xbox and the Xbox 360 from Microsoft Corporation, the Wii from Nintendo Company, Limited, and the PlayStation 3 and the PSP from Sony Corporation."
The official story:"Xbox Live Avatar Marketplace is launching on August 11 and will offer many unique items you can use to create your own persona and represent your lifestyle in the world of Xbox Live. We have no additional details to share at this time."--A Microsoft representative
Bogus or not bogus?: Like the patent application itself, virtual pets for avatars is not a sure thing just yet. But if Microsoft thinks users will pay MSP160 ($2) for a shirt, a bit of animal companionship seems a shoo-in. Still, the idea of Microsoft giving players virtual pets only to hold them hostage sounds a bit far-fetched.
Source: Kotaku AU from today's JB Hi-Fi listing.
What we heard: Kotaku is reporting that Harmonix's upcoming The Beatles: Rock Band has been priced in Australia, citing today's listing on retailer JB Hi-Fi's Web site. According to Kotaku and JB Hi-Fi, the Beatles: Rock Band bundle pack is priced at A$349 ($283.59) for the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and Wii versions.
According to JB Hi-Fi's Web site, the bundle will come with a copy of the game, the Höfner Bass controller, the Beatles-branded Rock Band drums, a mic and mic stand, and "additional special content."
The stand-alone disc for the PS3 and Xbox 360 versions is priced at A$79 ($64.18 ), and the Wii version is priced at A$69 ($56.10).
The two Beatles-themed guitars announced by Harmonix in May (the Rickenbacker 325 and the Gretsch Duo Jet) will be sold separately, with no Australian pricing as yet. In the US, the guitars have been priced at $99.
The official story: Inquiries sent to EA had not been returned as of press time.
Bogus or not bogus?: Looking not bogus. JB Hi-Fi is one of Australia's biggest retailers, so most likely it's not posting lies on its Web site. Besides, the preorders have already begun in Australia, so if the price is not correct there are going to be a lot of disgruntled customers out there.