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Source: Two sources employed at retailers, numerous reports around the Web, and just about everyone waiting for New Super Mario Bros.
The official story: Nintendo was unavailable for comment as of press time.
What we heard: The next big thing for the US from Nintendo isn't the Revolution. It's the DS Lite, which has sold like hotcakes (or the Japanese equivalent) in Nintendo's home country. The redesigned portable is coming to North America--that bit of info we do know. What we don't know is when it will be in stores.
One reliable source who works at a popular game retailer told GameSpot News that a company sales contest is being held this month, and the stores with the best numbers would receive DS Lites as prizes. According to an internal company Web page, the portables would be handed out in late April, possibly indicating that the machine would be available by then.
Another source who works for a different large retail chain notified GameSpot News that a Nintendo rep said that the DS Lite would be available in June. When the rep was asked repeatedly about the date, he assured the source that the date was in fact true.
The most compelling bit of evidence points toward yet another date. New Super Mario Bros. is one of Nintendo's highest-profile DS games set for release between now and the all-important holiday season. The game's scheduled debut has bounced around May, going from May 7 to May 15 to May 21 and back to May 15. Normally, games that need more time in development don't get delayed by just one week--just look at the delay of The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess.
What does this have to do with the DS Lite? One possible reason for New Super Mario Bros.' shuffling release date is because Nintendo is planning to ship the game simultaneously with the redesigned handheld, possibly bundling the two together. Given the DS Lite's problems meeting demand in Japan and the flack that Microsoft took over Xbox 360 shortages in America, Nintendo wants to make sure the DS Lite gets off the ground in the US without a hitch.
Production of DS Lites for American audiences is no doubt underway, and Nintendo likely has an idea of how many units it wants to make available on day one. New Super Mario Bros.' wavering release date makes sense then, as an extra week or two of trotting out DSes on assembly lines can easily make the difference in supply.
So which is it? We're leaning heavily toward the mid-May period. If it were coming out in April, it would likely already have been announced. A June release would put further distance between the Japanese and US launches, something Nintendo has cut down on recently. Besides, a mid-May launch would give the company something to hype at E3 while it dodges revealing information about the Revolution. Just kidding.
Bogus or not bogus?: Apologies to our sources, but we're saying mid-May looks not bogus. Playing industry analyst, we'll say we're right simply because the move makes sense.
Source: This month's issue of Game Informer.
The official story: See below.
What we heard: Of all the games at the 2006 Game Developers Conference, few caused as much of a stir as Crysis. Visitors to the ATI booth on the floor were wowed by a trailer of the CryEngine 2, the basis of the forthcoming PC game from Electronic Arts and developer Crytek. Sporting volumetric clouds, real-time ambient maps, soft shadows, and visuals with cinematic depth of field and motion blur, the trailer looked even better than Far Cry, Crytek's debut.
Crysis was first announced as an unnamed "exciting new game franchise for the PC based on original intellectual property" by EA and Crytek in July 2004. The game was given its title in January 2006, and every subsequent press release has mentioned it solely as a PC title.
So it was with some excitement, then, that gamers without the several thousand dollars it takes to get a high-end PC setup heard that Crysis will also be coming to next-generation consoles. The rumors stem from a Game Informer preview of the game that outlines its storyline--one that concerns North Korea fighting the US at the beginning of an alien invasion. Right above the title of the game, next to "PC" are the words "PlayStation 3" and "Xbox 360."
Mention of the next-generation consoles is clear evidence Crysis will not just be for the PC, right? Well, not exactly. When contacted by GameSpot, an EA rep said that "Crysis is currently being developed solely as a PC product." Those words were echoed by Crytek president and CEO Cevat Yerli, who said that his company is only working on the PC version.
But just because CryTek isn’t working on a console version of Crysis doesn't mean that Crysis won't make it to console in one form or another. Far Cry publisher Ubisoft developed its console spin-off, Far Cry Instincts, and its sequel, Far Cry Instincts Evolution, internally--meaning EA could be doing the same. And if Crysis is half as good as Far Cry was, EA will almost certainly bring the IP to as many platforms as possible, in one form or another.
As for the question of quality, neither Far Cry Instincts nor its Xbox 360 port, Far Cry Instincts Predator, compare visually to Crysis. But graphics-intensive games that have been developed simultaneously for next-gen consoles and PC--like Unreal Tournament 2007 (PS3) and Elder Scrolls IV (360)--are playing and looking almost identical. Given than the next-gen version of Crysis would come out after the PC game--and after designers have had more experience with next-gen software-developer kits--it could stack up pretty favorably to the original.
Bogus or not bogus?: Officially bogus, but eventually likely.
Source: Popular game blog Kotaku.
The official story: See below.
What we heard: Of all the Star Wars games, Galaxies has been the most controversial. After releasing it to mixed reviews in 2003, Sony Online Entertainment was criticized for completely overhauling the massively multiplayer online role-playing game's combat system in Spring 2005. The publisher drew even more criticism last November when it implemented a series of allegedly buggy new game enhancements that eliminated several character classes.
Given Galaxies' bumpy ride, and the fact that many game contracts expire after three years, it is not inconceivable that LucasArts, holder of all Star Wars rights, might want to shop around the license. According to informed sources in the industry, that's exactly what the company is doing. Two shops have been mentioned as talking with LucasArts--Cryptic Studios, home to MMORPG City of Heroes, and Canada-based BioWare, maker of the action RPG Jade Empire.
Of the two, BioWare appears the more likely candidate. Besides the fact it developed the critically acclaimed and wildly popular Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, the developer just founded a new studio in Austin, Texas--home of SOE's Austin branch--which employs several ex-SOE staffers. The shop's sole project is an unidentified MMORPG set in a science fiction universe, just as Star Wars: Galaxies is.
What's the official line on all this? "The SWG license stuff is completely untrue," was a SOE spokesperson's terse response. "LucasArts and SOE have no plans to 'sunset' Star Wars Galaxies," said a LucasArts rep, referring to the practice of gradually phasing out a game. "It's had its fair share of hurdles, but it has also had its share of successes in its own right, so we aren't interested in abandoning it and focusing on the future."
However, what the LucasArts rep said next raised another interesting possibility--that another Star Wars MMORPG could be in the works. "We have had several developers approach us expressing interest in developing a future Star Wars online game," said the rep. (emphasis in the original.) However, if any such game is in the works, it will be a long time until it surfaces. "As of right now, it hasn't gone anything beyond that (that is, no conversations, no serious talks, no pitches, etc.)," assured the rep.
Despite the official denials, there is still much talk of all not being well at SOE Austin. Though potentially biased, a contact within another studio claims to have been peppered with resumes from SOE developers. The source claims that "over half of the [SOE Austin] coders and artists are scrambling for the lifeboats" because "they all seem to know they will be losing SWG." The studio has already seen one major departure--chief creative officer Raph Koster left this week "to pursue development interests outside of the company."
Bogus or not bogus?: Officially? Bogus. Unofficially? Who knows...
Source: As far as a source about a game's rating goes, it's tough to get any more credible than the official Entertainment Software Ratings Board Web site.
The official story: See below.
What we heard: Earlier today, a GameSpot forum member posed a question to the staff asking which retailers would sell Eidos' action shooter Urban Chaos: Riot Response despite its AO rating.
A flurry of recent Eidos press releases had neglected to mention anything about the publisher committing retail suicide by making a game that 90 percent of retail outlets wouldn't touch with a 10-foot pole in the current political climate. That could only mean it was time to quickly debunk the rumor by going to the source for all things ratings: the ESRB Web site.
Surprisingly, the ESRB Web site would have no part of the debunking. In its searchable ratings database, it listed Riot Response as receiving an AO rating for blood and gore, intense violence, and strong language.
We called Eidos to talk them down off the ledge and remind them of butterflies, wet puppy dog noses, 32-player capture-the-flag first-person shooter frag-fests, and everything else that makes life worth living. This clearly confused the Eidos representative for a number of reasons, not the least of which being that the company last week received a notice from the ESRB that Riot Response had been rated M for Mature.
"I have 100 percent verified that the title is rated M," the rep insisted.
An ESRB spokesman did not immediately return requests for comment.
Bogus or not bogus?: As nuts as releasing an AO-rated game would be for Eidos, lying about the game's ESRB rating would be twice as nuts. This one's rated B for Bogus.
Source: The ever resourceful tech heads at Engadget.
The official story: Nintendo had not responded to requests for comment as of press time, possibly because the company is mighty busy at GDC 2006.
What we heard: The days leading up to Satoru Iwata's keynote address at the 2006 Game Developers Conference saw many a game forum abuzz with speculation. The rumor du jour was that the Nintendo president would use the event to announce a new name for his company's next console, known best by its code name, "Revolution."
Obviously, that didn't happen. Those rumors are still alive and well on the Internet, however, thanks to an Engadget post. The post shows what looks an awful lot like a surreptitious photo taken during a presentation slide show. The slide that was snapped shows a logo with the words "Nintendo GO" written underneath it.
There are several reasons to think the slide is a fake. First is that as Nintendo has hyped up the cutting-edge aspects of its next-gen console (motion sensors, virtual console, and so on), the Revolution name has stuck. Some Nintendans have even taken it as a rallying cry against rivals Sony and Microsoft. Second, Nintendo has a history of making a platform's code name its final title. Though the N64 had the secret moniker "Project Reality" and the GameCube went by the handle of "Dolphin," the DS was code-named the "Nitro" and later…the "DS." Lastly, there have been a whole host of professional-looking fakes--remember the Nintendo On video that rocked E3 last year?
That said, there are several reasons to think that the slide is legit. Besides the professionalism of its design, there's the fact that "go" is Japanese for "five." The Revolution just happens to be Nintendo's fifth console, succeeding the NES, SNES, N64, and GameCube, and it was reportedly code-named "N5" internally for a time.
Second, the game's logo is very reminiscent of both the blocky N64 logo and the cubic GameCube logo. Since the next-gen console will play games from all Nintendo consoles, it's possible that the company is trying to instill a sense of legacy via iconography--just the sort of thing logo designers get paid thousands to do.
Finally, and most convincingly, the fragments of Japanese in the slide aren't the usual bits of gibberish thrown up by Western pranksters making fakes. They appear to be from a presentation discussing the marketing of the brand name "Go" in relation to a new Nintendo technological product. Verbatim, they say, "Brand should reflect…able to obtain…until now, the road…'GO' and brand…until now…chance to experience the choice…including the level of…newest information in the technology…"
Given that, unlike its rivals, Nintendo is solely a game company, there's no question that the slides are talking about a new gaming product. The mention of "choice" also means that the name is designed to underline the difference between competing products. But is it a console? A download service? There's no clue in the slide.
But even if the slide is legit, and it's talking about the Revolution, there's no guarantee that Nintendo's next-gen console will be named Go. After all, the slide could be from a meeting pitching possible names for the device. Go could have been just one of several options--an option that Nintendo may have very well decided not to take.
Bogus or not bogus?: We'll see at E3.
Source: A leaked trailer, apparently taken from the demo disc of a forthcoming issue of PC Gamer.
The official story: EA had not responded to requests for comment as of press time.
What we heard: Earlier this month, word began to spread that Digital Illusions CE was working on a new project. The source was a video clip that appeared to be an internal test reel from the soon-to-be-EA-owned developer. However, instead of the historical and contemporary settings used by DICE's Battlefield series, the clip showed a futuristic setting.
In an interview with Shacknews.com, senior producer Dan Blackstone on Shacknews.com dropped some not-so-subtle hints that the game would be titled Battlefield 2142. That was apparently confirmed over the weekend, when what appeared to be a full teaser trailer for the game surfaced.
Viewable on YouTube, the trailer has all the trappings of a legit game preview, including the EA and DICE logos and the requisite copyright fine print. It also shows off the Battlefield 2142 logo and reveals its release date--fall 2006.
The trailer also unveils some key details about Battlefield's plot, which hinges on a world war nearly a century and a half from now. Following a catastrophic global climate change, the earth is plunged into a severe ice age. Glaciers extend thousands of miles from the North and South poles, burying most of the continents under a miles-thick sheet of ice.
With habitable land in scare supply, the remnants of humanity become engaged in the mother of all turf wars. The trailer shows the weapons used to wage said war, which include the same mechs and hoverships displayed in the previous trailer. Also shown are some Stryker-like armored vehicles and some advanced infantry sprinting around in high-tech rigs.
But is the trailer legit? Though there have been slick fakes in the past, such as the infamous Nintendo On footage, the BF2142 trailer has the high production value one would expect. Coupled with Blackstone's hints and the previous video, its authenticity seems all but certain.
Bogus or not bogus?: Almost certainly not bogus. [UPDATE] Actually, make that definitely not bogus.
Source: The blog of San Jose Mercury News game correspondent Dean Takahashi.
The official story: "The story is highly speculative and we don’t have anything to say on it."--Microsoft rep.
What we heard: Two weeks ago, the gaming industry was rocked by a leaked video that showed what looked like a Microsoft handheld that could run Halo. However, the video turned out to be concept footage of Project Origami, the code name for a new line of "ultra-mobile tablet PCs."
When Project Origami was officially unveiled at the CeBit tech expo, it appeared rumors of Microsoft's foray into handhelds had been laid to rest. That is, until today, when Takahashi added an entry to his blog titled "Microsoft's Plans for Handheld Game Player and 'iPod Killer.'"
The entry, which comes from the reporter's forthcoming book The Xbox 360 Uncloaked: The Real Story Behind Microsoft's Next-Generation Video Game Console, also appears to solve another game-industry mystery--namely, what happened to J Allard? After being arguably overexposed in the campaign to hype the Xbox 360, the corporate vice president and chief XNA architect has all but disappeared from public view. Though some theorized Allard's new low profile was due to a de facto demotion, Takahashi claims that the executive is in fact cloistered away, working on a Microsoft portable.
"In a bid to capture the huge audience for handheld entertainment gadgets, Microsoft is designing a product that combines video games, music, and video in one handheld device," wrote Takahashi, citing anonymous "sources familiar with the project." The source said that Allard is heading up development of the handheld, which he calls the "Xplayer." He said that the machine would be strictly for entertainment, and "would likely more closely resemble Sony's PlayStation Portable multimedia gaming device" than the iPod.
Takahashi also said the Xplayer team is staffed with some of Microsoft's "most seasoned talent," including Xbox 360 system designer Greg Gibson and Xbox finance chief Bryan Lee. He said that it was originally conceived in 2002 when work on the Xbox 360 began, but was shelved so Microsoft engineers could focus on the next-gen console.
Takahashi's report would be easy to dismiss, were it based solely on an anonymous insider. However, the reporter cites a regulatory filing by Transmeta, a maker of low-power microprocessors for handhelds, which says the company has assigned 30 engineers to an unnamed Microsoft project. A more recent Transmeta filing cited by the Seattle Post-Intelligencer says that the company has "substantially completed" its work on the unnamed Microsoft device.
Does the Transmeta filing mean that the Xplayer could arrive sometime soon? Takahashi doesn't think so. He speculates that "it could be 2007 before the device hits store shelves," since Microsoft wants it to be compatible with its still-in-the-works music-download service, code-named "Alexandria." He also says that gamers may be able to get their portable Halo on after all. "One benefit of waiting longer is that the handheld will likely have sufficient technology in it to run a lot of original Xbox games from a few years ago," says Takahashi.
Bogus or not bogus?: The Nintendo DS and Sony PSP are helping handheld gaming reaching new heights of popularity. Microsoft would be foolish not to try and get in on the action.
Source: A posting on the Xbox.com forums post citing an article in an upcoming issue of Game Informer.
The official story: "Microsoft does not comment on rumors or speculation."--Microsoft rep.
What we heard: Even with all eyes squarely on it, Halo 3 has largely been one of the industry's best-kept secrets. The game's developer, Bungie Studios, hasn't even owned up to a game called "Halo 3" being in development. However, according to one post on the Xbox.com forums, Bungie's claims may merely be a question of semantics.
Forum crawler "DM Duo Maxwell" has transcribed what is claimed to be an article from a future issue of Game Informer. Apparently, someone who has access to Bungie's inner sanctum has seen the developer's next project in action. The bad news for Halo fans is it isn't Halo 3.
Now that you're sitting down and have hopefully recovered from shock, here's the good news: It is indeed a Halo game. The "well connected" source claims the project is called "Forerunner," which Halo fans know is the mysterious ancient civilization that constructed the titular ringworld/WMD. If the game indeed is named Forerunner, then Bungie technically isn't lying when it says it isn't working on Halo 3. Plus, code names are de rigueur for almost every major project, gaming or otherwise. Microsoft itself showed that recently with the Xbox 360, which was referred to only as "Xenon" in all internal documents until just before it was unveiled last spring.
The article in question goes on to talk about the rumored game's details. There is no mention of any release date, so don't ask. Forerunner will reportedly run on a modified Halo 2 engine and is going to be "big" in both scale and ambition. There will be large, persistent worlds, which will be affected dynamically by in-game events. The article gives the example of an enemy weapon depot that needs to be taken over and raided. Should players be successful in the objective, they'll have more access to weapons and munitions. Should they fail that task, the Covenant will come to future battles fully strapped.
Cooperative play will be included for--drumroll please--up to four players. Other multiplayer portions of the game weren't detailed. As the title implies, the game's single-player story will focus heavily on the origin of the Forerunners, and how humans and Master Chief are linked to them.
One thing we do know is that Bungie is currently working on a top-secret project. We also know that the game is "surprisingly playable"--Bungie has admitted that. Could this project be anything but a Halo-related project? Likely not.
The PlayStation 3 is coming this year (provided Sony doesn't revise the console's release date a second time), meaning that Microsoft would be wise to deliver a huge property in order to blunt the PS3's launch. While many speculate that the much-anticipated Gears of War is up to the task, it wouldn't pack the same counterpunch that a new Halo game would--especially in conjunction with an Xbox 360 price drop.
Taking a step back and reviewing all the details of the post, one can easily dismiss the whole thing as a hoax and the product of an overimaginative Halo fan. Claiming the game is being code-named "Forerunner" as a way around Bungie's denials of working on Halo 3 doesn't take the intellect of some crafty spin doctor.
The problem with outright claiming it as bogus is that there aren't glaring holes in the story. The details, as thin as they are, are very plausible and fall in line with Bungie's knack for innovation and surprise (remember the Arbiter?) and Halo 2's notoriously abrupt ending--which featured a Forerunner ship eluding the Master Chief by warping into hyperspace.
However, taking the news under the Rumor Control microscope, there are a few reasons the article wouldn't be true. Next month is April, the month that all game journalists love to pull the public's leg. Though the article specifically claims that it isn't a joke, it could be luring gullible gamers into a false sense of security.
Also, would Bungie risk redubbing such a familiar brand? Next to Grand Theft Auto and Mario, Halo is easily one of the most familiar names in gaming. Branding is one of the staples of marketing and as a rule should never be broken. On the other hand, it could merely be a code name that could be changed to Halo 3, Halo 3: Forerunner, Halo: Forerunner, or even Peter Jackson's Halo: Forerunner, the Official Game of the Movie (let's hope not) when the game is officially announced. For now, only time will tell if Master Chief and company are going Forerunning.
Bogus or not bogus?: It's really too hard to say at this point. The only thing we do know is that we'll ask our questions more specifically next time.
The official story: From Dell: "Dell doesn't comment on rumor or speculation and the Alienware references fit that criteria." And from Dell's supposed acquisition: "At this time, Alienware will not comment on any speculative stories or rumors concerning Dell and Alienware's association."
What we heard: Last week, Sood brought up the possibility of Dell purchasing his high-end gaming PC rival Alienware in a blog post. Though he doesn't cite any sources as to where he heard of the possible purchase, Sood implied it was more than just idle speculation.
In his CNET blog post, Brown says he's received confirmation of the deal from a source at a high-end vendor. That source told Brown he heard the news from a pair of his company's suppliers, and noted that his company has received an unusually high number of resumes from Alienware employees of late.
The acquisition makes sense, too. Dell has made no secret of its intentions to expand into the high-end PC gaming market, but many of its potential customers are bound to feel brand loyalty to smaller outfits that have catered directly to them for years, such as Alienware, Voodoo PC, and Falcon Northwest. Judging from the mixed reactions to Dell's current XPS line of gaming PCs, the company might be well served by buying its way into the market. Purchasing Alienware would not only turn one of its biggest obstacles in the market into its asset, but Dell could likely retain much of the brand's consumer base and reputation by keeping it separate and distinct from Dell.
The other juicy part of the rumor is that Dell doesn't sell AMD systems, but Alienware does. Keeping the Alienware brand separate could allow Dell to traffic in AMD systems while making sure the Dell name continues to use Intel chips exclusively.
Bogus or not bogus?: Are we obligated to stand behind our fellow CNET employee's report? I've misplaced the employee handbook, so this one's a precautionary "not bogus."
Source: Self-explanatorily titled UK game-news site Gamesindustry.biz.
The official story: "We have made no new announcements regarding PlayStation 3 since the initial guidance that was provided at E3 2005. We will be providing further details in due course."--Sony Computer Entertainment America rep.
What we heard: At E3 2005, Nintendo announced it would digitally distribute its entire back catalog of first-party NES, SNES, and N64 games to owners of its forthcoming Revolution console. Besides pleasing lovers of all things Mario, the announcement also raised the prospect of third-party publishers generating new revenue from old games via the service.
Indeed, digital distribution of old-school games has proven very popular on the Xbox 360. While many launch titles for the console have sold fewer copies than expected, the Xbox Live Arcade games Microsoft sells and distributes via its Xbox Live Marketplace have gained widespread use. Since it went online last November, Marketplace has seen over two million Arcade game downloads, according to a recent speech by Peter Moore, vice president of Microsoft's interactive entertainment division. The game downloads include such classics as Joust, Gauntlet, Robotron 2084, and Smash TV, as well as Xbox 360 demos, some of which are more than 1GB in size.
With Nintendo poised to make a fortune and Microsoft already cashing in by digitally distributing older games, it would make sense that Sony would follow suit. That what GamesIndustry.biz is claiming it has confirmed this week, via conversations with "several senior developers" who "have spoken informally with Sony about the question of digital distribution on consoles." Specifically, the article cites "one source from the development arm of a major third-party publisher claiming that Sony has been discussing the technical feasibility of providing PSone and PS2 titles over digital distribution with them."
While GamesIndustry.biz doesn't name names, a downloadable catalog of older PlayStation games makes sense. Sony has already announced the PS3 will play PS2 and PS games, meaning the backward-compatibility issue has presumably already been tackled. There are also widespread reports that Sony is at work on an Xbox Live-like online gaming service called PlayStation HUB, which would almost certainly need to have a digital delivery system. Also, as GamesIndustry.biz points out, high-speed Internet connections have made downloading games, which previously would have taken hours, a minutes-long affair. Digital distribution of multiple-gigabyte games has become commonplace for PC gamers, as evidenced by Valve's Steam service.
But the most compelling argument that Sony will digitally distribute games onto PS3 is that it simply can't afford not to. The company will lose a hefty amount of money on each PS3 hardware unit it sells, meaning it will be looking at any way it can to generate software dollars. Being able to sell millions of already complete titles digitally would avoid the usual development and retail distribution costs, and would therefore be very profitable even at a budget price.
Bogus or not bogus?: Almost certainly not bogus--if Sony, which is reportedly having hardware issues with the PS3, can pull it off.
The official story: See below.
What we heard: Nothing sets the Web afire like rumblings of a sequel to a top-selling game--a game like Call of Duty 2, which has proven wildly successful on the PC and Xbox 360, and its current-gen console spin-off, Call of Duty 2: Big Red One for the Xbox, GameCube, and PlayStation 2.
While the Call of Duty games have received varying degrees of critical acclaim, all have one thing in common--their setting. All have focused on the European and African theaters of World War II, where the Allied forces (the UK, US, and USSR) fought the Axis (Germany and Italy).
However, Joystiq.com is now reporting that a "reliable source" is saying the franchise is doing some traveling--time-traveling, to be exact. The source says some of the already-confirmed sequels to Call of Duty will make the leap to the modern age, swapping Nazis for terrorists. Players will fight battles in locales like London, the North Atlantic, and the Middle East and will be able to throw flashbang grenades, rappel down walls, and wear night-vision goggles, a la Ubisoft's Rainbow Six series.
According to Joystiq, the game, titled Call of Duty: Modern Warfare, will reportedly be released on the PC, PlayStation 2, PlayStation 3, Xbox, and Xbox 360--within three months of the launch of a WWII-themed new Call of Duty. Infinity Ward would develop the current-day-set installment, while another developer would take over the reins on the 1940s-era entry into the franchise.
When asked for comment, Activision reps replied that it is company policy not to comment on rumors and speculation. However, such a move would make sense for two reasons. First is that the first-person WWII shooter genre is getting pretty overcrowded. Though popping the stahlhelms off of Waffen-SS troopers with an M1 Garand will never really get old, it's certainly not as fresh as it was when the first Call of Duty came out in 2003.
Another likely reason is the success of Activision's archrival Electronic Arts in the present-day first-person shooter genre. The publisher's Battlefield 2 (PC) and Battlefield 2: Modern Combat (PS2, Xbox, Xbox 360) made millions by making the leap from sniping Nazis to capping modern opponents from China and the Middle East. Ubisoft's Ghost Recon series has also scored by setting itself up in near-future conflicts. Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter, which shipped yesterday for the Xbox and Xbox 360, takes place during a fictional revolution in Mexico in 2013 and is drawing massive interest.
Although the Call of Duty series may be jumping on the near-future transition bandwagon soon, it still may be behind the curve. Besides Advanced Warfighter, rumors are now circulating about a Battlefield sequel that takes place in the faaaaaar future.
In a February interview with Shacknews.com, BF senior producer Dan Blackstone hinted that the series may be taking a new direction by dropping some mathematics. "We're about to announce something very big, so stay tuned," Blackstone told the site. "3213/3X2. Or said another way: S.R. 4588164." The number 3213 divided by three and multiplied by two equals 2142, and the square root of 4588164 is 2142. The year 2142 just happens to be exactly two hundred years after the game that started the BF series, Battlefield 1942.
Does this mean Battlefield 2142 is in the works? Nothing's for sure, as Electronic Arts is not commenting externally on Blackstone's not-so-subtle clues. However, it's likely commenting aplenty internally if a widely circulated video clip is authentic. Marked "Property of Digital Illusions CE AB | For Internal Use Only," the clip is titled "'Stella' Minsk Level Video Showcase." It then fades to an abandoned futuristic plaza at sunset, which is quickly overrun by several mechs, hoverships, and futuristic infantry with caseless assault weapons a-blazin'.
Bogus or not bogus?: Nothing's for certain, but given Blackstone's blatant hint and the impressive video, Battlefield 2142 is looking not bogus. As for Call of Duty headed to the Middle East, we're as clued in as you are.
Source: A feature article on Sony CEO Howard Stringer featured on the Web site of film industry trade magazine Variety.
The official story: See below.
What we heard: It seems as though the rush to be first has begun to affect the reading comprehension skills of many members of the gaming press. Earlier this year, reports that Microsoft's Peter Moore 'fessed up to the company missing its original sales projections made the rounds, although they all referenced an article in The Financial Times that said no such thing.
Then, yesterday, a number of game-news sites reported that Sony confirmed a PlayStation 3 delay, citing a Variety interview with Sony CEO Howard Stringer as evidence. Once again, though, a closer examination of the article by, say, reading it shows it contains confirmation from neither Stringer nor Sony.
The article discusses Stringer's ongoing effort to turn Sony's financial fortunes around, one that involves overhauling the company's straggling film, music, and home electronics efforts more than its already-successful gaming operations. Games aren't even mentioned until halfway through the article (and briefly even then), with the following excerpt being the cause of commotion:
"Sony's new PlayStation 3 was widely expected to be introduced this spring, but will be delayed as the company fine-tunes the chips that are crucial to the success of the console's Blu-ray function."
"The PlayStation 3--which is being called 'the poor man's Blue-ray'--is vital to Sony's plans because it plays Blu-ray discs as well as videogames."
"Sony will roll out the PS3 by year end, in time for the holidays. If PS3 'delivers what everyone thinks it will, the game is up,' Stringer boasts."
The article's only references to a PS3 delay are thrown out there with no attribution as to where that information comes from. The writer might have just simply assumed that a PS3 delay has become conventional wisdom at this point and thought that attribution was unnecessary. On the other hand, Stringer could also have told her about the delay, and she, not realizing that it would be a story unto itself to have that official confirmation, could have tossed it into the article as a known fact.
GameSpot e-mailed the writer for clarification as to where the delay news came from, but has not yet received a response. Meanwhile, a Sony representative offered the following: "Sony Computer Entertainment has made no new announcements concerning the specific launch date for PlayStation 3, since the initial guidance that was provided at E3 2005. We will be providing further details on launch dates in due course."
Bogus or not bogus?: Bogus that Variety directly quotes Stringer as confirming the delay. Stringer might have admitted to the reporter that the system would be delayed, but until the author of the story expands on a source for her news of a delay, it's just speculation.
The official story: See below.
What we heard: With the PlayStation 3's official "spring" launch window fast approaching, one would expect Sony to start pulling out all the stops in promoting the next-gen console any minute now. However, the company has instead been eerily silent on the PS3 front, rebuffing inquiries about the next-gen console with the blanket line that it hasn't made any official PS3 announcements since E3 2005.
So when invitations went out for this year's Destination PlayStation (DPS) event in Florida, many thought Sony would use the closed-door event to unveil the PS3 to retailers and industry insiders. Apparently that hasn't happened. An increasing number of leaks from attendees, all of which had to sign nondisclosure agreements to get in the door, claim that the next-gen console was nowhere to be found at the confab.
It now appears that Sony is holding off showing off the PS3 until the 2006 Electronic Entertainment Expo--aka E3--in May. A source familiar with Sony's strategy confirmed the move on condition of anonymity. "Retailers talk too much," the source said. "They decided to keep it under wraps until E3." That bit of information casts some doubt over exactly what will be shown during Sony Computer Entertainment executive Phil Harrison's keynote address at GDC 2006, which is titled "PlayStation 3: Beyond the Box."
For its part, Sony is saying that, contrary to popular perception, they never intended to show the PS3 at DPS. "DPS is actually over and we have made no new announcements concerning PS3," a rep told GameSpot. "We never indicated that DPS was to be used as a forum to disclose new information or demonstrate PS3 content. DPS is designed as a forum to bring our retail and publishing partners together for new-year planning and this is the sixth conference we have hosted to do so."
Bogus or not bogus?: Not bogus.
Source: An industry-rattling expose in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer.
The official story: See below.
What we heard: Ever since CES in January, rumors have been circulating that Microsoft may soon enter the handheld market. Most of these sprang from a BusinessWeek article, which cited an anonymous source inside the Redmond, Washington-based software colossus as "working on plans to develop its own portable digital media device to rival the iPod." Speaking hypothetically, Xbox marketing chief Peter Moore said any such device would also have gaming functionality. "It can't just be our version of the iPod," he told the magazine.
At the same time, one of Microsoft's signature teaser Web sites sprouted up at the URL www.origamiproject.com. Via some slick flash animation, the site asks visitors "Do you know me?" "Do you know what I can do?" "Do you know where I can go?" It then promises that, "You will ... Learn more on 3.2.06."
Given the looming launch of Windows Vista, many assumed the site was part of the effort to help hype Microsoft's new PC operating system. However, over the weekend, reports surfaced that Project Origami is actually the code name for a new portable that combines media-player and PC functionality.
The evidence came in the form of a video clip that was uncovered on the Web site for the film-production company Digital Kitchen. The clip, which has since been taken down, showed a "concept device ... noticeably larger than the iPod and somewhat bigger than Sony's PlayStation Portable," according to the Post-Intelligencer. The video also "shows people using the device not only as a music player, but also as a miniature personal computer for accessing the Internet, sending e-mail, editing photos and playing video games."
What games, you ask? A copy of the video viewed by GameSpot clearly shows a user playing what looks like a handheld version of Halo in a train station, and an image in the Post-Intelligencer's gallery of stills also shows the Bungie game on the portable's screen. Unlike the side-scrolling spin-offs that were once rumored to be coming to portables, the Origami Halo looks much like the same graphic-intensive first-person shooter that has become legendary on the Xbox and PC.
[UPDATE] However, it remains unclear when--or if--gamers will be able to get their hands on a mini Master Chief. Instead of busting out the usual "Microsoft does not comment on rumors or speculation" boilerplate, reps for the company admitted the video was legit. "While Origami is a concept we've been working on with partners, please know that the video seen on Digital Kitchen's web site is a year old and represents our initial exploration into this form factor, including possible uses and scenarios," a Microsoft rep told GameSpot.
Though reps wouldn't comment on the Halo footage specifically, their references to "possible uses and scenarios" means the footage was likely for demonstration purposes only. "Everything in the video was 100 percent pure concept, so take nothing as an indication of what may or may not be in any such final product," a source close to Microsoft told GameSpot. "I'm sure they just took some Halo footage and stuck it in there since it's a Microsoft property."
So will the portable device have gaming functionality? Hopefully we'll know soon. The reps also said that details on the Origami Project would be revealed "in the coming weeks." Maybe they should have said "the coming days," as the date on the origamiproject.com is this Thursday--less than 72 hours away.
Bogus or not bogus?: Not bogus that something is getting unveiled on March 2--and we can't wait to see what it is.
Source: An e-mail widely circulated among industry professionals.
The official story: See below.
What we heard: Electronic Arts' The Sims is one of the most successful gaming franchises in history. Since its debut in 2000, it has routinely dominated the PC sales charts every time an expansion or sequel has been released. Its value as a property is further enhanced because the game's formula of controlling characters in an aquarium-like environment made the series accessible to traditional nongamers.
It was only a matter of time before the game moved onto consoles, which it did in 2003 with The Sims for the PlayStation 2. However, the game's new home proved not to be a perfect fit, because it wasn't quite the retail whopper it was on the PC. Console versions have sold decently enough, though, and several Sims ports and spin-offs continue to be fed into the market with various degrees of critical reception.
Continuing The Sims into the next generation seems to be in EA's plans. An e-mail that was sent out by an EA producer to members of the gaming industry reveals that EA's Redwood Shores, California, studio is looking to hire people for future Sims projects. Among the requisite calls for artists, producers, and software engineers is an opening for a "PS3 Engineer."
We're going to go out on a limb here and assume that "PS3" does in fact mean PlayStation 3. It should be noted that the PS3 was singled out, as there was no mention of an opening for an Xbox 360 engineer. To date, there has been no announcement of furthering The Sims franchise on any platform, let alone next-gen consoles. It's no stretch to assume the series will continue on the PC, but the move to next-gen consoles isn't a given--or is it?
When asked about The Sims coming to the PS3, an EA rep said, "We haven't announced anything at this time." Not to be outdone (and to keep a Rumor Control mainstay in the loop), another EA rep told GameSpot, "We do not comment on rumors or speculation."
Playing the devil's advocate, what reasons would there be to not make a next-gen console version of The Sims? For one, The Sims hasn't been the success on consoles that EA had hoped it would be. And two, development costs for next-gen games are too high to risk a game that isn't a guaranteed big seller.
On the other hand, it is The Sims after all, a franchise that has moved more than 58 million units worldwide, and EA has plenty of money to burn to get a strong foothold in the next-gen market. Though expansions (which are money in the bank to EA) made their way onto the PC with relative ease, moving them onto consoles just wasn't in the picture. However, with microtransactions being "the next big thing" with the Xbox 360 and PS3, a Sims game for those consoles and the possibility of charging gamers $1 for a virtual beanbag chair or whatnot might be too enticing to ignore. And with superior next-gen graphics, wouldn't locking a Sim in a room with no windows, doors, or toilet be that much more diabolical (read: enjoyable)?
Bogus or not bogus?: Nothing is set in stone, but we're leaning waaaaaaay far into "not bogus" territory. Now where's that pink flamingo lawn ornament!?
Source: A BBC News report on Electronic Arts' forthcoming Godfather game.
The official story: See below.
What we heard: In The Godfather, the Corleone family had a rule that matters of "the family" were not to be discussed with outsiders. Electronic Arts, publisher of the Godfather game, apparently has no such rule. The BBC News reports that "EA is hoping to establish it as one of their blockbuster titles and move on to adapt the two sequels," a revelation that came straight from EA executive producer David DeMartini.
"We went into this venture taking into consideration the establishment of a brand new franchise. Our intention is to make two and three," DeMartini told the BBC.
This sounds unlikely for a few reasons. First and foremost, The Godfather Part III is generally regarded as a far inferior film to its predecessors (think Godfather fan fiction). And if gamers really want to get wrapped up in a Vatican conspiracy full of murder and betrayal, the game based on The Da Vinci Code should be out by then.
If EA were to approach Godfather games based on the sequels in the same manner it did the first one, it would likely run into problems with the voice actors. EA convinced Robert Duvall, James Caan, and Marlon Brando to provide voice work for the game based on the first film, but not all of those characters make it to the second film alive, let alone the third.
The key role in the second and third movies was Michael Corleone, played by Al Pacino, who is conspicuously absent from EA's game (although interestingly enough, he has lent his likeness to VU Games' forthcoming Scarface game). The in-game Michael Corleone sounds and looks nothing like Pacino. With three other main characters from The Godfather involved in the project, Pacino's absence is a little more tolerable, but adapting the other films without his cooperation would seem second-rate, at best.
An inquiry to EA confirmed that DeMartini was not in fact talking about the second and third films when he said "Our intention is to make two and three."
An EA rep told GameSpot, "David DeMartini was speaking in general terms. Beyond the game shipping next month we haven't announced any specifics on the future of the game franchise. Traditionally when EA acquires a license it is not just for a one-off game but rather to build multiple games--look at The Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter and James Bond for example."
So while adaptations of the second and third Godfather films haven't been ruled out, we may be more likely to see offerings that continue to mine the first film's mythos, perhaps a Godfather Tactics or Godfather: Quidditch World Cup.
Bogus or not bogus?: Bogus for now. Thank you, Don Vito.
The official story: "The information below is pure rumor and speculation."--Sony spokesperson.
What we heard: By now, it's pretty much common knowledge what Nintendo's next-gen strategy will be. By the company's own admission, the Revolution will be a cheaper alternative to the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360. Current price estimates for the next-gen console range from $250 to as low as $150.
The Revolution will also be targeted at nongamers, which it will lure in with intuitive gameplay. That will come courtesy of its "magic wand" controller, which will interpret a player's real-world movements into in-game action.
Given that price estimates for the PS3 are going through the roof, it would seem that Sony doesn't have anything to counter Nintendo's novel approach. Not so, says Razoric, which posted an e-mail it received from an employee at Macromedia claiming to have inside knowledge of Sony's counter-Revolution plans.
"Got some PS2 info if you're interested," read the e-mail. "Sony intend[s] to make it their 'Revolution Killer.' They're working on tieing [sic] in Eyetoy and some kind of controller similar to the Revolution controller. With a 100M+ userbase, tens of thousands of mature and documented dev kits and the very low cost of producing Rev style games on the PS2 platform they're expecting to mobilise [sic] another 50M units over the next 5 years precipitated by a $99 price point in 2007."
Though from a less-than-reliable source, the outlined scheme seems like a pretty solid plan. With the new slimline PS2, Sony has both streamlined manufacturing costs and reduced form-factor size, facilitating increased shipping volume. Such measures make a $99 PS2 console feasible, if not profitable, from a hardware-cost standpoint.
Then there's the question of the EyeToy, which has so far only been used for a line of moderately popular party games. Sony Computer Entertainment Europe pioneered the technology behind the motion-sensing device and likely has a prototype of something akin to the Revolution's controller tucked away in its R&D labs. If the Revolution proves popular, such a device might be put on the development fast track--if it hasn't been already. If it ever came to market, it would set up a showdown between the Revolution and the PS2--one that could be tipped by the latter's massive installed base and low development costs.
If you're asking yourself why a Macromedia employee would have knowledge of Sony's next-gen strategy, the grammatically challenged e-mailer has a good explanation. "Sony are [sic] prepping our new mobile 'Flash Lite' platform for PSP and PS3," s/he writes. "They intend to combat Xbox Live Arcade with downloadable flash games to your PS3 and PSP."
Besides adding to the theory that Sony is prepping a PSP with enough built-in memory to download games, the e-mailer's theory makes business sense. "They understand the potential of Flash Lite since the development costs are low and we have a DRM [Digital Rights Management] solution in place so online content delivery is taken care of." Then there's the fact that Sony has repeated time and time again that the PS2 platform will have a 10-year life span. A new, Revolution-style controller would help it draw out those last four years.
Bogus or not bogus?: Totally unsubstantiated? You bet. Completely fascinating? That would be an understatement...
Source: Two articles on Eurogamer.net, which have since been removed.
The official story: "I can say there is no official announcement regarding God of War 2 and any news pertaining to this property is purely rumor and speculation."--Sony Computer Entertainment American spokesperson.
What we heard: Since it was released in March 2005, God of War has taken home a trireme-ful of awards and gamers' dollars. So it wasn't so much a question of if the ancient Greece-set adventure would get a sequel, but when--and for what platform. While the original God of War was released for the PlayStation 2, many industry watchers presumed that its followup would be a must-have exclusive for the PlayStation 3. There has also been much speculation about a possible PSP port of the original game, which would help boost the portable's lackluster action-game library.
So when UK-based Eurogamer posted an article this morning saying "God of War 2 is being prepared for release on PlayStation 2 in the USA next February," those hoping for a next-gen Kratos were disappointed. Citing "leaked Sony marketing documentation," the site said the single-player game would have "players defeat Icarus and claim his wings...gain the ability to ride Pegasus, discover the Amulet of Fate and Golden Fleece to earn special powers, and wield weapons including...Medusa's Head." The documentation also allegedly made mention of God of War's "potential" to be extended to the PSP and PS3 platforms.
Eurogamer cited the same leaked Sony documents for a second article regarding the gameplay features of Killzone: Liberation. The third-person PSP spin-off of the first-person PS2 shooter will allegedly feature "challenge modes, co-operative play, and multiplayer options through both ad hoc and infrastructure modes." The documentation also implied that Liberation would have downloadable mission packs, as well as some sort of game-sharing functionality, allowing multiple PSP owners to play using just one copy of the game.
Unfortunately, what looked like a pretty good scoop for Eurogamer has apparently turned into a nasty bit of litigiousness. Within hours of going live, both the God of War 2 and PSP Killzone stories had been replaced by blank pages bearing the following ominous message: "The information that previously appeared here has been removed under the threat of legal action from Sony Computer Entertainment Europe."
Bogus or not bogus?: Both sound perfectly plausible--and legally actionable under UK law, apparently.
Source: Taiwanese computer-trade news Web site Digitimes.com.
The official story: "At this time we have made no new announcements regarding the PSP system."--Sony rep.
What we heard: Even though it was supposedly a holiday stateside, a lot of news went down on February 20. News like a report out of Taiwan saying that Sony is preparing a version of its PSP with a whopping 8GB of built-in flash memory.
"According to market sources, Sony plans to release a version of its PSP (PlayStation Portable) using NAND flash from Samsung Electronics in the second half of this year," read the article. "Although recent reports stated that Sony would opt not to use NAND flash in the next version of its PSP, and would instead use a microdrive, the sources indicated that Sony was stalling to negotiate better pricing from Samsung."
To Sony fans, a PSP with 8GB of flash sounds almost too sexy to bear. Besides being able to play games and UMD movies, the device would be able to store twice the audio files of a 4GB iPod Nano. Furthermore, an 8GB PSP would let owners pack a large amount of video content onto the device. That capability could potentially boost Sony's Connect download service, which will offer PSP-optimized video content and games when it relaunches next month.
However, there are two big reasons why Sony wouldn't want to release an 8GB PSP. The first reason is that it wants to prop up the PSP's proprietary UMD format, which it spent tens of millions creating. Already, tech-savvy owners of the handheld are finding ways to rip multiple DVDs onto PSPs equipped with 1GB and 2GB Memory Stick Duos, and the trend has been cited as a factor in declining sales of UMD movies.
The second obstacle to an 8GB PSP is price. Currently 4GB flash-memory modules, which are used for data storage for items such as digital cameras, go for around $150. Using that price as a yardstick, an 8GB PSP would cost at least $550--way out of most gamers' budgets. "An 8GB microdrive seems like a possibility, but that's still some mad coin," said GameSpot Hardware editor Sarju Shah. "8GB anything is going to add a substantial dollar value to the end price."
One theory is that the Digitimes.com article's reference to "8GB of NAND flash" is a typo. It would be more plausible that Sony would release a PSP with 8Gbits, or 1GB, of memory built in. Besides limiting the PSP's storage capability--and therefore its capacity for piracy--it would keep the device's cost low. The $299 PSP Giga Pack, which bundled a PSP with a 1GB Memory Stick Duo, was so popular over the holidays that it sold out at many locations.
However, there is also the competition factor. Sony has looked on with envy as Apple's wildly popular iTunes service has become the standard for audio and video downloads. It would take a bold move for Sony to steal a sizable slice of Apple's 70-80 percent share of the digital music market. And an 8GB PSP would be a bold move indeed.
Bogus or not bogus?: Hopefully not bogus, but we're not getting our hopes up.
Source: Numerous Web reports, mostly in the UK.
The official story: See below.
What we heard: Gun-happy gamers can't wait until the release of Black, Electronic Arts' first-person shooter that its creators refer to as "gun porn." The Xbox and PlayStation 2 game has already gone gold and is scheduled for release February 28.
Unfortunately for EA, some gamers are already unloading clip after clip and blasting through the game. The game is rumored to have been leaked onto the Internet a few weeks before it hits shelves. Files that are apparently the PAL version of the game have begun appearing on servers and torrents for anyone to download.
The Web site Console News has a listing for the game in its database of pirated games, but does not tell gamers where to download it. GameSpot has found a site that has a list of sequential files titled "Black-PAL-XBOXDVD" on it, with all but one of the 33 files weighing in at 47MB apiece. However, the files were not downloaded to test authenticity.
This doesn't mean that any Joe Schmo with an Xbox and an Internet connection can grab the game and begin blasting away. The file must first be found, burned to DVD, and played in an illegally modded Xbox or PS2.
So if it is indeed the full game, how does it get leaked on the Internet? Hackers? Covert espionage? The answer is possibly closer to home. In light of EA's recent layoffs of more than 300 staffers, a disgruntled employee may have actually thrown the game onto the Web to spite the company.
A high-profile game getting leaked on the Internet before it's released!? Stop the presses! Though steps have been made to slow illegal trading, piracy remains rampant and is incredibly difficult to police. Obviously, it isn't just games that make their way around the Internet illegally; the film and music industries are really struggling with pirated versions of their products hitting the Web, with many merely a few clicks away.
EA had little to say on the matter, and making the best out of the situation, used the opportunity to promote the game: "EA does not condone piracy. EA looks forward to delivering Black, a world-class game, on February 28 for the PlayStation 2 and Xbox. "
Bogus or not bogus?: Criterion worked good and hard on this game, so we hope it's bogus. Unfortunately, it's looking more and more not bogus. As for a disgruntled ex-employee throwing the game on the Web for all to see? If it's true, only one person knows for certain.