Rumor Control: Region-free PSP defects and EA dumps Madden

Also this week: Half-Life 2 co-op and Age of Empires III.


Rumor #1: The next Electronic Arts football game will not feature the likeness or name of John Madden.

Source: Sources close to EA Sports.

The official story: EA Sports reps declined to comment.

What we heard: For those who haven't heard, EA shocked gamers worldwide Monday by announcing that it had signed a five-year exclusivity deal with the NFL for the rights to the league's teams, stadiums, and player likenesses. Besides casting the shadow of doom over all rival football franchises--which will have to resort to alternate leagues (arena football or the CFL) or completely made-up ones (like Midway's upcoming Playmakers title)--the deal also spawned a slew of rumors. Most were about how EA could afford the industry-shaking deal's price tag, which speculation put at anywhere between $300 million to $1 billion, or about the possibility of a $59.99 NFL game. But the deal also spawned some interesting theories on how EA might wring greater earnings from its monopoly--one of which was presented to GameSpot editors from a source with ties to EA Sports. Under the source's scenario, EA would up its profit margins by ending its licensing deal with John Madden, thus saving royalty fees. Though Madden has been synonymous with football games for 15 years, the sports personality's in-game commentary has been cited by many critics as the series' biggest weakness. Given the commentator's age and the fact EA no longer needs the cachet the Madden name brings, it is definitely in the realm of possibility.

Bogus or not bogus?: Lest we get sacked by EA's überaggressive PR department, we're tagging this one too early to call.

Rumor #2: The first batch of PSPs to hit the Japanese market was riddled with defects.

Source: Numerous sources, the most notable being Engadget.

The official story: SCEA reps directed us to SCEI reps, who were unavailable as of press time.

What we heard: According to dozens of forum posts and lower-end game sites, many of the first PSPs released suffered from a variety of defects, including "dead pixels, dead drives, analog sticks not working and even falling off, and even screens with dust and 'air bubbles,'" according to Engadget. A more-spectacular alleged problem was the so-called "Master of the Flying UMD Guillotine Trick." According to reports--one of which even featured video evidence--if you twist the PSP a certain way, the UMD drive opens, causing the disc to come flying out like a throwing star. Luckily, GameSpot can address both of these rumors head on. While in Japan last weekend, GameSpot editors did observe some PSPs with dead pixels, but did not see any evidence of the other defects. As to the flying-disc glitch, we were brave enough to use one of our precious PSP units to test the theory. Amazingly, with just the right touch, out it popped.

Bogus or not bogus?: "Riddled" is a bit extreme, but there were defective models. Not entirely bogus. As for the flying-disc trick: Not bogus, in our experience.

Rumor #3: PSP games will not be region encoded, but premade audio and video discs will.

Source: UK-based, MSN-owned Gamesradar.

The official story: See below.

What we heard: Following the PSP's launch in Japan on Sunday, there was much confusion about whether the PSP would have a split personality. The majority of reports said the device would allow region-free gaming but slap the usual geographic restrictions on premade audio and video content on its universal media discs. However, when consumers got their hands on copies of Ridge Racers, they noticed a big old Region 2 logo on the back. Luckily, GameSpot was on hand in Japan over the weekend for the PSP's launch. None other than Sony chief technology officer Masa Chatani told us that, "for now," the PSP will be region-free for gaming "because people who travel around the world may want to pick up games in different territories." Japanese Sony reps later confirmed to GameSpot that the premade audio and video discs for the device would be region encoded.

Bogus or not bogus?: Not bogus.

Rumor #4: A co-op mode for Half-Life 2 is in the works.

Source: The makers of said mode, Sven Co-op.

The official story: See below.

What we heard: Word quickly spread among the mod community earlier this month when the crew at Sven Co-op announced that it was beginning work on a co-op mode for Half-Life 2, just as it had for Half-Life. It's when word got out of the mod community that the trouble started. Through numerous forum posts and word of mouth, many people got the impression that Half-Life 2 developer Valve was making the co-op mode as an extra for subscribers to its download service, Steam. Not a bad hypothesis, since the studio recently released the multiplayer Half-Life 2: Deathmatch mode via Steam. Too bad it isn't true. "Valve has not announced an internally developed co-op game," Valve director of marketing Doug Lombardi told GameSpot. However, as usual, Valve embraces third-party mods wholeheartedly. "The Sven guys were one of the first HL mods and we wish them the best of luck with their HL2 project," Lombardi said.

Bogus or not bogus?: Not bogus, although it's not an official mode either.

Rumor #5: Microsoft-owned Ensemble Studios is preparing to announce Age of Empires III on Christmas Eve.

Source: The official Ensemble Studios Web site.

The official story: "We have no comment at this time." --Microsoft spokesperson.

What we heard: Last week, a stark, black-and-white splash page popped up on the Ensemble studios site. It read, "The wait is almost over...2300 BC - Sargon I Unifies Sumeria." Three days later, it read, "The wait is almost over...1200 BC - The Troyan War" in slightly larger letters. As of 4pm PST today, it read, "The wait is almost over...1096 AD - The First Crusade" in large letters. Seeing how the countdown is going about 1,000 years a week, and assuming it will stop with the present day, it should finish one week from today, on Christmas Eve. And since Ensemble Studios makes only two franchises--Age of Mythology and Age of Empires--the lack of deity-speak makes it a pretty safe bet the game it's announcing will be Age of Empires III.

Bogus or not bogus?: Not bogus--looks like real-time strategy fans will get a nice Christmas surprise this year.

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