This Week in Games - December 15, 2012

The imminence of the Steam Box, what Cliff's up to next, the mysterious Phantom Pain, Dark Souls, and the next Mega Man game is fan made.

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We're in the thick of year-end retrospective and Game of The Year territory already, but that doesn't mean it was a quiet week for game news. Since last weekend we've (finally!) had official acknowledgement of a "Steam Box" of some kind, we've seen a mysterious trailer that may or may not have something to do with the new Metal Gear game, Dark Souls 2 was announced, a game was nominated for a Grammy, the BioShock Infinite box art was revealed to be unbelievably generic and crappy, and we found out what Cliff Bleszinski is up to next. 

Valve Domination Continues: In Your Living Room, on Your Tablet 

This piece of news just missed last week's This Week in Games by just a few hours, but it's definitely worth brining up this week. Valve co-founder and managing director Gabe Newell has begun to discuss his expectations for custom PCs that will allow users to run Steam from their living room TVs as early as next year. Speaking to Kotaku, Newell said these PC configurations would compete with next-generation consoles from Sony and Microsoft. He went on to say that Valve would be looking to develop these kinds of packages, but that other PC companies would jump in as well. "Certainly our hardware will be a very controlled environment," Newell said. "If you want more flexibility, you can always buy a more general purpose PC. For people who want a more turnkey solution, that's what some people are really gonna want for their living room." He also hinted that Valve is working on an updated engine which will reportedly work with next-generation consoles.

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Newell also told Kotaku that he wants to bring Dota 2 to tablets, saying that a touchscreen version of the free-to-play multiplayer online battle arena game is one of the "interesting projects" that the company is currently working on, though initial tests have left much to be desired. "We were working on getting Dota 2 running on some tablets," Newell said. "That ended up being kind of a disappointment. But the good news is that tablets are getting faster very quickly, so I think we'll get the kind of performance we want and other game developers want in the near future." Dota 2 is currently scheduled for release on PC and Mac. The game combines action and real-time strategy elements in multiplayer matches that pit teams of player-controlled heroes against one another. The game will include integrated voice chat and computer-controlled characters that will take over for players who disconnect during play sessions, as well as a coaching system, where veteran players will have the chance to tutor newcomers.

Later in the week, Valve continued its recent flurry of activity with the launch of the Steam Community Market on Wednesday. Currently in beta and only compatible only with Team Fortress 2, the virtual market allows users to buy and sell in-game items using their Steam Wallet funds. Support for other titles will be introduced next year. The launch was due to the huge popularity Steam Trading, which is a service that allows users to exchange in-game items and gifted titles between themselves. Valve software engineer Tony Paloma said that over 500,000 trades are made every week and that, "giving players a way to turn gameplay into funds for new items and games is a key component for moving that success forward." A transaction fee of 15 percent paid by the buyer and collected by Steam will be applied to every sale. Valve said this fee is used to protect against fraud incidents as well as the cost of development and future Steam economy features. The fee may be increased in the future, Valve said. 

The service followed this with the launch of a new Game Guides section on Thursday. The new feature allows members of the Steam Community Beta to create and share game guides with other players. The full extent of the feature is outlined in this blog post which notes that you'll be able to upload images or use screenshots already in your Steam cloud, insert YouTube videos, and invite friends to help you flesh out the guide further.

The Phantom Pain Mystery 

Last Friday night was the tenth 2012 Video Game Awards show on Spike TV, which meant that numerous studios had saved up all their exclusive announcements to blow on a single night of unremarkable television. Arguably the most talked about of the evening was a project called The Phantom Pain from a new Swedish outfit Moby Dick Studio. Though the trailer itself was fairly spectacular, it was the speculation that it is actually something Metal Gear Solid related that kept the message boards humming throughout the week. Not only does the main character of the trailer resemble Snake from Metal Gear Solid (including the iconic mullet, and the scar on his right cheek) but also the that fact that previously unheard of Moby Dick Studio CEO Joakim Mogren's first name is an anagram of Kojima. There's also the matter of the Volgin-lookalike striding through the flames, and the white flower petal hallucination from the Metal Gear Solid 3 climax. 

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Dark Souls 2 Will Be Less Confusing

The other big announcement from the VGAs that we all got excited about was the news that Dark Souls is getting a sequel. There wasn't a huge amount of information revealed, but what we do know is that it'll be available for Xbox 360, PS3, and PC, and that Demon's Souls and Dark Souls director Hidetaka Miyazaki is not the going to be the big-cheese on this one. He will serve as a "supervisor" on the project, with development instead led by From Software director Tomohiro Shibuya, who we understand has previously worked on Ultima Underworld, Monster Hunter, and Resident Evil: Outbreak. Dark Souls 2 will feature a new hero, a fresh storyline, and an "unfamiliar" setting. "Epic battles with gruesome enemies" are promised, as well as a revamped server-based multiplayer mode that aims to "put a distinct Dark Souls 2 twist on the concept of playing with others." You can also expect something a little less confusing, it seems. "[Dark Souls 2] will be more straightforward and more understandable," Shibuya told Edge in an interview soon after the reveal. 

Upset that there is no Wii U version of the game currently listed, enterprising fans have taken to Change.org to start a petition with the goal of encouraging Namco Bandai to reconsider. By Friday morning the petition hit over 12,000 signatures, and continues to grow. The creator of the petition says the Wii U is a worthwhile platform for Dark Souls 2 for two main reasons. The first, he said, is that the Wii U's GamePad would open up beneficial inventory management options. The second is the console's "affordability" compared to the PC and PS3, as well as online fees associated with Xbox Live. Online access for the Wii U is free, with the exception of a 50-cent charge for minors. Whether you agree with his logic, we'll invite you to discuss it in the comments.

What Do Journey, The Grammys, and Leisure Suit Larry Have in Common?

The answer, in case you couldn't figure it out, is composer Austin Wintory. We learned in the past week that Journey is the first video game to earn a Grammy nomination for its soundtrack. The Recording Academy revealed its nomination last Thursday, and Wintory's beautiful score was listed alongside those for The Artist and Hugo in the dryly-titled "Best Score Soundtrack for Visual Media" category. Wintory has previously scored thatgamecompany's games flOw and Flower, but has actually produced hundreds of works since he began composing in 2003. Journey is no stranger to accolades of late. Earlier this year it was proclaimed the Fastest Selling PSN game, and last Friday it picked up awards at the Spike TV VGA's for Best PS3 Game, Best Independent Game, and Best Original Score. It will no doubt pick up many more before the end of year awards season is through.

Next up for Wintory? He'll be trying something very different. According to a recent interview with Polygon, he will be trying his (very talented) hand at composing the score for the upcoming Leisure Suit Larry remake from developer Replay Games. Leisure Suit Larry creator Al Lowe apparently reached out to Wintory during the Spike VGA awards. The composer stated that he had some experience writing "sexy music" for films; the game developers made sure that Wintory was comfortable creating "seedy, back alley kind of stuff", given the nature of the Larry series.

Diablo III "Up and Running" on Consoles

A console version of Diablo III is "up and running" at Blizzard Entertainment, but the game is still not an official project at the company. This is according to Blizzard executive Rob Pardo, who told Polygon the fate of a console version of the dungeon crawler has still not been decided. "We're still kind of exploring it," Pardo said. "We've got builds up and running on it. We're hoping to get it far enough along where we can make it an official project, but we're not quite ready to release stuff about it, but it's looking pretty cool." Blizzard has been teasing a console version of Diablo III for more than two years now, though the project remains largely a mystery. It has never been said which consoles exactly Blizzard is working with.

What do you think? Are you over Diablo III already? Or do you think a console version would give it a new lease of life for you? Let us know in the comments.

Bungie Founder's Next Game is a Mobile Shooter

Bungie founder Alex Seropian has big plans for his first game with new studio Industrial Toys. The company announced its first game this week, Morning Star, a sci-fi shooter for iOS devices that aims to "raise the bar for mobile graphics" when it arrives spring 2013. "With Morning Star, we're looking to change expectations for what kind of experience core gamers get from their mobile devices," Seropian said in a statement.  Morning Star was built from the ground up for touch-based controls and is billed as a "complete reimagining of the shooter." It is set 120 years into the future (around 2132) and brings players aboard the MSRV-Joplin, a research vessel equipped with heavy weaponry. Players seek out a mysterious signal, and as is often the case, disaster takes hold and gamers are thrust into the middle of an intergalactic war.

BioShock, Salad Dressing, and Disappointment

Gamers that got all bent out of shape about BioShock Infinite's "controversial" (OK, that might be stretching things a little) box art may be happy to learn the 2013 shooter will come bundled with a reversible cover. Irrational Games creative director Ken Levine made the announcement on Wednesday, also noting that fans can vote for one of six covers at the Irrational Games website. Levine said print deadlines are approaching quickly, so fans should place their voices as soon as they are able. Fans not happy with whatever the community chooses are not out of luck. Irrational Games will make "a whole mess" of additional alternate covers available to download and print at a later date. These were not revealed.

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If you're not familiar with the fuss about the box art, here's a quick update to get you up to speed. Irrational Games unveiled the art last week, and it surprised a lot of people for being an image of a tough dude holding a gun (above). "Disappointment" would be the polite expression for what a lot of people expressed. Levine acknowledged this, but explained himself in an interview with Wired. "We went and did a tour… around to a bunch of, like, frathouses and places like that. People who were gamers. Not people who read IGN. And [we] said, 'So, have you guys heard of BioShock?' Not a single one of them had heard of it." Levine then likened games to salad dressing. His point being, just because some gamers do not keep up to date with the happenings of the business does not mean they are any less important to market to. In fact, he said it is the opposite; these gamers are keeping the business alive. "Our gaming world, we sometimes forget, is so important to us, but… there are plenty of products that I buy that I don’t spend a lot of time thinking about. My salad dressing. If there’s a new salad dressing coming out, I would have no idea," Levine said.

Surprise! Assassin's Creed 3 Sold A Lot of Copies 

In keeping with our ongoing weekly observations about just how big the really big games are, this week we can safely assure you that yes, Assassin's Creed 3 is appropriately sizable. Just how much of a whopper is it?  Ubisoft announced this week that the excellent stealth-action game is now the fastest selling game in company history, having shifted 7 million copies since its launch on October 30. Not satisfied with boasting about just one number though, Ubisoft's publicity machine went into overdrive and started spitting out all kinds of similarly gigantic numbers based on in-game statistics, like "82 centuries of game time in single-player missions" and "over 3 billion assassinations!" Company representatives were also appropriately pleased with themselves on the subject of multiplayer sessions too, noting that the new game has attracted more than double the number of players of Assassin's Creed: Revelations, and that 5 billion sessions have already been played.

Minecraft Hugeness Continues Unabated

The Minecraft franchise continues to prove itself seemingly unstoppable, and that means there's new of its hugeness hitting every other week lately. Mojang developer Johan Bernhardsson announced via his Twitter page on Thursday that Minecraft: Pocket Edition has now sold 5 million copies across iOS and Android (at $6.99 a pop,) pushing the series total to over 17.5 million.

Minecraft for PC and Mac remains the breadwinner, selling 8.3 million copies but the Xbox Live Arcade version of Minecraft is no slouch either, having sold 4.48 million copies as of last week.

Rayman Jungle Run and The Room Win GOTY Awards. Also, Angry Birds News

Apple rolled out it's Best of 2012 awards on Thursday this week, including a large selection of games-related gongs to guide the recipients of iPad, iPhones, and iPods this Holiday season. Ubisoft's beautiful endless-runner Rayman Jungle Run took the prize for best iPhone game, while Fireproof's spectacular "physical puzzler" The Room won the award for best iPad game. Honorable mentions went to Atebit's elegant word puzzle game Letterpress and Tiger Style's thoughtful sic-fi adventure Waking Mars (which just arrived on Steam for PC and Mac this week, too.) Other highlights were Rovio's near-ubiquitous Bad Piggies, Adult Swim's spectacularly addictive Super Monsters Ate My Condo, and Sega's turn-based strategy-fest Total War Battles. Single-out as "showpiece games" for iPad were The Walking Dead, Need for Speed Most Wanted, Dead Trigger, Bastion, Chaos Rings 2, and Horn.

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In somewhat related news, we also learned this week that the Angry Birds movie will hit theaters during the summer of 2016. Rovio Entertainment announced the news on Tuesday, to the groans of many and the jubilation of many more. Iron Man producer David Maisel is attached as executive producer, with Despicable Me producer John Cohen also on board in a producing role for the untitled 3D CGI film. The Angry Birds film will be produced and financed entirely by Rovio Entertainment with no help from an outside studio. This will allow the company to "retain full creative control while creating innovative entertainment at the highest level of quality," the company said in a statement. The Angry Birds film marks Rovio's first foray in the movie business. Prior to his work with Illumination Entertainment/Universal Pictures on Despicable Me and Hop, Cohen was vice president of production at Twentieth Century Fox Animation. There, he worked with Greenwich, Connecticut-based Blue Sky Studios on its major films including Ice Age, Robots, and Dr. Seuss' Horton Hears a Who. "I've personally spent countless hours playing the Angry Birds games over the last few years, which I can now happily justify as research for the movie," Cohen said in a statement. Maisel is a former chairmen of Marvel Studios and served as executive producer on Captain America: The First Avenger, Thor, The Incredible Hulk, and the aforementioned Iron Man and its sequel, Iron Man 2.

Microsoft Taking Risks with Kinect v2 

If you had any doubts as to Microsoft's intentions with the Kinect technology, it seems that its commitment was further asserted this week with a job listing to find talent to form a new team that will "tell the story of what the future of entertainment will look like." The req for a software development engineer reveals a successful candidate should be ready to fail in a new high-risk environment. "Joining this team comes with risks," the job ad reads. "Most of what we work on is top-secret; you may not know what your new project is until you’ve accepted an offer. Not all of our ideas will fly. We will fail, and fail fast, on some projects. We will celebrate those failures because they are vital to making sure the right ideas take off in a big way." The job description makes clear that those seeking a "comfortable" or "standard" role at Microsoft should not apply. To be considered for the position, a candidate must have shipped at least one consumer-focused product and worked on side projects like Kinect hacks or websites. Additionally, candidates must have experience with contemporary game engines like Unreal, CryEngine, or Unity, as well as knowledge of Kinect for Windows SDK or similar technologies.

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On the subject of Kinect, we learned this week that Dead Space 3 for Xbox 360 (due February 5, 2013) will feature voice controls using the device. Players will be able to use simple voice commands like "Find partner," "Fire stasis," "Attack enemy" and others during gameplay in both single- and cooperative multiplayer. As you'd expect, the voice controls are entirely optional, and no gesture-based functionality was announced.

Bleszinski's Silverstreak

Last week we questioned the recent Epic Games exodus, but this week we finally get some clarity on the future of one of arguably the highest-profile departures; that of design director Cliff Bleszinski. In an interview for G4, Bleszinski expressed his eagerness to open a new studio, and become known for more than just the Gears of War franchise. "I don't really want just the whole chainsaw gun to be my legacy," Bleszinski said. "A lot of these kids who have only been playing games for the last however many years, they think that's the only thing I ever did. They forget about Jazz Jackrabbit, Unreal, Unreal Tournament; that I worked on things like Bulletstorm and a little bit of Shadow Complex." Bleszinski then compared himself to iconic film director Steven Spielberg, saying just like the Saving Private Ryan and E.T. director, he must also branch out in new directions. "Moving forward, I would hope to work on something new and fresh and kind of redefine my legacy," he said. "Steven Spielberg didn't want to be known for just E.T., right? So he made a lot of different kinds of things."

The product that he hopes will redefine him in this way is currently called Silverstreak, a new intellectual property that he says is "gestating slowly" at the moment. The matter of him starting a new studio to work on the idea is simply a matter of "when" and "with whom," he claims. When asked about the celebrity personality that he cultivated during his 20 year tenure with Epic, Bleszinski stressed that it yields both benefits and dangers. "You have to be careful when you have a certain amount of cult of personality," Bleszinski said. "You can use it, and leverage it to some extent, but you have to be careful to not believe your own crap. And surround yourself with people who will question you at the right times; you don't want to surround yourself with a lot of yes men."

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Grand Theft Auto: Everything

In an unusually frank interview about the 10th anniversary of Grand Theft Auto: Vice City this week, Rockstar North's Leslie Benzies told Digital Trends' Adam Rosenberg of his long-term ambitions for the franchise. "At some point we would like to have one big world containing all our cities, and let the player fly between them and revisit their favorite areas," he said. "In that context, re-imagining Vice City would be very interesting."

Looking back at the attention that Rockstar drew with each of its earlier Grand Theft Auto titles, the Benzies also opened up about of the challenges of creating mature content. "I think the scrutiny we suffered … has helped keep us creatively sharp. We do not sit down for design meetings and say 'let's make the most appallingly violent game possible'. We choose to set our games in places where violence is, or was a part of everyday life: the Old West, or the criminal underworld, or cocaine-flooded Miami. If we censored ourselves and sanitized the violence, we would not be able to properly explore these settings and themes, and make the games we make. That is a compromise we have never been willing to make."

On the mobile front, Benzies revealed that Rockstar would like to see a number of the studio's previous titles on tablets and mobiles, although he did not state which in particular. "Whether these are repurposed versions of existing games or entirely new IPs, I couldn't say, but if you look at Chinatown Wars, you can see that we are always up for the challenge of designing games for new technologies and making the most of all their features, not just their processing power."

Street Fighter X Mega Man Coming to PC Next Week

The next Mega Man game will be available on Monday, and is something a little unusual; it's going to be completely free, only available for Windows, is a crossover with the Street Fighter universe, and is fan made. Polygon's Mike McWhertor spoke to Capcom senior vice president Christian Svensson about the project, observing that the project is in some ways an attempt to make good on past promises from Capcom while celebrating the 25th anniversaries of two of the company's iconic brands. "It was a great way for us to build free content that people will enjoy, and in some way to make up for the lack of Mega Man that's been in the world in the last two years." Capcom-Unity senior community manager Brett Elston posted in his blog, "Singapore super fan Seow Zong Hui (maybe you've seen his Dhalsim skills?) approached our own Christian Svensson back at EVO 2012 with the skeleton of SFxMM running on a laptop. Seeing the potential and serendipitous opportunity, Sven shared it with GregaMan and I a week later. We evaluated (aka played to death) it and said uh yeah, this is pretty damn cool. Then it all started coming together."

There are currently no plans to bring Street Fight X Mega Man to consoles, or to mobile platforms, though Svensson says that "We may look at [releasing the game] on other open platforms", citing that Mac, Linux and iOS are "potentially" under consideration.

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