This Week in Games: February 18, 2012
Next-generation console news, a spat between Blizzard and Valve over DOTA, more on Double Fine's Kickstarter adventure, and an Angry Birds sequel.
The PlayStation Vita kinda-sorta launched this week, and in a manner of speaking, it ushered in the next generation of game devices. Coincidentally, there was some news on that general subject this week, so let's start there…
Next Generation, Baby
We're less than a year away from at least one next-generation console launch, and less than six months away from a ton of announcements, so you know what that means, right? It's rumors season! First, on the Xbox front, news started to circulate that the next Xbox is currently going by the code name of Durango. We searched and searched for some kind of secret significance to that name outside of its being a state in Mexico, but failed to come up with anything more interesting than that it's also the name of a class of stealth patrol vessel in the Mexican Navy. Honestly, this news isn't really that exciting, other than for the fact that it stokes the fires of speculation. So there you go. Consider yourself stoked.
In the Nintendo camp, Nintendo's patent filings for the Wii U surfaced online this week, and they reveal the company could, possibly, maybe-if-it-could-be-bothered, develop a 3D-enabled Wii U controller. The filings also indicate that Nintendo considered making the tablet controller capable of running in high definition at 1080p, just like the main console. Will it? Probably not, but we'll find out for sure on June 5.
So, while people were mumbling about all of this, what of Sony and the PlayStation 4? "Right now, we're focused on PlayStation 3, and I've got another platform (PlayStation Vita) to get out the door in seven days, so I don't want to be thinking about trying to launch new technology anytime soon," grumbled SCEA boss Jack Tretton. "I want to focus all our energy on our console business, which is really just hitting its stride, and Vita, which really deserves a dedicated push from us."
For a roundup of all next-generation rumors, check out our feature story on the subject.
Well That's Nice, But Isn't the Vita Doomed?
As part of that "dedicated push," the Vita had its "soft" launch this week where all the hardcore portable Sony gaming enthusiasts took delivery of their prerelease bundle packs, and no doubt shook their fists in silent and unexpressed rage over the system's quirks and eccentricities. To get an idea of how you all feel about it, we asked 2,500 GameSpot readers worldwide if they were thinking of buying a system, and only 12 percent of respondents said they would definitely be picking one up at some point. Given that rather pathetic number, we wondered aloud, Is Handheld Gaming Doomed? The answer, to the chagrin of staunch enthusiasts, was "yes."
To try to further ingratiate the Vita to US gamers, Sony reminded us that it was spending $50 million in marketing the thing at launch and would be doing so with the snappy tagline "Never Stop Playing." Except after three hours when you need to recharge it, obviously.
It certainly didn't help matters when Japanese news service Nikkei reported that major Japanese publishers are moving all their projects from the PS Vita to the 3DS already. The Nikkei nugget was in a quote attributed to an unnamed Japanese game industry source. Sony Worldwide Studios' Scott Rohde dismissed the quote as "extremist" before going on to state, "I mean, obviously, there is no way anyone could stand in front of a camera and say that all developers are changing focus from one platform to another, no matter what it is."
Still, the early Vita games aren't looking too bad compared to those at most system launches, but so far it's by no means a stellar lineup. Rayman and Lumines have been the best-reviewed titles so far, along with Uncharted and the downloadable shooter Super Stardust Delta. To affirm this further, and in a pretty clear effort to diminish the fact that the Vita is flopping like a really floppy thing in Japan, Sony president of worldwide studios Shuhei Yoshida said that the device's launch lineup is "more in line with US gamers' tastes" than those in Japan. This, we think, is probably code for "we need a Monster Hunter game on this thing, stat." To try to further ingratiate the Vita to US gamers, Sony reminded us that it was spending $50 million in marketing the thing at launch and would be doing so with the snappy tagline "Never Stop Playing."
Except after three hours when you need to recharge it, obviously.
Grand Theft Auto and L.A. Noire Rumblings
Rockstar was unusually chatty this week. First, it stated through its blog that we shouldn't expect any GTAV info anytime soon, but then shocked us all and said that we should't count out the possibility of a sequel to L.A. Noire. "We don't always rush to make sequels," it said, "but that does not mean we won't get to them eventually--see Max and Red Dead for evidence of that. We have so many games we want to make and the issue is always one of bandwidth and timing."
If you're not familiar with the background to DOTA and its associated culture, the news regarding Blizzard and Valve getting into a nasty spat early this week over who actually owns the "DOTA" name must have been particularly confusing. Here's the short(ish) version: DOTA is the acronym for a Warcraft III mod (built with the game's world editor) called "Defense of the Ancients" that was originally built by a mapmaker with the alias Eul in 2003. The mod was loosely based on the Aeon of Strife map from the original Starcraft. After the release of the Warcraft III expansion The Frozen Throne, a number of DOTA variants started to appear from other mapmakers, the most prominent being a great one called DOTA AllStars by Steve Feak, which was later developed further and refined by a fella going by the name of IceFrog. It is this version of the game that is most commonly referred to when people talk about DOTA these days. If you're wondering about the game and how it plays, it's a hero-based thing, and the objective is for teams to try to destroy their opponents' "ancients," which are heavily guarded thingummies at opposing extremities of a map. It's a ton of fun, and it's super-popular.
OK, got all that? Here's what happened next. In 2010, Valve announced that a stand-alone sequel for DOTA was in production at its studio and filed a trademark for "Dota 2" (note: no caps, Dota is the name and not an acronym in Valve's world) and that DOTA AllStars dev IceFrog had been hired to head up the project. Here's where it gets really complicated. Are you still following? While all this was going on, Feak and a guy called Steve Mescon, who created the website that supported AllStars and later went on to head up community relations at Riot Games (who makes League of Legends, the free-to-play game that's a lot like DOTA), filed an opposing trademark for "DOTA" on behalf of DOTA-AllStars LLC, a subsidiary of Riot Games. Complicating things even further, this subsidiary was then acquired by Blizzard in 2011 in an effort to exert some control over the whole thing that started out as a mod to their game in the first place. Just to be sure, the company also announced a new game called Blizzard DOTA, which pits Warcraft and Starcraft characters against each other.
So, the upshot of all this is that Blizzard is now claiming it owns the name, the concept, and everything else, while Valve is countering this with a confident "no you don't." Things should get interesting in the months ahead.
Bored With Starcraft? Try the Board Game
On the subject of Blizzard stuff, haven't you always really, really wished super-duper hard that you could enjoy the company's most famous properties as conventional board games? Not cool and clever specialty game store stuff, but traditional stuff that your mom could enjoy. You have? Well, you're in luck, because Monopoly: World of Warcraft replaces traditional properties with iconic WOW locations like Twilight Highlands, Grizzly Hills, and the Swamp of Sorrows, and includes Alliance- and Horde-themed dice. Meanwhile Risk: Starcraft the board game has players choose from Terran, Protoss, or Zerg factions and six heroes before taking on other players in the famous strategy game. The game boasts three modes and more than 290 pieces and launches this summer for $50.
More Double Fine Stuff
Schafer originally said he needed a "couple million" to make Psychonauts 2, but it turns out that it will actually require a whopping $13 million. Persson said this figure was much higher than his initial impression, and then asked the Internet to "stop hyping over this."
Remember last week when Tim Schafer was our man of the moment for raising a ton of cash on Kickstarter for his point-and-click adventure project? Well, this week the pledges of support showed no signs of slowing down, and the total is now just shy of $2,000,000. To stoke the fires still further, Schafer dropped some knowledge on the game, stating that because "we got a little bit more money than we thought we were gonna get," the game will now feature voice acting. Though the game will ship with only English voices, Schafer also confirmed that in-game text will be translated into French, Italian, German, and Spanish. He also revealed that the game will be released on the PC, Mac, Linux, iOS, and "certain" Android devices.
As expected, Schafer's fortunes inspired others to try to replicate the success this week, with Fallout: New Vegas and Alpha Protocol developer Obsidian Entertainment stating that it was "down" with the model, and studio creative director Chris Avellone remarking that "the idea of not having to argue with a publisher is appealing."
Last week there was also some excitement thanks to Minecraft dev Markus "Notch" Persson telling Schafer that he was "serious" about helping put together a sequel to Pyschonauts. This week he backpedaled a little, stating that he was pledging his support only "semi-jokingly." Schafer originally said he needed a "couple million" to make Psychonauts 2, but it turns out that it will actually require a whopping $13 million. Persson said this figure was much higher than his initial impression, and then asked the Internet to "stop hyping over this."
Birds of an Angry Persuasion
Two nuggets of Angry Birds news this week: First, the game launched on Facebook to the collected groans of half the Internet, and then, after saying for the past year that they probably wouldn't ever make a sequel, the guys at Rovio announced just that. Angry Birds Space is the name of the follow-up to the most downloaded video game of all time, and the picture below is all they're saying about it so far. Expect more news on March 22.