This Week in Games: July 14, 2012
A new console for $99, a ribbed, even-skinnier PS3, Sony turns down a Kama Sutra pitch, League of Legends is the most-played PC game in North America and Europe, Ultima IV gets rebooted as a free-to-play game, and Trent Reznor is writing the Black Ops 2 theme. Also, it's Comic-Con this weekend, so strap in...
It's Comic-Con this week, so a huge chunk of the GameSpot team is in San Diego for our live coverage of the event and all of the associated costumed shenanigans. We've had lots of guests on our live stage show talking about games coming out later this year, plus we had coverage live from the show floor every day. If you want to catch up on all of the games stuff from the Con, head over to our Comic-Con hub and check out all the goodies. Be sure to browse our growing library of 360 Costume Cam images while you're there. You'll be able to see some of the best 'stumes of the show from every angle.
If you're a pro Starcraft II competitive gaming fan, this weekend is the NASL Season 3 Grand Finals from Toronto. Hit that link to check out our live feed from the event, and watch some of the world's best players compete for $100,000 in prize money.
Ouya: The $99 Console Everyone is Talking About
It seems like so long ago now, but all the fuss about the new Android-based Ouya console only kicked off this week. There's been so much press about the thing since its Kickstarter campaign started at the beginning of the week, that you'd think it had been around for longer. If you've not been following the story at all, here's the short version: New project to build an Android-based HD console, Tegra 3-based guts, completely open and hackable, designed by Jambox and OLPC designer Yves Behar, supported by folks like Xbox alumnus Ed Fries and Interplay founder Brian Fargo, traditional controller with a touchpad for phone and tablet ports, free-to-play business model for game distribution, crowd funded to the tune of $4.6 million as of this writing (on an ask of $950,000.) For an exploration of whether it's a good thing or not, check out this story from earlier this week.
Slimmer PlayStation 3, Ribbed For Your Pleasure
The PlayStation 3 is just big fat fattie, right? Wouldn't you feel so much more comfortable about yourself as a gamer if it was slimmer? And perhaps ribbed? Well, you might be in luck because it looks like there's an even-skinnier box on the way. The evidence is mounting that Sony will soon introduce the second major revision to the PlayStation 3 hardware. How do we know this? A Sony filing with Brazilian telecommunications regulator Anatel includes details and pictures of a new PS3, presumably one intended for manufacture in the country so as to assist the company in establishing the platform while working within the limitations of Brazil's manufacturing and tax rules. The most prominent changes to the hardware are it's ribbed top panel and the fact that it seems to be a top-loading device, just like the original PlayStation. As for the size, it appears modestly smaller than the current box. The Anatel filing notes that Sony sought approval for versions of the hardware with three different-size hard drives: 16GB, 250GB, and 500GB, so it seems we can expect a super-cheap version and a deluxe baller edition to flank the standard machine.
Sticking with the ribbed-for-pleasure theme in the headline for this PlayStation segment, Sony Computer Entertainment's executive producer Pete Smith revealed at the Develop conference this week that the firm had received a pitch for an EyeToy Kama Sutra game, but had swiftly rejected it. "This was a genuine pitch from a developer," Smith said. "Seriously, this was a genuine pitch. So, the guy is going to me, 'it's like, so there's an outline on the screen with the EyeToy…' I'm like, I get it, yeah." Maybe the studio in question can work on something for Ouya, and throw a camera in with the package? There are no pesky prudish first parties to get in the way of the path to enlightened lovemaking with that platform.
Activision For Sale, Overcharging for Birds, Rocking with Reznor
Remember a couple of weeks ago when we learned that Activision Blizzard might be up for sale? Well, the story picked up a little more this week. The company is for sale, but parent company Vivendi is having a really hard time finding anyone to take the publisher off its hands. According to a Bloomberg report, Vivendi has approached a number of major players, but has found no interested suitors as yet. Citing "people with knowledge of the company's plans," Bloomberg said that both Disney and Microsoft responded coolly to the idea. Disney was "unlikely" to make an offer, while Microsoft was said to not be considering a bid currently, though the news organization's source left open the possibility of that changing. As for international firms, Japan's Nexon and China's Tencent were on the list of approached companies, but neither of the online game giants had the cash on hand to close the deal. If Vivendi has no luck finding suitors for its $8.1 billion stake in Activision Blizzard, the company is likely to try to sell its shares on the open market. Clarification about Vivendi's plans for the sale is expected to come when the company releases its next financial results on August 30. When asked about the company's plans for a sale, Vivendi chairman Jean-Rene Fourtou told a reporter, "It's a possibility." Activision Blizzard CEO Bobby Kotick reportedly responded to the same question, saying, "It's great weather."
As you can imagine, this had the collected throngs of the Internet (well, those of a certain age, at least) seriously conflicted as they are as committed to supporting Reznor's work as they are to condemning Call of Duty
While that was going on, Activision itself made some headlines when it announced that it will be releasing the Angry Birds Trilogy compilation retail releases for Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and 3DS for preposterous prices. The console versions will set you back…cough…$40, while the 3DS version is $30. Should we give you a second to pick yourself up off the floor before continuing? Combining the original Angry Birds with Angry Birds Rio and Angry Birds Seasons (but not the recently released Angry Birds Space), the Trilogy will apparently introduce features suited to each of its new platforms. The Xbox 360 edition will support Kinect motion controls, while the PS3 game will incorporate Move functionality and the 3DS version will (predictably) include 3D visuals and StreetPass features. In all three cases, Angry Birds purists will be able to turn off the additional functionality, so you can mimic the experience you previously got for free, or for $0.99 if you went ad-free. This news came hot on the heels of news that Rovio was ready to unleash it's first non-Bird themed game since the release of the original Angry Birds in 2009 in the shape of the Incredible Machine-like Amazing Alex. The game released this Thursday on iOS and Android and is actually a reskinned version of Casey's Contraptions, which Rovio recently acquired.
One last quick piece of Activision-related news, in case you missed it earlier this week; Trent Reznor will be composing the main theme song for Call of Duty: Black Ops II. As you can imagine, this had the collected throngs of the Internet (well, those of a certain age, at least) seriously conflicted as they are as committed to supporting Reznor's work as they are to condemning Call of Duty. Net-net though? More Reznor = good, right? Let us know how you feel about this one in the comments.
Movie News! Deus Ex and Need for Speed
Square Enix's action franchise Deus Ex is heading to Hollywood. GameSpot parent company business unit CBS Films announced earlier this week that it has secured the rights to make a movie based on 2011's well-received Deus Ex: Human Revolution. The untitled Deus Ex film will be produced by Roy Lee (The Departed, The Ring) and Andrian Askarieh (Hitman). John P. Middleton, who is working on a number of upcoming films, including supernatural horror movie 7500, will serve as executive producer. CBS Films is also working with Square Enix and developer Eidos Montreal on the project. "No one knows Human Revolution like the team that created it and we look forward to working with them from day one to make a film adaptation worthy of the Deus Ex name," said CBS Films co-president Terry Press.
Last month, DreamWorks Studios announced it had picked up the film rights to Electronic Arts' flagship racing franchise Need for Speed, revealing that a movie based on the series wouldn't enter production until 2013. Despite that, according to Deadline, DreamWorks has announced a firm release date for the untitled film: February 7, 2014. Disney will distribute the film worldwide upon release. The Need for Speed film is being described by EA as "a fast-paced, high-octane film rooted in the tradition of the great car culture films of the '70s while being extremely faithful to the spirit of the video game franchise." As previously widely ridiculed in forum posts, the project will not be based on any single game in the series.
Halo 2 HD Remake Not Happening
If you were excited by the rumors of an HD remake of Halo 2, we're sorry to tell you that it's not happening. The Halo Council posted the results of a Microsoft ExpertZone QA session with 343 Industries, which dispels the story. Sadface. "We are not working on that at this time. We are kind of busy," the developer wrote. 343 Industries is currently nearing completion on Halo 4, which is due out November 6.
What's The Most Played PC Game in North America and Europe?
Can you guess? It was League of Legends, according to a report from DFC Intelligence. The study compiled records of social gaming service Xfire's more than 21 million users from July 1, 2011 to June 30, 2012 to determine the free-to-play multiplayer online battle arena took the top spot, with almost 1.3 billion hours of activity. Diablo III, which was only present for 45 days--a bit more than a tenth--of the studied period, managed to claim fifth place with 172.9 million hours. World of Warcraft saw a decline in user activity but still handily secured second place with 622.4 million user hours, and indie phenomenon Minecraft locked up third place with 371.6 million hours. “The fact that online games such [as] League of Legends eclipsed more than a billion hours of online game time in a year is simply incredible," said DFC Intelligence CEO David Cole. He compared the figures to Bungie's April announcement which revealed that Halo players had surpassed 2 billion hours of online matches since the release of Halo 2 in 2004.
Ultima IV Rebooted as Free-to-Play PC and iPad Game
"It's like reading Chaucer. The controls are deeply inadequate, the graphics are horrible, the input system is byzantine at best." -Paul Barnett, BioWare Mythic
RPG aficionados (particularly older aficionados) will tell you that one of the all time greats is Ultima IV: Quest of the Avatar, a game released in 1985. If you've never had the opportunity to try it, well…you're in luck, because BioWare Mythic is rebooting the game. According to Paul Barnett from the studio, playing the original game now is "like reading Chaucer. The controls are deeply inadequate, the graphics are horrible, the input system is byzantine at best." That's why his team is remaking it with modern trappings--updated graphics, multiplayer, and action-RPG combat--and they're making it free-to-play. Ultima Forever: Quest for the Avatar is set to launch on iPad and PC later this year. The game, which Barnett said will be playable "start to finish" for free, is the second major free-to-play project from BioWare, the first being Facebook tie-in Dragon Age Legends. He said the team took several lessons from the EA2D project which was recently discontinued online. "It had a lot of good ideas in it, it struggled to find a long-term audience, and perhaps was too aggressive with its monetization policy," Barnett said. So instead of "glass walls" preventing advancement through the game, Ultima Forever players will be able to buy additional means of transport or the ability to fast travel through the world. So…pay for fast travel. What do you think about that?
Ultima Forever will feature the same set of virtues from its 1985 counterpart, but players will find new choices and consequences reflected in the game's fully integrated multiplayer. Barnett said the game will use Origin's matchmaking services across iPad and PC to facilitate multiplay between small groups of friends. These updates create a delicate balance between adhering to the vision of Ultima creator Richard Garriott, who is not involved in the project, and alterations for BioWare's approach to narrative and usability by a touch-centric generation. Ultimately, he said, the idea is to get back to what has kept Ultima IV a topic of conversation more than 25 years after its release. "The idea that it's finding out who you are, that there's a difference between who you claim you are and who you actually are in the game," Barnett said. "Hopefully, if we've done it right, what it's actually hearkening back to is that good storytelling that we used to do in the past, when the technology was a lot simpler."'