This Week in Games: June 23, 2012

Nintendo is confusing people, Sony is evasive, and Microsoft is changing what "Xbox" means. Meanwhile, Electronic Arts just wants to sell you stuff. Also, there's a Need for Speed movie coming.


Nintendo has been in the news in a big way this week, both with Wii U-related information and with announcements that seem oddly timed given that E3 was only a couple of weeks ago.

One of the challenges Nintendo faces with the Wii U is simply getting people to understand what the system actually is. Plenty of people think it's an expensive add-on for the existing Wii, or that it's just the controller and not a whole new system. Nintendo of America vice president of sales and marketing Scott Moffitt told us at E3 earlier this month that the messaging of the Wii U is "confusing" compared to that of the Wii. He also addressed a handful of other concerns about the system, from its power relative to the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, to third-party support, practices to thwart used game sales, ease of connecting with friends online, appealing to the core market, and more. When asked about the system's specifications, Moffitt deftly dodged the question, responding, "Unfortunately I have to give you the bad answer. It just comes back to a company philosophy that we believe the experiences and the gameplay are more important than facts and figures." Especially if those "facts and figures" don't show the system in a great light, we're guessing. "Once the system is available no doubt people will reverse engineer it and take it apart and that info will become known," he continued. "Our focus is to talk about what it can do for gameplay and how it can revolutionize entertainment, rather than focus on tech specs."

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"Do we want to reach out to the core audience? Absolutely," he continued. "They're very much part of our audience and the group of consumers we hope will find the way you can reimagine games on the Wii U. The Wii U could become the preferred way to play those games for some of the core gamers. You can imagine how a game like Call of Duty would work on the Wii U--the GamePad will allow you to declutter the TV and pull gaming items like maps down and not interrupt your interaction and enjoy the cinematic quality of the game on the TV. That's one application that could be exciting and could enhance gameplay for a core gamer."

What do you think? Are you sold on the idea? Do you think Nintendo is truly committed to the core gaming space?

"Sometimes I get worried about the continued reliance on making games that are so centered around guns, and that there are so many of these games." - Shigeru Miyamoto

Unfortunately for Nintendo, not everyone sees it that way. According to a Gamasutra article, Take-Two Interactive is in no rush to bring its core franchises to Nintendo's new console. CEO Strauss Zelnick told the publication the company has not announced anything about moving the company's mature titles onto the Wii U, saying he's skeptical about the console. What's he really saying? "No Grand Theft Auto V on Wii U," that's what.

There's some contradiction within the ranks at Nintendo too, if you consider that the majority of shooters that were shown at E3 are targeting the "core" that Moffitt described. Nintendo's own Shigeru Miyamoto told IGN this week that he's concerned about the ubiquity of weapons-based games. "Sometimes I get worried about the continued reliance on making games that are so centered around guns, and that there are so many of these games," he said. "I have a hard time imagining--particularly for young generations of gamers--how they sit down and play and interact with that."

Regardless of the ultimate focus of the system, we do know that we'll see it this year. Nintendo has yet to announce a specific price or date, but it's likely to be early November to capitalize on the post-Thanksgiving holiday rush, and at a Wii-like $250 or $299 price point. That said, Amazon Germany caused a stir this week when it listed the console with a December 21 release date for EUR 399.99, which is about $500. Do you believe they're close to the mark? We don't.

While we may not know when the Wii U is hitting, or for how much, we do know that there's a new 3DS hitting this year. Predictably dubbed the 3DS XL, the 46 percent larger supersized handheld was announced this past Thursday. Why this wasn't shown at E3 a couple of weeks ago is anyone's guess. Nintendo seems to be on a huge "have as many mini events as the audience will tolerate" kick lately. The 3DS XL will be released in Japan and Europe on July 28 this year in white, red and black, and silver and black versions. The North American version will be out on August 19 and will come in blue and red. Why no slinky white 3DS XL in the US? Who the hell knows. Add it to the list of no-brainer questions about the device that include "Why didn't they include the second analog stick this time?" Players will pay 18,900 yen ($235) for the device in Japan; North American gamers will pay $199.99. No Euro or UK prices yet.

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Nintendo also announced that both the Wii U and 3DS versions of the upcoming Super Smash Bros. sequel will be developed by Namco Bandai Games. While Kid Icarus: Uprising developer Masahiro Sakurai will be helming the project, Namco Bandai producer Masaya Kobayashi (Ridge Racer series) and director Yoshito Higuchi (Tales series) will be involved as producer and director, respectively. For a look at what they may come up with, check this out.

OK, that's more than enough Nintendo talk. Let's tackle some next-generation moves from the other guys…

Next-Generation Talk: Xbox 720 and PlayStation 4

Id Software boss John Carmack can be added to the list of designers who are not particularly enthused over the prospect of next-generation hardware. Speaking to Games Industry International, Carmack said Microsoft and Sony are too focused on boosting technical power, when they should instead be working on building new experiences for future consoles. "Sony and Microsoft are going to fight over gigaflops and teraflops and GPUs and all this. In the end, it won't make that much difference," he said. "When you get to this, it makes a really big difference in the experience. Nintendo went and brought motion into the gaming sphere and while only having a tenth of the processing power was able to outsell all of them in all of these ways. I think someone has an opportunity to do this here. It takes a whole ecosystem though, but it is almost perfect."

"Nintendo went and brought motion into the gaming sphere and while only having a tenth of the processing power was able to outsell all of them in all of these ways. I think someone has an opportunity to do this here." - John Carmack, id Software

Despite some suggestions that Sony would show new hardware during its 2012 Electronic Entertainment Expo media briefing earlier this month, the company did not utter a word about the PlayStation 4. Explaining the console's absence from the show and Sony's wider thoughts about new hardware to MCV, PlayStation CEO Andrew House said gamers should not expect talk of the PS4 until major advances over the PlayStation 3 can be shown. "The right time to talk about new advances in hardware is when you can demonstrate a significant leap on the current experience, and something that is going to be attractive," he said. "That remains our philosophy. Beyond that we have nothing to say at this point."

This statement from House came around the same time that the Internet was aflutter with news of a purported internal Microsoft document from 2010 that was posted to Scribd (it has since been taken down at the request of Microsoft's lawyers, Covington & Burling), which outlined the tech giant's product roadmap for the Xbox brand. The 56-page document indicated that "Xbox 720" will launch in 2013 at $299 with an updated version of the Kinect, dubbed "Kinect V2." According to the document, this new camera tech will support four-player full-body tracking and allow gamers to sit down while playing. On top of this, "Kinect V2" will be able to adapt to players' living rooms, meaning they will not need to move furniture for an optimal experience. In addition, the document indicated that the new Xbox will boast a Blu-ray optical drive and promises "4x-6x" greater power over the Xbox 360. Speculation from earlier this year pointed to a new Xbox boasting a Blu-ray drive, as well as functionality that would curb used games. No mention was made in the document concerning the possibility of the console blocking, or in any way inhibiting, secondhand titles. The document also claims Microsoft is planning to add support for augmented-reality glasses for the new Xbox. This endeavor will be called "Fortaleza" and is planned to launch sometime in 2014. The glasses will reportedly run on Wi-Fi and 4G connections.

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A Glimpse of the Future? Microsoft Surface and EA's Microtransactions

While the "Xbox 720" (surely not its real name) is still essentially a thing of myth and speculation, with or without documentation that may or may not be legitimate, we did get a much more significant piece of insight into Microsoft's thinking this week in the shape of the Surface announcement on Monday. This new line of tablets, positioned to take on Apple's iPad, serves not only as a demonstration of Microsoft's pervasive, cross-platform strategy for Windows 8, but also as a glimpse at how the company views the Xbox brand. We saw a little of this at E3 with the announcement of Xbox Music, but it's clear now that "Xbox" no longer means "console" at Microsoft. Instead it means "entertainment," and the term will be used across all of its devices--mobile, tablet, desktop, and anything else they come up with.

The first two Surface models unveiled include a Windows RT (RT = RunTime, the stripped-down OS within the Windows 8 suite) edition powered by an Nvidia ARM processor, and an Intel Core processor-driven Windows 8 Pro unit. Both Surface tablets feature a 10.6-inch "HD display" with Corning Gorilla Glass 2.0, as well as a full-size USB port, microSD card port, and multiple configurations of system RAM. Microsoft is also touting built-in kickstands for the Surface tablets, as well as screen covers with built-in keyboards. The cover combos will come in two varieties: the Touch Cover will provide a 3mm-thin gesture-sensing keyboard for typing, while the 5mm-thin Type Cover offers moving keys for those who prefer a standard keyboard feel.

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Interestingly, the Surface could be an early view at something much larger for the Xbox brand. Back in January, we reported on rumors that there would be a tablet component to future iterations of the Xbox hardware. "Given Microsoft's recent efforts at unification across its Windows, Mobile, and Xbox product lines, it seems clear that the 720 or whatever they end up calling it (surely not that) will be the ultimate personification of that strategy," we said. "There are strong signs suggesting that, like with Nintendo's Wii U, a tablet component figures heavily into the new design. That saucy Windows 8 Metro interface (now also seen on the Xbox Dashboard) just begs to be touched. Speculation as to the form it will take has been rife for the past few months, with some even suggesting that the core of the new platform will be akin to a tablet PC that wirelessly connects to a base station, which in turn plugs into your TV. If this is the case, a premium Xbox Next setup could feasibly include a base station, a tablet, a conventional controller of some kind, and the recently discussed high-def evolution of the Kinect."

Hmmm…is Surface an initial taste of this? An appetizer for next year's announcements? What do you think? Could we be seeing the beginnings of a new approach to the whole entertainment space, including games, from Microsoft?

"I think there's an inevitability that happens five years from now, 10 years from now, that, let's call it the client, to use the term, [is free]. It is no different than…it's free to me to walk into The Gap in my local shopping mall." - Peter More, Electronic Arts

Sticking with the futurism theme of this section this week, we got a glimpse of Electronic Arts' vision of the future this week--namely that in five to 10 years, all games will support microtransactions. Speaking to Kotaku, EA COO Peter Moore explained that this business model is similar to real-world retail outlets, like the clothing chain The Gap. "I think, ultimately, those microtransactions will be in every game, but the game itself or the access to the game will be free," he said. "I think there's an inevitability that happens five years from now, 10 years from now, that, let's call it the client, to use the term, [is free]. It is no different than…it's free to me to walk into The Gap in my local shopping mall. They don't charge me to walk in there. I can walk into The Gap, enjoy the music, look at the jeans and what have you, but if I want to buy something I have to pay for it."

Predictably, this drew the ire of…well, just about everyone. Our story had over a thousand comments, many of them objecting to Electronic Arts' approach and seeing it as further proof that the company is out of touch with its audience. This in turn raises the question: Are the folks at EA even aware of the disdain they inspire anymore?

Speaking of EA drawing ire, we'll all have a new Mass Effect 3 ending to complain about next Tuesday. On Friday, BioWare announced that Mass Effect 3 Extended Cut will be released for free on June 26. The Extended Cut will add more cutscenes and content to the game's epilogue, and BioWare has said that the additional scenes will "include deeper insight to Commander Shepard's journey based on player choices during the war against the Reapers."

Let's End on Something Light: A Need for Speed Flick

The screenplay is based on the Need for Speed series but is not based on an individual game, because clearly the wealth of narrative in the Need for Speed universe is just too much to choose from.

After all that future-gazing, let's end on something light. DreamWorks Studios has acquired the feature film rights to EA’s popular video game franchise, Need for Speed, it was announced jointly on Friday by DreamWorks CEO and co-chair Stacey Snider and EA president of studios Frank Gibeau. Brothers George and John Gatins developed the original story, with George writing the feature’s screenplay. The screenplay is based on the Need for Speed series but is not based on an individual game, because clearly the wealth of narrative in the Need for Speed universe is just too much to choose from. EA will produce along with John Gatins and Mark Sourian. Scott Waugh (Act of Valor) is attached to direct, and the project will be fast-tracked at DreamWorks with a target production start date of early next year, for a 2014 release.

So…predictions please! Will we get something along the lines of the crappy storyline in the likes of Need for Speed Carbon or Need for Speed: The Run? Or will we get a The Fast and The Furious type of thing? Let us know what you're expecting in the comments.

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