This Week in Games: March 3, 2012

A Steam-powered console, Mass Effect 3, misogyny, layoffs at Blizzard, assassins in Colonial garb, and a new Baldur's Gate.

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Next week it's the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco, and as a general rule, that tends to be a pretty big week for game news at the beginning of the year. In preparation for the inevitable steady flow of exciting new information, this week was also pretty epic.

Mass Effect 3 Is Nearly Here

We're only a few days away from the release of the grand finale to the Mass Effect trilogy, so let's start there and look at news from the BioWare chaps this past week. In a new interview with Penny Arcade, BioWare founders Dr. Greg Zeschuk and Dr. Ray Muzyka sounded off on the possibility of a massively multiplayer online game set in the Mass Effect universe. "It's daunting, but the neat thing is it would lend itself to a different type of game play. It's fun to think about," Zeschuk said. "I imagine people think it would be just like Mass Effect as it is… but there's lots of people there. It's really interesting, I don't know. It's a tough one." Muzyka continued, saying the Mass Effect universe has a large "possibility space," or areas to which the franchise can and should extend. This news came hot on the heels of data that showed that preorders for Mass Effect 3 are well ahead of those for the previous game. It seems lots of people want to jump in and see what happens at the end of the story. Will the giant space fleas eat Earth before Shepard can kill them all? You don't have long to wait to find out.

If you really can't wait until Tuesday to immerse yourself in all things Mass Effect, you can check out our 24 hour Mass Effect live stream on Monday. The show, hosted by Man vs. Game host Jayson Love, kicks off at 8 a.m. Pacific time with a recap of the first game, and then runs through Mass Effect 2 until midnight and then into the first hours of Mass Effect 3 single-player and multiplayer until 8 a.m. on Tuesday.

Let's Go Sequels Crazy

Sequels. Yup, there are plenty of 'em coming. This past week we got word of a whole bunch of them, and we can expect trailers, news, and all sorts of goodies in the week ahead. First up, the fine folks at Irrational surprised us all with a BioShock Infinite release date that's actually this year. October 16, in fact. Conventional wisdom/cynical wise-assery had previously dictated that there was "no f***ing way" Ken Levine and his team would get the game out this year. Look for a new trailer during the Game Developers Conference next week.

No word on specifics, but you can probably guess most of them with a fairly high degree of accuracy. There will be first-person shootering, no doubt.

File this next one under "Oooh, didn't see that one coming." After much speculation over the past couple of weeks, we learned from a Spanish retailer midweek that Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 is set for release this November. Give us a quick second while we recover from the shock of that one. No word on specifics, but you can probably guess most of them with a fairly high degree of accuracy. There will be first-person shootering, no doubt.

You want more Assassin's Creed? You want a real, actual, no-messing-around sequel to Assassin's Creed II that's not just something with a subtitle tacked on the end? You do? You're in luck. Assassin's Creed III is coming this year, and it's set in Colonial America. Look for a trailer hitting on Monday afternoon (Pacific time). We predict there will be symbolic imagery of majestic golden eagles featured prominently.

Not satisfied with past efforts to always release games named with contrasting or complementary hues, Game Freak has given up trying to be clever with Pokemon titles and will be releasing Pokemon Black and White 2 this fall for the DS. Don't expect anything too radical in the gameplay department, and note that this is a Nintendo DS announcement, not a 3DS announcement. No 3D Pokemons for you. Yet. Well, except for Rumble Blast, obviously.

This one isn't really a sequel per se, but expect to see the iPad 3 announced this coming Wednesday. Apple has sent out invites for a press event at 10 a.m. on March 7, and it's entirely likely that it's all about a new tablet with a Retina display and a whole host of other goodies.

Last one in the sequel block, and it's a good one: Baldur's Gate. Heck yeah. A teaser site at BaldursGate.com went online this week, bringing with it a stirring theme song and the franchise's iconic skull emblem. The sparse website bears little other than a quote attributed to Forgotten Realms prophet Alaundo: "The Lord of Murder shall perish, but in his doom he shall spawn a score of mortal progeny, chaos will be sown by their passage." Additionally, the site's background features character images from the 1998 original game and its 2000 sequel. Though EA has yet to respond to questions on the subject, it seems that a new Baldur's Gate project is in the works at Beamdog. The company was cofounded by Trent Oster, a BioWare veteran who held various roles working on games ranging from Neverwinter Nights to Dragon Age. Its credits include a remake of BioWare's MDK2 for the Wii and PC in 2011.

Weekly Next-Gen News

Let's try to make this a regular thing, huh? Every week there seems to be something to talk about when it comes to next-gen consoles, so we'll try to bring you goodies every Saturday. Following our commentary last week regarding both Microsoft and Sony showing next-generation console hardware to select studio partners, this week we learned that Bethesda is currently staffing up for projects on the new platforms and that high-level studio execs have been getting regular updates and demos of new technology from Microsoft. What do you hope they're working on first? A new Fallout? Or a new Elder Scrolls? Or something completely new? Let us know in the comments.

Elsewhere we also learned that God of War PSP studio Ready at Dawn is hiring for a next-gen console project.

A quick PlayStation 4 tidbit (in keeping with the weekly flow of information, despite Sony saying the thing isn't happening anytime soon) this week came in the shape of news that the system won't use a Cell processor. We've already heard that AMD will be supplying the GPU, so it's entirely possible that the technology relationship between the two companies could run much deeper.

With it being the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco next week, expect all manner of next-gen news, not least of which will be goodies based on Epic's demonstration of the Unreal Engine 4 at the event. Few details are known at this point, although it seems the studio will be showing several examples of what the thing can do, including an interactive version of the jaw-dropping Samaritan demo from last year. Keep your eye on the site all week for videos and info.

Steam Box Megaton Rumor

The Steam Box rumor implies that the system is set to operate more like a platform along the lines of Google's Android operating system or the 3DO.

Technically this was next-gen console news, but it's potentially such a big deal that it's worth breaking out into its own little topic here. What is it? Rumors of a Steam-branded set-top box from Valve. Yeah. How about them apples? In keeping with Valve cofounder Gabe Newell's statement last month that the company doesn't really want to get into the hardware market (but will if it has to), the Steam Box rumor implies that the system is set to operate more like a platform along the lines of Google's Android operating system or (if you're old enough to remember such things) the 3DO. In theory, Valve would set hardware specifications and create the system software, but multiple partners (Alienware is one rumored name) would be able to create their own Steam Box devices. The baseline specs reportedly tout a Core i7 CPU, 8GB of RAM, and an Nvidia GPU. And in addition to running PC games through Valve's Steam storefront, the boxes would be able to run services of rival digital distributors, like EA's Origin service.

Blizzard Lays Off 600

One of the biggest stories of the week (certainly in terms of interest from fans around the world) was news that Blizzard will be reducing its workforce by 600 due to "changing needs" of the company. The bulk of the reduction came from support staff, and just 10 percent was from development. Blizzard was quick to point out that the World of Warcraft development team will not be impacted by the staff reductions. The company's massively popular massively multiplayer online role-playing game has struggled in the past year, slipping to 10.2 million subscribers through the end of December. "Constant evaluation of teams and processes is necessary for the long-term health of any business," said Blizzard CEO Mike Morhaime. "Over the last several years, we've grown our organization tremendously and made large investments in our infrastructure in order to better serve our global community. However, as Blizzard and the industry have evolved we've also had to make some difficult decisions in order to address the changing needs of our company."

Fighting Games, Sexual Harassment, and Generalizations

"This is a community that's, you know, 15 or 20 years old, and the sexual harassment is part of a culture," said competitive fighting game player Aris "Aris" Bakhtanians in a conversation with Twitch.TV community manager Jared Rea on a recent live stream for Capcom's Cross Assault reality show, "and if you remove that from the fighting game community, it's not the fighting game community." Thus began a veritable shit storm of attention on the fighting game scene this week, with allegations of misogyny and sexism being used to paint the entire community because of the actions and statements of an individual. There has been a great deal of commentary on the subject, kicked off initially by an insightful piece by Giant Bomb's Patrick Klepek and soon followed by equally thoughtful contributions by Penny Arcade Report's Ben Kuchera and Destructoid's Jim Sterling.

In response to all of the attention on the professional fighting scene, Shoryuken (the largest fighting game community online) cofounder Tom "Inkblot" Cannon noted, "Yes, the scene is rowdy and uses colorful language. A lot. But that's just the hard candy shell. It does not define us. Ask any long-time player about their favorite memories and almost no one will tell you about the time a caster yelled some obscenity, or the time someone popped off in another guys' face. People will tell you about their first event, or maybe a particularly memorable grand final, or the fun times hanging out with friends after the event, or the fantastic trip to a new place where they met new people and became friends. That is what defines us. But there is a grain of truth to what Aris is saying, because frankly a lot of players use the scene as a cocoon where they can shed the usual social decencies and behave badly. I do believe that the scene can be an unwelcoming environment for women. Some of this is due to the game's natural, high-strung competitive vibe, but a lot of it is just crass behavior that you would not get away with outside of our male-dominated boy's club. This is way too big of a topic for this article, but it's something that I think we need to face and address. It's not about coddling women or sanitizing the scene. It's about instilling a common sense of decency and calling out the blatantly bad behavior that today often gets a pass."

Cannon followed this a day later, stating, "If we continue to let the worst elements in the scene speak for us or excuse their bad behavior, we deserve whatever criticism we get. It's everyone's responsibility: the players, the content producers, the tournament organizers, and the fans. We need to be just as serious about the way we treat each other and how we reach out to others online as we are about the game. This isn't about killing the hype or white-washing the scene. We can be just as loud, excited and hype without belittling entire classes of people. 'It's ok, we're all friends' and 'I'm just joking' aren't valid excuses."

And Now, Your Moment of Zen

We like the 8-bit Post-it art. A lot. Here's a video of our latest mural going up this weekend.

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