This Week in Games: May 19, 2012

Diablo III launch problems, the benefits of office fumigation, and Epic's insistence on more powerful next generation consoles. All this, plus 38 Studios' run-in with the government, and the fact that Lara Croft is going to make us all wait for a while.

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Too busy to keep an eye on the big gaming news from the past week? Too preoccupied playing Diablo III, or perhaps Max Payne 3? We know it can be tough to keep up with everything that's going on, so every week we gather together the biggest stories from the past seven days and complement them with the latest episode of our weekly news discussion show; Quoted for Truth. Also making an appearance this week: a pie chart. Glorious.

Diablo Launch Plagued With Issues

The launch of Diablo III, one of the most highly-anticipated games of the year, did not go as smoothly as expected this past Tuesday. First, Battle.net forum users reported being booted from game servers while playing as a Demon Hunter and equipping the game's first NPC sidekick Templar with a shield. Later this game-breaking bug was joined by the widely-ridiculed "Error 37" server problem (and it's sibling, the similarly reviled "Error 3003") which prevented users from logging into their Battle.net account. The problem ultimately took the whole service down for several hours on Tuesday night (Pacific Time) while Blizzard addressed it. Users across the globe were indignant as the issue made the game completely unplayable for the duration of the maintenance, and the entire situation further fueled anger toward the idea of always-online games and the practicality of using the concept as a form of DRM.

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Blizzard has since issued an apology to Diablo III players affected by the technical issues. Posting on the game's forums, a company representative said that their preparations for the launch of the game "did not go far enough," and explained, "As many of you are aware, technical issues occurring within hours after the game's launch led to players experiencing error messages and difficulty logging in. These issues cropped up again last night for the Americas and Europe servers. Despite very aggressive projections, our preparations for the launch of the game did not go far enough. To that end, we'd also like to say that we've been humbled by your enthusiasm--and we sincerely regret that your crusade to bring down the Lord of Terror was thwarted not by mobs of demons, but by mortal infrastructure." Clearly.

Since Tuesday night things have remained relatively stable - but the larger issue remains as to how unfriendly the concept of requiring an Internet connection is for a game; particularly one that is predominantly a single-player experience. "We’ve been monitoring the game 24/7 and have applied several optimizations to help our systems better weather the global rush," Blizzard community manager Bashiok posted. "As of…11:50PM PDT on May 15, all systems have been online and running relatively smoothly. We're continuing to monitor performance globally and will be taking further measures as needed to ensure a positive experience for everyone. This includes some maintenance to implement additional improvements for each region."

The issues created another side-effect, too; the delay of the roll-out for the real-money auction house in the game. Blizzard had originally intended to launch the service this coming Tuesday, but has now decide to push this to a later date.

Quoted for Truth

jimmeyburrows: Having read that they spent two years polishing the game… have to find it a little funny. Sorry for everyone suffering problems though.

Activision vs. West and Zampella Gets Kinda Crazy

There was also discussion about obtaining private access to Infinity Ward's space in order to image the contents of West and Zampella's computers by staging a fake fumigation or mock fire drill at the studio.

A number of unsealed documents from the upcoming trial between Activision ex-Infinity Ward developers Jason West and Vince Zampella this week revealed testimony that alleges the publisher launched an internal investigation against the pair. The documents contain the testimony of Activision's former senior director of IT, Thomas Fenady. As reported by Giant Bomb, Fenady alleges that Activision's in-house lawyer, George Rose, asked him to spy on West and Zampella by accessing their work emails, voice mails, and computer files. According to Fenady, who left Activision in 2009, Rose told him the decision to investigate West and Zampella came from Activision CEO Bobby Kotick. The testimony also alleges that the objective--known by the glorious spy-project name of "Project Icebreaker"--was started with the aim of building evidence against the pair, but that efforts to monitor the personal correspondence of the developers were ultimately unsuccessful. To try and accomplish this task, Fenady reportedly contacted Microsoft to help crack West and Zampella's passwords, but the company refused to comply without a court order. Third-party security specialist InGuardians was also contacted, but the vendor "didn't feel comfortable” with the "legal hurdles." There was also discussion about obtaining private access to Infinity Ward's space in order to image the contents of West and Zampella's computers by staging a fake fumigation or mock fire drill at the studio. "I only know it was discussed," said Fenaday in his deposition. "I don't think it was acted upon."

In related news, West and Zampella's new studio, working on an as-yet-unrevealed game for Electronic Arts, will not be showing anything at this year's E3. Speaking to Joystiq, Respawn community manager Abbie Heppe said, "We won't be showing anything or doing any press related to the game" during the annual game expo. Heppe confirmed this statement to GameSpot. This year's E3 will be the second straight that the company has opted out of public activities.

Quoted for Truth

ZabuzaR: Call of Duty: Corporate Warfare.

Lara Will Be Late

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The upcoming Tomb Raider title currently in development at Crystal Dynamics has been delayed from Q3 2012 to Q1 2013. "Our priority now is to make sure we fully deliver the very highest-quality game," said Crystal Dynamics studio head Darrell Gallagher. "In order to do this, we have decided to move the game's release date by a few months, from fall 2012 to the first quarter of 2013. We're doing things that are completely new to Tomb Raider in this game, and the additional development time will allow us to put the finishing touches into the game and polish it to a level that you deserve. We believe this is the right choice, and I guarantee it will be worth the wait." Regardless of its final release date, expect to see much more of Lara at E3 in a couple of weeks.

The game generated a lot of buzz when it was shown last year. Are you still excited about it? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.

Quoted for Truth

psycho75: A delay is temporary, a bad game is forever.

Epic Wants More Power

Epic Games wants everyone to use their new Unreal Engine 4 technology on next generation consoles, and thinks that both Microsoft and Sony need to make their new systems even more powerful than currently specified. In an interview published in Wired this week, Epic Games design director Cliff Bleszinski said the company's proprietary Unreal Engine 4 needs to be at the forefront of next-generation technology. "There is a huge responsibility on the shoulders of our engine team and our studio to drag this industry into the next generation," Bleszinski said. "It is up to Epic, and [CEO] Tim Sweeney in particular, to motivate Sony and Microsoft not to phone in what these next consoles are going to be. It needs to be a quantum leap. They need to damn near render Avatar in real time, because I want it and gamers want it--even if they don't know they want it."

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Why should Microsoft and Sony listen to Epic? Sweeney says his company has a more intimate relationship with manufacturers than others do. "We're much more in sync with the console makers than any other developer is," he said. "That means we can give detailed recommendations with a complete understanding of what is going to be commercially possible."

What do you think? Are you ready for next generation graphics yet? Are visuals what's most important to you for differentiating "new" from "old"? Do you really want "Avatar in real time"? To get the ball rolling on further discussion around the topic of next generation systems, we put a survey in front of nearly 3,000 GameSpot readers from around the world last week and asked "which do you think will be the best next generation console?" Fuel for the System Wars forum for sure, but an interesting starting point for further discussion. Here are the results of that…

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Given that the Xbox Next eked out a small victory at this early stage, we decided to explore the subject further in a series of articles from Hilary Goldstein that we'll be publishing over the next few weeks. His first piece, an in-depth exploration of what Microsoft needs to be considering for its next console, can be found here. He will be following with pieces on the other platforms.

Quoted for Truth

seanmontela: Instead of pushing console makers they should focus on what is already possible now on the PC. Oh wait, Epic abandoned this platform a long time ago. Well, outdated consoles and Cliffy deserve each other then.

38 Studios Strikes Out

In a bizarre turn of events, and in defiance of realistic expectation, Rhode Island governor Lincoln Chafee revealed on Friday that the studio's massively multiplayer online game currently codenamed Project Copernicus is scheduled to arrive in June 2013.

The Rhode Island government said this week that developer 38 Studios made an overdue loan payment, but apparently this was at the expense of employees, who would go without pay as a result. According to Providence, Rhode Island-based news outlet WPRI, the Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning developer submitted a $1.125 million loan payment that it had missed, but told the state's Economic Development Corporation that it was unable to pay its employees as scheduled. The debt in question dates back to 2010, when the EDC secured a controversial $75 million in loans to entice 38 Studios--founded by former Major League Baseball pitcher Curt Schilling--to relocate from Massachusetts to the Ocean State. According to the WPRI report, 38 Studios employed 379 employees full-time as of mid-March.

The EDC board held an emergency meeting on Wednesday to discuss whether to provide additional assistance to the stuido to keep the company in business. While the board made no ruling on the matter, it is expected to consider the topic again on Monday. 38 Studios employees aren't the only ones being hurt by the company's situation. EDC executive director Keith Stokes, who helped structure the $75 million loan, resigned from his post.

In a bizarre turn of events, and in defiance of realistic expectation, Rhode Island governor Lincoln Chafee revealed on Friday that the studio's massively multiplayer online game currently codenamed Project Copernicus is scheduled to arrive in June 2013. Quite how this could be possible when the group can't even make payroll wasn't made clear. Still, if the governor of your state is making release date announcements on your behalf, you have to obey - right? Particularly when you owe him $75 million. At least we know something exists. This video showed up this week…

Quoted for Truth

sugarboy79: Annnnnd now we watch as a bad situation gets worse. Good luck blasting out a quality MMO in a year's time. I feel bad for the taxpayers of RI and the cogs at 38 Studios but Schilling is just getting what he deserves. From the mouth of the man himself: "What Government run/funded program in this country's history has ever been run with an ounce of financial responsibility, prudence, or with the peoples (sic) best interest at the forefront? None, that's which one." Hypocrite.

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