This Week in Games - November 11, 2012

Grand Theft Auto V details, an Xbox 360 tablet, Elite rebooted after 30 years, more media scandals, and Peter Molyneux' new game turns out to be all about drawing penises.


This week was a diverse week for games; Halo 4 released on Tuesday, as did Peter Molyneux' cube-pecking Curiosity app. Each was at a completely different end of the gaming spectrum (OK, calling Curiosity a "game" is perhaps a little generous,) but both drove lots of conversation and activity in comments, on forums, and across social media this week. Game Informer's Grand Theft Auto V cover story prompted a lot of chat too. We'll get to that in a moment…

Xbox Surface Gaming Tablet Incoming?

Microsoft may, finally, be getting into portable gaming in some fashion. Multiple sources speaking to The Verge said this week that the technology giant is building a proprietary 7-inch gaming-focused tablet currently dubbed the "Xbox Surface." Specifications for the device leaked in June prior to Microsoft's official announcement of its Surface RT and Surface Pro tablet line, and supplemented rumors from late last year that something tablet-like was in the offing. We even included it in our 2012 predictions feature back in January. The Xbox Surface is rumored to include a custom ARM processor and "high-bandwidth" RAM that is designed with gaming in mind. The tablet will not run a full-fledged version of Windows, the sources said, but rather a custom operating system derived from Windows, much as the Xbox 360 itself does. The Xbox Surface could very well feature support for other tablet functionality like messaging, but the device's primary focus will reportedly be gaming. As for when gamers may get a glimpse at the Xbox Surface, the source suggested it will be unveiled prior to the Xbox 720, which analysts believe will be on store shelves late next year. Given the nature of the rumors so far (that ARM processor is concerning, unless its specifically designed to emulate the 360 chipset,) it's still too early to tell if this will be something that could feasibly download games from the existing 360 catalog from Xbox Live, or if it would be another splinter of the Xbox ecosystem. Clearly the dream scenario would be the former; download Halo 4 from XBL, link an Xbox controller to the tablet wirelessly, and then play the game wherever you please.

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If you want a little more Xboxness in your tablet experience right now, the official Xbox mobile apps were updated to Smartglass this week. The free app acts as an interactive second screen for the Xbox 360, allowing you to browse content on your console and launch it, then use your phone or tablet as a touch-based controller. It also features complementary experiences that run alongside specific games, like Halo: Waypoint.

Halo 4 Is So Money

Halo 4 is not coming to the PC. A Microsoft representative told The Penny Arcade Report that though the company is seeking new ways to boost the popularity of the series, bringing 343's new shooter to the PC is not a means to this end. "Halo 4 was designed specifically for Xbox 360, and while we're always exploring new ways to expand the franchise and share the Halo experience with as many fans as possible, we do not currently have any plans to port Halo 4 to PC," a Microsoft representative said.

Halo 4 players who log enough hours in the game's multiplayer department or spend enough money on Halo-related items will be rewarded for doing so, it seems. Microsoft announced a new "Halo 4 Combat Tour" offer this week that gives Xbox Live Rewards members the opportunity to score as many as 800 MS points just for playing 343 Industries' new shooter. Gamers who play 35 or more hours of Halo 4 multiplayer by November 30 will receive 100 MS points ($1.25). Those who log 70 or more hours will score 300 MS points ($3.75), while those who spend 140 or more hours will receive 600 MS points ($7.50) for doing so. Additionally, players who spend 3,000 MS points ($37.50) on Halo-related Xbox Live marketplace content will get 200 MS points ($2.50) back, while those who spend 1,500 MS points ($18.75) on Halo items will get 100 MS points ($1.25) in return.

With the various offers out there right now, we have to be getting close to the point where you can pretty much cover the cost of the game, right? Money for linking your Amex and Xbox Live account and beating the game, money for playing the game for a long time, and money for spending money. Make sure you're keeping track of all this. Perhaps some other Halo related stuff will kick in soon, too?

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Apart from Halo Wars, the series has been exclusively a first-person shooter franchise so far. However, that could change. Speaking to CVG, Halo 4 executive producer Kiki Wolfkill explained that if a new Halo experience moved the franchise forward in a unique way, it would be considered. "I think we'd look at what the most interesting genre, medium, delivery mechanism is to tell a certain story, and if it moves the IP forward in an interesting way, we'll do it," Wolfkill said. She added that Microsoft and 343 Industries have always had a "big vision" for the Halo universe, and that the company looks at itself not solely as a game studio, but rather an IP studio. "The first-person shooter is the best place to tell one kind of story but as you can see from Forward Unto Dawn and stuff like that, there are other parts of the story that are interesting to tell in different ways," she said.

Destiny Is Apparently A Lot Like Halo

Segueing nicely into this next item; Bungie's next game, rumored to be titled Destiny, is reportedly not that different from Halo. Honestly, if it was anything else, wouldn't we all be a bit disappointed anyway? Internet supersleuth Superannuation (writing on Kotaku) dug up a blog entry from a Demonware employee, who wrote about the day he spent at Bungie recently, including a description of the studio's new game as "still quite like Halo." This person, reportedly a senior Demonware employee who should probably know better than to blog secret stuff (Demonware provides studios with online software that powers matchmaking, lobbies, leaderboards, and game stats in case you're curious. It's also owned by Destiny-publisher Activision) described Destiny as boasting cooperative gameplay and numerous alien gun battles. He added that its sense of exploration was a strong point. Overall, though, he said that "there is a lot of work still to be done."

Cowen & Company analyst Doug Creutz agrees with that last comment,  saying in a note to investors on Thursday that based on Activision's earnings report on Wednesday, he is no longer expecting the former Halo studio's next game to ship in 2013. "We had been assuming the new Bungie franchise would launch at the end of fiscal year 2013, with a considerable level of success," Creutz wrote. "We are now pushing our assumed launch date of the title out to fiscal year 2014." What spurred Creutz to adjust his prediction for when Destiny will arrive was Activision management admitting yesterday that its fiscal 2013 would be a trying time. This was due in part to Activision expecting "very difficult" year-over-year comparables related to the strong debut of Diablo III. As part of this same financial report, Activision also stated that World of Warcraft's subscriber base has risen back to a total of over 10 million members. This is an improvement of 900,000 over the 9.1 million figure reported in August and comes after September's launch of the game's fourth expansion: Mists of Pandaria.

Elite Returning

This may only be relevant to you if you are a) British and b) over the age of 35. If you are neither, or don't have tastes that somehow intersect with this very specific demographic, please indulge us for a moment. OK? Everybody cool?

Elite is going to be rebooted!!!

The original, developed by Ian Bell and David Braben (now of Frontier Developments, most recently Braben was associated with Kinectimals, Kinect: Disney Land, and Lost Winds) in 1984, is considered by many to be one of the most influential games…well, ever. A sprawling space epic, it was one of the first truly "open" sandbox games. Originally released for the BBC Micro in the UK, it was later ported to the Apple II, Commodore 64, ZX Spectrum, Amstrad CPC, Amiga, Atari ST, MSX, PC, and the NES.

Anyway…Braben, after much prodding and nagging from gamers and game development celebrities like Notch, has conceded to having another crack at the universe he co-created. The result is Elite: Dangerous, and assuming that it makes its Kickstarter goal of £1.25 million (about $2 million) it will will likely be released in 2014, presumably as a celebration of the franchise hitting its 30th anniversary.

When the Kickstarter page was first posted, it was criticized for relying too heavily on nostalgia and faith in the aging audience it was aiming to attract. There were no images, apart from a logo, no videos, no sketches or artist renderings; just a block of text and the ask for money. This has been somewhat addressed now, as Braben has uploaded a number of pieces of concept art to the Kickstarter page. Here's one of them as a taster:

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Curiosity Killed The Servers

Despite it's original stated release date being this Thursday, Peter Molyneux' experimental block-pecking cube "game" (we use the term loosely) Curiosity actually slipped out on Monday night. Fittingly, given that the whole thing is supposed to be a bit of a social media wag anyway, word quickly spread across Twitter and by Wednesday afternoon there were already over 100,000 people tap-tap-tapping on it's millions of little "cubelets." The first side of the mystery cube was uncovered remarkably quickly, but not before we all realized that we essentially have the same bathroom wall graffiti humor when it comes to an expressive public forum like this. Rather than tap away the tiles in an orderly fashion, people quickly took to writing messages, and drawing pictures on the cube's face. As you can probably imagine, it became a glorious example of the Internet's collective dong-drawing abilities very quickly.

The sheer number of people pecking away at the cube far exceeded anything that Molyneux or his small team at 22 Cans had anticipated, and the servers soon experienced problems syncing the activities of so many people interacting at once. After some investigation, Molyneux posted late on Tuesday…

People were already pecking away at the second layer by Wednesday, and the third by Friday. By the end of the week, more than half a million people had downloaded the app, and had pecked away more than 200 million cubelets.

Wreck-It Ralph a Winner

Game-centric animated film Wreck-It Ralph was the top performer last weekend at the box office. The Disney movie earned $49.1 million in sales for the three-day period, according to data from Sales of this caliber boost Wreck-It Ralph past Tangled, which was Walt Disney Animation Studios' previous record holder at $48.8 million in first-weekend receipts. Additionally, Wreck-It Ralph's debut is Disney's second number one finish this year, following Brave in June. Wreck-It Ralph nearly doubled Back to the Future and Cast Away director Robert Zemeckis' new film Flight, which debuted on the same day and took in $25 million for the number two spot. Ben Affleck's beard and its associated spy-thriller Argo came in at number three for the weekend, adding $10.2 million for a cumulative total of $75.9 million.

Despite primarily riffing on concepts from older games like Donkey Kong, Wreck-It Ralph contains a lot of insider jokes from more recent games including Metal Gear Solid, Street Fighter, Mario Kart, Call of Duty, and more.

Did you see the movie? What did you think?

No Assassin's Creed Collection for You, Yankees

Assassin's Creed III is off to a hot start. As part of its financial report for the six-month period ended September 30, Ubisoft CEO Yves Guillemot revealed that first-week sales of the studio's critically acclaimed stealth-action game came in at an estimated 3.5 million copies. This represents a year-on-year increase of over 100 percent from last year's Assassin's Creed: Revelations. 

Meanwhile, on Wednesday Ubisoft officially announced the Assassin's Creed Anthology and revealed it will launch November 30 exclusively in the United Kingdom through Amazon. No mention was made of a launch outside of the region, so perhaps it's a make-good for all the Brit-killing in the new game? As was rumored earlier in the week, the Anthology will definitely include all five Assassin's Creed games; Assassin's Creed, Assassin's Creed II, Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood, Assassin's Creed: Revelations, and Assassin's Creed III. Additionally, the Xbox 360 and PlayStation premium bundle will include all expansion packs and downloadable content for each game, including the DLC season pass for Assassin's Creed III. The bundle also packs in five game-themed lithographs, a steelbook case, and a collector's box.

How much? £120, or about $192. Yowzah.

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Medal of Honor Navy SEAL Consultants Under Investigation

Seven US Navy SEALs who served as paid consultants on EA's lackluster Medal of Honor: Warfighter are reportedly under investigation for revealing secrets while working on the game. According to a report by GameSpot's sister-site CBS News, the seven SEALs, who are all currently on active duty, used classified material given to them by the Navy while working with EA on Warfighter. CBS News reported that all seven have received letters of reprimand and have had half their pay taken away for two months. One of the SEALs involved was reportedly on the raid that killed Osama bin Laden.

More hype and media manipulation from the Medal of Honor team? Or something that sounds legit? Do you really believe that active duty soldiers would knowingly enter into a project and divulge secrets? Share your thoughts in the comments.

More Scandal

It's been an unusually scandalous few weeks recently. Further diminishing the image of those in the public relations business, former GameStop vice president of corporate communications and public affairs Frank Christopher Olivera pleaded guilty to charges of embezzling nearly $2 million from the company. According to a federal indictment obtained by The Dallas Observer, Olivera regularly moved funds from GameStop to Cloud Communications, LLC from July 2009 through April 2011. Cloud Communications existed solely on paper, the documents say, with Olivera transferring the funds to his personal bank account. In Olivera's guilty plea, he admitted to one count of mail fraud, which carries a maximum 20-year prison sentence and a $250,000 fine.

The Weekly GTA V Bit

If you've been wondering just how big the next GTA will be, the answer (according to the whopping 18-page cover story in the new issue of Game Informer) is very big. So big, in fact, that it's apparently larger than Red Dead Redemption, GTA: San Andreas, and GTA: IV combined. The game's fictional city of Los Santos (which was last seen in GTA: San Andreas) reportedly includes an extensive wilderness area, a military base, and an explorable underwater ocean floor. It is, according to the folks at Rockstar, "the largest open-world playground in Rockstar history." Additionally, the game will include three different main protagonists; the first is Michael (the focus of the first trailer - he's the guy on the right in the image below) a successful former bank robber, in his 40s, and who has now retired after making a deal with the Feds. Next up is Trevor (on the left in the image,) a career criminal in his 40s, a drug user, and prone to violence. Lastly there's Franklin (center,) the youngest of the trio, works for an Armenian luxury car dealership as a repo man. Players can switch between them at "nearly any time," the magazine states. These characters will sometimes work together, with players able to swap back and forth in a similar way to the Lego games. Each of the trio has a distinct personality, skill set, and group of friends, and when you're controlling one of them, the other guys don't just stay where you left them - they wander off and do their own thing. This can, we're told, lead to some surprises when you switch back to them after some time.

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No summary of news about a big name game franchise like GTA V would be complete without some analyst pulling a gigantic number out of his ass as part of the commentary, so here's this week's: Electronic Entertainment Design and Research analyst Jesse Divnich told Now Gamer recently that he believes the hotly hyped game could sell 25 million or more copies. "I have little concerns about when it is released," he said. "Whether April, June, or even Winter, I’d expect GTA V to sell in upwards of 25 million copies in its first 12 months."


Electronic Arts announced on Wednesday this week that it has partnered with fast-growing video game broadcasting network Twitch to bring in-built live-streaming functionality to its Origin client. The partnership will allow Origin users to broadcast their gaming sessions live, directly to their Twitch channel without having to mess around with XSplit or anything. It will be implemented as part of the latest Origin update, which is scheduled to be rolled out at some point in the next few days. The update--which, according to EA, has been implemented due to user suggestions and feedback--will also allow users to add non-Origin games to their libraries in the client. Users will be able to launch (and broadcast) all their games from one location. The update will first be rolled out to Origin users who opted in for beta updates, and will be going live to all users shortly afterwards. EA said that the Origin Twitch feature is still in beta, and will be rolling out further Twitch services and functionality in future Origin updates.

Not wishing to be outdone, just one day after this announcement, Activision revealed a similar initiative for Call of Duty: Black Ops 2. The publisher announced that the new game will allow users to stream their gameplay live to YouTube. Support has been announced only for the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 versions of Treyarch's title. It is unclear if the PC or Wii U versions will add YouTube streaming at a later date, or at all. Players will be able to live-stream Black Ops 2 League Play games, as well their audio commentary and webcam video. These streams can be broadcast on YouTube through a variety of destinations, including everywhere the YouTube serves, as well as additional mobile and tablet audiences through Call of Duty Elite. Those who watch live-streamed Black Ops 2 matches through Elite will be able to see the player card of the user who is streaming. This will allow players to see this person's loadouts, previous match data, and other career statistics.

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