This Week in Games: October 13, 2012

Chris Roberts returns from Hollywood to finally give us another space combat game, Star Wars The Old Republic wins a bunch of awards, Bungie and Rockstar make headlines while doing very little, and Sony gets all uptight with Kevin Butler


While the new retail releases are coming thick and fast as we slip into holiday silly-season, developers of online, downloadable and mobile games gathered in Austin, TX this week for the last Game Developers Conference to carry the apparently old-fashioned and untrendy moniker of "GDC Online." Starting next year, the conference will move to Los Angeles (considered a bit of a downgrade in location by many) and wear the achingly hip and funky label of "GDC Next." This year's event was divided into four different tracks for Game Narrative, Phone and Tablet Games, Gamification (ick,) and Startups, along with an Awards night that was dominated by Star Wars The Old Republic. BioWare's not-quite-a-massive-and-cataclysmic-failure-yet MMO took gongs for Best Online Game Design, Best Online Visual Arts, Best Online Technology, and Best New Online Game.

The whole event certainly generated some headlines. Chief among these was something that should be exciting for those of us of an older persuasion…

Like Wing Commander for the 21st Century, Kinda

Every few months, one of us old-timers posts something on Twitter along the lines of "why aren't there any great space combat games like Wing Commander or X-Wing any more?" This is usually followed by wild enthusiasm from anyone over the age of 35, and widespread indifference from anyone so young that they saw Phantom Menace before Empire Strikes Back. Inevitably the conversation fizzles out after reminiscing about Psygnosis' Colony Wars being far better than it actually was, and then things go back to business as usual.

"In recent years, game designers have stopped innovating and pushing the boundaries of what you can do in this genre." - Chris Roberts

Things are finally changing for the better, though. Wing Commander creator Chris Roberts is back with a new space combat simulator aimed at high-end PCs, due out in about two years. On Wednesday this week, Roberts announced Star Citizen, which has been in development at Cloud Imperium Games for the past year. The game is said to include a "sophisticated storyline" set in a persistent online universe. According to Roberts, it will fuse elements of his previous games, Wing Commander and Freelancer, and support for the virtual reality headset Oculus Rift is planned. "In recent years, game designers have stopped innovating and pushing the boundaries of what you can do in this genre," Roberts said in a statement. "I plan on bringing that kind of development mentality back into PC gaming and space sims in particular. Much like Guild Wars 2, Star Citizen will be available through a one-time purchase, but will not require a subscription. Players can also purchase virtual items with real-world money to customize their ships. Roberts told GameSpot last week that funding for Star Citizen has been arranged privately. However, the project is also looking for contributions from fans via a new crowd-funding campaign through the game's website. Those who back the project early on will receive beta access in about a year. As of press time, Roberts and his company have already raised over $500,000 since the funding campaign started.

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If you're curious as to what Roberts has been doing since 1996 (which is when Wing Commander IV shipped,), a browse through his IMDB page is certainly a trip down L'avenue Prosaic. Some of you may recall that he inexplicably decided to leave video games behind for a career in Hollywood after the 1999 release of his somewhat-godawful Wing Commander movie, which starred Freddie Prinze Jr., Matthew Lillard, and Saffron Burrows. Later, he produced the firmly reasonable Thomas Jane-starring The Punisher and the distinctly average Nic Cage, Ethan Hawke, and Jared Lito thriller Lord of War, among other glorious examples of cinematic mediocrity. Thankfully he's now returning to what he's good at.

Sticking With Movie News: Gears of War

Plans to bring Gears of War to the big screen are being revived. That's according to Hollywood news site Variety, which reports that the Creative Artists Agency--which represents Epic Games--is "eager" to meet with producers in the weeks ahead to discuss returning to work on adapting the series. The film has been in development since 2007 at Lord of the Rings studio New Line, but the site points out that the company has put the film on hold to focus its efforts on Peter Jackson's upcoming Hobbit trilogy. Right now, it's not clear which production company CAA plans to pitch the project to.

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The Gears of War movie has been a long time coming. Live Free or Die Hard director Len Wiseman came aboard the project in 2008, before dropping from the movie in 2010. It was also believed that the late Man on Fire and Top Gun director Tony Scott was very eager to direct at one point. Whatever the case, the project will proceed without former Epic Games design director Cliff Bleszinski. He left the North Carolina-based studio last week after 20 years to "chart the next stage" of his career.

Fincher's Halo

The Halo movie may be stalled, but that hasn't stopped Microsoft from tapping Hollywood talent for its popular science fiction series. The company announced on Thursday that Fight Club and The Social Network director David Fincher will produce Halo 4's live-action launch trailer. Visual effects craftsman Tim Miller, who contributed to Scott Pilgrim vs. The World and Fincher's The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, will direct the trailer. The two-minute Halo 4 launch trailer will debut during Late Night with Jimmy Fallon on October 18 (that's next Thursday, for those without a calendar handy,) and will be made available immediately thereafter through Halo Waypoint and the official Xbox YouTube channel. Thousands of lousy-quality duplicates will also no doubt proliferate. The trailer itself is titled "Scanned," and delves into the backstory of series hero Master Chief. It was shot in Czech Republic capital city of Prague. No actors for the trailer were named. "Fincher and Miller's involvement is a testament to the significance of Halo as a pop culture touchstone, and we think fans are going to be blown away when they see the final piece," franchise development director Frank O'Connor said.

Totally unrelated to any of the above news, except for the fact that it's also movie-related, Guillermo del Toro revealed at New York Comic-Con this week that Ellen McClain, beloved as the voice of GLaDOS from Valve's Portal games will be heard as the voice of an AI in his next movie.

On The Subject of YouTube Videos…

Attention was drawn this week to Microsoft's recently-revised Game Content Usage Rules for games published by Microsoft Studios. Games such as Halo, Fable, and Age of Empires are under these restrictions, which prohibit content creators from receiving revenue from their creations. The new rules state content creators cannot receive money in exchange for their work, post it on sites that require subscription fees to view it, or post it on a page that is used to sell other content or services (even if they have nothing to do with that game or Microsoft). Content can also not be used in an app that is sold in any of the numerous app stores, like the iOS or Android stores.

Microsoft also explicitly stated that content creators may not earn money off advertisements from videos including Vimeo and YouTube, specifically noting YouTube's partner program will not be allowed. Users also cannot post their videos on websites next to advertisements if they are making money off of those advertisements. Other rules include not being allowed to use the name of a Microsoft game in the titles of their content. "Red vs. Blue." and "Operation Chastity" are examples given as being acceptable, but nothing with "Halo" specifically noted is acceptable. This attention comes just a month before Halo 4's November 6 release date, a franchise which is sure to see a lot of action on YouTube and Twitch. This includes companies such as Major League Gaming and Rooster Teeth's Red vs Blue. MLG CEO Sundance DiGiovanni took to Twitter earlier this week to state that the company has usage rights for the upcoming title and games that are run on their professional circuit. Several professional Halo players and YouTube personalities have also used Twitter to voice their frustration. Tom "Tsquared" Taylor tweeted, "If this is true, it will put a serious damper on all streaming & montage opportunities + console eSports in general."

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Microsoft has tried to quell fears saying in a variety of forums that this is simply "business as usual" and nothing has actually changed. What isn't clear is how this practice affects those who make a living either with gameplay clips on YouTube or livestreaming their play on Twitch. The language seems to indicate that money made from either is now deemed in breach of the agreement. Microsoft says that pre-approved YouTube partner programs (like Machinima, though that subject often raises tempers too) and media companies are fine, but has yet to elaborate further.

A number of people on the forums and on Twitter wondered what all the fuss was really about when this flared up this week, after all; Microsoft isn't forbidding video content. What's more concerning is the precedent this sets, and the fact that where a company like Microsoft dares to tread, others will surely follow. First you can't make money making kick-ass Halo videos, but what next? Activision does the same for Call of Duty? Riot imposes the same on League of Legends livestreams? That's when things will get really ugly.

Bungie and Rockstar Make Headlines

Bungie has kept tight-lipped on its first post-Halo project, but now some additional light has been shed on the game, rumored to be titled Destiny. The company has hired former Rockstar Games senior game designer Danny Bulla to work on the sandbox team at Bungie. "We liked Red Dead Redemption so much that we hired Danny Bulla to come here and help us fill your next sandbox," Bungie said in a statement on its website. "He's doing some amazing work and, so far, he hasn't tried to lash any of us to a pair of railroad tracks." At Rockstar, Bulla worked on the critically acclaimed Red Dead Redemption and its Undead Nightmare downloadable content. Prior to joining Rockstar, Bulla spent two years at Midway, where he contributed to 2007's Blacksite: Area 51.

Meanwhile, Rockstar Games is preparing a compilation pack dubbed Rockstar Games Collection Edition 1, featuring Red Dead Redemption, L.A. Noire, Midnight Club: Los Angeles Complete Edition, and Grand Theft Auto: Episodes from Liberty City (that's The Lost & The Damned and The Ballad of Gay Tony on one disc, not GTA IV) for Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. The pack will be out on November 6 for $59.99.

Incidentally, if you've been wondering when new information about Grand Theft Auto V will finally emerge, it seems it's the cover story on the upcoming December issue of Game Informer magazine. Editor in Chief Andy McNamara tweeted from Rockstar's offices in New York this Thursday.

Fake Executive Sparks Law Suit

Sony is suing one of its own--albeit fake--executives. VentureBeat reported this week that the PlayStation maker has filed a lawsuit against tire manufacturer Bridgestone and ad agency Wildcat Creek over the use of its faux PlayStation executive Kevin Butler. Butler, who is played by actor Jerry Lambert, has portrayed a range of fictional characters in numerous PlayStation ads over the years. However, Lambert recently appeared in a Bridgestone commercial during which he was shown playing Mario Kart Wii from PlayStation competitor Nintendo. Sony's suit claims Bridgestone's use of the Kevin Butler character is a misrepresentation of Sony intellectual property and in fact has caused the publisher damages. "We invested significant resources in bringing the Kevin Butler character to life, and he's become an iconic personality directly associated with PlayStation products over the years," reads a line from a statement provided to VentureBeat. "Use of the Kevin Butler character to sell products other than those from PlayStation misappropriates Sony's intellectual property, creates confusion in the market, and causes damage to Sony."

Sony's suit claims Bridgestone's use of the Kevin Butler character is a misrepresentation of Sony intellectual property and in fact has caused the publisher damages.

In response, tire manufacturer Bridgestone has flatly denied that Kevin Butler appears in the commercial. Court documents obtained by The Hollywood Reporter affirm that Jerry Lambert definitely appeared in the ad, but deny any wrongdoing. "Mr. Lambert is one of the actors who appeared in the commercial as a Bridgestone engineer," Bridgestone said. "Bridgestone denies that 'Kevin Butler' appears in the Bridgestone commercial discussed herein and thus denies that he speaks or does anything whatsoever in the commercial." The documents go on to explain that Bridgestone plans to fight the lawsuit by making clear Sony held no mark for "Kevin Butler" and that there is no likelihood of confusion.

What do you think? Is Lambert so identifiable as a Sony character that the company has a case? Or is it just a frivolous attempt to grab some attention? Let us know in the comments.

Surprise! More Need for Speed Coming

To be filed under "totally frickin' obvious and predictable," Electronic Arts is already staffing up for the next entry in the Need for Speed series. No! Surely not! A message on EA Gothenburg's (wait…where? There's an EA Gotheburg? When did that happen? Oh…March, it says here) website makes clear the Swedish studio is getting to work on an all-new Need for Speed game. "Would you like to be a part of EA? Would you like to work on a game in the Need for Speed franchise? You now have the opportunity to become a part of EA Gothenburg and fulfill those two wishes," reads a line from the statement. No further details on the game are available, obviously. It'll have fast cars in it. If EA continues to follow it's long-held pattern, it means that this next one will be the crappy one before Criterion's next game. The studio has 16 open positions, and the requisitions state the studio is working on a "new generation of games." Wonder what that could possibly mean? Oooh, secrets. Remember though, the Need for Speed games at the beginning of this generation were released cross-generationally (is that a word?) so don't expect a next-gen-only title.

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