This Week in Games: October 19, 2012

Black Ops 2 gets a season pass, Microsoft and Nintendo half-heartedly drop some prices, GoG does a crazy-awesome Interplay promo, and Criterion is pondering a new Road Rash.

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Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 will be the latest game to offer a downloadable content season pass. Activision announced a $50 Black Ops II DLC pass on Monday that includes four planned expansions. These will arrive first on Xbox Live and will also be available standalone at $15 a pop. Activision did not offer much in the way of specifics, but did say that they will take the form of multiplayer maps and Zombies content. These offerings are expected to be made available next year. Interestingly, the season pass was announced only for Xbox 360 at this point. If you play on PlayStation 3, PC, or Wii U, this doesn't necessarily mean you're SOL, it's just that nothing has been announced yet. Activision's communication on the subject this past Monday stated, "Season Pass and DLC Map Packs may not be available on all gaming platforms." Interesting that they're keeping it vague. Any guesses as to which community is going to get hosed on this one? Our best bet is that Wii U gets stiffed worst.

Nihilistic Software's CEO Robert Huebner told the Activision-run One of Swords blog this week that though Declassified will leverage the design of past Call of Duty games, it will focus on multiplayer above all else.

Also this past Monday, Activision announced that all features for its Call of Duty: Elite service for Black Ops II will now be free. Yup…you read that right: free. Because now you pay to subscribe to the DLC updates for the game rather than for the community. So nothing's changed really, it's just called something different now. Elite originally launched with Modern Warfare 3 last year and carried a coincidentally identical $50 annual price tag. At that time, the service granted you a bunch of downloadable content every month, and a ton of video. The Elite platform for Black Ops II will boast a number of revisions to existing features as well as new stuff like a dedicated Zombies channel. Players will be able to track their personal statistics on the service, and there will be new tablet support for Call of Duty: Elite TV (what form this will take isn't known yet, probably apps for both iOS and Android) which will include developer video, strategy guide stuff, and other original content.

If you're one of those people that's so obsessed with Call of Duty that you want it with you at all times, you'll no doubt be eyeing the November 13 release of Black Ops Declassified with increasing interest. Nihilistic Software's CEO Robert Huebner told the Activision-run One of Swords blog this week that though Declassified will leverage the design of past Call of Duty games, it will focus on multiplayer above all else (although, weirdly, it will not include a Zombies mode.) "Declassified is not about the big campaign storyline and huge cinematics, it’s more focused on the multiplayer essence of Call of Duty and bringing that to a portable device as completely as possible," Huebner said. He added that Nihilistic's aim for Declassified was not to design a game that fans would perceive as a port of a past or current Call of Duty title. Instead, the team sought to craft a "tailored experience" for the Vita that delves into the history of memorable Black Ops characters like Frank Woods and Alex Mason.

What do you think? Does that make you more, or less interested in the title? Would you buy a Vita just to be able to play it? Let us know in the comments.

Microsoft Prices Surface, Re-prices Xbox 360, Forces IE10 Down Throats

If you're one of the many previously seduced by the notion of Microsoft's Surface tablet, you'll be pleased to know that it now has a price. The company launched its Microsoft Store page for the device on Tuesday this week, listing three variants of the Windows RT version of Surface. The base 32GB model tablet lists for $399, and does not include a "Touch Cover" (the touch sensitive keyboard that clicks onto the device,) the same tablet with the Touch Cover lists for $599, and a 64GB unit with a Touch Cover lists for $699. Microsoft is also selling a clicky "real" keyboard for $129. This compares to a comparable 32GB Wi-Fi iPad, which lists for $599 without any kind of cover or keyboard. The Surface RT, which runs on a Nvidia ARM processor, is one of two models the company is planning. The other being an Intel Core processor-driven Windows 8 Pro unit, which is essentially a full-on Windows laptop/tablet hybrid for which pricing has yet to be set. Conservative estimates place the 64GB version of that device in the $1,000 range. Surface is set to launch alongside Microsoft's new Windows 8 operating system next Friday, October 26.  

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In other price-related news, the company also revealed a number of Xbox 360 Holiday Bundles this week, effectively reducing the price of the console (which now boasts a life-to-date sales number of 70 million units) by $50. For the pusillanimous price of $249 you can now get a 250GB console with a copy of Forza 4 and a download token for The Elder Scrolls Skyrim or a 4GB console with Kinect, Kinect Disneyland Adventures, and Kinect Adventures. For $349 you can get a 250GB console with Kinect, Kinect Sports, and a download token for Dance Central 2. Microsoft claims these offers are only "for a limited time." Let's hope what that really means is "we're milking these higher prices for as long as we possibly can before dropping them to something that's actually reasonable. Surely, after seven years, it's time to bring the 250GB solus box down to $199? Well, not if people will pay the higher price. Above all else, Microsoft is about making profits.

On the subject of Xbox 360, if you downloaded the new dashboard update this week, you will no doubt have noticed a number of things. Top of many gamers' list of gripes is the increased number of ads that appear in the dash now, and this is closely followed by "where the hell did the Facebook and Twitter apps go?" OK, neither app was exactly what you'd call awesome, but the raised-eyebrows are more about the reason they're gone than their actual disappearance. Multiple sources reportedly familiar with Microsoft's plans told The Verge on Wednesday that this was done to spur gamers to use the new Internet Explorer browser included with the update. Microsoft confirmed on Friday that the apps were "retired" in an effort to "streamline" the Xbox experience.

Nintendo, And The Word "Obstreperous"

Speaking of timid price drops Nintendo has finally cut the price of the Wii in the United States, but still refuses to take it below the $100 price point. A timid $130 will (from October 28) get you a bundle that includes a black Wii console, as well as copies of Wii Sports and Wii Sports Resort on one disc. A price drop for other regions was not announced. Honestly, still charging more than $99 for a six year-old console mostly filled with 11 year-old technology is a truly glorious example of obstreperous stubbornness rarely seen in the video games space. Like Microsoft, Nintendo wants to make profits, and with the Wii it's making more than anyone right now.

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According to Nintendo of America executive vice president of sales and marketing Scott Moffitt, the price drop, along with the included games, will make the new bundle an "easy choice" for those seeking out value during the upcoming holiday season. Given that the system and branding looks an awful lot like the more expensive, and no-doubt supply-constrained black Wii U "Deluxe Set" that "easy choice" may also prove to generate apocalyptic levels of holiday gift disappointment this year thanks to gift buyers not knowing, or not understanding the differences.

Halo 4 Pirates Banned for Life

The big drama since last week's installment of This Week in Games was that a pirated copy of Halo 4 found its way out into the wild. Gamers caught playing playing it potentially face a permanent ban from Xbox Live. That's according to one Reddit writer, who posted an email from Microsoft informing the user that "illegitimate prerelease title play" has yielded a permanent Xbox Live account suspension. 

A Microsoft representative provided GameSpot with the following statement on Monday morning; “We are aware of isolated cases in which 'Halo 4' content has been propped on the Web and are working closely with our security teams and law enforcement to address the situation immediately. Consumers should be aware that piracy is illegal and we take vigorous action against illegal activity related to our products and services. Playing pirated copies of games, such as Halo 4, is a violation of the Xbox Live Terms of Use and will result in enforcement action, such as account and console bans.”

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Writing on the official Halo website, 343 Industries warned of Halo 4 leaks, and said it was "working closely" with security teams and law enforcement to address the situation. "Piracy is illegal and we are taking vigorous action against it," reads a line from the statement. "We have poured our blood, sweat, and tears into Halo 4, and we want you to have the best possible experience with our game, come November 6. If you’re interested in staying spoiler-free, we encourage you to exercise caution when visiting various websites, social networking services, and forums."

The game isn't out until November 6, so we all still have more than two weeks to try and avoid those spoilers. 

Next Skyrim DLC: Dragonborn?

The next expansion to The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim may be called Dragonborn and could have gamers riding dragons, if rumors swirling on Tuesday are to be believed. An industrious Bethesda forum user dug through the source code for the game's new 1.8 patch earlier this week and found several references to "Dragonborn" and "DLC2." The user claims the Dragonborn expansion will add new armor types, and may even allow users to ride dragons in some fashion. The files suggest the Dragonborn DLC will be set in the island area of Solstheim, a land northwest of Wardenfell and east of Skyrim. According to the Elder Scrolls Wikia, its climate is cold and snowy (unusual for Skyrim, right?) and is home to the Ebony mines. Further fueling the rumor (which company reps are so far steadfastly refusing to comment on,) Bethesda parent company Zenimax Media sought a Dragonborn trademark through the United States Patent & Trademark Office bay in May. The mark was filed under the goods and services description of "Computer game software for use with computers and video game consoles; downloadable computer game software offered via the internet and wireless devices."

Xbox Music: Kinda Like Spotify, But Not

If you like the idea of Spotify, but really wish it would work on fewer devices that you own, Microsoft has something for you; Xbox Music, a streaming, download, and cloud music service with access to around 30 million tracks. Streaming is free thanks to advertising support, while an ad-free version called Xbox Music Pass--which includes unlimited plays, and offline support for PCs and mobile--costs $9.99 per month. The a-la-carte download option offers 256kbps DRM-free MP3s tracks (versus 192kbps WMA for streaming) for purchase from the Xbox Music Store. Cloud storage is also promised for later in the year. Similar to Apple's iTunes Match service, Xbox Music will allow you to scan-and-match any music you own and add it to your own personal cloud catalogue for use on all your devices. It includes music acquired through other services, such as iTunes or Amazon. The service--which was originally rumored to launch on October 26--is available on Windows 8, Windows Phone 8, and Xbox 360. In a hearty "screw you" to the company's largest possible captive audience, neither Windows Phone 7 or Windows 7 users will be able to access the service (they get to just keep playing around with the less-sexy Zune Music.) Clearly, this intended as a big shove to get you to upgrade. Microsoft is promising that Xbox Music will be made available on other platforms "in the coming year"--including, surprisingly, both iOS and Android. But still not Windows Phone 7.

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No LAN League of Legends For You!

On the eve of Riot Games' League of Legends Season 2 World Championships Grand Final between Azubu Forst and the Taipei Assassins, Riot announced it was developing a LAN client for tournaments, which would also be in use for the matchup this past Saturday night. At the time it was not said whether the client would be for major tournaments only, or also for all League of Legends players. Now it is known it will only be used for the former. Riot VP of eSports Dustin Beck took to Twitter on Tuesday to dispel the rumors. “We built an offline solution for the Finals for the pros to be protected from Internet connectivity issues”, Beck tweeted. “There are no plans to develop a LAN mode for offline play at home / LAN centers. Just wanted to clarify for everyone.”

In related news, if you're one of the growing number of MacBook-toting gamers disappointed that the company previously pulled the plug on its Mac OSX Beta client, you'll pleased to know that Riot president Marc Merrill said at the tail-end of last week that the long-promised Mac version of the game is still in development. At the risk of over-promising that it would be coming "soon," Merrill cautioned, "We've got some good news coming on that front." Given that the company has been using the word "soon" for some time on this subject, it's become almost a meme within the League of Legends community. Don't hold your breath or anything, but it's still coming.

Criterion Pondering New Burnout, Maybe Road Rash

In a recent interview with The Guardian newspaper in the UK, Criterion creative director Craig Sullivan (he of the awesome hair and boundless enthusiasm) pledged the Guildford, London studio will return to the Burnout series at some point in the future. "There's still a lot of stuff we want to do with driving," Sullivan said. "We will make another Burnout game at some point. Obviously, as we're working on NFS we're thinking of really good ideas that aren't right for this series; there are ideas that we're going to explore with Burnout. And we wouldn't be making NFS or Burnout games if we didn't think the driving genre had a long shelf life and that we could push the boundaries." Sullivan also teased that the studio may develop something without vehicles at all, but a Road Rash (yes!) game is more likely. "When we did Burnout Paradise we did some motorbike DLC and now everyone thinks that we're going to do Road Rash at some point," he explained. "I had a lot of fun playing that game, we think bikes are fun.We might make a Road Rash game…But then we might make a game without vehicles in it," he said. "I mean, we made Black, I was the lead designer; we might make a game about blowing the crap out of each other. But Road Rash seems like a good fit for Criterion…"

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Could this mean we're finally going to get a new version of one of the most talked-about games from EA's back-catalog? Perhaps something with the speed of Burnout's downloadable bikes, and with the attitude of Sons of Anarchy? Keep your fingers and toes crossed.

Project Eternity Is The Most Kickstarted Game Ever

Obsidian Entertainment's Kickstarter campaign for isometric, party-based PC role-playing game Project Eternity has finished with a total of $3,986,929, becoming the highest-funded video game on the crowd-funding platform behind Double Fine's point-and-click PC adventure gameDouble Fine Adventure, which ended its Kickstarter with a total of $3.3 million. Project Eternity's final goal will most likely stretch to over $4 million once Kickstarter counts the campaign's PayPal donations.  The project started on September 14 and had exceeded its stated goal of $1,100,000 within 24 hours. According to Obsidian--the studio behind Fallout: New Vegas and the upcoming South Park: The Stick of Truth--the extra funding could be used to help the development team to put more resources behind new playable races, factions, crafting systems, and a personal stronghold for players to store gear and weapons in. "Additional money we raise will go straight into the game to add new levels, companions, NPCs, features, and even entirely new parts of the world which will add hours and hours to the adventure," the developers said. Obsidian also plans to attempt to enlist the aid of Neverwinter Nights 2's creative lead George Ziets and, since the campaign reached beyond $3.5 million, will add a final goal to the game called "Big Big City", where the game will feature a giant city hub, reminiscent of Athkatla from Baldur's Gate 2: Shadows of Amn. Obsidian claims that the final game will combine elements of past Infinity Engine role-playing projects like Baldur’s Gate, Icewind Dale, and Planescape: Torment. Players will create their own character in Project Eternity, and will gather companions along their journey, which will be replete with "complex, difficult choices," according to Obsidian.

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On the subject of Kickstarter, Wing Commander creator Chris Roberts announced this week that funding for his next game Star Citizen will be using the service to raise money. When Roberts announced the game last week and called on users to help fund it, the game's website became overloaded and buckled. In response to this, Roberts and his development studio Cloud Imperium Games launched a Kickstarter campaign on Thursday with a $500,000 target in an effort to reach the project's overall $2 million funding goal. The effort closes November 19.

GOG Does Mac, and a Crazy Good Interplay Promo

…drop at least $34.99 and download the whole catalog

Downloadable game service GOG rolled out its support for Mac this week, bringing (so far) 50 classic, DRM-free titles for the increasingly-popular platform (particularly laptops.) The initial list includes some true greats, including The Witcher, for $4.99, The Witcher 2 for $29.99, the original Syndicate for $2.99, Ultima 4+5+6 in a single download for $5.99, the Tex Murphy games for $9.99 a piece, and many, many more. Check out the full list right here.

The service also rolled out a special Interplay-based promo, too. For the next couple of weeks you'll be able to "pay what you want" (to a certain degree) for 32 classic titles from the publisher, including Fallout, Fallout 2, Descent, and MDK. The offer is tiered at three levels; get eight games for whatever price you want, pay above the average price and get 20 games, or drop at least $34.99 and download the whole catalog (Windows only right now, unfortunately) with soundtracks and other digital goodies. Sound like a good deal? Check out the GOG page now.

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