This Week in Games: October 27, 2012

Halo 4, Assassin's Creed and GTA news, plus G4 ditching its games programming, Zynga's downsizing, games media hissy fits, and more Meat. Also: Minecraft and League of Legends dominate, still.

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Assassin's Creed III ships next week with bonkers, lofty expectations both critically and commercially, but it is already breaking records of sorts. Ubisoft announced on Thursday that the new installment is the company's "most preordered game" (that's a thing people care about these days, apparently) ever, surpassing previous record holder Assassin's Creed: Revelations. The franchise as a whole has now sold more than 40 million units to date across all systems.

If you love the franchise so much that you'd really like to wear clothing evocative of the styles it portrays, you're in luck. Purveyors of high-end games-inspired clothes Musterbrand (it also sells stuff based on Street Fighter, Resident Evil, Hitman, and Metal Gear Solid) has launched an official Assassin's Creed clothing line, which offers various cardigans, coats, and long- and short-sleeve shirts. The most expensive offering is the "AC DNA Coat," (below) which sells for £162, or about $260. Other items included in the virtual marketplace include a "Kingdom Knit Jacket" and an "Ottoman Long Cardigan."

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Sticking with the Creed for a moment; the upcoming Assassin's Creed movie is coming sooner rather than later. Ubisoft announced on Monday that its Ubisoft Motion Pictures outfit has "fast-tracked" the film, and partnered with production company New Regency to get the job done. Ubisoft's deal with New Regency allows the game maker to maintain control of "key elements" of the film's creative direction, unlike its deal with Disney that led to some "creative" re-interpretations for Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time. Writing of the screenplay for the untitled film is beginning immediately, Ubisoft said, but did not specify who has been tapped for the job (we say, give it to Book of Eli and The Walking Dead Ep 4 scribe Gary Whitta, he knows games and movies.) “Ubisoft chose to partner with New Regency because they are a talent and filmmaker-driven company, with the same independent and creative mindset that we have at Ubisoft Motion Pictures,” said Ubisoft Motion Pictures chief executive officer Jean-Julien Baronnet. What we do know at this point is that the movie will star Michael Fassbender as the Assassin and, presumably (or not?) Desmond.

Wii U, Online Games, and Pre-Orders

An updated Electronic Arts privacy policy document confirms that Wii U gamers wishing to play EA titles online will need an Origin account to do so. Additionally, by signing up for a Origin account for Wii U, players must agree to allow EA to collect their email address, Mii information, friend list, country, language, and date of birth. Further, the document spells out "Nintendo Network ID." Nintendo has previously confirmed that Friend Codes from the Wii era would return for the Wii U, but it is not clear if "Nintendo Network ID" is a new name for these. Having an EA Origin account to play EA games online is not an exclusive requirement for the Wii U. The same policy is in place for Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 gamers. In all cases and for all platforms, players will not need to agree to share their credit card number or other personal financial account information. 

Speaking of the Wii U, pre-orders seem to be piling up pretty fast. According to Nintendo, Wii U preorders at GameStop have sold out. That, however, has not kept gamers from expressing interest in the new console. Company president Satoru Iwata claimed in new presentation that as of last week, more than 250,000 gamers had put their names on GameStop's Wii U wait list. That same presentation also indicated that the company will be selling the device at a loss, initially. Iwata stated the company's ambition to sell the system at a "reasonable" price trumped its desire to sell the console in line with manufacturing costs.

League of Legends = Insanely Popular. Duh

Riot released numbers on Monday for the recent League of Legends Season 2 World Championships which took place last week at the Galen Center Arena at the University of South California. Riot is reporting that at peak, over 1,154,000 unique people watched the event online, not counting TV numbers. More than 8,282,000 unique viewers tuned in total via online and TV combined, with 2,402,225 people watching through Korean and Chinese TV. Over the course of both the World Playoffs and Finals, people watched 24,230,688 hours of League of Legends. These numbers make the Riot Season 2 World Championships the most watched competitive gaming eSports event of all time. With the rise of streaming services like Twitch.TV and Own3d.TV, this record has been broken several times in the past year. Two months ago, the bar was set by Valve's The International Dota 2 tournament, taking in 567,000 concurrent viewers, half from China. In June, Major League Gaming brought in 437,000 concurrent viewers and 4.7 million unique viewers for the Spring Championships. Riot has now shattered those previous records.

Meat Lovers, Rejoice. Something With Cats Incoming

Super Meat Boy developer Team Meat has unveiled its next game. Writing on the company blog, Edmund McMillen announced Mew-Genics, the two-man studio's next official project.  Details are light on the game, but McMillen said it will be "randomly generated, strange, and involve cats." He added that Mew-Genics is the strangest project he has ever worked on, which is definitely saying something given his back-catalog. Mew-Genics is a result of a game jam Team Meat founders McMillen and Tommy Refenes held one weekend in September. McMillen said development is "moving quite fast," with more information and screenshots coming "soon." He also assured fans holding out for Super Meat: The Game for iOS devices that the game is still in development, but it has been placed "on hold" until the company releases Mew-Genics.

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Borderlands Coming to iPhone/iPad Next Week

The Borderlands franchise appears to be branching out from consoles and PC and coming to mobile platforms. A Gearbox forum user first spotted an advertisement for Borderlands Legends in the Borderlands 2 digital strategy guide, indicating the game will release for iPad and iPhone sometime this month. This was later confirmed by a teaser story on Entertainment Weekly's Popwatch blog on Tuesday. EW games report Matt Cabral then followed this up on Thursday with an exclusive hands-on look at the game, which will hit the App Store next Wednesday night. Cabral described the game, saying "its gameplay signifies a drastic departure from the series’ defining open-world first-person shooting. Viewed from a top-down perspective, each level unfolds in a small, arena-like battlefield where the original Borderlands‘ vault hunters — Brick, Lilith, Mordecai, and Roland — are tasked with fending off hordes of ugly foes. Missions contain multiple, increasingly difficult levels, each with four waves of baddies to unload on. More objective-based than story-driven, missions include a clear-cut goal; during my demo, for example, I was required to destroy three crates of Marcus bobbleheads — a cool call-out fans will appreciate. While reducing the crates to rubble doesn’t pose much of a problem, staying alive while attempting to do so is another story. Enemies approach from all sides and utilize different attack patterns." He continued, describing its tablet-friendly controls scheme. "Legends evens the odds by putting players behind the ass-kicking arsenals of all four protagonists. Simultaneously controlling the quartet is a delicate balancing act favoring thoughtful strategy over ammo clip-emptying abandon. Characters fire weapons automatically, so it’s up to the player to ensure they’re in the right spot to get a bead on the bad guys. In terms of controls, this means tapping characters and drawing a destination path, or touching them and then the enemy the player wants them to focus on. Legends also encourages the use of cover, littering each level with waste-high defenses to hunker down behind." The game will boast a total of 36 unique powers and abilities, as well as "thousands" of weapons, and a "strategic cover system." Cabral also noted that the looting mechanic only yields money, not weapon-drops.

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Rough Week for Studios

Tuesday was not a great day for many Zynga employees. The social gaming empire confirmed that its Austin, Texas-based studio (home of its The Sims Online-esque The Ville) may eventually be closed, with more than 100 staffers losing their jobs this week. Affected employees were given just a matter of hours to clear their desks and leave their offices. Zynga also closed its Boston studio, which was producing Indiana Jones Adventure World. "These reductions, along with our ongoing efforts to implement more stringent budget and resource allocation around new games and partner projects, will improve our profitability and allow us to reinvest in great games and our Zynga network on web and mobile," said CEO Marc Pincus in an internal memo received by Gamasutra. The announcement of the downsizing came during Apple's much-publicized press event, during which the technology giant announced the long-rumored $329 iPad mini, among other things.

The following day, Zynga said it is forming an exclusive partnership with bwin.party, a real-money gaming operator. This marks the company’s first move into real-money from the fake-cash gaming its used to hosting on Facebook, through games like Zynga Poker. The poker and casino games site in the UK will use Zynga’s branding and will launch with 180 games that the two companies have worked on together, including slots, roulette and blackjack. Zynga stalwarts will have a presence too; there's a Farmville slots game. Oh, happy day.

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In other downsizing news, Bigpoint--the studio behind Battlestar Galactica Online--also laid off 120 workers this week, more than a third of which were from the San Francisco studio, the rest being mainly administrative staff from the office in Hamburg, Germany. It also announced the departure of CEO Heiko Hubertz, who will be taking up the role of executive chairman of the company's supervisory board. The company is cutting its development efforts in the US, claiming that development in the regional is not efficient. "The games that we have developed in the last two years haven't been that successful, and the San Francisco area and Bay Area is quite a competitive market," Hubertz told Games Industry International. "San Francisco is, after New York, one of the most expensive cities you can live in in the US, so the people are quite expensive."

The Boston area development scene took its second hit on Thursday when Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment confirmed to The Boston Globe that it has enacted a round of layoffs at the Needham, Massachusetts-based Turbine Inc. "As part of the continual review of our business operations and fluctuating market conditions, we have had to make reductions in our Turbine workforce," a spokesperson from the company said. "The group continues to remain an integral part of Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment." According to the report, Turbine had more than 400 employees before the cuts, making the studio the Boston area's most sizable studio.

G4 Done With Games Programming, Refocusing on "GQ-style" Content

Struggling TV network G4 is cancelling all gaming-related programming, including X-Play and Attack of the Show, a source reportedly close to the situation told Kotaku on Friday. An "exclusive report" on TV Guide's website explains the shows will be winding down over the next two months, rolling out new episodes through December. Tweets from G4 employees, including Attack of the Show host Candace Bailey and X-Play personality Blair Herter, suggested that changes were afoot late on Thursday.

"Attack of the Show and X-Play have been important for G4, and we want to acknowledge the creative people who have helped inspire and showcase the phenomenon of gamer culture," G4 Media general manager Adam Stotsky told TV Guide. "With more than 3,000 episodes aired between them, we have more than enough great material to honor these innovators and their amazing contributions as we bring both shows to a close."

Remember SmartGlass?

Earlier this year, Microsoft announced that it would be bringing the Xbox entertainment experience to tablets, PCs, and phones, but has hardly said a thing about it since. Remember that? SmartGlass? Well, they haven't forgotten all about it;  the new update will actually , be launched this Friday, October 26, on Windows 8 and Windows RT. SmartGlass will live on mobile devices as an app, allowing users to access their 360 content from several mobile devices. The technology will also include a feature that Microsoft is dubbing "multi-screen entertainment," allowing gamers to enhance their gaming experience by integrating their mobile devices as they play games on the Xbox 360. SmartGlass will be free for download on Windows 8 and RT PCs, Windows Phone 8, iOS, and Android devices. The following games and partners have confirmed Xbox SmartGlass integration: Ascend, Dance Central 3, Forza Horizon, Halo Waypoint, Home Run Stars, Karaoke, Kinect Sesame Street TV, and Prima Games.

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Halo 4 = Hella Expensive to Make. Also, Maps

If you're looking to grab Halo 4 and all its add-on map packs, you're going to end up spending around $85 by next Spring. Microsoft announced the Halo 4 "War Games Map Pass" on Wednesday this week, a very-reasonable (compared to comparable offerings) $25 package that gets players nine maps in total that will be released between December 2012 and April 2013. The map packs will sell for about $10 each as standalone downloads. So, if you commit up front you'll be saving about 15 percent. In addition, players who purchase the Map Pass will receive two in-game helmets ("Scanner" and "Strider") and an in-game emblem ("Falcon"). The Pass is included as part of the $100 Halo 4 Limited Edition release. The first pack due out  is titled "Crimson" and will launch in December with the maps "Wreckage," "Harvest," and "Shatter." You then have to wait a couple of months, and then in February 2013 you'll get the "Majestic" pack, which adds "Landfall," "Monolith," and "Skyline" to the mix. The last pack comes in April, dubbed "Castle" with "Daybreak" (shown below,) "Outcast," and "Perdition."

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In other Halo 4 news, we also learned this week that the game is the most expensive game ever produced by a studio at Microsoft. If the game is a bust, it won't be for lack of trying. Microsoft Game Studios boss Phil Spencer told Polygon this week that the company has spent more money making Halo 4 than it has developing any other game in the company's history. Absolutely. Nothing's even close," he said. He added that the Halo series, which he estimated to be a "three billion dollar franchise," is the company's "most important entertainment product." Some of Microsoft's other major franchises include Forza, Fable, and Banjo-Kazooie.

Speaking of Polygon. Congratulations to the whole team over at Vox Media. After months of teases, and their content being buried within parent-site The Verge, the full site games finally launched this week with much fanfare on Twitter. We wish them well. Check it out here.

GTA Info-Dribble 

Want another dribble of Grand Theft Auto V info? A new piece of artwork emerged this week, showing nothing we haven't already seen in the trailer that hit ages ago. The real motivation for the non-news seems to be pre-awareness for a substantial info-dump in November, via the Game Informer cover story that we mentioned a couple of weeks ago. Still, GTA is GTA, and the lack of real info doesn't make us any less excited for it. In fact, indulge your love of the franchise with this anniversary celebration from earlier this week.

Speaking of anniversaries, Grand Theft Auto: Vice Cityturns ten years old this month, and to celebrate, Rockstar Games will release an "Anniversary Edition" of the game for select iOS and Android devices this fall. According to Rockstar, GTA: Vice City for mobiles will contain the "full experience" found in the original PlayStation 2 title. It will feature high-res graphics and "several" enhancements unique to the iOS and Android platforms.

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Libel, Legal Threats, and Doritos

Criticisms of games media, like any other kind of media these days, are many and frequent in public forums in in opinion pieces. Normally they're not particularly newsworthy, but this week the fallout of such criticism sparked debate and controversy across a variety of communities.

It all started when Rab Florence, a comedy writer, performer, and occasional writer-about-games wrote a piece for Eurogamer dubbed Lost Humanity 18: A Table of Doritos. He opened with the widely-circulated and derided image of Spike's Geoff Keighley surrounded by licensed Halo 4 junk from Mountain Dew and Doritos, characterizing it as "tragic and vulgar" before going on to explore how seemingly innocent actions can easily be interpreted as an act of bias by a reader. He also skewered the European "Games Media Awards," which happened recently in London. "Games PR people and games journos voted for their favourite friends, and friends gave awards to friends, and everyone had a good night out," Florence noted, before elaborating on his disdain for such chummy behavior. The story discussed writers tweeting with the hashtag #gmadefience at the event in order to win a PS3 from publisher Trion, and a few instances of behavior he found questionable. As Ben Kuchera noted in his analysis of the events, that’s not news. Opinion pieces rarely are. What happened next however, is.

Intent Media, the publisher of MCV UK, reached out to Eurogamer to complain about comments made about their journalist, Lauren Wainwright, about whom Florence had expressed some suspicions due to tweets arguing that she saw nothing wrong with GMA attendees winning free PlayStations n return for social media promotion. Absurdly, given that everything quoted was done so on a public forum (Twitter, though Wainwright has now made her profile private) Eurogamer has since deleted sections of the story, and it has been claimed that MCV threatened Eurogamer with legal action. MCV editors, on the other hand, state that no legal action was actually threatened. The Eurogamer piece now carries the sidebar, "Following receipt of a complaint from Lauren Wainwright, Eurogamer has removed part of this article (but without admission of any liability). Eurogamer apologises for any distress caused to Ms Wainwright by the references to her. The article otherwise remains as originally published."

Much has been written about this in the past few days. Adam Pavlacka wrote about it on Worth Playing, there's Kuchera's piece on Penny Arcade Report, as noted above, along with a  withering piece from Rock, Paper, Shotgun's John Walker, who concluded, "The last two days have been an utter disgrace for UK games journalists and PRs. I’m sick with anger about it. I’m embarrassed by my profession, and I’m once again reminded that even though being outside the cliquey circles can feel like you’re doing something wrong, it likely means I and others are doing something right. I implore young writers getting started in this business to avoid getting embroiled in the cosy world of PR-journo group hugs, and I desperately suggest to them that if you ever think you might want to prevent another journalist from publishing their thoughts, that you instantly quit and get a job where you won’t be a disgrace to our industry."

Florence, sadly, has endured criticism and derision from some quarters for choosing to criticize what he observed, as he noted on Twitter on Thursday.

As you can imagine, the whole debacle has spawned plenty of discussion on forums such as Reddit, and NeoGAF.

Minecraft More Popular than Call of Duty on Xbox 360 

Minecraft: Xbox 360 Edition is already a breakout hit. It has sold over 4 million copies since launch in May, driving $80 million in revenue. Now, it has hit another milestone. The latest Xbox Live activity chart reveals the game was the most popular title on Xbox Live for the week of October 15. The game tallied more unique users on Xbox Live during the week than big-budget retail releases like Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3, FIFA 13, Call of Duty: Black Ops, Borderlands 2, Halo: Reach, and Battlefield 3. Not surprisingly, Minecraft: Xbox 360 Edition was also the best-selling Xbox Live Arcade title of the week, outperforming the likes of The Walking Dead, Sonic Adventure 2, and Trials Evolution. Specific sales figures were not released, but in August, Minecraft: Xbox 360 Edition was selling at a clip of 17,000 copies per day, amassing revenue of a staggering $340,000 every 24 hours.

To celebrate, enjoy this Minecraft-themed Gangnam Style parody from CaptainSparklez

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