Monthly Archives: June 2009

Sega Opens Mature Gates on Wii

MadWorld: The most violent game ever?

MadWorld: The most violent game ever?

Risk, schmisk! Sega, the former hardware manufacturer of the Genesis, Saturn, and Dreamcast and known for risk taking in both hardware and software development, is rolling the dice again. With House of the Dead 4, then Mad World, The Conduit, and now Mad World 2, Sega’s risky business has opened the mature market in the Wii market for others to follow.

In an article today on GamesIndustry.biz, Gary Dunn, MD of European development for Sega, told the media outlet, “You have to push boundaries and explore. I think whilst MadWorld commercially didn’t sell what we were expecting I wouldn’t say it’s game over for mature Wii titles from Sega.”

In May, new publisher Bethesda has indicated that it’s interested in developing more mature titles on the Wii, the current console leader in the market, and EA has created a special, from-the-ground-up version of Dead Space to test the waters, too.

It will only be a matter of time before more publishers deep their feet in, too. Who’s next, Activision, THQ, Warner Brothers?

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Zenimax Buys Id Software: Commentary

John Carmack makes sense of the ZeniMax acquisition.

John Carmack makes sense of the ZeniMax acquisition.

GameSpot’s Tor Thorsen interviewed Id Software’s Chief Technology Officer John Carmack recently in the wake of ZeniMax Software’s buyout of Id, revealing key reasons for the landmark business decision.

Id, one of the biggest independent developers in the industry, has long had a firm publishing relationship with Activision, now the largest independent publisher in the world thanks to its merger with Vivendi, which made this acquisition a surprise to many.

As the video game industry’s landscape has changed drastically since Id’s humble share-ware origins, that relationship has made some sort of sense, with Id keeping control over its IP, and Activision serving as a publishing arm.

“But since the very beginning, even before [the first] Wolfenstein was published, id has gotten a lot of offers to be acquired by various companies, and there were always pros and cons to it,” Carmack told GameSpot. “It’s always nice when somebody offers you a lot of money, but then again, you have to trade it for the idea that you wouldn’t completely be your own boss. You may have to do something you wouldn’t do in a different company, and that becomes a statement about their corporate culture.”

From my perspective, Id’s remained fiercely independent, making any Activision acquisition a difficult one to strategically make sense of. While the Santa Monica-based publisher has smartly avoided EA’s Borg-style of acquisition–buying the developer for the intellectual property and gutting the creative forces and key designers–when Activision does buy a developer, that team must then do Activision’s bidding, whatever that may be.

Trey Arch is a key example of this strategy, being directed to whatever is the most important title at the moment, with little time to complete the project, and usually with a big licensed attached to it. A worst-cased scenario of this strategy is the former Dave Mirra BMX developer Z-Axis, which Activision bought and then had little luck with on at least one never-published game and X-Men: The Official Game, which was panned.

It has watched Activision-owned Infinity Ward rocket in popularity due to its Call of Duty and Modern Warfare series, eclipsing the aging Doom and Quake series. While in the technological side of things, Epic Games’ Unreal engine has become the industry standard for tech engines in this console generation, eclipsing Id’s technology as the preferred tech engine.

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“I mean, we had to wonder how we would be if we were acquired by Sierra, Activision, EA or any of the potential publishers there. The other aspect you have to look at with the larger publishers is that there’s almost always some competitive interest. Activision and EA already have developers that do first-person shooters. If we were to come into the fold on one of those, then we would be competing against the brother and sister companies under that umbrella. We’d be fighting for attention for the marketing department to get positioned.”

Carmack answers the strategic fit question later in the interview, giving context to the ways in which Id’s corporate culture would fit or mesh with ZeniMax’s corporate culture, and answering Id’s tendency to publish a game only “when it’s done.”

“Yeah, there’s a couple aspects to that. In terms of the “when it’s done” thing, another key advantage about ZeniMax is that it’s a private company. They do not have quarterly reports that have to go out, and they don’t have to worry about making their publicly stated targets. I mean, our contracts with Activision and EA always said that we didn’t have to push out anything out over our objections. We were never in a position where something would get pushed out. But that doesn’t mean that there is not some level of…well, let’s just say, they convey their desires to us.”

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1C Plays on Russian Grounds

Host David Tractenberg holds the secret lock box of the evening in the Russian Consulate.

Host David Tractenberg holds the secret lock box of the evening in the Russian Consulate.

Russia’s biggest game publisher and developer, 1C, held an old-school Russian game party last night at the Russian Consulate in San Francisco, highlighted by flashing vodka shot glasses, sleek, blond women in bright yellow spandex and Russian hunting hats, and a wild assortment of Russian aperitifs.

And, oh yes, the games…

1C demoed eight fully playable games on the PC and Xbox 360, featuring the highly detailed aerial combat game, IL-2 Sturmovik: Birds of Prey, and Captain Blood, an artistically distinct hack-and slash pirate game based on the1922 novel by Rafael Sabatini and the subsequent movie starring Errol Flynn and Olivia de Havilland.

The full line-up included IL-2 Sturmovik: Birds of Prey on PC, PS3, Xbox 360, PSP, and DS, Captain Blood on PC and Xbox 360, and on the remainder of games on the PC: Death to Spies (stealth action, due summer 2009), King’s Bounty: Armored Princess (RPG, due 2009), Majesty 2 — the Fantasy Kingdom Sim (RTS, due fall 2009), Men of War: Red Tide (RTS due summer 2009), Rig ‘n’ Roll (sim, due 2009), and XIII Century: Blood of Europe (strategy, due summer 2009).

The party, in full swing.

The party, in full swing.

Jeff Haynes, working hard in ground territory.

Jeff Haynes, working hard in Russian territory.

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Game Critics Hail Uncharted, Scribblenauts, Modern Warfare 2 at E3

Uncharted2

In the wake of the best and biggest E3 in three years, the Game Critics Awards organization unveiled its E3 Awards today, hailing Naughty Dog’s Uncharted 2: Among Thieves with three nods, the best overall, best console, and best action-adventure game of show. Newcomer developer 5th Cell ‘s imaginative Scribblenauts won two awards, for best original and best handheld game.

Following a slew of online site awards (IGN, GameSpot, GamePro, 1Up, GameSpy, Joystiq, GameTrailers, Yahoo, G4, and my own GameInsano awards), which corralled and focused gamers’ attention on the front-runners, The Game Critics put the exclamation point on the show. Electronic Arts walked away with four awards out of 21 nominees, for Star Wars: The Old Republic (Best PC Game), Mass Effect 2 (Best Role-Playing Game), Fight Night Round 4 (Best Sports Game), and Left 4 Dead 2 (Best Online Multiplayer).

Sony Computer Entertainment America garnered the second-highest number of wins with three–all going to Uncharted 2: Among Thieves.  Naughty Dogs’ game was the most awarded game overall and nabbed all of Sony’s awards out of 13 nominations.  Apparently, the mere 545,000 units the game sold-through since its 2007 release in the U.S. don’t mean a thing to game critics, who acclaimed Uncharted 2 for its epic scale, impressive graphics, and new multiplayer components.

Activision garnered 10 nominations and took home awards for Modern Warfare 2 and DJ Hero, with Infinity Ward’s Modern Warfare 2 winning Best Action Game and DJ Hero winning for Best Social/Casual/Puzzle Game.

Unfortunately, the Game Critics organization doesn’t have a DLC category, which it should. That award should go to Chair Entertainment’s Shadow Complex, an exclusive Xbox 360 action-adventure game due this summer.

See the full list of winners below:

Best of Show
Uncharted 2: Among Thieves
(Naughty Dog/Sony Computer Entertainment America for PlayStation 3)

Best Original Game
Scribblenauts
(5TH Cell/Warner Bros Interactive Entertainment for Nintendo DS)

Best Console Game
Uncharted 2: Among Thieves
(Naughty Dog/Sony Computer Entertainment America for PlayStation 3)

Best PC Game
Star Wars: The Old Republic
(BioWare Austin/LucasArts)

Best Handheld Game
Scribblenauts
(5TH Cell/Warner Bros Interactive Entertainment for Nintendo DS)

Best Hardware/Peripheral
“Project Natal”
(Microsoft for Xbox 360)

Best Action Game
Modern Warfare 2
(Infinity Ward/Activision for PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, PC)

Best Action/Adventure Game
Uncharted 2: Among Thieves
(Naughty Dog/Sony Computer Entertainment America for PlayStation 3)

Best Role Playing Game
Mass Effect 2
(BioWare/Electronic Arts for Xbox 360, PC)

Best Racing Game
Split/Second
(Black Rock/Disney Interactive Studios for PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, PC)

Best Sports Game
Fight Night Round 4
(EA Canada/EA Sports for PlayStation 3, Xbox 360)

Best Fighting Game
Tatsunoko vs. Capcom: Ultimate All-Stars
(Eighting/Capcom for Nintendo Wii)

Best Strategy Game
Supreme Commander 2
(Gas Powered Games/Square-Enix for Xbox 360, PC)

Best Social/Casual/Puzzle
DJ Hero
(Freestyle/Red Octane/Activision for PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, Wii)

Best Online Multiplayer
Left 4 Dead 2
(Valve/EAP for Xbox 360, PC)

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Punisher: No Mercy For PS3 Fans

punisher_nomercy_game

I receive the Marvel Pulse newsletter because it’s filled to the brim with exciting exclamatory sentences, dozens of pictures of superheroes, and there is just this regular positive vibe with each delivery. It’s like, sure, nukes are going off in North Korea, we’re deep into the Great Recession, but hey–excelsior!–we have new Wolverine movies, plus new concept art! Brilliant! It’s just pure, unadulterated escapism.

Take this first paragraph as an example: “Punisher fans rejoice! Marvel’s ruthless anti-hero returns to video games with ‘The Punisher: No Mercy’ and we’ve got the official price and release date!”

See what I mean? Pure exciting!!!! fan service.

Except one thing, Punisher: No Mercy? Unless I am mistaken–and I very well could be–this game looks strikingly similar to that unfortunate DLC Watchmen game that arrived back in February. Yes, I mean, it looks it’s cra…I mean it looks like a trap! The Punisher: No Mercy, available for $9.99 exclusively on PSN, July 2, 2009, is a first-person shooter packing single- and multi-player modes (up to eight players can vie), plus lots of stuff to unlock, Punisher fans!!!!

PLUS!!! PLUS!!!! Punisher fans can now rejoice!!! Yes, REJOICE! In case, you hadn’t already been doing so. Marvel has teamed with Zen Studios and enlisted legendary Marvel Comics artist Mike Deodato to illustrate the storyline mode!!!!!!

Panting yet?

After two pretty stinky Punisher movies and a better-than-decent game from THQ, it’s quite difficult to pull off a Punisher movie/game/whatever without nailing every single aspect down pat.

Check out punishernomercy.com for more WILD, EXPLOSIVE MARVEL GREATNESS! Or Read this here release.

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Transformers: Revenge of Linkin Park

TransformersROTF_Longhaul

Mike Shinoda, Linkin Park front man, hopes his game-playing skills are as good as his musicianship, as he gears up to play Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, this Friday, June 26. Now is your chance to tell him how you felt about his last album (“You Suck Mike!), or fawn over him like a nerd supreme (“I love you, man!”).

Activision announced Shinoda’s celebrity appearance today in part to promote its Transformers game for Nintendo DS, PSP, PlayStation 3, and Xbox 360, which ships today.

To participate, send a friend request to the gamertag, “Mike LinkinPark,” and be online by 3:30 pm Eastern time. The Game with Fame session starts at 4 PM eastern time. More Game with Fame info can be found at Linkin Park.

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Top 10 Kids’ Games of E3 (on VentureBeat)

As the average age of video game players in North America continues to rise into their mid-30s (according to the ESA’s June E3 report), kids’ games on the whole have been overlooked as bigger production titles like God of War III and Grand Theft Auto IV demand center stage.

venturebeat_logo

Nintendo has always bucked this trend, creating games that appeal to “everyone,” and while Sony and Microsoft initially aimed at the hardcore market, both companies are desperately trying to appeal to a broader, younger market. Part of the expansion of the game market is due to the success of Nintendo’s Wii and DS platforms, which appeal to older adults, parents, women and children, while another part of the expansion is due to the growing indie game development, which thrives on inventive gameplay designs

High profile partnerships such as Steven Spielberg’s work with Electronic Arts, producing BoomBlox and BoomBlox: Bash Party, exemplifies Hollywood creators’ desire to get involved in a broader approach to video games. Initiatives from Sony Online Entertainment (Free Realms) and Turner Networks (FusionFall) illustrate how publishers are hoping to tap into the MMO market–led by successful Blizzard’s MMO, World of Warcraft–with products aimed at a younger demographic.

At this year’s E3 show, it was difficult to ignore publishers’ acknowledgment of the growing children’s market, including indie-influenced titles (such as Scribblenauts and Drawn to Life), a broadening scope of LEGO titles (LEGO Rock Band, LEGO Indiana Jones 2, and LEGO Harry Potter), and publishers’ return to the Mario Kart-influenced racing genre (Need for Speed Nitro, Sonic & SEGA All-Stars Racing). Here are my picks for the best children’s titles of the show.

See the full story on VentureBeat.com.

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