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Here is what has been making news: New Releases, Irrational Games, Wasteland 2, Gears of War, Octodad: Deadliest Catch, Xbox One Media Remote, GaymerX2, Naughty Dog, Final Fantasy, Rime, Crysis Trilogy, Batman Arkham Origins: Blackgate, Yoshi’s New Island, Amazon and Double Helix Games.
February 23rd – March 1st
Tuesday, February 25th
Assassin’s Creed: Freedom Cry – Standalone will be available for the PC.
Plants vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare will be available for the Xbox 360, Xbox One and PS3.
Thief will be available for the Xbox 360, Xbox One, PS3, PS4 and PC.
Castlevania Lords of Shadows 2 will be available for the Xbox 360, PS3 and PC.
Tales of Symphonia will be available for the PS3.
Rayman Legends will be available for the Xbox One, PS4 and PC.
Pac-Man Museum will be available for the Xbox 360, PS3, 3DS, Wii U, and PC.
Port Royal 3 – Gold Edition will be available for the PS3.
Magus will be available for the PS3.
Wednesday, February 26th
Pac-Man Museum will be available (in UK) for the Xbox 360, PS3 and PC.
Melody’s Escape will be available for the PC.
Renegade X will be available for the PC.
Thursday, February 27th
Bakumatsu Rock will be available for the PSP.
Shadowrun: Dragonfall will be available for the iPad, Android, PC and MAC.
Plants vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare will be available (in UK) for the Xbox 360 and Xbox One.
Friday, February 28th
Victory: The Age of Racing will be available for the PC.
The Battles of King Arthur will be available for the PC.
The Lego Movie Video Game will be available for the Xbox 360, Xbox One, PS3, PS4, PS Vita, 3DS, Wii U, and PC.
Innocent Girl will be available for the PC.
Plant Panic will be available for the iPhone, Android and PC.
Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze will be available for the Wii U.
Thief will be available (in UK) for the Xbox 360, Xbox One, PS3, PS4 and PC.
Professor Layton and the Azran Legacy will be available for the 3DS.
Resident Evil 4 HD will be available for the PC.
Divinity: Original Sin will be available for the PC and MAC.
The big news this past week involved Ken Levine and Irrational Games. Levine, the company’s creative director, announced that Irrational Games, best known for the BioShock series, System Shock 2, and Freedom Force, was seriously downsized. The Company will be turning away from disc-based big budget games and moving toward smaller digital games. Just like Gears of War director Cliff Bleszinski, Levine is rejecting the mainstream model of big-budget and all the garbage that accompanies it.
This “change of focus” has been supported by others as another sign of the changing times for the gaming industry, a bit of a middle finger toward the exhaustive triple A grind that comes from the demands of the big money publishers. Levine never really accepted the traditional model of mainstream big video games. He has been described as more abstract, free spirited and less structured than most game directors.
While this is all well and good for Levine who now gets to focus on his perfectionist side without the demands of short production times by publishers, polishing a game within an inch of its life, the other side of the coin involved in this “change of focus” involved the 90 percent of Irrational employees who are now unemployed. Their job loss came as a huge surprise to most of us in the game business, one has to wonder if it was just as much of a surprise to those now jobless. Irrational was not one of those studios who appeared to be struggling to keep afloat. BioShock Infinite sold over 4 million units and received critical acclaim as a shining example of originality. It was art, and art that made good money as well. No, the company was not struggling to make ends meet, at least not that we could see.
What we do know is that there are a whole lot of folks who are going through a rough patch right now as a result of this decision. The creativity that was Irrational Games wasn’t just Levine, BioShock Infinite wasn’t created by Levine alone. There were, at least, 274 creative people who worked on that game. Yes, I actually sat down and counted, and was surprised to find how many people have been effected by Levine’s decision. With each individual among that 274, are family members who are also affected by this change of focus. Perhaps those who are against unions could re-think that position and understand that the workers, those who sweat and toil long hours for their employers, do in fact need some kind of protection against egos and greed of the fat cats. Who was there to fight for the employees? Who was there to help negotiate change? No one, they were left at the mercy of Levine and his decision.
Thankfully, almost as soon as the news got out, the industry itself rallied behind the employees. On Twitter, for example, other studios used the hashtag #irrationaljobs to advertise openings within their studios, Mitch Dyer from IGN built a publicly editable Google Doc where all the studios could gather in one place to announce their job openings. It is a thing of beauty when one sees the video game industry rally together to help those who have lost their jobs through no fault of their own.
Levine explained himself, in a long winded, wordy post on the company’s official site, that this “winding down” of his studio was his choice. Nowhere did he mention any pressure from publisher 2K or even any fiscal disappointments. This was all about Levine not feeling satisfied with retail games, massive budgets, and his desire for narrative-driven, digitally distributed games.
But Levine hasn’t ditched the big publishing companies. 2K and its parent company, Take Two Interactive, will continue to back Levine and his future projects. So this wasn’t really about wanting to get out from under the thumb of some big greedy publisher. While this is good for Levine, and fans of his work, there is a troubling side. The possibility that this becomes a new trend, triple A development driving off talented people, means more companies may do what Levine did and more talented people will be out of work. Sadly, this points toward unsustainability of anything other than the most successful franchises, the rest will result in studio closures by the studio director or, most likely, the publishers.
Perhaps the silver lining is that we get more indie games out of this, more risk taking creativity, and more companies willing to help indie developers. But what we know now is that Irrational Games, as we, the fans, know it, hasn’t just changed focus or direction, Irrational Games is dead.
To all of those who have lost their jobs as a result of this, we wish you and your families well and hope to see you all in other studios on other games. May you find peace, happiness, and success in your futures.
Long Live Irrational Games.
In final phase
According to Brian Fargo, founder of inXile, their ambitious post-apocalyptic RPG, Waseland 2, is currently in its final phase of development. The hope is that it will be ready within the next three months, thereafter it should require only minor bug fixes.
In their latest Kickstarter update, Fargo states, “As we’ve said before we wanted to use the beta period to evaluate our release window. To outline our current plan: we will have the team working to lock down every aspect of the game within three months such that we are only addressing bugs [by the end of it].”
Fargo adds that, thanks to their “large passionate group” of beta testers, the team has 1,200 more bugs and suggestions to comb through.
With regards to a specific launch date Fargo says, “We know better than to give an exact date at this point because in addition to pushing the game in the ways we’d planned, we’re going to continue to incorporate player comments that make sense for us to address. But do be aware the end of this three month plan does not represent the finish line, at that point there will still be work to do before we can release the game.”
We do know that the next Wasteland 2 beta update will go live on Steam Early Access on February 24th. It will contain a new inventory user interface, some new locations, destructible objects, improved combat animations and more.
Microsoft won’t rush it
According to Phil Spencer, Microsoft Studios boss, says we shouldn’t expect to get a hold of the first entry in Black Tusk Studios Gears of War franchise any time soon. A recent Tweet by Spencer responding to a fan excited to play the game said “Still working through plan. I can say first original GoW from BT has to reignite franchise and grow it, won’t be a quick turn.”
Microsoft recently purchased the rights to the Gears of War franchise from Epic Games, then handed the duty of development to the Vancouver-based Black Tusk Studios. That studio had already been working on another franchise for Xbox One at the time, which sadly has likely been set aside.
Cliff Bleszinski, former Epic Games director, recently stated on his blog, “I don’t think the franchise could be in better hands. Gears is just as much Rod’s baby as it was mine. He’ll take good care of her.” However, you have to wonder just what will happen now with Epic Games. Gears of War was their shining light after games like Unreal Tournament went out of fashion and the Infinity Blade trilogy came to an end.
But with Rod Fergusson being brought into the studio as an expert, any uncertainty over the game’s future should be put to rest. Microsoft recently stated that Fergusson will “play a key studio leadership role at Black Tusk on the development of the Gears franchise going forward,” Fergusson is intimately familiar with the GoW franchise, so the change of hands from Epic Games to Black Tusk should work out fine for the franchise.
PS4 release announced
Apparently, according to the Twitter feed of developer Young Horses, the PS4 version of the game will become available sometime in April and there is a possibility of an Xbox One version of the game. There was also confirmation that the developer has no plans to bring the game to the Wii U.
Last week we offered information about the rumored Xbox One Media Remote. Now we can report that Microsoft has officially announced the remote and has confirmed that it will be available worldwide starting in “early March.”
According to the announcement, the device will let you control video playback for Blu-ray movies and streaming video on your Xbox One console. It also has dedicated Back and OneGuide buttons.
Microsoft explained that “The OneGuide button provides one-touch, quick access to your favorite TV shows and movies through the Xbox program guide.” Additionally, the remove will control TV/receiver power and volume through Kinect.
You can expect to pay about $25 for the device in North America. The price in other regions will be announced as the launch nears.
The second annual convention that celebrates the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender gaming community, GaymerX2, has launched a Kickstarter campaign to help raise funds for their 2014 event.
The group hopes to raise the $10,000 deposit that is required to reserve the San Francisco’s InterContinental hotel, where the event will be held. At the time of this writing, they have surpassed their goal and raised $12,162, which means the event should go as planned. It is an 18+ only event that will be held July 11th through the 13th.
GaymerX2 is a three-day event focusing on diversity and inclusivity in gaming. There will be a range of panels and chats with developers as well as the LGBTQ leaders. This year the speakers will include David Gaider, a veteran BioWare writer, Alexis Ohanian, Reddit’s cofounder, and Darren Young, the first openly gay WWE star.
There will also be concerts from Aethernaut, 2Mello, and Virt. In addition, a couple who had proposed at last year’s GaymerX will hold their wedding at this year’s event.
Who cares about sexual identity?
When asked if the emotional scene between Ellie and her female friend Riley from The Last of Us: Left Behind means that she is gay or bisexual, given that the two women kissed, director Bruce Straley stated, “It’s like ‘who cares?’ A good character is a good character and that’s what we’re after.”
Straley and Neil Druckmann, creative director for Naughty Dog, also challenged the idea that the majority of triple A games like The Last of Us are played mostly my males. Druckmann stated, “It turns out that’s not very true.” Straley backed up that statement adding that The Last of Us had an audience of about 60 percent male and 40 percent female, although it is unclear where those statistics came from.
When discussing the reaction Naughty Dog received regarding Ellie playing a major role in the game, Straley stated, “We went out of our way to make [Ellie] the most capable and independent and feisty person that she could be.” The common perception has been that characters like Ellie could only feature well in escort missions, however, Naughty Dog went to great lengths to show that Ellie is a strong, independent person in her own right. “I think the reception’s been great and we never set out to really make a statement so much as maybe play with tropes and make a super capable character.”
Straley went on to say, “We went out of our way to make her the most capable and independent and feisty person that she could be. It’s the contrast with Joel–he’s resistant and reluctant to let somebody in and so you needed that contrast; you needed somebody banging on the door emotionally, physically, and capably–and also to win over not only Joel but the players. We wanted to make sure that players felt like ‘Ellie is awesome.”
The Last of Us: Left Behind is the first single-player expansion Naughty Dog has ever made for any game It is currently available for the PS3.
Series coming to PC ?
Recently Yoshinori Kitase, producer for the Final Fantasy series, suggested that the series may well find its way to the PC. Kitase revealed that the development team was in the early stages of working on Final Fantasy XIII trilogy for the PC. Porting to consoles will come later, according to Kitase.
At first the team had “decided against” a PC version, citing “complex issues like security” as the primary reason to trash the idea. However, recently Final Fantasy 7 and 8 proved to be successful on Steam which renewed interest in PC porting.
Kitase explains, “It’s an early stage for us. We haven’t got an awful lot of experience in this field. So when we have more know-how and experience in this market, we would be very interested.”
The newest entry into the Final Fantasy series, Final Fantasy XV, was just announced last year for the Xbox One and PS4, however, Square Enix reports being undecided about a PC release. Earlier this month Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII was released. That game marks the conclusion of the story of Lightning and is the final installment in the Final Fantasy XIII universe.
Rime, now a PS4 exclusive, was once turned down by Microsoft. Tequila Works had once asked Microsoft for $3 million to develop and Xbox Live Arcade version of the game, then called Echoes of Siren. In the pitch document the game was described as “Gauntlet meets Minecraft meets Jason and the Argonauts” and would also come available for Windows 8 and Window Phone.
Recently Phil Spencer, Microsoft studios executive, responded to a Tweet about why Microsoft had declined on the option to fund the game. Spencer Tweeted back stating “Part of job is living with mistakes. Passed on Guitar Hero…I can list many misses regretfully. I try to focus on what we did ship” He added, “We’ll miss some, nature of the beast, its why I don’t hate when games ship elsewhere. Cool to see team’s idea turn in2 great game.”
Rime continues to be in development for the PS4, although no launch date has been specified yet.
On sale at Origin
A new Crysis PC bundle was recently launch by Electronic Arts and is currently available through Origin for $50. Crysis Trilogy includes all three Crysis games and a variety of expansions.
The bundle includes Crysis, Crysis: Warhead, Crysis 2: Maximum Edition, Crysis 3 Digital Deluxe Edition and Crysis 3: Lost Island Expansion. While the trilogy is currently only available for the PC, Crytek had earlier teased that it would be a “cool idea” to release the trilogy for the Xbox One and PS4. At this time, however, Crytek is working on the Xbox One title Ryse: Son of Rome and Homefront 2 is under development at their UK office. No new Crysis games have been announced.
According to recent confirmation by Warner Bros., Batman Arkham Origins: Blackgate will be launching for the Xbox 360, PS3, PC and Wii U on April 2nd.
Last year, the Batman Arkham Origins: Blackgate was released for the 3DS and the PS Vita with a tease that it could get released for the Xbox 360 and PS3.
The game is described as “A companion game to Batman: Arkham Origins, players can continue the storyline of the console version and discover more details of the Dark Knight’s past. Featuring stealth gameplay, free-flow combat, and Batman’s famed arsenal of gadgets, the genuine Arkham experience is reproduced in a deep, action packed side-scrolling adventure.”
Cute but don’t be fooled
Yoshi’s New Island the first big 3DS game of this year. Don’t let its crayon-colored graphics give you the false impression that it is for wee-folk, the game play is more demanding than the graphics or soundtrack would like you to believe.
Yoshi, with Baby Mario on his back, hop around the vibrant world. All goes well up until you hit about stage 2-7, then things begin to heat up. The challenges can be eye-twitching. Enemy placement is tricky, jumps are difficult to reach and collectibles are laying just out of reach. This is when you begin to consider taking this cute little adventure a bit more seriously. Those smiling clouds and sweet music give you the impression this game is going to be a cakewalk. Don’t be fooled, this is one challenging game!
Outside of some frustration with the challenge, this is a fun game to play and try to conquer. Try it for yourself, you’ll see that I’m right … enjoy!
It was recently announced that the e-commerce giant, Amazon, acquired Double Helix Games, the developer best known for games like Killer Instinct and Strider reboots.
Amazon reports that this acquisition is “part of our ongoing commitment to build innovative games for customers.” Those in the industry suspect this move has something to do with the rumored Android-based home console that Amazon is believed to be working on. It is further believed that with Double Helix Games, Amazon hopes to win the favor of gamers who would otherwise shun an Amazon console.
Acquiring Double Helix sets Amazon apart from their Android console competitors such as Ouya, which is currently floundering. It is difficult to get core games onboard with an Android-based machine. While Ouya’s Kickstarter campaign was unbelievably successful, the final product has proven to be less of a success. This begs the question, will an Amazon Android-based console prove to be any better?
Amazon did make a bid for gamers’ attention with the Kindle Fire, which is capable of running apps. Yet currently the only game that belongs to Amazon Game Studio is from 2012, Air Patriots, which does hold a 4-out-of-5 star rating on the Google apps store. Gamers, serious gamers like you and I, don’t tend to be very interested is Flash games for tablets, hence, Kindle Fire with its weak interactive offerings hasn’t really taken off as Amazon had hoped.
Recently Double Helix, whom you may not even have known about up until last year, seems to be making a bit of a name for itself. Until recently the studio made rather mediocre games tied into movies such as Green Lantern: Rise of the Manhunters and G.I. Joe: The Rise of the Cobra. However, Double Helix appears to have stepped up the pace a bit with a pretty amazing debut of Killer Instinct on Xbox One. Even more recently Double Helix showed off their Strider reboot which appears to be right up there in quality. Both games are games to get excited about, in fact, Killer Instinct may well have been a system seller for the Xbox One.
With the success of Double Helix fresh in the minds of gamers, Amazon hopes they can grab the attention of the average gamer. After all, snatching up a next-gen developer, even if they are not yet considered a triple A studio, could prove promising for the Amazon console. This is especially true if Double Helix can design high rated core games exclusive to Amazon’s Android platform.