Sunday, July 29, 2007

In The News (7/22-7/28)

Nintendo Raises Profit Forecast For The Year
    I may not like some of the decisions Nintendo has made in regards to the Wii, but I can't blame them- first and foremost, they're a business, and therefore, they're in it to make money, not friends. It seems like they're doing a fantastic job in that respect.
    They've increased their net income predictions by 40%. That's insane. The Wii and DS are just unstoppable beasts at this point thanks to Nintendo's decision to expand their market to non-gamers.
    Right now, all Sony and Microsoft can really do is fight over who gets to be the king of hardcore gamers, and all Nintendo can really do is keep counting their money from the casual and non-gamers.

Microsoft's Entertainment Division Losing Billions
    Ouch. In stark contrast to Nintendo upping their profit forecasts, Microsoft's entertainment division has suffered a $1.9 billion loss thanks to the red ring of death scandal, disappointing software sales, etc.
    This makes me wonder whether or not they'll be able to get out from under it all before the next generation hits. Microsoft still says they will, but I'm not too sure. Ever since the first Xbox came out, it's all been losses for Microsoft. It's almost confusing as to why they're still even staying in the games business if all they've done is lost billions of dollars.
    Besides, this couldn't have come at a worse time: Peter Moore just left to go to EA, the disc-scratching 360 issue just reached courts, and the red ring of death scandal is what causes this huge debt. Microsoft just can't seem to catch a break, can they?

Xbox 360 Getting A $50 Price Cut?
    Exactly the way the PS3's price cut was leaked, some retailers' ads have shown a $349 Premium SKU 360. Now, this is by no means confirmed yet, but it seems likely. Really the only issue here is to decipher what's actually happening.
    There are a couple possible explanations: This could just be a by-the-book price drop for all 360 SKUs even though only the Premium was shown, and this possibility would likely just be a response to Sony's temporary $100 price cut. Or it could just be a way to make room in the SKU lineup for the Halo 3 edition 360, so they drop the Premium's price to $349 and introduce the Halo 3 SKU at $399.
    Regardless, if this is true, Sony might want to prepare for another price cut, perhaps to $399. Otherwise, they might just find themselves even farther behind Microsoft and Nintendo. Let's hope this is confirmed/denied soon.

WEEKLY SAMPLER: 360 HD-DVD Price Drop / Gears PC Content Never On 360 / Eat, Sleep, Play / "Complete" GTA IV On 360

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Thursday, July 26, 2007

In The News (7/15-7/21)

    I don't know what to say. Life just keeps catching up to me, you know? Hopefully, starting now, there can be a return to form and I'll post more. I've got my E3 reactions feature and a few reviews to write up, so it's not like I've just run out of things to write about or anything; it's just about finding the time to write them.

Mario Party 8 Pulled In UK For Being "Spastic"
    This is the second game in the UK to be pulled to remove the word "spastic," since that word is apparently more offensive across the pond than here in the States.
    Tell me this, though: When did it stop being OK to offend someone? When did the change happen in the world where everything has to be politically correct? It used to be where, if something offended you, you'd just shrug it off and ignore it. But now, if something offends you, you work to get it removed from your life outright, no matter how much money it costs or how many people will be affected.
    Now, I get that Mario Party is supposed to be a "family" game and appropriate for everyone, but I think it's still pretty ridiculous to completely recall the game from store shelves just to remove one word that isn't even that bad- apparently the equivalent here is "retarded," which still doesn't strike me as justification to pull the game.
    Whatever. I guess asking people to just shrug something off and go about their day is simply too much to ask...

Microsoft Sued Over XBOX 360 Disc-Scratching
    Man, Microsoft just can't catch a break, can they? First, they get hounded about the red ring of death scandal until they're finally forced to confront the issue and pay up a billion dollars, and right when they think they're in the clear, BAM! Another lawsuit is slammed on their desks, this time over disc-scratching.
    Of course, this one isn't quite as bad for them, and if they lose, it won't cost them quite as much; I can't remember where I read it, but I think it's only a couple million, which is like a drop in the bucket at this point.
    It's still curious though, why the XBOX 360 has so many technical problems. I just don't understand why they released it if they knew it had those problems; and if they didn't know about them prior to launch, then they should have done better product testing, period.
    By all rights, this is still their fault, but I almost feel bad for them at this point.

Microsoft's Jeff Bell Calls Out Message Board Poster
    So this is actually a pretty funny story, but at the same time, it's pretty sad. Apparently a guy on the NeoGAF message boards, "a Master Ninja," was very critical of Jeff Bell's performance at Microsoft's E3 press conference. If you haven't seen it, just know that it was hilarious because the guy has no charisma whatsoever.
    In response to this, Jeff Bell himself sent a private message to "a Master Ninja," asking him, "and your contribution to society is... what?" It really was from Jeff Bell, which makes the whole situation that much better, especially when you consider that Jeff Bell's contribution to society is: Not a lot.
    This fiasco really illustrates why executives should always be on a leash from their PR people. Plain and simple, Jeff should've ignored "a Master Ninja," but seeing as how humorous the situation is from a bystander's point of view, I'm glad he didn't.

WEEKLY SAMPLER: Peter Moore Leaves Microsoft / Silicon Knights vs. Epic Games / Take Two Execs Plead Guilty / Bully Revamped For Wii/360 / I Will Kryll You

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Monday, July 16, 2007

In The News (7/8-7/14)

Rock Band To Offer Full-Length Albums
    Rock Band is going to absolutely destroy Guitar Hero. I almost feel bad for the poor bastards at Activision. They shell out lots of money buying Guitar Hero, make a quick buck, and then the old Guitar Hero guys decide it's time to take down their old franchise. It's an interesting situation.
    Well, for those of you who don't know, while Guitar Hero lets you solely play the lead/bass/rhythm guitars, Rock Band also lets you play the drums or sing, and all simultaneously to allow a group of four friends to simulate playing in a rock band. Rock Band has MTV and EA helping Harmonix, the original creators of Guitar Hero, so they're using all their weight to get the best songs they can. And they've gotten a lot.
    Rock Band is going to offer full-length albums for download, starting with The Who's "Who's Next." Not only that, but they plan on releasing new content every single week; Harmonix says they're looking at Rock Band more like a platform than a game.
    Guitar Hero III will get sales, sure, and I would imagine that Activision will try to milk the last few bucks out of the franchise before hanging up their guitars, but nonetheless, Guitar Hero is on Death's doorstep.

PS3 Price Cut Only Temporary
    If you've been doing any sort of monitoring of the community's reactions to gaming news, you know how easy it is for the general consensus to sway from positive to negative, like some emotion-powered pendulum. Well, it seems that Sony's pendulum just swung back to negative.
    The PS3's price drop and new 80GB SKU is apparently only a temporary thing- after they sell out the stock of the 60GB SKU, that's it; they're gone. Then they'll be back to a single $599 PS3 SKU, followed by an eventual price drop back to a more stable $499 for the 80GB SKU.
    If that all sounds confusing, it's because it is. To make it simple, let me put it to you this way: If you want perfect backwards compatibility, buy the 60GB SKU while it lasts, because it's your last chance to get a PS3 with the PS2's Emotion Engine built-in. Also, you shouldn't buy the 80GB unless you really want that extra 20GB, because the pack-in game, Motorstorm, can just be bought separately of the cheaper 60GB SKU, saving you $40.
    Personally, I had planned to keep my PS2 when I bought a PS3 anyway, so it's not really a big deal for me; it just means that when I do buy a PS3 (more details tomorrow or the next day), I'll be able to get one with an extra 20GB for $100 less.

Sony's Still Denying Rumble
    Ever since Immersion and Sony patched things up, people have been spreading rumors about when rumble would be put back into the PS3's SIXAXIS controller. Since E3 2007 has come and gone with no word, predictions have shifted to the announcement coming this September at the Tokyo Game Show.
    The thing is... Sony flat out denied that they had plans to put rumble back in, but that seems to mean nothing. After all, they did the same thing with the price drop: They denied that they had any plans of dropping the PS3's price, then a few days later, they announced that they were dropping the PS3's price. So Sony's word may not mean that much.
    Honestly, this is still good news for me, because that means that when I buy a PS3, it'll be $499 with 80GB and a rumble-enabled SIXAXIS controller. Sweet. My only question now is whether or not they'll be incorporating Immersion's "next-generation" rumble that Immersion announced last year that was supposed to revolutionize the rumbling word.

WEEKLY SAMPLER: Sony's GTA Plans / PSP Redesign! / PlayStation Marketplace? / Killzone 2: Then and Now

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Monday, July 9, 2007

In The News (7/1-7/7)

    Sorry for the delay. Combined with all my real life distractions, sifting through the extra load of E3 stuff made it harder to pick out the stuff I thought was worthy. Hopefully the new format for E3 will allow for some more organized news reporting, but probably not.

Red Rings of Death Nearly Kills Microsoft
    So it's not exactly a secret to anyone that the Xbox 360 isn't the most reliable of systems. Problems seemed isolated at first, but as the months went on, they kept stacking up, and Microsoft kept shrugging them off. 1UP even reported on a man who was on his 12th system.
    Well, it finally caught up to them, and so they've decided to own up and finally do something about it. They've extended every Xbox 360's warranties to three years and promised to reimburse those who have already paid to get their consoles fixed. It's going to cost them about a billion dollars.
    This is a bold move by Microsoft, and one that should have occurred a lot sooner. However, I don't want to focus on any negatives that this story has, because ultimately, it is good for everyone involved.
    Kudos to Microsoft, for (finally) owning up.

Sony Slashes PS3 Price, New SKU Added
    Well, that link leads to the story where Sony denies that there is a price cut, and this is the story from Sunday where Sony confirms it. Now, since this In The News is coming late, I'm just going to go ahead and talk about the price cut even though it technically happened the day after that week ended, just so I don't have to talk about it later.
    This is great news for anyone looking to buy a PS3- the current 60GB version dropped to $500 and a new 80GB version with Motorstorm packed in took the 60GB's previous price of $600. So, would I recommend you get the new SKU? Not really. You can buy Motorstorm for $60 and you probably won't need the 20GB of space.
    What's the benefit of adding this new SKU then? Well, it's because Sony didn't want to drop the price, but they were under too much pressure from retailers and developers. They simply had no choice but to drop the price. However, they also need to satisfy their stockholders right? So they introduce another SKU where they don't lose quite as much money per console as the 60GB version.
    Overall, it's a smart business decision. People get the price drop they wanted, and Sony doesn't lose quite as much money as they probably would've without the extra SKU.

PSN and XBL to Offer Free E3 DLC
    Aren't abbreviations fun? What that all means is that the PlayStation Network and Xbox Live are both going to offer free downloadable content to gamers who own a PS3 or 360. So while you're sitting at home during E3, you can download game demos, trailers, documentaries, press conference footage, and more.
    Honestly, it's stuff like this that makes me love where the this newest generation of gaming has taken us. Rather, it's taken the content straight to us in our homes. It gives us an inside look at things we probably wouldn't have gotten to see before. It allows Microsoft and Sony to deliver their messages directly to us.
    I guess my only gripe with it is that I've only got a Wii and a PS2, and neither of those offer those kinds of services. Obviously the PS2 wouldn't, but I'm really disappointed (though not surprised) that Nintendo failed to deliver that kind of service.

WEEKLY SAMPLER: Nintendo: 6, Sony: 1 / Hail to the ESA Chief / Capcom's New Fight / T. Hawk!

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Thursday, July 5, 2007

Fight For Your Right!

Adults-Only Games And You
    The Manhunt 2 controversy revealed something that many gamers, myself included, did not know: That Sony, Nintendo, and Microsoft all refuse to even license Adults-Only rated games on their systems. I had assumed that developers at least had the option of making AO games, even if most stores would refuse to carry them.

    The reason why they don't allow AO games on their systems is so they can maintain the image of being "family-friendly." However, in keeping this policy, these companies are hindering the videogame industry as a whole, preventing games from becoming a respected art form.

    Whether or not you agree with or even like Manhunt 2, you should at least be able to see why banning AO-rated games is wrong. Why can't a game be appropriate only for adults? Why can't a developer make the game they want to make without it being censored? Why can't there be a market for adult games? Other entertainment mediums have healthy growth in that area, and by refusing those games, Sony, Nintendo, and Microsoft are only limiting the industry.

    Therefore, if you feel that it is wrong to ban Adults-Only rated games, you are obligated to voice your opinion. You are obligated to send a message directly to Sony and Nintendo, just as I have. Write a calm, intelligent message expressing why you disagree with their anti-AO policy, then send it to Nintendo and to Sony. (They both have very convoluted contact forms, so send it to as many departments as you think are appropriate. I sent 3 copies of my message to Nintendo and 5 copies to Sony.)

    This is my message that I sent to Nintendo (obviously I edited it before sending it to Sony):

    I disagree with Nintendo's policy to refuse to license Adults Only-rated games. To help videogames be taken seriously as a legitimate art form, we have to accept their content as an extension of the creator's mind, whatever that content may be and regardless of whether or not we agree with it.

    Therefore, I must request that Nintendo reconsider their position to refuse to license Manhunt 2 in its current state- an AO-rated game. There is no conceivable reason why there cannot be a market for games that are appropriate only for adults. As evidenced by movies of extreme content like SAW and HOSTEL, this market can be profitable.

    Videogames are still in their infancy, and must be allowed to grow freely to develop and flourish into a true art. If we give in to those who wish to hamper this progress and who do not take videogames as art seriously, then we have done nothing more than prove to them that they are right, and that videogames are not art.

    Furthermore, with Nintendo's renewed commitment to shedding its "kiddy" image and becoming more mainstream, there would be no better way to show that Nintendo is serious about branching out to a more mature audience than having the first console to allow an Adults Only-rated game.

    Nintendo is in a position to show the world that videogames are something to be taken seriously. Please do not let this go to waste.

-Thomas Ella

    Please support the cause. Hopefully they'll listen.

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Sunday, July 1, 2007

In The News (6/24-6/30)

1UP's GTA IV Trailer Analysis
    So I've probably watched it at least 20 to 25 times... Seriously. I love this Grand Theft Auto IV trailer that Rockstar released last week. The energy and flow of it is perfect, and shows a lot of new little play mechanics. I just keep finding new details every time I watch it. Here it is in case you haven't seen it:
    Now, to get the analysis of the trailer, just click here. It's really interesting. They point out stuff like the added draw distance, some interesting graffiti, the way Nico is always checking the mirror when driving, etc.
    Honestly, there's not much industry analysis that can be done here; I just thought it was a badass trailer and felt stupid for not having made a news post the day it came out. If you want an analysis of the movie, again, click here, but if you want one of my typical analysis where I connect it to the industry as a whole... Eh. Just pretend like I just talked about the sales of the game being crazy or how the PS3 and 360 versions will differ or something like that.
    By the way, the song in the trailer is "Arm in Arm (Shy Child Remix)" by The Boggs.

WiiWare: Original Downloadable Wii Games
    So, you know how Microsoft and Sony have been giving you new, original games that you can download? Well, the Wii's finally going to start doing that... next year. That's right folks; it's not in that particular story, but it is in this one- WiiWare won't be happening until early 2008.
    What I want to know is why this is taking so long. I've heard die-hard Wii loyalists say that I shouldn't complain because of the Virtual Console, but let's face it... Those are all old games. You can't use those as an excuse for why there haven't been new ones- why not just release only old games from now on, huh? Who needs new games?
    But that's just taking a positive story and finding the one negative thing about it. I'm really looking forward to this, even though when I first read the start date, I was pretty upset. The possibilities of what independent developers can do on Wii compared to the PS3 or 360 should be really impressive, even if they won't look that great.
    Besides, maybe now some of these mini-game collections can just be downloadable and we won't have to pay full retail price for them.

ESRB Cracking Down on Violent Game Trailers?
    It's official: The ESRB is fully in survival mode now. First Manhunt 2, and now this? Hm. Trailers that have been up for months of such violent games as Gears of War, Dark Sector, and The Darkness have been given notice that they need to be taken down. As 1UP points out, the Gears videos had been up since January. Meaning half a year had passed. Wow.
    So why is this happening now? Again, the ESRB is in survival mode, and they're prepared to do anything to make it look like they can police the videogame industry. That includes censoring trailers which may have offensive content.
    But should they be? I really don't think that they need to be censored to that extent. For instance, in a trailer for Manhunt 2, I don't think they need to show you cutting off a man's genitals and force-feeding them to him before decapitating him to let you know what this game is all about. But they certainly shouldn't just show fluffy bunnies hopping around. You have to know what kind of a game you're getting. If they show something that doesn't look too bad for Manhunt 2, someone might get the wrong impression and buy it for their son.
    It's one thing to censor a game's content. It's a whole other thing to censor the footage from that game.

WEEKLY SAMPLER: Republicans & Democrats Stand Together / Games Shouldn't Be Singled Out / Gaming Addiction Not A Disorder / WiiSaber In The Works?

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