Xbox boss Don Mattrick says when compared to other modern products, $500 is not a "ridiculous" price point.
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Source: See below.
What we heard: While often backed by highly organized media corporations, many musical acts like to cultivate the image of a gleeful scofflaw that doesn't play by the rules. That's certainly been the case when it comes to keeping new game projects secret, with Aerosmith and Green Day preemptively revealing the existence of Guitar Hero: Aerosmith and the Green Day Rock Band Track Pack. That's also been true for non-music games, with 50 Cent confirming the existence of 50 Cent: Bulletproof on San Francisco radio and a symphony musician revealing Diablo III nearly three years before Blizzard officially unveiled it.
Now, it looks like Opeth may be joining the ranks of hard-rockers-turned-game-spoilers. In a blog post last week, the Stockholm-based death metal group announced that, despite their distaste for games in general, they would be featured in a high-profile upcoming title:
We may not like playing video games all that much but we do like it when our music is featured on them! Makes us a bit proud even when it's a game as big as Saints Row for the PSP and even prouder when the nice developer people show excellent taste by picking "The Lotus Eater" for it. So if you love playing video games: the game is expected to hit the streets around March 2010. (Emphasis added--video for song viewable below.)
The official story: Inquiries sent to THQ had not been returned as of press time.
Bogus or not bogus?: Looking not bogus. Why would a Swedish group which, by its own admission, doesn't even follow gaming name such a specific franchise out of thin air? Plus, a PSP Saints Row makes sense. One of the most popular PSP games of all time is Grand Theft Auto: Liberty City Stories, which features the same sort of M-rated, open-world crime action that the Saints Row series appropriated from console GTAs. Such a release would also help sustain interest in the series until the release of the already confirmed Saints Row 3.
Source: See below.
What we heard: The intermittent efforts of the proprietor of Superannutation to sift through the slurry of often-unreliable information on the Internet has yielded another data diamond. The blog has posted a link to a July 17 US Patent and Trademark Office filing by Microsoft for the term "343 Industries" for use with "computer programs, namely, game software for use on computers and video." Other than Microsoft's address and attorney of record, no other information was given.
Though the number "343" might mean nothing to many gamers, it has major significance to fans of the Halo series. First and foremost, it is the name of 343 Guilty Spark, one of the series' most humorous, enigmatic, and--ultimately--lethal foes. An artificial intelligence housed inside a diminutive-but-powerful metal shell (pictured) built by the Forerunner race which constructed the game's titular ringworlds, 343 was worshipped as "The Oracle" by the multiracial interstellar theocracy known as the Covenant--the game's primary antagonist race. Unfortunately, for much of the Master Chief story arc, the machine is focused on activating the Halo arrays and destroying all life in the galaxy.
The name "343 Industries" also sounds less like a game and more like a label--a label that would be perfectly apt for the internal division of Microsoft Game Studios dedicated to the Halo franchise. The group, which currently has no distinct title, has drawn some notable names to its ranks, including former Kojima Productions producer Ryan Payton and Bungie alum Frank O'Connor. The Halo series' creator, the now-independent Bungie Studios, is still developing new installments, such as this fall's Halo 3: ODST and next year's Halo: Reach.
The official story: "We have nothing to announce at this time." --Microsoft rep.
Bogus or not bogus?: While thin, it's looking not bogus. Unless Microsoft is planning some sort of Railroad Tycoon-type manufacturing simulator, 343 Industries is almost certainly not a game. And if it's an internal studio--which many publishers give distinct identities to foster talent--the number points squarely at the Halo franchise.
[UPDATE] At Comic-Con, Microsoft announced 343 Industries is indeed a new division which will oversee the creation of Halo books, clothing, collectibles, and other content as well as liasing with studios such as Bungie on games.
Source: Investment-centric news site VentureBeat.
What we heard: Over the weekend, Hollywood trade Variety reported that Ryan Reynolds (Van Wilder, The Amityville Horror) had landed the lead role in Warner Bros. Pictures' film based on DC Comics' Green Lantern franchise. The role represents Reynolds' return to the genre, as the actor portrayed Deadpool in the critically lambasted X-Men Origins: Wolverine.
Reynolds' attachment to the Green Lantern film appears not to be the only development to surface regarding the production. VentureBeat reports today that Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment has tapped Foundation 9 studio Double Helix for a game tie-in to launch alongside the film in June 2011. According to the site, Double Helix is crafting the game for the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3.
According to VentureBeat's sources, the game tie-in has been on the table for more than a year. However, development on the project only just recently gained steam. Notably, Double Helix is no stranger to crafting film tie-ins, as it is currently wrapping development on the Xbox 360, PS3, Wii, PlayStation 2, and PSP versions of EA's GI Joe: The Rise of Cobra, which is due August 4.
Double Helix is also at work on Square Enix's Front Mission Evolved, a mech-based third-person shooter announced during this year's Electronic Entertainment Expo. Square Enix has not yet revealed when that game is expected to arrive for the Xbox 360, PS3, and PC.
The official story: WBIE declined to comment on VentureBeat's report. Foundation 9 had not responded to GameSpot's request for comment as of press time.
Bogus or not bogus?: It seems to go without saying that WBIE would be keen on delivering a game tie-in with the Green Lantern film. Combine that with VentureBeat's respectable track record, and this one is looking not bogus.
Source: Gaming blog Joystiq.
What we heard: LucasArts has been keen on reviving its back catalog of late. Next week, the publisher will release an updated version of its classic adventure Secret of Monkey Island on Xbox Live and Valve's PC distribution channel Steam. LucasArts is also targeting Valve's online platform with a host of other titles, ranging from Loom to Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade: The Graphic Adventure to Star Wars Battlefront II.
Now, LucasArts may be contemplating extending its online distribution focus to all-new titles, as well. Joystiq this week is reporting that it has received a tip from a source within LucasArts claiming the publisher is prepping an all-new side-scrolling adventure game titled Lucidity for release through Xbox Live Arcade.
According to Joystiq's source, Lucidity has a decidedly Psychonauts-like bent, with primary protagonist Sofi navigating a game world that takes place entirely within her subconscious in an effort to rescue her grandmother. Lucidity will reportedly feature a variant on traditional platforming, as Sofi autonomously traverses environments while players drop needed objects in her path.
Joystiq's source offered no other gameplay details and did not specify when the game may see release.
The official story: LucasArts had not returned GameSpot's request for comment as of press time.
Bogus or not bogus?: Would LucasArts skim so close to the concept of its former employee, Double Fine founder and Psychonauts creator Tim Schafer? Certainly possible, but an obligatory "bogus" for now.
Source: The Spanish cousin of UK-based Eurogamer.
What we heard: Though the more streamlined, UMD-less PSP Go was revealed just over a month ago at the Electronic Entertainment Expo, reports of Sony's next handheld are already sprouting up. Case in point: a report today on Eurogamer.es, which claims to have uncovered the processor at the heart of the PSP platform's successor, the PSP2. (Completely speculative concept art pictured--no form factor has been revealed.)
According to a handy translation provided by Eurogamer's hardware site Digital Foundry, Eurogamer.es is citing insider sources as saying the PSP2 will be powered by the SGX543MP chip from the PowerVR line of graphics processors. PowerVR is a division of GPU-maker Imagination Technologies, which also specializes in "the creation and licensing of semiconductor system-on-chip intellectual property."
A netbook equipped with a single-core version of the SGX543MP was shown off at the 2009 Consumer Electronics Show running Quake III arena at a robust 30 frames per second while playing high-def video. Eurogamer.es claims the PSP2 will be sporting a quad core, low-power-consumption variant of the mutlicore chipset, code-named "Hydra," which can be used for both central and graphics processing. It can process 133 million polygons/second and will boast a 4 gigapixels/second fill rate if operated at the lower end of the spectrum to preserve the PSP2's battery life--more graphics-processing power than the original Xbox. Indeed, the SGX543MP is rumored to be at the center of a new HD-video capable iPhone, since its processors are already used by Apple in the iPhone 3GS. Apple currently owns a near-10 percent stake in London-based Imagination.
The official story: Sony did not respond to requests for comment as of press time.
Bogus or not bogus?: A little thin, but looking plausible. Last November, long after Apple licensed PowerVR tech in mid-2007, Imagination revealed a deal with an unnamed "major international consumer electronics company" to provide a "high-performance forthcoming member of Imagination's PowerVR SGX graphics processor family" for use in a mystery device or devices.
Source: Gaming news site Voodoo Extreme.
What we heard: Microsoft may still be chafing diehard PC gamers with the recent closure of Age of Empires studio Ensemble Studios, but that wasn't the only outfit near and dear to PC gamers that the developer has put down. In September 2007, Microsoft shuttered FASA Studio, better known as the interactive gaming arm of acclaimed pen-and-paper role-playing game company FASA Corporation, creators of the MechWarrior, Crimson Skies, and Shadowrun IPs.
With both FASA Studio and FASA Corp. shot down--the latter of which went under in 2001--founder Jordan Weisman purchased the rights to his old company's catalog from Microsoft when he formed Smith & Tinker in 2007. "We're not quite ready to announce our plans for each property, but please be assured that our goal is to surprise and delight old fans while welcoming new fans to these fantastic worlds," Weisman commented at the time.
Nearly two years on, and the fate of one of those IPs may soon be revealed. Along with a coyly worded teaser, Voodoo Extreme today posted what appears to be a trailer for a new installment in the MechWarrior franchise. The nine-second clip merely shows a slick sports car parked in the middle of a deserted street in a futuristic city. As if disturbed by a walking earthquake, the car is jostled about by the approach of what appears to be a massive mechsuit, though only the leg of the exoskeleton is shown.
According to Voodoo Extreme's teaser, Piranha Games will be developing the MechWarrior title, though no platforms were specified. Based in Vancouver, Canada, Piranha was formed in 2000 and has contributed to a number of high-profile titles, including Medal of Honor Heroes 2, Need for Speed Undercover, and the recently released Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen. Pirahna's Web site also notes that it is currently working on "a AAA licensed franchise on the Xbox 360, Wii, and PS3."
The official story: Neither Smith & Tinker nor Piranha Games had responded to requests for comment as of press time.
Bogus or not bogus?: It's hard to argue with video evidence, but if anything is official, neither Smith & Tinker nor Piranha are ready to talk about it.
[UPDATE] A reboot of the Mechwarrior franchise has now been confirmed.
What we heard: It isn't just the fighters in the octagon that employ merciless tactics to defeat their opponents, it would seem. Last November, a number of news outlets reported that welterweight contender Jon Fitch and his fellow American Kickboxing Academy members were cut from the Ultimate Fighting Championship. Reportedly at cause for the move was a licensing disagreement between Fitch and the UFC on THQ's UFC Undipsuted 2009, in which the fighter refused to sign away his name and likeness rights in a lifetime contract for the game.
While that issue ultimately came to a peaceful resolution, the UFC again appears to be strong-arming the mixed martial arts talent pool over the fighting organization's deal with THQ. As spotted by enthusiast blog MMA Scraps, a Mixed Martial Arts Underground forum poster with the username Golden Boy said yesterday that the UFC was prepared to ban all unsigned fighters who agree to be a part of Electronic Arts' upcoming MMA title.
"I hear that all [MMA] managers were informed that if any of their clients not currently under contract with the UFC sign to be a part of the EA game, the[y] will forever be banned for fighting in the UFC," Golden Boy wrote. Later in the thread, a poster using the handle KenP--who MMA Scraps identifies as notable MMA agent Ken Pavia--substantiated this claim, writing, "It's true. And they told me [they] want the word out."
EA announced its entrance into the MMA genre during its press conference at this year's Electronic Entertainment Expo. Though EA has yet to officially announce any fighters for the game, former UFC heavyweight champion Tim Sylvia told MMA News that he and fellow ex-champ Randy Couture had both been signed to appear in the game. EA Sports MMA is in development at Madden studio EA Tiburon, and the first installment is due in 2010.
The official story: Neither the UFC nor Ken Pavia's agency had responded to GameSpot's request for comment as of press time. EA declined to comment on the matter.
Bogus or not bogus?: Given the UFC's strong-arm business tactics in the past, this report seems entirely plausible. However, without firm confirmation from one of the parties involved one way or the other, it's impossible to say for certain.
Source: The New York Times' Weddings/Celebrations section.
What we heard: Lionhead Studios' Fable II sold like gangbusters as an Xbox 360 exclusive, shifting 2.6 million units as of Microsoft's last accounting in March. It came as little surprise, then, when BBC personality Jonathan Ross said on his Twitter feed on the night of the British Academy of Film and Television Arts awards ceremony in March that he had been tapped to provide work on Fable II's follow-up, Fable III.
Though Ross quickly backed off his statement, Microsoft may have one more unexpected outing of the as-yet-confirmed game, this time courtesy of The New York Times. Last week, The Times ran a wedding announcement for Amy E. Gilbert and Joshua Samuels Atkins. Of the latter, The Times said, "Mr. Atkins, 34, is the lead game designer for Fable III, a video game series produced by Lionhead Studios in Guildford, England."
The Times makes a point of noting in its guidelines for submitting a wedding announcement for publication that "submissions are rewritten, fact-checked and edited according to the standards of The Times." As such, it is possible that The Times simply made a typo, adding an extra "I" onto Fable II.
This explanation seems unlikely, however, considering Richard Ham, who in December joined Splash Damage to work on the Bethesda Softworks-published Brink, filled the lead design position on Fable II. Josh Atkins has been involved with the Fable franchise since the original shipped in 2004, though. On Fable II, Atkins served as a go-between for Microsoft and Lionhead as senior design director at Microsoft Game Studios.
It's also worth noting that Lionhead founder Peter Molyneux has previously said that his studio already has the third, fourth, and fifth installments in the franchise mapped out. "We've got plans for Fable III, IV, and V, actually... It's a big story arc, and you can see that if you've played Fable II, you'll recognise things from Fable," Molyneux commented in July 2008.
The official story: "We have nothing to announce regarding future Lionhead Studios projects."--A Microsoft representative.
Bogus or not bogus?: Considering the success of the Fable franchise, it's not a question of if Fable III will be developed, but when. Not bogus.
Source: Tech and gaming news site Ars Technica.
What we heard: Sony has drawn flack for the PlayStation 3's sticker tag from the moment the top-tier console's $599 price was announced in 2006. And while Sony has released an array of hardware configurations to bring down the price, the PS3 consistently scores the bronze in the US' three-way current-generation console race. Last week, Activision ratcheted the price war rhetoric up a notch, threatening to drop support for the PS3 and PSP as early as 2010 if Sony doesn't enact a price reduction for its flagship console. Currently, the cheapest PS3 hardware SKU is the 80GB model, which was introduced during E3 2008.
Analysts and publishers alike believe Sony will eventually cut the PS3's price sometime during the back half of the year, though the same could be said of 2008. This time, though, industry watchers may be right, as Ars Technica's reliable tipster has informed the tech news site that Sony will cut the PS3's price as well as introduce the 120GB PS3 Slim this fall.
Ars Technica's source had no specific information on how much the consoles will cost or whether or not Sony will alter its SKU offerings. However, the source did say that Sony is currently in the process of flooding retail with the 160GB PS3 SKU, while at the same time limiting supply of the 80GB model. The source noted that most retailers have about a 60-day supply of the 80GB model left in stock.
Were Sony to proceed with a price cut, the console maker's newfound competitiveness may be short-lived. Ars Technica's source notes that Microsoft may respond to a PS3 price cut with a SKU jiggering of its own. According to the tipster, Microsoft plans to phase out the midlevel $299 Xbox 360 Pro in July or August, with the publisher introducing a number of attractive software bundles to help move systems. Once supply has sold through, Microsoft will essentially replace the 60GB Pro with the 120GB Elite model, cutting the price of its top-tier system to $299 in early September, the source said.
Of note, Ars Technica's source has successfully sleuthed out a number of retailer-related happenings in the past. Most applicably, the source precisely called Microsoft's across-the-board hardware price cuts for the Xbox 360 Elite, Pro, and Arcade in September 2008.
The official story: "This is completely based on rumors and rampant speculation."--A Sony Computer Entertainment representative. "Microsoft does not comment on rumors or speculation."--A Microsoft representative.
Bogus or not bogus?: Both the Xbox 360 and PS3 (and the Wii, for that matter) have seen weakness at retail recently, with Electronic Entertainment Design and Research analyst Jesse Divnich telling GameSpot earlier this month that all three consoles have "reached saturation at current price points." Therefore, it wouldn't be unheard of for either Microsoft or Sony to be reevaluating their SKU lineup and strategy. Add in the track record of Ars Technica's source, and this one is looking not bogus.
Source: A report on Joystiq citing a Netflix user survey.
What we heard: Last year, Microsoft's "New Xbox Experience" introduced a host of new features to the Xbox 360, including a new interface, avatars, and group chat. But perhaps the best received of the NXE additions was the integration of Netflix, which allowed more than 1 million of the online rental service's subscribers to stream films through the console.
Now it seems Netflix might begin offering its online catalog to Wii users, according to the Joystiq report. The gaming blog cites a Netflix user survey for the information, with the rental service apparently in search of feedback on one possible implementation of its streaming video program for Nintendo's console.
The described program would require member Wii owners to run a "Netflix Instant Streaming Disc" on their system and would provide access to more than 12,000 movies and TV shows. A previous survey proposed a similar system, but with a $9.99 initial charge attached for the start-up disc.
It's no secret that Netflix wants to get its goods to subscribers' homes any way it can. An April job listing on the company's site sought an "Engineering Leader--Gaming Platforms" to direct "a small technology team to rapidly prototype and iterate on a variety of platforms." (Emphasis added.) The job description also said the ideal candidate would have experience on "one or more gaming consoles."
Even if Netflix wants to partner up with Nintendo, there may be other obstacles to clear. For example, the company has plans to launch its own video streaming service, and Nintendo president Satoru Iwata promised it would be quite different. The executive also added that if the program's initial run in Japan were successful, Nintendo would likely take it overseas.
The official story: "We're always interested in expanding the Netflix streaming functionality, but Xbox 360 is the exclusive console for now."--Steve Swasey, Netflix vice president of corporate communications.
Bogus or not bogus?: Not bogus that Netflix would like to stream games via the Wii. Bogus that it's a done deal just yet.
Source: Tech blog TG Daily.
What we heard: Earlier this month, Microsoft unveiled Project Natal at its press event at the Electronic Entertainment Expo. Though eager to show off its motion and emotion-sensing capabilities, developers such as Kudo Tsunoda and Peter Molyneux carefully avoided any mention of a release date. The closest thing to such an announcement was the mention that Natal dev kits are already in the hands of third-party developers, with Bungie and Epic Games being specifically named later on during the expo.
This afternoon, though, the Internet lit up with reports of a new Xbox 360 which incorporates Natal's camera. All those reports stem from a single source, an article on tech blog TG Daily. Under the banner headline "Ballmer announces 2010 Xbox 360 at The Executive Club Chicago," the site reported that Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer had let slip that "a new Xbox 360 will hit the store shelves in 2010" at a presentation at the Executive's Club of Chicago.
However, the quotes above are the words of the TG Daily correspondent Wolfgang Gruener, not of Ballmer. In fact, the famously energetic executive is only directly quoted via two jumbled fragments with a grand total of five words. TG Daily's story reads as follows, with Ballmer's quotes in bold:
"The new device will be equipped with technology that is 'really, really, close' to an actuality. The console, which was described as having a 'natural interface,' will have a built-in camera with the ability to recognize movement and voice."
As further evidence, TG Daily refers to its own live blog of Ballmer's presentation--which curiously doesn't mention the Xbox 360 at all. Despite noting such critical events as a lunch break, the two bloggers (who are not credited in the byline) make absolutely zero mention of games or the word "Xbox." The closest the live blog comes to describing anything Natal-like is the following line: "Computers have cameras built in, you can interact with friends, the computer recognizes what you are doing."
Indeed, nowhere in either article are the words "Project Natal" mentioned, raising the possibility that Gruener confused the release of the peripheral--expected next year--with the launch of a new Xbox. What appears to be the sole article on TG Daily to mention Natal by name was written by a different correspondent, who cites a secondary source speaking about a widely discounted rumor of a new Xbox 360 with integrated Natal functions arriving next year.
The official story: When asked about Ballmer's response, Microsoft reps said they did not currently have immediate access to a transcript or recording of the executive's speech. They did, however, offer the following somewhat opaque comment:
"As the Xbox team stated at E3 two weeks ago, we are not even halfway through the current console generation life cycle and believe Xbox 360 will be the entertainment center in the home for long into the next decade. Project Natal will be an important part of this platform, but we have not confirmed a launch date at this time."
Bogus or not bogus?: Draw. TG Daily's lack of specifics or direct quotes raises some Soviet-era-sized red flags. But if Microsoft has nothing to hide, why can't it deny the claim outright?
[UPDATE] The director of Xbox 360 product management and Xbox Live Aaron Greenberg has since dismissed the TG Daily story, telling the gaming blog Kotaku flatly that, "We're not going to be launching a new console any time soon...I really believe [Ballmer] was speaking about Project Natal."
Greenberg went on to underline Natal's status as an optional, standalone peripheral. "We are saying that the Natal will run on the Xbox 360, so there's no new hardware to purchase," he explained. "What we're doing that's unique is, instead of asking you to invest in a new generation of hardware, a generation that's already well established, extending the experience even longer by adding this whole new category of experiences with Project Natal."
What we heard: BioWare is a busy company. Besides this fall's high fantasy role-playing game Dragon Age: Origins, the Edmonton, Alberta-headquarted developer is prepping the high sci-fi role-playing game Mass Effect 2, which scored a GameSpot E3 2009 Editors' Choice Award. Another winner was Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, the massively multiplayer RPG from BioWare's Austin, Texas, studio. To help out, the company also recently opened a branch inside the Montreal campus of its corporate parent, Electronic Arts.
This week, information surfaced that the prestigious shop may be working on yet another all-new IP. During one of its semiregular sweeps of the Internet, Superannuation picked up on the resume of a developer who worked as the "Principle [sic] Lead Designer" of "an unannounced 'AAA' project" at BioWare.
The designer left just this past April--long after the existence of all BioWare's current games were made public--meaning the title is likely still under wraps. He described his work on the project thusly: "Responsibilities include[d] the creation of a new IP and managing a team of designers, writers and level designers." (Emphasis added.) The reference to "new IP" appears to indicate the "New Next Gen Game" on BioWare's official site may be an all-new property, and not a relaunch of a classic franchise like the Baldur's Gate reboot Atari announced last December.
The official story: Multiple requests for comment sent to BioWare had not been answered as of press time.
Bogus or not bogus?: Looking not bogus--and not terribly surprising. A company of BioWare's size, talent, and creative ambition almost certainly has at least one unannounced game in the works.
Source: A five-part radio station interview available on the front page of KROQ-FM's Web site.
What we heard: Quite literally, this is what we heard:
Billie Joe Armstrong: "Yeah we're doing a whole Green Day Rock Band." (emphasis added)
As for when that will happen, Armstrong said, "I'm not sure. Soon. Not like this week soon, but this year soon. I think by the end of the year."
News of band-specific rhythm games leaking out before official announcements is fast becoming a tradition. Joe Perry leaked word of Guitar Hero: Aerosmith, while Activision CEO Bobby Kotick had only himself to blame for tipping people off to the company's next band-centric effort, Guitar Hero: Van Halen.
So assuming Armstrong isn't delusional, the question becomes what form exactly this Green Day Rock Band project will take. That question is made all the more difficult to answer since musicians aren't always known for choosing their words carefully.
After all, when Perry told Billboard.com about Guitar Hero: Aerosmith, the site was left with the impression that the game in question was Guitar Hero IV instead of a spin-off project. And what fan of Jimi Hendrix could forget former Guns 'n' Roses guitarist Slash saying that Activision was "doing a Hendrix one," when the publisher's plans for the legendary musician were apparently limited to a pair of three-song downloadable content packs.
To date, MTV Games has announced only two band-specific retail products: last year's Wal-Mart-exclusive AC/DC Live track pack, and this year's Rock Band: The Beatles, which was touted at the Microsoft E3 press conference. Beyond that, bands such as The Who, Boston, and Rush have received tribute in the form of downloadable albums and compilations. Green Day would be a natural choice for a downloadable album (perhaps the band's new release, 21st Century Breakdown) or extended song pack, but a full stand-alone game sounds like a bit much. After all, it's unclear if the Wal-Mart-exclusive AC/DC experiment was successful enough to justify retail releases for any single band shy of the stature of The Beatles or Metallica.
The official story: A Harmonix representative had not returned request for comment as of press time.
Bogus or not bogus?: Green Day in Rock Band seems not bogus, but are they big enough to land their own game? Time will tell.
[UPDATE 6/11/09] Well, that didn't take long. MTV Games today announced an exclusive deal with Green Day to release a three-song track pack and unspecified future projects.
Source: Hollywood trade magazine Variety.
What we heard: Two weeks ago, Atari's turnaround experienced a sizable hiccup when the publisher announced an annual loss of $319 million and the departure of high-profile executive Phil Harrison. Following the earnings announcement, Atari CEO David Gardner told GameSpot that the publisher had significantly cleaned house, canceling a number of projects and shifting the publisher's focus to taking its franchises online.
One leader in the online department is Cryptic Studios, which Atari acquired in December. With Champions Online for the PC slated for September, an Xbox 360 edition to follow later this year, and Star Trek Online due by April 2010, the City of Heroes creator may now be prepping yet one more massively multiplayer online venture.
Variety is reporting today that Atari plans to leverage its Dungeons & Dragons license with a new MMOG based on the Neverwinter Nights fantasy role-playing universe. Citing unspecified sources, the Hollywood trade reports that Atari hopes to release the online title in 2011, though no other details on the project were revealed. However, Variety did say that a Neverwinter Nights MMOG was a primary reason for Atari's acquisition of Cryptic last year.
BioWare, better known as the studio behind Mass Effect and the upcoming MMOG Star Wars: The Old Republic, crafted the well-regarded original Neverwinter Nights for PCs in 2002. Alpha Protocol studio Obsidian Entertainment developed Neverwinter Nights 2 for Atari, a game that received high marks in 2006.
If reports of a Neverwinter Nights MMOG prove accurate, it would be Atari's second attempt at bringing the Dungeons & Dragons franchise to the online gaming hemisphere. In 2006, the publisher teamed with Turbine Inc. on Dungeons & Dragons Online, a game that received decent reviews but lackluster commercial success. Just today, Turbine said it would begin offering a free-to-play, microtransaction-supported option this summer.
The official story: Atari had not responded to requests for comment as of press time.
Bogus or not bogus?: Looking dubious that if such a game exists it would be ready by 2011. Atari already has a Dungeons & Dragons-themed MMOG that didn't exactly gain a massive following. Plus, Cryptic has not one, but two MMOGs that it expects to release within the next 12 months, both of which will undoubtedly receive expansion packs, updates, and other postlaunch support. Adding a third MMOG on a tight turnaround time (for MMOG standards, anyway) to this equation seems like a recipe for disaster, and a disaster is the last thing that Atari can afford...literally.
Source: See below.
What we heard: Nintendo has already successfully positioned itself in the lifestyle market, with games such as Personal Trainer: Walking, Big Brain Academy, and the ever-popular Wii Fit selling in droves. Now, Australian game-industry analyst firm Macquarie Research is predicting that Nintendo may have yet another mass-market game up its sleeve in the form of Wii Fit Plus.
Details are scant, but Macquarie is speculating that the fitness game will be unveiled at this year's Nintendo E3 Press Event (Tuesday, June 2 at 9:00 a.m. PDT), and will be available both individually and bundled with the Wii Balance Board. Recent trademark filings in the Japanese trademark database for Wii Fit Plus, as well as an English logo (pictured), have also surfaced on tech blog Siliconera. In addition, popular Nintendo-centric site GoNintendo is also touting a scan of what it says is an Amsterdam-based retailer's release list, which mentions the game.
Signal Hill analyst Todd Greenwald also points toward a Wii Fit announcement at E3, though he does not go as far as to name-check Wii Fit Plus. Both he and Macquarie's team are furthermore expecting new "core gamer" Wii games to be announced, with new entries in the classic Zelda, Mario, and Kid Icarus (Nintendoeverything concept pictured) franchises being offered as candidates.
"With Wii hardware sales falling off dramatically in recent months, we believe Nintendo needs to do something in the coming months to boost sales," said Greenwald. "For the first time since launch, a price cut may even be considered (though not at E3)."
Both Signal Hill and Macquarie also sounded off on what they think might be in store at Sony's E3 Press Conference (Tuesday, June 2, 11:00 a.m. PDT). The former believes that Sony's dire financial straits will likely rule out any announcements about the console's cost at E3.
"Sony appears to be so cost-constrained that it may choose to wait to cut the price until it will have the maximum impact, and June may not be that time," explained Greenwald. "We do expect a significant price cut by the end of summer but are not convinced that it will come at E3, which may disappoint some investors."
Though Greenwald would conjecture only that Sony "might" unveil a new UMD-less PSP at E3 (artist's rendition pictured), Macquarie was much surer. "We expect Sony to announce an improved PSP, including a sliding touch screen with only download game offerings (no UMD disc), as well as expanded PSN offerings. We don't think this will be well received, but we are worried the pricing might be well above the existing model's $199 price point," read its report.
Macquarie also lent credence to widespread rumors that Sony is readying a thinner PlayStation 3 model. Its analysts believe that "No price cut for PS3 is expected, but we think it likely the slimmer model is announced at the same current price of $399 and with a price cut of $100 closer to the holiday season."
Both companies' E3 previews also mention Microsoft's much-talked-about "Minority Report-like" motion-sensing camera, which might help the company compete in the motion-sensing race currently led by Nintendo.
"After the company at the last minute canceled the launch of a Wii-like controller last year, we think they will offer a new camera that enables interaction with the Xbox 360 without using a controller," read Macquarie's rundown. "As with any new hardware, it is more crucial what software offering is made. However, in the end, we still think users need a button in the hand to control a game and hence are doubtful this idea of no controller will take off."
Signal Hill offered two possible big "potential" unveils at Microsoft's E3 Press Conference (Monday, June 1, 10:30am PDT). Besides the previously mentioned camera, Greenwald suggested that a new portable would be a possibility, though he does not mention less-than-credible rumors of a "ZuneX."
The official story: Sony, Microsoft, and Nintendo all did not comment.
Bogus or not bogus?: As Wii Fit continues to dominate sales charts one year after its April 2007 release, a sequel is all but assured. But with the most devout Nintendans beginning to question their faith, Nintendo better roll out something for the hardcore. As for Sony, at this point it would surprising if it didn't unveil a new PSP, and mysterious threats of legal action didn't help dispel those Slimline PS3 rumors. Finally, with such respected journalists as Dean Takahashi--who has written two books on the Xbox--saying that the motion-sensing camera deal is done, expect it to be front and center at Microsoft's event.
GameSpot's Tor Thorsen and GameSpot UK's Mark Walton contributed to this report.
Source: Sony-centric game site PlayStation LifeStyle.net.
What we heard: As the 2009 Electronic Entertainment Expo approaches, the game-industry rumor mill is spinning up faster than the Battlestar Galactica's warp drive. Hot on the heels of speculation about a PS3 slimline and game-enabled Zune phone comes footage of what purports to be the next game from Team ICO, the Sony Japan-based developers behind ICO and soon-to-be-movie Shadow of the Colossus.
As can be seen above, the game in question--if it indeed exists--is called "Project Trico." It also appears to be in a very early stage of development, with mismatched lighting and unpolished graphics--by PlayStation 3 game standards, anyway. The score is also placeholder music, lifted from the Coen Brothers' 1990 cult classic film Miller's Crossing. However, the trailer does resemble the teaser image (pictured) for the game that accompanied an August 2008 job listing (since removed) for the next project for Team ICO.
The official story: "We've made no announcement of anything called 'Project Trico.'"--Sony Computer Entertainment America rep.
Bogus or not bogus?: The trailer is fairly convincing in terms of its art style, and its depiction of a young boy befriending a Griffon-like creature seems like the sort of story that Team Ico would produce. However, the rough graphical style could also mean it could be generated by a few highly dedicated fans with some impressive computer animation chops. (Thesis project, anyone?)
However, one reason this might be not bogus is the fact that Team Ico has been teasing a reveal of its next game for quite some time. Initially expected at the 2008 Tokyo Game Show, it was hoped to be revealed at the 2009 Game Developers Conference, where 2009 Team ICO leader Fumito Ueda spoke at an enlightening game design panel. Unfortunately for fans, no such unveiling took place.
What we heard: It's not every day a German Web show starring a horny hand puppet makes game-industry headlines. But that's exactly what happened when the host of site Mimbee.tv posted a story with the headline "World Exclusive: ZuneX - The Microsoft Handheld!!!" on May 7.
After discussing the vast numbers of booth babes that will be at the expo, the author claims to have been present at a product presentation during a two-day event at Microsoft. Referencing a Twitter post by Germany's Xbox product manager, which teases a major announcement after his company's June 1 E3 press conference, "Mimbee" touts that only he can reveal that "the inventor of the Red Ring of Death is working on a new handheld! No s***!"
As proof, Mimbee offers up two photos--one of a presentation, another of a prototype--showcasing the handheld, called the "ZuneX." The following day, he posted what looked like slides showing a close-up of and logo for the handheld. Then, on May 12, a story bearing the headline "Hard facts about the Zunex!" appeared with scans purportedly from the handheld's instruction manual. The specs they outline point to a fully stocked multimedia handheld with gaming and cellular phone capabilities:
ZuneX specs (rumored)
--32GB flash drive
--Lithium ion battery with 9 hours of gaming time
--4-inch, 640x363 pixel multitouch display with 160 ppi resolution
--4 analog buttons--X, Y, A, B
--2 shoulder buttons
--D pad and optional thumbstick attachment
--Compatibility with Xbox Live Arcade games and "ZuneX© originals" (sic)
--Compatibility with the just-announced OnLive game-streaming service.
--Tray for cell phone SIM chips
--802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi with wireless Zune-to-Zune sharing
--Video: WMV, H.624, MPEG-4, DiVX 3.1
--Audio: AAC, MP3, WMA, WAV, MP3 VBR
The official story: "Regarding the Zune rumors, we have been saying since January that we will deliver progress this calendar year on both hardware and software, so stay tuned. However, we haven't confirmed any details regarding devices, features, or timing and don't comment on rumor and speculation."--Microsoft rep.
Bogus or not bogus?: As one might expect with any theory sourced to a muppet, the ZuneX claims have been greeted with skepticism. A reader of tech-blog Gizmodo sent in a detailed analysis of how the grainy presentation slide was faked with Photoshop. Also, the supposed Microsoft insider Mimbee.tv touted as giving "an official company tweet" confirming a device reveal at E3 now claims to merely be a "Zune fanboy."
GameSpot hardware editor Sarju Shah is another Doubting Thomas. "The battery life claims are stunning," he explained. "Nine hours of gaming? No full netbook can pull that off--let alone at full tilt while gaming--and this is considerably smaller in every respect including battery size. The 32GB of flash is also awfully expensive; at retail its $75 alone."
But if the Mimbee.tv posts are bogus then what exactly is Microsoft's Zune game plan? The company has been teasing portable gaming since the 2006 Electronic Entertainment Expo and promised it would arrive on the Zune by 2008. So far, though, the device only boasts a selection of five casual games, despite Microsoft's showing of the Galaga clone "Xuna" at the 2008 Game Developers Conference.
That said, there are some interesting elements to this rumor. In 2007, Microsoft filed a US patent for a "multi-component gaming system", which described console-to-handheld functions much like game transfers from the PlayStation 3 to the PSP. Many of those downloadable offerings are original PlayStation titles reformatted for Sony's portable.
The ZuneX logo also features the old "X" from the original Xbox logo, which Microsoft hasn't used for anything other than Xbox Originals--digital downloadable editions of games from the first Xbox. The mention of the copyrighted titled "ZuneX Originals" might hint at original Xbox games reworked for the ZuneX--if the device actually exists. And given that Microsoft hasn't copyrighted or trademarked the title "Zune X" or "ZuneX" or "ZuneX Originals" with the US Patent and Trademark Office, it doesn't look like it does.
What we heard: Goichi Suda has a lot on his plate these days. The managing director of No More Heroes developer Grasshopper Manufacture is already working on the Wii-exclusive No More Heroes: Desperate Struggle, as well as an untitled collaboration with Resident Evil creator Shinji Mikami and Q Entertainment for EA Partners.
Now speculation is rising that Suda is juggling a third project, given that Siliconera noticed something odd on the official Grasshopper Manufacture Web site. The developer's list of "principal business partners" includes Square Enix, which prompted the site to ask, "Is this an early sign that Grasshopper Manufacture is developing a game for Square Enix?"
That's one possibility. However, the same page on the Grasshopper site mentions having worked with Square Enix in 2002 (technically still Enix at the time), handling sound design of the PlayStation 2 giant-robot game Robot Alchemic Drive (aka R.A.D.). Although that might explain Square Enix's presence on the business-partners list, other companies for whom Grasshopper did similar work--such as D3 Publisher--do not appear on the list.
In fact, a number of discrepancies on the page suggest that it might not be the most strenuously fact-checked repository of information on the Internet. For example, the list of principal business partners doesn't include Xseed, North American publisher of Desperate Struggle, or Atlus, North American publisher of Contact.
The partners list also includes platform holders Microsoft and Sony, even though Grasshopper has not announced any games to be published by those companies. On the other hand, the frequent DS and Wii developer's list of partners does not include Nintendo, publisher (or not, as the case was in Europe and North America) of Grasshopper's Fatal Frame game for the Wii.
Jumping well into the realm of speculation, let's suppose that Nintendo was left off of the list out of spite over Fatal Frame not being published. That still doesn't explain why the Japanese-language list of Grasshopper-developed games is 10 games long and includes international releases such as Contact on the DS, whereas the English-language list is a mere six games long. Or why Grasshopper's work on Clover's God Hand is acknowledged in Japanese, but not in English.
The official story: Neither Grasshopper nor Square Enix returned requests for comment as of press time.
Bogus or not bogus?: Looking bogus. With no official word, it's impossible to rule out a Square Enix-published Grasshopper game right now. However, gamers shouldn't read too much into the publisher's presence on the developer's business partners list for two reasons. There's an established tie between the publisher and the developer in the form of Grasshopper's work on Robot Alchemic Drive, and the page on which the information appears contains so many puzzling incongruities that an accidental or ill-thought-out addition to the partners list is well within the realm of possibility.
Source: See below.
What we heard: Amid the flurry of earnings reports, NPD figures, and preemptive game announcements last week, two rumors about the PlayStation 3 emerged--one credible, the other less so. The latter came in the form of a series of photos on a Chinese hardware blog of what looks like a new slimline 120GB PS3.
Though they have since been removed, the shots (pictured) caused quite a stir by showing a drastically slimmer console with an even more minimalist control scheme and matte-black finish. It also featured some convincing-looking internal circuitry and packaging, replete with all the appropriate Sony logos and a new PS3 logo font.
As is their policy, Sony Computer Entertainment America reps declined to comment on the matter. However, their traditionally chattier cousins at Sony Computer Entertainment Europe had no problem telling CVG, "We currently don't have any plans for a redesigned PS3."
If true, the SCEE statement means the device shown by the Chinese blog is the latest in a long line of Chinese game-console knockoffs, such as the now-infamous Vii.
The PS3 scuttlebutt gumbo was also stirred up last week up by CNBC, which was recently ridiculed for perceived deficiencies in its reporting of the global financial crisis. Here, though, the financial news outlet's correspondent and source are both rock-solid. Chris Morris, the well-regarded correspondent behind CNNMoney's now-defunct Game Over column, quotes none other than Sony corporate executive officer Nobuyuki Oneda.
Oneda was speaking to reporters following Sony's earnings report, in which the electronics company posted its first annual loss since 1995. When asked about what method the company would employ to boost yearly PS3 sales 30 percent, the executive said, "Well, I think you have to guess what will be our pricing strategy."
The official story: See above.
Bogus or not bogus?: A 99.99 percent chance of not bogus that a PS3 price cut is coming sometime before March 31, 2010--the end of Sony's fiscal year. As for the slimline PS3, Sony said reduced manufacturing and shipping costs were a major factor for introducing the slimline PlayStation 2 in November 2004.
Were the company to enjoy similar savings with its current console, a cheaper PS3 would be a more palatable proposition for the cash-strapped company. Hopefully Sony's E3 2009 press conference will definitively confirm or dismiss the conjecture on the morning of June 2.
Source: See below.
What we heard: With the retirement of the infamous "Surfer Girl" last May, game news addicts have been searching for another leak-happy industry insider. They may have found one in Game Fork, the nom de tweet of someone claiming to be a well-placed "game journo." The person also appears to be British, since he claims to have "no links to Sony or SCEE"--Sony Computer Entertainment Europe, based in London--and follows Queen's English spelling rules.
Beginning last week, Game Fork has been twittering with a vengeance about a single subject: Microsoft's upcoming press event at the 2009 Electronic Entertainment Expo. "MS is about to stun E3 with their lineup," crowed the shadowy figure, who claims to have visited Microsoft's offices on May 5.
According to the truncated, 140-character-limited posts, Microsoft will use its E3 press gathering, which starts at 10:30 a.m. PDT on June 1, to unveil the following:
--The all-but-confirmed motion-sensing camera controller for the Xbox 360, titled "Xbox Fluid."
--Metal Gear Solid 4 + Oxide, the long-rumored Xbox 360 port of the best-selling PlayStation 3 stealth actioner and GameSpot's 2008 Game of the Year. The announcement will be the finale of the presentation, apparently, although the game may the subject of Kojima Productions' May 18 mystery announcement.
--A top-secret Konami exclusive for the Xbox 360. "NOBODY outside of Kon[ami] has been told what this is," claims Game Fork. (Emphasis in the original.)
--The second Xbox 360-exclusive downloadable episode for Grand Theft Auto IV, subtitled "Blood and a Four Leaf Clover." The title may be a reference to the GTAIV mission Three Leaf Clover,where protagonist Niko Bellic helps Irish mobster Packie McReary and his brothers pull off a bank robbery straight out of the film Heat. It's apparently due "this Christmas."
--A new project from Peter Molyneux's Lionhead Studios (Fable II), code-named "Richter," previously rumored to be revealed at E3.
--The official unveiling of the long-known-about Forza Motorsport 3, which will apparently be playable on the show floor.
--After an extended period out of sight, both APB and Alan Wake will make appearances. Game Fork describes the former as a "GTA Killer" and the latter as "somewhere 'tween The Shining and Misery. VERY Stephen King. ... Graphically stunning, massively open, incredibly engaging...and ***t-pant scary." (Emphasis in the original.)
--The elusive Splinter Cell: Conviction will also be on hand in preparation for its release later this year
--Lost Planet 2, Assassin's Creed 2, and BioShock 2 will all be shown off, as will Halo 3: ODST, which was yanked from Microsoft's E3 2008 briefing at the last minute.
The official story: "Microsoft does not comment on rumors and speculation." --Microsoft rep.
Bogus or not bogus?: Although it comes from an untested source, the leak is a little too specific to be totally bogus. The world will see exactly how much is bogus in just 20 days. Just remember: The last time an Xbox 360 version of MGS4 was rumored, it turned out to be Metal Gear Solid Touch for the iPhone.
For an idea of what's in store on June 1, check out Microsoft's E3 2008 press conference, viewable below: