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Source: An article on Next Generation, citing "well-placed industry sources."
The official story: "At this point we have not released any further details on PlayStation 3. Any information you may have heard is purely speculation." -- A Sony representative.
What we heard: Next Generation's article says that Sony is preparing a service modeled after Microsoft's Xbox Live, currently referred to as the PlayStation HUB. Apparently the HUB will be a subscriber service that has "chat, downloadable demos, independent games, and online play," and it will support online play for both the PSP and PS3. The article also says that developer sources are "suggesting" a September launch, and it pegs a couple of possible release dates couched with the non-attribution that "some in the industry" are speculating September 16 and September 21 as Japanese and US launch dates, respectively.
A third-party developer of games for Sony platforms confirmed the planned service for GameSpot, saying that it was previously planned to roll out on the PlayStation 2 initially, followed by the PS3 and then the PSP. "It's probably now just PS3 then PSP because I think the service was supposed to roll out this spring," the developer said.
But while Sony is on the online bandwagon, GameSpot's source suggests it has plenty of catching up to do.
"They [Sony management] don't understand it. They don't understand why it's important. They don't get what developers need to make it good," the source said. "They're trying to adapt due to tons of inside pressure (there are, of course, many incredibly brilliant people in Sony who have been screaming about this stuff for about a decade), but essentially Microsoft is on the cutting edge of this stuff and Sony is like your grandmother who just got her first AOL account."
Although news of Sony's plans for a unified online service is interesting, it's also old for the most part. Back when Sony unveiled the PS3 in May of 2005 at the Electronic Entertainment Expo, it emphasized that the machine would have online capabilities similar to that of Xbox Live on the Xbox 360. Sony Computer Entertainment chief technical officer Masa Chatani said the PS3 would be constantly in touch with a "PlayStation World" network fundamentally based on "community, communication, commerce, and content." He also said that subscribers could "exchange unique characters and items through the network."
So considering what Sony already said about its PS3 online plans, the real news out of the Next Generation piece is that the service has a tentative name (PlayStation HUB), that it will be a subscriber service (naturally), and that it will support online play for the PSP. The September release dates, while certainly possible and newsworthy if true, are pure speculation; even Next Generation admits that. As for launching in the US and Japan five days apart, we'd like to think Sony learned something from the supply shortage that plagued Microsoft's worldwide launch of the Xbox 360.
Bogus or not bogus?: On the existence of an Xbox Live-like service from Sony, not bogus, but quite old. On the rest of the news, it seems each bit is still up in the air to some extent, and Next Generation is careful to phrase it as such.
Source: Web site worthplaying.com, citing a rumor in this month's issue of EGM.
The official story: "We do not comment on rumors or speculation."--A representative from VU Games.
What we heard: F.E.A.R. was one of the most popular PC shooters last year, combining an eerie mix of hot lead and freaky paranormal activity. Critics faced their F.E.A.R.s positively, leaving most console gamers begging for a port.
Publisher VU Games has announced nothing on a project, so what sparked the rumor? The game's developer, Monolith, is also the same company that developed Condemned: Criminal Origins for the Xbox 360. While that may not seem like enough on its own, this nugget of info sheds new light: Both games were built on the same technology. Typically, porting isn't a simple case of pushing a button and slapping on a fresh coat of paint. In F.E.A.R.'s case, however, a lot of the legwork has already been done. Condemned is already on its way to the PC, so taking F.E.A.R. the other way around isn't far-fetched.
When asked for comment, VU reps weren't exactly forthcoming. Even with a few nudges, all they would tell GameSpot is, "We do not comment on rumors or speculation."
Bogus or not bogus?: For fear of seeing a spooky little girl in the next corridor we turn down, we'll take a "wait and see" approach to this one, but it seems likely.
Source: Self-explanatory British Web site Gamesindustry.biz.
The official story: "Sorry, I really can't comment on this."--Lionhead rep.
What we heard: Buried beneath the avalanche of schmoozing at this year's D.I.C.E. (Design, Innovate, Create, Entertain) awards were several tantalizing rumors. The one wagging off most attendees' tongues at the event was that Lionhead Studios had become the subject of a bidding war between two major publishers. According to Gamesindustry.biz, the suitors vying for the British developer were France-based Ubisoft and the monolith of Redmond, Washington, Microsoft.
While Lionhead reps were adamant about their inability to comment on the buyout rumors, many in attendance at D.I.C.E. were confident the confusion would be cleared up on Friday. Why? Because one of the main speakers on the final day of the Las Vegas game-industry event was Lionhead chief Peter Molyneux, who was slated to be on a panel with Sims creator Will Wright.
However, earlier today, Lionhead reps confirmed to GameSpot that Molyneux had abruptly canceled his D.I.C.E. appearance for undisclosed reasons. The executive's no-show, the second of the event after Valve Software CEO Gabe Newell called in "sick" on Thursday, threw even more fuel on the fires of speculation. Many D.I.C.E. attendees theorized that Molyneux's presence was required at Lionhead due to the advanced state of negotiations for the studio's imminent purchase.
While it must be emphasized that no official information about any potential deal has been released, a Lionhead buyout is well within the realm of possibility. Though the developer scored a solid hit with Fable in 2004, its subsequent releases have struggled. The Movies, Lionhead's Hollywood mogul sim, saw its console ports canceled by Activision "due to underperformance on the PC." (However, there are reports that it may still come to non-PC platforms.) Black & White 2, the EA-published sequel to Molyneux's deity-centric strategy game, barely sold more than 102,000 units between its October ship date and the end of 2005, according to industry trade group NPD. With the fickle winds of retail not blowing entirely in Lionhead's favor, the studio might be very tempted by the safe financial harbor a major publisher could provide.
Bogus or not bogus?: Bogus that it's official...but that could change very soon.
Source: A forum posting on Madden Mania.
The official story: "We never comment on rumors at EA."--An Electronic Arts representative.
What we heard: The post at Madden Mania claims that a GameStop district manager told employees that Electronic Arts was changing the name of its flagship football franchise to "ESPN Presents: NFL Football 2007."
If this rumor sounds familiar, it's because it made the rounds once before. A little over a year ago, Electronic Arts signed an exclusive 15-year deal to be the sole licensee of the ESPN brand in sports games. From the moment the deal was announced, there were questions about the fate of EA's long-standing licensing relationship with the former Oakland Raiders coach and current color commentator, who was just inducted into the Hall of Fame.
As EA's vice president of marketing, Frank Gibeau, told GameSpot at the time, "If you think about the deal, it's not an inevitability that he goes away... I'm not sure where those stories are coming from." That speculation was further quieted later that year, when EA announced in July that it had picked up the portly pigskin pundit for a few more years.
This rumor just doesn't make much sense as it is. Why would EA throw away a brand that has been synonymous with football games since 1989's John Madden Football for the Commodore 64? Why would EA secure the Madden license for a few more years if it didn't intend to use it? Sure, it keeps the Madden name out of competitors' hands, but what would a competitor do with it, considering EA has an exclusive NFL license? Who would make Madden CFL '07, much less buy it?
There's a chance that ABC sister network ESPN didn't want its property associated with Madden because he's going to be doing commentary for NBC's Sunday Night Football next season. However, that was common knowledge when EA signed its deal with Madden. One would think that issue would have been discussed and hashed out at that point in time.
Finally, GameStop itself, the source of this rumor, has recently started taking preorders on Madden NFL 07. Don't be surprised if the game winds up on store shelves as ESPN Presents Madden NFL 07, but dropping the brand recognition of Madden from the name of the game entirely sounds like a terrible, terrible idea. And we're going to give EA more credit than that.
Bogus or not bogus?: Looking bogus at the moment.
Source: Sega has filed a US trademark application for a game by the name Yakuza, as can be found at the United States Patent and Trademark Office Web site.
The official story: Sega representatives declined comment.
What we heard: When Sega first unveiled Ryu ga Gotoku, it seemed to be a distinct departure for producer Toshihiro Nagoshi. After making all-ages fare like Super Monkey Ball and F-Zero GX, Nagoshi was exploring the seedy underbelly of organized crime with an open-ended, gritty game about the yakuza, commonly referred to as Japanese mafia.
Taking its cues from classic yakuza films like Kinji Fukasaku's Battles Without Honor or Humanity, Ryu ga Gotoku casts players as Kazuma Kiryu, a yakuza on the outs with his former outfit, who now wants to take revenge for a decade-old betrayal.
With the criminal-underworld setting and free-roaming setup of Grand Theft Auto, attention to detail and a twisting story that might bring up memories of Shenmue, and brutal bare-knuckle street fighting, Ryu ga Gotoku seemed like a natural for the American market. The only question was whether Sega felt it was worth the investment to localize the game's significant amount of Japanese text and speech.
But considering that the game's name would certainly have to change in order to get an American release, "Yakuza" would be an appropriate title that would give some gamers a good idea of the subject matter. And since there's nothing else on Sega of Japan's upcoming release list for which that title would fit, this is as concrete a sign as you're likely to get without an official confirmation.
Bogus or not bogus?: Looking not bogus.
Source: One of the Big Apple's biggest tabloids, The New York Post.
The official story: See below.
What we heard: A week ago, Take-Two Interactive's share price spiked on rumors that the troubled publisher might be bought out. Though no potential suitors were named at the time, over the weekend, the Post ran a report claiming it had identified one.
The name of the company in question is becoming increasingly familiar to gamers. Under the headline "Bono Eyes Take-Two," the Sunday edition of the Post said Elevation Partners, the Silicon Valley venture-capital fund that includes the U2 lead singer and ex-EA president John Riccitiello on its board, was "rumored to be eyeing" a $1 billion bid for Take-Two. The article said that Elevation, which recently created its own superdeveloper by merging Pandemic Studios and Bioware, was "said to have teamed up with Pequot Capital, a hedge fund and venture-capital investor that owns a large chunk of Take-Two's shares."
"Why" are "there" so "many" quotes in "the" above "paragraph"? It's to display how the Post is, in its own words, reporting on a rumor. There hasn't been any official comment from Take-Two, which had not responded to inquiries as of press time. As for Elevation, a company spokesperson would say only that "we don't comment on rumors."
However, there are some precedents that give the rumor a bit of heft. First is the December 2004 rumor that had Elevation contemplating a bid for Eidos Interactive. At the time, it was the source of countless Bono-Lara Croft wisecracks. Months later, though, it was proven true when Elevation got into a bidding war with SCi Entertainment over Eidos. (SCi won.) The Post also points out that the company has taken over troubled companies before, negating the argument that the Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas sex-minigame scandal has made Take-Two too hot to handle.
Bogus or not bogus?: Bogus that anything official has been announced.
Source: A post on Star Wars fan site theforce.net, and a disappearing post on rebelscum.com.
The official story: A two-parter: "We're not involved in the next Lego Star Wars game"--Eidos representative; "We have nothing to announce at this time."--LucasArts representative.
What we heard: A long time ago (April 2, 2005), on consoles (Xbox, PlayStation 2, GameCube, PC) not so far, far away, Eidos released the Traveller's Tales-developed Lego Star Wars. The game combined two things that every retro-loving geekazoid cherishes: the sci-fi universe created by George Lucas and those fun, interlocking blocks cooked up by the Danes.
While hardcore gamers may not have thought much of the E for Everyone-rated so-cute-it's-cuddly game, the general public lapped it up like a frothy beverage at a Mos Eisley cantina. According to SCi Entertainment, Eidos' parent company, the game has sold more than 3 million copes worldwide, with particular interest coming from the States. With such success, it makes sense that a sequel would be in the works.
Details recently sprang up on Star Wars fan sites theforce.net and rebelscum.com that an upcoming Xbox Magazine has the first info on the sequel, set to take place during the timeline spanning Star Wars through Return of the Jedi (pictures have since been removed from theforce.net, and rebelscum's post has been deleted altogether).
Before sci-fi freaks storm Eidos' office looking for a Wicket Lego figure, there's one piece of news they should know: Eidos isn't involved in the rumored project in any way. Says an Eidos rep, "We're not involved in the next Lego Star Wars game. We only had distribution rights for [Lego Star Wars Episodes 1 through 3], so I'm not sure what the deal is."
"The deal" may be that LucasArts has decided to reclaim the now-popular license for itself. The publisher is owner to all things Star Wars and likely had dollar signs in its eyes when it saw the success Eidos had with Lego Star Wars. However, LucasArts reps saw through our Jedi mind tricks and flatly said, "We have nothing to announce at this time."
Is there any doubt that a Lego Star Wars sequel is in the works? No. Has LucasArts formally announced the new game? No. Will the company do so in the next few weeks? We'd bet our droids on it.
Bogus or not bogus?: In the words of Yoda, "Bogus it is not."
Source: The official Resident Evil 4 Web site.
The official story: See below.
What we heard: There's no question Resident Evil 4 was one of the top games of 2005. AIAS-award snubs aside, Capcom's survival horror sequel earned accolades from almost every game publication and Web site and was named GameSpot's own Game of the Year 2005 by both editors and readers. It sold solidly on both the GameCube and PlayStation 2, bringing in around $45 million in revenue to date, and is in the process of being ported to the PC. It is also being released at a $19.99 budget price point as part of the GameCube's Player's Choice program.
With interest in the once-flagging Resident Evil series rekindled, gamers are eagerly anticipating the next installment in the series, Resident Evil 5 for the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360. A teaser trailer for the game wowed the crowd at last September's 2005 Tokyo Game Show with its lifelike re-creation of a lone hero pursued by undead assailants. Even though it likely won't be released until 2007, interest in the game remains high, and it is currently the eighth-most-trafficked title on GameSpot.
So when agitated gamers began to e-mail GameSpot editors that a countdown clock had appeared on the official RE4 site, it appeared that maybe the first clue to Resident Evil 5's release had emerged. Right there on the splash page (pictured), underneath the word "enter," were the words "Evil evolves in -" just before a countdown clock. Since the clock was set to end on February 25, 2007, it seemed perfectly reasonable that it was teasing gamers with the release date of Resident Evil 5.
As tidy as that theory was, somehow we couldn't shake the feeling that the clock looked very familiar. That's because it's the same clock that was used to count down to the release of Resident Evil 4 in January 2005. "Sorry to disappoint your readers, but that clock is in no way related to RE5," a friendly Capcom rep told us. "Basically that site has remained live, but it seems the clock hasn't been removed so it's been counting 'forwards' since RE4 was released for the GameCube (notice the negative mark in front of 417). Our Web guys are having that fixed so it doesn't confuse anyone anymore." Sure enough, the clock is now gone, a development that blows that rumor away faster than Leon S. Kennedy messily dispatching a homicidal villager.
Bogus or not bogus?: Bogus. However, odds are good that the game will arrive on at least one platform in 2007.
Source: A post at pro gaming blog Kotaku citing "an insider with Nintendo" as the source of the information.
The official story: Big surprise: "Nintendo does not comment on rumors and speculation."--Nintendo rep.
What we heard: While the DS Lite release date was undoubtedly the biggest issue brought up by Kotaku's source, he/she also mentioned a pair of other possible Nintendo plans: a "pearl pink" Game Boy Advance SP for release later this year and a discounted Player's Choice line for the Game Boy Advance that will feature games like Super Mario Advance and Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga.
Though the pink GBA news isn't exactly earth-shattering, the Player's Choice line seems like a long-overdue idea for the GBA. Nintendo announced last week that GBA software sales were down almost a third from the year before. That means the time is ripe for the company to cut the prices on its most popular games in order to squeeze more bucks out of the system before it's completely overtaken by the DS.
Finally, the mid-May projection for a North American DS Lite release seems entirely possible, although a little underwhelming. Ever since the Game Boy Advance release, Nintendo has been narrowing the time frame between its handheld debuts on either side of the Pacific. With the GBA, it was under three months. The SP arrived in US stores within a month and a half of its arrival in Japanese stores. And the DS actually debuted in the US, with Japanese gamers getting their hands on the system a scant two weeks later. Most recently, the company's Game Boy Micro redesign had a slightly staggered release--there was a week and a half between its release in the two territories.
If it follows the Game Boy Micro's lead, the DS Lite would hit US store shelves within a couple of weeks of the Japanese March 2 launch. On the other hand, Japan has been experiencing a pronounced shortage of DS systems of late, and it would make sense for the company to concentrate on its home market first before launching the hardware elsewhere. That could be one explanation for the May release date, which Kotaku editors told GameSpot was "solid."
Bogus or not bogus?: Tentatively not bogus. Regardless of the source's authenticity, this is all stuff Nintendo should be doing anyway.
Source: The latest issue of BusinessWeek.
The official story: "We're not either confirming or denying or whatever we generally say."--Microsoft corporate vice president Bryan Lee.
What we heard: In April 2004, an interesting rumor made the rounds. According to the story, a tipsy J Allard, the current head of the experiences and design division of Microsoft's gaming and entertainment group, cornered a Whistler-Blackcomb snowboarder with tales about how his company was readying an "iPod killer." Allard allegedly said that Microsoft's next-generation game console would have an external hard drive that doubled as a self-powered MP3 and media player.
But when the Xbox 360 was finally unveiled the following May, its "outrigger" 20GB HD couldn't play media files on its own. In fact, during presentations, Microsoft executives would show off the 360's connectivity with the iPod and PSP, apparently quashing rumors of any Microsoft designs on the handheld media and gaming market.
That said, many analysts believe the uber-successful iPod will eventually force Microsoft to launch its own multimedia handheld. In the aforementioned article, BusinessWeek reporter Jay Greene says that the company is "working on plans to develop its own portable digital media device to rival the iPod." Furthermore, he quotes Xbox marketing guru Peter Moore as saying that any Microsoft portable would play games. "It can't just be our version of the iPod," Moore told BusinessWeek, and also hinted that said hypothetical handheld would bear the Xbox logo. "I think the brand is an opportunity," he said.
Though BusinessWeek cites an anonymous source as the basis for its story, there is a consensus of opinion that Microsoft will eventually release a hybrid gaming/media portable. Such a device could incorporate the best of both worlds: Gaming functionality would give it an edge over the iPod; a high-capacity hard drive would trump the PSP's limited-storage Memory Stick Duo; and multimedia functionality could make it more attractive than the gaming-only DS (to some, anyway).
There is also the question of Microsoft's notorious competitiveness. Currently, more than eight out of every 10 MP3 players is an iPod. The handheld gaming market, which is expected to reach 43 million customers by 2009, is dominated by Nintendo and Sony. It's highly unlikely that Microsoft is just going to let those companies waltz away with their profits unchallenged. After all, the software colossus has already paid a high price--$7 billion in Xbox losses as of last year--just for a piece of the console pie.
Bogus or not bogus?: Not bogus that Microsoft is exploring the possibility of a handheld. (A company that size probably has plans for the aftermath of an asteroid strike...)
The official story: Nintendo did not respond to requests for comment.
What we heard: Just under two weeks ago, Cisco Systems announced that it was launching a new home entertainment division. The move was a new direction for Cisco, which has made billions supplying networking hardware to huge corporations. However, it had been suspected ever since Cisco bought Scientific-Atlanta, a leading maker of cable boxes, last November for $7 billion.
Cisco's announcement has led many a tech reporter to ponder what company might be next on the cash-flush tech giant's shopping list. Yesterday, one such reporter, News.com's Marguerite Reardon, published her own prognostication article titled, "Is TiVo next on Cisco's push into homes?"
But while the first page of Reardon's article focused on Cisco scooping up the troubled maker of the popular--and highly addictive--personal video recorders, it was the second page that got gamers' alarm bells ringing. After clicking on a link marked "Nintendo another possible candidate," readers were treated to Reardon's reasoning for a Cisco-Nintendo union.
"A stretch? Not really," she wrote. "Microsoft, which is emerging as a key competitor to Cisco in the home entertainment market, is already in this market with the Xbox 360. Gaming has already proved to be a strong application for broadband, so it makes sense that Cisco would want to own a game device to help drive more traffic on its network. With its popular GameBoy [sic] product, Nintendo would also provide Cisco an entree into the mobile-handheld market." The fact that, unlike its cousin the DS, the Game Boy Advance has no Internet functionality did not dampen Reardon's enthusiasm for the potential buyout. And since it was released in 2004, the GBA-to-GBA wireless adapter hasn't exactly been a runaway hit.
Given that the Cisco-Nintendo article has "News.com" in the URL, many Nintendans took it as hard news. However, News.com also provides news analysis, and the piece is clearly marked as such in bold red letters at the top of its first page. In other words, the article is Reardon's informed prognostication about Cisco's possible next move--not official confirmation of any such deal.
Bogus or not bogus?: Bogus for now--and highly unlikely to ever happen, in our own opinion, as Nintendo remains profitable.
Source: A GameStop company e-mail scanned and displayed on gaming blog Kotaku.com.
The official story: Microsoft had not responded to e-mails as of press time.
What we heard: Now that the public knows that Brangelina is expecting sometime in June, we can focus on important stuff--like the release date for Halo 3 for the Xbox 360. Given that the date is under tighter lock and key than the plot to Lost, most speculation is sculpted from when we know it won't be out.
Pre-E3 last year, Microsoft chairman Bill Gates told Time magazine that not only would Master Chief be taking on The Covenant, but he'd also be battling the launch of the PlayStation 3. While others in the know scratched their heads at his comment, it took Bill a little longer to swallow his words and admit that the game would be done "when it's ready."
This obviously means that Halo 3 will be released this November, Microsoft's month of choice for gaming, right? Not only is it the optimal release date to take advantage of the holiday crunch, but it's also the time of year that previous Halo games were released, both Xboxes hit stores, and Xbox Live was launched.
Not so fast, according to a company e-mail sent to employees of GameStop. Gaming blog Kotaku.com got word from a source at GameStop that the retailer was flatly told by Microsoft that "Halo 3 will NOT be released in 2006" (emphasis in original). Kotaku posted a scan of the e-mail, whose simple layout could be easily forged. However, a well-placed mole inside the GameStop organization confirmed to GameSpot that the e-mail is indeed legitimate.
That said, GameStop.com is still listing the game as coming out on October 3, 2006. So did the guy who updates product release dates not get the memo? One possibility is that the e-mail is merely a guide to employees on how common questions should be answered, such as, "Sorry, that's for paying customers only" or "No, a middle-school ID won't let you buy M-rated games."
Of course, Microsoft has not commented on the situation, so nothing is official. But given that Microsoft execs have gone from saying that Halo 3 will be a PS3-killer to saying it will be ready when Bungie says its ready, and given that Bungie is still denying that it's working on Halo 3, pushing Halo 3 into 2007 doesn't seem so far off. Remember Halo 2's delays?
Lastly, the GameStop memo gives further validity to the current entertainment-synergy theory spun by industry-watchers, who say the game will be released in tandem with the Halo film. Studios Fox and Universal have tentatively slated the surefire blockbuster, which is being executive produced by King Kong director Peter Jackson, for summer 2007.
Bogus or not bogus?: Abstain. While a holiday 2006 release and a 360 price drop would be the perfect one-two punch to blunt the PS3 launch, Bungie is one organization that will not be rushed.
Source: A former staffer of developer High Voltage involved in the company's recent layoffs told GameSpot which games were axed.
The official story: High Voltage vice president of creative content Eric Nofsinger would say only that both of the canceled games came from the same franchise, while repeated attempts to get a comment from VU Games were unsuccessful.
What we heard: The ex-High Voltage staffer (who wished to remain anonymous) told us the cuts were tied to the cancellation of a Leisure Suit Larry sequel for consoles and a Larry spin-off for the PSP. While the sequel had no title at the time of its cancellation, it was to follow Magna Cum Laude's Larry Loveage (nephew to the series' original star, Larry Laffer) as he went on spring break. According to the staffer, the game had been in development for roughly a year and a half when it was canned.
The other game allegedly axed was a Larry side story, a tryst if you will, on the PSP. That project was intended to bring the Japanese dating sim genre to the American market, albeit with a uniquely Leisure Suit Larry touch of perversity.
A High Voltage rep confirmed that there were two games canceled and that both games belonged to the same series. Hunter: The Reckoning is likely the only other series High Voltage has worked on that could reasonably be expected to field two separate projects in today's market. However, the last two Hunter installments, Wayward on the Xbox and Redeemer on the PlayStation 2, were outsold by Magna Cum Laude. Perhaps more important is that they were also outgrossed by Magna Cum Laude (no pun intended), as the Hunter titles more rapidly found their way into retailers' bargain bins. Leisure Suit Larry's sheer staying power (he's been working his mojo for almost 20 years now) and animal magnetism make Bachelor #1 a much more likely candidate to have two games green-lighted in the first place, even if they were regrettably canceled.
Bogus or not bogus?: Not bogus.
Source: The "sex & games" page of the International Game Developers Association Web site.
The official story: See below.
What we heard: Each year, the industry struggles to show that, like films in the early 20th century, games are a legitimate, cutting-edge art form struggling to overcome misunderstanding. And, each year, industry critics trot out the stable of "booth babes" at the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3), to prove games cater to humanity's lowest common denominator. Stories like last year's widely reported account of the so-called "E3 groper" didn't help the issue.
So when rumors spread today that the Entertainment Software Association (ESA), the industry lobby that puts on E3, had banned scantily clad models at exhibits, gaming insiders reacted with a combination of shock ("Whaaa?!") and "Awwww!" ("No booth babes? Cancel my ticket!"). The mostly unattributed Internet reports stemmed from a post on the "sex & games" blog of the IGDA, the self-described "definitive news source for sexual content in games."
According to the IGDA page, the ESA had imposed "de facto censorship" on E3 exhibitors, saying that "material, including live models, conduct that is sexually explicit and/or sexually provocative, including but not limited to nudity, partial nudity and bathing suit bottoms, are prohibited on the Show floor, all common areas, and at any access points to the Show." Judging by previous E3s, that would all but mean an end to models on the show floor, as they are not known for their modesty.
GameSpot contacted the ESA regarding the nascent controversy. An E3 staffer said that the rules regarding attire have always been in place and that they have long not been enforced. "People largely ignored us," said the staffer, saying that booth babes would merely relocate to other parts of the show floor when asked to dress a little more modestly. The rep said the $5,000 fine was introduced this year to add some teeth to the regulation.
But does that mean there won't be models hawking publishers' latest wares at E3? In a word, no. Like at virtually every other trade expo, E3 exhibitors will use attractive women to help make inroads with mostly male E3 attendees. But are they on notice not to be as risqué as in past years? Given the still-simmering fallout from last year's "Hot Coffee" Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas sex-mini-game scandal, the answer appears to be "yes."
Bogus or not bogus?: Bogus that they are banned, not bogus that they won't be able to undress to excess.
Source: See below.
The official story: See below.
What we heard: When rumors first surfaced about Peter Jackson directing the Halo movie, many dismissed it as a fantasy cooked up by daydreaming nerds. But when it turned out that the King Kong director had agreed to executive-produce Halo, many were flabbergasted that such a perfect pairing could actually happen.
It was the Halo-Jackson news that made it hard to throw this week's bit of scuttlebutt straight into the crazy pile. While making preliminary plans for their annual sojourn into the deafening neon inferno that is E3, GameSpot editors spoke with a person who has many contacts within the Los Angeles film industry. The person in question said that the hot game-movie crossover project du jour was Half-Life, Valve Software's groundbreaking shooter.
While news of a Half-Life film would be hot by itself, what the film insider said next was more scorching than a habanero enema. He/she said that Pulp Fiction director Quentin Tarantino had been hounding Valve executives to bring the game to the big screen, and that he was currently in negotiations with the developer. Most film fans were under the impression the director was in preproduction of his long-in-the-making World War II epic, Inglorious Bastards.
Alas, the image of Gordon Freeman smacking headcrabs to the tune of "Stuck in the Middle With You" was shattered by Doug Lombardi, Valve's director of marketing. After joking that Tarantino was in his office playing Counter-Strike: Source, he set the record straight. "As much as we'd love to meet with him, we've never been contacted by Mr. Tarantino nor 'his people,'" said Lombardi. "We've had many conversations with folks in Hollywood, but have no commitments for an HL movie at this time."
Bogus or not bogus?: Bogus.
Source: A release schedule on Sony Computer Entertainment Japan's Web site.
The official story: "At this time we are not familiar with any announcements coming from the company on PS3."--Sony Computer Entertainment America spokesperson. Due to the time difference, Sony Japan reps were unavailable as of press time.
What we heard: Today, American gamers woke with news that Sony had revealed its first-party launch lineup for the PlayStation 3. The reports all stemmed from an updated software release schedule on SCE's site, which lists six games as coming to the PS3. Foremost among them is an entry marked "Gran Turismo series"--presumably Vision Gran Turismo. Behind it are five other titles: the "action RPG" Monster Carnival; the RPG Angel Rings; a fifth game in the Hot Shots Golf (Minna no Golf) series; a mystery game called "The Eye of Judgment"; and the sequel to the action-adventure Genji, now called Genji 2.
Some sites spun the story as Sony revealing its self-developed PS3 games for the first time. Others branded it as an announcement of the company's first-party lineup when the PS3 launches later this year. Both were wrong. First, all six games were unveiled last year, either at E3 or the 2005 Tokyo Game Show. Second, the ship dates for all six games are marked as "undecided," meaning none have been confirmed for launch in any territory.
However, the lack of official confirmation doesn't rule out one or all of the list games being available when the PS3 launches in Japan--or North America. That said, historically, no Gran Turismo game has launched alongside a PlayStation console. And knowing developer Polyphony Digital's proclivity for missing deadlines, it wouldn't be surprising if Vision Gran Turismo would miss whatever launch date it is initially given.
Bogus or not bogus?: Bogus that is it confirmed for launch; not bogus that the six games are coming to PS3...but we knew that already.
Source: A report citing a source close to the movie-based game's development from British trade paper MCV.
The official story: An Activision rep told us the company does not comment on rumors or speculation.
What we heard: Every semi-cherished, vaguely nostalgic property of the '80s short of the The Bionic Six has received its own cinematic revamp recently, so it wasn't incredibly surprising when Dreamworks, Paramount, and Hasbro jointly announced this year that the Transformers would be returning to the silver screen in 2007. What was surprising is that the project would be live-action, directed by Michael Bay (Pearl Harbor, Armageddon) and executive-produced by Steven Spielberg (who has shown a soft spot for robots with past productions like *batteries not included and Artificial Intelligence).
While there's little doubt that Activision would want the rights to a Spielberg-produced summer blockbuster chock sure to be chock-full of explosions and giant battling robots, there is some question about whether another publisher might be better positioned to secure the rights. After all, Spielberg has an established business history with Electronic Arts, having sold Dreamworks Interactive to the company in 2000, and having recently signed a deal with EA "to create three new original games."
Then again, Dreamworks has had a partnership with Activision for several years that has yielded a number of games based on its animated features like Shark Tale, Shrek 2, and Madagascar. But Paramount has already established ties with Midway to make movies based on its Fear & Respect and Area 51 games, and put out a pair of films based on Eidos' Tomb Raider franchise. Eidos would be a serious dark horse to make the Transformers game, as Paramount publicly blamed the poor reception of Eidos' Tomb Raider: Angel of Darkness game for the second film's lethargic box office showing. Finally, Atari might be in the running as well, considering it developed the successful Transformers PS2 title based on Hasbro's Armada toy line and cartoon. Then again, Hasbro probably bought the robo-rights back from the publisher last year for a reason.
That's a whole lot of people with a possible shot at grabbing the Transformers movie license. However, Activision has an ace up its sleeve. One of the publishers' in-house studios, Treyarch, is responsible for some of the highest-grossing movie-tie-in games of all time. Treyarch developed the multiconsole adaptations of the films Spider-Man and Spider-Man 2, which sold a combined 8 million units on all platforms--netting more than $290 million--according to NPD. If that kind of money isn't a major draw, we're not sure what is.
Bogus or not bogus?: Dare we say there's more to this rumor than meets the eye? Nah. Not bogus.
Source: UK game-trade magazine MCV.
The official story: Electronic Arts did not respond to requests for comment.
What we heard: When EA announced the Godfather would not make the 2005 holiday season, its share price got severely whacked. The reason was that Wall Street expects the game, based on what many consider the best Mafia movie of all time, to be a monster hit for when it is released on the PC, PSP, Xbox, Xbox 360, and PlayStation 2.
So when MCV today claimed it could "exclusively reveal" that the Godfather would arrive in just over two months, many wannabe mobsters broke their vow of silence. But is it true? Probably, as MCV is the equivalent of Variety for the British game industry. It also has a history of breaking solid stories, such as VU Games' acquisition of Cold Winter developer Swordfish Studios last June.
In fact, the news might be even better for US gamers, as the MCV date is for the UK. Traditionally, EA releases its games slightly earlier in the US, and Yankee retailers like GameStop currently list the current-gen versions of Godfather with a Tuesday, March 21 release date. However, before you start making your Xbox 360 an offer it can't refuse, keep in mind the next-gen version of the game isn't set for release until later in the year. In fact, the official Godfather Web site doesn't even list the 360 under "Platforms Available." (Maybe it entered the witness protection program--ed.)
Bogus or not bogus?: Probably not bogus. Judging by GameSpot's recent Designer Diary, the game is close to being done.
Source: An anonymous source with close ties to the Southern California game-development community.
The official story: Activision did not respond to requests for comment.
What we heard: After Activision warned investors that its holiday sales would not meet expectations in December, many wondered what went wrong. After all, the second-biggest third-party publisher released four Xbox 360 launch games, including platform top-seller Call of Duty 2. Its Q4 2005 was also stacked with new installments in some of the best-selling series of all time, including Tony Hawk's American Wasteland and Quake 4.
So when a well-placed source told GameSpot News that Gun 2 and True Crime 3 had been canned, it stood to reason that their predecessors must have badly underperformed at retail. So badly, in fact, that Activision reportedly decided to pull the plug on both at an early stage of development rather than sink further resources into series with a less-than-certain future.
A look at the November NPD game-sales report shows that True Crime: New York City did indeed fall far short of Activision's aspirations. Despite a massive marketing blitz hyping its November 15 release, it sold only around 72,000 units on three platforms--PlayStation 2, Xbox, and GameCube. Including preorders, it raked in a meager $3.6 million, a fraction of its blockbuster predecessor, True Crime: Streets of LA, which sold a combined 300,000-plus units during its first two weeks in stores in 2003.
During its first month on the, er, street, TC: Streets of LA sold more than 600,000 units. But although Activision spent millions in ad dollars hyping Gun's November 1 launch, the free-range Western action game moved only 240,000 units on five platforms (Xbox 360, Xbox, GC, PC, and PS2), generating $12.2 million during the month. By contrast, LucasArts' Star Wars: Battlefront II, released on the same day, sold more than a million units on four platforms (PC, PS2, PSP, Xbox), generating over $52 million in sales.
So are the two sequels' fates sealed? That question won't be answered for certain until the release of the December 2004 NPD report, which will show whether Gun or True Crime: NYC have any longevity on the charts. So far, the signals aren't clear. Both games got mixed reviews, meaning strong word-of-mouth is unlikely. However, both also reentered the game-rental top 10 in December, meaning that somebody was showing some interest. Also consider that both a PC TC: NYC and a PSP Gun are still on track for an early 2006 release--officially, anyway.
Bogus or not bogus?: True Crime: New York City probably won't get a sequel, but Gun--which was considered promising but unpolished--might.
Source: A rather irate post on the GameSpot Forums.
The official story: See below.
What we heard: Originally slated to be a 360 launch title, Dead or Alive 4's release date was pushed back for weeks, until it finally hit the market on December 29. The repeated postponements caused many to suspect that the game was either (a) having problems with supply or (b) having trouble passing Microsoft's certification for the 360.
The latter theory got more ammo last week, when a forum thread titled "WARNING: DOA4 has a major glitch" popped up on GameSpot's community. The original poster, gintheplacetobe, said that he had spent hours going through all the story modes and unlocking almost all the characters. "I played a few more sessions after that, and then booted up the game again only to find out that all of my [DOA4] save data was gone," wrote gintheplacetobe. "All of my unlocked characters, costumes, leader-board achievements, online ranking, ALL GONE!"
Was gintheplacetobe's experience an isolated case of bad luck, or a more widespread problem? After a several-day lag, a Tecmo rep indicated that there is a problem with some copies of the game. "We're aware of the issue you're referring to," the rep told GameSpot. "We're working to identify and resolve the potential problem with the technical folks at Microsoft." The rep said a patch would be coming soon.
So what can DOA4 players do in the meantime to ensure their hard-fought DOA4 victories don't vanish into thin air? Tecmo technical support says to do the following: (1) With your copy of DOA4 already inserted, turn on your 360 by pressing the "open tray" button. (2) Wait until all the information from your Gamer Profile is fully displayed on your Gamer Card, including achievements and other awards. (3) Close the tray again with DOA4 still inserted. If problems still occur, e-mail Tecmo technical support at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Bogus or not bogus?: Not bogus.