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    Transformers: Rise of the Dark Spark Announced

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    Activision is no stranger to hit game franchises, but one of its more recent surprises has been the High Moon Studios developed shooters based on the Hasbro’s hit Transformers toy line.  Both Transformers: War for Cybertron and Transformers: Fall of Cybertron were big hits with gamers.  Now the publisher is looking to score a trifecta with the announcement of Transformers: Rise of the Dark Spark, currently in development for current consoles and PCs.

    For fans, there are a few unexpected twists and turns in the Autobots’ upcoming road trip.  First, Rise of the Dark Spark may carry on the legacy of the previous Transformers games, but it will be doing so without High Moon Studios at the helm.  Instead, Rise of the Dark Spark’s development is being spearheaded by Edge of Reality, the studio behind SEGA’s The Incredible Hulk and the recently released free-to-play shooter, Loadout

    Even more surprising, Activision has announced that the new game will somehow tie the Cybertron game universe into the Michael Bay movieverse.  No details have been released on exactly how this will happen.  The story could somehow lead up to the beginning events of Bay’s original Transformers movie and then pick up after or during the events of the upcoming Age of Extinction flick.  Another possibility (used more than once in the Transformers comic books) is that some sort of cosmic event will bring the two distinct universes together.  Activision’s wording in the press release announcing the new game could certainly be construed that way:

    “This third-person action adventure video game goes beyond the movie by uniting the universe of director Michael Bay’s TRANSFORMERS movies with the ever-popular Cybertron universe. Players will choose from over 40 playable characters from the two different universes as they battle to secure the Dark Spark.”

    Transformers

    Regardless of how Rise of the Dark Spark attempts to bring the two Transformers properties together, fans of Fall of Cybertron and War for Cybertron should still feel right at home, as the new title looks to follow the same formula as the previous entries.  Once again, players will switch between Autobots and Decepticons over the course of the single-player campaign. Rise of the Dark Spark will also feature the return of the fan-favorite multiplayer mode, Escalation, which pits teams of up to four players against wave after wave of increasingly difficult enemy forces in a brutal survival mode.

    Transformers: Rise of the Dark Spark is currently slated for a June 2014 release on Xbox One, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, Wii U, 3DS, and Windows-based PCs.

     

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    The End of the Wii Era

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    R.I.P., Nintendo Wii.

    Nintendo Japan has confirmed via its website (in Japanese) that the Nintendo Wii will no longer be produced in Japan. This has led to a flurry of media outlets around the world calling their Nintendo reps to find out if this state of affairs applies to the rest of the world. We don’t know the answer to this question yet, but there is one thing that’s clear: the writing is on the wall for the Nintendo Wii.

    In recent years Nintendo has appeared to lose ground to its console competition, Sony’s PS3 and Microsoft’s Xbox, but the Wii was still the system of choice for families, those of us who care about backwards-compatibility, and players awaiting more adventures with Mario (both Kart-based and otherwise). It was the first system to introduce motion control, which was hastily taken up by Sony and Microsoft, and the system that pretty much created casual gaming. Plus, who can forget that brief period of time when every mom was working out with the Wii Fit? What the Wii lacked in pure power and next-gen tech, it made up for in fun.

    The move is a controversial one, because the Wii frankly still has life left in it and Nintendo is cutting off a revenue stream that’s still going strong. But given that the Wii U’s tenure so far has been less than spectacular, it does make sense. With the holiday season looming, making the Wii U the only choice available at regular retail ought to boost its sales and its visibility. A Nintendo press release from last week claims that September’s Wii U price drop (to $299.99) had already boosted sales by over 200 percent in 15 days, so perhaps this is a way of leveraging that momentum.

    Naturally, there’s a bit of nostalgia attached to the Nintendo name, and that in itself has probably helped the company’s bottom line. However, the future of Nintendo is unclear – though the Wii U is pretty cool, it’s going to lose ground once the Xbox One and the PlayStation 4 come onto the market later this fall (much as the Wii did when the Xbox 360 and PS3 were released). While the Wii introduced some innovative ideas, the leadership of Nintendo has also been slow to take advantage of certain profitable features now standard in the industry, such as online multiplayer and mobile gaming (Nintendo president Satoru Iwata is vocal about his opposition to turning the company’s tried-and-true brands into gaming apps). Third-party developers have had trouble creating successful games for the Wii, and Nintendo very consciously tried to draw new players in without catering to the hard-core gaming audience.

    The fact is that in 2013, Nintendo posted a loss for the second straight year in a row. This move, benching the Wii, clearly hopes to turn things around. I hope it does. A world without Nintendo just doesn’t bear thinking about.

     

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    Disney Infinity on PS3 Ruins Day for Little (and Big) Kids

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    You can’t help but wonder, sometimes, if a company should really see a problem coming.  For example, when SimCity launched recently for EA, the huge demand for the game should have been a clue that EA might want to beef up its servers. Now, it seems, Disney is learning that same lesson the hard way with its eagerly anticipated game, Disney Infinity.

    Launch day was HUGE for Disney’s new franchise, which merges the virtual world with real world collectible toys.  There were big launch parties all over, including the official launch event in Times Square.  Meanwhile, reviews of the game were trickling out, praising the game and its future potential (look for our review soon).  Xbox 360 and Wii U owners were hitting social media to gush over the fun they were having with the game … but PlayStation 3 owners?  They were singing a different tune … and one that would likely get cut from any Disney movie.

    Unfortunately, after a Day One patch was installed on the game, PS3 owners found themselves shut out of the Disney Infinity servers.  Unlike the Xbox LIVE servers maintained by Microsoft, the PlayStation 3 servers have to be managed by Disney, and it seemed like the Mouse House wasn’t exactly prepared for the deluge of fans wanting to play in the new Disney Toy Box. Compounding the issue, without the ability to log in, many players couldn’t even get to the opening tutorial.  And those that did somehow manage to get in were freezing up moments into the gameplay.

    As word spread online about the issues with the PS3 version of the game, some people tried to come up with their own fix.  Deleting the patch and staying offline seems to be getting some PS3 owners back in the game, though they are still unable to access the Toy Box mode, one of Disney Infinity’s key selling points.  Unfortunately, without the patch, people were reporting that the game was freezing, locking up, and worst of all, corrupting their saved game data and forcing them to restart everything from scratch.

    As of this writing, there’s been no response from Disney Infinity’s tech support staff.  However, the game’s official Twitter account did post the following:

    “For those who have reached out about issues with the PS3, we are working on it right now and will be back with more info soon!”

    Of course, this came as little comfort to parent who had dropped anywhere from $75 for the Starter Pack to more than $300 for entire sets, complete with packs of booster discs.  Many people took to social media talking about how they were having to now deal with crying children who had been anxious to play the game for months.

    Disney has a lot invested in the Infinity franchise, with many reporting that the company has dropped as much as $100 million into the development and marketing.  With that much at stake, having a technical glitch affect a major portion of your audience is a huge blow and definitely a black eye on an otherwise successful launch.  In the meantime, it looks like PlayStation 3 owners will be busy wishing on a star for a new patch to resolve the issue soon.

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    A New Perspective on the Console War

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    The internet is a buzz with smack talk about how Sony obliterated Microsoft and that the Xbox One is doomed. This type of banter isn’t new to me. This will be the third console generation to happen while I’ve worked in the game industry, and the talk happens every time, but that doesn’t make it any less irritating or short-sighted.

    Let’s a take step back in history, shall we? This E3 is actually very similar to the E3 following the last console reveals/launches, with the players in different places. Sony, the then market leader, announced an outlandish price for the PS3. Do you remember what it was? $599. That’s right! More expensive than any of this upcoming generation’s consoles will be. During this same time, everyone pretty much considered Nintendo down for the count, because the “gamers” weren’t that interested in what the Wii had to offer. Microsoft was riding high coming out of that of E3. Having already launched the 360, they were able to focus on the games. Now that we’re at the end of that generation, let’s take a look at how it all played out.

    At the start of 2013, worldwide sales of the Wii were close to 100 million. Xbox 360 and PS3 have garnered 77 and 70 million respectively. In the end, Nintendo kicked everyone’s butt because they appealed to a broader audience, and Sony’s ridiculous launch price didn’t put them THAT far behind in the long run.

    Now, we have Microsoft at the highest price point, Sony making competitive pricing decisions, and Nintendo has already launched the Wii U. Microsoft is trying to broaden its audience by releasing a system that does more than just games. Sony is releasing a system targeted squarely at “hardcore gamers,” and Nintendo is revealing its heavy hitting software for the Wii U.

    If previous E3s have taught us anything, it’s that you can’t really predict what’s going to happen because the consoles and their launch prices have very little to do with the long-term success or failure of the system. It’s all about the games, people! The Wii U is seeing a boost in sales after announcing new games in both the Mario and Zelda franchises, as well as a new Mario Kart and a new Super Smash Bros. These are the games that everyone wants from Nintendo. And while the Wii U has been struggling thus far, the promise of these titles should help sales of the system improve.

    Microsoft is taking a different approach with Xbox One, seeing gaming on the same plane as other media, including television, music and movies and wants to make a device that will appeal to people who would like to have all of their entertainment in one place. But, it’s also taking an aggressive approach in the DRM and required connectivity issues that aren’t sitting well with a lot of gamers. Many gamers have said they feel like Microsoft is “abandoning them.” And while that language feels a bit melodramatic to me, it is partially true. The hardcore gaming audience is no longer the primary focus.

    Sony has pulled no punches. They’re releasing a system focused on games. It will have other media features, but the games are the core. They’re also stressing how open the system will be in terms of DRM and online connectivity. Their approach is pleasing to the hardcore crowd, but it doesn’t seem likely to broaden their audience. In the end, that may not matter, but it’s hard to discount if you look at how the Wii shocked everyone.

    Microsoft and Sony are taking two different approaches. How the world responds to those approaches has yet to be seen. In terms of software, Sony is lacking one important element that Nintendo and Microsoft have nailed down – the blockbuster exclusive that will sell systems. Nintendo has the most going for it in this regard because it has more than one (Mario and Zelda), and their brand recognition surpasses any other gaming franchises. Microsoft has Halo, but it won’t be a launch title. Sony doesn’t have one huge franchise that has crazy sales. Rather, they have a number of popular franchises that sell well, but not as much as Mario or Halo. However that doesn’t mean Sony won’t find its gem this generation.

    So to wrap up, no one, and especially not me, can say with any certainty what will happen this time around. It’s way too early to count anyone out of the game, so let’s ease off the trash talk. I know it plays off the us vs. them team mentality, but this isn’t a football game, folks. A loss of any of these console makers results in less competition, which translates into less innovation. A person who truly loves games should not want anyone to fail.

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