Thursday, September 27, 2007

Activision buys UK-based maker of racing games

Activision Inc (ATVI.O: Quote, Profile, Research) said on Wednesday it has bought the Britain-based maker of a popular racing video game, plugging a hole in the video-game publisher's lineup.

Activision did not say how much it had paid for Bizarre Creations, which makes the "Project Gotham Racing" series for Microsoft Corp's (MSFT.O: Quote, Profile, Research) Xbox 360 gaming console.

Racing titles accounted for $1.4 billion, or 10 percent, of global video game software sales, Activision said. It is a category dominated by rival Electronic Arts Inc (ERTS.O: Quote, Profile, Research), which sells the popular "Need for Speed" and "Burnout" franchises.

Other top-selling racing titles include Microsoft's "Forza Motorsport" and Sony Corp's (6758.T: Quote, Profile, Research) "Gran Tourismo."

The "Project Gotham Racing" series has sold more than 4.5 million copies since it debuted in 2001. The fourth installment of the franchise is due in October on the Xbox 360. Activision said it would publish a new game from Bizarre in 2009.

"They have a lot of cash and a hole in the portfolio that needed to be filled, said Mike Hickey, an analyst with Janco Partners. "They didn't have a representative racing game and now they do."

Mike Griffith, head of Activision Publishing, said in a statement: "Bizarre Creations will play an important role in our growth strategy as we develop an original new intellectual property for this important racing segment." Activision, the second-biggest U.S. publisher in terms of annual revenue, has a cash pile of nearly $1 billion.

Halo 3 Sales Smash Game Industry Records

Microsoft (NSDQ: MSFT)'s Halo 3 racked up $170 million in sales on its first day of availability, making it the hottest selling title in video game history.

Microsoft said late Wednesday that the game's sales easily surpassed first day sales for Halo 2, which previously held the record. Halo 2 launched in 2004 and posted $125 million in sales on its first day.

Halo 3, which hit shelved on Tuesday, also broke industry records for pre-sales. Retailers took more than 1.7 million pre-orders for the game, which runs on Microsoft's Xbox 360 console. More than one million gamers played the game online over Microsoft's Xbox Live system on launch day -- another record for the software maker.

Microsoft is hoping that Halo 3 will boost demand for the Xbox 360, sales of which plunged 60% year-over-year in the fiscal fourth quarter. Not only are Xbox sales important to Microsoft in and of themselves, they're also key to the company's goal of becoming a leader in the broader, home entertainment market.

Microsoft envisions the Xbox as a platform through which consumers can play games, watch movies, listen to music and download paid content.

Halo 3 is a so-called first person shooter featuring Master Chief, a biologically enhanced super-soldier who has to blast his way through a futuristic, 3-D landscape to survive and accomplish missions. He's countered at every turn by a shadowy terrorist group called The Covenant.

Despite the sales records, Microsoft's Halo 3 launch was not without problems. The company conceded that the packaging on the $70.00 Limited Edition of the game can scratch the discs inside. Microsoft has added Halo 3 Limited Edition to a disc replacement program it started after some Xbox 360 buyers complained that the units were scratching their game discs.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Sci-Fi Scares in EA's Dead Space

The success of games like BioShock and Silent Hill are proof that gamers like to be spooked. Noticing this trend, EA is shuffling into the genre itself, with a new third-person sci-fi horror game called Dead Space. The story in the new Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 survival horror game deals with one Isaac Clarke, a tech support guy sent to fix the communications equipment on a deep space mining ship.

Once there, Isaac realizes that broken motherboards are the least of his worries as he discovers that the crew of the ill-fated mining ship has been killed by aliens.

Though there has been talk of the game for some time now, it's only this month that EA has started to open up about it. There's limited information online right now, thanks to an exclusive cover story given to US magazine Game Informer, which is featuring the game in its latest cover (where the accompanying image comes from).

According to the Game Informer blurb, Dead Space is along the lines of 1997 shockfest horror flick Event Horizon.

Mario and Sonic will sell 4 million - Sega

Sega believes that Mario and Sonic at the Olympics will sell 4 million units, equaling the feat of the original Sonic title released in 1991.

Mario and Sonic at the Olympics, which goes on sale for Nintendo Wii in November, will pit Nintendo and Sega's flagship characters against one another for the first time, and Sega believes it has a sure-fire hit on its hands.

Bloomberg reports that Masanao Maeda, a corporate director at Sega's gaming unit, forecast that the title will sell 4 million units, although he didn't specify a timeframe for achieving the milestone.

The target is equivalent to almost 20 percent of Sega's games sales during the last financial year ended March 31.

PSP has a good week

FOR THE FIRST TIME in, oooh, ages, Sony has actually managed to outdo Nintendo in hardware sales in its native Japan.

Last week, Sony managed to shift over 95,000 PSP consoles, compared to just 79,000 for the Nintendo DS. That's the first time in a long while that Sony's PSP has made any kind of sales movement, and it comes off the back of the release of Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII, the sequel to the most revered installment in the Final Fantasy saga.

However, Nintendo doesn't need to worry just yet - the PSP has still only sold in the region of six million units in the territory, compared to almost twenty million DS consoles.

Nintendo: Wii News

First images of Link's Crossbow Training - the game that will come packaged with Nintendo's Wii Zapper peripheral - have hit the net.

Scans of the latest issue of the US Nintendo Power magazine show screens of Link taking aim at enemies in the gorgeous Hyrule as seen in Twilight Princess.

The game will consist of three play modes - target shooting, defender and ranger - with a total of 27 levels. Each stage's goal is to earn the highest score possible within the time limit. All rounds can be played with multiple players: Players pass the Wii Zapper around and then play one at a time and compete for the high score.

"Halo 3" wins high marks from reviewers

"Halo 3", the highly anticipated video game from Microsoft, won high praise on Sunday from game reviewers who gushed over the lush settings, cinematic feel and array of multiplayer features.

The game, the final chapter of a trilogy that began in 2001 with the launch of Microsoft's original Xbox, is a key part of the company's strategy to take a bigger share of the console gaming market from Sony.

Gaming news Web site GameSpy gave "Halo 3" five stars, its highest ranking, saying it was so good that it was worth buying an Xbox 360 just to play it. The Xbox 360 costs $280 to $450 (138 pounds to 222 pounds), depending on features.

"Quite simply, 'Halo 3' is the reason the Xbox 360 exists," GameSpy said.

Since "Halo 3" is the game industry equivalent of a new "Harry Potter" book or "Star Wars" movie, few expected it to be a flop. Specialty gaming retail chain GameStop Corp said the title set a record for advance orders while Microsoft has said it expects initial demand to surpass that for 2004's "Halo 2", which racked up $125 million in its first 24 hours.

The game is set to go on sale on September 25.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Best of the Tokyo Game Show

Halo 3

Well, duh. Halo 3 made quite an impression on the mostly Japanese TGS crowd, something that surprised us quite a bit considering that Halo is a firmly Americanized game. Be it the hype, the advertising campaign, or simply word of mouth, we were impressed to see a crowd of over 200 watching a team CTF battle comprised of mostly mediocre players. There is clearly something about Halo 3 that galvanizes Japanese gamers. Will this be the game to sell the Xbox 360 in Japan? Actually, and surprisingly, we're thinking that the answer may be "yes."

Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots

Newly rumble-enabled, Kojima's highest-profile PS3 project was looking sharp at the Tokyo Game Show. Outside of a few brief moments when the frame rate dipped into the 20's and teens, the visual presentation was superb: dust, debris, and elaborate post-processing effects showed off the power of Sony's battlestation. Otherwise, it was much of the same content that Kojima himself demonstrated at his Tokyo appearance in August. The controls have been much Westernized since MGS3, and the change was vastly for the better. But not everything was different in Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots: the X button still handled dodging and crawling, and L2 and R2 handled item and weapon switching via the familiar MGS interface.

Despite the emphasis on stealthy combat, Kojima has mentioned earlier that MGS4 will allow for more guns-blazing approaches...but that such an action-oriented strategy would be "very hard." We saw quite a few players lunge into the fray, and as more and more soldiers ganged up on Snake, the results weren't pretty. Remember, kids: stealth is your friend!

Soul Calibur IV

Ah, yes. Soul Calibur IV had some of the nicest graphics we saw at the Tokyo Game Show. And though the gameplay and artificial intelligence were still clearly works-in-progress, the gameplay has taken some nice (if modest) steps forward. One key improvement particularly piqued our interest: a revised Ring Out system. A chief complaint of the series has been the ease at which players can knock each other out of the ring to score an easy victory. Soul Calibur IV improves upon this by introducing breakable background walls and objects, which give you a second chance if you're about to be knocked out.

But back to those graphics -- they were sweeeeet. You could see real-time reflections of the arenas in Mitsurugi's katana sword, and they looked eerily accurate. Taki's new costume has a metallic sheen to it, an eye-catching detail, and Astaroth (read: the big brute with the axe) seemed to be formed out of semi-hardened magma. Oh, and the T&A factor was off the charts: Taki's, um, assets bobbed and jiggled after each move. We expect that fighting fans -- and pubescent teen boys -- will have a ton of fun with Soul Calibur IV when it hits the Xbox 360 and PS3 sometime later in 2008.

Ninja Gaiden II

Much fuss was made about Ninja Gaiden II's gore factor, which seemed to tread dangerously close to the dreaded "Adults Only" rating if you judged by the first ultra-gory screenshots. It turns out that the truth is more complex than that. In motion, Ninja Gaiden II is too fast to be disgustingly violent: you see a few whirls of Ryu's sword, streamers of blood, and flying enemy torsos. It's hugely violent, to be sure, and we saw quite a few dismemberments, decapitations, and eviscerations. But given the anime stylings, it all seemed to fall well within a "Mature" rating. Of course, the ESRB will have the final say on that sure-to-be-controversial decision.

Otherwise, it looks like another, better Ninja Gaiden. Team Ninja's first Xbox 360 Gaiden looked sharp...but truth be told, not leagues different from Ninja Gaiden Sigma for the PS3. That's not a slam, but praise. We particularly liked the little details: Ryu could cripple enemy ninjas with a well-placed leg strike, and the enemies would crawl around trying to reach him. If they managed to grab him, the crippled foe would trigger a suicide bomb and blow you both away. We also liked the way he shook the blood off his weapons after particularly brutal battles. And speaking of weapons, we saw a few new ones, including a massive scythe (think Grim Reaper) and a pair of vicious-looking hand sabers (think Predator). We're not enormous Ninja Gaiden devotees, but even we had to admit that it was an impressive showing.

Metal Gear Solid Online

We played it, and we like it already. The controls take a bit of getting used to (especially if you need to invert the analog sticks, as the menus are all in Japanese in this build), and the aiming seemed to be a bit oversensitive at this early state. Overall, though, the gameplay shines and we predict it'll be a key draw for the PS3's online network.

A Metal Gear Online team deathmatch stage dominated the Konami booth on the TGS show floor. The auditorium-style stage features a red team and blue team, with six show attendees comprising each team. The presentation was over-the-top and theatrical -- in other words, pure Kojima. As we waited to play, we were led into a small back room and given a battlefield debriefing by an actor playing the blue team commander. Though the presentation was completely in Japanese, the message was clear: win or else! She bossed us and our teammates around, punctuating each command with a slap from her leather switch. She outlined the game's controls, showed us the level layout, and circled key choke points and areas of interest. Before we knew it, we were led out to the show floor for a very public battle, complete with a grandiose introduction by an overheated announcer. Gulp!

We sat down at our station, grabbed the Sixaxis (DualShock 3 support was not yet implemented), and donned our headsets. Game time! First up was selecting a weapon loadout; we opted for a modified AK assault rifle, 9mm handgun, and stun grenades. Then we were thrust into "Ambush Alley," a desolate-looking map comprised of bombed-out buildings, shattered streets, and strewn rubble. The level was roughly symmetrical, with a dense layout of narrow alleys and barricades. We jogged slowly through the opening courtyard, getting accustomed to the control scheme and the overall feel of the game. L1 raises your weapon into a ready state; R1 fires. The X button controls diving and kneeling; you hold X to belly-crawl. While aiming, the Square button zooms in further.

Because we'd never played MGO before, we kept it simple and stealthy. While many of the less experienced players lunged straight into the fray, we careful strafed our way past the central killing floor and took potshots at enemy players. Successful hits make enemies blink Matrix-style -- a nice bit of feedback. Overall, the gunplay seemed like a mix of classic Metal Gear and SOCOM, though it took more rounds to drop an enemy than in more realistic games like Rainbow Six: Vegas.

Still, the mix of nuts-and-bolts team shooting and vintage Metal Gear oddities, such as porno magazine "proximity bombs" and cardboard box disguises, was a delicious treat indeed. Though we'd like to see the controls streamlined and Westernized a bit more, we were quite impressed with Metal Gear's second -- and much more polished -- online tour of duty. We're hoping the game goes live by mid-2008...but then again, this is Kojima we're talking about.

Halo's in the house

Soldiers clad in robotic-looking body armour splash through puddles in their tanks as bullets fly overhead, shot from all direction.

There's a lot happening on-screen in Halo 3, most of which is confidential until Tuesday's launch.

So without saying too much, I'll say this: Halo 3 is pretty overwhelming from a graphics point of view. Never mind all the pumped-up game-play and next-generation capabilities.

Everything in this revamped Halo universe is shadowed, heavy, three-dimensional and intensely lit. It's big and exciting -- sort of like the hype surrounding the game itself.

When video game icon, Master Chief, kicks off his final mission to save the Halo universe this Tuesday, billions of bucks will be on the line -- never mind the planet.

And Microsoft doesn't seem worried.

So far so good after all.

Halo 3, the final instalment in the massively popular Xbox-only series, has already sold more than one million copies.

Some hardcore gamers -- or fanatical nerds, depending on who you speak to -- began lining up outside retailers 10 days ago. (That's two weeks in advance.)

"It's been compared to the Star Wars of video games," says Ryan Bidan, games project director for Microsoft.

"It's a big deal."

Following a summer of power sequels, he says, Microsoft expects to outsell any movie launch in history with their third and last edition of the Halo series.

They intend to beat out Spider-Man 3's opening weekend, which banked $151 million, in just one day, he says.

Video games can compete with movies and music albums -- and win, he says, "It's all about entertainment."


Even though the soldiers on-screen are firing at each other at an explosive rate and there's clearly a violent clash going on, Halo 3 is a spectacle to behold.

It's no wonder the new game system includes a "saved video" function so gamers can record and playback their own battles.

Each scene feels like a mini action movie, and the player gets to take on the lead role.

Gamers will be blown away by the visuals -- right down to each blade of grass.

"It is so much more beautiful," says Mike Zack, manoeuvring his player through a canyon, over a rocky ledge. "We recreated everything."

Zack, 31, who is originally from Victoria, is in town to talk to media and demonstrate the game. As we speak, he manages to do both simultaneously.

"I made those leaves," he says, aiming the viewfinder of his player up to some foliage rustling in the trees overhead.

As an environment art lead at Bungie Studios, the game developer behind Halo, he's most concerned with the way the new game looks.

And while Zack worked on Halo 2, he says, this time around was particularly heady since Halo is no longer just a game.

"It's definitely a phenomenon," Zack says. "We knew that."

Type the words "Halo 3" into Google, and you get more than 23 million hits. Online speculation over graphics, gameplay, price and characters abound. So has secrecy, even though an alternate ending of the game, likely recorded by a mobile phone, was leaked online.


Beyond the millions and millions who make up the so-called Halo Nation -- from hardcore gamers who tattoo Master Chief on their person to casual gamers, or people who just like to watch -- the game also attracts a proud celebrity following.

Most notably, Justin Timberlake, singer/actor and lover of the "sexyback," reportedly has his own room assigned just for Halo gaming.

Shaggy-haired crooner, John Mayer, likes the game so much he's filmed himself and his buddies playing Halo for a television show. Comedian Dane Cook, actor Ryan Phillippe and emo-rockers Fall Out Boy all like to play too.

Halo's own quiet hero, Master Chief, is an icon in his own right. The seven-foot-tall soldier became the first video game character to get his likeness enshrined in Madame Tussauds' wax museum.

"I'd never say I feel intimidated, but humbled for sure," says Zack, of Halo's success. Worldwide sales for Halo's first two games total $14.8 million -- or well over $1 billion. The more people who love the game, the more responsibility, he says.

"As fun as it is, you take it really seriously," Zack says.

"Every day you work on a game there's a million things you could do and you have to pick a handful -- you have to decide what's the most important thing."

While he talks, he steers a tank along a rocky terrain, periodically changing his character's viewpoint.

"It's amazing. I still love looking at it," Zack says, before pressing pause.


What's so amazing about Halo anyway?

Zack likens it to Atari's 1970s video game: Pong.

"Imagine Pong where you still had just two little paddles and a ball bouncing back and forth," Zack says. "Now imagine that rendered in three dimensions and you're still controlling one of the paddles."


The paddles look real, Zack says, and the game feels like a real ping-pong match.

"And then imagine, rather than playing a game of ping-pong, you're actually playing through an epic, science-fiction fantasy where you're exploring the landscapes and you can actually run around," he says, smiling.

And with the Internet, through the Xbox LIVE online game play, you can play with anyone anytime anywhere from Singapore to New York or Yorkton, Sask. Every day, 300,000 gamers log on to play it.

"That's Halo," he says. "Cool, eh?"

Working on this project has been a blast, he adds.

"It's been a dream come true," Zack says, reflecting on the past three years. "It's been super fun. We had a great time making it."


Since more than one million copies of Halo 3 have already pre-sold, Microsoft may have already banked more than $100 million since the sought-after Halo 3 Legendary Edition retails for $149.

(This includes a model of a Spartan helmet and so far it has already sold out in the U.K. Bidan says it will likely be sold out by the end of Tuesday.)

Advertising has been intense. Halo 3 has been plugged before movies all summer long, during prime time television shows and even branded on fast food packaging. Retailers, many of which have massive posters up proclaiming Halo 3's arrival, are readying for the coming Halomania.

More than 10,000 stores across North America have midnight openings planned, including the Future Shop on West Broadway.


Master Chief strolls through The Vancouver Sun, periodically stopping to shake hands with flummoxed reporters.

The human facsimile of the Spartan soldier named John -- just John -- doesn't speak. He only nods. Any expression is hidden through the visor of his helmet.

Master Chief, or the person dressed up to look like him, will be at the midnight sales event Tuesday. He's also been touring the city, doing media stops and photo shoots.

A fellow named Benny is dressed in army fatigues, trailing by his side.

"I'm probably one of the marines who will die in the first mission," he says, grinning. "Master Chief will try to protect me. Won't you?"

Master Chief nods.

In the Halo universe, Master Chief would be about seven-feet tall. He'd be mid-combat, fighting evil forces.

And he wouldn't be touring newsrooms. But since he did, we caught his pit stop on tape.

Go to to see a clip from his newsroom romp.


No one should be surprised by the buzz around Halo 3, Bidan insists.

The first two Halo editions have sold more than 14.8 million copies worldwide because Halo has transcended the typical video game market, he says.

"Halo has really become a bit of a pop cultural phenomenon," he says.

"It wildly exceeded our expectations with the popular imagination that it captured and the broad range of people who were really interested in Halo. . . these were people who weren't traditionally gamers or weren't really into hardcore games."

His own grandmother even asked him what "this Halo thing" was all about recently, Bidan says.

This is part of Halo's appeal, he adds.

By the end of this year, Microsoft expects gamers will have spent more than $1 billion on the Halo franchise. Not bad for a war-based series built around a character who is never seen without his helmet on and barely speaks. This is also a big deal for Xbox360 console sales because you can't play Halo 3 on a PlayStation or Wii.

"Halo 3 will absolutely have a positive impact on Xbox360 sales," Bidan says. Just how much of an impact? That is confidential, he says, repeating: "We expect this title to be a driver of console sales."

They've released a limited edition Halo 3 Xbox360 console, in green and gold tones to match Master Chief's armour. "You can still currently find those," Bidan says, adding these too will likely sell out quickly.

The $449 Halo 3 Xbox360 console doesn't include the game though. That's sold separately.

Friday, September 21, 2007

`Halo 3' Hype Builds

Even people who haven't played a video game since "Pac-Man" have probably heard something about "Halo 3," thanks to the kind of publicity blitz usually reserved for summer movies. The "Halo 3" logo is everywhere, from Burger King wrappers and Mountain Dew bottles to the hood of a NASCAR vehicle. A life-size version of Master Chief, the game's hero, has even been enshrined at Madame Tussaud's Las Vegas museum.

According to Microsoft, more than 10,000 stores in the United States will be opening their doors at midnight next Tuesday, the first day "Halo 3" will be on sale. The midnight mayhem includes four major events — in New York, Los Angeles, Seattle and Miami — where gamers will get to play "Halo 3" with "local celebrities." (Whee!)

In 2004, when "Halo 2" arrived, it grossed $125 million in its first 24 hours on sale. That's more than the worldwide box office generated by "Spider-Man 3" in its first day in theaters back in May. Microsoft clearly expects "Halo 3" to surpass that figure — and, perhaps more important, to goose sales of the Xbox 360, which is engaged in a fierce battle with Nintendo's Wii for home console supremacy.

_EASTERN PROMISES: One area where the Xbox has struggled is Japan, where gamers prefer to buy from the home teams, Sony and Nintendo. But Microsoft hasn't given up on Asia, and is trying to make a big splash at this week's Tokyo Game Show.

Takashi Sensui, the head of Microsoft's Xbox operations in Japan, knows what audiences there want: role-playing games like "Dragon Quest" and "Final Fantasy." At a pre-TGS press conference in Tokyo, Sensui focused on forthcoming RPGs such as Microsoft's own "Lost Odyssey" and Square Enix's "Infinite Undiscovery" and "The Last Remnant."

Sensui also introduced legendary game designer Tomonobu Itagaki, who delivered the news that many hardcore Xbox-heads have been waiting for: A proper sequel to 2004's popular "Ninja Gaiden" is finally in the works. And Microsoft also promised a pile of additions to Xbox Live Arcade, including remakes of the cult-favorite shooting games "Ikaruga" and "Rez."

_ZAPPY HOLIDAYS: Nintendo has at least three guaranteed best-sellers — "Super Mario Galaxy," "Super Smash Bros. Brawl" and "The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass" — coming out this holiday season, but it's dedicated some firepower to a nifty bit of hardware due in November. The Wii Zapper is a pistol-shaped doohickey that houses the Wii's wand-and-nunchaku controller combo, turning your gaming setup into a shooting gallery.

The Zapper will be packaged with "Link's Crossbow Training," a target game featuring the hero of "The Legend of Zelda." Other titles promised for the Zapper include Sega's "Ghost Squad," Electronic Arts' "Medal of Honor Heroes" and Capcom's "Resident Evil: The Umbrella Chronicles" — keeping your living room safe from, respectively, terrorists, Nazis and zombies.

_`BIO' FEEDBACK: According to the Metacritic Web site, which gathers reviews from just about every source imaginable, the best-reviewed game in the Xbox 360's history is 2K Games' "BioShock." It's selling nicely too, finishing third on the August charts, just behind the 360 and PlayStation 2 versions of EA Sports' "Madden NFL 08."

So, naturally, 2K's parent company, Take-Two Interactive, is thinking sequel — and beyond. "`BioShock' is shaping up to be a very important franchise," Take-Two Chairman Strauss Zelnick told Wall Street analysts. "I feel awfully good about where that's going."

But is "BioShock" — one of the most distinctive games in ages — really suited for sequels? Here's a better idea for Take-Two: Give creative director Ken Levine and his team as much money and time as they need to keep coming up with fresh, innovative games. We'll buy them.

_NEW IN STORES: Namco Bandai's musical role-playing game "Eternal Sonata" arrives on the Xbox 360. ... The Wii gets a wave of family-friendly fun, including Konami's "Dewy's Adventure" and "Fishing Master," Electronic Arts' "MySims" (also on the DS) and Ubisoft's "Cosmic Family." ... Sony expands its PlayStation 2 karaoke library with "Singstar Amped" and "Singstar '80s." ... Ubisoft's "Blazing Angels 2: Secret Missions of WWII" soars on the 360. ... And Sega's high-speed hedgehog returns in "Sonic Rush Adventure" for the DS.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Bomberman to explode on Wii, PSP, DS

Bomberman Land will be released on the three systems in January 2008. The DS version will be titled Bomberman Land Touch 2. Though it has not confirmed online play for the game yet, publisher Hudson says the game will have an extensive focus on the multiplayer component.

In addition to the classic battle mode that made the game franchise famous, Bomberman Land will include dozens of exclusive multiplayer mini-games. The PSP and Wii versions will each have 50 mini-games, while the DS title will have 40.

According to Hudson, the only multiplayer mode will be for people who are in the same room. The DS and PSP will allow multiple people within close range to play against each other, without requiring each one to have their own cartridge. The DS will support single-pak play and the PSP will support game sharing.

Each version of the game is slated for release in January.

Sony adds rumble to their SIXAXIS controller with DUALSHOCK 3

Sony has announced the release of a new DUALSHOCK 3 wireless controller, Sony’s first PS3 controller incorporating a rumble feature. Keeping the basic design and functionality of the current PlayStation controller, it also retains the motion sensitive six-axis sensing system.

The rumble feature will be available on new titles, and certain older titles will be able to incorporate the new rumble feature through a software update. The DUALSHOCK 3 will be compatible with new, unreleased titles like Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots, as well as recently released games like Heavenly Sword and Uncharted: Drake's Fortune, and even launch titles like Resistance: Fall of Man.

The DUALSHOCK 3 controller will be available in Japan in November as a separately sold accessory, and is expected to be introduced to North American and European markets in spring of 2008.

DS game a fun way to get your brain in shape

Fall is near, but there is still time to have a little fun and to sharpen your skills before summer memories fade.

Brain Age 2 for the Nintendo DS is the perfect tool to get ready for back-to-school or work mode for players of all ages.

Much like Brain Age's partner title, Big Brain Academy, Brain Age's genre is fast-paced, challenging mini-games that are supposed to increase your mental agility and thought process. The full title, Brain Age 2: Train Your Brain in Minutes a Day, is the central theme.

You first go in and get tested to determine an "age" for your brain. You can then train your brain with activities to get that age lower.

Does it work? In the context of these tests, yes. I did get faster and better at them as the days went by.

Does that mean my boss can expect me to come back and create miracles? We'll wait and see. But there's no question the games are challenging and wonderfully addictive.

You use the touch screen and microphone to solve the puzzles, and the key is speed. You have to finish games fast to get better scores.

There's a piano game where you have to touch the keys, a clock spin where you have to guess the time when the clock is upside down, and Memory Sprint, where you must remember which runner was where in a photo finish. As well, expect to answer rapid-fire questions such as "What day was it three days before yesterday?"

Of all the "brain testing" games out there, this is my favourite, as it holds the most challenge and variety. If you want to play games and not feel guilty about it, this is the game for you.


Movies coming soon to Canadian Xbox Live

In our increasingly wired world, it seems somewhat "old school" that movie fans must still drive to a video store to rent a flick burned on a piece of plastic, then drive back to return it in time to avoid an overdue fine. Sure, there's pay-per-view on television, but that means waiting for the movie to start, and if you read last week's column, TV-based video on demand is still lacking in selection (especially for anglophones in Quebec). Services such as are handy because they use mail delivery to send DVDs to your door, but you still need to wait for those DVDs to arrive - if what you want is available - and then mail them back again. Sigh.

This is why video-on-demand (VOD) services over the web are so appealing - using the Internet as a quick and convenient distribution medium for downloading a DVD or HD-quality movie onto a hard drive or streaming it to a PC so the movie begins within seconds of clicking on it. Similar to VOD services on television, VOD movies can also be paused, rewound or fast-forwarded.


Sounds good, you're thinking, but you've never downloaded a movie from the Internet?

This is probably because you can't do it in Canada - not legally, that is.

Despite having a higher percentage of broadband users than Americans, we are the poor cousins when it comes to the Internet VOD option. Americans enjoy a wealth of options, including popular services such as iTunes, Movielink, CinemaNow, Vongo and Amazon's Unbox. Heck, even Wal-Mart has its Video Downloads Store, where you can download flicks - such as 300, Wild Hogs and Epic Movie - for a few bucks apiece.

So, what's the hold-up in the Great White North?

"My guess is one of the main reasons why Canadians can't download movies yet is because of our country's high rate of movie piracy," explains Warren Shiau, lead analyst for IT research at the Toronto-based The Strategic Counsel market research firm.

According to the Canadian Motion Picture Distributors Association, approximately a quarter of all pirated movies online come from Canadian theatres, mainly from the Montreal area.

And because downloading music you didn't pay for is not illegal in Canada, Shiau believes we might be more likely to share files with others.

"The stats show that Canadians tend to share music files freely, so (movie) content producers are naturally worried.

"If you're a movie studio and you present these facts to your legal department, they'll say it's a big issue, and so this is overriding their ability to trust us with downloadable movies - even if (downloaded video files) are hard to crack with anti-piracy measures," adds Shiau.

Another reason we lag behind the U.S. when it comes to online movies on demand, believes Shiau, is Canadians are "relatively conservative" when it comes to where we watch movies in the home.

"Even though more than 50 per cent of online Canadians have broadband connections (meaning they can download large files at relatively fast speeds compared to dial-up phone services), the entertainment centre in our households is our TV rather than our PC." says Shiau. "We're typically two to three years behind the U.S. - remember how long they had TiVo before we had PVRs (personal video recorders)."


Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Finally: the lightsabre comes to the Wii

A new weapon will soon join Nintendo’s armoury: a lightsabre.

Internet gaming sites across the web today cheered news of a new Star Wars game for the hit Wii console in which players will wield the Jedi weapon of choice using Nintendo’s motion sensitive “Wiimote” controller.

Star Wars: The Force Unleashed, developed by LucasArts, will also be released early next year on Microsoft’s Xbox 360, Nintendo’s handheld DS machine and Sony’s PlayStation 3, PlayStation 2, and PlayStation Portable.

But it is the Wii version that is causing the biggest buzz – literally, possibly, since the Wii Remote is equipped with a loudspeaker.

Jim Ward, President of LucasArts, said: "The Wii is a great platform for The Force Unleashed, because the console's motion-oriented controllers really bring the game to life.

"We've worked hard to make the Wii version of the game unique in order to truly let you unleash the Force."

Last month the Wii became the fastest-selling video games console in British history after one million of the machines were sold 38 weeks after the device made its high street debut.

The Wii achieved the one million landmark in a shorter time than the Sony PlayStation 2, which, after a difficult launch in 2000, went on to become the world's most successful console so far, selling more than 115 million units worldwide.

The Wii, designed to attract "non-core" gamers, is outselling both the struggling PlayStation 3 and Microsoft's Xbox 360 by at least two-to-one.

The Force Unleashed “casts players as Darth Vader's ‘Secret Apprentice’ and promises to unveil new revelations about the Star Wars galaxy,” the publisher said.

The game's story is set during “the largely unexplored era” between Star Wars: Episode III Revenge of the Sith and Star Wars: Episode IV A New Hope. In it, players will assist the iconic villain in his quest to rid the universe of Jedi – “and face decisions that could change the course of their destiny”.

Earlier this year, Nintendo announced that its first-quarter net profits soared more than fivefold, further vindicating the Japanese group's declared policy of making video games for "people who don't like video games".

The company also sharply raised its full-year forecasts on soaring sales of the Wii and the continued success of its DS handheld machine.

Nintendo posted net earnings of ¥80.25 billion (£326 million) in the three months to June, traditionally a quiet quarter for video games sales, up from ¥15.55 billion a year earlier. Revenue was up 160 per cent to ¥340.44 billion as the company sold 3.4 million Wii consoles and 7 million DS machines worldwide over the three months. The Wii has now sold more than 9 million units worldwide since its launch last autumn.

Nintendo added that it now plans to ship 16.5 million Wii consoles by March 31, 2008, up from 14 million previously. Targets for shipments of Wii software were lifted to 72 million units, from 55 million. DS shipments were lifted to 26 million, from 22 million.


DFC: 360 finishing last in 2012's $47B market

This week, market research and analyst firm DFC Intelligence released its latest report, titled "DFC Intelligence Forecasts Video Game Market to Reach $47 Billion by 2009." As the title suggests, the San Diego-based research firm thinks the worldwide game industry's worth will increase by $14 billion in the next two years from its estimated $33 billion 2007 worth.

In addition to its pan-platform market predictions, DFC also handicapped the three-way race between the most recent crop of consoles. It predicts that sales of all three systems--the PlayStation 3, Wii, and Xbox 360--will total between 180 and 210 million units by 2012. In the shorter term, DFC believes the Wii will continue its winning streak until at least the end of 2008, at which point the PS3 could start taking over.

"We could have a situation where the Wii sells more hardware units, but by 2012 the PlayStation 3 is generating more software revenue," said DFC analyst David Cole.

Cole also believes that although the battle is far from over, the Xbox 360 will likely be relegated to third place when the dust finally settles. He says Microsoft's dependence on the US and Canadian markets are hampering its efforts to make the console a worldwide phenomenon. "The Xbox 360 will need to build a strong base outside North America to avoid being in a fairly distant third," forecast Cole.

DFC analysts also looked at the portable market, predicting that handhelds generally and the DS in particular will continue to see strong growth. "Revenue from portable game software has more than doubled in recent years," said Cole. "We think that the Nintendo DS could eventually become the best-selling game system ever in five years."

The company also augured that the worldwide PC gaming market will be worth more than $13 billion by the year 2012.


Geon cheers up XBLA

Eidos's strange-looking Xbox Live Arcade puzzle game Geon: Emotions is due out today and will set you back 800 Microsoft points (GBP 6.80 / EUR 10.30).

Billed as an "abstract sports game", working out happens in Geon is almost impossible through traditional means.

"Will you choose to spread fear among the other players, or unleash a wave of bliss over them with the aim of subverting their cause?" says Gamerscoreblog, teeing it up.

"Play to your emotional strengths. Allow your dark side to dominate, or win through speed, courage, and style. You can be the master of Geon, but you must learn to use your emotions to your advantage."

We'd start by downloading a demo to see what on earth it actually is. Which is what we'd be doing if we weren't in Japan trying not to fall asleep.


Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Is Halo 3 the Star Wars for the video game generation?

As the entertainment industry comes to the conclusion of the summer movie season, filled with rehashed blockbuster sequels to popular franchises, only one trilogy has penetrated the hearts of minds of video gamers everywhere: Halo 3.

For a generation of video game fans, the Halo series represents their own big-budget blockbuster; chock full of great special effects, heroic protagonists, and enough hype to catch the attention of the entire entertainment industry in the same way Star Wars did over thirty years ago.

On Sept. 25th, hundreds of thousands of gamers will line up in front of their local electronics outlet for the chance to play the last of a trilogy of games that have transcended the boundaries of what has traditionally been a niche pastime.

The Star Wars comparison has been used many times for the Halo series, as it has drawn the same sort of attention and fanaticism that is associated with Star Wars fans.

Most recently Wired magazine called Halo “a cultural touchstone, a Star Wars for the thumbstick generation,” noting that the Halo 3 is the “latest sequel to one of the most innovative and beloved videogames of all time.”

USA Today investigated further, and found that both the Halo and Star Wars series developed their roots in classic Greek mythology such as the stories of Prometheus, Jason, The Aeneid, The Iliad, and The Odyssey, which is the reason why the resonate with such a large audience.

Like Star Wars, Halo 3 innovated and changed the medium from which it sprang.

Halo: Combat Evolved is identified as the first console first-person shooter to nail the controls, creating a standard that every other game in the genre has used since.

It also introduced a new health system. In previous shooters, gamers would walk over health kits to regain lost health, a method which was very unrealistic and took gamers out of the experience. In Halo, the main protagonist Master Chief has a shield that automatically regenerates when he leaves combat for a few seconds.

Developers added to this realism by only allowing Master Chief to carry two weapons at a time. In previous shooters, gamers could carry over twenty weapons, which was unrealistic and created complicated control schemes.

In Halo 2, Bungie expanded their vision further, adding dozens of online multiplayer modes. The foray into the online space made Halo 2 the top Xbox multiplayer game, and it is still one of the most popular online games in the world, 3 years later. The addition gave the series extra shelf-life, prolonging the game’s impact on the global consciousness.

One of the other main selling points of the series is the story and universe. As with Star Wars, Bungie created a huge back-story with Halo, full of memorable characters, vehicles and settings.

Just as Star Wars legitimized Sci-fi to the casual movie fan, Halo made blasting aliens cool to the mainstream audience, who wanted to see what all the fuss is about

Bungie has encouraged the fans releasing books, comics, videos and viral campaigns to expand the story, and the audience has responded.

At a worldwide movie premiere, fans lined up for almost a day to catch a glimpse of the game in preview events at IMAX theatres across the United States.

Microsoft is planning launch events in New York, Seattle, L.A, Miami, Paris, Madrid, Amsterdam, Milan and London, where hip-hop star Pharrell Williams will host a bash at the BFI Imax.

The company has been marketing the game hard, recently launching a $10 million TV ad campaign, an ad budget that rivals most blockbuster movies. The campaign features a massive diorama depicting a Halo-themed battlefield, and focuses on the emotional impact of war. Microsoft is hoping that by not bombarding viewers with in-game footage, they can attract the casual fans who have not yet bought into the hype.

The launch of Halo 3 is representative of the coming out party for the industry. No longer are gamers shunned, as consoles are leaving the bedroom and entering the living room as one of the entertainment staples for most families.

The games industry has seen a 43% sales increase this year according the latest NPD sales figures, and the number is expected to grow this Holiday as more casual gamers pick up the next generation of video game systems.

Analysts expect this success to transfer over to Halo 3, as they predict that the game will sell 3 million copies in its first 12 days, generating over $200 million its first day alone.

The video game business is primed for a landmark title, and developers at Bungie are hoping that Halo 3 is the Star Wars of the video game generation.


Turbografx-CD moves to Wii Virtual Console

Hudson has announced that it will begin offering classic Turbografx-CD titles for the Wii, the first new console to be added to the Nintendo platform since it launched last year.

The Virtual Console currently includes downloadable games from the original NES, Super NES, and Nintendo 64 systems. Sega also hopped on board with support for vintage Genesis titles, and Hudson has been offering titles from the Turbografx-16. That list of consoles has remained unchanged over the past 10 months.

Hudson has now confirmed it will add titles from the short-lived sequel to the TG-16, the Turbografx-CD. The platform will first be added to the Wii in Japan, with other regions to follow.

Five titles are on tap for 2007, and a total of 15 are planned for release by the end of next year.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Chipzilla snaps up Irish gamers

MAKER OF CHIPS, Intel, has handed over an undisclosed number of readies to acquire Dublin-based gaming graphics gaming outfit, Havok. The nine-year old company, which will become a fully-owned subsidiary of the chip behemoth, produces interactive software and services used by digital media creators in the game and movie industries.

"Havok is a leader in physics technology for gaming and digital content, and will become a key element of Intel's visual computing and graphics efforts," said Renee James, vice president and general manager of Intel's Software and Solutions Group. "Havok will operate its business as usual, which will allow them to continue developing products that are offered across all platforms in the industry."


Halo 3 Special Edition Xbox 360 Console Now Available

At the time of announcement, Microsoft focused mainly on the Halo 3 console’s authentic Spartan green and gold finish and comes with matching Xbox 360 Wireless Controller,20GB Hard Drive, Headset, Play & Charge Kit, Halo 3 Gamer Pics and Theme available via Xbox Live download. DailyTech, however, saw the HDMI output feature of the new console as a sign of things to come. Less than a month later, HDMI ports were spotted on Xbox 360 20GB Premium consoles.

Gamers wanting the HDMI output feature but not interested in spending the extra money for an Xbox 360 Elite can be assured of getting such a console by purchasing the Halo Special Edition. The Halo console retails for $399, while the regular Premium console is $349. For a short period, Best Buy was offering $349 Premium consoles with guaranteed HDMI output.

The special green console is not the only Halo promo item on Microsoft’s list. Microsoft has designed both a black and brown Halo edition Zunes preloaded with appropriately themed soundtracks and media. In June, retailer GameStop revealed special Halo 3-themed Xbox 360 controllers featuring Todd McFarlane artwork and Spartan green wireless headset.
Halo 3 launches on September 25 in what could be the biggest game launch in history.


Saturday, September 15, 2007

Nintendo takes the gloves off and puts Wii Fit into the ring

Nintendo executives believe that a fitness game could deliver a knockout blow to its rivals as the company seeks to dominate the world of consoles.

According to sources close to Nintendo, hopes are high that Wii Fit will convert non-traditional audiences, such as 20-to 40-year-old women, to video games. Worldwide sales of the Nintendo Wii console have already overtaken those of Microsoft’s Xbox 360 and Sony’s Playstation3.

In Nintendo’s Japanese home market, its drive to convert entire families into “casual gamers” via easy-to-understand software titles appears to be paying off.

Analysts in Japan are particularly excited by the prospects of Wii Fit because of recent sales of an exercise DVD series called Billy’s Boot Camp. The series recently sold its millionth copy in Japan in a marketing success that has baffled the traditional sports goods industry and revealed a surprise appetite for fitness instruction in front of a screen.


Thursday, September 13, 2007

Wii Tops Xbox 360 and PS3 in Worldwide Sales

Financial Times reports that Wii’s global sales have surpassed those of the Xbox 360’s, in a chart that combines data from major gaming markets like Japan, the US and Europe.

This would be the first time since 1990 that Nintendo takes the king’s crown in the console war, the last time the Japanese gaming behemoth had it being when the SNES was available.

Reports gathered by Financial Times’ editors came from GfK, a research firm in Germany that tracks the entertainment industry for the European territory, NPD Group from USA and Enterbrain, GfK’s counterpart in Japan.

According to FT’s estimates, which took in consideration how all three next-gen consoles faired on the market since their inception, the Wii beats Microsoft’s Xbox 360 by a small margin, with 9 million units sold for Nintendo’s console until the end of July (statistics calculated for the US and Europe; in Japan the statistics included most of August too), and only 8.9 million units in Japan. As usual, Sony’s top-notch-technology packed PlayStation 3 came third, with only 3.7 million units sold.

However, Wii’s performance is underlined not only by the number of consoles sold, but also by the fact that it managed to outsell its much-bigger competitors in less than a year (Wii was launched almost simultaneously with the PS3 in November 2006, roughly a year after Xbox 360’s debut). Moreover, Wii’s popularity, along with the stellar sales for DS, have propelled Nintendo to the third spot in a top of Japan’s most important companies.

Financial Times said this could be the result of Nintendo’s policy to keep prices low and engage as many gamers as possible, with highly-attractive titles (Brain Age, Pokemon, Mario, Nintendogs, etc.). Another reason for Xbox 360’s loss of leadership could be the console’s small install base in Japan.

Wii’s strength is further proven by sales numbers provided by Video Game Chartz, which give Nintendo an even more impressive lead, with approximately 11.45 million units (3.59 million in Japan, 4.69 in the US and 3.17 in other areas) compared to Xbox 360’s 10.89 million units (only 440,000 in Japan, 7.03 million in the US and 1.38 million in the rest of the world). According to VGChartz, PlayStation 3 holds only 17% of the next-gen console market, with 4.57 million units sold.

And this couldn’t get better for Nintendo. According to a study from BrandIntel, a Toronto-based research company, clients’ intention to buy a Wii tops their purchase-intentions concerning either PS3 or X60.

The research, called “Top Video Game Console Report: Consumer Insight Monitor”, shows that rated purchase intent for the Wii at 3.7, followed by Xbox 360 at 3.4. PlayStation 3 was ranked at 3.1, just above neutral on the five-point scale.

Speaking to Next-Gen, a Microsoft spokesperson said Redmond is pleased with what it has achieved until now: “We are exactly where we need to be at this point in our lifecycle, and would not trade places with anyone."


Wednesday, September 12, 2007

New Halo ad goes live

Microsoft is pumping the Halo 3 hype machine into the stratosphere with a "Diaorama" advert that'll debut on on September 14.

The advert, says the company, "gives consumers reason to 'Believe' in the amazing feats of main character Master Chief and action within the title, bringing the epic battles to life in the style of a museum diorama." Blimey.

TV, assuming it can handle the epicness, gets the advert on September 18 at 21.35 during ITV1's coverage of the UEFA Champions League.

Apparently, the ad "looks at the themes that lie at the heart of the tale that spans the entire Halo trilogy" and focuses on "stories of war, duty, sacrifice and most importantly the heroism of Master Chief as audiences look back on the epic battles of the Halo games as if we were ourselves living in the 27th century."


Ninja Gaiden 2 First Look

Our prayers have been answered. At Microsoft's pre-TGS 2007 press conference, it was announced that the Xbox 360 would get the sequel to Ninja Gaiden in 2008. Tomonobu Itagaki, the man who brought the franchise to the original Xbox, took the stage and showed off the title for the very first time.

Here is the play-by-play of the entire demo. If you had any doubt that the games of 2008 could compete with the high volume of AAA 2007 titles, that question has now been answered.


Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Games industry to grow by 50 per cent

Yves Guillemot, CEO of publisher Ubisoft, has declared that the global games industry will grow by over 50 per cent by the end of 2010.

During his keynote speech at today's Edinburgh Interactive Festival, the outspoken chief said: "The market is booming and will grow by over 50 per cent over the next four years, with lots of new consumers coming,” he said. “But we have to plan now to ensure that we keep those consumers interested in games going forward.

"Our next challenge is to build on that growth and make sure that those guys coming into the market get the right software.”

Guillemot went on to say an upsurge in the games industry needs three key strategies: to offer triple A games to the hardcore players; provide family-friendly products and capitalise on opportunities the Internet provides in terms of community and user-generated content.


Xbox 360 BioShock Demo Now Available on XBL

The demo for the long-expected and highly praised spiritual successor of System Shock has finally hit Xbox Live.

Boot your consoles ‘cuz it’s time for some genetically enhanced ass kicking: the Xbox 360 demo of BioShock is now available on Xbox Live and boy, does it look good!

After the official trailer’s debut on Spike TV on August 10, Irrational Games (which, by the way, got integrated into the big, happy family of 2K Games) have finally unleashed the Big Daddies and the plasmids on XBL’s tube, in anticipation of the game’s official launch next week.

Although very short, the demo gives us a pretty good idea of how we are supposed to reach the decaying and corroded city of Rapture: by plane… Of course, the plane crashes into the sea, we somehow manage to survive (otherwise, it would be game over, eh?...) and after we peacefully admire for a while the incredibly good looking and realistically rendered water with the danger of drowning flying over our head (along with the plane’s fuselage) we eventually reach the once-powerful, now-ruined-and-tormented city of Rapture.


Thursday, August 9, 2007

Study: Gamers Unaware of Console Functionality

According to a new usage report by consumer research group NPD, gamers are either unaware or apathetic to the non-gameplay features of next-gen consoles.

PS3 owners, the report says, are less likely than Xbox 360 owners to download demos and videos on their consoles due to unawareness. In addition, only 37 percent of PS3 owners are aware of backwards compatibility for PS1 and PS2 games. In contrast, a majority of PSP and DS owners are fully aware of what their handhelds are capable of.

The study also found that DS users are more likely to play games online than PSP users, and 360 users are more likely to play games online than PS3 and Wii users.

"This study verifies what many of us already know: features related to playing games are by far the most important to consumers of video game systems," said analyst Anita Frazier. "While systems' capabilities of providing owners with additional features may become more important in the future, currently the importance of these features and the awareness among consumers of these features is far from universal.

"To make headway in this next-gen race, manufacturers still need to be primarily concerned with the quality and entertainment value of the games themselves."


Speed Racer returns to gaming

Ever since 1998's Speed Racer for the original PlayStation crashed and burned, the classic anime series has been absent from the North American gaming scene. That's going to change next year, as Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment today announced that it is developing Speed Racer games for the Wii, DS, and PlayStation 2, all based on Larry and Andy Wachowski's upcoming feature film based on the franchise.

As one might expect, the game will put players in the driver's seat of the film's garage of combat-ready rides and see how they fare in "car-fu style" action. The console editions of the game will be developed by New Zealand-based studio Sidhe Interactive. No stranger to the notion of cars with unusual abilities, Sidhe was the studio behind the racing/platforming/puzzle game GripShift for the PlayStation Portable and PlayStation 3.

The Wachowskis are providing assets and direction to the development team, and one of the film's visual effects supervisors is also working with the studio to ensure a faithful adaptation of the film. There's no word yet on whether the film's cast will be lending their likenesses and voices to the project. The star-studded ensemble includes Emile Hirsch (Alpha Dog) as Speed, as well as Matthew Fox (Lost), Christina Ricci (Black Snake Moan, The Addams Family), Susan Sarandon (Dead Man Walking, Rocky Horror Picture Show), John Goodman (The Big Lebowski, Blues Brothers 2000), and Richard Roundtree (Shaft, Corky Romano).

The Wii and DS games will be available next year alongside the theatrical release of Speed Racer. The PlayStation 2 edition will follow and be timed to coincide with the DVD release of the film.


Xbox 360 to get HDMI port

MICROSOFT HAS confirmed that it is including HDMI outputs on its Xbox 360 Premium consoles, in a move designed to win back hardcore gamers and video enthusiasts.

HDMI, the prevailing consumer standard for digital video and audio in HD, was already included on the Xbox 360 Elite console, a minor upgrade to the 360 which, aside from being a sleek black, also includes a larger hard drive.

Now the port will also appear on Premium consoles, thus allowing gamers to avoid having to tackle the awkward 360 video cable - and providing direct competition to the PS3.

HDMI is a proprietary standard, and Microsoft is having to pay a buck or so to the HDMI conglomerate which, ironically, includes Sony. Microsoft, along with Intel and other PC component makers, has been working on a copycat port dubbed Universal Display Port, which is basically exactly the same thing but made as a royalty-free standard.

It might be too late for consumer electronics, but PC players are still hoping to avoid paying too much to the CE companies on the back of HDMI's success.


Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Realism not just a game

Glenn Entis, from games giant Electronic Arts, has told a conference games makers had to use much more than graphics to make their creations believable, engaging and fun.

Game worlds must not just look lifelike, he said, they must also react realistically.

Tools that let players create content were also becoming important, he said.

Entis warned against assuming that games that looked life-like automatically took on the characteristics of the real world.


Video game cooks up tasty dish of fun, learning

I'm not much around the kitchen. Neither is my 12-year-old son, Austin, who'd be content with ham and cheese three times a day. But the other night, we whipped up an amazing spaghetti in squid sauce, a zesty shrimp paella and, for dessert, cream puffs from scratch.

And we didn't dirty a pan.

We "cooked" on a video game called Cooking Mama: Cook Off, recently released for the Nintendo Wii. Austin had checked it out from our local library - libraries aren't just for books anymore - although he admitted he did so because it was the only game left.

After playing it a few times, however, I concluded it should be required for any high school graduate about to move away from home. With so many video games aimed at eviscerating an opponent, a game whose outcome was based on how quickly one could prepare ratatouille - the tomato dish, not the movie - was refreshing.

Cooking Mama revolves around the title character, a kerchiefed woman drawn in Japanese anime-style with big eyes and an upturned crease of a smile - sort of Pokemon meets Iron Chef. Her thick accent must be meant to evoke a grandmother from the old country, although she looks to be about 16.

That incoherence aside, the game

rich simulation of making food. Its designers in Japan consulted hundreds of recipes in making Cooking Mama, said Liz Buckley, marketing director for the video game's publisher, Majesco Entertainment.

A version of Cooking Mama for the Nintendo DS portable game system came out last fall. But the version that came out this past spring for the popular (though still scarce) Nintendo Wii machine, which incorporates movement by the players into the game, is more realistic.

Players chop, stir, pour, roll, even mimic cracking an egg in the Wii version. The graphics are sharp: Steam rises off the marbled beef as it simmers in a fry pan.

Although some gaming magazines and Web sites criticized the motion simulation in Cooking Mama as difficult and imprecise, as a learning tool it gives players a sense of how physical food preparation can be. Knives aren't a danger, though, because the game includes nothing sharper than the wireless game controller (so long as you don't fling it across the room). There's no flame either, although you may have to use the controller to fan the mock charcoal briquettes when making beef brochette.

Wired magazine last winter proclaimed the video game the best new one of the year. "The fun and realism here come not from fancy graphics, but from moving your body like you're really doing the activity," said another review on Nintendojo, a Nintendo fan Web site. A few other food-related video titles exist, including Cake Mania and Diner Dash, but they're more adventure-type, strategy games - not so instructive about cooking.

To see my son and his friends, whose food-preparation begins and ends at unearthing snack packs in the pantry, clustered around the game and laughing while "making" pizza from scratch was a treat in itself. The game features 250 kinds of foods that can be used to make dozens of dishes from around the world: from China, England, France, Germany, India, Italy, Japan, Russia, Spain and the United States. You even earn points for food presentation, such as arranging the meatloaf just so with the parsley sprig and cherry tomatoes.


Calif. judge orders Simpson to pay Goldmans money from video game

O.J. Simpson must pay the family of the late Ronald Goldman any money he earns from a video game featuring his likeness to satisfy a $38 million wrongful death judgment, a judge ruled Tuesday.
A Los Angeles Superior Court judge ordered that any money be turned over to Goldman’s father, Fred.
The game, "All-Pro Football 2K8," features Simpson’s likeness playing as one of 240 former football greats.
Simpson, who now lives in Miami, was acquitted of murder in the 1994 killings of his ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend Ron Goldman but found liable in civil court.
Simpson owes Goldman’s family the $38 million as part of that lawsuit. Goldman estate attorney David Cook welcomed the court order and accused Simpson of profiting from his public persona.
Calls to Simpson’s attorney were not immediately returned Tuesday.
The judge also ordered Simpson to turn over all correspondence, documents and contracts with the video game’s publisher, Take-Two Interactive Software, to the Goldman family. The court’s order did not detail how much money Simpson might have earned from the deal.
Last week, a federal bankruptcy judge in Miami awarded the Goldmans rights to a book Simpson wrote based on the slayings. The book was never released because of public outrage.


Faces get muscular exercise with new Nintendo DS game

A new game for the Nintendo DS handheld machine helps players exercise their facial muscles to have nicer smiles and livelier expressions.

"Face Training" comes with a digital camera that fits into the dual-screen machine to show live video of the player's own face on the right screen while an animation of a woman's face illustrates exercises on the left screen. The game went on sale last week in Japan.

The 16 types of exercises called "facening," designed by beauty expert Fumiko Inudo, take about two to 10 minutes each to complete. Nintendo Co., the Kyoto-based maker of Pokemon and Super Mario games, recommends playing "Face Training" no longer than 15 minutes at a time to avoid overexerting face muscles or getting them "out of balance."

In addition to the animation that serves as a model for players, an electronic voice like an aerobics instructor guides you to twist your mouth, drop your jaw, wink, glare at the ceiling and do other moves to tighten flabby cheeks and develop that bright-eyed look.

"Open your mouth slightly, one, two, three, four," the machine will say in one exercise.


Xbox 360 Receives $100 Price Drop in Canada

Quickly following the official announcement of the Xbox 360 price drops in the U.S., Microsoft is applying its slashing tool to the Canadian market. Beginning August 8 at Canadian retailers nationwide, the Xbox 360 console will sell for as much as $100 less than it did at launch.

The new price of the Xbox 360 Premium in Canada is $399.99, down from $499.99. Interestingly enough, the Xbox 360 Premium has seen the $399.99 Canadian price point during a short period of time late 2006. Many large electronics retailers sold the console for $399.99 as part of a Boxing Day sale during the last week of the year.

For the other Xbox 360 consoles, the Core also drops $100 to $299.99. The Xbox 360 Elite, on the other hand, gets half the price cut of its brethren and drops from $549.99 to $499.99.

In anticipation of this year's largest blockbuster game launch, the Xbox 360 Halo 3 Special Edition console will hit store shelves in September with at $449.99. Although the 20GB hard drive may make the machine appear to be just a re-colored Premium console, the Halo 3 Special Edition includes HDMI output.

"The fact that we have been able to keep our launch price longer than any other console while retaining our leadership position demonstrates that consumers believe in the value of Xbox 360," said Mitch Koch, corporate vice president, Global Retail Sales and Marketing Group, Entertainment and Devices Division at Microsoft. "On the eve of the best holiday games lineup ever and the launch of 'Madden NFL 08,' there has never been a better time to jump into Xbox 360."

U.S. gamers shouldn’t feel slighted by their market’s $50 price drop as compared to Canada’s $100 cut. Even with the double-sized price cut, Canadians will have to pay a U.S. dollar equivalent of almost $380 for the Premium, $285 for the Core and $475 for the Elite.


Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Nintendo Confirms Crimson-Onyx DS lite

Last month we reported on what appeared to be a retail-leak in which Canadian retailer Future Shop was showing off a red and black DS lite bundled with Brain Age 2
Today we can confirm that the new color scheme is indeed a reality, as Nintendo has officially announced the package.

Hitting stores in both the US and Canada on August 21, the bundle will cost $149.99 and include the new glossy crimson and matte black DS lite and a copy of Brain Age 2. The new DS edition will be the first new color in almost a year. Nintendo fashionista should be stoked.


Sony's Playstation with the big new hard drive starts to fill in the high end, just as Microsoft cuts prices.

Sony has announced availability of its Playstation 3 console with an 80GB hard disk drive. Though the company recently dropped the price on the 60GB console $100, the new 80GB device takes the high price point spot, at $100 premium for a 20GB upgrade. For the price, buyers also get the game Motorstorm, which was released in March and is currently among the top 5 highest rated games on the PS3, according to IGN.

So, now it seems as though the price cut on the 60GB model was simply a way of phasing out the system, as buyers who want the highest-end model will still be paying $600 for a PS3. Ironically, the new 80GB PS3 lacks onboard hardware for backwards compatibility with PS1 and PS2 titles. Like the UK version of the PS3, the new 80GB version relies on software emulation, and though we haven't seen side-by-side comparisons, we're betting that hardware compatibility is better than software.

For comparison's sake, an Xbox 360 Elite, with the HD-DVD player, now costs $630 total, and for a time Microsoft is offering some free movies with the player. A Playstation 3, on the other hand, costs $600, and comes with a free game. If you need it, the PS3 also packs wireless internet, while an adapter for the Xbox 360 is more than $50. At this point, though, we still think the price differences are negligible. The console games war is won by the games, and for the near future, Microsoft has maintained their early advantage for this round.


Microsoft raises ante in price wars

A price war took hold of the US gaming market on Tuesday when Microsoft followed Sony’s move last month to reduce the price of its core console.

The decision to cut the price of the Xbox 360 reflects slowing momentum for a product that plays a key role in the company’s broader consumer strategy, according to analysts.

It is also expected to turn the console back into a loss-making product for Microsoft, although the company should still be on track to hit its target of finally breaking through into profitability in the games business in its current fiscal year, they added.

Microsoft announced on Tuesday that it would cut $50 from the price of the most popular model of the console, to $349. Two other configurations of the Xbox 360 will be cut by $20 and $30.

The timing of the cut, be­fore the busy autumn season, was earlier than expected, analysts said, and pointed to competition in part of the market from the cheaper Wii console from Nintendo.

Last month, Sony sliced $100 from the $599 price tag of its basic PS3 console.

Average monthly sales of the Xbox 360 dropped to 200,000 in the first six months of this year, from about 700,000 in the first 14 months the machine was on the market, said Matt Rosoff, an analyst at Directions on Microsoft. “It’s the cornerstone of Microsoft’s home entertainment strategy,” he added, making it vital for the company to ship the machine in higher volumes.

Microsoft said that the price cut had been timed to coincide with the release next week of Madden NFL 08, the latest in a popular series of big-selling football games from Electronic Arts.

According to the company, the lack of any earlier price cut since the launch of the console in November 2005 makes it the longest period a new machine has been able to hold its original sale price. But the fact that the Xbox was launched nearly a year before rival consoles from Sony and Nintendo meant that it was under no pressure for much of that time to consider any competitive action, said Van Baker, analyst at Gartner.

While Microsoft had reached break-even on the Xbox 360, “it will probably go negative again” with the price cut, said Charles di Bona, an analyst at Sanford C Bernstein. The launch of the latest version of the big-selling Halo game in late September, however, should lift the company’s games business to its first quarterly profit for the first time since the previous version of Halo, as well as its first ever full-year of profits, he added.

A broader trend in the games business, where growth is coming increasingly from casual and “social” games, could have contributed to the slowing momentum for sales of consoles aimed at the traditional “hard core” market of young males, some analysts said.