Is Blactivision Imploding?

2 03 2010

Infinity Ward LogoActivision Blizzard, Inc. (or Blactivision, as I call them) has officially lost its collective minds.  Like, certifiably.

So, if you’ve been into games at all in the last year, you’ve probably heard of one of Activision Blizzard, Inc.’s holdings, Infinity Ward.  And if you’ve heard of them, you’ve probably heard of this little art-house game they worked on, entitled “Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2“.  However, printing money is apparently not high on the value list for Activision, according to the following:

In a strange black-ops quietness that was confirmed only recently, Infinity Ward’s President, Jason West (AUTHOR EDIT: and CEO Vince Zampella) was fired by Activision.  This is the man who led the company through some of its most profitable ventures, and made bank for the most recent game in PREORDERS, with many gamers plunking down cash for the name recognition alone, sight-unseen.  (Of course, fans of the series are loving Modern Warfare 2, although the critical response generally states that the game doesn’t hold as much gravitas and that moment-to-moment impact as the first Modern Warfare.)

So, pair this with CEO Bobby Kotick‘s most recent comments at the DICE conference, the layoffs in, and shuttering of the Red Octane brand, and one has to wonder what the heck is going on with Activision at the moment.  There’s no way that this is a savvy business move, and it can do nothing but tank morale for the other developers under the Blizzard/Activision banner.

Sure, Starcraft II is going to keep Activision/Blizzard with cash flowing.  And World of Warcraft is forever going to be a money factory for them.  But then again, Blizzard is not the part of the company that I’m criticizing.  They’re smart, savvy people over there.  Apparently, something of this magnitude would have to pass Kotick’s desk to sign off on.  Something is wrong with the man, or the company is prepping for a fall.  Or trying to lower earnings, so the stock falls, so Blizzard can buy them outright or something.  I have no idea, but this has terrible business sense written all over it.

I guarantee though, that we’re going to hear a lot more about this in the future.  Mind you, surely there could be some terrible skeletons that West is finally catching up to, but in my opinion, this move, for whatever reason, only solidifies Activision’s persona as of late as corporate goons looking only at the bottom line, rather than the gaming revolutionaries that they began as back in the day.

If there’s no sordid backstory, all OtakuDad can say, is that I wish Jason West the very best and we are CERTAIN that he will be snagged by some very lucky company soon.  If there’s a sordid backstory, then I hope that things will work out, that West will repent, bounce back, and get back to making great triple-A titles.

UPDATE/CLARIFICATION: Okay, so other than Jason West’s personal Facebook profile stating that he’s been fired, there’s no OFFICIAL comment.  So while I’m calling this one fact, it’s not OFFICIAL fact until someone corporate says something.

Also, something I intended to add but forgot, when originally written, was that this firing was a surprise exit by Activision security, and all the staff at Infinity Ward have no idea what is going down as well.  Again, I cannot imagine this does ANYTHING positive to company morale, and will reverberate throughout the Activision banner’s holdings.

FINAL UPDATE: It’s official.  Activision Blizzard, Inc. has officially reported that Jason West and Vince Zampella, the heads of Infinity Ward, have been fired, although no reason has been given for their departure.  The Call of Duty franchise will be moved to its own internal “studio” status, and will be headed by “Activision publishing veterans”, whatever that means.

May I repeat again, that this will do NOTHING but hinder future efforts and reduce morale throughout Activision Blizzard, Inc., and that this tactic of “ANYONE IS EXPENDABLE!” will simply move developers towards safer, less-innovative content.

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The Predictions Post, 2010 Edition

14 02 2010

The Great Carnac

What a year 2009 was!  My previous post talked about some of the games that stole the show, and stole our goodwill, as well.  However, another post from the past that’s worth reviewing (and re-doing this year) is the one where I predict what would happen in 2009.  Surprisingly, I got a lot right.  Let me first suggest you check out the post from last year (so you know I’m not simply making this stuff up), and then let’s see how I did.  Also, at the end of this post, I’ll make some more predictions for the remainder of 2010.

Wii-HD

Now with the power of FOUR GameCubes!

First off, I bombed a bit with the WiiHD (which I called the Wii II).  While there have been hints and theories (I’m looking at YOU Michael Pachter…) nothing firm has been said about the next Nintendo home console.  And in retrospect, why should they?  They’re printing money on the consoles and their 1st-party software.  Soccer moms all over the world aren’t going to re-up to get HD graphics, because it’s highly likely that these same people don’t even know what they’re missing.  This story from the NPD Group (Sept, 2009) says that the majority of Wii owners only own that one console.  Only 14 percent owned a 360 or PS3.  So they don’t know what to compare visual fidelity with, so why would they care?  So, again, I failed there.  I still expect to hear WiiHD hard fact sometime this year, but the actual console release probably won’t be expected until 2011 or more likely, 2012.

Next, I got the PS3 predictions almost perfect:  I said they’d drop their price (they did), not give

PS3 Grill

George Foreman ain't got NOTHING on this!

up on the console, in favor of talking news of a new one (bingo), and that they would release some great exclusives (finally) as well as start to catch up with the 360 in terms of sales competition.  So, while they dropped their price significantly, leading to much higher sales (in fact, comparably selling with the 360 month after month in recent months), lifetime stats still show the PS3 firmly in 3rd place, at least in the US.  And with exclusive content like Uncharted 2, as well as Demon’s Souls, inFamous, Killzone 2, Ratchet & Clank: A Crack In Time, and many more on the PSN, 2009 was the first year it made sense to actually buy the darn thing.

No Blu-Ray for 360Predictions about the Xbox 360 are a little sketchy, because well, yeah.  While Blu-Ray DID win the HD-format wars, the 360 took the downloadable market route with the Zune HD store instead of adding a Blu-Ray drive to the console itself.  Again, this was a silly prediction in the first place, but I bombed it bad.  However, the 360 is firmly established as the 2nd place (sales-wise) home console.  It remains the lead SKU for many “now-gen” games, due to the ease of programming, and the ubiquity of the console, leading to a higher sales ratio.  This one, yeah.  I chalk it up as a rookie mistake. 🙂

No Half-Life 3StarCraft 2 hasn’t come out yet.  We’ll be lucky to see it in 2010, in my opinion.  And Diablo 3 is firmly in 2012, if you ask me.  However, I still stick to my guns that relative to Diablo 3, and in the United States, StarCraft 2 will NOT live up to expectations, sales-wise.  It may be an excellent game (I expect it will, with Blizzard at the helm) but it’s going to be primarily for those Asian markets, not the US, and US customers won’t attach as well.  Valve DID come out with Left 4 Dead 2, (which to be honest, was a surprise to MANY, not just myself), but no firm announcement on Half Life: Episode 3.

Finally, the Wii DID get storage support (although not in the form of another add-on device, but) through SD card playable games, and while my “pen” joke was silly, the peripheral wars wage on, with all sorts of add-ons, simulation-enhancers, etc…  Heck, even Nintendo previewed the “Vitality Sensor”.  Which I can’t figure out the value of yet…

And, the Nintendo DS remained the Knock-Out Champeen of the Century, with sales out of this world…Surprise, surprise…

2010 – The Next Generation (is announced)

Prediction #1

The Wii will remain far and away the #1 seller of the year in home consoles.  However, market share will decrease, as more and more 360 and PS3 units sell.  However, we will get some good, real information on the next Wii, which will have 1080p support, as well as Motion-Plus waggle built-in.  Storage will not be an issue, and they will entirely re-think the “channel” idea, for a more interactive interface.

Prediction #2

The PS3 will begin to sell monthly in higher numbers than the 360.  By the year’s end, the 360 will still likely have a higher penetration rate, but that margin will have decreased significantly.  This will be largely due to God of War 3 making a HUGE impact on the sales of the PS3, as well as the long-anticipated release of Grand Turismo 5, which will be an excellent game, and the one many people were waiting for prior to plunking that money down for the PS3.  The console itself will see one more price drop before the end of the year, although not nearly as significant as the one we saw near the end of 2009.  This new price drop will occur in late October or early November, to boost holiday sales.

Prediction #3

The 360 will see some true exclusives (something kind of rare in 2009), and those exclusives will kind of suck.  Not terribly, but they won’t move hardware as Microsoft had hoped, which helps the PS3 gain some market share, and keeps Nintendo as the leader for another year.

We WILL however, get not only specs on the next Xbox, we will get a release date.  This also will hurt sales of the current console, but with a price drop (again, around the holidays), this new system (set to release in early 2012) will be highly Natal-centric.  Speaking of the Project Natal, the add-on will be pretty successful, but will sadly go the “minigame” route, rather than be the “Milo” experience we all hoped for.  The Natal concept still promises a lot more possibility, however, so expect to see some great things (and finally the processing power to back it up well) in the new console.

Prediction #4

Playstation will get out of the portable business.  Seeing year after year of disappointing returns on the PSP brand, and with fewer and fewer developers putting quality product out there, Sony Computer Entertainment America (SCEA) will go instead into a market that is based upon the PS3’s connectivity.  Instead of being a simple fringe-user, hardly advertised benefit to the PSP, the new device will almost solely deliver the promise that the PS3 will be our “always” device for now and the future.  It will connect to let you play not only PS2-type games from the PSN, but it will also let you play different versions (or story-building side-missions) of the games you already purchased with the PS3, as well as do full voice-chat as a standard for every game that ships for the device.  It will be an e-reader as well, and will finally have two analog sticks.  It will be rumored to have six-axis controls as well, but will dump those at the last-minute to drop the price (which will be pretty exorbitant).

Prediction #5

We will get our first real view of how a service like “On-Live” will work, with a real product being REALLY available for consumer purchase around the time of E3.  While it won’t be a huge seller, it will sell enough subscriptions to remain in business, with a lot of promise for the future.

Prediction #6

Downloadable content and gaming will finally break the 25% (of total game sales) mark, and you’ll start to see major developer houses coming out with some top-shelf products ONLY available as downloads (at least initially…discs may come in the form of “Greatest Hits” styles).  Due to the success of Trials HD and Shadow Complex, CHAIR will be a huge leader in the new downloadable economy.

So that’s it!  My predictions for 2010 are locked in, and ready to be ridiculed.  Here’s hoping it’s another great year for games!

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2009 – A Look Back At The Year In Gaming

11 02 2010

Looking back at this post, where I talked about my most anticipated games for 2009, I can’t help but be amazed at how after all these years, so many games that seem like sure-fire hits simply don’t make the cut when viewed in retrospect, and how many come out the gates with little fanfare and end up becoming beloved classics.

So, with that in mind, let’s look at that old post and contrast with what really happened in 2009.

MadWorld scrnWhat surprised me most about this past year’s games was not that the games I’d been looking forward to were bad, or terrible…it’s that they were so woefully generic or vanilla, that they simply didn’t connect as promised, all too often.  The games I’m thinking of most in this area were MadWorld, and Halo Wars.

Both games were exactly as promised.  Halo Wars, was, indeed an RTS game set in the world of Halo.  However, that’s about where the innovation stopped.  Sure, it was a decent control scheme to bring RTS to the console in terms of GUI and little ways the game was tailored for the 360, however, in general, this also left the game a bit neutered, and less than exciting, despite the thrill of “zerg-rushing” with a pack of Warthogs. Halo Wars

A similar problem dogged MadWorld as well, as the game’s visuals were striking, stark and unique.  But in the end, repetition (along with over-the-top silly commentary) killed the artistic purity of the idea.

Both games are not bad at all, in fact, I’d still say that missing either would be a detriment to understanding what 2009 offered.  It’s simply that at the same time of being good games, they were nothing more than good, when most of the gaming press and enthusiast fanbase expected greatness.  Neither really delivered, and that’s the disappointment more than anything else.

Mary Smith

Image via Wikipedia

My biggest hopes for the year seemed to come from one game that hasn’t yet arrived.  This “coming-soon” game, Heavy Rain from Quantic Dream looks pretty much as-promised in terms of the visuals as well as the new style of gameplay (that tends to work more like EXTREMELY interactive fiction, rather than actual…you know, gaming).  However, while I haven’t gotten my hands on the game yet to verify this, most recent previews/reviews point the the fact that the dialogue is a bit stilted, and that the voice acting is stiff, which, as a more narrative experience (as opposed to simply a gaming experience), may stifle sales of the game and potentially,  kill this “choose-your-own-adventure-digital-edition” fledgling genre…

Resident Evil 5

Image via Wikipedia

As for the game that lived up to expectations last year, Resident Evil 5 sold extremely well, played just as I had hoped it would, and worked well in a very game-y “extra modes” way, while still maintaining the momentum (although, not really growing) of it’s most recent predecessor.  Co-Op play really changed the face of the survival-horror genre, and was implemented quite well.  This was surprising, and I think really gave the game a lot of replayability, as did the leaderboard aspect of the game (something entirely new for a horror franchise).

Dragon Age: Origins, also was a game that a lot of people had high hopes for, but were worried, because screenshots did not show the game well.  And while BioWare‘s pedigree for RPGs with story held a lot of cred with the gaming public, no one was sure whether this would be a step forward or a large step backward, in terms of the genre.  However, BioWare has once more, hit it out of the park, delivering a very compelling, rich, lore-filled world in which every single character resides.  The story is epic enough to lend drama, but personalized enough to make the player care about the small decisions and conversations.

Batman - Arkham Asylum

Image by sean geer via Flickr

Abel attacking Ryu in Street Fighter IV.

Image via Wikipedia

Beyond what I knew about at the time of writing that anticipation post, more than a couple really great games came out, some out of the blue.  First was Capcom’s Street Fighter IV, which really revitalized and brought some credibility back to the fighting genre.  Also definitely worth mentioning (and also one that was unexpectedly great) was Rocksteady Studios’ Batman: Arkham Asylum.  While the Batman title brought some cool innovation, story/character depth,  and a lot of fun gameplay to 3rd-person brawlers, Street Fighter IV took all of the conventions of the fighting genre and refined them (with some pretty decent net-code for online matches) into something that felt both new and familiar at the same time.

Assassin's Creed 2 PS3

Image by louisvolant via Flickr

Another suprise hit of 2009 was Assassin’s Creed 2.  Obviously Ubisoft learned a lot from the faults of the original game.  AC2 really developed the story of the Desmond character to a satisfying end, as well as refined and expanded the gameplay which kept the player from feelings of repetition, which was a major complaint in the first game.  Add to this, attractive “side quests” as well as the promise of expansion through downloadable content, and Assassin’s Creed 2 delivers in a way that many other games simply couldn’t.

Uncharted 2_ Among Thieves™3 grenade toss

Image by misplacedparadox via Flickr

Rounding off my list of games that were anticipated, or surprises, is Uncharted 2.  In a year of sequels and more story-driven content, Uncharted 2 really did the best job of pulling off the trifecta of gaming fun.  The story was interesting, and acted well, really giving you a sense of “being in for the ride” much like a good action film.   Secondly, the game plays tightly (gunfights are exciting, not painful), and there’s enough new types of content to prevent you from feeling that it’s simply a rehash of the previous title.  Finally, the visual quality of the game is really top-notch.  So many people have referred to the game as very cinematic, or film-like, and the care which went into crafting the character models, the environments, and the set pieces really are the key to that feeling of realism and getting sucked-in.

All in all, the year (like many others) had a lot of ups and downs, wild successes as well as letdowns.  However, the number of quality, engaging, and replayable titles of this past year really stun me, when one considers that so many developers are making some bold and unique choices with their games.  Sure, Bungie put out some games.  Sure, Ubisoft did as well, but Capcom had a stellar year in terms of original IP, revitalized old IP, and flat-out sales.  relative newcomers like Quantic Dream got a lot of news, and Rocksteady came out of nowhere to claim a (rightful) place amongst the standard greats in the industry.  And who would have predicted that a year chocked-full of sequels would leave us so immensely happy?   It was definitely an interesting and good year for gaming overall, and one can only look forward to now, 2010, when so many games are still on the verge of coming out, all year, and think “what can we anticipate this time?” 

(And yes, that post will come.  Soon.)

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Resident Evil 5 Quick Thoughts

16 03 2009

I’m still very early in the game so I can’t say all that much as far as reviews go, but here are some of my quick thoughts on the game thus far:

* Everyone’s all hyped up about how the controls suck so bad.  I think the controls aren’t awesome, but work just fine.  The problem is not the controls.

*It’s the camera and the perspective that are the problems.  3rd-person cameras are nothing new.  But having the camera so close to my character that I can’t see half the screen?  Not cool, Capcom.

* The game is gory and drops right into the action.

* Why would an enemy stagger, run up to me full-sprint, and then stop just a step in front of me, then wait a second before attacking?  (This is practically saying, “Oh, Hello there!  If you don’t want to waste ammo, you can just use your knife.  Have a nice da-arghagghghghghgurglegurglegurgle”)

* Um, all that racism talk?  I find this game perfectly normal given the setting.  Yes, it is a white guy (and an unrecognizable nationality, presumably African, woman) killing Africans and others, but honestly, that’s the setting, not anything else.  Other than the point above, this isn’t any different than killing the white zombies in the early games, or the Latino zombies from 4.  It’s about the setting.  If I was in a warehouse or some other generic location that had nothing to do with Africa and was killing only black zombies, then sure, that would totally be racist.  That is not the case here.

* The game isn’t as scary for me as it was in 4.  Mind you, that’s just me, but for not playing a scary game in quite some time, the game never really freaked me out.  I don’t know if that’s having a partner all the time, or what.  More to come on that, when I do my full review (after completing the game).

*The only scary moment I had was when just over an hour ago, I was playing and at the beginning of a stage, the zombies started to swarm, and then-  the power to my entire block went out.  Total darkness after playing about two hours of RE5, at just near 1am.  Not cool, ComEd. 🙂

* Oh, also, the Xbox 360 is starting to minor-red-ring more frequently.  (see: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Xbox_360_technical_problems#E74)  Not cool, Microsoft.





Flash Week – Virtual NES

6 03 2009

Today, I bring you the motherlode of flash technology…in my opinion, the reason flash was meant to exist.  (Okay, not really, but it’s really cool!)  Virtual NES!  Being the last day of Flash Week, I thought it would be good to go out on a bang, and give you the opportunity to not only play just one game, but over 100 games, all released on the Nintendo Entertainment System we know and love.

Some games are a little buggy, but it’s a great way to enjoy your old favorites (and try some games that you never heard of before) from any browser, anywhere.  So thanks for following me during the first Flash Week of 2009, and I’m already looking forward to the next!





Early Adoption Xbox Live Issues

3 03 2009

Xbox Live DeadSo, if you were fortunate enough as me to get an original Xbox (not the 360, but the “last-gen” version) close to launch of the Xbox Live service, and signed up for Live right away (like me, back in 2001), then you didn’t have a Windows Live ID associated with your Gamertag, because WINDOWS LIVE ID DIDN’T YET EXIST.

Yet, despite multiple calls to Xbox customer service when trying to recover said (still paid for, yet unused for years) account, they keep asking for my Windows Live ID…To this, I say GRRRRRRR…. 

I’ve been told it’s been fixed.  I’ve been told it’s being escalated.  I’ve been told it’s being investigated.  I’ve been on the phone with outsourced Indian call-centers for hours.  I’ve said the same story multiple times.  No one seems to want to stray from the script long enough to understand!  

And when I ask “I understand that you’ve helped as much as you can now.  What I’d like to then do, is cancel my Xbox live account, and due to zero activity since December (when my account last renewed) I’d like to be refunded that amount, so I can start fresh with a new Gamertag and new subscription, without paying twice.”  I’m then told that this is not possible.  

The funny thing is I can still get on Live on my old Xbox.  It’s working fine.

So Live has my info.  They just can’t figure out how to migrate things from old Xbox to now, if I was such an early adopter that I never had a Windows Live ID.  Now, I did have a “Microsoft Passport” account.  But that won’t let me log in anymore.  I still have my email from when I started the account.  But my login info apparently expired due to inactivity, and now I’m in accounting limbo.  

I know I’m in the minority here, because I early adopted Xbox and Xbox Live back in the day, and yet didn’t get a 360 with online access until, well, today, yet NEVER cancelled my service (essentially throwing away over $200 in the process, since I booted up Live perhaps 5 times on the old Xbox in the last 3 years).  But still, you’d think somewhere in their troubleshooting guides, they’d have my situation.  They’d at least be able to say “Yeah, you’re screwed.  We didn’t plan on this, and here’s what we’re going to do for you now to get you online.”  But instead, they keep escalating (when they’re not saying the issue is resolved, erroneously), keep putting me on hold, and keep pretending these people answering the phones at 1oPM central time are simply people with heavy Indian accents from say, Dubuque.

A happy man is not me.  I’ll keep you updated on anything I learn from this experience in the future.





Street Fighter IV – Quick Thoughts

2 03 2009

 

I dig Rufus...

I dig Rufus...

While I’m writing a full review soon for another site (and therefore can’t spill the beans here) I’d love to give you peeps my down and dirty quick thoughts on Street Fighter IV:

  • As far as new characters go, I’m loving those added to this edition of Street Fighter:  Abel is strong and ranged, El Fuerte is fast and crazy, Rufus is, well…hilarious, and Crimson Viper fits well into the Street Fighter world.
  • The cel-shaded, comic-book-y not-quite-3-D style was really neat (especially in HD) but left me wondering how cool a more realistic Street Fighter would have been…
  • Chun-Li Thighs?  Creepy and mannish.
  • Apparently no one at Capcom can draw feminine arms/hands.  Everyone looks like they have Trogdor arms.  Everyone.
  • Seth is a cheap fighter of the cheapest-cheapies variety.
  • Unlocking stuff that already exists on a disc you already paid for is well and good if it’s easy to do.  If it takes more than an hour, that’s not cool.  Very uncool, Capcom…very uncool.
  • When I get old, I wanna be Gen.
  • My best character?  Cammy.  Yeah, who knew?