Battle.net Could Play Host to Activision Games

Author: Arthur Ricky  //  Category: Games and Players, Popular Games

bnet2

Since the launch of StarCraft 2 earlier this year, Blizzard’s Battle.net matchmaking system has proven to be an invaluable tool for communicating with friends and organizing matches across multiple Blizzard products. But what if there were more than just Blizzard games on Battle.net? Greg Canessa, project director for Blizzard’s online service, discussed exactly that in a recent interview with Gamasutra.

“I’ll tell you this, Bobby Kotick and all the folks at Activision are very supportive of Battle.net and what we’re doing,” Canessa said, calling Battle.net “one of the top five strategic initiatives going on at Activision Blizzard.”

He continued, “Today, [the focus is] Blizzard games, and making sure Diablo III is a kick-ass online experience, and making sure we evolve and add features of StarCraft II, make sure that WoW kicks ass for Cataclysm and beyond.”

“Someday, maybe we add other titles in there, who knows,” he added. “When we really feel like we’ve delivered that great set of experiences for Blizzard games, and we feel that we’ve grown the team… when I’ve got that sustainability, when we really feel like we’ve got that dialed in and nailed down, who knows what the future holds.”

Enslaved DLC Due Later This Year, Stars Pigsy

Author: Arthur Ricky  //  Category: Xbox

enslaved-PS3-ss-12

The first batch of Enslaved DLC has been announced, and it will star Monkey and Trip’s companion Pigsy.

Billed as a playable side-story, Pigsy’s adventure will focus on “stealth and sharp-shooting.” It seems that he’s out to find the parts to create the perfect woman.

In addition to the quest, the DLC will add 3D support to the game. It will be compatible with both the side story and the main quest.

It will cost $10 (800 Microsoft Points). Look for it “later this year” on Xbox 360 and PlayStation Network.

Xbox 360 Records 33 Percent Revenue Increase

Author: Arthur Ricky  //  Category: Microsoft, Xbox

xbox360_million

Xbox 360 revenues have risen 33 percent since this time last year, hitting $1.2 billion in the first quarter, Microsoft announced today. Halo Reach represents a significant portion of the proceeds, raking in $350 million on its own (via Gamasutra).

The Xbox 360 helped the company’s Entertainment and Devices Division generate a $382 million profit the quarter, which represents a 46 percent increase from last year. The console was also cited as one of the key reasons Microsoft saw its revenue increase to $16.20 billion.

Microsoft expects further increases going forward, projecting a total year revenue increase of 20 percent and 30 percent year-over-year growth. Major releases will include Kinect and Windows Phone 7.

Kinect will be out next week.

Parents Television Council Calls ESRB Rating

Author: Arthur Ricky  //  Category: Games and Players

esrb_ratings

The Parents Television Council criticized retailers this week for what they say is an “abysmal” performance enforcing the ESRB’s ratings (via Gamasutra).

In an a recent “action alert,” the group reported that 19 percent of their secret shoppers aged 12 to 16 were able to purchase M-rated games in 14 markets across the U.S. The PTC sent 109 secret shoppers to stores including GameStop, Toys R Us and Target.

According to the group’s breakdown, their shoppers were able to purchase M-rated game in 56 percent of Kmart/Sears stores. The second highest total Blockbuster with 33 percent. While the group criticized the ESRB, the overall results are down from the 35 percent that were able to purchase the games in 2008.

ESRB director of communications Eliot Mizrachi took note of the drop in an official statement, “Altogether, retailers’ rate of restriction for Mature-rated games is the highest of any entertainment product tested by the Federal Trade Commission, including DVDs, CDs and admittance to R-rated films in theaters,” he said.

“Putting aside their questionable methodology – which precludes their studies from being compared to those commissioned by the FTC – the Parent Television Council’s mystery shopper results actually reveal significant improvement despite their efforts to disguise that fact,” he continued. “Frankly, the latest PTC member sting operation actually verifies the effectiveness of the ESRB rating system and the ever-increasing support it receives from retailers.”

PTC president Tim called the ESRB’s response “specious,” saying that “parents deserve to be assured that reasonable age restrictions for adult entertainment products will be enforced at the retail level.”

The report comes shortly before the commencement of oral arguments for EMA vs. Schwarzenegger, which will decide whether government restrictions can be placed on the sale of M-rated games. Winter urged the court to uphold the law, arguing that the it will “simply put consequences in place for retailers who sell exceedingly violent games to minors.”

PlayStation Move Ships More Than 1 Million

Author: Arthur Ricky  //  Category: Games and Players, Sony

playstation-move-girls

Sony has shipped more than one million PlayStation Move peripherals in America since its launch last month, and the platform holder says that demand continues to be high.

“We had to go back and increase production twice, we’re absolutely maxed out right now,” Sony Computer Entertainment America CEO Jack Tretton told Reuters.

Tretton also said that he doesn’t expect Sony to have enough supply on hand until next February.

While Sony’s official release says that it has shipped more than 1 million units, Reuters is reporting that more than a million units have actually been sold. We’re currently checking in with Sony to see whether that report is accurate.

Sony launched the Move on September 19, and the NPDs showed all three bundles making it into the Top 10 Accessory listings.

The Move’s direct competitor — Microsoft’s Kinect — will be out next month.

A Night Rocking Out With Grasshopper Manufacture

Author: Arthur Ricky  //  Category: Games and Players

grasshopper-manufacture-company-logo

Grasshopper Manufacture, Tokyo-based makers of Killer7 and the No More Heroes series, is not your typical Japanese game dev studio. I don’t say this because of their uniquely twisted games, the multi-national staff filling the team’s ranks, or the excited, bombastic creator who leads them. I say this chiefly because the woman who runs their human-resources department does a really mean strip-tease routine. Seriously.

The date was Thursday evening, the location Garden Live Hall in the Shimo-kitazawa neighborhood of Tokyo, and no, I wasn’t there to catch the Grasshopper HR lady’s moonlighting gig. She was merely the warmup act for Hopper’s 4, the party Grasshopper held to commemorate the Japan launch of No More Heroes 2: Desperate Struggle this week. The event, which was attended by a couple hundred fans and industry folk, was more than a bit unique. Game industry launch parties, by and large, tend to be the same worldwide — a few plates of cheese and mini-burgers, a bunch of test-play stations lined up against the wall, maybe an open bar if the publisher just had a profitable quarter. Goichi Suda, head of Grasshopper, doesn’t roll like that. His company’s events are an odd mix of launch party, rock concert, and sideshow spectacle — the sort of thing that, the next morning, you have to reflect a bit on what parts you actually experienced and which were a mere figment of your whiskey-sour-addled imagination.

There was also some discussion about video games.

Suda, who came up on stage with “Real American” (Hulk Hogan’s theme) playing in the background as he imitated Hogan’s “I can’t hear you” pre-bout gesticulating, kicked things off by discussing some of the influences that drove him when designing No More Heroes. He and Kei Sekine, a guy that he produces a regular movie-review segment with for the Famitsu Wave DVD magazine in Japan, spent a while talking about El Topo, a 1970 Mexican movie that’s currently getting a digitally-remastered theater run in Tokyo.

One of the most surreal Western films ever made, El Topo features a wanderer convinced by a mysterious temptress to become the best hired gun in the land by killing all the others — a basic plotline that’s largely shared by No More Heroes. Combine that with the gang from Jackass: The Movie (another film that Suda claims as a major influence), and that’s pretty much the first NMH right there, really. “There were really three films that influenced me during that time,” Suda told the audience, “and they were El Topo, Jackass and Star Wars, and Space Sheriff Gavan, that anime. OK, I meant four films.”

What probably stuck with the audience more, though, were HOPPERS 4’s music segments. Singer Reina Hibiki, backed up by the vaguely Devo-like Tokyo 21 Channel, belted out a few tunes from No More Heroes 2’s soundtrack that rocked, especially compared to the more reserved original J-pop she sang later. Grasshopper Demanufacture, an in-house band featuring new hires Akira Yamaoka and Kazutoshi Iida on guitars, brought in the noise not long afterward, kicking off with a death-metal take on the Ramones’ “Blitzkrieg Bop” that I think’s still bouncing faintly off my eardrums 12 hours later. It was the second time this band has ever played in public (the first was at Microsoft’s Tokyo Game Show industry party last month), and if they can keep this level of energy up in the future, I have a feeling they won’t be hurting for gigs at E3 next year. (Iida went right from that set to performing in the next one, a run of thunderous rock from the band that performs NMH2’s opening and ending tunes. “I wonder if Iida was all right afterward — hopefully he can get some rest today,” said show host Rolling Uchizawa in a tweet this morning.)

The proceedings continued on well into the night, with a chat session led by Suda about the development process that led to the NMH series, a fourth music set from electronic group Aural Vampire, and a sword…er, sorry, beam katana demo performance from the stuntmen that choreographed the swordfighting scenes in Kill Bill. It was quite a circus, in other words, right down to the large lines for the merchandise table in the corner — NMH2 special editions, soundtrack CDs, Grasshopper stickers, and so forth.

Through it all, one can’t help but wonder exactly what Grasshopper’s grand plan for their future is. Plainly they’re well-funded — hiring a variety of Japanese industry veterans over the past couple months and announcing another new project this week — but they also went over a year without releasing anything at all in Japan, something Suda has publicly stated regret about in the past. The developer’s chief fan base is most assuredly in the US and Europe, no doubt, and although Suda makes regular appearances in Japan game media, one can’t help but wonder if he’s seen mostly as an amusing eccentric playing zookeeper to a pen full of crazy developer types. If the results are along the lines of NMH, though, then maybe there really is a method to the madness.

Is Grasshopper going to kick ass in 2011 and beyond? If all they projects they have on the horizon pan out, it seems like a safe bet. Do they know how to set Tokyo on fire with their parties? Definitely. Does their HR lady have a great career in burlesque waiting if this whole video-game thing doesn’t pan out? It seems likely.

Age of Empires Online Enters Closed Beta

Author: Arthur Ricky  //  Category: Popular Games

age-of-empires-online

Microsoft has announce that Age of Empires Online, their upcoming persistent online PC strategy game, has entered the closed beta phase.

You can head over to the game’s official website to sign up for the beta. While there, you’ll also find the PC system requirements to play the game, along with a brief description of what to expect from it. Unlike the previous Age of Empires titles, Age of Empires Online is going for a more “approachable” (read: mainstream) style, with players taking control of their own “constantly evolving empire” in a persistent online game world.

As for signing up for the beta, only a few restrictions apply: You have to be at least 18 years old, you need an Xbox Live gamertag (a free Silver account will due), and it’s only available in North America and European regions. Also keep in mind that since this is a closed beta, there’s no guarantee you’ll get in — if you’re interested, you just have to throw your name in the hat and hope it gets plucked out.

THQ’s uDraw Studio, Wii GameTablet is Coming

Author: Arthur Ricky  //  Category: Wii

1b523977f2e5f9309f82bcf47e35a498

THQ has announced that their uDraw GameTablet peripheral for Wii will be released on November 14, allowing gamers to draw on the tablet using a stylus and see their work represented on their TV screens.

The GameTablet peripheral will launch with drawing game uDraw Studio packed in, with the total package coming out to $69.99. THQ will also have two other games releasing along with the uDraw GameTablet’s launch: Dood’s Big Adventure (which is apparently a platformer) and, of course, Pictionary. Those games will be $29.99 each.

THQ also says that “future waves of [uDraw compatible] videogame titles are planned during calendar 2011 and beyond,” but just how many (and any other details) weren’t given.

Alundra and Arc the Lad Coming to PSN Tomorrow

Author: Arthur Ricky  //  Category: Games and Players, PSP, Popular Games

1023111

Arc the Lad and Alundra will be out on PlayStation Network this week thanks to a partnership between MonkeyPaw Games and Vic Ireland’s Gaijinworks.

Both games were published in the late 90s by the now defunct Working Designs, which is best known for localizing the Lunar series and other niche Japanese titles. MonkeyPaw specializes in import re-releases such as Cho Aniki and Magical Drop F.

“When [MonkeyPaw founder John Greiner] and I started talking about his new company, it quickly became obvious that a Gaijinworks collaboration with MonkeyPaw would be a natural fit. John’s building a company to expand the awareness of Japanese games, much like Gaijinworks, and together we can really quench gamers’ thirst for quality classic gaming on download services like PlayStation Network in the West,” Ireland said.

Both Alundra and Arc the Lad will be avaliable for $5.99. Look for them October 12.

Pre-Buy Future WWE Smackdown vs. Raw 2011 DLC

Author: Arthur Ricky  //  Category: Popular Games

christmas-maria-smackdown-vs-raw-2009-dlc-costume-big

The Great DLC Experiment continues. In a year that earlier saw Capcom pioneering “pre-DLC” with Dead Rising 2, and Electronic Arts instituting (and THQ later copying) “online passes” to lock online multiplayer modes behind a pay wall for used games, THQ is now trying out yet another permutation for downloadable content: early access to a package deal of future DLC packs for WWE Smackdown vs. Raw 2011.

THQ calls the system “Fan Axxess” (with no explanation for the spelling), and it works like this: Players can make a one-time payment of $9.99 (or 800 Microsoft Points), and that’ll get them “free” access to “select” DLC packs that would otherwise carry individual costs in the future.

The first DLC pack will add wrestlers British Bulldog, Lex Luger, Wade Barrett, David Otunga, Justin Gabriel, and Layla, along with new costumes for Shawn Michaels and Shad, and the WWE NXT ring. The second DLC pack will include new costumes for John Cena, Undertaker, and CM Punk, and the WCW ring. These two packs, on their own, would cost $6.99 and $2.99 respectively. Fan Axxess members also get the WWE Superstar Attribute Customizer and instant access to all of the game’s unlockables for free, which would otherwise cost an additional $0.99 each.

So altogether, if you were to commit to purchasing Fan Axxess early, you’d get all the content for ten bucks, as opposed to buying it all individually later on for a total of 12 bucks. Think it’s a good deal?

WWE Smackdown vs. Raw 2011 is set for release on October 26. And yes, it’ll have a one-time code to unlock online multiplayer, forcing used buyers to purchase a code as well.