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Sonic 4′s Physics “Reworked” for Episode II

Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode II has been officially announced and is coming sometime in 2012, Sega revealed today.

In what will be a fairly lengthy wait for an episodic series (as long as we don’t use Half-Life as the benchmark), Episode II will be coming more than a year after release of Episode I in 2010. Today’s announcement mentions that the physics are being “completely reworked” in this new game, which is very welcome news for those who felt that particular problem plagued Episode I. The game will also see the return of Tails, as the trailer above teases in not-very-subtle fashion.

Those who expected Episode II to be out in 2011 had that hope shot down this past summer. Sega opted to focus on Sonic Generations this year to celebrate the series’ 20-year anniversary.

The list of platforms for Episode II includes almost all of the same ones as Episode I — Xbox Live Arcade, PlayStation Network, iOS, and Windows Phone 7 — along with a new addition in Android phones with an Nvidia Tegra processor. The one missing platform here is WiiWare, which Episode I was available on. There was no mention of it in the press release and it has since been confirmed on the Sega forums (via Nintendo Life) that the game won’t be available on Wii.

“[T]he reason Episode I was on the Wii was because we wanted to bring the Sonic 4 saga to the widest possible audience,” wrote Sonic 4 brand manager Ken Balough. “Episode II unfortunately will not be coming to the Wii – for reasons most people have probably guessed, but that doesn’t mean the SEGA isn’t supporting Nintendo platforms, we have a very strong partnership and will continue to do so.”

By Chris Pereira

Gamers Reflect on What They’ll Miss Most About the Old Days

Gaming is rapidly changing. Whether we’re talking about things becoming more digital or new business models or whatever else, the industry already looks a great deal different than it did 10 or 20 years ago and that’s only going to continue in the coming decades.

As with anything in entertainment that changes, people are going to yearn for the way things used to be (while also worrying about what the future will bring). For me, one of the things I miss most is the sort of manuals games used to come with. What I looked forward to most when first buying a new game, regardless of what it was, was opening the box up and flipping through the manual before actually trying the game out. And I’m not just talking about spending time devouring the pages of a manual (or whatever other paperwork a PC game would come with — keyboard shortcut cards, tech trees, etc. — as it installs); console and handheld game manuals had to be read cover to cover before the game went into the system. This wasn’t a matter of preparing for games with no tutorials, as I treated those with in-game instructions no differently. I specifically remember reading the entire manual for Mario Party 2 — Mario Party 2 — before I would even stick the cart in my Nintendo 64.

Manuals

More recently I’ve found manuals to be far more superfluous than they used to be as it’s not often that you play a game that doesn’t start out with a tutorial and follow that up with a good deal of handholding. Even so, I find it hard not to be upset when I open up a brand new game and see a two-page manual filled with nothing but legal warnings and other stuff that’s of no use to me. Then again, my Vita collection makes even that seem preferable because at least it’s something.

I’m not the only one who misses manuals. Responding to a question we posed on Facebook, Andrew Corne noted, among other things, he misses “full color instruction manuals and game inserts that weren’t only for special edition copies.”

Between those sharing their thoughts on Facebook and the 1UP boards, one of the most popular relics of the past was the arcade. Especially in the west, arcades are not anywhere near as common as they once were, much to the chagrin of those who enjoy being in the company of other quarter-wielding gamers.

“Arcades died more and more as consoles became more popular, and now with all of the social aspects of online connectedness, there’s not even as much need for the social element of an arcade anymore,” wrote Coarse_Limely. Lukerum2 remembered the “epic arcade battles that got so heated they drew a crowd,” while UltramanJ added, “I miss the days when the arcade scene was thriving, and the latest arcade titles were well beyond what the home systems were capable of. There was always a tremendous amount of excitement when a favorite arcade title was announced for the home systems, and the question was always how close it came to the arcade version.” Eric Wittbrodt is also on the list of those bemoaning the loss of arcades: “No next gen console can replicate the experience of being in a packed arcade with Journey blaring in the background.”

arcades

Another common complaint about where the industry is headed — and this is a more contentious issue, at least in my mind — had to do with downloadable content. UltramanJ chimed in again, writing, “I miss the days when publishers and developers saw consumers as valued customers rather than wallets. Back when games were packed with extra bonus content that’s now held off in the interest of squeezing more money from us.” Stefan Markovic felt similarly, saying he misses “unlocking characters and levels by simply playing the game,” not through DLC.

“But the biggest thing is how much of a commodity the gaming industry has become,” wrote PizzaBagel. “In the past, we never worried about what DLC we would get, or this current war against second-hand resellers. … Games felt like complete, unique experiences.”

“I miss when games used to come all together at once,” stated MyKillOwSki. “You didn’t have to pay extra to get full online functionality, you didn’t have to pay for DLC content… I miss getting a brand new PS1 or PS2 game and getting to play it all the way through, and not worrying about having to pay more money to get more of the game. Not to say that DLC is a bad thing, it just shouldn’t have to get paid for. If I’m paying for the game, I want the whole thing. If they update the game, I want the update for free, not to pay for it.”

That last comment is why I actually find this to be an arguable complaint or bit of nostalgia; I really like developers having the ability to release new content for their games without resorting to the old $40 expansion pack model. It goes without saying that I’m not a fan of extras (costumes, for instance) we would have gotten in the past being sold to gamers as DLC. But I appreciate the real content developers come up with — and I certainly don’t think they should have to give away anything they make which costs money beyond the game’s budget. Besides, it’s not as if DLC is being forced on anyone.

By Chris Pereira

Last Year’s Steam Security Breach More Extensive Than Originally Thought

Last November, Valve revealed that hackers gained access to sensitive Steam user information, including user names, billing addresses, and encrypted credit card information. Via a message from company founder Gabe Newell, the Valve informed users of the security breach but added, “We do not have evidence that encrypted credit card numbers or personally identifying information were taken by the intruders, or that the protection on credit card numbers or passwords was cracked.”


Steam


Nearly three months later Valve is still attempting to assess the damage, which, according to a second message from Newell received by Steam Users today, was more extensive than originally thought. “Recently we learned that it is probable that the intruders obtained a copy of a backup file with information about Steam transactions between 2004 and 2008. This backup file contained user names, email addresses, encrypted billing addresses and encrypted credit card information. It did not include Steam passwords.” writes Newell.


While frightening, users shouldn’t lose any sleep over the news just yet. “We do not have any evidence that the encrypted credit card numbers or billing addresses have been compromised. However as I said in November it’s a good idea to watch your credit card activity and statements. And of course keeping Steam Guard on is a good idea as well.” adds Newell.


The incident is just one amongst many high-profile security breaches to take place in the last twelve months. Last year’s disastrous PlayStation Network breach seemed to trigger a wave of similar incidents. As alarming as these cases can be, you shouldn’t worry too much about the breach. As Newell pointed out, Valve did not uncover any evidence indicating that the hackers have broken the encryption on the most sensitive information. That said, Steam users should take some extra time to double check their credit or debit card statements in the coming months. Just because these hackers didn’t break Valve’s encryption yet doesn’t make it impossible or prevent the criminals from selling the files to those who can.

By Ryan Winterhalter

Despite the ESA’s Stance, Not All Game Companies Support SOPA

SOPA infographic

An official list of supporters for the much-maligned Stop Online Piracy Act, better known to many as SOPA, shows that the videogame industry is in the bill’s corner. That’s not to say every company in the industry has come right out and said as much, but many of them do at least support it by proxy as members of the Entertainment Software Association, the game industry’s trade association. The ESA has made it official that it supports the anti-piracy bill which many fear, if passed, will censor the Internet and stifle innovation.

The bill’s name might make it sound noble enough — stomping out piracy is good news for everyone except those who illegally download and distribute copyrighted content — but there are numerous reasons why opponents believe it should not be passed. Among the most important of these is the vague wording with which the bill is written, a serious problem for a piece of legislation. There are countless articles, videos, and infographics devoted to the subject, but at its most basic level it threatens to result in sites being shut down, startups facing potentially unfair legal action, and pervasive censorship as websites — including social media sites like Twitter, YouTube, or Facebook — seek to prevent their users from sharing anything that the website in question could be held accountable for.

Access from within the United States to certain websites could be blocked, but as a means for stopping pirates this would be ineffective as sites could still be reached by typing in their IP address. More seriously, an intellectual property holder would, if SOPA passes, suddenly have the power to shut down a website’s advertising and payment processing far more easily than many feel is reasonable. With this power, websites could easily be crippled, and the sort of freedom we’ve come to expect from the Internet — which has become an essential tool for education, communication, commerce, and political action — would be greatly diminished. And that’s not to mention the steps search engines would have to take to “disappear” offending sites, among many other aspects that the bill’s adversaries say are simply not right.

The Entertainment Consumers Association, a non-profit group that advocates the interests of gamers, has summed up some of their significant complaints about SOPA:

It strips current laws by now making Internet companies, which used to be immune, liable for their users’ communications. This means that Facebook, Youtube, WordPress, Google and more are now on the hook for what you post.

It gives the US Attorney General, with court order, the power to seize websites that possibly infringe or partially infringe copyright. There would be no due process and no chance to defend yourself before the seizure. The mere accusation can get a website taken away.

It violates Net Neutrality by ordering internet providers, advertising companies and payment systems to block accused websites with technology that just doesn’t exist.

It threatens users by imposing fines or jail time for posting even derivatives of copywrited work(s). A video of your karaoke, playing the piano, video game speed trial would now all be punishable if a copyright holder decides to enforce it.

Needless to say, many find the videogame industry’s support of the legislation disconcerting, as the ESA represents Electronic Arts, Microsoft, Nintendo of America, Sony Computer Entertainment America, Capcom USA, Sega of America, THQ, and more than two dozen other companies (Activision being one notable exception). Piracy is undoubtedly a major concern for the industry; publishers argue it has harmed software sales and used it as the reasoning for why they ignore certain platforms at times. Piracy’s impact has led to many games becoming more online-centric, even if that isn’t always identified as the reasoning for that shift.

“As an industry of innovators and creators, we understand the importance of both technological innovation and content protection, and do not believe the two are mutually exclusive,” the ESA said in a statement regarding its support of SOPA. “Rogue websites — those singularly devoted to profiting from their blatant illegal piracy — restrict demand for legitimate video game products and services, thereby costing jobs. Our industry needs effective remedies to address this specific problem, and we support the House and Senate proposals to achieve this objective. We are mindful of concerns raised about a negative impact on innovation. We look forward to working with the House and Senate, and all interested parties, to find the right balance and define useful remedies to combat willful wrongdoers that do not impede lawful product and business model innovation.”

While the latter portion of the statement suggests the ESA would like to see the bill modified, its name nevertheless remains on an official list of supporters (PDF) of the bill in its current form. Destructoid notes this is the same ESA that called for support from gamers in the Brown v. EMA/ESA case that made it to the Supreme Court last year. Many it feel it is hypocritical, to say the least, to ask gamers for support when the industry was under fire but then to openly support a bill that would hurt those very same gamers not even a year later.

By Chris Pereira