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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

Dragon Quest X May Not be Free to Play Online

Dragon Quest X

The new Dragon Quest for Wii and Wii U will have an MMO-like style. To go along with that, it may also have an MMO-like usage fee.

The newly-launched Dragon Quest X website has a spec sheet that lists both “price” and “usage fee.” According to Andriasang, they are both currently “TBA” (as in “to be announced”), so at least as of yet, Square Enix isn’t saying if DQX will have some sort of subscription fee that’s required to play online.

Of course, even if one had been announced, it wouldn’t necessarily apply for North American or European gamers. Our news story earlier today mentions how Monster Hunter Tri influenced Dragon Quest IX and seems to be doing the same with DQX. Tri costs money (in the form of Wii Points) to play online in Japan; those in the United States and Europe, on the other hand, are able to play free of charge.

DQX won’t be out until sometime during 2012 in Japan, so it may be a while yet before we begin to hear any talk of online fees, particularly those in regards to western markets.

By Chris Pereira

Making Sense of Warren Spector’s Junction Point Being Shut Down

Epic Mickey Junction Point closure

Following rumors that began to circulate yesterday, the news was made official today: Junction Point Studios is the latest game development studio to be shut down. While far from outright shocking, considering the moves its parent company had made in recent years, this does call attention to how quickly things can go south for a developer, even one with a name like Warren Spector at the helm.

Spector, who is best known for his earlier work on games like System Shock and Deus Ex, founded the studio in 2005. It was acquired in 2007, joining the likes of Propaganda Games under the Disney Interactive Studios label. It was responsible for the release of two games: Epic Mickey in 2010 and Epic Mickey 2: The Power of Two just last year. The former was a fairly well-received game that sold 1.3 million units in the U.S. during its first month of availability, according to NPD Group numbers reported by the L.A. Times. That was a solid figure for a third-party Wii game released at that point in time. Its flawed sequel, despite being available on Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and Wii U, in addition to Wii, sold a small fraction of that, moving only 270,000 units in a similar window. Update: Joystiq reports the game ended up selling 529,000 units in the U.S. during November and December, though keep in mind the game was heavily discounted during and after Black Friday.

With that kind of uninspiring performance, plans Spector had for a potential third game pretty much went out the window. Polygon reported today a source indicated the developer’s staff was on paid leave since finishing work on the game. Even before a meeting that took place this morning, it seemed clear that some kind of staff reduction was coming; it was only unclear whether or not the studio would be shut down entirely, which sadly turned out to be the case.

Regardless of Epic Mickey 2′s sales, examined within the context of what Disney has been doing with its videogame division, the closure is no major surprise. Although it has deeply invested in videogames, as evidenced by what it’s doing with Disney Infinity, the sort of games it’s focusing on are not what Junction Point makes. While last decade it was purchasing developers like Junction Point, Propaganda, and Black Rock, its more recent acquisitions have the likes of Tapulous, the developer of the Tap Tap Revenge series on iOS, and social game developer Playdom.

Those descriptions should begin to reveal the sort of direction Disney is looking to take. It’s one less interested in core games like Split Second or Epic Mickey, and more so in looking to capitalize on the social and mobile gaming boom (along with something like Infinity, which, if handled correctly, could end up essentially being a license to print money). Two years ago this month, wide-ranging layoffs hit a number of Disney’s core game studios, Junction Point among them. The move came shortly after Propaganda was shut down, and about six months before Black Rock suffered the same fate. Had it not been for the success of the first Epic Mickey, it seems possible Junction Point, too, could have joined the list then rather than now.

Epic Mickey 2

It’s difficult to hear about any studio closure right now and not immediately think of what happened with THQ last week. After struggling mightily for some time, its assets were auctioned off — or, rather, some of its assets were auctioned off. Notably, Darksiders developer Vigil Games (along with the Darksiders IP) were not able to attract even a single bid, leaving its staff jobless. Although their respective parent companies are in dramatically different positions, Vigil and Junction Point do share at least two things in common. Each was the developer of a single series, each of which saw a second entry in the series underperform at retail last year (Darksiders II shipped, not sold, 1.4 million units between its launch in mid-August and September 30).

Now, with the costs of game development being what they are, the two companies serve as prime examples that studios of their size can’t afford to bear mediocre (or worse) sales of their games, at least not without having serious backing from a publisher or a guaranteed money-maker to fall back on. That’s something neither studio had — Vigil’s new IP, good as it may have looked, was not a guaranteed big seller — whereas, say, the EA-owned DICE could go back to Battlefield and developing the Frostbite engine after Mirror’s Edge failed to become a huge seller.

What makes the almost simultaneous closures of Vigil and Junction Point even more unfortunate than they otherwise would be is the fact that they were both located in Austin, Texas. That makes finding a new job in the area even more difficult for all of the people who have found themselves out of work this month, a situation that is not helped by the fact that layoffs were seen at fellow Austin-based studios LightBox Interactive and BioWare Austin within the last year. If there’s any bright side in all of this, it would be the fact that Crytek, which purchased the Homefront IP from THQ (undoubtedly because it was the one developing Homefront 2), has founded a new studio in Austin called Crytek USA. Among its staff are 35 former Vigil employees, as well as Vigil co-founder David Adams. Hopefully it will soon be able to count some former Junction Point employees among its staff, too.

As for Warren Spector’s future, we only know that he isn’t staying with Disney, Polygon reports. His LinkedIn profile invites others to get in touch to talk, suggesting he doesn’t already have a specific destination in mind. His former studio, Ion Storm, went out of business in 2005. It, too, was based in Texas. It’s no doubt wishful thinking on my part as a Deus Ex fan, but I would love to see him reunited with fellow Deus Ex designer Harvey Smith at Dishonored developer Arkane Studios, which has a presence in Texas. Looking back at his comments from last year’s E3 regarding his belief that “the ultraviolence has to stop,” however, suggest that may not be the direction Spector is headed in unless Arkane’s next game is much different than its last one.

By Chris Pereira

LittleBigPlanet and Vita Take a Swipe at Nintendo With a Solid Wii U Impression

LittleBigPlanet 2

Like with the Wii, Nintendo is not attempting to have Wii U compete on graphics; based on what we’ve seen and heard, it’s roughly on equal footing with the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 in terms of horsepower. It’s the system’s controller that sets it apart from the competition and, like the Wii remote, allows it to provide experiences that can’t be had elsewhere. Or, at least, that is the idea; Microsoft showed off SmartGlass at E3 which was perceived as the company’s version of the Wii U GamePad. Sony did the same with LittleBigPlanet 2 and Vita, something we got to see again at Gamescom as one demonstration of how Sony is indiscreetly going after Nintendo.

Sony announced today that Cross Controller support, the feature used to play LittleBigPlanet 2′s upcoming Cross Controller DLC, will be included in a Vita firmware update coming later this month. The distinction between this and PSP Remote Play is that the Vita is recognized as what it is; asymmetric gameplay becomes a possibility, and the Vita’s unique features can be harnessed — the game doesn’t play as if you are simply holding a PS3 controller with a screen that displays what would normally be seen on your TV. This firmware update will enable developers to make use of the functionality in their games going forward; the only thing that might stop them, really, is that the Vita install base is not especially large, and the number of people with both a PlayStation 3 and Vita is even smaller than that (though there is undoubtedly a fair amount of overlap between owners of the two).

While SmartGlass was the E3 announcement that got more attention — and perhaps rightfully so since it features support for a wide range of devices including iPads, iPhones, and Android devices — it’s the Vita-PS3 combo that stands a chance of offering an experience more like that of the Wii U. The first reason for this is that developers know what hardware they’re working with; whereas SmartGlass has to account for different devices with different screen sizes and button configurations (or lack thereof), Cross Controller only makes use of the Vita so they can tailor an experience to that setup. SmartGlass’ support of so many devices helps to ensure more people will be able to get some use out of it, but it puts it in a position where it is most useful as a secondary screen.

The other reason is the Vita has both a touchscreen and buttons, and it can for the most part replicate the inputs available with a PS3 controller. That is the main difference between the Cross Controller feature and SmartGlass — you could, in theory, pick up a Vita and play a PS3 game by mapping the L2 and R2 buttons to the rear touchpad and the analog stick clicks to the touchscreen. Playing an Xbox 360 game on a SmartGlass-enabled device would require an entirely different, touch-based control method. So while there are interesting applications for SmartGlass and it may be enough for some to forgo a Wii U, it’s actually the people with a PS3 and Vita that could enjoy a Wii U-style experience without spending a dime on Nintendo’s new hardware.

Particularly in today’s on-stage demonstration of the new LittleBigPlanet 2 DLC, which is coming later this year, Sony didn’t shy away from attempting taking the wind out of Nintendo’s sails. It’s looking for any reason to help sell Vitas, and this functionality certainly doesn’t make it any less attractive to potential buyers, but more importantly this feature is something that makes what Nintendo has to offer seem less special. As Sony looks to sell its own hardware this holiday (and simultaneously hopes its own next-gen offering, not the Wii U, will eventually be the big seller), what better way is there to hurt interest in the competition’s offering than by showing how you can do the same thing, possibly even better?

I say do it better because the Vita has the added benefit of multi-touch and its rear touch controls, which are two input methods you won’t find on Wii U. It could be said the PS3/Vita combo is less desirable because the cost involved in purchasing both systems is almost certainly going to be higher than whatever the Wii U’s price ends up being set at. But there is a large PS3 install base that could decide to pick up a Vita to get a Wii U-like experience with the added bonus of having a portable game system that can play games anywhere, unlike the Wii U GamePad, which needs to be kept near the console itself to function.

Whether this Cross Controller thing ever amounts to much will depend entirely on how much developer support it receives. LittleBigPlanet 2 seems to make great use of it, whether it be by having the location of hidden hazards displayed on the Vita’s screen or requiring its touchscreen and touchpad be used to interact with objects in the environment like in the standalone Vita game. Assuming other developers decide to embrace this — no doubt Sony will ensure many of its first-party studios do, just as Nintendo will have its dual-screen first-party games — this could, like PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale, be another blatantly Nintendo-inspired idea that Sony does a fine job of executing on.

By Chris Pereira

Will Moderation Render Wii U’s Miiverse Ineffectual?


Nintendo has largely avoided discussing the subject of online when it comes to Wii U; we’re still in the dark on details regarding the presence of friend codes and other things that have hampered the online experience for owners of Nintendo’s previous consoles. The one exception to this has been Miiverse, which has the potential to connect Wii U owners with each other in a new, interesting way. There is, however, at least one issue that stands in the way of it being a major success (aside from Wii U itself selling well), and that is Nintendo’s desire to provide a safe environment for younger gamers.

Miiverse allows Wii U owners to share messages with others both inside and outside of games; New Super Mario Bros. U demonstrated this week how players’ messages can be shown on the level select screen or following Mario’s death. Messages can be either typed out or hand-drawn. Either way, the potential for spoilers or inappropriate messages to be shared through these channels is great, and Nintendo has several ways of ensuring those undesirable messages are seen by as few people as possible.

As explained to Hero Complex by Nintendo president Satoru Iwata, there are three ways of dealing with these messages. The first is an automated filter which will search out words Nintendo doesn’t want being used. This is only so effective, though, because it can’t recognize hand-drawn notes, and because for as many words that are added to the filter list, there are a dozen more ways to spell out what sort of terrible things some anonymous gamer would allegedly (read: not) do to you and your mother if you were to meet in real life.

Another method will be to allow users to flag content they feel should not be on Miiverse, a solution which would require the questionable content to make it into the wild in the first place.

That’s where the third, and most dubious comes into play: human moderation. Iwata said Nintendo will hire a team to monitor the content being published to Miiverse, and only after it’s approved by one of these individuals will it make it onto the screen of other Wii U users (Wii Users?).

It’s undoubtedly the most effective way of preventing children from seeing phallic drawings and adult language, but the downside is it dramatically slows the process of getting Miiverse posts distributed. Nintendo is creating a bottleneck that ensures you’ll never be able to get a message posted as quickly as you’d like.

Iwata admitted, “The attraction of a social network is the immediacy of the feedback,” while also making it clear that parents need to be able to rest assured Miiverse won’t turn into Second Life, the (at times) notoriously raunchy free-to-play MMO. He went on to say the matter of how long it will take for messages to make their way through moderation will depend on feedback once Miiverse has launched, adding, “But personally, I think 30 minutes should be acceptable.”

30 minutes to post feedback on a level in New Super Mario Bros. U seems plenty fair, but will Nintendo have the capacity to reach that goal without letting some undesirable messages making their way through the cracks? Even if they do, I suspect the moderation process will negatively impact the aspects of Miiverse which lend themselves to more immediate conversations. Will anyone really want to carry out a message board-style discussion if it requires a 30-minute wait for each message to go through?

Nintendo has always been about providing a safe online experience, so none of this comes as a surprise. However, if it wants to be able to better compete with Xbox Live and PlayStation Network, at some point it will need to rely on optional parental controls dictating whom players can connect and socialize with online rather than resorting to blanket policies like this which will drag down the experience for adults who are willing to be exposed to the occasional swear word or naughty illustration.

By Chris Pereira

Wii U Games Pulled From E3 Due to Underclocked Hardware – Report

The Wii U developments kits that developers have been working with are reportedly “underclocked.” Third-party games are, as a result, not looking much better than what’s current available on Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, and due to that, Nintendo apparently opted to not show them last week at E3.

This is all according to a report by Hit Detection, the consulting firm founded by former Newsweek writer N’Gai Croal. It states, “However, due to titles not looking much better than what is currently available on Xbox 360 and the PS3, Nintendo decided late in the game to not show those titles and focus instead on tech demos.”

During its E3 press conference, Nintendo showed a sizzle reel of third-party games — including Ghost Recon Online, Ninja Gaiden 3, and Darksiders II. They looked just as good as anything on PlayStation 3 or Xbox 360; as it turned out, that’s because the footage came from the games running on those systems. According to Hit Detection, Darksiders II “could have been shown” as it was up and running on the Wii U’s dev hardware.

This isn’t really reason for concern at this point, as the system is likely still more than a year away from launch. Hardware specs haven’t been confirmed as of yet, but there has been the suggestion from some developers that the system could have 50% more processing power than the 360 or PS3. That remains unconfirmed and will likely stay that way until Nintendo nails down exactly what will be powering the system.

Source: Kotaku

By Chris Pereira

Strategy RPG Pioneer Yasumi Matsuno Jumps to Level-5

The biggest story from the latest issue of Famitsu magazine isn’t about a game at all — it’s news of a job transfer that could have major impact for anyone who loves console strategy RPGs.

Yasumi Matsuno, creator of Ogre Battle, Tactics Ogre and the Final Fantasy Tactics series, has reportedly taken a new job with Level-5, the Fukuoka-based publisher of both hardcore RPGs (White Knight Chronicles) and more casual stuff like Inazuma Eleven and the Professor Layton series. Matsuno was personally invited to the outfit by Level-5 founder and president Akihiro Hino, who said it’d offer the designer an opportunity to work on stuff he’s never had a chance to before, according to Famitsu.

While neither Hino nor Matsuno commented in depth on what they might work on, Hino stated that it won’t take two years or so for the next Matsuno project to come out and that it could be “something that the nieces and nephews of Matsuno fans might also enjoy.”

The 45-year-old Matsuno joined indie game developer Quest in 1989, where he formed what would become the main staff behind Ogre Battle and Tactics Ogre. After completing Tactics Ogre, Matsuno moved to Square in 1995 and worked on FF Tactics, the first console strategy RPG to break a million copies sold worldwide, as well as classic PlayStation RPG Vagrant Story. He left Square in 2005 in the midst of Final Fantasy XII development and had been freelancing for assorted companies ever since, making contributions to both Grasshopper’s MadWorld and Square Enix’s new PSP port of Tactics Ogre.

More details as they come.

By Kevin Gifford

Charticle: Let’s Compare Nintendo’s Console Launch History

Nintendo’s next console launches in just two days — perhaps you’ve heard about it? We’ve seen plenty of hand-wringing about the future of the system, a perceived lack of hype for it, the changing nature of video games, and more doomsaying. Who knows what the future holds? Not us! But we certainly can look at Wii U in the context of the past — and as it turns out, the console holds up pretty well against previous Nintendo system launches both in terms of actual price and day-one launch lineup. Please check out our massive Nintendo launch charticle and draw your own conclusions.

Infographic by Jeremy Parish and Eric Sapp.

By 1UP Staff

What’s the One Thing You Want Most in Next-Gen Consoles?

Wii U

The DICE conference in Las Vegas is good for a lot of things, but one thing it’s great for is bumping
into people. People who work in games and have opinions, even. So at this year’s event, I posed two
questions to many of them: what’s the one thing you want to see most in next-gen consoles, and why
are game budgets so secretive. (And perhaps notably, many of them said they’d heard the former
question a lot in the past few days.)

This story, if you’re playing along and read the headline, contains the answers to the first of those two.
Head over here for the budget talk, read on to see what people in the industry had to say, and if you feel
inspired, offer your own take in the comments below.

Brian Reynolds, Zynga
“Well, I think it would just be something faster, something that would load the next screen up. You
know, I play Skyrim and every time I go in a building I have to wait for it to load, and I would watch my
friend play the same thing on the PC, and the little [loading bar] only rotates this much gesture>, and I’m on the 360 and I have to watch it go all the way around. Just making it faster would be
enough. You know, if they make it higher-res, fine, but I don’t feel a hunger for high resolution graphics.
I do feel a hunger to have it go faster.”

Marc Merrill, Riot Games
“Just to be candid, we make games for the PC at the moment, and no immediate plans to change that, so I think we’re a little bit biased. We’d love to see consoles — it’d be great if there was no hardware, and there was sort of a virtual machine that was embedded in other places. I’m sure that’s very wishful thinking, but yeah.”

Mike Capps, Epic Games
“A tenfold increase in technology. It’s quite feasible. It’s quite possible. We showed that last year at GDC that that’s the PC hardware today, and I hope console manufacturers really step up.”

Randy Pitchford, Gearbox Software
“I want a direct and immediate relationship with all of our customers, so I want everyone to be connected all the time, and I want the distance between us to be as small as possible.”

Robert Bowling, Infinity Ward
“It’s all about processing power for me. I want those full physics on everything that it makes sense on. I want full special effects, and I don’t want it hitting framerate. So I want to get to that area where we can make everything an interactive environment, if we so choose, if it’s right for our gametype, without taking a hit in terms of framerate or smoothness of controls.”

Michael Condrey, Sledgehammer Games
“I’m excited for next-gens. I love current-gens, because right now we’re in that sweet spot — developers know how to really get every ounce out of it. You know, the processing power’s going to be great when we make that leap. I’m looking for really great social integration. I want everything in one box. Right now I have to do things on my iPad and my iPhone. I’m doing certain things on my set-top box. I’m looking forward to the full integration of all of my networks into one place.”

Matthew Lee Johnston, PopCap
“I’d like to see always-on connectivity. I’d like to see less of this sort of walled-garden environment where I can experiment more with my business model. Real time metrics so that I can continuously evolve the game and tune it based on player feedback that’s coming to me through their play data. It’s something that we have in mobile platforms now. I would love to have it in these next-gen consoles.”

Greg Kasavin, Supergiant Games
“For me, it’s just the extreme ease of use around downloading games. And games in particular, because I know that consoles are trying to be a whole bunch of different things now and they don’t really want to be about just games, and I get that, but as long as they don’t leave games by the wayside because that’s where the early adopters are — where the most passionate users of these devices are going to be, and they just need to make games as accessible to those people and as easy to find as possible.”

David Jaffe, Eat Sleep Play
“Real world or fantasy world? Real world would be always on, so as I get older and I have kids and I have a very demanding job and I still love console games, I don’t like the fact that there’s this long preamble that happens every time I sit down to play console games. The boot up, to going into the dashboard or the XMB, to loading up the game, to seeing the logos. It’s like ‘dude, I just want to fucking play.’ So what I loved about PSP and DS, the last generation, and I haven’t opened up my Vita yet but I’m assuming it has a sleep mode… But to have a console that basically I can be playing Batman, and my kids have a nightmare and I go take care of them, and two days later I get back to Batman, and I haven’t had to shut things down and I can pick right back up where I left off. That’s what I want, practically. I hope that’s in there. Fantasy-land, I want hardware that’s a lot easier for designers to work with, so we can just sort of imagine things and they appear on the box. That would be the best.”

Tomonobu Itagaki, Valhalla Game Studios
“I’m always saying the same thing, but what I’m expecting is just power — more power… Also, there needs to be a scheme that allows the console to connect to social games easier.”

Todd Howard, Bethesda
“It’s definitely coming, right, and it’s stuff that we are planning for and looking at. But I think the current platforms have been so successful, and a lot of people are happy with their systems. They’re HD now, they’re all connected, the graphics look great — you’re going to need to do something really special and new. And I do think overall we need to look at, OK, whatever happens, is there a way we can make these games upwards compatible? Can I put Skyrim in some other new fancy box and it’s better? I think that would be great for my current library. Think about when you upgrade your iPhone. iPhone 4 is out and it has a retina display, and now there’s all these updates for games — oh I’m gonna play Plants vs. Zombies now and it looks better. Or this looks better, or this looks better. But I’m not having to flush my library of stuff and get all new stuff, and decide if I want to commit to this. I think there’s a better way to go about it going forward, and I hope that would be the case. It’s definitely coming. I just don’t want to take all of the current systems and the games and all of the fans and say ‘well, your time is over.’ You know what I mean?

[1UP: Do you have another current gen game
in you?]

I don’t know. Our games take a while, so I can’t answer that question right now. I can honestly tell you, ‘I
don’t know.’”

Ted Price, Insomniac Games
“Instant loads. As a player, having my game load up immediately is pretty important to keep me engaged, so if there’s some way that can happen, I’ll be a fan.”

By Matt Leone

Naughty Dog’s Co-Founder Could be THQ’s Savior

Jason Rubin

As it prepares to make a move to avoid a NASDAQ delisting, THQ yesterday announced some changes to its executive team. Core Games EVP Danny Bilson, who has helped to push the publisher in its current direction of focusing on wholly-owned IP is leaving the company along with Core Studios SVP Dave Davis. While Bilson’s departure could have been a bad sign for those who view THQ’s direction as promising, the newly-appointed president of THQ is someone who knows his games: Jason Rubin, the former co-founder of Naughty Dog, has assumed the role effective immediately.

THQ is not in great shape, due in large part to the failure of the high-definition versions of uDraw released last fall. Layoffs have struck the company in the past year, and back in January it was rumored that its slate of 2014 games had been canceled. This turned out to be untrue, although since then we have learned its Warhammer MMO, Dark Millennium Online, will be converted into a more traditional style of game, and that it is trying to sell off Devil’s Third, the game from Tomonobu Itagaki’s new studio Valhalla Game Studios.

Its stock price has been dwindling for years; in 2007 its share price topped $36, a monumental difference from its current $.63 price that threatens to see the company’s common stock delisted from the NASDAQ Global Market. The company needs the value of its stock to reach at least $1.00 for 10 consecutive days to avoid this fate. (The current plan appears to be a reverse stock split, which will see the number of shares in existence reduced, thereby increasing the value of what stock remains.) Matters weren’t helped when it announced earlier this month that, despite an increase in revenues, its losses grew in the 2012 fiscal year.

THQ logo

While Rubin being named president did not have a significant effect on the value of THQ’s stock, his appointment does bode well for the future. Along with Andy Gavin, Rubin founded Naughty Dog in 1986. He was a key player at the company for nearly two decades, helping to create the Crash Bandicoot and Jak and Daxter series before leaving in 2004 (three years after Naughty Dog was acquired by SCEA). Since then he has worked on comics and was a co-founder of Flektor, a tool allowing people to mashup various web content.

As THQ president, he will report to Brian Farrell, who remains the CEO and chairman, and will be in charge of worldwide product development, marketing, and publishing operations, giving him a lot of influence over what sort of games we’ll be seeing THQ’s name on in the coming years. His influence might not be greatly felt as far as which games we see come out short-term, both because cash is expected to be tight and because the wheels are already in motion for games coming out in the near future: Darksiders II, Saints Row: The Third – Enter the Dominatrix, Company of Heroes 2, Metro: Last Light, South Park: The Game, and WWE ’13. Further out, THQ still has Insane from Guillermo Del Toro, Homefront 2 from Crytek UK, and a new franchise from former Assassin’s Creed creative director Patrice Désilets.

Given Naughty Dog’s track record with Rubin in charge, he is likely to be a major advocate for the direction THQ is headed in of focusing on wholly-owned IP and shying away from kids’ licensed games and products like uDraw. Merely saying a company wants to focus on those kinds of core games is one thing; Rubin, having seen what it takes to establish a successful franchise more than once, should be a major asset in identifying the ideas that can help to bring THQ back into the black. (Maybe he’ll find a way to revive Red Faction like, say, bringing it back outdoors.) Even with the new franchises that have already been green-lighted, like Désilets/THQ Montreal’s new game and Insane, his expertise could come in handy in ensuring those games turn into something special, rather than seeing another repeat of Homefront.

By Chris Pereira