Sunday, October 28, 2007

Will Wright calls Wii "the only next gen system".

Star designer Will Wright (´Spore´, ´The Sims´) has called Wii "the only next gen system". Speaking to The Guardian, the designer said:

Somebody asked me what I thought next generation meant and what about the PlayStation 3 was next generation. The only next gen system I've seen is the Wii – the PS3 and the Xbox 360 feel like better versions of the last, but pretty much the same game with incremental improvement. Bu tht eWii feels like a major jump – not that the graphics are more powerful, but that it hits a completely different demographic. In some sense I see the Wii as the most significant thing that's happened, at least on the console side, in quite a while.

Wright is not the first designer to make this point. In August last year, American McGee said the same to CVG:

The only truly next-gen console out there is the Wii. Everything else is just a video card and processor upgrade. (...) I sense that Nintendo is going to capture the hearts of gamers while Microsoft and Sony stab each other in the neck for market domination. Nintendo is focused on innovation and games. The other guys are focused on making money.

Slightly off-topic, but here´s some exclusive information while we are on the subject of Will Wright: ´Spore´ has finally been given an internal launch date: it is coming in early May 2008.

Sources: The Guardian, CVG
Thanks to: Joystiq

Thursday, October 25, 2007

´Animal Crossing´ to become Massive Multiplayer community

´Animal Crossing´ for Wii is set to become a Massive Multiplayer Online (MMO) community, UK gaming magazine Edge reports. According to CVG, the magazine´s latest issue announces that ´Animal Crossing goes MMO´, citing "a Japanese source".

Edge´s online presence, Next-Gen, adds more detail to the story:

Animal Crossing for the Wii will be an MMO/social networking title. It’s no great surprise – in a few short years, Animal Crossing has become one of Nintendo’s most-loved and top selling franchises (over seven million copies sold), particularly in Japan. Nintendo refers to the title as a ‘communications game’ rather than a videogame, and playing already depends on real-world timekeeping, weather patterns, social conventions, and above all else economic interactions. In almost every way, Animal Crossing has always been the perfect MMO concept, and this development is simply a fulfilment of that promise.

The game has yet to be officially announced (although Nintendo has at least confirmed that an Animal Crossing game is in development for the Wii) and so details are not so much thin on the ground as nonexistent. But there are some indications of where the game will take the series: Katsuya Eguchi, head of development for the project, has made relatively non-committal noises thus far, but hinted that connection to mobile phones and PCs (for basic functions such as messages) would be included in an interview as far back as last year. Animal Crossing’s earlier iterations already feature travelling between towns, the ability for players to live in the same town (though not to play in it at the same time), and the ability to design your own clothing – and to sell it.

I predicted just this last month, speculating about what happened to that elusive September surprise NOA president Fils-Aime promised - and what it might turn out to be.

Most interesting will be to see how Nintendo incorporates the Friend Code system into this game. How limited will communication be between players who have not yet registered one another? What kind of exchange is available to players who have? And how do you get from the former state of affairs to the latter?

Sources: Next-Gen, CVG
Thanks to: Joystiq, NeoGAF

Thursday, October 18, 2007

I quit

Leaving RTL II

After eight years in their newsroom, I have handed in my notice at the private German television station RTL II. As of November, I will become technology editor with the public sector station 3sat, based in Mainz, Hesse.

I usually do not post personal matters, but this is the single most important change in my professional life so far. It will also greatly affect this blog, as I will no longer be dealing with general daily news and current affairs. Instead, I will be exclusively focussing on technology-related topics, particularly IT, multimedia and computer and videogames.

I will work for their weekly technology show called ´Neues´. If you do speak German, you should check it out. It is a great program and airs on 3sat as well as ZDF and the ZDF-Infokanal.

Leaving Cologne

This will involve me leaving Cologne behind and moving to Frankfurt. Below is the flyer for my farewell party. Just so you understand the title, ´Alaaf´ is a salute used in the Cologne carnival. It rhymes with the word ´half´.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

Looking back

As a technology editor, I will no longer deal with videogames only on the side. So this change will undoubtedly have a positive impact on my blog. Since this blog is nearing my 500th post, isn´t this a good time to look back at this blog´s various achievements?

I revealed that Wii would be significantly underpowered compared to the competition. I revealed that ´Zelda: Twilight Princess´ would use Wiimote functionality, rather than being merely a Gamecube game playable on Wii. In fact, Shigeru Miyamoto told me exclusively and in person.

I was also first to interview Pablo Belmonte, creator of the ´Nintendo On´ video. And I brought you the first developer comments regarding the Wii - by Peter Molyneux and Yuji Naka, no less.

And, of course, I ousted numerous fakers (like Seriousgamer007 and Kenton Bailey) and I played ´Red Steel´ before almost every other game journalist. I even told you the name before it went public by linking to this image.

I told you more than two months in advance that Rockstar´s ´Table Tennis´ was coming to Wii and my long-time readers knew about a ´Star Wars´ game featuring lightsaber action more than a year before it was finally announced. Finally, I recently revealed that the Wii´s friend codes will be game-specific.

Looking forward

What is more: I had a real blast writing all this stuff for you and I greatly appreciate all of you good people coming here. I apologize for the recent lack of updates, but both looking for a new job and moving to Frankfurt has kept me tremendously busy. Things will get back to normal over the next few weeks. And, as a technology editor, I am sure that I will be able to post even more exclusives than I have been able to so far.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Bungie LLC hires European PR

´Halo´ developer Bungie LLC has hired a PR company to represent the studio in Europe, giving rise to some speculation regarding their next projects and their working relationship with publisher Microsoft.

Bungie contracted Panache PR whose head Cathy Campos has been practically inseparable from star designer Peter Molyneux (´Fable´, ´Black & White´) for many years. The company has also represented Criterion Studios (´Burnout´, ´Black´) and Free Radical Design (´Time Splitters´, ´Haze´). A brief note on their website reads:

Kirkland,Wash. based game developer Bungie (...) asked Panache PR to represent them in Europe! As you can imagine I didn’t need much persuading to work with one of the world’s most successful and talented development companies! Their track record speaks for itself and they are really great people to work with.
Being less tongue in cheek about it, Panache PR is delighted to announce that the company has been appointed to handle Bungie's Corporate PR in Europe.

I contacted Cathy Campos, who I have had the pleasure of working with on many occasions, and asked her to clarify just what a US studio like Bungie would need PR representation in another territory for.

Jonty Barnes who now works there worked with me for many years at Bullfrog and then Lionhead and I think he really understands the importance of PR for developers. I think many US companies don’t do enough European PR so that is why I'm working with them.

I have no doubt that they have some exciting projects in the works. But I would expect it to be many months before they even think about doing PR for any new game.

Only recently, Bungie separated from Microsoft to become Bungie LLC, a ´privately held independent company (...) in which Microsoft will hold a minority equity interest.´

Unprecedented move

Hiring European PR is a highly unusual move for a US developer. To my knowledge, this is unprecedented. I do not know a single US studio that has any PR deals in other territories.

Some developers of massively multiplayer online games (MMO) do have some representation in Europe. US developer Blizzard (´World of Warcraft´, ´Starcraft´) and Korean company NCsoft (´Guild Wars´, ´Lineage´) have European offices, for example. But this is primarily due to the technical and administrative requirements of MMO games. Also, the former is part of Vivendi Games, who manage and outsource their marketing and PR as they see fit, while the latter also publishes its own products.

PR and marketing is always the publisher´s responsibility. Even a fairly independent studio like Valve (´Half-Life´) has no external PR representation. Instead, they have an internal marketing director, Doug Lombardi.

Three theories why Bungie might need European PR

Bungie hiring European PR is a clear sign of them wanting to sever ties with Microsoft. In detail, the move could hint at one of three possibilities. Firstly, the studio might want to distribute their own games digitally and may seek to back this up with PR representation. However, even Valve, the most successful studio in this field, manage without.

Secondly, they might be working on a new project that would necessitate PR people in other territories. Here, I can only think of an MMO. That, however, would also require them opening offices over here.

Thirdly, Bungie could consider moving to Europe or, more likely, opening a European satellite for other reasons than developing an MMO. German developer Crytek recently acquired a second satellite studio in Hungary.

At any rate, this is a clear indicator of Bungie moving yet further away from Microsoft and preparing for upcoming titles which will not be published by the console manufacturer.

Source: Panache PR

Friday, October 05, 2007

40GB PlayStation3 for €399 confirmed by SCEE

A 40GB model of the PlayStation3 will be released across Europe on the 10th of October for €399, Sony Computer Entertainment Europe has confirmed, ahead of an SCEA announcement.

Providing an incredibly appealing entry point to the world of High Definition gaming and entertainment for the holiday season, the new PS3 brings the next generation of interactive home entertainment to homes all across Europe, Middle East, Africa and Australasia.

Along with an ever expanding line-up of PS3 titles (a total of 65 titles tracking across all genres by Christmas), the new PS3 is equipped with a 40GB HDD and includes all the features central to the High Definition entertainment experience; true next generation gameplay, stunning High Definition Blu-ray Disc™ movies, SIXAXIS™ wireless controller, Wi-Fi and HDMI connectivity, all powered by the Cell Broadband Engine™, the digital heart of PS3.

As with the 60GB PS3, the new PS3 features upgradeable firmware allowing new features and functionality to be added to the system as time progresses. A recent firmware update, for example, enabled PS3 to upscale DVD’s played on the system to full 1080P High Definition.

The introduction of the new PS3 has been determined following user feedback from thousands of existing PS3 owners as well as research into future potential PS3 owners. The new model features two USB 2.0 ports rather than four and no longer includes the multi memory card port.

The new model is no longer backwards compatible with PlayStation®2 titles, reflecting both the reduced emphasis placed on this feature amongst later purchasers of PS3, as well as the availability of a more extensive line-up of PS3 specific titles (a total of 65 titles across all genres by Christmas).

The existing Starter Pack*, comprising a 60GB PS3 with extensive backwards compatibility, an additional SIXAXIS wireless controller and two first party titles will be reduced in price to €499. Remaining on sale while stocks last, the 60GB model represents outstanding value for the keen gamer wishing to upgrade to the High Definition capabilities of PS3.

The technical specifications of the new SKU are given as follows:

PLAYSTATION®3 40GB Specification

Product name PLAYSTATION®3

CPU Cell Broadband Engine™ Processor


Sound Dolby 5.1ch, DTS 5.1ch , LPCM 7.1ch, AAC, others *1 *2

Memory 256MB XDR Main RAM, 256MB GDDR3 VRAM

HDD 2.5” Serial ATA 40GB

I/O USB 2.0 x2

Communication Ethernet x1 (10BASE-T, 100BASE-TX, 1000BASE-T) IEEE 802.11 b/g Included

Bluetooth 2.0 (EDR) Included

Wireless controller (Bluetooth) Included

AV Output

Screen size 480i, 480p, 720p, 1080i, 1080p

HDMI OUT x1 *3



BD/DVD/CD Drive (Read Only) Maximum Read Speed BD 2x (BD-ROM)


CD 24x (CD-ROM)

Dimensions Approximately 325mm (W) x 98mm (H) x 274mm (D)

Weight Approximately 5 kg

EDIT Of course, a price drop for the PlayStation3 was desperately needed. Last month, Sony announced they would float $3 billion worth of shares, which is undoubtedly where they get the money from to finance this move. But while Sony could have simply lowered prices, they chose to again mess with the hardware and introduce even more models. Let me recap.

Sony initially announced a 20GB and a 60GB model for the US and Japan for about $600 and $500, respectively. Europe was only to get the 60GB model, it emerged later. Then, prior to its launch in November, they reduced the 20GB model´s price in Japan by almost $85 (¥10.000).

In April, Sony dropped the 20GB model from the US market altogether. And in July, they introduced a new 80GB model there for $600, the previous price tag of the 60GB SKU. They also dropped the 60GB model to $500, the price point of the 20GB model so far. This, effectively, was a hardware upgrade rather than a price cut, because now there were still two SKUs in stores costing $600 and $500, respectively.

The US 80GB model did not include hardware-based backwards compatibility (i.e. it no longer included the PS2´s graphics chip and CPU), but used limited, software-based emulation. The same was always true of the PAL 60GB model, which was sold in Europe and continued to be the only model sold there, as the 80GB model was never to be released in that territory.

At some stage, Sony must have reduced the price for the Japanese 60GB model, since it now sells for the 20GB model´s original price. I am unable to find any news articles relating to that price drop. Today, Sony Computer Entertainment Europe announced a new 40GB model for €400 and a price drop for the 60GB model to €500. This new model, it seems, will not even bear software-based backwards-compatibility.

So the status quo is this:


80GB model: $599 (€425 / ¥70.000) - limited, software-based backwards compatibility
60GB model: $499 (€355 / ¥58.500) - full, hardware-based backwards compatibility


60GB model: ¥59.980 ($515 / €365) - full, hardware-based backwards compatibility
20GB model: ¥49.980 ($427 / €305) - full, hardware-based backwards compatibility


60GB model: €499 ($705 / ¥82.500) - limited, software-based backwards compatibility
40GB model: €399 ($565 / ¥66.000) - no backwards compatibility whatsoever

That makes for five different PS3 models which will be on the worldwide market by October 10th. And I believe it is only a question of time until the 40GB model will be introduced to the other territories, possibly increasing that count further. That is as confusing to consumers as possible.

Of course, Apple appears to release new iPod models every few months or so and they certainly get away with that strategy. But their product has completely dominated its market for years. The PlayStation3 is in third place by a huge margin. If you need to catch up, it seems to be a bad idea to bring in new models, phase out old ones and swap price tags as if you were playing musical chairs.

Like I said, a price cut is what the PS3 needed. But if you have to spend more than half an hour of sifting through articles and looking up information by internet retailers in order to compile a list of all PS3 models on the worldwide market - which is what I did - then you are not making things easy for your customers, retail partners and publishers. Cut that price, Sony. But stop tampering with the hardware, for crying out loud.

Source: SCEE
Thanks to: Console Hype

Bungie separates from Microsoft, becomes Bungie LLC

´Halo´ developer Bungie really is separating from Microsoft, as various reports have already suggested. The studio will become Bungie LLC. Both companies put a slightly different spin on the consequences of the split, though.

Microsoft has issued a press release suggesting the two companies are ´to evolve´ and ´forge [a] new long-term relationship´.

Meanwhile, in Bungie´s statement the studio ´announces independence´ and celebrates its future as a ´privately held independent company (...) in which Microsoft will hold a minority equity interest.´

Microsoft quotes Shane Kim, head of Microsoft Game Studios:

Our collaboration with Bungie has resulted in ‘Halo’ becoming an enduring mainstream hit. While we are supporting Bungie’s desire to return to its independent roots, we will continue to invest in our ‘Halo’ entertainment property with Bungie and other partners, such as Peter Jackson, on a new interactive series set in the ‘Halo’ universe. We look forward to great success with Bungie as our long-term relationship continues to evolve through ‘Halo’-related titles and new IP created by Bungie.

Bungie quotes its studio head, Harold Ryan, and Jason Jones, founder and partner.

This exciting evolution of our relationship with Microsoft will enable us to expand both creatively and organizationally in our mission to create world-class games. We will continue to develop with our primary focus on Microsoft’s platforms; we greatly value our mutually prosperous relationship with our publisher, Microsoft Game Studios, and we look forward to continuing that affiliation through ‘Halo’ and beyond.

Working with Microsoft was great for us, it allowed us to grow as a team and make the ambitious, blockbuster games we all wanted to work on. And they will continue to be a great partner. But Bungie is like a shark. We have to keep moving to survive. We have to continually test ourselves, or we might as well be dolphins. Or manatees.

Sources: Microsoft, Bungie
Thanks to: HallwayGiant

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Epic Games: "Big software dollars" on Xbox360, not Wii

Mark Rein, vice president of Epic Games, believes that the Wii is an unattractive platform for engine developers. The company produces the highly successful ´Unreal´ graphics engine.

Speaking to GameTrailers, Rein said that "the big software dollars right now are being earned on Xbox360". The Wii would only be attractive insofar as a company could sell their engine directly to Nintendo.

Here is the video interview. The relevant quote is 1:15 minutes into the clip.

And here is a verbatim transcript of the entire passage, after GameTrailers suggests that the Wii must be a very attractive platform for engine developers.

GameTrailers: Have you guys sort of looked at that? I mean, like: ´Hey, you know. This is some place where we could move in and make a lot of money?´

Mark Rein: No, well... I mean... I think the problem is that it´s not in our wheelhouse. I mean what we are doing is the high-end, next-generation visuals. I mean we are pushing these machines pretty hard. I just think that... We have too many things on our plate to go back and put resources in that kind of... in that situation.

GameTrailers: Don´t think there is a lot of money sitting there on the table? All these developers out there, reaching out for something that is gonna make their games look good on the Wii?

Mark Rein: No, actually I don´t think there is a lot of money on making engines for the Wii.

GameTrailers: How come?

Mark Rein: Well, because I think the big software dollars right now are being earned on Xbox360 and they gonna be earned on PlayStation3 and I think unless you are going to sell your engine to Nintendo, you... you know... you are going for scraps on that platform.

I wonder if that comment is to be seen as Rein´s anti-Wii sentiment or if, indeed, other engine developers (Valve, Crytek and id) feel the same way.

If it was true that the Wii is not an attractive platform for engine development, despite it being market leader, then Nintendo will clearly run into some big problems over the next few years as the visual gap between Wii and its competitors is sure to widen significantly within that timeframe.

Source: GameTrailers
Thanks to: GoNintendo

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Microsoft to sell Bungie?

Microsoft may be selling ´Halo´ developer Bungie Studios, according to an anonymous source. Jacob Metcalf, a multimedia designer, broke the story on his blog, rather unfortunately citing the anonymous source as "a friend of mine who has someone close to them that works at Bungie."

Of course Microsoft gets to keep all rights to the Halo franchise, but as today Bungie no longer part of Microsoft. Ask anyone who works there to search the global address book, they're no longer in there. Microsoft was supposed to release the press release today but if they wait till the 10/6 the impact wont effect the quarterly results. However today is the actual official date and the day the NDAs expire, however you still didn't hear this from me.

However, both Jacob´s and his source´s writing skills and particularly their grammar are so poor that it draws the entire story into question. Also, one aspect does not add up.

Microsoft was supposed to release the press release today but if they wait till the 10/6 the impact wont effect the quarterly results.

The reason for delaying the announcement is apparently the quarterly earnings call. Now, this seems very unlikely. The earnings call is pencilled in for the 25th of October. How delaying the announcement until the 6th would prevent the news from having an impact on the call is beyond me. There would still be 19 days between the news announcement and the earnings call. This makes no sense whatsoever. Which is unfortunate, since Microsoft selling Bungie is not out of the question.

The promise to shareholders

Microsoft has committed itself to a positive result within this financial year for the Home and Entertainment division after nothing but substantial, multi-billion losses so far. Shane Kim, head of Microsoft Game Studios, told the BBC: "If we can't make a profit in the year Halo 3 comes out, then when will we?"

And considering that last financial year the division cost Microsoft more than two billion dollars while the lowest losses ever incurred were still half a billion in 2005, it seems unlikely that even a ´Halo 3´ would be enough to get them out of the reds. $170 million on its first day is a phenomenal result, but those numbers are sure to drop sharply on the days to come.

Also, that figure is revenue. Operating profits would be substantially lower, given the development costs and the larger-than-life marketing budget (estimated at more than 10 million dollars) would have to be deducted. So this one game will not be enough for Microsoft to make good on their promise. Also, if they ever wanted to sell the company, now would be the time, after the most successful launch in entertainment history. In fact, selling Bungie might be the only way for Microsoft´s troubled games division to slide into the blacks this year.

Bungie worth a billion dollars?

Just how much could Bungie sell for? Rare cost Microsoft 375 million dollars and Microsoft only bought 51%. So all of Bungie might rake in the better part of a billion, if not more so. And seeing that selling an internal studio has no costs involved, that money would be operating profit, not just revenue.

Microsoft would retain the Halo franchise, which is what counts. The investors would be happy about the division being in the blacks. And Bungie would be happy to prove that they are more than a one-trick-pony. It seems that such a move would make perfect sense for everyone involved.

Who could be buying?

One question remains, though. Who would buy the studio? Of course, theoretically, Bungie could buy itself. In fact, the rumourmonger speaks of the studio becoming independent. But I question whether they have that amount of money available and would be willing to take this risk.

On his own site, Metcalf has posted a number of comments in support of his story. One raises the possibility of a retention agreement ending soon, effectively allowing Bungie top brass to leave the company without penalty.

This theory (if such agreements do legally exist) would be incompatible with Bungie becoming independent, though. Why buy the studio name when all of the staff are free to leave anyway? A studio name is not worth that much.

It really would have to be a company of the likes of Electronic Arts, Ubisoft or, indeed, Nintendo and Sony. If Bungie has any say in this, they might favour a third-party publisher. After all, they must be tired of exclusivity.


The source is as unreliable as it gets: someone (and no, Metcalf is not a journalist, as some would have you believe) quoting a friend who quotes a friend. And they all sent one another mails, riddled with spelling mistakes and containing rumours of April Fool´s joke proportions.

However, it is all too easy to dismiss the possibility of Microsoft looking to sell Bungie. After all, as many have pointed out already, Microsoft recently failed to snap up one of the Xbox360´s most important third party studios, Bizarre Creations (´Project Gotham Racing´, ´Geometry Wars´), before Activision bought it. And the ´Shadowrun´ developer FASA closed shop. Those two incidents prove that Microsoft is no longer throwing money at the Xbox problem. Instead, they are resolute on earning some for a change.

EDIT TeamXbox have joined the fun and appear to be validating at least part of the rumour. Under an intriguing sub-heading ("You know we don't report crazy rumors here unless..."), they write:

We can't provide further info now (we'd put our sources in trouble) but we're going to tell you that it is more complex than simply Bungie leaving Microsoft or Microsoft letting Bungie go.

There will be an official announcement this week, definitely before October 12th.

EDIT On his blog, IGN Wii editor Matt Casamassina has just released footage of ´Halo DS´. This may be unrelated to the rumours about Microsoft letting go of Bungie, but perhaps not entirely.

While IGN divulges little detail about the game (saying only that it was "created by a real development studio and with a very big publisher"), I can add some info to that myself. At the recent European ´Halo 3´ launch event, I had lunch with Frank O´Connor and asked him about the ´Halo DS´ IGN had reported about. He said that it must have been an unwarranted pitch - essentially a demo used for securing business deals - and they often received them.

So O´Connor confirmed that pitches for ´Halo DS´ were in existence and circulation. But they were neither developed by Bungie, nor sanctioned or endorsed by Microsoft, he said. How IGN got hold of one remains a mystery, as pitches are never really shown to the press. But it certainly paid off for the undisclosed studio and publisher behind the pitch, with Matt advertising the demo so well.

EDIT The big boys have entered the debate. Game Informer is validating the story:

From a source close to Bungie, Game Informer has learned this rumor has some merit. It looks like with Halo 3, Bungie really is finishing the fight.

Our source stated that Bungie is “tired of Making Halo, and didn’t want to do future Halo games.” For an unstated, but significant amount of money, Bungie shareholders bought the studio name back from Microsoft. Our source also revealed that even though Microsoft will retain the rights to Halo, Microsoft also has “the right of first refusal on future games.” This means that Microsoft has the first shot at publishing Bungie’s future titles. How this will come into play if Bungie decides they want future game X to appear on the PlayStation 3 and Wii alongside an Xbox 360 release will make things quite interesting.

This type of agreement might be what TeamXbox meant by the deal being "more complex than simply Bungie leaving Microsoft or Microsoft letting Bungie go." The story certainly appears to be emerging as true.

EDIT I can finally add the fruits of my own investigations to this story. I have not been able to confirm any details, but the general story is true. My contacts told me that they were aware of the story through internal channels. So Microsoft must have circulated memos to some key staff already.

EDIT CNBC lends some more credence to the emerging story:

From the two people I'm talking to inside Bungie, I'm expecting a new kind of partnership between the two and not a wholesale break-up.

Sources: Jacob Metcalf´s blog , TeamXbox, Game Informer
Thanks to: Rumor Reporter, Nintentom, Sangreal, HereticPB, MaxConsole