EA Secures Star Wars Game Rights

Last month, Disney shut down LucasArts, leaving the Star Wars license in limbo. Last week, we were hit with another round of EA layoffs, with EA seemingly looking to put more stock into mobile gaming and dial back on core titles. Yesterday, those two pieces of news collided as EA announced exclusive rights to develop and publish new core Star Wars games in a multi-year contract.

The news comes from Gamasutra, who reveals that Visceral Games (Dead Space), DICE (Battlefield) and BioWare (Mass Effect, Knights of the Old Republic) will all be developing core games in the Star Wars universe.

From Gamasutra:

“The new experiences we create may borrow from films, but the games will be entirely original with all new stories and gameplay,” said EA Games label president Frank Gibeau.

While Disney will retain rights to publish games on mobile, social, and online platforms, and EA hasn’t announced which studios will be working on what types of games, we can definitely guess based on track records. I would guess that BioWare will be working on a KotOR-style game, DICE is probably working on a Battlefront followup, and Visceral is… well, I don’t like the idea of dismembering wookies, but you gotta do what you gotta do.

Nintendo Seeking Mobile Ports for WiiU

A report from The Japan Times, via GamesIndustry International, states that Nintendo is offering professional conversion software to mobile game developers in an effort to coax them into porting their titles onto the WiiU. This news comes after Nintendo reported half of its projected sales for the last fiscal year, far below expected figures.

From The Japan Times:

A lack of popular games to play on Nintendo consoles was one of the main reasons behind the company’s worse-than-expected console sales and group operating loss of ¥36.4 billion reported for the year ended in March. It was Nintendo’s second consecutive annual operating loss.

Will mobile titles revitalize the WiiU? Perhaps, but only slightly. Having a more robust library of downloadable games that utilize the touch screen in interesting ways wouldn’t be a bad idea. However, what the WiiU is really missing is a better selection of full-price games that take advantage of the hardware. Upscaled ports aren’t going to do the job. I personally don’t own a WiiU due to my Five Game Rule. Once a system has five games worth owning, I consider picking it up. To date, nothing released on the WiiU has interested me enough to warrant adopting one.

Mobile apps won’t change that, as I have a phone for those, and generally enjoy those kinds of experiences when I’m mobile. Sitting at home and playing Cut the Rope on a WiiU Gamepad doesn’t scream “killer app” to me, and I’m sure I’m not alone in that regard.

Successor to Eternal Darkness Coming Via Crowd Funding Campaign

shadoweternals

If you owned a GameCube, you likely played Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem, one of the most daring titles on the system. The game was notorious for messing with its players, faking controller disconnects and corrupted save files while dishing up a Lovecraftian-horror story that spanned multiple generations.

Today, Silicon Era reports that Precursor Games is working on a spiritual successor, Shadow of the Eternals, and that a crowd funding campaign will launch on May 6th to finance the project. Dennis Dyack, founder of Silicon Knights and director of Eternal Darkness, is said to be involved.

While this is happy news, as one of the most beloved horror classics in gaming is getting a proper follow up, there is some cause for worry. Dyack’s last unique IP, Too Human, was largely panned by critics, prompting Dyack to become very vocal about the criticisms against his game. Then, Dyack sued Epic Games, makers of the Unreal Engine 3, which is utilized by many modern games in some way or another. The ensuing legal battle and subsequent fallout just about ruined any credibility Dyack had in the game development space, and made him infamous within the dev community as well as the press.

So, when a company that Dyack is involved in asks for money on good faith, I find it hard to pry open my wallet, even on a project this exciting. All we have to go on is the teaser that IGN posted today, and personally, I need a bit more than that before I vote with my dollars.

Zynga to Bring League of Legends-Style Gaming to Mobile

Hate on Zynga all you want: they know how to capitalize on popular gaming trends, which is something semi-commendable in this uncertain economy. And when the most popular game in the world happens to be League of Legends, it was only natural that Zynga would develop a MOBA (Multiplayer Online Battle Arena) game of their own.

Enter Solstice Arena, set to release for tablets and mobile devices “very soon.” Designed with speed and accessibility in mind, creators Team Solstice say that the game will do away with farming and make for a streamlined experience that can be completed in 10 minutes. Solstice Arena also promises to be “fair to play” in that players will be able to purchase skins and armor to customize their champions, but not boosts to help aid in combat.

From Gamesbeat, via the Solstice Arena website:

“Solstice Arena is free-to-play and fair to play,” reads the Team Solstice blog. “Above all, we want to preserve the core progression of MOBA competition.”

This is a really smart move, addressing the lack of paid boosts, as the decision to include them would have killed Solstice Arena before it even hit the app store. Assuming good game balance, Team Solstice has all but guaranteed that skill will be paramount, and not who has the biggest wallet of disposable income.

As to how the game plays, I’m interested to see how MOBA combat translates to a touch interface. Removing “creep waves” for farming means fewer targets to click on, meaning targeting accuracy can probably be a bit more forgiving. Time will tell if hardcore MOBA players will favor the mobile platform when the game is released.

 

EA Not Releasing Madden On WiiU in 2013

For the first time in over 20 years, there will not be a Madden game on a Nintendo console. EA has gone on record saying that this year’s installment, Madden 25, will not be available on the WiiU, despite the fact that Madden 2013 was launched on both the Wii and WiiU last year.

From an EA Sports representative, via The Verge:

We will not be releasing a Wii U version of Madden NFL in 2013. However, we have a strong partnership with Nintendo and will continue to evaluate opportunities for delivering additional Madden NFL products for Nintendo fans in the future.

Considering the relatively low install base of the WiiU currently in North America, this might actually be a smart move. Cutting it out of the development cycle means one less port to consider, which saves in licensing fees and production costs. Sure, EA isn’t going out of their way to grow the console into something they can take advantage of, but Madden isn’t the lynchpin of the EA Sports brand that most people think it is. It sells well in North America, but barely has any reach in other regions.

When Fifa skips a Nintendo console, then you have cause for worry.

Call of Duty: Ghosts Coming This Year

Activision released a live action teaser today for Call of Duty: Ghosts, this year’s CoD offering from Infinity Ward. According to The Electric Playground, leaked documents point at this being a current gen game available for Xbox 360, PS3, PC, and WiiU, but also a next-gen title for the PS4 and Microsoft’s new hardware. The game is rumored to launch on November 5th of this year.

While the trailer does little but announce the name of the game and make it clear that we’re not getting a Modern Warfare sequel from Infinity Ward this year, it does promise a full reveal on May 21st, the same day Microsoft is set to reveal their new hardware.

First Respawn’s new shooter, and now this? Microsoft doesn’t need much more to guarantee Day 1 sales for its new console from a commanding portion of its audience. Throw in a Gears of War game and early adopters just might be able to look past the slough of hardware issues that will likely plague the new system.

New Grand Theft Auto V Trailers Introduce Three Protagonists (NSFW)

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=taBCnff2Jrk]

Though news of Rockstar’s Grand Theft Auto V featuring three protagonists is months old by now, new trailers released today shed some light on the personalities of the grime-ridden shoes that players will walk in when they step into GTAV on September 17th.

The three trailers, cut above into a single convenient movie by VG247, showcase Michael, Trevor, and Franklin. Each character has his own motivations for chasing the almighty dollar, and their interactions within missions are bound to break up the traditional GTA style of largely taking on missions alone. They seem to have no qualms about the seedy actions they’re set to take on, which already sets the game above GTAIV in my mind. Having to hear Nico shout about ripping hearts out minutes after professing he wants to get out of this life made for a real sense of ludonarrative dissonance that turned me off from wanting to finish the game.

Also, take note of the character models and facial animations in the trailers. Rockstar has definitely stepped up their game as they slowly seek to climb up the other side of the Uncanny Valley. I’m interested in seeing what they can do once they start working with next-gen hardware.

Sources Out New Respawn Shooter for Next-Gen Xbox

Details hit the web today via Kotaku about Respawn’s next-gen shooter, said to be an always-online asymmetrical multiplayer shooter. The studio, headed by former Infinity Ward studio chief Vince Zampella, has apparently signed an exclusive deal to produce the game solely for the new Xbox platform, codenamed Durango.

From Kotaku:

The new game from Respawn is a futuristic multiplayer-centric online shooter, one of our sources says. The source describes the game as a battle of Davids and Goliaths. The Davids are heavily-armed foot soldiers. The Goliaths are the giant exosekeltons—Titans—that these soldiers can pilot. These Titans are big mech-style walkers that move with an agility not seen in games like Mechwarrior or Steel Battalions.

Seeing as how Zampella was one of the big guns behind Call of Duty, this is a game worth paying attention to. As noted in the story, the details behind this new title also point to the Durango requiring an internet connection to function. While this may segment the market for the new system given the fact that broadband in North America hasn’t nearly reached the level of penetration that nations like South Korea enjoy, it does give Microsoft a way to help regulate piracy. Given the issues that have arisen with games like Sim City requiring an online connection to function, it’ll be interesting to see how this new console generation plays out.

Nordic Games Picks Up Darksiders, Red Faction, More Through THQ Auction

Though we reported last month that Crytek had plans to pick up the Darksiders IP after THQ announced it would be selling off all of its assets, it looks like Nordic Games has made the winning bid. With the $4.9million check comes many other IPs, such as Red FactionSupreme Commander, and Titan Quest.

From Joystiq:

“First and foremost we are very happy about this deal which also turns over a new leaf for the entire Nordic Games Group. In the long term, we either want to cooperate with the original creators or best possible developers in order to work on sequels or additional content for these titles,” said Nordic Games CEO Lars Wingefors. “A very important point for us is not to dash into several self-financed multi-million dollar projects right away, but rather to continue our in-depth analysis of all titles and carefully selecting different financing models for developing new instalments (sic) of acquired IPs.”

This is what I hope for when old IPs get sold to new publishers. A commitment to working with the original creative team that made that property successful in the first place has the potential to bring fans the content they expect. Of course, being open to picking the right studio for the job, as Nordic seems willing to do, can also lead to a new, fresh take on an established franchise that might be the shot in the arm it needs to be financially feasible again.

It’s also commendable that Nordic isn’t looking to make a quick turn over on their capital investment by rushing out some product. The year leading up to a new console generation is probably one of the most critical times for any industry player. Making the wrong move at the wrong time could be costly. It’s an exciting time to be covering this stuff, for sure.

 

Electronic Arts Lays Off More Employees

Gamesbeat revealed today that EA has completed another round of layoffs as part of its organizational restructuring. From EA.com:

In recent weeks, EA has aligned all elements of its organizational structure behind priorities in new technologies and mobile.  This has led to some difficult decisions to reduce the workforce in some locations.  We are extremely grateful for the contributions made by each of our employees – those that are leaving EA will be missed by their colleagues and friends.

These are hard but essential changes as we focus on delivering great games and showing players around the world why to spend their time with us.

What those new technologies could be is anyone’s guess. Playstation 4 development? Whatever Microsoft is cooking up? Some unique use of the WiiU hardware? A change to Madden that actually matters? And what about their new mobile focus? Is this related to more app tie-ins for their console and PC releases, or new content that isn’t just a $14.99 port of an existing game?

While it’s always depressing to hear about layoffs in the industry, this restructure might actually put the company in a good place to remain competitive as the marketplace sets to change when the new console generation releases within the next year.