Are you a Lilith-a-like?

When Crystal Dynamics started feeding us information for the new Tomb Raider game, I applauded them for dropping the dated promotional campaign of hiring models to look like Lara Croft. For too long, most of the focus felt like it was directed towards the models instead of the game she was meant to be advertising.

Gearbox Software has announced a similar campaign for Borderlands 2 and are asking via their website (spotted by Kotaku) for any Lilith look-a-likes to step forward. Where this differs from what Eidos where doing up until only a few years ago is that whoever is picked to portray Lilith will actually become part of the game as an NPC that players (presumably) interact with. The request on Gearbox’s site is as follows:

Do you want to be a character in a video game? We’re looking for someone to become Lilith from Borderlands. If hired, you will appear in the game, Borderlands 2, as the live action version of the character. Additionally, you may be invited to participate in promotional events and trade shows.

It’s not a competition either, the developer will pay the live-action Lilith a thousand bucks per day and state this is a job opportunity for anyone – well, any lady – aged between 18 and 30. I fit within the latter category but certainly not the former. Not with this beard! My hope is that the chosen model will be able to properly represent Borderlands 2 and be a purposeful inclusion within the storyline, so any promotional material – and we’re bound to get plenty – this casting call produces will be relevant to the game instead of simply ‘some chick in tatty clothing with funky coloured hair’. I’ve always had a soft spot for Borderlands and indeed the character Lilith as I thought the way she spoke and laughed during combat added a real human quality to the character. This could certainly further that feeling. Then again, it could easily just become ‘some chick in tatty clothing with funky coloured hair’.

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Battlefield 3(60)

The mediocre single player campaign in Battlefield 3 didn’t put off a number of gamers over the weekend who picked up a copy of the game. I’d imagine the reason for this was because very few of those early adopters give two hoots about solo play and were keen to kick some arse online. With marginally more robust service and arguably greater number of shooter fans, the Xbox 360 version dominated UK retail sales gobbling 53 per cent of the delicious money pie. But those players weren’t too pleased when the servers crapped out forcing them to experience the weakest part of Battlefield 3, the single player mode. That is if they felt like sticking with it at all. Not the best start for EA and their desperate (and a little one-sided) battle with Activision to be publisher of the greatest FPS. Still, the sales were positive and from what I hear, all is well when trying to get online so give it a few days and all will be forgotten. Though it does make the online pass packed with nearly all games seem a little ironic.

Interestingly enough, one of the biggest games this year may have sold the best on the Xbox 360 but it’s Sony that is selling more consoles in the European territory. So far, the PS3 has sold around 3.5 million units whereas both Xbox 360 and Wii are hovering at the 2 million mark. Does that mean these kinds of games are more profitable on the Xbox 360? The figures to suggest that’s where publishers should maybe focus their attention when doing timed exclusive DLC – a practice becoming more and more common. Microsoft were smart enough to snatch up all of the Call of Duty DLC packs first until 2012 but Sony are offering patrons the chance to download all the Battlefield 3 DLC a week earlier than the Xbox 360 and PC. In contrast, the fact that Battlefield 3 sold better on Microsoft’s format may also suggest gamers are getting tired of such exclusivity deals and will buy a game for whatever they feel most comfortable on.

David Cage gets heavy

David Cage, head of Quantic Dream and maker of Heavy Rain doesn’t want your money. That’s not why he got into video game development. He wants to build that brand that is ‘David Cage’ and create brand new IPs rather than revisiting existing ones. In an interview with Develop, Cage spoke of how there definitely won’t be a sequel to Heavy Rain, despite selling so well and being an unlikely poster boy for some of the first Move supported games. He said that he wasn’t in the business to make money and wrote Heavy Rain because he was excited about the idea and wanted to tell a that story. Now the story has been told, Cage sees no reason to go back to it and prefers instead to focus the energy of Quantic Dream into making ground-breaking concepts.

On release, Heavy Rain was a fantastic showcase for Sony and the PS3, with stunning graphics and a story that was truly mature, tackling subject matter that wouldn’t normally be found in a video game. The plan was to support the game with DLC furthering the story and the characters personalities but only one was actually made available as the studio was persuaded to develop Move functionality. Sony didn’t seem to bothered but the halt of Heavy Rain and nor does Cage who once famously said (and now claims he was mis-quoted) that you should only play Heavy Rain once and live the the story and consequences you chose the first time around. As tempted as I have been to go back to it, I’ve only ever played it though the one time and agree with Cage that there really is no reason other than a wallet-padding to go back to that world.

Cage added how he sees himself as more of an author and regardless of him celebrating his 42nd birthday this year, he hasn’t lost the spark or passion for game design and isn’t yet worried about concentrating on making money in order to fund his family. Maybe Cage should have a chat to his colleague Guillaume de Fondaumiere about the money making abilities of Heavy Rain. Just this month, Fondaumiere criticised the second-hand market for losing him and the studio upwards of €10 million in royalties because a rough estimation showed that 2 million people bought Heavy Rain whereas 3 million actually played it. The way I saw it, a further 1 million people were exposed to the work of Quantic Dream, potentially expanding the audience for whatever they make next.

Back in March, Cage’s talk at GDC caused quite a stir when he begged for the industry to make games for adults, not teenagers and forget the preconceived ideas of how to make a game – boss battles, levels, points, shooting, missions etc – and think of games in a totally different way. This latest chat with Develop echoes these sentiments but also adds even more pressure for the next Quantic Dream game to be as forward-thinking as Heavy Rain was. The fact that it’s not Heavy Rain 2 is a very good start.

The PSVita may support older games and last longer than five hours

Back in June, a Japanese research company asked a collection of potential 3DS owners why they weren’t buying the handheld. The number one reason was its cost and now that’s been cut so dramatically, presumably some of those questioned are now owners of Nintendo’s new handheld. That is unless it was the weak battery life which put them off. It was number nine on the list and the actual gameplay time Nintendo say is capable on the 3DS is between three and eight hours.

Not quite the seemingly endless amount previous DS systems could run for but it may just end up being longer than what the PSVita can do. As part of the 2011 Tokyo Game Show, Sony has announced that its new portable machine will last somewhere between three and five hours depending on what you’re doing on it. If you’re offline, have the screen brightness at default, refrain from using Bluetooth and the built-in speakers opting for headphones instead, consumers should expect three to five hour gaming sessions. If you fancy oggling a film or two on the rather nice OLED display, the PSVita tops around five hours and for music alone it’s more like nine hours.

Though not quite the numbers wanted, there’s only so much a humble rechargeable battery can do and the PSVita is certainly a powerful beast. It’s a shame that from what Sony are saying, playing games with a brightened screen and online will lesson the battery life even more but when the PSVita is being touted as a portable PS3, it’s annoying but somewhat understandable.

Much like Sony’s other TGS announcement. It’s been promised that the PSVita will support older PSP titles and those downloaded from PSN will be retrofitted to use the second analog stick. But what of the numerous disc-based UMD games? Some of them never made it to PSN, will PSVita owners be able to get their hands on them too? Sony’s answer: maybe (via Kotaku). As of now, they’re thinking of solutions for gamers with solely UMD collections who want to upgrade to the PSVita but have said little else on the matter. To me, it sounds an awful lot like the promises made around the early days of the PSPgo. Back then we were led to believe a programme would be put in place for a UMD conversion programme however due to legal and technical issues, Sony abandoned the idea. But, as neat as the PSPgo was, it was never at the forefront of Sony’s long term strategies whereas the PSVita is. It’s their next portable, the PSP2 in fact and they want it to be big. So migrating the old audience from PSP to Vita is essential and if it means coming up with some crazy scheme then a crazy scheme we can certainly expect.

The return of the Wii

This year’s Gamescom, which is still in full swing, looks to be all about the shrinking of SKUs and their price tags. Sony announced a price drop on the PS3 to around £200 for the model with the smallest HDD (160GB) as well as the bizarre relaunched PSP which will have no Wifi connectivity, only UMDs and will cost £90. The move is a complete 180 to their last push for the PSP, the PSPgo that famously had no UMD support in an effort to create a market similar to that of Apple and Android where all games are bought digitally via PSN. That, for lack of a better word, failed leaving Sony to turn back to good old UMDs. After all, some companies didn’t even release their games onto PSN but did have disc-based versions. I can’t help but think Sony are flogging a dead horse by releasing yet another PSP when the PSVita is just around the corner but getting a device under £100 does strange things to people and seems to instigate fresh interest in old hardware. Good luck to them, the PSP was a great little handheld and deserved more support than it received.

Speaking of wanting to revitalise a disappearing platform, Nintendo too had a relaunch of their own, the new smaller Wii. It also looses something from the previous model, the ability to play GameCube games. That’s probably not a big deal what with some of the more popular titles having Wii ports and like Sony, Nintendo are hoping to do what they can to gain the most money out of the last few official months of a product’s lifecycle and streamlining features means less cost to produce and more profit to sell.

Along with the revealing of another Wii was the confirmation that The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword will be coming to stores on November 18th (20th in the US). Because of this, plus a price drop and the release of a new model, general manager of Nintendo Germany has told Reuters (via GoNintendo) that he believes the Wii will have a healthy and profitable Christmas:

“We have seen an enormous increase in sales since [the price cut] and this gives us another indication of what will happen in the Christmas season.”

It’s a definite possibility since many Wii owners have been clambering for the next home Zelda game ever since they finished Twilight Princess (I know I have) but most likely these people already own a Wii so won’t pick up a new console. That is unless they sold theirs after the lack of titles caused it to gain dust under the TV. A price drop and redesign could them see a lot of ex Wii owners pick up another console just to play Skyward Sword and then hopefully go on to play the other great games they’ve been missing, Like Donkey Kong Country Returns and GoldenEye 007 Wii. I am a little dubious as to whether consumers will buy a Wii just on the strength that it’s cheaper and smaller because the insane eBay bids and hysteria surrounding the system not too long ago would suggest anyone who really wanted a Wii already has one. But sales figures and the power of a brand often surprises me so who knows, this Christmas may be the right time for a lot of hesitant families to finally grab themselves a slice of Nintendo pie.

But that does bring up another question. If the new Wii does indeed sell exceptionally well would that impact the launch of the WiiU? There’s yet to be any firm date for the tablet-controlled console so Nintendo could still shuffle their early 2012 plans for hardware and unknown whether the sudden and severe price reduction on the 3DS has forced them to rethink the RRP for the WiiU. Nintendo may not have the luxury anymore to launch a device and make turn a profit straight away so if the GameCube-less Wii boosts sales they may want to coast on it until the very last minute. Then again, there’s pressure from Sony who are set to release the PSVita towards the end of the year in Japan and Q1 2012 for the rest of the world. The ability to link the PSVita to a PS3 would make it a potential competitor to the WiiU so Nintendo might not want to wait too long before unleashing their HD beast. So may questions, so many ‘what ifs’ but one thing’s for sure, the 3DS should enjoy a decent holiday. That at least is a little more certain.

3DS gets a price drop already?

If I can afford it, I tend to be one of the early adopters of hardware, eager to dabble in the latest gaming tech. I know it’s an expensive habit but if I save all my pennies long enough in advance of a system launch, then a new system I shall have. After all, no company drops the price of a new piece of hardware for a fair amount of time right? Well, that used to be the case until the struggling sales of 3DS has forced Nintendo to cut around a third off the RRP less than five months after its release on August 12th (via Eurogamer).

As you can imagine, day-one buyers will probably be a little pissed at the news. I know I am. Not because I don’t think the 3DS was worth the £200 I paid but because if I were a patient man, I could have saved myself a few quid. Nintendo have acknowledged the potential upset they’ve caused with the announcement saying:

“We are aware this may cause you, the loyal fans who supported Nintendo 3DS from the beginning, to lose trust in us, and this is not our intention in any way.”

And before out of pocket supporters claimed death to Nintendo, the humbled company revealed something called The Ambassador program. Anyone who buys a 3DS before the price drop will get ten exclusive GameBoy Advance games via the Virtual Console for free. The full list hasn’t been revealed just yet but so far Yoshi’s Island: Super Mario Advance 3, Mario Kart: Super Circuit, Metroid Fusion, WarioWare and Mario vs. Donkey Kong are all confirmed. But the apologetic gifts don’t stop there, Ambassadors will also be given ten free NES games like Super Mario Bros., Donkey Kong Jr. and The Legend of Zelda.

Now I know the prospect of having cold hard cash is always better than being given a bunch of old games but all that have been announced so far are some of Nintendo’s best. It certainly makes me feel a bit better about the whole thing knowing that 20 classic titles will be winging their way to me in the next couple of months without costing me any extra. Well, other than about a third of the price of a 3DS that is.

Rockstar Sydney. An impossible dream

It’s an understatement to say the working relationship between Rockstar Games and Team Bondi was a troublesome one at best but it now appears the controversial publisher is so unhappy with the L.A. Noire developer, that they won’t be publishing their next game. The whole debacle began last month when IGN posted a story about why it took the Sydney-based studio so long to develop L.A. Noire, detailing the seven long years of what can only be described as a living nightmare. Eleven ex Team Bondi staffers gave anonymous testimonials of the abusive working conditions for them and hundreds of other colleagues that included ridiculous working hours with an almost mandatory overtime and weekend schedule, terrible management and a boss, Brendan McNamara, who was one of the angriest persons you could meet.

Since then, the story from IGN has gained momentum with the International Game Developer’s Association (IGDA) currently investigating these claims of an unacceptable working environment. McNamara was approached by IGN for comment where he gave an interview saying things like “I’m not in any way upset or disappointed by what I’ve done and what I’ve achieved,” and “If you wanted to do a nine-to-five job, you’d be in another business,” adding how he also would stay late, work the 110 hour weeks some of the former staff members claimed. It was his blasé attitude towards the situation which angered followers of the story even more.

Two more ex employees have come forward (via Gamesindustry.biz) with their accounts and it was one of these sources who revealed just how bad things have become for Team Bondi. “I’ve heard a lot about Rockstar’s disdain for Team Bondi, and it has been made quite clear that they will not publish Team Bondi’s next game,” they said. “Team Bondi are trying to find another publisher for their next title, but the relationship with Rockstar has been badly damaged – Brendan treats L.A. Noire like a success due to his vision but I think Rockstar are the ones who saved the project. They continued to sink money into L.A. Noire, and their marketing was fantastic. Without their continued support, Team Bondi would have gone under several years ago.” The marketing from Rockstar was very well done and by the time L.A. Noire was due for release, everybody knew its name, helping it sell millions of units over its first weekend.

But marketing wasn’t the only thing Rockstar helped out with. The two anonymous voices spoke of the massive contribution Rockstar gave towards the game’s development, especially over the last two years overruling “many of the insane decisions made by Team Bondi management.” This only fuelled tensions between management and Rockstar because of the publisher’s frustration with Team Bondi’s direction which in turn caused Team Bondi’s management to resent Rockstar for taking away most of their control. Things became very ugly indeed. At one point, Rockstar were planning on turning Team Bondi into Rockstar Sydney, something pretty much everyone expected them to do after playing the game. However, the closer they worked, the more it was apparent this will never happen.

With all the troubles between studio and publisher coming to light, it’s clearer now why L.A. Noire although brilliant in some places, is broken in many others. The open-world elements don’t really work and feel out of place plus the added ‘gamey’ features like having very right or wrong paths when questioning people jarred with the rest of the experience. Who’s directly to blame will, for now, remain a mystery but the disgruntled staff have only been singing Rockstar’s praises so far if that helps with your own personal conclusions. It’s a massive shame that development a game like L.A. Noire had to end in such an unpleasant fashion and that Rockstar have pretty much washed their hands of the studio. For all its faults, L.A. Noire has been able to elevate the industry in some form or another and has had far reaching effects that we’ll likely be seeing in future titles. It’s worth adding that Team Bondi’s next game may not be a sequel to the 40’s crime drama and that Rockstar could be still on board if there is ever to be one. As the source said, they poured considerable money and time into it so it might be worth putting up with an allegedly terrible management team in order to be part of a potentially powerful franchise. Then again, now they’re out, they may just want to stay out.