That’s a lot of map packs…

Nowadays I often get the feeling that the words Call of Duty are likened to a particularly nasty phrase or that one swearword that everyone feels ashamed to say in public. Most comments and chatter among hardcore enthusiasts is that Battlefield 3 will be superior and the overpriced DLC and exploitation of a franchise has made Call of Duty a place where few wish to tread. However, the fault doesn’t squarely lie at the feet of Activision because it appears no matter how much they charge, people are willing to pay.

At an investors event yesterday, Activision ceo Eric Hirshberg made a lot of attendees smile manically as he revealed a whopping 18 million map packs have been sold for Black Ops making the company a teeny bit richer. The packs sell for around $15 each so times that by 18 million and your calculator just may melt in the process. Compare that to the previous Call of Duty games and it shows how popular Black Ops has become. Treyarch’s World at War sold nine million map packs in the same amount of time as Black Ops and Modern Warfare 2 sold eleven million. The former went for $10 a pop whereas from MW2 onwards, packs have become the now standard $15.

Critically, Black Ops wasn’t as loved as Modern Warfare 2 and the fact that Treyarch, thought of as the ‘B-team’ studio, worked on meant those who cared where slightly dubious of its quality. I may not have enjoyed Black Ops as much as MW2 but it was still an enjoyable game and clearly more favoured by the larger mainstream audience. Hirshberg added to his earlier claim saying how consumer engagement is at an all time high, making people think twice about brandishing the franchise as one that is on its way out:

“There are over 30 million unique players of Black Ops who collectively have amassed, incredibly, more than 2.3 billion hours of play. To put that number in perspective, that’s more than a quarter of a million years of play and that means our millions of fans spend more time per day on Black Ops multiplayer than they do on Facebook.”

So where does that leave Call of Duty? With figure like this it certainly isn’t going anywhere soon. The paid-for stat-tracking service, Call of Duty Elite, surpassing two million Beta registrations not to mention pre-orders of Modern Warfare 3 looking to best those of Black Ops, the fall of the FPS may be a little while yet. Not that I’d want it to. Say what you will, there’s still room in the industry for games like Call of Duty and the more choice we have of what to play the better. And if we’re pissed at high prices for DLC map packs unfortunately we only have ourselves to blame. Well, maybe not directly…

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GoldenEye 007 Reloaded is real, people

UPDATE: Activision put out a press release today confirming the existence of the game and how it’ll be running on a brand new engine. But the graphics won’t be the only new aspect. Here’s the most interesting chunk of the press release: GoldenEye 007: Reloaded is a contemporary James Bond experience featuring HD visuals and realistic environments running at 60-frames per second, akin to today’s elite action games. Additional to the legendary story campaign, the game introduces the brand new ‘Mi6 Ops Missions’ – new, distinct levels separate from the campaign that span the varied environments from the story and challenge players to complete different Assault, Elimination, Stealth and Defence objectives. GoldenEye 007: Reloaded also takes multiplayer to new heights, maintaining and improving its renowned four-player split-screen action and adding full, adrenaline-pumping 16-player online matches with more maps, weapons, characters and game modes than ever before.”

ORIGINAL STORY: A good few weeks ago there was some stirring online about something called GoldenEye 007: Reloaded which slipped out from Activision. Suffixing and name with Reloaded generally means some form of upgrade when it comes to video games and in this case, it looks like last year’s neat remake of an N64 classic is to be remade all over again.

GoldenEye 007 for the Wii was a fun FPS that took the original ideas from the iconic N64 launch game and amended them to fit within the contemporary Bond timeline. As always, there was grumbling from ‘hardcore’ fans who were desperate for the ill-fated HD port of Rare’s GoldenEye to become a reality but since that simply will never happen (too many companies hold separate chunks of the IP for it to ever come out) GoldenEye 007 was considered a suitable alternative. I enjoyed it and like the glory days of my youth, its multiplayer component was hugely entertaining. From the screenshots bagged by Videogamer.com, Reloaded appears to hoik up the graphics for a release of the remake onto PS3 and Xbox 360. But little more is known of the project just yet with more details said to be coming in the next few days at the San Diego Comic Con so there could be more additions other than sparkly new visuals (interestingly enough, the Wii game used the same heavily altered IW Engine which ran the SD Call of Duty games. This could mean the HD GoldenEye 007 would use the original IW Engine).

Even though I already own the Wii version, I may have to pick this one up too. Like I said, I really enjoyed playing it on the Wii but it came at a cost; the controller. Choosing not to re-learn how to play an FPS using the Wii remote and nunchuck, I bought a Classic Controller which did work well but still not as comfortable as an Xbox 360 pad and subsequently shortened my playtime. My fingers are crossed that the transition to HD consoles brings with it a tightening of controls on the relevant pads. And anyone grumbling how GoldenEye 007 Reloaded still won’t be close enough to the N64 version, this is probably the closest you’re ever going to get.

Keep preying

The end of early Xbox 360 FPS Prey left the (portal) door wide open for a sequel. With nearly five years passing by, it seems now Bethesda will be responsible for publishing Prey 2, announced in French gaming magazine, Joystick (via Kotaku). 2K Games had the honour the first time around but Bethesda Softworks secured the rights to the franchise which follows native American Tommy as he fights off an alien invasion, getting to grips with their gravity shifting and seldom used portal technology.

Prey wasn’t an outstanding game but did prove popular due to the time it was released. It appeared when the 360 was still young and lacked games so owners would gravitate to whatever happened to be coming out. I was one of those people and luckily had a blast with Prey though the treatment of death wasn’t all that fun. The idea was cool, how you don’t die but are taken to another realm where you have to shoot spirits to replenish your health and are then transported back into the real world. It did’t quite work because it made the threat of death somewhat inconsequential. I’d quite like to see if this gets rectified in the sequel which is yet to have a release date but probable for late 2011, early 2012.

The dragonborn

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For a long time The Elder Scrolls V was hinted to be in development but other than a fanboys hope, there was little else to go on. So when Bethesda’s Todd Howard took to the stage at last year’s VGAs I knew what was coming and I almost fell out of my seat in excitement – yes I’m that sad. This November sees the release of The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, a game whose teaser trailer showed almost nothing of what the final product would be. It was probable that the first person/third person camera would remain as would a fantasy setting. But even with some early screenshots, I had no idea Bethesda were making deals with the Gods in order for Skyrim to look as good as it does in its debut gameplay trailer above. Ditching the Gamebryo and opting to use a new purpose built engine is seemingly has paid off with silky smooth animations and a third person view that doesn’t appear as if the player is skidding on an ice rink. The lighting and textures make the environments look, for lack of a better word, beautiful. There’s even a glimpse at the combat, both magical and weapon-based with the latter having a finishing move of sorts. Around the 1:45 point, the left hero’s hand grabs his foe using his right hand equipped with a sword to end the battle. The two minute mark shows an interesting clip too. After slaying a dragon, the hero stands on its corpse with the beasts essence flowing into him. Could this be some kind of new skill to absorb skills or similar from downed enemies? Intriguing… If the trailer is anything to go by and I imagine it would be, The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim may have gained a number of new people clambering for November to hurry up so they can lose themselves in another Bethesda RPG. I know I am.

EA loses faith

Aw, now this brings a tear to my eye. Just one mind you because the end of the first game really did my head in! I’m talking about the apparent cease to development of Mirror’s Edge 2 by EA. According to Press 2 Play (via Videogamer), the publisher was shown a prototype of ME2 but they didn’t like what they saw and canned it instead of allowing DICE to continue with the project. The team behind it are now moved on to another game, most likely to help out with Battlefield 3 since Riccetiello wants nothing more than to dominate the FPS genre.

It’s a shame that Mirror’s Edge as a franchise has not been allowed to develop even though it was full of great ideas. The biggest problem was how it confused audiences with what it was trying to be. Adding a shooting element was unnecessary and poorly implemented so those going into the game thinking it was a FPS left feeling bitter and disappointed. For what it was, a Parkour adventure game, it was really good and the kind of game that would transcend brilliantly into a beefier, better sequel. Sadly, this hasn’t been allowed to happen in a market where low sales can mean the end to an otherwise fun experience. I hope EA eventually do revisit the IP, remove the combat and pinch a few ideas from Assassin’s Creed. That would be cool but unlikely. Sigh.

Come get some balls of steel

Over at VG247, they found an image, presumably from a source of off the tinterweb, of what appears to be a special edition of Duke Nukem Forever. The Balls of Steel edition contains art cards, an art book, a comic, two poker chips, a pack of cards, dice, a bust of Duke and certificate of authenticity. Lord only knows how much it’ll cost but making such a extravagant edition of a game that has had so many development struggles and an ever decreasing franchise fan base is mighty silly to me. Previews of Duke Nukem Forever are pretty good with the general consensus being that it’s a decent laugh so no doubt that will have brought back a few stragglers who are writing it off before it’s released but I can’t imagine a Balls of Steel version would be all that popular. I am excited for DNF because Gearbox make great games just not a special edition. Maybe if the art book shows the 13 years of development and the disc included playable segments of older code then yeah, I’m in. Otherwise I think I’ll stick with the standard version.

Now I am the master

Like it or loathe it, Halo is huge. Not as big regarding game sales as other popular first person shooters but the franchise, with all its toys, books, games, clothing and sponsorship deals is something many publishers would love to have (and exploit). Though, really, Halo wouldn’t be anything if it wasn’t for the lone soldier, risking his life for the fate of humanity, Master Chief and the creation of said gaming superstar began right at the conception of Halo, back when it was still a real time strategy game. In an interview with IndustryGamers, Joseph Staten from Bungie reveals how they made one of the most recognisable faces – or helmets – in recent years. Staten spoke of the importance of making a lead character because of its ability to ground players in the game’s world. For a number of years, Master Chief had no name but was always thought of as a soldier whose development was a result of his functionality within Halo, especially when the team decided to practically re-make the game as a first person shooter.

The importance of immersion is particularly apparent from Staten’s answers. It’s clear that Bungie really wanted players to make a connection with the Chief and hold onto that long after the game is finished. Unless you’re a die-hard fan and have read some of the many books and comics, it would be fair to say that not a great deal is known about Master Chief. Staten and the rest of Bungie believed keeping fans in the dark about his back story allows for an even greater level of immersion. This obviously worked and did so very well. The majority of games are all about allowing the player to become the protagonist so if you don’t know much about him or her, it’s easier to apply your own personal attributes to them. Eventually Master Chief had a real name, not just a rank (for lack of a better term), he is John. For the most part, John says relatively little even when chatting to Cortana, a character who became a source or his few comedic interactions. Bungie could have gone down the route of not having a voice actor but instead allowed the Chief to be heard, just on rare occasions. Which is cool, I can suspend disbelief and be a husky-voiced John for a few hours.

The site asked Staten why exactly they went through so much effort in making what is essentially a hand and a gun into a character with such depth – even if that depth is provided by the player themselves. He answered: “Why not? At Bungie, we make the games—and by extension, the game characters—we want to play. We think our fans are a lot like us: they want their time in games to have value, to be a personal experience that means something when they’re through. These shared expectations demanded a protagonist that was more than a bipedal platform for powerful weapons.”

Other successful, slightly ambiguous heroes like Gordon Freeman and Link also come from ground breaking games and do a lot of the same ‘tricks’ that are applied to Master Chief in order to get the player more involved. But their developers have chosen to keep them silent with the reaction of others being their voice. It’s weird, with all the customisation in games nowadays, keeping the character simple in form can provide the more involving and deeper experience. How does the old saying go? Silence speaks louder than words?

Check out the full interview, it’s really interesting stuff.