A little birdy reveals Dragon Age III. Anyone surprised?

As is the norm for modern day reveal, BioWare have chosen Twitter as a good place to coyly announce the development of Dragon Age III. Yep, a third is on the way, hot on the heels of the second which released just a few months ago. Senior director of creative development, Alistair McNally, tweeted the studio’s need for “exceptional environment artists,” purposely using the tag #DragonAge3 to cause all kinds of “OMG”s on the social site.

It’s no surprise that game number three is in the works for a franchise as popular as Dragon Age but it amused me to read the want for more environment artists after the criticisms of DA2. One of its sticking points was how you seemingly visited the same location over and over again, heavily relying on recycled backgrounds. Are BioWare looking to right the wrongs of repetition? It would appear that way.

Lets hope the team get a little longer to work on Dragon Age III than they did with the second though. A famously short development timescale soured more than an ignorable number of gamers but EA boss John Riccitiello has gone on record (via That Video Game Blog) with his desire for annualising the publisher’s top properties. That could very well mean Dragon Age, Dead Space and Medal of Honor (to name a few) would have yearly iterations instead of the 18 month – 2 year breathing space that is good for certain IPs. This may not be a such a bad thing as it clearly works for Call of Duty and sport games so why not for all types? Well we’ve seen the crushing effect of milking a franchise for all its worth with the demise of Guitar Hero and subsequently Rock Band too. Given the breadth and scope of fantasy RPGs like Dragon Age, the more time they have, they better then experience and less likely they are to have you running around a dungeon wondering whether you’ve been there before.

Still, a third Dragon Age huh? Cool. I’d best get cracking on the second one just in case it does appear around March 2012.

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The year of Assassins

With all the fuss last week about the discontinuation of Guitar Hero and Tony Hawk, you’d have thought publishers would be more cautious with their IPs and not allow them to suffer the same fate. But Ubisoft are riding high on the success of Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood which, so far has sold a whopping 6.5 million units. Sales like that mean a PC version is on the way soon and CEO Yves Guillemot revealed yesterday (via IGN) at an earnings call that 2011 will see a fourth game in the franchise, kick starting the series into becoming a yearly production. Guillemot specifically used the words “packaged title,” so it’ll either be a Brotherhood 2 or simply Assassin’s Creed 3, depending on how Ubisoft wish to continue the story, rather than a DLC offering. Guillemot refused to give any other details until May so you’ve got a few months of speculating to fill.

Back in November last year, Guillemot spoke of his interest in giving the game an annual release schedule but his latest comments have made it official. Good news for fans of the series but if anything can be learnt from the demise of Activision’s once lofty titles it’s that nothing lasts forever. It happened to Madden, it happened to FIFA and, as absurd as it may sound now, it’ll happen to Call of Duty too if Activision isn’t careful. All publishers who try and repeat their success over a relatively short timescale will find it harder and harder to do so. Assassin’s Creed is still young and evidently extremely popular but I’d hate to see it become a tired cash cow instead of the great franchise it is today.

A new Xperience

The PlayStation Phone, or Xperia Play as Sony Ericsson would prefer us to call it, is at long last official. Not rumoured or given an announcement about it being announced but official and coming to selected markets in March though from what the networks are saying, it’ll be April for the UK. The phone will be a smart one and the first smartphone Sony has produced that is affiliated with PlayStation in this way. Historically, the mobile phone devision of Sony didn’t see eye to eye with SCE so there was a divide in devises. Now we have a more harmonious company (either that or someone at the top kicked a few butts) and with the mobile market leaping forward in technology as well as popularity, it’s about time.

But is it just too late? Possibly if the Xperia came shortly after the iPhone was released then I think things would be a bit different but while some developers are still trying to make the virtual d-pad work, the best and highest ranked Apps are nearly always the ones that use a non-traditional control method. So the Xperia Play may have a built in controller, with face buttons, d-pad, touch analog sticks and shoulder buttons but it seems from sales figures that the experience a vast majority of Smartphone owners want is different from what looks to be one of the system’s selling points. Another knock is the ability to play PlayStation One games via the PlayStation Suite announced along with the NGP last month. A brilliant feature but one that is already readily available on PSPs and soon coming to other Smartphones once the upgrade to Android 2.3 is released. Okay so the Xperia Play has the benefit of real buttons though this just brings us full circle to my comments at the start of this paragraph.

Do note that I am playing devil’s advocate here. I do think that there are a good number of core gamers who have been reluctant do go anywhere near mobile gaming because of the inconsistent controls or bite-size games. To them, the Xperia Play could be a highly desirable bit of kit. Up to 50 games titles have been promised for launch including Need for Speed, Fifa 10, Assassin’s Creed, Splinter Cell and rather oddly, Guitar Hero. A 1Ghz CPU and embedded Adreno GPU graphics processor would make whatever these games end up being look pretty decent too. I, an avid iPhone enthusiast, am actually keen on seeing what the Xperia Play can offer, over and above all the bullet-points and marketing we’ve only been subjected to right now. But I have got myself in a happy little rut with my current iPhone and the App Store so it would take a fair bit of persuading for me to budge. My PSP plays PSone games and my iPhone does everything else. I’m quite content with them being separate at this moment in time though my contract is about to come up for renewal… Come on Sony, convince me (I’m a sucker for tech!)

Guitar Zero

It’s odd to think that in such a short time, a series like Guitar Hero went from being the darling of music games to a struggling shadow of its former self. Today Activision put an end to its misery and announced in a financial report (via Gamespot) that it was discontinuing Guitar Hero along with DJ Hero, a game that had a lot of promise but came out too late and too expensive for it to succeed as a profitable franchise. Current players of both will still be serviced via downloadable tracks but for the foreseeable future Activision is out of the music genre.

Another name to be affected was Tony Hawk whose games have been put on hold. Activision Publishing CEO Eric Hirshberg said “no new music or skateboarding games [are coming] in 2011,” which is a very different view from only a couple of months ago where he gave his full support to the skating star saying that the latest Tony Hawk game, Shred, still had life in it despite an incredibly poor first week of sales – just 3,000. Clearly sales didn’t pick up at all forcing the publisher to have such a sudden change of heart.

Lastly, True Crime: Hong Kong has also been cancelled before it was even released with Hirshberg saying “To be blunt, it just wasn’t going to be good enough.” He believed it didn’t have the quality to be a triple A game and those are the only things that can survive in today’s market.

A very blinkered view on an industry whose core audience is always crying out for original and innovative ideas that take rewarding risks. But said audience are quickly becoming eclipsed by those only out for the top-tier releases with a growing divide between what’s seen as an 8/10 game and a 10/10. It’s something Activision have used to their advantage and one thing they’re very good at is taking an idea, adding to that ever so slightly each year, making you want games you probably already played. It’s evident that the longer this goes on for, the less and less desirable a product becomes. Some franchises have a greater longevity than others but when two series that were once so big they started new trends and pioneered genres are killed off in one announcement, it’s more than just a sign of the times.

Rhythm-action games yet to peak

The latest issue of Edge has an interesting article about rhythm action games and whether the poor sales in 2009 is the beginning of the end for the genre. Their year-over-year sales dropped a whopping 46% in 2009 though it was the best selling genre of December so it’s not all doom and gloom. In fact, Harmonix ceo Alex Rigopulos thinks it’s quite the opposite:

“I absolutely do not believe that rhythm-action gaming has reached its peak.” Really? I do but go on; “Of course, 2009 was a tough year with the recession, which especially affects music games given the relatively high price point of instrument bundles. But in the long term, people’s passion for music isn’t going away, and rhythm gaming will continue to provide people with a deeper level of engagement with the music they love. So, yes, I do think that future music games will exceed the sales success of the last generation.”

Valid point about the recession but since gamers have broken that cycle of re-buying the same plastic guitars and drum kits not to mention how the new discs aren’t vastly different to previous year’s, is it really safe to say that future sales will exceed latter generations? Ever the ying to Harmonix yang, current Guitar Hero developers Neversoft disagree:

“As far as sales exceeding GHIII’s in the future, only time will tell, but it’s a tall order,” says project director Brian Bright “I think user-created content is key to the evolution. If you can’t create or edit licensed music due to copyright laws then you’re limited to pretending to play someone else’s music. I think the key is to create music, but make it compelling to create, so the game is in the creation, not the playback.”

Rigopulos agreed and took the opportunity to plug the Rock Band Network which allows unsigned bands to showcase their creations via Rock Band. If indeed user-created content is the future as is the popular and healthy DLC tracks then hopefully we’ll see a shift from gradually redundant disc-based rhythm games to more of an iTunes model. Like Bright says, only time will tell. Check out E211 for the full story.

Bring the beat back

Rhymes with alligator...

Remember Music 2000 for the Playstation? The game allowing gamers to create their own music on the humble PS1? Rockstar have taken that idea and ran with it creating PSP marvel Beaterator. It’s unlike the increasingly similar Guitar Heros as it’s less of a game and more of a software tool on you gaming system. Recently a copy was shown off at MTV‘s VMAs in New York receiving much interest from those who like a tune or two. Beaterator is out this Friday, October 2nd but for now, enjoy the video after the break.

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Pants!

Video game pants from Target

Do you classify yourself as a hardcore gamer? Do you wash your body with control pad soap singing the theme to Halo in the shower? If so then you probably already have a pair of these video game underpants. Joystiq spied these bad boys while shopping in their local Target and in terms of game franchises, it looks as if there are only Rock Band, Guitar Hero and Halo pants. But you can also get your hands on (no pun intended…) the Atari logo, Xbox 360 and PS3 controller underwear if you so wish. Unfortunately there doesn’t seem to be specific styles for women so no Halo thongs I’m afraid. I don’t know if that’s a pity or a blessing…