Hooray! Overpriced DLC goes on sale…

Need for Speed World is part of EA’s mission to try and conquer Free-to-Play gaming. It’s a part of the video game market which can be very profitable for a publisher even though a good chunk of it is, as its title suggests, free to play. The best way of clawing back development and maintenance costs; vanity items. Like pieces of armor, weaponry or in Need for Speed World‘s case, a ridiculously expensive virtual car. Released last Wednesday for the year plus PC racer, the Koenigsegg CCX Elite Edition will set you back $100 unless of course you grab it now because the kind old folks at EA are selling it for just $75 (via Gamespot). Baffling when you think Free-to-Play items are also know as micro-transactions. There’s nothing micro about that price.

The Koenigsegg CCX Elite Edition is said to be the first premium elite car which would mean that more offensively priced DLC will be coming to the 5 million users of NfSW. Of course no one is forcing players to buy the cars but it certainly adds to EA’s reputation of being rapacious.  Just the other week they announced a subscription-based version of Tetris. Never mind that Tetris can be found on every platform known to man, in the iOS version you can now sign up to paying $3 a month or $30 a year for exclusive discounts, challenges and a booster to speed up level progression. Because levelling up is what Tetris is all about…

Stories like these are the kind of thing usually saved for April Fool’s day when companies can announced insane ideas and promotions with consumers chuckling at the stupidity and forgetting it the very next day. But this time the stories are true and it’s EA who look like the fools to me.

Epoch-olypse

I have often expressed my disinterest in Smartphone and tablet games that try and replicate traditional buttons virtually. Very few have worked and even less have had any kind of lasting appeal for me. Simple finger swipes and taps are what work best and with the App Store crammed with awkward on-screen controllers, it’s always nice when a game comes along that promises something different. Uppercut Games are doing just that with their upcoming shooter, Epoch, which will be available from November 10th.

Epoch has been developed on the ever popular Unreal Engine and if one mechanic is synonymous with that engine it’s a cover system and Epoch is all about taking cover and taking out enemies when it’s tactical to do so. The post-apocalyptic setting may not be the most original and the Gears style combat is often mimicked but from what I’ve seen of Epoch, the fun comes from the aerobatic manoeuvres of the robot you control as it works its way through various arenas battling the hordes of approaching enemies (check out the pre-launch trailer here). I do like a good horde mode in any game so one that is boasting the ability to do this on the go with simple and intuitive controls has got me interested. The story? the press release states Epoch definitely has one but “Uncovering the mystery is part of the fun, so the best way to find out more is to play the game.” Uppercut Games aren’t discussing whether Epoch is to have in-app purchases or multiplayer but the fact they’re not giving an outright ‘no’ would suggest that both will be coming at some point.

Apple, in ten years time, all this will be yours…

Phil Harrison helped the launch of the original PlayStation all those years ago and was on board right up until the early days of the PS3 where he once famously said rumble for controllers was ‘so last-gen’. But poor Harrison was merely playing the PR game and only said that because Sony was in the middle of a legal battle and not his true feelings. Now he’s no longer at Sony but an advisory for a cloud-based delivery network, Harrison’s thoughts aren’t murky with legalities but clear and most recently, rather divisive.

In an interview by Edge magazine a couple of weeks ago Harrison spoke about future of gaming and how, in ten years time, Apple will eventually become the games industry. Why? Because of the “proliferation of devices,” he said. “You’ve got iPhones, iPads, iPods, which are all part of the same ecosystem; the speed at which Apple sold 15 million iPads is phenomenal. And the number one activity on an iPad, according to some reports, is games, and I think that will only continue.” He went on to praise the App Store for how well it’s integrated and how easy it is to buy things. One click and you have content straight to the device. Harrison called it elegant and continuously refined but as an owner of Apple products, I’m not sure elegancy is a word I’d use.

But it’s the talk of Apple becoming the industry because of the size of its market which is really interesting. With that logic surely the Wii is currently the console industry, Primark is the epitome of fashion and Call of Duty: Black Ops is the best game ever made. Sheer volume doesn’t directly equate to an absolution of an industry. Yes, it means those markets are currently healthy but I would propose the notion that it shows Apple are capable of making a powerful entertainment device which gaming is a by-product. Apple’s approach to gaming, best seen in their press conferences, isn’t one that fills me with confidence of an overall take over of the video games industry. They talk about it but with the mediocre response to Game Centre, the praise and boasting, what little there is, centres around the tech driving it not the experience itself.

Other companies have done well to capitalise on the success of iPhones and iPads  but there is still a huge separation between the majority of games you find on those systems and the ones seen on traditional consoles. Often they try and emulate each other with varying results. One major issue, which is pointed out time and time again, is the lack of a physical controller, mainly the analog stick. Look how important it was for Sony to include a second stick on the PSVita and how awkward it can be for virtual versions to run on touchscreens. To become not just a leader but an industry itself, you’d have to better what came before and that goes for all aspects, not just sell lots of your device.

Mobile developers and publishers can be handsomely rewarded for their games but the 59p model does come with a few restrictions. Lets say the average gamer buys three titles a year and spends £120 doing so. Compare this to a purely mobile gamer who buys 59p games. They have to buy 203 of them in order to match the average gamer’s spend. And while there maybe well over 203 budget titles hitting the App store each month, that shows another problem with this market, it’s almost too big for its own good. Perusing a bloated store with games of drastically varying quality can only take up so much of anyone’s time before it becomes laborious. There would have to be some major changes in how the App Store works over the next ten years for it to be the ultimate place to shop. In that time who knows, Sony and Nintendo could perfect their digital distribution methods. We’ve already seen a huge improvement from Nintendo with the eShop on 3DS.

There’s no denying the popularity of Apple products. Selling 15 million iPads in nine months is superb but Microsoft are shifting a ridiculous number of Kinects with around 10 million of them already in homes worldwide. Is that too a contender for games industry? There’s no doubt Apple have been eating away at the traditional gaming space and the 59p experience has changed the habits of spending but I don’t know if ten years is enough for it to go from where it is now to ruling the entire industry, supporting the kinds of games found on todays consoles and PCs. I do like Phil Harrison, I think he’s a great personality and was a valuable asset to Sony but have to agree to disagree with him on this one.

iOS enters the third dimension

Vodpod videos no longer available.

Companies like Sony and Nintendo are defiant that in one way or another, 3D entertainment is the future. The former relies on fancy TVs, glasses and a PS3 whereas the latter is marketing their latest handheld, the 3DS, as a better alternative, doing away with the need for glasses and instead using a dual-layered screen to generate 3D images. But what if you didn’t need either or those solutions? A pair or developers from the University Joseph Fourier have created a tech demo for iOS devices that creates the illusion of 3D on existing 2D Apple hardware (via Slide to Play).

The App called i3D (available on the App Store now) was developed by Jeremie Francone and Laurence Nigay and uses the front-facing camera to track your face as move the device around. Since your head stays still (or at least should), i3D changes the on-screen image in real time according to its position relative to your head. Or, to put it another way, iPad 2 or iPhone 4 + i3D + head = 3D images. The video above shows just how impressive the demo is at the moment and the potential for this kind of technology rather than investing in expensive glasses or multi-layered screens. The downside – other than i3D currently only showing five proof of concepts, one of which being Mii heads so it’ll probably be pulled soon – is that no matter how cool this kind of thing is, it’s generally seen as a gimmick. Nintendo’s previous DS has a DSiWare title called Looksley’s Line Up or 3D Hidden Picture in Japan, that was pretty neat but puzzlingly not a concept adopted by other developers. Maybe now that i3D has been made for iOS devices, there’ll be more interest from smaller indie studios who regularly create iPhone games. I hope so because in the right hands this kind of thing could be awesome.

The Wii’s second coming

Another year, another build up to E3 kick starting with rumours of a Wii successor featuring HD capabilities. This week saw magazine Game Informer reveal via their website how multiple, anonymous sources told them of a Wii 2 or Wii HD as it’s been affectionately called in previous rumours. The sources spouted conflicting details but the ability to display high definition visuals was apparently said by all with graphics comparable to the Xbox 360 and PS3. As soon as the Game Informer story broke, CVG had a similar one with yet more faceless industry personnel claiming a HD Wii is in development adding how the system will have an all new controller with a built-in HD screen to boot. They also said the new Wii will be backward compatible which is one of the few pieces of data you can be sure of in this whole story. Nintendo have made sure there is some form of backward compatibility to their consoles for quite some time so one thing that a second Wii would have is the ability to play Wii games.

Stepping up the CVG rumour is 01net.com, a French gaming stating the new controller is actually a tablet with buttons, like an iPad though hopefully not as big. The idea of using a tablet as a controller just seems backwards when there are tablet/touchscreen games that poorly try and mimic a traditional controller. If true it suggests Nintendo are going after yet another market, not content with those acquired by the Wii’s family-friendly games and hoping to win back those who left after buying iPads or iPhones. They do like playing with the pre-conceived notions of controllers however so a tablet isn’t an unordinary progression.

When I first saw the Wii remote I thought Nintendo had lost it but instead they changed the face of console gaming forever. But that was almost five years ago and things are a little different now. Every console has motion controls and two out of the three are already HD. 01net.com say the innards the console, code named Project Cafe, are similar to an Xbox 360 which would make for some very nice graphics and easier porting for developers though there would have to be more to it than that. Like I say, we have HD motion-controlled games and they’re doing very well. Kinect has sold over ten million units in a matter of months so what would be the draw of Project Cafe? Most likely its games, specifically Nintendo produced games which are some of the best in the industry. It’s no secret that Nintendo’s systems are beloved for their Marios and Zeldas but, according to the rumours, third parties are receiving a lot of support with the likes of EA and Activision already tinkering with dev kits for the system. The move to HD could also reduce the amount of shovelware titles that have plagued Nintendo platforms as it adds a higher development cost for games.

Lets hope the Aztecs did indeed make a few mathematical errors because Project Cafe, which is a ridiculous name by the way, is supposedly launching late 2012 and the anonymous sources are going wild for it : “Nintendo is doing this one right…[it’s] not a gimmick like the Wii,” was heard. Gimmick is a little harsh for something that may not have been revolutionary but certainly was pioneering. Nintendo have been adamant that a lack of HD isn’t a major concern for their audiences and would only include it if the time was right. Now it seems that time isn’t just right but desperately needed. I would be surprised is Nintendo didn’t announce a new piece of hardware at E3 and wonder if they can steal the show this year too. Only a couple of months to go until we find out and I’m sure they’ll be filled with more rumours of a HD Wii too.

Your definitive way to play

In an effort to boost their status within the gaming community, Apple have hired two key members from Nintendo and Activision to help promote the iOS as the definitive gaming platform. Robert Saunders, who is currently working for Nintendo UK, is leaving to join Apple at the end of April for a PR position specifically created to focus on Apps while Activision’s PR director Nick Grange will look after iPad hardware (via Appleinsider).

The creation of both positions and head-hunting of two traditional video game veterans shows Apple’s dedication to iOS and the devices it’s found on. But they’re going to have a hard time convincing the sternest of critics that iPads and iPhones have become the definitive way to play games. It’s true, iOS games are vast in quantity with more and more people using them for entertainment purposes however that doesn’t necessarily make them replacements for console and PCs just yet. If such a claim is to be based on the sheer number of players, Facebook would surely be on top with Farmville and Cityville leading the way. Regardless of semantics, we still have a clear divide between the casual and hardcore audiences because of the kinds of experiences that appeal to each demographic. An overwhelming majority of iOS games are of a shorter bite-sized nature and even the grander ones work better when split up this way. Controls have become a big issue too with mechanics and gameplay being scaled down to make up for a lack of precision.

I’m not against this type of game, far from it if you see some of the games covered in my review section but everything has its place within the industry. In a report from the end of last year, Smartphone gaming has risen 43.8 percent whereas those found on DS and PSP fell 13 percent. Great news for Apple and Android for that matter but being mobile phones, it’s a hell of a lot easier to get into hands than it is for systems that predominately focus on video games. They are a threat, no doubt about it just as is the iPad with a recent survey showing 84 percent of owners using the tablet for gaming. Whether or not those games are comparable to ones found on traditional platforms is still to be understood but the potential market is growing seemingly everyday. I’m yet to be convinced that the iOS can be considered definitive but I’m keen to see how Saunders and Grange try and prove that it is. Who knows, they may just win me over forcing me to eat my words good and proper. To be honest I’d rather that and have more quality gaming experiences than the alternative.

The force is weak with this one

UPDATE: Because of all the noise Kotaku made when reporting the pulling of Star Wars Arcade: Falcon Gunner, LucasArts has allowed the game to stay on the App Store. For now. There may not be any kind of timescale for when the game has to come off but you can be sure that one day it will so if you’re at al interested, you may want to pick it up sooner rather than later. The cynic in me is saying the move is nothing more than a publicity stunt aimed at obtaining those last few purchases while the situation is still fresh in our minds. The rest of me thinks it’s LucasArts doing something cool for someone else.

In November last year, I reported about an iPhone game that uses the Star Wars license in a new and interesting way by incorporating an Augmented Reality feature. Star Wars Arcade: Falcon Gunner put you in the seat of the Millennium Falcon’s gun turrets, filling the screen with TIE fighters as you twist and turn to shoot them all down. I bought it, I played it. It’s cool though my compass kept crapping out on me obscuring the view for some reason but still, SWA:FG is a fun and innovative little shooter. Or it least it will be remembered that way because come March 31st, the game will be yanked from the App Store, possibly for good (via Kotaku).

The reason isn’t sinister or anything to do with Apple themselves but an unfortunate loss of licensing. THQ Wireless who had held the right to distribute Vertigore’s Falcon Gunner which uses the intellectual property of LucasArts. But THQ have lost those rights meaning the distribution of games using it has to stop. In the world where that distribution is digital, Falcon Gunner will simply disappear. If you already own it like I do, fear not, nothing is going to happen to your copy or at least that’s the general consensus, it just won’t be able to be downloaded ever again.

Why this particularly sucks is how it highlights one of the problems to a future where games are sold only via digital distribution like some industry insiders believe will happen. With a physical disc, you’re more likely to find a copy kicking around in various locations if production halts or you could even borrow it from a mate. It’s a lot harder if not impossible to do the same when the process is purely digital.