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Source: Gaming blog Kotaku.
What we heard: Since Microsoft's full-body gesture-recognition technology Kinect was released in November, it has walloped sales expectations and welcomed an array of well-reviewed titles like Dance Central and Kinectimals. Now, it appears Microsoft is readying the first hardcore entry for the new tech.
According to Kotaku's source--who claims to be familiar with the title--a Gears of War for the Kinect is in development as an on-rails shooter. Details provided to Kotaku say the Gears of War Kinect game will, at least in part, use assets from 2008's Gears of War 2.
Additionally, the source provided the blog a screenshot (at right) of the Gears of War Kinect title. It shows protagonist Marcus Fenix and a developer mirroring the hand gesture associated with speaking with Anya, the Delta dispatch officer from the franchise.
However, the image purportedly stems from an "older concept demo" for the Gears of War Kinect title and may not be emblematic of the final product.
In December, Microsoft announced it had canned Epic Games' Gears of War announcement for the 2010 Video Game Awards and postponed it to later this year. That unveiling was rumored to be a Gears of War Kinect title. And last month, Epic Games trademarked Gears of War: Exile, a possible title for the Gears of War spin-off.
The official story: A Microsoft representative told GameSpot, "We do not comment on rumor or speculation." And Epic Games design director Cliff Bleszinski offered a tongue-in-cheek response to the rumor.
"I'd comment on that Kotaku Kinect rumor that just hit, but I can't find the article in their new confounding layout. Oh well!" he wrote on Twitter.
Bogus or not bogus?: Microsoft has time and again promised to satisfy the hardcore gaming community with the Kinect. Outside of the Halo franchise, the Gears of War brand is arguably Microsoft's biggest and is certainly a Kinect possibility. The franchise is famous for its brutal hand-to-hand and foot-to-face combat, which are moves that could be replicated via the Kinect.
Source: Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) product listings.
What we heard: Over the past few months, publisher Ubisoft has announced that it would unleash Splinter Cell and Prince of Persia HD Trilogy packs on the PlayStation 3 beginning March 22. Now, it appears the three-packs might venture outside of Sony's console and onto Microsoft's.
The ESRB has posted listings for every title within both packs for release on the Xbox 360. Those titles are Prince of Persia: The Two Thrones HD, Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time HD, and Prince of Persia: The Warrior Within HD.
And on the Sam Fisher side of things, Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell HD, Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory HD, and Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell: Pandora Tomorrow HD all have listings connected to the Xbox 360.
The PS3 has welcomed a string of remastered trilogy packs lately. The God of War Collection and the Sly Collection were released late last year, and a Team Ico Collection is also slated to debut exclusively on the PS3. Also, the Tomb Raider Trilogy will debut alongside the Prince of Persia and Splinter Cell trilogies on March 22 on Sony's console.
The official story: A Ubisoft rep told GameSpot "We have no plans at this time of releasing the Pop and Splinter Cell HD trilogies on Xbox 360."
Bogus or not bogus?: There's a slight possibility that the ESRB listings could be clerical errors. But rarely has the ratings board listed something that didn't hit the market…eventually. Looking not bogus.
Source: A leaked ad for the limited edition of Battlefield 3, as seen on Battlefield fansite EnterBF3.
What we heard: Last week Battlefield series developer DICE officially lifted the veil on the latest entry in the series, Battlefield 3. The Swedish studio said the title would arrive this fall in standard and limited-edition iterations. Now, some new intel on the LE has crept out.
According to a leaked ad for Battlefield 3 (pictured at right), the limited edition of the new shooter will come bundled with the Back to Karkand expansion, which will contain a heap of Battlefield 2 content, including weapons, vehicles, and four multiplayer environments.
The ad did not reveal which four maps will be included with the pack; however, Strike at Karkand was a popular multiplayer environment in Battlefield 2 and would seem a likely fit for the Back to Karkand expansion.
The ad shows only the PC version of the title, but according to additional wording, it looks like the limited edition is coming to consoles. The ad says the limited edition will include additional trophies and achievements for players to unlock, which is a likely indicator that the edition will land on the PlayStation 3 and the Xbox 360.
Additionally, those who do not purchase a limited-edition copy of Battlefield 3 can purchase and download the Back to Karkand expansion content about a month after the title is released, according to the leaked advertisement. Neither a price nor a more exact release date has been affixed to the content thus far.
The official story: As of press time DICE has not responded to GameSpot's request for comment or clarification on the matter.
Bogus or not bogus?: Looking very much not bogus that EA is planning a multiplatform limited edition for Battlefield 3. But whatever the case, answers will arrive soon, as DICE has said it will unveil the limited edition properly at this year's Game Developers Conference, which is set for the end of the month.
What we heard: Ubisoft has decided to drop its embattled digital rights management system for some of its upcoming games, but Electronic Arts--which has been sued for DRM issues--is heading the other direction with its latest shooter, according to product listings.
Digital copies of the PC iteration of People Can Fly's first-person shooter/kicker Bulletstorm will require a persistent Internet connection for the game to run, according to the above source. "Persistent Internet connection and acceptance of end user license agreement required to play," reads the product disclosure for Bulletstorm's digital iteration.
Packaged copies of the title will be treated differently, as they will only require an Internet connection to "authenticate and access online features and/or services."
The official story: Bulletstorm lead producer Tanya Jessen said, via Twitter, that the former listing is inaccurate.
"I can confirm that the only time you will need an Internet connection for Bulletstorm will be on install and when playing mp (multiplayer) - no worries," reads the message.
Jessen also told GameSpot that EA is working to "ensure there's no more confusion about the topic."
Bogus or not bogus?: Certainly plausible that EA would require a constant Internet connection as a digital rights management system. However, given Jessen's direct refutation of the issue, this story seems more bogus than not.
For more on the upcoming shooter--due out on February 22 for the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and PC--check out GameSpot's latest preview of Bulletstorm.
Source: A post on French fighting game site Bas Gros Poing reports that SNK Playmore management wants to retreat from game development and instead focus on its pachislot and licensing out its brands and characters for others to use.
What we heard: The Bas Gros Poing article paints a dim picture of SNK Playmore at the moment, but it may not be entirely accurate. According to the site, after a September change in the publisher's executive ranks, the newly appointed president and CEO wants to take the company in a new direction. As part of that direction, the company would essentially close its gaming division except for ports of existing games and would instead focus on pachislot machines, collectible figurines, and the like.
While the company has been leaning on ports of its NeoGeo catalog of late (like the NeoGeo Station offerings on the PlayStation Network), it still has new projects in the pipeline, most notably King of Fighters XIII, the follow-up to the 2009 franchise refresh. However, to the chagrin of many SNK fans, Bas Gros Poing also reported that King of Fighters series producer Masaaki Kukino has left the company, casting some uncertainty on the franchise's future.
Despite the news, the report of SNK Playmore abandoning game development leaves room for error. The Bas Gros Poing article only states that as a direction that a single person within the company wants to go, not as a company initiative already under way. Additionally, the phrasing of the report seems to indicate that the site's two sources for the news are not actually SNK Playmore employees, but rather people who have their own contacts at the company. If that is the case, such a secondhand report increases the chances of a misunderstanding or miscommunication somewhere along the line.
Fans of the fighting game factory would do well to remember it has faced bleak situations before. For example, SNK Corporation actually shut down entirely in 2001, only to be resurrected in 2003 after company heads went on to find success in the pachislot industry as Playmore. Although the reinvigorated publisher never returned to the hardware market with its iconic NeoGeo system, it did bring back some of its most famous franchises, producing new entries in the King of Fighters and Metal Slug series.
The official story: "In response to Internet rumors from earlier this week, SNK is planning to release a full slate of games in 2011 and expects to continue publishing games worldwide for many years to come."--An SNK Playmore representative.
Bogus or not bogus?: Changes may be afoot at SNK Playmore, but they hopefully aren't as drastic as the rumors make them out to be. Bogus.
Source: The Twitter feed of Internet sleuth Superannuation.
What we heard: As was widely expected, Final Fantasy XIII was nothing short of a blockbuster for Square Enix. By the end of the publisher's fiscal quarter in March 2010, FFXIII had sold more than 5.5 million units worldwide, and Sony named the title as the only one to reach the platinum milestone on the PlayStation 3 in Japan during 2010.
FFXIII's strong sales, not to mention strong critical reception, make it a perfect candidate for a follow-up, and it appears as if Square Enix will oblige. As spotted by Superannuation, the Internet domain name FinalFantasy13-2Game.com was registered on Monday, January 10.
Unfortunately, Square Enix isn't named as the domain-name owner. Instead, a company called "Corporation Service Company" is listed as the domain's registrant. That said, it appears as if the generic-sounding company is actually a front for Square Enix.
As Superannuation notes, Square Enix has used Corporation Service Company to register domain names in the past, pointing to Mindjackgame.com. CSC is also named on a number of other official websites for Square Enix games, such as Gun Loco. Further, for game websites that do not have CSC listed as registrant, the company is still listed as the administrative and technical contact. These official websites include FinalFantasy13Game.com.
The official story: Square Enix had not responded to a request for comment as of press time.
Bogus or not bogus?: Looking not bogus. Creating a Final Fantasy sequel by appending a "-2" to the game's name isn't common, but it does have precedence with Final Fantasy X-2 in 2003. Further, the publisher is holding the "1st Production Party Premiere Event" in Japan on January 18, an ideal time to unveil a new installment in the franchise.
Source: British trade site MCV.
What we heard: Yesterday, dual reports out of the UK indicated that Sony may use a January 27 media briefing in Tokyo to unveil the PSP2. Today, the source of one of those reports expounded on the announcement with more reported details about the device--and how Sony is marketing it to developers.
According to MCV, Sony is touting the PSP2 as being "as powerful as the PlayStation 3" to British developers. The company is reportedly trying to position the handheld as a higher-end alternative to Nintendo's upcoming 3DS, complete with an HD screen and dual thumbsticks.
To reflect the PSP2's upscale status, Sony is also apparently requesting that developers create games as in-depth as PS3 titles so they can be differentiated from more casual offerings on the iPhone and Android systems. The company hopes that months of hype about handheld HD gaming--supplemented by E3 and GDC appearances--will entice developers to support the device prior to a Q4 launch.
MCV also reported that the handheld will also have a "brick" form factor similar to the PSP-3000, not the PSP Go-like sliding chassis spotted in reportedly leaked photos of the dev kit. The handheld will also have a physical media component so retailers can participate in its business, although it was unclear if it will be the UMD format used by current PSPs.
The official story: Sony had not returned requests for comment as of press time.
Bogus or not bogus?: Likely not bogus that Sony is touting the handheld as a portable PS3. The company took a similar tack when promoting the original PSP as a portable PlayStation 2, talking about how much of the handheld's innards were miniaturized versions of the then-new slimline PS2. As for the other details…well, January 27 isn't that far off now, is it?
Source: United States Patent and Trademark Office filings (see below).
What we heard: Dead Money, the first batch of downloadable content for Obsidian and Bethesda Softworks' postapocalyptic role-playing game Fallout: New Vegas, arrived in December to a cool reception. However, recent trademark filings indicate more DLC is on the way for the game.
Bethesda parent Zenimax has applied for a trademark for "Honest Hearts" for use in "computer game software for use with computers and video game consoles; downloadable computer game software offered via the internet and wireless devices." The Fallout connection comes courtesy of Fallout wiki The Vault, which points out that "Honest Hearts" was first hinted at in Dead Money via a texture folder dubbed "nvgraffitihonesthearts."
Two other recent Zenimax USPTO DLC filings, "Old World Blues" and "Lonesome Road," are listed by the Vault as the titles for two more expansions for Fallout: New Vegas. The Vault points out that the latter title is featured in in-game graffiti in the original title, although the former has no formal Fallout connection other than rumor.
The official story: As of press time Bethesda has not responded to GameSpot's request for comment.
Bogus or not bogus?: Given Bethesda's history of supporting Fallout titles post-release--Fallout 3 had five expansions--it stands to reason that Dead Money will not be the final add-on content for New Vegas. However, it is unclear whether or not Bethesda intends to build content surrounding each trademark, or if one or more are simply red herrings.
Last May, THQ announced that UFC Undisputed 2010 would be its first title to make use of an online pass, which would charge secondhand game buyers to access the game's online modes. By August, the functionality was also confirmed for WWE Smackdown vs. Raw 2011. Now, the publisher has indicated that it won't just be its sports titles that will be subject to the secondhand surcharge.
As first reported by Shacknews, GameSpot has confirmed with THQ that new copies of its near-future first-person shooter Homefront will come packed in with a single-use code to access the game's multiplayer component. However, those who do not purchase the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 versions of the game new--acquiring it through rental or the secondhand market--will be required to pay $10 to unlock the game's full online component. Unfettered access to online modes will be available to all PC purchasers.
Gamers without a new copy of the game will still be able to access a portion of Homefront's online component. Specifically, secondhand users will have access to every map and can spend as much time as they wish in Homefront's multiplayer modes. However, they won't be able to advance their characters any further than level 5--out of a possible 75--unless they purchase the online pass.
Due out on March 8, Homefront is a story-driven shooter that is set after a North Korean occupation of the continental United States. The single-player component sees the player as a member of the American resistance fighting the Korean People's Army in an attempt to regain control of the ruined nation, while the multiplayer is set earlier, letting players engage in military scenarios from the invasion itself. Manhattan-based Kaos Studios is handling development on the console iterations of the title, while Ontario-located Digital Extremes is in charge of the PC version.
For more on the shooter, check out GameSpot's most recent hands-on preview.
Source: See below.
What we heard: Tomorrow night, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer will show off his company's latest wares at the 2011 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. Though his emphasis is typically on the Windows operating system, there is a portion of the presentation dedicated to Microsoft's console gaming venture, the Xbox 360.
Now, it appears that one of the surprises for the games section may have been blown. Gaming blog Glimpse Dog has published what appears to be a slide for a new service called "Avatar Kinect" being shown on a screen during a rehearsal for Microsoft's CES stage presentation.
Though no supplemental information was available, the slide does show Xbox Live avatars jumping and squatting, implying that they will be able to be controlled with bodily movements. Currently, avatars can only be controlled with Kinect inside games such as Kinect Adventures. Avatar Kinect may then be something much like PlayStation Home, where players' avatars can interact with one another outside of games.
The official story: Microsoft declined to comment.
Bogus or not bogus?: Likely not bogus. The photo of the stage setup is convincing, because it features a laptop-covered table similar to the centerpiece of Microsoft's stage show last year. Regardless, with Microsoft's presentation just over a day away, the wait to see what's in store shouldn't be too long.
Source: Gaming blog Kotaku.
What we heard: Last month, rumors of a new SSX game sprouted up following the registration of the Web domains SSXFirstDescent.com and SSXDeadlyDescent.com. Now, Kotaku is claiming to have inside knowledge of the title, which is apparently in the works for the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 at EA Canada.
According to Kotaku's anonymous source, development of the new game is being handled by the team behind the popular Skate games. As such, the title will apparently have a similar control scheme, with the right analog stick being used to perform tricks as players hurtle down snowy slopes.
More intriguing is the report's reference to surveys sent out this summer, which indicate the game may have content beyond normal snowboarding outings. The survey, which was apparently targeted at SSX fans, reportedly described "avoiding, out-running and even riding on top of massive avalanches; battling hurricane winds; white-outs; bitter cold; falling rocks; and gaping crevasses that open up at a moment's notice." The game was also rumored to have not only heliboarding, but also other extreme sports such as base jumping, skyboarding, ice climbing, and wingsuit flying.
The game itself was described as "an intense, moment-to-moment battle against the forces created from riding your snowboard over the most spectacular and remote mountains on Earth." This led Kotaku to wonder if the game is the same as one being teased for a reveal at the VGAs this Saturday. Brief footage of that game asks players if they are ready to "Take on the planet" and shows a series of snow-capped peaks and a helicopter flying over a mountain summit with a flare atop it. Kotaku reports a similar-looking piece of art (pictured) was sent out alongside the snowboard game survey taken earlier this year.
A direct connection between the "Take on the Planet" game and SSX publisher Electronic Arts was made yesterday, when EA Sports president Peter Moore directly promoted the reveal via a blog post.
Moore described the game as "an obscure new title that's been teased alongside new trailers and announcements for Gears of War 3, Resistance 3, and the new game from our partners at BioWare. Set on what appears to be one of the most treacherous mountain ranges on the planet, this is one we're watching with a lot of anticipation. Hope you are too…."
The official story: EA had not responded to requests for comment as of press time.
Bogus or not bogus?: Looking not bogus. The fact that the head of EA Sports--which includes a studio at EA Canada--is promoting an "obscure" title set on snowy mountaintops is a hint less subtle than a black-diamond wipeout.
Source: Massively multiplayer-focused site MMOGameSite.
What we heard: Sometimes even the thinnest of rumors spark massive interest. Take the case of an allegedly leaked image on MMOGameSite purporting to be of Blizzard's release schedule for the next four years. Though the image could have been easily faked and has the barest of attribution, it does lay out an intriguingly realistic release schedule for the powerful publisher-developer's upcoming lineup.
First up on the schedule is Battle.net, the second version of which launched earlier this year. According to the schedule, a map market for the online service will launch in the second quarter of 2011, followed by third-party offerings a la Steam in the first quarter of 2012.
Next on the schedule is Starcraft II, the first part of which, Wings of Liberty, launched in July and has already sold over 3 million units. The next installment in the three-part game, the Heart of the Swarm, is apparently set for a holiday release next year, with the third, Legacy of the Void, coming in the first quarter of 2013. Curiously, a fourth Starcraft II product, code-named "Phoenix" is also scheduled for a fourth quarter 2011 release date--perhaps indicating a two-game pack with Wings of Liberty and Heart of the Swarm is in the offing.
Next up is Diablo III, which will also ship in Q4 2011 according to the schedule. The role-playing game--which may also be coming to consoles, according to recent job listings--is slated to have two expansions: One in Q2 2013 and a second in Q4 2014.
Then there's World of Warcraft. Following next week's launch of the Cataclysm expansion, the next big thing on the WOW horizon is the game's Brazilian launch in the third quarter of 2011. The fourth WOW expansion is listed as arriving in Q2 2012, followed by a new WOW trading card game the following quarter. The schedule also has the World of Warcraft film debuting in Q4 2012, a date which may slip since director Sam Raimi is apparently directing a Wizard of Oz prequel next.
According to the schedule, a fifth World of Warcraft expansion is set for Q3 2013. That's the same quarter that a mystery project--code-named "Titan"--is also set to launch. Little is known about the mystery project, but Blizzard is rumored to be developing a massively multiplayer first-person shooter in the vein of Planetside.
The official story: "As always, we appreciate the interest in Blizzard's current and upcoming games, but we don't comment on rumors or speculation and we don't have any new announcements to make."--Blizzard rep.
Bogus or not bogus?: Too little to go on, but the release windows jibe with the approximate 18-to-24-month periods between Blizzard games. However, at the Game Developers Conference Online in October, Battle.net project director Greg Canessa said that the next Starcraft installment was 18 months away. That time frame makes it due in March or April of 2012, not Q4 2011. With Blizzard not talking, it's unclear if Canessa's comments are outdated, the schedule is outdated, or the schedule was made up out of thin air. However, if a Portuguese-language version of WOW pops up next year in Brazil, it will lend this schedule some serious credibility.
Source: Gaming blog Kotaku.
What we heard: It would come as no surprise for Uncharted developer Naughty Dog to be deep in development of a third Nathan Drake adventure. Both the original and its sequel won rave reviews when they were released in 2007 and 2009 respectively. Further, Uncharted: Among Thieves has sold more than 3 million units.
Neither Sony nor Naughty Dog has said a word about Uncharted 3 to date. That said, Amazon's French arm listed the product just hours before Sony's Electronic Entertainment Expo briefing in June. Sony did not comment on the matter at the time.
Now, according to a source speaking with Kotaku, it appears the game not only exists, but will be set in the desert, possibly in Africa. The first Uncharted title was set primarily in a jungle setting, and its sequel, Among Thieves, ranged in locale, from jungles and urban areas to the peaks and caves of the snowy Himalayas. The same source also told Kotaku that Sony is planning an Uncharted 3 reveal on or around the 2010 Video Game Awards show, which airs on Saturday, December 11. Sony has also teased a game unveiling for Sunday, December 12, at a private event in Los Angeles--for which Uncharted 3 now appears to be a top contender.
The official story: Sony had not responded to GameSpot's request for comment or clarification on the matter as of press time.
Bogus or not bogus?: Likely not bogus that Sony has something to share during the 2010 Video Game Awards, and certainly not bogus that a third Uncharted game exists. Similarly, it's not unlikely that the title will be set in a locale new to the series. Whatever the case may be, if the source proves accurate, answers will arrive very soon.
Source: The Danish arm of game-news site Eurogamer.
What we heard: Ever since The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion was released in April 2006, speculation has run rife about its sequel. The fact that publisher Bethesda Softworks' parent ZeniMax Media has an online division working on a mystery-shrouded massively multiplayer game has led to some rumors that it might be a sequel to the game in the vein that BioWare's Star Wars: The Old Republic is being billed as a sequel to the single-player Knights of the Old Republic games.
Now comes word from Eurogamer's Danish division that a follow-up to Oblivion is indeed in the works, and it will be a direct sequel. The site's source "not only confirmed that the game is in current production, but also spoke briefly about the content--with fantasy-sounding phrases like Dragon Lord, something with The Blades--and that voice acting for the characters in the game is currently happening in the weeks to follow." The source did not say if the game was single-player or massively multiplayer.
The official story: "No comment." - Bethesda rep.
Bogus or not bogus?: Likely not bogus. Oblivion's massive storyline left a rich legacy that is ripe for sequelization. And although Bethesda has focused on the wildly popular Fallout games of late, it is unlikely it will let the 16-year-old franchise lay fallow for long. Indeed, the developer-publisher's executive producer Todd Howard told Eurogamer that his company is on the verge of unveiling the game, as it is quite far along in development.
"One thing I can say is that from when you first hear about it to when it's out will be the shortest it's been for us," he said at last year's QuakeCon. "It's pretty far along. When we show it, we want to show a lot, because there's a lot of game there to play right now."
Source: Gaming blog Kotaku.
What we heard: Yesterday, BioWare began teasing a new mystery game via a series of cryptic clues. Besides a screenshot of a man in futuristic armor leaning out a window, the Canadian developer released two barcodes. The first converted into a binary code, which added up to the atomic weight of iron, sparking speculation of a Shattered Steel remake. The second translated into the coldest temperature on earth, which was recorded in the Antarctic settlement of Vostok--a name shared by a star system in the original Mass Effect.
Now it appears the latter clue may be the most telling. According to a development source that contacted Kotaku, the game being teased is not Mass Effect 3, but a new multiplayer-focused spin-off of the series. Reportedly in the works at BioWare's Montreal studio--which was hiring multiplayer developers in June--the game is apparently targeted at the online shooter market dominated by Call of Duty.
Whether the game will be a first-person shooter like the Call of Duty games is unclear. However, like Activision's shooter series, the rumored Mass Effect is said to have a single-player campaign but will retain an emphasis on competitive multiplayer.
The official story: "We don't comment on rumors or speculation. Stay tuned on December 11." -- BioWare rep, referring to the game's unveiling at the Video Game Awards next month.
Bogus or not bogus?: Too little to make a determination. That said, the premise sounds plausible. Mass Effect 2 was a solid hit, selling over 1.6 million units as of May. Throw in the sequel's Gears of War-like emphasis on running and gunning from cover, and the jump to straight action doesn't sound so implausible.
Source: Gaming Web site VG247.
What we heard: 2010 has seen a number of PSP2 rumors and reports surface. The most recent is a pair of photos purporting to show off a development kit for the platform, the existence of which was confirmed by an EA executive last month.
The photos appear to confirm the handheld will indeed--as rumored--have two analog thumbsticks, one more than the current PSP. They also show the device as having both forward and backward-facing cameras, as well as a D pad and the four iconic PlayStation buttons. The device looks to have a built-in microphone and HD screen, as well as the rumored touch-sensitive trackpad on its rear.
One thing VG247's photos do not claim to show is the PSP2's final form factor. According to its source, the photos are of the first PSP2 dev kit, which had a sliding chassis similar to that of the PSP Go. The newer models apparently resemble the PSP-3000, a change reportedly prompted by dev kits overheating.
The official story: Sony had not responded to requests for comment as of press time.
Bogus or not bogus?: Looking not bogus. The photos match previous rumors, and the conspicuous "NOT FOR SALE" notice on the unit's back makes it look like a prototype of sorts.
Source: See below.
What we heard: Leading off the month, reports emerged that Microsoft was on the lookout for a new studio to take up the reins of its Project Gotham Racing franchise. The Xbox 360-exclusive series has lain dormant since 2007, when its developer, Bizarre Creations, was acquired by Activision. Now, it appears as if one possible option for Microsoft would be to simply set up a new studio and stock it with what may be more than 200 soon-to-be-unemployed Bizarre Creations employees.
The first rumblings of upheaval at Bizarre Creations occurred last night, when a NeoGAF message board user posted word that Activision had decided to close Bizarre Creations. According to the user, all 200 employees at the British studio had been put on 90-day notice. Shortly thereafter, UK gaming site Develop stated that it had confirmed with sources at the studio the same information found in the NeoGAF report.
Word of the closure has also begun to spread overseas. Reporting on its own source, Giant Bomb said that the studio has begun a "90-day consultation period" and "statutory redundancy." The source also told Giant Bomb that Activision plans to issue a press release regarding the studio closure soon.
Having made its name on the PGR series, Bizarre failed to find success with its first racing game for Activision, Blur. Though Activision has not announced official sales figures for the title, Wedbush analyst Michael Pachter said the game "had a very weak launch" in May, despite achieving solid review scores.
The timing on the reported closure also makes sense, considering Bizarre just shipped its latest title, James Bond 007: Blood Stone. Released on November 2, the shooter scored a positive critical reception, though it has yet to be seen how the game performed at retail.
The official story: "No comment yet."--A UK Activision rep.
Bogus or not bogus?: Looking not bogus.
[UPDATE]: Activision has since provided a statement on the news.
"Over the past three years since our purchase of Bizarre Creations, the fundamentals of the racing genre have changed significantly," the company statement reads. "Although we made a substantial investment in creating a new IP, Blur, it did not find a commercial audience. Bizarre is a very talented team of developers, however, because of the broader economic factors impacting the market, we are exploring our options regarding the future of the studio, including a potential sale of the business."
Source: A Gamasutra column by Chris Morris.
What we heard: Back in May, Activision registered a series of domain names that pointed to a sci-fi spin-off of the Call of Duty series. They included callofdutyfuturewarfare.com, advancedwarfare.com, spacewarfare2.com, and several other URLs that pointed toward a Battlefield 2142-style future-war spin-off of the series.
Two months prior, Activision announced that newly founded studio Sledgehammer Games would be "extending the series into the action-adventure genre." Though many assumed that the nascent studio was working on a third-person spin-off of the first-person shooter series, a job listing confirmed that the studio was indeed working on an FPS.
Now comes word that Sledgehammer's "action-adventure" Call of Duty game may catapult the series into the future. In a column today, Gamasutra's Chris Morris said that the sci-fi Call of Duty and Sledgehammer's installment in the series are one and the same.
"Industry sources say Sledgehammer's Call of Duty will be set in the future and feature, for lack of a better term, space marines, a very big step for a franchise that has historically based itself on realism," he said.
The official story: Activision reps had not responded to requests for comment as of press time.
Bogus or not bogus?: Probably not bogus. Morris is a veteran game journalist with myriad contacts in the industry. Also, with Modern Warfare 2 abandoning realism in terms of storyline--with Russia mounting a full-on invasion of the US--the series' contemporary setting may be the next thing to fall by the wayside. And hey, Black Ops' SR-71 Blackbird level (pictured) is near-space, isn't it?
Source: In testing the Kinect, two dark-skinned GameSpot employees had problems getting the system's facial recognition features to work.
What we heard: Part of Microsoft's $500 million marketing push for Kinect includes positioning it as an accessible entertainment device for all audiences. However, it may be more accessible to some than others.
While testing out the Kinect, two dark-skinned GameSpot employees experienced problems with the system's facial recognition abilities. The system recognized one employee inconsistently, while it was never able to properly identify the other despite repeated calibration attempts. However, Kinect had no problems identifying a third dark-skinned GameSpot employee, recognizing his face after a single calibration. Lighter-skinned employees were also consistently picked up on the first try.
It's important to note that the problems were only experienced with the system's facial recognition feature and don't prevent users from playing Kinect games. Skeletal tracking, a primary means of controlling games with Kinect, appeared to work the same for all GameSpot employees.
The system's inability to recognize a user only means that he or she would need to sign in manually and some games' features may not work properly as a result. For example, when a second player joins in to Kinect Adventures during the title's drop-in, drop-out multiplayer, the system can't bring up that player's proper in-game avatar automatically if it can't identify the new user first.
If Kinect does have some technical issues related to users' pigmentation, it wouldn't be a first for recognition technology. Last holiday season, users of Hewlett-Packard computers with built-in webcams reported problems with a face-tracking feature.
HP blamed the problem on the webcam's technology, "standard algorithms that measure the difference in intensity of contrast between the eyes and the upper cheek and nose." It said the system could have problems "seeing" that contrast if there is insufficient foreground lighting.
[UPDATE 11/4] GameSpot continued its testing of Kinect today with more users in different rooms and different clothing. At first, the two employees who originally would not be recognized by the camera were correctly identified on the first try. However, when one changed from a light blue shirt to a black shirt (but stayed in the same room with the same lighting), the camera again failed to recognize him after multiple calibration tests. It also failed to recognize another darker-skinned GameSpot employee after four calibration attempts.
Somehow, those issues may not completely undermine the camera's ability to use facial recognition features. Despite the Xbox 360's insistence that it could not recognize some of the GameSpot employees immediately after calibration, the system was able to recognize them and sign them in properly when they waved at the camera, regardless of their clothing.
The official story: "The goal of Kinect is to break down the barriers for everyone to play, and it will work with people of all shapes and ethnicities at launch."--A Microsoft representative, who added that Kinect owners having calibration or recognition problems can call 1-800-4-MY-XBOX.
[UPDATE 2]: After the additional testing, Microsoft provided further comment, saying, "Kinect works with people of all skin tones. And just like a camera, optimal lighting is best. Anyone experiencing issues with facial recognition should adjust their lighting settings, as instructed in the Kinect Tuner."
Bogus or not bogus: Not bogus that Kinect has problems identifying some users. Abstain on how widespread those problems are, or whether they're due to skin color at all. With the system launching tonight and Microsoft expecting to sell 5 million by year's end, it shouldn't be long before the scope and cause of such problems are identified.
Source: UK industry news site Develop.
What we heard: Bizarre Creations very nearly had Project Gotham Racing 4 out the door in 2007 when Activision announced its acquisition of the British studio. Since then, Microsoft's highly acclaimed Xbox-exclusive street racer has lain dormant, with Bizarre going on to create the Blur franchise for Activision, as well as assuming development duties on this week's James Bond 007: Blood Stone.
However, if a Develop report is to be believed, Microsoft may soon be parking the next PGR in a new developer's garage. According to the UK-based industry news site, Microsoft is currently shopping the PGR series around to "several European independent studios," with the goal of releasing a new installment on the Xbox 360.
Specific studios were not named as part of Develop's report. However, the fact that Microsoft is looking to have the game created at an independent studio in Europe seems to rule out the publisher's own suburban Seattle-based Turn 10 studio, which creates the Forza series.
Though both Forza and PGR feature licensed cars from manufacturers throughout the world, they have different racing environments. Whereas Forza focuses on more track-based races, the Bizarre Creations-led racer emphasizes urban environments, with examples from PGR4 including Tokyo, Shanghai, and New York City.
The official story: "Microsoft does not comment on rumors or speculation."--A Microsoft representative.
Bogus or not bogus?: Looking not bogus. PGR is one of Microsoft's most highly rated, system-exclusive franchises, and it makes sense that the multimillion-unit series will eventually make its comeback.