Predictions for 2009
With the new year celebrations well and truly aside, we've been gazing into our crystal balls (and in horror at the credit card statements), and have decided to treat you all to a few not-so expert predictions about the gaming year ahead. Feel free to deliver your own premonitions, disagreements and links to Chinese gold-farming sites in the comments at the bottom (please don't actually do that last bit). Over to the team (please imagine smoke wafting and eerie seance-like music).
Martin Gaston: Publishers finally starting to realise that there are twelve months to a year
After the rather lukewarm sales figures of Mirror’s Edge, Prince of Persia and Dead Space, to name a few, publishers must be losing hair at an alarming rate after the stress of the 2008 Christmas period. Let’s face it, though, trying to put out an entire years worth of games in two months is clearly not working. Not everyone is oblivious to this, however: releasing outside of the fourth quarter is something Capcom have been toying with for a while now. It completely pays off. Would the entertaining but ultimately unspectacular (and not as good as number 3) Devil May Cry 4 have sold what it did if it came out in the middle of November? I think not, and Capcom probably agree with me. They’ve been saving their current crop of titles for outside of the festive season, with Bionic Commando, Resident Evil 4 and Street Fighter IV due to be released in the first three months of 2009.
I imagine plenty of other publishers will be watching to see if they sell well and rearranging their own release windows when they realise that people still play games in May, too. This way, the games will also have gently reached lower prices by the Christmas season, and consumers won’t have to wonder exactly why it is that games like Prince of Persia can be bought for 24.99 GBP a mere week after release.
Stevie Smith: Ubisoft becomes the new Electronic Arts and vice-versa
In 2008 we saw Ubisoft eschew high-profile imagination and invention in favour of largely average franchise entrants such as Far Cry 2, Brothers in Arms: Hell’s Highway, Rainbow Six Vegas 2 and Prince of Persia. In 2009 we’ll all likely shed a tear as the French/Canadian outfit continues on its downward spiral and edges ever closer to the realms of flaccid formulaic profit churning.
While initial flashes of disaster epic I Am Alive suggest something of a return to form, Ubisoft’s current 2009 line-up is more notable for the likes of Red Steel 2, Tenchu 4, World in Conflict: Soviet Assault and Imagine Fashion Party. And, with still no sign of studio stalwart Sam Fisher, we can only hope the once revered Ubisoft moves forward from a poor year and the utter mess that was Haze.
Conversely, 2009 will see Electronic Arts striving to shake off its reputation as being reliant on endless sequels punctuated by little more than statistical upgrades and graphical tweaks.
The third-party publisher everyone loves to hate will accomplish this by expanding on qualities laid down through original IPs such as Dead Space, Army of Two, Boom Blox, Spore and Mirror’s Edge, and also by adding yet more polish and fine tuning to its ‘best in class’ 2008 sporting successes NHL 09 and FIFA Soccer 09. And, following through with the long overdue abandonment of its dire Need for Speed series, 2009 will also see EA adhering to both the economic climate and a general lack of consumer interest by chopping off dead series wood such as Battlefield, Def Jam, and Medal of Honor.
Titles of note to look out for in 2009 include Brutal Legend, Dante’s Inferno, Fight Night Round 4, Star Wars: The Old Republic, The Godfather II and possibly the next chapter of 2007’s sci-fi RPG epic Mass Effect.
Paul Govan: Motion Plus to rule them all
2009 sees the arrival of an innocuous add-on to the Wiimote. The Motion Plus block attaches to the bottom of the controller and provides additional information about a player’s movement. Here we finally see Nintendo delivering on their one-to-one play experience promises of two years ago. What has been until now only a rough sketch will in 2009 become a fleshed out reality.
The gyroscopic add-on is slated to be packed in with Wii Sports 2 – titled Wii Sport Resort, but I predict will within the year be included in the packed-in Wiimotes you buy off the shelves or with a new console.
Already, third-parties like EA are clamoring to make use of the new peripheral. 2009 will see them (finally) deliver a game on the Wii to challenge those magical first few swings of Wii Sports Tennis. I predict they will be joined by many other developers, and that the more nuanced controls will increasingly be the differential between shovel-ware and quality games.
Richard Nolan: The meteoric return of hit titles from lone 'bedroom' programmers
Back in the day bedroom programmers were the shizzle; where its at. You wanna make a game kid? You just pick up your crayon, draw some pictures, write some stuff, and then learn how to program. Creative geniuses work best alone, Clive Sinclair knew it all along, teams of mathematical nerd programmers and egotistical graphics artists are a giant monkey turd distorting the real man’s creative juices (disclaimer: joke... maybe).
With the massive success of Xbox Live and then the gushing praise dished out to the immersive Braid and the innovative World of Goo, these types of inspired budget title are back in the mainstream. The console big-boys are now going to be furiously looking-out for the next labour of genius to sign for their own downloadable services. There is no doubt in my mind that the return of the nutty programmer is just around the corner. There’s got to be thousands of wannabes out there right now... scribbling frantically on the walls of their bedrooms in bodily fluids, the uncontrollable output of frustrated creativity. All they have to do now is figure out how a computers work are they are away...
Jennifer Allen: This is the year the iPhone makes it as a gaming platform
Even its harshest critics have to admit that the Apple iPhone was a huge hit in the world of mobile phone technology. Yes of course, it mimicks a few things that other smartphones have been doing for years, but Apple has managed to get the perfect balance of features combined with great marketing and of course the iPod branding that is seemingly irresistible to many, many people. I was one of those people, finally taking my first plunge into the world of Apple by signing up to an 18 month contract entitling me to an 8gb iPhone. Did I need it? Not in the slightest. But the iPhone is not something bought out of necessity; it's bought out of sheer frivolous want. It also introduces the new App Store feature, and this is where gaming on the move suddenly became a lot more interesting.
At first I wasn't overly impressed by the games offered, an awful lot of them are poorly made rip-offs of famous 80s arcade games such as Centipede. But as time progressed, so has the wide range of games on offer. Just looking now there are hundreds, if not thousands of games available through the app store encompassing a wide range of genres and prices. Games such as Moto Chaser (a motorcycle racing game that relies on the iPhone's accelerometer for its controls) only costs 59 pence, yet is great fun for a while, and certainly passes the time on a commute. As well as numerous independent offerings, there are also a wealth of game developers backing the format, with titles such as Crash Bandicoot Nitro Kart, Super Monkey Ball and even Sim City and Spore Origins. Electronic Arts certainly seem particularly keen to back the iPhone format and Sim City is a pretty faithful conversion considering the limited screen space of the iPhone. Even action games such as the Brothers in Arms series have been ported across, and a new Silent Hill game has just arrived on the scene.
The future for the iPhone just looks brighter and brighter, and I suspect 2009 could well be its year to be taken seriously of as a rival to the Nintendo DS and Sony PSP. It might not make you give up your DS or PSP entirely, but it certainly has the potential to be seen equally to them at some point. The only real weakness at the moment are its odd controls due to its reliance on the touch screen mechanics. However developers seem to be approaching this from a different angle and taking advantage of the accelerometer and the fact that it can almost be used like a wiimote. Metal Gear Solid Touch and Guitar Hero Rock Tour are on the way, as well as whatever independent developers may yet bring to the table. If nothing else, the format looks like it could be great for the return of the 'bedroom' coder, a breed once popular in the 1980s until it just became too expensive and difficult for one person to make a game by themselves. With the iPhone SDK, all that's needed is 99 USD and an Apple Mac and anyone can have a go in theory. All in all, don't go underestimating the iPhone; I honestly believe it has the potential to surprise many people in the year ahead.