2009 in Review (part one)
One of the best - or worst, depending on how you see it - parts of the holiday break is that the daily flow of news evaporates into the ether. Meaning there s more time for mince pies, brandy and trawling around in John Lewis for two hours until you find something (anything) to spend your Christmas money on. I bought a Pestle & Mortar, for some reason.
Still, for those of us who've run out of festive cash and are desperately trying to stop binge eating, it's time to look back, remembering how 2009 rounded off the noughties with a mixture of apathy, blunders and ceaseless speculation about Modern Warfare 2. Let's reminisce, because at least it'll give us something to think about whilst we wait for David Tennant to pop off.
2009 kicked off with a shining example of why humanity is definitely worth saving from global warming: a seventeen-year-old boy was arrested after a false suicide threat to a World of Warcraft representative. Turns out that's not the way to get free purples - who knew?
Meanwhile, the retail industry was proclaiming videogames were recession-proof despite continued reports of hard times at major studios - Microsoft, Sony, Eidos, Sega and EA all felt the pinch of the money apocalypse. And the ongoing saga of Midway's imminent financial collapse was reaching critical mass. The company would implode later in the year.
Still, it wasn't gloom and doom for everyone: Nintendo were doing pretty well. King Reggie also took some time out from counting all his money to declare that the company always listened to its fans. "We listen very closely to what people have to say, both pro and con, and keep those feelings in mind as we plan ahead", he said in an interview with GameDaily. Although he wouldn't confirm if the company purposefully avoided listening to people who wanted anything more than Mario and Zelda sequels, because I pray every night for a new 2D Metroid. Every single night.
Emperor of Sony Kaz Hirai also took a quick break from salivating over the thought of getting some of Nintendo's money mountain to declare Sony weren't competing with the Wii, although he'd clearly forgotten how the rubbish Sixaxis was completely lifted from Nintendo's console. This story had nothing to do with the fact Nintendo said something similar a few days earlier, either.
January also saw the end of the Leipzig Games Convention. But the world was not to be without a summer games convention with a deliciously European twang: the new hotness of Gamescom was scheduled just down the road at Cologne.
In a rare display of businessmen being honest, Satoru Iwata publicly admitted that listening to Wii Music was worse than being subjected to an endless loop of all the X-Factor Christmas singles mashed together. Although he didn't use those words. Another baffling bit of business speak came from EA's John Riccitiello, who said the economic crisis was a blessing. He probably has a mate with shares in the Job Centre.
It was also revealed that perhaps games are good for kids after all, at least according to a study ordered by the EU. We still recommend all parents make their spawn go outside and move about every now and then, if only to give Mummy and Daddy some peace and quiet to play Wii Fit. It wasn't all positive news, however, as the month also saw the results of another study which concluded games can increase levels of stress and anxiety. Which explains why the kids are so angry on Xbox Live, at least. They're also not fans of lesbians.
Lord David Puttnam, 2007 chair of the UK's Joint Parliamentary Committee on the Draft Climate Change Bill and producer of the film Bugsy Malone, also made the news after saying he believed it would be good if videogames did more to educate people on climate change. All I know is that you should never, ever build an underwater city or invest in property on the planet Sera. In other political reveals, the Conservative party had a pop at the current government for completely failing to foster games development in the UK. We need more tax breaks, or something. I say we just give every studio four free pizzas a day.
February also saw the official announcement of Modern Warfare 2, pre-empted a few days earlier by the first in what would become a series of carefully constructed Twitter announcements from professional mouthpiece Robert Bowling. Coincidentally, EA were the first studio to publicly admit they were considering releasing some of their games at different periods of the year, specifically ones where there weren't going to be any Call of Duty releases. Activision popped up again in an attempt to sue EA for the publishing rights to Brutal Legend.
It was also the month where speculation over a new PSP started to run wild, spearheaded by design guru Dave Perry mouthing off on Twitter. Sony must have been chuffed to bits.
If it doesn't work, you're doing it wrong. So says Kaz Hirai, probably. According to Lord Sony the PS3 is deliberately difficult to develop for. Those silly complaining developers!
What wasn't amusing was the news about how the RAF were hoping to recruit gamers to fly unmanned drones in Afghanistan. I imagine the only way to get online gamers aboard would be to fit the drones with loudspeakers so the pilots could shout offensive racial epithets at their targets.
Meanwhile, the money apocalypse continued its merciless rampage, but Eidos escaped destruction by convincing Square to buy up the company.
EA and Activision both lamented the high prise of hardware, but that didn't stop Nintendo raising the price of the Wii and Sony accusing developers of being unrealistic in their expectations. Everybody also marvelled at the realisation that, despite a recession, the MMO gold trade was on the up-and-up.
An increasingly vocal debate about racist imagery in Resident Evil 5 raged on in March - leading all the way up to the game's release - and the politically sensitive nature of the story ensured maximum exposure. Even a senior anthropologist from the university of Kent had an opinion. All the furore was based off the trailer, so heaven knows what people felt after playing Act 3 in the game.
It was revealed Sigourney Weaver fancied a go at lending her vocal talents to the Ghostbusters game after she realised it might not be all that bad, but was denied the chance. She probably didn't sleep for a month afterwards. And developers Media Molecule declared their 2008 title LittleBigPlanet was only half finished, with the team presumably leaving the rest of the development up to the game's community.
As for the customary health stories, a man died whilst playing Wii Fit and some boffins decided that games might be able to improve the eyesight of gamers, although I'd wager a fair chunk of us (me included) are already a lost cause. And David "Metal Gear?!" Hayter launched his own production studio, although there's a 45% chance it's just a front for developing nuclear tanks.
Oh, and some particularly silly websites reported a Starcraft II Beta was well on the way. Those eejits.
April As always, Blizzard easily won April Fools Day, although Bungie came a very close second with their "the real fight hasn't even begun to be finished" B.U.N.G.L.E gaming league. Everyone else needs to make sure they try harder in 2010.
The biggest fish in April's news pond turned out to be Konami's Six Days In Fallujah, which turned out to be Zero Days in Fallujah after the publisher axed the title due to its ginormous storm of controversy. The Daily Mail were furious, and developer Atomic were left befuddled after all the confusion.
There was also trouble after some tabs of MDMA were found in a used copy of GTA IV. The family were understandably outraged, though relieved that they spotted the narcotics before giving the game to their 12-year-old son. Nobody deemed it a good idea at the time to remind the parents that perhaps they shouldn't have been buying an 18 rated game for a minor in the first place. Daily Mail readers were also undoubtedly relieved when it was revealed GTA: Chinatown Wars posted disappointing sales despite critical acclaim, and a German MP found time to compare violent videogames to child pornography, illegal drugs and spoiling the season finale to Lost.
Meanwhile, the suits at Sony towers were quick to dismiss the DSi as a dumb kids toy for stupid kids who are stupid. They weren't bitter about the machine cruising past 600,000 sales in the West at all.
Over at Microsoft Towers, they finally admitted the E74 error was this year's Red Ring of Death and that perhaps their policy towards gay rights on Xbox Live could do with a rethink.
April was also the month where we all got excited about cloud gaming after March's promising demo of OnLive. The news was quickly followed with the annoucement of a rival service, and also Crytek saying they thought of the idea years ago but were occupied with making sure Crysis was too advanced to run on anyone's computer.
There was also the mandatory expert saying release dates need to be for life, not just for Christmas. How very 2009.
And, of course, the biggest piece of news since the announcement of the Phantom: ex-Infinium Labs CEO Kevin Bachus said he wished the Phantom could have worked. Amazing.
We also saw people admit that maybe the money apocalypse might be affecting the games industry after all, despite the news that three million American kids are addicted to games. If only they had bigger wallets. At least Tim Schafer doesn't have to worry: the design legend said he wasn't too bothered about sales figures.
May was the month Duke Nukem Forever finally died, and the studio was quickly flooded with tears from fans of old internet memes. In true 3D Realms style, they denied closing down a few days after it was annouced the studio was closing down. And then Take Two sued them. Rest in peace, Duke.
I've often thought that a documentary about the Gizmondo would make for a rousing and evocative piece of entertainment, so when it was announced in May that a fancy Hollywood type had optioned the idea I concluded that somebody, somewhere, could read my mind. I can only hope one of the DVD extras will be to watch a dramatic reconstruction of Bo Stefan Eriksson crashing his Ferrari in ultra-slow motion.
Sony spent buckets of money ensuring Ghostbusters was a timed PS3 exclusive in Europe. Wasn't worth it.
More financial misery was observed with the report of 50 Cent: Blood on the Sand selling a twelfth of the original, despite having one big-ass ramp for Fiddy to drive his car off. The game remains a true co-op classic for helicopter haters everywhere. The money apocalypse continued unabated through the month, with EA posting big losses and news of massive redundancies across the entire industry. The bloke who said the games industry was recession proof was kicked in the face again by news of UK game sales suffering.
Meanwhile, id took a break from creating their fancy, hi-tech new engine to write about how the company's focus was firmly on creating games instead of fancy, hi-tech new engines.
Two bizarre stories regarding potential (failed) celebrity cameos popped up: Bill Clinton rejecting the opportunity to appear in Fallout 3 and Heather Mills asking for too much money for an appearance in Bionic Commando. Either would have been fantastic. And Tim Schafer spoke of how Activision's initial plans for the heavy-metal themed Brutal Legend was to give it more of a hip-hop flavour.
The hype machine started going insane for Modern Warfare 2 after the game's trailer was revealed. It was watched by four hundred billion people in its first day. Fact.
I'm still amused when I remember how Sony leaked their own announcement - blunder of the year - of the PSP Go mere days before E3. They also filed lawsuits over some leaked rumours of a slim PS3, which meant everyone knew it would definitely be revealed sooner or later.
Also: oh God it's swine flu! Everywhere! Back in June the entire planet was gripped in swine flu fever, with the disease firmly within its terrifying early stages - before the world realised it was an unfortunate pain rather than a herald of the apocalypse. The worldwide pandemic ensured the health-cautious Japanese crowd would dodge E3: Square Enix made plans to only take the most expendable, for instance. Capcom were also keen to get out of attending.
June But attend they sort-of did! E3 went ahead, with Microsoft wheeling out their big conference first and formally announcing Left 4 Dead 2, Crackdown 2, Splinter Cell: Conviction, Halo: Reach and Metal Gear Solid: Rising. Writing that list makes me wish I patented the colon. Microsoft also unveiled the device-free motion controller Project Natal, along with some sinister looking demo from Lionhead where you interact with a small child. It was all quite exciting, but most people were still just thinking about the Modern Warfare 2 trailer.
Nintendo's effort left me confused and feeling like an outsider, until Team Ninja showed up to announce a new Metroid game. The rest? New Super Mario Bros Wii, Super Mario Galaxy 2, Wii Fit Plus and the already-loathed Vitality Sensor. The rest was all typical Nintendo: heart-warming family-friendly titles sprinkled with excessive hyperbole from the world's most self-assured developer. Wii Music clearly didn't damage Nintendo's ego.
Last but not least, Sony. Following on from their earlier own goal, SCEA president Jack Tretton was forced to light-heartedly introduce the PSP Go. Nobody cared. The games on show were God of War III, ModNation Racers, The Last Guardian, MAG, Final Fantasy XIV - which seemed like a mind-blowing coup until everyone released it was another online one, and not as exclusive as initially reported - and Rockstar's Agent. Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker and Gran Turismo were also shown for the PSP. And let's not forget the magic wand, Sony's own proper motion controller.
June also saw PEGI ratings become law under Lord Carter's Digital Britain review. "We will implement a new, more robust system of content classification for the videogames industry, building on PEGI system with a strong UK-based statutory layer of regulation, ensuring the protection of children now, and in the future," he said. That meant getting rid of those old and busted 12, 15 and 18 BBFC symbols and replacing them with the new hotness of 12, 16 and 18 PEGI symbols. Totally worth all that government money.
We saw the beginnings of the Left 4 Dead 2 boycott. These people all ended up buying the game, for the record.
And the UK government, worried about the device being used to assist inmates in plotting their great escapes, banned the PS3 from prisons. The staff at Valve wouldn't be able to hack their way out of incarceration with one, however, as the company said the console was too complicated.
A study from the University of Arkansas concluded gamers could do with a bit more sleep. Tell us something we don't know, boffins. Not playing Modern Warfare 2 until 2:30 in the morning is my New Year's Resolution, for the record.
Bobby Kotick also remarked that Activision might drop support for the PS3 if Sony didn't cut the price of the console. The man was completely justified: they'd need the extra money to afford all of Activision's plastic tat.
Industry Nostradamus Michael Pachter apologised for calling the PSP Go a rip-off.
Finally, China banned gold farming (and then didn't).
Phew - that's a lot of news! And we've only done half the year. Join us tomorrow for the rest of 2009, and in the meantime go scour the news archives to remind me of the important stories I've probably forgotten about.