2009 in Review (part two)
Welcome to 2010! I'm glad you could make it. Last time we covered, amongst other things, six months of business woes, Bill Clinton turning down a role in Fallout 3 and Sony's accidental reveal of the PSP Go. Pretty exciting, huh? But that's old news now - it's time to look at the second half of 2009. Don't get up: allow me to extract, especially for you, the prime cuts of last year's tastiest news nuggets.
Exciting sci-fi MMO spreadsheet EVE Online surprisingly popped up with the news that billions of in-game currency had been stolen by one crafty player and flogged for 3000 GBP of actual money. Blizzard also announced plans to give World of Warcraft micro-transactions on the same day, which seemed far less interesting by comparison.
A few days later, BioWare defended their love of sex scenes. "It's based on the fact that this is a sophisticated, mature experience," said BioWare big cheese Greg Zeschuk. That doesn't stop it being awfully embarrassing if somebody walks in the room whilst your characters are bumping and grinding on the screen, Greg.
Infinity Ward managed to confuse everyone with a screenshot of Modern Warfare 2's box art bearing the Call of Duty name. Weren't we supposed to not call it Call of Duty, the public asked, before being distracted with the overblown Prestige edition of the game. Gamasutra speculated on whether the confusing titling might damage sales, but the beauty of retrospect means the very idea is now as silly as mullet haircuts.
Following on from EA's announcement of their very own MMA title, UFC president Dana White declared his league to be at war with EA before driving over to EA's offices and throwing a Molotov through John Riccitiello's window.
And whilst we're on the subject of crime, ex-Gizmodo boss Stefan Eriksson found himself once again behind bars. Fingers crossed they make that movie.
Citing the need for some quality control, as opposed to being terrified of Modern Warfare 2, Ubisoft delayed most of their games until 2010. Keep reading to discover if other publishers followed a similar logic (spoiler: they did).
The money apocalypse continued, with news that Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo were all missing out on sweet, sweet revenues. I hope they still had enough money for the CEO's to afford a bit of bubbly at their respective New Year's parties. It was also discovered that the music game genre was suffering. Denis Dyack, on the other hand, envisioned the future of gaming on a single platform, possibly titled the Dyacktron 4000 - although even that wouldn't make anyone want a second Too Human. And Gabe Newell imagined a wacky future where gamers fund the development of games. But he's hardly one to talk: with all the money I've dropped into Steam this year I'd imagine Valve has enough cheddar for six new Half-Life games.
And whilst the director of Pirates of the Caribbean declared Halo to be our generation's Star Wars, Bungie spoke of how they were looking to secure a publisher for a non-Halo title. They weren't fooling anyone, of course - everyone knows Bungie will be making Halo games until the end of time. They could probably make a co-op shooter, though, provided they asked Microsoft, who patented the concept, really nicely.
My personal favourite story of the month: a British psychiatrist offered to provide in-game counselling for addicted World of Warcraft players, provided Blizzard could give him a free subscription, and probably a couple of sweet mounts and some epic purpz. Don't hassle him, he can quit anytime, okay?
August was a month of rampant speculation about price cuts followed by actual price cuts. First came the PS3 Slim, annouced at Gamescom, which had the merry side-effect of shifting the silly Spider-Man font off the top of the console. Bravo Sony. It all made Microsoft look a bit silly, as they'd recently increased the price of the Arcade model. Although they trimmed a few quid off the Elite model a couple of weeks later. Nintendo remained unfazed but were secretly laughing at the idea of the PSP Go retailing for 225 GBP.
Sony also got into trouble when their in-game advertising (which was quickly removed) for WipEout HD inadvertantly caused the game to spend three days loading. A nice touch. Their egg-on-face quotient was likely to be less than Microsoft's, though, as it was also revealed the failure rate for the 360 could be higher than fifty percent. Why you gotta hurt us so bad, Microsoft? What you give in one hand, like announcing Fable III, you take away with the other, like announcing an episodic version of Fable II.
Modern Warfare 2's arrival loomed ever-nearer, and jittery publishers coincidentially pushed their releases into 2010. Infinity Ward gleefully announced the inclusion of akimbo weapons and famous water-loving rap fiend 50 Cent, pondered over how many map packs they'd put out and quietly mentioned the beta of Modern Warfare 2 would go live on November 11th 2009.
Whilst we're thinking about Actvision, Bobby Kotick popped up to express his desire for even higher game prices. How does Microsoft's exorbitant Games on Demand pricing structure suit you, Bobby? And then there was the little matter of a playable Kurt Cobain in Guitar Hero 5. We'll return to that one later.
Closer to home, Derby council considered naming a ring road after buxom heroine Lara Croft. If the gaming icon wins (Lara has reached the voting stage, which closes on the 31st January 2010), the council have considered modifying their plans and building two adjacent, large circular ring roads instead. The previous statement may not be true.
In other Eidos news, it was briefly rumoured that now-superstar developers Rocksteady could take over the Hitman series before being swiftly debunked. How is such idle speculation news? It's not, but it gives me a good opportunity to demand that Rocksteady get working on a sequel to Urban Chaos. Right now, please.
And it was announced that Germany had become Europe's largest purveyors of videogames. Go Deutschland!
How many computers does it take to power World of Warcraft's gigantic servers? 20,000.
As the celebrated mastermind behind the Metal Gear franchise, it's safe to say Hideo Kojima knows a thing or two about making games. He's not quite as adept at constructing controllers, it seems, with his experiments in including grip and pulse sensors in a PS3 pad ending with failure. His two production teams - one working on Peace Walker, the other on Rising - can't seem to get along, either: Kojima revealed the Peace Walker team were frustrated at all the money and hardware the other lot were getting. Must be tough. Maybe Kojima should get on the telephone and get in touch with beautiful producer starlette Jade Raymond who, seeing as Ubisoft gave her control of Ubisoft Toronto, probably knows how to handle inter-studio politics.
Steve Jobs celebrated the App Store's vast range of games, boasting a library of over 20,000. And almost ten of them are worth buying!
In other business, Take-Two finally saw the end of the Hot Coffee scandal. They ended up forking out over 5 million dollars, with their insurer coughing up another 15. That's probably history's most expensive case of ensuring some weird fourteen year old boy could have a tug.
Remember Kurt Cobain popping up in Guitar Hero 5? It all kicked off in September. Drug-addled human timebomb Courtney Love spoke out on Twitter over the incident, saying that "for the record this Guitar Hero shit is breach of contract on a Bullys part and there will be a proper addressing of this and retraction." A proper addressing of this there certainly was, as a few days later Activision replied with news of the publisher securing the necessary licensing rights from the Cobain estate in a written agreement signed by Courtney Love to use Kurt Cobain's likeness as a fully playable character in Guitar Hero 5. Coincidentally, the money obtained from such a deal could probably afford a few giant bags of cocaine. Probably. Even aging rock legend Jon Bon Jovi got in on the action, taking a short break from licensing Livin' on a Prayer to every single music game on the market, to say how he wouldn't like to see an in-game version of him singing tracks by other artists. Lucky for you, Jon, that your likeness isn't controlled by someone commonly believed to possess a somewhat haphazard track record. It was all a different story over at rival music game camp Harmonix, as Sir Paul McCartney reckoned John and George would have found their appearance in The Beatles: Rock Band amusing.
Polyphony Digital big cheese Kazunori Yamauchi also realised that taking so much time in-between iterations of your popular racing franchise that a rival studio can release three games might not be the best of ideas.
And whilst Penny Arcade's magnificent PAX expo caught a nasty bout of swine flu, annoying telly pig Nicky Campbell's faux-concerned consumer vehicle Watchdog found itself upsetting Sony executive Ray Maguire over allegations of the PS3 being occasionally duff and breaking. This sinister Yellow Light of Death could scupper Sony's plans to make the PS3 life cycle longer than the ever-durable PS2's, at least in my household. Where are Microsoft when all this is going on? Thinking about buying EA, apparently.
More damaging for Sony, in my opinion, was their tacky rewards programme for the PSP Go. Wait a second, I thought we were promised some way to convert our old and busted UMD's into the shiny new hotness of the digital format? Obviously not.
Nintendo finally dropped the price of the Wii in time for everyone to get their Wii Sports Resorts ready for Christmas day.
Quick-fire round: who decides to publish Modern Warfare 2 in Japan? None other than Square Enix, of course. What's back on the cards in China? World of Warcraft, of course. And which violent zombie-slaying co-operative shooter did Australia see fit to ban? Left 4 Dead 2, of course.
And the Pac-Man world record was smashed by 40-year-old David Race, who blitzed a perfect score out of the game in 3 hours, 41 minutes and 22 seconds. Thanks for making the rest of us look bad, David.
You couldn't load up a website in October without being alerted to Modern Warfare 2. Following on from earlier news of Activision setting the RRP of the game to 55 GBP, the publisher defended their decision, saying Modern Warfare 2 was worth it. Bookies confirmed it was the favourite for the coveted Christmas Number 1, with odds poor enough to ensure it wasn't worth betting on. Michael Pachter looked into his crystal ball to see a future where the game sold over fourteen million copies, its inevitable success proof enough that Activision were wrong to want the series to stick with WWII, and the BBFC confirmed the game had been given an 18 rating in the UK. The reason for that would become obvious in a couple of weeks. Infinity Ward yanked a co-op campaign on purpose, added a third-person mode to the online play and did away with dedicated server support for the PC version. The last move proved especially unpopular with the hardcore PC crowd, and many of them quickly arranged a boycott of the product. There was even talk of a movie. Most importantly, though, was the reveal of a Modern Warfare 2 branded Monster energy drink in the US. It tasted the same as regular Monster but with an aftertaste of moustache hair and mockney accents.
On the subject of boycotts, Valve bigwigs Gabe Newell and Erik Johnson flew off to Australia to play Joe "Lacabre" Wintergreen-Arthur's custom Left 4 Dead campaign. Valve were previously boycotting (as a friendly joke) Joe's mod and would only play if he raised the 3000 USD to fly Gabe and Erik to Australia - which he achieved in under three days. Valve gave the money to the Child's Play charity and bought their own tickets in the end, the big caring softies.
In rival digital distributor Stardock's camp, boss Brad Wardell considered ditching PC development altogether if Microsoft's Games for Windows Live service got its hooks into the platform. I don't think you'll have to worry about that anytime soon, Brad. And Gearbox chief Randy Pitchford expressed his concerns regarding Steam's dominance of the PC marketplace and accused the service of exploiting smaller developers, though plenty of those aforementioned smaller developers rushed to Steam's defence.
Over in Japan, Hideo Kamiya, producer of big-breasted action heroine Bayonetta, got into a spat with Tomonobu Itagaki, producer of a whole stable of massive-mammaried heroines. The argument? Just exactly how oversized baps in games should properly be. And people wonder why it can be hard to sell games to girls.
The battle of retailers in the UK continued to rage, with supermarket titan ASDA confirming they sell games for a loss, that they can afford to do it, and told other retailers to come and have a proper go if they think they're hard enough. Independent games retailers were understandably concerned, accusing the big retailers of being bullies. Which brings us nicely to industry pantomime villain Tim Langdell, owner of Edge games, who apparently backed down on his merciless assault of independent developer Mobigames' Edge. The game's gone down and come up again a few times since then, and is now known as Edgy. Hurrah. Sadly, Langdell still continues to be a controversial figure.
Finally, I know a lot of people complain about Royal Mail, but at least their workers aren't the US postman who pinched over two thousand games before trading them in at GameStop. Or maybe they're just not stupid enough to get caught.
Nothing else really happened in October. Oh no, wait - I almost forgot. There was some footage of some airport scene or something from Modern Warfare 2 leaked onto the internet. Nobody really made a fuss about it, though, so it faded away after a couple of days.
Wii Fit doesn't make you fit, said The American Council on Exercise, with the game's most demanding exercises shifting less than 160 calories every half hour. That's not even a pie! Probably best if we all just forget about those New Year's Resolutions to lose weight, then. I think I'll just pay 400MS points for a copy of Bible Navigator X and just pray for Jesus to suck my excess weight away.
Activision were forced into another legal battle over their Hero franchise, this time with No Doubt - the band that birthed the nightmare that is Gwen Stefani. Activision, much like with their prior tussle with Courtney Love, were pretty confident they had signed copies of all the necessary legal agreements. How many more bands will fall victim to Activision's teeny tiny itsy-bitsy small print, I wonder?
Valve businessman Jason Holtman revealed Steam users are less likely to obsess over the cost of games, meaning prices can just as easily go up as they do down. That's an interesting opinion: almost all of my purchases on Steam are of whatever's been plonked into the sales. And Nintendo boss Satoru Iwata reckons games won't do digital before 2029, but we'll all be far too busy with World War III to worry about videogames. He didn't say the last bit.
Rock Band 3 will be a music instructor, according to Dhani Harrison. He didn't say if that meant Rock Band 3's peripherals would have strings or whether future guitars would come with fitted with five plastic fret buttons. Probably the latter. John Carmack, on the other hand, mentioned that upcoming apocalypse-em-up Rage probably wouldn't feature dedicated servers, either. Nobody has launched a weak protest yet, as far as I'm aware. And EA gut 1500 jobs whilst dropping some big wads for Playfish, makers of popular Facebook gaming apps and the whatnot.
The BBC wouldn't let Microsoft incorporate the iPlayer into the 360 because they're all massive PS3 fanboys and they think the Xbox is for complete numptys. Or, in reality, the BBC is required to provide its services for free and Microsoft like to charge money for what it considers premium services. A Scottish hotel reckoned kids shouldn't be on games consoles over Christmas anyway - they should be doing healthy, productive stuff with their families, like sitting down and watching Christmas telly for hours on end instead of playing Wii Sports Resort. But the Wii is more than a novelty mini-game box, reckoned Reggie Fils-Aime, who said hardcore games could sell just fine on the Wii. He didn't actually mention any, but they were totally on the tip of his tongue. And Infinity Ward dropped this massive bombshell: the Wii isn't as powerful as the 360 and PS3. Seriously, who knew?
Government intelligence agency GCHQ decided to launch a recruitment drive via Xbox Live. Here's a tip: don't talk about it over games of Modern Warfare 2 if you've applied.
Sony expressed their desire to see more loyalty from gamers. These new PlayStation zombies, as Kaz Hirai calls them, will blindly purchase Playstation products with all their spare money. This, he secretly thought, would be fantastic.
And, of course, November saw the release of Modern Warfare 2. Retailers got into trouble over selling it early, blaming each other when asked why. Microsoft banned a million Live users caught pirating the game before release, the Daily Mail complained about the violent content and Russia recalled the title after having a peek at their portrayal in the game. An Australian attorney also wanted to see it banned, not realising how him saying that just made Australian kids want it more. There were rumours of a Ghost spin-off title, a video of hackers making their own dedicated servers on the PC version and the game's writers claiming the airport level was necessary and that they narrowly dodged incorporating the supernatural into the narrative. The last one must have been a joke. Robert Bowling also said Infinity Ward would quit making Call of Duty games if they stopped being fun. By 'fun' he actually meant 'profitable'. The game, of course, conquered the UK chart for weeks and smashed sales records.
And a survey revealed word of mouth is more important to consumers than reviews.
Finding out your game has been cancelled via press release - as apparently happened to Tim Schafer's Double Fine when Activision canned Brutal Legend - is probably even worse than getting dumped by text. It's lucky EA were there for the rebound.
Sony gave away some more free games to owners of the PSP Go. We're still not going to buy one though, thanks, but maybe the Royal Navy are interested: they've been replacing their duff old books with Sony's shiny handheld device. That'll get them learning for sure. You could probably get tennis star Andy Murray interested in one, too, seeing as the Sun reckoned he got dumped over an alleged PS3 addiction - he was caught playing Modern Warfare 2 for up to seven hours a day. Even Tiger Woods would be ashamed.
This month's obligatory Modern Warfare 2 news comes in the form of the now-fixed javelin glitch and the dodgy overpowered 1887 shotguns. Sony said they had no plans to ban anyone from PSN for using the glitch, whereas Microsoft said anyone caught using it would face a two-week ban. Although Microsoft never actually banned anyone, so the crude threat just seems a bit weak in retrospect.
And while many thought Modern Warfare 2's airport scene was ridiculous and tasteless, EA Montreal executive Reid Schneider reckoned the same of the entire first Army of Two game.
Nintendo were probably celebrating news of the DS becoming the UK's best-selling videogame device in the whole history of ever. I imagine they weren't too distressed when John Riccitello demanded the company innovate further. The EA CEO's big idea of the month was working out that if he could get pirates to pay for games he'd have more money. Amazing.
Aging skateboard legend Tony Hawk was upset about the low reviews scores given to peripheral-nightmare RIDE, and insisted the game was totally sweet and fresh. His personal assurance didn't help sales. And retail group GAME chose to blame their sales woes on big supermarkets. It's definitely not that their prices are ridiculous and that nobody wants to pay forty quid for a new game that's unsealed with a case that's been left out on the shop floor and brutally manhandled by dodgy chavs. Nothing of the sort.
Nintendo president Satoru Iwata said he'd like to see more 2D Mario games. I think he's in a better position than most to make that wish come true.
It was also revealed that Michael Jackson helped compose some of the soundtrack to Sonic 3 but didn't want his name attached to the project after hearing the results on the Mega Drive's low-tech sound processor.
Square Enix CEO Yoichi Wada sees the end of traditional consoles in the next decade. Which would certainly please the mother in Boston who demanded the cops arrest her 14-year-old son after she awoke to discover him playing GTA in the middle of the night. When I was 14 I made sure I wasn't caught, much like the other 82% of children who regularly play games.
Which brings us to the end of 2009. Any more news and my brain would have popped like something out of a David Kronenberg movie. We're going to have a few days off before the news cycle kicks off again for the 2010 cycle.