Archive for the ‘Analysis’ Category

Welcome to “All the news that’s Futt to print” for Wednesday, February 27, 2013. Can’t spend your entire day on Twitter or bouncing from news outlet to news outlet? Fine, I suppose you’re entitled to your “real life” and your “job.” Here’s what you missed today.

News!

Square Enix registered a trademark for a new Deus Ex property entitled Human Defiance. We do know there is a Deus Ex movie in the works, but the use of the word “human” in the title could hint at a sequel. Human Revolution, Human Defiance, Human Boogaloo. That would make a pretty cohesive set of names for a trilogy. I should probably go trademark that last one.

At a Morgan Stanley technology and telecom conference, EA’s CFO Blake Jorgensen had this to say about the publisher’s future titles,

“We’re building into all of our games the ability to pay for things along the way, either to get to a higher level to buy a new character, to buy a truck, a gun, whatever it might be, and consumers are enjoying and embracing that way of the business.”

There are a couple of things that are important to point out. First, EA games already have micro-transactions. You’ll find them in Madden (Madden Ultimate Team card packs), FIFA (FIFA Ultimate Team), Mass Effect 3 and most recently in Dead Space 3. I spoke with a number of gamers that played the latter, and the general sentiment is that the ability to purchase game-boosting items did not negatively impact the experience. One person even told me that he made a couple of purchases and felt he had too much ammunition and an excess of health packs, diminishing the tension of the experience.

Second, it’s critical to recognize that the speaker and the setting absolutely matter. These presentations are designed to provide compelling information and make the company look as investor-friendly as possible. So, when EA’s CFO presents and talks about all the wonderful things gamers are going to buy with incremental purchases (and therefore make a healthy return on investment), it’s probably nothing gamers should take at face value. It doesn’t mean that micro-transactions are going to become intrusive. It doesn’t mean that the core retail-priced experience will suffer. All it means is that the things you already see in Madden, FIFA, Mass Effect and Dead Space are going to pop up in other games. Use them or don’t. It’s your choice. If you really despise the practice, don’t purchase the game. Just make an informed choice once all of the information is available.

Persona 2 is out on the PlayStation Store as a PSOne Classic (yay!). It’s not working on PSP or Vita yet (boo!). But Atlus is working on it, because it’s supposed to (yay!). More Persona is a good thing (super yay!).

THQ’s remaining back catalog is going up for sale. Initial bids are due on April 1, 2013, with final bids in on April 15, 2013. At that point, a top bidder and back-up will be announced. Sales will be presented to the court to be finalized in May. THQ has stated that they’ve had over 100 inquiries about properties. The sales will be handled in lots, so some winners are likely going to end up with property that won’t see any movement. Here are the groupings:

Lot 1 – OWNED SOFTWARE

  • Red Faction
  • Red Faction Armageddon
  • Red Faction 2
  • Red Faction: Guerrilla

Lot 2 – OWNED SOFTWARE

  • Homeworld
  • Homeworld 2

Lot 3 – OWNED SOFTWARE

  • MX Alive
  • MX vs ATV Untamed
  • MX Superfly featuring Ricky Carmichael
  • MX vs. ATV Alive Tournament
  • MX Unleashed
  • MX vs. ATV Unleashed
  • MX vs ATV Reflex
  • MX vs. ATV: On The Edge

Lot 4 – OWNED SOFTWARE

  • Darksiders
  • Darksiders 2

Lot 5 – OWNED SOFTWARE

  • All Star Cheer Squad
  • Elements of Destruction
  • All Star Cheer Squad 2
  • Fantastic Pets
  • All Star Karate
  • Frontlines: Fuel of War
  • Baja: Edge of Control
  • Full Spectrum Warrior 1
  • Battle of the Bands
  • Full Spectrum Warrior 2: Ten Hammers
  • Beat City
  • Juiced
  • Big Beach Sports
  • Juiced 2: Hot Import Nights
  • Big Beach Sports 2
  • Lock’s Quest: Construction Combat
  • Big Family Games
  • Neighborhood Games
  • Crawler
  • Pax Imperia
  • de Blob
  • Stuntman: Ignition
  • de Blob 2
  • Summoner
  • Deadly Creatures
  • Summoner 2
  • Deep Six
  • Terranium
  • Destroy All Humans!
  • The Outfit
  • Destroy All Humans! 2
  • Titan Quest
  • Destroy All Humans! Big Willy Unleashed
  • Titan Quest: Immortal Throne
  • Destroy All Humans! Path of the Furon
  • uDraw
  • Dood’s Big Adventure
  • World of Zoo
  • Drawn to Life
  • Drawn to Life: The Next Chapter

Lot 6 – LICENSED SOFTWARE (buyer to pay any cure costs)

  • Costume Quest
  • Scripps Spelling Bee (Scripps)
  • Daniel X (SueJack)
  • Sherlock Holmes and the Mystery of Osborne House
  • Deepak Chopra’s Leela (Curious Holdings)
  • Stacking
  • Fancy Nancy: Tea Party Time! (Harper Collins)
  • Supreme Commander
  • Jeopardy
  • Supreme Commander Forged Alliance
  • Jeopardy 2
  • The Biggest Loser
  • Journey to the Center of the Earth
  • Truth or Lies
  • Let’s Ride Best of Breed
  • Vampire Legends: Power of Three (dtp)
  • Marvel Super Hero Squad: Comic Combat
  • Wheel of Fortune
  • Marvel Super Hero Squad: The Infinity Gauntlet
  • Wheel of Fortune 2
  • Marvel Super Hero Squad: The Infinity Gauntlet 2
  • World of Zoo
  • Nancy Drew: The Hidden Staircase
  • Worms 2
  • Nexuiz
  • Worms Battle Islands
  • Paws & Claws Marine Rescue
  • Worms Open Warfare
  • Paws & Claws Pampered Pets Resort 3D
  • Worms: A Space Oddity
  • PurrPals 2
  • Worms: Open Warfare 2 (Team 17)
  • Rio
  • You Don’t Know Jack (Jellyvision)
  • Rocket Riot
  • Screwjumper (Frozen Codebase)

Lot 6 could be challenging depending on the cure amounts (funds paid to settle any amounts owed to license holders), but it includes You Don’t Know Jack and Costume Quest. I expect that whomever wins will be making arrangements to part with the items they don’t want. I would be surprised if the Homeworld, Darksiders and Red Faction lots don’t attract serious interest.

 

Entertainment!

Assassin’s Creed takes the spotlight today in the big Xbox Games on Demand sale. In honor of the discounts, I thought you might want to see how the pros play the multiplayer portion of that series. This stars my good friend Andie Gbingie, a fan turned Ubisoft employee and a master of the stun move.

Last night, 1,200 people gathered in New York City for the preview of Sony’s PlayStation 4. There are still plenty of important details we don’t know, and Sony is being coy around the more controversial points (namely a used game lockout). Last night wasn’t about coloring in the picture, rather this is the outline. We now know Sony’s vision for its next generation hardware, and the underlying tone was a conciliatory one. Without directly addressing the drawbacks of the PlayStation 3, speakers touted features clearly intended to correct them.

From a technical perspective, details were covered in broad strokes. The CPU is a classic X86 with an 8-core processor for ease of development, there is an enhanced PC GPU, 6x Blu-Ray player, 802.11n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 2.1, USB 3.0, HDMI and the PS4 will come with 8GB of unified GDDR5 RAM (compared to the PS3’s 256MB for system and 256MB for video). The PS4 will feature a second chip for processing in the background. This will enable digital titles to be playable during the download and downloads to take place even while the main power is off. We don’t know all the details, but the memory spec is certainly impressive. In addition to the significant increase over the PS3, the unified RAM will give developers a great deal of flexibility. For convenience, users will be able to suspend the system into a very low power mode and resume activity much faster than a standard boot-up. This is similar to the sleep mode found on the Vita, which also got a big bump last night.

The Vita will be used for off-screen gaming, not unlike what Nintendo has done with the Wii U Gamepad. Using technology pioneered by Gaikai (a cloud gaming company Sony purchased in 2012), the fidelity of the handheld’s remote play capabilities will be greatly improved. Given the problems I’ve had in my own home with using the Wii U’s off-screen capabilities, I can only hope that Sony has a plan to boost the signal.

There is also hope that in the future the Gaikai technology will be usable to stream titles from Sony’s entire back library. It’s important to note that this is extremely unlikely for launch, and based on Sony’s history of delivering on promises like this, I wouldn’t include it in a purchase decision. It might happen later in the console cycle, but I would be astonished if it became reality in the first 12 – 24 months. Along with this, Sony made clear that the PS4 will not be backward compatible, even for PSN purchases (per Engadget). That’s a huge blow, and may harm revenues on the PSN from now until the launch of the PS4. I will not be investing another dime knowing that my PS3 will spend most of its time disconnected come the fall.

The Dual Shock 4 controller revealed last night looks similar to the prototype image that was making the rounds last week. The thumbsticks have raised rims for control, the triggers have been improved and latency has been reduced. The center of the gamepad features a touchpad, and there is a “share” button that will enable instant streaming and sharing. Similar to the Xbox 360 controller, the DS4 features a headset port. My hope is that this will not obsolete high end gaming headsets and will, instead, simply require a chat cable running to that port. Sony would do well to pack in a low cost headset for chat, much as Microsoft has done since 2005.

Development is being led by Mark Cerny, a game developer known for Marble Madness, Crash Bandicoot and Spyro the Dragon. With Cerny involved, there is a significant and respected developer presence that Sony desperately needs in order to compete in the eighth generation. In addition to his work on the hardware, Cerny is working on a game called Knack, featuring a little robot that can grow and change shape by pulling in objects and particles from the environment.

The remainder of the night was a smattering of games, including:

  • Killzone: Shadow Fall – Developed by Guerrilla Games, the short gameplay we were shown displayed an uptick in graphical fidelity over this generation, a gun that can be mutated from assault rifle to sniper rifle and back and a slowdown effect similar to a first-person bullet time. It amazes me that even now, game designers can’t make a character walking down the stairs look natural.
  • DriveClub – Developed by Evolution Studios, this team-based racing game is all about the authentic experience. The view is a true first person (rather than standard cockpit), the recreations have been done lovingly and painstakingly. This title will feature a mobile app that will allow players to create challenges and put it out in the world immediately. Gearheads should keep their eyes on this one.
  • inFAMOUS: Second Son – As soon as the word “super powers” was mentioned by Nate Fox of Sucker Punch, I knew that inFAMOUS was finally coming back. The presence of multiple superpowered people might indicate that Sucker Punch has canonized one of the endings of inFAMOUS 2. Additionally, the name “Second Son” likely is a reference to the secret society/terrorist organization known as First Sons that were prominent in the first two games.
  • Jonathon Blow’s The Witness -In a presentation dripping with condescension for almost everything else Sony showed last night, Jonathon Blow  showed off his 25-hour, no filler puzzle game, The Witness. It will appear first on PS4 during the launch window. Despite his assertion that every puzzle is different, the entire montage showed similar tiles. Perhaps they are all different in the way that every Bioshock hacking puzzle is “different.”
  • Quantic Dream showed off an old man’s head. He had very expressive eyes. They said, “Why am I just a head?”
  • Media Molecule displayed some kind of sculpting and puppetry tech demo. It utilizes Move controllers. It’s OK to be sad.
  • Capcom displayed the first look an their new Panta Rhei engine. Go ahead, be funny. We exhausted the “panty raid” jokes last night. The game on top of the new tech is tentatively called Deep Dive and featured some crazy dragon-fighting action that was reminiscent of Demon’s Souls and Dark Souls. Even through the 480p webcast, it was easy to tell that the next generation will experience a significant graphical uptick.
  • Square Enix took the stage to show off an eight month old tech demo. While Yoshihisa Hashimoto called it a “cinematic demo,” Square Enix PR told me that it was real-time and not cinematic.
  • Watch Dogs, one of the most interesting surprises at E3 2012 will be coming to PlayStation 4 at launch.
  • Diablo III is coming to PS4 through a strategic partnership between Blizzard and Sony. Translation: Do not expect it on Microsoft’s next-gen console.
  • We got a few more seconds of gameplay footage for Bungie’s Destiny. Unsurprisingly it will be coming to PS4. Eric Hirschberg, CEO of Activision Publishing, did raise my eyebrows when he mentioned exclusive content on the system. Activision has typically done those sorts of deals with Microsoft.

Of note, EA was not present on stage. The absence of a publisher of that magnitude is surprising.

Here’s what we didn’t hear last night and should expect to get some more clarity on at E3:

  • There have been rumors of a used game lockout. Eurogamer was told that it wouldn’t happen on the PS4, but that doesn’t rule out some sort of additional fee for reusing discs.
  • During this generation, Microsoft clearly had the advantage when it comes to online services. The free PSN wasn’t nearly as powerful (or stable) as the pay-for-play Xbox Live. Will Sony put their online gaming and other services (like Netflix) behind a paywall to finance their infrastructure improvements and maintenance?
  • Speaking of the PSN, Sony addressed the terrible updating system with the dedicated second chip. However, the streaming, sharing and future Gaikai cloud gaming will require a significant improvement in the service. Is Sony prepared to invest in that kind of infrastructure?
  • We don’t know how many SKUs there will be.
  • We don’t know even a ballpark range for the system’s cost.
  • We know that we’ll have the PS4 this holiday, but beyond that, we’re still in the dark.

We’re entering a very exciting time. Sony has taken the first big steps, and now it’s up to Microsoft to respond, and I’d expect them to do so before E3. Stay tuned for more details.

The January NPD report is out, and things are not looking good for the Wii U or the PlayStation Vita. Let’s start with Nintendo. January marks the end of Nintendo’s self-professed launch window, and console owners will note that many of the anticipated titles are either not yet released or all together missing. Aliens: Colonial Marines is rumored to be on indefinite hold (especially after the thrashing it has received in the press). Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate won’t be out for another month. The same goes for LEGO City Undercover. Rayman Legends has been delayed until the fall in order to capitalize on a multiplatform release. No one knows exactly when The Wonderful 101Pikmin 3 and Game & Wario will arrive. All of this, in combination with a terrible marketing and communications effort, has led to sales estimated to be between 45,000 and 59,000 in a month with an extra reporting week (per Gamasutra). That’s a worse performance than any month for either the Xbox 360 or the PlayStation 3.

If Nintendo does not immediately course correct, I expect a number of things to happen. There will be a leadership change at home in Japan and, likely, here in the US. Satoru Iwata has already set an almost unattainable goal for himself and his leadership team, targeting operating revenue of 100 billion yen in the coming year (up from approximately 20 billion yen as forecast for year ending March 31, 2013). Should that happen, I expect you will see new leadership in place that will endorse growth into the mobile market. Nintendo has been as of yet unwilling to license its core franchises (Mario, Zelda, Metroid, etc.) to take advantage of the hungry iOS and Android market. As a measure of last resort, Nintendo could back out of the home console market entirely in favor of development on platforms with which it currently competes.

As a matter of comparison, I spent some time looking at the sales numbers for the Sega Dreamcast, that company’s swan song in the hardware sector. Here’s what I found out thanks to some excellent reporting by Douglass Perry at Gamasutra. In the first day, the Dreamcast sold more than 225,000 units in North America. In the first four days? 372,000 units. The first two weeks saw a total of 514,000 units sold (not shipped).

In comparison, according to the NPD Group, the Wii U sold 417,000 in November 2012. In December, that number climbed a bit to 463,000 (total: 888,000). The January total, even at its most generous, puts the Wii U at under 1 million units in the US. In comparison, Sega broke that barrier in two and a half months, which was a faster sales pace than the original PlayStation. According to Peter Moore, when the decision was made to drop out of the hardware race, the company was moving tens of thousands of units each day. Nintendo sold no more than 59,000 Wii U consoles in a five-week reporting month that comes less than three months after release. So, why did Moore pull the plug on the Dreamcast? He knew that Sega could not compete with the PlayStation 2 and the as-of-yet unannounced Xbox.

Will Nintendo walk the same path? Not necessarily. There are a number of differing aspects, and the times have changed. Nintendo can utilize mobile to supplement its revenue, and the 3DS has recovered from its own rocky start. It is important to know the numbers and study history, though. Sega backed out and saved their company. Nintendo perseveres and is currently trading at 52-week lows. The next few months are absolutely critical, especially with Sony and Microsoft poised to step into the next generation. It’s not too late, but it will be soon.

With the ongoing contraction in the industry, the lame duck period we’re about to enter into is absolutely critical for Nintendo. Their window to make a compelling case for the Wii U ends once the fall arrives. It’s time for radically different thinking about mobile and a completely new communications plan that explicitly details the value of the Wii U to consumers. Incentivizing development and a healthy co-marketing budget are going to be critical to jump start adoption.

With regard to Sony’s presentation next week, eyes won’t just be on the future of living room gaming, but the prospects for the Vita’s recovery. Sony’s latest handheld sold only 35,000 units in January (NA), with few solid software prospects on the horizon. Integration with the PlayStation 4 would go far to enhancing the value of Sony’s new home console.

 

I wanted to issue a correction to a piece I published on January 24, 2013, entitled “The smiles and sadness of THQ’s final hours.”

In that piece, I stated that there were no overbids during the process and that each high bid was awarded the assets on which they were bidding. It turns out that I was mistaken. According to a story run by MCV today, there was a bidding war for Volition, Saints Row and Metro. The opposing party was none other than Clearlake, the group that had attempted a $60 million takeover of the entirety of THQ. Koch Media, which eventually secured all three assets, opened with a bid of $20.5 million for Volition and Saints Row. Clearlake pushed them up to the final amount of $22.3 million. The next highest rival publisher was Ubisoft at $5.4 million.

The same was true of Koch’s initial offer for Metro. Clearlake bid them up from $4.5 million to $5.8 million. To the best of my understanding, these were the only instances of counterbidding. I apologize for my previous error.

Yesterday brought some much-needed good news for some of the 80 or so Vigil Games employees laid off in the wake of last week’s THQ asset auction. Gamasutra broke the news that Crytek is expanding into the United States with a new studio based in Austin, Texas. Not only does Austin have a significant pool of developer talent, but it also happens to be where Vigil Games was located. The staff of 35 for Crytek US has been built, in part, from former Darksiders development team members, as well as others already located in the area. It’s important to note that this isn’t the entire Vigil team. When THQ laid off staff in March after the change to Warhammer 40,000: Dark Millennium Onlineit was estimated that the loss of 79 jobs amounted to half of Vigil’s employment. Assuming that numbers did not fluctuate greatly over the remainder of 2012, there are still approximately 40 – 50 people laid off last week that won’t be included in Crytek’s US plans.

Among those names is Haydn Dalton, Lead Designer on Darksiders II. Dalton tweeted last night,

“I’m not involved in the Crytek Austin team, but I wish them all the best in whatever they do next.”

It is unclear at this time whether this was his decision.

It’s important to realize that Crytek’s move into Austin, while cleverly timed, is not an acquisition of Vigil Games. There was no purchase of assets involved. The key intellectual properties for which Vigil was responsible (Darksiders and the title codenamed “Crawler“) are still slated for sale with the rest of the back catalog and assets that weren’t transferred in the auction. Jason Rubin confirmed as much yesterday via Twitter.

In fact, The Escapist received comment from Crytek indicating that its new US studio will not work on Darksiders at all, leaving the fate of that IP still unknown. Had Crytek gone through the auction process to acquire the talent and IPs, they would have likely had to spend far more than they are, and they would probably have had to lay off some individuals. If their bid had been too low, it could have faced a successful shareholder objection, which could have led to a higher purchase price or straight out abandonment of the deal.

While Crytek doesn’t have access to any of the work that the ex-Vigil staff were engaged in at time of THQ’s demise, their timely expansion does accomplish two things. First, the talent pool in Austin is currently ripe. There is no shortage of skilled developers in the area, giving Crytek their pick for the best possible team without having to spend a dime on relocation. Second, they’ve navigated some dicey public relations waters. Since Crytek may have had to lay off some staff post-acquisition (had they gone through the auction process), there was risk for bad press. By creating a new studio and hiring on a great number of now-unemployed developers, they appear to be unequivocal saviors.

Crytek’s move into the US is good news that comes at a time when we could all use some, but we cannot lose sight that there are still many Vigil Games and THQ corporate staff that find themselves out of work. Here’s hoping that those individuals get their good news soon.

Update: I wanted to issue a correction. I stated that there were no overbids during the process and that each high bid was awarded the assets on which they were bidding. It turns out that I was mistaken. According to a story run by MCV today, there was a bidding war for Volition, Saints Row and Metro. The opposing party was none other than Clearlake, the group that had attempted a $60 million takeover of the entirety of THQ. Koch Media, which eventually secured all three assets, opened with a bid of $20.5 million for Volition and Saints Row. Clearlake pushed them up to the final amount of $22.3 million. The next highest rival publisher was Ubisoft at $5.4 million.

The same was true of Koch’s initial offer for Metro. Clearlake bid them up from $4.5 million to $5.8 million. To the best of my understanding, these were the only instances of counterbidding. I apologize for my previous error.

The past 72 hours have been filled with emotion as gamers, media and employees awaited news on the fate of THQ’s holdings. To view the proceedings as nothing more than business transactions would be a terrible error. Sealed in the envelope with every bid was a possible future. I am fond of using Shrodinger’s Cat as an analogy, and it seems especially appropriate here. Between 9 AM on January 22, 2013, when bids were submitted in Delaware until approximately 3 PM the following day, the path forward for nearly every THQ employee had been set in motion. In the intervening 30 hours, the amazing staff at Volition, Vigil and Relic found themselves in the strangest of places. They knew that something was going to change. They just didn’t know exactly how or what.

So, many of them did the only thing they could. Pictures posted on Twitter show that they laughed and celebrated the fantastic work done over the years living under THQ’s roof. They enjoyed each others company, some for the last time as a team. As the sun rose on January 23, 2013, social media networks were abuzz, anxious for the scheduled 9:30 AM hearing in Wilmington. The tension was to be prolonged, with presiding Judge Mary Walrath dismissing court attendees, as the auction had not yet been completed.

The process, though rife with stipulations and assurances, amounted to simple sealed bidding. Each interested party was required to put forward their best offer. If a bidder were interested in improving its chances after initial proposals were revealed, the best qualified bid would serve as an opening amount for further discussion and haggling. Increases would be entertained at no less than $250,000.

At approximately 3:35 PM, court reconvened. It wasn’t long after that we started seeing tweets pop up from employees at all three studios. The first hint that things were moving came via a tweet from a Relic employee. Sega had picked up the Company of Heroes and Dawn of War studio. Shortly thereafter, a variety of outlets started sharing concrete details. The overview painted a picture of hope. Volition, Relic, THQ Montreal, the titles those studios were working on (including Patrice Désilet’s upcoming project), Obsidian’s South Park: The Stick of Truth, 4A Games’ Metro series, Turtle Rock’s Evolved and Crytek’s Homefront 2 had found homes. Noticeably absent was any mention of Vigil Games, home of the Darksiders franchise. 

While we’re still waiting on the full transcripts of the proceedings, according to Ilene Slatko of Delaware Shareholder Services who was in the courtroom, there were no overbids.  You can read all of Ilene’s notes on the events, which include shareholder objections, right here. The full court document with winning and runner up bids, as well as cure amounts (monies that must be paid out to settle outstanding debts related to the acquisitions) can be found here.

While all the numbers are certainly of interest, one stands out. Crytek’s acquisition of Homefront 2 for $544,000 is brilliant. While under contract with THQ, the studio had been paid for their services (no doubt in the millions beginning before the project was officially announced in September 2011). Payments received do not include the $1 million cure amount listed in the filing. For the cost of forgoing the $1 million owed plus the outlay of $544,000, Crytek now owns all of the work they had already been paid to create outright. Typically in a work for hire situation, contractors do not own their work during production or when finished (though CryEngine 3, on which Homefront 2 is being constructed, is a different matter). For Crytek to have reaped payments and then also own the finished project positions them quite well. While they will need to work with a publisher in order to bring the game to market, their existing relationship with EA should facilitate that process. EA offers a suite of co-publishing services available through contractual arrangement. It also bears mentioning that games published through this program are not required to include an online pass.

Another significant transaction in this process is Koch Media/Deep Silver’s acquisition of Volition and Saints Row. Many gamers know Deep Silver for Dead Island and the Risen series, and those that aren’t tuned into the behind-the-scenes aspects of the business might have been a bit surprised by the media excitement over this turn of events.  While it takes many people on the publishing side to get a game into the hands of consumers, one individual in particular in this case is cause for enthusiasm. Aubrey Norris, Manager of Marketing and PR, is well-loved for her quirky communiques and upbeat approach to her work. Everything she does is full of personality, helping the projects she is involved with stand out in a crowded environment. There is no better fit for the over-the-top Saints Row series than Aubrey Norris, and the social media feeds of dozens of other journalists will back me up.

While there were certainly bright moments yesterday, a glaring omission on the list of purchases was Vigil Games. The studio brought in no bidders, which immediately signaled mass layoffs. As the news started to sink in, employees started sharing their thoughts with the world. Of note, Darksiders series Lead Designer Haydn Dalton simply tweeted, “It’s a wrap.” Ben Cureton, Lead Combat Designer on Darksiders II took to NeoGAF to offer a heartfelt message of disappointment, but more importantly, gratitude.

“I can only say thank you to the fans of Vigil games… You are the reason we made Darksiders 1 & 2…and you are the reason we will continue to make games.”

You can read the entire statement here (via Game Informer).

The departure of studio Founder and Creative Director Joe Madrureira in October 2012 was an unexpected blow. It was, in part, his art style that drove adoration for Darksiders. Additionally, Vigil had just completed the second game in that series and was working on a new IP. According to THQ CEO Jason Rubin in an interview this week with Game Informer, this put the studio furthest from title completion of any of the publisher’s holdings. The fact that they were also working on a new property, codenamed Crawler, meant even more risk for a potential suitor. A confluence of timing and staffing changes made it difficult to find another publisher interested in the studio, though I retain hope that someone will rescue both staff and series.

I greatly enjoyed Darksiders (Metacritic: 83), and Darksiders II (Metacritic: 84) was the first game I’ve ever awarded a 10 out of 10. That this might be the end of the road for the Horsemen is a tragedy for gamers. The hints that Platinum Games might be interested in acquiring Darksiders when the back catalog goes up for sale are hopeful, especially if it means that some of the fine people that were at Vigil are brought on. Haydn Dalton shared some hints at the direction in which the series was heading, and the concepts he spoke of leave me longing for good news about the future of the franchise.

In the face of so much change, a lot of it for the worse, an opportunity was presented for the gaming industry to rally support for those in need. Publishers and developers did not let that moment slip by, as dozens of studios chimed in with information on open positions, including some opportunities for staff that didn’t have a direct hand in development (public relations, community development, human resources and more). Journalist Alex Rubens has compiled and shared a growing list of companies currently hiring, as he did following the collapse of 38 Studios.

As the media cycle wound down, Deep Silver and Ubisoft, who now controls former employee Patrice Désilets’ team at THQ Montreal as well as the publishing rights for South Park: The Stick of Truth, officially confirmed their acquisitions. (Note: whether Désilets will follow his team and projects to Ubisoft is unknown at this time.) Sega issued a press release regarding their purchase of Relic the next day. On January 24, 2013, the purchases were approved by the court, but this story is far from over.

Over the coming weeks and months, we will learn more about how the former THQ studios are settling into their new relationships. We’ll hear about the fate of THQ’s back catalog, changes in release dates (or, better yet, that those previously announced are still in place), new projects and altered directions for some of those already in progress. The most interesting stories aren’t going to be about the games, though. The real news is the human impact and the way the industry stepped forward to take care of its own.

To those of you who were at THQ and its studios, thank you for all of the wonderful experiences you’ve given us over the years. For those currently seeking new employment, our thoughts and hopes for a brief and fruitful search are with you.

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Yarrrrr, here there be spoilers.


The week before Far Cry 3 arrived, I took to Twitter and typed something puerile to the effect of, “Far Cry 3 is dumb, and I don’t care about it, so nanny nanny boo boo.”

OK. Maybe it wasn’t phrased quite so eloquently, but you get the idea.

I enjoy shooters, but at the end of a busy fall filled with high-profile games, I had no idea why I should care about what Ubisoft was dishing out. Nothing that I had seen during the many press events in 2012 justified the amount of marketing dollars spent (including hair styling stations giving fans mohawks in the style of the game’s poster character).

The total knowledge I had of the game at that point can be summed up in three bullet points:

  • I have never played Far Cry 2, but people I trust tell me that I would get more enjoyment from chewing on glass.
  • I saw the trailer with the “Insanity mohawk guy” (now known to be villainous henchman Vaas) and wasn’t terribly impressed.
  • I played the multiplayer at E3, and I had a good time, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that it was a Left 4 Dead clone. This isn’t a bad thing, mind you. It just wasn’t a huge selling point.

Against my better judgment, I was convinced (by the same people who explained to me the Far Cry 2 / glass paradigm) to rush out and pick up Ubisoft’s oddly timed open world jungle adventure. (Have I mentioned that I still can’t figure out why this game was pushed past Black Friday and out of the prime sales window?) I got home, put the kids to bed and sat down to… what the actual f&*k is this?

I have to hand it to Ubisoft. I have never been more turned off by a game’s opening cinematic than I was by Far Cry 3’s. (Keep in mind that I’ve recently played Resident Evil: Director’s Cut for the first time.) Imagine the young “stars” of one of Bravo’s nauseating socialite reality shows on an extreme sports vacation, defiling an island paradise. Toss in some expensive booze, drugs and casual sex. (Wait, that’s redundant.) If you haven’t vomited in your mouth yet, you have a stronger stomach than I. The only thing running through my mind was that I hoped to god that I didn’t have to actually interact with those spoiled trust fund kids.

Oh. I have to play as one of those lovely one-percenters. Goody.

Things started looking up quickly. It’s not uncommon for a villain to steal the show, but pirate leader Vaas (masterfully acted by Michael Mando, who also provided his likeness) is a true psychopath. Vulgarity isn’t an anomaly in M-rated video games, but it rarely serves a purpose. With Vaas, the language is in service of his psychopathy. His mood swings are unpredictable, and I found myself jumping just a bit when he unexpectedly, and suddenly, erupted.

Once I was in control of my character, I started to experience diametrically opposed emotions. I was thrilled by the escape from Vaas and his pirates, but put off by Jason’s simpering and whining. (Not that my reaction in a similar situation would be any different than his. If I’m ever captured by pirates and about to be sold into slavery, don’t watch the home videos… and delete my browser history, too.)

Vaas and his men decide to make sport of their young captive with a mock escape ending in a tumble down a steep cliff. Jason finds himself saved by the mysterious Dennis, who was also kind enough to give him a freaking tattoo (sorry, tatau) while the blue-blooded lad slept off his wounds. For whatever reason, Jason is cool with a guy randomly giving him tetanus (or worse).

From that point on, the story rapidly descends into a colonialist power fantasy akin to James Cameron’s Avatar (though Cameron is far more adept at storycraft). Man comes to foreign land, man is held up as savior of the indigenous people, man avenges all the bad stuff that happens to him and decides to stay behind because he’s “found his place.”

I should utterly despise Far Cry 3. I’m a “story guy.” It’s rarer than an albino crocodile that narrative isn’t the most important thing in a game experience for me. With the exception of Vaas, the island’s characters are insipid. This is no clearer than when Jason saves Oliver, the token stoner kid with the shiny label still on his hat. Even about to be sold into slavery, the idiot doesn’t fear for his life. He stands around gawking at the cool explosions and Jason’s sweet new ink. There is absolutely nothing about the narrative that is the least bit appealing or original.

Why then, did I see Far Cry 3 all the way through?

Put simply, the exploration. Roaming around Rook Island is addicting, largely because of the unintentional narrative created by the living world. Where the scripted story falters, the moment-to-moment experiences shine. Taking over the outposts (and thus converting them to fast-travel safehouses) were some of the more memorable bits. Experience bonuses are awarded for remaining undetected or, failing that, preventing alarms from sounding.

Even after I had acquired every skill and could no longer earn experience points, I still found myself skulking through the brush, using my camera to tag and track enemies. My favorite outposts were the ones in which the pirates and privateers were foolish enough to keep captive predators. It’s humorous to watch a bear or tiger maul foes, but the cackling really began when cassowary inhabited the cages. Those birds are vicious, and watching them peck a pirate to death while safely out of range made me laugh every time.  

Climbing radio towers (similar to viewpoints found in Assassin’s Creed), taking over outposts, collecting lost letters from Japanese troops, hunting animals to craft bigger, better gear and stalking enemies to kill with a knife (in the native tradition) all provided experiences that far surpassed any scripted dialog. The set piece moments stole the show. Escaping from a burning building, fighting giant otherworldly gods (I promise it almost makes sense) and even well packaged quicktime events are all the elements that drew me back to Far Cry 3.

I’m aware that Jeffrey Yohalem, the game’s lead writer, has expressed that we simply don’t “get” the story. He told the Penny Arcade Report’s Sophie Prell that gamers and journalists aren’t looking hard enough. Unfortunately, there are two sides of every exchange: the sender and the receiver. If there is deeper commentary in Far Cry 3, as Yohalem claims, one party involved failed. It isn’t the one that the writer would have us believe.

Far Cry 3 is a deeply flawed game. The story isn’t just forgettable; it’s offensive. It celebrates deep rooted imperialism that the majority of us have long come to recognize as harmful and disrespectful. The side quests are typically boring fetch tasks, with similar-looking natives (“they all look the same to me”) begging for help from the powerful white boy. In fact, every native, pirate and privateer seems to know what Jason Brody looks like (even behind the wheel of a quickly-moving vehicle), but a key element of the story hinges on the island’s warlord, Hoyt Volker, being oblivious to the appearance of the protagonist. Not only is this devoid of logic, it’s insulting to the player. While it is later revealed that Hoyt has caught on, it is never made clear exactly when that happens. Either Hoyt is a fool, allowing Jason to destroy his communications array and fuel reserves, or he is an idiot for being oblivious to the ruse.

When I had exhausted the supply of side activities, I reluctantly returned to the script to finish the main story. After over 25 hours of play, I wished I hadn’t. There are two endings, and neither provided me with any reason to invest in the story, the one piece of the puzzle that must be present for me to enjoy interactive narratives. After over two dozen largely enjoyable hours, I am left feeling like the part of the game I was supposed to play, those firm rails upon which the rollercoaster of a story chugs along, were the least meaningful. I am cognizant of the feat that the game play designers have accomplished, keeping me aboard despite my revulsion at the heavy-handed tale. I admire the skill they have shown in their craft, while simultaneously wondering how the two halves of the title could be so dramatically different.

But what redeems the experience and makes it worth purchasing and playing is what’s left after the shoddily written story is stripped away. The value is found in the moments when Jason is silent and forgotten; when the player inserts him or herself into the drama as it spontaneously unfolds. The unexpected events, whether from prowling wildlife or an impressively spreading fire, are what thrilled me, sunk hooks in deep and pulled me back time and again.

Narrative is deeply important to me, and I simply do not care for the one that Jeffrey Yohalem labored to tell. Still, Far Cry 3 is worth your attention. Just don’t play it for Yohalem’s story. Play it to create your own.