MTV's Stephen Totilo went to GDC last week and came back with a bag full of interesting interviews for faithful gamers. Speaking with Miyamoto early in the week, they had the chance to talk about Miis in the land of Hyrule, and playing Mario one-handed. Totilo also confirmed that the content-less keynote was due to a stock-related ban on future information. Bad timing, all around. At the end of last week, he had a chance to catch up with Penny Arcade's Jerry Holkins (Tycho). They chatted about the Rain-Slicked Precipice of Darkness, and the duo's high aspirations for the game: "If you're asking me whether or not I hope we make a good game, then yes, we are trying our best to make a game that is not annoying, that is not a pain in the ass, that can be played through in a reasonable time and is enjoyable from the beginning to the end."
Kotaku offers up a Microsoft press release on the unexpectedly early arrival of 6,000,000 players to the Xbox Live service. Along with some rather odd statistics to pass on (over 2,300,000,000 hours in-game time spent on the network already), there are some very interesting numerical tidbits passed on. An astonishing 70% of Live users have purchased a title from the Xbox Live arcade. Nearly half of all users hit the Marketplace at least once a session. This all has to add up to good news, financially, for Microsoft; but are they overreaching? GameInformer reports on pricing for Live on Windows Vista. Gold-level service is exactly the same as on the Xbox ($19.99 for three months), while Silver is free. Encouragingly, if you're already a Gold member on the 360 the same will be true on your PC. Just the same, the company is now charging for services normally taken for granted as a freebie on the PC platform.
Reuters - Microsoft Corp. on Monday announced plans to launch a 512MB Memory Unit for the Xbox 360 video game and entertainment system and an increase in the official size limit of Xbox LIVE(R) Arcade games from 50 MB to 150 MB.
twoallbeefpatties writes "Columnist Chris Suellentrop writes an article for Slate describing how his desire for casual gaming is fulfilled more by the 360 than the Wii due to the presence of simpler games available over Live Arcade. The availability of oldschool Nintendo games on the Wii network fulfills his nostalgic hardcore gaming side, but when he really wants to just relax, he'd rather be trying to top his Live high score on Root Beer Tapper. Says Suellentrop: 'The Nintendo Wii will transform the way we play games at home. But the Xbox 360, through its Xbox Live service, is building something equally compelling: a celestial arcade, where casual and hard-core gamers alike can connect over the Internet and find like-minded souls. For an old-timer like me, the celestial arcade also lets me feel like I still have some of my old gaming mojo.'"
C&VG offers up some news on Microsoft's next-gen games platform today. Most interesting are comments from Peter Moore indicating the company will be refocusing on fun, inspired by the financial and mass-market success of Nintendo's Wii. Says Moore "From a first-party point of view, it's not just about E-rated games, it's going to be about the experience that, quite frankly, Nintendo has done a tremendous job in capturing, in bringing back fun - if you will - to the gaming platforms." He's quick to point out that this is something they've had on the back burner for some time, and they intend to aim for 'experiential' games. The article wonders out loud, questioning whether this means Microsoft is planning to roll out a motion-sensing controller, or just more E and T rated games? Additionally, CVG points out that this week's Xbox Live Arcade release is The Behemoth's Alien Hominid . It's a tremendous side-scrolling 2d shooter, and well worth checking out.
Megnatron writes "Penny Arcade has a letter from the stepmother of one of the kids who was recently charged with killing a homeless man. Her article is an extremely sobering tale of the problems dealing with troubled teen. She explains how, in this situation, the parents did everything they possibly could. And, in a refreshing twist, she absolves the games industry of any blame for the tragedy these kids perpetrated. From her missive: 'Video games DID NOT make this kid who he was, and it's unfortunate that the correlation is there. The thing that really gets me with this whole thing is that the kid knows full well that by equating what he's done to a video game, that he will generate controversy and media coverage. It makes me sick that the media is jumping all over this, because that is exactly the result that he wants. The only good thing (if there is such a thing) that has come out of this whole ordeal is that the kid is behind bars. That is exactly where he needs to be.'" Her letter is a passionate, troubling story, but well worth reading.
Since the days of the arcades, the Area 51 games have been brainless bughunts: find the aliens, shoot the aliens. When game designer Harvey Smith was hired a few years ago to work on the next iteration of the franchise, he began to despair at the lackluster story elements in the game. As he put it: "Area 51 just bored the sh-- out of me, and I was like, 'How can we make this interesting?'" As MTV News reports, frustrations with politics both in the United States and abroad let to a solution that required months of convincing executives to see implemented. Blacksite: Area 51 will feature a new and more poignant story, as the aliens become poor American citizens put in harm's way. "Wait, what if they are terrorists we helped create? What if the people supporting us in our fight against the terrorists aren't completely clean either? What if they're sending us after them now, but what if 10 years ago it was safe for them to create them?' ... So what we have in 'BlackSite' is a delta-force assassination squad hunting down and killing members of an Army training program. So on American soil, Americans are fighting Americans, basically." The game is intended to be enjoyed regardless of subject matter, but Smith hopes that gamers will accept a title that even touches on some of the issues that popular television shows deal with on a regular basis. What do you think about this? Is there room for politics in gaming, or do you just want to shoot stuff?
You may recall the conversation we had at the end of last year, riffing off of a Retrogaming article on how Sega ruined Sonic. 1up has returned with a response, positing how the company can save their mascot from the death of ignominy. Their advice is simple: Go Fast, ditch Shadow, make fewer games. "Remember Blast Processing? It was a sham, sure, but the idea behind it was a perfect summation of what Sonic was about: A game so fast that the Genesis had to be specially programmed to keep up with it. Slowing down to drink in the ambiance or whatever is pretty much the exact opposite of Blast Processing. Being forced to, say, go fishing in a Sonic game is like buying a Ferrari so you can take naps in the backseat."
Prepared for a career dealing with casual gaming, well-respected group manager for the Xbox Live Arcade Greg Canessa has left Microsoft for PopCap Games. Citing an interest in mass appeal for videogames and now helming PopCap's platform business, Canessa will be responsible for pushing the company's casual games out to new places. He says, of his new position: "I think we are looking at what could be the next Blizzard or EA in the game industry with PopCap, and I want to be a part of that." How important do you think casual games are to the future of the industry? Is the 'mass appeal' of these games really such that we could see a casual developer rise to the prominence of an EA or a Blizzard?
With some brand-new content, modern classics, and old favorites thrown together, Microsoft has announced the details for 10 new Xbox Live Arcade titles. Starting with the first week of February, a series of games will bring some new blood back to Xbox Live Wednesdays. While it's nice to see them announcing new titles like Eets and Band of Bugs, some of these titles have been vaguely expected since the middle of last year. Catan, Alien Hominid, and Worms have been expected for months now, so it's definitely gratifying to see these slated to be released in the near future. Here's hoping the company keeps up this initiative moving forward into 2007.