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Microsoft’s E3 Conference: A Quick Roundup of Events

xbox-one-consoleMicrosoft is one of the videogame sector’s biggest players. It is a giant among minnows. Its videogame division has revenues of £5.5Bn and it is a massive player in both the console and PC gaming environments. Because of Microsoft’s role as console maker, games maker and all-out technology superpower, their E3 conferences are usually a big fan favourite. This year was no different.

First, we need to highlight something. It’s something really, really big. Microsoft at last year’s E3 talked about the Xbox One as an ‘all round entertainment platform’. Yesterday’s announcement was a little less grandiose as the focus of the entire event was on gaming. This is surprising as ‘entertainment’ was no-where to be seen? No Steven Spielberg made TV shows or music or social media apps, just boring old video games? What happened?

Microsoft in the past year has been ‘listening to fans’ and these ‘listening exercises’ resulted in some wholesale changes – not least of all, the boot given to the Kinect sensor. The changes were predicated on fan’s requirements that Microsoft, in a way, goes back to basics. This is what Microsoft’s E3 endeavours were all about.

They started off by ‘dropping’ the One. Not one mention of the Xbox One. It was all ‘Xbox’ and nothing else. The games demoed included Halo 5, Forza Horizon 2 along with Fable Legends. In the ‘active’ camps they announced Dance Central as a somewhat ‘Kinect’ ready title. However, they continued with a nice little exclusive surrounding a new game called Scalebound – a dragon fighting epic.

In usual Microsoft fashion, ‘exclusive’ DLC packs are going to be made available for Call of Duty: Advance Warfare before PS4 and additionally for Tom Clancy’s The Divison which will have special DLC features. Another ‘gem’ from the past was the announcement that Microsoft and Real-Time Worlds are working on a re-boot, of sorts, of the cult classic Crackdown.

These titles showcase a changing attitude from Microsoft, led by Phil Spencer, as they move away from the entertainment-only focus which was a disaster first-time round for the Xbox (One). The core branding is a nod to the disaster of the Xbox One and Kinect launch. They are offering fans a Mea Culpa – an apology – of sorts by offering some great next-gen content. This is the key here, as last year developers were working on multi platforms (i.e. PS3/PS4 and Xbox 360 and Xbox One). This time round they are just working on next-gen – this can be seen in the quality. So thank goodness Microsoft has seen the error in its ways and have found new traction and new motivation to move forwards.

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Finish Him…. It’s Coming Soon To The Next Gen Consoles, Mortal Kombat X Announced!

Mortal-Kombat-10-Fan-Screen-1.1Suddenly appearing on Amazon today, Mortal Kombat X has been ‘outed’ by developer NetherRealm and publisher Warner Brothers. The slip-up by the US online retailer said the game was to be launched in 2015, at some point? However, co-creator of Mortal Kombat and Creative Director of NetherRealm Studios, Ed Boon has been quietly, well as quietly as you can with nearly a hundred thousand followers, started to tease the release of one of the most influential video games in history. The presses, from the bastions of press release re-writing like IGN to the gutter rags like Metro have all started to go ‘viral’ about the announcement of Mortal Kombat 10 or X depending on where you are reading this. Mortal Kombat is a game that changed everything. In 1993 a game was released which trigged a slight ‘controversy’. To put into context, the BBC paid great lip service to Warner Bros’ release of Mortal Kombat saying it “was the equivalent of Disney distributing Reservoir Dogs or American Psycho on Sesame Street.” Mortal Kombat has become a brand that has survived long after the demise of the myriad of consoles it has enlightened. The news that Mortal Kombat X will hit the ‘next-gen’ consoles has already started to wet fans’ appetites about thumping Sub Zero or thrashing Raven in beautiful high def, or as high def as one 720p can go with the next gen consoles! More news will be forthcoming as the developer releases more information. So keep tuned!

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Sky Go’s a Big No Go on Xbox One

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Anyone who is waiting on the release of Sky Go for the new gen consoles and still clinging to the idea is to be sorely disappointed. Sky, categorically, has no plans to launch Sky Go on either Xbox One or PlayStation 4. Instead, wishes are for existing Sky customers to either pay through the nose for Now TV ( a Sky product) or upgrade their subscription to include a new set top box and Sky multiroom. Which isn’t a fully supported Xbox experience yet.

Just Google “Xbox One all in one entertainment system” and you’ll be presented with four xbox.com results the all reference all in one entertainment system in the page title. The official “Meet Xbox One” website page harks on about how Xbox One is the next generation entertainment system. PlayStation has never had Sky Go but this news is relevant to those who were hoping PlayStation may enjoy the same level of entertainment services provided by rival Xbox.

For many Sky customers it is the norm to have Sky in one room and the console in another and Xbox 360 users have been able to enjoy the option of watching Sky in two rooms at once with no additional charges via the Sky Go app. When I quizzed Sky on the whereabouts of a Sky Go app for Xbox One and PS4, I was told that “We enjoy a long track-record of innovating with Microsoft and look forward to the launch of NOW TV on Xbox One by summer.  As a dedicated over-the-top service, we have prioritised the availability of NOW TV, to extend the reach of the service to the main TV.  Looking ahead, we will also consider any future opportunities for Sky Go.”

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As we know, Now TV is coming to Xbox One in the Summer of this year and is there to replace Sky Go, it would appear. For non-Sky customers that’s great because now you can enjoy Sky when you want without the monthly contract. But what about existing Sky customers? Well, there’s two options. The full Sky TV package costs around £60.00 per month. Now TV, if you’re a sports fan and watch movies, will cost you around the same each month, if not more. Not an option really. A better idea is to get Sky multiroom which will only set you back £15.00 a month and a one off setup fee of £60.00. However, Sky isn’t fully supported on Xbox One so you’re still going to need that Sky remote on the arm of your chair to navigate the Sky Guide. The One Guide does not work for Sky TV, unlike Now TV which which will of course be fully supported on both Xbox One and PS4.

I wasn’t overly happy with Sky’s official line on the lack of a Sky Go app so I spoke to several different representatives of Sky in their sales and technical support departments to try and get some insight into what was going on. What I was told by one very knowledgeable and open representative was that there are categorically no plans to bring Sky Go to Xbox One or PlayStation 4. During our conversation, it was revealed that Now TV is in no way designed for Sky customers and the pricing is set to match the cost of a full Sky TV subscription, should someone use Now TV that much – i.e a football game each weekend and movies for the month. However, it can be assumed that Sky aren’t trying to push people to take out Sky TV subscriptions as they don’t support your Sky box being plugged into the Xbox One or PS4 with the  necessary software to enable the likes of voice control and the One Guide. Something USA subscription TV providers have done from launch. Gratned, it would appear that Microsoft are as much a part of One Guide integration as the provider of the TV service and Sky aren’t very forthcoming with any information on where they are with integrating their service with One Guide.

Sky+ HD boxWhat I can tell you is that existing Sky customers simply aren’t a priority with regard to watching Sky TV on  consoles. Sky’s reasoning is that the 3 million and counting Sky Go users have Sky Go as a consequence of having a Sky subscription and can just turn that on on their main TV and watch Sky like normal. This is fine but a lot of people, myself included, have Sky in the lounge and the console in another room. Sky’s focus is on increasing the mobile devices that Sky Go works on in the form of Android tablets and smartphones, plus one or two others, and getting Now TV up and running which of course doesn’t benefit existing Sky customers in anyway shape or form. Now TV is the priority at the moment and while details are still quite limited, more announcements are being promised nearer launch. What can be said for sure is any speculation that existing Sky customers will get existing customer discounted prices or perhaps be able to use Now TV as a second set top box, can be forgotten about. I can confirm that Now TV is in no way shape or form designed or meant for existing Sky customers. What would have been nice would be to use a multi room subscription through the Now TV box so that Sky customers at least have a bit of hardware that actually works fully with the next gen consoles.

So there you have it folks, there’s a serious blind spot when it comes to existing Sky customers being able to enjoy Sky TV on the new consoles. While Sky customers can, it’s going to cost and there’s no hope of Sky Go coming to relieve that anguish any time soon!

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BioWare’s Road of Ambition: Dragon Age, Mass Effect and a New Franchise Entirely

It was after the ending to Mass Effect 3 that fans of the franchise began to twiddle their thumbs and lament to themselves, “So, what happens now?” For those of you that haven’t played Mass Effect 3, the general gist of it (without offering any spoilers of course, though the game is now over a year old) was simply a situation where the illustrious role of “Commander Shepard” could continue no further. Since the series was based on the adventures of this singular man (or woman), it seemed logical to assume that Mass Effect was now finished. Just like with ground-breaking television shows such as Breaking Bad, the show ends when the story ends.

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Still, the question was raised frequently after Mass Effect 3’s release: the Mass Effect universe is so vast, could they not easily generate another video game that simply offers a different perspective on the “Reaper invasion or possibly before/after the war? BioWare seemed to agree with that and announced they were developing a new Mass Effect game last year.

I’m obviously not here to deliver stale news that most people have already heard about, but I think that little titbit about Mass Effect was worth introducing, mainly because the actual meat of this article is something that is bound to make some of us extremely excited. From a personal viewpoint, I’m a big fan of BioWare. These guys have been responsible for huge hit titles like Baldur’s Gate, Neverwinter Nights, Knights of the Old Republic, Mass Effect, and now Dragon Age. I’ve only had the chance to play Knights of the Old Republic and Mass Effect from that list, but they both rank “up there” in all-time favourites. There’s simply something incredible about a story-based game that sets you, the underdog, against an undefeatable foe. Visiting new worlds, learning about new species, and interacting with a myriad of different people combines into an immersive experience that will make you consistently grovel for a new sequel. Hell, I’ve been waiting 8 years now for a new Knights of the Old Republic game that isn’t an MMO.

So you can colour me interested when I found out that BioWare already has playable builds of the new Dragon Age, Mass Effect, and a new franchise entirely. You read that right. These aren’t concepts, broken pieces being coded to functionality, or things simply being considered, they are all actually playable right this very minute. Of course, playable can mean a few things, but in any case it’s a significant step forward from an announcement last year.

biowareIn regards to a timeline, the new Dragon Age game (titled Dragon Age 3: Inquisition and built on the Frostbite 2 engine) was announced in May (2011) while both Mass Effect and the new franchise were announced in September (2012). This means that in the course of two years BioWare has developed three separate games to the point of being able to fire up the game and be put into the game’s environment. I don’t know about you guys, but I think BioWare is on a mission with this one.

There aren’t too many details about the new franchise, unfortunately. BioWare’s producer Casey Hudson has been pretty mum’s the word about it all, opting to only inform us that the new franchise will hopefully be something new and trend-setting like Mass Effect’s first game was, and that it’s now playable.

As someone who absolutely adored the first Mass Effect game, that sounds pretty damn great to me. Let’s just hope BioWare isn’t rushing any of these projects out the door like many thought was the case with Mass Effect 3.

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Fallout 4 Hoax – Survivor 2299

War. War never changes. This is the most iconic quote we hear in the Fallout series and it has been three years since we’ve had another release. With Fallout 3 being released in 2008 and Fallout New Vegas being released in 2010, the pattern would dictate that we’re a year overdue for another game in this illustrious universe. Yet, there is no game.

Fallout New Vega Gas Mask - Ultimate Gaming ParadiseRumours of Fallout 4 being developed have been circulating since DLC stopped being developed for New Vegas. This is a given, as any dedicated fan base will actively attempt to find stories and hints of the next release in order to prepare themselves and, more importantly, start what many like to call a hype train. When gamers think of hype they are usually reminded of the colossal failure called Spore, but hype is usually a pretty good thing. Hell, just look at Game Dev Tycoon. There’s an entire feature of the game making process that involves generating hype which in turn improves sales and fan reception – assuming, of course, that the game is good and not a disappointment.

So, it was no surprise whatsoever, at least to me, that when a website called The Survivor 2299 went live a month ago that the hype train suddenly found itself accelerating rapidly. Fan tribute sites are rather common, so the question of why this was so deserving of attention from the fan base is a valid one. Beyond the fact that a simple WHOIS search determined that the website was registered by ZeniMax, the big daddy company for Bethesda, there were other factors at work that implied legitimacy. For example, the website contained a trademarked symbol that quite obviously cannot be used by anyone except the company that owns the rights (Bethesda). It also used somewhat elaborate methods to portray itself as a big mystery, such as using morse code to convey messages and having an ominous countdown that was slowly ticking itself down to zero.

Bethesda, sticking to their guns, said nothing. All media and fan inquiries went unanswered as is their policy when it comes to rumours so everybody was pretty much left to their own wits. Hoax, or truth? It was a difficult thing to answer, especially with there being evidence to support both claims. In hindsight, this hoax was excellently executed, although the man behind the magic said he had many more plans. You can actually read his Ask Me Anything (AMA) over on Reddit where he answered questions from the Fallout fan base. Some of the key points revealed that the website was found earlier than he would have liked, he had a few more tricks up his sleeve, and he had a CGI trailer he wanted to play on the website once the countdown ticked down completely.

Fallout 3 - Ultimate Gaming ParadiseNeedless to say, it was ambitious, and it worked incredibly well. The fan base was slowly but surely convinced that The Survivor 2299 was a legitimate reveal from Bethesda, and the only thing that finally stopped the hoax was Bethesda themselves. They had released a statement saying that all rumours were false, and then they contacted the hoaxer himself to put an end to things. Their message was short, but clear: Anything they didn’t release directly was a blatant lie.

Fans figured that although it was a hoax, it would at least encourage Bethesda to reveal Fallout 4 at the VGX 2013 convention that was held on December 7th. This didn’t happen. In fact, after all things were said and done, the fan base was left back where it started; no new game, no release, no reveal. The hype train met an unfortunate and rather abrupt end. Perhaps E3 2014 will be kind to these disheartened fans, me included.

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Star Wars back in the gaming world

In May 2013, it was reported by Polygon that EA had acquired the rights to producing Star Wars games. Although there wasn’t much media coverage on it, the story itself is cause for celebration since Disney disbanded LucasArts, the previous Star Wars game studio, upon purchasing the Star Wars brand from George Lucas. With so many people asking for another Star Wars hit game that isn’t an MMO (like SW:TOR), it makes sense that there’d be a big push to develop some video games under the Star Wars name before and after the premiere of Episode 7 two years from now.

To ensure diversity and consistent development, EA split up the responsibilities between three separate studios: DICE, Visceral Games, and BioWare. Out of these, only BioWare has experience with the Star Wars title, having developed arguably one of the best Star Wars games out there. With Knights of the Old Republic under their belt, BioWare is also the developer for the MMO that was released in recent years. Without a doubt, whatever they pump out will be great since they have so much prior experience with the genre. DICE and Visceral Games, however, is another matter.

Star Wars Force Unleashed

DICE is notably responsible for the production of the Battlefield series, as well as the new hit series of Mirror’s Edge. Right now, it seems like DICE will be making a sequel to another excellent Star Wars game, Battlefront. It’s set to be released in 2015 but a lot can happen between now and then. Visceral Games is responsible for the notable Dead Space series and their current plans for the Star Wars genre is unknown… for now. There are rumours that they are helping DICE with Battlefront but there is nothing solid just yet.

Still, there’s a distinct difference between plans and actually taking action, but it seems like it’s now a guarantee that something will be released in the next couple years. There have been job postings placed in Canada in recent months that look to add a few talented individuals to the EA Canada team, such as an experienced animator and an executive producer. If all the information currently available is to be trusted, there is an open-world Star Wars game being developed as you read this.

There have been no true open world games in the franchise yet with the closest being Knights of the Old Republic and now, The Old Republic. In KOTOR, you had the ability to travel from planet to planet as many times as you liked but there were general expectations in the progression of the game and in the long run it was relatively linear. There was a distinct lack of ability to truly explore the environment, and I hope whatever is in the works will meet that possibility with open arms while keeping the classic appeal of the series alive and well. KOTOR remains one of my favourite games and seeing a well-made sequel to it would probably rank up there on the list of things to excitedly look forward to. In any case, Star Wars is Star Wars, and I need my fix.

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Crash Bandicoot Might Be Making a Comeback… Or Is It?

As one of the most memorable video game franchises of the late 1990s and early 2000s, Crash Bandicoot video games have combined to sell over 40 million copies worldwide with a strong focus on the traditional level clearing format. The developers have also found a fair amount of success with the racing aspect of things, adopting many features from the likes of Mario Kart and turning it into its own unique game. For example, Crash Nitro Kart has received some attention from the speed-running community in recent years and has a sizable following today, with many players attempting to beat world records on a nearly daily basis.

Although the most recent game released that was dedicated to Crash Bandicoot was back in 2010, the series has been mostly dead for quite some time, with most fans seeking the nostalgia and frustrating entertainment they received from the earlier games on the Playstation. With so many games offering “hand holding” or little to no penalties for death, it’s difficult to find a video game in today’s gaming society that is unforgiving and sometimes absurdly difficult for no good reason. Typically, indie developers rise to meet that quota these days but there have been big titles too, such as Dark Souls.

The Crash Bandicoot series has recently disappeared from Activision’s website, which led many to believe that the series was no longer owned by them. This apparently isn’t true, because it turns out that Activision is actually actively seeking to bring Crash Bandicoot back to the gaming market. The only problem is, they don’t know how. This was a bit damning for fans of the series as many hoped that the disappearance meant Sony had reacquired2-Crash-Bandicoot1-600x300 the IP and were going to reboot it as a PS4 exclusive, but as of this minute that doesn’t seem to be the case.

Gameinformer decided to step up to the plate and get an answer from Activision that would confirm or deny the loss of ownership, and a representative had this to say in response: “Activision owns Crash Bandicoot and we continue to explore ways in which we could bring the beloved series back to life.”

However, there’s a twist to this. That statement from the rep is from last month (November 22nd) but there was a statement in October released by Activision’s community manager Dan Amrich that sort of contradicts what we’ve just been told. He said, “The game needs to have a really good reason to exist. Fan support is not enough to get a game made on the level that you’re looking for.” Dan also mentioned that there were no plans for a new Crash title, either.

Personally, I’d be fine with another Crash Bash game being released with next gen graphics. Anything else would be just gravy. What do you guys think? Will Activision bring back this title or will they let it fade into history? Do you want it to come back?

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