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Thursday, Feb 19, 2009

Steam RA3 SecuROM Removal

Steam News has word that a new update is now automatically available for Command and Conquer: Red Alert 3 on Steam that removes the SecuROM copy-protection from the game. Here's the deal:
This game was delivered with both Sony SecuROM and Steam digital rights management technology. This patch will remove the SecuROM technology from the game as well as remove the game-specific SecuROM license from your machine. The game will continue to be protected by Steam technology. To remove SecuROM files from your machine and for more information, see the EA support site at http://support.ea.com/cgi-bin/ea.cfg/php/enduser/std_adp.php?p_sid=ic-Oypqj&p_faqid=20763.

Pre-Purchase EndWar; Get GRAW Free

Steam News announces that those who pre-purchase Tom Clancy's EndWar on Steam before the release next week of the Windows edition of the RTS game will receive a complimentary copy of Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter. They say: "Tom Clancy's EndWar will be available worldwide on February 25th and 26th. See the game page for specific release times."

Entrenchment Beta Change Log

The Entrenchment Beta 3 Change Log on the Sins of a Solar Empire Website offers an outline of the extensive number of changes and fixes planned for Ironclad's space strategy expansion. When the new beta version will launch is not specified.

Bonk: Official Energy Drink of the TF2 Scout

Installment 3 in the run up to the Team Fortress 2 The Scout Update is now online, outlining the Scout's new power-up, the Bonk energy drink You know, because, "Runnin' rings around all them molasses-slow dummies out there on the battlefield is thirsty frickin' work."

The ECA Institute Launched

The Entertainment Consumers Association (ECA) announces the launch of The ECA Institute, explaining the new organization like this:
The ECA Institute (ECAi) is the focal point for public policy research and analysis (federal, state, and international), as well as scholarships and educational programs, at the Entertainment Consumers Association (ECA). Its mission is to inform the development of ECA's public policy positions and to contribute to and influence public debate on issues of importance to video game players (gamers).

Legends of Qin Coming West

The official Legends of Qin Website is online as home to gamigo's upcoming western launch of this subscription-free MMORPG set in historical China. Word is: "Solve thousands of story-based quests, learn new skills, find numerous friends and challenge other players in epic fights – this is a 3D MMORPG more complex and challenging than typical free to play games." If that's of interest, you can sign up for the chance to be one of the beta testers on the game.

EV Online Announced

The Evolution Vault announces EV Online a browser-based massively multiplayer online strategy game "where thousands of players are fighting for supremacy in a remote corner of the universe," with no sense that they know this is one "E" removed from a similar game. The Supreme Strategy Website has information about the project, screenshots, and registration for prospective testers. A release date isn't set yet, but here's a bit about the game: "Far away in the galaxy, two species are in conflict as we speak. In a dark corner of space, inside the EV cluster, the Sargon Empire became the mightiest nation our galaxy has ever known. One which decides the fate of all civilizations, the Sargon is based on deceit and lies, as their technological advancements, their legacy, were all stolen."

The Godfather II Trailer

A new trailer is now available for The Godfather II, the upcoming movie tie-in sequel where you don the clothes of a Don. Word is: "As a Don in The Godfather II, you will be faced with many strategic decisions as you build your empire. Check out the different crime rings in the game and the associated in-game perks that will help you and your family in the action game with this new trailer." The clip is available on AtomicGamer, FileFront, and Gamer's Hell.

Evening Previews

Evening Screenshots

Into the Black

Ensemble Vets Start a Bonfire

Bonfire Studios reveals its existence to the world as the second new development studio to emerge from the demise of Ensemble (the other being the newly formed Robot Entertainment). The 35 employee studio is made up entirely of former Ensemble employees, who are currently working on an original IP that sounds like it won't be revealed for "a few months." The announcement quotes David Rippy, president and CEO of Bonfire Studios, saying: "Ensemble had an incredible group of highly talented people and the companies coming out of it are really made up of the best of the best. Ensemble was one of the few studios with two A-teams."

Alice Sequel

EA makes the unexpected announcement that a sequel to American McGee's Alice is in the works at American McGee's Spicy Horse Games, planned for release on PC, Xbox 360, and PlayStation 3. There's a piece of concept art on the Spicy Horse Website, where word is the working title is The Return of American McGee's Alice, which, since it is still in pre-production, "won't be completed for some time." Here's the announcement:
Redwood City, Calif. – February 19, 2009 – Electronic Arts Inc (NASDAQ: ERTS) and Spicy Horse today announced that they have signed a publishing deal for an all-new title based on EA’s 2000 classic, American McGee’s Alice™. The game reunites EA with American McGee, the creative visionary behind the original game. The new title is in development for the PC, PLAYSTATION®3 computer entertainment system and Xbox 360® video game console.

“This new project is a dream come true for me and the fans who’ve kept the Alice flame alive,” said American McGee, senior creative director at Spicy Horse. “EA gave us creative latitude and support on the original game which resulted in something beautiful and daring. This trip through the looking glass promises to be even more exciting.”

“EA Partners is thrilled to team up with American McGee and Spicy Horse on the next installment of the Alice franchise,” said David DeMartini, senior vice president and general manager of EA Partners. “American McGee’s interpretation of Alice was an instant classic, and EA Partners is ready to help him bring his innovative vision for the franchise to even darker, more exciting places.”

Spicy Horse was represented in the deal by CAA and Weissman Wolff.

PAX 2009 Pre-Registration

The Penny Arcade Expo Website is now accepting pre-registration for the 2009 Penny Arcade Expo, the sixth annual installment in the gaming series that will take place on September 4-6 of this year at the Washington State Trade and Convention Center in Seattle. Here is the announcement that explains the benefits of pre-registration:
SEATTLE - Feb. 19, 2009 - The wait is over! The organizers of PAX 2009 proudly announced today that pre-registration is now open for the sixth annual gaming festival to be held Sept. 4 - 6 at the Washington State Trade and Convention Center in Seattle. Pre-registration pricing will be available at www.paxsite.com until Sept. 3, allowing purchase of a three-day attendee badge for $50, a 10% discount on the day-of rate. Pre-registrants are also eligible to participate in the Omegathon gaming competition, where one attendee will win an all-expenses-paid trip to the Tokyo Game Show and other fabulous prizes.

New for this year, pre-registration will continue until Aug. 15 or until pre-paid attendee badges sell out. "Every year, we essentially double our attendance, but let me say right now that's not happening for 2009," said Penny Arcade's Robert Khoo. "We've rented every square foot in the center and it still won't be enough. The facility has requested that we not exceed capacity, so we're going to be closely monitoring the number of badges we sell this year. But, fear not. Our goal is the same as ever: to offer a world-class show to all attendees, focusing on amazing content and experiences for the truly hardcore."

Last year's impressive program of over 70 exhibitors, a keynote address from noted industry professional Ken Levine, awesome music concerts and inspiring industry panels drew 58,500 attendees to the expo. Further information on PAX 2009 exhibitors and events will be available later this month.

This Week on GameTap

GameTap announces the launch of American McGee's Grimm: Jack and the Beanstalk, and like its predecessors, the latest installment in the Grimm adventure series is free for 24 hours. They have also rotated the Tropico: Mucho Macho Edition into their free area, where it will remain for the next week, and they have also added Titan Quest to their online gaming service, offering Iron Lore's action/RPG along with its Immortal Throne expansion.

Trash Sequel This Fall

Independent developer Inhuman Games announces plans to release a sequel to Trash this fall for Windows and Mac, following up on their RTS game that makes you an offer you cannot refuse (see what I did there?). Here's word on the game, including how they will recycle the engine from the original Trash:
A sequel to Trash is currently in development. The new game will be based on the existing Trash game engine. The graphics engine will be replaced with a DirectX 9 class graphics engine. We also will be supporting Mac.

It's too early to say exactly what the sequel will be like. We'll be experimenting with several new gameplay concepts. We might borrow gameplay ideas from other modern RTS games, such as Starcraft 2 (if it's released in time), DoW 2, etc. As always, we'll also be taking your input.

We are currently in India putting together a team for this project. We have an artist helping us with concept art. At the end of this month, three programmers will be joining us. Eventually we'll have a staff of about eight developers on the project.

We are shooting for a release date of Fall 2009. In the meantime, we'll have at least more patch of the current version. We will be adding an automated tournament system feature to the current version.

Ubisoft's Big Mac Attack

Ubisoft announces plans to expand their portfolio of Mac titles as they have partnered with TransGaming to offer Mac editions of their titles at retail and to expand their downloadable catalog of Mac titles available at the Ubisoft Digital Store and GameTree Online. Word is:
Ubisoft will release the award-winning Prince of Persia and Shaun White Snowboarding to the Mac community in March 2009 via Ubisoft's online digital store, GameTree Online and at traditional retail locations. Mac versions of CSI: Crime Scene Investigation(TM): Hard Evidence(TM), Rayman Raving Rabbids® and Petz® Sports will also be released at select retail establishments for the first time in March 2009.

Operation Flashpoint: Dragon Rising Movie

The Operation Flashpoint: Dragon Rising Website now offers a new "studio insight video" from the upcoming military shooter sequel, "Showcasing the cutting edge technology that will take gamers closer to war than they'll ever want to get" (which is presumably a good thing). The clip features developer narration and shows off the game's use of the EGO Engine, described like so: "A cross-format iterative technical project, developed with accreditation from platform holders, the EGO Engine has previously been used to great effect in the creation of award-winning titles Colin McRae: DiRT™ and Race Driver: GRID™. The EGO Engine video released today demonstrates how this technology powers everything from minute detail to grand landscapes; delivering the most immersive real world effects and environments ever seen in a FPS." The clip is mirrored on AtomicGamer and ActionTrip.

StarCraft II Art Revamp

StarCraftWire.Net has new screenshots and concept art from StarCraft II, showing new textures for a number of units in Blizzard's upcoming RTS sequel, and outlining a bunch of changes to weapons and abilities that have been recently implemented. They have a bunch of retextured Zerg units, and outline changes to the Protoss Dark Pylon, Terran Orbital Command, the Zerg queen, and more.

SBK 09 in May

VideoGamer.com has the announcement of SBK 09, the next installment in Milestone's motorcycle racing series that's the official game of the World Superbike Championship. New teams, a complete track overhaul, new gameplay structure, new game modes, a revamped user interface, and visible damage to fairings and leathers are all listed as new features in the game, which will have five single-player modes, three online multiplayer modes, and a downloadable Online Time Attack mode. SBK 09 is due for Windows, Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, PS2, and PSP in May.

Atlantica Online Patched

NDOORS Interactive announces a major content update for Atlantica Online, updating the strategic MMOG with two new character classes, new gear, new dungeons, and more. Word is: "The majority of the new content will be accessible to all players immediately, while some of the new features will only be available to players who have reached level 100."

EU Darkfall Next Week

A Darkfall Information Update on the Darkfall Forums announces the NDA is officially lifted for Aventurine's MMORPG, and also announces the game will officially launch in Europe on February 25, a bit more than a month after they predicted late last year (thanks SpeedMann). North Americans are welcome to participate, and while they don't have a set schedule for when North American servers will go live, when they do, players will be given the opportunity to migrate their characters over the pond. Here's the deal on preorders:
The pre-order consists of the Darkfall client digital download along with a month of play starting on February 25th. The full cost for this is 42 Euro. This amount WILL NOT be charged during the pre-order. What will be charged is an initial 2.52 Euro non-refundable payment to activate the process. The remainder (39.48) of the pre-release price will be billed on release, February 25th. You’ll be free to cancel the purchase any time before the additional charge goes in on February the 25th.

Darkfall’s monthly subscription is set at 11.77 euro. A 3 month subscription with a 10% discount and a six month subscription will be offered with 15% discount on the monthly subscription rate.

Free UT3 Titan Pack Next Month

March 5 is the planned release date for the planned Titan Pack for Unreal Tournament III, a large free update for Epic's first-person shooter that's coming to PC and PlayStation 3, but looks like it will not be coming to the Xbox 360 due to download limitations (even though it's considerably smaller than the new GTA4 pack). There are new previews of the pack on BeyondUnreal, Big Download, The Escapist, IGN, and Planet Unreal with details, hands-on impressions, and screenshots of the new gameplay modes and 16 new maps the add-on will include. Here's a bulleted feature list from Planet Unreal outlining the contents of the pack:

        • 16 environments – four Warfare, three vCTF, six Deathmatch, and three CTF maps – that are new to the PC and PS3 versions
        • Three bonus pack maps, CTF-Face, CTF-Searchlight and DM-Morbias
        • The namesake Titan mutator, which lets players overwhelm opponents as a 15 foot tall titan, or crush them as a 30 foot tall Behemoth
        • Greed and Betrayal, two gametypes that breed new-found fervor throughout the competitive UT3 arena
        • Two powerful weapons, the Stinger Turret and Eradicator Cannon artillery
        • Two valuable deployables, the X-Ray Field and Link Station
        • The Slow Field power-up, a portable version of the Slow Field deployable
        • Stealthbender, a new vehicle that carries two spidermine trap deployables, one EMP mine, and one each of the new Link Station and X-Ray Field deployables
        • Two new characters, Nova and Kana
        • 57 awards attainable as Steam Achievements and PS3 Trophies
        • Broad improvements for PC and PS3: Significant AI enhancements, especially in vehicle gametypes; networking performance upgrades; greatly improved menu flow and UI usability; better mod support
        • Client-side demo recording, highly improved Server Browser, a new maplist system, plus mid-game mutator and gametype voting functionality for PC
        • High demand PS3 features including PS3 Trophy support, two-player split-screen support, and mod browsing

Newell on Piracy, Pricing, TF2 Comics, and More

There's a Live Blog of the DICE 2009 Keynote on the G4tv Website recapping an address by Valve's Gabe Newell on the topic of "entertainment as a service," discussing Steam and serving customers in an era of increased digital distribution and piracy. Along the way he mentions plans for Team Fortress 2 comic books, created by the team behind the TF2 character videos, making a point that audiences tend to be fans of properties, rather than specific products. Gabe makes some sage observations, including how piracy is about service, saying pirates are beating companies on service, citing the example that TV shows are not available in certain parts of the world, but pirates have them up on the web minutes after they are finished airing. He says DRM decreases service value for customers, and makes pirated copies of games look more appealing, saying anecdotal evidence appears to suggest that DRM is increasing and not decreasing piracy. Perhaps most interesting is the talk of how Steam sales have impacted sales figures, which look like they make a strong case for the idea that games are overpriced, as not only did sales increase during these promotions, but so did their profits, and Valve also noted spikes in sales of Team Fortress 2 every time they issued a free update. Here are a couple of direct excerpts from an interesting recap:
Last weekend, Valve decided to do an experiment with Left 4 Dead. Last weekend's sale resulted in a 3000% increase over relatively flat numbers. They sold more last weekend than when they launched the game. WOW. That is unheard of in this industry. They beat their launch sales. Also, they snagged a 1600% increase in new customers to Steam over the baseline.

Worried retailers, fear not. The weekend sale didn't canabalize sales from retail. In fact, they remained constant. Well, constant isn't a 3000% increase, but it's still pretty good, right?

Looking at a third-party game, they saw increases of 36,000% with a weekend sale. Oh. Em. Gee. Okay, Gabe is starting to convince me that PC at retail is going to die very soon.

During the Holiday sales:

        • 10% sale = 35% increase in sales (real dollars, not units shipped)
        • 25% sale = 245% increase in sales
        • 50% sale = 320% increase in sales
        • 75% sale = 1470% increase in sales

At 75% off, they are making 15% more money than they were at full price.
Update: There is also an article about all this on Gamasutra.

Op Ed

Edge Online - Context Sensitive.
"There is a drought of new ideas in our industry. But in the spirit of optimism, I’m going to suggest we celebrate, embrace and downright exploit this fact. The best way to do so is through the application of new context onto an existing idea. This is all about creating new games from the ash of the old, and not being shame faced while we do so."

Fidgit - Why I won't be playing Grand Theft Auto IV: Lost and Damned.
"The reason I won't be playing Lost and Damned is because after a couple of hours with these characters, I have no desire to spend another moment with them. These are unlikable thugs doing reprehensible things. Bikers, who are traditionally the bad guys, are presented with all the usual stereotypes that make them bad guys. They're brutal, vulgar, and cowardly. I can't tell one from the other. The one who I think is supposed to be me is as typical a bald space marine as you'll ever see. "

Game Reviews

Hardware Reviews

Out of the Blue

So as the advertising war rages on in this country for car insurance, one has to wonder what's in the water at Geico. They seem to perpetually be running multiple campaigns, but while some seem to have pretty broad appeal, like the Wallace cousins spots (personal favorites of mine), the evil wildlife spots or the strange, but cute celebrity stand-in ads, a lot of them seem to be attempts at polarization. They have the love 'em or hate 'em campaign featuring that Gecko and there were those Cavemen, who ended up with their own short-lived TV series, and I know a lot of people who hate each campaign, but at least you can see what they are going for. But these latest ads featuring the Money With Eyes and the Rockwell song? Well, I just don't know what to say.

Watching Links: Thanks Ant and Mike Martinez.
Play: Mushroom Guide
Black n Orange.
Links: Confusing game endings explained.
10 Worst Post-Oscar Career Choices.
Stories: Buddhist temple built out of one million beer bottles. Take one down, pass it around…
Lincoln's penny gets a new look -- actually four new looks. We so need to get rid of the penny.
Judges Plead Guilty in Scheme to Jail Youths for Profit.
Science: The green-eyed monster that lives in your brain: Scientists discover the jealousy lobe.
Major cache of fossils unearthed in L.A. Thanks Neutronbeam.
Media: Generation Gaming.
Japanese model clears World 1-1 without looking at screen.
Star Wars- The Aardman version.
Follow-ups: Stem cell 'cure' boy gets tumour.
Postponed LHC Restart Could Wrestle "God Particle" Discovery From CERN.
Omg: Large Hadron Collider's Restart Button To Be Pressed By Tom Hanks.
The Funnies: Penny Arcade! - Please Check One.
Brightly Wound. Thanks Digg.