Steam Dev Days talks are now online

Steam Dev Days

Remember the Steam Dev Days, the event held by Steam and aimed strictly to developers? Among other things, it was used for announcing changes to the upcoming exclusive hardware and for showing Steam’s global reach.

The only way to have the first-hand experience with Steam’s secrets was to be invited to their Seattle HQ. Luckily for the rest of us, now all the talks are available through a massive YouTube playlist.

Here’s Gabe Newell’s opening speech:

Source: Joystiq

Call of Duty will have three-year dev cycles

Activision, Call of Duty

Call of Duty, arguably the most popular first-person shooter franchise (my respects to Counter Strike), has been releasing a game per year since 2005’s Call of Duty 2, alternating among its main labels: “regular” (focused on WWII), Modern Warfare (with current/modern conflicts and technology), Black Ops and Ghosts, the latest addition. The studios Treyarch and Infinity Ward have been responsible for most of the installments.

For supporting its aggressive yearly plan, Activision (the behemoth behind Call of Duty) decided that a two-year development cycle was necessary, leaving little room for creative exploration. No deadline could be missed (ever!).

Although the move has proved to be extremely successful in terms of sales (2012’s Black Ops II earned $500 million in one day), the games’ quality was affected, especially the single-player experience. Actually, it’s interesting to see the disparity between the reviews gave by publishers and the ones gave by users. In other words, lately each new game started to feel like a minor tweak to the previous installment.

Modern Warfare 2 (2009)

Modern Warfare 2 (2009)

Hoping to change the turn of the tides (and to keep its spot as the FPS king), Activision now has decided to change its release strategy a bit, investing more on each title. Therefore, from now on the franchise will switch to a three-year development cycle, giving one more year to each game.

In order to keep the lucrative annual-release business alive, Sledgehammer Games has joined the party to develop a new Call of Duty entry, which will be launched this year. It isn’t its first time with the brand, though, as it had worked on Modern Warfare 3 (2011).

All of us here at Sledgehammer Games have a shared vision to create the best work of our lives. The next Call of Duty represents a new era for this amazing franchise, and we look forward to sharing what we have been working on.

Call of Duty Ghosts (2013)

Call of Duty Ghosts (2013)

This means that there will be 3 ongoing labels being developed at the same time: Modern Warfare (by Sledgehammer Games), Black Ops (by Treyarch) and Ghosts (by Infinity Ward). According to Activision Publishing CEO Eric Hirshberg, this means “more time to focus on DLC and micro-DLC,” and “more time to polish”.

Although having annual releases has been good for some series (FIFA, Assassin’s Creed), many times it feels too forced, with only minor improvements over the mechanics (besides new content). That’s why Activision’s new move (keeping the yearly strategy but investing more on each game) sounds like a good decision to me, for the company and the players.

Sources: Develop Online, Gamasutra

Sonic is back!… with long legs and a scarf

Remember Sonic?

Of course you do! Born in 1991 as Sega’s answer to Nintendo’s Mario, Sonic quickly became a system seller and one of the most iconic video games characters. As a matter of fact, he was one of the first members of the Walk of Game, alongside Mario and Link.

Sonic's 1991 version

Original Sonic

Since Sega abandoned the hardware business, its mascot jumped to other platforms, increasing its fame (even if the last games were poorly received). Ironically, in May 2013 Sega announced a partnership with Nintendo, so the next 3 Sonic games will be developed exclusively for the 3DS and Wii U, being Sonic Lost World the first. Following that deal with Nintendo, Sega has been busy doing a total makeover on its flagship character, and the result is Sonic Boom.

Sonic BOOM!

Sonic's 2014 redesign

Sonic’s 2014 redesign

In a clear move to change the franchise’s appeal to Western audiences, Sonic Boom will be developed by American studios: Los Angeles-based studio Big Red Button for Wii U and San Francisco-based studio Sanzaru Games for 3DS. Both of them will be focused on combat and exploration, but with slightly different content (mostly environments and enemies).

“One last thing”

But don’t be confused. If Sega hosted a press event in New York wasn’t just for announcing a new installment in the decades-old franchise. No, Sonic Boom is a whole new universe for the blue hedgehog, comprising 2 games (3DS and Wii U), a toy line and an animated Cartoon Network TV series (with 52 11-minute episodes). The Sonic Boom characters will exist in parallel with the original ones without replacing them.

The business reason behind the “cross-media” launch is to cover as many obvious, and follows the same strategy a lot of other properties have had: to cover , being The Simpsons a clear example (even South Park is investing heavily on its long-awaited The Stick of Truth).

The artistic redesign, in turn, seems to focus on each character’s skillset: Sonic’s legs (because he runs), Knuckles’ upper body (because ha can throw a punch), Tails’ wrench (because his tails are evident) and Amy’s hammer (because… well, I guess she’ll use it). The blue hedgehog’s new scarf is a different case, and it may have to do with Uncharted Nathan Drake’s influence.

Fast feedback

Of course, this deep makeover didn’t go unnoticed for fans and the Internet community in general. Some elements like Sonic’s scarf, bandages and long legs (along with Knuckles’ new passion for the gym)  have become the center of many jokes. Here are some of them:

Sonic loves bandages

Sonic loves bandages

What do you think of Sonic’s new look?

Sources: IGNKotaku

Kinect, Korean Knight

Kinect, Microsoft’s motion sensor, has been used for many cool things outside gaming, including a Minority Report-style hand detection. There’s even a community built around Kinect’s alternative applications, Kinect Hacks.

However, in South Korea they have taken the endeavor one step further, and now the Korean military is using Kinect sensors to monitor the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ), which separates North Korea and South Korea.

DON'T move!

DON’T MOVE! Unless you’re playing Fruit Ninja Kinect. In that case, go on.

Thanks to the programmer Jae Kwan Ko‘s efforts, the Kinect-based system can discern the difference between animals and people, alerting nearby outposts if a human is detected crossing the border illegally. Although it was installed in August, its existence wasn’t publicly known until now.

According to Ko, the system will be upgraded with heart rate and heat detection. I hope they don’t wait too much to add that; if not, how are they going to spot border crossing vampires?

Source: The Verge

Amazon acquires Double Helix, Killer Instinct developer

During the last years, Amazon has been giving strong signals of its gaming ambitions. It launched its own game studio back in 2012, consistently expanded the games catalogue for its Kindle Fire and now is going to launch its own Android microconsole this year, to compete against Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo.

Given that scenario, a studio purchase felt natural for Amazon, especially since offering exclusive titles can be a good deal for a console. However, when the acquisition news broke out yesterday, there was something unexpected: Amazon was buying Double Helix, the console-oriented studio that developed last year’s Killer Instinct (the fightning Xbox One exclusive). According to Amazon, it “acquired Double Helix as part of our ongoing commitment to build innovative games for customers.”

I hope I’m getting Amazon Prime along with my new health plan

It’s worth noting that, even if it may look like a usual fighting retail game, Killer Instinct has a novel approach to free-to-play games, as it only offers one character for free. You can either play using that character forever, or you can spend around $5 for adding a new one.

So far, that strategy has been criticized by fans, but apparently also quite successful. Perhaps it’s precisely its popularity what triggered the need for a “jail” system. Given this precedent, it shouldn’t be surprising to see Amazon looking for new ways to monetize big scale games.

After yesterday’s announcement, Microsoft has confirmed that it will be working with a new “development partner” on Killer Instinct. Double Helix, in turn, had a platform game set to be published by Capcom this year, Strider (a reboot). I guess that project will remain unchanged (it’s probably in its final stage of development).

Amazon is well known for betting high when a business is attractive enough for its overall strategy. Combine that ambition with its experience in digital and retail services, and you have a strong contender for becoming one of the big players in the industry.

I don’t know how much time we’ll have to wait until seeing Double Helix’s new contributions, but I’m sure that Amazon will do its part to make 2014 a great year for gaming.

Sources: Polygon, Gamasutra

China’s game consoles

On September, after 13 years of prohibition, game consoles ban was finally lifted in China. That’s why the Kotaku team decided it was the right time to take a look at the country’s interesting relationship with gaming hardware, gathering together some of the most popular Chinese consoles.

Some of the knock-offs are really… interesting.

You can find the article here.

The illusion of choice

If games have become an insanely popular part of our culture, is in great part due to its interactive possibilities. Unlike movies, games provide the opportunity of choosing … or, better put, the illusion of choosing.

Here’s the great Extra Credits team explaining this key subject as only they can: