What an interesting time for Currents. Just recently, we've experienced the dissolution of a once-prolific video game publisher, received confirmation of how poorly the Resident Evil franchise is currently doing, mourned the death of XNA platform development, and witnessed the resurrection of the SEGA Dreamcast. None of this I could have expected within such a short period.
Another unexpected occurance was the purchasing of a new Nintendo Wii U. Somehow, that last Nintendo Direct video made me run into my local GameStop, screaming "TAKE MY MONEY!" It may or may not have been because of Monolith Soft's new project trailer. If you're a Xenoblade Chronicles fan, you may wish to take a gander at the video below.
Enough talk of exciting things to come! Let's look at what's already happened.
It feels like the dust has finally settled. Assets have been auctioned, studios have been sold, and top-level executives let go. Those half-dozen bankruptcy deals netted investors roughly $70 million US in January. Now, all that is left of the third largest game publisher are a handful of empty offices and a bunch of held intellectual properties (which will be reportedly be sold for as much as another $29 million). SEGA is taking Relic Entertainment (Company of Heroes 2. Warhammer 40k), Koch Media will be adopting Volition (Saints RowRed Faction) and moving forward with the Metro franchise. Crytek purchased the rights to Homefront and will be creating a US studio using ex-Vigil (Darksiders, Darksiders II) employees. Take-Two has purchased the rights to Turtle Rock Studios' upcoming project codenamed Evolve,. Ubisoft will be publishing South Park: The Stick of Truth and has acquired THQ Montreal as well. Finally, as far as we know, the WWE franchise is stuck somewhere in traction (though, rumours would suggest that it's going to Take Two). The company that many of us had grown alongside is no more.
Of course, THQ had its share of troubles long before officially being dissolved. Over the past five years it had laid off hundreds of employees in various roles, lost several key executives, missed numerous revenue goals both quarterly and annually, and shut down a number of internal studios. Things had been very wrong for quite a while and it all came to a head at the tail end of 2012.
Strategic direction is important to any company, but takes on a crucial role in massive organizations like now-defunct THQ. THQ unfortunately always seemed saddled with the wrong people at the helm. These individuals saw THQ in the same league as Activision and EA, in spite of not housing a single AAA franchise like Call of Duty or Need for Speed. The unfortunate reality of throwing everything you have at the wall is that you aren't remembered for the few games that manage to stick so much as you are the mess that is left after (the 1.4 million uDraw tablets still collecting dust being the biggest).
THQ's leadership made a number of colossal mistakes. The company faced major losses due to the failed uDraw tablet (its install base was so poor on Xbox 360 and PS3 that sales came in $100 million below the company’s plan), money was wasted on the cancelled Warhammer 40k MMO, choosing to shift focus away from making licensed titles, losing the UFC license, announcing a reverse-split of stock on stay on NASDAQ (making every ten shares only worth one), the publishing of poorly polished titles like Homefront, and defaulting on Wells Fargo. THQ's now-former president, only in the role since May of 2012, said that he could blame THQ's failure on bad luck, but the "sea of bad decisions" made by company was hard to ignore. "I think that luck plays a role in success and failure, but THQ's decisions and execution were the major reasons for its failure," he said in a recent interview with MCV-UK.
Since 2008, we've see bad news continue to plague the once-bloated publishing house. It felt as though they couldn't go a single year without being hit by bad press for one reason or another. The NASDAQ delisting was certainly the final nail in the coffin, but it could be argued that this was a long time coming. RPGamer's own Michael Cunningham probably said it best. "It seemed like an inevitable fate for the company, especially after running a Humble Bundle giving away lots of major titles. A real shame to see any company go under, particularly one willing to branch out and try riskier ideas like picking up the South Park RPG, fostering Darksiders, and going wacky with Saints Row. I hope the brands created by THQ thrive in their new homes."
It would appear that the Resident Evil franchise is currently experiencing an identity crisis. Capcom's flagship horror franchise ran into a glitch last year when it was unable to meet publisher expectations. Based on the trajectory of the series' releases and the care that was put into the development process of Resident Evil 6, Capcom had projected total sales to hit 6 million by year's end. Unfortunately, while the title experienced brisk sales at launch, negative reactions from both critics and fans lead to a sharp loss of momentum and eventual failure in terms of sales expansion. In the end, the title (for both Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3) only managed to ship, not sell, a total of 4.8 million copies to date with Capcom predicting that it will eventually hit a total of 5 million.
Capcom's Masachika Kawata recently spoke with the folks at Eurogamer regarding the possibility of a reboot of the classic survival horror franchise and the recent 3DS spin off. While he was quick to point out that the excellent Resident Evil: Revelations was considered to be a success that the company hoped to replicate with the upcoming home console version, he also cited loftier expectations for the title than it was able to meet - blaming poorer than expected sales for the portable title on the 3DS' lackluster launch and relatively small install base. He goes on to say that the home console performance of Revelations may be indicative of where the franchise will go next. "Once we see Revelations released on consoles, we'll be looking very carefully at how the title is received and what feedback we get. I think we'll get a lot of input from the fanbase and the media on what it means for Resident Evil, and what it could mean for the future of the series. We'll definitely be looking at that as a signpost for where we need to go next.
When discussing the reception of its HD big brother Resident Evil 6 and potential for change in the series, Masachika Kawata entertained a reboot after stating that survival horror as a genre doesn't sell as well as action and shooter games. "If we did [go with an open world], we would want to preserve what Resident Evil is and what makes it appealing to fans, while also making it accessible to new players," he explains. "It would almost entail having a slight reboot to get the series into a place where it would work with open-world gameplay."
In an interview with VideoGamer, Kawata then altered his statements. "Looking at user feedback from the last couple of games, I've started to slightly revise my opinion on that matter," he said. "I still think that, for example, bringing Resident Evil: Revelations to consoles falls within what I was saying, where it's a game that contains classic Resident Evil elements but it also has features that modern gamers expect in a game. Hopefully it can appeal to both camps."
While I very much enjoyed Resident Evil: Revelations, this shifting opinion on series continuation is a little disconcerting. It would appear that in trying to create a video game that appealed to all audiences, Resident Evil 6, Capcom failed most audiences, which led to unfortunate returns. Revelations managed to strike a brilliant balance between horror and action, which has left me excited for home console release, but the direction of the series moving forward seems to be a hot subject between producers. Will the next Resident Evil title we see be open world and action oriented? Will it even be scary? Can it bear any resemblance to the franchise we've known up to this point? Time will tell.
Microsoft has officially announced that its run with XNA is finished. The company has no plans to produce future versions of this development tool, though Direct X won't be phased out. For the uninitiated, the XNA development framework had been used to code games for release on Xbox Live, Windows Phone, and other Windows devices, and had been very popular among indie developers since its release. Unfortunately, it would appear that Microsoft seeks to remove XNA from the equation.
While this may not seem like a big issue to those unfamiliar with XNA, the platform was essential for the release and commercialization of many amazing games that have solidified many of our favourite indie studios. Supergiant Games' Bastion, Polytron's Fez, and Humble Heart's Dust: An Elysian Tail were all XNA-based titles. With this platform's support now gone, who is to say that the indie titles will be on next generation consoles or that the indie marketplace isn't phased out completely? With no new versions being produced, while the current toolset will be supported for the time being, there will be nothing to drive XNA adoption and essentially no incentive to learn it.
Our indie developer friends at Zeboyd Games recently updated their blog regarding the issue. "All of our games have been made with XNA, so what does this announcement mean for us? Not a lot actually. Although Microsoft is no longer supporting XNA with new updates, it's not like all of those old XNA games are going to stop working overnight. We'll probably end up doing our next game in XNA as well and then after that, we'll figure out what our next move should be." While this was a very positive reaction to otherwise discouraging news, Zeboyd did follow up with a nod to XNA's prowess. "I'm a huge fan of XNA. It's both powerful and easy to use — a rare combination indeed. XNA got me into professional games development and for that I will be forever grateful. Here's hoping that Microsoft changes their mind and decides to bring it back."
Regardless of whether you've developed using XNA Game Studio or not, I think we can all appreciate the wonderful titles the platform has contributed to this recent generation. Seeing such an interesting utility suddenly left to become a dead language is a bitter pill to swallow, but here's hoping new platforms present themselves in the future.
Moving on to a platform thought to be dead, the SEGA Dreamcast's library grows once again as three more brand-new games are being added by indie developers. Independent developers have been in love with the Dreamcast since its release, mostly due to the open nature of the platform, and their willingness to continue to produce and release interesting new games has given the console a second wind. In fact, some would argue that because of these developers the Dreamcast has effectively outlasted the PlayStation 2.
Thanks to Kickstarter support, Redux: Dark Matters will be coming to your SEGA Dreamcast, iOS devices, XBLA, PSN, and Steam in the near future (there's a free beta demo currently available for your PC). The indie title raised more than double its original $25,000 goal and is currently in the homestretch of release. Hucast Games are also in the midst of development on the new title The Ghost Blade — an arcade shooter with an elaborate scoring system due for release later this year. This Dreamcast title may be a while away from release, but those interested can pre-order a copy directly from the developer. Meanwhile, WaterMelon Games is hard at work preparing their latest Kickstarter-funded Dreamcast release: Pier Solar HD.
It would be an understatement to call this unorthodox trend exciting. The Dreamcast was and is a brilliant system that unfortunately couldn't help but be overshadowed by the Goliath that was the Sony PlayStation 2. With such a supporting fanbase, maybe we'll see more in this thirteen year old console's future.
Mega Ran, or Random (the title that he now goes by), has been video game remixing for a while now. He's known mostly for combining video game concepts and introspective lyrics with video game OSTs. In the past his work has led to cosigns with industry giants like Capcom, and his albums Chrono Tied and Deltron 3742 have both been very well received by fans and critics alike.
In 2011, Mega Ran released Black Materia with indie beats by Lost Perception and lyrics that told the epic story of Cloud Strife and his AVALANCHE allies battling the evil Shinra Inc. and Sephiroth from the classic 1997 Role-playing game Final Fantasy VII. In 2012, he followed that release up with Black Materia: The Remixes which featured more original tracks and some guest appearances from the "nerdcore hip hop" scene (which, to be frank, I didn't even know existed). White Materia is his latest ambitious project and combines the Black Materia vocals about Final Fantasy VII with some of the greatest hit songs of the past half-century.
The results are pretty awesome. Mega Ran has managed to release a complete 19-track digital album that concisely mixes Final Fantasy VII with the likes of Eminem, Guns n' Roses, Will Smith, Daft Punk, Linkin Park, and many others. The album is free to download and available for pretty much all formats. It's a great listen and the RPGamer community should appreciate the care Mega Ran puts into his lyrics.
Ziff Davis Buys IGN, 1UP's Future Uncertain?
Ziff Davis, a J2 Global company, has officially acquired the IGN network. IGN Entertainment division was originally purchased by News Corp in 2005 for a total of $650 million and yet Ziff Davis' reported purchase price for IGN was somewhere below News Corp's $100 million asking price and was supposedly a cash offer. Ziff Davis already owns and operates PCMag, extreme Tech, and GearLog. This acquisition will add IGN, 1UP, GameSpy, AskMen, GameStats, and the Vault Network to the roster. While this is all interesting news, the big question is "what will change?" IGN was quick to post an article exclaiming that the sky isn't falling, but change is inevitable and 1UP may be first on the chopping block. 1UP was previously owned by Ziff Davis, but was sold to UGO Entertainment in 2009. UGO Entertainment was then acquired by IGN in 2011. Now that 1UP is back with its former parent company, will it be abandoned again?
Don't Work for Disney
In the last issue of Currents, I reported on Disney Interactive's new Disney Infinity title. In the name of this title, Junction Point Studios and roughly 50 employees elsewhere were handed pink slips. In an internal email reported by The LA Times, Disney Interactive co-president John Pleasants explained to Disney staff that cuts were essential for the group to remain competitive. Disney Interactive, I question your business practices. Over the past four years, this entertainment group has shuttered four of its studios: Propaganda Games (Turok, Tron: Evolution, Pirates of the Caribbean: Armada of the Damned [canceled]), Black Rock Studio (Pure, Split/Second, MotoGP series, ATV Offroad series), Fall Line Studios (Ultimate Band), and now Junction Point Studios (Epic Mickey, Epic Mickey 2: The Power of Two). I'd recommend every independant studio think carefully before being acquired by the big mouse in the sky.
February 20, 2013: Grand Entrance of the PlayStation 4?
Sony Corp. invited journalists to an evening press event in New York City. The company hasn't said what it plans to show, but most people are assuming it will be the PlayStation 4. Sony would only say that it "will deliver and speak about the future of PlayStation business." The Wall Street Journal has since reported that it's confirmed through a "source" that the February 20 announcement will indeed be Sony's next console. I'm not sure everyone is on the same page, but the more I hear about next generation consoles the less I care. Knowing Sony, this beast will likely be a powerhouse with too few launch titles and a too high a price tag.
That's it for this issue. Currents will be back again after the Sony conference on February 20th to discuss whatever is announced. I hope those of you in relationships have an enjoyable Valentine's Day, while I sob deeply into a large bowl of extra-butter popcorn.