Slave to the Game

Filling you in on the oddball gaming news

  • Welcome Message

US videogame giant Electronic Arts (EA) on Monday extended anew the deadline on its two-billion-dollar offer to buy "Grand Theft Auto" maker Take-Two Interactive.

EA set August 18 as the new cut-off date for its offer but did not budge from its price of 25.74 dollars per share. Take-Two has repeatedly rejected the bid as too low.

Take-Two's board of directors is urging stockholders to refuse to sell their shares to EA.

"We are fully engaged in a formal process to evaluate strategic alternatives that have the potential to deliver greater value than EA's inadequate offer," Take-Two chairman Strauss Zelnick said in a statement.

"As part of this process, we continue to engage in meaningful discussions with multiple parties."

EA said it is extending its July 18 deadline to allow time for US antitrust regulators to approve the proposed takeover of Take-Two. EA gave the same reason for adding a month to a June deadline it had set.

EA says slightly more than 11.7 million shares of Take-Two stock have been "tendered" by stockholders interested in the deal. Take-Two counters that the share count represents only 15 percent of the company's stock.

Since Take-Two first rejected EA's offer in February, the takeover target has released hot-selling "Grand Theft Auto IV" and announced a deal to make a film based on its popular "Bioshock" videogame.

At a major videogames trade summit in Los Angeles last week, Take-Two defiantly touted new titles they plan to release in the coming year.

"Take-Two is continuing to create significant value through the development of world-class entertainment products," the firm's chief executive Ben Feder said in a statement.

Apple iPhone users just want to have fun, according to the latest download statistics from the Apple App Store.

Video games dominated the paid application sales chart, capturing seven of the top 10 spots, including the top five slots.

The most-downloaded paid application was Sega's "Super Monkey Ball." In this game, which is priced at $9.99, customers can guide a monkey through mazes using the iPhone's accelerometer for navigation. The next-most-downloaded game was "Texas Hold 'Em," followed by Vivendi's "Crash Bandicoot Nitro Kart 3-D" and Pangea Software's "Enigmo."

Games also were popular in the free application category, as the most downloaded free application was "Tap Tap Revenge," a music game similar to Activision's "Guitar Hero."

Since Apple opened up its iPhone platform to developers, many game makers have been drawn to the device's robust processor, motion control, touch screen, and graphics capabilities. At the E3 video game conference last week, Sega of America president Simon Jeffery said the iPhone is as powerful as the gaming console Dreamcast.

Game developers also are looking at the iPhone as a major mobile gaming platform and will bring large franchises to it. Electronic Arts will bring "Spore" to the handset, as well as versions from its successful "Tiger Woods" and "Need for Speed" series. THQ Wireless is also working on the highly anticipated "Star Wars: The Force Unleashed."

While the iPhone will help Apple garner a good portion of the projected $4.5 billion mobile gaming market, it's is still not close to competing with the Nintendo DS as a pure gaming console. Nintendo has shipped more than 20 million units of its handheld gaming console in the United States, while Apple has sold 7 million iPhones worldwide.

Xbox 360 fans who think they can make better games than what's available commercially now have a chance to prove it.

Microsoft on Tuesday said it's opening up the popular console to games created by gamers using the company's XNA Game Studio software. "We're creating an opportunity for aspiring developers to start their careers on the world stage," said Chris Satchell, chief technology officer at Microsoft's Interactive Entertainment unit, in a statement.

Under the plan, individual Xbox game creators can sell titles they've made using XNA with other gamers over Microsoft's online Xbox Live service, which boasts more than 10 million users. "This will no doubt act as an incentive for game creators to continue to develop the best, most innovative games for Xbox 360," said Satchell.

Homebuilt games from members of Microsoft's XNA Creators Club will be added to the Xbox Live Marketplace if they pass a peer review, the company said. Creators will receive up to 70% of the total revenue generated by their games.

Among the homespun games that Xbox users can already share is "Little Gamers" -- a 2-D, side-scrolling action game created by a 24-year-old Belgian software programmer. There's also a puzzle game called "Trilinea" that was built by a trio of Brazilian developers. And "Rocket Ball," developed by a U.S. gamer, features a street version of dodge ball.

Microsoft is hoping that the effort will lead to an explosion in the number of titles available for the Xbox 360.

The company earlier this month introduced a new addition to its line of Xbox 360 video game consoles -- a model that features 60 GB of storage and a $349 price tag.

The 60-GB version of the Xbox 360 will hit stores in the United States and Canada starting in early August. It replaces a 20-GB version, which also sold for $349. Microsoft said it would continue to sell the 20-GB version while supplies last at a reduced price of $299.

Microsoft is looking to maintain recent Xbox sales momentum in the face of stiff competition from the PlayStation 3 and Nintendo's Wii unit. The 40-GB PlayStation 3 sells for $399, while the Nintendo Wii sells for $250.

Microsoft is opening the Xbox 360 to third-party software creators in a bold attempt to dramatically expand the number of games available on its platform. The goal is to give gaming aficionados far more choices than rivals Sony and Nintendo are offering.

Taking a page from the playbooks of social-networking sites such as YouTube and Facebook, which have long provided custom software from third-party developers, Microsoft said it will begin offering independently produced games to its Xbox Live community in advance of the holiday shopping season.

"Not only are we democratizing game development with Xbox LIVE Community Games later this year, but we're creating an opportunity for aspiring developers to start their careers on the world stage," said Chris Satchell, chief technology officer for Microsoft's interactive entertainment business group.

Microsoft also announced that the multiplayer components of its Games for Windows - Live service are now free. And it said its next revision to its Direct X application framework will let developers use the graphics card as a parallel processor.

Innovative and Quirky

According to Satchell, independently created games that successfully navigate a rigorous community peer-review system will be added to the Xbox Live Marketplace catalog for sale to consumers. "It is really a win for both developers and consumers because this will no doubt act as an incentive for game creators to continue to develop the best, most innovative games for Xbox 360," Satchell said.

Microsoft expects this autumn's launch of Xbox Live Community Games in the U.S., Canada and select European markets will double the size of the Xbox 360 video-game library to more than 1,000 titles. Moreover, the software giant is betting that accomplished gamers in search of new challenges will be enticed to try independently developed games, which are expected to be more inventive and quirky than those typically created for mass-market sales.

To jump-start the new effort, Microsoft is promoting a new Dream-Build-Play development program featuring cash prizes in excess of $70,000. The software giant also said it will be sharing up to 70 percent of the revenue with software developers who create games that make it through the peer-review process. The catch is that aspiring game creators must purchase a $99 membership in Microsoft's XNA Creator's Club to participate.

A YouTube for Games

Satchell first began thinking about "how to make a YouTube for games" in 2006. Back then, the goal was simply to help game developers share their creations "with a wider audience and get everybody involved in this new community."

As a first step, Microsoft rolled out XNA Studio -- a set of tools and technologies for its partners to streamline and optimize the game-development process.

"XNA Studio enables all developers -- from major development studios to the two guys moonlighting on a dream project in their garage or dorm room -- to create games in new, more efficient ways," Satchell told the audience at Gaming 2006. "With our partners we are going to provide people with the opportunity to develop games simply and easily for the retail Xbox 360."

Ever since, Microsoft has been improving the free XNA tool set and building resources for the gaming community, noted XNA General Manager Boyd Multerer.

"To date, we've had more than 1 million downloads of XNA Game Studio and adoption in more than 700 universities," Multerer said. "For some perspective, the incredible creative community we've unleashed worldwide is more than 25 times the number of professional developers in the industry."

If the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 versions of "NCAA Football 09" are the starting seniors, then Wii owners might feel like redshirt freshmen with EA Sports' first college football game for Nintendo's popular gaming console.

"NCAA Football 09: All-Play" ($49.99, Wii) marks EA Sports' debut of its new "All-Play" lineup, five Wii-specific sports games looking to bring more casual gamers into the mix.

The game offers a friendly, laid-back presentation, arcade-style gameplay and a simplified "All-Play" control scheme that lets novice players simply shake their remotes to punt, pass and kick.

But the Wii-specific version disappoints with a complete lack of online play and graphics that are simply too inferior to the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 versions.

Any thoughts that "NCAA Football 09: All-Play" could be classified as a sports sim are quickly quashed by the main menu, which offers "Mascot game" as the top choice. Sure, playing 11 Albert the Alligators versus a team of Sparty the Spartans might be cute, but it's a feature better suited for a hidden cheat code than a game's primary option.

A better choice is "Play now," which can default to your favorite college team playing at home against an archrival.

The next step is to choose how much you want to control.

The simplest option is to use only the Wii remote, letting the game guide player movement while the player simply gives the remote a quick shake for throws, tackles or jukes. The problem is you don't really feel like you're impacting gameplay much.

For slightly more control, players can add the nunchuk and use its control stick for player movement while continuing with the shakes, but the contextual automation sometimes misses your intentions.

On one play I decided to run the option, a popular college play in which the quarterback rolls out either left and right and can choose to keep the ball or lateral to his running back.

In my mind I decided to keep the ball and attempt to juke past the approaching tackler, but the game interpreted the remote shake as my decision to toss the pigskin to my running back, resulting in a drive-killing fumble.

Standard control is similar to the more intuitive "Madden" scheme, and it's the best choice for experienced players and possibly many beginners. Gameplay can be fast-paced and fun with this option.

Touchdowns invite the scoring player to drum their remote and nunchuk to pump up the crowd, but these end-zone celebrations grow old quickly. Fortunately, this gimmick and the arcade-style trails on the football can be turned off.

"NCAA Football 09: All-Play" features team-specific fight songs and cheers, but stadiums seem to be missing the little touches that make you feel at home. I expected to see "This is ... The Swamp" in the corner of Florida Field, but it wasn't there.

What's really surprising is the game's emptiness on the sidelines, which were inhabited only by the chain gang — no benches, players, photographers or sounds guys. For comparison, I fired up last year's "Madden 08," and there they were.

I'm all for bringing more people into gaming, but companies wanting to broaden their reach must be careful not to alienate those of us who like sports games and have made the Wii their console of choice.

This game simply doesn't offer enough for that crowd.

Record first-half sales of video and computer games got a big boost from Rockstar Games' "Grand Theft Auto IV" and Activision's "Guitar Hero III."

Previewed at the E3 game industry conference July 16-18 in Los Angeles, music game titles due by year's end promise to kick annual sales to new highs, among them Konami's new "Rock Revolution," Harmonix/MTV/Electronic Arts' "Rock Band 2," Activision/Red Octane's "Guitar Hero: World Tour," THQ's "Saints Row 2" and EA's "Madden NFL '09."

U.S. sales of videogame hardware, software and accessories through the end of June totaled $8.27 billion, surging 36 percent from $6.1 billion during the same period last year, according to the NPD Group, which tracks retail sales.

Videogame software sales topped $4.3 billion, soaring 49 percent from $2.9 billion from a year earlier on record unit sales of 107.6 million, up 25 percent from 85.9 million a year earlier.

In one of the conference's biggest announcements, Konami said it has entered a partnership with rock band Linkin Park under which "Rock Revolution," the newest franchise in the music game market, will be the official videogame of the group's 25-date Projekt Revolution tour. At each tour stop, Konami will set up a demonstration tent that will feature "Rock Revolution" as well as new demos of "Dance Dance Revolution" and "Karaoke Revolution American Idol Presents Encore," according to Konami marketing director Rozita Tolouey.

The band's single "Given Up" is one of 40 tracks featured in "Rock Revolution," a multi-instrument music game that will compete head to head with the "Guitar Hero" and "Rock Band" franchises.

Among other upcoming music game titles that drew attention at E3:

'Saints Row 2'

"We've doubled our budget for more current and big-name talent for the programmable radio stations plugged into the gameplay," says Frank Petreikis, lead audio designer for game developer Volition. "We have a dozen in-game stations with a broader variety of music genres and 12 or 13 tracks per station for 150-plus songs, compared to 140 in the first edition. Among lead artists set are Duran Duran for the '80s Hits station, Big Pun for rap and the Deftones for alternative rock." "Saints Row 2" will be in stores October 14 for Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3.

'Rock Band 2'

The soundtrack will feature more than 80 songs on the game disc plus an additional 20 bonus tracks available for free download this fall. Among the exclusive tracks are AC/DC's "Let There Be Rock," Guns N' Roses' "Schackler's Revenge" from the highly anticipated "Chinese Democracy" album and Bob Dylan's first videogame track, "Tangled Up in Blue." A new "disc export" feature lets users export most tracks from the first edition of "Rock Band" into "Rock Band 2." Gamers also will have an array of officially licensed instrument accessories available, including an upgraded wireless Fender Stratocaster Controller, Mad Catz Fender Telecaster Controller, Fender Bass Controller and an ION Drum Rocker. "Rock Band 2" ships in September, with an exclusive Xbox 360 launch window, followed by PS3, PS2 and Wii versions later this fall.

'Guitar Hero: World Tour'

The latest version of the top-selling franchise title will not only include drums and a microphone but will also integrate Line 6's guitar tone technology, enabling gamers to use amps, cabs and effects from the Line 6 POD in the game's Music Studio. Among major artist additions, an avatar of Jimi Hendrix will be showcased in the game, along with his "The Wind Cries Mary" and a live version of "Purple Haze." Metallica's much-anticipated album "Death Magnetic" will be available as downloadable content for the game on the same day as the album's release. "Guitar Hero: World Tour" ships October 27 for PS3 and Xbox 360.