TIME e3 2014

New Assassin’s Creed Will Have Co-Op for First Time

The next title in Ubisoft’s popular Assassin’s Creed franchise will introduce co-op to the series for the first time. During Microsoft’s E3 press conference Monday, Ubisoft announced that Assassin’s Creed: Unity will allow up to four players to create their own assassins’ brotherhood as they stealthily kill foes in Paris in the midst of the French Revolution.

Ubisoft showed off lengthy gameplay footage of the title, which will be the first in the series developed from the ground up for the next-generation consoles. The game launches this holiday season for Xbox One, PS4 and PC.

TIME e3 2014

Microsoft Re-Releasing Every Halo Title for Xbox One

Though Halo 5: Guardians isn’t releasing until next year, Microsoft is planning to tide gamers over this holiday season with a compilation of the past games in the series.

Halo: The Master Chief Collection will include Halo: Combat Evolved, Halo 2, Halo 3 and Halo 4 on a single package for the Xbox One. The compilation will include over 100 multiplayer maps from the previous games that can be mixed and matched in custom playlists. Halo 2 is also getting a new coat of paint for its 10th anniversary and will feature updated graphics that can be toggled on or off with the press of a button.

Buying the game will also provide access to the mutliplayer beta of Halo 5: Guardians, which launches this November. The compilation will also include a video project called Halo: Nightfall. Nightfall serves as a prequel to Halo 5 and is executive produced by Ridley Scott of Alien fame.

Halo: The Master Chief Collection launches on November 11.

TIME e3 2014

Halo 2 Anniversary Edition Hitting Xbox One in November

Microsoft announced at E3 Monday that a Halo 2 Anniversary Edition is hitting Xbox One consoles later this year as part of the Master Chief Collection, an upcoming re-release of all major Halo titles for Microsoft’s newest console.

The entirety of Halo 2 got retouched for the Xbox One, and players can switch between original and enhanced with the touch of a button. Halo 2: Anniversary Edition is also shipping with the exact same legendary multiplayer that shipped with the first Halo 2 in November of 2004.

The Master Chief Collection — and the Halo 2 Anniversary Edition inside of it — hits store shelves Nov. 11.

TIME e3 2014

WATCH: Forza Horizon 2 for Xbox One Out Sept. 30

At Monday’s Xbox E3 event, Microsoft showed off some new footage from the upcoming Forza Horizon 2, an open-road racer set in Southern Europe. It’ll run in glorious 1080p on Xbox One and feature a new dynamic weather engine for simulating real-world meteorology.

Forza Horizon 2 is set for release Sept. 30, 2014.

A version for the Xbox 360 is also being developed.

TIME e3 2014

WATCH: Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare Out in November

Microsoft kicked off its E3 press conference with some action-packed footage of the hotly anticipated Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare. In the video, which was actual gameplay footage on the Xbox One, a player traverses through an urban war zone and ends up making a significant physical sacrifice for his efforts.

CoD: Advanced Warfare launches on November 4 for Xbox 360, Xbox One, PS4, PS3 and the PC. Xbox head Phil Spencer said Microsoft’s consoles would receive downloadable content for the new Call of Duty first.

TIME e3 2014

Watch: Xbox Conference at E3 FULL 2014

Let the games begin!

Microsoft held its annual press conference at the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) at the Los Angeles Convention. Thousands attended the over-the-top three-day expo to see the latest games and announcements from the gaming industry. Watch here for Microsoft’s FULL 2014 E3 conference at The Galen Center.

TIME e3 2014

Xbox One Just Got Cheaper

The Xbox One is getting its first price cut in the United States Monday. Microsoft’s newest video game console is now selling for $399, a $100 drop from its initial price of $499.

The price drop is the result of Microsoft unbundling Kinect, the motion-sensing camera, from the Xbox One. Microsoft had touted Kinect as an essential part of the Xbox experience, but sluggish sales forced the company to unbundle the device to lower the Xbox One’s price (Kinect is still available on its own for $100). Sony’s PlayStation 4, which also retails for $399, has been handily beating the Xbox One in sales since the start of the year.

The Xbox One already had its price slashed in Europe earlier this year. The latest cut comes as Microsoft is expected to announce a wide range of new titles for the console at this week’s Electronic Entertainment Expo.

TIME Video Games

Minecraft Creator’s New Game Is About a Horse and a Ball

Markus Persson

It's either a game about a horse endlessly pushing a ball, or an oblique, existential commentary on life itself.

Markus “Notch” Persson, the fellow most know as the creator of indie cube-building wunderkind Minecraft, has an unassuming new game to show us, and it’s about a horse.

In fact it’s called Cliffhorse, because…well, your guess is as good as mine. There’s a horse. There’s a verdant world of sorts with bumpy, mountainous topography. I suppose you could argue that’s a cliff the eponymous equine’s standing on in the shot above (“standing” — how its managing to be upright at that angle without toppling over you’d have to ask Spider-Man).

The game is Windows-only at this point, and the disclaimer reads that there’s “no guarantee of future updates.” So probably a finger in the wind. Minecraft isn’t the sort of unexpected success you easily follow with another Minecraft — unless your game’s explicitly called Minecraft 2, and then everyone winds up accusing you of being creatively cynical and opportunistic.

Not Notch, who wrote this on Twitter yesterday morning:

Note his use of the word “commercial.” That’s because he’s asking that players purchase “early access” to the game by paying for it with Dogecoin (a form of Bitcoin-like cryptocurrency).

I don’t have a Windows computer with me at the moment — the E3 vortex is just a few blocks away, like those coalescing funnels at the end of Donnie Darko — so I haven’t been able to noodle with Cliffhorse firsthand, but the idea’s that you’re maneuvering a spotted horse around a hilly, occasionally rocky island. The island has a few palm trees. And there’s a ball. A weird, giant-sized, horse-colored ball. You can gallop into the ball and knock it around, then knock it around some more. And that’s…about…it, unless the game’s hiding something, waiting for someone relentlessly thorough and patient enough to find it.

TIME Video Games

Sony Trumps Nintendo in Game-Console Sales

Sony Launches PlayStation 4 In Japan As Console Retakes U.S. Retail Lead Over Microsoft's Xbox One
PlayStation 4 boxes sit on display at a Sony store in Tokyo, Japan, on Feb. 22, 2014. Kiyoshi Ota—Bloomberg

Sony's best-selling PlayStation 4 helped the company overtake Nintendo in the past financial year

Nintendo has had a rough year. The company reported its third consecutive annual loss in May, plans to close its European headquarters in Germany and suffered a customer backlash after flagging thousands of game-play clips uploaded to YouTube.

Now, in yet another blow for the Japanese video-game giant, Sony has overtaken it in terms of game-console sales for the first time in eight years, according to Japanese business news outlet Nikkei.

Sony apparently sold 18.7 million consoles during the past financial year, whereas Nintendo sold just 16.31 million — a 31% drop from the year before.

Sony’s victory was expected following the success of PlayStation 4 and disappointing sales of Nintendo’s newest gaming console, Wii U.

But both Sony and Nintendo have taken hits in revenue over the past few years due in part to the growing prominence of smartphone gaming.

Sony suffered a net loss of $1.1 billion compared with Nintendo’s $229 million loss in the past financial year.

[Nikkei]

TIME Video Games

Tetris at 30: An Interview with the Historic Puzzle Game’s Creator

As one of the most popular puzzle video games in the world celebrates its 30th anniversary, we speak with the man who created it and the man who helped sell it to the world.

Thirty years ago today, a little game about dropping geometrically strange thingamajigs — originally clusters of punctuation marks — into neat, lookalike rows kicked off on a wild journey that led it (and it’s Russian creator, Alexey Pajitnov) out of a metamorphosing Soviet Union to the United States, and from “blockbuster” sales of 2 million already by 1988 to over 425 million paid mobile downloads today.

That game, dubbed Tetris by Pajitnov after the Greek word for the number four, is today one of the most popular video games of all time. It’s played by celebrities, been name-checked by shows like The Simpsons and The Big Bang Theory, appeared (in playable form) on the sides of skyscrapers, found its way into dozens of scientific studies (including one that determined playing the game reduces cravings for food, booze and cigarettes) and appears in New York City’s Museum of Modern Art — a permanent addition to the museum’s exhibit on Applied Design.

moma tetris
A visitor plays Tetris during an exhibition preview featuring 14 video games acquired by The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York, March 1, 2013 Emmanuel Dunand — AFP / Getty Images

I caught up with Pajitnov on the eve of the game’s 30th anniversary, as well as his partner Henk Rogers, the entrepreneur who discovered Tetris in the late 1980s and helped turn Pajitnov’s creation into a worldwide phenomenon.

Can you step us through the process whereby Pentominoes — the puzzle-game that inspired Tetris — led you to try your hand at creating something like it on an Electronika 60 computer, and how that evolved into a system for making four punctuation marks disappear if they filled out a row?

Alexey Pajitnov: I was already quite familiar with Pentominoes, as it was a favorite puzzle game of mine. I also had access to a computer, so it made sense to try to translate that game into something that you could play on a computer screen. To put the Pentominoes on the screen, I had to use symbols because of the limitations of the Electronika 60. My thought process was pretty straightforward: drop the pieces down, and when a row was filled, remove it because there was no reason to keep it on the screen, and you needed more room to go.

What challenges did you face, pre-perestroika, toward marketing and monetizing the game? How did the game spread in those early days?

AP: I had a formal arrangement with the Computer Center of the Soviet Academy of Sciences in the 1980s that granted them rights to exploit Tetris around the world for 10 years. It was easier and wiser for me to allow this arrangement than to try to fight for certain personal rights that were almost non-existent during that time. The Computer Center had different dealings with businessmen around the world who were coming to the Soviet Union to acquire the rights. I wasn’t involved very much with that, but of course there was a certain businessman named Henk Rogers who I met in 1988, and that became history and Tetris soon found worldwide appeal. But all the rights came back to me later on.

Back in those days of the Soviet Union, we didn’t have computer stores that you could visit to buy programs, so everything was copied and distributed via floppy disk. I gave my friends copies of the game on a floppy, and before long, it seemed like everyone knew about it, and was playing it. The real challenge was finding a western publisher, and along came Henk Rogers.

Did you face any personal challenges or difficulties bringing the game out of Russia when you moved to the U.S.?

AP: There were some challenges, but with the help of my friend, Henk Rogers, The Tetris Company (TTC) was formed to serve as the exclusive source of all Tetris licenses. Since then, we have licensed the game to numerous publishers all over the world.

What was it like playing Tetris for the first time at CES in 1988?

Henk Rogers: I saw the game and thought it was nothing special. Something like a game that should be part of a box full of puzzle games. But being interested in puzzles, I stood in line for my turn. When I found myself standing in line for the fourth time when I had hundreds of games to try as a game publisher in Japan, I realized I was hooked on the game in a very basic way. I went after the rights to the game and never stopped until I had all of them.

Tetris_NES_play
Tetris for the Nintendo Entertainment System Elorg / Nintendo

How did you link up with Nintendo and the Famicom in Japan originally? How did you convince Nintendo to make Tetris the pack-in game for the Game Boy?

HR: I first linked up with Nintendo by porting a Go game from the Commodore 64 to the Famicom. I had convinced [then Nintendo president Hiroshi] Yamauchi-san to let me build that product for Nintendo. After nine months, I was done and after playing one game, Yamauchi said that the game was too weak for Nintendo to publish. He was expecting his 8-bit computer to be a black belt in Go the very first time around. I asked him if I could publish it. He said okay. I did. Tetris was the third game I published on the Famicom.

After Nintendo released Game Boy in Japan I realized that this was the best platform for Tetris. NCL (Nintendo Company Limited) had no policy of including games with the hardware, but NOA (Nintendo of America) did. I convinced the CEO of NOA, Minoru Arakawa, to include Tetris rather than Mario by saying to him, “If you want little boys to buy your machine include Mario, but if you want everyone to buy your machine, include Tetris.” I guess it worked. People say Tetris made Game Boy and Game Boy made Tetris. Both statements are true.

game boy tetris
The Game Boy version of Tetris David L. Ryan — The Boston Globe / Getty Images

It sounds like things almost got out of control in the beginning, back when Robert Stein and Mirrorsoft and Elorg were involved with the question of who had rights to the game. How did you manage to eventually secure console and handheld — and eventually full worldwide — rights to the game?

HR: I secured the rights to handhelds by going to Moscow (at that time the Soviet Union) and tracking down Elektronorgtechnika (Elorg) in 1989 and negotiating with them an exclusive license for those rights. A month later I was back, this time with Minoru Arakawa and Howard Lincoln [both of Nintendo] to secure the console rights for them.

Alexey Pajitnov had licensed his rights to the Academy of Sciences and through Elorg to the rest of the world for a period of 10 years, which ended in 1995. He asked me to help him secure the rights for him, when the rights reverted to him after the 10 year period had passed, because he knew that Elorg would claim that he never had any rights. I went to bat for Alexey and formed a partnership with Elorg called The Tetris Company. In 2005, I bought Elorg. Now, Alexey and I have total control of the Tetris rights worldwide.

Do you have a favorite version of the game?

AP: My favorite version of the game is Tetris Zone, but I do play Tetris Blitz. I’m also looking forward to Tetris Ultimate, published by Ubisoft. That game will come out this summer for next generation consoles. I’m also still very fond of the Game Boy version from 1989.

Memorable puzzles game mechanics have a kind of timeless immutability, but where might Tetris go next? Does it evolve or stay the same?

AP: The core game mechanics of Tetris will always remain the same, but technology and accessories will evolve, of course, and Tetris will be there like it has been for the past 30 years. There are many variants of Tetris, so you can say that the game has evolved in that way, but if you want to play the standard game – you’ll always be able to find it.

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