TIME Companies

Activision Is Reportedly Spending Half a Billion on a Single Game

Bungie

Activision is making a half-billion-dollar bet on a single video game. At a Los Angeles conference last week, CEO Bobby Kotick said that his company would pour $500 million into Destiny, an upcoming massively multiplayer online first-person shooter being developed for the PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Xbox One and Xbox 360. The game comes from Bungie, the makers of the Halo series, so it has a high pedigree and a mountain of hype. But the figure may still be unprecedented in the gaming industry, especially for a new IP. Activision did not respond to a request for comment.

Typically, lavish budgets are reserved for franchises with proven popularity. Last fall’s Grand Theft Auto 5 was estimated to cost $160 million to produce. The Destiny figure dwarfs that, but an Activision spokesperson clarified to Reuters that the budget includes marketing, packaging, infrastructure support, royalties and more. The spokesperson said that the game’s budget will be “roughly in line with other Triple-A titles.”

Still, the huge sum shows that Activision is hungry for a new massive franchise. The company’s annual Call of Duty games have been selling less and less in recent years, and Activision’s sales and profits were both down in 2013. In an industry increasingly dependent on blockbusters, Activision is trying to position Destiny as too big to fail.

TIME Video Games

Analogue Nt: Classic NES Reborn as a $500 Luxury Machine

Analogue

When was the last time you played the original Nintendo Entertainment System? Visiting your parents, perhaps? Huddled in front of an old CRT television, blowing on cartridges in pursuit of one tiny hit of nostalgia?

Now that you’re older, and have some disposable income, Analogue thinks you might pay for a better experience. The company is now taking pre-orders for the Analogue Nt, a $500, aluminum-clad gaming system that plays original NES and Famicom cartridges. The system will ship some time this summer.

You can already find NES remakes for much cheaper. (HyperKin, perhaps the most well-known purveyor, sells a 3-in-1 Nintendo, Super Nintendo and Genesis system for $60.) You can even snag the real thing on eBay for under $100. But Analogue has a few arguments in favor of its steep price tag, aside from just the slick aluminum chassis:

  • While most other NES-alikes rely on emulation, which can cause issues with video and audio fidelity, the Analogue Nt uses the same Ricoh 2A03 8-bit processor and Ricoh 2c02 picture processor from the original NES. Analogue’s own Christopher Taber said these parts come from old Famicom systems that are surprisingly easy to get in large quantities; they’re too old and damaged to sell as complete systems, but the chips inside are in great condition. All the other components are newly manufactured in China, and the system is assembled in the United States.
  • Analogue has also added some perks that you won’t find on an original NES, including Famicom and Famicom Disk System compatibility, so you can check out all the games that never made it over from Japan. There’s also RGB, Component and S-Video outputs, an optional HDMI adapter with 1080p upscaling, four built-in controller ports and adjustable color palette settings.
  • Best of all, the Analogue Nt has no lockout chip, which contributed to original Nintendo’s blinking grey screen issues. You won’t have to blow on your cartridges–a method that arguably didn’t help at all–or employ any other fancy trickery to make the system work.

Like all other companies selling NES hardware today, Analogue isn’t affiliated with Nintendo, so I asked Taber how it’s legal to sell this kind of system. In an e-mail, Taber insisted that the system doesn’t infringe on any patents or copyrights, but he also said that the original NES and Famicom patents expired in 2003 and 2005, respectively.

If you’re interested in dropping $500 on the Analogue Nt, you’ll still have to provide your own games. The base system doesn’t include any controllers either, but you can bring your own or buy some from Analogue ($49 new, $29 refurbished). The optional HDMI adapter costs another $49.

Of course, all this extra expenditure won’t make your NES games look any better than they did in the 80s. The Analogue Nt will merely preserve their 8-bit glory while looking comfortable in a modern entertainment center, ensuring that no one will ever question your old-school gamer status.

TIME legal

Oculus Calls ZeniMax’s Allegations of Theft False, Disappointing and Not Surprising

Oculus VR just sent across an email outlining in seven points what it views as ZeniMax's specious claims about Doom-creator John Carmack and Oculus' virtual reality technology.

Last week, ZeniMax accused Oculus VR Chief Technology Officer (and former id Software Doom mastermind) John Carmack of taking “proprietary technology and know-how” with him when he departed the Rockville, Maryland-based Elder Scrolls and Dishonored publisher for a job with Oculus.

Oculus’ response at the time was terse and absolute: “It’s unfortunate, but when there’s this type of transaction, people come out of the woodwork with ridiculous and absurd claims,” an Oculus VR representative told the Wall Street Journal. “We intend to vigorously defend Oculus and its investors to the fullest extent.”

Here’s a bit more of that defense, breaking this morning, with Oculus writing in an email to the media that it’s “disappointed but not surprised by Zenimax’s actions” and promising to “prove that all of its claims are false.”

The following list of points was also provided by Oculus in the email:

  • There is not a line of Zenimax code or any of its technology in any Oculus products.
  • John Carmack did not take any intellectual property from Zenimax.
  • Zenimax has misstated the purposes and language of the Zenimax non-disclosure agreement that Palmer Luckey signed.
  • A key reason that John permanently left Zenimax in August of 2013 was that Zenimax prevented John from working on VR, and stopped investing in VR games across the company.
  • Zenimax canceled VR support for Doom 3 BFG when Oculus refused Zenimax’s demands for a non-dilutable equity stake in Oculus.
  • Zenimax did not pursue claims against Oculus for IP or technology, Zenimax has never contributed any IP or technology to Oculus, and only after the Facebook deal was announced has Zenimax now made these claims through its lawyers.
  • Despite the fact that the full source code for the Oculus SDK is available online (developer.oculusvr.com), Zenimax has never identified any ‘stolen’ code or technology.

 

MORE: The History of Video Game Consoles – Full

TIME Video Games

18 Things the Call of Duty Advanced Warfare Trailer Tells Us About the Game

Call of Duty Advanced Warfare is just another way of saying "future tech military bonanza mashup."

Activision wasn’t supposed to unveil Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare until this Sunday. But the announcement trailer, starring the inestimable Kevin Spacey as the (apparent) bad guy, leaked early, and so we now have two minutes and 46 seconds of footage to mull over while we wait for May 2 to come and go and for further info to drop. I wouldn’t dangle from a tenterhook waiting for an info-avalanche, though. After all, that’s what E3’s for.

But there is a fair lot to observe and think about here. Let’s step through most of it, and you can make fun of me in the comments below for all the stuff I get wrong.

“The following was captured on Xbox One.”

This plays over black at the trailer’s start and signifies nothing more than full disclosure. People naturally want to know what they’re looking at, though it can’t matter until we’ve also seen the PC and PS4 versions (until then, I’ll leave the debate over resolutions and frame rates to my psychic readers).

Activision / YouTube

This fellow’s wearing an exoskeletal suit that gives you superhuman powers.

I first came across the powered exoskeleton concept doing research for a Computer Gaming World feature on Crysis in 2006. The military’s been working on bionic exo-suits for a long time, so it’s not really science fiction, though what happens a bit later in the trailer to some of the folks driving these things — where they’re timing crazy-big jumps between moving vehicles perfectly — is pure fantasy.

Activision / YouTube

“Restricted Area. Authorized Personnel Only.” Hi there, future-Guantanamo Bay!

Who did the whole round-em-up-in-a-pen thing first in gaming-dom? Half-Life 2? I can’t remember, I just know I keep seeing it pop up in copycat dystopias — the whole martial-law-for-our-own-good thing. But is this America (the sign’s in English)? Somewhere else? Destructoid, which broke the leaked video, says the game’s about a guy (Spacey) running a private military company that goes rogue, so perhaps said PMC’s taken over part or all of an American city, and that’s what we’re looking at here.

Activision / YouTube

I was wrong: Those aren’t drones. They’re twin-turbine helicopter-looking things.

But they look kind of like drones, too, though on closer inspection you can see windshields and side doors, and there’s that intercut shot of soldiers tooling around in an airborne one (the vest the soldier’s wearing sports a logo, “Atlas” — perhaps the name of the PMC, perhaps in turn a reference to Atlas Shrugged, the libertarian/conservative pseudo-philosophical fantasy novel by Ayn Rand). Someone with far superior military know-how than me will doubtless tell us what present-day flying vehicle(s) these are modeled after, or extrapolated from (I’d guess quadcopter, but what do I know).

Activision / YouTube

We’ve already seen Kevin Spacey play a zealot, but he’s also Kevin-freaking-Spacey.

You’ve probably heard the adage “So-and-so could read the phone book and I’d listen” employed to celebrate exalted elocutionists. Kevin Spacey could play Snidely Whiplash for all I care, or have to muddle through a sophomoric script — I’ll still watch. (I’m less impressed with the engine’s stilted facial rendering tech, however.)

Activision / YouTube

The sign on the wall behind the soldier reads “Sector 02: BioLab Data Terminal.”

Will threats of biological warfare — viral maladies with the potential to decimate huge swathes of the population — play a role in what you’ll be grappling with in the campaign?

Activision / YouTube

“Keep Lagos Clean.”

That’s what the scrolling sign on the side of the overpass reads. Lagos is a port city in Nigeria. So either I’m totally wrong about the America thing, or the game takes place in multiple locations. I’d presume the latter, possibly as part of the preamble that sets the stage for Kevin Spacey’s character’s ideological meltdown. (Also, check the flag protruding from right: the Nigerian national flag is green-white-green.)

Activision / YouTube

Nomad and Prophet (Crysis) have nothing on this guy.

That’s a big honkin’ jump. And wait just one second…is that the Golden Gate Bridge? (See the sequence from 1:16, too.)

Activision / YouTube

Hold on — jet-boots? Jetpacks?

Are these soldiers just super-jumping, or taking off, up-up-and-away-like? (After watching the sequence at 2:14, I’d probably stick with jet boots.)

Activision / YouTube

No, that’s not a misplaced screen from Halo.

Thought the way that gun’s sides appear to slope, and with the design lines on that futuristic drop-ship…squint just a little, and it almost could be.

Activision / YouTube

Hello, bat-cycle.

That’s the clearer head-on shot (in the video, you first see a soldier climbing onboard). Vehicles look to factor big and multifariously in this game. Is this the same thing as the hovering cycle we see later in the trailer, at 1:44 and 2:10? Looks like it.

Activision / YouTube

Soldiers (and vehicles) will have cloaking powers.

Another hat-tip to Crysis: these super-suits, assuming they’re of a piece, will give you Predator-style powers to vanish at will. We saw this earlier in the trailer (at 0:24) with vehicles, too.

Activision / YouTube

I have no idea what’s going on here.

LSD mode? Or how about just “peek through walls mode” — the followup shot shows the soldier identifying presumed targets through a solid wall, Batman Arkham-style.

Activision / YouTube

“I’ll have the powered exoskeletal suit, sized Venti, please.”

Taking a page from Marvel’s Iron Man films, these suits clap on with automatic servos, apparently, then turn your arms into gatling guns.

Activision / YouTube

Oh hi there, Black Ops II nano gloves.

Remember those things? They glowed green or orange to indicate whether they’d adhered to something (or not). I gather these are the new and improved (and faster climbing?) model.

Activision / YouTube

Weaponized military drones apparently weigh very little.

Is this the future of high-tech military drone launches? You just throw them out the side of something? (Okay, maybe it’s not weaponized, but that kind of looks like a gatling cannon on the nose.)

Activision / YouTube

Coolest thing in the trailer yet: roll-your-own cover.

Imagine unfurling something like a vertical projector screen, only sideways, then hunching behind it, only the screen’s effectively bulletproof. That’s what I’m gleaning from the little squibs going off in the video, anyway.

Activision / YouTube

This tank has legs like an insect and wheels like a car.

And with everything else we’ve seen, Call of Duty Kitchen Sink is what I’m thinking.

TIME Video Games

Call of Duty Advanced Warfare Stars Kevin Spacey’s Creepy-Looking Eyeball

The eleventh Call of Duty game ships on November 4.

I’m not sure what we’re supposed to take away from this surprise, presumably forced-early trailer for the next Call of Duty game. It stars Kevin Spacey ungracefully speechifying (well, it’s graceful as far as Spacey’s delivery is concerned — it’s the speech itself that made me wince), sneering and all but twisting the ends of an invisible Snidely Whiplash mustache as his neocon bombast is intercut with sizzle clips of people doing physically impossible things. The next season of House of Cards this definitely isn’t.

But that’s Call of Duty for you, and in the end, when’s the last time you played a Call of Duty for the story anyway?

The trailer wasn’t supposed to drop until Sunday, but it sounds like Destructoid and Variety reverse-engineered Spacey’s involvement, then Destructoid posted the leaked trailer, which in turn seems to have forced Activision’s hand: that trailer went up on the official Call of Duty YouTube channel early this morning (also above), along with the below teaser trailer that stars Spacey’s eyeball, showing us what eyeballs do:

That eyeball might be impressive from a technical standpoint if Quantic Dream and Heavy Rain and The Dark Sorcerer didn’t exist. As for the game’s rendition of Spacey, all I can say is the uncanny valley is as wide as it is deep here.

But then when’s the last time you played a Call of Duty for the graphics anyway?

The gameplay details — multiplayer in particular, which is why I suspect most do play Call of Duty these days — we’ll have to wait a little longer for (the trailer confirms the game ships on November 4, though doesn’t list supported platforms, just that the footage in the trailer was rendered on Xbox One). In the meantime, enjoy 2:46 of power-drunk Kevin Spacey, a platoon of invisible drones, one of the Crysis nanosuit guys jumping around, some Halo UNSC drop-ships, the Morpheus vs. Agent fight on a moving truck from The Matrix Revolutions, someone in a gatling-happy Armored Core suit, someone doing a decent Spider-Man impersonation and some racy drone-on-drone action.

MORE: The History of Video Game Consoles – Full

TIME Video Games

Kevin Spacey Stars in Call of Duty Trailer in Nod To House of Cards Role

The actor lends his face and likeness to the upcoming video game, playing the role of a power-hungry head of a private military corporation

The new trailer for the upcoming Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare was released on Thursday and it features a very familiar face. Kevin Spacey lends his voice and face to the video game as the head of a private military corporation who goes rogue and declares war on the American government.

Spacey has appeared in video games before—notably in the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 2 game Superman Returns—yet his latest appearance is also an obvious nod to his House of Cards character, Frank Underwood, the maniacal and unscrupulous politician who is frequently shown playing Call of Duty-like video games to relax. (Notably missing: that Southern twang of Underwood’s.)

Also appearing Thursday was a brief Instagram video, also featuring Spacey in diabolical character:

The trailer wasn’t intended for release until Sunday, but after an online leak, Activision, the publisher of Call of Duty, posted the trailer to YouTube early. The game is slated for release on November 4.

TIME legal

Doom Creator Accused of Stealing Virtual Reality Tech, Taking It to Oculus

Oculus VR

ZeniMax claims id Software co-founder John Carmack pilfered virtual reality tech when he quit to join Oculus VR last year, though both Carmack and Oculus are flatly denying the charges.

Well this sounds ugly, and bound to get uglier: John Carmack, the fellow gamers know best for helping birth Doom, and who left id Software last year to take a job as chief technology officer with Oculus Rift headset designer Oculus VR (who were in turn recently snatched up by Facebook for a cool $2 billion), has been accused by his former employer, ZeniMax, of purloining virtual reality secrets the games publisher claims belong to it, not Oculus VR.

ZeniMax Media, which also owns Bethesda Game Studios (The Elder Scrolls series and Fallout 3) and Arkane Studios (Dishonored) claims that Carmack was involved in “extensive VR research and development” during his tenure at ZeniMax, according to the Wall Street Journal. That, says ZeniMax, gives it dibs on “key technology used by Oculus to develop and market the Oculus Rift,” and thus the right to seek compensation.

According to the Journal, ZeniMax is staking its case on allegations that Carmack was in touch with Oculus VR founder Palmer Luckey before leaving ZeniMax, that Carmack received a prototype headset from Luckey, and that he made innovations to the headset, which he then demoed during a convention.

“ZeniMax’s intellectual property rights arise by reason of extensive VR research and development works done over a number of years by John Carmack while a ZeniMax employee, and others,” writes ZeniMax in a press statement (via Engadget). “ZeniMax provided necessary VR technology and other valuable assistance to Palmer Luckey and other Oculus employees in 2012 and 2013 to make the Oculus Rift a viable VR product, superior to other VR market offerings.”

The statement continues:

The proprietary technology and know-how Mr. Carmack developed when he was a ZeniMax employee, and used by Oculus, are owned by ZeniMax. Well before the Facebook transaction was announced, Mr. Luckey acknowledged in writing ZeniMax’s legal ownership of this intellectual property. It was further agreed that Mr. Luckey would not disclose this technology to third persons without approval. Oculus has used and exploited ZeniMax’s technology and intellectual property without authorization, compensation or credit to ZeniMax. ZeniMax and Oculus previously attempted to reach an agreement whereby ZeniMax would be compensated for its intellectual property through equity ownership in Oculus but were unable to reach a satisfactory resolution. ZeniMax believes it is necessary to address these matters now and will take the necessary action to protect its interests.

Oculus’s response? Balderdash: “It’s unfortunate, but when there’s this type of transaction, people come out of the woodwork with ridiculous and absurd claims,” an Oculus VR representative told the Journal. “We intend to vigorously defend Oculus and its investors to the fullest extent.”

And Carmack himself has weighed in on Twitter:

That’s all we know so far, which is to say that it’s best to stay off the playing field just now in terms rallying for one side or another, since the only folks who know who’s telling (or twisting) the truth are John Carmack, ZeniMax and Oculus VR.

TIME Video Games

The Best Minecraft Homage to BioShock Infinite Yet

If you stepped through a tear in space-time (like BioShock Infinite's Booker), you'd probably find a version of Mojang's game dubbed Homagecraft.

 

Minecraft renditions of BioShock Infinite‘s cloud-cruisin’ Columbia are a dime a dozen nowadays, but I’ve never seen one as embellished as this. Just look at the colors in that skybox, at the arcing sky rails, at the towering statuary, and at all the fussy little details like flower boxes beneath windows — and those windows with their exquisite tracery, and the way the designers used subtly different colors to block-texture the buildings and walkways.

Then check out the green vistas way way down below. You’re not supposed to be able to see all that, what with Columbia being a cloud-hidden city and all, but it works here. In fact it’s all the more impressive knowing this block-homage to Irrational Games’ metaphysical opus actually lives up in the air, somewhere.

That somewhere would be The VoxelBox, a free-build, creativity-focused community with its own Minecraft texture and mod packs whose members attempt to craft ridiculously ornate homages to various worlds — or entirely new ones from scratch. The community’s server doesn’t support survival or PvP play, and the FAQ notesthere are only very rarely any monsters, and it’s nearly impossible to die.” Which explains how you wind up with the bandwidth to create something as ambitious as this.

You can see all of the images stacked on imgur here.

[VG247]

TIME Video Games

An Xbox First: Microsoft’s Xbox One to Be Sold in China

Microsoft's Xbox One will be one of the first foreign game consoles sold in the country since China banned foreign game system sales in 2000.

Remember that story about China unbolting its ironclad gates to foreign game system sales back in January? It looks like Microsoft’s going to be one of the first foreign companies to walk through, taking its Xbox One where no Xbox has (legally) gone before: Microsoft says its flagship games console will go on sale in China this September.

It’s part of a deal with China-based media conglomerate BesTV, a subsidiary of Shanghai Media Group, that describes itself as “principally engaged in the provision of technical services, content services and marketing services for TV terminals, computer terminals and mobile terminals through media source platforms.”

China instigated a ban on selling game consoles not made by Chinese companies back in 2000. The ban included unscientific concerns about players’ mental well-being, and in the end probably had more to do with keeping foreign corporations out.

But the games market in 2014 is a totally different animal (among other things, it’s far more lucrative), and you have to assume the Chinese government’s motivations are economic — that China’s State Council views the financial rewards now outweighing any supposed cultural concerns.

China’s the most populous nation on the planet, after all, with over half a billion gamers (according to Microsoft). It’s also long been a wellspring for design essentials like asset creation — one of the most expensive aspects of large-scale game design — in games played everywhere else. So Microsoft’s Yusuf Mehdi isn’t just grandstanding in the following video when he says there’s an “opportunity to create globally and locally created content.” That’s already been happening in spite of the ban for years.

After China lifted the ban in January, foreign companies were to seek the approval of the Chinese government to get officially green-lit to make and sell game systems in the country. Microsoft seems to have done this very quickly, and its gateway in (and perhaps government-liaised gatekeeper) will be BesTV. (And isn’t it interesting that U.S.-based Microsoft is first through the door, not Sony or Nintendo, both Japan-based companies, which may or may not have anything to do with historical China-Japan tensions.)

Not that selling popular foreign game consoles is any kind of business bonanza guarantee. As Games in Asia noted last September, it’s not like China’s gaming demographic is on tenterhooks to buy Xboxes and PlayStations and Wii Us through legitimate channels. The gray market already handles most of that demand, and it sounds like it’ll probably be significantly more expensive to go through legit channels once you factor in the cost of new games (to say nothing of piracy’s impact). Regardless, it’ll be fascinating to watch what happens this fall, and how it’ll impact Sino-American relations rolling forward.

TIME

Watch a Man Play Mario 64 While Blindfolded

62bitgaming / Twitch

But how can you tell which mushroom is which?

The Nintendo 64 masterpiece Super Mario 64 was the bane of my youth. It was one of the first three-dimensional platforming video games, and beyond tricky jump sequences, the game also had hundreds of puzzles to solve. But what would make a hard game even harder? Playing it blindfolded.

That’s exactly what the two guys of 62bitgaming attempted—and they succeeded. Last night the duo completed the game and beat Bowser. The player manning the controller covered his eyes with a standard-issue sleeping mask while the other shouted directions in his ear. Left! Right! Attack!

Beating Bowser (seen in the video here) while blind is a huge accomplishment, but the entire game is tough, from getting the first star to navigating the castle. Here’s the entire game from start to finish, over six hours of groping.

What’s next for the duo? Since it’s in 3D and slower than its predecessors, Mario 64 might actually be one of the easier Mario games to beat blindfolded. Call us when you’ve finished the high-speed last levels of the original Mario Bros.

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