TIME Video Games

Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare Dev ‘Not Worried’ About Titanfall ‘Ripoff’ Claims

Advanced Warfare will "speak for itself" when people play it, says Sledgehammer cofounder Michael Condrey.

“Ripoff.” You’ve seen it said of gazillions of books, films, songs and video games. You’ve probably said it yourself about something at one point or another.

So what about Activision’s upcoming Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare? Is it just a Titanfall clone?

Don’t laugh: some people think so. Enough people that outlets like GameSpot and Game Informer made space, crazily, to write about it.

And check out what Advanced Warfare developer (and studio Sledgehammer cofounder) Michael Condrey just said about the matter on Twitter.

(It’s a wonder Condrey bothered to respond at all.)

Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare is a military-minded first-person shooter about exoskeletal augmented soldiers set in the near future. Titanfall is a first-person shooter set somewhere outside our solar system on the bleeding perimeter of space exploration. Titanfall has you running around in multiplayer arenas occasionally piloting robots of the sort FASA popularized decades ago. Advanced Warfare has you running around in both solo or multiplayer modes wearing a form-fitting contraption a bit like the thingamajig Matt Damon claps around his body in Neill Blomkamp’s Elysium.

Here’s Advanced Warfare‘s multiplayer trailer again. It looks like any other multiplayer first-person shooter trailer: a little nuttier, a little more vertical, sure, but we’re talking FPS principles here. If futuristic run-and-gunning’s a crime, string all the copycat perps up — but you’re going to need a pretty long rope.

Put a squirt gun to my head, and I’d admit I do see several crude similarities between some of Advanced Warfare‘s gameplay principles and those pioneered by a certain other game. Military-inspired combat body suits? Predator-style camouflage? Strength augmentation and the ability to make crazy-high jumps? Titanfall schmitenfall, that sounds like Crytek’s Crysis to me.

TIME Video Games

Minecraft Is Now Part of Microsoft, and It Only Cost $2.5 Billion

The once indie sandbox-builder is now officially part of one of the largest companies on the planet.

Minecraft, the beloved indie sandbox-builder that went on to become the third-bestselling video game in history, is now officially part of Microsoft.

Microsoft confirmed the deal — rumored to be in play for upwards of $2 billion — with an Xbox Wire video and press release this morning. The studio’s few-dozen employees are now employed by one of the largest corporations in the world, save Mojang co-founder Markus “Notch” Persson, who confirmed that he’s leaving the company, along with the studio’s two other founders, Jakob Porsér and Carl Manneh.

In the statement, Microsoft says it will in fact pay $2.5 billion for Stockholm-based Mojang and the studio’s Minecraft franchise. Microsoft says it expects the purchase to “break-even” in the company’s 2015 fiscal year, and that the purchase should be completed by the close of 2014.

Don’t worry — yet: Microsoft says it plans to continue to make Minecraft available on all the platforms to which it’s beholden now. Here’s Microsoft Xbox honcho Phil Spencer:

‘Minecraft’ is one of the most popular franchises of all time. We are going to maintain ‘Minecraft’ and its community in all the ways people love today, with a commitment to nurture and grow it long into the future.

But parse that language conservatively and you’ll note the company’s explicitly not committing to carrying forward hypothetical sequels or expansion content for the existing version (much less alternative Mojang projects down the road).

That doesn’t mean we couldn’t see “Minecraft 2″ on PlayStation 4, iOS or Android (or whatever might have been: as tech journo Benj Edwards notes, Minecraft is really an ever-evolving sequel unto itself), but those once-certainties are now off the table. And even if we do, it seems unlikely that they’d appear before first gracing Microsoft’s Windows Phone handsets, Surface tablets, Xbox consoles or Windows PCs.

Curiously, recently-crowned Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella — presumed early on to be mulling an Xbox division selloff — is front and center in Microsoft’s press statement, calling gaming “a top activity spanning devices, from PCs and consoles to tablets and mobile, with billions of hours spent each year.”

For a detailed look at Minecraft‘s inception, check out Harry McCracken’s The Making of ‘The Mystery of Minecraft’.

TIME Video Games

August PS4 and Xbox One Sales Continue to Break Records

Sony says the PlayStation 4 was August's bestselling console for the eighth month in a row.

It’s been a trick for a while now, talking about monthly video game software sales in any capacity, because of digital’s silent encroachment on retail.

Each month when NPD rolls out its retail sales reports and charts, it’s like someone handing you half (or one-third? or three-fifths? or seven-tenths?) of the ballots from a voting station. Last summer, games-biz site Gamasutra stopped bothering with NPD’s monthly data at all. I’ve continued to follow the reports because I find some data more interesting than no data, and have done my best to share the figures in context.

But it’s looking pretty weird at this point, watching the monthly tallies with so many PC gamers having long since migrated to digital sales (mostly via Steam), the thunderous absence of smartphone and tablet software sales in these reports, and console gamers turning increasingly to digital purchases as Sony and Microsoft commit to offering most (if not all) new software digitally, day-one.

The most reliable thing NPD can say about August’s video game retail sales figures, then, since no one’s yet buying PS4s or Xbox Ones using Star Trek-ian matter replicators, is that sales of the PS4 and Xbox One, 10 months along and combined, are “greater by over 70 percent compared to their predecessors.” And Sony, in a side email, says the PS4 was the bestselling console for the eighth month in a row, for those keeping score.

Check the box under “another bumper month” for anyone invested in the set-top model of gaming. Doomsayers are going to doomsay, and who knows where we’ll be in two years, or four, or 10, but for now, everything on the hardware side of console-dom is coming up roses.

But “new physical retail software,” as NPD’s taken to calling new games still bought on disc, fell from $293 million to $232 million, year-on-year: a decline of 21%.

Looking backward, in July, retail software sales fell 15% year-on-year, while hardware sales surged 100%. In June, software was down 3% while hardware was up 106%. In May, software was actually up 57% (as was hardware, by 95%), but May is when Mario Kart 8 hit, and my guess is that most of that anomalous upturn was people buying retail copies of Nintendo’s racer.

The software-down, hardware-up trend continues from there: in April, retail software was down 10% while hardware was up 76%; in March, software was down 27%, hardware up 78%; in February, software was down 9%, hardware up 42%; and I’ll stop at January, with software down 25% and hardware up 17%.

You see the conundrum. Console sales have been soaring as physical software sales have plummeted. Whither digital sales in any of this?

No one knows, since the relevant companies won’t divulge sales figures (the shift from physical to digital has simultaneously been a shift from transparency to secrecy). NPD’s attempts to reconcile digital and retail, working with some of these companies in the background, tend to happen infrequently. And even then, the figures are reported in the most general terms.

TIME Video Games

Remastered Grand Theft Auto V Release Date Locked In: Consoles Go First

The remastered version of the fastest selling product in entertainment history will arrive in November for PS4 and Xbox One.

The remastered version of Grand Theft Auto V, teased since this summer for PS4 and Xbox One, will finally be available on November 18. But if you were hoping to play it on PC, you’ll have to wait until 2015.

Early 2015, thank goodness: January 27, says Rockstar. But it’s a shame PC owners have to wait through the holidays to play the game. Rockstar’s also released a new trailer for the game, titled “A Picket Fence and a Dog Named Skip.”

I’d guess Rockstar expects to sell a lot more, or at least a lot more immediately, on the console side. The original version, released on September 17, 2013 for PS3 and Xbox 360, became the fastest selling entertainment product (not just video game, but across the spectrum) in history. It’s since been sold-in (to retailers) to the tune of more than 34 million copies. According to this chart, it’s the sixth bestselling game in history, and compared to the five it’s currently listed behind, far and away the fastest selling. It’s bound to fly past Mario Kart Wii and Super Mario Bros., and once the PC version hits the mix next year, I wouldn’t be surprised if it gives Minecraft a run.

The remastered version isn’t just prettier. Rockstar says it’ll include new things to do, additional weapons and vehicles (including aerial ones), more wildlife and traffic, a new foliage system (I assume they mean animation-wise), overhauled radio selections (100 new songs and DJ mixes), additional challenges (Rockstar mentions the shooting range mini-game) and “enhanced damage and weather effects.”

Those who preorder will receive a million bucks of in-game cash to spend in both Grand Theft Auto V and the game’s online mode, Grand Theft Auto Online, says Rockstar. Grand Theft Auto Online will itself see upgrades, including more simultaneous players (up to 30), and comes with all the content released previously for PS3 and Xbox 360. Rockstar says existing characters and progress will transfer to the new consoles.

 

 

TIME Video Games

The Creator of Super Mario Made a Bunch of Short Films

Japanese Ninento artist and game designer Shigeru Miyamoto is pictured in London, on October 21, 2008.
Japanese Ninento artist and game designer Shigeru Miyamoto is pictured in London, on October 21, 2008. Carl De Souza—AFP/Getty Images

... about Pikmin, the weird plant creatures

He’s created some of the most famous video games of all time, and now Shigeru Miyamoto is doing some film work — naturally, based off of Nintendo characters.

Miyamoto, who’s been instrumental in creating franchises such as The Legend of Zelda and Donkey Kong and was a 2007 TIME 100 honoree, has produced PIKMIN Short Movies, a set of three 3-D short films that will premiere at the Tokyo International Film Festival this year, the festival announced Thursday.

The miniature plant-animal hybrids known as Pikmin made their debut in a 2001 game for the Nintendo GameCube, and the series has grown to include two follow-ups, the most recent of which came out last year for Nintendo’s Wii U console. The film series follows the Pikmin and the alien astronaut Captain Olimar, the game’s main character who will work with his tiny friends to explore the world, hunt for treasure and… make natural juices out of natural ingredients.

TIME Video Games

8 Things Bungie’s Destiny Could Have Done Better

Bungie

I’ve just finished watching the credits roll after sewing up Destiny‘s story-related finale. The credits are optional, just an icon that lights up in the lower righthand corner of the game’s map screen. You can ignore it, and no one would blame you for doing so–I have no idea who 99.8% of those people are either–but I like to give credits sequences their due.

They’re a humbling reminder that a ridiculous number of people probably devoted an insane amount of time to build something unfathomably complex. As someone on Twitter put it after I called Activision’s $500 million early sales windfall surreal: “The whole enormous enterprise of video game production is surreal.” Indeed.

So before you wade into this “cons” list, know there’s a “pros” one in the offing and that I like Destiny more than I don’t.

It’s Bungie doing what Bungie still does better than just about anyone else. It’s a slicker, no-frills version of Halo, sure, only by way of more recent online exemplars like Guild Wars 2 and Diablo 3.

Some of the game’s vistas are gobsmacking, and the way Bungie dynamically folds other players into or out of your particular game instance while keeping areas from overcrowding verges on ingenious.

I’m thoroughly impressed with that stuff, and I’ve only scratched the surface of competitive multiplayer, which I’m pretty sure Bungie views as Destiny‘s heart and soul.

But the game has several unmissable problems. Here are eight that come to mind.

The writing’s pretty terrible…

I’m sorry, Bungie’s team of crack creative writers. I’m sure you lingered over every plot point and sentence and punctuation mark, but as someone who was surprised and inspired by your grand-ol-science-fiction trailer (up to about the 1:00 mark, anyway) wrapped across a gazillion Brobdingnagian screens at Sony’s E3 presser, I was expecting a story more on par with Kim Stanley Robinson’s 2312.

Instead, Destiny feels like a paean to fictive mediocrity glommed onto shooting galleries wrapped in locales with meaningless gothic refrigerator-magnet names like “Shrine of Oryx” and “Temple of Crota” and “Rubicon Wastes.” It’s all visual sumptuousness backloaded with a boilerplate story so forgettable I probably couldn’t tell you what happened or why from memory with a gun to my head.

Halo was more ambitious (far from literary, but narratively bolder). The Library level alone was terrific. The series even inspired Hugo/Nebula-winning writer Greg Bear to write a bunch of books that play out in the Halo sandbox.

Destiny‘s story, by comparison, feels like something you get from the worst of the sorts of books you find shelved at the end of a bookstore’s sci-fi/fantasy section, the poorly written ones churned out every few months to placate franchise devotees.

Is that snobbery? Maybe, but it’s honesty from a guy still waiting for gaming’s Alan Moore or Gene Wolfe (that, and I’d argue Destiny‘s buildup promised more).

…as is the voice acting

Poor Peter Dinklage. The guy’s fantastic in Game of Thrones, no argument from me, but here he sounds like someone distractedly reading a bedtime story to a child while texting on his smartphone. My guess — knowing nothing about voice acting, mind you — is that since he plays a sentient robot-thingy, Bungie asked for a more neutral delivery, then forgot to apply the vocoder effect before shipping.

If Dinklage sounded less like bored-Dinklage and more like the computer in Wargames, we might not be having this conversation about wizards, moons and practically studied disinterest.

Carmina Burana wants its musical tropes back

Raise your hand if you’re as tired as I am of composers (in games or films) ripping off Carmina Burana‘s “O Fortuna” anytime they want to establish gravitas.

Some of the game’s music taken by itself is wonderful (I love the choral dissonances of the background music that plays while you’re in orbit, for instance), but marrying arcane-sounding lyrics and ethereal chanting/singing to climactic events for the umpteenth time is now the enemy. (As is not letting you turn the music down or off.)

It feels an awful lot like Halo

The way your health meter replenishes (and the sound it makes as it does), the fast-beeping klaxon that triggers when you’re down to a single health bar, the floating power jumps, the constant chatter of an A.I. companion you have to “deploy” to hack alien computers, the wave upon wave of enemies that storm from drop ships — Halo‘s fingerprints are all over this thing.

What’s wrong with a no-frills Halo and even better-finessed cooperative play? Nothing. Unless you’re burned out on Halo, because Destiny is strictly Bungie furiously tweaking and polishing a 13-year-old template, not subverting the genre, and certainly not tapping into whatever John Romero means (assuming he has the faintest idea what he’s talking about) when he says first-person shooters have “barely scratched the surface.”

Every mission is the same mission

Drop onto a planet’s surface, run down linear overland paths or underground corridors while taking out popup bad guys, deploy your tagalong robot at stations while fending off waves of more popup bad guys, then battle a boss. I’m not exaggerating: that’s every story mission in Destiny.

I’m not saying I didn’t enjoy the execution, given how well-rounded everything else feels, but know that Destiny basically has one story-based mission that it trots out ad nauseam.

Where’s random matchmaking for story missions?

Every story mission in Destiny is hypothetically cooperative, but only the Strikes (abnormally difficult boss-surrounded-by-battalions takedown missions) grab other players at random. If you want to play story missions cooperatively, you can, but you have to manually invite friends or pull up your friends list and bother nearby strangers.

It’s sometimes hard to play tactically in first-person scrums

Destiny‘s environments are busy environments. They look terrific, but they’re also overflowing with nuanced geometry in the way of irregular crevices and protrusions, especially underground. It’s easy in cramped confines crosscut by one-shot-kill energy bolts to get stuck on objects, because there’s no depth awareness when everything’s squashed into a hybrid 3D-over-2D plane.

That’s an any-first-person-shooter conundrum, to be fair, but I noticed it more than I usually do in Destiny. That may also be because Bungie employs a third-person view whenever you visit the Tower (Destiny‘s social hub where you can buy stuff, decrypt found items, pick up bounties and collect rewards).

Would a third-person view outside the Tower area break the game? If not, I’d love to see it as optional (speaking as a guy who played the game as the profession designed to lay back and snipe from cover).

Boy, do I miss Legendary mode

I’m that guy who’ll fire up a Halo on Legendary and inch along, dying just to see how each tactical scenario re-rolls: in the Halo games, the tactical permutations are endless.

In Destiny, by contrast, I’m pretty sure my knife-to-the-face/bullet-to-the-head ratio’s been about 60/40 or 70/30. With rare exception, I’m able to sprint right up to throngs of stupid-slow enemies and do the deed without recourse to cover. Playing story missions at either Bungie’s recommended character levels or the optional ones (“normal” or “hard”), Destiny‘s enemies are tenpins, even when the game thinks its compensating by spawning waves in the dozens.

Halo gave you difficulty options to make that sort of tank-rush tactic punitive and often impossible. Destiny, in Bungie’s naked attempt to lubricate your journey toward its multiplayer-angled endgame, just winds up feeling tediously breezy as you roll through the story to hit the game’s level cap over its first dozen-plus hours.

TIME Video Games

Activision Claims Destiny ‘Most Successful New Video Game Franchise Launch of All Time’

Bungie's first-person shooter is selling well to retailers out the door, exactly as expected.

Destiny, Bungie’s attempt to one-up the latter’s Halo franchise by a country mile, has sold a whopping $500 million worth of copies so far, says publisher Activision. But hold up: that’s sold-in, not through, which means the company’s really reporting a record-breaking relationship with retailers, not customers.

That relationship must have existed prior to the game going on sale at its midnight launch. How much of that $500 million–shipped to stores in the form of retail and digital standard and limited editions as well as physical copies bundled with game consoles–is walking out the door with customers, buying it for PlayStation and Xbox platforms, remains a question mark.

Activision rolled that eye-catching figure out in a press release that also states the game launched at more than 11,000 midnight openings in over 178 countries worldwide. Among other things, the company claims Bungie’s hybrid single-player/multiplayer first-person shooter is the “highest-selling day one digital console release in history,” and that it’s “on track to become Activision’s next billion dollar franchise.” (“Next,” referring to its two other billion-dollar franchises: Call of Duty and Skylanders.)

As one of my colleagues put it this morning: “Great, I was beginning to worry that Activision wasn’t going to make enough money this year.”

TIME Video Games

Some Pretty Tough News About the Xbox One’s Japan Launch Sales

No one's surprised that Microsoft's latest game console isn't doing so hot in the Land of the Rising Sun.

Tell me you weren’t expecting something like this: Xbox One sales in Japan, where the console just launched on September 4, are bad. Make that really bad.

According to Japanese game mag Famitsu, Microsoft’s games console sold just 23,562 units during its first four days on the market, September 4-7. Contrast with the Japanese Xbox 360 launch back in December 2005, which sold 62,135 units in half as many days, or the original Xbox in February 2002, selling 123,929 during its launch weekend.

Sony and Nintendo game systems have historically sold better in Japan, so it’s no surprise that figures for their respective launch windows are much higher: Sony’s PlayStation 4 sold 322,083 units during its first two days on the market (in November 2013) and the Wii U moved 308,570 units during its initial two days of availability (in November 2012). In Japan, that makes the Xbox One one of the most poorly launched mainstream game consoles on the books (the best remains the PlayStation 2, which hit 630,552 units sold during its preliminary weekend).

Microsoft’s original Xbox sold fewer than half a million units in Japan over the course of its life, and the Xbox 360’s only fared slightly better: presently somewhere north of 1.6 million units sold in the country. Nintendo’s Wii U–no trailblazer itself sales-wise–just crept past Microsoft’s nine-year-old system in units-sold last February.

Titanfall topped the charts with 22,416 units (nearly as many sold as systems moved, in other words), followed by Kinect Sports Rivals (14,191 units) and Dead Rising 3 (7,330 units).

By contrast, the Xbox One, while presumably behind Sony’s PlayStation 4 in worldwide sales given Microsoft’s reluctance to publicly lock horns with Sony sales-figure-wise, has sold in record numbers (relative to prior Xbox systems) in the U.S. At last check, back in April, the Xbox One had sold 5 million units across the globe, and it’s launching in 29 new markets this month. None of them immediate game changers, but it’s a significant shoring up of the availability gap between the Xbox One and the more broadly available PlayStation 4.

On September 4, Microsoft’s Aaron Greenberg weighed in on the company’s reluctance to publish worldwide sales figures:

He’s talking in part about Halo: The Master Chief Collection (strictly rehash, but all four Halo core games fully remastered and immaculately packaged) and racer Forza Horizon 2. Microsoft’s been hyping Sunset Overdrive, an irreverent third-person shooter by former Sony-exclusive studio Insomniac Games (the Ratchet & Clank and Resistance games), so there’s that, and maybe Ori and the Blind Forest, a platformer that’s arguably the most interesting of the bunch, but it’s not yet a lock for 2014.

TIME Video Games

Microsoft is Trying to Buy Minecraft for $2 Billion, Reports Say

Microsoft wants to ride the fantastic success of the block-building video game

Microsoft is in talks to buy the maker of the block-building game Minecraft for more than $2 billion, according to reports, a deal that would make the fantastically popular game available on Microsoft devices.

The Wall Street Journal and the New York Times, citing unnamed sources, report that Microsoft opened talks with Mojang about three months ago and has already made an initial offer. Mojang and Microsoft could reach a deal by the end of the month.

Minecraft’s blocky graphics haven’t prevented it from being a huge hit among gamers, who build imaginative structures and recreate worlds using lego-like pieces. The game’s privately-held Swedish creator, Mojang, saw $115 million in profits last year, the Journal reports, off revenue of $291 million.

Minecraft isn’t currently available on Windows phones, and hasn’t been adapted to use the graphical interface of Windows 8, Microsoft’s newest operating system. Microsoft’s move to nab Minecraft would secure the popular gaming fad for its key platforms.

[NYT]

TIME Viral Videos

Teens React to the Nintendo Entertainment System in Hilarious Video

Starring Game of Thrones' Maisie Williams

Grab your controllers, because the latest installment of The Fine Bros. web series, “Teens React” introduces the raised-on-Wii kids of today what the past generation had to use to play Legend of Zelda.

The games themselves stumped some of the new players. While the tech-savvy teens had all heard of Super Mario Bros., thanks to the fact that it had been released for the Nintendo DS, Dragon Warrior 3 elicited confusion across the board, from “No, but it sounds rad!” to “No, I don’t LARP.”

The players were left to their own devices to figure out how to insert the seemingly giant cartridge into the console, but when trouble struck, the film makers instructed them on the fine art of blowing on the game cartridge. The teens were then allowed to play the first round of Super Mario Bros. and they all struggled to use the controller (“This is the least comfortable controller ever!”) while trying to collect coins and being chased by evil mushrooms (“I literally died the first time”) and gawking at the old-school graphics (“I feel like I’m in Wreck-It Ralph!”)

After getting versed in the history of the NES, the teens did take a moment to offer their respect to the classic console, thanking the little gray box for introducing the world at large to the joys of at-home gaming.

While the teens may have found the exercise slightly humiliating, the more insightful ones knew that it was pure karma. “I always make fun of my dad for not knowing how to use stuff,” noted one dejected teen. “Now he’s going to be watching this.”

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