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Week in Review: 3/7/14 – Say It Ain’t So, Jack

March 7, 2014 Written by Dan Oravasaari

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Welcome to the Week in Review, a feature where Dan Oravasaari and Alex Osborn will break down what happened over the last week and discuss what it means to the industry as a whole, and to you the gamer.

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Massive Industry Layoffs and Departures

Dan: In what seems to be a depressing trend hitting the games industry as of late, more and more developers have been losing or laying off employees. Just a day after the news that Eidos Montreal had to let go of 27 employees, game director and script writer Amy Hennig was let go from Naughty Dog. Following up on the news, rumors have been stating that she was forced out by Neil Druckmann and Bruce Straley. Then, on Thursday, news broke that CEO and President of SCEA, Jack Tretton, will be stepping down and passing the torch to Shawn Layden; about 700 employees at Disney Interactive had lost their jobs as well.

What does all of this mean for the future of the industry? It’s difficult to say, but the  losses to these studios will have a profound effect on all of us as gamers. The number of people who are now having to relocate in and around the area of Montreal and around the world, will either mean more start-ups for indie development or a massive growth in the mobile market. Hennig leaving Naughty Dog is a sad thing to behold, especially since she has been so integral in the birth and direction of the Uncharted series as a whole. Jack Tretton stepping down from SCEA is something that is almost immeasurable, and what this means for the PlayStation brand in the U.S. and its direction will only be revealed once we find out more down the line.

Alex: I agree, the departure of Jack Tretton was a total shock, and one that has left me with a large Tretton-sized hole in my heart. Never again with the endearing presenter take center stage at another Sony E3 press conference. In many regards, I saw Tretton as the face of PlayStation and now that face is gone. Will Shawn Layden be able to adequately fill his shoes? I sure hope so, but such a task I wouldn’t wish upon my worst enemy. Yeah… I really like Tretton.

As for the news that Amy Hennig has left Naughty Dog, I must say I’m rather indifferent if not somewhat pleased. Don’t get me wrong, it totally sucks if she was forced out by Neil and Bruce, but that doesn’t change the fact that they’re better storytellers than she is. The Uncharted franchise has never resonated with me. Meanwhile, The Last of Us had me in tears within the first few minutes. I get that I’m comparing apples and oranges here, but the emotional beats of Uncharted always fell flat for me. If Druckmann truly is taking the reigns on Uncharted, maybe I’ll actually care about the story for once.

Oh, and layoffs suck. My thoughts go out to those affected over at Eidos and Disney Interactive.

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Batman: Arkham Knight Announced for PS4

Alex: I can totally respect Rocksteady as a developer—there’s no denying the quality of Batman: Arkham Asylum and City—but I couldn’t honestly care less about Batman: Arkham Knight. Will it be better than last year’s effort by Warner Bros? Almost certainly. That said, I’ve never been a huge fan of the series, but am excited for those who have been itching for Rocksteady’s next project. I just really wish it was a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles game.

That said, there’s still plenty of reason for fans of the franchise to be pumped, even if it is more of the Arkham universe. The city is going to be bigger, gamers will finally get the chance to speed through the streets on the Batmobile, and there’s sure to be all sorts of exciting next-gen wizardry that will dazzle us thanks to the power of new hardware.

Dan: Yeah, as far as the Batman Arkham franchise is concerned, I think it may have run its course, and peaked a bit early. But, ultimately, I would be remiss if I was to say that I am not curious in even the slightest of ways to see what Rocksteady has up their sleeves on a next-gen only batman title. It really is the concept that this will be a Batman title that has the potential to really utilize the next-gen platforms that has me excited.

The only real concern I have is that this could be simply a last ditch effort to capitalize on the series,until it gets passed in time or picked up by another developer with a different sub-title. Arkham Origins, in my opinion, should probably not have happened, and should have just been the down-time until we say this next release, as the IP has just become a bit watered down. Hopefully, once more information hits the light of day we will see just why Batman can last in the games industry as he has in the comic book world.

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BioWare Considering Mass Effect Trilogy on PS4

Dan: This seems more like a push from fans about the possibility than a reality. I think it would be interesting to see a Mass Effect re-launch of the series eventually, but it is probably a bit too early to see anything now. The PS3 has been able to do games in both 1080p and 720p for some time, as well as the PS4, which means that we won’t see any drastic resolution differences. But, the improved capacity of PS4 games will allow us to see a big difference in texture usage between the games, especially the dated Mass Effect 1.

I think we will eventually see some remakes of PS3 games come to the PS4, as we are already seeing games like Dead Nation get a PS4 upgrade. But, it just seems more likely that we would see the team at BioWare focus their time developing a new series in that world, as it would easily garner more attention than a ploy to revisit the role of Commander Shepard.

Alex: Well, we already know that BioWare is developing a new Mass Effect title. Whether or not it will take place before or after the original trilogy remains to be seen, but it’s coming, regardless of whether or not a next-gen port of the first three games ends up happening. The studio has confirmed that it’s considering the possibility, which could mean anything. Any studio in the business of making money would consider additional avenues to generate profit from its back catalog. We saw Square Enix and Crystal Dynamics do this with Tomb Raider and we’re likely to see more last-gen titles get similar treatment later this year.

It’s also worth noting that there’s a lot of development talent that EA could enlist to work on the next-gen port. I highly doubt the BioWare Edmonton A-team would be pulled off of Mass Effect 4 to work on a next-gen Mass Effect trilogy. Heck, why not hire Bluepoint to do it? That studio has a solid track record.

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PS4 Sales Surpass 6 Million, Xbox One around 4 million

Alex: That’s it! The console war is over. Sony wins. Okay, joking aside, the fact that PlayStation 4 has already passed the 6 million mark is quite the feat. The affordable $399 price tag is a large reason for its success, no doubt, but I’ve also got to applaud Sony for appealing to gamers first and foremost, capitalizing on Microsoft’s mistakes. Speaking of which…

The Big M has really dropped the ball in terms of both pricing and its messaging, and yet the Xbox One has sold a respectable 4 million units. Sure, it’s substantially shy of Sony’s impressive figure, but compared to other hardware launches *cough* Wii U *cough* Microsoft is doing quite well despite its console’s higher price, bundled Kinect, and entertainment focus. Still, that doesn’t change the fact that Sony is currently ahead. With Titanfall launching next week, we may see a slight comeback for Xbox One, but I’m fairly confident PlayStation 4 will maintain a solid lead so long as it has that $100 price advantage.

Dan: Exactly, the fanboys are really going to make sure that we all wear our Sony money-hats from now on. The reality of the industry is no longer the single sided concept of a single brand owning a specific market, except maybe in Japan, where Microsoft still needs to figure things out. Between the longevity of the last console cycle and the number of multi-platform owners in the market, many gamers have gotten used to the concept of having multiple platforms in the long run. Even though the PS4 might have the lead at the moment, an approximate 2 million unit lead isn’t going to spell the end of anyone else in the industry.

Depending on which side of the fence you want to shout from, this is either a sign of the greatness that is PlayStation, or just a calm before the storm that will be Microsoft. The games industry will go on, as it has for over the last 20 years. It is just that this time, development has decided to no longer pick a winning horse unless there is enough cash incentive up front. This means that the majority of 3rd party titles will more than likely not see exclusivity, much like the end of the last generation, and if anything, we will continue to see a push for exclusive DLC – which may or may not mean anything to you.

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Rumor: Dishonored II Leaked, Reveal Coming at E3

Dan: To be honest, I couldn’t care less about Dishonored getting a sequel. I bought the original when it launched, and lost interest quicker than this industry can bother remembering a specific event. The game as a whole was not bad, as it did a decent job of giving the ability to play as a powerhouse or a thief. But, it was just that it felt like it missed the opportunity to really take advantage of the world that was established from its early trailer videos. Hopefully, as we learn more about the sequel, we will find out that they put more attention into the open world aspects and let players deal with the environment they laid out originally.

Alex: I couldn’t agree more with you there. I absolutely love the world that Arkane created, but was left super disappointed by how little of it was actually explored. Dunwall is brimming with potential, so perhaps we’ll get a deeper look into its deep dark secrets in a sequel. Bethesda has made it clear it sees Dishonored as a franchise-worthy IP, so we’re definitely going to see a second game. Whether or not these rumors about an E3 2014 reveal prove to be true, you can be sure Arkane is hard at work on a proper followup to Corvo’s tale.

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Online Retailer Claims GTA V is Coming to PS4

Alex: A Portuguese retailer apparently “in the know” is claiming that GTA V is coming to PS4. Honestly, when will all of these next-gen Grand Theft Auto V rumors end? The sooner Rockstar Games breaks the silence and either confirms or denies reports that GTA V is getting ported to new hardware, the better. At this point, we’ve heard so many rumors suggesting last year’s hit open-world action game will be coming to PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, what have you, that it’s getting a little ridiculous. As far as I’m concerned, a PS4 version is a no-brainer and basically an inevitability. Grand Theft Auto V pushed the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 to its limits; a version running on vastly better hardware could really allow the ambitious game to flex its technically-demanding muscles.

Dan: I honestly don’t see GTA V going to next-gen, I know, I must be an idiot. But, the reality is that as a game, it seems like the true potential lies with GTA Online, not the single player. With the release of numerous DLC packs, and the concept of keeping players playing the game, it would only make sense to eventually push that market into the next gen. Even then, the whole thing seems a bit far off, as Rockstar doesn’t really have a history of abusing their IPs. I honestly think that we might have a better chance of seeing Red Dead Resounding Success on the PS4, than anything – even though I still have my hopes up for a new Manhunt.

 New Games:

South Park: The Stick of Truth, Dead Nation Apocalypse

Alex: This week’s heavy-hitter is undoubtedly South Park: The Stick of Truth. It’s been in development for an incredibly long time, changed hands between publishers, and has been delayed a depressing number of times. Fortunately, it lives up to all the pent up hype and anticipation, at least that what I hear from those who’ve had a chance to play through Obsidian’s latest. The fact that Trey Parker and Matt Stone have been closely involved throughout development is definitely a major reason the game is so fantastic. It really looks like you’re playing an episode of the show, a feat that I’m sure wasn’t easy to pull off.

 Oh yeah, there’s Dead Nation Apocalypse too. If you’re a fan of Housemarque’s work—you know, stuff like Stardust and Resogunyou’ll definitely want to give it a look. It’s basically just a prettied up version of the acclaimed PlayStation 3 title now running on PS4. If it didn’t grab you the first time around, like myself, your time is likely better spent elsewhere.

Dan: Regarding South Park: The Stick of Truth, it really is a matter of how much you really want out of $60 investment and how much like the TV show. If you are a fan, you already have your answer, so just go pick it up. I personally loved playing through the game so much, that I had to finish it in just over a 24 hour period, simply because I had other projects coming that would have to take precedence and it didn’t feel like it was a waste of money on any level.

Dead Nation Apocalypse as a PlayStation Plus title makes sense, as I really would be bothered if it was a product you could only purchase. The game was great when it launched, and it is still good, but the idea of a PSN game getting a HD reskin and going back up for sale is not something I want to see trending.

Overall:

This week could have been great for the industry, with a number of intriguing rumors, the announcement of a new next-gen Batman and the release of two stellar games. Sadly, with the good, came the bad – making it all the more difficult to get excited about the good things that did happen. We are going to be seeing some major changes to the industry, but whether it is for the best, or not, it is still going to be hard to see Tretton leave the PlayStation family.

Overall Score: 6/10