Sat, Aug 20, 2011 | 13:43 BST
The Weekly Wrap – Gamescom ultra-analyzed
Gamescom’s come and gone, and journalists the world over are nursing broken bodies and fatally wounded livers. We can’t curl up in our coffins just yet: we have to tell you what it all means.
What happened: Sony came to Gamescom big guns-a-blazing. PS3? Ka-boom: £199. PSVita? Blammo: Foursquare, Facebook, Twitter, and probably a tin can with a piece of string attached for good measure. Hell, even PSP briefly squeezed its way into the spotlight with a new hardware revision.
What it means: At a glance, it all looks great. PS3′s more attractive than ever, given its Nathan Drake-tacular fall game lineup and penny pincher-friendly price. More importantly, though, Vita’s doing its damndest to veer off a collision course with the smoking crater where 3DS still resides to this day. On paper, it all checks out: social networking, a great game lineup, an always connected focus.
During a chat with Pat and Johnny, Sony Worldwide Studios boss Shuhei Yoshida didn’t even come close to blinking while sizing up Vita’s target. In essence, he believes there’s a Vita-shaped hole in the tablet market. So a dedicated portable may seem like a foolish gamble from the outside looking-in, but for Sony, it’s as sure of a bet as being a mugger who just so happens to live right outside the lottery money claims office.
Here’s the thing, though: We’re still not entirely sold. Don’t get us wrong: Short of not being a phone or tablet, Vita’s got every last one of its meticulously rendered tech demo ducks in a row. Lord knows it’s got the 3DS whimpering in a corner. The question still remains, though: Does the market still want a gaming-centric portable device? That’s what it’ll all come down to. Vita’s the last line of defense. If it falls with slow-mo doves crying single tears all around it, then dedicated portable gaming devices are probably going the way of the Dodo. Ball’s in your court, non-Amish members of humanity.
What happened: Ever open, honest, and to-the-point, THQ core games head Danny Bilson went on at length about his company’s recent trials and tribulations. The long and short of it? It’s do-or-die in Triple-A Megabucks Land. If your game’s not a megaton, it may as well be a sheet of paper with the word “bang” written on it. Sorry, Red Faction. You break it, but gamers apparently don’t buy it.
What it means: Bilson’s got the right of it. Social games and things of the like act as strong supplements to the blockbuster-based business model, but they won’t put you back together again if you’ve Humpty Dumpty-ed your way off a financial cliff. As we’ve discussed in the past, the big leagues have become decidedly cutthroat. As a result, mid-tier games don’t cut it anymore. Red Faction came close, but couldn’t quite wrap its fingers around success. “So long,” THQ was forced to say. Homefront, meanwhile, barely hung on.
So THQ’s taken its share of lumps. What counts now is how it bounces back. Happily, there’s a lot to like – at least, on paper. A new game from the creator of Assassin’s Creed, something that may or may not be shooty from Left 4 Dead 1′s developer, a nice big dose of nightmare fuel from Guillermo del Toro, Itagaki’s next tough-as-nails opus, etc, etc, etc. It’s quite a lineup, to be sure.
Problem is, you never really know with the gaming industry. It takes more twists and turns than a Twister tourney. On top of that – unlike an EA or Activision – THQ doesn’t have its surefire hit that keeps everything together yet. Maybe one of its upcoming titles will go Call-of-Duty-big, but maybe not. Time will tell. So long as it keeps giving money to these sorts of developers, though, we wouldn’t really mind an inSANE X-2: Everybody Wears Slutty Outfits and Jumps The Shark into a Giant Pool Full of Money many, many, many years down the line. Did we mention “many”?
What happened: Epic’s Mike Capps took the stage at Gamescom to talk about his company’s current direction (smaller teams, more focused games) and tease five new titles that don’t have anything to do with Marcus and Dom’s heart-wrenching bromance/heart-squishing murderfest. In addition to an understandably loving gaze cast in the iPhone’s direction, Capps said some words PC gamers have been waiting to hear. Paraphrased: “Oh, hello. You’re not invisible/a ghost/the last season of Scrubs.”
What it means: We’re at an interesting point in the current hardware cycle. PC is now far-and-away the most powerful platform, but – at least, in the triple-A sector – it’s still being handed sloppy seconds. As ever, piracy’s public enemy number one, but even that’s not quite as much of a concern thanks to business models like free-to-play. Point being, Epic’s actually sticking its neck out there and putting its best foot forward on PC.
It’s part of a gradually growing trend, too, with games like Battlefield 3 and Metro: Last Light leading the charge. In spite of that, though, PC’s not a “primary platform” – as Capps put it – for most developers. Some don’t even mention that their demos are running on PC unless directly confronted about it. The biggest gaming platform in the world’s evolving in a big way, but it looks like developers haven’t quite caught up just yet.
What happened: Speaking of that last thing we just talked about, here’s this shameful episode. In a nutshell, Ubisoft promised that From Dust wouldn’t require an Internet connection, suggesting a “one-time only activation” instead. Turns out that – nope – it’s still world wide web or bust. Worse still, From Dust’s PC port is making gamers want to convert to Magical Volcano Godism just to watch it drown in unending death lava. A locked frame rate and terrible resolution issues are just the tip of the Titanic-sinking iceberg.
What it means: It seems like Ubisoft commits some new cardinal sin against good PR with every passing week. The worst part? Even with legions of pissed off players hurling pure hatred through its windows, the publisher still doesn’t seem to give a damn. Instead of apologizing or offering refunds or doing anything productive, it just tossed up a new forum post and called it day.
Also, let’s not forget that this shoddy port came after a month-long delay. We’d very much like to know how Ubisoft spent that month, seeing as we can fairly reliably rule out “giving From Dust’s PC port anything beyond a cursory glance and the odd middle finger.” Maybe this was some kind of experiment in adding a literal component to game design. Let From Dust gather dust and… yeah, we don’t even know. We do know this, though: This song-and-dance got old a long time ago. Now it’s just embarrassing.
What happened: Microsoft stormed Gamescom in much the same form as it did E3. Afterward, Pat had a nice chat with vice president of interactive entertainment Chris Lewis, wherein topics ranged from Kinect to trendy shirts. Also, a disclaimer: VG247 doesn’t obtain all of its interviews through ten-year-old-exec-photo-based blackmail. Just most of them.
What it means: By and large, you’ve heard this message before. Kinect this, Kinect that, but core gamers still matter as well, etc. Microsoft didn’t change course at Gamescom so much as it unfurled a few new sails. Steel Battalion has a shot at getting core gamers all hot and bothered with its mix of gamepad/Kinect controls and giant guns with legs. Meanwhile, the company’s finally making a sizable mobile gaming push with Windows Phone 7 – though, at this rate, it won’t be dethroning the iPhone any time soon. For now, though, Microsoft’s mantra seems to be “entertainment” – not just gaming – so that’s where it’s making its biggest strides.