Elsewhere in the world, Charlie Sheen attempted to redefine the word “crazy.” His take? “Charlie Sheen.” Around here, though, we only have chainsaw guns, hacker battles, and high tech time assassins. We win.
What happened: Microsoft kicked off its 2011 guns-a-blazing – literally. Shooters and madmen's awesome psychedelic visions of a world beyond our own wherein you just so happen to shoot things ruled the day, with Gears of War 3, Crysis 2, and Child of Eden leading the charge.
What it means: Microsoft's divided its focus, and it shows. The software behemoth had titles on display for multiple platforms – specifically, Xbox 360, Kinect, and PC – but failed to set any single one's world on fire. Instead, the Xbox lineup relied entirely on a thin spread of proven moneymakers, Kinect's stockpile still looked lean to the point of emaciation, and the PC – to which Microsoft recently gave its 754th “Never Gonna Give You Up” treatment – got a single port that's been available to Xbox players for months. Microsoft, meanwhile, said that there's more to come later this year, but it seems a bit late to be dropping those sorts of “definitely without-a-doubt going to come out in 2011” bombshells. All told, if you already own an Xbox, you certainly won't go hungry in 2011. But if you don't, this won't be the year to change your mind.
What happened: We spoke with Gears of War 3's art director and executive producer about the motifs and themes behind Epic's chainsaw-toting, treetrunk-armed bromance, as well as – yep – its box art.
What it means: Well, for one thing, it's not a bromance anymore. According to art director Chris Perna, female characters are in all ways equal to their male counterparts – even in their ability to be violently sliced into bright red confetti chunks. Nope, no sugarcoating here, which – while not pleasant imagery regardless of sex – is Gears of War sticking to its guns, and we can respect that. Beyond that, it's fascinating to see how much thought goes into the aesthetic of one of the pioneers of the so-called “gray and brown shooter” movement. It's a look that may not be to your taste, sure, but never mistake it for a lazy one.
What happened: The existence of Modern Warfare 3 is no surprise. It's a natural occurrence. Just as the sun rises and sets, and M. Night Shyamalan's films continue to be the worst, Call of Duty happens. An unveiling so soon, though? Apparently not.
What it means: It all seemed so logical. Activision obviously wants to decimate all threats to Call of Duty's throne – which is encrusted with priceless jewels and perfectly prepared puffer fish – no matter how remote. EA's throwing a big GDC bash for Battlefield 3, so it only made sense for Activision to gatecrash. Activision has now said that "findmakarov.com," though, is nothing to do with MW3's reveal. We all thought we were in for two big, ostentatious unveilings instead of one next week, but we're going to have to wait. Don't despair: as the year goes on, look forward to a spectacular show as EA and Activision pump up their advertising budgets and puff out their proverbial chests like two 800 lb gorillas putting on territorial displays of dominance. Competition's never a bad thing, and – regardless of who “wins” – we'll have enough promotional stunts and ludicrous executive quotes to keep us giggling for years. Hey, Kobe, looking for another commercial gig?
What happened: The battle's over! The witch is dead! The draconian DRM beast has been slain! This is a glorious day – for both PC gaming and oddly timed fantasy metaphors.
What it means: The above is what we would be saying if we were entirely missing the point. “Always on” may be out of the picture, but the highly restrictive online log-in requirement's still around. Plus, as Rock Paper Shotgun's John Walker wrote in a fantastic piece on the current state of DRM, the whole concept behind the system is still fatally flawed. At the end of the day, paying customers suffer, and pirates just torrent cracked versions of big games sans any sort of inconvenient DRM. The bad guys win and the good guys get punished. Ubisoft's DRM may have lost some its potency, but until its terrible underlying concept is scrubbed from publishers' brains, the industry will still be in a pretty miserable spot.
What happened: Frontier Developments head David Braben spat hot, spiteful fire at anyone who supports the PS3 hacking scene, saying that “there have been suggestions that releasing hacking information is an issue of freedom of speech. That is such rubbish.”
What it means: As it stands, Braben makes one decent point: the potential for PS3 piracy is there, and it could definitely hit hardworking developers right in the pocketbook. His point-of-view, however, is simply too black-and-white. Plenty of PS3 hackers aren't pirates, and equating them as such is a mistake. It breeds a combative approach – as seen by Sony's nearly militant efforts to turn a grassroots hacking scene into scorched earth – which certainly doesn't earn them any favor with hackers. Here's the kicker, though: hackers won't go away. There will always be people who want to do more with their technology. Piracy is an unfortunate byproduct of that, but trying to obliterate the hacking scene only causes the conflict to escalate. In other words, no one wins. It's essentially a war against your own customers, and that's the most ludicrously counter-productive thing we've ever heard. Want an example of how things should work? Look at the Crysis 2 leak on PC. Crytek provided an excellent product and great service, and – as an act of gratitude – its community stopped piracy. There's something to be said for the phrase “why can't we be friends?”