Mass Effect 3 delayed to 2012

Bioware and EA Games will delay releasing Mass Effect 3 until 2012.

After setting out on an Internet search after seeing news of the delay on Twitter, this writer traced the news to Mass Effect 2′s Facebook page.

I’ve seen a lot of web comments from players who seem to be OK with delay, especially considering the widespread opinions that Dragon Age II – another Bioware/EA Games release – seemed rushed and oversimplified.

Tech-Out reviewer Todd Kistler liked much of the Dragon Age II’s storytelling aspects, but also found the game to over-simplified when compared to its predecessor.

In other EA News, the Redwood City-based publisher announced its fiscal results today. The firm reported a $312-million loss for the year ending March 31. That figure signified an improvement over the previous year’s loss of $677 million.

Gaming games

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An interesting thread came up on Reddit a few days ago which outed an astroturfer using a large number of accounts to promote certain articles and posts on the site, specifically within its gaming area. One enterprising Redditor did a little digging and exposed the whole thing which you can read about here. The sites that have apparently been benefiting from having a few of their articles promoted in this way on Reddit are GamePro, G4TV, VGChartz, and GamrFeed.

Quite a few of the replies to it are filled with obvious, albeit civil and measured, rage. There are also a few amusing ones in there including one from an account called BiowareMarketingDept complaining about the unfair treatment of Dragon Age 2. But there’s no question how serious a problem this is.

So what is astroturfing? In short, it creates an illusion of popularity around something by using tactics disguised as the public voice – old fashioned shilling. In this case, by having one user masquerade as several different ones using separate accounts to promote certain articles. Instead of having the kind of social discourse based on honest votes, astroturfers stuff the ballot box by using fake people. It’s really nothing new and there are PR companies out there that have hired out people to do exactly this, creating underground ad campaigns with the appearance of a grassroots movement. There’s even a film out there that documents what it’s all about.

It’s pretty frustrating to see sites such as the ones above resort to using methods like this to promote their own work on a social news site like Reddit since it taints the entire reason for sites like it to exist in the first place. Promoting your piece by submitting it on sites is one thing, but hiring someone to fake the sort of discourse that should result subverts the kind of social interaction from those honestly assessing it.

The sites outed above have issued apologies, but one or two smack of PR backtracking after having their hands caught in the cookie jar. Simply stating to being ignorant of who they were hiring and what methods they were using comes off as almost irresponsible. Where was the review process? The oversight? Or did they not care above seeing the hits coming in?

Sadly, this will likely not be the last time an astroturfer has been caught and the sites they worked with outed. There are probably many more out there doing the exact same thing and taking better care in covering their steps. It might only be a matter of time before they are also found out, but when it comes to the ‘net, picking up where they had left off is as easy as registering for a new account.

Rockstar Games: Tribeca Film Festival selects L.A. Noire, or, Film Artists Declare Video Games to be of Artistic Value

Rockstar Games announced today that upcoming release “L.A. Noire” will be an official selection of the 2011 Tribeca Film Festival.

“We’re thrilled that L.A. Noire is being recognized by the
Tribeca Film Festival in this way,” Rockstar Games founder Sam Houser, said in a press release. “It’s a real honor, and another step forward for interactive
entertainment.”

The obvious big deal contained in that announcement is that L.A. Noire is a video game, not a movie. But it’s no secret that many video games, especially Rockstar titles like the Grand Theft Auto series and Red Dead Redemption, have incorporated many cinematic aspects into their games.

Games are now cinematic enough for filmmakers to take them seriously, or at least wonder if they should do so. As Tribeca reports on its website, the film festival will on April 30 show a demo of L.A. Noire, to be followed “by a special discussion exploring the
cinematic elements of filmmaking that have crossed over into the gaming
industry.”

In years past, cinematic would mean cut scenes. L.A. Noire, however, has been getting a lot of press for the face capture technology game developers are using to give characters lifelike facial expressions. In terms of gameplay, the idea is that the player controlled detective will be able to tell if game characters are lying or telling the truth.

But in terms of cinematic arts, this kind of technology means L.A. Noire and future games may put honest-to-goodness acting in video games. Last year’s Red Dead Redemption, in this writer’s opinion, featured some of the best voice acting in video game history, but even though many well-known actors have given their voices to games, games are not really considered to be an actors’ medium.

L.A. Noire may change that. Players may not always agree if it’s a good thing that many games are becoming “interactive movies,” but this game’s selection for the Tribeca Film Festival represents a new step for games’ fascinating evolution. Aside from CGI and an overabundance of superheroes, the films of the 1980s were not so different from the films of today. Video games are almost an entirely different medium.

Is that medium art? Gamers have perhaps unfairly singled out film critic Roger Ebert for asserting that games are not art, if only because he is surely not the only person to hold that view. But this writer agrees with the many gamers who say games are art, or at least they can be.

Many movies are terrible, and do not deserve to be called art, or even entertainment. Many games deserve equal criticism, yet as is the case in cinema, many games are the products of outstanding craftsmanship and artistic vision. If film score can be called art, so can game music. If painting is art, so can be the work of graphics experts who develop beautiful vistas or cityscapes from ones and zeroes. If screenwriting is art, so can video game writing. Yes, really.

The argument against games as art seems to be that games do not have a singular story. In writing “Network,” for example, Paddy Chayefsky was able to tell the world exactly what he thought about the media and American society, and every character behaved according to his  vision. Games, especially RPGs, challenge the player to make their own choices. Some may say when the audience can determine if a story’s protagonist is good or evil, aggressive or diplomatic, suave or a clown, the writer’s vision is lost. I disagree.

Even when the audience is playing what may be essentially a high-tech “Choose Your Own Adventure” book, the writer(s) still determines the outcome of the players’ choices. In deciding what choices lead a character down a good or evil path, the writer is able to express a personal view on morality. I don’t know if humanity has ever really agreed on what “art” is, let alone good art, but if games provide a means for creative people to express ideas and emotions to an audience, they deserve to be considered in that discussion.

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Bioware: The Guild’s Felicia Day to work on Dragon Age: Redemption

Felicia Day, whose online series “The Guild” provides further evidence that women play games*, will appear in “Dragon Age: Redemption,” a six-part series based on Bioware’s Dragon Age franchise.

From the release:

“I’m a huge Dragon Age
fan, and I have been looking for a follow up project to ‘The Guild’ for
quite some time,” Day said. ”I was thrilled when the opportunity to
work with BioWare materialized. Dragon Age: Redemption allows me to tell a fantasy story in a new way, using a universe I really love. It has been a dream working together.”

In Dragon Age: Redemption,
Day stars as Tallis, an Elven assassin hired by the Qunari to capture a
rogue mage intent on wreaking havoc throughout the world. In her quest
to find this dangerous mage, Tallis is joined by other companions who
are not always aligned in their beliefs and goals, but who band together
to defeat their foe, in an attempt to restore peace and balance to this
dark fantasy universe.

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Day is scheduled to show a glimpse of the new series during the Feb. 16 broadcast of “Late Night with Jimmy Fallon.” The series is set to debut in the summertime.

Bioware’s and EA Games’ “Dragon Age II” is scheduled for a March 8 release.

*I’m well aware that plenty of well adjusted women enjoy gaming, but what would the Internet be without foolish stereotypes?

Leaked: Crysis 2

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Developer Crytek joins a sad list that includes Electronic Arts and Valve to have a game of theirs leaked ahead of release. In this case, according to Rock, Paper, Shotgun, it’s a development build of Crysis 2 for the PC. The actual posting that had initially reported the leak is here on Facepunch. No, it doesn’t lead to where you can get it. It’s only a post from a reader that found it elsewhere and wanted to report it to others.

The actual game is scheduled to come out on March 22nd, but depending on how far along this particular build is, it could very well be close to what will be considered the “gold” copy that will go out for production. In other words, this is incredibly bad. To make things worse, sites including those above report that the build apparently has the game editor (for PCs), multiplayer, and the master key files for online authentication.

A post on the official Crysis forums by Crytek expresses their disappointment at the news and urges players to support the game when it comes out in March. With more than a few publishers and developers appearing to be looking for excuses to leave PC gaming in the dust, this leak can’t be helping.

No more Guitar Hero; Call of Duty still really, really popular

(Updated 2/10)

Activision/Blizzard will stop publishing the once-proud Guitar Hero franchise, a development that led to “RIP Guitar Hero” being one today’s lead topics on Twitter.

The game publisher announced the news today while releasing financial disclosures for 2010. Activision/Blizzard will also cancel development of “True Crime: Hong Kong.”

But Activision/Blizzard is not exactly hurting for business. The Call of Duty and World of Warcraft franchises continue to be big money makers. The company reported 2010 net revenues of $4.45 billion.

Santa Monica-based Activision/Blizzard reported a $418 year-end profit, although the firm experienced a $233 million loss during the Fourth Quarter.

The new figures were better than Activision/Blizzard’s 2009 numbers. In 2009, the firm earned a $113 million profit for the year and endured a $286 million loss in the Fourth Quarter.

How did they get there? In addition to the numbers, Activision/Blizzard also bragged that the firm is the Number One game publisher in North America and Europe. Selling 3.3 million units of “World of Warcraft: Catclysm” since its December didn’t hurt. Neither did selling more than $650 million worth of “Call of Duty: Black Ops” in the game’s first five days of release.

Activision also reports that 27 million players have clocked more than 2
billion hours – more than 229,000 years – playing Call of Duty games. That figure only requires those players to play an average of about 74 hours.

Gaming website IGN took part in Activision’s conference call and noted that the publisher now views the games business as “blockbuster or bust.” Within that context, IGN is able to report that last year’s “Transformers: War for Cybertron” was a sales dud for Activision.

Despite positive reviews, the Transformers title missed out on being on of the industry’s Top Ten selling games when it was released in June, IGN reported at the time.

Despite the demise of Guitar Hero, the game was still featured prominently on Activision/Blizzard’s corporate homepage Wednesday. Loading the homepage was more likely to produce an image of digital Slash or another rock star than one of Call of Duty’s many soldiers.

But Call of Duty is the future of Activision. The Los Angeles Times reports company’s plans include “BeachHead,” an online service for the Call of Duty franchise. Activision released few details on what exactly BeachHead will be.

The Times’ report observes that the end of Guitar Hero is a major factor in the ending of some 500 employees’ jobs and Activision/Blizzard’s business reflecting the “hit-driven nature of the video-game industry in which consumers flitter from one fad to another.”

Thus the LAT reports that investors are less excited about Call of Duty than the franchises fans:

Activision said it expected 2011 revenue to hit $3.95 billion,
substantially less than its 2010 revenue of $4.45 billion. The forecast
came in lower than most Wall Street analysts had been expecting,
triggering an 8% slide in the company’s stock price.

Activision’s shares were also depressed by investor concern over the
concentration of the company’s revenue in just two franchises, Call of
Duty and World of Warcraft, said John Taylor, an analyst with Arcadia
Investment Corp. in Portland, Ore.

Nonetheless It was not so long ago when Guitar Hero was practically everywhere, especially displays in stores like Best Buy or the now vanished Circuit City, where customers would take a break from shopping to pretend to be on stage somewhere. It’s now easy to find Guitar Hero and rival Rock Band titles in used bins at low, low prices.

I have no idea if Call of Duty will ever mirror Guitar Hero’s rise and fall or remain a perennial big seller like EA’s Madden NFL series. What I do know is that many real musicians won’t weep for Guitar Hero.

 

Report: Facebook apps get users’ phone numbers, addresses

From PC Mag.com, news that Facebook is allowing app designers to access users’ phone numbers and addresses:

Facebook recently announced that it is making user phone numbers and addresses available to developers, a move that a security expert said “could herald a new level of danger” for Facebook members.

Facebook isn’t just releasing this information into the wild; it’s
adding it to the company’s “User Graph object,” or the permissions
required to install an app.


“Because this is sensitive information, we have created the new
user_address and user_mobile_phone permissions,” Facebook wrote in a blog post. “These permissions must be explicitly granted to your application by the user via our standard permissions dialogs.”


Facebook said the permissions only provide access to a user’s address
and mobile phone number, not their friend’s addresses or mobile phone
numbers.

Facebook users have always had to give app developers permission to access profile information to install an app, such as “Which President Are You?” Whereas users once had some freedom to pick and choose which information they would share, Facebook switched to a one-size-fits-all permission system that required users to grant access to their name, friends’ names, gender, profile photos and other “basic information.”

The new system would require users to grant their explicit permission to let app developers access phone numbers and address systems. This writer recalls reading a comment on the AV Club (I’m not a hipster, FWIW) in which a reader remarked something to the extent that Facebook’s function as a social network is only incidental to its function as a data mining operation.

This latest news leaves this writer to wonder if Facebook and its founder,Time Person of the Year Mark Zuckerberg, have not so much revolutionized human communication as they have figured how to build a digital successor industry to direct mail and telemarketing,

Verizon announces iPhone service, as expected

Verizon Wireless and Apple announced Tuesday – to the surprise of virtually no one who cares – that the iPhone will be released to Verizon customers.

The iPhone is the best piece of technology ever invented in the history of mankind, according to its owners.

Apple’s competitors, of course, disagree. Motorola’s Droid phone is so awesome it practically turns users into a cyborg, according to commercials.

Droid uses Google’s Android operating system, but is not the only smartphone to do so. That was different for the iPhone, however. Until Verizon service begins on its scheduled date of Feb. 10, iPhone users had to sign a contract with AT&T to use the popular smartphone.

Verizon customers have not been shut out of the smartphone market, of course. The carrier

Wireless carriers, however, seem to engender less brand loyalty than Apple. The Associated Press reports the news may mean some customers will switch carriers, but how many is hard to say. (Link updated.)

AT&T activated 11.1 million iPhones in the first nine months of 2010. Analysts now expect Verizon to snag some users from AT&T, but the impact will likely be muted because most iPhone users have two-year contracts, and many are on family and employer plans. Verizon did not reveal its service plan pricing on Tuesday.

Verizon’s iPhone version will work only on the carrier’s current “3G” network even though the carrier has fired up a faster “4G” network in many cities. That super-fast wireless data network is available only to plug-in laptop modems for now, but Verizon will have smart phones for it this summer.

Cook said the first generation of “4G” phone chips would have forced some design compromises, which Apple wasn’t willing to make.

“Secondly and most importantly, Verizon customers have told us they want the iPhone now,” Cook said. “I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve been asked and my colleagues have been asked . When will the iPhone work on the Verizon network?”

The lack of 4G means the Verizon iPhone will have much slower data speeds than AT&T’s, at least in the areas where AT&T has upgraded its 3G network. AT&T spokesman Mark Siegel was quick to point this out, along with the fact that users won’t be able to surf and talk at the same time on the Verizon iPhone. International roaming will also be
very limited compared with the AT&T version.

However, Verizon has much wider domestic 3G coverage than AT&T does, especially in the interior of the country. In the big cities of the coasts, iPhone service can be spotty because of crowding on AT&T’s network.

Although Verizon did not announce its service plan price, the company plans to sell the iPhone 4 at $199 for the 16 GB model or $299.99 for the 32 GB model with a two-year contract.

DC Universe Online designers try to build new MMO audience

The success of DC Universe Online may depend on whether the title finds an audience among gamers who have yet to enmesh themselves in the addictive MMO genre.

Besides using the DC Comics universe as a setting, the new title is designed to attract new players by offering a slam-bang combat system and gameplay that’s relatively quicker than existing MMO titles.

“What felt superheroic was picking up cars and throwing them at people,” game director Chris Cao said. “I wanted to make MMOs more fun for more people.”

DC Universe Online is scheduled to be released Tuesday, Jan. 11. Sony Online Entertainment is releasing the game for PS3 and PC.

The game allows players to design their own superheroes or supervillains and play under the tutelage of Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman or those characters’ nemeses, Lex Luthor, Joker and Circe. The storyline casts Superman foe Braniac as lead antagonists, and other DC Universe characters are billed as featured players.


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Sony’s game is not the only effort to set a well-known fictional universe as the scene of a new MMO. Bioware’s “Star Wars: The Old Republic” is set for a springtime release, and Cao laughed a little when asked if he was excited to see his team’s game on the market first.

Millions of gamers enjoy massively-multiplayer online games, but any quick scan of the Internet can reveal commentary from many other game fans who stay away from the genre. Titles like Blizzard’s “World of Warcraft” or NCsoft’s “Aion” can attract players with sprawling virtual worlds, but can repel others simply by the prospect of grinding through long hours of gameplay.

Thus in Cao’s words, DC Universe Online comes across as a game designed for the MMO newcomer, if not the MMO skeptic. The game has the character creation and raiding features that are common to MMOs, but also player-versus-player challenges that pit skill against skill. In other words, the idea is for playersto be able to to compete against each other even if they haven’t spent every waking hour grinding through level after level.

The game’s combat system is designed to be more similar to titles like “Bayonetta” or the “Marvel: Ultimate Alliance” series than other RPG’s, CAO said.

Grinding is also reduced compared to other MMOs, he said. Players can reach the game’s highest level in 40-50 hours.

“If you want to play another game or another couple games, you will be able to,” he said.

DC Universe Online is set to retail for $59.99 on PS3 or $49.99 on PC. Monthly subscriptions are set to cost $14.99 after 30 days. PS3 and PC players will play in separate “universes.”

The game is rated T for Teen.

Report: Google confesses to taking private data

The United Kingdom’s Daily Mail reports that Google has admitted its Street View cars collected private data – including passwords and emails – while roaming British streets.

Google was accused of spying on households yesterday after it
admitted secretly copying passwords and private emails from home
computers.

The internet search giant was forced to confess it
had downloaded personal data during its controversial Street View
project, when it photographed virtually every street in Britain.

In
an astonishing invasion of privacy, it admitted entire emails, web
pages and even passwords were ‘mistakenly collected’ by antennae on its
high-tech Street View cars.

Privacy campaigners accused the company of spying and branded its behaviour ‘absolutely scandalous’.

The
Information Commissioner’s Office said it would launch a new
investigation. Scotland Yard is already considering whether the company
has broken the law.

Google executive Alan Eustace issued a
grovelling apology and said the company was ‘mortified’, adding: ‘We’re
acutely aware that we failed badly.’

Many Tech-Out readers probably have their WLAN settings as secure as they can make them, but may want to take some time to double-check their settings.

Besides the question of whether Google broke any laws in the UK, this country or another others in its Street View activities, the greater question is how willing users should be when it comes to voluntarily giving Google and other companies access to personal information.

This writer uses Google and Facebook, even though it’s obvious those companies services are designed to attract customers to data mining operations. If the government admitted to warrantless spying on everyday Americans, the public (one assumes) would be outraged. Is it any better for a private company to do the same?