BlizzCon 2011: Diablo 3 – Soulstone Trailer

Of course, what would Blizzcon be without some mention of Diablo 3. Blizzard’s dungeon crawler is currently in beta but a firm release date is still in the air.

The latest one shows Deckard Cain’s daughter poring over his notes to discern some meaning from the knowledge he has left behind, eventually stumbling on a villainous vision of apocalyptic terror. In other words, it’s likely that you’ll have to fight what you will see in the trailer below.

It’s also rated Mature, so be warned.

BlizzCon 2011: World of Warcraft gets…Pandas?

At Blizzard’s Blizzcon in Anaheim, big announcements were made not the least of which was the introduction of a new race to World of Warcraft – the Pandaren.

The race has been used before as an April Fools joke in the past with Warcraft 3 in 2002. In 2005, the Pandaren Xpress was jokingly referred to as an upcoming in-game service wherein players could order out for Chinese food without leaving their PCs. And now it looks like Blizzard has actually made it real.

The jokes were taken in stride by Blizzard’s fans who were fascinated by the idea and loved the humor that the developer wasn’t shy about sharing.

This time around, the announcement has met with some decidedly mixed opinions across several forums. Reading through the thread at PC Gamer, for example, doesn’t seem to have the kind of glowing response that one might expect with one poster believing that this is the point at which the MMORPG has “jumped the shark”.

A thread on the official forums is also filled with mixed opinions, though many are just thankful that Blizzard has continued with its stellar support with another juicy expansion that brings in more than just another race but a host of other additions including pet vs. pet battles, a new land to explore, and plenty of nice art to gawk at.

Whatever you decide for yourself how to take this news, WoW fan or not, it’s coming, so get prepared by watching the official preview below.

Get your skills on for Diablo 3

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The mighty skill trees of Diablo 3 are finally available for everyone to peruse at their leisure.The beta is due out “soonish”, though prospective demon slayers can slap down a few skills using this free tool online to plan out the perfect build for their chosen character. Or characters. Endless scrutiny ahoy!

The tool does remind prospective adventurers that the level cap for the beta is set at 13, though it allows window shopping skills that unlock further on such as at level 29.

All of the classes are represented from the muscle-bound juggernaut, the Barbarian, to the newish Demon Hunter who apparently replaces the Rogue. I’m tempted to go Wizard or Monk this time around, though the voodoo-inspired trickery of the Witch Doctor – who is apparently covering for the no-longer-around Necromancer – is also a tempting choice.

Starcraft II – Heart of the Swarm trailer rolls out, but don’t hope for a release date yet

A short tease was released for the next chapter in the Starcraft II saga, Heart of the Swarm. Unfortunately, this doesn’t mean that the game might actually be coming out this year. Earlier this month, Activision had their quarterly financial call in which Thomas Tippl, COO and CFO of Activision Blizzard, had said:

“As I mentioned on our last call, given Blizzard Entertainment has not
confirmed the launch date for its next global release, our outlook at
this time does not include a new game from Blizzard in 2011. Should
Blizzard not release a major title this year, we would expect, for
planning purposes, to launch a minimum of 2 Blizzard titles in 2012.”

Of course, that only says that Blizzard hasn’t said anything yet about dates so they’re planning on two Blizzard titles in 2012 if they don’t pull the trigger this year. It’s a safe guess that the two titles could be Heart of the Swarm and the long awaited Diablo III.

One odd thing about the trailer. It was posted on Gametrailers, then pulled. It didn’t take long for it to show up elsewhere, though, with the Gametrailers intro stripped out (but you can still see the watermark). Check it out while it’s fresh.

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.