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Oddworld Inhabitants Back In The Game With Citizen Siege

Many of us here mourned the day Oddworld Inhabitants - with their Abe series - abandoned the PC, in favour of other platforms. Abe's Oddysee and Abe's Exoddus were surely some of the finest platformers ever, and so having to endure for almost eight years with no other Oddworld game on the PC has been rather painful. The wait is still not over, alas, but at least we now have something to look forward to - and that something is called Citizen Siege.

It's not just a video game, and it's not just a CG animation: it's both. Oddworld Inhabitants are simultaneously developing Citizen Siege as a game and a movie, aiming to create an original property, a "politically edgy sci-fi action thriller".

"Abe's Odyssey was a genre busting original game and was the first one I fell in love with", said John H. Williams (the guy mostly credited for the Shrek series). "Citizen Siege promises to be an action thriller that, like other great science fiction stories, also has incredible poignancy to the universal issues of our time."

After developing and producing Shrek at Dreamworks, Williams has now taken upon himself to produce the Citizen Siege movie, with Oddworld Inhabitants co-founders Lorne Lanning acting as director, and Sherry McKenna acting as executive producer.

Developed side by side with the CG movie, the video game version of Citizen Siege is said to be utilizing the same collection of art assets, and is already being seen by a number of big-name publishers. It's still not clear what final form the game will take, since the two products will continue to influence each other as they grow. But if it turns out to be as wacky and enjoyable, as the first Abe games, Citizen Siege should be worth the wait.

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Just a few months ago, Empire Interactive's very survival seemed to be hanging by a rusty wire called FlatOut 2. Was this game alone enough to bring the troubled publisher back in business? Hell if I know. But Empire is clearly doing a lot better nowdays. So much better, in fact, that investment company Silverstar Holdings has announced an offer to acquire all the shares of the British publisher, after already receiving "irrevocable commitments for 63% of Empire's shares".

What this means, basically, is that by the end of November 2006, Empire Interactive will likely be a part of Silverstar Holdings - right there with Strategy First (another troubled publisher that renewed after it was acquired by Silverstar). For those of you who get a kick out of financial reports, here's how the deal between Empire and Silverstar translates into numbers:

"The offer calls for either a cash payment of 7p (approx. $0.13) per share on closing or an earn-out alternative where the initial payment will be 4.9p (approx. $0.09) per share with a further 5.1p (approx. $0.094) per share payable subject to certain conditions on October 31, 2007. The earn-out alternative also includes further incentive payments subject to Empire achieving certain EBITDA targets for the year ended June 30, 2007.

Should all Empire shareholders other than management elect to receive the 7p cash payment, the maximum amount due on closing will be approximately $7.2 million. Should all shareholders elect the earn-out alternative, the maximum amount due on closing will be $6.15 million with an additional $6.4 million due in a second payment on October 31, 2007 with further incentive payments due on April 30, 2008 subject to Empire achieving certain EBITDA targets for the year ended June 30, 2007.

Empire’s two principal shareholders have given irrevocable undertakings to vote their 62% shareholdings in favor of the earn-out alternative. The offer will be open to shareholders for 21 days. The transaction is expected to close in late November."

So, in the end, it wasn't RedOctane, Take Two, or SCi Games who bought Empire. But the important thing is that they managed to find a buyer eventually, and that can only be good news for anyone hoping for a FlatOut 3 sequel.

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20 years ago, in 1986, a small - but fast growing French company called Ubisoft Entertainment S.A. was being formed by the five Guillemot brothers. Initially a publisher and distributor of educational software and video games, Ubisoft opened its first game development studio in 1992, over in lovely - but neo-communist Romania. By that time, Yves Guillemot had already become the company's chief executive officer (CEO) and he continues to hold that position today, against all odds (and EA's takeover maneuvers).

Their Romanian studio was soon followed by an explosion of development studios all around the world. The Montreuil, Montpellier and Annecy studios were live and kicking in France by 1996, and Ubi's expansion continued with the opening of other studios in Shanghai (China, 1996), Montreal (Canada, 1997), Barcelona (Spain, 1998), Casablanca (Morocco, 1998) and Milan (Italy, 1998).

Starting with 2000, Ubisoft made a series of decisive acquisitions: they bought the North Carolina-based developer Red Storm Entertainment in 2000 (responsible for most of the Tom Clancy's Rainbow Six and Ghost Recon series), the German studio Blue Byte (known for the Settlers and Battle Isle series) in 2001, the French studio Tiwak in 2004, and recently they also acquired the British developer Reflections Interactive (the Driver series) from Atari. In the meantime, they also continued to expand their worldwide development studios in Quebec City (Canada, 2005) and Sofia (Bulgaria, 2006).

Today, Ubisoft has 15 development studios in 11 countries (totalling over 2800 developers), offices in 22 countries, and they publish games in 55 countries. Their most successful franchises are Rayman (yep, still holding strong, with over 17 million games sold worldwide), Tom Clancy's Rainbow Six, Splinter Cell and Ghost Recon (these three series combined sold a staggering 40 million+ games to date), Prince of Persia, The Settlers, Brothers in Arms and Far Cry. Too bad they lost Crytek over to EA...

But hey, the future's bwiight, so let's wiish them a vewii happy birthday!

P.S. Oh and speaking of Ubi, Splinter Cell: Double Agent just went gold for the PC, and it ships on November 9.

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Available in the US for well over a week, and just about to arrive in Europe tomorrow, Sid Meier's Railroads! marks the return of gaming's very first tycoon strategy title. And to mark the occasion even better, 2K Games released a playable demo version for Railroads!, allowing eager fans access to several terrains, trains, barons, objectives, and events from the much more copious full version. The demo contains just one tutorial and a small-sized map ("situated around the town of Towson and suitable for 2-player play" they say), but at least it's rather small, weighing only 265 MB.

While waiting for the demo to download, you can take a look at the final Sid Meier's Railroads! trailer, or browse through our local collection of screenshots.

"Sid Meier's Railroads! marks the return of the watershed title in simulation / strategy gaming that launched the popular "tycoon" genre, and inspired a new generation of games. Sid Meier's Railroads! comes home to its original creator, the legendary Sid Meier, who, together with his team at Firaxis Games, will take this game to a whole new level of fun!

The greatest railroad building game of all time is back in a vibrant 3D world delivering exciting multiplayer options, in-game customization tools, streamlined interface and unmatched gameplay, that's easy to learn yet challenging to master. Combining the best of real-world and model railroads, Sid Meier's Railroads! puts you in charge of building the greatest rail empire in the nation - managing trains, cargo and your bottom line - while engaging in all-out corporate warfare against rival tycoons, slick entrepreneurs, and robber barons!"

If this turns out to be just as fun as Sid Meier's Pirates! remake (minus the gay dancing parts), we're in for another great Firaxis game.

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EA Wants Your Money For Cheats, Gold And Tutorials

   EA, honey, this has got to stop right here and now! I can understand the whole Battlefield 2142 in-game ads fiasco - after all, advertising in games is here to stay, and there's nothing we can do about it. But charging money for something like tutorial videos? That's just ridiculous. I remember a time when games used to have free tutorials as one of their most basic features, and when unlocking cheat codes was part of the fun... Not so anymore, it seems.

   This may be old news, but it's pretty relevant for the scams things that followed throughout the month. In early October, Joystiq reported about a set of "video strategy guides" that Electronic Arts released over Xbox Live for NCAA 07 Football and Madden NFL 07. Each five-minute tutorial costs 160 MS points ($2.00), covering either Running, Passing, Run Defense or Pass Defense, but does little (if anything) to enhance your playing skills. Shortly put, a total rip-off. Not to mention the web is full of free guides and tutorial videos, that actually teach something useful for a change.

   But it's not just tutorials. Also this month, Electronic Arts began selling unlockables (cheat codes, basically) via Xbox Live for the Xbox 360 version of Tiger Woods PGA Tour 07. Want to unlock all golfers and all courses? Pay up. Want to own everything in the pro shop? Pay up. Want to max out your player skills? Guess what: pay up, sucker! With prices ranging between $2.50 and $3.75 for each of these "unlockables", one would have to spend around $15 just to get all of the game's content from head start, without actually going through the trouble of playing and earning it for free.

   Some might argue that this is a very welcome option, and that EA isn't forcing players into buying something they can get for free, eventually. And that's perfectly ok. But do you honestly think that EA would stop here, when there's still so much more they can charge for?... Thought so.

   Next came The Godfather. Unlike the game's PC version, the recent Xbox 360 version no longer has cheat codes for in-game money. It does, however, give you the option to buy in-game money for real-life money. Every MMO player's dream come true? Maybe so, but we're talking about a single-player game here, and the situation is a bit more messy than that. Thanks again to Joystiq for making things clear:

"Downloading the "Level 4 Tommy Gun – Spectre Minigun" for The Godfather will set you back 100 Microsoft points ($1.25); actually getting to use the weapon will set you back $750,000 worth of in-game currency. Don't got $750,000? Don't worry. EA's got you.

You can purchase $250,000 worth of Godfather bills for an additional 150 points ($1.50). Not a bad exchange rate, eh? (Sense our sarcasm?)

Let's review: you buy the Spectre once with real money, and then again with virtual money. When you realize you don't have enough virtual money, you turn around and use more real money to buy more virtual money, so you can re-buy the gun you already bought with real money. Ain't that something?"

   So what's next? Charging money for higher quality textures and faster loading times? Oh wait, that would actually require some effort on their behalf, so it's out of the question. If only EA would take their money-making ideas and turn them into great gameplay ideas, the world would be such a better place for gamers.

P.S. There was also a micropayment debate on G4 with Major Nelson this week, in case you care.

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A couple of high-profile shooters just went gold on the Xbox 360 this week, and I'm pretty sure that most of you are familiar with (if not drooling over) them by now: Gears of War - the game that cost Microsoft "a billion dollars"; and F.E.A.R. - the game that cost PC gamers an equal amount of heart-attacks. Not that Epic's shooter will be any more soothing, mind you.

If you're with the "drooling" club, you must already know that Gears of War's highly publicized "Emergence Day" is November 12 for North America, and November 17 for Europe. However, you might be able to find the game at some US retail stores as soon as November 7, according to Microsoft, who also announced that development on Gears of War is now completed and the gold master disc is on its way to duplication. Various promotional events will be held by Microsoft as soon as Emergence Day kicks in, and if you want to know more about them, I suggest you pay a visit to GameSpot, as they has some details in place.

As part of their final PR push, Microsoft also released a touching ad for the game, described on Xbox Live as an "exclusive Gears of War commercial that will run in Cinema and on TV". Well, it's not so exclusive anymore, now is it?.

Finally, as we said in the beginning, the Xbox 360 version of F.E.A.R. also went gold, and Monolith's freaking shooter will be available in stores on October 31. How fitting for Halloween. Both games are rated "M" for Mature, but curiously enough Gears of War will be cheaper ($49.99) than F.E.A.R. on Xbox 360 ($59.99).

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Hot off the press (via CVG), the latest issue of Xbox 360: The Official Xbox Magazine brings word that Bethesda is teaming up with Zombie Studios for a new anti-terrorist shooter, called Rogue Warrior. The game is vaguely planned for release sometime in 2007, and it will likely go head-to-head with Ubisoft's freshly revealed GRAW 2 sequel. Boy, I'd sure hate having to face that kind of tough competition!

Fortunately for Bethesda, Zombie Studios is no stranger to tactical shooters. Their past catalogue includes titles such as Spec Ops, Covert Ops, Shadow Ops, Delta Force: Task Force Dagger, and the Combat series. Even though these may not be the brightest samples of cerebral action in gaming history, Zombie also worked on America's Army: Special Forces, so they should have just enough experience to tackle a next-gen shooter. The Seattle-based developer is even using Unreal Engine 3 as the base for Rogue Warrior, and with a name like Bethesda backing the project, it might just turn out like a worthy opponet for the likes of Ghost Recon.

So far we know that Rogue Warrior will feature a co-op mode for 4 players on Xbox Live, and the usual online shoot-out for up to 24 players. Nothing out of the ordinary here, but the game will have at least one interesting feature, in that it will allow players to customize their battlefields, by building multiplayer maps from sections of other maps. Here's how it's supposed to work:

"According to the magazine, each level is made up from three sections - you choose one, the other team picks another, the then centre section is plucked out of the list at random by the Xbox 360 (from over 200 combinations). Opposing teams won't know what the other team has picked until they're in the game."

That should keep boredom at bay for a while. And with a bit of luck, it could drive other developers to push the idea one or two steps further... Not bad Zombie, not bad. Just make sure the game itself doesn't suck, will you?

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New details have emerged about two of next year's most imposing gaming shows: GDC 07 and the Leipzig GC 2007. As we mentioned last month, the CMP Game Group is already gearing up to turn their Game Developers Conference into the world's largest trade event dedicated to the game industry in 2007. Once again set to take place in San Francisco, after a year of absence from the hilly city, GDC 07 will open its doors between March 5-9 at the Moscone Convention Centre.

Thanks to a couple of reports from GamesIndustry.biz, today we get to know some of the first companies that signed up for the show. Among them are Sony, Microsoft, Epic, Havok, Rare, Vicarious Visions, Factor 5 and Volition.

"The next-generation of console gaming is represented with Epic Games' Cliff Bleszinski discussing the design of Gears of War for Xbox 360, while Factor 5's Mark Teare will talk about upcoming PlayStation 3 title Lair.

Other highlights include a session entitled 'PC Gaming in the Age of Connected Consoles' with contributions from Microsoft's David Edery, acclaimed designer Warren Spector, Soren Johnson of Firaxis and Epic's Michael Capps."

Sony Online will also be represented at GDC 07 for a discussion regarding the licensing relationship with DC Comics, for their upcoming MMO based on the DC universe. Other big names are also expected to take a stand, and all in all the show's organizers hope to attract over 12,500 industry professionals, and around 1000 press figurants.

Fast forward half a year, and the month of August will bring yet another edition of the Leipzig Games Convention. The venue will be the same as this year (the Leipzig Messe), and the dates confirmed on GI.biz are August 22-26. Compared to the specialist-only GDC 07, the German GCDC 2007 will also be open to visitors, and over 100,000 of them are expected to attend the show. To that, add another 5000 or so industry hotshots, and you got yourself something more closely resembling "the world's largest trade event".

And to top it all off, the German organizers have announced that they are teaming up with CEMS to launch a new convention in Singapore, tentatively called Games Convention Asia (GCA), and scheduled for September 7-9, 2007.

At this rate, by next year not many people will still miss the old E3.

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Valve are continuing to pump even more games on Steam this week, with five new (and old) titles announced so far. The newest of them is Arkane's Dark Messiah of Might and Magic action-RPG, which was also released at retail by Ubisoft yesterday. Alongside it, we have a final launch trailer today, merging both cinematic and gameplay footage, and revealing some of the game's story... a bit too much perhaps. Since when is stabbing a main character part of "teasing" your audience? Good thing Square didn't do that with Final Fantasy VII when... right, some of you haven't played that yet, so it's best I stop here. And move on.

Dark Messiah is available on Steam today for North American gamers only, but the rest of the world should be able to download it as well this Friday, October 27, "for just $49.95". Seriously, whatever happened to digitally distributed games being way cheaper than the boxed version, with manuals, hard copies of the game, and various bonuses? It's no wonder that 3D Realms' boss Scott Miller doesn't like Valve, or their steaming practices. I'm beginning to share some of his feelings.

Anyway, several 2K titles will also be up for grabbing via Steam this week, most of them being strategies and/or games bearing Sid Meier's highly esteemed signature. They are Civilization IV, Civilization III, Shattered Union and Sid Meier's Pirates!. We don't have any pricing details yet, but I wonder if the Civilization III digital package will also include the two expansions, Play the World and Conquests. That would be nice.

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It's pretty much official that, by the time it launches, Duke Nukem Forever will have been in development for over ten years! The project that began in 1997, and was restarted several times ever since, is still a couple of years away from completion - according to comments made by Scott Miller (CEO and founder of 3D Realms) in a recent audio podcast.

The podcast in question was the 6th weekly episode from Next-Gen.biz, and during it Scott Miller also touched on the subject of Prey 2 (it's happening alright!), Valve's Steam digital distribution platform and episodic gaming in general (he doesn't really like any of them, saying that Valve charges a "pretty outrageous" price for publishing games through Steam). But getting back to The Duke, Scott pointed out that the big marketing campaign for the game will only begin when they feel they are 10-12 months away from completion. And since we haven't seen any "big marketing" yet, you can bet that Duke Nukem Forever will not come out next year. 2008, 2009? Who knows.

"Q: The bottom line: why has the game taken so long?"

"A: We suck, pretty much."

Jokes aside, there was more said about DNF in Next-Gen's podcast, and you can read a summary of it on Duke4.net.

And since Prey 2 was also mentioned, it's probably worth noting that 3D Realms expects the development to last for 24-30 months, putting the release date for Prey 2 in late 2008 or early 2009, at best. Good luck in keeping the "public awarness" for so long!

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