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PlayStation 3 Sells Like Cold Cakes, Sony Bosses Reshuffle

More optimistic than many industry analysts, Electronic Arts CEO, Larry Probst said in a recent press summit that Sony had around 200,000 PlayStation 3 consoles available at launch in America - a figure that still only represents half of the 400,000 units previously promised by the Japanese company (and less than a quarter of what was announced before that). Even though EA expected Sony to have less than 400,000 units in retail, they were still surprised by the final results, in a most unpleasant way.

According to the same report published by Reuters, Larry Probst also believes that Sony will release a total of 500,000 to 800,000 PS3 consoles in America this year - a rather vague estimation, but, again, way below the "official predictions" which indicated 1 million consoles available in America by the end of 2006. Oddly enough, Sony have yet to communicate the official sales figures for the period immediately following the November 17 launch, and to adjust their predictions for the current year (surely, they can't meet them as they are now). But even more odd is that, from those cca. 200,000 PS3s, Probst thinks that around 20,000 were re-sold on eBay, for at least double the standard price of $600.

The only official statements released today by Sony are completely avoiding the issue of the PlayStation 3 consoles, as they are announcing several high-profile reshuffles among the company's bosses. Ken Kutaragi, "the father of the PlayStation", is no longer the president of Sony Computer Entertainment, as he now takes the role of company chairman (so he can quietly meditate on where he screwed up with the PS3). In his place, Kaz Hirai, the former boss of the SCE America division, will step up as president of the group, effective tomorrow. And in Kaz Hirai's place, the top spot at SCEA will be given to Jack Tretton (former vice president), who will thus become the first American to lead the Sony Computer Entertainment America division. I guess we should start getting used to that name from now on.

The company also went through a few more top-level changes, after which the SCEI board of directors will include Ken Kutaragi (chairman and group CEO), Akira Sato (vice chairman), Kaz Hirai (president and group COO), Masaru Kato (deputy president and group CFO), David Reeves (deputy president), Howard Stringer, Ryoji Chubachi, Kenshi Manabe and Shigeo Maruyama.

That's just great, now what about those PS3s, gentlemen?

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The eccentric detective duo Sam & Max will return to duty in a few weeks, in the second episode from the new Adventure series launched this Autumn by the former LucasArts bunch, reunited under the Telltale Games studio. They let us know that the new episode will be called "Situation: Comedy", and it will continue the adventures of Sam and Max from the first episode, "Culture Shock". This time around, the two will investigate a local TV station, where a talk-show taping has spiraled into a hostage situation.

"Talk show host Myra Stump has gone berzerk! Sam & Max head down to the WARP TV studio to find out why she's holding her audience hostage. But getting onto Myra's stage isn't going to be easy. First the Freelance Police will have to prove they're worthy of fifteen minutes of fame."

"Along with a few familiar faces and tons of Sam & Max's trademark humor, the episode features fresh locations and characters, a new musical score, and plenty of bizarre scenarios for players to puzzle through."

Situation: Comedy will premiere on the GameTap network, on December 21, and those who aren't subscribed to this digital distribution service will be able to buy the second episode from the Telltale website, starting with January 5, 2007, for $8.95. The first screenshots have just been added in our local Sam & Max: Season 1 gallery, and the first trailer can be watched on the official website.

At the same time, GameTap announced that today marks the debut of the Sam & Max "machinima" (shorts created with the game's engine), which will continue each Thursday with a new movie. Also, GameTap subscribers will have access to the complete 1997 animated Sam & Max television series and a documentary that takes gamers behind the scenes of "The Making of Sam & Max".

All in all, the Sam & Max: Season 1 game will comprise six episodes, with the other five set to be released only one month apart from each other. So in April 2007 it should be all done.

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We're not talking about a new Might and Magic game just yet, unfortunately, but only about a new multiplayer game mode that will be introduced in Dark Messiah, along with the upcoming patch version 1.02. Ubisoft have already communicated a lengthy list of changes and bug fixes prepared for this patch, and you can examine it in detail over on the Might and Magic website. High atop this list, there is a new CTF ("Capture The Flag") game mode, accompanied by a couple of new maps specifically put together for multiplayer slaughters - called "CTF_1" and "CTF_2" - as well as a set of basic rules for this new game mode:

CTF RULES

- Defend your team's flag while stealing the enemy flag.

- You must have both flags at your own base to score.

- Scoring a flag will give XP to all players on the scoring team.

- Returning your own flag also gives personal XP.

- Flags will not appear until there are players on both teams, and the 'battle begins' timer has finished

- Picking up a flag will slow you down, disables your weapon and briefly highlights you to the enemy team.

- Pressing fire when holding a flag will drop it and allow you to fight (be careful not to pick the flag up again when fighting)

- Dropped flags return to their base when touched by their team, or after 20 seconds.

So the main difference, when compared to classic CTF modes in other action games, will be that you won't be able to fight while carrying the enemy flag, and if you will press "fire" by reflex when suddenly coming face to face with an enemy, he will be able to easily re-capture his flag before you can even realize what you've done. Sounds... fun. (hopefully you can remap that key)

Also in multiplayer, some optimizations will be added in order to increase performance on slower machines, and, as expected, several Mage spells will be "nerfed". After all they were pretty over-powered.

As for the changes applied in the single-player game, there will be a new "Hardcore" dificuty level added, as well as a whole lot of bug fixes, mostly graphical. The patch should be out real soon.

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Red Steel 2 Spotted, Super Mario Galaxy May Be Late

So far, people don't seem to be very impressed with Red Steel, a game that Ubisoft was hoping to give them a head start in the race to populate the Wii console with all kinds of games. The faulty controls make up the main issue denounced by most reviewers, even though the developers are known to have reworked the game's control system at least once, following modest reactions from those who got a chance to play Red Steel at E3 2006. But since this is barely the first Wii "shooter", the genre's fate on Nintendo's new console is far from sealed, and Ubi seems to have gone back to the drawing board, planning to make things right.

With the experience gathered so far, and with new recruits drafted on the French company's jobs page, the Red Steel project moves ahead. By all accounts, the newborn franchise will be continued with a new action game, however we're not ruling out any adventure or role-playing elements, and an online component (initially promised for Red Steel, but absent from the final version) - as NintenDomaine spotted a new job opening for a Senior Game Designer, requesting for previous experience with Adventure, RPG and online games.

Another Wii related uncertainty has also surfaced after MTV.com conducted an interview with Nintendo of America president Reggie Fils-Aime. The guy says that Super Mario Galaxy might be released later than expected, around Christmas 2007, but just as well it might come as early as Spring 2007. Time will tell.

And finally, speaking of delays, in case anyone was expecting Trauma Center: Second Opinion for the Wii along with the console's European launch next week, you'd better wait some more... until March 2007, says SPOnG.

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The 600,000+ Wii consoles sold in America, in just eight days of availability, should be a pretty clear indication to Nintendo's definite success across the ocean. It's that same succcess that we expect to see next week as well, when the most playful next-gen console will be released on the old continent. The first, "huge" shipment of Wiis has already landed in Europe, as Nintendo informs us, but of course it won't be nearly enough to satisfy the fans' insatiable lust.

Although they have yet to communicate the estimated number of Wii consoles that will be available for the European launch on December 8, Nintendo did however warn us that anyone interested in buying one should be on the lookout, as demand is already soaring high, and pre-orders are also starting to pile up.

"We're launching a great product and we knew that demand would be high. Nintendo's expansion of the gaming market is paying dividends and Wii really is the 'must have' item for Christmas. Obviously, we're doing everything we can to make sure that everyone who wants one, gets one." (Laurent Fischer, Marketing Director, Nintendo of Europe)

Still, the console itself may not be the most sought-after thing. If we take a look at what happened in America, for the 600,000 consoles sold, there were only about 450,000 The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess games available. And since there isn't any other launch title as anticipated as Zelda, I'm affraid that some of us might end up with our Wii blowing in the wind...

But anyway, even if we don't manage to satisfy our lust from day one, Nintendo still plans to deliver 4 million Wii consoles worldwide by the end of 2006. So have pacience, and some candles!

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War Front: Turning Point Multiplayer Demo Download

Following a late October and early November stuffed full of some really great demos, things have been pretty calm in that section lately. But finally, the storm has returned (or is it just a stray gust of wind?), and this time it's the Germans from CDV trying to blow us away. To that end, they are offering us a War Front: Turning Point multiplayer demo weighing in at over 500 MB, in which we get to command the Allied or German forces from Digital Reality's upcoming strategy game. Of course, with a certain amount of limitations:

- Two playable sides (Germans and Allies)

- One 1 vs. 1 map, and one 3 vs. 3 player map

- Skirmish mode – playable against the AI

- A full tutorial

- Tech level 2 and 3 units available from the start, along with several super weapons

Despite having this demo ready so "soon", the Hungarians from Digital Reality still have some work to do on their long delayed game, as War Front is only expected to be released towards the end of February 2007.

Finally, here are a few words about the game provided by CDV:

"What would happen if Hitler had been assassinated early on in WWII and the German war engine came under control of a new regime? Digital Reality and CDV aim to answer that question in War Front: Turning Point, bringing gamers an "alternate history" real-time strategy game. Gamers will be exposed to a whole new WWII timeline, new battles and a variety of secret and experimental weapons. Stunning graphics and a refreshing plot will keep gamers pinned to their PCs as they attempt to alter or ensure the outcome of vastly different World War II."

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Hmm, yes, role-playing or massively-multiplayer online games aren't exactly the first thing that comes to mind when you think about Relic Entertainment, but the Canadians are planning to change this and to challenge their fellow-countrymen from BioWare. Mostly specialized in strategy games (and what strategy games!) up until now, Relic began experimenting with other genres last Spring - see The Outfit on Xbox 360 - and in years to come the will continue to diversify their playful catalogue, with at least one RPG and one MMO.

The news was let loose through a couple of job openings announced by THQ, in which they are looking to hire a Senior Designer for a RPG project, and another one for a MMO project, to be developed by their Relic studio (which they acquired back in 2004 for around $10 million).

Is the news good or bad, that's up for you to decide. On one hand, such a radical shift could affect the quality of their future strategy titles. But on the other hand, if they also manage to do a great job in these new areas, we can only rejoice. Just imagine a RPG as original and refined as Homeworld, or a MMO as balanced and brutal as the Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War strategy series.

Unfortunately, there's not much point in dreaming about a new Relic game based on the Homeworld universe, since that license now belongs to Vivendi / Sierra. But... who knows what the Canadians will come up with!

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It seems that the Germans really want to overtake the Americans, when it comes to aberrant measures taken against violent video games. As if it weren't aberrant enough to ban titles such as Quake or more recently Dead Rising. But if the real-world violence continues to escalate at the rapid pace imposed by a couple of recent incidents (tragic indeed), there is a chance that Germany will not accept any more (ego)shooters for a while.

The incidents in question are replicating the infamous massacres from American schools. There have been two similar shootings in German schools recently, one back in April, and another one just last week. The public reaction expressed by a part of the press and some politicians was to ask for a total banning of violent games, on account that both shootings were carried out by so-called FPS addicts.

Such a decision would obviously also affect the local shooter developers, and perhaps the best example of such a German studio is Crytek. In an interview with Focus TV, spotted and vaguely translated by inCrysis, Cevat Yerli (Crytek CEO) not only took a position against the "experts" claiming that shooters are turning players into criminals, but he also stated that, should these games be banned, his company is ready to leave Germany.

"In the first part of the interview (...), Cevat says that every person makes their own decisions in life. He disagrees with "experts" saying that playing egoshooters makes you a murder. Otherwise, every developer at Crytek would be a murderer since they play Crysis every day.

(...)

The last part with Cevat: When asked what Crytek would do if they ban egoshooters in Germany, Cevat's response is that the company won't stay in Germany."

A movie with the interview (in German) can be downloaded from inCrysis.

And also recently, Crytek sent out another job opening announcement, as they are looking for a Junior Animation Designer. Well, they might need an extra hand or two if the time comes to pack their bags...

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I drink, therefore I am! You too will be able to burp this out loud soon - if you haven't done so already... on several occasions... none of which you could remember the next day. Come this January, the self-proclaimed tycoon experts from Virtual Playground (Prison Tycoon) will make a virtual anonymous alcoholic out of everyone willing to play their latest creation: Beer Tycoon. Published by Frogster Interactive, the game will be a tycoon like no other, albeit more than modest in appearance (they're probably relying on our beer-induced visual indulgency while playing this thing).

"Gamers have numerous options in the game. They start with a handful of brewery buildings and try to build up to an international big brand corporation. For this, they have to manage all necessary things. From recruiting and marketing to the development of new products – and these are only a few of the many important tasks facing intending brewery managers.

Featuring highly detailed 3D graphics (ed. - rrright...), the game offers the opportunity to enter the beer business as head of a micro brewery or a medium sized suburban brewery, or even enter the global competition managing a full-blown big brewery. These companies can consist of up to 21 different brewery building types. There are 50 ingredients one can brew the beer from, including various kinds of hops and malts, and even specialities like chilli and chocolate."

I like my beer straight, cold, and sometimes black, thank you, but I guess a bit of choice never hurt nobody. And come to think of it, why would they release a Beer Tycoon in the middle of winter, when a Vodka Tycoon would have been so much more welcome - and my drinking comrade thinks so too! After all, great minds drink alike.

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Considering that BioWare's first MMORPG endeavour was unveiled nearly two years later than Dragon Age, which itself will probably not be released before 2008, you can bet that it's going to be a looong, looong time before we'll be able to bask in the virtual sun of their massively-multiplayer online game. Be it fantasy, science-fiction or whatever theme they have in mind for it. Yes, they did start talking about it, but they have yet to reveal anything specific about the actual setting of their debut MMO.

As part of a huge cover story on Dragon Age, the December 2006 issue of Games for Windows magazine also features an interview with a few guys from BioWare Austin - where the MMORPG is being developed, away from the company's Canadian headquarters, and quite close to Sony Online Entertainment's backyard (by no coincidence...). 1UP was generous enough to publish the whole interview, in which James Ohlen (creative director), Gordon Walton (co-studio director), and Rich Vogel (co-studio director of product development), are mostly answering questions about the general philosophy behind their game. While inevitably relating to Blizzard's World of Warcraft, and how they *don't* want to go down that way (i.e. grinding instances forever and ever).

As traditional with any BioWare RPG, expect some heavy storytelling in this one as well, along with "a good selection of visual customization" for your character ("probably gonna have more visual customization than you've seen in a BioWare game before"), and "big plans for end-game content":

"We think it's a very important aspect of the game, and we don't want players to be stuck grinding through the same content over and over again - I know when I hit level 60 in WoW, I pretty much quit. So whatever end-game model we have, it's not going to be that."

But just because they're so set on making it better than World of Warcraft, at least in terms of storytelling, it doesn't mean that they plan to overthrow Blizzard. "We just want to be competitive. We're not looking to kill WOW", Gordon Walton admits. And in fact, all three of them are currently playing World of Warcraft, so don't be too surprised if you see bits and pieces "adapted" to their ambitious needs.

Finally, in other BioWare news, for those of you hoping to see a Linux port of Dragon Age, you're not the only ones. Although that forum thread has already been closed after it hit ten pages of comments, with the solemn promise that the community's input has been passed along to the dev team. Cross your fingers!

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