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The Opera browser wasn't the only Christmas present given by Nintendo to newfound Wii users. Several classic gamelings invaded the Wii Shop channel a few days ago, and the retro-invasion will continue next month as well; especially in Japan. Unlike Opera, however, and contrary to rumours flying around the 'net last week, the games in question were not free after all. The latest five titles re-launched through the Wii Virtual Console service were Super Mario Bros. (NES), Street Fighter II: The World Warrior (SNES), Super Castlevania IV (SNES), Toe Jam & Earl (Sega Genesis) and R-Type (TurboGrafx16).

A final batch of games for 2006 is expected in Europe on December 29, and afterwards we hope that Nintendo will continue to re-launch classic titles throughout 2007, each Friday (or Monday, depending on your territory). According to a list grabbed by Eurogamer from Nintendo's official UK magazine, this Friday's retro-offer will include games such as Baseball (NES), Ice Hockey (NES), SimCity (SNES) and Super Probotector (SNES).

We'll have to wait and see what next month's surprises will be, since Nintendo only announced the Wii VC titles they plan to release in Japan, in January 2007. Among them are Mario Kart 64 (N64), Fire Emblem: Seisen no Keifu (SNES) and Zelda II: The Adventure of Link (NES), alongside other classics, more or less obscure - like Ice Climber or Kid Icarus. Old-schoolers can find the complete list on Kotaku.

It's possible that some of these will eventually make it to Europe and America, but until then Nintendo had better release the "wired" network adapter for the Wii, because the currently available (official) components are only good for wireless connections. And without an online connection for the Wii, it's rather hard to enjoy all these dusty goodies.

UPDATE: Kotaku has word that Contra 3: The Alien Wars may also be coming to Wii VC soon.

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This isn't the first time that Sigil Games' MMORPG is about to enter a beta-testing phase. The first one, very limited, began back in August 2005, and since then Vanguard's fantasy world continued to welcome increasingly more inhabitants on probation: phase 2 began in October 2005, pahse 3 in Summer 2006, and now it looks like the developers are readying to enter not only a new year, but also a new beta pahse.

As usual, FilePlanet is the one inviting us to sign-up for the Vanguard beta, whose game client will have 6.6 GB! Even though the invitations for the beta will only be sent out in January 2007, the client itself can already be downloaded now, but only if you're a FilePlanet subscriber.

According to the planning listed on the Vanguard website, there are still another couple of beta phases left until the final launch, estimated to take place in the first quarter of 2007. Here's what's left to be done in the meantime:

"Phase 4: Determine the target number of people in a single shard, preferably arriving with a number in between over populated and too sparsely populated. Add Kojan, completing the world. Finalize itemization, character advancemet rates, tweaks to Crafting, Harvesting & Diplomacy.

Phase 5: The shortest phase. Bring in a LOT of people (I think EQ had 25,000+). Have multiple shards online and make sure there are no issues there. Test billing, login, etc. Do everything we can to make sure nothing catastrophic happens when we turn on the game for real. Perhaps open some of the high end content briefly, but still being careful to keep mystery in the game."

Seems to me they still have a ways to go, so better not get impatient until next year. Not much longer now.

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With some delay, herr Frans from 3D Gamers noticed that a recent interview with Steve Sinclair (project lead at Digital Extremes) pretty much blows away our hopes for a PC version of Dark Sector - an action title once shrouded in mystery and hype, but not so impressive anymore after the trailers that appeared during the past month. Come to think of it, neither does the new official website show any PC-CD/DVD logo, just the ones for PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360. The game should be released simultaneously on both consoles, sometime during fall 2007.

Despite the sci-fi atmosphere featured in the E3 2004 tech-demo, Dark Sector was revealed this year in a whole new shape. The reason behind this sudden change of scenery is that the devs from Digital Extremes wanted to place the game's hero, Hayden Tenno, in a contemporary environment, in order to better showcase the strange powers he receives in one of his investigations - the one the game is also based upon.

"In the midst of a quarantined town, a hunted man tries to come to terms with what he is becoming. Pursued by heavily-armed guards, Hayden Tenno is undergoing a series of physical changes that are endowing him with strange new powers and altering his mental state. As he struggles to hold on to his humanity, Dark Sector presents one of the most involving and ground-breaking next generation experiences you have seen."

So, one less PC game to worry about in 2007. Besides, if Bioshock comes out next year, we'll hardly need any other kind of mutations anyway.

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Splinter Cell: Double Agent Infiltrates The European PS3 Launch

I don't think there was any need for an official confirmation, but Ubisoft decided to set the record straight for the holidays and announced that, indeed, Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell: Double Agent will also be released on the PlayStation 3 next year, in time for the console's launch in Europe. This should be the last version of the game to hit retail, after Sam Fisher has already infiltrated about six consoles in his last action-packed adventure. Even the Wii received a Splinter Cell: Double Agent game recently, so the devs should already have some experience with motion-sensing - a feature that will also be included in the PS3 version, thanks to the console's Sixaxis controller.

Unlike the Wii, however, the PlayStation 3 will definitely show us a better looking double agent, with a graphical quality to match the PC and Xbox 360 versions. And just to make sure the game won't already be expired when it launches on the PS3, Ubisoft promised to add some new multiplayer maps and skins on Sony's console.

"Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell Double Agent is already a best-seller and has set a new standard for the Splinter Cell series", said Yves Guillemot (Ubisoft CEO). "I am sure that Double Agent will prove to be a must-have title for PlayStation 3 system."

If Sony won't be postponing once more the European launch of their next-gen console, the PlayStation 3 version of Splinter Cell: Double Agent should come out in March 2007. Otherwise... Duke help us.

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Ever since World of Warcraft went live a couple of years ago, Blizzard made a stated habit of starving their players once a week, during the annoying and, more than once, disastrous "weekly maintenance" from Tuesday night. And we, like the placid players that we are, endured and waited - perhaps unknowingly - the day that these interruptions would go away completely. Or at least partially. Well, that days is now upon us!

Blizzard have begun testing a "live" maintenance system, in which the necessary operations will be made when there's little activity on a server - and not in the weekly 5 hour break. Or 12... or 24 when things got out of hand. There should be no more maintenance from December 26/27 already, so from tonight on people will be able to play World of Warcraft for even longer periods of time.

The following is the official word received by WoW Vault from the blues:

"Since the game's release, one of our most important service goals has been to reduce the amount of time realms are down for weekly realm maintenance. The various hardware upgrades and retrofits we've done over the past year have put us in a position to begin testing the ability to go longer than a week between maintenance periods.

In the upcoming weeks, we will be testing the effect of a live maintenance, where regular maintenance tasks are run during off-peak with realms live. On Tuesday, December 26 there will be no scheduled downtime for weekly maintenance. We will perform all necessary maintenance tasks while the realms are live. We are anticipating the possibility that we may need to perform rolling restarts off-peak if we find that a realm restart is necessary; however the downtime for each realm would be less than 10 minutes if it was required."

Well, it's still a whole lot better to have a few 10 minute breaks every now and then, instead of 5 hours. It just might suck when those un-scheduled breaks will happen when you least expect them.

UPDATE: Damn, at least in the European version of World of Warcraft, we're still being notified that this Wednesday morning there will be a scheduled maintenance, as usual.

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People keep saying this will be the closest console race ever. But every now and then, a story comes along that really makes you question that statement. This, I believe, is one such story. Although it's not about technical differences, supply shortages or software (i.e. games) quality, it does raise a serious question: why would people want to give away their PlayStation 3 for a Wii? And it's not just a couple of people, but a whole lot of them; and by the looks of it, more and more are joining this "trend" by the day.

The folks from GigaGamez ran this story a few days ago, after several searches on Craiglist revealed quite a few PS3 owners willing to depart with their hard-earned console, in exchange for a Wii and, generally, some extra cash. There are also some who hope to get two Wiis for a PS3, or a 20GB PS3 plus a Wii for a 60GB PS3, but the trend is pretty much the same: people don't want a PS3 anymore, they want a Wii. Even if that means no extra cash to make up for the loss.

So, not only are there way fewer PlayStation 3 consoles on the market, but now even some of the scarce PS3 owners are seeking to switch sides and leave Sony further behind in this "oh-so-close" console race. The question is: why would they do that? I know I would be more than happy to own a PS3, and it's not that hard to get a Wii (with a wee-bit of patience).

GigaGamez has more than one answer to that question, and the last one should be most concerning for Sony:

"Finally, it could just be people who got the PS3 and have been terribly disappointed in the software line-up. The only game that seems to be doing relatively well in the ratings is Resistance: Fall of Man, and that's not really enough to carry a $500-$600 system."

You could say that Sony got off to a bad start, but then you'd be over-estimating them...

P.S. In Japan, even the DS Lite is a lot more sought-after than the PS3!

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My entire sedentary body is still aching with excruciating pain from all the Wii Sports I've been playing these last few days, so it's with a twitch of joy that I welcome this exciting rumour, which claims that Nintendo is currently developing a Wii Sports 2 sequel. The information reportedly surfaced on some unspecified Japanese websites and forums, cited by a French Wii blog called La Wii (that sure sounds worthy of trust...). According to the rumour, Wii Sports 2 will include another five new sports, but most importantly, it will also feature online play.

Although I must say, I've never had so much fun in an "offline" multiplayer game as I did with Wii bowling, a few days ago. At least not since Worms came along, more than a decade ago. Hmm... come to think of it, that would also be an awesome game on the Wii! But let's not stray from the editorial path.

Should the rumour turn out to be accurate, Wii Sports 2 would feature the following five disciplines: Basketball, Hockey, Swimming, Horse Racing, and Volleyball. That last one sounds like fun (as is Wii Tennis, from what I began discovering yesterday), and I imagine the hockey and basketball games might use the Nunchuck controller as well.

The Wii console still has a lot to make up for in the online gaming department, which is even more reason for a Wii Sports sequel to come as soon as possible, and show what the Nintendo Wi-fi Connection is really made of. And with a service like Connect24, you could send challenges to your friends, and humiliate them with your latest score in... Horse Racing?

Well, one thing's for sure: no matter how weird, sports games are a perfect match for the Nintendo Wii. From being an anti-(EA-)sports activist over the past years, all of a sudden I can't seem to get enough of them.

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This has got to be one of the tardiest gifts in the history of gift giving! More than eight months after it was first released in April 2006, Funcom's adventure sequel Dreamfall is finally being treated to a demo version. And not just any kind of demo - but a huge trial version weighing in at nearly 3.5 GB! For the love of bandwidth, some browsers can't even handle downloading files larger than 2 GB, let alone this insanity. And since our download system only allows you to download straight from your browser (in theory at least), we're going to skip hosting this one and invite you to pick up your gift from the likes of 3D Gamers or FilePlanet.

The reason it's so gigantic is that the package includes all content of the full game, that can be activated after purchasing a license key. If you chose not to, and just stick to the trial content, you'll be able to play an early portion of the game.

In Dreamfall, players are taken on an epic journey of exploration and adventure as they venture through a thrilling and emotional storyline. Dreamfall features a fully interactive world where beautiful music, stunning graphics, fascinating characters and unparalleled gameplay variety promises to bring the adventure genre into a new era. Prepare for a spiritual, fantastic and powerful gaming experience.

Dreamfall blends fantasy and the futuristic within an original universe that spans three worlds - the world of science named Stark, the world of magic named Arcadia, and a frightening realm called the Winter. Dreamfall features dozens of exotic locations, from a futuristic Casablanca in Stark, to a magic metropolis in Arcadia; from a strange city at sea, to vast subterranean caverns, and a dark necropolis; from the high-tech halls of a Japanese corporation to the Winter, where a black house holds a terrifying secret.

I sure hope Santa brought you a fast(er) Internet connection!

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In the hope that you had a jolly good Christmas and will have a matching New Year, we return with a few more playful news in these last few days of 2006. As usual, in this period, the big MMOs are competing to offer their players the most exciting in-game events possible, like the ones currently taking place in titles such as World of Warcraft or Guild Wars. However these are not the ones we'll be talking about here, but a whole 'nother kind of presents given by some developers.

Blizzard continued their cleansing in the World of Warcraft, and from what they communicated on the game's website, over 105,000 accounts have been excommunicated during the month of November. As a result, Azeroth's virtual economy from Europe, America and Korea was dealt a critical blow worth of over 12 million Gold! The reasons that led to the bannings were the same ones as in previous months:

"The closed accounts were associated with activities that violate World of Warcraft's Terms of Use, such as using third-party programs that allow cheating, and farming gold and items. (...) Please note that selling World of Warcraft content, such as gold, items, and characters, can result in a permanent ban of the involved accounts from World of Warcraft."

A similar "gift" was handed to the cheaters from Final Fantasy XI. Square Enix announced a few days ago on the PlayOnline website that they closed over 7700 accounts, from which some 250 were "temporarily suspended indefinitely" - while the other 7450 have been permanently terminated. The riches confiscated from the world of Vana'diel make up for over 6.2 billion Gil!

If you're also living in such a virtual world, don't shy away from reporting the bastards who are interfering with our perfectly honest "farming" activities.

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Ho-ho-ho! Or better said, chu-chu-chu! Firaxis and Atari wish us a steaming Christmas, as they release the promised holiday scenario pack for Sid Meier's Railroads! tycoon, along with the latest patch bringing the game to version 1.10. Some of the changes made by this 21 MB patch are the addition of a new option to "Use All Trains" in the game (when in TT mode), the ability to manipulate the camera freely when paused, larger size maps, and the terrain editor was finally enabled. But for that, you need to edit your "settings.INI" file, and add "EditorEnabled = 1". You can check out the full changelog on our download page for the patch v1.10.

Regarding the 15 MB holiday scenario, you can probably guess what it's all about. Snow, Christmas, cookies... stuff like that. Here's the full description provided by Atari:

"This Holiday Scenario for Sid Meier's Railroads! offers a new holiday train with 2 skins and custom sounds; holiday-themed goodies like cookies, eggnog and toys; cheerful music to get players in the holiday spirit; a wide-open, rugged North Pole environment; and a challenging scenario that pits you against up to three other robber barons who are out to destroy Christmas."

While on the topic of freebies, we again remind you that Sid Meier's Railroad Tycoon Deluxe golden classic was also released for free not long ago, and you can also get it locally.

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