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Capcom Gets Unreal Engine 3, Announces Monster Hunter Freedom 2

Just a few days after Activision's similar announcement (story), and one month after Square Enix also adopted Epic Games' middleware (story), fellow Japanese publisher Capcom is now letting us know that they, too, have licensed the Unreal Engine 3 technology. For the time being, all they have to say is that they'll be using it in an upcoming next-gen project, to be developed by a North-American (external) studio.

"The Unreal Engine is one of the most powerful and versatile tools available for next-generation game development", said Mark Beaumont, executive vice president, officer and head of Capcom consumer software publishing in the Americas and Europe. "More than just a graphics engine, UE3 will empower the development team to create the quality experience that gamers expect from a Capcom product."

"Capcom is known for the quality and artistry of their games", said Mark Rein, vice president, Epic Games. "We're glad that Unreal Engine 3 can be a part of their creative process." (ed. - he sounded a lot more excited about the Activision deal)

Well, since this is all we have about Capcom's Unreal Engine 3 deal, we might as well use this opportunity to report that Capcom Europe also announced today that they'll be releasing Monster Hunter Freedom 2 for the PSP in the PAL region, in September 2007. This is the same as Monster Hunter Portable 2 (that has just gone on sale in Japan), and it's based on Monster Hunter Dos for the PS2 (which was not released in Europe). A brief synopsis for the portable sequel can be found on our Monster Hunter Freedom 2 page.

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Another new game announcement this week comes from THQ, who reveal that... Oh, just a sec. Actually, make that two announcements, since they're both about racing games. So, as THQ revealed today and yesterday, they will be releasing MotoGP '07 and and Stuntman: Ignition later this year, on several platforms. The MotoGP series was previously developed by Climax Racing, but since the studio was acquired by Buena Vista (now Disney Interactive) last year, the new MotoGP '07 will most likely be entrusted to a new, yet to be announced developer.

THQ's initial press release only mentioned the Xbox 360 as a target platform for MotoGP '07, but they later issued a new one that also includes the PC. So the next-generation motorcycle racing sequel should come out on these two platforms, sometime during fall 2007. And here's a bit about it:

"Featuring life-like visuals, complete 2007 rider and team data, new 800cc MotoGP bikes and the newly-announced Misano event, the game's GP mode will be more robust than ever before. The title will also feature interactive track-side crowds, intense on-line tournament features, on-line "pink-slip" racing, a revamped Extreme mode and significantly more bike and player customization options."

The second announcement finally provides a title for THQ's Stuntman 2 sequel - Stuntman: Ignition - and a target release date in summer 2007. The stunt driving game is being created by Paradigm Entertainment for the PS2, PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360. The game promises to challenge players to drive for perfection, "dropping them into the adrenaline-fueled role of a Hollywood stuntman, vying to create the most insane high-flying jumps, mind-blowing corkscrews and metal-twisting crashes ever filmed".

"Players will showcase their skills in a wide variety of big-budget action films, commercial shoots and tournaments while commanding more than 25 unique vehicles, including exotic sports cars, motorcycles and hovercraft. Online multiplayer will allow rival stuntmen to battle it out on the film sets and custom built back-lot arenas, or players can devise their own insane stunt runs and challenge other stuntmen at their own game."

THQ didn't provide any media for either of these two titles, and the MotoGP website they direct us to for "more information about MotoGP '07" is still exclusively dedicated to the '06 edition. So have some patience, for now.

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The Golden Compass Game Points At Christmas 2007 // UPDATE

The Golden Compass is just one of the many new games already announced this week, and this one's coming from Sega. As the title implies, The Golden Compass will be yet another movie-to-game adaptation, based on New Line Cinema's upcoming theatrical release. And in turn the movie itself is based on the first book in Philip Pullman's "His Dark Materials" trilogy - a fantasy adventure set in a parallel world where "giant armoured bears rule a kingdom, beautiful witches fly through the frozen skies, and human beings' deepest essence is manifest as talking animals that remain their faithful companion for life - their daemon".

The game will naturally try to maintain the film's atmosphere, by featuring environments and characters from the movie - such as those played by Daniel Craig (Casino Royale, Lara Croft: Tomb Raider) and by debuting actress Dakota Blue Richards, who plays the protagonist Lyra Belacqua.

"Players can assume the role of Lyra, a young girl, along with her daemon Pantalaimon (Pan), as she travels through the frozen wastes of the North collecting special items in order to explore, evade and deceive her way through confrontations to rescue a friend kidnapped by a mysterious organisation known as The Gobblers. Lyra can also use her daemon and collaborate with in-game characters to journey through an epic quest to save not only her world, but ours as well."

At times, players will also take on the character of Iorek Byrnison, a great armoured polar bear who joins the quest and battles to protect Lyra during their journey, using a riding mechanic and special attacks to fend off enemies. Additionally, players will be able to unlock secrets and mini-games using a mysterious truth-telling golden compass device called an "alethiometer".

The Golden Compass is being developed by Shiny Entertainment for six platforms (PC, PS2, PlayStation 3, PSP, Xbox 360 and Wii), and by A2M for the Nintendo DS, with a planned release date for late 2007 - "just prior to the opening of the New Line Cinema motion picture on December 7, 2007".

Although Sega wouldn't say so in their press release, we found that the www.goldencompassgame.com website is already online. So go have a look if you wish; just don't expect to find much more than it's already been said above.

UPDATE: And here are the first couple of screenshots.

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Come to think of it, there hasn't been any Prince of Persia game on the Xbox 360 yet, now has there? And we needn't even mention the PS3 in this case. But surely, Ubisoft must be cooking up something... In fact, the "next-gen Prince of Persia" is far from being a secret anymore, and Games Radar managed to get a hold of a first piece of artowrk, along with some tidbits of information about Ubi's next Persian platformer. That was last week, true, but we figured - better report it late than never. (thanks Dan for the tip)

"After the time-traveling trilogy played out in Sands of Time, Warrior Within and The Two Thrones, this new game won't pick up where the Prince left off, but will be the beginning of an all-new saga", writes Games Radar. So far this is the most precious info they have, that the next-gen Prince of persia will mark the starting point for a whole new adventure. And by the looks of this first artwork, Ubi might leave behind the ever-darker settings of the last two iterations, and return to the series' Middle Eastern origins.

"The Prince is now rocking an armored gauntlet which we reckon will have some magical power or perhaps enable the fixing of customizable weapons to his fist. Then there's the new love interest: not much to say here, but she does look somewhere in the region of rather foxy", the article continues. Though I wouldn't count on that "magically powered glove" thing.

The Brits expect the next-gen Prince of Persia game to be released (at least) on PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 in late 2008, and as we mentioned last week, the Prince of Persia movie should also come out during 2008 from Disney. It was first believed that the film would be based on the Sands of Time game. But seeing how both Ubi and Disney are practically starting anew with their upcoming projects, it would make a lot of sense for them to work together on a common setting for the game and movie. Just my two cents...

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Sony Responds To PS3 Backwards Compatibility Issues

If you're expecting to find out just how many PS2 games will be playable on the PlayStation 3 in Europe at launch, then I'm sorry to disappoint you. Or rather, I'm sorry that Sony still disappoints us all, with their latest comments regarding the recently uncovered PS2 (in)compatibility "issues". Late last week, it was announced that the PAL version of the PlayStation 3 will be somewhat less compatible with PS2 games, due to its updated - as in downgraded - hardware specifications. The "next-gen" stuff is all still in place, sure enough, but the Emotion Engine (used to emulate PS2 games in the US and Japanese models) suffered a slight... removal.

We weren't entirely sure about this a few days ago, but now we are. Speaking to semi-official blog Three Speech, Sony confirmed that "with the latest European specification we have removed the Emotion Engine, retaining the [Graphics Synthesiser] chip. This has an impact on the number of PS2 titles that will be backwards compatible".

Unfortunately, when asked to provide a figure for how many PS2 games will (not) be playable in PAL territories, Sony gave a non-response, basically restating the same thing they said last week:

"We have been assessing the extent of backward compatibility, and will continue to do so right up until launch. It is therefore not possible to provide a specific number of backwards compatible titles at this stage, but close to launch consumers will be able to check whether their titles are compatible with PS3 by looking at the list of compatible titles at faq.eu.playstation.com/bc. This site will be available on 23rd March to meet launch day."

Ultimately, Sony's only useful response tells us how we can tell apart the "good PS3s" (US / Japan) from the "bad PS3s" (Europe, Australia etc.):

On the external packaging of the PS3 there will be a small 'PAL' logo to denote that the PS3 is built for the European market (North American and Japanese models have a 'NTSC' logo). The model number will also appear on the label stuck to the top flap of the PS3 packaging (beginning CECHC followed by two digits - see below).

In addition, each PS3 carries a barcode and serial number on the back of the system. At the end of the unique serial number for each console is the model number. In the SCEE territories there are four model numbers:

Europe: CECHC04

UK and Ireland: CECHC03

Australia/New Zealand: CECHC02

Russia/India: CECHC08

One dreadful question still hangs unanswered, though: will the "updated" PlayStation 3 models be introduced on the US and Japanese markets as well in the future? I have a feeling that today's highly-backwards compatible NTSC models are going to become something of a rarity by next year.

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Anticipated by some, prayed for by others, and simply unexpected for the rest of us, Multiwinia was just announced today by the self-proclaimed "last of the bedroom programmers" from Introversion Software. Shortly put, this will be a multiplayer enabled version of Darwinia, with both co-operative and competitive game modes, as well as some new single-player challenges and upgraded graphics - enough to justify Multiwinia as a standalone product, currently estimated for release during 2008.

The news was given right on Introversion's website, though the press release itself is actually dated for tomorrow, February 28. Well, no matter, it's kind of them to let us know in advance. And here's some more from their announcement:

[Multiwinia] will be a whole new standalone product, combining elements of the award-winning Darwinia, with the addition of multiplayer support which will enable both co-operative and competitive battles between massive Darwinian armies. As well as the traditional single player mode, Multiwinia will offer a series of separate game modes, each with a number of unique levels offering a variety of new challenges.

"We've always known that Darwinia would naturally evolve into an incredible multiplayer game and right from day one I'd had visions of massive Darwinian armies converging for the ultimate Darwinian death-fest", Chris Delay, creative director of Introversion Software said enthusiastically about the new project.

Apart from Multiwinia and their continued support (through ongoing patches / ports) for Darwinia and DEFCON, Introversion is also working on Subversion - which should be another radical departure from traditional gameplay concepts. You can read more about Subversion in our news from last month.

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Looks like the rumours from earlier this month were right, dead on. So as previously hinted, EA has released a demo version for their upcoming real-time strategy game, Command & Conquer 3: Tiberium Wars, giving us an early look at the return of Westwood's classic RTS franchise. Although I tremble in fear of how they might have desecrated Westwood's legacy - or what little was still left from it. Well, I'm about to find out...

The C&C 3 demo eats up almost 1.2 GB worth of bandwidth, and you can download it locally or from any of the (more or less-) official mirrors listed on C&C Den. Lion's website also mentions the following features for this single-player demo:

Tutorial Mission - The tutorial will take players through the basics of movement and construction. In other words, it will teach you how to play the game.

Campaign Missions - Play through two campaign missions as GDI. The first mission sends you, the player, to the North Carolina badlands, a yellow zone where some Nod activity has been detected. The second of the campaign missions is set in Alexandria Egypt, once again, a yellow zone. This particular area is serving as a major port for Nod's activities and weapons shipments.

Skirmish Play - Play as GDI and fight against Nod in this two player skirmish map called Small Town USA. Choose between four difficulty levels ranging from easy to brutal. Only one of the five AI personalities (Balanced AI) is included with the demo. You can expect to see rush, turtle, guerilla, and steamroller AI routines in the skirmish in the final product.

Expect the full (PC) version of Command & Conquer 3: Tiberium Wars to be released around March 28-29, depending on your territory. And don't forget that the game is also heading for the Xbox 360 later this year, in May.

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Conan Game Confirmed For PlayStation 3 And Xbox 360

The Conan gaming franchise has a long history that goes way back to 1984, with Conan: Hall of Volta. And yet, over the last two decades, only two more games have taken advantage of Robert E. Howard's barbaric character - namely Conan: The Cimmerian (1991) and Conan: The Dark Axe (2004). Lately, however, the franchise seems to be coming back to life in full force, thanks to Funcom's massively multiplayer efforts to bring their Age of Conan game online by the end of this year.

Another key player in Conan's playful revival is publisher THQ, who in late 2005 entered a multi-year licensing agreement to develop games based on Paradox Entertainment's brand. The first such "next-gen Conan" game was recently confirmed to be in development at Nihilistic Software, via the Game Informer magazine, and this week THQ is officially announcing it for the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360, with a release date planned for early 2008.

For reference, Nihilistic are the creators of Vampire: The Masquerade - Redemption, Marvel Nemesis, and at one point the former StarCraft: Ghost project. As for their latest endeavour to make a next generation Conan game, here's how THQ's communique describes it:

"Conan is an action adventure video game featuring a story of epic brutality, sheer evil and visceral combat. Players will follow the journey of Conan the Cimmerian as he fights a vicious battle against a variety of enemies and an elusive power that threatens to consume the Hyborian world. Playing as Conan, players will take advantage of a deep and gratifying combat system that offers a variety of deadly weapons, fighting styles and interactive environments to battle hordes of enemies. In addition, the Conan video game will harness next generation hardware to deliver a cinematic game play experience, complete with special effects, lighting and a powerful, epic soundtrack, to capture the essence of the Conan universe."

Additionally, according to Game Informer's article, the game will be based upon the 1982 movie starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, featuring 24 levels, 20 different weapons, and an advanced combat system with over 100 different techniques.

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Electronic Arts, BioWare/Pandemic Bosses Reshuffle

To cut a long story short, Electronic Arts and the BioWare/Pandemic game development giant are both going through a change of CEOs right now, and both their new chief executive officers have a past history with Electronic Arts. The man that spaked this whole reshuffle is John Riccitiello - who previously served as EA's president and CEO up until 2004, when he left the publisher to co-found Elevation Partners, where he oversaw the group's videogame business.

As you may remember from late 2005, Elevation Partners invested some $300 million in order to secure an alliance between famed developers BioWare and Pandemic. And ever since that fusion, Riccitiello also served as the part-time CEO for VG Holding (the operating company of BioWare/Pandemic Studios).

Now, fast forward to present day, and we have John Riccitiello taking back his CEO position at Electronic Arts (effective April 2), in a surprising announcement issued by the company last night. EA's former CEO, Larry Probst has gracefully stepped down to welcome back John, though he will continue as executive chairman of the company's Board of Directors.

"We're happy to welcome John back as EA's new CEO", said Larry Probst. "His skill and vision as an executive and his experience in our industry have earned him the respect of our employees and shareholders."

"Leading EA has always been my dream job and I am truly honored that Larry and the Board have given me this opportunity", said John Riccitiello. "This is an extremely well-run company driven by outstanding studio and publishing teams. They've also made strategic investments in new platforms and markets that will help extend EA's industry leadership in the years ahead."

Over on the Pandemic/BioWare website, they announce that VG Holding's now-vacant CEO position will be filled in by Greg Richardson, who has been a senior executive with BioWare/Pandemic since the inception of the firm. Prior to that, ironically enough, he also used to work for Electronic Arts, as general manager of the EA Partners division. So don't be too surprised if he finds his way back to EA one day, seeing how history has this nasty habit of repeating itself...

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Jack Thompson Begins Anti- Grand Theft Auto IV Crusade // UPDATE

Jack Thompson is losing it. In his latest letter we received today, he begins by referring to himself as "John Thompson, attorney at law", before continuing with his dreadful threats of filing suit to prohibit the sale of the upcoming Grand Theft Auto IV to miners minors. Gosh, who could have seen this one coming! As usual, his threats are directed at publisher Take-Two Interactive's CEO, Paul Eibeler, and at Rockstar Games, who should be releasing GTA IV in mid October 2007, for the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360.

Luckly, Thompson managed to keep this one rather short, so we'll publish his letter in full below:

"Dear Mr. Eibeler:

Please be advised that I shall be filing shortly a lawsuit to prohibit, by injunction, the sale of Grand Theft Auto IV, scheduled for release by your company on October 17, 2007, to minors.

The lawsuit I filed against you all and some retailers, such as Wal-Mart, against the sale of Take-Two's Bully to minors was a dry run for what is to come. As it turns out, I was absolutely correct about the appropriateness of that lawsuit, as the National Institute for Media and the Family, headed by Dr. David Walsh, proved that Bully is a Mature game fraudulently masquerading as a Teen-rated game. You were able to dodge that bullet by having Take-Two employees lie to Miami-Dade Circuit Court Judge Ronald Friedman.

There is absolutely no chance that GTA IV will be rated anything other than "Mature," so good luck in having your Blank Rome lawyers trying to persuade a court of law that it should be sold to minors, especially in light of the United States Federal Trade Commission's findings that 42% of the time underage kids can buy "Mature-rated" games.

If Take-Two does not, by written agreement, promise not to allow sales by retailers of GTA IV to minors by March 9, 2007, then I look forward to your winning MarketWatch's "Worst American CEO Award," which you won in 2005.

I will secure that injunction, and then all sorts of other wonderful things will fall into place.

Regards, Jack Thompson"

I bet they're all shaking at Take-Two right about now, fearful of "all sorts of other wonderful things"...

UPDATE: Wait, there's more! Just now we got another mail from Thompson, in which he gives the EMA (Entertainment Merchants Association) an ultimatum to comply with his request, that Manhunt 2 and Grand Theft Auto IV not be sold to kids under 17 years of age by EMA's retailers:

"This summer and this fall, respectively, Take-Two is going to release Manhunt 2 and Grand Theft Auto IV. Both games will be rated "Mature", and just as surely they will be sold to kids under 17 years of age by the retailers who are the members of your organization. Those fraudulent sales must not occur.

I plan to seek injunctive relief prohibiting your organization's member retailers from selling these games to anyone under 17. I believe I will secure that court-ordered relief. Violation of any court order in that regard will result in contempt findings.

Your members can avoid that consequence if they will enter into an agreement not to sell either of these harmful products to anyone under 17 years of age.

Please let me hear from you by March 9. Thanks."

The plot thickens...

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