Tag Archives | Activision

Bungie Aligns With Activision: R.I.P. Halo?

Two of the biggest names in video games, Activision and Bungie, announced an exclusive 10-year development deal today, stunning Halo fans and leaving Microsoft’s golden video game franchise at a crossroads.

The deal will maintain Bungie’s status as an independent game developer, but it will give Activision exclusive rights to publish a new gaming franchise on multiple platforms. Bungie manager Brian Jerrard told VG247 that almost the entire studio will concentrate on this new IP, and that Halo: Reach “is definitely Bungie’s final Halo game.”

That alone doesn’t mean the end of Halo, which transformed first-person shooters with innovations that are now industry standard — small things like regenerating health and big ideas like an automatic matchmaking system for online play. Microsoft owns the Halo IP, and that won’t change. Given the rabid enthusiasm Halo fans exude (we had over 1,000 responses to our Halo: Reach beta code giveaway), Microsoft will probably continue to create new Halo games in-house.

But in my eyes, Halo has always been about Bungie. They endlessly tinker with Halo’s multiplayer to keep things fresh and to refine the game based on how people are playing. The studio has cultivated a culture of fandom with an active forum and weekly updates on everything they do, and they keep a staff of community managers who are as obsessed with the series as its players.

Bungie is an independent studio, which means all of those resources and efforts will be going towards the new IP, except for a small group of employees who will support Halo: Reach after launch. If Microsoft intends to keep Halo alive with the same spirit it enjoys today, the company has some big shoes to fill.


Modern Warfare to Become a Litigious Mess

Some really strange things happened this week between Call of Duty publisher Activision and Infinity Ward, the studio that created the franchise and developed last year’s blockbuster Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2.

Long story short: The studio’s two heads, Jason West and Vince Zampella were abruptly fired for “breaches of contract and insubordination,” according to an SEC filing. Shortly thereafter, Activision announced that one of its internal studios, Sledgehammer Games, would be making a Call of Duty game for 2011. Infinity Ward developed the last two Call of Duty games released in odd-numbered years.

It makes for high drama, but it’s mostly inside baseball. Things just got interesting, however, with the announcement of a lawsuit from West and Zampella against Activision. In addition to seeking compensation for royalties Activision allegedly owes, the former Infinity Ward heads are looking for control over “Modern Warfare-branded games,” reports G4’s Patrick Klepek.

If West and Zampella prevail, think of the implications. Activision’s already releasing Call of Duty games annually, alternating between studios to keep things fresh. Modern Warfare, as its own franchise, could theoretically become its own franchise and sit next to Call of Duty on store shelves. You could get three games with the same DNA in a two-year span (and somehow I don’t think gamers will get tired of this).

The funny thing is, last year I wildly predicted that a full Modern Warfare spinoff was conceivable. Of course I had no idea it might happen through messy internal politics and lawsuits.


Modern Warfare 2: Player Discretion is Advised

modernwarfare2tThe following story has a spoiler on the upcoming first-person shooter Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2. It’s also a bit of a rant. But even if you avert your eyes now, the game itself will ruin the surprise for you anyway. I’ll explain:

Yesterday, some footage of Modern Warfare 2’s opening scene leaked onto the Internet. You can watch it at GameDat by clicking the video that says “modern warfare 2 leaked gameplay w/sound,” but I’ll tell you now that it sees the player playing as the enemy, experiencing their evil by gunning down scores of innocent civilians at an airport. The nature of the scene is a conversation for another day, maybe once the game’s out and I’ve had a chance to experience it. Briefly, I’ll say that I enjoy seeing video games push the envelope by making people uncomfortable.

What’s really grinding my gears today is how publisher Activision and developer Infinity Ward will handle this sensitive material in the game. Activision says players will get a warning message before the segments occur, along with the ability to opt out and skip ahead.

Who exactly is Activision trying to shelter here? Kids? If they’re playing the game unsupervised — which they shouldn’t be, per the game’s “Mature” rating — I don’t see why they’d be compelled to skip the scene. Extraordinarily squeamish adults? Oh please.

I’m reminded of the “viewer discretion is advised” messages you get before a TV show with explicit material airs, except those warnings occur at the outset of a show, so people know to change channels or make the kids go upstairs. Activision and Infinity Ward, to my knowledge, aren’t putting a warning on the box (aside from the aforementioned “Mature” rating that would’ve been there anyway). Instead, they’re essentially tapping you on the shoulder as you play and yelling, “Watch out! This scene’s going to stir your emotions!”

If you don’t think that’s silly and self-defeating, ask yourself if you’d want that to happen to you during a movie.


Settled: Activision’s War on Brütal Legend

Cooler heads prevailed today, as mega game publisher Activision and settled a lawsuit that could’ve halted one of this year’s most promising games, the AP reports.

In June, Activision sued game developer Double Fine to stop the release of Brütal Legend, a metal-inspired action-adventure game starring the voice of Jack Black and directed by Tim Schafer, designer of The Secret of Monkey Island and Grim Fandango. Activision filed the lawsuit in Los Angeles on June 4, just as Brütal Legend was receiving accolades down the road at E3.

At issue was the $15 million Activision claims it invested in the game before merging with World of Warcraft maker Blizzard Entertainment and subsequently dropping the project. After the merger, Electronic Arts took over as publisher, but Activision said that it still held rights to the game and that Double Fine didn’t deliver it on time.

Before the lawsuit, EA expressed doubt that there’d be a court battle. “That would be like a husband abandoning his family and then suing after his wife meets a better looking guy,” the company told Variety in a statement.

Activision did sue, but when it came time for the publisher to argue today why the game shouldn’t be released, Activision instead told the court that the lawsuit was settled. Attorneys didn’t return the AP’s calls, so I don’t think we’ll ever learn the settlement details.

This is great news. I’m no metal fan, but I still appreciated Brütal Legend’s wry humor during the lengthy playable demo at E3. Combine that with its 3D/cartoon art style, puzzle-solving, driving and button-mashing, and Brütal Legend at least looks like a break from the usual generic shooters and beat-em-ups. I’m looking forward to playing it in October.

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Ridiculous: Premium Game Includes Night Vision Goggles

callofdutyprestigescreenIf you like playing video games, and tend to snoop around a lot in the dark, Activision’s got a proposition for you.

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2’s Prestige Edition was revealed today, and it includes night vision goggles — not replica goggles that look good on your mantle, but fully-functioning, paint-everything-green night vision specs.

Mum’s the word on pricing for the package, which also includes typical collector’s edition fare such as a book of concept art. Most Xbox 360 and Playstation 3 console games cost $60, with collector’s editions often costing $80 or higher. The inclusion of night vision goggles in Modern Warfare 2’s Prestige Edition will likely drive the price way up.

Limited edition video game packages never appealed to me, as someone who tries to be frugal about gaming. When a special bundle costs more than $100, that’s money you could’ve spent on an oldie but goodie in the bargain bin. I’d rather have that than a Master Chief helmet on my mantle, but I understand the value in showing your gamer cred.

Still, night vision goggles? Those don’t even look good on display — despite the included head sculpture — unless your living room features a mannequin in military garb.

So my challenge is this: If anyone here is considering the Modern Warfare 2 Prestige Pack, please justify your purchase. I genuinely want to know what use for night vision goggles you have in mind. Only then can I understand where video game fandom ends and total ridiculousness begins.


What’s Modern Warfare Without Call of Duty?

modernwarfare2In a perfect world, Activision’s next war-based first-person shooter would be called “Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare 2: The Sequel: The Game.” Then, we could laugh even more heartily at the contrived nature of this video game title.

Instead, the once-proud Modern Warfare 2 is being renamed to Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2, a change that stresses the game’s roots in the wildly popular Call of Duty franchise. For reference, the game’s predecessor was dubbed Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare, so it’s just a numerical switcheroo.

Activision hasn’t said this flat-out, but it seems to me like a branding issue, and that seems more obvious considering an apparent loss of name awareness that occured. Besides, when you’ve got a name brand that’s six titles strong and gaining new audiences every year — not counting expansion packs and console ports, but counting last year’s Call of Duty: World at War — why mess with it? Call of Duty’s got the mainstream appeal that few first-person shooters enjoy, thanks to its recognizable real-world settings and popcorn action.

But changing the upcoming sequel’s name carries baggage. Instead of spinning Modern Warfare into its own successful franchise, it remains shackled to an existing, and rather old, series. In addition, this makes it harder for Activision to grow both series independently.

I’m wading into wacky prediction territory here, but don’t believe there can’t be a holiday season with Modern Warfare and Call of Duty games selling side-by-side. The upcoming glut of “Hero” music games — DJ Hero, Band Hero and Guitar Hero: Van Halen are all coming this year — shows Activision’s willingness to exploit successful franchises. Call of Duty games could be next, and while part of that will entail making Modern Warfare different enough to stand alone as a game, it all starts with the name.


Trouble for One of E3’s Best Games

brutal_legend1If the banner covering the top of the Los Angeles Convention Center is any indication, Brütal Legend is a big deal. For Activision, which once held the game’s publishing rights, its the subject of a lawsuit.

The AP reports that Activision is suing Brütal Legend developer Double Fine to “stop the release” of the game. The publisher claims it has sunk roughly $15 million into the project and still has a valid publishing contract.

The issue is, of course, knottier than that. Brütal Legend was part of the line-up Activision dropped during the Activision-Blizzard merger, after it acquired Sierra in 2008. Electronic Arts reportedly took the reins as publisher, and here at E3 the game is a top critical pick.

Starring the vocal talents of Jack Black, Brütal Legend follows a roadie who winds up in a mythical Age of Rock. Tim Schafer, who created The Secret of Monkey Island and Grim Fandango, among other critical darlings, is the game’s creative director.

The game showed a lot of promise in my hands-on time. It’s more action-oriented than Schafer’s classic adventure games, but I’m told that a lot of genres come into play, including the puzzle-solving that put Schafer’s earlier work on the map.

So I’m hoping Activision doesn’t prevail in this lawsuit. When it was rumored in February that Activision would cause trouble, EA offered some fighting words: “We doubt that Activision would try to sue,” the company said. “That would be like a husband abandoning his family and then suing after his wife meets a better looking guy.”

That’s what it looks like from here, with Brütal Legend earning a nomination from IGN for Best of Show. Expect EA to defend its hot property.


Activision Looking for “Bullshot” Artists

Every once in a while, a video game publisher will be outed for producing doctored screenshots of a popular title. There’s usually some sort of outcry, followed by assurances that this happens all the time, and eventually we forget about the whole thing.

So even though I’ve definitely heard of this phenomenon before, I was shocked to read today that Activision is actually looking for someone to create these “Bullshots.” In a job posting for “Art Services Screenshot Associate,” one of the listed duties is to perform “advanced retouching of screenshots and teach skills to others as needed.” You might want to cast a skeptical eye when images surface for the next Wolfenstein, Call of Duty and James Bond titles.


Previous games to flaunt doctored images include Killzone 2 (pictured above, can you guess which is retouched and which is from the actual trailer?), Red Steel and Madden ’06, with Web comic Penny Arcade claiming the term “Bullshot” after seeing the latter example. Coincidentally, GamePro published a nice feature on the subject earlier this month.

If history repeats itself, we should see the latest news brushed away by publishers and apologists. “It isn’t any secret that many publishers touch up screenshots before sending them out to the public,” IGN explains in its coverage of the story. “If a game doesn’t look snazzy enough in its current form, digital artists can make sure you and I don’t get the ‘wrong idea’ about an upcoming game.”

For my part, I’ll make sure to remember these examples when looking at any screenshot I see from here on, because this is ridiculous.