Monday, August 18, 2008

Missing in Action:
The World's Most Elusive Vaporware

Trailers are just the dardest things. They give us a peek at the latest and greatest games that are coming down the pipeline. They also make us a promise. A promise that we will be able to play that game sometime in the near future. Then it gets delayed. And delayed again. Will it ever come out? Why advertise a game years in advance? Titles that become Vaporware can either create a lot of buzz or make a laughing stock out of it.

Let's take a look at some of the top Vaporware titles right now. Who knows, maybe a year or two from now some of these will be released.

Sadness (Wii)

Originally announced even before the Nintendo Wii was released, Nibris promised us a black and white survival horror game set in a pre-WWI Slavic country. A live action teaser trailer was released which was "based-on" the game and we were supposed to get some game footage by the end of 2007. We didn't. There's been two screenshots that have surfaced, but we don't know if they are in-game or not. Frontline Studios was supposed to co-produce the game but back in March of 2007 they split. The game is not "officially" dead... but it is. Here's what Nibris said: "The scenario will have associations with narcolepsy, nyctophobia and paranoid schizophrenia. The scenario will surprise you." (Surprise! it's never coming out!)

Original Release Date: ?
Current Release Date: TBA (AKA: NEVER)

StarCraft: Ghost (Multiplatform)

Who knows what black hole sucked this game up. Announced all the way back in 2002 for PS2/XB/GC, but after E3 2005 we found out that the GameCube version was dropped, but it was still on the way. We waited until March of 2006 for Blizzard to finally announced that the game was on "indefinite hold" while it was updated for the seventh generation consoles. We get little bits and pieces of information about this title from time to time. The latest being at the DICE Summit in 2008 where we learned that "there still was an interest in finishing Ghost". It's pretty obvious that Blizzard is more concentrated on StarCraft II (and possibly Diablo 3 if the rumors are true) than it would be on Ghost.

Original Release Date: 2003
Current Release Date: When does the PS9 come out again?

Metroid: Dread (Nintendo DS)

It's crazy how a game is never announced but people think it's real. While we would all love another 2D hand held Metroid game, I doubt we will see one anytime soon. Ever since rumors emerged in 2005, Nintendo has never officially released anything about this game. The only clue we ever got was in Metroid Prime 3: Corruption where a computer panel says "Experiment status report update: Metroid project 'Dread' is nearing the final stages of completion". Retro Studios and Nintendo both denied any connection. Could this be a secret kept under Ninny's hat that will be unloaded at this year's E3? We'll see!

Original Release Date: ?
Current Release Date: Whenever the project is completed! Can't you read!

Killzone 2 (PlayStation 3)

As one of the first PS3 games announced, it would seem Sony hoped that this could be their "Halo killer". The first trailer from E3 2005 led to much controversy where it was argued that it could be just a concept video or possibly pre-rendered game footage. We didn't really see anything else until GDC 2007 where an in-game trailer was shown to the media. I'm not really sure why Sony is banking on this one so much. The original Killzone wasn't that good and wasn't even that popular. By missing their window of opportunity, Sony now has to hope that Killzone 2 will be a Halo 3, Gears of War 2, Left 4 Dead, etc. killer

Original Release Date: 2008
Current Release Date: February 2009

Gran Turismo 4 Mobile (PlayStation Portable)

By digging up the bones of E3 2004 we find evidence that this game once did exist. It was supposed to be the game to get for the forthcoming Sony hand held. Many thought they wouldn't even be able to fit the entire game on on one UMD. They were probably right. GT4M's producer, Kazunori Yamauchi, told us back in April that the game "took much more time and effort than we had first imagined". Luckily, it fits nicely on top of the pile of broken promises that Sony has accumulated over the years.

Original Release Date: April 2005
Current Release Date: It's Riiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiige Racer!

Gran Turismo 5 (PlayStation 3)

Right on the heels of GTA4M, Sony kept the fire burning when Gran Turismo 5 (or Gran Turismo HD, originally) was announced and shown in 2006 to the pants-wetting joy of Sony fanboys around the world. This one is taking so long, they released part of the game a few months ago. I'm sure the rest of it will be coming soon! Recently, Yamauchi has stated how 150 people have been working on the game for four years and has cost 50 times more than it's PS1 ancestor. I'm sure it'll be ready for release right before the PS4 comes out. Sweet!

Original Release Date: 2008
Current Release Date: 2010

Bob Ross: The Joy of Painting (Multiplatform)

Such a sad, short story for such a happy, strange game. Announced back in March of 2006 for Nintendo DS, Wii and PC by AGFRAG Entertainment. I'm assuming gameplay would be similar to the likes of Mario Paint back in the days of SNES. In December 2006, Bob Ross Inc dropped them and, to this day, is looking for a new developer. Maybe they thought that due to Bob's death the previous year it would seem inappropriate. Or, maybe they realized that you can get this game for free: It's called a pen and a piece of paper!

Original Release Date: ?
Current Release Date: Let's paint a happy little tree!

Tekken 6 (PlayStation 3)

Here's a rare specimen. This game is already out in Japanese arcades as of November 2007 but we're still waiting to play it here in the states. Tekken is one of my personal favorite fighting games ever since the PS1 days and it's latest expansion for the PSP/PSN was great. Tekken 6 has over 30 confirmed characters (a total of 41 when it's done) and features multi-tiered levels and day/night time transitions. Trailers were shown back at E3 2005, but with no release date in sight it looks like we'll be waiting a long time. Now, with it's PS3 exclusive status in question, it will take all that longer to develop. The game's director, Katsuhiro Harada, has said "We want Tekken 6 to both look cool and play good" Adding "We don't want to disappoint our Tekken fans, so we're working hard on making Tekken 6 good". Um, ya. So it looks like I'll be buying SoulCalibur IV instead!

Original Release Date: ?
Current Release Date: Finish Him!

Project H.A.M.M.E.R. (Wii)

A much needed beat 'em up announced at E3 2006 as a first party title possibly for Wii's launch line-up, but by mid-2007 with no additional info we realized we may never find out what H.A.M.M.E.R. could possibly stand for. Rumors fly back and forth about this one all over the internet. The last we heard was Nintendo confirmed at E3 2007 that development was put on hold, but has not officially canceled it and “may come back” in the future.

Original Release Date: 2007
Current Release Date: Reggie Mad!!! Reggie Smash!!!

LittleBigPlanet (PlayStation 3)

It's pretty pretentious to codename your project "The Next Big Thing". Nintendo sure did it with the codename "Revolution". The only difference is that Nintendo actually pulled it off! This DIY puzzler's dream looks fun and I would love to play it. Phil Harrison, SCE's ex-head honcho, announced it in 2007 and was due by early 2008. Now, a beta is scheduled for the summer and we're hoping for even just a demo by the end of this year! With even more footage shown at this year's E3, it makes me want it even more! Oddly enough, even with so much game footage out there already, it's hard to believe that this game isn't close to being done. Sony's pile is getting bigger...

Original Release Date: Early 2008
Current Release Date: October 2008

Disaster: Day of Crisis (Wii)

I'm pretty sure that this game will eventually see a release, but until then it's been possibly banished to development limbo. Featured at E3 2006 as one of Nintendo's attempt at some new franchises, it's an original idea for a survival game that takes place during various natural disasters. The Big N has told us the game has “Cutting-edge physics and gripping visuals” to re-create the sheer terror of major catastrophes. It's quite possible that due to recent real-world natural catastrophes, this game is on hold until the "it's too soon" factor wears off. But, truth be told, we'll always have some kind of disaster going on at some point in the world. So Nintendo should just finish it up and get it out there because we need a good survival game for Wii.

Original Release Date: ?
Current Release Date: Is it safe to make Pearl Harbor jokes yet?

PlayStation Home (PlayStation 3)

This has been in development since early 2005 and officially announced by Sony in March of 2007 at GDC. While not really a "game" per se, it is an free online social experience that is supposed to be similar to the popular Second Life. PS3 users can customize a human avatar and meet up and chat or play games and movies with friends. You can buy clothes and furniture for your crib. There's even going to be a trophy room for your gaming accomplishments (but since I can just download any game save at 100% completion, I really don't see the point). The closed beta is now reported to be running until sometime in the Fall of 2008. Sony's CEO Kazuo Hirai has stated that "Spending more time on the development and on the Closed Beta testing reaffirms our commitment to bringing a quality service, maintaining the PlayStation tradition." (They should probably commit to bringing some quality exclusive games to their console, first)

Original Release Date: Fall 2007
Current Release Date: 2009

Duke Nukem Forever (Multiplatform)

Here is is. You knew it was coming. The granddaddy of them all, and the title that sets the bar for all Vaporware. So, let's take a trip back in time! All the way to April of 1997! The fourth installment of Duke Nukem was supposed to be out no later than mid-1998 and would use the Quake II engine. 3D Realms later fooled the world in August by releasing fake screenshots made in the developers free time because they didn't even get the game engine code until November.

At E3 1998 the first game footage was revealed using the Quake II engine. We knew they'd miss their mid-1998 deadline, but things still looked like they were pretty much on track. Come June of 1998, developers switched the now overused Unreal engine. Now we knew for sure 1998 would not be Duke's year. Although, we were reassured that the transition would only take four to six weeks and now would be released in 1999. Phew! That's not so bad, right?

Wrong! By November of 1999 all we got were some screenshots of Forever running on the upgraded Unreal engine. 2000 passed with no new info and E3 2001 was the next time we'd heard anything about the Dukester. Some in-game footage was shown which featured a large city and how to get a sandwich from a vending machine (huh?). Later that year, GTA's Take-Two would take over the publishing rights. Could this project finally take shape?

Wrong again! By 2002, Take-Two completely overhauled the game's mechanics, which now contained parts of the Unreal 2.0 engine, and added more developers. TT announced the game would see release by the end of 2003. Then by the end of 2004. Then by 2005. Then another physics engine switch. Flash forward to 2006. We're told that Forever is almost done and being given some final tweaking and polishing. Looks like we'll finally get to play it soon! Right?

You know you're wrong! Come on now! 3D Realms put Duke on the back burner to free up some room for the mildly successful 2006 shooter, Prey. In more recent news, a teaser was released last year around Christmas but was never actually confirmed to be a work of 3D Realms. An official trailer was released in February of 2008 which doesn't actually show any in-game footage, but rather a cut scene showing a blonder, buffer Duke and some nastier looking baddies. The trailer ended with the words "Stay Tuned" instead of "Coming Soon" or something like that.

So here we are in 2008. Over 11 years after the initial announcement, and with no official release date in sight, Duke Nukem has become a running joke around the world wide web. I'll finish this epic saga with a quote from 3D Realms CEO Scott Miller who stated "of course as soon as Duke is done we'll begin a new one." (Ya, and I'll start my second spaceship as soon as I return from my first trip to the moon).

Original Release Date: 1998
Current Release Date: Come Get Some!

Honorable Mentions: Final Fantasy XIII & Versus XIII (PS3), Raid Over the River (Wii), Resident Evil 5 (Multiplatform), Super Street Fighter II Turbo HD Remix (Multiplatform), Devil May Cry (PSP), Afrika (PS3), Infamous (PS3), Dragon Quest IX: Protectors of the Stars (DS), Zombie Massacre (Wii), Final Fantasy: Dissidia (PSP)

So there you have it. Sony definitely holds the title for the biggest heart-breaker out there. You may have also noticed that there's no Microsoft titles listed. It would seem there's pretty much caught up for the moment, but they have had their share of Vaporware blunders (Halo 3 for one). Let's hope that if I write another one of these articles next year that none of these titles will be repeat offenders. Developers and publishers really need to keep a tighter lid on projects before people start getting really excited about them. In one way, it's nice that peoples' feedback early on in development and beta testing can change the shape and feel of the game for the better. But, on the other hand, waiting several years for one game just isn't worth it in the long run. I suppose ignorance truly is bliss!


Thursday, August 7, 2008

Serious Games as a Serious Business

Normally when one thinks of the Video Game industry, he or she is drawn to the many broadcasts of those who stood out in the freezing cold for the release of the Wii or PS3. Or perhaps their brains remind them of the daily news stories about the adverse affects of Grand Theft Auto on children, or (if they're slighty tech-savvy) the corporate bitch slap Microsoft received when they produced faulty hardware for the Xbox 360. It is rare that one thinks of anything other than the entertainment or business aspects of video games. But I ask you, reader, isn't there something more?

Try not to gasp when I declare this, but there is this whole other side to video games that those in its core call "serious". Serious games are those which aim to educate, promote ideas, and create cultural or societal change; they benefit the player in some way, whether it be physically, mentally, or even morally -- not too far off from what most games do on a regular basis. A prime example is Hush, (pictured above) a rhythm game that tastefully outlines the frightening conditions of Rwandan genocide . This new wave of serious games in the world has sparked much attention, henceforth creating tremendous industry projects such as Games For Change and my current life work, Emergent Media Center of Champlain College's United Nation Project (project name pending). Check out Games for Change and see the wonderful work they do to impact the world.

The United Nations project is a fresh-out-of-the-oven grant that my school, Champlain College, just sealed with the UN to make a game that will help stop violence against women in developing countries. I was hired just a meager two weeks ago as a Game Designer on the project, and hope to keep you readers posted on our development progress. We have the highly acclaimed industry professional Heather Kelley as our Creative Director, and a wonderful team of 15 students and 4 faculty members working our way through this interesting and challenging project. This project gives proof to the ever growing industry of serious games throughout the whole world.
In early June the ESA announced that E3 is adding a Serious Games component to the convention. As they promised, E3 2008 had this component, although it did not get much media attention. There are many serious game conventions each year, including the Serious Games Summit and the Games For Change Annual Festival.

For more news and interesting information on Serious Games, check out the Serious Games Source (Add this to your daily video game browsing, along with Gamasutra, of course.)

Friday, August 1, 2008

What Wii Need

Nintendo has the number one selling console on the planet, but it is nothing close to perfect. Today we are going to delve into the world of Wii and see what the system needs to keep the party going for years to come. From "mature" titles to Wii space issues, and poorly developed graphic engines, these issues will be addressed. We need to look at the future to see if Wii will last.

On May 12th, 2008 Nintendo finally released two major Wii Channels in North America. These two huge channels were none other than the Everybody's Nintendo Channel. This channel is used to promote new games, show video advertisements and even DS downloadable demos. The other channel is the long awaited Wii Ware channel designed in the vein of Xbox Live Arcade titles. (The channel which of course can be found by going to the Wii Shop.) These are original titles that can be downloaded and played on the Nintendo Wii for a certain amount of points. May 12th should have be a great day for Wii players around North America, but instead for many it became a day of frustration.

This frustration comes in the form of a message that sounds a lot like this " Your Wii has run out of memory. Please go back to the main menu and make space available". The question that runs through a lot of gamers minds when talking about Nintendo is who exactly is Nintendo targeting? Some would say that Nintendo has forgotten about the gamer and is focusing on the their new blue ocean strategy. What this means is that Nintendo is looking to encompass the inner child in all, not just the "hardcore". This means that Nintendo is putting all their attention on the pick up and play market, this would suggest that the Big N cares more about the Soccer Mom's that play Wii Fit and Wii Sports than the young adults playing Metroid Prime 3 Corruption. Nintendo has done nothing on the surface to show gamers different though, Nintendo Europe marketing director Laurent Fischer has even gone as far as saying this now infamous quote "The only Wii owners that encounter problems with the console's 512MB of internal storage are geeks and otaku". To many in the gaming community this shows Nintendo's stubbornness and lack of forward thinking. To even further the argument, Nintendo E3 press conference was nothing short of spiting in the faces of core gamers. Nintendo did not announce anything for the core audience besides Wii Speak (a device that allows people to speak to others online), Wii Motion Plus (another device that allows the Wii remote to do true 1:1 motion.), and Animal Crossing City Folk. Out of all those "big" announcement only one was an actually game. Its seems as if Nintendo has dropped the ball in a big way and now were are going to what Wii need now.

Issue #1 Wii Memory:

We have the Virtual Console which have classics from Super Mario Bros. 3 to the rare never released games like Sin & Punishment. At the beginning there was no issue of space but now its not just Virtual Console classics from NES to SNES which take up little space, as we now have N64, NEO GEO, and TurboGrafx 16 games that just eat up that 512MB flash memory. It does not stop there though; with the release of new channels like Check Mii Out, Everybody Votes Channel, and Internet Channel some of those take up five times the size of any Virtual Console game. To make matters worse, Wii Ware was launched. These original games for Wii are great but when game when a game like Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles My Life as a King can take up almost all your free space on the Wii, that is just wrong. This is no longer a "hardcore" gaming issue, this is to hurting Nintendo's future of competing on an global level. If people have to delete a game every time they want a new one people are just going to stop buying them all together. What happens when people have too many game saves? Do we need to start delete them as well? If Nintendo wants stay in the game they need to fix these problems sooner than later.

Issue # 2 Shovel Ware, PS2 to Wii Ports, Wii Graphics Engine

There is a trend going on Wii that is very troubling to me as the system is almost two years old and it seems that it is not getting much better. The problem that disturbs me is that no one is pushing the system graphically at all. The games that look the best on Wii are games using last generation technology. Games from Metroid Prime 3 to Resident Evil Wii Edition are beautiful, but they are not even close to using the Wii's full potential. There are few games in the Wii's library that look like actual Wii titles. Best example that comes to mind is Nintendo's own Super Mario Galaxy.

Super Mario Galaxy

This game was designed from the ground up as Wii game and the details and overall polish of the game proves it. Compared to Super Mario Sunshine this game blows Super Mario Sunshine graphically out of the park.
Super Mario Sunshine

Sadly it is the only true game that has been released so far on the Wii to look so polished and clean that looks next generation. I am not expecting graphics to surpass 360 or PS3 but I do expect games to be made at the highest quality. How many games are announced on 360, and PS3 then are never put on Wii but if there is a PS2 version the Wii iteration isn't far behind? Games like Alone in the Dark, Splinter Cell Double Agent, Call of Duty are direct ports of a PS2 counterparts. Now instead of taking the time to make a true Wii title they just use a cookie cutter to cut and paste the PS2 version of a game on the Wii and throw in some waggle controls and call it a day. Its not only 3rd parties who are the culprits however, as Nintendo gave the developers the wrong model to follow. Look at some of the titles Nintendo released on Wii that were really just Gamecube games. For example, The Legend of Zelda Twilight Princess, Super Paper Mario, Donkey Kong Barrel Blast, and Fire Emblem Radiant Dawn. All of these games were finished Gamecube games put on the Wii because they would make more money under the Wii banner than the Gamecube. It was understandable then, but why are developers still cutting corners? The developers have tried to catch up to the demand of games on Wii by releasing anything not boarded to the floor. Every piece of shovel ware you could imagine is out on the system and there is probably more to come. I think Wii owners deserve more and developers are finally hearing our cry. This year Wii has shown us some big hits like Super Mario Galaxy, Metroid Prime 3 Corruption, Mario Kart Wii, Wii Fit, and Super Smash Bros. Brawl. So what's next? Where are the games that are supposed to push the envelope? Its now up to the 3rd party developers to take charge. Nintendo has shown the world that the Wii is more than a fad, now its up for developers to take risk and make the games that Wii deserves. Developers were not ready for the Wii to be the market leader and it shows. Lackluster ports, poorly implemented Wii Remote controls and just general lack of games. Fortunately some developers are starting to take risk and actually make quality games designed for Wii. One developer in particular has come out of nowhere, and their name is High Voltage Software. These people are taking a step in the right direction, and their proving it with their standalone freshmen title, The Conduit. The Conduit

This developer has taken it upon themselves to develop a graphics engine specifically for the Wii.This engine has came to be known as the Quantum3 Engine. By doing so they have been able to make their title look like a true next generation game. This title is not just pretty graphics; the people over at High Voltage are making sure that their "M" rated First Person Shooter becomes the standard not the exception to what Wii games should look and play like. As for "M" titles on the Wii the are slowly starting to creep up this year. From Fatal Frame Mask of the Lunar Eclipse,
Fatal Frame Mask of the Lunar Eclispe

to new franchises like Cursed Mountain (a survival horror game made ground up for the Wii)Cursed Mountain

to Platinum Games' (former members of Clover Studios who mad Okami, God Hand, and Viewitful Joe) gruesome action game Mad World.Mad World

It seems that we have forgotten that Wii has only been out for a year and eight months and it usually takes longer for great titles to appear on a console. Nintendo in one year has caught up to Xbox 360's 10 million unit one year head start. For Nintendo to continue their success they are going to need to come out with great titles, fix their storage issue, and make sure that 3rd parties push out some great titles. Wii need more and Nintendo better be ready to listen.