The worst kept secret at Bioware is that Dragon Age III is in production. Today, franchise Executive Producer Mark Darrah makes that all official-like with an open letter. Given the lack of any detail to speak of whatsoever, there’s not much to report here. Here’s the most relevant bits from the letter.
So here’s what I can confirm for now:
The next game will be called Dragon Age III: Inquisition.
We won’t be talking about the story of the game today. Though you can make some guesses from the title.
This game is being made by a lot of the same team that has been working on Dragon Age since Dragon Age: Origins. It’s composed of both experienced BioWare veterans and talented new developers.
We are working on a new engine which we believe will allow us to deliver a more expansive world, better visuals, more reactivity to player choices, and more customization. At PAX East, we talked about armor and followers… Yeah, that kind of customization. We’ve started with Frostbite 2 from DICE as a foundation to accomplish this.
You check out the rest here, if you’re so inclined.
After the break, however, I can offer you an NHS-exclusive look at the main Foozle in DA3! (Yes, this is an excuse to make you click through to see something that is decidedly not the main Foozle in DA3. It’s worth it.)
Nintendo released a metric ton of Wii U details this morning, across every territory on the globe capable of receiving electronic transmissions, so we now have a whole bunch of Wii U information to digest. Some of these things genuinely surprised me, some not so much. What is not at all surprising to me is that I have no idea if I’d get Wii U at launch. I have long since learned that there are two things that I don’t rule out buying: Transformer alt figures and Nintendo consoles at launch. Too many times I have gone on at length about my unwillingness to buy either, only to be proven wrong by my craven need for material goods.
I’m feeling list-y today, so here, in no certain order, are ten things we know about the Wii U, and by extension, Nintendo, that we didn’t know this morning:
Number 1: Nintendo Likes North America Best
Ok, that’s hyperbole but, Nintendo is releasing the Wii U in North America first, and if that doesn’t mean that they like us best, I don’t know what does. The launch date is November 18th for North America, November 30 for Europe and December 8 in Japan. You can rest assured that the North American release date is picked for one thing, and one thing only: Black Friday. It will be interesting to see how supplies work out, given that the console launches five days before Black Friday. If you don’t preorder one at launch, will fighting off hordes of Walmart shoppers be your only recourse? I don’t know if the general public will latch on to this like they did the original Wii, but given the extended return timelines during the holidays, you can always bring it back in January if you pick one up in November and then change your mind.
Number 2: Nintendo Has Heard of HDMI
Not only will the Wii U support the highest of high resolutions, 1080p, but every Wii U will come with an HDMI cable in the box. In the box! Honestly, I wasn’t sure that Nintendo knew that they don’t make tube TVs any more, so this is a big surprise for me. The PS3 used to come with an HDMI cable and the 360 never had one in the box, at least not to my knowledge, so this makes the Wii U super, extra special. Hopefully this also means that unwary consumers won’t be talked into buying some bullshit, overpriced Monster cable, but I wouldn’t guarantee it.
Number 3: Nintendo Has No Idea What a Window Is
I don’t know about you, but in my house, windows are opened for hours at a time, maybe days depending on where the window is in the house and how the weather changes. In Nintendo parlance, a window, as in “launch window” is open for over three months. That’s not a window, that’s a hole. I’m sorry, but if you’re looking to replicate the Wii’s success, you’re going to have to deal with consumers that don’t know that a game can be made available at the end of February, three whole months after their new console came out, and still be considered a “launch” game. You tell people that they can buy Black Ops 2 on the Wii U at launch, it better be in the goddamned store at launch. Now, that’s not a great example because it will be out on November 30th, but you get the idea.
Number 4: Nintendo Thinks Two SKUs Are Better Than One
Personally, I think that$299 is too high for the Wii U. Yeah, it has “better” graphics than the Wii and it has the fancy gamepad thing, but consumers may not see that as adding enough to the system to justify it being a) more expensive than the Wii was when it launched, b) more expensive than an Xbox 360 with Kinect and c) more expensive than a PS3. Sure, those consoles are getting an upgrade soon, but Ma and Pa Kettle don’t know that. Add to the fact that in order to get a pack-in game, Nintendoland, you have to pay an extra $50 and you’re going to have consumers wonder why it doesn’t come with a game like the Wii did. I’ve seen Nintendoland and I don’t think it explains the point of the Wii U as well as the Wii did, but that’s just me. Sure you get more memory and various stands and cradles, which will appear to be “free” when factoring in the cost of Nintendoland, but I still don’t think that’s a great value proposition.
Number 5: Nintendo Really, Really Liked Bayonetta
Ok, this was the biggest surprise of them all, Bayonetta 2 coming to the Wii U as an exclusive and not only as an exclusive but a Nintendo published exclusive. Huh? I completely understand that Nintendo is looking to present the Wii U as a competitor for current gen consoles and next gen and having something like Bayonetta 2 certainly does that, but come on, Bayonetta? Not every game has to appeal to every person, but I can’t wait to see the Best Buy dude explain to Timmy that, under all of that hair, she’s totally naked.
Number 6: Nintendo Wants People Yapping At You While You Try and Watch The Mentalist
I don’t know why these new fangled electronic devices assume that I want people bending my ear while I watch TV but I can assure you, I do not. Hell, half of the stuff that I watch, I’m embarrassed to admit to mixed company. I don’t have enough disparate tastes in my house to have personalized TV choices for all of them. Here’s the TV, if you don’t like what’s on, go read a book. I certainly don’t want people knowing what I’m watching as I’m watching it and if you bother me while I’m watching Justified, I will hogtie you and Dickie Bennett your ass like you was born and raised in the Holler.
Number 7: Launch Lineups Are Constitutionally Obligated to Be Boring
I mean, come on, looking at this launch lineup, is there anything remotely exciting? A new Mario game, a new Wii Fit, Nintendoland, a bunch of EA games, some throwaway casual bullshit titles, another Rabbids game from Ubisoft and then a whole bunch of games that either will have been recently released for other consoles, or have been out for months. I know that Nintendo is banking on this lineup appealing to people who never moved on from the Wii U but I think there are few fewer of those people out there than Nintendo believes.
Number 8: Nintendo Has Realized that the Internet Isn’t Going Anywhere
Based on all of the social bells and whistles built into this thing, it’s clear that Nintendo is starting to come around to the joy that is the Internet. This is further evidenced by the fact that the more expensive bundle comes with some sort of points redemption thingy that rewards points for purchasing digital games, points that can then be redeemed to purchase more digital games. It’s not at all unlike the current Club Nintendo offerings, but being able to do it directly on the console will make it easier and hopefully expose more people to Nintendo’s downloadable offerings, of which there are many. No word on whether or not Nintendo will make playing games with real life people easier, but if they don’t, 3rd party developers will fill the void, as they have with the Wii, the DS and the 3DS.
Number 9: Nintendo Loves Breaking Bad
Well, Reggies does. Smart man, that Reggie is.
Number 10: Nintendo Is Making an Effort With Third Party Publishers
I ragged on the launch lineup, because I’m coming at this as someone who plays a lot of games and wants to see new things at launch, but honestly, this is one of the strongest third party launch lineups for a Nintendo console I’ve seen in recent memory. Darksiders II, CoD: Black Ops 2, Mass Effect 3, Bayonetta, Batman: Arkham City, 007 Legends, Epic Mickey 2, Trine 2, Monster Hunter 3 plus others we don’t know about yet. Nintendo is clearly trying to escape the stigma of being a 1st party console only and this is a good way to start. The fact that the games that have been released previously all come with content released as DLC helps too. Granted, I won’t play any of these games over again, but those nine people who haven’t played Mass Effect 3 yet are in for a treat!
As I said before, I’m still not sure what I’m going to do. I don’t know how much Wii U interest there is around here and as I’m no longer being paid to write anywhere, it’s not like I can treat this as a business decision. Nintendo will have to do a lot between now and launch to convince me to buy one on November 18th and not have it be a Christmas gift, but anything is possible. I have wavered in the past and will do so again, probably many, many times.
We frequently discuss topics such as DRM, connectivity requirements, and PR/marketing stunts; topics that don’t necessarily impact our gameplay directly, but ones that most certainly affect our experiences as consumers. Last month, an update (and subsequently retracted update) for FEZ on XBLA brought the issue of certification to the forefront. The gist of the story is that Polytron Corporation had to decide between leaving a bug in the game, or paying tens of thousands of dollars to (hopefully) patch the bug and get re-certified.
Until last month, I have to admit that I had never considered the role of certification in game development and how the results of that process trickle down to us as consumers. Certification on consoles was the topic of recent editorial by Kyle Orland at Ars Technica, but I found the full-length opinions and examples offered by Jonathan Blow especially illuminating.
While certification is meant to provide standards, FEZ shows how the process can be equally counter-productive. In the end, neither the consumer nor the developer come out on top. This is opposed to a PC release that can be patched for free. But, as Blow points out, a major problem concerning certification is the time spent coding and tweaking required features that have little to no impact on the final product.
Dead Trigger, available for iOS and Android devices.
The increasing prevalence of mobile devices and gaming-capable PCs is the usual suspect used to explain the influx of high-quality games for those platforms, but certification is an undeniable factor in the equation. Peruse the forum posts and blogs of small/indie game developers and it’s not difficult to see a common theme; don’t develop for consoles unless you absolutely need to fulfill some sort of personal desire.
The console has traditionally been the core method of reaching gamers, but the playing field is shifting rapidly. In May of 2012, as reported by NPD Group, sales of console games were 28-percent lower than in 2011, while sales of PC games rose to 230-percent. Obviously, Diablo III played a pivotal role in those statistics, but that doesn’t change the fact that gamers and developers are increasingly moving away from consoles.
Perhaps more than ever, developers are faced with an important decision; spend precious money and time to jump through the hoops required for a single console release, or spend those resources optimizing a game for release across multiple platforms, including PC, Mac, web, and mobile operating systems. With the rise of engines and tools such as Unity and Adobe AIR, multi-platform porting is becoming easier all the time. Factor in the abilities to set your own pricing schemes, to get involved with promotions (eg Humble Indie Bundle), and issue regular updates, and the console market loses much of its appeal.
Dyad, available only on PS3.
Of course, there are two sides to the coin, and consoles do have benefits; less piracy, standardized system specifications, and guaranteed exposure. For anyone familiar with the navigational disaster that is Google Play (aka Android marketplace), that last point is especially poignant. And, as expressed by Mojang’s Markus “Notch” Persson and Valve’s Gabe Newell, PC gaming could be in for a rough ride with the release of Windows 8 and the associated Windows Store.
App Store, Google Play, Windows Store, Steam, Ouya, XBLA, PSN, Wii Ware – present and future marketplaces for games are not in short supply. With so much money on the line, customer satisfaction and exclusive content are going to be vital in dictating the winners and losers. For this reason, I don’t foresee the certification process disappearing anytime soon, and I expect that we will see similar systems implemented more heavily in the mobile and PC realms. As Xbox LIVE Indie Games has taught us, the cream does not always rise to the top in an open market. Sometimes, it drowns in the slop.
Kotaku did something interesting yesterday. Which is not to say that they never do anything interesting, in fact, since Stephen Totilo took over, I’ve quite enjoyed the changes to the site, but yesterday’s event, in which they invited an anonymous employee of a major video game publisher to answer reader questions, was particularly interesting.
There were no huge bombs dropped, nothing scandalous announced, no earth shattering revelations, which is why it was so damned compelling. It was nothing but common sense answer after common sense answer, yet what I found so interesting about the whole thing, was how it appeared that the people asking the questions never thought of these answers themselves.
If you were to come up with a list of questions you would expect the readers of Kotaku, or any big gaming site, to submit to a big time video game publisher, chances are your list and the questions asked on Monday would be similar. People wanted to know why publishers do day one DLC, why publishers place DRM on PC games, why publishers don’t take more risks on new IPs. Now, I could have answered those questions myself without the input from the publisher person and they would have looked something like this: money, money and money. Amazingly enough, the “official” answers weren’t that far off of the mark.
Now, I’m not saying that publishers are always making the right decisions, but I simply can not fathom how the answers provided by this person are not blindingly obvious. Video game publishers are in business to make money. In many cases, these are public companies, beholden to shareholders as well as to themselves. They do what they do because they make money off of it. We can argue the merits of the long term effects of their current strategies at another time, but for right now, they’re looking to make money and their decisions are based on that goal.
Let’s take Day One DLC, for our first example. The question was basically “Stop making it, it sucks. Why do you do it?” The answer:
Then stop buying it.
Look, it’s simple. One team puts together a rough estimate on how much they expect the company to make from DLC. Let’s call that “A”. Then another team puts together an estimate on how much it will cost to develop that DLC. Let’s call that “B”.
If A > B, you get Day One DLC.
Seems pretty simple to me. But, let’s not cherry pick. Here (s)he is on new IPs:
You don’t spend your money on new IPs, at least not at this stage in the cycle.
I’ll say what I said earlier: you’re not buying new IPs. You may feel like you are, but trust me, I’ve seen the numbers, and with very few exceptions (which unfortunately get trumpeted in the media the loudest), you’re not.
My absolute favorite quote, though, had to be in response to a question about Call of Duty. Sorry for posting such a long question, but I think it’s important to read the whole thing:
How come there seems to be such a big gap between customer and publisher? It’s something that’s been bothering me for a while, but gamers voice their concerns when they get something they don’t like. Sure, they don’t always have good arguments, but a lot of times they do.
Call of Duty is the obvious example here, and I’m sorry for being ‘that guy’ and bringing it up. Sure, it sells like… I don’t know, something that sells really well, yet thousands of customers complain literally everywhere about how much they dislike the whole ‘let’s release the same game over and over’ (and let’s not trick ourselves, that is what is being done, regardless of how many times one makes a new story about nukes).
Why aren’t their opinions taken into consideration? I hear publishers saying that they are, but looking at the games they keep pushing out, it’s pretty obvious that no, no one is listening to the customers, or at least not the ones who doesn’t just buy the next game because ‘it’s the sequel to that other game I bought because it was a sequel!’.
Personally, this isn’t a big of a problem. I don’t mind CoD, and I can enjoy it. But what does bother me is that everyone is talking about how much the customer – the gamer – matters, yet absolutely no one is actually listening to what they have to say. Sorry for the whole novel-thing I’ve got going on, but that’s my question. Why?
Also if you took the time to read (and possibly also answer), thank you.
Ah, here is where you went wrong: on CoD, the customer is not necessarily a gamer. Activision constantly does research and listens to their fans. In fact, many of their decisions are guided by those reports. It may feel to you that thousands of people feel X, but the truth is, based on hard data, that millions of people feel differently from you.
It never ceases to amaze me how insular the gaming community is. We go on sites with other people who love games as much as we do and we all bitch and moan about the same things and wonder why, in most cases, our complaints aren’t addressed, never once considering that most of the people buying Call of Duty and Madden and “insert popular franchise here” every year don’t give a rat’s ass about DLC and story endings and what have you. They go into Best Buy or Walmart or GameStop, buy their game, leave happy and stay that way. Does that mean that publishers should ignore the dedicated gaming communities? Certainly not, but we shouldn’t expect them to change their plans specifically for us. They’re looking at numbers on spreadsheets and our numbers simply aren’t large enough.
If you haven’t read it already, you should definitely check the piece out. The person answering had a pretty good sense of humor about things, at one point answering the pointless question of publisher evil by remarking that they’re closer to the “don’t tip your waitress” evil than the “genocide” evil, and gave some other insight into things like piracy, the PC being the preferred target platform due to the lack of licensing fees, and going with your gut when it comes to pitches. The best line, by far, though, was this one, which hopefully (s)he will get to expand on in a future Q &A:
For Jumping the Shark #133, Brandon and Bill celebrate the coming of Summoner Wars on the iOS. (I’m sure I’ll join the jubilee soon. Took the time to figure it out over the weekend and am starting to feel its draw.) There’s also some Amazing Spider-Man discussion and a Bill tangent about not liking fun murderers. And really, who does? Leading off this week, though, Brandon and I wax poetic about the revised Mass Effect 3 ending and he gets me to say something that, in a righteous universe, ought to never ever happen – “Brandon, you’re right.”