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Archive for April, 2009

1Up's mockup of the new PSP design

1Up's mockup of the new PSP design

1Up .com has become the first legitimate outlet to publish the news of a new PSP hardware iteration that, among other significant design changes, ditches the UMD drive in favor of a download-only format that uses an internal flash drive and (of course) Sony MemorySticks for storage.  If you’re scoring at home, UMD (Universal Media Disc) is a proprietary Sony disc format created for the PSP.

The 1Up piece comes on the heels of an apparent slip-up in either editing or scheduled posting for the @1Up podcast that let the cat out of the bag.  Sony’s refused to comment, but they’re allegedly announcing the whole shebang at E3.

I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve read the “PSP without UMD” rumor over the years, but it really seemed to gain steam in recent months.  When David Perry swore very publicly and vehemently in late February that we would see it soon, it was finally very easy to see why it might be for real this time.  We’ve had Sony telling us that PSP would see an earnest commitment to development, with big franchises like Rock Band and Little Big Planet on the way.  And once Loco Roco 2 was announced as download only, it seemed like the final nail in UMD’s coffin.

Looks like I’d better find an eager buyer for my UMD copy of Jerry Maguire, stat!

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As has become the monthly norm around here, we’re diving into the latest NPD numbers and reading the tea leaves so you don’t have to!  Liquid Architecture is not afraid to be servicey.the-ides-of-march

The March report shows a 17% decline in overall sales from March of last year, which brings the total sales number for Q1 ’09 back down to earth.  But nobody’s jumping out a window just yet.  Easter fell in March of last year, so that and the release of Smash Bros. Brawl contributed to a better-than-average showing.  I’m actually not surprised to hear that there’s a direct correlation between the Christian feast of the Resurrection and an uptick in game sales.  I can actually remember quite a few Easter baskets that included a videogame… and for some reason they tended be a GameBoy game.  I guess handheld systems are more appropriate for springtime?

If anything, the March report shows why this industry is so healthy, in spite of one down month.  This month’s Top 10 shows tremendous diversity among systems, with a top 5 comprised of two 360 games, and one each for the PS3, DS, and Wii:

1. Resident Evil 5 – Xbox 360 – Capcom – 938K
2. Pokemon Platinum – DS – Nintendo – 805K
3. Halo Wars – Xbox 360 – Microsoft – 639K
4. Resident Evil 5 – PS3 – Capcom – 585K
5. Wii Fit w/ balance board – Wii – Nintendo – 541K
6. MLB ’09 The Show – PS3 – Sony – 305K
7. Killzone 2 – PS3 – Sony – 296K
8. Wii Play w/ remote – Wii – Nintendo – 281K
9. Mario Kart w/ wheel – Wii – Nintendo – 278K
10. Major League Baseball 2K9 – Xbox 360 – Take-Two – 205K

There’s something to be said for diversity of audience served as well.  The very kid-friendly Pokemon Platinum settled firmly into #2, among decidely hardcore titles like RE5, Halo Wars and Killzone 2. Both Major Leage Baseball games found their audience of sports fans, rounding out Nintendo’s Holy Trinity of top sellers.

The real eyebrow raiser for March is what’s NOT on the list. The fact that GTA: Chinatown Wars sold less then 100,000 units represents a rare sales misfire from Rockstar.  It released to solid enthusiast press reviews, but it didn’t translate to the same impressive sales numbers as the previous GTA handheld installments on the PSP.  This is a pretty clear indication of just how many of those millions of DS owners actually pay attention to hardcore gamer press.

I’ll be interested to see how this weak showing figures in to Rockstar’s future plans for Nintendo hardware.  Does this mean the “experiment” Strass Zelnick talked up in March was a failure?  Does their existing IP really appeal to Nintendo’s audience?  Personally, I’d love to see them give the Bully universe another look, possibly as a Wii or DS exclusive.  It really brought together everything that made GTA such a joy to play, but stripped out a lot of the edgier content that can be a turnoff for so many.  Certainly worth a look if you missed it the first time, especially alongside the superb Bully Game Club podcast series from Rebel FM.Bully Wii

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42Today marked the 62nd anniversary of Jackie Robinson’s historic first Major League Baseball game with the Brooklyn Dodgers.  Throughout the league, MLB teams honored Jackie in their own way, from a dedication at the new Citi Field to scholarship awards and Jumbotron retrospectives.  And every single player in every game today wore #42, with no name on the back of his jersey.

It was a class move that involved the entire league.  And yet, it didn’t carry over to either of the officially licensed baseball franchises,  MLB 2K9 or MLB 09: The Show.

Considering these games (and every major sports game, for that matter) get continuous roster updates and patches throughout the season, is it really too much to ask that this carefully planned, well executed salute make it into the digital version of our favorite pastime?

Sports games have led the way in verisimilitude for quite some time.  Madden brought in authentic rosters and 11-on-11 formations 20 years ago, and still adds a nifty trick or two each year to bring the game just a bit closer to reality.  A few years ago, they linked in-game weather conditions to the actual field conditions in each stadium in realtime.  This year’s NBA Live game features daily adjustments to player performance based on their real-life counterparts’ hot and cold streaks in realtime.81705570SL030_JACKSONVILLE_

For all of EA’s attention to the little things, even very recent editions of Madden missed the occasional detail.  Where were the Gene Upshaw memoriums in this year’s game?  No, their lack of inclusion shouldn’t (and hopefully doesn’t) impact anybody’s enjoyment of the game overall, but I don’t think it’s unreasonable to expect these seemingly minute details to come through in the games.

I really hope Sony’s MLB: The Show team can get around to a pink bat update in time for the Mothers’ Day games.  Maybe they could even tie in a charity component with the Susan G. Komen foundation.  That’s DLC that really adds value to a game, and makes us all feel like we’re a small part of something much bigger.

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Following the always-timely Stephen Totilo’s Multiplayer Twitter feed, I caught the news just a couple minutes ago about Will Wright leaving EA Maxis to commit fully to his multimedia IP think tank, Stupid Fun Club. For the record, Totilo was seven minutes ahead of EA’s official Twitter.

stupid fun club logoI’m not entirely surprised with the move. DRM controversy aside, Spore made a tremendous splash with critics and consumers alike, and it really felt like the culmination of everything he’s done in the Sim lineage.  There were elements of big sellers like The Sims and SimCity in there, and even some of the quirkier titles like SimFarm, SimAnt and SimEarth. I don’t really see a need for Spore 2, and I’m willing to bet Wright feels the same way.  Then again, when has that stopped anyone?

Without a doubt, Wright can say he was with EA during a transformative period for the company.  EA bought Maxis in ’97, so you’ve got the rise of Sony and the PlayStation brand, and EA’s embracing that technology to become an undisputed superpower in development during that time.  The advancement of Western development and evntual industry shift to cater to US-centric tastes.  The PR backlash against “big, bad EA” and the EA Spouse Livejournal giving a voice to the workforce rights issue that could no longer be ignored.  The end of Sega as a hardware manufacturer (catalyzed by EA’s lack of support for the Dreamcast) and the entrance of Microsoft on the console scene.  Countless top personnel moves, exclusive licensing deals won (NFL) and lost (MLB), and the will-they-won’t-they? circus of EA’s move to acquire Take2.

Will Wright managed to keep himself and his studio remarkably clear of everything that went down at the parent company during that time.  They managed to stick to resonable release schedules and get quality games to market every few years.  EA has a stake Stupid Fun Club, and it sounds like they retain rights of first refusal on their videogame projects.  I hope it works out well for all involved, and am really excited to see what their first projects look like.

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