A number of rumors emerged over the weekend involving the future of THQ, none of which painted an especially promising picture for the publisher. Despite suggestions that it had canceled its entire slate of games set to come out in 2014, it has released a statement denying that is the case.
It all started when Kevin Dent, the head of the IGDA Mobile Special Interest Group, began tweeting about the dire situation THQ finds itself in. According to him, THQ canceled not only The Games Workshop’s MMO (referring to Warhammer 40,000: Dark Millennium Online), but “all of their 2014 [games].” Also alarming was him suggesting, “[W]ord is spreading that THQ has returned IP to Disney AFTER paying the advance, with no refund.”
He said this was in an attempt to “preserve cash,” as the company could run out sometime between April and June of this year. (Wedbush analyst Michael Pachter suggested the same in an investors note last month.) Initially he said the root cause comes “from [THQ CEO Brian] Farrell’s insistence on making a second uDraw product” when the “first one sold ‘ok.’” He later reconsidered and suggested it was releasing Saints Row: The Third in November (as opposed to a Q1 release) that was THQ’s “biggest mistake.”
In subsequent tweets he clarified that he thinks “THQ shuttering is a long shot to say the least, they will either take financing or do a pipe. Money is cheap now.” He added, “…until THQ says ‘x’ it is all speculation and rumors.”
Despite those qualifications, which came after all the doom and gloom, it wasn’t hard to believe that THQ could be in trouble. The company traded at over $36 in 2007; as of this past Friday, its stock is now worth only $0.66. For comparison’s sake, EA is currently trading at $18.04, Activision Blizzard $12.24, and Take-Two $14.50.
Seeking to do damage control before that situation can get any worse, THQ released a statement denying what Dent had suggested and talking up the performance of certain 2011 games.
“THQ has not cancelled its 2014 line-up, and has not made any decisions regarding the planned MMO,” the statement reads. “As part of the ongoing review of our business, we have made decisions to ensure that the company is strategically addressing the most attractive markets. As we have previously announced, we have dramatically reduced our commitment to the kids’ boxed games sector which leads to a significantly more focused release schedule moving forward. Our slate for calendar 2012 and beyond is focused on high-quality core games and continues to build our digital platform and business. We are excited for our pipeline of original and high-quality content along with our relationships with some of the best talent in the industry.”
Saying it has not made any decisions regarding Dark Millennium Online does call into question the title’s future. Prior to the statement being released, GamesIndustry.biz noted sources had suggested the game is “currently being offered for sale to other companies.”
THQ laid off about 200 employees last August as the MX vs. ATV franchise — like Red Faction before it — was shelved. It was at that time THQ said it was moving away from licensed kids games.
Among the games THQ has in the works are Guillermo del Toro’s Insane, South Park (the RPG from Obsidian), Metro: Last Light, Darksiders II, Devil’s Third (from Tomonobu Itagaki’s Valhalla Game Studios), Dawn of War III, Homefront 2 (coming from Crytek UK as Kaos was closed last year), future iterations of the WWE and UFC franchises, and whatever former Assassin’s Creed creative director Patrice Désilets is working on in Montreal.
The existential crisis facing the Japanese game industry lurked beneath the surface of this year’s Game Developers Conference with uncomfortable omnipresence, often giving a sense of Japanese designers coming to San Francisco humbly to take notes on what sells in the U.S., only to be scorned and derided for their trouble. Of course, it wasn’t really so dire as all that, but one could certainly be forgiven for walking away with that impression.
So it should come as little surprise that, like many Japanese devs at GDC, Gravity Rush’s Yoshiaki Yamaguchi devoted a fair amount of his panel to the conundrum of appealing to both Japanese and American audiences. Unlike many designers, though, Yamaguchi’s team side-stepped the conventional wisdom that games have to carry a conventional, realistic “American” feel or an anime-inspired “Japanese” feel. Rather than simply falling into either camp, the creators of Gravity Rush have chosen to draw upon a third option: Bande dessinée, or French comics.
“I felt that games these days are starting to look too much the same,” said Yamaguchi. “They either use a realistic style or an anime style…. There’s art that looks real, and art that feels real, and I feel bande dessinées is better suited to the latter.”
Going European certainly isn’t unheard of in non-European games, of course; the Professor Layton series is defined by its warm, Ghibli-esque visual style. Yamaguchi, however, very specifically drew inspiration from French illustrators Jean Giraud (Moebius) and Enki Bilal in order to create a visual style of which it would be (as Yamaguchi says) “difficult to determine the country of origin.”
And Gravity Rush is a truly stunning game. Not only does its gameplay appear novel — applying the gravity-inverting mechanics of games like VVVVVV to an open, three-dimensional world — its style is striking. It combines polygons with cel-shading, painterly effects, and highly saturated unconventional color schemes. It looks like nothing else on the market, even within the Western indie space, and makes a strong case for PlayStation Vita’s merit as a platform.
“We sought to strike a balance between realism and drawing, creating harmony with the CG,” said Yamaguchi. “But of course simply focusing on graphics will not move the audience… it’s like moving different strands of string to weave a tapestry.”
The team’s solution was to create something they call a “living background,” environments that create the “sensation that the character actually exists in that space.
“Games can do something that novels and movies can’t,” Yamaguchi said. “The player can interact with them. The concept is that the world that exists here is not simply a picture, but a living, breathing entity. The environment must convey information to the player; when players do not receive this information, they start to ignore their surroundings. As soon as the player starts to think of the background as a picture, they’ll stop paying attention to it.” Due to the nature of Gravity Rush’s gameplay (which sees players flipping heroine Kat’s personal sense of gravity across a variety of axes, allowing her to traverse any surface above a certain size), the team felt it essential to get Kat to look like she belonged within the world she inhabits. The illustrated-yet-natural style of bande dessinée served as the creators’ waypoint for creating this synthesis. At a time when rhetoric about the origins and nature of games so deeply polarizes the industry, it’s a pleasure to see someone approach their work from a different angle — and to come up with such an intriguing creation in the process.
GDC 2012: What Can the Next Generation Learn from Gaming History?
1UP editor-in-chief Jeremy Parish’s mission at this year’s Game Developers Conference is informed by his enthusiasm for new ideas and affection for the games he grew up playing. Is it possible to march forward while occasionally glancing back? That’s the question he’s investigating this week.
It’s been a while since Level-5 let the public have a peek at Time Travelers, the 3DS adventure game penned by Jiro Ishii of 428 fame. Famitsu magazine let out some more details this week, and the biggest news for net-forum console warriors may be that the game’s no longer a 3DS exclusive — instead, it’ll be coming out sometime in 2012 for the 3DS, PSP, and Vita.
Time Travelers is set in Tokyo circa 2031, a place where a lot seems to be happening all at once. 18 years previous, a massive explosion — whether it was a natural phenomenon or a terror act was never determined — literally ripped a hole in the skyline which still exists today. A space elevator shoots into the sky from the harbor, and holographic advertising lines the streets. The story is centered around Mikoto Shindo, a girl with natural time-travel skills that gets involved with thwarting the plans of Skeleton, a new terrorist group that kicks off the game by hijacking a downtown bus.
The adventure, which will feature full voice work and full 3D visuals, also features the following characters:
- Hina Fushimi, a TV personality who chases after the terrorists in hopes of landing a job as an investigative journalist.
- Yuri Fukase, Mikoto’s classmate whose cold standoffishness hides a secret behind his past.
- Soma Kamiya, a police detective who’s force to do Skeleton’s bidding after they take his family hostage.
- Hyugo Shindo, a former first-class scientist who now mainly uses his name to bilk investor money for imaginary time-machine projects. (Whether he’s related to Mikoto has not been revealed.)
- Ressentiment, a 30-year-old college dropout who has yet to find a real job and instead patrols the streets as a would-be costumed superhero.
Check out last year’s trailer for Time Travelers, back when it was still 3DS only.
This week’s episode of The Simpsons (the series’ 492nd overall) featured an obvious take on the annual Electronic Entertainment Expo, better known to most as E3. Following up on previous Surprise Dad Days like Cemetery Paintball and Go-Karts on Real Roads, Homer Simpson decided to take his kids to E4: the Expensive Electronic Entertainment Expo.
There were references all over the place, starting out with statues of the Master Chief, a Big Daddy, and a football (and chicken leg)-wielding John Madden. From there we get to see Furious Fliers, a version of Angry Birds that goes horribly wrong when an angry bird is sent into an under-construction children’s hospital (complete with direct-from-Angry-Birds sound effects).
Once inside the convention hall thanks to their VIP passes, the game references come in quick succession. There was Grand Theft Scratchy: Itchy City Stories; Cosmic Wars, a take on Star Wars; several varieties of Blocko (a take on Lego) including Cosmic Wars and Angelica Button; World of Krustcraft; Jalo; Shaun White: Time Snowboarder; Dig Dug: Revelations (a pretty funny knock on all of the games with that subtitle); Terrence Malick’s Tree of Life Online; Driver’s License 2: License to Drive; Assassin’s Creed: Summer of Love; Human Centipede; Q-Bert: Origins (another example of too-many-games-have-this-subtitle); Earthland Realms 2: The Outing of the Elves; Big Super Happy Fun Fun Game; Medal of Duty; and ZiiHop, where you sit on an exercise ball.
Systems included GameStation, ProtoVision, Ybox 360, Funtendo’s brand-new Zu Zii, and the coin-operated GameStation 3. Company names included Electronic Crafts, Chalmskinn Interactive, and Bongo Games.
Only two games were given much screen time. Guts of War II: Entrails of Intestinox was a God of War-inspired action game featuring attacks like “colon slash” and “rectum kill.” One of the developers was on hand to boast, “We’ve made a game that’ll reward the hardcore gamer with hundreds and hundreds of hours of…” before being cut off by Bart, who managed to beat the game in almost no time at all. Unfortunately the dev made no mention of whether the game is “easy to play but hard to master.”
The game we see Lisa play was Marching Band, where players stomp their feet and play either the saxophone or clarinet while trying to keep the crowd’s enthusiasm up. After clearing the first level, the second level consists of studying for a chemistry test during the twelve-hour bus ride home.
This isn’t the first time The Simpsons has parodied videogames; The Simpsons Game was overflowing with parodies, references, and homages. The aforementioned Grand Theft Scratchy was among the games that was to be in there, only Grand Theft Auto maker Rockstar was displeased and the name ended up being dropped.
If you missed the episode and want to catch it online, it won’t be available on Hulu for almost another week, unless you’re a Dish Network subscriber. For the rest of us, it’ll be up on November 21.
Following a report late last week that Kaz Hirai had been chosen to replace Howard Stringer as president of Sony, the company has since made it clear that no such decision has been made.
“Certain media reports were published on January 7, 2012 regarding Sony Corporation’s executive officers’ appointments,” said an official statement issued over the weekend. “Sony Corporation has made no announcement in this regard and nothing has been determined at this time.”
It had been reported by Japanese publication Nikkei that Sir Howard Stringer, Sony’s CEO, president, and chairman, would vacate his position as president while keeping his other two titles. The move would be made as soon as this April.
Sony’s statement doesn’t mean this isn’t still set to happen; it simply isn’t ready to make such an announcement publicly. Hirai is presumed to be Stringer’s eventual replacement, meaning he would be leading the entirety of Sony, as opposed to his role overseeing the company’s videogame business, Sony Computer Entertainment.