Issue #67
January 9, 2008
Back to Form
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And, as the title would suggest, Currents is back to its rightful form. With holiday season is officially behind us, the pool of news filled back up in a hurry. Of course, a great deal of it is due to the Consumer Electronics Show which just took place a few days ago. It didn't generate anything earth-shaking perhaps, but some interesting bits of news did arise.

Winter break is nearly concluded, and it is with much dread that I anticipate the oncoming semester. As it would turn out, I have not managed to do NEARLY as much gaming as I planned, and as it is, I still have two-and-a-half games that need finishing. They will most definitely not be finished before this Monday rolls around. Of course, I should be quite a bit further in Baten Kaitos Origins than I am, but thanks to a certain insane boss battle, I was stuck for over three days. Disc 2 begins with a few cutscenes and then immediately thrusts you into a boss battle. There is no way to leave and gain levels/equipment. Thusly, I had to beat him with the levels and equipment I was currently stuck with, and to put it lightly, it wasn't enough. I probably spent ten tortured hours just fighting this blasted thing only to be defeated time and time again. So, what did I finally do? I copied my brother's file, that's what I did. I went and stocked up on Mountain Apples, doubling my hit points. Then I returned and conquered. That may sound like cheating, and I was certainly not happy to do it, but otherwise I would have simply given up on the game. I was never so outmatched in my entire RPGaming life.

But enough of the sob story. I now present you with the latest, greatest edition of Currents. Read on!

Longtime Freelancer Frank Provo Departs GameSpot
Internal pathetic

Much to the delight of CNET, the Jeff Gerstmann controversy seemingly blew over some time ago now. There was much screaming and yelling and gnashing of teeth, but no solid proof was ever put forward and thus the rumors eventually died. GameSpot likely has a slightly smaller reader base now, but other than that they seem to have emerged from the ordeal relatively unscathed, which I find fairly impressive.

However, it seems the far-reaching effects of the debacle have not been entirely quarantined. Just recently, Frank Provo, a longtime freelancer for GameSpot, announced his resignation. From what is understood he decided some time ago to leave, and only stayed for a time in order to fulfill some of his obligations. Mr. Provo was with GameSpot for close to eight years, and in that time had written 751 reviews for the site. If you read GameSpot's reviews with any kind of frequency you have likely heard of him. Why did Frank leave? Well, I will let him explain that. From his GameSpot blog:

It's true, I'm no longer contributing to GameSpot. I believe CNet management let Jeff go for all the wrong reasons. I believe CNet intends to soften the site's tone and push for higher scores to make advertisers happy. I won't lie to people and tell them a game is good when it isn't. I won't downplay negatives that readers have a right to know about. And so, the "Frank Provo era" at GameSpot ends after nearly 8 years of contributions. March 2000 through December 2007. It was a nice run. I feel sorry for the GameSpot staff that have to continue to work there because they have no choice if they want to be able to pay bills and feed their families. For such upstanding people, the CNet [overlords] have created the ultimate soul-crushing work environment.
Quite a cutting statement indeed. Until now, GameSpot employees have been adamant in insisting that Jeff was not fired for dubious reasons. However, to me at least their assurances rang hollow, because even if Jeff was fired for the wrong reasons, would they be allowed to speak of it? Indeed not. Frank, on the other hand, was a freelancer, and I doubt he is subject to any sort of non-disclosure agreement upon his departure. Frank has made it clear that CNet, not the GameSpot staff, is at fault in this case. In his own words, "The GameSpot staff did not fire Jeff. The GameSpot staff are NOT corrupt. GameSpot itself is NOT the problem. CNet is. CNet's management is." It's one thing for the readers and the forum posters to shout "conspiracy!" But for a man like Frank to support said conspiracy theories is another thing. He may have only been a freelancer, but he was certainly a lot closer to the inner workings of CNet that any of us are.

Sources: GameSpot | Kotaku
Warner Bros. to Back Blu-ray
This war must end

I think HD-DVD might finally be considering surrender, or at least some peace talks. Recently, TV and film studio Warner Bros. announced that they will be dropping support for HD-DVD and releasing hi-definition content exclusively for Blu-ray. Warner Bros is one of the largest home video distributors, owning close to 20 percent of the home video market. This being the case, their support is a huge step forward for Sony's Blu-ray, and an even bigger detriment to Toshiba's HD-DVD. The HD-DVD promotion group knows this quite well, it would seem. In fact, due to Warner's defection, they made the decision to cancel the HD-DVD press conference at the recent Consumer Electronics Show. That, to me, has all the earmarks of a full-fledged retreat in the face of a debilitating attack.

Toshiba reacted to the announcement with surprise. In a recent statement, the company said that "Toshiba is quite surprised by Warner Bros.' decision to abandon HD-DVD in favor of Blu-ray...we were particularly disappointed that this decision was made in spite of the significant momentum HD-DVD has gained in the US market as well as other regions in 2007. HD-DVD players and PCs have outsold Blu-ray in the US market in 2007."

I somehow doubt the veracity of that statement since previous figures from Home Media Research state that Blu-ray movies outsold HD-DVD's two-to-one during the first nine months of 2007. Furthermore, as previously reported in Currents, Blu-ray currently accounts for 73 percent of hi-definition video sales in Europe. I wonder if Toshiba is considering the sales of the PS3, which, as we all know, is equipped with a Blu-ray drive. There is little doubt that the PS3 has given Blu-ray a very substantial boost in this format war. Somewhat ironic, when you consider that Toshiba worked jointly with Sony in the production of the PlayStation 3's cell processor. I am also forced to wonder how things might have gone if Microsoft had equipped the Xbox 360 with an internal HD-DVD drive instead of offering it as an optional (expensive) add-on. Perhaps it would have made a difference, but perhaps not. I somehow doubt the number of HD-DVD drives sold comes close to the number of PS3's Sony has sold. So in all, Sony's support of Blu-ray has likely been far more effective than Microsoft's support of HD-DVD. Like I've stated before, 2008 will almost definitely determine the HD format war. However, the home video format war will live on. What do I mean? Well, even if HD-DVD were to go under and Blu-ray to stand triumphant, Sony would still have to contend with the most popular home video format ever created...the DVD.

Sources: GameSpot | 1UP
Microsoft Faces Lawsuit for Xbox Live Outages
Just... download your free game and be happy. Please.

Many of you may have experienced the problems that plagued Microsoft's Xbox Live service for the last week or so. There were reportedly a myriad of issues, ranging from basic functions such as signing in and shopping to such things as online multiplayer and digital downloads. Microsoft profoundly apologized for any inconvenience and even went so far as to offer Xbox Live subscribers a free downloadable game as compensation. I don't use Xbox Live so I wasn't really affected by the ordeal; however, if I was among the many users out there a free game download would be more than enough for me in terms of compensation.

This, it would seem, is not so for three residents of Texas. They are filing a lawsuit on behalf of themselves, and everyone else who had their Halo fix interrupted. While the exact amount was not given, the damages are specified as being in excess of 5 million USD. According to the suit filed, "Microsoft knew the increase in subscriptions would increase game-play on its servers, yet failed to provide adequate access and service to Xbox Live and its subscribers."

Sigh. Idiots and their equally idiotic lawsuits. When I see things like this, I am forced to wonder if the process of filing a lawsuit should be as easy as it apparently is. To me, the fact that a moronic suit like this can see the light of day is a sad statement.

Sources: GameSpot | 1UP
Nintendo Trashes Reports of DS Game Downloads
Well, it was a pleasant thought

I reported last week that Nintendo was planning to bring a service to the Wii that could download full DS games and then transfer them to the dual-screened portable for play. My hopes rising, I speculated that perhaps the big N was bringing the GameBoy library to the Wii's Virtual Console lineup, and that we would be able to transfer these portable classics to our DS. However, as we are all reminded from time to time, you simply cannot believe everything you read. In a response to the New York Times' original article, Nintendo said:

"An article about the Nintendo DS videogame system in the December 31 Business Day section of the New York Times incorrectly referred to future capabilities of the device. The statement that complete Nintendo DS games will eventually be able to be downloaded into the device via a wireless connection with the company's Wii game console is incorrect."
Well, fine then. Nintendo isn't offering downloadable DS games of any kind. In my opinion, that's a fact infinitely to their detriment. How awesome would it be to download, say, The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening to your Wii and then transfer it to the DS to have on the go? I was looking forward to doing that very thing, and now my hopes have been shattered. But then, had I known the article originated in the New York Times, I may never have believed it in the first place.

Sources: GamesIndustry
Yoichi Wada Speaks of European Market Expansion
Spread the fantasy

In a recent interview, Square Enix president Yoichi Wada spoke of several things, mainly about the furthering his company's reach in the western markets. According to him, "the European market is of course very big as it is, but it has great potential for growth as well. So I would like Square Enix to be stronger in this particular market." He spoke of other Japanese publishers such as Capcom and Sega, both of whom have spent much time cultivating the Western market, claiming that he would like to "develop a strategy to equal the moves made by Sega and Capcom, or maybe exceed them."

When asked how he would like to go about this, Wada said that while Square Enix is best known for its RPGs, the worlds and storylines these titles are built on can be expressed in many different forms. "The same kinds of concepts and stories can be expressed in action games, adventure games, even shooters. Our basic attitude to game production is that we take a lot of care, and that attitude can be expressed in any type of game."

Wada also spoke briefly on Final Fantasy XI and his company's future plans for the MMORPG market. He said that he generally regarded Final Fantasy XI as a success, and also said that Square Enix has "already prepared a few MMORPGs that have been experimentally played internally."

When asked about the possibility of mergers and acquisitions as means of staying competitive, Wada replied "M&A is not necessarily our main method, but obviously it has to be deemed as one of the main strategy options. If we were to look for a place in the top three in the global games industry, obviously we would have to consider it seriously."

I am very interested indeed in seeing how Square Enix goes about the task of targeting the western market. The fact of the matter, however, is that they have failed to show any expertise outside of developing RPGs. And furthermore, outside of their lucrative Final Fantasy series, not many of their intellectual properties have had much impact on the western marketplace. I believe it is important for them to express their ideas and concepts in different genres, but in order to carry this out, they will have need of some appropriate talent. How might they acquire this talent? Well, as you read above, the idea of mergers is most definitely an option. If you're interested in reading the full interview, you can find it here

Sources: GamesIndustry
Blu-ray Movies to be Playable on PSP
Can we now officially proclaim UMD dead?

When the PSP was first released, one of its most touted features was UMD playback and the concept of being able to watch movies on the go. Somehow though, it just never took off. People did not seem to relish the idea of spending $30, or thereabouts, on a movie that could only be played back on a miniature screen. And with portable DVD players being even cheaper than a PSP, it's rather hard to justify buying UMD. At least, that's my opinion. At any rate, the UMD format has all but died out, and now the final nail in the format's coffin is being driven by none other than Sony themselves. However, this is hardly a bad thing.

At CES 2008, the president of Sony Pictures Home Entertainment, David Bishop, demonstrated the PSP's ability to play back a Blu-ray film. After inserting a Blu-Ray movie into a PS3, a person could then copy a lower-resolution version of the film embedded on the disc onto a memory stick, and then insert the stick into a PSP for play. It would appear that the memory stick could be played back on an iPod or a Zune as well, although Bishop did not specify this. Obviously, there would be no download fees, and no expiration date, as the PSP compatible version of the film would be permanently on the disc. My guess is that not all films will have this option, but hey, not all films were released on UMD either. This sounds like an excellent feature to me, and you can bet that I'll be taking advantage of it when I own a PSP. While it is not currently a part of Sony's release schedule, Bishop claimed that this feature would be coming sometime this year.

Sources: GameSpot | 1UP

Let us now turn our attention to all that involves numbers and sales. In wake of the holiday season, there is quite a few numbers to be thrown around. Let us go and see.

Sony Sells 1.2 Million PS3's During Holiday Season
Apparently I was not the only one to receive a PS3 for Christmas

Many people received a Sony game system for Christmas in 2007, be it a PlayStation 3, PlayStation Portable, or even a PlayStation 2. Sony has announced their sales numbers for the time between November 23 and the end of December, during which their three consoles sold nearly four million units collectively. The PSP came out as the leader, with a total of 1.4 million units sold. Coming in second was Sony's eight-year-old standby, the PS2, with approximately 1.3 million units sold. Sony's current generation console sold almost as well, yet came up just short with 1.2 million units sold. "The PlayStation brand ended the year in a very strong position and clearly indicates more positive momentum going into 2008," said Jack Tretton, president of SCEA. "We are particularly pleased to have sold through 1.2 million units of PS3 during the holiday selling season."

People still love the Playstation 2, it would seem. The fact that it outsold its younger brother shouldn't be a surprise to anyone though, considering that it has been doing so consistently since the PS3's launch. However, I predict that this will not be the case come Christmas 2008. The PlayStation 3 is building a name for itself, and I think that this new year will take the momentum the system has built and run with it.

Sources: GameSpot | GamesIndustry
Microsoft Announces 17.7 Million Xbox 360's sold
I wonder if they're making money yet

Microsoft has yet to reveal their holiday figures for the Xbox 360, opting instead to give us a comprehensive status report. According to them, the system has sold a total of 17.7 million units since its launch back in November of 2005. In addition, Microsoft reported that their mega-popular shooter Halo 3 has sold a mind-boggling 8.1 million units in less than four months, which means that roughly 46 percent of all Xbox 360 owners bought a copy of the game. The sales of Mass Effect were also noted, with BioWare's RPG epic reaching a sales count of 1.6 million in about six weeks.

Interestingly, and as noted by several other outlets, these numbers actually point to a decline in sales from 2006 to 2007. At CES 2007 Microsoft claimed to have a user base of 10.4 million, from which we can deduce that roughly 7.3 million 360's were sold in 2007. In January of 2006, Microsoft claimed to have sold 1.5 million 360's during the system's launch quarter, which would mean that roughly 8.9 million units were sold in the year 2006. Thusly, while 17.7 million is an impressive figure to be sure, it would seem that Microsoft has suffered a decline of nearly 18 percent in sales for 2007. Personally, I'm interested in knowing their holiday sales numbers or if they even plan to release them.

Sources: GameSpot | GamesIndustry
Nintendo Declared Winner in Japan
I've run out of snappy Nintendo subtitles

Nintendo has not released their holiday sales figures either, but according to Famitsu publisher Enterbrain, they owned the holiday market in Japan. From their report, Nintendo sold 774,123 Wii consoles during the five-week period ending December 30. In comparison, Sony sold 232,421 PS3's, while Microsoft sold a pitiful 38,994 units of their Xbox 360. Between such titles as Wii Fit and Super Mario Galaxy, Nintendo had a very strong holiday lineup in Japan. According to Media Create, Wii Fit has sold over 749,000 copies since its December 1 launch in Japan.

Well, there isn't much to say here that hasn't been said before. Nintendo is dominating, what a surprise. I suppose it will be interesting to compare these figures to the North American holiday figures whenever Nintendo sees fit to reveal them.

Sources: GameSpot
RANDOM: Without Which These Relatively Obscure, Yet Inherently Awesome Stories May Not Be Noticed!
  • Classic Titles to be Remade for PSN
    How many of you use the Playstation Network? Sure, it may not have the lineup of titles that Nintendo's Virtual Console boasts, but I find it to be a cool little feature nonetheless. I've downloaded a few demos and a few trailers, and I plan on downloading and playing the original Wild Arms very soon along with Castlevania: Symphony of the Night. If you haven't found the free demos and classic PSX titles amusing, then perhaps this little piece of news will change your mind. According to the latest EGM, there is a rumor out and about that Sony has struck a deal with a major Japanese publisher to produce some remakes of their classic games for the PSN. Who might this publisher be? At this point it is unknown, although speculation runs wild. Konami? Namco? Capcom? Or perhaps... Square Enix? All three of these names come with some interesting possibilities for remakes. But as promising as this sounds, I'd take it with a grain of salt for now.

  • Paramount to Ditch HD-DVD?
    I know I already wrote an article proclaiming HD-DVD's doom, but here's another little tidbit that came too late to integrate into the earlier article. According to the Financial Times and their sources, Paramount Studios is "poised to reveal" that it will be going Blu-ray exclusive. Paramount later denied the rumor, claiming that they plan to continue their support for HD-DVD. However, the combination of Warner's decision and the rumors surrounding Paramount have had immediate effects on the shares of both Sony and Toshiba. Sony climbed 0.9 percent on the Tokyo Stock Exchange while Toshiba's fell 2.5 percent.

  • XBL Users Reach 10 Million
    During the recent CES 2008 keynote, Microsoft revealed that the Xbox Live user base has reached a total of 10 million users. They also released information that ranks the most played Xbox Live titles, which, unsurprisingly, shows Halo 3 sitting comfortably on top. Sheesh, I'm starting to feel left out. If there are indeed 17.7 million Xbox 360 owners in the world, this means that over 56 percent of them are on Xbox Live. But then, if Microsoft had been nice enough to equip their system with Wi-Fi, I might actually be one of them.

  • Skype Coming to PSP
    In another little gem of news to emerge from CES, Sony is bringing Skype VOIP to the PSP; however, functionality will be limited to the newer slim version. PSP owners will be able to download Skype software onto their PSP and then talk using a specially designed microphone. PSP-to-PSP calls will be free, as well as PSP-to-PC calls. For a fee of 2,250 yen (roughly $20.70), users will be able to apply for a personal phone number. According to Japan's Nikkei Net news service, Skype may be coming as soon as this month.

  • Microsoft Presents Possibility of Blu-ray Add-On
    According to Alberto Penello of Microsoft, Warner's defection from HD-DVD does not spell the end of the hi-def format wars. At the same time though, he did not rule out the possibility of Blu-ray becoming the dominant format. "It should be consumer choice; and if that's the way they vote, that's something we'll have to consider," he said. This echoes what former marketing executive Peter Moore said back at CES 2006, in which he stated that a future Blu-ray drive for the 360 was a possibility. Will it happen? Possibly. Do we need a Blu-ray drive for the 360? No.

  • EA's Acquisition of Bioware/Pandemic Complete
    BioWare has long been known for deep, well-polished titles such as Knights of the Old Republic, Jade Empire, and most recently Mass Effect. The announcement back in early October that megapublisher EA was buying VG Holding Corp, owner of Bioware/Pandemic, sent quite a jolt through the North American gaming community. EA shelled out a reported 860 million in the purchase; and in doing so became the owner of Bioware's and Pandemic's many lucrative franchises. The deal has now been officially completed, meaning that both BioWare and Pandemic have become a part of EA's inner workings. As long as they produce a worthy sequel to Mass Effect, everything should be fine. And while they're at it, how about another Knights of the Old Republic?
Sources: GameSpot | GamesIndustry

Ah, we have reached the end. It felt good to write that after two straight weeks of turning out such dinky columns. How unfortunate that this is the last column I will be able to bring you before the semester begins. Don't worry, Currents will still be here every week; I'll just have to sacrifice more sleep to get it done. But then, when has sleep ever been an issue? To all of you who are starting back at school this coming week, I'm right there with you. And to all who have already started, I'll be with you soon. Just be sure and set aside a little time to glance at Currents every week, and I promise to make it worth your while.

Oliver Motok (Email Me!)


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