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Ten Years of PopCap Games The makers of massive hits Bejeweled, Peggle and Plants vs. Zombies are eying 2011 as the year for aggressive expansion, PopCap Games head Dave Roberts tells Forbes.



The casual game maker pulled in $100 million in revenue in 2010 and has 400 employees, but 2011 could see the company going public, more international expansion and, of course, new games.



Japan-only Pop Tower, for instance, will be a free-to-play social network host for Bejeweled and Zuma. All I care about is a new Plants vs. Zombies, and maybe a new Peggle.



Come on PopCap, you know you want to do it. Oh, and while your at it, bring Bejeweled 3 to the iPhone. K, thanks!



10 Years Of PopCap Games: Beyond Bejeweled [Forbes]


Kotaku

Learn to walk, learn to run all over again with QWOP, the iPhone port of the highly entertaining and/or maddening track and field Flash game of 2008. Using a touchscreen to independently control calves and thighs sounds fun, right?



Well, QWOP may not be fun in the traditional sense. It's wacky. It's challenging. But one can make the argument that, as video games go, this is a clumsy control scheme. As QWOP, "the local sporting hero of a prosperous country in the Scandinavian Alps," even crossing the finish line isn't easy. Taking control of QWOP's legs and his sense of balance might test your patience—or even better the patience of your friends when you hand them this thing.



The game's instruction screen offers one hint, saying that to make QWOP run, alternating clockwise rotations on the touchscreen control areas are recommended. Didn't work for me!



Play the original QWOP online or grab it from iTunes (it's priced at $1.99 USD right now) if the above looks like your idea a good time.


Kotaku

Anyone old enough to remember Marv Albert on NBC calling a James Scott bout live from Rahway State Prison will want to pay attention to this, the bareknuckle jailhouse fight within the "Champion Mode" of Fight Night Champion.



Promised by EA Sports when Champion Mode was first revealed last month, this fight pits protagonist Andre Bishop (aka: you) against a tatted-up bighouse badass, with just skin and tape separating fistbones from facebones. It's not the first game to include prison fights - Mafia II had them - but this one looks like it requires more strategy and timing, plus a headbutt or two.



Fight Night Champion arrives March 1.


Kotaku

To: Ash From: Crecente Re: Tell Me About Your 2010



Looks like you had a great 2010. I did far too much to include it in a mere day note! :p



What you missed

I've Got Sand In My Arcade Eyes

Five New Year's Resolutions For Gamers

The Year In Sports Video Games

Report: Ubisoft Antipiracy Measure No Longer Requires Always-On Net Connection


Kotaku

Report: Ubisoft Antipiracy Measure No Longer Requires Always-On Net ConnectionBeginning with this summer's release of RUSE, Ubisoft curbed the use of its atrociously executed antipiracy safeguards, which required a constant Internet connection for the game to function. Apparently, an online connection is now only required at startup.


PC Gamer reports that the constant DRM checks on games like Assassin's Creed 2 and Splinter Cell: Conviction have ceased. They'll only be required at startup - not throughout the game. If an online connection is lost mid-game, it will still continue.



Earlier this year, hackers wrought havoc against Ubisoft shortly after its hated policy came to light, shutting down Ubi DRM servers and freezing PC gamers out of titles they'd bought, whether they were playing them online or not. Ubisoft responded with free game downloads for those shut out of the games.



Constant Net Connection No Longer Required For Ubisoft Games [PC Gamer]


Kotaku

"Vault 101," the Fallout 3 ballad by nerd rockers Kirby Krackle, is now available on the Rock Band Store. The download is $1 or 80 Microsoft Points. You can see it performed in-game on the jump.



Fallout 3 Tribute Track Rocks Rock Band


Kotaku

The Year In Sports Video GamesEvery year in sports has its winners and losers, but in sports video games, the results aren't about pennants and trophies. And they're not always clear-cut, either.



We expect the routine with sports video games, the only genre consistently delivering sequels on an annual basis. And 2010 was like most years before it, with its share of cover athlete announcements, new features, and top performers following last year's edition with solid successes.



Kotaku's roundup of 2010 is not of the routine stories, but the ones that had the most lasting impact on this year, and should into next year, too.


The Year In Sports Video Games



NBA Delete


By far the biggest sports news of the year was also one of video gaming's biggest controversies overall - the cancellation of EA Sports' renamed, remade NBA Elite 11. The decision went all the way to the desk of Electronic Arts CEO John Riccitiello, and his call to bag Elite marked the first time an annual, fully licensed sports game failed to release since Madden NFL 96. Riccitiello, in a candid discussion with Kotaku's Stephen Totilo, acknowledged that glitches highlighted by a brutally humiliating YouTube video of Elite's demo helped seal the game's fate.



"We could have shipped a product we weren't proud of dead against [NBA 2K11] their game that they are proud of and that we would have been proud of to ship ourselves," Riccitiello told Kotaku. "We would have probably lost 5-1 in the marketplace against that and firmly cemented a reputation for being one to ship secondary sports titles."



While the EA chief said he was proud of the company's ability to make a very tough, very painful call, the outcome for the Elite team was not an A-for-effort slap on the butt. The general managers of EA's two sports studios, Canada and Tiburon (in Florida), lost their titles in an organizational shakeup, with Canada's boss leaving the company altogether. NBA Elite was then reassigned from Canada to Tiburon, the home of the publisher's Madden, NCAA Football and PGA Tour games. Finally, a few NBA Elite 11 discs do make it out into the wild; one gamer lands a retail copy from an eBay seller for $255. Though it is indeed a terrible game, the cancellation places NBA Elite 11 in a pantheon of rare video game collectibles.



The Year In Sports Video Games



A Legend and a Phenomenon


Deepening EA Sports' misery over NBA Elite's failure to launch was the comprehensive excellence of its competitor, NBA 2K11, which proved to be a quantum leap even for the dominant performer in basketball video games. 2010 began with 2K Sports stealing back Mike Wang from EA Canada - NBA Live 10's dramatic improvements had been credited to Wang's one-year defection north. In mid-spring, 2K Sports revealed it had signed Michael Jordan as both a cover star and a playable athlete in-game; by E3, it was clear that Visual Concepts (2K's in-house studio) had a monster game coming down the chute. The Jordan Challenge, a 10-game re-creation of His Airness' most showstopping performances, tapped a reservoir of nostalgia across all sports fans, not just basketball diehards.



After the game's launch, overall excitement and celebrity hype helped it remain a trending topic on Twitter for a solid week, practically unheard-of for any video game of any genre. For October, NBA 2K11 is the sales leader among all video games (counting sales on all platforms.) NBA 2K11 earned the first Editor's Choice gold star ever awarded by Kotaku in its new review format, and later was nominated for overall Game of the Year alongside Call of Duty: Black Ops, Mass Effect 2, and Red Dead Redemption.



The Year In Sports Video Games



No More Free Passes


Electronic Arts' "Project $10" comes home to roost for sports gamers in April, when EA Sports announces that multiplayer features beginning with Tiger Woods PGA Tour 11 will be accessible only through a one-use code shipping free in retail copies. Those who buy used games will have to pay $10 over Xbox Live or PlayStation Network to activate the service. THQ actually rolls out the concept first with the May release of UFC Undisputed 2010, charging $5 for its one-use code. THQ later ups the cost of its online access to $10, beginning with WWE Smackdown vs. Raw 2011. The lone holdout remains 2K Sports, though an executive admits the publisher is studying one-use codes for possible use in 2011. Overall, the codes seem to do little damage to the trade-in value of sports games, which have a greater turnover and utility to gamers in the used market.



The Year In Sports Video Games



Martial Arts Mix It Up


UFC Undisputed, sports gaming's breakout hit of 2009, releases a strong sequel in May but it fails to deliver the splash of its predecessor - and nowhere near the sales. EA Sports pushes into this growth market with EA Sports MMA, a challenger licensed by the sport's secondary promotion (Strikeforce). On the day it releases, however, THQ and the UFC - whose boss, Dana White, has long nursed a grudge against EA Sports - announce a new eight-year exclusive pact. EA Sports, undaunted, vows a sequel to its MMA title will come, but not in 2011. THQ, seeing little to gain from an annual release, likewise shifts its series to a two-year development cycle.



The Year In Sports Video Games



Contraction Pains


Mixed martial arts and pro basketball weren't the only sports seeing changes or cancellations in their development plans. The year began with EA Sports' NCAA Basketball officially getting pink-slipped. In a conversation at E3, EA Sports president Peter Moore acknowledged March Madness' wide appeal, but cited the release date of college hoops' video game and the sport's short time atop the calendar as factors in the game's weak sales. 2K Sports' NHL series was rumored to be dead at the beginning of the year; the publisher then revealed it would release a Wii version of the game for 2010 and retrench its core console development to come back with a title in 2011. NHL 2K11 fetches U.S. Olympic hero Ryan Kesler for its cover, but the series' unchallenged status on the Wii comes to an end with NHL Slapshot from EA Sports, which ships with a hockey stick peripheral that 2K Sports was said to have sought originally but couldn't get approved. NHL 2K11 releases two weeks before Slapshot, perhaps as a concession from the league.



The Year In Sports Video Games



All Politics Are Local


President Obama appears in not one but three sports video games in 2010 - in championship ceremonies for both Madden NFL 11 and NBA 2K11, and as an unlockable celebrity character in NBA Jam. Other politicians appearing in Jam include Vice Presidents Biden and Cheney, Presidents Clinton and George W. Bush, Sen. John McCain and Bayonetta Sarah Palin. All Republicans appearing in NBA Jam are rated, perhaps not coincidentally, an 8 out of 10 in "steal."



The Year In Sports Video Games



NBA Jam's Sticky Return


Confirmed for the Wii early in 2010, enthusiasm for EA Sports' reboot of NBA Jam dominates the sports discussion over the spring and summer. EA hires the series' creator, Mark Turmell, and its original play-by-play voice, Tim Kitzrow, to bring back the boom-shakalaka. In the summer, EA Sports announces plans to include NBA Jam as a free download in retail copies of NBA Elite 11 for the Xbox 360 and PS3. But Elite's late-October cancellation forces NBA Jam to a retail release about six weeks after the Wii version's debut. Originally intended to include just multiplayer and two singleplayer modes, with the game's "Remix Tour" to come later as paid DLC, NBA Jam on the PS3 and 360 instead ships with everything, and in high definition presentation, for $50, the price of the Wii version. Rumors later circulate that EA Sports acquired the rights to NFL Blitz in the sell-off of Midway's assets; Turmell also is the creator of that series, stoking speculation that Blitz may return in 2011 or 2012.



The Year In Sports Video Games



Fight Night Matures


The fifth installment of EA Sports' boxing franchise will be unlike any other in the series - or in sports gaming. Announced in November, Fight Night Champion's darker, story-driven "Champion" mode earns the game an M-rating, the first such title for EA Sports and believed to be the first in licensed sports video games. Champion, which will release March 1, will tell the story of Andre Bishop's rise through the ranks of professional boxing, a journey that intersects with the sport's seedy, manipulative characters, and even a stretch in prison.



The Year In Sports Video Games



Winning One For the Little Guys


Though THQ, 2K Sports and EA Sports dominate the sports game industry every year, some of 2010's most newsworthy developments did not come from the big three. QuickHit Football, the free-to-play online American football simulation, lands a rare license to use the National Football League's teams and symbols - one of only two video games other than Madden with such branding. NLL Lacrosse 2010, which ships over the Xbox Live Indie Games channel, becomes the first indie game fully licensed by a professional sports league and also using its players' likenesses.



Backbreaker, the console challenger to Madden, delivers a new gameplay perspective and ultra-realistic physics to the contact sport when it arrives in May. Critically panned at release, developer NaturalMotion Games regroups and delivers a patch that practically remakes the game by the time Madden NFL 11 ships in August. NaturalMotion sees more success with its Backbreaker iPhone apps, a port of the console game's popular "Tackle Alley" minigame. The U.K. based developer then confirms it is working on an ice hockey simulation, "Icebreaker."



The Year In Sports Video Games



Million-Dollar Baby


Coming off an abysmal showing with MLB 2K9, 2K Sports ramps up the publicity machine for MLB 2K10, laying out a $1 million bounty for whomever throws the first perfect game (all 27 opposing batters retired without reaching base). The studio scores the heartwarming PR coup of 2010 when the winner turns out to be Wade McGilberry of Semmes, Ala., an earnest, 23-year-old married man for whom a $60 video game purchase is something of an extravagance in the household budget. Wade, who came home from work and twirled the perfecto on release day, declares the prize money will go to pay off the mortgage on their home. And, with the security of a seven-figure sum in a savings account, he and his wife, Katy, made plans to have their first child. "We were waiting for our finances to come together before we started," Katy said. Thanks to a video game, "Now we can."


Kotaku

What Are You Playing This Weekend?That's right. Bejeweled 3. PopCap Games' match-three puzzle game has sunk its casual claws into my mind and now I can't stop playing this thing. I should have never doubted Stephen's review of this great timesink.



My weekend will likely be full of primary colors, for I also intend to dig into the Super Mario All-Stars collection for the Wii to see how well my Super Mario Bros. 2 skills hold up. Maybe I'll temper that with some Amnesia: The Dark Descent and a bit more Red Dead Redemption to muddy the palette a bit.



How will you spend the last day of 2010 and ring in 2011, gaming wise?


Kotaku

If I were other massively multiplayer online role-playing games, my New Year's resolution would be to come up with dialogue and quests half as dynamic as those of BioWare's Star Wars: The Old Republic.



Making The Old Republic's missions as dynamic and cinematic as possible is the job of the cinematic designer. In a blog entry posted on the game's official website today, lead cinematic designer Paul Marino explains exactly what his job entails.




A Cinematic Designer puts on their director's beret for each scene they work on. Is this a scene for the Jedi Consular? It will most likely be a quiet, emotionally-centered setting, focusing on the difficult choices ahead. Or perhaps it's a scene for a Bounty Hunter who confronts an obnoxious nobleman and has to choose the best way to extract the information he needs. For each scene, the approach is similar to that of a live-action shoot. The Cinematic Designer reviews the script, considers what actors are involved and what location the incident takes place in, and ultimately answers the question "What does the player need to know once the scene has ended?"




The end result, seen in the video above, is pretty damn entertaining, though I still get the impression that this is more of a single-player game you play with other people, rather than a true massively multiplayer online role-playing game.



Even so, it's more of the Old Republic from BioWare, and there is nothing wrong with that. Hit up the link below to learn more about what Paul does to make that happen.



Cinematic design [Star Wars: The Old Republic]


Kotaku

Five New Year’s Resolutions For GamersAs most of us prepare for some holiday rest, we reflect on the year ahead and the year to come – while you're doing that, here's some resolutions you could make to be a better gamer in 2011.



Stop Making Fun Of People Who Play FarmVille


When you found out there was a book coming out called ‘FarmVille For Dummies', you made the obvious joke: ISNT THAT AN OXYMORON, WHO ELSE WOULD IT BE FOR, et al. Here's a thought: What'd FarmVille ever do to you? This year, Facebook made it so that you only have to cope with friends' feed stories about games you're playing yourself, so if you'd like, you can pretend FarmVille doesn't even exist. Who cares if other people are having fun with something you don't like?



Is this about how everyone used to make fun of you for being a gamer, and now that games are mainstream, you're resentful, or you want to establish a social hierarchy? C'mon, guys, do we really need to be like that? In 2011, let's decide we're gonna just ignore games and gamers who don't really match up to our ideas about our hobby. Better yet, let's welcome them.



Be A Nicer Member Of Your Community


So an article was too long to warrant your attention, but you can focus long enough to leave a comment complaining about that fact? Dude, you just look dumb, needlessly angry and sad. It'd be great if, in the coming year, we could all try to be a little bit nicer and more constructive.



Why? Well, first of all, it just makes more sense — is posting snark a useful expense of your time? How many hours per day do you spend looking at or doing stuff you actually believe is so idiotic or wrong that you want to spend time expressing your anger about it? Is it really worth it?



Second, I'm kinda tired of the whole "gamers are antisocial losers" meme. By quelling our nerd rage, we can look a little bit less like we deserve the criticism. And we'll probably all have more fun on Xbox Live by not being a gloating homophobe, right?



Consume More Diverse Entertainment


Games are my favorite. I would rather play a game than watch a TV show or a movie, most of the time. On plenty of occasions I mean to read but I take my DS to bed instead. I've wasted tons of beautiful days in the neighborhood lying on the couch playing Xbox 360. If you're reading this, you've probably done the same.



Let's not be quite so proud of it, okay? I think we're in a little bit of a cultural rut lately, and that's because we're lacking a wider framework to help us contextualize and discuss our experience of games. And that affects the kind of things we demand from the industry.



We get crabby and frustrated when all we get is more of the same, but we don't really know what we do want, and when something different comes along, many of us shy away from it in confusion. It risks us all becoming kind of blurry and soulless as a group, don't you think? Being a gamer is great, but it's better for everyone to try to be an interesting person at the same time.



Remember Games Are Made By People


You're a consumer. It's not a great economy. Everything's expensive. If people are going to try to court our dollars, they absolutely ought to ensure we are satisfied. But in video games there is kind of a funny overlap going on – they are "technology products" or "entertainment experiences," but they're also people's creations. In most cases, they feel quite personally about their work.



Tempting, I know, to tell people they suck if you feel like they wasted your time. But bad games (in most cases) don't happen because people wanted to fail, to deceive you, to ship late, or any of that. Behind every bad game are usually a fleet of exhausted, anguished people who succumbed to circumstances beyond their control, be it bad management, insufficient budget or an unrealistic publisher.



Next time you feel like publicly ripping a studio apart for its work, try to picture how bummed those people are that you don't like what they worked for months upon months on, that what they poured all that work into didn't come out well. You don't have to like their game, and you can be angry about your wasted money. Just remember it's always more complicated than it looks.



Don't Forget This Is Supposed To Be Fun


I write a lot about how saying "it's just a game" is dismissive of the potential in interactive entertainment. I write a lot about how "fun" isn't really the true point of game design. And I very much believe those things, but at the same time, we're all "in this thing" because we love to play. More and more of us are sharing games with others and playing online, or with your family in the living room, things like that.



Some people say they don't make games like they used to, that gaming isn't as fun and exciting anymore as it was in the days of the old school. But maybe it's because we've forgotten about our joy. We were easy to please in the days of less advanced games because we didn't expect much. Now we expect the moon and we boil over when we don't receive it. We blow ambivalently through legions of AAA titles and talk a lot about 2011, 2012 because want to know when the next great thing is coming. We watch the business and the finance of the industry as if it were a sport.



Let's try to remember, at least sometimes, how much we really love gaming. Let's open up our imaginations so that play can capture them again. If your family celebrates Christmas, spend the holiday together with them and show them your favorite games. Sharing them with cousins or nieces, showing them off and describing them to nephews and hometown friends might help you hang onto how happy you are to be a gamer.



Feel good about it in 2011; be good about it in 2011. Thanks to all for reading my columns this year, and here's hoping each and every one of you has a warm and happy holiday season.



Leigh Alexander is news director for Gamasutra, author of the Sexy Videogameland blog, and freelances reviews and criticism to a variety of outlets. Her monthly column at Kotaku deals with cultural issues surrounding games and gamers. She can be reached at leighalexander1 AT gmail DOT com.


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