Thanks to a dedicated community, the PC version of Grand Theft Auto IV has been continually polished and upgraded since its release all those years ago. To the point where, now, it looks like something from the future.

The iCEnhancer series of mods, which we've featured before, are being updated to 2.5 (this is an alpha preview), and the results are amazing.

This looks as good as a quality first-person shooter. The fact that this kind of fidelity can be applied to an open world game the size of Liberty City is just mind-boggling.

iCEnhancer 2.5 Alpha - First preview [YouTube]


Achievement Unlocked: Chris Warcraft Makes the PostseasonA 29-yard field goal as time expired put Minnesota and our favorite MMO/XCOM-playing punter in the playoffs. Well done.

Four Stories to Follow in a Pivotal New Year for Sports Video Gaming2K Sports hasn't said specifically when its infamous exclusive pact with Major League Baseball ends, but it's a good bet that day comes on Tuesday, Jan. 1, 2013.

If someone picks up that license, it'll be the first big story of the year for sports video gaming. If no one picks up that license, it'll be even bigger.

Forecasting 2013, the skies are dominated by baseball. Sports video gamers have long accepted that the Xbox 360 will have no new video game next year. Baseball's absence will be most conspicuous in all the new Wii U households, which will find they have no viable baseball option, unless you count MLB 2K12 for the Wii, which has no online multiplayer and no singleplayer career mode and is the standard-definition port of a game that was already, well, ugly in high def.

The death of MLB 2K has been known—or at least gone without a denial—since May, if not longer. But I still have days when I'm standing in the shower, washing what little hair I have left, and I'm panicked by the thought of a surprise announcement of a Major League Baseball video game other than MLB 13 The Show.

Maybe someone struck a deal a long time ago that had to be kept secret until 2K's license ran out, I think. No, that's profoundly unlikely. 2K's deal was for third-party publishing; if someone was building something in secret, it would be a console maker—Nintendo or Microsoft. Both publishers exited licensed sports video games a decade ago, with the GameCube's NBA Courtside as Nintendo's last such title, and NHL Rivals and NBA Inside Drive as Microsoft's last gasp on the Xbox.

The smart money is on baseball—still alive and well on the PlayStation 3 and PS Vita thank you very much—coming back to Microsoft and maybe Nintendo after the next console generation emerges. Even if a new licensing deal is done, the announcement of it could be held up; any publisher who plans to make a baseball video game for a new console won't do so until it is announced by its manufacturer.

E3 2013 will be a watershed for sports video gaming. If we get to June with no announcement from anyone about a simulation baseball title—and we might—we can start worrying about that's sport's true appeal as interactive entertainment. It may very well be a sport that only supports boutique titles like Sega's MLB Manager Online and the unlicensed Out of the Park Baseball for PC. Or MLB the Show on PS3.

Here are some other stories to look for in 2013:

WWE, Quo Vadis?

THQ is in Chapter 11 and its own filings show it has no plans for a WWE-licensed game beyond WWE '14, which would release next November. Its arrangement with the pro wrestling circuit lasts until 2018 and is said to still have $45 million left on it, which is something like 20 times THQ's current market capitalization.

THQ could sell its exclusive UFC license to EA Sports at the last minute because EA Sports already had both an interest in mixed martial arts, and an engine supporting it, as evidenced by EA Sports MMA of 2010. The WWE is entirely different. EA Sports' fighting division up in Canada is now consumed with pushing out a UFC title, and when the next generation of console hardware arrives, folks will be expecting Fight Night on it, too. The unique demands of a pro wrestling simulation—which require matchmaking, stagecraft and storylines in addition to "realistic" combat—make this an incredibly complex product to develop from the ground up, especially after the expectations set by the WWE/Smackdown vs. Raw series.

Yuke's Future Media Creators is an independent company, and some armchair speculation has it that the WWE should just take over the relationship with Yuke's and publish the game itself. That's a great idea. Who's going to pay the marketing costs? Who's going to pay the vig to Microsoft or Sony for the downloadable content? For the title updates? I think the WWE is too busy managing its own television and pay-per-view partnerships, a nationwide tour of events, and licensed merchandising to want to take this on.

It's more likely this gets snapped up by another publisher. Ubisoft is said to be interested; Activision has shown interest in licensed sports development through the two NASCAR games it has published by Eutechnyx. It's a rich company with zero debt that knows how to sell a million copies to a lowbrow market.

NBA Dead?

I see almost no way for NBA Live to come back on this console generation. When it was canceled in September, EA Sports' boss, Andrew Wilson, said the label would "sit out the full year and stay focused on making next year's game great."

That wording doesn't mean exclude wiping out plans NBA Live on the 360 and PS3, and shifting all development to the next console generation. The brand carries heavy baggage, and the hardcore sports gaming crowd shaping much of the discussion pre-release can't be convinced that it takes four years to create a worthwhile basketball simulation, downloadable or otherwise.

If EA Sports is intent on delivering NBA Live to the PS3 or Xbox 360 next year, it'll be to reestablish the name only. Their better bet is to wait for a new console and hope to catch 2K Sports napping. As NBA 2K is the only sports video game 2K publishes, much less the only licensed game that label publishes, and is annually one of the best sports video games available. that hope is probably unreasonable.

The NCAA Needs a Comeback

While still an enjoyable, eminently playable video game, no franchise appeared more stale in 2012 than NCAA Football, especially after its Madden sibling introduced a new career suite and real-time physics. NCAA Football is in serious trouble if it intends to play out the string of this console generation with a physics engine upgrade and minimal improvements come July. "Road to Glory" and a spinoff Heisman Challenge are the only true overhauls this series has seen in the past two years, and it doesn't sound like either will get much of a remake come 3013. If this game's managers are doubling down on the Dynasty mode, something 90 percent of users already play, then NCAA 13 needs to look, sound, play, and feel a hell of a lot different in 2013. Something better than the birdbrained offensive line blocking seen every year would be a big step in this direction.


Stick Jockey is Kotaku's column on sports video games. It appears Sundays.


Black Ops II's First DLC will be a Timed Xbox 360 ExclusiveImages purportedly of in-store promotional materials suggest that Call of Duty: Black Ops II's first map pack extension will be a timed Xbox 360 exclusive arriving on Jan. 29. Five maps are included.

"Revolution" sports five maps, one of which—"Die Rise"—appears to be a zombie map. The others are named Hydro, Grind, Downhill and Mirage. The promo placards also say a weapon—the Peacemaker SMG—is included. No word on pricing; if you have the Call of Duty season pass, it's free.

We've pinged an Activision rep for comment, so this is unconfirmed for now.

Black Ops 2 Revolution, first dlc coming out January 29th [Reddit via Joystiq.]


Kotaku 'Shop Contest: The Year-End All-Star ExtravaganzaB.A. Baracus. The Michael McDonald Fight Stick. Some dude taking a 3DS picture of himself smoking pot. We've had some ups and downs with the 'Shop Contest this year, but we still have a ton of good memories—10 of our most popular exploitables, to be specific—to look back on in an All-Star Extravaganza closing out 2012.

We did this last year, and if you remember this showdown, we're not asking you to redo the contests from whence these exploitables came. Your only requirement is to use at least two of these images in an entirely new 'Shop together.

You're not limited to using just the 10 images provided in that gallery above (which contains links to the original roundups, plus the winners' names). You can take two of the exploitables and slap them into a completely different background of your choosing, or make them funnier with your own exploitable if you have something in mind.

Here are the guidelines for entering.

1. Create your 'Shop and save it to your desktop.
2. Go to the comments beneath this post and click "reply."
3. Click "Add Image" in the comment window.
4. Click "Upload an Image Instead." Then click the "Choose File" button. Browse your desktop, find the image, and click "open."
5. If you prefer, you can upload the 'Shop to a free image hosting service. I suggest imgur. Then click "Add image" in the upper right above the comment window. Paste the image URL into the field that says "Image URL."
6. Add editorial commentary (you can't post an image without some kind of text in the comment field), then just hit submit and your image will load. If it doesn't, upload the image to imgur and paste the image URL as a comment. I promise I will look at it.
7. This is important: Keep your image size under 1 MB. If you're still having trouble uploading the image, try to keep its longest dimension (horizontal or vertical) under 1000 pixels.

All set? Great. Now, Gentlemen, start your 'shopping!

Kotaku 'Shop Contest: The Year-End All-Star ExtravaganzaThe Bullet Bill Mixer. (Bullet Blender, Jan. 14. Winner: Ryan.)

Kotaku 'Shop Contest: The Year-End All-Star ExtravaganzaMr. Smokey McBongHit (Burnin' Doobage, Jan. 29. Winner: Idono.)

Kotaku 'Shop Contest: The Year-End All-Star ExtravaganzaThe Limited Edition Michael McDonald Fightstick (Yah Mo Be Shopped, Feb. 26. Winner: pnerko.)

Kotaku 'Shop Contest: The Year-End All-Star ExtravaganzaB.A. Baracus cosplayer. (PAX Ejection, April 8. Winner: pan1da7.)

Kotaku 'Shop Contest: The Year-End All-Star ExtravaganzaKeith Apicary/Nathan Barnatt. (PAX Ejection, April 8. Winner: pan1da7.)

Kotaku 'Shop Contest: The Year-End All-Star ExtravaganzaJessica Nigri. (PAX Ejection, April 8. Winner: pan1da7, how I miss him so.)

Kotaku 'Shop Contest: The Year-End All-Star ExtravaganzaTime's May 21 cover. (Are You 'Shop Enough?, May 13. Winner: DarkStar.)

Kotaku 'Shop Contest: The Year-End All-Star ExtravaganzaMy boss in a Ferrari. (Forza Totilo, June 9. Winner: Indysgill.)

Kotaku 'Shop Contest: The Year-End All-Star ExtravaganzaJapanese kids sticking their hands in Pikachu's mouth. (Pika-chewed, June 16. Winner: GiantBoyDetective)

Kotaku 'Shop Contest: The Year-End All-Star ExtravaganzaSexy Mario. (Sexy Mario, Anyone?, July 21. Winner: warmsleepy.)


There's a movement afoot in Germany to hold a mass burning of "killerspiele,"—their word for violent video games—in front of the Reichstag in Berlin on Jan. 27. Leni Riefenstahl died eight years ago, so if this really happens, someone else will have to film it.

[Update] As has been pointed out by many, this "movement" is most likely a hoax, and the idea of a public burning of video games in Germany, not that it ever had popular support, is unlikely ever to come to pass.

The remainder of the original post follows.

It's hard to tell what kind of popular support this really has beyond the clowns running it. But in addition to the black self-parody of a bunch of Germans burning shit in front of the Reichstag, this is remarkable because the demonstration seems to be organized by German gamers, and not the usual suspects. GameOasis, a German gaming interest site, discovered the protest organization within a Google group for computer games. Translated, the call to action cites the Dec. 14 massacre at Newtown, Conn., and seems to be an effort by some gamers to distance themselves and their lifestyle from some of the more violent fare available.

What's more, there's a group down in Vienna planning a burn of its own, conveniently timing it two days after the one up in Berlin. [Correction:] I misread the translation. The Austrians are against the German action, and jokingly proposed to burn the Berlin demonstrators.

Germany is extremely serious about banning anything that conjures up memories of its Nazi past—video games like Wolfenstein's reboot have been pulled simply for the stray appearance of a swastika. I'm a little surprised that anything remotely resembling a book burning, particularly in front of the Reichstag, isn't also illegal as hell there.

Ă–ffentliche Killerspielverbrennung am 27.1.2013 in Berlin vor dem Reichstag! [GamingOasis. h/t Michael M.]


Sunday Comics: Development HellWelcome to your Sunday read of the week's best in web comics. Make sure to click on the expand button in the bottom right to enlarge each comic.

Sunday Comics: Development HellPenny Arcade by Jerry Holkins and Mike Krahulik.
Published Dec. 26.
Read more of Penny Arcade.
Sunday Comics: Development HellAwkward Zombie by Katie Tiedrich.
Published Dec. 24.
Read more of Awkward Zombie.
Brawl In The Family by Matthew Taranto.
Published Dec. 25.
Read more of Brawl In The Family.
Sunday Comics: Development HellNerf NOW!! by Josué Pereira.
Published Dec. 29.
Read more of Nerf NOW!!
Nerf This by Scott Ferguson.
Published Dec. 24.
Sunday Comics: Development HellRead more of Nerf This.
Sunday Comics: Development HellBrentalfloss the Comic by Brent Black, Andrew Dobson and Dan Roth.
Published Dec. 27.
Read more of Brentalfloss the Comic.
Sunday Comics: Development HellAnother Videogame Webcomic by Phil Chan and Joe Dunn.
Published Dec. 28.
Read more of Another Videogame Webcomic.
Sunday Comics: Development HellCorpse Run by Alex Di Stasi.
Published Dec. 24.
Read more of Corpse Run.


How Long Will EA's CEO Sit on the Hot Seat in 2013?The company's share price dropped by a third in the past year, and expensive incursions into mobile and social games development haven't yet panned out. Adding insult to injury, Electronic Arts was booted out of the NASDAQ-100 Index for poor performance. Figure in the continuing decline of video game sales on traditional platforms, and John Riccitiello, EA's CEO, could find himself sitting at a long conference table as someone from HR explains his COBRA options.

EA's CEO is one of eight "CEOs to Fire in 2013," in the opinion of 24/7 Wall Street, a blog for investors. Riccitiello is in good (or dubious) company, alongside Michael Dell and the founder/CEO of flavor-of-the-minute Groupon, whose revenue growth of 32 percent in the past quarter no longer represents a skirt worth chasing.

Slower growth is one thing, outright losses are another, and EA's gone $2.5 billion in the red over the past four fiscal years, which straddles much of Riccitiello's tenure. "The case against Riccitiello is easy to make. His ability to move more of the company's revenue to new social media and mobile platforms has been poor," reasons Wall Street 24/7.

There's also a case to be made that expensive bets on Playfish, PopCap and Origin take a while to pay off, too. A new console generation expected to have a heavy digital distribution component makes this an uneasy time to switch leaders, especially one who made Origin a centerpiece of EA's future. This still is not a great case to make when you're trying to save your job, though.

With a management team bearing Riccitiello's deep thumbprint, thanks to reorganizations in 2007 and 2011, it wouldn't appear that some in-house successor is poised to take the company in a different direction. Peter Moore, the chief operating officer, definitely is CEO timber, but he was brought in by JR to run EA Sports in 2007. If a board of directors dumps Riccitiello in 2013, it may not want any of his lieutenants running the show, either.

Depending on what hardware is or isn't announced at E3, 2013 could be a year of upheaval, and it could cost Riccitiello, the leader of the dominant publisher in Western markets, his job. Like them or hate them, new leadership at EA, or even the threat of it, moves the discussion for all of video games, and sets an uncertain tone for the coming year.

CEOs to Fire in 2013 [Wall St. 24/7.]


If you didn't take a crack at Mega Man Christmas Carol when it released two years ago, give it a shot now (.zip, 16 MB). The fan-made game reimagines the Ghosts of Christmas (plus miserable old Marley) as boss showdowns in Mega Man. Sprites, Inc. has remade its first game with a new engine, and continues to tweak the difficulty based on community feedback.

The video above should give you a good idea of what it's all about. Future seems to be the toughest Ghost/Master, from the discussion in that forum thread. (The game's five difficulty levels go up to a "Wut" mode, good luck with that.)

INC's 2012 Christmas Present—Megaman's Christmas Carol Remix [Sprites Inc.]


Only in a game featuring permadeath could this stalker encounter become as macabre and hilarious as it is. "This crazy guy starting following me and threatening to cut my head off during a DayZ live stream," says the video's uploader. He really is running for his life, and his stalker really is suicidally obsessed with running him down. And the dying words, as the white knight with the silenced rifle saves the day, are in perfect character.

YouTube video uploaded by Normal Difficulty