Shacknews - Steve Watts

Ubisoft already had a presence in the great white north of Montreal, but it got a whole lot bigger with the announcement that it was welcoming THQ Montreal into the fold. Ubisoft Montreal head Yannis Mallat has talked about the acquisition positively, but suggested that a lot of the decisions regarding staff and current projects are in the process of being evaluated.

"What I can tell you right now is that we're entering a phase where we're going into a more thorough analysis of everything here and in the coming weeks we'll make up a plan for continuing operations with this new studio," Mallat told Financial Post.

He says it's too early to talk about the possibility of staff reductions, as the company is "evaluating literally everything" as of today. "But I can tell you this, we had and we still have very ambitious plans in terms of growth even before this acquistion and this is really something that we are very thrilled about because we are welcoming those guys are they are going to help us make all these great games that we plan to ship in the coming years." He also mentioned that one notable staff member, Patrice Desilets, would be welcome at the studio if he wanted to stay.

Meanwhile, the legal roadblocks surrounding South Park: The Stick of Truth don't seem to have shaken Mallat. "Well, the game is in development and I guess that some teams will have a look at the game, but for sure we've just acquired the development of the game, so we're going to work with the development studio on that and the plan is to publish the game." Asked if he had an official comment on the legal hurdles, he said "absolutely not."

Shacknews - Jeff Mattas

On this week's episode of Weekend Confirmed, Garnett and the two Jeffs are joined by indie developer Brendon Chung of Blendo Games (Flotilla, Gravity Bone, Thirty Flights of Loving, Atom Zombie Smasher). With Nintendo Direct in the rearview, the crew breaks down the resulting news and announcements, followed by some gaming talk about a host of games ranging from the Far Cry series to the more recently-released indies Strike Suit Zero and The Cave. Some talk about the end of publisher THQ and the sale of its studios and IPs is unavoidable, before things get wrapped up with another batch of Finishing Moves.

Weekend Confirmed Ep. 149: 1/25/2013

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Weekend Confirmed comes in four segments to make it easy to listen to in segments or all at once. Here's the timing for this week's episode:

    Show Breakdown:

    Round 1 - 00:00:34 - 00:28:56

    Whatcha' Been Playin Part 1 - 00:30:17 - 01:02:43

    Whatcha Been Playin Part 2 01:03:21 - 01:31:41

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Catch up with Brendon and Blendo Games on the official website. Info about the XBLIG version of Flotilla that was discussed on the show can be found here.

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Original music in the show by Del Rio. Get his latest Album, Club Tipsy on iTunes. Check out more, including the Super Mega Worm mix and other mash-ups on his ReverbNation page or Facebook page, and follow him on twitter @delriomusic.

Shacknews - Steve Watts

The Android-based console OUYA has sent out its developer consoles to let aspiring Android devs tinker. The roll-out is proving to be more than just a viral campaign, though, as the feedback has already resulted in alterations to the controller.

A post on the OUYA Blog details the changes. The D-pad has changed to a more cross-style, the thumbsticks have added a rubberized top, and the triggers have been tweaked. The team also promises the touch pad will be more responsive, and the battery bay will be made out of a better material.

"Since the release of the OUYA Dev Console last month, developers around the world have sent us a ton of emails, comments, videos and forum posts… all about our controller," the blog states. "A lot of the feedback underscored things we were already changing, some comments were totally new, but ALL were great to hear."

Shacknews - John Keefer

James Vaughan likes coming up with new ways to kill off humanity for fun, and hopefully profit for his indie company Ndemic Creations. Coming next month, Vaughan (aka jamiejme to Shack users) will unleash a new mutation of Plague Inc on the unsuspecting public, this time with a Necroa virus that turns the population into zombies.

"I have made sure that the Necroa Virus is still a firm fit inside the Plague Inc. universe," Vaughan said when asked why he was going more the horror route than the previously fact-based or realistically sci-fi viruses. "Its just a bit heavier on the sci fi. Most zombie films/games get to ignore all the scientific/genetic details but I've had to really wade into all of it to create a realistic and consistent world. Solid pseudo science underpins the Necroa Virus for the most part , e.g. it addresses how zombies get energy to power the cells of their bodies (permanent anaerobic respiration) and factors in zombie decay."

The AI won't be able to fight back with a cure as with previous viruses, but new organization called Z Com will be trying to thwart the player's attempt to zombify the world. He said thousands have people have asked about it, making it an easy choice to add, since it was something he wanted to do when the game was in its concept stages.

Other items in the update include new music, events and achievements, as well as government responses to various virus outbreaks. Vaughan said the update will require the player to alter some of the strategies they may have used in the past.

The Mutation 1.5 update will cost $1.99, or will be free if you have beaten all the other levels on brutal, including the previous update's Neurax Worm. It will be available for iOS and Android sometime in February, but Vaughan said he's not sure yet if it will be a simultaneous release because of "the complexities of Android testing on multiple devices" and all of the changes coming in the update.

The game has done particularly well, coming in as the top 20 paid app on iPhone and iPad in 2012. The popularity has Vaughan already planning new mutations for the game's future. He said the company has even started thinking of new games as well.

Shacknews - Steve Watts

It's still awards season, and that means more nominees are incoming. The Game Developers Choice Award nominees have been announced, and a few familiar titles are out in front. Journey has the most at six nominations, including Game of the Year. Other leaders with multiple nods include Dishonored with four and The Walking Dead with three.

All three of those titles are in the running for Game of the Year, along with Mass Effect 3 and XCOM: Enemy Unknown. The GDC Awards also gives out special recognition in the form of the Pioneer, Ambassador, and Lifetime Achievement Awards, which will be announced in the near future. This year it will also welcome an Audience Award with online voting set to open in mid-February. All of the other nominees and categories can be found at the official site.

The Game Developers Choice Awards ceremony will take place on March 27 during the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco.

Jan 25, 2013
Shacknews - Alice O'Connor

If you've got the Dota crazies and are stuck by an irresistible urge to play every last one of the games inspired by the classic mod, here's another for you. Tribes: Ascend developer Hi-Rez's Dota 'em up Smite entered open beta yesterday, with the twists of controlling more like a regular third-person action game and boasting a lineup of real, actual, live, living gods and mythological creatures.

To play, simply register an account and download the client, and away you go! Accounts from the closed beta haven't been wiped, and all progress from the open beta will carry over when Smite officially launches, which is due to be by the end of March.

Hey, look, a video about the new features and content which arrived alongside the open beta:

Shacknews - Steve Watts

THQ has taken a bow and sold off its properties to various other publishers. Jason Rubin, brought in as president when the company's fortunes looked grim, had a front row seat and has now shared some reflections on the experience.

Rubin says he couldn't choose a standout title from among the ones that were picked up, but he does caution not to judge them by their price. "The price that the teams and products 'went for' at auction seem to me to have no bearing on the underlying value," he told Game Informer. "If someone tries to judge the quality of the products by the price paid for them they are doing themselves no favor."

He specifically cited Vigil's game, codenamed "Crawler," as a title that stood out. "When the teams got together recently to show each other their titles, Crawler dropped the most jaws," he said. "It is a fantastic idea, and truly unique. The fact that nobody bid for the team and title is a travesty. It makes no sense to me. If I weren't barred from bidding as an insider, I would have been there with my checkbook. I'm sure that's little consolation to the team, but that's a fact."

Vigil was subsequently closed down, which Rubin feels responsible for. "I am not claiming that everything I did was successful or that my time at THQ was without failings. I failed to find Vigil a home. Having just finished a product, Vigil was farthest from release of their next game, and we were not able to garner any interest from buyers, despite a herculean effort. Additionally, they were working on a new IP, which meant even more risk for a buyer."

The studio might not have a sad ending, as Platinum Games has expressed interest in both the Darksiders franchise and hiring on Vigil staff. But it's far from set in stone.

Shacknews - Steve Watts

The days of waiting until you get home to purchase items from the PlayStation Store are over. Sony has finally launched its browser-based Sony Entertainment Network store, letting you pick up games and add them to your list of purchases from anywhere.

Purchasing content on the store front will add it to your "My Downloads" column in the PlayStation Store interface, so you can download it for PlayStation 3 or Vita at your leisure. It doesn't auto-download, but at least this way you won't miss a sale price by being away from your system. You can also purchase entertainment content like movies or TV episodes and watch them on your PC, or Xperia devices. The store has recently added PayPal functionality to wallet funds as well.

Shacknews - Alice O'Connor

Those microtransactions in Dead Space 3 that you've grumbled and griped about? Don't worry, EA says, you won't need to use them to beat the game. Heck, they're not even meant for you! Supposedly the option to buy crafting materials was added so mobile gamers who, presumably on a whim, buy a console and a copy of the game will feel at home coughing up even more cash.

"We would never make a game you have to pay to win," producer John Calhoun told CVG. "There are genres of games where that is the answer, and you know what? The world has spoken, they suck."

Pay-to-win is bad, Calhoun says, and developer Visceral Games is made of the sort of "hardcore" players who "are reluctant to spend money outside the purchase of the game." So why are these microtransactions in there at all? Because of those people who "need instant gratification," he says. They need it. Absolutely need. Cannot be denied. Game design be damned!

"We need to make sure we're expanding our audience as well. There are action game fans, and survival horror game fans, who are 19 and 20, and they've only played games on their smartphones, and micro-transactions are to them a standard part of gaming. It's a different generation. So if we're going to bring those people into our world, let's speak their language, but let's not alienate our fans at the same time."

Who is giving these 19 and 20-year-olds so much money, and why?

Shacknews - Kat Bailey

It's been a decade now since the last real SimCity. Think about it: George W. Bush was still president. Pluto was still a planet. Unless you really love the series (and many do), it's probably been a long time since you sat down and had an honest go at building New Gotham City or New New York.

That was the certainly the case for us when we sat down to play EA's SimCity reboot for the first time earlier this month. But after several hours, and several abject failures, we were able to figure things out and get a real metropolis going. Here's what you should be thinking about when you jump into SimCity yourself in a couple months.

1. It's best to start with dirt roads and build up

The first thing you will probably want to do is start laying out a perfect grid, like you probably have in pretty much every other SimCity until now. After all, in those games, a well-planned grid was the only way to get a city to grow properly and fill up all available space. That's not really the case in the reboot.

For the most part, buildings will grow up in any area that you zone, so long as you follow a few basic rules. First, they need enough room to actually grow. Sims will quickly outgrow whatever tiny grid you give them. Second, they rely heavily on the type of roads that are nearby. In fact, traffic control matters more than anything in the SimCity reboot.

Rather than light, medium, and heavy zones, the type of buildings you get is determined by whether you choose low, medium, or high density roads. Of them, dirt roads are the best, because they can be upgraded as time goes on. When wealthier sims are ready to move in, you can quickly upgrade the infrastructure to support them.

The more successful cities tend to feature larger zones for high density buildings, as well as a few main arteries that can handle a lot of traffic. The upshot of all this is that you can make your city look however you want as long as you're smart about it.

City planning nuts--the same people who have driven SimCity 4's user-generated content community for years now--will probably struggle with the overall lack of realism. But even in the early going, it's made for some fascinating city designs. If you've ever wanted to design a wacky city from the future, this is your chance.

2. Regional cooperation is key

SimCity fans have been rightfully critical of Maxis' decision to make their game online-only. There are benefits though, among them a very strong cooperative multiplayer game.

For the first time, it's possible to get a friend into another city, then work and plan together to create the ultimate metropolis. Even if you don't have a cohort willing to create the Oakland to your San Francisco, you can just take over another area and start developing it on your own. And at some point, you'll need to do just that.

One reason is that many of the regions just aren't big enough to support a large, self-contained city. Sooner or later, you will have to start a new city with a friend (or by yourself) and start outsourcing your goods, services, and Sims. In fact, the sooner that you realize that, the more likely that you are to have a successful city.

Generally speaking, the best strategy seems to focus hard on suburbia early on, with minimal commercial and industrial interests. In the next region over, commercial is the best focus, and so on. The result is something akin to a major metropolitan era, albeit without the ringed suburbs that characterize many newer cities.

Playing with friends, it becomes your job to tend to and cultivate your particular area while forging deals that will send ambulances, fire trucks, garbage trucks, and ultimately, jobs between the various cities. It takes a lot of patience, and it can be a drag to see one part of the city suffer while another booms. But this sort of asynchronous multiplayer--your teammates don't even have to be online while you're working--is pretty much perfect for SimCity. It nicely captures the spirit of the original games while bringing to bear the technological advances that have been made in online gaming over the past ten years.

3. In the end, you have to specialize

Many cities are known for having a particular specialty. Tourism, for example, or industry. SimCity is much the same, and it's the final key to driving your population to new heights.

Assuming you spread across the region, take care of traffic, and avoid poisoning the drinking water (tip: don't build a sewage pipe near a water pump), your population should grow apace. But at some point, it will cap out, and you will have to start thinking of clever ways to increase your population.

One solution? Specialize in tourism and build a stadium. After all, it worked for Miami, right? Either that, you can build a casino, or a major university.

Whatever you choose, you will quickly attract a flood of talent to your region, and land values will rise appreciably. So while such upgrades are extremely expensive (and have notable downsides, such as an increase in crime), they are also completely necessary. There's no way around it.

On the one hand, it's a neat addition that allows for appreciable differentiation between cities. On the other, the decision to make it more or less mandatory comes off as a bit restrictive. In the end, each specialization puts a mayor into a little bit of a box, the result being that their decisions are defined by city rather than the other way around.

If SimCity has a weakness, it's that Maxis' hand feels a little too heavy at times, even with the opportunity break away from the tyranny of the grids that defined cities in years past. It can be felt most acutely in the somewhat rigid specializations, which feel less a component of the emergent gameplay advocated by Maxis and more like strict talent trees.

Of course, there's something to be said for scale. And if you want a glossy neon strip or a massive stadium, you've definitely come to the right place.

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