Do you know how hard it is to avoid spoilers about the The Avengers when you're the last person you know to see it? I missed the preview screenings and working at 6am means I didn't see it last night at midnight either. Only a few hours to go though. I've got tickets for 2:50 this afternoon and 10:00 tomorrow morning. The agonizing length of my work day will only be surpassed by an even more agonizingly long day this coming Tuesday. I'll tell you more about that one next week. For now, let's talk gaming news:
Max Payne 3 is set to release on May 15th (soundtrack on May 23rd). Which means now is the ideal time to start DLC dates. There's a time and place for the discussion about planning DLC before a game even releases, with some legitimate arguments on both sides. I'm going to avoid that for now and just let you know what Rockstar has cooking. The Rockstar Pass, as seen with L.A. Noire, is making its return. You may have already seen it in the PlayStation Store (and likely the XBox Marketplace but I haven't checked). It's also available for pre-order through GameStop and Best Buy. Purchasing the pass will get you access to all of the planned DLC at a significant discount. The first map pack, "Local Justice," will release in June with another six packages coming throughout the summer and fall. Total damage on the bundle is 2400 Microsoft Points ($29.99), 35% less than buying the packs individually. That seems like a pretty steep entrance fee considering it's only providing multiplayer expansions and you're already spending $60 to even get started on the game. Splitting the DLC into so many packages runs the risk of creating a fractured online community if a lot of people decide to skip the Rockstar Pass and only buy a couple of map packs. The plan has its flaws, but the Housers have a long resume of strong successes. Until I see otherwise, I'm going to believe they have the right idea.
Along with the Kinect functionality that came earlier this week, Bethesda has finally given us something official in regards to Skyrim DLC. Not much, but something. The first add-on chapter will be called Dawnguard and is apparently coming to XBox 360 this summer (thought to be a timed exclusive, likely coming to PS3 at a later time). Other than that, we'll have to wait until E3 (June 5-7) when they've promised to reveal more. In the meantime, they gave us a cool promo shot.
Remember the Wii Vitality Sensor? No? That's fine, it never went anywhere and looked ridiculous. But I can't help thinking about it when I see the patent Microsoft was recently granted, a wearable EMG controller. EMG, or electromyography, is a technology that's been used in prosthetic arms for several years. Essentially, small electrodes read the electric pulse of your muscles when you move (or try to move something that isn't there in prosthetic applications). Microsoft filed the application in 2009, but it's recently made its way through and was granted. The application referenced using EMG technology in an armband, a wristband, and clothes. It appears Microsoft has shelved the device in favor of Kinect, which released in November 2010, much like Nintendo dropped the Vitality sensor. I'm not sure whether this should be written off as another hare-brained controller gimmick, or lauded for what it could mean to the future of games. I honestly think we'll see something of a similar nature in the coming years as the technology improves. The job that pays my bills is actually in the prosthetic industry so I have a little insight about the technology. At the moment, it's simply not accurate enough to get you through an intense FPS battle. But it could be. Combine this tech with an improved version of Kinect, eye tracking devices, immersive 3D projection, etc. and what have you got? Anyone who's seen a few episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation knows exactly where I'm going.
With Call of Duty: Black Ops II being officially announced earlier this week, it seems a little premature to be offering pre-order incentives already. That isn't stopping GameStop though. As one of the country's largest game retailers they tend to get a lot of the special exclusives, which is odd considering they're also a primary motivator in the used game market that publishers and developers dislike so much. GameStop is planning four waves of incentives. Ordering now will qualify you for all four. The first is a double-sided Black Ops II poster in very limited quantities (order before June 30th). PowerUp Rewards members can also get a Modern Warfare 3 Prestige token by ordering now. The remaining three waves have not been announced. The game doesn't actually release until November 13th. According to Amazon, the day one pre-order numbers are three times higher than for the first Black Ops, the biggest selling game in the franchise's history.
With Journey completing thatgamecompany's three game exclusivity contract with Sony, the Japanese giant has another "incubation" deal with another indie developer set to take their place. Developers Giant Sparrow are currently working on The Unfinished Swan for PSN. The player controls Monroe, a boy chasing a swan that has escaped from an unfinished surrealist painting. Huh? A short trailer reveals Monroe flinging black paint at a white canvas to create the world. According to Ian Dallas, Creative Director, "The painting a white world stuff is actually just the first 15 minutes. After that, things get really weird.” The title will support dualshock, Move, or Move and Navigation Controller. The downloadable space has been a great venue for "art house" games, with thatgamecompany one of the leaders in the movement. Can Giant Sparrow fill the hole they're leaving at Sony? We'll certainly find out soon, though no formal release date has been announced.
Rumors have started about a new pricing structure for the XBox 360. Microsoft has made no official comment, but reliable (though anonymous) sources are claiming a $99 4GB system with Kinect will soon be hitting stores. How do they make that profitable? The same way your cell phone company does it, by locking the buyer into a $15/month subscription to XBox Live. An early cancellation fee would apply. Total cost over the two years is $459, as opposed to $419 if you go the traditional route. It's more expensive in the long run, but it's also a good way to get it on the system with very little up front. The bundle would come with a two year warranty as well additional television-style programming from their partners. With the major consoles approaching the end of the cycle, this could be a last ditch effort to move inventory and supply cash before the next-gen hits. Of course, if next-gen comes within your two years, you're contractually locked into outdated hardware. I doubt this will actually happen, as I'd wager we are less than 12-18 months away from the neXtBox.
Maybe sooner, the latest next-gen rumors point to the next XBox having reached the manufacturing stage. According to the rumor (from a source I can't verify but it's got a lot of credit from other sources I do know), Flextronics in Austin, TX is currently building units. This is the same facility that built the original XBox and the 360. At the moment it's assumed that they are not mass-producing retail models, but actually creating debug units for developers. Still, if they're being built, we have to assume to they'll be available sooner rather than later. Microsoft still refuses to acknowledge the platform officially, but did release a more elaborate denial than we normally see from them. Their statement reads that “Xbox 360 has found new ways to extend its lifecycle like introducing the world to controller-free experiences with Kinect and re-inventing the console with a new dashboard and new entertainment content partnerships. We are always thinking about what is next for our platform and how to continue to defy the lifecycle convention. Beyond that we do not comment on rumours or speculation.” Microsoft clearly has huge plans for E3, recently announcing that they'll be live streaming their press conference over XBox Live for the first time, in addition to Spike running the 90 minute presentation in its entirety, commercial-free. Frankly, I'll be stunned the new platform isn't featured in some way.
Sony also has rumors flying about pricing structure, but theirs doesn't include hardware. A recent survey sent to some PSN members asked them to evaluate various pricing plans for PlayStation Plus subscriptions. The proposal seems to indicate a three-tiered structure. The first tier would be $7.99/month, $17.99/quarter, or $49.99/year. This level would offer 40 PSN titles, 20 "Classic" titles, and one full blu-ray game for free each year. Each of the games would be "A" quality titles and new releases. This plan would also offer a 75% discount on all games in the store. The other two options look to run $9.99/month, $24.99/quarter, and $59.99/year. The two plans are similar, with one offering more free games but a smaller discount in the store. I didn't receive the survey myself so I can't comment on the context. However, based on the screen grab IGN has, I'd says this looks less like a three-tiered plan and more like an evaluation of which pricing structure has the most appeal. At best, I'd expect to see two options at slightly different price points - high quality free stuff and a steep discount vs. lots of free stuff and a smaller discount. Oddly, all three options in IGN's image don't include a CoD Elite subcription, but the line's existence indicates that may be a possibility as well. Which, if any, of these options would you choose? Keeping in mind, free content is only playable while your subscription lasts; discounted content you buy will still be playable after it's expired (assuming those rules remain the same under the new structure).
As if Saints' Row: The Third wasn't crazy enough, THQ is releasing a super-powered, standalone expansion, Enter the Dominatrix. The expansion ($29.99) features Zinyak, an alien warlord, entering Steelport and imprisoning the Saints' leader in a virtual reality program. This virtual Steelport looks about as far over the top as an open world game can get. At least until THQ creates something even more bizarre. No date yet, but we'll update it as soon as we hear one.
Amazon has outed yet another game, Family Guy: Back to the Multiverse, apparently coming this September. No details have come light yet, but Activision has told Game Informer that more information will be coming soon. That's pretty much a confirmation that the game is real. It's a little odd that Activision would even comment if they weren't actually going to say anything about it. However, there is a logo!
That's it for the gaming news this week. Check back on Tuesday for what will be my last edition of VGQH for a short while. I'll be missing at least three issues, maybe four. It's not official yet, but I'd like to offer my congratulations to Captain America, who defeated Thor in a powerful rout during the final round of Avenging April brougt to you by Citizen-bot. This was a big, fun project and he did a great job with it. I hope we see more events of this scale on Big Shiny Robot!