Five Reasons 2013 Will Be One of Gaming’s Greatest Years

While individual  game releases will always (deservedly) get most of the love, there is nothing like a truly great overall year of gaming. Even though it’s never an intended effect, it’s amazing when a group of independent properties come together to create an incredible 365, or 366 if we’re talking leap years, days of gaming. Years like 2001 (“Halo: CE,” “Grand Theft Auto III,” “Final Fantasy X”), 2007 (“Bioshock,” “Portal,” “Mass Effect”), and, of course, the greatest of them all, 1998 (featuring the holy trinity of “Metal Gear Solid,” “Half-Life,” and “Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time”) represent some of the best times ever to be a gamer.

And 2013 has the potential to join, or even exceed, all of them. Thanks to some fortunate timing, and a few delays, it’s looking to be a landmark year of video gaming that will be remembered for many, surely lesser, years to come. While there are many, many reasons for this, here are five that lead me to believe that 2013 in gaming will be one for the ages.

Mobile Gaming is Coming Into Its Own

“Serious” gamers may look down on the mobile gaming market, but it’s time that all gamers realize that we’ve come a long, long way from “Doodle Jump”. Now, instead of being an outlet for puzzlers, tower defense titles, and slightly lesser console ports, mobile gaming is producing intriguing and inventive titles at a rapid pace, due in large part to a sea of developers making use of the simpler programming on mobile devices, and the still interesting touch controls, to provide a constant, and often cheap, flow of amazing games on the go. Since the explosion in tablet sales over the last couple of years, we’re even starting to see more titles developed specifically with their larger sized screens and more powerful abilities in mind.

There hasn’t really been a truly noteworthy traditional handheld gaming system since the Nintendo DS, but thankfully an ever growing community has slowly turned a platform that was only used for brief sessions of “Snake” in your downtime, to one of the most exciting fields for surprising high quality video game releases. Expect this to continue in 2013.

The Next Generation Begins

As the Wii U is proving, a new console doesn’t have to blow minds to still produce some genuine excitement and huge sales numbers. While nothing from the other major gaming companies is official, it’s looking more and more likely that 2013 will bring gamers the next generation of Xbox and Playstation consoles (even if it is only a preview at the least). While that means that gamers will have to soon be plucking down some serious cash on new consoles, accessories and games (not to mention still trying to keep up with the releases still to come for the previous consoles), there is nothing more exciting than the promise of a new gaming generation.

Soon battle lines will be drawn once again as gamers choose their alliances, and new specs and features will again re-shape what we thought was possible in the medium. This has been a great console lifecycle, but it’s gone on for longer than usual, and it’s time for a new day to begin.

People Are Choosing the Games They Want, and What They Want in Games

One of the biggest changes to gaming over the last year or two has been the influence of sites like Kickstarter (or more recently Steam’s “Greenlight” program). Now, developers have open forums where they can present their ideas and let the community decide their interest in them, and even help by directly funding the titles. Even though the road to success is not guaranteed, it’s now easier than ever for a good idea to see life, and for gamers to help make sure the games they want get a chance.

But this isn’t just about sites like those. It’s also about events like “Mass Effect 3′s” optional new endings, or “Bioshock: Infinite’s” alternate cover. Now, more than ever, gamers have the ability to directly influence the decisions of major developers, and have a word about the final product. While this is a controversial move, the fact that the average gamer now has so much power to directly influence the titles available to them will have some major, and intriguing, implications in the coming year.

Influence of 2012’s Biggest Games

2012 was not one of those all-time great years of gaming I mentioned, but it did have some all-time great games. It’s natural to build off of what came before, and in the case of 2013, that could mean some exciting and sweeping changes across several genres.

Particularly, look for the success of “The Walking Dead” to lead to a revival of the traditional point and click genre, as well as a greater focus on the effect of storytelling in games. I also wouldn’t be surprised if the indie hit “Slender” put horror game developers back to the drawing board to come up with some fresh ideas for the genre (and veer it away slightly from the growing action elements), and if the praise that “Far Cry 3” is garnering expands the aging FPS market into more of the sandbox gaming territory.  Other less likely, but equally welcome innovations would be if more all-star developers got together on independent properties like in “Dishonored,” or if other long dead franchises get exciting resurrections like “XCOM,” or even if “Journey” inspires people to look towards developing with art, and not violence, more in mind.

Whatever the final influences may be, 2012 showed there are still some exciting places for gaming to go. 2013 might just take us to all of them.

That Lineup…

Oh sweet heaven, the amazing lineup of 2013. While you can never guarantee that any game will be great no matter how it may look, with 2013 set to deliver no less than “Grand Theft Auto V,” “Bioshock: Infinite,” “Last of Us,”  “Watch Dogs,” “Crysis 3,” “Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time,” “Simcity,” “Command and Conquer Generals 2” and the new “Tomb Raider,” it’s very likely that we are going to get a host of instant classics.

Of course, that’s just some of the games that we actually know about. Many of the best games of this year came out of nowhere, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the best game of 2013 is one that no one is talking about yet. Even in an ever expanding industry, at the end of the day games are still king, and the games set for 2013 are some of the most exciting that I’ve seen in a long time.

Blizzard is Abandoning Diablo III’s Team Deathmatch Mode

Game developers have had to apologize for a lot of things over the years, from content to characters to endings, and in the case of the recent “War Z” debacle, pretty much the fact that their game even exists.

Now it’s Blizzard’s turn to taste humble pie, as they are admitting defeat, and yanking the imbalanced and unpopular team deathmatch mode from “Diablo III”. Citing numerous shortcomings, Blizzard admits they just couldn’t find a way to get the mode to work, and will be removing it, ultimately, because it wasn’t really any fun.

However, they are working on a temporary mode that will still allow for player duels which should arrive with the next patch, and are also apparently designing an entirely new mode that will replace, and hopefully surpass, team deathmatch. The only details know about this new mode is that it will be a free addition to the game, available sometime in the new year.

Considering the numerous failures surrounding “Diablo III” at its release, it’s easy to look at this news as a further embarrassment, or a little more dirt on the grave. However, Blizzard is spot on that the mode just didn’t work in any entertaining or creative way, and even though the work on implementing team deathmatch apparently took up a sizeable amount of the development time leading up to “Diablo’s” release, its best that they admit their failures now and improve them, rather than skirt the issue entirely and rest on the laurels of some sizable sales figures. It’ll be exciting to see what they come up with instead, now that they have some more perspective on what works, and what definitely doesn’t.

Ubisoft is Interested in Buying THQ

The ongoing financial situation plaguing THQ Games has been well documented, and recently resulted in such actions as the company hosting a prolific, and somewhat successful, humble bundle sale, but still ultimately filing for bankruptcy and selling their assets to the Clearlake Capital Group for $60 million. It’s a sad situation not only for the employees of THQ, but for gamers as well, as THQ still has quite a few high quality franchises to its name, including “Metro”, the WWE games, “Darksiders”, “Company of Heroes”, “Warhammer”, and “Saints Row”. Now, though, the future of those titles, and more, is cast in serious doubt even as THQ seemingly remains active for the moment.

However, some hopeful news has emerged from the whole matter recently, as there is a rumor that Ubisoft is seriously interested in buying the properties of THQ. While the early reports suggest they will be waiting until THQ is a little more certain (and, frankly, desperate) that they will be selling their properties in order to get a better price, Ubisoft has been clear with their interest in the assets should they have the opportunity.

“We are always interested in good brands.” Says Ubisoft CEO Yves Guillemot, “For sure, it’s something we can consider, but I can’t tell you more.”

While the option is out there for Ubisoft to snatch certain titles, it’s looking more likely they will be eyeing the entire line up. From an outside perspective, this would be a real win, win for all parties if the buyout happens, as it would not only save the reeling developer, but Ubisoft would add some substantial games to its already stacked repertoire. For gamers who are interested in THQ’s titles, there couldn’t be a better interested buyer than Ubisoft, as the two company’s philosophies concerning quality development are very similar, and Ubisoft has proved to be one of the most consistent developers and publishers of the last decade.

As bad as this whole ordeal has been for THQ, it’s good to know that it may not be game over for the company just yet.

Why Playing Poker is Better Online

Poker has been steadily gaining in popularity for years, and the number of people trying their luck at casino poker tables has grown. These days, people have options when it comes to playing casino games. When given the choice or playing poker online or playing in person, playing online has its advantages.

Learning Curve

When you play poker at sportsbook.com, you do not need to be a World Series of Poker professional to get involved. One of the main advantages to playing poker online is that you can take all the time you want to learn the game before you start playing for real. The websites offer tutorials and training games that you can use to figure out what is going on and what you need to do to score big.

Distractions

If you have played poker in a casino at all, then you know about the audience that can sometimes develop around a good game. Even if the game is not good, there is always the chance that someone will plant themselves right behind you and make you feel uncomfortable. When you play poker online, you do not need to worry about these distractions, which allows you to focus on the game at hand.

On Your Schedule

An online casino never closes, no matter what. If you want to play poker at 3:00AM on a Wednesday, then you will always be able to find people online who are interested in a good game. Online poker allows you to play on your schedule, and not on someone else’s.

Convenience

If you do live near a casino, then it can sometimes be inconvenient to get dressed, get in the car and drive over to the casino just to find a poker table you can play at. If you do not live near a casino, then your problems at finding a casino-caliber poker game are obviously much larger. With an online poker website, you do not need a casino to play poker. You also do not need to spend time finding a parking spot and then walking around the casino just to find an open table.

Poker is an exciting card game that requires skill and a complete understanding of all of the different elements. If you want to play the game at your own pace and on your own schedule, then you will want to check out the many convenient options available for online poker.

Platform adventure and so much more from Wii U

The launch of Wii U in 2012 brought with it a fantastic selection of titles for gamers to get the most out of the home console. And next year, it looks like there will be plenty more to look forward to. From platform games to health and fitness packages, it seems the Wii U has all gaming bases covered.

Mario returns for platform adventure

For many, the release of a new console comes with the hope there will be re-imagined versions of console classics. Nintendo certainly didn’t let people down, bringing the latest of its Mario games out on the launch day. In New Super Mario Bros. U, you can expect an all new 2D side-scrolling adventure, but with some great new twists in gameplay. As well as allowing up to five people to join in with additional Wii Remote controllers, the innovative Wii U GamePad allows you to get more control by placing Boost Blocks and much more.

Family gaming across Nintendo Land

Wii U is a home console that works brilliantly for solo play, but it’s even better when bringing everyone together. A great example of this is Nintendo Land, a fabulous title that takes you through 12 different attractions – all based on the worlds of famous Nintendo franchises. With each game, players will be challenged to take on a series of levels and modes that will test your skills in all kinds of ways. You can visit places like Luigi’s Ghost Mansion, take part in Mario Chase or take on the bad guys in Metroid Blast, to name just a few of the attractions featured.

More action and adventure to come in 2013

If you were lucky enough to get a Wii U at Christmas, you may be wondering what is coming up in the New Year. Well if its platform fun you’re after then Rayman Legends could be just the ticket. Maybe you’re after high-octane action from one of the latest shooting games? If so, Aliens: Colonial Marines should probably be on your shopping list. There are also releases like Ninja Gaiden 3: Razor’s Edge and Pikmin 3 to look forward to, as well as Wii U Fit – which could be just the thing to help you out with a few of those New Year’s resolutions you’ll be trying to keep up with!

All in all, if you decided the Wii U console was for you following its November release – there is plenty coming down the line to enjoy in the coming months.

Before you Begin “Bioshock: Infinite”, Ken Levine Would Like to Talk to You About the End

While the home stretch of “Bioshock” was not exactly the highlight of the experience (that would be opening moments actually), the third act obviously didn’t tarnish the game’s legacy too much, and just stands as an asterisk on an otherwise pristine title.

It seems, however, that lead designer Ken Levine took the criticism towards the game’s final moments to heart, and has now thrown out significant bit of hype concerning “Bioshock: Infinite”, claiming that the ending to “Bioshock: Infinite” is unlike anything gamers have seen, and admits that he’s not sure how people will react to it.

“The end of the game, I can’t tell whether people will like it or not like it. I can say it’s something we’re incredibly proud of. It’s like nothing you’ve actually experienced in a video game before.”

I have to say, I don’t know if I’ve ever heard anyone hype the ending to something like this. We’ve seen developers like Bungie or Bioware hype the ending of a whole series, or critics note the quality of a finale in their reviews, but I don’t know if I’ve ever heard a major developer come out and specifically isolate the ending as a selling point in promoting a single title.

And you know what? There is probably a good reason for that. While the initial hands on previews have assured people that “Bioshock: Infinite” will be supremely entertaining at the least, the early trouble concerning the amount of developers leaving the game, along with the somewhat mysterious nature of the game’s development, are not advisable circumstances to be in to come out and say that the very end of your game is going to be a one of a kind, mind blowing and perception altering experience, which you may or may not like at all, and not expect it to result in backlash down the road.

It sounds like more of a warning than anything actually, or like when you pose a question to a friend about yourself that you don’t want to admit you know is true, and are hoping they will contradict you. In fact, as a general tip to Mr. Levine and the rest of the “Infinite” development team, if you’re about to do something that sounds like it is something that Peter Molyneux might do, just shut up and get back to work.

Whatever He’s Saying, He’s Overselling It

How Would You Like Some of the Best Games Ever for under $3?

If you weren’t aware, the folks over at Good Old Games have been doing a tremendous service to old school PC gamers, as they routinely offer a huge catalogue of nostalgic PC classics for low prices. While not as robust as Steam’s selection, it’s hard to not browse their titles without drifting deeply into fond memories, and maybe instinctively reaching for your credit card once or twice.

That’s an instinct that just got a lot tougher to ignore, considering that GOG has marked down a huge chunk of their library up to 75% until January 3rd. New deals are promised each day until then, but at the moment almost 500 games are marked down and, while some are modern blockbusters, the real deals are to be found if you’re looking to beef up your classics collection. You can hold your finger to the screen and scroll blindly, and in almost every instance you will randomly stop on an all-time, hall of fame classic that is worthy of the meager investment required. While it’s almost impossible to make a cohesive list of suggestions, for any gamers of a certain age, the number of great games available is almost pornographic, and can almost certainly drive the unprepared veteran gamer to madness trying to sort through them all, while still maintaining any amount of restraint.

I can’t speak highly enough of this sale, and whether you’re a fan of the classics, or a newbie boning up on their gaming history, it’s one of the best deals I’ve seen in some time. Even if you’re tapped from Black Friday sales, considering you can walk in with a $20 bill, and leave with 5 of the best games of all time (in a variety of options), it’s hard to not advise heading over and giving a great site some mush deserved business.

A Shocker, but Crysis 3 Apparently Looks Really, Really, Good

Every developer naturally hypes up their releases. Most of the time though, the hype is just that, and ends up being completely unjustified (see Molyneux, Peter).

When it comes to the developers of the “Crysis” series hyping the graphical prowess of their next title though, you can usually take that guarantee to the exceptionally well rendered bank, as the series continues to produce the most jaw dropping titles available. True to form then, Crytek’s CEO Cevat Yerli is promising that “Crysis 3” is going to be stunningly beautiful. How good looking? Apparently they have maxed out the capabilities of the current generation of consoles, and are promising that no game released in the current gen will look as good as “Crysis 3”. He goes on to stay that the consoles will still have nothing on the PC version, which at max specs will supposedly rival or exceed the early batch of next gen titles for graphical prowess.

Do we believe these impressive claims? Well considering “Crysis 2″ is over a year old and looks like this:

I’d say they have a pretty good chance. And while it would have been more intriguing if we were promised the most incredible gameplay of the generation, I can’t wait to see what the peak of the current hardware looks like in motion, and maybe even a preview of what to expect from the true debut of the next generation.

Oh, ummm….Sorry Wii U

2012 Year End Game Review: Matt Byrd

2012 in gaming isn’t a year that is easy to sum up with hyperbole, or one sweeping statement.

It was far from the greatest year in gaming (very, very far), but even still, when I was compiling this list, I had to make some heartbreaking cuts, and felt I was disrespecting some very good games. For every cheap money snatching blockbuster we got this year, we were also gifted with some genuine surprises and accomplished franchise extensions (many of which make up this list). The end result of one step forward and one step back for an entire 12-month period may not have moved gaming ahead, but the constant motion made choosing the best of the year a dizzying experience.

Somehow, though, I was finally able to narrow it down to 10 games that I feel comfortable saying are the best of 2012.

10. Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning

On the surface, it looks like all there is to “Kingdoms of Amalur” is a standard RPG coat of paint and a souvenir of the high profile closure of “38 Studios.” It’s not the type of game that makes its first impression with its looks, but rather its personality. The game’s speedy free flowing combat system never ceases to be entertaining throughout the very long adventure “Amalur” provides.

An all-star team of developers and outside talent (fantasy great RA Salvatore penned the story) may have been behind “Amalur,” but nothing feels old hat about the game, and it instead comes across as something closer to a fresh faced group of young talent, with heads full of new ideas creating something against the grain. It’s one of the more surprising, and certainly among the most pure fun, releases this year.

9. Xenoblade: Chronicles

If “Amalur” looks standard and done before on the surface, then “Xenoblade” is practically a fossil upon first viewing. It’s a member of the dying JRPG genre, and was featured on the outdated Nintendo Wii, which would normally spell either doom or obscurity at best. Yet after a wave of hype from the Japanese market, and several thousand petition signatures later, audiences everywhere were greeted by something that felt like meeting an old friend, and finding out that you have just as much fun with each other as you used to.

“Xenoblade” pays tribute to all of the great JRPG conventions that shaped it, but it just as carefully takes note of all the things that made those game’s grow stale as well, and manages to mold new forms for them so you are left with a game that somehow makes you nostalgic for things you never knew before. Your party becomes your family thanks to a great relationship system, and the character building and combat mechanics keep things fresh as you explore one of the more unique worlds available for the genre all in pursuit of finishing an equally gripping story. The era of JRPGs may be over, but “Xenoblade” reminds us why it had a dynasty in the first place.

8. Sound Shapes

I love new, bold ideas in gaming, and “Sound Shapes” may have been among the newest and boldest this year. It has nothing to do with its basic gameplay either, as “Shapes” traditional 2D side scrolling system is fairly ho-hum. Much like a new “Mario” release though, the real draw doesn’t lie in the mechanics, but rather the design. “Sound Shapes” employs a minimalist graphic style that is charming, but only serves to give substance to the soundtrack that defines the experience. Several different musical artists contributed to the music (and the design) of the levels, and as a result we are provided one of the first games since the brilliant “Rez” that feels like an organic and physical product of the soundtrack. It’s more of an interactive soundtrack than a fully loaded video game, but it’s artistic value is unquestionable, and I wouldn’t want to know the person who couldn’t have fun with it.

Read the rest of this entry »

Are the Xbox’s Days Numbered?

If you can get past the irony of someone on Yahoo calling anything else outdated and irrelevant, there was an interesting article up on there recently, where writer Jay Yarrow of Yahoo’s business section painted a doomsday picture of Microsoft’s future in the video game industry. In it, the idea is presented that the PC giant may no longer have the clout and financial stability needed to stay in the video game industry.

His points are numerous, but they all center around the same basic idea that in a world that is constantly adapting more to the idea of smartphone and tablet use, the field of personal computer operations the Redmond based PC royalty once called its kingdom is no longer strong enough to keep them relevant. What’s worse is that they are not only losing ground in the home market, but more and more businesses are turning to using Macs as well. He adds to both these points by noting that Microsoft’s latest attempts to reclaim the tech throne with Windows 8 (and the systems that support it) as well as the surface tablet aren’t exactly making the impact culturally or financially to take a bite of Apple.

It’s hard to argue with any of those claims, as Microsoft’s recent financial shortcomings are well documented. However, the controversial idea presented is that as Microsoft looks to shore up its base operations for the changes of the coming world, the gaming division may be seen as expendable. The exact figure presented is that of Microsoft’s $21 billion income last year, only $364 million of it came from the Xbox division.

How I View $364 Million is, Apparently, Inaccurate

It’s a damning argument with a lot of big numbers behind it, but I find it to be ultimately flawed. For one thing, the biggest problem facing Microsoft right now is that they weren’t able to anticipate the coming changes in the technological world and make the necessary operational adaptions to keep up with them.

The 360 is the exception though. Outside of the notoriously stingy Japanese market, they have managed to make the Xbox name synonymous with mainstream gaming in a way that names like Nintendo and Playstation used to know. It’s sales figures continue to astound each quarter, Xbox Live is by far the most capable and complete of online services, the Kinect is an amazing piece of popular (if flawed) technology, and, even though exclusives aren’t as important as they used to be, the Xbox has some of the best and even more importantly is the most popular destination for major cross platform releases, due in large part to the technical issues inherent in PS3 releases and the limitations and adaptations required for Wii ports. The 360 managed to survive a shaky start that was highlighted by three glowing red rings of failure, to become the most complete system on the market.

While it’s true the Microsoft Xbox division launched in more prosperous financial times, since then in one mere generation it has managed to become a symbol of modern gaming, a household name, and the most consistent and inventive aspect of all of Microsoft’s operations in the last few years in terms of finances and public reception. While Microsoft’s current situation make the next Xbox a tricky prospect that may become more dependent on more gimmicky aspects like Kinect to become a more complete entertainment set piece and not “just” a gaming console in order to take a calculated risk in maintaining its position without breaking the bank, the fact remains that they would be stupid to write off the only part of their company that isn’t seriously lagging behind another major competitor.

Instead the reality is a little more frightening. If Microsoft can’t pick up the slack in every other field but gaming, then, and only then, will the Xbox fall. Even though the Xbox can’t claim responsibility for Microsoft’s current situation, it’s fate is still directly tied into the company overall, and all things considered, that’s not necessarily a brighter future.

The Epitaph of Microsoft?

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