Tuesday Newsday: GTA V gets a release date
What's that in the distance? Could it be... Grand Theft Auto V?
Deviating from the usual formula, this week's news round-up is only mostly bad news rather than entirely bad news.
Grand Theft Auto V dated but delayed
It's a pretty substantial schedule slip, and it has made some fans very angry indeed.
Initially announced for a "Spring 2013" launch - Autumn in Australia, so between March and May - Grand Theft Auto V has been given the official release date of 17 September 2013, at least four months later than previously promised.
The internet rumour mill immediately went crazy, citing any number of theories as to why the game will be delayed for so long. Some cite the continuing sales slump in the gaming industry (talked about in more detail below) and claim that GTA creator Rockstar is hoping for economic recovery and/or pushing the game closer to Christmas.
Another school of thought is to blame gaming hardware. Some hopeful PC gamers have suggested that Rockstar will be bringing out a PC version on launch day, instead of after a year or so as they did with GTA IV, hence the longer wait. Others claim that it's delayed because Rockstar has decided to make a Wii U version.
Still others say it's because GTA V will be released on the next generation of gaming consoles - the popularly-named PlayStation 4 and Xbox 720.
As for Rockstar, they say they just want it to be good."GTAV is a massively ambitious and complex game and it simply needs a little more polish to be of the standard we and, more importantly, you require," they said on their official site. "Trust us, it will be worth the extra time."
Epic Mickey studio to close down
Despite high expectations, not least due to the primary creative force behind it being the legendary Warren Spector, the original Epic Mickey reviewed poorly and did not sell as many units as projected. The recently-released sequel, Epic Mickey: The Power of Two, promised to fix all of the original's issues, but it too was met with mediocre reviews and lacklustre sales.
Sadly, this has led to Disney announcing the closure of Junction Point Studios, the creative team that created both games, under the guidance of Spector. The staff there must be feeling a bit cursed: many of them are refugees from Ion Storm, with many of those fleeing to Ion Storm after the closure of Looking Glass Studios.
The timing of the closure, hot on the heels of the unveiling of Disney infinity, does not seem to be coincidental. Disney said it is "aligning its resources with key priorities", or in other words shifting their attention to more profitable ventures. This suggests a gigantic investment in Infinity, so clearly Disney has a lot riding on this new project.
Games business is still doing badly
Worldwide, the video game business is not doing terribly well, mainly thanks to reduced sales in the two largest markets: US and Europe.
The Global Financial Crisis is like a vicious terrier, and no matter how hard they shake, neither the US or Europe can dislodge its tenacious grip. Ongoing attempts to end the crisis, especially hard-hitting "austerity measures" have achieved nothing except to make people poorer and more desperate.
In such an economic climate, it is hardly a surprise that an expensive entertainment item like a video game console is not high on everyone's shopping list. Last year, the entire video game market in the US was 27% lower than in the previous year according to data collected by Nintendo - a huge drop in any industry. Games software sales dropped 23% in the same period. Europe was having similar problems, with Nintendo's figures showing a 24% drop in hardware sales.
This is bad news for gamers. With a seemingly never-ending recession still sinking its fangs into markets all over the world, video game companies are going to remain cautious and conservative. Expect less risky titles, more sequels, and yes, even more studio and publisher bankruptcies.
PlayStation 4 soon to be announced?
It isn't much, but it's enough to start people talking.
Sony has announced a major press event in New York on 20 February, plugging it with phrases like "See the future!" and "Be the first to know!" and a video that showcases the four familiar PlayStation button shapes and the PlayStation logo. Sony has also started to use the #PlayStation2013 hashtag.
Frankly, if they announce anything other than the next PlayStation at this point, they're likely to get lynched. The PS3 is now seven years old, and is definitely showing its age. A February announcement allows enough lead time for the new console to be under Christmas trees at the end of 2013.
Of course, it is unlikely to be called the PS4, as the number 4 in Japanese sounds like the word for "death" and is therefore considered unlucky. While Sony is unlikely to abandon its iconic PlayStation branding altogether, the console's name is likely to have an extra word attached rather than a number. Some are hoping that the console's pre-release codename will stick; the PlayStation Orbis doesn't sound too bad, actually.
Microsoft announces the end of XNA
Many independent game developers have relied on XNA for almost a decade. The free toolset, first released by Microsoft in 2004, helped developers make games for Windows PCs and the original Xbox, and later the Xbox 360 and Windows phones.
Sadly, that era is coming to an end. Microsoft has sent an email to employees stating that XNA will no longer be patched and improved, and on 1 April 2014 it will be officially discontinued.
Many classic indie games were created with the assistance of XNA, including Chime, Cthulhu Saves the World, Bastion, Ilomilo, Magicka, Terraria, Dust: An Elysian Tale, and Fez. Sadly, we are unlikely to see any more, as developers are likely to switch away from the unsupported toolset and focus on learning new platforms.
This could in turn mean that the Xbox 360's excellent track record of hosting quirky independent games may be coming to an end. It will be sad if the new Microsoft console - that will no doubt be announced during 2013 - has no support for indies.
Got some news for next week's Tuesday Newsday? Submit news items to SPYourTurn@gmail.com for inclusion in next week's news round-up.
- James "DexX" Dominguez
DexX is on Twitter: @jamesjdominguez