Curt Schilling was a very successful Major League Baseball pitcher for 20 seasons, helping two different teams win world championships in 2001, 2004 and 2007. He was a six time All-Star and currently hold the record for postseason winning percentage.
Curt Schilling is, and has been for the past 31 years, a gamer.
Schilling is now the chairman and founder of 38 Studios, a video game company that is getting set to release their first title, “Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning,” on February 12. For the man who was king of the mound, getting into the gaming industry was something he had a passion for as his baseball playing days were winding down.
“When I became a professional baseball player, if you think about it, I’ve lived the ultimate gamer life,” he said. “I had a glut of disposable income and I traveled and was alone a lot. I was perfectly suited to be a hardcore gamer and if you look at the sports world today, I think there are more gamers than not now in professional sports by a large margin.”
Schilling said his love of gaming started with his very first console – an Intellivision video game system – and his most favorite game was, ironically enough, “Major League Baseball.”
“I was at the right age for consoles, when ‘Pong’ was the ‘Need For Speed’ of the day,” Schilling said. “(‘Major League Baseball’) was like the greatest baseball game ever. If you had a consistent playing partner like they do in ‘Starcraft’ now, every game was 1-0 and you had to hit a homerun down the left field line. I’ve always been a gamer.”
His geekness grew as his professional career in baseball progressed. Schilling said he was using a computer and helped design software to help him become a better pitcher when most players and teams were using video tape. Of course, the computer also doubled as his gaming rig during his days off.
As his career progressed and technology became more prevalent with teams, more players started using computers and video games were creeping into clubhouses as younger players join the squad. Schilling made it a point to be one of the take charge guys when it came time to game.
“I was kind of an oddball at the time and I was around and on some teams that it probably wasn’t the cool thing to have a computer. But obviously it became much more popular to the point where my last couple of years, I had two traveling console set ups where we had a flat screen, an Xbox and a PlayStation and they would get out and get put up on the airplanes when we were flying around.”
Despite the dearth of baseball video games and even his inclusion as a cover athlete for “High Heat Major League Baseball,” Schilling said he never played those games because they weren’t hard enough. His gaming interest took more of a fantasy slant.
“I was always a big fantasy guy, a big ‘Dungeons and Dragons’ kind of game,” Schilling said. “That was always a very big significant piece of my gaming because I was always a very avid reader as a kid. I read ‘The Lord of the Rings’ trilogy for probably the 20th time a couple of years ago, but that’s what got me into fantasy gaming.”
He enjoyed playing massively multiplayer online games like “Ultima Online” and “Everquest.” So as his playing days were winding down and he was eyeing what to do after his last pitch, gaming seemed a natural fit for his new career.
“Gaming, outside of the Lord, baseball and my family, was always my thing,” he said. “I took this very much as I did my baseball career. I scouted the industry for about 5 or 6 years and I took notes and I went to a lot of lunches and a lot of meetings with people that were in the industry and just get a feel for what I was up against.”
He knew he wanted to focus on a new fantasy role-playing intellectual property, but also knew he wasn’t going to be the one to put it all together. So he played a little “fantasy baseball” and visualized who he would want to put together his vision of a different kind of fantasy game.
Using his connections, Schilling was able to bring in author R.A. Salvatore to write the story, designer Todd McFarlane to do the art and animation, and Ken Rolston, the lead designer of “The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind” and “The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, to act as the executive designer. This all-star line-up formed the backbone for the work on “Reckoning.”
“I had no interest of getting into the industry to build games,” Schilling said. “This has never been about me. We’re not making Curt Schilling’s game. This is not a vanity project and it never has been.”
“Every bit of my focus was getting in the industry to help an intellectual property change the way people get entertained and be the best in the world at it. If you’re not going to try and win it all, I really don’t feel like playing.”
Bringing together these giants in their particular fields could have been a problem as egos and styles could potentially clash. Schilling said that never happened and all three have been hands-on while mentoring the younger members of the team.
“You got people who understand you check the egos at the door. I use a lot of sports euphemisms and examples around here. Getting these people to understand you play for the name on the front of the jersey and not the name on the back has been a key piece of this.”
The personal adjustment for Schilling to adapting a game developer lifestyle from his professional baseball lifestyle has been difficult at times. As a sufferer of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), he has had to find a new structure to replace his pitching schedule in order to manage his life.
“I’m a very routine oriented guy. Deep down inside the game dev process, there is that routine, but the wins and losses are much farther between. And they are different. When you win a game against the Yankees on Monday and it’s on ESPN and all over in the newspapers, there is immediate instant feedback. This is very different. You have to find wins and losses in different ways.”
“I don’t miss anything I did for a living. I was born to do it for a long, long time. The things I got to see and be a part of, I’ll be forever grateful but I’m looking for the new schedule, the new playing field, the new World Series. That’s been the challenge is to find where and when and how those things happen here.”
And as a gamer, Schilling knows anything is possible.
Sid Meier, creator of the “Civilization” franchise of strategy games, completed his 20th year with the franchise after the launch of the first “Civilization” game in 1991. Meier has been involved in gaming since 1984 with the release of “Spitfire Ace” from MicroProse Software, Inc.
Meier is considered to be one of the great game designers and is currently the director of creative development for Firaxis Games. He sat down to reflect over the two decades of “just one more turn” and ponder what the future of gaming holds for him and the industry.
Congratulations on 20 years of “Civilization.” When you were first coming up with the idea, did you imagine that it would “stand the test of time”?
I wanted to make a game that was fun to play. Where it is today, I wouldn’t have dreamed. We made the first “Civilization” game because it was a game that we wanted to play and hoped that if we liked it, others would too. Lucky for us, people latched on to the game and our fan community has made the game what it is now.
Where do you get your inspirations for gaming?
The themes for all of my games are inspired by things I’ve been interested in my whole life. History, pirates, railroads, airplanes, golf, etc. are all things that I enjoy, so I wanted to make games based on these subjects.
For “Civilization” games, we get a lot of our inspiration from our fans and the talented folks who work on the games. While I have my own ideas to contribute, by bringing in designers with a fresh perspective, we’re able to continue growing and developing “Civilization” to create a new gameplay experience with each iteration of the game.
I’ve also been inspired by other developers and games such as Will Wright’s “SimCity,” the first “God Game” which really set the stage for the first “Civilization.” Also, Bruce Shelley, one of my design partners during Microprose’s early days, created one of the best RTS games ever made, the “Age of Empires” series. I’m also a big fan of Dani Bunten who created the first open ended adventure game, “The Seven Cities of Gold.”
What is the greatest innovation or idea that has been introduced from over the last 20 years in the “Civilization” franchise?
Each “Civ” game is unique because the designer brings their own unique ideas to the game. The biggest changes lately were the hexagonal world tiles, the one-unit-per-tile combat system, and the beautiful graphics in “Civ V.” We’d thought about hex tiles all the way back in the original “Civ,” but never tried it until “Civ V.” The one-unit-per-tile system makes combat much more tactical and fun to play. And the graphics take the gameplay experience to a wonderful new place.
Maybe the biggest change to the Civilization series as a whole is that we’ve managed to bring it to a variety of new audiences through our console, mobile and Facebook versions of the game.
What were some of the best times and hardest times in gaming for you in the last 20 years?
It’s difficult to think of hard times when I get to go into work every day and make games. I have the greatest job in the world and feel very fortunate to have been doing this for so long. The thrill of designing a new game never seems to grow old for me.
How has gaming and video games changed in the past two decades?
Technology is always changing and giving us new tools to work with. PC and console game designers have been taking advantage of this by creating dramatically better graphics and deeper gameplay experiences. New technology has also allowed developers to deliver games on a wide array of devices, so people from all walks of life have access to games everywhere from phones to tablets to the internet. It’s a great time to be a gamer.
Is the social gaming and mobile gaming trend a product of advancing technology leading an audience or a change in the gamer’s philosophy about gaming?
It’s a little bit of the chicken and the egg debate, but I do think advancing technology has allowed us to explore new platforms and areas of games that we didn’t previously have at our disposal. Social and mobile games deliver a different kind of experience than the traditional PC and console games, which seem to appeal to a broader audience than the usual gamer. The growth of gaming on so many different platforms, and the diversity of the audience is great news for the gaming industry as a whole.
Has gaming become more important to our culture in terms of entertainment?
Games have become the entertainment of choice for people all over the world. I’ve always said that games will someday take over the world and that seems to be happening. There are so many different gaming platforms and a constant stream of new games for players to enjoy in any way they choose.
It’s exciting to see the rise of games in popular culture in the past few years. Now it seems that everyone plays games on their phones and social networks. Games and game franchises have become an integral part of mainstream entertainment, and the industry is only 30 years old. It’s just the beginning of the greatness still to come.
Atari has been synonymous with games and gaming since it was founded in 1972 by Nolan Bushnell and Ted Dabney. The company’s products, such as “Pong” and the Atari 2600, helped define the computer entertainment industry from the 1970s to the mid-1980s.
However, about five years ago, the company got away from developing their own games to focus on publishing and distribution. Atari CEO Jim Wilson said it was a complicated time for the company and the brand.
“(Atari) got bought by this retail distribution company that focused primarily on building non-Atari brands and distributing third-party titles,” Wilson said. “The Atari name was then being used as a corporate name on a retail distribution company. That didn’t make any sense to me.”
Wilson wanted to take Atari back to its casual gaming roots and recognized the best way to do that was embrace the social and mobile change in the gaming landscape. He said there are new business models in gaming and the company is ready to take advantage.
“What we’re doing is we’re going out to the best and the brightest of the developers in the mobile business. We’re looking at different ways to reinterpret or reinvent our classic franchises in ways that people are playing games today in the business model that people are playing today.”
Atari released “Atari’s Greatest Hits” for the iOS in the spring of 2011 to a resounding cheer from fans around the world. The game featured classic arcade games like “Centipede” (Wilson’s favorite as a kid), “Lunar Lander” and “Missile Command” as well as games from the Atari 2600 home console such as “Adventure,” “Haunted House” and “Yars’ Revenge.”
The game in the Apple App Store has been downloaded more than 3.5 million times. It was recently made available in the Android Marketplace, further expanding the market for Atari products.
“The great thing about Atari and its very brand is that it is recognizable. You understand what it is, and frankly, in the App Store or the Android Marketplace, discoverability is a big issue for people who are releasing their games. One of the benefits of Atari is that it creates instant recognition and discoverability in the App Store and the Android Marketplace.”
Wilson then focused on reimagining some of Atari’s classic titles to make them more appealing to today’s gaming audience. He said their core audience is male, over 30 so they’ve grown up with Atari, and they have the money to spend on games.
“What we’re looking to do is build games. Some of our games are going to have a much more broad appeal and, for us, the ability to generate a community.”
“However, we also to address a larger audience and that’s what it’s going to come down to – making games that appeal to a broader audience.”
“Asteroids” was the first game to be reinterpreted as “Asteroids: Gunner,” a top ten bestseller in the App Store in its first two weeks in November. The free app game featured a new look and new weapons as well as the opportunity to micro-purchase Space Bucks in game to enhance your spaceship.
“We’re looking at different ways to reinterpret or reinvent our classic franchises in ways that people are playing games today in the business model that people are playing today,” Wilson said. “We believe there are multiple ways to reinterpret ‘Asteroids,’ and ‘Asteroids: Gunner’ was a great opportunity for us to create a time-based, premium model that seemed to go over well with our core male audience.”
The company released “Breakout: Boost” in December and have garnered more than two million downloads in the App Store alone. The game offers 5 free levels and more than 200 more that can be purchased through micro-transactions.
It would be easy for Atari to continue to reimagine and re-release their classic titles, but Wilson said to appeal to a broader audience, the company is also working with developers on original intellectual properties that fit the Atari brand and ideals.
He said they are expecting to release 10 to 15 new titles in the next year with about five of those titles coming from outside developers. They will be games that hold true to the Atari brand, but could appeal to those gamers outside the male-dominated, core audience of traditional Atari games.
Wilson is counting on a blend of reinterpreted classics and original games for the social and mobile gaming arena to drive Atari’s business for the near future. The company has slimmed down to 65 employees, most of whom are targeting the mobile gaming platform.
“If we stay true to the original brand ideas and we work with some of the best talent in the industry and we listen to our consumers, I think we have a very good opportunity to make a big statement and bring Atari to a new stage. We have an opportunity to bring back a powerful brand that consumers know and love.”
2K Games is going old school with their newest and highly anticipated game from Irrational Games.
“BioShock Infinite” will feature a new form of play — the 1999 Mode — designed to challenge players in a variety of ways with each requiring substantial commitment and skill development.
The 1999 Mode is for gamers who long for the days of games that demanded more of the player. It will include tweaks and features that “BioShock” fans will not experience in a standard play-through of “BioShock Infinite,” no matter the difficulty level.
“We want to give our oldest and most committed fans an option to go back to our roots,” said creative director Ken Levine. “In 1999 Mode, gamers face more of the permanent consequences of their gameplay decisions. In ‘BioShock Infinite,’ gamers will have to sweat out the results of their actions. In addition, 1999 Mode will demand that players pick specializations, and focus on them.”
“I’m an old school gamer. We wanted to make sure we were taking into account the play styles of gamers like me. So we went straight to the horse’s mouth by asking them a series of questions about how they play our games,” Levine said. “94.6 percent of respondents indicated that upgrade choices enhanced their ‘BioShock’ gameplay experience. However, 56.8 percent indicated that being required to make permanent decisions about their character would have made the game even better.”
In addition to these permanent decisions, 1999 Mode will feature demanding weapon, power, and health management. The mode also takes a much harder stand on player respawning, sending the gamer directly to a “Game Over” screen if he or she lacks the resources to be brought back to life. It’s not for the faint of heart.
It was the year of hacking, the year of breaking records and the year of flinging birds at pigs. The year of gaming in 2011 had plenty of ups and down and that doesn’t even include all the video game titles that were released. While the explosion of social and mobile gaming continues to affect all games, it was a hacking incident that focused attention on the dark side of online gaming.
Gaming Network Hacked
In April, Sony confirmed that its PlayStation Network, the online service that has more than 77 million users and allows online play for it PS3 consoles, was hacked and taken offline.
It was more than just a denial of service ploy. Sony said that personal data, including credit cards information, was accessed and compromised. While they stopped short of saying “stolen,” the company recommended that its customers keep an eye on their credit card accounts and watch out for identity theft.
An outside security agency was hired to find out what happened and the network service stayed offline for several days while changes were made to prevent more intrusions. Sony also offered special incentives to bring back gamers after they fixed the issues.
But in October, the PlayStation Network was hacked again – this time affecting “only” 93,000 accounts. This intrusion affected thousands of user IDs and passwords.
Sony said the lessons they learned from the April hack prevented more information from being illegally accessed. A teenager inLondonwas quickly arrested in connection with the crime.
And before you think this was just a PlayStation problem, Microsoft announced that its Xbox Live customers were the targets of a malicious phishing attempts to scam personal user information. Microsoft was quick to point out that their online gaming service was not hacked and there was no breach of security.
Earlier in the year, the hacker group LulzSec released a data file with names, email addresses and passwords they said could be used to get into Xbox Live accounts as well as other accounts.
Breaking Entertainment Records
You know gaming is big when the release of a game smashes entertainment records for sales.
For the third consecutive year, the “Call of Duty” franchise raised the bar with the release of “Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3” by earning more than $400 million and selling more than 6.5 million units in North America and the United Kingdom in the first 24 hours.
If that wasn’t enough, the game had more than $775 million in sales during the first five days. “Modern Warfare 3” also broke the record for peak concurrent players on Microsoft’s Xbox Live online gaming service.
According to Activision Blizzard, the all-time sales for the “Call of Duty” franchise exceeds worldwide box office sales for “Star Wars” and “Lord of the Rings.” There were more than 13,000 midnight openings at retail stores worldwide for the release of the new title.
Last year, “Call of Duty: Black Ops” sold $360 million on its first day while “Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2” sold $310 million on its first day in 2009.
Mobile/Social Gaming Explosion
Gaming has transformed from being played on computers to home consoles to mobile phones. With it, game developers recognized they have a new audience to appeal to with games designed to be played quickly and with others electronically.
Zynga, a social network game developer responsible for “CityVille,” “FarmVille” and “Words With Friends,” recently filed an initial public offering with the SEC and began trading on NASDAQ. While the stock failed to rocket as previous dotcom stock did in the heyday of the tech bubble, the market for social and mobile is still very much a battleground.
Companies are developing games for smart phones and tablets and incorporating chat or other social features to allow players around the world enjoy games together. Atari recently announced they were changing their mission to work exclusively on social and mobile gaming while publishers like Electronic Arts continue to push big names (“Madden”) to the small screen. EA also bought Popcap Games for a whopping $750 million.
Facebook made it even easier for game play on their social network while Apple’s inclusion of the Game Center on their iPhones reflect the growing interest by the public toward gaming with others while on the move.
More Than a Gaming Device
Kinect for the Xbox was introduced with the idea of making motion gaming easy and fun for users. But creative people began “hacking” the device and make use of its cameras and sensors for more than just play.
Some people have used the Kinect to create very life-like movies using CG rendered figures. Other use it to manipulate video playback so that multiple screens can be created or erased as the user needs.
Kinect is also a watchdog for your home. A program turns on the Kinect when it senses motion and takes pictures of the “intruder’s” face, which can be stored or even sent online.
While hacking the Kinect wasn’t new this year, the ingenuity at which people were including the motion sensing device rose to new and exciting levels.
“Angry Birds” vs. The World
“Angry Birds” moved out of the gaming arena and into the pop culture spotlight with their inclusion in commercials, being released as stuffed toys and the very real possibility of a full length movie in the near future.
It is also notable for the people who play – U.S. Senator Chris Coons, basketball star Kevin Durant and UK Prime Minister David Cameron, who plays the iPad version of the game.
There is also a yoga philosophy that uses the characters and gameplay mechanics to explain its teachings. Rovio, the company that created the game, opened its first official retail story in Helsinki and plans another somewhere in China.
3D Game Console Released
With much fanfare and hype, Nintendo released a new handheld console – the 3DS – that would let players experience 3D visuals without the use of special glasses. It was supposed to revolutionize what the gaming experience was going to be.
The console was released inJapanin February and inNorth Americain March. But by August, Nintendo dropped the price on the device by $80 after demand for it was softer than expected.
As of March, Nintendo had only sold 3.61 million units – far short of the 4 million the company was expecting to sell. To appease early adapters who bought the 3DS at the early price, Nintendo offered 20 free downloadable games – ten free NES Virtual Console games and ten Game Boy Advance Virtual Console games.
The device also suffered from a perception problem as the company stated publically that the 3D mode should not be used by players 6 years old and younger. While there has been no scientific data to show any harm to the development of eye sight in children, some players did report experiencing headaches after continuous playing.
New Gaming Hardware
This year, two major gaming hardware companies announced they were going to come out with new gaming consoles.
At the Electronic Entertainment Expo inLos Angeles, Sony showed off its new handheld game console, the PlayStation Vita, while Nintendo introduced its newest home console, theWiiU.
The Wii U announcement has been described as the next generation of gaming consoles and is expected to be fully backwards compatible with the Wii. The controller will have an embedded single-touch screen and the console will be able to produce high-definition graphics.
There were worries that the console will be too expensive to compete with the PS3 and Xbox 360. Nintendo has said the Wii U will be released after March 2012.
In contrast, the PlayStation Vita, Sony’s new handheld console and the successor to the PSP, was released inJapanin December and is expected to hit North American andUnited Kingdomshores in February. It boasts touch screens on the front and back as well as dual analog joysticks.
Vita will also be available in two versions: one with 3G support and one without. The 3G service will be provided by AT&T in theUSand Vodafone inEurope.
Moving from subscription to free-to-play
“World of Warcraft” wasn’t the first, but it has been the most successful subscription based game for massively multiplayer online role-playing games (MMORPG) with 10.3 million subscribers as of November.
So it stands to reason that others would try to take a slice of that very large pie. “DC Universe Online” wanted to capitalize on the power of DC Comics and online gaming in a big way.
The game allowed players the opportunity to act out their comic hero/villain fantasies in the DC Universe and interact with iconic characters like Superman, Joker or Wonder Woman. Initially, players paid a monthly fee (around $15 in the U.S.), but by September, there were reports that the game was not doing as well as Sony, Warner Bros., and DC Comics would have liked.
In November, it was announced that the game would be free to play for anyone who wanted to play, but offered optional in-game microtransactions in place of the subscription fee. Two other paying levels were offered with different levels of in-game abilities being released as the price increased.
The strategy worked as “DC Universe Online” experienced a 2,500% increase in total playtime per day and a 1,000% increase in their user base.
More Affordable PS3
Perhaps feeling the heat from their hacking incidents or maybe just an attempt to chip away at Microsoft’s lead in the console market, Sony announced a price drop for their flagship console, the PlayStation 3.
The price drop put the cost on par with the Xbox 360, but didn’t include any bundling with the Move controller (that came later in the year). Some analysts wondered if Microsoft would respond with a price drop of their own – something that did not occur.
The Xbox 360 has traditionally been the top selling gaming console in the U.S.
The Season of 3
Finally, you can’t talk about the year in gaming without talking about games. This year, many of the popular franchises produced sequels with many of the shooter titles sporting the number three in their titles.
“Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3,” “Battlefield 3” and “Gears of War 3” all brought back familiar gameplay and characters while putting them in new situations and scenarios.
“Uncharted 3,” featuring the treasure-seeking ways of Nathan Drake, closed out that franchise. “Resistance 3” also brought an end to the alien invasion of Earth. And “F.E.A.R 3” finally stopped making us dread little girls in darkened hallways.
X-Play host Morgan Webb said all these sequels and finale installments are happening for a reason – new consoles on the near future.
“We’re nearly the end of a console cycle so series that have begun at the beginning of the console cycle, they’re starting to finish up the series,” she said. “People have made the investment in the franchise and they’ve got the art together and they don’t want to create something completely new when new consoles are starting to be on the horizon.”
Want to play a video game and win $1 million? The Perfect Game Challenge in “Major League Baseball 2K12” is back, but this year, the contest contains a new twist.
The past two seasons, 2K Sports has included the $1 Million Perfect Game Challenge in their baseball video games. The contest revolved around who could throw a perfect game – allowing no batter to reach base — in the video game first. Wade McGilberry used Kenshin Kawakami of the Atlanta Braves to win in 2010 and Brian Kingrey used Roy Halladay of the Philadelphia Phillies to claim the prize in 2011.
This season, it isn’t who can do it first, but who can pitch the most perfect of perfect games. A month long contest will find the best eight “perfect” players who will then compete in a live tournament for the $1 million check.
Beginning on Opening Day, April 4, gamers will get their chance to throw a perfect game, submit a unique code to 2K Sports and find out if their game was good enough to make into the top eight. Jason Argent, vice president of marketing at 2K Sports, said the idea was taken from fan suggestions who wanted to take the speed out of the contest and focus on quality.
“We wanted you to not only throw a perfect game but do it the best, the most perfect of all perfect games so that was the impetus for this,” Argent said. “At the end of the day, it is the degree of difficulty of the perfect game that we want to reward. Obviously throwing a perfect game is an amazing feat, but doing it with the highest degree of difficulty at the very, very end is what we want to reward.”
Detroit Tigers pitcher Justin Verlander was chosen to be on the cover of the game box this year and he came very close to pitching a perfect game last season. He tossed his second career no hitter against the Toronto Blue Jays in May, but gave up a walk in the 8th inning to spoil his perfect bid.
“You try not to think about (the perfect game), but you can’t help thinking about it,” Verlander said. “As you get closer to the end, the pressure really begins to build. You don’t want to give in to a hitter, but you also don’t want to groove (a pitch) either.”
Verlander said he has played previous versions of MLB2K games, usually as himself, but has never come close in the video game to tossing a perfect game. He thinks if someone does it using him, it would be pretty special.
“That would be cool and awesome. Obviously, I personally can’t enter the contest but to be a part of winning the challenge would be great.”
The contest runs through the month of April. Players can enter as many perfect games as they can throw, but only the eight best individual games will make it to the final round. In mid-May, those eight gamers will gather in New York City for a head-to-head, bracketed tournament against one another to find the new $1 million champion.
“Even people who have thrown a perfect game will see themselves potentially drop down the leaderboard and they’ll pick a pitcher who has thrown a perfect game on the leaderboard and kind of keep at it,” Argent said. “The whole dynamic nature of the tournament is going to be a lot of fun for us and the fans.”
“Major League Baseball 2K12” is rated E for everyone and will be available March 6 for the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 consoles.
The PlayStation Vita and the Nintendo Wii U are both arriving in the world markets with the Vita hitting North American and European shores in February after a Japanese launch in mid-December. The PS Vita is a handheld console and successor to the PlayStation Portable (PSP) that offers beefier graphics, interactive touchscreens on the front and back, and dual analog sticks much like the PlayStation 3 controllers.
Sony is banking on familiar characters in games like “Uncharted: Golden Abyss” and “Little Big Planet” to help draw in customers as well as creating unique and immersive games to appeal to the hard core gamer. The company is going after the dedicated portable gaming market, but challenging tablets and smartphones for the same gamers.
There were more than 320,000 units sold in Japan after its December 16 release, putting it on nearly even footing with the Nintendo 3DS. Those numbers dropped dramatically in the second week to just over 70,000 and analysts are watching to see how the device will be received in the U.S. and Europe.
Later in 2012, Nintendo will be releasing their next generation console called Wii U. It is the first Nintendo console to feature 1080p high-definition graphics and will have a touchscreen embedded in the controller to allow for gaming even when the TV is off.
A prototype was shown during the Electronic Entertainment Expo 2011 to demonstrate its single touch screen that supplements or replicates gameplay on the monitor. Nintendo president Satoru Iwata said the final version will be revealed at the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) 2012 in Los Angeles and released to the public after March 2012.
Critics are concerned about the potential consumer costs, but Nintendo is confident the Wii U will open up a new style of gameplay for the home gamer.
There has also been speculation that a PlayStation 4 or new Xbox console could be released in 2012. In an interview with CNN Geek Out, Xplay host Morgan Webb said many developers are working on new franchises for a new console generation.
“We’re nearly at the end of a console cycle, so series that have begun at the beginning of the console cycle, they’re starting to finish up the series,” Webb said. “People have made the investment in the franchise and they’ve got the art together and they don’t want to create something completely new when new consoles are starting to be on the horizon.”
Some developers have spoken openly about learning about technology for a new Sony console. And while there have been hints about a new Xbox console for a couple of years, Microsoft has been mum about any new console hardware and focusing their efforts on the Kinect controller.
Of course, all these new hardware devices won’t mean a thing unless gamers have great games to play. There is a powerhouse line-up of major franchises and popular characters in store for 2012.
“Halo 4” is the next blockbuster installment in the iconic franchise that has likely defined a generation of gaming. Set in the aftermath of “Halo 3,” Master Chief returns to face an ancient evil that (of course) threatens the entire universe.
Speaking of saving the universe, “Mass Effect 3” brings back Commander Shepard as his battles against the Reapers pit the galaxy against the advanced machine race. The story is expected to flow directly from the ending of “Mass Effect 2” and will also offer a female version of Commander Shepard for the first time.
Some old friends will be returning in “Diablo III” and “Twisted Metal.” More than ten years after “Diablo II,” players will get to battle the forces of evil with new destructible environments and classes to play. “Twisted Metal” returns from a 17 year hiatus for more combat on wheels action and over-the-top explosions.
“Bioshock: Infinite” has been wowing audiences since its announcement in 2010 and has already won numerous awards before its official release next year. Taking the action from underwater to the skies, creator Ken Levine is hoping fans will embrace the new direction and explore the setting and culture.
“Final Fantasy XIII-2” returns players to Cocoon in search of Lightning, the hero from “Final Fantasy XIII.” The game was released in mid-December in Japan to perfect scores and selling more than 524,000 copies for the PlayStation 3 version alone. Square Enix, developer of the game, is expecting a great launch for the rest of the world in 2012.
Other titles like “Resident Evil Revelations,” “Max Payne 3,” “Borderlands 2,” and “Grand Theft Auto V” will also be must-see games for the upcoming year.
As we’ve learned, gaming is not just for consoles and consoles are not just for gaming. Smartphones and tablets are continuing their march into the gaming genre with more choices from Atari, Zynga, Electronic Arts and other well-known gaming developers.
As mobile devices become more powerful, social and casual gaming is expected to increase to new heights and draw in more people to becoming “gamers.” Some research shows that the demographic of a gamer is changing to nearly an even split of male/female and the audience is getting older and more affluent.
Likewise, consoles are broadening their entertainment choices beyond just gaming into live sporting events, movies and music. Hulu, Netflix and ESPN have already made inroads that other providers will be exploring in the coming year.
Look for that trend to continue as content producers look to capture audiences at every opportunity and gaming seen as a potential growth market.
While 2011 was a big year in gaming, 2012 is projected to be even larger. Communications market researcher TMNG expects the global gaming business to reach $40 billion in revenues by 2012 with high growth in the mobile game sector.
There are likely to be twists and unexpected developments along the way for the gaming industry in 2012. But at the heart of it all, the gamer consumer will be the one who decides which technology or title goes on to glory and which goes in the discount bin.
“Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning” is an open world role-playing game from 38 Studios and features the talents of best-selling author R. A. Salvatore, artist and Spawn creator Todd McFarlane, and Ken Rolston, lead designer of “Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind” and “Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion.”
A demo for “Reckoning” will be available on January 17 for the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and PC. Not only will players get a first look at the design, they will also be able to unlock special items for the final game and also in “Mass Effect 3.”
By playing the “Reckoning” demo, gamers will receive two unlocks for “Mass Effect 3” when the releases on March 6 – Reckoner Knight Armor and the Chakram Launcher.
Players who play the “Reckoning” demo will also unlock these items for the full game – a Twist of Fate Card, Twinned Souls Chakram and the Infernal Helm, which increases players’ fire damage throughout Amalur.
If players also play the upcoming “Mass Effect 3” demo, they will receive these items to use in “Reckoning” – N7 Armor and Onmiblade Daggers.
“Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning” is expected to be released February 7 in North America and February 10 in Europe.