The UpStream (Page 219)

EA Emphasizes PopCap with Plants vs Zombies: Garden Warfare

posted Wednesday Jun 12, 2013 by Scott Ertz

EA Emphasizes PopCap with Plants vs Zombies: Garden Warfare

Since announcing the closure of PlayFish social games, there was a lot of question about Electronic Arts' commitment to their social, casual and mobile studios. While PlayFish will be responsible for mobile games going forward, it was assumed that EA's other social studio, PopCap, would be taking over. EA emphasized that point during their E3 press event by announcing Plants vs Zombies: Garden Warfare.

It is certainly an unusual move for a publisher to emphasize more casual gaming titles at their E3 event, but as gaming continues to move toward causal and social, I suspect we will see more of this in the future, E3 or not. It was good to see PopCap and Plants vs Zombies on-stage, as it is one of the few casual franchises I have personally enjoyed.

So, what is new in this tower-defense series? A shooter. Yes, Garden Warfare is a shooter in the vein of Team Fortress 2. The title has a lot of the aspects of TF2, such as different classes each with its own special abilities, all designed to work together and even be needed together. It also maintains the personality of the PvZ franchise, being a little cartoony and really silly. It is exactly what has always made the series so fun and it is good to see they maintained the feel.

Keeping with traditional PopCap trends, you have the ability to take your plant or zombie and customize it. Choose from lots of new characters with new powers and create a unique character with hundreds of available items and customizations. Once you have your character, enter into a 24-player battle or join friends for a 4-player online co-op.

Here is the thing that is most surprising: it is a console title and it will be on Xbox One and Xbox 360 first.

Microsoft Unveils Multi-Platform Development System Project Spark

posted Tuesday Jun 11, 2013 by Scott Ertz

Microsoft Unveils Multi-Platform Development System Project Spark

Every year Microsoft seems to have one thing up its sleeve that no one really saw coming. In 2009 it was Project Natal (now Kinect), then we saw a redesigned Xbox 360, last year we had SmartGlass. This year, Microsoft showed another project, Project Spark.

Using Spark, Kinect and SmartGlass you can easily create entire videogame worlds with little to no experience. In fact, during the presentation, we were witness to an entire world being born, rules created and players interacting with enemies, all within minutes of taking the stage.

The most interesting aspect of the platform is the multiple targets. You are able to develop for almost any modern Xbox platform: Windows 8, Xbox 360 and Xbox One, though no mention was made of Windows Phone 8's Xbox platform. This system is definitely a great way to introduce interested children to the gaming development world, as well as a quick and easy way to prototype an idea for any sized development team.

As of now, there is no known release date associated with Project Spark, but that is not unexpected. Any time Microsoft shows off a "Project" it is usually a VERY early preview, with many changes coming over the coming months or years. With Project Natal, for example, THE thing that everyone wanted was never released, much to everyone's disappointment: the painting system. All we know for sure about Spark is that it will evolve between now and release.

Hit the break for a gallery of some of the incredible things created with Project Spark.

Xbox One's Focus on Social

posted Tuesday Jun 11, 2013 by Scott Ertz

Xbox One's Focus on Social

One of the big things to come out of the Microsoft press conference was Xbox One's focus on social. At the initial reveal event we learned that Microsoft would be integrating Skype into their next generation of Xbox, making up for the loss of Windows Live Messenger. Many people have found conversing through Xbox Live to be a convenient way to keep up with family, so bringing that feature back is important.

In switching to games, which was the focus of their event, Microsoft looked at the way people use their consoles and attempted to make those things as easy as possible. One thing that has gotten more popular is sharing video of gameplay. Currently you have to get a capture card and hook your Xbox or PlayStation through the box and into a computer to record your gameplay.

Microsoft is making this process easier by incorporating the ability right into the console. Now, using your Xbox One and Xbox SmartGlass, you can record, edit and publish your videos without even hooking up a single extra cable. Do you want to add commentary as well? No problem - use your headset or Kinect microphone and record everything happening around you right into the video.

Now, what if you want to share your gameplay live? Well, Microsoft has you covered there as well. Through a partnership with Twitch TV, you can use your Xbox One to connect to Twitch LIVE to broadcast whatever is happening on your console. From the docked dashboard you can see your viewership, invite friends and even see the chatroom. If you have your headset or Kinect, everything you say can be broadcast as well, giving commentary or game chat. Again, this really simplifies a process that more and more gamers are doing: broadcasting their games.

The last major social enhancement made for Xbox One is something I predicted several weeks ago. People were unhappy that the Xbox One was not going to have any backwards compatibility, but I decrypted the code. Xbox Live has been completely rebuilt, preventing older games from being available on the new console. Why block old games? Well, the old Xbox Live platform had a limit of 100 friends which was engrained into the fabric of the network. By replacing the infrastructure of Xbox Live, we can now have as many friends as we want. Take that, Facebook!

Microsoft and Sony: Two Sides of the Same Coin [Editorial]

posted Tuesday Jun 11, 2013 by Scott Ertz

Microsoft and Sony: Two Sides of the Same Coin [Editorial]

We all knew going into E3 2013 that it was all about the battle between Microsoft and Sony for the hearts and minds of the Internet. Microsoft had set themselves up for trouble when they did not fully explain that their initial Xbox One launch and media event was a media event, gaining them a lot of flack from bloggers who were not smart enough to understand announcing too many games 19 days before E3 was a bad move. Sony got a lot of flack in February for not showing hardware, but time tends to erase memories.

After the announcement event, Microsoft continued to put their foot farther down their throat by emphasizing the always-on Internet connection and publisher opt-in used-game policy. People took to the Internet in droves to complain about the console needing to be on the Internet. No, I'm not kidding - that is exactly what happened; people complained on the Internet about their console needing the Internet. I'll let you absorb that information for a moment while I change topics.

Microsoft did exactly what anyone with a brain would expect at their press conference: focused on games. In fact, save for during the recap of everything Halo that has been announced, the word television was not said. The game lineup was great and the presentation went very well. Sony's conference, on the other hand, went the other way. The initial focus on media content certainly undermined their own statement that PS4 is not a media device. That aside, their game lineup was also great, with a number of exciting announcements. All-in, the gaming comparison was pretty flat.

One big announcement that Sony did make was that there was no used game policy. The crowd went nuts. Well, as it turns out, that wasn't entirely true. In fact, it wasn't true at all. The PS4 has almost the exact same used-game policy that the Xbox One has - a publisher opt-in program. If a publisher wants to prohibit you from trading, sharing or selling your used games, they have that option. All Sony was saying is that their FIRST PARTY titles have chosen not to opt-in. Microsoft, on the other hand, has not officially stated whether or not their first party titles will opt-in to their program. So, now that we have the information here, again the presentations are pretty flat.

Sony did take a legitimate stand against the always-on Internet connection, stating that the console does NOT have to check-in ever. Now, people on the Internet (yes, we are unfortunately back on this topic) will find this exciting, but let me argue the other side for just a moment. Many games already institute this policy on the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. Let's take Tiger Woods, for example. If the console doesn't have Internet connection, you cannot earn status points for your club nor other connected-achievements. This is because modern games often have global economies, whether it be in career scores, item process or other statistics. By running the economy locally without any interaction with the rest of the world, the whole economy can be affected when you return. There is also the case of hacking, which often takes place offline, but let's focus on the positive aspects.

By taking these opposite stands on the Internet requirement, Microsoft and Sony are officially going after different types of gamers. Sony is looking for players who don't have constant Internet connections; either people who live in places where there is no Internet connectivity or people who tend not to pay their bills and get shut off. It also means that they don't place a lot of value on the PSN, which we have kind of always known. Microsoft, on the other hand, has placed great value on Xbox Live, as they have for a decade, encouraging games to take advantage of a global economy and a persistent global world. These network focuses will result in a different type of exclusive game and a different type of gameplay for non-exclusives on each console.

The one announcement out of Sony that seemed to be glazed over was the requirement for PlayStation Plus for multiplayer gaming. We all knew it was a matter of time as there is only one type of business model in free. You can sell dollar bills for 90 cents for a while and generate A LOT of revenue, but there comes a point where the dollar bills run out and you have to change policies. If you need an example, ask MetroPCS how it worked for them. Many PlayStation gamers have claimed it would never happen and if it did they would leave Sony.

So, the question is now: which type of game are you interested in: persistent global world or self-contained gameplay? Let us know in the comments below.

Zynga Undergoes More Layoffs, Including Full Studio Closures in Three Cities

posted Sunday Jun 9, 2013 by Nicholas DiMeo

Zynga Undergoes More Layoffs, Including Full Studio Closures in Three Cities

After COO David Ko took over the company and went through a period of serious consolidation and reduction, trouble still loomed for Zynga. More recently, Zynga lost its top spot as social gaming king and it would appear that things are getting worse as the months progress. Now, the gaming studio will undergo another round of staff terminations.

Zynga announced this week that it will be cutting almost another 20 percent of its total workforce, 520 people, as they will continue to cut costs everywhere they can to save the company as a whole. Zynga reps say that this measure will save yet another $80 million a year from their bottom line. In total, this will bring the total work force that's left down to about 2,300, which is even less than when they began their IPO in December of 2011, at nearly 2,700 employees. Even worse, the stock price dropped another 12 percent this week to $3 a share, bringing it to 70 percent below what the IPO was initially at.

CEO Mark Pincus said in a blog post that,

The scale that served us so well in building and delivering the leading social gaming service on the Web is now making it hard to successfully lead across mobile and multiplatform, which is where social games are going to be played.

The layoffs will include employees who are both new and seniors in the company, and will affect the San Francisco studio. Moreover, the New York, LA and Dallas offices will be shutting down for good, which obviously means the reductions in those cities did not work out in the long run.

Naturally, employees have been very upset about this news and took to the web to post their frustrations. Senior designer Matthew Cox spoke on the layoffs, mentioning that 55 employees, the whole office, was the casualty in the LA studio, however the severance was "very generous." We hope that the talented individuals from the company land on their feet and find a more prosperous work environment soon.

Sony Press Conference [Liveblog] E3 2013

posted Sunday Jun 9, 2013 by Guest Blogger

Live from the LA Sports Arena, Sony's Jack Tretton will show off the new PlayStation 4 hardware. Let's be honest - this is the moment we are all waiting for from this E3. Will we have another Big Bertha, or will this console shine right from the beginning? You will definitely want to tune in to find out.

Shortly after the event, join our team LIVE for reactions on a special F5 Live: E3 Wrap-Up Show.

Hit the break for coverage from E3 2013!

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