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Review of the Year: March

Beware the ides of March

Posted by Staff
GTA: San Andreas - Like all the others
GTA: San Andreas - Like all the others
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"We are extremely humbled by the success of the Grand Theft Auto series and it has made us push ourselves further than ever to create a title in Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas that will hopefully redefine the Grand Theft Auto series and revolutionize open-ended gameplay and video game production values,” commented a Rockstar exec as the announcement of PlayStation 2 exclusivity for GTA: SA was made. To illustrate the redefinition of the genre, Rockstar went on to release a game that was pretty much the same as the others. To demonstrate its humbleness, the firm was later to withdraw advertising from publications not writing content exactly as and when dictated by Rockstar’s PR department, SPOnG included.

By the second day of the month, Nintendo decided to make a fresh “games industry is doomed without us” comment, this time from company presedient Satoru Iwata:

"Videogames have come to something of a dead end. Creating complicated games with advanced graphics used to be the golden rule that to which success followed, but this strategy is no longer working," he said. "The biggest problem lies with games developers who need to satisfy the hardcore gamers, who want games with more depth and complexity, while they also need to satisfy average users, and the mainstream. The situation right now is that even if the developers were to work a hundred times harder, hundred times more units will not naturally follow, as it's difficult for them to satisfy this status quo. It's obvious to me that there is no future in gaming if we continue to operate on this principle. It wastes time and energy. Nintendo is called 'cautious' and 'quiet' nowadays, so we are hoping to illustrate our abilities as an innovator of new styles of entertainment."

A drastic PR rethink was to stem the tide of strangeness but not for several months…

SCEJ executive Fumiya Takeno makes comments that seemingly confirm PSP-PlayStation 2 link chatter. "Our dream is to see the PlayStation 2 in one room, the PSX in another, and the PSP for use outside of the home," stated Takeno-san. "The same game can be played by the end user depending on where you are. This is how the playing experience and development of a game will change.”

Nokia’s N-Gage gets a fresh kicking of the back of disastrous sales, with the ASA banning its ad campaign. One of the adverts that prompted complaints contained the phrase, "This is where I took on three guys – and made them cry like babies." The ASA deemed that the ad "could be interpreted as a depiction of bullying" and therefore "likely to cause offence and distress."

The 4th sees Eidos buy Hitman developer IO. "We welcome the IO team of outstanding, technically creative developers, who we know share our vision and values," said jovial Eidos CEO Mike McGarvey.

The move is later considered to reflect pre-sales bolstering by Eidos – a sale of the Tomb Raider firm is yet to take place.

SPOnG reveals that Nintendo producer Shigeru Miyamoto has his role at the firm slashed. "Miyamoto-san must concentrate on few games with more focus," a Nintendo source explained to our contact in Japan. "There are huge games that need his full attention, so the general overseeing of a broad range of products must be cut back.” This is later confirmed by Miyamoto-san at E3.

Meanwhile, another disaster for Nokia. John Romero announces to some Russian site that a revised N-Gage is in planning. SPOnG already had Nokia on record as saying, “We are aware of the feedback after the launch of the original [N-Gage]. Nokia constantly releases upgrades to its products and N-Gage will be part of this process and will see a successor. The firm denies any such development. Weeks later the revised hardware is shown. And again, no one really cared.

The 9th of March and another big bad Microsoft story with the firm using the Xbox Live online gaming service to scan all machines and request information on the unit’s hard disc, to be used as part of a service cull against hackers.

By the 11th of March, perhaps the greatest Sega story of the year, transcribed here in full:

Perhaps in a move aimed at reassuring Sega's fanbase that the company's focus will remain on creating brilliant, innovative new software, the Sonic creator - which incidentally has all of its development and operation decision-making executed by Sammy's Satomi - has announced it is to open a theme park. And a football-themed theme park at that!

Currently slated to open at the beginning of April, the park will be called S-Pulse Dream House, named after the S-Pulse football club. This is all true, by the way - you are not hallucinating.

The S-Pulse Dream House, which we can't wait to visit next time we're in the Mount Fuji area, is serviced by a car ferry. This is no ordinary ferry however. It can't be, it's called the Techno Super Liner Kibou! Rock!

It does sound like a lovely place, though. Here's Shizuoka Prefecture's governor Yoshinobu Ishikawa to explain a little more. "Shizuoka Prefecture is situated almost at the centre of Japan, with Mt. Fuji in the north, and the Pacific Ocean and Suruga Bay to the south. We are blessed with a bounty of beautiful nature, a rich historical and cultural heritage, a mild climate and extremely convenient traffic accessibility." See, we told you. Sounds nice, huh? "Shizuoka Prefecture aims to enhance these characteristics, and we have set our target for regional promotion as the creation of a comfortable environment for residents and tourists in Shizuoka Prefecture."

We can't wait. However, the area does suffer from regular crippling earthquakes. But fear not, all guests are issued with a handy do's and don'ts in natural disasters handbook containing gems such as "Stay calm! If you panic and rush out of the house or your mind just goes blank, you will not be able to react properly. You must be prepared to act calmly," and "Wear shoes to protect your feet from broken glass!"

We've been informed that this will not be the last Sega theme park devoted to a sports club, with several others already being planned right now. However, the availability to ride the Techno Super Liner: Kibou ferry is not guaranteed.

You couldn’t make it up.

Meanwhile Nintendo sees a serious security breach, with SPOnG gaining access to a complete set of pre-release spec. Processors, screens, including the inclusion of touch-sensitive technology, are all exposed. Nintendo Japan orders a security review at NOE.

By the 18th, SPOnG catches sight of what will become Mario 64 DS, banded around by Nintendo as a two-level demo shown to developers. Nintendo refuses to comment though off the record the game is confirmed.

The 19th and Sega aims to fend off escalating rumours of a closure of its arcade hardware development unit and a move towards using Sammy’s AtomisWave board. A deal is announced with PowerVR which promises a new machine to be unveiled within months. This never happens.

A trend for 2004 emerges with China banning Codemaster’s Project IGI 2 for “damages to national dignity and interests.” More would follow in the coming months

Sony Europe desperately tries to bridge the widening Gran Turismo gap offering GT4: Prologue on PAL release and slating the final game for autumn. A day later and US gamers cry themselves to sleep, denied as they are an equivalent release.

23rd of March and Sony swoops to acquire Guerrilla Games, developer of its Killzone (then still dubbed Halo-killer – oops) and Eidos’ Shellshock. Hermen Hulst, Managing Director of Guerrilla said of the agreement "We have enjoyed an excellent working relationship with SCEE throughout the development of Killzone and are extremely pleased to be extending this partnership. We are looking forward to working exclusively with SCEE, applying our talent and technology to new platforms in order to establish Guerrilla as one of the finest development studios in Europe."

Guerrilla’s offerings stand as the most over-hyped titles of the year.

A day later and SPOnG misses the chance to publish a photo of the huge-breasted Playboy model Kitana Baker with news that she was suing Eidos over a promotional video shot featuring the naked lady. Baker asserted she was assured “…that the that the entire [Backyard Wrestling] video was going to be done in a high-class manner and would not be in any way graphic.” Apparently, nothing comes of the case.

A day later and news that seemingly, everyone has forgotten – there is a Zelda game confirmed for Nintendo’s DS handheld. Speaking at the Games Developers Conference, famed Nintendo producer Eiji Aonuma said, "With this new expressive quality, and with the upcoming release of the unique Nintendo DS system, I think we will see more changes coming to the franchise.” Nothing has been seen of Zelda DS to date.

Also on the 25th, Microsoft shows what will eventually spawn the Xbox 2 in the shape of the XNA development platform, described by the firm as "...the catalyst for a new ecosystem of interchangeable software tools that liberates developers from spending too much time writing overly-mundane, repetitive boilerplate code."

A day later and the first ever PSP game, Death Jr, is shown to the world. Although not representative of the final splendour offered by SCEI’s inaugural portable, a frenzy of excitement engulfs the Digital Eclipse title.

Former Sega mouth-on-legs Peter Moore, now in his new role as Xbox mouth-on-legs makes the latest of several stunning gaffes. With the Xbox in some weeks struggling to shift 200 units and development support non-existent in Japan, Moore decides it would be a good time to go on record with “They have no choice [to support us] because they can't survive on Mahjong games shipping to 100,000 people anymore. They have the same issues that we're resolving with XNA now. They need to develop large-scale global games to stay in business. I thought I saw the same game 15 times over: a guy with a sword running around. There's a lack of creative juices which they admit themselves. It's the western developers and publishers who are really driving innovation.” Reports of Moore being made to stand in the naughty corner all week by Robbie Bach remain unconfirmed.

And a final bombshell for March saw Microsoft can its XSN Sports range, a staggering blow to the console’s line-up. Microsoft's Kevin Browne, XSN Sports Studio Manager said, "I think the dominant piece of feedback that we heard on several of the titles was: 'XSN Sports is so cool, I just wish we had better games to play with that service.' And we're taking that to heart. We actually did think we had good games last year, but the market and the direct feedback that we have shows us that we fall short in a couple of areas to our competition, and we think it's the best thing we can do, to take this year off, and to close that quality gap that we have in respect to the EA Sports and ESPN sports titles.”


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