After releasing a string of AAA console titles to varying levels of commercial success, the UK-based studio is attempting to establish what it describes as a “third way” of making games – one that falls somewhere between what we have traditionally called AAA and Indie. Smaller scale, lower cost, with no sacrifices made in terms of creative risks and quality of execution.
“We’re taking our work on Hellblade as an opportunity to question the way the games industry has always done things,” said product development manager Dominic Matthews in a recent developer diary. “To see if there’s a better way, a more streamlined way. To create amazing quality on a smaller budget.”
As a result, Hellblade has a core team of 12 people, with a single person working in the majority of discipline areas. Ninja Theory is committed to finding affordable or homebrew alternatives to the high-end processes associated with its previous games – the performance capture used in Enslaved: Odyssey to the West, for example – but its sales target will remain eminently achievable: between 200,000 and 300,000 units.
“[Hellblade] is about what we feel passionate about, what we’re good at, and what we think our fans and supporters want from a game,” said Tameem Antoniades, Ninja Theory’s co-founder. “But it comes at a price. We have to self-fund this game, and we have to work within the restrictions that that means for us.”
In a celestial surprise, NASA’s Cassini spacecraft has identified a cloud of methane ice high in the stratosphere of Saturn’s huge moon Titan.
“The idea that methane clouds could form this high on Titan is completely new,” study lead author Carrie Anderson, a Cassini participating scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, said in a statement. “Nobody considered that possible before.”
Anderson and her colleagues spotted the methane cloud hovering over Titan’s north pole in images taken by Cassini in December 2006, when it was winter in the moon’s northern hemisphere. (The north is now shifting from spring into summer.) [Amazing Photos: Titan, Saturn's Largest Moon]
Researchers had seen methane clouds on Titan before, but in the troposphere, the lowest part of the moon’s thick, nitrogen-rich atmosphere. While wispy clouds of ethane and several other materials have been observed in the stratosphere, this region had been regarded as not quite cold enough to support the existence of methane clouds. (Cloud formation requires colder temperatures at higher altitudes, because the air higher up contains less moisture, researchers said.)
This view was based on previous measurements taken just south of Titan’s equator, which returned stratospheric temperatures of around minus 333 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 203 degrees Celsius).
But more recent Cassini data show that the stratosphere is patchy, with temperatures as low as minus 344 F (minus 209 C) in places, researchers said. And those frigid patches are cold enough for methane ice particles to form.
The methane cloud likely formed when relatively warm air rose to the stratosphere from the surface of Titan’s southern hemisphere, where it was summer in December 2006, and then circulated up to the north polar region and sank back down, cooling as it went. Such a mechanism could produce methane clouds at altitudes ranging from 19 to 31 miles (30 to 50 kilometers), researchers said.
“Cassini has been steadily gathering evidence of this global circulation pattern, and the identification of this new methane cloud is another strong indicator that the process works the way we think it does,” said Michael Flasar, also of NASA Goddard, principal investigator for Cassini’s Composite Infrared Spectrometer instrument, in the statement.
Similar mechanisms are behind the formation of stratospheric clouds here on Earth, which is the only body in the solar system besides Titan known to possess bodies of stable liquid on its surface. Of course, Earth’s weather system is based on water rather than hydrocarbons.
“Titan continues to amaze with natural processes similar to those on the Earth, yet involving materials different from our familiar water,” said Cassini deputy project scientist Scott Edgington, of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. “As we approach southern winter solstice on Titan, we will further explore how these cloud formation processes might vary with season.”
In an interview that Xbox head Phil Spencer gave to IGN, he says that a new IP is in development at one of Microsoft’s development studios. It apparently isn’t a new racing or military space marine title.
Spencer says that the Xbox brand needs “new stories and new characters” which provide a “canvas to try new things.” He went on to add that “Sunset Overdrive is a great example of a game that isn’t like anything else in our portfolio, and he thinks that is great. I want to continue to invest in things which push the boundaries.”
Spencer believes that it has to be a commitment from the first-party publisher to try things that are new and unique. While he would not offer a clue as to which studio might be working on this new IP or what the new IP might be, he does seem to imply that there is at least more than one internal/external studio that is working on unannounced games for Microsoft studios.
In the interview he again says that he wants RARE to be more than the Kinect Sports developer and he is in fact heading out to see them soon to look at a new pitch from the studio.
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security is looking into about two dozen cases of suspected cybersecurity flaws in medical devices and hospital equipment that officials believe could be exploited by hackers, a senior official at the agency told Reuters.
The products under review by the agency’s Industrial Control Systems Cyber Emergency Response Team, or ICS-CERT, include an infusion pump from Hospira Inc and implantable heart devices from Medtronic Inc and St Jude Medical Inc, according to other people familiar with the cases, who asked not to be identified because the probes are confidential.
These people said they do not know of any instances of hackers attacking patients through these devices, so the cyber threat should not be overstated. Still, the agency is concerned that malicious actors may try to gain control of the devices remotely and create problems, such as instructing an infusion pump to overdose a patient with drugs, or forcing a heart implant to deliver a deadly jolt of electricity, the sources said.
The senior DHS official said the agency is working with manufacturers to identify and repair software coding bugs and other vulnerabilities that hackers can potentially use to expose confidential data or attack hospital equipment. He declined to name the companies.
“These are the things that shows like ‘Homeland’ are built from,” said the official, referring to the U.S. television spy drama in which the fictional vice president of the United States is killed by a cyber attack on his pacemaker.
“It isn’t out of the realm of the possible to cause severe injury or death,” said the official, who did not want to be identified due to the sensitive nature of his work.
Hospira, Medtronic and St Jude Medical declined to comment on the DHS investigations. All three companies said they take cybersecurity seriously and have made changes to improve product safety, but declined to give details.
In a recent interview with OXN, Mile Colter who plays Agent Locke in Halo Nightfall claims that his character is the primary character that people will be playing in the Halo 5 game. That is not to say that Master Chief will not have a significant role in Halo 5 as well.
Part of the campaign will apparently be Locke’s search for Master Chief. Still we don’t know if Locke is a friend or not, so it is obvious that the relationship between the two will be a big part of the story in Halo 5 according to our sources.
Hard to say how accurate this all is, but we do know that we don’t have much longer to wait till the Nightfall series starts airing on the Halo Channel starting November 11th.
To be more specific, that’s a difference of 3 million units, with Advanced Warfare expected to sell around 17 million. Obviously, that’s still a very healthy number, and the sort of success that most publishers rarely experience, but nevertheless it would be ill news for what remains Activision’s most important franchise.
Ghosts was, in itself, markedly less successful than Black Ops II, and a second year of decline will be enough to cause concern within Activision. When pre-orders for Ghosts were lower than expected, Eric Hirshberg attributed it to the transition to a new generation of consoles. With a minimum of 15 million PlayStation 4s and Xbox Ones now in the wild, that explanation would not stand up quite as well with Advanced Warfare.
In a note given to Cinema Blend, Sterne Agee’s Arvind Bhatia gave several reasons for the possibility of ongoing decline, one of which was the number of people who are still waiting to upgrade to new generation hardware, and may not buy any new software until they do. The others were sharply declining sales of Xbox 360 and PS3 software, and the fact that some Call of Duty fans may have been disappointed with Ghosts.
A significant counter to that is the positioning of Battlefield: Hardline, which slipped to March 2015 release and left Activision’s franchise free of its fiercest competitor.
Given its huge investment in Bungie’s Destiny and the relatively cool critical response that greeted the game, Activision will be hoping that Sterne Agee’s research is not an indicator of Call of Duty’s long-term health.
For much of the year we were under the impression that the second generation Maxwell will end up as a 20nm chip.
First-generation Maxwell ended up being branded as Geforce GTX 750 and GTX 750 TI and the second generation Maxwell launched a few days ago as the GTX 980 and Geforce GTX 970, with both cards based on the 28nm GM204 GPU.
This is actually quite good news as it turns out that Nvidia managed to optimize power and performance of the chip and make it one of the most efficient chips manufactured in 28nm.
Nvidia 20nm chips coming in 2015
Still, people keep asking about the transition to 20nm and it turns out that the first 20nm chip from Nvidia in 20nm will be a mobile SoC.
The first Nvidia 20nm chip will be a mobile part, most likely Erista a successor of Parker (Tegra K1).
Our sources didn’t mention the exact codename, but it turns out that Nvidia wants to launch a mobile chip first and then it plans to expand into 20nm with graphics.
Unfortunately we don’t have any specifics to report.
AMD 20nm SoC in 2015
AMD is doing the same thing as its first 20nm chip, codenamed Nolan, is an entry level APU targeting tablet and detachable markets.
There is a strong possibility that Apple and Qualcomm simply bought a lot of 20nm capacity for their mobile modem chips and what was left was simply too expensive to make economic sense for big GPUs.
20nm will drive the voltage down while it will allow higher clocks, more transistors per square millimeter and it will overall enable better chips.
Just remember Nvidia world’s first quad-core Tegra 3 in 40nm was rather hot and making a quad core in 28nm enabled higher performance and significantly better battery life. The same was true of other mobile chips of the era.
We expect similar leap from going down to 20nm in 2015 and Erista might be the first chip to make it to 20nm. A Maxwell derived architecture 20nm will deliver even more efficiency. Needless to say AMD plans to launch 20nm GPUs next year as well.
It looks like Nvidia’s 16nm FinFET Parker processor, based on the Denver CPU architecture and Maxwell graphics won’t appear before 2016.
EA is considering developing games for wearables. The company already has two teams on the job, looking for ways to make wearable games. Their efforts are focused on the Apple Watch for now.
EA told CNET that the company has quite a relationship with Apple and Frank Gibeau, head of EA’s mobile gaming arm, said he is impressed with the new Apple A8 SoC. Gibeau added that Apple’s decision to include 128GB storage in flagship models is more good news for gamers, as it raises the bar for developers and gives them more room to play around with.
Gibeau said EA’s mobile division is “intrigued” by the prospect of gaming on wearables. He said wearables are eventually going to offer more performance and capability, thus enabling new gaming experiences. However, he cautioned that “it’s very early days” for wearable gaming.
“In fact, we have two teams prototyping wearable experiences that are not only standalone, but also some ideas where you can actually use the fitness component in the watch that can unlock capabilities in the game that might be on your iPhone. Or you could do crafting or some other auction trading on your watch that goes back into your tablet game that you might check out later when you get home,” he told CNET.
Finally, Ubisoft has a release date for the Wii U version of Watch Dogs. While we don’t know if that many people are waiting for the Wii U version, when it does release it could very well end up being one of the last M rated titles for the Wii U console.
The release date for the Wii U version of Watch Dogs appears to be November 18th in North America and November 21st in Europe. This ends the original release delay that Ubisoft announced for the Wii U version as resources were moved to prepare the other versions of the game for release.
Ubisoft has been one of the strongest supports of software for the Wii U, but recently it announced that it was done producing titles like Assassins Creed and Watch Dogs for the Wii U because the sales of these M rated titles are just not there on the Wii U platform. It did indicate that it would focus on some of its other Wii U titles that continue to be popular on the console.
The news is good that they are getting Watch Dogs, but it looks like we will not see many more games like this on the Wii U.
You can’t accuse eSports League CEO Ralf Reichert of always telling people what they want to hear. At last month’s FanExpo Canada in Toronto, Ontario, just a few blocks away from the Hockey Hall of Fame, Reichert told GamesIndustry.biz that he saw competitive gaming overtaking the local pastime.
“Our honest belief is it’s going to be a top 5 sport in the world,” Reichert said. “If you compare it to the NHL, to ice hockey, that’s not a first row sport, but a very good second-row sport. [eSports] should be ahead of that… It’s already huge, it’s already comparable to these traditional sports. Not the Super Bowl, but the NHL [Stanley Cup Finals].”
Each game of this year’s Stanley Cup Finals averaged 5 million viewers on NBC and the NBC Sports Network. The finals of the ESL Intel Extreme Masters’ eighth season, held in March in Katowice, Poland, drew 1 million peak concurrent viewers, and 10 million unique viewers over the course of the weekend. That’s comparing the US audience for hockey to a global audience for the IEM series, but Reichert said the events are getting larger all the time.
As for how eSports have grown in recent years, the executive characterized it as a mostly organic process, and one that sometimes happens in spite of the major players. One mistake he’s seen eSports promoters make time and again is trying to be too far ahead of the curve.
“There have been numerous attempts to do celebrity leagues as a way to grow eSports, to make it more accessible,” Reichert said. “And rather than focusing on the core of eSports, the Starcrafts and League of Legends of the world, people tried to use easy games, put celebrities on it, and make a classic TV format out of it.”
One such effort, DirecTV’s Championship Gaming Series, held an “inaugural draft” at the Playboy Mansion in Beverly Hills and featured traditional eSports staples like Counter-Strike: Source alongside arguably more accessible fare like Dead or Alive 4, FIFA 07, and Project Gotham Racing 3.
“They put in tens of millions of dollars in trying to build up a simplified eSports league, and it was just doomed because they tried to simplify it rather than embrace the beauty of the apparent complexity.”
Complexity is what gives established sports their longevity, Reichert said. And while he dismisses the idea that eSports are any more complex than American football or baseball, he also acknowledged there is a learning curve involved, and it’s steep enough that ESL isn’t worrying about bringing new people on board.
“It’s tough for generations who didn’t grow up with gaming to get what Starcraft is,” Reichert said. “They need to spend 2-10 hours with it, in terms of watching it, getting it explained, and getting educated around it, or else they still might have that opinion. Our focus is more to have the generations who grew up with it as true fans, rather than trying to educate people who are outside of this conglomerate… There have been numerous attempts to make European soccer easier to approach, or American football, or baseball, but they all kill the soul of the actual sport. Every attempt to do that is just doomed.”
Authenticity is what keeps the core of the audience engaged, Reichert said. And even though there will always be purists who fuss over every change–Reichert said changing competitive maps in Starcraft could spark a debate like instant replay in baseball–being true to the core of the original sport has been key for snowboarding, mixed martial arts, and every other successful upstart sport of the last 15 years.
“Like with every new sport, the biggest obstacle has been people not believing in it,” Reichert said. “And it goes across media, sponsorships, game developers, press, everyone. The acceptance of eSports was a hard fought battle over a long, long time, and there’s a tipping point where it goes beyond people looking at it like ‘what the hell is this?’ And to reach that point was the big battle for eSports… The thing is, once we started to fill these stadiums, everyone looking at the space instantly gets it. Games, stadiums, this is a sport. It’s such a simple messaging that no one denies it anymore who knows about the facts.”
That’s not to say everybody is convinced. ESPN president John Skipper recently dismissed eSports as “not a sport,” even though his network streamed coverage of Valve’s signature Dota 2 tournament earlier this year. Reichert admitted that mainstream institutions seem to be lagging behind when it comes to acceptance, particularly with sponsors. While companies within the game industry are sold on eSports, non-endemic advertisers are only beginning to get it.
“The very, let’s say progressive ones, like Red Bull, are already involved,” Reichert said. “But to get it into the T-Mobiles and other companies as a strategy piece, that will still take some time. The market in terms of the size and quality of events is still ahead of the sponsorship, but that’s very typical.”
Toronto was the second stop for ESL’s IEM Season 9 after launching in Shenzhen July 16. The league is placing an international emphasis on this year’s competition, with additional stops planned in the US, Europe, and Southeast Asia.
As the company tries to revive MSN, the focus this time is also on top content from the Web instead of offering original content. For the relaunch, the company has signed up with over 1,300 publishers worldwide including The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Yomiuri, CNN and The Guardian.
A “Services Stripe” at the top of the MSN homepage gives users easy access to personal services including Outlook.com email, OneDrive, Office 365 and Skype, as well as popular third-party sites like Twitter and Facebook, according to an online preview launched by Microsoft on Sunday.
The new MSN also provides “actionable information” and content and personal productivity tools such as shopping lists, a savings calculator, a symptom checker, and a 3D body explorer. Readers will have access to content from 11 sections including sports, news, health and fitness, money, travel and video, wrote Frank Holland, corporate vice president of Microsoft Advertising, in a blog post.
The company said it has rebuilt MSN from the ground up for a mobile-first, cloud-first world. The new MSN helps people complete their key digital tasks across all of their devices, wrote Brian MacDonald, Microsoft’s corporate vice president for information and content experiences, in a blog post.
“Information and personalized settings are roamed through the cloud to keep users in the know wherever they are,” MacDonald added. Users worldwide can try out the new MSN preview.
In the coming months, Microsoft plans to release MSN apps across iOS and Android to complement its corresponding Windows and Windows Phone apps. “You only need to set your favorites once, and your preferences will be connected across MSN, Cortana, Bing and other Microsoft experiences,” MacDonald wrote.
Microsoft claims an audience of more than 437 million people across 50 countries for MSN.
MSN.com ranks number 26 among the top sites in the U.S., behind Microsoft’s own Bing site, Google’s search site, YouTube, Facebook and Yahoo’s portal, according to traffic estimates by Alexa.
New research shows that the object, known as WISE J0304-2705 and classified as a Y dwarf, may have begun its evolution with a temperature as hot as a red dwarf star before settling on its present temperature, which is similar to Venus.
“Our measurements suggest that this Y dwarf may have a composition and/or age characteristic of one of the galaxy’s oldest members,” David Pinfield, of the University of Hertfordshire, and lead researcher of the study detailing the findings, said in a statement. ”This means its temperature evolution could have been rather extreme.” [Star Quiz: Test Your Stellar Smarts]
Pinfield led an international team that studied the properties of the unusual body.
A peculiar object
WISE J0304-2705 is part of the newly discovered “Y dwarf” class of stars, the coolest of the brown dwarf objects. Brown dwarfs are often referred to as “failed stars” because, despite their substantial size, they fall short of the necessary mass to begin the hydrogen fusion that powers stellar objects.
The new planet-like object has a mass between 20 and 30 Jupiters, ranking it in size between planets and small stars. Unlike the rocky Earth, the Y dwarf has a gas exterior much like Jupiter.
Pinfield and his team identified the Y dwarf with NASA’s WISE Observatory, then followed up with some of the largest ground-based telescopes to better understand its characteristics. These observations revealed that the object may have an ancient origin, undergoing large temperature changes over the course of its life. Its unusual features led the scientists to classify it as “peculiar.”
“The ground-based measurements were very challenging, even with the large telescopes,” team member Mariusz Gromadzki, of the Millennium Institute of Astrophysics in Chile, said in the same statement. “It was exciting when the results showed just how cool this object was, and that it was unusual.”
If the new object is ancient, it would have spent the first 20 million years of its life with a temperature of at least 5,100 degrees Fahrenheit (2,800 degrees Celsius), similar to red dwarf stars. By the time 100 million years had passed, it would have cooled to about 2,700 F (1,500 C), allowing silicate clouds to condense in its atmosphere.
After a billion years, it would have cooled to temperatures around 1,800 F (1,000 C), cool enough for methane gas and water vapor to dominate in its atmosphere. Today, the would-be star barely reaches temperatures high enough to boil water, with a surface hitting 200 to 300 F (100 to 150 C), a range lying between that of Earth and Venus.
Discovered in 2011, the Y dwarf class extends the range of brown dwarfs to as cold as minus 10 F (minus 23 C). Y dwarfs have no lower temperature limit, so even cooler objects may exist, including more unusual bodies.
WISE’s amazing bounty
WISE J0304-2705 makes the 18th confirmed Y dwarf, with three more potential objects. Most of these were found using WISE, whose sensitivity in the mid-infrared spectrum opened up a new range for study.
Launched in 2009, the WISE space telescope went into hibernation in 2011. NASA revived the space telescope in 2013, and it continues to observe as part of its three-year mission.
“WISE gives us wonderful sensitivity to the coolest objects,” Pinfield said. “With three more years of observations, we will be able to search the sky for more Y dwarfs, and more diverse Y dwarfs.”
The research was published in the August edition of the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.
Crytek will be self-publishing the PC version of Ryse: Son of Rome that will be released on Steam starting on October 10th. Crytek promises a benchmark for PC gaming graphics with support for 4K resolution.
The PC version promises a number of graphics enhancements over the Xbox One release and Crytek claims that they have given the developers the chance to really show what the Crytek engine can do without compromising quality thanks to the hardware available today.
To run the PC version of Ryse, Crytek is requiring a dual core processor 2.8Ghz Intel/3.2GHz AMD, 4GB of RAM, 64bit Windows 7/8, DirectX 11 compatible graphics card with at least 1GB of video ram and 26GB of hard drive space. For the best experience Crytek recommends Quad Core Intel processor/Octo-Core AMD processor, 8GB of RAM, 64bit Windows 7/8, DirectX 11 graphics card with 4GB of video RAM, and 26GB hard disk space.
The PC release of Ryse is said to include all of the DLC content. While it sure was a graphics show piece for the Xbox One, reviews of the game were kind of mixed. Still the PC release could be just what the doctor ordered for Ryse to gain some new players. In addition to the Steam release, we still are hearing that a boxed release is coming as well, but we don’t have any specifics on that just yet.
You’re sitting at home, watching one of the major E3 presentations. A brand-new AAA video game has just been revealed and the teaser trailer actually makes it look pretty hot. You’re halfway through watching the trailer, interest piqued, and now you’re wondering, “When’s this coming out?” Now you see it; it’s slated for the holiday season… of the following year. You’re going to be waiting a solid 18 months, and that’s assuming the project doesn’t encounter delays.
Such is the way of the modern AAA console and PC business, but it wasn’t always like this. While the industry never really saw Apple-like announcements when you could practically buy the product immediately after, recent history shows that game announcements used to happen more regularly around six months prior to shipping.
“Back in the PS2 days…if it was shipping in the fall, you usually would see it for the first time at E3. That’s if everything went according to plan. The running joke was if you saw it for two E3s, development was a problem,” noted industry veteran and consultant Christian Svensson.
So what happened? With the success of the PS2 and the continued boom in the industry, retail became increasingly more important, and pre-orders started driving everything. And naturally, more time before release meant more time for marketing and more time to drive pre-sales.
“Around the time that Xbox 360 and PS3 came to market, the investments and risks were so high you had to do everything you can to build awareness earlier,” Svensson said. “You had to build in more beats for your PR earlier, you had more shows to attend to drive hands-on and media exposure, and all of that was ultimately in the name of driving up your pre-order numbers… everyone was trying to lock down the day one consumer. That drove all of that mania where you had to announce 18 months to two years out.”
While pre-orders were a primary factor in the ever-lengthening lead time to a launch, there were other factors as well. Svensson pointed out that companies have always worried about early leaks twisting their messaging. “If we announced it first, at least we controlled the message. Announcing it early lets you prep all of your partners earlier without fear that there are leaks out there,” he said.
Beyond that, development cycles on big budget titles just grew longer and longer. Announcing earlier enabled teams to adequately judge and react to feedback.
Warren Spector (Deus Ex, Epic Mickey), Director of the Denius-Sams Gaming Academy at the University of Texas at Austin, remarked, “Talking about a game early is a double-edged sword, no doubt about it. On the one hand, it can lead to unrealistic expectations about ‘promised’ features that ultimately fail to make the shipping game (as inevitably happens). And there’s no doubt, public clamor can amp up the pressure on a team On the flip side, seeing public excitement about what you’re doing can get a team ’psyched and cranking’ as we used to say. It’s nice when people express enthusiasm for what you’re doing. Also, early reveals can help you gauge public opinion, which can be useful in weeding out undesirable features as well as ones you might want to focus on more. Early reveals cut both ways.”
Dominic Matthews, product development manager for Ninja Theory, added, “The risk with announcing too early is that you make a first impression that is very, very hard to change. You can say as many times as you like that the game is very early in development, or this isn’t finished or is work in progress, but players understandably don’t hear it. They just see what you’re showing and take it as representative of the finished game. Personally, I would have kept all of the games I worked on under wraps for longer.”
That said, Matthews acknowledges that most developers are very excited to be able to discuss their projects usually. “It’s actually a really positive thing for a developer to be able to share their work outside of the studio. The announcement of the game allows everyone in the team to be able to share what they are doing with friends, family and industry peers. It can be frustrating having to say ‘I’m working on something really cool, but I just can’t talk about it yet’,” he said.
There’s also the very tangible benefit that by announcing earlier, teams should have an easier time adding talent to make a project go more smoothly.
Gearbox Software boss Randy Pitchford commented, “It’s not merely about attracting future customers, but communicating about the effort to the industry itself. When your in-development project is known, some activities including recruiting or attracting business partners or other activities becomes much easier than when you’re silent under the radar.”
Svensson agreed: “[If] you’ve created some assets, you think you know what you’re going to build, but you still need some very key roles to be filled and/or just body count to do the work, when it’s known that a particular studio is working on that franchise then recruitment becomes an easier task than, ‘hey we’d like to call you in but we can’t tell you what we’re working on’.”
Of course, there’s another benefit to announcing early that some developers would be very keen on: once a project is revealed there’s a better chance it won’t be canceled. “One of the things people forget is that not every game put in development always ships. A reason a lot of teams would want to announce earlier is that it’s harder to kill a product that’s been announced because it’s very public and for it to not come out after it’s been announced is a difficult thing for a company to suffer. It raises questions about if the company knows what it’s doing,” pointed out Svensson.
Once the announcement gets out there, the pressure definitely ramps up on a development team. But that’s not necessarily a terrible thing. After all, it takes an intense amount of pressure to create a diamond.
“Sometimes pressure is a good thing on the development process,” said Pitchford. “The best amongst us game makers exist to try to entertain people and whenever we have a deadline we work crazy hard to do the best job we can as we know that once the deadline is up, there’s no more time to do any better.”
“In my experience a lot of that magic that just sort of works out is the result of trying to adapt to some kind pressure on the situation. It often turns out that the pressure forces some of these things to happen that ultimately make games not only better, but shippable. The point is that while pressure always feels stressful, there are often a lot of positive aspects to pressure from a development point of view.”
Pitchford also noted that some of that pressure should be alleviated by a good publisher: “I think the only really negative consequence is about expectation management and that’s where the best publishers are really worth their value. The best publishers have a knack for managing customer expectations positively while projects unfold during the development and marketing phases of a project and that’s where you get the best feelings and results from a project.”
So if you’re planning a big budget game right now, when’s the right time to announce? How much lead time do you really need?
“I think it varies from product to product as far as what’s appropriate. An enormous AAA game that is new IP aimed at a monster retail release, a longer lead time, certainly north of a year, is still warranted,” advised Svensson. “When you start to get into north of 18 months, you get diminishing returns, even on something like that… When people have short attention spans, it’s hard to stay on people’s radar at a high level. I think the industry went too far for a period of time on that front and I think the economics of it are changing.”
Pitchford agrees that if you’re looking to sell something new, having that extra lead time is beneficial. “I’ve worked on games that have gone a long time in silence before being announced and I’ve worked on games that have had public announcements that were way too early. I think both approaches can be made to work, but both also bring their own set of challenges. My preference on which way to go depends on the game. The more inventive the game is and the more education required to communicate what is being promised, the more time is useful to master that communication before going wide,” he said.
It’s a fluid process, however, and the marketing teams have to be ready to adapt. Pitchford continued, “Part of the value of the early marketing campaign is to actually learn how to market the title to a wider audience. You’ll notice if you look at campaigns from start to finish that everything from logo designs to key messaging points to front-of-box and key art content evolves and iterates over the course of a project. This is a very tangible manifestation of the marketing team actually learning how to sell the thing they are selling through a careful process of testing and iterating.”
While early reveals can certainly be beneficial for both the marketing side and development side, it’s clear that the digital revolution is having an impact, noted Ninja Theory’s Matthews.
“I think the transition into digital gaming will shorten the window between announcement and release. There won’t be such pressure to drive pre-orders as there is in the retail space,” he said.
Another wrinkle in the digital space is the rise of self-publishing. Under that scenario, announcing earlier remains quite valuable.
“Ordinarily I would say that you should wait to announce as long as you can to make sure you have the best possible assets to make a first impression with: An amazing trailer or a rock-solid gameplay demo. Having said that, we’ve just announced our new game Hellblade at the very beginning of development – in other words incredibly early. We’ve done this because we’re self-publishing and actually want to build a community behind the game by sharing the development process,” Matthews continued. “By announcing now, we can share development right from the start. If we waited, we’d be retrospectively looking back at development which would feel less real, less here and now. This type of approach, or funding a game through crowdfunding, or Steam Greenlight might result in more games actually being announced even earlier.”
“The digital share of sales is climbing up and the need for that pre-order drive is slipping a little bit in the sense that you don’t have to have this crescendo to launch to necessarily find success with the right product, especially when you have live teams creating content post-launch; it’s not the put everything in the box and ship it mentality anymore,” he explained. “It is the, ‘hey we’re going to create a minimum viable product (MVP) and we’re going to bring it to market and support it’ … In some cases you might not even really ramp the marketing until you feel you’ve got a good product to promote.
“To some degree, I think the pressure to announce early across the industry as a whole is being reduced because of the proliferation of digital, the adoption of games as service, and quite frankly, the other part of it is it’s really fucking expensive to have an 18-month or two-year marketing cycle for a game. It’s really hard to do, and not every game has the right kind of content to support that longevity. You can’t go dark, otherwise you lose people’s attention, you have to have a consistent set of beats all the way through from announcement to launch, otherwise why announce early? You’ve lost that benefit. It’s hard on production teams because they have to create assets to support these beats, it’s hard on marketing teams because it’s a long, hard slog.”
And with the rise of indies and smaller games published on platforms like Xbox Live and PlayStation Network, huge lead times make even less sense. For smaller digital projects, three months might be more than enough time to spread the word.
“One of the things we’ve learned doing digital products, announcing more than three months out to build awareness just really doesn’t make a lot of sense. A lot of those titles are smaller, they don’t necessarily have a lot of features to drive a six-month or nine-month campaign… They’re focused. The level of touch is very high in a short period, and I’d love to see the business get back to a lot more of that,” Svensson said.
“What I do think we’re going to see is a lot of normalization again for the average product probably around six to nine months again, kind of where we were in ’99 and 2000. And I don’t think that’s bad.”
The subatomic particles, called neutrinos, are hallmarks of the dominant fusion process insidethe sun. Created in the first step of a reaction sequence responsible for the majority of the sun’s fusion, the particles have long eluded detection. Now, an international collaboration of more than 100 scientists working with the Borexino detector in Italy has made the first measurements of these elusive particles.
The new findings “allow us to look at the majority of the fusion reactions in the sun’s core in real time, as they happen, minus an eight-minute delay for travel to Earth,” Andrea Pocar, of the University of Massachusetts and part of the Borexino team, told Space.com by email. ”The measurement allows us to strongly confirm the model of the sun, and to take a ‘neutrino photograph’.”
‘The most direct confirmation’
Along with light, the sun streams neutrinos from its core out into space, bombarding a square inch of the Earth with about 420 billion particles per second. Although numerous, the low-energy neutrinos created through the proton-proton (pp) fusion process only interact with other material through the weak nuclear force, making their detection a challenge.
The first step in the dominant fusion process in the sun starts when two protons in its core fuse into a deuteron, creating a pp neutrino. Other neutrinos are created in subsequent steps of the process, several of which have been detected, but the first-step neutrinos remained elusive.
“They are the most direct confirmation that nuclear fusion is the source of energy [for the sun],” Wick Haxton, of the University of California, Berkeley, told Space.com. Haxton, a theorist who studies neutrino and nuclear astrophysics, is not a part of the Borexino collaboration.
Scientists have sought to establish that the rate of energy generation at the solar core is consistent with the light shining from its surface. Neutrinos inside the heart of the sun take 100,000 years to reach the stellar surface before rushing outward at the speed of light. Comparing the sun’s energy emitted as the sun’s light with the energy from the core reveals information about the thermodynamic equilibrium of the star over tens of thousands of years.
“This measurement directly confirms what we know about fusion processes in the sun from higher energy neutrinos and what we see from the surface of the sun,” Pocar said.
The new findings also reveal more about the nature of neutrinos themselves. The particles come in three types, or “flavors.” Those streaming from the solar core are “electron”-flavored. As they travel through space, they shift between “muon” and “tau” types. Combined with previous solar neutrino measurements, the Borexino experiment strongly confirmed the nature of the particles.
So far, such effects have been seen only on the sun, Haxton said. The same effect can be used on Earth in so-called long-baseline neutrino beam experiments, which seek information about the complete ordering of neutrino masses.
“It is important that we establish that we understand matter effects in the sun before using this effect to determine something as fundamental as neutrino masses,” Haxton said.
The research was published online today (Aug. 27) in the journal Nature, along with Haxton’s corresponding News & Views article.
The heart of the sun
Buried beneath Italy’s Apennine Mountains, Borexino is shielded from the cosmic rays that interfere with detection of pp neutrinos by nearly a mile (1.4 kilometers) of rock. The onionlike layers surrounding the instrument, combined with its depth, make it the most radiation-free medium on the planet.
Surrounded by 300 tons of liquid, the 2,200 sensors within the tanks capture interactions of the neutrinos with the material. The liquid resembling benzene is derived from some of the oldest petroleum found on the planet as part of an effort to eliminate the presence of carbon-14, whose decay covers up neutrino signals. Although most of the carbon-14 in the ancient material has decayed, the scientists continue to refine the process.
“They did years of work to make the detector pure, eliminating trace amounts of radioactivity,” Haxton said.
Contamination for the recent detections was reduced to less than 1 part per billion billion, he said.
Borexino continues to make detections of pp neutrinos on a daily basis. Pocar expressed his interest in attempting to measure the product of the carbon-nitrogen-oxygen (CNO) cycle that makes up the remaining 1 percent of solar reactions. Though responsible for only a fraction of the fusion process in the sun, the CNO cycle dominates in massive stars with hotter cores.
Currently, scientists can deduce the amount of elements other than hydrogen and helium—what astronomers term as metals—at the heart of the sun, but they cannot directly measure it. These measurements indicate that the core is relatively rich in elements such as carbon and nitrogen, while the outer shell is metal-poor. The metallicity of the two are related in the standard solar model, which assumes that the sun was homogeneous when it first formed.
“Such a measurement directly probes the metallicity of the core,” Haxton said.
Measurements of the interior could have implications for planet formation. According to Haxton, one theory is that the planets may have extracted a lot of the metal from the solar disk as the sun formed.
“We might learn that a star’s surface metallicity is altered if that star harbors planets,” Haxton said.
Such information could have an impact on how exoplanet hunters select their target stars.