AMD’s Mantle has been a hot topic for quite some time and despite its delayed birth, it has finally came delivered performance in Battlefield 4. Microsoft is not sleeping it has its own answer to Mantle that we mentioned here.
Oddly enough we heard some industry people calling it DirectX 12 or DirectX Next but it looks like Microsoft is getting ready to finally update the next generation DirectX. From what we heard the next generation DirectX will fix some of the driver overhead problems that were addressed by Mantle, which is a good thing for the whole industry and of course gamers.
AMD got back to us officially stating that “AMD would like you to know that it supports and celebrates a direction for game development that is aligned with AMD’s vision of lower-level, ‘closer to the metal’ graphics APIs for PC gaming. While industry experts expect this to take some time, developers can immediately leverage efficient API design using Mantle. “
AMD also told us that we can expect some information about this at the Game Developers Conference that starts on March 17th, or in less than two weeks from now.
We have a feeling that Microsoft is finally ready to talk about DirectX Next, DirectX 11.X, DirectX 12 or whatever they end up calling it, and we would not be surprised to see Nvidia 20nm Maxwell chips to support this API, as well as future GPUs from AMD, possibly again 20nm parts.
Based on the firm’s Kabini system on chip (SoC), the APU is named the “AM1 Platform”, combining most system functions into one chip, with the motherboard and APU together costing around $60.
Due to be released on 9 April, the AM1 Platform is aimed at markets where entry-level PCs are competing against other low-cost devices.
“We’re seeing that the market for these lower-cost PCs is increasing,” said AMD desktop product marketing manager Adam Kozak. “We’re also seeing other devices out there trying to fill that gap, but there’s really a big difference between what these devices can do versus what a Windows PC can do.”
The AM1 Platform combines an Athlon or Sempron processor with a motherboard based on the FS1b upgradable socket design. These motherboards have no chipset, as all functions are integrated into the APU, and only require additional memory modules to make a working system.
The AM1 SoC has up to four Jaguar CPU cores and an AMD Graphics Core Next (GCN) GPU, an on-chip memory controller supporting up to 16GB of DDR3-1600 RAM, plus all the typical system input and output functions, including SATA ports for storage, USB 2.0 and USB 3.0 ports, as well as VGA and HDMI graphics outputs.
AMD’s Jaguar core is best known for powering both Microsoft’s Xbox One and Sony’s Playstation 4 (PS4) games consoles. The AM1 Platform supports Windows XP, Windows 7 and Windows 8.1 in 32-bit or 64-bit architectures.
AMD said that it is going after Intel’s Bay Trail with the AM1 Platform, and expects to see it in small form factor desktop PCs such as netbooks and media-streaming boxes.
“We see it being used for basic computing, some light productivity and basic gaming, and really going after the Windows 8.1 environment with its four cores, which we’ll be able to offer for less,” Kozak added.
AMD benchmarked the AM1 Platform against an Intel Pentium J2850 with PC Mark 8 v2 and claimed it produced double the performance of the Intel processor. See the table below.
The FS1b upgradable socket means that users will be able to upgrade the system at a later date, while in Bay Trail and other low-cost platforms the processor is mounted directly to the motherboard.
The AM1 Platform will ship to system vendors in Europe, the Middle East, Africa, South East Asia and Latin America first, then to North America and the Pacific region later this year.
AMD lifted the lid on its Kabini APU for tablets and mainstream laptops last May. AMD’s A series branded Kabini chips are quad-core processors, with the 15W A4-5000 and 25W A6-5200 clocked at 1.5GHz and 2GHz, respectively.
The move to LTE has killed Intel’s pretense of interest in the baseband market. According to the Motley Fool, ever since the handset market began its shift to LTE, Intel has handed its part of the industry to Qualcomm and Mediatek.
Intel was once the Number two player in baseband, albeit with roughly 12 per cent share against Qualcomm’s commanding 60 per cent share. However, Intel’s smartphone apps processors were greeted by a yawn by the industry and as its LTE rollout was delayed. As a result, its baseband share has plummeted over the last few years from a reasonable about to sod all.
Intel must be gutted. The global cellular baseband market in 2012 was worth $17.8 billion, according to Strategy Analytics.
MediaTek and Qualcomm’s have knocked Intel down to a dismal 8 per cent of the market. This poor performance was driven largely by a declining 3G market, of LTE multi-mode, coupled with a hostile pricing environment within 3G. Intel hopes that as 2014 rolls along, its LTE products will begin undoing the damage to its revenue caused by the 3G decline. If this is the case we will not see an improvement for Intel until 2015.
In a keynote conversation with Entertainment Software Association boss Mike Gallagher at the Digital Entertainment World conference, Electronic Arts COO Peter Moore talked about industry lessons learned as the business transitions more to digital games.
For now, games remain a hybrid of physical and digital, and the quick sales of the new consoles are enabling the industry to coalesce around two great platforms that offer a tremendous competitive environment, which ultimately benefits the market. While he believes the console sector’s in great shape, Moore does see mobile gaming thriving, and digital revenues should surpass that of physical game sales in just two years, he said.
Looking back at the music industry’s transition to digital (which it still hasn’t recovered from), Moore said that the games industry must embrace “creative destruction” – there’s nothing an industry can do to stop a shift in consumer tastes and habits. The most important thing for EA – and much of the industry is headed this way with the digital transition – is that games are becoming live operations. That means they require a massive infrastructure with customer service and global billing. Moore noted that it’s a completely different industry now, with a global network running live ops, and gamers deserve their games to be always up and available, and it’s EA’s job to provide this access. Moore acknowledged that EA is still learning a lot about what that takes.
The online environment has been incredibly valuable to EA in building a direct customer relationship. Moore said that EA’s customers used to be the retailers, but now they’re the gamers. In fact, EA has tripled its customer facing support staff resources in the last five years. It’s changing how the publisher interacts with, and markets to, gamers. He eschews “marketing” and prefers “engaging”. Social media has become crucial to success, and Moore noted that on Twitter a gamer will get a response from EA within 30 minutes to resolve a problem.
On the marketing end, Moore said that EA’s TV spend is down 20 percent while the company has actually doubled its digital spend and engagement. Social media and community management are changing the rules. Don’t spend tens of millions on TV to see if it lifts sales, Moore said; instead game companies can more effectively use digital channels and focus on performance-based marketing.
“TV ads today are chum in the water. It attracts customers, then reel them in with digital media so you can engage instead of pushing a message out,” he remarked.
Oxide Games’ Dan Baker is getting all excited about Mantle in the upcoming game Star Swarm. He told Maximum PC that Mantle isn’t just a low-level API that’s close to the metal. But when compared to DirectX, Mantle is lower in the overall software stack.
Baker said that Mantle still abstracts the details of the shader cores themselves, so that it is not clear if it is running on a vector machine or a scalar machine. However, what isn’t abstracted is the basic way a GPU operates, he said. The GPU is another processor, just like any other, that reads and writes memory. One thing that has happened is that GPUs are now general in terms of functionality. They can read memory anywhere. They can write memory anywhere.”
Mantle puts the responsibility onto the developer. Some feel that is too much, but this really is not any different from managing multiple CPUs on a system, which Oxide have gotten good at. Oxide does not program multiple CPUs with an API, it just does it itself. Mantle gives us a similar capability for the GPU, he said. When asked about the performance in Star Swarm, Baker indicated that the performance will depend on how exploitative you are, and the specifics of the engine. In the case of Star Swarm, the team was limited in what they could do by driver overhead problems. There have been decisions made where the team traded GPU performance for CPU.
Baker said that the Direct3D performance for the game absolutely outstanding. We have spent a huge amount of time optimising around D3D, and are biased in D3D’s favor. “Mantle, on the other hand, we’ve spent far less time with and currently have only pretty basic optimizations. But Mantle is such an elegant API that it still dwarfs our D3D performance,” Baker said.
ARM has signed an agreement with SMIC to offer the Artisan platform for the China-based foundry’s (PS) process. Under the deal, ARM will provide a physical IP platform for SoCs targeting the smartphone, tablet, wireless and digital home markets.
The physical IP platform has a set of memory compilers, standard cells and logic, and general-purpose interface products. According to an SMIC press release the deal will mean that the outfit gets access to the popular ARM Artisan standard cells and next-generation memory compilers. ARM’s standard cell libraries and memory compilers incorporate multi-channel and mixed Vt features for power efficient designs.
Dipesh Patel, executive vice president and general manager, Physical Design Group, ARM said that the Artisan standard cells and memory compilers deliver the features, quality and rigorous silicon validation that customers demand to achieve fast time-to-market.
Nobody seems to be terribly happy about the new Dungeon Keeper game. That’s a sentence I hoped I’d never write, given how much I loved the original Bullfrog games – but that fact alone places me firmly within the least happy demographic of all: the original fans of the franchise. The rest of the unhappy parties can form an orderly queue behind us; that means you, game critics who think the game is terrible, mobile gamers who think it’s not nearly as good as its most obvious inspiration, Clash of Clans, F2P advocates who could do without another awful example being used to unfairly crucify the entire business model, and, well, EA themselves, I expect.
Lots has been written about Dungeon Keeper in the week since it launched, almost all of it deeply critical and a good deal of it entirely fair. Dungeon Keeper is a nicely presented but mediocre game in the mobile/F2P genre it inhabits. Within the franchise it inhabits, however, it’s a disastrous, idiotic travesty of a thing, a game whose design process wouldn’t be out of place in the imaginative dungeons of the original titles – involving, as it did, the snapping of limbs and crunching of bones in order to stuff the screaming body of a much-loved core gamer title into a box that is distinctly too small and painfully the wrong shape. It’s enough to make a Dark Mistress’ eyes water.
I like the free to play business model, in principle. More than that – I think the free to play business model, still in its infancy and thus still making countless mistakes, is actually an inevitable step for the games industry. It’s not going to replace other business models, which will continue to be a better fit for certain types of game and certain types of audience, but it’ll probably be the most important and profitable business model in future (some would argue, convincingly enough, that it already is). From the moment it became possible to distribute games for free, it was certain that someone would do that, and devise a system for making money later, once an audience had been built up. Under the circumstances, carefully considered and ethically implemented F2P is probably the best, and fairest, system possible.
So I reject the notion that Dungeon Keeper is an illustration of F2P’s intrinsic evils. It’s not, any more than any number of terrible boxed games were an illustration of intrinsic evils of the retail game business model. F2P isn’t intrinsically evil or bad, but it’s open to abuse – just like the old boxed game model was plenty open to abuse, as you’ll know if you’ve ever preordered an expensive game only to find that reviews were withheld until after launch, previews had been based on glimpses of unrepresentative sections of the game, screenshots and trailers were a cocktail of lies and the whole thing is actually a massive stinker. F2P trips up more often because it’s new and many developers are still feeling out the parameters of the business model – and moreover, because it requires developers whose core skill is designing games to also design a business model in tandem with their game, which is a new skill that doesn’t necessarily come naturally.
That means that if we’re being reasonable, rather than just howling pointlessly into the wind because it makes us feel better, we need to consider Dungeon Keeper not as an omen of doom but as a learning exercise. It’s obviously a mess. It’s disappointed lots of people and made a core group of those people – people who ought to have been its most rapt advocates – very very angry indeed. But why is it a mess? What does Dungeon Keeper actually do wrong?
You could say “microtransactions”, and you’d be right in one sense – it does microtransactions wrong, but not because microtransactions themselves are intrinsically wrong. Plenty of games handle them rather nicely and fairly. Supercell’s games are pretty good examples – Hay Day is, I think, the only F2P game I’ve bought premium currency in, and I’m perfectly happy with the few quid I spent there, as I knew perfectly well what my money was buying and what the alternative was to acquire the things I wanted in-game. I mentioned last week my Japanese friend who has spent the equivalent of $500 in Puzzle & Dragons, and doesn’t regret it in the slightest – from my own experience, P&D, the biggest-grossing F2P game in the world, is also scrupulously fair and up-front about its micro-transactions, and generous to a fault at handing out premium currency for free, thus allowing you to save up for things you want instead of feeling forced to fork out.
Those games – and Clash of Clans, the Supercell game to which Dungeon Keeper owes much of its genre heritage – get F2P microtransactions right. Even Candy Crush Saga, a game which I personally dislike quite intently (I think that describing yourself as a puzzle game and then confronting the player with randomly generated levels which are actually impossible to solve is a miserable failure of fundamental game design), is far from being abusive in its approach to microtransactions; a solid majority of players who complete all its levels do so without ever spending any money. I played Clash of Clans for months without spending, and I’m coming up on a year in Puzzle & Dragons without spending – both of which I still find fun, and both of which, I think it’s fair to say, are genuinely living up to the promise inherent in the words “free to play”. I’m quite convinced, incidentally, that they’re among the world’s most profitable games precisely because they allow most players to continue enjoying them for free, rather than in spite of that seemingly foolish generosity.
Dungeon Keeper isn’t a generous game. It’s a grasping, unpleasant game – which is a shame, because with a more likeable, generous approach to its players, it wouldn’t be a terrible game. It’s certainly among the better of the Clash of Clans clones, a multitude of which fill the App Store with game mechanics and art styles shamelessly copied from Supercell’s hit and absolutely zero effort at innovation. Dungeon Keeper – though I say it through gritted teeth, since the franchise abuse still rankles – has the guts of a decent mobile game that builds worthwhile variation onto the Clash of Clans formula. The problem is, you advance through that experience at a snail’s pace, halted every few seconds by a glowing gem icon that invites you to spend expensive premium currency to speed up your progress. That premium currency itself arrives in an absolutely miserable trickle, rendering the notion of saving up to buy things into a sad joke.
Slowing down progress to encourage players who are really engaged with the game to spend a bit of money to advance is a core tenet of F2P design. Some people hate that, which I perfectly understand, but it’s not necessarily the end of all things – it’s worth pointing out that lots of non-F2P games also stretch out tasks artificially for a variety of commercial and gameplay reasons (I’d point to World of Warcraft in the first instance and Animal Crossing in the second as good examples of this). The point is that in doing this, designers need to make sure they’re not compromising the fun of the game, and err on the side of generosity rather than grasping. Dungeon Keeper fails these tests. It starts asking for money almost straight away, long before any player has a chance to become really engaged or engrossed in the game, and continues to wheedle at players to pay up on an ongoing basis, ramping up within a couple of days to the point where it’s taking 24 hours to complete simple tasks like digging out a square of rock, and literally weeks to finish a tunnel or room unaided by a dip in your wallet. Good F2P design is about making people really love your game and then giving them opportunities to spend money on it. Dungeon Keeper is a grubby chancer who tries to steal your wallet before the main course has even arrived on your first – and last – date.
There’s an even more fundamental problem at work here, though. Making a bad, greedy F2P game with the beloved Dungeon Keeper license is inexcusable – but to be honest, making any kind of F2P game with this license was a terrible idea. Dungeon Keeper is an old franchise, one which never came to consoles – making it much loved by a significant group of gamers who are older and significantly more “core” than the primary market for mobile F2P games. If you weren’t a PC gamer in the 1990s, Dungeon Keeper has almost certainly passed you by entirely. On the other hand, if you were a PC gamer in the 1990s, I think it’s fair to generalise and say you’re probably firmly in the camp that by and large dislikes microtransactions and considers F2P in general with suspicion – suspicion which you’ll consider to be all but confirmed by Dungeon Keeper’s many transgressions.
So why did EA do this? What on earth did they believe they stood to gain from resurrecting a franchise like this in a form which would be utterly despised by the only people who recognise it, while the potential audience it might reach successfully – gamers who like mobile F2P and are looking for something different in flavour and approach to Clash of Clans – will have zero brand recognition with Dungeon Keeper, but may be dissuaded by the outpouring of one-star scores on the App Store with which gamers are registering their dislike. Note too that while it’s conventionally and reasonably held that the specialist games media has no impact on mobile game performance, the hatred for Dungeon Keeper has spilled over into the mainstream press – and while “no publicity is bad publicity”, newspaper articles accusing your game of greedy monetisation tactics aren’t the ideal way to introduce it to the public at large, while Google results populated with fiery critique and all manner of accusations don’t help much either.
Ultimately, EA could have avoided this by making essentially the same game (although doing a lot more careful consideration of monetisation tactics and trying not to destroy the game’s hopes of retaining players by being too greedy too early wouldn’t go amiss) without the Dungeon Keeper brand and the vaguely ghoulish overtones of corpse-robbing that go with Dungeon Keeper’s pilfered, ill-matched mechanisms and characters in this game. Alternatively, it could probably have made quite a decent commercial success out of a premium-priced Dungeon Keeper game carefully updating the original and launching on Steam and iPad – a game with a significant built-in audience and a huge store of goodwill, much of which has now been squandered. It could even have included some IAP further down the line for deeply devoted players, although more in the line of cosmetic items and so on than game-changing consumables. Hell, EA could have done both of those things, resuscitating a much-loved franchise and creating a brand new F2P franchise, thus ending up with two successful IPs rather than one battered, bruised and sorely abused one.
This comes back to a point I made earlier – there is an audience for F2P, a huge audience with a significant amount of spending power, but it’s not the only audience (even if it’s the biggest). There are other audiences who crave other genres, other business models, other price points. The notion that the vast expansion in the demographic reach of videogames is going to be attended by an absolute contraction of the possible business models for videogames is a transparent nonsense – F2P is an inevitable and by no means negative consequence of the reduction in distribution costs to (just about) zero, but it’s not the only business model or price point enabled by recent technological change. The first challenge for designers, producers and executives in this new era is to figure out what business model best fits the franchise, the genre and the audience for your project. EA isn’t the first company to fail that challenge, nor is Dungeon Keeper the last game which will do it – but for those of us with fond memories of Bullfrog’s glory days, this is the one that leaves the most bitter taste. The lesson, however, must not be “F2P is bad” – it must be, “Do F2P where appropriate, do it with care, and do it well”.
Google said it was partnering with Asus, Hewlett-Packard Co and Dell to offer a specialized version of its Chromebox PC that comes with videoconferencing gear, including a video camera and speakers.
The first Chromebox for meetings to be available is made by Asus and goes on sale in the U.S. on Thursday for $999, Google said. Customers can also pay a $250 annual service and management fee, though the first year is included in the product’s sales price.
The product uses Google’s free Hangouts video chat technology to connect up to 15 separate video streams from users in different locations.
The product will put Google in competition against Cisco Systems Inc and Polycom Inc, which make the video conferencing systems used by many corporations.
The world’s largest Internet search engine, Google makes the vast majority of its revenue from advertising. But Google also sells services to corporate customers, including special versions of its online apps such as email and word processing, as well as Chromebook laptops aimed at business users.
Software giant Microsoft is killing off Apache at an alarming rate. According to figures from Netcraft Microsoft gained 48 million sites this month, increasing its total by 19 per cent.
Nginx also made a large gain of 14 million sites, whereas Apache fell by 7 million. Unsurprisingly, these changes have had a dramatic effect on the overall market share of each web server vendor, with Microsoft’s share growing by 3.38 percentage points to 32.8 per cent or 302 million sites. Apache’s has fallen by 3.41 to 38.2 per cent or 352 million sites.
Microsoft’s market share is now only 5.4 percentage points lower than Apache’s, which is the closest it has ever been. If recent trends continue, Microsoft could overtake Apache within the next few months, ending Apache’s 17-year reign as the most common web server. Overall, nginx powers 17.5 per cent of the top million sites.
Much of Microsoft’s growth is due to new sites hosted by Nobis Technology it seems that Vole is starting to become more aggressive in flogging its products after losing ground to the Open Sauce Apache in the first place. To be fair Apache still has a huge install base and it could easily become popular again.
Samsung Electronics Co will debut a new version of its flagship Galaxy S smartphone this month, but expectations are low that features such as a bigger screen will lead to a sharp jump in sales given intensifying competition.
Samsung sent out invitations on Tuesday for “Samsung unPacked 5″ event on February 24 at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona. The launch has been brought forward by around three weeks after sales of Samsung’s S4 came in weaker than expected, analysts said.
The world’s biggest smartphone maker is bracing for its weakest mobile annual profit growth in seven years amid fierce competition from Apple Inc and Chinese vendors, and as growth for high-end smartphones eases due to near saturation in many markets.
The S5 is widely expected to feature a bigger screen, an improved rear camera and biometric functions such as iris recognition or a fingerprint scanner. It may also come with an improved Galaxy Gear smartwatch.
The launch at the annual industry gathering is set to reflect a new emphasis on costs, marking a departure from the glitzy marketing Samsung has deployed in the past, including the use of actors and a full live orchestra to launch the S4 at New York’s Radio City Music Hall last year.
A bigger screen for the S5 may not become much of a selling point as Apple is widely expected to introduce large-screen smartphones – Samsung’s mainstay products – later this year. Apple is also expected to gain ground in China after it began selling iPhones through China Mobile, the world’s biggest mobile carrier by subscribers, last month.
More challenges may come from China’s PC maker Lenovo Group which announced last week it would buy Google Inc’s Motorola Mobility handset unit for $2.9 billion.
Japan’s Sony Corp and Chinese technology company Lenovo Group are having discussions about a possible joint venture to take over Sony’s loss-making Vaio PC business overseas, Japanese broadcaster NHK is reporting.
The Japanese electronics and media giant called the report inaccurate while acknowledging that it was looking at various possibilities for the unit.
“Sony continues to address various options for the PC business, but the press report on a possible PC business alliance between Sony and Lenovo is inaccurate,” the company said in a statement.
Sony has said it plans to revise its product and manufacturing strategy for the Vaio unit as it faces a slump in its PC business, hit by the popularity of smartphones and tablets.
Sony, which will release results next week, had previously predicted its PC business would be in the red for the year to end-March, without disclosing figures.
Moody’s Investors Service cut Sony’s debt rating to junk status last week, highlighting challenges in its television and PC businesses and pressure on profitability at its entire core consumer electronics operation.
Lenovo earns about 80 percent of its revenue from personal computers but has been aggressively diversifying into more promising markets.
Last week, Lenovo said it would buy Google Inc’s Motorola Mobility handset unit for $2.91 billion, the fourth-largest U.S. acquisition by a Chinese or Hong Kong company ever, to face off against Samsung Electronics Co Ltd and Apple Inc in the smartphone market.
Oracle CEO Larry Ellison has claimed that Oracle’s servers can’t be subverted or monitored by the US National Security Agency (NSA).
Ellison made the claims at an Oracle shareholder event, according to a Reuters report. He didn’t mince his words and came out with the frank statement that whatever it does, it can’t touch Oracle.
“To the best of our knowledge, an Oracle database hasn’t been broken into for a couple of decades by anybody,” Ellison said. “It’s so secure, there are people that complain,” he added.
Some would disagree, including British security researcher David Litchfield, who has written a book called “The Oracle Hacker’s Handbook” and has been publicly calling out Ellison’s company for over a decade.
On Twitter today, Litchfield suggested that Ellison is “someone who should spend less time sailing and more on what’s actually going on with his software”.
In the early days Ellison set up the company to assist the CIA and other US government agencis by creating a database system. The name for that database was Oracle, and Ellison adopted the name for his company.
Recently and more commonly, information technology firms have distanced themselves from reports about the NSA and other three and four letter US government agencies, and we can’t think of another that has challenged people to attack it.
Earlier this week several firms including Apple, Microsoft and Google welcomed a policy change that allows them to be more open about data surveillance requests and disclosures.
Last summer Ellison spoke out about NSA surveillance, but not in any way that might be considered critical.
“Who’s ever heard of this information being misused by the government? It’s great,” he said, “President Obama thinks it’s essential. It’s essential if we want to minimise the kind of strikes we just had in Boston.” However Oracle is very worried about terrorism. After all, it’s a longtime friend of the CIA.
AMD revealed Mantle to the world at its Hawaii launch event and at the time it promised support for the new API would come to Battlefield 4 sometime in December. In December, AMD said the API would show up in January.
Now though, it appears that the delay may be somewhat longer. Late yesterday Extremetech reported BF4 support would finally land in February. AMD’s Robert Hallock denied the patch is coming in February, but he didn’t say it is coming in January, either. If it is, it’s coming by Thursday. If it is not, that’s very bad news for AMD given the scale of its PR onslaught.
Back at CES the company talked up Mantle in an elaborate demonstration, featuring Oxide Games and DICE products. AMD claimed Mantle would deliver a significant performance boost over DirectX, up to 45 percent in certain scenarios. Since Mantle is not available yet, it is impossible to put these very optimistic claims to the test.
Mantle won’t be a game changer, but if it is embraced by major developers, it could give AMD a competitive edge both in discrete and integrated graphics. Intel has been making headway in the graphics department and it is closing the gap with AMD APUs with its latest Iris series GPUs.
Mantle could be AMD’s trump card, a cheap way of making its APUs more competitive without wasting silicon, but for this to happen Mantle needs to be embraced by developers. It is very promising, but at this point there are quite a few “ifs” associated with Mantle.
Gears of War will continue to turn, as Microsoft has acquired the sci-fi shooter franchise from Epic Games. Microsoft Studios head Phil Spencer confirmed, saying the deal covers the intellectual property, all existing games and assets, and the rights to continue the franchise in the future.
As for who will make the Gears of War games with Epic out of the picture, that task has been entrusted to Microsoft’s Vancouver-based Black Tusk Studios, under the leadership of the studio’s general manager Hanno Lemke. Spencer called it “a big vote of confidence” for not just the studio but the Vancouver development scene. (Microsoft closed its nearby Victoria development studio last month.)
Future development on the franchise will be led by Rod Fergusson, who was a producer on the first three Gears of War titles. While Fergusson has a long history with Gears of War, his appointment at Black Tusk has to be considered surprising. Just four months ago, Take-Two announced that Fergusson was launching a new Bay Area studio to work on a new project for the publisher.
“It’s kind of nice he can tie the franchise, the culture, bring it all together, and really help with the talent we already have up at Black Tusk to get the franchise going with a new organization,” Spencer said.
Fergusson released a statement on his new appointment, saying, “I’m extremely excited to be joining Black Tusk Studios to oversee development on the Gears of War franchise. I’ve been privileged to work on a lot of great games with a lot of great teams, but Gears has had the most impact on me professionally and personally, so this really feels like a homecoming. I can’t wait to share more with you all soon.”
“[I]f you look at what we did with 343 and getting them up to speed for Halo 4, you can maybe anticipate some things that are similar to that.”
This isn’t the first time Microsoft has had to find a new studio to take over a blockbuster sci-fi shooter IP. In 2007, Bungie struck a deal to split off from the Xbox maker, leaving the Halo franchise in need of a new developer. Spencer said there were lessons to be learned from the successful transition of the Halo series to 343 Industries, and mentioned Lemke would be speaking with 343′s Bonnie Ross about her experiences.
“We’re not announcing anything right now, but I think if you look at what we did with 343 and getting them up to speed for Halo 4, you can maybe anticipate some things that are similar to that,” Spencer said. “But it does give me confidence knowing that we’ve done this once with 343.”
343 cut its teeth on the Halo franchise with Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary, an Xbox 360 remake of the original Xbox launch title Halo: Combat Evolved.
Whatever else changes with Gears of War, one thing that will likely stay the same is the technology powering the franchise. Spencer declined to say whether the deal requires Microsoft to use the Unreal Engine for future Gears games, but he did say the company was a big fan of the technology.
“We’ve used the Unreal Engine in our development of the Gears franchise and other franchises,” Spencer said. “Unreal is important for us. So I don’t see us moving away from Unreal. I have confidence in the Unreal Engine going forward, and it’s important to the franchise.”
Spencer also noted that a Black Tusk teaser trailer shown at E3 was built using Unreal. And even though that clip–a man rappelling down the side of a present-day skyscraper before swinging in an open window to clobber a gun-toting guard–looked decidedly unlike Gears of War, Spencer called it a concept piece, and not a project that is being shelved as a result of the IP acquisition.
“This obviously isn’t something that started yesterday in terms of our discussions with Epic,” Spencer said. “Hanno’s been involved for quite a while, so he’s known that this is something we could land. And the leadership team there obviously knew as they started to build their road map for what they would be focused on. I wouldn’t say things have been shelved. Obviously, this will become a big focus of the studio and something that will be critical to them driving forward. There’s not really something that was on the road map that all of a sudden goes away.”
When Microsoft opened Black Tusk in 2012, studio representatives said it was not working on an existing franchise, but instead was “looking to build the next Halo” from the ground up.
Financial details of the acquisition were not disclosed.
AMD is in a bit of legal hot water and it is coming in the form of a class action suit filed by investors, alleging that AMD knowingly misled them into believing Llano APUs would do well in the market.
The suit was filed in California by investors who purchased stock between October 27 2011 and October 18 2012, reports Tom’s Hardware. The lawsuit alleges that AMD misrepresented Llano at the time of launch, claiming that the chips were going to sell well in emerging markets. In April 2012 AMD announced demand for Llano products was higher than expected and that its desktop business would rebound.
However, just three months later AMD revealed that demand for Llano desktop chips was in fact weak. AMD then reported lower than expected revenue and the price of AMD stock tumbled nearly 25 percent on the news.
In addition, investors claim AMD dismissed concerns about high inventory levels and their impact on gross margins. Eventually AMD was forced to take a $100 million inventory write-down for heaps of unsold Llano chips. This caused the stock to drop 17 percent.
However, the lawsuit is not what we would call bulletproof. The plaintiffs will have to prove AMD knowingly violated the Securities Exchange Act and took a conscious decision to misinform investors, which won’t be easy and it might prove impossible in a court of law. In addition, the slump in PC sales roughly coincided with the Llano launch and it might be nothing short of a trump card for AMD lawyers.
Perhaps investors should read a few tech sites before they choose to invest in a tech firm.