Biggest Surprises of 2012

As 2012 comes to a close I look back at 6 things that happened this year, that we never saw coming.   From a reemergence of genres from the 90‘s, to big players leaving the industry, 2012 was filled with twist and turns. Several events occurred, which we may not know the impact well into the future, like a RPG developer altering the end of its game because of fan outcry or Disney acquiring a company near and dear to every gamer’s heart. Buckle up, before we drive off into the sunset that is 2013, let’s first take a look back at where we’ve been. Let me know in the comments below what you would add to the list.

6. Crowd Funding Favored Nostalgia

Starting off the list is Kickstarter. Not the website itself or what it does, but instead some of the games that have proved popular with crowd funding. Ultimately Kickstarter proved that gamers have a strong sense of nostalgia. What they want is what they already had and big names were there to deliver. Genres which have fallen by the wayside of late have flourished via crowd funding.

In February 2012 developer Double Fine Productions started a Kickstarter for a classic point-and-click adventure, which will take input from the fans throughout the development process. Closing on March 13, the project broke Kickstarter records garnering $3.3 million from roughly 87,000 backers.

Flash-forward to September,  developer Obsidian threw their hat in the ring announcing Project Eternity. An isometric, party-based computer RPG set in a new fantasy world, Project Eternity is attempting to resurrect a genre that saw the spotlight in the late 90’s. Closing October 16, Obsidian Entertainment collected $4.16 million from 77,667 backers shattering the record made earlier by Double Fine Adventure.

Lastly, Chris Robert’s Star Citizen kicked off in October with the goal of developing a high-end PC space simulation that will combine elements of two of his earlier works from the 90’s, Wing Commander and Freelancer. The project attracted $2.1 million from 34,397 backers on Kickstarter, but  when added to the fund donated to his web site he collected $6,238,563 from 89,667 backers.

So what does all this mean? People really liked games from the 90’s, or at least they think they do, enough to pay pay out of pocket for their development.

5. Next Generation Still Under Wraps

Next up is news about impending next generation of consoles from Microsoft and Sony, or rather lack there of. 2012 was filled with leaked documents and anonymous sources detailing hardware specs, launch windows and launch titles for the next generation, thought to be operating under the code names of  Durango for Xbox 720 and Orbis for PS4. Sony and Microsoft remained utterly silent on the matter even though the consoles are due out within the next 12-18 months.

However, just because Microsoft and Sony refused to show their hands, it didn’t mean 2012 was absence of anything from the next generation. E3 2012 debuted several games which will be likely launch titles for the next generation, much to the pleasure of the gaming community.

Star Wars 1313 made a big splash, with only a non-interactive movie of in game footage circulating around E3. Star Wars 1313 is a third-person action-adventure game developed by LucasArts. It places the player in the role of a bounty hunter, navigating Coruscant’s subterranean level 1313, trying  to uncover the truth surrounding a criminal conspiracy. The game promises to take a more mature and gritty perspective on the Star Wars universe and emphasizes fast-paced, gadget and weapon based combat rather than Force and lightsaber based combat. Running on a high end PC and a very distant, ambiguous release date all lend itself to the idea we will be seeing this on the next generation.

Another piece of eye candy that circulated E3, was Watchdogs. Shown off at the Ubisoft Press Conference—the highlight of the whole convention largely due to this game—Watchdogs showed all the signs of a next gen game. The stage demo was played on a very high end PC, and as such had graphics that could in no way work on the current generation of consoles. Additionally, the lack of release date. An open world action adventure game, developed by Ubisoft Montreal, Watchdogs with follow antihero Aiden Pearce as he hacks into various electronic systems, either to obtain and control information or to destroy those devices completely at specific times. There is still a chance that the game will come out of Xbox 360 and PS3, but that’d be a surprise in my book.

4. A Developer Alters the Ending of its Game

Of course this can only be about Mass Effect 3. One of the early controversies of 2012 was the final minutes of Mass Effect 3, a game that met critical acclaim, and overall pleased fans, for everything except the last 10 minutes. Fans were so outraged at the lack of choice, and the how little impact player decision’s up until then had had, so much so entire theories sprung up around the ending being a dream sequence. The most popular of these theories being the Indoctrination Theory, which claimed the end was merely a test for Shepard whether he would bend to the Reaper indoctrination or not. This split the community between those who believed the game should be left as is, and those who demanded change, or at very least further clarification.

Surprisingly, Bioware succumbed to fan pressure and delayed their DLC line up, in order to work on an Extended Cut, which promised to add to, but not change, the ending. The Extended Cut added a 4th choice to the end of the game, but was ultimately a slideshow of pictures narrated differently depending on players choice. The Extended Cut mostly painted a clearer picture of the post-reaper universe, but still left some things unclear. Most significantly, it put to rest any notion that the end of the game might be a hallucination or dream. So in the end they answered their fans, but still held to the ending they wanted to make. Perhaps if Mass Effect 4 occurs after the events of the first Mass Effect trilogy, it might take account of a few large decisions and reference back to them. More likely though, Mass Effect 4 will be a prequel, or so far in the future that the events of Mass Effect 3 are irrelevant, like a Galactic cycle or two in the future.

3. Gaming Magazines Closed by the Handful

Magazine publisher Future went on a spree shutting down Nintendo Power, Xbox World, PSM3 and PlayStation: The Official Magazine, all of which are releasing their final issues this month. This comes as the company prepares to deepen its investment in digital endeavors. Future also emphasized that it is hoping to redeploy affected employees into different areas of its business.

The most notable of the closures was that of Nintendo Power, which had been in circulation since 1988. Confirmed on on August 21 by Senior Editor Chris Hoffman, it was revealed that Nintendo ceased it licensing agreement with Future US. In its final months the magazine was circulating 475,000 issues per month, a number that Nintendo sees no benefit in maintaining.

PSM3 launched its first issue in 2000, while Xbox World debuted in 2003. Playstation: The Official Magazine released its first issue September 1997.

2. Significant Departures From The Industry

Two significant departures from the industry occurred in 2012. Namely the Doctors leaving Bioware in September and Cliff Bleszinski leaving Epic in October.

On September 18, BioWare founders Greg Zeschuk and Ray Muzyka announced their retirement from the role-playing game studio they founded together in 1995. On the Bioware Blog there were post from Ray Muzkya, Greg Zeschuk, and Aaryn Flynn, BioWare Edmonton and BioWare Montreal general manager.

Muzyka explained that he made the “incredibly difficult decision” to leave BioWare in April, at which time he gave parent company Electronic Arts six months’ notice so as to facilitate a smooth transition. Muzyka said he is leaving the industry entirely, and is planning to involve himself with social impact endeavors, like getting involved with charities in education, health care, and animal rights. While he may be leaving the industry, he said he remains passionate about the entertainment medium, and is excited to play new BioWare games “purely as a fan.”

Zeschuk explained that his decision to leave BioWare and the industry as a whole, was made with “significant pain and regret.” Ultimately, though, he said he needed to leave BioWare for himself and his family. Zeschuk hinted that he will not be working in the industry for a long time, and that there is a “strong possibility” that he may never return. He said he is planning to spend time with his family and friends, and will also pursue projects related to craft beer.

Then on October 3, Cliff Bleszinski, the creative mind behind the Gears of War franchise, announced his departure from Epic Games. After a brief twitter post called attention to a larger article on Epic’s site, it was confirmed that after 20 years Cliff Bleszinski, aka Cliffy B, had left Epic with no announcement of future endeavors.

Cliff’s personal statement highlighted that he’d been working with Epic non-stop since he was a teenager and he will miss it all. At the current it is unknown whether Cliff is just leaving Epic or the industry as a whole. It is unlikely he is leaving the industry as he has been teasing his twitter followers with messages hinting to meetings with various industry heads.

1. Disney Purchasing LucasFilm

Disney’s acquisition of Lucasfilm, Ltd. definitely takes the prize for most surprising event of 2012. On October 30, the two companies announced in a joint press release the $4.05 billion acquisition.

The announcement was not without its fair share of surprises, including the reveal that Star Wars: Episode 7 is in production, and slated for a tentative 2015 release. The purchase also net Disney all of the production company’s subsidiaries, including ILM, Skywalker Sound, Lucasfilm Animation and long-running video game developer and publisher LucasArts.

As related to gaming, Disney Interactive had been scaling back its own video game offerings over the past year opting to license as opposed to develop. Disney CEO Robert Iger briefly discussed Disney’s plans for game development using the intellectual properties acquired in the acquisition, saying:

“We’re likely to focus more on social and mobile than we are on console. We’ll look opportunistically at console, most likely in licensing rather than publishing, but we think that given the nature of these characters and how well known they are, and the storytelling, that they lend themselves quite nicely, as they’ve already demonstrated to the other platforms.”

Disney has already employed Lucas’s Industrial Light & Magic in the making of their upcoming movie, Lone Ranger. Ultimately, time will tell whether we as gamers look back at this moment with fondness or loathing, but one thing is for sure, most of us never saw it coming.

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