Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) doesn’t think so. In fact, they have invited James Vaughan, who created Plague, Inc. as a hobby with the help of three freelancers, to speak at several lectures at the CDC in Atlanta later this month.

Speaking to Polygon, Vaughan explained:

They reached out to contact me. It was something they were all playing, and they thought, ‘Wow, this is pretty cool.’

Vaughan, who does not have a medical degree but strove to “make [the game] as scientifically plausible as possible,” released Plague, Inc. in 2011 through his solo studio, Ndemic Creations, and quit his job less than three months later. Commenting on the CDC, Vaughan said:

“They’re interested in how [the plague is] spread. They’re also very keen on how games like Plague Inc. can be used to inform the public about health issues and raise public awareness of these issues.”

Alas, Vaughan’s lectures will not be open to the public, so if you’re planning on attending, you better have some Solid Snake stealth moves.

Crystal Dynamics-developed-Square Enix-published Tomb Raider last week, now is as appropriate a time as any to sit down for a little chat (read: vent) about Square Enix, and where they’re headed…’cause if you didn’t notice, they aren’t really producing the same kinds of games lately.

Once a juggernaut of the JRPG genre, Square Enix has followed the trend of modern gaming, wherein RPGs in general are the dinosaurs of the gaming realm and shooters, adventure games, and the like dominate the market. For devoted JRPG fans (like this author), this may not necessarily be a good thing.

To fully grasp the transformation Square Enix has gone through this century, we need to take a step back—to the late 20th century.

1987: The Faux End (Or the Ironic Beginning)

Yes, this is what games used to look like
Yes, this is what games used to look like

For any Square junkies, it shouldn’t be surprising when I reveal that the then-tiny video game studio was going bankrupt at the time of Final Fantasy‘s release. (For those who didn’t know, you may execute a melodramatic, modern Final Fantasy-style gasp here.) In fact, the title is a reference to Square’s state at the time: the game was to be their final effort (or fantasy). Turns out, riding on the success of  then-rival Enix’s Dragon Quest (Dragon Warrior in the US) bode well for them, and Final Fantasy turned into a HUGE franchise, spawning two sequels on the Famicom—Japan’s name for the Nintendo Entertainment System—and three more on the Super Famicom, aka the Super Nintendo.

Now, depending on where you land in the Final Fantasy fandom, you may perceive Square’s shocking and unexpected shift from Nintendo to Sony’s PlayStation with the iconic Final Fantasy VII as either the company’s pinnacle or the beginning of its demise. VII, so widely adored by many, is equally hated by others who deem VI the apex of the series, with VII heralding its downward spiral. Whatever the case, VII largely opened the doors for Square in the Western market and…things changed from there.

Cloud and Sephiroth in-game

The Merger (and the Loss of a Visionary)

I have spoken with many, MANY Final Fantasy “gurus” (they weren’t really gurus) with varying opinions on Square’s downfall in the 2000s. Some believed it resulted from the merger with Enix on April 1, 2003 (before then, the two were separate companies). Others thought it was at the turn of the century. And yes, as I stated earlier, some believed it was with the release of VII.

Now, I could focus on a number of aspects regarding Square at this point, but given their claim to fame is the FF series, we’ll mostly stick with that. But before I continue, it’s important to know what garnered this franchise so much love in the first place.

While the first three titles were lacking substantial plot by today’s standards, the fourth installment, comparing it to later FF titles or even other franchises, introduced a brilliant, mildly complex plot with deeper characterization than most games had seen at this point (it was released in 1994). Since then, Final Fantasy has been famous for its rich stories and lovable and conflicted characters. Obviously, VII raised the bar for many, and with the release of X in 2001, Square added the voices and expressions (through graphical dominance) it so desperately sought in the 2D and PSX days.

Tidus and Yuna

That is what Square lost in the mid-2000s. With its Disney-partnered Kingdom Hearts series, Square unsurprisingly garnered commercial success, and while the main series was certainly a critical success, as well, later installments have received criticism for an unnecessarily convoluted plot that somehow seems shallower the deeper it delves. (It is also criticized for its incessant, annoying release on multiple platforms, but we’ll cover that later).

Then came the dreaded Compilation of Final Fantasy VII (excuse me while I shudder). This, in my book, is the manifestation of Square’s fall, going from the little engine that could back in 1987 to a teetering train to a full-on derailment.

Just before this, in 2004, Hironobu Sakaguchi, the mastermind behind the Final Fantasy series, resigned his post at Square and left the company. That was an axe to the head of Square. With Sakaguchi-san out of the picture, Square turned to unabashed money-grabbing, and none is more evident than the aforementioned Compilation of Final Fantasy VII (henceforth referred to as the Compilation). As they have done successfully so many times in the past, Square looked to ride on the success of something that had already come. In this case, VII. The problem was, nobody wanted a half-assed string of titles vaguely related to their favorite adolescent game that only served to screw up the game’s continuity and redefine the characters in ways that forever ruined their good names.

Sephiroth in flames - AC

That is what the Compilation has been. With a mobile phone game that never saw release outside of Japan, a sequel film that did little justice to the scenario it set up, a PSP title that rewrote most of the backstory, and a PlayStation 2 installment that was entirely superfluous, Square lost their way trying to make some easy money. The worst part wasn’t even the concept of these projects, but that they were all realized with the dedication of a six-year-old suffering from ADD. The stories were weak by comparison, and none of the games harmonized in terms of continuity (the famous Nibelheim flashback scene in particular is played out three different ways if you include the now de-canonized Last Order OVA), though Square asserts they are all canon.

So that I’m not picking on one particular franchise here, let’s turn back to Kingdom Hearts. The release of a ridiculous number of spinoffs—currently dominating the main series by a staggering 5:2 ratio, and that’s not including re-releases or enhanced ports—has been a heavy point of criticism. To make matters worse, the obscure franchise has never seen two spinoff titles released on the same system, with the exception of one remake.

To date, the series has seen titles released on the Game Boy Advance, PSP, mobile phone (in Japan only, of course), Nintendo DS, and the 3DS. Oh, and the two numerical titles were released on the PlayStation 2. While the PlayStation 3 provided a perfect platform to host the highly anticipated Kingdom Hearts III, Square opted to focus its efforts on other platforms, and only now are we seeing a PS3 release for this franchise…and it’s only a HD remake of the original.

Kingdom_Hearts

Why did Square feel the need to fan out its games that much? Different franchises on different systems is understandable. One franchise spanning six platforms (as exclusive titles, no less) is asinine. (They followed a similar pattern with the Compilation, if you didn’t notice.)

Unraveling (the Main Gripes)

In the latter half of the decade, Square produced the fruits of its corroded labor in the form of two Final Fantasy titles: Dissidia, a fighting game featuring heroes and villains from various FF titles; and XIII. While I thoroughly enjoyed the former, it shared many problems with the latter. As Square has seemed wont to do, both titles featured a rich backstory that set up a potentially wonderful plot. While I was fascinated by Dissidia’s well thought-out, if overwhelmingly convoluted, plot, Final Fantasy XIII’s narrative drowned in an eddy of melodrama that seldom evoked the emotion it so desperately grasped for.

The main problem with both of these titles: the backstory, the meat of both titles and the most intriguing aspect, was reduced to trite, text-only in-game documents that proved a chore to wade through, and only served to complicate the games’ plots. Like the second disc of Xenogears had done a decade earlier, these two titles severely infringed on the “show, don’t tell” rule.

This is how you learned about EVERYTHING in XIII
This is how you learned about EVERYTHING in XIII

I’ll drop off on Dissidia here, but XIII is worth further mention (read: criticism). The game is actually part of an umbrella of titles collectively known as Fabula Nova Crystallis Final Fantasy. Thus far, the series consists of XIII, it’s sequel, XIII-2, that game’s forthcoming sequel, Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII, Versus XIII, which may as well not exist as its been in development since 2006, and Type-0, a PSP title that was never released in the States despite its critical acclaim (which is more than can be said for XIII or its unwanted sequel).

XIII, criticized for its linear gameplay and mediocre story, received a sequel two years later. Why? Because XIII, despite the negative response (for a FF game, anyway), still sold, and producing a sequel was significantly cheaper than developing a new title altogether. So we received a game we didn’t ask for: XIII-2, which, despite better gameplay overall, somehow managed to fall flatter in terms of story. Now, Square has deemed it necessary to burden us with yet another sequel to a series already so insipid.

Versus XIII, the Final Fantasy title everyone’s been waiting for, has been in development purgatory since its announcement in 2006, and there is debate whether it will even see release on current gen consoles. (Square is announcing another Final Fantasy for PS4 at E3, and speculation suggests it might be Versus). This game has been eagerly awaited, but at every turn, Square has disappointed, and only began mentioning the title again when a vicious rumor surfaced that the title had been quietly cancelled.

Type-0 (formerly Agito XIII) did see a release, and despite its PS3 brethren, was extremely well-received critically. So, Square decided not to release it overseas. Seriously?!

Now, we are facing a Square that prematurely released a fourteenth installment in its flagship series far too early and has had to completely revamp the title…not something you want in a MMO.

Westerning (and the Future)

tomb-raider-reboot-13

Curiously, as alluded to at the beginning of this article, Square is having much more success with its “Western” games—a new direction the company is taking. Tomb Raider has been hailed by critics, and Sleeping Dogs, though not as financially successful as anticipated, was a critical success.

So, what does this mean? Square is certainly not in danger of going bankrupt, but its most promising franchises are heading south fast (even if they’re still making money right now). Just as the debate is back-and-forth whether Nintendo will ever turn to software-only, it’s questionable how long Square will continue to work on more “Eastern” (i.e. JRPG) titles. Final Fantasy will surely live on for a while, but even its later games have geared more toward action (and reportedly, Lightning Returns will further this trend), and Kingdom Hearts III…well, let’s not go there.

Speculation has already arisen that next gen consoles will not focus on RPGs, and given the trend of current gen systems, that’s not a farfetched notion by any means. We’ve already seen Square make a drastic shift to “Western” titles, and whether they fare well in that market or not (Tomb Raider seems to be a sure thing), a Square without solid, plot-filled JRPGs is not something this author is excited to see.

Irrational Games has just released the track list for BioShock Infinite, which will be hitting shelves on March 26. What’s really curious (and awesome!) is that one track, “Will the Circle be Unbroken,” is performed and sung by Troy Baker and Courtnee Draper, the voice actors for Infinite protagonists Booker DeWitt and Elizabeth, respectively.

Check out the 45-second behind-the-scenes clip above featuring the pair performing the duet in the studio. If you like what you hear, you can always pre-order the Premium or Ultimate Songbird Edition of the game, both of which will include a digital download of the game’s soundtrack.

given developers a few perks to have their games up and running for launch day. Here’s how @KelleSan explained the “contest”:

We will take the top three games (by total gamer time spent playing during the first six weeks that OUYA is in gamers’ hands), and… make you famous! OUYA is investing in a series of short documentaries to tell developers’ stories. We want to share your process, ups and downs, everything that goes into making the thing that you love — and that game we love to play.

If your game is one of the top three in the first six weeks, then one of those documentaries will be about you.

Kickstarter backers will enjoy the first run of OUYA Consoles starting March 28th, followed by general availability in June. March 28th will also include a launch party in San Francisco, and guess what? We’ll be there to bring you all the epicness first hand!

Less than a month until the OUYA stuff hits the fan!

Angry-Birds-Space

Angry Birds Space has received an update today on iOS and Android that includes an update to the theme song by famous Guns’N Roses guitarist Slash. Not only is the theme song made exponentially cooler by Slash, so has Slash himself with these Angry Birds Space official Slashbird images.

Slash is not that unfamiliar with being in video games having previously graced the cover of Guitar Hero III as well as starring as a playable character in the game. Grab this Angry Birds Space update to hear the tune yourself and let us know what you think of it in the comments section below.

 

The US PlayStation Store update is now LIVE.

The GameFans weekly update is here to share the news about more new games, demos, and add-on content than you can shake a SIXAXIS at. With platforms such as PS Plus, PSN, PS One/PS2 Classics, minis, PlayStation Mobile, and Day 1 Digital on PS3 and Vita, there is something for everyone. Read the rest of this entry »

Assassin's Creed IV

Yes, the rumors were true. Ubisoft has officially announced Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag. Details of the game will be revealed this Monday (March 4), but will reportedly release on current-gen consoles (and probably next-gen, as well). The box art, seen above, shows our as-yet-named protagonist in a pirate setting, indicating this tale takes place sometime in the 1700s-1800s (probably the former).

Members of the Brotherhood, share your giddy excitement with us! We truly want to hear it.

"This is how the industry looks right now."
“This is how the industry looks right now.”

 

According to Cliff Bleszinski, former designer for Epic Games (made famous for Gears of War), the industry is in turmoil (news flash: he’s right). Speaking to Gamesindustry International, Bleszinski said:

This business has not been in a state of transition like it is right now since the video game crash of the ’80s. I really think we’re in a massive state of turmoil. I think Nintendo could possibly be faced with the situation of becoming a company that only makes software moving forward.

In regards to the other major players and platforms, Bleszinski said he believes Sony and Microsoft will soon “come to major blows” (another news flash: this is nothing new). He also said PC gaming is “going through a wonderful renaissance right now” and that gamers are “ready to do digital download games all the time.” All of this, unsurprisingly, is a bit of popular opinion, but likely sound predictions, though there are naysayers in regards to the PC’s future in gaming and in general.

On a potential return, Bleszinski told Gamesindustry International that now is “the absolute worst time” to return, citing the aforementioned problems, as well as newer business models the industry needs to take such as different price points for different games (i.e., not every new release being $60). Ironically, Bleszinski will be the keynote speaker for the East Coast Games Conference, which will take place in Raleigh, North Carolina on April 24-25. Judging by his words of omen, it might be an interesting speech indeed.

As always, the direction of the industry largely depends on consumer behavior. So, what are your thoughts? Is Bleszinski right, or has he been plagued with religious extremist doom-and-gloom hysteria?

New Xbox Reveal Coming Soon?

PlayStation Event still fresh in our minds, it appears Microsoft may be trying to capitalize on the hype. As WHOIS data reveals, U.S. Techs has recently registered XboxEvent.com. U.S. Techs (now Eventcore) has been responsible for other Microsoft domains, and Microsoft has yet to officially unveil any such event. Still, we’re willing to venture the emergence of XboxEvent.com is not some product of ironic timing on Microsoft’s part.

We already know Microsoft is working on a new system (the 720). What do you want to see from Microsoft? Think Sony is taking the right approach, or should Microsoft take a different route?

[Via IGN]