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Best of the Rest: Sam's picks of 2014

I grew up during what I'd consider "the golden age" of MMO games. I was there for the launch of World of Warcraft, as well as earlier titles like EverQuest and Ultima Online. The genre has a very special place in my heart, and WildStar felt like the last, major, "true" MMO (as opposed to games like Bungie's Destiny that possess MMO-like features) release that we would see in a long time, possibly ever again. A last hurrah, if you will.

And what a hurrah it is. We don't really "review" MMOs here, but through a series of postcards, I chronicled my time with a game that is in no uncertain language a fantastic piece of craftsmanship. The visuals are bright and colorful, with a Pixar-esque personality evident throughout. The gameplay is fresh and fast, requiring constant focus instead of hotkey rotation memorization. And of course, the housing. Oh, how I could spend hours simply customizing my plot of land with various wallpapers, decor, even mini-quest objectives. WildStar is a thoughtfully-constructed game with a wealth of content.

True that it relied a bit too much on large-scale endgame raids and the promised monthly updates fizzled shortly after launch, but I don't regret a moment spent on Planet Nexus.

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PSA: D4, MX vs. ATV now on Games with Gold

As the calendar flipped to January yesterday, Xbox Live Gold members are now able to download this month's free games on Xbox One and Xbox 360. As revealed in December, Xbox One owners with a premium Live subscription can now pick up Access Games' quirky adventure D4: Dark Dreams Don't Die free of charge.

Subscribers get two games on Xbox 360 this month: Offroad racer MX vs ATV Alive and CD Projekt's The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings. D4 will be available throughout the month while the two previous-generation games are on a split schedule. MX vs ATV Alive is free until January 15, then The Witcher 2 will be available to download at no cost on January 16 through the end of the month. Lastly, according to the Microsoft Store, last month's Xbox One game Worms Battlegrounds is still available to download for free.
[Image: Microsoft]

Original Kinect for Windows being phased out next year

Microsoft will phase out sales for the original Kinect for Windows in 2015. The decision follows the arrival of the sensor's second version and PC adapter in October, as well as the latest hardware's SDK being made freely available. The company noted in an announcement blog that companies reliant on the original motion sensor should contact Microsoft soon to fill orders for the older hardware, though "no more original sensors will be manufactured after the current stock sells out."

Version 2 of Kinect for Windows is essentially the same tech paired with the Xbox One when Microsoft's latest home console launched in November 2013, save for two changes: Microsoft pulled the Xbox logo from the camera and added a separate hub and power supply to operate. Microsoft's PC adapter for the Xbox One Kinect links the new camera to Windows 8 machines using USB 3.0 for $50. The original Kinect for Windows hardware launched in February 2012.
[Image: Microsoft]

XNA, Xbox Live founder leaves Microsoft

Xbox Live Founder Boyd Multerer announced his departure from Microsoft this week after 17 years with the company. Multerer revealed the career change via his Twitter account, saying "Goodbye Microsoft. It was a good run. Xbox was Great! Time to do something new." Multerer's bio on the social media site indicates that the "something new" he's up to is on his own terms, as he is "currently doing independent secret stuff."

Multerer not only led the design and direction of Microsoft's Xbox Live service starting in 2000, but also served as project manager and led the creation of XNA, the company's toolset that facilitates independent game development for its platforms. The longtime Microsoft designer's last position with the company was as director of development since 2011, designing the operating software of its latest home console, Xbox One.
[Image: Microsoft]

Report: Microsoft building game-streaming tech, 'Arcadia'

Microsoft has job openings within a new cloud-based Operating Systems Group, and one of the listings says the project is called "Arcadia." ZDNet reports that Arcadia is a new streaming system built on the Azure cloud and is poised to replace Microsoft's Rio game-streaming tech. Arcadia will stream games and apps to Microsoft devices, the site says. Halo 5 on your Windows Phone, anyone?

One of Microsoft's job listings reads, in part, as follows: "The new Operating Systems Group (OSG) Streaming team is leveraging the cloud to bring premium and unique experiences to Microsoft's core platforms. These experiences take advantage of a new geo-distributed massively scaling service to redefine what is possible on today's devices. The client team is building the user facing application(s), bridging the service and devices together seamlessly. Our team is a small but growing and dedicated to solving one of Microsoft's biggest business challenges in a creative fashion."

Both job listings note that experience with iOS and Android app development is "a plus." As Engadget points out, this technology is most likely a long way off, since the development team isn't even finalized yet.

Sony has its own game-streaming system, PlayStation Now, and that's in beta on PS4, Vita and PS TV, well, now.
[Image: Microsoft]

Xbox One gets cozy with Threes and Limbo this week

Xbox One welcomes all moods on December 5 with Limbo and Threes, the next two ID@Xbox entries. Microsoft gifted early Xbox One adopters with Playdead's monochrome misadventure last month, but everyone can purchase the platformer starting Friday. As for numeric puzzler Threes, you can flirt with its figures on the big screen for $7, also on Friday.

Limbo is dark, disturbing and more than a bit hostile, but it still earned the full five stars in our 2010 review. If you're after something perkier, Threes combines an esoteric brand of tile-matching with the jazzy, bubbly atmosphere of a lounge party. That may sound like a bizarre mixture, so it's worth reading our Portabliss column to see just why it intoxicated us.

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Dragon Age: Inquisition cut to $45 in Amazon's Cyber Monday sale

Summon the advisers to the war table and plot a course for Amazon, because today's deal of the day has Dragon Age: Inquisition down to $45 on all platforms. The offer ends at midnight PT today (3AM ET tomorrow), and only applies to the extras-less Standard version.

As for why Inquisition is worth the inquiry, BioWare's RPG scored the full five stars in our review. In the words of Joystiq's Alexander Sliwinski, "This is the sequel fans were hoping for all along, and new adventurers will be eased into this next generation of Dragon Age."

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You don't have to wear a horse mask in this Kinect, PS4 camera game

Developers André Noller and Georg Graf of Grandé Games aren't interested in the spotlight. They want their game, a body-bending platformer for Kinect and PS4 camera called Commander Cherry's Puzzled Journey, to be the star. To ensure that Noller and Graf don't interfere with the game's message, their demo videos star a man in a horse-head mask and a purple morphsuit, and when they emailed Joystiq answers to an interview, it was in the voice of Commander Cherry himself.

We did eventually speak with the real Noller and Graf, and unfortunately for their invisibility plans, they have an interesting story. Commander Cherry is their first game, but they're already registered developers with both Sony and Microsoft for PS4 and Xbox One. They're financing the game with their own money, working side jobs on Mondays and Tuesdays, and developing Wednesdays to Fridays from 9AM to 9PM, Noller said.

To get in with the big players, Noller and Graf prepared a pitch package that included a video of the team and a short Commander Cherry gameplay trailer.

"We also pulled off some 'guerilla contacting,'" Noller said. "The breakthrough with Sony was a tweet to Shahid Kamal Ahmad. This was necessary because we had trouble uploading an OpenOffice file (yeah, yeah, the poor Indies). The breakthrough with Microsoft was also the work of guerilla contacting. We searched for the email address of the ID@Xbox director on the internet and found it on the last page of an old PowerPoint document."

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HBO Go app arrives on Xbox One

HBO launched its HBO Go app on Xbox One today, finally allowing owners to stream episodes from shows like True Detective and Game of Thrones. The network also offers a number of films, such as its documentary on gaming addiction, Love Child. The app is Kinect compatible, so viewers can navigate the network's streaming selections with their voice or gestures.

HBO's app was one of 35 announced for Microsoft's platform in June that are expected to launch by the end of the year. Of course, HBO Go is available to those with a subscription; stand-alone streaming subscriptions for HBO will first be available in 2015. The app also requires authentication with an eligible TV provider, a list of which can be found on Microsoft's announcement page.
[Image: HBO]

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Xbox discounts prepped for Microsoft Store's Black Friday

It's happening. The Microsoft Store's initial list of Black Friday deals is live, featuring Xbox One and 360 consoles and video games on sale starting November 27 at 12AM ET.

During the sale, you can grab the following Xbox bundles at as-yet-undisclosed discounts: the Xbox One Assassin's Creed: Unity bundle with Kinect (currently $450), the limited edition Xbox One Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare bundle without Kinect (currently $450), or a Kinect-less Xbox One Assassin's Creed: Unity bundle (currently $350).

Xbox One games that will be on sale include Sunset Overdrive, Forza Horizon 2, Watch Dogs, Call of Duty: Ghosts, Tomb Raider Definitive Edition, Wolfenstein: The New Order, Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor and Diablo 3: Ultimate Evil Edition. For Xbox 360, you should be able to snag Watch Dogs, Assassin's Creed 4: Black Flag, Wolfenstein: The New Order, Sniper Elite 3 and Thief, among others on sale.

If any of these items were on your holiday wish list, maybe hold out a little while longer to see how much these bells can jingle.
[Image: Microsoft Store]

Xbox One trims $50 for the holidays

The price of the Xbox One will drop by $50 for a limited time in the United States starting November 2, Microsoft announced. The stand-alone system will cost $350 until January 3, 2015 at participating retailers, which will include Amazon, Best Buy, GameStop, Microsoft's stores, Target, Toys R Us and Walmart.

The holiday savings applies to all versions of the console, so those in the market for one of Microsoft's Xbox One bundles will also save $50 during the two-month period. That includes the Assassin's Creed Unity bundle, available before Unity launches over a week later, will cost $350 for the standard version that also includes Assassin's Creed 4: Black Flag and $450 for the version with both games and Kinect. The temporary price cut follows a much more permanent one the UK received in September.
[Image: Microsoft]

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Microsoft unveils Kinect PC adapter, issues SDK 2.0 for free

Today must be Christmas for would-be Kinect hackers as Microsoft has made it even easier to dig into the guts of its 3D camera peripheral with both new software and hardware.

Most notably, Kinect fans can download the gadget's new software developer's kit at no charge. Not only does SDK 2.0 include "over 200 improvements" since June's public preview, Microsoft also claims it's a "substantially more stable and feature-rich product." That should come in handy for developers hoping to sell their Kinect-enabled wares through the Windows Store, as alongside the new SDK 2.0, Microsoft now allows Kinect developers to commercially deploy their programs through the digital distribution platform. "This was a frequent request from the community and we are delighted to enable you to bring more personal computing experiences that feature gesture control, body tracking, and object recognition to Windows customers around the world," reads Microsoft's announcement.

Additionally, Microsoft has released a $50 Kinect adaptor that uses USB 3.0 to connect to a Windows 8 or 8.1 PC. While it won't replace the Windows-native Kinect for Windows camera peripheral, the adapter should make it easier to link an Xbox One Kinect with your home computer.
[Image: Microsoft]

Report: Saints Row: The Cooler was canceled THQ brawler

Saints Row: The Cooler appears to have been a fighting game canceled in the twilight years of publisher THQ. Unseen64 reports the brawler, which was in development at Heavy Iron Studios, tried to capitalize on the motion control movement from several years back. Two versions of the game were planned, with one for Xbox 360's Kinect and the other envisioned for PlayStation 3's Move peripheral.

Although it was supposed to be a motion controlled fighting game, The Cooler would have also reportedly have featured mini-games like poker tournaments and the ability to "get lap dances." Although, we imagine, providing lap dances would be a far better workout. Gotta work them glutes.

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Microsoft's RoomAlive turns your living room into a holodeck

Microsoft's IllumiRoom project has expanded beyond a single-Kinect set-up and is now called "RoomAlive." RoomAlive turns an enclosed area into an interactive gaming space, with enemies and puzzles projected on walls, floors and objects for residents to take out with their hands, feet or peripherals. The new and improved RoomAlive uses multiple projectors and depth cameras to scan a room and all of its contents, and then it superimposes interactive environments on top of everything.

"IllumiRoom was largely focused on display, extending traditional gaming experiences out of the TV," the Microsoft Research team writes. "RoomAlive instead focuses on interaction, and the new kinds of games that we can create with interactive projection mapping. RoomAlive looks farther into the future of projection mapping and asks, 'What new experiences will we have in the next few years?'"

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NBA 2K15 scans your face, thinks you're beautiful

NBA 2K15 will feature the ability for players to scan their faces into the game and onto the bodies of digital athletes. 2K Sports revealed the feature in a tutorial video, which instructs prospective virtual basketballers to hold the PlayStation Camera six to 12 inches away from their faces. After slowly turning their head both ways, players will find their mapped mugs in the game, at which point they can fine-tune their features. Created players can then be used in MyCareer mode, where they will likely get dunked on by cover star Kevin Durant.

While the tutorial mentioned the PlayStation Camera by name, 2K says the feature uses "first-party camera hardware." The publisher also doesn't specify whether the feature is locked to a given console, indicating that Xbox One players can use the Kinect to scan their faces as well. NBA 2K15 will launch October 7 for PS4, Xbox One, PS3, Xbox 360 and PC.

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