Welcome to The Weekly Dish! This column will be splashed with liberal amounts of gossip, opinion, and even baseless speculation, so enjoy it for its water-cooler nature and don't take anything too seriously. That said, let's get to it.
My Pokeymans, Let Me Show You Them
The March NPD numbers are out, and apparently Pokémon is popular. Also, the sky is blue, the Pope is Catholic, and people who aren't this columnist still play an awful lot of sports games. But back to Pokémon, the new games sold in the neighborhood of 2.5 million games. That's a whole lot of Snivvies, Tepigs, and Oshawotts.
Here are the top ten rankings:
Other interesting factoids from this month's NPD report include that the 3DS sold nearly 400,000 units in its first week in North America, only to be beaten by 460,000 DS units sold. Not surprising, considering that Pokémon Black and White are DS games, but that's a solid sales result for the 3DS.
Microsoft also did quite well for itself this month. The Xbox 360 maintains its top home console spot, selling 433,000 units in March. The total spending on 360 hardware, software, and accessories was $457 million, which was the highest of the home consoles.
Overall, hardware spending was up from March last year, but software spending was down, Pokémania aside. At this time last year, there were several AAA HD titles released, so it's not surprising that last year's games sold for more than this March's less expensive offerings.
Wii Successor Comes Complete With Kitchen Sink
Rumors about a successor to the Wii reached a fever pitch last week, with multiple major media outlets claiming to have received information about the next Nintendo console from "insiders." The new console is supposedly being revealed at or before E3 and, as promised long ago by Nintendo, will feature HD graphics. It's also supposed to be backwards-compatible with the Wii, yet significantly more powerful than the 360 and PS3. In addition, the controller for this new wonder machine is said to feature its own, single-input HD screen.
Is any of this true? Well, the rumors originate at such sites as Game Informer and CVG rather than at YoGamesAreKewl.com, but Nintendo's response to it all is the ever-predictable "no comment." Completely true or not, these rumors should put some fire into this year's pre-E3 speculations.
Hiking Through the Uncanny Valley
A month after its release, Dragon Age 2 remains a controversial topic in gaming circles. Although a fair bit of the negative reaction has been more that slightly overheated (sure, it's not BioWare's greatest game, but it's no Daikatana), one thing pretty much everyone can agree on is that the game shipped with an unacceptable number of bugs.
No matter what platform you're playing on, sooner or later any Dragon Age 2 player is going to run into something that doesn't work quite right. Befriending some companions causes their friendship bonus to apply negatively instead of positively, eventually leading to a molasses-slow or mouse-weak player character. Another companion has a bunch of mis-ordered dialogue, and nobody's quite sure how many quest lines are bugged out or were simply shipped incomplete... and these are just a few of the biggest bugs in the game.
Everybody's talking about the facial rendering system being used in L.A. Noire, and for good reason. After seeing the characters of L.A. Noire in action, other video game characters' faces appear flat and expressionless. It's an impressive, albeit expensive technology, and has allowed the L.A. Noire team to create puzzles based on reading facial expressions for the first time in a game. Naturally, other developers have been keeping a close eye on Rockstar's latest baby, and some of them have things to say about the facial rendering tech.
Heavy Rain creator David Cage has commented that he believes L.A. Noire's system is a "dead end," both because of the expense and because he doesn't believe the technique could be used to shoot the body and the face at the same time. Cage claims that his company, Quantic Dream, is pioneering a system in which an actor's face and body can be filmed at the same time, which leads to more "natural" looking acting in games. Cage does not say, however, how good this system is at depicting facial experessions.
Remedy Entertainment, of Max Payne and Alan Wake fame, is taking a more similar approach to Rockstar, but one which could end up being more accessible to developers who couldn't afford their own Pacific island. The studio is developing a system that it believes will "beat" L.A. Noire by starting with a facial model of an actual actor, but allowing animators to render and adjust the facial expressions of a character once that character has been modeled and digitized. L.A. Noire's system requires actors to be filmed performing every line of text in the game, so Remedy's system would be more flexible and cost-efficient. Remedy is even working on a color mapping system that will imitate blood flow beneath the skin.
Can either of these systems compete with the impressively realistic results seen in L.A. Noire? We'll have to wait and see when both companies actually reveal the results of their technology to the public. In the meantime, gamers will be able to make up their own minds about Rockstar's technology when L.A. Noire arrives next month.
CCC Freelance Writer
*The views expressed within this article are solely the opinion of the author and do not express the views held by Cheat Code Central.*