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Currents Top Ten I Atari CEO Unexpectedly Steps Down I PS3 HDD to Include Linux I Voice Actors Get Raise I Microsoft Expects 360 Supply Shortage I Lost Odyssey Development Studio Details I Slime Controller, FFXI Clock Coming Westward I 360 to Offer Downloadable Games I Stock Ticker I Currents Close-Up Poll
CURRENTS
Issue #10 Milestone June 10, 2005


Front Page

This week, Currents reaches its first milestone with its tenth issue. I'm really proud of the column and grateful to all you readers who support it. It wouldn't be here without you. Other than that, nothing's changed--it's the same old, tried-and-true Currents. Actually, there is a new poll down at the bottom to help us figure out exactly what you like and don't like about the Close-Up features, so don't forget to vote.

As far as game industry news--wow. Seven stories today and a chunk of them are massive. I didn't foresee this even after I found the stories. Either way, here they are so get out those reading glasses and pour yourself a cold and/or warm one. In a few short seconds, you can read about how the CEO of Atari quit and ticked everyone off, the PS3 HDD getting a few new surprises, voice actors and the video game industry reaching an agreement, Microsoft not expecting to deliver all the 360s they're planning to sell, details on Lost Odyssey's development studio, some cool Hori products coming stateside, and a new way to play games on your Xbox 360. Wow, that's a mouthfull. So get going.



 Currents Top Ten

For the fourth consecutive week, Star Wars: Episode III retains the top spot, although for the last few weeks, it was the Xbox version. This time, the PS2 version takes the thrown as the Xbox version drops to third below Advent Rising. Lego Star Wars, Midnight Club 3, Forza Motorsport, and God of War are all remaining consistent from last week as they continue to hang on to the fourth, fifth, sixth, and seventh slots, respectively. Newcomer Madagascar debuts at the number eight spot.

Unfortunately, there were no RPGs this week. The Paper Mario 2 fluke from last week is over. I didn't expect it to last forever, but that would have been nice. Here's hoping for another miracle next week.


Position Title Publisher Platform
1 Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith LucasArts
2 Advent Rising Majesco Games
3 Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith LucasArts
4 Lego Star Wars Eidos Interactive
5 Midnight Club 3: DUB Edition Rockstar Games
6 Forza Motorsport Microsoft Game Studios
7 God of War SCEA
8 Madagascar Activision
9 Lego Star Wars Eidos Interactive
10 MVP Baseball 2005 EA Sports


Source: GameSpot



 Atari CEO Unexpectedly Steps Down

Atari CEO Jim Caparro has abruptly decided to leave the company and take a new position as president and CEO of the Glenayre division, Entertainment Distribution Corp. Caparro only held his position at Atari for just over six months. His sudden departure from Atari has damaged the company more than he probably foresaw.

Though Jim Caparro is known for making two important hires for Atari that helped the company greatly--those of CFO Diane Baker and marketing boss Marc Metis--he will be best known, from here on out, for his resignation. TerraNova's Boris Markovich said in a memo to investors: "The abrupt departure of a CEO is never good news, and the fact that Mr. Caparro had only been CEO of Atari for just over six months makes this news worse."

The story goes like this. Long ago, Caparro had created a company called Entertainment Distribution Company, or EDC, with a business partner by the name of Thomas Costabile. Unfortunately, though, the company had to close down after only a year of trying to purchase the Universal Music Group's CD and DVD manufacturing and distribution operations. Soon after the failure, Caparro, who was a member of the board at Atari, accepted the nomination to become the company's CEO. Shortly thereafter, the EDC was revived when a company called Glenayre acquired the North American and central European CD and DVD manufacturing and distribution operations from Universal Music Group for $119 million. Glenayre then went to Caparro and gave him a deal he couldn't refuse--and didn't.

"In addition to a $750,000 annual salary and the opportunity to earn an additional $750,000 annual bonus, Mr. Caparro's portion of [future EDC profits] could total as much as $10 million per year, based upon statements made in [a Glenayre] press release," Wedbush Morgan senior analyst Michael Pachter says. This is a much better deal than Atari could have offered Caparro.

What makes this situation even worse is that Jim Caparro met with analysts at E3 last month, but neglected to report that he was planning to leave the company. Atari's current interim CEO, Bruno Bonnell, told analysts that he wasn't even aware of Caparro's decision to leave until just last week.

Needless to say, Wall Street isn't too happy with the situation, as Pachter says: "We believe that Mr. Caparro was obligated to disclose his relationship with [Glenayre] at or near the signing of his employment agreement and are disappointed that he did not do so." Atari's stock prices fell 64 cents immediately after the news of Caparro's departure was made public. Some see this as a good thing, while others are less optimistic.

Pachter says he believes "that a sell-off today will create a buying opportunity, and we recommend that investors take advantage of this opportunity to establish positions in Atari." Whereas Markovich says: "We view the appointment of Mr. Bonnell as interim CEO with caution, based on his track record in recent months. We note that ATAR missed quarterly expectations and lowered fiscal year guidance twice, from late FY04 to early FY05, under Mr. Bonnell's leadership."


Source: GameSpot



 PS3 HDD to Include Linux

Sony

Recent news regarding the PlayStation 3 circled around Sony second-guessing how they would distribute the console's hard disc drive. Now that the problem is just about solved, Sony Computer Entertainment president Ken Kutaragi has released some interesting information regarding the PS3's hard drive. The father of PlayStation said in an interview with Impress PC Watch that he had plans to install the Linux operating system on the PlayStation 3's HDD. This way, the console will be recognized as a PC and not just a mere gaming console.

Furthermore, Kutaragi told Impress that, "We're not going to equip [the PS3 with] a HDD by default, because no matter how much [capacity] we put in it, it won't be enough." Whether he was referring to recently released information stating that the PS3 would not have an internal disc drive or whether he was hinting that the device would not be packaged with a hard drive at all is not clear, however.

If the PS3 is not packaged with a hard drive, then it will likely have to be purchased separately, as an accessory. To gamers, this also means having to spend more money. Kutaragi left this possibility open when he commented, "There are still some issues if the machine doesn't come with an HDD." He also hinted that there could be more than one hard drive option available at the console's launch when he said, "We've added a 2.5-inch HDD bay so that users can equip HDDs, such as 80GB and 120GB, even though that's still not enough [capacity]."

On the other side of the console battle, the Xbox 360 will come packaged with a 20 gigabyte detachable hard drive. Though no other hard drive models have been announced, Microsoft has hinted at the possibility of producing higher-capacity drives in the future. Below is a complete translation of the interview between Ken Kutaragi and Impress.

--

Impress: The PlayStation 3 has some extremely high specifications, but it doesn't come with an HDD. Why?

Kutaragi: We're not going to equip [the PS3 with] an HDD by default, because no matter how much [capacity] we put in it, it won't be enough. The next step is definitely network drives. With the Cell server, they can be accessed from anywhere, via network. Whether it's your own house [or] your friend's house, you can access the [network hard drive] anywhere. That's the kind of world we're imagining. But there are still some issues if the machine doesn't come with an HDD. So this time, we've added a 2.5-inch HDD bay so that users can equip HDDs, such as 80GB and 120GB, even though that's still not enough [capacity]. Although a network drive would allow for terabytes of storage, there's still the necessity to run an operating system offline. A hard drive for running an OS will be required for [the PS3] to be recognized as a computer.

Impress: Do you mean to say that you'll run an OS on the PS3 to use it as a computer?

Kutaragi: I believe its wrong that, while we've been calling PlayStations "computers," Nintendo, which is in our same business, keeps telling the world their consoles are "toys." So even though we're making something that has the capability to be recognized as a supercomputer and requires paperwork when exporting or importing, the government sees it as a "toy." The PlayStation 2 has something as great as the Emotion Engine, and it can even run Linux, but it's still considered a gaming machine. I thought that the situation would become better since Microsoft appeared [in the gaming industry] from the IT field. But they won't say it either, since they want to protect their business. They see problems if the Xbox could run Windows, so they keep calling the Xbox a "game machine." It is really a pain in the neck. This time, we're positioning the PS3 as a "supercomputer." But people won't recognize it as a computer unless we call it a computer, so we're going to run an OS on it. In fact, the Cell can run multiple OSes. In order to run the OSes, we need an HDD. So in order to declare that the PS3 is a computer, I think we'll have [the PS3's HDD] preinstalled with Linux as a bonus.

Impress: So Linux can be run on the Cell?

Kutaragi: Linux is legacy, but it will be a start. In the case of the Cell, operation systems are applications. The kernel will be running on the Cell, and multiple OSes will be running on top of that as applications. Of course, the PS3 can run Linux. If Linux can run, so can Lindows. Other PC Operating Systems can run too, such as Windows and Tiger (Max OS X 10.4), if the publishers want [them] to do so. Maybe a new OS might come out.

Impress: Does that mean that we can expect applications that take advantage of the Cell, aside from games?

Kutaragi: As an example, HD video-editing software is basically the same as the nonlinear editing system used in broadcasting stations. What we're trying to do on the PS3 is that level of software. Nonlinear editing systems are incredible, but if it was done on the Cell, it would be even more incredible... The difference will be obvious. I think other PC applications, like photo-retouching software, will also be able to be done on the PS3. The user interface will also get interesting. In the case of the PC, users will have to wait for years between XP's UI to Longhorn's. But the PS3's UI will evolve much faster. For example, if we had an interface where we could control applications using gestures and words using the EyeToy, it would be like Minority Report. Of course, that kind of an evolution will also reflect on games. This will be the first form that [the Cell] will be spread. It can connect a keyboard, and it has all the necessary interfaces. It can run media, and it can run on a network. It's got such an all-around purpose, and it's open. It will become completely open if we equip it with Linux, and programmers will be able to do anything with it. It's the same thing with the graphics, since it's got the shaders.


Sources: GameSpot | Impress



 Voice Actors Get Raise

Merely hours before the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (AFTRA) were to count the votes deciding whether each group would begin a strike stopping all video game voice-over work, the presidents of the groups stepped in to stop the strike. Rather than having things get really ugly, the presidents of SAG and AFTRA reached an agreement with the video game industry that will allow union members to continue their work as game voice actors in exchange for a 36 percent pay increase. Good through 2008, the first part of the deal, which is a 25 percent pay increase, begins July 1 of this year.

Melissa Gilbert, president of the SAG, had this to say of the deal: "Our members clearly support the inclusion of residuals in our interactive contracts. However, with great reluctance, our negotiating committee concluded that it is in the interests of the members who work these contracts to make this deal."

For the last several months, a war of sorts has been waging between the video game industry and the SAG and AFTRA. The conflict stemmed from game makers not paying voice actors any extra money beyond a game's 400,000th sale. And with games like Halo 2 selling well over 5 million units, it's easy to see the problem that actors' unions have with this standard. The current going minimum rate for voice actors is $556 for a for-hour voice-acting session (the deal raised it to $750, but no royalties). In most other parts of the entertainment industry, actors receive royalties each time a production featuring their work is shown after its initial broadcast and profits are always shared if a blockbuster hit is produced.

Some voice actors such as James Arnold Taylor, who was the voice of Tidus in Final Fantasy X, say that performances for video games make up about 26 percent of the time they spend working, but only account for 9 percent of their income. Also, some voice actors end up playing multiple roles for one project, whereas in movies, most actors only play one role. Mr. Taylor has said that the most number of different roles he's played for one project is 36.

"It's strenuous," says Taylor. "You think you are doing 2 pages of dialogue but instead you are doing 20 pages of screaming, 'Die! Die! Die! I'm going to kill you!' Then the directors say, 'We want bigger, bigger, more!' I train like a singer, but even with that it can't help but have an effect on your voice. We understand there are a lot of games not based on dialogue, but then again there are a lot of games that are."

The opposing view says that with the cost of making games rising, it's becoming more difficult for game studios to break even and make a profit on their games. Having to increase the pay of voice actors will only make that worse, plus if one piece of the game development pie is getting more money, then the remaining pieces will also want a bigger chunk of the profits, meaning even less money for the studios to take home. The opposing view also argues that live voices in games aren't nearly as important as the other parts that go into a game, so paying actors more money isn't justifiable. In other words, people don't buy games for the voice content, unlike movies, which people often buy for the actors that star in them.

The deal itself, however, only affects unionized voice actors. The game industry is still free to hire non-professional voice talent; the agreement doesn't guarantee more work for the unionized actors. In fact, this whole ordeal has increased the demand for non-union actors. But according to Howard Fabrick, the attorney representing the game industry, "The agreement is a win for both sides. The deal permits continued employment and a generous increase in compensation for voice actors, while allowing game publishers to continue working with the union talent they prefer."


Sources: New York Times | GameSpot



 Microsoft Expects 360 Supply Shortage

Microsoft

The holiday season a few months ago was plagued with a severe shortage of Xbox consoles, so Santa wasn't quite able to deliver the systems to the hopeful children who asked for it. Unfortunately, it looks as though this trend is expected to be passed on to the next generation Xbox console as well. Recently, a Microsoft executive implied that the company is not expecting to meet the demand for the Xbox 360 console, which is expected to launch in the next five months.

Neil Thompson, head of the Xbox division in Great Britain said to British game-industry magazine, MCV: "I think demand is going to be phenomenal so we see that as a really difficult thing... Will we execute well so retail will have good volume? Yes. But I don't think we're going to meet demand as people are going to come into this platform in a big way."

When approached with this concern, an offical Microsoft spokesperson responded: "We're aware that demand for Xbox 360 will be at a fever pitch, and we're working with our manufacturing partners to ensure that gamers in Europe, North America and Japan will have a great Xbox 360 Christmas this year."

On a similar note, The Globe and Mail, a Toronto-based newspaper, quoted an analyst report that estimated Microsoft "will pay its manufacturing partners about $375 (US) a unit and sell them to consumers for $299." The Globe and Mail also said that Microsoft will pay out "between $350 million and $450 million this year and between $900 million and $1.1 billion in 2006" for the production of the Xbox 360. Dividing these numbers by the $375 manufacturing price, we can conclude that Microsoft would ship out 933,000 to 1.2 million consoles in 2005, and 2.4 million to 3.2 million 2006. Keep in mind that Microsoft only plans to sell the Xbox 360 for $299, which would give us a $76 dollar-per-unit operating loss. Multiplying the above estimates by the $76 gives Microsoft a $91.2 million loss in 2005 and a $243.2 million loss in 2006--just to produce the new console.

Remember, though, that these figures are merely based on estimates and could possibly change at any time. Microsoft has refused to confirm or deny these assumptions.


Source: GameSpot



 Lost Odyssey Development Studio Details

Lost Odyssey

One week prior to the E3 event in Los Angeles last month, Hironobu Sakaguchi revealed he had ties to a new development studio called Feelplus. Though at the time details on the studio were few and far between, they are now pouring in in a torrent of information.

The new Feelplus studio houses the development team currently hard at work on one of Sakaguchi's upcoming RPGs for the Xbox 360, Lost Odyssey. The studio is also owned by Sakaguchi's own studio, Mistwalker, and is a fully-owned subsidiary of Cavia, known best as the developers of the Square Enix-published, Drakengard. As a result of the close network proximity to Square Enix, Feelplus does have ties with the company. Sega and Artoon, a well-known Japanese Xbox development studio, are also reported to have close ties with Feelplus.

Masamichi Someno is the president of Feelplus and is also the former president of Digicube, a Square Enix subsidiary known for publishing many soundtrack CDs for Square Enix games in the past. As of the studio's launch on March 28, it had 48 employees. It is stationed in the same Tokyo office as Cavia.

Since the Nakayama Renaisaance group owns Cavia, Feelplus is also a part of the group. Coincidentally, Artoon belongs to the group as well. The Nakayama Renaissance group was established by Hayao Nakayama, the former president of Sega.

If this short, confusing game of "The seven degrees of Feelplus" didn't confuse you, congratulations. Essentially, it looks as though Feelplus is right smack in the middle of many large publishers in the video game industry. Perhaps, this will turn out to be quite an advantage for the brand-new development studio.


Source: GameSpot



 Slime Controller, FFXI Clock Coming Westward

If you're one of the many people who were disappointed that the Hori Dragon Quest slime controller wouldn't be seen out side of the small island in the east, it's time to dry your tears. If you shipped one in from Japan, then go play with it--this news doesn't concern you. In January of 2004, Hori opened its first offices in the United States and has decided to introduce some of its previously Japan-only products to the U.S. market. One of these products is the Hori Dragon Quest slime controller; the other product is the Final Fantasy XI Vana'diel clock.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with the products, the slime controller is a PlayStation 2 controller in the shape of a blue slime--a common enemy from the Dragon Quest RPG series. The controller retains all the buttons and functions of a PS2 controler--the only difference is the look. It can currently be pre-ordered at EB Games and GameCrazy. It will be released on this side of the Pacific in November 2005 in conjunction with the release of Dragon Quest VIII.

The Vana'diel clock is a clock that tells the current in-game time of the MMORPG Final Fantasy XI. It will also be released in November 2005 to line up with the release of Final Fantasy XI for the Xbox 360. The product is standalone, so it will work whether you play FFXI on a PC, PS2, or Xbox 360. The clock can also be pre-ordered at either EB Games or GameCrazy. Both products will be released as limited editions.





 360 to Offer Downloadable Games

Microsoft

So far, Microsoft has promised that its upcoming Xbox 360 console will allow users to download game content to the system's hard drive. Until now, the term "game content" only meant trailers, demos, and other such promotional media content--some for a price, mind you. Now, the Xbox 360, apparently taking a page out of Nintendo's book, will offer full downloadable games according to a press release sent out by GarageGames. Microsoft, however, has yet to release any official information on the subject.

"GarageGames now has three powerful engines, and we're constantly improving our development toolset," said Mark Frohnmayer, president of GarageGames. "We've got several exciting projects on the horizon including a killer casual game being developed in partnership with another company and a downloadable title for the upcoming Xbox 360."

Patrons of the next-generation console will likely be able to access the downloadable games via Micrsoft's Xbox 360 Live online gaming service. GarageGames has always delivered its game titles via internet downloads, so it's not as though this is a new, developing trend for game publishers. Perhaps, though, with more consoles incorporating built-in hard drives, games being sold through retail outlets will become a thing of the past before long.


Source: GAF



 Stock Ticker

Things look fairly stable this week. It's good to see more numbers in the green, though half are still down from yesterday. This week, Sony, Microsoft, Nintendo, Sega, and Ubi Soft take some small dives, but the sun is shining on EA, Square Enix, Konami, Activision, and Midway--no major dives and no skyrocketing. For the most part, the prices for the day reflect their over all behavior from the previous week; those that are up for the day are at a higher price than they were at last week and vice versa.

One company that isn't listed here, that could be worth looking into for investment, is Atari. As it's mentioned in the story above, the company has seen better days. Bad market news equals low stock prices, but they almost always bounce back up; now may be a good time to put a few dollars down. Be sure to check with your financial advisor to decide if it's the best decision for you.

Parentheses denote negative numbers. Prices as of market closing 06.10.2005


Symbol Company Market Standing Change
SNE Sony NYSE 35.85 (0.37)
MSFT Microsoft Nasdaq 25.43 (0.08)
NTDOY Nintendo PNK 12.90 (0.40)
ERTS Electronic Arts Nasdaq 53.50 0.06
ENIXF Square Enix PNK 29.34 0.32
KNM Konami NYSE 20.35 0.33
ATVI Activision Nasdaq 17.15 0.22
MWY Midway NYSE 10.35 0.45
SGAMY Sega PNK 14.90 (0.10)
UBSFF Ubi Soft PNK 47.65 (0.20)

Source: CNN Money




 Currents: Close-Up Feature Poll

Currents

I decided this would be a good time to get another audience consensus regarding the Close-Up features. Since last week had a feature unlike those of the previous weeks, I'd like to see what you all thought of it. Did you love it? Did you hate it? Do prefer the biographies? What would you rather see? If you have some comments or suggestions you'd like to make that you can't by simply voting, then shoot me an e-mail.


Currents Close-Up Poll
How do you feel about more industry-centered features?
I like them more.
I prefer the biographies.
Both are good. Keep things mixed up.
I don't like either. Find a new direction.
Honestly, I don't read the features.




 Back Page

That about wraps things up for the week. I'm slowly, but surely, moving Currents back to its original Wednesday time slot, in case no one's noticed. Last week's column came out on Saturday. This week, it's Friday--perhaps within the next couple of weeks my mission will be accomplished. The tough part will be keeping it that way.

It's been a really, really long time since I've played any single-player RPGs. It seems as if all I ever play these days are FFXI and Katamari Damacy. I plan to jump back onto the RPG boat this week, though, so wish me luck.


Elliot "I can feel the burn and eat it too" Guisinger


Carlisle@RPGamer.com

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