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Sony to shift focus from TVs, smartphones to PlayStation

Following a recent forecast that predicts Sony’s mobile division will lose up to 30 percent of its sales by next Spring, the electronics giant has opted to increase its focus on the perennially successful PlayStation brand.

According to a Reuters re…
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NBA Live 15 Sharpens Its Focus On The Court

To say NBA Live 14 had a rough debut is an understatement. With sluggish transitions, almost no off-ball movement, and a troubled shooting system that saw some A.I players take shots with their backs to the basket, the play resembled the Washington Generals more than a true NBA team. The developers at EA Tiburon owned up to the game's shortcomings, and rather than sulking immediately went to work on getting the Live gameplay to a competent level. Part of that effort includes bringing on longtime NBA Live and NCAA Basketball vet Connor Dougan back into the fold as a producer.

Dougan and the rest of the Live team set out with a four-part plan. First, they wanted to improve the responsiveness of every action taken on the court, from dribbling and passing to shooting and driving. To do so, they replaced every transitional animation to give players instantaneous changes of direction and the feeling that actions happen at the push of a button. The pass reception system was also overhauled to ensure that players square up to the basket and get into proper position to shoot or drive. 

Secondly, EA Tiburon wanted to make the game more accessible. A long time has passed since Live has been on equal footing with rival NBA 2K, and an entire generation of gamers have grown up with 2K controls. To get these types of players on board with Live more quickly, EA Tiburon designed a new tutorial system to teach players the basics of dribbling, passing, and shooting before jumping into a game. Guided by cover athlete Damian Lillard, players learn all the basics in an easy-to-follow series of drills on a practice court. Other changes to improve accessibility include moving alley oops to a face button and bringing over the quick action system from NCAA basketball. Tapping L1 at any time on the court will enact a series of ad hoc screens and cuts to try and free up an offensive option. If you tap it while carrying the ball up the court, it also serves to initiate early offense with high screens. 

The third major endeavor pertains to upping the animation quality. The team aggressively overhauled its approach, making changes to locomotion, off-ball movement, guarding, passes, catches, and shooting. More than 600 new dunking and lay-up animations were added to Live 15, and the new jump-shooting footwork evens out inconsistencies present last year where timing could be different whether you were moving left or right with a signature shot.

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Last but not least, EA wanted to hone the physics in the paint to not only even up the matchup against 2K, but in some cases beat it. Anyone who plays basketball games knows animations get messy when players come into content under the hoop, causing arms, legs, and sometimes even the ball to warp through bodies. To improve these entanglements, Tiburon is applying true physics to both the shooter and defenders while a player is attacking the rim. For the entirety of the shot, rag doll physics are applied, which means you'll see true contact and realistic-looking animations. In several instances we saw defenders jockeying with each other for space on the court while trying to block a lay-up. 

I checked out these improvements first-hand in two exhibition games. The game definitely plays faster than last year's sluggish effort. Stringing together dribbling moves and penetrating looks much more natural, and the drive, hop step, shoot strategy isn't 100-percent successful anymore. The closer camera angle gives you a chance to check out some of the improved player animations – the body models and glistening, sweaty skin in particular look fantastic. Players react naturally with emotion when celebrating blocks or slamming a dunk home. 

I was always a fan of the quick action button in NCAA basketball, as it gives you on-the-fly options when you don't feel like calling a proper play. This translates well to Live 15, which helps keep players from idling listlessly on the court. Last year movement would come to a standstill if you didn't initiate a play, but the players in Live 15 move with urgency and purpose as much as they would on a real court.

The gameplay may still have some rough edges – I noticed in particular that players reacted slowly to loose balls, and some contact animations in the paint resulted in defenders being driven aggressively backward. But if the majority of these alterations prove themselves out over extended play sessions, the Live series may finally have a foundation from which to build a true competitor to NBA 2K. – The Feed

Gree shifts focus from HTML5 to native games, amidst earnings slump

Japanese social game maker Gree is making major changes in the way it does business as its earnings continue to slump, including more than tripling staff at its Japanese mobile game studios. …

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The director of Brothers forgoes film to focus on making games

Instead of making movies, filmmaker and Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons director Josef Fares was at E3 last week taking meetings to try and find people to work with on his next game idea. …

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Chipping away at game dev barriers is an ongoing focus at PlayStation

PlayStation’s Adam Boyes tells us about breaking down barriers for PlayStation developers, from the possibility of retail PlayStation 4 as dev kits, to the “massive conversations” about paid alphas. …

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GameStop to close 120 stores, increase focus on mobile

GameStop intends to close 120 video game retail stores in the current fiscal year as part of its “GameStop 3.0″ initiative, the company announced at its 2014 Investor Day event this week. Its plan to scale back gaming operations involves a bigger…
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Square Enix President Believes Company Has ‘Lost Focus’

Over the past fiscal year, Square Enix has promised to move away from global publishing in favor of a more regional focus. That doesn’t mean that the company is abandoning global titles, especially in the wake of being surprised by Western sales of a traditional RPG.

Bravely Default released in Europe and North America earlier this year, surpassing 200,000 copies sold in the United States in the first three weeks. According to an interview with Nikkei (translated by Siliconera), Square Enix president Yosuke Matsuda says his company won’t completely abandon global titles, despite stumbles in the past.

“In the past, when we developed console games with a worldwide premise, we lost our focus,” Matsuda says, offering that recent Bravely Default taught the company a valuable lesson. “Due to having split [the development mindset] according to regions around the world, we weren’t able to see this clearly up until now, but fans of JRPGs are really spread around the world,” Matsuda says. In response, Square Enix will be developing more core JRPGs.

Oddly, he goes on to attribute the problems faced by Hitman: Absolution, which sold 3.6 million units in its first four months and was still deemed to be underperforming, to an attempt to serve a global audience. Io Interactive’s most recent Hitman title was well received, but was a departure not because of geography. Rather, its attempts to appeal to a new audience alienated some longtime franchise fans.

The good news for those that have followed Agent 47’s career with great interest? “So, as for the AAA titles we’re currently developing for series, we basically want to go back to their roots and focus on the core audience, while working hard on content that can have fans say things like, ‘This is the Hitman, we know,'” Matsuda says. “I believe that is the best way for our development studios to display their strengths.”

[Source: Siliconera, Nikkei]


Our Take
The recognition that games can succeed on a global scale shouldn’t be a surprise to Square Enix, especially with regard to Bravely Default (a game that is more Final Fantasy than many recent entries in that series). To equate those challenges (and a need to serve that market) with the problems that faced Hitman: Absolution (reminder: a well-received, strong seller) is folly. Every time I think Square Enix management is taking a step on the path toward organizational realignment, comments like this make me wonder exactly what’s going wrong at headquarters in Japan. – The Feed

Square Enix president admits that company ‘lost focus’

In a recent interview with Nikkei Weekly, Square Enix chief Yosuke Matsuda admitted that games developed for ‘mass appeal’ underperformed, while ‘niche’ games like the JRPG Bravely Default flourished. …

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GameStop gives up on building game-streaming tech to focus on retail

The retail chain is shutting down Spawn Labs, the internal R& D division working on a digital game streaming service, in favor of selling physical goods for existing digital distribution services. …

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Frustration at social gaming focus drove Igarashi to leave Konami

When longtime Castlevania mastermind Koji Igarashi announced his departure from Konami earlier this week it came as a surprise, but thanks to a Polygon interview we now know what drove the developer away.

“The more hardcore the game … the less…
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