Rumor Killers: Bungie RPG, New SSX & Nintendo Charging for Online

Disclaimer: Rumor Killers is a speculative opinion piece and is by no means intended to disclose as fact whether a rumor is true or false – even though the Rumor Killers team are usually right (usually…)

Bungie making an RPG?

The first question that sprang to the minds of most games journalists when Activision announced their 10-year publishing contract for Bungie’s new IP was “how do I tie this in with Call of Duty somehow?” True story. The second question, however, was “what exactly is Bungie’s new IP?”

Most would have assumed another shooter – they’re pretty popular right now, I hear – but recent job listings on the Bungie site suggest something more complex than the developer’s usual fare.

For one, the listing says that Bungie’s new lead writer will preferably have experience with “branching or non-linear narrative” and “vivid, complex, memorable characters".

Doesn’t sound much like Halo, if you ask me.

Sure, Halo: ODST experimented with flashbacks in its narrative, but ultimately it was little more than a traditional linear romp. A branching narrative suggests, in the very least, an incorporation of role-playing game elements into their familiar shooter mould. Something similar to Deus Ex, perhaps?

Another role Bungie are looking to hire for is a player investment designer. One of the main responsibilities of the role would be to “give players long-term goals to invest them in the world and their character". This also heavily infers a grand progression mechanic. You know… like the kind they have… in a RPG!

The Bungie guys and girls haven’t exactly restricted themselves to just one genre in the past. Whilst they are best known for their first-person shooter work with Halo and Marathon, they’ve also put out the rather brilliant Myth real-time strategy series and 2001’s much less spectacular Oni.

RPG elements, maybe. MMO, though? Some have suggested it in the past few months, but I’d still say it’s a bit too much of a stretch.

We’d wager any new game would have roots in a shooter. Bungie’s last non-FPS was Oni, and the team’s current roster of staff have spent the last decade working on (and being industry leaders) at FPS games, after all. But the shooter/RPG divide is always narrowing. Just look at the tremendous success of this year’s Mass Effect 2, for instance.

Martin’s Verdict: True

Criterion making new SSX?

I miss SSX. If you’ve got any sense, so do you. By the sounds of it, though, so do EA and Criterion.

A post by Criterion Games last week on Twitter stated:

“Soon………..all will be revealed……..in the City of Angels…….!”

This, if nothing else, suggests Criterion’s next project (whatever it may be) will be unveiled at E3; Los Angeles, where E3 is held, is commonly nicknamed the City of Angels. It’s also very soon, June 15-17 to be precise.

A poster on NeoGAF, however, neatly combined it with some vague February tweets from Craig Sullivan, creative director at Criterion, who posted “MONSTER TRICK” and “Elise on SnowDream” at the end of the month.

It’s pure speculation, again, but linking the two together comes up with some particularly tidy supposition. We’ve covered the possibility of Criterion making a new SSX game before, of course, along with three quarters of the entire Internet. It’s been deliberated so much now it would almost come as a surprise if Criterion weren’t making the new SSX game. So, without wanting to tread old ground, the long and short of it is this: Criterion has dropped the odd hint on Twitter here and there, but EA Sports boss Peter Moore categorically said it wasn’t going to happen back in 2008.

For all we know, though, the market has changed and Peter’s off getting Hiro and Jurgen tattooed onto his left and right biceps as we speak. Stranger things have happened. Also, Criterion is known for outlandish game design, which means the shoe of SSX would be a snug, cosy fit for the developers there. They’re known to be presently working on a new Need for Speed game due out in 2010, but it’s not too outlandish to suggest they might be working on two projects at once.

It just makes too much sense – and it’s a story that keeps on coming back – to be anything other than true.

Martin’s Verdict: True

Nintendo to charge for online gaming?

In an interview with UK gaming ultramag Edge, wise Nintendo sensei Shigeru Miyamoto deliberated on Nintendo’s failure to embrace online gaming – the pictured above New Super Mario Bros. Wii criminally didn’t have any online modes in it – and whether or not the company should charge for the service.

“Probably the other thing that we are desperate to realise is the core [online] business structure,” Miyamoto said, “Do we need to demand customers pay monthly fees to enjoy online activities? Or give an online subscription that is free of charge, but then offer something extra for people that pay, so that they get some extra value? With these core business strategies I think we are less active than we should be.”

Nintendo’s online services have been a bit of a laughing stock for the past few years, despite Miyamoto’s later protestations to Edge claiming otherwise. The DS is completely unable to connect to WPA-encrypted wireless networks, and users of both the Wii and DS have generally been forced to use long, fiddly and cumbersome Friend Codes to play with their mates. Not cool.

But even Nintendo is likely to realise the business potential of a solid online service. Over in Japan, the hugely successful (but relatively unpopular in the West) Monster Hunter Tri has made over 11,000 billion dollars (approximately) and requires a monthly online subscription cost of $8 a month. That does seem a bit cheeky for a 4-player P2P online game that doesn’t really have any centralised servers, I think, but Capcom has clearly gotten away with it. Still, it’s proof that an audience is prepared to pay for a P2P online service provided it sees it as convenient. Xbox Live, anyone? (Burn! – Ed)

Like it or loathe it, swapping your hard-earned (or cleverly blagged) nickels and dimes for online features is definitely a mainstay of modern gaming culture, and Nintendo would be silly to not capitalise on it. If Nintendo can achieve parity with Microsoft’s Xbox Live, I doubt anyone would mind coughing up a few bucks.

I reckon we’re likely to see a push from Nintendo to embrace a more capable online service, although I doubt we’ll see anything in the way of charging money to get online with the Wii as the infrastructure just isn’t there with the hardware. For that reason, I’m going to mark this one down as false. Nintendo’s next machine, though, will definitely make use of some premium online features. The company has been at the top of the hardware game for too long to not notice its enormous popularity. And if they manage to pull it off I don’t think anyone would complain.

Martin’s Verdict: False

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