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Analysis: Few Sparks In Activision's Line-Up

Analysis: Few Sparks In Activision's Line-Up

July 16, 2008 | By Christian Nutt

July 16, 2008 | By Christian Nutt
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Despite the recent completion of the Activision Blizzard merger, Activision staged an event during E3 that showcased games entirely related to what one would traditionally consider "Activision."

No Vivendi or Blizzard products were shown in the presentation, and, instead, the overwhelming focus was on convincing the enthusiast press that Guitar Hero: World Tour is the preeminent rock game of this holiday season.

Held offsite (Activision is not officially participating in E3) the event began with president and CEO of Activision publishing, Mike Griffith, who delivered an overwhelmingly 'corporate' speech that set the tone for what to expect for the entire event, a staid affair with prepared speeches that stayed vigorously on-message for much of its duration.

If EA has distanced itself from its old way of doing business in both attitude and practice, Activision is happy to exist in that niche, with a slate of incrementally-improved sequels, franchise, and licensed titles.

Discussing Guitar Hero On Tour for the Nintendo DS, Griffith said, "This game has sold 10 times as much as our next best DS title in the same amount of time." Regarding the company in a broader sense, "We're still only scratching the surface of expanding gaming in new dimensions of mainstream entertainment."

In the only mention of the merged company for the whole of the event, Griffith noted that due to growth of the companies and the merger itself, "Activision Blizzard is about three times larger than it was 12 months ago."

The game presentations were very much business as usual, if competent in general. Raven Software's Singularity debuted, seemingly mining the same niche as Sierra and Saber Interactive's TimeShift, and Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2 was teased as well. Call of Duty: World at War's appearance marked Treyarch's return to developing the franchise, and looks competent if unremarkable from a features perspective.

Spider-Man: Web of Shadows sees Activision studio Shaba Games helming development for the first time, with a comic (and not film) based story; again, it looks serviceable. Treyarch also showed off Activision's first James Bond game, Quantum of Solace, which again does not look likely to break any new ground but, using Infinity Ward's Call of Duty 4 technology, looks as competent as any other game the company showed this evening.

Following a drearily corporate presentation from a (James Bond rights holder) Danjaq executive, who discussed, in boardroom-speak, its arrival at a partnership with Activision, Id CEO Todd Hollenshead injected a little personality into the proceedings by greeting the crowd with, "At least give me a little applause like Carmack got at EA!" and proceeded to tease the crowd with a blink-and-you'll-miss it Wolfenstein trailer.

The last half-hour of the presentation was filled to the brim with Guitar Hero: World Tour, particularly with convincing the massed press that it has the superior product (without explicitly mentioning the Rock Band name).

Neversoft project director Brian Bright showed off the new plastic guitar, which has features to help differentiate it from the competition, and escalated the drum kit arms race with an overlong demo of the unit and cameo from band +44's drummer, Travis Barker, who answered canned questions about the game and the rig. ("I think it's really realistic to the real thing.")

Music studio mode is the primary place where the game differentiates itself from its competition, allowing users to create and upload playable Guitar Hero music tracks. It's an alluring feature - Bright posited that it was "like YouTube meets Billboard in the Guitar Hero universe."

The feature may also prefigure the needless complexity Neversoft introduced to the Tony Hawk series in Tony Hawk's Proving Ground, though, with a demo reminiscent of last year's E3 presentation of that ill-fated game.

In the end Activision did what it does best: it presented a buffet of franchise titles and licensed games, showing the strength of its relationship with licensors, developers, and the appeal of its long-held series. But there was little spark in the press conference, and the strength of a unified Activision Blizzard, which is probably still too formative to put on a unified front just yet, was not on show.


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