Tug 'O Lara

Blighty's famous top-heavy export Lara Croft hasn't been this popular since the original Tomb Raider did the rounds on the PlayStation and the Sega Saturn back in golden 1995. Then, Eidos - publisher of the franchise that would eventually spawn two Hollywood blockbusters, action dolls and garnish front covers of style magazines across the globe - were laughing all the way to the bank. Queue a rushed, bugged current-gen release that was panned by critics (I don't count nameless 'Official' mags as critics), and Eidos cried out for help.

Seems like their prayers have been answered.

This week saw the beginnings of a bidding war for Eidos. First, it was announced that Elevation Partners, a private equity firm which numbers former EA president John Riccitiello and U2 frontman Bono among its managing partners, had tabled a £71 million offer, which was promptly accepted.

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Then, rival UK publisher SCi Entertainment, coincidentally based in my home town of Clapham, upped the stakes, offering £76 million. Seems like SCi are the favourites too; a fifth of Eidos' shareholders are in favour of it over the EP deal. In Bono's favour though, are intentions from his company to keep most of Eidos' management structure in place. SCi has made no secret of the fact it would shake up its rival if it was successful with its bid.

Whatever the outcome, there's a lesson to be learned here. In the late 90's, Eidos was the example of British game development at its best. Fresh, compelling IP, astounding gameplay and great character design made Lara the most marketable game icon since Mario and Sonic took over the playgrounds of the 80's.

Somewhere along the line, though, they forgot that for all the marketing muscle money can buy, gamers will eventually expose a terrible game for what it is. After the initial heavy sales of Tomb Raider: Angel of Darkness died down, the game was returned en masse. Word spread that it was broken, and it died a horrible death, discounted like some third rate GTA clone.

With this takeover comes great a opportunity - one that must be seized with a watchful eye to the past. When Lara eventually gets back on her feet, dusts off her Uzis and back-flips her way out of that mansion she calls home, whoever it is that draws those lovely curves, animates those fantastic, ahem, 'game assets' and designs some tomb to explore had better read the history of our favourite heroin before going gold, or else she may finally be dead forever.

Human after all...

We have come to expect profit warnings from those mad enough to try their hand at making money out of the games industry. When April looms, they come thick and fast. They do not, however, as a rule, come from EA.

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GoldenEye: Rogue Agent wasn't very good and didn't sell as well as EA hoped.

This week, one did. They knocked $200 million off their revenue projections. You might laugh. You might smile wryly as you lament the most successful games publisher in the world's development model. You might, if you were feeling especially cynical, boot up whatever FIFA you own and notice the irony when the crowd chant 'you're not singing any more!' Either way, once again, a harsh lesson has been learnt that will hopefully better the industry we mock and love all in the same heart beat.

Looking back at the company's 2004 Xmas release list, you'd think EA's executives would be able to book their summer holidays for the next decade off sales of that period alone. You've got Need for Speed Underground 2, GoldenEye Rogue Agent, The Urbz: Sims in the City, FIFA 2005 and two Lord of the Rings titles. All mainstream money-spinning franchises. So, what happened?

I'll tell you. Just like Eidos and Tomb Raider: The Angel of Darkness, EA have sacrificed great game design for uninspiring marketing gimmicks. Think Black Eyed Peas and James Bond licence for licence sake. After a year when the company was criticised for overworking its staff, perhaps it's no surprise their games feel rushed.

They were poor games, and thus didn't sell as well as EA had hoped. Now I'm going to be optimistic. Maybe this Christmas we'll see some amazing original games from EA, and fantastic gameplay in their established franchises. Surely trying that is better than losing out on $200 million?

Annual 'Excuse to drink alcohol at a games festival' looks even better!

Ahhh Edinburgh... the castle, the rain, the shops, the rain, the pubs, the rain... Last year's Edinburgh International Games Festival was great. I loved every minute of its fascinating game discussion from some of the industry's most important and rich people. I loved my hotel, my breakfast and, most importantly, the lovely after conference party I can't remember.

This week it was announced that August's EIGF, renamed EIEF (Edinburgh Interactive Entertainment Festival) will be even better than last years. Sony and Nintendo have pledged their support, with more set to come on board. Why am I telling you this? Because, running alongside the usual industry only Edinburgh Interactive conference on the 11th and 12th of August will be consumer events that will give gamers the chance to sample some games before their official releases.

The Go Play Games Exhibition is one of them, which will run sometime from the 10th to the 14th. The Game Screenings programme is another, which will preview upcoming titles and include talks from developers. Topics for discussion include cultural developments in electronic entertainment and 'Insider's Guides' to the games industry. I highly recommend it if you can get up north during festival time. Even if you find the whole 'game is art' thing detestable, the atmosphere in the beautiful city is fantastic, with tonnes to see. Last year Ricky Gervais did stand up which wasn't half as funny as the genius impromptu comedians braving the wind and rain outdoors. Book your train now, and I might even see you there.

Something called a... What is it called again?... That's it! PSP... Came out

That's right. US gamers have gotton their grubby mitts on Sony's amazingly sleek, desirable, wonderful portable games magic box and we haven't. I've moaned about this before, so I won't again. Gamers queued around the clock, as they tend to do, and many pictures can be found of them doing it.

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Queues for the unit were massive.

Apart from checking out our fantastic video feature on the PSP, one nugget of info you might have missed while wrapping the beauty of Ridge Racers around your cunfuddled head is the small possibility of watching porn on the thing.

OK, gamers have a lot of growing up to do. Hell, I have a lot of growing up to do. But I love it when we apply our little hobby to the unexpected, the unique and disturbing. Like... porn.

Read the full story here.

Basically, PSP Video 9, a programme designed by a gentleman called Sajeeth Cherian, converts several digital video formats -- including MPEG-2, MPEG-4 and AVI -- to PSP format. Using the programme you can automate video transfers from BitTorrent to your PC to your PSP. And we all know what BitTorrent is for don't we?

Apart from being written by someone called Regina Lynn, other amusing titbits in the article include Cherian's response to the suggestion he had invented a 'killer app for mobile porn' (what did you think it would be used for?) and this comment from sex expert Regina:

'The PSP is a non-intrusive device, less threatening than a laptop if you want to bring it to bed, alone or with your partner(s). I know several folks who use porn to help transition quickly from work and parenting to sex and loving. It's a shortcut on those nights when they want to have sex but know they're too tired to expend major effort warming up.'

Forget Ridge Racers people, games have finally come of age.

I'm not sure what it is, but I think it's about to attack the Enterprise

Is it real, or is it a fake?

Do you want one of these things under your telly?

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It's too fat to be a Sony console, surely. And where's the button that activates the Holodeck that the next generation consoles are supposed to include as standard?

But what if it is accurate? What then?

Then everyone knows what the PS3 looks like!

And that's very important!

Frenzied rumour mongering. It happens just before E3 every year!

Which is also very important!

I can't breathe! Gahhhh!

Stop ze printerz!!

A Halo 2 expansion pack has been officially announced, with nine new maps on the way.

Fans of the game (I'm wyp100 on Xbox Live if anyone fancies a plasma pistol to the face) have been salivating at the prospect of an update ever since guiding Master Chief to the most underwhelming game ending in electronic entertainment history.

Now, details: the disk has a UK retail price of £14.99 ($19.99 US) and will include nine new multiplayer maps, two new videos, an animated side-story from the single-player story in New Mombasa and a mini-documentary that includes interviews with the map designers, combat strategies and fly-throughs of the new maps. It will be in stores by June 28.

Of course, paying customers to Microsoft's Xbox Live service will be able to download the maps for free, well, some of them, and not all at once. You feel the very foundations the Internet is built on would crack under the pressure of millions of spotty US teenagers trying to download new areas to scream 'No swords!!!' eight octaves higher than thought humanly possible.

Nay. Instead, they will be staggered. The first four maps will be available to download by late April. Two of those maps, Containment and Warlock will be completely free. The other two, Turf and Sanctuary, will be available for $5.99, or, for UK gamers, one million pounds!!!, no doubt. The five after that, Terminal, Relic, Elongation(!), Gemini and Backwash will be downloadable June 28 for $11.99. Bungie promise they will all be free by late summer, if you have the patience to wait. Check here for screens and here for more details from Bungie. So far, we only have info on Containment, Warlock, Turf and Sanctuary, but more info is expected in the coming weeks.

Apart from the fact that anyone who's throwing hard earned cash at Microsoft every month for Xbox Live should be entitled to downloadable content free of charge, whether it's available before retail or two years after, another problem with Bungie's press release is the complete absence of any mention of the last mission. You know... the one Bungie forgot to put in the game... the one where Master Chief saves the world? Like in every game? Sigh.

This week's releases

Who said all the good games get released near Christmas? 2005 has already seen some great games hit our stores and this week has another couple of titles worthy of your consideration. Devil May Cry 3 is, by all accounts, a return to form after the disappointing second game in the series, and TimeSplitters Future Perfect looks to better the second game for sheer multiplayer brilliance; GameCube owners have to make do with offline only multiplayer action, but I guess that is what they are used to.

If you're looking for some brutal third-person-shooter action, The Punisher might be worth a look. It's unlikely to offer you anything you haven't seen done before, but should satisfy those of you who are a little blood-thirsty. If none of those three tickle your fancy, then EyeToy: AntiGrav could be worth a look. Despite a number of games being released for use with the EyeToy, this looks to be the first game to use the motion tracking technology and not be a set of minigames. Whether or not that is a good thing remains to be seen.

  • Devil May Cry 3 (PS2)
  • Disciplies II: Gold Edition (PC)
  • Duel Masters 2: Kaijudo Showdown (GBA)
  • EyeToy: AntiGrav (PS2)
  • Greg Hastings Tournament Pinball (Xbox)
  • Gunbird Special Edition (PS2)
  • Hellforces (PC)
  • Hidden Strike 2 (PC)
  • SpinDrive Ping Pong (PS2)
  • Tak 2: The Staff of Dreams (PS2, Xbox, Cube, GBA)
  • The Bard's Tale (PS2, Xbox)
  • The Punisher (PS2, Xbox, PC)
  • TimeSplitters Future Perfect (PS2, Xbox, Cube)
  • Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon 2 (Cube)
  • Yu Yu Spirit Detective (GBA)
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