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The Status Of Microsoft And Sony's Next Consoles. Plus: A Whole Bunch Of Other Gaming Secrets.

No topic appeared in the rumour mill this year as much as the coming next-generation consoles from Sony and Microsoft.

At the beginning of January, British trade magazine MCV reported that the next Xbox and PlayStation would both debut at E3 2012. This did not actually end up happening, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it was not slated to happen at one point. At E3, we did see next-gen tech demos for Epic’s Unreal Engine 4 and Square Enix’s Luminous Studio, as well as two major reveals sans any mention of specific platforms — Star Wars 1313 and Watch Dogs.

Microsoft’s Next Xbox, Codenamed Durango

Two weeks later, IGN posted a rumor that pegged the next Xbox as being slated for a fall 2013 release and sporting a Radeon HD 6670-based GPU with graphics processing abilities six times that of the 360.

The very next day after the IGN story, Kotaku‘s ownStephen Totilo reported that industry sources told him the next Xbox will see a format upgrade to high-capacity Blu-Ray discs that work in tandem with some sort of anti-used game mechanism, and that a new, more accurate version of Kinect will ship with the console. Sources indicated IGN‘s estimate of a machine six times more powerful than the 360 was in line with Microsoft’s intentions, but also cautioned that dev kits had yet to go out so any discussion of system specs was purely hypothetical. (Also of note: in early March, MCV‘s sources said Microsoft had moved away from Blu-Ray plans to some sort of disc-less console.)

A few weeks after that, sources told Kotaku that the next Xbox carried the codename of “Durango,” which was seemingly confirmed by a late February tweet from a Crytek technical designer. This is possibly my favourite rumour of the year, if only for the reason that it taught me how fun it is to type the word “Durango.”

In mid-May, a recruitment firm’s postings appearing to divulge details of some of Microsoft’s internally developed Durango titles were discovered. One posting, for a nameless South East England studio that was almost certainly Lionhead, described their next title as an “new IP” RPG that fuses single-player and multiplayer to create an nonlinear MMO-like experience wherein both manners of play influence a dynamic narrative. Another hinted that a Midlands studio that was almost certainly Rare is planning on exploring new action or shooter IPs in addition to continued Kinect Sports releases.

Much to Microsoft’s chagrin, what might have been a two-year-old internal roadmap document for Xbox leaked roughly a week after E3′s close. In addition to a holiday 2013 launch date for both the console and next version of Kinect, the document touted SmartGlass-esque capabilities, eventual cloud content accessibility, and most curiously, a set of virtual reality glasses codenamed “Fortaleza.”

Sony’s Next PlayStation, Codenamed Orbis

In mid-February, SCEA head Jack Tretton put a kibosh on any speculation of a 2012 PlayStation 4 reveal, explaining that it would be a distraction to his own business operations for the year.

On this PlayStation 4, in late February sources said that Sony would be abandoning the much-vaunted Cell processor, and opt for a AMD-developed graphics chip in the system.

About a month later, Kotaku heard the next PlayStation is slated for a holiday 2013 release and is codenamed “Orbis,” which was a subdomain on Sony’s developer site until slightly after the story was published. Sources also divulged that the system currently had a AMD Southern Islands GPU and a AMD x64 CPU, will not feature PS3 backwards compatibility, and will employ an anti-used games mechanism like that of the next Xbox. Portfolio sketches from a design firm that apparently worked with Sony on Orbis seemingly hinted at Kinect-y and Smartglass-y functionality.

IGN reported in early April that the Orbis’ custom could be based on AMD’s A8-3850 APU and Radeon HD 7670 GPU, suggesting performance parity between the Durango and Orbis if one is to believe previous rumours.

A few days prior to E3, The Wall Street Journal reported that Sony briefly considered abandoning any sort of physical media for the next PlayStation before ultimately passing on the idea. However, the company’s acquisition of cloud gaming firm Gakai in July is certainly an overture to this ambition. (Sony’s keenness for Gakai was, of course, a rumour circulating in late May.)

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While neither Sony nor Microsoft have announced their next consoles, rumours of several cancelled first-party projects in development for those systems circulated in 2012. The studios closed by Sony this year-Zipper and Studio Liverpool-were apparently working on three now-canceled titles for the next PlayStation: a stealth game and new Wipeout from Liverpool, and a shooter from Zipper. In March, Microsoft apparently cancelled a next-generation title from Obsidian Entertainment codenamed Project North Carolina, which Obsidian CEO Feargus Urquhart vaguely described as an original open-world title in a recent interview with Kotaku.

Unless something changes in the very near future, Orbis and Durango will be on store shelves this time next year. It seems like a plausible conjecture to think a reveal might occur at special events in advance of E3 so that Microsoft and Sony could dominate their own tech news cycles with their announcements, rather than becoming another element in a media circus. Spring perhaps?

Prey 2

Hours after Bethesda announced Prey 2‘s delay in 2012, Shacknews posted a report with sources claiming that developer Human Head intentionally stopped work on the game in November 2011 as they were unhappy with the terms of their contract with Bethesda and hoped to use the work stoppage as leverage to get a better contract. (In light of this story, the cancellation of Human Head’s Prey 2 talks at GDC suddenly made a lot more sense.)

That tactic did not work, and the game is very much still in limbo. And at this point, it appears extremely unlikely that Prey 2 will ever see release. However, Human Head did recently put up some job postings asking for candidates with experience with open-world games and “crafting stories in the mystery genre,” suggesting something else is afoot at the studio.

XCOM — As Developed By Irrational?

In late September, a reader who took a marketing survey tipped Kotaku on 2K Marin’s controversial XCOM shooter reboot, which has virtually disappeared following the announcement of Firaxis’ turn-based XCOM: Enemy Unknown earlier this year. Screenshots and details sent by the reader suggested that the game had shifted from an FPS to a third-person squad-based tactical shooter a la SOCOM. Interestingly, survey takers were asked about their feelings on XCOM being sold as a $US30 downloadable game rather than a traditional $US60 retail title, perhaps showing that 2K wanted to minimize their losses from the long-in-development title like Ubisoft’s approach with I Am Alive.

XCOM has been in development in some permutation since 2006, and word of an Irrational-developed revival (at the time, 2K Australia was still Irrational Games Australia) first leaked in February 2007 — a full three years before the game was even announced. The Irrational studio in Boston was involved in the project around that time, and assets in a former Irrational Boston artist’s portfolio of “a highly stylised early prototype” for XCOM hint that this early version of the game was stylistically cartoonish and seemingly steampunk-influenced. (It is unknown if Ken Levine ever worked on XCOM directly, but he did say in a recent interview that “[he and his team] played around with something else for a couple of months” after Irrational finished the first BioShock.)

In May, 2K had pushed back XCOM‘s release to the company’s fiscal year 2014 (sometime between April 2013 and March 2014), indicating that there are still some development issues with the game. The head of 2K Australia — who were then the primary developer of the game — departed in January 2011, and 2K Australia stopped working on XCOM late last year to support Irrational in the development of BioShock Infinite. Additionally, narrative director Jordan Thomas has been working in Boston on BioShock Infinite for most of 2012.

Plants vs. Zombies — A Shooter?

One of the stranger rumours of the year was an item Kotaku heard in the summer about a Plants vs. Zombies shooter in development at a new PopCap Burnaby team consisting of former EA Black Box employees. This new PopCap team is said to be working on a PvZ console game akin to Team Fortress 2. At the time the story broke, the game was still a few weeks away from an official PopCap greenlight.

But that greenlight appears to have been granted. In early November, a job posting for the team popped up on EA’s jobs portal in relation to a “AAA console title” that seemingly utilizes Frostbite 2, and a multiplayer designer opening appeared in mid-October.

Rocksteady’s Next Game

Around the time of Comic-Con, famed Hollywood trade Variety reported that the Rocksteady’s next game will be a Silver Age-inspired prequel to the previous two Arkham titles dealing with the Caped Crusader’s first encounter with the Joker. The game also apparently features Batman teaming up with other DC superheroes, and the earliest possible release date is sometime in 2014.

Variety says the title is the “the next instalment in Rocksteady Studios’ gritty video game series,” hinting that the Silver Age inspiration will be narrative, not stylistic. Personally, I think is a shame because a blend of the bright iconography of Silver Age comics (the onomatopoeic bubbles particularly) and Rocksteady’s refined combat system would be utterly sublime. I found Arkham City‘s grit to just be exhausting after a certain point, and I would totally welcome a solid, LEGO-less DC game based around something lighter.

Unannounced Games From EA

Early in February, French gaming site Hardgamers discovered what appeared to be a publicly accessible wiki for EA Partners’ fiscal year 2013 marketing plans apparently authored by EA’s Director of Marketing, Phil Marineau. The document discussed a number of titles, including some that were unannounced including Respawn’s yet-to-be-seen game, a possible new Populous, and Insomniac’s social game Outernauts.

Two of those aforementioned games obviously remain unannounced, and one could have very well been cancelled. We haven’t seen anything else even suggesting that a new Populous is in development, and it would not be terribly surprising if the lackluster market performance of Starbreeze’s Syndicate cooled EA’s interest in externally developed Bullfrog revivals. Plus, the natural, logical extension for a Populous title in today’s marketplace would likely be a freemium iOS or Facebook game — things that do not tend to have a long development cycle.

We also haven’t seen anything of Respawn’s debut title, aside from a cryptic blurry image or two last year. The most significant detail that we have about the game is an E3 2011 interview wherein EA’s Frank Gibeau describes Respawn’s game as a “sci-fi oriented shooter” designed to compete with Gears or Halo. Respawn’s appearance on this wiki would suggest that, at one point, EA thought they would be kicking off the marketing campaign for Respawn’s game during their 2013 fiscal year. (There are still three months to go in EA’s fiscal year, but such a large announcement so early in the year seems unlikely.)

Shifts In The Rainbow 6: Patriot’s Development Team

In early March, Ubisoft apparently removed the creative director, narrative director, lead designer and animation director from the upcoming Rainbow 6: Patriots. Ubisoft confirmed the removal of one of the aforementioned four leads-creative director David Sears-from the project, and it seems all those removed from the project have since left Ubisoft.

Given this apparent development, it probably is not surprising that we have not heard anything about the controversial title the entire year, suggesting there are some changes in store for the game. Between Ghost Recon Future Soldier, Splinter Cell Conviction and this, premature announcements and tumultuous development are basically a rite of passage for a Tom Clancy game these days.

Prince of Persia Reboot

Finally, what appears to be a still from early footage of a new Prince of Persia reboot popped up on that game’s Ubisoft forum in August depicting what looks to be a black Prince in an Egyptian-y environment. The art style in the still resembles some mysterious images NeoGAF user Wario64 claimed to have received via Twitter in late May.

An early June story from a Russian gaming site Playground.ru claimed that Ubisoft accidentally showed a few journalists a new Prince of Persia trailer, which apparently portrayed a silhouetted heavily armed bald warrior, was intended to be shown strictly internally behind closed doors at E3. According to the site’s source, the game is still at least a year and half away, and may crib influence from the God of War and Assassin’s Creed franchises.