Appleton: Expect big year from Activision in 2014

The Fresno BeeJune 20, 2014 

LOS ANGELES — This fall, Activision will launch an all-out assault on the video game industry.

The veteran publisher is looking for revenge after being attacked on all fronts in 2013. "Grand Theft Auto V" broke records previously held by Activision's "Call of Duty" franchise, "Disney: Infinity" cut deeply into a toy-to-video-game market created by Activision's "Skylanders" franchise, and a lack of new franchises disrupted Activision's typical holiday dominance.

But that was last year.

In 2014, Activision will launch three titles that could very well bring in billions of dollars by the end of the holiday season. The company spent hundreds of millions on "Destiny," "Skylanders: Trap Team" and "Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare" to regain its stranglehold.

I wanted to gauge if this gamble would pay off, so I spent almost four hours hustling around the theaters, demonstration rooms and interview tables of Activision's two-story "booth" at the Electronic Entertainment Expo.

'Destiny'

Activision's newest franchise is "Destiny," a first-person shooter set 700 years in the future of our solar system. Bungie, the development studio known for the "Halo" series, worked exclusively on "Destiny" over the last four years. The budget for the "Destiny" franchise was reported at $500 million.

It was for all of these reasons that I nearly passed out from excitement as I sat in front of a computer to play "Destiny."

One of the game's testers showed me and a reporter from Japan around the game's home base before we launched into a tricky three-man mission that hurled waves of bugs and aliens at us. All three of us died at some point during the mission, but we were able to heal each other and finish.

It was fun, but I could only think of one thing as I left the room: You spent a half a billion dollars on that?

So when I met Senior Environment Artist Jason Sussman for my scheduled interview, the money figure just sort of tumbled out of my mouth.

"If this game cost $500 million to make, you'd be talking to a hologram right now," he said. "That number represents the 10-year lifespan of the franchise."

That makes a little more sense.

The next thing I wanted to know was how "Destiny" and "Halo" were different. After all, they are both first-person shooters set in a futuristic space world.

Sussman said that with "Destiny," Bungie wanted to take the core lesson it learned from "Halo," which was how to create a great first-person shooter, and build on it in every way possible. The worlds are larger, the scope of the game is grander and the customization options are entirely different.

Activision let me test "Destiny" out at home, and I enjoyed it. It still feels a lot like "Halo" to me, but I only got to play a pretty small chunk of it.

Destiny will be released for the PS3, PS4, Xbox 360 and Xbox One on Sept. 9.

'Skylanders: Trap Team'

I saw a small demonstration of the newest "Skylanders" game, and it looked great.

"Skylanders: Trap Team" will add more than 40 new villains to the mix. The player's job is to defeat and capture these villains using new portable traps.

Once a villain has been captured, players can play as villains by switching them out with their Skylanders. The new sequel brings the total number of playable characters to more than 100.

One thing that stuck out to me is that "Trap Team" will release on the Nintendo Wii, which was retired by Nintendo. Design producer Mike Graham said that the reason for this was that many children have collected Skylanders for the Wii over the years, and Activision wants to make sure they don't get left behind.

One of the prevailing themes of the presentation was the magic created from transferring a toy onto a TV screen. I think I must have heard the word magic 20 times during my time with the "Skylanders" crew.

Even though the game isn't meant for someone my age, I get why the concept of interactive toys is so appealing.

I know only a cynic would put a price on magic, but I had to ask how much the new game would cost parents. The answer is $74.99 for a starter pack, which includes a game, two new Skylanders, a portal used to scan the toys, two traps that can each hold a few villains, and some miscellaneous collector's items. There are six other traps that each hold different villains available for $5.99 each, and additional Skylanders available for $9.99.

As you can see, "Skylanders: Trap Team" is poised to make quite a bit of money if the interest is there.

But what about those pesky competitors?

John Coyne, senior vice-president of consumer marketing, had a very simple answer to that question. "We are pretty much in a class of our own," he said. "We created this category of toys-to-life, and we are the leaders of it. As such, we are constantly striving to create that 'wow' factor for children. We think we've done that with the new game."

"Skylanders: Trap Team" will be released for the Wii, Wii U, PS3, PS4, Xbox One, Xbox 360 and 3DS on Oct. 5.

'Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare'

Unfortunately, my "Call of Duty" experience was short and included no personal interaction. I sat in a small theater and watched two gameplay videos from "Advanced Warfare."

The videos were spectacular. The graphics are unmatched. The game features the same motion capture technology that is being used for the "Avatar" sequel. Characters look like real people.

The futuristic weapons and equipment seemed fresh and interesting, and the environments were fantastic.

The "Collapse" level blew me away with its scary depiction of the destruction of the Golden Gate Bridge during the good guys' mission.

However, I have been following video games long enough to be skeptical of this type of presentation. A video is not necessarily an accurate representation of what a game actually looks like. We will see if the real "Advanced Warfare" lives up its eye-popping E3 presentation.

"Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare" will be released for the PC, PS3, PS4, Xbox 360 and Xbox One on Nov. 4.

 

Rory Appleton is a journalism major at Fresno State and a freelance gaming journalist. He can be reached at (559) 441-6015, rappleton@fresnobee.com or on Twitter at @RoryDoesPhonics.

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