Week in gaming: Steambox delayed, Harmonix layoffs, Watch Dogs and more

Credit: Source: Watch Dogs

Isn't it odd how short weeks (last Monday has a holiday here in the United States) seem to drag on longer than normal weeks? I'm glad it's Friday and the weekend is almost here, and that we're just a bit over a week away from E3, the Electronic Entertainment Expo. I've got games on my mind, and thought I'd quickly mention some news items from the past week or so that you may have missed. So in no particular order...

We've talked a lot about Valve's Steam Machine initiative quite a few times. It's Valve's attempt to deliver a new OS (based on Linux) to a line of hardware meant for living room gaming. At CES a number of manufacturers showed off prototypes and we expected hardware to start hitting in late 2014.

In a blog post earlier this week, Valve let us know that the Steam Controller, an integral part of the Steam Machine experience, is going to be pushed to 2015. No controller means no Steam Machines, so we're going to have to be patient and give Valve time to get it right. It'll be interesting to see if all the partners wait or if they'll ship hardware running Windows and relying on mouse & keyboard this Fall.

Music/rhythm game-developer Harmonix ran a Kickstarter campaign to try to fund development of a remake of their Playstation 2 title, Amplitude. They were asking for $775,000 which seemed to me like a pretty big budget for a game like this. But they made it, mostly thanks to some big names in gaming promoting the cause. (Joystiq has a solid post about this particular campaign.)

Less than a week later, the company announced they were laying off 37 people, leaving 109 still remaining. Additionally co-founder Alex Rigopulos will step down as CEO and take on a creative director role while VP of operations and publishing Steve Janiak takes over as CEO.

Harmonix was hot when music games like Rock Band were a fad, but the death of plastic instruments seems to be hitting the studio hard. They had an earlier round of layoffs last December. Harmonix is working on a Kinect-based game for the Xbox One (Disney: Fantasia Music Evolved) as well as Amplitude. Of course Microsoft's decision to unbundle Kinect from the Xbox One could impact the success of Fantasia but in a post at Gamasutra the company denied that the layoffs were related to Microfsoft's decision.

Sticking with the Xbox One, when a user asked Phil Spencer if the Xbox One would ever get the ability to share screenshots to social networks (something the PS4 can do), the response seemed to be that yes, that feature was in the works. Spencer's response was in a tweet: "Yea, this is the list for the monthly updates, team is making great progress on the updates. More features to come." VentureBeat has more on this.

Starting in June Microsoft's Games With Gold program will start bringing two free games to the Xbox One platform. I'm sure it's just a coincidence, then, that Sony announced that starting in June Playstation 4 owners will get two free games for the PS4 each month (prior to June they were getting one PS4 game each month, plus a selection of long-term "Instant Game Collection" offerings). Parity? Almost. On the Xbox platform the games are yours to keep. On Playstation they're yours only while your Playstation Plus subscription is active.

I'll end this post by congratulating UbiSoft; Watch Dogs sold more copies in its first 24 hours than any other title in the company's history. Good news for them I guess (they didn't release concrete numbers). I've been playing Watch Dogs this week and recommend it to fans of open-world games. It definitely does NOT live up to the huge hype (I guess I'm cynical but I didn't really think it could), but it's a solid game. The first couple hours felt a little meh, but I stuck with it and the game really grew on me. As I unlocked new tools and wrapped my head around the fact that it wasn't GTA I started appreciating the game on its own merits. A good, but not great, game.

Read more of Peter Smith's TechnoFile blog and follow the latest IT news at ITworld. Follow Peter on Twitter at @pasmith. For the latest IT news, analysis and how-tos, follow ITworld on Twitter and Facebook.

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