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What's Incoming? Neverwinter Nights 2, Dragon Age, Titan Quest...

BioWare Corp. announces new studio
New studio recruiting for MMORPG project

EDMONTON, Alberta, Canada (March 13, 2006) Canadian videogame developer BioWare Corp. has announced the opening of a new studio, BioWare Austin, based in Austin, Texas. It is the second of BioWare's studios and the first to be located outside of Canada.

BioWare Austin has already begun work on a massively multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG) title; the new game will mark BioWare's debut in the massively multiplayer online space. BioWare has recruited some of the top talent in MMO and RPG development, both to manage the development efforts at BioWare Austin and to collaborate with the experienced team at BioWare Edmonton, to develop a game that combines the best of BioWare's great past games with a compelling persistent online experience. Joining the Austin team as lead designer is James Ohlen, BioWare's Creative Director, whose previous credits include lead or co-lead design roles on Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, Neverwinter Nights, Baldur's Gate and Baldur's Gate II. Also leading the BWA team are MMO veterans Richard Vogel and Gordon Walton. Richard Vogel brings 15 years of experience to BioWare Austin, previously serving as VP of Product Development for Sony Online Entertainment's Austin studio, as well as launching Ultima Online as a senior producer at Origin. Gordon Walton recently served as VP, studio manager and executive producer at Sony Online Entertainment as well as VP and Executive Producer at Electronic Arts.

"BioWare is committed to a seamless collaboration between our two studios to ensure the same high standards of quality and creativity our dedicated teams have always delivered," said Ray Muzyka, co-founder and Joint CEO of BioWare. "With our extensive heritage in the role-playing genre, BioWare Austin is extremely well positioned to innovate in the massively multiplayer online space for BioWare's valued community of fans."

The new BioWare Austin comes soon after the formation of BioWare/Pandemic Studios, a partnership facilitated by private equity firm Elevation Partners. The new entity combines top videogame developers BioWare Corp., an industry leader in the role-playing game genre, and Pandemic Studios, an award-winning developer of best-selling action titles.

BioWare Corp. is an electronic entertainment company which develops computer and console video games "focused on rich stories and memorable characters." BioWare's developers are currently working on Mass Effect, a brand new BioWare-created intellectual property, and an Xbox 360 exclusive, to be published by Microsoft. Mass Effect is "an epic science-fiction role-playing game set in a spectacular new vision of the future." BioWare recently completed work on Jade Empire, the first game based on a BioWare-created intellectual property. Jade Empire was released in April 2005 and has enjoyed critical and commercial success. BioWare is also hard at work on Dragon Age, a high fantasy RPG set in another brand-new world created and owned by BioWare. BioWare's Technology Architecture Group is also developing the cutting-edge next-generation BioWare Eclipse Engine technology for multiple platforms. BioWare has an online fan community at www.bioware.com consisting of almost 3 million registered users who regularly connect to discuss the company's current and future games. In November 2004, the company launched the BioWare Online Store at store.bioware.com, where fans can purchase new content for their favorite BioWare titles and merchandise. Previously published projects include: the action-RPG of 2005 for Xbox, Jade Empire; the 2003 Game of the Year, Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic for PC and Xbox; the award-winning Neverwinter Nights series; the genre-defining Baldur's Gate role-playing game series for the PC; MDK2 for Dreamcast and PC, MDK2: Armageddon for PlayStation2, and Shattered Steel.

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Release for Middle-Earth II Approaches
March 2 date set by publisher

Los Angeles, Calif. (Feb. 24, 2006) J.R.R. Tolkien and real-time strategy (RTS) fans have a new game to look forward to and its release is quickly approaching: The Lord of the Rings: The Battle for Middle-Earth II.

Electronic Arts recently announced the title is ready for manufacture and will hit store shelves in North America on March 2. The Lord of the Rings: The Battle for Middle-Earth II is the sequel to its critically-acclaimed RTS predecessor and was developed at EA's Los Angeles studio for the PC.

Battle for Middle-Earth II offers all-new content based on J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings books and allows the player to delve deeper and engage in new battles that go beyond Peter Jackson's award-winning movie trilogy. The game was developed in agreement with the Saul Zaentz Co., doing business as Tolkien Enterprises, which granted EA the rights to develop games based on the books, in addition to EA's separate agreement for games based on the New Line Cinema movies.

In the new game, players wage war in the northern regions of Middle-Earth, where they can choose to assume command of elven and dwarven armies or fight on the side of evil. Hugo Weaving reprises his role as Lord Elrond.

The Lord of the Rings: The Battle for Middle-Earth II will be available as a collector's edition, with a suggested retail price of $59.99, or as a regular edition priced at $49.99.

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MechAssault to appear on Nintendo DS

Online (Feb. 24, 2006) The newest mech game to enter the electronic gaming market, MechAssault: Phantom War will ship later this year for the Nintendo DS, announced Majesco Entertainment Co.

The first hand-held installment of the hit franchise features popular mech elements while making use of the hand-held's touchscreen to deliver new control and maneuverability, the company reported.

Developed by Backbone Entertainment, a division of Foundation 9 Entertainment, MechAssault: Phantom War brings interstellar combat to hand-held gamers in a third-person futuristic shooter. While taking on the role of a MechWarrior (elite fighter trained to control BattleMechs, ultimate war machines of the 32nd century), players experience fast-action, 3-D mech combat on the top screen while viewing cockpit controls on the lower touchscreen.

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D&D Online: Stormreach prepares for launch
Eberron campaign setting becomes the location for an MMORPG

By Editor T. Rob Brown
Online (Feb. 18, 2006) -- They're most likely the first name to come to mind when one thinks of role-playing yet it has taken Dungeons & Dragons a long time to leap onto the MMORPG caravan.

For those who believed Everquest, Asheron's Call, Dark Age of Camelot, World of Warcraft, and countless other fantasy MMORPGs (Massively-Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game) that have come before and paled in comparison to the epic pen-and-paper games they played in yesteryear -- this is their chance to see if the D&D name can live up to those expectations.

Developed by Turbine, the company that currently controls the Asheron's Call franchise started by Microsoft, this game is perhaps what some die-hard D&D fans have been waiting for since the mid-'90s when MMORPGs first came to life in the form of Meridian 59, Ultima Online, and the early MUDs (Multi-User Domains). Previously, the closest ways to play D&D games online was via the original SSI Neverwinter Nights on AOL in the '90s, multiplayer networked games of Baldur's Gate series by BioWare, and the most popular online D&D game to date: Neverwinter Nights, also by BioWare -- yet none of these were true MMORPGs.

Fans will, of course, have to fork over about $15 a month or less (depending on the payment play they select) to play D&D Online when it is released in late February 2006.

As with any modern PC/Mac game, it has undergone rigorous alpha and beta testing by true fans and newcomers alike. Thus far, one of the major drawbacks reported is that in order to gain enough experience points to get to the next level, some quests might have to be repeated by your character up to three times (on easy, medium and hard difficulty settings). Some beta testers have reported this repeating of quests can break the feel of the game while others didn't seem to mind the repetition.

Other fans have reported their dislike of the experience point (XP) reward system used in the game. In most modern MMORPGs, experience points are awarded to the character per kill -- in other words, everytime you kill something you get XP. This system can lead to several issues including repetitive "milking," "camping," or basically a hack-n-slash mentality to get every single bit of XP via monster kills. For some, this type of activity becomes so redundant, they get bored and quit playing the game while others enjoy the constant onslaught of death. For true role-play (RP) fans, gaining XP for every monster kill can become distracting and unbalancing to the game. Imagine a rogue, who does not possess the vast number of hit points (HP) as a fighter or barbarian, who must wade through 20 orcs to get to the destination to retrieve an artifact and bring it back to the non-player character (NPC) who issued the quest. First, it is highly unlikely a rogue would run through the quest, killing every orc just to get XP -- that's not good RP. Second, if the rogue avoided the orcs (as a rogue would do RP-wise), he/she would get less XP than the fighter who ran through slaughtering orcs at will.

In many home pen-and-paper games of D&D, dungeon masters (DMs) issue XP per completed quest (the quest XP total includes the average XP one would have earned for the monster kills). If the rogue is able to sneak past the orcs, it is the same as if they were defeated -- think of the orcs as an obstacle, they don't have to be killed to be defeated. Some custom Neverwinter Nights worlds such as the Broodslayers Official PW have used similar methods -- reducing monster kill XP down to 2 percent of the D&D standard, while making quest XP (or bonus XP from DMs -- also known as adhoc XP) the focused way to level.

Ever since its release in 2004, the Eberron campaign setting created by Keith Baker has become a big hit with D&D fans. It was the first campaign setting completely built using the 3.5 edition rules, it was Wizards of the Coast's (WOTC) elite choice from thousands of campaign settings submitted in a major campaign search, and is being fully supported by WOTC with frequent book releases, novels, and now two computer games (the other was the real-time strategy (RTS) game Dragonshard).

For some fans, the Eberron campaign setting is new and fresh -- for others, it is too disimilar to Ed Greenwood's Forgotten Realms campaign setting, which older fans have come to love and cherish through the years. For those new to Eberron, it is a world that follows all the rules and traditions of D&D staples like Greyhawk and Forgotten Realms but offers many new twists -- the chief, of which, are the warforged. Yes, you can play a warforged race character in D&D Online. Warforged are living constructs forged during a great war that spread across Eberron. Although they share some of the same traits with the monsters known as constructs, they are sentient and constructed differently so they do have critical locations and do not possess all the amazing abilities of a true construct. As a player race, a warforged can be great at most anything -- but they are excellent fighters and barbarians.

At this time, the shifter (lycanthrope descendant), changeling (doppleganger descendant), and kalashtar (human-alien hybrid race) have not been introduced as player races for the online version of Eberron. In addition, the artificer class is not available at this time.

The world of Eberron combines the feel of traditional D&D with a sprinkling of steampunk, some action-adventure of the Indiana Jones variety, and a dab of the old gumshoe-style private investigator stories. You put all that together, stir in some gnomish contraptions, high magic, introduce technology -- but not as technology -- as magical enchantments, and an in-depth history of a war that completely reshaped the world, and you have a very unique place indeed.

If you would like to learn more about D&D Online and pre-ordering, check out Turbine's website HERE.

Turbine is also developing the forthcoming Lord of the Rings MMORPG.

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NVIDIA announces first Quad SLI
Next level in PC graphics releases soon

CES 2006 (Feb. 15, 2006) ­ Though the battle between NVIDIA and ATI as the gamer's choice graphics cards continues, NVIDIA takes another step forward in an attempt to win the war.

Taking its acclaimed NVIDIA SLI technology to the next level, NVIDIA unveiled support for the first-ever Quad SLI-certified PC at CES 2006. Delivering what NVIDIA calls "the most extreme high definition gaming experience available on the PC," Quad SLI combines the power of four NVIDIA GeForce 7800 GTX GPUs with an NVIDIA nForce4 SLI X16 motherboard.

The forthcoming Dell XPS 600 Renegade will feature this revolutionary technology, allowing gamers to run today's hottest games at an unbelievable 2560X1600 resolution with silky-smooth frame rates.

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[Edits for grammar, punctuation, artifacts, and syntax made by GamingNews Editor T. Rob Brown, http://t-rob.com]

GamingNews

[Editor's Note: Edits for grammar, punctuation, artifacts, and syntax made to press releases by GamingNews Editor T. Rob Brown, http://t-rob.com]

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