PSP price drops

Sony celebrates its portable system’s second anniversary by trimming a handful of Hamiltons off the hardware’s Core Pack

The PlayStation Portable was released in North America just over two years ago, and to mark the occasion, Sony is dropping the price on the bare-bones package of its gaming handheld. Effective today, the PSP Core Pack (a system with AC adaptor and battery) retails for $169.99, a $30 drop from its previous price point of $199.99.

This is the first price drop for a system package in the PSP line. While the original $249.99 Value Pack was replaced by the $199.99 Core Pack, part of the cost reduction was due to Sony’s leaving out accessories like the 32MB memory card.

Sony also announced that the PSP titles Daxter and Syphon Filter: Dark Mirror have now been included in the Greatest Hits line of games and should retail for $19.99.

Analysts welcomed the news, with Lazard Capital Markets’ Colin Sebastian saying it should be a shot in the arm for the system.

“We expect a modest step-up in PSP unit sales during an otherwise seasonally slower period for the video game industry,” Sebastian said in a note to investors today. “We note that a Wal-Mart promotion on Black Friday last year generated significant sales volume for the PSP at a discounted price of $169, providing one indication of potential consumer demand.”

In his own note to investors, Pacific Crest Securities’ Evan Wilson said that the system has had trouble meeting sales expectations since its launch, in large part because of its price, and that the price cut should help address that. However, Wilson said the move will likely have a limited effect on the company’s finances.

No charges in Wii radio contest

The Sacramento County District Attorney’s office will not be pressing criminal charges against staff of a radio station that organised a competition which resulted in the death of a young woman, reports the Sacramento Bee.

The contest, titled “Hold Your Wee for a Wii,” was organised by radio station KDND 107.9, and involved contestants drinking an estimated two gallons of water without urinating. The winner–the person who drank the greatest volume without using the bathroom–would be given a Nintendo Wii as a prize.

Jennifer Strange, 28, was found dead in her Rancho Cordova home hours after calling in to her office saying her head hurt “really bad,” and heading straight home.

Ten employees of the radio show were fired over the incident, and Sacramento County Sheriff John McGinness also opened a criminal investigation into the woman’s death after listening to audio tapes of the show.

However, the prosecutor’s office has found that the actions of the radio station staff did not reach the level of criminality. In a press release, a spokesperson comments, “There were no observable indications or symptoms that Jennifer Strange was experiencing a serious medical emergency which would have required station employees to seek or administer medical aid to her.”

Civil attorney Roger Dreyer, the lawyer hired to represent the family of Ms. Strange, said that he would still be seeking damages in a wrongful death suit from the radio station.

Hospital Tycoon makes the rounds on PCs

A new tycoon game is coming to PCs this June that will let gamers visit the wards of a hospital and kill or cure the patients. Codemasters has announced it will be publishing the new title, Hospital Tycoon. The game has been developed by the Milton Keynes, UK-based team that worked on other Tycoon games, including Tycoon City: New York, Monopoly Tycoon, and Beach Life.

Hospital Tycoon Trailer

Watch | Download

The game, in the same vein as gaming classic Theme Hospital, is described as a combination of traditional tycoon gameplay and a soap-opera-style storyline. The story will progress in episodes, with storylines including potential romance between Nurse Susie and Dr Dave, who seems oblivious to her charms. To see more of the gameplay, check out our exclusive trailer.

Hospital Tycoon takes a more lighthearted approach to the medical profession than games such as Trauma Centre: Second Opinion, with patients developing bizarre and humorous diseases including explosive sneezing, which launches them into the air, and monkey nuts, which makes them sprout hair and generally go ape.

The game is set at the Sapphire Beach Medical Institute. Players must train staff to improve their skill levels, choose to develop friends or make enemies, and maintain the different departments of the hospital–including surgery, diagnosis, and physiotherapy.

Codemasters producer Jamie Firth commented, “The game’s characters all have individual personalities with likes and dislikes; it’s up to you to put them together (or keep them apart) as you see fit. Encourage a particular doctor and nurse to spend more time together, for example, and you’ll soon see their relationships take on a flirtier or even downright amorous tone. (Yes, even kissing has been motion-captured). Likewise, you can put chalk-and-cheese characters together to watch the sparks fly.”

Hospital Tycoon will be a PC-exclusive game and will be released worldwide in June.

GO3 Make less-violent games PaRappa creator

Rhythm-based games are now more popular than ever, thanks to franchises like Guitar Hero and the recently announced Rock Band from Harmonix. But they can all be traced back to a game released on the PlayStation more than 10 years ago–PaRappa the Rapper, widely considered to be the first modern rhythm game. PaRappa creator Masaya Matsuura from NanaOn-sha says he is excited that games like Guitar Hero are finally making it big in the West but says too many violent games are still being made.

Matsuura, one of the keynote speakers at last weekend’s GO3 Conference held in Perth, Australia, says the future of the game industry is dependent on developers creating more accessible games, like the Guitar Hero series. The Japanese developer says violent games will not attract new entrants to gaming and praised companies like Nintendo for targeting nontraditional gamers.

“Making good games that everybody can play is a very high priority for the game industry, because if we make games like X-rated videos, the industry won’t grow,” Matsuura said in an interview with GameSpot AU. “Nintendo is very smart to appeal to a much wider group of people because it is what’s required now.”

Matsuura said that while rhythm games are all the rage in Western nations like the US and Australia, the genre was becoming stale in his homeland of Japan. Matsuura said a lack of new rhythm game concepts and the widespread use of flat display screens in Japan were the root causes behind the decline.

“It’s very difficult to make brand-new systems for music-based games that involve more than just pressing buttons according to rhythm. Of course, we’ve tried several already, but unfortunately some of them are not successful,” he said. “Another reason–it’s a tiny reason but an important one–in Japan, everyone is buying flat displays. Flat displays have a delay, but sound doesn’t delay. I have had the chance to speak with several LCD companies like Sharp, and they say that very expensive displays are quick. but if you buy a cheaper one the display is a little delayed when it comes to audio.”

Matsuura said the onus was on both musicians and developers to work more closely with each other to produce the next generation of rhythm games.

“Contemporary musicians have to think about various alternatives to audio. Many smart musicians unfortunately are not aware–yet–of these kinds of possibilities to collaborate with game creators or the game industry. On the other hand, musicians are also very conservative–they want to do things themselves. So the game industry should approach them–it might be easier,” he said.

Archos 204 digital audio player gets reviewed

Archos typically does a fair job kicking out leading-edge PMPs, but the oddly small (and relatively stripped) 204 didn’t exactly do the brand any favors. Sure, the 20GB DAP rocks an unnecessarily sweet 1.8-inch OLED display, but the curious lack of video playback was deemed an unfortunate omission by the folks at ArchosLounge. The thorough review remained pretty downtrodden the whole way through, citing the lack of innovation, smallish hard drive, and less-than-inspiring interface as tidbits that really hurt the overall value. Of course, it was noted that the sound quality exceeded that found on “even the iPod,” and the diminutive size and somewhat rugged casing were also nice touches. But unless you just can’t live without owning every single Archos device that leaves its doors, it sounds like your €179 ($235) could certainly be better used elsewhere.

Microsoft Announces Xbox 360 Elite

 Xbox 360 EliteMicrosoft has confirmed earlier reports of the Xbox 360 Elite, saying it would begin arriving in US stores on April 29 at a street price of $479.99 USD.

As expected, the new model comes with a 120GB hard drive and HDMI support, along with HD cables, wireless controller, and Xbox Live headset. Both the console and controllers will feature a premium black finish.

The Redmond company has also decided to offer the 120GB drive separately for a price of $179.99 USD, and additional black controllers for $49.99 USD. One month free of Xbox Live Gold will also be provided.

“Today’s games and entertainment enthusiast has an insatiable appetite for digital high-definition content,” Microsoft’s Interactive Entertainment chief Peter Moore said. “Xbox 360 Elite’s larger hard drive and premium accessories will allow our community to enjoy all that the next generation of entertainment has to offer.”

Although the Xbox 360 Elite was hardly a secret in recent weeks, a number of details swirling around the rumor mill proved incorrect. The new console has not been changed internally to take advantage of a 65-nanometer CPU, which was expected to bring down manufacturing costs.

Also missing is a built-in HD DVD drive, or rumored quieter DVD drive. While Microsoft has said it plans to eventually build HD DVD into its consoles, the company is apparently waiting for production costs to come down before it does so.

“[The Xbox 360 Elite is a] nice evolutionary update that clearly shows where Microsoft is heading with this product,” JupiterResearch analyst Michael Gartenberg said. “While the core emphasis is still on games, no doubt Microsoft has some ideas how you might fill that hard disk.”

Gartenberg was primarily referring to Xbox Live Marketplace, which was bulked up Wednesday with content from A&E Network, ADV Films, National Geographic and TotalVid.com. In addition, Paramount Films will offer its feature films for download in high-definition.

Microsoft Readying High-End Xbox 360

Several news outlets are citing various sources saying Microsoft plans to release the Xbox 360 Elite, a high-end limited edition console that would retail for $479 USD and include an HDMI connector, IPTV capabilities, and a 120GB hard drive.

The Redmond company is not confirming the rumors, although it has been reported that a Microsoft XNA framework developer may have unintentionally confirmed the HDMI functionality in a company forum for the technology.

Still missing from the rumored unit is a built-in HD DVD drive, say sources. While the company has said it plans to eventually build the technology into its consoles, Microsoft is apparently waiting for production costs to come down before it does so.

“It is interesting that Microsoft hasn’t added the HD DVD drive as a permanent feature,” Dean Takahashi of the San Jose Mecury News wrote of the news. “The format war with Blu-ray is still going on, and that drive would add considerable cost.”

The motherboard of the new Xbox 360 would also be redesigned to take advantage of new 65-nanometer technologies, which would also bring down the manufacturing costs of the console. This could open up the door for a price cut before the holidays, and put pressure on rivals Nintendo and Sony.

Analysts say it is unclear whether or not the other consoles would see a price cut immediately as a result of the new model’s unveiling. However, the addition of IPTV would give the Xbox 360 an edge over the PlayStation 3, which does not have the capability but costs more.

MicroNet Platinum NAS 4.0 packs four 1TB SATA hard drives

Look out folks, as just one month after Buffalo cranked the NAS ante up to 3TB, we’ve got a new kid on the block holding down the mighty four-oh. MicroNet’s Platinum NAS 4.0 indeed packs a whopping 4,000GB on just four SATA hard drives, and while the company didn’t go out of its way to divulge exactly which units were stuffed within, we’ve all got our hunch. Regardless, this device also features 256MB of write-back / write-through error correcting cache memory, Windows / OS X / Linux compatibility, RAID 0/1/5 support, an Intel XScale 64-bit network storage processor, dual-channel gigabit Ethernet connectivity, a lightweight aluminum design, and it even consumes about “one-third less power” than similar alternatives. Cleverly, MicroNet only asserted that the 1TB edition would hit in Q2 for $879, but we’re confident the flagship version will tack on quite a premium for all its capaciousness.

ChartSpot February 2007

Crackdown shatters the top spot as the 360, Wii, and DS dominate the top 20; Burning Crusade continues to smolder on the PC charts.
Following last week’s game sales figures, industry-research firm NPD Funworld has released sales rankings for the month of February. As previously reported, the month’s top title was Crackdown. The Xbox 360 free-roaming title benefited from good word of mouth and being bundled with a chance to join the Halo 3 beta, selling 427,000 copies in the 11 days after its February 20 release. Other 360 games in the top 10 included Gears of War (sixth place with 119,000 copies sold), Major League Baseball 2K7 (seventh with 113,000 units), Lost Planet (eighth, 111,000 units), and NBA Street Homecourt (101,000 units, 10th place).

Nintendo also made a big splash on the February charts, owning four of the top 10 game slots. The Mario Factory’s top game was Wii Play, which sold 371,000 units despite middling reviews–thanks to it being bundled with an extra Wii Remote. Behind it was the even less favorably reviewed Diddy Kong Racing for the DS, trailed by the still-popular Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess for the Wii. WarioWare: Smooth Moves also cracked the top 10 with a 109,000-unit ninth-place finish.

Sony didn’t fare quite as well as its competitors. The Guitar Hero II phenomenon continued to rock on, moving 130,000 copies on the PlayStation 2. Three other titles for the venerable console cracked the top 20: Madden NFL 07 (14th), MLB ’07: the Show (17th), and the now-budget-priced God of War (18th). Once again, the best-selling PlayStation 3 game was Resistance: Fall of Man, which overran 16th place with over 70,000 units sold. To date, the game has topped over a half million copies in the US, generating just under $30 million.

On the February PC charts, the song remained largely the same. For the second month in a row, World of Warcraft: Burning Crusade was the best-selling PC game in the US. However, its margin of victory was much less lopsided that the month before. Instead of selling 1.4 million copies domestically, the expansion pack sold a much more modest 141,000 units, just ahead of the original World of Warcraft.

Though WOW’s perennial nemesis The Sims 2 and its expansions were well-represented, several new titles also made their way onto the PC charts. THQ’s Supreme Commander finished in fourth place, just ahead of the $9.99 budget-game collection 3333 XP Games JC. Vanguard: Saga of Heroes, Sony Online Entertainment’s new massively multiplayer online role-playing game, also did well, landing in 10th place.

ALL CONSOLES
Last MonthCurrent RankTitlePlatformPublisherRelease DateAverage Price
**1Crackdown360MicrosoftFeb-07$60
**2Wii Play (with Remote)WIINintendoFeb-07$50
**3Diddy Kong RacingDSNintendoFeb-07$32
54Legend of Zelda: Twilight PrincessWIINintendoNov-06$50
25Guitar Hero II (with Guitar)PS2ActivisionNov-06$80
36Gears of War360MicrosoftNov-06$65
17Lost Planet: Extreme Condition360CapcomJan-07$64
**8Major League Baseball 2K7360Take-Two InteractiveFeb-07$60
49WarioWare: Smooth MovesWIINintendoJan-07$50
**10NBA Street Homecourt360Electronic ArtsFeb-07$60
1011New Super Mario Bros.DSNintendoMay-06$35
912Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six: Vegas360UbisoftNov-06$65
**13Sonic and the Secret RingsWIISegaFeb-07$49
614Madden NFL 07PS2Electronic ArtsAug-06$30
**15Mario KartDSNintendoNov-05$35
816Resistance: Fall of ManPS3SCEANov-06$60
**17MLB ’07: The ShowPS2SCEAFeb-07$40
**18God of WarPS2SCEAMar-05$19
**19Final Fantasy VI AdvanceGBANintendoFeb-07$33
1120Brain Age: Train Your Brain In Minutes a DayDSNintendoApr-06$20
PC
Last MonthCurrent RankTitlePublisherAverage Price
11World of Warcraft: Burning CrusadeVivendi$38
22World of WarcraftVivendi$25
**3The Sims 2 SeasonsElectronic Arts$28
**4Supreme CommanderTHQ$49
45The Sims 2Electronic Arts$41
663333 XP Games JCViva Media$10
**7The Sims: Life StoriesElectronic Arts$37
58The Sims 2 PetsElectronic Arts$30
89Battlefield 2142Electronic Arts$42
710Vanguard: Saga of HeroesSony Online Ent.$49
1011MS Age of Empires IIIMicrosoft$49
1712Paws & Claws Pet VetValusoft (THQ)$16
913The Sims 2 NightlifeElectronic Arts$31
**14City of VillainsNCsoft$4
1315MahJongg Championship 200 Platinum JCViva Media$10
1516Halo: Combat EvolvedMicrosoft$20
1617Sim City 4 DeluxeElectronic Arts$23
1218The Sims 2: UniversityElectronic Arts$31
**19MS Zoo Tycoon: Complete CollectionMicrosoft$20
1820Warcraft III: BattlechestVivendi$39
PLAYSTATION 2
Last MonthCurrent RankTitlePublisherRelease DateAverage Price
11Guitar Hero II (with Guitar)ActivisionNov-06$80
22Madden NFL 07*Electronic ArtsAug-06$30
**3MLB 07: The ShowSCEAFeb-07$40
**4God of WarSCEAMar-05$19
**5Mortal Kombat: ArmageddonMidwayOct-06$20
**6Fight Night Round 3Electronic ArtsFeb-06$19
57NCAA March Madness 07Electronic ArtsJan-07$30
**8Ghost RiderTake-Two InteractiveFeb-07$30
69Grand Theft Auto: San AndreasTake-Two InteractiveOct-04$20
**10NBA 2K7Take-Two InteractiveSep-06$20
PLAYSTATION 3
Last MonthCurrent RankTitlePublisherRelease DateAverage Price
11Resistance: Fall of ManSCEA (Sony)Nov-06$60
**2Virtua Fighter 5SegaFeb-07$60
**3Major League Baseball 2K7Take-Two InteractiveFeb-07$60
24Madden NFL 07Electronic ArtsNov-06$60
**5Sonic the HedgehogSegaJan-07$60
36Fight Night Round 3Electronic ArtsDec-06$60
57Need For Speed: CarbonElectronic ArtsNov-06$60
48Call of Duty 3ActivisionNov-06$60
89NBA 2K7Take-Two InteractiveNov-06$60
710Tiger Woods PGA Tour 07Electronic ArtsNov-06$60
XBOX
Last MonthCurrent RankTitlePublisherRelease DateAverage Price
11Halo 2*MicrosoftNov-04$28
32Mortal Kombat: ArmageddonMidwayOct-06$20
23Madden NFL 07Electronic ArtsAug-06$29
104NBA Live 07Electronic ArtsSep-06$28
55Lego Star WarsEidosApr-05$20
46Need For Speed: CarbonElectronic ArtsNov-06$35
97Grand Theft Auto: San AndreasTake-Two InteractiveSep-05$20
**8HaloMicrosoftNov-01$20
89BlackElectronic ArtsMar-06$20
710FableMicrosoftSep-04$20
XBOX 360
Last MonthCurrent RankTitlePublisherRelease DateAverage Price
**1CrackdownMicrosoftFeb-07$60
22Gears of WarMicrosoftNov-06$60
13Lost Planet: Extreme ConditionCapcomJan-07$65
**4Major League Baseball 2K7Take-Two InteractiveFeb-07$60
**5NBA Street HomecourtElectronic ArtsFeb-07$60
36Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six: VegasUbisoftNov-06$60
87Fight Night Round 3Electronic ArtsFeb-06$30
**8Battlestations: MidwayEidosJan-07$58
79NBA 2K7Take-Two InteractiveSep-06$40
410Call of Duty 3ActivisionNov-06$58
WII
Last MonthCurrent RankTitlePublisherRelease DateAverage Price
**1Play (with Remote)NintendoFeb-07$50
22Legend of Zelda: Twilight PrincessNintendoNov-06$50
13WarioWare: Smooth MovesNintendoJan-07$50
**4Sonic and the Secret RingsSegaFeb-07$49
35Rayman Raving RabbidsUbisoftNov-06$49
46Madden NFL 07Electronic ArtsNov-06$50
57Red SteelUbisoftNov-06$49
68Call of Duty 3ActivisionNov-06$50
79Super Monkey Ball: Banana BlitzSegaNov-06$50
810Excite TruckNintendoNov-06$50
GAMECUBE
Last MonthCurrent RankTitlePublisherRelease DateAverage Price
11Legend of Zelda: Twilight PrincessNintendoNov-06$50
22Lego Star WarsEidosOct-05$20
33Super Smash Bros. MeleeNintendoDec-01$30
44Naruto: Clash of Ninja 2D3publisherSep-06$39
95Mario Kart: DoubleNintendoNov-03$30
66Paper Mario: Thousand-Year DoorNintendoOct-04$20
87Super Mario SunshineNintendoAug-02$20
**8Happy FeetMidwayNov-06$23
109CarsThqJun-06$30
**10Super Mario StrikersNintendoDec-05$30
GBA
Last MonthCurrent RankTitlePublisherRelease DateAverage Price
**1Final Fantasy VI AdvanceNintendoFeb-07$33
12Pokemon FireRed w/AdaptorNintendoSep-04$20
53Super Mario World: Super Mario Advance 2NintendoFeb-02$20
64Mario Kart: CircuitNintendoAug-01$20
25Pokemon LeafGreenNintendoSep-04$20
36Super Mario AdvanceNintendoJun-01$20
47Pokemon Mystery Dungeon: Red Rescue TeamNintendoSep-06$31
78Pokemon EmeraldNintendoApr-05$35
89CarsTHQJun-06$30
**10SpongeBob SquarePants: Creature From the Krusty KrabTHQSep-06$20
DS
Last MonthCurrent RankTitlePublisherRelease DateAverage Price
**1Diddy Kong RacingNintendoFeb-07$32
12New Super Mario Bros.NintendoMay-06$35
53Mario KartNintendoNov-05$35
24Brain Age: Train Your Brain In Minutes a DayNintendoApr-06$20
**5Kirby Squeak SquadNintendoDec-06$32
36Nintendogs: Dalmatian & FriendsNintendoOct-06$31
47Yoshi’s Island 2NintendoNov-06$32
**8Animal Crossing: Wild WorldNintendoDec-05$35
**9Big Brain AcademyNintendoJun-06$20
810Nintendogs: Dachshund & FriendsNintendoAug-05$31
PSP
Last MonthCurrent RankTitlePublisherRelease DateAverage Price
**1Ratchet & Clank: Size MattersSCEAFeb-07$40
12Grand Theft Auto: Vice City StoriesTake-Two InteractiveNov-06$29
23Madden NFL 07Electronic ArtsAug-06$30
34Grand Theft Auto: Liberty City StoriesTake-Two InteractiveOct-05$20
75NBA Live 07Electronic ArtsSep-06$30
56Need For Speed Most WantedElectronic ArtsNov-05$20
97Midnight Club 3: Dub EditionTake-Two InteractiveJun-05$20
**8Ghost RiderTake-Two InteractiveFeb-07$30
109Medal of Honor: HeroesElectronic ArtsOct-06$35
410SOCOM: U.S. Navy Seals Fireteam BravoSCEANov-06$39

Koei CEO resigns

Dynasty Warriors publisher’s chief executive quits the company.

Yokohama, Japan-based developer and publisher Koei has confirmed that its chief executive officer, Kiyoshi Komatsu, has left the company and will be replaced by the current head of the online and mobile games software division, Kenji Matsubara.

Koei was established in 1978 by cofounders Yoichi and Keiko Erikawa and is best known for the Dynasty Warriors and Samurai Warriors series of games. The company is currently working on a variety of titles for next-gen platforms, including the role-playing game Opoona (working title) for the Wii and multiplatformers Bladestorm: The Hundred Years’ War and Fatal Inertia.

A Koei spokesperson confirmed Komatsu’s departure and replacement by Matsubara but declined to issue a statement or give further comment on his reasons for leaving.