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TECH SPACE
Ubisoft assassin videogame heads for US colonies
by Staff Writers
San Francisco (AFP) March 5, 2012

Facebook game star Zynga opens online playground
San Francisco (AFP) March 5, 2012 - Facebook games star Zynga on Monday opened an online playground where users can enjoy hit titles without having to visit the world's top social network.

Zynga.com launched with CastleVille, Words With Friends, CityVille, Hidden Chronicles and Zynga Poker, along with a promise of lots more social games by the San Francisco-based firm and outside developers.

"Zynga.com is designed to make it easier for you to play with friends," Zynga founder Mark Pincus said in a blog post.

"We've invested heavily to build a network and infrastructure tuned for delivering social gaming at scale."

Zynga played up its online games community as an expansion of its partnership with Facebook rather than a quest for more independence.

Zynga rose to success on the popularity of it titles at Facebook, where millions of users enlist friends in either collaborative or competitive online play ranging from poker to growing virtual crops or building cartoon cities.

Zynga.com is connected to the Facebook "social graph" so game play and the actions of friends involved will follow users between the online venues, Zynga general manager Manuel Bronstein told AFP.

"I see this as a great manifestation of our relationship with Facebook that goes deeper into gaming," Bronstein said.

"In the morning you may check your news or social feeds on Facebook and then play games, but late in the afternoon you might just want to play, so you go to Zynga.com"

Along with keeping people connected with Facebook play companions, the Zynga website features ways to speed up progress in games and find "zFriends" who share one's passion for certain titles.

Zynga.com was also crafted as a platform on which third-party developers could make titles available to the 240 million people who play the company's games each month.

Zynga jumped into the stock market with a billion-dollar listing in December.

Offering 100 million shares -- one seventh of the company's total -- at $10 each, the maker of Facebook games FarmVille, Mafia Wars and Words With Friends was valued at a whopping $7 billion.

Zynga's stock price rose slightly to $14 a share on the NASDAQ in after-hours trading that followed the launch of the online games community.

Zynga games are free to play but the company makes money by selling virtual in-game goods to players and serving up advertising. The company sees the potential for revenue to grow if players flock to zynga.com.


Ubisoft on Monday revealed that the next installment to its blockbuster "Assassin's Creed" videogame franchise will be set in the US colonies during the American Revolution.

"Assassin's Creed III" will be released on October 30 and star a new hero in a series of games that moves from one generation to another as players follow the ancestry of a fictional assassin to solve a perilous modern-day mystery.

"You're going to be blown away," said Ubisoft chief executive Yves Guillemot.

"Assassin's Creed III features the franchise's most expansive setting so far, along with an exciting new hero and exponentially more gameplay," he added.

The videogame was developed over years by Ubisoft Montreal and six of the France-based company's other studios.

Versions of the title have been tailored for play on Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 consoles as well as on computers powered by Windows software. The title was priced at $60.

Ubisoft said it was working on a version of the game for Nintendo Wii consoles.

The hero in "Assassin's Creed III" is Ratohnhaké:ton, described as being part Native American, part English and an 18th Century member of a line assassins that players were introduced to when the first game was released in late 2007.

The character is the action-adventure game's new champion in an "ancient war between the Assassins and Templars."

"Assassin's Creed III" is powered by a new software engine that powers "stunning graphics" as well as improved artificial intelligence, according to Ubisoft.

The coming title "spans the Revolutionary War, taking gamers from the vibrant, untamed frontier to bustling colonial towns and the intense, chaotic battlefields where George Washington's Continental Army clashed with the imposing British Army."

A trailer for the videogame was posted online at assassinscreed.com.

The new game will be a sequel to "Assassin's Creed: Revelations" which was released in November.

In "Revelations," stealthy death-dealer Ezio Auditore took his noble crusade for justice from Renaissance period Italy to the 16th Century Ottoman Empire.

In a blend of historical truth and narrative fiction, "Assassin's Creed: Revelations" traced Auditore's exploits in thwarting an age-old grab for global domination reaching into modern times.

"Revelations" was the fourth installment in a franchise that has sold more than 38 million copies since it launched four years ago. The game was the third and last centered on Auditore.

Auditore was a brash young Italian who turned to his family's assassin heritage after a tragic betrayal in his first video game appearance.

A hallmark of the franchise has been "historical fiction" that blends rich details from past centuries with fantasy characters locked in a battle between assassins and Templars hunting for a mysterious orb of great power.

"If it didn't have a mature rating, it would most likely be used in schools," Ubisoft marketing executive Tony Key said while discussing the real-world history richly woven into the Assassin's franchise.

Game play is set in the context of genetic memories relived by a modern day descendent of a legendary line of assassins.

Ubisoft plans annual releases of installments in the Assassin's franchise, which has grown to include novels, comic books, Facebook games, and short films.

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"Mass Effect 3" game begins epic battle for Earth
San Francisco (AFP) March 5, 2012 - The year's most hotly anticipated videogame lands Tuesday as the final installment of a "Mass Effect" trilogy immerses players in an epic battle for Earth.

The gripping science fiction adventure meshes powerful action and interactive storytelling that lets players shape which direction the saga takes, with decisions changing the outcomes of situations and the fates of in-game characters.

In a unique move, studio BioWare crafted the "Mass Effect" franchise in three parts with a compelling overall story arc and players' actions in one game following them into the next.

Allies made or friends lost in one game changes who is at the side of a player's character, and thusly their options, in sequels. Players can opt to not import characters' reputations from earlier games so they can start fresh.

Alliances promised to be paramount in "Mass Effect 3," which was billed as putting players "on the front lines of this all-out galactic war."

"The entire scale of the game is bigger than anything we've ever done," said "Mass Effect 3" executive producer Casey Hudson.

He touted the game as delivering "intense action, deep customization and raw emotional power."

The games pit the main character, a male or female version of Commander Shepard depending on player preference, against an ancient race of machines called "Reapers" intent on wiping out organic life in the cosmos.

The third version of the game opens with Reapers invading Earth, according to demo software released free online last month. Shepard was called on in the demo to enlist the help of races from other planets to fight the Reapers.

"You along with a team of battle-hardened soldiers are the only ones who can save Earth, and the galaxy, from complete annihilation," the game makers said in a release.

"Each decision and every action could have devastating and deadly consequences in your journey."

"Mass Effect" trilogy publisher Electronic Arts declined to disclose how many games had been pre-ordered, other than to say the number "well exceeded" those for the second installment.

Mass Effect software released on Valentine's Day quickly became the second-most downloaded videogame demo in EA history, behind only "Battlefield 3."

The franchise has received more than 250 awards and 100 perfect scores from videogame critics.

"Mass Effect 3" was priced at $60 and version were tailored for play on Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 videogame consoles as well as personal computers powered by Windows software.

The Xbox version of the game was adapted to allow players to tap into voice and motion command capabilities of Kinect accessories.



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TECH SPACE
In Swiss city, 'augmented reality' is out of this world
Basel, Switzerland (AFP) March 5, 2012
A pair of Swiss policemen cast a suspicious eye as a creature in a space helmet with a camera mounted on top and carrying an astronaut's backpack wanders around Basel's St. Johann Park. But what appears to be a visiting extra-terrestrial turns out to be a maverick designer, Jan Torpus, who is pushing the boundary between the real world and fantasy in a project he calls "augmented reality." ... read more


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