2011 has been a hectic year for gamers and developers alike; we’ve all seen some great titles released into the market to fanfare and celebration, while others have fallen through the cracks. Companies have risen and fallen, suffered and benefited from the turmoil that was the past twelve months. In the meantime, the gaming and technology world has lost a few historic people this year. Taking a look back, here are some of the biggest and most important moments, games, and faux pas of the past year:
Sony’s Big Hit: The Great Hacking Scandal
One can’t really start a look back at this year without talking about the biggest news event of the year for PlayStation 3 gamers: The hacking/outage of the PlayStation Network. It all started with a man named George Hotz, who cracked the PS3′s root key in January of this year, and posted the information to his blog; not long afterward, Sony sued him on the basis that his editing of the PS3 firmware could be used to play pirated games. Things could have ended there, but in April of this year a massive hacking endeavor crippled Sony’s online network – something many claimed was in retaliation for their handling of the Hotz case. The intrusions began on April 17th, and on April 20th the system was brought down for a time by Sony.
The attack was a PR disaster for the company, as the personal information of over 77 million users was stolen, making the event the largest recorded data breach in history. The PlayStation Network itself was down for about 23 days in total, and the entire event led to Sony’s now infamous modification of their EULA to disallow class-action lawsuits.
THQ Shuts Down Kaos, THQ Digital Warrington, THQ Studio Australia, Blue Tongue, and THQ Digital Phoenix
2011 was an all-around rough year for THQ; they ended 2010 by shutting down their Korean offices in December, and selling off their Wireless division in January 2011 to a Swedish company, 24Mas. After Homefront suffered a stale reception in March, their stock saw a steep decline, and the closure of Kaos and THQ Digital Warrington months later in June. After Red Faction Armageddon received less-than-ideal praise after its own release, THQ announced that their long-running series had finally seen its end near the end of June. Finally, in August, a slew of closings came in: Studio Australia and Blue Tongue were closed as the company decided to move away from licensed kids and movie-based titles, and Digital Phoenix followed shortly, signaling an end to the MX vs. ATV series of games.
The news isn’t all bad, though: Saints Row: The Third has gotten off to a good start, with strong reviews and a generally positive reception from most, but THQ has a rough year ahead in 2012 rebuilding their brand.
Gerald A. Lawson Passes Away
Many gamers may not have even heard of Gerald Lawson, especially those younger players who never laid hands on the old cartridge-style systems like the Nintendo Entertainment System. However, without Lawson’s ingenuity, we may never have enjoyed the “console wars” of the modern era, for it was his innovation that created the Fairchild Channel F, a home gaming system that allowed players to enjoy a variety of games on removable cartridges. Previous home systems only allowed games that were hard-wired into the system to be played, but the Channel F was the predecessor to the more modern consoles that many of us grew up with. While the technology wasn’t quite there to bring out the true potential of video games, it was an important step in console history.
Lawson passed away in Santa Clara, CA at the age of 70 in April 2011 from complications with diabetes.
Nintendo’s 3DS Woes
For years, there was one constant opinion that I had about the handheld video game market: Nintendo has always been the king of the mountain when it came to portable gaming. Since releasing the original GameBoy back in 1989, there has been relatively little serious competition. Sega’s GameGear tried (and failed) to oust their rival from the market, and numerous other competitors suffered the same fate (nGage, I’m looking at you). When Sony announced the release of the PlayStation Portable, I was hesitant to believe that they could seriously compete against the tried-and-true, dominant force that was Nintendo. I’ll admit, I was pleasantly surprised by the PSP, but I was never disappointed by the GameBoy Advance, or the Nintendo DS when it arrived.
But the 3DS changed a lot of things – latching on to the resurgence of the 3D craze, they promised a handheld that would make good use of the technology; sales, however, were lackluster when the system arrived, causing a price drop in August 2011. Nintendo also received poor media regarding possible health risks (such as headaches and eye strain) from using the system. Again, however, the news isn’t all bad, as recent games such as Super Mario 3D Land have blown away gamers with the fun factor, and their 2012 lineup will certainly feature strong contenders. Plus, for those who can’t deal with the 3D without headaches, it can be turned off! Still, the PlayStation Vita promises to offer stiff competition if Nintendo isn’t ready to take them on.
Speaking of Nintendo…
I mentioned in an article earlier this year that we celebrated a milestone: the 15th anniversary of the Nintendo 64 (at least, for the North American release of the system). What I neglected to mention was a second date, as this year was also the tenth anniversary of the Nintendo GameCube, and the Microsoft XBox, which arrived just in time for the Christmas season of 2001. So, Happy Anniversary, from those of us who still occasionally play those “old” games.
The Old Republic beta has huge numbers
Any MMORPG fan will be quick to note that Star Wars: The Old Republic is the next big title slated to go up against the ongoing juggernaut of online gaming, World of Warcraft. Perhaps, then, it is a good sign that the final beta weekend of the game had people put in over 9 million hours in just a few days. That’s among 2 million players, averaging about 12 hours apiece. Now, one could argue that the amount of play could be related to the fact that the beta was only a single weekend, but the fact that the game enamored the players for such a long time is a good sign for the game when it launches later this month.
Shigeru Miyamoto steps down to work on “smaller projects”
This breaking news came out just recently from a Wired.com interview exclusive stating that Miyamoto, the creator of Super Mario Bros. and Legend of Zelda is stepping down from his current position to work on “something that I can make myself, by myself. Something really small.” While not retiring fully, the legendary game developer told Wired that he wanted to be back “in the forefront of game development” instead of continuing his current supervisory role. If all goes as planned, Miyamoto hopes to have a game to show off before the end of 2012.
Steve Jobs passes away
I can’t get away with mentioning Gerald Lawson without also mentioning Steve Jobs, who passed away on October 5th, 2011. Jobs was one of the co-founders of Apple Inc., a former chief executive at Pixar, and a Walt Disney board of directors member. Known as a demanding perfectionist, he is most often credited with Apple’s resurgence after his return to the company in 1996. Jobs passed away after a long battle with pancreatic cancer, but will long be remembered for the innovative creations he spread throughout the world.
Didn’t see an important news item you think should have made the list? Hit up the comments and let me know, and we’ll chat about it!
Durandal reminds you that, as of the end of 2011, the weighted companion cube still will never threaten to stab you and, in fact, cannot speak.