BREAKING NEWS: EA Launches "Origin" Share on Facebook Share on Twitter Update ID

It turns out the GOG announcement was just the tip of the iceberg--or maybe just a distraction. It has just come out that Electronic Arts will formally launch their own "iTunes" style download service tomorrow. The system is called, wait for it, Origin, and will launch with more than 150 available games. If we don't see a Wing Commander, I'll eat my hat.

The news first broke in the Wall Street Journal:

Electronic Arts Inc. is starting an online service to sell downloadable games directly to consumers, as one of the world's biggest makers of videogames steps up a push to offer more of its wares over the Internet, rather than through discs at stores.

The Redwood City, Calif., software maker plans to unveil the service, called Origin, on Friday.

It will include an application, akin to Apple Inc.'s iTunes, that is designed to let consumers purchase, download and keep track of games for PCs, such as the company's "Battlefield" combat and "Need for Speed" racing games.

EA's service, which will open with more than 150 titles for sale, will also try to attract users with a range of Facebook-like social-networking features that let gamers on a variety of devices broadcast messages to online friends when they defeat online opponents or accomplish other gaming goals.

Origin initially won't sell games designed for consoles like Sony Corp.'s PlayStation 3 and Microsoft Corp.'s Xbox 360, which have online-game stores controlled by their respective makers.

The EA service will have a handful of rivals, the biggest of which is Steam, a PC download service run by Valve Corp., a Bellevue, Wash., company that also makes some hit games, such as the recent "Portal 2." GameStop Corp., the biggest videogame chain, recently acquired a service called Impulse to help create its own game-downloading service for PCs.

In an interview, EA Chief Executive John Ricitiello called Origin one of the "cornerstones" of the company's multiyear effort to shift more of its business toward games that are played and distributed over the Internet. The category includes everything from games for Apple's iPhone and iPad to social games that are played on Facebook Inc.'s social network.

In recent years, EA's financial performance has suffered as growth in the company's core business of selling copies of its games in stores has slowed and its investments on the Internet, including a string of acquisitions, have been slow to pay off.

But investors appear to be growing more confident lately that Mr. Riccitiello's strategy is yielding results. Since the beginning of the year, EA's shares have risen 48%, though they slipped 19 cents to $24.24 in 4 p.m. trading Thursday on the Nasdaq Stock Market.

EA further buoyed investor sentiment last month when it reported $833 million in revenue from "digital" sources for the fiscal year ended March 31, equivalent to more than 20% of the company's total revenue, adjusted to exclude an accounting treatment related to online games and other items.

John Taylor, an analyst at Arcadia Investment Corp., said investors increasingly believe that "a lot of the heavy lifting has been done at EA," and that the company is coming out of a "period of playing defense and re-evaluation and is trying to go back out and play offense."

Another much-anticipated online project from EA is "Star Wars: The Old Republic," an online multiplayer game for PCs based on the George Lucas outer-space epic. EA will preview the product at next week's E3 games conference in Los Angeles. The game, the company's biggest development effort in years, is expected to go on sale sometime during the current fiscal year. EA hopes to give its new online store a boost by making Origin the only Internet-based service offering the "Star Wars" game, which will also be available in stores.

Even if consumers don't purchase games through Origin, they will be able to use it to create profile pages that record all of their scores and other progress on EA games and to establish Origin friend lists based on their friend lists on Facebook and other social networks.

The service will allow users to brag to their friends about their gaming accomplishments, a feature of Facebook games like FarmVille that has helped those games spread to other users.

"When I see you achieving and doing great things in your game, I'm more inclined to be more interested in that product because I have social proof that you're having a great time," said David DeMartini, EA's senior vice president of global online.

In coming months, EA plans to use Origin to allow players to spread their game playing across devices in novel ways, said Mr. DeMartini. One hypothetical example might involve an EA shooting game called "Battlefield," in which a player could earn "experience points" by practicing their sharp-shooting skills on a mobile version of the game. Those points could then be used to unlock privileges, like more accurate weapons, within an Xbox 360 version of the game, he said.

Don't Miss an Infoburst! Share on Facebook Share on Twitter Update ID

These are exciting times for Wingnuts everywhere! In addition to reloading, there's another way to stay tuned in to breaking Wing Commander news. The CIC Facebook Page is another resource to keep you linked with the WC community and on top of the latest headlines. Follow us here!

What's in a Name? Share on Facebook Share on Twitter Update ID

We're very excited about Electronic Arts' impending "Origin" announcement (especially if it offers access to classic Wing Commander games)... but we can't let the crazy name go without a friendly ribbing. Without further ado, Combat Information Center Comedy Classics presents THE TOP TEN REASONS ELECTRONIC ARTS NAMED THEIR NEW SERVICE ORIGIN:

10. Somewhat hard of hearing. OSI's slogan was 'Re-Create Words', right?

9. The Bullfrog Social Digital Distribution Service just sounds dumb.

8. Just good business sense to have your new branding initiative also serve as a constant reminder of your most terrible mistake.

7. Saved $20 by not having to buy a new domain name.

6. Thousands of pre-printed OSI travel mugs and Christmas ornaments have just been taking up space since 2003.

5. Actually stands for Online Reactive Interactive Gaming Information Network, had no idea they ever owned a company by the same name.

4. Millions of dollars spent on 'Ultima Worlds Online: Origin' were really to test max tolerance level for stupid places to use the name.

3. Because up yours, Lord British, that's why.

2. Always loved Origin name but was never happy about funding truly innovative, beloved game development.

1. Wanted to honor the grand legacy and tradition behind--haha, no, it's money.

BREAKING NEWS: Privateer on GOG Share on Facebook Share on Twitter Update ID

Here are important highlights from today's amazing GOG announcement.

  • You can buy Privateer for $5.99 here.
  • Ultima Underworld 1 & 2 and Dungeon Keeper are also available at the same price.
  • More games from Electronic Arts' back catalog will be available soon, starting with another set of three at the end of June. These games will be Crusader: No remorse, Sid Meier's Alpha Centauri and Magic Carpet.
  • GOG does not have the rights to every Origin game--there are licensing issues preventing the release of System Shock.
  • Privateer is the CD ("talkie") version but does not include Righteous Fire at this time. That may change in the near future.
  • Privateer includes the game's manual and reference card as downloadable PDFs.

BREAKING NEWS: Praise GOG Share on Facebook Share on Twitter Update ID

Good Old Games has just announced that they have reached a licensing agreement with publisher Electronic Arts that will allow them to begin releasing Origin Systems' catalog of classic games. And the very first game available--RIGHT NOW!--is Wing Commander Privateer! The first wave of games also includes the two Ultima Underworld titles, the criminally unappreciated primogenitors of the modern FPS/RPG combination game. It is expected that this announcement will mean that the rest of the Wing Commander series will be available for digital distribution, but details are not yet available as to release specifics. We will update with the press release and further information as the situation develops. In the mean time, enjoy some interesting history about connections between Wing Commander and the Underworld games!

Ultima Underworld II: Trilkhai Do Not Co-Exist Share on Facebook Share on Twitter Update ID

From a movie based on System Shock to a reference to the Crusader's WEC in Earth's history, Wing Commander has aways been happy to nod at Origin's other great franchises. The Ultima series, on the other hand, went even further--with several elaborate tributes to Wing Commander... and Ultima Underworld was no exception!

Ultima Underworld II introduces the "Trilkhai" (an anagram for Kilrathi), a race of telepathic cheetahs, to the Ultima world. While visiting Killorn Keep you may discover any number of these creatures wandering the castle. Clicking on any of them asks you to visit the stables for more information. When you do you can meet their leader, Blackie, who explains that his people are now slaves but that they once flew among the stars! This even starts a minor quest where you are asked to find more information about Trilkhai history.

Blackie: ...(Player Name)? I... see... in your mind that you can be trusted. That you are not from this world. That you are an... Avatar.

Avatar: Yes, that is correct.

Blackie: We have need of a... helper. But I see thou dost know nothing of our situation. The humans named us "Trilkhai." They do not know that we able to communicate in this way.

Avatar: Why don't you tell them?

Blackie: They might become afraid of us, and destroy us. It is safer that they think of us as animals.

Avatar: Then why entrust thy secret to me?

Blackie: I see that thou hast virtues that will prevent thee from betraying us. We must risk this, as many of us have need of a human agent in the keep.

Avatar: I will help thee where I can.

Blackie: Human, I am the oldest, and I have heard many stories of our race's past, wild tales of Trilkhai who flew among the stars, and hurled fire at the humans. I would learn if thou hast met any being who has knowledge of this.

Avatar: I have heard of none, but I shall look.

Blackie: If thou couldst learn the truth, it would be of great service to our race!

Towards the end of the game, while exploring the Ethereal Void, you encounter 'Wisp'. Trading information gives you the history of the Trilkhai and concludes Blackie's quest: "Trilkhai were once a powerful group of anhropomorphic 'felines.' Since their catstrophic 'loss' to a group of humanoids, they have since devolved 'past' the point of 'tool-using'." Guess Tolwyn was wrong! (Or was he? Origin's guide to Ultima Underworld II explains that The Guardian is breeding Trilkhai for an uncertain purpose...)

If you're trying to make sense of the whole situation, you probably can't--it even directly contradicts Ultima VII's Wing Commander reference, which has a Bloodfang with a live 'Kill Wrathy' discovered in a farmer's field a year earlier (having crashed within living memory). The Trilkhai telepathy is also sort of funny, as it's the only trait the Kilrathi hadn't already borrowed from Larry Niven's Kzin!

Ultima Underworld: Better Together! Share on Facebook Share on Twitter Update ID

You got The Stygian Abyss in my Vengeance of the Kilrathi! No, you got Vengeance of the Kilrathi in my The Stygian Abyss! No, wait, you're both right!

An apparent sad end to the Sons of Kilrah isn't the first Ultima Underworld/Wing Commander, connection! The advent of the CD-ROM in the early 1990s made re-releasing formerly diskette-based games far more affordable. As a result, Origin developed a number of succesful promotions involving existing titles: offering older games to retailers at a discount, collecting mission disks and speech packs in 'Deluxe Editions'... and pairing seemingly-unrelated games to get players hooked on multiple franchises.

The first of these releases was a CD-ROM containing the original Wing Commander and Ultima VI... and it was later followed by a disc with Wing Commander II and Ultima Underworld! The hope was that the packs would appeal to bargain hunters (as you can see, the fact that this package is a "$159.90 value" is highlighted on the box cover) who may have been familiar with only one of the games. Then Ultima fans would try Wing Commander and get hooked and vice versa! We can only hope that GOG will over the same pack someday.

Memento Mori Share on Facebook Share on Twitter Update ID

In this time of celebration we should take a moment to remember Electronic Arts' tragic first attempt to make Origin's catalog available online. In early 2006, GameTap announced that it had worked out an agreement with Electronic Arts to offer classic Origin games. They produced beautiful mailers announcing that classics such as Privateer and (oddly) Ultima I-XIII would soon be available through the service. And some were, briefly. For roughly nine months, GameTap made a number of Origin games available, including the first six Ultimas and Wing Commander I, II and IV. The games played beautifully in GameTap's special browser and we eagerly awaited each new release. Life was wonderful.

Until it wasn't. GameTap decided that new games would be a better use of their money and restructured their company. In the process they opted not to continue paying EA for the Origin rights. Coincidence or not, GameTap has been a disasterous, money-bleeding failure since that decision. GOG will be different--once you have a game through the service, it's yours forever... but we would all be wise to remember the lesson of GameTap, that good things can go bad fast, and buy those classic games as soon as they're available. View our GameTap memorial online here.

BREAKING NEWS: Ultima Forever Launches Share on Facebook Share on Twitter Update ID

LeHah reports that the Ultima Forever website has gone live! The finished site is very similar to the version leaked two days ago, with the addition of an advertisement for Ultima Online--it sounds like Electronic Arts is finally getting serious about preserving Origin's legacy! Fans can download a free copy of Ultima IV and learn more about Ultima history--it's a 27 meg download and includes copies of the manuals and cloth map.

It's possible, even likely, that we will know more this push in roughly an hour, when GOG announces their new licensing agreement. Here's to hoping we see in the near future. And if they want someone to run it, we're available! Stay tuned to the Combat Information Center for updates as the situation develops.

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