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Report: Microsoft building game-streaming tech, 'Arcadia'

Microsoft has job openings within a new cloud-based Operating Systems Group, and one of the listings says the project is called "Arcadia." ZDNet reports that Arcadia is a new streaming system built on the Azure cloud and is poised to replace Microsoft's Rio game-streaming tech. Arcadia will stream games and apps to Microsoft devices, the site says. Halo 5 on your Windows Phone, anyone?

One of Microsoft's job listings reads, in part, as follows: "The new Operating Systems Group (OSG) Streaming team is leveraging the cloud to bring premium and unique experiences to Microsoft's core platforms. These experiences take advantage of a new geo-distributed massively scaling service to redefine what is possible on today's devices. The client team is building the user facing application(s), bridging the service and devices together seamlessly. Our team is a small but growing and dedicated to solving one of Microsoft's biggest business challenges in a creative fashion."

Both job listings note that experience with iOS and Android app development is "a plus." As Engadget points out, this technology is most likely a long way off, since the development team isn't even finalized yet.

Sony has its own game-streaming system, PlayStation Now, and that's in beta on PS4, Vita and PS TV, well, now.
[Image: Microsoft]

Destiny hot fix tweaks Crota's End raid drops

If you're suffering from a lack of level-boosting loot in Destiny's raids, Bungie has the cure for what ails you. A patch issued this week tweaks gear drop rates within The Dark Below's new raid mission Crota's End, ensuring that more players will receive new equipment for their efforts.

Following this week's patch, Raid gear in Crota's End now begins at level 30, putting players on an upgrade path to level 32. The Crota's End-specific helmet item additionally spawns on Normal Mode now, and Hard Mode players have a better chance of receiving it as a drop.

The fix also addresses issues regarding reputation gains, Hive shield functionality, and Pocket Infinity charging. The patch is available as a free update for all Destiny players on all available platforms.

[Image: Bungie]

Skylanders Trap Team Light and Dark expansions hit retail this weekend

Skylanders veterans will soon be able to master in-game elements never previously seen in the series via a pair of new Skylanders Trap Team expansion packs premiering at retail this weekend.

Trap Masters Knight Mare and Knight Light join the Skylanders roster as part of Trap Team's new Light and Dark Element Expansion Packs. Each pack includes a character figure, a Trap accessory that allows players to trap and control Light and Dark villains, and a location piece that unlocks new levels featuring Light and Dark element-specific content.

Players who ventured through Skylanders Trap Team likely noticed deactivated element gates scattered throughout specific levels. These gates can only be accessed using the new Light and Dark element characters, opening up a significant portion of the game that was locked off since launch.

Trap Team's Light and Dark Element Expansion Packs will launch exclusively at Toys"R"Us stores on December 21 at $29.99 apiece.

[Image: Activision]

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Time-bending teen drama Life is Strange debuts next month

The debut episode of the DONTNOD-developed Life is Strange arrives on January 30, 2015, Square Enix announced today. The publisher commemorated the news with a new trailer showing the game in action. To see how Remember Me studio DONTNOD is mixing emotional teenage drama with supernatural time manipulation, check out the video below the break.

Life is Strange caught our eye at Gamescom this year, particularly in the way it presented a convincing glimpse of modern teenage life. As Joystiq's Jess Conditt put it, "Life is Strange presents two fully realized, genuine young women navigating adolescence, betrayal, love and loss. Chloe's pot-smoking and profanity-laced room feel honest to her character, as does her reception of Max. Anyone who's drifted apart from a teenage best friend can relate to the guarded, chilly reunion between these two girls, as well as the spark of envy that Max can display when she learns about Rachel, the new best – and perhaps better – friend."

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PSA: SSX free for Gold members on Xbox 360

It's tricky to rock a pun, to rock a pun with SSX. It's tricky.
It's tricky, tricky, tricky, tricky. So we didn't.

EA Canada's 2012 reboot of the trick-crazy snowboarding series is free right now via Games with Gold. That means Xbox 360 owners with Gold memberships can download the game at no extra cost, and that's for keeps - it doesn't matter if your Gold subscription runs out. SSX will stay free on Games with Gold until the end of the month.

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Dragon Age: Inquisition add-ons expand multiplayer, go Deluxe

Today, Dragon Age: Inquisition gets a piece of free multiplayer content and a $10 upgrade that elevates the Standard Edition of the game to the Deluxe Edition, all across PC, PS4, PS3, Xbox One and Xbox 360. The free multiplayer expansion is titled Destruction and it adds new paths to existing destinations, BioWare writes on the Dragon Age blog:

"The conflicts raging throughout the world have upset the balance of nature. Wild creatures now roam the battlefield, introducing chaos as they attack both friend and foe."

The $10 Deluxe Upgrade "is ideal for players who purchased the Standard Edition of Dragon Age: Inquisition," mostly because it features swag already in the $70 Digital Deluxe Edition, including the Skyhold Throne, Bog Unicorn, Red Hart Halla, Flames of the Inquisition weapons, Inquisitor Armor and an armored mount.

Dragon Age: Inquisition received a day-one patch and a second patch released last week that addressed stability and multiplayer issues. BioWare says it's already working on a third patch. These are all tweaks to an already robust, enchanting and "gorgeous" game, as outlined in our five-star review.
[Image: BioWare]

Countdown to 2015 Xbox sale starts: Dark Souls 2, Resident Evil, more

Microsoft kicked off its "Countdown to 2015" sale today on the Xbox Store, discounting a myriad of games with bigger price cuts for Xbox Live Gold members. This week's deals are good until December 22 and feature Lords of the Fallen at 40 percent off, Thief at 67 percent off, Wolfenstein: The New Order for half-price and The Evil Within at half-off as well for Xbox One, among a slew of other games.

Microsoft also discounted The Crew/Assassin's Creed: Unity as well as The Crew/Far Cry 4 bundles by 25 percent for the week. Two Xbox One games are also on sale for today only: Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor and its season pass are each 33 percent off and Lego: The Hobbit is 50 percent off.

Among the many Xbox 360 games on sale this week, Dark Souls 2 is half-off, Tomb Raider is 67 percent off, Halo: Spartan Assault and Dance Central 3 are each 67 percent off and BioShock Infinite's price is slashed by 85 percent. A handful of games in the Resident Evil series are discounted this week as well, such as Resident Evil 5, Revelations and Code Veronica X by 67 percent each, Raccoon City by 75 percent and Resident Evil 6 by 50 percent. Lego: The Hobbit is also discounted by 67 percent on Xbox 360 for today only, and Lego Lord of the Rings is 75 percent off. The full list of this week's deals can be found after the break.

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Tomb Raider: DE, Dark Souls 2 drop to $20 each on Amazon

Heads up if you're in a rush to find last-minute Christmas gifts: Tomb Raider: Definitive Edition (Xbox One/PS4) and Dark Souls 2 (Xbox 360/PS3) are $19.99 apiece on Amazon right now, making either an ideal pick for the gamers on your shopping list.

Other featured deals on Amazon this week include The Last of Us Remastered for $29.99, the Xbox One version of Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor for $27.99, Driveclub for $34.99, and Assassin's Creed Unity for $29.99. Sale prices are in effect through December 20, or while supplies last. A full list of discounts is available at Cheap Ass Gamer.

[Image: Square Enix]

This week's UK charts are last week's UK charts

It's nearly the time for merriment, which means it's nearly time for the Christmas Doctor Who special. The UK gaming chart is already getting into the festive mood by re-enacting the "Blink" episode. The chart managed to keep its eyes wide open for the whole week, meaning the top five games have stayed in exactly the same position, and nobody's going to get eaten and sent back to the 1920s by sharp-toothed gargoyles. For now.

So, it's (gasp) FIFA 15 on top for the second week running, followed by Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare, Grand Theft Auto 5, Far Cry 4 and Lego Batman 3. There aren't even any new releases to holler about, so the only real action comes courtesy of Destiny. Bungie's shooter planet-hopped seven places into ninth, no doubt boosted by the new Dark Below expansion.

The top ten below the break may be almost the same, but the customary (and lovably roguish) music video isn't! Don't worry, it's not at all festive; we'll save that ear-bomb for next week.

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Report: Call of Duty retail sales fall for third straight year

Following yesterday's NPD report, Piper Jaffray analyst Michael Olson points out that retail sales for the Call of Duty series have declined by 27 percent year-over-year.

This is not isolated news, either. The Call of Duty series has posted slumping sales in each of the past three years. While Activision's military shooters manage to sell well compared to other games the franchise is unable to reach the heights it once saw. Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare currently tops the NPD sales chart, but as Games Industry notes, this entry attracted less than half the first month sales of 2011's Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3.

Earlier this year, analysts at Cowen And Company pointed out that alongside declining sales, the Call of Duty games are also attracting declining pre-orders, with Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare drawing nearly 40 percent fewer retail pre-purchases than its predecessor.

Activision claims that Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare is the highest selling digital launch in console history but Olson does not believe that digital sales (which these analysts are not privy to) can entirely soften the blow of the retail sales slide. "NPD data does not include digital copies or international sales, which, if included, would lessen the year-over-year decline, but we believe this data suggests potential for Q4 revenue upside is now very low," Olson stated.

First Evil Within DLC 'The Assignment' due in early 2015

The Evil Within's first piece of downloadable content will launch early next year, Bethesda announced. Named "The Assignment," the add-on is one of two pieces of content that follows Juli Kidman, the partner of Detective Castellanos, the game's main protagonist. The DLC will be available individually at an as-yet-unannounced price, and as part of the survival horror game's $20 three-pack season pass.

The Assignment's follow-up is The Consequence, which sticks by Kidman's side before the third DLC, The Keeper, arrives. The Evil Within launched in October and was met with mixed reviews, including our own that noted the game "requires so much repetition that it can't possibly maintain any sense of tension or unease, and its story is told so aimlessly that you'll likely forget the plot between scenes." The game recently received a 1 GB update to fix various bugs and improve its performance.

Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare, Destiny top 2014 console sales in US

Activision's strategy of heavy investment in a small group of franchises resulted in the company having the two top-selling console games of the year. The publisher announced this morning that Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare and Destiny were the number one and two games, respectively, to sell-through at US retail based on data from NPD through November.

"We are excited about how fans have responded to Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare, Destiny and Skylanders Trap Team, and have even more great new content in store in 2015," said Activision CEO Eric Hirshberg. The Skylanders franchise was also noted as the top kids video game franchise of the year based on toys and accessory sales.

Activision Blizzard has had an exceptional year financially, having recently raised its outlook. On the other side of the corporate coin, the Blizzard half of the equation has also been doing quite well, with World of Warcraft subscriptions back over 10 million and Hearthstone's 20 million registered users.

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November NPD: Xbox One leads consoles, Call of Duty tops software

Overall retail sales for new hardware, software and accessories saw an 11 percent drop in November 2014, versus the same reported period last year. For most of 2014, software sale declines have offset year-over-year hardware spending, however, this November, "hardware declines totaled $294 million while software declined $17 million or 2 percent," NPD Group analyst Liam Callahan said.

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After Burner Climax faces XBLA/PSN delisting this month

This month is your last chance to pick up Sega's arcade-ported shoot-'em-up After Burner Climax on the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. Digital storefront monitor lifelower reports that the Xbox Live Arcade and PlayStation Network versions of After Burner Climax will be permanently delisted on December 24.

Buyers will be able to redownload purchased copies of After Burner Climax at a later date, but once the game is delisted, it can no longer be bought or added to a user's software library. Sega Nerds speculates that expired licensing agreements between Sega and the manufacturers of the real-world aircraft featured in After Burner Climax are to blame for the game's forthcoming removal. A similar issue resulted in the deletion of Sega's Ferrari-licensed racer OutRun Online Arcade from digital storefronts in 2011.

Starting next year, if you want to legally play After Burner Climax and don't already own a digital copy, you'll need to track down an original arcade machine. Here's a tip: The GameWorks across the street from the Washington State Convention Center in Seattle hosts a pair of Climax cabinets, so you might want to make plans to visit the next time you're in town for PAX Prime.

[Image: Sega]

Showtime Anytime app now available on Xbox consoles

The latest addition to Microsoft's burgeoning lineup of console media options is a Showtime app that offers both live and on-demand access to the network's programming.

Those with valid subscriptions to Showtime can download the app at no charge and use it to stream unlimited hours of select, archived Showtime programming including recent hit series like Homeland and Dexter. If you find too much choice in media options paralyzing, you can instead watch either the West Coast or East Coast live feeds of Showtime through the app. Helpfully, for those who enjoy lengthy TV marathons, the Showtime Anytime app allows users to start a show on one device, pause it, then resume watching on another device (such as a smartphone or tablet) using the same app.

If you don't have a Showtime subscription, but are an Xbox Live user, you will be able to download the Showtime Anytime app at no cost, but its content will be limited. Select previews of programs will be available, but no substantial programming.
[Image: Showtime]

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