Tag Archives: Xbox One

Microsoft E3 2015 Recap

Microsoft E3 2015

There was actually something genuinely surprising about the Microsoft press event yesterday, but it’s probably not what you think: there wasn’t even a sliver of a presence for Call of Duty. That showing has been happening like clockwork for the past forever and it wasn’t there this year.

I don’t know if that’s good or bad or even how I feel about it, but it’s certainly remarkable. But there was plenty of other news for the Redmond company and their little gaming machine that could (and then did and became a beast of an ecosystem for entertainment).

You can also watch the entire presentation if you’d rather do that.

Halo 5: Guardians

There was a substantial co-op demonstration that happened. And that just about sums that up. At this point I’m pretty sure you know if you’re going to buy a new Halo game or not, let alone get excited for hearing 343 Industries studio head Bonnie Ross talk about the brand new engine that runs single and multiplayer at 60 fps.

Warzone, however, sounds pretty fun. It’s a new 24-player mode where you’ll face off against both AI and player-controlled enemies via drop-in, drop-out co-op. The maps are massive at four times bigger than you’re used to. Josh Holmes of 343 appropriately called it “ambitious.”

Backwards Compatibility

This is an ostensibly big move. This will open up an entire generation’s worth of games up to Xbox One owners for free (so far it’s just a smattering of titles) and will definitely set the system apart from the PlayStation 4 feature set, something they’re keenly aware of.

“We won’t charge you to play the games you already own,” said head of platform engineering Mike Ybarra, an obvious jab at the fact that PlayStation 4’s backwards compatibility works only so much that you can stream old games via PlayStation Now. Ybarra says it won’t take any extra development from studios and players just need the original disc to download a new digital version. It’ll be available to everyone this holiday season.

Fallout 4

Here’s so more Fallout 4 footage, including stuff we didn’t get to see yesterday during Bethesda’s event. I mean, it all follows the same path of content, but it’s bonus gameplay at some parts.

Game director Todd Howard also announced that PC mods will work for the Xbox One version of the game, but not right at launch; that will get added somewhere in 2016. And they’ll hopefully bring that same compatibility to the PlayStation 4 version.

Forza Motorsport 6

We already know there’s a new Forza game. Even if you didn’t know that, it seems like you could have assumed that anyways. Turn 10 Studios’ Dan Greenawalt says there will be over 450 cars and 24-player multiplayer. That’s kind of all the excitement I can muster for this.

Tacoma

Even if Tacoma just ended up being Gone Home in space, I’d still be cool with that. But developers Fullbright has earned more respect than that. It’s very obviously going to be about a singular experience and story-driven, but rehashing the same ground is (hopefully) beyond them.

Co-founder Steve Gaynor announced that their upcoming game will come to Xbox One and PC first before hitting Linux and Mac.

The Long Dark

Billed as “the first survival game on Xbox One,” The Long Dark is very obviously a survival game. You’re out all alone in a frozen wilderness and have to face the cold and wolves and whatnot.

The bigger tidbit coinciding with this is that Microsoft now offers Xbox One Game Preview, their own Early Access. The Long Dark isn’t out now, but you can play it on Game Preview right now. (Game Preview is not be confused with the Xbox One Preview program, although it exists within that and, yeah, you get it.)

Ion

Dean Hall, creator of DayZ, announced his new project Ion. It will also be available on Game Preview first and will attempt to realize Hall’s vision of “a game that wasn’t a game.” The press release describes the game as “an emergent narrative massively-multiplayer online game in which players build, live and inevitably die in huge floating galactic constructions.”

It aims to feature fully simulated environments involving power grids and heating and a bunch of other things to maintain space living. It seems pretty neat, though it may cross that line into too ambitious real quick.

Sea of Thieves

Rare is making a new game! What more do you need to know? Hopefully not much more because they didn’t give us much more.

Rare Replay

Coming August 4 to the Xbox One, the Rare Replay collection will feature just about every game you’d want to play from Rare’s history. This includes some serious bangers like Battletoads, Perfect Dark, Banjo Kazooie, Viva Piñata, Conker’s Bad Fur Day, and Blast Corps. If this doesn’t excite you then you must be dead inside.

Gears of War Ultimate Edition

This remastered version of the original Gears of War will come to Xbox One on August 25. It’ll have updated graphics (which Kotaku has a nice comparison of), integrated Gears of War 3 gameplay features, and the additional content previously exclusive to the PC version from 2007.

Gears of War 4

I dunno. Are you guys excited for a new Gears of War? I’m interested, I guess, but not necessarily looking forward to it. It’ll be the first one not developed by Epic Games. Maybe there will be a fresh take on some of the old staples of the series we’ve grown accustomed to? Gears of War 4 will hit during holidays 2016.

HoloLens

This is a pretty impressive demo for Minecraft with HoloLens, Microsoft’s 3D head-mounted display technology. In it, one player is on a Surface tablet playing the game while the other assumes a more godlike role through HoloLens, able to peer into the entire world and manipulate it from on high.

But it’s also very much unbelievable and in a not great way. Do you remember what we were promised with Kinect? Yeah. And having worked with this sort of tech before, I’m all the more wary. Still cool, though.

Rise of the Tomb Raider

There was also a trailer that came out, but that’s pretty much inconsequential compared to the gameplay demo they threw down. It’s coming across as even more Nathan Drake than before, but it still looks great. Drake’s defining characteristic is that he’s lucky as shit and knows it. Lara didn’t have that.

In 2013’s Tomb Raider, Lara started with getting impaled and it somehow went downhill from there. But this demo shows Lara dodging bullet after bullet and that’s kind of Drake’s thing. I’m not complaining, mind you, but it seems worth mentioning.

And that’s it! Actually, there was a lot more like the above promo for the new Xbox One interface, the Xbox Elite controller (which will cost a whopping $150), and a bunch of other games, but these were kind of the big hitters. It’s fantastic that Microsoft focused so hard on games this year. It felt refreshing.

It’s also worth mentioning that there was a distinct lack of Kinect talk, and with the lack of Kinect in the new Xbox One bundles, it calls to question if Kinect is being swept under the rug. I don’t necessarily buy it, but Ben Kuchera raises some good points over at Polygon.

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Trailer Roundup: Transistor, Wolfenstein, and More

Trailer Roundup: Transistor, Wolfenstein, and More

Whoa, where did all these trailers come from? Last week was surprisingly busy in the three-to-five-minute-video-game-videos arena, so I’ll be doing more pruning than usual, but there are some winners up in this piece. Also, totally unrelated, but I held a baby raccoon today. That is all. Here are the trailers!

Transistor

Given that Bastion is one of my all-time favorite games, it seems only fair to be excited about Transistor, the next project from Supergiant Games. Actually, make that imminent, nearly completed project as it is set to release next week on May 20, 2014. I love the art style, the music is thus far amazing, and I’m just excited. I don’t necessarily have expectations; just that I’m anxious to find out what it’s all about.

Wolfenstein: The New Order

I’m still vacillating super hard between looking forward to Wolfenstein: The New Order and thinking what I’ve played and seen so far is incredibly skippable. The demos have touched on so many interesting ideas of necessary violence, psychological sustainability, and other complex personal bits of introspection, but it’s wrapped in a 90s B movie blanket of one-liners and explosions. It also comes out this week on May 20, 2014, so I guess we’ll find out soon where it ends up falling.

Bombshell

So here’s the gist of this exceedingly inscrutable trailer: Interceptor Entertainment, the studio behind the surprisingly fun Rise of the Triad reboot last year, is teaming up with 3D Realms to create an isometric action RPG called Bombshell, which features Shelley “Bombshell” Harrison, a former bomb tech turned mercenary.

There are some serious flavors of Terminator 2: Judgment Day, but it’s actually built on the ruins of that Duke Nukem lawsuit from earlier this year between 3D Realms and Gearbox Entertainment. This incarnation of the project is aiming for Q1 of 2015, which seems somewhat aggressive, but those Interceptor guys sure know how to crank out a game crazy quick.

SpyParty

SpyParty is really cool. It’s made for getting in and out of another person’s head while trying to guard your own. I’m sure you’ve heard of it before, but this trailer explains rather succinctly what the actual gameplay is like in terms of mechanics, but it fails to capture how much sweating is involved in panicking to make a decision. This feature on the Omegathon from PAX Prime last year captures pretty well the anxiety involved in playing SpyParty.

Nuclear Throne

Rebranded from Wasteland Kings (I personally like the sound of that a bit better), Nuclear Throne was pretty fun back when I played it and looks like it’s still plenty fun. You might recognize the name from Vlambeer’s idea to livestream development to usurp game clones.

Fantasia: Music Evolved

While certainly less bombastic than its announcement trailer, this video shows a bit more accurately what it’s like to play Fantasia: Music Evolved from Harmonix. Rather than irresponsibly gesture about in some abstract space, you’ll be pseudo-conducting in your living room. And it still looks fun. Expected to release this fall.

Microsoft Drops Kinect Requirements

Not really a trailer, but it is pretty big news. Microsoft has dropped the Kinect requirements for the Xbox One. This video adequately conveys that bit (and the lowered $399 price tag for the lack of the peripheral), but it more interestingly makes it very apparent that the company is only doing it begrudgingly. It’s the closest you’re likely to get to a flustered sigh coming out of Yusuf Mehdi. I would have preferred that they stuck to their guns. It also seems terribly unfortunate for the aforementioned Fantasia: Music Evolved.

A Story About My Uncle

Weird title, indecipherable premise, cool gameplay. From what I’ve read and seen, A Story About My Uncle about a boy who tries to find his uncle and instead ends up in a strange world full of floating rocks, potential aliens, and the ability to swing from stuff like Spider-Man. It comes out May 28, 2014.

Never Alone

If they kill that dog, I swear I will burn Utica to the ground. I can’t take any more animal best friend deaths in video games. Or even close calls. I still never fully recovered from Shadow of the Colossus. But Never Alone seems pretty interesting. It’s being developed in association with Alaska Native communities, drawing directly from cultural fables and the people’s rich heritage. Come this fall.

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Dead Rising 3 Review: Arisen

Dead Rising 3

Despite the endless hordes that await you in them, the Dead Rising games were never for the masses. They were quirky and charming in such a specific way that you pretty much had to buy into it before you even started playing. It’s nonsense, and kind of broken, obfuscated nonsense at times, requiring you to forgive large portions of what you’re doing and seeing. But Dead Rising 3, while far from perfect, makes enough changes that it’s worth getting into with your whole uneaten brain.

Dead Rising 3 tells the story of Nick Ramos, a young, physically capable mechanic in the fictional city of Los Perdidos, California. It’s 10 years after the events of Dead Rising 2 and the city is absolutely overflowing with the undead to the point where a military airstrike has been called to erase it and its inhabitants off the planet. Nick, obviously, needs to escape.

Los Perdidos is actually the most immediate and noticeable change to the franchise. Previously taking place in closed-off portions of a mall and a casino, this entry into the series puts you in an open world with just about zero load screens, as much a hallmark of past Dead Rising games as were the actual zombies. It’s a massive world, absolutely brimming with shambling corpses and cars and side missions, and it serves the game rather well.

The second biggest and beneficial change is also structural in that there is no longer a strict time limit to each part of the story. The bomb coming for Nick and his crew is arriving in six days, but it’s not nearly as pressing as before. It was almost leisurely the pace at which you can go about completing missions and trials, but the bidaily reminder that you are about to blowed up real good like keeps things tense.

Now, if you find yourself out of time and an explosion beyond imminent, you can simply restart any chapter. This solves one of the biggest problems many people had with the past games. A lot of gamers don’t like being told how quickly they have to go about an entire story; they either don’t enjoy the pressure or they find it monotonous after a while. This loosens it up considerably while still maintaining narrative urgency.

And impressively so, the moment-to-moment urgency is also ramped up. There has never been so many mindless foes crumbling before your ridiculous weaponry. It is a technical achievement the number of zombies they throw onto the screen and still maintain consistent framerates (though a few hitches were still seen every once in a while). And seeing them all fall before you vast arsenal is incredibly fun.

Dead Rising 3

The mind-blowingly dumb weapon combinations are back, dumbfounding and charming as ever. You can pretty much pick up anything off the ground or a wall or the shelves and start hitting zombies, but combine them and you get things like a giant stuffed bear with massive machine guns attached or boxing gloves on a broom. Disappointingly, the sex toy/leaf blower combo was pretty weak.

This time around, though, you can stick together already combo’d weapons to create super combo weapons, one of which pretty much breaks the leveling scheme of the game (to its benefit, in my opinion). In fact, you can also combo together vehicles and sundry to yield incredibly powerful and satisfying whips with which to roam the streets. One in particular has blades that shoot out of the side, right at head level. The benefits of being a mechanic over a photojournalist are very apparent.

The vehicles, though, are somewhat lackluster. They don’t take much damage before they start to smoke and you are forced to abandon them on the roadside. You yourself, however, have been made somewhat more resilient, or at least the enemies weaker seeing as how they go down quicker. (There is a Nightmare Mode that flips the script on that, however, and introduces more stringent time limits, but mowing down hordes seems more interesting than being harassed at every step.)

Dead Rising 3

This tweak includes, thankfully, the psychopath bosses, which are silly and kind of fun in the story but super annoying to fight. Most of them are most easily dispatched with firearms, but the shooting mechanics of the game are just atrocious. They’re sluggish and imprecise and make for boss battles that required double-digit attempts, which wouldn’t really be a problem if A) the load times weren’t so stupefyingly long and B) they weren’t so frustrating. In these moments, it becomes apparent that Nick handles rather clumsily, fine for slow, stupid zombies but terrible for moments of intense action.

Just as clumsy is the writing, which vacillates deftly between juvenile and offensive. All of the bosses fit into dumb but appropriate situations within the story, but their presentation are largely based in disgusting stereotypes. Transphobic, homophobic, racist, and just generally lazy caricatures litter this world. At least there’s Nick’s leader, Rhonda. She’s pretty great. I’d want her leading me in a zombie apocalypse.

Dead Rising 3 basically more of the same Dead Rising: absurd and insanely fun weapons, mindless mass violence, and a strangely Westernized Eastern shellac coating. But critical changes have made it a much easier pill to swallow, turning it from a game of narrow appeal to one of mass intrigue as intended. It still gets more than a few things wrong, but everything on the amenable side of the balance is just gravy.

Dead Rising 3

+ Throwing down with dozens of zombies with a hundred more off in the distance is fantastic
+ More ridiculous weapons and new combo’d vehicles
+ An open world with a lax time limit makes it a much more pleasing game to play
– Offensive characters are simply horrible
– Controlling Nick, especially during boss battles, can be severely frustrating

Final Score: 7 out of 10

Game Review: Dead Rising 3
Release: November 22 2013
Genre: Third-person action adventure
Developer: Capcom Vancouver
Available Platforms: Xbox One
Players: single-player offline, online co-op
MSRP: $59.99
Website: http://www.xbox.com/en-US/xbox-one/games/dead-rising-3

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You Should Probably Play Killer Instinct

You Should Probably Play Killer Instinct

Admittedly, the original 1994 Killer Instinct wasn’t a great game. It wasn’t terrible, but that may just be because I refuse to properly analyze my formative years for fear of degrading their substance. Either way, basically no one was asking for a reboot of the franchise, and yet here we are with a free-to-play Killer Instinct for the Xbox One’s launch. And it was a good move.

Yes, it’s free to play, hence this not being a review. All you have to do is find it in the Xbox One’s Games store front (not terribly hard considering your choices can be counted on one hand) and download it. Right now, the free character is Jago, the surrogate Ryu or Liu Kang of the game, though others will get rotated into the fold later. If you want more characters now, though, you have to pay five dollars each for them, which would lead you to believe online matches would be nothing but Jago-on-Jago mirror matches, but it turns out a lot of people have been sinking money into this thing.

And time, as it would seem. People have gotten quite good at the game’s core conceit: combos. How you inflict the most damage in a single go is by getting your opponent into a combo, which always begins with an opener and then is mixed with linkers and autos (and shadow moves and manuals) before being capped off with an ender.

Killer Instinct

This is not a terribly demanding game in terms of technical proficiency; after all, autos are multi-hit additions to your combo that are trigger by a single button press. It’s all about understanding the systems. The overall goal is to get from an opener to a closer to cause damage and then prevent it from recovering, which will happen if you don’t perform an ender. Most of it is tied up in basic moves like dragon punches and fireballs, but the simplicity opens it up to neat twists.

Combo Breakers, as you are familiar with by simply being on the Internet, are vital to being a good fighter and finding pleasure in the game. If you can guess the strength of attack used for normal auto or manual attacks, then you break out of being combo’d and get back to trying to start your own. It’s a great mind game of trying to mix up your own play and trying to second guess your opponent. It’s like high level rock-paper-scissors but with more blood.

It really changes up the usual upfront framework of fighting games where you simply block and then execute. It starts to feel like trying to run multiple mental models of several different games at once and can become quite the brainy workout. This is especially true when you start to game your meters. If you fill the combo meter, it’s basically a wash, but if you trigger special moves, you can reset the meter and keep the combo going. There are several fantastic layers to the fighting here.

Killer Instinct

The problem arises when you are the one being combo’d. If you’re not good at reading attack animations or simply unlucky, you’ll find yourself stuck being a ragdoll for four to five seconds at a time. That’s four to five seconds where you are helpless and at the mercy of either an AI or a person. This is when the game really fails to keep me interested, as in just those few seconds, my desire to play something else grows ever stronger.

But at least you’ll generally always know what you’re doing. In most other fighting games, I always felt like I was simply trying to understand how it worked let alone figuring out high-level tactics, but Killer Instinct has an amazing dojo mode that covers truly everything. You can start out learning how to walk and then advance to learning how to cap off combos. It’s thorough enough that you feel competent going into your first online match but hands-off enough to let you learn on your own.

And the game’s general presentation is rather good. The graphics are exceptionally sharp (those fireballs!) and the music is predictably catchy, but the coolest stuff happens at the end of fights, where rain will really start to come down if you pull of an Ultra Combo, or the music will sync up with your brutal hits and create a violent, staccato rhythm of mayhem and particle effects. It is unbelievably satisfying ruining someone in such a delicious, over-the-top fashion.

Killer Instinct

As a free game amongst mediocre sequels and half-assed ports, grabbing the free Killer instinct is an obvious choice. As a quality fighting game with an absolutely intriguing and fun foundation, Killer Instinct is something you should definitely check out. Just don’t kill your childhood by playing the original Killer Instinct included in the download.

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Breaking the System in Dead Rising 3

Breaking the System in Dead Rising 3

Dead Rising 3 really is more of the same. Though I’m sure the developers at Capcom Vancouver and the marketing team behind it would tell you otherwise, it’s largely the same game you’ve always played: go around an open world, craft weapons, meet people, and kill zombies. There are some changes, of course, some of which are for the better and others for the worse, but one change in particular really stands out.

Perhaps it’s not so much a change so much as an oversight. Or it could be an added feature. It may have been discovered elsewhere, but the knowledge for breaking much of the game’s built-in leveling system was popularized by a livestream over at Giant Bomb. Vinny Caravella and Brad Shoemaker showed that with the Super Combo Weapon of the Ultimate Grim Reaper, you could level at incredible rates at an amazingly early point in the game. Shoemaker went from level 48 to the cap of 50 in a matter of minutes.

And once he hit the cap, he kept going, accruing even more points to spend on skill trees, potentially maxing out every slot over the course of 15 minutes of laying waste to zombies with a grenade-throwing flaming scythe.

Dead Rising 3

This, in effect, takes out the most tedious part of any game involving leveling, which is just about all of them nowadays. But it really makes a difference here in Dead Rising 3. It’s actually quite a good game (a review is forthcoming) but it truly is more of the same. Once I hit a certain point, I had to force myself to get past my reaction of “yeah, okay. I get it.” I really wanted to see what the end game was like.

Unfortunately, that meant grinding out enough PP to top off all my skills and whatnot, and that, as the verb implies, is not very fun. You have 10 to 15 minutes of virginal fun followed by another 20 of experimenting with what’s possible and then 10 more minutes of denying that you can’t possibly have seen and done everything you can do at that point. It’s a very familiar cycle to any open world game.

I’d like to think that the developers were keenly aware of this. I’d like to think they made this ridiculously overpowered weapon available not just at all but so early because they know some people just want to see progress. It’s not a cheat and it’s not a hack. It’s a reward for knowledge.

Dead Rising 3

It seems very similar to the idea of beat Myst once you know the secret. You could go through all the hullabaloo of solving puzzles (or killing the undead in Dead Rising 3‘s case) but with the proper application of available but furtive information, you can skip the tedium once it becomes tedium. It was fun once before but no more.

Okay, so it’s not a perfect analogy since you’ve already seen all Myst has to offer by the time you figure out you can beat it in 20 seconds, but the idea of forgoing work to see the end is still there. And it’s significant. Not many games now would do the same in rewarding you for your desire to progress but also your efforts to get there. With a grind so readily available, this could have easily taken a turn for the microtransaction. Double your PP earned for just 99 cents and you’ll max out your level twice as fast!

So it’s not breaking the system. It’s playing into the system because someone out there realized that the lure of discovery is sometimes greater than the idea of working for creation. On one hand, you are working towards forging a path to the end and finding out what Dead Rising 3 has to offer. And on the other, you knowledge as its own reward, one which is given as a remuneration for knowledge itself.

Dead Rising 3

It’s not a white flag. It’s not a concession. The developers did not throw up their hands and say they made a game too long or too boring or too poor to play. They simply acknowledged curiosity and gave it a vent. And more games could do with the same.

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In the Periphery

In the Periphery

One more day. One more day and we’ll be fully entrenched in the next generation of video game consoles as Microsoft’s Xbox One comes out, following a week of Sony’s PlayStation 4 and over a year of Nintendo’s Wii U. All three come after the longest console cycle since forever.

Or at least it feels like forever. It’s been eight years since the release of the Xbox 360. Before that, it was seven years, and before that, it was a paltry four years. And each one of those was largely defined by consoles doubling processing capabilities with Nintendo going so far as naming the Nintendo 64 after its CPU word size.

Since then, that little number stopped mattering as much. Not only because as computing power started to factor in parallelism and multiple cores and GPUs and components that used to be considerations only of PC gamers, but also because many realized that didn’t make games egregiously better or worse. Consoles soon became defined by their heavy hitter franchises instead of bowing to the 8-bit or 16-bit era banners.

DualShock 4

That is a hard sell, though, when it comes to new hardware. Games are subjective and ever-changing but when you can pin an upgrade on a bigger number, new generations are easier to pitch to consumers. Controllers, of course, were a consistent solution. They’re a necessary component and they can always be improved from a visual, tangible perspective.

Nintendo, in a way, saw this and put their full stock behind the idea with the Wii. It was a hard swing and got a lot of attention by being so alarmingly different in an objective, fundamental way. The great thing then was that Nintendo backed it up with quality games like Wii Sports, Super Mario Galaxy, and The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword.

Regardless of Nintendo’s varying success with its continuing tactic of drastic differentiation, it sparked something in Sony and Microsoft. Attaching something bombastic and, more importantly, physical to a console’s marketing works like gangbusters. This introduced the Kinect five years into the Xbox 360’s lifecycle and the Move only one week prior for the PlayStation 3.

Kinect

One of those succeeded and has since lingered with the new generation in the Xbox One with an upgraded Kinect. Sony ditched the Move, kept motion controls in the controller, and aped a great deal of functionality from the Kinect with a new PlayStation Camera. Most impressively, these contribute some of the most meaningful upgrades to the consoles.

The new Kinect functions wonderfully as an input for both audio and visual needs (e.g. Skype, game chat, etc.) but also innovates by enabling battery-saving tactics. The system will track when you set down the controller and then put it in a low power state, so even though there isn’t a rechargeable battery pack option for the new Xbox One controllers, a single pair of AA batteries will last over a week of nonstop gaming.

The PlayStation Camera is a generation behind the Kinect and similarly a generation behind capabilities, but does enable facial recognition log in, albeit at a pace slower than pressing buttons on a controller. But at least now Sony gamers have an excuse to yell at their consoles, too. For the PlayStation 4, much more lies within the controller.

PlayStation Camera

The DualShock 4 is a much better design than the DualShock 3, an iteration on the long-standing design that was the pinnacle of controllers before the Xbox 360’s game pad, as it no longer hurts to hold one for more than 30 minutes at a time. But it also contains a small speaker, for which a very compelling argument was made with Resogun. This means the controller itself has audio processing capabilities, something Sony has tapped into by allowing all system audio to go through a headphone jack in the DualShock 4. Both of these are small but extremely useful and substantial additions.

Speaking of controllers, consider that the Xbox One’s controllers now have localized rumble in each of its triggers. Even in this rather mediocre launch lineup, this strange development has added a new layer of physical feedback to games. At such a nascent stage, the potential is already noticeably high, almost inspiring the same aspirations as when rumble was still relegated to a detached plug-in pack.

These mostly seem like minute, throwaway additions. Who cares if your triggers rumble? Who gives a flip if there’s a camera saving your controller’s battery? The answer should be everybody when you consider that games, for the most part, are hitting an all-time high of cross platform accessibility. Look at your launch titles: Battlefield 4, Call of Duty: Ghosts, Assassin’s Creed IV, Need for Speed: Rivals, etc.

Xbox One Reveal

And now services are reaching parity as well with subscription-based freebies and multiplayer, robust digital storefronts, and so on. That or the things we were promised aren’t as grand as they were originally pitched. Or they simply don’t exist yet. Streaming? Cloud-based gaming? There’s either going to be a lot of apologies or a lot of patches coming in the next few months.

It’s becoming apparent that the war, as it were, is going to be won with these tiny details. All these minuscule innovations are going to add up and eventually we’ll see something totaling up into a giant step forward. It’s no longer about a single number or some drastic, waggling swing for the motion control fences. It’s about the details. After all, what’s left but details?

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An Errant Fealty

An Errant Fealty

I’ve never quite been one for things like school pride. I went to a building, I got a degree, and now I’m done. It’s over. That time of my life is done. Insulting it then or now has no bearing on what I accomplished there or here.

It’s kind of the same reason I don’t buy into sports rivalries that don’t involve individuals. The longstanding Dallas Cowboys and Washington Redskins rivalry, for instance, doesn’t make sense once you consider that all the original folks involved are either dead or a nonfactor at this point. The rivalry lingers largely because of fans and players that grew up with it and seemingly live and die by “we’ve always done it that way.”

So I may not be the best person to analyze this, but throwing around die-hard allegiances to video game consoles—especially those that don’t even exist for the public yet—is absolute nonsense. It happens, of course, for the current and past generations of consoles as well, but years of filtering feelings through objectivity have clarified many opinions. (The N64, for example, was kind of trashy but hot damn those games.)

Nintendo 64

Being fans of companies is even somewhat understandable on a certain level, though the parallel problems of sports fandom persists here as well; an ever-shifting landscape of management, ownership, and players erodes the logical foundation of athletic loyalty. The people that run console manufacturers come and go, as do those of other companies. Would you still hold Apple’s design aesthetics in such high regard if Jony Ive wasn’t there?

But loving the shit out of the PlayStation 4 before you’ve even put hands on it is absolutely bonkers. Praising the virtues of the Xbox One when you’ve only seen it in streaming press conferences is lunacy. Assumptions can be made, sure, like they will be functional pieces of technology upon purchase and that the list of features are not a list of lies. But as to the quality of both the hardware and software along with developer relations goes unseen.

If you recall, Sony basically mopped the floor with Microsoft with both its announcement event and following press conferences. Their PlayStation 4 had all the features that, on paper, the Xbox One did not have or did not tell us. It didn’t have to be always online, it didn’t block used games, and it was cheaper. Fans rallied around these pillars of superiority and never looked back.

Xbox One Reveal

Now, it seems that Microsoft has somewhat of an upper hand. The Xbox One’s launch lineup seems to be quite a bit stronger (and less diminishing) and most of the things you thought the PlayStation 4 would be able to give you lies behind a day-one—and beyond—patch. At least among those in the industry, favor has shifted to Redmond.

But make no mistake, as this is still a fealty based on assumptions and guesswork. It’s a leap of faith that either of these consoles will do what their PR says they will. (To be fair, though, from what I’ve seen, read, and played, it’s all mostly true.) So those that still strive to turn making mountains from molehills into their day job, they grab onto the slimmest chance of object fact.

This is how you end up with comments on news stories and video reviews of next-gen games that dissect the graphics because that’s all they have at this point. It’s hard proof that these textures on this console are higher resolution than the ones on this console. It’s undeniable that the framerates are better here than they are there.

Ratchet & Clank: Up Your Arsenal

And they aren’t wrong. Those are, indeed, facts in some cases, despite the inanity and aggression they are asserted in the face of none of it mattering at all. The differences are often indiscernible to most people that aren’t part of an organization called the Digital Foundry, and yet they cling. Rose and Jack be damned they cling.

No matter how hard they never let go, though, it doesn’t matter. Not this early, anyways. Do you remember how butt ugly PlayStation 2 games were when they first came out? Now do you remember how great Ratchet & Clank: Up Your Arsenal Looked when it came out? It’s a lifecycle for a reason; it grows and evolves. (Besides, how are graphics the biggest deciding factor for a game’s quality? Stop thinking that.)

The same goes for services and features. The PlayStation 3 was far and away an inferior product when it came up against the Xbox 360. From its social interactivity to its online store to its appeal to developers, it was worse. At best, you could say PSN was free. But then Sony added chat and trophies and made PlayStation Plus a heck of a deal and cleaned up its act and managed to attract some amazing indie games.

PlayStation 4

Yet those loyalties persist. Those that live and breathe Sony, Microsoft, and Nintendo will never give up the noble quest of educating the fools around them. It should be an objective evaluation, a rolling and shifting line of top quality. Arguing in comments over non-final software and hardware and comparing screenshots of different builds is going to get you nowhere. Or at least nowhere that matters.

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The Mattrick Maneuver

The Mattrick Maneuver

There was a buzz. It’s a familiar hum from the Twitter machine of the video game industry where rumors swirl around until one latches onto the side and we collectively watch as it slowly and painfully crawls its way out. And yesterday, we saw more of the same. Don Mattrick would be leaving his position at Microsoft as President of Interactive Entertainment Business (read: Xbox stuff) for Zynga.

Moments like these—perhaps more than any other that the industry encounters—exemplify exactly what it is that makes journalists and writers what they are, which is to say little more than an amalgamation of ego, doubt, and an incessant desire to drink. First the questions were concerning the veracity of the rumor. Most found out from Geoff Keighley, but even he gets things wrong every now and again (it actually and most likely leaked over at AllThingsD). But then, invariably, the dots begin to connect, and questions arise. Calls are made. Mark Pincus, co-founder of Zynga, made a statement.

Pincus made it official: Mattrick would be taking over for him as CEO of Zynga. Pincus had long been pressured by investors to do something—anything—to get the social and mobile game developer back on track. Once a titan that’d gone public (its IPO opened at $11 a share, valuing it at 2004 Google money at $1 billion), the studio recently shut down its Los Angeles, Dallas, Austin, and New York branches, laying off 520 employees, or around 18 percent of its staff. It is currently trading at just over a dollar above its all-time low after a 10 percent bump following the announcement.

Mark Pincus and his hands

Mattrick, seemingly, was also enduring struggles. Six weeks ago, he took the stage to unveil the Xbox One to a tepid reception. It’s not because they showed off a totally incompetent product but because just one month ago, Sony announced the PlayStation 4 and it was ostensibly the better console, an unsubstantiated notion that sent Sony’s stock skyward. Then, three weeks later at E3, Sony stuck it to the Redmond-based company hard by driving home all the contentious points people were hung on: always-online, no used games, etc. Not to mention the substantially lower price.

A week later, however, all of those problems went away. Microsoft’s entire policy had switched. No required Internet connection, no authentication for discs, no regional restrictions. Used games would work exactly how they work now: swap a disc. Mattrick wrote a great deal on it, saying they were grateful for the public’s “assistance in helping us to reshape the future of Xbox One.” That was another banner day in breaking news as people buzzed about and eventually verified Giant Bomb’s Patrick Klepek’s hot scoop.

But only then did we realize what we were losing: account sharing between family members; near-trivial, cloud-based save and game transport; increased graphical and processing prowess due to cloud computing; and so much more. They were exciting and near radical ideas for a console, but people seemed to be upset with the price tag attached to it, which is to say they weren’t happy about being tethered to a cable or router 24/7. We’ve seen how poorly things can go when a network connection is required via Diablo III and SimCity‘s Hindenburg impressions.

Don Mattrick at the Xbox One unveiling

Could that have been, though, an ill-placed gut reaction? That seems like a rhetorical, pandering question, but it is sincere. Was Sony’s so-called “victory” at E3 with its hard jabs and pointed elbows more warmly received because it was more familiar? It could be a sign of stagnation—of fear. No one except those up in Washington know how these nebulous concepts of connectivity and cloud shenanigans explicitly work. We fear, after all, what we do not know. Though Mattrick put it a bit bluntly, it is a philosophy worth considering: move it or lose it.

Or it could be justified anger at losing consumer rights. Stripped of its particulars, though, and it operates as a fitting parallel for Mattrick’s transition. Much like we have questions on how and why Sony and Microsoft structured their console infrastructures the way they did, we all have questions regarding this Zynga-Microsoft shake-up. For instance, what influence did Mattrick leaving have on the flip-flop on policies for the Xbox One have? He was, undoubtedly, planning on leaving for quite some time (and well ahead of a holistic company restructuring process), but the switch in stance certainly looks a lot clearer through a “fuck it, I’m out of here” lens. Unsubstantiated or not, it’s a simple answer to a complex question, and those usually have a little bit of truth mushed up in it.

Second, will Pincus be able to relinquish enough control, loosen his grip on the reins enough, to let Mattrick do what they need him to do? Pincus currently earns a $1 annual salary and gets no bonuses or equity awards, so this entire endeavor is one of pride and creative control. Though no longer the CEO, he will still be a chairman and Chief Product Officer and still controls 60% of the voting power with 12% of the company.

FarmVille 2

Zynga has traditionally be all about micro-payments via Facebook games like CityVille and FarmVille and many other –Villes and things but recently has tried to steer towards mobile development (having your entire money-making scheme tied into someone else’s infrastructure that could—and has—change at any time is never a good idea, something investors are starting to realize), but Zynga is a big ship full of holes. It takes time to point its bow in any new direction. In a seemingly desperate move for faster paddling and new blood, they dropped $200 million last year on OMGPOP and recently let go of most of its staff and closed its offices. They had to update their quarterly projections from $28.5 million to $39 million in losses. They’ve lost 40 million (13 percent) daily active users in the past year.

In the post Pincus put up yesterday, he said that Mattrick would have “the final vote in making decisions on execution” while Pincus would lead “vision and strategy and defining the product experiences.” This, given rumors of how Pincus has a habit of poorly micro-managing and frustrating his fellow executives, doesn’t sound all that promising. BuzzFeed spoke to a few company sources about it, sources that said Pincus could “seriously water down [Mattrick’s] power” and that “I don’t see how Mark can not be involved, he’s got his hands in everything.” That and tumultuous corporate politics could be trouble.

Lastly, where does this leave Microsoft? In the interim, they’ve named Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer as Mattrick’s temporary fill-in. At least when he left EA in 2007, it seemed like Mattrick gave a two-weeks notice. This move has apparently left Microsoft in a bit of a lurch at a crucial time. In mere months, they will be launching a new console of a new generation in perhaps one of the most heated battles of recent memory. (I expect a Nintendon’t-esque campaign coming from both sides.) How will Ballmer, originally a software man, lead an entire division about hardware and software and PR and putting out Internet fires? He is a veteran executive and leader, sure, but as current CEO, his plate is full enough as it is with Windows 8.

Steve Ballmer on stage

You can possibly cobble together something more in the meantime with the likes of CVP of Marketing Yusuf Mehdi and GM of Microsoft Studios Phil Spencer, both of whom we’ve seen speak about and showcase the Xbox One, but without a single leader to point where to go next, this seems problematic for the Interactive Entertainment division. Do you really want this man telling you how to make a video game console?

There are, of course, other perfunctory and ancillary questions that remain unanswered. Is Zynga at all salvageable? Can anyone possibly turn Microsoft’s cold futurist stance into a winning one? Mattrick could have been muscled out for his “buy a 360” solution, seeing as how former creative director Adam Orth was similarly let go for brutish “deal with it” comments. Most are saying the rumored restructuring wouldn’t have affected Mattrick, but he most likely knows more than we ever will about Microsoft.

If you’re at all interested, there’s a pretty cool profile on Mattrick over at Fast Company. It is illuminating to say the least and brings up some interesting notes (Mattrick will reunite with his old boss from EA Bing Gordon), but it provides none of the answers we want to any of our questions. No time for that, though. I can already hear the Twitter machine spinning up again.

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What to Expect from E3 2013

What to Expect from E3 2013

I’m filled with dread. And excitement. I’m anxious and paranoid. I’m filled with a glut of emotions that I reserve for times when I’m under prolonged duress, and in this case, it’s because I’ll be in Los Angeles for a week for E3. I feel like a hot little turnip of feelings because for six solid days, I’ll be surrounded by tens of thousands of other people in downtown LA (probably more due to the Kings playoff series once again looks to ravage the bustling, hotel-filled area) and set to meet dozens and dozens of them as I talk about and play almost as many games. And for some reason I do this voluntarily.

And that’s because there will be just so much to see. Outside of the tremendous networking opportunities, there’s just a lot of games to get my hands on and share with all of you. If there’s something in particular you want me to investigate or check out, just let me know in the comments or tweet at me and I’ll do my best. Last year, I tracked down Tokyo Jungle for some folks, an adventure that led me to faking a British accent and landed me square in a room full of European press I didn’t recognize. This year, well, who knows.

But here is what I’m looking forward to most.

Xbox One/PlayStation 4 Drama

PlayStation 4 vs. Xbox One

Word on the street is that the Microsoft press event is going to be…aggressive, which makes sense; they were the last next-gen console to be revealed and now they’re going to be the first out of the gate at E3. By all counts, the initial announcement seemed more aimed to appease partners and shareholders, so let’s so what happens when they have the opportunity to set the tone for an entire week of video game coverage. I’m expecting more games (probably some actual gameplay from Call of Duty: Ghosts this time) and “surprises,” as Geoff Keighley put it. Microsoft did, however, cancel the post-conference press Q&A, so who knows what that means.

As for Sony, well, a lot has happened since the Xbox One announcement. They’ve since been able to cultivate a strategic response to the kerfuffle surrounding used games, always-online requirements, and all that goodness, but they will also have to follow Microsoft (and everyone else seeing as how they’re the last presser to take place) next week. How well will they be able to execute a proper PR message turnaround if something unexpected happens? We’ll probably even see the actual hardware this time, too. This will, undoubtedly, be the most exciting pre-E3 press conferences in recent memory.

Saints Row IV

Deep Silver will be there repping Volition’s Saints Row IV and I have two hours set aside to bask in its glory. I don’t know if I need to say anymore. Just look at that trailer!

Nintendo’s Unusual Tact

Nintendo E3 2012 press conference

Nintendo won’t have their usual press event and is instead opting for a Nintendo Direct streaming thing. This isn’t unusual (big news dropped last year in the following online videos while their event skimped on the goods), but it does beg a lot of questions. Has Nintendo given up on mainstream marketing for the Wii U? Do they have latent plans for taking up the E3 news cycle that no one knows about? Last year they had one of the biggest booths with an entire second floor dedicated to appointments and private demos. The Nintendo Direct is also at the same time as a Square Enix Final Fantasy thing, so, um, yeah.

Plus they’ll have all those games demoed at 100 Best Buy stores across the country, saying they’re “making an E3 for the people.” That’s a smart ploy to put games in more gamers’ hands that won’t be at E3 (which is to say the vast majority of people), but it also feels like a concession in the console battle at a pivotal point where giving an inch anywhere is costly.

Franchises, Franchises

We’ll see more of Call of Duty: Ghosts, for sure, along with Battlefield 4 and Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag. There won’t be any sign of Grand Theft Auto V at the show, but there will be Super Smash Bros. Wii U, which obviously has a lot of people excited. Rumors have hit an all-time high for Mirror’s Edge 2 and Rare has been teasing a revival of a “historic” franchise (I’m hoping Viva Piñata, but I’m expecting Perfect Dark or Killer Instinct). We’ll see how Batman: Arkham Origins is shaping up and if Bayonetta 2 is just as ridiculous as the first.

Fresh-Baked Games

And then there’s the new IPs that we hopefully get to learn more about. Watch Dogs will be Ubisoft’s ace, probably, as it will likely take over its mantle for new annual franchise. Harmonix recently dropped the news that they are working on Fantasia and Double Fine will be talking about its latest Kickstarter endeavor Massive Chalice (and might show off Broken Age). Sony will also be showing off Puppeteer, one of the most exciting things I’ve seen in a long time, and we’ll finally see some of Bungie’s Destiny. Of course, there’s much more to E3 than that, but you’ll read about it all next week.

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Xbox One: A Menagerie Of Unknowns

Xbox One: A Menagerie of Unknowns

Phil Harrison doesn’t know the answer. He has answers, sure, but he doesn’t know which one is right. From the media—and public—perspective, it feels an awful lot like we’re getting a multiple choice question in response to our queries, but each answer is accompanied by mean mugs and shoulder shrugs. (Shimmy shimmy cocoa what.)

Stephen Totilo over at Kotaku wrote up a great piece called “The Xbox One Uncertainty Principle” wherein he brings up the flurry of conflicting reports and interviews and PR responses that they and others have been getting over the past week, starting with the next-gen Microsoft event in Redmond and culminating in the confusing As we all got to our Qs. There’s a great quote in the middle of it from Totilo:

Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle tells us that the more we try to observe a particle’s position, the less precise we can be about its momentum. Heisenberg, have we got a game console for you.

The uncertainty principle is a little more broad than that (it applies to any set of complementary variables), but we get the gist: the more we try to find out about the Xbox One, we discover just how little we actually know about it.

In the opening bit, Totilo relates to us an anecdote about Aaron Greenberg, chief of staff for Microsoft’s interactive division, saying that response to their new console was mostly positive. In fact, he says it was about 40% positive, 40% neutral, and 20% negative (though maybe some fact-checking is in order?). Unfortunately, we find those numbers to be less than accurate.

If we take a look at the Brandwatch blog, the musings of a company that specializes in monitoring social media reactions, we find that the online reaction isn’t as positive as Greenberg thinks it is. Brandwatch puts positive at 52% and negative at 48% (neutral isn’t tracked in this). AT Forbes, Fizziology puts the numbers in a different light as well: 32% positive, 10% negative, and a whopping 56% neutral.

Of course, these numbers only account for people able to interact with social media at the time, so those working, traveling, sleeping, or any other number of things preventing them from updating their Facebook or tweeting are not accounted for. And these analyses are never quite as accurate as you would like (intent is harder to derive from content without context), but media, by and large, also take themselves out of the immediate conversation and often opt for video recaps and written summaries to express their views. Same go for industry analysts. But there is archived evidence for my Twitter feed (and many others) being primarily negative the following day when thoughts were put into long-form articles.

Perhaps the most problematic of the cluster of misinformation disseminating among Microsoft (if Greenberg is an indication) is that always-online and used games are still up in the air. We’re likely to get answers in the coming weeks at E3, but it’s still distressing that something so fundamental to the console’s operation and the industry’s functionality is undecided. First Phil Harrison, corporate vice president of Microsoft, says that you can sell back used games at retail stores. Then he says you’ll sell them back online. Which is it? Or is it both?

And then when asked about what happens if Microsoft stops running servers for the Xbox One. Will the always-online requirement simply render all the consoles they’ve sold useless? Harrison, as Totilo puts it, “smiled and said something about not thinking that would happen.” Which should frighten you. It’s a thought we’ve been putting off for years as digital distribution channels like Steam and Origin and PSN and XBLA become more prominent. When—not if—those servers shut off, we will have nothing to show for all the money and time we put into that ecosystem.

While probably not totally unique among those that make those sorts of decisions, Harrison’s reaction should tell you a lot about priorities. There is no exit strategy for gamers like there is for the business itself. Microsoft can sell assets and patents and rights to stay afloat. Keeping around servers that do nothing but tell consoles it’s okay to play a game long after the device is relevant is basically a hole to throw money into. Microsoft—and its competitors—is a business, after all.

If it sounds ridiculous that Microsoft could ever not exist, consider Palm. Look at where Sega used to be and where it is now. Look at Nintendo’s current trajectory. There is a graveyard of dead companies that used to rule the roost, businesses that people would treat like the Titanic, like they were unsinkable. So when Microsoft goes under, which could be in five years or 20 years or 400 years, all of this…stuff, these video games of not insignificant cultural importance, will be lost. Games are archived on retails discs and carts. How do we archive encrypted servers that feed directly into proprietary technology?

Two and a half weeks and we might get some answers. We hope we’ll have answers, but Microsoft had better be ready with them. Fizziology put 24% of all negative reactions pertaining to always-online. Personally, I say that’s 90% of my concern right now. Another 2% is wondering when will Microsoft get their act together and give some straight answers. What’s left is for J Allard. Godspeed, Allard. Godspeed.

UPDATE: retail sources have told MCV that they can charge whatever they want for pre-owned Xbox One games, but Microsoft and publishers will get a cut. Sure, I guess, but why couldn’t Microsoft have told us this straight up?

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