The Xbox180

Before I get into today’s post, I just want to congratulate Giant Bomb’s Patrick Klepek on breaking the story about the Xbox DRM policy reversal.  Say what you will about Giant Bomb’s cult of personality, but Klepek has been an ace reporter, a fount of knowledge, and my primary reason for tuning in to / putting up with the Bombcast every week.  His audio diary of this year’s E3 was arguably more interesting/informative than any other reporting I absorbed, and he deserves all the credit in the world for getting this story right.

And, so:  the morning after the backtrack heard ’round the world, I find myself still leaning in the PS4’s direction, even if I’m appreciative that Microsoft paid attention to the backlash and did something about it.   As I’ve said before, I was never particularly troubled about the always-online aspect of the Xbox One, because I’m fortunate enough to already have an always-on wi-fi in my apartment, and I don’t buy used games.  (It would’ve fucked up my Gamefly account, though, and that is a big deal.)

Still, my hesitance about the One is less about the online stuff and more about their very stubborn refusal to play ball with indie developers and self-publishers.  As I find myself increasingly turned off by AAA shooters, I find that the indie space is where the really neat stuff is happening – maybe the graphics aren’t as impressive, but the gameplay mechanics are more interesting, the narratives take real risks, and the overall experience is far more satisfying because it feels crafted by people who actually give a shit, and that means something to me.   It’s the exact opposite of the feeling I get about knowing that Ubisoft has 1,000 people all over the world slaving away at various Assassin’s Creed sequels that get shoved out the door every year.

Sony made a very big deal out of the indie space in their press conference, and some of the games shown in their little stage demo montage are the games I’m probably most looking forward to.   And the rockstars of the indie scene (Phil Fish, Jonathan Blow, to name a few) are very appreciative of what Sony is trying to do, as well as being increasingly frustrated with what Microsoft isn’t doing.

Here’s the deal:  I’m in a financial position where I could only afford one of the new consoles at launch – assuming that either console had a Day One launch lineup that was actually worth getting in on (and neither console is offering anything must-buy with launch, as far as I’m concerned).  Ultimately, my decision will depend on the following factors:

  • which console will have better exclusive titles?
  • which console will have the better version of a multi-platform title?
  • where will my friends be?

I’ve been a very happy 360 owner, even if I’m currently on my 4th 360 (which has been dying a slow death for a few months now).  And to be honest, I originally only bought a PS3 so that I could have a blu-ray player, once the blu-ray/HD-DVD format war was decided.  As it happens, I still think the 360 is the superior console of this current generation, and it’s certainly where I spent the bulk of my time; but I also must say that Sony’s 1st party library in the last few years has been the strongest by a pretty wide margin.   (Speaking of which, I’ll have more to say about Naughty Dog’s The Last of Us in a future post.)

Ultimately, it’s the games that matter.  It’s why I haven’t bought a Vita, or a WiiU (and it’s why I got rid of my Wii).  The PS4, right now, has a brighter future on the software front.  There’s still plenty of time left for things to change, of course, and Microsoft can still turn their ship around.  But they’ve got a lot of work to do on that front, and a lot of the work involved requires a radical rethinking of their business philosophies, and I’m not entirely sure how willing they are to do what needs to be done.

E3 2013: Nintendo and the morning after

As per usual, I missed most of the Nintendo briefing due to the day job.  The little I saw, though, didn’t interest me all that much – which shouldn’t come as a surprise, as I am not, nor have I ever been, a Nintendo fanboy.  I suppose I was hoping to see some new, exciting stuff for the 3DS, but from my vantage point Nintendo isn’t all that worried about the 3DS – it’s the WiiU that needs all the TLC it can get, and that’s what was mostly talked about this morning.  But, again, since I don’t particularly care about first-party Nintendo titles, and since I can realistically only afford one of the new consoles, I would’ve needed something tremendous and undeniably exciting in order to turn my head away from Sony.

Speaking of which.

The question for every E3, for the last however many years, has always ultimately boiled down to this:  “Who won?”  And for the most part, every console’s fans could make reasonable sounding arguments that their console won that particular year, and flame wars and impolite discourse would ensue, as per usual.  So it strikes me as highly unusual to see a clear, unambiguous, unanimously decided winner crowned even before E3 officially starts.  

What Sony managed to pull off last night was unprecedented.  They fired their shots with grace, tact and humility – and they did not miss.  And as much as I get confused by cheering audiences during what are supposed to be press-only events, the excitement in the room seemed genuine and sincere.  It’s not just that Sony delivered good news; it’s that they delivered the right news, at the right time, and completely owned the moment.  Twitter was exploding once those announcements started rolling out.   We all gasped as the former champion-turned-underdog delivered one knock-out punch after another.  And then, when they announced the $399 price, pretty much everybody wrote “Game Over” in their notebooks.

I did, in fact, go to sleep last night without pre-ordering a PS4, though I must admit I was dangerously close to doing so.  (I  even got as far as putting it in my Amazon cart and trying to figure out where I wanted it shipped.)   There’s still a lot (well, all) of E3 left, and I’d like to think there are some surprises left as far as console-exclusives are concerned.  So even if Sony has “won”, I’ve still not seen any games that I need to put on my must-play list.

And, again – even if Sony has won, I still can’t see myself committing to a purchase until I see how the multi-console development shakes out for third-party developers.   The biggest reason why Microsoft won this last generation, in my opinion, is because, by and large, 360 versions of multi-platform games looked and played better than their PS3 counterparts.  This is why Sony’s announcement of their new partnership with Bethesda took me utterly by surprise – PS3 owners got shafted with a piss-poor port of Skyrim, and I seem to recall Fallout 3 being somewhat inferior as well, and wasn’t there a lengthy delay between the 360 version of Oblivion and the PS3?  I probably spent over 250 hours in those 3 games alone on the 360.  So for the PS4 to be getting a console version of the Elder Scrolls MMO – as well as a console exclusive beta – well, that’s huge.  That’s Sony saying to Bethesda that they’ll do whatever it takes to make sure that PS4 owners get the experience they’re pay for and expect to receive.

Now, on the other hand, it will be very interesting indeed to see how Microsoft answers, if at all.  Their messaging ever since the console reveal has been inconsistent, wishy-washy, and wildly tone-deaf to the consumer; the only thing that has been clear is that they are aiming to please publishers.  Nobody wants Kinect; even people who have Kinect (like me) don’t want it or use it.  The Xbox One will continue to be the primary home for multiplayer FPS games, and, so, good for those people.  They are a large audience, they will eat that shit up.  But there’s so much more that games are capable of, and Sony seemed hell-bent on letting us know that they are intent on courting developers of all sizes in an effort to make their library as diverse as possible.

Very much looking forward to the rest of the show – my RSS feed is exploding and I must get caught up!

E3 2013: Sony and the death of the Xbox One

Sweet Jesus, Sony just won E3.  It’s over.  Mic is dropped.  Microsoft is dead.

Even if the software lineup hadn’t been so spectacular – and it was – the 1-2 punch of the used games policy (i.e., they’re OK with it) and not needing a constant internet connection was utterly devastating.  PLUS the $399 price point?  BOOM.  Game, set, match.

Shit, they very nearly sold me on the Vita.  If they come out with a price cut or a bundle with the PS4, I’m in, no questions asked.

Let’s run down what they did cover, though – these are my hastily written notes (enhanced with my Twitter commentary):

Opening montage:

  • The Last of Us
  • Puppeteer (?)
  • Rain
  • Beyond
  • Gran Turismo 6

All known quantities, for the most part, except Puppeteer, which looked colorful and also a little forgettable.  Beyond remains enigmatic and weird; I want to like it, but I have no idea what the hell it is anymore.

Featured trailer

  • Batman Arkham Origins – a little nervous.  I mean, I’m happy to play more Batman, but that’s all this seems to be.

PS4 reveal:

  • it looks like an Xbox Rhombus.  This might be the most underwhelming part of the evening; the box looks a lot like the Xbox One, except tilted.
  • Sony Entertainment integration.  Why are they only getting around to this now?  Seems like a no-brainer.
  • new IP:  The Order (which is less “steampunk” and more “wildly and randomly anachronistic” – no gameplay)
  • Killzone: Crysis – er, ShadowFall
  • Drive Club – don’t quite know what this is, but as a PSPlus member, I get it for free!
  • Infamous Second Son – this looks great.  Big fan of the first game, underwhelmed by the second.  This looks like they took their time with it.
  • Knack – got a weird Kameo vibe from it.
  • Quantic Dream tech demo – “The Dark Sorcerer”
  • Supergiant’s Transistor, which continues to look great.

Indie montage – and this was so great to see:

  • Klei – Don’t Starve
  • Tribute Games – Mercenary Kings.
  • Young Horses – OctoDad
  • Secret Ponchos
  • Ray’s The Dead
  • Oddworld!  Lorne Lanning!
  • Galak-Z (some sort of side-scrolling open-world space shooter!  looks amazing)

Featured items:

  • Diablo 3 – PS3/PS4 – with exclusive items.  Meh.  I played the shit out of it on PC and don’t need to go there again.
  • Final Fantasy Versus XIII is now Final Fantasy XV and that trailer looked completely fucking insane.
  • new Kingdom Hearts.  Which is good for people who like Kingdom Hearts.  My deep-seated loathing of Disney makes it impossible for me, but whatever.
  • Assassin’s Creed 4 gameplay.  As I missed the Ubisoft presser, this was all new to me.  Still very wary of this franchise after the debacle of the last 2 games.
  • Watch_Dogs gameplay.  Looked great, as always.  (For some reason, when I was trying to recall the footage just now, I got it confused a little bit with that new Tom Clancy’s game, The Division, which also looks incredible.)
  • 2KSports NBA2K – hard to do a facial tech demo after that Quantic Dream “Dark Sorcerer” bit.

(Here’s where it started getting very, very interesting, and when Twitter started to explode.)

  • Elder Scrolls Online?!!  PS4 exclusive beta?
  • Mad Max (by the Just Cause devs)
  • Oh shit.  Used Games are OK.  Doesn’t need to be online.  SHOTS FIRED, DIRECT HIT.
  • World gameplay premiere of Bungie’s Destiny.  Halo + Borderlands = awesome.
  • $399?!!!

I need to sleep on this and process it.  Because if I don’t, I will pre-order a PS4 right now with money that I don’t actually have.

Well played, Sony.  Well played.  You just won the shit out of E3.

 

E3 2013: super-quick EA impressions

  • Hooray:  Peggle 2, Mirror’s Edge 2
  • Fingers crossed:  Dragon Age 3
  • Curious:  Need for Speed
  • Whatever:  everything else
  • To fix for next year:  give the off-screen guy a lozenge and maybe turn his mic off, stop with the on-stage gameplay banter, the celebrities/athletes are out of place, Dana White scares the shit out of me.

_____________________

I will probably miss the Ubi presser as I think it’s during my evening commute, and my ability to react to the Sony presser is wholly dependent on my kid going to sleep at a reasonable hour and my wife being willing to wait another day for DVR catch-up (i.e., Mad Men / Game of Thrones).   Still, I’ll do my best.

E3 2013: Microsoft impressions

Unfortunately, work got crazy at the exact moment that Microsoft’s press conference started, so as a result I didn’t get a chance to watch much of the livestream, and so I missed a lot of the shittiness (1, 2).

General reaction on Twitter seems to be almost comically negative, even more so than during the initial reveal of the Xbox One (which was already pretty negative).  The disappointment during that first conference seemed focused on two things:  1) there were no games being revealed, and 2) the general ambiguousness and/or perceived awfulness about MS’s policies regarding DRM/always online/privacy/used games/etc.

Microsoft does not appear to have made any appreciable upswing in their PR messaging during the interim between that first conference and today, either.   I can’t speak to any of that, though; almost none of their quote-unquote “disastrous” policies appear to conflict with my personal gaming habits, as I generally only buy new games and my consoles are always connected to my router.  (Of course, the used-games business makes my Gamefly account look pretty worthless, which is a bummer).

As for today’s news, well:  the biggest news (for me, at any rate) is that Microsoft is FINALLY adding value to an XBL Gold membership by giving away two free games every month (which is, of course, what PSN has been doing for a while  now).  The bigger question is:  will any of those free games on the 360 re-appear on the Xbox One?  Since the Xbox One comes out in November (at $500, which, yikes), this “free game” business doesn’t necessarily have that long a life cycle.

And as for the games?  Here’s what they talked about today (some 360, some One):

  • World of Tanks
  • Metal Gear Solid V
  • Dark Souls 2
  • Ryse
  • Killer Instinct
  • Sunset Overdrive (Insomniac)
  • Max: Curse of Brotherhood
  • Forza 5
  • Minecraft (?!!!)
  • D4
  • Below
  • Witcher 3
  • Battlefield 4
  • Quantum Break
  • Dead Rising 3
  • Crimson Dragon (no audio, but still looks really good?)
  • Halo… something
  • Titanfall (Respawn)

Well, that’s some games, and – to be fair – a decent amount of new IP.  But mostly lots of shooting and guns.  The only bit of the livestream that I was able to catch was of Ryse, which looked boooooooooring.  QTEs?  Really?  Ugh.   I’m reluctantly intrigued by the open-world MGS5, and I’m very curious to see what Sunset Overdrive is about.  Below might be the title I’m most interested in, being that it’s made by the Swords & Sworcery people.

Still:  $500 is no joke, and there’s nothing here that I feel like I need to have on launch day.  So I’m inclined to wait it out a bit longer.

I’m very, very curious to see what Sony has up its sleeves.  I’ve seen some Twitter comments that basically amount to Sony only needing to come out, not tell any rape jokes, and announce a launch price of $400 in order to “win” E3.  I’m not sure that Sony is in any sort of financial situation to be able to do that, however, and they certainly need to do some clarification of their own with respect to those same DRM issues that have dogged Microsoft.

Honestly, it’s the third-party press conferences (EA, Ubi, etc.) that I’m mostly concerned about.  I’m hoping we can see some stuff that doesn’t involve shooting FOR ONCE.

E3 2013: a wishlist of impossible things

I’m hopped up on allergy medication and Ativan and a large coffee, so I’m all sorts of weird right now.  This is as good a time as any, then, to get excited about things that I’d like to see at E3, none of which will probably turn out to be true, which will make it that much easier for me to be disappointed like everybody else when it’s all over.

A caveat:  since I obviously can’t predict new IP to get excited about, this is mostly a list of stuff based on existing IP.  Which is perhaps not as inherently exciting as new IP, but – again – I’m in a brain fog.

1.  Red Dead Redemption 2 for PS4/XBO.   Surely this is in the works, right?  I mean, come on.  (Rockstar typically doesn’t attend E3, and Take Two is only holding private meetings.)

2.  Steam Box with specs comparable to PS4/XBO for under $500.  And which I could hook up to my PC monitor, if need be.  Sometimes I forget that I can use Big Picture Mode; man, what a great UI.   (Valve will not be exhibiting at E3 this year, either.)

3.  Speaking of Valve (and ignoring, again, that Valve won’t be at E3), I’ve given up hoping for Half Life 3 news, but I’d love to see something Portal related.  I don’t even know what I’d want it to be, just that it’s continuing to exist.

4.  Criterion Games backtracking and saying, nah, just kidding, we’re totally making a new, next-gen Burnout.

5.  Grim Fandango HD.  And while we’re at it, how about all of those classic LucasArts adventure games getting HD remakes for iOS?  Get on it, Disney.   I’d even take a LucasArts kart racer at this point.

6.  Someone (maybe Bioware’s post-Mass Effect team?) to turn Iain M. Banks’ Culture novels, or even just the universe, into a game.  Special Circumstances is basically SCREAMING for some sort of third-person action adaptation.  I’d do it myself if I knew anything about anything.

7.  I’d like to hear a lot more concrete info about those Oddworld HD remakes.

8.  Fallout 4 with iD Tech 5 graphics.  (That’s what Rage was sorta going for, but it can be done so much better.)

9.  Rock Band: U2.  (I know, I know.  I’d just like one more reason to use my plastic instruments before the kid makes us run out of storage space.)

10.  Finally, I would lose my goddamned mind if Skies of Arcadia came back for a next-gen sequel.  The original SoA was my very first JRPG experience, and it set the bar ridiculously high in doing so.