E3 2016: Microsoft presser impressions

I don’t know what I wanted out of Microsoft’s E3 presser today.  I barely touch my Xbox One these days as it is.  Nearly everything that looked halfway interesting had a 2017 date attached to it, and there wasn’t necessarily all that much that looked halfway interesting.

In this frightening post-Burnout world we live in, Forza Horizon has become my favorite driving franchise, and Forza Horizon 3 looks pretty spectacular – I’ll definitely be picking that up in September.

I was hoping for some Crackdown 3 news or footage, and we got absolutely nothing on that front, and I’m not sure if that means I should be worried.  And I suppose I’d also hoped for some big-name 360 games to become backward-compatible (*cough cough* Red Dead *cough cough*).  There were other, obvious things that I figured we’d see – Gears 4 (which looks very Gears-y) and Halo Wars 2 (which isn’t my thing, but whatever).

The Xbox One Slim is a nice deal, but who in their right mind would buy it if the Scorpio – “the most powerful console ever built” with the “highest quality pixels” – is coming next year?  And will developers have a collective nervous breakdown if they have to develop across all Xbox SKUs?

As per usual, the most interesting part of the press conference was the “indie showcase”, which is merely a montage of all the legitimately cool-looking games that I’m actually looking forward to checking out.  Hard to get a feel for any of them with that quick-fire editing, though.

I can’t tell if I’m disappointed, jaded, or distracted.  But I’m definitely not feeling as gung-ho as I’d like to be feeling right now.

As in E3s past, I will most likely miss the Ubisoft presser, just because of my evening commute.  But I’m certainly very interested to see what Sony’s got up their sleeve. I’ll most likely be live-tweeting when that starts happening, and a more detailed impressions post will follow shortly thereafter.

 

 

E3 2015: What Are We Excited About, Really?

I’ve always wondered who cheers and claps their hands and loudly yells “WOO!!!” during E3 keynote presentations; I’d been under the impression that they were press-only events, and even if “common folk” were allowed entry due to winning a contest, they’d still be outnumbered by the press by a wide margin.

But, then again, here are some of my Tweets during the Microsoft and Sony press conferences the other day:

in response to Microsoft announcing backwards compatibility:

in response to a Cuphead trailer:

in response to the Minecraft/HoloLens demonstration:

in response to the beginning of Sony’s press conference, before we realized we were seeing Last Guardian footage:

in response to the No Man’s Sky demo:

in response to FFVII Remake:

in response to Shenmue III:

So, yes, in the heat of the moment, I was very much jumping up and down and hooting and hollering, and if I’d been in the actual room surrounded by actual journalists, I probably would’ve forgotten myself and jumped up and down and hooted and hollered.   GUILTY AS CHARGED.

But now that it’s been a few days, and I’ve had some distance and some time to process everything we all saw, I’m feeling… well, maybe I’m still a bit pessimistic.

For starters:  almost all of Sony’s announcements, as dramatic and breath-taking as they were, did not contain any release dates – and when they did, almost none of them were for this year.

For another:  almost everything I hooted and hollered about above involved a known quantity.  I’ve already played Final Fantasy VII (well, the first 8-10 hours of it, I suppose); I’ve played ICO and at least half of Shadow of the Colossus and so while Last Guardian is technically “new”, it’s certainly somewhat familiar; I’ve played Shenmue 1 and 2 (and I have more to say on that in a bit); my primary reason for being excited for Xbox 360 compatibility (and cross-save support) is only because I love Red Dead Redemption too much to let it die (as do a lot of other people, too, apparently).

I’m very excited about what we saw of the new Tomb Raider; I’m hoping that Uncharted 4 doesn’t disappoint me the way that U3 did.  (The gameplay shown of each game at their respective presentations goes a long way towards explaining why I feel the way I do; both were exciting, but in very different ways – Tomb Raider’s slice was a very exciting and tense environmental gauntlet, whereas Uncharted 4’s slice began with gunfire and a car chase.  My favorite parts of both of these franchises are the non-combat environmental platforming, and Uncharted seems to be putting more emphasis on shooting people, and this is disappointing for reasons I’ve already talked about.)

I suppose I’m excited about Fallout 4, but when push comes to shove, I gotta say:  The Witcher 3 has raised the bar so fantastically high in terms of open-world RPGs that I’m not really 100% sure that Fallout 4 can hack it.  (And this is coming from someone who has devoured all of Bethesda’s big games, at least since Oblivion; the first time you play them, they’re quite stunning, but when you come back to them later they feel awfully stiff and archaic and janky as hell.)

I was impressed that Sony followed the Last Guardian reveal with a brand-new IP from the makers of Killzone, and which stars a female protagonist; I’ve already forgotten the name, and I don’t really know what it actually is.  I’m still really anxious to get my hands on No Man’s Sky, though even after the presser’s demo I’m still not 100% sure I know what that game is, and/or how I won’t eventually get bored with it.

And Shenmue… yeah.  We should probably talk about that.  I feel more than a little weird about the Kickstarter, as do a lot of people; on the one hand, I’m glad that people are giving it record-setting amounts of money, and I’m glad to know that I’ll eventually be able to play it, but it seems more than a bit strange that Sony would announce it in the form of a Kickstarter without also disclosing that they were going to contribute to its development.  I don’t pretend to know anything about Yu Suzuki or what he’s been up to for the last however many years, but up on that stage he looked like a man who’s been through hell, and the Kickstarter felt like some sort of strange attempt at maintaining pride and dignity.

And when I think about Shenmue 3…. do I even know what it is that I’m hoping for?  I finished the first game and got a few hours into the second one before getting incredibly frustrated by the controls and putting it down; I have no idea how the story ended.  Did I love the first game?  No, not particularly – I bought it because I owned a Dreamcast and I was contractually obligated to buy it, especially since its pre-release hype was breathtaking and deafening and I wasn’t yet properly cynical of these sorts of things (I have a memory of reading about its development – probably in the Official Dreamcast Magazine – and read something about how the game was so detailed that when Ryo went to drink a can of soda, the soda itself was motion captured), and yet it’s stuck with me in ways that many other, better games haven’t.  Something about it deeply resonated with me, even as I’m at a loss to explain what it was.  I remember it being somewhat stiff and clunky (especially Ryo’s voice acting), and I remember wanting to explore the city but always feeling pressured by the real-time clock and my in-game curfew; I remember the combat being better than expected, and the QTEs being interesting and innovative (Shenmue might’ve been the first game on that sort of grand scale to use them to their greatest effect), but also some ridiculously absurd forklift business towards the back third.  (Which, in a way, reminded me a little bit of GTA V‘s big heist, wherein part of Michael’s subterfuge involves literally mopping the floor.)   Above all else, I recall that Shenmue felt very honest and sincere about its intentions; it wasn’t being clever with its technology, but rather tried to be generous and inviting.  It had a story to tell and a world that the story inhabited, and the game very much wanted you to live that story in a way that no other game I’d played to that point had ever tried.

Time and technology have changed rather dramatically since those first two games, of course; I was 24 when I last played the first Shenmue, and when Shenmue 3 comes out – which, if it holds to its Kickstarter promise and is released in December 2017 – I’ll be 42.  I am curious; that’s about as optimistic as I can allow myself to be.

Revisiting the Exclusivity Argument

It was revealed today that Rise of the Tomb Raider is not only coming to the Xbox One first, but is in fact being published by Microsoft outright, which more than likely precludes it from ever coming to the PS4 (though PC is not out of the question).

I went on a big rant about this earlier this year, long before I decided to buy an Xbox One – though if I’m honest with myself, I have to admit that this forthcoming Tomb Raider game was definitely part of my decision to finally get one, even if it’s not coming out until next year.

Of course, Sony went ahead and made Street Fighter 5 a PS4 exclusive just this past weekend, thereby raising the ire of many Xbox One fans who were expecting to play it.

I’m not sure why this needs explaining, but I was misunderstood on Twitter, so I figure I might as well give it a shot:

Every console needs exclusives; otherwise there’s no point in having different machines.  I don’t own a Wii U, nor do I ever intend to (regardless of what others might say), but man – people keep talking about how amazing Bayonetta 2 is, and if I’m ever going to play it, that’s the only place to do it.

Still:  there’s a fundamental difference between first- and second-party exclusives, and third-party games which become exclusive.

Brianna Wu – who is much smarter than me – tweeted this:

The problem is that all the games she cited – GOW (whether you’re talking Gears of War or God of War), Titanfall, Forza or Halo – these are known quantities as console exclusives.  Uncharted has always been a Sony exclusive; Forza will always be a Microsoft exclusive.  I was pissed when Tomb Raider 2 was announced as an Xbox One timed exclusive because I didn’t own or plan on owning an Xbox One at the time, but more to the point – I was expecting it to appear on the PS4.  Tomb Raider HD came out on the PS4 earlier this year, and it was fantastic, and no less an authority than Digital Foundry proclaimed the PS4 version to be superior in terms of performance to the Xbox One version.

I don’t have a dog in the Street Fighter 5 fight; I’m not a big fighting game fan, and in any event I own both consoles now, so it doesn’t directly affect me.  But I can guarantee that if I were a big fighting game fan, and I only owned an Xbox One, I’d be just as pissed about this news as I was about Tomb Raider.

Imagine, if you will, that next year’s Batman Arkham Knight – possibly my most heavily anticipated game of 2015 – was suddenly announced as an Xbox One console exclusive.  Or if part of the delay in developing The Witcher 3 was because it was now coming out as a PS4 exclusive.

Your skin is crawling right now because if you only own one console, you were probably expecting to play at least one of those games next year.  And if it came out on the one you didn’t own, you’d feel cheated.

Third-party exclusives feel like a cheat because, well, they’re bought; they weren’t nurtured in-house, but rather procured to fill a competitive need.  Microsoft came out and said they went after Tomb Raider because they didn’t have a first-party response to Uncharted; so rather than taking the time to develop a response, they simply bought the only available competition.  I don’t see consumers winning in that equation.  If anything, consumers lose the possibility of brand-new IP.

All we can realistically hope for, then, is that by focusing Rise of the Tomb Raider’s development specifically for the Xbox One’s architecture – and by Microsoft giving the developers anything and everything they could possibly need – that the best version of that game gets made.  Swap out Street Fighter 5 and Sony in that sentence and the same sentiment is shared.  I’m not happy about this development, but it seems it’s going to become a bigger issue as the console war continues to heat up.

On Screenshots and Console Exclusivity

1.  There’s never going to be a SFTC YouTube channel, for whatever it’s worth; I simply can’t consume video the way the rest of the gaming community does, and so I’m incredibly ill-equipped to provide it.  For one thing, I just prefer reading as opposed to watching; for another, my day job is not conducive to watching videos (partly because it’s abundantly clear that I’m not working, partly because my office’s internet is kinda terrible), and when I’m home I’d rather be playing.  That being said, I can’t stop taking screenshots.  Yesterday I posted some shots I took from The Last of Us Remastered, and today I’m posting some shots from Mind: Path to Thalamus, a first-person exploration/puzzle game on the PC that is absolutely stunning to behold.  Everything I want to say about it was already said in this Rock Paper Shotgun review; the short version is that it’s staggeringly beautiful, and the puzzles seem to be smart and challenging without being unfair, but the narrative is, sadly, utterly dreadful and is not helped at all by possibly one of the worst voice-over performances I’ve ever heard in my life.  It’s absolutely worth playing, despite the VO, but just be aware that it’s dreadful and that everything else is terrific.  [EDIT:  I just re-read the RPS review and realized that their page features 2 nearly identical screenshots to ones I took and had originally included below.  I removed mine just so there’d be no confusion, but it was kinda neat to see that we were both taken aback by some of the exact same vistas.]

2.  I was away from the internet yesterday, and so I was only dimly aware of Gamescom.  When I started catching up, I found myself warming up to Microsoft’s news, getting excited about their upcoming indie releases, getting intrigued by the Sunset Overdrive bundle… and then the news about Rise of the Tomb Raider‘s exclusivity hit, and I found myself getting irrationally angry.

Look, I get it; I get that Microsoft is feeling desperate, and that it’s a bitter pill to swallow to find yourself in 2nd place after clearly dominating during the last console generation.  Indeed, Sony was in this exact same position with the PS3, as a matter of fact; they were flying high and mighty after the PS2 and totally misread the marketplace.  The difference, though, is that Sony owned up to their problems, displayed genuine humility, and their solution to win over the hearts and minds of the gaming community was to create spectacular first-party software that simply couldn’t be replicated on their competitor’s console.

So I’m sure Microsoft felt that they had to do something big, something that would make the Xbox One appealing to Sony fans and ex-360 fanboys who were reluctant to upgrade (like me), and so snagging exclusive rights to a highly-anticipated title like Tomb Raider was an absolutely necessary thing to get more people invested in the Xbox One.

But it’s clearly a move made of desperation, not out of humility and genuine concern for gamers.  (Not that I’ve ever thought that Microsoft and Sony’s #1 priority is to genuinely care about gamers, but Sony’s been doing a much better job over the last few years of selling that idea as believable.)  Microsoft isn’t investing in their own development studios and making their first-party portfolio more appealing; they’re simply buying exclusivity from a company that shouldn’t be making this deal in the first place.  Square’s already been on record as saying that the first TR didn’t meet their sales projections, and so putting the new TR on the 2nd place console literally makes no sense unless Microsoft made them an offer that they absolutely couldn’t refuse.

That Microsoft was once again unable to see how this decision would anger the gaming community is, sadly, par for the course.  And the fact that it took less than 24 hours for Phil Spencer to admit that the exclusivity period “has a duration” makes the whole thing just sad.  Microsoft wanted to win me back, but instead they’ve just pushed me farther away.

belt tightening

Last night, the wife and I had a tough conversation about money.

Our 3-month old son (that’s him in the site’s header image, by the way) had his first “transition” daycare visit this morning, and he starts going in earnest in 2 weeks.  And for us to be able to afford daycare – and keep ourselves in baby supplies, and pay the rent and the rest of our bills, and also eat – well, we’re already cutting it pretty close, and there’s not a hell of a lot of wiggle room.  I’ve also got some rather sizable debt to pay off, too, and while I’ve made considerable progress on that front I’ve still got a ways to go, which makes this all the more anxiety-inducing.

Something’s got to give, basically.

And after some online banking and some soul-searching (and a little bit of drinking), I came to the realization that the only thing I really spend any extra money on these days is games.

This kinda sucks, as you might imagine – I am a self-professed consumer whore – but the more I think about it, this is not the worst time to be a broke gamer.   If I’m truly honest with myself, there’s really only one game coming out this year that I need in any sort of non-negotiable way.  Steam will have having its Summer Sale any minute now, too, and I could probably see myself picking up one or two things on my wishlist if they’re discounted enough – but let’s be honest here, after all the previous Steam Sales, there’s really not all that much that’s left for me to buy.  And I can certainly pare down my Gamefly account to one game at a time, as opposed to three, to be able to handle the rest of the to-do list.

Hell, let’s look at that to-do list (aka my GameQ) while we’re here, and I’ll take this opportunity to debut a new feature I’m calling Keep or Cut:

  • Shin Megami Tensei IV (3DS) – I don’t even know what this is, to be honest – I’d just heard some positive word of mouth, and I wanted any excuse to keep my 3DS busy.  Will most likely CUT.
  • Mario & Luigi Dream Team (3DS) – if I can finish The Last of Us quickly enough, I should be able to rent this close to its release date.  Since Mario Golf: World Tour got pushed to 2014, this is the only must-have 3DS game I can see for the rest of 2013.  KEEP.
  • Saints Row 4 – I’m a big Saints Row fan, but I’ve had my doubts about this ever since they first announced it.  I do not expect high review scores, though I’d love to be pleasantly surprised.  KEEP, but with reservations.
  • Splinter Cell: Blacklist – this was always only going to be a rental.  Chaos Theory was the high watermark for the series, and everything since then has been pretty disappointing.  Haven’t seen any indication that I should revise my expectations.  CUT.
  • Rayman Legends – Assuming this is as delightful as Origins was, this is an automatic KEEP.  Though I really ought to go back and finish Origins first.
  • GTA V – I’m not sure why this is still on my rental queue, as I’m probably going to pre-order it as soon as I finish this post.  (Still hoping for a PC release, though.)  KEEP.
  • Beyond: Two SoulsIs this the PS3’s final swan song?  More to the point – do I care?  While I remain in awe of David Cage’s wild ambition, I never finished Heavy Rain and didn’t really enjoy what I’d played, either.  Still, I’m cautiously optimistic, so this gets a KEEP.
  • Batman: Arkham Origins – as far as I can tell, this is the last “big” release of 2013 for current-gen consoles that I have any real interest in, since I don’t care about Call of Duty and I’ve lost all my faith in Assassin’s Creed.   But we all know this isn’t a Rocksteady joint, and this game is starting to smell like a cash-in.  CUT.

Now, you’ll notice that there’s no next-gen titles on this list.  That’s because I probably can’t afford a next-gen console this year; but even if I could, I still haven’t yet decided between the PS4 and the Xbox One.  I’m obviously leaning towards the PS4, but if Microsoft continues its backtracking ways and decides to play ball with indie developers by putting a less-restrictive self-publishing policy in place, well, that might keep the pendulum swinging the other way.  In any event, the only real “next-gen” game that speaks to me in any meaningful way is Watch Dogs, and that’s also coming to PC – which is a platform that already speaks to my current gaming habits anyway.

And speaking of the PC, the other clear upside to being on an austerity budget for the foreseeable future is that there’s really no excuse anymore for me to not finally tackle the GIGANTIC backlog of unfinished games I have in my Steam library.  Hell, even if I only stuck to seeing all the stuff in Skyrim that I never saw on the 360, that would be plenty.  (Now I just need to get over my seething Skyrim rage, which I’ve never quite managed to quell.)

I kinda don’t feel so terrible about this anymore.  I’ll call that a win.

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: 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.

Backwards Compatibility

The Gameological Society has a brilliant column today in which the games industry is shooting itself in the foot by not embracing its past and enabling backwards compatibility on the next generation of consoles.

As far as I’m concerned, there are only two arguments against backwards compatibility that make any sense:

  1. The technology and methodology required to make old software work on new/different hardware is too expensive to justify; and
  2. Old games – even the best of them – can look and feel incredibly dated.

I don’t know enough about #1 to make any sort of coherent argument for or against it; I’m probably only repeating it here since it’s pretty much what the console manufacturers have said about it.

#2 is something I can understand, I suppose.  If you play GTA3 right after playing GTA4, the differences between the two games are so profound that GTA3 becomes almost unplayable.  Similarly, while System Shock 2 might be an incredible game, it’s also incredibly archaic and unintuitive in terms of its mechanics; there’s a reason why those older games had lengthy tutorials that explicitly showed you how everything worked.

But to throw out an entire generation’s worth of content simply because the format has changed?

Imagine if you couldn’t listen to the Beatles anymore simply because the world had moved on from vinyl to CD and the record companies found it too cost-prohibitive to transfer their libraries over.   Or if movie companies decided that transferring VHS movies to DVD was, to paraphrase Microsoft’s Don Mattrick, “backwards-thinking”.

Here’s the key section from the GS article linked to above:

…Sony’s PlayStation 3 launched in 2006 with full backward compatibility for all previous PlayStation formats. PS2 compatibility was achieved through specialized hardware on the PS3 circuit board. 2008 saw the removal of PS2 compatibility from all future PS3 revisions as a cost-cutting measure, with a cheaper software-only solution being deemed [unfeasible] by Sony. Yet in 2011 Sony began selling PS2 games digitally on PS3. Hackers have since discovered that these games are running via a surprisingly robust backward compatibility solution that could be applied to old PS2 discs, but is not.

I have to surmise from all of this that backward compatibility for games would be possible but expensive. Sony and Microsoft could have been faced with a choice between two expensive forms of backward compatibility, and they chose to support one medium, video, but not the other, games.

This sends a clear message that these companies consider the medium of film and television to be more important than the medium of games. Why would two companies with such enormous investments in games make such a seemingly skewed judgment call? Well, they would probably argue that the culture has made it for them, by giving film and television pride of place in society, and relegating games as a lesser medium. And this may be the case. But when gaming’s industry leaders buy into that broader belief, it hurts the long-term health of the art form.

I hate to keep bringing up Red Dead Redemption – I feel like it’s been in every post I’ve written lately – but it’s a key example of the legacy we’d be losing without backwards compatibility.  I’ve been starting to work on my BEST GAMES OF THIS GENERATION post, and RDR is most likely right up at the top of my Top 10 list.  For me, RDR is Rockstar’s finest hour – a masterpiece top to bottom, and one of the finest games ever made.  And once the new consoles arrive, there will only be two ways I can continue to play it – either Rockstar re-releases it to work on the XB1 and the PS4 (which seems unlikely, given that they never even gave it a PC port), or I continue to hold on to my dying 360 and hope it doesn’t completely break (since I wouldn’t be able to replace it).