E3 2013: Nintendo and the morning after

June 11, 2013


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

June 10, 2013


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.

 

Backwards Compatibility

May 30, 2013


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).

 

 

a few words on intimidation, over-compensation, and apathy

April 25, 2013


This post might be a little rambly and random; last night the baby had, to put it kindly, an “uneven night’s sleep.”  I keep thinking I’m getting used to his sleeping patterns, but then every other day those patterns change into something totally different, and I get totally derailed.  It’s funny; I used to complain that I didn’t have enough hours in the day to do all the stuff I need to do; but now it feels like each 24-hour day actually lasts for, say, 72 hours, and yet I feel more and more incapacitated.

As always, Steve Martin says it a lot better:

*     *     *     *     *

A few nights ago I attended a small, informal meeting of the NYVCC.  It was a very pleasant evening and I met some super cool people and I might be getting involved in some interesting-sounding future projects, and so this is all wonderful… but to be honest I was just happy that I didn’t totally chicken out and not go.  Social anxiety is still a very real pain in my ass, and even though I’ve gone to great lengths to overcome it (thank you, Ativan!), it’s still a source of frustration and agitation.  Still:  I showed up, which counts as a victory of sorts.

Of course, I should also mention that among the attendees were people who write for sites and outlets that I actually read on a semi-regular basis, and so I found myself engaged in this weird sort of social anxiety dance in which I was  somewhat intimidated by the pedigree of my fellow peers and thus desperately over-compensating by spewing forth opinions that may or may not have been a little half-baked.  It is an exceedingly strange phenomenon to find oneself pontificating about certain issues in front of the very people who provided one with the information in the first place, and so I am glad that I was a little drunk so as to dull the vertigo a bit, even if it loosened my tongue a bit too much.  Maybe next time I’ll remember to eat something first.

 *     *     *     *     *

It came out yesterday that Microsoft will be revealing its new console in less than a month.  Why don’t I care?

I’m not necessarily an Xbox fanboy, but the truth is that at least 80% of my game time this generation was spent on the 360, primarily because that’s where the bulk of my friends were.  And so I figured I’d get a bit more excited about hearing what’s next… but I’m finding myself surprisingly apathetic about what the big reveal will be.

I’m not sure it’s Microsoft’s fault, actually, even if Sony’s made tremendous strides of late in terms of courting and supporting indie developers (which is the very thing that XboxLive used to pride itself on).

I suppose it’s really just me and how my life has changed in the last few weeks.  Having a baby – and the financial repercussions that follow from such an event – means that I’m not sure I’m going to be acquiring both a PS4 and a new Xbox, and if I can only pick one, then I need to pick the one that will offer the most bang for the buck.  (And if we’re being brutally honest here, my choice between the Xbox and the PS4 becomes more or less null and void if the much-rumored Steam Box is actually a real thing and is sold at a reasonable price point.)

And I’m not even sure I know how to define “the most bang for the buck”, either.  I presume that both devices will continue to offer streaming video services, and that the new Xbox will come with a Blu-ray drive.  I also presume that both devices will have some sort of cloud-based storage system, and also that each will have a digital storefront that would allow me to download new games instead of buying discs.

Once again, it comes down to content.  And Sony’s been terrific lately in terms of offering exclusive, high-quality content.  And if the rumors are true and the PS4 is as easy to program for as the PS3 was difficult, then maybe the PS4 version of a multi-console release won’t be the “shitty” one.

But – again – if we’re talking about content, then what’s better than Steam right now?

If I look at my play habits over the last 6 months, I think it’s safe to say I’ve turned into a PC gamer almost exclusively; I’ve barely touched either of my consoles.  The living room of my apartment is too busy a place these days for me to effectively kick everybody out; whereas my PC is in the office, where I don’t bother anyone and nobody bothers me.  My aging PC still runs AAA games quite nicely, and Steam sales make acquiring those AAA games rather affordable.

And you know what else?  I don’t quite care about Xbox Achievements the way I used to, which is a huge psychological burden that I don’t have to worry about anymore.  It’s stupid, right?  And yet I always felt obligated to get big Achievement scores so as to be able to prove (to whom?!) that I was hardcore, or something.  Even if Steam has achievements, I don’t really care – there’s no “score”, and they don’t get all up in my face about it.  I still appreciate how Achievements fundamentally changed the way I play games – in terms of really diving in and exploring certain facets of a game that I might have otherwise overlooked – but I’m not hyper-competitive about the actual number anymore.

I suppose I reserve the right to completely change my opinion once the new Xbox is revealed, and then after E3 rolls around and the actual list of upcoming games comes out – because by the time the new consoles are actually released, I expect my son to have established some more regular sleeping habits, and so I won’t feel so guilty about claiming the living room again.

the obligatory PS4 post

February 21, 2013


Now that the apartment move is over, and my life is relatively settled for the moment (i.e., before the baby’s arrival in early April), I am hopeful to return to a more regular posting schedule.  Indeed, I’d hoped to have some sort of liveblog here regarding last night’s Sony announcements, but, alas, the conference took place during the duration of my commute home from work, and so I didn’t get a chance to check out what had transpired until it was already over.

What did we actually learn last night?  We saw the new controller, we learned about Playstation Cloud (and a little bit of how it will impact backwards-compatibility, though not quite enough for my tastes), we saw surface-level specifications, and we saw some launch window games and a list of third parties who’ll be  supporting the PS4.  We did not see the actual PS4, nor did we get a release date or a price.  (I expect those to be released at E3, for whatever that’s worth.)

assume the PS4 will still be using Blu-Ray discs; I’m not sure that was mentioned anywhere, though I can’t imagine they’d be giving up on that format.

Some people were bummed that there was no new Uncharted game announced, but, I mean, come on – Naughty Dog is still in the last stages of development on The Last of Us, and I’d have to imagine that anything Uncharted-related is way too early to show just yet, especially if Sony wants to show us how powerful the PS4 is.

The Diablo 3 announcement shouldn’t have come as a surprise, though I guess I was still surprised that Blizzard was still bothering with it.   I burned myself out on that game last year, and playing it with a controller isn’t going to make me like it again – especially if I can’t carry over my progress from the PC.

Scooping up Jonathan Blow’s The Witness as a timed exclusive did come as a big surprise, however, and that’s the news that I’m most excited about.  Even if it’s also coming to iOS and PC and, presumably, the next Xbox.

As for the other games that Sony announced – I can’t say I’m particularly excited about any of them.  For one thing, I have to imagine that stuff like Capcom’s Deep Down, Bungie’s Destiny and Ubisoft’s Watch Dogs are also coming to Microsoft’s machine.  And as for Sony’s exclusives, well, I’ve never been that big of a Killzone fan, and I found Infamous 2 to be a bit disappointing.  

That being said, I wasn’t particularly wowed by the PS3 when it came out, either.  But although most of what I play is on the Xbox, I’ve really enjoyed Sony’s exclusive PS3 titles, for the most part – I still think Uncharted 2 is one of the best games of this generation.

Your move, Microsoft.

I guess there is nothing that will get your mind off everything like golf will. I have never been depressed enough to take up the game, but they say you can get so sore at yourself that you forget to hate your enemies. – Will Rogers I am trying to enjoy Tiger Woods ’12, but …

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Before I get started on Tiger ’12, I want to add my voice to the growing chorus that is (a) disappointed by the PSN outage and (b) utterly perplexed by Sony’s total lack of transparency and disclosure regarding the outage. Couple things: Not to keep bringing the console wars into this, but seriously:  you get …

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