Sunday, May 21, 2006

May 8 2006 will forever be remembered as the Xbox 360 Vindication Day

May 8 2006 will forever be remembered as the Xbox 360 Vindication Day. This is the day when Sony shocked the world by disappointing their fans, when it turned out that their very expensive game console was really no more powerful than the Xbox 360.

On May 8, 2006, it turned out that Xbox 360 gamers had a next-generation system after all. For an entire year, the gaming press and misinformed gamers berated the 360 for the lack of CG quality visuals; not realizing that such powerful technology can't really be stuffed into a sub-$500 box with only 512MB of RAM. Microsoft and their fans had to endure ridicule upon ridicule over the slightest jaggy or the slightest drop in framerate, all simply because the juggernaut that was the Playstation 3 was at hand. Ironic, then that it turned out that the Playstation 3 would have the same problems, and would be far worse off in many cases. A more expensive game machine being LESS POWERFUL, LESS COMPELLING, and LESS INNOVATIVE THAN THE COMPETITION? Unbelievable.

On May 8, 2006 the very limits of what the press has been arguing over for months and months---"What is next gen?"---finally gain realistic boundaries, and the dreams of many a Sony fanboy are shot down in one fell swoop.

Overnight, Sony's Playstation 3 turned from the ultimate gaming system ever fashioned by man, into a hodge podge of machinery meant to forward a company's agenda to spread a new media format. On this day, every media person that called the KILLZONE 2 TRAILER real-time had their credibility destroyed in a single instant.

May 8, 2006. We will never forget!

http://www.wii60.com

http://www.gameklip.com/v/719/

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Gamers based in the Philippines: How to get in Xbox Live

NOTE: This article has recently been updated (as of August 12, 2006). Singapore no longer lets you input '00000' as your zip code. Please see below for alternate zip codes.

So you're a Filipino living in the Philippines with a brand-spanking new Xbox 360. You've heard about all the wonderful stories on Xbox Live. You happen to have a pretty good broadband connection. One day, you try out the Xbox Live sign-up options on your 360, and you find out to your dismay that your country is NOT listed. What do you do?

Now, you can probably enjoy your 360 without live at all, but I have to tell you: YOU ARE MISSING OUT. As Peter Moore said in the recent MS Press Conference: "Having your 360 connected to Xbox Live is as vital as having your computer connected to the Internet".

He is so damned right.

I've been playing on Xbox Live for almost a year now (both on my original Xbox and the Xbox 360). Essentially I found out all of this with a little bit of research, a little bit of curiosity, and a little bit of guts. I thought I'd share this information with those of you who want to get on Live but have always thought that Filipinos in the Philippines just can't do it, because we don't have official Microsoft support (and we probably never will, sadly).

So, how do you get on Xbox Live? The information I'll provide is mostly for the Xbox 360, though. Please note that you need a broadband connection to the Internet to get on Xbox Live.

GUIDE ON HOW TO GET ON XBOX LIVE FROM THE PHILIPPINES:

1. Sign up for Xbox Live either through your console or through the xbox.com site. Make a gamertag, and provide honest details about yourself. Oh, before you get to that part, xbox.com or your 360 will ask about your region. I highly recommend picking Singapore, since this is the country that's closest to the Philippines. You could also pick the United States if you want...but I feel more comfortable choosing a region that's nearest to my real location.

2. Fill out the various fields honestly. (Name, address, etc.). When you get to the part where you have to input the ZIP CODE:
a. If you picked the SINGAPORE region, enter '00000' (That's five zeros)*** NOTICE, THIS DOESNT WORK ANYMORE, please see the bottom of this article***
b. If you picked the UNITED STATES region, pick the state CALIFORNIA and enter the zip code '90210'.

3. After filling out the various fields honestly and successfully, your gamertag should be up and running in no time!

4. If you were filling out the details for your gamertag via your Xbox 360, you will get prompted if you want to get the free Xbox Live Silver account or if you want to subscribe for a Gold account. I recommend going with Xbox Live Silver first, to see if you can complete the process with no problems. Besides, Xbox live silver lets you have some presence on live, have a friends list, see the marketplace, etc. We'll discuss getting Xbox Live Gold later in this guide. Another benefit of choosing Xbox Live Silver first---you get a free month of XBOX LIVE GOLD! So you get to try it out first before you decide to go all out and subscribe to the service.

So there it is, a simple guide on how to get on Xbox Live even if you live in an unsupported region! Note that you get a free month of Xbox Live Gold when you first register. Note that:

1. You need Xbox Live Gold lets you play multiplayer against friends online.
2. Xbox Live Silver only gives you the basic features, like the friends list and the marketplace downloads

When your free month of Xbox Live expires, your account will revert back into an Xbox Live Silver account. You'd have to buy a subscription in order to continue enjoying the benefits of Xbox Live Gold.

A 1 year subscription to Xbox Live Gold is about $50.00. You only pay $50.00 ONCE A YEAR (it isn't monthly)...so buying a one year subscription is no different from buying a game.

Now, how do you buy a subscription?

1. You can buy a code through one of the online stores on the internet, or....
2. You can simply buy a subscription via your 360.

Either way, you'd need a credit card. VISA or MASTERCARD will do. The easiest method to get a subscription is to go to the Xbox Live Marketplace on your 360. There's a tab there for buying a one year subscription or a monthly subscription. Fill out the required details (again, be HONEST, please) and give correct billing information on your credit card. If there's a field for ZIP CODE or STATE, follow the instructions given above ('California, 90210' for a US account or '00000' for a Singapore account). If you provide correct details on your card number and billing address, you should have no problems and be able to purchase a Gold subscription.

Just a few last reminders...

1. In providing personal details, credit card information, etc., in signing up for Xbox Live...I can't state this enough:

PLEASE. BE. HONEST.

We are very VERY lucky that their system thus far allows us gamers from unsupported regions to get into Xbox Live.

That said, it's very very HIGHLY LIKELY that if they get a lot of garbage data from users originating from our country, that they will disallow all access from IP addresses originating from our country.

This CAN be done by Microsoft. All I'm saying is, if you're getting on Xbox Live, be honest so that they won't have a reason to start blocking our IPs from entering their network!

2. Do not attempt to log in to Xbox Live if you have a modified Xbox or Xbox 360. Do not play backup/pirated games on Xbox Live. This can get your gamertag and your 360 banned for life from the Xbox Live servers.

Support original software. Making games is very difficult. I should know, I'm a software developer myself; making sofware is no joke, and by supporting game companies you are helping them continue to make games now and in the future.

That said, good luck....if you have any questions, just post them in the comments section here, I'll try to help you any way I can.

********************************

UPDATE, AUGUST 12, 2006: If you really want to register in Singapore, try this postal code instead: 188504
Or you can try this one: 247729 (thanks to the official tourist's guide to singapore handbook for that one!)

Looks like they're on to us on Xbox Live. Let me stress once again the importance of HONESTY here. They haven't banned us yet, which is good. Don't put bogus addresses in the fields! Just put the bogus zip code, but for everything else, PLEASE BE HONEST SO THAT FILIPINOS WONT GET BANNED. Thank you.

I really wish that Microsoft would have official Xbox Live support in the Philippines....so we won't have to resort to this.


*****

UPDATE October 16, 2008:

If you want to make a USA Xbox Live account, you can use the zipcode "90210", State "California", and use the phone number "00000000000" (basically just type in as many zeroes as you can).

Friday, May 12, 2006

Why "It's all about the games" is no longer a valid argument for the Playstation 3.

In my opinion, if you support Sony's Playstation 3, essentially you're telling them that it's alright to give huge promises to your customers and not keep them. It may be all about the games, true; but doesn't your trust (or lack thereof) in a company to deliver promised features also factor into your buying decisions? As consumers, if you get a Playstation 3, essentially you're letting them 'get away with' what they pulled last year. And no doubt, if Sony succeeds this generation, they will use these marketing tactics again.

Heck, if Sony succeeds this generation, most likely both Microsoft and Nintendo will follow their lead and start using the same deceptive practices as Sony just to win consumers...in the end, we encourage these big console makers to continue to lie to us if we let Sony win. The pressure to deliver 'real-time' results IMO makes these three companies work harder to deliver truly next-generation games and experiences.

Now it is true that companies do give big promises and sometimes end up compromising their initial vision, but in my humble opinion, the degree to which Sony did it is so incredible and so mind-boggling. People really thought we would start seeing CGI-quality games TODAY because of the Cell tech and Blu ray. Just totally unreal. As consumers are we supposed to let them get away with that just to get the latest sequel to some game franchise? If that's the case, then we've really fallen hostage to corporate greed; they know we can't escape anymore from their clutches, and they'll then solidify in their minds that lying to their consumers is the best way to succeed in the console business.

On that note, I admire how Microsoft has been trying to push for showing real-time graphics as opposed to CG. These kinds of 'arguments' didn't exist before, to the degree that we're seeing today, with the past generations of consoles---arguments over whether or not certain footage is CG or real time. Back then (maybe ten or so years ago), if the CG was great, that's great....heck I bought some games because they had great CG back then, and I don't even regret doing that---because at the time it was really a 'new' thing to see CG movies in games to introduce the story or to move the story along. But nowadays we are so used to seeing CG introductions and sequences that there has to be something more. Nowadays, notice how some game trailers have to put a disclaimer that says 'MADE ENTIRELY OF IN-GAME FOOTAGE', or something to that effect. That need to see 'real-time' imagery is Microsoft's unwitting influence/contribution to the console industry.

I think the question of 'What is Next-Gen' has already been answered by gamers: Next-generation gaming is all about delivering a great gaming experience entirely with real time three dimensional graphics. Now there's nothing that sounds quite profound in that statement, but consider this...every conversation that's been had about these new consoles always has that question in mind, "Is it real time? Is it footage? Am I always 'in the game'?". It's no different from back in the nineties when the question was always "Is the game in 3D or are they still using 2D sprites?". Graphics may not be the final deciding factor of the quality of a game, but the reality is that it is very difficult to go back to old style graphics, other than for the occasional five minute nostalgia run.

Original place where this opinion was posted:
Sony: The Truth Behind The Hype thread at Teamxbox.com

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Sony Playstation 3 - WHAT THE HELL HAPPENED?

If you're a well informed gamer, by now you've seen all three conferences by Nintendo, Sony and Microsoft. To make this brief, Sony screwed up. Big time. The price of the Playstation 3 is incredible. Unprecedented. Of course it's been done before by other game companies but no console manufacturer has ever succeeded at the price point that they chose for the playstation 3. They're in deep trouble.

I'll repost soon when I find the time; for now, visit this message board thread HERE for interesting insight on Sony. Yes, it's mostly negative and against what occured during their conference, but it's the truth. You can do your own research and you will come up with the same conclusion.

I'll post further insights soon...

Friday, May 05, 2006

LET THE BS...uh E3... BEGIN!

Before anything else, let me get a few things straight. First, I'm looking forward to E3 2006 a lot and I enjoy the show. Second, I own multiple consoles but I'm currently favoring the XBOX 360. Now that I have that over with, let me present you the freshest marketing BS for the 2 consoles that will be debuting (hopefully) this year.

Nintendo Wii
http://wii.nintendo.com/

Introducing...Wii.
As is "we".
While the code-name
"Revolution" expressed our direction, Wii represents the answer.
Wii will break down that wall that separates video game players from everybody else.
Wii will put people more in touch with their games..and each other. But you're

probably asking: what does the name mean?
Wii sounds like "we", which emphasizes this console is for everyone.
Wii can easily be remembered by people around the world, no matter what language they
speak. No confusion. No need to abbreviate. Just Wii.
Wii has the distinctive "ii"
spelling that symbolizes both the unique controllers and the
image of people gathering to play.
And Wii, as a name and a console, brings something revolutionary to the world of video
games that sets it a
part from the crowd.
So that's Wii. But now Nintendo needs you.

Because, its really not about you or me.
It's about Wii.

And together, Wii will change everything.

And there it is folks... It's no doubt that I am intrigued by the Nintendo console and if Nintendo played their cards right it could have a big impact in the gaming industry. But come on, Nintendo?! Why 'wii'?!? They got it right with “Revolution” since the controller itself is a step away from the default gaming controller for the last 10 or 20 years.

Nintendo got it right by saying this...”Wii can easily be remembered by people around the world, no matter what language they speak.”. They got it right because worldwide, 'wii' is commonly associated with a bodily function!

Only in Japan is it normal to drink "Sweat"!

Now where am I going here... Any western marketer would have laughed at the thought of naming a console after urine. But that's not how it works in Japan... In fact in Japan, they have a popular softdrink called “Sweat”. But that's IN JAPAN, where the world seems to be upside down. (I've taken Japanese studies and I can tell you people who are more used to western culture that the world is indeed upside down in Japan!). In marketing, they say that most people only remember around 3 points in ANY presentation...looking at that long marketing blurb on why 'wii', I think Nintendo of America will have a harder time trying to explain themselves this time.

My fear with Nintendo, and Sony as well, came back with the announcement of the “wii”...that these guys do not care about global branding or global positioning...they only care about one market, Japan.

And if that's the case, then the global market is in trouble for the Japanese gaming market is slowly dwindling and being replaced by educational games (such as “Brain Age”) or by hentai games of all varieties. Nintendo's choice of naming the console after 'wii', which is nothing more but a translation of the Japanese translation of the noun “we”, shows that bias to the Japanese market which is not something that will bode well with worldwide gamers in time.

Seriously, Nintendo...wii???


Sony Playstation 3
http://www.us.playstation.com/PS3

Playststion 3 will change the nature of gaming and entertainment forever.
It's CELL technology is the digital soul and delivers powerhouse, supercomputer-like
processing power, unknown to today's machines.
Blu-Ray Disc ROM (BD-ROM) is the
graphical heart that will provide the entertainment content in full high-definition (HD) quality.
It's a console that screams digital carpe diem and will redefine reality as we know it.

Uh-oh...here come Sony's award winning deception tactics! While Nintendo’s statement was apologetic at best as to why they chose such a horrendous name; Sony’s marketing blurb is focuses on to main things the Cell Processor and the Blu-Ray Disk and why they are so cool.

Can the PS3 render the universe in 5 days, beating God by a whole day?!?

The Cell Technology is a new paradigm but hardly does it offer any advanced processing power that is unknown to today’s machines. If it did, then why then did Sony deviate from its original plan on having the Cell Processor render the graphics and just give that to Nvidia instead? The Cell, as cool as is it sounds, is not your miracle processor.

And here comes the worst part, according to the PS3 blurb Blu-Ray is the graphical heart of the PS3. Huh? Blu-Ray is nothing more but a storage device. It has nothing to do with image or graphics rendering.

That blurb is Sony’s marketing at its finest but it shows us one thing…that the focus of the PS3 is not with games, rather its pushing their newer technologies to the market hoping that with a popular device it will gain market acceptance and eventually have the biggest market share.

Where are the games Sony?


Microsoft XBOX 360

Microsoft’s time for hardware unveilings is over and by that merit alone, many gaming publications are already singing the failure of Microsoft XBOX 360 at E3 2006. But many people are underestimating Microsoft this year. IMHO, this is the best year for Microsoft to shine and steal the show.

We can assume that Sony will have Metal Gear Solid, Final Fantasy, etc etc. We can assume that Nintendo will have Mario, Zelga, etc etc.

But what does Microsoft have?

Halo 3?

Master Chief can't just finish the fight alone...

Yes but it can't be all Master Chief right? Luckily, Microsoft seems to be aware of this and they also have something that their competitors are not really showing that much. The XBOX 360 has a slew of interesting new properties, some of which are exclusive major titles from well renowned development houses.

This year everyone will be looking at Microsoft’s answer to Sony’s supposedly ‘free’ online service. Microsoft threw the proverbial online gaming ball at Sony last E3 which Sony answered just earlier this year with their partnership with gaming media, IGN (*cough*cough*cough*). Apart from showing games, the real challenge now for Microsoft is for them to answer Sony’s ‘free’ online challenge and make sure that this time around ‘Velocity Girl’ will come out and play.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

E3 2006: The Changing of the Guard

It's E3 next week. Both Nintendo and Sony will be unveiling their new hardware and their games, so we will have a good idea of what their new consoles can really offer. Up to this point, all we've been hearing from those two sides are all promises. We are about to find out if they're going to deliver.

Next week there's going to be a LOT of knee jerk reactions to what will be shown at E3, much like last year. Hardcore gamers, most especially, are going to be very myopic about everything that will be shown. Conclusions will be drawn from early graphics, hardware will be judged from poor software...all of those things are going to happen next week. It's quite clear to me that the media is going to paint the picture that they're going to want you to see, and from what I've been seeing, they're more in favor of the old guard of the console industry---the continued leadership of Sony and Nintendo.

While I have a lot of respect for those two companies, I feel that they've fallen over the wayside as of late. Sony, for example, has relied heavily in the past to showing CG movies of what its Playstation 3 can accomplish. This week a lot of gamers got a HARSH reality check of what Playstation 3 graphics are going to look like.

PS3 Real-time, in-game graphics screenshots:

Full Auto 2: Battlelines
Picture 1
Picture 2
Picture 3



Fatal Inertia
Picture 1
Picture 2
Picture 3

Untold Legends Dark Kingdom
Picture 1
Picture 2
Picture 3

From the above pictures you can see that PS3 games will have the same graphical flaws that the 360 has, and it will not be able to render the super-realistic graphics that Sony has been showing ever since E3 2005.

The surprise is, that PS3 graphics will look no better than Xbox 360 graphics, and that all that hype about the Cell processor and Blu-ray media is all marketing-speak. Both Sony and MS are in the same place, technology-wise; they're just approaching game technology from different angles. MS is going with the a 3 core system while Sony is going with a highly experimental and untested computing paradigm with their 7 SPE system. My opinion is that the Playstation 3's approach is not going to work. They may be offering new technology, but it will certainly be expensive both for Sony and for consumers. The blu-ray drive, in particular, is technology that is so new that it will be very difficult for them to price their PS3 at something close to $400.00. I'm betting it will be near 450-500 dollars, and I can't even begin to imagine how much it will cost on Ebay. Cell technology will also hinder Sony in some way...the manufacturing techniques for it will be very new, and is thus more liable to producing defective hardware.

I heard that the PS3 dev kits right now are just HUGE, and the developers have no clue how Sony plans on fitting all that hardware into the PS3 case that they showed last year. Even if they do get that hardware to fit that case, it will certainly generate a lot of heat, so Sony will face the same 'hardware defects' that MS has. [Off topic: Surprisingly, my own Japanese Xbox 360, basking in the tropical Philippine heat of the summer season, is surviving and hasn't crashed or died at all; and I bought this thing at launch!]

In a nutshell, the PS3 is going to face the following problems when they launch:
1. Games won't look that different from 360 games.
2. Console shortages and overpricing on auction sites.
3. Hardware problems and defects. This is a problem that happens with every new console.
4. Their competitor, the 360, will have more games at launch and will be more in supply at retail.
5. In Japan, they will be facing a popular, more inexpensive, and smaller console from Nintendo.

Now, while we're on the subject of Nintendo...they have a LOT going for them. They have a new control interface, a smaller console and most likely a more inexpensive price point that is friendlier to non gamers.

I see two major issues with Nintendo. One is the name that they chose for their console. Their console is now officially named The Nintendo Wii. Yes, you heard it right. The Wii. Now, I don't know who the genius is at Nintendo who came up with this name, but let me put it on the record, that Wii in the Philippines implies the same thing that it implies in the United States and in the United Kingdom. Wii is easily associated with urine, or 'wiiwii', or 'ihi' in the local parlance. From what I've read, in most other countries it implies nearly the same thing...because the term 'wiiwii' was probably derived from the sound you hear when someone is taking a piss. It's also the sound you make when you want a younger person to start urinating (for toilet training, some parents go 'wiwiwiwiwiwi' when their kid is at the toilet so that they can start peeing). The name is truly a horrendous choice.

Now, the argument is, "It's just a name, why bother?"

Well, for starters, the market Nintendo is targeting is the kids. And I can't imagine any kid walking to the playground to start talking about their Wii. They'd get laughed out of there and probably get scarred for life by the snickering and the bullies. Also, it's not like the Wii is going to be on the video game shelf all by itself. The Xbox 360 and the PS3 will be prominently displayed there. And I have a feeling that if you had a kid pick between those three, they won't pick the 'Wii' because it has a dorky, or filthy sounding name.

The story will be different in Japan, though. I have a feeling the Japanese Nintendo office was the one that picked the name---their culture there is very different. And by virtue of the size of the console and the novelty of the control scheme, it will outsell the Playstation 3.

Problem number 2 for Nintendo: Despite the fact that they are trying to win new markets for the Wii, the games that they will be publishing are really still aimed at their hardcore audience. I don't see that many new properties or franchises being produced for the Wii at all. Most of them are rehashes of established franchises like Mario, Zelda, and Metroid, which, while recognizable to gamers straight out of the 1980s like myself, don't really look like characters that today's kids can relate with. Also, they are clearly sticking with a specific demographic--the younger audience. I think that Nintendo should recognize that the market for video games has indeed changed, and that gamers of various age groups now know what video games are and want to play them. I think it's a missed opportunity that Nintendo is only making certain types of games that appeal to only a specific type of audience. They should broaden the types of games that are available for the Wii so that they can win various types of gamers.

As for Microsoft? Microsoft has faced a lot of things in the past year. They launched their hardware a year ahead of everyone else, so they risked looking like the weaker system. [like the dreamcast]. But this year, they stand to show everyone that they are poised to take the market leadership in the console space for years to come. They have the backing of many Western developers whose games have shown us what 'next-generation' really means. Their console is now easily available in stores worldwide, and their shortage problems have been solved by this point in time. And with the number of games that they're going to show at E3, it will be overwhelming for an Xbox 360 gamer to see what they have coming. Microsoft is in a position to change console gaming forever for the worldwide audience.

I'm not dismissing Sony and Nintendo completely; I'm just saying that they're going to have a hard time with their competition. MS is going for every demographic. They want the younger crowd, the girls and the non-gamers with Xbox Live Arcade and Viva Pinata. They want the hardcore 18-35 male with the FPS shooters, racers and sports games. They're distancing themselves from the FPS and are supporting titles like Too Human and Blue Dragon. They're definitely getting to where Sony and Nintendo are, and I'm sure that both Sony and Nintendo are feeling very uncomfortable.