Thursday, February 21, 2013

It's The Controls, Stupid

In my humble opinion, Sony did an average to good job with their Playstation 4 press conference today. I was impressed with some things that they featured, while there were also things that felt more of the same. But I didn't think they did a terrible job. I do believe they may be saving most of their information for E3 2013. A lot of what they showed were games and tech demos, but notably the console itself was not present at the event.

My wife and I were talking about this and for both of us it was a pretty big deal that they didn't show the console. I was primarily impressed with the video recording/streaming features....a lot of people play online to an audience via UStream, and the new PS4 will make it a lot easier for them to do that. It was impressive on a technological level....to have it rendering a game with all the effects and at the same time have it record your gameplay. I have a feeling this will also be the way they will stream gameplay to the PSVita if you plan on playing remotely.

That said, I want to react to the mostly negative reaction from the mainstream press:
http://neogaf.com/forum/showpost.php?p=48023207&postcount=1

I know that IOS and Android are all the rage right now (You could probably read that like that character on Zoolander---you know that guy that says 'Magnum is like, so hot right now!') . Games on those platforms are free, or cheap. You can play them anywhere. And there are arguments that they look "as good, if not better than their console counterparts".

Ok, yeah. I do like Angry Birds. I do like Temple Run 2. I like a lot of mobile games. But do I think they should replace console and PC game experiences? Hell, no.

What is going to happen if consoles die out because of bad press like this? Have you ever tried to spend an extended amount of time with a mobile game? Honestly, they do not feel like experiences you want to go through for more than five minutes. Is this the future of gaming?

That is just disastrous for the industry if you ask me. The video game industry has been through a crash before, precisely because the industry churned out a lot of games just like 'Angry Birds' in the past. Quick distractions that didn't have depth. I don't mean to bash mobile games in any way, I really don't. But to suggest that that's where we are all headed with gaming is really crazy. These people who make these statements aren't even gamers. They're the hipsters at parties who show off their new gadgets but don't even know how to root them. It would be sad if everyone took what they had to say at face value.

There is room in the world for casual games. But I pray that won't be the end of gaming as we know it now.

What would we do if massive role playing games like Final Fantasy were never to be made again because stockholders don't find it cool to support companies that make them?

Imagine a world with no Halo, or Killzone, or Super Mario Brothers---hell, even with Mario's simple gameplay there's a lot more imagination to its levels than the hundreds of levels in an Angry Birds title.

The sad thing is that these mainstream journalists don't know what they're talking about when they bash the consoles of today like the PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, the Wii U.....they don't represent the industry or the customers of that industry. They just follow what's the trend but they don't understand the market that is served by those systems. IOS and Android are surely changing the face of the tech world, and that can't be denied. But there is one thing they will never offer that bigger dedicated machines always will.

Controls.

It's the controls, stupid. Have they ever TRIED to play an FPS on a phone? The graphics may get better with each new phone model, but the gameplay on a phone is always next to impossible to enjoy on a deeper level. Everything is a swipe or a click; there's no meaningful way to control your in-game avatar, and that's why everything is on rails on mobile.

That won't ever change, if you look at the trend with mobile phones. Buttons aren't exactly 'hot right now'.

But the ones who play games on phones, I don't think you can expect them to even take games seriously.

There are people who take games seriously. Like me. And several million gamers around the world. We aren't going to settle for phones. And I don't think we will disappear anytime soon.

So my hope is that games on 'hardcore' systems will survive, and that companies like MS, Sony and Nintendo will press on. I think we all know something that the mainstream just can't understand. Controls on dedicated systems will always make them superior to mobile phones in terms of providing meaningful and immersive gameplay experiences. 

Thursday, February 07, 2013

Rumor: Next Xbox Will Require Internet To Work



Just read this news today from Edge Online:


Simply put, are they crazy? We don’t even know what their console looks like or what games it has, and this is the best news that they can “leak” out there? It’s not as if they are not making any money from selling games. This just reeks of greed. 

Also, requiring people to be online all the time is ridiculous. Do they at Redmond never lose connectivity every so often? It’s as if Microsoft was Maria Antoinette saying, “Let them eat cake!” They seem so oblivious to the lifestyle of gamers around the world. Players don’t always have internet connection, and sometimes they don’t want to bother setting it up. It’s way too optimistic to expect players to find a way to connect all the time. It’s just anti-consumer. While they have the tech to do this sort of draconian measure, it doesn’t mean that they should implement it.

Does this mean Sony is not going to do this? The original story was that Sony ‘invented’ this technology. So if Microsoft is doing it, Sony MIGHT be doing it later on as well. If Sony does NOT do this, they will be the landslide victor of this upcoming ‘console war’ even before it has started. If Microsoft was smart, and if they still want to do this really stupid business practice, they would do this later in the next generation, maybe in their second or third year. NOT at launch. This is just giving them bad press. It’s not like they don’t have enough bad press already, with the failures of Windows Phone and Windows 8. Microsoft needs a positive story this time. And doing these business moves, while looking more profitable for their stockholders, is not going to be good for them in the long run. 

The only seeming beneficiary of all this is Nintendo. Lucky for gamers, they haven’t discovered DRM yet,…well, sorta. But at least they didn’t put this in their cartridges for 3DS or in their games for Wii or Wii U. This might be the key weakness in both their opponents for them to stay relevant. All they need now are solid games…since they released earlier than Sony or MS, it gives them a small advantage.

Tuesday, February 05, 2013

The Next Intergalatic Console War. Part I.

In about 15 days, the next Playstation is going to be unveiled.

It's hogwash to think Sony is not going to show anything. They've already sent a lot of cryptic tweets and posted a lot of telling blog posts. This is it people.

Based on everything I heard, on paper, PS4 is going to be an awesome console:

- Better online functionality
- Some kind of video recording will be built in
- Better graphics (as expected)

I don't know what their launch games will be, though. Their first parties have been pretty quiet. A lot say it's going to be GT6, some Uncharted game....we'll see. In terms of games, I don't know what to be excited about. In terms of system specs, sounds good.

The next Xbox---practically no real info. Of course they will say the usual improvement will be on the graphics side. The rumors point to built in Kinect functionality. It's a cute feature that I haven't tried....didnt bother buying the Kinect for the 360. Well, at least I can try it now. The rumors also say it will have the same video recording thing as Sony.

Most of the online wars about Sony vs MS focus on the memory bandwidth. The rumored DDR5 memory of PS4 will have a higher bandwidth than the next Xbox. The rumors also say that the next Xbox's overall RAM count will be higher, with 8GB for Xbox and 4GB for PS4. Right now both those figures could change....but i think if that happens, the cost of the machine could be affected drastically.

Neither of them should launch at 599. They should go for at least 350-399 like Wii U did.

Now, Wii U's specs don't hold a candle to either of the two's theoretical specs. But what it lacks in graphical fidelity, it makes up for in game diversity and creativity. Nintendo's 3DS lineup boasts some of the most creative gaming designs I've ever encountered. There won't be many shooters but there will be a lot of colorful puzzle games and adventure games, which are sorely lacking on 360 and PS3 (at least in this current gen). That gives us an idea of what will happen in the next gen.

- Racers/shooters/action games will make up a bulk of PS4/next Xbox's lineup
- Wii U will rely on Mario/Zelda/Metroid and other more creatively designed games that don't just focus on photorealism.

The big problem of the Wii U right now is bad press. Everyone is comparing it to tablets and smartphones...what? Yes, you heard me right. For some reason Nintendo's games are associated to be like what's out already for IOS and Android. Which...if you actually play some Nintendo games, turns out to be untrue. Maybe Nintendo can offset the bad news when E3 rolls around. That said, Nintendo has to work the hardest because momentum will be against them when Sony / MS start unveiling their systems. I used to not root for Nintendo at all, but my biases have changed after playing some 3DS games. These guys are really creative. They deserve more success, and I hope Android/IOS doesn't erase Nintendo from the gaming world....The good news for Nintendo is, the 3DS seems to be keeping them afloat for now. That console of theirs has so. many. games! And their games are completely unique from other platforms....actually the worst games they have seem to be the multiplatform ones. The games that are only on their console seem to really shine.

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So, who am I rooting for right now? None really. I want to see what the games look like for Sony / MS first. Specs don't matter as much as actual games do. If MS shows a good version of Halo I may gravitate to that. For Sony...maybe a good version of Uncharted, or a multiplayer game (because their online is always free). For Nintendo...I would gravitate to Wii U if they outgun the other two in terms of number of game titles. They have the launch advantage (they launched earlier) so that means they can end up with more games this year than the other two, making investing in Sony/MS a better decision for next year (after they build up a good library). Right now Wii U's library is pretty small. And all the bad press doesn't help. They have to get unique games that only work for their system, and they have to get a lot of those, if they want to succeed in this next "intergalatic console war..."


From Ultraviolence To Rainbow Colors

They say when you have a baby it changes everything. For some people it means giving up the things you used to love. And I would read a lot about people who would drop gaming the moment they have children. I think I was close to doing the same. It's not that I didn't want to game....it's the time commitment of games that kills it for potential-parent gamers.


And that other thing about games, is the violence. I'd be the first to tell you that chainsawing a guy in Gears of War is endlessly fun; but try doing the same thing with your baby in the room, particularly if he's old enough to figure out what's happening...well, games have gotten realistic enough that game violence can be pretty ridiculous now. There's that video, i think it's on Youtube, of "The Last Of Us" where the lead character shoots another human being right in the face; this whole moment rendered in glorious 1080p with super sharp textures and everything. We're practically THERE in terms of gaming graphics now...the realism is crazy. Of course it still looks like a game but in a few years photoreal graphics is going to be a reality.

That said, it's hard not to wonder what effect seeing graphic images like these may have on children. It's easy to say platitudes if you don't have kids..."it's the parents job to raise their kids, not the game console" I've heard that before. Heck I've USED that argument before. Now that I am a parent the simple question is, what would it be like to see all that eviseration in video games for kids? Does it have an effect on them? I can't answer it straight or fairly. I can say of course not! Because i grew up playing games. I grew up playing characters shooting people, aliens, you name it.

But back then they were pixels, they looked fake and it seems to me i can still tell what's real and what isn't. Try comparing game violence now and game violence back then, the difference is rather extreme with the realism that we have now.

I won't say that i will stop playing violent games outright. Of course not. I enjoy them and I don't think I'll miss out on some future titles that will surely have them. It's just that I probably can't play them in the same room with a bunch of kids hanging around. It would just be weird.

I wouldn't call for a ban on violent games. I would instead call for actual enforcement of game ratings by the ones that sell games. I doubt they would actually do it; that would affect their bottom line immensely. But it's a place to start. Outright banning them is not a great idea. Violence exists, it's real. If only we could ask the people in places with wars to stop shooting each other...if it were that simple we'd have already done it by now. But it isn't going away any time soon. So I'm not for banning it. I just think there is such a thing as enforcing what is 'age appropriate' somehow...

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Now, the REAL reason I'm blogging again is because my wife bought a 3DS. Coming from years and years of ultraviolence on 360 and PS3, my wife thought that I wouldn't enjoy a Nintendo console.

I had my doubts as well. Her brother had a DS before. And while I thought it was a good distraction, it never really got my attention as much as the 3DS has.

My first game on the 3DS, well, the first game she had on it, was Mario Kart 7, preinstalled.

I just recently played Sonic All Stars Racing Transformed....so my expectations were pretty high. MK7 is the game that Sonic and Co. are trying to COPY. So it should be much, much better than Sega's attempt at flattering Nintendo.

The first time I fired it up, I had a blast...it was more fun than I thought it would be. Hell, it was more fun than Forza Motorsport. I can't explain it. It's so unrealistic....the physics are 'video gamey' and all the environments are so colorful and bright, WHY DO I LIKE THIS GAME? I'm 33 for cryin' out loud...

This game is just fun. I've been playing a lot of phone games, tablet games...and I"ve read everything that they've been saying about how that phenomenon is going to kill Nintendo.

I think all those guys who write those articles are trying to look cool.

They've probably never touched a Nintendo system or handheld all their lives. Just like me, before last weekend.

I would trumpet the same thing. i would see screenshots of Mario on gaming sites and I would scoff at it, thinking, "MARIO, AGAIN??" It just seemed like Nintendo was out of ideas. They just kept on going for the same franchises year after year.

I learned soon enough it isn't fair to judge Nintendo just like that. One has to actually play their games, without all those preconceived notions to accurately judge what they're doing.

Mario Kart 7 feels fun. Losing a race does not feel irritating like in Sonic All Stars. The AI is not impossibly difficult but it challenges you enough to make you feel like you're working at something. The tracks always have some cool thing going on after every corner. It's colorful. It's pleasant to look at. The music is perfect. The power-ups: perfect. Track design...just perfect. I don't know. It's a complete package. I'm going in after the last Mario Kart game I played was back when I was 12...this is much better than the game I played when I was 12! And it's portable!

I think the Nintendo bug has seriously infected me. These guys are in an entirely different universe from Sony and Microsoft, and maybe that's a good thing.

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Next post: The Next Intergalatic Console War commentary.