Friday, December 27, 2013

So I Went To E3 2013, Saw The New Consoles In The Flesh, and STILL Picked The Wii U.

A year ago it was pretty clear to me that the Xbox 720 (now the 'Xbox One') was going to be my choice going into the next generation. The Xbox just has the better first party series with Halo, Gears, Forza and various other MS only franchises, and it has all the third parties behind it, so I know I wouldn't really be missing out. I've been pretty loyal to Xbox for a long time and while there was a period where I gamed primarily on PS3, the reason for that was I couldn't afford Xbox Live anymore with the changes in my life (with having a kid and having even more bills to pay). I was generally OK with paying for Xbox Live for a long time but there are occassions when I wonder why I am paying a yearly subscription when I am playing multiplayer just for a few periods in a year, or only when a game has working multiplayer for a guy like me living out here in the Philippines where the Internet is just not very well structured locally.

Then, a lot of stuff just happened between that time, and here I am making the choice I never thought I would make. Man, 'the story of my life' is pretty much "I planned to do this --- I ended up with this". And this is the story of why I ended up with the Wii U by the end of 2013.

A very generous person gave me the opportunity to go to E3 2013 this year. It's probably one of the craziest things that has every happened to me (put that up there with "getting all my stuff flooded out because of a typhoon" along with a lot of other life events I can't bring up in this blog; maybe next time). That 'thing' i used to read about in gaming mags and wished our local game conventions would be like....I actually got to experience BEING there. It's crazy. It only dawned on me when I was cleaning up our room and remembered I had all my E3 stuff stashed in this paper bag near my cabinet. As insignificant as this 'stuff' was (it was the free swag they give out at the event), I should really get around to putting all this stuff in a time capsule somewhere, just to prove to myself after 50 years or so that, yeah, I got to do something incredible that probably a lot of other gamers will never get to do. I'm very thankful to the guy that got me to go there. I wish I could talk more about him but maybe it's better to leave it as mysterious for now. It was really an incredible, amazing, fantastic experience to get to go to E3, and if ever you get the chance to somehow go, GO and DO IT! It's totally worth it just for the experience of the thing.

Now I bring up E3 because going there really changed my perspective on this big console launch that happened this year. Couple that with all the information that came out this year about the Xbone which really ruined my perception of Microsoft and the way they're handling this new generation of systems. They almost made their console require DRM. They were going to force us to not buy used games, which is crazy, because not everyone is that rich and not every game is worth buying new. Then there was that short period of time when unsupported countries couldn't even USE the Xbone, which is even crazier. The mere fact that you need to connect it and patch it DAY ONE is not the friendliest way to treat your customers. By default, Microsoft sees their customers as THIEVES, and I really don't like the decisions they've made. Maybe in a few months or so, Microsoft will iron out all the issues they have with the Xbone. Already I've been reading about 6GB patches, and requiring daily updates that are upwards of 1GB each. It's really not appealing to buy an Xbone right now with these kinds of issues.

So while it looks easy enough to get into a store locally and pick one up, I just couldn't do it. I don't want to spend my holiday season installing patches and staring and a 'downloading' screen. I want to play games now and I want the system to work if I'm going to put so much money into buying one.

It doesn't help that this new console doesn't have Backwards Compatibility either. I have a library of 360 games and they'll all end up requiring me to leave the 360 plugged in just to make sure I can still play them.

Now, onto the Playstation 4....specs wise and in terms of public relations, Sony wins hands down. They have what is being touted by developers as the 'best console to code for' with friendly developer tools. In terms of 'power' a lot has been said about the 8GB DDR5 RAM that is installed in each PS4. That's a lot of headroom for future development. They also seem to be fixing all their problems with their Playstation network.

Locally, I really like the fact that I can get a 2 year warranty now if I buy from an official Sony store. That's a huge bonus to avoid any hardware problems the system may have if purchased at launch.

I do have three major concerns about the Playstation 4 which is why I haven't bought one yet.

- No backwards compatibility. This is a big deal to me since there are still some previous gen games I want to play, like the upcoming Castlevania LOS2.

- No major first party releases on launch. I was never a big fan of Killzone and when I saw it at E3 it was the most boring first person shooter I ever watched. It's really, really pretty but once you get past the visuals it seems extremely generic and no different from what the PS3/360 have had.

- Paying for online. I switched to the PS3 at some point in this gen, not just because of the hardware issues of the 360 but also because playing online was free on PS3. I know the PS4 now requires payment to play online. The slightly good news for PS4 though is that the fee doesn't seem as expensive as MS's Xbox Live fee.

So the last choice left is the Wii U. I wasn't a major fan of the controller when I first saw it at E3 2012. But seeing it on Youtube and actually getting to USE it at E3 2013 really changed my mind about it.

The screen on the controller itself is pretty good. A lot will bring up the fact that it's a resistive touch screen, lacks multi-touch capabilities and is playing in lower resolution than most tablets/phones. But honestly, when you see some games running on it, it does look pretty good and does a fair enough job when you want to play off screen.

I saw this console at E3 2013 for the first time in person, running Super Mario 3D World. At the time it was the most different looking, unique game I've seen on all these new platforms. Here I was at E3 2013 spending more time in the Nintendo area than in the Sony or Microsoft areas, because of this very game. It also helped that Nintendo's console had bright looking games that were pleasant to look at, and different greatly from their competition. Gameplay didn't just consist of shooting or stabbing guys everywhere. I've got nothing against that gameplay mechanic, but with today's games it's really common and it's growing stale with me. Practically every game this gen involves you playing as a soldier, saving the world with your AK47, shotgun and rocket launcher. I guess I felt that Nintendo's offering just felt like a breath of fresh air. Maybe I'm just getting old and getting more concerned about what games I can play with my son watching. I can't help it. I do like violent games but sometimes I need a break from them. So Wii U really provides this sense of variety and diversity that I think you can't get anywhere else. And Nintendo's games have great personality and art style, too, so they're very nice to look at and play. They focus less on texture sharpness and putting as much dirt and grime as possible, and focus more on whimsical, entertaining visuals, a literal escape from the drudgery of real life. So realism isn't what they aim for in games---they focus more on gameplay mechanics; less 'Press X NOW!' gameplay (referring to QTEs in most action titles) and more 'hmm, what should I do next' type-of-scenarios in their level design. I saw this with the recent Legend of Zelda Wind Waker HD, where the dungeon design reminds me of Skyrim but is a lot more involved with the puzzles. Less dialogue with NPCs (though they are there as well) and more focus on exploration of big levels teeming with secrets.

I feel like I've missed out on games like this during the past generation. Nintendo seems to still make games in the same style as they are on the SNES or even the NES. Very gameplay-driven and not off to make a game that will rival a film's storyline. You play Nintendo games to 'play' them, not watch them. This is very evident after a round of Mario 3D World or Wind Waker HD. These types of games look harder to design because you have to think a lot more of different scenarios for players to actually 'play' in. Writing a good story is its own challenge and we've seen how most developers really can't do this right, because the story will have a degree of dissonance with the gameplay (example: Tomb Raider 2013 where your character starts out unwilling to kill, then a few minutes later are gunning down every armed thug just to get through each level). There's a certain spirit of 'fun' in Nintendo games that's very difficult to quantify. You know its there and you can't really put your finger on why it's 'fun'.

Other reasons I really like the Wii U right now:

- Backwards compatibility. There are a lot of gems in the Wii library that I haven't played yet, and this gives me the chance to experience them. It should help with those periods where there are no games coming out on any platform i currently have.

- Free online play. Let's hope Nintendo keeps their stance on not requiring players to pay fees for online play.

- Incredibly strong first party games.

***

Reading on NEOGAF there's still a lot of negativity going for Wii U and I can't blame them. Third parties seem to have abandoned the platform so the worry now is the only games you'll get to play on Wii U are Nintendo games.

At the same time, you look at PS4 and Xbone and the truth is, there are no games worth playing on those two platforms yet. Perhaps Forza 5 but from what I've read it lacks features that Forza 4 had and it focuses more on In-App Purchases --- essentially making you pay more after you already paid $60 to play it. I'm not a big fan of this future that Microsoft wants to introduce to console gaming so I really hope they listen to people's feedback and be more thoughtful with what they sell on their online marketplace. I do doubt they will pay attention to people's opinions on the matter, though....they will probably just see people buying the DLC anyway, and think, 'people are fine with DLC!'

So basically , my position on Xbone / PS4 right now is, I will buy them when they have more games to play. Right now it's just 'cool' to buy them, but that isn't a good reason to invest so much money in a console. Nobody cares what console you have at home. The only person that should care, is you. Are there any games, RIGHT NOW, that you want to play on one platform over another? Promises of future games are not good enough for me. Knowing how long next-gen games take to make (usually upwards of one or two years!)...it's really not worth it to buy Xbone/ PS4 now. Also, all the videos/pictures of Xbone / PS4 multiplatform games look no better than their counterparts on 360/PS3. It's just easier to buy the lower spec game for a platform i already have, than to pay more to buy that ONE game on next gen that just has sharper textures.

So yes, I am going to buy a PS4 or Xbone some day. Just not this year.

Wii U is a great investment right now. It wasn't a great investment when it launched. But now, with all the games it has, I think it deserves a push. Hopefully more people bought one this holiday so the third party situation gets better. Already in Japan the Wii U is doing pretty good this holiday season. So at the very least we can probably expect better support from Japanese companies like Capcom, Konami and Square Enix.