E3 – Day 1

I know E3 lasts a few days but really, after today, what’s left?

Microsoft started the day off with a good presentation.  Here’s a list of the XBONE games coming out.  $499 is more than I am willing to pay but hey, for all it does I think that’s a good deal.

EA and Ubisoft both had presentations.  Basically Sports/Battlefied vs Assassin’s Creed/Rayman.  Yay?  Star Wars Battlefront does sound interesting though.

Sony had a pretty damn good presentation.  Backwards compatibility (sort of), decent amount of games, $399 too.  Oh, and you can share games and in 3 years when you want to play an old game (like I played FF10 a few weeks back) you’ll be able to, without the crazy DRM XBONE has.

 

I’m not pointing at a winner or loser here.  That will happen a year after launch of these consoles.  Considering that E3 is meant to showcase games for gamers though… I think there’s a clear advantage to Sony now.  Do I think that Microsoft will go back on their earlier points of online requirements, Kinect and all that crud?  Not really, as it would require a rather LARGE change to their architecture.

I think the first day of E3 was like a cannon shot across the bow of gaming from two massive companies.  The next few months leading up to the holidays are going to be quite interesting.

XBONE – New Answers

There are a few more answers for the XBONE (that is such a better name than XBOX One dontcha think?) that better describe the game environment.  To sum:

Resell

You can trade in your games.  There may or may not be a fee, publisher’s discretion. (Well this is certainly interesting!)

Trading with Friends

You can only trade to friends who are on your friends list for 30 or more days.  A game can only be given once.  (This reads like I can no longer trade games with by brother and then get the game back.  And it destroys the rental market.)

Additional Account Access

Up to 10 people on a single XBONE can access an installed/owned game.  The primary owner can log into a friends device too and access their home console games.  (So pretty much just like today)

Kinect Privacy

Kinect only listens for the phrase “XBOX On”.  I guess that is region specific.  You can turn off the sensor once the game is active but some games will require it to be on (Either MS thinks people are stupid or they themselves are stupid.  If the Kinect is listening for a word, it’s listening to all your words. I can just imagine people surfing the web and getting trolled with a video and someone screaming “XBOX Off”.)

Internet Requirement

Play 24 hours without internet at home or 1 hour when at a friend’s place, otherwise gaming is disabled.  (Gone over this already.  I guess if you tethered your phone to wifi once a day…)

Summary

More information is good and pretty much every answer given now matches up with speculation from a few weeks back.  I personally don’t have an improved perspective on the console, and in fact I think it’s the complete opposite now.

I don’t need a home entertainment console connected to a single TV.  Maybe I did in 2007.  I need a console to play games, kick ass games.  Games I can’t play anywhere else.  Here’s something I want to show you, the list of 2013’s exclusives per console.  See a pattern?

PS3 XBOX
The Last of Us Gears of War: Judgment
God of War: Ascension Dark
Dust 514 Deadfall Adventures
Beyond: Two Souls Ascend: New Gods (XBLA)
Ni no Kuni Monaco: What’s Yours is Mine (XBLA)
Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time Double Dragon II: Wander of the Dragons (XBLA)
Tales of Xillia State of Decay (XBLA)
The Witch and the Hundred Knights Crimson Dragon (XBLA)
Puppeteer Matter (XBLA)
Atelier Ayesha: The Alchemist of Twilight Land LocoCycle (XBLA)
Until Dawn Skulls of the Shogun (XBLA)
Hyperdemsion Neptunia Victory
MLB 13: The Show

 

XBOX One – Tonedeaf

There are quite a few articles about reactions to the XBOX One reveal and, by and large, reaction has been negative.  Now that we’ve had a few days to digest what was and was not said, here are a few sticking points for people to consider.

It is generally agreed that the mobile/indie market is currently booming.  The average consumer is more and more device agnostic and will consume content on phone, laptop, tablet or console without real prejudice.  TVs are tools that only a single user can control and they are far from personal.  If I want to watch a movie and not bother my wife, I’ll use our tablet, for example.  Ok, we got that part.  Now watch this clip that shows all the times the words TV, Sports and Call of Duty were used in a 1 hour period.

Back?  Cool.

Let’s consider for a second what the XBOX core market is, the ones who are paying 15$ a month for services.  That’s right, gamers.  They aren’t paying that money to view adds, to use Kinect, to stream media.  The entire core structure of the XBOX community, the ones that actually tuned in to the presentation, they are all gamers.

Microsoft instead chose to demo voice activated controls, TV Skype (who in the world would use that?), football stats and streaming for nearly 40 minutes.  Content that no one who was paying attention cared two bits about.  I should add that the TV streaming controls will only be available in the US, which if memory serves correctly, is less than half of their user base.  Gamers got to see a new dog in Call of Duty.  Yay?

The real questions, the ones that have been around in rumors for months we either dismissed or confusingly answered.  Here’s what I’ve been able to find.

Does the console require internet access?  Yes and no.  You need to connect to the internet every 24 hours.  I have a few friends that will be unable to accommodate this as their only option for internet is satellite.

Can it support used games? Yes and no.  Games are installed and attached to a user account.  Transferring games will have a fee – to be disclosed.

Is is backwards compatible?  Not at all.  I get this from the console disk perspective.  I don’t get this from the XBLA portion.  This is also a massive gamble that the games that will come out will be worth buying a new console.  WiiU learned this lesson well.

How much will is cost? No idea.

What games can I play? Wait until E3.

How will it support the indies? Oddly enough, it will get worse than compared to the 360.  Devs will be unable to self-publish (they can on the PS) and additional controls will be added to the new XBLA market – effectively making it harder to get games out.

What kind of power does it have? The architecture between the XBOX and the PS4 are nearly identical, meaning that designing a game for one console will be practically the same as for another – a good thing for gamers.  That being said, the PS4 is 33% to 50% more powerful.  This isn’t hidden power like the 360 vs. PS3, this is readily accessible power.

Does it still have a subscription when every other option is free? Please note that the PS service is free, 95% of every home media service is free other than the hardware cost and every “cloud service” for gaming is currently free.  Microsoft has been mum on this.

Can I play games instantly? Apparently yes, since the system is “always on”.  (Having a Kinect camera always on in a room is a problem for me.)  When you get a new game, pop it in, you can play right away while the game installs a hard copy.  Once installed you no longer need the disk (just like a PC).  Extremely confusing is that the HDD is 500 gigs.  With my experience with Microsoft products, you’re going to be lucky to get 400 free.  You need that 400 to control all streaming content, other downloads, PVR support and a pile of other features.  500 gigs is not “future proof”.

Conclusion

After reading everything I could find on this, I am left with the conclusion that Microsoft is hedging their bets that consoles are dead and that media centers are the way of the future. They somehow believe that Kinect, being always on, is a good thing in a room with more than 2 people.  They believe that the TV (a single one) is the center of entertainment in a house.  They believe that people have 50+ inch screens to multi-task while watching a movie or TV.  They believe that games will sell on their own.

I think the price point here is going to be the real answer.  If the XBOX One turns out to be a fancy remote control for TV, what are people willing to pay?  Even if E3 showed 10 amazing games, I personally have yet to see a reason to upgrade.

XBOX One Launch – Hmmm

So the time came and went and Microsoft surprised next to no one when they showed next to nothing related to games and everything related to a new home media center.

Here’s a decent comparison chart between both the PS4 and the X1. I’m actually surprised that with 3 months of time between the Sony event and this one, that Microsoft couldn’t come up with something better than Kinect 2.0 and group Skype.

The real question heading into today was if the new X1 would require a persistent internet connection.  The answer is a definite maybe – Microsoft posted some stuff then deleted it.  From what we do understand, games will require a physical install, load instantly, and likely require a fee to transfer to another account.  Essentially killing the used game industry in a small blow.   Interesting.

Consoles are used as access points for games.  X360 and PS3 are very poor experiences compared to PCs today.  My PS3 can take 2 minutes or up to 10 depending on if there’s a patch I need.  My PC is just always ready.  My PS3 is tethered to a single screen, my laptop can connect to anything.  I have a controller for both.  The difference between what I’m typing on today and what was shown was the media console.

How exactly is cable TV and movies going to work on a console?  They spent 30 minutes on those features, which I’m sure Comcast, Bell and Rogers are asking questions about too.  Integrated with locally installed content?  Ok, I have that already.  With live TV?  What’s that going to cost?  Swap seamlessly between it all?  With 8 gigs of RAM?  That, to quote a great mind, is unpossible.

So after a few hours to think about it, I don’t see how Sony or Microsoft really gained “points” with the gaming crowd with either demonstration so far.  Neither showed anything that qualified as games.  They all touted more realism and more polygons, like every other console launch ever.  I do know Sony is aiming for a more “low cost/free” approach to gaming and that Microsoft is really adamant to keep the “pay me now and later, and some in-between too” model.  Considering that BOTH new consoles are service-based rather than simply tools to get to games, I am extremely curious to see how both companies will monetize the bells and whistles they’ve been touting.

Differing Opinions

I read Tobold’s blog not because I agree with him but rather because I don’t.  He often starts with complicated ideas, boils them down to a black and white question and picks a side.  It’s hard to think of a personal gaming blog that elicits more comments, both for and against, so something must be working.

A recent case in point is the defense of EA argument.  In it, he postulates that disagreeing with an artist’s intended ending isn’t grounds to dismiss the game or the artist completely.  Perfectly reasonable.  Applying this logic to Mass Effect 3 however, the argument loses ground.

Rohan has a solid critique of the ending and the idea here is that a story’s ending, a twist though it might be, is dependent on the preceding elements in order to be accepted.  Casablanca might not have a happy ending but it’s acceptable and memorable due to the characters remaining true to the entire story to that point.  Bioshock Infinite might not please everyone but you can’t deny that each and every character gives additional weight to the ending through their actions in-game.

Some might have read the Sword of Truth series by Terry Goodkind.  The first half of that series was pretty solid, the second half, so-so.  The ending was a massive Deus Ex Machina – magic saves everything.  It completely nullifies the rest of the story up until that point because the entire series could have been wrapped up in book 1.  Mass Effect 3’s ending was so poor, so full of plot holes, that they needed to retcon a few things and clarify some leaps in logic for people to accept the ending.  Even then, barely a decision you made up until that point had any impact whatsoever on the options presented to cap the series.  Starchild?  Really?

To the original topic.  EA didn’t win the golden poop because of the ME3 ending.  They won it for micro-transactions in every game, poor quality games, draconian DRM practices that inhibit gaming and for generally being so out of touch with what they are delivering that they want to blame everyone but themselves.  EA hires great companies with great ideas and somehow manages to burn out every original idea and spit out a husk of a former team.  There has to be a balance somewhere between the game experience and the bottom line – hopefully EA can find that again.

So I Hear You’ve Been Living In A Cave

First with the introductions.  Adam Orth is the creative director for games at Microsoft.  He sent out a tweet, in response to rumors that the next XBOX is going to require always-on internet, that basically said he didn’t get what the problem was.

MS twitter

To which many a person replied.  Orth then compared internet access to electricity, in that it’s just always there.

A few points.  Point the first.

Now, I’m no rocket scientist but I do knows my stuff things.  My electricity goes down maybe twice per year and I might suffer a brownout or two (where it drops and comes back suddenly).  My internet however, goes down more than a few times per week due to multiple issues, the least of which is a crappy router.  My provider, as reliable as they are, still are not anywhere close to the reliability of electricity.  And I live in a high urban area.  My friends in the burbs or in the country, well they either don’t have access at all or suffer through horrendous service and garbage speeds.

I know people who live year round near my cottage have no internet other than tethering to a phone, facing north, in a special 4in x 4in corner, with no clouds, and no one can move while the internet is up.

Point B)

Has Mr Orth been living in a cave this past month?  Year?  There wasn’t a day in March that didn’t talk about SimCity and the always-on requirement.  Hell, it (partly) cost the CEO of EA his job.  Diablo 3 is standing right behind you, same with the UPlay from Ubisoft.  Steam is somewhere there smiling too, what with the offline mode and all.  Always-on is clearly not ready for prime time.  Unless you want to cut your market share.

Point the 3rd.

It is hard to believe that someone so highly placed within MS think this way.  Even more so when it comes to the gaming division.  I have such a hard time believing it that I am beginning to think that his account was hacked.  That truly seems to be a more reasonable answer to this.  Or, the entire point of the tweet was to gauge the public’s readiness – maybe.  That seems too meta for MS though.

Final Sum

Here’s what I’m thinking is going to happen next.  Orth is going to tweet a clarification of some sort (or move companies).  Microsoft is going to modify their always-on requirement so that offline play is possible. There will continue to be massive speculation about always on until MS comes out with an official statement.  Until that statement, every discussion about that console is going to likely be negative press.