13 December 2013

The Folly of The Gaming Ceasefire

This post is a guest article from Tali and can be read in its original form here. This year's gaming ceasefire take place on Saturday, December 21st.    
For decades, for as long as this little gamer can remember (I’m 28 for reference), we have had racing games, we’ve had puzzle games, we’ve had shooters as well.
So why, in the name of the wee fucking man is this still a bloody issue. Shootings at school, yes they are a tragedy, one that could in most cases probably be avoided. Gun controls / being mature enough to not go on murderous rampages. American teens; grow the fuck up.
For the last 20 years ever so often I hear how videogames make people violent. This is bull. I was bullied and harassed throughout my time in high school. I was suspended twice for self defence (I was bullied, teachers refused to do anything, I lashed out when I was punched in ribs.) Do you know how many times I said “Tali, go kill them.” 
Never! I am not the most well adjusted person on the planet. I am absolutely miserable some days. I was pretty much a social outcast between 6-18 years old. I must have spent most of my weekends playing Doom, Quake, Unreal, along with other games. I am amongst the most vocal to say, videogames kept me sane.
My only gripe, my one problem with this Gamer Ceasefire is… guilt by association, we’ve spent years denying its the root cause. Now some folk are saying “In solidarity and remembrance of the dead we’ll stop firing at computer generated images for 24 hours” REALLY? So what you are implying is “Well, we could kinda be responsible for it.”
I have quickly browsed Wikipedia for these numbers on school shootings.
USA has had 254 between 1900 to through to last week. 134 of which were between 1900-1980. 120 since 1980 and today.
In the same time period Canada’s had 14. China [that nation of stereotypically crazy gamers? Two, out of 10 in Asia, which by the way, included the Ma’alot massacre in Israel, which lasted two days and was a recognised terrorist action]
Japan, had zero. Yes, the home of two of the biggest gaming companies in the last 30 years has had NO school shootings whatsoever.
Mexico has had two, listed and one of those was a drive-by which killed and wounded a few adults.
Part of me looks at these statistics and has to ask, is this a legality issue regarding firearms, or a national mindset that violence is an appropriate response. Like I said, I know what its like to be bullied, so please. 
America take a long hard freaking look at yourself, as a culture, as a society and fix your damned law books to take into account the Second Amendment was from a different bloody era, when you feared the redcoats could sneak onto your lands in the dead of night rather than blame new and modern technology. Either that or… sue the British government for letting all our citizens take their peculiar brands of crazy with them. I’d love to see that one, really. I would.
PS. I am Scottish, and we’ve had a couple of shootings in schools, no where near as many as you and I don’t think anyone at the time uttered lines like “Well, if the teacher was allowed to carry a gun to work, it would have been avoided.” That shit is victim blaming.
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14 July 2013

Moving On

I've enjoyed working on this blog and I hope you've enjoyed reading it. It's been less than a year since The Videogame Dynamic was founded but things have changed since then and it's time to move on.

This was never going to be the most popular blog in the world which makes every reader all the more important and I hope at least some of you will continue forward with me. 

The blog will remain online and from time to time posts may be added, principally of a personal nature - so long as it has to do with gaming of course. I've tried to post at least once a week but now my articles have found new homes. 

As a regular contributor to Koobismo, a news writer for Gameranx and as editor of a new venture. 

My good friend Yesika Reyes, you may have read some of her articles on Unreality or Commander Bedlam, and I are establishing a new game culture hub which we've named Gamemoir. A site with regular posts dedicated to range of topics surrounding game culture with an article from me, and each of the site's contributors, each week.

Speaking of which, we're hiring. If you're passionate about gaming and think you can write a feature once per week, we'd be happy to have you. This is a new site and as with most such enterprises, we regrettably can't pay you. We won't be making money either and the upkeep of the website will come directly from our wallets. 

The hope is that should we prove successful, this will change. We can't guarantee that but we're certainly going to try when we launch this August.

If you're interested please contact stephen.daly@outlook.com with a trial article of no fewer than 500 words. Should you have any other questions feel free to comment below, contact me by email or Tweet me @StephenDaly_

Once again I'd like to thank you for reading even if this is only your first and final time to visit The Videogame Dynamic.


09 July 2013

One Difference in the Next Generation of Consoles

When the original PlayStation launched in 1995 Sony included a CD drive which, along with the $299 price point, was enough to catapult the company to the top of the console ladder as well as revolutionise the way in which games were played.

In 2000, when the PlayStation 2 was released, it included a DVD player which again gave scope for developers to push what could be done as well as helping to popularise the DVD format. While DVD would almost certainly have replaced video tapes eventually it did so much sooner than it might have without the aid of Sony's console.

Once again in 2006 Sony brought a new format to their system: Blu-ray. Granted, Blu-ray has never dominated in the same way DVDs did - in part because the PlayStation 3 did not dominate the market in the manner its predecessors did and equally in part due to the rise of digital as a medium. Yet it nonetheless marked yet another format innovation.

PlayStation 4 is notably different than its forebears not because of its added new features but because it hasn't changed one of the principal features of the PS3; namely, the Blu-ray drive. To a degree, it's a testimony to the foresight of Sony's engineers and their counterparts in the other firms which constitute the Blu-ray alliance that not only did they create a platform which was able to defeat HD-DVDs as a medium but Microsoft - which backed HD-DVD for Xbox 360 - would go on to include a Blu-ray drive in the Xbox One.

In effect, this means that a tiny percentage of the Xbox One's $499 price tag is making its way to the Blu-ray group and ultimately to Sony.

If nothing else can be said for the PS3 at the very least it has always been an excellent Blu-ray player and remains one of the best on the market even today. Whether the PS4 can match that legacy remains to be seen and will likely not be quite as significant a proposition given the proliferation of game-downloads and streaming in the near future.

To say the future is entirely digital is too general. You can still buy DVDs, and for that matter CDs and even vinyls, despite the widespread availability of digital options. The same will likely hold true of physical games for some, perhaps even many, years to come.

This is an unusual generation. Not only have we seen perhaps the biggest U-turn in this industry's 40 year history with Microsoft's policy reversals and the departure of Don Mattrick to Zynga mere months before the launch of the Xbox One but it's also the first time any PlayStation platform has ever used the same primary format as it predecessor.

PlayStation, PS2, PS3 as well as PSP and Vita have all had their own unique driver, but not PS4.

In the end, this will not mean anything at all yet in the context of gaming history and Sony's specifically, it's an interesting footnote at the start of the next generation.

15 June 2013

Microsoft Should Change Their Xbox One Policies - But They Won't

UPDATE: As it turns out, I was wrong. Microsoft have indeed changed many of their Xbox One policies. We'll see in the long run whether it was the right decision.

ORIGINAL POST: This was an unusual E3, in more ways than one. It was the first E3 since 2006 in which both Sony and Microsoft had hardware on the way.

It was also Microsoft's best E3 in years. Yes, by itself Microsoft's E3 presentation was stellar. The company had no celebrities on stage, no dance numbers, no children trotted out to play with Kinectimals and despite some technical glitches the media briefing passed off with any major embarrassments. Phil Spencer did stumble when announcing the price, but that's understandable, there must be an incredible amount of pressure when you walk onto that stage.

Microsoft also avoided talking about entertainment or services to any great degree - as I've argued before, they spent far too much time at the announcement event dealing with that side of the console.

They promised games, and they delivered. Microsoft has a stronger lineup overall than Sony though of course that's an empirical observation; matters of taste and preference will come into play here, even so they had a great press conference but...

It's a hell of year Sony can announce that they're going to start charging for multiplayer (it will remain free on PS3 and PS Vita) and have a weaker overall lineup than Microsoft but still come away with an emphatic E3 victory.

Microsoft failed to address the valid concerns surrounding the Xbox One's internet connection requirement and used game policies and in the days that followed it grew worse. First there was Don Mattrick's comments that those with a poor connection, or no connection at all, could "buy a 360".

It then emerged that Microsoft had invited CD Projekt Red to their E3 media briefing without telling the notoriously anti-DRM Polish studio that they couldn't play their game - The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt - in Poland on Xbox One as Xbox Live will not be supported in the country upon the launch of the platform. Xbox Support has since ruled out the possibility of importing.

In fact, Microsoft's console won't work at launch anywhere in Asia, Africa, Eastern Europe or South America (with the exception of Brazil). This means that advanced economies like South Africa, Portugal (strangely left out amid the Western European countries that will support the system), South Korea and Poland are all Xbox One no-go zones.

Yes, Microsoft will expand the system to many of these countries in time but it may be too late by then to make an impact. Sony has only confirmed that the PS4 will launch in Europe and North America this year, they haven't even spoken about Japan - their home market, the reasoning here is understandable however.

Microsoft dominates in North America, if Sony is to challenge that dominance they have to get the PS4 out around the same time as the Xbox One. In Europe, it's a different story; the PS3 is regularly the best selling console in the region. So it's equally important for Sony to launch the PS4 out in Europe early to maintain their market share. Sony's Worldwide Studios President Shuhei Yoshida has commented that Europe is "hugely important market".

Japan is safe for Sony. Granted, they're not launching there this year - an indication of how secure they feel - but the fact is there's little foreseeable possibility of Microsoft toppling Sony in their home market. Indeed, if you look at the comments of Microsoft's Adam Bowman the company plans to increase their market share in Asia with games like FIFA, Assassin's Creed and Final Fantasy - there's a flaw there, none of those are exclusive and Final Fantasy XIII on PS3 outsold the Xbox 360 version at a ratio of something like 4:1.

You have to wonder what Microsoft's thought process was when they created a console they knew wouldn't work in most of the world and it seems highly unlikely that the titles mentioned above will shift the balance towards the console in Asia.

Peter Molyneux has expressed his pessimism for both Microsoft and Sony at E3 but specifically called Microsoft's press conference "very unprofessionally done" and said that at moment he has no reason to be satisfied with the online requirement of the system, saying Microsoft has failed to explain its value. As a former Microsoft employee, Moleyneux's comments should most likely be taken with a grain of salt.

But he isn't the only one to call out the company in the last week. Paul Thurrott, the noted Microsoft tech blogger, said Microsoft had a "disastrous" E3 and needs to "fix" the Xbox One before it launches.

How? Thurrott believes they should essentially undo every major decision that went into making the Xbox One. Launch a $399 Xbox One without the Kinect sensor, remove the used game restrictions, scrap the internet requirement.

The difficulty is, such elements of the console are most likely built into the system in such a way that Microsoft would probably have to redo the whole thing; that would cost time and a lot of money. Console R&D is an extremely expensive process, you're likely looking at several hundred million dollars and while Windows 8 is struggling and Windows Phone is floundering the fact is Microsoft has to the cash to do, but making that commitment could delay the Xbox One's launch and that's not something they'll be prepared to do.

Phil Spencer, president of Microsoft Game Studios, has said the company's Xbox One policies are "definitive" and while he left open the possibility of adapting in future the reality is it's unlikely Microsoft will choose do to so before the system launches.

One of the most visible differences between Sony's press conference and Microsoft's was the scale of the indie offerings on display.

Sony's PS4 announcement event included Jonathan Blow's The Witness, running on PS4 hardware at E3, while their press conference featured an entire segment dedicated to the genre with the promise that indie games will be included in the PS4's instant game collection offerings.

Fez creator Phil Fish said it was "almost moving".

Microsoft's Xbox One announcement, in contrast, didn't mention indies at all and their E3 media briefing's segment dedicated to indies was much more constrained. Indeed, Notch bemoaned the fact that Microsoft choose to showcase Minecraft saying "They could do SO much more".

Why such a difference in the display of indie titles? Well, these are the two Microsoft policies that could most easily be rectified before the launch of the Xbox One and really, there's no reason why they shouldn't be.

Firstly; Microsoft charges game patch fees which can run to tens of thousands of dollars, Sony does not.

Secondly; Microsoft requires a publisher, Sony does not.

In fact, speaking to Polygon Ragtag Studios' Chris Cobb commented "It's been easier to get our game (Ray's the Dead) onto a Sony platform than it has been to get on Steam. That's how drastically things have changed these days."

The standalone version of DayZ, originally a mod for Arma 2, is set to be released on PS4 but may bypass Xbox One because of Microsoft's publishing and game patching policies. Similarly; Oddworld: New 'N' Tasty won't be coming to Xbox 360 or Xbox One because Microsoft requires a publisher, this is particularly damning as Oddworld Inhabitants helped launch the original Xbox with the exclusive title Oddworld: Munch's Oddysee.

Sony's open policies have paid dividends - since February, when the PS4 was announced, the number of developers working on the console has risen from 126 to 505. Most of those are presumably indies. While they won't change their Xbox One design decisions it wouldn't take too much to change their publishing policies.

All of the decisions Microsoft has made are flawed, but there is a logic to them. A logic they have yet to explain properly. They're a massive company and have the money to pull this around but if there's a reason to be concerned for Xbox, it's the company's sales' projections.

Yusuf Mehdi, senior vice president of Microsoft's Interactive Entertainment Business, is on record as saying the Xbox One and the PS4 could sell one billion units. They expect at least 400 million consoles sold. No matter where you stand on the next-gen debate those numbers are ludicrous and the perhaps represent the biggest sign that Microsoft are living in a different world to the rest of us. If you want a reason to be concerned about Microsoft that's it, even more so than their used game and internet policies.

I've spent most of this article lambasting Microsoft and I hope they do change course (they won't) but I've pre-ordered an Xbox One nonetheless - and I've pre-ordered a PS4 - the fact is, as much as we might begrudge Microsoft and the Xbox One it's going to entertain us and that just might be enough. Sony have done a remarkable job and have changed in some ways more than anyone thought they ever would even a few short years ago (just look at the how the decision to have 8GB RAM in the PS4 came about) but it's far too early to declare Microsoft dead, or even in trouble.

Sony won a flawless victory at E3 but they haven't won the war.

11 June 2013

The Best Trailers of E3 2013

The Order: 1886

Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2

The Elder Scrolls: Online

Bayonetta 2

Batman: Arkham Origins


Metal Gear Solid 5

Halo 5

InFAMOUS: Second Son

Final Fantasy XV

Pokemon: Black and White 2

Mirror's Edge 2

Assassin's Creed 4: Black Flag

Dragon Age 3: Inquisition 

Thief 4

Saints Row 4

And finally...

10 June 2013

Things to Look for at E3 2013: Part Three


In February, Sony announced the PlayStation 4 and last month Microsoft followed suit with the unveiling of the Xbox One. 

If you feel that none of the games so far revealed are enough to warrant splurging out on one, or both, next-gen consoles you might change your mind after the media briefings today.

Let's start with PS4. Every single one of Sony's first party studios is developing for PS4 and the console's lead system architect, Mark Cerny, has said the platform will have the strongest launch lineup of any PlayStation device. We haven't seen anything for PS4 from Naughty Dog or Sony Santa Monica to name two of the most prolific studios under Sony's banner. 

It's also expected that Guerrilla Games will announce The Order: 1886 for the console, what that is, is anyone's guess but it should make for an interesting change from the Killzone series. Second party Quantic Dream - who presented a tech demo at the PS4's announcement event - have also confirmed that they're developing a game for the console but given that Beyond is set to be released in October it's unlikely we'll see it at E3 this year.

Microsoft meanwhile has 15 first party games in development for Xbox One - the highest ever in production internally at the company. Eight of these will be new IP. It's possible we'll get to see more of Remedy's Quantum Break and Forza 5 today but they may decide to show other titles instead. 

According to rumours Microsoft are set to reveal Halo 5, while that may not come true - especially given that Halo 4 was only released last year - it seems likely that the Xbox One will launch with at least one Halo title, possibly Halo 2: Anniversary. There's been a Halo game every year since 2009 and there's no reason to believe that that will change now. 

Fable 4 is also most likely in the works for Xbox One, which might explain why Fable: Anniversary is an Xbox 360 game. There have also been rumours of a Fable MMO. Rare are also set to unveil an "historic" title at E3 which may be Banjo Kazooie or Perfect Dark. We'll find out later today.

Today we'll also get our first look at the PlayStation 4's design, notably absent in February. Hopefully, we'll also learn the size of the PS4's HDD. Both Microsoft and Sony should announce the price and specific release dates for their consoles today. On that front, analysts predict both consoles will cost less than $400 - substantially cheaper than the $600 entry fee for model PS3s. 

The Xbox One and PS4 are likely to launch between late October and the end of November, both companies have said they plan to release their systems this year. 

You can find part one of my pre-E3 posts here and part two here

Things to Look for at E3 2013: Part Two

Current-gen and cross-gen

Just because the PlayStation 4 and the Xbox One are on the way later this year doesn't mean PS3 and Xbox 360 are faced with a drought; far from it, in fact.

Just this week Naughty Dog's seminal title The Last of Us launches and there's plenty more on the way besides. Both Dark Souls 2 and Final Fantasy: Lightning Returns XIII posters have been spotted around Los Angeles over the last week and both are being developed for current consoles. It's likely we'll have more info on both over the coming days.

Microsoft's Phil Spencer has said they'll have an announcement for Xbox 360 "that no one has guessed". Last week, Fable Anniversary was announced, an HD reworking of Fable: The Lost Chapters. It's not quite clear why Microsoft decided to mark the game's ninth anniversary rather than its tenth next year but even so, it's something to look forward to if you're not planning on upgrading right away to a new system.

Later this year Quantic Dream's Beyond: Two Souls will also be hitting PS3 and Sony Japan Studios' Rain and Puppeteer are headed to the platform as well. That's not to mention a little racing title you might have heard of - Gran Turismo 6.

We know Destiny gameplay will be revealed at Sony's press conference for the very first time and Microsoft's media briefing will likely included Respawn's TitanFall, which is coming to Xbox 360 as well as Xbox One.

Diablo III is hitting PS3 and Xbox 360 this August but if that's not to your taste Ubisoft's biggest titles, Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag and Watch_Dogs are also hitting both current and next-gen.

Sports fans can look forward to FIFA 14, PES 14 (which is only coming to current systems) in addition to the usual cast of genre titles.

Battlefield 4, Call of Duty: Ghosts and Batman: Arkham Origins are being developed for current platforms as well.

There's a lot still in the pipeline for existing consoles and these are just a few of them. Even if the E3 media briefings focus on the next-gen versions of these games PS3 and Xbox 360 will still have plenty of games to look forward to over the coming year.

You can find part one of my E3 posts here.

09 June 2013

Things to Look Out for at E3 2013: Part One

Price cuts, price cuts, price cuts.

It's still a few months until the PlayStation 4 and the Xbox One are launched and with sales of current systems stalling Sony and Microsoft need something to help bring in the cash in the meantime. The majority of PlayStation 2 sales occurred after the standard price dropped below $250 and while there might not be a repeat of that trend this time round dropping the price of the PS3 would likely spur at least some sales.

Both Wedbush Securities' Michael Pachter and Sterne Agee's Arvind Bhatia have speculated that the price of the PS4 at launch will be less than $400; if Sony announce such a price on Monday (even if it's only $399.99) there'll be added incentive to drop the price of the PS3, and quickly.

Past Sony price cuts have typically been met with a response from Microsoft although the Xbox press conference comes first so this time it could very well be the other way round. Regardless, expect reductions in the price of current generation consoles no later than gamescom in August.

The PlayStation Vita has, as we all know, consistently struggled and while the news that PS4 remote play on the portable is compulsory for all but a few select PS Eye based titles is welcome it probably won't be enough to encourage sales. A price cut might.

We know Killzone: Mercenary, Freedom Wars, Tearaway and more are coming to the system. While these will all most likely be fantastic games in their own right it would be an awful shame if they failed at retail because of the Vita's limited install base. By dropping the price, Sony might at least do enough that while those games won't perform as well as they should they'll nonetheless have a chance.

Of course, there's also Nintendo's platforms to consider. The 3DS certainly disappointed in sales terms upon initial release and the quick introduction of a lower price helped turn around the floundering platform, proving that while cost reductions aren't a surefire way to success they certainly can help boost a platform.

Since then the 3DS has gone on to be a roaring success however, the Wii U has failed to meet expectations consistently selling poorly and as bad as the consoles performance in North America has been Nintendo has had an even worse time in Europe which has fallen below Japan to become the company's most challenging territory.

While Nintendo of America is setting up demo stands in Best Buys across the country this week Nintendo of Europe has no such plans - in part because there are no pan-European game retailers - there's also extremely limited marketing of the console in the region. If Nintendo hope to revive their console's fortunes they'll almost certainly need more than a stellar first party lineup; they need a price cut and they need to start marketing and marketing on a massive scale.

Price cuts are usually implemented quickly and retailer often introduce them before they're officially implemented; if the big three announce such measures at their press conferences, or at the E3 Nintendo Direct, you should expect them to come in before the end of the week.

Not all of these consoles will see their price reduced, perhaps none of them will, but it makes sense for each of the big three to do so. We'll find out if they do over the coming days.

22 May 2013

The Xbox One Reveal: What Were Microsoft Thinking?

It was 29 minutes before Microsoft showed off a single game at the Xbox One's reveal. 29 minutes. Even then, most of the games that followed had pre-rendered trailers. Of course Microsoft's biggest competition isn't Sony, they're small fry. The Xbox One was built to tackle Google and Apple.

When Nintendo announced the Wii U there was confusion, even among the industry insiders and games media at the reveal, as to whether it was actually a console or just a controller. The core game market have long since had this matter settled and, regrettably for Nintendo, it seems most of that market have said no thank you. With the Xbox One Microsoft haven't delivered a console, they've delivered a device that can also play games.

The reason people watch live streams of game system unveilings isn't because they want a new way to control television. People stayed up late or woke up early depending on what parts of the world they live in. When Sony announced the PS4 it was 01:00 in Europe and yet many gamers from that region watched nonetheless and were rewarded by games. Absolutely, Sony's event was flawed, yet it did what it needed to.

We know there will be plenty of services for PS4 but Sony knew that's not what the people watching were interested in.

Within moments of the Xbox One's reveal the disparity between the two companies was obvious. Sony created a game console that also has services. In the battle for the living room this may ultimately cost them but the other possibility is that Microsoft's focus on entertainment and services may alienate the core market. Only time will answer that.

Yet there is already a problem in Microsoft's TV-centric approach. TV is in trouble. As GamesIndustry notes "the business model on which television has based - especially in the United States - itself is creaking at the seams. With the decline in the value of advertising everything in that industry now boils down to the cable subscription model.

"A whole generation of consumers has bowed out of the legitimate model entirely. Despite the efforts of media firms to crack down on piracy of TV shows, the tide has not been stemmed in the slightest."

Yes, Xbox One will have Netflix and Hulu and all the others but so does every other device you know. Microsoft doesn't want a place in your living room, it wants to dominate your living room. Given the problems faced by the TV industry it will be fascinating to see if it can. The best indication of Microsoft's success, or failure, will likely be the response of Apple and Google. If they don't react at all, then Xbox One has failed as least in terms of Microsoft's ambitions.

Piracy with television is one thing but there's another issue with the Xbox One. It needs to go online at least once a day. Believe it or not, in 2013 there are people who do not have solid internet connections. There are even people who do not have internet. The system's online requirements will substantively reduce the Xbox One's appeal to those people and encourage others to develop workarounds.

While the propect of paying a fee, possibly a full $60 dollar fee, for a second hand title so that we have "permission to play" may also come to haunt Xbox One. Larry 'Major Nelson' Hryb did issue a message on pre-owned yet it didn't really clarify anything. The liklihood is that Microsoft has bad news on that front and they would have been better avoiding the subject altogether, at least until after E3.

We know the PS4 does not require an internet connection though Sony hasn't said what the situation with pre-owned games will be, only that they'll do "the right thing." What that is, is anyone's guess.

Further limiting sales may be the fact that it seems a game will be tied to one system, or certainly one account. Meaning lending your game to a friend is a thing of the past but even within the same household have one copy of game for two Xbox One systems isn't going to work. Yes, both consoles could use the one account but how many 14 year olds are going to want to use the same account as one of their parents?

Of course, Microsoft have many games still to be announced. We were told last night that 15 games are in the works within Microsoft, more than at any time in their history and eight of them will be new IPs. We also know that Sony has every single one of its first party studios working on PS4 games and the system's lead architect, Mark Cerny, has said the system will have the strongest launch lineup of any PlayStation console.

Many of these games will be announced at E3 in a few weeks time and it's understandable that Microsoft chose to keep content back for their media briefing. It was just the wrong content. Microsoft should have followed Sony's lead with their 'game console' and shown us what they had in that regard. The services weren't important, they could have waited.

Last night Microsoft had women on stage to talk about their games, Sony did not at the PlayStation 2013 event. Yet there is a dissonance here, Sony's games despite being revealed exclusively by men spoke to far wider audience than what Microsoft showed off last night.

There was no mention of indies and the Xbox One's unveiling while Sony had The Witness. There were no family games like Knack and Media Molecule's title. There were no RPGs like Diablo III. Microsoft did their utmost to maintain their reputation as the 'bro' console. By no means does this imply that women can't or don't like the few games Microsoft did show off, far from it, but Sony had a far broader range of genres.

Of course, we won't have a clear picture of what the two consoles will offer until E3, all we can do is look at what the systems already have.

Another issue is the US-centric nature of the reveal and Microsoft's thinking generally. Many of the entertainment options announced will likely never see the light of day in other territories and the NFL partnership is meaningless in most of the world. In addition, the living rooms Microsoft likes to show off are broad and spacious. In Europe and Japan that simply doesn't ring true for many people and with Kinect usage mandatory Microsoft needs to have significantly decreased the amount of space the sensor requires to function properly in those regions.

We know some things about Xbox One that we don't know about PS4. First and foremost, what the console looks like (a bulky VCR player). Microsoft also revealed that size of the platform's HDD will 500GB (which cannot be removed by users and seems small given that all games must be installed), Sony have only said that the PS4's storage will be substantial. The Xbox One will not be backwards compatible, neither will the PS4, but Sony do plan to bring their past titles to the console eventually through Gaikai. Microsoft do not appear to have any such plans.

Microsoft gave their core market plenty to worry about last night, as well as analysts and investors and their choatic and contradictory messages on the system's pre-owned and connected features (best summed up here by MCV) have done to abete the negative perceptions built up surrounding the console before it was announced. Both companies must have a strong E3, it's that simple, they both need it but as it stands Microsoft have more work to do to repair the damage - largely self-inflicted - that has been brought on their platform.

Xbox One promised to be "innovative" and "groundbraking". It wasn't, at least not from what we were shown last night. Gamasutra's Leigh Alexander went so far as to call it a "desparate prayer for time."

Will the console market survive? I don't know, nobody does. It will certainly be smaller and it's up to Sony and Microsoft to do their utmost to ensure it doesn't shrink too much. The years ahead will be fascinating and that's not necessarily a good thing.

21 May 2013

The Xbox Reveal Drinking Game

Courtesy of The Drunken Moogle
As you all know Microsoft are set to announce the next chapter of Xbox at a special event at their Redmond Headquarters at 18:00 BST (10:00 PDT).

If game journalism wasn't based on pageviews all those 'Everything we Know about the Next Xbox' articles would instead be 'We Don't Actually Know Anything About the Next Xbox, No One Outside Microsoft Does'. However, we can make some educated or at least fun guesses.

The Rules:

A Kinect game is revealed after Microsoft promise a quality exclusive: One shot.

A musical performance that's neither necessary or particularly enjoyable: One shot for every two minutes it lasts; two shots for every two minutes if said performance is by Usher.

Call of Duty: Ghosts, Battlefield 4 and FIFA 14 aren't actually next-gen exclusives but they talk about them like they are: One shot but if it's because of exclusive DLC take an additional shot, if it's because of timed exclusive DLC take two additional shots.

Rare has a new game: If it's a Kinect game take one shot. If it's an actual game down two shots. If it's Banjo Threeie just finish the bottle.

A Fable game is announced: If it's a 'proper' Fable take a shot. If it's a Kinect Fable take two. If it's a Fable MMO take four.

A non-exclusive game is made out to be an exclusive because of its Kinect features: Take two shots.

Xbox officially axes Microsoft Points: Take two shots.

Netflix, YouTube, Hulu, Twitter, Facebook, Spotify or any social media or content streaming service is revealed for the console: Take a shot for each.

The system's name is revealed: If Xbox 720 one shot, if Xbox Gold, Xbox Fusion or Xbox Infinite/Infinity take two shots. If they just call if Xbox take three.

Someone tries to use the new Kinect to show you the sole of their avatar's shoe: Take a shot.

Dubstep at any point: Take a shot.

A new IP that isn't a shooter: Three shots.

A new IP that's either a shooter or a racer: Take a shot.

Kids who were presumably abducted from their parents and forced to look like they're enjoying themselves while using Kinect: Two shots.

Any of these games are announced: Halo 5, Halo 2 Anniversary, a new Gears of War, Project Gotham Racing 5, Forza 5, Kinectimals 2, Ryse, Respawn's first game take a shot for each.

A Microsoft employee says any of the following: "Cutting edge technology", "Enhanced entertainment experience" (take one shot, two if they add "in your living room"), "improved/next generation of Achievements", "A unique experience only on Xbox/Kinect", More connected than ever before", "This holiday season/Holiday 2013" take a shot.

The following tech specs are revealed: Blu-ray drive, 1TB HDD, 8GB of RAM, Kinect 2.0, Illumiroom support, Smartglass integration, two GPUs, no backwards compatibility, no used games, always online take two shots per feature.

That's it!

Congratulations if you've made it this far without serious liver failure! If you're looking for some special Xbox themed drinks for the occasion try The Drunken Moogle's Halo beverages

04 May 2013

Where are the Next-Gen 'Wow' Games?

In 2001 Halo: Combat Evolved was released to coincide with the launch of the first Xbox. Though it has been said many times the value of that game to Microsoft's first console cannot be understated, indeed, it's entirely feasible to argue that without Halo there never would have been an Xbox 360.

The Xbox 360 meanwhile came with Gears of War. Another genre defining title which guaranteed the success of the console at an early stage. Microsoft have yet to announce their successor to the 360 but when they do later this month, will there be another 'wow' game?

So far we know Call of Duty: Ghosts is headed for the platform and there are reports that Respawn's untitled shooter will be a connected sci-fi experience which may be exclusive to the next Xbox console. Bar the exclusivity, that sounds a lot like Bungie's Destiny. Both games will no doubt be solid, quite likely even exceptional shooters, but will either of them kickfire the new consoles like Halo and Gears? Only time can answer that.

While Xbox has in the past being able to place a not-insignificant degree of its success on those early titles it's proven to be opposite with Sony's consoles, at least to a degree. Some of the finest games of the PlayStation 2 era came in the dying days of that console, titles such as Shadow of the Colossus. Indeed, God of War 2 was released after the PlayStation 3. I've always wondered, had that game been delayed and moved to PS3 whether the system might have performed better in the early days.

This generation is looking to be no different. It's often said that the company which 'loses' the console war ultimately has the best console and the PS3 certainly has some spectacular games. This year The Last of Us and Beyond: Two Souls will be hitting the system and both look to be superb additions to the console's roster. There are also novel titles which push the conventional boundaries of gaming like Rain and Puppeteer.

But looking ahead to the future, what is there that truly stands out? The game's most people are excited about this coming are largely either current gen or cross-gen. Grand Theft Auto V, current gen (for the moment at least). Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flags, cross-gen. Watch_Dogs, cross-gen. Destiny, cross-gen. Call of Duty: Ghosts, cross-gen.

We know the PS4 has InFAMOUS Seconds Son, Killzone: Shadow Fall, Drive Club and Knack as exclusive titles. Between E3, gamescom and the Tokyo Game Show more should be revealed. Every first party Sony studio is developing for PS4 as well as a number of second gen studios such as Quantic Dream.

This means that the games from Sony Santa Monica and the jewel in Sony's first party crown, Naughty Dog, have yet to reveal what they're working on. We also know Guerrilla is working on a new IP, possibly The Order 1886. While the games showcased at the PlayStation 2013 event in february were impressive in their own way and will likely be excellent games they all appear, from what we've seen, to be advancements of their genres rather than revolutions of them.

In other words, next-gen is so far missing its Halo. Of course, we have the Xbox Reveal and what's bound to be one of the most exciting E3s in years (even without a Nintendo press conference) as well as a host of other industry events throughout the year. Hopefully, one of those occasions will see a game that will blow everyone away. A game that may very well sell a console almost by itself.

Mark Cerny has said the PS4 will have the strongest launch line up of any PlayStation console and while Microsoft have fewer first parties than Sony they no doubt have some surprises up their sleeves, perhaps even Respawn's game.

As more titles are revealed for next generation consoles hopefully at least one of them will look to redefine the way we play next-gen and beyond.

21 April 2013

Looking Back at Jak and Daxter

This week Sony announced that Naughty Dog's Jak and Daxter Trilogy was headed to PS Vita. This collection has already been released on PS3 and represents a new opportunity for fans old and new to acquaint (or reacquaint) with Jak and his furry sidekick.

But why should you? The Jak and Daxter series pushed boundaries in some respects without a single loading screen in the entire trilogy, that's impressive even by today's standards but beyond mere technical feats Jak's story told an accomplished and cohesive story in which the roots of Uncharted's compelling narrative can be derived.

Just as Nathan Drake's adventures were a clear step up from those of Jak so too was Naughty Dog's PS2 franchise a huge leap forward from Crash Bandicoot. The Precursor Legacy, the first Jak game, afforded players a remarkable platformer that holds up well - in gameplay terms if not necessarily graphically - to this day.

The Precursor Legacy is in some respects the purest of the Jak and Daxter Trilogy in that it is most rooted within a single genre, third person shooting and racing played a limited part in Legacy and would go to provide a much greater role in Jak 2: Renegade and Jak 3, somewhat diluting the platforming sections.

In this regard Precursor Legacy is in some respects a more full experience by focusing most intently on one element of gameplay. This is not to dish the racing and shooting of the later games but certainly the action, and Jak's arsenal, could never quite match up to the fluid combat of the Ratchet and Clank series.

Jak 2 meanwhile very much fit into the trilogy mantra of being the darker second act, The Empire Strikes Back of the series if you will. The formerly mute Jak found a voice and with it the corrupt and downtrodden Haven City.

Yet for all the races through the Stadium and the city's streets (the one against Errol I found particularly grating) there were also moments of pure gaming magic. The Mountain Temple proved a particular highlight while the game made great strides in recasting the Lurkers, the evil henchmen of Precursor Legacy, as victims of the war against the Metal Heads and human hostility.

The closing act of the trilogy, unsurprisingly named Jak 3, saw the pointy-eared hero blamed for unleashing the forces attacking Haven City and threatening to overwhelm it. Jak's exile brought with it some fine racing action and with it the surprising revelation of precisely what the Precursors were.

As Naughty Dog prepare to release their next IP, The Last of Us, in June you couldn't go far wrong by picking up the series they made for the PS2 which remains one of the best gaming trilogies ever made to see where they've come from (or, for that matter, their Crash Bandicoot game either). In time, we may get Jak 4 but until we do the Jak and Daxter Trilogy isn't a bad fallback.

Why Paid Multiplayer Services Aren't Going Anywhere

There have been several articles over the years arguing that PlayStation Plus is a better service than Xbox Live, such an opinion of course is entirely subjective (though there are often viable objective arguments to back up that assertion). Of course, PlayStation Network has a tendency towards much longer service downtime and everyone remembers the notorious hack of the system two years ago which denied PS3 owners the opportunity for multiplayer gaming for a month.

For PlayStation Network users this was a great inconvenience tempered somewhat by the fact the service is free, for PlayStation Plus users it was another matter. It's events like this, as well as the difficulty faced by many Xbox Live users logging in several weeks ago, which show we are not quite ready for always online consoles.

However, a great many people pay Microsoft for the privilege of playing games online and many people also pay for PlayStation Plus which, while not required for online play, nonetheless comes with a host of subscriber only benefits.

This week Microsoft released a raft of figures concerning their console and its online platform. 77 million Xbox 360s have been sold to date and of those 46 million are Xbox Live subscribers, or roughly 60% market penetration. If all of those Xbox Live accounts were Gold that would equal $256 million in annual revenues, if even half that number were Free and the other half Gold it would still net Microsoft $128 million a year.

To put that another way, Microsoft would need to sell an additional five million consoles annually to match what they would lose if they didn't charge for Gold at the $256 million figure or two and a half million at the $128 million level.

Inevitably Sony must be looking at these figures and calculating how much they're losing out on. The PlayStation maker has never revealed the number of PlayStation Plus subscribers but they have revealed that there are over 100 million PlayStation Network accounts.

A large part of this can be contributed to the simple fact that the service is free. Were Sony to charge for PSN next-gen they would likely lose a fair chunk of those accounts, the balance to be determined therefore is would the additional revenue from subscriptions outweigh the potential impact on game and console sales?

Free multiplayer is one of the PS3's greatest strength and while it might seem foolhardy to throw that advantage away the fact is millions of people happily (or not so happily as the case may be) pay Microsoft for that very thing each month.

In all likelihood, I suspect, Sony will keep multiplayer free for PS4 but so radically expand the scope of PlayStation Plus that the standard PSN becomes utterly limited in comparison both to Plus and Live. The other option is tiered services, with additional features the more you paid, quite how many tiers might be too many and how much for a subscription might be too much will only be determined by gamers' wallets.

The reality is, Xbox Live fees are not going anywhere and Sony would be mad not to at least consider the possibility. They've said PlayStation Plus will feature prominently on PS4, it remains to be seen just how prominently.

20 April 2013

Games Have Come a Very Long Way

In 1947 Thomas T. Goldsmith and Estle Ray Mann developed the very first recognisable arcade videogame, a year later they received the very first patent for a game.

Their title, based on cathode ray tube technology, was a missile simulator inspired by the events of World War II. In other words, the first game ever developed was a war game. Jump ahead to 1962 and the students of MIT came together to produce earliest multiplayer game, Spacewar!

As the name suggests Spacewar! saw players assume control of a spaceship and lobbed missiles at each other.

We've come a long way since those days. Donkey Kong (1981) cost $100,000, Star Wars: The Old Republic (2011) came in at $200 million. Yet as the cost of game development has exploded so too has the size and scope of the industry.

In 1996 the US videogame market was worth about $2.9 billion, by 2012 that same market had a value of $14.8 billion. But of course, it's not the same market at all. 75% of households play games, 25% of gamers are over the age of 50, 47% of gamers are female and the average age of a gamer is 35.

None of those figures would have conceivable when Goldsmith and Mann got to work, or for that matter, in 1995 when Sony launched the first PlayStation in the West and heralded the arrival of 3D gaming (as opposed to 3D games).

Even the perception of games has been altered enormously in that time. While Sony were the first to radically expand the perception of what a gamer could be, largely with the help of accomplished marketing (though they would no doubt argue the games they developed helped), Nintendo carried that mantle forward by creating what was, for better or worse, something revolutionary with the Wii.

Indeed, the Wii's codename was Nintendo Revolution, and as we all know it got people who had never gamed before to pick a Wii Mote and play. That market has largely migrated to mobile and tablets of course, but that doesn't mean they aren't gamers anymore.

This generation of consoles has seen the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 become entertainment hubs as much as gaming devices with both consoles used more for movies, TV or music than games. In fact PS3 is the world's most used device for Netflix. When Sony placed a CD-Rom in the PS One they took a risk and it payed off immensely, the same when it came to the PS2's DVD player - and whatever else you might say about PS3, it's a hell of a Blu-ray player - this will continue next-gen and expand, a radical leap from a time when a game system could do was play games.

In 2004 Leonardo DiCaprio met with Quantic Dream's president Guillaume de Fondaumiere concerning the possibility of DiCaprio appearing in a game.

"He made us realise that from an image perspective, this wasn't going to work," de Fondaumiere revealed this week. However, Quantic Dream's next game, Beyond: Two Souls, stars Willem Dafoe and Ellen Page - who appeared alongside DiCaprio in Inception - while LA Noire's lead, Cole Phelps, was voiced by Mad Men's Aaron Staton.

There are many more examples. 

In every way games have evolved since 1947, they're art. Yes, the very first game was a war title, but each time a politician or a media pundit voices their angst at the violence sometimes found in games remember there are games like Papo & Yo, Journey, Beyond. The important thing is, music and movies had these arguments around them before, and each time the new form of media won out over the naysayers.

We've come a long way and despite the difficulties currently gripping much of the industry the only way is up.

14 April 2013

Remembering Ensemble Studios

Age of Empires II HD was launched on Steam last week having originally being released in 1999 including the Conquerors Expansion, released in 2000.

It was one of the earliest, perhaps the very first, real time strategy game I played and the series sold over 15 million copies before Age of Empires III was released. For a 14 year old game it holds up well, granted what were minor annoyances at the time have been aggravated by time.

Limited AI which, for example, allows units to be created behind a barracks (sometimes rendering them inaccessible) or making a villager stand still for several seconds for no obvious reason.

The most vexing issue, to me at least, are the farms and the need to replenish them regularly. Granted, you can set this to be auto-executed at a mill but it consumes valuable resources and time nevertheless. While the map editor does not seem to permit players to place resources (besides trees for wood) on the map - perhaps I'm merely missing the option to do so but it seems a rather odd omission. 

Regardless I've found it to be of great interest from the perspective of revisiting a classic game and seeing how, in general terms, it holds up quite well.

One of the great aspects of the game was the variety of campaigns offered. The conquests of Attila the Hun, the reclamation of Moorish Spain by El Cid, the Hundred Years War and the legend of Joan of Arc and more.

This range of gameplay led to less of a narrative than the one afforded in Age of Mythology, in part because it was grounded in historical events, in part because the story of these battles were told largely through the panels of writing with associated voice-overs rather than cutscenes.

Still, there aren't many games that grant such a broad range of story based missions even if, perhaps, the campaign - based far more on legend than history - in Age of Mythology provided for a more diverse game.

And in Age of Mythology there would certainly be interest in a HD makeover, if not a full blown sequel (the latter being significantly less likely). That game's setting, in a world with Atlantis and vengeful gods afforded players the chance to pitch minotaurs against sphinxes; not something a genre, usually founded very much in reality, often permits.

In lieu of Ensemble's games, there are of course a great many noteworthy alternatives. Total War, Civilization, Crusader Kings and Europa Universalis to name the principal titles which come to mind. Yet Ensemble's were very much suited to the task, even if age has tarnished their performance or appeal.

In 2009, Ensemble Studios was shuttered mere days after the release of Halo Wars for Xbox 360. The team were aware in advance that Wars would be their last game and that must have made development all the more difficult a prospect. Still, it was an accomplished title by the standards of the genre, more so given consoles are not traditionally RTS friendly.

Wars remains one of the finest games of its type on console and Age of Empires II HD shows why Ensemble were one of the finest RTS makers despite the wear and tear which would be apparent in virtually any 14 year old game - even with a glossy graphics overhaul.

At least until Rome 2: Total War or Civilization V: Brave New World launches I'll be re-conquering Medieval Europe in AoE 2 HD for some to time to come - unless that Age of Mythology HD remakes lands... 

For those intrigued in some history of the internet variety, interestingly enough, the game's website is still online. (The HD remake's website is here.)

Five Places Fallout Could Go

5. Anchorage - The US-Chinese War of 2076/2077 was partially explored in the Operation Anchorage DLC for Fallout 3 but how about a full Fallout game set in the state of Alaska centuries after the bombs dropped? Sure, Alaska wouldn't have been in the direct line of fire but that just make it all the more interesting.

How has the frozen tundra evolved? How have the wolves and bears mutated? What of across the border in Canada? A country invaded by the US in the Fallout timeline and likely therefore a target to some degree for the Chinese.

4. London - A decimated London was shown off in Mass Effect 3 but what about a Fallout twist? In Fallout 3 Alistair Tenpenny emigrates from the UK to the Capital Wasteland. Even if he saw an opportunity for Tenpenny Tower before he moved you'd have to wonder just how bad Western Europe must be in the Fallout universe to warrant a move to an area with Enclave forces and deathclaws.

There's also Moriarty whose dreadfully fake Irish accent would also seem to suggest there was some cause to cross the highly irradiated pond. It might also shine more light on the European Commonwealth, Fallout's version of the European Union - though one in possession of a united military force which was utilised in the Resource Wars.

3. New York - So good, they nuked it twice. Or at the very least it would likely be a high priority target for the Chinese. New York is, of course, home to the UN headquarters which we're told was transformed into a toy store after the UN was dismantled in 2052.

Another interesting aspect of setting a future game in New York is the city's large Chinese population. We saw the internment camps for Chinese citizens in Point Lookout but in such an integrated city as New York how were their lives affected by the growing hostilities between the US and China? It's also likely there would Chinese infiltrators and propaganda outlets such as the Mama Dolce factory in Fallout 3.

2. Boston - Home of the Commonwealth and rumoured to be the setting of the next Fallout Boston might allow for a more radical break from the series than what has come before. The retro-future tech of other Fallout games might be replaced with the advanced cybernetics and other technologies hinted at in the Harkness missions of Fallout 3.

Obviously if Bethesda choose to go down this route they would need to be careful not to anger fans by producing too radical a departure from series' norms but that doesn't mean there isn't scope for innovation.

The Commonwealth's practice of keeping android slaves would also open up a game set in this region to great moral implications and would almost certainly prove pivotal to the game's core story.

1. Beijing - The least likely option on this list but also perhaps the most interesting. Fallout has shown us how America prepared for the war; the Vaults, the internment camps, Liberty Prime and the propaganda. But what of the Chinese, what did they do when nuclear conflict seemed inevitable?

What sparked their decision to invade Alaska?

A Fallout title set in Beijing would show us what the Asian nation was up to before the war as well as granting us a look at their society. Were they as atom-obsessed as the Americans are made out to be? Did they attack America using conventional means specifically because they wanted to avoid a nuclear holocaust?  

All of these options could be explored in a Fallout located in the Oriental city.

12 April 2013

The Costs of AAA Games Development

Today cloud computing firm ProfitBricks released an info-graphic detailing the costs of making games, the pitfalls and benefits of cloud gaming and what information to take into account when selecting the correct publisher model for your game.

Yet the really interesting information, at least to me, is the look at the money involved in game development and where that money goes during the cost of development.

The chart highlights six games and compares the risk (the finances dedicated to the project) and the reward (the number of unit sales).

Stretching from 1981's Donkey Kong all the way up to 2011's Star Wars: The Old Republic, the information reveals the staggering increase in costs along the way. Donkey Kong sold a mere 1.13 million copies yet it only cost $100,000 to develop or, adjusted for inflation, $356,000.

By comparison, The Old Republic, the most expensive game in history, had a cost of $200,000,000 - excluding marketing. That game sold 2.56 million copies and clearly represents a breathtaking increase in terms of the money invested with only a minimal (just over double) increase in unit sales.

Of course this is in relation solely to those two games. As another example, it highlights Grand Theft Auto IV which came in at $100,000,000. However, it sold 20.63 million copies.

Clearly, from that information alone, AAA games development relies on more than capital invested to ensure success. This can also likely be reflected by the series of closures which have riddled the industry lately.

Redundancies at EA, the closure of LucasArts, the collapse of THQ. The resignation of John Riccitiello and Yoichi Wada. The co-founder of BioWare saying the industry is facing into "a sick market for old-school gaming."

These are just some of recent major occurrences. The list goes on.

Part of this contraction is natural, the fact is the industry probably did grow too large between 2005 and 2011/12. We're now seeing it contract back to more manageable proportions, which, naturally, is of no comfort to those directly effected. As a sizable chunk of the market moves from traditional gaming devices to other platforms we should perhaps see more of the same to follow.

And indeed, it seems highly unlikely that next generation consoles will match the success of current systems. Which is not to say they cannot be successes in their own right, certainly, for now at least, there's significant buzz building around the PS4 - whether this interest translates into sales remains to be seen.

Both Ubisoft Montreal CEO Yannis Mallat and Ubisoft Toronto President Jade Raymond have said they expect the AAA market to contract, perhaps to 8-10 core titles a year. While this may not seem like much it leaves enormous scope for excellent indie and middle tier titles. In the case of those two studios, with 2,700 employees between them, it seems there's at least some life in top of the range development - unless, perhaps, Assassin's Creed 4 tanks which seems an unlikely prospect.

The core problem is the cost of game development. With each successive generation of platforms the price of game making rises. The forthcoming console era will be no different even if costs are tempered somewhat by the PS4's and Xbox 720's PC-like system architectures.

In the ProfitBricks info-graphic the breakdown of how resources are divided in the making of a $10,000,000 game are laid out. Though this would be a very modest price for console releases these days it's likely not too different with higher cost games.

55% of the money is contributed to marketing, publisher fees, console licensing and manufacturing copies of the title. The remaining 45% goes on actual game development.

With $100,000,000 games the ratio likely leans more heavily towards marketing even as production cots increase. Imagine what could be done if all 100% was dedicated to development? (Not that it's feasible for AAA development of course.)

Game costs will continue to rise and they may very well come with associated increases in prices charged to consumers. We may well see fewer top-tier games going forward but throwing money into development doesn't always lead to success at retail.