Any nerd who’s seen Star Trek knows that no one bothers to use a keyboard (despite being all over the Enterprise anyway) when they want to send an email or correspond with sexy single Klingons in their area. As technology has moved forward into the 24th century, the preferred method of human-computer interface is shouting into thin air and totally expecting something to come of it.
Here in the backwaters of the 21st century, we’re still pecking out text messages on our tiny smartphones like cavepeople. We can’t even send dick pics without some manual intervention (allusion intentional). The use of voice commands isn’t quite there yet for controlling our devices, but things do seem to be trending in that direction. We can commune with Siri or settle in with OK Google or interact with Cortana, sadly without the sexy blue hologram. Our efforts sometimes pay off, but more often than not I expect that voice interaction with our tech is accidentally ordering 20 lobsters for shipment to Mozambique than it is setting a reminder to pick up a loaf of bread on the way home from work.
Amazon — all hail Amazon — continues to find ways to shoehorn itself into our lives with the Echo line of voice (and now video) enabled devices. Of course, Amazon — all hail Amazon — wants us to use their services for everything: to buy books, to buy clothing, toys, electronics, movies, music, and (in the three metro places where they offer it) groceries. It’s stupidly convenient to get a shipment from Amazon like it ain’t no thing: Prime shipping with One Click ordering means we might not even realize that we ordered something until it arrives on our doorstep. The Echo is Amazon’s — all hail Amazon — attempt to bring a little Star Trek into our lives.
The flagship Echo is a $180USD tower that comes with a built-in speaker, but for those on a budget there’s the Echo Dot, a smaller puck sized device sans speaker that can be had for as low as $35USD. These deco-enabled devices can sit on the sidelines until someone randomly says “Alexa” — one of the device’s activation words — too loudly, at which point the device springs to action in the way you wish your S.O. would: waiting patiently to listen to anything you want to tell it. You can tell the Echo to put a shopping item on a list, play songs from Pandora, Spotify, or (of course) Amazon Music, get a weather forecast, control your smart home, tell you a joke, or do something else enabled through one of the myriad of “skills” you can activate on your account like it was downloading from The Matrix.
Does that sound awesome to you? Possibly not. Unlike the 24th century where society has evolved to a point where voice interface is the prevalent and most convenient way to work with technology in their fast paced environment, we’re still not quite at the point where shouting at the aether is more efficient or more accurate than any other method we have at our disposal. I can OK Google a timer as quickly as I can get the Echo to start one. I can open an app on my phone and add an item to a shopping list as fast as I can by ordering the Echo to do the same. I can also play my songs from my tablet through my Bluetooth speakers just as easily as I could through the Echo, with the added bonus of being able to take the music with me as I move through the house or to plug in some earbuds if I want some privacy.
The Echo technology is getting there, though. This morning I found that the new “Drop In” functionality had been enabled on my devices (I have three Echo Dots, one on each floor of my house). This feature allows my family and me to use the Echo as an intercom system, a feature that was forehead-smackingly absent from the original product. At $35 each, it’s easy to buy multiple Dots for whenever and wherever you feel the need to talk to someone elsewhere in the house without shouting, and being able to talk to another Dot or Echo on your network seems like a feature worth the price of admission. I tried it out with my wife this morning, communicating from the kitchen to the bedroom, and aside from the acoustics reaching me through good old vibrating air a few seconds before the Dot transmitted the same, it worked flawlessly. Of course, this is only good for when you have multiple Echo devices throughout your home or want to use the smartphone app to remotely intercom with someone at home, or want to monitor what’s going on in your house or apartment through the new Echo Show, which is the realization of the dreams of many futurists from the 1990’s who wanted a viable video phone in their lifetime.
Like dick pics
The Echo is, at best, a magnetic notepad with tethered pen that you can stick to your fridge so you don’t have to root around in a junk drawer for the same when you need to make a list or leave a note, but at $35 it improves on that notepad in a technology-forward way for those who are into that. Considering we only have about a decade until Amazon — all hail Amazon — has at least five different vectors into each of our lives, I can only expect the technology to get better and possibly more useful. Right now, though, it’s a fun novelty that can be made to fit into a niche in our lives that gives us a “summer stock” vision of a Star Trek future.
Footnote: I know a lot of people are going to scrunch up their faces and wonder why I didn’t address things like privacy concerns or the possibility of cyber attacks turning the devices against us. I am not an analyst, despite the fact that I have a blog and write a whole lot of words without saying a damn thing worth noting. There are people who are much better at talking about these things than I am — take Mr. Koster’s post above as an example.
The Echo — and the Internet, and the things on the Internet — will always only be as safe as the infrastructure that supports them, and as secure as the people and business that support that infrastructure are willing and able to make them. As a consumer, my job isn’t to harden my node against any and all attacks, because there’s only so much I can do at what they refer to as “the last mile”; instead, I need to decide where to place my trust, if I am placing any trust at all, among those who control the lion’s share of pathways and services that are available to me. This is not a question of tech, but a question we all have to face, every day, as a species. Who we trust and how much we trust them has always been a part of the human condition. We need to trust our banks, our employers and employees, our neighbors, our families, and even total strangers. We need to decide who to trust with our money and our health and our futures every single day, tech or no tech. Technology is neutral; the Echo itself isn’t maliciously haunting you out of the box.
So it’s really up to the individual how far each of us wants to allow tech into our lives. We can arm ourselves with truth — not speculation, or even panicked what-if’s — and then…we have to decide who among those upstream of us deserve our trust. Considering Amazon knows as much about me as any other service I use these days, and chances are they know just about as much about you, then I think the Echo is about as safe as the PCs, consoles, tablets, and smartphones that we have come to rely on.
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Secret World Legends
Kelly “Keliel” Olivar found her way over to SWL.
Secret World Legends is (almost literally) an answer to a question nobody asked: what if instead of fixing issues in a standing game, the developers copied and pasted that game, changed a bunch of stuff (but left other stuff alone) and released it as a whole new game? The existing game — the one people have been playing for years and have a history with, but which wasn’t doing as well as it undoubtedly should have — would be placed in “maintenance mode”, meaning no more new features and only updates when critical. Add to that the fact that no previous progress would carry over, so everyone — everyone — starts fresh, both people new to the franchise and those who have played since launch.
Does that sound like a good idea to you? On the surface, no. No, it does not. Yet this is what Funcom decided that The Secret World needed in order to survive and move forward. The reasons are unfortunately their own, buried behind the typical marketing platitudes we get from game companies that are coy about their strategies. Even so, the anticipation for the head start for SWL was high in my timelines. People had been waiting all of last week for notification that they could download the new client, create and migrate some of their TSW progress to the new game, and log in ahead of this week’s release. On Friday, the head start began and went pretty OK as far as I could tell. On Saturday, things were also humming along quite nicely. Sunday, however, the bill came due: there was an exploit which allowed players to generate millions of units of what SWL uses for cash-bought currency. Funcom kept the game offline for most of the day in order to fix it, which raised hackles; on one hand, fuck those who used the exploit and ruined it for the rest of us, but on the other hand, the fact that people were anxious to log in a play was a Good Sign.
I’m not going to enumerate all of the changes SWL introduces to TSW because I’m not entirely aware of all of them myself. Some of the most notable ones are that the free-form character builds are still present, but much harder to get at. This is good because my first TSW character was messed up early on because I didn’t know how to use the build system. Likewise, missions in SWL now follow a more structured path, with some leading into others, others having their pickup locations moved, some have been changed into “mission-on-zone-entry” grants, and others have been done away with entirely. They’ve also added levels to the game and made the game much easier to solo. I think that all of these changes are a result of the realization that while TSW was a game that attempted to break the MMO mold, a lot of what it did to that end was simply for the sake of being different. The game never put enough emphasis on being approachable in a genre that had been trending towards making things easier to understand for new and elder players alike.
New character sheet and weapon upgrade screens.
The question of why create a parallel game instead of just fixing what was in place might be answered in this light: TSW had tried many things and as a result garnered itself much baggage as far as the MMO community was concerned. I think the majority of people love the investigation missions. Others love the horror-themed atmosphere. Some even loved the EVE Online-like manner in which we could build custom characters so that not everyone was just following a class-based trajectory. But the game had many issues that Funcom struggled with over the years which cost them players and forced them from a sub to a free to play model. Along the way, they tried to update the game to repair problems or address shortcomings, but it never seemed to be enough. That’s why I can understand that SWL isn’t a reboot or even a reset, but a total cleansing of (hopefully) what plagued TSW for so long. Funcom (hopefully) took all of the feedback they received over the years and decided that there was just so much work that needed to be done — and done all at once — that it made more sense to copy the game, modify in parallel, and release as a new product with a beta phase and everything. Had they tried to make these changes to the live TSW, they would only be able to eek out changes in spurts through patches, and only to the public test center which is available for current players — and who knows the percentage of current players who opt to get into the PTR for any game, let alone a game that many believe has been on life support long before SWL was announced.
Despite having a lifetime sub to the game, I never made it off of Solomon Island in TSW so the idea of starting over doesn’t phase me. SWL is a game I want to succeed because it is unique, in setting, presentation, and content. I am liking a lot of the changes I’m seeing in SWL, although some are coming into conflict which what I expect from my days playing TSW and that causes me some confusion. I hope Funcom does well by SWL. They get a lot of shit for their games, some rightfully so, but also way more than they deserve. It’d be nice for them to catch a break with SWL because I’d sad to see it’s demise used as proof that there’s no room for non-high-fantasy, non-sci-fi MMOs.
Everyone deserves a second chance.
Steam Sale 2017
It’s in full swing this week, so here’s the current body count from my perspective.
Avorion: This is another in a string of Minecraft meets [insert other genre here] games. In this one, you get to harvest materials and build space ships and space stations. It looked good to me because while the graphics are OK if you play on public servers there’s open PvP in a massive universe which could be fun — if you’re into that. There’s supposedly also a story in single player mode. The ship building uses real physics, which speaks to my inner The Expanse fan…so yes, I will be trying to build a Rocinente when I am able.
The Curious Expedition: I have it installed but haven’t played it because I think this might be a good one to stream in succession. It’s a pixellated adventure story about a group of explorers who head to the Arctic and…something.
Oxenfree: I had put this on my wishlist at one point, but never jumped on it. However, friends claim that it’s a Really Good Game, Guys! so I bought it.
What Remains of Edith Finch: Now, I never played The Unfinished Swan, but it got high marks for presentation. Edith Finch has been getting some stellar reviews, and a lot of the Steam comments say that it’s a seriously moving game. I am eager to give this a try, but it sounds like the timing has to be right for the full impact to take effect. I just don’t know when that will be.
Hidden Folks: My wife plays a lot of hidden object games that she downloads from those junk game aggregator sites. I, on the other hand, am not a fan. Usually. Hidden Folks came up in conversation several times over the weekend and is cheaper during the sale than anything you could buy at Starbucks, so why the hell not. I was immediately laughing because this game’s appeal is only partly to do with it being a hidden object game. The whole thing was hand-drawn (which is impressive when you see some of the levels), and all of the sound effects are what I assume to be the developer making noises in a microphone. There are no canned sound effects here, except whatever comes out of this guy’s mouth and that can be hilarious at times. It doesn’t look to be a very long game, but it’s relaxing, small, has a low operational footprint, making it a great game to play when you’re waiting for other games to download or patch.
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Waldo is for amateurs
This past weekend was rather dull: Saturday was spent…I can’t remember what the hell I did on Saturday, to be honest. It was kind of overcast and blah, and I know I didn’t do anything that I should have been doing, so I guess that makes it a success. On Sunday, we celebrated Father’s Day at the in-laws. Because it was Father’s Day, I was allowed to return home before the ceremonial Canasta game. Hooray for small victories.
Trip to Maia
Speaking of small victories, I spent a good deal of time in Elite Dangerous this weekend and fulfilled my long-delayed goal of venturing to Maia in the Pleiades. The only real significance of this is that the Pleiades is where all of the alien activity has been going down, although I didn’t do any investigation of such while there. Maia and it’s surrounding environment is basically a ghost-town, as most of the nearby systems aren’t as well populated with stations as other parts of the bubble that I’m used to. There is a community goal happening in Maia as of the writing of this post, but it requires the delivery of materials that are only available a good number of jumps away. Traveling in Elite is one of the absolute worst, most boring parts of the game, so I quickly lost interest in participating once I learned that.
However, I did need to hit up Maia to pick up meta-alloys. I needed this to unlock an Engineer. The Engineers are NPCs that can create new or boost existing ship gear. As you play the game you’ll come across various materials that are needed for the creation/upgrade process. Each approach has a specific outcome but of a random magnitude, so you spend these special materials on a single spin of the RNG. If you like what you see, you can have the Engineer apply the changes; if not, you can spin again if you have enough materials. The meta-alloy was just an introduction gift to get me in to see the NPC but thankfully I had a hold full of several of the materials needed to squeeze some better performance from my FSD and sensors.
The good news is that I’m now only less than a dozen hops away from my current home range of Wu Guinagi. The original trip to Maia was something like 33 jumps; the trip to Deciat where the Engineer lives clocked in at only about 11, and I only have about 11 or so jumps back to Wu. Yeah, the math doesn’t add up, but Elite‘s route calculation is sometimes screwy like that.
Lost in Tamriel
Of course, I’m back to playing The Elder Scrolls Online since I had gotten a great deal on the Morrowind expansion. Although I’d only been off the wagon for a few weeks, the One Tamriel setup is officially screwing with my ability to figure out where the heck I am, and where I need to be.
The good thing is that I don’t need to focus on the main story (although I do on occasion). I can do nothing but side-quests because the design is such that quest visibility is organic: while you’re in an area doing quest A, B, and C, you can also pick up D, E, and F, which will lead to an area where you can get G, H, and I, and so on. This is great when the game forces you into a level-based box because you can only focus on the quests that you are lead to. With One Tamriel where levels don’t matter, you can skip D, E, and F and go straight across the continent for quests J, O, Pi, 721, and the Realization That The Universe is Ambivalent Re: Your Being, just to name a few.
I’ve been playing with Mindstrike and my brother Egon, and we’ve gotten to the point where the best content is currently dungeons and collecting the delve sky shards that we’re missing. So we’re all over the map, basically. That means I’m sometimes picking up quests that need to be solved within those dungeons or delves, or “accidentally” pick up a quest out in the world, or at least see quests in other zones. When we’re done, I head back to my current “home” zone and…forget what the hell I was doing or have no idea what I might be missing in the current zone by way of quests so I can get that all important zone closure achievement.
I’m not sure if there’s a way to track quests that need to be done in a zone in order to reach the closure achievement, or if there’s an add-on to help with that. I’d like to be able to close things out zone by zone since I can do so as if each zone were level appropriate thanks to One Tamriel. Nevermind the fact that I’ve not even considered touching the DLC content. I’m trying to stay away from the Morrowind official content (except for dungeons and delves) because I want Sedya Neen to be my first official landing spot — once again — in that region.
Grand Theft Coaster
On Sunday evening I sat at the desk and lamented my lack of streaming time. At this point, I’ve spent a lot of time and money getting things ready to put together the best-looking stream I possibly can, complete with multi-focal lighting, green screen, upgraded webcam, custom graphics AND animations, and the Elgato Stream Deck. Really, the only thing that I’m missing is a dedicated game capture device before I can say that I am officially the most overprepared non-streamer in existence.
Streaming is fun and non-fun. It’s fun because you get the warm fuzzies when you see people tune in, and even better if they interact with you. It’s also non-fun in many ways, such as seeing strangers vanish without having engaged, or even the pressure to “put on a show” in an effort to get people to stick around longer than they might if you’re just concentrating on playing the game. Streaming is, after all, a show. On one hand I know that this is patently false but on the other hand, you might as well aim high if you’re going to make the effort. I find myself caught between the desire to make the effort and my desire to just play the damned game without feeling like I have to emcee everything.
That’s why I decided to stream on Sunday evening, but not announce it. 75% of crossing the hurdle is to press the STREAMING button on the Stream Deck to get the broadcast started, and I figured that if I wanted to overcome my reticence to make the effort, I could make the effort in anonymity. That way I’d technically be streaming, but would also probably not have an audience to play up for. I did garner one random viewer who came and left (I hardly knew ye!) and got views from two Combat Wombat friends who were notified of the stream via our Discord server announcement bot.
I played Planet Coaster, a game that I find more relaxing than the high-stakes planet of RimWorld. I started the Campaign over from scratch and managed to cap the HIGH marks on the first scenario. One thing that constantly vexed me in the game: my visitors are apparently really easy marks for pickpockets. Every few ticks I’d get notified that someone was robbed. I hired a whole platoon of security guards, and they eventually apprehended a lot of the thieves, but I couldn’t figure out how to get out in front of that problem. In the end, it didn’t matter, though, as my park became popular enough for me to attract the 1100 guests and earn $15,000 needed for the third star in the scenario.
I enjoyed playing Planet Coaster with strict goals because it meant that I only had to reach those goals, and anything after that could be considered arson for the insurance money. It was also a good game to stream, I think since there’s a lot to do, a lot to keep track of, and a lot of ways for things to go hilariously wrong. I’ll probably stick with this as my streaming game and hopefully, in doing so I can overcome my hesitation to broadcast.
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I want to apologize for cramming Ubi and Sony into one post, but I wanted to strike while the iron was hot and not drag these thoughts out before I forget what I’m talking about (too late!)
I actually missed a good portion of Ubi’s presentation because they started during my commute home, and no offense to the good work that the company does, but my getting the hell out of the office takes precedence over pretty much anything. I’ll catch up on the highlights later, but it looks like I missed out on the Nintendo/Rabbids crossover that many people are comparing to the recent treatments of XCom. I do not consider that to be a bad thing.
They also talked about — what else? — Assassin’s Creed. After yesterday’s dismissal of the franchise en toto I was linked a video by the Unstoppable PapaSnark regarding several new or revised features in the franchise assumed from the AC trailer. If the examination was correct, even in part, then I think several of my gripes about the series might be addressed. As stated, I’ve moved this game from a “hell no” to a “we’ll see”.
I came into the presentation during The Crew 2, which is about driving cars, boats, and planes.
Then stuff got weird. There was some Elijah Wood presentation for a VR title called Transference, but the video was too artsy to provide any real substance.
In keeping with the theme of E3 2017, there was a pirate-themed game called Skull & Bones. At first, it looked like a really cool PRPG (pirate aarrgh Pee Gee) but quickly devolved into a 5v5 PvP battle over booty. As stated on Twitter, it reminded me of a high-seas version of the spaceship battle game Dreadnaught, which is available now for those who can’t wait.
From the “no one saw that coming” department, Starlink: Battle for Atlas gave off a serious No Man’s Sky vibe, but with a twist: the trailer showed people playing the game with plastic spaceships attached awkwardly to their gamepads. These toys required them to swap out components like guns, missiles, or engines to have the change reflected within the game itself. Some people called it No Man’s Skylanders, while others attempted to smack Ubi in the head to let them know that unless you’re Nintendo, the era of toys-in-games is grinding to a halt.
And then there was FarCry 5. I have played a few FC games and I like ’em OK. There’s always something to do, but for me, having too much to do is a curse because I have trouble focusing on anything. In the wake of The Division and even Ghost Recon: Wildlands, and in the hopes that Assassin’s Creed Origins changes up its own game, I’d like to see some deviations from the traditional FC formula here. The trailer looked good.
Finally, Ubi surprised everyone by presenting a trailer for the long-awaited sequel to cult favorite Beyond Good & Evil that was teased several E3 ago. I have never completed the original because the controls are so gawdawful that I wanted to throw my PC across the room, but I’ve always enjoyed the unique world of BG&E in which humans and genetically engineered and sentient animals travel freely between the stars. It has a certain cyberpunk vibe but without the contrived magickal overhead of the equally off-kilter world of Shadowrun.
E3 always comes down to Microsoft versus Sony in a good natured “who won” discussion on the Internet, and while you might think that presenting second would give Sony time to one-up Microsoft’s event…well…They spent a lot of time talking up their own 4K abilities, which after the XBX announcement sounded like someone at the back of the crowd talking really loud in an effort to remind everyone that they were still present.
The first two presentations were for Knack II, a sequel to a game that I’ve only ever heard about from one person who has played it, and for — get this — a second screen initiative called PlayLink. The idea is that one person gets the gamepad and other people in the room get a smartphone/tablet app that allows them to interact with the game in a non-direct control scenario. The interesting game they demoed was called Hidden Agenda which looked like a story-based game where PlayLink users could “vote” on key decisions on behalf of the player. I blame the “Twitch Plays X” for this crowd-control focus. Other games showed that use this tech were more in the traditional “party game” vein because those games are traditional cash-cows, right? The second screen concept never really took off, so it’s kind of a head-scratcher as to why Sony decided to take this route. Still, it’s inconsequential, and doesn’t require any new hardware, so what’s the harm?
Speaking of buying new hardware, Sony devoted some time to VR games, and I can’t say that I’m overly excited. The big reveal for me was Skyrim VR. Bethesda announced a Doom and Fallout 4 VR, but didn’t say anything about Skyrim which seemed like an obvious oversight, but had apparently ceded that info to Sony. Do I want to play Skyrim all over again? Well… Do I want to play Skyrim VR? HELL YES I DO. Superhot made an appearance during this segment, but it’s already VR-enabled on the PC so it’s nice to see it coming to PS4. Final Fantasy XV made an appearance but as a…wait…what? A fishing game? Then came the head-tilted-sideways-with-eye-squint titles. Bravo Team is a military shooter (which I might write about on its own), Starchild is a platformer, and a cute game called Moss is about a small mouse with a magical gauntlet that can turn into a sword who makes her way through a diminutive world in search of something. Sadly, it looks like Sony is already sawing at the ropes that secures the VR bridge over the peripheral graveyard.
The good news is that Sony still had a lot of big-ticket Sony games to show.
First, Uncharted: The Last Legacy featuring the incendiary duo of Chloe and Nadine from previous Uncharted games. This was not a surprise, but since it’s dropping this year it made sense for Sony to include it in the face of so many 2018 titles.
Destiny 2 got it’s Sony-money’s worth by being featured, complete with a rundown of what exclusives you get if you buy and play on PS4. I have it pre-ordered on PC, lag time be damned.
We got to see more on that zombie game Days Gone. Previously we’d been treated to technical showcases in which hundreds of procedurally generated undead canvassed a small farm while the protagonist raced across rooftops. This time we learn that humanity has formed enclaves (of course) and ventures forth amidst the zombie hoards for supplies and such. Not all enclaves are trying to bring humanity back; some are, of course, despotic and filled with assholes, and this demo saw the protagonist, Jeanjacket McMotorcycleStubble, using the environment (read: zombies) to overrun an enemy camp to rescue one of his friends. The game looked great and could be a really cool adventure style game. Except, zombies.
Horizon: Zero Dawn is getting DLC, and water is wet. I’m not ragging on this, only saying that they could have just said “Horizon: Zero Dawn!” on stage and people would have thrown money. I suppose I should get back to that and finish the game.
Skimming a few other things: Monster Hunter World is a thing that people like, and now they can like it on PS4. I know nothing of this franchise, except that you hunt monsters. Large, large monsters. Shadow of the Colossus is getting a remaster, Marvel vs Capcom is also a thing people like, and surprise! Call of Duty: World War II.
Now, what caught my eye: There’s a new God of War game which, as seems to be the Sony trend this year, looks to include some really great cinematic story and is not just room-to-room hack and slash. I might make this my first GoW game because it looked great. One of the wildcards from last year’s E3 (or maybe it was in between) was a game called Detroit: Become Human. This is from the people who made the games Heavy Rain and Beyond: Two Souls, which are both narrative heavy, action light decision tree games. This one is set in a future Detroit where androids are created to do the dirty work, but then some “awaken” and get minds of their own. You are one of those androids and have to make moral decisions regarding the relationship between humans and your kind.
Finally, there was Spider-Man. Now, I am not a Spider-Man fan, really. I like the character the way I like yogurt; I would never seek it out, but if it’s around and I’m hungry, it’ll do…but barely. Visually, this game was amazing. The animations were mind-blowing, and the effects (especially the webbing) were top-shelf. In the heat of the moment, I mentioned that I could get behind this game because it seemed like there was just so much Spidering to do! In retrospect, while the visuals were great, the gameplay seemed to be less open-world and more QTE interrupted by occasional brawling action. Now, like all E3 presentations, this is really just a controlled event that we understand doesn’t necessarily represent the entire experience, but whereas a Spider-Man game might have immediately caused me amnesia upon announcement, I might keep an eye on this for more information.
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I’ll be brief because at my age I only remember a few key elements of Microsoft’s E3 2017 presentation.
The Big Deal was, of course, Project Scorpio, now officially called Xbox One X (as Belghast pointed out, X.B.O.X, the best Easter Egg since the naming of the 360). It’s apparently very powerful, sporting a new power management scheme invented by and named for an Xbox engineer, lots of RAMS and teraflops and other things that I think everyone expected. The release date is November 7th and it’ll retail for $499. Expect that eventually, the only versions you’ll find will be Gametop bundle-only packages well in excess of $1000.
The good news is that the presentation was wall-to-wall games. A Big Deal was that not only will you be able to play your XB1 and 360 games on the XBX, but they’re bringing Original Xbox games to the console through their backward compatibility service. The only reason anyone would care about this is for Crimson Skies. There was also the obligatory Forza announcement, which I admit looked pretty awesome, and was apprently important enough that Porsche used a video game expo to reveal a new car model for the first time.
I remember a few games shown, but I wanted to kind of blanket them by saying that there’s a real theme to the games coming to XBX: post-apocalyptic survival battle royale. That include Metro Exodus, State of Decay 2 (which looked pretty cool, and I hate zombies), Playerunknown’s Battlegrounds are just three of the titles which fell into that crevasse. These are not in my wheelhouse, so I kind of blanked during these portions. So let’s talk about the Big Deals.
First up: Minecraft 4k. This is a big deal because it reminds us that apparently people still play Minecraft. It’s also a big deal because I doubt anyone was foaming at the mouth for a 4k Minecraft.
Next, Shadow Of War. This game looked very obtuse to me; I haven’t played Shadow of Mordor, but I’m not really into brawlers of this type. It looks super complex, though, as you have to take your little anti-hero and subdue orc tribes to fight for you as you bring your war to Sauron’s doorstep. Although it seemed rather anachronistic, the orc featured in the demo named Bruz the Chopper was actually really well voiced and made me laugh out loud a few times…probably not the kind of reaction one might demand from a Lord of the Rings game, but there you have it.
It wouldn’t be an Xbox reveal without an Assassin’s Creed game, set this time in Egypt. Someone needs to put a bullet in the head of this franchise. Seriously. Moving on.
I traded in my XB1 in order to upgrade to the PS4 Pro, a move which I don’t regret save for one reason and one reason only: Crackdown 3. I loved the original but didn’t take to Numero Dos. Crackdown is kind of like GTA meets Robocop: lots of wanton destruction in an open world city. C3‘s biggest selling point is the distributed computing model which will supposedly allow you to literally level the city block by block (in multiplayer). And now, Terry Crews.
And of course, there were the two biggies.
Sea of Thieves presented a really well done scripted scenario which saw the participants sailing their ship to an island where they fought through a skeleton army in search of a buried treasure, and ended in a ship-to-ship battle. During the segment, we saw underwater exploration, use of clues, maps, and the compass, cannon, sword and gun fighting, ship boarding, and some jaw-dropping ocean visuals. If SoT can extrapolate that kind of rudderless exploration in a shared multiplayer world, it’s going to blow the doors off. I’m hopeful, but not holding my breath.
And of course, the presentation closed out with the reveal of the teaser we had seen the day before during the EA presentation. Sandwiched in between sports games during the EA presser, we got a 30-second clip of a new BioWare game called Anthem. It looked like maybe Titanfall. Maybe Blade Runner. During the MS presentation, we saw what appears to be another Big Name studio wanting to get a piece of that open world, squad-based exploration-and-explosion pie currently occupied by Destiny and The Division. The presentation started us out in a kind of futuristic desert bazaar where we’re told that we need to go out and fix someone’s screw-up. We jump into one of three (that we could see) suits of power armor and then leap from a ledge into an absolutely massive and lush jungle world below. We don’t just fall but jetpack through ruins and foliage until we land on the ground where we meet up with another player in a much heavier mech suit. The duo proceeds to push their way through the jungle, taking out mobs which seemingly have some kind of a purpose in their presence. Eventually, the scene cuts to a different point in time where they are confronted by something called a shaper storm — complete with high-speed winds, scenery destruction, and a vague glowing epicenter that the team (now four strong) bravely fly into.
Damn. I don’t know why but I’m really into the ideas of the squad-based games these days. MMOs are great, and other multiplayer games are OK, but these kinds of games feel like the sense of teamwork is as much a reward as whatever loot and XP we gain from the operation. That Anthem was stupidly gorgeous helped a lot. Of course, as presented we were told that we were a “bastion of civilization” living in a “walled enclave” in the middle of a “ruined world” — a la Destiny, a la The Division. In that regard, no points for originality, but I don’t really care.
Of course, this was a very managed demo. My initial reaction was to run around the room screaming with tears running down my face at how awesome I thought it was, but in the afterglow, I realize that this is the “wait and see” period. It’s using the Frostbite engine so we know it’s going to be visually stunning. The wildcard is actually the fact that it’s made by BioWare. They aren’t known for their pure action games. I don’t know how many conversation wheels we’re going to get with Anthem, but the free-space on my Anthem bingo card says “people who want to be able to have sex with NPCs just because it’s a BioWare game, and complain about it if they can’t”. Most importantly: Did they dissect Destiny and The Division to see what worked, what didn’t, and what people would have rather had? Or did they just develop this knowing that these squad-based games are hot right now, and that’s all they needed to know?
A lot of the titles on offer were noted as being available for both Xbox and PC, although it wasn’t universal, or else I missed it. I know Sea of Thieves is going to be multi-spectrum, but not sure about others. If Anthem is, then I don’t think I’ll jump on the XBX. If not, I’m going to have to get back into the Xbox ecosystem. I had anticipated maybe deciding to do that — my sale of the XB1 was purely mercenary, and I bear the platform no degree of ill will — but I’d rather save my $500 for the eventual release of the low-cost, higher-performance VR headsets.
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