Yesterday Microsoft had it’s big Xbox reveal and pulled the cover off of the Xbox One, the next generation of — well, the actual classification is seemingly causing some confusion and concern in Internetland (honestly, someone forgets an apostrophe and it’s a cause for catastrophe in Internetland).
What We Know
The presentation was an hour long, and the talking heads were few. The subjects were concise: the reveal, a feature demo, tech specs, partnerships, and closing.
Much of the focus was on the new Kinect and how it was used to interact with the system, including gestures and voice commands. They spent some time on the technical specifications of the console, Kinect, and the controller. They also talked a lot about how the Xbox can be used in conjunction with live TV, and also about their other media offerings, including an upcoming live action show set in the Halo universe. Sports was a big topic, and appeared many times in other segments. They showed footage from a new Forza game, and a new Call of Duty game.
What We Don’t Know
Price, for one, but price is rarely mentioned this far out. Availability was left at a vague “later this year”. There’s been a lot of questions surrounding how the XB1 will actually work with live TV, but the current explanation is that the XB1 sits between the TV and your cable box, a la Google TV. There’s some murky and conflicting information out there regarding how the Xbox will handle used games. And, of course, we know practically nothing concrete about upcoming games.
What We Think We Know
Microsoft is abandoning gaming via the Xbox because they only showed two games, and then only briefly. They spent a lot of time talking about TV and sports. Overall, the pitch worked very hard to promote non-gaming activities as the primary focus of the XB1.
The prevailing wave seems to carry a resounding “meh” from the middle-of-the-road crowd, a silence from folks who haven’t heard about it, and a concerted groan of anger from the “hardcore” gaming community. None of that is good, although being an Xbox, you’d think that the anguish of the gaming community would be the worst of it, but it’s not.
What Microsoft Would Like You To Know
I personally think that MS did a good job with their presentation. These reveals are never about in-depth discussions of each and ever feature, but yet people always go into them with personal expectations. Usually those expectations aren’t met, and people leave disappointed, but when you make a decision to judge on the merits of what is there, things are what they are, and they’re not that bad.
Despite the usual hijinks that we get from these dog and pony shows, I think that Microsoft treated the crowd like adults. It’s a given that the XB1plays games, so they didn’t spend a lot of time talking about them because, you know, it was obvious, being that it’s an Xbox. They felt it wasn’t necessary to explain absolutely everything in their short amount of time, like adults do to children who don’t yet have the capacity to grasp without repetition. Instead, they promised that a dedicated discussion of games would happen later at E3.
Instead, MS opted to focus on what the XB1 does beyond games. The 360 started out as a pure games console, and over the years has had a lot of additional stuff tacked on like scaffolding on the superstructure, present, but not part of the DNA. The presentation was about letting people know that in addition to doing what is expected of it — playing games — it will bring value to your living room when you’re not playing games. They tried very hard to tell people that the XB1 doesn’t need to be put away when the gaming is done; it can be used by anyone at any time, for almost any entertainment purpose.
What Gamers Heard
Hell hath no fury like a community of gamers who think they’re getting a raw deal. The problem isn’t necessarily in what gamers heard, but in what they did not hear, and what they did not hear was about gaming on the XB1. We saw a Forza sizzle reel, and something about CoD (I had shut down the stream at this point, as they said they were pretty much done), and that was about it. There were no names dropped when they mentioned the 15 or so first party titles, and they didn’t go into depth about the 8 or so new IPs included therein. Only a single utterance was made that we’d “hear more about the games at E3″, but I think the nerd rage was too strong by that point for anything other than “we’re sorry” to have registered.
For many, this presentation translated into the belief that Microsoft thinks that console gaming is dead. They want nothing to do with gaming as a focus of the XB1. Your mom is more important to the Xbox brand now, with her reality TV shows. Your dad and dudebro brother are more important to the Xbox brand now, with their need to consume as much sports as they can fit into their faces. Thanks for supporting us all these years and making us the #1 home console brand, gamers…now get out.
What Others Heard
In a particularly hypocritical editorial, Leigh Alexander at Gamasutra believes that Microsoft is stuck in a time warp where increased graphical face-lifts on tired franchises played on the archaic medium like TVs passes for newsworthy. Her proof? Her own self-satisfaction with mobile and tablets and hipster-on-the-go culture as being “where it’s at”. It is an editorial, and at it’s core there may be truth there, but the vehicle used to reach that truth is about as out of touch as the post claims of Microsoft.
Then there’s the general Microsoft haters who are cackling in selfish glee with every dismissive post they read about XB1. Xbox was the shining jewel in Microsoft’s otherwise corroded crown, and with this lukewarm-to-outright-hostile reception, these haters see the Obliteration of Microsoft on the horizon. Nothing short of an announcement that the XB1 would provide an endless supply of weed and hookers would have made these people feel otherwise, though.
What matters is perception, and this post has been about presenting perceptions of the XB1 based on Microsoft’s single presentation. It doesn’t really matter what was said — I can’t even recall the specs on the device, myself — but how it made you feel when it was over. Were you satisfied? Let down? Angry? Indifferent?
The feeling I’m getting from the wider Internet is that the whole of the next generation of consoles is generating indifference. The XB1 was the last potential saving grace of the console revolution. As the current console champ, there was a lot riding on Microsoft’s presentation from the gamer’s point of view. As the term “video game” has become a stand in for “console game”, not only is people’s interest on the line, but also the potential fate of the gaming industry as a whole (as they count numbers today). Interest in the PS4 hasn’t been awe inspiring either, and with the opinions on XB1 starting at “meh” and trending downward, “video games” are screwed.
But things change. There’s a lot of variables not yet in play as far as the XB1 and PS4 are concerned. Price, for one. Game lineup for another. Gamers can talk a good game, but when it comes to following through with their promises not to buy into something for “moral reasons”, they lose their high-minded resolve as soon as they see something that they want. At this point in time, no one is under any illusion that the XB1 or PS4 will blow away the sales figures of the previous generations, but we’ll have to wait and see — something gamers aren’t well known for being able to do — how things shake out before truly calling the game.
The Real Winner
If we had to look ahead a year and point the finger at a winning platform, it has to the PC.
Yeah, the dying, dying, dying, dead platform that was killed off by consoles, then handhelds, then phones and tablets, yet still seems to be ignoring those claims to keep chugging along and satisfying it’s fan base. I’ve seen more people re-affirm their commitment to the PC as a gaming platform in the wake of the PS4 and XB1 reveals than ever before.
I don’t buy into the “mobile and tablets as the future of gaming” rhetoric. Right now, the sales charts and figures support the growth of phablet gaming over other forms, much in the same way that sales charts and figures once supported the growth of console gaming over other forms. Now look where we are. Consoles are seemingly on the wane. What we’ve seen at the crest of these “revolutions” were periods of extraordinary growth and revenue on other platforms, which attracted the companies who want to “strike it rich” in these brave new markets. This massive aggregation of attention merely cast a shadow on the slow-but-steady PC gaming scene, but didn’t smother it. If the console bubble is close to bursting, what does that bode for the phablet gaming bubble?
We’re all poorer for having fewer choices, and platform partisanship aside, no one wins if the XB1 or PS4 fail to find an audience sizable enough to call the video game industry “healthy”. Ideally, analysts would get their heads out of their asses and start pushing for PC digital download sales to be added to the industry overview, because I have a sneaking (and biased) suspicion that the “video game industry” is healthier than is thought, if only we’d count the whole of the video game industry, and not just consoles and mobile.
But losing the choice is what hurts. Having more opportunity to do more with more is never a bad thing. Damning the XB1 because one presentation talked a lot about TV and said practically nothing about games doesn’t mean squat unless you are clinically allergic to television. You may never use a lot of the features included, and hell, you may never even buy one, but come on…admit it…you’d try it if you had it in front of you. You might even like it.
I’d suggest we at least try to like it, because the alternative is a world where we have to pick between Angry Birds and Temple Run clones, and that’s a world I know I don’t want to live in, and I suspect that any gamer who’s angry at the lack of games mentioned in the XB1 presentation will agree with me on that.
Defiance is available on PC, Xbox, and PS3, which means that on a purely statistical level, 2/3 of people playing the game haven’t played an MMO before. I don’t actually believe that’s the actual ratio, but for the sake of argument, we need to acknowledge that there WILL be people who play nothing but consoles, and who have never approached a PC for gaming, let alone MMOs. In fact, one such example is the reviewer over at Xbox360achivements.org who talks about Defiance in this morning’s review.
The poor 360 players seem to be getting the royal shaft with this title. There seem to have been more troubles with Defiance on the Xbox than on any other platform, and a lot of it seems to be on the back end. If this were Trion’s first rodeo, it might be easy to point the finger at them, but they have always been amazingly responsive to issues in Defiance and RIFT, so it’s entirely possible that the Xbox engineers have been caught with their pants down. Microsoft has always been more hesitant to allow this kind of game on their console, and I think it’s coming back to haunt them. Consider this the “growing pains” for Durango, I suppose, but that’s not the point I want to raise here.
The review isn’t very favorable, ending with a score of 65/100. I think the author’s dissatisfaction stems from two conceits: that he’s exclusively a console gamer, and that he has little to no experience with MMOs. Console games generally are more focused on wringing the best visuals from the system, and not necessarily experimenting with alternative game play, so the author finds that Defiance is a pretty lackluster CONSOLE GAME compared to other, somewhat similar console games that he has experience with. Defiance doesn’t have the visual fidelity, or the console-specific focus that allows for a tighter, easier to manage UI, so in this aspect, I think it’s reasonable to give his opinion it’s due.
We long-term MMO players, however, might read the review and gloss over 98% of his dings for the game’s “MMO-ness” because they’re all aspects that we have (often begrudgingly) come to accept. Calling out the wide open world and the ability to play with others at the drop of a hat may make us nod sagely — welcome to the wider world of gaming, my friend! — but our vision might cloud when he takes exception with missions that seemingly go on forever, and seem to have no overarching point. We MMO players know this on a cellular level, but as is often the case, we’re so immersed in the genre that we can’t articulate the forest for the trees, something that this author does with ease because he comes at the MMO aspect of the game with no previous baggage. He can speak about Defiance’s “MMO-ness” with clear vision, and in doing so, raises points about most MMOs out there that we instinctively know, but may not have been able to talk about with such surity for a long time.
As a console game, Defiance may not on par with Call of Duty or Halo or Gears of War, and in my circles, I think the agreement is that as an MMO, it’s pretty OK, but not revolutionary. None of that really seems to be making a lot of difference in people’s enjoyment, though, as from where I sit it seems that the vast majority of people really like it. I’m not so interested in the opinion of the reviewer on the game as much as I was fascinated by the view of a non-MMO gamer on an MMO game, because it’s been so long since I felt objective about MMO mechanics that it was refreshing to see how someone who is not as steeped in the genre views the aspects that the rest of us have taken for granted.
I don’t know if it’s been said outright, or if it’s only perception, but I feel that it’s at least understood that when it comes to consoles, it’s Microsoft versus Sony, and then there’s Nintendo. The Wii and the WiiU are “ands” to the Xbox “or” PlayStation debate, should anyone feel money burning a hole in their pocket, and has time enough to multitask multiple consoles.
The playing field of competition notwithstanding — talking about feature-by-feature competition here — it’s the fact that Nintendo does not, or will not, or cannot compete with the other two that is it’s own worst problem.
The purpose of competition (at least back when it was true) is to force competitors to make better products at lower prices. It could be argued that neither MS nor Sony was interested in lower prices, but they target the same — *ahem* — hardcore market, which means that we did see a jockeying for position when all other elements were equal. If you’re buying Call of Duty: Duty Harder, do you get it for Xbox or PlayStation? Minutiae like pixel density and other fanboy saber-rattling aside, there are more concrete reasons for picking one over the other, which means that both MS and Sony need to ensure that they make their offerings (the game edition, and the on-console experience) better than the other guy’s.
More importantly, though, is the time frame. Come Christmastime, both MS and Sony want to sell more consoles, and since they’re marketing to the same audience, they need to keep neck-and-neck so that the other guy’s offerings aren’t more attractive than theirs.
And then there’s Nintendo. They move at their own speed and, consequently, that’s bad for the Nintendo gamers. More so than Xbox and PS combined, Nintendo is associated with iconic characters and experiences. They have a relatively enormous stable of brands that always come up when they announce a new platform. Do we get a new Mario? A new Zelda? A new Metroid? A new Pokemon? Out of all of the launches that Nintendo has done in recent memory (Wii, WiiU, DS, 3DS, etc.), how many have launched with a representative title from that list? Historically, how long has it been post-launch until we actually saw a representative title from the list? The Nintendo Core seems to always be disappointed at platform announcements because they never seem to get the support of the core brands that they had been hoping for. It seems to me (and no doubt, others) that if a Nintendo platform were to launch with a Zelda game, it would blow the doors of previous sales, but that never happens.
Just today, the Nintendo Direct address from Satoru Iwata (whom I am convinced is the prototype for the idea of the Mii) really offered one disappointing bomb after another. There will be no new Wii U releases in January or February. However, there will be two Zelda games! But one will be an HD upgrade to Wind Waker, and the other…? Well, I got the impression that they hadn’t even started work on it. The whole presentation was a horrible let-down. I’m just glad I didn’t buy a Wii U, or I’d probably be smashing it to pieces in frustration when I got home tonight.
By catering to their own demographic, marching to their own drummer, and not competing with Microsoft or Sony, Nintendo is free to develop what they like. But they also have absolutely no pressure to deliver, and can either hint or outright mention a project that may be years in delivery. Many Nintendo fans will be content with “when it’s done”, because getting something is better than getting nothing, but the frequency with which we get iterations in a franchise means we swing from Ocarina of Time to Wind Waker to Twilight Princess: three different takes on a single franchise that seem to all be experiments to see what works, and whose lessons are promptly tossed out the window to make way for the next experiment.
I’m sure this is a lot of impotent teeth-gnashing, but it’s partly stemming from a desire to see Nintendo do better than they are doing. Sure, the DS/3DS is still destroying the Vita, it’s next best competitor, but it’s not hard to win a game when no one really bothers to play. I love the idea of the Wii U, but I’m not at all compelled by the lineup. The next Monster Hunter, with it’s Wii U/3DS cross-platform-ness is the absolute perfect synergy that Nintendo’s lineup demands, but will we see more examples like this? And when it’s core franchises are either light-years away, or even unmentioned, where’t the buzz supposed to come from? The gimmick of the Wii U is right up there with the gimmick of the Wii. We all fell for it, but it faded, and now there are probably more Wii systems gathering dust than there are Xboxes or PlayStations in the same state.
Here’s the obligatory post-presser…post.
Overall: I’m already having a difficult time justifying buying into the next cycle of consoles. My current gen consoles are gathering dust, mostly, and are mostly used for watching movies (DVD, BR, or streaming). I may end up skipping the next offerings from MS and Sony, and since the Wii got boxed up a long time ago, I can’t honestly justify jumping on the Nintendo bandwagon.
Oddly enough, the thing that really interests me is the “TVii” features. Both the Xbox and PS3 (and the Wii) allow you to download apps that access Netflix, Hulu, maybe Amazon VoD or some other also-rans in the video streaming business. Generally, you only download what you have access to. I have a Netflix sub, so I have Netflix on all machines in the house (even the fridge). Usually, when I want to watch a movie, I head to Netflix first, and then watch – or lament the absence of – the movie or TV show I want.
The WiiU, however, will allow you to start searching first, and will then tell you where it found what you were looking for: Netflix, Amazon VoD, Hulu, or even your (no doubt select and specific brand) DVR. The gamepad screen can function as a guide, a remote control, and a DVR control, allowing you to find what you want, and then to view it as you want. I like the idea of approaching from the content as opposed to the current method of approaching from the walled garden of the app.
The use of the gamepad screen as an extra screen for “meta” information is also an interesting if expected addition. Supposedly the system will screen capture what you’re watching, presenting it via the ‘pad along a timeline, allowing you to share those captures to your social networks, discuss them, etc. How the networks feel about this, I cannot imagine: are they in on it, or is this Nintendo’s doing? But how much secondary viewing will people be doing? I’m supposed to be watching the TV, not ping-ponging between the screen and the gamepad. The use of the ‘pad for sports is particularly interesting, but as a non-sports person, I can only appreciate it from a technical standpoint. The question is: how will Microsoft’s SmartGlass measure up in this regard?
That’s what I got out of the presentation. The games? I don’t play the games I have, so to be honest…I don’t care. I think that’s where my general malaise about the next round of consoles comes from. I’m a PC gamer, and I have now learned that consoles aren’t high on my priority. Extending my entertainment options, however…that’s interesting.
A report from Live Science last week tells about a US company which was engaged by the US Navy to quote-hack-game-consoles-unquote in an effort to be able to possibly glean information on users from the hard drives.
The contract with Obscure Technologies states that they must acquire the consoles used, and only from non “US persons”. Second, the idea behind this is thought to be an exercise in scraping data from these consoles to either specifically find info, or to aid in the creation of tools that can be used to find data on these consoles.
The impetus behind this is that the US is looking for ways to determine if terrorists jump into Call of Duty or some other online game for the purpose of “untraceable” communications – the US wants to know just how “untraceable” those parties really are. That the contract speculates that the operation is to only include machines obtained outside the US probably has more to do with the DMCA and reverse engineering content on the hard drives than anything else; if the purpose IS to create some kind of snooping mechanism for consoles, it would be potentially useless if it couldn’t – or wouldn’t – be put to use within the continental US at some point.
Every now and then, I have thoughts about things, but I’m not entirely sure how to explain them. These thoughts seem to be gut reactions, feelings, or “hunches” (if you’re a fan of Scooby Doo-style explanations). This post falls into that category, but I’ll do my best to explain what I think of when I think about how Sony handles it’s PlayStation division in regards to their players.
Apples And Oxen
Although it’ll rattle some corner of the Internet, I must use the PS3’s arch-nemesis, the Xbox 360, as a foil to what Sony does wrong. Mind you, I’m not partisan: I own both systems, and I use both systems. But I don’t think both systems are equal from an ecosystem perspective. I’m not talking hardware; I’m talking about philosophical differences in how the devices and the people behind them treat you, the gamer. This is not an “Xbox is awesome! PS3 sucks!” post. So un-bunch if you have already bunched, please.
Farmers Market Versus Inconvenience Stores
Microsoft wants you to buy their stuff. They’re a business; it’s what businesses do. In fact, the whole business plan for pretty much any business should be summed up by your neighborhood “convenience store”, so named because they make buying the things you need easy. If you hear about a demo or a new XBLA release, you can log into Xbox.com and read about it, view video and see images, and maybe add the item to your download queue so when you get home, you can power up the Xbox and it will automatically download for you.
Sony, on the other hand, has no way to view their marketplace unless you’re on a Sony device (PS3 or Vita). Normally you’d go to http://www.us.playstation.com and click on the PlayStation Network item on the sidebar, and then choose PlayStation Store and expect to be taken to…the PlayStation Store, right? Sadly, this only takes you to a PR page which explains what the PSS offers, and although it does offer you a tutorial video on how to access the PSS, it shows you how to do that on the PS3 only.
Show, Don’t Tell
A picture is worth a thousand words, they say. Sony apparently has more literature majors on it’s marketplace staff than it does artists, because once you do get into the marketplace, it’s rather difficult to visualize the product they’re asking you to buy. Not every item on the market has screen shots, and even fewer have video. Instead, there’s a wall of text that they politely ask you to read, followed by a landslide of legal disclaimers that would make King John sigh with fatigue. If you don’t know what you’re looking at before you go into the description, or don’t have a way to look up the information on the item through a third party solution (tablet, PC, smartphone, etc), you’re spitting into the wind. Considering the raft of “WTF?” that the PlayStation platform has always enjoyed here in the West, which includes Western games plus a whole lot of imports from the Homeland of Japan, only the dedicated PS fans are going to recognize the majority of these items without a little visual assistance.
Click OK If You Want To Click OK
I’ve complained about the PS3’s XMB (Cross Media Bar) UI in the past, and I still stick by my distaste for it. I’ve come to accept it as my PS3 usage has increased over time, but I still think that it’s far from being an optimal experience.
The thing that I find the most bothersome most of the time is how often I’m confirming things. On a PC, or even the Xbox, I’m asked to click on something to initiate the download. On the PC, if I say OK, it downloads. On the Xbox, I have to confirm the cost of the item against the amount of points I have (or not, if it’s free) and click Purchase (or whatever the button is), and then it downloads. Silently.
On the PS3, I have to click Download on the market page (sans images or video), then I need to view my cart. Then I have the option to download individual items, or the entire cart. Then I have to confirm that I confirmed the download. Then it queues. Then I have to click Go Back to confirm that I’ve seen the download progress indicator. Now I’m back at the cart. Now what? Where am I? How did I get here and where do I go now? It feels like an awkward conversation where both parties have run out of things to say, and end up standing there, staring at each other, both unsure if it’s OK to break away for a more comfortable venue.
The same goes for saving games, most of which require you to acknowledge the acknowledgement that your game has been saved. The PS3 has a Cell Processor, supposedly a very powerful bit of computing hardware. I trust that when I tell it to save, it’s saving. I’m not your mommy, PS3; I know you can do it on your own.
Sony Is Seen, But Not Heard
There is probably something that a lot of people don’t even think about, but which I think is pretty important, especially if we’re talking about PR or customer interaction, and that’s spokespeople.
If you know anything about Xbox, you know (of) Larry “Major Nelson” Hryb. He’s got his own Xbox-centric website. The dude is everywhere Xbox is. He’s like (pardon the sacrilege, and loaded comparison) John the Baptist to the Xbox’s Jesus, going ahead of the main event to spread the word. If you see Major Nelson, you know that there’s some kind of Xbox deluge to follow. And he seems to be a nice guy, too. We went to the Xbox presentation in Cambridge during PAX East a few years ago, and he was very personable. He was also out and about on the PAX East floor, doing “his thing”, which is to be the Face Of Xbox and interacting with the fans.
Sony has The Kevin Butler. Man, I love The Kevin Butler. I don’t think there’s anything that he’s been in that hasn’t caused me to laugh out loud – the real kind, not the Internet shorthand kind. He’s a great pitchman, and I think Sony really scored in the The Kevin Butler presentation. But…The Kevin Butler doesn’t really tell me anything about the PS brand on a day to day basis. I check his Twitter stream next to Major Nelson’s, and it’s clear that Major Nelson is far more informative then The Kevin Butler. I appreciate The Kevin Butler’s humor, which is always on, but I don’t see him as really a “face” of PlayStation. He’s more like a “mask”, which is fine for ads and branding purposes, but not for connecting with the community.
The Neighbor And The Businessman
These are just some examples off the top of my head that I’ve been collecting over time when I encounter something that makes me think that Sony really dropped the ball in connecting with people. Their market is only friendly if you obsess over every single game release anywhere in the world and know it on the weight of the title alone. They try to drive people to use their hardware and only their hardware on their terms, which makes it far less-than-easy for people to actually use their market. Sony doesn’t even have a real, feet-on-the-ground community person in The Kevin Butler, who they use as the brand’s spokesperson and elected cheerleader.
Whether you like the people you play with or against on either the Xbox or the PS3, I think that Microsoft has a much more advanced customer interaction apparatus in place than Sony does, by miles. To me, walking into the Xbox ecosystem is like chatting with a neighbor, having a beer, talking about lawn care or football or other neighbors. Sony, by contrast, is like walking into a business meeting. There may be a little small talk, but the most exciting thing you can hope to get out of it is a long contract, a handshake, and a business card.
I think that anything Sony does at this point to move towards a better link with their community would be head and shoulders above what they have in place right now. I’d even jump for joy if they wholesale-stole Microsoft’s playbook. They need to move away from being the stereotypical cold Japanese “all business, all the time” design and realize that their PlayStation division is selling video games, not cancer treatments.
I’m an equal opportunity gamer. I’ll even cop to occasionally playing something on a mobile platform, although it’s the choice of last resort (after standing on one leg over an open pit full of alligators while seeing how long I can hold my breath before I pass out). I own at least one of each type of current-gen console, although with TV time at a premium, I am often relegated to the PC, which to be honest, I prefer. But when it comes down to console-time, I have a choice (sorry Wii): Xbox or PS3?
I admit to favoring the Xbox, although my egalitarian spirit has always been at odds with this honesty. When faced with buying a game that’s available on both the Xbox and the PS3, how do I make my choice? Tricky, that one. My main Xbox is hooked to the larger TV in the family room, but only via component cables because it’s an older model without HDMI. My PS3 is on the same TV, but with HDMI hookup. The PS3 looks better there. However, I have two Xbox, and with profile sharing and cloud saving, I can start playing on one system and continue on the other, which is hooked up (via HDMI) to the living room TV.
So I blame you people.
The ts;du (too short; didn’t understand) version goes like this: I don’t play online, usually ever (for various reasons which don’t all amount to antisocialism), but I add people to my friends list on both the Xbox and the PS3 for the same reason I add them on Twiiter, G+, Raptr, etc: I like that presence of other people, even if we’re all doing other things. Seeing a lot of people online validates that it’s a vibrant platform that people are invested in, even if I’m personally 50-50 on either Xbox or PS3.
I tend to see more people on the networks (Twitter, G+, Raptr) talking about or on the Xbox then I do on the PS3. I usually see more people online when I log into XBL then I ever do when I log into PSN. I now have maybe about the same amount of people on each platform, and PSN is a veritable ghost town of “last login X days/weeks/months ago” compared to the “last online X hours ago” on the Xbox. That tells me that the PS3 owners on my list either have a hard time getting TV time, are off doing other things, or that the PS3 is lower in their hierarchy of platforms than whatever else they may be gaming on when they’re not using their PS3.
I came to this realization after communing with other Vita owners. I’ve seen a few more people online via the Vita then I ever have on PSN PS3, and there’s been far more discussion of PlayStation games. It’s elevated the visibility of PS games, and has made me more interested in the PS ecosystem as a whole, even to the point where I want to go home and use the PS3. I’d like to see more ongoing presence of people on PSN, and think that cross platform play like that supposedly offered by WipEout 2048 will help, but I’m sure if there were more people online with PSN in any capacity, it would feel more worthwhile to spend time there.
I started playing Harvest Moon: A Tale Of Two Towns on the 3DS (which was probably brought about by the Wurm Online immersion), and I mentioned this in a conversation on Google Plus this morning. For context, I brought it up to talk about the incessant amount of exposition every day brings at the start of the game. The Japanese aren’t quite solid on the idea of “tutorial”, opting instead to cram slowly-scrolling text, line by agonizing line, into your eye-sockets, accompanied by comically designed cardboard cutout personalities. Normally I think this would be maddening, but Pete asked me if I was OK with it because the game was on a handheld system. The answer is that yes, I think that is the case, because I know I’d never sit through this on the PC. So that got me thinking of other ways that I subconsciously prioritize my gaming platforms between PC, consoles, handheld, and mobile devices.
Top Spot: PC
The PC is my longest-running gaming platform. I started out on the Timex Sinclare, which was the American version of the British ZX Spectrum, I believe. Then the Commodore 64. Then the Amiga. Then to the Intel-based PC, and it was off to the races after that.
I pick the PC as my go-to platform because I can find something to do whether I have 30 minutes or 4 or more hours. There’s also digital downloads. And it’s an all-in-one device: IM, web browsing for info, VoIP, and the game all operate on the same box without breaking a sweat. Plus, my PC is mine.
First Runner Up: Consoles
I have all of the major consoles (2 Xbox, even) because in my eyes, a true “gamer” is platform agnostic. They don’t play favorites; they play anything, anywhere. If there’s a game on console X, they will get the console for that game, partisan bitching be damned. I can’t sit idly by and not have experienced Halo, Uncharted, or the latest Super Mario game.
Consoles are difficult for me, though. Unlike the PC (which is always on), consoles require a “process” to get started: Turn on the TV, switch the input, power on the console (wait for the logos, and the dashboard to fire up), log in (waiting…), insert disk, sit down on the couch…and not move for several hours. Although the whole process takes a matter of minutes, it is a process, and in my mind, I need to be able to devote at least two hours of time to whatever I’m doing on the console. Add to that the fact that TV time is at a premium in my house, with a wife and daughter, that when it comes time to monopolize one of them, I have to hold on to it for dear life.
Second Runner Up: Handheld
Handhelds are still squarely in the domain of Japanese imports and translations, at least in my mind, and that’s OK. Their content runs the gamut from action-y to puzzle-y to RPG-y to strategy-y, making it a pretty close second to the PC when it comes to variety. But everything is still locked into cartridges, at least until we get the Vita, and Nintendo broadens it’s digital download opportunities for the 3DS.
Handhelds are good for anywhere between 30 minutes to an hour of gaming at a time. For me, they don’t generally have longevity of session. What they do have it portability, naturally. If I don’t feel like sitting in the computer chair (like I do all day) or can’t get the TV scheduled for consoles, I can sit in the living room with the 3DS and play. I played Harvest Moon last night, in bed, before falling asleep. They are also starting to really play up the mobility aspect, with 3DS’s Streetpass, and the Vita’s mechanism of the same ilk (who’s name escapes me now), making it worthwhile to bring your device with you everywhere so it can sniff the butts of other people’s devices. You’re welcome.
Dead Last: Mobile
I can’t really even consider mobile gaming to be on this list, but for completion’s sake, I’ll add it here.
To be fair, some mobile gaming is OK. Word games are tolerable, but the idea that mobile will kill handhelds just because developers and publishers are filling a low-barrier-to-entry vacuum of this relatively new market is laughable. It’s nothing but a land-rush, and a bubble of the kind we’ve seen in other markets, so don’t be surprised when we see a similar outcome.
Mobile gaming is for plebeians because everyone has a cellphone, and more and more people are trading up the inexpensive smartphones. It makes sense that devs and pubs are waking up with dollar signs in their eyes as they look out across this pristine plain filled with nothing but fat, simple-minded cattle ready for a good, hearty milking.
But that grossly unfair metaphor aside, mobile gaming is disposable. For me, it’s good for maybe less then 30 minutes, tops, and that would only be and option if I forgot to bring my handheld system with me (thanks to the inclusion of perks for taking the handheld with you everywhere, though, that’s a rare occurrence). I have yet to meet a mobile game that not only makes me want to download it, but to spend time with it when I have three vastly more preferential and diverse platforms available to me.
So some people see Microsoft as an “Evil Empire”, although I’d offer that others have since firmly and definitively usurped that mantle. Some people also see Microsoft as old and antiquated, lumping it in with IBM and HP, the companies which brought us to where we are in the world of computing, but who have ceded the field to more agile competition. But the one place where Microsoft seems to really be killing it is in the living room, thanks to the Xbox. Sales of the console have far outstripped the PS3, the successor of the insanely popular PS2, and while everyone has an opinion on Kinect, no one can question it’s success compared to Sony’s Move.
Microsoft recently dropped a few products and updates on consumers. The first and probably most obvious to the regular crowd is the Xbox 2011 dashboard update which brings it’s Metro UI into the living room. Metro is Microsoft’s new UI strategy, currently on their brand of smartphones, now the Xbox, and in the future, Windows 8. It also expands Kinect integration to a degree, but the main thrust of the update is to give media equal footing with gaming on the device. Music, movies and TV shows are now more prominent, and the console is going app-centric, promising more widgets from SyFy, Comcast and other providers in the future.
The second product of note is the Xbox LIVE app for iOS. Yes, *gasp*! This app allows Xbox users to message people on their XBL friends list, manage their friends list, change their avatar, and view their achievement progress. I suppose this is pretty exciting for iOS/Xbox users who use XBL as their primary social network, but the real score is having this Microsoft branded product on iOS. As it provides content from Microsoft HQ, there’s absolutely no reason why Microsoft can’t stream information about their products, including…
Windows Phone has a new app as well: the Xbox companion app. This works in conjunction with the new Xbox dashboard, and while it’s pretty cool on paper, I’m not sure if it’s really a useful app. Once it syncs with your Xbox using your XBL ID (which should already be set up on your phone), you can view and launch XBLA games from the phone, on the console, search for info on the movies, TV shows, music or games that are being played on your console, and it even allows your WP7.5 device to double as a remote control for navigating the Xbox dashboard. It’s a good start, but it’s not as cool as it could be (like as a secondary monitor for game elements).
Where’s the stodgy, Evil Empire Microsoft that people insist still exists? OK, they may still be getting the lion’s share of their money from Windows and Office, which are about as cool as the ribbon candy your grandmother insists on putting out when you come over, but they are trying, and not just trying to catch up, but trying to catch up and differentiate themselves in certain areas. The Metro UI isn’t iOS/Android, and a lot of people claim to hate it, but haven’t actually used it. Microsoft is slowly unifying different and previously unconnected lines of business much in the way Google is bringing it’s own products together (G+, Blogger, Picasa, YouTube, etc) to form some kind of consumer product Devastator. They still bet on the installed desktop, but are winning the battle for the family TV, a place where both Google and Apple have fallen flat on their faces.
I know this sounds like a “rah rah Microsoft” post, and to a degree, it is. I’m a fan of the company, but not the point where I badmouth others; I use all kinds of products from all kinds of companies, but I think Microsoft’s different LoB offerings had been so disparate that it was a case of one hand not knowing – or caring – what the other was doing. Now using one device will immediately make you familiar with the others, and the transition will be simple and I’m sure Microsoft would hope, desirable. Plus, the sum seems to be greater than the parts, with integration between devices being at least a priority. Basically, I think Microsoft does have a strategy in this iPad-crazy world, and it’s short-sighted to see it as just releasing their own tablet with Windows 8 on it in order to be relevant.
For our regular reader, I apologize for this deluge of Skylanders related posts, but aside from Rift, it’s what I’ve been occupying my time with recently, and now that I’ve had some time with it, I wanted to keep people in the loop. Skylanders is a pretty expensive proposition, and I’ve heard from a few people who have expressed interest in picking this up for their kids for the holidays, so I feel that I’d be remiss if I didn’t do my part to help them in their decisions.
I’m into Skylanders for about $117.99 at this point. Part of that is me, part of that is me bowing to pressure from my daughter. We took advantage of the Toys ‘R Us deal whereby holders of their rewards card could get a coupon for a free figure by spending over $100 between launch and December 24th, and we crested that ridge by taking advantage of TRU’s buy 2 get 1 free deal which brought us to the grand total stated above. We got the TRU exclusive Legendary three pack, the Darklight Crypt expansion, and a lone figure, and are awaiting our coupon. I had gone in wanting to get another three pack as the freebie, but TRU had sold out of normal three packs by the time we got there. I guess everyone had the same idea, so at least the game is selling.
Now We’re Thinking With Portals
I took the portal device to the PC, plugged it in, and installed the driver with no issues at all. I then proceeded to log into the website and register the four figures that I had been allotted by my daughter: Trigger Happy, Legendary Chop Chop, Legendary Spyro, and Ghost Roaster. Placing them on the portal told me that the figure was unregistered, and asked if I wanted to associate this with my account. I haven’t read up on it (documentation is still pretty scarce), but I assume that these characters cannot be registered to another account (like my daughter’s) without first unregistering them on my own. Thankfully, when you select a character from your lair, you can unregister it with the click of a button. I don’t know if unregistering will pull the character from your vault or not.
I spent about an hour playing online…well, playing is a generous term. There’s not a lot to do in the online world, as I had stated previously. Your character has a different leveling scheme between the web and console games, so you can’t jump from one to the other to work on the same stats. However, I believe that stats raised via the console game do have and effect in the mini-games of the web version. One question I have is whether or not the money you earn in one transfers to the other, and vice versa. This is important because you can earn a lot of cash in the web version playing the mini-games. It can be spent online to upgrade and expand your personal skyland, but money is also used in the console version to buy upgraded powers. I wouldn’t want to go all Martha Stewart in the web version when I could spend the money going all Bruce Lee in the console version.
Going All Bruce Lee In The Console Version
Last night my daughter and I returned to chapter 2 of the console game. Our task was to liberate a golden propeller engine from a pirate airship so we could fit it to our balloon in order to reach the sky fortress we apparently have to reach. We learned a few things about how the game progresses in this level:
- More enemies are introduced as the game progresses
- Some enemies are designed to really mess with you. One enemy protects nearby allies against ranged attacks. Playing Trigger Happy, this really sucked, and because it’s all auto-aim, I had to angle myself to take out this support character before I could go after the allies.
- There’s bosses and mini-bosses. We ran into a troll-thing which took more attention to drop then a normal enemy. Then we ran into two of them at a time. Then we ran into his boss at the end of chapter 3.
- Puzzles are to be expected.
- Optional content is to be expected. This sometimes takes the place of elemental gates which require Skylanders of a certain elemental bent, but we ran into a situation in chapter 3 where we had to activate a button, and were given 22 seconds to secure a newly-reveled gem before the gate closed on us. We failed that, as we were unsure where the gem was in relation to where we were, and where we needed to be.
- At the end of each chapter, you’re given a scorecard which shows how many of the stage features you achieved. We have yet to achieve more then 25% on any of the chapters we’ve tackled, which makes me throw my hands up in confusion because we never saw opportunities to find the things they say we should have been able to find. And yes, there is a strategy guide, although my daughter told me in no uncertain terms that she did not want this; she enjoyed finding things on her own. I, on the other hand, am taunted by the things I did not find, and will be revisiting these levels over and over until I have found them all.
I can say in all seriousness that the shit does get real in chapter 3. There’s a lot of jumping puzzles here, and the elemental gate zones seem to be taking longer to complete (maybe they just suck, though, as one air gate zone had us jumping directly INTO a teleporter which sent us back to the beginning). There are also far more enemies per square inch then there were previously. We ran into carefully placed ambushes filled with ninjas, chompies, ranged-protection ghosts, blue elemental whirlwinds, and strolling trolls. Although we didn’t die, we did lose enough life for me to worry, which actually made me happy; I was growing concerned that this game would be a cakewalk, but the difficulty seems to be ramping up nicely.
I am very pleased with Skylanders, pretty much all around. The materials they provide are of excellent quality, from the design to the paint jobs to the heft of each piece. The portal peripheral works on both console and PC without a hitch. The hot-swapping mechanic is fast and useful and can be both necessary and addictive if you’re a completionist. The game is targeted at a younger crowd, but don’t let that fool you, adults: if you dismiss it as “child’s play”, it’ll chew you up before you know it. It’s an excellent parent-child coop game, although the virtual tether between the two characters may lead to sibling or interpersonal conflict with friends. Same goes for the kids.
On the downside, there’s the obvious expense of it all. Skylanders is calibrated like Pokemon, so if you have/your child has an addiction to collection, it’s going to cost you. If you’re a completionist, you’ll need at least one of each elemental type in the game, and that’s going to cost you. I wish the web version was more relevant and useful beyond it’s potential for cash farming. Right now, the friend list is useless since there’s no multiplayer (that I can see) games, and you have to actually enter “PortalMaster #12345” when looking for someone to add to your friends list (this is a kids game, so privacy is in full effect). Thankfully, the web game isn’t necessary, and you need never approach in order to feel that you’re getting your money’s worth.
If you’re a parent thinking of picking up the starter kit for your young’n this holiday, do so, safe in the knowledge that the physical component will keep the product relevant in their minds, and that the game is fun and challenging for both them and for you (if you’re so inclined to play, which I do recommend). At this point, I hope this is lucrative for Activision, as I’d like to see a sequel or maybe some DLC for the game to keep it going and to make the investment in hardware worth it in the long run.