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The Biggest Yet: This E3 and the Future of Console Gaming

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This week marks the beginning of E3, the largest video game tradeshow of the year. As usual, well be seeing the largest publishers pitch their newest and most expensive projects to gamers and investors alike. This is also a special E3, as it marks the start of a new generation of console gaming (regardless of how much Nintendo would protest). The launch of a new PlayStation and Xbox always grabs the attention of both gamers and the general public. However, this time is different. This time well be seeing an event that provides a bell weather not just for the fortunes of two massive companies gaming divisions, but also for the future of consumer rights in owning and consuming media and the ramifications it has for the preservation of art for future generations.

The Future of Console Gaming is as Blurry as this PlayStation 4

The future of console gaming is as blurry as this PlayStation 4.

The Tech Story

On the face of it, E3s PlayStation 4 and Xbox One events are going to be extremely exciting. Every gamer knows what to expect with new gaming hardware. We know well see new ways of interacting with games that take a massive fidelity leap over what weve been used to for the past half a decade, as we see with every console generation. The bundled Kinect and improved PlayStation Eye are promising. They make the promise of button-less, Minority Report-style interaction that much more palpable. They are going to acclimate the public to a new form of navigating content, and that technology is going to swiftly become more ubiquitous in the other devices that we use, both at home and at work.

Sure, the first few games arent going to be massive leaps over the previous generation. After all, most gamers are still going to be using the previous generations consoles for at least the next few years, so making Xbox One and PlayStation 4 exclusive games just doesnt make much sense for most companies. However, with Microsofts promise of 15 exclusive titles and Sonys pedigree of premium quality content for its own platforms, gamers are sure to be enchanted by the possibilities provided by the horsepower of these new platforms.

If that was the whole story, we gamers would be satisfied. New and better games are always welcome. Unfortunately, the bigger story is what news ISNT going to be given a huge presence on the show floor.

The Used Games Conundrum

The rumblings have been heard for over a year. Hints at changes that few would find appealing if ever implemented. Rumors that Microsofts new platform would limit the sale of used games and require an internet connection. On Xbox Ones launch day, much of these fears were confirmed. All games would now have to be installed to your Xboxs hard drive and the game would be registered to your account, effectively adopting much of the PCs modus operandi when it comes to games and other software. The resulting PR campaign was seen as a disaster by nearly all who witnessed it. Different executives gave different answers on how this strange new system would affect the way we buy, play, lend, trade, and sell our games. After several weeks, Microsoft managed to clarify most of its policy. The results arent pretty.

The Xbox One is clearly defined and gamers don't like it.

On the other hand, the Xbox One is clearly defined and gamers dont like what they see.

Games would have to be registered to an Xbox Live account and Xbox One console. Somehow, they could be shared with up to ten people on the same console, presumably family members who use the same Xbox. The Xbox would have to check every 24 hours whether the games registered were not in use on another console. Lending a game to a friend IS permitted, but that friends Xbox would have to check every HOUR to see if anyone else has activated the same game. You can sell your game back to a retailer, but that retailer would have to be officially registered with Microsoft. Different publishers would have the ability to affect how much and how a game changes hands.

If that doesnt clear things up for you, then youre not part of the minority. The reaction to this policy has been completely negative. Gamers are worried about their ability to pay for next generation games, as many have relied on their ability to borrow from friends and get credit from retailers to purchase more games. The internet requirement might seem trivial to many of us gifted with consistent broadband availability, but it is troubling for another reason that Ill visit later.

So, now everyones looking at Sony. Does the PlayStation 4 have such restrictions in place as well? Hopefully E3 shall clear things up. The two ways that this can go down for the two console manufacturers, assuming no about-face by Microsoft?

Sony announces much less stringent policies for the PlayStation 4

Lets assume no requirement for an internet connection to play games. Sony loudly trumpets their less draconian policy at their E3 conference, prompting great cheers from the theater audience and gamers around the planet. Investors see the positive outpouring on the internet and start piling onto Sony stock. The hardcore gamers who lead each console generation in buying new, expensive hardware (marketing 101s early adopters, in other words) buy the PlayStation 4 in droves. The Xbox One is on the ropes, being seen as a less capable console and unable to appeal to a wider audience due to all of the negative press and commentary by the more hardcore. The Wii U gets a boost as it is the most consumer-friendly of the three.

The entire generation looks to be set for a reversal of the Big Threes fortunes, with Sony on top, Nintendo gaining momentum, and Microsoft flailing and desperately attempting to refocus its console efforts.

Sony quietly announces the same online requirements

While its difficult to say exactly which of the Xbox Ones requirements draw the most ire, a PlayStation 4 that adopts many of the same policies would not be met with open arms. While it would be easy to say that Nintendo would benefit from all of this and shoot to the top in terms of respect, it would be beneficial to take a more holistic view of the industry.

Console sales are down. Console game sales are down. The entire traditional gaming industry has been waiting for the launch of a new generation to jumpstart sales. But what if both the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One crash out of the gate? Massive publishers like EA and Activision have bets on the success of these platforms baked into their investments and stock price. They are all assuming the same gamers are going to buy these new consoles and these new games. But gamers are an impatient bunch. If they see better pastures, theyll abandon what theyre used to for cheaper experiences on other platforms. All of us have a PC and/or some kind of mobile device, so our access to quality gaming experiences isnt exactly dependent on owning the newest video game console.

The worst case scenario sees dismal sales for the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. The Wii U picks up, but only because of the loyalty of Nintendo fans and availability of new quality Nintendo games. Owners of consoles buy less and less games on traditional platforms as the rate of graphical and gameplay enhancement has essentially stalled. More and more people migrate to PC, Steam, iOS, Android and a host of other platforms that games are available on. Layoffs occur at the giant publishers as they find themselves without stable revenue. Gaming loses its unified voice and the support net that funds massive projects that raise its profile disappears. While some may argue this might benefit indie development, no entertainment industry has done well when its big guns were silenced.

Would we see another Destiny-scale project if the console gaming loses its luster?

Would we see another Destiny-scale project if console gaming loses its luster?

Of course, the worst case scenario is never likely to happen. But imagine a gaming industry crippled by anemic sales of these new consoles. It could happen, and it could change the industry forever. Instead of a Big Three providing a loudspeaker for gamings status as a legitimate entertainment industry, we get a large number of small players that fight for the scraps or domination by a big few that take all of the profits. If anythings guaranteed, its that this E3 could signal a massive shift for the gaming industry and the end of traditional gaming, for better or for worse.

As for me, Ill be playing The Last of Us this week and ignoring its chillingly relevant title.

Stay tuned for Post-E3 reactions and my thoughts on what Microsofts (and maybe Sonys) new requirements would mean for societys treatment of gaming as an art form and the preservation of that art for future generations.

To see more of my posts, visit marcinism.com.

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Xbox One: Through the Eyes of the Gamer, the Consumer, and the Investor

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A tectonic shift is occurring in the video games industry. The current generation of video game consoles has been on the market for over half a decade, an unprecedented length of time without replacement. With this passage of time, we have been brought some of the highest quality interactive experiences that have yet to grace our television screens. More critically, a siege has been becoming more and more apparent: a siege enabled by the proliferation of mobile devices and their ability to take time away from the consoles and other platforms that we used to solely rely on for our gaming.

What is Microsofts response? A tech titan that has few, if any, equals, it was wildly castigated for picking a fight with Playstation 2. Its first attempt was a moderate success, but the Xbox 360 was when things really picked up. Cheaper than the Playstation 3 and integrating an online network that enabled quality multiplayer experiences and constantly evolved to be more and more capable, the Xbox 360 became the most flexible product of its category. Now, Microsoft has its sights on building on the lead that it had with gamers and introducing even more of its technologies to create a product that any consumer would want next to their television.

And that brings us to the Xbox One. Just revealed by Microsoft, the Xbox One is the third generation of Xbox. It means a lot of things for a lot of people, but lets focus on three in particular: the Gamer, the Consumer, and the Investor.

Xbox One

The Gamer

Going into this conference, most gamers had an idea that this wasnt going to be any sort of massive blowout event for the next generation of gaming. The fortunes of the gaming industry, for better or worse, are tied to what is announced at every annual E3 convention. Perhaps incorrectly described as the Super Bowl of gaming, it is when the eyes of every gamer who cares are focused on what is to be announced. As such, we werent expecting much, but there were some details to be gleaned.

Immediacy - Although dealing with movies and TV and all of the things we say we dont care about when watching these conferences, gamers are sure to be impressed by the sheer snappiness of the Xbox Ones navigation. It can switch between menus and different entertainment options at the snap of a finger (or the wave of a hand). This means well be able to navigate friends lists faster, switch from games to any other feature, and expect much more seamless updates.

Kinect - Yes, it wasnt exactly a big hit with the hardcore when it was introduced. This time, though, its going to be included with every console. That means developers can actually spend time with it and hopefully come up with some great ways for it to be implemented.

No Always Online Requirement This would have been a catastrophe if true. The PR headache would have perhaps surpassed that of Windows Vistas launch.

Games Shown Ok, so I know that FIFA and Call of Duty are coming. And, yes they are OBVIOUSLY going to look better. Just like they shall on the Playstation 4. The promise of exclusives was quite hollow, as there was no timetable or scale given on how big these new games and IPs would be.

Price - I want to know how much this costs. If Microsoft had told me and given me a reasonable price tag, I would be looking to Sony to measure up. Now, I have to wait until E3 to see who outwits the other

Used Game Charges - A worrying description of the Xbox Ones requirement for the installation of used games would mean that publishers would be able to charge for usage of a game after its first installation. This could destroy the used games market. Critics point to the Playstation 4 as an alternative, but they must remember that Sony was almost as coy when answering whether used games would be playable on the system. If either Microsoft or Sony implement this, therell be huge backlash and support for the opposing platform. If they both do, then the console market could undergo a tremendous shift and lend more traction to PC and mobile gaming.

2/5

It was kind of expected, but it would have been nice if Microsoft had at least TRIED to blow us away with an exclusive Now, well just have to wait for E3 and see which, if either of the two consoles, is going to be less draconian.

The Consumer

Most consumers probably didnt watch this conference and are going to learn more about the Xbox One as the marketing ramps up, but there were some positives and negatives to taken from what Microsoft showed to make its case for the Xbox One being a general entertainment device.

Live TV Integration with Kinect Ok, honestly, all of that Kinect navigation stuff was pretty cool. Just doing everything that I can possibly do with my TV using my voice and hands? Its approaching Apple-level qualities of simplicity.

Price, Date Perhaps more important for consumers is the date. If its coming for the holiday season, whos to say that some competitor wont come out with a device that does much of they want without the supposedly high price? And if this is going to be expensive, could you at least make a deal with internet providers or somehow offer a subsidized deal? We really, really, like subsidized devices

Integration With Other Devices Ok, we get it. This works well with Smartglass. Which is obviously the best on a Windows 8 or Windows Phone device. But what about my iPhone? My Galaxy?

3/5

The beginning half of this conference was obviously more focused on the consumer. But, like us gamers, well have to wait until the price and how thisll fit with our other devices before committing.

The Investor

Owning the Television I get it. The smoothness of the experience. The ability to browse TV guides without using a different device. As soon as this console is in a home and working, theres little reason for anyone to ever switch to anything else. At least when looking at current competitors. And, knowing Microsoft, therell be software updates that keep it ahead of the curve if executed properly.

Profit Margin vs. Volume So, I see more and more players in the tech industry gunning for the television. Microsoft is in an incredibly strong position. HOWEVER, how much is this going to cost? How is it going to be distributed? This is a race against time, and it doesnt involve just Sony and Nintendo. Google is always active. Apple is ever the silent threat.

Going against popular wisdom, it could be beneficial Microsoft sacrificed its short-term profits for quick market penetration. The strength of the Xbox One is going to be built on its ecosystem, and the more content is sold, the better the long-term financial health of Microsofts entertainment division. Has Microsoft pulled off a subsidy deal with an internet provider? Is this going to be cheaper than a Playstation 4?

3.5/5

We always knew that it was going to be long rollout of details. Thats just how the console industry works. The tech is all there, its up to Microsoft to execute.

General Score

3/5

Microsoft showed just enough today to go into E3 on an equal footing with Sony. Both consoles are going to be duking it out, and its going to come down to two factors that might decide the generation: the price tag and the exclusive games. They could have done more, but now theyre leaving it all for E3 to shape the public image of their product. Grab your popcorn, June 10 is just around the corner.

To see more of my posts, visit marcinism.com.

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Impressions: Killzone 2 Demo - "A PC Gamer's Perspective"

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As apurely PC gamer for the majority of my life, Ilooked upon the advent of the First Person Shooter genre on the consoles with scorn and indifference. Sure, Ienjoyed the occasional Halo with my friends, but there was nothing exclusively for the consoles that made me say "I need to play that." Then, at E3 2005, the infamous CG trailer of Killzone 2 piqued my interest. Icouldn't believe the quality of the presentation and level of activity happening on screen. Iwas askeptic, until the E3 2007 reveal. Since then, I've been following the game like few others, intrigued at finding out what Guerilla Games can dogiven the PS3's limited (now 2-year-old) hardware. The demo was my first hands-on with the game. My impressions?

For agame to truly amaze me and leave amark in my mind, it has to immerse me in its world. More often than not, shooters set in epic universes filled with grand battles fail to implant me in their universe due to the developer's fear of or inability to set up epic set pieces and scripted events. While Ithoroughly enjoy the open-world freedom of choice available in games like Crysis, there will always be asmall place in my heart for linear, fast-paced experiences. Up to this point, the Call of Duty franchise has come closest to offering gigantic, pulse-pounding experiences that make me feel as if I'm on achaotic, authentic battlefield. Judging from the demo, Killzone 2 looks like it'll finally capture the same feeling in the sci-fi genre.

From the start, you're thrown into ahigh-risk troop landing on aHelghan beach (Call of Duty veterans and World War II aficionados might glean the parallels between this and acertain historical battle involving aFrench coast). Flak is exploding in the air, your fellow soldiers are yelling, allied dropships are being blasted apart, and screaming soldiers flash past as your landing craft dives in for acrash landing. This first-person "cutscene" ends quickly and hands over the controls to you. As players advance along the beach, they'll notice the extreme amount of detail and activity that Guerilla put into the battlefield. Medics run up to assist wounded comrades and scattered dropships zoom by overhead while an unfortunate soldier screams and flails as fire spreads over his uniform. In the meantime, Helghast troopers are coolly firing down from high positions.
For aPlaystation 3 game, the technical attributes of the visuals are truly impressive. Motion blur, lens flare, and film grain add up to make afilm-like experience that expertly hides some of the limited aspects (like environmental textures and aliasing issues) that PC gamers with experience playing games like Crysis and Empire: Total War might notice and nitpick about. However, for players who stick primarily to consoles, Killzone 2 is the closest they will see video games get to quality pre-rendered CGI for the near future.

So, Killzone 2 looks great, but how does it play? If the demo is any indication, pretty damn well. The movement controls have astrange feeling of "lag" that results in slower-than average movement that ramps up abit the longer you hold the stick in aspecific direction. This adds asense of weight rarely seen in other shooters that further adds to the immersion: no longer are you afloating gun in the game world, you are areal soldier who has the added weight of his armor and weapons to deal with when moving around the battlefield.

Gameplay-wise, the demo doesn't seem to doanything particularly innovative, but seems to polish standard shooter conventions almost beyond afault. Gameplay is methodical, and so punishes run-and-gunners. Like Gears of War or Rainbow Six, you'll have to advance carefully through acombat zone, sticking to walls using the first-person cover mechanic. Firing from the hip is authentically inaccurate, encouraging the use of sights like few have before. The Helghast, even on the demo's sole Soldier difficulty setting, are intelligent enemies that use cover, grenades, and flanking tactics to flush out both you and your AI-controlled allies. All of these aspects added together mean that Killzone 2 is less arcadey than what the majority of dev teams are pulling off. Seeing such an unabashedly hardcore game as abig-budget console exclusive is quite awelcome change.

There are some minor complaints: namely, the dialogue of certain characters (I think Iheard less swear words uttered in Gears of War than Idid in this one demo level) and the abruptness with which the demo ends. The latter isn't really aproblem with the final game, but the former might put off alot of players who are looking for ashooter that takes itself seriously and doesn't resort to lowly tactics to increase its "badass" factor. However, these complaints seem rather tame in comparison to the quality and fun level already present.

First impressions are usually the most telling. And from experience that the demo provides, it seems like Killzone 2 just might be the triple-A shooter that Sony needs to compete with Microsoft's big guns.

2009 is Going To Pwn

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The Games I'm looking forward to playing:

FEAR 2

Dawn of War 2

Killzone 2

Empire: Total War

Dragon Age: Origins

Heavy Rain

Diablo 3

Starcraft 2

Splinter Cell: Convictions

Project Offset

Alan Wake

Rage

Company of Heroes: Tales of Valor

Star Wars: The Old Republic

What are you guys most hyped for in 2009? :)

FEAR 2 PC Demo Verdict = MEH

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I was a major fan of the first game and its expansions for the gameplay and immersiveness. I was pretty excited for the demo, so I just downloaded it.

My Verdict: Meh.

I was majorly disappointed by the demo for several reasons.

1: Black bars on top and bottom.
2: NO LEAN FUNCTION! Are you serious? Even if this was a port, how hard is it to add a lean function? Even Call of Duty games have them!
3: Weapons didn't have the same punch and feel as in the first one.
4: The hud definitely cheapens the experience, because I feel "shielded" from the outside world.

While it still has solid production values, the game seems to have lost something in its transition to its next-generation, multi-platform sequel. The immersiveness and viscerality of the gameplay are just not there anymore. I'm still probably going to buy the game because I love the franchise, but color me disapppointed.

I Got a PS3

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Just recieved (as a gift) my first console in nearly a decade - the Playstation 3. I've played around with a few of the demos and I gotta say that I'm liking Metal Gear Solid 4 and Motorstorm: Pacific Rift, they're looking like some fine first purchases.

In the meantime, my family borrowed NBA 2k8 and Call of Duty 3 from a fellow coworker. Call of Duty 3 is solid, much better than the online community has made me believe. However, we've been having the most fun with NBA 2k8, using our two controllers.

It's strange having a console in the household, but hey, at least it plays Blu-rays and has a great library of games. Guess its kind of fitting considering my previous and only other console was the original Playstation.

Will Left 4 Dead FAIL on The Xbox 360? Answer: Most probably

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A quick anecdote from sarcasticgamer.com:

Valve's Left 4 Dead, debuting this November for the PC and Xbox 360, is somewhat of a media phenomenon. It basically came out of nowhere about a year ago to rise to the cream of Valve's crop for 2008. It rose to the top for good reason. It absolutely rocks. It's like no other game I have ever played. It takes the cooperative first person shooter, adds zombies, perfects the controls and the cherry on top? An AI Director that will make sure that every time you replay a scenario, it will be a different experience.

This game has the goods. How can it go wrong?

Well, for starters, it's only been shown on the PC and has yet to be played on the Xbox 360. You know what else that rocked on the PC, that was made by Valve? Team Fortress 2. You know what else was an absolute failure on the Xbox 360? Team Fortress 2.

You see where I'm going with this?

For some reason, Team Fortress 2 was and still is a disaster on the Xbox 360. Yes the Orange Box was a great compilation, but Team Fortress 2, which is just an absolute powerhouse on the PC, has a small following on the Xbox 360, a platform that is driven by top notch first person shooters. TF2 should have been a no-brainer top of the online chart darling of the 360 community. Unfortunately, that wasn't the case. Proposed 16 player co-op quickly settled on 8 to 10 player co-op. For a game that easily handles 24 to 32 players on the PC, playing a five on five match just sucks.

The reason? Who knows. I'm not the techie here. Maybe Valve doesn't know what to do with the 360? I know, I find that hard to believe too, but the fact remains, TF2 remains all but unplayable on the Xbox 360, but shines on the PC.

Will Left 4 Dead also fail on the Xbox 360 for the same reasons? Make no mistake, this is my MUST BUY game of the Christmas season. I want to play it on the 360. I have my usual gang of friends on the 360. I like how silky smooth it is to get in and out of online games on the 360. I like the ease of use.


http://sarcasticgamer.com/wp/index.php/2008/08/will-left-4-dead-fail-on-the-xbox-360.html


I agree with sg's points. Valve has had a less than stellar history of console ports, starting way back with the original Half-life on PS2. This is slightly understandable due to the fact that Valve's PC fanbase is among the most dedicated out there, buying millions of copies of their games within weeks of release.

Valve, unlike other developers, also has a personal stake in the PC. This is because of Steam, the digital distribution system that has become an important platform for others to publish their games. With over 15 million users, they've appealed to an audience larger than what Xbox LIVE caters to and also deliver full gaming experiences seamlessly to gamer's pcs.

Valve is unable to offer the same kind of support and frequent updates to the console versions, simply because they don't own the distribution networks on the console side. Whatever content they submit must be reviewed and certified, a costly and lengthly process. This is why games like TF2 have had over 50 content and bug updates while the 360 version has only received 2 or 3 patches.

Another element is Valve's design philosophy: develop with the PC's strengths in mind. What we've seen of L4D consists of fast, twitch-based action approaching the level of Counter-Strike. The level of precision and control that the PC experience is built on simply won't work well with a controller, requiring massive redesigns of the game's pace. The fact that only the PC version has been showcased up to this point doesn't make me confident that Valve is doing all they can to build around the disadvantages of a controller.

Another huge reason L4D might fail to grab 360 market share: Release date. L4D is scheduled to release alongside Gears of War 2, MS' 800-lb gorilla for 2008. I remain doubtful that L4D will do financially well on the 360.

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