All About Derpalon
"Hey man, I'm gonna bring my Xbox over tonight."
"Cool! Your 360?"
"No, the Xbox One."
"Awesome, we can play Halo 2 then."
"No I mean the Xbox ONE."
"...Yeah. We heard you. So we'll plan for some Halo 2 tonight."
"NO. I MEAN THE XBOX ONE. AS IN NOT THE FIRST XBOX BUT THE NEW XBOX ONE."
Well the next Xbox has finally been revealed, and joking about its naming conventions aside, already fans holding out for good news against the onslaught of always online accusations have quickly jumped to Microsoft's defense, claiming "victory" over the naysayers now that the always online requirement has been officially shot down.
Unfortunately while it may be true that the always online mandate is dead in the water, the system is still far from DRM-free, contrary to what many may think. That is, assuming the initial reports coming from Microsoft employees remain true until its expected launch date later this year. According to several sources that have spoken with Microsoft now including Wired and IGN, it has been revealed that used games will likely require an additional fee in order to unlock and play on your console once you have purchased them. One Destructoid article reports that, "Xbox One games will come with a unique redeemable code which will require Internet access to activate and as part of this setup, the software you purchase will be installed from the disc to your system's hard drive. While the redemption process links the titles to your Xbox Live account, anyone playing on the same Xbox One as you won't have to pay for a second copy."
Why thank you Microsoft, that's so reassuring. Thank heavens we can all breathe a sigh of relief now because we don't need to buy a second copy. Never mind the fact that I'm still required to connect to the Internet to access single player offline content. It's only a top-down draconian DRM policy that has thus far been unheard of in the console market. No big deal. This is the near-equivalent of Origin/Uplay/Steam DRM now brought to your home console, and while for some this may seem like only a minor inconvenience currently, I refer you to my previous blog entries discussing why you should still be concerned about this form of DRM. I would also like to take this time to call out any Xbox fans supporting this who previously criticized Steam and PC gaming for having the same faults. If you are among these people I strongly urge you to reevaluate your position on the issue to be more consistent.
I guess calling it Xbox One makes sense, seeing as it is 359 steps backward for gaming.
The Destructoid article also reports in its conversation with Microsoft Studios VP Phil Spencer that when asked how this would impact single player titles, Spencer said he believes "the user would need to go online with their console at least once per day."
Well, this just keeps getting better and better. So, it's not really always online; it's just as close as you can get to always online without actually having to admit to it. Clever Microsoft, very clever. Either way though, players still need to be connected to the Internet pretty much every day on their Xbox in order to get any decent functionality out of it. But don't worry, because see! It's not "always online"! Everything is going to be OK! We've got you covered!
No you don't. This is still anti-consumer tap dancing, and no one should tolerate it. If this is the future of gaming, it is a very depressing one.
With Nintendo already having released their next-gen console and Sony and Microsoft soon to follow suit, the next generation of console wars is on the horizon. There's plenty of fancy corporate speak, rhetoric, and big ideas being tossed around, but are the Big Three really delivering on all the best features that they could be offering?
To find out, I've decided to invent my own hypothetical "perfect" console design and compare and contrast its specifications with what we can expect from the new and upcoming consoles. I say "perfect" in quotations because of course there truly is no such thing, as there will always be hardware advancements or new ways discovered in which the software could be improved or streamlined with each passing year. There's also necessary sacrifices to consider in order to bring cost under control. My goal with this console's design is ultimately to aim for the most meaningful and robust feature set as possible while trimming the fat as needed in order to make it into an affordable and elegant product.
As a longtime gamer who has owned nearly every major gaming hardware platform since the NES and enjoys just about every genre, I would like to think I have much experience and insight to draw from, so hopefully this should be an interesting read if nothing else. Now what would this console be like you ask? Prepare yourselves mortals, as I shall now unveil...
The Derpalon Revolution!
...Yeah OK, so I basically just stole the old codename of the Nintendo Wii, but hey, it's Nintendo's loss because it's a pretty sexy name if I may say so, and it aint my problem they decided to drop it in favor of a less attractive name, so DEAL WITH IT.
I'm Commander Shepard, and this is my favorite blog on the Extranet.
Moving on, let's take a look at its feature set.
Starting with the hardware, the Revolution would house an x64-based chipset, taking advantage of the latest 64-bit computing technology. In fact while we're on the subject, let's just get the biggest cat out of the bag right now. The system's overall architecture would basically resemble a PC with no real significant proprietary deviations. Why this decision? I have a number of reasons. Traditionally, consoles have used proprietary architectures that may offer several advantages, but most of those advantages only benefit the company and not necessarily consumers or developers. For example, proprietary architectures make it more difficult for developers to code for the system as well as port their titles to other systems, so if the Revolution was hypothetically stomping the competition in sales, developers would feel more inclined to make their titles exclusive to my system and consider porting it to others later if at all. This would benefit me, but not really the developer. In general, proprietary designs are just restrictive and limit creative potential. Besides, consoles have been slowly moving toward becoming comprehensive media centers anyway, and they've always been at least one step behind PCs in their feature set because of their restrictive nature, so rather than constantly playing catch-up with PCs, why not essentially *be* a PC from the get-go?
Know your place, peons.
That all being said, the system is more than just a glorified gaming PC; the overall hardware architecture is only PC-based to eliminate unnecessary restrictions, but the system will still deviate from traditional gaming PCs in several significant ways as I will elaborate on later. For now, let's just say my goal with this system is to make it as open and accessible as possible, which is the main reasoning behind this design.
Continuing onward, let's finally get into specifics:
The Processor: An Intel Core i5 Sandy Bridge Quad Core CPU. The reasons behind this should be fairly obvious. It's a powerful mid range CPU that generally offers the best performance for your buck without getting too excessively expensive for the average consumer.
The RAM: 8GB DDR3 @1600 Mhz. I thought about reducing this to 4GB because in truth you don't really need the extra space. What's more important is the speed. Consider all the performance the Playstation 3 was able to push out of merely a combined 512 MB of RAM between its GPU and main RAM. However, with RAM being so inexpensive these days, you might as well go the extra mile in this case.
Internal Storage: 320 GB 7200 RPM 32MB cache SATA hard drive. I thought about doing a solid state drive but here was where I felt the system could seriously afford to trim some fat. While it's true that solid state drives are significantly faster, they're a lot more expensive for a lot less storage space, and they generally have higher failure rates than standard hard drives, so ultimately I felt it would be more beneficial overall to cut down on the price with an additional bonus of getting more storage space out of it.
Graphics: NVIDIA GeForce GTX 560 Ti. With 384 CUDA cores running at 830 Mhz, the GTX 560 Ti is a suitably powerful mid range card that won't empty your wallet while still delivering smooth and crisp 1080p graphics. It was tempting to go for an AMD card instead, but the NVIDIA drivers come with some useful bonus features like adaptive VSYNC for more stable framerates without having to put up with screen tearing, and FXAA, which handles anti-aliasing at better performance than the traditional MSAA method.
Physical Media: Blu-ray Burner Drive. The system will be able to play Blu-ray and DVD movies in addition to games, and the ability to burn discs is supported so you can create physical backup copies of games you download digitally.
The Controller: Wii U Pro Controller design, which technically is just a further refinement of the Xbox360 controller design, but so far out of all the controllers I've used before, this one is unmatched. The curvature of the controller fits snugly in your hands and the button layout is as perfect as you could ask for. The new placement of the right joystick might take some getting used to if you've been using an Xbox360 controller for a while, but I think in the end the new location makes more sense. In addition, the controller has a mini-USB slot so you can plug it into the console for the rechargeable battery like the PS3 controller. As some personal tweaks to the design that I would make, the controller would also support a 3.5mm jack so you can easily plug in your standard PC microphone for voice chat. Furthermore, the recharge cable will be a full 10 feet long, so unlike the PS3's cables, if you get stuck running low on battery while playing, you won't have to sit up close to your TV. And finally, I would ditch the rumble pack feature but include a motion gyroscope. The rumble pack was an interesting experiment but ultimately it's just always felt gimmicky and it's especially annoying when you set your controller down and suddenly it just vibrates off the table and falls to the floor because somebody thought it was a good idea to use it during cutscenes. As for motion controls, I seriously considered a more fully-featured motion controller, and while I did feel the Wii's motion controls improved the gameplay experience for some games, most of the time it only offered marginal improvements at best or felt like a shoehorned nuisance at worst. Nonetheless I really wanted to give developers a wide range of freedom with this console, so I also considered bundling a motion controller in addition to a standard controller with it, but in the end I feel this is another necessary area where fat must be trimmed. I still include the motion gyroscope though because I saw some decent uses of it in PS3 titles like Uncharted where it was put to good use for balancing obstacles and the like. Also, the system would still have a built-in bluetooth adapter, so motion controllers can be easily adapted to it down the road. The Revolution has mouse and keyboard support too; though it wouldn't come included with them, but who doesn't have these already laying around somewhere anyways?
The Case: 4 USB 3.0 ports on the front for controllers and 4 more ports on the back for whatever other peripherals you might feel inclined to use. There's a power button, and there's an eject button for the disc drive. Nothing fancy really. The outer design isn't that important to me. The big spectacle here is about what's underneath. The case would have a modular, easily-disassembled design so that parts can be upgraded with little effort. Much like the Xi3 Piston, the goal here is to give the system the capability to upgrade like a PC but without all the hassle if you aren't as tech savvy. Internally, most of the parts all snap together neatly with connections being mostly cordless, so even a novice can follow the simple instructions for installation. However, where this system deviates from the Piston is in its form factor. It's no grapefruit-sized PC unfortunately, being significantly larger than the Piston. The reasoning behind this is mostly a cost-saving measure. It's more expensive to manufacture smaller parts, and additionally, the larger size makes it less cluttered and more spacious inside, which again makes it easier for novices to work with when upgrading parts. It may not look quite as pretty in your living room, but you'll save a pretty penny in the process, and maybe even a headache too.
I have no idea what you just said, so here's a bunny with an Oreo on its head.
Finally, we've covered all the hardware basics, but what does the Revolution have to offer in terms of software?
Naturally, as the Revolution would be the most open console to date, it would utilize a modified version of the free and open source operating system, Linux. Built on top of the Linux operating system is the Revolution Dashboard--your basic equivalent to Steam's "Big Picture" mode for Windows PCs. This would be the first interface you would be greeted with upon powering up your console.
The Revolution Dashboard: Here you can easily navigate through your games list and start jumping into whatever you want to play. You can buy games physically or download them from the Revolution Store that is built into the dashboard. It also comes with a number of other features built into it right from the get-go. If you download a game digitally, you can create physical backup copies on blu-ray or DVD, and you can do the same for DLC and patch updates as well. You can create a friends list through your Revolution Network account and easily invite them to a party where you can text or voice chat with them. You can browse through your video library and listen to your favorite music while playing your games. You can likewise access shared media over the network and stream it to your Revolution if other networked PCs have media sharing enabled, and finally, online play is free of charge with the exclusion of subscription-based MMOs.
Blah blah, these are all standard features we've seen in consoles before. Well now, let's get into some of the more interesting stuff.
For any additional software needs, you can now tap the Revolution Button at the center of your controller and bam, the dashboard now minimizes to your Linux desktop. Want to watch YouTube or Netflix? Fire up your foxy Mozilla web browser and head on over to their website. Want to do word processing on your TV? Download LibreOffice. Want to Skype someone? You can download an app for that too. If it runs on Linux, it runs on the Revolution. New services and applications don't have to go through any approval process to run on my system; if someone's made an application for it, you can just go download it. If you're feeling too lazy to switch to your mouse and keyboard, you can navigate your entire desktop with your controller too, with drivers built-in to allow you to control the cursor with your joystick and prompt you with a digital keyboard interface on-screen when you need to type something.
But there's still more. When I was playing Halo 2 Vista on my PC, I noticed that the game automatically disables the Windows Aero interface to conserve system resources while the game is playing, but a lot of other games for PC don't do this out-of-box. Thus, the idea came to me for "Performance Mode". Just tap one of your shoulder buttons on your controller while in the Revolution Dashboard and quickly enable Performance Mode to automatically disable graphics rendering of any unnecessary visuals running in the background on your Linux desktop, thus maximizing your gaming performance. Or, you can even go a step further with Full Performance Mode, and the Dashboard will automatically close any non-essential programs and processes altogether in addition to the previous steps, leaving only the necessary processes for gaming. Just make sure you've saved any data that you don't want to lose in those open programs before enabling it (a warning prompt would be displayed before confirming it).
I'll show YOU performance, Loco!
Last but not least, the Revolution Store would enforce a strict "No Connection Required" policy for all single player content. If a game is capable of being played by yourself, there's no reason you should be forced to connect to the Internet. This is the key differentiation that separates the Revolution service from Steam. Even with Steam's offline mode, you are still required to temporarily connect to the service upon installation to authenticate your copy before you can play offline. In other words, even if you created a physical backup copy of your game, you still can't play it after installation until you authenticate through your Steam account online. While this may only seem like a minor inconvenience now, this still effectively translates to a ticking time bomb, or perhaps more aptly put, an extended rental for all your games. If the Steam service ever shuts down, changes its terms, or drops support for games among your library, you can no longer play them. Not so for the Revolution. The fact of the matter is, when you put DRM in your games like this, all it does is hurt the legitimate consumer and to some extent even legitimizes what pirates are doing, because now they are offering a superior version of the product wherein your ownership is not only free of charge but is also free of online restrictions. And that's just it: Steam's DRM measures don't really stop pirates either. As I write this, nearly every single player game you see on Steam can be found cracked online and downloaded within minutes if you just know where to look. So the question is, why do publishers insist on treating the legitimate customer as guilty until proven innocent while this sort of backwards draconian regulation isn't even actually effective at curbing piracy? That's why when you add this all up, I simply can't justify supporting this approach to DRM.
Nonetheless, I understand the developer's desire to protect their product and ensure they get paid what they deserve. I am not opposed to all DRM for this reason. The Revolution Network service would still allow and support online authentication for multiplayer content since players require a connection to access it anyway. Developers can choose to use a CD key method or have the Revolution Network detect when two instances of your account are logged in at once and automatically boot you from the game. Of course this is by no means a comprehensive solution to the problem, but so far it's the only solution that comes at no extra cost to the legitimate consumer, and with pirates being effectively shut out of at least half of a typical game's content, it should be enough incentive to encourage purchasing a genuine copy.
And that about wraps up the general overview of major features I'd like to see in my ideal console. In truth, the Revolution doesn't really make that many big innovations. It's just about being as straightforward, open, and accessible as possible without needing to rely on any fancy gimmicks or rhetoric. The overwhelming message I've picked up from gamers is that they like their standard button controllers and their mice and keyboards, and they don't really need a bunch of souped up social networking distractions to enjoy their games. This console is about offering a blank canvas to developers with as little obstruction as possible, so they can craft the games they want and players can enjoy them to the fullest potential; because really when it comes down to it, what good is any console without its games? At the end of the day, it's the games themselves that drive the console, not some glorified piece of hardware or clever new software feature, so the design should be built around improving that experience primarily above all else. Think of the Revolution sort of like the Sony version of the Ouya console; it's all about being free and open like the Ouya, but with the added bonus of a more robust feature set and powerhouse of hardware typical of Sony. On top of this, I wanted to combine the flexibility of a PC with the accessibility of a console, and I think the Revolution would be able to effectively accomplish that.
Yeesh, this is starting to sound like an advertisement, as if this console will ever get made. Too bad really, because I think it would be pretty sweet, but a guy can dream, right?
Oh, and did I say I was going to compare and contrast this design with the Big Three? Yeah... about that. This is starting to get pretty TL;DR-ish as it is, so I'll just stick to a very short commentary on this last part. As you can see, there are a number of features this console would possess that neither Nintendo, Sony, nor Microsoft will likely be offering in their next-gen consoles anytime in the near-future. The flexible PC-based design allows for user-created mods, hardware upgradeability, and backwards compatibility for old games on a level that their systems just couldn't offer. Then if we branch out to the new competitors up and coming this console season, Valve wouldn't touch my populist "No Connection Required" policy with a 10-foot pole, and the Ouya lacks the hardware horsepower to compete on my level, so I think this places the Revolution in a very attractive position. Thanks for reading if by some off-chance you made it to the end of this long-winded wall of text, and let me know what you think of this idea for a console.
Interestingly enough, just days after posting my commentary on the upcoming game console in development from Valve, marketing director Doug Lombardi of Valve Corporation issued a statement clarifying some misconceptions about its development. In his statement, he explained that the Xi3 Piston is not in fact the official "Steam Box" console, and that Valve only did some exploratory work with Xi3 last year before ultimately breaking off involvement for the time being. Now the Piston has become Xi3's own pet project unrelated to Valve, and they are moving forward with plans to launch it at a starting price point of $999.99 USD, with higher tier models available at additional cost.
Nope, aint our console folks.
With these facts now disclosed, I feel it necessary to do some reflections on my previous editorial. I was originally writing under the assumption that the Piston was the official Steam Box, but now it appears this is clearly not the case. In addition, it has been revealed that the Piston will likely run on Windows OS, not Linux as was also a part of my previous assumptions. For the most part, this doesn't change my opinions in relation to how I feel about Valve's upcoming Steam Box, as most if not all of my points still apply to it, but this does significantly change my perspective on the Piston.
Most notably, now that it seems the Piston will be running on Windows, this means that gamers should be able to have other options besides Steam DRM-locked games for the system. This would make me much more supportive of it if it weren't for the introduction of a new caveat; the price point.
At roughly $1000 for its starting price, this puts the system at a significant disadvantage against other upcoming living room media centers from the Big Three, which will likely be priced at half the cost of the Piston at maximum, if not certainly even less.
Nintendo has already launched their next-gen system the Wii U at the price point of ~$300 and they have had difficulty staying afloat. Considering that this is Xi3's first attempt at directly competing with the console market, they also have no real devoted following of fans to rely upon as Nintendo does if all else fails. With all this in mind, the Piston is likely destined for failure if they can't at least find some way to bring the cost under control.
Sony made the mistake of being too arrogant with the loyalty of their fanbase last round during the launch of the PS3, and they assumed that people would still buy their console anyway despite its hefty price point of $500 at launch. As it turned out, they were wrong, and the system suffered from slow adoption for quite some time before they were able to pick up some strong exclusives and drive down costs. With as steep a price as we're looking at with the Piston and no fanbase whatsoever, it's poised to fall off the sales charts immediately beyond the point of no return.
Yeah, well I'm still the only console that can grill your hamburgers.
Of course being that the Piston is essentially still a PC at its core, its one saving grace is that gamers will already have access to a large library of excellent games for it at launch, but regardless, at a minimum price point of $1000, it's only going to appeal to the hardcore PC gamer market, which would rather custom build their PCs to get more bang for their buck anyway. The large majority of console gamers will likely take little interest in the Piston when they're typically on a tight budget and they're looking for a fully-equipped media center for their living room, which they can get from the other consoles for much cheaper.
I suspect that the main culprit behind the Piston's large cost is its small form factor in conjunction with its powerful hardware. As a general rule for PCs, the more power you try to cram into a smaller space results in exponentially higher costs. This is why laptops nearly always are outperformed by desktop PCs in terms of price versus performance gained. For these reasons, if I were in Xi3's position, I would consider expanding the size of the platform to drive down the cost of the hardware, as well as consider providing an option without the solid state hard drive, as it is mostly an unneeded luxury to the average console gamer that the system would be best targeted to. With just a few simple trimmings to its base design like this, I think it could be quite competitively priced as a living room media center that can rival the Big Three and potentially pull in a new market to the PC gaming scene. As it currently stands however, the Piston is just too highly-priced to justify its existence.
May 22, 2013 5:51 am GMTDerpalon posted a new blog entry entitled Don't be fooled: The Xbox One is still DRM-locked
May 20, 2013 7:51 am GMTDerpalon gave Uncharted 2: Among Thieves a score of 6.5
May 20, 2013 7:50 am GMTDerpalon gave Uncharted: Drake's Fortune a score of 6.0
Apr 11, 2013 8:59 am GMTDerpalon gave Batman: Arkham City a score of 8.0
Apr 6, 2013 7:11 am GMTDerpalon gave BioShock Infinite a score of 8.5
Apr 2, 2013 11:24 pm GMTDerpalon gave Half-Life 2 a score of 9.5
Mar 26, 2013 11:40 pm GMTDerpalon gave Unreal Tournament III a score of 4.0
Mar 26, 2013 11:38 pm GMTDerpalon gave Crysis a score of 4.0
Mar 26, 2013 11:38 pm GMTDerpalon gave League of Legends a score of 8.5
Mar 26, 2013 11:34 pm GMTDerpalon gave Halo 3 a score of 7.5