Archive for the ‘ Gamer ’ Category

Minecraft 360 Reviews: Halloween Texture Pack

This week 4J Studios has release their newest texture pack for the Xbox version of Minecraft. In the spirit of this time of year, this pack is suitably themed for Halloween. Before I dig into this texture pack, I want to say that the Halloween theme is free, but only available till November 3rd! So I encourage everyone to go out and download it regardless of if you think you’d like it or not. However, if you require more than “free for a limited time” to convince you (or you’re actually interested in reading this) then keep scrolling down.

Truth be told, I’m not really a fan of Halloween. That’s not to say I don’t like it, only that I don’t really get excited for it. While dressing up in costumes for one night a year is kinda fun, the whole spooky/death aspect of the holiday just really takes much of the fun out of it. Pirates? Cool. Power Rangers? Why not? Slave Leia? Yes, ma’am! Man in an over-sized demon mask with far too much detail and holding an all-to-realistic fake head of a murdered woman? No thanks. I don’t care for horror/scare movies; I don’t understand the appeal of taking time out of my life to willingly poop my own pants. I don’t like Witchcraft, and I don’t believe in ghosts or other perceived paranormal occurrences. So Halloween holds very little interest for me outside of a party with friends and a few well-made cocktails.

This is my kind of Halloween!

This is my kind of Halloween!

So with that being said, I can honestly say that I love this texture pack! I think this largely has to do with the world I have already built. Everything has a purplish hue to it with many lines being exaggerated by shadows. This allows stone bricks and other similar blocks to really pop without getting as garish as the Plastic texture pack (review to come later). Every object that is supposed to be related to fire has turned a bright green as if they are the creation of magic and not the laws of physics. Torches, fire, even lava share this same color, bringing a sense of consistency to this world.

My fortress of dark sorcery!

Everywhere you look there is a small detail that brings a fun and playfully spooky feel to the world. The world is filled with an orange haze by day and a slight purple fog by night. Stone blocks contain the imprint of skulls. Flowers are small, carnivorous creatures. Glowstone Lamps create silhouettes of black cats. Minecart rails are built on broken bones. Every tool and weapon has a splash of green goo as if they were used to slay some unholy creature. Every armor set is based on a costume with the coveted Diamond Armor represented by the every fearful clown. Even the sun and the moon bear the visage of a sharp-toothed beast watching over you. Did I mention the purple rain? The list goes on. Despite my dislike of the subject matter, this texture pack is done in such a fun way that I can’t help but love it. Perhaps if my world was built in another fashion I wouldn’t have as good feelings towards it, but with my current design it fits wonderfully.

TRANSLATION

Now what about the all-important issue of translation? Or more simply put, how well do these textures work with an already built world? Almost all the blocks remain the same, only with a new coat of flair. So for most builds and designs everything should be just fine. HOWEVER! If you like to use colored wool in your designs, whether for carpeting, pixel portraits, or colorful building design, you may find yourself in some trouble. Similar to the Mass Effect textures (again review to come), many of the colored wool blocks receive total overhauls. The pink wool has been replaced by a red eye peaking out of jungle wood planks. The turquoise and dark blue blocks turn into castle window panes. Oddly enough, the grey wool now becomes black wool while black wool becomes a glowing face emerging from a pine tree. These are all really great additions to make a completely ghoulish world, however they will likely end up ruining many gamers’ use of colored wool. Likewise, building a world starting with the Halloween textures will lead to possible complications if you go back to vanilla textures as all of the sudden you’ll have random pieces of wool placed in buildings or trees.

Colored Wool in Halloween…

…and in Vanilla.

VERDICT

So should you download this pack? Well, since it’s absolutely free and will no longer be available after November 3rd there isn’t any reason to not download it! If you don’t have a heavy use of colored wool in your world, then translation problems should be very little. Overall the textures bring a pretty cool twist to a game many of us have been playing for over a year now; even to passive Halloween participants like myself. Props to 4J for their most creative textures thus far!

Enjoy some of the pictures below, but if you want to see more, check out the rest of them (as well as vanilla screen caps of my world in progress) in my Photobucket album.

Good ‘Ol Capitalistic Competition

I remember the day vividly. I had taken the day off so I wouldn’t miss a thing. I woke up earlier than usual so I could travel to the best vantage point for what was about to come. It was June 10, 2013; the first day of E3. I watched every moment from my brother’s 55″ 120hz TV in glorious, uncompressed HD, a computer in front of me to monitor a live blog (while also live blogging myself for BTDT) and my iPhone in my hand with the latest twitter feeds from press on the scene. I was ready to see what developers had been keeping under wraps for the past several years. I was ready to see the next generation of gaming.

Xbox One

Xbox One – via forbes.com

Microsoft kicked off the day with an amazing conference, despite a few technical hiccups, and showcased so many games that I had trouble tracking what was going on. Publisher EA easily took away my award for best conference of the show, showing off the beautiful Garden Warfare shooter, Battlefield 4 multiplayer, Titanfall multiplayer, and announcing a new Mirror’s Edge game and a new Star Wars Battlefront game by DICE (which literally brought a tear to my eye).  Ubisoft went third in a somewhat lackluster conference if only because we saw many amazing projects that we had already seen before. Compared to all the newness of Microsoft’s and EA’s conferences, Ubisoft’s conference lacked much of the same punch, at least it did until Sony took the stage.

Playstation 4

Playstation 4 – via uncrate.com

After all the amazing worlds I had been introduced to throughout the day, the last conference lead by Sony was downright boring. Sony’s big marquee PS4 titles had already been debuted months earlier, making their appearance appreciated, but not surprising. Sony also had to take time out of their show to talk about TV/video streaming offerings and teased projects from Sony’s movie production studios; announcements that have little place at E3 any other year, let alone the year of new consoles. Add in the large amount of time Sony spent on well-known Indie developers (some whose showcased projects had been out for over a year) and you end up with a very unexciting conference. The conspiracy theorist in me would say that Sony made their conference boring on purpose just to give their last few minutes more impact.

After months of silence Sony (and controversy about Microsoft’s new policies) finally threw a sucker-punch at Microsoft: no restrictions on used games. Then a hay-maker followed: no internet check-in required for the console to work. Sony finished with an uppercut to Microsoft’s jaw: a launch price of $399 ($100 less than the Xbox One’s $499 launch price). I have been following the tech industry for quite some time now, so seeing one company compare their products against another is nothing new. However, I have not seen a company so specifically target its competition’s weaknesses in such a brutal, open fashion. Especially when almost every rumor and insider comment about Sony’s policies indicated that they would be following in a similar (if not exact) manner to Microsoft’s. As surprised as I was about what Sony was trying to pull off, I can’t imagine how the suits at Microsoft felt.

Sick burn

This is how Playstation 4 shares games… – via technobuffalo.com

In the two months since, both Sony and Microsoft have been going back and forth with reversals and one-ups. Microsoft has dropped nearly all of the major complaints of the Xbox One save for the Kinect in every box and the $499 price tag. When Microsoft announced a 1000 person limit to the new friends list, Sony came out and said the PS4 limit was 2000. Microsoft announced that their video sharing feature would be locked behind a Gold membership, Sony came out and said that theirs required no such subscription. Back and forth, back and forth.

I’ll be honest, I’m pretty disappointed that Microsoft has had to back track on so many of their policies because of the angry Internet. While I had some reservations about their radical change, I do believe that their plans were the biggest step towards an actual next-generation of games and entertainment than what Sony is offering. However, I’m pretty excited about this sudden need for Microsoft to compete with Sony. With Nintendo all but refusing to compete in a post-iPhone world, Sony is the only company that has the capability to go head-to-head with Microsoft in the gaming space. Again, I think Microsoft were more concerned with competing against Apple and Google than Sony, but I am pretty surprised at how well Sony managed to drag down Microsoft to compete on their level. It’s a rare example today of capitalism at work. In a world of mega-corporations and government-back duopolies, consumers don’t often get to see one of the things that is supposed to make our country great: competition. These past couple months have truly been exciting for the gaming space because of it.

Next-Gen Gaming: Titanfall

Titanfall – via polygon.com

I am sad that we will have to wait a few more years before we have truly next-generation gaming experience, but gamers on both sides of the console space (and you PC folks as well) need to realize that this competition between Sony and Microsoft is only something that will give us better experiences. Whether you’re a Sony-drone, an Xbot, or a PC elitist, this is an exciting time for all. Don’t get mad, don’t get depressed. Be happy! It’s been almost a decade since we’ve had an environment like this, so enjoy the change!

Xbox OneEighty

Ok, so this title has been a bit overused in recent months, but it’s quite fitting. Anyone who spent time on the Internet during this past E3 knows that the subject of next-gen consoles is a bit sensitive. Mostly it all revolved around several steps Microsoft was taking with their upcoming Xbox One that sounded (and actually were) extreme. Well, it’s been two months since the game conferences of E3 and the story of the X1 has changed quite a bit. I know that not everyone here has the time or inclination to follow every piece of news about the games industry, so I’ve put together this helpful list of policies MS has changed up since the last big game conference.

via arstechnica.com

ORIGINAL POLICY
The X1 will require an internet connection once every 24-hours in order to function. The authorization check-in is measurable in kilobytes, but the lack of a connection will render the game/stream functionality of the console useless until a connection is made. While this allowed MS to introduce a new, interesting digital sharing plan, it also meant that users without an internet connection at all would be unable to use the console.

XBOX 180
The X1 no longer requires the internet in order to function regularly. The console WILL require an initial connection to the internet for a patch to disable the feature and add last-minute updates. After that patch is downloaded and installed, the console will never need to connect to the Internet to function again.


ORIGINAL POLICY
As physical games are treated as digital purchases and added to your permanent account, the ability to sell your game to another party is up to the developer of the game. If a developer so chooses, any physical game you purchase cannot be resold. If a developer so chooses, any physical games you purchase can be resold just like now. The developer can decide what route to take.

XBOX 180
With the X1 no longer needing an internet check-in, physical games are no longer treated as digital purchases. This means that you can resell or gift your physical discs just like you can on current systems. There is no longer a restriction on used games, whether decided by MS of third parties.


ORIGINAL POLICY
Current-gen headsets will not work with the X1. The X1 is switching from an analog port to a new digital port that delivers better quality sound in addition to stereo chat capabilities (for directional detection).

XBOX 180
MS announced that they are in fact working on an adapter for current-gen headsets to be used with the new X1 controller. While the expected cost of the adapter won’t mean much for those with the stock 360 headset, for those with expensive headsets (like my $350 Trittons), this reversal is a Godsend. For those using the headset that came with the 360…


ORIGINAL POLICY
The X1 will not ship with a headset. Users will instead use the new Kinect for their chatting needs. While the new Kinect’s voice detection is quite amazing (all audio processing is done on a separate chip so the Kinect knows exactly what sound to cancel out), it does not address the issue of users needing to sort out the voice chat from the rest of the game’s sound coming through their speakers. If gamers want, they can purchase a basic headset for $24.99 on launch day.

XBOX 180
Every X1 will ship with the $24.99 headset in the box at no additional fee. The headset is still available for separate purchase, but users are no longer required to spend more money to use one.


ORIGINAL POLICY
The X1 will not function without the Kinect being plugged in. Users have the ability to disable functionality of the Kinect in their settings (and even go so far as to turn the sensor off), but the sensor must still be plugged in for the system to work.

XBOX180
The X1 will function without the Kinect being plugged in. If users want, the X1 can function completely without the Kinect. Of course, features like voice commands and motion gestures will still require the Kinect to work. This also means that some games will be unplayable without the Kinect, however those games can be avoided. Users who do want to plug their sensor in will have a very detailed options list for what the Kinect can do. Users can set the Kinect to only detect the “Xbox On” command and sign into their accounts, or whatever combination they choose.


ORGINAL
(Technically not a policy as MS never confirmed the policy when it was supposedly leaked)
Developers who want their games on the Xbox Digital Marketplace will still need a publisher to be sold. Independent developers will need to partner with Microsoft Studios or another publisher in order for their game to appear in the marketplace. Patches for games will still cost several thousand dollars to go through the MS certification process.

XBOX 180
(Technically not a 180 as MS never confirmed the policy when it was supposedly leaked)
MS stopped charging for update certification back in late March. All updates are free for all developers. While the X1 will not support self-publishing at launch, MS will enable it within the console’s first year. Independent developers will no longer need to partner with a publisher in order to sell their games on the X1 Marketplace. Self-publishing for the Xbox 360 will be enabled by September of this year.
Also, every X1 console has the ability to be turned into a devkit for developers. Instead of spending thousands of dollars to buy a single devkit, developers will only need $500 for an X1 console and a phone call to MS to have a working devkit to test their games on.


So those are the reversals announced so far. For those of you who were turned off by these former policies, does MS’s reversal change your mind any? Are you willing to come back, or is it too late for you?

Next-Gen Talk: Longer Runways, Better Planes

I really need to hurry up and finish up this blog series. Not only did I not have these topics out before the PS4 unveiling, but the Xbox successor will be shown off in less than three weeks! Talk about procrastination. Anyways, to continue where I last left off I want to dive into the brand-spankin’ new engines that will be powering our bigger, better worlds and why they’re such a big deal.

UnrealEngine 4, Frostbite 3, CryENGINE 3, Luminous, Fox, Disrupt…These are the names of some of the biggest, newest workhorses that will be powering the worlds of next-gen video games. In addition to being more powerful tools taking advantage of more powerful hardware, these engines will be much smarter than any before them. While they will most certainly bring a new coat of polish to our games, the biggest difference these engines will have will not be seen by most gamers. For the purposes of this blog I will be using UnrealEngine 4 (UE4) for my examples as it is the engine we know most about and I believe it is indicative of how the other engines will work (not in exact execution, but rather in ideal and function).

If you haven’t seen it, I would take the time to watch demo of UE4. No, I’m not talking about the Elemental or Infiltrator pixel-porn videos; I’m talking about the demo of the actual engine and how it works. It’s actually pretty interesting to watch. After a short demonstration of how many particles UE4 can render and how much more dynamic the dynamic lighting is, the video takes the majority of its time to show the back-end of the engine and how artists and programmers will be using it. At its core, UE4 is more about ease of use and automated processes than it is about better lighting filters or texture rendering. Rather than relying solely on hard-coding techniques, UE4 is focused more on sliders and blueprints. The goal is to give artists more power over what they do and free up the hands of programmers to focus more on their individual work.

In another demo, an artist with only a little programming experience shows off the good-looking and functional games he made in only a few days time. It’s a pretty amazing demonstration of what game artists will be able to do without ever interrupting a programmer’s work. That’s not to say that dedicated programmers won’t be needed with these new engines. On the contrary, programmers will simply have more time to fix bugs, improve artificial intelligence routines, and work on overall gameplay mechanics.

Shrinking the Development Budget?

Even though these game engines will allow developers to use their time and money more wisely, I do not believe these engines will make much of a dent in the pockets of Triple-A developers. Sure, devs will be able to use smaller teams for their projects (I believe that the recent layoffs by EA and others are a small indicator of that), but most of the big name devs will simply use the time they save to focus more on bug fixing and post-release content creation. It’s money that is saved only to be spent elsewhere.

However (comma, pause for effect)… Licensed engines such as UE4 and CryENGINE 3 will have a very considerable effect on mid-tier and indie game developers. Studios that don’t have the budget of Call of Duty or the massive team sizes of Ubisoft will benefit from using these engines. With very reasonable licensing options, these engines will give near Triple-A power to these much smaller teams. That last demo showed what one man with a few days can make. What could be possible to a team of five people over the course of six months? Heck, with digital distribution and more equal pricing of online games added to these engines, we may even see a small revival of the dying B-tier game!

Well, there’s always hoping.

Longer Runways, Better Planes

While I cannot tell you exactly how each engine will accomplish these ideals, I can honestly say that I do believe that the greatest impact they will have will be on ease of use and simplicity, rather than simply putting more particles on-screen. Ubisoft has said that their teams are able to do in days what used to take weeks, and the only in-game footage of Bungie’s next game, Destiny, shown to gaming press was a demonstration on how quickly their programmers could build a new, highly-detailed map. So it’s pretty safe to say that time-management is going to be a big deal. But oh how many particles will be on-screen!

These next-generation consoles will be giving developers a much longer runway to work with. As it turns out, developers will be bringing much better planes (not just bigger ones) that can make even better use of that runway. I, for one, am pretty excited about that!

Community Involvement

Thanks again for choosing to spend your time reading my thoughts. I hope to see ya’ll back again with my next topic: One Game, Every Device. Until then, what is one thing you want most from these next engines? Larger worlds? Better physics? A button that automatically inserts an 80’s movie reference? Post your comments below.

Xbox Announcement: Temper Your Expectations

It’s official, Microsoft is making a new Xbox! I mean, everyone has known this since forever ago, but Microsoft has finally admitted it themselves, which is the key announcement we needed. Earlier today Microsoft put out invitations to many games and tech press outlets to go to Microsoft’s own campus in Redmond, Washington to see the next generation of Xbox. Needless to say, I’m pretty stoked that the last company has admitted their next-gen exploits and am looking forward to the announcement.

 

 

HOWEVER!

 

If you’re going in to this announcement expecting some E3 style bonanza, then you’ll be pretty sad. In fact, if you watch the event expecting more than “some” of the announcement being about video games, I think you’ll be very disappointed. This May event will more in common with an iPhone announcement than an E3 press conference. Sure, there will be games (we’ll probably receive a sizzle reel or even an announcement or two), but Microsoft will be saving most of their gaming announcements for E3 proper. This event will be mostly about the hardware build and the consumer services it will provide. You know, like a tech announcement.

 

Wait, why are you mad? Haven’t you complained about Microsoft’s E3 events being too focused on Kinect games and TV stuff? Well, this is one way Microsoft will be able to reign their E3 events back to a more gaming centric focus than they have been in the past couple years. The May event will allow them to really dive into Kinect functionality, family appeal, and general media hub usage. Microsoft will talk quite a bit about its integration with Windows 8 devices, social networks, and existing cable/satellite/internet providers. This will be an event catering to Microsoft’s larger non-gaming audience without any buzz from other events from Apple, Google, or Samsung or the general hubbub of E3 and the slew of post-E3 events (Comic-Con, PAX, Gamescom, etc.).

Don’t worry. Let Microsoft take the time to get this out of their system. The more about Kinect they talk about in May, the less we’ll have to hear about it at E3. And really, the turnaround is pretty quick. It’s less than three weeks between the May event and their Monday press conference for E3. We’ll get a taste for what Xbox will be bringing to the table in May and get a full helping 19 days later. Be patient. Before we know it, it will be June 10 and we’ll be sitting down to watch eight straight hours of unadulterated next-generation goodness to kick off a whole week of announcements. Just don’t be hating when May isn’t as satisfactory as you liked.

 

Thank You!

Once again, thanks for your time. Despite my cautions to not get you hopes up, what are you hoping Microsoft shows off at this event? And please, don’t just say “New IP”. Be specific.

Next-Gen Talk: More Power =/= More Polygons

Well, to rebound from my darker, previous entry, I figured it would be a good time to finish up on of my older unfinished blogs on some of the reasons why I’m looking forward to the next generational leap in console gaming. However, despite all the excitement surrounding Sony’s and Microsoft’s new systems, there are still many gamers out there who are not excited for, and in some cases angrily against, the arrival of these new systems.

The biggest argument I continue to see used against the arrival of newer console hardware is that the graphical leap will not be that great between this generation and the next and games look good enough already. Many point to games that already look amazing (Heavy Rain, Battlefield 3, Gears of War 3) while others point to games that don’t require top-of-the-line graphics to be fun (Minecraft, Journey, Fez). I’ll be the first to admit that we have seen some amazingly displays of graphical prowess and gameplay over the past several years. Even on seven-year-old consoles, Halo 4 has managed to look downright mind-blowing and the upcoming Last of Us is looking to show us what the power of the PS3 is capable of.

The problem is that in order for these games to look as good as they do, developers have to make sacrifices in other areas. Heavy Rain did not have a very large world, and Halo 4 never has very many enemies on the screen at one time. Even the most expansive areas in Halo 4 are not anywhere near a game like Skyrim. Speaking of Skyrim, in order for the game to build such a large and immersive world they had to resort to so many smoke-and-mirrors coding practices that both console versions of the games are bugged to hell (and almost unplayable on the PS3); bugs that aren’t nearly as apparent on the PC version of the game. Speaking of PC versions being incomparably better, it wouldn’t be right for me to not bring up Battlefield 3. Not only was the destruction of the game toned down so that consoles could run the game, the console versions themselves suffered great hits to draw distance (how far the game renders objects) as well as a very limited player count. In a game that is advertised to be an epic combat experience, the console versions of BF3 were stuck to a third of the number of players compared to what the PC offered; 24 players compared to 64. The difference became even more apparent when DICE decreased the player count to 16 on consoles just to be able to run the Close-Quarters DLC expansion. The Armored Kill DLC that followed is simply unplayable as there aren’t enough players to neither balance out nor take advantage of the vehicle-heavy maps. The Xbox version of Minecraft is nowhere near being called a graphically intensive game, yet it is still hampered severely from being on such an old system. The world is a limited-size grid instead of infinitely expanding, and getting more than four players together in a single world causes severe performance drops in areas loading as your travel. I could go on, but if you haven’t gotten my point by now then you should probably just stop reading now.

Games that come out on our current generation consoles are compromised versions of what they could be. They are shells of what we want. They are broken.

New consoles won’t fix this problem entirely, but the influx of more powerful technology will bring much relief to the pressure surrounding the industry. Here are a few things that next-gen systems will allow developers to do more of without them simply adding more polygons.

It’s Not a Small World After All

Skyrim is a pretty big place. Have you been there? Definitely worth a visit as it is an impressive sight to behold. However despite its size the game can feel amazingly small. Maybe it’s because the largest cities only have a dozen or so residents living there. Maybe it’s because the largest battles almost never involve more than ten characters at once. Maybe it’s because so much of the world is empty aside from the occasional wildlife. Maybe it’s because you can’t bring a friend in with you. Maybe it’s because every room, house, and dungeon is hidden behind a loading screen. For me, it’s actually a combination of all of them. The compromises Bethesda needed to make in order to display such a large world with such an interesting AI routine end up making a game both amazingly huge and yet so annoyingly small.

Next-gen systems will allow developers to not only make larger worlds for us to explore, they will be able to fill the worlds we already traverse with so much more life and believability. It is not so much about having a bigger world so much as it is about having a better one.

NPCs with College Degrees

While many gamers will consider NPCs in a video game already look pretty enough, I don’t think there are many that will disagree when I say that most NPCs (allied and enemy alike) in a video game are about as smart as a ham sandwich on rye. While there are exceptions to the rule, there are far more examples of the Artificial Intelligence running most gaming NPCs being done horribly wrong. Yes, much of it comes down to the talent of programmers behind it and the resources used behind them, but the hardware we currently have greatly limits where AI can grow. Far Cry 3 is a great example of the limits of hardware. The original Far Cry was an amazing looking game, but most people would not consider it to be an open world; you could see far, but your actual path was pretty small and linear. However the enemies you faced were pretty smart. If you were discovered they would fan out and hunt you in the jungle and were capable of being fairly sneaky doing so. Contrast that to Far Cry 3, which was a true open-world game. However the enemies were not nearly as smart. They have almost all the intelligence of a bag of bricks, or a bad guy in Call of Duty. The list of similar compromises includes most of the games that have come out in the past couple years; a list filled with games sacrificing smarts for some other feature.

Next-gen consoles will allow developers to have many more features than they currently have and still not make the NPC interactions suffer because of it. Again, it doesn’t need to be a bigger, prettier world. It just needs to be a better one.

Making Sir Isaac Newton the Deadliest Sonuvabitch In Space

If you don’t get the reference, don’t Google it. Get over yourself and play Mass Effect. Simply put, physics is another place where developers can expand themselves. There is still too much inconsistency between games and from within a game itself to completely let this go. Too many games live in worlds that the player cannot influence. Sure, not every game needs to give you Battlefield powers to level walls, but why can’t I push a chair aside if I get stuck? Is rag-doll physics the only way a character can die? How much cooler of a physics puzzle can we build to unlock this temple? There is still much room for improvement and it is something that can get better simply by giving developers more room to work in and more power to do the lifting.

Next-gen systems with more power can very easily allow developers room to ensure greater uses of their physics engines to provide more believable worlds as well as new experiences and gameplay mechanics. Not bigger, better.

A Blue Pill

Our consoles are old. At their age it’s not uncommon for them to experience trouble performing like they used to. These past two years have shown us that our consoles just don’t have the same…virility they used to. They need something to help give them back their old pep and…uh…confidence. Unfortunately, there’s nothing to be done. The hardware is old and limited, and there’s no amount of console-enhancement pills that can fix that problem. Instead we need to wave farewell to the old consoles sitting in their lone tubs near the beach and call up some new stud systems.

Look, games don’t perform like they used to on these systems. Despite looking better than ever, they’re unable to maintain 30 frames-per-second through the whole game. There is screen tearing aplenty, they have lesser draw distances, and they are riddled with bugs caused by coding trying to do too much with the old hardware. I’m frankly tired of playing games that drop below 20fps at multiple points throughout. I’m tired of the horrendously long load times followed by delayed texture loading that makes everything look like a blob of color. I’m just tired of games trying to ask more than what the consoles can give.

If nothing else, new consoles will allow us to play many of the same games we do now but perform so much better and more consistently. I don’t need bigger experiences, I just want better experiences.

What’s Wrong with More Polygons?

Now that’s four pretty big examples of what developers can do with next-gen video games that have nothing to do with making games LOOK better. Each example is only asking for games to PLAY better. But really, what’s wrong with wanting better looking games?

Ask anyone who works in computer graphics (or any other form of art) and they will tell you that the difference between a good digital creation and a great one is the amount of detail in it. And really, the amount of detail to go from one end to the other is not as great as you think. By adding little bits of detail here and there they will eventually add up to quite a lot more substance. Take the amazing Watch Dogs demo shown off at this past E3. The reason it looked so good wasn’t because of some huge leap in graphical capabilities. It was the way he walked, the fact his whole coat moved fluidly as one piece and not a conglomeration of shifting textures, it was the fantastic lighting engine, and the number of particle effects thrown on the screen. It was several little pieces of detail that all added up to make something look amazing. I think many of you will be surprised at how amazing those few extra polygons are.

Thank You!

Well, there are a few reasons on why a more powerful console should get you excited. Hopefully I’ll be able to stay on track and offer up more reasons to look forward to these new systems. In the mean time, what are the things you’re most excited about with a more powerful console?

The Xbox 720 Will/Won’t Be Always Online

I’m a pretty lazy blogger. Like, pretty bad. I’ve been sitting on a multi-blog series on next gen consoles since December and I haven’t published a single one. Well, nothing sparks up the flame of motivation like seeing something so ridiculous that you cannot sit by and idly let it go.

I’m sure many of you have heard about the Twitter post heard around the world the resulted in the departure of top Microsoft executive, Adam Orth. His inferred comments about an always-online next generation Xbox fanned a flame of Internet forum vitriol so large that either by force or choice (or as famed game designer Cliff Bleszinski suggests, unfortunate coincidence) he resigned from his position within a week of the post. Since then, multiple rumors have popped up both confirming and denying that the next Xbox will be always online. Yet out of all of that hubbub and shouting, none of that babble is actually spurring this blog together. Sure, I put ideas down and thought out potential posts, but I figured that would just be relegated my long, growing list of unfinished blogs. No, my motivation for this post comes from a member of the GameInformer online community, bunnyking.

Quite clearly one of those behind the “Microsoft is evil” band, bunnyking recently posted up a blog about his feelings on the matter. Now, I don’t mean for this to be a personal attack, but I cannot think of any way that I can describe his post without sounding like it. It is by far one of the most reactionary, ill-thought, derogatory, inflammatory, fan-boyish post I have ever read. Falsely advertised as blog on why the next Xbox will have an Internet requirement, bunnyking’s post is instead an eight-hundred-and-thirty-nine word bash of those who play on an Xbox console. Any claim he may have to being system neutral or of reasonable thinking is completely absent from post. His comments were so ridiculously awful and lacking of substance that I cannot in all good conscious sit here and not offer up some form of rebuttal. So without further ado, I present to you some reasoning on why the next Xbox will not require an Internet connection, and also why it will.

Why It Won’t

As many people are aware, the broadband Internet penetration in the United States (and most of the rest of the world) is not very great. Sure, more people are getting connected to the Web every day, but many do not have access to fast, reliable broadband speeds. Only about thirty percent of American’s are subscribed to broadband Internet, making a potential market for an always-online console much smaller than one that doesn’t need to be connected. Take away additional consumers who have access to said broadband, but do not want to have a device that becomes a brick when their ISP has a hiccup, and your potential audience has become much smaller. Microsoft would have less of a market to sell to.

And then there’s…well…that’s about it. I’ve been trying for several days to come up with other reasons why Microsoft won’t require an Internet connection, but for every reason I could think of why Microsoft won’t I found a counter on why they would that made more sense for Microsoft, developers, content providers, and a wider audience of consumers. The only legitimate reason why Microsoft won’t is simply that they will narrow their potential gaming audience, and as much as I hope that this is a good enough reason for an always-online console to not be launching this fall, I believe the “why it will” makes more sense for Microsoft, their partners, and their non-gaming customers.

Why It Will

 

I’m going to go ahead and split this second section into two sections. Sectionception!

Ignoring The Internet

No, I’m not saying that Microsoft doesn’t care about its customers. I’m saying that Microsoft cares more about its shareholders than the people who use their products. There is nothing Microsoft HAS to do for you the consumer beyond what is Federally mandated. Since video games are one of the most extreme examples of first-world privileges and nowhere near being an unalienable right, Microsoft has absolute jack (aka, zero, not some whiskey/vodka cocktail) reasons to listen to the outcry of a vocal minority on the Internet. Now, without customers Microsoft cannot make money for their investors/stock holders, so of course they have to be friendly to consumers and offer them something they want. I’m simply saying that Microsoft (and just about every single corporation known to man) will only make a truly consumer friendly decision if it will pay their investors at some point. If there’s no money to be made, or it’s too expensive to be considered a charity effort, then Microsoft won’t do it.

Let’s not forget, Microsoft has already made decisions like this. Back when Microsoft first launched Xbox Live in 2002, they made it a requirement to have a broadband connection just to enjoy their service. If you’re old enough to remember back then, broadband Internet was not a readily available service to consumers. In fact, if you take the numbers everyone has been spewing around for those without broadband or reliable Internet, you’ll find that the Internet situation has vastly improved since then. So really, it’s less of a risk for Microsoft to require an internet connection for their new console now than it was for them to require broadband just to access a peripheral feature ten years ago.

Besides, what’s Microsoft’s incentive to listen to the Internet? If you look at the top twenty best-selling games on the Xbox 360 you’ll find that fifteen of them are online-centric games. These games are built almost entirely around their online components; either by cooperative or competitive multiplayer modes. I can’t imagine that the number of players who buy Call of Duty for only the campaign make up more than 5% of its sales. Of the remaining five games, only 3 did not ship with any form of multiplayer; two of which are Kinect games. Bethesda’s Skyrim is the only Triple-A game to make the top twenty list without any form of multiplayer. So if the majority of Xbox owners only ever play games that are practically useless without the Internet, why is it such an unbelievable concept that it would now become a requirement?

You can even take it a step further. Look at all the hubbub over the recent online-only games Diablo III and SimCity. Despite all the outrage over the seemingly unnecessary Internet connection, both sold record numbers for their respective franchises. People have asked Microsoft, “Haven’t you learned anything from the Diablo III or SimCity?” I would say yes. Microsoft (and many other companies) have learned that despite having an always online requirement (and even a rocky launch), gamers are willing to buy your games by the pallet load. Why should Microsoft (or really any company for that matter) listen to the Internet when ignoring them has been so lucrative?

Gaming And Beyond

This console generation is going to be very different from the last one. Really, it’s going to be different from every generation before it. Everyone in the industry is saying that the PS4 and Xbox 720 will be virtually identical in terms of power and architecture. The PS4 will probably have an edge over the 720 with its GDDR5 setup since I doubt Microsoft will match them there. However, the PS3 was more powerful than the 360 but you could only tell in first-party titles and most third-party titles were worse on the PS3 than the 360. Granted, that had a lot to due with the PS3’s Cell processor and partitioned RAM, but it still goes to pointing out that more power does not mean it will play better games. Power won’t be the decider, and exclusive games aren’t going to be the decider either. Despite Sony’s large catalogue of first-party titles, their total combined sales only ever match the total sales of Microsoft’s much fewer exclusives. A single Microsoft exclusive will outsell half of Sony’s games in a given year. Frankly, the only reason why the PS3 is finally outselling the 360 is because of the Japanese market. Either way, after seven years both consoles are neck-and-neck in terms of numbers. So if power, exclusive games, and architecture design are not going to be the big differentiator this generation, what is? Well, nothing gaming related!

This next-generation is going to be about moving beyond gaming. BEYOND gaming, not AWAY from gaming. Gaming will still be the foundation of these systems, but gaming will become a small part of everything these systems will be capable of. Even the ever stubborn Nintendo realized this to some extent by including universal remote technology in the WiiU. Both the PS4 and next Xbox will be adding in features to make their systems do more than simply play a video game. Music, movies, communication, and social media all contribute to these systems turning from dedicated video game consoles into multi-faceted entertainment boxes. From every rumor we can gather, Microsoft is poised to take the largest dive into that “everything” pool.

Microsoft will be working with every possible content provider that it can to work out deals and agreements to bring their content onto the next Xbox or to use the console as a direct interface into the providers’ infrastructure. Cable and satellite networks and internet based providers such as Netflix and Hulu will receive a level of integration with the next Xbox that will overshadow what we currently have on any other device. That integration will only come if Microsoft can guarantee the safety and profitability of the content provided by these companies. An always-online console would be one such way to fulfill that guarantee. It could give Microsoft a better tool to make modding a console more difficult (though probably not impossible to) as well as finding and bricking said consoles thereby reducing the likelihood of content being pirated. If Microsoft can guarantee that every system will have an internet connection, they could charge more for advertisements in that small square in the bottom right corner of the dashboard. More revenue from advertisements mean more money for Microsoft to throw at content providers, which in turn encourages more providers to show their content, which in turn attracts more consumers to a growing ecosystem, which in turn generates more ad revenue, which in turn makes its way into content providers, which in turn… You see where I’m going.

Now before you go on some long rant about the evils of advertising, let me say that the only way we will ever be able to move the entertainment industry to an a la carte method of consumption is through advertising. Want to only subscribe to HBO? Well, ads on your Xbox dashboard might be one way for that to be possible. “Why can’t I just pay $15 a month like Netflix for HBO?” Well, that’s because HBO has such high overhead production costs that every HBO subscriber could pay $30 a month and HBO would still lose money. HBO only exists because its productions are subsidized by the ad revenue of cable and satellite network companies. If paying a subscription to Xbox Live and having a small ad in the corner of my screen allowed me to subscribe to HBO without needed a huge cable bill, my purchase of an always-online Xbox would be justified. I think many consumers would agree.

As for the benefits to gamers? Well, I can’t really think of any. That’s not to say there won’t be, only that I lack the imagination to come up with something substantial. The only think I can think of is that the next Xbox will make Internet a feature rather than a peripheral. What developers can do with a system they know will always be online is anyone’s guess, but it’s something to think on.

What I Think Will Happen

I would not be surprised if Microsoft did unveil a system that required the Internet to work, however I do not think that is what Microsoft will actually do. I do think that you will be able to play Fallout 4 by yourself on the next Xbox without being connected in. However, 99% of all of all the other things the system will be able to do will require a connection. Video games will only be a portion of what the Xbox will do and will likely be the only thing that won’t require the Internet. However (there’s a lot of these) I would also see it likely that if you bought one of the reduced price, subscription models or a system that was bundled in with your cable company that those particular SKUs would require an always on connection. You would be buying a system well below the price Microsoft itself subsidizes at, so they will be wanted to ensure you make up that money through digital purchases and ad placements.

 Congratulations!

You made it to the end of my much longer than anticipated blog post. Trust me, I tried my best to pare down this writing and I still didn’t include numerous thoughts and arguments. So thank you for taking such a long time out of your day to reach the bottom. This took me several days to write up; not because I’m a slow writer, but because I’m a lazy one. Hopefully putting this out will finally spur me up to finish the half-dozen other blogs on next-gen that I have in production.