Posts Tagged ‘ nintendo ’

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.

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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.

SmartGlass Is Not Microsoft’s Wii U

After several months of almost complete silence, Microsoft has finally launched SmartGlass alongside Windows 8. SmartGlass is an app for W7/8 and Android phones (iPhone app to be coming soon) that allows users to interact with their Xbox with their PCs, tablets, and smart phones to navigate menus, browse the internet, and augment a video game. Having only just been announced during the middle of this year at E3, many have said that SmartGlass is Microsoft’s attempt to copy Nintendo’s Wii U (which was announced over a year ago), much like how the Kinect was Microsoft’s retaliation to the Wii. Well, I’m here to say that SmartGlass is NOT simply a copy of Wii U and has been in Microsoft’s plans long before Nintendo first showed off the Wii U controller.

Way back when, during the olden days of 2009, Ray Ozzie (former Microsoft Chief Software Architect) talked about Microsoft’s vision of “three screens and a cloud” at tech convention and an interview with JP Morgan. He talked about how people in the future would rely less on a single device for their content creation and entertainment consumption and would instead store and process everything in the internet (cloud) and just use multiple devices (three screens; PC [now tablet]), TV, and smart phone) to interact with each other and access that content from anywhere at anytime. SmartGlass is a program for computers (tablets) and phones to interact with their Xbox or consume media content from your Microsoft account. It’s not as functional as what Ray was talking about, but it is a foundation for Microsoft to work and build upon to get them closer to that goal.

Eons later, during the middle of the 2012 year, a presentation document was leaked to the internet. The document was said to be from 2010 and was intended for an internal Microsoft meeting talking largely about the company’s plans for the upcoming Xbox successor and their plans for the few years after it.

Now let me take a moment to silence the nay-sayers and tell you that the document was legitimate. It leaked the Surface (though not by name) before Microsoft announced it and talked of using a foundation of Windows 8 for all of their products (720 included) before that had likewise been announced. It even talked about moving toward streaming games and bypassing hardware limitations, which was later confirmed when Microsoft partnered with the streaming company Agawi to bring console and PC quality games to W8 tablets and WP8 phones. If none of that convinces you, then how about Microsoft issuing a take down order to every site that had the document, citing copyright infringement and illegally possessing Microsoft property? If you didn’t catch that, Microsoft said that the document was legitimate. So now that we’ve got that settled…

In that document Microsoft went it to detail describing an app for phones, tablets, and PCs that would allow users to interact with their Xbox to interact with a game, view video content, provide supplemental information for both games and video content, listen to music…pretty much everything SmartGlass has been advertised to do. It also stated that the features (now known as SmartGlass) would launch late 2012, which it has.

Now let’s look at the timeline: In 2009 Ray Ozzie spoke about having multiple devices interact with each other to enhance experiences, in 2010 Microsoft was discussing literally every feature shown off by SmartGlass, in 2011 Nintendo debuts the Wii U with a faux-tablet controller, and Microsoft announces and launches Smart Glass in 2012. If I read that right, it means that Microsoft was concocting SmartGlass at least two years prior to the first announcement of the Wii U! So can anyone explain to me how a feature that has been in development for over three years is a response to a feature that was announced barely a year ago? Well, you can’t. SmartGlass is not a response to the Wii U; Nintendo just happened to talk about something similar before Microsoft let the public in on their secret software.