Posts Tagged ‘ xbox successor ’

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.

Advertisements

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.

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.

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.