Enter the Swapfu

Posted: July 14, 2014 in Thoughts

Let’s face it, video games are expensive and not many forms of video game exchanging exist. The ones that do exist are all viable options, each having their own pros and cons. It’s up to the consumer to decide what’s best for them. With that being said, there is a new player in the video game exchange scene that brings some consumer friendly options to light.

Enter Swapfu:

Swapfu is an online trading community for video games. The site, which officially launched in May, is a place for gamers to trade their games with other site users. If this sounds vaguely familiar to you it’s because the idea is not entirely orginal.

Long ago there was a service called Goozex, short for goods exchange. It was an online trading community that used a points system as currency. These points could be bought and redeemed (which Goozex took a commission fee from) for games and/or movies . The site eventually went down under its own weight since everyone saved their points for new games and the demand was larger than the supply. Ultimately, users were left with lots of points and nothing they wanted to use them on.

What makes Swapfu a little more consumer friendly than its predecessor is the fact that no money is ever involved, as long as you don’t count the shipping, when trading games. Just create a username, add what you want in addition to what you have and trading is ready to begin.

One of the aspects that is really intriguing is the fact that no game has a particular value per se. The value is in the eye of the trader. What I mean by this is if the trader is willing to part with a game he/she has for another one and both party’s accept, then it is an even trade. It’s all about what the trader wants not necessarily if a game is old or new.

My personal experience with the site is a great example of this. I put Battlefield 4 for the PS4 up. I do not play that game anymore and if I get a hankering for some first person shooting than I would rather play Titanfall. To me, BF4 had little value and was collecting dust. Now, I could’ve traded it in to GameStop for some paltry amount of credit, but I decided against it. The next day I initiated a trade with another user for FIFA 14. With World Cup fever going around I wanted to play a soccer game and figured FIFA would be a good choice. The trades were accepted, games were shipped off and in a matter of days I was playing FIFA.

The site is still growing with users; therefore more games are constantly being added. The mobile site works well as does the desktop site. New features are still around the corner from being implemented such as local chat and a live feed of what traders want on the homepage, but for the most part all the essential components for trading games have been implemented.

Swapfu is a fresh breath of air in a world where video game exchanging is almost non existent.

Kinect-ing the Dots

Posted: May 14, 2014 in Thoughts
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It finally happened.  After a long and arduous road plagued with back tracking of previous statements and apologies, Microsoft is putting Kinect in the back seat, so to speak.  With the recent price drop announced coming on a Kinect-less Xbox One, we can only wonder what the future holds for the much PR maligned peripheral.

The Vision:

Since the Xbox One’s inception, Microsoft has been trying to market a centralized entertainment unit for the living room.  Hence the One in Xbox One.  How would they do this?  Accessibility.  This new console would need to be easily accessible to a wider audience, not just hardcore gamers, but people that were casual and possibly even non-gamers.  To accomplish this monumental feat they needed this next console to be able to be used quickly and easily by all.  Enter Kinect 2.0.  With advanced voice recognition and gesture control the most non tech-savvy person would be able to use this machine successfully.  Now with that in place add in HDMI in support for cable boxes, a slew of entertainment apps with more along the way courtesy of similar app development architecture for Windows 8 and Xbox One and a Blu-ray player  This machine was ready for the masses.  This shift to a centralized entertainment unit was a long time coming for Microsoft.  Many forget Microsoft pioneered having apps such as Netflix on a console.  The Xbox 360 had it long before any other platform did.  The 360 and Microsoft in general also drew in larger crowds of consumers than Sony, for example, with its superior online experience and much coveted exclusives like Gears of War and Halo.  Bigger franchises than any of Sony’s combined.  Microsoft had a large portion of the hardcore crowd and was on the cusp of drawing in an untapped demographic for consoles as well.  The vision for the Xbox One was realized and set in motion.

 Communication Breakdown:

Any great product needs two things for it to deeply penetrate the collective conscious: great features and great marketing.  Just ask Apple.  While the Xbox One has impressive features that its competitors don’t, the message that was delivered at E3 in June of last year had left much to be desired and they been stumbling since.  Even now, those same announcements that were made almost a year ago still resonate with that same crowd Microsoft, ironically, is trying to attract; the casual and non-gamers.  Announcements of always-on DRM and the console not being able to work without the Kinect left a bad taste in that collective conscious.  The damage had been done.  After those statements were rescinded and reversed, Microsoft never seemed to be able to fully get that crowd back.  All the while, hardcore gamers felt alienated by this talk of entertainment options, but not much in the gaming department.  After all, this is a video game console.  Where were the games?!  Topping off all this is the recent Microsoft management structural shake up.  Which takes us to present times.  The Xbox One is ready to play hardball while also taking a page from Sony’s playbook.  Price point parity with the PS4, a revamped Games for Gold program much in the same vain as PlayStation Plus and the removing of apps such as Netflix and Hulu Plus from behind the Xbox Live pay wall.

 Dis-Kinect:
It’s fitting and in many ways unfortunate where we are at right now with the Kinect.  The price cut means so much  without any words.  One of the biggest problems in selling the original Kinect was the fact that not many people felt there was a need for it.  When the need was almost non existent, so where developers willing to incorporate it with their games.  That was supposed to change with the Xbox One.  By including it with every console, as a developer you knew the consumer would have one.  Why not incorporate it and produce something the competition would have trouble replicating?  Last generation the 360 was on the cutting edge of online offerings and destroyed a competing console with better hardware.  This generation the Xbox One finds itself in a similar position, but without the advantages of last gen.  The PS4 is more powerful and has all those offerings…minus a powerful peripheral like a Kinect, but if the console is $399 now why bother with it at all.  The Xbox One without Kinect is a neutered console.  It becomes just another console.  Sure the Kinect isn’t perfect, what cutting edge tech is, but the fact of the matter is part of what makes the Xbox One that “One” in all entertainment unit is the accessibility.  We are barely six months out from the release of next gen consoles and Microsoft has already gone back, again, on a core component of the console. Maybe this could be much ado about nothing.  The PlayStation Camera has been selling like crazy as a separate component to the PS4, so that may also be telling to the wants and needs of consumers.  Still, I can’t help but think that Microsoft, in an attempt to regain footing now, has forgone a cutting edge approach much like they did with discontinuing an always-on DRM future.
The optimist in me thinks with these big changes, the Xbox One will begin to gain back that market share it lost and really begin to compete with the PS4.  The pessimist in me thinks this is just another blunder in a long line of them that will ultimately lead to Microsoft chasing Sony all generation long.  It’s definitely much too early to tell, but these changes could very well be indicators.  All I know is navigating that whole interface controller free, albeit being clunky at times, is awesome and definitely feels next gen.  I can only hope more next gen experiences are on the way.

Ryse-ing to the Occasion

Posted: April 8, 2014 in Thoughts
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A retrospective look on Ryse and video game reviews shaping our opinions

In this day and age instant information and analysis is the name of the game.  Video games have  have become increasingly scrutinized because of a more informed gaming community which, therefore leads to being more selective over the games they purchase.  Critic reviews in a way, have taken precedent over user experiences by letting our opinions be formed vicariously through their words, thoughts and feelings.  Sometimes we fail to even try something that we may personally like because of others’ views or even the general consensus.  With this all being said, reviews have always been a tricky business.  Do you review with objectivity?  Or do you review based on your own personal likes and dislikes that may or may not have been swayed by other factors? Obviously, there are certain broad strokes you can paint with, but still certain aspects of an experience are going to bring someone closer or alienate them to the product purely based on what that person personally likes or doesn’t like.

Case in point: Ryse’s metacritic score is 60 based on critic scores.  As a consumer, if I were to see this kind of score I would instantly steer clear of purchasing let alone even trying the game in question.  Ryse, the Xbox One launch title that came out in November of last year, has been marred with mediocre reviews since its release.  I was one of those people, surely among many others that just wrote the game off as a tech demo and nothing more.  The combat was basic, too much QTE, no substance and micro transactions a plenty.  These complaints along with the campaigns brevity all came together to deliver a message that was a bit lackluster to say the least.  I myself even thought while playing through it that this game came to fruition in a boardroom full of suits, brainstorming together to come up with a title that will show off next gen graphics…and nothing else.  After about a week with Ryse my feelings toward it became a perfect storm of change.

Once I completed it and stared at the credits rolling I kind of felt like I wanted to keep playing.  I couldn’t understand it.  Why was this?  After giving it some thought I came to a few conclusions.  I highly enjoyed the visual aesthetics partly due to the fact that it was just a representation of ancient Rome, which is a time period I have great interest in.  The voice acting was amazing and even coupled well with the characters faces, mo capped and all.  I enjoyed all the cutscenes which were beautifully rendered and the story was not bad albeit predictable and historically inaccurate in spots.  Visuals aside the “Legendary” difficulty proved to be a great test of rolling through areas as perfectly as possible.  High difficulty in games is right up my alley and playing Ryse on this setting was satisfying.  Yes, it’s all just timing based in a simplistic combat system, but when you have to perfectly execute moves to advance it became more fun for me and the simplistic combat was welcomed, for it was difficult enough without needing more complexity to it.  Afterwards, I tried the multiplayer which I assumed was going to be terrible and it was actually much better than it had any business being.  A dynamic, co-op PVE match with the proverbial carrot on a stick being leveling to attain new gear.  Innovative and fun.

After having these experiences with Ryse I realized how much external reviews and opinions shaped the way I looked at certain games.  Reviews in themselves are still a work in progress, I think.  I sometimes find it hard to imagine (even though it’s reality) that a game like Titanfall can be on the same scoring system as a game like Infamous: Second Son.  How do you account for what different goals those games are trying to accomplish?  This, coupled with the fact that certain reviews have personal opinions on what a person liked and didn’t, begin to paint a conflicting image of what a game has to offer.  Should genre based scoring systems be adopted?  I don’t know (probably not), but what I do know is that reviews are an imperfect grading system to judge games by.  Yes, one may use Metacritic and get an average of several scores in one convenient score, but this still does not solve the problem of how games are being graded and the opinions that went into those scores.  If anything Metacritic compounds the problems of our flawed system by corralling all of these varied opinions and attempting to generalize it into a single digit number.

Now, make no mistake about it; Ryse is by no means a masterpiece, but what was a sub par gaming experience for many, morphed into something entirely different for me based on my time with it.  So, why are such scores anticipated and taken so incontrovertibly by so many?  One is with this age of information we must know everything about something before we truly know anything about it.  It’s ingrained in our culture to review, blog, tweet or post our thoughts and/or opinions on a whim.  Secondly, it’s a convenient reference point to bolster our point of view in regards to how we feel about a game whether we have played it or not.  Reviews are helpful and damaging at the same time, but no other form of critiquing a game has come around since these reviews were being printed in magazines decades ago.

There very well may be no answer to this dilemma.  Sometimes, certain games just get a bad rap.  Today will be a week that I’ve had with Ryse and last night I found myself perusing the DLC available and doing Google searches for future map and mode releases.  I even gave some thought to the season pass.  Some thought.  Maybe it’s just me and my particular tastes, maybe I am partial to it given its setting, maybe I have been wanting a third person action game set in Roman times.  Whatever it is, Ryse has gained a place in my heart.  However small that place may be.

Respawn Entertainment recently released a substantial game balancing/bug fix patch over the weekend.  It’s being rolled out by server so you might have not been updated, but even if you were there is no heads up or notification from Titanfall when you boot up.  Aspects of almost every game mode have been updated including certain burn cards.  So far these tweaks have proved to make small yet noticeable improvements.  These are a few of the improvements and bug fixes:

  • Increased the score limit in Attrition
  • Flag Return points reduced
  • Lowered the point value of defensive actions in Hardpoint mode and CTF
  • Evac Dropships are now more responsive to Pilots entering them
  • Minions in Attrition now continue to spawn until the Epilogue begins
  • Double XP burn card sometimes not being applied properly

For the complete changelog click here.

We are only a mere few hours from, arguably, Microsoft’s biggest release for the Xbox One.  A lot of of pressure is on Respawn to deliver on this title with it getting an exorbitant amount of press the last few months.  We are about a month removed from the Titanfall beta now which ran at a resolution of 792p.  Respawn originally said the actual game would drop at a higher frame rate, most thinking it would be at 900p.  Now it’s been confirmed that this will not be the case.

In an interview with Eurogamer,  lead engineer, Richard Baker stated Titanfall will launch at 792p just like the beta to the chagrin of pixel counters everywhere.  He did mention that Respawn will try to upscale the game post release saying “We’re going to experiment. The target is either 1080p non-anti-aliased or 900p with FXAA”.  This has already been seen before with games like Assassins Creed 4 and Call of Duty: Ghosts getting a post release patch to increase resolution.

Also in the news, renown video game critic, Jeff Gerstmann from Giant Bomb put out a pseudo review today (the actual review and score won’t be posted until Titanfall multiplayer server infrastructure is tested) stating “The frame rate in Titanfall is uneven on the Xbox One and though it’s usually fine, it can get downright nasty in specific situations”.  He also wrote “In one Last Titan Standing match–where every player spawns in a robot suit–several players crammed their mechs into a tight area and began duking it out, and the frame rate dived down to what must have been single digits per second”.

This seems worrisome, but let’s give Respawn the benefit of the doubt and see if they can take care of these issues gracefully, unlike EA did with Battlefield 4.

Would you like to earn “Karmic Points” ahead of the release for Infamous Second Son?  Well, the studio behind this upcoming game, Sucker Punch, has started a viral campaign/meta game.  Many writers in the games press have gotten letters and packages containing information for “conduits” which are people with powers from the Infamous universe.

Aside from entertaining reading some of these sites are providing “Karmic Points” for your Infamous play through.  These will be points you can use to change whether you are good or bad.  Just like in previous Infamous games, depending on which side of the line you are on your powers will differ.

Here are a list of sites obtained by IGN that have so far been discovered:

  • enjoyyourpower.com. This site allow you to register for something called “Infamous Paper Trail,” link it to your PSN account and earn Karmic Points in Infamous: Second Son.

IGN has also set up a Wiki for further information on this meta game.