Archive for June, 2013

Plenty to discuss this week from Microsoft, Sony has a promising feature for their Netflix app and Steam’s trading card system is in full swing.

-Looks like Microsoft will invest about $700 million to expanding it’s data centers.  Named “Project Mountain”, these data centers are one part of what will be powering Xbox One’s cloud services.  Located in Des Moines, Iowa, this stretch of land is 40 acres long sharing space with other tech companies such as Google and Facebook which also have data centers located in Iowa.  I am excited yet a bit skeptical on this cloud service Microsoft is rolling out.  It seems as if it could be a giant step for the Redmont company and obviously they are putting their chips on that respective table, but we still don’t truly know how it will weave itself into our gaming experience.  Will this improve graphic capabilities down the line?  Or is it strictly something for online gameplay improvement?  The possibilities are endless, but for now we’ll just have to wait and see what the extent of this cloud service is.    http://goo.gl/xwk95

-With that being said an engineer from Respawn, makers of the highly anticipated Titanfall, posted an article on how their specific next gen game will benefit from the cloud services.  Jon Shiring, stated having access to dedicated servers from Microsoft means they don’t have to rent and maintain servers from different ISP’s.  Microsoft has servers globally available which means a more uniform experience for everyone that is connecting to Xbox Live and subsequently a better gaming experience for people playing Titanfall, which is only an online multiplayer game.   http://goo.gl/0vci6

-Ready to watch live TV on your Xbox 360?  Yes, the 360.  If you have a subscription with Time Warner Cable, you will be able to watch live TV later this summer.  With an Xbox Live Gold membership and the Time Warner app you will have access to approximately 300 channels of live television.  We already know the Xbox One, basically doubles as a intermediary to the set top box, so this is definitely an interesting development.  This prompts me to think maybe Time Warner will be one of the first providers able to pair up with special features to the Xbox One.  This is a bit of an odd move considering Microsoft’s eggs are mostly in the One’s basket, but maybe this is also a good showing of faith to continue to service the 360 while in the midst of a next gen console release.  http://goo.gl/RFkAS

-On June 28th the Netflix app available on PSN will have an added feature named “Max”, found in the categories section.  From the makers of the You Don’t Know Jack series, Jackbox Games added this feature that will help users decide on what to watch by offering interactive suggestions to the viewer.  You can immediately play a movie, put it in the queue or get a 30 second pitch delivered to you about the movie’s premise.  Sort of a lite version of the game show they are most well known for, Max will be coming to other platforms in the future.  This sounds like a great idea, but as of 6/30, this feature wasn’t working for me. Will update.    http://goo.gl/SLzBF

-The beta version of the Steam trading card system that launched in May has officially come to all Steam users.  Basically, a meta game for your games.  Currently, only a few games are supported such as Don’t Starve, Dota 2 and others just to name a couple.  These cards can be used to craft badges for status or to redeem in game content.  You earn these cards by simply playing the games that are supported.       http://goo.gl/RZZLG

TLoU

The Last of Us was, simply put, a tour de force of everything that makes a game amazing. The astounding visual aesthetic, beautiful score, sublime controls and powerfully emotional story all combine for an experience that is not soon to be forgotten.

The story of The Last of Us revolves around Joel, Ellie and their trek through the United States in an attempt to locate the Fireflies, a separatist group of the United States government (or what’s left of it) with hopes of helping to find a cure for the dreaded infection that is afflicting mankind.  In this post-apocalyptic story the human race is being decimated by a parasitic fungi of the cordycep family, spread through airborne spores.  Once infected, the person becomes crazed and has traits similar to a “zombie”, feeding on the uninfected.  They run, scratch, claw and generally just try to kill you.  Similar to zombies, a scratch or bite from the infected will, in turn, infect you.  Infected are not the only thing you need to worry about through your travels in The Last of Us.  You will also encounter small pockets of survivors through your travels.  These people are not to be taken lightly as most of the time they are also fighting for their survival and will stop at nothing to ensure it.  The Last of Us does a masterful job of conveying a feeling of desperation to the player when dealing with these two very different enemies.  The survivors call out for help, use strategies such as flanking and generally are present in numbers.  Hardly anyone travels alone is this world.  Their are different types of infected you come across which alters the way you go about handling each scenario.  The infected usually are in packs as well and tend to swarm on you if any loud noises are heard which almost forces you to play somewhat stealthily.

These scenarios can be approached in three different ways: the run and gun format, which is basically a death sentence, the stealth kill format which doesn’t work on all enemies or lastly, just avoiding combat all together which is easier said than done.  The decision is yours, but the one constant, no matter which way you decide to deal with them, is sure to be nerve racking.  This feeling is supplemented by the lack of resources you have available to you.  Especially, in the harder difficulty setting, resources are sparse and force you to take things usually taken for granted, such as ammo, into constant consideration.  Their is a crafting system that fits the game very well which basically lets you make items from several pieces put together such as rags, alcohol, bindings, etc.  It’s these items that are in short supply.  To add to that, a few of the items use the same resources, forcing you to decide whether you want to play offensively or defensively.  A very nice system overall that compliments the game.  You can also upgrade your weapons with “parts” which are just small cogs you find in the environment.  To upgrade your weaponry you must first find a work bench.  Higher level upgrades require more “tools”.  There are a total of five tools you can acquire to have access to the higher level upgrades.  This system also compliments the game well, letting you focus on making a specific weapon you may like more powerful.  You can not upgrade everything in one run through which forces you to spend it where you want it most.  A new game plus mode is available once you complete the game which is a very welcome feature that not enough games have.  Aside from the weapons you also have another tool at your disposal for dealing with everything which is called the “listening mode”.  This basically works like sonar giving the player a visual representation of sound on screen from enemies and friendlies alike.  Yes, it may sound like a cop out, but it is very useful.  You can turn this off in the options if you please.  Lastly, you can upgrade what’s best described as abilities.  By finding bottles of pills you can upgrade such things as health, distance of listening, crafting speed and others useful abilities.  All these systems worked wonderfully together albeit in real time which makes any of these actions nearly impossible to accomplish in the middle of encounters with enemies.

Part of what makes The Last of Us such an immersing experience is the sheer quality of the visuals.  We are on the eve of next generation consoles, but if you didn’t know better you would think this game is running on them already.  The environments are so dense with detail, they can tell stories on their own.  From dilapidated buildings in abandoned cities to beautifully rendered woods teeming with life, everything looks and and sounds authentic.  The settings all feel very organic with so many little details that add significantly to the total experience, it’s just amazing.  The other part that adds the the experience is the motion and facial captured characters.  The characters speak and emote in such a way, they demand an emotional commitment from you and an emotional commitment you will give them.  Along my journey I met and interacted with several characters, each with with own unique personalities and agendas.  The story is definitely one of the best stories to ever come from a video game with believable characters and motivations unlike anything I have seen before.  Character development between Joel and Ellie is also a thing to behold.  It never felt contrived or rushed, instead feeling like a well written book.  I was only able to play in two to three hour sessions because the story as well as the gameplay was so emotionally and mentally draining.  Although very somber, the story has great pacing to it, never feeling like it dragged with filler.

Not to be forgotten is multiplayer which is surprisingly fun.  Their are only two modes: Survivors and Supply Raid.  Survivors is the typical team deathmatch of four versus four.  Everyone gets one life , but it’s best out of seven matches.  Supply raid is similar, but instead of one life each team get a shared finite pool of lives.  The reason this isn’t your typical multiplayer is that all the gameplay mechanics from the single player transfer over to the online experience.  Ammo is at a premium and items can be produced finding resources around the map.  This adds to the overall tension of the battles as gunshots rang out seldomly with fights sometimes just coming down to melee combat.  This is an interesting and very fun take on the “normal shoot them up” multiplayer that runs rampant in most games, usually playing like something that was tacked on last minute.  This is not the case here as battles tend to be a lot more methodical with teamwork being of the utmost importance.  A fun little meta game is also included in the multiplayer which puts you in charge of a group of survivors that increases with your intake of supplies.  Although fun, at times it feels a bit unbalanced as does multiplayer matchmaking.  Either way the multiplayer is not something that should be overlooked.

*Every Saturday I will be going over the gaming news of the week.  I don’t want to inundate you with information, so instead of covering everything that happened during the week, I will cover what stood out the most with some light commentary.*

With E3 now in the rear view mirror, we can all take a collective deep breath and exhale.  We learned so much about the next gen consoles and games, but now we shift our focus back to the present.  The dreaded waiting game begins.  Until then we have plenty to keep us busy till this holiday season.  This week: Steam might be getting a shared game feature in the future, more details were released on PlayStation Plus, the Oculus Rift raises even more money and fun with lists!

In the latest Steam client beta, some lines of code, originally found by NeoGAF, are said to reference a “shared game library”.  This could be eluding to being able to share an individual game or maybe even your entire library with a friend.  Now of course this is still speculation, but what an amazing feature this would prove to be if true, especially since their are only a limited number of demos you can download.  This might prove to even help sales if the method of sharing is done correctly from a business sense.  As of now once you purchase a game on Steam it is tied to your account with no options to sell or let a friend borrow your digital copy.     http://goo.gl/960vx

Sony has revealed some information for how PlayStation Plus will work.  With the PS4, social features and the auto update function will not require a PSPlus subscription.  PlayStation Network is also reportedly a bit more lax as far as streaming services are concerned (Netflix, Hulu) compared to Xbox Live.  Currently on XBL you have to pay for your normal monthly subscription for say, Netflix alongside the XBL monthly fee.  A PSPlus subscription this time around will get you a singular account across all Sony gaming platforms with the ability to have an instant game collection.   PSPlus this time around is a requirement for multiplayer gaming unlike the free multiplayer gaming you can do on the PS3 for free.  the PSPlus fee hasn’t been announced as of yet.    http://goo.gl/QOWzg

Staying with Sony, it seems like the glorious ride of the PlayStation 2 is finally coming to an end.  Already having stopped hardware production in January, this September’s release of FIFA 14 will officially be the last release for the console.  Widely regarded as one of the best consoles ever, the PS2 has been going strong for 13 years.  Thanks for all the great gaming memories and for being my first personal dvd player.  You will be sorely missed.

The Oculus Rift may not have a release date, but this has to be one of the most coveted products awaiting release.  In 2012 the Oculus Rift first came to fame on Kickstarter where it raised a bit over $2.4 million, shattering it’s original goal of $250,000 in a matter of hours.  Now, that number has increased to over $16 million.  The consumer version is said to be 1080P capable, but as of now only the 720P development kit is available for purchase at $300.  This is great news for them as their are reports that many challenges still need to be solved before this can be released to the public.

Fun with Lists:

PlayStation 4 – Top 10 Pre-orders:

  1. Battlefield 4
  2. Watch Dogs
  3. Killzone: Shadow Fall
  4. Madden NFL 25
  5. Call of Duty: Ghosts
  6. Assassins Creed IV: Black Flag
  7. Need for Speed Rivals
  8. FIFA 14
  9. Knack
  10. Driveclub

Xbox One – Top 10 Pre-orders

  1. Battlefield 4
  2. Dead Rising 3
  3. Ryse: Son of Rome
  4. Madden NFL 25
  5. Call of Duty: Ghosts
  6. Watch Dogs
  7. Forza Motorsport 5
  8. Kinect Sports Rivals
  9. Assassins Creed IV: Black Flag
  10. Need for Speed Rivals

This was just a typical Wednesday until Microsoft dropped a bombshell regarding their DRM policies, essentially pulling a complete 180.  In a post titled “Your Feedback Matters – Update On Xbox One” Don Mattrick, announces two major changes.  The first being you will no longer need to be connected online to play games.  You will still need to connect for the day one patch when initially setting up your Xbox One, but after that you are free to play without ever connecting online.  The day one patch had always been scheduled, so nothing changed on that front.  The second is trade-ins, gifts and rental discs will work like they do today on current consoles.  Basically, they scrapped their Family Share plans along with “authorized dealers” to buy and sell used games.  Also, one would assume Gamefly is back in the fold for the Xbox One since rentals will now play on the console.  This is huge news coming on the tail end of a week long reinforcement at E3 of their policies.

So, what happened?  At this point I can only speculate, but it seems like it stems from a variety of factors.  Preorder numbers are not what they hoped thus far as PS4 is making headway in that area.  Backlash from future consumers is another factor I would think helped push for these changes.  You didn’t have to peruse forums to know people were not happy about these changes, especially considering they were on this path on their own since Sony announced their console will basically never have to be connected online and disc based games work exactly like they do now.  Still, to make such a huge change makes one wonder how these things are working out on the technical side of things.  Microsoft has been developing the One for years now and I would assume there was an infrastructure already in to support their DRM policies.  To just throw all that away after, as I mentioned earlier, a week long of pounding out their DRM polices at E3 is just bizarre and a first for a console manufacturer months before release.

All things considered though this is a great move for Microsoft and shows they are committed to being aggressive in this oncoming console war.  This was the best possible way they could have responded to Sony’s policies without dropping the price.  Looks like we have ourselves a fight.  The link to the article can be found below.  Stay tuned for more news and commentary.

http://news.xbox.com/2013/06/update

E3 Thoughts

Posted: June 15, 2013 in Thoughts
Tags: , , , ,

Wow.  What an E3!  This years Electronic Entertainment Expo was one for the ages.  With a whirlwind of announcements and on the floor showcases for the next generation consoles we have much to look forward to, not to mention some interesting looking games for the current gen.  Sony had a huge presence on the floor by having multiple PS4’s set up for the public to take advantage of while Microsoft had just a handful of games to play.  Is this a cause for concern?  It’s still too early to tell, but one thing is certain: Sony is looking for a fight with Microsoft.  They basically countered everything Microsoft had to offer with an aggressive pricing model, not having to be connected online to play and consumers owning the games they purchase outright just to name a few.  With that being said the games that Microsoft has in the works are impressive to say the least.  Although we are all excited for whats to come on the console front I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the Oculus Rift.  This marvel of technology looks to have a huge impact in gaming, completely submersing the player into an experience unlike any other.  Several indie developers are already on board figuring out innovative ways to use this hardware.  It is still in development, but what was shown at E3 was enough to leave an indelible impression of what gaming could be in the future.

With all this excitement towards the next generation consoles one might easily forget about the games still to be released for the current gen, but their is plenty to be excited for.  I wasn’t in the mood to write a book so I’ll just cover a few games that really got my attention.  Big name publisher Ubisoft has what looks to be an impressive lineup coming.  I got some one on one time with Splinter Cell: Blacklist and as an avid fan of stealth based games this one looks to be a gem.  It controls similarly to past SP games with the addition of new gadgets such as the remote controlled drone helicopter, dynamic takedowns and gorgeous visuals.  Skulking around had a great feel to it and the transition to taking out enemies was seamless and very satisfying.  The much beloved Spies v. Mercs multiplayer mode also makes a comeback which is sure to excite fans of old and new.  Staying with Ubisoft I want to mention Assassins Creed: Black Flag.  Now, for whatever reason this series never seemed to keep my attention.  With every iteration that came out I really tried to engage myself in it, but it always proved difficult.  That might finally change with AC: Black Flag.  This open world pirate game has got me brimming with anticipation.  The player mans their own ship which is fully upgradeable and customizable around a huge open world island map that seems to be packed full of things to do.  Oh, did I mention you have your own crew as well?    Events out on the high seas are random such as encounters with other ships either alone or battling other ships.  How you deal with these ships can vary depending on what you want to do whether it’s utterly destroying it or salvaging it to add to your armada.  You can even board the ship alongside your crew if your close enough.  Weather is randomized and hunting has made a return too.  Simply put, this game seems like a lot of fun.  Without spending too much time on it I wanted to mention Diablo 3 from first time console developer Blizzard.  The console port of this PC game looks and plays great.  I always figured Diablo 3 to only be a keyboard and mouse game, but after spending some time with it I can safely say long time fans should have no trouble playing this on their PS3 with a controller and newcomers to the series will have no problem getting right into the demonic fray.  All the abilities are mapped to the face and shoulder buttons which gives it a bit of an arcadey feel, but it plays well with all the mayhem happening on screen.  For the sake of brevity I’ll go into more details in later posts these were just a few games that really have me excited.

The next generation of consoles by Sony and Microsoft are almost here, but let’s not forget about Nintendo.  With a solid lineup of Wii U games coming they are poised to have a dog in the fight as well.  Nintendo is reaching into their tried and true franchises bag with Mario Kart 8, and Super Mario 3D World just to name a couple.  Starting with Mario Kart 8 it blends nostalgia with some new features and updated visuals making it feel like a new yet familiar kart racer.  The whole gang is back alongside new power ups such as the flower from the Super Mario Bros. franchise which lets you launch balls of fire to burn up your opponents.  I really enjoyed the underwater sequences along with driving on walls which flips the stages on their side which is a really cool effect.  Another new addition is a sort of glider contraption that deploys from the back of your kart after jumps from ramps.  Super Mario 3D World is the same formula as the the side scrolling New Super Mario Bros U, but in a very colorful 3D world.  Now, I know this is pretty much what you would expect from Nintendo, but they always seem to get me excited.  These games have always and always will do great because they are just iterations of that pure Nintendo gameplay experience we all got as kids…and it still works.  They are by no means reinventing the wheel, but they have just enough innovation to make them feel fresh.  I think the Mario Bros. franchise is the only franchise that can do this because it’s formula is so solid.  Innovative retro franchises were not the only thing attracting attention at E3 though.  The darling on the Microsoft floor had to be Ryse: Son of Rome.  This beauty of a game was playable to attendees and let me say it did not disappoint.  Developed by Crytek you play as Roman general Marius Titus fighting to avenge his family and help the Roman empire from crumbling.  A hack and slash action adventure game with plenty of violence and gore commanded the attention of anyone that passed by it.  The combat is gruesome and highlighted with quick time event executions.  The player also participates in formation combat with fellow Romans which added to the authenticity of the game.  No multiplayer was shown, but it will consist of gladiator battles which sounds amazing.  What Roman story would be complete without some gladiatorial battles?  Also,  every character in the game is motion and facial captured which is apparent as soon as you take a close look at the characters populating the screen, or what’s left of them after wielding your sword in battle.  Lastly, the much anticipated Watch Dogs also by Ubisoft had a great showing.  This innovative game has to be one of the most interesting concepts for a game as of late.  You’re a hacker in a beautifully rendered open world Chicago as your playground.  Take down stop lights, hack into wifi spots to control cameras, steal account information for easy access to money and listening in on phone calls are just some of the things you will do in this action adventure game.  One really interesting concept I got from it’s demo was the ability to actually and anonymously hack into other peoples games.  You can then decide to either help the player in a sort of support role or hinder them by essentially using the same hacking abilities against the player.  The latter seeming more fun than the former.  This anonymous hacking feature will surely prompt some strong reactions from people, but whether it’s positive or negative only time will tell.

The future looks bright for gamers.  It looks as if we will have plenty to keep us occupied in the next coming months and into 2014.  I can’t wait to see how the Oculus Rift plays out and what innovative games developers will release for it.  I am also very curious as to seeing how Xbox Smartglass plays into a new type of gaming experience with the Xbox One.  It was demoed and emphasized in such games as Ryse, Watch Dogs and AC: Black Flag.  Many other games coming out have some kind of support with Smartglass too, but will it be lackluster like it was on the 360?  We will just have to wait and see.  All in all E3 was spectacular as we got sneak peaks into the next generation of gaming which is always exciting considering it usually happens once a decade.  Stay tuned for more updates and commentary.