Tag Archives: ps4

Sold on Cross-Network Play

During the Nintendo Spotlight: E3 2017, cult favorite Rocket League was announced for the Switch. The announcement included the bullet point “Cross-Network play”, officially detailed on RocketLeague.com, emphasis my own:

Rocket League will also support all of Nintendo Switch’s play modes, including TV Mode (docked), Tabletop Mode, Handheld Mode, and both Online and Local Multiplayer. Online Multiplayer supports up to eight players, and Cross-Network play will be supported as well, allowing Switch players to hit the field with players on Steam and Xbox One.

The idea that I can play the exact same game with a friend on a different console should not be novel. It is a future I’ve been hoping for, and honestly, a no brainer from a consumer’s perspective.

For non-exclusives, I don’t want to have think about shutting out some of my friends based on a console decision. A handful of my friends prefer playing on Xbox One. Another handful prefer playing on PlayStation 4. I’m caught in the middle and certainly don’t want to purchase the game twice. (Nor should I be expected to own both consoles!)

Without the knowledge of different online communities, buying a game as a gift can be a tremulous experience for family and friends. Confusion exists for the non-gaming community. There are horror stories of purchasing Wii U games for Wii owners. Hell, there was confusion between NES and SNES games back in the ’90s. I would argue that purchasing a game for the correct console, but being locked out of playing with friends simply because they own a different console sounds like lunacy to those without gaming knowledge.

However, as Myke Hurley on the Remaster podcast points out, PlayStation will not be partaking.:

It’s very awesome that [Rocket League] has Cross-Network play. You’ll be able to play against players on other platforms. This is just PC and Xbox right now, which is the same for Minecraft. With the new Minecraft, you will sign in with an Xbox Live account to play on the Switch. So this is something it seems like a bunch of different game companies are getting together with one notable absent platform which is PlayStation.

This is not a technical limitation. It is political.

Jeremy Dunham, VP of publishing at Psyonix, in an interview with Polygon:

“It’s literally something we could do with a push of a button, metaphorically,” Dunham told Polygon. “In reality it’s a web page with a checkbox on it. All we have to do is check that box and it would be up and running in less than an hour all over the world. That’s all we need to do.”

As an owner of all three consoles, the gesture of Cross-Network play between Xbox One and Switch — even between two games, Rocket League and Minecraft — is enough to push me over the edge of purchasing and playing third-party titles available for both Xbox One and PlayStation 4 on Xbox One.

Cross-Network play is the future for third-party titles and I have faith Sony will follow suit. Until then, whenever I’m debating which “HD twin” to play third-party multiplayer experiences on, Xbox One gets my money, simply on the potential that their willingness will bring more shared Cross-Network play experiences. (Come on, Overwatch!)

Tagged , , , , , , , , , ,

Inside: A Review via ‘Death by Video Game’

Simon Parkin, Death by Video Game:

Games achieve chronoslip because they replace the real world with a new one that moves to its own laws of physics and time. This reality engages us totally, and we synchronise with its tempo.

Video games, from the simplest card game to the most vividly rendered fantasy world, consume our attention. When we become lost in a book, we enter a state where the fabricated world and its characters seem to real and pressing that we lose all sense of time. Small wonder it’s so easy to lose oneself in a good game, where one becomes not only an eavesdropper or onlooker on a world, but also an active participant in its action and drama. Video games go further than other fiction: they revolve around us and react to our every choice and input. Just as a piano needs a pianist or a violin needs a violinist, video games are lifeless without us. They need a player in a way that a film does not need a view to function.

IMG_0657Simon Parkin’s book, Death by Video Game, categorizes 12 different facets of video games that, for better or worse, make the medium addicting. Reading it, I felt vindicated. I wasn’t alone in my reasons for play, and was enlightened about the reasons others gravitate toward the activity.

As an entertainment medium, video games offer escape, control, and story. As a technology, they push the bounds of simulated physics, animation, textures, and lighting. As a social platform, they foster community via global communication and participation — each of these facets evolving rapidly year over year. In my lifetime, I’ve gone from playing limited, albeit revolutionary, 8-bit single-player side-scrolling jaunts to open world massively multiplayer online role-playing games to photorealistic action-adventure juggernauts.

After finishing the read — a difficult one to put down, mind you — came a steadfast itch to pick up a controller. No Man’s Sky, an exploration game with over 18 quintillion procedurally-generated explorable planets, which is briefly touched on in the book, had just been released. And Inside, Playdead‘s successor to their melancholy indie hit Limbo, was gathering incredibly high marks.

In the debate of open-ended vs short story, I will always choose short story. Therefore, Inside.

inside

Players are thrust into a dark and wooded area as a boy being hunted by mysterious men in trucks; dogs seek you as their prey. Peak X-Files. Once you have escaped the wood, you happen upon a farm and cornfield. Deceased wildlife pepper the dreary, fog-laden landscape. And what’s that worm-like thing sticking out of that pig?

You are eventually lead into the factory cum rabbit hole. The dark and cryptic mysteries you’ve experienced within the 10 minute introduction pale in comparison to what is “inside.”

More than their incredible art style, subtle and gradual storytelling with layers of mysteries, answers, and more questions, and impeccable taste for atmosphere, developer Play Dead’s fantastic switch-a-roo two-thirds into the game sticks with the player. A shock and horror convention is elegantly flipped on it’s head leaving you, the player, scrambling to rework your preconceived notions about the story and characters. It’s challenging, and in hindsight, speaks to the reaction and thought process of being wrong that so many feel today. Can we really be so sure about our truths? Are our beliefs simply sold to us by a manufactured narrative that elicits good as evil, god as grim, heaven as hell? How perceptive can we truly be? Is our mind a slave to the brain? Are we really in control?

It’s difficult to discuss Inside without giving too much away; therefore, I will leave you with an appropriate quote from what turned out to be an appropriately timed and, ultimately, serendipitous read, the aforementioned Death by Video Game:

Moreover, video games flatter us: their worlds exist for our benefits, and usually, revolve around us. A video game requires a player: without input, it is inert. Our world, by contrast, seems indifferent to us. The cogs around us, both natural and human-made, turn regardless of our interest or input. It is sometimes difficult to know whether we matter, whether anyone cares. When a company loses our details or forgets about us for some reason, we talk of being ‘lost in the system.’ This is how loneliness is seeded in the human heart: a sense that the world and all of its people are indifferent, oblivious.

Tagged , , , ,

The Witness: A (Cheater’s) Review

IMG_1272It started by “stumbling” across discussions about the game, convincing myself that I was listening to the Idle Thumbs podcast because I felt that it warrants my attention (true); not because The Witness was mentioned during a particular episode (false). Or because I hadn’t listened to IGN’s Game Scoop in months, missing a show that hooked me on video game related podcasts (true); not because The Witness was mentioned in a particular episode‘s show notes (false).

Like many growing up in the late ’80s, early ’90s, I was a fan of Myst. The game took the adult world by storm and after my father and step-father both began discussing its puzzles with me, I felt I had something to offer these grown humans. I spent large swaths of time on a mysterious island, solving puzzles and eventually pouring over a strategy guide; a “book” I later convinced my 2nd grade teacher would serve well for a book report.

And boy, do I love The Witness. To a point.

You know, the thing about Braid: I loved it, I loved the atmosphere, I loved the visions, the softness of it. It kind of felt like a piece of silk you could run your hands through. It was a lovely, lovely game. But here’s the thing that didn’t work for me: It got so tough that my need and want to experience more of its world was absolutely challenged by my feeling that I wasn’t clever enough. I kept going back to find out more about the world, feeling more and more stupid. After a while, I thought, This game is dumb. Now I think I was wrong, by the way.

– Peter Molyneux, in an interview with Tom Bissell, Extra Lives

I’m sure I underestimate myself by thinking I would have never completed the game without a guide. The game thrives on the notion of beating the player down only to let them realize they could find the solution all along. There were plenty of times when I pondered giving up, only to persevere and surprise myself the following day. But after 215 puzzles and frustrating “Tetris” logic, enough was enough.

After weeks of setting the game aside for Firewatch, Tom Bissell’s “Extra Lives”, and Veep, the allure and curiosity of The Witness wore off. I was no longer itching to out-do myself. I just needed to know what the The Witness would amount to. Was the experience worth it?

Many reviewers point to discovery and breakthrough as the reward. That once the player is spoiled with hints, the spell is broken. While those moments of besting oneself are certainly empowering, I found cheating my way through the second-half to be enjoyable as well.

I was able to appreciate the full genius behind the game. Had I spent 20-100 hours attempting to slog through the insanely brilliant puzzles for weeks, months or years, there was still no certainty I’d finish the game. By cheating my way through The Witness, I was able to see and appreciate all of the ludacris and awe-inspiring puzzles throughout.

I don’t want to invest in a game that I’m going to put 200 hours in because I’m never going to put 200 or 100 or 50 or 20 hours into a game. I’m just not going to do it. But something like this, which is substantial to me, it’s longer than a movie but it doesn’t become a lifestyle either.

– Jason Snell on Firewatch, The Incomparable podcast, episode 290

It’s very hard for me to spend 20 hours let alone 200 on a single game, as clearly evidenced by my quick drop off from games like Skyrim and Grand Theft Auto IV. Sure, I’m attempting to play through the entire Final Fantasy series, but it’s a repetitive mobile effort that I dip into for 20 minutes at a time. (You’re not missing much of a story in the first Final Fantasy to warrant consecutive hours of play.)

Lastly, experiencing The Witness‘s devilish penultimate puzzle — two randomly generated, timed mazes of mixed logic intended to thwart cheaters — was a welcome surprise. As I closed in on the end of the walkthough, I was stopped dead in my tracks by a puzzle that could not be documented or shared. I was forced to figure this one out on my own. It certainly wasn’t the most difficult puzzle in the game, but it’s a puzzle that could only be appreciated (and likely solved) by someone who had learned enough to stretch their rusty two-week-old Witness muscles.

Oh, what a frustrating ordeal the penultimate puzzle must be for those who had decided to cheat their way though the entirety of the game; stopped short of victory at the 1-yard line. It would have been easy to overlook adding this trick, but is a perfect fit for a game that prides itself on using assumption to shoot-down the player’s knowledge. (Hats off, Team Thekla!)

The penultimate puzzle alone leads me to believe that Jonathan Blow and his team wanted a community to blossom, sharing hints, tips, and solutions across the global community. Why else would there be only one randomly generated puzzle? It suddenly made me feel less guilty for succumbing to a walkthrough.

Do I feel cheating spoiled the game for me? Absolutely not. That said, I strongly advise pushing oneself to the brink of insanity, solve the puzzle that brought you there, then do it a few more times. Understand the language of the puzzles. Only then will it be rewarding to experience the building of The Mountain, the final tricks, the puzzles within puzzles, and the tightly woven secret of the island. Only then will the player truly understand the frustrating brilliance of The Witness‘s final puzzle.

Blow and the Thekla team put together an experience that will be talked about for years to come. And they took a very high risk placing the final puzzle where they had. The spiraling essence of zooming out to see the whole connected thought is a lovely thing. So much so that the idea that The Witness has players seeing puzzles in the real-world is completely legitimized.

Sure, all of this could have been said from a player who finished the game without cheating, and likely with greater appreciation and satisfaction. But I know I ended up a whole lot less frustrated yet still deeply satisfied.

Tagged , , , , , ,

Firewatch: A Review

Unknown

It goes without saying Firewatch is an aesthetic marvel. Just look look at the gameplay screenshot above. Better yet, head to firewatchgame.com and get your fill. But it’s what lies within the exterior beauty that Firewatch shines.

Without taking the Up-like blow out of the first act, the game finds protagonist Henry having taken a job as a fire lookout in Shoshone National Forest, Wyoming. Henry communicates with Delilah, a veteran lookout in another watchtower, via radio through choice-driven narrative queues (à la The Walking Dead, Choose Your Own Adventure). Shortly after the opening, the two find themselves tangled up in a self-provoked mystery.

Throughout my play-through, I became so concerned for Henry’s safety that my own certainty about the wilderness and its role as a haven for the unknown and unexplainable began to fulfill itself. However, it’s at the mercy of a few cheap tricks that this unsettlement is allowed to creep in. One early trick creates the suspicion that something bigger is going on and you’re the only one not in on the secret. Another instills the fear of looking down or turning a corner; two actions that become impossible to avoid and occur at breakneck frequency throughout the entirety of the game. Campo Santo makes it impossible not to feel anxious.

The answer to the game’s mystery will be unsatisfying, but only because this is the wrong puzzle. I’d argue the real answer is to why the game’s mystery is unsatisfying. Therein lies the revelation. Ultimately, Firewatch shows that one’s own ego and neurosis can overshadow important details; that our narcissism and persistence to seek the puppet-masters blur what is right in front of us. Without doubt, an interesting mystery unfolds for Henry and Delilah; but it’s an exposé in egoism that lies at the heart of Firewatch.

Tagged , , , ,

King’s Quest

“Cheri…! How do you spell ‘Sierra?'” a question I would often shout to my step-mother from an adjacent room. Their PC housed a game called Quest for Glory. Somewhere between my limited knowledge of MS-DOS and the English language, I would ask and re-ask this question, eventually running the prompt C:\sierra\glory.exe. To add to the naivety, I didn’t learn how to intiate mouse control until my dad’s friend (and King’s Quest junkie) relayed the message to me. For years, I had been playing a point-and-click without, well, a mouse to point and click.

Nonetheless, today is different; though, not entirely far off. I’ve completed the first chapter of the King’s Quest reboot on PS4 without a mouse. And boy, did it feel great.

At heart, I’m a Quest for Glory kid. In any case, my memory serves King’s Quest far from simplistic and innocent, but dashed with bits of humor and challenge. That said, the personally and puzzles in the reboot feel more realized and extemely fitting.

Princess Bride notes ring hard and true, from a grandfather’s storytelling to a cast including Wallace Shawn (and Christopher Lloyd, not to be left without mention!), but it’s all a lovely addition and somewhat apt recalling of the memories of playing the (or those in spirit to the) original game. The humor and trials dance between easy no-brainer to truly challenging exercises of “wit.” And while most of the game’s writing and development is close to that of a better than average Disney film with clever storytelling devices strewn about, there is one surprising and appreciated moment that brings some weighty emotion; its effect ringing subtly through the remainder of the chapter.

The first of five chapters, A Knight to Remember, resolves with satisfaction. The art direction is gorgeous, animations fluid, and the writing is sure to land a few square chuckles with all age groups. The game comes off as a Disney movie that you play. Not to mention it took much longer than I had expected to complete. While I’m one for concise games these days, it felt appropriate that King’s Quest had more to ofter than anticipated. This coming after viewing a score of 6.5 from one of my favorite game reviewers.

King’s Quest is a worthy play and I am eagerly looking forward to the next chapter.

Tagged , , , , ,

Buttons

Over the past week or so, I’ve learned that you can play Splatoon with two controllers taped together. I’ve also learned that Batman: Arkham Knight is a sprawling complicated buffet of gaming genres.

While the latter may be less about controls, I’m going to bet a “complicated buffet of gaming genres” would be a whole lot less daunting if I didn’t have 17 input methods on my PS4 to use at a moment’s notice:

  • D-pad (up, down, left, right)
  • Left joystick
  • Right joystick
  • Circle
  • Square
  • Triangle
  • X
  • L1
  • L2
  • L3
  • R1
  • R2
  • R3
  • start
  • options
  • clickable touchpad
  • PS button

After you’re done digesting all of that, take a moment to get to know your Xbox One Wireless Controller.

As Ben Thompson pointed out:

Beyond casuals, this is a problem for returning and often busy players. The fear of returning to a video game after days, weeks, or months of not playing – hell, the fear of picking up any video game to begin with – may stem from the problems above. Tutorials are commonplace in video games. Half the time I forget what the tutorials taught me. But instead of digging through menus for a refresher, I return to button mashing and familiarity for the sake of progress.

I began playing video games with the following inputs:

  • D-pad
  • A
  • B
  • Select
  • Start

Today, most people start with less: A touchscreen. Even with an unabashed fondness for the admittedly hideous and complex Nintendo 64 controller, I’ve taken to iOS games that require simple gestures and brief touches but offer rich experiences.1 (See: Alto’s Adventure, The RoomMonument Valley)

Whether or not Journey can be considered a “game”, it is an award-winning experience that only utilized for 44% of the PS3’s buttons. While all buttons were used in The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, it did something extremely interesting: Auto-jumping. When I first played the game, I thought it crazy that jumping was defined by the world, not the player. But I got used to it and eventually loved it. It made perfect sense. In a physical world of button fatigue, a virtual world helped establish what was critical to player timing and what was trivial based on surroundings.

I’ve been dipping in and out of Far Cry 4 lately. I haven’t come across a good instance where I should be the one to define when to grapple or it necessary to control the climb mechanism. (Granted I’ve only played for a few hours.) Grappling seems trivial. On the flip-side, Dragon Age: Inquisition controls my use of potions based on programming, default or player defined. Potion use is trivial. Your character needs to be healed, so the game heals you. The player need not press a button.

I certainly have a reverie for the days of 5 inputs. A colleague and I spent time handling an original Game Boy last week, remembering just how comfortable and satisfying the early handheld felt. (The feels and travel of it’s buttons are a thing of beauty.) The more I sit back and think about the backwards oddity of shutting out an extremely large swath of consumers while deterring those who are ripe to purchase but are fatigued and tired of re-learning, the more I picture grandma’s remotes.

——

1 UPDATE: Super Mario Run nailed it.

Tagged , , , , , , ,

PS4 Adds Console Wide Button Remapping

Ben Kuchera, Polygon:

The screen at the top of this story doesn’t look like much. It’s a simple interface that allows you to swap any one button on the Dual Shock 4 for any other button. It’s a screen that makes gaming a much better place.

“Console wide button remapping is a huge deal for physically impaired gamers. One of the most commonly requested accessibility adaptation AbleGamers receives is for custom controller’s that move buttons to more comfortable positions,” Steve Spohn, COO of the AbleGamers charity; told Polygon.

“If you have limited movement in one arm, only one functioning hand, or even limited digit movement, button positioning is everything. And even more so if you have a neuromuscular disease such as muscular dystrophy where you fatigue more easily depending on what buttons you need to press.”

The push for full customization in button mapping has been going on for years, and some companies are better than others when it comes to offering the feature. What Sony has done is make the conversation obsolete by offering the option at the console level. This is a huge deal for many gamers.

Tagged , ,

Square Enix Profit Doubles

Gamespot:

In the home console space, Kingdom Hearts HD 2.5 ReMIX sold well, and catalog sales were also “strong,” Square Enix said. Meanwhile, the publisher added that Final Fantasy XIV and Dragon Quest X are “making favorable progress.”

Unrelated: Kingdom Hearts 2.5 HD ReMIX is what prompted me to sell my PS3.

To my surprise, an Amazon shipment notice informed me that the game was on its way. The pre-order had slipped my mind as I had placed it nearly a year prior. I was already on the cusp of pulling the trigger on a PS4 when this IGN bit put me over the edge. I stuffed my unopened Kingdom Hearts 2.5 HD ReMIX back into the post, traded-in my PS3 and Xbox 360, and picked up a PS4.

I have no doubt that these games will end up on PS4. Worst case, another reason to subscribe to Playstation Now.

Tagged , , ,

Online-Only Consoles

Dan Stapleton, IGN:

When Microsoft announced the Xbox One in 2013, it was going to require an always-on internet connection to function. After backlash from gamers and Sony’s gloating proclamation that the PlayStation 4 would play games just fine without the help of the internet, Microsoft backed down and dropped the requirement (except for a one-time console activation). As it turns out, Microsoft’s initial approach was more realistic about the modern reality of how games are made, and what’s effectively required in order to have a reasonably stable experience with a physical copy of a game you buy off the shelf today. Your console will indeed run without a connection, but your disc-based games may not give it much to work with.

This piece started and ended exactly how I wanted it to; picking up with Microsoft’s original (and much maligned) “always-on” strategy, and ending with today’s “always-on” gaming reality.

Ben Kuchera recently spoke with former AAA developer Keith Fuller for this tragicomic piece on the instability of recent AAA titles. In short:

This sort of thing is more common than you think, and it leads to muddled, unfinished and often buggy releases. It’s not a matter of including the kitchen sink; developers are sometimes tasked with adding a hot tub at the last second as the project develops.

Stapleton touches on the fact that patches are blessing, but I seem to remember a time when there weren’t even a reality. Maybe I’m showing nostalgic naivety, but I’m having a very difficult time recalling game-breaking bugs from the pre-PS3/Xbox 360 era. But can today’s AAA, reality-verging games truly exist in a non-patchable world?

Games are more complex than they have ever been. The benefits of more powerful hardware are simply enablers. In 30+ years, we have moved from simple sketches of fantasy to unparalleled productions that now challenge reality. Global resources are required to make today’s video games. That doesn’t begin to scratch the surface of the time and resources it takes to generate cutting-edge animations and textures in highly detailed main characters, let alone randomly generated NPCs. I imagine it’s easier to create windblown hair now than five years ago, but nothing compared to the two frames it took in 1988. Just because a console “can” doesn’t make it any easier create.

As an aside, allow this 2011 piece from Gamesradar entertain you: Top 7… horrendously buggy games we loved anyway. Only one of which did not ship on a patchable console. Oh, how I wish Microsoft would have stuck with their original strategy.

Tagged , , ,

Switch to Sony

Eric Johnson, Re/code:

According to data provided to Re/code, an April Nielsen study found that 31 percent of PS4 owners did not own Sony’s previous console, the PlayStation 3, but did own an Xbox 360 or Wii. Seventeen percent did not own any last-generation console.

The people surveyed were Americans, age 7 to 54, and were a subset of a total of 1,200 “active gamers” surveyed by Nielsen between February and April.

However, there’s one big caveat to the survey, which is that it asked only what consumers currently owned at the time of the survey, not what they had owned in the past. So, people who sold their PlayStation 3 in order to buy a PlayStation 4 would’ve been marked down as non-PS3 owners.

Assuming that most people didn’t do that, though, the numbers underscore why launching at a $100 lower price point than the rival Xbox One was so beneficial for Sony.

These numbers are much bigger than I would have thought. I knew the PS4 was out pacing both the Xbox One and (not surprisingly) the Wii U, but 17% adding consoles to their homes is astounding. Sure, they may have had PS2s, Xboxes, and Gamecubes, but 17% after the longest generation cycle, I assume it’s safe to say these are new console owners… if we are assuming of course.

Tagged , , , , , ,