Tag Archives: sony

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!)

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Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End

What does it take to be moved— deeply and profoundly moved? Stories of grandeur can impress ideas of excellence and glory. Stories of adventure can make us yearn for thill and mystery. Stories of family can reflect the importance of closeness and bonding.

Real life events certainly have the power to move. Novels tackled this ages ago. Music has transformed the world around us for eons. Film figured it out approximately 100 years ago. And within the past 20 years, video games have begun tugging at heartstrings, imbuing wonder, and leaving players in awe.

Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End, the latest and possibly last chapter of suave treasure-hunting protagonist Nathan Drake’s adventures, is certainly not the first video game to entertain the idea that some titles in the medium are closer to film than they are to chess. There have been countless titles that have made the case that the narrative in today’s video games outshines most summer blockbusters— BioShock (2007), Final Fantasy VII (1997), The Last of Us (2013), and Mass Effect (2007-2012) to name a few. As early as 1995, in an abrupt turn of events, players watched the heroic and noble Mega Man turn against Asimov’s first law during the finale of Mega Man 7, holding his Mega Buster up to a surrendering Dr. Wily, exclaiming, “I am more than a robot!! Die Wily!!” While not the most striking piece of dialog, it was a profound moment for a video game at the time.

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The Uncharted franchise’s namesake is in big action during gameplay. Gigantic and tightly choreographed sequences unfold while the player is still in control. To this day, it’s something that feels inconceivable to players who grew up with Super Mario Bros. Over the course of four games within the franchise, developer Naughty Dog doubled-down on the technically awe-inspiring moments with each title; be it scaling train cars that are dangling off the side of a mountain (Uncharted 2) or fist-fighting in a battered and rapidly descending cargo plane (Uncharted 3). Story beats and character development didn’t quite take a backseat, but they were never quite at the forefront of the games. By the third entry, Naughty Dog pushed the predefined story boundaries, but was never able to outshine the action.

After Uncharted 3, Naughty Dog stepped away from the franchise, putting it’s effort into a brand new story. The Last of Us delivered what is arguably the most affecting story from a AAA title yet. A survival story of two individuals, the grizzled Joel, who’s young daughter was killed during confused military frenzy amongst a virus-outbreak, and Ellie, a young girl with the only known immunity to the virus. Over the course of the game, the two strangers argue, protect, bond, and fight together, building a relationship unseen in video games prior.

The lessons learned by Naughty Dog and the development of The Last of Us are clear as day in Uncharted 4. Never has the Uncharted franchise felt so human and connecting. While Uncharted 3 swung for the fences, it never quite delivered. But with every turn of a corner, every new setting, every chapter, Uncharted 4’s story beats like a racing heart. Be it the relationship between Nathan and his brother Sam, Nathan and his wife Elena, Sam and veteran treasure hunter and father-figure Sully, or even the tales of Captain Avery and the lost pirate city Libertalia being explored through the game. Every one of these stories delivers and ultimately delivers a whole greater than its parts.

Nathan’s struggle between leaving a life of adventure and exploration for a life of normalcy and marriage is remarkably easy to connect with. The unknown and freedom of one’s past challenged by stability and relationships is something most struggle with. To add, the power of reigniting a relationship with a plundering brother once thought dead adds a significant amount of weight to Nathan’s difficult decisions and ultimately mistakes. Uncharted 4 offers a surprisingly complicated web of relationships that keep the player hungry to find out what happens next. And unlike most lengthy video games, there is a beautiful simplicity to the story that is easy to come back to weeks after setting the controller down.

But what of a video game’s story if the atmosphere isn’t correct. Surely the benefit of experience a story in the medium of a video game must include visuals and music and mechanics. Suffice to say the visuals are outstanding, possibly the best a console has produced to date.

Buying into the world of Uncharted 4 takes little effort at all. Its outstanding graphical fidelity, animation, and motion-capture performance deliver convincing characters and settings. Nathan Drake is as real as any Hollywood hero. And shocking more convincing as a fully CG character than the real actors strewn about the Warcraft movie.

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Not to digress into a critique of the Warcraft film, but it’s worth mentioning that Uncharted 4‘s visuals and performance are a great example of the power of strong narrative without the presence of flesh-and-bone. To put it succinctly, the game is captivating.

(While we’re on the topic and to give credit where credit is due, the photorealistic Orcs backed by stellar performances. Like Avatar before it, there are moments that are dumbfounding when one realizes what is unfolding onscreen is fake. Just look at Orgrim!)

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It’s not to say that the life given to Nathan Drake by the folks at Naughty Dogs and the performance from Nolan North weren’t incredible in past entries, but there is something truly magically about how Nathan emotes and interacts in Uncharted 4 that makes him believable.

Like the story, the mechanics and fluidity of the game have slowly evolved with each iteration. While the first Uncharted title felt much like a demo of things to come, the level of polish given to the player’s controls during extraordinarily big moments feels just as amazing as it did in Uncharted 2. That said, the overuse of sliding down gravelly paths and using Nate’s new grappling hook felted a bit tired halfway through the game. The repetition of these interactions has a tendency to make story feel slower than it should at time and almost like the player hasn’t progressed much. Slow motion via repetition. There are even moments when Nathan pokes fun at having to slide or grapple again and again.

But if the mechanics are the worst part, and they certainly are not even mildly bad, what of the music? The three previous entries found composer Greg Edmonson at the helm, defining Uncharted‘s iconic and booming theme. Edmonson’s work gave a lift to the sense of adventure and thrill. But like the story, the time Naughty Dog took away from the franchise seemed to open the possibility for new talent and new perspectives. And for a story so strong and rife with conflict, the timbre had to change.

In comes Henry Jackman, composer most recognized by his work on Captain Americas The Winter Soldier and Civil War, X-Men: First Class, and Disney’s Wreck-It Ralph and Big Hero 6. The breadth of Jackman’s work shines in Uncharted 4, adding dark and somber themes to an otherwise epic adventure, namely the heartbreaking “A Normal Life” theme that is sprinkled throughout interactions between Nathan and Elena, displayed most effectively during Chapter 17: For Better or Worse. It’s enough to bring you to your knees.

There isn’t enough that can be said about the impact of the Uncharted franchise. It reimagined what it means to interactive with a digital experience. It’s captivating performances and writing gave life to characters typically seen as avatars. The franchise is a masterclass in the possibilities and power of video games. Most of all, it showed the importance of not rest on your laurels and how care and patience can evolve greatness into something truly special. If this really is the end of the Uncharted franchise, I’m sad to see it go. But better to burn out than to fade away. And what better to burn out on a note that genuinely moves technology, narrative, and players.

Thanks for one hell of a ride, Nate and the Naughty Dog team.

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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.

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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.

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Journey on PS4

Colin Moriarty, IGN:

Graphically, the new treatment is most impressive with Journey, but maybe that’s because I only played through a brief portion of Swan’s black-and-white intro sequence. Journey was a looker on PS3; it’s somehow even more beautiful on PlayStation 4. The lighting effects, the sand, and the way your character’s robes move and sway make for an aesthetically impressive experience. Journey truly is an incredible, emotional game, and it seems that it’s set to remain so on next-gen hardware. I’m not so sure I actually want to play it again on PS4, but that’s because I promised myself I’d only play it once through on PS3. The game resonated with me so much that I’m afraid seeing it all again would ruin that experience.

John Siracusa must be excited.

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The Return of Crash Bandicoot and Spyro?

Andrew House on Crash Bandicoot and Spyro, as quoted by Telegraph:

In concept, it is something we’ve been thinking about and discussing, and this is a shift for us. We’ve started to say that maybe there isn’t anything wrong with going back and looking at characters that people still talk about, that were a big part of their childhood or their youth. I definitely wouldn’t close the door on that.

I’ve mentioned before that Microsoft needs to invest in aged Rare IP such as Banjo-Kazooie, Jet Force Gemini, and Conker (now coming to Project Spark). Blinded by their “success,” I however neglected Sony’s need to do the same.

It goes without saying that Nintendo is on the upswing. The value of their family friendly franchises are at the heart of why you can never count them out of the console race.

Mascots are identity. At the very least, Microsoft can lean on Master Chief but that only scores them a slice of the audience. (Granted a very big slice.) Sony has… Nathan Drake? Kratos? Sackboy and Sly Cooper are nice and all but hardly recognizable outside of Sony diehards. This all became very apparent with the release of Playstation All-Stars Battle Royale.

Nintendo’s franchises, like Disney’s, are approaching timelessness. As the HD Twins continue to struggle in setting themselves apart, Nintendo is only going to gain foothold with releases that focus on familiar faces. Microsoft and Sony need to adopt color and a little family franchise flair.

I’m sad to hear that working with Crash Bandicoot and Spyro would be “a shift” for Sony, but good on House for acknowledging this question. Great on Telegraph for asking.

Update: Prior to the launch of Sonic The Hedgehog 2 ,circa 1992, as excerpted from “Console Wars” by Blake J, Harris:

According to a recent national survey, Sonic was now a more recognizable American icon than Mario, MC Hammer, and even Mickey Mouse.

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Tipping Point

Andrew House, Sony Computer Entertainment president, as quoted by IGN:

Then the third one is virtual reality. There’s just a sense that we have that the technology is again reaching that tipping point, it’s on the cusp of being something that really delivers you true presence, of feeling like you’re in another world. When that’s delivered it’s really magical and I think that how far, how large, how quickly that’s going to become a major part of what we do remains to be seen, but we definitely think the magic of that experience leads you wanting to pursue it.

Admittedly, I have not tried Oculus Rift or Project Morpheus. Call me a naysayer but I just don’t see something as isolating as VR taking off. I don’t think the audience will be as small as to call it niche, but I think the mainstream will find that strapping goggles to one’s face in a group setting is a bit sickening. We are already seeing a slight backlash to smartphone usage in group settings.

This statement comes on the heels of a Samsung’s ‘Gear VR’ headset leak. Three major companies are now investing in VR without a crystal clear vision of the future of this tech. At least not a vision we’ve been shown. Maybe I’m wrong but I don’t think abundant ’80s dreams of wearables and VR are an indication of “where the puck is headed.” At least not in any capacity advertised thus far.

Update: I should point out that I speak solely from the perspective of gaming; though, I have been reminded that PC gaming is primarily enjoyed in solitary environments. This is likely to be the heaviest hitting market for gaming VR. To add, the implications on accessibly experience (be it gaming, simulation, or otherwise) and real world simulations seem promising. Take a look at Chris Kluwe’s TED Talk on augmented reality and empathy.

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Console Love?

Keith Stuart, The Gaurdian:

Perhaps the newfound respect is a sign that the industry has matured. The average age of a gamer now is 35, and you can’t refuse to talk to the marketing executive at your firm because they own an Xbox One not a PlayStation 4 so they smell. At the same time, consoles are no longer the kings of the gaming block. Smartphones have created a massive new audience of casual players, and the PC has had something of a renaissance thanks to the Steam digital games service and the rise of indie developments like Minecraft. It’s not me v you in consoles anymore, it’s us v them.

In some ways it’s a shame. Great game design, great art even (OK, let’s not go there right now), is born from conflict and chaos, not from cosy chats and shared admiration. Grudging respect is fine, but I half yearn for the days when we spent so long with our consoles of choice that they became part of our identity, and identity is always forged in opposition.

I don’t think we can be so naïve to think that the “console war” discussions of old are not still happening behind closed doors. I believe the PR for both companies are wise to the impact of negative, name-calling campaigns under the magnifying glass of social media. They are also likely to avoid the same negative lambasting mirrored in online communities, a now infamous trait of the video game industry.

Perhaps the biggest reason the battle has turned into “us v them” goes back to the HD Twins conversation. Both consoles are so strikingly similar (especially now, with the removal of DRM and Kinect from Xbox One) that there isn’t much weight behind console v console jabs. If anything, this argument now lives on in the HD Twins v Wii U conversation.

To add, the 2014 E3 press conferences for both Sony and Microsoft appeared to mirror the other’s message from the previous year. In 2013, Sony was heavy handed on games. In 2014, that message was delivered by Microsoft. Likewise, Microsoft’s 2013 E3 messaging was miscellaneous media services such as all-in-one entertainment and exclusive TV shows. This appeared to be the underlying message in Sony’s 2014 conference.

Lastly, as if I haven’t spoken of it enough, Console Wars by Blake J. Harris is an entertaining read about the Nintendo v Sega console wars during the late ’80s / early ’90s. Worth your while.

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Fanboy Wars

Forbes writer Paul Tassi’s Fanboy Wars focuses on the fifteen-year span between the early 2000s and today’s gaming empire and the intense impact “fanboys” have had. It details the beginning of the Sony and Microsoft living room war to Facebook’s $2 billion Oculus acquisition. This quick 70-odd page read acts as a great refresher for those with interest in the space and a primer for those looking to familiarize themselves with the modern industry while trimming the fat of history.

Following the likes of Jane McGonigal, Tassi needs face-time to preach the power behind fanboyism. His ideas are a realization that today there exists a single community manifesting great power in an unlikely place; a community that can course correct multi-billion dollar companies yet heartless enough to lay waste to its own kind. While only the tip of the iceberg, I fear that the book will only fall on a choir of gaming peace-keepers and business types rolling their eyes at the idealism found in the pages.

My one large critique of Fanboy Wars is Tassi’s neglect to mention the seemingly poisoned and downtrodden heart of the industry: Developers. While he spend much time lamenting over harsh criticism developers receive from fanboys, he skips over the harsh reality developers face in studio turnover. His miss at the potential upside of Xbox One’s DRM for industry devs leaves his argument a bit unbalanced. Whether or not Microsoft’s original DRM strategy would have been a boon against the industry’s continuous and tragic staff up/layoff pattern remains to be seen, but even a brief adage about the potential benefits to a new console experience would have been refreshing. Hopefully this insight will be saved for Tassi’s next piece.

All told, Tassi mustered up a quick, easy-to-digest summary of today’s gaming world. While his grander message is a realization of the incredible power in oft-scorned fanboyism, Fanboy Wars doesn’t offer much depth for those already harboring intense focus on the industry; however, the book works as a great catch-up for new comers to the industry. Here’s to hoping that Fanboy Wars is a prelude to a something greater.

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Tumbleweed

Keith Stuart, The Guardian:

A big announcement at Sony’s press conference was that the PlayStation 4 would be able to easily handle free-to-play games and that dozens are already in development. You could almost see the tumbleweed blowing across the stage. Core gamers don’t want to hear that. Core gamers, weirdly, cry for innovation then cheer loudest for old stuff they recognise. You know, when games were games and you paid once and they were yours forever.

Stuart continues:

It is no wonder Sony and Microsoft are crawling over each other to sign the indies. No wonder they’re looking at the procedurally generated space game No Man’s Sky and Capy Games’ adventure Below with awe and wonder. These are innovations they understand – they’re not about business models, they’re not about new audiences who are hard to predict, they’re about new ideas within the scope of traditional games. Indie developers are nostalgic but they have the freedom to take the mechanics forward and play with them, just as Tim schafer played with the idea of point-and-click adventures in the 1990s.

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