Tag Archives: xbox one

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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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.

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1 UPDATE: Super Mario Run nailed it.

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More Battletoads

During today’s Windows 10 event, head of Xbox division and Microsoft Studios Phil Spencer was unabashedly sporting a Battletoads t-shirt. Polygon followed up:

When asked, Spencer told Polygon, “I don’t think I’ve ever worn a t-shirt that’s been a complete head fake. I don’t think I have … have I? I wouldn’t do that.” So if it’s not a “head fake,” we’ll consider it a confirmation of more Battletoads.

Rare games could be system sellers in my book. Relinking to last year’s post, Xbox One: Swinging for the Franchise Fences with Rare IP?

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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.

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Xbox One’s 7th Core

A very interesting read from Richard Leadbetter at Eurogamer:

Up until recently, both Xbox One and PlayStation 4 have reserved two entire CPU cores (out of eight available) in order to run the background operating system in parallel with games. Since October, Microsoft has allowed developers access to 50 to 80 per cent of a seventh processing core – which may partly explain why a small amount of multi-platform titles released during Q4 2014 may have possessed performance advantages over their PS4 counterparts in certain scenarios.

However, there’s no such thing as a free lunch, and the additional CPU power comes with conditions and trades attached – however, there is the potential for many games to benefit. Firstly, developers need to give up custom, game-specific voice commands in order to access the seventh core at all, while Kinect’s infra-red and depth functionality is also disabled. Secondly, the amount of CPU time available to developers varies at any given moment – system-related voice commands (“Xbox record that”, “Xbox go to friends”) automatically see CPU usage for the seventh core rise to 50 per cent. At the moment, the operating system does not inform the developer how much CPU time is available, so scheduling tasks will be troublesome. This is quite important – voice commands during gameplay will be few and far between, meaning that 80 per cent of the core should be available most of the time. However, right now, developers won’t know if and when that allocation will drop. It’s a limitation recognised in the documentation, with Microsoft set to address that in a future SDK update.

The concessions Microsoft has been making to the Xbox One (revised DRM model, “dis-Kinect”, price-drop, bundles, and now opening the seventh processing core) are admirable, and considering the recent spike in sales, certainly make for an interesting future for the console war. However, these are just that — concessions. Sony has continued to stay the course with compelling hardware and a simple story. Not to mention this is another hit against Kinect and the original vision of Xbox One.

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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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Mario Kart 8 lifts console sales more than Titanfall or Second Son

Tim Ellis, GeekWire:

According to console sales data fromVGChartz, Nintendo was selling an average of about 29,000 Wii U consoles per week prior to Mario Kart 8′s release. The week Mario Kart 8 hit store shelves, over 130,000 Wii U consoles were sold. Even three weeks after the release, sales were still more than double their pre-Luigi-Death-Stare levels. All-told, Mario Kart 8 has sold an additional 207,000 Wii U consoles in just three weeks.

But it gets even more interesting when you compare the Wii U’s big system-seller with the exclusives that have come out in the first half of 2014 on the other two consoles.

March saw the release of both Titanfall for Xbox One and inFAMOUS: Second Son for Playstation 4. The sales boost from Titanfall only lasted two weeks and moved about 94,000 additional Xbox One consoles. The sales boost from the Seattle-set Second Son lasted three weeks and moved an additional 106,000 PlayStation 4 consoles.

I can’t help myself: Hail Mario.

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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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Microsoft at E3

Keith Stuart, The Guardian:

Broadcast live over the internet to millions of viewers the world over, the message couldn’t be more clear: last year’s emphasis on the strength of the Xbox One as a multimedia and live TV platform was a mistake. This is a games machine that also does other stuff that no one here really wants to hear about.

At the end of a pummeling 90 minutes of game announcements and confirmations, Spencer took to the stage again and said, “thank you for making your voice heard, thank you for helping us shape the future of the new Xbox.” Basically, it’s what Microsoft has been saying for the last six months – we listened, we changed, now eat this.

The 2014 Microsoft sounded a lot like the 2013 Sony. I would have loved for Microsoft to double-down on their original DRM and Kinect strategy, offering up an entertainment ecosystem that could have set Xbox One outside of the HD Twins comparison. Alas, their indie games showcase offered up impressive tiny titles that could end up system sellers, and that says a lot.

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