Archive for category Xbox
It was a beautiful summer day in Seattle today, sunny, comfortably warm, not humid, just perfect. But the cloud over Redmond was dark and gloomy. Coming hot off the rumor mill and confirmed now as fact, Microsoft will be eliminating up to 18,000 jobs. In some ways, this really shouldn’t come as a surprise. Generally speaking, whenever a new CEO comes onboard there’s usually a round of house cleaning. But in the case of Microsoft, it’s coming at yet another inopportune time. And quite honestly, that’s been a repeating trend for the past few years now. So much so, Microsoft finds themselves in this constant state of flux with no real sense of direction or growth.
Let me jog my mind and provide a high level recap of just the past few years:
- Surface: The major confusion between the difference between Surface RT and Surface Pro was such a mess they ended up discontinuing the Surface RT line within the year, taking a $900 million dollar bath.
- Xbone: After being completely upstaged by Sony and the PS4 at E3, Microsoft essentially walks back their entire vision and strategy. Shortly thereafter, Don Mattrick (the head leader of Xbox driving this show) picks up and leaves the company altogether. Sales struggle initially until Microsoft finally listens to the public demand and strips out the Kinect 2 from the console. Sales actually doubled because of this move. Oh all those plans for branded shows and what not, forget about it.
- Nokia Acquisition: While this acquisition went fairly smooth barring a few hiccups with the EU and India, the net loss for Microsoft was huge considering the poor sales of Nokia devices and those that were flat out discontinued in the process. In short, Microsoft is paying a lot more for this acquisition than what it was supposed to gain, especially in human capital with these layoff hitting mostly the folks in Finland.
- CEO / Organizational Transition: Ballmer stepping down was years overdue, that’s not for debate. and say what you will about the guy, at least he was consistent and committed in leadership. He didn’t cut and run when the chips were down and towed the line through thick and thin. But as a result, Microsoft hasn’t been as nimble as they needed to be. But that’s likely to change with new leadership in place.
All of this adds up to Microsoft finding themselves in this constant loop of uncertainty. There’s a strong lack of committed direction or vision, and more over no real sense of personality. To coin an old American colonial term, Microsoft is very much a doughface. They’re being pulled and drawn in every other direction but their own, unlike their peers. But this state of flux presents Microsoft with a superb opportunity to attempt some major moves and innovative ideas instead of playing catchup. While everyone else is concerned about wearable tech and virtual reality devices, Microsoft is in a prime position to go in a completely different direction.
While this provides Microsoft a tremendous potential boon from an organizational perspective, this real collateral damage comes in the form of the discarded workforce. Having been on the unfortunate side of layoffs more times than I care to, I can empathize with these people. The anxiety and worrying of who’s safe or not, does not provide for a very effective nor focused working environment. It’s not something I wish on anyone. For those that make it through the round of cuts, congratulations. Now it’s time for you to start making Microsoft a better place, a different place it’s been the past few decades. Put aside your ‘survivor’s guilt’ and shine. And for the unfortunate ones out there, this is not the end. There is life after Microsoft. This is an opportunity to move on to something different, something better, or even the push you need to pursue that life passion of yours. Regardless of wherever you land, just use the moment to start shining in your own way. Be kind to one another and just be awesome.
The media frenzy with Microsoft and the Xbox One continues. In a surprising turnabout, Microsoft has decided to reverse their Xbox One DRM policy. It turns out that vocal minority of whiny gamers wasn’t so minor after all. However, the cynic in me believes that pre-order numbers must’ve dropped at such an unbelievable rate that Microsoft felt compelled to respond in order to stay competitive against Sony’s PS4. But quite frankly, this was NOT the right move to make.
There’s no doubt Microsoft needed to respond to Sony after E3. But conceding on what was essentially the linchpin to their long term strategy was too reactionary. In some ways it reflects a lack of confidence they may have had in their original plan. If Microsoft was truly dedicated to moving gaming into a new digital age that benefited everyone, then they should have stuck to their guns despite the mountain of bad press. Instead, Microsoft backslides into the safer, short term bet of retaining their current customer base instead of betting the farm on the longer term rewards and learnings. All of this just smacks of weakness.
If anything, I was assuming if Microsoft scaled back on the mandatory functionality of the Kinect 2; if not stripping it out completely to cut back the price. This would have easily made it more competitive with the PS4. To date, I have yet to find any information on why the Kinect 2 is critical to gaming on the Xbox One. If any of you do, please share it with me. Removing the Kinect 2 would’ve been a more sensible strategy given the reservations many still have about it. But this was a head-scratcher from day one. If they were going to make the Kinect 2 mandatory, why not just build into the system in the first place? This most likely would have greatly increased the manufacturing costs. But that’s a cost Microsoft can eat. And it would have easily justified the $500 price point. However, Microsoft is set and locked with Kinect 2 still being mandatory despite removing DRM.
The real culprit throughout this whole Xbox One debacle can be boiled down to one issue: Microsoft’s Ineffective Communication!
From day one, information from Microsoft has been a whirlwind of conflicting sources and vague half-truths. The message about Xbox One has failed to be consistent. Not only that, they’ve failed to really be entirely forthcoming about how the new DRM policy would help benefit consumers and studios. Admittedly, there are sources outlining some of these details, but not many that clearly painted a picture of the how it translated to users in a practical manner. It wasn’t until I found this obscure article referencing an Xbox One engineer that the whole DRM really made sense. But when the head of Xbox is making flippant comments about disadvantaged consumers combined with everything else, how do you expect consumers to react? And lets face it, they knew enforcing DRM was never going to be a popular decision. But they should have done a hell of a much better job helping consumers embrace the changes and conveying the benefits that could follow.
Losing DRM eliminates many of the planned services Microsoft had in mind such as digital access to games, family sharing, lower game price points and more. These were all great ideas building on what Steam is already doing. And honestly, it would have been worth the risk. But Steam also has an OFFLINE mode. Why couldn’t Microsoft offer a similar option for Xbox One? They could have avoided a mountain of resistance around the required internet connection and the 24 hour check.
Many outlets view the reversal as a major win for consumers. And in some ways, it is (despite my cynical inference). But there’s no denying, games are transitioning more to the digital space. And Microsoft tried to embrace that change. Whether or not it was the ‘right‘ approach is neither here or there. The true winner here is Gamestop and other used retail outlets, not consumers. But this still put smaller studios in more danger of layoffs and closures as game production continue to increase. But as I mentioned in previous posts, the ballooning cost of game development really needs to be re-evaluated. But more importantly, publishers and developers need to crack down on Gamestop and other used retailers for lost revenue. There’s no sound reasons publishers and studios should not be getting a cut from used games sales. That dynamic should have been resolved by now. There is a solution in that relationship, and it’s not by passing the cost down to the consumer.
The DRM reversal also raises a few new questions such as: what does this mean for indie developers? Will the XBLIA space operate under the same manner or is it it still closed off? What does this mean for digital downloads, especially new titles? What about cloud gaming? Sony is already ahead of the curve in this regard. For quite a while, the Ps3 has been offering day one digital downloads for new titles. Sony is poised to stab the knife further into Micosoft’s back if they can offer day one downloads at discounted prices, say $49. And if the rumors of cloud gaming for PS3 titles on the ps4 is true, Microsoft has a lot of catching up to do.
Sadly, even with DRM removed, the Xbox One just doesn’t come off as a more appealing option over the PS4. Bottom line: Microsoft still has a more expensive console with minor issues lingering around Kinect 2. It would have been really interesting to see what Microsoft had in the works and how it played out. One thing is for certain: this console war just got a whole lot more boring. Now we have two similar systems that weren’t event that revolutionary to begin with. Congratulations gamers, your voices (and complaints) were heard loud and clear. Now lets see if you’ll be happy with the fallout of what’s to come.
A few weeks back, I read an article with EA head honcho, Frank Gibeau. And one statement especially jumped out to me:
“In general we’re thinking about how we make this a more broadly appealing franchise, because ultimately you need to get to audience sizes of around five million to really continue to invest in an IP like Dead Space. Anything less than that and it becomes quite difficult financially given how expensive it is to make games and market them. We feel good about that growth but we have to be very paranoid about making sure we don’t change the experience so much that we lose the fanbase.”
This strikes me as odd and flat out preposterous. I’ve always been curious about video game budgets. They just keep growing and growing. I’ve tried poking around for a few detailed breakdowns with no avail. But something is not adding up. These budgets run more than many Hollywood movies. That alone is crazy. Once all the costs for licensing, royalty fees, art, QA, post release support and all that is factored in, you’re already looking at pretty chunk of change. And don’t forget marketing / PR, that alone is sometimes more than the cost of the game itself. Talk about outrageous, but we’ll save that topic for another time. In the end, the budget for a standard console/PC game shouldn’t run more than a few million. So where are they coming up with these inane figures like $25-$100 million? And what kind of metrics ans analysis are they doing that indicates the need for so many buyers to justify a franchise. In fact, I’d really like to see a case study detailing video game production costs & sales in contrast to other industries particularly movies and other technologies (laptop, mobiles, etc.). I realize that sometimes there is a price to be paid for quality; but worth 500 million users? I highly doubt that. Again, something is NOT adding up.
And is it really necessary? The need to appeal to a broader audience is just a systemic of business in general. But many franchises, and games in general, are starting to suffer with dwindling sales month over month. Typically these days, a standard AAA game starts out as a first person shooter (FPS) built on an Unreal Engine with a tacked on gimmicky multiplayer mode. And now it seems, they’ll be more co-op. I, personally, love co-op mode; but it seems that co-op today translate more into action shooter. That aside, including all these features quickly add up to a pretty penny. But do these companies even considered if it’s germane to the business or the final product itself ? Why does a game such as Dead Space and Assassin’s Creed need MP modes? TellTale is already making a phenomenal Walking Dead game, is it really necessary for Activision to make one as well (which, surprise surprise, will be a FPS)? To me, it seems like a massive waste time and resources when they would be better off capitalizing on different markets. Do they really think they’re gonna capture that many more gamers with such a such a commonplace format? I’m not saying they should ignore these kind of opportunities. You never know what could happen. Case in point, I thought adding MP to Mass Effect 3 would be a colossal failure. But it turned out to be a massive success. So I’m all for trying new ideas, just maybe in a different manner. In fact, I’d love to see the numbers around these figures. It may be worth holding off some new features as optional DLC only to be included in future installments based on a scale of their popularity.
But even if that were the case, it still doesn’t account for the absorbent budgets. Countless indie developers have found marginal to great success producing games on a shoestring budget. Why don’t major publishers release smaller titles in a similar manner more often? Everyone wants to produce the next biggest hit, but wouldn’t it be more prudent to release a string of lower budget titles to help back bigger releases? Movie studios release generic romcoms (romantic comedies) and other low budget clunkers all the time. That’s possible because studios know there’s a market out there willing watch them. Even though movies and games are two different monsters, studios should know there’s a similar (huge) contingent of gamers that’d like low budget title. Low budget titles doesn’t mean low quality. If you need proof of that, look no further than the countless indie developers and other standard titles that have found great success with not even a 1% of the budget. Just like mindless popcorn flicks, sometimes all a gamer wants is just a regular game, not an over-produced blockbuster. But game studios are very risk adverse. The common excuse is that the physical production and release costs is not worth it, especially if it flops. That and they’re pushing gaming more to the digital front. Regardless of the chosen avenue, companies are missing out on a sizable potential market. They already have a dedicated segment of gamers on lock (and potentially more). Gamers like me aren’t going anywhere. This is no excuse for developers to become complacent and produce cookie cutter crap. But it could allow studios and developers more opportunities to take new risks.
All said and done, something needs to happen with the heavy imbalance between budgets and the decreasing sales. I sure as hell don’t have all the answers but based on declining sales, the business aren’t just as clueless in some ways. Right now, there are more than a few lucrative opportunities and markets the game industry capitalize on they’re just ignoring or frankly how no clue how to. But I just hate seeing the traditional console market suffer from their inability to stick to basics and not take advantage of an already, dedicated fan base. Like the saying goes: if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. And right now, there’s too much fixing going on.
What do you think people?
As 2011 wraps up, let’s take this moment to take a look at the plethora of games to come out this year. How many of those games really jumped out and grabbed you? This year was rife with mediocre titles that quickly feel to the way side. And that’s fine, not every game needs to be a AAA smash hit. The problem though is that a majority of 2011’s AAA titles were flash-in-the-pain hits that didn’t really merit their hype. The disappointment spread even further with the lack of pereipheral hits / supports. Anyone care for Rise of Nightmares? What was the last Nintendo Wii title anyone played before Zelda Skyward Sword came along? Maybe publishers were playing it safe due to the global economic downturn, who knows. That aside, this year did yield a few gems. Since I’m not an industry insider, my gaming opportunities are limited but I’ve played more than my fair share of titles. So let’s get to it.
Best Game of the Year:
- Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception: – I kind of waffled on this one. Personally, I would have put this as the number one game of the year due to it’s tight succinct story and fully fleshed-out multi-player mode. But decide again it considering how chockfull of adventure you will find in Skyrim (which will provide you with gameplay for days, if not months on end). Personally, I prefer more straight forward titles, but it’s hard to argue with a game that provides you with 200+ hours of gameplay. But Uncharted plays out like a modern day Indiana Jones adventure. The presentation is so well crafted, i’ve had people just watch me play just to experience the story. And it definitely is an experience that shouldn’t be missed by anyone.
- Skyrim: I have a strong love / hate relationship with this game. Furthermore, it doesn’t even rank as one of my personal top 10 games of the year. It’s loaded with a load of quests breaking glitches, an incredibly infuriating user interface / menu system, and the carte blanche setting makes no sense. I’m actually aiming to make an entirely separate post about this in a few days. That said, I am able to keep an objective perspective and appreciate the game for all the other things it does right, and that’s content! Skyrim is the game that keeps on giving. While completing one quest; you can expect to pick up 4-5 separate quests along the way. The value packed in this game more than it’s MSRP price and can easily keep you occupied for quite some time, if not a full year.
- Runner-up #1: L.A. Noire – I wrote a piece on this earlier in the year, you can find here. This game has been in development for quite sometime. Thankfully, the wait was worth it. A really smart story, interesting characters with depth, and top notch production all in one seamless package. This game hit many high points and raised the bar to a new level. Despite all this, the game does fall into familiar GTA territory in it’s mission structure at times (i.e. go here & kill ‘X’, wash, rinse, and repeat). I have high hopes for this series. Let’s just hope we don’t have to wait as long.
Worst Game of the Year:
- Duke Nukem Forever: Oh how the mighty have fallen. Jesus, I don’t even know where to begin with this shit pile. After being in developmental hell for nearly two decades, we were finally treated to one of the worst, trivial gaming experiences ever created. There is seriously not one redeeming quality to be found here. And to add further insult to injury, Bulletstorm came out just a few months earlier and fully captured everything this game should have been. AVOID AT ALL COST!
Sleeper Game of the Year:
- El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron: This was a quirky little title. There’s no way to describe this game without it sounding like some generic platformmer. But the mix of visuals along with its style of combat give it an unique flare. In many ways it reminds me of a toned down version of Okami (another title I’m sure none of you played). I know all that doesn’t give it the more glowing endorsement, but it is worth playing and presents a nice change of pace form the typical dreck that’s been churned out this year.
- Runner-up: War of the Worlds: This will be a polarizing title due to its style of play. If you;re an old school gamer familiar with titles such as Out of the World and Flashback, you’ll fall in love with how much this game emulates the old school presentation and gameplay with a modern facelift. But new generation gamers will balk at how finicky the controls are and the unforgiving style of play. Personally I think it’s a welcome addition to an age where game are so pussified that they practically play themselves. Plus, it’s fairly cheap, but will worth the money.
Diamond in the Rough :
- NOTHING: That’s how lame this year was. The majority of title were either just good enough,that they really didn’t have much of an interesting base to build on. I would love to have a more positive outlook but this year’s offerings really were tepid. Very few risks and very little awesome.
Biggest Surprise of the Year:
- WWE Allstars: Yea, Im surprised as you that a wrestling game would top my list as one of the best games games I’ve played this year. Admittedly, I do have some bias since I grew up idolizing these characters, but this game really is that fun and worthwhile. Not to mention it has a much fresh take than the standard WWE games on the market. It’s pure arcade style goodness.
Wall of Shame:
Admittedly, I haven’t played all this year’s major titles. Here are some those titles:
- Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 / Battlefield 3: Yep, I’ve said it earlier before but I am thoroughly burnt out on FPS and as such have chose to avoid both of these titles. But considering the turnout, this lame little rivalry fizzled out into a whimpering stalemate with no clear winner. Given the massive build up, I would have expected more. based on reviews and videos, they turned out to be more of the same riffraff from their previous incarnations.
- Alice Madness Returns
- Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword
- Shadow of the Damned
- Infamous 2
- Killzone 3
- Yakuza 4
- MLB 11: The Show
- Twisted Metal
- Little Big Planet 2
Personal Top Ten Games of 2011:
My personal favorite titles from 2011. Though I’ve missed some reputable titles, I’ve played enough for a solid definitive list:
1. Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception
2. Gears of War 3
3. Batman: Arkham City
4. Dead Space 2
5. L.A. Noire
6. Portal 2
7. Assassin’s Creed: Revelation
8. Saint’s Row the Third
9. Deus Ex: Human Evolution
There isn’t much else to be said. 2011 just flat out reeked of mediocrity and laziness that I’m afraid of what’s to come in 2012, especially considering we’re right at the point where a new iteration of consoles are right around the corner. Even worse, there was a total lack of peripheral support. Nintendo barely released 3 titles worth mentioning, not to mention that horrid DS launch. Microsoft didn’t do any better with the small scattering of Kinect games released, many of which were garbage. Surprisingly, Sony came through with some pretty surpassing exclusives, though most of them were HD remakes. But I don’t like being such a debbie downer, I do have hope. There have been new exciting developments from the indie scene that is yearning to be recognized. Whatever happens, let’s just hope that gaming continues to maintain its true essence: being fun!
I’ve put the finishing touches on Deus Ex: Human Revolution a few days ago. After marinating on the experience for a few days, I found myself thinking more about the game’s thematic elements more than the game itself. First off, this is a retrospective and not a review per se. So I will make reference to a few of the game’s key plot elements to better illustrate my points. But I will try to keep the spoilage to a minimal. But you have been warned. Following up on that point, this post assumes that the reader has played the game or, at the very least, is familiar with the product and what it is about.
Deus Ex: Human Revolution somewhat shares a similar legacy with Duke Nukem Forever in that they both were overdue and needed to meet a lot of expectations. Duke Nukem failed….terribly; Deus Ex didn’t. In fact, it’s been an overwhelming success, and rightfully so. Not being a huge PC gamer, I never played the original classic. However, I did play the follow-up sequel, Invisible Wars, and loved it despite the disdain received from fans of the original. Duke Nukem failed because it was a horrible game: generic gameplay, stale presentation, dated design, and so on. Deus Ex on the other hand, provides players with a fresh experience not found in many games today. But that’s not to say it’s not without it’s share of glaring flaws.
- Versatility / Level Design: This is the game’s major watermark. The degree of variety pertaining to how players approach the game is amazing. This goes beyond the typical stealth / combat cliche. Levels are designed in such a way that offer multiple alternatives of reaching a destination or completing a goal. I’ve played this game three times with each run exploring a different path while using a mix of stealth and / or combat. It’s this kind of foresight that keeps games fresh and delivers greater value to the final product.
- Presentation / Production: Right form the start, the level of polish and attention to detail is strikingly evident. In some way, the cutscenes pale in comparison to the actual in-game modeling. If it weren’t for the grossly atrocious loading screens, this would be one really slick game.
- Gameplay: At its heart, this is a stealth game. But the stable of augmented powers and weapons players have at their disposal make the possibilities almost endless. From a gameplay perspective, there is no one ‘right’ way to approach this game. If you want to be a ghost the entire game, you do so without killing anyone (minus bosses). Or, you can dispose of enemies in a variety of ways. The possibilities are endless.
- Linearity: While the gameplay mechanics and levels offer a mixed bag in its approach. You’re pretty much directed as to where you need to go from point to point. This kind of hand-holding really cheapens the experience. And in some ways in trivializes the story. Not to sound like a crotchety, old game,r but one of the things that made Invisible Wars such a great game was its open-ended, non-linear world. The game didn’t shepherd along your progression. The main plot was as clearly defined as all your other quests. Everything seemed to blend to together with an equal level of importance. Linear games are definitely not a “bad” thing, but this is a series based that’s been about choices, choices that extended beyond just gameplay elements. In previous game, you could kill off critical character early on changing the plot dramatically. It’s possible to finish some side-quests with a “good / bad” choice but that’s all really. Other than that, your path is pretty much set from start to finish.
- Shoddy Enemy A.I.: Finding the balance for good enemy A.I. is tricky. Now, I’ve been reading countless scores of people complaining about the games’s high degree of difficulty. Maybe I’m just a different breed of gamer; but I found the game to be relatively easy. Both my stealth & lethal combat playthroughs were a breeze. It’s too easy to take advantage of the enemy A.I. scripting. For example, if you’re spotted you can easily avoid pursuit by retreating to the previous / next room. Enemies appear to be confined within a certain area and will never move beyond that space. This makes it easy to set up easy head shots. Or you can wait until their alarmed status drops and try again. When you realize how it works, it makes the game terrible easy. Even if you do brave it out in the same area with alerted enemies. Retreating to hiding spots undetected or into a vent produces the same results. However, the boss battles are strangely incongruent with the rest of the game. They almost teeter on brink of being broken. It goes from essentially a stealth game to a straight, action romp.
The real meat of this game lies in the story’s theme of use and advancement of transhumanism or (H+) , a topic that’s becoming a serious controversial issue. There is plethora of supplemental material that provide scant perspectives of the topic; but none of it it really germane to the game’s completion. Being that this is a prequel to the series, I would expect there to be a larger degree of moral ambiguity present. Instead the game presents a needlessly, overblown tale of super-organizations and corporate conspiracies. I realize this fits into the wheelhouse of the previous games; but it feels ridiculous and rushed in this setting. They could have created a much stronger and richer tale had it been more grounded and explored the issues of augmentend vs. bioluddites. Which is shame, because they’ve created a very clever and intriguing world with probable issues: drug addiction for augmented people, whether augmentation is a lose or advancement of human evolution, etc. Some of the side quests do a decent job of touching on these issues; but again, it boils down to making a “good or bad” answer and not just plain solution. The game’s narrative fails to capture this, and practically trivializes it by packaging it up in four buttoned-up endings. Essentially, players never really have to deliberate about any course of action they take. All roads lead to the same destination, baring no effect to the end. Players can literally save right before the end and choice which ending to see. That just reeks of lazy writing and poor plot structuring.
Change Is Coming
Nitpicking aside, Deus Ex: Human Revolution is a great game. It raises the bar by presenting an engrossing, smart game that is simply a blast to play. I would highly recommend it to any gamer out there. And I definitely look forward to future iterations. Whether you’re a purist and welcome evolution with open arms; change is inevitable. It’s not a simple matter of “good & bad” or “right & wrong”, change just is. Although I don’t think this game is revolutionary by any means, it does lay down the groundwork for that revolution.