michaelericbrown.com

Posts Tagged ‘microsoft

Musings on Xbox One Backwards Compatibility with Xbox 360

For many people out there, there was no bigger announcement (save, perhaps, the news about FFVII) during E3 2015 than Microsoft revealing its plans to support local backwards compatibility in the Xbox One for last-generation games.  Not long ago, the very idea of backwards compatibility was considered to be technically impossible (or at least very difficult), so much so that former Xbox-boss Don Mattrick panned the idea.

So it was a great surprise to hear Phil Spencer announce that this very feature would be appearing on Xbox One this year.  In his reveal, he noted that there would be an initial 100 games available by the time it officially launched this holiday.  But he also sold the idea that these games would be running natively, which is absolutely inaccurate.  Like I noted in my E3 summation for Microsoft and Sony, there is no way it can be native because there is no hidden tri-core PowerPC processor somewhere inside the console.  Instead, the Xbox One OS is emulating its predecessor’s environment.  I believe he was trying to characterize it that way to draw a distinction between this feature and the PlayStation Now service, which relies on streaming.

So how was Microsoft able to pull this off?  Well, we’ll probably never receive a definitive answer, but I have a strange theory that might not be too far off from the truth.  You see, the process of emulating PowerPC on an Intel processor has already been accomplished — by Apple in 2006.  Back then, the Cupertino-based company was transitioning to Intel and needed to find a way to allow existing PowerPC apps to run on this new hardware.  That company’s solution was called Rosetta, which Wikipedia describes as a dynamic binary translator, and it worked surprisingly well.  I suspect that Microsoft was able to learn much from observing Apple’s work and managed to accomplish the same feat.  That said, it’s also important to remember that games are heavier programs than many of those old Mac applications that Rosetta handled so well, so I definitely have concerns about frame rates, load times, and other stability questions.

Indeed, while the Xbox 360 similarly offered backwards compatibility with its forebear, its performance ranged from passable to atrocious. I remember trying to play the original Xbox version of Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time, and it was awful.  The frame rate issues were so bad that I had to quit.  (A later remaster for the PS3 was actually quite excellent, but that game was clearly recompiled for that console.  No emulation.)

Unlike how backwards compatibility used to work on earlier consoles, this process requires that these Xbox 360 games be downloaded from Xbox Live before they can be played locally.  When you insert the game disc, all it’s doing is verifying that you own that game, which means that there must be some recompile work needed to allow the game to function.  Microsoft touted that this process wasn’t difficult and that it only needed the approval of the publishers to make their games work, though I wonder what fees it will assess.  This leads me to another realization:

Not every Xbox 360 game will receive this treatment, as you can imagine there are publishers who have (or will have) remasters of last-gen games they intend to sell for current-gen consoles.  For example, why would SquareEnix authorize a backwards compatible version of Tomb Raider (2013) when it would rather have you buy the Definitive Edition on the Xbox One?1

So what about Sony?  Well, Worldwide Studios boss Shuhei Yoshida has already said that this announcement does not impact his company’s plans for PlayStation.  We’ll see if Sony changes its mind, but my guess is that the company will continue to rely upon PlayStation Now for this functionality, especially since trying to emulate the seven SPUs of the Cell processor sounds like an absurd proposition.  In truth, the rental (or subscription) model that Now offers is probably more attractive to publishers than allowing old game discs to work on new systems anyway.

Further still, those publishers would rather do an inexpensive port of those games and have them purchasable all over again on these new consoles.  And I must admit that this is how I’d rather play them, too, since they’re guaranteed to run better than through emulation.

Even so, Microsoft deserves a lot of credit for a very pro-consumer effort.


1. A potential counter-example is the inclusion of the first Mass Effect on the initial preview list.  We haven’t yet received a confirmation, but many people believe that EA intends to re-release the Mass Effect trilogy in remastered form during the lead-up to Mass Effect: Andromeda.  Why, then, would the company have allowed Microsoft to include this if it would compete with that release?  Easy answer, actually: Microsoft still owns the publishing rights to the first Mass Effect on the Xbox 360; in fact, EA was unable to bring this title to the PS3 until 2012 per a condition of that agreement.

Advertisements

Written by Michael

19 June 2015 at 12:03 am

Microsoft and Sony Press Conferences, E3 2015

Just like last year, I again had this Monday off to watch all the press conferences from Microsoft, EA, Ubisoft, and Sony, from 10:30am to 8:30pm MDT.  Also like last year, I was pretty pleased with much of what I saw today.  Unlike last year, however, I won’t be summarizing each presentation.  You should just watch them.  Instead, here are my impressions of what I found most important from the big dogs:

Microsoft

Halo 5: Guardians

I’ve never played through any of the Halo games, which I’ll admit is a glaring hole in my gaming experience.  As such, I really don’t have a lot to say about this one because I have no sense of the continuity.  In any case, it looks like it plays well and the graphics are on point.  But even though I’m ignorant of this franchise’s story, it doesn’t feel like a numbered Halo game without starring Master Chief.  Just saying.  (Fun aside, hearing Nathan Fillion’s voice for one of the characters was enough to merit an entry onto this blog.)

ReCore

This was out of left field for sure, to see a new Keiji Inafune (creator of Mega Man, Onimusha, Lost Planet, and Dead Rising) game debut at a non-Japanese conference, but this title looks wonderful to me.  I don’t yet own an Xbox One, but this would likely be one of my first purchases.  Even though details were light, I gleaned from the presentation that the protagonist’s artificially intelligent sidekick can be transferred from one robot to another, which I would guess needs to happen to traverse various areas of the game.  Here’s hoping this is far more engaging than Knack’s attempt to do something similar.  Looks great.

Xbox 360 Backwards Compatibility

Despite some truly incredible games demonstrated throughout the day, this was perhaps the most significant announcement of them all.  While even Microsoft admitted that only 5% of gamers make use of backwards compatibility on new hardware a couple years back, this was a very clever move and a damaging blow to Sony’s PS Now service.  I do have a couple of quibbles, however.  First, I don’t care what was said, the Xbox One does not “natively” play Xbox 360 games — there is no hidden tri-core Power PC processor hiding in the Xbox One.  The term they were looking for is “locally”, as in it doesn’t require a remote piece of hardware to stream the game to you.  But this is still emulation.  I look forward to hearing how well this works (especially since backwards compatibility was quite uneven, performance-wise, for original Xbox games on Xbox 360), but the list of currently adapted games is light at 22, as of June 15, 2015.  Still, this is a very pro-consumer initiative, even if I don’t think it’s something that really matters to the average gamer.

Elite Wireless Controller

Microsoft demonstrated a highly customizable controller, which will undoubtedly excite certain hardcore players out there.  It’ll also lighten their wallets, as it is priced at a staggering $149.99.  I am curious about how the bumpers feel on this model, as the ones on the original Xbox One pad feel awkward to me.

EA Access

Yawn.  I’m sure there are people out there who love the idea of paying EA $5/month for access to last year’s games, but I have zero interest in this.  I already pay for Playstation Plus, and if I had an Xbox, I’d pay for Live as well.  I don’t need another subscription, especially to play last year’s Madden.  However, I should admit that seeing EA add Titanfall this week (and prepping to add Dragon Age: Inquisition later this year) is pretty cool.  This is only exclusive because Sony refused to allow it on the PS4.  Regrettably, this section of the conference slowed an otherwise breakneck pace.

Forza 6

The coolest part of this demonstration was when they actually lowered a real Ford GT from the ceiling.  Henry Ford III was also there.  I don’t play racing games, really, so that’s all I have to share.  But the spectacle of it was on point.  As always, Microsoft deserves a lot of style points.

Tacoma

While my understanding is that this game is actually cross-platform, it sounds like it is at least a timed exclusive for Microsoft.  From the creator of the critically acclaimed Gone Home, this is a must play for me.  I love story-centric games that have something important to say, so Fullbright has my attention.

Xbox Game Preview

Many are comparing this to Steam Early Access.  This sounds like a great initiative to permit players to become a part of the development process of their games; that said, this has the potential to backfire when (immature, spoiled) players encounter broken alpha code.  That will be a shame.  Even so, I hope to see Sony copy this one day.  The feedback from this sort of thing might steer a game from being mediocre to being good.

Ion

From the creator of DayZ comes this intriguing space survival game.  It is described as an emergent-narrative MMO, which is another way of saying that there is no narrative except that which comes from the players, a la many sandbox games.  Very curious about this one.  Amusingly, some on Twitter said that Bohemia Interactive should worry about finishing DayZ first before worrying about something new.  Fair point.  I’m also interested in that game.

Rise of the Tomb Raider

Ugh, this one continues to upset me.  Even though it’s only a timed exclusive, I’ll be bitter about this until it’s finally released on PS4.  (My guess is that this will happen a year after its release on Xbox One.)  I’m still looking forward to it, however, as I really loved the previous entry in the series, so much so that I bought and played it again as a remastered rerelease on PS4.  The environments and acrobatic stunts look even more amazing this time around.  Some have noted that this entry looks like a return to gameplay more reminiscent of classic Tomb Raider, which makes longtime fans of the series happy.  Tomb Raider (2013) had amazing gameplay in both combat and platforming, so I hope that remains the case.

Rare 30th Anniversary Collection

Rare made some special games in its day.  I’m not sure how relevant Perfect Dark, Battletoads, or Banjo-Kazooie are now, but this should make for a hell of a deal since it includes 30 titles and will be priced at $30.  Here’s hoping the whippersnappers of today give it a shot.  But it’s worth noting that this studio is nothing like what it was back when it was a second party to Nintendo.

Sea of Thieves

Rare concludes its presentation with its latest title, described as its most ambitious — the buzz word every developer seems to use these days.  (Perhaps developers should focus their ambitions on making games that aren’t broken.)  In any case, Sea of Thieves looks like a shared multiplayer world of pirates.  Looks cartoony in a good, fun way and includes important things like naval battles and sharks.  Hope this is great for the sake of a long-irrelevant studio.

Fable Legends

A Fable game made by a studio not named Lionhead is either a good thing or a bad, depending on your point-of-view.  I have never found this franchise to be compelling, especially with all the broken promises of the first two games.  I always felt that the designers spent too much time with simulating a living world for the player to exist in rather than the gameplay itself.  Compare this to Bethesda, which also spends a lot of time on the simulation aspect but also finds a way to include engrossing gameplay.  Perhaps this one will be different, but it’s been designated as Free-to-Play, so count me out already on that alone.

Valve VR

Microsoft had already declared a partnership with Oculus Rift, but I guess the folks there wanted to cover all their bases and also sign a deal with Valve’s VR product.  (They’ve also committed to supporting HTC’s foray into this world as well.)  More importantly, Oculus Rift will also ship with an Xbox One controller bundled in, which is quite a coup.  I have some concerns about this technology in general (in any of its incarnations, including Sony’s Project Morpheus), but I’ll have more on that to say later.

HoloLens

While some prognosticated that Microsoft would take this time to declare exclusive Xbox and Windows content for Minecraft, the company took a different tact.  This section of the show was perhaps the most amazing thing I’ve seen in a long while, with the demonstrator playing the game on his table, like it was a hologram.  While doing this, Lydia Winters of Mojang was running around the map in a normal first-person POV.  The demonstrator could see her tiny avatar moving across the zoomed out map on the table live.  He could even zoom in on an area or spin it around.  Simply incredible.  I don’t know if the finished product will actually work this well, but it sure as hell has a better shot at commercial success than VR or motion gaming.  (Which is to say, not likely anyway.  These peripherals will be expensive add-ons and receive limited developer support due to their lower market penetration.)

Gears of War: Ultimate Edition

I actually love this trend of rereleasing games with improved graphics, performance, and features.  There are a number of smaller studios that exist purely to do these ports, which allows developers to hone their skills before moving up to original projects with other developers.  Moreover, this trend allows younger gamers to experience titles they may have missed the first time around.

Now with regard to Gears specifically, I wasn’t in love with this game, but I did have fun with all five hours of it back in 2006.  This franchise is so over-the-top with its machismo and gore that it’s actually funny.  I would play this rerelease again, I think.

Gears of War 4

Like Halo 5 and the lack of Master Chief, there’s something strange about seeing this title without Marcus Fenix headlining.  I have no idea how to take this, but similarly to how Bungie left Halo behind, so Epic Games has left Gears.  With that, change is inevitable.  What was shown was quite pretty, though.

Analysis

Excepting the section that EA filled, the Microsoft conference was tight, well paced, and filled with high production values.  Xbox One owners can look forward to a strong second half of the year, including Halo 5, Tomb Raider, and Forza 6.  I was surprised that Crackdown, Scalebound, and Quantum Break were all no-shows, but it sounds like Microsoft is holding some things back for Gamescom later this year.  But as great as all the games looked, the backwards compatibility announcement and the HoloLens demonstration both stole the show.  We’re only a year-and-a-half in on this generation, but I’m already ready to see an Xbox One Slim — perhaps that will convince me to finally buy one.

Sony

The Last Guardian

Rumors of its cancellation prior to last year’s E3 were greatly exaggerated.  After some eight years of development hell, this much anticipated game from the creators of the critically acclaimed titles Ico and Shadow of the Colossus is finally set to come out in 2016.  Think about this for a second, though: the entire seventh generation of consoles passed without a single release from Team Ico — those aforementioned titles were on PS2 in 2001 and 2005 respectively.  Since then, Bioware’s Mass Effect trilogy was published to much critical and commercial success.  Same for Naughty Dog’s Uncharted trilogy, as well as The Last of Us.  Same for Bethesda’s Fallout 3 and Skyrim.  Same for Rockstar’s Grand Theft Auto IV and V, as well as Red Dead Redemption.  Seriously, Team Ico, what have you been doing all this time?

Last Guardian looks very cool, in any case, though it still looks very much like a PS3 game to me.  That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but if all the drama and delays didn’t result in improved graphics, this game sure as hell better deliver on gameplay and story.

Horizon: Zero Dawn

Holy moly did this game blindside me.  I had heard rumors of Guerrilla Games’s new IP, but I had no idea it was this.  Everything shown in this trailer was amazing.  Simply amazing.  If you haven’t watched it, go look it up on YouTube.  Set it to 1080p.  Wait for it to buffer.  Watch it and bask.  Then come back.

A far, far distant future featuring a post-technological human society, Horizon features a badass heroine who hunts robot dinosaurs for resources to survive.  With a bow.  All of this transpires against the backdrop of long-abandoned and decayed cities, complete with waterfalls running through old office buildings, relics of “The Old Ones”, as the narrator describes us.

It will be mine.  Oh yes.  It will be mine.

Hitman

Despite the lack of a number or subtitle, this game is supposed to be a continuance of the franchises overarching story (whatever that is).  I’ve never played any of these, though I’ve heard that they do the stealth gameplay genre proud.

Street Fighter V

This is a game that wouldn’t exist except for investment by Sony, I’ve heard.  That’s why it’s a console exclusive for PS4.  Now, I haven’t played a true fighting game since the Super Nintendo days, so this doesn’t speak to me at all.  But I’ve also heard that this is the purist’s series, compared to something like Mortal Kombat.

No Man’s Sky

Now, if we’re going to throw around the buzzword “ambitious”, then this is the game to apply it to.  Once again, Hello Games shows us how impossibly vast the game is, boasting that there are many, many worlds that will never be discovered by gamers in this shared universe.  Rather than use a pre-recorded demo, Sean Murray (the founder of the studio) randomly chose a star to warp to, and in so doing, discovered a new world, which was dynamically and procedurally generated before our eyes.  The technology of this is stunning.  But I still don’t know what the “game” part of this is.  He showed the discovery of a beacon and how it could be used to upload data from what you’ve discovered (animals, etc.), and that there will sometimes being things hostile to this activity that you have to avoid or defeat, but what else is there?  Show me.

Dreams

Media Molecule, the studio behind LittleBigPlanet and Tearaway, has lost its collective mind.  This game should be called Nightmares instead.  The idea here is that you create your own dream worlds with random, claymation style creepiness, and then share that with the rest of the world.  A player would then bounce from dream to dream surreally, just as it is in real life.  Except that everything shown here was kind of terrifying.  I really have no idea what to make of this.

Firewatch

A console exclusive from Camp Santo, this one looks really compelling.  My research informs me that this game is set in the aftermath of the Yellowstone fires of 1988.  You play a volunteer fire lookout who investigates strange occurrences at his lookout tower in the Shoshone National Forest.  All your communication has been mysteriously cut off save for a walkie-talkie that connects you like a lifeline to your supervisor, whom you connect with on a deeper and deeper way in your increasing sense of isolation.  Looks incredibly suspenseful and well voice acted.  Sign me up.

Destiny: The Taken King

A first-person shooter MMO does very little for me, even if it is from Bungie.  That being said, I’m glad to see a narrative-centric, free DLC for the game, which was roundly criticized for being vacant in the story category.  I might eventually poke my head into this game when the price is right.

Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate

I think I might be one of the only people in the world who actually highly enjoyed the first entry into this series back in 2007.  The novelty of the game spoke to me, even if it was quite uneven gameplay-wise.  Most people are stuck on Assassin’s Creed 2 as being so much better than its predecessor that there’s no comparison, and sure, the voice acting, story, and gameplay are far more refined in the second entrant, especially with regard to the side quests.  But what it also had was a ton of padding, and the overarching story about Desmond and the Animus goes further into nonsense-land.  The novelty of this series wore thin for me by the time I completed that game, and I was mortified that Ubisoft felt compelled to release two huge semi-sequels to it, making Assassin’s Creed 2 its own trilogy.  I had hoped that this franchise would only have three games total, not be gearing up to add its ninth main installment.  (That doesn’t count the thirteen other ones that are a part of the overall AC universe.)

I can’t stress how tired I am of even seeing these games.  Sure, AC4: Black Flag looked cool enough to tempt me to play, but I’m so done now.  I don’t even care what this one is about.  (It’s set the nineteenth-century London Underworld, if you’re curious.  At least the developers keep selecting interesting locations and times.)

But kudos to Ubisoft for figuring out how to “animate” a female assassin and stay under budget this time/sarcasm

World of Final Fantasy

I don’t even know what to make of this one.  Looks sickeningly cute.  But I’m interested because it’s presumably cross-buy with Vita, so there’s that.  Whatever.  I’m only mentioning this because it led into…

Final Fantasy VII: Remake

IT’S HAPPENING.  The sun has risen in the west and set in the east.  Hell has frozen over.  This game came out in 1997 for the original PlayStation, and by the time the PS2 came out in 2000, fans were begging for a remake.  AND IT’S ACTUALLY HAPPENING!

(Quick admission: I’ve only played a small portion of this game, so my excitement is rooted more in the realm of wanting to finally play it rather than relive it.  That being said, I desperately want an Ocarina of Time remake, so I understand this feeling either way.  I would literally buy a Wii U for that.)

The trailer was brief but beautiful.  I actually got chills — seriously.  CHILLS.  This is huge.  My theory is that this one is a ways off, though.  I’m going to predict a holiday 2017 release to celebrate the 20-year anniversary.  I also predict that this game will sell more than any other release that year.

Shenmue III

I never played the first two Sega Dreamcast-era Shenmue games (though I now kind of want to now, judging by the fan reaction to this game’s Kickstarter announcement).  Brilliantly, Sony’s Adam Boyes went up on stage to countdown to the start of the crowd-funded campaign, and it successfully hit its $2-million goal in a mere nine hours.  It’s at 3 million as of the time of writing this blog.

This stunt actually took down the Kickstarter sight due to all the excitement.  Damn.  The last Shenmue game (which did not feel like a definitive end, according to fans) was released in 2001.  That’s a long time to wait.

Someone I follow on Twitter wrote that the trio of announcements for The Last Guardian, Final Fantasy VII: Remake, and Shenmue III was like fan fiction for a game conference.

Batman: Arkham Knight

The Twitter-verse exploded in fury at the spoiler-heavy (for Arkham City’s ending) trailer that was shown at this conference.  In any case, it looks great, as it did a year ago.  Like a lot of people, I’m excited for this one to come out on June 23, but I’ll admit that I usually have to be in the right mood to dive into these games.  I think I had my copy of Arkham City in shrink wrap for a year before I finally got around to playing it.  Nevertheless, Rocksteady’s work on the previous titles has been stellar, and this one looks to closeout that studio’s involvement with the series in style.

PlayStation Vue

Sony Computer Entertainment CEO Andrew House came out and mentioned a bunch of things I didn’t care about, including stats on Spotify.  But what he did say that was very compelling is that Vue, Sony’s IPTV service, will offer individual television channel subscriptions, the first time this has happened in any form.  This news is kind of amazing.  We don’t know what the pricing will be, but I’m paying attention to this one, and I’m hoping it gets copied like crazy by competing companies, like Sling and Apple.

Call of Duty: Black Ops III

Last year, I remarked that new CoD games almost always open Microsoft conferences.  Not so this year.  In a radical shift, Activision has inked a deal with Sony to launch new multiplayer maps on PS4 before Xbox One (in an arrangement identical to what the company used to have with Microsoft).  That’s cool, I guess.  I wonder if this is in some way a reflection of CoD’s waning relevance, as in its sales have been leveling off in recent years.  This series isn’t going anywhere anytime soon, but I think it’s possible that Microsoft felt it had enough shooters from its own studios and didn’t need to incentivize Activision anymore.

Either way, this is quite a coup.  The times they are a changin’.

Disney Infinity 3.0

I’m only mentioning this because it was the lead-in for Battlefront.  But man is it strange to see Disney mix Star Wars with its Skylanders clone.

Star Wars Battlefront

This looks incredible.  Like, this game makes me feel the closest to being in the Star Wars universe as anything ever has.  Just go watch the video, if you haven’t already.  If you have, watch it again.  EA continues to impress with its Frostbite 3 engine, the likely foundation for all of its games for the next several years.  I’m pleased to see that there is a single-player mode for this game, but I’m even willing to give multiplayer a try because it looks so good.

Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End

Oh Naughty Dog, how I love thee.  This developer made four of the finest games of last generation, and I couldn’t be more hyped for this one.  Sadly, ND seems cursed with its live demos lately, as the DualShock 4 was evidently not paired with the PS4 when game director Bruce Straley tried to demonstrate.  Sony was forced reload the demo and use a pre-canned playthrough rather than a live one.  [I had my details wrong, here.  Kotaku has a short write-up on what actually happened.]

All that aside, who cares.  It looks amazing.  Shut up and take my money.  Seriously, this game looks like the full realization of everything I want Uncharted to be.  And while it wasn’t mentioned in any detail here, Naughty Dog has already announced that the PS3-era Uncharted trilogy will be released on PS4 later this year.  I look forward to replaying those before diving into UC4 next year.

Analysis

Much of the Sony conference was incredible — historically so.  But like all live conferences, there was a bit of unevenness sprinkled throughout.  (No off-script talk about the Powers show this year, at least.)  The biggest takeaway is that PS4 will be home to some incredible games in the future.  Unfortunately, that future is going to be a ways off for much of what was exciting tonight.  At the very least, we can look forward to Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture, Until Dawn, and Persona 5.  These will be critically acclaimed, I predict, but not as commercially successful as Microsoft’s 2015 exclusives.

Conclusion

Like last year, both companies again did well.  And like last year, I remain unconvinced that I should buy an Xbox One just yet, but I feel myself being drawn closer.  ReCore, the Master Chief Collection, and so on are tantalizing.  But I’m going to hang in there and await a slim version of this behemoth.

Purely based on games, Sony had the stronger conference: titles like The Last Guardian, Horizon: Zero Dawn, Firewatch, No Man’s Sky, Final Fantasy VII Remake, etc. bear this out.  But Team Xbox should be quite proud of the progress it has made since the flat feeling surrounding its launch in 2013, and the future should be bright for that platform.  An announcement like backwards compatibility is a huge boon for that fanbase as well, even if that list never grows to encompass most of the Xbox 360 library, or if it’s barely used by Xbox One owners.  There’s a perception victory in its existence, and there’s no doubt in my mind that it’s tied for biggest announcement with Final Fantasy VII Remake.

I’ll be very interested to see if Sony feels its feet held to the fire on this one, and how that might impact PlayStation Now.

Written by Michael

18 June 2015 at 12:06 am

Posted in Games, News

Tagged with , , , , ,

Why PlayStation 4

leave a comment »

Philosophy
As we entered this year, I was pretty convinced I would be getting Microsoft’s next-generation console.  Indeed, my brother and I owned more than forty games between us on the Xbox 360, making it the most prolific console, title-wise, we’ve ever owned, so upgrading to its successor seemed like a no-brainer.

That said, I owned a PlayStation 3 and liked a lot about it, especially its adhere to open standards (including non-proprietary, user-replaceable hard drives, Bluetooth, mini-USB charging, day-one inclusion of WiFi, day-one use of 1080p-capable HDMI, and rechargeable controllers out-of-the-box).  But I never treated it like my primary console, and so I was leaning towards not giving much consideration to the PlayStation 4 until, perhaps, later in this generation when certain exclusives came out.  (Really, my relationship with PlayStation was always awkward anyway: I grew up a Nintendo fan, so I had strong feelings about those N64 vs PlayStation days.)

Then we got a February event from Sony detailing the PS4, and I left it pretty impressed with the new attitude Sony was exuding from its development team, most specifically in the form PlayStation 4 architect Mark Cerny, an industry legend and maverick who helped usher in some of the most important franchises in gaming history.  He spoke about Sony’s passion for gaming, and how the PS4 was going to be a gamer’s gaming device.  This was a pretty strong turnaround from the all-in-one entertainment and media console that the PS3 was billed as.

Despite my positivity, I knew that I still needed to see Microsoft’s response.  Sure enough, the company held a pre-E3 reveal for the Xbox One, and literally proceeded to spend the first thirty minutes of a one-hour event talking about how great its television integration was going to be.  I felt like I was watching a Sony event from the days of yore.

Oh, I know that many Xbox-loyalists had a good excuse for this: they said something along the lines of, “Of course the Xbox One will have games.  That’s a given.  Why show stuff everyone knows will be there?  This event is about showing how it’s so much more than just a gaming machine.”  There’s a certain internalized logic to this idea, but it ignores the audience Microsoft was actually reaching — namely, gamers.  It’s preposterous to think that anyone besides the hardcore were turning into this event; the features they proceeded to focus on were certainly tantalizing, but wholly secondary to the early-adopter crowd an event like this attracts.  Indeed, when it came time to show a game during the back half of the reveal, Microsoft chose to show Call of Duty: Ghosts, a current-gen title that’s being cross-released on Xbox 360/PS3 and Xbox One/PS4.  While the up-port certainly looks better than its current-gen version, this title did not even remotely look next-gen, and thus inspired very few with positive feelings about Xbox One.  (Later demonstrations of games like Titanfall certainly improved my attitude towards the hardware, but not enough to sway my opinion by the time E3 hit.)

If the company were trying to broaden its appeal with this wide-net strategy, then it should have made them secondary in this presentation and made sure to first lock in the hardcore gaming crowd, trusting that these Xbox early adopters would proselytize these TV features to their non-gaming friends and family.  (I’m convinced this is how the Wii was so successful — word of mouth and personal demonstration.)

Sony did not take this tact, as I’ve already mentioned.  Instead of using Microsoft’s approach, again summed up as, “of course there will be games — that’s a given — check out these cool media features instead”, Sony instead said, “of course there will be media support — that’s a given — check out these cool games instead”.

Now you have my attention.

Console Hardware Considerations
Microsoft has doubled down on Kinect, its camera-based motion gaming technology.  Many are dismissive of this, since it is ostensibly intended for casual gaming in much the same way that the Wii was.  Even so, I appreciate how impressive the technology is, so I’m not strongly against it.

What frustrated me, however, was that it became clear that Microsoft had traded some of its horsepower in order bundle this device in with every console.  (Sure, making them mandatory ensures more developer support, but this seems ham fisted in light of the concessions made.)

How so?  By all accounts, Sony has architected a state-of-the-art gaming machine, with its1.84 TFLOPS of processing power and its 8GB of ultra-fast GDDR5 (!!!) memory.  That’s not to say that Microsoft’s Xbox One will be a slouch (1.23 TFLOPS, 8GB of the slower, hotter GDDR3 memory), but these numbers are notably better for Sony.  Will this translate to any dramatic difference in graphics?  I have no idea, except to say that while cross-platform games on Xbox 360 and PS3 looked very similar, despite PS3’s mostly stronger specs, the first-party exclusives Sony enjoyed were pretty blow-away.

Now, the Xbox One will debut for $499, of course, whereas the PlayStation 4 will cost $399.  For $100 more, Xbox owners will get weaker processing and memory and a mandatory camera that the hardcore will mostly be uninterested in at best, hostile towards at worst.

The tech enthusiast in me, who craves horsepower above the still-experimental Kinect, is more inclined to embrace Sony’s vision in this scenario.

(I also find it frustrating that Microsoft did choose older, less heat efficient RAM for its new console, as mentioned above.  The net result of this is a large, boxy device that looks an awful lot like a cable box — which I guess is deliciously appropriate.  Adding further insult to injury on the aesthetics front, the Xbox One also requires an external power adapter, unbelievably, due to these thermal issues.  Just like the PS3, the PS4’s brick will be internal, where it belongs.  Stranger still, the TV functionality will require the use of a thinly-wired infrared blaster pointed at or affixed to your TV’s sensor — now we’re just getting tacky looking.)

Gamepad
I’ve long felt that the Xbox 360 controller was the best design I had ever seen, it’s horrid D-pad notwithstanding.  (I think the GameCube controller is a close second, which really pioneered the asymmetric analog stick layout and curved triggers.)  On the other side, I liked but didn’t love the PlayStation 3’s DualShock 3, which featured looser symmetric analog sticks and flat triggers, and a lighter, flimsier feel overall.  While it was awkward switching from the Xbox 360 gamepad over to the DualShock 3 at any given time, I was always able to adapt after an hour or so of gameplay, I should note.

But I have a DualShock 4 sitting next to me right now, courtesy of a local GameStop selling them way early.  I think I’ve found my new favorite controller.

This design has ergonomics in spades, feels very solid, has much tighter analog sticks (still symmetric, but that’s fine), and great curved triggers.  I haven’t picked up a Xbox One gamepad to compare, though I’ve read several comparisons that favor the DS4.  Either way, I’m very pleased with this design and won’t feel like I’m compromising on the feel of my gamepad when I play games in the future.  (For those wondering about Sony’s unexpected and, admittedly, unusual decision to include a touchpad, this is quite easy to reach.  Ergonomically, this inclusion is fine; I only hope developers will made good, appropriate use of it.)

Software
At the end of the day, however, it’s all about the games.  We’ll have to ignore cross-platform AAA titles, since they essentially look and play the same across different systems, and should continue to do so in this new generation.  Instead, I’m more interested in the exclusives.

In the world of Xbox, I only ever really cared about one exclusive, which was my favorite franchise of this generation: Mass Effect.  (This series has since come to the PlayStation but the first title was solely Xbox-only for quite a while.)  Many others are in love with games like Halo, Fable, Forza, Gears of War, and so on, but these series didn’t interest me all that much.  (Halo and Gears are both first-person shooters, which I never cared that much about, Fable is a neat fantasy RPG game that just never hooked me, and Forza is a racing series — a genre I haven’t touched since the N64 days.)

Meanwhile, I’ve been enjoying the Uncharted trilogy, The Last of Us, Heavy Rain, Beyond: Two Souls, Journey, inFAMOUS, and so on over on PlayStation this generation.  These aren’t casual throwaways to me, either.  I strongly feel that these are some of the finest games ever made.  Throw in the now cross-platform Mass Effect trilogy along with the Dragon Age games and Skyrim, and you have a set that I could probably play for a decade, over and over again without evening buying a PS4.

Sony’s commitment and support for indie development can’t be ignored by me either.  The mid-tier developer has all but gone extinct towards the end of the current generation, and so it will be critical to see indie releases fill in the gaps between the AAA games that will debut periodically throughout each year.  Indie games are also exceptionally well placed to do risky or avant garde things, pushing the storytelling and gameplay boundaries of what I thought was even possible in this medium.  —Seriously, go check out previews for games like The Witness.  Or over on PC, Gone Home.

Indeed, one of my all-time favorite games, Journey, is the epitome of what indie studios can do.  I was so touched, so moved, that my time with it left an indelible mark: my thoughts return to it far more often than I would have dreamed a game could elicit.  But due to the kind of audience I believe the Xbox world engenders, with its concentration on shooters and sports titles, I don’t think it would have been nearly the success on that platform as it was on the PS3.  I predict that creative, mind-expanding games like this will continue to find a welcoming home on PlayStation, whereas they will only be an afterthought on Xbox.

Microsoft has improved its relationship with indie developers in recent months (after some true horror stories), so I’m sure there will be many great titles available to both.  However, the buzz out of those studios seems strongly tilted towards PlayStation, and Sony has strongly embraced this trend.

Now you have more than my attention.  You have my business.

A Brave New World
I’ve spent a lot of time bashing the Xbox One, I’m sure it seems like.  Undoubtedly, however, it will be quite good despite my complaints, and I might even one day own it as a second console, in much the same way that I planned to own a PS4 before everything transpired this year.  And while Microsoft seems to be embracing the casuals with its Kinect and with TV integration, and Sony the gaming hardcore with its technical prowess and focus on gaming itself, I’m left with one last thought: inconceivably, I — an ardent Nintendo fan in my childhood, an avowed Sony-hater — chose PlayStation.  A teenaged version of myself would have had a hell of an argument with the current me.

P.S.  Check out Sony’s #4ThePlayers campaign, especially its “Since 1995” commercial.  I’ve never been able to say these words about this company, but Sony gets it: http://blog.eu.playstation.com/2013/10/21/playstation-4theplayers-since-1995/

Written by Michael

27 October 2013 at 11:55 pm