Welcome to a new issue of RPGamer's Currents. Many RPGamers are anxiously anticipating E3 (or E Too, depending on where you might be located) and the exciting announcements which historically accompany the mega event. In a world where Wii U owners are crying out for more first-party support, PlayStation fans are hotly awaiting more launch title footage, and Xbox One prospective buyers are wondering if the VCR-like entertainment device even plays games, this year's Expo is all the more important. Sadly, we won't really be talking about that kind of uplifting news today.
You may notice that this issue of Currents has been delayed by a week. That can mostly be attributed to busy days on my end. I recently took the National Professional Practice Assessment (NPPA) for my Certified Human Resources Professional (CHRP) designation. These acronyms could spell great things for my professional career if I passed, so cross your fingers for me. I've also been focusing a lot of my time on new projects for RPGamer, the preliminary development of a new novel, PR pimping out the old novel, preparing for the weddings of a few close friends, and digging into my dusty backlog. I'm never at a loss for things to do, but I do take time out from the madness to focus on the lighthearted. This Daft Punk/Animal Crossing mash-up is a fine example:
This video has about 70,000 views. At least half of those are mine.
Regular readers of RPGamer's Currents will likely recall that the issue post-PlayStation 2013 event issue was wholly dedicated to the video games, features, and hardware specs of that console. Sadly, I just didn't have it in me provide the same coverage for the Xbox One. I assure you it has nothing to do with platform favouritism; I actually have spent the entirety of this console generation completely content with my Xbox 360's library and service offering. However, it doesn't take an industry analyst to tell you that the Xbox event was a PR nightmare. Microsoft fans may be willing to apologize on the company's behalf, but the announcement and following reports have made me, an Xbox fan, feel taxed to the point where I don't have any plans on purchasing the entertainment device in the future.
Microsoft has never been the type of company to ask the market what it wants. People love iPods and iTunes? Microsoft makes the Zune. A few years later, they finally accept that there wasn't actually a market for the device and discontinue service. People are transferring their attention to mobile operating systems on tablets and smartphones? Microsoft creates Windows 8, which happens to be too unintuitive to effectively navigate on a PC and too cumbersome on tablets. Tablet computing is finally overtaking PCs commercially? Microsoft creates Surface and Surface Pro using Windows 8 OS and expects consumers to pony up laptop prices for a device with barely any free memory and numerous UI inefficiencies. There is hardly any room in the mobile market for competitors outside of Apple, HTC, Sony, Samsung, and Blackberry? The team at Microsoft squanders resources in a heated fight for fourth place. Simply put, the company has always been so arrogantly confident in its ability to participate in a market that it has never taken the appropriate amount of time to figure out what the market actually wants.
The same kind of hubris plagued Sony during the launch of the PlayStation 3 and crippled the console's prosperity for almost three years. After the massive success of the PlayStation 2, the Japanese hardware company simply assumed that the same amount of gamers would show up to the party regardless of how much they charged for cover ($599 for the 60GB model at launch). When the console was released, the focus was not predicated on games and gaming technologies so much as the minor hardware edges it had over its competition and innate inclusion of Blu-ray player. In fact, Sony put so much emphasis on marketing the PS3 as the "cheapest Blu-ray player on the market" and "ultimate entertainment device" that it took time and many game releases to get back into gamer's good graces (and wallets). You would think that Microsoft would have taken some cues from that situation, but apparently not.
The kittehs aren't pleased. Neither are gamers.
The general consensus is that the Xbox One reveal was not great. Looking at some of the social media infographics that were produced post-event, it's clear that core gaming audiences expressed a general range between three emotions: (1) boredom, (2) anger, and (3) laughter. It's not the type of response any company would want for their product reveal, but it's especially worrying as this is first and foremost a gaming console. Or is it?
Microsoft's new system is yet another jack of all trades (master of none) entertainment center. The tone of the reveal made that all the more clear as executives mentioned upcoming games as a short Cliff Note amongst a miasma of Kinect technologies, dude-bro sports, PVR/television features, Skype integration, and Call of Duty dogs. It was enough to make any gamer, Xbox fan or otherwise, left out in the cold.
Subsequent reports have been adding even more grief with Microsoft sending mixed a ton of mixed messages over whether the console has to be "always online" or not, if it is capable of playing used games, whether some Xbox 360 games will be backwards-compatible if digitally purchased (considering that disk-based Xbox 360 games certainly won't work), whether they will be using this new Kinect to watch you or not (they may have the right, as unethical as that likely sounds), whether indie titles are supported or not, and which of the highly publicised TV features and apps will actually work outside of The United States. Sure, Microsoft has made a point of stating that almost everything that has been posted by different media outlets is factually incorrect to some degree, but those posts are based on statements that Microsoft representatives have said to the press. If there is confusion over what the Xbox One can and can't do, it's because Microsoft's PR has been confusing.
Interestingly enough, Sony's approach to this new generation has been remarkably different. PlayStation 2013 felt almost like a developer love-in, with numerous companies of all shapes and sizes giving presentations on what they had in store for the platform. Subsequent reports on the platform boasted positive spin on the sensitive topics of backwards compatibility, indie development, cloud gaming, social gaming, and used game DRM. All of Sony's messaging has been unified under a single PlayStation 4 statement: "It plays games." Nintendo's efforts as of late have also take a turn to being more open and transparent with gamers. Their Nintendo Direct broadcasts have been frequent, and the company is clearly reorienting the way it does business to improve the Wii U's lukewarm reception among general audiences with games.
It's still early, but I'm not pleased with Microsoft's Xbox One. The Xbox 360 is easily one of the best consumer devices the company has ever produced, and they way their next foray into the console market is being approached seems lacking in foresight and goodwill towards the people who made the Xbox 360 what it was. Maybe the goal was to make the ultimate HDTV complement before Apple did, but it doesn't change the fact that the people who buy these devices in droves are gamers — and gamers go where the games are.
Insomniac has been a pretty well respected name amongst Sony gamers for quite some time now. First gaining notoriety with the original PlayStation's Disruptor and Spyro the Dragon franchise, they would go on to create the Ratchet & Clank and Resistance IPs. Suffice to say, expectations were high when the formerly first-party developer announced that they would be going multiplatform with their latest release, the 4-player co-op shooter Overstrike.
Overstrike was a head-turner upon initial announcement. Its presentation was colourful, humorous, and over-the-top. Tonally, the closest parallel to it would have likely been Serious Sam or Bulletstorm (which isn't a bad thing, by any stretch of the imagination). I mean, think about it: a first person shooter that played like Resistance, but had the visuals and themes of Ratchet & Clank? Awesome! Except that's not what we got.
Somewhere along the line of development, Overstrike turned into Fuse. Unlike Overstrike, Fuse was gritty, overly realistic, and violent. The tone that garnered so much attention in the first place was dampened and made less interesting as the game became yet another mindless action title made to appeal to the COD elite.
The game has not performed well. Since its release, this bland shooter has managed to piss off almost every reviewer to get their hands on it and has since fizzled on a number of sales charts (at launch, Fuse sat at 37th place in the UK sales charts alone). Ted Price, Insomniac's studio head, was quick to counter claims that Overstrike had been the victim of focus testing and a "follow the herd" mentality.
"No, we didn't make aesthetic changes because of a 12 year-old's focus test comments. We did what we thought was right for the Fuse universe. In particular we focused on creating co-op weapons and gameplay that we think work better than any other co-op shooter out there and allowed that to drive the game."
Unfortunately for Mr. Price, this statement doesn't actually hold up to scrutiny. After Overstrike's conversion to Fuse, Insomniac was interviewed by IGN's Colin Moriarty. According to statements made by the Creative Director, Brian Allgeier, Overstrike's transformation into the boring Fuse was indeed the result of negative focus testing.
"The game started out with a much more stylized and campy direction. We were actually going for something on the level of Ratchet & Clank, except with humans," Allgeier said. "Maybe it was going to appeal to gamers who, we thought at the time, might be in their late teens. The industry's changed quite a bit. We would focus test the game in front of a lot of gamers, and get their opinion. These are people that regularly play PlayStation 3 and Xbox games. We started to discover that everyone thought this was a game for their younger brother. We would hear this from 12-year-olds. So we decided that we needed to make a game that had an older appeal." Another carbon copy shooter with explosions and cooperative play, all because the developers were afraid to go against the grain with their own vision of what a fun shooter could be.
I'm not saying that Fuse is a terrible game. It's still an Insomniac title and I'm sure it plays very well. The soul isn't there anymore though. I can't say I find anything attractive of Fuse's Michael Bay-like presentation, and I've heard from more than a few people that there is a sizable amount of tonal confusion going on in the main campaign. If I were to buy a copy, I'd probably wait until I was able to find it for under $20 in a bargain bin. Which, by the looks of things, shouldn't be too far off. Let this serve as a lesson to all developers who think about taking focus groups too seriously.
Pre-owned games are going to be a thing of the past in the not-too-distant future. You might love buying previously enjoyed games, allowing friends to borrow from your gaming library, and trading in titles which have collected dust for newer releases, but that doesn't alter the fact that the market is going to go through a metamorphosis. Many traditional gamers have only gone into an uproar over this because Xbox One (and possibly the PS4) will be breaking our GameStop trade-in culture. However, this is no new development.
I'll ask that console gamers look outside of the disk-based console landscape current they inhabit. Steam is the platform of choice for many PC gamers, with EA's Origin, Gamefly and GOG rounding out the bases. No second-hand economies exist in any of these environments. In fact, you can't even share with friends unless you're doing it illegally (something which should be frowned upon by all gamers). iOS and Android games operate in a same fashion, with titles locked to Apple and Google Play accounts. Hell, even if you are a console gamer, it's not like you can trade in your Xbox Live or PSN purchases.
So, who is to blame? Well, it's likely a mix of AAA-game publishers and the natural flow of time. Mega publishers greatly dislike the fact that gamers like to buy preowned because it means they don't see a larger profit when more people play the game. This hasn't been a huge problem in the past, but we previously didn't decide a game's success upon whether it was capable of selling upwards of five million units. Regardless, it's clear that the further we drift away from physical media, the less prevalent pre-owned gaming will likely be. Whether you like it or not, the pre-owned video game market will shrink and eventually die.
It looks as though Sony is priming the PS4 to steal what thunder the Wii U has left for it: its tablet-like gamepad. A number of reports had been circulating recently that the hardware manufacturer has mandated Vita Remote Play for all upcoming PS4 games, save those which require the PS4 Eye stereoscopic camera. Those reports have since been confirmed by Sony Computer Entertainment Worldwide Studios head Shuhei Yoshida over Twitter.
For the uninitiated, Vita Remote Play works by downscaling the 1080p framebuffer to the PS Vita's 960x544 resolution using the PS4's built-in hardware. This compressed video is the transferred over Wi-Fi to the Vita, which decodes the video and sends back controller inputs to the PS4. The same technology can be found in the Wii U and OnLive's cloud gaming service. It's a neat concept, which isn't new to the PSP or PS Vita platforms, but support for this feature has been weak in the past.
Thankfully, a majority of Remote Play's challenges could be folding into PS3 hardware limitations. The PlayStation 4, on the other hand, will feature hardware video encoding, gameplay recording, screen-sharing support, and Gaikai streaming technology. Considering that the upcoming Sony console was built with this feature in mind, I think its safe to say that we can all dust off our PS Vitas and enjoy playing future Sony titles in a whole new way.
This is a new section of RPGamer's Currents where we take a hard look at some of the more video game industry rumors and try to assess how plausible they are. Nothing in this section has been officially confirmed, but who knows which rumors will float to the surface as fact in the future.
Fallout 4 Exclusive to Xbox One
"Sources" are saying that the next main entry of the Fallout series will be exclusive to the Xbox One. Likelihood? It's possible.The potential exclusive deal wouldn't be the first between Bethesda Softworks and Microsoft as the two previously teamed up for the timed exclusive releases of the expansion packs for The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim.
Final Fantasy: Versus XIII Stuck? Final Fantasy: Versus XIII is still in limbo. We'll see a lot from Square Enix at E3, but not hide nor hair of Versus XIII. Likelihood? High. The latest issue of Famitsu provided updated completion statuses of various Final Fantasy titles: Final Fantasy X HD (80%), Final Fantasy X-2 HD (65%), Final Fantasy VIII PC (80%), and Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII (70%). There was no mention of Versus XIII. Internet spectators have since joked that Versus XIII is at 0.00069% completion, and the title has been delisted by Amazon.
Prey 2 Being Developed by Arkane Studios
After ages of not hearing anything, rumors are now circulating that development of Prey 2 has been stripped away from Human Head Studios by Bethesda Softworks and given to Dishonored developer Arkane Studios. Likelihood? Who knows. Arkane is certainly capable of developing this kind of title and Bethesda owns the IP. It would mean throwing out two years worth of assets though, so I don't see it being a great business decision.