Monthly Archives: November 2013

Next Gen Consoles Revisted

Way back in May, I pondered the next generation of consoles and concluded the Playstation 4 would win out of the Xbox One. That was back in rumor land. We know that both Sony and Microsoft announced their consoles would not be backwards compatible. Microsoft said their console would have some TV stuff and a camera. Sony’s console, however, would be $100 less expensive than Microsoft’s console. This chart explains some of the differences based on actual reporting regarding the two consoles. 

As I explained in May, all of the interest stuff on the Xbox One will require a $60 per year fee. Want to watch Netflix or Youtube, browse the internet, or make a Skype call? You need to pay $60 per year. Sony charges a $50 yearly fee only for setting up on-line multi-player matches, and they feel so bad about this that they include a free games every month. For both people who play games on-line and people who don’t, Sony’s console is a much better deal. 

Reports have also come in regarding the performance of each console. Despite being half the size, Sony’s console is more powerful. The Xbox One cannot play all of its games in full 1080p HD. To put this in perspective, the 8 year old Xbox 360 also cannot play all of its games in full 1080p HD. Pundits say that regular gamers won’t notice, but if I’m spending $400 to $500 for a game console, I want the one with the most pixels. 

Microsoft is trying to steal the show with its Kinect camera and HDMI input. This will supposedly make the Xbox  One a future perfect all-in-one voice activated living room computer in the vein of Star Trek: The Next Generation. The HDMI input is only as good as its support for third party devices (and the adoption by third parties of software that will work with the Xbox One). For example, how will the Xbox One work with my over-the-air only DTV Pal DVR? The Kinect voice control is only as good as the users willingness to use it. I love using Siri on my iPhone sometimes, for some things, but not all the time for everything. Reports have come in regarding the use of voice control, and it seems more mandatory than supplementary. These features seem more like things Microsoft wanted to foist upon us to set its console apart from the competition and less like things we actually want to use.

Sony has quietly come in with useful features, principally the headphone jack in the game controller. Roku was the first company I know of to include a headphone jack into a remote. The idea is, why pay $100 for some IR blasting headphones when headphone support can be built. This would have been such a great thing back in the days I had roommates and then, later, babies. Anyone stung by the sticker shock on Microsoft’s proprietary add-ons will appreciate the Playstation 4’s inclusion of Bluetooth support. Sony also has a separate $70 camera and voice add-on, and I appreciate that it is separate.

Both consoles fail in the zone of backwards compatibility, and not just for games. Neither console will stream media from a local server. At lease you can “push” media to an Xbox One from a “play to” device. Sony says they will add DLNA support and CD music support to the Playstation 4, eventually. Honestly, I do not understand whey Microsoft and Sony are so boneheaded about excluding these features. The reason I never used my Xbox 360 as a media player is because Microsoft made it so darn difficult. (You had to load music one CD at a time and the DLNA support was poor at best). Because of the prior gen’s failings, I have an Xbox 360, a DLNA supported Blu-ray player, and an Apple TV. If I bought either the Xbox One or the Playstation 4, I would still need my DLNA support Blu-Ray player and an Apple TV. What have Microsoft and Sony been doing the last 8 years? 

One last note on the games: the majority of titles on both consoles are also available on the old consoles. Even next year’s most anticipated game, Destiny, will also be available for the old consoles. The new games, Destiny no doubt included, will all be limited in some degree by the capabilities of the old consoles. Considering the enormous game library on the old consoles, the minimal differences between games on old consoles and next gen consoles, and the superior media playback options on the old consoles, the new consoles are less desirable than they should be. 

Pacific Rim

“Pacific Rim” is a movie made backwards. This is not a story that happens to have giant robots and giant monsters. The giant robots and giant monsters come first. The rest of the movie, including the story, was made to support the admittly awesome premise. Hence, the movie itself is pretty awful. 

Imagine a world beset by enormous 250 foot tall monsters. Considering the monsters are enormous un-missable targets, you might think the best way to defeat them would be dropping laser guided bunker busters from high altitude. Even better for us humans, all the monsters come out of the same hole on the ocean floor, so perhaps parking a destroyer over that hole and bombarding it with depth charges would be the most efficient method of monster disposal. Eventually, the monster hole would be so full of carcasses that no more monsters could crawl out. In the world of “Pacific Rim”, however, the most efficient way to dispose of a giant monster is by punching it in the face with a giant robot fist.

Let’s back up here. In our regular word, people have fought with vicious animals such as sharks, lions, and bears. Over the centuries, we have discovered that the most efficient way to deal with these regular sized monsters is to shoot them dead before they come into punching range. In all credulity, the giant robots in “Pacific Rim” should at least carry proportionally enormous guns. As for the giant robot versus monster fights in the movie, you have no sense of the enormous scale in the middle of the ocean during a rainstorm at night. Just sayin’.

The non-giant robot parts of the movie are just plain terrible. The scale of the fights is countered by the claustrophobic sets lit like a TV movie. Most of the actors look identical, particularly the protagonist apart from his Iceman like rival. The protaganist’s accent was puzzling. Was the character supposed to be American? I think the dramatic force of the movie was supposed to emanate from from the protagonist’s relationship with his new partner. He likes her immediately (as in at first sight) and she gladly becomes his partner. Dramatic force neutralized. Giant monsters defeated. No need for a sequel.

Words of Annoyance

Full disclosure: Words of Wonder has everything I hate about contemporary games. In-app purcases. Fake currency. Facebook connections. On-line play only. In the future, we will look back at this period of games and cringe. Until then, we can avoid games like this.

The cruelty of a game like Words of Wonder is saddling a crushingly heavy bundle of profit friendly features onto an otherwise innocent and fun game. The in-app purchases make the developer money directly. The Facebook connection makes the developer money indirectly, by using the players as un-paid promoters. The on-line only play is baffling, as it does not appear to serve the needs of the developer or the player. Remove these no-fun features and the game itself would be pure bliss. Scrabble-like work making games are fun, and if you want to play a fun word game without any annoyance, I highly recommend a straight up word game like Dabble.

Think of the code monkeys making these games a realty. Many of them learned game development because they wanted to make great games. They start making great games and fell really good about themselves. Then some marketing demon tells them to add in-app purchases because in-app purchases make money. Then another marketing demon tells them to add Facebook because Facebook increases the market. The code monkeys stop feeling good about themselves. Some of them give up on their dream of making great games. Help the code monkeys; don’t download games like Words of Wonder.