Monday, 10 June 2013

Some E3 Predictions

Before the start of E3 later today with the start of the major press conferences I thought it would be fun to post a few silly E3 predictions. I hope they bring a bit of frivolity to the day before things get serious this afternoon.

  • They announce The Last Guardian 2 will ship this winter for PS3 and PS4 and it will include the original game as a pre-order bonus.
  • In a sop to all those pissed at Microsoft’s decision to potential ban pre-owned games, Sony will allow you to play pre-owned games on the PS4 if you buy a PSP Vita and five games.
  • To counter Microsoft’s grab for the TV, Sony announce that they will be including FM radio in the PS4. The integrated system will allow you to listen to your favourite Classic Rock station while playing Killzone: Shadow Fall. Also, by using the PlayStation Eye, you will be able to twiddle virtual knobs on the screen in order to dial into the right frequency.

  • Avatars are back, but this time you can draw your own and scan them into the system using Kinect. Everyone will need one as there will be new DRM which will require you to validate your identity by wearing a mask of your Avatar. All masks can be purchased from for just $9.99 inc p&p.
  • After the rumours that Rare have been working on a game for the Xbox One, based on one of their old franchises, they announce Killer Instict: Kinect with Avatars. All the classic characters have been replaced by Avatars and the combat doesn’t use the controller. You will be able to pull off 1000 hit combos just by frantically waving and chopping your hands.
  • Due to poor take-up of Windows 8, the Xbox One will come with a version of Windows 8 for PC which must first be installed on your PC or Laptop and verified before you can activate your new Xbox.

  • After poor sales of the Wii U Nintendo decide some re-branding is in order. They announce a portable version of the Wii U. It is basically a Wii U hooked up to a car battery and attached to a skateboard. It is called the Wii Gameboy.
  • Miyamoto takes his love of gardening and dogs to the obvious conclusion by announcing The Legend of Zelda: The Golden Years. You play a retired Link who tends Zelda’s castle garden and looks after his pet dog Ganon. Take part in epic battles against weeds, the elements, and Ganon’s toilet habits; figure out which plants to grow in order to keep Zelda happy; and deal with Link’s depression as he ultimately breaks down after realising what a life of adventure has led him too.

  • This year’s Collector’s Edition of Call of Duty Ghosts will come with your very own Alsatian puppy.
  • EA announce they have bought the rights to release games based on the old Lucas Arts adventure games. First off will be Day of The Tentacle 2 starring Jar Jar Binks. You play Jar Jar Binks as he tries to prevent Laverne, Hoagie and Bernard using Doctor Ed’s Chron-o-John to stop George Lucas from making The Phantom Menace.
  • Sega and Nintendo take their currently close partnership to the next level by merging and becoming Segendo. To commemorate the occasion they give away a Virtual Boy to all those attending E3. 

Friday, 5 October 2012

Eurogamer Expo 2012: Something is different

Last week saw the annual Eurogamer Expo take place at the Earls Court Exhibition Centre in London and this year, along with a few friends, I decided to attend. The last time I graced the hallowed halls of the Eurogamer Expo was back in 2010 and this year there were a couple of things that struck me about the whole event, things that were markedly different from the last time I attended.

The most telling difference was in the clientèle attending the show. While you still had a good number of your stereotypical ‘gamer types’: overweight, neck bearded, badly dressed (and in need of good shower); I was surprised at the number of females and also parents with their children in attendance. It was good to see that different demographics now feel comfortable with expressing their love of gaming and attending expos like this. 

The other big difference I noticed was the growth in indie and casual games on the show floor. While previous shows had included an Indie Games Arcade, this year on top of the arcade, there was a whole extra area given over to indie orientated games and there were also a lot of smaller XBLA/PSN/Steam type games on show along with a few ‘casual’ games as well.  It was certainly a change to two years ago when the likes of Hell Yeah! and Hotline Miami would have stood no chance of getting a look in against the big blockbuster titles.

Shows like this often hold a mirror up to the gaming industry and it was interesting to see the way things had changed. Yes, you still had your scantily-clad models, your cosplayers and the aforementioned ‘gamer types’, but you also had clear proof that gaming is starting to move out of the cupboard and join the rest of the entertainment industry.

It felt refreshing to walk around the show floor and see all the different people enjoying their hobby. There was a different feel to the whole show from when I was last in attendance and I think that has a lot to do with the industry growing up and the influx of a more rounded group of people into gaming as a whole. Personally, I welcome the change and I look forward to seeing whether things continue in this direction and next year’s Expo has the same kind of feel.

I'll finish by posting a video taken of us all during the event.

Just as a small side note Rab Florence (of Consolvania fame) has just posted a story in Eurogamer about the inclusion of Booth Babes at this year’s Expo. In reply the Managing Director has made an interesting post that outlines Eurogamer’s take on Booth Babes and I recommend everyone go and read it. You can find it here.

Thursday, 12 July 2012

What I Think:- Spec Ops: The Line

Spec Ops: The Line is an interesting game; very rarely do you get a shooter which sets out to make you question what you are actually doing. Call of Duty and the infamous ‘No Russian’ level had a slight tilt at this moral conundrum, but it wasn't the central theme of the game. For Spec Ops to task you with killing enemies and then get you to question whether what you are doing is the right thing is very rare in our medium.

The premise of the game is that as the captain of a Delta Force team you are charged with going to Dubai and finding out what has happened to Colonel John Konrad and his battalion which was sent into the city six months earlier to help evacuate the populace after a massive sandstorm hit. Dubai is now cut off from the rest of the world by a giant storm wall that prevents any communication from going in or coming out. It is your job to go in and find out what has being going on and why the 33rd Battalion has defected; so far so generic, but it isn't long before the situation starts to unravel and you learn that perhaps things are not quite what they seem. As you progress through the city the mental state of both the player character and his team-mates begin to unravel as the acts you are required to undertake, in order to get to the truth, become more and more questionable.  

There were times during the game where I really had to sit back and think about what I had done. One part in particular, which I wont go into as to do so would spoil the experience, really stood out and made me really question whether the lives I had taken were justified by the mission objective. This became even harder when the original goal to evacuate Dubai and save the populace was overtaken by the desire for revenge. It is at this juncture that I felt the game faltered slightly. To change direction in such a way means it's a whole lot easier for the game to make you feel bad about what you are doing. Whilst the saving of innocents can often justify deplorable acts, when it becomes just about revenge there is less ambiguity and it is much easier to see such acts for what they really are. Consequently the question of what behaviour is acceptable during warfare becomes less effective. While I applaud Yager Development for sticking to their objective, I feel that this change in tact did the game a disservice and watered down the central conceit about what is truly acceptable in combat.

However Yager Development should be commended for following through on their promise to centre the game around this question and they generally succeed in their objective. There are a lot of violent games released every week, but this is the first time I can remember actually questioning all the carnage. That they managed to invoke that response is testament to the world they have created. At times it can come across as slightly hackneyed, but it is mostly conveyed with finesse.

There have been complaints from various media outlets that the game surrounding this moral quandary is not up to scratch. While I will agree that in places the graphics look a bit ropey and the combat is not on a par with other cover based titans, such as Gears of War, it is functional and I found it enjoyable to play as a shooter; besides quibbling about such things is missing the point. Journalists and commentators are forever bemoaning the fact that games never bother to tackle moral issues. It is always clear who is the bad guy and you always play the good guy. However, when a game comes along that tries to tackle the issue of the morality of war, instead of recognising the bravery of such a move, the focus is instead on how the game isn’t as technically sound as the best games in the genre. There are already enough Gears of War clones in the market and Yager should be praised for trying something different. Games seem to be able to get away with average story when backed-up with good gameplay, but not when the story excels and the gameplay doesn't. To me this is wrong headed; the industry needs to grow up a bit and understand that gameplay is not the be-all and end-all.  

If, like me, you have a desire to see the shooter genre move forward and for third person shooters in particular to move away from the sterile arena in which they have been trapped, then I recommend that you take a look at this game. Don’t expect a technical marvel, but do expect to encounter something a little different; a game that is willing to buck the trend and get the player to really think about what they are doing. 

Wednesday, 4 July 2012

The Return of the Used Game

So you thought with the advent of digital distribution that second-hand sales would go the way of the dodo? Well think again ­– as yesterday the European Court of Justice ruled that publishers can not prevent their customers from reselling games they have bought digitally. This means that consumers within the European Union are now free to sell any games they have purchased from sites such as Origin, Steam and Gamersgate, regardless of any End User Legal Agreement they might have signed when they downloaded. This is bad news for publishers as they were hopeful that digital distribution would slay the dragon of used games sales.

Right now, of all the major digital distribution sites out there, only Green Man Gaming allows customers to trade some of their games back in and it is unclear whether the rest will look to incorporate this feature into their sites, or whether it will take a customer to enforce this right before there are any changes. Whatever the reaction, I am sure it is a major blow to publishers.
It is a well-known fact that second-hand sales are a major problem for companies like EA and Activision. Indeed in the past few years they have tried to come up with a variety of schemes to limit used copies of games and entice people to buy a new copy, such as EA’s Project Ten Dollar. The reason for this is because they do not receive any money from the resale and it also counts as a lost sale because the customer has not bought a new copy of the game. It was always believed that digital distribution would expunge this’ annoying’ feature of the market as it is not as easy to trade-in downloadable games and currently there is no real way to do so. However this ruling changes all that and will require publishers and content providers to provide a way for customers to be able to sell on any games they download.

I wonder whether this ruling will change minds and put a break on the current rush to a digital world. On the same day as the ruling was announced, our old friend EA Labels boss, Frank Gibeau, told Gamesindustry International that “...we're going to be a 100 per cent digital company, period. It's going to be there some day. It's inevitable." He went on to say that this change will take place in the not too distant future. Will this new development push their plans back a bit, or will they carry on regardless? Whatever publishers such as EA choose to do, there is no doubt that this ruling will eat into their profits, much like pre-owned sales at retail are currently doing.

However, with publishers now having a more direct route to customers through digital distribution and knowing about this development, ahead of it becoming a widespread practice, they can move to lessen the impact. Green Man Gaming shows the road forward in the way they currently deal with trade-ins. They have setup deals with various publishers where they receive a payment every time their game is sold, thus making them a bit of money from trade-ins. However, the boss of Green Man Gaming, Paul Sulyok, sees another issue that may arise now that people can resell digital games.

"The classic technique of deep discount, short time limited discounts, all of that will be slightly skewed now, because you don't want to have a deep discounted game that can then be sold on elsewhere. The secondary market then cuts in and then what will happen is the same sort of thing as you've seen in the high street whereby a supermarket chain puts a fantastic discount on a product for consumers and all the other high street retailers trot down to the supermarket to buy them to stop them." (Quote courtesy of Eurogamer

So you could see one company going to say, Steam, buying up a load of copies of the game at a cheap price and then selling them on at a slightly higher price, thus making a nice profit. This would be fairly easy to solve by preventing people from buying numerous copies of the same game, but it is still a headache for publishers and digital distribution companies to have to deal with.

I think the way forward is for publishers to follow Green Man Gaming’s example. They know about this ruling now so they should be proactive. Setup deals with all the major digital distributors that allow them to see a bit of the money from any resale of a product. However with publishers more concerned about the bottom line, any loss of money will most probably be seen as heresy and so instead they will no doubt try to fight against any digital distribution platform offering any kind of trade-in or resale scheme.

As it stands this is a good deal for consumers and helps to reaffirm a right that many feared may disappear with the move to a digital world; namely that when you buy a product, whether it is physical or digital, you own the rights to do with that product what you wish. This ruling strengthens that right and puts it down in law.

I look forward to seeing what the industries’ reaction to this is and in particular how the ‘darling’ of the digital distribution world, Steam, deals with it. But for now I’ll finish by quoting the prescient part of the ruling.

"Where the copyright holder makes available to his customer a copy - tangible or intangible - and at the same time concludes, in return form payment of a fee, a licence agreement granting the customer the right to use that copy for an unlimited period, that rightholder sells the copy to the customer and thus exhausts his exclusive distribution right. Such a transaction involves a transfer of the right of ownership of the copy. Therefore, even if the licence prohibits a further transfer, the rightholder can no longer oppose the resale of that copy." (Eurogamer)

Thursday, 28 June 2012

Why you should seriously consider building your own PC.

Today’s post is really more of an information piece as I wish to draw attention to an area of gaming that people often don’t even think about; building your own gaming PC.

As we reach the 'fag-end' of the console cycle, the PC has become the lead platform for many of the games now being developed, they also look best on the PC as the power it can bring to the table outstrips what is possible on the aging console hardware. Consequently if you want a system that can give you modern games with the best graphics then you need to turn to the PC.

The following article by Eurogamer helps to dispel the classic myth that PC gaming is expensive. As they show, for very little out-lay you can get a pretty powerful system that allows you to play all the new releases. You don’t even need to worry about having to play at a desk as modern PC graphics cards now come with HDMI ports allowing you to easily hook up your PC to an LCDTV; add in an Xbox 360 wired pad and living room PC play is possible, giving you exactly the same experience as a console, but with better graphics and of course the ability to do everything else you normally can on a PC.

I know for some it may be a bit daunting to think about building your own PC, as the article suggests, but as someone who has built his last three PCs let me tell you that it is totally worth it. It isn’t as hard as it first appears and there is plenty of help out there for when you take the plunge. The first link below is to a site which provides a wealth of useful information and help with building your first PC and the other two are great places to go if you become stuck and need a bit of technical help.

Once you take the plunge you will never go back, plus there are two added bonuses. Firstly you get far more ‘bang for your buck’ when you build your PC from scratch than you do by buying off the shelf, and secondly it is much easier to upgrade.

As someone who is a ‘self built PC’ convert I would heartily recommend that you take the plunge, especially as components have never been cheaper and right now the PC is where you are guaranteed the best graphics. I haven’t even mentioned Steam or the much wider variety of gaming experiences available on the system, but suffice it to say that if you want the best gaming experience possible right now forget the Xbox 360 or PS3, forget the forth-coming Wii , build yourself a PC. I promise you, you will never look back. 

Thursday, 21 June 2012

Do games have to please everyone to be successful?

"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."

The above is a quote from EA Labels President Frank Gibeau. He is talking about the next instalment in the Dead Space series, Dead Space 3 and the quote is in answer to the response that the game received from the gaming world during and after E3. At E3 Electronic Arts focussed very heavily on the action side of the game with new features such as unified ammo, an emphasis on action with the introduction of a cover system and two player co-op very much to the fore. There was less shown of the horror side of the game, something that fans associate with the Dead Space series. Consequently fans got a bit upset and questioned whether Dead Space 3 was heading in a direction they didn’t want the series to take. The cover system in particular had people claiming that the game was going to be action focused and that the horror elements were going to take a back seat.

Visceral Games, developers of the game, have quickly moved to quash any fears series fans might have by saying that the original horror element is still present. Senior producer on the game, Dave Altman, told Eurogamer,

"A traditional fan wants to have that alone in the dark on the couch moment. That game's there for you...Tight corridors, atmosphere, tension, horror, everything you've come to know and expect. No AI followers, not anyone chatting in your ear the whole time. It's the game that you know when you see Dead Space."

We won’t know if this is really the case; or whether Visceral are trying to keep fans onside, until the game is released in February 2013. But whoever is right, it is the comments by Gibeau that highlight a problem that I see developing in the game industry, and it’s something EA are becoming more and more guilty of.

It seems that EA and others think that all you need to do in order to make a good game sell better is to bung in a load of features - such as multiplayer and if it is a third person game a cover system - that apparently appeal to a broader audience. Do this and you are guaranteed to instantly boost sales. However, I question the wisdom of spending more money on a game series in order to try and open it up to a wider audience in the hope that it achieves more sales. I just feel that this doesn’t achieve anything.

I have no problem with developers and publishers making games that specifically try to appeal to the broadest market possible. After all they need to make money and just look how successful Call of Duty has been by following this strategy. However, I fail to see the sense in trying to take an existing series that is well liked and has a large, if not huge following, and trying to turn it into a mass market game; all the while trying to keep the series fans on board. I just don’t think it works and EA more than anyone should know this. They tried to do this with Dragon Age 2 and ended up with an inferior product that didn’t attract many new players and seriously alienated those who liked the original. Dragon Age 2 sold around 150,000 units in its first ten weeks which compares with the 250,000 units sold by the original game, Dragon Age: Origins. In total DA2 sold around 1.45m units while DA:O sold over double that at 3.79m. These figures demonstrate that all EA succeeded in doing by making the game more appealing to the mass market was to seriously impact sales, probably by driving away series fans with the precise changes that were meant to result in more sales. Now they look like making the same mistake with Dead Space 3.

Certain companies seem to have it ass-backwards when it comes to making games. They want to hit the magic sales mark, in the case of Dead Space 3 five million, because of the cost of making the game, but the game has only become more expensive because you want to appeal to more people, so you have to put extra resources into it in the hope of broadening the audience. The game then fails to hit the necessary sales mark because the publisher/developer changed the game so much that they ended up not pleasing anyone. 

Just introducing certain features like co-op or multiplayer into a game in order to make it appeal to a wider audience isn’t going to work. It’s not ‘back of the box’ features that sell games, but the quality of the product in the box. The reason why the Call of Duty series is so successful is because Call of Duty: Modern Warfare was an excellent game and the series built off that. Make an excellent game, market it correctly and the sales will come. Trying to take a pretty successful franchise and boost it into the top-tier sales wise by messing with the formula and alienating the fans doesn’t work. The fans lose out because the game changes and becomes something they no longer want to play, the publisher loses out because sales aren’t high enough and they either don’t make enough money or no money at all, and the developer loses out as they end up being closed down because the game didn’t sell enough.

I hope Dead Space 3 turns out well and doesn’t end up alienating fans - whilst failing to find that broader audience it strives for - as no one wants to see a good game fail, but if publishers continue to mess around with popular franchises in this way, then we are all on a 'hiding to nothing.' 

Wednesday, 13 June 2012

Wii U be buying one?

So the Wii U.

Nintendo had promised that it would be for the core gamers and the press conference at E3 would be all about the games. However the truth turned out to be altogether different. 
Nintendo started strong by showing Pikmin 3 and followed that with New Super Mario Bros U, but things soon went downhill. First up was a lengthy demo of a game that many people have already played, Arkham City:Armoured Edition. Next we had yet more focus put on casual titles such as Wii Fit U and SiNG. Finally they then finished off by showing NintendoLand which, while a good way of demonstrating what you can do with the new controller, it wasn’t a game that the core wanted and to compound things right at the end Reggie told the audience that there was one more thing to come. Were we about to see a quick shot of a new Metroid game or perhaps another Zelda HD movie, no we just got a fireworks display from NintendoLand.

This was not exactly the showing that many were hoping for and indeed there was much criticism levelled at Nintendo directly after the conference ended and in the days since. What made it even worse was that during E3 itself Nintendo went on to show a number of interesting ‘core’ games such as Platinum’s new game Project P-100, Game and Wario and a great on-the-floor demo of Zombie U which could have easily replaced the Batman one shown during the conference. Here were a few games that Nintendo could have shown during the conference that may have tempered the fury a bit.

However the whole of E3 failed to demonstrate to me what Nintendo want to offer with the Wii U. A major message during the show seemed to be about allowing people to keep playing games when someone wants to use the TV–a novel goal, but not necessarily a problem that plagues many people. It may be the case in the East that people only have the one TV and there is a constant battle over who does what on it, but in the West people generally have multiple TVs in their homes so this fails to be a problem. Added to that if the system is meant to be about enticing ‘core’ gamers back to the fold, what do they care about this issue. They certainly are not battling to use the TV. Come on, they are gamers; they either live on their own or in their parents basement. I jest, but seriously if you are a gamer then you will already have some form of setup that will allow you to continue gaming when the main TV is in use.  So this message doesn’t resonate with them.
The other message Nintendo seemed to be championing again was that the Wii U is perfect for the ‘casual’ audience who bought a Wii. A large part of the press conference was devoted to this message, but does this audience want a new system or was the Wii the only console they ever needed. Or indeed have they moved on, perhaps to mobile/tablet gaming. There is also the question as to whether they even know that this is an entirely new console. Much hilarity ensured after CNN posted a story claiming that the Wii U was just a periphery to the Wii. If a major news organisation can’t even tell what the Wii U is, how are consumer supposed to?

The whole thing was a bit of a mess, but I do have a bit of sympathy with Nintendo, even though I thought they blew a great opportunity to sell the Wii U to gamers. What else could Nintendo do with regards to a new console? They find themselves in a tough position. Microsoft and Sony are no doubt going to announce new consoles next year with good money on Microsoft, at least, having a new console on the market by Christmas 2013. This leaves Nintendo with a small window in which to operate. As I see it there are two options open to them. They either try and emulate the success of the Wii and appeal to the casual market, hoping that lightning strikes twice; or they release a system that is much more powerful and aimed at ‘core’ gamers, hoping that they can recapture a similar market share they had back in the 90s. Both options carry risks. As I’ve already mentioned it is debatable whether the ‘casual’ market Nintendo managed to tap into last time around still exists having flocked to mobile and Facebook gaming, although I continue to doubt claims that everyone is happy playing throwaway 5 minute trash on their phones. As for the ‘core’, the last time Nintendo tried to appeal to this market with the GameCube they had limited success, and coming off the back of the Wii they would have to work ten times as hard to convince those who own a 360 or PS3 that the Wii U is where they should be putting their money, especially with successors to both consoles just around the corner. Third party support would be hard to garner and if this kind of gambit failed, it could leave the company in serious financial difficulty. 

In the end it seems that Nintendo has tried to chart a path between the two and while this means that they haven’t really sacrificed anything when it comes to getting the ‘casuals’ invested again, the ‘hardcore’ it seems remain totally unconvinced that the Wii U is anything other than an HD Wii.

Partick Klepek said something that really chimed with my on one of the Giantbomb E3 podcasts. He likened Nintendo’s position to that of Sega when they were in the midst of releasing the Dreamcast and I can really see the similarities. We know how the Dreamcast turned out for Sega and I hope that the same doesn’t happen to Nintendo for although they have a great suite of IPs that would no doubt look great on Microsoft and Sony’s consoles, I can’t help thinking that Nintendo wouldn’t be the same company if they just made games. Making new hardware and innovating in that area drives the gaming side forward. Without those desires to innovate prelevant within the company, I think their gaming output would suffer and then they really would be just like Sega.

Nintendo stands at a crossroads with the Wii U and they need to decide which road they are going to travel down, because right now they want to go both left and right and when you try to do that, you invariably end up crashing into the ditch.