Xbox One Reactions

Xbox-One-Console

Two days ago, Microsoft finally unveiled their next in their line of home consoles, Xbox One.

While we can officially add it to the list of “most baffling console nomenclature” along with the Wii U, there’s far more to raise an eyebrow at with this new console. Details are still sparse, but from what we know the system will be slightly less capable in terms of raw processing power than the PS4. That’s not much of an issue for me, especially considering that in terms of architecture both consoles seem have far more parity than the Xbox 360 did compared to PS3. At the very least, we can probably expect both consoles to have games performing quite similarly.

Perhaps the least surprising thing Microsoft focused on was the entertainment angle of the new console. The majority of the conference was taken up discussing Xbox One’s TV features, as well as it’s almost instantaneous application switching. From the demo shown, users should be able to flip between TV, games, music, and more, with just a quick phase to your Kinect.

Youtuber Darkbeatdk’s above highlights clip is a rather apt summary of the system’s reveal. These features were admittedly cool, but for many gamers the focus on TV and entertainment was disheartening. I do share in the sentiment that there was a lack of games shown, and that the three shown off (Quantum Leap, Forza, and Call of Duty: Ghosts) weren’t big surprises. However, prior to the conference (and throughout it, as well) Microsoft has assured gamers that E3 will be the place for games, and I look forward to seeing what they’re bringing to the Xbox One.

That said, there are some things that leave me worried; namely, the inability for Indie developers to self-publish on the system — something both Sony and Nintendo allow. As a gamer increasingly interested in smaller, creative projects, I was disheartened to learn that Microsoft was not embracing this section of the game-development world. Similarly, though I’m not entirely opposed to owning a system that must stay connected to the internet, I did find Microsoft’s vagueness on the subject confusing, to say the least. It seems even Microsoft is unsure about what exactly they’ll be requiring from consumers’ internet connections.

Going into this reveal, I didn’t have many expectations, but I did hope I’d leave it with a modicum of the interest I felt after Sony’s PS4 reveal earlier this year (even though I’m not entirely sold on the PS4, either). Instead, I felt like I had just watched every rumor about the new console come true. What we saw was a company on top making investments in for-sure things: the biggest AAA games; television and movie streaming; NFL and sports apps; and voice-recognition/gesture controls. I’ll be honest, I’m a sucker for Halo and that franchise alone could sell a console to me. It also wouldn’t be hard for Microsoft to win me, and many other gamers, over this E3 but giving us a good look at some of the promised 15 exclusive games coming in Xbox One’s first year. But it’s not all about games anymore, and truth be told, I kinda like the media-hub idea they’re pushing for this new system. It’s a smart move. As many writers have pointed out, the gaming console as we know it is dead, so companies need to widen their net if they want to survive. If we still want the living-room experience, Xbox One and PS4 are really our only bets.

Oh well — there’s always PC gaming!

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Excelsior!

New LOW-DOWN is up. This week we go over some good news and bad news as well as a couple new releases. Also I tried out a different song so let us know what you think of it. Also I used the animated Looper trailer instead of the actual trailer because the animated version is infinitely cooler. Just sayin.

Next-Gen? No Thanks.

“Next gen,” two little words that make me tense up and feel overwhelmed. Why? Simply put, I’m not ready for it, nor am I remotely excited by the prospect of a new set of consoles.

Some of you may feel exactly the opposite, and I can see why: new leaps in graphical abilities; better AI; sleeker hardware, UI, and control schemes. But I don’t really want any of that. What I want is new experiences, new ideas — even new genres or takes on existing ones — from the games themselves, not the hardware. But the big gaming publishers don’t seems to see it that way.

More Graphics

It seems like the biggest driving force behind the next-gen push (and really any console iteration leap) is graphics. Recently, 2K games president Cristoph Hartman said that the industry can’t hope to evoke any sort of real, honest emotion until games achieve “photo realism.” He cites Brokeback Mountain as his example of the type of emotions games could create, but haven’t yet. To make matters worse, Crytek, developers of the graphically-powerful Crysis series, made a statement claiming that the current generation’s graphical capabilities have been tapped, which somehow means we need to move on to the next set of hardware…

Bullshit, I say. Not to the graphical capabilities being maxed, I’m pretty sure that’s true. But the part that makes me roll my eyes is this notion that graphics are immediately tied to the level of emotion response and entertainment value we get out of games. This is absolutely and unequivocally false. Let’s look at this past generation — one where graphics have been venerated above all else as the major draw to gaming. Off the top of my head, the one genre that has succeed this generation is the military FPS — the “bro-shooter”. These games had mountains of cash pumped into their graphics engines to create as “realistic” an experience as possible. The result? Stagnate, same-y shooters caked in a veneer of brown textures and lens flares. I’m not knocking these games, I’m sure there have been some great titles, but I never touched them because they never looked appealing. Call of Duty, Battlefield, Medal of Honor, Spec Ops, Killzone, Resistance… even games like Gears of War  could be thrown into the mix. Show me a screenshot from one of these “realistic” looking games, and I probably couldn’t tell you which was which. Then again, I could easily point out games like Enslaved, Borderlands, Tribes: Ascend — even Uncharted and Halo, due to their own unique looks and art styles. 

Wait, wait. Don’t tell me…

The problem is, the people saying graphics sell games have a point: when it comes to the (rather large) percentage of gamers who only buy 2-3 games a year, and usually only from the same franchises (Madden, Call of Duty, etc.), graphics matter big time. Being the first thing they see is a screenshot or trailer, this crowd needs to see marked improvements from one year to the next in order to be sold. I don’t mean to generalize, but just take a look at the comment section on Youtube or gaming blogs. You’ll find fanboys and shooter-bros writing off games entirely just because another titles graphics are “better.” So, to a point, 2k games and Crytek are correct: in order to continue pandering to this section of the market, we need to hurry up and jump on board with the next consoles. But not really because that’d be silly.

Development Costs

I’m gonna take a quick tangent to touch on development costs before I return to Hartmans’s rivitingly asinine remarks about photo-realism and emotion.

Games cost a lot; AAA games cost even more. Those graphics engines I talked about earlier require millions of dollars. In an effort to keep up with the likes of EA and Activision’s massive budgets for their annualized franchises, smaller companies are forced to pony up stacks of cash to even hope to compete. We witnessed this with 38 Studio’s Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckonning. Curt Schilling borrowed money from Rhode Island in order to complete the game. The game sold very well, over 410 thousand copies in the U.S., but the Governor of Rhode Island felt that wasn’t enough, calling the game a “failure” for not selling a projected 3 million copies (a rather unrealistic number for a small, niche title). Due to this and number of other internal scandals, 38 dissolved. Now, THQ faces a similar fate, their fate in the hands of gamers who buy games like Darksiders 2. EA hopes to see Dead Space 3 sell over 5 million copies, despite the past games not selling anything near those numbers. Now imagine a game with wildly experimental gameplay and presentation, but whose developers need to sell 5 million copies to see a profit. As Minecraft creator Notch said in response to Hartman’s statement, “you limit the number of new genres if you focus on photorealism.” Experimentation and creativity are always diminished in favor of sure-things.

Leaked picture of Xbox “Durango” dev kit

For instance, at E3 we saw Dead Space 3 paraded about as a bro-shooter. For fans of the series, this was infuriating. We saw the same happen with Mass Effect 3. It turned out that both of these first impressions were false, but it underscores a major problem in the industry. Companies want to compete; they want to have the flashy high-fidelity graphics, fast-paced action gameplay, and huge set pieces to draw in the CoD crowd. But in doing so, they alienate the core audiences. Spending too much money on graphics and homogenizing your gameplay is a dumb thing to do. And what’s more, it’s entirely unnecessary.

Emotional Depth

Okay sure, I’ll admit, I am enamored with beautiful graphics as much as the next guy At E3, I was awed by the Crysis 3 demo; Watch Dog‘s animations made me giddy, and the things Unreal Engine 4 can do are mind blowing. But when I think back to the games that really made an imprint on me, it wasn’t because the looks “real,” it was because they looked unique.

I have several games in my library I hold up as having impeccable art direction. And with most of those games, my emotional connection to the experiences and stories within are stronger because they captured my imagination and creativity. I don’t need to say it for the dozenth time, but Dead Space, Rayman: Origins, Dark Souls, The Legend of Zelda, and Shadow of the Colossus enraptured me with their beauty and atmosphere.

Much like a Pixar movie, videogames that feature highly stilized visuals have been the ones I not only remember best, but have the strongest connection with. Super Metroid’s archaic sprite-based graphics still instill the feelings of exploration and isolation I had the first time I played it. And even though they looks like ass today, games like  Medieval, and th N64 Zelda games have a charm that few games of this generation ever achieved.

As ominous as ever.

But it would be false to say that every emotional experience I’ve ever had with a game was due to creative or memorable art design. No, the single most memorable and impactful part of any and every game is its gameplay.

For me, videogames are game design first, and stories/visuals/music/etc. second (if not further down the list). They’re not movies, not comics. They are unique in the way they allow for entirely different types of stories and interactions to occur. I’ve harped on it before, but games need to chill the fuck out with this whole “imitating cinema” thing. There have been some truly moving stories told in videogames, but if you can’t present them in  way that allows me to PLAY THE GAME, then your game has failed. Heavy Rain is a perfect example of a game that, truly, would be better suited as a movie. I’m a big proponent of the silent protagonist as it allows for the player to connect directly to the world and story, rather than act as puppeteer or pilot guiding a pre-made character down a pre-determined path. But for every Gordon Freeman, there’s a Jon Marston. On the flipside, for every Samus Aran there’s a…. Samus Aran. My point is, games should not be about narrative archs or photo realistic visuals — that’s cinema’s game. No, games are about gameplay and interactivity. We need to remember that.

Silver Lining

Hawken: powerful, yet stylized graphics.

I don’t need a new generation of consoles. I’m perfectly content with what my Xbox 360 and PC can do. I still feel there is life in this generation, if for no other reason than indie/retro development. I don’t care how flashy the next big shooters look. Hell, despite my excitement for Darksiders 2 and Halo 4 (games with stylized visuals that put emphasis on gameplay, mind you) it’s titles like Hawken, Ultima Forever, and the Baldur’s Gate re-release that have me really excited. I’m even excited at the fact that games are still coming out for the Dreamcast.

And like I said, there are plenty of great games still to come on the Xbox 360 for the next year or so, if not longer. And despite my aversion to talk of new consoles, the OUYA has me very, very excited about the future of game development, Free 2 Play games, and indie games. So perhaps there is one new console I’m excited for.

I guess what I’m trying to say is this: I love F2P, indie, and retro gaming, and love the types of games still coming out for these “dated” systems, not because of their graphics, but because of their gameplay. I still love AAA console games, but based on the recent climate of that development scene, I worry about the future of companies like THQ, Square-Enix, Sega, and Even Nintendo and Sony. And while I will always have a place in my heart and on my shelf for the next big Bethesda and Bungie games, they’ve become secondary to the far cheaper, and far more engrossing titles from companies like Mojang, Double Fine, Supergiant, The Behemoth, Frictional Games, and dozens more. My only hope is that I’m not alone in thinking that.

E3: The Good

E3’s now a week behind us, and big reveals and press conferences even further back than that. E3 2012 was a strange year — a year of transitions and wheel spinning, and estrangement. That’s not to say it was a bad show this year, or that there were no great games. On the contrary, there were some great presences from several titles, and numerous developers and publishers wowing us enthusiast crowds with some damn good looking games.

There were certainly missteps, I won’t shy away from that fact. But overall I was satisfied with what I saw. So let’s get into some of the things that grabbed my attention from this year’s E3. Continue reading “E3: The Good”

Powercast Episode 8: Prom-e3-us

We’re back, once again, with a new episode of Powercast!

In this episode Marshal joins Nick and I(Brendan) in the studio for an in-depth discussion on Prometheus, upcoming movies, and all the big news and games from E3 — including Micosoft, EA, Ubisoft, Sony, and Nintendo’s press conferences, as well as Halo 4, The Last of Us, Watch Dogs, Assassin’s Creed 3, Wii U — and more!

Download below, and be sure to send any questions or comments to askpowercords@gmail.com, or comment below.

We’ll be back soon with some cool new stuff, stay tuned!

Powercast Episode 008: Prom-E3-us

With: Brendan, Marshal, Nick

Length: 2:04:10

Download (right click, save as)


Halo 4 Demo and Discussion

The first day of E3 kicked things off right. Amidst all of the beautiful and exciting new games that were shown off today, one in particular caught my eye: Halo 4.

Being a long time Bungie Halo fan I had kind of said good bye to this much beloved franchise of mine. I knew 343 would do a fine job with the series but it wouldn’t be same without the Bungie community I had grown to love and had become a part of over the years. When Bungie departed Halo it felt like my parents had just had a divorce and 343 was my new step-parent. So with that in mind I set out to end my Halo career with Reach and savor what I thought would be my last Halo game.

But as time progressed and Halo 4 details started to leak out I found myself once again become enthralled in the series I had spent way too much of my life playing. I had come to love and accept my new step-parent. And with the demo today during E3 I find my passion for the game as strong as ever.

The first thirty seconds of the demo had me sold. The demo starts out with a short cinematic that surprisingly reminiscent of the 2007 Halo 3 E3 trailer and from there proceeds to game play in a dark jungle again drawing connections to the first level of Halo 3. Seeing this and watching the Chief move through the underbrush once again with the Battle Rifle in hand and hearing Cortana guide him comforted me by really demonstrating that this was the franchise I loved so much. While significantly more stunning and beautiful than the prior games it definitely was still Halo. We quickly see him encounter and dispatch of some covenant in some stylish new garb and my spirits absolutely soared when the Elite bellowed out an all too familiar “wort, wort, wort”.

But building a game that was still Halo wasn’t all 343 set out to do. The old trilogy had come to a conclusion and it is time for something new in the series. Right off the get go you can tell it’s a new and different game. The opening cinematic shows off Master Chief’s new armor better than ever and what once looked foreign and different now looks absolutely bad ass and fitting. The enemies, the world around him, and the HUD all looked smoother and sleeker, cleaner and more detailed. It all maintained that Halo style and feel while moving forward and progressing the game. The design and visuals aren’t all that’s new in the game though.

Words can’t explain how excited I am to bust heads the BR once again

The Chief trudges on and quickly encounters the games new enemies. The new enemies are Forerunner technology, AI defense systems with golden lights and hues to perfectly contrast the Covenants neon purples. These first enemies he encounters are clearly the weaker of the bunch, reminiscent of small robot dogs, all easily disposed and not that intimidating. As he starts mowing down a second wave I started thinking these guys don’t pose much of a challenge, these have got to be the Grunts of the new enemy type.

But what about the Elites? Almost on cue, the Elite unit drops in. You don’t get too close of a look at it before this large and terrifying unit opens up its face to reveal a molten gold skull and roars in your face. Intimidation and challenge were lacking in the smaller enemies but it is not the case here. As you proceed to battle this new beast you quickly realize that this is a completely new enemy that requires a completely new attack plan. These golden AI are equipped with powerful golden lasers (which the Chief is able to wield) and are able to teleport and move incredibly fast. If this wasn’t enough, they are also able to dispatch a flying unit which assists them in raining fire down upon you, shielding the enemy, calling in more bad guys, and throwing the grenades you lob at it right back in your face.

As Brendan mentioned in his E3 Day 1 Wrap Up these new enemies and the games new style at this point are incredibly reminiscent of Metroid. The best way to describe the new Elite unit would be to call it a Space Pirate mixed with a bit of Crysis’ Ceph and topped off with some golden hues. The other new AI enemies as well seem like something straight out a Metroid game. In no way is this a bad thing though. Metroid did an incredible job designing its enemies and seeing that in the Halo 4’s new antagonists provides us with a small sense of familiarity in this terrifying yet foreign enemy.

The similarities to Metroid continue as the demo comes to the end seeing the countless enemy AI swarm upon him through a green mist with the aid of his new thermal visor. We have seen enhanced visors in Halo before but not of this complexity and intricacy.  This will also be the first time this useful tool will be available in multi-player.

I came into this E3 with mild interest in Halo 4 but after day 1 I am leaving with an excitement for Halo 4 that I have become all too familiar with prior to a Halo release. All of my doubts in 343 were thrown right out the window. In this 5 minute demo 343 have shown that they were able to make new game that is still 100% Halo while still adding enough new things in to spice things up. This is hands down the prettiest of all Halo games to date and the new enemies look like they are going to be some of the most terrifying yet the most fun to hit the series in quite some time. Getting a glimpse of the Chiefs new visor and arsenal have got me itching to lay some fiery golden lasers into some Covenant and AI faces alike. I came into this demo biased and with unrealistically high expectations and came away absolutely stunned and blown away. I am absolutely stoked for Halo 4 in a way I haven’t been in quite some time.

Check out the demo below!

E3 Day 1 Wrap Up: Games and Press Conferences

It’s heeere! The most exciting week in gaming, where some of the biggest announcement are made and the newest games shown off. Kick starting the week were 4 pressers from Microsoft, EA, Ubisoft, and Sony. Here’s our thoughts on the big moments (and upsets) of E3 2012: Continue reading “E3 Day 1 Wrap Up: Games and Press Conferences”