Is Sony Ready To Enter the Virtual Reality Market?

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Continue to be skeptical about virtual reality. Go ahead, it’s ok. After all, what has the concept ever done but crash and burn in the form of one half-assed peripheral after another? Hell, if it wasn’t for virtual reality, none of us would have had to suffer through the terror of the “Lawnmower Man.”

In fact, being cynical about virtual reality is your duty as a responsible consumer.

That being said, that little sliver of hope that exists from countless sci-fi works that the idea can work, has to be getting bigger and bigger every time another jaw dropping impression of the Oculus Rift hits the web. It’s new approach to the concept continues to look better and better with every showing, and may just be a more significant release than any next gen console at this stage in their respective development cycles.

Perhaps realizing this, and no doubt being aware of the Rift team’s insistence on not being bought out, Sony appears to be throwing their hat into the VR market as news broke today about a new model of their HMZ headset that will emphasize immersive capabilities similar to that of the rift. While the only official response on the subject is a cryptic “We don’t talk about that” from a high ranking Sony official (making the subject the hardware equivalent of a trip to Ravenholm), the official announcement a new model of the headset will debut in mid November (likely alongside the PS4) suggests there is some truth behind the rumor.

Now whether or not this particular model is Sony’s answer to the Rift, or if one is truly in the works at all, is debatable, but it’s not hard to fathom other major gaming companies wanting in on the action, as any exciting idea that can potentially lures in the ultra casual gamer dollars is deeply coveted in the industry, as evidenced by the motion control craze kicked off by the runaway success of the Wii.

It’s not irresponsible to continue treating VR as a pipe dream not ready for the big time, but ironically continuing to ignore the popularity of the idea entirely is becoming the fastest way to live in a reality truly different from our own.

Sony, Microsoft, and Nintendo’s Report Cards for E3 2013

I’ve mentioned before that E3 is an archaic institution the video game industry continues to put too much stock in, and still stick to that.

However, this year it seems that every major developer and publisher was determined to re-kindle that old spark the event used to have, and across the board triumphantly accomplished just that with an E3 filled with the usual great game announcements, but bolstered by one time only events like Microsoft’s follow up to the “Xbox One” debacle, Nintendo’s rebellious direct service announcements, and of course the true reveal of the PS4.

Ultimately, like so many E3s, it would be the announcements of the “Big 3” that stole the show, and are still on the lips of gamers worldwide. Now that the presentations are done though, how did the world’s largest game companies fare at the most publicized video game event in the world? Well, let’s start with…

 

Microsoft

Microsoft had a lot of explaining to do after a reveal of the Xbox One that emphasized multimedia capabilities over gaming, as well as invoked the dreaded ideas of used game restrictions, and mandatory internet connectivity, that generally left a lot of people feeling pretty irate, and unsure of the future of the system.

While there were many ways to go about this, they made the somewhat interesting decision to go out on stage, drop a turd, hang a $499 price tag on it, and exit stage left.

It’s not that the presentation wasn’t better than the reveal, it certainly was, but even though they did things like focus on major gaming announcements over any media aspects, it seemed even the best announcements came with a catch. A good example is the return of “Killer Instinct,” in the form of a free title. While it should have been an untainted glorious moment of shock and hype, even that was watered down by the reveal that you can only play as one character on the outset, unless you paid into the game’s freemium model. As for major reveals and unique announcements, they were few and far between, and did little to excite.

More than any individual announcements though, it was the greater ideas that hindered Microsoft and the Xbox One. Try as they might they couldn’t escape the stench of bullshit that lingered well after every mention of used games restrictions, online connectivity, and even ideas which challenge the very notion of game ownership itself. As a result, there was a certain tension surrounding the proceedings that prevented even the most exciting announcements from drawing more than the odd applause here and there. It was uncomfortable to watch at its best, and embarrassing at its worst.

Yet I can’t give Microsoft failing marks. Like it or not, they have created a system that addresses issues in the industry from a business perspective, and even though they are horrible, dreadful, just plain awful ideas for consumers, they are at least original approaches to creating a system. But despite the fact no one can accuse Microsoft of playing it safe, there’s also no conceiving the argument that says they played it smart, or even intelligible.

Grade: C-

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As Details Emerge About the Next Playstation, I say Goodbye to the DualShock Controller

There has been a recent flood of information leaking the technical aspects of the new Playstation (and Xbox), that suddenly has everyone realizing that the official unveiling of Sony’s new system is indeed imminent. While we’ve learned a lot more about that new Playstation in the last week thanks to those leaks, there is still a great deal of the unknown as gamers eagerly await to see what Sony’s next gen system will bring them.

One thing that is becoming clear though is that the classic DualShock controller will not be part of that unveiling, as several sites, citing internal sources, are now reporting that Sony will be ditching their tried and true DualShock controller design and coming up with a fresh model. While it is unknown if the new Playstation controller will maintain basic elements of that old controller, already there are rumors of new features like a built-in touch LCD screen, and biometric sensors in the controller that would allow for readings of player’s certain physical properties such as sweat and nerves that could affect things like the character’s aim.

Obviously with Nintendo going bonkers with the Wii U remote (and redefining what a controller meant to a system with the Wii) every other company was going to have to step up their designs, and so this announcement is a bittersweet one, due in large part to the DualShock controller being the greatest video game controller of all time.

Even if you ignore the most basic features of the controller like it’s smart layout and curvy features that just naturally felt right in your hands, it’s the dual analog sticks and vibration ability that secures that lofty title for the DualShock. It’s easy to forget that the re-design from the original Playststion was a response to the analog stick on the N64, as it became quickly evident that the traditional four direction D Pad was not going to be enough to properly handle a new generation of 3D gaming. Humorously though, with the original dual analog controller re-design (minus the rumble feature) Sony still included a little button that would turn the analog feature on and off so gamers wouldn’t feel overwhelmed or burdened by the new technology. They in fact wouldn’t make a game that fully required its use until the brilliant “Ape Escape” which made considerable beneficiary use of the new design.

Slowly though, the gainful advantages of the dual stick design became immediately evident as it allowed for an unimpeded 360 degree movement system that was still as precise as any single direction direct input. Just imagine trying to play a modern FPS on a console without the dual stick layout, or a third person action or platform game without the freedom of movement and camera control at the same time. As for the built in rumble feature, you just need to recall “Metal Gear Solid“, and that moment where “Psycho Mantis” moves your controller by activating the rumble at a high capacity. It was an all time classic moment in video games that wouldn’t have been possible without the feature, and is just an example of the new level of interaction that the device was capable of providing.

It all came together to form the perfect gaming controller. When you look back at certain controllers, they’re often too simple, too cluttered, or too specifically remembered for their value in certain titles (the N64 and “Goldeneye” or the original Xbox controller and “Halo” for instance). Games always found a way to smartly use just about every button on the DualShock, and it worked for every style of game, not making itself noteworthy for one title above any other. It’s why Sony felt there was no need to change the design for the Playstation 2 or Playstation 3 (slight modifications and wireless functionality aside), and truthfully if they wanted to, it could still hold up for the next generation some 15 + years after the original design’s retail release.

It’s hard to fault Sony for reconsidering the controller for their next system, but even if they don’t maintain the design of the DualShock, we can only hope they remember the spirit of it, and engineer a controller that doesn’t strive to change gaming, but instead accounts for the natural evolution of the medium and inadvertently does so in the process.

Hello Sony? It’s me, Common Sense

Hey there Sony, it’s your old friend common sense. Long time no see right? Well, listen, I know we haven’t talked much since you didn’t invite me to that 2006 E3 conference, and I’d love to reminisce about those times we hung out and you moved to the CD format and revolutionized the industry, or added a DVD player to your system and changed how a game console was viewed as the central home entertainment piece, but the truth is that I came here to talk about something serious.

I heard about your new patent you see. You know, the one that in only a couple of years could theoretically allow you to end the sale of used games by flagging them and preventing the discs from being used on other systems? The one that sent Gamestop’s stock tumbling down 5% at just the idea of it? You know the one right? You do? Oh great man. Great.

It’s just, I thought I should be the one to tell you it’s not a good idea. Take it from me that it just doesn’t make sense. I know you grind your teeth (a practice I also don’t advise) every time you think of the used game market and the money that Gamestop alone takes from it that you essentially don’t see a dime of, just like I know that it makes your blood boil to think of it as anything less than organized piracy. And hey, you don’t need to tell me that if all of those used game profits went back into yours, and the developer’s, pockets, then you could theoretically change the literal fortune of the industry either. Remember, this is your old pal common sense. I get that.

But you can’t honestly believe that you wield a position of unscrupulous power that would allow you to get away with this do you? You do understand that Microsoft and Nintendo (who at least call me for drinks once in a while…just saying) have equal or larger market shares worldwide to boast about , and used the entire last generation for the lone goal of making people forget the name Playstation was once synonymous with video games right? I mean, you know that actually implementing such an idea would only drive gamers to those systems in droves, and as they make the kind of profits you only dreamed about with this act precisely by not implementing it, you could only sit and watch as every loyalist you had jumps ship?

What are you thinking man? Do you believe that you somehow have enough exclusive titles that gamers will still stick with you through this? I got news for you pal, “Uncharted” and “God of War” don’t come out that often. Or maybe you think the massive fan support that the new kid on the block the “Ouya” generated with exactly the opposite kind of philosophy that you are proposing was just a fluke? Or that should Valve release the Steam Box it wouldn’t be the most anticipated console to hit the market in years? Did the Playstation Move, Home, the PSP and Vita, and Wonderbook somehow become amazing successes when I wasn’t paying attention, so you’re not worrying about the repercussions of your actions anymore?

Ok, that was harsh. I apologize.

I Mean, Just Because Someone Else Had It First Doesn’t Mean it Isn’t a Good Idea Right?

But really my point is this. You’ve changed Sony. You used to be cool. You brought people a system in the Playstation that for the first time got the kids who used to beat up other kids for playing video games, playing the same video games. You changed the world overnight by supporting “Final Fantasy VII”, and shaped a new generation of controller design with the Dualshock. You’ve given countless runaway and unwanted developers and properties homes and turned them into favorite sons. Hell, you invented the Playstation 2!

Yet look at you now. Drawing up papers that would screw over the little guy the world over so you can maintain your finger grip grasp on video game mountain, rather than lend a hand to consumers in greater need. You’d rather sink retail stores, and make gamers pay a premium on all titles they buy, and force parents to work harder to afford the games their kids want for their birthdays or Christmas, just so you can theoretically see profits grow without any creative effort on your part. Also, even just selling this technology to developers for their optional use as you’re rumored to do, doesn’t make this any better than peddling drugs rather than using them.

Maybe this whole idea is just a bluff, but let me tell you something most people know. Puffing up your chest to look bigger, doesn’t really make you bigger.

But hey, I don’t want this to be a fight between us Sony. I just want you to know, that I know, that you would never actually do something so monumentally stupid as attempting to ban the sale of used games. I know that, because should you go through with it, there won’t even be the need for a fight, because in every respect in which success in this industry is measured,  you will have lost right out of the gate.

How do I know that? Well, far be it for me to brag, but it is just common sense.

The Last Straw for “The Last Guardian?”

In what may one day register as the final nail in the coffin either creatively or totally for “The Last Guardian,” producer of both “ICO” and “Shadow of the Colossus” Kenji Kaido, has left Sony Computer Entertainment.

He announced the news earlier on Twitter where he said:

“I have some news. This August, I left Sony Computer Entertainment. My plans for the future are undecided as of now, but for the time being I’m going to continue my summer vacation.”

There is no official word on what, if any, involvement Kaido had on “The Last Guardian,” but since he was one of the driving forces for Team ICO, it’s hard to imagine he didn’t have a hand in designing the troubled title at some point.

Trouble is definitely the only word you can use for “The Last Guardian” when you also take into consideration executive producer Yoshifusa Hayama’s departure from the title to join Bossa Studios, a Facebook game company, and Sony’s admittance to the game’s developmental problems forcing them to send over developers from Sony Santa Monica to help finish the game. These kinds of actions, combined with extreme development time, don’t usually mark a future game of the year candidate in the making.

Regardless of his capacity on the development of “The Last Guardian,” Kaido’s separation from Sony is a sad end to a career with the gaming giant that included two of the greatest cult hits of all time, “Ape Escape” and “Tomba!” (which is soon to be available for download on Vita), as well as “ICO” and “Shadow of the Colossus” which are not only two of the greatest video games of all time, but two of the most artistically important as well.

Honestly at this point, I don’t want to see what “The Last Guardian” is looking like. This isn’t a title like the “Guitar Hero” games or the “James Bond” films that can be tossed around between different people and still produce enjoyable results, but rather a title in a series that almost solely represents the full artistic potential in video games, without losing a touch of entertainment value in the process. And unlike the similar situation involving “Bioshock Infinite” the troubles with “The Last Guardian” have been well documented long before a playable model was ever shown, and key developers started jumping ship.

Oh well, if worse comes to worse I guess we will always be able to reminisce over that incredible trailer released for the game, and wonder what may have been.

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