Much Like the Kinect, Microsoft’s Latest Decision to Take the Control of Games out of the Gamer’s Hands, Will be a Failure

 

I may never get a chance to do so elsewhere, so let me pay tribute to one of my favorite critics, the late, great Roger Ebert, by paraphrasing his famous review of the film “North” to convey my feelings on the news that the next Xbox will likely require you to always be online.

I hate that idea. Hate it, hate it, hate it, hate it, hate it. Hate it. I hate every simpering stupid vacant audience-insulting implication of it. It hate the sensibility that thinks anyone will like it. I hate the implied insult to the audience by its belief that anyone would be entertained by it.

While still not the official Microsoft statement, the recent, and soon to be infamous, tweets of Microsoft creative director Adam Orth on the subject seem to imply that if Microsoft isn’t already committed to the idea of making a console that requires an internet connection, they’ve certainly considered it.

Specifically he summed up the notion of a console that requires an internet connection with three simple words.

“Deal with it.”

Used as a rebuttal to every befuddled complaint thrown his way, Adam Orth would like it very much if we never dare question the motivations or intentions of Microsoft again. Because of these outlandish and insulting comments, Microsoft is now the ones who have to “deal with it,” as they scramble to make sure everyone knows that the views of Adam Orth “Do not reflect the customer centric views we take to our products.”

If you haven’t done so already, please take a moment to laugh at that statement. You can either laugh at the implication that the creative director of Microsoft’s views somehow do not reflect the company he works for, or have a chuckle at the fact that the problem isn’t his viewpoints necessarily, but rather that he couldn’t say them in a more PR friendly manner.

Whatever you do though, don’t take this situation seriously. I do not mean to expect these rumors to turn out to be false (they most likely aren’t), but rather do not join the legions who will suddenly give credence to the notion of an online required console as a possible evolution of the medium, or attempt to play the devil’s advocate on the subject by attempting to analyze the notion as an inevitability.

For supporting this idea, Microsoft  is simply wrong. They were wrong when they released consoles that died more frequently than a light bulb, and they are wrong again in creating a new system that once again suggests that purchasing a console and owning a game does not guarantee your ability to use either.

There is no logical argument that exists to support a DRM system in the current state the technology exists in, for anyone not on the corporate take. While there are an abundance of logical arguments against the system, none should be used to entertain this particular notion. Instead, if you are opposed to this idea, please just laugh uncontrollably at it anytime a Microsoft representative brings up the idea publically, in order to pay the same respect to them, that they do to you by supporting DRM.

If the next generation Xbox is online only, it should also come with a statement that all owners must sign, have notarized, and officially submit to a court of law. That statement will read:

“We hereby wave our right to ever complain through any available medium regarding any technical issues that may arise preventing us from using our systems. We have weighed our options to choose rationality and common sense against blind allegiance, and have chosen to deal with it.”

Five Reasons 2013 Will Be One of Gaming’s Greatest Years

While individual  game releases will always (deservedly) get most of the love, there is nothing like a truly great overall year of gaming. Even though it’s never an intended effect, it’s amazing when a group of independent properties come together to create an incredible 365, or 366 if we’re talking leap years, days of gaming. Years like 2001 (“Halo: CE,” “Grand Theft Auto III,” “Final Fantasy X”), 2007 (“Bioshock,” “Portal,” “Mass Effect”), and, of course, the greatest of them all, 1998 (featuring the holy trinity of “Metal Gear Solid,” “Half-Life,” and “Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time”) represent some of the best times ever to be a gamer.

And 2013 has the potential to join, or even exceed, all of them. Thanks to some fortunate timing, and a few delays, it’s looking to be a landmark year of video gaming that will be remembered for many, surely lesser, years to come. While there are many, many reasons for this, here are five that lead me to believe that 2013 in gaming will be one for the ages.

Mobile Gaming is Coming Into Its Own

“Serious” gamers may look down on the mobile gaming market, but it’s time that all gamers realize that we’ve come a long, long way from “Doodle Jump”. Now, instead of being an outlet for puzzlers, tower defense titles, and slightly lesser console ports, mobile gaming is producing intriguing and inventive titles at a rapid pace, due in large part to a sea of developers making use of the simpler programming on mobile devices, and the still interesting touch controls, to provide a constant, and often cheap, flow of amazing games on the go. Since the explosion in tablet sales over the last couple of years, we’re even starting to see more titles developed specifically with their larger sized screens and more powerful abilities in mind.

There hasn’t really been a truly noteworthy traditional handheld gaming system since the Nintendo DS, but thankfully an ever growing community has slowly turned a platform that was only used for brief sessions of “Snake” in your downtime, to one of the most exciting fields for surprising high quality video game releases. Expect this to continue in 2013.

The Next Generation Begins

As the Wii U is proving, a new console doesn’t have to blow minds to still produce some genuine excitement and huge sales numbers. While nothing from the other major gaming companies is official, it’s looking more and more likely that 2013 will bring gamers the next generation of Xbox and Playstation consoles (even if it is only a preview at the least). While that means that gamers will have to soon be plucking down some serious cash on new consoles, accessories and games (not to mention still trying to keep up with the releases still to come for the previous consoles), there is nothing more exciting than the promise of a new gaming generation.

Soon battle lines will be drawn once again as gamers choose their alliances, and new specs and features will again re-shape what we thought was possible in the medium. This has been a great console lifecycle, but it’s gone on for longer than usual, and it’s time for a new day to begin.

People Are Choosing the Games They Want, and What They Want in Games

One of the biggest changes to gaming over the last year or two has been the influence of sites like Kickstarter (or more recently Steam’s “Greenlight” program). Now, developers have open forums where they can present their ideas and let the community decide their interest in them, and even help by directly funding the titles. Even though the road to success is not guaranteed, it’s now easier than ever for a good idea to see life, and for gamers to help make sure the games they want get a chance.

But this isn’t just about sites like those. It’s also about events like “Mass Effect 3′s” optional new endings, or “Bioshock: Infinite’s” alternate cover. Now, more than ever, gamers have the ability to directly influence the decisions of major developers, and have a word about the final product. While this is a controversial move, the fact that the average gamer now has so much power to directly influence the titles available to them will have some major, and intriguing, implications in the coming year.

Influence of 2012’s Biggest Games

2012 was not one of those all-time great years of gaming I mentioned, but it did have some all-time great games. It’s natural to build off of what came before, and in the case of 2013, that could mean some exciting and sweeping changes across several genres.

Particularly, look for the success of “The Walking Dead” to lead to a revival of the traditional point and click genre, as well as a greater focus on the effect of storytelling in games. I also wouldn’t be surprised if the indie hit “Slender” put horror game developers back to the drawing board to come up with some fresh ideas for the genre (and veer it away slightly from the growing action elements), and if the praise that “Far Cry 3” is garnering expands the aging FPS market into more of the sandbox gaming territory.  Other less likely, but equally welcome innovations would be if more all-star developers got together on independent properties like in “Dishonored,” or if other long dead franchises get exciting resurrections like “XCOM,” or even if “Journey” inspires people to look towards developing with art, and not violence, more in mind.

Whatever the final influences may be, 2012 showed there are still some exciting places for gaming to go. 2013 might just take us to all of them.

That Lineup…

Oh sweet heaven, the amazing lineup of 2013. While you can never guarantee that any game will be great no matter how it may look, with 2013 set to deliver no less than “Grand Theft Auto V,” “Bioshock: Infinite,” “Last of Us,”  “Watch Dogs,” “Crysis 3,” “Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time,” “Simcity,” “Command and Conquer Generals 2” and the new “Tomb Raider,” it’s very likely that we are going to get a host of instant classics.

Of course, that’s just some of the games that we actually know about. Many of the best games of this year came out of nowhere, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the best game of 2013 is one that no one is talking about yet. Even in an ever expanding industry, at the end of the day games are still king, and the games set for 2013 are some of the most exciting that I’ve seen in a long time.

Wii U, Xbox 720, PS4…Ouya?

Originally, I wasn’t sure whether or not to report on the Ouya, mostly because I feel like I met my quota on farfetched console rumors with that Xbox 720 report leak. However, between the underwhelming Wii U unveiling at E3, and Microsoft and Sony remaining mum on their future plans, 720 leaks aside, it’s getting harder and harder to get properly hyped up for the next generation of consoles based on mere official information. So here I am, reporting on another console that may or may not exist.

Cynicism aside, the truth is that there are a lot of reasons to be excited about the Ouya. Because Ouya isn’t just a vaguely dirty-sounding word, but is instead a rumored new entrant into the console wars that has the backing of veterans like Ed Fries (Xbox) and CEO Julie Uhram (IGN).

Now, obviously, anybody trying to make a successful new console has to have an ace up their sleeve to separate themselves from the industry giants. The Ouya’s trump card, as first reported by The Verge, is its Android-powered core, which will supposedly help the console double as a development kit. Essentially, the Ouya is “hacker friendly” and allows for gamers that buy it to create their own titles. Even more appealing is the consoles alleged price tag, which is said to be set at $99, and will feature completely free games.

While there is apparently more information about the Ouya set to break in the coming days, what we have now is tantalizing enough. The idea of a major release system encouraging a lassez faire attitude towards its consumers concerning security policies and publishing rights is an interesting one, and brings consoles closer toward their seemingly inevitable assimilation with some of the finer points of PC gaming. In fact, there is a lot about the Ouya that reflects the recent evolutionary trends in gaming. It combines a little bit of mobile app gaming, the explosion of the indie development market, and is supposedly set to offer the whole package to you for a foundation-shattering price point.

It’s a console based around the concepts of freedom and independence, making the 4th of July the perfect day to consider its potential impact. Because honestly, whether or not the Ouya bucks the trend of previous cinderella entrants into the console market and actually makes it is, at this time, largely irrelevant. As the “Madden” franchise has shown, when there is a lack of real competition in a market, it’s hard for your product to not become stale. And if even half of the information about the Ouya turns out be accurate, it is at least an exciting idea that may hopefully force the major players to consider the benefits of its more appealing ideas.

A Possible Leak From Microsoft May Reveal the Future of Xbox

While the Wii U has been making its publicity tour, including an awkward appearance on “The Jimmy Fallon Show,” there has been a very shocking dearth of information from Sony and Microsoft concerning their next generation plans. That is, until now.

Well… possibly.

There is this absolutely massive 56-page report that is currently making its rounds on the front page of most major gaming websites.  Its contents are various, but the general summary of it is a detailed “game plan” of sorts for Microsoft’s next console launch, including features, a price point, and a broad ranged analysis of the console market both at the time of the documents origins and how it will look by 2013 (the next console’s supposed launch date) and beyond.

Now, this report is being classified as a “leak” as it apparently made its rounds internally around Microsoft back in 2010. However, while Microsoft is naturally remaining mum on the subject of its origins and accuracy, there are many who believe the report to be more or less a hoax, albeit a very detailed and professional one. Nevertheless, the most eye-grabbing bits of the report are the specific features of the alleged new console (which is named Xbox 720 in the report). Among them are:

- Blu-ray functionality (oh come on Microsoft, giving up on HD-DVD so easily?)

- Enhanced Kinect support, including the expansion of the system to allow up to four players and a new sensor all together

- A $299 price point

- Cloud support for taking your multimedia files anywhere

- Potential tablet integration

- Enhanced reality glasses, dubbed Fortaleza, that provide features such as heads-up displays and other virtual reality aspects

- Games that are “4x to 6x better looking than current titles”

Read the rest of this entry »

Microsoft says the 360 hasn’t even reached the hill

Xbox 360 family.Our current console generation is set to be one of the longest in the industry. Sony has often commented that the PS3 is on a 10-year plan, same with the PSP. That puts the former right around its midlife crisis, and like any good mid-lifer, it went and slimmed down, smartened up, and managed to find its way into more homes than any other time in its life (I don’t know that the last one actually works in my metaphor, but hey). Microsoft isn’t ready to send its console over the hill just yet.

Speaking to the Guardian UK at CES this year, Microsoft’s David Hufford said the Xbox 360 hasn’t even made it halfway through its lifecycle. Project Natal and upgrades to the Xbox Live service are planned to prolong the life of the console well into the new decade.

“I think it’s important to say that the Xbox 360 is the console of the long future for us,” Hufford said. “There is no need to launch a new console, because we’re able to give this console new life either with software upgrades or hardware upgrades like Project Natal.”

It’s funny. As much as people gripe that PC gaming is over, consoles are starting to emulate PCs. We’ve just seen consoles succeed in the same way Apple has, by marrying hardware and software control under one roof.

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