Monday, June 17, 2013

E3 2013, Xbox One Conference

Last week I spent a lot of time online, absorbing as much content from E3 as I could handle. I took in the Xbox One and PS4 Press Conferences, as well as the conferences of Activision and EA Games.
Different things will stand out to different gamers when watching coverage for an event like this. So first a little background on me as a gamer so you can better decide how to interpret my reactions to elements of E3.

I'm primarily interested in RPGs, be they turn-based, action, or some hybrid. I'm not a fan of shooters or any other kind of action games, simply because I'm terrible at them. But I think I can appreciate good graphics and ingenuity even in games I won't play myself.

I'm also a gamer who doesn't play online, preferring solitude as I game most of the time. I'm a passionate but uncompetitive gamer and love consoles for the ways in which they differ from PCs. (Games work when you stick them in, no upgrading or calibrating required.)

I have an internet connection at home that is fine most of the time, but blinks out just often enough (maybe once a week for an hour or less) that I'm grateful my games do not require an internet connection to play.

So given those details about my gaming tastes, here are the highlights that come to mind as I think back to the E3 coverage I took in. Starting with:

The Xbox One Conference

Microsoft is giving away 2 free downloadable games per month for Xbox Live Gold members until the release of Xbox One, which hits store shelves in November with a suggested retail price of $499.

Among the free games in this program will be Assassin's Creed 2 and Halo 3. This would be a bigger selling point for me if I new what ALL of the games were that would be given away. Plus, these games are old enough that if I wanted to play them, I probably would have done so by now.

A demo of "Metal Gear Solid: Phantom Pain" was featured and appears to be set in the old west. Well, not the "old" west, but there were lots of open plains and "stealth" horse riding going on. A pretty big departure in setting from previous games in the series, as I understand it. It will be interesting to hear how series fans are reacting to this new direction.

"World of Tanks" will make its console debut exclusively on the Xbox One console. Of course it could always show up on PS4 somewhere down the line.

"Ryse: Son Of Rome". A game about gladiators or ancient Roman battles or something. Obviously not one that interested me, but it was the first game demo that gave a good idea of the Xbox One's graphical capabilities, at least for a launch title. It didn't seem like the technological leap forward I was expecting. Not a significant graphics upgrade. "Ryse" will be an Xbox One exclusive "at time of launch".

"Sunset Drive". An open world shooter and new franchise that will be fully exclusive to Xbox One.
The game play seems to be catering some to hardcore gamers, including plenty of violence with blood and alien guts. But the game also has a slightly whimsical art style that, to my mind, keeps it from fully committing to the hardcore crowd.

"Forza Motorsport 5". The demo showcased a new concept called the "drive-atar", which learns how you drive and then represents you online when you are not playing the game, so other players can  race against "you". Interesting concept! I'm not an online gamer, but I can see competitive race gamers really liking the sound of this, provided the drive-atar really does mimic a player's driving skills and habits effectively, both the good and the bad. Very promising concept that may prove very popular if carried out successfully.

"Quantum Break". An Xbox One exclusive that is both a game and a TV show. The version of the show seen by the user changes depending on how they play the game. This strikes me as very interesting from the standpoint of a TV fan who maybe isn't a serious gamer. But gamers play games because they are immersing and interactive, not passive, as other entertainment mediums like TV and movies are. So this seems like a step in the wrong direction if the intent is to target hardcore gamers. (Something I think Microsoft needs to do after their last Xbox One conference, which focused mostly on the social applications of the new console rather than the game experiences that would come with it.) In short, this looks like an innovative way to improve the immersion level of a TV show, but a step backwards in creating immersing gaming experiences.

"Project Spark" is a "game" that allows users to create their own game worlds and games. The interface seems to be based on "smart glass", a free app that can be downloaded to smart phones and tablets. The demo was performed on a tablet, which I think is the best size device for this purpose. A smart phone would likely feel too cramped.

The interface seems very intuitive, but it's not clear how deep the customization can really go. The success of this game will likely depend on the versatility of system and the community who uses it. It's a Microsoft exclusive and might be a potential system seller if exclusive to Xbox One.... but it's not. It will also be available for PC and 360! This seems like the most original concept Microsoft had to show. But since I'll be able to play it on my PC or 360 it completely fumbles any chance it had at being a system seller for me.

"Dead Rising 3". An open world zombie game featuring no load times. Exclusive to Xbox One, but not a system seller for me.

"The Witcher 3". Haven't played any of the previous Witcher games, though this one boasts open world game play rivaling Skyrim! It's not exclusive to Xbox One. The voice command and smart glass functionality don't make me feel like I need to experience it on the Xbox One, either.

"Battlefield 4". Definitely a title for hardcore gamers. Specifically FPS fans. Not exclusive to the Xbox One, though.

"Below". A roguelike game with nice graphics... for a roguelike. It's exclusive to Xbox One, but doesn't look any better than an Xbox Live arcade game, maybe even no better than an indie Xbox Live game. They showed so little of this game, giving almost no indication of what game play would be like, I had to wonder why they even bothered. My guess is that they had so few Xbox One exclusives that this is the kind of stuff at the bottom of the barrel that they have to give time to. Not that it looks like a bad game. But to snag hardcore gamers, Microsoft needed to be pulling out all the stops and showing off exclusive titles that would grab our attention and make us crave their release. Not happening here.

A new Halo game was announced for release in 2014. Yay.

"TitanFall" The final exclusive Xbox One game demonstrated on the stage. Looks cool enough, but it's another shooter, basically.

Interestingly enough, I don't remember any Kinect related games being demonstrated. Specifically games utilizing Kinect's motion detection technology. This makes me suspect that the technology has not improved enough in its responsiveness to be useful in hardcore games. A missed opportunity, as precise, controller-free motion control hardcore games would have been a show-stopper.

In summary, Microsoft didn't do near enough to secure my confidence in the Xbox One. They didn't address any of the concerns gamers have had about used game compatibility (the rumor has long been that used games will not work on the Xbox One) or the "always online" connectivity requirements the system has been rumored to have.

At least, not during the show, when they should have...

A statement was recently released by Microsoft, clarifying that used games would be playable, without any kind of fee, but would require an initial connection to Xbox Live in order to transfer ownership of the game to the new owner of the disc. Without connecting online, the disc will be unplayable. This downgrades the used games issue from "outrageous" to "slightly annoying".
But the "always connected" issue was not put to bed nearly as well.

Don Mattrick, Microsoft President of Interactive Entertainment responded to criticism of the online requirements of the Xbox One. He said in an interview at E3, "Fortunately we have a device for people who are not able to have online connectivity. It's called the Xbox 360."

I sensed a clear, passive-aggressive backlash in this statement. He said this moments after mentioning "reading the blogs". (I assume this refers to bloggers criticizing the Xbox One's demands for frequent, if not constant, connection to the Internet.)

This statement leaves no doubt in my mind that Xbox One players should plan on needing very frequent, reliable access to the Internet in order to enjoy this console. This official, yet less guarded statement was very revealing in my opinion.

I've loved playing games on my 360. (That is, before it broke down and I had to start borrowing my friend's after he upgraded to a newer model.) But unless Sony really screws up, my money will go the the PS4 for my next console purchase.

I'll share my thoughts on what THEY did right and wrong next time!

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