Tagged with Xbox One

The PC is king?

November is going to be an exciting month for new things. Will we see some Time War closure? No, Ecclestone wasn’t the Doctor then, which was made very clear all the way back in Rose. What does that mean?

There are also new consoles being released. They are exciting too I guess, even if they don’t ever have good Doctor Who games. Why are they trying to ride the Doctor Who hype with their suspiciously timed launches anyway? Which gets me thinking as to why haven’t they hidden a police box in Assassin’s Creed somewhere? I would.

Oh yeah, consoles. Fancy new processors that are as powerful as some PCs today! 5gb of RAM available to games! It’s such a massive improvement on the dinosaurs that are the 360 and PS3 that we can’t help but have better games as a result. Well, we will when they stop designing them to be cross platform with the last generation at least.

The thing is that my gaming PC is faster than these consoles, and has more memory. The PC is the obvious winner next generation, there’s nothing to hold it back.

Only it’s not that simple. Let’s check the Steam HW survey.

Let’s start with some facts before we get into rampant dodgy speculation. In order to support 5gb of memory being available to games you need a 64bit operating system. A quick look at the survey for September 2013 reveals the following:

PC OS Sep 2013

Limiting my data to OSs that are greater than 1% of the sample size we find that 12.83% are on 32bit Windows 7. 6.96% are still on 32bit Windows XP (and due to become a 100% zombie Trojan platform in a few months) while 2.07% are still on Vista 32bit. I’m no expert, but I’m pretty sure that makes 21.86% of PCs that use Steam can’t access more than a couple of gig of memory. Don’t they know that they are wasting so much of their PCs power? We can check that by looking at how much memory is reported on the survey:

PC Memory Sep 2013

If we total up those numbers for 4gb of RAM and below we get a staggering 53.67% of PCs sampled by Steam don’t have the memory available for a fully maxed out next generation console game. These numbers make the 64bit OS stat make sense, there’s no need for these users to upgrade their OS to 64bit. It also means that a lot of users are running a 64bit OS with no real benefit.

The thing that got me thinking about this was the beta for Battlefield 4, which is 64bit only. The released game will have a 32bit version as well, but assuming that the next generation console version uses all of the RAM it physically can then the 32bit PC version has to be lower quality. The 64bit version can beat the consoles on memory no problem, nearly half of PCs have more memory than them.

This gives developers an interesting quandary. Do they strive to make the PC the best version possible, or do they aim at a full half of the market that can’t fit all of those lovely high res textures into memory? Will they come up with a scaling solution that works out what they can do automatically? Or will we just see better versions of the last gen versions of the games for a while and perhaps less PC ports after that?

There is a serious point to this mindless speculation, which is that PCs have stagnated somewhat recently. There’s been no real drive to push PCs beyond the 32bit barrier as most people really don’t need 4gb or more of memory in their everyday usage and most people don’t need a quad core monster processor to use IE and run Word. Gamers are different, but 50% of gamers aren’t waiting to upgrade their PCs when the next gen consoles come out.

The assumption that the PC is going to be the best version of games still this generation is not exactly guaranteed to be true. Some games will be better, but I think some will be worse as publishers won’t want to throw away half of the potential market.

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What do I want from a new console?

It’s that time now where I’m being increasingly asked which new console I’m going to get (ignoring the two slightly more likely options of either getting neither or both of course). I mean, really? What’s the odds of me just getting one if I decide I want in on this console generation?

The answer is that I pre-ordered both in a no cash up front kind of way so I could get one if I wanted and am fully prepared to cancel either or both if somebody doesn’t start saying something to excite me soon.

I have an easy enough set of requirements that put consoles onto the plus side of the decision:

  • A controller that I don’t hate. This is the reason why my PS3s never became my console of choice. Points to MS and Sony here so far it seems, but of course I need a hands on with them to be sure.
  • Unprotected game video footage for recording. Points to MS here for announcing it, while Sony need to make a statement one way or the other although the PS3 sets a bad precedent due to its locked down HDMI. Before anybody says anything, no the inbuilt video capture is useless for what I want due to recording lengths on both platforms.
  • Fast times from switching on to playing games. No lengthy patches, no lengthy installs, just playing games. Provisional points to both sides as they are saying the right kind of things. Again, seeing the results is the only way to know for sure. It’s also going to need to not throw up an error message and lengthy recovery task every time you boot from having pulled the power cord out to shut the damn thing up (looking at you PS3)
  • A good range of exclusive games. I think Sony may nudge it here, but not by much. Either way the number of games that I’ll not be playing on PC instead is rather small in the first six months or more.
  • Good media remote. One of these consoles would replace a PS3 as a blu-ray player so it needs to have a nice remote. On the previous generation the 360 had an awful one that could be replaced with a universal remote and the PS3 had a great one that couldn’t due to lack of IR (some limited HDMI based control works for some TVs as well, which is cool). Neither companies have announced their replacements as far as I can tell, but MS certainly support IR remotes. I’m going to predict that the company who is also a TV manufacturer will probably come out on top again.
  • Proper independent game support on the console. Sony have already said no, their self-publishing isn’t what I’m after. MS are announcing their support at Gamescon, so maybe they will have what I want, which is something like their Indie Arcade on 360. If it supports Unity then frankly they’ve got a sale. I’m not hopeful.

The real test is how much use a new console would get in the first few months, and with the way things are I think that’s going to be quite limited unless it’s your primary games platform. Buying both is probably unwise at this time, as is buying a console if you already have a good PC. Will that stop me though? I’m not sure yet.

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I fear that the HD future still might not be HD

We have new consoles coming out in a few months! This is a cause for celebration no mater what type of games you play on whatever platform you prefer.

The main gain is that it moves the state of play for what we still insist on calling AAA games from 512mb up to 5gb of memory, and this is  massive win for gamers everywhere. Even the PC gets a massive push as the basic game designs will expand and then the other 10gb of memory we have on our PCs over that initial 5 can be used for stupidly high resolution textures and the like. Happy times for all.

I do have a worry about the consoles, and it’s one that comes from the sad reality of the 360 and PS3: the stated resolution for a game is most likely utter bollocks.

A common practice with console games is to render the game at sub 720p resolution and then scale it up so that it fits. This means that you might have SD content that has only gone through a scaling process and so, and I’m sure everybody has seen this, looks so jagged it’s painful. The reason for this was that the hardware in the consoles just wasn’t powerful enough to do what they wanted to do at the proper resolution.

This is of course the point where PC owners get to be smug as a new graphics card has always been seen as the solution to the problem there rather than upscaling. This is mainly due, I suspect, to the fact that it’s easier and cheaper to just make it the PC gamer’s problem of running games as intended and, generally, PC gamers are happy to have that responsibility to keep their rigs up to speed.

I should of course say at this point that we are so far away from seeing final games on these consoles that this is all speculation, but I suspect that we’re destined for a repeat of last generation in this matter anyway, especially when it comes to the Xbox as it lags behind the PS4 on paper, much like the PS3 lagged behind the 360 for most of the generation.

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Predicting motion control failing isn’t exactly rocket science.

Motion Control. Never have two words filled gamers with so much dread. The Wii got it right, it was enforced from the start and attracted a new generation of people to put a console under their TV, but Nintendo spectacularly failed to capitialise on this and most ended up gathering dust. Now the replacement isn’t selling well and Nintendo really haven’t managed to come up with a compelling argument (i.e. a good enough games catalogue) to justify buying a new one.

I wonder how important the compulsory part of the deal is. Microsoft are certainly going with that, but although Kinect hasn’t flopped (24million sold earlier this year, more now so any normal person might actually call it a success)  it’s never really caught on with us. It works well for things like exercise games, which are really more like apps than games, but I’m hard pressed to think of a single “proper” game that used it well. Add to that living room sizes outside of the US and even the new better camera with the One probably isn’t going to work with most living rooms. From what I’ve seen it’ll work with my living room now, but that’s no good for me as I’ve taken to playing all my games sitting at a desk so I don’t take up the TV. That makes Kinect dead on arrival for me even if the games aimed at me do arrive, and going by past history I find that highly unlikely.

Sony launched the PS3 with built in motion control, and it wasn’t very good. Not a single game managed to use tilting the controller in a meaningful way and even today games use it for meaningless gimmicks like having to shake the controller when The Last of Us decides to make you flashlight flicker. Be honest: how many of you who have played it saw the icon on screen, was confused for a bit and then thought “oh yes, I’d forgotten this controller has motion control” before deciding to ignore shaking it as the light fixes itself anyway?

Later on PS3 launched the PlayStation Move and I really do want to say it flopped. Sony went as far as saying it “had not lived up to their expectations” but it was deeply flawed from the word go. The PlayStation Eye that it needed in order to work had a big, very bright, red LED on it that was always on even when you were just watching a blu-ray, and that was annoying even before people started asking why there was a camera watching them all the time. Next there was the problem of having to buy so many bits, with the camera, wands and navigation controller. The problems continued with only being able to use one navigation controller, which limited the sort of things that games could do in the crucial “two people standing in front of the TV looking silly” market that Nintendo had so successfully created. In the end the thing that did it in was of course the lack of games, as is always the way. It turned out to be slightly more useful than Kinect for “real” games as you could control first person shooters with it, but that was always a gimmick and a controller always felt better.

Lastly we come to the PS4 and yet another form of motion control. The new controller has the light from the Move on the front of it and if you add a Sensor Bar (think smaller Kinect) it has some form of motion control that isn’t entirely defined. The gaming press is of course not exactly clambering for more details as they don’t care, which is a position shared by most gamers. Interestingly although the light is on every controller the sensor bar does not come with the console, a decision that it many believe resulted from Sony shaving some cost from the PS4 in order not to be as expensive as the Xbox One. I think the differences in reaction to the prices of the two consoles well and truly justifies that if it’s true.

I think that win comes at a cost, and the cost is that the motion control on the PS4 will flop. Unless Sony can come up with a compelling feature set beyond tracking controllers then people just won’t touch it, especially if compelling games don’t arrive. I have images of developers working on games that need it crying when Sony announced that it was no longer shipping in the box, but that probably isn’t true. The thing I find odd about the whole thing is Sony’s insistence that the light can be used for other things. Killzone shows your health, games can flash the light when you fire your gun to simulate muzzle flash. All of these things are on a light that you can’t see directly, and will just annoy you if it reflects in your TV. It’s like they are trying to justify having motion control without actually wanting to say it’s for motion control.

So where does that leave us? The Kinect will be the best selling full motion control system of the generation because you have no choice when you buy an Xbox, but the PS4 controller will be the best selling part of a motion control setup by far (it doesn’t have a removable battery so will die like the current one, and you’ll buy more than one controller anyway) so both will be able to claim meaningless victories. If there’s more than a couple of games that truly show off motion control on either system I’ll be shocked, and by the end of the generation we’ll all be wondering why our controller has a light on it, or why we need that camera that we’ve kept plugged in because the system needs it, but have put out of the way behind the TV where it can only barely see the wall through a covering of dust.

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Xbox DRM, anger and acceptance

I’ve been finding myself getting increasingly annoyed over DRM with games. I apologise to anybody who follows me on Twitter for it, and I guess I should apologise to you as well for reading this as it’s more of the same.

Microsoft have announced that the Xbox one (I still actually prefer Xbone as a real product name) has what the world has decided is draconian DRM. It’s pretty nasty because it needs an internet connection every 24 hours or you are locked out of your games. It doesn’t take a lot of guesswork to figure out that I think this is a bloody stupid idea because I just went a long time without broadband at home, which was only fixed by getting a brand new phone number. Telecoms companies are useless, you can’t rely on them at all. During this time my PC games on Steam all locked out because of what I thought at the time was a draconian two week online check. 24 hours is totally insane.

I’m not annoyed with Microsoft though. From a business point of view I can respect why they are doing it. I can even give them credit for taking the next step and actually allowing the transfer of licenses for digital products. I’m pretty sure that’s a first for one of the big players, and something that the music and movie industry really needs to take notice of. Nobody is giving them credit for that of course because of the actual story being that 360 games didn’t have these restrictions and yet One games do.

This is where it gets tricky because if you say anything positive about the One you’re an Xbox fanboy, and if you say anything bad about it you’re obviously a massive fan of Sony. I suspect people think I’m one or the other, but since I only really mention things that annoy me about them on Twitter I’m usually moaning about something that I’m actually using the most at that time.

If I’m not annoyed at Microsoft then who am I annoyed with? Sony for not announcing what I really expect to be similar restrictions on the PS4 yet so that Microsoft can take all the flak? I really hope I’m proven wrong on that one, but Sony are right to be quiet if it’s true. If it wasn’t you would expect them to maybe mention it and get a load of free really good publicity though, wouldn’t you?

The people I’m actually annoyed with are the media who are saying that Microsoft are doing something really evil. Which they are, but that’s not the point. The point is that they weren’t shouting from the mountain tops over Steam having what is in most ways a much more restrictive DRM scheme with no transfers of ownership allowed and games being locked to a user and not available for everybody on the PC.

The always online thing is a battle we lost a long, long time ago but nobody cared about. I’m angry that the fight wasn’t made until now, when it’s far too late. All of a sudden games journalists have woken up to the fact that the world changed and they didn’t care about it until now. Steam has been the hero of gaming while doing all of this, and it just didn’t matter.

Most of all I’m angry with myself though. I’m not going to be buying my games primarily on Xbox next generation, I shall be rejecting one restrictive licensing system and going with another as I’ll be buying them on Steam. This is a decision I made before the One was announced and was caused by me actually getting my arse into gear and getting a new PC so it could run modern games, and by being a fan of better graphics, modding and mice making headshots easier. I’m angry that the DRM doesn’t matter to me, when it should. We lost the battle over DRM years ago, and it’s our fault for not complaining more at the time.

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How To Murder Time 2.20

This week we’re talking about Planetside 2, Xbox One, Doctor Who (there’s probably a very meta Saturday afternoon football results being on before Doctor Who joke here that is too obscure for anybody to get), Star Trek Online and Asheron’s Call for some reason that I’m still not sure about.

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