Achievement Unlocked: Launch a Shitty Console
The collective bottom lip of “game journalists” everywhere began to tremble this week, and there was a very real possibility of tears after Sony callously attempted to market their PS4 console on one of its technical strengths: the ability to display games at 1080p. After an entire generation stuck playing games at sub-optimal resolutions Sony might well question why anyone would want to settle for 720p, yet apparently doing so was interpreted by Microsoft apologists as an attack on the Xbone, seeing as Microsoft’s unambitious console has consistently struggled to output resolutions higher than 720p.Clearly this is bad manners on the part of Sony, who should lower the resolution of their PS4 immediately by way of recompense.
At any rate, the Xbone is now on store shelves, and the quantities of Microsoft’s new console are coming to be known – and some of the console’s shortcomings are more than a little perplexing. The relatively underpowered nature of the Xbone hardware almost loses significance when viewed along-side the fact that a cold boot of one’s Xbone console will take a full one minute and eight seconds [or eighteen seconds from stand-by]. This tardy performance is no doubt due in large part to the console’s use of the bloated Windows 8 OS, coupled with the Microsoft’s utilisation of slow DDR3 RAM. Microsoft might like to imagine that the Xbone will serve as the content-gate for all of one’s living room entertainment, yet it is far from certain that television enthusiasts will care to wait almost twenty seconds for their Xbone to wake up and start outputting content. Of course, this might prove irrelevant to Xbox owners outside of the US, seeing as Microsoft only seems concerned with supporting the television programming of their domestic market. The UK constitutes Microsoft’s second strongest market for the Xbox brand, and yet despite the fact that one in every two British households subscribes to Sky, the Xbone nevertheless fails to support it at launch. That said, it may be just as well that UK Xbone owners cannot use the console’s television functionality, seeing as such functionality seems less than ideal. Routing one’s television though the console has the unfortunate consequence of downgrading the signal’s audio quality from 5.1 surround to 2.1 stereo. Even the Xbone’s universal remote functionality seems hopelessly flawed, seeing as owners who issue the “Xbox on” command when their TV is already in use will find themselves having to turn their television back on after the Xbone takes the liberty of switching off their set.
In the run-up to the Xbone’s launch Microsoft has made much of the console’s large [and ungainly] casing along with its large, slow fan as being able to enable cooler and quieter gaming. Surprisingly, the much more powerful and diminutive PS4 actually runs cooler than the Xbone [44c compared to 49c in favour of PS4, when gaming] – in fact one Kotaku reviewer mentioned the fact that they felt compelled to relocate their Xbone from a cabinet after their console became hot to the touch. In terms of operating noise, the larger fans have allowed Microsoft to provide the quieter console, but only by one solitary decibel [40db compared to 41db in favour of Xbone, when gaming]. To make things worse, the Xbone’s design has once again failed to accommodate an internal power supply, and comes with a power brick so gargantuan that it requires its own cooling fan. This creates a stark contrast with Sony’s PS4, which offers more powerful hardware in a smaller casing, and not only manages to run at cooler temperatures, but does so while incorporating its own internal power supply. All this being said, 49c is probably not an unacceptable temperature at which to operate a console – not every tech company can employ Sony engineers.
Finally, in spite of Microsoft’s assurances that users may operate their consoles without Kinect being switched on, they have nevertheless all but insured that it will be prohibitively unpleasant to do so. That is to say that the Xbone’s UI is an unwieldy shambles, with the interface being comprised of an ever-shifting sea of square app icons which constantly re-arrange based on frequency of use. What this means is that there is no consistent and intuitive way for users to access system settings options when navigating via gamepad, and users must instead scroll a varying number of pages backwards until they find the apps button, and then scroll through that menu until they come to settings. This all equates to a situation which more or less compels users to utilise Kinect in order to make use of voice command shortcuts [all the better to spare the AA batteries which Microsoft insists on requiring to power their 2013 gamepads, one supposes], yet unfortunately multiple sites have placed Kinect voice accuracy as being somewhere between eighty and ninety percent – meaning that at best users can expect one out of every ten voice commands to fail through no fault of their own. Then again, perhaps it is not so important for Xboners to be able to effectively navigate their console at present, seeing as there is currently no way to see how much of the console’s hard drive is full, much less manage its contents. Microsoft obviously do not want Xboners to be able to handle any of their own content. They claim that this is a design choice rather than an incompetent oversight, and that they have designed the console to handle storage automatically. What this amounts to sounds an awful lot as though the console automatically deletes game data as required, with player save data being subject to periodic deletion, and only being stored permanently on the Xbone cloud [until the servers are shut off, that is].
“Xbox One was designed to make storage management automatic.
For saved games, settings, and other information that Xbox One customers save to the cloud, space is virtually unlimited. On the internal hard drive in each Xbox One, games and apps can be uninstalled or reinstalled instantly with the click of the Xbox One menu button.
Saved games and settings information is retrieved from the cloud for any game as its being reinstalled. By being smart about how storage is managed, Xbox One keeps everyone playing, watching, and sharing their entertainment content rather than worry about limitations.”
That hardly engenders much in the way of confidence on the part of this gamer.
Is Ninja Theory Looking to Quit Console Development?
Does one dare to dream? Ninja Theory’s Tameem Antoniades has this week slammed console gaming while boldly declaring that smartphone gaming is the way of the future, in an interview which heavily suggests that Ninja Theory is transitioning into a mobile development studio. It is no surprise that Ninja Theory would be looking to make this move, as the poor sales of DmC probably insured that they were not awarded much in the way of a bonus, while further publisher patronage seems unlikely on account of that same dubious record of poor sales performance.
“After a few years, I fully expect mobile devices to be the dominant form.
The AAA games console model is a little bit broken. To us, success is being able to survive. But every now and then you look around at a conference and realise that there’s no-one left. That’s because of the barriers to entry at the $60 model. The platform holders control the platform and the distribution, the publishers control the marketing and the funding.”
While there is little doubt that the third party publishing scene is not in the rudest health that it has ever been, it is nevertheless deeply unsatisfactory to have Ninja Theory blame the industry status quo for their hardships when they have yet to turn in an enjoyable game. Heavenly Sword was a hot mess, while Enslaved was a title of banal mechanics gilt in pretty graphics, alternately DmC featured a deeply unlikable protagonist, and served as a huge step backwards for the series [which certainly was not helped by Tameem Antoniades seemingly deliberate attempts to bait and upset series fans]. Everything that has happened to Ninja Theory has happened because they are not a particularly good developer, and have a demonstrated tendency to place graphics well ahead of gameplay in their hierarchy of development imperatives. Is one to understand that the concentration of third party publishers is responsible for the evaporation of work for Ninja Theory, Tameem? Fuck off, mate, you are clearly taking the proverbial piss!
Ubisoft Attempts to Justify the Laziness of their Launch Ports
Ubisoft are well practiced pros at saying something which directly and exclusively relates to them, and then pretending like it is applicable to the entire industry. Case in point, Ubisoft’s near-legendary capacity for self-uncriticality has led to Tony Key’s defense of the industry as a whole for lazy next-gen launch ports, when Ubisoft is by far the worst offender in this regard.
“Right now, all publishers are transitioning their development resources.
For a game like Assassin’s Creed: Black Flag, most of the sales are still going to be on current generation platforms. We can’t make a version for PlayStation 4 or Xbox One that’s so wildly different that we can’t market them together.
So, for now, developers and designers are focused on making a game that works really well on all of the systems – but as we transition resources to the next-gen, it’s going to be more difficult to do that because the power of these machines is going to allow so much more creativity.”
Key’s weak excuses would be all well and good if they actually applied to Ubisoft’s peers, yet one would argue that this is not the case. Ubisoft’s nearest point of comparison, the worst company in America, EA, has turned in several launch titles which, despite being cross-generation titles, are tangibly superior to their current-gen iterations. Need for Speed: Rivals on the next-gen consoles has gone crazy on post-processing effects and filters, while also showcasing the physics capabilities of the new consoles by way of myriad airborne debris. Meanwhile the current-gen versions of Battlefield 4 are widely held to be maimed and crippled things, while the PS4 and Xbone versions offer [more or less] feature parity with the high settings of the PC version of the game [sub-native resolutions not withstanding]. In contrast to this Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag is all but identical on the next-gen platforms to its current-gen iterations, with the exception of a higher resolution and ever so slightly sharper textures. EA’s next-gen bells and whistles might not be sufficient to get one hot under the collar, but at least they are there. Ubisoft by contrast has turned in the most rote offerings imaginable, and then has subsequently attempted to paint the rest of the industry into that same indolent camp of French laziness that they now occupy.