The Next Console War

It’s Oscar season which means a load of fantastic movies are out in cinemas…In the US. Even something like The Irishman is so being shown in very few cinemas so I will be waiting for it to hit Netflix. The UK’s lack of film’s I care about, Disney Plus being unavailable, and Death Stranding being boring have all lead to me having very little new in the way of new content to dive into. 

I am into the third season of Chuck, a show I know extremely well and the emotional rollercoaster it puts you on is in full swing. I am also jumping between Modern Warfare and FIFA 20 when I have time for games, as The Outer Worlds just didn’t connect with me. I think I will give it another try when I am in more of an RPG playing mood. My news feed is dominated by football, so much so that I had a dream last night that Brendan Rodgers was the new arsenal manager and was in his first press conference saying Aubameyang was a liability. To be honest I would take that at Arsenal at this point.

There was some news doing the rounds last week about PlayStation executive Shuhei Yoshida being shuffled into a new position, meaning that almost all of the people at Sony that are publicly known as being responsible for the wild success that is the PS4 are now in different roles or different companies all together. Shawn Layden is the biggest name on that list, as he left earlier this year and it all seemed a little odd. There was no big thank you from Sony, despite Layden being there for 30 years and overseeing their biggest successes.

Now, the PS5 is a little bit of an unknown quantity, but when discussing it with friends I get a very PS3-ish feeling. After the dominance of the PS2 back in the early 2000s, Sony was completely overconfident and surrendered a huge advantage to Xbox 360 by launching an expensive PS3, without the online features Xbox was boasting. Their overconfidence at that time led to them having to spend the entire generation clawing back the Xbox 360 in sales numbers, and whilst it did eventually outsell its rival, Xbox won that battle.

This generation, Xbox One suffered a terrible launch, going with a message that gamers simply didn’t care for. It’s still a reasonably successful console, selling millions of units, the estimates would but it between 40 and 50 million units sold. That’s impressive, until you compare it to PlayStation over 100 million units. Such dominance in this generation should be a platform for PlayStation to really blow everyone out of the water next gen, but right now I am a lot more interested in the next Xbox than I am the PS5.

I have never actually been much of a fanboy for either console, well that’s a lie, I am a fanboy for them both. Xbox’s multiplayer is great and revolutionised the industry, but PlayStation Exclusive games are some of the best games in history. I am fortunate enough to own both consoles but next gen I will not be indulging in both again. I will be committing to one because I just don’t have the time for them both, and right now I am not sure if I want to back the more intriguing Xbox or the enticing Sony first party games that I will need a PS5 for.

If I can play my Xbox games on any device like it seems they are going for, I will be very intrigued by it, but I can’t sit here and say I won’t be easily swayed by a God of War 2, or a Horizon Zero Dawn 2, or The Last of Us Part 3, or Uncharted 5, Or Spiderman 2, or Death Stran…. never mind. Xbox’s challenge is to develop titles that can compete with those names I just listed, and that is where the next generation will be decided I feel.

The two consoles will be similar in power and graphical ability, and they will both probably offer streaming anywhere ability. They will both be crossplay I imagine, as that is just the direction things seem to be going. The X factor for both consoles will be the games you can only get in one place. It’s the biggest problem for Google Stadia, who are launching first, with a cool service, but they don’t have anything that I can only play on Stadia.

In the next 9-12 months we will hear a lot of news about the next generation, and I am going to predict now that I will end up buying a PS5. When push comes to shove, I can’t risk missing out on those exclusives, and even if Xbox unveils some new games, I like the look of, I am already invested in the stories of all the games I mentioned above. Except Death Stranding. Because Walking isn’t an interesting gameplay mechanic. Seriously I have watched a few videos and that is all you seem to be doing when you’re playing that game.

I am not sure how I managed to blurt out enough to fill a blog post today, but I will do it all again tomorrow. Until then, Happy Monday.

ChAzJS

 

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This Week In Gaming – 22.03.2019

This week has been a relatively quiet one in the games studio, except for the small story about an entirely new platform entering the video game industry. So nothing major I guess. I posted a story about that earlier this week, but I’ll go over the key points here in case you missed it, go over the pros and cons of Apex Legends’ new battle pass, and Xbox’s disc-less console is leaked. 

What I’ve been playing

The Division 2 is a really intriguing experience for me so far. I didn’t like the previous games gameplay because of the bullet sponge enemies, and that was pretty much what ended my time with The Division. The sequel has pretty much dealt with that issue by introducing faster paced, easier to deal with enemies. I feel a bit more powerful than I ever did in the first game. The tougher enemies now are much more intelligently designed, with armour you can shoot off to reveal clear weak points for you to aim at and do more damage.

The intelligence of the enemies is something I have really enjoyed. Unlike some games, where enemies just clumsily charge towards you to fight, the enemies here duck behind cover, and try to reposition and flank you. This has caused an issue for me, as so far I have been playing solo, meaning I have been slogging through tough levels in need of some back up. This week I will be playing more with people, either matchmaking or just with mates, and I think the tactical side of the game will really shine through here.

On top of that, I have been slowly allowing my mild addiction to Apex Legends to grow. I love playing this game, its tense, its fun, and the satisfaction you feel when you get that sweet sweet W is so gratifying. It has that “One more match” hook that all great games have and I am all in on the game now.

Apex Battle Pass

Speaking of Apex Legends, this week saw the release of the Battle Pass. I immediately signed up, and I went in thinking it would be a great addition. In reality, I think the service is a little disappointing. There are no challenges, which is what i was hoping to get. The challenges in the Fortnite battle pass give a whole new reason to play the game in different ways, but Apex have missed that element here. There are just levels to go up, not particularly dissimilar to the leveling system there already is in the game, just with more cosmetic rewards for leveling up. It’s a kind of carrot on the end of the stick, but one that I am not sure will keep gamers satisfied.

I hope they add more to the pass in the next few weeks, as at the moment I am not sure they have justified the £10 they’re charging. I am happy to pay it, as this game has already served up tens of hours of gameplay for me and I have loved all of it. There has been some understandable backlash from the fans, as people expected something much more in line with the offerings available on Fortnite. The excuse Respawn will give is that this is the first pass, and its early days for the game still.

For me, that excuse doesn’t really cut it considering they do not exist on their own in this genre. They can easily see what Epic is doing with their battle pass, and they obviously know as the name and system are almost copy and pasted into Apex. The developer needs to improve this to avoid further backlash, and they also need to speed up with content drops for the game. The battle pass came at the same time as the first new hero for the game, but the map has stayed completely untouched. We now are used to the ever evolving world of Fortnite,  and as much as I hate to keep comparing the two, that is the competition Respawn have. They need to keep evolving the game, and fast, or they risk being discarded and people returning to fortnite.

Disc-less Xbox

I wrote last week about a disc free Xbox being rumoured, and we now have seen the box. A report on the website WindowsCentral.com showed a photoshopped version of images they had been given by a source inside Xbox. To be honest, it is hardly a shocking revelation. The disc-less Xbox One S looks like a standard Xbox One S, but without a Disc tray.

The specs are confirmed to be a 1TB hard drive, which is good and has enough capacity for 20-25 games. The report also confirmed the new release as being the lowest price point to date for the current generation Xbox line. This all points towards giving people on the fence about Xbox One an easy to swallow price and  couple of games thrown in to get you started. Those games are Sea of Thieves, Forza Horizon 3, and Minecraft. There is no Game Pass thrown in, but as it’s a ridiculously low price for such a great service already, that isn’t too much of an extra expense for consumers considering the bang for their buck.

In other Xbox news, Xbox boss Phil Spencer promised that Microsoft are “Going big at E3”. This came in response to questions about Google’s impressive first showing at the Games Developer conference this week. Their announcements at E3 are likely to be spectacular, as the confidence Spencer is speaking with suggests he was not too frightened by Google’s Stadia unveiling…

Stadia unveiled to the world

Google Stadia is the internet giants first foray into the games industry. Launching as their own platform, google wasted no time in stating clearly that this is a “next generation” platform, and referred to Xbox One and PlayStation 4 as “Previous Gen”. So what does their console look like?

Well, it doesn’t look like anything. It’s entirely based on streaming games. There is no box, just a controller, and a google chrome browser. For TV’s you will need a chromecast device, but I can imagine they will develop an App for smart TV’s to remove that barrier to entry for people. Their message is very much one of inclusion, stating they want to bring powerful, high-end PC gaming to the world. The sheer power and ambitious nature of Stadia is impressive, and their plans are certainly a bold way to start out in the gaming industry.

Promising full 4K, HDR streaming to any screen, anywhere in the world is a very brave statement. What has come out after the conference is a bit more about exactly what is required for this service. Gone are the days of games requiring graphics cards and high processing power, now all you need is an internet connection. That is, a connection of at least 25 mbps to stream in HD, 4k will require 5-10 mbps more. If you don’t know what mbps you are getting right now, go to fast.com to find out. I get a solid 40-50 mbps, but I live in a relatively built up, busy area with a good service i pay decent money for. What is unclear is exactly how wide an audience this service can reach given the world isn’t on an even playing field when it comes to connection speeds.

Check out my over excited post from Wednesday for a more detailed breakdown of the announcements google made, but honestly I am really excited for the service. I am worried about the widespread success it can achieve given the demands it will put on people’s internet connections, but that is a worry that google need to address for people, and as technology advances, infrastructure will expand and get better everywhere. We are heading towards a streaming future, and google are first to show their hand. Over to you Microsoft and Sony.

Thanks for reading!

Google Stadia changes the Game

19th March 2019 will go down in history as the day Google arrived in the gaming industry. Google held their GDC press conference where they unveiled Stadia. It is their new video game streaming platform. I will try to go over the main points but I urge anyone who has a keen interest in the games industry to go and watch the highlights of the conference on YouTube.

Stadia allows you to play top end video games using any screen, and using any controller, all via a Google Chrome browser. There is no need for a box, you can play everything regardless of the processing power you have available to you. Everything is done in Googles own data centres, and then streamed to your device.

At launch, which is yet to be confirmed exactly but will be 2019, Stadia will be able to stream at 4k, with HDR at 60 fps. If that’s gibberish to you, that is the best picture the current top end TV’s can handle. Google has built the data centres so that they can keep up with technology as it advances, meaning when 8k and  120 fps becomes the accepted level, Stadia will be able to get there with no hassle for any consumers.

All of these stats might not mean much to you, but to put it in terms that make a little more sense, one single instance of Stadia is more powerful than an Xbox One X and a PS4 Pro combined. That is impressive on its own, but Stadia does not just allow you to access one instance at a time. If the game requires it, there will be several processing units dedicated to your game, meaning the processing power is essentially limitless.

Developer Heaven

This news must be absolute heaven for developers, as it now means they no longer have to scale their ideas to the consoles they are being released on. To date this has never been the case, even PC gaming is limited by the most powerful PC’s as they run on one single processing unit. Right now we are pretty much at the limit of what video games can be on console with things like The Last Of Us 2 and Red Dead Redemption 2 the top end of what is achievable on these platforms.

On top of all the power, google announced a slate of tools for devs to utilise Stadia as best they can. I am not versed enough in the developer world to know what the applications of these services will be but by all accounts they seem incredible. It’s made me incredibly excited for where games are heading. Streaming technology allows devs to make games that can allow for 100s of people to play simultaneously. The example they used on stage was taking battle royale games like Fortnite from 100 players up to 1000, which is an insane idea.

Sharing is Caring

On their new controller is a share button, which is nothing particularly new. The special thing Google have is that they own YouTube. The share button now allows you to share your game as it’s being played around the world to anyone and everyone. This could change the way people watch video games, and must be a huge issue for streaming platform Twitch.

You can also share moments in games, and your friends will be able to jump straight in and play that exact game through their own device. It’s hard to make much sense of the amount of applications this technology has and it’s all part of this new platform.

One idea that really showed how innovative Google are being with this was the ability to jump into a game with your favourite youtuber from the channel as you watch them. If that doesn’t make sense, imagine you are watching a youtuber laying Apex Legends, you can click on “Join game” and it will put you in a queue to join into the exact game you are watching. That opens up a whole new world of interaction with content creators on YouTube and other platforms.

The future is here

Stadia is being built to give developers the tools to make anything they want, and let gamers play it however they want. Watching the stream felt odd, and the ramifications of this announcement will be felt around the entire games industry. Stadia Games and Entertainment is their own first party, focussed on making Stadia exclusive games, and that’s another example of how google are approaching this.

Microsoft and Sony will have been watching this conference and from all reports I know of, they will have been a tad worried about the new competitor on the block. Consoles are such a key part of the gaming industry right now, and have been for such a long time. Google today showed us a glimpse at a new world. A world without boxes. There’s no price point, and it requires a good internet connection but they are the only barriers to entry we are yet to find out about. They promised more will be revealed this summer, and I will bring you all the news on the site when it happens.

Stadia launches this year. Over to you Microsoft and Sony. Google has arrived in the games industry.