Mid-Generation Refresh: Pros and Cons

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My gut reaction to Microsoft’s E3 reveal of the Xbox Scorpio was anger. I was so mad that mid-generation console refreshes were becoming a reality. I knew it was true, but I held out hope that Microsoft and Sony would deny all claims and keep their current boxes at the fore-front.

While I was wrong, I didn’t want to write a blog completely lambasting Microsoft. Every decision has a positive and a negative to it and I’ve tried my best to come up with a list of reasons that the Scorpio is good and bad.

Hopefully I haven’t swayed too much in one direction or failed to acknowledge the opposite side. I personally don’t want incremental console updates, but there are benefits to having things like the PS4 Neo and Xbox Scorpio.

Pros:

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No Issues with Backwards Compatibility

Right off the bat, I will say that launching the Scorpio as a more powerful Xbox One isn’t the worst thing in the world. It’s the marketing strategy that is more troublesome. If the Scorpio is truly just another Xbox One, it will mean great things for backwards compatibility.

In the older days of cartridge technology, backwards compatibility wasn’t even a thought. I don’t know if the radical changes in hardware were to blame, but console manufacturers didn’t even bother to come up with a solution. Sony was the first to introduce it with the PS2; it helped that console become the best selling device in the games industry.

Sony continued it with the original launch of the PS3, but had to remove features to turn a profit. With the launch of the PS4 and Xbox One, Microsoft and Sony arbitrarily decided backwards compatibility wasn’t worth it.

With mid-generation upgrades, there wouldn’t be an issue with having to support older games; everything should, theoretically, work. In Microsoft’s favor, even Xbox 360 games will work (ever since they started that initiative on the One). It will help consumers feel better in knowing their older titles aren’t becoming overpriced paperweights.

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Price Tiers for Different Consumers

As with any hobby, gaming is pretty expensive. Consoles typically cost upwards of $400 and games are $60 a pop. That’s ignoring how controllers have skyrocketed in price and that Sony and Microsoft require extra fees for online play. It’s not great for lower income families.

The introduction of the Xbox Scorpio will see the price of the original Xbox One drop. The Xbox One S, as a matter of fact, has a model retailing for $300. That isn’t bad at all. Now people in different price demographics can get into a hobby that was previously exclusive to the rich kids.

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Less Confusion about Software

This almost goes hand in hand with backwards compatibility; Xbox Scorpio is basically an Xbox One. This should clear up any confusion that people have with newer software. The biggest issue Nintendo had with the Wii U was how to market the system.

Consumers still haven’t caught on. When they pick up a game box, they simply see “Wii” on the top and assume it works. Sony seemed to luck out in that their console titles had a clear numerical distinction, but most people can’t grasp that newer consoles are different entities.

Microsoft wouldn’t need to worry about any of that with Scorpio. Now, developers can make something for Xbox One and consumers can buy it regardless of their own hardware. It should be a win-win for everyone.

Cons:

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Software Update Incompatibility

There are a lot of issues that cellphone users take with constant software upgrades to the OS of their devices; often times, it feels like the phone is running slower and slower. This isn’t some corporate conspiracy to force users into an upgrade; it’s just the side effect of trying to strain older hardware past its limits.

With the Xbox Scorpio, this is going to become a reality to console users. There will come a point in time where the current Xbox One hardware cannot support a dashboard feature that the Scorpio will introduce. This will bring about a division in the install base of consoles (similar to how 360 users cannot party chat with One users).

It’s something that hasn’t really come up until recently. Older consoles weren’t created with constant internet connectivity in mind. Newer hardware has that as a staple feature. Eventually, the original Xbox One will become deficient.

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No Clear reason for Upgrade

If we take Microsoft’s word on the Xbox One, then the Scorpio ends up being pointless. Why upgrade to this newer hardware if the old system will continue to be supported? This isn’t like the old days when a new console had a clear identity; it’s easy to tell that PS2 games are different from PS3 games, for example. These are two platforms that are both called Xbox One.

Nintendo has recently stumbled into this issue with the “New” 3DS. Hell, even before that, the launch of the 2DS caused issues for consumers who weren’t up on hardware naming conventions. Consumers will struggle to understand why they need a Scorpio in the first place.

Now, you can state that 4K is the real reason behind the Scorpio, which is definitely true; that doesn’t address how older Xbox One games will fare. The Xbox One S does 4K upscaling, so clearly a Scorpio isn’t needed for that. Unless developers are required to render games at 4K on the Scorpio, there isn’t even really going to be a performance difference on the new unit.

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Spreads Consumer Distrust

For years, Apple has launched each new unit of the iPhone to record breaking sales. It seems people were eager to have the “latest” and “greatest” technology at their fingertips. Just this year, Apple finally saw a drop off in hardware adoption.

Consumers are beginning to see their trust in Apple waver. Why spring for incremental updates when the “true” successor will come out in a year? Microsoft seems to be heading in that direction.

As a non Xbox One owner, the only message I took away from their E3 conference was that the original launch was pointless. Xbox One was built around some always-on DRM nonsense that Microsoft quickly scrambled to change. Now, they want consumers to shell out more money for an even better box that will offer greater power to developers.

When does the next upgrade come out? When will the Xbox Two or Project Phoenix arrive? Why spring for a Scorpio when, quickly, that console will be obsolete? I can’t help but feel that smaller updates to hardware will be released in rapid fashion; there will always be performance issues with games that the new units fix.

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Sends a Negative Message to Hardware Manufacturers

This is more a con if the Xbox Scorpio manages to be successful. If people buy into this unit, it will tell Microsoft that mid-generation upgrades are the way of the future. They will have the proof they need to continue updating the console every 2-3 years.

That will only lead to console development echoing cellphone production. Incremental innovation in hardware technology will be released into the public at faster and faster rates. The Xbox One S will then turn into the Scorpio S which then brings the Xbox Two S and so on. That isn’t good for game development.

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While I could go on with more cons, I’ve decided to stop here. As I said earlier, I don’t want to completely bash Microsoft for their decision here. Maybe they can turn the situation into a positive and change how crappy consoles have become in recent years.

Only time will time. At present, things aren’t looking great. At the end of Microsoft’s presentation, I sent a text to my friend saying, “We need a new hobby.” I feel so alienated from current gaming trends; I’m almost like a walking relic of a bygone age.

I will try my best to be impartial as time marches on. If anything, this new hardware should bring us closer to the eventual platform agnosticism that gamers truly desire. Microsoft has started an “Xbox Anywhere” initiative, so that could bring about the end of dedicated boxes.

Whatever happens, I’ll still be there to comment on it. I may not remain a hardcore gamer, but I’m always interested in the shifts and changes the industry takes. Here’s hoping that we don’t end up with another industry crash like 1983.

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E3 2016 Predictions!

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Publishers may be spoiling all of the fun of E3 with early announcements and “leaks,” but I get the feeling there is a bunch of stuff we don’t yet know about. Recent trends that are taking the games industry by storm aren’t going to go untouched.

There is a lot of speculation surrounding companies like Nintendo and Capcom, but I’m here to lay those worries to rest (hopefully). There is my list of predictions for stuff we’ll see at E3 2016!

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NX isn’t a console…it is Zelda!

While Nintendo initially stated their only title at E3 would be the new Zelda, they soon clarified that other games would be present during their Treehouse presentation. Most people are looking for new details on the upcoming NX console, but I have a theory.

What if the NX is just Zelda. I’m serious, too. What if the NX isn’t a separate console, but an entire machine dedicated to one game. The Wii U isn’t powerful to allow the creative vision Nintendo wants for the next Zelda game, but they also don’t want to divide their user base with another console that will (most likely) fail.

So the NX is unleashed as being another box, but it only has one game. That game will be Zelda: The Something of Whatever! It will have Demon’s Souls like multiplayer features, a never ending supply of quests like an MMO and will feature constantly expanding and growing characters in a world that changes based on your actions.

Then again, maybe the NX is just a codename for Nintendo XTreme!

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What’s Old is New Again…Again

Hot on the heels of Battlefield 1’s announcement to take place in the past, EA will begin to restructure their focus on “retro” themed games. This will lead to things like Plants Vs Zombies: Mendelian Conflict, Medal of Honor: Gettysburg and SSX 95.

Activision will take notice and announce a spin-off Call of Duty set during the rise of the Greek Empire, Call of Duty: Thermopylae. Seeing as how their only other franchise is Guitar Hero, they will announce a classic rock compilation of 50’s tunes dubbed Guitar Hero Live: All Shook Up.

A deluge of not modern military shooters will follow in the coming years. We’ll all have the EA presentation of 2016 to thank for our inevitable hatred of the “past” and our desire to head back to the “future”.

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VR Man

Since VR is becoming a hot trend, I predict that all of the major console manufacturers are going to show off their own version of VR. I know this one is mostly confirmed (and Sony has already been demoing their VR headset), but there are still a lot of details that haven’t been made public.

Microsoft will announce that they’ve teamed with Oculus for a simple VR solution on the Xbox Two! That’s right; the revision model of the Xbox One will be labeled Xbox Two, completely sidestepping the fact that the second console in the Xbox family was titled the 360.

Along with Oculus Rift support, Microsoft HoloLens will be required to utilize any VR technology of the new console. With a headset and controller in tow, you’ll be able to literally interact with everything in the game, as long as you have a 24x15x8 room available for setup.

Nintendo will reveal that the NX (which I said will be a Zelda only machine) allows VR to let players get truly “immersed” in the world of Hyrule. Players will be able to punch pots and crates with their own fists and can then put rupees into their pockets as if they were truly there.

Sony will finally come out and proclaim that the Playstation VR will only ever support one game and will then be discontinued by the company. They’ll mention it next to their deceased handheld, the PSV or whatever, and begin a whole new line of “legacy” Sony hardware.

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Xbox Live as an ISP

Now, I want to preface this entry with my own opinion; I think this would be an incredibly smart move. People have seemed to drift away from Microsoft’s service over to Sony’s this generation. Both offer virtually the same stuff, at present, but Microsoft’s console hasn’t won any favors since its original announcement.

Years ago, I proposed the idea that Microsoft should just turn Xbox Live into an ISP. Along with monthly fees that are competitive with cable companies, anyone who signs up would be given access to Xbox Live Gold and all the features that entails.

Microsoft will finally realize that their system isn’t going to topple Sony. After having ceased development of Windows Phone and focusing on Xbox as a brand, Microsoft will announce that Xbox Live will now be offered as an internet service.

Gamers who sign up will be given access to Xbox Live Gold and some subscriber benefits that non-ISP users won’t have access to. While the service will be platform agnostic, there will be some speed benefits for Xbox users to give Microsoft a leg up over cable providers.

Sony and Nintendo will be stunned, but unable to fund their own comparable networks. Both will announce a greater emphasis on digital sales and subscriber benefits, though neither will be able to cut out the middleman required for internet service.

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Other than these predictions, I don’t see much else happening at E3. The past few years have been pretty lousy in terms of announcements and reveals. The widespread adoption of the internet has allowed many users to track down hints of games well before publishers are even ready to talk about them.

There has also been some pretty harsh backlash against companies using fake trailers to promote their games. Gearbox and Ubisoft have come under fire for the way they lied about Aliens: Colonial Marines and Watch_Dogs, respectively. I get the feeling that most companies are going to shy away from pre-rendered trailers in favor of showing live gameplay on stage.

Either way, I don’t have much interest in E3. I just wanted to write a sort of jokey blog about what I see in the industry. Maybe I’ll get lucky and have a few of these predictions come true. I’m not much of a prophet, however.

 

 

Nintendo Preview: E3 Comes Home

E3 has increasingly become less relevant to the common gamer. The show was fantastic when the general public was allowed to attend, but now times are different. While gamers appreciate that journalists write back about their experiences, nothing beats getting hands-on time with a game.

Nintendo wanted to be different this year. Not only did it not hold a press conference, but it partnered with Best Buy to give the regular old gamers a taste of the E3 goodness. While my state isn’t exactly a sprawling metropolis, I still had to wait two hours in line to get my hands on these demos.

I can say this Nintendo experience is the closest I’ve been to an E3-like crowd. The people were friendly and genuinely excited to see Super Mario 3D World. We all cheered when someone succeeded and cried when others failed. It was fantastic.

This also gave me an opportunity to shed some of the doubt I saw from the Nintendo Direct stream. While I knew I’d be getting Mario regardless (stupid blind Nintendo fanboyism) when I wasn’t very optimistic from the videos.

Well, since this is a preview, why don’t I explain what I played?

Super Mario 3D World

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While I can’t claim this is the 3D Mario game we were all dreaming of, 3D World is very fun. The co-op is frustrating, but I suppose that is to be expected. The bubble mechanic from the New Super Mario Bros. games makes an appearance and you can now pop it yourself, so I guess co-op could be easier.

I didn’t get to use the Gamepad at the demo booth, but the Wii Remote controls were decent. Running in a 3D space with a D-pad sucks, but everything is smooth. There isn’t any mandatory pointer action, either. Just running and jumping with a flick acting as a spin-attack.

Getting another game with Peach is fantastic to me. It was also adorable to see a five-year-old come up and practically beg for Peach.  All the characters handle like their Super Mario Bros. 2 counterparts. Luigi and Peach are the obvious choices as they can float. 3D World is a lot faster than the 3DS game, so anyone who thought that game was sluggish won’t have the same complaint this time.

The level I got to play (6-3) had the map converge to one point where the four players had to enter a clear tube. This tube sends you straight forward and around some bends, of which you can control by holding up, down, left or right. The players needed to cooperate to get some keys and unlock a box to proceed. This felt almost like a mini Zelda puzzle and it was fun to see the platforming not be solely running and jumping.

The graphics were very solid. The colors popped and the subtle textures on Mario’s and Luigi’s jeans looked nice. Nothing was too realistic, but the colors were so rich that it just appeared glorious. The camera was a bit wonky, though. There are no controls to change it, either.

Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze

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This was the game I was the most looking forward to. I love Donkey Kong Country Returns and thought it was one of the best platformers ever made. I guess striking lightning twice just wasn’t bound to happen.

I’m not sure if it was the graphics that did it, but nothing seemed entirely different. Obviously using the gamepad to control your characters is much nicer than the Wii Remote and waggle, but this game is eerily similar to the Wii game.

The animations are very smooth, though, and the game feels spot on. It runs smoothly and never drops in framerate. Your actions have immediate response and you can carry a few enemies, which leads to improved barrels to attack. Nothing screams HD, though, and I think this was a missed opportunity to sell the system on power.

You now have six hits until you die (other than in co-op where it is three per player). The Nintendo rep said he believes this to be a deliberate change in the game to make it slightly easier. I know the 3DS version had this as an option, so I think he may be confused.

The Nintendo rep did confirm to me that the game would have Wii U Pro Controller support along with the gamepad and Wii Remote control schemes. He wasn’t able to tell me if online co-op was available, but I wouldn’t hold my breath on that.

Mario Kart 8

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While I’ve enjoyed the Mario Kart series at different points in my life, the last two games did nothing for me. Mario Kart Wii is my second least favorite in the series and Mario Kart 7 is barely any better. I figured Nintendo had no gimmicks or creativity left for this series. It was also surprising when Sega nailed it with the Sonic racing games, making me question what could even come next.

Well, Mario Kart 8 plays very nicely. The gamepad can be tilted for steering or swapped on the fly to classic-style controls. There is also Wii U Pro Controller and Wii Remote schemes, so you never have to settle for any decided style of play.

The level designs are also very eye-catching. The zero-G sections look mindblowing with their bending of reality. The game flips upside down and you can ride on walls, all while tossing your weapons wherever you see fit.

Split-screen is also still an option and it works wonderfully in HD. Nintendo hasn’t packed the screen with a useless HUD or cluttered it with too many particle effects. The boxes are huge and offer plenty of real estate for players to see the action.

The graphics also run at an amazing 60 frames-per-second. This is on top of visual detail that looks like a storybook. I am genuinely surprised at how great-looking the game is and how well that translates to speed.

The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker HD

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My dream come true. I could honestly write that and that would be enough. Still, I will explain a bit.

In terms of game feel, nothing has changed. This plays pretty much like the GameCube version. The camera is a little weird, Link is very quick and the swordplay looks fantastic. The big draw is how the graphics have morphed and they look stunning.

The textures look even more cartoony than before. Link’s face is epic to behold in full HD. The particle effects mesmerize me now, almost to the point of distraction. The smoke clouds and dirt effects are beyond belief. I have no idea how Nintendo worked this kind of magic.

For some reason, though, I feel like the framerate is slower. I even mentioned this to the Nintendo rep, but he kept saying that it was running at 60 fps. I just don’t believe that. The game doesn’t have any laggy inputs, but it does appear to move slower.

The extra Wii U features didn’t really have time to shine in the demo. I noticed that the gamepad screen acts exactly like Ocarina of Time 3D did, so that is very awesome. Inventory is quick and easy to access and you can keep a constant map on the gamepad at all times.

As far was extra content goes, the Nintendo rep told me that everything is essentially the same. No new dungeons are going to be added and no dialog or music will be changed. You just get faster sailing and Miiverse integration directly in the game.

I couldn’t get the Nintendo Rep to confirm if Wii U Pro controller support was available or not. He just said that the demo only allowed for the gamepad, so I’m not sure what that could mean when the final build arrives.

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I love that Nintendo wasn’t content with just throwing up some videos online and expecting the general public to eat them up. Quite honestly, not getting hands-on time with Super Mario 3D World would have nearly dissuaded me from getting the game. This Best Buy experience was a wise decision for the Big N.

It also gave a poor guy like me a chance to feel like I was at E3. I’m always a bit jealous of the journalists who get to play these games and experience the glitz and glamour of the E3 floor. While Best Buy certainly isn’t as big, the Nintendo Experience was definitely very loud.

I urge anyone who is excited from this to get to Best Buy this Saturday. The store will be hosting the event from 1-5 PM. You can get a Luigi hat and flag for participating, too! Nothing beats free swag and early access.