May 27, 2013

Xbox Losing Sight

It's going to be a long and upsetting post, if you didn't know much about the next xbox buckle up it's going to be a bumpy ride.

Browsing through this month's game informer I'm a bit more worried than ever about the state of xbox. While I've been a pc man these last couple years prior to that I was an avid xbox gamer for a multitude of reasons. I also experienced the headache of xbla publishing yet that wasn't my reason for leaving. Simply put the playstation plus service was so great it made me ashamed to pay for my online play of xbox and prompted me to switch heavily to playstation and pc. This is also part of why if I had to choose the next round of upcoming consoles it would probably be the ps4 though at this point neither really excites me. The only major launch title that has me hyped so far is the new Metal Gear and even that isn't going to move a single console in my direction.

To the point though given the article on indie devs I must say the guy they interviewed clearly didn't have a good grasp on how bad the situation is or was seriously downplaying how many people have jumped ship. If they don't start paying better attention to details they're going to get another shock like they did with the always-on backlash.

I'm still eager to see though just how everything will actually turn out, and I always love checking out new interfaces even if they completely suck. Though I will say that I miss the old xbox blades looking back on them now they were kind of obtuse and the NXE is a better flow that's just more efficient but look at how much style they cut from it an how simplistic it's become. The xbox is suffering from the designs being placed on this extreme multimedia center and family friendly garbage they've been forcing on it. I understand the desire for market share but at some point you have to ask if you're alienating your loyal customers, the ones that come back for more and generally buy the bigger ticket items with some frequency. It won't help you to have more customers if you lose the more important market share.

Really the vibe I'm getting is xbox is trying to move out of the gaming market all together. Rather than branch out into other areas it looks like it's practically abandoning it's roots. It's moved from a more mature gamer orientation to more child and soccer mom friendly. Abandoning the mature games in favor of E and T ratings leads me to believe they'd rather compete with nintendo than sony. Clearly the Xbox has lost sight of where it came from and what it was meant for. The controller design itself was meant for shooters, a natively mature rating and often the home of hardcore gamers. Late in the generation suddenly xbox decided to focus on copying everyone else to get more grandparents and children playing simple minded games for some reason. The xbox was never intended as a "baby's first console" and the sooner they realize that the better they'll be for it.

I'm not saying it might not be nice to have some of these multimedia features they've detailed or for it to function like an HTPC but when it comes down to it, it should not be to the exclusion of gaming given that it's intended for games first and other entertainment second and as of yet he have heard barely anything to do with it's gaming abilities, at least in comparison to it's all important role in the family living room. You know that room... the one where everyone is constantly walking in front of the tv and everyone argues about who get's to control the tv for how long and depending on how young you are and how old your parents are might not even be allowed to hook up the console to the tv at all. I remember back when I had my first psx and n64, my mom was convinced that consoles ruined the tv, bleed the color out, and generally destroyed them. Thankfully I had my own little screen I'd had since back in my early nintendo days still working like a champ. Over the years I've since replaced it probably a hundred times or more by now and yet I've never been without a screen of my own for my console, and I've never bothered having it anywhere near the cable box. I happen to think that's the real common place of it too, is that most people keep their consoles by their computers, maybe the largest tv they have without being pestered by someone else about it, or otherwise not generally so important that it be near the cable box. The average family home now as at least 2 tv's if not more and I am quite sure that if you live with someone else that might ever complain about you hogging the tv an they want to watch cable then you probably don't have it hooked up to that tv.

Side note of the day being that cable is losing market anyway. People such as myself are finding plenty of other ways to watch what we want how we want. From hulu, to netflix, and torrents we watch only what we want to skipping most if not all commercials and for those of us that just can't give it up there's always the dvr and I'm fairly sure nobody intends on actually replacing that with their xbox especially if they only have one. It just invites a headache and I know I'm going to love hearing the rants about this kind of nonsense down the road.

With the big reveal having been said and done there are plenty of other things to gripe about. The xbox team has clearly gone out of their way to change a lot, and that sadly is not a good thing in this case as they're changing too much and all the wrong things. For starters your after market equipment like those expensive turtle beach headsets won't work on the new xbox. The awesome controller has been altered in a lot of ways, some for the better some for worse but my real complaint is probably the shell design. From what I can see the side for your hands is at an annoying angle and perhaps too long and clearly a significant step away from the ever so comfortable design we have now which I would be happy with only a slight redesign to incorporate some of the other features they plan on forcing on us. For example the battery is finally on the inside but can be removed and replaced if need be.  Back to the bad news the next xbox is coming up short in up front processing ability compared to the ps4 which we've already established is lacking for what we expect of next gen, however it appears that both consoles will support 4k after all, though that most likely does not include 3d. Apparently the wizards over at MS decided to go with cloud computing to address this issue which might've been alright if it weren't for a few obvious things like the fact that if one thing is going to be needing more processing than the console can handle then there are likely other such consoles also offloading their work to each other which means that likely nobody will be able to play some kind of supreme call of duty in 4 years so intense you need the power of 2 whole consoles to handle it, add to that the fact a lot of people turn their consoles off when not in use which means they're not free to do computations for everyone else, and down the line, in the end it can't be relied on to solve the lack of up front power. Though you may not have a choice as the always-on rumors continue to rage, with microsoft not giving any clear answer on the subject which at the very least has said you'll likely have to connect to the internet at least once a day to play or do anything with the console. Forced installation of games to the hard drive doesn't help much either in particular when you consider how small the hard drive is likely to be and how large your collection will inevitably grow to the point in which you have to delete things which you might not be able to re-download even with the disk. Speaking of which there's plenty of rumors flying around about their DRM which has lead many to believe that you may not be able to play used games, you can buy and sell them sure but good luck playing them without the one time use only code that's hard locked to a single profile. Maybe they're trying to take a page from steam, the problem is they're taking the wrong page, as it's the one we kind of all wish they'd tear out and replace with something nicer and friendlier. To clear that up a bit my understanding is that you'll have to pay a "used game fee" which I hope to hell gamestop takes into consideration somehow because I can tell you right now I absolutely will not be paying for a game twice under any circumstance no matter how cheap. As to the presentation itself from what I understand we pretty much agree that it was a big let down with M$ focusing more on the absurd tv watching capability of the whole thing than games or more importantly exclusives. Basically showing the EA sports line up which is on all the consoles anyway and isn't even a big deal considering most gamers aren't big sports gamers either, and COD ghosts which again will be on all platforms, and they rushed through even that. I guess we'll have to wait and see what they do at E3 as they promise that will be all the gaming related material, but why wold they even have a press conference if they're not going to get it all out there to begin with? instead they just keep abusing the people that actually are interested in finding out and ticking us off so that we clearly don't want the console. If I had to pick today which I'd be getting and it had to be between the next xbox and the ps4 it'd be the ps4 absolutely for as much as the ps4 might irk me it doesn't at any point actually anger me because they know better by now, xbox on the other hand every time I turn around it's trying to push something on me that I don't want, that it clearly doesn't fully understand/comprehend, and isn't even implemented all that well. They're also insisting all consoles come with a connect which apparently will have to be always connected and that is almost a deal breaker for me, the chances of me buying the next xbox are next to 0% and I wouldn't be the least bit surprised if they decided to also force you to download patches for everything along with those mandatory game installs. Let's also not forget your kinect is almost mandatory and must always be connected and it can not be replaced. That last one is a really big potential problem.

You might be wondering "well... what did they do right?" and that's a post I'll reserve for after e3 and more info comes out. As of right now it appears the only thing they've actually done right is including enough fans to keep it from overheating and causing rrod like last time, and even that's not a sure thing as they've designed this one to be "more dense" which likely means a lot more heat.

Final side note is supposedly this next xbox will include multiple gpu's which might either be interesting or a fatal flaw that destroys the console like the cell processor for the ps3 did. If it's too complex to work with then it's game over for xbox. If however it's a hardcore gpu for games and a kind of softcore gpu for basic multimedia or even an apu considering the processor is designed by amd then perhaps it might be a very powerful addition in helping ensure smooth operation across the board for all this proposed multimedia functionality which will likely not get used very much. I hope they see how much of what gets done with their next console and learn what people really want in a gaming machine which is what they're labeled as, then implement it because they clearly have no idea what they're doing anymore. The entire xbox concept has almost destroyed itself trying to conform for this idea of being for everyone and getting this kinect up and running as a motion controller etc it's just constantly chipping away at itself and sooner or later it's going to completely break itself. I really hope someone sues them for forcing kinect on us in this manner btw. Just someone that gets a game that uses the M$ official "assumption of voice and gesture" that can't play because of some disability and they just lose it and sue everybody. If you're reading this start building your class action now because there's actually a good chance it'll happen, as evidence I present every suit filed over the RRoD in all it's forms, the disc tray ring problem, and really every other suit ever filed against xbox, I find it particularly funny the guy that won his case after he got banned for some reason and sued them because he couldn't access the services he paid for and wasn't given a refund.

May 24, 2013

PS4 Shortcomings

As nice as all the shiny new hardware is, and I am happy that the specs are as nice as they are, it doesn't change the fact that a lot of us are disappointed with the results. It's not because they're similar to a high end machine today it's because they weren't futuristic enough. Where's the solid state drive? Where's the display port capable of running 2560, or even 4k with a full 3d at 120hz, even if displays can't handle it today the graphics cards can and we do expect to be gaming with this for the foreseeable future. Why don't we have the newest standard of wifi which is faster and stronger capable of greater ranges? Why not include the 10gb/s ethernet capability given that cat 6 cable isn't exactly hard to come by and internet speeds are in fact increasing?

For those of you not in the know, HDMI so far is incapable of handling 2560 properly let alone at 120hz meanwhile the displayport which is royalty free is capable of handling it with ease.

Simply put new console hardware takes time, usually 4 years from concept through production which means that in this particular case the designs are already feeling their age given how much has changed in just the last year or two. That's not to say the changes should have been simply ignored though as they had a respectable amount of time to include some very basic components and I for one consider it negligent on their behalf to not consider how the console will behave and be received when it came out knowing what the industry would be like to some extent. Clearly this generation was not designed with longevity in mind, I'd wager to say they'll start designing replacements within a year and this generation of consoles will likely have a very short 5 year life span. I really hope I don't end up eating my words on that last one because they really haven't impressed me and considering another 7 year lifecycle on these consoles just sounds painful.

It sounds like they're trying to do something innovative which I will give them credit for by going for personalization, streaming, vita capabilities with tie in, and all the other goodies they're so proud of, but at the same time I doubt it'll be enough to really set it apart in the long run in a manner that will demand market share. That's what it comes down to in reality is you want a console so awesome even pc gamers look at it and go "I want one" to the extent that people are more than happy to wait 3 days in line for it with their camping gear and have the large number of great exclusives that nobody considers jumping ship, when you have more than 20% of the market dedicated exclusively to your brand you can accomplish a lot and I just don't see that happening with sony. Instead I see this being a shameful split again with even distribution across the board and a lot of people grabbing both consoles at some point, just not really compelling the move into next gen. I'll be happy to sit with my ps3 for a couple extra years and play catch up down the road. Maybe I'll get lucky and by the time I consider picking it up the next will be announced and I'll just grab a few games in the hope they're backwards compatible on the new machines and do it that way.

Speaking of which I'm happy to hear they plan on using their streaming service to solve backward compatibility as that is a big item for me. While it may be true that I don't go back and play really old games that often the fact that I can when I do want to is important as I like to keep my classics, in particular my gaming gems. I was particularly upset by my restriction from playing mgs3, ico, shadow of the colossus, etc more so when I could still play any given ps1 game including those ancient gamesharks without a single problem. I'm interested to see how xbox handles this same problem as honestly Halo is probably the only original xbox title I still have other than maybe morrowind which I have both on the pc, an arcade version and the anniversary edition of halo and yet I do have quite the substantial 360 collection which I would be more than a little cheesed at if I found out I couldn't play any of it on the next xbox or if I found out all my xbla purchases were suddenly worthless.

In the end no amount of griping will really change any of these shortcomings and so as disappointed as I may be with this gen I at least have hope for the future, the future in which sony finally changes their annoying little controller to something more worthy of being in my big hands for hours at a time, honestly why couldn't they just offer me the nice option of changing the shell to an xbox one instead of making me have to void the warranty by doing it myself, because if I ever grab one that's the first thing I'm doing.

turns out ps4 will supposedly support 4k, maybe with a new hdmi 2.0 standard?, still I have my reservations on if it's a proper 4k or the bare minimum and to what extend it'll actually be used.

May 20, 2013

On the Horizon

Over a century ago a man said "everything that can be invented has" and well.... we all know how wrong he was. I took a moment to consider though just how wrong he was and decided I should elaborate on everything I can think of that has been invented more or less since my grandmothers time. Be prepared, it's quite a list and is in no particular order and is most likely very incomplete and redundant.

the move from party line telephones to individual numbers, rotary phones, touch tone, voip, records, color pictures, personal film reels, vhs, dvd, blu ray,  8 track, cassette, cd, mp3 players, computers from vacuum tube to integrated circuit, the internet and everything to do with it, wifi, bullet trains, TV's both black and white as well as color and subsequent improvements like LCD's, refrigerators, microwaves, toasters, surround sound, possibly popcorn at the very least microwavable popcorn, VIDEO GAMES!!!, stop lights, probably the assembly line and minimum wage, again I'm not so sure how old my grandma really was I want to say born in 1927 but I'm not looking everything up for exact dates, the astronomical advances in medicine not including what I'll count as stand alones like x-rays and MRI's, satellites, possibly pyrex and plastic, hydroponic plant growing, possibly pesticides? at least modern effective ones, jet engines, genetics, the FDA, pasteurization, modern physics, the federal reserve and FIAT currency, solar energy panels, most modern weapons and military use chemicals, and so much more.

Just consider how big a difference the integrated circuit has made, going even from DOS to the various stages of windows, mac, linux, and everything the net has provided in that time from streaming, search engines like google, information repositories like wikipedia, email, twitter, facebook, any other social media, this blog, when it comes down to it look at everything around you and consider how much of it relies on something quite literally invented within the last century. We've come a long way in tech alone and we're going to go a lot further.

As it is right now developing research in FPGA chips even promise to replace CPU's or add new sections to motherboards prompting complete redesign in which we might see processing power explode in ways we can't even properly conceive right now. Just one FPGA chip running at only 25mhz when put to the specialized task it's programmed for can absolutely destroy a CPU at the world record of +8ghz. The beauty of FPGA's is that they can be reprogrammed fairly quickly and in theory could have a series of profiles based on each program you intend to use doing for computational processing what SSD's did for hard drives, redefine what speed is.

Where HDD's use to be rated by rpm's and avg seek time you now have SSD's completely obliterating them in terms of read/write and with no rpm's and no noise and ever increasing capacity, the real test now is IOPS and MTBF, which respectively is operations a second and meantime between failure.

The future of tech is changing so fast that to try and comprehend where we'll be in another century is nearly incomprehensible, and yet I almost bet we still won't have flying cars. The real task will be to keep up with the programming needs to utilize this new found power and speed and provide it to the masses. Hopefully someone will use it to design a new power source for the world that's clean, effective, reusable, renewable, and can be used to completely replace oil in every area and is so cost effective and easy to adopt that by the time the car companies have the first cars out it'll already be everywhere and not using it would be insane. I also can't wait for my personal robot butler with fully functional VI (virtual intelligence).

May 15, 2013


In previous weeks I have been unusually busy and thus my posts were later in the day rather than my standard 5am however as you may have noticed this week I completely missed, that is because unlike previous weeks I actually couldn't make it this week. I had a slight accident while helping someone move and couldn't quite get to a computer to write an update.

For those of you calling it an excuse I should remind you it's a reason as it is logical and it actually prevented me from being able to blog where as an excuse tend to either be illogical or unsatisfactory in that you chose not to do something though you could for a given pretext.

In that time my computer was on loan to a friend and being the wonderful system that it is apparently every cat video he decided to like among other things got a post to my twitter.

On the game front I actually didn't get much work done as I was primarily busy with infrastructure scouting locations for an official office now that I have some funding, placing a few ads, arranging to get equipment and software, a multitude of other things. I really don't remember setting up a business being this hard the last time I made one, so the question is if it's harder because of what it is or am I just stressing trying to make things go smoother and better than before.

I also happened to make a couple starcraft 2 arcade games, one is a revision on the bunker wars game type and the other is a massive hybrid on bunker wars, tug of war, king of the hill, and turret defense. The later of which is actually not yet completed however is substantially far along.

The important principal to know about the revisions is that rather than having to build a different unit each time and upgrade them separately I just merged spawn count into an additional upgrade.

I'm also seriously considering a revision on an old game I used to love making mods of called zergling blood though I see there's quite a repository already perhaps I can distinguish myself enough to make it interesting.

As to words of advice this weak, take it easy sometimes and don't take on more than you can handle, burning yourself out won't help anyone and you tend to work better when you're well rested so take some regular breaks or some time off as you need it, there will always be more work for you when you get back, it's not going anywhere.

May 06, 2013

Understanding Game Laws

This isn't a fine tuned explanation of gaming laws and obviously I'm no expert however I will try to get a broad strokes idea out there that's kind of important for game devs, granted it's targeted for the devs that are working with multiplayer and running servers so probably not so indie but all the same it's important.

Basically Health Information Protection Act (HIPA) has been interpreted by the law to include almost all digital data. The basic concept of this is that just because you own the server doesn't mean you own the data on it. All you really need to know about HIPA itself is that it mandates doctors to keep your records private, it's one of many such laws that guarantee your medical privacy. This might not seem like such a big deal at first however if you stop to consider many recent shutdowns of various servers for games and the upsets that they tend to cause you can then understand some of the very interesting court cases coming up lately. Namely a couple different cases by players of these smaller MMO's out there that insist that the items in their inventory constitute digital property and shutting down the server is tantamount to destruction of that property or by restricting access is theft.

My basic suggestion on avoiding that whole thing is a little thing I'm sure you've heard of called a "terms of service" (TOS). You wonder why they exist and you probably always scroll right to the end of them or blindly click accept and move on with your day. This is the very reason those things tend to exist, because by establishing that all the content of the game including the players characters and contents of those characters are your property and that they're being charged a "rental" fee for access to this content, you pre-emptively avoid this entire scenario. One of the most important things I can stress is investing in a good lawyer preferably one who specializes in video game law or entertainment law to draw up a really good TOS for each game, it will save you all kinds of headache.

Assuming you're also an indie dev like myself and can't quite afford such a lawyer then I can suggest looking at the TOS of existing games and software similar to your own and maybe looking up various "free" legal documents online and try to draw one up yourself. You don't have to force people into wasting time on it if you don't want to, rather you can just put a small message or warning somewhere in an intro for example saying that by playing this game they comply to the TOS and then have a link to the TOS in your main game menu or accompanying documents somewhere. Some games just do a small TOS that has broad strokes statements saying they're not responsible for anything and that you can't sue them for any reason related to the game or it's content and you only see it for a second or so on startup. They're strangely effective even though time has proven that unless you're specific then someone will find some creative way around a broad stroke statement like that.

Thankfully there isn't an overwhelming amount of gaming specific laws out there however it's always a solid investment to look at them and related entertainment laws that might effect you, some of them are regional however most are country wide. Laws however are not the only thing to look for, related cases are also important as interpretations of laws by other "judges" constitute 90% or more of what we consider to be "the law" and judges stick together generally upholding existing rulings and using them as direct deferment for similar cases. For example if the content of some game came up regarding the legality of displaying illegal content and behavior or that displaying this game in public during the display of that illegal content and one judge rules that it's covered under existing law establishing it's protected, or prohibited, or any other ruling then if a similar case comes up where the premise is that showing someone doing illegal drugs then it's likely they would defer to the previous ruling and the case would be resolved quickly.

The bottom line is if you're going to get into gaming from a business standpoint it's important to know your laws and disregarding them will always lead to headache down the road.