Archives for posts with tag: Editorials

Microsoft are going to be pushing SmartGlass integration in the coming generation, and many have wondered just how they’re going to make it anything but a gimmick. I’ve fired up the app on my PC, phone and tablet a few times and always wondered what the point was, but while playing The Witcher 2, and thinking of its sequel which will support the companion app, I think I’ve had an epiphany.

While I’ve been playing The Witcher 2, one thing has occurred to me; I’m not making the most of this epic RPG’s mechanics and content. My gaming time is a bit limited, so when I get a chance to jump into CD Projekt RED’s masterpiece, I don’t really feel like menu-diving for extended periods to read up on the lore, manage my inventory or sometimes even read the lengthy (though enjoyable) quest descriptions in the journal. I have to make myself do it every now and then, meaning I get less time to drive the story forward.

So I was thinking, what if I could do all of that on my PC or tablet when I’m not actually in-game? Imagine if SmartGlass could pull in all of your savegame information and let you access it outside of the game, letting you go through your inventory (equipping or enhancing weaponry and armour, dumping un-needed items, reading in-game texts), view your journal (the app could drag in all your current quests and their respective progress levels and let you read up on current events), view in-game maps and even develop your character by spending earned talents and mutagens. I’d love to have the option to do this stuff when I’m on my Surface, and then load up the game and have everything up to date and ready to dive in and carry on with the story.

I had a similar feeling a while back, when playing Skyrim. I found an app on my phone (Skyrim Guide) that listed walkthroughs and requirements for every quest in Bethesda’s open-world adventure, and while it was useful, I did wonder to myself how much better it could be if it had access to my save file and could track and check off those quests for me. It didn’t occur to me at the time that SmartGlass could be the thing to enable this, but if Microsoft can make their companion app powerful enough, it could enable some fantastic extras like this.

Of course, the thing that could scupper this would be a requirement for the game to be on before SmartGlass could connect with that particular title. But if Microsoft were to make SmartGlass a feature of the Xbox Live app already available on multiple platforms (which already displays your library of games, allows you to send and receive messages and track your achievement progress), I think this could work: You could load up the XBL app, flick through your library, find the game you want and then get all of that game’s SmartGlass integration right there – outside of the game, without the need to have your console on. You’d have one powerful, useful app instead of two limited ones, and at the same time enable a bunch of genuinely useful features for players.

Multiplayer games could also benefit from these features, especially when it comes to stat tracking. Back in the days of Halo 3 and Reach, was the place to go to see all of your Halo goodies: you could see detailed breakdowns on your weapon usage, game history, heatmaps and anything in your file share. Did you make a video or screenshot in Theatre Mode? You could view them there. This feature-set has now moved over to Halo Waypoint, which also offers all sorts of Halo media and lore, and apparently also has a feature that allows you to view live maps as you play a multiplayer game, allowing you to see the position of weapons and other elements through the app, though I have never managed to make this work.

I’m assuming Call of Duty and Battlefield have similar stat-tracking websites or apps, but why have disparate destinations for each game when SmartGlass could bring them all under one roof? If all of this functionality were moved over, we’d have one place to go for all our stat-tracking, journal-reading needs. And with this coming generation seemingly going all-out to bring massively multiplayer to consoles in new ways (just look at stuff like Bungie’s Destiny or Ubisoft’s The Division), you can be sure we’ll be seeing more and more game companion stuff to come. I can only speak for myself, but I’d rather have a nice umbrella for all of that content to come under, than have a folder of browser favourites or sit wondering if the app I need will come to the platform I use. I’m imagining being able to go into SmartGlass, send a message to a player I bumped into on a Destiny run, manage my inventory and develop my character for The Witcher 3, then watch some of my Halo Theatre clips before jumping into a chat with my Elder Scrolls Online party members to discuss our next excursion. All from the same app. I don’t know about anyone else, but that appeals to me.

The best part of this? SmartGlass is cross-platform. You can find it on devices running Windows, iOS and Android, meaning that it will have a pretty extensive reach, and if more people can use the app, hopefully more developers and publishers will push content for it.

It’s important to state that I don’t want the features outlined above to be stripped out of their respective games and shoehorned into an app that not everyone will want to use. I simply want that stuff as an option so that I can have access to it when I don’t have access to my console, freeing up my play-time for, you know, play. I hope SmartGlass will provide this, rather than continue to be the (mostly) useless thing it is today.

On Monday evening, Microsoft did everything right.

Well, everything short of rescinding their convoluted policies regarding game ownership and online activation. But before E3, they told us their conference would be all about the games, and they certainly delivered that; ninety minutes of wall-to-wall game announcements, trailers, teasers and demonstrations. They even resurrected the cult classic Killer Instinct franchise for their new console.

But then came the price announcement: £429!? As soon as those figures appeared onscreen (and did you hear the shocked silence that followed?), it was obvious Sony’s PlayStation 4 was going to be the cheaper console. A few hours later, at the end of an up-and-down conference, Sony buried Microsoft with not just a lower price (£349), but news that they wouldn’t be restricting used/traded games or requiring online authentication.

I’ve since seen comments online that Sony “destroyed” Microsoft at E3. I’m not sure I agree. For the average gamer, it’s hard to argue that Sony’s PS4 isn’t the better choice; rules around game ownership are far clearer on Sony’s platform, and it’s quite significantly cheaper. But if I was to compare the two conferences on their merits alone, I’d have to say that, for me, Microsoft had the better showing.

The Seattle company were lambasted for their May 21st Xbox One unveiling, and rightly so. It was a console reveal, so it follows that the majority of the people watching it were gamers, yet they spent most of their hour-long show talking about television and showing what the underlying OS was capable of. At the time, it was mind-boggling. In hindsight, it was probably a good idea; showing off all the extraneous non-gaming features at a separate event meant that they could focus entirely on games at E3. By contrast, Sony took time out of their conference to tell us about Music and Video Unlimited, Redbox and other stuff that no one watching was particularly interested in. It was a good half an hour before we got down to the games.

And to be honest, I’m struggling to remember many of those games now. The Order: 1866 looked interesting; a Steampunk adventure through Victorian London that features tooled-up people in frock coats shooting at things that might have been werewolves, the game is being developed by Ready at Dawn, they of God of War PSP fame. But the biggest hitters at Sony’s show, for me at least, were the surprise announcements of Final Fantasy XV, Kingdom Hearts 3 and The Elder Scrolls Online, together with the first gameplay footage of Bungie’s upcoming persistent world shooter Destiny. Have you spotted the pattern here? They’re all multiplatform.

Microsoft’s biggest crowd-pleasers were exclusive titles: Killer Instinct (originally reported to be free-to-play, since debunked); Crytek’s gorgeous (if a little button-mashy) Ryse: Son of Rome; Quantum Break, the next title from Remedy; Yukio Futatsugi’s Crimson Dragon (which is a serious, huge draw for a big fan of Panzer Dragoon); D4, the next title from Swery65, maker of the cult Deadly Premonition; Dead Rising 3, which is now an open world title with frankly ridiculous numbers of the undead on-screen; Project Spark, a very impressive-looking game creation tool; and Sunset Overdrive, a stylish blend of Pixar and Borderlands from previously PlayStation-exclusive Insomniac games. Seriously, who thought Insomniac would become independent, only to make an exclusive for Microsoft?

Topping all this off, we got a cameo from Master Chief in his dressing gown (though we always knew Halo would continue on the Xbox One, I don’t think many expected to see anything at this E3), and then a prolonged gameplay segment of Respawn Entertainment’s first game, TitanFall. This last one is a huge coup for Microsoft; since Jason West and Vince Zampella’s acrimonious split from Activision in 2010, the entire industry has been waiting with bated breath to see what the two former Infinity Ward leads would do now that they were away from Call of Duty. The result is a multiplayer shooter combining fast, agile, double-jumping humans and powerful yet nimble mechs, called Titans. I’m generally not that big a fan of online shooters (bar Halo), but what I saw of Titanfall really grabbed my attention; it looks like a mix between Halo and Unreal Tournament, only in place of vehicles we have huge mechs. The segment also showed cutscenes between characters, so it seems there must be a story mode of sorts in there, too. So a highly-anticipated game from the creators of the Call of Duty juggernaut is only going to be on Microsoft consoles? That’s got to sting a bit for Sony.

So I’m left feeling conflicted: for me, Sony have the better deal for gamers, but Microsoft have the better games. So while I’m here, perhaps I’ll take a closer look at what Microsoft’s policies actually are.

The concensus across the internet right now seems to boil down to the following:
PS4 = used games, trading.
Xbox One = no used games, no trading.

Except, Microsoft have kind of put a spanner in the works of this conclusion by stating that Xbox One games can be traded or resold. Granted, they’ve made a horrible fist of explaining it all which would undoubtedly lead to a lot of confusion, but I can’t help but feel some people are also just wilfully misreading the situation.

So the real issue isn’t that we can’t trade or resell our games, it’s that there are caveats to these actions; we can trade a game for free to a friend… as long as they’ve been on our friends list for thirty days. We can resell a game… as long as we do so at a ‘participating retailer’ and the publisher has allowed it. To what extent these restrictions will affect the average gamer remain to be seen, but with Sony not putting any restrictions in place, I can’t see any publishers really forcing the issue on Xbox One; they’ll want to maximise sales across both platforms, and if someone owns an XBO and not a PS4, they’re surely more likely to avoid a game than buy a second console to play it

Now, speaking purely for myself, I don’t trade games in, nor do I buy second hand games, but even though these restrictions are extremely unlikely to affect me in any meaningful way, it still leaves a bit of a bad taste in the mouth. What I do occasionally do, however is lend games to friends, and it actually seems that Microsoft has a pretty generous system in place to facilitate this. From XBox Wire:

Give your family access to your entire games library anytime, anywhere: Xbox One will enable new forms of access for families. Up to ten members of your family can log in and play from your shared games library on any Xbox One. Just like today, a family member can play your copy of Forza Motorsport at a friend’s house. Only now, they will see not just Forza, but all of your shared games. You can always play your games, and any one of your family members can be playing from your shared library at a given time.

Well, that sounds good, but how do Microsoft define “family”? Could it be a friend? Surely they don’t require some kind of proof that you’re related? Not according to Xbox Chief Marketing and Strategy Officer Yusuf Mehdi, who spoke to Ars Technica:

Since its announcement, there has been some confusion over the details of sharing your Xbox One game library with up to ten “family members.” Mehdi couldn’t give comprehensive details, but he did clarify some things.

For one, a family member doesn’t have to be a “blood relative,” he said, eliminating the extremely unlikely possibility that the Xbox One would include a built-in blood testing kit. For another, they don’t have to live in the primary owner’s house—I could name a friend that lives 3,000 miles away as one of my “family members” Mehdi said.

You’ll be able to link other Xbox Live accounts as having shared access to your library when you first set up a system and will also be able to add them later on (though specific details of how you manage these relationships is still not being discussed). The only limitation, it seems, is that only one person can be playing the shared copy of a single game at any given time. All in all, this does sound like a pretty convenient feature that’s more workable than simply passing discs around amongst friends who are actually in your area.

So I can nominate up to ten people on my friends list to have remote access to my entire library? On their own account? Even if they’re in a different country?? That’s… that’s actually pretty darn generous! Obviously, only one person can play a game at a time, but this is no different to lending a disc – if I lend a 360 or PS3 game to a friend right now, I cannot also play that game, nor can I lend it to anyone else as long as that first friend has possession of the disc. Using this system, if a friend wants to try out a game, I can simply say, “It’s in my shared library, have at it,” and away they go to download a copy. It certainly makes sharing more convenient. Quite why Microsoft aren’t shouting this feature from the rooftops, I don’t know; perhaps it’s because they haven’t decided how these relationships will be managed yet (maybe you’ll only be able to change up ‘family member access’ every few months to avoid people massively exploiting the system?). Either way, I’d be surprised if Microsoft didn’t start championing this feature closer to launch.

This leaves me with only one real worry about the Xbox One, and again it’s one that’s unlikely to affect me; the need to go online once every 24 hours. Now, the reason I say it’s unlikely to affect me is that I can’t remember my connection ever dropping out for more than about six hours. On top of that, if my connection did happen to die for a few days, I could quite easily create a mobile hotspot on my phone, connect the console to that, sign into Xbox Live, and then disconnect again and continue gaming. What concerns me is that the possibility exists for my entire gaming library to become unavailable if I, for some reason, cannot connect. This is my main problem with the Xbox One, and it’s more out of principal than practice; just because it’s unlikely to happen doesn’t mean I should dismiss it.

The decision to buy an Xbox One was always going to be a trade-off between how much Microsoft’s policies bother you and how much you want the games. The policies the company have put in place for the new console probably won’t affect me at all in practice (and some, like the above-mentioned lending scheme, may even be positive propositions), but it does still leave me wary of the machine. On top of being cheaper (and possibly more powerful), Sony’s PlayStation 4 appears to have none of the faff associated with Xbox One – buy our console, Sony seem to be saying, and you won’t need to worry about how to trade in games, or where you can buy second hand; you won’t have to worry about your connection dropping out or wonder if you’ve been friends with someone long enough to give them a game – you can just carry on as you currently do this gen (with the notable exception of now having to pay for PS+ if you want to play online). That’s got to be an attractive proposition for the average gamer.

But these are games consoles, and as such, a decision comes down to the games. And I want what Microsoft are offering. So what am I to do?

I’ll probably end up with both.

Today we have another Guest Editorial from writer Franki Webb, as she relives some of her experiences as a female gamer.

The Donkey Kong theme was blaring through the house as I returned home from primary school; sure thing, the Super Nintendo was on. My brother had just completed a level as I entered the bedroom I shared with my older sister. Slinging my bag to the floor, I grabbed the other controller and joined in, taking the role of Donkey as my brother had always preferred Diddy due to his greater agility and ease at jumping over enemies. These were the sort of days I grew up with; always seeing if friends would trade a certain game for another; trying to get levels completed before the timer ran out. I truly felt content; even if I didn’t have many friends at school, I still had my brother and his SNES to retreat home to.

Every Monday morning during the first school period my classmates and I would share stories about what we did on the weekends. I remember, quite vividly, standing in front of the class explaining that I was really happy because the day before, I had beaten my brother for the first time at Killer Instinct (causing him to break his controller by throwing it at the T.V. screen).
“Girls don’t play games!”, shouted one of the boys from the corner of the classroom; it was 1994, and gaming had only truly started to become accessible to kids of my age. If I had been a little older, perhaps I would have come up with something witty to say, or even defended my right to play games, but the six-year-old me just shrugged and sat back down.

As I grew older I thought that perhaps I would find other girls like me that would share my passion for gaming. Unfortunately due to my lack of social ability, I endured much solitude during my secondary school days. If anything my geekiness came across as even weirder to a bunch of prepubescent convent-school girls. You see, during my high-school days there was no such thing as geek-chic. Today, you see so many young girls, hipsters and Japanophiles wearing geeky t-shirts, playing with their Nintendo 3DSs on the train; we don’t even bat an eyelid – if anything, it’s considered “cool” thanks to actresses like Felicia Day and Zooey Deschanel.

It was a different story back in 1999. Kids who were seen as “geeks” were heavily bullied, at least in south-east London, and especially in my school, since it was immensely cliquey. The athletes hung out with athletes, smart kids hung out with smart kids, and my school was divided racially too. It became pretty clear to me that I had no clique. I quickly made friends with a tomboyish girl, but this friendship lasted all of two weeks before she was “stolen” away by a group of kids I went to primary school with. “She’s really weird, you know that yellow thing she carries around? It’s a Gameboy! She plays Pokemon by herself.” So that would be my defining role for the rest of my school days – the girl who plays Gameboy and hangs out by herself . Taunts like, “so did you catch them all?” followed me everywhere.

This was my experience throughout college too. Even with the introduction of boys to the equation, nothing much changed. Fortunately, I had a stronger head on my shoulders and had dealt with having pretty much the same “witty” comments thrown at me during secondary school. But there is a positive side to all this: it gave me a thicker skin. I could now take a few insults, and literally a few kicks and punches, too. What it didn’t prepare me for, however, were the misogynistic opinions from people who I, at the time, considered friends. They weren’t being mean directly to me, but as soon as I said I would like to join in their game sessions my male acquaintances would insinuate that I had no real experience as a gamer.
“Playing Pokemon when you were 11 is not considered gaming,” one of my friends told me when I asked if I could play GoldenEye with them at a party. The worst would be when they beat me at a game: “See, I knew that girls couldn’t play videogames,” would come the retort. Even if said light-heartedly, I still raged a little inside.

As games became more technical I like to believe that I developed along with them. Once online gaming took off I started to spend months and months playing Halo against my male counterparts. Being a woman, I had to prove my worth as a gamer, so I practiced every night. I made it my duty to prove that girls could not only play videogames, but do it well. My speciality during my teens were RPGs, but I soon switched my focus to shooters, probably for the sole reason that they were considered more masculine games. The Xbox had the majority, and strong titles like Gears of War and Bioshock always ended up in my hands after every payday. But it was Halo in particular became my FPS of choice.

Most online FPS gamers seem to have some sort of chip on their shoulder, pretty much like myself. Perhaps we all have some sort of thirst to prove ourselves. There was one night during my time at university that I remember quite vividly: one of my housemates tip-toed downstairs to see me under my duvet playing Halo, hands tightly clenched around the controller, eyes focused on the T.V. screen. I was screaming obscenities at one of my opponents, an instinctive reaction to one of the male players telling me he was going to “rape me” on this game and then in real life. I knew it had become too much and at that moment I pulled the plug on my Xbox and tossed my mic in the bin.

Truth be told I wasn’t particularly sad about my departure from multiplayer. It was a small tribulation after all and didn’t affect my overall enjoyment of gaming, and my biggest trial wouldn’t come until I decided to incorporate gaming into my professional career as a writer. In 2011, an opportunity was presented to me that I just couldn’t turn down: after three years of living in Japan, a publication back in the U.K. wanted me to cover the Tokyo Game Show for them. I took the much-needed time off from my full-time job as an English teacher and headed to Chiba to cover the event. It was an amazing experience to sit amongst esteemed critics and journalists from my favourite magazines and websites and be treated as their equal.

It wasn’t all testing out video-games and coming up with original questions for developers and writers though, and my unease began to surface when I was asked to cover a private event for the then-upcoming videogame, Dark Souls. As I had entered one of the suites to receive my name-tag for the day, I was a little shocked to not only find myself being the only female in the room, but also to be presented with the wrong name-tag. Even on bad days I know my own name and on my worst day I’m still pretty sure that my name is not “Lee”! After taking 20 minutes to explain to the Japanese staff that my name was in fact Franki, I secured the right name-tag and attached it to my blouse. I was absolutely in awe of the whole set-up: just before the elevator I could see the developer’s banner directing me to the right room. Walking into the suite I could see Makuhari harbour set out before me, the setting sun reflecting off of the rippling water. I had lived in Makuhari two years prior and had heard of the views you could get from this particular hotel if one were lucky enough to afford a room. And now here I was.

“Don’t see many girls at these sort of events, do you?” stated a man to my left, his voice distinctively southern.
“I guess you don’t…” I replied, my voice trailing off. This was my first time at such an event, and I was already starting to feel my gender playing a role.

In a 40-minute presentation, we got to see all the new games that the developer would later unveil at the main event. Professionalism has never been one of my strengths, but I tried to take as many notes as I could. Glancing around I noticed I was the only one jotting anything down, so I placed my pen firmly next to my cup, noting some of the other journalists smirk as I did so. Later, we had the opportunity to talk amongst ourselves during a buffet lunch, and this was the part I had been dreading; sure enough, everyone instantly turned to the person they were acquainted with and began chatting, so I decided to use this time to briefly look over my notes and turned back to the view of the harbour. I don’t know why I had brought it along, but I had my PSP tucked into my jacket pocket, and an attendee to my right noticed it. “So what you playing?” he asked rather abruptly. “Dissidia,” I replied pulling my gaze away from the harbour. “Good game, if a little too ‘fan-service-y’,” he remarked. I agreed wholeheartedly with him about how the franchise had taken a nose-dive in the last couple of years. “Do you play console?”, he asked, and we delved into a debate about which of the consoles were truly the best.

Every now and then I couldn’t help but notice that most of the men in the room kept trying to catch glimpses of me from the corner of their eyes. Thankfully, one of the presenters had made his way over, meaning the gazes were directed elsewhere now.
“Well, we have a little treat for you today. Here’s an opportunity for you to try the beta version of our new game.” The idle chatter died down at the mention of ‘beta’ and everyone crowded around the monitor to get a good glimpse of the game’s intro. “So who’s brave enough to take the first stab at this,” the presenter asked, gesturing at the controller sitting on top of the monitor.

“Ladies first,” said the journalist I’d just been chatting to, nudging me towards the T.V. If truth be told, I was rather reluctant to pick up the controller; my palms began to sweat and I could feel my heart pounding against my chest. Why was I being made to play this game first? Were they trying to test my prowess as a gamer? It felt like some kind of challenge, and some of the people in attendance began to fold their arms in impatience. I knew I had to prove myself, not because I was a woman, but because I was a gamer whose ability had always been questioned. My hand held tightly around the controller, I picked my character. I played nonstop for twenty minutes, hearing murmurs behind me: “Good move”, “She spotted it.” As I put the controller down, I got a hearty pat on the back from my acquaintance. “Not sure I want to follow that,” he said, starting up a new game. Spirits lifted, I left the hotel ready to write my article.

There are some things which are considered overtly masculine; gaming is one of them. Despite the statistics showing the increasing amount of women logging onto Xbox Live accounts, there are few women writing reviews, developing games and turning up as protagonists in them. Even in 2013, there is still a fair way to go before true equality can be realised, though I’d be lying if I said I haven’t seen some changes already; my day at the most recent Tokyo Game Show has proven that I was wrong in some respects, as reports showed that over 40% of attendees were women. Some might say that it’s all in my head, but why would I have this feeling of inferiority if I weren’t conditioned so?

Franki Webb