Friday, May 24, 2013

Xbox 1, Used Games, NFS Rivals, Selling Atari & More!

The Midagedgamer Report 5-24-2013

This Week:

Xbox 1, What about used games, NFS Rivals, Selling Atari and more

So what do you think?  Is the Xbox 1 the console to rule them all or is this another case of trying to be too many things to too many people.  The May 21st XBox 1 reveal was 180 degrees from the February PS4 announcement.  Instead of game trailers we got exploded hardware maps.  Instead of boasts about performance we saw feature pitches about watching TV and making Skype calls.

Aside from a few differences, the hardware in both next gen consoles is identical.  8GB of memory, AMD Jaguar based APU with Radeon graphics and a Blu Ray drive.  The Xbox gives you 500GB of storage and pass though connectivity to your TV and other set top boxes.  Will the PS4 have offer the same?  Probably not.

This may be the point of divergence between Sony and Microsoft consoles.  Sony touts its game performance and its platform appears optimized for that sole purpose.  The Xbox 1 is basically a purpose built Windows HTPC meant to be the heart of all your entertainment sources.  Conversely, the PS4 treats anything other than gaming as more of a side dish.

One thing can be said for the Xbox 1.  Microsoft has finally found a platform for Windows 8 that people will actually like.

With the all the fanfare of the Xbox 1 something got quietly swept under the rug.  The biggest question on every gamers' mind had nothing to do with hardware, blu-rays or even DRM.  Even before we knew their names we knew that the next generation of consoles were going to phone home.

No, the biggest question was, "What about used games?"  Sony is still foggy on this but Microsoft has been a little more forthcoming albeit after a bit of badgering by the press.  For the Xbox 1 the answer is a resounding "Yes!" 

Except it comes with a catch.  Microsoft is going to charge you a fee on top of whatever you spent on the game at your local Gamestop and right now we don't know if it's going to be $10 or full price.  You can log into your account and play your game at a friend's house for free but if he logs in to play it he's going to be paying for the privilege.  So much for try before you buy. 

Rumor has it that Microsoft is leaning towards full price which basically kills the secondary market for games.  Why buy used when it could potentially cost more than a new copy?  That's called market manipulation and it brings a smile to the faces of EA and Activision.  Too bad if you hate the game, you're stuck with it. 
It's no coincidence that a company that's made billions on non transferable licensing fees for software of questionable quality would support a revenue model hostile to consumers but favorable to a like minded gaming industry.

If it seems that EA releases at least one new Need For Speed game every year you'd be correct.  In fact they've been doing it for almost 2 decades stretching back to 1994's The Need for Speed which was a collaborative effort with the car magazine Road and Track.  With only a few off years , you could expect a new Need for Speed every year. 

I came in right around the launch of Need For Speed 3: Hot Pursuit.  At the time the only real competitor in the realm of an arcade driving/simulation genre was the now infamous Test Drive series.  As the years went by there were highs and lows with one of the lowest lows being Need For Speed: Pro Street.  It seems the games changed with EA's product strategy and for the first half of the 2000's EA was just milking the franchise like a Matrix sequel.

For the past few years it seems the series has been rehashing classic games like Hot Pursuit and Most Wanted.  Both popular titles in their original form but somewhat lacking in their JJ Abrams style reboot.
So what do we have to look forward to this year?

Meet Need for Speed: Rivals due out in November and based on the open world concept of its Most Wanted reboot predecessor with a competitive bend reminiscent of Need For Speed: Underground and a bit of Hot Pursuit thrown in for good measure.

Along with the Xbox 1, EA will be showing the game at this year's E3.  Whether we remember it with the fondness of the original Hot Pursuit or the loathing of Prostreet remains to be seen.  With Atari on the rocks and with it the laughable evolution of the Test Drive series (Test Drive Unlimited) it appears the only real competition left is the upcoming Grid 2. 

By the way, before you start pelting me with Forza snipes.  No, I didn't forget,  it's just that Need For Speed hasn't tried to make NFS a pure simulation since the release of Shift.

I admit it, I have a soft spot for Atari.  Not the bastardized version that produced Test Drive Unlimited 2 but the one that pioneered the gaming industry and helped bring the "personal" to personal computers that ultimately defeated IBM snobbery.  Yeah, Apple was there too but without the likes of Atari we would never have had discrete graphics, upgradable memory and more than just clicks and beeps from some tiny PC speaker. 

When I was a kid,  1196 Borregas Avenue in Sunnyvale California was some exotic, mystical place where the best stuff was happening.

Today's  Atari is just a brand, owned by a French company called Atari S.A. (for Stupid A-h**es) and is in bankruptcy.  The U.S. arm will be trying to sell off its assets for at least 22.2 million this July.   Up for sale is the Rollercoaster Tycoon franchise (3.5 million minimum) and the hated Test Drive (1.5 million minimum). 
Wouldn't it be funny if all this ended up with a new Atari console from those old Borregas Avenue digs?

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Nvidia Shield is Real, Fallout 4, Xbox News, ExerGaming!

The Midagedgamer Report for 5-17-2013

This week:

The Shield is real, Fallout 4? More Xbox leaks the dumbest meme ever and more!
So, have you been "High Intensity Exer-gaming"?"  The talking heads on your local news seem to think so.  I guess this is what happens when your ego won't allow you to admit that nobody really cares about your opinion.   Wii On Grandma!
Admit it, even if you're a PC gamer you're at least curious about the next generation Microsoft console to do battle with the much hyped but yet to be seen PS4.  With hardware closer to a PC than ever before what happens in the next 6 months will have repercussions on even the most rabid keyboard thrasher.

The latest news is that the next Xbox will have TV functionality built in.  Hmmm, shades of the old WebTV box Microsoft was pushing around the time people were complaining about the loss of "program manager" in Windows 95.  Come to think of it, it sounds kind of like a rerun of 1995...

Anyway along with the TV bits the user interface (UI) is apparently getting an upgrade on both the 360 and the new Xbox to have smaller tiles just like the upcoming Windows 8.1 (Blue) update coming later this year for Windows 8.  Oh yeah, and the points system is being replaced with gift cards and "currency".  I wonder if they'll use bitcoins...

We'll all know more next Tuesday (May 21st)

Remember that funny little game controller with an android phone glued to it.  You know, the one that kept showing up in hotel rooms during CES like a some Vegas escort.  At the time it was interesting but seemed like more of an engineering exercise than a product.  Well, it's a product.  Albeit one in search of a market. 
The price of entry is kind of steep too.  $350 on pre-order (starting May 20th).  It's going to launch in June around the same time as Ouya, which will now and forever be known as  "that other Android Gaming thing."  

Just watch, somebody will say it.  You can look forward to a 5 inch 720P touch screen, Tegra 4 CPU and a 72 Core Graphics processor.  It'll also support the streaming to PC feature that figured so prominently in the CES demos.   The game library is essentially what you already own so long as you have at least a 650 or better GTX GPU or 660M or better mobile GPU to hand off the rendering duties.  It runs android 4.2 and has access to Google Play, TegraZone  and of course PC games.

Great! but why?

Rumor mill, rumor mill, rumor mill!

There may actually be a Fallout 4!  Bethesda has re-released the trailer for Fallout 3 on YouTube and disabled comments.  Speculation amongst the Fallout forum faithful is that Bethesda is trying to drum up hype for yet another Fallout sequel.  On the other hand it could be the work of a disgruntled employee on his way out.  It's not to far-fetched since it seems Bethesda might as well change their name to "Sequels R us."

Friday, May 10, 2013

News about Wolfenstein, EA and Star Wars, OUYA and more!

The Midaged Gamer Report for 5-10-2013

This week:

A new Wolfenstein, Star Wars by EA?  AMD's erupting, OUYA and Ghosts!

If you know who B.J.Blazkowicz is then you're going to want to know about this next bit of news.  Wolfenstein is coming back and this time it's coming from Bethesda.  It's called Wolfenstein:The New Order and is described as an action-adventure shooter.  That's generally accepted as code for an FPS with lots of cut scenes.  

The developer,  MachineGames, is comprised largely of former Starbreeze studios alumni responsible for such games as The chronicles of Riddick, Syndicate and Payday the Heist.  The game is set in 1960 against a backdrop of a world where the Nazis won the second world war.  As the hero, it's your responsibility to do something about it.  Unfortunately, you're going to be doing it all by yourself as MachineGames has confirmed that the game will not contain multiplayer play modes.  Kind of a letdown after Enemy Territory.

Look for Wolfenstein to be released around Christmas and will be available for PC, XBox 360 and PS3.  The trailer looks great but so do most Bethesda trailers.  The other concern is that the studio, MachineGames, other work hasn't been exactly triple-A and there's no word on the game engine being used.  Watch for further developments as it gets closer to launch.

You're a psycho...

Or at least you could be if you play Borderlands 2 and pick up the latest DLC next week (May 14).   The sixth and apparently final character class is based on the psycho NPC and goes by the name of Krieg.  Just think of the fun you could have as a crazed madman charging at enemies like a crazed hyena.  That's exactly what the way you'll want to play him as well since his character perks are based on his outgoing personality.
The DLC will be available May 14th for 9.99 or 800 Microsoft points.  You may want to see if Steam has a deal on it as well.

EA's got the rights to develop Star Wars games after making a deal with Disney shortly after they shut down Lucasarts video game publishing operations.  EA developers Dice and Visceral will do the heavy lifting which hopefully means using the Frostbite 3.0 engine. 
The danger is EA showing out great looking games with a lousy story like Battlefield 3.  Good Star Wars games always have a good storyline.  That's something EA doesn't have a great track record with.  See Mass Effect 3, Battlefield 3 and Medal of Honor Warfighter for examples.

AMD's got plans for you Nvidia.  They plan to come out swinging with an entirely new GPU family called Volcanic Islands whose members will be named after islands in the Pacific ocean.  Rumored to be due out late this year which likely means Q1 2014 if history holds.   It appears that the new family shares nothing with the previous Southern Islands architecture.  Instead there will be separate parallel and serial processing units much like AMD's APU designs.  Why the wait if the roadblocks are in place and we already know Nvidia's plans for the 700 series

Where the Nvidia 700 series is essentially a rebranding of the existing 600 series with some tweaks, AMD's designs are completely new.  It's also speculated that AMD is waiting for their 20nm process to be ready at the TSMC foundry where the chips will be made.  AMD's current GPUs run hotter primarily because of the 28nm process.  It's hoped that new architecture and a 20nm process can correct that.  That and a driver that actually works with crossfire would be nice too.  They'd better get it right if they want to avoid Volcanic Islands becoming the GPU's with the most appropriate namesake.

In what is likely to be taken as the first indication that Intel hates PC enthusiasts as much as Sony hates second hand Playstation games...  It appears (albeit unconfirmed by the company) that the top end of the next generation of Intel Core processors (Haswell) will only be available in the soldered on BGA package.
The new processors come in the form of the 4770R, 4670R and 4570R or just the "R" processors, all of them BGA only.  BGA packages are primarily designed for small form factor PC's and laptops such as ultrabooks found primarily in OEM designs.  Truth be told the "R" in the designation means updated onboard graphics capability supposedly 3 times better than current HD4000 designs. 

Enthusiasts usually don't care about integrated graphics and there will still be LGA socketed designs including a 4770K but the top end but it's not the very top anymore.  It also means that the DIY enthusiast is going to have less to choose from when they're building a system.  Those who care about integrated graphics  and replaceable CPU's won't get the updated graphics core (HD52xx).  Instead they'll be stuck with the HD4600. 

The price of processor on board designs could also drive up the price of performance oriented ultrabooks and OEM pc's which leaves little room for a discrete graphics option.  That means fewer choices for everyone no matter if they're a DIY type or not.

If you're excited about the new Ouya console I've got good news and bad news. The good news is that the company has received an additional 15 million in funding from companies like Nvidia and venture capital firms.  The bad news is that the June 4th launch has been pushed back to June 25th reportedly to more adequately meet customer demand. 

The company is also gaining a new board member in the person of Bing Gordon, former EA Chief creative officer (1998-2008.)  Gordon also served in other roles with EA since its 1982 founding.  If you like SimCity (before the current one)Need for Speed or Madden football you can thank this guy.   Long story short, he knows the gaming business and doesn't get involved with losers.  That probably explains why he got out of EA when he did. 

According to the USA Today, it's pretty rare for a crowd funded startup to catch the attention of venture capital firms not to mention a major player in the graphics market.  It's not that surprising, however, considering the company already had 8.6 million in funding exclusively from potential customers.  It's a pretty safe bet in my view.  I mean, how many startups can claim a customer base before their product even launches? 

Are you afraid of ghosts? 

Well if they take the form of another Call of Duty game then you can count on it showing up around the same time the new XBOX and PS4 launch.  It's called Call of Duty: Ghosts and is set in the future but using current weaponry.  Activision has turned once again to Infinity Ward for development duties after they handled the previous Modern Warfare titles.  Hmm, sounds kind of like that other game that's coming out around the same time.  Battle Lawn 4 or something like that. 

In any case there'll be a demonstration of it at the XBOX reveal on May 21st.  The game is supposed to officially launch on November 5th and will be available for PC and current and upcoming Microsoft and Sony consoles.  Price is in the $60 range on pre-order, of course.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Monthly Gaming News Wrap up - April 2013

The Midaged Gamer Monthly Wrap for 5-3-2012

Welcome the first Monthly Midaged Gamer Wrapup!

We're going to take a look back at the most interesting news from the month that's gone by and maybe even see if anything's changed since our first look.

Ouya, the android based game console, started shipping to kickstarter backers in late March and a few less than patient reviewers were already complaining about an unfinished interface and limited supply of game titles.  Of course the official launch of the console isn't till June 4th so you can write off the complaints as growing pains.  Hey, it's the price you pay for being an early adopter. 

The biggest news out of EA so far this year(aside from the SimCity launch failure) seems to be the massive layoffs as the company..reorganizes.  In a year that's seen the CEO quit and revenues decline it seems the only answer for EA is to cut staff.   I guess overcharging for mediocre games and sticking the new mantra of "micro-transactions" into almost every product they sell doesn't have anything to do with it.  If they keep this up EA could become the THQ of 2013.

As of this writing we've got 18 days (May 21st.) till the big XBOX event, the same old rumors are still swirling around and the only thing that's really changed is news from the enemy camp.   On August 28th, gaming retailed Gamestop will exhibit the new PS4 at its Las Vegas event.  If you go, you'll be able to actually try out the console.  Of course nothing's free and tickets are $45 (USD). 
That's a bit later than the XBOX reveal at E3 but at least you won't have to wait till November to try it out. 

What we know so far about the next XBOX is this:

  • ·         It willl launch in early November
  • ·         it won't be backward compatible with the Xbox 360
  • ·         There will continue to be an Xbox 360
  • ·         It will cost $500 ($300 with a 2 year XBOX Gold subsc. @ $10/mo.) 
  • ·         The new Xbox will contain an Blu-Ray drive
  • ·         It will be based on X86 architecture (PC) likely from AMD
  • ·         The operating system will be running...Windows 8 core.  

In a related story a "Creative Director" at Microsoft sent the Internet into a rage when he tweeted responses to gamers' outrage at the requirement for an always-on connection.  Adam Orth "Didn't see the drama" but he sure saw the door when he suddenly departed the XBOX development team about the same time Microsoft issued an apology for his comments.

The AMD 7990 Dual GPU video card finally launched in April.  Unfortunately due to driver issues it wasn't really worth the wait.  A new graphics performance rating system finally put cold hard facts to the deficiencies that many have long suspected with crossfire.  Then came news of a fix in the form of a prototype driver given to PCPer but the public wouldn't get to see it till June or July.  That leaves consumers with a gamble.  Is it worth $1000 for a 7990 if you can't use crossfire till July and is the new  "Never Settle" 8 game bundle enough to make up for the wait?

$1000 for a video card that can't perform the job it was designed for is a fail in anyone who actually has to work for a living.  An upgraded game bundle full of current triple-A titles is nice but if you can't take advantage of them what's the point?

April gave us a release date for the upcoming racer, Grid 2.  It's due out May 28th and promises to fill the void left by the mediocre release of NFS: Most Wanted.  What was surprising  was a subsequent announcement concerning a change to multiplayer.  Codemaster's decided to base multiplayer gameplay on a web based interface called Racenet.  Similar to EA's Battlelog and Autolog the interface is designed to be more social media friendly as well as offering more game modes.  Unfortunately if you do most of your racing with people in the same room you may see Racenet as more of a hindrance than a benefit.  Autolog and Battlelog have done little more than annoy fans of their respective franchises, let's hope Racenet doesn't do the same.

In what appears to be a trend in convergence, April also saw the ramp up of two video games based on popular TV and movies.  Defiance and Star Trek: The Video Game both launched in April ahead of their respective releases on TV and the theater.  While the jury is still out on the games the buzz for their respective franchises has been positive.  That translates into a halo effect for the short term but time will tell if anyone still cares about them in 6 months.

Let's wrap up this month's report with a new rumor about the next and last installment of Borderlands 2 DLC.  Reportedly due out in June the next DLC will feature the Tiny Tina character starring in "Tiny Tina's Assault on Dragon Keep."  The rumor comes from a tweet posted by Anthony Burch who is apparently the lead writer for Borderlands' developer Gearbox. 

Tiny Tina's probably my favorite character in the game if for nothing else all the controversy she stirred up earlier this year.  I love irreverence so if this rumor pans out I know I'll be onboard for this DLC pack.

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