“Need for Speed” movie trailer – the Fast and the Spurious?

 

Well, that escalated quickly.

Electronic Arts’ street racing video game series gets the movie treatment in next Spring’s “Need for Speed” series, with “Breaking Bad” leading light Aaron Paul taking the lead and trying his level best not to be outshone by souped-up Bugatti Veyrons and their exotic automotive ilk.

I’m a little bemused by the approach that the marketing bods have taken to this film, to be frank.  The obvious comparison, Universal’s “Fast and Furious” movies,  are big on broad-strokes drama but never entirely convince, as the increasingly loopy set-pieces in the flicks means that you can’t take all of the sotto voce, ‘we’re all about family‘ nonsense seriously.

Paul’s voice over duties on this trailer suggest that those behind “Need For Speed” are gunning for a street racing crime flick which is more Scorsese-lite crime saga than excuse to flip some million dollar sports cars around in blatant defiance of established physics.

And I don’t know what to feel about that.  Imogen Poots and Dominic Cooper generally improve anything that they’re in, so maybe this is one 2014 action franchise which might be worth a look.

Just tone down the portentous bobbins chaps, yes?

Microsoft – We listen, honest!

XB1
Now with added hugs and friendliness?

 

Chalk one up for the humble consumer?

On Wednesday night, Microsoft admitted that they might have made a mistake with their proposed DRM strategy for the forthcoming Xbox One console and pulled off quite the reversal in policy.

Going forth, Xbox One games will not be locked to your profile, the trade-in market will be supported and the system will be region-free.

Huzzah!

Would this have anything to do with the post-E3 2013 conversation in the gamer sphere being entirely dominated by Sony, the PS4 and a seemingly never-ending avalanche of negative Microsoft stories?  Seriously, it was getting to the point where I was expecting some NeoGaf sleuth to dig into a trademark filing database and find out that the Xbox One had hidden functionality allowing it to drown family pets and scatter your morning cereal with unmentionable things.

You have to hand it to Microsoft for listening to their audience – or having smart PR people working there who have been face-palming for the last week as Don Mattrick, Phil Harrison and co repeatedly opened mouth and inserted both feet with each public appearance and interview they made.

Does this change anything for MS, then?  I can well imagine that the people who were so utterly aggrieved by the DRM suite of Xbox One might well have found this announcement more to their taste but my own opinion is pretty much the same.

I never had a problem with the ‘always-on’ console check as my cable internet connection rarely craps out, I can count on one hand the amount of times in the last gen that I traded in a game and the cloud functions for distributed processing actually seem vaguely progressive.  It’s the other stuff which bothers me.

An extra $100 for a mandatory Kinect peripheral that literally cannot work with the layout of my living room and which I can’t use.  That infuriating Xbox Live ecosystem which is continually in your face, pimping micro-transaction product at you and charging you a yearly fee for the privilege.  Television services and functions heavily trailered in press conferences and online which won’t be available outside North America.  An endless diet of bro-shooters and EA Sports franchises: None of that stuff has changed in the last 24 hours.

So, good news for many gamers but not an update which changes anything for me.

[subscribe2]

 

 

E3 – the great Microsoft implosion?

Meet the new PS4.  Yep, that's a black box alright...
Meet the new PS4. Yep, that’s a black box alright…

Well, that escalated quickly, didn’t it?

I was less than impressed with Microsoft’s vision of the future with the debut of the Xbox One console back at the end of May.

In a move perhaps destined to frame the console’s identity for the next few years, Microsoft talked about everything that the console would do other than games, prompting a planetary chorus of core gamers to vent their fury and get bent out of shape about being abandoned.

I confess to being one of those affronted voices – but we were reassured by Microsoft and their press supporters that the full story would be shown at E3 in June when the focus would very much be on interactive entertainment, and that the new system’s list of exclusive titles would silence dissenting voices about the console’s gaming credibility.

Image via Polygon.com
The new sci-fi shooter from Respawn Entertainment, Mech-em-up “Titanfall”

When it came to exclusives, Microsoft’s deep pockets certainly made it rain.  The new game from the creators of “Call of Duty”, Respawn Entertainment’s third-person sci-fi shooter “Titanfall”, “Dead Rising 3”, a new “Killer Instinct”, “Quantum Break”, Crytek’s “Gladiator”-em-up, “Ryse: Son of Rome”, a new “Scott Pilgrim”-meets-“Jet Set Radio”-meets-“Borderlands” shooter from stalwart Sony studio Insomniac, “Sunset Overdrive” were all shown during the Xbox One conference and seemed to inspire a great deal of excitement amongst gamers on Twitter…

…until the price of the system was revealed.

Microsoft, with the tone-deaf and blithely ignorant corporate arrogance which has become their defining characteristic in the last few years, are charging $500.00 for their console.  A price which, of course, remains more or less intact in Europe, with the company using some kind of arcane formula to price the system at £429.00 and 499 Euro.

Microsoft point to the bundled Kinect camera and the fact that it’s now integral to the operation of the console to account for this ludicrous pricing but that’s not really a good explanation – I don’t have a Kinect for Xbox 360 and have never wanted one.  It’s Microsoft’s decision to base their system’s user interface experience largely around a device which only works in the kind of larger living rooms enjoyed by the upscale, cash-rich North American demographic they are solely targeting with this device.

As I’ve posted previously, this will be the first Microsoft system that I won’t be buying and nothing that Microsoft showed or said at E3 2013 has done anything to change that:  draconian digital rights management restrictions on users, games which largely revolve around murdering people, a wholesale lack of interest in engaging with the community who have previously supported their games consoles, a complete inability to head off consumer bewilderment with some of the more divisive messaging employed by MS developers, the utter insanity of having grinning plastic spokes-replicant Don Mattrick head up their conferences…

You have to ask – is Xbox One the biggest troll in history?  Are Microsoft desperately trying some kind of Mel Brooks-like “Springtime for Hitler” gambit in order to once and for all get out of the cut-throat games console business , by publicly espousing notions so dogmatic and abrasive that they alienate the core gamer and allow the company to bail out of the sector once and for all?

As for Sony, they certainly gave the impression of doing everything right.  Their stance on DRM may seem more consumer friendly, but hands responsibility to publishers for locking out access to second-hand games, so is more a guess of letting the EA’s and Activisions of the world be the bad guy than an honest attempt to take an ethical position.

The PS4 is again region-free, with the option again going to publishers to lock-down access to a title – oh hai, there, various Japanese RPG titles! – if they don’t have a publishing deal in a particular global territory.   And their PS4 is around a hundred dollars/pounds/euro cheaper than Xbox One – until you consider the cost of the add-on PS camera and the fact that online multi-player is now embedded within the PS Plus subscriber option, which brings prices of systems roughly in line.  If you’re not bothered about either, or the MS exclusives, the PS4 seems like the system to go for.

I’m going to wait it out and get through my stockpile of PS3 games – which grows ever greater thanks to the wonders of PS Plus – before deciding whether I need to pick up a PS4.  The games don’t appear to be there yet.

For Victoria!  Ready At Dawn's Steamy, Punky "The Order:1886"
For Victoria! Ready At Dawn’s Steamy, Punky “The Order:1886”

We saw lots of multi-platform titles from Ubisoft and Sony promised an extensive tranche of titles in the pipeline but didn’t wheel out much that was concrete – Ready At Dawn’s steampunk action title “The Order:1886” was shown in pretty c.g. trailer form, but there needs to be more meat on the bones.  For a system which is supposed to do games as it’s prime focus, there wasn’t a lot that you couldn’t get elsewhere, bar Sucker Punch’s impressive-looking “Infamous: Second Son”.

 

 

A mixed bag, then?  I’m intrigued to see what the second wave of next-gen titles brings us and what that price difference will add to the conversation this Christmas?  Will all that gamer talk of boycotts and contempt for Microsoft translate into real action when the systems are in shops?

Xbox One – Jump Out?

Xbox None?

I have a history with Xbox.

The first console was my introduction to the idea of a multi-media device.  I skipped PS2, so the plucky upstart system with its hard drive, remote add-on accessible DVD playback and mp3-ripping shenanigans blew my fragile mind when I bought one.  Selling my system also helped fund my wife’s engagement ring, back in the day – I’d like to see the world-conquering Sony platform of the time claim that as a system feature.

Similarly, I was all over the Xbox 360 – which, for a time, fulfilled a special place in my wife’s gaming life as a dedicated “Burnout Paradise” platform.  That was more or less all she played for months.  Before that, her jam of choice was “Viva Pinata”, a bundled title I chose along with “Project Gotham Racing 3” as the advertised “Gears of Wars” was out of stock at our local retailer.

When I think of the time that I spent enjoying the adventures of Fenix and Delta Squad, that latter factoid can’t help but tickle me.

Why does this post seem like a fond farewell rather than a hopeful view of the Xbox’s future?  Last night’s unveiling of the new Xbox One console would appear to be the point at which I bid adieu to a gaming platform which has given me a lot of enjoyment and which no longer wants me as a customer.

Enforced use of Kinect, always-on internet connectivity, mandatory disc installation, the breathtaking arrogance of a company who don’t want you to loan a game to a friend so that they can try it out, a predictable but still infuriating effort to market exclusively towards beer-chugging American man-children – if any of these take-away nuggets of stupidity from last night’s conference prove to be wrong, by all means call me out on it, but I think we both know that Microsoft’s cards are on the table.

They’re rattled by mobile, tablet and evolving gaming sectors which didn’t exist when the 360 launched, so are retreating to an audience they know will pay a premium for Xbox One to play this year’s iteration of “Call of Duty” and “Battlefield” ad nauseum and not mind being told how they are going to use the system that they, you know, actually paid money for.

A games console which constantly monitors the living room and feeds back to God who knows back in MS HQ?  You can stick it.

PS4 teaser video – it’s on like Donkey Kong

You know, it’s almost as if Microsoft are launching a new games console tomorrow night or something? Weird, right?

24 hours before the house that Bill built reveal their new machine, Sony have rushed in with a quick video that hints at …stuff?

In truth, there’s not a lot of concrete intel to be derived from this bonkers, blurry-up-the-wazoo glimpse at the new machine – other than it’s black and looks a bit like a lozenge.  Confirmed: Sony intend you to swallow their new machine.  Don’t even ask about where you put the games…

It kind of counters the Microsoft hive mind’s assertions about Sony being afraid to show the form-factor of their new system, but doesn’t suggest anything too outre in terms of industrial design – no gigantic cyber-elephant in your living  room this time, surreality fans.

The Sony E3 conference is on June 10th…

Yeah, son...

…It’s on like Donkey Kong.

 

 

 

Rogue Failure. Or ‘How I Stopped Worrying and Learned To Love the Paragon’

Image

I am not and never have been a rebel.  In life, as in gaming, I tend to follow a path of general decency and behaving unto others as I would wish for them to treat me – it isn’t cool, it rarely yields great rewards and marks you out to others in the world as being even more of a nerd than they expect you to be.  Thankless existence, unto eternity?  You said it.

I am, dear reader, a Paragon, a Paladin, a White Hat – and I’m ok with it.

Image

My current favourite gaming experience, the omnipresent “Kingdoms of Amalur”, gives me the chance to play as a rogue class ranged fighter and what I’ve discovered from my now 52 hours of game play is that I’m absolutely useless when given the choice to exercise bad behaviour in games.  ‘Amalur’, for example, gives your levelled-up Rogue class the chance to use your stealth ability to sneak up on adversary and ally alike and either shank them assassin style or simply pickpocket them for nifty loot.

Curiously, I find it more morally acceptable and preferable to sneak up on humanoid aggressors and slice them six ways to Sunday than to go creeping around the game world and cut purses or rifle through wallets – how’s that for a bizarre reaction to choices that a game designer provides you with?   I’d like to think that it doesn’t prove that I’m a sociopath-in-waiting but it does give you pause.

It’s this odd disconnect between real world personal conviction and the options inherent in a video game environment  which has kept me from playing sandbox gangster titles like “Saints Row”, “Mafia” and the grand-daddy of them all, “Grand Theft Auto”.  If I can’t envisage ever wanting to be the characters or inhabiting their world, there’s no way that I’m going to play the title – it’s probably a Boy Scout reaction to the criminal anti-hero archetype but there you go.

That’s not to say that I require characters in-game to be Peter Pureheart and impossibly, impractically noble as that option offers as much of a game-breaking flaw as glitch code or poor design decisions but I don’t want to play games where the protagonist’s raison etre is slaying innocent bystanders and arbitrarily causing car crashes.  It’s just not how I’m wired, folks.

I suppose the point that I’m grasping towards is that I like being offered choice about what I do in games – perhaps I should make 2013 the year that I start to take advantage of those choices and see where they take me in games?

HMV in administration – UK geeks say ‘Meh’…


Image

If you’ve ever spent any time on a UK high street, you’ll probably be familiar with music retailer HMV and their eye-scorchingly bright black and pink store fronts.  You may also be familiar with their frequently hilarious overpricing, perversely good value offers – “5 Blu-Rays for £30?  Don’t mind if I do!” – and their cheery Terrier mascot, Nipper the Dog.

Like many UK retailers HMV has suffered the slings and arrows of the recession and finally succumbed to the inevitable today, going into administration with the prospect of 239 stores closing and 4000 staff losing their jobs – a statistic which fair chills the blood as I type it.  Of larger effect is the impact that HMV’s closure will have on the retail sector as a whole.

In the last few years, we’ve lost UK retailers like Virgin, their successor Zavvi, Woolworths, Game and we’ve seen the resilient likes of WH Smith drastically cut back on their stock of cds, dvds and games – if you want to buy digital media in those formats, you’ve got a choice between online or taking your chances with the dwindling number of independent stores in the UK offering such products.  And as Play.com just announced plans to segue into an eBay-esque ‘marketplace’ offering, the online stockists selling Blu-Rays isn’t getting any bigger.

I’m ambivalent towards HMV, if truth be told.  Theirs was a store that I headed to if I had a gift card to redeem, but a combination of stiff prices, unwelcoming stores, online competition and stock homogenisation sent me elsewhere for my media kicks.  Younger kids prefer downloads and streaming, older consumers are cannier with their cash and will hunt high and low for a better price for physical discs- the question of whom HMV is for anymore may be the key to their unmaking.

 

Multi-player Madness?

Money spent on Xbox Live membership by Fluffrick in 2013? Zero pounds!

Microsoft have recently been keen to remind gamers that Xbox Live has been around for a decade – hence e-mails like the one above, which I received this morning.

I might rather have received one of these, but as I live in Europe (and we don’t matter to Microsoft), I’ll just be happy that they deigned to send me an e-mail which has reminded me of something crucial – my Xbox Live Gold membership is the nerd equivalent of the gym membership that I don’t use.

My taste in games has always skewed towards the solitary and offline – a good percentage of the Role Playing games that I spend my time with don’t really bother with online modes and competitive functionality – and so it really doesn’t make that much sense for me to spend the price of a new game on a service which I don’t actually use.  Sure, Mass Effect 3 has a suite of multiplayer options but it’s not really the kind of thing which appeals to me – plugging wave after wave of NPC’s in the company of some random dude who doesn’t speak/plays music down his headset or regale you with his unsolicited neo-Nazi views is not my idea of happy-happy fun times, truth be told.

I’ve tried “Gears of War” multi and “Call of Duty” online (see my previous neo-Nazi comment) and found the experience profoundly wanting – and it’s not just a problem with the 360 audience, as Uncharted 2 on the PS3 had more than a few highly vocal 12-year-old nitwits ready, willing and eager to demonstrate their bigotry and stupidity to all and sundry in matches and lobbies.  I find myself actively wanting to disassociate myself from many of the people who play online on consoles, as this gaming generation has exposed me to people so acutely unpleasant and unrepentantly objectionable that their stupidity can surely only be explained away by being a stunt or deliberate tactic of some kind – gamesmanship employed by people for whom winning is the only goal.

Testify, Wonka – testify!

Yes, we can mute and report people to the enforcement teams on the respective platforms but the point to me is that by the time that you’ve done that, the very last thing that you want to do is venture back online and play against people – I’m fairly soured on the whole notion of competitive play against people who I don’t know.

When my Gold membership expires in a month or two I am pretty certain that I won’t be renewing it. And, you know what?  I’m totally okay with that.

 

What would you do with £148 million?

It’s not a problem which many of us will ever have to deal with, I grant you, but it’s good to see lottery winners finding creative (if jocular) ways to go large with their new windfall.

If I were a rich man…

This is the dilemma affecting newly-minted millionaires Adrian and Gillian Bayford, who this week claimed a winning EuroMillions lottery jackpot of £148 million, leading music store owner Adrian to joke that he’d like to use some of his cash to persuade the classic Guns ‘N’ Roses line-up to reform.

Putting aside the sad truth that even if you paid him handsomely  to play a private gig for you the odds are that  Axl would still show up two hours late, I got to thinking about what manner of frippery I would spend my hypothetical jackpot on.

“Uncharted” on a multiplex screen? Yes please!

I’d hire out my local multiplex’s bigger screens, hook-up a games console and blast through some action games for an evening of delirious nerdery.   Or, you know, build my own cinema addition to whichever house I bought (which would, of course, be Hagrid-friendly).  Who hasn’t gone to their local cinema and thought – “You know what ‘The Expendables 2’ needs?  To be Uncharted 3 or Dragon’s Dogma instead and have me playing it”

I’ve never been a car guy, so expensive luxury prestige marques are not for me.  What’s the point in buying something that jettisons a metric ton of value once you get the keys and sit behind the wheel for the first time?  Likewise, I don’t aspire to own a helicopter or personal jet – this kind of personal transportation is more my speed….

Should be able to get the shopping in the back of that no problem…

And if money was truly no barrier to creating things that I know would please those I love…

Now to summon the pots of cash necessary to hire Southend Interactive to make my wife a bespoke sequel…

I’d hire the developers of lovely, eccentric and desperately underrated XBox 360 platformer “Ilomilo“, Southend Interactive, to code and create a sequel to their glorious XBLA title.  Because Mrs Rolling Eyeballs would quite like that, don’t you know?

“Call of Duty” – Insane, Gamer Rage edition.

Not big, not clever but that kid might think twice about trash-talking online again...

Unemployed Brit gamer Mark Bradford needs to explore anger management.

Joystiq today reports that Bradford, 46, became so enraged by a 13-year-old boy killing him in games of “Call of Duty: Black Ops” and his constant online taunts that he tracked the child down to his home address and assaulted him.

Putting aside the fine example offered by a parent who lets their child play “Call of Duty” online, this is a fairly disturbing story and one which perhaps reinforces the idea that you might want to be a bit more careful when you call out people on PSN, Xbox Live or PC gaming sessions for being cheap, camping douches who noob tube and don’t play the game properly.  It also confirms the worst prejudices of many people in society who see gamers as maladjusted, rage-aholic nut-jobs who are a harsh word away from gunning down the people in their office because they screwed up a ‘capture the flag’ match.

Not many people emerge from this story with much in the way of honour, but the key thing to remember is that this guy’s an ass first and a gamer second.  Everybody gets yelled at on Live by 13-year-old boys but not everybody has the absurd desire to track down the little buggers in real life.  ‘Real life’ being the key phrase here.