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.

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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.

 

 

 

Here be “Dragons”?

This ain't no game.  Apparently...
This ain’t no game. Apparently…

Fantasy as a film genre is notoriously difficult to get right.

For each Tolkien project which Peter Jackson, Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens have lovingly brought to the screen, there are a veritable Dwarven hall full of movies which didn’t quite connect – I’m thinking here, particularly, of films like “Eragon” which seemed hamstrung by film executives less concerned with sympathetically adopting their source material and more keen to quickly get to screen in a rush to grab some of that post-“Rings” buzz and a slice of the financial rewards.

One such film where any cinematic potential was resolutely squandered by its adaptation was New Line’s 2000 “Dungeons & Dragons” movie, whose campy take on the beloved role-playing game killed stone dead any chance for that series to grow into a global multiplex bestriding colossus.  Direct to video sequels followed but didn’t bother any but the hardcore, with low production values not exactly filling the screen with spectacle and wonder.

 

If you need stuff done, get a dwarf to do it...
If you need it done, send a dwarf…

 

Cue an improbable saviour for the realm of Izmir in the form of Warner Brothers,  who have rushed into the breech, rolled for initiative and announced that they’ve picked up the rights to make a new “Dungeons & Dragons” movie.

Fantasy works as a genre when it’s done properly – i.e., not making the project on the cheap and using the limitless potential of contemporary tools in alliance with a great film-maker’s vision.  There’s a sign that this message might be getting through to Hollywood, what with Duncan Jones beavering away on the long-gestating “World of Warcraft” film, for example.  Heck, we might even get a decent Markus Heitz “Dwarves” movie if this trend continues…

There’s no reason that this can’t be a huge, ongoing series of adventures for Warner in much the same way as Disney now have the likes of Pixar, Marvel and Lucasfilm projects to draw from.

As an utter nerd who is currently listening to Blind-fracking-Guardian as I write this post, this is the best news that I’ve heard all day…