Tag Archives: online

Six exciting things from E3 2014 | Opinion | Gaming

E3 2014We’ve been going on about E3 for years (seriously, it’s our most rambled about subject…) but this year’s show was something different and exciting – it wasn’t a disappointment.

After the tough time Microsoft in particular had last year, the general air of positivity to come out of this year’s show is genuinely astonishing.

Seriously, game announcements were tumbling out of people’s mouths so quickly people’s eyes started to bleed from all the shiny new-ness…

And so what do we make of all of this? We make precisely six (totally not a random arbitrary number) things which we’ve decided to tell you a little bit about, in no particular order.

It’s like Crackdown on crack

CrackdownIt’s always nice to see a game resurrected from the dark corners of the past (OK, that may cease to be the case if they release an HD remake of phone game phenomenon Snake), and Crackdown brought a smile to many a gamer’s face when it exploded on screen – multiple times – at Microsoft’s conference.

The original game in the series proved a hit, but its sequel didn’t set the world on fire. Now MS are bringing it back, with the number three conspicuous by its absence and complete with the original voiceover announcer.

Destruction made up a big part of the game’s reveal, suggesting it could be a big part of the game, which could make reaching the highest buildings tricky, knowing how trigger happy the title makes you – here’s hoping the buildings respawn, or at least there’s something to bring them back, perhaps a weapon in the vein of Red Faction‘s nanoforge…

Lots and lots of Halo

Halo 5: GuardiansOver 100 maps. One hundred. That’s how many multiplayer battlegrounds are included with Halo: The Master Chief Collection.

It seems ungrateful to complain, but we’ve never been much of a fan of re-releases. The plus side is that not only is this a re-release done well, the first to make us sit up and take notice since the Gamecube remake of Resident Evil.

All multiplayer modes, vehicles and quirks of each iteration are included, with both Halo 1 and 2 benefiting from a visual clean-up, but the Halo series isn’t just about multiplayer, unlike other shooters we could mention.

The clever way in which 343 have pulled this together is impressive. The release not only includes a Halo 5: Guardians Beta (and a TV series produced by Alien king Ridley Scott), but serves to tool up the protagonist of the new game as they begin their quest to find Master Chief following the convoluted events of Halo 4.

It is your Destiny

DestinyThough Bungie, developers of Destiny, may always be remembered as the team who originally gave the world Halo, they are going to great lengths to set themselves apart from their past with this new title.

There might be a few visual and gameplay similarities, but the ambition drives the genre forward into new territory. There’s a strong emphasis on coop play, though it isn’t essential for most of the modes, as well large, expansive worlds and exploration.

It might not be far-flung from the heights reached by games in other genres (Skyrim is no doubt a frequent reference point), but this is the first time on console where an MMO – or Massively Multiplayer Online – title has really captured people’s imagination.

Defiance caused a stir with its own route into the world in 2013, but failed to have the staying power demanded by a lot of players. Destiny has got an awful lot packed in, and though we haven’t had our hands on it yet, everyone who has agrees it’s an experience difficult to put across in words.

WiiU may have been down, but it’s not out

Super Smash Brothers WiiUNintendo has had a rough time the past few years, and with the release of the WiiU failing to reach the benchmark set by the Wii they were left feeling like Metallica after their unfortunate 2003 album St. Anger, treading water with a sad look on their faces.

Unlike Metallica (who, coincidentally, took five years to hit back with another, better album), Nintendo didn’t let the bad publicity around the WiiU stop them from doing what they are good at – making games.

So finally this year we are seeing the fruits of those efforts with more Super Smash Brothers, more Zelda and the already very tempting Mario Kart 8.

Thanks to this strong first party showing, something Nintendo can be relied on when they get their act together and focus on their core franchises, they have shown that they aren’t worth forgetting about just yet.

Colour comes to next gen

Sunset OverdriveLet’s face it, there’s a trend in media these days across the board to be gritty, realistic, dark and suspenseful. Don’t we all miss how it used to be? A giant ‘pow’ for every Batman villain foiled? (scroll down for more of that)

Apparently, we do, and our prayers have been answered in the form of another Xbox exclusive (or Xclusive…) – Sunset Overdrive. The beginnings of this game last year were just as colourful sure, but now we’ve seen some actual gameplay, and it’s looking even more fun.

The E3 reveal trailer began by a nice bit of fun poking at the FPS genre in general, and the fourth wall-breaking protagonist is a refreshing change of tact from some of the other new protagonists shown off through the week.

Focusing on momentum, there’s wall running, rail grinding, and a crazy array of weapons to take down mutants in a game which, clearly, doesn’t take itself too seriously, and, in an industry which is supposed to be about entertainment, all too often that gets lost in translation.

The Dark Knight rises (sorry…)

Batman: Arkham KnightWe all knew Batman was back, and in fact it almost looked like a misfire out of the gate when it was revealed the game had slipped from the end of this year to next almost immediately.

Luckily, we have nothing to worry about with series heavyweights Rocksteady back at the helm for their conclusion to the series Arkham Knight.

Despite showing up in the Sony press conference, the game is also making its way to Xbox One (as is GTAV, not that Sony would appreciate me pointing that out), and is looking very very good.

The Batmobile sounded like a bit of a gimmick when it was first announced, but the gameplay videos shown off for the game show how slickly it compliments the gameplay (and, as if on purpose or something, here’s some gameplay).

So, there you have it, some stuff like what you should get excited about. Sadly it won’t all be with us in 2014, but there’s a fair chunk of good stuff on the way. Expect more game reviews and stories going forward (for Xbox One at least) and possibly some video reviews too, once we’ve worked out how to bully the computer into editing.

For now, run along and play.

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Xbox One: The full review (so far…)

It’s been a while since Microsoft released its latest console, the Xbox One, and with the Christmas rush out of the way it’s high time it was put through its paces.

Xbox OneOf course, the version of the Xbox One we have now is far from its potential and there are plenty of possibilities for the future, but at the same time, a lot of people have paid a lot of money for this console, so what did they get for their cash?

Features

Xbox One Launch
The vision of an all-in-One device is more attractive to some users than others.

The Xbox One is a gaming machine built for a connected future. Though I won’t get into the tech specs debate (may touch on that later), the key thing is that this is a considerable step up from the Xbox 360.

The increase in memory (eight times to be vaguely approximate) is the most noticeable change,boosting draw differences and the amount that can be going on on screen substantially.

Kinect 2.0 is a big improvement on the original and is pretty reliable – providing you pay attention when going through the setup process. There are a lot of optimisations and refinements to come with this, but to perform this well pretty much out of the box is a real plus.

The multimedia features of the box are one of the main selling points for some, since the console’s vision of being king of the living room actually seems to work in practice. Jumping between DVD, Netflix and games using voice commands is seamless and soon you will wish you had the same functionally in all of your devices.

The HDMI passthrough is the feature which still holds the biggest potential, since at the moment the much-touted TV services are very much US-orientated, but hooking up the Xbox 360 works pretty well (apart from the One having to be on to play it).

Games

Forza is one of the shiniest games so far.
Forza is one of the shiniest games so far.

The launch line-up was reasonable, and showcases what the console can do, to an extent. Forza Motorsport 5 (to give it its full, overly-wordy title) is a solid game. It looks beautiful, it plays smoothly and the drivatar system, which builds AI racers based on the drive style of your friends and other players, makes the competitive experience far more compelling.

There are some issues with multiplayer games at present, some of which are more the One’s fault than the games, but when you do get into a game it’s good fun, though you can’t help but feel some of the Top Gear humour seen in the single player could have been extended to give a selection of ‘party’ race types, which emphasise the sillier aspects of a game which is generally fairly stuck up.

Dead Rising 3 delivers more of what fans wanted and puts an impressive number of zombies on the screen, but doesn’t offer much in terms of story or anything which is particularly ‘next-gen’.

Ryse, heralded as the shiniest of the first party launch trio. Has strong visuals with somewhat lacking variety in terms of gameplay. The controls can be a pain as well, with a simple action, such as picking up and throwing a spear, being a pain.

Performance of third-party games is strong, although there’s no getting away from the fact that the PlayStation 4 handles them with greater ease. Battlefield is a strong example of how a tried and tested gaming experience can be taken forward, with the scale of 64 player battles undeniably impressive – it’s just a shame about all the bugs.

Interface

The interface is familiar for those used to the 360, but not quite as effective.
The interface is familiar for those used to the 360, but not quite as effective.

Which leads us neatly onto the not-quite-baked interface. Generally most tasks are intuitive enough, particularly when you use voice commands to bring them up, but delving through the menus can be a chore.

Luckily the ability to ‘pin’ games and menu items on the left hand side of the home screen is a great help to making your life easier, though it would have been nice to see the customisation taken a step further.

The biggest issue is that everything feels a bit slow, as everything is now its own ‘app’ rather than just a part of the UI which was running in the background. Plus there are a raft of basic menu options, particularly relating to friends and parties, which are just inexplicably missing.

When you work out how to get everyone into a party, turn on party chat (still baffling that the default is off with no option to change) and get that party into a game, things are fairly simple. The trouble is the combination of different invites and different places to do different things is dizzying and most players would have lost patience long before it became obvious.

It seems in their strive for simplicity, Microsoft have taken out a lot of the basic functions which were actually so commonly and easily used that they became second nature, making their disappearance cause to learn a whole new way of doing things.

It’s not dissimilar to the switch of the start button to the start screen of Windows 8, by no small coincidence, but it is frustrating when the logic isn’t obvious and it’s easy to feel as if things have just been changed for the sake of it rather than because it enhances the player experience.

Controller

Simply put, the controller works brilliantly.
Simply put, the controller works brilliantly.

Probably the strongest element of what the Xbox One has to offer, Microsoft kept thing similar but made a lot of refinements under the hood – perhaps an ethos they should have extended to the interface overall…

The controller feels sturdy, has a comfortable weight and feel and reacts precisely. The rumbles in the triggers, probably the most obvious change from the 360 iteration, go a long way to adding to the immersion and it will be interesting to see how it is used in genres such as survival horror to catch players of guard.

The D pad is leaps and bounds ahead of the 360s bloated mess, and the buttons generally are solid without being stiff. There have been some objections to the sharpness of the edges of the thumb sticks, but a lot of it comes down to personal preference.

Of course Kinect is also a controller, but with little on the table to prove itself just yet. The viewing angle is much improved and it works well in a more confined space but it can be fussy if you have something between it and you in the middle of the room, such as a coffee table.

Updates and tweaks will see this go from strength, but considering how little the first Kinect progressed from its release, you can be fairly sure that any change from how the new version is working now is fairly close to the peak of its potential.

Verdict

Is it worth your money? Leave a comment below.
Is it worth your money? Leave a comment below.

The Xbox One is a machine which offers new experiences, but often at the expense of the old. The slick feeling of effortlessly breezing through things with voice commands is excellent, until you reach a point where you have to press a button on the controller and you wonder why.

The social side is where Microsoft has to do the most work. The Xbox LIVE community, probably Microsoft’s greatest success to date (at least in its gaming division), has been fractured with this new console release, in a way which wasn’t as significant when the Xbox 360 came along.

Online is undeniably where the future of console gaming lies, and online functions and integration are going to become increasingly important as time goes on.

More games will be online only, more will have integrated social functions, possibly supported by tablet devices, drawing on the benchmark set by the new version of Xbox Smartglass, and players are going to become increasingly impatient.

Some work needs to be done to plug the gaps and rethink the oversights, but by and large the Xbox One is well set for this future. Being future-focused brings the drawback that the current experience might feel like a bit of a let down.

Once more games come along, particularly Titanfall, Destiny and Watch Dogs, there will be a much more rich variety of things to do on the machine, but for now things can be particularly empty, especially if you are purely focused on gaming.

If you take the One as it is, it might not knock your socks off, but if you bear in mind the long-term and the potential of what Microsoft are clearly trying to create, then you will appreciate it a lot more.

For now, the key is getting together with people who you know. Even having one team mate playing with you, who you can rely on and communicate with, makes all the difference in most games, and multiplayer adds life and soul to otherwise clinical titles such as Forza.

Most importantly, enjoy it and try things out. If you haven’t unpacked Kinect yet then it’s well worth exploring, since it does add a lot to the user experience. In the words of Colonel Stars and Stripes whatever you do, try to have fun, otherwise, what’s the point?

To game online with This Is Entertainment, message gamertag ‘Decent Jam’ or visit the forums at http://www.oxm.co.uk.

James Michael Parry

The future of online gaming | Feature | Gaming

DestinyOnline gaming today has more players and costs more money than ever before, so what happens next?

OK, so we can’t predict the future, and we don’t pretend to know any more than you, so don’t read on expecting undeniable facts.

What you can expect (read right to the end, we’re watching you), is our thoughts on where the online side of gaming is going, and what experiences we can expect to encounter.

A digital future

Players of GTA Online have been given half a million in-game dollars to apologise for the shaky start.
Players of GTA Online have been given half a million in-game dollars to apologise for the shaky start.

The two next-gen consoles stand primed to clash in the greatest technological showdown of our generation, but what about the games?

One thing is clear – offline-only games are going to be few and far between. The rise of online-only games was felt more this year than ever before, in both successes and catastrophes.

The latest Sim City gave players cause for concern when it’s online requirement backfired spectacularly, but the highest profile casualty has to be Grand Theft Auto Online.

While the game is, if nothing else, incredibly ambitious, Rockstar fell under pressure quickly when there were countless problems with the game – a free addition for players of Grand Theft Auto V.

Weeks after launch, and after several title update patches to try to iron out the issues, GTA Online still feels creaky and glitchy. Not to mention the race to level up has left many players behind, particularly in races where no amount of money can buy car upgrades which they haven’t unlocked yet.

With so much seemingly against online games then, why do publishers and developers keep pushing for more?

It’s not about the money, money, money

Defiance always had a mountain to climb in setting up its infrastructure from scratch.
Defiance always had a mountain to climb in setting up its infrastructure from scratch.

Building an online platform, especially from scratch, is a massive undertaking which requires a lot of initial investment and on-going maintenance.

For big publishers like EA and Activision, these sorts of technologies are already on hand and so often can be adapted or acquired more easily, but for many games there isn’t so much backing on tap.

The title which really stands out in this regard is Defiance, whose developer Trion Worlds reportedly invested $70million to get the game up and running for multiplatform release earlier this year.

Despite a shaky start, the game performed well and lived up to nay-sayers who suspected it would never work. Unfortunately it has struggled more recently as the player numbers have began to fall.

Thinking inside the box

Stars of the TV series were available in the game ahead of the events of the TV show and the player got an extra insight into how they got to where they are at the beginning of the show.
Stars of the TV series were available in the game ahead of the events of the TV show and the player got an extra insight into how they got to where they are at the beginning of the show.

Where Defiance has an opportunity to remain relevant is the fact that first and foremost it is a multimedia enterprise, married up with TV network SyFy who have created the companion TV series alongside it.

Could multimedia hold the key to a sustainable future for online gaming?

Microsoft is very well placed for a multimedia revolution and the likes of Netflix (available on all consoles bar the Nintendo ones…) are announcing exclusives and special shows on an increasingly regular basis. Will we see games which tie-in to these net-based shows?

Then there’s the game spin-off TV shows themselves. Halo is working with the well-respected director Steven Spielberg and there is also a live action Need for Speed film in the works starring Aaron Paul of Breaking Bad fame.

Of course tie-ins of the latter sort are nothing new, indeed there have been plenty of embarrassing crossovers in the past, but with the opportunities of distribution through this new round of the consoles all the more smooth can we expect more?

It’s in the game

Created by coders formerly of Infinity Ward, Titanfall is one of the hottest games due next year.
Created by coders formerly of Infinity Ward, Titanfall is one of the hottest games due next year.

The way we play has also affected the games themselves, not just driving titles to being always-online (to get those coveted ‘living, breathing worlds’), but in terms of how they are structured and how they play.

Hotly anticipated next gen title Titanfall foregoes a traditional singleplayer campaign, opting instead for a skirmish-based cooperative campaign. The cooperative part is key, since the game wants you to play with others and grow with your characters and your team.

The risk here is that without a singleplayer campaign, players won’t get sucked into the story elements or the lore of the title and end up merely taking it at face value.

Bungie has high hopes for its new IP, Destiny
Bungie has high hopes for its new IP, Destiny

In a similar boat is Bungie’s Destiny. Responsible for establishing the Xbox with the original Halo, the company clearly know what they are doing when it comes to gaming.

Bungie simply describes Destiny as an ‘action’ game, suggesting that players will enjoy “a compelling storyline, competitive multiplayer, cooperative gameplay choices, wide open public combat destinations, and third-person community spaces where you can repair and rearm before going out on your next adventure.”

Once again, despite also offering player vs player modes, the main focus is cooperative, one of exploration and creation. It remains to be seen whether players will lose themselves in Bungie’s new world, or if they will just spend their time grinding for new items to use in team deathmatch.

Stormy weather

Forza developer Turn 10 claimed the time saved in development from having the cloud ready to deal with online multiplayer meant higher-quality visuals.
Forza developer Turn 10 claimed the time saved in development from having the cloud ready to deal with online multiplayer meant higher-quality visuals.

The power needed to keep all of these games afloat is potentially limitless, as countless players around the world all interact, much as they have for years, except with bigger, richer and more dense worlds to explore.

That computing power has to come from somewhere, and it’s likely that cloud-based processing power will become increasingly important, especially as the games grow and change to adapt to their developing environment.

It’s unclear how effective or how close gaming will realistically get to the potential of the technology. The biggest stumbling block, and criticism, particularly in the UK is that internet speeds simply aren’t quick enough yet.

The cloud can take over processing power for things which might be able to be sent back through the web without the player seeing a lag, but for things like fighting games where split-second timing is key it’s unlikely the cloud would ever be able to ‘take over’.

The end game

Companion apps and integration are undoubtedly going to be a big part of online gaming in the future.
Companion apps and integration are undoubtedly going to be a big part of online gaming in the future.

The opportunities and possibilities of the continuing trend of converging media have the potential to make gaming more mainstream than ever before.

Ubisoft’s The Division sees players fighting in teams over a sprawling, dystopian world map. This game will use multimedia to link into players real-world lives and draw them back in by sending messages straight to their phone or allowing players using tablets to interact directly with players on the console through a meta-game function generally known as ‘commander mode’.

What is key to the success of these sorts of big ideas though, is whether players actually make use of them, and that gaming companies actually make money out of them.

Micro-transactions, DLC and in-game advertising are a whole other side to the funding debate entirely, but what will be the proof of the sorts of innovations above is if they substantially lengthens the lifespan of the game.

What to expect from next gen online gaming then? In a nutshell more of some of the things we know already and plenty more coming besides that. Better warm up the router now…it’s not going to get a lot of rest soon.

James Michael Parry

Cyberculture: The pluses and minuses of Google Plus +

A brave new world?The internet speeds forever forward, with every online company trying their best to get you to spend time interacting with their website. Search giant Google recently introduced a ‘+1’ option to search results,  designed to encourage user feedback on the usefulness of sites.

The introduction isn’t the only way the big G is trying to ‘muscle in’ on Facebook’s screen time however, with the current trial of ‘Google Plus’.

The only way to become a part of it at the moment is to be invited someone already in it, much like their ill-fated Google Wave product from last year (a hybrid instant messenger, email and file sharing program designed to encourage communication).

So what’s it all about? The easiest way to think about it is one part Facebook, one part Twitter and two parts Windows Live Groups and Hotmail. The principle is that you invite people you know – this can only be done automatically from Gmail, Hotmail and Yahoo so far, but Facebook too with some fiddling – and put them into ‘Circles’ according to their relationship to you, much as you might organise your address book contacts on Hotmail. That way when you share content through Google (such as uploading photos) you can choose who to share those pictures with, so it’s easier to put up those pictures from Friday night without the possible embarrassment of the boss seeing them!

The point of this is to give an ‘at a glance’ view of others’ internet activity, allowing you to dip in to people’s status updates, pictures, blog posts etc, much like Facebook’s newsfeed. The interface is entirely customisable, and in this way it’s more useful than Facebook, since Facebook tends to guess who you are interested in hearing about, Google Plus lets you tailor it to your needs much more easily.

It's quiet in here, can you hear the echo?Since many people have Google as their home page, this plus service aims to provide a one-stop shop for ‘checking the internet’ bringing in as much information as possible from other people you are digitally connected to.

With internet information sharing there is always security concerns, and this is another aspect where Google gains the upper hand. The way it is set up doesn’t require you to share information about yourself in order to keep tabs on others, so if you were just curious about how a friend was getting on, you could see quickly and easily without them even knowing. It only uses information people have already made publicly available, so there’s no more risk of data theft than using the websites generally, in fact it can flag up just how much information about yourself there is out there.

The next step in using Google Plus, once you have connected some friends together in ‘Circles’ is videochatting with them in a conference known casually as a ‘Hangout’, unashamedly pinpointing the likes of Skype (now owned by Microsoft) in their sites. This allows you to jump in and out at any time, though how well Britain’s troubled connection speeds will cope with the bandwidth needed for multiple streaming is anyone’s guess.

Aspects of Google Wave have found their way into plus too, such as the concept of ‘instant’ uploading, which allows you to upload photos from your phone through thin air as soon as you take them, rather than collecting them together and uploading through your computer later.

Next up is ‘Sparks’ a feature designed to bring you things you are interested in, so if you wanted something to do with rock music but didn’t know what it would choose something hip and happening, akin to MS’ ‘Bing decision engine’. So, in this example, ‘rock music’ brings up news that Foo Fighters’ Dave Grohl believes drum machines ruin rock tracks.

One feature which could prove very useful is ‘Huddle’ which allows you to group people together on your phone for a group text conversation, but presumably everyone will need to be using it for it to work, and no question on how much of your data will be used.

In all it seems very casual and Google has worked hard on making the interface very ‘funky’, perhaps a lesson learned from their extremely popular Android mobile phone operating system.

While new things are always interesting, the test of the Google Plus (or +) interface, will be how many people go for it, because if people don’t sign up then you’ll end up talking to yourself…

And therein lies the biggest issue so far, despite being very active in cyberspace, my own Plus profile doesn’t show up any of my own tweets, updates or blog posts, making my home screen currently tear-jerkingly empty. Getting friends on board is fine providing you have your Hotmail contacts list in order, but having accepted the challenge and found I have 1200 people in the address book (including interests imported from Facebook masquerading as people, such as feature films and bands), it’s going to be a mammoth task whittling the numbers down to people who I actually get in touch with on a regular basis.

This is the key difference between Google Plus and Facebook, Facebook wants as many people connected as possible, Google Plus wants them talking and sharing with each other. A noble message but how many people can one person keep in touch with at once? Not 1200 that’s for sure, particularly if many of them aren’t ‘real’ or are just ‘contact us’ email addresses.

Used right, Plus could make everything about the internet more streamlined, cutting down the time needed to get the information you actually want, and so taking the clutter out of what Facebook. But half the fun of Facebook is talking to someone you haven’t seen for years just on a whim, which is something you wouldn’t get from Plus. Perhaps a dose of HTC’s ‘Sense’ technology might smooth the transition?

Time then, will be the test, as it often is on the internet, if nothing else it’s forcing me to clean up my bloated Contacts book on Hotmail, and probably Facebook as well.

James Michael Parry

Links:
Google Plus project – http://www.google.com/+/demo/
In-depth technical explanation on CaseDetails – http://www.casedetails.com/2011/05/12/google-plus1-explained/
The fate of Google Wave on TechCrunch – http://techcrunch.com/2010/08/04/wave-goodbye-to-google-wave/