Archive for the ‘Opinion Piece’ Category

Guillermo del Toro, Mads Mikkelsen, Lindsay Wagner, Margaret Qualley, and Norman Reedus star in a video game that doubles as one of the year’s best cinematic experiences.

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by David Ehrlich via IndieWire

Hideo Kojima’s “Death Stranding” is massive, moody, and — as usual for the video game auteur — weird as hell. The open-world experience has enough contemplative moments to make it feel like a “Grand Theft Auto” sequel directed by Andrei Tarkovsky, and it’s the greatest achievement yet from themost eccentric and forward-thinking designer of a medium in which virtually every large-scale project is created by committee.

“Death Stranding” could be described as the best “video game movie” ever made, but that doesn’t quite capture what makes it feel special. Is it a film that you play? A game that you watch? Does it invite all of the same criticisms that have been leveled at Kojima’s work since last century? Yes, yes, and yes. At a time when video games can finally look like movies as much as movies have started to look like video games — when people like Kojima and James Cameron are working towards similar ends with many of the same techniques — Kojima has created a bizarre masterpiece that doesn’t just blur the line between these mediums, but also illustrates the power of knotting them together.

“Death Stranding” begins with a quote that distills the ethos of his entire career. It’s a key excerpt from a Kōbō Abe novel called “The Rope,” and the words dangle in front of you for just a moment before they’re replaced by some cryptic narration about the Big Bang:

“The rope and the stick are two of humankind’s oldest tools. The stick to keep evil at bay, and the rope to bring that which is good closer. Both were the first friends conceived by humankind. The rope and stick were wherever humankind was to be found.”

Most video games think of a controller as the stick. Kojima, an obsessive cinephile who abandoned his filmmaking dreams in order to pursue a form of storytelling that can reach beyond the confines of a screen, has always thought of a controller as the rope. “We don’t need a game about dividing players between winners and losers,” he once wrote in his now-defunct Rolling Stone column devoted to the intersections and overlaps between digital media, “but about creating connections at a different level.”

Kojima has been trying to make that game for at least 21 years. It’s a journey that can be traced back to September 1998, and one of the most famous moments in the history of interactive entertainment. Anyone who’s played “Metal Gear Solid” already knows what I’m talking about: Psycho Mantis, the telepathically enhanced fourth boss that you encounter in Kojima’s landmark tactical espionage game, begins to read the player’s mind. He starts with some parlor tricks, as the leather-clad bad guy makes the player’s controller rumble as evidence of his power. Even back then, that part was kind of a yawn. Psycho Mantis gets a bit more personal from there, scanning the player’s memory card and citing some of their favorite recent Konami games; a fun and clever gambit, but more of an advertisement for the developer’s other products than anything else.

Then Psycho Mantis breaks your television.

The screen cuts to black, the music stops, and the controller becomes a worthless hunk of plastic in your hand. The word “HIDEO” appears in the upper-right corner of the screen, written in the blocky lime green letters the television industry once adopted as a universal symbol for “Input.” When the image eventually winks back to life, Psycho Mantis is invincible, essentially predicting the player’s every move. But, as with many of the bosses strewn across the “Metal Gear” saga, there’s a hidden secret that makes beating him a breeze: Players have to get off their butts, go over to their Playstations, and plug their controller into a different console port.

People complained that the cut-scene-heavy “Metal Gear Solid” was more of a movie than a game, but one moment was all it took for series mastermind Kojima to shatter the fourth wall that had sealed off the art form since its inception. Since then, Kojima has only grown more obsessed with bridging the gaps between fiction and reality; cinema and gaming; ropes and sticks.

Kojima’s latest is set in a post-apocalyptic world a few generations since a mysterious event known as the Death Stranding ripped civilization apart at the seams. The precise details of what happened are portioned out across the epic adventure (which this critic finished along with a decent number of sidequests in about 60 hours), but the gist of it is that something awful caused the world of the dead to be transposed over the world of the living.

When two distinct planes of existence merged together, in the blink of an eye, America — and maybe the rest of the Earth along with it — was overrun with invisible monsters called BTs. The sky began to rain a water-like substance known as “Timefall,” which rapidly ages any skin or metal that it touches. Human corpses started to melt into black pools of chiral crystals, and many of the bodies caused “voidout” explosions. The survivors, meanwhile, retreated into small underground shelters across the country where they isolated themselves out of fear and preservation. The country had been growing distrustful and remote from itself for some time, and the Death Stranding just hastened the inevitable.

You play as Sam Porter Bridges, an immortal delivery man who schleps cargo around the Eastern seaboard so that he doesn’t have to dwell on his tragic backstory (Sam is embodied by a 3D photogrammed Norman Reedus, whose moving performance never steps foot in the uncanny valley). Eventually, he’s tasked by his adopted mother — the dying President of the United States — to embark on a coast-to-coast trek to reconnect people to the chiral network and “Make America Whole Again.” In a game that grapples with how America’s failed potential curdled into an extinction-level event, this early quote will not be the most explicit reference to Donald Trump.

But the internet is not an inherently benevolent force, and the story of “Death Stranding” is framed against our current darkness, an age defined by real walls along imaginary borders, industries that are burning up the planet they were invented to power, and social networks that bring people together in order to tear them apart. There’s no telling if rebuilding the country’s bridges will be for the best; no telling if Sam is bringing people the rope or arming strangers with the stick.

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So far, so relatively normal for this kind of thing. Built on the engine used for “Horizon Zero Dawn,” the gameplay itself is par for the course as well, with fun but clumsy combat sequences interjected between long and contemplative sequences of walking between distant outposts and sneaking around whatever monsters you might find along the way. It’s a testament to the ingenious cargo mechanics and the staggering world-building that you never really stop to consider that you’re role-playing as a glorified Amazon courier.

But Kojima hasn’t gone straight. This is someone whose Brechtian instincts and John Carpenter-inspired sensibilities have combined for many of the most daring and peculiar experiments in video game history. (Just ask anyone who beat “Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty.”) He’s used his acrimonious split from Konami to follow his muse like never before: “Death Stranding” soon reveals itself to be the strangest thing Kojima has ever made.

The pre-title sequence alone contains some of the most arresting, unusual imagery that games have ever seen: Sam meets a Léa Seydoux character named Fragile, fends off a BT, has an Oval Office encounter with a death mask-wearing cabinet member who refers to himself as Die-Hardman (Tommie Earl Jenkins), re-enacts “The Ballad of Narayama” with his mother’s body, and finds himself outfitted with an adorable fetus “Bridge Baby” who can sense BTs when connected to Sam via a synthetic umbilical cord.

Players carry BB in a chest pod and have to soothe him when he cries out at you through the speaker embedded in the Playstation controller; maybe these are just the sentiments of an expectant father, but the emotional bond you eventually form with the little guy is deeper and more primal than anything a game has manufactured this side of “The Last of Us.” The connection between them even resonates with enough power to survive the “Irishman”-length expository monologues that suck the life out of the game’s “End of Evangelion”-inspired final chapters.

But if Kojima’s storytelling can be so convoluted and grandiose that it makes the finale of “Metal Gear Solid 4” feel like Chekhov, his vision has never been clearer. The prologue ends with Sam being roped into a rescue mission that devolves into the most spectacular and terrifying set piece I’ve seen in any medium this year. By then, there’s no doubt that Kojima has followed his own strange path to become the director he once dreamed of being.

And just when it’s starting to feel like “Death Stranding” is the greatest movie that Guillermo del Toro never made, the iconic “Pacific Rim” creator shows up in the game as a BB-obsessed NPC called Deadman. Del Toro, who previously collaborated with Kojima on the aborted “Silent Hills” and the Escher-like “P.T.” that it left behind, only lends his likeness to the character (voiced by Jesse Corti), which leads to some major cognitive dissonance for anyone who’s ever heard him talk before.

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But his appearance, and the perceptual clash that it causes, speaks to the heart of a game that’s about the schisms between and inside us; a game that treats ancient Egyptian ideas about the body and soul with peer-reviewed seriousness, uses a non-proprietary system of Facebook-esque “likes” as its currency, and leaves you with an entire language worth of Kojima’s pseudo-scientific philosophies about our own conflicting states of being (drink every time someone says the word “Beach” and you’ll be necrotizing before you know it).

Del Toro’s disembodied role indicates how giddy “Death Stranding” is about its own cinephilia, even by the standards of an auteur whose “Dune”-level dense “Metal Gear” franchise extrapolated some “Escape from New York” references into an entire alternate history of the Cold War. Nicolas Winding Refn lends his likeness to a very amusing major character named Heartman who goes into cardiac arrest every 21 minutes, two other very recognizable directors play bit parts, and the world is strewn with pre-Stranding relics such as the score to Dario Argento’s formative giallo masterpiece, “Deep Red.”

But the filmic nature of “Death Stranding” goes much deeper than nods and detritus and the presumption that the game’s primordial landscape more closely resembles contemporary Iceland than post-apocalyptic Baltimore due to Kojima’s affinity for “Prometheus” and its sequel (a fitting backdrop for a soundtrack powered by the American-Icelandic band Low Roar, whose lovely electronic post-rock ballads sound like a ray of sunlight breaking through the clouds). The most movie-like thing about it stems from the famous actors (no spoilers here) who reconcile the “ha” and “ka” of it all by voicing their own digital avatars. Kojima directed them in much the same way that Rupert Wyatt and Matt Reeves directed Andy Serkis in the recent “Planet of the Apes” trilogy, and the results are spectacular.

Not only does Sam Bridges so closely resemble Norman Reedus that you lose sight of the distance between them, but the fact that he’s played by such an obviously real and recognizable person makes it so much easier to believe in the porter’s humanity. “The ability to control real actors is unique to the fiction of games,” Kojima wrote while developing “Death Stranding,” “and it leads to a more realistic experience; and that is the shared aim of gains and movies alike.” In its own demented way, the verisimilitude of “Death Stranding” is off the charts.

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Margaret Qualley helps prove that point. The “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” star is so expressive that she leaps off the screen even as a hologram, but her layered performance as a tech-head named Mama becomes truly devastating once the character shows up in the flesh. The palpable weight and emotionality that Qualley brings to the role allows Mama to veer off in some wild directions that would feel silly if they weren’t so raw. Mads Mikkelsen is scary and poignant in a role that I couldn’t explain if I tried, but Kojima keeps this strand of the story from fraying apart by using a series of classic film tropes as footholds. And the Bionic Woman herself, Lindsay Wagner, carries the weight of the world as both President Strand and her twentysomething daughter Amelie, as Kojima more seamlessly de-ages the 70-year-old actress than “Gemini Man” could ever dream of doing. The strained bond between the past and the present is crucial to a story in which time causes far more wounds than it heals, and Wagner’s double-sided turn is able to trace a powerful line between them.

Some of these scenes are so drunk on their own nonsense that they leave you scratching your head. Others are so tender and well-composed that they take your breath away. All of them are so rapturously expressive that Kojima no longer has to rely on his old meta-textual trickery. And yet, in characteristic fashion, the most indelible moments of all manage to tie filmic and gaming devices into an inextricable knot that use the conventions of one medium to subvert the expectations of another.

I wouldn’t dare spoil a demented, exasperating stretch in the penultimate chapter, but suffice it to say that cinematic traditions crash into the game’s longest cut-scene with such destabilizing force that it’s hard to make sense of what you’re watching. You forget that you’re playing a mega-budget product that’s sure to sell millions of copies the world over — that you’re not the only person alive who’s bearing witness to it. Kojima uses game language to remind you how isolating a screen can be, and then in the subsequent climactic sequence (which hardly requires you to hit a single button), uses film grammar to expand the kind of stories that video games have been able to tell.

It’s BB who makes this effect most obvious, as the dramatic cut-scenes involving the big-eyed fetus make you more reactive to it during gameplay, and its various coos and cries during gameplay render you more invested in it as a character. As Deadman repeatedly observes, BB evolves from one kind of tool to another over the course of “Death Stranding.” Its nature and abilities never change, but the way that we and Sam think about it does.

As a whole, “Death Stranding” itself is the same way. The game starts by putting a stick in your hand, only for the controller to slowly become a rope as players guide Sam to unify a broken world over the course of the 60 hours that follow. Players are elated when they finally receive guns that work against the BTs, only to find that the bullets draw from your own blood — fire too many and you’ll die. Ladders, climbing lines, and 3D-printed postal boxes are some of the most rudimentary tools you’re given, but they only grow more powerful as other players on the Playstation Network begin to use them on their own quests (a brilliant riff on how the “Dark Souls” franchise twists the hostility of online gaming towards the better angels of our nature).

“Death Stranding” bends a wide array of modern tech back towards the most basic aspirations of art: It affirms that we’re alive, that we’re connected, and that humanity will always have reason to hope because our extinction and salvation are made possible by the same tools. The stick can prod us into action, and the rope can be fashioned into a noose; a movie can alienate, and a game can unify. What something does is only defined by how we use it. If we’re not careful, every new means of bringing us closer together can become a method for pulling us apart.

Like global warming and the spread of the internet, the singularity between film and video games has become inevitable; at this point, we only have the power to manage it. But “Death Stranding” finds that every cataclysm is its own opportunity, and that the end of one thing is the beginning of another. Kojima believes that the future will only destroy us if we don’t allow it to bring us together, and he’s never found a better way of delivering that message.

“Death Stranding” is available November 8 on the Playstation 4.

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by L.W. Barker aka ‘Sarge’, Founder/President, Gamer’s Outpost

BioWare’s ANTHEM is the latest Massively Multiplayer Online (MMO) focused game to arrive on the scene. It joins other games of its type: PubG, Fortnite, and Apex Legends, just to name a few. And even though nothing is wrong with this multiplayer approach to gameplay (i.e. I’m enjoying ANTHEM), it is getting to be a bit much. Do you realize that the PlayStation 5 is being built to be multiplayer-focused? Yes, and that came straight from the mouth of PlayStation Boss, Shawn Layden. Wait! What? Why!? What has happened to us as gamers? Why this sudden change from single-player-based fun, to MMO-based chaos? Can anything be done to stop this madness? The below key-points might help.

MMOs lack substance 

Have you been in an online multiplayer game where you seem to be repeating the same things over and over again as if you are trapped in some type of Groundhog Day curse? That’s what lacking substance is all about. Unlike single player-centric games such as the instant classic, Red Dead Redemption 2 (RDR2), there is just no chance of any type of storyline, plot, or deep character development to be found in MMOs to keep you entertained for long. And yes, you WILL eventually lose interest and move on to the next “big game” on the market.

MMOs never end 

Do you really want to play a game that never ends? Hold that thought! Here’s a better question. Would you want to watch a movie that never ends? A film that goes on forever? Of course not! I would rather play a game from between 6 to 80 hours knowing full well that it will end rather than play an unending MMO. So the moral here is single player games end! And this is one of the reasons why they are worth their weight in gold!

Graphics are downgraded in Online Multiplayer 

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So look at RDR2’s single player campaign. Look at it very carefully, and make sure you take in all the intricate details of the scenery, the characters, animals and so forth. Now, switch over to RDR2 Online and do the same thing. See the difference? I do. Rockstar Games made some sacrifices to ensure the success of multiplayer, and it shows! Now the graphics still look good mind you, but if you really look and compare both modes, they are like night and day.

MMOs are not alone

However, this online multiplayer phenomena is fueled by our Industry’s embrace of it. So we, as a community need to just let it go! It’s not that simple though because a lot of gamers have found enjoyment in it. But at what cost? Well, the popularity of MMOs coupled with the rise of Downloadable Content (DLC), and higher prices for special edition games all contribute to the slow and painful death of the single-player campaign. And if single-player dies, so does our quality gaming days of old!

The forgotten Multiplayer

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I remember a time when I could play a game with a friend or family member in the comfort of my living room. And no, I don’t mean playing with them online! This memory is all about ‘Couch Co-op’ baby! I remember playing Contra with my brother on the NES, and how it felt as we raced across that screen to save the World. And how could I forget the outstanding Co-op mode in the SNES classic, Goldeneye? And don’t let me get started on Halo! Co-op has been largely forgotten in this age of online multiplayer games. This is sad! I wish more of today’s games had the Co-op feature so I could enjoy them with my gaming family. Now, PlayStation’s Shawn Layden did allude to some kind of multiplayer Co-op for the PS5, which would be a great move for Sony’s new console. I’m all for it, if true.

Our Once and Future…Gamers?

But why is online multiplayer so popular? Could it be that the so-called “old school” gamers have spawned a new generation of gamers who are so lacking in social skills that multiplayer games are the only remedy for their affliction? Maybe. Today’s “new” gamers are shadows of what the “old school” still are – legends! But is it really too late? No its not. Knowledge is power, and the more articles like this are written, information will spread, and the “heirs” of gaming (i.e. Millennials and younger) will eventually wake up and embrace their legendary birthright!

Visit us at http://www.gamersoutpost.net/

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by L.W. Barker aka ‘Sarge’ Founder/President Gamer’s Outpost

Marvel’s Spider-Man – The Heist DLC Black Cat Reveal Trailer is despicable. As of this writing, the game isn’t even released yet but this paid DLC (which was obviously cut out of the main story line) is being shown? This is pure greed at its finest, and a new low for Marvel, and Insomniac Games.

We are being played by this Industry, and quite frankly enough is enough! Yes, I understand that DLC adds a sense of longevity to our games, but the Industry also needs to understand that we will no longer pay for content that shoud be free in the first place.

Simply put, the industry has played the gaming community like a foolish fiddle and it needs to end! For if not, these publishers and developers will continue to take advantage of us with the twisted mindset that raping our pockets is the right thing to do.

My advice (and its something I practice) is to wait for our games to be released as Special Editions with ALL the DLC included and buy at that time at a discount. Yeah I know waiting sucks, but doing so will tear a proverbial hole in the Industry’s greedy pockets, and put that money where it belongs…in our own.

#ByeFelicia Gamer’s Outpost

Visit us at http://www.gamersoutpost.net/ ❤

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by David M. Ewalt via Paste Magazine

Melvin the Barbarian is angry at the dirty goblin sniping arrows at him from behind a tree. I can hear it in his voice; my earphones convey every nuance of his bellowed threats, even if the avatar I see in my headset remains passive, resembling less a raging half-Orc than a featureless robot. I can’t see when he swings his greataxe, but I know the attack connects. The little blue die Melvin tosses across our virtual play area comes up 20, and that means the goblin has fired his last shot.

The fantasy role-playing game Dungeons & Dragons (D&D) is usually played with pencils and paper, around a table, with no gadgetry involved. But recent innovations in the field of virtual reality allow characters like Melvin to team up with other players inside high-tech simulated worlds. I don’t know the real name of the person playing this raging barbarian, or his physical location, or anything about him other than the sound of his voice. But here we are, slaying monsters together inside an online game space constructed by a company called AltspaceVR. We haven’t really met, but I think I’ve made a new friend.

In the 44-year history of D&D, emerging technologies have usually been the game’s foe. When home video game consoles became popular in the mid-1980s, the hobby lost millions of players; in the ‘90s, online role-playing games (RPGs) like Everquest and World of Warcraft took away even more. But it turns out that 21st-century technologies that create immersive, simulated environments are complementary to tabletop gaming’s social vibe. Virtual reality could be the best thing to happen to D&D since polyhedral dice.

Until now, players have struggled to replicate the tabletop gaming experience using the tools of the digital age. In the ‘80s, I tried to play a few times with my friends all dialed into a telephone party line, but it was too noisy and chaotic. In more recent years, I’ve been in one or two games played successfully over Skype or Google Hangouts, which allow you to see your friends’ faces. And a few specialized bits of software like the website Roll20 and the application Fantasy Grounds combine video conferencing with shared maps and dice-rolling tools. If you can’t meet in person, they’re good enough for a few hours of fun.

But I’d never been excited about playing D&D over a computer until a new generation of virtual reality hardware, like the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive, met the social VR spaces created by companies like AltspaceVR. In 2015, D&D publisher Wizards of the Coast cut a deal with Altspace (then a startup, now a subsidiary of Microsoft) to bring officially licensed D&D assets to a tavern-themed virtual game room. Users put on their VR headsets, gather around a 3D table and appear as individual avatars inside the space. They can build a map using dungeon, wilderness and city themed terrain tiles; record their characters on official D&D character sheets; and move around figurines representing various D&D player classes as well as monsters (including gelatinous cubes and dragons).

VR may be the ultimate “you have to see it to believe it” experience. But as a one-time skeptic of the technology, I can testify that I was surprised how much Altspace’s virtual game room felt like the real thing. When you’re immersed in these simulated worlds, you forget where you are; the table in front of you seems solid, the people around you move and everyone seems to be gathered in the same room.

Sure, the virtual version of D&D is far from perfect. While today’s VR hardware can create surprisingly convincing simulations, it’s no fun wearing a VR headset for more than an hour. The graphics are still relatively primitive—more Lawnmower Man than The Matrix—and your fellow players are represented by cartoonish avatars, not realistic depictions of their actual selves. But VR is good enough in 2018 to provide proof of concept; it actually feels like D&D. The problems are just technical hurdles, and we’ll clear them in time.

In five years, I suspect playing D&D in virtual reality will be almost as good as playing around a dining room table. Next generation headsets will be lighter and more comfortable; graphics will get to a point comparable to the most realistic 3D video games. Tracking technologies will allow you to see where players are looking, make eye contact and read expressions on their faces. Our digital selves will convey body language and gestures, making it feel like you’re in the same place as your friends.

And the virtual tabletops will be even better than the real thing. When you’re playing D&D on a friend’s dining room table, the game is limited by physical accessories like dry-erase battle maps, pre-printed terrain tiles and miniatures to represent characters. In a virtual world, those elements can come alive. Animated, photo-realistic maps can slowly reveal themselves as players advance through a dungeon, and their minis can actually move and fight. Imagine the Millennium Falcon’s holographic chess game, but more realistic than any animation Industrial Light and Magic could pull off.

But the best thing about D&D in VR isn’t the bells and whistles—it’s how it will bring people together. For decades, too many RPG campaigns have been crippled by the limitations of geography; all too often, it’s impossible to get enough players together in one place. With VR, it doesn’t matter if your Dungeon Master moves to Timbuktu. VR will let you step into a game room and play with people around the world.

And when it comes to D&D, the gathering is more important than the game itself.

Visit us at http://www.gamersoutpost.net/

The future is the new Xbox

Posted: July 28, 2018 in Opinion Piece

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by Navneet Alang via The Week

Technology is inherently unpredictable. But tech analyst Benedict Evans has a good rule when it comes to predicting the future: Whatever people dismiss as just a toy is very often the next big thing.

There are few areas in which that has been truer than in video games. While the gaming industry has been dismissed as merely juvenile — and indeed in terms of its culture, it often is — it has nonetheless prefigured many of the major shifts in tech, from the rise of artificial intelligence to the importance of online community.

And now, with rumors that Microsoft is planning to make the next generation of its Xbox console reliant on cloud streaming, akin to a Netflix for games, that predictive power may be especially potent. What it points to is not just what’s next for video games, but also the general direction of tech. The future is the merging of the cloud, artificial intelligence, and ubiquitous computing.

There is a reason that Microsoft has its eyes fixed on the next few years in gaming. While its Xbox 360, which was released in 2005, was a smash hit, its successor, the Xbox One, has not done nearly as well. It has been outsold nearly two to one by rival Sony’s PlayStation 4, while Nintendo’s Switch console has been a huge success. Although Xbox saw a 39 percent jump in revenue in Microsoft’s most recent quarterly results, clearly a sign of improving fortunes, overall the company is scrambling to catch up.

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But Microsoft has committed itself to gaming. In 2017, Xbox chief Phil Spencer was promoted to executive vice president reporting directly to CEO Satya Nadella, suggesting that the company sees gaming as core to its mission. The company also sought to correct its initial mistake of releasing an underpowered Xbox One by releasing the Xbox One X last year, still the most powerful console on the market. Additionally, in an effort to kickstart its own exclusive content — an area in which it has been seriously outclassed by Sony over the past few years — Microsoft announced that it’s funding the creation of numerous development studios.

If this is the start of a recommitment, then the next generation of Xbox hardware is likely going to reflect a changing strategy. As Microsoft enthusiast site Thurrott.com reports, at least one of the next Xbox consoles will focus on streaming — that is, an online service in which games are accessed remotely over the internet, rather than being stored on a disc or device as they are now. The upside to such an approach would be to offer gamers hundreds of games to play immediately, rather than forcing them to buy individual titles. It will also likely lower the entry cost versus a traditional standalone console.

The persistent problem in that approach has been the lag as information moves back and forth between the console and server, something that is a particular problem for fast-paced games. But Microsoft will try to get around the issue by processing some tasks with dedicated hardware and others remotely, and combining them with machine learning. It’s a technologically intriguing idea.

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But it also represents Microsoft’s broader ambition to turn Xbox into a service, like a Netflix for games. They have already started with their Play Anywhere program, which lets someone buy a game on a PC and also play it on an Xbox One, and vice versa. This next move will then raise the potential revenue stream via monthly subscriptions. Microsoft could even combine both services so that games attained through a subscription could be accessed from a Windows 10 PC. Meanwhile, for those core gamers who might blanche at streaming, the company will still release a high-powered standalone sequel to the Xbox One X.

Whatever Microsoft does release will likely be running on a new version of Windows based on something called Cshell. It is the next phase of Windows, and both siphons off the legacy code that still bogs the operating system down, while also being customizable for different devices, whether a digital whiteboard, a laptop, or a gaming console.

What Microsoft is attempting to do with Cshell, as well as a console that streams games, is to link together its work in hardware, machine learning, artificial intelligence, and cloud solutions. The operating system connects those disparate elements to ideally make the end-user experience seamless.

The Windows company is not alone. Google is hard at work on a project called Fuschia, a new operating system that may replace Android and will unify its efforts in mobile, artificial intelligence, and the “internet of things” — those increasingly popular smart devices.

What it all points to is a shift in the nature of computing in general — from being a thing located in individual devices, to something more akin to a service or a layer, accessed not only from many devices, but in many different ways: through a traditional keyboard and mouse, touch, voice, or AI that predicts what you need before you ask for it. It’s about changing the idea of computing from one of gadgets to simply being everywhere, accessible through a variety of different interfaces.

Whether Microsoft can pull together the technical know-how and marketing to make their streaming idea work remains to be seen. Gamers are not only notoriously conservative, they are also highly sensitive to the minutiae of performance. All the same, it represents a significant opportunity for Microsoft.

Rather than merely being a toy, the next Xbox will be a testing ground for the future of computing itself.

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by Paul  Tassi via Forbes

The storm around a lack of cross-play on PS4 has not abated in the wake of the news out of E3 that not only can you not play with Xbox or Switch players if you have a PS4-linked Fortnite account, but that you cannot use that account at all on either of those platforms.

Sony has issued a statement that somehow manages to boast about its sales numbers while dodging the account-locking part of the problem entirely. Epic has now thrown up error messages throwing indirect shade at Sony for the problem, but don’t seem to be interested in picking a fight other than simply saying “we wish this could happen.”

But now someone else is making news. That would be John Smedley, the former head of Sony Online Entertainment (and current head of Amazon Game Studios), who seems like he’d have some pretty good insight into the situation. And it appears he does.

After calling for “pressure” on Sony to make the issue go away, Smedley went on to explain via Twitter the reason that Sony gave for why they don’t want cross-play:

“btw when I was at Sony, the stated reason internally for this was money. They didn’t like someone buying something on an Xbox and it being used on a Playstation. simple as that. dumb reason, but there it is.”

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This is, of course, what many people assume is happening, despite statements like the one below, given by then head of PlayStation global sales and marketing, Jim Ryan after E3 2017 when it was Minecraft cross-play being debated:

“We have a contract with the people who go online with us, that we look after them and they are within the PlayStation curated universe,” said Ryan. “Exposing what in many cases are children to external influences we have no ability to manage or look after, it’s something we have to think about very carefully.”

No one really took this seriously at the time, and “we’re doing it for the children” practically became a meme afterward. But combined with the statement from the former president of SOE, this really does not look great for Sony.

I get it, it’s a business, Sony wants money and wants everyone to own games on PlayStation and buy all their games on PlayStation. And yet clearly that’s not what fans want and where the industry is moving as a whole. Sure, Microsoft may be able to embrace the whole cross-play thing because they’re behind in sales, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t pro-consumer all the same. Sony, after years of besting Microsoft at almost every turn this generation, is clearly on the wrong side of the issue here, and now with Nintendo getting involved, a market leader itself with seemingly no qualms about cross-play, it makes them look even worse.

I have to imagine that there are frantic discussions behind the scenes here between Epic, Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo to try and work this out, and yet as has been pointed out, if Sony caves for Fortnite, they’ll have to cave for all games that want cross-play, and it’s very clear they do not want to open those floodgates. At this point, I’d put more money on them trying to ride out the storm than actually changing anything, but clearly this is not going to be the last time this issue comes up.

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by Dave Smith via Business Insider

The PlayStation 4 is the market leader in terms of game consoles sold this generation, by a long shot. With sales so gargantuan — 79 million PS4s sold, and 80 million monthly active users on the PlayStation Network — you’d think Sony would be confident about the PlayStation 4.

But Sony’s stance on cross-play between the PS4 and rival consoles, like the Nintendo Switch and Xbox One, is not only backward, it’s downright cynical, and it makes the company look more vulnerable than it really is.

This isn’t a new stance on Sony’s part, but as more and more games are made for multiple platforms, like “Fortnite,” it’s become increasingly obvious that keeping players from being able to access their accounts on multiple consoles, or letting people play with their friends on different consoles, only makes Sony look borderline fearful.

In contrast, Nintendo and Microsoft come off looking nice and open when it comes to issues of cross-play. Their actions obviously speak volumes — “Minecraft” players on Xbox can play with their Nintendo Switch brethren, and so forth. But while neither company’s statements have called out Sony by name, it’s quite obvious who they’re talking about.

Just listen to what Xbox chief Phil Spencer told Business Insider correspondent Ben Gilbert this week at E3, when asked about cross-play (emphasis mine):

“Say you’re not into gaming, and it’s your kid’s birthday. You buy them a console. I buy my kid a console. We happen to buy consoles of different colors — you bought the blue one, I bought the green one. Now those kids want to play a game together and they can’t because their parents bought different consoles.

I don’t know who that helps. It doesn’t help the developer. The developer just wants more people to play their game. It doesn’t help the player. The players just want to play with their friends who also play games on console. So, I just get stuck in who this is helping.”

Obviously, if you don’t consider what people actually want and only the sales numbers, you can see why Sony doesn’t want cross-play. Right now, if you want to play games with your friends that own a PlayStation 4, you have to go out and buy a PlayStation 4 yourself. If you could play those same games with your friends on a more affordable console, like a Nintendo Switch or Xbox One, that’s one less reason for people to buy a PS4. So, Microsoft and Nintendo have much to gain from cross-play being a thing, if you look at it that way.

But to only consider console sales — a single metric — is a cynical and short-sighted attitude, especially since Sony’s stance on cross-play doesn’t necessarily make PlayStation 4 owners happy either. I own a PlayStation 4 and a Nintendo Switch, for example, and I was really bummed to learn this week that I couldn’t play “Fortnite” on my Switch unless I created a new account specifically for the Switch.

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Considering how so many of the 2+ million people who downloaded “Fortnite” for Switch in its first 24 hours of availability had the same issues I did, and reacted over social media in kind, Sony was forced to release a statement addressing the cross-play furor on Thursday. But the statement itself was carefully worded so as to not mention the millions of Nintendo Switch and Xbox One customers frustrated by Sony’s decision.

“We offer ‘Fortnite’ cross-play support with PC, Mac, iOS, and Android devices, expanding the opportunity for ‘Fortnite’ fans on PS4 to play with even more gamers on other platforms,” Sony told the BBC.

If Sony were smart, it would at least allow cross-play for certain titles, where it has less to gain from being restrictive. The case of “Fortnite” is less about cross-play and more about letting one access an account on multiple game consoles, but “Fortnite” is a game that millions of people play every day, even on smartphones; cross-play should be allowed there. Similarly, millions of people — especially little kids — play “Minecraft” every single day, and I bet they would be very happy if they could all play together whether they own a PlayStation 4 or Nintendo Switch or Xbox One.

Sony is the clear market leader in game consoles this generation, and its future looks bright with so many excellent games coming from Sony-backed studios over the next several years. Those games can only be played on the PlayStation 4, and Sony should be confident in those titles, and the other features that set PlayStation apart. But for customers’ sake, and for the company’s own PR, it should learn that there are occasions where it makes sense to play nice with others.

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