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E3 2017: Our 3 Favorite Things from the Microsoft Presser

The first of the big three took the state at E3 on Sunday afternoon, and Microsoft’s presser left us with a few things to get excited about this fall and beyond. Of course we new we would see the Scorpio (now dubbed the Xbox One X), and most of the other announcements were leaked ahead of time as well. But that doesn’t make them any less sweet. Here are our three favorite things from the Microsoft presser:

 

Crackdown 3–My all-time favorite series gets a new installment, and as icing on the cake, Terry Crews is in it. I have been waiting for this game for seven years now, and it looks like it has captured the core of what makes Crackdown great. Now if we can just get Crackdown and Crackdown 2 on the backwards compatibility list…

 

State of Decay 2–Despite rave reviews, I never got around to playing the first State of Decay. That won’t be the case this time around.

 

Player Unknown’s Battlegrounds–The Twitch sensation is coming to Xbox One, and it should be a mega-hit there as well.

 

Honorable Mention: Xbox One X

I’ll be honest, I could give a crap about the Xbox One X (or the PS4 Pro, for that matter). I don’t have a 4K TV, and I think the current gen of games look just fine. And $499 is way too much ($399 was the magic price point, and it will be there within a year of launch). BUT, if these half-measures by Microsoft and Sony will extend the life of this console generation, then I am all for it. And it wild rive the price of the original model down, so yay for that, too.

Those are the things we’re most excited about from Microsoft’s E3 presser. Stay tuned for our takeaways from the Bethesda, Sony, Ubi and Nintendo pressers over the next few days!

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I Love What I’m Hearing About the Nintendo NX

An article in the Wall Street Journal this week said that dev kits are now being sent out for the NX, Nintendo’s upcoming hybrid platform that is projected to be released by the end of 2016.

It seems that the new NX will have a “mobile unit” that could be used alongside the console or as a portable device. Earlier in 2015, Nintendo filed a patent for a new controller that bore a passing resemblance to both the WiiU GamePad and the PlayStation Vita:

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Now, most of what is out there is rumors at this point, but we know the NX is coming (because Nintendo announced it) and we know it will be a dedicated gaming system with a “brand new concept” (former Nintendo President Satoru Iwata’s words).

So let’s assume that what we’re talking about is a hybrid console that will feature a handheld that can also connect to the home console unit, either as a controller, or as the primary device that is scaled up for the television experience.

In my opinion, this is exactly the direction Nintendo should be going in. They own the handheld market, and they have proven to be able to create amazing experiences for their handheld platforms. Their handhelds have also historically had good third party support, something that their home consoles have not.

I thought Nintendo missed the boat with the WiiU by not allowing the 3DS to function as a controller or game portal. But I am very encouraged to see this is where they appear to be heading.

What’s interesting is that if the patent document is any indication, it looks like the NX controller/handheld is ditching the second screen. That makes sense if it’s being used in conjunction with the TV, but it will be interesting to see how the games function on the handheld alone.

In any case, I am so glad Nintendo is continuing to chart their own path. As we’ve seen with Microsoft, they did not have the fortitude to stick with their original plan for the Xbox One, and it may have cost them this generation. By taking out connect and watering down their online plans, there’s nothing to differentiate them from PlayStation now, especially with the lack of exclusives this generation. If nothing else, Nintendo will continue to make sure their consoles and handhelds are not carbon copies of what everyone else is doing. And I think we need that.

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E3 2014: What I’m Excited About (Part 1)–New Crackdown!

Last week I made my wish list, and now the E3 press briefings for Microsoft, Nintendo and Sony are behind us. While it looks like only one of my wishes are coming true, there were some things from each conference that I’m really excited about/ In the next few posts, I’ll highlight some of them.

First up, let’s talk about my one wish that came true. We are getting a new Crackdown. Here’s the new trailer:

It doesn’t look like the MMO I was hoping for, but from the look of the trailer, it’s going to be big. There were a number of encouraging things in the trailer, even if it didn’t feature any gameplay. First off, we see the leader of the Los Muertos gang in this new city, which means the gangs from the original Crackdown are back. The trailer also leaned heavily on the concept of cooperative play, as the agents are all working together to make an assault on the gang boss’ headquarters. The big moment in the trailer certainly suggests there will be some destructibility in the environments, which would be a great addition to the gameplay.

Perhaps most exciting though, was the fact that this game is not being called Crackdown 3. Whether it’s a complete reboot or not, I like the idea of giving the series a fresh start on the new platform, and it suggests this could be an ongoing franchise moving forward.

The only thing that bummed me out was there were no Freaks in the video, which means it looks like the franchise is moving away from the concepts introduced in Crackdown 2. That’s probably a good thing, as Sunset Overdrive is using a similar concept, but I actually enjoyed the Freaks in Crackdown 2. Remember them?

I am really looking forward to learning more about Crackdown, who is developing it, and getting some idea of when we’ll see it. My gut tells me it won’t be until 2016. In the meantime, I would love to see a port of the original Crackdown (and maybe even Crackdown 2) for the Xbox One. I wouldn’t even care if they gave it the full HD treatment, as the cartoonish style holds up better than a lot of last gen games. I just want to dive into that world again–soon. Here’s a great fan-made trailer for the original, in case you forgot how much fun it was. There’s a lot of great ideas that the series doesn’t get credit for, like the voice of the Agency who is constantly commenting on your actions in the games.

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My Ridiculous E3 2014 Wishlist

The Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) is next week, and we are all bracing for the dog and pony shows, the buzzword-laden marketing promises, and CGI glimpses of games that will be arriving two years from now.

For gamers, E3 is both exciting and frustrating at the same time, as there will inevitably be some pleasant surprises, but they’ll be wrapped in a whole lotta nonsense.

We all have our hopes and dreams though, and each of us has an E3 wish list for the big three (Nintendo, Microsoft and Sony) that we would love to see become a reality. I know that my E3 wishlist is pretty far-fetched, but it’s fun to think about anyway. So without further ado, here is something I would love to see from each of the big three at E3 this year.

Microsoft–Crackdown MMO
I’ll start with Microsoft, as my wish for them is the least far-fetched of the three. I want an new Crackdown. I love the Crackdown series. The original is still one of my top five Xbox 360 games, and I was one of the few that also loved the sequel. And we all saw the Crackdown orb symbol in a pic of the Xbox One dash during the new console’s reveal. So it’s safe to say there is a new Crackdown being worked on. and there are rumors of Crackdown 3 arriving in 2016.

Here’s where I get far-fetched, though–I want a Crackdown MMO. Drawing on Crackdown 1 and 2, there could be various factions battling over control of Pacific City (The Agency, Los Muertos, Volk, Shai Gen, Cell). You could also keep the Freaks as a grunt-level threat that all factions would have to deal with. In many ways, it could be similar to what Realtime Worlds tried to do with APB. But, it would be developed by Ruffian (Crackdown 2 devs who are still around, having worked with 343 on Halo: Spartan Assault and Rare on Kinect Sports Rivals as well as their own Game of Glens).

Since this is my wish list, I would also make the game a one-time purchase, then free to play MMO for Xbox Live Gold subscribers.

Nintendo–3DS as a WiiU GamePad Replacement
I’ve talked about this before, but I feel like Nintendo is missing a great opportunity by not having more interoperability between the 3DS and the WiiU. Sony is smartly trying to bolster Vta sales by giving PS3 and PS4 owners reasons to own one, but Nintendo has not leveraged the huge install base of the 3DS (43 million worldwide and approximately 12 million in the US alone) to bolster WiiU sales. Combine that with the fact that the GamePad is what keeps the price point of the WiiU where it is, and Nintendo has even more reasons to bring the 3DS into the WiiU ecosystem.

My proposal is this: Any 3DS (regular or XL) that has a Circle Pad Pro attachment should be able to function as a WiiU GamePad. With the Circle Pad Pro attached to the 3DS, you’ve got the touchscreen, the triggers and the shoulder buttons.

Not only would this open us cross-save, cross-buy, Virtual Console library sharing and more, but it would allow Nintendo to cut the price of the WiiU by putting out a version without a GamePad. And they wouldn’t have to screw developers by removing features or upset existing owners.

There could be a $199 WiiU SKU, with a Circle Pad Pro included, or a voucher that could be used to order a free Circle Pad Pro from Nintendo’s website. They could do a 3DS XL/WiiU bundle for $399, giving consumers a compelling reason to go with Nintendo over Microsoft and Sony this holiday season. Not to mention, there are a ton of great games for both consoles right now.

While this may be the most far-fetched thing on my wish list, it makes so much sense that it hurts my brain. Just do it, Nintendo.

Sony–Free PS Now Rentals for PS+ Subscribers
I’ll preface this by saying that of the three bigs, Sony is doing a lot of things right. PlayStation Plus is fantastic. The PS4 is offering experiences that the Xbox One and WiiU aren’t. I can play a pretty darn good free MMO (DC Universe Online) on PS3 and PS4 right now, Sony is doing everything they can to bolster the Vita and they have a next-gen only exclusive in Infamous: Second Son. Of the big three, they are the only one that could strategically stay the course and be okay. (And yes, I know about Sony’s financial troubles, but those losses aren’t coming from the PlayStation division, which posted a profit this year).

The game streaming service PlayStation Now is currently in beats on both the PS3 and the PS4. From what we’ve seen and heard so far, when the service fully launches, users will be able to rent PS1, PS2 and PS3 games for one, seven or thirty days. Whether or not there will be a subscription option to access the entire library isn’t clear yet, and it seems these options will not be part of the PlayStation Plus subscription service as it is right now.

What I would love to see is for PS Plus subscribers to essentially get rental vouchers for PS Now games every month. Similar to the lending library on the Amazon Kindle, I’d like to see PS Plus subscribers get at least one free rental credit a month. Each month brings a new voucher, and the old one expires. Sony could also offer a discount to PS Plus members for additional rentals, similar to the discounts that Plus subscribers enjoy on games purchase through the PlayStation Store.

I don’t see this happening, as PS Plus users already enjoy some pretty big discounts, as well as great games every month. Even if Sony never added value to the PS Plus subscription again, what I’m getting now is more than worth it. But, if I was getting a game or two to stream from PS Now every month, I’d be more like to try out others on the service.

So, those are my E3 wishes for the big three. Here’s hoping the game genie will come along and grant at least one of them.

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A Kinect-less Xbox One Is a Bad Move for Microsoft

Microsoft completed the circle of back-pedaling on their original Xbox One vision today, as they announced a Kinect-less version of the console would be arriving in June, at a PS4-matching price of $399. And while many will see this as a smart move, and one that has the potential to increase sales, I think it’s very short-sighted.

Let’s forget that you can get the Titanfall or Forza 5 bundles of the Xbox One for $499 right now, which effectively means that you’re paying $440 for the console with Kinect. Or the fact that many retail outlets recently dropped the price of the Titanfall bundle to $450, which made the price differential with PS4 essentially nothing.

Let’s focus instead on the notion that a great deal of the console’s functionality runs through the Kinect, and that the Xbox One was designed around it. From the very beginning, Microsoft emphasized the Kinect to both consumers and game developers. On the consumer side, you’ve got the voice commands, the video chat, the game streaming, the facial recognition, voice-chatting through Kinect, menu navigation, motion controls and more. On the developer side, you’ve got the fact that all developers can count on the Kinect being a part of every Xbox One, so they can include Kinect features in the design from the start.

Now, a mere six months into the life of the Xbox One, Microsoft is essentially abandoning the Kinect to try and close the sales gap with PS4. And if you think that’s an exaggeration, understand that the second the Kinect is not a part of every console, developers are basically going to walk away from it completely. Why would they fracture their audience?

This move affects exclusives more than third-party games of course, because third-party games are not putting a ton of effort into designing for features that don’t exist on all consoles (see the WiiU and its GamePad).

The sad thing is, there are surely plenty of games in development that are designed with Kinect functionality, and those games just got the legs cut out from under them. And now that future games will shy away from Kinect features, we’ll likely never see the potential of the Kinect fulfilled. I honestly don’t care about most of the Kinect functionality right now, but I was certainly hopeful about what it could be in the future.

Most concerning in all of this though, is how quick Microsoft is to change their strategy on a console that has been out for a little over six months. Having to give up their “always on” strategy nullified their plans for leveraging the cloud to improve performance, and now abandoning the Kinect will kill their other differentiating feature. Polygon actually has a great article detailing the changing message of Microsoft regarding Kinect over the past several months. It’s sad.

And what of the early adopters? Word on the street is they can expect no Nintendo-like reward program for their customer loyalty. I know I’m kind of wishing I’d held off and waited for a PS4 instead.

Dropping Kinect is a risky strategy, that’s for sure. If this doesn’t close the sales gap (and I don’t believe it will), then Microsoft will have completely compromised their original Xbox One design for nothing. And where does that leave them?

On a related note, say what you will about how badly the WiiU is failing, but I applaud Nintendo’s response around the GamePad. Rather than ditch it, they’ve re-committed to showing people why it’s an integral part of the WiiU.

At the first sign of trouble, Microsoft cut bait on the Kinect. But I think their missing the larger issue–that consumers are losing confidence in them due to fact that it seems they have no idea what they’re doing with this console.

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Xbox One: My First Two Weeks

After spending a couple weeks with the Xbox One, I’m optimistic about its potential, even though I’ve yet to be blown away by anything it has to offer.

I picked up Battlefield 4 when I grabbed the Xbox One, and while the game looks great, it’s not a dramatic leap forward from the Xbox 360. The same goes for Plants vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare, Killer Instinct and Call of Duty: Ghosts. Don’t get me wrong–all of these games look impressive. But visuals alone aren’t the main selling point of the Xbox One for me.

The worst part about the Xbox One for me is the interface. It’s really just awful to navigate. The only saving grace is that you can “pin” items to a home screen, so I’ve just basically put all the apps I use regularly in one place.

And speaking of apps, I have used both the Twitch app and the YouTube app quite a bit since I bought the console. Both are great. I’ve yet to really dive into the Skype app, but I will in the next few weeks.

One of the things I’ve been pleasantly surprised with so far is the ability to use regular headphones with the Xbox one and use the Kinect for your chat mic. The audio quality isn’t as good as a mic, but it’s a nice option and it allowed me to use a decent pair of headphones for game audio until I got my Xbox One headset. And speaking of that headset, it’s really nice. This is probably blasphemy, but I find it more comfortable than the Turtle Beach headset I had for my Xbox 360. What’s even better about the new headset is that you can unplug it and use pretty much any headphones with the adapter for game audio purposes. So when I’m playing by myself and the family is asleep, I can just pop in my phone earbuds and enjoy the audio without the bulky headset.

As far as chat goes overall, Microsoft just patched in cross-game chat, so I haven’t had the chance to try it yet. but I’ve had no complaints about the chat functionality so far. Time will tell.

Another pleasant surprise–the controller. I expected it to be just like the Xbox 360 controller, but I actually like it better. The shoulder buttons and triggers are wider, and I Iike the smaller and more concave versions of the sticks. The only thing that feels like a step back is the clicking of the sticks, but that might also be because the controller is new.

I have not used too much of the voice navigation on the Kinect yet, but there is one command that is pretty great–”Xbox, record that.” With that command, the Xbox automatically records the last 30 seconds of gameplay. So, you can capture a great moment right after it happens. You can also open the game dvr function and record up to five minutes of gameplay, but I found that a bit distracting, as i was trying to make something cool happen as opposed to just capturing something cool I did in the course of gameplay. No matter how you record, you then head over to the Upload Studio app to edit clips, add effects and then upload them to OneDrive (formerly SkyDrive), where you can share them. My one gripe with this (as you’ll see in the video below), is that when you embed a clip you saved to OneDrive, the video does not play in the blog page, but rather brings you to OneDrive to view the clip. I’m hoping that gets patched later on, as it really discourages the use of clips for blog posts.

Twitch broadcasting is supposed to arrive with Titanfall, and the most exciting thing about it is that you’ll be able to archive broadcasts, which is what really bummed me out about the PS4’s twitch integration. I will be doing a good amount of streaming and then posting the archived streams to the blog here.

So after two weeks, I’m definitely enjoying the Xbox One and I look forward to really getting into Titanfall with my gaming pals this week. Down the road a little, I am chomping at the bit for Elder Scrolls Online. That may actually become my most-played game on the Xbox One, if it’s as good as it’s shaping up to be.

I’ll be posting a lot more about my experiences with Xbox One, and if you have specific questions, feel free to pose them in the comments below.

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Grr! Where Are All the Games That I Don’t Have the Time or Money to Play?!!

This is a bit of a tangent, but it came to mind as I was watching the E3 presser reactions on Twitter over the past 24 hours.

Every time a new console launches, there is public outcry from gamers about the lack of games for it.

Every. Single. Time.

XBox 360, PS3, Wii, 3DS, Vita and now WiiU are just the examples from this generation. Despite promises from both Microsoft and Sony about their launches, I think we all know that at some point in their launch cycle, there will be a drought of new releases.

You know what? It’s not that big of a deal, people.

You could make the argument that it matters from a business standpoint, because of course having a robust library for your new console will help sell units. But most gamers act as if they are on the boards of these companies, getting up in arms about something that doesn’t even affect them.

A lot of gamers act as if they have unlimited money and time when they rant about this topic. Would I have liked the WiiU to have a better launch lineup? Absolutely. But the fact is, the only game I’ve completely finished for the WiiU so far has been ZombiU. I still need to finish New Super Mario Bros. U and LEGO City Undercover, and I’ve barely scratched the surface of Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate. Not to mention that I’ve got a slew of games from the eShop that I’ve barely touched. I’m not even ready for Pikmin 3 yet, whenever the hack it actually comes out.

And I don’t think I’m that far from the norm. Most of us don’t have the time and money to play everything. If the new XBox One launches with 27 games on day one, or even over the first three months, do you have $1600 and 270+ hours to play them between November and January? I’m going to go out on a limb and say that most gamers don’t.

So, who gives a crap if there are a slew of games at launch? You’re going to get two or three over the first few months and then grab the others for less moeny down the road, if at all.

WiiU is going to be just fine come this holiday season, and both new consoles will have more than enough games to keep gamers happy. They’ll certainly have more than enough to keep me happy, as evidenced by the hundreds of games I’m still catching up on from this current gen.

So, everyone just settle down, okay?

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How Will Microsoft Counter Sony’s Social Strategy?

So the PS4 was announced last week, and it’s clear that Sony’s strategy with their new console revolves around the social aspects of gaming. From the dedicated “Share” button on the controller, to the partnership with UStream for video sharing, to the ability to let your friends assume control of your game from afar, Sony has built social aspects into every part of the new PlayStation experience.

Now, as we await Microsoft’s big announcement, I have to wonder what the central theme of their new strategy will be . Whatever it is, they will need to include social features in their new console as well, and there are plenty of possibilities out there.

This is just me spitballing, but I would love to see Microsoft enter into a partnership with Google to use Google Plus and YouTube as the main social sharing features of the next XBox. Google Plus already includes a strong video conferencing suite with Hangouts, and allowing users to post videos directly to YouTube would trump Sony’s UStream partnership.

The main challenge I see to something like this is Bing. Microsoft’s search engine is gaining popularity and is in direct competition with Google. That rivalry may make a partnership around the new XBox difficult. But, if Google could stomach Bing being the XBox search engine, it stands to gain a lot of new Google Plus users.