Electronic entertainment pushing the boundaries of a visual and connected world.
Electronic entertainment pushing the boundaries of a visual and connected world.
The exciting thing about videogames is change. It’s a young industry, riding on the backs of breakneck progress and creative visionaries to reach mainstream acceptance and success. Despite claims against its relevance, the annual Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) in Los Angeles continues to be a herald of change. It’s a whirlwind of showcases, a teaser for all the promising tech and software yet to come, and this year doesn’t disappoint.
SONY PLAYSTATION – GAMES AND VIRTUAL REALITY
Sony’s press conference, the reigning crowd favorite, was dominated with trailers and high-profile reveals. We saw God of War rebuilt for a new direction and mythology; the celebrated Hideo Kojima working on a game that isn’t Metal Gear; and PlayStation VR lowering the virtual reality entry fee to US$399, far cheaper than PC-based options Oculus Rift and HTC Vive. Even first-party studio Guerilla Games have ditched their Killzone series for the stunning Horizon: Zero Dawn – a typical open-world game, yes, but one occupied by an entire ecosystem of mechanical dinosaurs. The conference didn’t stray from Sony’s promise of focusing on games, yet the distinct lack of hardware announcements did raise some eyebrows. We already know about their upgraded console, codenamed PlayStation Neo, but what we don’t know is its price and capability.
Sony Interactive Entertainment CEO Andrew House soothed concerns by saying the time isn’t right for an announcement, that there had to be “a full range of experiences” before showcasing the product, and that the PSVR is a good example of that strategy. And where VR is concerned, “experiences” sums it up pretty well. It’s safe to say that the genre as a whole is still in its infancy, with most of the titles on display seemingly simple in execution: pilot a ship, aim a gun, or put on Batman’s cowl. But that’s probably for the best, as Resident Evil VII’s demo exemplified the nauseating result of a mismatched control system – or maybe they did want players feeling dazed and terrified. Nonetheless, virtual reality is coming in a big way. Playstation VR releases in the US in October this year, granting developers access to an audience that’s been hyped up for years. Despite PC’s popularity, we shouldn’t forget that consoles are still a huge market, one that’s easily accessible for families. Sony needs to work closely with all walks of developers – the large studios and the indies – to fill up their VR catalog, lest this momentum go to waste. The good news is that they’re already working on it, promising there will be 50 titles by the end of the year. All that’s left is to see whether those games live up to expectation because their reception will play a huge factor in the PSVR’s adoption rate. If all goes well, we could even see it bundled with the PlayStation Neo next year.
Virtual reality is coming in a big way. PlayStation VR releases in the US in October this year, granting developers access to an audience that’s been hyped up for years
MICROSOFT XBOX – PLATFORM CONVERGENCE
Conversely, Microsoft committed to their evolution of Xbox Live. At the head of this charge is the Xbox Play Anywhere program: purchasing any Microsoft published game will net you a copy on both Xbox One and Windows 10. They’ve also expanded the available set of services to include group- finding and community building, taking Xbox Live beyond just a digital store and friends list. It’s clear to see that Microsoft wants to drive interest towards Windows 10 and its storefront, letting players build up a collection they’d ultimately feel invested in. Unfortunately, they’re going to face stiff competition from leading marketplaces such as Steam and GOG.com in terms of interface and inventory, as well as cynicism from players tired of the increasing fragmentation of their digital libraries. That said, the program is more than just an incentive. Titles under the Play Anywhere program support cross-saving so gamers can seamlessly hop between platforms. Someone who prefers playing on PC could, for instance, switch over to console where their friends are.
Earlier this year, Killer Instinct became the first game to feature cross-platform play, an idea Microsoft had been chasing after for some time. Combine that with the increasing backwards compatibility for Xbox 360 titles and unification actually comes off as a consumer friendly plan. Of course, this being E3, they showed off some upcoming titles too. Halo Wars 2 had an amazing reveal trailer, Gears of War 4 showed a closer look at the campaign, and Forza Horizon 3 took us on a playful ride across the scenic Australian Outback. Not to forget the dystopian survival game We Happy Few and coop sandbox Sea of Thieves, alongside indie reveals such as Inside. Virtual reality only had a brief, almost token presentation where famed programmer John Carmack was brought on-stage to demo the Oculus Rift for Minecraft. The brevity is understandable given the lack of complete VR games out there, although skipping over plans between Oculus and Xbox felt like an oversight. They did not, however, skip the hardware announcements. Custom-colored Xbox One controllers will soon be available for US$79.99 in the States and then the rest of the world. The newly refreshed Xbox One S - 40% slimmer with an internal power supply - begins shipping in August 2016 for only US$299. And then there’s Project Scorpio, a beefier Xbox One that’ll push out six teraflops of computing power to meet new gaming demands come 2017. Microsoft giving up Xbox One exclusivity for a stronger PC foothold is no doubt costly, though it may just pay off the in the long run.
It’s clear to see that Microsoft wants to drive interest towards Windows 10 and its storefront, letting players build up a collection they’d ultimately feel invested in.
PC – THE NEXT CHAPTER
The upgrade cycle is upon PC too. With NVIDIA’s and AMD’s latest in the form of the GeForce GTX 1080 and RX 480 graphics cards now entering the market, and Intel’s next-generation Kaby Lake processors being hinted for upcoming products, PC gaming is looking on the up and up as well. On one hand, we do have folks trying to push the boundaries of performance as the PC scene is well known for, but on the other hand, we see true innovative ideas popping up that tries to cater to steer PC into the age of VR and to break the mold of the do-ityourself (DIY) market. While E3 proved to be a software tour de force, the recent Computex 2016 held in Taipei early June showed us what we can soon expect from the hardware side of PC gaming. Taiwanese manufacturers ASUS and MSI stood out for their distinct approaches to PC gaming that seemed like the best examples of this divide. While both companies (and just about everyone else) had the standard incremental updates, ASUS aimed for the jugular of the hardcore community.
The follow up to January’s ridiculous ROG GX700 watercooled notebook is the even more over-the-top ROG GX800. Final specs have yet to be revealed as this article was written, but it’s more likely than not to feature a Kaby Lake platform and SLI GTX 1080s when released. It will also feature a full mechanical keyboard with RGB lighting, and of course the ROG watercooling dock. With purposebuilt gaming machines already so powerful, ASUS turned to customization—both vanity and functional—for the DIY community. Custom 3D printed parts will soon come to an ASUS motherboard near you, and more interestingly the ROG Avalon prototype DIY PC that’s tries to merge case and components as one modular setup. Not to be left behind, MSI has also been very aggressively wooing gamers and they’ve got a whole slew of newly updated notebooks and a really cool Aegis X desktop PC. However, MSI has been furiously pushing the VR agenda, working with Intel, NVIDIA and HTC to get most of their PCs and notebooks VR ready. Even if you’re not using an MSI-based PC, they are offering a generic VR Boost Kit you can install on any chassis, to help provide easier access to the ports you need for a VR headset setup. Of course, your PC needs to have VR capable hardware. If MSI’s commitment to a VR future isn’t clear enough, they’ve even got a backpack VR PC setup so you can experience VR games and applications with freedom of mobility. There’s also the bonus of additional safety since you no longer have to worry about tripping over cables. This certainly seems like a workable concept, and there’s no doubt that the design will shrink further to be more portable, but there is no doubt that VR will play a huge role in gaming moving forward.
If MSI’s commitment to a VR future isn’t clear enough, they’ve even got a backpack VR PC setup so you can experience VR games and applications with freedom of mobility.
Greater options for the consumer is always cause for celebration. One can only hope that the increasing amounts of money and attention paid to the PC gaming industry doesn’t escape publishers’ radars, as leapfrogging ahead of console hardware would be a waste when the games themselves remain capped. Similarly, it’d be great if more developers gave console owners the option to tailor their gaming experiences. We’ve seen Bethesda extend modding support and Team Ninja granting Nioh players the option between 1080p 30fps or 720p 60fps – perhaps the PlayStation Neo and Project Scorpio would be an incentivized start down that direction. We’re on the cusp of some exciting changes. Virtual reality will soon be in the hands of even more players, forcing companies and developers to release actual working titles rather than tech demos. The console ecosystem will finally bridge the gap to true 1080p gaming, arriving at what has long been promised for the current-gen systems. And aspiring PC gamers can, at last, make that first step they’ve been saving up for. Some of these developments may turn out disappointing, but they only serve to make the highlights all that more satisfying. 2017 will be an interesting year indeed.
The console ecosystem will finally bridge the gap to true 1080p gaming, arriving at what has long been promised for the current-gen systems.