The Great Kinect Hoax

In September 1969 a rumour started to circulate that Paul McCartney had died, replaced by an imposter. A pale imitation of the former or exact replicant? Within the hugely passionate Beatles audience, this was treated with suspicion and curiosity in equal measure. The rumour refused to go away as there was enough of a kernel of truth/curiosity/morbidity in something that seemed impossible. The tale has it that in 1967 Paul had died in a car crash. Fans scoured Beatles albums for references and clues trying to uncover the truth, a 1960’s comparison to the code-cracking Redditors of 2012. The Beatles press editor refuted the rumours. Could such an incredible feat have been pulled off in plain sight of a global audience?

In 2009 Microsoft, the Keyser Söze of the technology world, introduced Kinect to the world with an astonishing display of smoke andmirrors. Promises were made and ideas spread that would never materialise, this was the death of Kinect before the introduction of the imposter that would go on to commercial release. This was the greatest trick Microsoft ever pulled, convincing the world that the potential of Kinect existed. For Microsoft, unlike Paul, the car crash came after the idea died.

But how can this be true? Kinect claimed the Guinness World Record of being the “fastest selling consumer electronics device” be selling 8 million units in 60 days.  posthumously it will become apparent that the great Kinect Hoax of 2010 sold consumers on a promise that could never be fulfilled.

What’s more frustrating? That the promise of Kinect was never realised, or that as consumers we were lied to.

The most damning evidence is the Milo and Kate demo. The demo presented a brave new vision of game interaction, that was the reason I bought Kinect. In hindsight it was a scripted sham, never to be realised. Having lived with Kinect, watching it now feels like an obvious pantomime. In short it was a lie. Kinect is a lie.

What we were offered were a series of shovelware titles that were stillborn, unresponsive and in many cases simply didn’t work. Never has there been a platform with such a dire software catalogue that remained on the market. The average score for all Kinect titles is 64% veering between Dance Central at 86% and Fighters Uncaged at 32%. As it turned out Kinect was ill-suited to pretty much all input schemes. The best ideas utilised in the launch titles have never been matched.

The best Kinect game? Easy. Happy Action Theatre from Double Fine. Aimed at Pre-Schoolers: the only example of exciting emergent gameplay mechanics by recreating the kind of cheap parlour tricks usually reserved for exhibits in ‘futurist’ Science Museums. Even now, three years after the E3 announce developers still cannot make Kinect work: Steel Batallion is a stunning example of how incapable Kinect is as control input and has a Metacritic of 39%. Kinect software simply isn’t improving after three years. A clear indication that Kinect is fundamentally flawed.

Living with Kinect (as a non game input device) is like having a petulant toddler controlling your console, one that doesn’t listen, is impossible to control and returns results and commands that have no bearing on the original input. It make simple tasks utterly exasperating. Microsoft’s insistence on pushing forward with Kinect is a clear illustration of foolhardy reliance upon segmentation data and lifestyle surveys.

Kinect is flatlining. Its time to pull the plug.

Who shot Kinect? … How ‘The Gunstringer’ went awry

‘The Gunstringer’ infuriates, dissapoints and charms all at the same time. A difficult feat to achieve.

As the poster boy for the only valid pure Kinect mature experience, ‘The Gunstringer’ is the mature breakout hit on the platform that wasn’t.  The fundamental issue for Twisted Pixel was outside of their control, Kinect. Kinect artificially restricts the freedom given to game designers by a control pad. Microsoft would claim this as an oxymoron, as freedom was a central pillar of the Kinect experience.

Ironically, giving freedom to gamers has tied the hands of game designers.

The best Kinect games take gesture based input, or control schemes based upon familiar actions. Finesse and accuracy aren’t fundamental to Kinect (yet); and as such a game based upon aiming and shooting was always going to struggle. Even so, in ‘The Gunstringer’  the reticule is astonishingly forgiving, a little like playing CoD with a bazooka where every enemy is the size of a barn. The most imprecise gesture summons a rewarding lock on. The main problem? It feels hollow and unrewarding. Leaning  from cover is a flick of the left wrist. Is this immersion? Nah. The basics of this game would have improved a thousandfold on a controller. Twisted Pixel nailed the 2D platformer (Ms Splosion Man) with precise, infuriating level design that was punative and rewarding all at once. At no point do you ever feel frustrated by the controller input, just your ability. At every point ‘The Gunstringer’ feels like shadow boxing the Stay-Puft man. However, it’s nowhere near as amazing as that sounds.

‘The Gunstringer’ shines in terms of characterisation;  the premise of  a demented marionette hellbent on revenge is impossible to resist. Sadly, the gameworld is inconsistent. In a world based on the bizarre, its still a mish mash with some levels looking like they were ripped straight out of Little Big Planet, some created from a splash of Monty Python, and then within the game universe itself;  a lack of internal consistency, that manifests in oversized kitchen cutlery and water made from hand-sewn blankets. Its not odd or eclectic … it just feels half baked. Breaking the fourth wall is, simultaneously, the games greatest achievement and folly.

The game feels as though its been stretched to justify a packaged release. Originally slated as an XBLA title the game morphed into a packaged title, its painfully apparent in sections such as a steamboat ride where only the left hand is utilised, or the endless waves of paper enemies who explode into confetti in a dark cardboard environment. The latter feeling so sparse on content that it felt like the scenery would fall over at any moment to reveal the developers sniggering in the background drinking tea. Publisher pressure feels like it influenced the game design for the worse. The reason is simple, ‘mainstream’ Kinect games don’t buy XBLA titles, to broaden the games reach it had to be on a disc. This is incongruous as all of Twisted Pixel’s previous titles had been digital only.

As a digital developer at the vanguard, a packaged release felt like betrayal.

‘The Gunstringer’ feels like the kernel of the right game, botched and rerubbbed then released on the wrong platform for the wrong motives. And that’s a real shame.

How GameLine foreshadowed Xbox LIVE [by Twenty Years]

Meet the GameLine

In 1983, the prospect of downloads to consoles was unthinkable to many.

Bjorn  Borg had just retired from Tennis, the last episode of M*A*S*H had just aired and most importantly the NES launched. In hindsight it feels like the dark ages.  In 1983 GameLine appeared. GameLine looked like an oversized Atari 2600 cartridge, and was a dial-up modem that could download games to your console. In 1983 the Atari 2600 was six years old, only a  year earlier the ‘Darth Vader‘ iteration had come to market. For the record, this was a nickname.

"Xbox LIVE, I am your father!"

The prospect of downloading games at that point was effectively ‘science fiction’. The English nation was still wrestling with loading games onto the ZX Spectrum from cassette, downloading may as well have been alien technology, and effectively was. Alien tech it appeared was everywhere, as in 1979, Kane Kramer invented the first digital music player, in 1981 he filed his UK patent application. The early 80s was clearly tin foil hats and Mel Gibson all the way. However it wasn’t until 1996 that Audio Highway made the first commercially available MP3 player in 1996. Apple wouldn’t crash the party until 2001. Xbox LIVE wouldn’t be launched until 2002.

So why did it take so long from inception to marketplace success? In simplest terms the infrastructure simply wasn’t there, from a technological and cultural perspective. Dial up connections in 1983 were the preserve of scientists, nerds and maths teachers. The rudimentary wonders of the 2600 were enough visual shock and awe  for a generation. The high street was still king and the internet was ‘never going to take off’. GameLine typifies an inherently disruptive technology that would pave the way for those following it. The challenges GameLine faced are still evident for services like Onlive today, publishers were inherently suspicious of GameLine meaning that many top-tier game never appeared on the service, none of the key third parties at the time supported the service (such as Atari, Activision, Coleco, Mattel, and Parker Brothers).

GameLine went bust in 1983, but key members of the team became integral to the success of AOL. Whilst it didn’t have the connected gameplay features of LIVE, that honour would fall to the Dreamcast in 2001, it did introduce online leaderboards. Almost two decades later Xbox LIVE supported by a global corporation finally nailed the proposition and infrastructure. Relatively speaking, the global Xbox LIVE remains small (35 Million current members), but indicates that the experiments made thirty years ago were entirely on target. R.I.P GameLine.

 

 

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Playstation

PlayStation 3 vs. Xbox 360

Affinity is a bitch. Humans gravitate to certain things. Preference.

Gamers like football/music/literature fans globally become torn by affinity.  For gamers the battle lines delinenate by platforms. Platform holders promote and encourage the points of difference. Killer software = system sellers. The marketing mathematics is simple. Gamers are split down the middle … the platform agnostic and the fan-boys. The seventh generation is typified by three viable, concurrent home based platforms. The flag in the sand came from the X360 in 2005, and as an Xbox fanatic it was easy to make the jump to 360. Case closed.

By 2007, the arrival of Playstation 3, my allegiances were already clear. It wasn’t until 2008 that I felt compelled to actually pick up the Dual Shock. Even the launch of Uncharted hadn’t been enough to sway me. The positioning felt too close to X360, and there wasnt a clear and immediate need for me to invest time in another platform. There was also no Gamerscore which by that point had already got me in its insidious vice-like grip. Only Little Big Planet had intrigued me enough to make the leap. LBP was a system seller, a unique experience unlike any other, powered and empowered by PlayStation 3. The game was jaw dropping.

Then nothing … There wasn’t another experience as compelling on PS3. I went right back to X360.

The PS3 served as a Blu-Ray player, then an iPlayer experience that all but eradicated any scheduled TV viewing. The PS3 had become part of daily life, in a context that I had never anticipated. It still struggled to compete for gameplay time. However in post E3 2011, PS3 feels like the vanguard of core gaming. Standing alone with a purity of gameplay experiences that I’d overlooked before.

Two tasks stand in my way. Finding a local meeting of Gamerscore Anonymous and training my hands to accept the Dual Shock. Muscle memory is a cruel mistress …

Does File Size Limit Creativity?

Xbox Live Arcade in 2004

The current file size limit for XBLA is 2GB. Since the service started on December 3, 2004 the file size has been slowly creeping up. Previously the Xbox Live Arcade file size capped titles at 50 MB to accommodate consumers who purchased the hard drive-less Xbox 360 Core SKU (those consumers had to use one of Microsoft’s memory cards). As consumers migrate to larger and larger hard drives (a 250GB Xbox 360 slim retails for £159.99 in the UK), the file size restriction of 2004 are starting to become increasingly irrelevant. But its clear these users are the whales as the Kinect bundle for 360 only comes equipped with 4GB of storage. Having said, this represents a huge leap forward from the fact that 360s we retailed as an arcade bundle with no hard drive at launch.

Storage is ubiquitous, accepted and dropping in price each year. Yet again, Moore’s Law flexes its influence.

So if, conceptually storage represents no issue for the consumer and home users are frequently leaping to 2 terabytes and beyond (2TB now retails for as little as £60), there is no real issue about keeping XBLA title throttled at 2GB. The issue is that Xbox currently only supports a maximum hard drive of 250GB, whilst PS3 has supported 500GB hard drives since 2010. The 360 Elite launched with 120 GB.

These artificial restrictions to supported storage capability are becoming increasingly redundant as the migration to the cloud becomes inevitable. Cloud storage is not the silver bullet for games consoles, as the ability to stream the game world from a server-based source could dictate the experience. The solution would be to ensure that local storage and broadband speed compensated for any degradation in game experience. Onlive and Gaikai overcome this issue by pushing back video feeds delivered from remote servers. Onlive is dependent on local area connections. The issue with Onlive is can it deliver an experience comparable to disc or local storage? .

All of these points are symptomatic of growing pains in an industry destined for the cloud. Physical manufacture is irrelevant, storage is disposable, and the primary issues surround the continuing acceptance of the consumer to accept ownership that they cannot touch, or in the case of the cloud, cannot even see as a retained file size.

In the case of XBLA and PSN file size has been of little consequence to the innovation and development on the platform delivering some of the most compelling game experiences of the last decade. The questions now remain about the role of pricing, physical retail, customers perception and delivery speed.

How to buy Video Games at Car Boot sales: A practical guide

The History

The Car Boot sale is a peculiarly British phenomenon, that can be traced back to the early 1970s. Father Harry Clarke kicked off the idea , a Catholic priest from Stockport, who had seen a similar thing in Canada. The Car Boot sale has survived even after the advent of Ebay. Their existence is a testament to the fact that some people are either reluctant to sell their tat online, incapable or prefer not to. Car Boots are utterly random, a cornucopia of oddments in a field that you couldn’t imagine if you tried. Looking for a Foot-Spa, go to the carboot. Looking for a fondue you can fill with Baileys? Car Boot. Looking for an amateur oil painting of an oil rig on fire? You get the idea…

This is a guide for those brave, stupid or reckless enough to ‘dig’ for games at Boot Sales. Record ‘Digging’ gave birth to sample culture and is well documented. Everything else is just collecting …

The Basics

  1. Car boot sales are nationwide in the UK and happen most weekends from Spring to Autumn. For the hardy there are many that take place through the year, these are usually in desolate and soul-destroying car parks near to low rent supermarkets and abandoned buildings. The best car boots are in a field on sunny Sunday morning. More details here.
  2. Take change and plastic bags. Sounds basic, but if you don’t have a bag (supermarket carriers are best as they identify you as classless) you will be frowned at and if you have a note over a fiver, there will be a drama like you have never seen. “Twenty pound notes? … Didn’t even know they existed mate …”
  3. Dress down. If you look like you have slept in a dumpster more the better. Don’t get dressed up. Walk hunched if you can. Grunt when you talk.

What will you find?

In short, a field of unimaginable second-hand debris sold by one of two groups of people:

  1. Traders: The scourge of the Car Boot. These are easy to spot. They will be smoking (irrespective of time or day), likely to have tattoos on their hands and generally quite shifty looking. Most likely ‘Geezers’. They usually have a large van that calls out some kind of business that doesn’t always look legit. it’s often scaffolding, car modifications or house clearances. There stalls are usually larger than everyone else, spilling in every direction, often with a sea of tat at jacked up prices. In the case of games, there is a long tradition of selling DVDs and many of these traders have moved into games. The problem is that they have no idea what is good from bad so arbitrarily price games as high as they think they can get away with. The issue with traders is that they will turn up at 7am sweep the remainder of the sale for the items they are looking for and then resell. If you are buying from a trader you will always get a worse deal. I warn you.
  2. Private Sellers: These are ‘normal’ people, who have a bunch of things in their house that they don’t want. Games are only a small part of what they own, so be alert, quick and be prepared to ‘dig’. They are easy to spot, they look like a family, and seen keen to get rid of the stuff they loaded their car with the day before. They ideally want to go home with an empty car and a few quid in their pocket. Mum’s who have cleaned out their son’s room when they have gone to university are a prime target.

Know the Market

As mentioned briefly above there is very little understanding of the market value of games. In comparison to other Car Boot items they are premium items. It’s common to see 95% depreciation in price on other items such as books whereas games still command a relatively high price. As soon as anyone sees a PS3 or 360 game they will charge well over the odds. As a comparison an average quality DVD will go for 75p to £1. Be aware of current second-hand prices through visits to the High Street or check online with a site like CEX. It’s common for current gen software to be priced for near to their high street second-hand value. If you are alert, you can avoid this.

Many traders are now pitching all Xbox games as backward compatible. Around 400 titles are, so there is plenty to dig for. Go here, print out the list and put it in your back pocket. Traders hate it when you know more than they do. If you are a serious gamer you will also have a better chance of knowing the gems than they do. A raft of PS1 and PS2 games are also playable on PS3. Go here for the list. Dont forget the Wii also plays Gamecube games.

If you buy retro you are potentially in for the find of a lifetime, with GBA, Gameboy, Megadrive, SNES, NES and PSP titles all very well represented (often unboxed). I have seen 3DO and laserdisc game but they are very uncommon. The totally unexpected could be one carboot away!

Always check the condition, if in doubt don’t buy!

Look out for hardware, there is often little power on site to test hardware, so buyer beware! having said that if you are looking for a 360 debug they turn up more frequently than you might imagine. The image below is a Xbox debug, look out for them! If you are buying handhelds carry a pocketful of the relevant batteries.

Also look out for hardware bundles (many remain boxed), bought as gifts and remain relatively unused. PS1, PS2 are ubiquitous, and very easy to find. Mega CDs are also more common than you think.

Promo games are common and are the same as retail version but don’t include a booklet. They often have no sleeve (PS3) and x360 games have a greyed out cover with a large flash across the cover. The game discs themselves are exactly the same.

The Price

The price is rarely marked, so involves a  mind game of the trader guessing what you are prepared to pay, and you trying to get them down on price. Use discretion, but don’t be scared to haggle. A deal can always be done. Have a price you think is fair in mind, don’t go above that. You can usually tell from the off, if there is room to move on the price. The better deal is always done with private sellers not traders who will move from one boot sale to the next, whether they sell stock on the day or not is not a major concern.

Don’t Forget: This is not easy (and often not fun)

Most of the time you will get there at 7am, find nothing and meet some characters better suited to a gnarly RPG than a field in Surrey. However perseverance pays off and you need to stick at it. At this point I suppose I should say something motivational to encourage you to sacrifice your Sunday mornings, not so. You stay in bed and let the wild-eyed game diggers do their work, feverishly outwitting the elements to build collections you can only dream of.

Keep up … we’re already three steps ahead of you.

Are Video Games consoles globally irrelevant?

Some call it witchcraft I call it a calculator. These have been working overtime recently at Strategy Analytics as they concluded:

… you might be surprised to hear it; but Sony’s PlayStation 3 has passed Microsoft’s Xbox 360 in one key respect: the global active installed base of consoles … the global active installed base of PS3s reached 43.4M at the end of 2010. This exceeded the equivalent number of Xbox 360s by 43.9M. [Strategy Analytics] … estimate that the overtaking manoeuvre happened during December 2010 as the holiday season reached its peak.

At this point its worth triggering the Auto-Caveat-Creator™. If you look at the VG Chartz figures X360 is in the lead, based on ship figures and the greatest stumble in console history (The Red Ring Of Death) has dealt a heavy blow to the active installed base:

[Strategy Analytics] ownership models apply assumptions about device retirement life cycles to console sales data on a regional and global basis.

Strategy Analytics had been effectively tracking the Wii and predicted a peak mid 2011, that would be passed by PS3 in 2013 and Xbox 360 in 2014. Their method is robust. So what does this mean? All in there are about 175 million active consoles globally. The DS and handheld iOS platforms are currently tracking around 150 Million each.

Including handhelds: publishers, developers and interlopers are fighting for a slice of a 55o million global device pie, about 40% of the population of China. In this context, as a global phenomena, console penetration is slight. Global PC penetration currently estimated at 1.2 billion worldwide is dwarfed by the population of China, only global TV penetration outstrips it

The developed nations are housing coveted publishing powerhouses and platform holders, that are yet to admit PC gaming is dead and Game Consoles are irrelevant.

Bring on the 8th Generation.