The new consoles are almost here and the entire gaming press is wringing hands and wagging tongues. There is a lot of talk about what the hardware can or can't do, different online strategies, and social networking hooks. I think it will all come down to the stores.
I’ve said before how I think that this generation will see the end of disc based games. Discs certainly have a function, that is, allowing people to easily and quickly store, transport, sell, purchase and run a huge volume of data. By the time you drove to a store, purchased the latest Naughty Dog Game, and then returned home to put it in your PS3, the download of the same game would only be a fraction complete. Network speeds are nowhere near what they need to be to reliably deliver tens of gigabytes of data to millions of players. But that’s only if you have to download the whole game before you can start playing.
Netflix, youtube, and Hulu only exist because video can be streamed. If you had to wait for the entire movie or show you want to watch to be downloaded in it’s entirety, none of them would function. In fact the web would barely function. stuff gets streamed to you everytime you open your browser. Little bits of information gradually filling in the mosaic of a web page. Games, to this point haven’t had to worry about streaming. They were all contained fully in plastic cartridges and plastic discs.
A few massively multiplayer games on PC use streaming to shorten the wait times on players while kilometers of digital terrain downloads in the background. To be fair that aforementioned Naughty Dog game, The Last of Us, could be played after 50% of the game had been downloaded to your system. The Last of Us is a 50GB game, so 50% of that is still going to take a handful of hours on fast broadband. The new consoles have streaming built into the architecture. A downloaded game should be playable within a few minutes, while the bulk of the games content continues to download in the background.
So here is what is going to happen. A year or two into the new consoles, a couple of premiere titles will appear as a download first, or even download only. One of the smaller publishers will stop putting games on discs. Not long after, disc releases will be a novelty item reserved for AAA, top sports franchises, and special edition releases. How on earth can I be so sure? This already happened on the PC a few years ago and, with the inclusion of streaming at the system level, the consoles are positioned to follow.
The PS3 store started out as an abysmal mess. Through the years it has improved massively. The current PS3 store is almost as simple and user friendly as Steam, GOG, or Origin, which is saying quite a bit. It has a little way to go before it can equal those services, but it’s more a matter of evolving the current system and layout.
The XBox 360 store started out janky but not unusable, became quite usable, and then became a miserable pile of smoking garbage. The store on the 360 is a slow rolling train crash, that Microsoft seems to be unwilling, or unable to correct. Seriously, when you put an item on sale it probably means that you want to sell that item. A lot of that item. You put that sucker right up front in everyones face, you don’t bury it 7 layers deep. Do they use their own interface? Its madness in there.
I haven’t really used the Nintendo E-Shop recently, so I’m not sure how it stacks up. From what I remember, I would classify it as “serviceable”.
On the PC Steam and GOG are juggernauts. They have taken the lessons of Amazon to heart and created stores that actually help you find what you are looking for, and present you things you didn’t know existed.
When the discs fade away, these stores will be where the games will come from. Providing a place for customers to actually find and purchase games will be more important than any minor variance in hardware clock speeds or internal memory bandwidth.
Well holy flying weasel balls! The Ouya is actually working! I can turn it on and have both picture and sound. Like, both, at the same time. On the same old ass TV. How can this possibly be?
This was the issue. Our TV is one of those older, HD ready jobbers. This means that is can display a 720p signal or a 1080i signal but not a 1080p signal. The TV has a dvi input that can downscale a 1080p signal into something that it can use, but dvi doesn't carry sound, only picture. So to get both the picture and sound out of a single hdmi cable, I had to run it into a converter that split it into component video and stereo audio. So I went and got the thing that did that and filled all its holes full of cables.
Turns out the converter box is smart and the tv is stupid. The Ouya is putting out a 1080p signal and the converter diligently converts and then passes along that 1080p signal to the tv. The TV then promptly failes to display anything useful.
Knowing that the ouya can put out a 720p signal, I went looking for any way to lock the output of the little grey box to that lower resolution. I even tried sending terminal commands to it from my pc. No dice. I thought that I might be able to have the converter tell the ouya to output a 720p signal, but the converter is having none of that. It's a completely non discriminating converter. If the ouya says 1080p, well that's good enough for the converter. Converter don't judge, man.
And so, the ouya sat there for weeks, building up a tangy dust frosting. Until this:
That's the thread where some kind soul created and posted a set of mods for the Ouya. One of them purporting to lock the hdmi output to 720p. I tried it. It worked. The Ouya now sends a signal that all the digital nonsense between it and my eyeballs understands.
So now that I have all that worked out I can finally give you my impressions of the thing.
It runs xbmc real well.
Best Games - Bubble Bobble
Now, if you don't think this song is the greatest song ever, I will fight you. That’s no lie.
- Ron Burgundy
Unless someone can prove otherwise, I think that the music for bubble Bobble may just be the happiest music ever written.
There was a Bubble Bobble machine at the front of the candy store in my hometown. It sat beside a Jackal machine, or Top Gunner, if you’re a heathen. Since you could drive a Jeep over dudes and launch missiles at tanks in Jackal, Bubble Bobble didn’t get much love. But while you stood there fighting tyranny, or whatever it was you were supposed to be doing in Jackal, that Bubble Bobble machine was bleeding pure joy.
Everything in Bubble Bobble floats. The bubbles your little dinosaur creature exhales zip rapidly across the screen before drifting lazily upward. The enemy creatures you trap in those bubbles rock gently like leaves on the wind. Your jump follows a slow breezy arc, rising briskly and falling back down with a sleepy pace. Gravity is daydreaming.
Happy Music. Happy movement. Happy Game.
The Ouya still sits there, weeks later. A silver cubic gargoyle. A totem to my lack of foresight. I'll at that son of a bitch with both picture and sound one day. I may have to buy a new TV to do it.
For a young medium, video games sure do soak in the nostalgia.
Retro games, pixel art, 8-bit sound. These are badges of honour for the long time gamer. We were there when it was all new man. Games were better then. Fresh. Exciting. Everything now is just a rehash of a rehash. No one has any new ideas.
What I have just described is a path to hipsterville, paved with the incomplete remembrances. No one wants a carbon copy remake of that old game. No one. You might think you do. The name of your favorite game might be in transit from your brain to your tongue right this second. Just hold on to that.I like a lot of older games, especially arcade games, but they are not how you remember them. Sure a lot of them are still fun. They are fun in exactly the same way as they used to be. Games do not improve with age, but neither do they degrade. You change, they don't.
I used to think that somehow decoupling the art from the game so that it can be continually refreshed as new technology allowed, could make certain games evergreen. No need to design a new game, just make that old one look better. I could not have been more wrong. It's like thinking that printing a book on glossy paper will improve the prose.
Pixel art and 8bit sound are valid expressive choices, just as black and white or bleach bypass is a valid choice for the cinematographer. But it is that, a choice, and it needs to be made with some consideration. Games were not better then. Nothing was. That's not to say that everything is better now. It's not. Everything is a product of its time. The only advantage we have now is that our options expand every time someone builds something new. That new thing, it didn't come out of nowhere. It is built on the legacy of every new thing that anyone ever came up with. Each thing, and each person a product of their time.
So go ahead and make a retro game, make a game in a genre that isn't currently in vogue, even remake an old game, but do try to put something new in there. Something different that you came up with. That will give everyone who comes after you something to build on.