The Bard vs Next Generation Gaming

21 Nov

Originally penned for JTM Games, Nov 20, 2013.

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“To PS4 or not to Xbox, that is the question:
Whether ’tis better, another console in mind —
Nay a Nintendo. Forsooth a PC?
All be it in gravitas for what
Divine Janus may offer in the New Year.”

— Ed “The Vintage Tempest” Sum

Sony’s PS4 has some impressive specs and interesting features like using an iPad for a second screen, but that’s not enough to convince me to own a unit yet. The Xbox One has an improved Kinect but that’s not a huge selling point. The videos of various games demos for both look great in high-def, but the list of games available during launch week are scant. They are not as wide and varied as I hoped.

The current line of exclusives are not all that interesting, and there will no doubt be some hardware and software kinks that need to be ironed out. There were reports over the weekend about the PS4’s ‘blue light of death,’ an analogy that brings to mind Microsoft’s infamous ‘red ring of death’ back when the Xbox 360 released. At least .4% of the people who bought the system were affected. I suspect the figure is larger but when considering the number of units that flew off the shelves in stores on launch day. That is not a good start.

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With the Xbox One to release this week on November 22, I’m not waiting with bated breath to pick up this unit either.

When looking at the list of games available to try — Killzone: Shadow Fall, DC Universe Online, Injustice: Gods Among Us, Warframe, War Thunder, Contrast, Blacklight: Retribution, Escape-Plan, Flow, Flower, Pinball Arcade, Putty Squad, Resogun, SoundShapes, Switch Galaxy Ultra, and Trine 2 — I can not say any of these titles has caught my attention. A few of these titles in this list are also cross-platform titles too, so that’s not particularly exciting. And when I have more RPG-style games in my library than any other, there is hardly anything true to this category to make me play my days away. If a Square Enix or Monolith Soft title was available in this first salvo of titles, then yes, I would be waiting in line. Instead, I am rather cozy with what I have to play at home now.

A well made role-playing game is all I need. I enjoyed the Final Fantasy and Elder Scroll series, but its a shame that none have topped what Richard Garriott did with Ultima with his character building exercises. He also strikes me as the type who will not develop for a console system, and that’s a reason to stick to a traditional desktop computer for gaming. Each system will have their exclusives, but I am no die-hard over what’s out there now. The only three series that come close are God of War, Wild Arms and Zelda.

I can immerse myself into those worlds with ease, and I am still waiting for Avatar: the Virtual Role Playing Game so the world of Pandora can truly come alive. Yes, I’m ignoring the much panned video game from 2009. If it does not get developed for the console, then a decked out PC with the latest CPU & GPU will offer the same display and CPU pounding capabilities. When I have read reports and forum posts from Forbes and Gamespot making the same analogy, that only affirms what I knew about these console’s technical specs.

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Even the PS4’s inability to play external context and to connect to my Bluetooth headset has deterred me from buying. I should note the XBox One is able to handle alternate media right off the bat. And fortunately, there are zero-day patches to enable CD and MP3 support, but when the neither unit can not play 3D Blu-ray content [1], that’s no big loss. Gamers who have a 3D television will be in for a disappointment.

And when I last checked, the PS4 does not look like it’s DIVX/XVID/MKV certified. It seems to me that many of PS4’s features are being locked down because it can not be perfect out of the box. I’m hoping certain content features will be unlocked, otherwise I will stick with my mobile. The PS Vita integration is nice, but I’m looking at my cherished classics like Final Fantasy, Wild Arms Saga (including XF), Beyond Good and Evil and Zone of the Enders.

They may appear as a digital download or port for the PS4 at some point, but I am not taking my chances. The company’s advice is to find a used console to keep around, but my crowded entertainment center has no more room! Why should I pay more money to get a new distribution of a game I paid the full price for? I really like to see emulation of all the past PlayStation models and since I have the original games, to slide that in will make the PS4 all the more appealing. I know cloud based distribution is the way of the future, but there are retro game collectors who like to be able to play those original discs.

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I do not want to retire my PS3 or advise people to get rid of their XBox 360 either, because quite simply, both units have plenty of good years left in their lifecycle.

But if I truly want the latest and best in gaming gear, the PC is honestly the way to go. That’s what the PS3 and XBox One contains underneath all the plastic. Other than a few customized AMD chips and a re-engineered pipeline to push the bits and bytes around with, a PC can do just the same. The only distinction is with the exclusive games developed for these consoles. And I’m sure there will be improvements to what a ‘Compute Engine’ can do. This ambiguous new technology sounds like a nod in engineering design to what Jay Miner pioneered with the Amiga — to delegate other computational tasks like audio and graphics rendering to its own separate processor — but this iteration can handle more, like resolving in-game physics, calculating game geometry and creating artificial intelligence responses all within the graphics card. Both consoles features several processors to handle this, but since computer programmers still have to learn how to fully utilize this Compute Engine, none of these early game releases will truly be exceptional.

Only the future will hold better promises for what the games developed for the PS4 and Xbox One can do. When the computer programmers fully realize these console’s capabilities and have in-game characters come alive with their own AI, that’s when I will be sold.

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