Ken Levine is a Failure

There are two things all leaders should do. The first, is take the fall. The buck should stop with them. The second is to ensure that there is an effective tier of leadership below him-, her- or them- self to continue in the event of a disaster or simple departure to prevent the ship from ever being without a rudder.

Steve Jobs at Apple managed to do just that. The second time. The first time, egos meant that the lower tier led a coup and eventually damn near tanked the company. The second time around, an effective group was groomed over a decade to ensure an effective succession. And lo and behold, Apple is no weaker since Steve left and was ultimately lost.

At Nintendo, the home console business has imploded spectacularly. From the top of the pile in 2010, to enduring an embarrassing no-holds-barred beatdown from rivals Sony just three years later. Satoru Iwata made a bad call to wait so long on the Wii U. They probably had reasons - costs and difficulties in development and so on - but mistakes were made. The Wii U was about two years too late to execute on the strategy it represents. Iwata stood up, held out his hands and admitted his fault, and promised to redouble his efforts to fix it. The buck stopped with him, and he said so publicly. He did the same with the 3DS's mis-fire of a launch and turned it into a hit.

Microsoft were in crisis last year because Steve Ballmer fundamentally failed at both taking blame and building a succession plan. A few years ago, Microsoft was positively lousy with potential future CEOs. Ballmer ultimately forced all of them out of the company, one way or another, and never took responsibility for the failed visions that were holding back so many of Microsoft's operating divisions. It eventually cost him the support of founder Bill Gates, and now Microsoft is to be retooled by its new CEO, with his help. It will take time. There are open wounds.

Ken Levine is like Steve Ballmer. He is a failed leader. He lead a group of talented people and steered them per his vision, and they made a game. I didn't like it, you probably did, but it doesn't really matter. No matter what you think of BioShock Infinite, it was a failure financially, costing far too much and taking far too long to be profitable with anything less than mind-blowing sales, which it did not achieve.

There are credible arguments that it failed in terms of gameplay, narrative or in marrying the two as well, though those points are far more debatable. There is a common thread though. Anything about BioShock Infinite you can say failed, can be traced back to one man. The guy with the vision. The one calling the shots. Ken shaped the team, he pointed the way, he was responsible for the themes and the choice of gameplay style. He was the classic auteur. BioShock Infinite was his baby, more even than Titanfall is Vince Zampella's.

Its failures are his failures.

Ken still has a job, most of the people working for him don't.

Apparently Ken will go on to make smaller games with a small subset of the existing Irrational employees. The BioShock franchise will live on with 2K, but apparently keeping around the people who made those BioShock games to do that for them was not feasible. The implication is that 2K and Levine do not think those guys capable of conceiving of a new BioShock and building on it without Ken. If that's true, it is to Ken's eternal shame that he failed to impart that knowledge and ability to his subordinates, failed to engender an environment where new creativity could flourish.

Really though, does anyone believe that? That those guys couldn't handle the BioShock franchise, considering they built it? It's simply not credible to claim the series is in better hands being farmed out.

The game failed because Ken failed. Maybe 2K was going to shutter the studio because of that either way, but why is it okay for Levine, who should ultimately be held responsible, to get a secure job pursuing his creative interests, while the guys on the front line get the chop? Why does he think that's okay? Why is he willing to stay with 2K if this was their idea?

It just raises too many questions. And there are precious few answers.

But I know one thing for sure.

Ken Levine is a failure.

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In Memoriam: Ryan Davis

I still haven't really managed to come to terms with the idea that Ryan's infectious laughter won't be here to lift our spirits in the future. I can't imagine how those who actually knew him personally must be feeling, and my thoughts and my heart are with them at this time.

In Ryan's memory, I want to share with you the earliest thing I can remember he and Jeff doing together which has really stuck with me. It's from a whopping ten years ago, and it's the phrases "$20 is $40 too much for Dragon Ball Z: Ultimate Battle 22" and "Hey Jeff, remember the first time we played Dragon Ball Z: Ultimate Battle 22?" which really stuck with me, probably because of Ryan's fantastic delivery.

This whole video is a fantastically honest and entertaining production considering it's just a couple of minutes long, but the fact Ryan's words here have stuck with me, popping into my head to elicit a chuckle at random ever since, should indicate just how good Ryan was at what he did. He is, already, sorely missed. This world is so much poorer for having lost him.

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Xbox One Debacle Redux

So, yesterday, Microsoft did a one-eighty on their consumer-hostile disc-based game DRM policies. All through today, some people have been lamenting the loss of the Xbox One Family Sharing plan as a part of that. As it turns out, they shouldn't have been. It turns out, it was going to be awful. One of the architects of the Xbox One has (allegedly) posted the following information on PasteBin. It's got more than its fair share of crazy, and I'm going to respond to it paragraph-byparagraph.

It’s 4am and I’m still up, some hours ago, we at Microsoft had to basically redact on our Always Online infrastructure and dream. Being part of the team that created the entire infrastructure to include the POS (point of sale) mechanisms I must say that I am extremely sad to see it removed. But the consumer knows what is best, I can place the blame on no one but us here at Microsoft. We didn’t do a good enough job explaining all the benefits that came with this new model. We spent too much of our time fighting against the negative impressions that many people in the media formed. I feel that if we spent less time on them and more time explaining the great features we had lined up and the ones in the pipes gamers and media alike would have aligned to our vision. That stated, we felt the people we would have loss would have been made up by the people we would have gained. We have 48 million Xbox 360 users connected online nearly 24 hours a day. That is much more than any of our closet competitors and vastly more than Steam. The people that we would have left behind I feel would have eventually come around as they saw what advantages the platform had to offer. But as I previously stated we at Microsoft have no one to blame other than ourselves for failing to convince those hesitant to believe in our new system. Microsoft might be a big company, but we at the Xbox division have always been for the gamer. Everything we’ve done has always been for them, we have butt heads with the executives many times on what we’ve wanted to, some times we lost (removing the onboard processor from Kinect 1.0) and other times we’ve won (keeping Gears of War as an exclusive).

Okay, right off the bat he's off to a bad start, because he just tried to characterise "making Gears of War an Xbox console-exclusive" as being something done for the benefit of gamers. Now, on some level, I'm sure there are Xbox fans who were pleased Gears never went to PlayStation. But, really, nobody but Microsoft benefitted from that.

While publishers have never come right out to us at MS and say “We want you to do something about used gaming” we could hear it in their voices and read it in their numerous public statements. The used gaming industry is slowly killing them and every attempt to slow down the bleeding was met with much resistance from the gaming community. I will admit that online passes were not well received nor were they well implemented, but I felt given time to mature it could have turned into something worth having as a gamer much like DLC (we went from pointless horse armor to amazing season passes like Borderlands 2!). Videogame development is a loss leader by definition and unlike other forms of media videogames only have one revenue stream and that is selling to you the gamer. So when you buy a game used you’re hurting developers much more than say a movie studio. Many gamers fail to realize this when they purchase these preowned games. It is impossible to continue to deliver movie like experiences at the current costs without giving up something in return. It’s what gamers want and expect, the best selling games are blockbusters, the highest rated are blockbusters, the most loved are blockbusters. How can developers continue to create these experiences if consumers refuse to support them? Many will argue the development system is broken, and I disagree. The development system is near broken, it’s used gaming that is broken, but regardless I think more emphasis on this from both us at Microsoft and publishers would have gone a long way in helping educate the gamer, but again it is us who dropped the ball in this regard for that we’re sorry.

Here we have a tired re-tread of the false idea that used gaming is killing the gaming industry. It really isn't. If it was, used sales would be killing every entertainment industry that has them. Further, there is absolutely zero reason to believe that eliminating the used option would lead to more sales of new games, and every reason to believe it would just mean less sales overall. But you all know this. Hell, even the third party publishers have had to start begrudgingly admitting this. Used sales allow the new game buyers of the future (kids) to develop interest in franchises they will be loyal customers to later. Used sales contribute to the ecosystem. But again, you all know this. Microsoft was fundamentally out of touch with the real world on this.

Next, he suggests Online Passes might have evolved into something positive for consumers. That's...Certainly dreaming big. I fail to see how that is even conceptually possible myself. Maybe you guys have some idea what the hell he was getting at? I sure don't.

Anyway, he moves on to blaming consumers for the industry being inefficient and not generating enough money, whilst adamantly refusing to accept the idea that if you can't afford to produce something you should probably find a cheaper way to produce it. He's blaming consumers, and then he almost flat out calls consumers stupid, saying that Microsoft needed to 'educate' consumers about how unfair it was of them to want to pay less for games, as if seeking the highest possible value is somehow a behaviour unique to gamers and not something any rational consumer does. Frankly, it arguably becomes more insulting as he continues, because no sooner has he implied we're stupid and Microsoft are a benevolent force seeking to enlighten us, than he tries to walk it back by dropping a quick "but it's our bad" - without, actually, retracting the implication that consumers are wrong and Microsoft alone knows what's best.

Going back to Xbox One’s feature set, one of the features I was most proud of was Family Sharing. I’ve browsed many gaming forums and saw that many people were excited about it as well! That made my day the first time I saw gamers start to think of amazing experiences that could come from game sharing. It showed that my work resonated with the group for which I helped create it for. I will admit that I was not happy with how some of my fellow colleagues handled explaining the systems and many times pulled my hair out as I felt I could have done a better job explaining and selling the ideas to the press and public at large. I’m writing this for that reason, to explain to gamers how many of the features would have worked and how many of them will still work.

I find this kind of incredible. He seems to be implying there was absolutely a clearly-defined, succinct set of principles and ideas. If that's the case, why did employees like himself not simply produce a simple, one-page memo for the likes of Don Mattrick and Phil Harrison to memorise? Anyway, more on this later.

First is family sharing, this feature is near and dear to me and I truly felt it would have helped the industry grow and make both gamers and developers happy. The premise is simple and elegant, when you buy your games for Xbox One, you can set any of them to be part of your shared library. Anyone who you deem to be family had access to these games regardless of where they are in the world. There was never any catch to that, they didn’t have to share the same billing address or physical address it could be anyone. When your family member accesses any of your games, they’re placed into a special demo mode. This demo mode in most cases would be the full game with a 15-45 minute timer and in some cases an hour. This allowed the person to play the game, get familiar with it then make a purchase if they wanted to. When the time limit was up they would automatically be prompted to the Marketplace so that they may order it if liked the game. We were toying around with a limit on the number of times members could access the shared game (as to discourage gamers from simply beating the game by doing multiple playthroughs). but we had not settled on an appropriate way of handling it. One thing we knew is that we wanted the experience to be seamless for both the person sharing and the family member benefiting. There weren’t many models of this system already in the wild other than Sony’s horrendous game sharing implementation, but it was clear their approach (if one could call it that) was not the way to go. Developers complained about the lost sales and gamers complained about overbearing DRM that punished those who didn’t share that implemented by publishers to quell gamers from taking advantage of a poorly thought out system. We wanted our family sharing plan to be something that was talked about and genuinely enjoyed by the masses as a way of inciting gamers to try new games.

And this is where it gets ridiculous.

The way Family Sharing was understood, based on Microsoft's vague FAQ, people shared to would have full access to the game. Nothing ever implied otherwise. The questions were all about how many people could use how many games at once, and what the prerequisites for being included in someone's sharing plan were. Now, to be fair, he addressed the latter, and the requirements were indeed at the more positive end of the readings people had of the FAQ.

But here he is, trying to make us believe that Family Sharing was this huge, mind-blowing revolution...And what we find is, it was actually way more limited than the version we were all imagining, which we were still not universally sure was worth the tradeoff. His whole aim in writing this was to convince us the old Xbox One philosophy was better after all, and it turns out it was actually worse than we imagined when we rejected the idea in the first place.

This is stunning. I cannot believe Microsoft actually thought this was going to win people over to their policies. I mean...Look, at PlayStation Meeting 2013 (Sony's two-hour 'The Future of PlayStation' reveal of the PS4), Sony had the CEO of their newly acquired Gaikai service reveal that Sony plans to allow every game on the PSN Store to be tried before purchase, instantly, by streaming the game. Now, sure, Microsoft was going to let the games run natively and we don't know if Sony's option will allow progress to carry over to the full game (It's unlikely to). But, on the other hand, you don't need to be in a friend who has the game's sharing group. That's one less hoop to jump through. Microsoft's solution is really not that impressive. Frankly, it's kind of pathetic. Fifteen minutes? Are you kidding me? It'd take longer to download & install the game!

The motto around the offices for the family plan was “It’s the console gaming equivalent to spotify and pandora” it was a social network within itself! The difference between the family sharing and the typical store demo is that your progress is saved as if it was the full game, and the data that was installed for that shared game doesn’t need to be erased when they purchase the full game! It gave incentive to share your games among your peers, it gave games exposure, it allowed old games to still generate revenue for publishers. At the present time we’re no longer going forward with it, but it is not completely off the table. It is still possible to implement this with the digital downloaded versions of games, and in fact that’s the plan still as far as I’m aware.

No, it's not even remotely like Spotify or Pandora. OnLive Pass is like those things. PSPlus's Instant Game Collection is even arguably like those things. The Xbox One Family Sharing Plan was like BlackBerry Messenger Music. BBM Music was a colossal failure. You know why? Because you couldn't access any music your friends weren't sharing, which meant there wasn't a lot of use to it. Twitter's #Music has the same problem. This kind of "sharing" of content is way too limiting. People prefer discovery where they can passively see what their friends are into and then check it out for themselves. Something like seeing "Sarah Greene earned a Platinum Trophy in Knack" and then going and playing the game. Accessing a gimped version of someone else's library is like (though still inferior to) being at their house and browsing the shelf. It works, sure, but it's a much less passive experience for both parties, and that makes it a bigger hassle.

It's certainly not some major innovation that justifies the DRM policy on disc games. It does nothing that Sony's PS4 isn't doing anyway - and as noted above, Sony's PS4 is arguably doing it better.

Another feature that we didn’t speak out about was the fact we were building a natural social network with Xbox One in itself that didn’t require gamers to open their laptops/tablets to post to their other friends nor did they need to wrestle with keyboard add-ons. Each Xbox Live account would have a full “home space” in which they could post their highest scores, show off their best Game DVR moments, what they’ve watched via Xbox TV and leave messages for others to read and respond to. Kinect 2.0 and Xbox One work together and has robust voice to text capabilities. The entire notion of communicating with friends you met online would have been natural and seamless. No reliance on Facebook, or Twitter (though those are optional for those who want them). Everything is perfectly crafted for the Xbox One controller and Kinect 2.0 and given that shine that only Microsoft can provide.

I'm not going to waste too much time on this, because it ties into the same thing about the feature not being all that unique. Both Wii U and PS4 also feature bespoke social networking features which can show off high scores, screenshots and video. Microsoft guy seems to be implying that the integration of Kinect with this stuff makes it much better, and for some gamers maybe it is. But many of them, myself included, think barking orders across the room and waving hands around like a flight-traffic-controller are crummy ways to control a TV experience, so that really isn't all that much of a plus.

We at Microsoft have amazing plans for Xbox One that will make it an amazing experience for both gamers and entertainment consumers alike. I stand by the belief that Playstation 4 is Xbox 360 part 2, while Xbox One is trying to revolutionize entertainment consumption. For people who don’t want these amazing additions, like Don said we have a console for that and it’s called Xbox 360.

And he closes things up by being a total dick. As if the rest of his article wasn't already enough of a pile of shit.

There's a reason this posting is anonymous. If the name was attached, this guy would be getting the Adam Orth Special. This is the exact same horrendous messaging that Microsoft made the change to get away from. In fact, it's arguably worse, because this guy genuinely seems to think this is an improvement on the message coming form the likes of Don and Phil Harrison. He explicitly said he was frustrated about how much trouble guys like them were having articulating his "vision".

Well I got news pal, I liked it better the way they described it, and I hated that shit. What does that tell you about your revolutionary vision?

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What a difference Seven Years can make

I recently stumbled back across this, from the folks at Sarcastic Gamer:

It amused me remembering just how badly Sony started the Seventh Generation compared to Microsoft, considering how thoroughly the tables have turned. In some ways, it lends hope to the idea that Microsoft can come back from their bad start. Of course, Sony had some help in the form of a few stumbles from Microsoft like the RROD, but generally it was their own course correction which saved them. Maybe Microsoft will learn from their excellent example of disaster recovery.

Anyway, listening to the song again, it made me wish someone would do something as funny for the current situation. I'm sure someone will. I would do it myself, but I'd need some kind of musical talent to do it well. In the meantime, I was overcome with the urge to at least re-write the lyrics.

So I did:

Step 1, You make your console cost the most,

You Beat your chest and proudly Boast,

Instead of good exclusive games

You make a bunch of ridiculous claims,

Then ignore our need to play offline

Forced to connect to Xbox Live

Use Kinect, Which I don't need

Now you're getting your ass kicked by Sony

Redmond you went wrong, with your Xbox One

We don't want clouds, just games that are fun

Hope this song has helped, you understand

Now you know, How You Killed Your Brand.

Phil Harrison yeah you know best

Except you didn't Beta Test

Sure I can watch TV

But I can't trade in Witcher 3

Say 499 Don't worry you

Because you offer Kinect 2

But Kinect 1 sucked before

So what made you think we wanted more?

Redmond you went wrong, with your Xbox One

We don't want clouds, just games that are fun

Hope this song has helped, you understand

Now you know, How You Killed Your Brand

Redmond you went wrong, with your Xbox One

We don't want clouds, just games that are fun

Hope this song has helped, you understand

Now you know, How You Killed Your Brand

Redmond you went wrong, with your Xbox One

We don't want clouds, just games that are fun

Hope this song has helped, you understand

Now you know, How You Killed Your Brand

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Greatness Awaits

Going into this week’s Electronic Entertainment Expo, I was as jaded and cynical about the video gaming industry as I have ever been. In years gone by, for every E3 in the past eight years, I have gone in excited to see what was going to be shown. Ready and eager to be wowed by the big three platform holders. Usually, at least one always did manage to excite me. More often than not, it was Nintendo, whose fun-first games design philosophy has always really spoken to me. But many a time, Sony showed a Killzone 2 or Microsoft a Halo: Reach (Halo. But with jetpacks) or what have you, and I was as delighted with their showing as I as when I first saw Nintendo’s Wii in action, in 2006.

Last year though, nothing anyone had to say about home consoles enthused me especially. Nintendo’s Wii U revelations were neat, and it’s undoubtedly a cool bit of hardware, but not in a “huge leap forward” kind of way. And aside from the interest in the exciting newness of Wii U, nothing but 3DS games really caught my eye and made me go “wow, I need to own this!”.

The back half of last year, I got Halo 4, Epic Mickey 2 and Borderlands 2. There were some other games I was interested in enough to have played if I had more money, but nor was I sat in my room before E3 2013 thinking “gosh I missed so many good games”. I’m going to be playing XCOM: Enemy Unknown from tomorrow, thanks to Sony generously giving me a free month of PSPlus, and I have wanted to check it out. But it was the game’s coverage upon its release at Giant Bomb which got me interested in that game, not E3 2012.

Really, I left E3 2012 feeling throughly bored. Very little in the home console space felt new, exciting or fresh. The PS3 and Xbox 360 were still pushing Call of Duty and Fifa and Madden…I’m so done with Call of Duty I can’t even describe it. It bores me to tears. And seemingly every other game being touted was an out-and-out clone of it.

Microsoft’s damp squib #XboxReveal event, where they unveiled the improbably named third Xbox; the Xbox One; compounded my feelings of detachment and boredom with the console gaming mainstream. All I could see were games I’d either had my fill of or never wanted to begin with. Sony’s “The Future of PlayStation” PS4 reveal event left me with a slightly more positive impression a while before, but it was too early to say for sure if the games were going to draw me in.

Microsoft’s event in particular presented a vision for the future of gaming which, to me, was a total non-response to everything that was wrong. It was as if Microsoft were oblivious to how expensive and unsustainable things were. As if they saw no problem with assembly-line sequels to generic games with little creativity. As if the rise of the increasingly high-quality and inventive indie games on platforms as diverse as iOS, Android, Windows, OS X, Wii U, PlayStation 3 & PSVita was mere rumour and conjecture. Here then was a console which would do what AppleTV and Roku already do at a significantly lower cost (and without the recurring subscription fee Microsoft demands for Live Gold to get at the media streaming services) and also play a load of painfully unexciting games which are virtually indistinguishable from the ones you’ve been playing for the past seven years. Except for those powered by EA Sports Ignite, which are distinct in that the engine makes character models more detailed but a million times less believable.

I had been told to wait for Microsoft’s E3 Press Conference. There, it was said, Microsoft would roll out the games that make the Xbox One worth a damn. Well; after confirming ahead of time that yes, they are – unaccountably – messing around with the existing game sales model; Microsoft trotted out first at E3 and showed some relatively interesting games. None that made me sit up and really go “whoa”, but some decent ideas that had some nice graphics. Then they said they wanted £429.99 for their console. A price eerily similar to the one Sony charged for the PLAYSTATION 3 (£425), back before they resolved to make amends for their hubris in planning that system’s launch. Nothing I saw from Microsoft, game-wise, justified that cost of entry.

So then, it fell to two of the third party juggernauts to have their say. EA and Ubisoft. EA said the magic words for me with “Star Wars Battlefront”, but I was (at the time) disappointed that it was coming to platforms I wasn’t planning on owning. Nothing else they showed particularly excited me. Their next-gen sports titles continue to look horrible, and their presentations annoyed me with their superfluous buzzword names for minor physics and graphical subroutines. Ubisoft showed a couple of games I was already interested in (South Park, Watch_Dogs, Assassin’s Creed 4) but had nothing new that piqued my interest. And to be honest, I would go on to be more enthused by the Assassin’s Creed and Watch_Dogs demos in Sony‘s Press Conference than those in Ubisoft’s own.

Then came the wait for Sony, with me in a sort of “Meh” sate of mind. Nothing I’d seen of E3 had yet completely sold me on the continuation of the big-budget high-end video game. However, I had less reasons to run in the opposite direction than previously. If nothing else, at least they had stopped parading Call of Duty in front of me as if it was new, and had instead shown things like Watch_Dogs which are a bit more inventive.

Sony nailed it. They sold me games-wise. Kingdom Hearts 3′s mere announcement was a standout, along with the demos of Assassin’s Creed 4 & Watch_Dogs (As I mentioned), the trailers for inFamous: Second Son & Killzone: Shadow Fall, the procession of great looking indie games like Transistor, Outlast and the Abe’s Odyssey remake and…Well, the real jaw dropper was Bungie’s Destiny. I was already mostly on board with the game conceptually. But seeing it in action floored me. It combines the appeals of Halo, Borderlands and MMOs into a gorgeous package. For me, it looks very much like Destiny is the next big thing – succeeding, with any luck, the painfully repetitive Call of Duty. And probably obviating the need for more Halo.

Then, as if that wasn’t enough, Sony confirmed the PS4 will not lock down games with draconian DRM, won’t require online authentication checks and is coming in £80 ($100) cheaper than the Xbox One, at a more than reasonable £350 for the 500GB hard drive equipped machine (And yes, it ships with a headset in the box, undoing a frequent PS3 frustration – unlike the Xbox One incidentally, which instead includes the divisive KinectOne. Also in the box is an HDMI cable, undoing another PS3 foible). Their hardware is significantly more attractive too, evoking the much-beloved PS2.

Indeed, the only bad news from Sony was them putting multiplayer gaming on the PS4 behind the PSPlus paywall. But with online entertainment services like Netflix still available on the free tier (Unlike on Microsoft’s platforms), and PSPlus being so compelling a service as it is with Instant Game Collection that I was planning to buy at least a year’s worth later his year anyway, I wasn’t particularly phased by that.

You can buy a PS4 and a year’s PSPlus, and be set for a year. You’d get a new game every month, for an upfront cost less than the price of one new boxed game. It’s tremendous value. Which is the key thing here. Xbox One, and the vision of the next generation it follows, and which I was afraid of, is terrible value for money. PS4, in stark contrast, is terrific value for money. I’m on board. Sony, you’re PS4 is my number one pick among next generation hardware.

So where does that leave Nintendo? They went earlier today with a slightly more understated event, a Nintendo Direct @ E3 broadcast. They didn’t blow me away. But nor was I disappointed. Mario Kart 8, the latest entry in my favourite franchise, looks fantastic. Similarly, Super Mario 3DWorld and the new Super Smash Bros pair look like wonderful new games. And the Wind Waker HD remake sure looks pretty, and having not had a chance to play it the first time around anyway, its lack of out-and-out newness doesn’t really bother me. Oh, and on a handheld aside, the new Pokémon games look like must-haves.

Definitely a more attractive slate of exclusives on the Wii U than on the Xbox One, for me at least. I’m still interested in having a Wii U, but now it’s behind the PS4 in the queue, so to speak. A PS4 I am willing to buy any time I can from launch day onwards. With the Wii U, I can wait at least until Mario Kart 8. If Nintendo are smart, they’ll do a Mario Kart 8 bundle, and I’ll probably buy that. It seems likely, given the success they had bundling Mario Kart Wii with the Wii.

So there you have it. E3 2013, when I was successfully brought back into the core gaming fold. Bravo Sony, keep on trucking Nintendo, make Battlefront good EA, for the love of god, just make it good. And Microsoft…Well, there’s always the integration of Bing with Apple’s Siri to console yourself with.

(Oh yeah, that reminds me, iOS 7 adds gamepad support, so AirPlay games are about to get a lot more awesome. That happened yesterday too. It was a busy day.)

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Generation Xerox

It took me several tries to succinctly write down my thoughts on this subject. I finally did so satisfactorily in a comment on Reddit, which this Blog post is based on...

Like many (though by no means all) other video game fans, I was pretty disappointed by Microsoft's Xbox One reveal. Aside from a name which gets stupider the more you hear it, and is even worse when abbreviated (XONE), the Xbox One strategy is such a non-response to the problems in the gaming industry at the moment. And there are many. Not least of which is how expensive the kinds of games we buy on discs for home consoles are, both to buy and to produce.

Microsoft have made one concession, I suppose, in the form of switching to x86 processors to make porting between console and PC easier (a concession which only really matters because Sony independently picked the same architecture).

That doesn't help all that much though, because the cost of producing assets is going spike significantly, as it has already been doing, with relatively little improvement in gameplay terms to show for it. These triple-a games are still going to be too expensive to produce more than a few a year, sell for too high an MSRP for consumers, and Microsoft (though not Sony) is making life difficult for independent developers by requiring games to have a publisher, at a time when independent developers are the ones producing all the more innovative and exciting games (which, not coincidentally, are also generally the games which don't need next gen horsepower to delight us). Nintendo and Sony are, by stark contrast, actively courting indies.

Similarly, the Xbox One was rolled out with very few games to show, and the ones they did show are just the same old yearly franchises rehashed, and another high-minded effort to conflate games and movies or high-end TV shows which will be hyped to shit and inevitably flop like that idea does every generation. Microsoft may rectify it at E3, but arguably that's too late. They get to make one first impression, to tell us what their new box is about. And it's not about games, let alone new experiences in gaming.

It's about all the other forms of entertainment - the cheaper ones which actually do not NEED a $400 box and a monthly LIVE Gold subscription fee to be enjoyed on the TV because AppleTV and Roku have been around for YEARS already and cost under $100. And on the gaming side, it promised another five to seven years of EA shoving out a very slightly tweaked Fifa or Madden every year and Activision developing a new CoD engine now and churning out glorified expansion packs based on the game that launched it until the cows come home.

That really isn't going to keep working. This business model is unsustainable, so Nintendo are trying new things. So is Sony to some extent - though their box is likely to be just as too expensive as Microsoft's and I doubt the third parties will do much more than continue as they are on Sony's hardware either, so it'll be up to SCE to produce the innovative games. Microsoft surveyed a changed media landscape and a video game market in desparate need of disruption and said "let's stay the course".

For the time being, the only next-gen console I can see myself definitely buying is the Wii U, because it's cheap, it does some novel things to keep things interesting and it will let me play some of my favourite games, like Mario Kart, in HD for the first time. Beyond that, it's Sony's vision with the PS4 that I find most convincing. Nevertheless, the likely cost will prevent me from seriously considering investing in their platform until...Gosh, probably after E3 2015 at the earliest. The Seventh generation may have been too long, but in many ways I really don't see the world being ready for these new, expensive beasts.

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GameSpot Cross Giant Bomb: It's good being home

Wow.

We're back under the watchful eye of GameSpot.

GameSpot X Giant Bomb is not something I had even the remotest idea was a possibility.

Two years ago, I'd have probably accused you of heresy if you suggested that it would one day happen.

And yet here we are.

The Giant Bomb Staff, including the always fantastic Hardcore Dave, are in the same CBSi Offices as our old friends at GameSpot. And instead of finding it weird and intrusively corporate...

I find it totally bad fricking ass. GameSpot Cross Giant Bomb? Best idea Giant Bomb has had in a while. Seeing Jeff, Vinny, Brad & Ryan back in the old stomping grounds - complete with the strangely familiar styles of cubicles and the iconic frosted glass offices...Damn. I actually got chills. These guys, in those surroundings, just feels correct.

It doesn't feel like we used to imagine it would in the event of a corporate takeover of Whiskey - like Giant Bomb is the conquered. It feels like we're coming home. We went off on a mad little adventure and found ourselves as this slightly unhinged group of geeks who do everything crazy, and now we're home, back with our friends, and even though everything's different, everything's the same.

Giant Bomb has distilled the old GameSpot Crazy (Jeff's "GameSpot is still crazy" from the now-infamous "Crazily Small Underwhelming E3" is a standout example) into a finely aged Whiskey which we all carry in our hip-flasks. And in the meantime, GameSpot has remained a behemoth, a titan in the industry with unparalleled production values combined with industry-leading editorial quality (IGN & GameTrailers can only match for production values, 1UP for editorial quality).

And now, the BAND IS BACK TOGETHER. Alex is on drums, Jeff's on vocals, Ry Mac's got his bass out, and I think I saw KVO prepping to do the warmup act.

Damn son. Get me some Rich Gallup up in this bitch and CBSi will win the entire freaking internet.

And the wounds of the past are finally healed, because now it's all been spelled out. And I have to say, from what Jeff said it sounds like it went down pretty much the way I called it in my now very old text dramatisation of events - except for the ending, but I like this ending better.

GameSpot Cross Giant Bomb presents an amazing prospect - having the Giant Bomb fun and the GameSpot resources all under one roof. I'm totally onboard with this. Change is good. This is going to kick ass. Some of you might know I've been a bit disillusioned with some of the direction of Giant Bomb for a while. And in part, it's because I was beginning to lose the feeling I'd enjoyed so much in the early days of Giant Bomb being home. I had started to feel like Editorial was drifting in a direction which didn't include me, and there was nothing I could do about it.

And then, all of a sudden...I feel like I'm at home again.

It's good to be home. Much love Giant Bomb. Glad to be back, GameSpot.

Here's my new GameSpot Profile & everything.

Jens Out

PS: Tested Cross Mythbusters? Also totally rad. But we must ensure Rorie & Screened land on their feet too. Puppies FOR LIFE. Whiskey Media. RECOGNISE.

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Christmas Letter 2011

Christmas Letter 2011

Season's Greetings Friends, Family & assorted hangers-on!

It's that time of year once again where many people choose to send each other nice simple Christmas Cards - short, sweet indications that they're thinking of you at this, the most wonderful time of the year. And, as has become tradition, I am instead wasting your time with this, my annual Christmas Letter, in which I reflect at unnecessary length on the year that was and, of course, the festive season.

So here I am, sitting in the glow of the unnecessarily large Christmas tree in my bedroom with my (infamous, and only partially accurately named) Xmas in Pompey 2 Spotify playlist filling the room with the sounds of Christmas cheer. Which sounds incredibly cheesy, but I've always said* it's not cheesy if you can think of something either as cheesy, or more cheesy, which is also less appropriate for the given situation. And I have:

A Margherita.

Now, with that out of the way, on to the reflecting on the year. And frankly I think nothing this year says more about our modern era than the way that godawful "Friday" song by Rebecca Black infected every facet of our lives over the course of about a month earlier in the year - and it already feels like it's ancient history.

Either the years are getting longer or we're finding more ways to do stuff in them. Luckily, Mark Zuckerberg has come up with a way to find out in Facebook Timeline, whilst Twitter continues to give us an avenue to voice our every trivial thought (And say bitchy things about the way candidates on The Apprentice choose to dress). And I for one welcome our new Social Media overlords. I'd like to remind them that as a trusted (Ahem) TV personality, I can be helpful in rounding up others to toil in their underground sugar caves.

Speaking of TV, the has been a great year for TV and I can prove it in just ten words:

The Simpsons has been renewed through its twenty-fifth season.

There have of course been some downsides though. The X Factor has unfortunately not been canceled yet, Big Brother was (Unfathomably) brought back and the BBC decided to hand over half their F1 (More on that in a moment) coverage to Sky Sports, which was probably not the best idea considering that they did so right at the same time as the entire country was furious with Rupert Murdoch, News Corp & Sky over the flagrant corruption & use of phone hacking. As own goals go, the BBC pulled off a belter there.

Oh and while I've got you, I still say Germany should have won Eurovision again. Yeah, I'm still bitter about that. And what?

Anyway, I said I'd say something about Formula 1. Ignoring the fact Vettel made the whole season rather dull with his overpowered Red Bull car (I really don't think it's fair that he gets a car which gives you wings), this was still a cracking year with some all-time classic races, including the 2011 Canadian Grand Prix, the longest race in F1 history (A record it will hold forever as the rules have now been changed to prevent races running as long as that one did).

Also, over the two-year period since Jenson Button joined McLaren, he's outscored Lewis Hamilton. At the risk of saying I told you so, I TOTALLY FRIGGING TOLD YOU SO.

Ahem…Anywho, I suppose I should say something about some other sports for the sake of balance, but they're going to have to be eternally true platitudes because I barely pay attention to most of them so er…Manchester United are evil, cricket is dull & tedious, Rugby is vaguely homoerotic etc. etc.

Also if I don't mention video games, the citizens of Giant Bomb (dot) Com will probably shoot me in the knee with an arrow. I don't fully get that joke because I never played Skyrim (Too busy playing The Legend of Zelda IN THREE DEE on my 3DS), but they make references to it all the time on Reddit so I guess it must be pretty funny. The biggest thing in games this year for me was probably the return of Pokémon. Oh god how I played a lot of Pokémon.

So then, with that all out of the way, I leave you with this topical reference to both 2011 & 2012 in the form of a brain teaser:

If you ask Siri to schedule "the end of the world" for December 21, 2012, does that make you God if the world does end then**?

Have a

Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, Helluva Hanukkah, Perfect Pancha Ganapti***, Delectable Dies Natalis Solis Invicti***, Dignified Quaid-e-Azam's Day***, Marvellous Malkh-Festival***, Kwazy Kwanzaa, And a Happy New Year,

Your Pal,

Paul Douglas.

* Not true. I've never said that.

** No, no it doesn't. That would be stupid.

*** Look it up.

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The Counter Culture #1: Counter Culture Weekly gets a Re-boot

The Counter Culture Franchise returns with the first edition of the Counter Culture Weekly Re-Boot, 'The Counter Culture', an inaccurately named pop culture podcast about movies, game, TV Shows, music, anime and more. In this first edition, your intrepid hosts Paul Douglas and Tom Kline run down their reactions to the Press Briefings held at the 2011 Electronic Entertainment Expo.

Check it out!

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First Thoughts on Nintendo 3DS

It’s here, at last. I got my Nintendo 3DS on Thursday alongside copies of Pilotwings Resort from Nintendo and Super Monkey Ball 3D from Sega. As many of you will know, I’ve been excited about the 3DS right from the start. So, now I’ve got my own (In Aqua Blue - Team Blue FTW), has it lived up to my high expectations, or has it left me disappointed and frustrated like the current PSN outage?

The first impressions I ever had of a 3DS in person were at my Student Union, where i got to try out Pilotwings Resort and Super Street Fighter IV 3D Edition. Upon starting using the thing for the first time, back then, my immediate thought was “Oh my god”. The 3D effect, even though I had known it was coming and had heard numerous times that it worked, blew my mind. Here was a little device which was opening a window to a tiny world beyond, where dinky toy planes are piloted by caricatures or Ryu beats the snot out of some fat guy (I, uh, I don’t know much about Street Fighter. Only one I ever owned was Alpha 3 Turbo...Or something like that).

To my surprise, the experience was repeated when I first started using the 3D on my own 3DS. Somehow, each time I come to use it, it continues to impress. The only times I have turned the 3D off have been times when I’m playing Augmented Reality games like Face Raiders which require moving the console around. In standard games, and indeed in the menu, the 3D adds too much eye candy to turn it off. And further than that, it genuinely improves the experience, far beyond simply looking pretty.

What the 3D does, is make the depth we’ve been seeing since the PlayStation/Nintendo 64 era relevant. Whereas before we were looking at videos of expansive exotic locales, with the 3DS it’s like holding those places in the palms of your hand. A window to, rather than a video screen of, far flung places of adventure and fantasy. And this, in turn, makes the experience not only more engaging and visually arresting, but also in many ways easier to interact with. With the 3D in Pilotwings, you can deftly manoeuvre your plane or glider or jet pack around obstacles - even those which partially obstruct your view - with an ease unattainable in 2D. The ability to actually perceive the depth makes a considerable difference to your navigation abilities.

3D is something of an enigma. It’s long been something we’ve strived for in the world of technology, but nobody’s ever really demonstrated that it’s more than a novelty - in video. That I think is a big part of the problem, we’ve been too hung up on the idea of “3D Movies!” or “3D Sports!” to really consider that neither of those things benefits, in a significant manner, from the addition of 3D. It looks pretty, sure, but not enough to justify the downsides.

In games though, the advantages become apparent as soon as the dorky glasses are ditched. No longer is the screen dim or the experience cumbersome. With the Parallax Barrier Auto-stereoscopic 3D of the 3DS, you see the benefit, sans drawbacks, and begin to feel that 3D is not pointless, it’s just that it’s been misused.

The other thing it’s made me realise, from watching the 3D Video Nintendo has installed on the systems “For a Limited Time Only”, is that most live action footage does not lend itself to current 3D technology. Certain scenes in the video look great - shots of a bear by a stream, a flower opening and some fireworks at night for example. Others however are jarring and bizarre to behold, notably shots of dense forestry spring to mind. This suggests to me that 3D video works best with simpler compositions, likely because the eye is under less strain from being tricked by fewer points of reference.

To this end, I wonder if 3D video would be best served by animation. Having never watched a 3D movie (Owing to the fact I wear glasses and find wearing the 3D glasses over them uncomfortable on top of not being particularly keen on the screen dimming effect) I can only speculate based on my 3DS experiences. However, I find myself feeling that if Nintendo were to start selling 3D movies for the 3DS I would be interested in, say, Toy Story 3 or other animated features but would skip pretty much any live action release.

So far, I’ve been having a lot of fun playing with the 3DS. The Circle Pad is a revelation in analogue control, and begs the question of how Sony got it so wrong on the PSP. The circle pad is better even than some analogue joysticks of the current era. It’s just so comfortable and easy to use, I sometimes wonder how I ever got by without it.

My two choices of launch games are, so far, holding my attention well. Pilotwings Resort is a liberating adventure in flight which can be as relaxing or thrilling as you like. Super Monkey Ball 3D, meanwhile, offers three distinct experiences (Monkey Ball, Monkey Race and Monkey Fight) of which one is supremely enjoyable (Monkey Ball) and the other two are fun in small doses, if a little unpolished in places.

I have yet to try out all the features of the system - I’ve not fired up AR Games: Augmented Reality yet, so my AR Cards remain to be tested and 3DS Sound remains to be explored - so there’s still more fun to be found with this little box of tricks. I’ll be back with fuller impressions later.    

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