Thoughts on the Next-Generation Consoles

First, I have to start with a disclaimer: I’ve only watched a scant few minutes of random highlights of each console presentation. For the time being, I’m actually trying to remain totally disinterested because I already have 70-ish Xbox 360 games I still need to finish up, not to mention various PC games (most being MMOs which “never end”) so I’m in no rush to fork over several hundred dollars for a new black box in my living room.

Xbox One

Stupid name, which will quite possibly lead to confusion among certain segments of would-be consumers, and quite possibly taken advantage of by eBay-ers selling their old original Xboxes which are typically referred to as the Xbox 1.

Mandatory Kinect. On the surface, I like the improvements over Kinect for Xbox 360. Only a few feet needed to operate, but can be adjusted to scan the entire room and recognize up to six people by visual and voice. Good stuff! For my uses, Kinect is only good for voice commands and one of the issues I have with my Kinect on the Xbox 360 is I’ll be watching something on Netflix or whatever and the Kinect thinks it heard a voice command so it will pause or exit to dashboard or what have you. Annoying as hell, and I finally just unplugged the Kinect as a result. Maybe Kinect 2.0 fixes that, but if not, it’s going to make for some angry viewers.

TV Integration. I don’t watch a whole heckuva lot of TV these days because of my job; I’m just not around when shows play “live.” I use Netflix a lot, Amazon Prime and Hulu+ a little. But when I do watch TV, I spend most of my time flipping through the guide to find things to watch. So the faster guide via the Xbox One is appealing – as is its ability to switch from task to task nearly instantly, a pet peeve with the 360 which takes minutes to become functional between tasks. Comcast is my cable and internet provider, and one of the integrated networks with the Xbox One so that is appealing. Merely being an interface to the cable box and the prospect of potentially needing a clunky old-school IR Blaster? Not appealing. At all. I’d much prefer a real solution that lets me get rid of 1970’s-sized cable boxes altogether.

Controller. I’ll have to reserve final judgement for when I actually hold one, but the thing looks like a throwback to the “I hope you’re an NFL player” sized original Xbox controller which was so unpopular Microsoft designed the S (Small) controller which in a fairly short time completely replaced the original controller and the S designator dropped. The S controller was sleeked and tweaked to become the excellent Xbox 360 controller so going back to a seemingly huge controller is baffling.

Skype. Cool and all, and Skype is light years better than the current voice codec on Xbox Live, which was even improved a couple years ago but is still not much better than the old Roger Wilco-era voice chat from the 90’s. However, I don’t want Kinect broadcasting a Skype Video session. At all. I’m up for using Skype as what it was originally designed as: as telephony app. I don’t do webcams, I don’t do video chat, and I don’t foresee changing my mind on that.

“Unlimited” friend list. About friggin’ time! Microsoft blamed the current limit of 100 on their old network code and specifically Halo 2. But then they took Halo 2 offline and everyone was excited for a friend list upgrade that never happened. It remains to be seen if the new friend list is truly unlimited or if it will indeed have limits but regardless, it will be a dramatic improvement for people like myself who are members of online gaming groups.

Online Authentication. Steam has been doing this for years? Sure, they have a buggy-as-hell-if-you-don’t-do-it-right-the-first-time “Offline Mode” but it still has to phone home every so often. Checking in every 24 hours sounds intrusive, and perhaps for some it is. Me? I won’t use my Xbox 360 because if it isn’t connected to Xbox Live any achievement I may earn isn’t time stamped. One of the uses I have for the Xbox Achievement system is tracking when I last played (or at least when I earned such-and-such achievement) and possibly comparing time stamps to my friends, that matters to me.

Pre-owned fees. Honestly, after the past couple years of Season Passes and publishers whining about pre-owned sales cutting into their full-price profits, anyone who didn’t see this one coming was fooling themselves. Doesn’t mean anyone has to like it though, especially since Sony isn’t doing it. I have to wonder if Microsoft just assumed the publishers were forcing the issue for everyone only to discover too late that wasn’t the case?

PlayStation 4

Back in the day, I was a Sony fanboy. PlayStation, Sony consumer electronics, PlayStation 2, you name it. Then Sony finally pissed me off with their “our way or the highway” every time you turned around. Proprietary everything, not going along with industry standards. So I rejected anything and everything Sony for roughly the past decade. I decided to ease up off my high horse and try out the PS Vita. It’s actually a nifty little handheld console (my first one ever) and I did subscribe to PS+ which got me a handful of “free” (ie. leased) games though PS+ is honestly far more beneficial to PS3 owners. The fact Sony is making PS Vita integration mandatory for PS4 games gives half an Appeal Point to the platform just so I have something else to do with the Vita. However, as illustrated with the Xbox 360 and their SmartGlass apps, I don’t always care to be switching my focus back and forth from TV to tablet. The teeny tiny little sticks on the Vita are horribly difficult to use accurately in certain game types, so I can’t really imagine using the Vita as a PS4 controller.

Sony Move is optional and not included. Good decision, and if it’s anything like the PS3’s Move there is absolutely no way in hell I would ever own it anyway.

Controller. I was ok with the PS2 controller but the Xbox 360 controller is superior in every way imaginable. The PS4 controller looks slightly larger than the PS3’s but that’s mostly due to the little touchscreen (here we got making me switch my focus off the TV again) but I’m willing to give it a shot if I do choose Sony’s console. Third-party manufacturer’s are already lining up making PS4 controllers that mimic the Xbox 360 controller design so really, that should tell Sony something about their ergonomics… Also, even back when I was a PS1/PS2 fanboy, I never cared for Sony’s symbol-buttons. X, Circle, Square, Triangle? Very thinly color-coded on black buttons? Try getting your non-gamer girlfriend to press a certain button and soon her character is dead because she’s still staring at the controller trying to figure out which button you’re talking about. For me, not only was A, B, X, Y easier to understand, it’s also easier to communicate but more importantly Microsoft’s buttons were brightly color-coded so I can simply tell my girlfriend “press the green button” and she can spot that instantly.

Party chat. Inferior hardware aside, this was a major reason I still do not own a PS3. The thing doesn’t have enough RAM for a separate discreet voice chat. The PS Vita has it, for cryin’ out loud. If I’m doing any online gaming with friends, I’m in an Xbox Party so we have our own discreet channel, not listening to the unwashed public spew their trash. Now that PS4 has this, I’m certainly open to the possibility of flying a PS4 flag someday.

Gaikai. I dislike the name, always have. I’m also not sold on Cloud Gaming, otherwise OnLive would have taken off, right? I guess OnLive worked “ok” for games that didn’t require fast latency and fast reactions, or so I’m told. My only experience is using Splashtop 2 to steam my desktop to my tablet and to say it’s less than satisfactory is an understatement. Still, Gaikai is a way to get PS3 games “playable” on both the PS4 and PS Vita, which can extend the lifespan of the PS3’s library and if it works, that can only be a good thing. I don’t recall Microsoft saying they were doing anything similar to handle the 360′s massive library for One owners?

Online Authentication and Pre-Owned? No phoning home? Trade your games? Let your friends borrow yours and you borrow theirs? It’s all good, man! Sony laid the smack down on Microsoft with that one. Microsoft’s announcement, whether it truly is the future we’re all looking at sooner or later or not, was clearly unanimously unpopular and gave Sony the opportunity for a hype knockout punch.

PS+ required for online gaming? Say hello to Sony’s equivalent to Xbox Live’s Gold membership! I suspect they would have done this already but it’s taken up til this past year for the PS3 to get any real traction that Sony couldn’t risk losing customers. Now they’ve got the customer base plus can hedge their bets on how many former Xbox loyalists may change flags over Microsoft’s unpopular restrictions one the One.

Upgradeable hard drive. This was made official this morning, though I didn’t see if it will be the same setup as PS3 where (I think?) you can buy pretty much any hard drive you want and slap it on the PS3 or if they’ll pull a Microsoft and design proprietary and drastically over-priced (glares at the PS Vita memory cards) hard drives. Update: Sony did indeed clarify they are continuing the PS3 policy of allowing any size hard drive to be connected to the PS4! This is great news!

The Games

This is what matters in the end. During the past decade, for me Microsoft has traditionally had better exclusives. Sony has had Naughty Dog and… that’s it. Another reason I don’t own a PS3: the only game I’d even consider is Uncharted, and I won’t buy a system for one game. (Sure, there are technically three Uncharted games, but… same thing for this bullet point.) Everything else I like that is available on both PS3 and 360 has a superior experience on the 360 so why spend money on a black box I don’t want cluttering my living room when I already have the better experience? Also, I’m not sure what the tipping point was or when it happened but I’m to the point now I just can’t friggin’ stand Asian games. JRPGs? GTFO! Anime graphics? GTFO! Androgynous children heroes versus adult villains with pedophiliac undertones? GTFO! That may not be a popular opinion with today’s (or perhaps more appropriately, yesterday’s) gamer but I like what I like and I’m sick of apologizing for it. Now, with this upcoming generation, it remains to be seen who will have the better games. The PS4 has some legitimately fantastic hardware this time (compared to the superior on paper only PS3) so

Now, a good deal of the current crop of Xbox One and PS4 games are also coming out for the 360 and PS3. The main advantage being simply the hardware upgrade involved. It doesn’t take much more than checking out State of Decay to see that the CryEngine 3 is taxing the Xbox 360, for example. State of Decay might be one helluva zombie sandbox but, for me anyway, the janky performance issues kept taking center stage so I’ve decided to skip the game. That said, even the current state of some of the playable demos shown at E3 yesterday were a bit off-putting. But I guess in light of the recent hullaballoo over Aliens: Colonial Marines everyone is showing their real games in their real current state instead of rigging a “presentation demo only” version. So now the “It’s Beta” apologists can migrate to consoles too, it’s no longer an MMO-exclusive phrase!

Bungie’s Destiny holds some promise, anyway. Titanfall… I dunno. On the one hand, it holds the “mech” appeal and seems better than MechWarrior Online. It actually reminds me of the old Shogo game except you can actually get out of your mech in Titanfall. But on the eye candy side of things, much as everyone makes fun of Call of Duty for (up til now) still using their modified Quake 2 engine, Titanfall is using the Source Engine. Source has its fans, and it allowed Respawn to crank the game out quickly but Source is definitely lo-fi visuals these days… Seeing MMOs finally on (both!) consoles is encouraging. DCUO, Planetside 2, Elder Scrolls Online… those sounds great for console adaptation.

Live Streaming

Both consoles are jumping on the live streaming bandwagon. Microsoft immediately got the upper hand by announcing the popular Twitch service will be integrated with the One. Twitch did clarify that it is not an exclusive agreement and they want to be on as many devices as possible, but for streamers the One clearly has the advantage here. Sony on the other hand takes second place with their announcement of Ustream support. Anyone with experience using Ustream from either end of the stream equation knows why you don’t hear Ustream mentioned very often. But with this announcement it’s likely some major work will go into Ustream’s pipeline to prepare for the PS4 so perhaps it will end up being a viable contender after all.

Meh

I still have a “wait and see” attitude and I don’t expect either platform to be truly appealing until sometime late 2014. Plenty of time to slowly work on my Xbox 360 backlog! I’ll be honest, though, even in my current “meh” phase, the PS4 is shockingly sounding like the friendlier place to be.

5 thoughts on “Thoughts on the Next-Generation Consoles”

  1. So… good article with solid assessments, but what’s up with you opening line on Xbox One? Parents who mistakenly buy their kids the wrong console because they’re not in the know must be shitty parents who only want virtual babysitters? That’s a little uncalled for.

  2. They did say at some point that you can now “pause” Kinect 2, so that will (hopefully) be a way to stop it from picking up commands from whatever movie or TV show you’re watching.

    On buying the wrong console… what’s going to confuse things even more is that new Xbox 360 that’s designed to look like an Xbox One.

    For this Sony fan-boy, it was quite a coup to see Ted Price from Insomniac up there pitching and Xbox One exclusive!

    I pre-ordered them both, just to secure a place in line. I can always (and probably will) cancel one or both pre-orders before they ship.

Comments are closed.