Review of the Month; Dual Shock 4

These reviews are rarely well thought out. Well, this time I had a complete idea what to review, but the mail never delivered the item in time, so I’ll have to move the planned review to a later date and think up whatever I have at hand. The thing is, the poll I had on Twitter some time ago resulted in most people wanting me to review something video game related, and I’ll be sticking to that result to a larger extent. No more knife or sharpener reviews, unless something tight comes by. However, I’d still like steer away from the usual review-a-game model. Peculiarities are where it’s at, at least for me. Controllers, system designs, cartridge reviews and so on probably will be the more mainstay element. You’ll see more or less normal game reviews anyway by the end of the year with Top 5 entries.

All that said, I did mention I’d review PlayStation 4’s Dual Shock 4 some months ago. Think this as future proofing to have a point of comparison for the upcoming third-party controller review. I’m always looking for alternative controllers that are as good as the first-party controllers in their own way. Horipad 3 Mini is a good example what tickles my fancy when it comes to more budget price controllers. However, what personally bothered me was the question whether or not the review does justice to the controller if the reader has no idea what’s the take on the base controller. Controllers also have the problem of preference. The original Xbox controller may be huge, bulky piece designed for American hands. That’s not a jab at it, it’s just stating the fact. The Japanese tend to have smaller hands, Europeans tend to sit somewhere in the middle. While the second iteration of Xbox’s controller was met with applauds, there were those who preferred the original one. If we had something called Objectively best controller, we’d have no use for anything else. However, controllers are just like pasta sauce; there’s at least one flavour that’ll be to your liking.

The version I’ll be using for this review is the DS4 model New Model. Outside two points, it’s design is the exact same as Old Model.

I wiped the controller with anti-bacterial wipe just before taking the photos, and lo and behold it already had dust on it
I wiped the controller with anti-bacterial wipe just before taking the photos, and lo and behold it already had dust on it

Let’s cut the chase; the DS4 is the best PlayStation controller SONY has produced to date. It’s not perfect, but this controller shows that breaking your mould you’ve had for a decade usually works for the better. The thing with design is that it evolves along accumulated data and production technology. The DS4 is a proof of this in itself.

So let’s give the usual bits and spots what’s on the face of the controller. You’ve got the usual action buttons, them being more or less SONY standard in a positive sense, a pretty good D-Pad on the left, two concave sticks that are a step-up from the previous controllers (thou seemingly extremely prone to quick wear and tear), Share taking Select’s place and Options being’s stuck in Start’s place. This big slate in the middle of the controller, just above the PS button and speakers, works as a touchpad and a large button that rocks back and forth.

The D-Pad is SONY’s best to date. While it is their usual schtick, it is extremely responsive and hits all the extremes just fine. The concave section in the middle let’s your thumb know where to sit just about right. There’s very little resistance when rocking the D-Pad around, but there is just enough to give that good kind of tactile feedback from the rubber domes. However, this being usual SONY, the D-pad will hurt your thumb on the long run. It’s just hard enough with ever so slightly too sharp corners. However, this is partially a necessity in order to make the D-Pad flat while keeping the SONY look and not resorting on anything that could remind either Nintendo’s or SEGA’s pads.

Share and Option buttons are clicky, but they are unsatisfactory in use. For whatever reason, you have to put blind faith and visual input whether or not you’ve pushed the button down enough. The travel is not far, but the fact that the buttons are shallow and somewhat awkwardly placed. This placing is of course due to the plate, that functions both as a touchpad or general go-to button, opening menus and such. In New Model, there is a slit on top of the plate that allows light to come through that doesn’t exist in the Old Model.

Seriously, where do all this dust come from? Oh yeah, the amount of electronic and books I have...
The slit visible above, as is all the dust around the action buttons. Seriously, where do all this dust come from? Oh yeah, the amount of electronic and books I have…
And here's the top of the controller
And here’s the top of the controller

The plate wraps to the top of the controller. The shoulder buttons are always a mixed bag when it comes to controllers, and it seems they always change the most in trying to find something new or hitting the sweet spot of current trends. SONY dropped the angular design on them, and rounded the L1 and R1 buttons with ever so slight convex middle to set your fingers in the middle of them. The slight texture is similar to the previous controllers, but not as pronounced. A good feeling overall. L2 and R2 are triggers similar to DS3, except this time they don’t suck. Their elongated form with a curve doesn’t make your finger slip off so easily this time around, and the spring gives them a rather comfortable resistance on its long travel distance. The light bar is actually pretty bad and far too large, and in dimmer rooms it will colour surfaces and even reflect from the playscreen. It would have been better to do away with it completely, but SONY’s using it for some camera stuff based on Move Controllers’ tech. I would’ve preferred a larger USB slot here, it feels that I see more broken micro-USB leads and sockets than it should be normal.

[Insert a rant about dust here]

The angular design of the back of the controller doesn’t interfere with the player’s hands and fits hands rather comfortably. The handles are well-shaped to be grasped and held, so there’s nothing special to mention about them. However, the curve under the L2 and R2 buttons has a harsh angle to meet up with the buttons when they’re pressed down, and these can chafe against your fingers depending how you hold the controller. It would seem you’re supposed to have fingers on all shoulder buttons at all times to prevent the chafing. The area reserved in the back for fingers just isn’t large enough, or the harsh corner should have been changed to something else. The trigger’s underside also will collect some dead skin and other oddities to them due to the open edge.

Might as well talk about the controller’s two halves as well. The top is sleek, semi-matte plastic that will polish fast as you continue using the controller. It’s not the best choice, and makes the controller feel just a bit too cheap for its price point. However, the second half, that wraps to the front at the ends of the handles, has this every so slight texturing to it. The feeling of this texture does not intrude and is even pleasant to the touch. The texture is actually slightly raised flat circles.

Overall, as I’ve mentioned few times around, the DS4 is the best controller SONY has put out in their mainline consoles. It’s not without its own flaws, but this has been a definitive improvement. Whatever they decide to do in the future, I hope they continue to improve on DS4’s design, thou the next step might be for the worse without changing controller paradigm. I doubt SONY will do anything like that, they’ve always been following trends rather than making them. The New Model also works on PCs via a cable, something the first one didn’t do.

What else could I say? The DS4 is a fine base controller that serves its intended use.

PlayStation 4 Neo

I had no troubles in believing that SONY was to release an upgraded version of PlayStation 4. After all, with the further changing in making consoles just dumbed down PCs, it was more than natural. That, and the fact that this is nothing new to the industry overall.

If we go back the history lane, we’ll remember that Atari pushed out Atari 5200 to compete with more well equipped competitors.  We all remember how that turned out, but it set a precedent for all future companies from the second generation onwards, where they would push out a new  refined version of their machine later down the generation’s life cycle. Sometimes they’d see less drastic changes, sometimes a company would revamp the console drastically. An example of slight upgrades to the hardware could be e.g. the Famicom and the New (AV) Famicom, where the basic hardware was the same but with new input and output jacks. More hidden upgrades would be SONY’s PlayStation being overclocked in its later iterations to run smoother. NEC constantly added new options to PC-Engine, much like how SEGA came out with 32X and MEGA-CD, not to mention their constant tweaking of the base Mega Drive. Game Boy would be another example of a console that saw numerous versions, ending with Game Boy Colour.

The PlayStation 4 Neo is an upgrade that seems to make the games run better, nothing more or less. If the news are to be believed, SONY would not allow games to be solely for the Neo. That’s a contrast to what Nintendo did with the N3DS and its exclusives, which didn’t really go anywhere.

That is not to say that consoles should last as long as they can. Five years cycle is bullshit through and through, and if consoles increase to become more like dumbed down PCs, we might soon end up like them and smartphones, having to upgrade every other year. Consoles have always been about utility and comfort, the fact that the box you play doesn’t mean jack shit. Hardware with consoles should be the last thing in the mind of developers, as a console’s life is completely dependant on the software. The Second generation lasted from 1976 to 1992 and during that time the Atari 2600 collected an incredible library of games, which a lot of people don’t seem to appreciate these days.

It would be suicide for console to follow PC and smartphone’s model of needing an upgrade every other year or so to keep up with the available software and hardware for whatever reason, as it would go against the very notion of ease of use and mean further money down the drain. People would give the companies the finger and move to Steam on PC. At least upgrades in that are automatic updates to the (digital) console.

So, what does the PS4 Neo do? From the looks of it, it seems to be just a clocked up version of the base PS4. The Neo enabled games simply run better on the hardware rather than being a next step up. Basically, it’s the Deluxe version of the PS4, if it is going to exist next to its older brother. There really shouldn’t be any need for keeping the base version in production over the PS4 Neo, unless they have agreement quotas to fill. That, and a budget model at hand is always a nice thing to have.

However, I have heard many echo the same sentiment they had with N3DS; this should’ve been the PS4 we got from the start. Maybe it should have been. Maybe we didn’t need a new generation just yet altogether. The question why would we need better hardware is usually answered with Because then we can make better games, which is more a hopeful wish than anything else. During the last generation, game development saw higher amounts of money spend on them with each year, and the results were mediocre at best. Time, money and resources have always kept climbing with the higher end hardware, and the closer consoles have gotten to the cutting edge technology, the worse the games have been.

Gunpei Yokoi had a philosophy that each and every console company should learn from; take what is, and repurpose it to your own needs. The NES was laughed out when it was released, the SNES was seen backwards machine and Game Boy was seen a step backwards from what the technology could offer. Even the Wii and the DS used older technology in them, yet all the mentioned have been Nintendo’s biggest and best consoles. Yokoi’s Lateral Thinking with Withered Technology shows that the obsession of cutting edge technology in video games is the wrong approach. It may work with computer games, but seeing that market is now controlled by a digital console, there’s no hope in there.

One could even go as far as to say that the more cutting edge technology we see in our game consoles, the worst the games are. They cost too much to make, they take too long to develop and they are far too resource intensive. Games’ designs have suffered because it needs to be more about the tech rather than about the core design. Not only that, but the more games share the same engine, the less unique they are. The game industry has moved further away from crafting games and have almost moved to use game equivalents of ClipArts. Most of these engines are not even properly optimised, but who has time to finish a product during production nowadays? Everything’s released half-finished, riddled with bugs that may be fixed later on with patches.

But nobody should be surprised about PS4 Neo. It’s just following a long time trend.

Sometimes globalisation sucks

A while ago there were bunch of news reports on SONY raising the price of the PlayStation 4 in Canada by fifty dollars. As a person who hadn’t given any thought about the difference in currency in North America too much, even thou I’ve taken advantages of that as an imported, this time it zinged me pretty harshly.

Some people across North America have taken this as an issue. Yet, raised prices isn’t anything in new in Canada as stated in the linked new article. I find it strange that this has seen rather large scale news coverage and people have been getting up to arms against it.

Which is stupid.  Well, from both SONY and from the people complaining.

Contrast this to Europe. A Ps4 in US is $400, and for Europe the recommended price was… 400€. Anyone who knows the difference in value between US dollar and Euro should be rising their eyebrows here. If the difference in market and weaker Canadian Dollar is the reason why PS4’s price was raised, why isn’t the price raised in the US for the same reason? 400 USD, at the moment, translates into 289.984€. 400€ converts into $551,755. That fifty dollar raise in Canadian market? Nah, that’s nothing. A hundred euro/dollar difference between continents? Now that’s complete and utter bullshit and that can’t be blamed on market differences or in the value of currency.

So OK, the EMU area has seen some serious problems in these recent years thanks to certain nations lying their ass outs in their economics reports and want to pull other countries with them down into the ditch they themselves made. I’m looking at you Spain and Greece.  Still, Euro as a currency has managed to stay ahead USD in value and has more buying power than USD. At one point it was the US that demanded the price of oil per barrel to stay as USD rather than Euro, which means that Europeans can buy oil cheaper from US and sell it more expensive to them. Dunno what’s the logic there outside the apparent It has always been like this. I’m not all that well educated on the intricacies of oil economics, so if you are, do tell me why oil is still mainly traded is USD rather than EUR world wide.

But this leads to the proper subject here, which is the Internet. Internet is world wide thing, it is not bound to one nation in terms of people who are able to access your content, unless there’s special restrictions. By definition, the World Wide Web is world wide. There should be no artificial restrictions on who sees the material you put out on the web. On the other hand, there’s a lot of good news sources that practically dismiss the rest of the world completely. By this I mean that places like IGN and so forth concentrate most of their material on US related news rather than taking account,well everything that happens within the field of the hobby around the globe. Then you have bunch of French sites having important interviews only in French, even the interview itself was most likely conducted in English. Then you have all these bullshit Game of the Year events, which may have games that were released in the States in current year, but was released somewhere earlier or will be released somewhere else later. This sort of America centric approach to things is bullshit over and over.

While that’s mainly complaining about video game journalism, which doesn’t deserve to be called journalism and has gone from trash to less worth than garbage, even Wikipedia articles reflect this to some extent. Often I go to check some small information there, and the only things that are listed are US related matters, unless the matter itself is specified to certain regions. Then I have to spend hour or so just to find that tidbit on some obscure and less than reliable site. Sometimes I just know going to library or resorting to my old books is the faster way to find the information.

While it may sound that I’m bitching about this, the point really is that Internet has no nations or boundaries. The content needs to reflect this. You also need to be prepared to take in replies and material from outside your own country boundaries. It takes effort and resources to put up a valid international news network, and it’s no wonder majority of electronic gaming journalist are shunned by real  journalists, even by those who work on the shittiest of gossip papers. Somebody called me a journalist once, and that was one of the better laughs I’ve had.

It would be nice to see worldwide comparisons and similar issues raised to further compare and contrast the issue at hand. I can’t fault for local news agencies doing news about local issues to local people. That’s all fine and dandy, I’m not going after these people for something that’s good. When an international issue is raised on sites that are seemingly international  and then stare their own bellybuttons, that’s when things are just wrong. And yes, IGN and similar sites don’t really advertise themselves as being international to begin with, but there’s some extra rub right there. The thing is, sites like that are essentially world wide and invite people around the world, but when you get down to it, they’re just regional bullshit in the end.

From a service design perspective, it is a daunting task to create a service to cater world wide crowd. However, the idea is simple; do what seems to be bind people together across cultures. Electronic gaming seems to be one of these things, even if it is in rather limited fashion. International sites take a lot of effort and resources, so of course there’s only a handful of people willing to give it a go. Why should they, when they can just write what the publishers want and advertise Mountain Dew while they’re at it? Oh yeah, that journalistic integrity and all…

Not to toot my own horn, but there has been times when I’ve been asked why I keep this blog in English when the matter pops up. My argument is that the people who I write are not bound by any nation, and anyone who wishes to read my texts should be able to do so, as long as they don’t mind non-native English with all the intricacies it brings with it. This idea seems to have worked, as I have reasonably international crowd; the only places I haven’t had any readers from include handful of African and Asian countries.  And I thank all of you. Bleh, that was too soft even for me…


History repeats itself; E3 2013

I’m not sure what is the target market of the Xbone. It doesn’t really have anything going on for it. The presentation was all about the games for sure, but it was multiplaforms, sequels and games that had no staying power. Is this what Microsoft thought we’d want to see and hear? No, the most burning questions were unanswered and a press conference was cancelled as well.

No, that’s something we know and what we’ve already gone through time and time again. What we know that the Xbone is able to play games and Microsoft was eager to push those to us. It’s interesting to see how they went around everything that they’d find remotely negative and barely touched the console itself at all. So, at the moment everything we know stands. Well, we got the price, and it’s never good idea to announce your console’s price on stage. When SEGA announced the price of Saturn of $399, SONY representative walked on their stage and said to the mic $299. This has been called the Saturn moment, as it was that moment that the fate of Saturn was determined.

What this E3 shows is that Microsoft didn’t learn anything from the past consoles. They’re making the same mistakes that Atari did with Jaguar and what SEGA did with the Saturn. They’re just the most apparent comparisons really. It was also rather apparent that they spent buttloads of money to get Metal Gear Solid 5 with Kojima there to say hello.

The thing is, SONY’s conference wasn’t that good either. They showed the console for the first time (not really convinced) and answered the questions Microsoft had not answered. With this they created the Saturn moment again by showing how the PS4 directly contradicts Xbone’s design philosophy. And this is just in; PS4 is region free. PS4 has more common grounds with the Wii U at the moment, and that’s a good thing. Both of these are game consoles more than anything else, thou not as much as I’d like them to be.

So, the news that PS4 won’t be like Xbone made the conference good. You can disregard everything else from it. It’s sad to see that in 2013 SONY manages to turn the tables by screwing with us less than its competitors. The fact that PS4 will be free of region lock is ambrosia to my ears, I have to admit that, but there’s one point nobody seems to notice; it’ll cost $530.57 in Europe, or roughly 100€ more than its US counterpart and this is total and complete bullshit. At this moment the exchange rate is not $1=1€ but $1 = 0.752023€. Euro is around 0.32975 US cents more valuable than US dollar. At higher costs this is a huge deal. If I were to purchase a PS4, it would not be until after two price drops, or whenever it costs around 250€, or $332.323. Actually, it might be worth importing the machine from US to here and mark it as a computer, as those are able to come though the customs without extra taxation. I’m an importer, and region free gaming is very good news, but now that it seems that I need to import this console. Well, it’s not like I have imported Mega Drive and Saturn already…

Is the PS4 saviour of the game industry? No, it’s not. It’s a step to proper direction as PS4 is less about screwing you over than what Xbone is.

But Nintendo. If I were to swear, I’d tell them to fuck themselves. However, I’m extremely disappointed in them. First, do a damn proper presentation rather than live stream. That was a horrible decision. Also, we don’t give a damn where you are, what you’re going to do and why you’re there. The thing Nintendo should have some damn balls and step on the stage. Also, why do you have Reggie if you’re not going to use him? Iwata’s English is incomprehensible at times (OH THE IRONY). Use Reggie. Reggie knows his stuff. Reggie was the damn master of ceremony and dominated the stage. Iwata, not so much. They lost applauses. Imagine the roaring and applauses the hall would’ve gone through if Reggie had been on stage showcasing Mega Man. Now it all just were flattened.

Outside that… well, we got Mega Man in Smash Bros., but more on that later on, because Capcom doesn’t get it. The 3D Mario fans (all five of them) are disappointed that 2D Mario is being mixed with their game. At least we got character classes again… or should I put it finally? They should’ve done this long ago. The only reason that why these did not exist in previous 3D and New Mario games is that Nintendo didn’t want them in. Again, why wouldn’t you put something in that the customers want?

I have to mention Retro’s new Donkey Kong simply because it looked boring. Why the hell Iwata had to narrate over the video and VIKINGS? Are you seriously kidding me? DK vs Vikings? It’s sad to see Retro in this kind of shape. It’s not even funny that they contrasted that with Bayonetta 2 with all the mature elements it has. Well, as mature as Bayonetta can get. Bayonetta also was the gateway to X, which had giant robots.

Actually, Nintendo could’ve just done a showcase video of upcoming games and be done with it. That’s what their presentation was. There was no reason Iwata to be there narrating anything. I’m sure company head exec would find something more worth his time.

So, E3 2013. Was it any good? No, it wasn’t what we can call good. Microsoft and Nintendo were huge disappointments, while SONY managed to get the only positive reaction from the viewers. That, and Mega Man. Microsoft’s presentation smelled like burned money, SONY was boring and Nintendo just screwed it by not being there. But you know what? Xbone will sell in the US because America fuck yeah, just as PS4 will be more successful in Japan because of Banzai! but that leaves Europe all open. Good to see that… wait, none of them? Well fuck you too industry. Europe, and PAL regions overall, are a significant market to step into. It’s rather laughable. It’s like an international event held in the US isn’t international.

I went on a bad tangent there. I apologise. I’ll just pop a bottle of whiskey.

Music of the Month; The Invincible Iczer-2

Did I ever tell you that I really love brass instruments?

This time on Monthly Music; not much. In the following months I most likely will be a bit overworked, so the updates will most likely dwindle down a bit. Expect the pace to be cut in half at times. I hate to do this, but at the moment I’m involved in three different service design projects, one limited production design and one electric car design.  It might not sound like much, but I’m the kind of guy who likes to concentrate only on one thing at a time. Juggling between different tasks is not a problem, but you’ll see the lack of quality in there. It’s something I must get better at, I admit. It’s one step closer to being a proper professional, something we all should strife for.

But let’s get some issues out of the way.

The PS4 is a question mark. SONY’s attitude to think the machine as just a box is a good idea, but I’m not completely sold on the Internet connectivity and the Share idea. Hardcore people most likely won’t like it, so PS4 might become pretty good after all. We saw very little regarding games overall, so I’m waiting for more news. Nevertheless, I need to put up a proper overview of what we know at the moment. PS4 might be decent, but it’s not the best idea for SONY to do at the moment. The controller is an interesting idea, but overall I don’t see it as a good thing, as it prevents you from using the PS3 controller on the system. It’s also a problem that PS4 doesn’t support PS3 titles natively, which should be a standard nowadays on any platform.

The Wii U seems to be failing and I’ve seen news about publishers bailing out to some extent. It’s somewhat sad to see PSV outselling the Wii U. I hope Nintendo will be pulling the same thing they did with the DS, as in realizing that they need NES 3 and not N64 3. Hell, the PSV is the most selling console at the moment, which tells how badly everything else is selling.

However, I must admit that today I saw some bit of news that convinced me to buy a 3DS. A Japanese 3DS to be exact; Sayonara Umihara Kawase.

I really do find hoodies comfortable to wear. It's either that,or a black suit
I really do find hoodies comfortable to wear. It’s either that, or a black suit
These two are the scans floating around the Internet
These two are the scans floating around the Internet

Seems like Umihara is 20-years old in this instalment, and will be the last one in the series if the title is anything to go by. I really like the news that the original staff is working on the game, as the PSP port was an atrocious piece of garbage.  I want to buy it from somewhere just to crucify it.

Now the last game I eagerly expected was Metal Gear Rising, which I’m writing a review of at the moment, and it’s weird to think that I’ll be making a pre-order for the first time in a long, long time. Last time I pre-ordered anything was… well, Umihara Kawase Shun Second Edition Kanzenban for the DS. MGR was store-bought, I usually don’t order anything in advance. In restaurants I pay the meal before eating thou.

Sony’s next PlayStation will be… a home entertainment system?

Now this is just hilarious if true. Ever since consoles have been able to play music CDs, they’ve been a step closer to a home media centre. PS2 was a step closer to this with DVD playback, and the 360 and PS3 are nothing but home entertainment gadgets that also happen to play games. Funny thing is that PSX is a home entertainment system already, so SONY’s basically just taking an old mould that never took off and tries to rebrand it with new bells and whistles.

And you thought I was talking about the PSOne, weren't you?
And you thought I was talking about the PSOne, weren’t you?

For the sake of Southern Cross, if this is true then SONY’s in deep trouble. You don’t bring anything new to the table by changing the hardware, you make the difference with software.

SONY also seems to think that it’s 2008, when Facebook was the biggest hit on the Internet. Sharing in-game pictures and video among your friends adds nothing to the game or gameplay. The more SONY tries to implement these elements into the console, the further away they manage to put themselves in regards of what customers are seeking.

Why is it so hard to make a game console a damn game console? Taking away all this excess bloat of various kinds of media players and everything else that has no impact on the game part of a game console would mean that your console would be cheaper, which would also lead into more sales, which would lead into more revenue. Of course you need some good games to support the machine, in which SONY itself fails at.

Then the rumoured control methods. PlayStation Move and Kinect failed because both of them lacked good games that used them to their full extent, and because both SONY and MS missed what made the Wii a hit. Hint; it wasn’t the controls, it was games that used the controls. Making a game based around jumping like a monkey on LSD and waving your wand around like a mental patient never yielded good gameplay.

All of this is so stupid. I’m expecting the worst when SONY reveals PS4 information later this month. I wish they’d call it the PSXMk2 and the real revelation is that they continue to support the PS3 another five years.