Kinect is dead

Microsoft puts an end to a device nobody wanted.

Looking back at Kinect, it really did become a sort of X32 of the seventh console generation. It was an add-on that was marketed like no other, came in with great hype, sold well at the launch, but then had no good software to make use of it and then whimpered away. That’s all there is to it. While Sega moved away from the Mega Drive for new pastures and managed to mishandle everything until the death of the Dreamcast, and even then we can debate a lot if they have stopped mishandling things, Microsoft tried their best to make it work.

The question whether or not Microsoft created Kinect to counter the Wii’s motion controls can always be on the table to be discussed, and if it was, they really failed at it. At a consumer electronics level, the sort of camera and motion detection games require is just tad beyond out there. Sometimes Kinect lost the sight of people due to their clothing or skin colour, it was a peculiar device in that way. Perhaps it would have been better to deliver some sort of extra attachments with Kinect that would make it clear which part of the body was a hand or a leg, but this sort of idea would’ve gone against Microsoft’s wishes to have the device ready from the box and your body was to be the controller. No bells and whistles attached.

Never mind Microsoft said that they would not sell any Xbox Ones without a Kinect few years back, because that was their normal bolstering. Claiming that the two were one system and nothing could separate them soon came to an end, when Microsoft updated the machine to function without Kinect connected about a year later or so. The PR campaign that both developers and consumers loved Kinect and that there was a demand was mostly just bunch of hot air based on pretty much nothing else but their own hype machine. Machine, which I doubt Microsoft really bought themselves either. They tried, but they failed.

The main point of failure Kinect has is not in the design of the device itself. I’ve seen some seriously impressive prototypes and tech demos in my friend’s tech lab he put up for tests and other purposes tech rats tend to do. Even when you may have capable technology in your hands, it may not be utilised well or is put into use in a wrong field. Gamers and consumers in general may have developed a good eye-hand coordination throughout the years, but eye-body coordination is a totally different thing. A Kinect game overall required very loose controls that people could use. Due to different body types and certain limitations they produce, you couldn’t exactly create a tight game that would require high accuracy body control that would work within the confines of the game. While flicking your wrist to a direction seems almost natural with a pointer, trying to move a giant tub of a boat in a river where you have zero feedback other than what you see is not exactly intuitive.

Even Forza Motorsport 4, which in all fairness looked like an awesome piece, managed to screw its controls in the end. It requires you to have your arms straight the whole time you play the game, and if you’ve ever happened to have a need to keep your arms extended forwards for an elongated period of time, they’ll go sore. This wasn’t the case with either Wiimote’s or Sony’s PlayStation Move, because both of them allowed more comfortable positions of play. Forza 4 almost looks like the only game that didn’t make itself an unchallenging piece in trade for the Kinect controls, but even this has been debated.

In short, none of the Kinect’s games were really worth your time, and consumers didn’t buy it. The only developers that sank more time and money to properly integrate Kinect to their games were those who had a closer relationship with Microsoft. The question just is, how many titles that support Kinect had to bolt it on due to legal agreements with Microsoft, had it thrown together as an afterthought or some sort of combination of both? Without a doubt numerous games were designed Kinect in mind with a passion, but all in all, it seems Just Dance ended up being the best sort of Kinect game out there.

Nintendo seems to be keen on continuing on the legacy Wiimote left them with, though whatever use HD Rumble will have in the end is a topic for another post, but Sony moved into the VR field faster than either of its two competitors. That said, even PS VR has some signs of going downhill with EVE: Valkyrie getting a patch that adds VR-free mode and gets a price drop. Much like full-body motion controls, VR and 3D are things that come and go periodically, and every time they get similar sort of software and support. After the initial burst of interest has gone by, it just lays low and dies down. I hope you didn’t invest into a 3D television.

Nintendo may not have put much emphasize on motion controls this time around, but they’re still there and used. The reason for their existence still is that unlike the Kinect you can add and integrate them into a game relatively easily without trying make them command the whole thing. As said, a flick of a wrist with a pointer in a comfortable position serves better on the long run. However, all these three, body, motion and VR controls, all will fail if they don’t get innovative ways to utilise them and put them into a good use. You can have whatever kind of technology at your hands, but that technology will never go anywhere if the software sucks to the point of consumers vehemently going against it. Kinect will be better used on technology research and development rather than in gaming.

Here’s to you Kinect, very few will mourn you, I won’t be one of them.

The 4K generation

During the last generation Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 were dubbed the HD Twins. Not necessarily by the industry itself, but at least a small amount of people. While the current generation, that will be usurped by the Switch next year, started with HD as well. However, seeing we’re again at a point where companies do mid-generation upgrades instead of just mid-generation re-design, I’ll be dubbing PlayStation 4 Pro and Project Scorpio, whatever its finalised name will be, the 4K Twins. Technically, Xbox One S should be added there too, but the games are upscaled to 4K rather being native. Call me nitpicky.

The 4K is a bit of a problem, because most people don’t have 4K screens yet. Just like HD became a thing in the last generation, it’ll take some time before 4K becomes a standard. Scratch that, technically 4K is a standard already, but the standard is not widespread within the general population in the Western world like. It takes time for people to adopt the latest cutting edge technology, and that’s good. Why is that good, people are holding technology back! I’ve heard someone ask. The reason is that despite some technology not being able to sell well at first, the reasons can be many. The high price, the unnecessary complex nature and usage, quality and sometimes not being wanted often are the more pressing elements. LCD television technology itself is a good example of this as both LCD, Plasma and CRT television existed, and to some extent still exist, beside each other.

It would seem that the general population prefers to have mature technology in their hands instead of cutting edge.

The 4K and HD will exist beside each other at least to the end of the century, if not more. This is a guess on my part, but seeing how 8K is already making its first initial rounds, investing into a 4K screen might feel a bit off. Then again, that is the evolution of technology. Something new will always be waiting just around the corner. That’s why we always come to a point where we can pick something new up, or wait until things are ironed out and becomes more affordable.

That doesn’t really work with the 4K twins.

If these were redesigns of the existing consoles like what we’ve seen in the past, there would be no real contest which one to pick up. Usually. The last version of PS3 is just ugly. The issues with PS4 Pro and the upcoming Scorpio will have whole slew of new problems that have not yet been fixed. Mainly because we have don’t have an idea what those problems are, but most likely both companies are well aware of the issues with their machines prior to launch. The Red Ring of Death is still something that looms over Microsoft’s machines. I haven’t heard any major malfunctions from this generation, outside some people seemingly having a bricked Wii U thanks to Mighty Number 9, but at least one person has reported a molten PS4Pro. Take that as a grain of salt and do some research on the whole thing. Every thing’s possible, I guess. I’m no plastics expert. However, ever a single case like this usually rings the alarm bells in people’s heads.

The whole possibly molten PS4P aside, the issue that we should be more aware is the performance issues. Perhaps the hardware found in the PS4P is of higher calibre than the base PS4’s, but that should also mean that the games should run at a higher quality. Yet, if we take Digital Foundry‘s reports true, some games run worse on PS4P for whatever reason. Be it because of the new hardware or lack of optimisation (or the lack of experience in optimisation on PS4P) this is something I wouldn’t accept. But Aalt, aren’t you the one who says graphics and hardware doesn’t matter? Yes, yes I am and I’m getting to that.

The whole deal with mid-generation updates is, by all means, to allow the developers to put better looking stuff out there and have their games run better. In reality, this thought goes only halfway through. Devs most likely will push for better looking stuff, but will continue to ignore optimisation and 60fps lock if the game needs to be out. Some titles will sell with their name alone, damned be the quality of the title. The design quality of a game should not be dependent on the hardware. The controller a game is played with affects more the design than the hardware, thou we all can agree that simple number crunching power can allow some neat things overall. In the end, it’s the design that counts. What design, well, that’s another post.

Now, the question I have about the PS4P, and Scorpio by that extent, if we should be an early adopter or sit back and wait the kinks being ironed out. Honestly, that’s up to you. Some places recommend getting the base version for normal 1080 screens and some say go for Pro anyway. I’d recommend just checking the facts out and making a decision on those.

But, there’s another quick thing; should we all just jump in with the latest tech and keep things rolling around at the speed of sound? No, because that’s impossible. As said, most prefer mature technology and even tech that’s half a decade old can feel the most wondrous when properly designed and put into use. Those who didn’t experience Laserdisc’s abilities to have multiple languages on the disc were in awe by  DVD’s ability to house such things. There’s also the point that not all people simply have the money to keep up with the pace. As such, expecting companies to have things living beside each other is to be expected and that is exactly why  SONY has not yet moved the base PS4 from the market. People will simply pick it up for its price alone and might have rationale reasons not to go for the more expensive piece.

You can future proof your technological choices only so far. At some point, all your equipment will be old and replaced with new standards. Old does not mean obsoleted, and old can be of service years more than the newfangled piece of tech with all the problems still laying in the shadows.

I admit that this post was, to some extent, me putting my own struggle with the current generation down and to try make sense how to proceed in purchasing a console, or if I should even make a purchase overall.

Microsoft combining their platforms

For some time now I’ve been expecting Microsoft to return to their native PC market. Gears of War Ultimate Edition is hitting the PC via Windows 10 Store. Similarly, Forza 6’s slimmed down version is getting a release via Win10 store as well.

What does this tell you? This tells you that Microsoft is unifying PC and Xbox One.

The Xbox brand has been less successful than Microsoft wanted it to be. From the very first console, it never dominated the market anywhere to any extend outside the America. The Xbox lost to PS2, the 360 lost to the Wii and Xbox One doesn’t seem to sell anywhere. These have translated into losses very fast, but Microsoft’s vast monetary resources have kept the brand afloat.

Not only that, but the consumer has made clear what sort of OS they prefer. Windows 7 is still the most used OS at 52.34% market share, followed by Win10 and the goddamn WinXP. Nobody liked Windows 8, and it looks like Win10 is gaining foothold because it’s a forced update. It offers something to the hardcore gamers for sure, but that’s a niche audience at best.

UWP, the Universal Windows Platform, aims to run platforms on both PC and Xbox. Seeing how Microsoft is turning Xbox into a gaming machine that can be upgraded in hardware, like almost any PC. Hell, at this point they should do away with the Xbox brand as a console and start selling them as gaming designated PCs. Wouldn’t be the first time somebody has done that either.

On top of that, Microsoft wants to get into the whole Augmented Reality stuff.

It seems they are restructuring themselves harshly, but something doesn’t seem right. They’re not making a clear-cut difference with the console market, but they are teetering on its edge. With the upgradeable hardware they are essentially announcing that their targeted consumer base will be smaller than previously, as most console gamers are not into modifying their hardware in any way.

This weird split won’t push either Xbox side or the PC side if the UWP in the way they are hoping for. Digitally, the UWP acts as one platform, but we always have to remember that there exists a large amount of different hardwares running Win10. For the cross platform to work as intended, all UWP games would need to be tied to the Xbox side of hardware in performance and options. I do not see a scenario where UWP would allow any Xbox game to use the full potential of the PC hardware because Xbox hardware exists.

On top of that, DirectX 12 will be Windows 10 exclusive and that won’t affect anything. Rather, if UWP will utilise it, the Xbox will most likely get an equivalent update to it.

UWP and Win10 Store will function as digital game console, much like how Steam works, and that is what Microsoft will have an uphill battle with. Steam is without a doubt in a monopoly position when it comes to digital platform on PC. Both EA and Ubisoft tried their own thing and failed. GOG is sticking around as a good alternative for older games. Some have expressed the worry that Windows 10 will put games behind a walled garden, forcing people to use certain software to access their games to begin with with always online functionality, but you’d think they already got used to it with Steam.

Xbox as a brand had some root as a console name, and had dedicated fans just like everything else. However, unlike most of Nintendo’s consoles, both SONY and Microsoft were always the hardcore red sea competitors. But now there is an ad floating around with a modified Xbox One claiming that Together we are ONE, and especially mentions how the whole thing goes from the best casual games to a new generation PC gaming. It’s laughable and implies that PC gaming is the hardcore market, which it really is as we’ve discussed previously.While it’s sidestepping the hardcore fallacy, it resorts to casual fallacy with no care in the world.

The Xbox One seems to become a Steam Machine in many ways, an incredibly dumbed down computer for games.

None of this matters if the software they’re offering isn’t  up the task. Microsoft can reorganise the Xbox brand and their PC side as many times as they want to, but without the software to push either one, they will fall flat. Gaming on consoles has always been about one thing and one thing only; games. With Frankenstein’s monster -esque change they’re making won’t benefit the gamers or themselves as long as they intend to mix PC and consoles together.

I see this becoming another failure in Microsoft’s ventures. Zune failed, Microsoft phones failed, Microsoft’s tablets have been failing and now their consoles have failed and are being turned into third-rate PCs. The only reason Microsoft is still around is what made them big in the first place; Windows. The OS installation base is still large and Office is still largely a standard, but with their misadventures and constant screw-ups they are doing their hardest to fuck this monopoly up.

The Wii U continues

A thing I keep repeating over and over again without much good examples is that modern video game developers need to learn from the past mistakes and not repeat them. Similarly, the developers need to learn from the past successes but not copy or repeat them but to see the inner workings of the customer mind.

Nintendo made an announcement of sorts that they will not abandon the Wii U. The game industry hated this. There is a recurring motif in the electronic gaming industry where Nintendo is absolutely hated, despised even, when they put out a product will sell like hotcakes. The NES was hated on many levels, but the customers loved it and it sold. The GameBoy, for what I can recall, is a surprising exception if you ignore how the competition barked at its performance power and computer side more or less hated it. The DS was hated when Nintendo changed it into a portable SNES and became a success. The Wii is still despised by the industry and the hardcore crowd despite almost everyone owning one.

The Wii U is a different thing, a console not really hated by the industry, but neither it is celebrated by the consumers like the Wii. At this moment, Wii U has gotten some steam, but it lacks uniqueness. Same goes for Xbone and PS4.

Why Nintendo shouldn’t abandon the Wii U, many have asked. The single most important reason for this is that it would be stupid.

Customer relations is hugely important, and losing customer trust is the worst thing a company can ever go through. SEGA will tell you that, as will any company who screwed up.

The SEGA Saturn was supposed to be a beast of a console. Technically speaking it is a very competent 2D machine for its time, especially with the RAM expansion carts, but the games did not attract customers. Well, most of the good games stayed in Japan because certain individuals pushing 3D games on the front. Actually, the whole console release was a disaster and SEGA ultimately just said that Saturn is not their future. That was a bitchslap to customers’ faces. Dropping promises and support for a product that demanded large amounts of money. Saturn was a disaster and one of the final nails on SEGA’s coffin.

Personally, I do like Saturn. It has some gems and the number of arcade games it has is nice. What I think of the Saturn doesn’t matter, only that it sucked, bombed and was buried.

If Nintendo were to abandon the Wii U now, they would repeat SEGA’s mistakes. Nobody wants that, except hardcore fanboys and people who would prefer one console with every game on it.

This would be a horrible model. A competition needs and demands a one-two beat. Another one needs to beat the first one, and another needs hit the second beat. It’s sort of dance, and there is need for disruption every now and then, if not in regular intervals. Everything different is not disruptive, but the keys that hit the points just right are. The NES, GameBoy, DS and Wii were all disruptive and allowed the competitive dance to hit the one-two beat.

Wii U can become a great console yet. All it needs products to hold it high. I doubt this, as Nintendo seems to fail to realize the full potential of their products. One thing everybody was thinking for the Wii was either a damn good Star Wars game, or a really good sword fighting game. It could not have been Zelda, because Aonuma hates fighting and masturbates over puzzles. The very moment we saw the Wiimote, we all knew what we wanted. That, and the light gun games, which could’ve worked slightly better. We never got any good sword fighting games, thou the Wii Sports Resort had a good basis, but it was far from being anything good and proper.

Another game customers thought when they saw the camera and tilt function in the 3DS was Pokémon Snap 2. It was a couple made in heaven, and nothing. Pokémon Snap is one of the most fondly remembered games on the N64 as well as one of them most well made camera based games, despite everything that went against the N64.

Often it is not all too good to give the customer what they want, but what they need. Sometimes it’s very recommendable to listen to your customers. This sounds stupid and may show hypocrisy to some extent, but in all reality it is about choosing the time when to put either choice into action. In reality, while market research follows very straightforward methods, but how, when and where changes with time and what were are researching as well as what we are researching for. Despite Nintendo promoting new ways of playing games, they haven’t pushed their new ways as far as they could have and without a proper example no company wanted to follow.

Actually, if we want to really talk about dropping system in the middle of their life, Nintendo did drop the DS and the Wii like a dead fly. Both systems saw very little supports from Nintendo in the last few years of their life. The Wii got software like Wii Music, which was hated practically everybody in and out of the industry. Those people who bought a Wii and experienced Nintendo taking their resources to 3DS, then to Wii U, never moved up a console. Why would anyone buy a console from a company that doesn’t even support it to the very end?

Nintendo wanted to have the Wii U as the console Wii users would move on to. Fat chance. The Wii U is not the Wii but in mere name similarity. It is a very opposite console. If I were to observe the current consoles from personal view, there’s very little games that catch my attention, and those which do are all multiplatform par few exceptions like Splatoon. While sequels are the things that seem to draw in most money, they cannot be repetitions.

Console exclusivity is…

Exclusivity in video games is polarising matter to handle. It might be strange to find out that while I am all for the customer always, I am a solid supporter of exclusivity when it comes to video games. As such, this is one of those rarer posts where I will voice a clear statement that is mine, rather than from a point of view that I might or might not agree with.

 A common argument why most, if not all, video games should be available on all platforms is that this would enable the customer to choose whatever platform he prefers and purchase those games for it. It sounds really good argument and tickles the hardcore crowd’s funny bone in their lower backs. A general customer would then ask Then what would be the point of having multiple machines?

That’s a question that thickens the plot and makes the spider spin its web. Why DO we have all these consoles? After all, the machine’s purpose it to run the game, and the machine shouldn’t matter, right? If all games would be released on all consoles, shouldn’t that increase the competition? Or if we just had one console, shouldn’t that increase the competition too?

Well, the very reason we have multiple consoles is that we would have different companies running their machines in our houses over the other. At the moment we have three competing machines, two of which are basically the same shit in a different package and then one that has a screen on its controller. On the handheld side we have a machine that’s barely successful and then one that repeated every fault its predecessor had and added new ones. In contrast to this, on the fourth generation of video games we had around nine consoles running against each other and at least three handhelds and buttloads of Tiger Electronics games.  And fourth generation of video games was insanely successful and popular in contrast what we have nowadays.

And all those consoles had large amounts of exclusive games and nobody complained.

As the Neo HD-Twins are the same shit with different package, the devs are having perhaps the easiest time of porting games from those to PC or back. Wii U is the only machine that they’re having trouble with, but according to an article it’s mostly because Nintendo themselves screwed a lot of things up with their devkits and helpdesk organization. Thus, Wii U will see lesser amount of stuff than its competitors. Then you add the cost of HD development, which again went up with the generation shift.

I don’t want game developers to have easy time. Their work is already relatively easy, as all they do is sit inside in front of their computers and type shit down while they chat and drink coffee. Most of them barely want to do the math how to take all they can out of a system anymore, and just want the best and most powerful machine out there so they can go all wild and not care how well their game is formed up. This might be shocking to hear, but I’d love to see games made with care, with high level of coding and so that it wouldn’t take three to six years. We’re barely getting a new real Zelda games twice a decade now, and we haven’t seen a well made 2D Super Mario game since Super Mario World. In hindsight, New Super Mario Bros. got a freepass because it was the first 2D Mario game in a long time. Now that Nintendo has milked half-assed 2D Mario to death, they’ve been forcing 3D game elements into 2D Mario and its failing.

A successful company is for the customers’ best. A successful company that has tough competition is better for the customer. A successful company that has successful competitors need to put our good amount of high quality products and hit the Blue Ocean market in order to eclipse their competitors, and this is good for the customer.

What I mean by this that the current situation is all kinds of wrong when you look at it properly. We’re seeing the exact same games repeated in slightly different forms, or in Fifa’s case just with a skinjob. Just as the Neo HD-Twins are same shit, their games to a large extent are the same with a different package. While there would be nothing wrong in having the same game on all machines, it does take out the uniqueness of each released game. Say you have ten games released on three different system. You’re basically left one unique game in that set of ten, because three games would be on three systems, effectively making you have either three to four games depending on the system of your choice. The competition is screwed, and even more so if that one game is for a whole other platform from the three others. On the other hand, the devs could make one of those games a multiplatform game, and the rest would be unique standalone titles. We would see seven different games that wouldn’t only compete with each other, but would also compete with the platforms. We would see a thing called variety.

When you have a large amount of variety aimed in different parts of the Blue Ocean with the aim of making the possible product, magic starts to happen.

The most successful console has the most games. Most of these games are also exclusive to this console. When it was said that the NES had the best games, it was true. It saw the most sales, and numbers don’t lie or change. People lie and change, and are prone to be biased. While quantity does not mean quality, there is a higher chance of having quality products in high quantity set than in small quantity set.

When you start thinning out all the multiplatform releases from the last generation, the overall amount of single games released starts to look a bit strange. A multiplatform game barely matters; it doesn’t sell consoles. However, games that sell consoles matter always, and the most games that move console sales are exclusives.

There are also sad sides on exclusivity, such as that it creates fanboys. The common customer doesn’t actually give a damn if they’re playing a Nintendo or Microsoft, all they care for if they have games they’re interested in. It’s the small hardcore crowd that cares if they have a certain console over another. I can completely understand the existence of Nintendo’s fanbase, as they’re basically the only hardware and software manufacturer nowadays, but seeing that most SONY and Microsoft fans always put multiplatform gaming on a pedestal and compare the exact same product side-by-side to see the minuscule differences, I don’t understand why these two would even have an issue with each other? Most of their competition doesn’t even come from the games, but from the company producing the machines. At least during the 8-bit and 16-bit Console Wars we used to compare games against each other.

There’s also the interesting point, that while the hardcore and the rest of the industry just laughs at Nintendo, they can’t help but say how much they’d love to play their games. In comparison, very rarely does Nintendo owners have a feel to play games on other consoles because they had ports of games or other games that filled the same niche.

And that where it all actually lies; by having these companies creating different games for different platforms, even within same genre, there would be competition to outwit the other. Even better if this would happen inside the developing companies too.

And when companies compete with each other, and with themselves internally, that can be highly beneficial to the customer.

Sadly, the game business is warped nowadays, and not just because of Neo HD-Twins being completely dumbed down PCs rather than game consoles and the hardcore crowd driving the industry further down, and the industry actually listens to these Red Ocean  people rather hitting the Blue Ocean with all their might and making money. Of course, the macro-economic situation doesn’t help in this either.

As such, I stand on the side that wants to see more different games populating the console libraries rather see the same games populating all the consoles. The customer would have much wider selection to choose from, as well as more reasons to pick one console over the other. As such, the customer would have the option to pick from multiple games rather than just one on many platforms. And naturally, this would also be good for the console business.

Music of the Month; Ritmica Ostinata

This December we’ll avoid using the Christmas-y music I’ve been aiming here and there a we return to something more brassy; Akira Ifukube’s Ritmica Ostinata.

The last few months have been rocky to say the least. There was a lot of… mishaps first of all with increasing amounts of deadlines, and then my main desktop broke down, forcing me to get a whole rig that has been running pretty decently for a time now. There was also a death in the family, which kind of forced me to stop everything I had planned, thus pushing planned things back as well as just dropping some altogether due to all the lost time.

Nevertheless, I was lucky enough to get my editor run the blog for the time I needed to get things sorted out. Not all the plans are abandoned, their timings have just been thrown out of the window. That’s life to you.

There’s going to be few things left for me to do outside the Internet that are keeping me busier than I’d like to be, which means that some weeks may see a post break. Then there’s this small thing that yours truly is going to Scotland in mid-January to study industrial design for around a half year, so updates will get somewhat uncommon. I intend to find another person to keep this site up with me, so the flow won’t be cut too much. However, just like with everything, there are obstacles in this, mostly in that finding the right person is insanely hard.

Have you noticed how similar the Xbone and PS4 ultimately look like? They both are split into and share sort of chocolate piece look, and their main colour is black out of all. Without their few details, they’d just be black blocks of plastic. They look decent, because they really don’t look like anything.  The NES was made to look like the entertainment electronics of the time, namely a VCR deck. The MegaDrive, SNES, Saturn and bunch of other consoles do not really look like run-of-the-mill appliances, which asks the question if modern game console design has gone insanely bland because nothing is designed to have shapes any more? Of course, the 00’s and by extension, the 10’s have been very sleek, no-nonsense looks and surfaces, a thing that Apple started.  I can’t say that I personally like it, as that kind of design is rather easy to do. iPhone’s design is pretty… well, the design it has is there to justify the phone looks. That’s it. So, does the same apply to Xbone and PS4?

No, because the question is unanswerable. We know what kind of basic design a phone should have in that it needs to sit well in your hand, is able to capture your voice clearly near your mouth and have a speaker you to hear from. That dictates the core design quite a lot, unless you want to be an asshole and make a three part phone. What kind of design is necessary for a game console, or any media device?  First of all, it needs to accept the media it’s designed around, like SD cards, USB sticks, discs or cartridges. Then you have the controller, which might or might not be a separate entity from the package, ie. cordless.

I was asked What are designers needed for? recently, and the question I provided was Designers are there to fulfil your needs.

A  designer is there to take a look how something works, observe its use, and then make it work better, faster, stronger, better. It would be a selfish thing just to do whatever you want, designer whatever you want, to whomever you want, whenever you want and disregard the reason a designer as a field exists.

As such, the answer how a game console should look is dictated by its function and use, and this is why game consoles, other entertainment machines and most household appliances are hard to design; if they don’t work as intended because of the design, they’re badly designed. I’m not talking about the looks here, but also about the functions; how well a machine vents air, how the casing shells the inside mechanisms and takes impacts and how well all of it comes together as a whole piece. Both SONY and Microsoft have been failing with their console design for some time now, and it’s because they haven’t paid attention to design of their products. The looks should come naturally from the core design, but I’m afraid that too many times the process if backwards, where the design and design come from separate origin. We can have design, but we don’t need design.

These two designs are two separate things that share the same name. The first one is what I answered, the one that dictates all and everything, and then we have the second, which is people splattering stuff somewhere in order of aesthetics and good looks. We call people who use the second design as artists for good reasons and only the Lord knows why they’re in a field where they are doing more disservice than anything else.

I’m just saying that the people who design the consoles have exactly one job, and there’s no defending the fact that they failed when a machine breaks down.

Now how did Microsoft manage to put millions of dollars into the development of the Xbone controller? I have no idea, but all they had to do was to fix the D-Pad and they would have been ready to go. Ergonomics is a well researched field, and human hands haven’t manage to evolve into a new shape within a decade, so fixing what wasn’t broken seems to be the wrong thing to do. Then again, Microsoft is seeking to gain more profits from keeping you re-using any 360 gadgets with the Xbone. Sometimes it just seems they’re making new shit up just to justify the existence of any design department in any corporation.

Technical burnouts

I have to wonder what has been going on in the Microsoft and SONY research and development laboratories during the days when both Xbone and PS4 were under development. Both of these consoles have been gaining far too much negative press on the systems’ faults rather than on the games. What sort of engineers and designers are proud of a machine that is too delicate?

It’s a good thing that both of the companies have admitted the problems with their consoles, but that’s too late now. The damage has already been done. The negative press is out there, and a well informed customer will steer far away from the launch consoles for some time now.

However, we live in the era of the Internet, where even the faintest fart in Sahara desert will be reported as a massive methane explosion in the middle of nothing.

All the reported breakdowns of Xbones and PS4s are a small number of all the sold units. That’s a fact, but it is also a fact that as these small number of units are faulty, there is a possibility that units produced with same components in same batch can have the same breakdowns. The only really reliable way to know if any of the problems with these consoles are common is to check if there’s more than one in your friend circle.

The PlayStation was a faulty console en masse as it used to cook the laser, and pretty much all of my friends fixed it by turning the machine upside down. The revision of the PS1 fixed practically all of the issues with the console, and is build a bit more sturdier too, except the lid that was built to break after the first two times you insert a disc in it. I’ve seen original PlayStations scratching the game discs too, which just prompted my friends to buy pirated games from Russia even more, as you could get something like ten games for twenty marks. That’s around ten games for four euros, and they just bought new games like that because the machine kept eating old discs.

The  360’s Red Ring of Death was also a major issue, as one popped up in the middle of a game session years back. When you have three friends cursing the 360 for the same reason, there’s an issue. Personally, I never had my second-hand 360 die on me, but then again I did change the fan to a more powerful one and tinkered with its insides to prevent any problems with overheating. PS2 units also had a lot of troubles from what I’ve heard and read on the news, but I have seen none die personally. Then again, it was commonly reported that watching DVDs on your consoles would consume the laser faster, but who would want to watch their movies on a console anyway? That’s why you have either a PC or DVD/BD player.

Then again, I do admit that I watched one disc of Raijin-Oh on my Wii.

There’s also the problem that people were expecting these mechanical faults and jumped on them as soon as possible. Microsoft already admitted the disc drive problems and SONY blamed on the console faults as shipping damage, I have to question how these machines are built. The 360 had an awful quality control, a thing an electronics producer should never overlook, and now there’s been two instances of the magic smoke that makes electronics running has escaped Xbones. Whether or not this smoke issue is true is an open question, as mentioned in the forum.

What causes these problems is pretty rarely mishandling, but the way the physical console is designed. For example, the Xbone seems to drain so much power, that its power brick has its own damn fan. Everybody hates the separate power brick, especially now that Microsoft seems to have moved towards their own locked-design power cords, that just have an extra nudge to prevent you from using any other power cord than Microsoft’s own. Which is bullshit. Apple has done the same thing with their products, and it’s just as bullshit.

There’s a problem with modern consoles… well, modern is loosely applied here, as even some of the machines from the 90’s apply here as well, but the problem is that in increasing amounts these machines are designed for ideal use and environment. You can’t put anything on top of them any more, they barely can withstand one nudge and the goddamn piano black surface will get scratched to hell the moment the machine is out of the box.

Let’s be straight here for a moment; game consoles are consumer products that exist there to be used in a normal family environment. They are bound to get hits, bumps, moved around when they’re on and the occasional fall due to children and adults alike. A basement dwelling hermit that barely goes outside is not a proper comparison point. If these machines are deigned to exist in an environment that barely exists and asks the consumer to treat them like newborn babies, that’s a completely idiotic way to design anything. Design your machine to last and work for a long time, and the customers will like it more. A satisfied customer is good press, and a returning customer to boot.

GameCube wasn’t the best console out there, but it could take a sledgehammer to its side and play games. It could be dropped from few meters to a concrete floor, and it would still boot up and most likely play games just fine. It was build to last, much like the GameBoy, which could survive a bombing during the Gulf War. Nowadays you close your 3DS and it scratches the upper screen by itself. The Wii was reasonably well built too, surviving pretty bad drops and still be completely fine.

And now you’re thinking that Nobody treats their machines like that. It’s not about how they’re treated, it’s how a normal family life is. If these companies really want to sell their product to everybody, the machines need to withstand daily life. If not, then they can keep selling to the hardcore nerds and their small market, and finally wither away.

I can’t even buy a PC game from a store without it forcing me to subscribe to Steam. That’s just bad design all around.

Microsoft has been changing their Xbone policies a lot.

Ever since Microsoft was laughed at by pretty much everybody in and out the game industry, they’ve been periodically changing their policies with Xbone. It’s a very positive thing to see Microsoft taking in all the flak and reassessing their position with the console. They’ve had so much negative press since the E3 that it would have been a sort of miracle if they had stayed with their initial plans rather than taking a different approach.

Now Microsoft has made another good step, which emulates SONY’s policies, which dictate that the console is free of region locking. Free region home consoles are becoming a standard, which is a definitive welcome change in the overall scenario. Now if the rest of them could be free of region limits outside the account the user is tied to.

SONY has been rather good example on their account system, where the user is able to open an account to any region store where he wants. There’s some gray area what needs to be to fully utilise them, but that’s something that hasn’t been hurting anyone and mostly has brought more profits to SONY and its partners.

While Nintendo was initially somewhat a forerunner with the whole ‘net connectivity with the Famicom, they’ve been far behind how the current world functions. There should be no restrictions why I shouldn’t have the option to have one account that works on all Nintendo systems that have the ability to function with their current Virtual Console or whatever it’s called now.

Microsoft has been rather humble while still trying to lift their image. Still, what we’re hearing from the is just about the console, what it does, what doesn’t need to be attached to it in order to function and so on. Mostly we’ve heard stuff that isn’t really relevant for an actual game console to have to function, and no region locking is actually the first news that has some level of impact on what people will play on the console. Now, Xbone has larger library of games, if you’re willing to import.

Nowadays importing has become just as easy as any Internet purchasing. I’ve have no idea how customs are handled in various other countries, but locally it’s as simple as getting a letter, which states that the customs officials have taken package until the customs are payed. From their website you fill in a form and pay the customs according to the form and the package is released. Even after customs most games will be cheaper to import form outside Europe rather than buy them locally, which is pretty sad when you think about it. Back in 1997 importing was hard. You had to know certain people who knew certain people, or had an access to a random import service. I have no real recollection if ’97 saw an Internet shop that was willing to ship abroad from US, but I think there was at least one. Back then some of the prices were about as much inflated as the worst eBay prices.

Microsoft also took out the compulsory Internet connection a while ago, which makes the machine itself rather import friendly as well. It’s sad to think that home consoles are doing better on the region free front rather than the hand held consoles.

What region free consoles gives to the customer is power to decide over their purchase in more free way. With the Internet there are no boundaries where or how you can get your item, whatever it may be. Only legislation stands in your way. Only electronics seem to have bullshit limitations why you shouldn’t be able to use them in any given region. GameBoy didn’t have region, as you could buy any game from any region during holidays and play it on your machine.

As region free console allows the consumer more freedom on choice on his purchases, this also means a slight paradigm shift how the company has to approach their systems. SONY’s account based system is a good middle ground, but it’s unfortunate to see that they still enforce use of PSN Cards, as an European credit card can’t purchase US/JPN games those regions. This is somewhat comical, as I’ve been able to buy Japanese Virtual Console game with my European console. Is the system intended to work like that? No, but at least it works and they’re getting my money for the product I want to purchase.

It’s damn weird that the user has to cheat the company in order to purchase their product in more legit way.

With region locked consoles and games the companies have been established that the software won’t work within certain region, which on the other most likely has lessened number of complaints and similar contacts. I know one person who called local SONY branch and complained that his game didn’t work on the PlayStation he bought from a ship validated by them. Turned out the had bought the game from Russia. General source of complaints from older times would have been picture being a mess due to wrong signal, black-and-white screen and with machines their power overloading due to different output from the wall socket. That’s why we have power bricks and socket adapters. This is also why I’d rather see hand held consoles using real batteries, and you wouldn’t be tied down to a rechargeable battery. Unfortunately, the 3DS and Vita consume way too much power for any sensible use of AA-batteries in them.

Honestly speaking, there’s very little chances that we’re ever going to see completely region free console, if it has an Internet based service. This is because of various business contracts with distributors between regions varies widely between regions. Then you have the in-game license issues, which actually prevent some of the older games being released on modern consoles… like Mega Man Legends 1 and 2. And that’s mostly because CAPCOM refuses to pay money to get more money.

However, you wouldn’t find me complaining much if the future consoles and their account systems would have similar loopholes as PSN.

Well, it’s a good thing that Xbone is region free, as it’s a glimpse of sanity in a place which wants to see what you’re doing all the time.

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.