Welcome to another issue of RPGamer's Currents. This month has brought a number of new and exciting developments to the gaming industry, but it has brought a much more exciting one to my personal life: Wi-Fi. After two weeks of moving, starting a new job, and pulling my hair out at my car's apparent inability to pass inspection, I have finally been blessed with the glory that is wireless internet. Finally, I can return to online gaming, Netflix, and — most importantly — this biweekly discussion of all cool industry news. It's true what they say: you never really love something until it's gone. Speaking of things that are gone, I'm all caught up on Game of Thrones. Sadly, I'll only have this whimsical trailer to tide me over until the start of next season:
As I alluded to before, the industry has had some pretty interesting news on the tails of TGS. Sony is releasing its own micro-console with the Vita TV and revamping the PlayStation Vita with a slimmer, more colorful model for the Japanese market. While all this is cool, the internet hype paled in comparison to this week's iPhone announcements. The iPhone and gaming will be our first talking point today.
If I could ask you readers some questions this week, they would be:
- Do you play video games on your smartphone?
- If not, what is keeping you from playing?
- Will mobile devices ever be respected as video game consoles?
As expected by many, this week Apple announced two new flavors of iPhone 5: the high-end, high price iPhone 5s and the cost-effective, colorful iPhone 5c. While I plan to upgrade to the Luigi Green iPhone 5c, the iPhone 5s's 64-bit A7 chip, the first ever in a smartphone, has been a major talking point for mobile gamers. It represents the possibility of major steps forward in the mobile gaming space, and was joined by a few other major improvements. The new iPhone 5s CPU boasts significant improvements over the iPhone 5's, and a M7 motion coprocessor has been added alongside the A7 chip to monitor the device's accelerometer, compass, and gyroscope. All of this sounds well and good, but it wasn't until we saw Chair Entertainment's Infinity Blade III that the device's capabilities really started to sink in.
Infinity Blade III was running on the iPhone 5s for a live demonstration to promote the device's OpenGL ES 3.0 support, which apparently made the game's turnaround from 32-bit to 64-bit in two hours. That time went towards making the environments, characters, and enemies more detailed. Donald Mustard of Epic Games took to the Apple stage to detail some of the title's finer points, including "lens flares that would make J.J. Abrams proud" and graphical performance that is 56 times better than the original iPhone's. This third and purportedly final installment in the hit mobile hack-and-slash franchise will be launching next week alongside the release of the revamped iOS7 and iPhone 5s, but how many gamers out there actually care?
The game certainly looks beautiful and fans of the franchise will likely reinvest, however, it is apparent that many gamers still maintain a certain stigma towards playing video games — whatever the quality — on their smartphones. Last year, I wrote an editorial titled "The Catch-22 of Final Fantasy Dimensions." The intent at the time was to question why gamers were being averse to purchasing an original release in the Final Fantasy series because of its premium pricing model. Based on the dialogue in the comments section, it is clear that the price of content wasn't the core concern; RPGamers more so didn't want to play the game because of the platform it was on.
It's clear that mobile gaming has always lacked legitimacy in the eyes of many traditional gamers. There are no physical games to be bought at GameStop, no buttons to be pressed during gameplay, and a community fragmented between hardcore and extremely casual. To some, mobile gaming represents a decline in the industry, but to others it remains a new frontier. Where you stand on the issue generally relates to how open-minded you feel like being towards mobile gaming.
There was a time where I sat in the camp that really didn't understand the appeal of playing games on a device used to communicate with friends and family. The touch screen controls were anything but familiar to me, and the platform seemed dominated by little pick-up-and-play apps like Draw Something and Angry Birds. Nothing about it seemed appealing. However, actually playing Final Fantasy Dimensions kind of altered my stance. I still prefer buttons and the touch screen took some time to get used to, but it never felt unwieldy or imprecise — as I was told it would be. As soon as I began to groove with the controls, they felt second nature to me and the game was all the better for them. I really enjoyed Final Fantasy Dimensions and have since moved on to Chaos Rings, Superbrothers: Sword and Sorcery EP, and replaying Final Fantasy Tactics on iPad (which feels perfect on a Tablet).
It's unfortunate to know that so many gamers shun mobile games out of principle alone. If I could make a single request of those reading this: be you an Android or iOS user, please just give a single, high-quality mobile game a try. You may like it more than you think.
Sony has just revealed an interesting piece of hardware to accompany its gaming and multimedia platforms: the PlayStation Vita TV. A micro-console with streaming and cross-play capabilities, the Vita TV will play Vita and PSP games and apps on HDTVs while using a DualShock3 controller. It will also allow for the streaming of PS4 content to another screen if the HDTV is preoccupied with something else. At approximately $99, the device can be seen as a direct competitor to the Apple TV as well as the Gamestick and OUYA. In a lot of ways, the Vita TV appears to be the right mix of games and entertainment content in one small box, however, when you think about the concept itself things seem a bit disjointed.
The Vita TV is being presented as both a companion device and an entertainment compliment, but does it really have a market? Let's think about the audience of most micro-consoles for a second. People bought into the OUYA concept because they want to play Android games on their HDTV. The games are all on the device's marketplace and everything required for play comes shipped in box. That being said, the OUYA has been a hard sell since launch since gamers realized that most Android games are lacking in quality and may not deserve the HDTV treatment.
Like Android games, most Vita and PSP titles are designed to be played in short bursts. This is because it is a portable console and intended to be played on the go and not for five hours on your couch. There may be several long and impressive titles on both Sony handhelds, but even if you want to indulge in them for hours their native resolutions look decidedly worse when stretched out onto a 1080p HDTV screen and Sony has already indicated that not all Vita games will be able to work with this streaming feature (likely any of them that involve touching the Vita's front or back screen will be ignored). The PlayStation 4's streaming capability seems far more promising, but who is to say that this will be available when the system launches this fall? As of right now, the Vita TV just doesn't make sense as a micro-console. In fact, if Vita TV buyers really wanted to play games as well as content on their HDTV, the PlayStation 3 with 12GB of storage for $200 is a much better deal (with a better entertainment suite built-in).
What if, however, the focus isn't the low-cost gamer? What if Sony is really taking aim at Apple by doing what they do (stream music and video content) with added gaming functionality? Depending on what services are offered (right now, we only know of Hulu and Twitter), it may actually be able to compete. Unfortunately, Apple already is well known in the set-top box space among consumers and already has a wide variety of streaming and entertainment services, including the massively popular iTunes. Oh, and Apple TV actually comes with a remote. Bafflingly enough, the base $99 model of the Vita TV doesn't come with a memory card or controller and the premium model's controller is a DualShock3 — which would be easy to use for gamers, but not general audiences. No, in several ways the Vita TV also does not make sense as a set-top entertainment device.
I think there's potential here, but Sony will have to prove that the Vita TV is a must have device. Right now, it has some interesting features, but a majority of them require other devices or gamer knowledge to enjoy. Unless they revise their strategy to make it more accessible to the non-gaming consumer, I think the Vita TV will flop.
In addition to the Vita TV, Sony announced a new Japan-only (at least for now) Vita model with less heft and more character. The new unit will be 20% thinner and 15% lighter, while boosting some innards. The high performance OLED screen implemented in the original Vita model is being ditched in favor of a cheaper LED alternative. 1GB of on-board memory has also been added to the system and a new, high capacity 64GB external memory card will be on the market in the near future for all of your downloading needs. Finally, the battery has also been swapped to improve the gameplay life by a full hour and the system will be offered in yellow, white, gray, lime, and baby blue. It launches in October of this year, but one has to wonder if this can really make an impact.
Say what you will about model updates and price-drops, I own a PlayStation Vita and am still not completely convinced that it was a worthwhile purchase. In fact, I have my days where I think it was a mistake. To be clear, the Vita is a beautiful piece of hardware and its features have enormous potential, but I bought it under the pretense that future game releases would justify the price tag. So far, I don't feel like they have. Only a handful of games currently available for this high-end portable feel worth playing and there are more ports than original releases on the horizon. Sony, naturally, promises to improve on this front. I sincerely hope they do.
What about the casual consumer who has yet to purchase a Vita? Would they care that it's being released or that it now has a more reasonable price? Generally, people go to where the games are. The games are not on the Vita currently. Sony can paint their handheld purple, chartreuse, scarlet, and magenta if they so please, but who the hell really cares if there's nothing to play?
Metal Gear Solid series director Hideo Kojima has drawn a bit of attention as of late for a comment he made on Twitter about requesting that a character be made "more erotic." Naturally, the reaction to this comment ranged from dudebros decrying "awesomeness" to Tumblr feminists planning his death. It only took a few days for The Phantom Pain director to clarify his comments.
"Maybe the phrase 'erotic' wasn't really [the correct word for] what I was trying to say," Kojima told Polygon. "What I'm really trying to do is create unique characters. One of those is, of course, Quiet. She's a really unique character; I wanted to add that sexiness to her. It wasn't really supposed to be erotic, but sexy." Kojima’s art director Yoji Shinkawa then backed up this sentiment by indicating that every aspect of game design (environments, mechs, weapons, character models, etc.) was intended to look "sexy" in the game.
While I understand what Kojima may have been trying to say, he has also indicated that the reason why she in particular was intended to be very sexy was to lead to sexy cosplay and figurine sales. For me, the jury is out over whether this is a good or bad thing. I'm not adverse to sexy cosplay because I'm not against people dressing however they want to dress. It's their right. However, the idea of developing sexed up characters only for eventual toy sales seems kind of sad.
This is a newer section of RPGamer's Currents where we take a hard look at some video game industry rumors and attempt to assess how plausible they are. Nothing in this section has been officially confirmed, but who knows which rumors will float to the surface as fact in the future?
- Forza 5 to have up to 24 players in online mode
Possibly fabricated game case scans indicate that the next instalment in Microsoft's Forza racing series will allow for up to 24 players to race each other in online multiplayer. Likelihood? Very likely. I wouldn't be surprised if Microsoft raised the bar for this launch title and online play has always been their strength. I wonder if it will actually be fun to play though. Unless you're a pro at drifting and enjoy detailing imaginary cars, Forza games are often more trouble than they're worth.
- Ryse: Knights of England
Ryse isn't even out yet, but "sources" close to the development team say that a sequel is already in the works titled "Ryse: Knights of England."Likelihood? Who knows? Normally, I wouldn't really care for such a random rumor, but Crytec has added fuel to the fire by offering "no comment" on this speculation.
That's it for this issue of Currents. You'll see another issue again in a couple weeks, but stay tuned to RPGamer for all the latest RPG news, reviews, previews, and interviews.
Your dork from the Great North,
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