Epoch-olypse

I have often expressed my disinterest in Smartphone and tablet games that try and replicate traditional buttons virtually. Very few have worked and even less have had any kind of lasting appeal for me. Simple finger swipes and taps are what work best and with the App Store crammed with awkward on-screen controllers, it’s always nice when a game comes along that promises something different. Uppercut Games are doing just that with their upcoming shooter, Epoch, which will be available from November 10th.

Epoch has been developed on the ever popular Unreal Engine and if one mechanic is synonymous with that engine it’s a cover system and Epoch is all about taking cover and taking out enemies when it’s tactical to do so. The post-apocalyptic setting may not be the most original and the Gears style combat is often mimicked but from what I’ve seen of Epoch, the fun comes from the aerobatic manoeuvres of the robot you control as it works its way through various arenas battling the hordes of approaching enemies (check out the pre-launch trailer here). I do like a good horde mode in any game so one that is boasting the ability to do this on the go with simple and intuitive controls has got me interested. The story? the press release states Epoch definitely has one but “Uncovering the mystery is part of the fun, so the best way to find out more is to play the game.” Uppercut Games aren’t discussing whether Epoch is to have in-app purchases or multiplayer but the fact they’re not giving an outright ‘no’ would suggest that both will be coming at some point.

Advertisements

PSVita is a little more expensive than you thought

The PSVita now has an official UK price tag, set last week when Sony announced what us folk here in Blighty are expected to pay. And as with pretty much everything video game related, we’re getting screwed. You’ve seen the numbers by now, the Wifi only model has an RRP of £229.99 and the all singing all dancing Wifi plus 3G will set you back £279.99. Converting those figures into American dollars will only add insult to injury but needless to say, it ain’t pretty.

Much like the 3DS which may not have had an official UK RRP, the price was initially £229.99 and soon dropped once online retailers and supermarkets found ways of subsidising costs. I would like to think the PSVita will experience the same fury of price competition close to the February 22nd 2012 release date but Sony have made it quite clear in the past that they’re not budging when it comes to RRP. That’s fine, the PSVita is a beastly piece of kit with a gorgeous OLED screen and has oodles of potential to right the wrongs of the original PSP but one thing that’s not been at the forefront of press releases is how not all games can be saved directly onto the game card (via Kotaku). Some, like the poster boy for PSVita, Uncharted: Golden Abyss, requires a memory card to save progress. Proprietary memory cards that is meaning we’ll be paying overly inflated prices for standard hardware. Exactly how much isn’t known but if the Japanese figures are anything to go by, a 4GB card will cost ¥2,200 or £19 whereas a 32GB card is ¥9,500 or £78 (roughly).

To make the most out of your PSVita, it looks like a proprietary memory card is essential, a concept not seen in gaming since the last generation now that most systems and devices come packed with a hefty hard drive or indeed capabilities to save to humble SD cards. Will this hurt day one sales of the PSVita? Probably not. Those lucky enough to be early adopters will most likely find it to be an annoyance rather than a deterrent but it’s not all that welcoming to future consumers. When many are touting this to be the last generation of dedicated handheld devices, I would have thought the PSVita wouldn’t come with little surprises like this because the more people they can get on board, the better for Sony.

I want the PSVita to be a hit. I want it and the 3DS to re-ignite the glory days or handheld gaming but I’ve been slightly burned by picking up a 3DS so early and can’t quite get the bitter taste of the PSP – or its lack of attention from publishers – out of my mouth so am somewhat apprehensive about getting a PSVita. Who knows, come February I may have the cash for one. As long as these scratch cards deliver something…

UPDATE: It turns out that the choice whether or not to save directly to a PSVita game card or memory card has been left up to the publishers not Sony. The reason? Because saving to the memory card means that game can have post-launch DLC. But those which save directly onto the game card can only save in that way so from the get go we’re to have a minor fragmentation in software. Lets hope it stays minor too.

How long is too long for a demo?

How long would you like your demos to last? Enough to get a good sense of the game? Enough to leave you wanting more? How about long enough to actually complete it? That’s what one PSP game is offering. According to Famitsu (via Kotaku), the PSP’s version of Ragnarok, an online strategy RPG, the demo released by GungHo Online Entertainment lasted around 16 hours allowing the publication to see on of the many endings. And that’s why this model works for Ragnarok, because if people want to see the other ones they’d have to purchase the full game. If you fancy giving it a go, the demo can be downloaded here.

Technically, this can be considered a freemium model which may not be big on consoles, but is something that’ll have to be considered in the long run. The PSP has already had a freemium game and again it’s an RPG. Bakumatsu Revolution could be downloaded from PSN and then distributed among PSPs via wireless connectivity. A genius way of virally spreading your game inside a tight community and then charging for additional quests and loot thereafter. Sony seem more keen to adopt the freemium model than other platform holders and are even changing PlayStation Home to incorporate free-to-play games.

Microsoft initially appear less than on board with the freemium model. When Dungeon Fighter Online comes to XBLA, the current plan is that it won’t be the free-to-play version seen on PCs but a fully paid-for game. However, in June, several sources claimed Microsoft was collecting data and discussing the possibility to bring free-to-play games to the 360 where gamers exchanged MS Points for in-game items. Maybe Dungeon Fighter Online will stay a freemium game after all.

Nintendo is adamant that free-to-play games will not be a feature of their consoles. Time and time again Satoru Iwata has scoffed at the idea of this model so don’t expect to see any on the 3DS or Wii U which could make them less relevant to gamers in the near future. On the nearest supposed contender to Nintendo, the App Store, in-app purchases and free-to-play games account for 72 per cent of its revenue. Like it or not (and I don’t), the freemium model is very big business and a better way for console publishers to combat piracy and pre-owned sales than DRM or pre-order bonuses. It wouldn’t surprise me if the next generation of consoles focused on this type of gaming pushing us almost entirely into a digital distribution. I don’t know if that’s a good thing or not

PSValue

With Nintendo dramatically dropping the price of the 3DS recently, all eyes were on Sony to see if they felt like doing the same for their new system, the PSVita. But with the new handheld not even released yet, Sony don’t exactly feel like they need to do anything with the suggested RRP and are quite happy with the pricing. As it stands, the standard Wifi model will sell for €249.99 and both Wifi and 3G one will be €299.99. The UK hasn’t been given any figures at the moment but the you can expect the PSVita to retail for around £220-£280 with these figures likely changing right up until a week before the system goes on sale next year – much like the price of the 3DS did this year.

A number of experts and analysts suggested that Sony follow Nintendo’s lead and lower the PSVita’s RRP now rather than risk causing another blow to dedicated handhelds and launch a system too pricey for today’s more economical gamer. However, regardless of the jump in sale for the new cheaper 3DS and boost in the company’s shares, Sony aren’t budging. In an interview with Eurogamer, worldwide studio head, Shuhei Yoshida confirmed the decision to stick with the current structure:

“We are totally happy with the price we put. Personally, I was expecting Nintendo might move their price, but I wasn’t expecting them to move at this time. We didn’t price Vita relative to 3DS or those other devices. We plan the value we want to put in to the Vita and the price people would perceive the value would be. Nothing changed since the announcement. We are totally happy.”

The ‘other devices’ he’s talking about are mobile phones and tablets and it’s been well documented that the PSVita is equal if not more powerful and feature packed then a lot of the popular devices. While Sony may say the competitors didn’t have an effect of the price of the PSVita, right now, they are the biggest threat and being more affordable and desirable than those who are slowly eating into your market is something the new handheld must do as quick soon as possible. But no matter what the hardware cost will be, it’s the price of games which in this day and age is causing the biggest debate. I’ve always been a strong supporter of higher-priced, traditional games and the platforms you can play them on due to their execution, narratives and tactile buttons for greater immersion (if you are having problems and concentrating on controlling a game then how can you truly be immersed?). But the slip in quality from some developers and greed that drives publishers to screw over gamers with £40 titles that have £20 experiences, or less, just makes it harder for Sony and Nintendo for that matter to persuade consumers to buy their products.

But where Sony may succeed where Nintendo struggled is in early software that shows real potential and not just updated older titles (no matter how good they actually were). Uncharted: Golden Abyss, Resistance and LittleBigPlanet are just three of the laundry list of titles said to be coming out alongside the PSVita so the hardcore gamer crowd and early adopters should have plenty to keep them occupied. But this then causes somewhat of a catch 22 situation. Having games worthy of the higher price pushes them closer to being home console experiences and potentially puts the PSVita in the same ill-fated position of the original PSP. Again Sony have been smart with the launch line up ensuring games that are in addition to existing mega franchises are front and centre which then helps make the PSVita look like an addition to the PS3 and its library.

So the question as to whether Sony would reduce the price of the PSVita maybe should have been whether or not you think they ever would? Sony is all about the expensive hardware and making products initially for a crowd who have money to burn. Though it’s less about duping the consumer (some would argue otherwise) and more so about the kind of technology used. The PSVita is crammed with everything you can think of for a mobile device covering all bases but dangerously becoming a jack of all trades, master of none. Whether or not it’ll end up that way is a different topic but the hope is that Sony are making damn sure their next handheld will be worth every penny at launch and not need a drastic price cut so soon after.

The return of the Wii

This year’s Gamescom, which is still in full swing, looks to be all about the shrinking of SKUs and their price tags. Sony announced a price drop on the PS3 to around £200 for the model with the smallest HDD (160GB) as well as the bizarre relaunched PSP which will have no Wifi connectivity, only UMDs and will cost £90. The move is a complete 180 to their last push for the PSP, the PSPgo that famously had no UMD support in an effort to create a market similar to that of Apple and Android where all games are bought digitally via PSN. That, for lack of a better word, failed leaving Sony to turn back to good old UMDs. After all, some companies didn’t even release their games onto PSN but did have disc-based versions. I can’t help but think Sony are flogging a dead horse by releasing yet another PSP when the PSVita is just around the corner but getting a device under £100 does strange things to people and seems to instigate fresh interest in old hardware. Good luck to them, the PSP was a great little handheld and deserved more support than it received.

Speaking of wanting to revitalise a disappearing platform, Nintendo too had a relaunch of their own, the new smaller Wii. It also looses something from the previous model, the ability to play GameCube games. That’s probably not a big deal what with some of the more popular titles having Wii ports and like Sony, Nintendo are hoping to do what they can to gain the most money out of the last few official months of a product’s lifecycle and streamlining features means less cost to produce and more profit to sell.

Along with the revealing of another Wii was the confirmation that The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword will be coming to stores on November 18th (20th in the US). Because of this, plus a price drop and the release of a new model, general manager of Nintendo Germany has told Reuters (via GoNintendo) that he believes the Wii will have a healthy and profitable Christmas:

“We have seen an enormous increase in sales since [the price cut] and this gives us another indication of what will happen in the Christmas season.”

It’s a definite possibility since many Wii owners have been clambering for the next home Zelda game ever since they finished Twilight Princess (I know I have) but most likely these people already own a Wii so won’t pick up a new console. That is unless they sold theirs after the lack of titles caused it to gain dust under the TV. A price drop and redesign could them see a lot of ex Wii owners pick up another console just to play Skyward Sword and then hopefully go on to play the other great games they’ve been missing, Like Donkey Kong Country Returns and GoldenEye 007 Wii. I am a little dubious as to whether consumers will buy a Wii just on the strength that it’s cheaper and smaller because the insane eBay bids and hysteria surrounding the system not too long ago would suggest anyone who really wanted a Wii already has one. But sales figures and the power of a brand often surprises me so who knows, this Christmas may be the right time for a lot of hesitant families to finally grab themselves a slice of Nintendo pie.

But that does bring up another question. If the new Wii does indeed sell exceptionally well would that impact the launch of the WiiU? There’s yet to be any firm date for the tablet-controlled console so Nintendo could still shuffle their early 2012 plans for hardware and unknown whether the sudden and severe price reduction on the 3DS has forced them to rethink the RRP for the WiiU. Nintendo may not have the luxury anymore to launch a device and make turn a profit straight away so if the GameCube-less Wii boosts sales they may want to coast on it until the very last minute. Then again, there’s pressure from Sony who are set to release the PSVita towards the end of the year in Japan and Q1 2012 for the rest of the world. The ability to link the PSVita to a PS3 would make it a potential competitor to the WiiU so Nintendo might not want to wait too long before unleashing their HD beast. So may questions, so many ‘what ifs’ but one thing’s for sure, the 3DS should enjoy a decent holiday. That at least is a little more certain.

Nintendo, meet Gameloft

When the 3DS came out just a few months ago, it was a fairly unique bit of kit. It was the first mass market stereoscopic 3D device and the first handheld to adopt said technology. But with each day, new tech ages faster than a teen on a sun bed and within a short period of time, more portable devices in the form of mobile phones are getting the 3D treatment. LG’s Optimus 3D is shipping soon to encroach on Nintendo’s territory and what does every handheld have nowadays? A Gameloft game. Six of their existing titles like NOVA have already made the transition to 3D and according to Yahoo (via My Nintendo News), 17 more are coming soon. Like NOVA, the idea is to for the games to be full experiences but another similarity is that they’re likely to be heavily inspired by other people’s IPs.

Should Nintendo be worried? The rampant success of the DS market was somewhat interrupted by mobiles over a relatively short period but an even shorter amount of time has passed before the market for stereoscopic handhelds is splitting consumers’ choice. I guess it will all come down to the games. Unless we see something like the next Xperia Play equipped with a 3D screen, traditional genres will always suffer the limitations of being on a controller-less platform with the 3DS being better suited to the Zelda and Mario experiences. But when attitudes are continuously changing towards the types of games people want to play on the go, the desire for bite-sized gaming may outweigh the want for fuller titles and the often feared end of dedicated handhelds may arrive quicker than first thought.

But there’s still a decent bit of time before that and Nintendo have previously said how they’re currently researching the possibility of merging their handhelds with a phone and partnering up with mobile companies. So while smartphones are slowly eating away at Nintendo’s audience, we could see a future where Nintendo release a device that claws back some of those who are comfortable with mobile games and a system that comes free on a contract.

So are cheap iPhone games killing the industry or not?

Epic Games, the mighty and historic development studio, once believed that budget iPhone apps were killing the video game industry. Back in April, president Mike Capps said to IndustryGamers in April: “If there’s anything that’s killing [the retail games business] it’s dollar apps. How do you sell someone a $60 game that’s really worth it? People are used to paying 99 cents.” An interesting point raised by a company constantly producing brilliant triple A titles but only a few months later it appears they’ve changed their mind (via CVG).

At the Unreal University event in London, hosted by Epic about using the Unreal Development Kit for games, European territory manager Mike Gamble said the company “didn’t believe” all the nonsense that big budget titles were “going away because the cost is huge and content on App stores is 99c.” But whereas Capps’ comments may have come from the heart, Gamble’s might just be originating from the marketing table. He spoke to over 100 attendees at the event and encouraged them to use the Unreal Development Kit as it could help them create some the of the very best game experiences on any platform and that hardcore games on iOS devices offered a great opportunity for upcoming devs. “Experience tells us that if you create content with high production values the audience will buy it,” said Gamble. “You’re customers, what would you prefer to do: Buy a game like Infinity Blade for $6 with plenty of gameplay, good production values that offers a visceral experience; or pay 99c for something you play once and never ever go back to?”

Not all budget games fit into this category however though the number that does certainly outweighs those who don’t. He continued, urging the young devs to use their experience as gamers as a starting point for making games. “The proof for us has been Infinity Blade. It’s a triple-A quality title built and shipped late last year. So far, we’ve earned more than $11 million of revenue from it – that’s after Apple have taken their cut.” Gamble then said there is an audience who want bigger and better games on their mobiles possibly suggesting there isn’t enough of these games to satisfy them all.

There’s no doubt Apple and its competitors are literally in the pockets of hardcore gamers who prefer a lengthier experience for a few quid instead of a shorter forgettable one. Companies like Gameloft price their games around £4-5 which all sell tremendously but that could be to do with then being clones of existing franchises. Nevertheless, it still proves Gamble’s comments to have some truth as do the sales figures of £5.99 games like Real Racing 2 and even the expensive Square Enix RPGs currently on the App store. But time and time again, the biggest sticking point is a lack of physical buttons and uncomfortable implementation of virtual analog sticks. Again, Epic’s Infinity Blade showed that intelligent game design can do away with traditional inputs and work just as well.

The problem with the cheap price point for mobile games, which yesterday went up from 59p to 69p, is that it exists at all. I think the early day self-imposed necessity to release a game for so cheap has left a lasting impression in the minds of users who are reluctant to pay more. Expensive games do sell as Gamble points out but I still see a hell of a lot of App Store user reviews bitching that a game cost more than 59p. But as more and more top quality, higher priced games get released, this mentality should hopefully disappear.