Hooray! Overpriced DLC goes on sale…

Need for Speed World is part of EA’s mission to try and conquer Free-to-Play gaming. It’s a part of the video game market which can be very profitable for a publisher even though a good chunk of it is, as its title suggests, free to play. The best way of clawing back development and maintenance costs; vanity items. Like pieces of armor, weaponry or in Need for Speed World‘s case, a ridiculously expensive virtual car. Released last Wednesday for the year plus PC racer, the Koenigsegg CCX Elite Edition will set you back $100 unless of course you grab it now because the kind old folks at EA are selling it for just $75 (via Gamespot). Baffling when you think Free-to-Play items are also know as micro-transactions. There’s nothing micro about that price.

The Koenigsegg CCX Elite Edition is said to be the first premium elite car which would mean that more offensively priced DLC will be coming to the 5 million users of NfSW. Of course no one is forcing players to buy the cars but it certainly adds to EA’s reputation of being rapacious.  Just the other week they announced a subscription-based version of Tetris. Never mind that Tetris can be found on every platform known to man, in the iOS version you can now sign up to paying $3 a month or $30 a year for exclusive discounts, challenges and a booster to speed up level progression. Because levelling up is what Tetris is all about…

Stories like these are the kind of thing usually saved for April Fool’s day when companies can announced insane ideas and promotions with consumers chuckling at the stupidity and forgetting it the very next day. But this time the stories are true and it’s EA who look like the fools to me.

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.

Apple, in ten years time, all this will be yours…

Phil Harrison helped the launch of the original PlayStation all those years ago and was on board right up until the early days of the PS3 where he once famously said rumble for controllers was ‘so last-gen’. But poor Harrison was merely playing the PR game and only said that because Sony was in the middle of a legal battle and not his true feelings. Now he’s no longer at Sony but an advisory for a cloud-based delivery network, Harrison’s thoughts aren’t murky with legalities but clear and most recently, rather divisive.

In an interview by Edge magazine a couple of weeks ago Harrison spoke about future of gaming and how, in ten years time, Apple will eventually become the games industry. Why? Because of the “proliferation of devices,” he said. “You’ve got iPhones, iPads, iPods, which are all part of the same ecosystem; the speed at which Apple sold 15 million iPads is phenomenal. And the number one activity on an iPad, according to some reports, is games, and I think that will only continue.” He went on to praise the App Store for how well it’s integrated and how easy it is to buy things. One click and you have content straight to the device. Harrison called it elegant and continuously refined but as an owner of Apple products, I’m not sure elegancy is a word I’d use.

But it’s the talk of Apple becoming the industry because of the size of its market which is really interesting. With that logic surely the Wii is currently the console industry, Primark is the epitome of fashion and Call of Duty: Black Ops is the best game ever made. Sheer volume doesn’t directly equate to an absolution of an industry. Yes, it means those markets are currently healthy but I would propose the notion that it shows Apple are capable of making a powerful entertainment device which gaming is a by-product. Apple’s approach to gaming, best seen in their press conferences, isn’t one that fills me with confidence of an overall take over of the video games industry. They talk about it but with the mediocre response to Game Centre, the praise and boasting, what little there is, centres around the tech driving it not the experience itself.

Other companies have done well to capitalise on the success of iPhones and iPads  but there is still a huge separation between the majority of games you find on those systems and the ones seen on traditional consoles. Often they try and emulate each other with varying results. One major issue, which is pointed out time and time again, is the lack of a physical controller, mainly the analog stick. Look how important it was for Sony to include a second stick on the PSVita and how awkward it can be for virtual versions to run on touchscreens. To become not just a leader but an industry itself, you’d have to better what came before and that goes for all aspects, not just sell lots of your device.

Mobile developers and publishers can be handsomely rewarded for their games but the 59p model does come with a few restrictions. Lets say the average gamer buys three titles a year and spends £120 doing so. Compare this to a purely mobile gamer who buys 59p games. They have to buy 203 of them in order to match the average gamer’s spend. And while there maybe well over 203 budget titles hitting the App store each month, that shows another problem with this market, it’s almost too big for its own good. Perusing a bloated store with games of drastically varying quality can only take up so much of anyone’s time before it becomes laborious. There would have to be some major changes in how the App Store works over the next ten years for it to be the ultimate place to shop. In that time who knows, Sony and Nintendo could perfect their digital distribution methods. We’ve already seen a huge improvement from Nintendo with the eShop on 3DS.

There’s no denying the popularity of Apple products. Selling 15 million iPads in nine months is superb but Microsoft are shifting a ridiculous number of Kinects with around 10 million of them already in homes worldwide. Is that too a contender for games industry? There’s no doubt Apple have been eating away at the traditional gaming space and the 59p experience has changed the habits of spending but I don’t know if ten years is enough for it to go from where it is now to ruling the entire industry, supporting the kinds of games found on todays consoles and PCs. I do like Phil Harrison, I think he’s a great personality and was a valuable asset to Sony but have to agree to disagree with him on this one.

Review: DAGi Capacitive Stylus (iPad)

Steve Jobs once said that if you need to use a stylus on one of their iDevices, Apple had failed. However that hasn’t stopped consumers from wanting to use something other than their fingers and equally had little effect on the companies who make them. Considering the amount of drawing applications and the potential for the iPad to become a serious artistic tool, finding a good stylus among the many iPad accessories is essential. Most are fat with a rubber tip and resemble a swollen pencil but DAGi have made a thinner alternative that also offers a remarkable amount of precision.

Using the stylus for drawing works surprisingly well because of the clever design. DAGi replaces a rubber tip with a clear plastic disc that has a red dot in the centre. When held correctly, the red dot is the exact spot of contact between stylus and screen. It’s almost as if you’re painting with a laser sight. It must be said though because of the shape of the tip, there is a certain sweet spot for using the stylus. Drawing still feels natural and you won’t be holding the touchscreen pen at any obscure angles but it’s worth mentioning if you’re fussy about such things.

The Apps I used as a test for the pen were Brushes, Adobe Ideas and Facebook. The first two were to see how semi-professional art applications work with the stylus and they do so very well. If you’re going for detail and don’t want to keep zooming in to 400% or more, having fundamentally a red dot to follow makes everything a lot easier. As for Facebook, that was used to see how well the stylus handles as a navigational tool for people with portly digits. Again, it came up trumps, scrolling through screens and entering text wasn’t a problem at all.

Despite Jobs’ condemnation of iPad styluses, the DAGi Capacitive Stylus is a great accessory for anyone who wishes to sketch or draw precisely. I would argue that using one doesn’t mean Apple has failed but rather that DAGi have succeeded.

Sony join the tablet fight

The idea of a tablet was once no more than a sci-fi dream however now it’s one of the hottest pieces of electronics with Apple leading the pack through their iPad range. Since the explosion in popularity of the original iPad, every Tom, Dick and Acer are building their very own tablets and this Autumn will see Sony join the party. Announced yesterday (via Telegraph) in a press conference, the company revealed the S1 and S2, two touch-only devices with two apparently different purposes.

The S1 is your standard iPad contender boasting a nine inch screen and Android’s Honeycomb operating system. Its design is meant to invoke the feeling of holding a magazine, tapering at one end but thick at the other. The S2 on the other hand is more of a portable web browsing device with a clamshell style which opens up to reveal not one but two 5.5 inch 1024×480 screens. Both are naturally WiFi, 3G and 4G enabled and both will come with the PlayStation Certified label meaning they’ll be able to play PS1 games and whatever else Sony approves for its mobile devices.

I get the S1, it’s Sony’s tablet which can stand up to the competition but the S2 puzzles me and I wonder if Sony are getting a little confused too. We already have a mini tablet to to speak, capable of playing PlayStation Certified games. The Xperia Play or PlayStation Phone as it’s been dubbed. A big factor of that is the physical buttons which Sony have marketed as being ‘needed’ for mobile gaming. So why now are we to received a dual-screened device whose games will be controlled just like any other touchscreen platform? To me, the S2 and Xperia Play will be fighting against each other in some ways with one boasting real buttons for real controls and the other following along with the Smartphone crowd. Maybe that’s it, maybe the Xperia Play will be the chosen platform for gamers who scoff at iPhone and Android gaming and the S2 is there for those who prefer something more casual. It does look a bit like a mock-up for a DS 2 before the 3DS was announced.

With these two systems, Sony doesn’t want to beat Apple but instead sit firmly in second place by 2012. Or at least that was their outlook last year so their aspirations may have changed since then. It’s a very tough market to jump into and Sony are renowned for making bits of hardware so the brand could be what drives sale of the S1 and S2 when they’re released in Autumn. Whether I fully understand the purpose of both tablets is irrelevant because tablets are big business now and there almost feels as if companies don’t necessarily need a reason to release one other than to be one of the choices for consumers. And like the Xperia Play, I’m really quite intrigued to see where Sony takes these tablet.

The Wii’s second coming

Another year, another build up to E3 kick starting with rumours of a Wii successor featuring HD capabilities. This week saw magazine Game Informer reveal via their website how multiple, anonymous sources told them of a Wii 2 or Wii HD as it’s been affectionately called in previous rumours. The sources spouted conflicting details but the ability to display high definition visuals was apparently said by all with graphics comparable to the Xbox 360 and PS3. As soon as the Game Informer story broke, CVG had a similar one with yet more faceless industry personnel claiming a HD Wii is in development adding how the system will have an all new controller with a built-in HD screen to boot. They also said the new Wii will be backward compatible which is one of the few pieces of data you can be sure of in this whole story. Nintendo have made sure there is some form of backward compatibility to their consoles for quite some time so one thing that a second Wii would have is the ability to play Wii games.

Stepping up the CVG rumour is 01net.com, a French gaming stating the new controller is actually a tablet with buttons, like an iPad though hopefully not as big. The idea of using a tablet as a controller just seems backwards when there are tablet/touchscreen games that poorly try and mimic a traditional controller. If true it suggests Nintendo are going after yet another market, not content with those acquired by the Wii’s family-friendly games and hoping to win back those who left after buying iPads or iPhones. They do like playing with the pre-conceived notions of controllers however so a tablet isn’t an unordinary progression.

When I first saw the Wii remote I thought Nintendo had lost it but instead they changed the face of console gaming forever. But that was almost five years ago and things are a little different now. Every console has motion controls and two out of the three are already HD. 01net.com say the innards the console, code named Project Cafe, are similar to an Xbox 360 which would make for some very nice graphics and easier porting for developers though there would have to be more to it than that. Like I say, we have HD motion-controlled games and they’re doing very well. Kinect has sold over ten million units in a matter of months so what would be the draw of Project Cafe? Most likely its games, specifically Nintendo produced games which are some of the best in the industry. It’s no secret that Nintendo’s systems are beloved for their Marios and Zeldas but, according to the rumours, third parties are receiving a lot of support with the likes of EA and Activision already tinkering with dev kits for the system. The move to HD could also reduce the amount of shovelware titles that have plagued Nintendo platforms as it adds a higher development cost for games.

Lets hope the Aztecs did indeed make a few mathematical errors because Project Cafe, which is a ridiculous name by the way, is supposedly launching late 2012 and the anonymous sources are going wild for it : “Nintendo is doing this one right…[it’s] not a gimmick like the Wii,” was heard. Gimmick is a little harsh for something that may not have been revolutionary but certainly was pioneering. Nintendo have been adamant that a lack of HD isn’t a major concern for their audiences and would only include it if the time was right. Now it seems that time isn’t just right but desperately needed. I would be surprised is Nintendo didn’t announce a new piece of hardware at E3 and wonder if they can steal the show this year too. Only a couple of months to go until we find out and I’m sure they’ll be filled with more rumours of a HD Wii too.

Your definitive way to play

In an effort to boost their status within the gaming community, Apple have hired two key members from Nintendo and Activision to help promote the iOS as the definitive gaming platform. Robert Saunders, who is currently working for Nintendo UK, is leaving to join Apple at the end of April for a PR position specifically created to focus on Apps while Activision’s PR director Nick Grange will look after iPad hardware (via Appleinsider).

The creation of both positions and head-hunting of two traditional video game veterans shows Apple’s dedication to iOS and the devices it’s found on. But they’re going to have a hard time convincing the sternest of critics that iPads and iPhones have become the definitive way to play games. It’s true, iOS games are vast in quantity with more and more people using them for entertainment purposes however that doesn’t necessarily make them replacements for console and PCs just yet. If such a claim is to be based on the sheer number of players, Facebook would surely be on top with Farmville and Cityville leading the way. Regardless of semantics, we still have a clear divide between the casual and hardcore audiences because of the kinds of experiences that appeal to each demographic. An overwhelming majority of iOS games are of a shorter bite-sized nature and even the grander ones work better when split up this way. Controls have become a big issue too with mechanics and gameplay being scaled down to make up for a lack of precision.

I’m not against this type of game, far from it if you see some of the games covered in my review section but everything has its place within the industry. In a report from the end of last year, Smartphone gaming has risen 43.8 percent whereas those found on DS and PSP fell 13 percent. Great news for Apple and Android for that matter but being mobile phones, it’s a hell of a lot easier to get into hands than it is for systems that predominately focus on video games. They are a threat, no doubt about it just as is the iPad with a recent survey showing 84 percent of owners using the tablet for gaming. Whether or not those games are comparable to ones found on traditional platforms is still to be understood but the potential market is growing seemingly everyday. I’m yet to be convinced that the iOS can be considered definitive but I’m keen to see how Saunders and Grange try and prove that it is. Who knows, they may just win me over forcing me to eat my words good and proper. To be honest I’d rather that and have more quality gaming experiences than the alternative.