Battlefield 3(60)

The mediocre single player campaign in Battlefield 3 didn’t put off a number of gamers over the weekend who picked up a copy of the game. I’d imagine the reason for this was because very few of those early adopters give two hoots about solo play and were keen to kick some arse online. With marginally more robust service and arguably greater number of shooter fans, the Xbox 360 version dominated UK retail sales gobbling 53 per cent of the delicious money pie. But those players weren’t too pleased when the servers crapped out forcing them to experience the weakest part of Battlefield 3, the single player mode. That is if they felt like sticking with it at all. Not the best start for EA and their desperate (and a little one-sided) battle with Activision to be publisher of the greatest FPS. Still, the sales were positive and from what I hear, all is well when trying to get online so give it a few days and all will be forgotten. Though it does make the online pass packed with nearly all games seem a little ironic.

Interestingly enough, one of the biggest games this year may have sold the best on the Xbox 360 but it’s Sony that is selling more consoles in the European territory. So far, the PS3 has sold around 3.5 million units whereas both Xbox 360 and Wii are hovering at the 2 million mark. Does that mean these kinds of games are more profitable on the Xbox 360? The figures to suggest that’s where publishers should maybe focus their attention when doing timed exclusive DLC – a practice becoming more and more common. Microsoft were smart enough to snatch up all of the Call of Duty DLC packs first until 2012 but Sony are offering patrons the chance to download all the Battlefield 3 DLC a week earlier than the Xbox 360 and PC. In contrast, the fact that Battlefield 3 sold better on Microsoft’s format may also suggest gamers are getting tired of such exclusivity deals and will buy a game for whatever they feel most comfortable on.

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

A Frank view on consoles

From the humble beginnings of both Xbox 360 and PS3, the platform holders optimistically said this generation would last at least ten years. No more jumping ship before a console had time to truly mature, Microsoft and Sony look like companies quite comfortable with their hardware thanks to new additions such as 3D visuals and motion controls. Whether or not the WiiU will make a big enough splash to force a sudden quickening in development for whatever Sony and Microsoft do next is yet to be seen. Thought I doubt it.

Some, like EA’s Frank Gibeau, find it hard to think of a world with the next generation of consoles, wondering what their purpose would actually be. Speaking with CVG, Gibeau dismisses the need for anything new:

“It’s hard for me to conceive what you would do on a PlayStation 4. The displays are already 1080p, you’re already connected to the internet… You could make it faster, you could have more polys and you could up the graphics a little bit… but at what cost?”

It’s interesting that Gibeau focuses on graphics when enemy and NPC AI still struggles to perform acceptably in some games. That is what I’d want from a PlayStation 4 (or Xbox ‘720’). The power to make me believe who I’m fighting against or alongside is a competent representation of thought and not a bundle of scripting. We’ve definitely advanced from the steadfast tradition of static invisible tracks for AI controlled characters to aimlessly stroll down and a good FPS shooter, for example, will have enemies who constantly flank and jeopardise your cover. But there’s also still a lot of remedial AI confused by the simplest of obstacles, taking players right out of the experience in one dumb move. Partly the blame can be put on developers not utilising the full power of current consoles but I do wonder just how much more can be harvested from seven year plus technology.

To Gibeau’s credit, he does point out that as gamers we have a lot of features in the current models than we’ve had before. Constant online functionality with a robust infrastructure and the highest of definitions that TVs can handle not to mention new forms of controls. These are the three usual bullet points touted as a reason to buy systems and in Gibeau’s case, a reason to stick with what we’ve got. Not only that but as he points out (coincidently), Battlefield 3 is looking really impressive on the PS3, better than a lot of games that have come before it.

I’m not advocating new consoles anytime soon, however. Like I said, we’ve just got Kinect and Move opening the possibilities for new interactions with games and I’d rather see what comes of those before having to upgrade the hardware they’re played on. Though I don’t think evolving our systems should centre around adding more features or indeed boosting the graphics when there’s a lot of transparent coding and game-shaping mechanics that can be improved by meatier CPUs. If ever there was reason to release a new console, better AI for me would be at the very top.

Limbo for PSN next week

In case you missed all the hubbub recently involving Playdead’s brilliant XBLA hit Limbo, the story goes as follows; A rumour surfaced that Limbo was headed to PC and PSN some point this year and now it’s been made official on the game’s website. Next Tuesday (19th) sees Limbo saunter onto the US PSN and Europe will get it a day later with Japanese customers having to wait a little longer as a date is still unknown for them. Steam shoppers will be able to pick up the game on August 2nd.

As part of the announcement, Dino Patti, ceo of Playdead set interest alight, teasing us of how there’s to be a “little extra secret” added to these versions. Hopefully whatever this secret is, it’ll find its way over to the Xbox 360 too.

Happy days then for anyone without a Xbox 360 as one of its best downloadable titles will soon be available for all to enjoy. I gave it top marks in my review, noting the absence of a traditional soundtrack and instead having a haunting score, adding to Limbo‘s creepiness. As of today, said score has been released onto iTunes for £3.49, including six tracks of melancholy and woe with equal measures of glee. Nice.

Fable’s foibles

Earlier today I posted a story about Fable creator, Peter Moluneux and how bad he felt about the showing of his latest game, Fable: The Journey due to the poor reception it received. Turns out his feelings of woe don’t stop there as Gamasutra found out. Moluneux told them how ashamed he was at the ‘weak’ scores of Fable III and how it didn’t reach the five million units sales goal Lionhead Studios had predicted. And much like his reasons for Fable: The Journey, the third game suffer because of a short development cycle.

“The game came together very late. That is one of the things that we’re changing; that is just such an old school way of working. That being said, I still think it was a good game! I just don’t think it was a great game that took us to 5 million units. I know I probably should say it’s a great game just respective of whatever it was, but the Metacritic score was sort of low-’80s. I think I’m pretty ashamed of that, to be honest, and I take that on my own shoulders, not the team’s shoulders.”

It’s highly commendable for a veteran games designer like himself to take all the blame and plays into another discussion as to whether games should be accredited to an individual like movies do. Should the next full Fable game be called Peter Molyneux presents Fable IV? If he’s willing to burden the hate if it doesn’t live up to par, then maybe it should.

Back to the Gamasutra talk and Molyneux tried to add a little bit of positive spin saying “[Fable III] still sold millions and millions of units, and it’s probably going to net out, with the PC version, closer to the 5 million than perhaps you would think; but it’s not the dream. It didn’t end up being the game that I dreamed it would be, because I thought the mechanic of the ruling section were really good ideas. I thought they were good ideas, but we just didn’t have time to exploit those ideas fully.” It sadly didn’t end up being the game fans dreamt about either. I wanted to love Fable III, I really did and to begin with, I did. There are still some brilliant ideas and great moments but a few to many duff ones too. Like the latter half of the game where you’re the King or Queen which didn’t really do anything other than frustrate. Again, neat idea but awkward execution.

With a franchise like Fable and a company like Lionhead with it’s quirky style and humour, there’s certain expectations that come to mind when playing. Fart jokes for example. But Molyneux hates the idea gamers approach his games with preconceived ideas : “I hate the fact that people know what to expect from something like Lionhead,” he said. “‘We know what Fable‘s going to be; we know what’s coming next from Lionhead.’ I hate that idea. We should, again, double down on freshness and originality without sacrificing – because often originality can sacrifice quality – without sacrificing quality.”

I’m all for innovation but there is some value in keeping a certain formula. In the case of Fable, its stories, characters and utterly British sensibilities are what make it great and what I’ve come to expect from a studio like Lionhead and wouldn’t view this as a negative. Molyneux went on to reiterate how he and the team have learned a number of lessons from the criticisms of Fable III and that their working habits have changed accordingly. Hopefully not too much however. I wouldn’t want Fable IV being drastically different to III, just better.

Crysis averted

When the first Crysis game was released, I didn’t have a hope in hell of playing it. My PC would have probably struggled with Minesweep let alone such a graphically intensive shooter. So the announcement that Crysis 2 was on its way to consoles pleased me to no end. I mean, the hallowed Crytek engine was coming to my platform of choice, what could be better? And earlier this year it did just that, playing brilliantly on my Xbox 360 and looking rather splendid in the process. Aside from the occasional moronic AI and frustrating glitches, I, the console gamer, was happy however some hardcore fans of the first game weren’t so chipper. A supposed dumbing down took place in order for it to run on consoles plus a shift in story and gameplay didn’t help matters. Worst of all for the die-hard crowd was the lack of Direct X 11 and 10 support opting to go with DX9 instead.

That meant Crysis 2 wasn’t the power hungry beast Crysis was and although looking gorgeous on places, it never truly tested GPUs. Crytek ceo, Cevat Yerli spoke with Gamasutra about the change and the upcoming patch saying: “Crysis 1’s intention was, if I were to play it three years later, it looks great. And it does, actually, it fulfilled that. But it made it difficult for entry-level players. So with Crysis 2, we took a different direction, and it backfired a little bit.” It’s unfortunate the a developer making a game more accessible in this way gets their wrists-slapped for doing so but the fans know what they want and it sounds as if they don’t want just any old gamer playing Crysis 2. The patch, coming in a couple of weeks, adds things like HDR motion blur, displacement and parallax occulsion mapping among other things which will no doubt make an already good looking game even more pretty but it really is just a peace offering of sorts to appease a certain crowd. Crytek will make no money by producing the patch as they don’t believe it’ll gin any more purchases. But ironically, the company are again trying to please everyone even though the original changes and omittance of DX11 were made in order to please everyone (my head hurts…)

“This is much more like a gift to the high-end community,” Yerli said. “And I think gamers will appreciate that. It lifts up Crysis 2 and gives a sneak peak of how PC gaming will evolve in the future, if you support a high-end preference.” It’s great that Crytek are tweaking the game so it can last a good few years but the annoyance apparently comes from PC fans wanting an upgrade over the console on release not months after. Which I can totally understand, Crysis 1 gained popularity by being intensive and why shouldn’t the sequel be too? One commenter on Gamasutra pointed out that the mainstream market wasn’t so happy with their rigs being pushed to the limit. He also pointed out a Steam survey which showed only 5% of users had a DX11 card with the majority using a DX10/11 one. That means only 5% would reap the benefits of high-end DX11 visuals and such a small number isn’t one a developer can economically focus all their attention on.

Not being a PC gamer I won’t fully appreciate the significance of the ‘degrade’ of Crysis 2 and subsequently its upgrade to DX11. But, as much as I enjoyed the game, it was the aforementioned questionable AI and bizarre glitches that spoilt Crysis 2, not the graphics.

Spencer kinects with Halo Anniversary

I have to admit, I loves me some Halo. Funnily enough, a game that puts a lot of emphasis on multiplayer is one that I happily play solo, buddying up for some fire fight action now and again but mostly I jump, shoot and squat all by myself. So you can imagine my excitement when Halo 4 was announced at E3. I was one of the lucky few who didn’t know it was coming so soon was wasn’t expecting it but was fully prepared for the remastered version of Master Chief’s first adventure, Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary.

This November, Halo reaches its tenth birthday, hence the HD rerelease, and in that time the video game industry has changed dramatically thanks to the dominance of motion controls. The Wii arguably started it, Sony bettered it and Microsoft took away the controller all together, which is said to enhance certain games. You know, the whole ‘Better with Kinect’ tagline? With so many Kinect devices sold, it’s no wonder Microsoft are ramping up support and Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary is one of the first-party titles complete with Kinect integration. How? Right now, no-one really knows as the public only found out after Microsoft Games Studio head, Phil Spencer, gave an interview with Gamespot. Speaking about E3 as a whole, he said the companies aims this year was to talk of all the hardcore Kinect titles on the way. Games like Forza 4 and Ryse and “even games like Halo Anniversary.”

You can imagine the initial horror which springs to mind from the hardest of hardcore gamers. Controller-less Halo with hand-gestured shooting and Joy Ride-style Warthog driving. But in reality, it’s more probable that Kinect in Halo with be for things like grenade tossing or possibly melee attacks. And like Mass Effect 3 which also includes Kinect, you can guarantee the whole thing will be optional.

I’m all for developers finding interesting ways to introduce Kinect in traditional experiences. The way BioWare is doing it is exactly how motion-control should find their way into core games. But that’s still just the start. It’s when playing a game using both controller and Kinect feels seamless and not jarring, that’s what I want to see and fingers crossed, it’s what we will be seeing come next year’s E3 instead of the slightly awkward implementation in Ghost Recon this year. And does Halo, as a first person shooter, really need Kinect? Probably not. But I’m glad it’s being considered at least. Though if I find out waggling is being grotesquely forced into one of my favourite franchises, I’ll take it all back!