After The Storm Comes The Calm… It’s Time to Focus on What’s Important: The Games and The Features

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E3 2013 is over, and in the aftermath most articles and online posts have kept repeating the same mantra over and over again:  that Sony had “won” E3, and that Microsoft’s Xbox One was “doomed”, due to its numerous and onerous restrictions on game usage and sharing, and its “online check-in once a day” requirement.

Well, in a page taken directly from Mad Men’s quintessential ad man (and douche) Don Draper, Microsoft didn’t like what it was hearing, so it “changed the conversation.”  The straw that broke the proverbial camel’s back seems to have been an appearance by Sony’s Mark Cerny in the Jimmy Fallon Show, in which Fallon remarked that the PS4 was going to be the only console that played used games, to which the audience responded with thunderous applause.  The very next day, Microsoft dropped a bomb, and announced that it was backpedaling on all previously announced Xbox One DRM restrictions and measures.  You could buy and sell used games.  Games would work exactly as they did with the Xbox 360.  There would be no online check-in requirement.  Armed Forced gamers in particular greeted this last part of the announcement very enthusiastically.

So now that the Microsoft has leveled the playing field (except for that pesky $100 price difference between the Xbox One and the PS4) it’s time to focus on what makes these new game consoles appealing:  the games and the features.

This week Sony released a short video.  It was previously shown at their E3 Press Conference.  It shows a young man named Will arriving at his pad, and turning on the PS4.  The has some pizza, and plays a little Knack, when one of his PSN friends, rudely interrupts, and asks him to come help him out in a multiplayer Killzone game.  WIll doesn’t have that game, so he seamlessly switches to the PSN Store screen, buys it, and starts the download for the multiplayer part of the game first.  (That download bar is moving screamingly fast, so I presume Will has Google Fiber, or some other kick-ass, Grade A broadband service;) He goes back to playing Knack while Killzone downloads in the background, and then he gets a message from the very cute Sarah, who asks if he’s playing Knack.  They start chatting, with Will using the gamepad to select letters and characters from an improved but familiar on-screen keyboard (console makers have to improve this part … inputting sentences in a console is awful, and it seems like it will continue to be awful unless you connect a physical keyboard.)  He gets a message that Killzone has finished downloading, clicks on a “Join” on-screen button, and seamlessly switches to his friends’s Killzone game.  Will and his buddy record and share gameplay videos.  The camera cuts away to Sarah, who, as it turs out, is chatting with Will from her smartphone, while sitting ina diner somewhere.  Sarah then buys Killzone from her smartphone, and has it remotely downloaded to her own PS4.  Will and Sarah keep flirting, while Brian, Will’s buddy, presumably sits around like a big fat third wheel. 😛

As to the Xbox One, Microsoft demoed its interface and features both on the console’s reveal event and at it E3 Press Conference. Thanks to its integrated Kinnect 2.0 sensor, the console recognizes your voice command to turn itself on.  It identifies you through the camera, and logs you into your Xbox Live account automatically.  It takes you to your own, personal home screen, with your games, videos, messages and such.  The home screen also shows your last activity, whether it was a game you were playing, a video you were watching, or a web page you were browsing.  It has a new “Trending” section, in which you can see what’s currently popular in Xbox Live (akin to similar Google + and Twitter trending topics features.)  You can browse the new Xbox Live interface using hand gestures, and can always use the command “X-box, go home” (which has become sort of an Internet meme lately) to return to your home screen.  You can enable the X-box One’s TV features by saying “Xbox, watch TV.)  The console integrates your TV feed, either from your cable or satellite TV company, through an HDMI pass-through connector, meaning you don’t have to switch TV inputs to watch TV.  You can say “Xbox, game” to switch seamlessly to a game, or “Watch TV” to go back to live TV, or “Go to Music” to switch to your Xbox Live Music collection.  You can run Internet Explorer alongside a movie your watching, using something Microsoft calls “Snap Mode” or Live TV, and resize windows by moving your arms, similar to the way you “pinch to zoom” on a tablet or smartphone.  You can perform the same functions using the Xbox Smartglass app on a Windows 8, Android or iOS mobile device.  The Xbox One also comes with Skype built-in, for video chats with family and friends.  You can also do group chats in DH, all while running other apps and services in “Snap Mode”.

In truth, all of these social and online features are mere evolutions of what’s already out there.  The Xbox One’s TV features are similar to what Google TV and even Nintendo’s Wii U already offer, but taken a step further.  It’s not as good as a Tivo Premiere DVR, because it doesn’t have a built-in cablecard slot that would let it integrate completely with your pay TV service.  The video chatting, digital distribution and download, multiplayer and sharing features are mere integrations of what is availables to PC gamers right now, down to the use of UStream and Twitch to share gameplay videos and such.  What these new consoles do is to bring all the features and services in an easy-to-use package for Joe Consumer, which is very nice, but don’ forget… in the end, it’s all about the games.  But that’s a topic for another post.

Oh, and I discovered League of Legends this week.  I actually had a boxed version of the game, but it’s been sitting on my shelf for years, unopened.  (It appears you can’t get a retail version anymore, or so I’m told, which is sad, because it came with a cool manual and poster, and a bunch of unlocked champions and even some cash to spend at the game’s shop.)  I had fun playing the game with some very patient Google+ friends, and can definitely see why it’s so successful, and how it can become addictive (and expensive!).

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