Don’t Let Me Drive the Chopper?

Co-op with best friends is never a bad idea.

(You’ll just need to grab that link until I can work on a better Twitch embed handler, I guess. The one I have right now doesn’t support Clips.)

If you want to potentially see more moments like this one, consider visiting my Twitch channel and following it. I try to stream at least a few times a week, and play various types of games depending on what I’m working on at the time.

Killer Instinct Season 3 Stage Lighting

I meant to publish something linking to this post on the KI site the other day when the post went up. I can’t ignore this; it looks too rad.

We are excited to be adding several new elements to KI Season 3 that we believe really improve the overall experience, and I’m going to be speaking to the ‘Art side’ of things today.

In terms of visuals, we are adding new graphics technology; reflection tech for the stages; re-introducing screen space color adjustments that work with gameplay; adding an all-new dynamic lighting system that provides greater realism and interaction for the characters and stages. Not only will Season 3 feature this new lighting, but we’ve gone back and re-lit everything for Season 1 and 2 as well. We can’t wait for our fans to see the enhancements of KI’s visuals!

KI S1 had a “deep black” look that many fans really loved, and we’ve gone back to it (with a ton of upgrades!), so you’ll see deeper darks and more “mood” throughout all the stages.

It’s a huge difference just in screenshots. From this:

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to this:

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Killer Instinct is kind of the little fighting game that could; it does a good number of things super-well that other fighters haven’t so far, and it has a dev team behind it that’s committed to making progress on a number of fronts.

The changes they have announced for Season 3 are pretty big changes and I’m looking forward to seeing what the competitive scene looks like in another couple of months.

PS4 Is Getting Improved Streaming

Speaking of streaming, from a post on the PlayStation Blog:

In addition, this update will add an HDCP off option for capturing gameplay via HDMI, a feature we’ve previously said would come after launch. We recognize that some gamers want to record and share longer clips of their gameplay sessions, and we’re excited to deliver this option with PS4.

HDCP-protected game content was something they never “fixed” with the PS3, though I would like to see them handle that with an update at some point there as well. It makes it quite a bit harder for people to stream games from PlayStation platforms.

When they announced that this was going to happen in a “future update,” I assumed this would be vapor, so I’m happy they are actually going to ship it. But why will it apparently default to on? Having HDCP on for game output has never made any sense.

As part of a separate system software update in the future, we have been working with our partners at Twitch and Ustream, and will also be adding the ability for Twitch broadcasts to be archived – another highly requested feature among PS4 fans who are taking advantage of the SHARE button features. These broadcasts will be also provided with a higher resolution of 720p, so PS4 fans can enjoy live broadcasts with clearer images.

This fixes the other big thing that annoys about the PS4 streaming: the inability to archive the broadcasts on Twitch. And to be honest, I didn’t even know the streams weren’t 720p, I just knew that the Xbox One streaming looked a lot better (which it does).

Either way this shakes out, this is good proof that the console situation this time around is much more competitive. I love seeing these two companies trying to outdo each other with updates and content.

Titanfall: First Impressions

Around the time of the Xbox One launch, I swore off multiplayer first-person shooters. I felt like I’d had enough of the grind, progression, and skill imbalance that have followed me from game to game. I successfully warded off both Battlefield 3 and CoD: Ghosts after having read that those games were full of nothing but the same.

So why did I pick up Titanfall, and why have I been having so much fun with it, even though I haven’t gotten any better at FPS games?

The answer to the former question is that I read a bunch of reviews that intrigued me enough to see what I’m getting in to, and the answer to the latter question is pretty much entirely summed up thus:

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That’s an MVP placement, and you can see that I only killed two other humans (though a good number of AI soldiers), and died once. I scored 95% of my points on point defense, and ended up scoring first on the team by a long shot.

Everyone keeps talking about the giant robots. Yes, you can call down a giant robot every few minutes (usually a few times per match), and yes, there’s a great balance between the giant robots and the foot soldiers.

But this is the first game I’ve played in a while that successfully rewards different styles of play. And it rewards objective play over going lone wolf and racking up killstreaks. I might not get Titanfalls as often as other players because I’m not actively stomping others while on foot, but I’m defending capture points and getting rewarded for doing so.

There are lots of other things I could say about the game. The Smart Pistol is the first real assassin-style weapon in a military-style FPS, especially when combined with wallhanging. The wallrunning and double-jump stuff while on foot give a sense of exhilaration that you don’t normally feel in an FPS, and you can do so much with the tools at your disposal.

It feels like you have options. And at least so far, that’s a refreshing change.

Titanfall Classic Gameplay

Originally, I wasn’t all that interested, but after reading reviews on the game, I decided to give Titanfall a shot last night and came away somewhat impressed. I really like the style of the game and the relative simplicity of the system.

I do wish that these kinds of games would stop locking things like the Burn Cards or custom load outs behind level progression. It doesn’t do anything to help the game and makes those first few levels feel like a chore.

The video above was recorded using the Xbox One’s built-in Twitch support, which started this week. I have to say that the quality is really quite good, and it’s super-nice to not have to plug in a capture unit to get video from the console. I kind of wish they could backport this kind of thing to the 360, and now it’s my strongest case for backwards compatibility and why it would have been nice to have it.

If you have questions about the game, please let me know. If you want to play, just flag me down and I’ll be happy to hop in a game with you.

Cord Cutting Thoughts

The Markel home has been free of traditional pay TV for about a year-and-a-half now, and we’re hoping not to go back anytime soon. Historically, we have bounced between having it and not having it, but I’m hoping that we’re at least close to done with it now.

We have some basic family desires for paid TV service. They are:

  • Baseball.1
  • Hockey.2
  • The Olympics when they come around.
  • A couple of shows here and there.3
  • Access in both rooms where we have TVs.

Right now, we’re able to manage all of this. I wanted to take a bit and break this down to show what we are paying, why we’re using each service, and show some of the frustrations with cutting the cord and dealing with new ways of watching content that are still constrained by antiquated business practices.

Pricing Pay TV

Point to make first: I do not care about home phone service. I am not interested in home phone service. Triple Play bundles are stupid and I do not want them.

OK, so to get the service for two televisions in my home (assuming that DVR service and HD are necessary), here’s what I need to spend with Charter, who is my internet provider:

  • $19.99/mo for DVR service
  • $13.98/mo for the second set top box
  • $59.99/mo for the actual channel package, that covers the things listed above

So to get what I want, I’m paying $93.96/mo, and I’m pretty sure that price is a promo for twelve months. The total cost for a year would be $1,127.52, and I would guess there will be taxes and franchise fees and whatnot adding to that as well.

Services

I try to cover the above bases with a set of streaming services. It’s not perfect yet, but it’s getting there. Here’s what we’re using:

  • $5/mo for Unblock Us, which is a service that allows me to evade geolocation blocks on content by using their DNS network. This solves the problem of blackouts on sports streaming sources and gives me access to things like BBC streams, which enables me to watch things like Olympics coverage.
  • $129.99/yr for MLB.tv, which when combined with the aforementioned blackout dodging allows me to watch every baseball game of the season.
  • $149.99/yr for NHL GameCenter, giving me access to hockey (blackouts nonsense applies as well).
  • $7.99/mo for Hulu Plus, which covers the ABC and Fox shows I’m interested in, with some added bonus stuff, like the best available streaming library of classic Doctor Who and some other British oddities that they bring over.
  • $7.99/mo for Netflix, which we hadn’t had for around a year until last week, when they made their announcement regarding Star Wars: The Clone Wars. Netflix also has a few TV shows that aren’t covered by Hulu.
  • $59.99/mo semi-annually for (at least for six months) the WWE Network, which I’m choosing to support because they are actually trying to disrupt the existing pay TV model by pricing themselves in direct competition with cable providers for PPVs. Their streaming offering is also being assisted technologically by MLB Advanced Media, which is a weird but very interesting alignment.4
  • Absolutely nothing for the aerial antenna I have in my attic, which gives me OTA HD for my local networks. This covers news and weather.

My grand total for this setup is $651.72 per year, which is still a decent chunk of change but around half what I would be paying for traditional pay TV through Charter, and has the added bonus of putting more things in an on-demand relationship rather than needing to manage DVR space, which is almost always a fruitless effort.

Most devices that are out there can manage these streams, but admittedly, I have to do some gymnastics to get everything where I want it. Let’s talk about actually watching these things.

Devices

I have two televisions in my house: one in the main family room and another upstairs in our bedroom. The device layout is as such:

  • Family room
    • Apple TV
    • Mac mini
    • Xbox 360
    • Xbox One
    • PlayStation 3 (currently unhooked)
    • PlayStation 4 (currently unhooked)
  • Bedroom
    • Apple TV
    • Xbox 360
    • PlayStation 3

The sad thing is that even with all this, I don’t yet have the perfect media device, which I find personally pretty annoying. In reality, in end up using the Xbox 360 units and the Apple TVs about even amounts of time. With a little more work, the Xbox One is going to end up being the device I use the most. Here are some thoughts on devices:

Apple TV

Super-simple to use. Covers all the services that I subscribe to; if I ever switch to using Amazon Video, then it won’t be the device of choice anymore because it doesn’t have a client for that. It has clients that work for everything, but they tend to be the least fully-featured versions available.

My music and a lot of TV and movies are in my mammoth iTunes library, so I would be using this anyway because Home Sharing is boss.

Mac mini

My best friend during the olympics coverage; hook it up to an HDTV using HDMI, then full screen video you want to watch. Can watch anything with a web interface; navigation is done using VNC. Otherwise, a giant pain in the neck to use because it takes longer than the rest of the stuff to use.

Xbox 360

Currently the best option. Good apps for NHL and MLB (with one-touch scoreboards no matter what you are watching), and a Netflix app that’s been upped to the newest experience. Hulu Plus app is still the crappy “let’s make everything work with Kinect” version (read: awful), the Twitch app is similarly horrendous, and the NHL app has a habit of not liking you logging in on more than one Xbox 360, even if you aren’t using them at the same time (I have to keep putting my password in).

Xbox One

Will be the best option once more apps have been released. No apps for NHL, MLB, or WWE (though I’m assuming there will be an MLB app coming this spring). Better app for Twitch than 360, updated Hulu and Netflix experiences. Better dashboard UI than Xbox 360 as pins are on the front rather than hidden behind an option.

PlayStation 3

Good apps; can’t be controlled by IR. Non-starter.

PlayStation 4

Ditto. They couldn’t have spent $2 on an IR receiver?

Thoughts?

I’ve been staying current with it, but in my opinion cord-cutting for the masses is still a ways off. Geoblocks, content provider exclusivities, and traditional blackout-causing TV contracts cause enough problems for most people that it’s more pain than is worth it to do such a thing.

To top it off, there isn’t currently a device that is an obvious go-to hub for this kind of digital entertainment. Right now, it’s a dead heat for me between the Apple TV and the Xbox 360, and neither of those is the perfect solution. The Xbox One has a good shot at being the best available set top solution, but it’s still missing some key apps and is still a $500 investment.

I like my setup, but I know it won’t work for everyone. I’m probably using more of these things than the average person. Do you have any questions about my setup or about these services? Feel free to ask in the comments and I’ll be happy to answer them either here or in follow-up posts.


  1. The Cardinals. 

  2. The Red Wings, and increasingly the Blues. 

  3. Right now, this is mostly Castle

  4. I hope to say more about the WWE Network in a later post, but it’s a very interesting offering. 

Cord-Cutting? You’re Ahead of the Times

Benedict Evans:

The BBC puts essentially all of its content online for free in the UK. It’s on every device, at every time, on every network, for anything from a week to a month after transmission. In effect, this is the nirvana that US consumers talk about – no blackouts, no device restrictions, no channel conflict, no messing about, and no extra charge.

And peak viewing in October was 540k, versus peak TV of 26m.

Even if access was ubiquitous, I assume this would be the same in the US, especially given that internet speeds aren’t very good here. The leading indicator in the US is probably the Watch ESPN app, which I doubt will see released viewing numbers.

The other factor is the prohibitive cost problem associated with the idea of a la carte television purchasing compared to the current revenue model of pay TV, on which my colleague Ben Thompson has previously elaborated.

If you wonder why the Xbox One has bought in to the convergence box idea so significantly, but is not trying to replace those services, this is why. And it’s also why their strategy of playing along with existing pay TV is the right move.

I’m Forcin’ It

I’m not sure what the worst part of this gif is:

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Is it the forced laughter? The forced diversity of the actors involved? The fact that they are supposed to be socializing around food that no one is eating? The product placement itself?

Then again, hey—I’m a stereotypically overweight gamer, so maybe the worst part that this is probably aimed directly at me.

The Digital Future

The image you see up there is my game shelf. It’s loaded with titles I haven’t played, titles I’ve played through more than once, titles I think are classics and should be archived, and a years-old desire to put these things on display. It’s a collection in every sense of the word, especially since I stopped reselling my games a couple of years ago.

I’ve done this for a long time. It started with that latching game case that every kid on my block had for NES games, to a shoebox I used for SNES games, to CD racks and bookshelves and now DVD shelves I use to store bits in the form of plastic and aluminum.

Starting the end of this week, we’re headed towards a generational leap that for the first time promises to deliver games equally (or close to it) over the internet as well as from traditional retailers. I plan firmly to embrace it and at this point I’m not sure I’ll ever buy another physical game, Nintendo platforms excluded for the time being.

It’s weird to think that I won’t have a shelf loaded with the spines of titles I’ve purchased for my console, lined up for guests to peruse, but I’m excited by the idea that I’ll be able to access any game I’ve purchased at any time and load it up much faster than I would be able to move the disc from place to place. Reasons I’ve held off from this for some time but now don’t agree with:

  • Physical games are better from an “archival” standpoint and have more guarantee of being around in the future. I know this isn’t true because I have DVDs that haven’t lasted to this day because the materials simply broke down. They can be destroyed in a fire, lost, stolen, or have any one of a number of accidents happen to them.
  • The platform holders could revoke my access to my games at any time. With the increased emphasis on services in the industry forcing the hardware to the internet anyway, who’s to say they couldn’t do this with physical copies and your account as well?
  • I might not be able to download my games forever. This one will be interesting, but in any case I now believe that I’ll be able to download everything probably as long as or longer than my physical copies will survive.

The argument against myself basically came down to, “you trust Steam to be custodian of your games; why not the new consoles,” and I found that I really didn’t have a counter to that.

But here’s why I’m excited about going digital:

  • I have limited space. Shelving isn’t infinite.
  • It liberates me from caring about pre-order bonus bullshit. And I’m happy to see what Microsoft is doing with digital purchases of the “Day One” editions of some launch games, providing them to people who purchase digital within a certain number of days from release.
  • It disarms the power of the review embargo. One of the dumbest things the game industry relies upon is rendered almost completely impotent in an economy where I can trigger the download as soon as I’m done reading the reviews and I don’t have to worry about shipping times or store hours.
  • No more pushy retail clerks. I shouldn’t have to explain this one to you. Did I preorder? Nope. Don’t need to, because there’s no “allotment” I need to worry about.
  • The hope of day-and-date digital with the generational change. Sony appears to be backtracking this a bit, but my understanding is that most if not all major titles will be available digitally the same day as their physical versions. And if not, I’ll be voting with my wallet.

This change is something that’s been a long time coming. I was one of the first people to trust Steam with my game purchases when Half-Life 2 wandered onto the scene; now I plan on being one of the first people to cast off the restrictions of the disc and embrace digital distribution.

I only wish I could trade in my old physical games for the current generation for the same digital versions now. It would make things so much simpler.

Waiting for Novembermas

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I love the start of a new console generation. It’s full of weirdness, great ideas, fun, and mistakes.

In a lot of ways, you don’t know what you’re going to get. And this time, the competitiveness between the console providers has never been more fierce, so as consumers, the theory goes that we all win.

I plan on doing some live streaming around the launch weekends, so if you’re interested in that sort of thing, make sure you’re following me on Twitter.