Welcome to the first ever installment of The Weekly Wrap. It’s been a long, news-packed week. Some of it was important; some of it was a Kinect swimming game. Here we tell you what happened, and what it all means.
What happened: Black Ops developer Treyarch took gamers to task for being “angry entitled fans who look to be contrarian, sometimes simply for the sake of being contrarian” instead of lauding creators who “try new things.”
What it means: You’re probably feeling an uncomfortable, overwhelming urge to jam a finger in Treyarch’s face and shout “Look who’s talking. You haven’t ‘tried new things’ in years.” And, in part, you’re onto something. But so is Treyarch. Gamers have become distressingly cynical as of late. Don’t believe us? Look at review score scales. In many circles, if a game scores an eight or higher, it’s good; seven or lower and it’s bargain bin material. In essence, we have three levels of praise and seven angles from which to tear a game to shreds. A bit uneven, no? And don’t even get us started on dismissive “lol new game from is guna suk” comments before you’ve even seen the damn game. So, where does this ugly cynicism come from? Is it a result of a giant gray tidal wave of samey sequels? Or are developers like Treyarch only taking the “safe” route because cynical gamers won’t accept anything else? Perhaps everyone’s at fault here.
What happened: SCE CEO Kaz Hirai expressed interest in putting his company’s “hardware-neutral” mobile gaming platform on every handheld device short of an Etch-a-Sketch – but not until Sony has the resources to do so.
What it means: Like it or not, phones – in all their various sizes and (thankfully no-longer-taco-esque) shapes – have grown into one of game development’s most fertile soils. After all, nearly everyone has a phone, so that’s one hell of an installed base. Sony, at least, seems to realize how crucial these little slices of sci-fi are to the future of gaming, but the jury’s still out as to whether the Japanese giant – with its slow-but-sure Android-centric start – is capitalizing quickly enough. However, a unified platform like PS Suite could certainly work wonders on app store organization, which – nowadays – is like wandering through a maze full minotaurs and crushing depression. Also, we’re sure smaller developers wouldn’t mind having a way to stand out from the crowd. The bottom line? There’s gobs of potential in Sony’s plan, but dedicated execution is what’ll make it sink or swim, and this is far from the only thing on Sony’s plate.
What happened: In EA COO John Schappert’s eyes, 3D’s certainly not leaping from the cradle to the grave, but for now, EA’s focus lies elsewhere. “I’m mostly interested, with all the mobile devices that are coming out, in how they’re being connected to one another and how the same IP is shared over the top,” he said.
What it means: The 3D vs. connectivity argument potentially presents yet another chapter in the never-ending tug-of-war between how we play games and when – and where – we play them. Companies like Nintendo – unsurprisingly – have decided to add an extra dash of spice to the games themselves, but who knows where everyone else will stand when the dust clears? EA, it seems, is betting the farm on connecting devices until it’s formed a videogame Voltron (Madden, coming to your giant lion robot that doubles as a foot this fall), and so far, we can’t argue with the results. Dead Space on iPhone, especially, does an excellent job of demonstrating the method behind EA’s alleged madness, preserving the franchise’s core values while providing new insight into its universe. And that’s only right now. The possibilities are immensely exciting, which is why guys like Ken Levine and Randy Pitchford are praying that a new breed of “next-gen” living room juggernauts doesn’t barge in and trample it all down before it really has a chance to take off.
What happened: If anyone can get a new generation of graphics off to a great start, it’s id’s resident master of tech and tweets we’ll never be able to understand, right? Maybe not: “I have a couple more research projects to undertake in the coming year, but the technical work I am most excited about doesn’t have anything to do with graphics,” he said.
What it means: Craving a new helping of hyper-realistic eye candy? Get in line – and maybe bring a tent, because it’s gonna be a long wait. On the upside, incremental graphical leaps will probably – at least, temporarily – put an end to the days of, “Buy our vapid, mindless game because, look, water that’s not Vaseline and realistic eyebrow physics!” Kick out that crutch and, hopefully, big-budget games will be forced to mix things up creatively. On the other hand, new generations often bring an influx of new IPs, and even the most creative guys and gals around will eventually hit a wall with old tech. At any rate, the current generation’s going into overtime, platforms – through downloadable titles, peripherals, new business models, and things of the like – are becoming truly differentiated, and, well, we never thought we’d still be this excited more than five years into a console cycle.
What happened: Sony apparently spirited a bunch of developers away to some offshore island (It’s called London -Ed) and revealed a smattering of new NGP features, including – perhaps most excitingly – the ability to essentially move a full-resolution, 60 fps PS3 game straight onto NGP. No compromises.
What it means: This could be the thing that ensures many gamers never see the world – except via disinterested peripheral vision – again. That holds especially true if save data can leap back and forth between PS3 and NGP. More than anything, though, it raises questions. The bean-spilling, cat-debagging developer “source” implied that additional features will be required to justify a blast from the NGP shrink ray. And two “different” games creates an opportunity for two “different” price tags – and likely a slobber-knocking one-two punch knockout for your wallet. If that ends up being the case, we’re hoping there’ll at least be a substantial discount for buyers of both versions, but there’s no telling at this point. In an ideal world, this unified approach to NGP and PS3 development would put us a step or two away from true connectedness between gaming platforms. Unfortunately, this isn’t an ideal world.