bioware

Insightful Gaming – How Xbox Wins NextGen

I’m pretty stoked about next gen. 60fps? True 4K? SSD? Unreal 5? Ray Tracing? Sign me up. I have a feeling RPGs, stealth games and platforming are going to be huge. We also might see some incredible PC style strategy games finally hit consoles. And maybe, just maybe, a good Superman game. We have three systems: Xbox Series X, PS5, and Switch Pro (come on, it’s a given). In this quickie post, how can Xbox win next gen?

This is nothing more than a wishlist. I am not using any “insider info.” Nope. Just thirty years of gaming, my skills as an analyst, and my thoughts on where the industry is and where it can go. With that mumbo, jumbo out of the way, let’s get down to business.

June Event:

All about the hardware. Xbox Series X. Maybe the cheaper version, Xbox Series S. Elite Controller 2.0. Talk about Game Pass and X-Cloud. Demonstrate how Xbox Live is bigger and better. Then do a full power presentation.

If I were in charge of marketing, I’d press the following: Most Powerful System. Best Online Experience. Best Controller. Full Backwards Compatible. No censorship. Then emphasize Smart Delivery. I’d also ensure the event was only a day or two after Sony’s June event.

Lastly, I’d show-off some 3rd party titles. New Batman from Montreal? Superman from Rocksteady? Cyberpunk 2077? Harry Potter RPG? New Splinter Cell? Talk about how Xbox is the premiere choice for all third party titles. Then announce a bunch of timed exclusives. Hardcore gamers hate them, but it makes a significant impact on the market in general. Also, make the Flight Simulator the showpiece. End the presentation blasting the theme song from the 1990s X-Men animated series – yeah, Sony has Spiderman. We have the X-Men.

July Event

This first one is a long shot, but it makes sense. EA makes most of their money from live services. Live services work well with sport titles and Dice war games. They do not like single player experiences. Xbox wanted BioWare before. Plus, Respawn and Visceral Games would be perfect fits. Lastly, EA has never been a big fan of the Star Wars license. So they can unload it.

So the conference opens up with the announcement BioWare is now an Xbox studio. The Original Mass Effect trilogy, the Dragon Age trilogy, KOTOR I & II and Jade Empire are all being remastered alongside Saber Interactive. 4K resolution. 60fps. New content. Better gameplay mechanics. They show teasers for a new Mass Effect, Dragon Age, Anthem 2.0, and Jade Empire 2. But no rush. They then announce they are making KOTOR III alongside Obsidian.

Obsidian shows off dlc for The Outer Worlds, Grounded, and Pillars of Eternity 3. They also tease The Outer Worlds 2 and Alpha Protocol 2. Sega makes a statement that all of their new games are coming to Xbox: Persona, Yakuza, Sonic, Virtual Fighter, Phantasy Star, Atlas, and Total War. Then Total War announces they are working on a Halo RTS. This is followed by a string of 3rd party exclusives: Alan Wake 2 (Remedy), Marvel vs DC (Capcom), Dying Light 2 (Techland), Scalebound (Platinum), and Elden Ring (FromSoftware). This leads then to showing off a host of JRPGs that are finally coming to Xbox.

The Coalition show dlc for Gears Tactics, and then tease Mech Assault, Gears 6, and Jedi Academy. Ninja Theory show updates for Bleeding Edge, and then show Hellblade 2. They finish with teases for Project Mara and Odyssey 2. Trailers for Age of Empire 4 (Relic), Forza Motorsport 8 (with teaser for a new Forza New Horizons), Killer Instinct (no longer made by Rare), and then a bombshell: Bungie is once again an Xbox Studio. They drop trailers for Destiny 3 and a new IP and they tease they will be tackling Battlefront.

Rare shows off Sea of Thieves 2.0 with NPC crews and a host of improvements and additions. They show trailers for Everwild and Banjo and hint that they are not finished with Conker or the Battletoads.

The Initiative blasts onto the stage with a futuristic spy thriller reboot of Perfect Dark. They also tease they are working on X-Men and Deadspace. Then the trailer for Fable 4 is dropped by Playground Games. This segment is finished off by ReSpawn showing off Titan Fall 3, Apex Legends 2.0, and Jedi Fallen Order 2.

People Can Fly announces they are now an Xbox Studio. They show off a new IP and then tease they are tackling a reboot of TimeSplitters. Cause why not? Xbox then drops teasers for what multiple in-house studios are working on. A nice ten minute showcase of multiple games spread across multiple genres.

We then get teasers for Starfield, a new Witcher game, and that all dlc for LA Noire 2 is time exclusive for Xbox. Larian Studios comes out to say they are now an Xbox studio and Baulders Gate 3 and Divinity 3 are coming to Xbox. And then a partnership is announced: Xbox will be working with Bandai to create a Full Metal Alchemist game. They show off improvements to MineCraft and Fortnite before ending on a full reveal of Halo Infinite.

New weapons, new vehicles, improved melee, dual wielding, more assassinations, bigger environments, better stealth mechanics, and your armor takes on battle damage. You can also smash throw walls and drop a building on enemies – options are almost limitless to how you want to tackle missions. Hundreds of npcs make for huge set pieces. More WOW moments. The banished, the flood, new alien species, massive boss battles, space combat, and awesome Halo music. They reveal the biggest campaign ever with improved multiplayer and even a battle royal mode. 343 Studios then ends with a teaser for ODST 2.

August Event:

Obviously, this is where they should announce the price – $400 for Xbox Series X and $300 for Xbox Series S. They then announce a September release for Series X and a November release for Series S. They wrap it up with a showcase of the return of Summer Indies. A host of indie games will release every summer, starting with a ton of exclusives in August. Lastly, they mention that Game Pass, at least a limited version, will be coming to the Nintendo Switch in addition to Xbox Live for Switch. It’s a rad partnership and gives Xbox some serious momentum.

Summary:

Ok, so 90% of this is fantasy for sure. There could be curveballs, like ZeniMax or CD Projeket Red becoming an Xbox studio. Or maybe nothing happens and we get all hyped for nothing. But this is my wishlist, and I’m sticking to it until my dreams are dashed to pieces.

My e3 2015 Predictions

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The “Re-mastered Generation” has stumbled out of the box. When I look over my PS4 collection and observe that its best games are The Last of Us, Diablo 3, and Tomb Raider, an issue arises. Where are the games that define this generation? Super Mario 64 pushed the N64 off selves. Super Metroid rocked our world when it popped up on the Super Nintendo. Sonic the Hedgehog breathed life into my Sega Genesis. Remember Shenmue and Powerstone for the Dreamcast? What about Metal Gear Solid for the PS1? I took a dive onto the Xbox for Halo. I plunged face first into the Xbox 360 for Mass Effect and Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion. Dating back to the original Atari, I don’t recall a single time in gaming history where so many recycled titles dominated the shelves.

Destiny was rubbish. I can say that. For everything the game accomplished, it managed to do a lot more wrong. Let’s review: no story, a bare bones competitive multiplayer mode, a boring grind system, and a repetitive mission structure make for a dull experience. An experience that not even great core mechanics, beautiful visuals, and an excellent frame rate can overcome. Shadow of Mordor hinted at greatness, the nemesis system was real innovation, but its true potential remained unknown, held back by being produced for last generation consoles that are now ten years in age. Dragon Age: Inquisition was a return to form for Bioware, but nothing about it screamed, “This is the future of gaming!” Too many fetch quests combined with unimaginative side quests produced an experience that was good, but not great. I felt I could have enjoyed a similar experience playing it on the Xbox 360 as opposed to the PS4. This generation’s library of games remains average at best.

Add to the dearth of titles the rise of releasing half-finished products and the non-too subtle attempt at inching towards always online connectivity, and I am left wondering if it is worth continuing this hobby? What about virtual and augmented reality? Shouldn’t you perfect what you already have before moving on to the next big thing? Or is sinking into a pool of mediocrity to be the accepted norm? Don’t worry true believers: re-mastered versions of God of War 3, Alan Wake, and Final Fantasy X are set to join the re-mastered versions of Sleeping Dogs, GTA V, Devil May Cry, and the Master Chief Collection that already populate the shelves. Recycle. Recycle. Recycle.

Hope exists. Another e3 is on the horizon. A chance for redemption may be in play. Perhaps this sinking ship can be righted after all. Or maybe it is time for this old guy to put down the controller and move on to reading. Here are my top predictions/wishes for e3 2015:

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Bethesda Steals the Show

They are already making history by announcing their own floor presentation. What do I expect? The Doom reboot, Dishonored 2, a dlc expansion for the Elder Scrolls MMO, and a new IP. I am hoping for Elder Scrolls VI. I think we may be surprised by what Bethsaida decides to do with Fallout. Many are expecting a sequel much in the vein of Fallout 3. What we may get is a trailer for a Fallout MMO instead. Not saying I like the idea, but there is evidence…

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Bioware Continues their Resurrection  

An expansion, similar to Awakening, is shown for Dragon Age Inquisition. A trailer is shown for Mass Effect 4 with a release date pushing it to holiday 2016. Another teaser is flashed for their new IP, and their segment is ended by the announcement that the Mass Effect trilogy is coming to the PS4/Xbox One. My hope is not just for the routine 1080p/60fps with all the dlc treatment. I wish they would also fine tune the combat, give it another level of polish, add additional cut scenes, extend other cut scenes, and transfer the sound effect lessons they implemented in Mass Effect 3 into Mass Effect 1 and 2. A steel case, the soundtrack for the entire trilogy, an art book, and a disc that goes behind the scenes into the making of the entire trilogy would be an added bonus. Alas, I feel my expectations have me set up for a major disappointment. Hey, if you are going to re-master everything, might as well get it done right.

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The Wii-U Swansong

My biggest hesitation last year with Nintendo was my worry that they would abandon the Wii-U and make a run on a new console. They haven’t abandoned the Wii-U, yet. The writing, however, is on the tombstone. The next system will be unveiled next year. If they’re smart, not only does it match the PS4/Xbox1 while introducing a remarkable innovation, it also hits store shelves holiday 2016. This creates a cloud over everything Nintendo decides to show at this e3. My mind is already looking to next year. What tricks do they have up their sleeves to recapture my attention to the Wii-U? Or is it already a lost cause?

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PS4/Xbox 1 Come out Swinging…

With what? PS4 will likely tout exclusive games like Deep Down, Street Fighter V, and No Man’s Sky. Xbox will be all about Halo, Crackdown, Tomb Raider: Rise of the Tomb Raider, and Quantum Break. More re-masters will be shown off. More boring stats that no one cares about will be recited. My hope? PS4 shows off that top secret RPG that Guerilla Games is supposedly working on, a new IP is shown off by Quantic Dream, and a classic like Syphon Filter is reborn. Throw in some more indies, another third party exclusive, and cap it off by showing more footage from Uncharted 4 and a teaser for the next God of War (time to take on the Japanese pantheon), and you’ll have a winner. Xbox needs to hit the first party exclusive scene hard. Perfect Dark? Kameo? Banjo? The next Gears of War? Yes, yes, yes, and yes. How about bringing Starcraft and Overwatch over from Blizzard? Throw in a brand new killer IP, and they will be golden as well. Why? The taste of being burned in the last half of the Xbox 360’s cycle is still fresh in my mouth. The part where they shifted their focus from games to TV. Blow it up with first party exclusives for the second year in a row and that taste may be gone for good.

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VR/Augmented Reality take Center Stage

This is unfortunate. Too many gimmicks have fallen flat on their faces over the last few years in the industry. Right the ship you’re sailing before you tether another boat lest both end up sinking. At least, that’s my take. I expect this season’s technological darling to receive an awful lot of limelight. We will see big promises. We may even be wowed by presentation. Just bear in mind reality. If the history of e3 presentations are anything to go by, looking at you Watch Dogs, keep yourself grounded in fact and do not be swayed by fancy fiction.

Pushing Limits

Part 1 of 2

A Game of Balances…

 

Are video games an art form?  The question is sure to stir up debate and needless strife.  I wish to avoid such banter and get right down to the real issue that is often overlooked: interactive storytelling is our generation’s new medium of writing.  And like films were in the 1920’s, storytelling in games is still very much in its infancy.

Novels may forever be the greatest medium for telling stories.  It not only narrows the cooks allowed in the kitchen to one, but gives something no other medium can: a look into the minds of the characters.  Film, television, and plays can be flashier, absolutely.  They consist of moving pictures and sound.  However, what you cast on a screen or place on a stage will never equal a person’s imagination.  Nor is there a way to film a character’s thoughts.

Graphic novels and comic strips are a hybrid of sorts.  They present still pictures and thought bubbles; bridging the gap between novel and film.  Albeit, a bridge with flimsy construction.  The art form also dates back to Egyptian hieroglyphics and the superhero tales told today (i.e. Batman, Superman, etc) can be rightly labeled modern day mythology.

Interactive storytelling can be described as a hybrid to a degree.  It has the potential to present thought-provoking stories that engage your mind and capture your imagination.  It consists of moving pictures and sound, but can go far beyond what graphic novels and films are capable of.  It offers a key advantage over any other medium: the ability for the reader (player) to interact directly with the story.    This becomes both its blessing and curse.  Indeed, interactive storytelling is really a game of balances.

Stuck in Neutral

 

Most games that are published today are suffering from an identity crisis.  Games like Uncharted 3 and Modern Warfare 3 can’t decide whether they are a game or a movie.  Some take being a game too far, like Saints Row The Third, and sacrifice story altogether.  Others, like Alan Wake, go in the opposite direction.  Games like Infamous mix in comic book elements.  Many more are simply made as gimmicks to make money off licensing.  Very few games today are doing much to advance the actual medium.

The quicker developers and publishers come to the realization that games are not movies, comics, or novels, the better.  Writing for television and writing for games are two entirely different things.  Rather than attempting to copycat what other mediums are doing, interactive storytelling needs to put on pampers and grow up.

This doesn’t mean that every game needs to be Shakespeare.  Just as each novel carries with it the individual voice of its authors, so game writers must learn to find their voice in the stories they write.  I believe the sooner that can be accomplished, the better.  And it really begins with learning how to balance.

 

by D.L. Timmerman

writerofthings1@gmail.com