Monday, 20 June 2016

#RAPIDFIRE - 2: A Game of Timings

Sunday, 19 June 2016

#RAPIDFIRE - 1: How do you do stop-gap consoles?

Hello everyone! Today, I'm going to start a little column on Videogames Beyonder titled #RAPIDFIRE: it is based on concise, straight to the point opinions that makes for very fast reads, but with more breathing space than Twitter's strict 140 bar less characters rule. Hopefully it'll enable more frequent updates to the blog too :) Text blocks on #RAPIDFIRE will be formatted differently from regular articles in order to make them identifiable at first sight; the format may change over time to further improve readability. Let's start with a topic that went on fire in the very last days:

 "Microsoft's E3 showed a complete misanderstanding over Sony's PS4 NEO update model: 4K is a major step up from today's gaming standards that even the most powerful gfx cards can't handle at high framerates. 98% of PC gamers still plays on Full HD displays.   To be acceptable in marketing terms, mid generation refreshes should either consolidate the de facto gaming standards (true 1080p/60fps) or bump them up in a slight but perceptible way: antialiased HDR 1620p/60fps games + 4K video support for 400$, 4 years into the cycle? Gimme!"

EDIT 06/20: 40 chars per line, 15 lines/600 chars spaces included at best. Seems like an acceptable format.

Thursday, 16 June 2016

The clash of identities at E3 2016

While the Internet is full of journalists, analysts and commentators predicating the progressive loss of relevance of gaming trade shows, common people still floods these events year after year, eager to dive into the restless stream of content that the industry churns out, both in the hardware and software departments. 3 years into a new console generation, fairs like E3 serves more as an indicator of what the market balances are, what the developers are able to do with machines they've properly gotten to grasp with, and how the manifacturers' commercial offering shapes up their identity. I'd like to elaborate on the latter point, and more specifically on what are the overarching reasons why people are more attracted to Sony or Microsoft at this point in time.

Redmond's giant played out its E3 2016 conference on an alternation of tones that gave it an enjoyable rhythm: it started with a Battlefield 1 demo focused on its expansive 64 players online battles, followed by a more light-hearted overview of Dead Rising 4's over the top undead carnage. The hot trail of action went on with a colossal boss fight demo of Final Fantasy XIV, a live multiplayer session for the paint-trade friendly Forza Horizon 3, and a blood drowned run through a campaign mission in Gears of War 4. Action seems to be the underlining theme at Xbox, along with a pronounced taste for big scales and online interactions that projects a very dynamic, "in your face" image to consumers. Sure, there's more subtlety to be found among the platform's independent offering, but it's not something that really transpires from the company's communication, and experiences like the aforementioned ones tends to get more time under the spotlights. As the wording of Project Scorpio's annoucement demonstrates ("The most powerful console ever", "Uncompromised 4K gaming"), the company adresses a crowd which is more sensible to impact messaging.  

Things gets pretty different on Sony's court. The japanese company has always strived to valorize more nuanced, alternative contents on its platforms, resorting to impressive presentation styles: at this year's E3, they brought a full orchestra and had it score the biggest demos live, on the fly. The trick added a further emotional layer to Kratos' return as a father in God of War, and more atmosphere to the gritty apocalyptic open world of Days Gone. Speaking of worlds, one thing that this generation of PlayStation titles is doing on a regular basis is opening up to exploration and experiencial narrative: whether it's full-on open worlds like Horizon: Zero Dawn's or wide sandboxes à la Uncharted 4 and God of War, space seems to play a key role on the visual expression of games this side of the barricade. The Last Guardian will have players constantly checking out their surroundings for ways to leverage the interaction between the hero and his animal companion, and the same goes for the criminally overlooked Gravity Rush 2 with its physics altering mechanics. Along with a strong, recurring attention to heroes' design and characterisation (Detroit: Become Human), these elements seems to resonate greatly with Sony's audience.

There's both a necessity and a struggle to mix things up while mantaining a certain degree of uniqueness - in other words, a reason for people to choose one product over the other

It is interesting to point out these differences in a time where the gaming offering, on both sides of the pond, is getting somehow more homogeneous in its pursuit of diversity. After all, there's an infinite landscape of tastes to cater to, and manifacturers are modulating their software lineups accordingly: Microsoft is more inclined to put light-hearted things like Sunset Overdrive and ReCore on the forefront, while Sony is cutting down on the racing and shooting departments to reinforce its focus on exclusive, atmospheric AAA titles. There's both a necessity and a struggle to mix things up while mantaining a certain degree of uniqueness (in other words, a reason for people to choose one product over the other). This leads to an evolving exchange in communication styles where Microsoft's "call to power" about Scorpio sounds like a more extreme take on what Sony did with the PS4.

As discussed in a previous article, the way new hardware is going to be introduced in the coming months will change the market's configuration in ways that we've never seen before, but let's not underestimate how the shape of both manifacturers' identities is going to evolve as a result.