Hello my name’s Matt and this is Pixel Burn, where I look at some of the more important, interesting or irritating things that happened in gaming news this week. Despite my continuing addiction to Dark Souls 2, whose siren song calls to me even now. Luckily for you people I have the mental fortitude to resist it’s seductive wiles and…
A tasty chunk of this week’s gaming news is Ubisoft-related gubbins, starting wi th the news that Watch Dogs has finally gone gold. If you’re not familiar with term, “gone gold” means the game has been finalised with a master copy pressed and delivered to manufacturing. At least in theory. While the physical copies are being mass-produced the development team are doubtless already hard at work on day one patches, as well as DLC and other supplementary bollocks.
Ready for you to spend hours downloading and installing on launch day before you can even bloody play the game, because that’s how the videogame industry works these days.
When Ubisoft announced a further six month delay a mere four weeks before it was originally due for release, Watch Dogs had already been in development for a staggering five years. So needless to say I’ll only believe this when I actually see the game running for myself, with my own two naked eyeballs, and play it with my own two sweaty hands.
Even then I’ll probably still be wondering if it’s not just some optical illusion, or a ghost. A problem not helped by there being a whopping NINE different versions of the game, some of which don’t even come with a disc.
Because they’re digital editions of course, which judging by this list seem to give you more bang for your buck in terms of raw game content. Of course digital editions don’t give you physical goodies like a 9 inch Aiden Pierce figurine, Aiden Pierce’s…ahem…”Iconic cap”, augmented reality cards, exclusive badges and other ridiculous tat you’ll only wind up throwing in a bin anyhow.
Barring any more 11th hour delays Watch Dogs will allegedly be available on May 27th. Assuming of course you successfully navigate this list and buy the version that’s right for you, without going mad, falling down a chasm or being eaten by a Grue.
The other big bit of Ubisoft news this week is the announcement of Far Cry 4, due for release on November 21st for Xbox 360, Xbox One, PS3, PS4 and PC. All we know so far is that it’s set in a fictional region of the Himalayas called Kyrat, has the variety weapons and vehicular action you expect from the series, and that you’ll get to ride around on elephants at some point. Given how well Far Cry 3 did, both critically and commercially, this announcement shouldn’t come as any sort of surprise unless you live on one of the Shetland Islands in a house made of bones. Far Cry 4 was pretty much confirmed late last year when Cliff Martinez, former member of the Red Hot Chili Peppers and composer for the movie Drive, accidentally revealed its existence during an interview with movie website Lost in the Multiplex.
In fact the only surprising thing about this announcement is the near-complete lack of any promotional media for it. Hence why I’ve had to illustrate this section with clips of Far Cry 3. (Beat)Christ, Ubisoft, would it really have killed you to give us a teaser trailer?
Actual in-game footage will doubtless be unveiled at E3 in June. All we have to go on right now meanwhile, besides this advert to pre-order the limited edition, is this picture of the cover art showing what we can safely assume is the main villain. Who looks somewhat like Julian Assange cosplaying as Graham Norton.
Whether he’ll prove as memorable and compelling a villain as Far Cry 3’s Vaas Montenegro, brilliantly portrayed by the fantastic Michael Mando, remains to be seen however. Needless to say I’m somewhat skeptical myself but only because Michael Mando gave such a fantastic performance.
Another game announced with almost zero footage to promote it is Halo 5: Guardians, the next instalment in the…*sigh* “legendary saga of the Master Chief.” No footage whatsoever but there is a zip file with “media assets” you can download and gawp at, if that’s how you choose to spend your time. All pretty much being variations of this image, featuring an upside-down Master Chief and some other person in Spartan armour with glowy blue eyes.
Halo fans might know who or what this figure is. I haven’t a fucking clue myself, and to be honest I really don’t care.
For those who do care, more of Halo 5 will be shown at Microsoft’s E3 press conference on June 9th. The actual game itself is due for release in Fall of 2015.
Far more interesting is Microsoft’s announcement of a new, cheaper Xbox One bundle, to go on sale from June 9th. The new bundles will be priced at $399 yanqui dollars or £349 Great British Pounds, and will come with everything the usual bundles do except for…The Kinect sensor. The same Kinect sensor Microsoft have insisted – from the very bginning – was an integral part of the Xbox One experience. Microsoft’s Phil Harrison even said that Xbox One IS Kinect and they are not separate systems.
Except when you’re trailing behind your chief competitor by about 2 million units sold and you need to close the gap, it seems.
Yep, the impetus behind this decision comes down to plain old sales figures, since the PlayStation 4 has sold 7 million units to date while the Xbox One has “only” shifted 5 million. With the Xbox One being more expensive than the PS4 because of the bundled Kinect sensor, you don’t need to be some kind of Money Sorcerer to work out one of the biggest reasons for that 2 million difference.
You can probably count the people who didn’t expect this U-turn on the right hand of Ser Davos Seaworth from Game of Thrones. While Microsoft publicly stuck to its guns over the Kinect with an almost psychotic stubborness it was really only a matter of time before they did something like this.
Microsoft’s main problem was while they were very good at T ELLING us why the Kinect was so important to the Xbox One, SHOWING us why was another matter entirely. The games they used to try and sell the Kinect to consumers didn’t make any better use of it than Kinect-enabled games on the 360, and the lineup even now is still pretty meagre: Zoo Tycoon, Killer Instinct, Kinect Sports Rivals, and Fighter Within all make use of the Kinect to varying, underwhelming degrees. Meanwhile games that look to make better use of the Kinect’s features, such as Project Spark, won’t be out for a while yet.
It also didn’t help that the Kinect is a somewhat creepy little bit of kit. There are people who want an Xbox One to play Xbox One exclusives, but at the same time don’t want a cold, unfeeling mechanical eye scrutinising them whenever they enter the room. I don’t know about you but that seems like a reasonable request to me.
Particularly as the Edward Snowden NSA revelations have made people increasingly cautious of who or what they allow to peek into their homes. For all Microsoft’s assurances that Kinect wasn’t sending daily mugshots of you to the NSA, it was always going to have trouble competing with that piece of the public consciousness permanently occupied by George Orwell’s 1984.
While this decision is probably good for Microsoft from a financial viewpoint, it’s still an embarassing climb-down from their previous position and one that’ll haunt them for some time to come. They made a big deal of Kinect as one of Xbox One’s core features and banked on it being a system seller, only to discover that it was quite the opposite for many consumers. Speaking of consumers they’re the biggest winners in this as they now have more choice available to them. Even if that choice is only whether or not a robot eye swatches you stuff your face with cheetos while you play Titanfall.
Meanwhile spare a thought for developers like Harmonix, currently developing Fantasia: Music Evolved, who’ve sunk money into developing Kinect functionality on the assumption the entire Xbox One userbase would have one. While that was still the case developers had some incentive to try and do something interesting with it. Now the Kinect is no longer mandatory, many developers will sieze the chance to shave time and dollars off their development costs by scrapping any Kinect functionality. A move that can only harm the chances of there ever being a real break-out system seller for it.
Meanwhile the most interesting things being done with the Kinect continue happening outside of gaming, like its use in hospital operating theatres, or this 3D video capture for a telepresence system utilising three Kinects in a triangle formation. Yes it looks blurry and pants, but lots of awesome things look rubbish at first. I mean look at this screenshot of the first ever website, created for CERN by Sir Tim Berners-Lee twenty-one years ago. Even then nobody looked at this and thought “wow, this will revolutionise global telecommunications and human culture.” It was just a bunch of words on a screen. For nerds.
For all my bile and sarcasm however I do genuinely believe the Kinect has potential…just not as a games controller. At least, not for the games I like to play. What Kinect does well is approximating physical actions and catering to physical play that doesn’t require pixel-precise movement. Games like Double Fine’s Happy Action Theatre and Harmonix’s Dance Central for example, which worked around the Kinect’s limitations, played to its strengths and just let you piss-about and have a laugh.
I feel if Microsoft had stuck to its guns a while longer, at least until some more impressive Kinect games had been released, then it could be said they gave it a fair chance. As it stands this move smells too much like desperation and jittery nerves over a mere 2 million unit sales.
A cheaper Xbox One sans Kinect might very well close that gap with the PS4 and boost sales in the short term, but will that be good for it in the long term? Whatever your feelings on the Kinect as a peripheral it’s inarguably a unique feature of the Xbox One and has potential…in the hands of everyone except most games developers it seems. Now the user base has been split between Kinect-owners and non-Kinect-owners there’s less incentive for developers to try and realise that potential, and less chance of us lot getting a great Kinect game out of it.
That’s all for this episode of Pixel Burn. If you liked it then please do let me know, and let your family, friends and clockwork menagerie know as well. At the very least I hope you found it tolerable. If you didn’t like it then you’re probably a Halo fan or something, in which case you can go now.