Firmware 2.DOH!

Sony-PS4-SharePlay

A year and a half doesn’t sound like a long time, but in video game land, a LOT can happen.  Case in point, my perception of the ‘green’ and ‘blue’ competitors have flip-flopped.  After the initial console reveals in 2013, I golf-clapped towards Sony and rained fire and brimstone at Microsoft.  Flash forward to today, and Microsoft – despite being forced – seems to ‘get it’, while Sony does virtually nothing to maintain the gobs of good will they had acquired prior to the PS4’s launch.  I know my opinion rests amongst the minority, but will that change over the course of this generation?  After scouring countless message boards across the web, I’ve begun to see some sparks of discontent fly, sparks which have the potential to erupt into the fiery flames that fuel an awakening.  Simply put, people are beginning to understand that Sony isn’t the savior they once appeared to be.

Yes, Sony may have been able to resurrect a bed full of roses after Microsoft poisoned the soil with toxic waste, but were they really the ‘good guys’?  Not really.  For starters, Sony have experience selling a console that most consumers noped themselves away from… at least until cheaper iterations became available and the library had expanded.  Making this statement didn’t exactly help, either:

Ken Kutaragi:  “…for consumers to think to themselves ‘I will work more hours to buy one’.  We want people to feel that they want it, irrespective of anything else.”

Sony arrogance was at an all-time high… but people like to dismiss the ‘Sony is arrogant’ claim from conversation as if it were hyperbole, especially now that Don Mattrick – previous President of Interactive Entertainment Business for Microsoft – is on record saying:

Don Mattrick:  “We have a product for people who aren’t able to get some form of connectivity; it’s called the Xbox 360.”

As a result, fan boys tend to partake in the continual volley of ‘my black box is better than your black box,’ or ‘your preferred company sucks, but mine understands what gamers want!’  And you know what?  Each and every person that holds that ‘mine is better than yours’ mentality is missing the point:  BOTH companies are arrogant.  From time to time, Sony AND Microsoft display a lack of common sense.  After all, no one is perfect.  Everyone makes mistakes.  However, when you’re in business and responsible for communicating with millions of potential consumers, mistakes are costly.  Sure, Ken Kutaragi probably meant well enough… maybe he meant the PS3 was so good, people would do whatever it took to get one.  Perhaps Don Mattrick was saying that Microsoft still fully supported the Xbox 360 as a viable option.  Or not.  Who knows?  Point is, loose lips sink ships, and both companies are now painfully aware of that.

But, here’s the difference:  Microsoft have done everything in their power to make the Xbox One an attractive option for consumers.  Has it worked?  Not entirely, but they’ve certainly come a long way and they’re fighting hard with the temporary price reduction this holiday.  Sony, on the other hand, have been watching the money roll in and… well, that’s just it.  That’s ALL they’ve done.  Not only have they sold over 10 million consoles – it’s what, 13 million now? – but they sneakily slipped multiplayer behind the PS+ pay wall.  What have their loyal customers seen in return?  There’s been a host of minor changes over the last year, but the only things of any real significance to come along has been ShareFactory – their video editing suit, which handsomely beats what Xbox has – and more recently, firmware 2.0.

Why was 2.0 going to be such a huge step forward?  Well, at launch, the PS4’s UI was clean, but its ‘home row’ setup left a LOT to be desired.  Imagine everything you ever downloaded or purchased showing up in one long, continuous row… all lined up in order of last app used.  It only took about a day of installing games – both physical and digital – to see how ugly things would get later down the line.

In retrospect, it’s like Sony just made as simple a user interface as they could… not so they could wow us with something clean and sharp, but to ensure their console got out the door on time for launch.  Why do I feel they weren’t ready?  Well, let’s take into consideration that of their two biggest features – SharePlay and Suspend Mode – only one has seen the light of day.  SharePlay – which allows one of your friends to play any game in your library, via streaming technology, for an hour at a time – was finally introduced in 2.0… nearly A YEAR after the console hit retail shelves.  Suspend mode – which allows you to leave your game and come back where you left off – is still floating in the ether with no target date in sight.  But joy, you get to change the PS4 UI’s background now!  Isn’t that great?!

But, oh, what’s this?  SharePlay isn’t all it’s cracked up to be…

Apparently, there are some restrictions that won’t allow you to share every game in your library.  What’s sure to be one of the biggest releases this holiday is already behind a restriction wall – Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare.  How can this be?  Sony previously promised SharePlay would work across ALL PS4 games, as there was no opt-out clause for developers/publishers.  Certain scenes were to be blocked, as to not reveal any major spoilers to potential customers, but that was it.

Well, that was a bunch of hocus pocus, because Activision said ‘Hahaha, sorry, but no,’ restricted every bit of Call of Duty, and Sony?  They’re in damage control mode, of course.  Here’s Sony, per Gamesbeat (of Venturebeat):

“Share Play is a system level feature enabled by System Software Update 2.00, making it available for all PS4 titles; however, the option is available to developers to disable the feature according to what they feel will best benefit the consumer experience,”

Sony made a promise they can’t keep?  That sounds awfully familiar… (link to the Driveflub article with that last bit of text) I guess they just hoped every publisher would fall in line?  Poor form, and poor business, at that.

That aside, the real problem with 2.0 isn’t what it did or didn’t include, but what it failed to do:  Keep the PS4 stable.  Basically, the console’s Standby Mode – which allows you to keep your PS4 in a low powered state so you can Remote Play or download updates when you’re not around – was renamed to Rest Mode… although some aggravated customers would probably dub it ‘Rest In Peace Mode’.

Basically, a bunch of people complained that after putting their PS4 to sleep, it refused to awaken.  Some were able to temporarily resolve the issue by holding their power button down for a while, rebooting in safe mode and rebuilding the database.  Others found that ensuring the disc drive was empty could work.  Various tweaks to system and color settings seemed to work for others, but none of these resolutions worked for everyone, and in some cases, some PS4’s were bricked.  And what really stunned me, was that there were STILL people apologizing for Sony’s goof.  Here’s a brief conversation I had on Reddit to show what I mean(name of the reciprocate kept private):

Some Guy: In the land of the entitled, everything is amazing yet…no one is happy.

Me: I don’t think there’s anything ‘entitled’ about expecting a machine people pay for, to work properly. Some people are getting stuck in an endless reboot loop, some can’t even use the power button to boot out of ‘rest mode’ and into ‘safe mode’. You spend $400 on a machine, it should work. Some on the internet can say, “Well, firmware can have some bugs to work out.” Why should that be something ‘we just deal with’? Why should that be acceptable?

Some Guy:  You paid that money to play games predominantly. Perhaps find a new, less stressful waste-of-money-type hobby? Or do what the rest of us are doing…waiting for it to be fixed. You seem to live in a perfect world where nothing goes awry and the cost of something immediately indicates it’s level of flawlessness. TL;DR Shit happens. Deal or kick rocks.

Me:  And when firmware comes along that’s preventing some from playing their games? I guess that’s to be expected with a $400 price tag, too?

Some Guy:  Expected? No. Reasonable considering it’s a relatively new system? Yes. Also, I own a launch-date console and it hasn’t given me one problem. Best 400 I ever spent.

Me:  So a firmware that can corrupt your $400 machine is reasonable? Okay. You must love licking the bottom of Sony’s boots when they want them shined.

I own a Wii-U, Xbox One and PS4. The PS4 is my console of choice this generation because it’s the one that performs the best with the multiplats, but that doesn’t mean I can’t call ‘bullshit’ when Sony are off their game. Ever since the launch of the PS4, it’s been clear that they launched this thing in a state that was ONLY able to play games. Microsoft did the same, but look how far they’ve come in the last year. Sony? Eh… In an effort to make sure nobody had a yearlong head start like last generation, they both released their machines in a state that wasn’t quite ready. Just ‘good enough to play games’.

Playing games is ultimately what counts, but Microsoft haven’t really busted anyone’s console with a nasty firmware update. They even have a program that allows certain users to test firmware at their own risk if they want to, which allows MS to gather feedback and release a good product to the general product when it can finally go live.

And that last bit highlights another difference between Sony and Microsoft.  A lot of people like to say, “Well this should be expected from Sony.  They’re not a software company like Microsoft…”  That’s not really an excuse though, is it?  If you buy an expensive product, you expect it to work.  Not only that, but you hope the company that sold you the damn thing doesn’t break it somewhere down the line.  How can they rectify this?  Easy:  Take a page from the book of Microsoft.  Allow people to enter some sort of testing program so they can report the kinks.  Then, Sony can use that feedback to correct issues before they become a problem for PS4 owners worldwide.

Sony are already catching lots of crap for how PSN has been an up-and-down roller coaster the past few months (or more), not to mention the botched Driveclub release… why risk bricking a bunch of consoles JUST before the busiest gaming season of the year?  Before the busiest SALES season of the year?  I don’t care if it’s arrogance or just poor planning; something isn’t right.  Their business model seems to be similar to that of South Park’s Underpants Gnomes:

1 – Release Hardware

2 – ??????

3 – PROFIT!!!!

That could work if your console was a ‘one and done’ sort of deal, like the NES, SNES, and so on… but this is 2014.  There’s plenty of competition out there, and make no mistake about it, it’s fierce.  I’m not sure how much longer Sony expects to ride the coat tails of the ‘Xbox One DNR Express’, but being ahead isn’t good enough.  Who cares who wins this month’s NPD’s, the year overall, or even this generation?  What does it matter if by the time the next machine comes around, people are saying, “This company makes good hardware, but man their support and service sucks”?  Hopefully they step up their game sooner, rather than later, because the honeymoon phase is coming to a close.

At least they’ve been quick to resolve the Firmware 2.0 debacle with patch 2.01… even if it doesn’t slap a band-aid over their broken SharePlay promise.  Unfortunately, I just can’t bring myself to feel all warm and fuzzy inside over it.  As I said before, the longer this issue lingered, the more units Sony would be replacing through the mail, and THAT would have been HORRIBLE press just before the holidays, especially with the Xbox One selling for $349.

Sony, I’ve got my eye on you.

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Bit-Review: Killzone-Shadow Fall

Yeah... it looks THAT good.

Yeah… it looks THAT good.

Killzone is the franchise that drew a line in the sand… even if it didn’t mean to. It’s not the best FPS series out there, but it has a strong following and for good reason, too – The graphics were jaw dropping and the gameplay actually felt fresh. Instead of merely complying with ‘twitch shooting’ mechanics, the devs opted for movement that took your weapon and armor weight into consideration. Furthermore, they implemented a realistic cover system which wasn’t some mere gimmick, but a vital tool for your survival. The Killzone Trilogy wasn’t a flawless experience by any means, but the alternative gameplay it offered over the likes of Call of Duty had been welcome with open arms. It comes as no surprise that Sony’s highest regarded FPS has made its way to the PS4, but now that it’s here, I’m afraid hype is probably going to work against it. It’s a fine entry in the series overall, but has some identity flaws that just can’t be overlooked.

You’re playing as a Shadow Marshal, which means you’re faster and more agile than the character in previous games. As a result, the controls are more in line with other shooters, as opposed to going against the grain with a weighted feel. As a fan, I was worried this would be a major detriment to the game’s enjoyment, but that wasn’t my experience at all. The gameplay is still heavily focused on cover and tactical maneuvers, so there really wasn’t much lost in translation. In fact, much has been gained – For starters, you have the ability to scan the area and detect and identify nearby enemies. Based on what you find, there’s a number of ways you can decide to dispatch them.

This is where the OWL comes in.

Your drone has been programmed to function in four distinct modes, each of which can be accessed by swiping the DS4’s touchpad (up, down, left or right). If you want to reach a ledge below, your OWL will provide a makeshift zip line. Enemies using high-tech shields? No problem, just have the drone blast an electromagnetic pulse, disabling your foes temporarily and leaving them open for attack. Furthermore, you can actually send your OWL in to attack for you. It’s capable of taking a couple of soldiers out on its own, but more than that, and it’s likely to come back for a recharge sooner, rather than later (it’s never completely destroyed). However, even in situations where the odds are against you, the drone’s attack mode is useful as a diversion so you can move into flanking position. Last but not least, it can set up a shield which will last as long as the OWL doesn’t take too many hits. As you can imagine, all of this brings an intriguing wrinkle to Killzone’s gameplay.

And I guess the best name for that wrinkle is ‘choice’, and the OWL offers plenty of that when it comes to dealing with the demon-eyed Helghast. The game actually tries to push us into the promise of freedom more often than not, but it’s merely an illusion. That’s probably the most disappointing thing about Shadow Fall in general – Lots of promise, yet never fully realized. The first level is semi-open and lulls you into thinking each level will be expansive and allow you to choose which objectives you’ll tackle in succession, but it isn’t long before the game sets you on a linear path that only LOOKS ripe for exploration. Some levels offer a fork-in-the-road approach to multiple tasks, but that’s hardly the sense of freedom this game hoped to evoke. The forks are often an illusion, too – Sometimes you can forego the obvious path by sneaking around in vents, but other times the vent is literally your only option to progress.

Don’t get me wrong – I don’t have a problem with linearity. It’s worked well for the franchise and continues to work in the latest iteration, but the game was touted as being something more, meaning those who ultimately expected more will be disappointed. Go in expecting more of the same however, and you’ll find the level design to serve its purpose well. You would think having the ability to scan environments and deploy a drone would make you unstoppable, but the devs have ensured the scale will rarely tip in your favor. As with previous installments, you’ll need to find cover from afar and plug away at the opposition methodically. While other games reward a pray and spray mentality, Killzone will put you down in a matter of seconds. So, use what’s at your disposal – Hide behind plants, walls or whatever else in the environment… but be snappy about it. A fair amount of cover options are destructible, which can work both for you and against you. Of course, much like the game’s ‘open nature’ (lack thereof), such freedom is only an illusion. Certain parts of the game allow you to blast through walls, but most of the time it’s only the small stuff that acquires battle damage.

Speaking of damage, health generation has been tweaked for Shadow Fall. As most other shooters nowadays, you’ll notice the outer edge of your screen going red if you’re close to death, and hiding is an effective way to get back in the green… and I mean LITERALLY back in the green. The light bar on your controller has been utilized by the devs as a health indicator – Green, yellow and red. In addition, you’ll find adrenaline packs littered throughout the game… and you’ll need them. If you’re low on health and can’t get to cover in time, it will boost your health and slow down time (think of the COD: MW3 round winning kill cam) while aiming down the sights. If you get sloppy and fall to the ground, your OWL can use the adrenaline to revive you. Of course, if it’s currently charging because it had to flee battle with its tail between its legs, then you’re SOL.

Another thing you’ll notice, is that the AI isn’t very smart. Yeah, they’ll chew you up and spit you out if you leave yourself vulnerable, but their movement is limited. They pretty much get in position and hide, only peeking out on occasion to squeeze off some rounds. The AI in previous Killzone titles had been substantially better, so it’s disappointing to see it take a back seat to all the action.

Anyway, outside of the normal ‘infiltrate – cover – attack’ scenario, Shadow Fall gives you plenty of other objectives throughout its 10-12 hour campaign… and some of them are jaw-dropping cinematic pieces you have some control over. You’ll hang on to a rope dangling from a helicopter, free-fall through the air, fortify and hold down a small base, maneuver and battle through zero gravity, use small bots to sabotage equipment and more. The variety of gameplay is definitely welcome, and helps to keep things from getting repetitive. The only thing they recycle time and time again is using the OWL to hack into computers. This is first utilized to deactivate alarm systems, but quickly devolves into a ‘get to this terminal and hack it so you can get to the next objective’, which gets tedious.

Anyway, I’ve rambled on enough about the gameplay. As one of the first exclusive PS4 titles, it’s absolutely gorgeous and really makes me excited for the future of console gaming. Graphics aren’t nearly as important as the gameplay, so I won’t prattle on forever… but the graphics go a long way in helping to sell this tale of a ‘world that’s been divided’. You fly over a city, and the draw distance is just… nuts. No lack of detail in distant buildings, no artificial haze to hide details, no tricks whatsoever. I noticed the OCCASIONAL pop-in, but this only occurred with minor details. Lighting is amongst the best I’ve seen in a console title to date, and the colors? Shadow Fall isn’t nearly as drab as its predecessors, that’s for sure. There’s plenty of bright tones this time around, and even when the game is at its darkest, there’s still color being used to bathe us in atmosphere.

Last but not least – I have to address the story. It’s some time after the events in Killzone 3 (30 years, I believe?), and each side of the opposition is basically separated by their version of the Great Wall. Of course, there are some things at play that hope to change all that, and you find yourself smack dab in the middle of it. As a soldier, you were raised to believe in the black and white scenario – You’re good, the other side is bad. Fortunately, the plot attempts to put us in a position where the line between right and wrong is blurred, but it doesn’t do a great job of driving it home. It’s conceptually sound, yes, but much like the previous Killzone titles, the central cast are mostly unlikeable (with the exception of ‘Echo’).

So far, my experience with the multiplayer has been fun, but there’s nothing new or innovative to write home about. If you want a variety of standard multiplayer modes with a control scheme that feels good, and with graphics that look phenomenal… then you’ll have fun. I know I did, but once Battlefield 4 is working the way it should, I expect most players to gravitate towards that.

So, as I said in the beginning – The game wants to provide this and it wants to present that… but Shadow Fall never reaches the heights it strives for. It’s just another shooter with a mediocre plot that’s driven by dull characters… but that’s not to say it’s a bad game. For all the negativity I’ve spouted, it’s only because I have a responsibility to give it to you straight. Still, it’s important I stress that most of the negatives were outweighed by the positives, because Killzone Shadow Fall is still fun as hell. There wasn’t a single time I said, “Come on, just end already.” I legitimately had a good time, and wouldn’t mind going back to play through the campaign again. In the end, that’s what a game is all about – Being fun. If it plays great and I have great time playing it, what’s left to say? I recommend Shadow Fall for anyone who picked up a PS4 (unless you simply aren’t a fan of shooters). It’s not a ‘killer app’, but is certainly leaps and bounds above most other launch titles I’ve played in previous generations.

Keep an eye in the not-too-distant future for my review of Knack. For the time being, I’m compelled to share that the game isn’t the downer that most reviewers made it out to be. It’s simple, but a lot of fun. That’s all I’ll say for now! Until next time!

Congratulations Xbox One – And A Reminder On Perspective…

First and foremost, congratulations to Microsoft for their release of the Xbox One, and congratulations to anyone who picked one up at launch. Thanks to the launches these last couple of weeks, Christmas has come early for many of us, indeed.

For some who haven’t read back in my blog, I’ve been asked if I plan on picking up an Xbox One to sit next to my PS4 – No. I can’t really afford to dump money on two consoles at once, and Microsoft made me pretty upset with their DRM policies early on. They’ve reverted, but the damage has been done. In terms of features and games though, the Xbox One seems like an awesome machine for those who want (mostly) full media integration in the living room, so all the power to anyone who prefers it to the PS4. Personally, I just don’t care about any of that stuff. I want a simple gaming machine, and that’s what the PS4 delivered. Games? I figure Sony is going to have the better exclusives, so I’m pretty excited to see what’s yet to come.

Anyway, there’s something I want to address – The internet hate. Holy shit, it’s been absolutely bananas. When the PS4 launched last week, Microsoft fans were jumping on Sony’s willy for having some issues… issues which were allegedly under 1%. Furthermore, fake reviews were written across the net in an attempt to make the PS4 look bad. There were those of us who said, “Media integration in our society is making this sound wayyy worse than it is… just relax, and enjoy your new console people. Xbox One will have issues when it launches next week as well… and not because we wish harm on the Xbox One, but because that’s just the nature of the beast.”

Well, here we are one week later, and guess what? The Xbox One has issues as well… and you know what? It isn’t a big deal. It sucks for anyone to have a bum console on day 1, but the vast majority are enjoying theirs. There’s no need to drag company names in the mud for errors which obviously happened in a variable manufacturing and shipping process. These things happen, and no product launches at a zero percent fail rate. Ever. Last week, I told many that the PS4 seemed to be well in line for a low rate of failure, and the Xbox One issues appear to be isolated as well.

This just goes to show you folks, that there’s no conspiracies and nothing sinister going on behind the scenes… this is product launch 101. If you’re that concerned about what awaits, get the extended warranty through your company of choice. But please, stop all the bickering online and stop trying to blow minimal fail rates out of proportion.

With that said and out of the way, I want PS4 and Xbox One owners alike to have a great time with their recently acquired games and consoles… I know I have.

Stay tuned to the blog for a review on Killzone Shadow Fall’s single player campaign in the next day or two!

Bit-Review: Playstation 4 – Greatness Has (Almost) Arrived

"Sorry, I won't be coming in to work today... or all next week... or the week after that... or... you know what?  I'm sorry, but I'm deathly ill and have to quit..."

“Sorry, I won’t be coming in to work today… or all next week… or the week after that… or… you know what? I’m sorry, but I’m deathly ill and have to quit…”

The Playstation 4 has arrived to usher in the next generation of console gaming, and if you’ve been paying attention to the internet – like, at all – then you know it’s been a rocky start. The big name review sites have been unimpressed with first party and certain third party titles, and everyone’s in a tizzy over what’s become known as the ‘blue pulse of death’. I’m not here to provide opinions on the games just yet – as I’ll cover them in future updates – and I don’t think I need to discuss the blue pulse of death just yet. Is it an issue? Of course, but we really don’t have much statistical data to go on. No, I’m merely here to describe my experience with the PS4 thus far.
For those who don’t want in-depth impressions, here’s the short and thick of it:

PROS:

-The Dualshock 4 is the most comfortable controller I’ve ever used.
-The ‘Options’ button is an effective replacement for ‘start’ and ‘select’… and then some.
-Ability to view detailed list of updates and what they fixed/added is a huge step forward.
-‘Share’ is easily my favorite feature at the moment. Live commentary is fun… even if nobody is watching (I’m a sad, sad man).
-The user interface is simple, and gives you easy access to everything you want/need to know.
-Streaming video and switching between multiple apps has produced zero hiccups… like, at all.
-‘What’s New’ is a brilliant cascade that reminds you of your accomplishments, as well as your friends.
-Games have run with zero lag in my experience.

CONS:

-The included mono headset is functional, but that’s about it. Horrendously cheap addition.
-The charge on the DS4 doesn’t last as long as the DS3.
-There are some easy things that Sony missed – How about the ability to import Facebook friends?
-The UI overall will eventually need a better way to sort your apps.
-Certain features that were advertised are not yet live at launch (‘taking over’ someone’s game, for example).

User Interface:

I pulled my PS4 out of its box around 12:15 am, hooked it up to my A/V receiver and turned it on. The moment I finished setting up the network, it began to download the day 1 patch, and by the time I finished the overall initial setup it was already 1/3 of the way complete. It wasn’t long before I was up and running.

Finally playing around with the user interface, I was pleasantly surprised at how simple it was. I didn’t think I was going to like it at first, but it won me over and then some.

There are two reasons the UI will likely appease the masses – Information and social integration, and there are only two rows for accessing all the PS4 has to offer. That said, I can already foresee a problem looming in the distance based on this two row approach.

The ‘home row’ is made up of large icons that come with their own drop-down menus. The first of which is labeled ‘What’s New’, and gives you a nice and blocky mosaic that details what trophies you’ve earned, the games you’ve downloaded or updated, and what you’ve decided to share on Facebook and/or Twitter. It also shares what your friends have been up to. The following icons in the home row are for games and other apps/services. The drop-downs for games will show you how many trophies you have, how many of your friends have the game, provide a direct link for add-on content, and more. There’s even a ‘like’ button similar to what you’d find on Facebook.

Also in the home row is the ‘Live on Playstation’ icon, and this allows you to browse through live streams and spectate to your heart’s desire. You can also participate in text-based chat. Eventually, you’ll also be able to ‘take over’ someone’s game when they need help, but this feature wasn’t live at the time of launch.

The uppermost row is the stuff we’re already (mostly) accustomed to – The PSN Store, Profile, Friends, Settings, Notifications, etc. The Notifications section is probably the most appealing for me, because it’s more like a hard breakdown of what we’ve done as opposed to the pretty ‘What’s New’ layout. You can see when you’ve earned trophies, when you’ve updated games and when installs are ready, and it’s also where you can check your current upload and download status.

So, what exactly is the downside to this two row approach? Whenever you install a new app or game, it obviously makes the row longer. Any time you use a game or app, it puts it at the beginning of the row. After buying lots of games on disc or PSN, it’s going to end up being a chronological mess. Here’s hoping Sony comes up with some sort of grouping option in the future.

Sony also missed some features which have already been well integrated into other (mostly mobile) platforms. Facebook integration is heavily transparent on the PS4, so why not allow people to import friends from their Facebook profile? It’s small stuff like this that makes it almost painfully obvious that this is ‘just the beginning’… a work in progress. The potential is almost there, but there’s still a lot of stuff they can tweak to make the experience perfect.

Game Installation –

First time you put a game in the PS4, you’ll see its icon pop-up on the home row with a small status bar beneath it. This indicates that the game is currently installing on the hard drive, and the process is surprisingly fast. You’ll also be able to play a game while it installs…

Dualshock 4

This controller is my new favorite. The sticks have convex bowls that are surrounded by a raised circular ridge, which offers a firm grip for our thumbs. Stick movement is somewhat stiffer than those of the DS3, and in-game control is greatly enhanced as a result (no more ‘overshooting’ your target). The top triggers are wide and concave, and are by far the most comfortable fit on a controller to date. All hard buttons (directional and X, O, etc) have eliminated the ‘squishy’ feel from the DS3.

The major draw is going to be the touchpad, and it’s incredibly responsive. Its implementation is disappointingly sparse at the moment, but the promise is there. In Killzone, you have to swipe a certain direction to change the ‘mode’ in which your OWL bot operates (electro-shock, zip cord, attack, shield), and AC IV uses it for map navigation. Knack – as fun as it is – doesn’t use this feature at all. I’m sure other games will get around to it in the not too distant future, but it’s disappointing to see a lack of day 1 support. One thing I was hoping for, was that it would be utilized for mouse functionality in the PS4 web browser, but that’s not the case. You can’t even use the touchpad to navigate the PS4’s UI, despite Sony having showed that off at one time. As with many other things, I’m sure that will change with a future firmware update… which is a wise move on Sony’s behalf (so they can work out the kinks before implementing more features), but it’s still disappointing nonetheless.

And then there’s the light bar – It’s very, very bright, and each player will have a different color assigned – Blue, red, yellow, or pink. The light helps the PS camera identify which player is which, and if players manage to change their seating position, games can switch the split-screen to coincide with where players are sitting. Killzone made terrific use of this light in-game, though – The light indicates health, and changes from green, to yellow, to red. This isn’t much help during the day since you can’t see the light reflected in front of you, but it was helpful at night as I was far better able to gauge when it was time to take cover.

Let’s not forget the in-controller speaker, which I guess takes a cue from the Wii-mote. In Killzone, I picked up audio logs, and I was surprised when they came through the controller for the first time. In Knack, you can hear the blocks mixing together when collected. It’s a neat feature…

But there’s one thing the light and speaker aren’t good for – Battery life. Don’t worry, you can still sit down and marathon for hours at a time, but the charge just doesn’t last as long as the DS3. The upside? The DS4 charges faster than its predecessor. There’s also an aux jack on the bottom for headphones or the included mono headphone with mic, and as wonderful a feature as it can be – it’s awesome to hook some headphones to the controller instead of laying a lengthy cord across the living room from my receiver – I’m sure it doesn’t help matters much, especially when you decide to route all sound to the headphones exclusively.

The ‘Options’ button is a real treat, too. People cried foul when there was no sign of a ‘start’ or ‘select’ button, but this button is pretty much an all-in-one. Press it within a game and it will pull up the game menu. Press it outside of a game, and you’ll see options that are specific for a game or app. One of my favorite features of the ‘options’ button, is that I can pull up a game’s update history… and not just the dates of update, but the specifics as to what each patch fixed/implemented. People will need to remember to start using the ‘options’ button instead of looking for some sort of ‘settings’ menu, but once they do… bliss.

There’s also the ‘Share’ button, but it’s a major software feature and I’ll discuss that in a bit.

Last but not least is the audio jack, which allows you to use any headphones with standard audio plug, even if it has a mic. A nice feature on the PS4 is that you can actually choose to route all in-game audio to the headphones through the DS4. I found this to be preferable to dragging out a long extension cable to plug into my receiver.

All in all, a massive improvement and probably the best controller I’ve ever had the pleasure of using.

Included Mono Earpiece and Mic

It gets the job done, and will do in a pinch for anyone who doesn’t want to scramble and spend money on a better headset with mic… but what the hell was Sony thinking? The hard, rounded ear piece design is terrible and reminds me of the original ipod ‘phones… minus the soft pad. This thing won’t stay in your ear if you’re prone to moving around while you play, and when they do, they can get uncomfortable after a short amount of time. Couldn’t Sony have opted for something that would at least fit in our ear? Would it have been difficult to give us a basic bud with a rubber piece that would keep it in place? You’re going to want to replace this, no questions asked.

Console Design

The PS4 is sleek and surprisingly small. You think people may have lied when they said it wasn’t much bigger than a slim PS3 model… but if you haven’t seen the PS4 in the wild yet, wait until you do – The box is really slender and left me scratching my head. “My PS4 is in there? How in the…” Unlike the Xbox 360 or the upcoming Xbox One, Sony not only squeezed all the pertinent hardware inside the small machine, but the power supply, too.

Anyway, enough of my gawking – Let’s address this ‘wobble’ that everyone has been freaking out over. I’ve decided to use my PS4 in a horizontal position, and the wobble is a non-issue. If I push the front left corner of the machine done, it does have a teeny tiny wobble, but who cares? I won’t be pressing on the top of my console… ever. I put in a disc, the machine doesn’t move. I take out a disc, the machine doesn’t move. I hook a USB cable up so I can charge my controller, and the damn thing STILL doesn’t move. It’s stable, and nobody should listen to the hyperbole on the net.

I love the light that runs down the center of the top of the console (right side if you store it vertically). When the machine is turning on, there’s a blue pulse and when the UI launches, the light turns a solid white. Putting the console in standby – the mode in which USB power still works and will allow the PS4 to gank and install updates from PSN while you’re away – is indicated by a dim yellow light. I think Sony have really outdone themselves with the sleek slanted look, too – This makes the power and eject buttons much easier and natural to use, and it just looks so modern, if not somewhat futuristic. It’s certainly leaps and bounds better than the original, fat PS3 design… and I’m sorry, but the PS3 looked terrible. Major thumbs up to Sony.

Share

I know that sharing video feeds over the net isn’t exactly new, but including such a feature in a game console is something of a revelation. If I sound overly excited about the Share functionality, it’s because I am. It’s another one of those things that I thought I’d never really use, but it’s causing my inner-geek to leap for joy. Any time I’m not using bandwidth on my PC, I’m streaming my gameplay on the PS4… for now and ever more. But I’m getting ahead of myself:

How does sharing content work? Hit the ‘Share’ button.

Once you do, a menu pops up with three options – Share a screenshot, share a video, or stream.

Screenshot is self-explanatory.

When you choose to share a video, you’ll be brought to a screen where you can scroll through your last 15 minutes of gameplay and trim to your heart’s content. If you want to share all 15 minutes, you can. If you only want to share 10 seconds worth, you can. And just as an FYI – People have widely reported that you can’t include commentary over your gameplay for video sharing… but YOU CAN. By default the PS4 doesn’t record mic audio, but if you hit the ‘Options’ button in the Share menu, you can enable this feature. Upload your video – which currently only supports uploads to Facebook – and wallah, there’s your video WITH commentary. Youtube support is supposedly coming in the future… here’s hoping it’s sooner rather than later.

Streaming is also simple. At first you’ll have to setup a Twitch or Ustream account – which you can easily and quickly do from the PS4 – but after? Just tap ‘Share’, select the ‘stream’ icon, and then you’re greeted with a few simple options before telling the PS4 to start your stream. You can actually share a feed link with Facebook and/or Twitter, and you can select whether or not you want to include yourself via the camera or mic audio. Hit the ‘Options’ button and you can even change the quality of the stream.
Honestly, prior to launch, I didn’t see myself using the Share feature much. I figured it would be a hassle… but once I saw how simple and intuitive it was, I was hooked. If I’m playing, I’m streaming. End of story.

App Switching

How many times have we tried to do something on the PS3, only to be told, “Are you sure, because you’ll have to get the hell out of your game if you want to do that, dumbass.” Well, the PS4 hopes to rectify that… and so far, I’m impressed. I’m playing a game, and all of a sudden I randomly decide I need to do something else. I press the ‘PS’ button on the controller and go out to the main menu. Or, I double tap the PS button to immediately switch to the last app I was using. The transition is smooth, and that’s all I can really ask for, isn’t it? There’s no stutter, no slowdown… nothing. Just pure performance.

I’ve probably missed some stuff, but this wasn’t meant to be a full review. These are my initial impressions from the first week, and I only see the PS4’s features improving as time goes on. The fact that they don’t support other multimedia support out of the box (from external hard drives, for example) is really unfortunate, but mp3’s will be supported in the future, and I hope other video files will as well. Outside of that, this console is definitely a sharp contrast from what the Xbox One offers – If you want an all-in-one living room experience, the Xbox One will fulfill that (and reviews in this regard have been good, with the caveat that you should wait until certain kinks are worked out). If you want a pure gaming experience… well, here’s the PS4.

In short? Greatness has arrived… almost. The PS4 is a solid machine and runs as smooth as a baby’s behind, but it still needs a little work from a firmware standpoint. Outside of that, it’s definitely worth picking up now. Enjoy!

By the way – My experience with the games has been pretty stellar thus far. Killzone Shadow Fall isn’t a perfect title, but it’s gorgeous and still a solid Killzone title. Knack has been bashed by reviewers… but it’s a perfectly competent and FUN action platformer. Battlefield 4 has way too many issues to even think about playing at the moment though, unfortunately, but the devs should be issuing a patch early next week. Resogun is a free title on PS+ at the moment, and it’s ADDICTIVE. Think of a Gradius meets Geometry Wars, and you’ve got a grasp on what to expect. There’s also other free to play titles, but I haven’t had a chance to get to them. I’ll update on those in the future.

Congratulations on a Successful Launch, Sony!

"Sorry, I won't be coming in to work today... or all next week... or the week after that... or... you know what?  I'm sorry, but I'm deathly ill and have to quit..."

“Sorry, I won’t be coming in to work today… or all next week… or the week after that… or… you know what? I’m sorry, but I’m deathly ill and have to quit…”

I just wanted to congratulate Sony for a successful launch – Over 1 MILLION units were sold within the first 24 hours. The Playstation 3 had sold shy of 200,000 units in its first couple of weeks, and the Xbox 360 I believe was around 300-350 thousand. The problem with each launch? The supply just couldn’t meet demand, but it seems that Sony were on the ball and made sure to produce as much as possible. This obviously paid off, because they sold all they put out in the US. 1 million in week is pretty impressive, but Sony has higher hopes – To sell 3 million before end of the year, and 5 million by the end of their fiscal year (spring 2014). Considering the fact that there are still other regions of the world – including Japan – that have yet to receive a PS4 launch, I’d say they’re well on their way to making those goals. We’ve heard a lot about console problems, but that’s normal for any launch. Sony projected there was a .4% fail rate, but that was before the actual launch. The number is certainly higher than that, but there are PLENTY of people who are enjoying their PS4 without issue. The average fail rate on electronics in general is about 15%, so… there’s a LOT of wiggle room out there. There are tons of reports of issues, yes, but considering there’s over 1 million units out there… well, I’m sure the issues aren’t as widespread as they may appear to be.

Here’s hoping the Xbox One has a successful launch at the end of the week, and without much issue on the technical side of things. I think Microsoft probably learned their lesson though, and consumers should buy without a heavy conscience. We ultimately pay some kind of price to be early adopters, so even if you get a bricked console out of a PS4 or Xbox One box… that’s part of the risk.

Anyway, I beat Killzone Shadow Fall’s single player campaign last night, so expect a review of that soon. Happy playing everyone!

Bit-History: Super Ghouls ‘N Ghosts

My previous ‘Bit-History’ detailed my negative reaction to Super Mario Sunshine, a game which was ‘alright’ but felt like anything BUT a Mario game (many of those elements were there, but they just never came together in a cohesive package). Now, I’d like to do a 180 here and talk about a game from my childhood that I’m VERY fond of – Super Ghouls ‘N Ghosts.

There’s no messing around here. The premise is as straight and simple as it gets – A princess is captured by some demons, and King Arthur has to kick some evil, medieval butt and get her back. The end. Usually a weak premise can hurt a game, but it works well enough for Super Ghouls ‘N Ghosts… and why? Because the gameplay is equal parts awesome and infuriating. The game is challenging… like, you’d probably waste about $150 in the arcade trying to beat the damn thing… but the challenge, although punishing more often than not (ok, it’s punishing ALL the time), is what makes this such a unique experience.

Honestly, this game was the ‘Demon’s/Dark Souls’ of the NES and SNES. You needed to execute every move with surgical precision, or else you were toast. This required you to learn the pattern of your enemies and certain environmental hazards, and you often had to replay the same areas over and over again until you found the best way through each obstacle… and even then you could find yourself turned into a pile of bones. Why was this game so difficult? Well, there was always a lot coming at you, right from the beginning of the game. Zombies pop up from the ground, flaming skull columns pop up and shoot flame balls, while red-eyed wolves lunge through the air at you. Tidal waves will wash you away, demons will fly at you from angles that seem impossible to avoid, and that’s not even the tip of the hell-mouth. This game wants you to constantly be 100% offensive and defensive at the same time, and all it takes is two hits for you to die – One to lose your armor, and one more to lose your skin. What makes it hard to stay alive is the game’s jumping mechanism – Once you jump, you’re essentially ‘committed’ to going where you’re going… however, you are able to jump one additional time in mid-air, so you can correct your course if you absolutely need to. Unfortunately, this turns your back on the enemy, and you could find yourself jumping into another inescapable hazard that wasn’t there a moment ago. It’s a brutal game. BRUTAL.

But again, that was all part of the fun. I used to go to my friend’s house around the corner, and we would waste entire weekends trying to beat the game… and we never were able to do it. Ever. Still, there was something incredibly rewarding in being able to get further and further with lots of practice, and even if we couldn’t make a lot of progress, we just didn’t care. The atmosphere in this game was flawless. This game was an action/adventure nightmare, and every stage was fleshed out enough to give you the willies. Gravestones, cobwebs, fog, flames, old haunted sail-ships… what wasn’t to love? There was also a lot to appreciate when you’d survive long enough to gain the special golden armor that improved the abilities of whatever weapon you equipped… you felt proud for having played so well up to that point, but having such an increase in power provided you with a false sense of security. Normally when you acquire such amazing weapons in a game, you became practically unstoppable… but not so in Super Ghouls ‘N Ghosts. Nope… your mistaken assuredness would make you just a tad bit confident, which was enough to cause you to make a mistake and get yourself turned into… yep, you guessed it, a pile of bones again. To add to the experience, the soundtrack was some of the most memorable ‘eerie-vibe’ stuff I’ve ever heard from the world of gaming at the time. It was exciting yet creepy, the major themes always orchestrated by a creepy MIDI sounding organ.

I still play this gem to this very day. Every once in a while I hook my PS3 controller up to my PC, run my SNES emulator, and after debating long and hard about which game I’d like to enjoy for nostalgic reasons and, honestly, to have a lot of fun since these games hold up incredibly well… Super Ghouls ‘N Ghosts is one of the rare entries that I find myself coming back to again and again… and you know what? I still haven’t been able to beat the damn thing, and I was a pretty hardcore gamer back in the day. For the Mortal Kombat games for example, I had every character’s moves and fatalities memorized for every game… I excelled at most anything I played. The fact that Super Ghouls ‘N Ghosts is one of the few games that have defeated ME, is probably one of the reasons why it remains such a compelling play more than 20 years after the fact.

I think I just may have to fire up the emulator tonight…

Bit-History: Super Mario Sunshine

‘Bit-History’ is going to be my attempt at reliving games from the past which have left an impression on me, positive or negative.  To kick things off, I want to discuss a game that I’m really not very fond of, spurred by a conversation I had just recently on a forum I frequent.  “He’s not going to bad-mouth Super Mario Sunshine, is he?”  Why yes… yes he is.

Before the Gamecube, I was a huge Nintendo fan, thinking anything they would ever do would amount to pure gold.  As far as the future of gaming was concerned, there was no question in my mind that Nintendo was going to lead the way.  Boy, was I wrong.  For me, the Gamecube was a huge disappointment.  Those tiny discs seemed like a joke, and the console itself looked more like a toy than an actual console.  But, aesthetics aside, my major gripe was the horrid controller.  I mean, what the hell were they thinking?  It’s the most awkward control scheme I’ve ever used, and it should go down in history as a prime example of what not to do.  But, I had to work with what I was given, and what was a better game to give my new crap-tastic controller a workout than Super Mario Sunshine?  I would have to run, jump and slide with surgical precision, so the controller was really going to be pushed to its limit.

Well, let me begin by running down a shortlist of some positives about this game – Compared to Mario 64, the controls were refined, and the camera wasn’t nearly as awful as it was in its N64 predecessor.  The ‘world’ that was created for this game was bright and colorful, absolutely shattering the limited color-scheme that was on display in Mario 64.  Yes, the game looked great and it controlled even better, the latter of which making for a pretty fun and at times challenging experience, two qualities which have always been at the core of the series.

That being said, the positives are ironically intertwined with the negatives.  First, let’s talk about that beautiful world which Nintendo had created for ‘Mario’s vacation adventure’ – Bottom line, is that it just didn’t feel like a Mario game.  Mario was always at the center of the screen, and most of the baddies we were familiar with ran amok in each of the paint-portal worlds, but it all felt misplaced.  Nothing felt like it fit in with the environment, but I guess this is really sort of nitpicky.

Nah, what really bothered me most of all was the convoluted ‘story’ and the new gameplay mechanic that was introduced.  Basically, Mario goes on vacation but is arrested and charged for vandalizing the island with a bunch of black gunk.  The real culprit is ‘Shadow Mario’, but the natives have made up their mind and can’t/won’t distinguish between the two.  This premise introduces us to a new accessory for Mario to utilize during his travels – the FLUDD pack, which is essentially a glorified water gun.  So instead of just platforming, you have to use this thing to spray away the dirty stuff… you know, because ‘cleaning’ sounds like fun.  Furthermore, your pack obviously can’t provide an endless supply of water, so you constantly have to find a water source and refill the damn thing.  My question, obviously, is why the hell did the developers feel the need to tack on such a useless piece to the gameplay?  I mean, yeah, Mario Galaxy had a ‘space’ thing, but it kept platforming at the core of the experience.  Not so with Mario Sunshine, which actually forced you to work around the limited abilities of your ‘FLUDD’ device.  Mario doesn’t require a gimmick… and in this case, that gimmick managed to hurt the gameplay.

Conceptually, the game feels rushed.  “How can we introduce a new environment that can show off the Gamecube’s potential?  I KNOW!  An island resort!”  “Wonderful!  But how can we improve on the gameplay, even though Mario really doesn’t need that?  A WATER HOSE!”  The funny thing is, developers have noted a concern about throwing Mario into a world that feels so un-Mario-like, yet they moved ahead in this regard anyway.  At least in Mario 64, you were accessing magical worlds through the paintings in a castle, and each of the worlds within FELT very much like something you’d expect out of a Mario game.  Mario Sunshine’s tropical locale failed to create a similar feeling.

But, I know I’m going against the grain here.  So many people defend Mario Sunshine ‘because it’s just fun’, and Nintendo fans will vehemently defend the Gamecube, despite the fact it really didn’t have THAT many great games.  Super Mario Sunshine was one of the best experiences on the console… and isn’t that saying something?