games technology Uncategorized

‘The rise and fall of Kinect’

Edwin Evans-Thirlwell, writing for Eurogamer:

[Kinect] had become central to Microsoft’s efforts to transform Xbox into an all-singing, all-dancing delivery vector for every kind of media, backed by a futuristic UI, with video games merely part of the package… But when the dream of an all-in-One tomorrow fell over — demolished by Sony’s focus on specs and gaming applications with the substantially cheaper PlayStation 4 — Kinect went down with it.

Fascinating oral history of the Xbox Kinect, which set a Guinness world record as the “fastest-selling consumer electronics device” back in 2011.

I’ve skipped the last two console generations, but Microsoft’s motion-detecting peripheral nearly sold me on the Xbox—in a way that first-person shooters never could. Even my wife, who generally ignores video games, was impressed by Dance Central.

Since those promising early days, the Kinect has lost all momentum. Lackluster console sales forced Microsoft to drop the peripheral from its hardware bundles. That move may have saved the Xbox One, but it also dried up the market for Kinect-targeted games.

That limited selection makes it unlikely that I’ll purchase a game console anytime soon.[1]

  1. It doesn’t help that we haven’t yet upgraded to an HDTV. The latest-gen consoles require a high-res display, which would add hundreds to our purchase price.  ↩
games Uncategorized

Underwhelming “next-gen” graphics (and why they may be a good thing)

I’ve been underwhelmed by “next-generation” gameplay videos for the XBOX One and PlayStation 4.

Though I haven’t been an active gamer for nearly a decade, I pay attention when new consoles get released. I’m eager to see just how photo-realistic the new games can get. But this time around, I’m hard-pressed to tell the difference between the first crop of next-gen games and the previous generation’s latest and greatest.[1] Maybe I’ve been out of the gaming scene too long?

Or… maybe we’ve reached the point of diminishing returns when it comes to game graphics—the point where even substantial increases in processing power return less and less dramatic improvements.

This wouldn’t necessarily be bad news! I’d love to see gamemakers focus less on whiz-bang visuals and more on “under the hood” features. The games already look real. Now, make them feel real; dedicate that extra horsepower to better artificial intelligence, more responsive surroundings, more open-ended gameplay, and dynamically-generated storylines.

Some examples:

  • What if the bad guys learned your battle strategies? They “notice” that you tend to hide in A/C ducts, so they start tossing grenades into every vent.
  • Or what if you could destroy any in-game building, wall by wall, and watch the rubble crumble?
  • Or what if you could infiltrate the enemy’s headquarters any way you wished: parachute onto the roof, skulk in through the sewers, zip-line in from an adjacent skyscraper, or don a disguise and saunter through the front door?
  • Finally, what if the storyline was truly unscripted, and the game could spontaneously generate new character dialogue, responding to your decisions?

Up ’til now, games have felt static and rote; they pull the user along preset (if pretty) paths by invisible strings. But imagine if developers focused on features like these (instead of pixel-painting). Gamers would become creative agents instead of puppets. And that, more than piled-on polygons, would make games feel “next-gen”.

  1. I’ve heard that it takes a few years for developers to really unlock a console’s potential. Thus, you might not see the best graphics the PS4 or XBOX One can produce for a while. But previous console releases (e.g. going from the PS2 to the PS3) boasted dramatic visual improvements over their predecessors; I just don’t see it this time.  ↩

technology TV Uncategorized

The best Internet TV device is still your laptop.

Hooking up a PC to a TV using cables. That’s so 2008.

So proclaims the Wall Street Journal’s Walt Mossberg, whose recent article summarizes the many options consumers have for getting Internet video onto their TVs. Xbox, TiVo, Apple TV, Roku, Chromecast, smart TVs: these devices purport to make online video just as easy to watch as more familiar broadcast television. Click a button on your remote, sit back, and watch.

Why does Mossberg exclude the possibility of just hooking up your PC to the TV? He dismisses this as the “most complex” option. But is it? Connect a single cable, and your set-up is done. Now watching the TV means simply browsing the web. There’s no new interface to learn. No peripheral device you have to buy. No flaky proprietary streaming protocol that may or may not work reliably (a la Chromecast, Airplay). No extra monthly subscription fee (a la Xbox).

More importantly, your content options are simple, too. With all other Internet TV devices, choosing one locks you out of some video services. Apple TV lacks Amazon Instant Video. Roku has no YouTube app. Use your PC, though, and you get everything. Anything that can play on the web can now play on your TV. Not only do you get the major video services (e.g. Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, etc.), but you can play live streams from the major news networks. You can peruse less-familiar sites like Funny Or Die, Vimeo, and Daily Motion. You can watch sports broadcasts using your subscription to or NHL GameCenter. You can even project your less… (ahem) “legitimate” content sources to your television.

The main complaint about this set-up? You lose that mindless, “sit-back and browse” experience so familiar from traditional TV. Hauling your butt off the couch every time a show ends can get annoying. There are options to improve this experience: hard-wiring a long HDMI cable to your recliner would work. Or you could download a smartphone remote app that lets you control your PC while sitting down.

But, then again, do you want to watch mindlessly? One of the scariest things about traditional TV is how easy you can blow your weekend, watching shows you hardly like. Conversely, an advantage of the PC-to-TV set-up is its occasional inconvenience. While it’s easy to watch what you want, it’s just enough of a hassle to discourage those lazy, trashy marathons you later regret.