Weekend Short-Takes: 3/15/13

Xi3 opens $999.99 pre-orders for Piston, the first 'Steam Box' gaming computer‏

Simon Wu:

Well, I for one think that this headline simply screams ‘developer and early adopter ONLY.’ Given the highly experimental status of Linux, let alone Steam on Linux. The most interesting aspect of this story is that it seems as if Valve might take a page out of Google’s book, giving various OEMs the right to make the “Steambox,” just as Google does with its Nexus devices. This is further fueled by the fact that both companies have vehemently denied that their companies are linked in any way beyond this one product. Also, while I appreciate the fusion of very small and very powerful... for very expensive, this console will have to both make every ounce of power count, and make every ounce of weight saved worth it.

Jonathan Tung:

The moment I read that this cost $1000, a part of me slightly died inside. I question why such a device could cost so much (although at the moment I am assuming it is due to the fact that they had to shrink the parts down). I guess that’s why Valve has decided to distance themselves from the project then: they were probably looking for a much-cheaper alternative.

Max Gruber:

Can you guys hear that ambient noise? I think it’s the sound of everyone guffawing at how ludicrous and absurd this pricing model is. The PS3 was insanely exorbitant when it first launched, but this just eats the whole cake and is pot-bellied like a pig. $1,000 for a prototype of the real thing; are they just doing this to fund for the Steambox, or did they shill it to get people to try out their product and make a huge profit from it in the process?

John Fenix:

That price ain’t pretty, even with the flashy specs. That’s going to throw off a lot of potential customers with that exorbitant price, especially since this is the first “Steambox,” not a great way to start off a series. Perhaps good for Valve (or maybe not), it seems they have broken off with Xi3 due to various reasons, so it’s time to wait and see how Valve’s hardware will come out.

Alex Miller:

I think the fact that Valve are distancing themselves from the product says it all: this thing is a farce. When we first reported on the Xi3, I said my greatest fear for it and the Steambox as a whole (which, whether Valve likes it or not, this device is setting the tone for) was that it would be too expensive. Well, here is the proof of that fear. For a $1000 in a rig solely focused on playing games I would at least expect dedicated graphics and a larger hard drive. 128GB is one thing on a console (I believe the standard for Xbox 360, a last gen device, is now above 200) but on a gaming PC that gets eaten into very quickly. While Simon and I have said how wonderful SSDs are in past podcasts, this is their weakness, they don’t have enough storage space for gaming as of yet. Unfortunate as it may be, I see a rough launch approaching.

xi3.com

EA apologizes for botched SimCity launch

Simon Wu:

I’m not sure whether to feel bad for Ms. Bradshaw that she’s a corporate puppet being trotted out to deal with the extreme disappointment and frustration of legions of fans, or whether she had a share of the responsibility for this total debacle. In either event, the weak and ineffectual response of EA refuses to address the fundamental question of the seriously flawed DRM system. All I hope is that everyone in the industry who was contemplating or implementing this form of security takes a long look at what went wrong here. The answer is not more security, it is a lower price.

Jonathan Tung:

Once again, EA finds themselves caught red handed by their own workers, in addition to confirming the beliefs of many DRM doubters on the Internet. Since it’s pretty clear that Lucy Bradshaw was pretty much flat-out lying this whole time, I think it’s safe to say that you shouldn’t really believe what most game developers tell you about their games, especially since the games themselves could turn out to be a load of crap, much like the disaster that was Aliens: Colonial Marines.

Max Gruber:

Having not played SimCity and only hearing of the outcry and controversy, it’s easy to see why people have lashed out at EA for the “failure” of SimCity. The controversy of the “Always-Online” experience is something that also happened recently that has made a great game bad: Diablo III. In hindsight, Diablo III was a great game, but it was set back by the infamous Error 37. To be completely honest, the “Always-Online” model was a thing of the past; a shell of that which existed years ago. Things have changed; people don’t want that anymore because games are trying to be more accessible and not the clunky, embrangled experience that existed 10-20+ years ago.

John Fenix:

I was quite excited to see this game. It looked innovative, easy to jump into, and well, fun. But with the Always-on connection, turned me off slightly, and now with the floundering in the post-launch, it saddens me to see such a promising game crash so spectacularly. I think the game itself looked fun, but with the rest of the implementations, it pains me to see this series stained this way.

Alex Miller:

Hopefully this will not be the end of the esteemed SimCity franchise, but with the way EA has handled this driving sales through the floor and their willingness to cut anything that isn’t making a profit, I do fear for it. After the recent work of one modder has shown that online connectivity isn’t even necessary to play, I think EA has a lot to do. Hopefully this gives developers further proof that always online just does not work at current infrastructure levels.

bgr.com

Leaked Star Wars Game Is ‘Predecessor’ To Battlefront III, Source Says

Simon Wu:

Wherever you might be reading this, you probably heard my inconsolate cry of despair and frustration. If I may take the liberty of a quote: “Negative! It didn't go in. It just impacted on the surface.” The path to making the next Battlefront game, no, the next Star Wars game in general, is not two meters wide. It’s two nanometers wide. Small comfort that the infernal Clone Wars animation is done, since I know something even worse is one the way on that front. Miracles will have to happen for 1313, which is Lucasarts’ last console and mature audience hurrah, if at all. I resignedly await the Star Wars Facebook game and iPad kids’ adventure series.

Jonathan Tung:

Reading this only seems to further confirm my worst fears about the Disney-Lucasfilm merger: that NOTHING GOOD WILL EVER COME OUT OF IT. With the Clone Wars series killed off, and Battlefront III & 1313 put on hold, it’s quite clear that the House of Mouse only wants to further casualize and milk as much money out of the franchise as possible. Let’s hope that the heads at Lucasfilm realize what a wasted opportunity it was to let one of their most profitable game franchises go to waste, especially since we haven’t had a decent Battlefront game in a while.

Max Gruber:

I know Simon and Alex will explode when they read this—and have probably soiled their pantalons—but I’ll throw my cents in the discussion hat. The prospect of a modern, realistic Star Wars FPS is interesting (who doesn’t want to see realistic blasters serenading the battlefield with pew pews?), but from the screenshots that were shown, it sadly looks like your average, run-of-the-mill, generic CoD clone with laz3r weapons. It’s great to see something that doesn’t look like it came straight from Disney or Cartoon Network, but I’m left worried that it’ll not live up to the hype when the gameplay mechanics are revealed.

John Fenix:

Hate to oppose you, Simon, but I am also optimistic to see what LucasArts is doing, and this footage, while still up and down about, may be interesting to see, if not the suspected direction to compete in the shooter market today. And as people worry about what Disney will do, look at Marvel and see what’s happened there. Also, I can’t hate on the Clone Wars series. They brought in George Takei AND David Tennent for a Star Wars show!

Alex Miller:

*Sigh* So close Red leader, so close. Now watch out for your starboard stabilizer. Having seen the screenshots from this game, both the in-HUD FPS ones as well as the landscapes of scenes like Bespin and Tatooine, I thought this game appeared to combine the best of some great Star Wars games like the previous battlefronts as well as Republic Commando. Hopefully Disney realizes, after the money has already been spent there is no reason not to take the last step and finish it up and finally give us Battlefront fans some long sought fulfillment. “Help me Obi-wan Kenobi. You’re my only hope.”

kotaku.com

Microtransactions for ‘Customization Items’ Come to Black Ops 2 on Xbox 360

Simon Wu:

No surprise. None. In fact, this is precisely one of the aspects that Alex and I mentioned on a recent Com-cast about how console games might split up to defray the costs. Now, obviously the last and most important part hasn’t happened, and it may not, but the same questions we posed then are valid now. Does it privilege the haves too much? Will we see a future roll out of different special weapons or perks available for purchase? Would that afford too much power, or does Black Ops II’s new 10-item limit check the effect it would have?

Jonathan Tung:

When EA CFO Blake Jorgensen claimed that all future games made by them will feature microtransactions in some sort of form, they didn’t really expect Activision to follow suit in Black Ops II. While I am glad that the microtransactions are only limited to cosmetic items, I am a little worried that sometime in the near future, we might see more and more publishers following suit, much like EA’s own online pass system and Rockstar Games’ own Rockstar Pass (aka Season Pass).

Max Gruber:

Activision! What on Earth do you think you’re doing? First you started with the current annual release of a new CoD game, then it went to the on-disk DLC debacle, then you quickly moved to Call of Duty: Elite, and now you’re adding microtransactions. Bravo, Activision. Bravo. *slow, sarcastic clap* No one has taken you seriously anymore. Everyone is starting to realize your “services” are just gimmicks, a pointless necessity that only serves your interests.

Alex Miller:

lazygamer.net

ESRB Changes Rules for Marketing Mature-Rated Video Games

Simon Wu:

Pretty much any game worth its salt these days is M-rated, so the revamp was well warranted. I don’t think plastering its logo behind the screen was necessary though, but again, the ESRB is really there to provide the semblance of order in regulation. If there’s one thing we know, after all, there is absolutely no shortage of people well under 17 playing Call of Duty or Halo. Moreover, I’m not convinced that there’s a whole lot of cross-promotion of T to M games happening. I can recall Amalur and ME3 so far, and those were both M. If anyone can say differently, I’d love to hear it.

Max Gruber:

I’m sure this was brought up from the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, and I can see why they’re implementing this for video games, but it seems like another attempt to scapegoat video games as being the primary cause of violence when it’s abundantly clear that it’s not. The ESRB always update their ratings every year or two anyway, so who knows.

Jonathan Tung:

Funny how the ESRB is now trying to force the game industry to market game trailers with a system similar to that of the MPAA. If this means more Red-band trailers, then I’m all in. The only problem I have with those is the fact that they have the ESRB logo pasted all over the green background, which seems a little too distracting for my tastes.

John Fenix:

As Jonathan points out, this is appropriate to implement, if a little ill-timed, and I approve of it, although I am wondering how companies are going to create some of these trailers for M-rated games for Grand Theft Auto so that it could be watched by an 8-year-old (they are still going to play the game either way, however I am not going to get into an argument about the influences about where are “violent culture” comes from. That’s what Youtube comments section is for).

Alex Miller:

While I think that it is good that video game developers can market their products to a larger audience, I am hesitant to support a model that copies that of the film industry. As much as people want the two to overlap and become similar, I think they are definitely separate industries that need to keep at least some of their own processes. At least in this case the change isn’t too harmless and may lead to more cool trailers, but hopefully not much more than that.

 

giantbomb.com

'Minecraft' aims to reel in families, young gamers with new Realms subscription service‏

Simon Wu:

I might write a Mindshare on this at some point. Not this particular story, but it fits it to a much larger and very quickly moving trend, not just in gaming, but in technology as a whole. Technology is becoming so simple on the front, so easy to use, that a single slight problem or error renders the user completely helpless or unable to understand how to fix it. That discussion is for a different place and time, but I think there is room for this product. Why? Because, as I’ve likened Minecraft to LEGOs of the digital age before, and making it family friendly is an understandably natural step. I don’t think it’s honestly that different from me bugging my parents for a new LEGO set every month when I was a child.

Max Gruber:

Seriously?

Jonathan Tung:

Notch, what are you doing? Are you just trying to force us to pay for private servers when we can create our own for free?

John Fenix:

If you haven’t guessed by now, we don’t have any kids. I can see the appeal of doing this, and this is Mojang doing this, so I could trust them with my kids (which I do not have). I rather they have fun and not be worrying all the time that something in the server has not been updated.

Alex Miller:

When you think about this, its actually quite an interesting topic. Charging on the pc version for what is free through mods or on the Xbox 360 version (or at least already paid for). I do think that this is a good move by Notch in regards to trying to widen the game’s already massive fan base and try to bring in young fans that will, hopefully for Mojang, stick with the game and this service for the long haul. Another savvy move by the company that seems to go from strength to strength.
 

joystiq.com