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June 2013

Microsoft Reverses Course On Xbox One DRM Policies

Xbox OneMicrosoft earned the ire of the gaming community when it revealed that it would pack its upcoming Xbox One console full of DRM requirements such as mandatory Internet check-ins every twenty-four hours; diminished capability to share, lend, or borrow games; and other such things.  The company insisted that these restrictions were beneficial and would make games better somehow, but the community could not be appeased.  Now that the Xbox One's DRM problems have started to leak into the mainstream audience (Jimmy Fallon just last night pointed out on NBC's Late Night that the Xbox One cannot play used games in the traditional way), it would seem that Microsoft cannot stay the course.  The company has issued a statement explaining that its DRM policies are changing.  Read what Microsoft's Don Mattrick has to say.

So, today I am announcing the following changes to Xbox One and how you can play, share, lend, and resell your games exactly as you do today on Xbox 360. Here is what that means:
  • An internet connection will not be required to play offline Xbox One games – After a one-time system set-up with a new Xbox One, you can play any disc based game without ever connecting online again. There is no 24 hour connection requirement and you can take your Xbox One anywhere you want and play your games, just like on Xbox 360.

  • Trade-in, lend, resell, gift, and rent disc based games just like you do today – There will be no limitations to using and sharing games, it will work just as it does today on Xbox 360.

There is a trade-off though.  The previously announced family game sharing program in which games could be shared digitally (with restrictions) among up to ten family members will not be offered.  Playing a disc-based Xbox One game requires that the disc be in the console.  Roaming between consoles with your profile and game library is out.  Are these losses worth the DRM removal gains?  I believe so.  While these things would have been nice additions, the price was too high.  Offline games should work without an Internet connection.  Trading or lending games as easily as other objects should not be impinged.  Moving into a digital future should not abolish the benefits of our physical media past and present.

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PS3 Firmware 4.45 Disabling Some Consoles

PS3 Slim

UPDATE: Sony has identified the problem and will release new firmware next week.

Sony loves to release new firmware for its PlayStation 3, and aside from the neverending jokes about the neverending update cycle, the process usually goes smoothly.  Unfortunately, the initial release of system update 4.45 is causing serious problems with a number of PS3 owners.  Users report that the update is disabling their consoles, locking them at a perpetual startup screen with no solution in sight.  Joystiq has an official statement from Sony on the matter.

"We are aware of reports that the recent PlayStation 3 system software update (version 4.45) has caused the XMB to not display on a small number of PS3 systems. We have temporarily taken 4.45 offline and are investigating the cause of the problem. We will announce when the system update is available for download as soon as possible. We apologize for the inconvenience."

Impacted users report that their PS3s boot to the background of the XMB interface, but do not offer any actual menus or input methods.  No restore, no redemption.  This update was supposed to enhance system stability.  Oops!  Talk around the Internet is that this issue primarily impacts consoles with upgraded hard drives, although there doesn't seem to be a definite pattern regarding brand, size, or other factors.  Something must be an underlying issue here.  If you use PlayStation Plus's auto-update option, do not accept this update if prompted.  Wait for Sony to fix the problem and reissue the update.  Not everybody who has installed the update has been impacted, but do you really want to take that chance?

EvilCast Recap - Episode 183: E3 2013 Wrap-Up Special

EvilCastOn the closing day of E3 2013 I was invited once again to guest on the EvilCast podcast at Games Are Evil to discuss the week's big surprises.  Join me as I sit in with Blake Grundman, Ross Polly, and Keri Honea to talk all about our favorite news items of E3 such as sharing Sony PlayStation 4 games, Microsoft Points heading off into the sunset, the rise of the Oculus Rift, the promise of Batman: Arkham Origins, more and more games offering companion apps for tablets, launch prices of the PS4 and Microsoft Xbox One, enhancements to the Nintendo 3DS StreetPass system, and much more.  As a bonus, I also tell the story of my experience at the Nintendo Experience Wii U demo event at Best Buy.  Episode 183 is waiting for you with an hour and a half of conversation!

Mega Man Was An Easy Addition To New Smash Bros.

Mega ManIt was surprising back in 2006 to learn that Sonic the Hedgehog and Solid Snake had made it into Nintendo's Super Smash Bros Brawl. as third-party guest characters, but poor Mega Mad had been left behind.  To hear the rumor mill tell the story, nobody at Nintendo or Capcom bothered to ask the other company about adding the blue bomber to Brawl, but I just can't believe that neither company was aware of the demand.  Fortunately, Mega Man has made it into the next Super Smash Bros. sequels for the Nintendo Wii U and 3DS.  Polygon has the story of how the game's director, Masahiro Sakurai, brought Capcom on board.

"We approached Capcom with the idea and they were very favorable and open to it," he said. Sakurai and the teams at Sora Ltd. and Namco Bandai focused on the classic NES-style of Mega Man, a chunkier, less angular, less sleek version of the character. The Smash Bros. version of Mega Man focuses more on his ability to absorb others' powers, de-emphasizing punching and kicking. Mega Man's mega uppercut, which Sakurai says was inspired by the character's appearance in Marvel vs. Capcom, is one of his few melee attacks. "The approval process, in terms of how we're representing Mega Man, was actually really smooth and went really quickly."

Mega Man became a multi-platform series years ago and it's not as integral to the Nintendo lineup as it used to be, but the original Mega Man character has always felt more at home on Nintendo hardware and that chunky incarnation appearing in the next Smash is how many long-time fans remember him.  Being invited to join Smash Bros. should be an honor reserved for beloved and iconic third-party characters, and Mega Man more than meets the qualification.  Sakurai has stated that the new sequel will feature fewer guests, so I'm just glad that Mega Man made the cut.  After all, he's really the only third-party guest character on my roster wish list.

Saints Row IV E3 Demo Powers Up Politics

Saints Row IVThe upcoming Saints Row IV for the Sony PlayStation 3, Microsoft Xbox 360, and PC from Volition and Deep Silver made a big appearance at E3 2013 last week with a demo experience that showcased the new superpowers allotted to the presidential protagonist.  The Saints Row series keeps cranking up the crazy, having gone from a neat Grand Theft Auto knock-off to a must-play action/adventure title loaded with delightful insanity.  Watch these nine minutes from GameTrailers and I know you'll see why.  Thrill at the gift of flight, amazing superspeed, and a new option to "hijack cars quickly" instead of just the boring normal ability to hijack cars at a regular pace.  I know we've only scratched the surface of what Saints Row IV has to offer and I can't wait to explore the finished product.  Watch for this one when it launches in August 2013. If previous entries in the series are any indication, this one will be a blast.

Weekly Poll: E3 2013 Winners And Losers

Weekly Poll for 5-22-2013There's overwhelming disinterest in Microsoft's upcoming Xbox One console, and considering the higher price and content restrictions that take away rights and privileges that players have enjoyed in previous Xbox consoles, I can certainly understand why.  The Xbox brand has never been for me, and this latest model is no exception.  The company's E3 presentation confirmed for me with a heavy emphasis on shooters, sports, shooters, realistic racers, and more shooters.  I enjoy the occasional shooter, sure, but I need platformers, puzzle games, fighting games, action/adventure titles, and an RPG once in a while to keep my gaming experience part of a balanced breakfast, as it were.  Elsewhere, Microsoft has a brewing image problem on its hands.  I hope it can correct course before it's too late.  Competition brings good things to the market in the end, and without Microsoft's missteps, I don't believe Sony would be as generous with its PlayStation 4 agenda.

Moving on, E3 2013 is behind us now and we've had a chance to digest and process much of the major news and announcements of the week.  Who would you say came out on top at E3?  Who "won" if it's possible to measure these things?  Did Sony steal the show?  Did Microsoft impress?  Has Nintendo signaled a return to form?  Let's hear your thoughts.

Nintendo Plans StreetPass Upgrade

StreetPassStreetPass is one of the Nintendo 3DS's most interesting and if you're not part of a social scene or culture that carries a 3DS everywhere, one of it's most underused.  Unless you take your 3DS to a gaming convention or related event, it's unlikely that you'll StreetPass people during your daily activities in numbers large enough to matter.  Nintendo wants to change that, as the company has recognized that North American and European 3DS owners aren't getting the same benefits as their Japanese counterparts.  Kotaku reports that changes are coming to StreetPass that could boost your encounter rate.

Nintendo plans to implement a new framework via a system update for the 3DS, which will allow StreetPass communication to take place indirectly, via so-called StreetPass relay stations—basically, online servers accessed through public Wi-Fi access points. This way, 3DS consoles communicate with and leave their game data on a server instead of interacting directly with another console, not only increasing the chances of the data being received by another 3DS, but also allowing the same data to be received by multiple consoles instead of just one.

This is great news.  I love StreetPass and have collected nearly six hundred tags since I bought my 3DS in 2011, but the massive majority of those come from my time spent at E3.  A decent chunk are from when I attended the Symphony of the Goddesses Legend of Zelda concert last year.  Beyond that?  Chance encounters at a rate of maybe one or two every few months.  I scored nine StreetPasses at the Nintendo Experience demo event at Best Buy yesterday.  That's an impressive number for just being out and around.  Collecting time-delayed StreetPasses feels like connecting with the ghost of a 3DS owner, but I'll take whatever tags I can get if this is how it has to be done to make it happen, and if you tag a Mii who looks like me, is wearing a Mario hat, and exclaims "PressTheButtons!", then I hope you'll put my character to good use in Find Mii and take a puzzle piece for your trouble.

Connection Is Power In Watch Dogs E3 Demo

Watch DogsEverything is connected in Ubisoft's Watch Dogs for the Sony PlayStation 4, PlayStation 3, Microsoft Xbox One, Xbox 360, Nintendo Wii U, and PC.  The E3 demo for the upcoming game gives a taste of several of protagonist Aiden Pearce's hacking skills and you can watch them all in this seven-minute video.  You'll see him use his phone to manipulate an advertising display to act as cover, trigger a car's security alarm to serve as a distraction, and blackout the entire city to aid in his getaway.  There's even some co-op functionality via tablets.  The Sony PlayStation Blog explains that feature.

There’s yet another layer of connectivity that will be available to you in Watch_Dogs: Co-op on mobile devices. When you’re calling for help, you are sending a request to friends who are connected to the Watch_Dogs universe through their mobile devices. When that request is accepted, a co-op experience starts and the goal for the two players is to survive from the police by escaping their pursuit.

I hope that the mobile aspect isn't too required because I'd hate to irritate friends with ongoing calls for help when they're in the middle of other activities or just not near their mobile devices.  On the flip side, it's not like I can dive into an assistance session and help someone else when I'm at the office.  There needs to be a way to make oneself available for assistance calls and then log off of the system when it's not convenient to help.  That said, Watch Dogs looks like a lot of fun and I look forward to playing it when it releases later this year. 

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Zelda: Wind Waker HD Linked To Its Past

The Legend Of Zelda: The Wind Waker HDNintendo's work on The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD has produced a gorgeous product.  The company has taken the GameCube game from a decade ago and given it a modern high definition polish, but how does it compare to the original game?  Websites across the Internet have taken it upon themselves to put together side-by-side comparison images and videos showcasing Wind Waker before and after its HD makeover.  Zelda Informer's take offers a technical explanation of the conversion as well.  Here's a sample:

Outside of being populated properly, we get a good look at Link's character and is full standing shadow (which is about as realistic in its shading as you'll find in a game). The buildings are now taller instead of flattening out in widescreen, and the most obvious difference is, again, the vibrancy of the world around you. It does seem we may have lost those "gusts of wind" you can see on the right in the sky, but they may have found other ways to show which way the wind is blowing - such as having the clouds move dynamically depending on wind direction. I can't stress this enough, but everything really does feel more alive. While you can see some bloom/blur effects in the background, it all feels natural. I know that to me, things in the distance always appear blurry until you get closer. I also feel Link's slightly-altered character model fits much better in this world. His older model just doesn't do the new vibrant world justice.

Then there's Ninten2TV's video comparison that matches some of Nintendo's preview video with the same portions of the GameCube version.  It's easier to see the altered character models here, as the Wii U edition's characters are less squat and more refined in addition to color and texture changes.  The Zelda team clearly spent some time and energy making this new version of Wind Waker look as good as it can.  I don't want to see the Wii U library flooded with high definition GameCube conversions, but if this is the kind of effort that Nintendo is willing to exert on reworking its titles, I can think of a few other games I wouldn't mind returning in HD.

Where Are All The Women?, Or, How E3 2013 Has Bothered Me

Bayonetta 2

Nicole has watched all of this year's E3 press conferences and livetweeted commentary with me as news and information was announced.  From Microsoft's Xbox One pricing to Electronic Arts boasting about advances in virtual ball bouncing to Ubisoft threatening the world with tainted cash, she saw it all.  However, something specific about the tone of the conferences and the stars of the announced games aggravates her, so I turn the metaphorical microphone over to her now to explain.

This was my first E3 experience. Two years ago, I watched a bit of the press conferences, but it was nothing like I did this year. It was an interesting experience to watch unfold over the past few days. However, I did notice something amiss, and I wonder if you did, too.

Out of the countless video games unveiled this year, I saw only three games with female protagonists - Beyond: Two Souls, Bayonetta 2, and the new Mirror's Edge. Three games total. That's a pretty poor showing.

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