Tagged: Microsoft

Microsoft’s Gamescom 2015 Predictions

gamescom

Microsoft’s Gamescom 2015 conference is less than two weeks away, here are my predictions for that and all of Xbox’s other things going on such as Xbox Daily:

I’ll start by detailing what we know will not be present at Gamescom and work from there (per Phil Spencer):

  • Sea of Thieves [Too soon after E3]
  • ReCore [Too soon after E3]
  • Gears of War [Franchise doesn’t release in Germany]
  • Phantom Dust [No developer]

With that in mind, here are my predictions: (more…)

Splash Damage (Brink, Dirty Bomb) worked on Halo MCC, maybe more?

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Based in the south of England like myself Splash Damage are a studio well-known for multiplayer shooters such as Brink, Enemy Territory and soon Dirty Bomb as well as the multiplayer for Batman Arkham Origins, they’ve worked with a range of publishers including Activision, Bethesda, Warner Bros, Nexon and now seemingly Microsoft.

Whilst I was doing some searching on Linkedin recently I noticed that a Splash Damage employee Gordon Biggans listed Halo The Master Chief Collection March 2015 Content update in his profile, this was particularly interesting as Splash Damage were not one of the original studios workings on the game – Ruffian Games, Saber Interactive, Certain Affinity, United Front Games, 343 Industries and Blur Studios, so to see Microsoft had added in another studio was quite interesting and perhaps shows that they needed a studio with significant multiplayer experience to finally get the game up and running as it should do. (more…)

Microsoft’s new studios are Hololens developers

Recent rumours, website leaks, job listings and Linkedin profiles have given us some indication that Microsoft have some new unannounced game studios working hard in Redmond, following my previous posts and more recent events being the Windows 10 event in January it seems that the announcement of Hololens has given us an insight into what these new studios are working on and the answer is Hololens.

Previous posts:

Using the people whose profiles I was looking at before its easy to see at the very least I was right that they are working in these studios, which is reassuring at least!

What I’m looking for here is the people associated with Microsoft Studios and Xbox, theres obviously going to be profiles i’ll miss because there are so many but the purpose of my interest was to find out about the new Microsoft Studios and then to find out what they were doing so this like a part 2 to my previous posts. (more…)

Job listing: Decisive Games, Microsoft’s new strategy game studio

Credit goes to Marcel for bringing this job listing to my attention!

Its been known for a while that Microsoft are looking at the Real Time Strategy for a comeback with the purchase of the Rise of Nations IP from the ashes of the 38 Studios fiasco and the Steam re-releases of Age of Empires 2, Age of Mythology and Rise of Nations made with Hidden Path Entertainment and Skybox Labs but Microsoft’s long awaited return to the RTS genre goes beyond that.

Earlier this year they were hiring for a Software Development Engineer for a “new AAA title within an established and well-loved strategy game franchise”, now this could be several things, really. The listing states for Windows and Xbox, Phil Spencer the Head of Xbox, is a well known fan of Halo Wars and I believe that sooner or later it will get a sequel on Xbox One, 343i are also hiring for someone to help in a new product line (of games) in the Halo universe, the other obvious candidates are the 3 franchises mentioned above that have been re-released recently.

“The Decisive Games team is focused on world class strategy game development, and is building a studio that will bring the next installment in a beloved strategy game franchise to the next generation of gamers around the world.” (Via Microsoft Careers – link reliability may vary as positions get filled)

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The job listing seems pretty conclusive about what the studio is, they are called Decisive Games and they are building world class strategy game(s) as well as asking for “familiar” with Direct X11 and Xbox 360/One APIs.

This job listing comes at an interesting time with Microsoft having a Windows 10 conference on 21st January next year in which Phil Spencer will be in attendance to talk things Windows 10 and has tweeted he will be “focused” on PC gaming but it doesn’t say exclusively focused on PC, so I suspect we will see how Windows 10 will tie in with Xbox One via the OS, likely a new UI and perhaps we will get a tease for something next year, E3 is a long way away and whilst this isn’t a gaming conference Microsoft have teased things before using the UI at the Xbox One reveal so its not unheard of.

Im not really sure if they would be developing a game that is multiplatform in the RTS genre, despite the great control scheme Ensemble Studios came up with Halo Wars I suspect an RTS released on both would not be very successful unless a lot of effort went into controls, UI etc and it would probably end up being two very different games.

Things at Xbox look like they’re about to get interesting for PC owners and the event in January would be a good place for Microsoft to show a renewed commitment to PC.

Black Friday: The publisher rush to meet the holiday deadline

When a decent number of titles get moved back to the last week before Black Friday in America its starts a ringing noise in my ears that publishers are determined to make that date whatever happens to ensure they get their sales without putting into consideration whether the game is actually fit to make that date. Battlefield 4 last year springs to mind immediately but this year we’ve seen a lot more of titles delayed to just before.

This week and next week in the retail gaming space is packed with this choice of big names titles: Halo The Master Chief Collection, Assassins Creed Unity/Rogue, Lego Batman 3: Beyond Gotham, Sonic Boom, Dragon Age Inquisition, Far Cry 4, Grand Theft Auto V, LittleBigPlanet 3, WWE 2K15 (XB1/PS4), Shadow of Mordor (360/PS3), Watch Dogs (WiiU) – there are many others too both in for retail release and store only games but this sufficiently covers my list of games for my point without going overboard.

To add to the conspiracy theory element I’d also like to point out when review embargoes are lifting on a few of the titles. Earlier in the year we saw review copies go out the day before it shipped, Destiny was then reviewed and given barely above average scores by a lot of the bigger name websites, on the other hand titles like Forza Horizon 2, Shadow of Mordor and Sunset Overdrive lifted the lid on earlier before launch and also gave reviewers lots of playtime to form their opinion and got a great critical reception. You could argue Bungie’s point of wanting reviewers to experience the game with everyone else to give a better idea of what the conditions were like when it was released but I’ll say: that’s a big ol’ pile of rubbish, they knew what was coming with the criticisms they got.

Fast forward to today and Dragon Age Inquisitions review embargo ended a full week before launch and it got great reviews and looks a shoe-in for Game of the Year awards to me, contrast that to Assassins Creed Unity which launched today and 4pm (UK time) on launch day the reviews are still embargoed for another hour. It doesn’t exactly suggest that Ubisoft have a lot of confidence in their title for one reason or another and we can see users are reporting some big frame rate issues with the title and if you dive further into the thread you’ll see this nugget from a reporter at Joystiq.

It doesn’t sound particularly promising.

Looking at the titles above, Dragon Age Inquisition, Assassins Creed Unity, WWE 2K15, Shadow of Mordor were all due to be released earlier and pushed back to that date, its unclear if GTAV was ever delayed because they didn’t announce the release date until early September and games like LBP3, Halo MCC and Far Cry 4 were announced for those dates when they were given their initial release dates.

Of those, some Halo MCC users have reported issues with matchmaking and other technical bugs which are a huge shame for such an anticipated game, from what I can say in my experience is that when I played it last night it didn’t run wholly smoothly for all of it but I’d say 90% of the time it was fine and I wonder if the issue was partly due to it not being fully released worldwide by that point and there was a low player count combined with some services not being turned on. Digital Foundry made an article of the technical issues that Halo MCC suffers from, perhaps it should have had a bit more time in the oven to fix these problems which do seem particularly disappointing.

It could be that publishers feel they can give developers the extra time to get a game just right such as could be the case with several of these titles, I’m not saying that all these games will have big issues etc, I just think that if it were any other time of the year, a lot of these games would be pushed back further than the week before Black Friday – the biggest shopping week of the year in America and it seems incredibly obvious why its still that date.

I have a lot of respect for the titles that delayed completely out of 2014, The Witcher 3, Evolve and The Order 1886 now ship in February, Project CARS and Battlefield Hardline (although the fact that they ever had a 2014 release date for BFH after the Battlefield 4 issues seems like they were still trying to push their luck) hits in March and Batman Arkham Knight releases all the way in June. Giving titles that extra time to bake in the oven is important in this consumer driven and socially connected industry because I don’t think releasing titles are unpolished, buggy and broken is a particularly good idea both for your brand or consumer enjoyment, the above tweet about greed and systemic management failure seems is something I think publishers need to have more common sense about.

I can completely understand and sympathise with not wanting to miss the big holiday season but if a game needs more time, it needs more time and with a lot of games having more robust online features and being larger in scope generally than games probably ever have been before publishers are doing themselves a disservice by not letting the developers get it right because I think generally publishers aren’t the ones that suffer the backlash for these issues from fans.

It will be interesting how the titles launch over the next week are critically and commercially received as well as user opinions on them and with that how the titles delayed into 2015 end up as well. That being said, this perfect world of delays improving titles doesn’t always work out looking at something like the launch of Driveclub where it was delayed for 11 months and still had massive (and ridiculous) online problems for weeks after launch, culminating in the delay of the PS+ version indefinitely perhaps this mystical world where delays mean everything works out isn’t always the case.

The fact that The Crew is still currently just about hanging on for  2014 release date in December is something I quite amusing, originally due in summer 2014 when it was announced, it was moved to the same Black Friday week slot as others above and now is set for December, considering user reactions to the public beta seem to be fairly middling if they can delay it a bit longer and work towards a better launch that would surely benefit everyone?

Xbox One monthly OS updates – whats next?

Microsoft have been releasing new updates to add features in to the Xbox One operating system every month since February with some big features: DLNA, external hard drive support, streaming, snap centre, friends tab and many more, its been really great to see how Microsoft have evolved the systems core features in such a short time. The Xbox feedback website has been important to this process, making it easier for Microsoft to hear what consumers want and provide the features that are the most sought after.

On the flip side I do feel that in the first year its been a combination of adding back features that were expected for launch (external HDD support, real names, twitch streaming) and then others that were features the 360 had a long time ago, obviously feature parity between two different consoles, one of which is 9 years old would be an impressive but difficult feat, it is something I keep in mind when looking at these updates.

I also like the preview program a lot, allowing users to test out the new OS features before the final release as long as people are aware its unfinished software and is likely to have some issues with it which the team communicate openly about. The apps for the preview, the base one app, survey and the feedback apps are bizarrely split into 3 apps when one would have sufficed but more importantly is the fact that they’re available on the system and make it easy for people to give feedback to Microsoft about what they like and what they don’t as well as issues they incur. Its pleasing as a consumer to see such a willingness to listen to the people that invest so much money in the console.

So, on a personal level, what do I want next?

  • Themes
    • The black background is boring on the home screen, i’d like to have themes for specific games like on 360, Phil Spencer has confirmed this is coming
  • Screenshots
    • I have a capture card now so its less of an issue for me personally but its still an important feature people want, it should be possible at the OS level like GameDVR video recording is but also through Upload Studio to take screenshots from videos. Another feature confirmed to be coming
  • Achievements pop when offline
    • Unlike the Xbox 360 achievements are a server side unlock, possibly to prevent any security issues, and I understand it for security purposes but they managed it for so long on Xbox 360 with any significant issues that I can see and I don’t like the system not telling people when they’ve got an achievement if they’re offline
  • Pins usable when offline
    • Pins are just tiles to give you quicker access to content already stored on your hard drive, I’ve never understood why they require to be online to use, it seems like shoehorning the use of the cloud for the sake of it
  • Social media sharing
    • Twitter support is coming, I believe but being able to post items from the activity feed (video links, screenshots, achievements) to your twitter and Facebook accounts is a must
  • Custom soundtracks in the background
    • At the moment you have to snap the music player to listen to custom soundtracks, they need to make it like it is on the Xbox 360 with it running in the background
  • Separate download list to the My Games & Apps section/snapped active downloads list
    • I’d like to be able to view my active multiple downloads (whether new games or even big updates) in a specific list rather than scattered through My Games & Apps, its not a huge problem but if I am download several items at a time, perhaps being able to view the list in snap and check on progress without having to go into a separate area would be quite nice
  • Option to move the notification pop
    • As it stands notifications always appear at the bottom centre of the screen, for some games it blocks out key HUD elements especially the twitch broadcasting bar, if its not snapped it can be very annoying, let gamers or developers choose where the notifications go so people can still see the important on-screen items and their notifications
  • Snap apps without losing the game section as your active window
    • Whenever you open snap it pauses the game and moves your active screen area to the snapped tab, it would be nice if you had the option to open snap but keep playing your game and then move over when you want to, this would be particularly more useful when using voice commands
  • Patch notes
    • When games and apps are update, you should be able to check a list of notes to explain what exactly the patch does
  • Customise the order of your tabs
    • With new tabs on the dashboard arriving eventually (hopefully?) there will be several options to choose from and it would be nice to be able to choose the order of the tabs so I can scroll through to the ones that are most important to me quickest
  • Pre-loading for retail titles too
    • You should be able download titles off the store without buying them so you can have the game installed and ready for either your digital pre-order or when your retail disc arrives, obviously without the digital or disc license to prove you own it the games won’t work.

These are some of the wants I have, some bigger than others but there are two more i’d like that fit in with the same area:

The Xbox One store and visibility. The store is a complete mess, from the poorly handled front end to the baffling design on the inside. As with several other things on 360, Microsoft got it right when they had separate tabs for each sections: Games, video, music and apps, I think these sections need to return to the dashboard to flesh it out and offer better visibility.

The storefront is where i’ll start, as you can see it has 4 boxes laid out to promote content, it just so happens that all 4 of the boxes are games but it will sometimes be content from the video store, or music too. Immediately I think this is poor design from Microsoft, does Far Cry 4 need a box that big? Does Plants vs Zombie Garden Warfare on EA Access need a box that big?

Xbox One store

I really don’t think so, these are big titles and will get promotion on the store but as a front end they could promote easily promote 2 or 3 other games in the same space and I believe it would have little effect on the visibility of Far Cry 4 and how many people click on its tile to view the content available.

You don’t have to make it look cluttered either, at E3 they had many smaller tiles (proving its a flexible layout) its about making a balance between visibility and promotion, they’re currently not doing this very well in my opinion and new games outside of the first day or so (unless bigger titles) are quickly moved inside the store.

When you open the Games store, this is the first screen you get, the biggest tile on the left when clicked opens up to a smaller menu of the last 4/5 other items which have filled that section.

Xbox Store 3

The next important bit is on the first scroll to the right, the “New releases” section, there was also a coming soon section for pre-orders next to it but recently that has disappeared for whatever reason. Looking at the new releases section though you can see The Evil Within takes up 2 of the 4 spaces which are given the front page treatment, this is poor design and Microsoft have designed a store which currently requires each separate version to require a different page on the store and it wastes the ability to promote other games, more specifically there is very little space here to show the recent ID@Xbox releases and other titles. Xbox Store 2The rest of the store is split up in less meaningful sections as you go along and generally you’ll find the same games getting promoted on the store, if you look at the image you’ll see the 3 dots at the bottom, clicking on that will expand the sections, this in itself shows that what my suggested solutions are would probably be reasonably easy to implement. So whats the solution to the lack of visibility?

  • Single game pages that inside them have multiple links to pre-order the different versions of the game and its add-on content (Seasons pass etc)
  • Tabs at the top – like pins, home etc on the dashboard, to clearly define each section
  • Full pages for each section with a tab to promote titles (new releases, ID@Xbox, add-ons, trailers, demos etc)
  • ID@Xbox section, these games are coming out with little in the way of release date announcements so visibility on the store is probably more important for these games
  • Bring back the coming soon section and get pages and content (trailers, screenshots, information) up quicker for these titles
  • Xbox Wire section to show the latest Xbox news and a release date calendar (updated quickly when release dates are known) to make it easier for people to see what games are coming out soon.

My solution is not too dissimilar from what the Xbox 360 dashboard and store pages are like, but I think visibility for titles and content is quite poor and its in Microsofts interests to fix that.

The dashboard has come along way since the Xbox One launch and will continue to improve hopefully at the same speed it has done this year, as we get closer to matching the Xbox 360 features it will be interesting to see what features Microsoft come up with to improve the dashboard and the console overall.

 

 

 

Gamescom price-drop for Xbox One?

Microsoft made a bold move in releasing the Kinectless bundle at $399/£350 but early indications suggests that hasn’t provided an immediate boost in sales and its unclear if the early announcement of the bundle in May actually had a negative effects on sales or not. NPD figures for the United Stated put it at 197k sold in June (vs 77k in May and the PS4 did 269k in June) which is an obvious increase but without the early announcement would it have sold more in May? We don’t have numbers for the UK or other regions but the PAL region charts (except Germany where the situation looks pretty dire) tell us the PS4 is doing better, at the least.

The problem with the Kinectless Xbox One is it’s still the wrong price, regardless of its value. Microsoft should have gone in at $350/€349 and $100/€ more for the Kinect bundle and undercut Sony on the price which would make sense to me, even if it meant  incurring a loss per unit. At the very least it appears it might be coming down to €349.

A major positive for me is that I think the Xbox One does have a better games line-up already and the gap will only widen with this holidays big releases, whilst Microsoft dropped the ball on several things with the Xbox One and its reveal they somehow managed to get together a very good line-up of games. This is not to say Sony doesn’t also have some good games but it seems 2015 will be where they finally hit their stride for PS4 software.

Being more expensive or the same price as the PS4 was always going to cause Microsoft problems with a power difference that will give Sony with better performance for multi platform titles which isn’t necessarily a huge game changer but I think at the same price it likely will sway people towards the PS4. Power doesn’t mean sales – look at how the Wii did last-gen, but that had motion controls and a much cheaper price which caught on, Microsoft’s issue also is a distinct lack of compelling Kinect software and the high price for the Xbox One.

Last generation Microsoft had two main strongholds – North America and the United Kingdom, neither of which are on their side now and to “win them back” they will need a long-term plan, pack-in games, price drops, new features, killer exclusives are all going to be necessary for Microsoft going forwards.

Looking at the games line-up for next year (and beyond) Microsoft have a lot announced – Halo 5 Guardians, Fable Legends, Quantum Break, Crackdown, Scalebound, Phantom Dust and Gears of War, an enviable line-up that I think will do well for them. Sony are a bit light on that front with Uncharted 4, The Order 1886 and Bloodborne but Gamescom is a big event for them and I suspect they will have a few announcements to pad that out with. Of those games Sony have two of those due in early 2015 – The Order and Bloodborne whereas Microsoft have only Fable Legends, the rest being either undisclosed or just “2015”, I would expect Quantum Break to be out before holiday 2015 though. Microsoft can’t afford a big gap in releases, I’m also not convinced Fable Legends will have any of the success that Fable 2 and 3 had so I don’t think that will help them either.

Dropping the price after sales not improving as they expected from the Kinectless bundle seems like a strange decision to me as its only been 2 months and they are usually the two lowest for sales in the entire year.

The Xbox One releases in 26 new regions in September which should help sales but you could easily argue those regions were delayed because they weren’t considered places where the Xbox One would thrive because the Xbox 360 didn’t and Microsoft chose the key battlegrounds to launch in first. I would suspect they will gain some sort of bump when they release in these new territories, they are certainly going for it with the day one edition bundles they are releasing in European countries featuring two free games (Fifa 15, Forza Motorsport 5 and a Dance Central Spotlight voucher in the Kinect pack too) which is quite aggressive but in regions that are Playstation territory and almost a one year head start it might not be enough.

It always has and always will be a marathon, losing June or July doesn’t condemn anyone to second place (in the “key regions” at least) but losing the 5 months before and the 5 months after could prove to be a much bigger task than first anticipated and Microsoft have put themselves in a difficult spot. Turning the ship around from the mistakes they made at the announcement in May last year onwards was always going to take a while and it seems they might finally be rectifying something that should have come with the Kinectless Xbox One announcement although they do appear very reactionary at the moment.

It remains to be seen if this price-cut is for every region too or just some european ones but considering exchange rates and worldwide sales it would be strange to drop it only in a few select places so I am expecting it to be a worldwide change.

Back in 2007 Microsoft had their best year: Crackdown, Halo 3, Mass Effect, Shadowrun, Blue Dragon, Forza 2, PGR 4, Bioshock (third-party exclusive) and really provided them with a lot of sales momentum, hopefully they have plans to match that line-up because they will seemingly need it. Games, games, games is the war cry from the Head of Xbox so much so that Xbox Entertainment Studios is getting shut down to focus on more games, Gamescom next week could prove to be very interesting. This needs to be the last pricing move they make for a while though, keep changing the price, adding in bundles is just going to confuse the public, Microsoft need to pick a strategy be it price, bundles or a combination and just let their line-up do the rest.

Destiny: 1080p on both XB1 and PS4 – parity?

This week as part of their IGN First promotion of Destiny Ryan McCaffrey got to play Destiny on Xbox One. The game received a resolution bump thanks to the new June SDK which – along with Microsoft sending in some engineers to help, gave developers up to 10% more usage of the consoles GPU if they disabled a host of Kinect features (such as skeleton tracking but not including voice commands which are separate).

The news seems to have blown up on the internet about parity between platforms and the extra juice the PS4 is capable of producing is not being utilised for “parity”. I don’t think this is what developers mean by “parity” – 1080p/30fps is “parity” in the numbers attached to resolution and frame-rate, but that doesn’t mean it has the same graphical effects, image quality etc. I’m not going to go into any specific detail about whether Destiny looks the same on both platforms because that’s not really my point, but even as someone who isn’t the most technically minded can understand there’s a lot more to it than the basics of frames per second and resolution as shown by the video options when I play a game on my PC.

Destiny’s full technical stress-test (which will be provided by Digital Foundry for the most reliable conclusion, I would expect) will be how it performs across all platforms when it’s released in early September. I would also think that being a cross-gen game being released on Xbox 360 and Playstation 3 is more likely to be far more limiting than anything between Xbox One and Playstation 4 too.

At the end of the day, despite their marketing deal with Sony which includes exclusive content its in Bungie and Activision’s best interests to have the game perform as best it can on all platforms and more to the point “parity” seems to have been achieved by Microsoft’s changes to their SDK for Xbox One and getting their engineers to the studio to get it done, which wouldn’t affect the Playstation 4 versions development in the slightest you would think – unless Microsoft have a hand in working on Playstation 4 versions too which would certainly be interesting(!).

You paid X amount of pounds or dollars or whatever for the PS4 (or Xbox One or WiiU or PC or anything else) you expect the developers to make the most of the power and features of that console which I think within reason is perfectly understand and I’m sure that Bungie (along with every other developer) is doing that, as I said its in their best interests to do so.

Also, some food for thought: could developers not be using Xbox Live Compute to give parity for the Playstation 4 versions? If you’re really interested in that argument (which I’m not, just playing devil’s advocate) it could go both ways just on different features.

If I was really that concerned by resolution and frame-rate I’d buy all my games on PC – where possible as Destiny isn’t releasing on PC, but as it is I play on my Xbox One which is my choice. All I really want personally is a smooth frame rate, a nice/great/awesome looking game is obviously appreciated too, I expect it to not run like ass which I think is fair for any platform but outside of that I’d rather have a locked frame-rate at 30 (or 60 if that is what the game is) than a higher resolution, I just don’t feel that when I’m playing a game at a lower resolution than an another platform that I think about that sort of thing, if the game isn’t shitty then I’m much more focused on playing the game and enjoying it.

I’m sure Destiny will offer the same experience for all users no matter which console you buy it for. Personally, I thought that video was pretty poor at displaying the game and why I would want to buy it, but maybe that just me. I’m not sold on Destiny yet although I will be buying it anyway as my co-op buddy would like me to (and hey, I’m a nice guy!) but I’m still eagerly awaiting to try the beta when it goes up for Xbox players.

The video of the Xbox One 1080p footage is below for those that haven’t seen it

Achievements completed list [Update 14]

A list of games i’ve completed all the achievements for on Xbox One and Xbox 360, the number signifies how many achievements I’ve got and at the end is date I got the last achievement. There is an update log at the bottom:

Xbox One:

Ryse: Son of Rome – 64 (1250pts) 01/03/14
Lococycle – 21 (1000pts) 25/12/13
Peggle 2 – 34 (1450pts) 02/07/14
Halo: Spartan Assault – 30 (1000pts) 08/02/14
Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes – 15 (1000pts) 31/03/14
Sixty Second Shooter Prime – 17 (1000pts) – 20/06/14
Another World 20th Anniversary Edition – 13 (1000pts) 30/06/14
Super TIME Force – 27 (1000pts) 02/07/14
Zombie Driver Ultimate Edition – 30 (1000pts) 05/07/14
Contrast – 22 (1000pts) 05/07/14

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The first conference of the show and one I had high hopes for considering Microsoft’s pre-E3 announcements and reveals like Halo 5 Guardians, Forza Horizon 2 and Sunset Overdrive blowout not to mention the Kinectless Xbox One and new apps announced.

So how did Microsoft meet my expectations?

Well, they might have done if almost literally everything wasn’t leaked beforehand. It’s a shame really, and doesn’t affect that they had a very good show nor is it particularly Microsofts fault, a lot of things leaked it comes with the territory. The conference kept its promise of being focused on games: game after game after game and they kept it flowing well with few executives and kept people like Yusuf Mehdi who offers absolutely nothing when it comes to public speaking off the stage.

The big announcements for me were:

  • Scalebound (Platinum Games)
  • Crackdown (Cloudgine)
  • Halo: The Master Chief Collection (343i and others)
  • Ori and the Blind Forest (Moon Studios)

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Missing-in-Action: Franchises that could get new sequels or reboots for next-gen

Following my post a couple of weeks ago about games in development hell, ive now considered seemingly retired franchises that could return this generation

 Franchises:

Geometry Wars – Bizarre Creations/Microsoft Studios

Geometrywars2coverFollowing the inclusion in PGR2, 3 and 4, the standalone releases at Xbox 360 launch and again in 2008 were a big success and there was also the Wii/DS release of Galaxies and Geometey Wars Mobile but since then its been absent which is incredibly disappointing to someone who loves the series.

I asked Phil Spencer back in September if Microsoft would consider trying to acquire the IP and he said there had been talks but there has been a long silence since then.

Hopefully it makes a comeback, whether via Activision deciding to make a new one or whether someone acquires the IP off them, I’m itching to get my chance to go back to the top of the leaderboards even if it was just for a short time!

Project Gotham Racing – Bizarre Creations/Microsoft Studios
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Downloadable content has become a staple of nearly all games these days, whether in the form of extra maps, story levels, weapons, skins and modes something is usually added.

Back in the day when transferring large content over the internet wasn’t a particularly viable option pc games released expansion packs on discs to add content which usually provided a meaty amount of extra content to a game that improved the experience considerably and was priced accordingly.

In 2014 the size and quality of downloadable content vary significantly as do their prices.

Microsoft had a policy in the middle years of the Xbox 360s life of not allowing free DLC as shown by Left 4 Dead receiving free content updates on pc but costing on Microsoft’s console which was a bit of a douche move by Microsoft really as publishers/developers should be able to choose their own pricing for extra content.

Mass Effect 3 multiplayer had free DLC and offered microtransactions in place of paying for the extra content which seems like an acceptable trade-off from my point of view although not all gamers agree, the single player had extra missions which required paying for. EA have continued this with multiplayer only title Plants vs Zombies Garden Warfare (360/XB1 at the moment, PC in late June) which is giving away maps, modes and other content for free and soon the game will introduce microtransactions as a way of generating extra income from players that are prepared to pay for it. (more…)

Leap Experience Pioneers (LXP), Platform Next Studios and Launchworks – Microsoft’s secret studios?

Sorry for the horrendous formatting in advance and thanks to everyone who has given me information and helped me make this post

Recently a trademark was found for LXP – Leap Experience Pioneers with a cool logo that originally thought to be related to a game however further investigation shows that LXP are actually a development studio at Microsoft that seems to have beaverd away at something for Microsoft for a while.

There were job listings for Leap back in 2012 but nothing more was known. With Microsoft adding a slew of new studios to their internal development teams – Black Tusk (Formerly Microsoft Vancouver), Lift London, Microsoft Victoria (shutdown in December 2013), Xbox Entertainment LA and Team Dakota many forgot about the job listings but it seems they have resurfaced.

Phil Spencer recently mentioned on twitter to me that they have a couple of unannounced studios and I did press about LXP being one of them and if they are making smaller titles or AAA projects but he didn’t reply – probably thought he had told me too much already.Phil Spencer tweetPlatform Next was another studio that was mentioned a while back but like Leap went MIA and it was presumed they either disappeared or were folded into another studio. (more…)

Last week Microsoft announced that Phil Spencer will be given a new role as Head of Xbox, this means that for the first time in recent history the Xbox division is being led by one person. I don’t think they could have chosen a better person for the job, it shows confidence in the division from new Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella especially as there were (mostly likely baseless) rumours that Microsoft were interested in selling Xbox and confidence in Phil to lead the group.

Phil Spencer has done some shorts interviews with news websites after the announcement – Kotaku / IGN Podcast Unlocked as well as a video interview with Xbox’s Major Nelson and a guest appearance on his podcast of which the message between these is the same: Phil is a games guy and if you put him in charge that’s what you will get. (more…)

(A repost of a blog post I did in early February which mysteriously got deleted and I managed to retrieve via Google cache)

Microsoft have done well to make quality games with quality external developers over the years. Starting with the Xbox and games such as Rallisport Challenge – DICE, Midtown Madness – Angel Studios for 1/2 and DICE for 3, Project Gotham Racing/Geometry Wars -Bizarre Creations (RIP), MechAssault – Day 1 Studios, Fable – Lionhead and Jade Empire -Bioware. On the Xbox 360 they made Crackdown – Realtime Worlds/Ruffian for 2, Mass Effect – Bioware (again), Gears of War – Epic Games, Alan Wake – Remedy, Forza Horizon – Playground Games, Trials HD/Frontier – Redlynx, Dance Central – Harmonix, State of Decay – Undead Labs, plus others. Finally the Xbox one line-up, so far from Microsoft we have: Ryse: Son of Rome – Crytek, Crimson Dragon – Grounding Inc, Killer Instinct – Double Helix and upcoming games such as: D4 – Access Games, Quantum Break – Remedy (again!) Sunset Overdrive Insomniac and Super TIME Force/Below Capybara Games.

There are some fantastic games and developers in this list, but there is also a common theme among them: developers that work on big franchises for Microsoft then getting bought by other publishers. Specifically: DICE & Bioware (plus Mass Effect and Jade Empire IPs) to EA, Day 1 Studios to Wargaming.net (admittedly not worked together in years) Bizarre Creations and the Geometry Wars IP to Activision, Angel Studios to Rockstar, Redlynx and Trials IP to Ubisoft and now Double Helix to Amazon. (more…)