Xbox One launch exclusives


How does the Xbox One’s exclusive launch line up stack up against the competition?

Crimson Dragon

Kicking off the list is Crimson Dragon, a downloadable title that bears a strong resemblance to the Panzer Dragoon series (its from the same creator). This similarity is already giving the game some kudos from the gaming public, as the Panzer Dragoon series is well established as a classic.

It’s been designed as an on rails Kinect shooter, but it’ll also feature traditional gamepad controls, so those that don’t like Kinect will still find it appealing. Visually impressive, it’s a good start to the Xbox One’s exclusives.

Dead Rising 3

Certainly one of the highest profile exclusives to grace the Xbox One’s launch, Dead rising 3 from Capcom is a well-established zombie slasher, and its third incarnation is looking like the best yet.

It replaces the enclosed shopping mall setting with an open world, and ramps up the violence and freedom to unprecedented levels for the series. Vehicles will play a much bigger role, including customisation, and Kinect will grant more interaction, as zombies will be able to hear what’s going on in your living room, and will react accordingly.

From a technical standpoint, such an impressive-looking open world title is a great way to demonstrate the power of a new consoles, and Capcom certainly knows how to get the most out of a machine’s hardware, so Dead Rising 3 will surely be one of the best-selling exclusives on Xbox One.

Fighter Within

Yes, it’s a Kinect-only, make yourself look like a total tool while jumping around the room, fighting game, but Fighter Within looks like it could be a good showcase title for the new and improved Kinect hardware. And, at launch, it’s important for Microsoft to really get across the benefits and power of the new motion control system. After all, the Xbox One revolves around it to a degree.

Ubisoft is no stranger to being the first company to attempt something new with hardware (such as Red Steel on the Wii), and although we don’t think it’s a title that’ll make Kinect haters run for the shops, it looks intriguing, in a gimmicky sort of way.

Forza Motorsport 5

Arguably the most important launch exclusive on the Xbox One, Forza 5 will be a critical title for Microsoft. Racing games sell, a lot, and Forza is considered by many to be the superior driving sim on the market, even toppling the mighty Gran Turismo from its pedestal.

Forza 5 has been developed solely to make use of the Xbox One’s powerful hardware, and it’s already apparent that this is one of the best-looking racing titles we’ve ever seen. Add to that an interesting ‘Drivatar’ system, which creates racing AI based on gamers’ racing styles and uploads them to the cloud to take part on other people’s games, and you’ve got what could be a truly great racing classic, and a perfect launch title for any console.

Killer Instinct

Microsoft’s unravelling of the revival of Killer Instinct at E3 may not have generated the response the company would have hoped (the game’s more of a niche subway classic amongst fighting fans than a mainstream big-hitter), but it’s inclusion in the exclusive launch line up could be a very good thing for the new console.

A classic one-on-one fighter, the game is being released via XBLA as a free to play title with one character (Jago), with the option to purchase the remaining roster of fighters. Really, though, the ‘free-to-play’ badge should actually be replaced with ‘demo’, as giving one fighter away is nothing more than that, and charging $4.99 per fighter is pretty steep, whichever way you look at it.

Still, Killer Instinct has a loyal fan base, which could give the platform an advantage, and everyone likes a good, over-the-top combo-heavy fighter from time to time.

LocoCycle

This odd downloadable title from Twisted Pixel joins the launch exclusives, and features high-speed combat racing play. As a talking robotic motorcycle that, for some reason, drags its rider behind it, you have to chase down perps using an array of weapons and martial arts moves. Hmmm.

It’s an odd one, and, to be honest, not the most appealing of the line up, but it still looks the part, and demonstrates Microsoft’s intention of giving indie developers a bigger focus.

Peggle 2

The original Peggle is one of the most popular puzzlers ever released, and it sold very well indeed on the Xbox 360. Exclusive at launch (although this is a timed exclusive, so expect it to appear on other formats soon enough) Peggle 2 looks much like the first game in the series, but will obviously feature more levels and new power-ups. There’ll also be customisation options for the Peggle Master characters.

It might not seem like a big deal, but bagging Peggle 2 as a lunch exclusive could be a good thing for the Xbox One. PopCap makes some damn fine puzzle titles that people play, a lot, and the Xbox One could capitalize on this.

Powerstar Golf

As golf games go, Powerstar Golf looks like it could be a decent enough title, filled with quirky characters and special abilities, but for a console launch it’s a little out of place, especially as most hardened golf fans would prefer something a little more complex and realistic.

Still, perhaps the main reason for the game’s arrival a launch is the social element, which the title does embrace. As with the PS4, the Xbox One is going to place a major focus on social networking, and this could be an early example of how games will make use of it.

Ryse: Son of Rome

Microsoft is pushing Crytek’s Ryse with gusto, and for good reason. If there’s one developer who can create something to really show off your new console’s hardware, it’s Crytek, and Ryse is looking like a very impressive hack and slasher.

Taking place, surprisingly enough, in Rome, Ryse will feature ultra-violent combat, both on the battlefield and in the gladiatorial arena, and although it initially seemed to be a bit of a QTE-fest, it’s looking more and more like it’ll boast some great gameplay to match the stunning visuals. One to watch, that’s for sure.

Zoo Tycon

This is another questionable inclusion for a launch exclusive, even if the Tycoon series is one of the most well-respected business sims around. Hardly a game to showcase the real capabilities of the Xbox One, it’ll instead probably go down the social route, and it can’t hurt to have some more sedate and cheerful entertainment to play when your new console arrives.

Zumba Fitness: World Party

The Wii kick-started the fitness video game trend with Wii Fit, and now there’s a plethora of similar titles littering the market, with this Xbox One exclusive adding to the catalogue at launch.

Developed by Majesco, the next iteration of the popular Zumba series will be exclusive to the Xbox One at launch, but will arrive on other platforms, including the Xbox 360 and Wii U in October. It features over 40 new routines based in various dance styles from around the world and incorporates a new story mode to help you burn those calories and trim that waist.

Overall

The Xbox One’s line up of launch exclusives is certainly varied, and it contains something for most kinds of player. More importantly, it includes three major big name titles in the form of Ryse, Dead Rising, and Forza, and it has a smattering of casual and Kinect games for good measure. Is it a particularly strong line up, though? We’d say no, not really.

As with the PlayStation 4, the Xbox One is lacking some of the big names you’d expect Microsoft to roll out in order to give the console the best chance possible. Xbox flagship title, Halo is isn’t around, nor are other crowd pleasers like Gears of War. Impressive upcoming titles like Project SparkTitanfall and Quantum Break are not arriving until next year, and the launch line up doesn’t make great use of the indie market.

The verdict

Choosing the better line up of the two next gen consoles is a very, very subjective thing, and for some people, even one of the games available for a console will be the decider, even if the rest don’t appeal. However, there are elements of both line ups that can be separated.

It can be argued that Xbox has the better selection of high profile titles. The PS4 has Killzone, which should be great, but Knack is a new, untested title, so we can’t know for sure how it will fare. DriveClub is another new IP, and therefore another unknown quantity.

The Xbox One, on the other hand, has Dead Rising 3 and Forza, both already successful and anticipated titles. Add in Ryse, which comes from a talented developer of great games like Crysis, and you have a winning retail line up.

However, you then look at the digital market, and here the PS4 just blows the Xbox One away. The PS4 has Blacklight: RetributionWarframe, Resogun, War ThunderDC Universe Online and a free version of DriveClub (which is far more than a mere demo like Killer Instinct). And lets not forget, many of these titles are free-to-play, a feature sorely missing from the Xbox One launch line up.

The PS4 has more of a focus on multiplayer too, with many of the above titles being aimed at online multiplayer, and the heavy social interaction of the unit’s interface will surely make the most of this fact.

It’s a hard decision, and a very close call as both line ups have strong switch, but we’d have to go for the PS4 overall, as it not only gives us more for free, but includes a better selection of online titles and some great-looking indie gems. Still, it may yet be too close to call…

 

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Japanese devs react to E3, next-gen


Creators at Sega, Capcom, Valhalla give impressions of next-gen potential, lament lacking variety of games on display

Japanese devs react to E3

Reactions to last month’s Electronic Entertainment Expo are still filtering in. Today’s additions to the pile are coming from the latest issue of Japanese gaming magazine Famitsu, as translated by Polygon.

The Xbox One and PlayStation 4 were the focus of the show this year, but excitement for those systems varied. Level-5 president Akihiro Hino was excited for both new consoles, but was particularly surprised by the PS4’s $399 price point.

“I think anyone can look at that and think ‘This is cheap!’ Putting cutting-edge PC specs into a game machine that costs just a few hundred dollars really brings across how serious SCE is about this generation,” Hino said. “I think the Xbox One is pretty cheap considering what you get with it as well, but with this PS4 price point, they’ll have to do something to oppose that. Looking at all the new media, it’s easy to see how console gaming is still the main entertainment space people work in. I can’t wait for the next generation to really spread out into households.”

Meanwhile, Valhalla Games’ Tomonobu Itagaki focused in on the enormity of the challenge facing hardware makers in the current market.

“In a world where our customers now have their attention divided by their PCs, their tablets and their smartphones, simply having consoles expand upon what they previously were isn’t going to work any longer,” Itagaki said. “Having a system that just reads controller input, makes a screen image and outputs it to the TV isn’t going to work, no matter how rich the media it’s producing. It seems like every first party is trying to get a feel for what makes a console truly special…”

Capcom’s Ace Attorney: Dual Destinies producer Motohide Eshiro said he was excited to see the Xbox One and PS4 in action, but expressed reservations with what he saw on the software side of things.

“Overseas developers showed off a lot of FPSes and third-person shooters that pursued photorealism and endless detail, but as for the gameplay, I felt there wasn’t much innovative,” Eshiro said. “I feel that I need to keep watching how trends unfold overseas, but continue developing games with an eye for what a Japanese person would see as fun and bring that to the world marketplace.”

Likewise, Sonic the Hedgehog series director Takashi Iizuka was disappointed with the games on display, particularly in how few of them were aimed toward young audiences.

“Games targeted toward the core audience are important, of course, but being at the show made me really feel like I wanted to continue making games that kids would be interested in,” Iizuka said.

Iizuka’s fellow Sega creator Toshihiro Nagoshi makes games like the Yakuza series for that core audience, but he too felt the games on display were lacking.

“The show floor seemed flooded with all of these franchise titles, and as a result nothing left that much of an impression on me,” Nagoshi said. “The Western market has continued to mature in a way, but personally I felt like it’s definitely about to face a transition period.”

 

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Xbox One has power of 10 Xbox 360 consoles, says Microsoft


And the company says the power becomes “infinite” with cloud technology, which game developers have been “incredibly positive” about

xboxone

Microsoft may still be reeling from the PR nightmare about Xbox One’s used game policies and always online nature, but that hasn’t stopped the company from espousing the next-gen platform’s big potential. In a closed-door meeting called “Xbox 101” attended by GamesIndustry International, the company stressed that Xbox One has “the computational power of more than 10 Xbox 360 consoles,” and that “the cloud brings infinite additional processing power.”

Those are the words of Xbox One engineering manager Jeff Henshaw, who led a demonstration about how Xbox One’s power has enabled Microsoft to create a demo using real data from NASA to track the orbital velocity of 40,000 asteroids in space. While Henshaw and his team are very proud of the power of Xbox One when it’s offline, the real advantage, he stressed, comes from Microsoft’s special cloud services.

“Microsoft has hundreds of thousands of servers and dozens of data centers geographically distributed all around the planet, and Xbox One has the ability to instantly tap in to that limitless computational horsepower,” Henshaw explained. With that extra cloud power, Microsoft is able “to take the number of asteroids from 40,000 to 330,000, and any device doing the computational math to realistically in real-time chart the orbital velocity of 330,000 asteroids would melt a hole in the ground, but Xbox One is able to do it without even breaking a sweat because it’s pulling in virtualized cloud computing resources.”

“Game developers have given us incredibly positive feedback on the crazy different ways that they can use this incredible new cloud power resource”

Jeff Henshaw

Henshaw added that even with all the power being used, Xbox One remains incredibly silent (no doubt an important aspect to note given how loud Xbox 360 hardware has been). “We have about 500,000 updates per second coming from our global computing cloud down to this Xbox One so it can all be managed completely seamlessly. The beautiful thing that’s happening here is we are seamlessly blending Xbox One’s incredible processing power with the limitless processing power of the cloud,” he continued.

So why is Microsoft going out of its way to show us a screen full of thousands of asteroids? Well, the implication is that if Xbox One can track all these asteroids, then it can certainly create massive, highly detailed game worlds for gamers to enjoy.

“Game developers are building games that have bigger levels than ever before. In fact, game developers can now create persistent worlds that encompass tens or hundreds of thousands of players without taxing any individual console, and those worlds that they built can be lusher and more vibrant than ever before because the cloud persists and is always there, always computing,” Henshaw said.

“Those worlds can live on in between game sessions. If one player drops out, that world will continue on and can experience the effects of time, like wear from weather damage, so that when a player comes back into the universe it’s actually a slightly evolved place in the same way that our real world evolves a little bit from the time we go to sleep to the time we wake up. Game developers have given us incredibly positive feedback on the crazy different ways that they can use this incredible new cloud power resource.”

It all seems a bit theoretical, but if the cloud can be as valuable a resource for developers as Microsoft says, perhaps consumers won’t mind the Xbox One being always online when they play.

 

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Sony CEO: PlayStation 4 is a game console “first and foremost”


Hirai re-emphasizes the company’s commitment to gaming

Sony CEO: PlayStation 4 is a game console first and foremost

Today at the D11: All Things Digital conference, Sony Corporation chief executive officer Kazuo Hirai reiterated the PlayStation 4’s focus as a gaming console. The audience at All Things Digital is probably more interested in the console as a media hub, but Hirai insisted that video games is the first step.

“The most important thing we need to make sure we do at least initially is that we all agree and understand that the PS4 is a great videogame console that appeals to video gamers,” Hirai said in a off-stage briefing. “If we miss that part then I don’t think we get the initial establishment of the console. That formula has worked for us with all our consoles, including the PS3.”

Media apps will still be a part of the PlayStation 4 and Sony will be revealing more media-related features in the future, but games come first.

“We take a look at this first and foremost as a game console. We don’t want to end there. That’s an area we will obviously reveal and talk about in the coming months,” said Hirai.

 

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Pre-owned crackdown is a sad excuse for business innovation


Taking away our right to share games will solve none of the industry’s enormous financial and business model problems; it may even make them worse

Pre-owned crackdown is a sad excuse for business innovation

We’re far from the end of the story regarding second-hand games and the next generation of consoles. Microsoft promises to have more information to reveal and implies that gamers will be placated by these further revelations; the only reasonable reaction to this nudge-and-wink follow-up to last week’s public relations disaster is to raise an amused eyebrow and imagine the chaos within the company as they try to figure out exactly what the hell they’re going to reveal when the time comes. Sony, meanwhile, may well be watching with some trepidation – it’s entirely possible that the PS4 also restricts second-hand sales in some fashion. Sony has always said that PS4 will play second-hand games, but hasn’t been drawn on detail regarding that stance – and the halo the company is presently wearing (no pun intended) will evaporate rapidly if it transpires that it’s also planning such an unpopular move.

Stepping back to consider the wider picture, we’re looking at a very bleak future for pre-owned or sharing of software. Steam is already the de facto platform for PC games, and it offers no second-hand sales channel and no method of sharing software with friends (and I mean that in the traditional “borrow my game” sense, not the euphemistic “sharing” as in piracy). iOS and Google Play games are locked to the user account. Now Xbox One (and possibly PS4) games will also prevent you from sharing games with friends and place hefty restrictions (and costs) on second-hand sales.

This isn’t just going to impact on the racks and racks of second-hand games at game retail stores, it’s going to have a major impact on gaming culture overall. It means no more buying a game and lending it to a friend when you’re finished, or going halves on a copy of something both of you want to play. It means no more going over to someone’s house and browsing their shelves for something to borrow – and by extension, removes a major impetus for many people to collect games in the first place. It means no more Lovefilm or other rental services for games, no more communal caches of games in the office that colleagues can dip into. Eventually, terribly sadly, it could even mean authorisation servers somewhere being turned off and an entire generation of games becoming inaccessible – a grim scenario but one which has already happened on a smaller scale with the switch-off of other DRM-backed systems.

There’s little point in going into any huge depth about why this is all a bloody awful idea – suffice it to say that as a consumer myself, I don’t think I’ll be buying an Xbox One if its DRM system turns out to be as draconian, abusive and intrusive as it presently seems, and similar decisions by Sony would equally nix a PS4 purchase. Given that I’ve bought every console in every generation for almost 20 years, that’s a fairly significant departure, but it’s no idle chest-beating on my part. If you take out the ability to lend and borrow games, the process of sharing enjoyment and entertainment that’s been at the heart of my gaming hobby since it began, I don’t know that my time or investment in consoles is justified any more. It’s terribly sad to think that key decision makers in our industry are now apparently of the impression that “social” in terms of prancing around like a drunken tit in front of a camera is the future of the medium, while “social” in terms of pressing a game box into a friend’s hand with a gleam in your eyes and words of praise and enthusiasm on your lips is to be frowned upon and treated as criminal.

What’s more useful is to ask how on earth we got ourselves into this position, because an industry which thinks it’s reasonable to wage war on perfectly normal consumer behaviour in this way is an industry that’s seriously dysfunctional. It’s easy, and very tempting, to blame the avarice of publishers and platform holders. There’s no denying that some of this market’s biggest firms are – like so many modern companies – rather over-padded with MBA-toting examples of human mediocrity whose understanding of the creative industry they’ve joined is zero but whose capacity to string together meaningless corporate buzzwords into arcane incantations summoning forth utterly rapacious and awful business practices is practically limitless. This is not to say that creative and excellent business minds aren’t also at work in games, but they’re very outnumbered by sub-par chancers spouting corporate drivel, and as such this entire area of the industry effectively wears a giant “kick me” sign that lights up in bright neon every time something like the Xbox One reveal or an egregious abuse of IAP in a full-price game occurs.

Yet even if swearing about people with expensive suits, MBAs and not a jot of real wit or intelligence to share between them is cathartic, it doesn’t actually get us to the bottom of the problem. The reality is that the crack-down on sharing and second-hand sales is part of a wider malaise. A wide swathe of high-end game development is struggling to pay the bills – that’s a simple reality. The cost of developing AAA games has risen and will rise again as new consoles demand higher-quality assets and new technology R&D, but the cost of marketing games has absolutely soared – and as Square Enix’ Yosuke Matsuda pointed out in a revealing statement this week, the cost of actually getting games into retail and sold through to consumers has also soared. Everyone poked fun at Square Enix’ huge sales targets for games like Tomb Raider and Hitman: Absolution, but Matsuda’s assessment of what happened to those games is sobering – as are the frankly enormous figures the company had to earmark for marketing and retail-related costs such as returns allowance.

This is reality; something is utterly broken at the heart of the AAA business. It’s entirely possible to put a game on the market which sells millions of copies, easily covering its development budget, and still not make enough money to justify the outlay once you factor in all the other huge costs. Developers have always felt screwed when they looked at games selling millions of units while royalties failed to materialise thanks to the creative accounting methods many publishers borrowed from Hollywood. Now, publishers are starting to feel a similar pinch, as games which should have been a safe bet see their profits evaporate in a perfect storm of additional costs and revenue drains. The cost of making a game has risen a bit; the cost of getting someone to buy a game has risen a lot, and unless your franchise is a Call of Duty scale monster, the whole thing is looking increasingly unsustainable.

Is the answer to crack down on customers sharing games with friends? No, of course not; that’s the frightened lashing out of a wounded animal. Is it to crack down on the second hand market? Again, no. There’s absolutely no question but that companies like GameStop and GAME have spent the past decade rabidly gnawing on the hand that fed them, but this ill-conceived crusade against second-hand sales punishes consumers for the industry’s own years-long failure to rein in the transgressions of its most cavalier and self-interested retail “partners”.

Is there, however, a problem that needs a solution? Yes. The AAA business simply has to change; the existing model is broken and a new one needs to be found. Matsuda says that Square Enix is going to experiment with ideas like Kickstarter and Steam Greenlight, among others, in the hope of finding a new approach to creating games that makes financial sense. I’m not convinced that crowdfunding is a viable model for big publishers in the long term, but I’m absolutely convinced that something new needs to be tried. How games are funded, created, distributed and ultimately enjoyed is going to have to change radically in the next few years, or there simply isn’t going to be a AAA market outside of a handful of established, ultra high-budget franchises. Killing off the second hand market isn’t even going to earn the industry a moment’s respite – if anything, I suspect that it’ll hasten the decline and death of the existing business model. I don’t expect that any company which isn’t rethinking its AAA funding, development and release model to still be in business five years from now.

 

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