Monday, June 11, 2018

E3 2018 Microsoft Press Briefing

Yesterday I was fortunate enough attend the Microsoft Press Briefing. In all of my years attending E3, I have yet to attend a Press Briefing. My curiosity was piqued as I wanted to know the experience of and the wheels to asphalt experience of the event.

I will be posting my "review" of the conference and my personal experience. Stay tuned here in the next few hours while I get ready to head to my hotel where I shall post the final words. Thanks!

Late last month, I was granted an opportunity to attend the Xbox Press Briefing. As I have mentioned, I have never attended a Press Briefing. I've done a bit during my years attending E3, but due to a litany of issues, attending a Press Briefing is not among them. Now, it's not a secret that while I do enjoy all consoles thoroughly, I have a special affinity for Microsoft's Xbox Brand. I'd be happy to discuss why that is in some future post, but being granted this particular opportunity was of interest to me.

My mental state while approaching the event however was not that of excitement; It was that of apathy. What would Microsoft show of interest? Would the other attendants be uninteresting? Could I ever get over the disappointment of Scalebound's cancellation (the answer to that is a "No.") I planned my day to seek these answers.

When I arrived, I already saw a line. Two hours earlier than the doors were expected to open and already there were two robust lines, one for two separate groups. My group, the "X" group, was relegated to be used by those 1000 (1K) winners of this opportunity. 1000 individuals would win and they could come from anywhere in the world. My immediate observation however was that they were not the kids who "had sex with my mom." Turns out, in public, this group wasn't very talkative. Outside of being solicited by random photographers of the event to yell and screen, I saw few interactions. Anyone who knows me however knows that the more quiet and awkward a situation, the more I cannot keep my inner monologue to myself (sorry to those people who genuinely love watching terrible movies I am attending... I convince myself "you're better off with MY entertainment.")

With one rather large outburst from the front of the line for some photographs and then a quick wave of quiet after they were asked to bark, I remarked rather loudly, "Everyone, no need to be concerned. There has NOT been an outbreak of Tourettes patients invited to this event... and no, there would be no problems if there was! These are just excited people to be here!"

Some people reacted with a form of fear that they could be associated with the likes of me. Fortunately, a few more laughed out loud, made eye contact, and began chatting with me. As it turns out, that net to cast individuals from all over most certainly stretched the length of the United States. The small group of people I stood amongst did not know one another. They however were both foreign and familiar to one another in a great many ways.

One woman was from Georgia, a librarian by day and mother and wife by evening. She streams before work and lets her VODS speak for her interactions. Latest: She is planning on finishing Arkham Knight on stream, which she does prior to every morning at 7AM.
Another woman was from Texas. A top tier individual from a fairly famous Southern Eatery (name withheld for her privacy) that graduated culinary school a great many years ago and was decked head to toe with Mass Effect attire. A 20 year PlayStation fan who converted over to the Xbox Nation.
A random gentleman ALSO from Georgia who lived in the North, who shared a like of smoking with the Texan and shared a state, but not a living experience, with our new friends.

This small sector was varied, and yet very familiar. It just took a spark to start the conversation and each had a world of information to share. Each very interesting and entertaining. They were quite polite at my rather robust and raunchy observations. I had asked what everyone was excited for and to be honest... they were just pleased as punch to be present for the event they had only witnessed once a year for the past few years.

The time in the line disappeared. While I couldn't see or hear too many conversations around me, our conversation was infectious enough it did spawn several satellite conversations that pushed through the group. The nervousness and uneasiness melted away as people started to realize they were all an enigma to the person beside them and yet familiar.

I was pleased to find that the community vibe, while muffled at first, could find a voice like it had on Xbox so many years ago.

When we were finally allowed it and the media and FanFest winners had been seated, there was quite a surge of energy. All the lines walked briskly, chatting with their new and emerging neighbors with excitement. "Halo else!" "I hope they show a Gears!" "Forza Horizon baby!" All these things were heard as we scuttled to our security checkpoint.

When it finally came time to watch the show, my new Georgian Librarian followed me in. As someone who had attended E3 and somehow a Californian Ambassador (I'm from SD, not LA), It was quite interesting an example of "blind leading the blind" but I think I performed it well. We sat on the far left of the auditorium after going through our security and we awaited the show, which didn't take long to commence.

I will not go into the specific play by play of the event. There were several very key moments which I think had great meaning.
When the opening of the show began with the as yet unknown "Halo Infinite", the crowd exploded with the force of a Plasma Grenade when they saw the drop of Master Chief's helmet.
When the first glances at Maclaren's logo rumble across the landscape of Britain, the realization of a new Horizon (what would have been expected to most) created such a discord of excitement that you could hear hi-5s across the audience.
The appearance of Todd Howard only meant one thing, and the crowd was hungry for it. Having information FIRST about Fallout 76 had the audience feeling like the world was on fire... just for them.
When the end of the show hit, and the system was "hacked", the roar of applause at seeing the logo for Cyberpunk 2077 had people nearly willing to rush out and augment themselves to get a touch of the game first.

Each of these moments erupted the audience into a fervor and frenzy. They appreciated the ability to be there. Even I, who has been somewhat desensitized to the functions of E3 as it has been mired with the integration of the population, was taken aback by several of the moments. I could get caught up in the electricity of the event and looked around to see many others excitedly participating in the power unleashed by their neighbors.

I'm not entirely sure my want for the products on the screen is any higher having participated in the event, but I can say the experience was better than I expected. I left feeling happy that so many did get to experience this portion of the event and feeling like they belong. While I may still not be a fan of the average participation in E3 for a whole slough of reasons we can discuss at a later date, I will say that events like this are most certainly to be appreciated by the fans and is definitely a step in a positive direction.

Tomorrow, I hope to deliver more insight and personal experience of the first days of E3 2018. Wish me luck!

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Hyperkin "Duke" Controller Review

When the original Xbox Launched, it was a curiosity. Microsoft, previously the powerhouse of the Personal Computer Operating System, was suddenly going to jump into making a console of its own. Of the future promises that Microsoft began its dedication with, few were as talked about than the "Duke", the Xbox controller. Love it or hate it, the "Duke" has made a return with the Hyperkin Duke for Xbox One and Windows 10.

Before we get to the opinions of the Duke, we should discuss why the Duke exists. How  does such a controversial controller like the Duke even exist? Why is it even controversial at all?
When the original Xbox was being designed, it was done by asking gamers what they wanted in a new video game console. "What do you think the best gaming machine would be?" The original Xbox was the result of those gamer opinions. From having an 8GB built-in HDD (enormous at the time) to having Ethernet built in for every console. There isn't any portion of the original Xbox that was made without consideration for the audience that would support it. The "Duke's" design was no different.

With Microsoft trying to take over the living room and place an Xbox in every home, they banked on the idea that gamers would be spending most of their free hours online using their console. Learning from the mistakes of PC gamers, Microsoft was looking to make an ergonomic controller that would feel good in hands and give you less soreness (when you weren't getting wrecked playing Halo with their friends.) In doing so, the design landed on a larger than the current standard controller which left the hands and wrists at comfortable angles, sticks that were placed on the average angle for their demographic, features such as a concave motion stick and convex aiming stick to differentiate the difference between their purposes, and  even including a black and white button on the top for the upcoming use with voice chat (each one designated for either Team Chat or Group Chat believe it or not!)

When it first arrived, there was little in the way of the "Duke". The controller was primarily seen as excellent to those who were jumping in on the Xbox ecosystem. It wasn't a small toy, it felt like a quality chunk of kit and went well with the engine stylings of the system itself. The buttons were unique and interesting with a clear plastic coating over the somewhat familiar lettering, although in a  different order than we grew up with. All was great with the "Duke" as it had affectionately became known as. That was until the attempt to invade eastern shores arose.

The Xbox was created for the Western audience. Those gamers which helped customize the Xbox, they were primarily in the United States. As such, the ergonomics of the US gamer's hands was not the same as Asian audiences, where, like it or not, their hands are often smaller. The size of the controller was a sticking point for some, many trying to blame it as a reason the console wouldn't do well in Japan (though honestly, Japan is a tough sell with few US companies). In an attempt to reach that audience, a new controller, the Type S, was introduced.

The largest change with the Type S was the size. Feeling more in-line with the size of a PS2 and Gamecube controller, it was more familiar to those who are just coming into the console and had come from the Sony ecosystem. Those individuals found the format more accommodating. These individuals didn't care about the ergonomics. They didn't care about the reasons. They cared that they didn't feel awkward with their controller, regardless of if their initial feelings were based off using remarkably uncomfortable controllers that they just got "used to". Bad habits after all are incredibly hard to break.

At this time, the divide between the "Duke" and the Type S was growing, and with the "Duke" no longer being a pack in, fewer and fewer new Xbox owners even knew anything of the "Duke" outside  of the ridiculous and snide comments about it. The "Duke" had become a meme and disappeared from memory. The Xbox 360 introduction a few short years later revolutionized gaming and it was in no small part due to the designs of the Type S.

Fast forward to 2017. After some back and forth on Twitter from Seamus Blackley (ironically the creator of the Xbox AND the guy who pushed for the Type S controller!), the revitalization of the Duke picked up steam. With hundreds of thousands of responses to a twitter post about the Duke from Mr. Blackley, it was clear that time had most assuredly changed some of that bitter and hateful divide between gamers and the lovers of the "Duke" could express themselves again. Microsoft approved the 3rd party controller company Hyperkin to produce the Duke using the molds to produce a mostly accurate representation of the "Duke". Some changes had to happen, some were just for the "lolz" but the Hyperkin "Duke" is here, like an informative blast from the past.

So what is different? Well first, the most noticeable is the LCD screen in the center. When the USB controller with micro-USB connection (firmly secured  in a square peg mind you) is powered on, the LCD display shows the original Xbox boot screen. The original Xbox didn't use a video for this, it was performed procedurally at boot. The team involved recorded one and placed it in this little LCD screen. It will also play when pressed and now acts like your Xbox One jewel button. Another change is the inclusion of 2 small-ish bumpers. The original Xbox didn't have these bumpers, instead having the aforementioned black and white buttons. The bumpers are really out of the way but present to those who would naturally reach for them, just a little off from where you might expect them on an Xbox One. One necessary alteration is actually the omission of the memory card slots. Instead here is a giant mound of plastic with the same contour and ribbing as the original, just covering up the holes.

But there is one more different item here. You, the end user. Your years of advancement into gaming have made you comfortable with a particular controller type. Many young gamers today do not realize that it used to be normal to have to learn a "new controller" every few years. Some of us old enough to have an original PlayStation recall that interesting time in our lives when the DS controller made its way into our lives and we had to get over some of those oddities. (Some of us also remember how they rereleased some games to include Dual Shock support such as Resident Evil.) As a result, you will likely struggle initially with the "Duke". Your muscle memory for the past decade has worked against you. You'll notice the little changes such as the face buttons rotated 45 degrees off what you're used  to. Instead of a classic "+" pattern, they are more like an off kilter rhombus.

Something not discussed in many of the reviews is the tension of the sticks. Modern sticks have a great amount of tension. It used to be that the original Xbox had more tension than standard DS controllers. In contrast however, these will feel remarkably loose. In those days, you fine tuned your skills, not your controller. You will find yourself struggling to learn button placement for games you've been playing for years. You will feel uncomfortable with the idea. To be honest however, we are often uncomfortable with drastic experiences and relish our first. We won't go into the whole human experience and how it shapes us, but it is quite common for you to prefer your first experience over experiences that contrast against it. You will find however that if you attempt to enter new experiences with open arms, you're more likely to find the benefits of trying new things. Approaching the "Duke" for new users requires this concept be taken to heart.

I want to be clear here however, this isn't inherently bad. While we definitely have evolved in some fronts in gaming, the comfort of the Duke in some ways can outweigh the history we have with our modern consoles. Relearning face buttons is a matter of time. The same time you'll enjoy recapturing your old moments with this huge beast of a controller. It leaves your hands comfortable and relaxed and doesn't feel like you're cramped in a box. You will find many of the old habits returning. You are also prone to realize the "game fatigue" that has been present for some is less prevalent.

The quick version is this: The "Duke" is a nice consideration for those of us who had a great romp with an old friend. Yes, we've grown up, and yes there are imperfections in our memories, but you do remember why you loved the "Duke" in the day and if you're willing to work on that friendship again, you'll be able to do so. The learning curve for using the black and white buttons, the loose sticks, and the bumpers, can be a little daunting, but remember that there were people pulling off flawless "GunValkyrie" playthroughs with this thing, so it's much more capable than you realize. And... that LCD screen looks really cool and pulls a few interested stares.

The Hyperkin "Duke" controller retails for $69.99 and is available at Gamestop and the Microsoft Store.

E3 2018 a month away

E3 2018 is just around the corner. While I have been absent for five years, my curiosity and zeal for gaming has not diminished.

I will be attending the show from June 12 - 14th and will be taking photos and getting hands on with games. Additionally, I have also won a slot in the Xbox Press Briefing. I will be happy to convey the details of these experience, mixed with a dash of personal perspective, and my take on the state of the industry.

If you're a random person who has found this link, thank you! Please, stop by and give the content a parse. It's old and hasn't been updated, but I'm hoping to put reviews here and there.

Maybe I'll add more photos like the one below, taken at last years E3 2017. I'm curious to see how my skill with the camera have improved.

I hope to be back here with  daily updates of the E3 Show floor and impressions of the Xbox Press Briefing.

Thank you for stopping by!

Monday, June 10, 2013

Did Sony Just Win the Game?

      I'm a Microsoft fan. I own an extensive library of games and have been enamored with the service since the original Xbox days. I own multiple consoles though, so I do not simply sleep in one camp, I just visit it more often. This year's E3 had very few surprises for us. The few that were announced, did they make their mark on tomorrow? Or is it simply more fluff and business speak? Let's find out...

Friday, June 7, 2013

Review: Toro's Friend Network (PS Vita)

     If you've not have the privilege of knowing who Toro (Toro Inoue; Sony's Japanese mascot for Playstation) you have missed on an entertaining character. So to quickly assimilate you to the concept, Toro is a quirky white cat who enjoys being human. Very much a cat at heart, he's curious and particular, and a delight to behold. Sony has given US Vita audiences another dose of Toro (seen in both "Streetfighter X Tekken" and "Playstation Battle Royale") in the form of "Toro's Friend Network" for the PS Vita. This free to play game is awaiting players to engage socially with the Playstation Vita community. Free doesn't always mean fun, and quirky is annoying at times. So is this a game you want to waste your slowly dwindling memory on? I take a look with some insights to this intriguing title.

Monday, June 3, 2013

The Venture Brothers Season 5 "What Color Is Your Cleansuit?" Review

"Venture Brothers": Season 5 "What Color Is Your Cleansuit?" 

     Fans of the "Venture Brothers" are patient. Each season of the show takes more than a year and a half to produce. Each season contains approximately 13 episodes. Most shows do not last the single season, let alone having a year and a half hiatus to produce a "mere" 13 episodes. So why do the fans of "Venture Brothers" stick around?

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Gaming Landfall

     E3 is around the corner and I couldn't feel more nervous or excited for the future. Microsoft and Sony are setting a stage of interest and possibilities which could fundamentally change the way we game as a community. The potentials are polarizing. A world of complete freedom and discovery or a world held siege by keepers of your information. 

    Each of these companies has much speculation surrounding their final announcements, and I couldn't be more excited. Few gaming moments have held such potential and now is the time to take note of the coming storm. Rumors of each are thrown carelessly into the stream of blogs, forums, and comments and while engaging to read, the summation of their words merely point to concerns and questions needed for safe passage to this new land.
     Does Xbox One HAVE to maintain the 5:3 split? What is the PS4's Split for OS versus Game? Is the concern over Used versus New legitimate and if so how are each dealing with the differences? What exactly does "Always On" mean for each system and what are the consequences if I am not? These are but a few of the questions unearthed when you sift through the current anxiety of data online and they are great questions.

     Waiting for this new information gives me the feeling of standing on a ship to an undiscovered land. Eager to spread across the globe, each new land is riddled with danger and possibility. There could be such fruitful experience or such damning confines. For me, my reactions to these feelings needs to be calmed. To properly assess the future and how it will affect my gaming adventures to come, I will need to be observant and dedicated.

     I have been a Microsoft fan for several years. Sony has disappointed me in its service camp but is not unimportant to the world of gaming. Nintendo has lost my interest as every year it merely gives me that brief feeling of being a child again, only for me to realize they insist on stunting my growth. I enjoy my memories to influence my new experiences, not to constantly emulate them. Consider if you will trying to play Shadow of the Colossus at the age of 8. As smart as you may have been, many of the themes would be lost on you. I honestly want Samus and  Link to mature sometime. Just once. Even so, I am still a fan of gaming and support each of these companies in their endeavors to bring gaming to their respective communities. So while Sony and Microsoft will determine what the future brings, I am still curious to see what Nintendo presents for E3. And not just Nintendo.

     With this future being so uncertain and energetic, there are other companies who are looking to make their mark in the now. Companies who are envisioning a gap in gaming that needs to be filled. Ouya is an example of this company. Whether you see Ouya having any possible competition in the field or not, it has a community willing to give it the chance, and it is not alone. 

     The future of gaming starts in 2013. It is my hope that it becomes one of new and wonderous surprises that cross genres and concepts in the way Proteus did. With this new technology we are granted new ways of engaging our hobbies. Hopefully these new boundaries are not stifling and we can immerse in ways we simply did not think we would enjoy as a community. At E3 2013, this possibility comes more solid. At E3, we get one step closer to the next 5 years of our lives, and hopefully a world that both understands who we have become as well as tantalizes us with new ways to let loose.

     I am excited and nervous to see where this ship makes landfall. Surprise me. -Adam