Category Archives: PlayStation 3

Seven Pillars of Wisdom

All men dream: but not equally.  Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds wake up in the day to find it was vanity, but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act their dreams with open eyes, to make it possible.

-T.E. Lawrence, Seven Pillars of Wisdom

I actually have a copy of Seven Pillars of Wisdom on my bookshelf, a 1938 US post-death edition of the 1926 version of the book.  It came from my grandfather, who picked it up somewhere along the way.  I took a couple shots at reading it when I was much younger, and now I am hesitant to even pick it up due to its age.

All of which is really an aside to explain the reference in the title, but which will make a bit more sense shortly.  Maybe.

Destiny launched last week.

Destiny_450

And while I wasn’t caught off guard like some, I would have to say that its impact on me has been minor.

I have fond memories of some past Bungie games.  Pathways into Darkness was good and many hours were spent playing Marathon and then Myth at the office.  But once Bungie got bought up by Microsoft and became just the Halo studio of the XBox division at the company, they faded from my consciousness.  It was to the point that when somebody would actually connect Bungie and Halo for me, I would get that squint on my face and say something like, “The same Bungie that made Marathon? They are still a thing?”

Anyway, through some machinations Bungie is still a thing and is free of Microsoft and the need to do things exclusively for the XBox.  That they managed to do this… though Microsoft got custody of Halo in the divorce… only to jump into bed with Activision might make your head hurt.   But, let’s face it, Bungie is a AAA developer so they need to go out and get screwed by hook up with a publisher that has the ability to move AAA titles.

So Destiny came to be.  It is a shooter of some sort… which given Bungie’s history is no big surprise… with MMORPG elements to it.  And while it is available on a platform I actually own… I still have a PlayStation 3… I doubt I will end up playing it.  Due to a variety of factors, our PS3 is used primarily for video streaming, to the point that I cannot remember when we last played a game on it.

Let’s see, so far I have a T. E. Lawrence quote and some chatter about a game company that used to be important to me but whose games I haven’t played this century, a trend that looks to continue into the foreseeable future.

Such deep insight.  Are you still awake?

Okay, time to wrap this up by reaching for the bit I could have probably pasted in at the top and let sit on its own.

As part of reading about Destiny, I came across a couple of references to Bungie’s “Seven Pillars of Design” and how the company uses this as the foundation for creating its games.  Naturally, I had to go look up those pillars, which were enumerated as such:

  1. A World Players Want to Be In
  2. A Bunch of Fun Things to Do
  3. Rewards Players Care About
  4. A New Experience Every Night
  5. Shared With Other People
  6. Enjoyable By All Skill Levels
  7. Enjoyable by the Impatient and Distracted

Not a bad list, the distillation of their own gaming wisdom, garnered through more than twenty years in the industry.  I especially like that last entry, though I might have tacked on something like, “but not in a way that annoys the rest of the audience.”  Or am I the only one who has been in a Dungeon Finder group with “that guy” whose sole phrase during the whole run was, “Go go go go go?”

It sure beats that fourth pillar hype, the most interesting aspect of which, more than four years down the road was it being plagiarized by another game.

It almost makes me want to play it at some point, just to see how they did on the list… though that gets us back to the list of reasons why we don’t actually play games on the PS3 at our house again.

The game itself seems to be doing well, with sell through for the first week reported by Activision at some insane number… $325 million in five days?  That is… well… insane.  They certainly won’t be in a hurry to port to the PC.

With that number, I guess we can say that Activision did their job for Bungie.  Pity about the bonuses after all that green was raked in.  Metacritic puts the game in what we might call the “mediocre” range of the review spectrum.  A lot of the reviews are heavy on complaints.  My current favorite piece on the game is over at Forbes with the title “Destiny Is A Bad Game, But I Can’t Stop Playing It.”  Meanwhile VG24/7 has attempted to compile every complaint about the game and call it a review.  (You have to have your satire sensors engaged though.)

And so it goes.  I guess the real test will be if people are still talking/complaining about Destiny six months or a year down the road.  Bungie has created a sizable installed base on little more than its reputation, now to see if they can do something with it.  Did they meet their design goals?  Is this the dawn of another Halo-like epic franchise?  Is the team at Bungie made up of dreamers of the day?

Side Notes About Used Games

There has been a bit of a controversial breeze blowing through the console news, with the rumor being that Microsoft will be putting an end to the used game market with their next generation console by simply not allowing it to play used games.

Used games and piracy are the two things that keep some big game publishing execs up at night building enormous castles in the sky with all the wealth that could be theirs if only they could be rid of these meddlesome practices.

Not that I am unsympathetic to people whose software is being pirated.  I work in software as well, and it irks.

But with the threat of a final solution to the used game problem potentially on the horizon, it was extremely refreshing to hear somebody from EA come out and say that the used games market is not 100% evil.

Basically, in their view, used games have helped prop up the traditional retail channel for the last few years, which is still an important source of game sales.

Oh, and the fact that people who buy new games can then turn around and trade them in for credit increases the likelihood that they will then buy another new game.  So the used games market might actually be boosting new game sales, at least in certain segments of the market.

Using Used to sell New

Using Used to sell New

But they still want to kill the used market because… despite the above… they still hate it and can’t stop telling themselves that every used game sale would have been a new game sale if not for that damn gray market.

At the other end of the equation there is GameStop, a company that pretty much depends on used games to stay open.  They are upset.

No surprise there.

And they have some numbers that say some gamers won’t buy Microsoft’s icky new console if it doesn’t support used games.  And while I cannot speak to the validity of their poll, they are probably right to be worried.  The end of the used game market probably means the end of GameStop in the medium-to-long term.

And GameFly too, while we’re at it.  All those game rentals would have been new game sales, right?

Microsoft dreams of having control over things in the way that Steam does.  And they have been headed that way with things like direct purchases through XBLA.  Of course, Steam itself is in a bit of a fix in Europe, where the European High Court ruled that digital content should be transferable.  The concept of used might not be going away… and Microsoft throwing in against used will probably just inflame the issue in Europe.  They like Microsoft even less than most people here do.

And I expect typical Microsoft avarice when it comes to pricing, at least initially, which will stoke people’s ire even more so.  Steam thrives in part because of their massive sales, which rope in the buyers who didn’t have to have a given game on day one for list price.  Will Microsoft relent on the $60 price tag for games when there is no used market?  I bet not.

My only solace in all of this is that it does not impact me for the most part.

While we have two consoles, a Wii and a PlayStation 3, but I doubt that we will be jumping on the next generation.  I have been a PC gamer since 1983… wow, 30 years… and will likely remain so.  Our PS3 is mostly used to play Blu-Ray movies and stream Netflix, and our Wii hasn’t been on in months.

And, even when we were playing consoles more, I was not a big spender in the used game market.

Once in a while I would buy a used game from GameStop.

But I do not buy used games to save money or to stick it to the publisher.  I buy them because a given game I want simple isn’t available new any more.

Quite a while back I wanted Tetris for the Nintendo DS.  However, it was no longer being published and so was simply not available new.  It was even hard to find used.  GameStop had a copy for me, for which I paid nearly list price.  And not a penny of that went to Nintendo.  But not because I wouldn’t have given them the money.  However, I am sure that would lump me in with those killing single player games in the eyes of some.

Likewise, I had to go looking for a copy of Civilization II in order to be able to play it on Windows 7 64-bit.  The used market was the only choice.  The same went for Mario Kart Double Dash, a Game Cube game my daughter and I wanted to play on the Wii.

Of course, with another aspect of the next console generation… doing away with backward compatibility… the out of print game issue won’t rear its head any time soon.  Still, at some point, unless we go completely to digital distribution, there will games that have had their production run and are no longer available.

So where do used games sit in your world view?

More Unspent Virtual Currency…

I was just complaining about not having anything on which I wanted to spend Station Cash, and now Sony Computer Entertainment America sends me a note to remind me to… well… please spend some of the funds on my PlayStation 3 account.

Dear Wilhelm

Dear Wilhelm…

Yes, I know, the PlayStation people actually use standard monetary units.  But you cannot get it back out again, so your “funds” in whatever currency might as well be Play Station Doubloons.

It would be nice if the two piles of Sony funds were not segregated, but as we saw with DC Universe Online, SCEA wants to protect its users from any interaction with the unwashed PC masses.

I wonder how much unused virtual currency I have sitting around?  SOE Station Cash, Play Station Network Funds, Turbine Points, World of Tanks gold, Need for Speed World Speed Boost, EA Play 4 Free Funds, Turbine Points, Runes of Magic Diamonds, Star Trek Online C-Store whatevers…

There might be a virtual fortune out there.

How about you?  How much virtual currency do you have sitting around?

DUST 514 Beta Open to All EVE Online Subscribers

CCP announced that EVE Online players will now have access to the beta of their upcoming console shooter DUST 514.

From CCP:

You’re in! In preparation for this weekend’s beta event, we’re giving DUST 514™ All Access passes to every EVE subscriber. Be part of the massive EVE player invasion set to hit the DUST 514 servers starting August 9th, 2012. Follow the guidelines:

INSTRUCTIONS
1.    Login to your EVE Account Management Voucher Center.
2.    Claim your DUST 514 Beta CCP Code.
3.    Copy the CCP Code displayed in the Voucher Center.
4.    Go to http://dust514.com/redeem and enter the CCP Code to begin.
5.    Follow the instructions at dust514.com to obtain your PlayStation®Network Voucher.

Then, just follow the instructions on the PSN Voucher code page to redeem the voucher and start playing in the DUST 514 closed beta.

The DUST 514 beta server is open this weekend from Thursday, 9 August at 11:30 UTC through Monday, 13 August at 11:00 UTC.

That is cool.

Of course, there is the question “How many EVE Online players have a PlayStation 3?”

We happen to have one at our house, so I am good in that regard.

And then there is the game itself.

I like that it is hooked into EVE Online proper, that the game is expanding the CCP “One Universe” philosophy.  What is done in one game can impact the other and such.  That should make for some most excellent unintended consequences.

On the other hand, it is a shooter… a console shooter…. a console shooter with what is purported to be such an annoying control set that mouse and keyboard players like myself have gone insane, or at least have gone out an bought the keyboard and mouse control set for the PS3 just to play the game.

Anyway, I might give it a look this weekend.  Maybe.

Then again, a friend gave me a code for the beta a couple weeks back and I watched the Olympics instead.  So we’ll see.

But the whole thing is under wraps still, so I suspect I won’t be blogging about it.

The DUST 514 closed beta program is a private test of a work in progress. It is not a final product, nor is it indicative of final performance, frame rate, effects, or feature set. Please remember that if you choose to participate, everything associated with this test is confidential and may not be discussed outside of the DUST 514 closed beta forums. Your participation in the DUST 514 closed beta program is always subject to the EULA and Confidentiality Agreement.

Ah well.  You can only talk about things that CCP has already made public.

Little Big Planet Defeats the Wii

We have had a PlayStation 3 for well over a year now.

Just in case you wanted to see a box

It showed up in our household where the Wii had been our only video console for the previous four years.

The PlayStation 3 was planned to have three roles in our home.

The first was to play Blu-ray disks.  In this role it has performed admirably.  It has show itself to be completely compatible with all the disks I have fed into it and Blu-ray movies look fantastic on our TV.  The opening scenes of Star Wars Episode III from the Blu-ray set were of such high quality that I had to get up and stand closer to the TV and drool.  Still, the unit was a bit pricey for just a Blu-ray player.

The second role involved streaming video.  This has been primarily from NetFlix, though Amazon Prime has jumped into the market with a PS3 app.  This has also delivered high quality.  I have been quite surprised actually at how smoothly NetFlix streams given our relatively low bandwidth DSL and the fact that the PS3 hooks up to the router over WiFi from half way across the house.

And the third role, the one for which it was designed, was to play… you know… video games.  And this is where it fell down on the job, much to my surprise.  I figured it would be higher quality video and about the same when it came to controllers.  In one of my more ironic complaints, I had previously griped about the fact that most Wii games end up having use the Wii remote and nun-chuck as a two piece standard game controller.

So imagine my surprise when I started using the PS3 controller only to discover that having the game controller in two pieces is actually much easier the body when playing for more than 20 minutes at a stretch.  It turns out that the small PS3 controller forces you into that “gamer’s clutch” with the unit grasped in front of you… a position which makes your arms and shoulders ache after a while if you are not used to it.

That was part of the issue.  A small part of it in any case.

The bigger reason for the PS3 failing to take on a significant role as a game platform in our house was that my daughter and her friends just like Wii games.  They all have Wiis and like the same games and so the PS3 would sit quietly while the Wii got all the game time.  And my daughter has become the real driver for console gaming in our house.  Long gone are the days when she would come to me to help her out.  Now it is she who pities me when she wrangles me into playing Super Mario Bros. Wii or Super Smash Bros. Brawl, a platformer and a fighting game respectively, neither of which were my strong suit even when I was young.  Now suddenly I am my own father struggling to simply not fail utterly while playing a video game with my child.

But recently, one game from the PS3 has been taking hold of my daughter, Little Big Planet.

Not the box we have…

I picked this game up early on, along with a couple of others people recommended, like Mod Nation Racers.  And while it was clearly a deep and interesting game, it still got shoved aside for the most part.  My daughter had Super Mario to play with her friends and as much as I liked the game, it was still a platform jumper, which meant I was horrible at it.

Over the last couple of months though, LBP came into fashion for my daughter.  She is trending on the creative path right now.  She wanted PhotoShop Elements for her birthday and saved up money for a Wacom tablet.  So the ability to dress up your sack boy avatar struck the right chord with her.  Then she started playing people’s custom levels.  Then she started making her own custom levels.  And recently she has been after me about some downloadable content that will give her more tools and features with which to create levels. (She wanted the Pirates of the Caribbean pack, since it let you have water in your levels.)

And then one day I noticed that on Raptr I was ranked Elite for Little Big Planet, something measured not in hours but achievements.  There were 42 listed, which put me in the top 10% of Raptr users.

Steam sales explain those 20 “newbie” ranks

I got the ranking because I hooked Raptr up to my PlayStation account, but those achievements were all earned by my daughter.  Those include achievements for having a given number of people play levels you created.

This has become her game of choice for the moment.  The Wii still gets its time when her friends are over, but even they are being introduced to LBP.

So now my daughter asks me to come and play LBP with her… and I still suck, because it is a platform jumper.  Once in a while she’ll play Mod Nation Racers with me, where I can still hold my own.

And just the other day she heard there was a Little Big Planet 2.  This, of course, came up just after I let her buy some content for LBP.  Fortunately, all of the DLC for LBP appears to transfer over to LBP2, along with all the levels you have made and so forth.  It all just shows up in higher quality with better visual effects.

So we might look at the sequel at some point, though for my daughter we are now at the far end of the calendar for birthdays, Christmas, and such.  Our change jar collection might have to go towards that rather than a certain panda-themed expansion.

LEGO Lord of the Rings The Video Game Announced

Back in December, when LEGO announced that they would be doing Lord of the Rings based kits, my first thought was, “And a LEGO video game as well, right?”

LEGO Kits Coming Summer 2012

Well, now I have my wish.  Traveller’s Tales, LEGO, Warner, and a series of other companies involved in the whole thing have announced LEGO Lord of the Rings The Video Game!

A LEGO Fantasy!

There is also a video… ahead of which YouTube has placed a 30 second ad.  They know what people want I suppose.

Direct link to the video here.

Now all that is missing is a date.  I did not see one anywhere.  Maybe it will be something for the Christmas wish list.

Six Months of the PlayStation 3

It is shaping up to be Sony week here.  First MMOs, now consoles.

Six month ago we purchased a PlayStation 3 for our home.

Just in case you wanted to see a box

And I haven’t said much about it since, except to note that the whole PlayStation Network got hacked just days after I bought the thing.  Talk about timing.  I didn’t even have time to enter my credit card before the whole thing was down.

I guess that was good timing in a way.

Anyway, while I have not mentioned our PlayStation 3, I also haven’t tried to return the unit or attempted to chuck it out a window in a fit of rage.  It has become integrated into our TV-centric entertainment center.

We bought the unit with three purposes in mind, to play Blu-ray discs, to stream NetFlix, and to play games.

Playing Blu-ray Discs

From what I have read and heard from friends, Blu-ray seems to be at about the point that DVDs were in around 2000, where in general any Blu-ray disc will work in any given Blu-ray player, but disc authors have discovered some features in the format that not all players respond well to.  I recall Disney DVDs causing problems with our old DVD player, something that went away with its replacement.  As they were both Bose units, clearly the hardware people eventually caught up with what the disc authors were doing.

So I expected to run into a bit of this sort of thing with the PlayStation 3.

As it turns out though, the issue has not really come up.  I suspect that the unit being on the internet and getting regular updates has fixed most of the problems that early units probably encountered.  The joy of online updates.

Anyway, as a Blu-ray player, the PlayStation 3 is fine.  We have not had any problems playing any discs.

To facilitate Blu-ray play, at Potshot’s suggestion, I also purchased the Blu-ray remote for the unit, which has all the functions on it you would find on a standard DVD/Blu-ray player remote.  It works well and, being Blue Tooth, it does not even require line-of-sight to the unit in order to function.

That last bit, while nice, has also lead to an issue now and again.

The buttons seem very sensitive and I, my daughter, and the cats have all brushed the remote from time to time only to have it interrupt the movie in progress in some way, even when the remote is tucked away behind something.  I am also a bit confused as to why the STOP button on the remote dumps you out of playback and directly to the PlayStation 3 menu system.  But then I am not sure exactly what the button should do, but that would be low on my list.

All in all, the unit makes a good, if somewhat expensive, Blu-ray player.

Streaming Netflix

This was a specific requirement of ours that has since fallen by the wayside.

The unit does indeed stream Netflix very well.  It was quick to set up.  I was streaming Netflix in under an hour after first opening the box.  Connected only by WiFi, the unit was able to stream HD video without interruption.  There was only one movie with which we had problems, and it appeared to be a problem with that movie in particular.

So, the PlayStation 3 was good at streaming, we just ran out of things we wanted to watch on Netflix streaming.  And while there are other streaming choices, I have not really been motivated to explore them as there seems to be a universal “not as good as Netflix” aura around the lot of them when it comes to technical performance.

I have looked into the PlayStation Store.  They rent and sell movies there.  A movie rental in standard definition is three dollars, and high definition is five dollars or so, which probably isn’t a bad price.  I am just not programmed to see individual rentals like that as a good deal any more.  Blame Netflix and its “all you can watch” subscription.

I can’t bring myself to use pay-per-view with DirecTV for the same reason.

I might actually be interested in television episodes, since you can get those in HD, while we’re still watching TV in SD, but those seem to go for about 3 bucks a pop as well.  I’d like to see Burn Notice in HD, but a whole season via the PlayStation Store costs about as much as it would to buy the same thing on Blu-ray.

So, overall, this was something the PlayStation 3 was good at.  It is just something for which we stopped having a use.

Playing Games

So here is where one of life’s little ironic twists shows up.

We have had a Wii for a few years, and one of my big complaints about the Wii has been the controllers.  Sure, they are innovative.  The problem is that most of the games we own could be played just as well, if not better, on a standard game controller.

And the PlayStation 3 certainly has a standard game controller.  I think it is pretty much the same as the PlayStation 2 controller, isn’t it?

Anyway, to prove this out, one of the first games I bought was LEGO Star Wars: The Complete Saga.  It is an excellent game.  We have it on the Wii.  It is one of my prime examples of not really taking advantage of the Wii remote.

We loaded it up.  It looks beautiful in high definition.  Animation is silky smooth.  And I find it much harder to play on the PlayStation 3 than on the Wii.

This is likely one of those “just me” things, but I haven’t had a game console with a standard controller since the Sega Genesis in 1992.  I have not developed the muscle structure to hold my hands together in front of me in the “gamer grip” on the controller, which is required with the PlayStation 3.

Instead, I have muscles built up from something like 35 years of typing and 25 years of mouse and keyboard computer usage.  And it turns out that at least the latter trains you to keep your hands somewhat apart and makes them capable of independent action, just the way the Wii remote and Nunchuck attachment do.

I’ve been ergonomically trained for the last quarter century to use a Wii controller configuration.  Who knew?

So I can play LEGO Star Wars and the like for hours on the Wii, but I start to cramp up on the PlayStation 3 in 30 minutes or less.  Life turns my assumptions on their ass yet again.

And the PlayStation 3 doesn’t solve one of the problems I was hoping it would.  In the LEGO games, they solve the screen tug-of-war created by two players going in the opposite direction by introducing a split screen mode with LEGO Indiana Jones 2.

On the Wii I found this feature distracting and disorienting to the point of making me a little nauseous at times.  I figured there must be some flicker involved, ala the Atari 2600 back in the day with too many objects on screen, along with the old tube TV causing this to be an issue with me.

And then we got LEGO Pirates of the Caribbean (beautiful game in HD, and a lot better than the 4th movie frankly!) for the PlayStation 3 and… the whole split screen was just as bad.  It turns out to be just me.  Again.  Ah well.

All of which is not to say that the PlayStation 3 is a failure for gaming at our house, though the Wii still gets at least as much usage as the Sony box, and we have not invested in many games yet.

The most played game PlayStation 3 game we have has to be Little Big Planet.

This game annoys my daughter no end… when I play with her.

Left to herself, she loves the game, and I must admit it has a lot of charm.  I just suck at platform games.  I always have.  And it just so happens that my daughter’s favorite games are platformers, with LBP on the PlayStation 3 and Super Mario Bros. on the Wii getting most of her attention.  And in both, I am the main problem she has with the game.

Overall Impression

The Sony PlayStation 3 is a fine piece of hardware.  The only problems I have had have been related to Sony itself, first with the PlayStation Network down time and then their annoying EULA tricks.

The only real issue I have with the system is that I do not really use it to its fullest… or anywhere close to it.  We play LEGO games and a 3 year old classic on it and watch Blu-ray discs.

I just haven’t found the killer app for the system.