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2013 could prove gaming’s best years are ahead

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This next generation could be the best one yet

 2013 could prove to be one of the best years in gaming thus far. With many new titles coming this year for current consoles as well as the expected announcements of both Sony and Microsoft’s next-gen machines, gaming’s best years could very well be just ahead of us. 

Microsoft

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Should XBL be free this time?

Ok. I’m not even going to touch on the often absurd rumored specs of Microsoft’s or Sony’s next-gen consoles. I’m going to take a look at the best case scenario from both a core gamer and casual consumer perspective which would result in affordable next-gen machines. Lets just say the next Xbox isn’t leaps ahead of the Wii U in terms of visual fidelity. So what? Look at the advantages developers will have just having a bit more ram and processing power. Take Halo 4 and Uncharted 3 for example. What could Naughty Dog and 343 have done with those games if they had a bit more to work with in terms of system performance. Imagine Halo 4 with increased resolution, better texture detail, and enhanced AI. When Uncharted 3 released it represented some of the best visuals this generation had ever seen and i believe that still holds true. What if that game ran in native 1080p at 60fps with a higher level of atnti-aliasing and shader support? Next-gen games may not make the same visual leap that the Xbox 360 did over the original Xbox but rest assured that next-gen titles will feature some truly breathtaking visuals.

People seem to be complaining about having to pay for a 6 year old XBL when Steam, Nintendo network, and PSN are all free. Those complaints are very valid. I would bet Microsoft is going to do one of two things with their new machine. First, make Xbox live free (though i’m doubtful) or keep charging and completely revolutionize the experience making 60 dollars a year seem like a steal for such a great service. If it weren’t for XBL we wouldn’t have the slightest idea in the first place as to how  a real console online experience should operate. Microsoft set the bar and they could very well raise it again. What could they add? For starters, day one digital downloads for every retail game should be a given. How about a digital rental service for games? Cloud saving would most likely be a standard next-gen as well. I doubt Microsoft will go for a complete digital only service which would alienate many consumers who either have very slow internet connections or no internet at all but like it or not, digital is the future. 

Lets talk Next-gen innovation. Does Microsoft go in the direction of creating a tablet controller and try to out do Nintendo? Or is their big innovation going to be an enhanced version of Kinect? How about the IllumiRoom? in case you are unfamiliar with the IllumiRoom it’s a new project being designed by one of Microsoft’s research teams to be used with Kinect and most likely the newest Xbox. IllumiRoom will take the image currently displayed on your tv screen and expand it across the entire area around your tv. The effect is similar to having your game projected onto your wall except in this case the active area is still your tv screen but the environment is displayed all around your living room. I’m curious as to what the final design will shape up to be and how it will be used to enhance your gaming experience. 

As far as software goes, Microsoft doesn’t have a deep reserve of first party content. What Microsoft does well is ensure that games being released for their console receives exclusive content first. Take Call of Duty, GTA, and Skyrim as examples. These games released all of their expansions first on XBL making owning these titles on Microsoft’s console more rewarding. Microsoft will most likely continue this trend going forward. If you also take in account the fact that the Xbox has always been the easiest platform to develop for and you can see why developers tend to side with Microsoft as their lead platform. Expect this trend to also continue with the Next-Gen consoles as well unless Sony really does decide to abandon the Cell processor in favor of off the shelf parts. 

Sony

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Goodbye Cell processor!

Current rumors would have you believe that Sony is finally ready to abandon the Cell processor. This would be a good thing. While powerful, the Cell processor isn’t the easiest to develop for. Apparently Sony is going to go with off the shelf pc parts which would put it in line with the 360 in terms of ease of development. Can you imagine a Sony console that’s easy to develop for? The PS4 may end up being more of a beast than the PS3 was and we all know that games built from the ground up on the PS3 tend to look much better than anything on the 360. I don’t expect the PS4 to be a major enhancement over the PS3 though. Just a lot more capable. More ram, more processing power. Hopefully this translates into deeper immersion than ever before. 

Sony has done a fantastic job with the Playstation Network and even the Playstation Plus service packs tons of value. I suspect that going forward that Sony would make PS Plus it’s premier service while still offering a free PSN for users. Although i feel that a completely free online service is the way to go, even Nintendo has hinted at a paid service in the future. With much talk about Sony purchasing Gaikai, Sony could unveil  some sort of digital rental service similar to what OnLive was. Speculation has led many to believe that the Gaikai service would provide users a way to stream the entire PS2 and PS3 catalog freeing Sony from having to include the tech into their new console resulting in lower costs. It will be interesting to see what Sony does with Gaikai. 

When it comes to innovation Sony is often accused of copying Nintendo but to be fair Sony will often take those innovations and improve on them. The Super Nes controller became the Dual shock, the Wiimote became the Move, and Smash Bros became Playstation All-Stars. Wait…What? Forget that last one. Actually forget the last two. The point is that Sony makes quality pieces of hardware. A current rumor also has Sony ditching the Dual Shock design entirely. What could be up their sleeve? Will they go with a tablet controller. It wouldn’t surprise me and if they did i can pretty much guarantee it will out-class Nintendo’s Game Pad in terms of specs. That’s what Sony is good at. I don’t view Sony as much of an innovator as they are a company that can take an idea and beef it up tremendously. I’m interested to see what they bring to the table next-gen.

While not as deep of a roster as Nintendo, Sony’s first party line up is with out a doubt full of heavy hitters. One thing i will give Sony is their ability to spot talented teams and have them produce new IP’s for them. Sony introduced several new franchises this generation and i believe they did a much better job at supporting their franchises on the PS3 then Nintendo did on the Wii. Seeing this trend continue would result in more new IP’s for the PS4 as well as continued support for their current ones. What new studio will Sony discover next? The next Naughty Dog perhaps? Sony has some of the most talented teams in the business so Playstation fans have plenty to look forward on the PS4. 

Nintendo

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Will we see this at E3?

The Wii U has been on the market for two months now and opinions range from the system doing quite well, to the system not doing well. I know one thing is for sure, people who own the console seem to be pretty happy with what they have seen and played so far. One question that is still up in the air is just what can the Wii U really do? When a game is produced from the ground up and fully optimized for the console what kind of gaming experience will come out of it? Can it be duplicated on the Xbox 360 or PS3? We know that the Wii U has much more ram than both of those systems combined. We know that the architecture is much different as well. The Wii U uses a GPPU and games most definitely need to be optimized to take advantage of this set up. So far we’ve seen good ports of games like COD and AC 3 and we’ve seen decent ports such as Batman and Ninja Gaiden. Trine 2 does look better on the Wii U then it does on the PS3 and 360 withe crisper textures and better lighting. What we all want to know is how much will Zelda blow us all away?

Everyone just assumed that Nintendo would botch the Wii U’s online. Lets be honest though, the original Wii’s online was all kinds of “trash” It was the kind of garbage that Oscar the Grouch would make his home in. Wii U is a much different story. Miiverse in itself is a much better social network than anything we have ever seen on a gaming console. This is a feature that is sure to be copied by Nintendo’s competitors. If you love Face Book and Twitter you will feel right at home with Miiverse. It was very smart for Nintendo to allow this service to interact directly with the game your playing as well. You always feel like your connected to people at every moment. The Nintendo E shop is a big step up from the original Wii as well. Overall Nintendo’s online experience is much more in line with what your used to on PS3 and 360. It’s by no means perfect though. The OS is friggin’ ridiculously slow. On average i wait five minutes to load up the Wii U plaza. It usually happens after iv’e watched Hulu or Netflix. Once it loaded so long that i turned on my pc to play Batman and after two friggin’ hours the damn thing was still loading. I ended up having to pull the plug. Needless to say Nintendo needs to improve the OS. Other improvements that would benefit Nintendo’s online is a more streamlined E Shop. Right now everything just seems to be thrown on one page with no real organization. Being able to see your friends list at any time as well as having a on screen notification when friends get online or send me messages would be nice. Hopefully some or all of this will be addressed by E3

Innovation is Nintendo’s specialty. You know this, Microsoft and Sony even know it. So we have been playing around with Nintendo’s new innovative Game Pad for two months now and it’s easy to see its potential. So what does Nintendo have in store for us? How will they surprise us in the future. I’m interested to see how the Metroid franchise uses the Game Pad. I think it could be a cool idea to have the game run in the 3rd person similar to Metroid Blast, and have a more Metroid Prime first person experience on the Game Pad. You could lift the controller to scan areas and switch visors as well as access maps and weapons. You know that sounds cool. Your  probably trying to picture it in your head right now as you read this. How about the successor to Mario Galaxy? How will Nintendo use the Game Pad in a new and unique way for that franchise? Maybe the game switches completely to the controller when ever you enter a pipe much like the Gameboy Advance to Gamecube connectivity feature in Zelda Four Swords. One thing is for sure, Nintendo needs to really show developers that the Game pad can be used for more than just a map and inventory. I’m really excited to see what Gearbox has in store for the Wii U version of Aliens. If used correctly, the Wii U Game Pad can most definitely revolutionize the way we interact with games. 

Speaking of games, Nintendo has by far one of the deepest roster of hit franchises. More so than probably any other developer. I believe those big name franchises were underused on the Wii. Wii U could change this. We know Pikmin 3 is coming. We haven’t seen that franchise since the Gamecube. What about other dormant franchises? We would all love to see Nintendo return  to franchises like Starfox and Wave Race. Miyamoto has been talking a little bit about the F-Zero franchise and it was featured in Nintendoland so that’s always a good sign of things to come. While the tried and true franchises are always welcome i think what most people want is to see Nintendo try it’s hand at something new. It’s been a while since we’ve been treated to a brand new Nintendo IP. No. Wii Music does NOT count! There has been talk of Miyamoto working with smaller teams so that he can concentrate on new projects. I think this would be great for Nintendo. Something new and refreshing from the house that Mario built is just what Nintendo needs while maybe not at the expense of overlooking a fan favorite or two. Bring us Mario, but give us something new. Increased third party support should be just as high on Nintendo’s priority list. Third party support for their platforms hasn’t been strong since the days of the good ‘ol SNES so it’s crucial that Nintendo do something about that. Maybe they can take a page out of Sony’s book and start buying a few small development teams here and there. Maybe Nintendo could purchase Platinum games. That would be awesome! I look forward to E3 as i suspect Nintendo will have some huge news to drop in light of an imminent PS4 and 720 announcement. 

PC

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Bow down!

The PC. Are you a part of the “Master Race”? If you can afford it, you should be. PC gaming has a bright future. On one hand you have Valve announcing a PC built around Steam and dedicated to gaming. It has been dubbed the “Steam Box” . The “Steam Box” was meant to compete directly with the PS4 and 720 while offering PC quality gaming. Something that is truly beyond what the current consoles can achieve. For those who already game on PC you probably won’t see the need to purchase a “Steam Box”. I myself bought my PC for graphic design and video editing but the moment i witnessed what Batman Arkham City looked like running with all settings on max, i was sold. Damn right the PC is King! With the ability to constantly upgrade your PC you are always assured that you will have the latest and best when it comes to gaming hardware. You my friend are future proofed. 

You have Nintendo Network which is off to an amazing start. You have PSN which is well established and gives you amazing value when you add in PS Plus. XBL at one point was the industry standard and still to this day delivers outstanding value. Then there is steam. Its free, and you can not and i repeat can NOT find an online service dedicated to gaming that offers a better value. Period. I said PERIOD, stop trying argue against me in your head! How much did you buy Arkham City for on your Xbox? I got the Game of the year edition on Steam for 7.49. Yep. Seven dollars and fourty-nine cents. Sales like that are common place on steam and with over 30 million users its hard to not see why Steam is the best service for online gaming provided you aren’t a die-hard first party Nintendo or Sony fan.

I don’t generally associate PC gaming with hardware innovations but the Oculus Rift could change all of that. What is the Oculus Rift? It’s the most advanced VR headset you have ever heard of. Or not heard of, doesn’t matter cause there is nothing else like it. Which ever direction you turn your head and look you will be immersed in the game. Hear someone creeping up behind you? Turn your body around to see who or what it is? Hear some birds chirping above? Look up to watch them soaring through the sky. Or how bout stepping out on a ledge of a steep cliff and looking down? Thanks to the headset incorporating stereoscopic 3d you will feel as if you were actually starring down a steep cliff. Be warned though, motion sickness may occur. It is uncertain how much the OCulus will cost or when it will even be consumer ready but one thing is for sure, the Oculus may revolutionize the way we are immersed in gaming more so than any console hardware has ever achieved. 

When it comes to games, the PC in 2013 will enjoy many of the consoles best offerings all in glorious PC fashion. Higher resolution, crisper textures, higher frame rate and the list can often go on and on. There are also a ton of games that will never make it to consoles. MMO’s for the most part will stay exlusive to the PC. Have you checked out Age of Wushu? I don’t care for MMO’s but damn this game looks fun! The PC is the perfect choice for any gamer who just wants to play the definitive version of the latest multi platform games. Chances are you will even get them at a cheaper price on day one than you would purchasing the console version. Not to mention the various mods that can be done on PC and not on consoles. Have you seen the “Macho Man” Randy Savage dragon mod for Skyrim? Or how about the mod that gives your character and certain weapons a Legend of Zelda makeover? PC gaming can be the definitive place to play and i promise once you go PC, your PC for life. Maybe. 

Closing

2013 is looking like it could shape up to be the beginning of an even bigger and brighter future for gaming than we could have imagined. With so many choices for gamer’s between Nintendo, Microsoft, Sony and PC/Valve i can’t see an instance were the gamer’s loose out. If everything goes right we could also bare witness to the greatest E3 showing in history with two, maybe three new consoles being announced (including Valves “Steam Box) and a plethora of software due to come out this year, 2013 may be one for the gaming history books. Stop with the fan-boyism and enjoy what each of these companies has worked so hard to bring to the industry. You owe it to them and to yourself to do so. As always, i want to know your thoughts on the matter as well as what makes Wii U Mad?

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