Monday, April 2, 2012

Part 2 of the Speculation Trilogy

Today's post will outline what rumors abound around the next Microsoft console which is heir to the the X-box moniker.

Names floating around the web include 720, Durango, and Loop.  While Loop actually sounds like a realistic name, I'm going to continue to use 720 since it's shorter until such a time that Microsoft officially releases a name.  Now all these extra names does beg the question of why, and some rumors point to more than one system.  A splitting of the X-box line into a higher end beefed out gaming console on one side and a cheaper low end casual system with Kinect integration.  I doubt this because it would put Microsoft fighting against itself in the gaming arena.  A house divided can not stand.  I can see that there is much pull to implement Kinect into a greater variety of forms, and there are a great deal of cave-men left who won't give motion based technology a fair shake.

This strategy would in theory service both audiences, except it splits your base into two camps and therefor causes over specialization of each respective console.  Look at the lousy shovel-ware pushed onto the Wii since it was branded a more casual gaming system.  (In all fairness shovel-ware just follows successful consols because publishers figure that with a greater instal base looking at the games on a given system there is a greater chance someone would inadvertently waste their money on these games.  Moral of the story, the more successful a system is, the more shovel ware is published for it.)  The low end console will never get anything but shallow casual games that small children and the elderly can play for five minutes before they forget about it.  The high end console would be a magnet for rehashing of the same games we have seen prevalent over the past few generations, with few changes besides improved graphics.

This leads into my next point, controller inovation.  The X-box 360 controller is a rearranged X-box controller, which itself offered nothing that could not be found in the previous generations controllers.  Until the Kinect came out, Microsoft had not bothered to change their controller from a design which was birthed the generation before their first console.  Love 'em or hate 'em, motion controls have been the biggest innovation in controls since the Analog stick.  If Microsoft doesn't continue to implement motion controls into all their consols, they risk becoming stagnant in a constantly evolving industry.  So we can all expect Kinect based controls in the next console, and the capabilities of such will not be split between two systems.

Despite such amazing sales of the Kinect, the software library of titles fully utilizing it, or even giving optional utilization of it have been abismal.  The reason is because when developers make a game for the 360 right now, they have a choice.  Make a game which can be played on 100% of the 360's sold or 10% of those 360's which also have the Kinect.  From a business stand point, it just doesn't make sense.  Now people can argue about it not being accurate enough to replace traditional controllers, but where does that leave room for change?  Not just looking at video games in the next 5-10 years, but 50 years down the road, where do we expect to see video games go?  In no science fiction/fantasy do we hear about people playing games with controllers.  It is done in augmented virtual reality, and motion controls are how we are going to move towards that.

I have seen a few rumors of a small screen in the controller, something akin to the a DS screen in the middle of a standard 360 controller.  If the Wii U takes off like a rocket, it might come to reality.  I doubt it though, just due to it's inability to be implemented with the Kinect.  I would guess you would be more likely to see a possible push for some other form of immersion more inline with the Kinect instead.  Perhaps some means of projection, or primitive holograms.  The only problem with that is in limitations based on current technology.  Start with a projection overlay on your floor to recreate the environment of the game.  Perhaps some type of scaffold or skeleton to be used with it to give the appearance of holding an object which the projection could then create a skin based on the game being played.

With the push towards digital media growing ever faster, some rumors point to the 720 not having physical games any longer.  This would fall in line with a plan to prevent players from buy/selling used software.  Microsoft has been pushing harder and harder for stricter controls on their software since long before they joined into the video game console market.  Their are only two real down sides to this, which I can see being easily circumvented.  First, storage is going to become an issue.  If the power of the 720 really is far and above the current market, the games are going to be far larger than the few GB that they currently represent.  The work arounds are going to include more portable storage devices and a push towards cloud storage.  While I by no means think that either of these will stand on their own, used in conjunction they should offer support to anyone who buys enough games to fill the base line hard drive .  That initial hard-drive is the extent to which a higher and lower end system could exist together.

The next problem that digital only is going to cause is for those who do not have consistant internet access.  As much as many who potentially could read this, not everyone has access to high-speed broad-band internet.  These people also play video games, and as such they should not be omitted.  Of course I said I had the answer, and I do (actually Nintendo did.)  Kiosks in businesses from which games can be paid for and then downloaded onto an approved portable storage device.  These can be in any business (Wal-Mart, Gamestop, 7-11, etc) take up no more than 2x4 foot area near the exits, and be a means that stores could still offer games.  Of course the storage devices are going to be synced to your system, and be unable to trade games, but that is the point of all this.

The only other problem with going all digital is that it really does put the player in an awkward position should they want to share their games with their friends/family etc.  Not much I can think of is going to solve that problem, since part of this digital push it to keep us from doing exactly that.

The power of the 720 is going to most likely in the same realm as the PS4.  This battle for power puts them directly against the PC gaming market (as I discussed in my last post on the PS4.)  As such, I won't go into any further detail.

The final rumors around the 720 include it's inclusion or exclusion of Blu-Ray DVDs.  I'm going to go out on not much of a limb and speculate a big "NO" on that one.  Microsoft are not part of the Blu-Ray Disc Association, and any implementation of Blu-Ray technology is going to be exceptionally costly for them to try to implement.  Now we can also look at the failed HD-DVD and say that Microsoft will not support Blu-Ray due to that, but why would they have supported HD-DVD in the first place?  Microsoft had courted the HD-DVD association to use Microsoft's HDi implementation of advanced context interactivity layer.  Why try to convince them to use it which happened to be one of the stalling points that started the format war?  Because Apple (Microsoft's archenemy) had joined the Blu-Ray Disc Association as a member of their Board of Directors.  It has nothing to do with gaming.  It's just another example of how Apple and Microsoft are perpetually locked into a fight to destroy the other.  And just because if it used Blu-Ray, it wouldn't be digital only.

So far we have 1 system with no physical media devices and Kinect based controls.  So when will it come out?  Before the PS4, after the Wii U.  Probably going to be fall of 2013.  If there is any truth to there being more than one system being developed over at Microsoft, there are two options I give you.  One of those two systems will never see the light of day, and it most likely will be the weaker of the two.  The other option is that Microsoft has seen the state of portable gaming and feels that they too want to enter the fray.  Perhaps a Kinect based portable system?  That would end up being a lower end system which could connect some of those pieces together.  They just better do it right, as the portable gaming industry has had a poor record of supporting two systems, let alone a third (Lynx anyone?)

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