PlayStation Vita does so many things right but so does the 3DS

In the last couple of months I’ve spent quite lot of time on airplanes. While years ago I stopped playing videogames on planes, because I had to always write or I’d rather watch a movie, I made a concentrated effort in playing on the Vita and 3DS recently.

PlayStation Vita and the 3DS

I like Sony’s hardware and the Vita is pretty sweet. The best thing about the Vita is that it certainly show’s that’s Sony’s learnt about what Microsoft has done with it’s Xbox Live and OS in general and obviously Apple. The Vita OS seems pretty good with lot of programs being able to run in the background and switching from each is quite fast, though what I hate is that whatever program you want to start or go back into, you always have to tap in the middle of the screen after you’ve already tapped the software icon. Completely unecessary, one tap should be enough.

The Vita is almost too good. The group chat etc features, well I just dont see too many people playing on the Vita unfortunately. So not sure how many of these features will be used, but the OS is definitely great. Being able to play a game, go to Twitter, Settings and then back into the game is great. Sadly the Facebook app at the moment is just super slow and crap. Also the wifi doesn’t seem too strong, I have trouble getting a good signal in area’s where I got a good signal with my iPhone. I’m able to type a lot better on the Vita than on the iPhone, but mostly due to larger screen size which allows for larger virtual keyboard.

The hardware feels good in your hands and the screen is really great. The game’s are good too, but here’s the dilemma. They are good, yet…I feel better playing the 3DS games like Super Mario Land 3D and Mario Kart 7 – they just seem somehow better built and more unique experiences than what there is on the Vita. There’s a huge variety of games on the Vita and in general a lot of the downloadable smaller games are really good.

But somehow, the Vita feels like …too much of a “professional, big console experience”, whereas the 3DS feels…it’s own thing. Inferior graphics-wise sure and the battery life is absoutely horrible, but somehow it feels more unique.

I only recently “got” the 3DS Mii friends thing and Spot Pass/Street pass. Having the 3DS in my pocket while in Tokyo, I got like 50+ people in into my 3DS and it’s fun to see their Mii’s, where they are from and also play with them in that simple game. You get really good visual feedback on who you have met, it feels fun. Now with the Vita you got Near, it tries the same thing, but with too many stats, who is playing what, in what area and you only see the avatars and the service is slow, like almost everything with PSN, which is annoying. Near is a good idea, but again…the simplicity in the 3DS sort of works better, even Near is able to give you downloadable things and friends over wifi and not just by having someone in the console’s close proximity. When I get some Near gifts, I just dont get a good sense of what I got in games, whereas on the 3DS I do. Also have I shared gifts with anyone? How do I know?

I love Sony, so I’d want to like the Vita more and I do love it, but I was surprised at how much fun I had on the 3DS in Japan. Now, in Finland when I have the 3DS with me, I’ve gotten one friend on it in six months – these types of features that really depend on actual physical proximity of the console, only work in Japan and at show’s like E3/GDC, but here in Finland and I guess most of Europe, it doesnt. We just dont sit so much on trains with everybody owning a handheld console where they could communicate.

I do love the customization on the Vita. Being able to put in your own wallpapers and taking screenshots of games is awesome. Also, like I said, the OS is good and really bodes well for the PlayStation 4, but also…it feels Sony is following, not leading. Putting two touchscreens etc onto your device doesnt necessarily make it better.

Still, the only time I use the 3DS is when there’s great games like the two I mentioned. Now the machine sits collecting dust, while I do mess around with the Vita and keep it with me on most work days.

But, there’s New Super Mario Bros 2 coming for the 3DS in August, that’s the next time I’m gonna use the device I think. There are quite a few promising Vita games in the pipeline from some internal Sony developers. I cant say more, but there’s some new IP stuff coming that should do good.

 

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2011 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2011 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Syndey Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 10,000 times in 2011. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 4 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

3DS, Mario Kart 7, Super Mario Land 3d and The Last of Us

I really dont like 3D at all and as a fan of Sony, it’s been disappointing to see the company push 3D so hard and game games suffering a bit because of the need to include 3D support. You could use that memory for something better.

Yet…I bought a 3DS  in December! Suffice to say, Nintendo has left me cold since the Super Nintendo, but I bought a DS because of New Super Mario Bros. and Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars, which were both absolutely brilliant games. In general, I have zero interest for Zelda or most games published for Nintendo’s platforms, but when I knew Super Mario Land 3D was coming for the 3DS, I knew I would buy a 3DS. Mario Kart 7 helps as well. I still dont like 3D, but both of these games are awesome. I didnt dig Super Mario Galaxy so much, I like Mario more old school.

The 3DS interface is quite nice, if a bit slow. Still, it feels well thought out, it’s easy to access during games. I only wish the virtual keyboard would have bigger buttons. Even with the stylus it’s kinda hard to type accurately. Then again, with the rubbish iPhone virtual keyboard we are all beginning to type like shit and accept spelling mistkases.

I find that keeping the 3D bar around halfway, is good for me and I dont get nauseated the second I lose “sync” with the image. I play mostly on the busride to downtown in the mornings and the bus ride aint that smooth, but I can play ok.

I’m confused by the directional pad allowing to change the 3D effect at least in Mario Land…which one am I supposed to use?!? The manual doesnt even mention this option.

Super Mario Land 3D

A bit too easy. I got something like 60+ lives pretty fast. I dont mind games being easy these days and Mario should work for everyone, but I think the design-decision of giving the player invicibility after dying a few times in quick succession, is not a great one. It sure was a design decision that caused a lot of back and forth with the game’s designers, but I find it a negative decision. There’s a good variety of levels and the later you get into the game, the more 3D comes into play.

Mario Kart 7

Having the “7” in the name almost feels like a fuck you from Nintendo of Japan to Retro Studios who made the game, but the game is really, really good. First Mario Kart since Super NES that I actually care about. Really smooth graphics, good track design and even the online aspect seems good even if it is impossible for me to achieve any other placement than last. The 3D here is actually good and useful – in this game I can see and feel the benefit.

I’m looking forward to the new 3DS Resident Evil game, though I really hope I dont have to buy and use that fucking additional analogue pad controller for the game!

The Last of Us

Surprise’s are fun sometimes, no? I was really happy that the fact that Naughty Dog has been working on The Last of Us for a good 18 months never got out there. I guess I can now say that when I intervewed there in spring 2010, the second team building was on it’s way I think.  There’s so little surprises in the videogames industry as rumours are usually 99% of the time true. I think for many of us the first reaction was that man, this end of the world zombie stuff is played out and I feel that, but on the other hand, if Naughty Dog are going for real survival horror and building relationships between the key characters, that’s something that really hasn’t been done very well at all in the last few years.

All in all, starting a new IP on the current generation of consoles is really great and something that really hadn’t happened in the past.

 

Collaborating with Bungie, Guerrilla, IO Interactive and many others

I’ve been working on a lot of stuff at Umbra in the last few months (this is my day job after all!) that is coming to fruition in the run up to Christmas. We launched Umbra 3.1 in the middle of December, which is the latest version of our “rendering optimization middleware”. 3.1 has a couple of new features that are impressive, but more importantly, really useful for developers.

Go read about Umbra 3 here.

Mielenkiintoinen ja avartava Umbra-haastattelu suomeksi täällä.

But before that, here’s a chocolate cheese cake that I made for the crew at the office.

What I have tried to achieve is “critical mass” by having a lot of things come together for Umbra 3.1. This means updated website with new videos and lots of new content, press releases, some other announcements, trying to time the press coverage we get into the same time period…just have as much of this happening closely together, so we can generate more interest towards our product and achieve critical mass. Whatever that is.

The crew at Edge and next-gen.biz was kind enough  to do some real journalistic work and put 1+1 together and some educated guessing on their part that resulted into this news. Also, go see the new Alan Wake site. Remedy is using Umbra for all Alan Wake games and they’ve been staunch Umbra supporters and super cool to us in every way, so definitely support their games!

We were able to “announce” many of our clients who we have been working with for quite a while. It’s kinda funny – we could list developers such as Bungie as our clients, but not put out an official press release on the collaboration just yet. Even if we can list them as clients pretty much everywhere.  Like Guerrilla. They are our clients. As are 38 Studios and you can go to their website and decide for yourself which project we are involved in. It’s not rocket science.

In any case, our engineers have been working with Bungie’s amazing crew throughout 2011. I gotta be careful not to take anything away from Bungie, but I would say that while they are licensees, our collaboration is pretty deep, it’s almost daily. There were some conclusions made as to what kind of game Bungie are making, I think if you connect the dots, you do realize what sort of game they are making, but I’d like to point out that while Umbra’s technology in the past has been in many MMO’s, it works just as well in other kinds of games as Mass Effect 2 (and 3) and Alan Wake showcase.

Then you have developers like IO Interactive who have licensed our tech, if my memory serves me correct, way back in 2010 already. Pretty much every collaboration we announced wont result into actual games until late 2012 or 2013, if ever. In some cases, the tech is bought to be an option.

I’m not very happy with the Umbra videos we have and I made, but there’s an irony in that we make a critical 3D engine component, yet it’s difficult to demo our work because we obviously dont develop our own 3D engine here on the side and assets that we could really use to produce some killer demos. Which is why you tend to get “coder art”.

At the end of the day, the bit of publicity we are getting now wont amount to much if we are not able to sell our technology to more developers. This is a business after all!

Thoughts on Modern Warfare 3 and current games pileup

Current work status

Most of my work time is being spent on various things related to Umbra’s upcoming 3.1 release, which our team is working hard on. I’m spending my time on trying to best exploit our wonderful clients to be able to use them as references in selling our technology. This is common practice in the industry, but the annoying thing is that there’s a lot of politics, legal and PR hurdles to negotiate.

Understandably company X is protective of it’s brand, but while I said exploit, we don’t want to to misrepresent any partner we work with out there. If only the marketing and CEO folks would know how Umbra’s engineers have helped their own teams and the mutual respect that exists.

I’m really impatient and ADD. I’ve found out that I’d rather do things, do them again, and then think, what’s the best way to do it. I don’t mind redoing things since I rather like doing than really planning things out – it’s just a question of iteration.

Games

I did buy Skyrim, not my genre at all, but I got that on my table with Saints Row 3, Lords of the Rings: War in the North are all games I haven’t even booted up yet. I was sure I’d buy a 3DS when Super Mario Land 3D shipped, but havent done it and I’m not sure if I will. So many other games to play and I’m sure to buy a aPlayStaton Vita, so I want to save my money.

Modern Warfare 3: thoughts

I like the team at Infinity Ward and I love Call of Duty. I really anticipated Modern Warfare 3. I’m now level 60 on my first Prestige round.  I’m a bit hesitant to write about this, since, well due to many things, but I speak because I spend a lot of money own the franchise and love it. So I speak as a fan.

The maps

By and large, I don’t like the map design. I outright hate Carbon and that London Underground level. The larger levels work better and I’m really hot and cold about Mission. Dome is the usual “wackier” Infinity Ward level like Shipment, but I just dies so often in this level.

The multiplayer level design ethos for MW3, based on interviews and demo’s that IW has done, was to avoid spawn trapping and the regular “figure 8” design of multiplayer maps. The result is that maps are super cluttered with vehicles, walls and just random boxes and stuff, that really hamper movement. There’s very few levels with long stretches of streets etc areas. I understand the design choice, but I’m not a fan of it.

I do not mind design that funnels players into certain areas. I can see though now after about 35 hours of MW3 multiplayer that there are area’s like this in the game. For example, the B flag area in Outpost is like a magnet for players…we love to throw explosives around the flag and shoot long distance.

So, there is a lot of camping in some ways and moving around the levels is a bit frustrating which is not helped by the constant bumping into other players. I assume this is due to the clutter in the levels and just narrower spaces. It’s still weird, previous games in the franchise only had this when you started a level and everybody ran in a group.

It’s funny, how when we played Black Ops, we thought the maps were good, but IW’s probably will be better. Now you realize just what an amazing job Treyarch’s map designers did with such gem’s as Summit, Jungle and WMD. Those are amazing multiplayer levels that obviously work within the multiplayer design ethos of Treyarch.

The lack of a proper scoreboard

You play Domination, which is about Captures, right? The scoreboard only lists Kills, Assists and Deaths. In fact, those are the only scores listed in any mode.

I really don’t understand the reasoning behind this. There’s a huge psychological impact that the Scoreboard has. When you see a player like me or our clan players (HTWN), in many cases, the Kill/Death ratio will look lousy, but you are in the lead with Captures. This was a strength in Black Ops, where the Scoreboard in Domination listed Captures first. You can immediately see who played “properly” by capturing, and who concentrate on just K/D and camping.

Sure, I can see after pretty much every match that I got the most Captures and get the emblem for it. Nobody else, but me see’s  that however. Even the Lobby Leaderboard only show’s lifetime stat’s, but at least that lists the Capture’s you’ve made.

So there is no list of the Captures I made in a single Domination match. That feels really bad for a player like me who only plays Domination and plays it correctly ie. I make captures and that tends to get me killed quite often.

Montreal International Games Summit

Writing this in Montreal in my hotel room. Trying to stay awake. I have to say MIGS aka Montreal International Games Summit has been a great event. The development scene in Montreal is amazing – there’s about 20 000 people working in the games industry here. You got Ubisoft Montreal that really kicked things off here in the late 1990’s and now there’s EA Montreal, BioWare Montreal, Eidos Montreal, THQ Montreal and many others. The scene here is superb.

MIGS is about 1200 people, something like that. So just big enough to attract the right people, but small enough that you can actually meet up with people and so some business. I got to hang out a bit with David Hego, the art director at Rocksteady, who held a presentation about the art direction in Batman: Arkham City. More about that in a bit…

I’ve been talking to developers about Umbra and done a bit of press stuff in the way of interviews that will be in Pelaaja. So most of my days are about trying to find tech directors via various people and talk to them about our rendering optimization software. Its frustrating for me that as I’m no coder, I cannot discuss the finer details of the tech or answer too many questions. That is really frustrating.

I also got to meet up with Richard from Naughty Dog, who is the co-lead game director on Uncharted 3. Great dude and off on this vacation, deservedly so.

What I really like in MIGS is the friendly athmospere and excellent organization. Plus the event is at the Hilton hotel and I’m staying at the hotelas are most visitors to the event, so it’s very easy to get things done and it’s just much more comfortable this way instead of having to taxi it from somewhere. You end up meeting a lot of people at the lobby bar!

Batman: Arkham City

I’ve played Arkham City almost to the end. The beginning is superb then the first hour sags a bit, but once it picks up the game becomes amazing and really is able to top Arkham Asylum, which I didn’t think was possible. I really like how you as Batman really do dominate the city…you always have the advantage as you can look at events from high up and have that tactical superioty against your enemies. Still, the enemies pack guns, which kill you fast, so you have to be careful.

The one area that really blew my mind was the underground city, which David talked about in his presentation. It’s like BioShock inside the Batman universe, it’s really awesome.

Grand Theft Auto V trailer

I dig it. I love the lighting, I wonder if it’s Geomerics Enlighten or some Rockstar custom shit. I like California as a setting, but gameplay wise Rockstar is gonna have to really innovate now. They surely will again have the best vibe and open world out there, but they gotta bring it on the gameplay front. I dont doubt that they wont, they will.

Robert Bowling & Modern Warfare 3 in Helsinki at Pizza and Game brands seminar

Check out Robert Bowling from Infinity Ward chilling at the Pelaaja office where we chatted about Modern Warfare 3.

Our Pizza and Game brands -event was a huge success on all accounts. This was an event aimed for Finnish game developers, business media and the general videogames industry. We talked about game brands, the importance of marketing, gave an overview of where the Finnish games industry is at and did this via some of the best speakers there are.

We had a stunning line up of speakers and this part of the seminar was my task.

We had Remedy’s CEO Matias Myllyrinne, who, needless to say,  is a busy man, but took the time to come and talk about how Remedy approaches building brands and their experiences.

We had Tero Virtala, CEO of RedLynx, the studio behind TrialsHD, Motoheroz and other games, who gave a great speech on the tough journey of RedLynx and how they found their focus via TrialsHD. Many came up to me saying that Tero’s talk especially was great because it was practical and raw.

Erol Tekkanat from King, the organizers of the event alongside my previous employer Pelaaja-magazine, did his presentation on why building brands out of games is important. I know he was super nervous before hitting the stage, but you could see none of that as he found his groove right away and brought the passion. Erol’s presentation resonated well with the crowd, who I think really realized that the point of the event is to help developers realize that we want to help them fulfill their vision and get them financial success via marketing and proper branding.

The more our developers games sell, the better it is for our local ecosystem  -everybody benefits. We all want our Finnish games developers to succeed.

I kicked off with the first presentation and it’s title was “Game brands, st4tistics, passion and numb3rs”. I had gone through my presentation quite a few times at home and clocked it at 19 minutes, but now when I did it on stage, I was at 19 minutes before the last two slides so I really had to rush it at the end. People seemed to dug it and I got great feedback. I tend to try and trust my passion on stage to carry me through when my points might not be entirely clear or logical :p

We had Kari from Tekes, who was last minute addition as the other Tekes speaker got sick. Kari’s slides, well, erm were of the kind we didnt want – Powerpoint slides full of tex from top to bottom all displayed at the same time, but he was on point with his message and as Tekes funds a lot of the local technology development R&D and thus games development, their message is important.

The keynote was from Infinity Ward’s Robert “fourzerotwo” Bowling. He’s basically one of the key dudes behind Call of Duty and Modern Warfare. Call of Duty is one of the biggest brands and definitely the biggest game brand out there…when we talked about doing this event and we kicked around idea’s as to who should do the keynote, we agreed it has to show that we are serious about this event and be somebody who would get us the mainstream business media to attend as well. So I thought of Robert which was pretty crazy considering how insanely busy he is and let’s be real…we are a small 300 people event in Helsinki, which probably is of very little interested to such a high-profile person. But as I explained our mission to Robert, he was totally down with coming down if we got the dates to work out. It was far more complicated than that, but worked out at the end.

We did have a point where weren’t able to get him to come down, but the folks at King managed to work around a new date and we made this happen. It felt incredible. The amount of emails and and just the amount of coordination required was challenging but fun. Above all, Robert did an awesome keynote, really heartfelt so it all worked out. As the person who was mostly responsible in getting our speakers to our event, I was really worried that the event needed to be good enough for them that the time they spent on their presentations would be justified…it was, but man, did I stress about that. If our event would have been weak, the organizing bad, little crowd…I would have looked like shit to these guys for wasting their time. That to me was the biggest worry really, I’ll admit that. Of course, King needs to generate business out of this, so I hope that works out too.

Every speaker was really happy with how the event turned out, they said it was the best industry event they had been in Finland, which felt so good to hear on behalf of all of us organizing the event. The crowd gave props too and found the information useful – that was what this was about…giving information and help to our developers and to make them realize, marketing is important.

Matias and Tero are super-experienced in running development studios in Finland, they’ve had success, they’ve had a tough times and they’ve weathered the storm. So when you get these guys to share their experiences, for free I might add, it’s hugely valuable to our audience. Those who didnt show up, you really missed a lot!

So again, huge thanks to all of our speakers and organizers, we did amazingly good!

Robert, me and Josh from Activision.

So before the even there was a lot to do and this is what my day was like…

Thursday

So I totally skip the day from my regular paying day job!

08:30am get up and drive to the hotel to make sure Robert and Josh’s room’s are ready in time and make sure the goodie bags I put together the previous day are waiting for them at their rooms upon check in.

10:30 pick up Robert and Josh from the airport and drive them to the hotel. They have slept a single hour last night and need to sleep.

11:30 Go to the event venue to rehearse and make sure my laptop and presentation work. A lot of final details need to be locked down, like exactly who intro’s which speaker, who puts the mics on the speakers and gets the speakers from their seats when it’s their turn, who looks after everyone’s laptops, who does the hand signals with the audio and visual crew at the back of the room who monitor everything …lot of little details.

12:00 – 13:00 Speakers come to the venue to check out that their presentations looks right on the big screen. We had some issues as most of us like me, did our slides in widescreen, but the video projector does 4:3. But changing the laptops into 1024×76 resolutions solved this problem.

Discuss with Erol and the rest of the King organizing crew about the visuals and what kind of visuals we’d have to back up Robert’s keynote.

Then, I run to get Robert and Josh and we go to…

13:00 – 14:00 Lunch. King organized lunch for the speakers and key business media. It was very casual, just shooting the shit and King’s CEO Daniel introduced everyone and discussed why were doing the event in the first place.

14:30 Run to the Pelaaja office with Robert and tape the interview you can watch above.

15:00 Back to event venue, hook my laptop, check final details.

15:30 Doors open, mingle with everybody, plan the intro with Erol. We decide on playing Notorious B.I.G’s Big Poppa as the song when we get on stage.

16:10 Kick off

19:00 All seminars over and Robert killed it with a very personal 30 minute keynote where he simply talked about how he got into the industry, how Infinity Ward handles Modern Warfare and just how they keep making sure the brand stays real and true to it’s origins. Ever speaker did great in fact, I was super happy about this and I think honestly all of us form the organizing side were surprised at just how well things went!

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