Posts Tagged ‘ playstation 4 ’

48 hours of Destiny – thoughts on the game and its design choices

(let me get it out of the way that I work for a company who worked on the rendering technology of Destiny)

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I’m about 48 hours into Destiny.

I started playing as soon as the servers opened up on Monday the 8th 3pm in Finland. This is the time when the game launched in New Zealand, first in the world. I’ve really enjoyed myself for the most part with the frustration stemming from not getting Legendary loot drops that would contain more Light value that would level me up from 24 to 25 and onwards.

I have a hard time wrapping my head around the fact that a lot of the progression in the game is down to chance. Or so it seems.

I have not played MMO’s much at all. Only about a days worth of Final Fantasy XIV: Realm Reborn. Before that Phantasy Star Online on the Dreamcast. Realm Reborn was cool, but incredibly overwhelming. Not something I ended up playing in the long run.

Destiny combines MMO elements into an state of the art console FPS. That really has not been done before and I think for the most part Destiny does it really well. I’m completely hooked on the game and have a hard time putting it down. I’m writing this on a flight over to Los Angeles and I can see my clan’s WhatsApp buzzing about Destiny loot or rather, lack of.

So about that luck. What I’m concentrating on in the game now is performing as many Bounties as possible while doing as many Patrol missions as possible, to get Vanguard reputation. Earning reputation level 2 gives access to Legendary gear and level 3 gives access to Legendary weaponry. So while I hope to score some Legendary gear from loot drops that I could use (already got two Legendary items but both for the wrong character class. Aint that a bitch. ), I’m working towards being able to control my own Destiny (pun intended) by getting enough rep and money to buy the stuff instead of relying on luck. I should have started doing that more already in the beginning of the game. So many of the people I play with and talk about the game at work or online, have played far less than me, but are at the same level with better gear and more rep.

You earn Vanguard reputation points by completing Bounties and each completed Patrol gives you a measly 10 Vanguard points. During Patrols you can pick up or rather farm materials that are specific to each planet. So you got Spirit Bloom bushes on Venus, Helium Filaments on Moon, Relic Iron on Mars (aka big pile of black frozen poop) and Spinmetal  on Earth. You can trade those in (50 units) for Vanguard reputation as well.

So while a random loot drop left behind by a killed enemy combatant might give me a Legendary item I so need right now, I’m grinding as hard as I can to get my reputation up so I can just buy the weapons and gear myself.

All this gear stuff really comes into play after level 20 when the grindreally starts. The slight problem is that by level 20 you’ve seen visually everything the game has to offer so far quite a few times over. That is a bit disappointing. The locations are beautiful, superbly realised and the core combat loop is so damn fun that the repetition is fun. I love playing and of course pretty soon the backgrounds don’t matter as much since you just concentrate on the grind, but I still would have liked at least one more environment in the game that shipped. All the levels are well designed, the overall art direction is stunningly good, but while I rather take quantity over quality, for example having Mercury as a playable area (there’s an MP map located on Mercury) would have been great. Considering Mercury and Jupiter are mentioned in the game’s Grimoire lore cards in the same veins as the other playable planes, I’d think they will be playable. However, that’s two planets and there’s two expansions coming. Does that mean there’s one planet per expansion ?

I’ve enjoyed Destiny a lot. I do however agree with some of the criticism it has received, but I’m saddened that the critical reception to Destiny has been so negative, when the game does so many things right and above all, it’s fun. The technology in the game, all the magic behind the scenes matchmaking players into different areas, the ability to change your subclass and weapons and gear at any time during the game, the seamless move into the Crucible multiplayer. These are all extremely complicated things to pull of especially on last-generation consoles for which this game was built. Or rather to work under those limitations.

I never expected much story from the game and definitely didn’t expect something like The Last of Us, which it seems some players did. Yes, the story in Destiny is almost non-existent, but it’s got enough to give a reason as to why you are fighting out there across the galaxy and gives enough context to your actions. I never really understood the stories in Halo after the first game any way.

Still, the game feels sparse and lifeless at times, but I’m quite sure it’s really down to limiting technology and mostly lack of memory. Everything’s a compromise in video games. You are at the mercy of the hardware and in this case, the lacking power of the PS3 and Xbox 360. Destiny does many stunningly complicated things in the background and I’m sure it’s been an epic struggle to get it all working. The game is a superb piece of engineering.

When it comes to giving the game bit more life, what I would really have liked is that the strange lore that you can read at Bungie.net, the Grimoire cards, would have also been in the actual game. Finding Dead Ghosts is like finding the usual diaries, recordings, newspaper clippings in any other video game. Why they don’t give you access in the game to read the Dead Ghosts stories, I’m not sure. During missions and Patrol, when everything is always online, I get it, but I thought it would have been awesome to have a “information repository” or a library sort of place in the Tower where you could go and study these things. Or a Codex like in Mass Effect. The Speaker could have talked about the Dead Ghosts to you involving him much more in the story and game in general. All of the Tower characters need more cutscenes, more personality. The shipwright Amanda for example, wouldn’t it be cool if she gave you some random missions at the Tower instead of just a voice from a radio when you activate a Patrol mission ? That would have made her feel more real and involved in your adventure. Go find her missing cat in the Tower or something. That would have been a great little way of making the Tower characters something more than cashiers.

I do not understand the complaints about not having a “proper” single player game in Destiny. Just make you session private without any Fireteam members being able to jump in your game go do the missions alone. You will still meet up with other players, but that to me is an always an amazing feature of the game. I could be playing a mission or farming alone and other players pop up and everybody grinds together.

There’s something I think a lot of reviews have missed. It’s the positivity and camaraderie amongst players in Destiny that gives me a great feel good factor. I have not felt that in other video games, though yes, Realm Reborn was quite cool, but Destiny is an action game and there’s really not been anything like this on consoles.

The other day I was farming on Mars, looting chests, waiting for them to respawn. Another player came around to do the same…and we helped each other out. We did not chat over voice,  but we still communicated. As one of us found a chest, we used the wave emote function or shoot a few rounds in the air to let the other player know that a chest had respawned somewhere. Then you waited for the other player to show up and open the chest together since they disappear in about 15 seconds once opened. Soon, as I was running out of a room or cave and the other player was on his way, he saw me and that I didnt wave or anything, he knew there was no loot back there and moved to another section to keep our farming going on. Camraderie, Guardians out in the galaxy doing their thing. Very cool.

Destiny is social enough to make that happen. That was awesome. I don’t want to chat with random players, I do not want to use some virtual keyboard to talk to them nor is there need. The game offers enough tools for random players to communicate. People complaining about Raids not having matchmaking need to talk to people in the Tower or just have friends. Not to be a complete dick, but come on, it’s not that difficult to find five other Destiny gamers out there.

It helps players cannot harm each other or steal loot, but the simple act of a higher level player coming in to help with a Public Event or some low level player struggling is a powerful thing. Even if sometimes it ruins your Bounty seeking kill mission or something. I can live with that.

In the end, this is not the end, this is the start of Destiny. This game is a service and its only the beginning. Destiny’s been built in a way that it can be modified and expanded which Bungie is doing. Expansion 1 cannot come soon enough for me!

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PlayStation 4 – impressions after a few days of hardcore use

The next-generation is finally here and I’m so happy about it.

I’ve played around with PlayStation 4 and Xbox One devkits for better part of the last 12 months and various iterations of the Dualshock 4, but they dont really compare to having a final product that actually offers you something to play. When you have a devkit, you have nothing to play on it nor is the OS ready or connected, so really, not that much at all can be gleaned from them.

So I got a PlayStation 4 last week and spent the entire weekend in love with it. At first I placed the PS4 on the right side of my television, but then I opted to put into the place where the PS3 was on the left. Thus I moved the PS3 to the right and really, it’s gonna be retiring rather soon now. I did buy a vertical stand for the PS4, but I’m not using it so far. Feels safer to use it in horizontal fashion. You know it’s like stickers and your laptop. At first I dont put any stickers on my laptop so it feels more pristine, but years down the line, I put some cool stickers on it because I dont care so much about it anymore.

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The packaging still has too much “paperwork” and “protective gear” so it lacks that Apple feel when you open an iPhone case, you see that sexy piece of kit immediately, but my PS4 was wrapped in plastic. Still, first world problems kinda complaint. The nicest thing is that the package and the PS4 unit is so light! I have not plugged in the camera at all because I dont like how it would look in front of my tv. I want to keep my tv stand as clutter free as possible, so I dont know what to do with the camera for now. It’s just waiting on the couch.

The PlayStation 4 is sooo compact and light at 2.8 kilograms. It’s elegant, super quiet and just gives a powerful feeling when you watch it and I watched it a lot. Also the power cable is totally standard, no power brick, no special bullshit cable either. That’s some truly great engineering and design from Sony, as is to be expected.

How I felt?

Fucking excited man! Carrying the console home, making sure the lights in the crib are right, everything around me should be right for this first virgin experience of the PlayStation 4. I really felt excited and even more so when I started using the machine and it felt like something new. I felt like calling people up and telling them how awesome it was to be excited about new hardware again as this console generation has gone on for so long.

The experience

To me next-generation is about the speed and immediacy of the experience. That is definitely delivered here.

I love how fast the PlayStation 4 UI is. When your games in the AAA console space are massive in size, having the load happen quickly is rather more complicated than on an iPad or iPhone where the the executables and assets are far less in size. Killzone Shadow Fall does really nicely here considering it weighs in around 40 gigabytes.

The PS4 boots up really fast. I did get really annoyed by the background music fast too, so I turned it off. I think the UI lacks style, but I’ll take speed over style any day and I think most people do. The UI is really clear, I like how the Settings, Profiles, Chat etc options are on the upper bar while the games and apps are presented below in much more visual fashion. This is a good decision. I hate how Apple’s pushed iOS into much more visual design territory, so you have to scroll through pages and pages of images to see a few apps…a text- based list would be better since it’s a lot faster to use.

Anyway, the PS4 UI is clean and simple. Changing settings is fast enough and jumping across the game currently running and UI is super fast. I really hope things wont slow down with future OS updates when more features come online. Also, checking out network related things, which is most features, is a lot faster than on the PS3. Things like Trophy syncing, listing friends etc could be annoyingly slow on the PS3 and all that is much faster on the PS4 at least for now.

Party chat seemed to work great and the audio quality was really good considering the supplied headset is understandably cheap, but it falls out of my left ear, so I have to keep in my tighter right ear, which feels odd. That’s my problem however. Anyway, the chatting works like it works on Xbox Live so seemingly all good.

There’s still a bit too many Yes/No options asked from the user. A bit too many button presses required to achieve certain functions and asking people to join your game is still a bit confusing. I do like the chat history which looks like it came straight outta the iPhone message software.

Game load times are fast, but will become faster for sure once developers can actually concentrate on building technology just for next-gen consoles and not have to worry about PS3/Xbox 360.

As soon as I booted the console and had it connected to the Internet, the firmware update download started. This installed in the background too until it asked to reboot the machine. Game updates are similairly smooth, but you dont have to reboot at least not with the updates I had. You dont have to separately install software after the download has finished anymore which was incredibly annoying on the PS3. The system still lacks a bit of elegance. I downloaded Assassins Creed IV and I got the Season Pass, DLC, the main game all as separate downloads. Would be nicer to just hide all that from the user and install a single thing that includes everything.

All in all, I’m really happy. The UI is fast, seemingly chatting over voice is easy in parties and joining into multiplayer is a lot better than on the PS3.

The store

This is fast too. Thank goodness! Here the visual style works quite well as there is still enough information per page.

Trophies

I really hoped Sony would have re-worked the Trophy system, because the current system is just boring and lacks the scoring element and fun of Xbox Gamerscore which is just a lot more addictive. I think Sony really missed a chance here. I’d love to see a proper overhaul.

Controller

So fucking good (that’s what she said) that I dont want another controller. I had toyed with the final controller a while ago, but having no games to play with it, you couldnt get a feel for it. Now that I’ve got to use the Dualshock4 in Call of Duty: Ghosts and Killzone Shadow Fall, I can say that the controller is awesome. The analogue sticks are great, closer to the Xbox 360 controller ones in terms of tightness and responsiveness. They are not slippery either. I cant really find any fault with the controller so far. The touch pad button is used in most games I got, like it brings up the map in ACIV and you can move around the map using touch controls which is intuitive. Killzone Shadow Fall uses the touch functionality really well with the OWL. Not an intrusive mechanic, but a fitting one.

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Call of Duty: Ghosts opening level on the PS4. That 1080P just feels so good and nice. Definitely makes the game look better than on old gen. It really felt new and refreshing on a new console even if it isn’t.

Lack of multimedia

Initially I was very disappointed about the lack of DLNA support as the PS3 was my main means of watching downloaded movie files. MP3 support I dont care for so much anymore as most of us stream music anyway and I plug in my iPhone into my amp if I want to play MP3’s. It’s  the sort of “cool to have” feature that you use a few times and then forget about it.

I think focusing the PS4 as pure games machine, at least for now, is smart decision from Sony. The PS4 is a pure games console, there’s no photos, no movies etc to complicate things and clutter the UI. I can understand the decision and kinda like it when I use the PS4 now. We got so many other devices to do these other things on such as the TV. I dont think storing photos on a console and watching them on it was something most people did anyway so cutting that feature out is completely fine. It’s about focus. Same with movie playback. It would be nice, but still, my TV now does the whole DLNA thing and a dedicated player is cheap and better. A single device is just not gonna do things as well in those aspects as you’d want it so Sony’s smartly just concentrated on making the PS4 a games machine. I wouldn’t be surprised if these multimedia features would appear in firmware updates, but I dont miss them now. Microsoft definitely has a chance here to offer better multimedia services than the PS4.

KZ package

Social

The video sharing was confusing to me at first. So if the machine records the last 15 minutes of gameplay, then why do I have to press the Share button to record video? Turns out, when you press it, that’s where it cuts the video and thus renders out the last 15 minutes. I didnt quite work this out right as I had one of those epic CoD moments and I was all like “motherfucker this is exactly what this video feature is made for!”, but I didnt get the clip at all. Frustrating, but mostly down to my lack of skills.

So what happened in that Ghosts match was that I ended up behind a flag in Domination only for the opposing team’s five players to spawn right in front of me. For once I blasted them all instead of dreaming of blasting them all and the amount of XP and then just failing to hit any of them! So no, I wasnt able to catch this on video.

Also, I cannot find a delete function for the taped videos and screenshots?!?

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The Last of Us demo impressions based on the two level beta demo

(there are no spoilers here)

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The demo contains two levels. One is very short and is all about combat. The second, hopefully, is much more indicative of what the game really is about. This demo level is a slow paced, athmosperic and powerful sequence of affairs.

The crunch at Naughty Dog has apparently been pretty epic on this game (first Naughty Dog to ever have been delayed from it’s original launch date), but it always has been. The quality of this demo feels superb, but is probably even higher in the final product.

The “end of the world” theme and zombies are very tired themes and things to explore. That was my first reaction upon hearing about The Last of Us. That was of course preceded by excitment for an brand new IP from Naughty Dog. Still, it’s about the story and if you can offer something interesting from a drama and character point of view, where you set it, doesnt matter as much.

This is clearly a game where you want to avoid spoilers and watching too much footage since it really seems to rely very much on the story. It simply has to – a game with these sort of themes: survival, being alone and so on, to differentiate from The Walking Dead, Enslaved and others out there – the story has to be powerful. But it’s also probably that like in the Walking Dead, not much will explained at the end, why the epidemic has happened, so there’s probably not going to be a “proper”, explain-it-all ending. So, I assume The Last of Us really is about the journey that the two lead characters are taking. But I really do hope it offers proper closure at the end of the journey.

The demo sells this really well. The dialogue between Ellie and Joel is lively and believable. The voice acting is great and the chatter has a lively feel to it (even if it sounds sometimes too much like it’s been recorded in the studio) and there is a lot of it. There is a lot of sequences where Ellie will comment on Joels comings and goings. It’s a pleasure to hear form her – there’s a very organic feel to the game.

The feel really is what sells this to me. The visuals are often incredible as is the lighting. Just imagine what you will see on the PlayStation 4 three-fours years from now, when compute shaders are being fully utilized. The world in The Last of Us feels lived in, dead, yet alive. We’ve all seen barren streets with wrecked cars and dead-ends with large school buses etc in so many games and movies, yet here they feel fresh.

There’s just a great feeling of being there, which is something the technically far less efficient (and of course having been made on a much smaller budget) The Walking Dead did not have. The world in The Last of Us seems like something I want to know more about and also I want to know more about Joel and Ellie.

I really do not want to see more of this game before I have the final game and can sit down and play it by myself, turn off all social media so I can just sink myself into this world. Though having said that, this is a game that is also entertaining to watch as somebody plays it.

So the fears of the themes being very worn out, I do not have anymore after having played the demo, but of course, the demo is less than an hour of the game, which apparently offers something like a 15 hour single player story. That’s my only worry really – the game sounds too damn long.

I really do think one of the biggest problems developers and publishers now have is that they make single player games way too long. I think that actually turns people off (no from The Last of Us though, I feel) from buying certain games. We just do not have the time these days to spend 15-20 hours with single player games. I understand that developers and publishers are afraid of losing revenue to rentals and afraid that gamers thikn they are not getting enough value for 50 dollars, but we are. We definitely are.

The gameplay in The Last of Us, especially in the slower paced Lincoln-level, like I said, I really hope this is what the game is about – very careful, slow-paced exploration where avoiding the enemies is really necessary. Basically whenever the infected saw me and rushed me, I would die. There’s no hammering the buttons or a QTE offering escape – you get caught, you die.

That I think is already a bold move in current climate of video games where the fear of death is non-existent.  Shooting does not have the clinical finesse of Call of Duty and on purpose. There’s some realism to the shooting here with shaky hands and inaccuracy in the aiming. Again, this is a great, refreshing move and hopefully the game sticks to it’s guns until the end so to speak.

So in the slower-paced level, one has to climb on top of a building and use a wooden plank to get across to another building. This mechanic repeated itself a few times. Now, when everything looks so damn realistic, it’s stil a game, so you can only interact with a few things. So the plank is resting across a chainlink fence and I figured I have to get it up to the building’s roof, but how can I climb up carrying it? Ellie was of no help. Took me a while to realize I had to rest the plank across the building’s wall, then climb to the roof, then grab the plank to hoist it onto the roof and place it across the chasm between the two buildings. Makes sense.

Another critical thing that the game will have to do to be succesful and realistic is to have scarce resources. If there’s too many bullets available, then even though killing the infected is tough, you can just use a lot of ammo to survice. We are so used to the fact in the video games these days that there’s never a lack of resources because designers are too scared to lose players because the game might be tough or require strategy. It’s a very, very fine line. Clearly, there’s a lot of small rooms behind locked doors that you need to build shiv’s to open them. Spend resources to build shivs and you can access these “resource rooms”, but by spending some resources. How all of this will play out, it’s super hard to balance out so we shall see.

I do assume this is a game that one should play without any of the multitude of helping functions like pointers and HUD elements showing things that you can interact with. Of course then, you will end up hugging everything in the enviroments kinda like in an old school adventure game to figure out what you can use and what you cannot. The game feels so real and tries to be real that logical solutions to problems are what come to mind, but of course, this is not a simulation, it’s a game so it works in a certain kinda way.

The graphics, the feel and tone of the game are huge parts of The Last of Us just as they are in Uncharted – they really are the building blocks of the game. Also, this is kind of like in Grand Theft Auto – it’s about…enjoying the athmospere, soaking it all in and enjoying it. Even if it’s all about insane people, death and bacteria.

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I’m pretty sure that any criticism the game will face, the rather dour answer will be that “at least we are trying to push the envelope in story-telling, so never mind the little details”.

Kind of what the Bioshock Infinite has experienced. It’s a sign of a great game that it’s merits generate so much discussion and columns. Now, I think Bioshock Infinite is an amazing game – I dont mind the gamey aspects of it like stealing everything everywhere you got and emptying ever nook and cranny in front of non-reactful NPC’s. That what you do in video games and there’s so many technical challenges in making video games that in Bioshock, Irrational chose to concentrate on the story and other things rather than getting rid of basic gameplay tenets. 

Now yes, it did annoy a little bit that I sort of had to get the “stealing resources” out of the way in every building and gameplay sequence of Bioshock Infinite to enjoy the rest of it, but I can live with that.

Same with The Last of Us, there’s some gameplay elements that might jar with the realism, but only concentrating that is losing the bigger picture – that a developer is trying hard to do something new, a new IP and trying to explore mature, adult theme’s and drama.

Also, I have to push the point that The Last of Us looks absolutely stunning.

 

 

 

 

 

Stuck in Seattle

It’s been really busy at work in the beginning of 2013 (thanks Adam). It’s great really, some changes at the company and while there’s frustration, at least it feels like goals are more clear and there’s more for me to do. So we launched Umbra 3.2 on February 1st and it’s been pretty good since. Last fall felt pretty aimless, but now there’s loads for me to do. Check out this video about what our technology or rather, software, does.

So the first real contact that came to fruition on my behalf was Eidos Montreal who licensed Umbra 3 for a future project. Cant say anything else than that, but it was gratifying to handle that whole deal from start to finish.

So GDC 2013 is in two weeks. I’m writing this at the Seattle airport. We got up at 5am with my CTO/CEO and were on a planet at 7am to New York, but due to a mechanical fault, the plane didnt take off and we got out. Two hours of queuing later, we get a 7pm Seattle to London flight and then to Helsinki. Well, such is life when travelling. We are both so tired that we really dont have energy to work or leave the airport and go the nearby mall or something

The past week we’ve been in Seattle on business. I really like this town. I have a few great friends here like Mr Berghammer . Umbra has worked with Bungie for over two years on Destiny and I’ve gotten to know some of the Bungie crew at various developer conferences. I have to say everybody’s super cool and just nice. We had some work to do at the studio, but they let us hang out there too, which was really appreciated. Cant really say anything about Destiny of course 😉 Bungie’s studio is amazing. Over 350 people and it’s in a mall and used to be a movie theatre. So the ceiling is set super high and the space is very open. The same building has restaurants, bars, a gym and across the street there is a California Pizza Kitchen. It cannot get much better than that! The same block has Suckerpunch, tons of Microsoft offices, Valve is a few blocks down, so is Arenanet and Camouflaj. Shoutout to the crew at Camouflaj and Suckerpunch!

The week before we spent in California on some PlayStation 4 stuff, I can say shit about it either. So two weeks on the road and five different hotels in two weeks.  So I spend six days back home and then fly out to San Francisco for GDC.

So I cant really complain. It’s a cool job with a lot of freedom and some frustrations with engineers, but I get to ball around the world and see hardware and games years before they are announced, which is awesome. Of course, there’s a girl who I again didn’t manage to charm enough that’s been making me sad for most of the year but with so much work now and really just getting used to told no, you get over these things faster.

Most of this week was spent on GDC-related matters. Organizing stuff for our meeting room such as graphics for the exteriors, working on a brochure, then there’s lots of Umbra-news I had to put all over the internets like Eidos Montreal, PlayStation 4, Destiny type of things, tracking some customer-client relations, doing some ad’s for GDC etc.

I got Tomb Raider in my luggage. Somewhere. Hope it makes it back home! I was thinking that I will stay on west coast time back in Finland so I’d be better prepared for GDC, but we’ll see how it goes.

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