OnLive: friend or foe?

Onlive Console Image

How will the new cloud-based gaming platform affect the entrenched console vs. PC platform debate of the gaming world?  Matmi’s lead developer, James Tibbles, buys himself a box and gives OnLive a road test.  Here’s his report.

I’ve been a gamer since the days of the Sinclair +2 Spectrum (yes, I am that old) and have experienced the formation of the gaming world’s console vs. PC platform divide first-hand.

Let me get this out of the way now and declare myself a console-ist which happened for the simple reason that I had a laptop at the time without a mouse.  You just couldn’t interact easily enough with games to do anything but end up shouting at the screen in frustration.  Give me that joystick and make it snappy!

But whether you’re a PC or console freak, we both have a problem.  We’ve always been reliant on newer, faster, whizzier hardware to run the increasingly CPU-sapping games coming onto the market.  That’s the rub – sooner or later, you’re going to have to shell out for new technology.  But maybe not any more.

Released in the UK in September, OnLive is a cloud-based gaming platform that runs on any platform with a reasonably fast Internet connection.  It’s been around since 2007, but Internet speeds weren’t quite up to the mark so OnLive’s taken a few years to get any traction – but it’s now well and truly arrived.

So what do you get?

  • Free OnLive membership (no subscription unless you fancy additional package deals).
  • Free to play most games 30 minutes a day.
  • The ability to watch others play games, and view new game trailers.
  • A vast amount of well-known games, and the comfort of knowing the hardware and game library will be continually updated, automatically.
  • Single and multiplayer online.
  • No need for top of the range graphics and sound card because you’re effectively watching a video, not rendering 3D environments on the fly.
  • No need for a hard drive.
  • Customisable controls if you’re using a keyboard.

I joined the OnLive service and played via PC first.  After a quick program download I signed in.  The OnLive system starts up just like you’re accessing a dashboard on a modern day console.  Even the introduction is video streaming – a rotating sweeping logo comes in to screen then fades out.

Then you’re in to the menu system – a grid-like layout allowing you to browse through games in the marketplace, change your settings and even watch other people’s games currently in progress (this is live streaming after all).

A brief look through the marketplace and it’s great to see so many well-known game titles available to play.  F.E.A.R 3 and Split Second immediately took my interest.  Another great little feature is that most games are available to play for free for 30 minutes a day. The system simply disables any save abilities and brings you back to the dashboard after your 30 minutes are over.

Being the gamer that I am and being impressed so far, I decided to give the OnLive gamepad a try.  I know this sounds counterproductive – that you’re back to buying hardware – but it does give you a great gaming experience.  Dual thumb-sticks, standard main controls, 4 trigger buttons and (this bit’s really nifty) additional keys to control video recordings, allowing you to very easily record, review and upload your video clips.  This is great for a chuckle, especially recordings that point out game flaws such as walking through walls and defying gravity. Top that off with the usual rumble pad and menu buttons and the OnLine gamepad is possibly the nicest controller I’ve ever used.

I plug it in to my TV, boot it up and continue my OnLive journey.  As before, the dashboard comes up, and intuitive navigation kicks in. This time I load up F.E.A.R 3 (a game I previously purchased and played on the PC version of the OnLive system) which takes seconds.  Then it takes me to my last saved point and away I go.

I only have two criticisms.

The gamepad doesn’t come with a wireless connection as standard – you have to connect via a wireless bridge – so it loses a point in my eyes.  And while I was playing Split Second, one of my favourite racing games, the screen jolted and stuck for a moment or two, then a “network problem” message popped up.

These blips continued intermittently – 3 times in 3 hours of play – so it didn’t really bother me, but I did decide to upgrade my 6mpbs Internet connection.  Running games via a streaming system, no matter how fast your Internet connection may be, your controls simply won’t be as quick to respond as you may be used to.  Short of restructuring the entire infrastructure of Internet communication (which, impressively, Steve Perlman – OnLive’s founder, is currently working on) this will always be cause for concern.

So is OnLive really the console and PC gamer killer?

I don’t think so, but it’s definitely a game changer, sitting itself quite happily, comfortably and perhaps permanently in-between the hard-core PC gamer, the console lover and those who don’t have hundreds of pounds to spend on either.

Streaming gaming has real potential to please all people and end the divide, and it’ll make tablet owners happy too.  Personally I’ll keep on playing via the console rather than the PC, but I can also see myself plugging in my mouse and keyboard, just to get that extra control in some more PC-based games.

Despite my new dependency on constant fast internet access, what pleases me the most is that I no longer have to worry about keeping my hardware completely up to date. But instead I now worry whether or not OnLive can keep their hardware up to date!

With OnLive being so cheap, sexy, unique and fun to use I’m proud to add it to my console collection, and I look forward to watching the service expand and improve over the coming months and years.

The future of gaming is here. All hail streaming media! All hail the big fluffy cloud!



OnLive Games That Are Coming Soon: A list of confirmed games


Over the course of the last few months, we have been come up with a rather long list of titles that have been confirmed to be coming to OnLive, either by OnLive themselves or by publishers/developers that we have been in contact with. 

►Mini Matmian:

If you read the review of OnLive from one of my partners in crime, Meta Matmian, you will probably know by now that he is very happy with it. So I thought I’d wetten his appetite with this list of AA titles to be released on the streaming service. Personally, Batman and Saints Row are the 2 stand out games but there are enough there to please everyone.


Show me that list!!



A Matmian’s view of OnLive

So what can I do with OnLive?

With OnLive you get to play a variety of games on the most basic of computers or even simply on a TV, using a controller of your choice. And all it will really require is a good Internet connection. It sounds too good to be true doesn’t it? That’s what I thought. So I decided to test the system out for myself. 

I joined the OnLive service (membership is free) and played via PC first. After a quick program download I signed in. The OnLive system starts up just like you’re accessing a dashboard on a modern day console. Even the introduction is video streaming. A rotating sweeping logo comes in to screen then fades out. Then you’re in to the menu system - a grid-like layout allowing you to browse through games in the marketplace, change your settings and even watch other people’s games currently in progress (this is live streaming after all). A nice feature I instantly noticed was the ability to record clips from your games and publish for all to see, great for a chuckle, especially recordings that point out game flaws such as walking through walls and defying gravity. 

A brief look through the marketplace and it’s great to see so many well-known game titles available to play. F.E.A.R 3 and Split Second immediately took my interest. Another great little feature is that most games are available to play for free for 30 minutes a day. The system simply disables any save abilities and brings you back to the dashboard after your 30 minutes are over.

 I start playing Split Second, one of my favourite racing games. It was at this point I noticed the screen jolt and stick for a moment or two, then a “network problem” image pops up in the top right. A few seconds later and the blip is gone and everything is back to normal. Was this a sign of things to come? 

The game played ALMOST flawlessly. Every few minutes or so the network blip would raise it’s head again. I could put this down to teething problems, and keep my finger’s crossed that the good people at OnLive are working on improving the way in which the system streams back to the user. Another issue I considered was that, while console gamers will be generally impressed by the speed of response from their gamepad, PC users may not be as equally impressed when it comes to first person shooters. The ability to spin around very fast when necessary via the mouse is one of the reasons FPS games do so well on the PC. And running via a streaming system, no matter how fast your Internet connection may be, your controls simply won’t be as quick to respond as you may be used to. Short of restructuring the entire infrastructure of Internet communication (which, impressively, Steve Perlman - OnLive’s founder, is currently working on) this will always be cause for concern. 

However, I remain quietly optimistic. And, as I mentioned before, I’m more of a console gamer than a PC gamer, so it was time to try the system out with a gamepad. I got it as a package deal… pre-order Saints Row 3 for £35.99 and get a free console (£6 shipping costs added on top) - although had I known October’s deal would be the same with a preorder of Batman: Arkham City I would have held out….doh!. 

Two days later my console arrived. My first impression of it was how nice the packaging was. Solid black box, all accessories neatly packaged in a very “Apple” kind of way. It really appeals to a modern day gadget lover like myself. The console is no bigger than a mini usb hard drive, but technologically speaking it really packs a punch. There are:

  •  2 USB ports (allowing you to wire up the gamepad if you prefer - although it’s bluetooth so there’s no real reason - or to plug in a mouse and/or keyboard)
  •  HDMI out (yes, with full 1080p support)
  •  a digital audio out (with 5.1 surround supported)
  • an ethernet port

No hard drive is required so it’s nice and light. Basically it’s just a very pretty modem with a video and audio card. However, one downside was that the console doesn’t come with Wireless connection as standard. You can still connect wirelessly, but only via a wireless bridge (so it loses a point in my eyes). The gamepad surprised me the most. I wasn’t lying when I said it rivals the Playstation and Xbox. Dual thumb-sticks, standard main controls, 4 trigger buttons and (this bit’s really nifty) additional keys to control video recordings, allowing you to very easily record, review and upload your video clips. Top that off with the usual rumblepad and menu buttons. Possibly the nicest controller I’ve ever used.  

So I plug it in to my tv, boot it up and continue my OnLive journey. As before, the dashboard comes up, and intuitive navigation kicks in, allowing me to navigate around and find my games. This time I load up F.E.A.R 3 (a game I previously purchased and played on the PC version of the OnLive system). Loading the game takes seconds, then it takes me to my last saved point. And away I go. The game plays just as well as before, but 5-6 minutes in I get the same issue I had before…”network problem” for a few seconds, then the game continues. I play the game for 3 hours and this problem only appears perhaps 3 times. So overall it doesn’t bother me. It only serves to persuade me to update my 6mpbs connection. 

Why you should consider OnLive

  • Free membership (no subscription unless you fancy additional package deals)
  • Free to play most games 30 minutes a day
  • No need for top of the range graphics and sound card
  • No hard drive required
  • Multi-platform (including when playing multiplayer online)
  • Amazing gamepad that works both with the console and the PC
  • The ability to save video clips
  • The ability to watch others play games and view trailers for games
  • The ability to play multiplayer games
  • Console is relatively cheap, very lightweight, and simple to use
  • Wireless if required (via bridge)
  • HDMI (1080p) support
  • 5.1 surround sound support
  • A vast amount of well-known games
  • The comfort of knowing the hardware and game library will be continually updated automatically
  • The ability to customise controls (if using a keyboard)
  • Can modify settings to help improve your viewing experience.
  • Plus realisation that you are playing with brand new emerging technology.

Sounds too good to be true. What’s the catch?

As great as it is, a fast Internet connection will always be required. OnLive’s biggest problem (and sole reason why the system could fail if not correctly dealt with) is that even with a decent Internet speed you may encounter the occasional second or so network delay, or too many people using the server (leading to a delay when logging in), so finger’s crossed this issue will be corrected. 

While the console does provide an HDMI output, due to the streaming process the quality is not true HD because of the need to compress the video. And the slower your Internet speed, the worse the video quality. 

The cost of purchasing a game is not much cheaper than purchasing the game from anywhere else (either online or in the shops). This is disappointing, especially due to the above issue (not getting TRUE HD quality). I would have assumed the cost would be slightly less. However, perhaps the price may start to drop if more people adopt the service. What also concerned me was that, of the many of the games I demo’d, most of the ones I wanted to purchase could only be purchased through a £6 a month subscription package deal! And I’ve never appreciated being forced down a subscription route. If I want a particular game I should be able to buy it outright, not spend the rest of my life paying a monthly fee to access it. 

The OnLive console can only support a maximum of 2 players and they only provide one gamepad when you buy the console (you can buy another separately). And after researching the multiplayer options in some of the games I spotted you can only play against other OnLive members. But I guess this makes sense, so as not to give any none-streamer the upper hand. 

Finally, some of the games in the marketplace appear to be console ports. This is usually fine, however in some games the visual control instructions presents an Xbox or Playstation control system. Or the game may be a PC only game, therefore labelling keys incorrectly (i.e. ‘press the E key to open the door’…when there is no E on the gamepad). There is also the issue of some games (ie. Saints Row 2) being ported in a sloppy manner, causing various bugs to appear (the handling of vehicles in this game is, for the most part, impossible). But that’s more down to the game developers, not the hardware. 

Halt, who goes there? Console/PC friend or foe?

So is OnLive really the console and PC gamer killer? I don’t think so, and I don’t think it wants to be either. But it is definitely a game changer, sitting itself quite happily, comfortably and perhaps permanently in-between the hard-core PC gamer, the console lover and those who don’t have hundreds of pounds to spend on either.

Should OnLive solve their little network issues out, streaming gaming has real potential to please all people and end the divide. And in time it’ll even make the tablet owners happy too. Personally I’ll keep on playing via the console rather than the PC, but I can also see myself plugging in my mouse and keyboard, just to get that extra control in some more PC-based games.

Despite my new dependency on constant fast internet access, what pleases me the most is that I no longer have to worry about keeping my hardware completely up to date. But instead I now worry whether or not OnLive can keep their hardware up to date. 

When playing with more than 2 people in the room, and with its exclusive titles and REAL high definition I’ll always need my Xbox around, plus it’s nice to physically own a game (a bit like those who still prefer CD’s over MP3’s) . But with OnLive being so cheap, sexy, unique and fun to use I’m proud to add it to my console collection, and I look forward to watching the service expand and improve over the coming months and years.

The future of gaming is here. All hail streaming media. All hail the big fluffy cloud!

by Meta Matmian



OnLive founder wants to revolutionize wireless with DIDO technology

DIDO technology

You may know Steve Perlman as the man behind OnLive, but it’s looking increasingly foolish to think the California entrepreneur is all about games these days. WebTV may be a thing of the past, but Perlman’s company Mova provides advanced facial capture software to big names in Hollywood, and on June 4th, he told students at Columbia University that his incubator Rearden had developed a groundbreaking new approach to wireless technology. That last one’s quite the claim, and details were scarce in June, but today the company’s ready to explain how it will “completely transform the world of communications” with a little something called DIDO.

Read full article here



Apple intros new Mac mini, MacBook Air, Cinema Display with Lion

Apple intros new Mac mini, MacBook Air, Cinema Display with Lion

The MacBook Air has officially gained Thunderbolt support, a backlit keyboard, and an Intel Core i5 processor (Sandy Bridge). As expected, Apple released the updated machines on Wednesday morning to coincide with the launch of Mac OS X Lion, in addition to Thunderbolt-compatible Mac minis and updated Cinema Displays.

The Sandy Bridge processors were highly anticipated for the MacBook Air line, and it was rumored that Apple was holding the speed-bumped Airs until the Lion launch in order to best showcase both products. Apple seems to think the wait was worth it, claiming that the new MacBook Air has “up to twice the performance of the previous generation.”

►Mini Matmian:

I’ll admit, I’m not always Apple’s biggest fan but they do produce some innovative technology. Had a little play with Apple Air TV today and it certainly made a good impression on me (more on that in a future post, along with the fun we had with OnLive).

Adding Thunderbolt support and the backlit keyboard returning is definitely a good move. The question still rumbles on, will Apple survive with Jobs? From what I’ve seen so far, it’s looking good.

They are working hard to converge all their technology and make each compatible with the other. The move into wireless control was an obvious step. Jeff (Matmi MD) absolutely loves his Apple Air TV and wirelessly controlling all his media with his iPad2 but that’s a story for another time too. 


Read More



Faux Futurists Want to Keep PC Gaming in the Past

What PC gamers Imagine

click to enlarge

Some day soon, Nvidia’s CEO Jen-Hsun Huang is going to walk on stage at some obscure electronics industry event and say these words: “We love PC gaming. Our heritage is in 3D gaming hardware. And that’s why we’re more excited than ever to announce we’re never making another gaming video card again.”

Sound like a doomsday scenario? Then you might be a PC game tinkerer.

There are two types of PC gamers. Firstly, there are people who love PC gaming because of all the fantastic things PC games have that their console or mobile games do not: a complex, precise interface; the ability to easily extend game experiences with modifications both official and otherwise; an incredible wealth of indie and experimental games; and the best graphics and sound experience a normal human being can buy.

Then there are the gamers who like the PC because they mistake tinkering with hardware from a couple of dozen of vendors—all of whom get their silicon from three giant corporations—as some sort of engineering, despite that it’s more or less electric LEGO for masochists. These tinkerers are holding back PC gaming hardware—and that includes the very benchmark by which they gauge themselves: graphics performance.

►Mini Matmian:

OnLive and the IPTV is going to drastically change the landscape of ALL things digital. It will transform the way people interact with social media, TV shows, films, games and the web in general.

I personally believe that the PC will end up as the ‘Fork Lift Truck’ of digital interaction and use. In short, the PC will shrink in popularity and usage; catering for a niche market of power users (developers and die hard PC fans mainly).

The general population will switch to the ‘family van’ central hub (most likely TV) for all their digital needs. It’s the Fischer Price digital devices that rule the day. The simple, easy to use and easy to access products. The simplification of FRONT end digital media, removing all barriers of entry.

It won’t be long before you will seen Valve themselves on IPTV. Turning what is currently a PC only service to a platform that is accessible via peoples central ‘family van’ TV hub.

p.s: A question I don’t see discussed much with regards to the decline of the PC is ‘What form of input devices will prevail?’ Does everyone want to be jumping around to move Mario in a future Mario game(Image capturing devices)? Or do they want virtual keyboards and touch based cursor control (smartphones/tablets)?

The keyboard, mouse and joystick have been with us for decades it’s hard to imagine a life with out them. Yes they can be wireless now, but would we want to have a wireless keyboard, mouse and joystick snuggling up next to the TV remote? 

Click ‘READ MORE’ to continue article

PC gaming isn’t going to die—but PC tinkering just might. And it’s not heretical to be okay with that. I’m disappointed in the short-sighted, overly defensive members of the PC gaming community. Last week I wrote an effusive post about the Razer Blade gaming laptop, pointing out all of the laudable, intelligent things Razer (and its engineering partner, Intel) were doing with the new product line—as well as the thing they were screwing up. (The price.)

Instead of measured rebuttals, many of those that chose to comment on my piece trotted out arguments that have been in place since the original Nintendo hit the scene—arguments which are even less true in the modern gaming and technology landscape than they were two decades ago. (There were some polite, reasoned responses, as well, although they were the minority.)

It’s all the old insults: “Go play your console.” “If I wanted a dedicated gaming machine with fixed hardware specs than I’d buy a console.” Or perhaps most tellingly: “Honestly, this is why I *Enjoy* PC gaming. Unless you have an amazing rig, you can’t play games. This limits the people I game with to people at least as geeky as me (you have to be geeky to assemble these systems).”

Tinkering is a hobby, not the basis for a platform. The average person (the people who actually make up the “mass” of the mass market that drives technology forward) does not want to build a PC. They don’t want to jailbreak their phone. They don’t even want to know what jailbreaking is. They don’t want to troubleshoot a broken computer to make a game work, even if it gets them a game with more impressive graphics.

Most people just want to play a game. Now, it’s true that PC gamers are not most people. We’re enthusiasts—the hot-rodders of PC hardware. There are a few million of us out there—and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with enjoying our hobby—but most PC gamers seem to have forgotten that we are a small offshoot of a much larger industry, one that built computers for spreadsheets and word processing, not gaming. The same industry that is currently moving away from the Windows PC as the default, mainstream computing platform.

So PC gamers got very upset upon my suggestion that, you know, maybe it’d be okay to let Intel and Nvidia (and perhaps AMD) standardize the PC platform a little bit so that programmers and operating system engineers could more readily access the kind of computational power that’s inside our hot-rod PC hardware. And as I watched it unfold, I felt like I was watching a bunch of polo players quibble about saddle design next to a freeway.

It is absolutely asinine that our smoking-hot, electricity-slurping gaming towers and massive laptops aren’t providing experiences so far beyond that available on consoles and mobile phones that even non-gamers could immediately see the difference. Sure, we can tell the difference between Infinity Blade running on an iPad and latest Unreal Engine game running on a $1,500 PC. But you know who can’t? Millions upon millions of people who buy games.

And don’t forget that the games will follow the money. And right now the money is moving into free-to-play, mobile, and hosted games, be they on Facebook or on streaming services like OnLive. Consoles aren’t even the only, or indeed the largest threat to PC gaming! We’ve probably got one more generation of “hardcore” dedicated consoles like the Xbox before they, too, are obsolesced by streaming or mobile hardware.

Disagree all you want, but I’m not saying anything that PC gaming stalwarts like Valve and id Software aren’t saying themselves.

"We’re terrified by the future," [Valve’s Gabe Newell] said. "You need to be looking at what’s happening with Apple, Google Android and thinking that could impact the living room in a big way. You need to be looking at Onlive and how it is integrated with the television."

PC gaming isn’t going to die. But it’s going to change. And unless PC gamers embrace that change, we’re going to find ourselves increasingly marginalized, with fewer games to experience that are unique to PC. I don’t hate the tinkerers. But it’s time they stopped pretending that they hold any real influence over where the future of gaming is going.