On Nov. 4, 2010, Microsoft launched Kinect worldwide. A year later, a new Microsoft commercial, above, showcases the ‘Kinect Effect,’ showing how its motion-controlled gaming device has evolved into a product with much broader potential social impact.
Xbox Kinect TV plans to bring interactive, immersive experiences to live action television and children’s books with the help of National Geographic and Sesame Street’s Workshop.
Xbox is unveiling a sharp idea for the next generation of television: interactive, live-action content, produced in partnership Sesame Workshop and National Geographic. Downloadable, linear episodes run like a normal television show but give children opportunities to play simple games with familiar characters and don virtual costumes that mold to their bodies and play around with the show’s environment. A series of interactive children’s books is also in the works. Dubbed “Project Columbia,” they allows burgeoning readers to explore the otherwise static world of a picture books with games, sounds, and augmented reality.
A gaming passion
Being a games developer it comes as no surprise that I’m interested in computer games and gadgets. My obsession started back in the 80’s with a Sinclair +2 Spectrum (yes, I am that old).
As computers developed and graphics started to expand beyond their 16 colour limits I followed the trend with anticipation. First buying a Mega Drive (16 bit colour and stereo sound!), Mega Drive 32x (remember that?!), a Super Nintendo, a Gameboy (less colours than a SNES but my first foray in to the handheld gaming world), a PC, an Xbox (my first console with a built-in 3D card), another PC, a Wii, another PC and finally an Xbox 360. For some reason I never went down the PlayStation route much to the derision of some of my friends. I’m not biased; it was just a personal choice. My friend’s followed similar routes, but as hardware improved over the years I began to see a wedge form between the console and the PC users, and this separation still exists today.
Personally I’ve become more of a console-ist myself, partly due to the fact that I have a laptop (and no external mouse). The idea of resting my computer on my lap all night as it heats up my groin, achingly rotating my finger around the mouse pad and shouting at the screen because it thinks that by pressing the Shift key so often I must want it to start using the disabled features of Windows, doesn’t give me the gaming satisfaction I crave.
Console or PC?
Some console-ists will argue that using a console is more entertaining, offering a better gaming experience and providing a more sociable gaming environment. Others however will point out that the PC will always be the better choice simply because computer games are always demanding more from its hardware and only the PC can evolve with them.
Games companies are continually pushing the boundaries of their game engines, but console systems and PC hardware are finite and limiting in that they can only present to the user whatever their hardware and software can achieve. Sooner or later the dreaded drain on your finances will arrive, leaving you to make that same choice once again – buy the latest console, or upgrade your PC’s hardware. And there’s the rub…the one thing that binds both console and PC users alike. Either way you look at it, sooner or later you’re going to have to shell out for new technology.
This issue hasn’t gone un-noticed, and one company has been quietly working at a solution, one that solves the console/PC issues using other modern day technologies. The result? A cloud-based gaming platform!
Gaming in the Cloud
I first heard about Onlive about 4 years ago. Their chief director was discussing how they had begun developing a system that will allow any user to play a computer game with the best possible graphics and sound, and all they’ll need is a basic PC or, alternatively, purchase the OnLive box. The only requirement was that the user must have a reliable and relatively fast Internet connection. Of course 4 years ago we couldn’t afford the speeds we can get now and had the system been released around 2007 it is safe to say that it simply wouldn’t have worked. Fast-forward to 2011, where an Internet speed of less than 6mbps is laughed at, where cloud-based technology is the new buzz word and where games are more hardware demanding than ever. Onlive couldn’t have picked a better time to launch.
Cloud gaming? Explain yourself!
So what is it, and how exactly does it work? The simplest way to describe it is to imagine having a Skype conversation with your friend and asking them to put a webcam in front of their TV and boot up their console. Once the game loads, start shouting the direction you want your player to move, and your friend will navigate the controls accordingly. Technically you’re not playing the game directly, but you are in total control of it via your friend’s actions.
OK that example’s a little crude but you get the idea. OnLive works in a similar (but obviously more technical) way. You send the movements you want to make down the Internet to the OnLive cloud based servers that are running the game, and they will (virtually) instantly stream back the visual response to that movement. You are remotely playing a game through the Internet. And what’s really great is that you don’t have to worry about how good your graphics card is because you’re effectively watching a video, not rendering a 3D environment on the fly. OnLive have built an incredibly powerful piece of architecture to handle all the hardware and software involved in the game, and all you see is the final result. And as technology improves, so too will their servers.
OnLive is not only available on both a PC and MAC (and soon a tablet version will be released!) but they have also released a small, lightweight console and gamepad. The gamepad rivals both the Xbox and Playstation both in terms of looks and usability. If you went for the console and gamepad it will cost you a measly £70 (but keep an eye for their constant deals. You can pick up a game and console for as little as £35 plus shipping). Simply plug your ethernet cable in (or go wireless via a wifi bridge), and use the HDMI out to plug in to your TV, press the on button and you’re ready to go in less than 3 seconds.
Can a cheap, affordable console that plays all the latest games and never needs upgrading exist? I’m quietly confident, but maybe I’ve just got my head in the clouds….
by Meta Matmian
[In my next post, I shall delve into more detail my experiences’ with OnLive - the good, the bad and the cloud]
[image from http://newmediamonthly.co.uk]
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.
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?
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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.
More than just a simple proof of concept, Fruit Ninja Kinect is a competent debut for Kinect games on Xbox Live Arcade, and it’s such a good fit that I have a hard time believing it will be outdone anytime soon. Kinect owners who understand the strengths and weaknesses of the hardware shouldn’t hesitate to pick up this fun, spazzy title.
► This is the first Kinect game that has actually truly interested me. It’s not the most complex game or any real story to tell of. However, it is just damn fun! And brightly coloured…which attracts me like a moth to a flame :)