Monday, 26 October 2015

Video Game Backwards Compatibility: Do we need it?

The entertainment unit below my TV is overflowing.  Behind it, all of the cables and cords a tangled, horridly unattractive mess.  But why is it so cluttered?  Well, for starters, there's my unnecessarily large cable box/modem (due to my inability to cut the Cable cord).  Next, there are all three current-gen consoles.  In addition to those, however, also sit a Playstation 3, as well as, strangely enough, most recently, a Playstation 2.  All of these systems get used, and unfortunately, are beginning to take up more space than I have.

Most gamers, at this point, have traded their old consoles in or have them shoved away in a box somewhere, done with the old and moved entirely onto the new.  But me, and gamers alike, refuse to move on from previous generation consoles entirely.  Don't get me wrongthe majority of my time spent gaming is on current gen consoles, but I find myself going back to the older consoles at least a couple of times a month because there are games there that I simply can't let go of.

While we're in an era of Smart TVs that allow us to run applications like Netflix, thereby potentially removing a set top box from our entertainment units and freeing up space, if you're a video gamer, this isn't an option at this point.  For some, they've got their one console and it's all they need.  Others, however, continue to enjoy playing games on multiple consoles, new and old, whether it's a game you keep going back to, or you're playing games from your seemingly never ending backlog.  For me, it's a little of both.  I've got games that I still haven't completed (or even started), but would like to, and I've got games that I love going back to (Rockstar Games' 2002 The Warriors, anyone?).

I long to have a clean entertainment unit with minimal clutterjust a TV and one or two set top boxesbut at this point, this just can't be.  For one thing, there will always be consoles from different companies, thereby increasing the number of boxes on my entertainment unit (if you're console agnostic).  Next, only some games from previous generations of consoles are available to play on current generation consoles, whether through disc or digitally, the latter more common at this point, which means I have a continued use for previous generation consoles.  This leads me to the issue at hand: backwards compatible consoles.

I've heard it time and time again over the last several years, and still today: we don't need backwards compatibility. (For those of you who are unaware, the term backwards compatibility refers to, in this particular case, a video game console capable of playing games from previous console generations.)  All I can say is that this argument is, like most things, simply a matter of opinion.  I would love to move on from my PS2 and PS3, playing all of these games on the better, faster PS4, but the fact of the matter is I can't because the PS4 is not capable of doing such a thing.  Sure, Playstation Now is still a thing somehow, but I'd rather not digitally rent the games that I already own.  Besides, PS Now doesn't necessarily have all of the games I want to play, not to mention I'd be getting away from the simplicity that I appreciate about the PS2, and to a certain extent, the PS3 (the latter more about familiarity than simplicity).  And yes, for those of you asking yourselves, I do really play old games often enough to justify wanting backwards compatibility on my consoles.

Unfortunately, the number of individuals who would (or actually do) utilize the backwards compatible functionality of a console is relatively small, which means companies would be (or are, in Microsoft's case) putting in the work to make consoles backwards compatible for such a small percentage of their audience, or they're less inclined to do so (like Sony is).

At E3 2015, Microsoft announced their plan to start rolling out backwards compatibility for the Xbox One.  They released an initial list of games already backwards compatible, and will continue to grow this list as they work on making more games capable of being backwards compatible.  This is great news and it was received well when it was initially announced.  But it makes me wonder how large the list will actually grow to be.  Let me explain...

When the PS3 was first released, the console was backwards compatible, capable of playing [most] PS2 games.  The Xbox 360, too, was capable of playing a number of original Xbox games, the list continuing to grow for a couple of years.  And the Nintendo Wii was capable of playing Gamecube discs and even had a port on the console to plug in Gamecube controllers.

For the first while, gamers were excited about this backwards compatibility, because even though they had one of these new game consoles, they still wanted to play their old games from their old consoles.  Once this excitement wore off and gamers had become more enveloped in newly released games on the new platforms, however, backwards compatibility became less relevant.  Sony axed backwards compatibility capability when they released the PS3 "Slim" three years after the PS3's launch, Microsoft, despite its growing list of Xbox games playable on the 360 stopped adding games to this list in late-2007, and backwards compatibility ceased to function on Wii consoles released near the end of the generation.  All three major consoles put an end to backwards compatibility on their systems, presumably from a lack of demand, and from the effort required to implement it just not being worth it.  As a result, I've got to imagine that the excitement for backwards compatibility on the Xbox One will quickly wear off for most gamers in a similar fashion.

While we're well into this new generation and there haven't been new Xbox 360 games that gamers are keen on playing on their Xbox Ones, it's still an exciting launch with a subsequent peak and drop in the aforementioned excitement.  On the flip side of things, with the Games with Gold program and 360 games that gamers get "free," this may prove to aid in making backwards compatibility more relevant and help it stick around on the Xbox.

The fact of the matter is that Sony's console is outselling Microsoft's.  What this means, from a sales and marketing stand point, is that Microsoft needs to give consumers another reason to buy their console.  Even if the excitement only lasts a little while, Microsoft will seemingly be able to give their Xbox One the slight boost that it needs with the announcement of backwards compatibility.  And while the capability of backwards compatibility may not draw in every-day consumers, it very well may draw in the hardcore gamer who has yet to adopt an Xbox One and has been waiting to be given a reason to.  But at the same time, it's not necessarily all about getting console sales up.  It also might be about Microsoft keeping their audience happy, and with implementing backwards compatibility capability, they seem to be doing so, judging by the reactions received upon hearing the news.

In the end, backwards compatibility remains a topic that appears to be evenly split when it comes to the opinion of gamers.  Some believe it is unnecessary, while othersan admittedly much smaller percentage of gamerswant the capability.  Whether you're like me and would like to play all of your old games on the current generation of consoles, or you disagree and continue to look nowhere but forward, it looks like we're headed towards being capable of doing the former, at least when it comes to Microsoft and the Xbox One.  Sony, meanwhile, will continue to boast being able to play all of your favourite games through Playstation Now, a service that I have to believe is suffering and isn't working out as they might have hoped once upon a time.  At the very least with Playstation, many "Playstation Classics" are available to play digitally on the PS3, and even the Vita in some instances.  As for Nintendo, the list of games from previous generations of consoles seems to be slowly, but steadily, growing on the Virtual Console.

All in all, Microsoft, Sony, and Nintendo are all taking certain steps to allow backwards compatibility on their consoles in some form or another, whether you're able to put your old discs in your Xbox One and play them, rent them digitally through a streaming service like Playstation's Playstation Now, or buy them digitally through Nintendo's Virtual Console.  Certain methods are surely more feasible than others, or at least more preferable, but so long as gamers are able to appreciate their favourite games from consoles old and new, I appreciate the effort that is being put forward by the console makers.  But for now, until I'm able to take any one of my old game discs and pop them into one of my current generation consoles, the tangled mess of cables behind my entertainment unit will remain, the clutter a constant reminder of the lack of backwards compatibility capability.

Tuesday, 13 October 2015

PS4 System Software 3.0: What's new and what's still missing

With the recent system software 3.0 update on the Playstation 4, it got me thinking about what's still missing from the PS4 and its features.  Coming up on its two year anniversary in North America, there are a number of features that Playstation users would love to see on their PS4, but they just don't seem to be coming.  Before we take a look at those, let's dive in to what's new in the 3.0 update.

What's new:

Playstation Plus icon
When you first log on to your system after the software update, one of the first things you'll notice on the home screen may be the shiny Playstation Plus icon on the far left of the top row.  From here, you can see all of your Plus content, as well as see the current free games line up, deals and sales, and manage your Plus membership.

Events icon
Another new icon that might catch your eye is the Events icon.  While I don't believe it necessarily deserves a spot front and centre on the top row, or even on the home screen at all, this new icon gives you the option to check out official game broadcasts and streams, and to see the activities and events that are going on in the games that you play the most.

Upload game clips directly to Twitter
When the PS4 first launched in 2013, users could only natively upload their game clips to Facebook.  With the 2.0 software update, to users satisfaction, they were given the ability to upload their clips to YouTube. Now, for those of you who want to share slices of your content online, you can now do so by uploading videos (up to 10 seconds in length) to Twitter.  It's as simple as using the Share button on the Dualshock 4 controller.

Stream via YouTube
Since its launch, the PS4 has only allowed users to natively stream their gameplay to either Twitch or Ustream.  That's now changed.  With the 3.0 update, users can now stream their gameplay directly to YouTube.

Other updates
The smaller and arguably less exciting updates that accompany the 3.0 update include: the ability to take screenshots in .PNG format (rather than .JPEG format); changes (the good kind of changes) to messages; creating "Communities," where users share content with designated groups of other players; and "Stickers"because who doesn't like sending friends random images of their favourite Playstation characters every once in a while.

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While this is a great deal of added capability and features, and it's sure to make a lot of users happy, what would a console software update be without complaining about what the console is still missing?  Let's take a look at the features that the PS4 is still missing, and that users can't wait to have.


What's still missing:

Friend notifications
Almost every time I log onto my PS4, my first stop is to my friends list.  I see who's online and what they're playing.  There's just something about seeing your friends online and knowing what they're up to (even if it is just watching Netflix).  What I'm getting at is that my friends list plays a big role in my time spent on my PS4.  So, you may not be surprised when I say that I'm dismayed at the lack of addition of friend notificationsspecifically, notifications for when my friends go on and offline.

On the Playstation 3, as you may remember, users would receive notifications in the corner of their screen, similar to the PS4's notifications, when friends sent them messages or invites, and, my favourite, when they logged on or offline (no, I'm not being sarcastic).  Since the PS4's launch, the latter notification has been absent.  Why?  Who knows.  What I do know is that each time I see this feature missing from a software update, I die a little inside.

In all seriousness, why, since its launch, has the PS4 been capable of letting me know when a friend has joined a party and that I can join it, too, but not when they've logged on or offline?  And yes, I know, I know, many Playstation users have no longing for this feature.  In fact, a huge number of them would probably turn the feature right off like they have for the "joined party" notification.  But for the few, like myself, who don't have a full friends list, and rather, have under 20 friends on our lists, seeing when my friends come online and go offline would be a more than welcome addition to the notifications on our PS4s.

It may be an engineering and coding problem that is preventing this from being a feature on the PS4 (which is odd, considering the PS3 has had this option for as long as I can remember), but I would love to see this feature added come the next software update.  And hopefully, if it does come, there's the ability to toggle notifications on/off.  That way, everyone's happy.  Well, not everyone.  After all, it is the Internet.

Create folders on the home screen
I'll be the first to admit that I'm, at times, a little too organized and like things a little too neat.  But clearly, I'm not alonenot when it comes to the PS4's home screen, anyways.

Right now, the bottom row on the PS4 home screenthe one with all of your applicationsis a bit of a mess.  Currently, the applications and games you've used and played most recently are on the far left, pushing unplayed games and ignored applications to the wayside, all the way to the right until it disappears to the Library section, which is a mess all on its own.

Inside the Library, you've got all of the games and applications you've ever purchased, even if you haven't downloaded them.  Sure, it can be nice to see everything like that in one place, but with all of the free PS Plus games I've "purchased" but not downloaded, the folder is bursting at its digital seams.  While this folder is an issue, it's not the kind of folder I'm referring to when I say I want to be able to create folders on the PS4's home screen.

People can say what they will about the PS3's XMB, but at least it was categorized well.  My favourite was the fact that all [digital] games were placed neatly into one folder.  Though this wasn't a choice, it's something I appreciated, because it at least condensed things, even if just a little bit.

If you look at the Playstation Vita, albeit arguably on its way out, there's the ability to make custom folders, dragging and dropping games and applications as you please.  While I understand its a mobile device of sorts, you'd think something could similarly be done on the PS4, being a part of the same ecosystem and all.

Ideally, I'd like to be able to create custom folders, placing games and applications where I want them.  It's evident that this is somewhat possible, considering we already have this type of thing with the video services "folder."  At the very least, what I'd like to see done on the PS4 is have all games placed in a folder of sorts so that I'm not scrolling sideways through a mile of games, and maybe have the ability to choose the sorting option (>Last played, or >A-Z).  Somethinganythingto clean those games up!

Changing PSN name
For some, changing their PSN name is as easy as creating a new account and starting from scratch.  For others, however, this option means abandoning their Playstation trophy collection, which they, understandably, have no desire or intention of doing.  While I'm fine with my PSN name and have no desire to change it, anyone who visits Playstation forums or listens to Playstation centric podcasts knows that there are hundreds and thousands of Playstation users that are aching to change theirs, even willing to shell out the dough to do so.  This has never been, and still is not an option.

While likely an engineering and software feat, Sony has failed to address, or at least provide updates on where they're at on this longtime request, despite the money that is being left on the table.  All I know is that changing one's PSN name is at the top of a lot of peoples' lists, and it looks like they're going to have to wait just that much longer before they'll see this feature implemented onto the PS4.

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Many, if not most of the features that I've listed as still missing are likely due to engineering constraints, or perhaps are simply viewed as less important when compared to the other features that we've seen added in this current update, as well as previous software updates.  What can be said for sure is that they have not been included in the most recent software update.  I can almost say with certainty that Sony will eventually bring these features to the PS4, perhaps announcing them at Playstation Experience (PSX) 2015 on December 5th and 6th.  For now, though, we can enjoy the features that they have brought, and keep hoping that we'll see the updates that we want to see most come with the next big software updateideally sooner than later, Sony.


Source: Playstation Blog