A little bit of clarity can go a long way. A few weeks ago at the reveal of the PS4 Pro, in a staff roundtable I questioned whether Sony’s new console would hurt Microsoft’s chances with the more powerful Scorpio. I also gave Sony an edge because of its HDR rollout to all PS4s. As it turns out, the HDR update is practically useless (no games supported yet and no video streaming) and the PS4 Pro itself will see most games upscaled, according to Sony Interactive boss Andrew House.
While PS4 architect Mark Cerny did make it clear during the conference that the Pro does not render games in true 4K resolution, many fans had no doubt assumed it would and likely glossed over his technical explanation of the Pro’s “streamlined rendering techniques” and “temporal and spatial anti-aliasing.” It’s hard to say how much consumers will care when the Pro goes on sale in November, but Microsoft wasted no time in puffing up its chest to declare its superiority with a console that won’t ship for many, many months.
Microsoft Studios Publishing general manager Shannon Loftis told USA Today, “Any games we’re making that we’re launching in the Scorpio time frame, we’re making sure they can natively render at 4K.” Moreover, Albert Penello, senior director of product management and planning at Xbox, hammered home the point with our sister site Eurogamer, commenting, “I think there are a lot of caveats they’re giving customers right now around 4K. They’re talking about checkerboard rendering and up-scaling and things like that. There are just a lot of asterisks in their marketing around 4K, which is interesting because when we thought about what spec we wanted for Scorpio, we were very clear we wanted developers to take their Xbox One engines and render them in native, true 4K. That was why we picked the number, that’s why we have the memory bandwidth we have, that’s why we have the teraflops we have, because it’s what we heard from game developers was required to achieve native 4K.”
That’s a punch to the gut in true console war fashion, and one that Microsoft is no doubt happy to get in during a console cycle which has seen PS4 dominate. It may not seem like a big deal right now, as 4K TV sales are still relatively minor, but the prices are falling and interest in 4K and HDR is picking up, not only with consumers, but also with game developers and content providers for streaming services like Netflix. This could be a decent holiday for the 4K TV market, and by the time Scorpio actually does launch there will be that many more 4K TV owners to target with the only console that renders 4K natively. That’s a nice feather in Microsoft’s cap.
This week we also featured an interesting writeup on VR and AR from DICE Europe. While VR proponents like Unity’s Clive Downie said there will be over a billion people using VR in the next 10 years, others such as Niantic’s John Hanke and Apple boss Tim Cook cast doubt on the long-term appeal and commerical success of VR. Of course, this isn’t the first time that people have wondered whether VR will ever move beyond a niche category – and indeed, our Rob Fahey talks about the over-investment in the space in his column today – but the idea that VR is merely an intermediary step before AR comes into its own is the wrong way to think about these technologies in my view.
Just because they both offer altered realities and utilize headsets does not mean they should be lumped together. The use cases and experiences are vastly different for VR and AR, and while I agree that AR likely is the better bet from a commercial standpoint, I don’t underestimate VR for one second. I’ve had way too many fun game sessions using the tech already, and it’s early days. Beyond that, serious movie makers are starting to leverage the great potential of the medium. Jon Favreau (Iron Man, The Jungle Book), for example, is working on a VR film called Gnomes and Goblins and he’s even brought on veteran game designer Doug Church (System Shock, Thief) to fine tune the VR interactions.
The fact is VR has enormous storytelling potential and can immerse its users in ways that we’ve never experienced before. “As I work in film, so much has been done,” Favreau commented. “There are technological breakthroughs but there is less and less up in the air. You’re really writing a song in the same format that has been going on for at least a hundred years. And what’s interesting about VR is that, although I really don’t know where it’s going or if it’s going to catch on in a significant way culturally, I do know that there is a lot of unexplored territory and a lot of fun things as a storyteller for me to experiment with. It’s exciting to have so much fresh snow that nobody has walked through yet. There’s been no medium that I’ve felt that way since I’ve come into the business, where it feels like you can really be a pioneer.”
AR will be tremendously exciting in its own right, and I can’t wait for Magic Leap, HoloLens and castAR, but to think that VR will be cast aside to make way for AR’s ascendancy is totally off base.
It’s been more than five years since The NPD Group said it would start including digital data in its monthly reports on the US video game business. In those five years, not only has digital grown, but publishers, analysts, press and more have all thrown shade at NPD, questioning the relevancy of a service that only offers physical sales data in an increasingly digital era. Today, NPD is finally taking that first step to offer a more complete picture of the entire games market as it’s unveiled its digital point-of-sale (POS) sourced service, tracking SKU-level sales data on digital games.
“Following several years of beta testing, the Digital Games Tracking Service will allow participating clients to understand the size and growth of the digital market, and analyze attach rates and other important metrics. Combined with physical data available by NPD, these clients can gain a better understanding of the interplay between the physical and digital sales channels,” the firm explained in a press statement.
“As has been experienced across a wide variety of industries, digital has made a big impact on the overall gaming market, and we’ve risen to meet the demand for a reporting mechanism that tracks those sales in a timely and accurate way,” said Joanne Hageman, President, U.S. Toys & Games, The NPD Group. “With the participation and support of leading publishers – whose cooperation makes this possible – we are excited to launch an industry-first service that addresses a long-standing need.”
The usual report on physical sales data will now be combined with digital sales data and issued on July 21 instead of July 14; it’s expected to follow that cadence (the third data Thursday of the month) moving forward. Initially, NPD has gained the support of major publishers like EA, Activision, Ubisoft, Capcom, Square Enix, Take-Two, Deep Silver and Warner Bros. There are notable exceptions, however, like Bethesda as well as first-party publishers like Microsoft, Sony and Nintendo, but NPD analyst Liam Callahan promised that more publishers would be signing on as the service evolves.
“This has been several years of beta testing and we’ve been doing this in partnership with publishers, shaping the product, encoding the data the way the industry wants to see it. It’s really at the behest of or on the behalf of the publishers that we’re moving forward with this announcement… Really the goal is to bring a new level of transparency never before seen, at least in the US market. This is really the first step. We recognize that there’s still a ways to go, we want more publishers to join, we want to be able to project for people who are not participating. It’s an evolution, it’s something that takes time and our philosophy was really to start – if we waited to have every publisher in the world to sign up it would take forever. We’ll be improving this as time goes on,” he said.
Importantly, NPD will notate next to game titles on the chart that do not include digital data. Callahan wants the service, which is being produced with the assistance of EEDAR, to ultimately be able to project data even for non-participants but NPD isn’t starting with that ability just yet. Instead, it’ll focus on tracking revenue from full-game downloads across Xbox Live, PlayStation Network and Steam. Services like Battle.net and Uplay won’t be included at this point.
“EEDAR is excited to be part of this initiative with NPD and the participating publishers. Tracked digital revenues have seen annual growth of over 100% each year since 2012. In 2016, we’ve already tracked more digital revenue than we saw in 2012 and 2013 combined. This initiative is a great milestone for the industry which will allow publishers to make better business decisions with a broader data set,” added EEDAR CEO Rob Liguori.
Add-on content like DLC and microtransactions will be tracked as well, but that data will only be released to participants, not the media and public. “We’re waiting until that’s a little more fully baked for us to roll that out to the media. We’re doing things in stages,” Callahan said.
It may be frustrating for the media to not have a granular breakdown at the SKU level to see what portion of a game’s sales are digital versus physical, but NPD anticipates more openness as the service evolves.
NPD communications chief David Riley commented, “This is a closed service, the detailed data is only available to participants so if you’re a non-participating publisher you cannot see the data. The fact that we’re allowed to go out with something for the media is a huge step in the right direction. I think as the service matures and as the publishers get used to it and we get more on board, we have more history, we do some benchmarking, we can provide that, but what we wanted to do for multiple reasons, including appeasing the publishers was to combine full-game physical with full-game digital, keep away from the DLC, keep PC games separate because that’s a whole different ball of wax. It’s not comprehensive, but it’s the most comprehensive, we’re the first in the market to track this and we’re sort of very cautious.”
He added, “I expect a good old slamming from the industry press because of the limitations here but what we don’t want to do is open ourselves up by separating it at this time. We’ve just opened the gates right now. Just as you’ve seen a withdrawal [of data] on the physical side – we used to give units – this is sort of going to be the reverse I’m hoping and we can provide more over time.”
Working with the publishers is great, but there are numerous digitally released titles from indies which make up a growing piece of the industry pie. Will the service grow to track those titles too? “Indies are a big part of the industry in terms of their innovation and I think when I talk about our projection methodology and assets at NPD, that is part of how we can track everything, not just for publishers, including indie games and everything that’s outside the panel right now,” Callahan said.
“Some of those smaller games are published through a publisher or first-party so there are ways to get some of those with our publisher-sourced methodology, and otherwise we’re approaching it with developing a robust projection methodology. That’s certainly part of our plan, we’re not going to ignore the indie piece.”
In our previous conversations with NPD, the firm had hinted at possibly working towards the goal of global digital reports. That’s not off the table, but it’s not a focus at the moment. “US is our core competency… our vision is to expand this as much as we can in a way that makes sense for our partners. If that’s global that may be what we pursue. But we also want to do the best job that we can in projecting for the market and recruiting as many publishers as we can,” Callahan concluded.
According to a post by USA Today, the Los Angeles area retailer began selling the Samsung UBDK8500 on February 5th for $397.99. The device is available in-store only, so we are expecting locals to rush in over the weekend and grab the player quickly as retailers are not expected to begin selling them for another few weeks.
In January, we wrote that Samsung’s UBDK8500 would begin arriving early to New York City-based Internet retailer B&H Photo Video as well as Crutchfield.com. Both sites are currently taking preorders for $399 and are expected to have stock on February 15th and February 17th, respectively.
For the initial public launch, 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray players are expected to be in high demand and limited supply as there will only be three options to choose from – the Samsung UBDK8500, the Philips BDP7501, and the Panasonic DMP-UB900.
We have asked Samsung if the company plans to release any 4K Ultra HD BD-ROM drives for PC, as we expect these to be a much better value-per-dollar than the standalone home entertainment players mentioned above. Unfortunately, the company says it cannot comment at this time.
In the early 70s and continuing into the 1980s, many children and parents growing up in the era of economic upheaval and the early dawning of globalization remember a time when Video Home Cassette (VHS) tapes rapidly became a common household item for their ease of use as a television recording and playback method. This time was not without competition between two major standards – namely Sony’s Betamax and JVCs Video Home System (VHS), the latter which eventually won the first format war despite being introduced one year after its rival and having less sophistication in terms of recording quality.
During the timeframe between 1982 when Philips and Sony commercialized the Compact Disc (CD) format to the mid-1990s when personal computer manufacturers and software developers began massive adoption of the CD-ROM standard for data storage, the CE industry was looking for a way to distribute digital video over an effective disc format to replace VHS that would serve two major purposes – being more cost-effective than LaserDiscs, and containing the ability to prevent unauthorized recordings (unlike Video CDs).
After several years of research in the early 1990s and the industry’s promise of avoiding another format war between two new optical disc formats – the Multimedia Compact Disc (MMCD) and the Super Density (SD) disc, the Digital Versatile Disc (DVD) standard was agreed upon. The DVD format went on sale in Japan in 1995, in the United States in 1997, in Europe in 1998 and in Australia in 1999.
The format enjoys a 1x playback speed of 10.5 Mbit/s and was originally offered in a 4.7GB single-layer capacity. In 2003, the double-layer format was launched and doubled capacity to 8.5GB.
Roughly ten years later, the first Blu-ray Disc titles were released on June 20, 2006 and included 50 First Dates, The Fifth Element, Hitch, House of Flying Daggers, Twister, Underworld: Evolution, xXx and The Terminator. The new 1080p Full HD format’s initial launch was predominantly helped by the launch of Sony’s PlayStation 3 in November 2006, selling just over 6 million console units worldwide in its first year on the market. The format wasn’t without competition, however, sparking the beginning of a second format war for the first time in three decades, this time between Blu-ray Disc and High Definition (HD) DVD. It was in February 2008 that one of HD-DVD’s main partners, Toshiba, announced that it would stop the development of HD-DVD players. This factor, along with a heavy lift in market share from PS3 sales, ultimately conceded the war to the Blu-ray disc format.
The Blu-ray Disc format originally launched with 25GB single-layer and 50GB dual-layer disc capacities, later upgrading to 100GB and 128GB with the BDXL format in June 2010. The PS3 features a 2x BD-ROM Blu-ray read speed at just 72Mbit/s. The 2x read speed was most likely chosen by Sony to save on console production costs, as the minimum required data transfer rate for Blu-ray disc movie playback is 54Mbit/s.
Once again, ten years after the launch of the 1080p Blu-ray Disc format we now have the 2160p Ultra HD Blu-ray Disc format in its place. On May 12, 2015, the Blu-ray Disc Association announced completed specifications and the official Ultra HD Blu-ray logo.
The initial 4K Blu-ray specification allows for three size densities – 50GB single layer, 66GB dual-layer and 100GB triple-layer each with 82Mbit/s, 108Mbit/s and 128Mbit/s data read speeds, respectively.
The new UHD 4K Blu-ray specification also moves from H.264 / AVC compression technology to the newer H.265 / HEVC (High Efficiency Video Coding) technology, allowing for noticeably more efficient data compression – about 25 percent to 35 percent lower bit rates – without any loss in image quality across a given data transfer speed.
Marvell today announced its integrated dual port 100 Gigabits per second (Gbps) Ethernet PHY transceiver based around the IEEE 802.3bj standard.
Dubbed the Alaska C 88X5121 transceiver, Marvell claims it performs all physical layer functions required to drive 100Gbps Ethernet over a variety of media including optics, backplanes and passive copper cables.
The transceiver also supports 25 Gigabit Ethernet (GbE) applications, as well as non-Ethernet applications such as Fibre Channel. The Marvell Alaska 88X5121 currently is sampling to Marvell’s global customers.
Michael Zimmerman, Vice President and General Manager, Connectivity, Storage and Infrastructure (CSI) BU, Marvell said that there was huge transitions in the technology from 10GbE to 25GbE and 40GbE to 100GbE.
“Marvell’s 88X5121 transceiver provides a standards-compliant PHY solution that’s required to enable this transition in datacentres. The 88X5121 builds on Marvell’s legacy of providing best-in-class features that enable customers to expand their Ethernet applications across a broad range of applications and implementations.”
Analyst outfit Dell’Oro Group said that cloud providers are entering an expansion and mega-upgrade cycle, driven by increased demand for capacity and aging infrastructure, that will be served by 25 Gbps server technology and 100 Gbps switch technology.
The gear is made using 28nm lithography, in a 17mm by 17mm package footprint. This allows QSFP28-based high density 100GbE and 25GbE line card designs.
The line interface of the 88X5121 is fully compliant to the IEEE 802.3bj standard that defines the physical layer specifications for 100Gbps Ethernet transmission over backplanes and copper cables.
It supports Reed-Solomon Forward Error Correction (FEC) function required for 100G-CR4 and 100G SR4 operation, as well as auto-negotiation and coefficient training protocol required by the IEEE 802.3 standards.
The 88X5121 connects to a MAC or switch on its host interface over a 4x25Gbps CAUI-4 link. The transmit drive and receiver equalization capabilities of the host interface are compliant to OIF CEI-25G LR specifications, significantly exceeding CAUI-4 requirements.
On the line interface, the device supports a variety of media types including single mode and multimode optical modules, passive and active copper direct attach cables and copper backplanes.
For applications not requiring the FEC functionality, the device also supports a low latency repeater mode where the functionalities associated with the Physical Coding Sublayer (PCS) and FEC are bypassed. In the repeater mode, the device can be used to drive backplanes and cables for non-Ethernet traffic types such as OTN and Fibre Channel. The eight lanes of the device can operate independent of the others in this mode, enabling simultaneous support for multiple standards. The 88X5121 wide band of operation (from 1.25Gbps to 28.05Gbps) supports a wide variety of standards and rates.
Hideo Kojima has left the building. The New Yorker has confirmed that the famous game creator’s last day at Konami has come and gone, with a farewell party attended by colleagues from within and without the country – but not, notably, by Konami’s top brass. Only a couple of months after his latest game, Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain, clocked up the most commercially successful opening day’s sales of any media product in 2015, Kojima has left a studio facing shutdown – its extraordinary technology effectively abandoned, its talent scattered, seemingly unwanted, by a company whose abusive and aggressive treatment of its staff has now entered the annals of industry legend.
It’s not exaggerating to say that an era came to a close as Kojima walked out the door of the studio that bore his name for the last time. For all of Konami’s the-lady-doth-protest-too-much claims that it’s not abandoning the console market, actions matter far more than PR-moderated words, and shutting down your most famous studio, severing ties with your most successful creator in the process, is an action that shouts from the rooftops. Still, there’s some truth to Konami’s statements; it’s unlikely to abandon the console versions of Winning Eleven / Pro Evolution Soccer, or of Power Pro Baseball, any time soon, though more and more of the firm’s focus will be on the mobile incarnations of those franchises. The big, expensive, risky and crowd-pleasing AAA titles, though? Those are dead in the water. Metal Gear Solid, Silent Hill (whose reincarnation, with acclaimed horror director Guillermo del Toro teaming up with Kojima at the helm, is a casualty of this change of focus), Suikoden, Castlevania, Contra… Any AAA title in those franchises from now on will almost certainly be the result of a licensing deal, not a Konami game.
One can criticise the company endlessly for how this transition has been handled; Konami has shown nigh-on endless disrespect and contempt for its creative staff and, Kojima himself aside, for talented, loyal workers who have stuck by the firm for years if not decades. It richly deserves every brickbat it’s getting for how unprofessionally and unpleasantly it’s dealt with the present situation. It’s much, much harder to criticise the company for the broader strokes of the decisions being made. Mobile games based on F2P models are enormous in Japan, not just with casual players but with the core audience that used to consume console games. The transition to the “mid-core” that mobile companies talk about in western territories is a reality in Japan, and has been for years; impressively deep, complex and involved games boast startling player numbers and vastly higher revenue-per-user figures than most western mobile games could even dream of. Konami, like a lot of other companies, probably expects that western markets will follow the same path, and sees a focus on Japan’s mobile space today as a reasonable long-term strategy that will position it well for tomorrow’s mobile space in the west.
Mobile is the right business to be in if you’re a major publisher in Japan right now. It’s where the audience has gone, it’s where the revenues are coming from, and almost all of the cost of a mobile hit is marketing, not development. Look at this from a business perspective; if you want to develop a game on the scale of Metal Gear Solid V, you have to sink tens of millions of dollars (the oft-cited figure for MGSV is $80 million) into it before it’s even ready to be promoted and sold to consumers. That’s an enormous, terrifying risk profile; while the studio next door is working on mobile games that cost a fraction of that money to get ready for launch, with the bulk of the spend being in marketing and post-launch development, which can be stemmed rapidly if the game is underperforming badly. Sure, mobile games are risky as all hell and nobody really knows what the parameters for success and failure are just yet, but with the time and money taken to make a Metal Gear Solid, you can throw ten, twenty or thirty mobile games at the wall and see which one sticks. The logic is compelling, whether you like the outcome or not.
Here’s what nobody, honestly, wants to hear – that logic isn’t just compelling for Konami. Other Japanese publishers are perhaps being more circumspect about their transitions, but don’t kid yourself; those transitions are happening, and Konami will not be the last of the famous old publishers to excuse itself and slip away from the console market entirely. When Square Enix surveys the tortured, vastly expensive and time-consuming development process of its still-unfinished white elephant Final Fantasy XV, and then looks at the startling success it’s enjoyed with games like Final Fantasy Record Keeper or Heavenstrike Rivals on mobile, what thoughts do you think run through the heads of its executives and managers? Do you think Sega hasn’t noticed that its classic franchises are mostly critically eviscerated when they turn up as AAA console releases, but perform very solidly as mobile titles? Has Namco Bandai, a firm increasingly tightly focused on delivering tie-in videogames for Bandai’s media franchises, not noticed the disparity between costs and earnings on its console games as against its mobile titles? And haven’t all of these, and others besides, looked across from their TGS stands to see the gigantic, expensive, airship-adorned stands of games like mobile RPG GranBlue Fantasy and thought, “we’re in the wrong line of work”?
Kojima isn’t the first significant Japanese developer to walk out of a publisher that no longer wants his kind of game – but he’s the most significant thus far, and he’s certainly not going to be the last. The change that’s sweeping through the Japanese industry now is accelerating as traditional game companies react to the emergence of upstarts grabbing huge slices of market share; DeNA and Gree were only the first wave, followed now by the likes of GungHo, CyGames, Mixi and Colopl. If you’re an executive at a Japanese publisher right now, you probably feel like your company is already behind the curve. You’ve studied plenty of cases in business school in which dominant companies who appeared unassailable ended up disappearing entirely as newcomers took the lion’s share of an emerging market whose importance wasn’t recognised by the old firms until it was too late. You go home every evening (probably around midnight – it’s a Japanese company, after all) and eat your microwave dinner in front of TV shows whose ad breaks are packed with expensive commercials for mobile games from companies that hadn’t even appeared on your radar until a year or two ago, and none from the companies you’d always considered the “key players” in the industry. You’re more than a little bit scared, and you really, really want your company to be up to speed in mobile, like, yesterday – even if that means bulldozing what you’re doing on console in the process.
This is not entirely a bleak picture for fans of console-style games. Japanese mobile games really are pushing more and more towards mid-core and even hardcore experiences which, though the monetisation model may be a little uncomfortable, are very satisfying for most gamers; the evolution of those kinds of games in the coming years will be interesting to watch. Still, it will be a very long time before there’s a mobile Metal Gear Solid or a mobile Silent Hill; some experiences just don’t make sense in the context of mobile gaming, and there is a great deal of justification to the fears of gamers that this kind of game is threatened by the transition we’re seeing right now.
I would offer up two potential silver linings. The first is that not all companies are in a position to break away from console (and PC) development quite as dramatically as Konami has done. Sega, for example, is tied to those markets not least by its significant (and very successful) investments in overseas development studios, many of which have come about under the auspices of the firm’s overseas offices. Square Enix is in a similar position due to its ownership of the old Eidos studios and franchises, along with other western properties. Besides, despite the seemingly permanent state of crisis surrounding Final Fantasy XV, the firm likely recognises that the Final Fantasy franchise requires occasional major, high-profile console releases to keep it relevant, even if much of its profit is found in nostalgic retreads of past glories. Capcom, meanwhile, is deeply wedded to console development – it’s a much smaller company than the others and perhaps more content to stick to what it knows and does well, even if console ends up as a (large) niche market. (Having said that, if a mobile version of Monster Hunter springs to the top of the App Store charts, all bets are probably off.)
“Hideo Kojima left Konami because he wants to make a style of game that doesn’t fit on mobile F2P – and that’s, in the long run, probably a good thing”
The other silver lining is perhaps more substantial and less like cold comfort. Hideo Kojima left Konami because he wants to make a style of game that doesn’t fit on mobile F2P – and that’s, in the long run, probably a good thing. He joins a slow but steady exodus of talent from major Japanese studios over the past five years or more. The kind of games which people like Kojima – deeply involved with and influenced by literature, film and critical theory – want to make don’t fit with publishers terribly well any more, but that doesn’t mean those people have to stop making those games. It just means they have to find a new place to make them and a new way to fund them. Kojima’s non-compete with Konami supposedly ends in a few months and then I suspect we’ll hear more about what he plans; but plenty of former star developers from publishers’ internal studios have ended up creating their own independent studios and funding themselves either through publisher deals or, more recently, through crowdfunding. Konami’s never likely to make another game like Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, but that doesn’t stop Koji Igarashi from putting Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night on Kickstarter. Sega knocked Shenmue on the head, but a combination of Sony and Kickstarter has sent Yu Suzuki back to work on the franchise. Keiji Inafune also combined crowdfunding money with publisher funding for Mighty No. 9. Perhaps the most famous and successful of all breakaways from the traditional publishing world, though, is of a very different kind; Platinum Games, which has worked with many of the world’s top publishers in recent years while retaining its independence, is largely made up of veterans of Capcom’s internal studios.
Whichever of those avenues Kojima ends up following – the project-funding style approach of combining crowdfunding and publisher investment, or the Platinum Games approach of founding a studio and working for multiple publishers – there is no question of him walking away from making the kind of games he loves. Not every developer has his sway, of course, and many will probably end up working on mobile titles regardless of personal preference – but the creation of Japanese-style console and PC games isn’t about to end just because publishers are falling over themselves to transition to mobile. As long as the creators want to make this kind of game, and enough consumers are willing to pay for them (or even to fund their development), there’s a market and its demands will be filled. The words “A Hideo Kojima Game” will never appear on the front of a Konami title again; but they’ll appear somewhere, and that’s what’s truly important in the final analysis.
If Hideo Kojima really is on the outs at Konami, he’s at least going out with a bang. The embargo for Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain coverage hit last night, and the first batch of reviews are glowing.
IGN’s Vince Ingenito gave the game a 10 out of 10, lavishing praise on the way it adapted the series’ stealth-action formula to an open-world environment.
“Right from the moment you’re told to get on your horse and explore the Afghan countryside, Phantom Pain feels intimidating, almost overwhelming in terms of the freedom its open world affords and the number of concepts it expects you to grasp,” Ingenito said. “It’s almost too much, especially given the relative linearity of previous Metal Gears. But what initially appeared to be an overly dense tangle of features to fiddle with instead unraveled into a well-integrated set of meaningful gameplay systems that provided me with a wealth of interesting decisions to make.”
Whether players choose to sneak their way to victory or go in guns blazing, The Phantom Pain affords them a number of avenues to do so. The game’s day/night cycle and changing weather systems can make certain strategies viable (or not) at any given time. At the same time, a private army management meta-game lets players raid battlefields for resources and new recruits, which can then be put to use researching new technologies or using their skills to open up a variety of other strategic alternatives.
However, a perfect score doesn’t mean a perfect game, and Ingenito does identify at least one weak point in the game.
It’s a somewhat surprising criticism of the game, given Metal Gear Solid 4’s penchant for frequent and extended cutscenes larding the action with exposition and plot twists. While The Phantom Pain shows flashes of that approach (Ingenito noted the “spectacular” opening sequence), it ultimately produces a narrative he found “rushed and unsatisfying.”
Obviously, that failing was not enough to tarnish an otherwise fantastic game in Ingenito’s eyes.
“There have certainly been sandbox action games that have given me a bigger world to roam, or more little icons to chase on my minimap, but none have pushed me to plan, adapt, and improvise the way this one does,” he said. “Metal Gear Solid 5: The Phantom Pain doesn’t just respect my intelligence as a player, it expects it of me, putting it in a league that few others occupy.”
GameSpot’s Peter Brown likewise gave the game a 10 and praised its adaptable approach to missions, but enjoyed the story considerably more than his counterpart at IGN.
“After dozens of hours sneaking in the dirt, choking out enemies in silence, and bantering with madmen who wish to cleanse the world, The Phantom Pain delivers an impactful finale befitting the journey that preceded it,” Brown said. “It punches you in the gut and tears open your heart. The high-caliber cutscenes, filled with breathtaking shots and rousing speeches, tease you along the way. Your fight in the vast, beautiful, and dangerous open world gives you a sense of purpose. The story is dished out in morsels, so you’ll have to work for the full meal, but it’s hard to call it ‘work’ when controlling Big Boss feels so good, with so many possibilities at your fingertips.”
Brown said prior knowledge of the series isn’t a prerequisite to enjoying The Phantom Pain, but added that “Fans of the series will find their diligence rewarded in ways that newcomers can’t begin to imagine.” They’ll also, in his estimation, be enjoying the pinnacle of the franchise.
“There has never been a game in the series with such depth to its gameplay, or so much volume in content,” Brown said. “The best elements from the past games are here, and the new open-world gameplay adds more to love on top. When it comes to storytelling, there has never been a Metal Gear game that’s so consistent in tone, daring in subject matter, and so captivating in presentation. The Phantom Pain may be a contender for one of the best action games ever made, but is undoubtedly the best Metal Gear game there is.”
Eurogamer hasn’t published its full review yet, but Matt Wales weighed in with his impressions to date. Like Brown and Ingenito, Wales underscored the narrative approach as a major departure for the series.
“Beyond an outlandish, action-packed opening sequence… The Phantom Pain is a remarkably economical affair, telling its tale of ’80s cold war subterfuge through snatches of radio dialogue (courtesy of Ocelot), and the occasional return to Mother Base between missions,” Wales said. “It’s fascinating to see such restraint from Kojima, a man well known for his self-indulgence and excess, especially considering that The Phantom Pain is likely his Metal Gear swan song.”
On the gameplay side, Wales said The Phantom Pain “isn’t exactly a radical reinvention of the stealth genre,” but acknowledged the increased freedom players are given to accomplish the familiar assortment of objectives.
“Metal Gear Solid 5’s open world might not be vast, varied or stuffed full of things to do, but it’s a place of constant movement,” Wales said. “Night falls, day breaks, sandstorms sweep in, patrols come and go – and this organic sense of life means that missions are never predictable (no matter how often you play them) with tactical possibilities arising all the time. It’s a game of planning and reacting in a world that refuses to stand still, making every minute matter and every success feel earned.”
“The gameplay, storytelling, and protagonists in Metal Gear may shift with each new installment, but Kojima’s ability to surprise and enthrall gamers remains unchanged.”
He also applauded the way The Phantom Pain managed to adopt an open-world design without the genre’s standard glut of padding.
“[E]verything you do feels meaningful and consequential,” Wales said. “Guard posts and roaming patrols aren’t simply there for colour as you traverse the world: one careless move into hostile territory and every single enemy on the map will know you’re coming, with more search parties and increased security radically altering the way a mission unfolds. And while other games tout choice and consequence as a headline feature, the Phantom Pain just gets on with it. Even the smallest action can have unexpected consequences – some significant and others barely perceptible.”
Game Informer’s Joe Juba gave the game a 9.25, currently one of the lowest scores the game has received on Metacritic (where it has a 95 average based on 15 critic reviews). Like some of the above reviewers, Juba was a bit disappointed at The Phantom Pain’s approach to storytelling, but noted that having the narrative take a step in to the background puts the focus on the game’s strongest point, its open-ended gameplay.
“A series can’t survive this long without evolving, and The Phantom Pain is a testament to the importance of taking risks,” Juba said. “An open world, a customizable base, a variable mission structure – these are not traditional aspects of Metal Gear, but they are what makes The Phantom Pain such an exceptional game. The gameplay, storytelling, and protagonists in Metal Gear may shift with each new installment, but Kojima’s ability to surprise and enthrall gamers remains unchanged.”
It just announced a new octa-core ARM Cortex A53 chip with rather strange name, 5-mode 4G LTE ARMADA mobile PXA1936 SoC.
The chip supports 5-mode LTE and the eight A53 cores are clocked at up to 1.5 GHz. The SoC supports 1080p displays, as well as high-def video encoding and decoding, while the improved image processor supports cameras between 13 and 16 megapixels.
Marvell claims that it has an enhanced security processor as well as advanced power management and audio codec. Marvell’s ARMADA Mobile PXA1936 supports both LP-DDR2 and DDR3, eMMC storage, WiFi, Bluetooth, FM, GPS, SOIO and the 5-mode 4G LTE.
The company also announced ARMADA Mobile PXA1908 quad-core, with A53 cores running at up to 1.2GHz. This is a cheaper 5-mode LTE chip. It also has 8 to 13 megapixel camera and 720p displays and it is meant to attack the Moto G market usually powered by Mediatek SoCs or Qualcomm Snapdragon 400 parts.
We don’t think that it will be the fastest solution around, but we hope to see this chip in some important designs. The company claims that we should see the ARMADA Mobile PXA1936 shipping in early 2015.
Support for a union among game developers has grown, according to survey results released today by the International Game Developers Association. The group today announced the result of its Developers Satisfaction Survey from earlier this year, which found that more than half of respondents were in favor of unionization.
Of the more than 2,200 developers surveyed, 56 percent said yes when asked if they would vote to form a national union of game developers in their own countries today. That’s up from the group’s 2009 Quality of Life Survey, where just 35 percent of more than 3,300 developers said they would vote in favor of unionizing at that time.
As for whether the IGDA was considering a move in that direction, the group’s executive director Kate Edwards dismissed the notion.
“For the IGDA, we will always be a professional association,” Edwards told GamesIndustry International. “That’s what we exist for, and what we’ll always be. But if we are seeing that developers feel unionization is what they perceive to be a solution, then that’s something we’re going to pay attention to and see where it goes for them.”
“When we asked people how many jobs they’d had in the last five years and the average number was four, that was pretty eye-opening for us.”
IGDA head Kate Edwards
The survey also yielded new findings on gender diversity. While the group determined that men still “dominate” the industry, it isn’t to the same degree as before. The IGDA found 22 percent of respondents identified as female, up from 11.5 percent in 2009. Additionally, the 2009 survey only included “male” and “female” designations; this year’s poll found 2 percent of respondents identifying as male-to-female transgender, male-to female transgender or “other.”
Edwards also found responses on the lack of job security in the industry notable, if not exactly surprising.
“When we asked people how many jobs they’d had in the last five years and the average number was four, that was pretty eye-opening for us,” Edwards said. “But I do think it basically confirms what a lot of us have sort of known and have been hearing anecdotally for a while now.”
The Developers Satisfaction Survey also polled people on their salary, and found that nearly half of developers earn less than $50,000 annually. That stands in stark contrast to the Gamasutra annual Game Developer Salary Survey, which found that last year the average developer made more than $84,000, with QA being the only discipline with a sub-$50,000 average salary (and even that was a little shy of $49,000). Edwards chalked the difference up to a high percentage of the IGDA survey respondents who identified themselves as independent developers, saying they were likely working in freelance or start-up capacities.
A little less than two-thirds of respondents (61 percent) said they planned to work in games indefinitely. Of those who saw themselves leaving at some point, the most frequently given reason (39 percent) was a desire for a better quality of life.
The IGDA will release a summary report of the survey next month, followed up by reports focusing on specific topics within the survey, like diversity, quality of life, and employment practices. The group has said it will use the findings to help identify what its members care about and prioritize its initiatives and advocacy efforts around those subjects. To keep up with members’ needs as they change, the IGDA is planning the Developer Satisfaction Survey as an annual exercise.
Intel has announced a new family of products aimed at the automotive industry. Intel’s platform is designed for entertainment, navigation and there are some “smartcar” features, too.
The first product is basically a board with an Intel processor on top, but its real value is in the software, not hardware. Intel is developing a Linux-based environment for auto applications and it does not appear to have much in common with Intel’s previous efforts in the field. Intel’s extensive experience in bringing new x86 platforms to market and backing them with the necessary software is unmatched. In addition, Intel should have no problem offering support for a wide range of software platforms down the road.
Significant investment, potentially huge market
Intel Capital started making significant investments in the automotive space two years ago, with the creation of the Intel Capital Connected Car Fund, a $100 million fund tasked with accelerating development in the automotive niche.
The automotive infotainment market is growing at a healthy rate. There is no consensus on the CAGR, but most research firms put it in double digit territory. Growth is picking up, too. GSMA believes the market will grow threefold in just five years, eventually hitting $38 billion by 2018.
The automotive niche is getting a lot of attention from leading chipmakers such as Texas Instruments and Nvidia. In fact, Nvidia is in the process of reshaping its SoC strategy to better tap this market, shifting focus away from smartphones in the process.
The mobile market is overheating and growth is slowing down. As a result new niches such as wearables, IoT, home automation and automotive platforms are attracting more investment.
Speeding up time-to-market
Intel is touting speed as its key differentiator. The chipmaker believes it can drastically reduce infotainment development time, allowing carmakers to bring their solutions to market faster than the competition. Intel claims it can reduce development time by more than a year and cut costs by as much as 50 percent.
It is not just about music and navigation. Smart cars are the next big step and Intel wants to be a part of the self-driving car revolution.
“Our goal is to fuel the evolution from convenience features available in the car today to enhanced safety features of tomorrow and eventually self-driving capabilities,” said Doug Davis, Intel VP, IoT group.
In spite of the mobile boom witnessed over the past decade, most cars in showrooms today are ‘dumb’, not to mention older vehicles on the road. It is not just about making parallel parking a breeze. Smart automotive platforms promise to deliver huge improvements in terms of efficiency and safety. Convenience is just one small part of the puzzle.
In a new financial forecast, Sony has warned of heavy losses primarily due to its exit from the PC business and because “demand for physical media [is] contracting faster than anticipated.”
In two weeks, Sony will announce its financial results. The company expects to post a net loss.
A report released earlier this year by Generator Research showed revenue from DVD and Blu-ray sales will likely decrease by 38% over the next four years.
By comparison, online movie revenue is expected to grow 260% from $3.5 billion this year to $12.7 billion in 2018, the report states.
“Movie producers have little to fear from online distribution in the long term,” Generator Research said. “It is the distribution part of the movie business that should be worried, because online distribution will replace a sizable portion of their current industry.”
Paul Gray, director of TV Electronics & Europe TV Research at market research firm DisplaySearch, said consumers are now accustomed to the instant availability of online media, and “the idea of buying a physical copy seems quaint if you’re under 25.”
“Furthermore, e-tail has hollowed out the retail structure so that it’s largely [just the] latest titles in supermarkets. I suspect they are almost a gift format now,” Gray said.
About to put even more pressure on physical disc formats, Gray said, is the High Efficiency Video Coding (HEVC) video compression standard, which doubles the amount of data that can currently be streamed while keeping the “high-definition” format. HEVC can support 8K Ultra-High Definition content with resolutions up to 8192×4320.
The Blu-ray Disc format simply never hit the market levels of the DVD format, which dominated the home entertainment landscape in 2004 with $21.9 billion in sales representing a whopping 96% of home entertainment spending.
Since that peak, optical disc sales have plummeted by about 30%, according to the Digital Entertainment Group. Surprisingly, DVDs still have respectable sales figures, driven mainly by kiosk-style rental machines such as Redbox.
It is starting to look like chip makers are having cold feet about moving to the next technology for chipmaking. Fabricating chips on larger silicon wafers is the latest cycle in a transition, but according to the Wall Street Journal chipmakers are mothballing their plans.
Companies have to make massive upfront outlays for plants and equipment and they are refusing, because the latest change could boost the cost of a single high-volume factory to as much as $10 billion from around $4 billion. Some companies have been reining in their investments, raising fears the equipment needed to produce the new chips might be delayed for a year or more.
ASML, a maker of key machines used to define features on chips, recently said it had “paused” development of gear designed to work with the larger wafers. Intel said it has slowed some payments to the Netherlands-based company under a deal to help develop the technology.
Gary Dickerson, chief executive of Applied Materials said that the move to larger wafers “has definitely been pushed out from a timing standpoint”
Named the Archival Disc, it will have the same dimensions as Blu-ray discs and will also be readable for at least 50 years.
The disc will have three layers per side. It’s expected to hit the market in 2015, with the initial capacity later expanded to 500GB and then 1TB.
The higher capacities will be achieved through signal-processing technologies including multi-level recording technology, the companies said.
Sony and Panasonic are pushing the optical discs for cloud service companies and archival services amid the explosion in online data. The companies will market the discs separately under their brands.
“As a type of archival media, optical discs have numerous advantages over current mainstream HDD and tape media, such as their ability to be stored for a long time while still maintaining readability,” a Panasonic spokesman said. “We hope to develop demand for archives that use optical discs.”
The discs do not need a special storage environment with constant temperature or humidity and do not require air conditioning, the spokesman said, adding that users can also benefit from reduced power consumption compared to using linear tape-open technology (LTO), a magnetic tape storage format.
While LTO cartridges have greater capacity, typical lifetimes can be a lot less than the 50 years for optical discs. HP’s LTO-5 Ultrium 3TB cartridges, for instance, are warranted to last 30 years.
Hard drives can have even shorter shelf lives. Failure rates in one study were at nearly 12 percent after three years.
Sony and Panasonic said that as optical disc formats evolve, inter-generational compatibility ensures that older discs can still be read by corporate storage systems. However, the companies are not positioning the discs as a medium for consumer storage.
“The development is specifically for professional archiving,” the Panasonic spokesman said. “We are not currently considering optical discs for household consumer use.”
Marvell reported a more-than-expected 112 percent rise in profit, helped by strong demand from storage and networking companies, and said it expected its mobile business to pick up in the current quarter.
Marvell forecast first-quarter revenue between $870 and $910 million, which is above what the cocaine nose jobs of Wall Street predicted. Chief Executive Sehat Sutardja said that in his company’s first quarter, he was expecting some revenue and unit growth for our 4G LTE mobile platform from multiple customers. Marvell said results were not so hot in the mobile business in the fourth quarter as some customers delayed product launches.
The company, which also makes communications and processor products used in mobile phones, said net income doubled to $106.6 million, or 21 cents per share, in the quarter ended February 1 from $50.2 million, or 9 cents per share, a year earlier.
Revenue rose to $931.7 million, beating analysts’ estimate of $901.1 million.
Marvell’s biggest customer is Western Digital which reported better-than-expected quarterly results in January, citing strength in its gaming and notebook business.
Sony has promised to have “substantial” resupplies of the PlayStation 4 before the end of the year, but has given no indication as to what qualifies as substantial. Wedbush analyst Michael Pachter has stepped in to fill that information void, telling investors in a note this morning that he believes Sony is making PS4s at the rate of a million systems per month.
Pachter followed up on Sony’s announcement today that it had sold 2.1 million systems worldwide, saying that number fits well with previous estimates that Sony began manufacturing PS4s for retail on September 1, and that it faces a gap of up to three weeks from a system’s creation to the time it arrives on shelves.
“We expect Sony to continue to ship 1 million consoles per month, so as of the end of January, we believe Sony will have manufactured a cumulative 5 million consoles and will have shipped 4.25 – 4.5 million,” Pachter said. “We expect the 55 percent allocation to North America to continue through January, and then revert to a more normalized 40 percent of units once Sony launches in Japan and other countries. We think that Microsoft is on a similar production schedule, with similar allocations to North America.”
Pachter added that specialty retailer GameStop has been receiving roughly half of the systems shipped to North America, and that it will continue to take up that share of the allocations through December. In the New Year, Pachter expects the company’s share to be dialed back to a “more customary” 30 percent.
If the shipment projections are accurate, the PS4 would be more than holding up its part of publishers’ predictions that Sony and Microsoft would combine to ship 10 million units of their new systems by the end of March.