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XBOX, On: Life with the Xbox One

The Xbox One: Day One Edition

The Xbox One: Day One Edition

Last week I gave you some early impressions of the PlayStation 4, this week I’m here with the Xbox One. I had no intention of buying this box so soon, but my impulses got the better of me. So here we are. The Xbox One is the most ambitious product Microsoft has put out in a long time. Microsoft has been beat to a lot of markets, most prominently the smartphone and tablet markets, and they’re aggressively trying to make sure that isn’t the case with the living room. The Xbox One is a jack of all trades device. Its part gaming system, part Roku 3, part Windows 8 machine, and large part GoogleTV. Microsoft has made a lot of the inclusion of Kinect, their secret weapon in the battle for living room supremacy. The Kinect reads faces, is always listening for your commands, and is the preferred method of navigation inside the Xbox One UI. The One is banking big on voice control being the killer app for their integrated box hoping to excel where Tivo, Google, and others have failed. Is the Xbox One the All-In-One device we have been waiting for or is it the best GoogleTV ever made?

Let’s start with the easy stuff, hardware. The Xbox One is huge. It is clear that Microsoft isn’t trying to relive the RROD nightmare that plagued the Xbox 360, there are vents everywhere. It’s almost as if Microsoft is using vents as some kind of design aesthetic. The box features a two-tone black color pattern. One side is full of gloss, the other is a more textured matte finish, very similar to the Playstation 4. However, next to the PS4 the Xbox One seems terribly lazy. The PS4 is svelte and tries to do something interesting with the black box motif, more importantly it packs the power brick INSIDE THE BOX. For as large as the Xbox One is, it still doesn’t accomplish that feat. Madness. It’s not tremendously egregious, it will blend in perfectly well with the rest of your home theater setup, just don’t expect it to win any beauty contest.

The Xbox One controller is kind of a mixed bag.

The Xbox One controller is kind of a mixed bag.

The Xbox 360 controller was wisely regarded as the best controller in gaming last gen. It was nearly perfect, great stick placement, not too big, fit well in the hand, but the DPad was awful and the battery pack bulged from the back center of the device. The Xbox One’s controller solves those two issues and also adds Impulse triggers. The triggers now have rumble motors in them and they are AWESOME. Forza Motorsport 5 is really the only game I’ve played that utilizes them, but they are integral to the experience. You can really feel the cars and gauge how much trouble you’re getting into. Microsoft has also messed with the shape and size of the unit. The new controller is flatter and narrower than the previous. It’s not so much smaller that your hands feel cramped after prolong usage, but I did find myself missing the spacious layout and feel of the DualShock 4. Like the DualShock 4, the Xbox One’s controller features a nice grippy texture though one different from the DualShock’s. Your hands just wants to stay on it, but Microsoft seems hell-bent on you leaving it down for most of the time. View full post »

Greatness Arrives: Living with the Playstation 4

It

It’s here.

It’s been 7 years since the Playstation 3 stormed into living rooms across the world. The hotly anticipated PS3 came with a lot of baggage, including a high price tag, a funky system architecture, and a woeful launch lineup. The Playstation 4 is a different beast. It is the cheaper of the next gen consoles, uses a well known x86 architecture that is more powerful than it’s competition, and it has a decent launch lineup. The Playstation 4 represents new Sony; a Sony that has an ear tuned to its audience and a seemingly insatiable desire to appease them. View full post »

Life Beyond The Box

Grand Theft Auto V has come and taken the gaming industry by storm!

Grand Theft Auto V has come and taken the gaming industry by storm!

A lot has been written about Grand Theft Auto V’s monster sales figures. The usual suspects have bloviated about what these figures mean for the entertainment industry. Lazy writers have claimed that this is a warning shot to Hollywood. “Look out movie execs! Video games are coming for your audiences!” But how much of that is true? As video games become more like the “pick your own adventure” version of Hollywood blockbusters, there seems to be more crossover than ever. You can’t scoff at 800 million dollars, and though numbers may never lie, they almost always never tell the whole story.

Let me open this by saying, GTAV’s sales figures are ridiculously impressive. The game is a masterpiece, a title only Rockstar Games could produce. For all it’s flaws, and there are many, the game is a wicked blend of artistry and technology. A showpiece for the gaming industry. Now let’s talk numbers. $800 million in 24 hours. $1 billion in three days. Roughly 17 million copies sold. For video games that is mighty impressive, but the industry and industry spectators seem hell-bent on minimizing its success. The comparisons to blockbuster film grosses are completely off kilter for a myriad of reasons. Lets start with the obvious. Average price for a movie ticket is $8.38. Variety made a big deal about this being the highest it’s ever been. Take it from the guy who recently paid $21.50 to watch GRAVITY in IMAX 3D, $8.38 is chump change. The entry-level price point, the most popular price point, for GTA V is $59.99. Now just like cinema the price can skew. There are three different editions of GTAV the standard ($59.99), special edition($79.99), and the collector’s edition($149.99). Each edition comes with various pieces of swag and in-game bonuses. We don’t have a supply breakdown, but it’s safe to assume Rockstar delivered and sold more of the standard edition. But even comparing game prices at their cheapest you see the cost dwarfs ticket prices. Even if you factor in the most expensive movie ticket and an eventual BluRay copy of the film, you still come in under the baseline price for a AAA video game. Grand Theft Auto V will certainly be the most successful video game of all time, but it’s audience is puny in size compared to cinema’s. Avatar garnished 330+ million in ticket sales, 10+ million in DVD sales, and 5+ million in Bluray (exact Bluray sales figures are impossible to come by). Why do pundits constantly feel the need to compare these two mediums? Their business models could not be more different.

The more important discussion centers around this audience size disparity. How can video games propel themselves into cinema’s wheelhouse? Streaming. Streaming has fully gripped the music industry and has one foot planted firmly in cinema’s. The game industry is the last space to crack. The limitations that hampered streaming in the movie space are exacerbated in the gaming arena. We are talking about countless bytes of data being transmitted in seconds. Latency is a killer; waiting on things to buffer isn’t an option. Services like OnLive and Gaikai–the latter of which was recently acquired by SONY–have failed. The network infrastructure isn’t there, globally, but that is changing. The change may have to happen even quicker due to a push in the movie and television business. Audiences are screen agnostic. They want to watch their content on a myriad of devices and they want to watch it whenever they want. This desire, in concert with manufacturers push for 4K, will lead to a necessary expansion in internet infrastructure and speed. This has the potential to provide gaming with the tech it needs to progress beyond the box. View full post »

The DISRUPTOR: Next Gen Communication

The DISRUPTOR Series: Technology is the wave in which society floats upon. With every ground breaking technological innovation, a slew of lifestyle changes emerge. From the clock to the smartphone, technology has never failed to bring this world to the next level. Over the next month I will examine technology’s effect on several industries and weigh the pros and cons of  technological innovation.

The Internet

The infinite sphere of the world wide web.

It’s been a while since I’ve logged an entry into The Disruptor series. Work has robbed me of precious ranting time, but I’m back with something a little different. The topic of conversation today is the web. The Internet is the great connector, sprouting strands that extend globally wrapping individuals in one unified web. Men and women have leveraged this power in unique ways revealing some beautiful and hideous shades of humanity. Anything that can be replicated digitally has been or is in the process of being so. Meet digitally, speak digitally, sex digitally, more connection through disconnection. Our reach is greatly extended but what of our communication skills? Are they better, worse, or just different? As we trade in the physical for the digital, eye contact for pixel playback, we must reflect on what we’re giving up for convenience. Is this new world all that different or are we all just paying closer attention?

I was born in October of 91′, great year if I may say so myself. It is also the beginning of the last wave of kids who grew up in the old world. The old world is full of marvelous things like coloring books and board games. The old world is full of kids riding around on their bicycle for fun, not because they live in Brooklyn. Hell Brooklyn was still Brooklyn when I was coming up. I remember going out because that’s where everyone was. No one liked being a home body, you had to fight for that extra hour in the sun. You didn’t want to miss out. Miss out on the jokes, the fights, the girls and boys. You couldn’t replicate the experience of growing up inside. How were you supposed to learn the ropes from inside your chamber of sports memorabilia and over sexed pop star posters? You weren’t, but then you did.

I remember the shift. The difference between calling your friends at the window to sending them instant messages on AIM. The transition from playing basketball across the street to playing NBA Live with your friends on Xbox Live. Quick digression, remember NBA LIVE?! I mean wow! How did EA Sports let that franchise dive off the deep end? Back on topic. Meetings changed too, now conference rooms came with flat screens with cameras attached. There was this weird app called Skype? Everything got weirder. Not as weird as they are now of course, Twitter didn’t become a thing until my senior year of high school and kids still had “dumb phones”  so there was none of that sexting funny business either. The internet became a society of its own, a heightened version of the one we lived in in the physical realm. Everything was bigger and more dramatic on the internet. It became like one large game of telephone. Gossip was more intricate and layered, details were exaggerated, so exaggerated that “pics or it didn’t happen” became a slogan. The internet had to compensate for what it lacked then and still does now, tangibility.

THE GOOD: Unity through the Spectrum

The internet’s lack of physicality isn’t off-putting to many. Love and happiness are propelled by the connectedness we share. We have never been more connected than we are today. The Internet’s first real play was putting everyone within a finger’s tap of one another. Oceans and deserts separate us no more, everyone can be reached. There are over 1,000,000,000 active members on Facebook alone. Every day friendships are formed, lovers unite, and feuds erupt over the spectrum. Men and women tired of the run around in the dating world turn to E Harmony and Match.com. Complex algorithms are now tasked with determining whether people are compatible lovers. Gamers flock to NeoGaf, IGN, and the newly established Polygon. Individuals with a taste for social causes and political chatter head to UpWorthy and…The Huffington Post? From Facebook to E Harmony from Instagram to FlickR, people are connecting and sharing themselves, their digital selves with the rest of the world. These platforms allow you to shape the world’s perception of you like never before. Unlike in the real world, if you want everyone to think you’re the best dressed person in the world, simply only upload photos of you looking your best. If you want people to think you’re a god loving saint, quote bible scripture on Facebook and upload pictures of you in your prettiest Sunday service attire. You can be, whoever you want to be. Deception is the most widely used strategy on the web, so well used in fact MTV has a whole show dedicated to people getting hoodwinked called CatFish.

The internet has provided outcasts a venue for unification. It is a safe haven for many, a portal to a new identity, a clean slate. There’s a clique for everyone… seriously everyone. While researching forums for this post I stumbled across one geared towards uniting ice chewers. I am not making this up. If you’re into some pretty weird stuff, chances are there are 1,000 other people into it too, some even dedicated enough to make a web page where you can all discuss it together. You thought the Twilight craze couldn’t go further, well you thought wrong. VampireWebsite will teach you all you need to know about the pesky night-walkers. Hell those chaps will even help you discover if you’re a vampire yourself! Good lot those Vampires I tell ya. This is just the tip of the iceberg, things get REAL WEIRD REAL FAST. Ladies, I know you like to be discreet about your sexy, but Cute Dead Guys? Really? These are just umbrella networks. There are more specific websites and forums for groups inside these wide-ranging webs. It’s truly overwhelming. Surfing the web is the biggest time sink in the world, rivaled only by Netflix television binge watching. These connections seem superficial, but sometimes grow deep and wildly beneficial. I know people who have had entire films funded by people who met in filmmaking message boards like REDUser.

The filmmaking arena in particular has been greatly improved due to the internet. Going to film school is no longer an essential aspect of becoming a successful filmmaker. Not only are the tools cheaper, but there are a slew of filmmakers willing to teach you the ropes online for free. From Philip Bloom to Vincent LaForet to the fine folks at the aptly named NoFilmSchool, the secrets behind Hollywoods trickery have been exposed for all to see. Education opportunities in general have increased due to our enhanced connectivity. Teachers, doctors, and artists have jacked in and begun sharing their knowledge across the web. From WebMD, TED, and Code Year to Vimeo, FStoppers, and DeviantArt, there are countless avenues geared to connecting likeminded individuals of all levels. You can share your work, have it critiqued and critique the works of others, and even find new clients to sell your work to on the web.

THE UGLY: Degradation of Communication

But the web has a viscously stained underbelly. Society and its dirty habits have seeped into the cracks of the network, poisoning the internet like a virus. The Internet has become a lawless playground for the shadows of the human interactivity to run rampant. With anonymity has come cowardice and hatred. Venom spewing avatars piloted by living breathing men and women who use the faceless structure of the web to terrorize other individuals. We have built new class systems for the web and there are a myriad of different hierarchies across a vast collection of social networks. Free speech, more than ever, has become a safety net for cynicism, sexism, and ignorance. As more of our conversations begin and end on the web, society’s ability to coherently communicate is at risk. The quality of conversation is being degraded by Internet culture’s inability to attack ideas and not the person delivering them. The ease of communication and the instantaneous nature of it all undermines the logical impulse to think before you hit send. It takes all of 30 seconds to write a terribly insulting tweet to your mortal enemy and ruin their mood. Is this unhappiness systemic of something that exists outside of the system of the internet? Is the harsh reality of Two Americas crippling our web relationships? Bill Maher tackled this beautifully on a recent episode of Real Time with Bill Maher.

I struggle to determine if the actions of the people are worse than they were or if it’s just a case of the broadcasting technology being stronger. Take bullying and sexual shaming for example. There have been an influx of stories about students turning to Facebook and Twitter to harass one another. This ranges from as young as middle school all the way to University. Students in the UK’s Loughborough University created a Facebook page rating their sexual partners on a scale of 1-10. People Fascinating stuff, but surely this isn’t the first time people have gotten together and gossiped about this kind of campus activity. The issue is there is no reprieve from it. The internet is a persistent world and we’re constantly jacked in. Cellphones buzz with notifications, growler notifications ease into view on your desktop. You cannot escape the web. The break tormented kids received by leaving school and coming home never happens. The bullies have so many avenues to reach their victims. There is this belief that we shouldn’t police the web. We shouldn’t demand a real name be attached to avatars. We would kill what makes the internet the internet. I don’t believe the internet is defined by anonymity, I don’t think the internet will become a worse place for the lack of it. The internet has to stop becoming a place for people to hide from accountability. If you have something reckless and hurtful to say you shouldn’t be granted to benefit of anonymity. Will this solve everything? No, but it’s a first step.

People, young and old,  have become more cynical than ever. As the established systems begin to rot and institutions we once believed in become more untrustworthy, optimism and hope are decaying. I mentioned earlier the Two Americas, something that is being written and talked about in-depth now post OWS. The gap between the haves and the have-nots is larger than it’s ever been. Our government is in bed with corporations. Pain profiteers, because it’s hard to sell a happy person more happiness. Our government spies on us, burns our freedoms, belittles our women, and is as trigger happy as Dirty Harry. We are stuck. We are traveling along the path to the future with no clear narrative. We are lost. The people in positions of power do nothing, men and women with influence use their status to promote their status. How often do you truly feel inspired by a successful entertainer or athlete? Why the hell do we turn to entertainers and athletes for inspiration anyway? We need to glorify scientists and inventors. Elon Musk is the real rockstar not Kanye West. I love Kanye, but his designer shirts won’t improve the quality of living for a single soul. It certainly won’t create jobs here or have a lasting impact on the people. You know what will? The Hyperloop. The internet and its many extensions are mirrors of the real world we live in. It is both beautiful and terrifying and our actions on it are proving to have proper consequences once we step away from it. Curing the web woes can only be solved by curing society’s. We have to raise a more culturally aware and intellectually sound people. We cannot abandon hope in some strange attempt to build toughness. We need to put our hopes in ourselves and the brilliant men and women this country has created and still can.

The DISRUPTOR: Hollywood’s Impending Implosion

The DISRUPTOR Series: Technology is the wave in which society floats upon. With every ground breaking technological innovation, a slew of lifestyle changes emerge. From the clock to the smartphone, technology has never failed to bring this world to the next level. Over the next month I will examine technology’s effect on several industries and weigh the pros and cons of  technological innovation. 

Hollywood has a Kaiju-sized problem with no real solution in sight.

A Storm’s Coming

Hollywood is about to have its day in technological reformation court. The storm is brewing in Southern Cal as studio executives scramble to monetize their product in the digital era. The collapse of the DVD market caught some insiders by surprise. When you lose half of your revenue stream with no solid replacement in sight…shit meet fan. Luckily for studios and unlucky for audiences, the international box office is booming. China is on pace to become the largest film market in the world by 2020 and they love our blockbusters. The problem is, they don’t love much else. China has Hollywood in shackles. They may have upped our export quota, but designating that all additional 14 films have to either be in IMAX or 3D makes the deal bittersweet. How do you please the homeland and abroad when one market is quickly falling out of love with what the other is enamored by? Films like Pacific Rim scream international sensation, but Americans can’t be bothered to watch—in Pacific Rim’s case it turns out NO ONE could be bothered to watch. As Obst told us all, “pre awareness is everything”. This is why you’re getting Ender’s Game and Divergent and 50 Shades of Grey. This is why Darren Aronofsky was speaking of making Noah a comic book before making it a film. You have to establish your product elsewhere before anyone at the majors will even hear you. Good thing for us up and coming folks is that there are more minor league teams than ever before and they’re becoming just as popular as the big boys. View full post »