Microsoft Is Buying Obsidian

Jason Schreier has the scoop:

Microsoft is finalizing a deal to acquire the independent development studio Obsidian Entertainment, according to three people briefed on the negotiations. We don’t know if ink is on paper yet, and plenty of major acquisition deals have fallen apart in the final hours, but those close to the companies believe it is all but done.

Obsidian’s RPGs could work very well over a streaming service.

Microsoft’s xCloud Game Streaming Disempowerment

Microsoft is making good on their E3 promises and has announced a marketing name and demonstrated their Xbox cloud gaming streaming service, xCloud in a video and news release attributed to Kareem Choudhry, their Corporate Vice President of Gaming Cloud:

Today, the games you play are very much dictated by the device you are using. Project xCloud’s state-of-the-art global game-streaming technology will offer you the freedom to play on the device you want without being locked to a particular device, empowering YOU, the gamers, to be at the center of your gaming experience.

I hate that we don’t own games today. What we “buy” to download from services like Steam, PSN, Nintendo’s eShop, or Microsoft’s store that doesn’t have a sassy marketing name, is so ephemeral.

Subscription services like PlayStation Now, Plus, and GamePass take that to another level. The second you stop paying them, every game you were enjoying with your friends, and experiencing alone or with somebody on the couch is gone.

It’s the same for Netflix, and Apple Music, and all of the other video and music streaming services.

We own nothing with these services and platforms, nothing lasts, if we can’t pay and keep paying for multiple services we don’t get to continue to enjoy creative works and participate in culture.

I can understand how it could be exciting to work on the technology behind these services, and it will enable some people to access things that they would never be able to, but the real goal is obvious and I’m not excited for it.

Microsoft, Sony, EA, everybody who already has a platform and an audience are all rushing to be the platform that gets your $10 or $15 or $20 a month and hooks you for as long as you can pay. They want to convert us from people who buy a box and a few games a year to people who are just paying them all the time for access to whatever games will work with the latency their service has.

How many services are you subscribed to? I can think of so many that my family uses: Netflix; Hulu; Apple Music; PlayStation Plus; 1PasswordiCloud storage.

Subscription services, and game streaming subscriptions in particular, are the opposite of the “empowerment” Chowdry is talking about. I don’t doubt that Microsoft will come up with a more compelling pitch when there are new games that can only work on their streaming service.

Forza Horizon 4 is a Delightful Arcade Driving Thing

I have only barely dipped my toe into Forza Horizon 4, but it’s already a fun and goofy open-world driving game just like the last few, with the notable addition of changeable seasons affecting the greater British landscape this entry takes place in.

The Horizon offshoot of the Forza series have always been odd games. I don’t really enjoy the racing aspect because I’m terrible at it. Maybe it’s because even the simulated experience differs so much from the regular-ass driving I do in reality, I don’t know. Despite that, I just turn the game down into easy mode and love blasting through town and country hunting for bonus boards to knock down, hidden barn finds, and the absolute thrill that is the missions the game puts you on. The missions have specific goals that sometimes, and the most fun times, turn the game into an almost Tony Hawk Pro Skater-like experience and attempt to get a high score in flipping your car over five hundred times. It’s the only game I’ve ever played where I can spend an hour flying around a construction site and not make any progress but still have had great fun.

The cars are all well rendered and beautiful, I play on my desktop computer or streamed to the TV for big screen car drivin’.

Horizon 4 also includes real-time multiplayer in addition to the Drivatar ghost cars that populate your game and races with your Xbox friends in addition to randos.

It also still has the silly customizable skins you can download or create that can turn your ride into An Anime car or apply a livery full of advertising from your favorite race-mobile as-seen-on-TV.

Perhaps the most ridiculous new thing in Horizon 4 is the addition of unlockable dances for your avatar that appear before a race, after a race, and most ridiculously, whenever you find a vista in the game and you’re offered the chance to stand on or about it and dance.

The one change that is a little concerning is that I understand you can’t just download a new tuning for your car on the fly. That little bit in Horizon 3 let you turn a mediocre cheap ride into something approaching a supercar just before a race.

Keza MacDonald was moved by the seasons while reviewing Horizon 4:

The game even turns our weather into something beautiful. As the seasons change, so does the climate and the nature of the light, along with the driving conditions. Edinburgh’s New Town shimmers in pale spring sunshine, and in winter the snow in the Highlands sucks all the light out of the sky. The cottages in Ambleside are prettiest in the summer, when the trees are so bracingly green you can almost smell them. If you have a 4K television, this is what it was made for. Now and then, such as the first time I drove past Edinburgh Castle in the perfect twilit blue of a summer night in Scotland, its beauty made me quite emotional.

The Forza series meaningful to me for a different reason, the first Forza Motorsport was the last game I tested at Microsoft Game Studios before quitting that job, and I’ve never returned to play the Motorsport line. I’m just not cut out for more serious racers. Horizon’s got what I want in something slightly more earnest than Burnout.

Forza Horizon 4 is out now on the Xbox One and Windows. I recommend getting it digitally downloaded if you can so that you can play on either platform.

Microsoft’s Surface Go Sounded Interesting

Microsoft’s smaller, cheaper, version of the Surface sounded pretty interesting if you ponied up for something better than the base model. Unfortunately the performance is extremely limited for a device running Windows 10. Mashable’s Raymond Wong titled his review “…Barely better than a netbook” and had this to say about the performance:

This Pentium chip is significantly slower than the Intel Core m3 chip inside of the entry-level Surface Pro. Microsoft touts 33 percent faster graphics than a Intel Core i5-powered Surface Pro 3 and 20 percent faster graphics performance than Core i7-powered Surface Pro 3, but honestly, none of these figures really matter because the Surface Go chokes up fast under even light usage.

[…]

…the slowness is noticeable all throughout Windows 10 on the Surface Go. There’s lag when opening photos. There’s lag when launching apps. There’s even lag when opening up the settings to change the desktop wallpaper. Even on my higher-spec’d Surface Go review unit with 8GB of RAM, the slowdown was too real.

I had briefly considered that the Surface Go might be a good replacement for the iPad Mini I sold recently. Even after reading some more charitable reviews, the Surface Go doesn’t seem like a good choice anymore.

It’s a good thing that Microsoft is still working on devices like this, they were ahead of the tablet game years before Apple’s iPad was released, and even as a failure these Microsoft tablets provide a valuable look at what the future of computing could be. Large touch devices are so damn close to being good laptop replacements.

Microsoft’s Surface Go is Almost An iPad Cheap

Dan Seifert for The Verge:

Microsoft is getting back into the cheaper tablet game today with the new Surface Go, a smaller, less powerful take on the popular Surface Pro device. The Go features a 10-inch screen, integrated kickstand, Windows 10, and a similar design to the Surface Pro, and starts at $399. It is available for preorder starting July 10th and will ship in August.

The Surface Go doesn’t change Microsoft’s Surface design philosophy one bit — it really just looks like a smaller version of the Surface Pro design that’s been around since 2014’s Surface Pro 3. It has a 3:2 aspect ratio display (1800 x 1200 pixel resolution), the signature built-in kickstand with unlimited positions, a front-facing camera with facial recognition login, and Microsoft’s proprietary Surface Connector port for charging and connecting to a desktop dock. Microsoft has added a USB-C 3.1 port, capable of charging the tablet or outputting video and data to external devices. It has also rounded the corners a bit compared to the latest Surface Pro, but overall, it’s the same familiar magnesium design Surface users have come to expect.

The thing that kind of sucks about the Surface Go, besides the lack of capable and competitive apps in Microsoft’s app store, is that even Paul Thurott points out how shitty the base model is and you really have to get a more expensive Surface to have an acceptable level of performance:

Sure, the $400 price tag looks compelling. But the PC you’re getting at that price is not compelling, and it’s absolutely not future-proof. The biggest issue here is the same thing that doomed Surface 3 to poor performance: This entry-level Surface Go utilizes slow eMMC storage rather than speedy SSD storage. Combined that with just 4 GB of RAM and a low-end Pentium processor, and you have the makings of a disaster.

The good news? For just $150 more, you get some nice upgrades: 8 GB of RAM and more and faster storage: Not only does the higher-end Surface Go configuration double the storage from 64 GB to 128 GB, that storage is dramatically faster, since it is based on NVMe SSD technology. That’s a device that might actually make it through four years of high school or college.

I’m not sure if the eMMC storage performance, as well as the other cheap parts, are as bad as Apple carrying around 16GB base models of their iOS devices for too long, but it’s pretty bad that you have to go to $550 before you get something that might be functional. I’d probably rather have the 2018 iPad Cheap.

GitHub Getting Acquired by Microsoft

Microsoft, today:

Microsoft Corp. on Monday announced it has reached an agreement to acquire GitHub, the world’s leading software development platform where more than 28 million developers learn, share and collaborate to create the future. Together, the two companies will empower developers to achieve more at every stage of the development lifecycle, accelerate enterprise use of GitHub, and bring Microsoft’s developer tools and services to new audiences.

Yours truly, 3 years ago when Google’s Google Code code hosting service shut down:

This is your continued reminder that Google, and start-ups funded by VC money, are not a safe place to store your work. Own your shit before GitHub starts inserting malware into downloads or sells out in some original and disruptive way. Get a domain, some shared hosting, maybe a Linux or BSD VPS if you’re rich. With git it is easy enough to move a project if you have cloned the project locally and have established a web presence that people can check for updates. At the very least, don’t make the GitHub page the public-facing home for your project.

This kind of bullshit is why ioquake3.org exists and is the front-door for that project. Github has some great collaboration tools in their web front-end, and I’d guess there are developers out there that don’t even understand yet that there are other options for Git hosting.

It’s a burden that hosting is expensive, but these kinds of sell-outs happen all the time, that’s why you have to give your project a real homepage and not rely on a third-party that doesn’t have a sustainable business model.

I don’t know yet if we’re going to move ioquake3’s code off of Github, but at least people will still be able to find the project if we decide to do so.

What Would Make You Want to Upgrade Your Console?

Yours truly back in June writing during Microsoft’s E3 presentation for the Xbox One X:

…it feels like Microsoft is less interested in challenging Sony with this high-end console than harvesting their hardcore Xbox fans for yet another console purchase.

I don’t doubt that this console will live up to its technical promises, but it won’t offer much to anyone who already has an Xbox One, it’ll still play the same games. Unlike an iPhone upgrade, the smaller physical form-factor won’t make the Xbox One X any more pocketable. A more powerful desktop computer can also run many of the same exclusive games in Windows 10.

Eurogamer’s headline from Martin Robinson yesterday: Microsoft’s final sales pitch for Xbox One X falls flat:

Microsoft stepped up its commitment to PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds, backing a proven winner and this year’s true phenomenon in what amounts to quite a coup for the Xbox brand, but the messaging was all over the place. This, it seems, is an exclusive in that very loose definition of the word, with all sorts of obfuscation being peddled out when it comes to future versions on other platforms. Maybe if Phil Spencer hadn’t skipped this week’s show he might have advised that, mindful of a Gamescom from the not-too-distant past and the muddied reveal of another Xbox ‘exclusive’, you can’t pull the wool over people’s eyes for too long.

There were better signs elsewhere, and the list of 100-plus games that will be receiving updates to make the most of the Xbox One X hardware makes for impressive reading – the promise of an improved and definitive console version of The Witcher 3 is almost enough alone to justify the upgrade, and elsewhere there’s an appealing list of games that will benefit from a facelift. But at this point in the console lifecycle, Microsoft needs more than prettier versions of multiplatform games if it’s to make serious inroads into Sony’s considerable lead this generation.

At this point I’m pretty sure that in general people aren’t interested in more expensive mid-generation console upgrades to support 4K televisions unless they have a tremendous amount of disposable income.

The argument that people would buy a desktop computer as powerful also doesn’t seem to hold water. Are people really buying them in droves? Where are the boastful hardware companies filling press release pipelines with numbers? I haven’t seen them, but maybe I’m looking in the wrong places.

I get the sense that people are pretty displeased with the PlayStation 4 Pro, as well, but at least Sony has truly exclusive games like Uncharted and that won’t also be available on Windows 10.

What reason is left to buy the upgraded consoles? Here I am back in June again:

That could change later on. In the future this could be the baseline version of the Xbox One and some games could require the Xbox One X to run at all. The same is true of the Playstation 4 Pro, and I wouldn’t recommend buying either of the original Xbox One or the original Playstation 4 at this point.

So, the fear of being left behind when games might require the upgraded consoles, that’s basically all I’ve got for reasons to buy the Xbox One X or PlayStation 4 Pro today. Maybe Microsoft and Sony don’t want to tank sales of the the Xbox One S and PlayStation 4 Amateur. Is something going to change between now and November 7th?

Xbox E3 2017 Briefing Notes

Every E3 has an Xbox press event, this year Microsoft is leading it off with a brief history of different resolutions
that their hardware has supported. Or at least it has upscaled games to that.

If you’re new to my writing, I’ll note here that I worked for Microsoft over a decade ago on the original Xbox, but I don’t think that really matters much anymore.

Here’s what Microsoft announced during this year’s event.

Project Scorpio‘s final name is the Xbox One X

Just last August Microsoft released the first revision to the Xbox One, the Xbox One S enabled playback and upscaling of video to 4K.
It was bizarre that last E3 Microsoft announced two new versions of the confusingly named Xbox One, the S and they also hinted at an upcoming “Project Scorpio.”

Could you imagine Apple announcing an iPhone 9 and hinting at what is to come in the iPhone 10? It would have the potential to tank sales of the 9 especially if the 9 was as meek an upgrade as the Xbox One S was to the original Xbox One.

The Scorpio had its technical details available back in April via Eurogamer, and now it has a release date of November 7, 2017.

While the Xbox One S had the ability to upscale video to 4K, the Xbox One X should actually be able to run games at a 4K resolution without upscaling. Although it will add graphical updates to older games that haven’t been upgraded for the Xbox One X, Microsoft promises “True 4K” with this console and supersampling from 4K to 1080p if you don’t yet have a 4K display. Nvidia calls this feature “Dynamic super resolutions.” Think of 4K as an incredible chef versus a good amateur chef as 1080p. Scaling down from 4K to 1080p is like the amateur chef watching the incredible one and attempting to recreate the same dish. You’ll end up with something better than if the good amateur had simply tried to make it on their own.

Microsoft is all about these specifications, and there is a price to be paid for them at $500. $100 more than Sony’s Playstation 4 Pro, and the Xbox One S can be had for $250 to $300 which leaves a huge price gap between the two Xbox One consoles.

It’s a strange price to pick when Sony’s PlayStation has outsold Microsoft’s Xbox, but it feels like Microsoft is less interested in challenging Sony with this high-end console than harvesting their hardcore Xbox fans for yet another console purchase.

I don’t doubt that this console will live up to its technical promises, but it won’t offer much to anyone who already has an Xbox One, it’ll still play the same games. Unlike an iPhone upgrade, the smaller physical form-factor won’t make the Xbox One X any more pocketable. A more powerful desktop computer can also run many of the same exclusive games in Windows 10. At least it could if my Microsoft Account would work in Windows 10.

That could change later on. In the future this could be the baseline version of the Xbox One and some games could require the Xbox One X to run at all. The same is true of the Playstation 4 Pro, and I wouldn’t recommend buying either of the original Xbox One or the original Playstation 4 at this point.

Forza Motorsport 7

Racing games have always been showpieces for graphical prowess, and that’s why Microsoft’s racing software has a trade-off each year. One year is a game in the Forza Horizon open-world racing series, the next year is Forza Motorsport’s take on competing with Sony’s Gran Turismo. The cars and racetrack and weather effects look pretty. I don’t really care for non-Horizon games in the Forza series. The best part of the Forza Motorsport trailer is the use of K.Flay’s Blood in the Cut. Great song.

Microsoft also unveiled a new physical car from Porche on-stage during this announcement. Weird.

It’ll be out on Xbox One and Windows 10 on October 3rd.

Metro Exodus

The Metro series hasn’t been exclusive to the Xbox. They’re beloved first-person shooters, but I’ve always had a difficult time getting used to the gameplay mechanics. It was always crazy that the standard currency in them was ammunition. This made any combat experience a trade-off. Fight with cheap ammo, or watch money flight out of your guns and be more effective in combat. In Exodus the hook like we’ve moved on to an open-world post-nuclear apocalypse.

It’ll be out in 2018 for Xbox One and Windows.

Assassin’s Creed: Origins

Speaking of games I haven’t finished, I haven’t finished an Assassin’s Creed game since 3. With Origins the game has gone to a historical depiction of Egypt with a new RPG leveling system with skill points and a Hawk companion. It also seems to reject all of the alien stuff from the early games, but still has stabbing. That’s why you play an Assassin’s Creed game.

It’ll be out on October 27th and definitely won’t be exclusive to the Xbox One.

PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds

I love Battlegrounds, and Microsoft has a huge coup here in getting console exclusivity on it. Although the specific wording is not clear. “Xbox One Console Launch Exclusive” could be interpreted to mean that Battlegrounds‘ exclusivity is only temporary.

My hope is that the gamepad controls are improved for the Windows version as well.

It’ll be out in “Late 2017” on the Xbox One. Or you can play it now on Steam for Windows.

Deep Rock Galactic

It’s a first-person digger with space dwarves as another “console launch exclusive.”

No release date or range was given.

State of Decay 2

The zombie shooter with a twist on community-building gets a sequel. There’s a good hint of that twist in the trailer.

It’ll be exclusive to Xbox One and Windows 10 in Spring of 2018.

The Darwin Project

A shouting man appeared on stage to turn this battle royale game into an esport that appears to be completely undeserving. Way to ruin your game reveal. It’s an Xbox Console Launch Exclusive, so at least you know where not to be if you want to avoid someone shouting at you about a game.

Minecraft

It’s Minecraft, but this time they’re going to fix it so that players on many different devices can play together, excepting the original Java version. Because Java is shit.

They’re also adding 4K, other graphics options, and a “Super Duper Graphics Pack.”

This update will be out in the Fall.

Dragon Ball FighterZ

The name is dumb, the cartoon makes anime look bad. This is a fighting game that has so much shouting.

It’ll be out “Early 2018” and doesn’t appear to have any exclusivity to the Xbox One.

Black Desert

Another console launch exclusive, it’s an MMORPG without a release date.

The Last Night

A game that looks very interesting if you watch the trailer and love cyberpunk aesthetics as much as I do. Then you find out the game was created by someone who hates women and loves GamerGate. Apparently this cyberpunk dystopia is also going to have themes of what happens when progressive politics go “too far.” Expect there to be absolutely no nuance to that. I’m gonna pass on this game.

 

The Artful Escape

A side-scrolling game with guitars and dinosaurs and future stuff. Looks like it could be great, no release date and it is another “console launch exclusive.”

Code Vein

Another take on the post-apocalypse is here. Finally.

It’ll be out on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and Windows, some time in 2018.

Sea of Thieves

I feel like I’ve been hearing about the multiplayer pirating in Sea of Thieves for the past 10 years. It’s actually supposed to be out early in 2018 exclusively for the Xbox One and Windows 10 stores.

Tacoma

The next game from Fullbright, developers of Gone Home, is this spacefaring spacestation exploration. After Gone Home, I am pretty excited to see how Tacoma turns out.

It’ll be out on August 2nd on Steam for Windows, Mac, and Linux as well as gog and Xbox One.

Super Lucky’s Tale

This game was originally exclusive to the Oculus VR HMD. No hints were given as to how or if this upgraded version of Lucky’s Tale will be displayed in VR on the Xbox One.

It’ll be out on November 7th for Xbox One and Windows 10.

Cuphead

Exclusive to Xbox One on console, Cuphead still looks amazingly like early cartoons. I hate Jazz and I still want to play this game.

It’ll be out for Xbox One and Steam for Windows on September 29th.

Crackdown 3

I loved Crackdown. You either loved Crackdown or haven’t played it. I hope this game is anywhere near as good as the first.

It’ll be exclusive to Xbox One and Windows 10 this November 7th.

ID@Xbox Games Montage

This is the point in the show where they realize they’re about an hour and 12 minutes in and they need to condense a bit. How about a montage.

Games Montages will be available at every games conference ever until the end of time.

My favorite part of that montage was Ooblets. It’s supposed to be bits of Pokemon, Harvest Moon, and Animal Crossing. Here is a better trailer of it:

Ooblets will be out in 2018 on Steam for Windows as well as the Xbox One. I’d like to see the shouting dude from earlier try and shout about this game. I dare him.

Ashen

Ashen is a little bit like Journey and Dark Souls to me, it’s very mysterious and has “high risk combat” according to its official website. http://www.ashen-game.com/

It’ll be on Xbox One and Windows.

Life is Strange: Before the Storm

Teenage drama is back, and it’s in Oregon. I still need to go back and finish the first game.

Life is Strange wasn’t exclusive, it’ll be out on August 31st, presumably for Xbox One as well as many other platforms.

Middle Earth: Shadow of War
I can’t find the exact trailer used during this press event. Here’s a recent story trailer:

It’s another sequel to a game I haven’t finished. The nemesis system made me want to play a real sequel to Mercenaries. Can J.R.R. Tolkein’s ghost babysit my son while I play through it?

Shadow of War will be out on October 10th on Xbox One, Steam for Windows, and PlayStation 4.

Ori and the Will of the Wisps

A sequel to another fun side-scrolling metroidvania. The game’s composer appeared to be playing the piano live to backup the trailer.

No release date, but it’ll be exclusive to Xbox One and Windows 10. The original was on Steam, so we could expect that as well for this sequel.

Backwards Compatability & Crimson Skies

I’m still surprised at how well the Xbox 360 backwards compatibility program has gone. Despite leaving it up to the game’s original publishers to decide if the game can be made available for the Xbox One it has been very successful in bringing so many games onto the current generation of Xbox consoles.

Phil Spencer announced that the original Xbox would also be emulated on the Xbox One. I’m sure there are even more original Xbox developers and publishers that are out of business and won’t be able to approve their updates for backwards compatibility.

Backwards compatibility for some original Xbox games will be available later this year. Phil specifically pointed to Crimson Skies. There was no separate video available for this announcement online.

Anthem

Bioware’s new game looks a lot like Rage at first, and then turns into an open-world co-op adventure. It’s definitely not exclusive, but it’ll be out in 2018 if it doesn’t get delayed.

Overall
This is another strange Xbox event that hasn’t convinced me that I need an Xbox One when I have a more powerful desktop computer. At this point I am keeping that console around just for backwards compatibility and exclusives that either weren’t brought to Windows or that I can’t play on Windows because my Microsoft Account isn’t functioning correctly with my Windows 10 user account.