An anonymous reader writes "Earlier this week, Respawn Entertainment launched Titanfall, a futuristic first-person shooter with mechs that has been held up as the poster child for the Xbox One. The Digital Foundry blog took the opportunity to compare how the game plays on the Xbox One to its performance on a well-appointed PC. Naturally, the PC version outperforms, but the compromises are bigger than you'd expect for a newly-released console. For example, it runs at an odd resolution (1408x792), the frame rate 'clearly isn't anywhere near locked' to 60fps, and there's some unavoidable screen tear. Reviews for the game are generally positive — RPS says most of the individual systems in Titanfall are fun, but the forced multiplayer interaction is offputting. Giant Bomb puts it more succinctly: 'Titanfall is a very specific game built for a specific type of person.' Side note: the game has a 48GB install footprint on PCs, owing largely to 35GB of uncompressed audio."
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An anonymous reader writes "Ben Kuchera at Polygon ponders the surveillance capabilities of our gaming consoles in light of recent NSA and GCHQ revelations. 'Xbox One Kinect can see in the dark. It can keep a moving human being in focus without motors. It knows how to isolate voices from background noise. The privacy implications of having a device that originally couldn't be removed pointed at your living room at all times was always kind of scary, and that fear has been at least partially justified.' Kuchera, like many of us, habitually disconnects cameras and microphones not currently in use. But he also feels a sense of inevitability about the whole thing: 'If the government wants this information they're going to get it, no matter what we do with our gaming consoles. It's important to pay attention to what our government is doing, but this issue is much bigger than our gaming consoles, and we open ourselves up to much greater forms of intrusion on a daily basis.'"
The latest title in the stealth game series Thief launched in North America yesterday for the PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, Xbox One, and Windows. Reviews of the game are mixed. Rock, Paper, Shotgun's John Walker says that the story is poor, but "it matters very little, since it's only there as an excuse to link epic, intricate and hugely enjoyable levels together." He also laments the loss of a dedicated "Jump" button, noting that veterans of the series will miss it. "There are far too often obstacles that a toddler could easily scale, but Garrett won't even try, and his refusing to jump certain gaps in order to force a challenge is maddening." Polygon's review says navigating the game's open environments was fun, but "In the latter half of the game, when a glimpse of that openness was dangled in front of me once again, Thief snatched it away with murderous AI and controls that didn't feel up to the challenge." They add, "a new obsession with scripted story sequences and stealth action often leaves Thief feeling like the worst of both worlds." Giant Bomb's review is brutal, saying Thief is "a game that spends an inordinate amount of time making the player do uninteresting things while shoving the more fun stuff so far in the corner you'd be forgiven for missing most of it."
RogueyWon writes "South Park has long been vocal in its opposition to media censorship from any source, launching scathing attacks on everything from 'think of the children' moral crusades to the censorship of religious imagery. In a curious twist, therefore, Ubisoft, the publisher of the upcoming video game South Park: The Stick of Truth, has decided to censor certain scenes from the game's Xbox 360 and Playstation 3 versions from release in Europe, Australia, the Middle East and Africa. American versions, as well as the European PC release, so far appear to have escaped the censor's pen."
Hugh Pickens DOT Com writes "Gary Marshall writes that.Microsoft's marvelous motion-sensing device is doing really good work for Sony, helping the PS4 outsell the Xbox One in the US and rocketing it to the top of the world's console sales charts. With the Xbox One $100 more expensive than the PlayStation 4, the Kinect is the explanation for the huge difference in price between the rival platforms says Marshall. "That kind of money makes a huge difference, and I wonder: if Microsoft had kept the Kinect as an optional add-on, which we all know it should be, would the Xbox One be much more attractive?" Ben Kuchera describes the peripheral as one of the most hated pieces of equipment in current use. "The system is still new, but every Xbox One owner now has a peripheral that has little reason to exist, aids their gaming in very few real ways and costs them a significant amount of money." The common defense of the Kinect is that developers wouldn't support it unless it was forced on consumers but according to Kuchera pushing a product on the public with the hope that it will be useful once we have it is a cruel inversion of how product adoption should be handled. "The forced pack-in proves something we already knew at the beginning of this generation: Almost no one would want to buy the Kinect separately if they were given the choice," writes Kuchera. "It's time to make the Kinect a peripheral, not a pack-in.""
Nate the greatest writes "Microsoft has already sunk $600 million into Nook Media, the ebook division spun off from Barnes & Noble in 2012, but I guess that's not enough for the Redmond tech giant: news broke today that they have a third ebook effort in the works. A new job listing discovered by the Chinese tech blog LiveSino has revealed that Microsoft is hiring an ebook developer to work on 'a groundbreaking interactive reading app on Windows, which incorporates books, magazines, and comics.' The position was posted by the Xbox Music, Video, and Reading unit, which had already released two apps for Windows 8 (video, music) and is clearly going for a trifecta. This new app shows all the signs of being completely unrelated to the Office Reader app, which leaked last year. That app reportedly focused more on PDFs, textbooks, and office docs, while the 'Xbox Reading' app mentions magazines and digital comics."
Nerval's Lobster writes "A more prominent role in video-game development could prove the latest territory on Amazon's 'attempt to conquer' list. Yes, there's already Amazon Game Studios, which produces smaller games such as Air Patriots (a tower-defense title), but that evidently wasn't enough — Amazon has acquired Double Helix, most notably the developer behind Killer Instinct and other big-action games for PCs and consoles. Amazon confirmed the deal to multiple media outlets, suggesting that it would use Double Helix's developers and intellectual property 'as part of our ongoing commitment to build innovative games for customers.' Why would Amazon want to bulk out its game-creation abilities? Rumors have floated for the past couple weeks (hat tip to Gamespot) that the company is hard at work on an Android-based gaming console that will retail for below $300. Over the past year, it's also hired gaming luminaries such as Halo author Eric Nylund, which it probably wouldn't have done without something big — or at least interesting — in the works. Amazon would doubtlessly position such a device (if it actually becomes a reality) as the low-cost alternative to Microsoft's Xbox One and Sony's PlayStation 4. But even the cheapest console won't sell without some killer games to attract customers — and that's where Double Helix might come in. ... With Nintendo flagging, there's potentially an opening for a third console ecosystem to take hold."
Nerval's Lobster writes "Microsoft's next CEO will be Satya Nadella, if current reports prove accurate. According to Re/code, which drew its information from "numerous sources close to Microsoft," Nadella could officially assume the role in early February. Meanwhile, anonymous sources speaking to Bloomberg suggested that co-founder Bill Gates could be forced to give up his longtime chairman role. Nadella (again, if confirmed) seems a logical choice for Microsoft. He's been with the company for more than twenty years, eventually becoming executive vice president of its Cloud and Enterprise division. The enterprise remains a key—perhaps the key — customer segment for Microsoft, especially as its mobile and consumer efforts (excluding the Xbox) have floundered in recent years; in order to retain those business clients, Nadella and his team embarked on the creation of 'Cloud OS,' the platform that powers Microsoft's large-scale cloud services such as SkyDrive, Azure, and Office 365. Under his guidance, Microsoft's revenue from cloud services has grown by several billion over the past few years, so he's shown that he can expand a business. In addition, his technical background could afford him a measure of respect from Microsoft's legions of engineers and developers. But if he's ultimately tapped for the CEO seat, Nadella faces one of the toughest jobs in the technology industry: not only does he need to craft a plan that will allow Microsoft to grow and prosper in an integrated, holistic manner—he'll need to do it while guiding the company through the massive internal reorganization initiated by his predecessor, Steve Ballmer."
Nerval's Lobster writes: "It's no secret that Nintendo faces significant challenges: revenues are down, rival platforms such as Microsoft's Xbox One and Sony's PlayStation 4 are attracting a lot of buzz, and iOS and Android have made significant inroads into mobile gaming. Rather than double down on its core business, however, Nintendo reportedly sees its salvation in new, nongaming segments such as... monitoring your health? 'We have now redefined entertainment to mean making it fun for people to improve the quality of their lives,' Nintendo CEO Satoru Iwata told a company strategy meeting, according to The Wall Street Journal. But he refused to part with more detail about Nintendo's plans, except to claim that whatever's in the works isn't a wearable device along the lines of Nike's FuelBand or the FitBit, and it isn't an iteration of the Wii Balance Board, an accessory that measures the user's weight and center of balance while playing games."
MojoKid writes "News from gaming insider Pete Doss is that Microsoft is mulling significant changes to the restrictions it places on developers regarding the Xbox One's GPU. Reportedly, some 10% of total GPU horsepower is reserved for the Kinect — 8% for video and 2% for voice processing. Microsoft is apparently planning changes that would free up that 8% video entirely, leaving just 2% of the system's GPU dedicated to voice input. If Microsoft makes this change, it could have a significant uplift on system frame rates — and it's not clear that developers would necessarily need to patch the architecture to take advantage of the difference."
jones_supa sends this AFP report: "Microsoft soared to record revenues in the last quarter, confounding Wall Street forecasts on the back of strong demand for Xbox consoles, Surface tablets and Internet cloud services. The U.S.-based technology titan reported net income of $6.56 billion on revenue that hit a record high of $24.52 billion in the quarter that ended December 31. ... Sales of Surface tablets more than doubled from the previous quarter to hit $893 million, and Microsoft sold 7.4 million Xbox videogame consoles, with 3.9 million of those being new-generation Xbox One. Bing's share of the Internet search market grew to 18.2 percent while its share of the online search ad market grew about a third, according to Microsoft. Meanwhile, money made from selling Windows software to computer makers slid by three percent due to continue soft demand by consumers for personal computers, according to Microsoft."
An anonymous reader writes "Microsoft, partnered with Machinima, has put forth a promotion for YouTube personalities: make a video about the Xbox One and get money for it. Problematically, they also require the reviewer not to disclose that they're getting paid (or mention anything negative), which breaks FTC disclosure rules (PDF). Microsoft has a well-known history of astroturfing, but is this the first proof of them doing it illegally?"
Nerval's Lobster writes "Nintendo's revenue and profits are tumbling faster than Mario into a bottomless pit. Company executives recently suggested the next-generation Wii U console would sell 2.8 million units between April 2013 and March 2014 — significantly below the 9 million units predicted in previous estimates. Contrast that with Sony's PlayStation 4 and Microsoft's Xbox One, which sold 4.2 million and 3 million units, respectively, in their first six weeks of release. In lowering its hardware and software estimates, Nintendo also expects to take a loss by the end of its fiscal year in March. Nintendo's attempt to carve a niche for itself as an ecosystem for casual gamers has also run into a massive obstacle in the form of smartphones and tablets, which quickly developed into popular gaming platforms. Nintendo is reportedly considering a 'new business model,' according to Bloomberg, with its CEO telling a gathering of reporters in Osaka: 'Given the expansion of smart devices, we are naturally studying how smart devices can be used to grow the game-player business. It's not as simple as enabling Mario to move on a smartphone.' While Nintendo could probably made some good money off legacy gamers by bringing its (much loved) portfolio of older titles to iOS, Android, and other platforms, that move to mobile might further weaken its hardware sales. So what do you think? If you were in charge of Nintendo, how would you turn it around?"
hypnosec writes "China has lifted the 13-year-old foreign gaming console ban, which it imposed back in 2000 as a way to protect the nation's youth from unhealthy content that may adversely affect their mental health. The temporary lift of the ban, which was announced Monday by the State Council of PCR (Google Translation into English), will make way for international console vendors including Microsoft, Sony, and Nintendo to setup production facilities in the newly created Shanghai Free Trade Zone and sell their consoles throughout the country. The vendors will still have to go through local checks, including the ones from the Cultural authorities to ensure that they don't violate any of those rules."
itwbennett writes "One of the new features that both Sony and Microsoft touted for their next-gen gaming consoles was easy sharing of gameplay videos. Peter Smith has put sharing to the test on both consoles, and (spoiler alert), found that both have plenty of room for improvement. There are pros and cons to each, but ultimately, which console does sharing best comes down to personal preference: 'I really hate that the Playstation 4 is limited to sharing on Facebook and I really like that the Xbox One saves to my Skydrive,' says Smith. 'But I hate having to wait for that upload to happen before I can go back to gaming.'"
An anonymous reader writes in with news that some NSA agents were trying to dig up info by joining the horde. "To the National Security Agency analyst writing a briefing to his superiors, the situation was clear: their current surveillance efforts were lacking something. The agency's impressive arsenal of cable taps and sophisticated hacking attacks was not enough. What it really needed was a horde of undercover Orcs. That vision of spycraft sparked a concerted drive by the NSA and its UK sister agency GCHQ to infiltrate the massive communities playing online games, according to secret documents disclosed by whistleblower Edward Snowden.....The agencies, the documents show, have built mass-collection capabilities against the Xbox Live console network, which has more than 48 million players. Real-life agents have been deployed into virtual realms, from those Orc hordes in World of Warcraft to the human avatars of Second Life. There were attempts, too, to recruit potential informants from the games' tech-friendly users."
Nerval's Lobster writes "Will Xbox One and PS4 emulators hit your favorite download Websites within the next few years? Emulators have long been popular among gamers looking to relive the classic titles they enjoyed in their youth. Instead of playing Super Mario Bros. on a Nintendo console, one can go through the legally questionable yet widespread route of downloading a copy of the game and loading it with PC software that emulates the Nintendo Entertainment System. Emulation is typically limited to older games, as developing an emulator is hard work and must usually be run on hardware that's more powerful than the original console. Consoles from the NES and Super NES era have working emulators, as do newer systems such as Nintendo 64, GameCube and Wii, and the first two PlayStations. While emulator development hit a dead end with the Xbox 360 and PS3, that may change with the Xbox One and PS4, which developers are already exploring as fertile ground for emulation. The Xbox 360 and PS4 feature x86 chips, for starters, and hardware-assisted virtualization can help solve some acceleration issues. But several significant obstacles stand in the way of developers already taking a crack at it, including console builders' absolute refusal to see emulation as even remotely legal."
Microsoft released the Xbox One today, putting the next-gen console war into full swing. A common theme throughout most of the reviews is that properly evaluating the system is going to take time. Not only are updates for the console continuing to roll out, but the usefulness of some of its technology will depend on what game-makers and other content producers can do with it. Digital Foundry says, "It is willing to make the trades on gaming power in order to potentially revolutionize the way we interact with entertainment in the living room." The Penny Arcade Report calls the hardware and UI a "confusing mess" — until you learn to use it, at which point the hands-free navigation is fast and convenient. Polygon's review is once again visually-oriented, providing a good look at the UI, comparing the controller with the Xbox 360's controller, and giving a demonstration of how Kinect recognizes users. Their conclusion is that while "Kinect isn't a fully realized product yet," "the Xbox One feels like it's from the future." iFixit has a full teardown of the Xbox One, giving it a repairability score of 8/10 (the Kinect sensor gets 6/10). HotHardware has more details about the console's internals, including power consumption and temperature readings. Eurogamer has a compilation of launch coverage, including launch title reviews.
mrspoonsi writes "The Xbox One controller went through many radical designs, including a built-in pico projector and a cartridge designed to release smell. Apparently, 'the core base didn't appreciate them,' so these wacky features were dropped in favor of a standard controller. According to VentureBeat, over $100 million worth of research went into the design they ended up using. 'Microsoft’s first tweaks for a new controller focused on the overall size and how it’d fit into hands, golden or otherwise. Using the Xbox 360 controller as a starting point, the engineers would make plastic-molded or 3D-printed prototypes that were each 1 millimeter wider or narrower than the last, testing a full range of up to plus or minus 8 millimeters. “That gave us the ability to test, with actual users including women and children, which width feels best,” said Morris. “We tested with more than 500 people throughout the course of the project. All ages, all abilities.” ... Morris and his team then looked at different thicknesses and shapes of the grips (or “lobes,” as he calls them), plus the angle of the triggers, different styles of analog sticks, and more.'"
Today marks the launch of the latest entrant to the next-gen console race: Sony's PlayStation 4. A number of reviews for the system have already gone up, but many outlets are waiting for next Friday's Xbox One launch before passing final judgment. With regard to the PS4's hardware and UI, Digital Foundry praises the DualShock 4 controller design and the improvements to background downloading, while worrying about fan noise in warmer environments. iFixit provides a step-by-step teardown of the device, giving it an 8/10 repairability score. Ars has many good things to say, but many bad things as well: "The PlayStation 4 has an excellent controller, decently powerful hardware, some intriguing, well-executed new features, and an interface that shows belated acknowledgment of some of Sony's most user-unfriendly past designs. It also has a lot of features that are half-assed, missing, or downright bewildering at this point." Polygon's review is more visually oriented, filled with pictures, videos, and drawings. They conclude, "[T]he PlayStation 4's focus on gaming — and only gaming — is undermined by a distinct lack of compelling software. That failing is sure to improve — better games and more of them will appear on the PlayStation 4 — but right now, this is a game console without a game to recommend it." Eurogamer's coverage includes has a round-up of launch title reviews and gameplay videos. IGN has coverage of the roughly 0.4% of PS4s that arrive broken out of the box, and Kotaku explains how they fixed theirs.