Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Xbox Redacted

I'll keep this short because I've already talked WAY too much about the Xbone.

Basically, Microsoft has reversed their position on the online requirements.

I should be happy about this, but I'm actually not.

Why? Well, because this means that pretty much all of the unique things that I liked about the Xbone (family sharing, game installing, switching games mid-stream) are being sacrificed at the altar in order to make this backpedaling possible.

Basically, the Xbone will function in pretty much the same way the Xbox 360 functions in regards to games.

I get that this isn't all that different from the PS4 and thus it might seem silly that I'm still siding with Sony on this, but there's three main things:

1) The PS4 is still $100 cheaper.
2) Sony didn't have to deal with everybody screaming at them before they decided to respect their consumers.
3) The PS4's digital game restrictions are still better than the Xbone's.

So really, now that the Xbone isn't chained to the Internet and it doesn't have all of those cool game-sharing perks, what does it have over the PS4?

Kinect? Meh. It's cool, but I can get it for the PC.

Dead Rising 3? Honestly it looks boring when compared to the two that came before it and I'm kinda tired of zombie games.

Killer Instinct? After hearing that they got a company known for crapping out licensed games to produce this and that they're using the free-to-play model in the way you shouldn't do it, I suddenly couldn't care less.

Ryse? A game that is mostly comprised of quick-time-events that you don't even need to do in order to succeed? And people say that "Heavy Rain" is basically a game that plays itself.

Microsoft probably won over some people by doing this backpedal, but they still have the problem of explaining what makes their system worth the additional $100.

If they had done this backpedal but had the balls to keep in the installation and family game sharing, that actually would have probably won me over. But they didn't, and so I'm still at a loss to see why it's worth it.

Microsoft, you've gone from an F to a C-. Try again.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

E3 2013: The Last Generation (Until We Have Holograms)

A year ago, Nintendo announced the Wii U while Sony and Microsoft bided their time. This led to a lot of wild speculation from a lot of people, myself included.

I was subscribing to the theory that Microsoft might skip E3 2013 as well since that would give them time to let Sony stumble out of the gate and get their prices down.

Of course, I wasn't counting on Microsoft behaving like a pack of idiots, so obviously the landscape has changed.

Still, I feel compelled to give my own speculation again on where the industry is headed in light of this year's E3.

In a nutshell, I think it's pretty clear that Sony will have a substantial lead out of the gate, but that might not matter quite so much this time around. I personally believe that we are witnessing the beginning of what could be the final console generation for a long time.

What Will Happen To Nintendo?

Let's get this out of the way right now. Last year I said that by releasing the Wii U last year, "Nintendo could have done the smartest possible thing they could have done, or they could have just dug their own grave again."

Turns out they dug their own grave again.

The Wii U is a technical joke compared to the Xbone and the PS4. It can probably play current-gen titles really well, but at this point, developers are looking forward. Maybe if the Wii U came out three years ago they'd have something, but it's just too little too late.

Still, with the state of the AAA market being the way it is, the Wii U still could have managed to stay competitive if they made things easier for indie developers, and while the eShop is certainly not as bad as WiiWare was, the barrier of entry is still too high and the incentives for developing on the console are still too low. Nintendo cares too much about tending its own garden. Any indie developer with the kind of resources needed to publish on eShop are probably doing just fine on Steam and PSN and don't need to spend another few thousand dollars developing for the Wii U or the 3DS. Nintendo needs to make its barrier of entry low enough for the startups, the guys and gals who live off ramen and code entire games in their basements. Nintendo shouldn't require a developer to have an office and a pre-established resume. All they should need is a good quality game.

I think Nintendo could manage to catch up if they release another console in about 3 years that's on par with the PS4 and the Xbone, but they probably don't have the resources to manage it. And really, there wouldn't be a lot of point to it.

A part of me will always love Nintendo, and they'll probably always dominate the handheld market until smartphones and tablets can provide touchscreens with the same kind of feedback a button has, not to mention better battery life. But the Wii U is going to be a failure. I've seen this song and dance before. They launched too early, they launched too soft, and they didn't try hard enough to court the developers. It will certainly have good games, but it will just be another product that is used primarily by fanboys and children (not that there's anything wrong with that, I loved my Gamecube as a kid) and ignored by everyone else. I probably won't be buying one unless they come out with an exclusive game that I need, because I know that if I got one, it would just sit beneath my TV and collect dust while I give my PS4 a workout. I don't even think Smash Bros. will be enough to get me to buy it this time since I don't have a ton of friends to play with anymore and Nintendo's online play is reliably terrible.

I'm not sure if Nintendo will go the way of Sega and just move to making software. They probably should, but I don't know if they'll have to. They have pretty good business sense and at this point they don't really have to compete with Sony or Microsoft to stay afloat since they pretty much have a completely separate audience. Plus they still have the 3DS which has managed to do pretty well for itself since the price drop.

How Doomed is Microsoft?

As I've said previously, Microsoft fucked up big time and I don't doubt that it will cost them. They probably won't admit it until 2014 or 2015 (that's about how long it took for Sony to realize the PS3 wasn't going to turn around until they dropped the price), but they will most certainly be outsold by the PS4.

I don't think they'll be outsold by the Wii U, simply because the price gap between the Wii U and the PS4 is actually rather small. In the PS3/Wii/360 generation, the Wii was the cheapest console by around $150 dollars and it had newfangled motion controls, so it was a pretty major alternative. Even though the Wii U is technically still the cheapest console, because it lacks a gimmick and because it will be a year old come Black Friday, I don't think it will land second place when all is said and done.

So the Xbone will probably underperform, but in the long run, I actually think Microsoft will probably do fine.

You see, while customers hate the Xbone right now, and while early adopters will probably be unpleasantly surprised by these confusing new restrictions, the biggest factor in deciding the fate of a console is generally how developers feel about it.

And AAA developers love the Xbone. It provides a ton of resources, guarantees that all of its users will have a camera looking at them at all time, pretty much guarantees that all of the users will have an Internet access at all times, and they'll have less to worry about regarding piracy or used game sales. They won't have to risk PR nightmares by implementing DRM since Microsoft already did that for them. Even with the lower userbase, publishers will probably make more money per customer from the Xbone than they will from the PS4, and that will probably be enough to keep them interested.

I know that the AAA industry is looking more and more unsustainable every year, but even if it crashes, it will never go away. If EA falls apart, those IPs, employees, and executives will have to go somewhere, and so another company will just take its place. Microsoft will probably be fine even if they continue to ignore the thriving indie scene.

There is one major caveat, however. If Microsoft pretty much stays at about their current level of ineptitude, they'll probably manage to see this generation through and stay competitive. They'll release a slimmed down version of the console in a few years at a more competitive price point, they'll make certain components either significantly cheaper or optional, and they'll probably find other ways to sweeten the pot. But all of that assumes that they don't somehow make things worse.

Let me put it this way. Remember in 2011 when the PlayStation Network crashed? When it was unusable for about 3 months? Well, that was a PR nightmare, but it ended up not being completely terrible because people could still play games, use Netflix and Hulu, and they basically just couldn't download games, DLC, or play online.

But imagine if Microsoft has a similar catastrophe after the Xbone launch. Imagine if their network becomes unreachable. Check-ins become impossible. Since Xbox Live Gold is required to use Netflix and Hulu, you can't use those services. You've effectively turned all Xbones into over-priced blu-ray players.

That sort of catastrophe could very well end them, and given the track record of other games that have required an online presence, it's not outside the realm of possibility. Still, Microsoft has a massive infrastructure and even if something like that happened, they could probably push out an update that temporarily (or permanently) disables the check-in requirement.

However, that's the kind of disaster they're setting themselves up for. They're crossing their fingers and hoping that their new paradigm will slowly be accepted, but in order for that to happen, they have to avoid anymore major fuck-ups.

The Fate of the "Winner"

And finally we have Sony. The victors of E3 and possibly of the generation.

It is important to note, however, that while the good people at Sony are certainly Internet heroes right now, they are not set for life just because they are having a good week.

The PS4 will undoubtedly sell well. It already is selling well. It will probably continue to sell well.

But where will we be in a few years? Or in a decade? Or two decades?

Well, this is going to take a while to explain, but let me sum up first: Sony will win the battle, Microsoft will win the war, but only if they continue to make operating systems that pay homage to every other Microsoft operating system since Windows 98, and so long as that is the case, they will never be able to truly control the market. And in the end, we won't be using an Xbone or a PS4. We'll be using a futuristic little all-purpose device that will render gaming consoles (and other dedicated hardware) obsolete. At least until we develop holograms.

I swear, I don't enjoy making these blog posts so long, but when I say something like "we won't have another console generation until we invent holograms", I kinda have to explain myself, don't I?

It might seem silly for me to think that we won't be doing this console war again in another few years. I'm sure people were saying the same thing 7 years ago. "With graphics like this, who needs another generation?"

Before the present generation, gamers were clamoring for online integration and better graphics, and this present generation basically hit that peak. The reason Microsoft and Sony took so long to push out a new entry was because it really did take this long for these consoles to feel lacking.

But if you asked most gamers, we're not really foaming at the mouth for a new console. It's not as though we enjoy cluttering up our houses with consoles and throwing down hundreds of dollars every few years. We're pretty much fine with the graphics and controls we have now, and some of the more popular games in recent years have had comparably primitive graphics. But we want to be able to play new games, so we're going through this again. And it's not as though Sony and Microsoft are crazy about moving to new consoles either. As I've said before, it takes a lot of money to develop a new console and they often don't make that money back from console sales alone. It's a major investment. They'd much rather just keep selling PS3's and Xbox 360's until the end of time.

So if the customers didn't want new consoles and the big companies didn't want new consoles, who did?

The developers.

Developers will no longer have to squeeze everything on a half a gig of RAM. They can stretch their legs, be less conservative, build more advanced AI and environments. I might be dooming myself in saying this, but 8GB of RAM is probably all they'll need for a long time. We've hit the point of diminishing returns when it comes to processing and RAM in an x86 architecture.

More importantly, by moving towards an x86 architecture on consoles, development will generally be simpler. And with the potential of the cloud technologies used by both consoles, they will never be truly limited by their current hardware.

Developers ought to be content with the kind of resources they'll have available to them.

So really, what next step could we possibly take that would require another generation of consoles?

In my mind, the only thing that could probably warrant another generation would be developers doing more than just creating life-like models in 3D space. More than just realistic hair. More than objects that break in realistic ways.

If I were to guess, I'd say the next step is building a virtual world that mimics the physical laws of the real world with such precision that you won't need to imitate nearly as much. Right now, if you throw a ceramic pot against a wall in a video game, the pot shatters in precisely the way it was programmed to and it produces a sound that was recorded in a studio somewhere. In a more advanced game, the pot might break in a unique way depending on the way it was thrown, but the sound it makes is still hollow and fake.

Imagine instead a virtual world where the empty space is actually filled with invisible virtual air that vibrates just as real air does. Virtual pottery with virtual molecules that respond to various forms of energy in such ways that when you throw it against a way, it shatters in precisely the same way ceramics would, and the impact vibrates the molecules in the air so that they produce a completely unique sound that is completely procedural and true to life.

This probably seems ridiculous. Who needs to dedicate this much effort into building a virtual world?

Well, imagine the real-life benefits of being able to create a virtual rendering of the physical laws of our universe. It would not only affect games, but so many other facets of science and technology.

Then imagine the next step. Holograms.

OK, yeah, now I'm sure I sound ridiculous, but I really think that's the next big step we need to take to justify dedicated hardware. We as consumers have spoken and we are not interested in 3D television, so much so that ESPN has given up on the experiment. The only way we could truly embrace it would be if we could experience it without glasses and without optical illusions (such as with the 3DS). Holograms are probably the only way to manage that. Images that truly fill a 3D space. No more tricks.

If you managed to create holographic technology and paired it with the kind of low-level physics engine I described, you'd basically have your first basic holodeck. Sure you couldn't interact with anything directly, you couldn't feel anything, but replicated objects could respond to your touch in a believable way. It would be less Star Trek and more Tony Stark.

A lot of people think that we're more likely to head into games that are controlled by our thoughts, but I don't think that technology will catch on very quickly. We as humans are still a very long way away from truly understanding the brain and using it as a reliable control device without requiring some level of surgery. And even then, as I've said before, the present generation is very touchy when it comes to privacy. The idea of a computer reading our thoughts would make us nervous. Even if such a control scheme existed, it would probably go the way of the Wii. We'd use it a little for the novelty, but would never depend on it.

The thing is, pretty much everything I've described is a pipe dream. These are technologies we've dreamt about for decades and we're probably decades away from them still.

In reality, new games will be focusing more on unique and gimmicky game mechanics. Clever ideas. The sorts of things that currently make indie games stand out. And for that stuff, we don't really need that much horsepower. It just makes it easier to focus on those things when you don't have to dedicate all of your manpower to figuring out how to make this world fit on 512MB of RAM.

So while I'm sure NVIDIA will continue producing more advanced graphics cards, I don't think the difference they produce will matter enough outside of the PC Master Race until those graphics start affecting actual gameplay in meaningful ways. Until the worlds they create feel truly immersive. Until the things they accomplish can't be imitated by cloud computing. Until the information is so vast that 8GB of RAM is a joke.

While PCs will always be capable of more power than consoles, game developers generally don't make games with those sorts of specs in mind. They target the sort of specs used by the average consumer, and frankly, those specs aren't going to change much in the next decade. RAM is no longer holding us back. Processors aren't doing much either now that we can't make faster processors that don't instantly burst into flame (suck it, Moore's Law). Graphics cards are too expensive and desktops are too immobile to go mainstream again. Average PC specs aren't going to overtake the PS4 or the Xbone for a very long time, and by the time we get there, I think our entire idea of computers and consoles will have changed completely.

Right now we live in a world where your phone and your tablet and your laptop and your desktop and your console all live in the same ecosystem and talk to each other and come together as one overall experience through various networks and interfaces. Even so, they all exist separately and serve their own individual purposes. Some we barely use at all, except in very particular circumstances. That's partially why Microsoft is so focused on turning the Xbone into a media center.

I envision a world where we just have one device with a handful of "shells" that the device fits into. Imagine, if you'll indulge me, something about the size and shape of an iPhone. It functions in all of the same ways as a mobile device would, but instead of a limited mobile OS, it carries a fully-featured desktop OS compatible with the Win32 API. Then you have a "shell" that's about the size of a tablet. You slide your mobile device into it like a battery, and voila, now it's on a bigger screen and functions just like a tablet would. Then you place that shell next to something like a laptop and it wirelessly connects to it. Or to a desktop monitor. Or to a TV. I think in the future, rather than have a separate device for each of these different functions, we'll merely have a device that can fulfill each role as needed. We may own more than one, but they would be interchangeable. During the day, they function as a desktop and a phone, but at night they become your tablet and your laptop, or your video game console and your webcam.

We've already made baby steps in this direction, as I'm sure you're aware. Phones and tablets that become "laptops". But so far they are limited by how much power can be fit into such a small space, battery life, heat dissipation, and hardware costs. Still, these are all technical limitations that computers have been working through at a blistering pace for the past two decades. It won't take long to come up with a handheld device that's just as powerful as an Xbone and has enough battery life to sustain itself for an entire day at full operation. Once we're there, it's just a matter of time before Microsoft or Apple develops an all-encompassing version of their OS that truly allows for a device to be both a handheld and a desktop without sacrificing functionality or convenience. And when that day comes, the world will change yet again.

In this world, dedicated console hardware will just stop making sense, and unless they develop holograms before they develop a better smartphone OS, I don't think the Big Three will have much reason to go for another round before that world arrives.

That's why I think Nintendo might still have one more console in them if they care enough. They could probably make a better Wii U that can stand alongside the graphical capabilities of the Xbone and the PS4 before gaming consoles become obsolete.

But it's clear that Sony and Microsoft have little interest in rushing through this generation. They're happy, their costumers are going to be happy, the developers are happy, and if they come up with new ideas or control schemes, they'll probably just add them on as accessories like they did with Kinect or Move.

Even if this isn't the last console generation, it will certainly be another long one. At least 10 years, I'd wager.

So if I'm being perfectly honest, I think that while Sony will probably win this generation, Microsoft is still probably going to win in the long run as soon as people can buy a device the size of a hockey puck that can run a full version of Windows and play Steam games as well as their PS4 can play similar games, because that, my friends, will be the true end of consoles. And Sony and Nintendo could probably try and do the same thing, but Microsoft already has a fully-formed OS with the biggest gaming library in existence, and Sony and Nintendo don't.

Unless someone develops a new OS that can install Windows applications without virtualizing Windows, Microsoft will always have the winning hand simply because they have owned the most ubiquitous software API in the world for the past two decades. Even they can't release an OS that is incapable of installing Win32 applications. Well, they can, but it doesn't sell (see Windows RT). We have no use for phones and tablets that can do most of the things a laptop can. We need phones and tablets that can do everything a laptop can. Anything less is a waste.

At the end of the day, software is king, and Microsoft has the most software support. They just lack a method to carry that support outside of the realm of desktops and laptops. They've made their first steps with the Surface Pro and other similar Windows 8 tablets, and in time, it will be all-encompassing.

Microsoft isn't untouchable. The Wine project has tried for years to allow Win32 applications to function in a Unix environment, but it's like trying to piece together a language without a dictionary and it may never be truly complete. Or perhaps Microsoft will suffer before its time arrives and be forced to sell its licenses and assets to Apple or someone else.

I do know that I will never buy a laptop that can't install and play "Grim Fandango". I just won't. There's too much gaming history tied to the many forms of Windows, and so long as a Windows OS is the only way to access it, Microsoft will always be the true winners.

Microsoft may have developed a shitty piece of hardware in the Xbone, but they have never made a lot of money from hardware. Their money comes from being the gatekeepers of software, and that much hasn't changed. Steam can sell more games, but most of those games need Windows to run.

That's not to say Microsoft will get everything they want. Honestly, Microsoft's Win32 API is a curse they wish they could rid themselves of. They want an app store like the one Apple has. They want to be able to approve and manage how people can use their OS like they do on the Xbox. But they'll never be able to do that. Too many people depend on legacy software. Too many software developers don't want to go through Microsoft to get their software on PCs, and because of Win32, they don't have to. So long as they can put a .exe file on a website or a DVD, Microsoft will have no claim to it. They hoped that their new touch interface would change things, that it would be popular enough that developers would HAVE to go through them to stay afloat, but people just aren't that interested in a touch interface for a desktop or a laptop or even a tablet. And if Microsoft ever did render Win32 obsolete, all it would do is put them on equal footing with Apple. And I don't think that's a fight Microsoft can win.

We may have reached the beginning of the end of an era, but the era still to come will probably be wicked awesome.

Friday, June 14, 2013

"Man of Steel" Review - Swing of the Pendulum

I don't really think a spoiler warning is necessary for this film, just for the record. There's one bit I'll probably discuss towards the end that I'll mark off with a spoiler warning, but this isn't the sort of film that has a lot of surprises or plot twists in store. However, if you'd rather go into this movie blind, I'll sum up my feelings by saying that if you feel like you would enjoy watching people punch each other through buildings, this movie pretty much sets the new standard for people-getting-punched-through-buildings in film. That alone was enough for me, but if that doesn't sound entertaining to you, you probably won't enjoy this movie. OK, here we go...

I generally liked "Superman Returns", which came out over 5 years ago, but it certainly had its share of problems. While it certainly understood and appreciated the first two Richard Donner films, it treated the subject matter with a disproportionate weight that felt unsettling. The characters felt too serious and burdened with responsibility to really make the film feel uplifting. The best moments came from Kevin Spacey's Lex Luthor, but since his evil plan was so dull, it was hard to care even about him.

The way most people articulate their disappointment with "Superman Returns", however, is by stating that in the span of two and a half hours, Superman never punched anything. That may be a bit low-brow and a gross oversimplification, but it's hard to deny.

Bryan Singer's Superman was a shield. A protector. He would swoop in, catch things, take the hits, and save the day. The only memorable fight sequence for me was when Superman was weakened by Lex Luthor's Kryptonite-lined continent and Lex Luthor wailed on him without any resistance. It was a powerful sequence, but Superman couldn't fight back. Granted, that is pretty much the only situation in which Lex Luthor would dare fight Superman, but it doesn't make for terribly compelling cinema.

So when Zack Snyder took the helm for "Man of Steel", we figured that this time around, if nothing else, at least we'd get to see Superman punch things.

And in fact, we do! Indeed, Superman punches a lot of things. Hooray!

However, one might say that this Superman has swung in the opposite direction from Bryan Singer's. While he spends all of his time fighting and taking direct action, he almost never acknowledges the massive amounts of destruction happening around him. This is not a Superman that will take his eye off his opponent to save a bus full of nuns and orphans.

This is actually a rather interesting philosophical point. Can we have a Superman that can both save people and face his opponents head-on? I'm not sure we can. If Superman can literally save anyone without his ability to fight suffering as a consequence, it becomes difficult to develop a sense of difficulty. As I've said before, Superman is about empowerment and what we decide to do with that power. In "Superman Returns", he decided to use that power to save people. In "Man of Steel", he uses that power to beat the crap out of things.

So yes, we have a Superman that is less Goku and more Powerpuff Girls when it comes to collateral damage, but it is important to note that Superman has only just started doing this gig. Besides, he wasn't in much of a position to "take the fight elsewhere". While Zod and his allies certainly needed Kal-El, they knew that he cared about his adopted planet. If he flew off to an sparsely populated area, I'd wager that Zod and Faora merely would have started killing civilians until he came back. This wasn't really a fight he had the power to relocate, even if he wanted to. Still, I think it would have gone a long way to see him try.

But that's a bit of a nit-pick. The larger issues of the film are more in regards to the first half or so. Everything feels a bit out-of-order. The scene where he learns his origin and dons the suit should have felt like an earned payoff, but instead it just felt like a thing that happened. It was crammed in the middle of the first act for no discernible reason.

In fact, pretty much anything that could be considered a "problem" with this film can be chalked up to the screenplay. Basically everything else is golden.

The actors are fantastic, though Michael Shannon maybe tries to chew the scenery a little too hard (but he is Zod). The music is absolutely riveting and (for me anyway) completely blows away John Williams' over-used themes and score. And the action scenes. Oh good lord the action scenes.

Pretty much everyone who was concerned about the choice of Zack Snyder to direct this film was concerned that he would do that speed-ramping thing where it goes into slo-mo and then speeds up. I personally love that trick, but I guess I'm in the minority there. Even so, it appears that Snyder listened to the criticism and gave us action that never slows down for a second, and even more remarkably, every ounce of it is given an incredible amount of weight and clarity. Each punch and throw feels visceral and the fights have an amazing sense of space and scale. The visual direction of this is easily the best I've seen in an action film since the "Matrix" franchise. No more shaky cameras that are zoomed in too much and obscure most of the action. This is top-notch stuff and Snyder has proven to be in a class of his own.

And really, not everything in the screenplay is bad either. David S. Goyer has never been a bad writer. "Dark City", "Blade II", and "Batman Begins" are a few of my favorites. And in "Man of Steel", though he certainly decided to change more than a few aspects of the mythology, I think that most of those changes work.

First of all, we differentiate between Kryptonian super-strength, which is granted from the difference in gravity between Krypton and Earth, and the rest of the super powers, which are granted from having adapted to Earth's atmosphere and exposure to the yellow sun. I personally like this touch, as it gives Superman a different power-set from most of his enemies and a weakness that doesn't involve glowing radioactive rocks. That's not to say Kryptonite may never have a role to play in future films, but for the purposes of this film, just being exposed to Krypton's atmospheric composition is enough to weaken him.

Next, Lois Lane finds out pretty quickly who Superman is. I love this. The idea that Lois Lane, Pulitzer-prize winning journalist who can get to the bottom of just about any mystery thrown at her, can't trace Superman back to Smallville is just kind of ridiculous. And the idea that she'll cover for Clark at the Daily Planet also explains how no one else who interacts with Superman on a regular basis would figure him out. Making Lois more of an accomplice really works to this film's advantage and it's a welcome change. As a character herself, she is definitely a step up from Kate Bosworth. Amy Adams may not necessarily "look" the part, but she nails Lois' unstoppable curiosity and inability to flinch in the face of great peril. I wouldn't say she's "perfect", but she's definitely a good fit for the role.

While we're talking Daily Planet staff, I love that they cast Laurence Fishburne as Perry White. He is great in the role. Also, while I wasn't paying enough attention through the credits to verify this, it looks like they gender-swapped Jimmy Olsen. Now the character seems to be Jenny Olsen. That's pretty cool. I'm all for shaking up established character traits such as race and gender and I hope to see more of it.

As for the villains, I've mentioned Michael Shannon's Zod, and if I was to rank him amongst other superhero villains in film, I'd say he's at about the level of Blonsky in "The Incredible Hulk". He's an interesting character and performed admirably, and he's always mesmerizing when he performs, but he lacks a certain degree of subtlety and I just don't know if his character arc matches up particularly well with Superman's arc or the themes of the film itself. The film tries to be about what we choose to be and what society forges us to be, and while Superman is supposed to be a being created explicitly to be whatever he wanted to be, by making him for that express purpose, it kind of ironically defeats the purpose. See, in this new version of Krypton, all life is grown in pods rather than birthed naturally, and all Kryptonians are engineered to fit certain roles. Zod was forged a soldier, dedicated with protecting Krypton and its people. And while Superman is supposedly the first natural-born Kryptonian in centuries (which I don't believe for a second), he was birthed specifically to stand as a symbol of hope, which I'm sorry to say means he was burdened with purpose just as much as any other Kryptonian. If you wanted to create a child that could decide his own destiny, you probably shouldn't have given him a magic rock that explicitly detailed what his destiny is. Just sayin'.

Zod's second-in-command, Faora, is easily the best thing about the movie. She is cold and ruthless, over-the-top and yet subdued, oozing with presence and intimidation from every pore. As if that weren't enough, every fight scene she is in is friggin' amazing. She's like the Terminator if the Terminator could fly and move faster than a speeding bullet. She is glorious and I'm so glad that she probably survived the events of this film. Antje Traue needs to get a lot more acting work.

In fact, Faora is so good, that she almost sets the bar too high for the final battle with Zod to top. Fortunately, the film finds ways.

OK, this is the part where I bring up a spoiler. It's not really all that major (it's not a plot twist or anything like that), but it's one of those moments that is probably more effective if you don't know it's coming. So consider this your one and only SPOILER WARNING.

So Superman is fighting Zod. Then he gets Zod in a headlock. Then Zod starts using his heat-vision to try and kill some random bystanders because he's evil. Superman is doing everything in his power to hold Zod back, but it's not enough.

At this point you can probably tell where this is going. After all, what's a Superman to do? Zod has lost everything. Clark has no way of containing Zod now that he's imploded his ship to send the other Kryptonians off to the Phantom Zone. He lacks Kryptonite or anything else to subdue Zod without killing him. Zod is not afraid of death and he is actively going to murder innocent people.

I know that Superman has always been non-lethal. Part of having unlimited power is that you can afford to be non-lethal without compromising your effectiveness in saving lives. However, that's not terribly believable.

And I'm not talking about "realism" here. There's nothing realistic about "Man of Steel", and thank God for that. But while Superman is a power fantasy, power fantasies should never be about getting to avoid difficult choices. If anything, that's precisely the sort of thing that makes Superman stories boring for people. It's like when you're a kid and you and your best friend are playing with action figures. You pick Batman and she picks Superman. She says, "Superman beats up Batman!" Then you counter, "Well Batman has a piece of Green Kryptonite!" Then she counters, "Well Superman brought his Kryptonite-blasting gun with him!"

It's hard to make the argument that it's more realistic for Batman to have a glowing green rock that weakens his alien friend than it is for Superman to have a weapon specifically designed for destroying such a thing, but even a child can tell that one of those two things is "cheating". If Superman can just side-step his weaknesses, then he might as well have no weaknesses at all, and if he can get through a tight spot through luck and determination, then why even bother?

This moment with Zod is a character-defining moment and giving Superman a way out of it would have been cheating. It was perfectly reasonable that Zod, a man just as powerful as him, would be able to force Superman into a situation where he would either have to let innocent people die, or use lethal force against Zod. This was clearly not an easy decision, but to the narrative's credit, I couldn't really see a way out for Superman. He only just barely had Zod in his grasp, and it was a tenuous hold at best. His options were limited. At that point, if something were to come along to prevent him from having to make the hard choice, it just would have undermined the drama of that moment.

So yes, Superman snaps Zod's neck, killing him, and freeing the innocent squishy humans.

Some people are really upset about this. They are calling this a betrayal. "Superman doesn't kill!" I get that, but as with the TV show "Arrow", just because a character generally doesn't want to kill, doesn't mean that they would never kill someone. I'm not sure what these people want. Do they think Superman would have let those people die? Do they think Superman would have found some other way to stop Zod? I think they are just upset that Superman was forced to make this decision in the first place, and so I have little sympathy for them.

However, others have merely claimed that this scene fails because it is undermined by the fact that Superman apparently doesn't give much of a crap about innocent bystanders before this moment. That it's reminiscent of the part in "Batman Begins" where Batman refuses to kill a criminal in cold blood, but then burns down the building and probably kills the guy anyway. That Superman suddenly caring about these four or five humans after probably thousands of others have died seems difficult to swallow.

This is actually a somewhat valid point. While I certainly don't think Superman could have done much to reduce the collateral damage, it would have been good to see him try. To see him genuinely affected by the loss of human life as a result of his relative powerlessness would have really helped us understand how far Superman would need to be pushed to take a life. It would have given this moment more weight, showing that you don't have to give Superman a glowing rock to demonstrate his weakness.

It is worth noting that in the Alan Moore story, "Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?", Superman was also forced to take a life, but as penance, he used Gold Kryptonite, permanently removing his powers, and he went into retirement. From that perspective I can see a fair argument, but that version of Superman had the privilege of knowing that all of his major villains had been subdued and that there were still many other heroes to take his place. I don't know if this Superman feels he has the right to give up his responsibility knowing that the world could sorely use someone like him. I would like to see him struggle with this in future outings, though.

All in all, I still think this scene works because Superman demonstrates genuine frustration and sadness as a result. He hates having taken a life, even a life such as Zod's. He hates that the choice was stolen from him. He hates that he's alone once again. But he has shown that what matters to him isn't the moral high ground, it's the lives of the people he's dedicated to protecting. And that, for me, shows that Goyer and Snyder still get Superman, even if this is the sort of moment that seems tragically uncharacteristic for him. If anything, it's the ballsiest moment of the film, and I love it for that.


So yeah, this movie is flawed, but in an unusual way where specific elements of it work exceptionally well, while the product as a whole suffers from a certain lack of cohesion and clarity. To be blunt, the story could best be described as "stuff happens and then Superman fights things".

Still, Superman films have always had problems. As I've said in the past, Superman is one of those properties that people want to use because of his icon status, but it's a property that every studio exec thinks needs to be "improved" or made "relatable". What makes this film a triumph in my mind is that it managed to go all-out in focusing on Superman more as a character rather than as a symbol or an icon. In fact, I'd say that the Nolan Batman films treated their character more as an icon than this film did. It's difficult for me to separate my knowledge of the Superman mythos from my judgment of his film, but I feel like this film would work really well for someone who knew nothing about Superman. It takes very little for granted and really tries to build this character from the ground up. I think there's something admirable about that, even if the film doesn't necessarily work for all audiences equally.

It also works as a good starting point for a shared universe. The film makes a big enough deal about Superman being the first of his kind and how it kind of scares the powers that be that it does a decent job of opening the door for more like him. One can see this guy inspiring droves of freaks that have hidden themselves from the spotlight to also don a cape and costume and fight evil.

That said, don't bother staying through the credits. There's no "Nick Fury" world-building moment in this film. I'm guessing DC and WB didn't want to put their chips down until they knew that this version of Superman would work. Still, it was moderately disappointing.

So overall, this is a really fun film if you're a fan of superhero action. I do wish that we could find something in between "Superman Returns" and "Man of Steel". A film that respects Superman, shows his compassionate side, and knows how to earn the big moments, but also shows the character's aggressive side and treats him like his own person rather than the archetype he has become in most people's minds. Maybe a film like that is in our future, but only time will tell.

I will say that I would be eager to see Zack Snyder helm another superhero film. It's hard for me to blame him for anything that went wrong in this film. Sure, the director should probably be willing to chuck a script that isn't working, but given DC and WB's obsession with Nolan and Goyer, I'm guessing that demanding rewrites might have severely impacted the production and maybe would have gotten him ousted. I'd say that Snyder made the best possible film he could have with the screenplay he was given, and that's worthy of praise in my mind.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Dear Microsoft: I'm Sorry

I'm sorry, Microsoft. Truly.

If we're being honest, I get it. Really. I do.

You had a lot of cool ideas for the Xbone, and I actually like most of them.

Being able to play games without a disc, being able to switch between games instantly to play multiplayer, being able to share games and subscriptions with family, guaranteeing Kinect support and improving it so that developers would actually use it, cloud processing... these are all pretty worthwhile ideas.

However, as soon as you decided you wanted to do these cool new things, you immediately went into panic mode.

"If we let them play without discs, how will we stop them from installing rented games? Or borrowed games? How will we stop them from just logging into friends' consoles and installing all of their purchases for them to play when they're not around? How do we prevent people from not using the Kinect?"

From a business standpoint, these questions make sense, and so you set out to address all of them. The console has to be online often enough that it might as well always be online, we have to go through Microsoft to buy or sell used games or rent them, the console needs Kinect to function, and we are limited in how many accounts we can share with. This easily prevents people from taking advantage of you in pretty much any conceivable way.

One might argue that this approach makes sense, but no one on your team apparently wondered if maybe it was a good attitude to find ways to "stop" your customers from using your console.

Sony, on the other hand, has rarely had this attitude. Honestly, you should have known they wouldn't play your game, even if it might have been in their best interest to do so. And I'm not saying this just because of the sassy remarks made during the PS4 conference, I'm saying it because of their past record with the PS3 digital downloads.

The PS3 tried very hard to get people more interested in digital downloads. Sure, they weren't the only one, but you guys made it very difficult comparatively. Purchases made for one Xbox 360 couldn't be downloaded on a different console -- or even on a different hard drive for the same console -- without remaining perpetually connected to Xbox Live. What's more, the Xbox had very few full games available for download, and most of them were indie titles or DLC packs.

So when I got a PS3, I expected a similar experience. I bought a couple digital games and thought that was that. Then a friend of mine got a PS3 and just for fun, I logged in with my PSN account and checked to see if I could download some of the games I purchased and install them on my friends' console so we could play them together. Much to my surprise, I could. Every game or DLC pack I had ever purchased was available to download and install. I figured that they would probably only be accessible if I was logged in, but no, even logged in as my friend, even offline, they could play those installed games that I had purchased on a different console. I figured there had to be some catch somewhere, but no. The games had been installed on both consoles, seemingly unrestricted. I researched it and apparently there was some kind of five-console restriction and supposedly it was eventually reduced to two, but I'm fairly certain that's not the case, at least not for me. I've played games I've purchased on multiple friends' PS3's to this day and I've never run into any kind of restriction even though I'm pretty sure I would have by now considering how many friends' consoles I've played my downloadable games on. Maybe it's because my account is old or because those games have been subsequently uninstalled from my friends' consoles, but in my experience, I've never once had difficulty playing a purchased game on a friends' console using their PSN account after the initial download and installation, and I was very happy with this.

I'm not sure if this was Sony's intention or not, but honestly, I think that this was an excellent policy. If it weren't for this policy, I probably wouldn't have purchased PSN games unless I had no alternative, much like I did with the Xbox 360. Because of this policy, I can play games I've purchased at any friend's house so long as they have a PS3 and a decent Internet connection (at least for a few hours for the download). It makes digital games more convenient than physical copies of games, at least in some respects. It encourages people to try it out in spite of the overwhelming time it takes to download and install, not to mention the amount of HDD space it can take up. The advantages are just too tantalizing.

Going away from video games for a minute, let's take a brief look at a different industry that was similarly consumed by the digital revolution: music.

Because of the earlier limitations of Internet connection speed and HDD space, music was pretty much the only form of media that was easy to download and enjoy digitally back in the day. Napster pretty much revolutionized the way we enjoy music.

Then the music industry freaked out and killed Napster. Then a bunch of other services popped up in its place and so the industry targeted the users themselves, trying to scare them out of it. This just made things worse. Then iTunes came along, gave people the option to buy their music digitally, and voila, problem solved. Then they started implementing DRM to restrict where you could download your purchases and how many computers you could have your account active on, and forcing you to play the music within iTunes or else, but since then, they've eased up a bit with the implementation of iCloud and DRM-free music that can be played elsewhere. Even so, it's difficult to share music with friends in a digital format, which is why some people still prefer to just buy the CD. The CD has no restrictions. You can rip it using a multitude of software as many times as you like and listen to the digital versions anywhere. You can give it to friends and let them rip it, even if it is technically illegal to do so.

That's not to say that the music industry was thrilled by this prospect. They tried to restrict CDs with DRM that prevented them from being ripped or by bundling it with software that spied on the user's computer to see if they had "pirated music", but these attempts just exploded in more bad PR and you basically don't see anyone try to pull this stuff anymore. They realized that making it illegal was good enough. So long as this was something people did and felt slightly bad about, it would be enough to keep it from being widespread.

Now the music industry has basically levelled out. The digital market has proven profitable, its restrictions are reasonable, and most people don't pirate music anymore just because they don't want to.

The film industry is slowly going through the same transition, though they're throwing a bit of a hissy-fit too. But with Netflix and other streaming services, they've made legally acquiring digital TV and movies more convenient than pirating them, so that's what most people do. They still want to cling onto their old model, but eventually they'll get over it, one way or another, or they'll suffer the consequences.

And that brings us back to you, Microsoft.

Like I said, Microsoft, I get it. You want to offer all of this cool stuff, but you don't know how to do it without either restricting the consumer or opening yourself up to abuse.

But the only way you can make this move towards digital work is if you embrace the parts that make digital convenient. If digital is restricted to a certain number of machines under certain conditions, then it might as well be a physical copy, and if your physical copy is similarly restricted, then there's no point in having a physical copy in the first place. You're shooting yourself in both feet here. If the only other option is to open yourself up to abuse from your customers, you probably should pick that option instead, because at least then you'll have customers.

Gaming is a social experience, and it's not limited to the kind of social experience you can have online. People still have real-life friends that they see in person and like to play games with. By trying to make online experiences more versatile, you are hamstringing peoples' capabilities of sharing games with people in a physical reality.

Here's your problem.

You tell people that they have to be online to play their games. They get upset, and then you tell them that it's because you decided to let them install their games on the HDDs and this was the only way you could offer them this feature. They tell you that they didn't ask for that and you have a pissed off customer.

But let's imagine a different universe. Imagine if you went out and said that gamers would be allowed to install their games on their console. That they could switch between games midstream. That their friends could install their games too. Then imagine peoples' surprise when they ask what the catch is and you say that Microsoft will not be implementing any restrictions outside of the obvious factor that you have to be logged into your Xbox Live account during the download and installation. To keep developers happy, you say that individual developers can implement DRM if they see fit, but by default, the Xbone would not inherently limit software installations.

Would this new system be abused? Almost certainly. But more importantly, this system would be used. Even people without friends would buy digital copies, just so they could share it with friends if they wanted to. Just so they could know that they wouldn't have to waste shelf space on a game.

The key to winning over customers is to make them feel like they are in control, and even better, by making them feel like they are smart. I don't mean you have to stroke their ego, I mean you have to let them think they're smarter than you. People would go in, feeling like they're about to get one over on you guys by buying games and sharing them with their friends, but before you know it, those people have bought waaaay more games than they would have otherwise, all because they think they can beat the system.

I mean, just look at Steam. Steam has a lot of restrictions. You have to login before you can play offline. You can't login on more than one PC at a time. But they currently have the biggest market share in software sales because they regularly make their customers believe that they are getting a major deal. Every Summer, gamers buy truck loads of games they'd never have bought otherwise, simply because of how cheap they are. I recently bought the "Alan Wake" series on Steam. I have no interest in playing it. But I bought it anyway because maybe one day I will and it was only $5.

It's not about tricking people. The Steam Sales don't have some kind of catch. You buy the game, you own the game. Simple. There's no dark secret about them. But gamers make all kinds of stupid purchases just because they like to take advantage of great deals and opportunities, just like anyone else. This isn't rocket science. Retailers have known this shit for years.

The Xbone's new features don't feel like great deals or opportunities. They feel like windows in a jail cell. You have to let gamers think they're the smart ones. That they can take advantage of you if they play their cards right. That they can game the system. But instead, you basically look at every possible way a gamer could take advantage of your new services and find ways to block them. And in so doing, you made a console that just can't help but piss people off at every turn.

"I can install all of my games on the HDD and the cloud? Cool! That means I can play my entire library anywhere!"
"Anywhere with a stable Internet connection."
"Oh... well, at least I'll be able to install rental games."
"No you won't."
"Oh... well, at least there will be no difference between new and used games since they install no matter what."
"OK, then at least I'll be able to install the game and then give the disc to a friend."
"Haha, no."
"But I can share my games with family members right? So if I buy a game, we can play it together without them having to buy it."
"Nope. Only one person on your family list can play from your library at a time."
"Then why the fuck would I want to install games on my Xbox?"
"So you can switch between two games to play online matches with friends!"
"...That's it?"
"Yeah! Isn't that great?"

You've basically implemented cool new technology and then found ways to impose the same limitations that would exist without the technology, and then made the technology mandatory.

Your games look fine, but they're not all that different from what we have right now. I was paying attention 7 years ago. I remember how big of a leap it was from the Xbox/PS2/Gamecube generation to the present one. It was major. The difference was staggering. But what I saw today was not different enough to sell an entire console, and you know it. You've tried to distract people, but it just makes you seem even more deceptive. And as nice as some of your new features are, every single one comes at the price of convenience and trust.

And speaking of price, $499 is ridiculous. You know who knows that? Sony.

They launched their lowest-end PS3 at $499 back in the day and even though their system was technically far better than yours, even though it offered the same features at a lower cost (free PSN, rechargeable controllers, built-in WiFi, high-def video disc player), and even though it had the biggest following from the previous generation, Sony still got their butts kicked by you and Nintendo almost entirely because the system was too damned expensive. How can you not remember this?

What's even more baffling to me is that you're throwing out this price point even though your new software restrictions would basically guarantee a huge boost in revenue by maiming the used game and rental markets. Even though you have a massively successful subscription service. Even though you are fucking Microsoft and have the best connections in the industry and could easily afford to take a hit on console price even if you didn't. Even though you had no substantial pressure to release a new console this year and could have taken the time to reduce production costs before announcing a price. You decided to act like this was the best you could do.

Guys, your two competitors are selling at $349 and $399. That's it. Game over. They win. Even if average consumers can tell that the Wii U is technically inferior to the PS4 and the Xbone, they will probably not be able to discern a major difference between the PS4 and the Xbone and will probably just buy the cheaper one.

But I know what you're probably thinking. Xbox has brand recognition. Average parents shopping for Christmas don't pay attention to things like DRM or sharing restrictions. They just want to get the newest Xbox for their kids. And that may be true, but if you think they won't notice these restrictions, just you wait. I can imagine the Christmas morning now...

"Yay! The new Xbox! Thanks, Dad! Can I set it up now?"
"Sure! Go right ahead!"
*An hour passes*
"Yay! Let's play the new 'Kinect Sports'!"
*Puts disc in*
"Dad, why isn't it playing yet? What does 'installing' mean?"
"Oh, the lady at the store said that you have to install the game on the Xbox now."
"She said it will let you play the game without the disc."
"Oh, cool! That's great!"
*Plays "Kinect Sports Rivals"*
"That was fun! Hey, can I play some 'Viva Pinata'?"
"Sure! Go right ahead."
*Puts disc in*
"Hey, it's not working."
"Oh, I'm sorry. I forgot. They said it won't play Xbox 360 games."
"Oh. OK, I guess that's... whatever."
*Turns off Xbone and plugs back in the old Xbox 360 to play games.*
*A few hours pass.*
"Hey, we're going to go to your uncle's house. You want to bring the new Xbox to play with your cousins?"
"But there's only the one game. Can we buy some more on the way?"
"I'm sorry, but 'Kinect Sports' was the only one that seemed appropriate for you."
"Oh well. I guess that'll be fun enough."
*They pack up the Xbone and go visit their relatives and start setting it up on the TV in the basement. Her cousin arrives.*
"Hey Alice. You got a new Xbox too?"
"Yeah, though I only got the one game for it."
"Oh, well my mom got me 'Killer Instinct'. I brought it with me. You wanna play it?"
"Sure! Just don't tell my dad."
*Turns on Xbone, but it throws back an error*
"Hey, it won't start."
"You didn't plug in the Kinect."
"But we're playing 'Killer Instinct'. It doesn't need Kinect."
"The console won't start without it."
"Well... OK."
*Plugs in Kinect. A different error pops up.*
"Oh, it has to be online, too. Go ask Uncle Bob what his WiFi password is."
*Bob comes down*
"Oh, I don't have a wireless router. But I can run a cable down from the living room for you."
*Finds a massive ethernet cable and runs it down to the basement for the kids to play with the new Xbox*
"OK, let's play."
*Puts in "Killer Instinct" and installs it. They start playing. A few minutes later, someone trips on the ethernet cable and Bob unplugs it since the kids aren't playing online. One hour passes.*
"Hey! It stopped working! It says connection lost or something! But we weren't even online!"
"This sucks. I'm tired of this. Hey, I think Carl set up his PS4 upstairs. Want to play that instead?"

This might seem like a relatively contrived dramatization, but it's really not. I remember what it was like to be a kid with a new console or a friend of a kid with a new console. Gamer kids love to show off their shiny new toys and share them with friends and family, and the holidays are a great time for people to get together and do just that. But if you bring along your new toys and they don't work or they require a massive amount of work to get working properly, not only does it give you instant buyers remorse, it pretty much tells everyone else at the get-together how incredibly lame that new toy is.

You know why the Wii did better than the Wii U? Both consoles had about the same level of software support. Both consoles were roughly within the same price bracket. But the difference was that the Wii was a bigger novelty. People who brought the Wii to their holiday gatherings became the talk of the evening. Everyone played Wii Sports and everyone had fun. So everyone wanted one of their own. But the Wii U just didn't have that wow factor, so after the holiday boom, sales plummeted.

A console's best possible advertising is word of mouth, and if you can't get people excited about your console without giving them a list of rules and requirements, that word of mouth is going to be mumbled at best.

And that's not even considering the fact that a lot of parents are terrified about their children playing games online. A lot of them just leave the system disconnected because they can't be bothered to figure out your asinine parental controls. But now they won't be able to, and that alone might be enough to make them change their minds about which console to get.

Frat boys who love playing Halo and CoD will probably throw a hissy fit when they realize they won't be able to bring their Xbone into the lounge (a lot of college dorms don't have free WiFi in the common areas).

You may think that you can get away with pissing off gamers, but gamers aren't the only ones who care about being able to play games the way they like to play them. This trait is pretty much universal. Even if you're just targeting parents and frat boys, you'll still find ways to piss them off, and they'll probably be even angrier since they probably won't see it coming.

Microsoft, I'm not saying your new restrictions are unreasonable. Well, actually, I take that back. They are completely unreasonable, but I can understand why you made them. Each and every decision has a thread of logic behind it that I can follow and comprehend. I can see why someone in a board room thought this was the best way to move forward.

I don't believe you've lost your minds, but you have definitely lost sight of the bigger picture. You are about to release the most expensive console on the market, you've pissed off the core gaming market, and you will make casual consumers go completely insane with frustration on launch day. Early adopters will be disappointed, their friends and families will have been given a terrible first impression of the new device, and your competitors will be laughing their way to the bank while the pissed off gamers drink your salty tears.

Even if some people do enjoy your console in your pre-determined, overly-calculated, incredibly limiting environment, that's not what you want. You want people playing Xbone everywhere. You want them bringing it to every party, sharing games with every friend, bringing it along on long road trips. You want your product to be ubiquitous, you don't want it exiled to one room in one house. You might think that if people can't move their Xbone, they'll just buy another one, but you're wrong. People who want to play Xbone at a friend's house won't buy their friend an Xbone. They'll return their Xbone, buy a PS4, use the leftover money to buy another game or two, and bring THAT to their friend's house instead.

So I'm sorry, but you've fucked up. You've fucked up big time.

Don't worry, I'm not going to dance on your grave, because if we're being totally honest, I actually love some of your ideas. I'm actually a little disappointed that the PS4 doesn't really seem to be doing much that's really all that innovative. I really like the potential and the technology of the new Kinect and I know the PS4's new Eye won't be able to come close to matching it. I like the idea of being able to install games directly on the HDD from the disc since the 10GB download through PSN can be arduous. I like the idea of sharing games with a short list of family members on different consoles. I like SmartGlass, though it needs a lot of improvement. I like your app variety (I watched the PS4 keynote through your GameTrailers app since the PS3 just directed me to their crappy built-in browser). I even liked that IllumiRoom thing from a while back, even though it is apparently nowhere to be found in the new console (work on that).

I'm a technophile and I want to favor innovation. I genuinely feel bad that I can't support the most innovative console of this generation. But you've set the cost too high. And I'm not just talking about the cost of the console, I'm talking about the cost imposed on all of your customers. You're asking them to give up things that they've come to expect and that never goes well unless you offer a better alternative.

Along with many other gamers, I have already made my decision. I'm sorry, but I've pre-ordered the PS4. I'm typically the sort of gamer that likes to wait and see how things play out, but there seems little point this time around.

Still, I'm open to reconsidering. If you drop these restrictions without also dropping the features, I'll probably change my mind. I'll cancel my pre-order and change my allegiances. I've changed sides in a console war before and I gave up brand loyalty long ago.

But I think we both know how likely that is. Ever since Windows 8, you've proven to have no real comprehension for what your customers want. You believe you have the power to dictate the rules we play by, but forget that we always have the option to simply refuse to buy your shit. I honestly wonder if you'll learn your lesson before the Xbone fails miserably.

I've been a gamer all my life and I've witnessed every console war since SNES vs. Genesis. In those days, it was frenetic gameplay and third-party support vs. beloved mascots and familiar pixels. It was blast processing vs. mode 7. Then Sony got in the game a generation later and it was 32-bit vs. 64-bit. Disc vs. cartridge. Cost vs. power. Then you guys came along and it was fighting games and FPS's vs. Everything Else. Then a generation later it was cost vs. power again. Online play vs. console versatility. No matter the generation, there was always an argument to be made for either side. There was never a clear winner until the market had spoken.

But this time? Well, this is the first time I've seen a community so universally in favor of one console over the other. On every blog post talking about the PS4 announcement from last night, I see no arguments over which console is better because there's really no argument to be had. Unless you really like Twitch, Halo, or Fantasy Football, I'm having a hard time figuring out how someone could favor the Xbone at this point. It's more expensive, more restrictive, more unwieldy, more pompous, and offered a very narrow view of what kinds of gaming experiences we can expect. The system specs are practically identical and yet the Xbone costs more, probably because of the required Kinect that most people (myself not included) want nothing to do with.

Though I'm not just getting the PS4 because it's better than the Xbone. I'm not just settling for it. I'm getting it because during that press conference, it was the first time I felt excited during E3 since I was a kid. I felt like Sony was listening to me. Like they cared about more than just my money. Besides which, the PS3 has been a really satisfying product and I feel like Sony trusts the gaming community. As much as I want to reward the Xbone's new ideas, I don't want to reward the way you treat your customers, and I'd much rather reward a company that at least tries to treat its customers with some amount of respect.

I'm sorry Microsoft, but you've been having a pretty lousy year. Your Windows Phone OS continues to fail to get a market share that can even be considered moderately competitive with iOS or Android. Windows 8 has gone over like a lead balloon and anyone who has upgraded to it who isn't using a tablet thinks it is terrible. Most people who buy tablets still get iPads. The desktop PC market continues to stagnate (though it certainly isn't dying). Your new server OS is equally ridiculous and annoying, implementing the same ridiculous UI even though no admin in their right mind would use a touch screen for a server. And now that you've also screwed up your gaming division, I think you've only got darker times ahead.

I don't think there's anything left for you to break.