Why I'm opting out of the Xbox One... for now

Before E3 ever started, there was an uprising afoot.  In fact, even before the big reveal of Xbox One (hereafter referred to as XB1) there was an uprising afoot -- but one based on speculation.  Microsoft was, in the opinions of many, about to screw the gaming community over - in grand fashion.  They were doing something radically different with their gaming system.  Something that had been done before on PC (with great success), but never in the console industry.   It was going to be amazing and beautiful, and for many, despicable.

They wanted to move consumers to a digital distribution model.  On the PC we have Steam, which is exactly that.  Pay for a code, that gives you the right to use the games but not own them.   This has led to cheaper games and an experience on the PC that many gamers love.   However there is one key difference, and for me personally this was the kicker.   You had to be connected at least once every 24 hours to play.   While not exactly like Origin and the now infamous SIM CITY "always online" model, it is still too restrictive.  However, the bigger problem is that they were trying to force that on the gamer, not make it an option.  On the PC, I can opt for Steam, or I can buy most games without it - on disc.

I grew up in a rural area in East Kentucky.  We have broadband there, but it's spotty at times.   Sometimes I go to a cabin near Cave Run Lake that my parents own.  There we have no internet at all.   In both of these scenarios, if I'm going to be there more than 48 hours, I'm taking my console.   However with XB1 this 24 hour thing would have made this impossible.   The other ideas of the new model I was ok with.  However I don't like the concept of a required Kinect very much.  I know they wanted stronger development support, and understand that putting the Kinect out there with every console would enrich it...  I don't like it though.  The games I play don't translate well to rails.   I've yet to be impressed by a Kinect game.

So the revolt happened.  Just after E3 the internet came together and did what the internet does best: unite people under a common cause.  The fan base turned viciously against Microsoft, making it clear that this system was not acceptable.  Then something amazing happened.  Microsoft conceded and changed the whole thing.  Unfortunately swapping out good parts of the program, along with the bad -- I still think they could have (and maybe eventually will) made it a transitional approach with the best of both worlds.  However, worthy of note, it still has the Kinect and still costs $100 more than the rival PS4 system.

Prior to the concession I ordered a PS4, and I have every intention of keeping the pre-order.  I want to reward Sony for not caving to the desires of the publisher, thus doing the right thing for the gamer.  I want to reward Sony for not thinking they were in control (like they did with the PS3 and now Microsoft had done with the XB1).  Although Microsoft has made a move that puts them in much better standing, and makes the system one that I can go along with, I've decided that in this case 4 comes before 1.

Why?  Several reasons, first and foremost, the pre-order.  If Don Mattrick had just shut his mouth I would have held off on the pre-order.  However, he went on a head-up-ass mini tour of the industry explaining to people how they "fortunately have a gaming system for those who can't play online -- the 360" and such.  Wow, someone at MS PR needs to be sacked for not reigning this guy in.  Talk about pouring salt in the wound.  "Fortunately there is an alternative to your system, and I'm pre-ordering it", was my thought when I read his comments - and less than 12 hours later, I did just that - and I intend to honor it.

Of course I'm rather fortunate, and I can afford a few luxuries in life.  So why not get them both?   There was nothing particularly of interest in the launch titles for me.  The things that did get my interest were on both the XB1 and PS4.  So I'm not missing out on any exclusives I care for at all.   Essentially, if you lose me at launch, you typically lose me completely.  However, 2 generations ago, Sony lost me at launch -- and only now have I returned.   In those 2 generations I became particularly fond of some Xbox Exclusives.  When those hit XB1, I may have to reconsider my position.  Hopefully that will give MS enough time to realize what a mess they've truly made, and recover from it

So in closing.  My message to both Microsoft and Sony:

Digital distribution can be a good thing.  It is a an ideal model for the developers and publishers of software.  It can reduce or outright end piracy, it can reduce the impact of used games to he bottom line of the publishers and dev shops.   It can save the consumer a trip to the store, and much more.   However, you must realize that not everyone wants it.  Believe it or not, some of us like standing in line for games at launch.  There is frustration and bitching and moaning, but there is also socialization and meeting new people involved in that process.  There are some people who take pride in showing their friends the massive collection of little boxes for all of their games (much more impressive than the digital display of games).  Some people like to look at cover art, and physically hold the disc - look at a real instruction manual.

In other words, you cannot force the will of the publisher upon the gamer.  Instead incentives for the digital version is the way to go.  They do not even have to be great incentives.  Make it cost a little less, "You can't resell for $15 in 3 weeks, but we'll sell it to you $10 cheaper to guarantee you will not try.  Of course you still have the option to pay more now, get the physical disc, and make $5 on your resell (if you sell it while it's hot) comparatively."  or, "You are not forced to keep your system connected or checking in every 24 hours, but if you do you get access to special content." or,  "You don't have to buy the version bundled with the Kinect / Eye, but if you do then we'll toss in a T-shirt."  But above all, do not ever... ever... sneak something in.

If you'd taken this approach instead of trying to force your will (Microsoft I'm looking right at you) then this whole thing would have been a non-issue and we'd have a good old fashioned console war instead of a self-inflicted knock out.


Life, death, and taxes

It was inevitable that the time would roll around again that I'd be writing another tell of a loved one's passing. My grandmother Goldie passed away on 12/27/2012.  Less than a month before what would have been her 94th birthday.   She was loved, and many people showed up to reflect that love at her funeral.

Of course her passing put me back in a church pew, and forced me to go into religious introspective mode - as funerals often do.  I'm not sure if it is because of the preachers pounding away on the idea of seeing her again in her mansion made of gold, or if there is something greater driving my introspection.


Post Election Rant

Seeing the "buzz" on Facebook and Twitter about the outcome of the presidential election last night has been, interesting.  I have seen so much negativity - things like "end of the world", "there goes all of the jobs", "if not for the [ethnic group], or the [skin color]...", etc.  I generally avoid conflict, and do not often speak up over the ridiculousness of others.  However, I am somewhat in awe today.  

Being from Appalachia, I understand poverty.  I was never so unfortunate, because my Dad saw to it that we always had enough.  He also gave me faith in humanity, and taught me the value of humanity.  

I am the product of a public education system, and I am thankful for that public education system.  I realize that when the president said that "you didn't build that business, you had help" he meant the education system, among other things.  I am thankful that we have programs like medicaid, medicare, food stamps, etc. because there are people - real people - who need those programs to get by.  

Some folks would call these unfortunate individuals a drain on the rest of us.  I guess I simply can’t understand an attitude so uncompassionate - and I really can’t understand such an attitude from anyone who would call themselves a Christian.  Would Jesus have seen them as a drain on the rest of us?  I think that in our modern society, Jesus would be a socialist.  (See Matthew 19:21 - http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Matthew%2019:21&version=KJV)

I further can’t understand those who sing the praises of freedom, but vote to suppress it above all else.  I’m talking about gay marriage, I’m talking about the drug wars, and I’m talking about pushing for faith based agendas.  Freedom is only real, if it is absolute.  It is not freedom, unless it is freedom for all.  Two men, or two women who love each other should have every right afforded any other couple under law.  Anything less is oppression.  Anyone should have the right to do whatever they want to their body in private, whether it’s drink a fifth, or smoke a joint -- when they get out on the road it is a different story, but if they are not endangering the lives of others, why imprison them.  If a Jewish kid is in a public school, why should he be expected to sit quietly while his class prays to the Jesus he does not believe in.

I would beg anyone who reads this to please open up a history book.  Learn about the conflicts that date back to the days before Christ himself, and everything that happened in medieval times, up through our current society.  If you read, and understand, you will learn that man has bowed down to money for a very long time.  You will also learn that some truly remarkable men stood up to the almighty dollar and forever changed the world.  Most importantly you may learn what humanity is, and why it is important to care for each other, and how we truly are all in this together.


College Football Playoffs

I'm not a sportscaster, and I'm not an odds maker, so maybe my opinions don't matter when it comes to the idea of how to fix the BCS.  I for one hate the system where two teams are voted / computed to be the best in the land and they get to play for the title.   I have long been a proponent of a FBS playoff and have often bandied the idea about with friends and colleagues.  I wrote the following to outline my idea of how a playoff could work for the BCS.  I'm not saying this plan makes it all go away, but I know I'd like it far better than what we have now.

For starters there are currently 11 conferences in the FBS.  There is also a handful of non-conference "independent" teams - in my opinion they pose the biggest flaw in this plan.  So you take each of the 11 conference champions (now championships really mean something) and fill 11 of the 12 slots.   Then you take the voted / computed best of the independents and fill the 12th.   This field of 12 is your playoff.

Note: You could expand it to 16 and take the 4 highest ranked non-champions, but that starts to muddy the waters again.

Now, bowls have to be played, there is too much money in them and we still want the season to end in early February too.   So, you would use the highest payout bowls along with the BCS bowls to fill the slots, and the seeds would be based on the current BCS rankings.   If an unranked team upsets their conference and wins the championship, there would be a provisional ranking system used.   Basically a top 12 based on BCS rank followed by the provisional unranked conference champions / independents.

So if Notre Dame (an independent) finished the season ranked #1 they would be the #1 seed.  However if Kentucky made the playoff by an upset of #2 LSU in the SEC Championship after somehow making the SEC Championship game unranked, then Kentucky would fall into the provisional rankings and likely end up an 11 or 12 seed. LSU would be out.

The schedule would look something like this...

  • Championship - 1st week of February
  • Semi Finals - 3rd week of January
  • Quarter Finals - 2nd week of January
  • Opening Round  - 1st week of January

So the Capital One, Chick-Fil-A, Insight, Outback, Gator, and Champs bowls would all be played the first week of January.  The Orange and Fiesta Bowls would be played the second week of January.  The Sugar and Rose bowls would be played the 3rd week of January, and finally the National Championship Game would be played the first week of February.   

All other bowls would still play as they currently do, they just wouldn't be involved in the playoffs, they are -- essentially what they are now -- consolation games for good teams who just weren't quite good enough.

Other than the issue with the independents, this solves every major concern I've heard about a playoff system.  It keeps the bowls happy, it keeps the BCS and rankings relevant, it makes the Conference championships mean more than they ever have - not to mention regular season conference games, and most importantly it makes the fans happy.   Teams like Boise State and (this year) Oklahoma State have almost as good of a chance as Louisiana State of being in the national championship hunt.


Playing with Code

This extended weekend has started with me doing some code experiments.  I've gone back to work on my social stream library and added Google + and Blogger support.  This blog post is actually an effort to test some of that functionality.  

The social stream is a chronological representation of my activity on the various social networks that I publish on.  It currently includes twitter, blogger, google+, and foursquare.  I'm still planning to add facebook and possibly a couple of others.


Cover Tunes

I'm a fan of music of many kinds, but for some reasons I'm endlessly entertained by two particular forms of the art that are kindred spirits of sort.  Cover songs is first -- the more removed from the original the better, the other is parody (spoof movies too, but this is about music).

So while I'm sitting here listening to some I thought I'd jot down a few of my favorite cover songs.

10. Gin and Juice - The Gourds (Cover of Snoop Dogg)
 9. T.N.T - Hayseed Dixie (Cover of AC/DC)
 8. Dear God - Sarah McLachlan (Cover of XTC)
 7. Famous Blue Raincoat - Tori Amos (Cover of Leonard Cohen)
 6. The Man Who Sold the World - Nirvana (David Bowie)
 5. The Metro - System of A Down (Cover of Berlin)
 4. Hurt - Johnny Cash (Cover of Nine Inch Nails)
 3. Who Wants to Live Forever - Breaking Benjamin (Cover of Queen)
 2. Smooth Criminal - Alien Ant Farm (Cover of Michael Jackson)
 1. Crazy - Mushroomhead (Cover of Seal)


Don't let gaming die

Anyone who has known me, for any length of time, knows that I'm very serious - and very passionate - about video games.  I've been playing for most of my life.  I'm around 30 years removed from my first console - the Colecovision.  Lately, I've been noticing a couple of disappointing trends, and they are so big  they could destroy gaming.  One is motion control and the other is rehashed titles.

Don't get me wrong.  I love technology, and when Microsoft first announced the Kinect, I definitely had a bit of a nerdgasm.  I think that in moderation, and the right environment, those games can be great.  For example: I think that Kinect Adventures is a lot of fun, so are some of the games for the Wii (I boycotted Sony years ago, just after the launch of the PS2, so I know nothing of the Playstation Move).  Unfortunately, I think gaming is leaving the controller behind, and I'm unhappy about this for a few reasons:

  1. I am lazy.  When I play a game, I want to just sit back on the couch and relax.  I exaggerate here a bit - I am actually fairly active - but, sometimes I don't want to "be the controller".  In fact only certain games are good when I am the controller.  A modern style, 3D, Action driven, RPG would be difficult to execute on Kinect.  A traditional RPG with menu driven combat and spell casting could fair OK I think, but for a game like Skyrim... Uh, No.  Furthermore, a shooter (not on rails) would be nigh impossible.  
  2. I am fat.  This isn't an exaggeration.  I have a thyroid disorder, I like food and beer, and (see point 1) I am lazy.  While I've been losing some weight, I don't suspect I'll ever be "skinny" and therefore jumping around can be painful for me sometimes.  Some exceptionally heavy people are probably exempt from playing motion games.  I know a lot of gamers, and we can be quite hefty.  Moreover, this trend doesn't even consider those gamers who have physical handicaps.
  3. I am older.  In the same sense as above, if I jump around... I feel it the next day.  It's hard on the joints and muscles.  I'm in decent shape for a lazy fat guy.  I walk for exercise at about 4.0 mph and don't get winded, but Kinect Adventures just about flat-lines me.
  4. I don't like games "on rails".  This is my biggest beef with the motion controlled games.  I've yet to see a "rails" game that excites me.  There are a few with potential to be fun, but not the kind I would sit around and play for hours - if left to my own devices.  I've yet to see a "rails" game that can generate my total absorption into the story line.  None of them can make me truly feel like I'm in the game. I want to be able to look and move around - as independently controllable actions - just like in real life.  Instead games on rails are like being strapped to a turret, on a very long moving sidewalk.
I am not saying I want to see the end of Kinect, Wii, Android, iPhone, and Playstation Move gaming platforms.  I just want the console makers to realize there is a "core" gaming demographic over here too.  We don't want you to forget about us, while you're off pandering to the casual gamer.  Oh, and don't think throwing us Call Of Duty 4:MW25 is going to keep us content either, as this represents the second issue. 

I want to see more of the (console) originality that was Halo, Assassin's Creed, Thief, Tomb Raider, The Legend of Zelda, Golgo 13, Phantasy Star (not that garbage that has ruined the name), Metal Gear, Sonic the Hedgehog, Call of Duty, and many more (note the lack of numbers after these titles, it's not because each of them have sequels - which they do, but instead it is because I'm talking about version 1 of each game.).  Unfortunately, all I get is rehashed sports titles, rehashed shooters, rehashed music games, and copycats of the rehashed franchises.  There is nothing new or original, just more of the same.  In my list above, some of those sequels were actually better than the original.  However, this is mostly because of improved technology, not improved gameplay or storyline.

I do like Call of Duty, Halo, and a few of the sports franchises.  Furthermore, I will surely buy COD:MW3 and Halo HD when they come out.  I've already bought The Elder Scrolls 5 on pre-order. However, I long for a brand-new 120 hour epic RPG, or a new shooter that changes everything about the genre (again).  Something that makes console gaming fun again.  I think that anything less will eventually destroy gaming because even the causal gamers and "hardcore" fanboys will get tired of this stuff sooner or later.  So, please, video game industry hear my cry.  Send me something awesome and new before I finally "grow up" and say goodbye to you for good.