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ThatMan's blog

6:21 AM on 10.20.2014

Playstation TV is the answer to a question nobody asked

With the release of Playstation TV, Sony jumps on the bandwagon of set-top boxes with the intention of challenging directly new competitors on the same market, such as Google, who is about to release its own Android TV in partnership with Asus, and the whole world of media streamers and micro consoles like the Ouya, Apple TV, Roku, and so on and so forth. And this is where things get confusing. I am starting from the assumption that Sony is actually trying to compete against all these other devices, but this isn't necessarily the case apparently.

Playstation TV is a tiny box that allows to play Vita games on a big screen, but not all games, and stream content off the internet, but not all of it. The marketing behind this device is bizarre, to say the least. Several times during the past years the Japanese giant managed successfully to create hype and expectations on its products, and the second they get released, they immediately forget they even exist. When the Vita was first announced, I was drooling. I bought my Vita on day one, and sadly, for reasons beyond me, assisted to Sony treating its portable console like the junkie cousin nobody wants to invite over for Christmas. Vita has a lot of potential, and many fantastic games, and yet it struggles to sell and get constantly stumped on by the 3DS - and I am quite confident that it still was on the market, it would be outsold by the Game Gear too.

Let's start with the obvious. PS TV is a niche product. Much more than the Android TV. If Google is marketising it as streaming device that could also play games and run apps, Sony is going for a "Uhmm... It's a... thing... that plays some games from a console that shall remain unnamed, and it also play PS1 and PSP games, right? And... You know, you can remote play from your PS4, if you own one, and... uhmm... stream... things... off the... interwebs, I guess." This is not how to sell a product.
Sony should go the extra mile and sell this box to those who don't own a PS4 and aren't planning to buy one. I understand that Sony wants to push home consoles, but not everyone is willing to spend £350 on it. Their message should be "Hey, if you are on a budget, come and play awesome games on our cheapest and smallest console ever!" They should use it as a tool to get people excited about the Playstation brand and push Vita games sales up. Sony has a good product in its hands, and with a decent marketing, it could go a long way and get the attention of more casual gamers that aren't willing to invest on a Vita or PS4. Once customers are in your ecosystem, then it's easier to sell them portable consoles ("You can get of the couch and keep playing on the train!") or home consoles ("Switch to a PS4, and you could use your PS TV to play games in your bedroom while your wife complaints you want to play The Last of Us instead of having sex with her!").

And yet Sony doesn't do anything like that. Instead of trying to get new customers, it markets Playstation TV to a smaller user base with needs too specific to be profitable.

Another strategy Sony could use could be "Hey, you are not even interested in playing games at all? Come and get a Playstation TV anyway! You can stream Netflix on it!" But no. Not possible. No Netflix on it. Launching on the market a set-top box with no Netflix it's a commercial suicide. Now that you can watch Netflix on any sort of device, including 12 years old Nintendo Wii, not having Netflix on Day 1 it is the plain stupid.

Playstation TV is the answer to a question nobody asked. It is an interesting device with a lot of potential that won't sell because nobody knows it even exists in the first place, and because even for those who know it is a tangible, physical object, its purpose is unclear, and the marketing behind it is sloppy and confusing.
In a world where even Apple TVs sell, Playstation TV it is sadly destined to fail miserably, if Sony doesn't step up and change its strategy.


11:36 AM on 10.07.2014

Alien Isolation, or the tales of The Aeroplane Over the Sea

I don't get invited to press conferences and presentations very often. In fact, this is something that - at least to me - happens so seldom to be literally considered an event.
Yesterday I had one of those rare moments of sheer luck.

Let's start from the beginning. I receive a call in the morning. It's my sister-in-law. She says someone she knows has a spare pass for the presentation of Alien: Isolation. As a struggling writer, I think Yes! This is a good chance to network and meet people in the industry, or at least spend an evening doing something I enjoy doing!
So I get in touch with the person who has got the press pass, and I convince her to put me on the list for the evening.
This is great, I think. After months of slow business and random jobs, even the press conference of Alien Isolation is a blessing. This is great, I think.
I leave home at around 7. London has decided to get in autumn mode. The air is getting colder. Outside is dark, and it rains, and it rains sideways, and being outside it's sort of uncomfortable.
As I walk through the park on my way to the tube station, I go through my mental checklists of things I need for the evening. Ipad; notepad and pens; audio recorder; gopro and mount. All checked. I read back the confirmation email, just to be ultra safe. At 8pm outside the Odeon in Camden. Great. Great great great. I got plenty of time.
I jump on the train at 7.21pm, and I put some music on.
Interesting fact: I like music. Well, ok, this isn't the interesting fact just yet. I like music and I know music. Back in the days, I would listen to albums for hours and hours, sometimes going through my day having punk rock blasting on for literally all of my waking time. I loved my iPod. As I say, I always took pride in knowing a lot of bands, and artists, and for following obscure composers, or weird genres, and for knowing and enjoying more music than the regular guy on the street.
Few days ago, while boring-browsing Youtube for something to watch, I stumble across Anthony Fantano's review of a band I never heard of: Neutral Milk Hotel. It was a pretty old video too, and I had no idea how it ended up on my feed. That same day, I watched another video, a videoblog recorded a day earlier of two guys going through their favorite albums, and surprisingly they mention Neutral Milk Hotel. I download the record, On the Aeroplane Over the Sea, and BAM! Revelation! The album is fantastic, and everyone should listen to it, and I feel a little embarrassed for having never heard of them.

My journey on the tube ends. It's 10 minutes to 8. Perfect timing. I walk through the busy streets of central London, from Leicester Square to the meeting point, the Odeon in Covent Garden. I get there, and it's weird. Strangely quiet, and nothing that seems to indicate an event like a video game launch. Few people are leaving the cinema debating the quality of the film they watched. Film that was "good but a bit cheesy" as stated by one of them.
There is something wrong. I pull out my phone, and read the email back again. "8pm at the Odeon in Camden". Weird. There is nobody here. Perhaps they gave me the wrong cinema? Could they mean Leicester Square? After all Leicester Square would be a much more suitable venue for launch. Who has ever heard of an event at the Odeon in Covent Garden?
Hold on. Covent Garden. I'm in Covent Garden. I read the email, which at this point I could recite, and read "8pm in Camden". Camden. CAMDEN, Matteo! Camden.
It is know 8.11pm. The event is about to start in four minutes in a completely different part of town. There is no way I can get there on time. Hell, with this traffic, there is no way I can get there   with a forgivable lateness either.

An hour later, I am sitting on the sofa, eating a sandwich and watching behind the scenes of Orange is the New Black, unsure of whether I should laugh about how the evening went, or if I should call myself an idiot for losing one of the very few occasions I had to network, and meet people, and maybe get some writing gig. The thing is, I read that email so many times, and my brain registered Covent Garden and went along with it. I should feel silly, but I made myself a sandwich so good that I forget about Alien Isolation. Plus, Neutral Milk Hotel is a great band, and if only I wanted I could have my slice of Alien by watching the whole series on dvd. If only I wanted. Instead, I watch interviews I don't even care about watching, and think about how good On the Aeroplane over the Sea is and about my own obliviousness.
And man, this sandwich is so damn good.

4:53 PM on 08.27.2014

Call for submissions: EuroToid Podcast team wanted

Dear all,

I would love to create a new community podcast, and I would like to do it with the European Destructoid community.
I am looking for eager video games fanatics who are keen to share their views with thousands (or more realistically, dozens) of listeners.
The perfect candidate is:

[li]A European with a[/li]
[li]extensive video game industry knowledge and possibly[/li]
[li]extensive knowledge of a platform of choice. Someone who[/li]
[li]dreams of a career in video game journalism and[/li]
[li]doesn't fuck around too much - meaning, we need someone reliable.[/li]
[li]Someone who has a good grasp of the English language and[/li]
[li]a good microphone and[/li]
[li]a decent internet connection[/li]

I would like to make it a long term project, so I'm looking for seriously interested individuals who can spare an hour per week to talk in front of a microphone.

In a perfect world, if you have artistic or design skills, or if you are IT competent, it would be even better.
I'm looking for three cast members, each of them potentially coming from different countries.
And if you're based in London, we could record it face to face rather than over the internet!

Interested? For more details contact me via PM, or twitter, or via telegram, or via carrier pigeon.   read

2:06 PM on 08.18.2014

Narrative Rant: Proteus

A lazy afternoon.

I sit on the couch and fire on my PS Vita. I open Proteus and get lost on an island.

I do actually come from an island, Sardinia. It is a place in the middle of the Mediterranean. A sunny, warm place. I used to live by the sea. I watched it on my trips and admired the severe gray-purplish colour of the ocean in winter time, and how it shines and reflects the sky in spring, when warmth hits you from the windscreen of the car, and you pull the windows down just a little bit and breathe wind and sea and sand.

I press the start button on my Vita, and I find myself immerse in water, a small island is in front of me. I swim towards it and step on a beach. The game is in first person, so I donít really see what I look like. I just assume I look like myself from behind the screen and move on, without knowing what to expect from the game.
Exploration, is all it is. Proteus is a blocky, pacific world, in which all you do is walk, and look around, and get lost in the woods, and climb up mountains and admire the view from up above. There is no confusion with the controls. You walk around and not much more, but it isnít a problem. I find myself surrounded by butterflies, and flowers, and the music around is mellow and soft. The sun sets, and I stay on the beach looking at a progressively darker tone of blue and orange and red. It looks like a LEGO sunset on acid, and it works. It is a beautifully digital sunset.

When the sun rises again, I wonder if there is more to Proteus than I could find, and I keep on walking around an island that on second thought is way bigger than I predicted, to discover than the beauty of the game is not in the destination but in the journey itself. Proteus is beauty for beautyís sake.

Meanwhile, in London, it rains, slowly at first, then progressively harder. Iím not gonna go out tonight. In game, it is a nice summer afternoon, one I wish I could be gifted with where I live.
Seasons change, slowly but steadily, and colours, stilly minecraftly blocky, become heavier and darker, and leaves fall on the ground. Then winter comes, but not like in Martinís book. It arrives, †quiet, like a ballerina dancing to the sound of no music.

After some time I reach some stones, ruins in a circle, and as I get inside the circle everything around me comes alive, and all the energy of the island comes flying in and spins in a vortex, and seasons change in seconds, and again I simply stand and look at chunky blocks of colour paint the sky with snow and sun and rain and wind.
As I step inside the vortex, everything stops, and Iím left with a new summer.
Outside my window, it still rains.

I press circle and the eyes of the protagonist close, and Iím back on the main screen. When I go back in, everything is still the same and yet slightly different. The island has changed.

Outside my window, in London, it still rains. But it doesnít matter.   read

10:24 AM on 08.17.2014

Opinion: It's time to stop playing JRPGs

Or at least, it is for me. Letís admit it: Iím not getting any younger. I have a day job and I write silly editorials while commuting back and forth from it, and I find myself scribbling things like ďI really need to remember to buy milk from the grocery store tonight, if I donít want to skip breakfast for the third day in a rowĒ (hint: I wouldnít want to).

In the past four years at Uni, I focused on studying narrative techniques and fell in love with the endless possibilities that video games can offer. Itís a road barely walked on the way it deserves, and I would like to be part of those who will get there first. More recently, Gone Home, Journey, and The Walking Dead - alongside many other titles - showed me radically different ways of delivering strong narratives and innovative gameplay. Or think about The Stanley Parable, or the newly released playing teaser for Silent Hills, P.T. What all these games have in common are 1) a strong narrative and 2) they maximize such narrative aspects in a short time. Of all these games, TWD is possibly the longest, and yet it clocks out at less than 5 hours of gameplay. Iím not gonna argue about the whole more-bang-for-your-bucks thing (though I have strong opinions about it, this is a discussion we can leave to another time). When I was in high school, the longer a game was, the better. I also had the fortune of growing up in the golden age of JRPGs - I played the shit out of Chrono Trigger, Xenogears, Suikoden, all the Final Fantasy andÖ No, wait. Not all the Final Fantasy. As a matter of fact, I stopped after playing FFVIII, which is when I graduated from high school.

Things have changed, and now I not only donít physically have enough time to play a 60+ hours game, but mostly, I donít really want to. My approach is to get the most out of what a game has to offer and move on to something else, and Japanese RPGs just donít excite me anymore the way they did in the past. Iím writing this with a sort of melancholic, sad attitude, as I would love to fell in love again with the genre, but what thrilled me in the past, I now found borderline disgusting.
When I came back from my holidays last month, I decided it was finally time to sit down and play Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch. I bought it last year and never found time to play it. It was finally time. Being a long time fan of Studio Ghibli, I was sure this game was going to be the one who changed my mind about the genre. The game, developed in collaboration with Level 5, has stunning visuals. Iím not usually one of those fellas who play a game for its graphics, but this is different. Ni No Kuni looks like an anime, and plays like one. It is narratively brilliant, and it offers the same wonderful feelings Mihazakiís studio is famous for. As a plus, there isnít an endless character creation process, and itís obvious that the developers want the players to experience a strong, linear story in a very specific way. Itís cool, and the game starts with the right foot, but I stopped playing it slightly after five hours.
Once you finish the first main mission, the world map unlocks, and with it, an endless streak of random encounters. Damn, I hate them in such a visceral way that after a full 45 minutes of stupidly pointless repetitive battles, I took into serious consideration the idea of moving in a country in which video game consoles are banned. But then again, Iím not sure if pizza is available in North Korea and decided to stay where I am.
I donít need grinding in my life. I donít have time for it. I donít have patience. I want to get going and see what happens next.
My experience with Ni No Kuni ended up there. And itís a shame, because I was connecting with the narration, and I loved the magical world it is set in. I heard that in Bravely Default there is an option to shut the random encounters down and focus on the story. It is great, but Iím not sure I have the strenght for another JRPG in my life.
I feel like one of those couples that split up not because something went specifically wrong, but because they fell out of love for each other. Maybe it is simply time for me to move on to different genres.

What do you think? Do you agree? Do you think there are JRPGs still worth playing? Is there something wrong with the genre? Let me know in the comments, I would love to hear the communityís opinion about it.   read

5:48 AM on 08.16.2014

Narrative Rant: Luftrausers

Luftrausers chewed me and spit me on the floor, but I always went back for more. I played it until it wasn't fun to play, and became plain frustrating. I kept on playing it until I hated myself, the developer Vlambeer, the publisher Revolver, Sony, frozen pizzas, London's notoriously bad weather, and the fact that I chose video games as my main hobby instead of, let's say, banging my head against a brick wall.

War has changed.

The premise of Luftrausers is easy. Get on a plane and shoot everything on sight. It's a 2-button shooter that uses an interesting physics. With one button you accelerate, with another one you shoot. Easy? Yes. Until you actually realise there are no breaks and that if you don't understand how the controls work you ended up being a sitting duck for the hundreds of enemies that appear on screen, eager to blow your guts up.
Here is the thing: Not only war sucks, but whoever is in charge of your life has decided that the best option to win the war is by sending airplanes one at the time against an enemy evidently stronger.

You won't get out alive. You know it beforehand. Maybe because the game only ends when you get killed in action, or maybe because life is unfair, or maybe because the strategist behind this majestically fought war gets an erection every time he has to knock at the door of the pilot's widow to communicate the sad, sad news (though this is only my assumption, as none of this actually happens on screen). And in Luftrausers, just to be clear, you easily die in less than a minute, over and over again. The game uses sweet, minimalistic 2D flat graphics, and I highly appreciated Vlambeer's idea of showing an aura around the airplane instead of an health bar that recharges if you don't get hit. It allows for interesting strategies and push you to be slightly more defensive than you probably would otherwise. It's a nice touch, that doesn't save the game from a serious issue: your plane is minuscule, and the screen gets very crowded very fast. Missiles and bullets are as big as the airplanes, and once you get dozens of planes and ships shooting at you, you lose sight of where you are. It happens way too often, and all the times I died because of it, I felt the game was being unfair on me.

I knew I shouldn't have trusted this guy.

After a while all I cared about was the sake of the world peace and began to considered that maybe, just maybe, that man shooting at me from a ship has a family who is expecting him at home, worried, anxious. Maybe they signed up for a mortgage few months before the war started. And now he's in front of me, and I wish for peace and love and then I blow the motherfucker up with my cannon right before being killed for the nth time.
I go back to the hangar and modify my aircraft, which is one of coolest feature of Luftrausers. Different engines, armours, and weapons, that gives completely different feels to the game. Well balanced, too. I choose and go back to the addictive receptiveness of the chiptune music, ready to kill and to be killed. Because, if you didn't notice, war sucks.†

Final thoughts.
Luftrausers is a game worth your time, but only up to a certain point. It's fun, but with evident flaws that block it from becoming a true success. Luftrausers shines as a on-the-go game. It's easy to pick up and impossible to master. In some cases it's unfairly difficult and sometimes confused, but the addictive design makes you want to come back for more every single time.   read

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