E3 next week and expectations heating up

Now that E3 is almost back to its glory, all kinds of speculations and expectations started coming out. Even new trailers for games started showing up already (Check the Bayonetta trailer below). Although, I would rather wait until the big three conferences actually announce what they are working on, I can’t help ignore all the media buzz around the conference.

In previous posts, I wrote about what I would like to see in a potential new PSP, and the next gen of video game consoles.

So here is a summary of the hot potential news:

Hardware
Sony:
– New UMD-less PSP or even a whole new PSP
– A new PS3 redesign and/or price cut and/or new bundles

Microsoft:
– Potential new bundles with Xbox Live accounts, Games, new peripherals …etc

Nintendo:
– Nothing new?

Motion Control:

Both Sony and Microsoft are expected to announce a new motion controller that could be camera based. Recent media buzz talked about Microsoft potentially using the motion control technology developed by Canesta, a company that develops 3-D sensors that allow consumer electronic devices to see your gestures. Microsoft also has a definitive agreement to buy a company called 3DV Systems which has been working on a 3-D depth camera that can detect motion and position which is much more accurate than the Wii game controller. There are rumors that Microsoft is also talking to Prime Sense about licensing their 3D-Depth Camera. The funny thing is that Microsoft had an internal team try to develop their own tech but it decided not to go with it.

Nintendo obviously has the lead in this field but would better technology from Sony or Microsoft affect them? Well, after 50+ Million Wii units sold, I doubt it. Sony and Microsoft lost this round at least in terms of numbers sold.


Games:

Sony: God of War III, Uncharted 2: Among Thieves, MAG, Ratchet & Clank Future: A Crack in Time, Heavy Rain: The Origami Killer, and Pixeljunk Shooter. Pushing more PSN titles
Microsoft: Alan Wake, Halo 3: ODST, Forza Motorsport 3, and a potential new Peter Molyneux game. ???Maybe MGS4 for the Xbox360???. Other new DLC
Nintendo: Metroid Prime Trilogy, Sin and Punishment 2, and Wii Sports Resort. Other new Mario and/or Zelda games. New DSi titles?

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The next Gen of Gaming Consoles!

Next Xbox Consoleplaystation4psp2small

Microsoft, Sony, and Nintendo are considering their options for the timing and features of their next generation consoles. In recent news we have heard several announcements about potential designs and human interaction technologies from several companies.

For example, Microsoft announced here that it will introduce a full body motion controller.

Sony registered a PS Cloud trademark here. Also Sony is speculated to announce a new motion sensing controller at E3 this year.

In GDC 2009, OnLive announced the first Cloud based Micro console for TVs which can also be accessed from any Win-based or Mac computer.

A startup company called Canesta specializes in electronic perception technology that enables products to sense, perceive, interact with, and understand the world around them has been gaining grounds in the consumer electronic market.

The layout of the industry keeps changing in light of new technologies and new offerings. The following factors have to be taken into consideration when designing and planning any new hand-held, home based, or even cloud based console (I will be adding more to this list):

  • People are open to trying new paradigms of interaction such as the WiiMote and the Apple iPhone touch screen interface. To differentiate your offering, you must come up with an immersive interactive input device
  • The Apple iPhone has proven itself as a viable gaming platform. The iTunes App Store just passed a billion downloads. Apple’s investment in creating more robust Apps has paid off big time not only for Apple but for Indie developers as well
  • Indie developers and user generated content have to be taken seriously
  • The ability to quickly test and iterate the game on the target hardware is crucial. The Hardware can deviate from proven working paradigms (that developers are familiar with) only if it offers something that can’t be achieved otherwise. If you require people to learn something new, it has to achieve something that they could not do before
  • The big players know that its all about content, ensure that great content will be available on your hardware and people are likely to buy it and developers are likely to spend more time developing for it
  • Publishers would rather use digital distribution rather than physical mediums. Piracy has been increasing and affecting software sales of many consoles
  • Price does matter. Offering a premium price will significantly narrow down your user base
  • The Wii has expanded the market and performed much better than the powerful PS3 and Xbox 360
  • Cloud based computing is getting more popular. It is still unproven for Games and only OnLive seems to have solved the problem. If you plan to make a console that competes against Cloud gaming, it must offer more than just gaming. More about this in the Sony section below
  • You can’t expect people in the Middle East and China to pay $60 for a game. The only reason the PS2 sold so well there is that the software was pirated and games sold for $1/game
  • Study the numbers (based on http://vgchartz.com/):

Apple reported that it sold more than 30M iPhone and iPod Touch devices by the end of 2008

More than a billion downloads from the App store has been reported

Sony

Sony plays a major role in the Gaming Industry. It owns many of the best studios in the world and used to have exclusive content agreements with many publishers (namely Square Enix, Konami, & Capcom).

The PS2 did great, the PS3 is still trying to gain more grounds. The PSP has a unique position in the market (more on this below). Sony has always been trying to push the technology forward with innovations outside of the gaming domain; such as DVD capability in the PS2, Blu Ray in the PS3, movies/music/images/web in the PSP and PS3.

Now that the layout of the market is changing with new potential competitors entering the field such as OnLive, Sony’s offering has to adapt. Sony’s vision to rule the living room is still valid. I use my PS3 to store all my music, digital movies, pictures, and games (obviously). I bought a Tera Byte USB drive that connects to my PS3 and it acts my home desktop. I use my laptop for everything else and my home desktop has not been turned on for months. I heard that some people installed Linux on the PS3 and they use it as a DVR.

To compete against cloud based gaming like OnLive, Sony and even Microsoft need to enrich the experience surrounding their consoles. That applies to hand held devices as well.

The PSP is the only high end hand held gaming device available. The Nintendo DS is great but you can’t play a 3D GTA on the DS. There has been rumors about the PSP 2 (check here as well)which is likely to include a touch screen and a sliding game pad.

For casual gamers, the iPhone games are good enough. But if you want more console quality games in a hand held device, right now your only choice is the PSP. Even though the PSP is filling the serious hand held gaming device niche, it has not been the dominant device in the market.

My dream PSP would be an iPhone with the gaming capability of the PSP. Are there enough people like me who want a high end gaming experience on a mobile device that is more than just a hand held console?

I was thinking about the Amazon Kindle and how it uses the mobile network to access books. What if my Mobile device accesses a cloud computer so I don’t even have to run the game on my device locally. The video is transmitted to me in real time on the network and here you go. I get to play a game like Crysis on my cell phone. That would be cool!! hmmm sounds too ambitious. I wonder if there are tricks that can be applied so that the Cloud does not need to stream all the video frames to me.

I intend to write more about this topic in more detail. There are a lot of hot issues related to this. For example, the battle between Rasterization and Ray Tracing. Which will win in the next gen of consoles? What do these terms mean and what does that mean for the consumer?

What about Nintendo and Microsoft? Is OnLive going to deliver on its big launch during GDC? I guess many of these questions will have answers (at least partially) at E3 this year. I would love to hear what people think about this.

Microsoft & Yahoo …. is it gonna happen?

Check here. Jerry Yang is suggesting that Microsoft buys Yahoo. Looking at their market quotes today, the are both at:

MSFT 21.63 -0.45 (-2.04%) 192.41B
YHOO 14.45 +0.53 (3.81%) 20.02B

Yahoo went up more than $0.50 after Yang announced that Yahoo is up for grabs again. Yahoo’s 52 weeks low was $11.25 and Microsoft 52 weeks low was $20.65. This is an opportunity to make some cash in a depressed market, however, knowing that the market is headed for worse times, I wonder if this deal would happen now. Microsoft initial offer to buy Yahoo earlier this year was valued at $33/share. Yahoo is much cheaper now and MS still got the cash. MS could even do a share for share matching deal buying Yahoo at $21.63/share which would be a premium for Yahoo’s value right now and fitting to MS. I don’t think Yahoo can argue a price in the $30s anymore given the economy and their failed attempt to collaborate with Google. Reuters said the following:

Shares of Yahoo surged after a report surfaced online that the Web pioneer’s Chief Executive Jerry Yang was leaving the Company and that Yahoo was in late stage talks to sell the whole company to Microsoft for between $17 per share and $19 per share. Speculation about a possible deal between the two companies intensified after Google Inc scrapped plans for a Web search advertising partnership with Yahoo.

I would wait until we can find out more about MS’s real intentions. Off course you could take a risk and buy Yahoo now, let me know what you think.

When is it a good time to invest?

They say when there is blood on the streets buy property!! The US economy state now is nothing less than blood on the streets. People are losing money left and right and financial institutions are closing doors. The big question is when is it a good time to invest?

Financial gurus always advise to buy low and sell high. Well the stocks are low now but are they going to get lower???

Companies like Google and Apple are now valued at $338.11 and $89.79. Yahoo is at $13.76. And there are talks about a merger between Yahoo and AOL here. If you buy Yahoo now and they merge, then you will make some money for sure. It might take a while though.

Ah …. I wish I knew more about stocks and investing. I should invest the time to learn. If you have any good suggestions, let me know.

The one console future

Silicon Knights founder and president Denis Dyack is talking about an open standard for gaming consoles on gamasutra today. EA’s head of international distribution Gerhard Florin told the BBC he wants.

We want an open, standard platform which is much easier than having five which are not compatible. You don’t need an Xbox 360, PS3 or Wii — the consumer won’t even realise the platform it is being played on.

There is already an organization called Gamix, Inc that offers a PC based open platform. I don’t think Gamiz’s approach will ever work. You need to offer the main hardware console makers a reason to believe in this. Sony and Microsoft already own many studios. Why would they ever create games for a PC-only based platform? Microsoft could benefit from this if Windows is used, but then the platform would not be “open” anymore.

So the big question here, how can we consolidate the interests of companies like Sony, Microsoft, and Nintendo to push to support one standard. A standard that allows a game developer to build once and deploy anywhere. Thats a really hard question. But we can start somewhere. First of all, even though its an open standard, there needs to be room for differentiation. The standard should include a hardware and software spec that manufacturers need to comply with. In terms of Hardware, a multi-core Power PC based architecture is a safe bet since all the consoles use Power PC based processors now. As for Software, an Operating System API is all that is needed. Vendors like Sony and MS can compete by trying to build a better system that complies to the standard.

Network Equipment vendors have been competing in the same way for years. In Networking, you had to comply to a standard, otherwise devices would not be able to talk to each other. Now the same needs to happen in gaming.

A distribution medium like Blu-Ray or HD-DVD will need to be picked for this open standard as well … another big problem!! Hardware distribution will not die anytime soon. Most publishers will try to push their games online. Even if you had a 200GB hard drive, its only got room for 4-7 multi-lingual HD games. So downloading the whole game is just not that sexy yet.

There are several factors that need to be considered in defining this open standard:
1- Timing
2- Publisher and Developer Commitment
3- Manufacturing issues
4- Fairness

Now how can console vendors differentiate their products:
1- Hardware: manufacture your own chip and focus on making certain aspects better than the others.
2- System Software: optimize your OS to be better. Provide an easy to use API. Make it easy for end user to plug in their own applications without sacrificing system integrity. Make it easy for people to use the console for other purposes.
3- Creative input/output devices. The Wii controller is not the end!! There are many other cool ways to interact with games. Look at Guitar Hero and Rock Band. The rumble was considered a next generation input device. What about 3D glasses? Special lighting effects, anything that immerses the gamer in the experience. Whether its a movie or a game.
4- Application Software = Games mostly but just like Sony and MS are doing with the XLive and PSN. Provide a market place and a community (think Home).

There are a lot of things that still can be done. If you compare the quality of offline rendered animations and runtime animations, you will notice that games tech is still lagging behind. Physics has not been really utilized enough in gameplay elements. Open worlds are not so open. Characters are not as responsive as you would want them to be. AI is still progressing and rendering is only getting better. Lighting, textures, and effects are all things that can be improved dramatically.

Hopefully a successful initiative for an open standard console will get started.