The state of Video Game affairs in Canada.

Ever since the inception of the $69.99 price point for video games here in Canada, I’ve been very loud about how we the Canadian consumers are getting ripped off. This is very evident if you walk into your local Best Buy, which I did on the weekend. You will see that some game pre-orders are 59.99, others are 64.99, and then you have most at the 69.99 Price point. Nobody has officially come out and said that the price hike is due to the exchange rate, and there is only online speculation, which is sound and logical. Personally I think the 69.99 price hike it is due to greed as there is no consistency in a price point between software publishers, aaaaand a 10% exchange rate difference should yield a price closer to $65 not $70. Funny that when the US dollar was trading at less than the Canadian dollar we were still paying the same as the US.

More recently the PS4 hardware price was raised and went up from 399.99 to 449.99, an additional $10 profit for Sony per PS4 sold in Canada. The Xbox One however maintained it’s original price. A few weeks ago Microsoft announced a Kinect-less Xbox One that will be selling at the 399.99 price point. I was curious to see what the price would be for this in Canada. To my dismay I learned that this Kinect-less Xbox One can be pre-ordered on the Best Buy Canada site for 399.99 as well. Interesting that a hardware manufacturer is willing to take a slight hit on their hardware but the majority of software publishers have actually increased their profits beyond the point of the exchange rate. Sorry it’s not interesting, it’s very greedy. I would like to thank Microsoft for showing us Canadian gamers some love. Just like they did when they lowered the 360 price in Canada first.

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Best Buy Canada screen shot.

Right now I’m going to pick on a single game that I have a slight problem with, Wolfenstein The New Order. One thing that irks me about a title like the new Wolfenstein, is that it does not have any multiplatyer, online or co-op game play aspect to it, yet they warrant charging 69.99 for the software. This game at best should be 49.99, even with the 10% exchange increase… but I digress. To be honest I was going to pick this title up when I learned of it, until I also learned that it is a purely single player game and that it would be selling at $69.99 CAD.

So the question everyone should be asking is, does a 10% exchange rate difference warrant a 17% price hike? And will the price drop once the exchange rate balances out?

For your consideration, below is a historic look at the USD to CAD exchange rate. Ranging from 1990 to now. See that huge spike prior to January 2000, this is where I purchased Turok 2 for the N64 and taxes in it cost me about $120, ouch.

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On the other hand PC prices are more forgiving. This is partly due to the fact that Steam and others like Greenman Gamin deal in US currency. Dealing in US currency reflects the true pricing and not this inflated cash grab.

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There are ways to get around this ridiculous pricing on the Xbox One. I’m not sure if this is possible on the PS4, but let me know if it is. If you buy digital on Xbox Live and use PayPal to pay for your purchases, you can temporarily switch your Xbox One to the US region, purchase the game and then switch back to your Canadian region. Online users have reported this as working. This way you pay what the game is actually worth, except for Wolfenstein.

This brings me to another point, why the heck are we paying full price for video games sold to us digitally? Games that have no resale value and do not impact sales of new software. Yes we have to consider the bandwidth and server storage, but come on we have effectively eliminated the need to print a cover, press a disc, mould a case, ship to a distributor, ship to a retail store, have to travel to said store…. etc. You get the point. So why is digital the same price as physical, it makes no logical sense. An incentive in a form of a discount for digital distribution would be most welcome, and would push digital over physical.

I understand the 64.99 price hike but going to 69.99 is just plain greedy. I’m not sure who is setting these prices, weather it’s the distributors or the retailers. One thing I know for sure is that the Gaming industry is run by dinosaurs that do not know how to adapt to new and emerging technologies and like the music industry is driven by corporate greed not profit.

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Titanfall

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First, I’d like to say that this is one of the most responsive first person shooters I’ve ever played on a console. The controls feel good, and the thumb stick acceleration is just perfect. I’ve had the chance to try the Beta for both the PC and the Xbox One. It plays well on both, the PC doesn’t offer much over the Xbox One version even with an Eyefinity setup. The Xbox One version does however offer the Xbox Live experience, which I personally prefer over the PC multiplayer platform. So you can imagine that I will be getting the game for the Xbox One.

Now having shown you some of the Beta game play, in the Beta most users experienced three types of game modes. Attricion, Hardpoint, and Last Titan Standing.

Attricion is where you start out as the pilot and wait for your titanfall. You decrease the titanfall wait time by getting kills and scoring points, etc. You can manage many titafalls with this game type. In my experience this is a very disorganized and lone ranger run and gun game mode.

Hardpoint is a mix of Attricion and to what BF4s conquest mode offers. You capture points and the enemy can recapture them. Didn’t really spend much time in this mode.

Last Titan Standing is by far my favourite game mode and one I spent most of my time playing. This is a team based effort and you really have to communicate with your team, what and how you will attack the enemy. This is also where the Xbox Live voice communications come in very handy. In this mode you have only one life and you start out in a Titan. Once your Titan is destroyed you can eject and assist your team as a pilot. As the mode indicates, the team with the last titan standing wins. Doesn’t matter how many pilots you have left, it’s the titans that count.

Burn cards are similar to Call of Duty’s perks. Except that they need to be selected prior to the level being loaded. Once in game one can select and use a burn card prior to the round starting. Burn cards have options such as, 80 second decreased wait time for titan fall, alternate guns for the load out, sort of sonar that pings the level every x seconds to show friendlies and enemies on the screen, permanent cloak for the pilot, an additional AI titan to be dropped and help your team out, nuclear titan core that blows up everything in your proximity when your titan is killed, etc. You get the picture. These can come in very handy, and if you win the round the card will be carried over to the next. If you lose the card is burned or discarded.

Controls on the Xbox One are fluid and just a treat. This is by far one of the best FPS type games on the console as far as controller sensitivity and responsiveness goes. When playing I felt that it was perfectly balanced and I needed no further adjustments to sensitivity. Button mapping is very basic and and it took only minutes to get used to the layout. After about 30 min of play I was worried that the game would get stale and boring really fast. This was not the case, there is a lot of replay value and even with two levels and limited load outs this game managed to keep me occupied for about 6 hours straight and then some. 

In the Beta there was only one titan to play with, the Atlas class. So there wasn’t much choice there. The choice was in the load out and guns one can equip, a heavy machine gun, a 40 MM cannon that packs a punch, and quad rocket launcher. Then on the secondary side of things you had passive rockets and ones that lock on to their target. In addition to the guns you could customize the defensive load out and go with the vortex shield that catches gun and rocket fire then sends them back towards the enemy, or an electric smoke screen that gets pilots off your titans back and damages enemy titans if they go through it. The vortex shield can make for an interesting game of catch and there were instances where opponents would throw ammunition back and forth between them. As for the electric smoke screen it comes in handy during close combat situations between titans. My favourite was dashing towards an enemy titan, deploying the electric smoke and following up with a titan punch. Then there is the titan core load out, when you titan takes too much damage it explodes. As far as load outs for the Titan core go you have Damage Core and Survivor. With the damage core when your titan blows up it creates a nuclear explosion and takes out any titans and pilots in it’s proximity. Survivor gives you extra time and your health drops at a slower rate when your titan is doomed. Another load out is auto eject, and Regen Booster. Auto eject ejects your pilot when the titan is doomed, Regen Booster regenerates the titans shields at a faster.

This was a fun online experience for me. There was no noticeable network lag and the game play was smooth. A lot of people out there are praising the network capability of the game, I say be careful and take the Titanfall beta with a grain of salt. Remember BF4 beta was also smooth and without network faults, but the finished product was a different story. Having said that I hope this is not the case with Titanfall as it can make or brake the game. See you on March 11th.

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Xbox One: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.

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Image belongs to Justin Reed. (http://goo.gl/mV9M2U)

The Good:

The ability to perform voice commands is by far the best feature on the Xbox one. When you walk into my room and say “Xbox on!” it turns itself on, and can turn the TV and Receiver on as well. Then the Kinect recognizes your face and signs you into your account. When using the “Xbox select..” command, you can navigate the xbox menus without the use of the controller or hand gestures. When playing a game you have the ability to snap applications such as party chat with a simple voice command. With the same feature you are able to add people to the party chat, remove them, and mute the chat, etc. As per the voice commands, if you swear at the ref in FIFA 14, you will be reprimanded by your club. Also keep your potty mouth to yourself when on the field, or the red cards will come flying at you. NBA 2K14 has similar features, BF4 allows you to call in support with voice commands. As for the controller it is a slight improvement over the 360 controller. The analog sticks are comfortable and the redesign is most welcome. Bumpers and triggers are solid, and over all the build quality of the controller is superb. The Operating System interface is really easy to navigate, the layout is basic and makes a lot of sense. It is very hard to get lost in the menus. When signing in to the console by way of Kinect facial recognition it will recognize you in a completely dark room lit up only by the ambient light of the TV screen. The ventilation on the xbox this generation is a huge improvement over last, it runs really cool even when placed in an AV cabinet with front doors. Overall The hardware doesn’t really heat up much. I guess Microsoft learned something from the previous generation. The application snap feature is handy, having two applications side by side really works on this console, and it doesn’t distract or pull your attention from the gaming or watching a movie. This is especially useful when trying to start a Party Chat while in game. Xbox SmartGlass is a companion app for both the Xbox 360 and Xbox One. It is completely free and works on Windows, iOS, and Android devices. You can use your smartphone or tablet to type in the text fields, when sending text based messages to your friends or entering your credit card information to make purchases. Most of us have smartphones and tablets so this naturally makes sense. This app is also a companion to some games such as Dead Rising 3, it enables extra features and in game content. It’s an extension to the users video game experience and adds another level of interaction with the software, in some cases it is easier to type with the smartphone than using the on screen keyboard. Something no one is talking about, perhaps because they don’t understand it, is the “server farm” Microsoft has stashed away for it’s developers. I’m not talking about the Xbox Live military grade servers, I’m talking about the server that can offload some of the XBOs processing to the cloud. All of the rendering and computing does not need to be done locally anymore, and any non critical computing can be done on the servers and sent back to the system. In my opinion this has a lot of potential, and the systems processing power is no longer limited to the local hardware specs.

The Bad:

The Xbox One is not DLNA certified, unlike it’s predecessor. This took me by surprise and is kind of anti next-gen for a device that wants to be the media centre hub of the living room and that calls itself next-gen. DLNA streaming is important to me, especially for my music library. One of the crowning features of the 360 was the ability to listen to your music library while playing games. Also, at the moment the games are not there, Dead Rising 3 looks like a 360 game. Forza 5 is full of micro transactions, $59.99 for a game and micro transactions on top of that seems a little excessive. It will take the developers a longer time to get familiar with the XBO dev kits than the PS4 dev kits. The XBO has specialized hardware, like the Kinect, the ESRAM, and the render server farm, whereas the PS4 is esentially an underpowered PC. Xbox 360 users and Xbox One users can not communicate properly over Xbox Live. If you’re on the Xbox One you can not receive voice messages as the XBO does not have this feature. Party Chat is not possible with 360 and XBO users either. The camera is unable to identify my face sometimes and as such it does not sign me in automatically into the system. I particularly noticed this when reclining in a bean bag chair on the floor. Perhaps the Kinect has a hard time recognizing the skeletal structure when in a reclined position. The lack of proper CEC integration is also surprising. The Xbox One uses some form of CEC an IR blaster to control the television and receiver, however this is not CEC as one can not use the receivers or televisions remote to navigate the xbox menus.

The Ugly:

The gesture based navigation needs a lot of work. It is one of the worst features to use on the XBO. I’d say it works properly 50% of the time. The audio is another problem, it cuts out in certain menus and even though the XBO set to PCM 5.1, sometimes the XBO decides to output DTS. Other times the XBO boost the volume by itself and then decides later that it is too loud and turns the volume down. There is no Bitstream option for the audio output either, and only Stereo, 5.1 PCM, 7.1 PCM, and DTS sound output options are available.This does not work, I would like the option to have the receiver do the audio decoding, specifically DTS HD MA or Dolby TrueHD. My home cinema would appreciate that. No 3D Blu-ray support yet either, for a system that is trying to take over the living room this is unacceptable. Despite the critics ramblings about 3D, it is here to stay, and consumers are slowly adopting said technology. There are other small glitches and hiccups when switching between menus and screens too. Sometimes the xbox goes all Ghost in the Machine on me, and starts launching applications and navigating software on it’s own… Rise of the machines?

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In conclusion..

…there is more good, than bad or ugly, however this next-gen console launch was very underwhelming. The underwhelming part is mostly due to the fact that both Microsoft and Sony released beta products into the wild. But if I were to decide between the new Xbox or the new PlayStation, I’d pick the Xbox. Voice commands, gesture based browsing, a stunning 1080p camera, SmartGlass, server farm, skype and other app within app integration, superior controller, and system that shows promise providing the software comes out of Beta soon. There are a lot of bugs in the software, and a lot of features that need tweaking and revision, this is true for both Sony and Microsoft alike. But if the 360 was an indication of how MS functions, is that they listen to their community, and that their gaming system and it’s software will evolve over time.