Steam’s Big Picture is way bigger

Steam announced yesterday that the world’s most popular online gaming store is getting a brand-new UI for using it on your TV, with a gamepad. They call it Steam Big Picture.

Many will dismiss this as something irrelevant. After all it has always been possible to plug your desktop or laptop to a big screen and play games with a controller. That’s nothing new.

But folks, we’re talking about Steam here, so we need to look at the bigger picture (see what I did there?) I honestly think that this is one huge step in moving the entire games industry forward.

Let me go back in time for a moment: it used to be that game consoles such as the NES and the MegaDrive had great games with nice graphics. But PCs were always the big guys that could display bigger worlds, more detailed characters and play online games. But at some point games started becoming more mainstream. Incredibly complex stories arrived with much higher production values as game consoles became the easiest solution to play games comfortably on the sofa. PC games also got more complex, but so did the hardware part: users were no longer buying big desktop PCs and instead they favored small, portable laptops that they could take anywhere. This meant that most laptops had small graphics cards incapable of running the newest games comfortably.

Consoles offered one huge bonus against computers in terms of gaming: you just had to connect them to the TV, put the disc in, and start playing (though nowadays you also get the constant nagging of online updates). But they also meant a much more closed environment where what can be sold was strictly controlled by the hardware maker. So pretty much everything has been in the hands of Sony, Nintendo and Microsoft for the past few years.

But PC gaming never stood still either, because while the Xbox 360 and the Playstation 3 were fighting to get a better media consumption system in the living room that could stand up against computers, Valve was building what would eventually become gaming’s biggest online store, focusing solely on making the gaming experience better on the PC and letting other software makers and web developers do the media and web consumption thing.

The result was Steam, and the previously maligned service is now a heaven for gamers worldwide. It has amazing online community services, the possibility of making your game free-to-play and then buy add-ons, holiday sales that knock your wallet off your pocket, cloud-based game saves, automatic background updates for games and, recently, a new gateway for indie developers to showcase and possibly sell their games on Steam based on what the community likes best.

And now you can use it on your TV without the need of a mouse and keyboard.

An addition like that on its own means nothing. But when you add to that the impressive catalog that Steam offers of both casual and hardcore games plus all the features mentioned above, you start to realize that if Steam was a console it would be right now the most powerful console ever.

Now what would happen if Dell, HP, Acer or any other PC manufacturer decided to create a small, affordable computer that was advertised along with Valve as a Steam-capable machine? What if that machine had Steam pre-installed and came with a wireless controller?

Well, you’d have the console with the biggest games catalog ever, the most complete online service and the choice of buying whichever brand you liked most. Depending on the brand you might even be able to upgrade it with newer graphics cards and processors instead of having to wait for the next generation console to arrive. Even better, you’d have instant access to every single game you’ve purchased even on a Mac and still play them on other systems.

The funny thing is that Microsoft has been trying to aim for this to happen for a long time ever since they announced Windows XP Media Center edition. They just never pushed it forward as much as they should have. They had ease of use from a couch with a TV remote, access to online services and a few games started integrating themselves in the system when Windows Vista came out. Then there was Games for Windows LIVE, later renamed to Xbox Games for Windows, which gained more haters than supporters. The reason why they never pushed it further was probably the fact that Microsoft already had the Xbox 360 on good standing and they didn’t feel the need to risk cannibalizing their hardware sales.

And now Steam has beaten them to the punch. Right on the verge of Windows 8 arriving on stores as Valve readies Steam and all its games to work on Linux-based computers. Right when it is time for the next generation consoles to arrive, starting with the WiiU later this year.

If these next-gen consoles take too long to arrive and Valve plays its cards well (and it has way too many aces in its sleeve to fail) this new Steam Big Picture might mean a new current in the games market. It might drive more people to buy PC games. It might mean less next-gen console sales. It might potentially give indie game developers broad access to a huge new wave of customers. It might.

This is all but my own conjecture. Obviously the console market is not going to die just like that simply because of a program adding a coach-friendly UI. But it does mark the beginning of a new trend, and it could change many things in the long term. All we can do for now is wait and see. And try the Big Picture mode ourselves for free.

betaDwarf Videogames

FORCED is ready for Steam… if you vote for us!

Remember those BetaDwarf developer diaries I posted about a few months ago?

What about that post about BetaDwarf at Copenhagen Games?

Back then their game Faith of the Guardians had a very different look and certainly it wasn’t as polished as it is now.

But that’s also because the team has been pushing VERY HARD to get the game ready for showcasing on the new Steam Greenlight section. This is a digital game showcase where indie game developers can display their work in progress (or already finished games) and get people to vote for them. The games that get the most attention will strike a deal with Valve to sell their game on the all-powerful and ever-popular Steam Store.

So yes! FORCED is the title for BetaDwarf’s first commercial game and it’s waiting for you to watch its new amazing trailer (which I participated in creating!) and vote for them so that they can get a sales deal on Steam!

If you like what you see here, make sure you go right now to their Steam Greenlight page and rate them, mark as a favorite and share the link with all your friends! Everyone at BetaDwarf will really appreciate it and you will also be helping the Danish game developers community! =)

So what are you waiting for? Go on and vote for us!




Heroes & Generals trailer is out!

A few months ago I posted about the recording of a trailer for the upcoming game Heroes & Generals by Reto-Moto, a Danish video game developer based in Copenhagen with some of the original developers of the popular series Hitman.

Today the trailer made its way to games website Gamespot, where it is already getting some attention. Can you spot me in the video? 😉

Why don’t you go ahead and give it a look?

Oh, and here’s once again a picture of the entire team for the trailer!


E3 2012 has begun! The Microsoft side of things

It’s that time of the year again, when all the gaming industry giants gather to present their biggest and baddest productions at the Electronic Entertainment Expo in Los Angeles. It’s one hell of a show full of keynotes that sometimes capture the excitement of all the video games community… or absolutely disappoints with a lack of innovation or interesting games.

So, how is it going this year so far?

Well… what can I say. It started quite bland. The first two keynotes were Microsoft and Electronic Arts and they were both extremely underwhelming. They both had their fair share of interesting stuff to show, but they ultimately fell flat in trying to get the audience excited, both those in Los Angeles and those watching online.

Starting with Microsoft, they opened with the ever-hyped Halo 4. I for one think that, as engaging and well-balanced as the gameplay in the Halo series has always been, the formula was starting to grow stale. That is why seeing this new lush multi-layered jungle full of enemies crawling all over the place felt so refreshingly new. It looks as if Halo is reinventing the formula without straying too far off from the core concept and style. And it just seemed to fit in nicely.

Splinter Cell Blacklist was shown shortly after, but it brings up the question of whether this is even a Splinter Cell game at all, with the focus on stealth seemingly missing most of the time. Sure, Conviction had its action moments too, but it never reached the point that this new entry into the popular Tom Clancy-branded saga seems to go to. Nice touch with the player being able to use Kinect to get an enemy’s attention by literally yelling at him.

And then Microsoft switched over to Kinect mode. That is, they started to boast how Kinect will help in sports games like FIFA and Madden. I don’t really care that much for sports games, so I just listened to it without paying that much attention to be honest. But Fable: The Journey came afterwards. Why, Microsoft! Why do you have to force Kinect as an on-rails “shooter” (with magic, but a shooter none-the-less) into a perfectly fine series that is all about choosing your own path in a broad open world. It simply does not work. And then a random teaser of Gears of War and another of Forza came up with no explanation whatsoever.

Online services integration (more of them), televised sports and specific apps for it on the Xbox 360, the new Xbox Music that replaces the dying Zune brand, a predictable new fitness game but now coming from Nike… and then the interesting stuff came in: Microsoft’s SmartGlass.

This is the integration that Microsoft has been aiming for the past few years but never got quite right. For the first time it feels like a Windows 8 PC or tablet, a Windows Phone and an Xbox 360 can act together to make the final experience more entertaining and complete than ever. You’re watching Game of Thrones on the TV through your Xbox 360? Watch simultaneously on your tablet (Windows 8 or even iPad) a map of the world it takes place in showing where the events on the screen are taking place in. Planning your next strategy on Madden? Do it on the tablet and then see it come to life on the bigger screen.

But to be fair this is not something absolutely new. In fact Nintendo already hinted at this with its unveiling of the WiiU a year ago at E3 2011. Except that Nintendo’s console already comes with the tablet integrated into the controller. On the other hand Microsoft already has all the industry deals with movies, TV shows and music providers. And that makes one huge difference when you want proper integration. Nintendo will have to prove that they can come up with more interesting ideas.

But by far what looked best was the new Tomb Raider game. Seriously, Lara Croft has never looked this amazing, and I’m not talking about graphics. They look great, sure, but that’s not what made it stand out. It was how fluid the gameplay felt. How this new mixture of survival Metal Gear Solid 3 style and Uncharted’s cinematic presentation combined to make a compelling world. How the new Lara made you care for her for more than just her hot looks. This could easily be the big comeback of gaming’s most famous woman.

Capcom showed more of their Resident Evil 6 game, which if you ask me is yet one more step towards completely detaching the RE brand from all it used to stand for. And a Kinect game was also shown that looked a lot like what Angry Birds would be like if it was made in 3D.

South Park: The Stick of the Truth however got everyone laughing. Maybe it is just because the show’s creators were incredibly charming, or maybe because the trailer was simply funny. But the idea of living as your own character in a big South Park adventure does not leave anyone indifferent.

After that… well… Usher stepped on the stage, danced for a while in front of a Dance Central 3 logo, and left. I’m sure I am not the only one who is trying to forget that random moment.

Oh yeah! And Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 got shown at the end in a painfully long gameplay video with many, MANY explosions all over the place. And I got really sad that Microsoft decided to end with such a weak note. Sure, the CoD series are real best-sellers. But there was absolutely no need to spend so much time over that when other seemingly interesting games just got a really short teaser clip that explained absolutely nothing.

But apparently such is the way of the gaming industry these days…

More will be coming soon! Stay tuned and be sure to follow me on Google+ and Twitter (I prefer Google+ for this since it makes posting pictures easier) to see what else is up before I compile my opinions together into a blog post!

Internet and technology Mobile Videogames

Are gaming handhelds really doomed? What keeps them alive?

Earlier today someone on Facebook asked about the growing discussion that handheld consoles like the Nintendo 3DS and the PS Vita are slowly fading away, getting lost in the incredibly successful market of smartphones and tablets like the iPhone and iPad. I replied with a very long comment for a Facebook post and I thought that I could re-purpose my text for a new post here.

The thing here is that there’s no doubt now that smartphones and tablets are affecting the sales of handheld consoles. They are still not killing the market, but the incredibly slow start the Nintendo 3DS had until known franchises came to it and the big struggle the PS Vita is currently having on the market are signs that things have changed.

Taking that into account, what is the current audience of handhelds? What are the reasons one might buy a dedicated gaming console instead of a smartphone or tablet?

Let’s begin with the one age group that smartphones and tablets are still a long way from breaking into, and that is the younger audience under 14 years old. You wouldn’t buy a 10 year old kid an iPhone, a highly expensive device that is easy to break and get stolen, but you might buy him a Nintendo DS with a Super Mario game or the latest movie tie-in like a Spiderman game or a Disney character in it.

In fact, when you look at the age demographics of the iPhone and iPod Touch you can see that the age group of users from 13 to 17 years old is tiny (6%) when compared to that same age group in the iPod Touch demographics (46%) (Source from 2009). You could consider the iPod Touch as a game handheld if you will. After all it has access to apps and games, which is the main reason these users choose the iPod Touch over the more traditional iPods which are almost exclusively used to play music. Same goes for the Nintendo DS/3DS and (in a smaller way since it goes for a more mature audience) the PS Vita. They offer cheaper, contract-free devices with gaming as their main purpose and, in the mindsets of buyers, a better value proposition for a kid than an iPhone. You could add Android phones here if you want, but currently there are no low-end Android devices that could cover this space, since the cheap devices that do exist are simply too low-powered for modern phone games.

But of course that’s not the only audience of handheld consoles. When you go to ages 14+ both the DS/3DS and PSP/Vita offer a nice choice of games aimed squarely at this audience. You have Metal Gear Solid, Uncharted, Resident Evil, Silent Hill, God of War, Final Fantasy… However, and this is where the sales have been going down, those handhelds now have to compete with smartphones and, to a lesser extent (simply because not everyone sees value in having a device that some feel is a bigger smartphone), tablets.

But here is the thing, and it’s a point most media outlets seem to be missing. Let me explain a little bit first: smartphones have absolutely nothing blocking them from running blockbuster titles of the same quality as those mentioned above (touch controls aside). You just have to take a look at what French company Gameloft has been doing in the past few years, taking popular gaming franchises and creating equivalents of them for phones (N.O.V.A is a Halo clone, Modern Combat 3 is Modern Warfare 3, Hero of Sparta is God of War, StarFront is StarCraft…) or taking Ubisoft staples into bite-sized chunks (Prince of Persia, Splinter Cell, Brothers in Arms).


Those games coexist in a marketplace full of extremely cheap offers of $0.99, the new standard for game prices (something neither Nintendo or Microsoft are very keen on, claiming it devaluates videogames as a whole). This means that if a company wanted to make a full size game with the same length, depth and quality as a console or handheld game they would need to price it higher to cover the production costs. And that simply doesn’t sell very well in a flood of $0.99 titles. Gameloft and EA are able to pull that off thanks to their use of big franchise names, but even then the prices don’t usually go higher than $6.99, and they quickly drop after the hardcore fans of the series have already bought it so as to attract the rest of the market.

The top 10 paid games on the US AppStore as of May 2012

The other company that is managing to pull off higher prices for its games is Square-Enix. $15.99 for a port of a DS Final Fantasy game (Final Fantasy III), which was already a remake of an old NES game. But Final Fantasy games have the advantage of being really deep and lengthy adventures (thus the price) that don’t require very precise control input: just tap and wait for the battle animation to finish.

That’s where handhelds come in for those who want a more serious gaming experience. You get the more precise controls for action games   and the higher production values, with almost console-quality graphics, story and gameplay depth in a smaller package that you can take anywhere you go.

For those who want an all-around device that does everything an iPhone will be the only device to carry around at all times. But those who want a deeper experience on the go (and I’m not talking about just something to play on the train, but also when visiting their parents for a week, going on a trip and so on) will also carry with them a handheld.

Plus, now these gaming handhelds get the added experience of buying smaller games at cheaper prices, smartphone style. The 3DS will allow you to buy old Gameboy and NES games as well as new, modern titles for under $5. The PS Vita lets you download casual games like Angry Birds or get an old PS One game like Crash Bandicoot at the same price level. And at the same time you get the full range of top-tier new releases (which tend to be more on the $40 range), some as physical copies, some as downloadable games too (specially now that Nintendo is going to make their 3DS and Wii U games available online as well).

And then finally you have the more mature audiences that as far as I know only Nintendo has been able to attract so well thanks to their Brain Training series. But that’s usually the group that buys only one game or two and leaves it there.

Anyway, those are my 2 cents on the topic. It’s mostly based on my own thoughts and experience, but I believe I’m not too far off the reality. Of course I’m basing myself on articles, opinions, comparisons and a few stats, but you could hardly call every single one of those hard facts, so all this could be wrong.

But the fact is that the landscape of gaming on the go has severely changed and both Nintendo and Sony will have to step their game up if they want to survive in a market full of $0.99 games that, in the mind of many casual consumers, offers as much value as any $40 game.


Can you guess which game these planets come from?

Many of you have probably seen before how deep into our culture some video game characters have become. Cultural icons like Super Mario or Sonic are recognizable by just looking at their colors, Portal’s Companion Cube is just a cube… yet gamers will instantly recognize it, and even the most blocky video game characters have been brought to life through cosplay at conventions all around the world.

But the point of the following video is not to show how easily recognizable game characters are, but instead it wants to showcase how deeply integrated into our culture some of the game worlds have become.

By just showing some extremely simplified environments in a globe, this animation will surely remind you of a few places you’ve visited in games.

The question is: can you recognize them all?

Leave your comment down below if you managed to do so!

As a note, you can check the video on Youtube, where the author has listed all the games these worlds come from.