TIME Video Games

Android TV Could Actually Succeed as a Game Console

Jared Newman for TIME

Google's new platform for TVs and set-top boxes puts games in the spotlight, but don't write it off as another Ouya.

On some level, it’s easy to laugh off the gaming element of Android TV, Google’s new living room platform that will arrive later this year.

The notion that a small, cheap set-top box could threaten large, expensive game consoles seemed popular a year ago, when “microconsoles” like Ouya and GameStick were hitting the market. But these devices haven’t taken off, and while the traditional game console market appears to be contracting, it’s still a big business, with sales in the millions for the Xbox One and PlayStation 4.

Still, after seeing more of Android TV at last week’s Google I/O conference, I think Google’s gaming efforts have a chance to succeed. Along with whatever Apple is reportedly working on, Android TV could be the disruptive force in living room gaming that pundits–myself included–have been predicting for years.

Ouya’s main problem was that it occupied an awkward middle ground between high-end game consoles and cheaper all-purpose entertainment boxes. It was marketed as a gaming product, but its catalog wasn’t meaty enough to attract core gamers. Meanwhile, as a media streamer, Ouya didn’t have a lot of essential apps, further limiting its appeal to people who were considering an Apple TV or Roku.

But Ouya’s approach did have some flashes of brilliance. It has some great small-scale games that you can pick up quickly and play in short bursts, and the experience of rifling through Ouya’s digital store and sampling a dozen free-to-try indie titles is something you can’t get from the big consoles. While Ouya’s gaming experience is hard to justify on its own, it could work as a supplement to a low-cost streaming media device or a smart TV.

That’s the approach Android TV is taking, and while it’s not the first set-top box with gaming–both Amazon Fire TV and Roku offer some games as well–it puts a greater emphasis on games than any other device I’ve seen. Instead of being relegated to a sub-menu, games appear on the same main screen as Android TV’s apps and recommendations. When you scroll down to the apps list, the games list pops into view, getting an equal amount of space, so it’s impossible to ignore.

Google has even built in some hooks for people who play games on Android phones and tablets. Because everything’s coming from the Google Play Store, you’ll likely be able to buy a game once and play it across all devices. Google is also supporting achievements, friends lists and cloud saves through its Google Play Games service, so you can switch between a phone, tablet and TV without losing any progress. The only console maker that could offer something similar is Microsoft, and it has bungled every opportunity to do so.

Will Android TV appeal to core gamers? I’m skeptical, but the involvement of gaming hardware maker Razer suggests that Google at least wants to try. Meanwhile, Nvidia’s K1 processor is the first chip to support Android TV, appearing in the reference device that Google is giving to app developers. If Nvidia brings GameStream and Grid to Android TV, it could allow for high-end gaming on cheaper set-top boxes and smart TVs.

Regardless, I suspect that the bigger prize is the demographic of users who enjoy games, but won’t take the plunge on a pricier console–the people who say “I like games, but if I bought a PlayStation 4 I’d never leave the house.” I’m 31 years old, and I can’t tell you how many people my age have said that to me when I tell them about my gaming habits. If Google and Apple can lure those people in with streaming video and music, and then show them a world of games that are easy to pick up and put down, the microconsole might not be such a joke.

MORE: The History of Video Game Consoles – Full

 

TIME Video Games

Go Ahead, Wirelessly Connect Your PS4 Controller to Your PS3

Sony

The DualShock 4, which ships with Sony's next-gen PlayStation 4, now works wirelessly with Sony's last-gen PlayStation 3.

It’s finally happened: Sony just made it possible for players with PlayStation 4 DualShock 4 controllers to connect them to their PS3s without tethers.

You could previously mate a DualShock 4 to a PS3 by plugging the former into the latter directly, using the USB cable, but the PS3 wouldn’t recognize the DualShock 4 absent that cable. Now that’s possible using good ol’ Bluetooth, to the extent that tapping the DualShock 4′s PlayStation button will even wake up the PS3 properly.

The “fix” arrived unceremoniously with a low-key PS3 firmware update (version 4.60, which dropped on June 24), or at least that’s the presumption some are making at Reddit, though there was also a PS4 firmware update to version 1.72 released around the same time, which for all we know did something to the DualShock 4 controller itself.

Here’s the blow-by-blow:

  • Under “Accessory Settings” on your PS3, locate and select “Manage Bluetooth Devices.”
  • Select “Register New Device.” The PS3 will begin Bluetooth scanning.
  • Simultaneously press and hold the DualShock 4′s “Share” and “PS” buttons until the controller’s light bar starts blinking. The controller should appear in the PS3′s list as a “Wireless Controller.”

Trouble is, that designation — “Wireless Controller” — means the PS3 still sees the DualShock 4 as a generic controller, thus neither SIXAXIS nor haptic feedback nor its DualShock 4-specific features (like the touchpad) are going to work properly, meaning you’re liable to run into compatibility problems with certain games.

The other piece to bear in mind is that the DualShock 4 can only sync with one device at a time, so if you pair with your PS3, you’ll have to re-pair with your PS4 and vice versa if you frequent both. All told, wonderful as the DualShock 4 gamepad is (it’s my personal favorite on any platform at the moment), I’m not sure it’s worth the trouble. But if you want to fiddle anyway, no strings attached, now you can.

TIME Video Games

There’s a New Underworld Game in Town, but It’s Not an Ultima

OtherSide Entertainment

Paul Neurath co-founded Looking Glass Studios in 1990 and helped create the groundbreaking Ultima Underworld series. Now he's launching a new studio, dubbed OtherSide Entertainment, with plans to rejuvenate the Underworld franchise.

If you never played Ultima Underworld back in 1992, you arrived late to the party. Doom, schmoom: id Software’s slick little demon-shooter was a high-octane shooting gallery, an endless hallway filled with closet-monsters. Doom won the popularity contest a year-and-a-half later, but Ultima Underworld was miles ahead gameplay-wise: something else entirely, and a portal to somewhere else that actually felt like a world simulation instead of a technology showcase.

Sadly, Ultima Underworld isn’t coming back — EA owns the rights to Ultima, and that’s that. But one of the original game’s co-creators, Paul Neurath, just announced he’s founded a new studio in Boston, OtherSide Entertainment, and he’s making a new Underworld game, dubbed Underworld Ascension.

Don’t worry, it’s no relation to that other poor, unfortunate game with the word “Ascension” in its title. And don’t let OtherSide’s initial dispatch confuse you when they say they’re “bringing back the classic Ultima Underworld franchise.” They’re bringing back the spirit of the Underworld franchise, true, but as noted above, not the Ultima part.

And that’s all we know at this point, beyond promises to show “more and more … in the weeks to come.” I do like that the name OtherSide’s a play on Looking Glass (Neurath’s original studio, responsible as well for Thief, System Shock, Flight Unlimited and Terra Nova). And Neurath’s apparently pulled in people who worked on the original Underworld games, so the promise, at least in terms of street cred, is there.

TIME Video Games

Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain’s Live E3 2014 Demo Is Now Watchable

Konami was touting Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain's tactical infiltration gameplay behind closed doors at E3 a few weeks ago. Now you can watch the full demo.

It was one more made-up E3 theater-in-a-theater warehouse, a vaguely roundish room that was dark and full of benches and people jostling for elbow room on those benches, squeezed tight as matchsticks.

But then that amazing song by Mike Oldfield kicked in, the one that sounds like it was lifted from a classic 1970s rock album (it wasn’t). The E3 trailer for Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain played, and everyone stopped caring. See for yourself.

That’s not the live demo, by the way; it’s the E3 trailer, which has been out for awhile. If you want the experience we had at E3, you’ll want to watch the trailer first, then the 30 minute demo — that’s the new bit — below.

I scribbled notes in Konami’s E3 theater, half-blind because the house lights were off and the theater screen was often dark or dimmed. Some of those notes became questions I posed to the game’s creator, Hideo Kojima, in a one-on-one interview after the demo that focused more on the series’ broader themes. Others were hypotheticals based more on my time with the prequel, Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes — some significant gameplay issues that have me concerned about The Phantom Pain‘s attempt to put one foot squarely in 2015 while holding another stubbornly in 1998.

Remember, as you watch the demo below, that you’re looking at a pitch for a game whose premise, at least in part, is that it’s the most realistic-looking game you’ve ever seen. Never mind the Fulton recovery system hijinks or the inanity in a game this lifelike of a dude scuttling around crablike under a piece of cardboard in lieu of executing actual stealth tactics. I can get past the absurdity of some things in a Metal Gear Solid game because they’re absurd for a reason, and that reason makes sense to me and the mechanics dovetail with all the rest of the game’s stealth-oriented idiosyncrasies.

But sometimes they don’t. In the demo, for instance, (watch from about 5:00), you’ll come galloping up to a cluster of structures, pull up maybe a hundred feet away from a guarded adobe building, whip out your binoculars and start marking enemy militia.

So… the guards couldn’t see you kicking up dust a mile away (in full daylight, mind you)? Couldn’t hear your horse running full bore? Couldn’t see you riding high in the saddle like a flag? Didn’t notice you rolling from the horse, then rising to a crouch and aiming — just a few dozen feet to their left — at their heads with a gun? What’s Big Boss wearing (that Konami’s said nothing about), a horse-and-rider-masking Crysis-style stealth suit?

It’s that sort of basic weirdness, that sense of flagrant implausibility where the world’s not working the way you have a right to expect a world this realistic and lifelike to work, that starts to put me off The Phantom Pain‘s game (at least in the demo). I don’t need guards that can spy me coming a mile off, but come on: There’s a dude on a horse galloping along a dry path on a mostly flat approach to a guard-flush clutch of buildings and he might as well be the invisible man. Someone tell someone at Konami to hire better guards before The Phantom Pain ships (presumably next year).

TIME technology

New Study Says Playing a Terrorist in Video Games Might Make You More Morally Sensitive

Sony Holds News Conference Ahead Of Annual E3 Gaming Conference
Men fight to the death in the violent PlayStation 3 game, The Last of Us David McNew—Getty Images

Latest research fuels the debate on the impact of violent video games

Can playing a terrorist in violent video games make you an all-around better person? As counterintuitive as it may sound, truly “heinous” behavior in a virtual environment might make players more morally sensitive, according to a new study to be published in the journal Cyberpsychology, Behavior and Social Networking.

“This may, as it does in real life, provoke players to engage in voluntary behavior that benefits others,” co-author Matthew Grizzard said in a release.

Researchers at the University of Buffalo had 185 participants randomly play two different video game scenarios — either as a terrorist or as a UN peacekeeper. After playing the games, those who played as terrorists were asked to recall what “real-life acts” induced guilt, and the UN soldiers were asked to recall which acts didn’t make them feel guilty. They then completed a 30-item moral foundations questionnaire.

“An American who played a violent game ‘as a terrorist’ would likely consider his avatar’s unjust and violent behavior — violations of the fairness/reciprocity and harm/care domains — to be more immoral than when he or she performed the same acts in the role of a ‘UN peacekeeper,’” Grizzard said. According to the University of Buffalo, “The study found significant positive correlations between video-game guilt and the moral foundations violated during game play.”

This study has some limitations, however. Researchers’ associating guilt with terrorist actions (and lack of guilt with the “heroes”), for example, might have shaded the lens with which they viewed their actions during the game.

It is the latest in a series of studies that attempt to assess the impact that violent media has on its consumers. Ever since two high school students rampaged through the halls of Columbine High School, debates have raged about whether violent video games, like those played by Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, lead to violent behavior. An August 2013 study argues that violent video games do not cause high risk youths to bully, while a March 2014 study argues that over time, violent video games make children more aggressive. Inconsistent finding even inspired Obama to put a call out for more comprehensive literature on the subject.

TIME Video Games

6 Interns’ Amazing Journey to Make a PlayStation Game

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In front of thousands of spectators, six recent college graduates debuted their first game during PlayStation’s lavish, high-spectacle E3 presentation. The small independent team, named Pixelopous, was on stage rubbing shoulders with industry professionals showcasing their multi-million dollar projects to the world. Not only that, but their game, Entwined, came as a complete surprise to the thousands of spectators at the press conference; a true testament to secrecy in an industry plagued with insider leaks.

“So [for] all of us, [it's] our first game after college … and to announce a launch at the same time as E3 is such a dream come true for us,” Entwined designer Jing Li said.

But where did this secretive game come from in the first place?

Sony has built a reputation for itself as always looking out for the little guys, and Entwined is just the latest example of that philosophy. The game and the Pixelopus studio are both products of Sony’s PlayStation incubation program; an initiative that looks to foster young talent in the gaming industry. The program started in 2006 when Allan Becker, now head of Sony Computer Entertainment Worldwide Studios Japan, struck up a relationship between Sony’s Santa Monica studio and the University of Southern California. That endeavor lead to the creation of ThatGameCompany, the studio responsible for Flower, a title that many critics cite to argue that gaming is an art form.

Jump forward six years to the budding game program at Carnegie Mellon University, of which Sony is a sponsor. The sharpest students from that first graduating class were brought on as interns in Sony’s San Mateo Studio in California. Three months later, six of them were hired and formed the Pixelopous team responsible for Entwined.

As a group in Sony’s incubation program, the Pixelopus team received unprecedented access to professional support and were given considerable freedom to dream up something fresh and new.

“We would have never dreamed up Entwined,” said Scott Rohde, PlayStation’s head of product development. “This came out of a group that hasn’t been working on third-person action adventure games for the last eight years. It’s a fresh perspective.”

Sony then added two industry veterans to the Pixelopus team, art director Jeff Sangalli and Creative Director Dominic Robilliard, to give the team’s dreams a sense of direction.

Now that Entwined has released on the PlayStation 4, the Pixelopus team will begin working on their next project while remaining in the incubation program.

“We’ll probably go back to prototyping, see what sticks around with us … and then make that into a full game,” Entwined Programmer Jitesh Mulchandani said.

The San Mateo incubation program is just one of the many that PlayStation is setting up around the world. Sony opened up an a program in Singapore in 2007, and now it’s also doing the same in Latin America. All of this is a part of Sony’s larger goal to be the center of a gaming community that extends beyond the big Triple-A titles. So expect to be surprised by more incubation projects in the future from teams across the world.

TIME Video Games

R.I.P. Diablo 3 Auction House, and May You Never Return

After today, any items left on Diablo 3's auction block will be gone forever.

You have to respect Blizzard for knowing when to fold ‘em: the Diablo 3 auction house will today disappear from the game for good, after a long drawing down period that saw it shift from developer mea culpa to functional cessation to its visual (and final) removal from the game today, June 24.

Diablo 3‘s auction house was supposed to be about reducing fraud, stamping out illicit item-trading by effectively legitimizing it under Blizzard’s auspices. But in the end, it became a stultifying gameplay-bypass tool. Blizzard obviously wants Diablo 3 to be a game about taking down Diablo, a game of skill steeped in assimilating and vamping on its design principles. But like any game that incentivizes players to kit out characters with ridiculously high-spec, hard-to-find items, the real game in Diablo 3 is about the loot hunt: about finding that kit, then extrapolating to multiple character builds and executing variations on a theme.

The trouble with systems that let you arbitrarily cut in line — and there’s probably a crude economic metaphor here — is that we know with all but scientific certainty that many of us will do whatever we can get away with in a game, and why should the ones “getting away with it” see that as a problematic? Diablo 3‘s auction house allowed players to spend as well as make real money playing the game. When the potential — some would argue of necessity, given how rare legendary items were in the beginning — to buy past gameplay (and eventually make money doing so) by a substantial population conflicts with everyone else’s sense of gameplay fairness, what do you think’s going to win: wishes or cash?

There were no momentous player-led rallies to oust Diablo 3 moneymaking. No mass boycotts of the auction house occurred. In the end, it took Blizzard’s not-so-invisible hand reaching down of its own volition to excise the auction house from the game, turning Diablo 3 back into something that now, finally, feels more like a game worth thinking about competitively.

I’m sure “illicit” external trading’s already going on, and so be it. No one’s yet built an exploit-proof game. But the lesson here — and this has implications for free-to-play apologists — may be that trying to corral and formalize a system fundamentally at odds with the game’s own design principles doesn’t make it any less of a problem. I’m surprised Blizzard didn’t see that coming a mile off, and I just hope the lessons learned pay their way forward in all the company’s games to come.

TIME Video Games

Now You Can Be ‘Frankenstein’s Monster’: Evolve Inside Scoop

Gamers can finally understand what Frankenstein's creation felt as the angry and armed mob hunted it down

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Developer Turtle Rock, Creator of Left 4 Dead, will soon launch a new multiplayer experience, Evolve. The game is set in a futuristic frontier-like galaxy, where Humanity has colonized a planet called Shear. That’s when the monsters come in. A group of hunters are enlisted as a last ditch effort to save the planet’s colonists. On paper Evolve is a simple concept — four player-controlled hunters versus one player-controlled monster — but from this simple idea for a gaming mechanic, something novel and complex has been created.

“Even prior to creating Left 4 Dead, Turtle Rock Studios was keenly interested in the idea of a team of players fighting a giant boss battle, but with the boss being controlled by another player,” said Michael J. Boccieri, Senior Producer at 2K. “Compared to a standard boss battle, this 4v1 multiplayer results in unique gameplay every single match due to the human mind controlling the monster, so no match ever plays out the same way…[Turtle Rock] then drew inspiration from other mediums including film, comic books, literature and more, which was a core driving component to a lot of the aesthetics that make Evolve what it is today.”

The notion of playing as the monster in a game isn’t new, but never before have developers embraced the idea of giving players control quite like this. In Shelly’s Frankenstein (as well as its film adaptations), Frankenstein’s creation is always on the defensive, despite its impressive power. The creature, misunderstood and unmoored, is hunted by an angry village mob, which views it as an implicit threat. But in games, players haven’t really experienced the persecuted monster’s point of view.

Though developers have occasional embraced a “monster” as a narrative’s lead, but those instances are few and far between. In these cases, the game is usually constructed in either two ways:

1) The monster is the protagonist in an anti-hero role, who is tasked with fighting a worse evil, or it is empowered by the developers to hunt and slay others. This can be seen in titles such as Altered Beast, Splatterhouse, Overlord, Demon’s Crest, Alien Vs Predator 2, and more.

2) The monster is just a stock character in a gameplay centric title within either the Fighting or Sidescrollling genres, like Godzilla: Destroy All Monsters Melee or Rampage World Tour.

In all of these titles the developers empower the player to be on the offensive, hunting and killing with minimal regard for the protagonist’s life beyond the threat of restarting a level. Players are rarely, if ever, given an experience where they can inhabit the mind of a monster who is being hunted by an an overwhelming force. That’s where Evolve steps in.

During this year’s E3 gaming expo, the game’s publisher 2K gave TIME the opportunity to competitively play the game. I took control of a monster named Kraken. During my match, I finally understood what Frankenstein’s creation felt like as the angry and armed mob hunted it down. Because Evolve a strategic competitive multiplayer title, I was able to feel the fear of being hunted. At the onset of each match the monster is weak and vulnerable. I was forced to avoid confrontation and scavenge on local wildlife, and in doing so, I could “evolve” (three evolutionary stages in total). With each subsequent evolution I was granted more abilities, and gained the strength necessary to push back my attackers.

“Certainly when you start a match as the monster at Stage One, you are underpowered compared to the hunter team; a savvy hunter team knows this, and will attempt to corral, contain and destroy the monster as quickly as possible,” said Boccieri. “Much as Frankenstein’s creation comes into his own over the course of the novel, so too does the monster player over the course of a match as they feed on the wildlife and evolve, growing more and more powerful. By Stage Two the monster is equal to the hunters, and by the time the monster reaches Stage Three, the hunters actually become the hunted. It’s an interesting parallel to the plot of the novel — by the time we are at the ice flows at the novel’s conclusion, we wonder whether Dr. Frankenstein is hunting the monster, or he himself is the hunted?”

But in those early moments of the game, I was overwhelmed by paranoia. Every move and action I made could be used by the hunters to track me down: my footsteps, birds that had been startled or dead animal carcasses my character left behind. Each time I stopped to eat wildlife, I feared that just beyond my field of vision — the hunters lay in waiting. And that is what’s so unique about Evolve. That perspective flop that gamers rarely have the opportunity to enjoy.

TIME Video Games

Shovel Knight May Be the 8-bit Homage We’ve Been Waiting For

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The music in Shovel Knight‘s launch trailer sounds nothing like the music in the game. I can personally vouch for this.

The trailer (above) is all dour, thrash-y, melodically minor guitars and calf-murdering double-bass drumming. The actual game is scored with scritch-popping chiptunes (that’s the hipster way of talking about 8-bit music in 2014). With respect for Jake Kaufmann, who’s listed as developer Yacht Club Games’ sound designer, the trailer’s music doesn’t hold a candle to the mad genius of his vintage-infused in-game tunes, like this one:

Shovel Knight is an 8-bit-like (coin a genre), a platformer starring a shovel-wielding knight, out to defeat the evil foozle, and his thumb-torturing adventures along the way. It’s like Wizards and Warriors meets Castlevania meets Faxanadu (and I’m told, DuckTales — for shame, I never played that one). It’s the result of a wildly successful Kickstarter that blew past its $75,000 goal by nearly a quarter of a million bucks back in April 2013. It’s the latest release in a sudden parade of mature Kickstarter-spawned games putting paid to crowdfunding’s promise.

Bask in its unabashed genuflection to 1980s game design tropes. Bathe in its classic NES color palette. Chuckle at the notion of a horn-helmed knight nobly brandishing a sharpened spade. William Faulkner said it best: “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.” Faulkner would have understood (and probably played) Shovel Knight.

Shovel Knight costs $15, and you can have it on PC, Mac, Linux, 3DS or Wii U this Thursday, June 26.

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