Thursday, 19 February 2015

Missed the Mark: Grifta - Morphing Gamepad (Kickstarter)

Today I'm looking at a Kickstarter for an all-purpose, customisable gaming peripheral (customisable means that it comes in bits). The Grifta is ultimately a gaming peripheral version of the Power Ranger Megazords. I believe that whilst this isn't a bad Kickstarter campaign, the product isn't as innovative as the creator thinks it is, but it could be if pushed in the right direction. The Grifta is designed to do everything, which is why I think it's doomed to fail as it tries to fill a void in the peripheral market that doesn't really exist.

I'm not going to argue that  the Grifta isn't a decent controller (when the left and right hand side are combined to create a complete Ultrazord-style gamepad). I can't know for sure unless I use it, but for the sake of argument lets assume that it works and is ergonomic. Looking at the backer tiers, ignoring the limited early bird prices, you can see that the left hand unit costs £50 and the standard controller is £69. Also if you want it to work with your console it also costs £119 for the XIM4 bridge. It's a pretty ugly looking thing when it's put together in my opinion. Check out the rest of the tiers and add-ons on the Kickstarter page because there's too many to mention here so I'll just mention a select few.

The add-ons for mobile and tablet are pretty ludicrous. They'd look at home on an episode of Channel 5's The Gadget Show, but let's be realistic: who in their right mind is going to sit on public transport with custom controllers stuck on the side of their phone. Who is going to withdraw a custom 'selfie stick' so that they can play their games at eye level. No one, it's stupid and impractical. My bag is already crammed full of things when travelling (including a specialised mobile gaming device - my 3DS), plus I'd like to be able to quickly put my phone away just before my stop rather than rush to dismantle a load of chunky plastic components. Let's not forget that mobile technology is changing all the time and personally I don't see the point in investing in peripherals for my phone, hell I don't even have a case. However, luckily the mobile elements are part of a more distant stretch goal than the infra-red module - which is one area I think this product should be focused.

Yes, the best part of this split controller design is its possible use with VR devices. Using the 'antler' motion sensor add-on, one half could be used with an Oculus Rift for weapon aiming, whilst the other is used for movement. Considering how VR development is progressing, I think the development of specialised controllers might be a more lucrative direction to head in (albeit risky, of course). Also, one handed controllers... What about options for gamers with disabilities? It seems like a missed opportunity to create an accessible peripheral for those who are handicapped.

Whilst manufacturing costs and logistics obviously play a part in the overall design, I think we've hit a pretty decent level of gamepad quality and in all honesty, things haven't changed that much in a long time - perhaps there's a reason.

"The triggers, buttons, joystick, and D-Pad are placed to suit the ergonomics of the human hand, and not for the convenience of a simple manufacturing package."

Sure the ergonomic benefits of the Grifta could out-shadow the competitors but after weighing up the whole package, is it worth it? Adding different size grips sounds nice on paper but if you really think about it do your existing gamepads really bother you that much? I guess it might be a case of: you won't know how crap your current peripheral is in comparison until you try this one, but for the sake of the extra money involved maybe ignorance is bliss.

"A flat gamepad can't compete. This controller is designed to provide performance and speed. You can even use it with your gaming mouse."

To be honest I disagree. Let's first look at the 'PC Master Race'. If you are a dedicated PC gamer, then it's a good bet that you've already found the perfect mouse and keyboard setup. In order to cover all bases, it's a common sight to also see cheap wired Xbox 360 controllers used for certain types of games. I haven't tried it with my PC, but I can also connect my PS3 controller to my Macbook if necessary with ease (and I assume the PS4 controller works as well). That's the beauty of modern peripherals - a driver here, a driver there and boom it works. I even plug my keyboard into my consoles sometimes (this helps for comms in Final Fantasy XIV). The important thing here is that in many cases, we already own the peripherals to do the job. Depending on the game, you would need to put the Grifta down in order to use the keyboard as well because I don't know about you guys, but I don't like to let go of the mouse in the middle of a firefight.

For most games a mouse and keyboard pretty much covers it. Although many console gamers may feel comfortable using a gamepad for First Person Shooters, it's widely accepted that a keyboard and mouse gives you much more control and accuracy. I doubt many PC-centric gamers would choose a gamepad over the tried and tested mouse and keyboard (even a bog-standard set). People craving a certain level of immersion can use joysticks and HOTAS (Hands-on Throttle and Stick) setups to have specialist control over the mechanics in Space/flight simulators, and if you're a driving enthusiast then you can get a cheap £25 wheel and pedals if necessary. There are affordable solutions for your specialist gaming needs, although if you have money to burn you could spend thousands on something like this cockpit.

Looking at the current consoles, Playstation joined the world of comfort with their latest Dualshock design and it feels good in your hands. The Xbox One controller retains the simplicity of the tried and tested 360 design, and whilst ergonomically superior to the PS3, it's arguably on-par with the PS4. Both the PS4 and WiiU have unique elements that the Grifta can't imitate, notably the touch pad and tablet element respectively plus the PS4 has a light bar designed for gameplay feedback and for locating players in your living room (don't forget the 6 axis motion sensors). The Grifta doesn't seem to have vibration, which may not matter to PC gamers as much, but if they expect console gamers to be OK with this, well... we may not think about it, but vibration is a form of gameplay feedback that affects the way we play, and I'd personally miss it. If it does vibrate then I can't see it mentioned anywhere. Unless it's a planned additional stretch goal expansion. Remember when you had to buy a rumble pack for you N64? This product is making me think of this scene from Naked Gun:

I'm not saying this is a bad Kickstarter campaign, I appreciate seeing experimentation with gaming peripheral design, but that's exactly what it comes across as to me: an experiment, not a viable product. I believe those looking for specialist peripherals have a great selection available in a fairly consumer-friendly set of price ranges and those people looking for an all-purpose solution, well... try using a gamepad you already own or just stick with the trusty mouse and keyboard setup. If they don't get the funding I hope they rethink their brief and possibly focus on breaking the future VR peripheral market, rather than trying to fix what ain't broke. Oh, one final thought: how many chargers will I need for this thing? -oP


Product Website

Tuesday, 10 February 2015

Our Destiny So Far

This began as a planned brief post about my thoughts about the BAFTA games nominations. When I starting writing about the 'Best Game' nomination I then began to rant a little bit too much about Destiny. It turned out that I simply had to put my opinion to paper, and so it warranted it's own article. So here: have some 100% Destiny 'What I think of it now' editorial. Win.

This year I have only played one game on the BAFTA 'Best Game' list: Destiny. I was very willing to defend Bungie's latest experiment at launch; many people didn't understand it and how the landscape of multiplayer gaming is changing and so lashed out. Some people expected a game reminiscent of the loot gathering, dungeon crawling Borderlands combined with the super-fun acrobatic gunplay and grenade tossing of Halo, bundled together in a massively multiplayer experience. Instead they got... well, something kind of difficult to define. I've played for a decent length of time and I appreciate it on a mechanical level, and even on it's Dark Souls-esque take on lore. I didn't mind checking online to read the 'grimoires', in fact it made me feel more engaged even though it was technically removing me from the gameplay experience.

As I kept playing it though, I felt more and more disengaged, although I will disclose that this may be due to all my friends playing it on PS4 while I'm stuck solo on PS3 (boo hoo). I haven't played any of the raids yet, and as it stands I can't for the foreseeable future unless I spend some time making internet Destiny buddies. Destiny is fun, no denying that, however is it £50 plus an extra £35 for the two currently announced 'expansions' worth of fun? You know what: I find it very easy to say no, for what you get I don't think so at all. In reality this game is small and repetitive, and I find myself rushing through it just to get shit done faster. That's not really a good sign, and it doesn't bode well for me personally as I get the same feeling whilst playing most MMOs.

I'll be honest I don't like referring to this new IP as an MMO; it may have MMO features such as a load of people ignoring each other (but occasionally dancing) in a shopping hub whilst buying stuff using basically 20 different types of currency, but it isn't massive and it's only sort of multiplayer some of the time. If anything, it's a faux MMO experience and in that respect whilst I don't think Destiny truly qualifies, it does well in creating an illusion.

As I said earlier, to me it feels like more of an experiment of which I will agree to be a part of for now, but I feel like an experiment on this scale shouldn't be making it's candidates purchase expensively minimal content so soon after launch. I'm not denying Destiny's technical achievement and it's artistic vision, I'm not diminishing the amount of work that's been put into producing a stable (for the most part) environment in which to shoot things with your buddies, and I am not saying the game isn't fun! But for some of us, we just can't invest all our time into one product and simultaneously justify such a large price-tag for what is in reality a 'small' game.

Personally it does just come down to money on this one. I'm not ignorant in the fact that Bungie/Activision has a large development team with associated costs but I don't think the product is worth it. Now, Destiny 2, or rather the second iteration of the franchise (of which I don't think would have the number two tagged onto it), might just be something special. However, we've got a while for that to become a 'thing', and by then the market might be a totally different place. To summarise: good game at it's FPS core, however even though I do enjoy a bit of space-wizardry, it's not a genre that fully works for me and certainly not worth the money. We as customers don't need to accept the way big publishers are carving out the DLC marketplace, especially when there are decent examples of developers and publishers who are continuously supporting their games with content that feels worthwhile for less. I know it's difficult to draw comparisons between the monetary worth of different game content, even on a purely £1-per-hour basis, because people will experience games in different ways for different length of time - but hey, this is my opinion.

For now though, since I do actually enjoy aspects of it I will play a little bit longer (to get my money's worth) and so l'll just have to be Bungie's lab rat until the new breed of 'MOBO' shooters hit the digital shelves, of which I am interested in - but that's a story for another time. -oP

Wednesday, 4 February 2015

First Impressions: Izzy's Revenge (Kickstarter)

Izzy's Revenge is a 2D platform game with beautiful hand drawn artwork - an aesthetic you don't see too often in games of this genre on Kickstarter. In fact I can imagine the artwork translating quite well into a steampunk point-and-click adventure. Yes I did say steampunk: "OMG take my money!" shouts everyone who likes steampunk (which is like, everyone isn't it?).

The story is set in the city of Steelbridge, named because, well there's a bridge made of steel in it. The city is governed by Sid (a big bad steampunk cyborg guy), who's influence of the other guild leaders ensures his control over industry and the economy. Whilst a world of airships may symbolise a world at the peak of it's industrial age, in reality Izzy's dad has made some cool blue light-sabery energy stuff that could tip the balance of power. The bad guys obviously don't quite agree with this, and have not only killed Izzy's father, but have also stolen all the cool light-sabery plans.

As the games title suggests, Izzy must fight her way to each guild boss and get vengeance for the death of her father. One of the main gameplay mechanics involves using an energy weapon which can change form in order to combat the various enemies you will encounter (some are shown in the Kickstarter video). There doesn't seem to be any media which shows the skill/weapon improvement mechanics but this is something that we will probably see more of in future updates I assume. There is also emphasis on the explorative nature of the level design, but I appreciate that it's difficult to see this without showing a large portion of uncut gameplay footage.

There is enough media on this Kickstarter to show that a lot of work has gone into the development, although they are only approximately a quarter the way through. Despite what this small team has achieved over the last year working part time, they have stated that without this funding the project cannot continue. A sad fact, one which I hope they will retract if the Kickstarter is unsuccessful because far too much work has been done to simply cast it aside.

Onto my thoughts of the Kickstarter itself: considering the goal is $55,000, I am curious to know how this money would be used as it isn't broken down on the page. After Kickstarter fees, and the costs of moving to Unity, this money won't go very far to pay the full-time wages of the developers and collaborators for a 2016 release. Despite this problem (which is mainly out of concern for the developers) and one other criticism, this is a well presented campaign and I hope that over the next 28 remaining days we see some more updates and content. The other criticism I mentioned is simply the English grammar HOWEVER the developers are from Valencia, Spain (I've been there - it's lovely!) and we shouldn't penalise them for this, I mean I've made no effort to learn Spanish have you?

Artwork is frequently given as a backer reward and more often then not I'm generally not bothered, but this is a rare occasion where I would actually appreciate a physical book of drawings (although it's a fair bit of money for that tier). It's also one of the highest tiers, but one reward is to have your face in a steampunk advertisement in the game. Which is cool if you have the cash.

At the time of writing there are 28 days left and $1,678 invested in Izzy's Revenge. Go take a look at the links below. Reminder: it's steampunk... Steampunk is cool.-oP