Destiny 2 Beta Impressions

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Yesterday around noon was the official launch of Destiny 2 Beta on the PS4.  I personally got my hands on it around 6 pm after doing various things that needed to be done and taking my wife out to eat.  To call this a Beta however feels like a little bit of a misnomer because in truth we are getting out hands on essentially the same demo that was available to press at e3.  With that comes a greatly limited subset of options that you can take part in.  Functionally right now there are three things available to players:  The first story mission, the Inverted Spire strike, and one play mode of the crucible.  I didn’t get a ton of screenshots because I was actively playing, but I did decide to stream and ultimately record me in game from the moment I started up Destiny 2 to the moment I logged out feeling like I had “beat” the demo.  If you are really curious you can check out my Mixer VOD that runs for a little over an hour.  I opted to go for a silent stream because I was largely just recording this for my own benefit.

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This game is going to catch so much flak for being “Destiny 1.5” and I can see that.  In every meaningful way this is Destiny.  The characters perform as smoothly as the original, and the gunplay feels just as good.  Those who played a significant amount of time with the first game…  might have a little bit of an adjustment period because there are subtle differences everywhere.  This is not simply a “HD Remaster” of the original game… but you can feel that it is in fact a brand new game that has tried extremely hard to capture everything that was great about the first one.  The titan jump feels slightly different, and everything from the pulse rifle to the hand canon are recognizable…  but feel different enough to know at a base level that you are playing something different.  The first story mission is excellent and does an amazing job of providing you a feel for the game and its play… as well as giving you a rich narrative ride through parts of the tower you have never seen before.  It takes everything that was learned through the Taken King and Rise of Iron and distills it down into the purest form.  You are killing Cabal but you are doing it with a constant purpose of trying to save those you can…  with enough nostalgic elements to make it feel like your home is falling apart…  not just some random structure being blown to pieces.  The mission also does a great job of weaving in single player and multi player elements…  with the central section being a sort of defend the tower mode as you and lots of other players fight back against the Cabal along side Zavala.  That is another huge part of this experience…  you are interacting with characters that you already know like Zavala, Cayde-6 and Ikora Rey.  They have personality and treat you in a manner befitting someone who has been leading all of these strike missions for all of these years.  Hell you even get some interesting interactions with Lord Shax and Amanda Holliday.

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The Strike is similarly awesome, and I can see myself running it over and over as part of the strike list.  There were a few annoying jumping puzzle style elements…  namely that giant grinder that we have seen multiple times in trailers and such.  You find yourself trying to navigate through an area while avoiding the spinning wheels of doom.  There is a similar mechanic in the first story mission where you have to avoid certain death while destroying objectives, and made me question my choice of the control jump instead of the height jump.  The only weirdness about all of this is… it felt like grenade and super both charged super slow.  Maybe I am just used to running around with my Armamentarium and rocking two grenade charges…  but it always felt like when I needed a grenade the most it was still on cooldown.  The super when available however was glorious.  Last night I focused on the Sentinel Titan… and I got to run around bashing things with my shield.  I never figured out how to throw it…  but doing the equivalent of the old striker titan shoulder charge with a void shield was amazingly fun.  While sunbreaker is supposedly back for Destiny 2… I can absolutely see me maining Sentinel.  The thing that surprised me the most is the fact that I didn’t really seem to use the portable shield capability that often.  It was useful for setting up essentially a gun nest, but for the most part I just ducked in and out of cover like I always did.

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The only negative of the night was the crucible.  I am just not a fan of the changes they made.  For starters they have reduced the number of people in standard crucible matches from 6 vs 6 to 4 vs 4.  As a result they have created a series of much smaller maps with much tighter choke points.  What this does is make it feel much more frenetic in a style of game-play that I equate with Call of Duty.  Crucible always felt like a thinking mans game… where it was as much about how you moved and when you chose to fire or not fire…  rather than just charging forward into the fray every few seconds.  It could be my experiences were deeply colored by the fact that in both occasions I ended up on a team of randoms fighting against a team of people sharing the same clan tag.  Functionally all I know is that the changes did not feel as good as the original crucible does, and as a very casual player of the crucible it is not really something I look forward to participating in.  Which leads us to the other problem of the night…  I am more or less a Patrol player.  If you believe Destiny Tracker I spend something like 70% of my time playing Patrol missions where I wander around aimlessly and kill things in the open world.  As such with this demo “my Destiny” was not open for business yet and after doing the story mission, the strike, and a few round of crucible I considered myself largely done for the night.  That is not to say that I didn’t enjoy myself… it just felt like a very shallow experience without the open world content and without character progression.  I am sure I will boot it up a few more times…  but this did nothing to really satiate my desire for the actual game.

 

 

Advanced Spellcraft

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I’ve talked about quite a few things that I experienced at Pax South, and this mornings post is going to do some more of the same.  I feel like this year more than others I walked away with a treasure trove of things I wanted to talk about.  I guess in theory it is because I approached the convention significantly differently than I have in past years.  In the past I largely only stood in line to play the games that immediately seemed to be in my wheelhouse, and as a result I am sure I robbed myself of a whole slew of interesting things.  The game I want to talk about this morning is a prime example of not being able to rely on our instincts and tastes.  If you have read my blog for any length of time you will know that I do not handle “finger wigglers” that well… or to clarify my own personal slang…  spell casters.  So when I walked past a booth demonstrating a game where the main character is slinging spells left and right, my first instinct is to keep moving.  However as a group we stopped and listened to the intricate tale that CEO Louis-Félix Cauchon had to weave.  Admittedly what make this game so interesting is just how detailed the spell system is.  We got to watch a twenty minute demo covering nothing but how the spell system works, before even getting into the awesome pedigree of the storytelling.

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Functionally your character has four spells, which in itself doesn’t seem like a lot.  However each spell can be modified with what I have been generically calling “mutators” to change the way it responds.  So you might have a spell that at face value is a small point blank spark, however by equipping a a behavior you can make it fire out like a fireball…  or by equipping an augment you can make it veer to the right after firing it.  If you suddenly decide that you don’t want to throw fireballs… but instead iceballs, you can simply go in and change the base element of the attack.  Over the course of this demo of the system we got to see personal shields turn into charge attacks, and glorious cascades of rock from the ceiling in place of a traditional blizzard spell.  Now you might ask yourself why on each you would need this level of detail for a spell system apart from the simple “wouldn’t it be cool” aspect.  Functionally the magic not only serves as a weapon, but also as a complex puzzle system.  So there might be switches that you cannot reach unless you modify your fireball to arc in a certain way in order to hit the trigger.  The spellbook also allows you to save off several different configurations of a spell, and in the final version you will be able to give them unique names allowing you to quickly recognize which version of a given spell is your avalanche and which is your frost barrier.  The only immediate limit to building insane combination spells is your imagination, and of course your mana bar.  Each trait that you give a spell increases its cost, and while it was described that this matters less and less as you go through the game… it does limit your early tinkering.  Additionally as you play through the game you find modifiers along the way, meaning your palette of abilities starts small and grows as you progress.

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Up to this point we have literally just talked about the technical spell casting system, which in itself is a pretty amazing game.  On top of this however they have added what is sure to be a pretty great story.  Ed Greenwood of Forgotten Realms fame has penned the story for this game about epic spellcasters, which only makes sense given that he gave us the character of Elminster.  Functionally I heard the game described as Harry Potter meets Zelda and that seems fitting, with a huge alteration in that there seems to be a lot more physical puzzle solving with your spells.  I find it so bizarre though that I am looking forward to the release of a game about magic users, and that includes absolutely zero armor clad characters for me to bash baddies in the head with.  At face value this game is traditionally far out of my wheelhouse, but it was also quite possibly the freshest feeling game concept I saw on the Pax floor.  We’ve done so much for martial combat and making it feel interesting and nuanced, but have done so little to bring that same level of nuance to weaving complex spells.  Most games give us the option of push button throw fireball, or push button create bubble…  but this is the first that I have seen that lets you take that bubble and then project it outwards or trigger another spell after the bubble casts.  I have this feeling that in many ways it will have an almost metroidvania feel in that each time you unlock a new ability to give you spells it is also going to open up new ways to solve puzzles and allow you to move deeper into the content.

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The game right now is targetted for PC, Playstation 4 and Xbox One and does not have a firm launch date… but we heard March or April mentioned which I largely translated into a “Spring” launch window that might be plus or minus a month.  They are doing something extremely interesting to get us into the world ahead of the launch by releasing a comic that updates Tuesdays and  Thursdays and explains the world and setting.  I love it when I experience a game like this, not necessarily because “woo spellcasters” or anything of the sort, but because this is clearly the love child of a bunch of folks who care deeply about it.  Talking to Louis-Félix Cauchon within second it was clear to see just how passionate he was about this game, and the work and imagination that went into creating it.  That in truth is what makes the convention experience special.  You get to meet the creators face to face and see just how much they love what they are doing.  In many ways it feels like Pax South recharges the spark inside of me each year, and gives me fuel to keep going throughout the year.  We spend so much time on the negatives, the little details that bother us about this game or that.  However seeing a game like Mages of Mystralia shows me instantly that there very much still is magic out there…  pun only slightly intended.  I would definitely add this to your watch list and check it out when it ultimately releases.  I find it so bizarre that of all of the games I have experienced, this one ranks insanely high on the list of “wish I had early access” titles, if for no reason other than to play with the spell crafting system.  This is the first release from Borealys Games, but if they can pour this much passion into every project they are going to be a studio we see lots of amazing things from in the future.

Darth Scrapheap

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If appearance systems are the “true” endgame… them I am woefully losing right now.  Last night I managed to push my Deathknight across the line and ding 110, to which I immediately abandoned all attempts at questing and instead focused on World Quests.  For those who do not know when you hit 110 all you need do is walk over to Khadgar and you can start up the madness on your alts without needing to do the faction grind.  Now I look like a random assemblage of crap…  or very much like a raiding dps warrior did in vanilla.  I know that helm is supposed to be menacing and Deathknighty… but it just keeps reminding me of a lizard or turtle… or something similar.  After a round of “complete the gear quests” I am sitting at 795 and I absolutely plan on exploiting the hell out of the Timewalking dungeons this weekend to help push that higher.  As much as I wanted to like the Paladin… it was mostly just a choice to push up so that I could have a miner to feed my engineering.  Similarly I started the Rogue with the thought of pushing up a Herbalist/Alchemist but stalled out because Rogues are squishy and annoying.  Instead I started working on my Deathknight because deep down inside I still have a lot of love for the character… the fringe benefit however is that now I have a reasonable Herbalist as well to at the very least feed my Seed-Battered Fish Plate habit.

In other news we had a pretty good night of raiding with us coming in and killing Odyn once again after a weird off week thanks in large part to Thanksgiving.  It still took a few tries and there are a lot of fiddly bits we can improve on to make it less horrible at the end.  From there we had a crazy pull that never ended because we did not learn our lesson properly and or they said they patched something they didn’t actually patch.  From there we set up and changed a few things on Guarm and had an amazingly smooth one shot…  which is pretty damned awesome considering this was only our second night of attempts.  We then continued on to Helya and by the end of the we were pushing her into phase three and phase two was seeming less suicidal.  All in all I will count that as significant progress, the only negative being there just aren’t that many gearing options yet from this raid.  I am super bummed that I am going to have to miss our now “a thing” Friday night Emerald Nightmare clear this week.  I have a family thing that happens once a month, and this just happens to be that Friday.  Thankfully I think we have more than enough reasonable tanking options to make something work in my absence.  I am just bummed at losing a shot at maybe just maybe getting those last three corrupted essences.

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I also played a significant amount of Final Fantasy XV, and I have decided it is far less a boy band simulator and more Final Fantasy Entourage.  All of that said… I still like it quite a bit and it is absolutely priceless when Prompto sometimes hums the class FF battle victory theme after you finish a combat engagement.  Right now I am heavily engaged in a life of murder-hobo-ry as I am roaming the country side looking for baddies to vanquish and looting interesting cooking materials.  The key take away from yesterday however is that I gave the official Sony PS4 Remote Play a shot and man…  have they seemingly improved it greatly.  Sure there are still moments when it wigs the hell out and you are best to simply hold still until it stops struggling.  Those however are few and far between and for the most part the end result is an extremely smooth play experience.  For reference my PS4 is hard wired into my router, and I was connecting into it from my laptop over the wireless network.  I did some tests in Destiny to see if this was simply a “good enough for an RPG” thing or if it really was reasonable for playing other games.  I could notice a little bit of controller lag while running and doing some patrols… but it was more than reasonable enough for me to play.  I am not sure if I would be willing to go into the Crucible or something extremely difficult, but I had a good enough time killing random splicers in the Plaguelands remotely.  In truth it is “good enough” for 90% of the stuff I do in Destiny and I would absolutely be willing to try something like farming Archon’s Forge while remoted in through the laptop.  It is definitely good enough for Final Fantasy XV which greatly increase the range of play options I have…  and I am going to want to test this theory out on the Vita pretty soon.  I still think the performance of the unofficial “Twisted” Remote Play was better… but he has just been unable to keep it updated to function on the latest version of the PS4 firmware… and the bonus features of playing with a keyboard, mouse and xbox 360 controller simply are not worth being behind in the firmware version especially given that it will bar you from accessing the PSN store.  I am super happy though to see that Sony seems to continue to improve performance.

Official PS4 Remote Play

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Some time ago I wrote a post about the unofficial Twisted Remote Play app.  Since that time I have used that thing on a nearly daily basis, if for no reason other than the pull screenshots off of my PS4 without having to play move the thumb drive.  It worked well, and honestly offered a level of game play that was nearly indistinguishable from sitting physically at your machine.  It worked amazingly smoothly over my laptop downstairs and while I didn’t do anything super serious with it, I did spend quite a bit of time farming resources or doing daily bounties in Destiny through it.  When I bought into the Alpha I believe it was $10 and since then he has shifted the pricing scheme to a free/premium structure.  As a former paid user I got transitioned to premium, and from what I can tell the paid version just gets newer updates.  However around the time I wrote my original post it was confirmed my Sony that they would be releasing an official version of the Remote Play application.  For anyone who cares to know, it turns out that Twisted simply reverse engineered the existing Xperia remote play app that had been available on the android and then greatly tweaked and improved the net code.  The improvements were not insignificant, and I honestly doubted that the official app release would even come close to the performance of the Twisted client.

I am guessing the existence of this unofficial dark horse client lit a fire under Sony and maybe caused them to improve their product offering to compete.  As of this morning the 3.50 system update is available for the PS4 and with it brings the official client that you can download here.  Out of the box it honestly performs like shit.  The default is 540p 30fps and using your PSN account to find your machine over the internet.  However if you kill the client and relaunch it, you will notice a settings box down near the bottom on the left hand side.  I found that if I cranked up the resolution to 720p and the frame rate to High it also changed the way the application worked.  Instead of finding your machine over the internet, it instead looked for it on your local network and as a result greatly improved the performance.  Granted my tests this morning were over a wired connection straight into the same router my PS4 was connected to, but I have to say the performance was reasonable.  I am not 100% sure if it is quite as smooth as the Twisted client, but it was absolutely playable.  I popped into Destiny and ran around the planet working on some bounties and while it felt like at times there was maybe a tiny bit of lag in the input… it was absolutely playable.  If you are doing anything serious at all I would still highly suggest sitting at your machine and just playing like Sony intended… however if you want to chill out from a laptop I have a feeling that the experience will be comparable to the Twisted client.

All of this said… I really hope that the Twisted client updates and gets fixed.  There were a lot of interesting things that he was doing that I want to see continued.  For example he was doing some work with emulating a Dualshock 4 controller with a Keyboard and Mouse.  Now it wasn’t quite there yet but it worked “well enough” to play around with on bounties and such in Destiny.  The other thing that I would love is for him to figure out how to pass through the Microphone input to the remote play application allowing folks to hang out and talk on PSN party chat while playing remotely.  I also feel like Twisted is going to ultimately support complaints with his client far better than Sony will.  PSTV for example is a mess and there doesn’t seem to be any sign of fixing it… given that they officially cancelled the product.  I feel like the PC and Mac support here is just to be able to say that they can do this feature that Xbox One has been touting for awhile, and once that check mark has been ticked off they simply won’t devote the resources to making sure it continues to work as well as it could work.  All of this makes me hope that they did not permanently break support for the method that Twisted has been connecting, because I really want to see that project succeed.

The King Fell

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The Ship Boss

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Since the launch of Destiny I have had a desire to do the raid content…  because that is the sort of thing I would do in any of the MMOs.  Unfortunately Destiny never really gained the sort of traction that I would have liked among my circle of friends.  Initially Tam and Ash and Kodra all played…  but petered out pretty quickly.  With the launch of The Taken King there was a bit of a resurgence, but similarly did not last terribly long.  Another friend that would have probably happily joined in raid time fun… plays on a completely different console.  I had gotten to the point where I kept considering trying to brute force a raid to happen by coaxing various friends who I know that play the game casually into joining me for madness.  Then out of the blue my good friend Squirrel almost strong arms me into joining the raid with his clan Axioma, which in truth I jumped at the opportunity.  Last night was that raid and I have to say I am hooked.  Firstly the group of folks I went in with are amazing, and super chill about newbie failures.  I cannot fathom how the first people to do this raid figured out some of the crap that you need to do.  I swear it took me a solid thirty minutes to get through the ship encounter, where you have to jump from one ship at the right time as another one is fading from underneath you.  All the while Wet was super supportive and coaxing me through the process, and while I felt horrible to taking so long to grasp the jumps…  it was kinda awesome that they were willing to let me keep attempting it.

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The entire night I was admittedly largely clueless and doing everything I could to listen to the directions and execute them to the best of my ability.  When playing with a new group of folks, there is always the strong desire to “not fail miserably”.  That said I still managed to cause us to wipe a few times, and regardless of the situation everyone was really relaxed and just kept plugging forward.  I have to say this has done more than anything to validate my decision to follow Squirrel and jump clans, because it seems like this really is an amazing group of folks.  I am just floored that I have gone from being a pre-raid super casual, to having defeated Oryx in a single night.  I fully expected the rookie night raid thing to be a much harder slog, but I am guessing we had more than enough ringers to make the entire process feel more manageable.  I would happily sign up for this every week, and while the loot is a huge draw…  I really enjoyed the process of doing the fights and want to see them keep going more smoothly.  My favorite of the fights was probably Golgoroth just because there is something special about taking down a jump sized Ogre.  We managed to do the “challenge” version of Oryx… which suddenly makes me wonder just what the challenge versions of the other bosses are.  I somewhat doubt that I will be able to attend the hard mode content, but I have to say normal mode was a freaking blast.

Shining Light

 

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I think the thing that I appreciate the most about the King’s Fall encounter is the way that even though I was a first timer… I was still forced to do “real” mechanics.  Sure the fact that everyone else was adept at the fights gave me significant more wiggle room, but I still had to do a job in the encounters.  Being “carried” is not nearly the thing that it is in other games.  For example when I got my Moose in World of Warcraft…  my friends in the Praetorian Guard straight up carried me to victory.  You could have completely removed my warm body from the equation and none of the fights would have gone any differently.  Last night it felt like I had a purpose and I had a role to play, and when I failed to complete my assigned task…  we wiped or at the very list struggled for a bit.  I think this is largely because of the small raid size of only having six players.  The bigger the raid the more padding, and just like in a ten player raid in WoW everyone has to be on point to succeed at a fight.  We apparently took roughly three hours to clear the entire raid, but I have to say that the time flew by because all of it was fresh and new and exciting.  I am sure the more you do this the less that will be the case, but for right now I am completely enamored with these encounters.

More amazing than pretty much anything however is the fact that I am finally off high center in this game and now have breached the 300 light barrier.  You have to understand that I have been struggling bit by bit to get over the 300 light barrier for roughly six months in this game.  Now admittedly that is not six months of constant play, but at very least I am spending a little bit of time on my titan every single week.  Honestly after having played this game for as long and as often as I have… I am not sure there really is a viable way to hit 300 light apart from the raid.  Above is a gallery of the items that I ended up snagging.  The only thing not shown is a 300 ghost shell, which I have subsequently passed on to my hunter since I had a better option already on my Titan.  The highlight of the evening however is the two weapon drops from Oryx.  I guess because we did the challenge mode we were guaranteed a weapon, and I just happened to roll well and get one from the other chest also.  Having both the raid Pulse Rifle and Auto Rifle would have honestly been the two weapons I would have chose had I been able to snag any of the ones available.  Those tend to be my two favorite weapon types in Destiny, and while I have heard that the Auto rifle is less than amazing…. I want to give it a shot for myself.  Basically over the next week I need to spend some time leveling all the new stuff that I managed to pick up.  It was one hell of a night, and I greatly thank the Axioma Clan folks for taking me with them.

Snagging Playstation Plus Games

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Playstation Network Trick

This is a trick that my good friend Ashgar showed me some time ago, and I have talked a bit on the blog… but given several comments from my twitter feed I thought it was probably time to create a dedicated blog post about it.  One of the awesome things about Playstation Plus is the way that it synergizes between all of the available Sony platforms.  For the longest time I had only a Playstation 3, but had even intent of some day picking up both a Vita and a PS4.  At one point I think I was lamenting having to go upstairs and log in my PS3 because I had forgotten to grab that months free games.  It was then that Ash shared with me that you could in fact log in through the Playstation Network website and not only grab games for the systems you owned but also for everything that was currently available.  What was great about this is that for several months ahead of picking up my Vita and PS4 I was able to start stockpiling a library of games to play on it, so when I finally purchased them I had more than enough content to keep me interested.

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Having done this now for a couple of years… I have to say the Sony Network site is less than easy to navigate.  Since their site is somewhat resistant to deep linking, I sorted out the best path to get to where I needed to go in a matter of clicks.  As a way of demonstrating the path, I threw together a quick image.  Once logged into the website, from the site header click the “Games” tab in the menu bar.  On the next screen that loads click “Playstation Plus” which is confusing because there is also a Playstation Plus Specials option that doesn’t really lead where you want to go.  Finally on the next page click “Free Games” which will then get you to the area of that months games.  Now something I have noticed is that it sometimes takes a few days for the PS+ titles of the month to show up in this section.  From here it is simply a matter of adding all of the games to your cart and checking out.  The games will all have a $0 price on them, but you still have to formally check out with them to get them added to your account.  If you encounter games saying that you are “not eligible” generally speaking that means the game supports cross buy and you only need to have one copy of the game for it to work on all platforms.  The store however will be showing a separate copy of the game for each platform it is available on.  Go ahead and check out with what is available, and if you refresh the page all of the games should then show up as “Purchased” like the below screenshot.

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Game With Gold As Well

The other thing I have realized is that this sort of trick works with Games with Gold from Microsoft as well.  Their system of releases is a little bit more fiddly as they seem to like to stagger them throughout the month, and when the next batch is released you generally lose access to the previous batch.  I have however been successfully adding Xbox One games to my account, without actually owning an Xbox One.  I figure at some point I will pick one up, and it will be nice to have a huge batch of games to play on it when I do.  The quirk with Games With Gold is that you have to check out with them individually, and often it still shows a price tag associated with the game… until you get to the final step of the checkout process.  Hopefully this post helps some folks out, because it is nice knowing that you can quickly snag your months worth of games without booting up the individual consoles.

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Strange Days

ASUS-ROG-GL551JW-DS74Yesterday was an extremely strange day, because an event happened that was largely unexpected.  As I have talked about over the last several months, my laptop is definitely seeing its age.  At the time I got it, it was an amazing power house of gaming with dual GT 650m video cards…  that could pretty much run whatever I happened to throw at it.  The problem is the laptop is from 2012, and in that time a lot of stuff has changed and we have gone through three generations of video cards.  So long as games were largely based on the PS3/Xbox 360 architecture everything was peachy, but as games dropped support for that generation and started to focus on the PS4/Xbox One it began to struggle.  The first game I can remember that it flat out would not run in a way that I could stand to play it… was Dragon Age: Inquisition which is shockingly taxing on a video card… especially one of this age.  Then came Fallout 4… and a long string of games that I had to run at 720p with greatly stripped down resolution options to get them to run at all.  So since before Christmas I had been watching the local Craigslist to see if there were any options out on the market that could be snatched up on the cheap.  I have a mixed past when it comes to Craigslist, because I have been able to get some insane deals like a Playstation 4 in early 2014 for only $200.  I have also gotten insane run around that seemed to last for weeks over a couple of laptops that the other party simply flaked out on.

Still I was not in dire straights and part of me was wanting to wait to see what the next generation of Nvidia cards looked like before purchasing a brand new laptop…  which seemed to be the direction I was heading towards.  Then over the weekend I actually saw something good on Craigslist, which surprised me in the midst of all of the over priced machines… and laptops that predate my current one.  Someone was selling a Asus Republic of Gamers laptop with an Intel Core i7-4720HQ processor, 16 GB of Ram, a Nvidia Geforce GTX 960m video card, with 1TB data drive and a 128GB SSD.  At first I apparently texted the wrong phone number, as I missed a zero in a sequence of four zeroes in a row.  However after texting the right address the guy responded pretty quickly.  I asked the standard questions… like does it have any issues, why are you getting rid of it, etc… and then started making offers.  Miraculously I apparently started off the bargaining in the right place, because I was able to talk him down to $600 which is a significant deal for that laptop.  So last night I spent the ever so fun game of starting to install everything I “need” to be happy with a laptop, but I have to say anytime I upgrade like this there is a little bit of sadness too.  I develop a personal relationship with my computers… and I guess part of me feels a little bad about kicking one to the curb to spend time with a newer model.  I know that is a strange sequence of thought…  but I can’t help but feel a little sad that I am moving on.

Remote Play

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Screenshot taken with Fraps while Streaming from PS4

One of the great promises of the Playstation 4 was the ability to remotely play the system from a Vita, Android device, or the Playstation TV set top box.  For the most part this works… but with certain constraints.  The Vita appears to do an amazing job of remote play, given its limited real estate and the slightly wonky control scheme.  However the Playstation TV set top box has been nothing but a disappointment.  There are threads all over the place talking about how to somehow get it to perform well, but most of these involve having a hard Ethernet connection back to the same router that the Playstation 4 resides connected to.  The problem here is… the entire idea of having it is to be able to extend the reach of your PS4 to another television.  Basically for a long time I was looking for a way to play my PS4 somewhere other than sitting up in my office, where I have it for the purpose of recording gameplay footage.  Awhile back I read about an unofficial side project that extended Remote Play to the PC, but never actually got around to checking it out.  The software is currently in active alpha development, but from what I was reading online it seemed like it actually worked well.  The author charges $10 for access to the alpha client… which is the only thing that had kept me from playing with it already.  So last night I took the plunge hoping that I could sit there and play PS4 as my laptop downloaded and installed various bits of software.

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Screenshot taken with Fraps while Streaming from PS4

Firstly I have to say… this thing is phenomenal.  There are a few hoops that you have to jump through like registering your PC with your Playstation 4 as a remote play device.  Additionally in order to get the native DualShock 4 to work I had to track down LibUSB which honestly took longer than any other part.  Once installed my DualShock 4 installed on my system and was recognized by the Remote Play application.  Unlike the native Remote Play options… this thing connects insanely fast to your PS4 and even the wake on lan functionality seems to work great.  The real test however is if I could manage to play Destiny on my PC without being frustrated by the control input lag.  Sure enough I managed to complete several duties and even hopped into some crucible where I managed to rack of some decent kill streaks…  all running remote over my wireless network.  Every now and then there is a slight bit of artifacting… and occasionally there might be an input hiccup… but in the grand scheme of things it works insanely well.  There are some constraints…  you are limited to a maximum of 720p running at 60 fps.  For the most part I ran the default of 720p at 30 fps and the experience was not necessarily perfect but good enough for me not to care about any imperfections.

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Screenshot taken with Fraps while Streaming from PS4

Where the really awesome bit comes in is the fact that the software author currently is working on mouse and keyboard controls, and for a little bit I actually tried playing Destiny with mouse and keyboard.  There is some work that still needs to be done… and the mouse just doesn’t quite move fast enough yet to make game play truly viable…  however since this software is actively being developed on I have a feeling that at some point soon… or with some configuration tweaking I will be able to sit on the sofa and play Destiny without the Dualshock 4.  Part of me wants to throw money at this guy to get him to add more features… because seriously this thing is working amazing.  Folks have already chimed in with “But Bel, Aren’t they adding official support?”.  This is true, but I have a feeling that Sony isn’t going to add in all of the features that this software is already starting to support, like the ability to pretty much play with ANY usb controller and not just the Dualshock 4.  I have a feeling that without any doubt Sony is not going to support Keyboard and Mouse emulation either.  In any case… it is $10 well spent even if you just want to play around with it.  Over the course of the night I played Destiny, Rayman Legends, and Farcry 4 all without issues.  Also of note… ALL of this was while I was downloading a game from steam, a game from origin, and copying files across my network… and STILL the remote play session refused to lag.

Division PC Impressions

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The Hard Data

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This weekend is another beta test of The Division, and from the sounds of it… this is a much larger pool of testers than the weekend of Pax South.  That Sunday and Monday after Pax South I managed to play quite a bit of Division on the PS4, so this time around I decided ahead of time that I would be trying it out on the PC just to get the broad feel of how the game performs on multiple platforms.  When it comes to PC gaming… a lot of your experience rides upon your hardware.  For the purpose of this test I decided to try playing it on both my gaming desktop upstairs, and my older gaming laptop.  I knew pretty much that the laptop would not perform well at all, but I was still curious to see if the game could reach a playable state on it.  So as a result I thought it was probably best to start by listing the important stats of my two gaming systems… so you can use that hopefully as a judge of how the game will perform on your own systems.  Since this is also an online game… I opted to take a quick speed test this morning just to use that for reference as well.

Gaming Desktop

  • AMD FX-6300 3.5 ghz 6 cores
  • 16 GB Ram
  • MSI GTX 960 4G Gaming Edition Video

Gaming Laptop

  • Intel i7-3630QM 2.4 ghz 8 cores
  • 16 GB Ram
  • 2X Nvidia Geforce GT 650M in SLI Video

Internet Speed

Division_InternetTest

The Gaming Desktop

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Gaming Desktop – 1080P Medium Resolution

When I first booted up this game, I have to say I had an inordinate amount of difficulty getting it to run.  The problem is the fact that you cannot get to the video and graphics quality settings until you wade through the character creation step.  This is unfortunate, since as an MMO gamer primarily… the character creation process is super important to me.  Initially the game launched in such a way that I thought it was trying to split the image between my two monitors.  I did the Alt+Enter trick to drop it to windowed mode, and then Alt+Enter again to attempt to fix the resolution.  However this time I had no mouse input, and could not really touch anything on the screen.  After exiting the game and reloading I was finally able to get in and through the character creation process, which is locked down and pretty minimal at the moment.  However if you hit randomize enough times you can get a character that you can live with at least for the purpose of this test.  Upon entering the video settings…. I realized that for some godawful reason the game was trying to by default run in 4K.  I simply do not have a machine capable for 4K gaming, and I think it was just freaking the hell out on my machine and monitors.  After dialing back the game to 1080p I started getting a fairly reliable 50-60 fps with dips into the high 40s as you can see in the first screenshot of this post.  At least on paper that seems like a really playable framerate, and I give them credit for making the game look gorgeous even on the Medium settings I was running.

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Gaming Desktop – 1080P Medium Resolution

The problem being that the game was not really playable even though I was getting roughly 60 fps.  It suffered horribly from some bad hitching anytime I moved into a new area, or often times in the middle of combat.  I can’t really call it rubber-banding, because there was no time rollback component but it felt quite a bit like rubber banding in MMOs where you hit this hard wall of lag… and things lock up before the world unfreezes and catches up.  This is not too horrible when you are simply running around the city and you enter what I can only assume is a new “zone”, but this is deadly when it comes to combat and encountering mobs that are causing your screen to freeze.  Now my friend Jabberant said that he played all last test on the PC and did not experience any of this… so it makes me wonder if this is simply a case of network congestion or some sort of bottle-necking happening on the server farm.  In any case it does not bode well for the enjoy-ability and stability of this game at launch.  Another friend suggested that I turn off VSync and this to some extent lessened the severity of the freezes…. but they were still very much there anytime I moved into a new area, or encountered hostiles on screen.

The Gaming Laptop

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Gaming Laptop – 720P Low Resolution

Now just a bit of a foreword… I did not expect this game to be playable on my laptop.  My laptop is a Lenovo y500 and at this point that model range is over three years old.  At the time it was hot shit, featuring one of the only laptops I knew with available SLI.  Instead of an optical drive, it features a second hot swappable video card that fits in the multi-bay, and as a result I can still run a lot of games that I should not theoretically be able to run on a GT 650M video card.  I have had decent luck by ratcheting games down to 720p instead of the native 1080p resolution, and I can play things like Dragon Age Inquisition that way… that otherwise choke on this machine.  As a result I thought this would be a good test of just how well this game might run on an aging system.  Firstly I was not shocked that initially I was getting 10-15 fps at 1080p but upon dropping the graphical settings to low and the resolution to 720p I was able to achieve fairly reliable 25-40 fps even in combat.  The problem being that at 6:30 am on a Saturday morning…  the servers should be under as little load as they will ever be during this weekend test…. and I was still seeing significant stalling and freezing anytime I moved into a new area of town… or entered combat.  So this seems to be a general problem with the game, and not necessarily limited to my desktop upstairs.  All of which tells me… the PC client needs some serious tuning before it is ready for prime time.  Given that “prime time” in this case is Seventeen days away on March 8th… this is a little worrisome.

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Gaming Laptop – 720P Low Resolution

All of this said… the game was shockingly playable on this old hardware.  It felt pretty much like playing Destiny on an XBox 360.  Sure the world looks like a blurry mess, but the core gameplay itself was pretty solid…  apart from the whole freezing thing.  I could in theory see myself playing this on the laptop without much issue, and even games like Warframe cause me to make resolution concessions to be able to run them downstairs from the comfort of my couch.  I also have to say that as far as controlling the game… I am MUCH better at playing it with a mouse and keyboard, largely because even after all the time spent with Destiny… I am MUCH more accurate with a mouse than I will probably ever be with a controller.  So given that Laptop graphics cards generally run an entire generation behind as far as performance goes… that would mean my laptop is the equivalent of an SLI GTX 550 setup….  so a 660/670/680 range video card in a desktop should be able to give equivalent performance.  Basically meaning that if you have an old machine, it won’t look pretty but the game should at least still be playable.

PC versus PS4

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Gaming Desktop – 1080p Medium Resolution

There are positives and negatives about both systems.  You can read my original thoughts about last beta test, where I talk more about the game-play than the nuts and bolts.  A lot of those statements still apply for either version.  Largely where I stand at the moment is…  the concept of being able to play from my laptop is really nice…  but even then I was consistently plagued by problems.  The Division on PC will be a viable game at some point, but my fear is it will be months after release and a couple of patches later, which is honestly what I have  come to expect from the MMO gaming launch cycle.  These sort of games are rarely if ever 100% on the PC at day one, and I fear that The Division is going to be another case of that.  The Playstation client however just worked flawlessly.  I didn’t need to get in and fiddle with resolutions or slowly and painstakingly ratchet things down until they reached a level of performance I was happy with.  Instead I just booted up the client and played the damn game.  As someone who has always favored PC as the platform of choice… I have to say it sounds really damned odd to hear myself saying that.  Sure there are problems with PSN and such, and I fully expect it to be flaky a bit around launch day to.  However once you get into the game it just works, and works well.  Sure there are issues with some muddy textures on the PS4, but the game runs without hitching in combat or movement or anything of the sort.  So right now I am still very much up in the air about purchasing this game, however if I do… I will more than likely be picking it up on the Playstation 4.  The ability to simply turn it on and play without having to worry about framerates and resolutions…  is extremely appealing.  Additionally there is the problem of this being a heavily PVP game… and at least on a console I know all of us players are on even footing.  With the PC… this is absolutely going to be a game where your system will control how well you can play.  On low settings….  aiming on encounters is really difficult because the further away from you the mob is… the more it just sort of blends into the background.  Running on high resolution and sharp textures is going to give an advantage to anyone who can afford the system to run it.  So largely for my impressions… I am a bit disappointed in The Division as PC gaming experience…. but I know that I can always fall back on the PS4 and still be happy as a clam.

 

 

Virtual Reality

VirtualRealityofPast

Next Big Thing

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It feels like for the majority of my life, “Consumer Virtual Reality” has been roughly five years away…. or at least that is what the pundits are consistently saying.  Granted I have been hearing this for the last three decades of my life.  The 90s were really the era of this being the big thing, thanks to the popularity of movies like Lawnmower Man and the weekly reminder of just how amazing the Holodeck could be on Star Trek the Next Generation.  The problem has been however that what we are actually capable of delivering, versus what we are expecting…  has been a pretty huge gulf to cross.  The first time I touched anything I would consider virtual reality, were the extremely expensive Virtuality arcade machines from the roughly 1991.  You can see a screenshot of the type of graphics it delivered above.  Sure it felt cool to be wandering around a fully immersive 3D world, but the amount of disconnect between your actions and the half dozen polygons that represented your hand… was pretty massive.  The funny thing about this game is that apparently it was built on the Amiga 3000 as a hardware platform, which I guess only serves to show you just how advanced that system really was.

I guess for me Virtual Reality has been this failed promise for so long that I have doubted that it would actually really arrive.  I threw in a few other examples in the collage above like Sega Holosseum from 1991 that chose to go down the smoke and mirrors route of creating the approximation of holograms, rather than trying to wrap you in a virtual landscape.  In many ways it worked better, and playing the game felt like the 3D Chessboard from Star Wars.  Then we had the famous Nintendo false step of the Virtual Boy from 1995, that came with the least ergonomic way of playing the game.  I think the suggested method was to sit it on a kitchen counter or something…. and lean over to use it.  However for MOST of the people I knew that had one they would end up laying on the couch and letting the console rest on their face.  There were a bunch of negative effects of seeing the equivalent of gameboy quality graphics in red and black…. and the few times I used it I wound up with a nasty headache.  Around 2003 I remember a good friend of mine having 3D glasses that hooked to the PC and provided 1024×768 screens for each eye, but this ended up working the hell out of the video card… and the framerates suffered.  So basically…  there have been a lot of technologies that have arrived telling me that Virtual Reality is here….  only to not really be the case.

Arrived at a Cost

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It was roughly around this time last year that I got to play with the Oculus Rift for the first time.  At Pax South I was scheduled to do a media demo of Elite Dangerous, and the marketing guy asked if I had ever used a Rift, and upon hearing that I had not shuttled me towards one of the two machines that had them.  Granted there were around ten machines in total in the booth, and only two of them were hooked up and capable of using the Rift which immediately made me a bit suspicious.  Firstly… I suck horribly at space shooters…. and they loaded up a dog fighting scenario for me to play where I was put up against a computer ship.  The demo ended when either I killed the ship… or it killed me.  Needless to say my demo probably took twice the amount of time needed as the other players, but it was really somewhat amazing the first moment when I realized that while chasing this ship…. I could look up through the top of the canopy to trace its movement.  There was still the strange uncanny valley as I watched a set of hands move in the cockpit that were not my own.  The computer was furiously trying to guess what my hand movements might look like based on the controls I was pressing on the real world HOTAS setup.  After I destroyed the ship I asked the Marketing folks some questions, one of which was what sort of hardware they were running this demo on.  Not surprisingly they had it running on an Nvidia Titan X which is still currently a roughly $1200 video card….  so I started to temper my expectations.

Yesterday the prices were released for the first generation of the Oculus Rift released for public consumer consumption.  Granted at this point there have been several development kit models available for those daring enough to brave the potential issues of dealing with beta hardware.  I guess in my mind the price point that seemed reasonable was around $300, because that is what the Samsung Gear unit retails for… and what the supposed price point of the Sony PS4 VR unit will be.  I was not insanely shocked however when the pre-order price ended up at roughly double that amount $599.  If that $600 price tag were a turn key solution that you simply plugged into the HDMI out on your existing PC, then I guess in truth that would probably be well worth it.  However for the bulk of us…  we are likely running hardware that is significantly less snazzy than their requirements.  The minimum requirements listed are a Nvidia GTX 970 which is essentially a $350 video card.  However I would not expect full performance in games like Elite Dangerous on anything lower end than a 980 ti…  which pushes you into the roughly $650-700 price range on a video card.  So before you have touched the rest of your computer set up at all… you are out $1300 in just the Rift and a high end video card.  As much as I love this pipe dream, it is simply too expensive of one for me to even indulge the thought of.

Reality Sets In

The problem I have is that I have a $200 video card, not a $600 video card… and it is unlikely short of winning the lottery that I will ever be able to bring myself to spend that sort of money.  I am sure as time goes on, people will get better at writing VR game experiences, and additionally the cost of the hardware itself will come down by the time it reaches the third or fourth generation of the Rift.  For the time being, Nvidia gave some numbers that said rendering a game for a VR headset requires roughly seven times the amount of resources.  So essentially I have ruled out the Oculus Rift as something I will ever be able to afford.  I know my friend Scopique has been playing with some android VR options that supposedly allow you to create ghetto VR for the PC, and I am anxious to see how well these work out for him.  Personally I think my first likely footsteps into this is in the form of the Playstation VR, and I linked in a video above to show off that unit and a few of the games.  I already have the necessary hardware, namely in the form of a Playstation 4, and if the headset itself ends up being around $300 or even a little more… that becomes within the realm of possibility.  Given that I managed to get my PS4 for only $200, that would make the total outlay for the system in the $500-600 price range which seems reasonable.

Essentially I am going to be happy as hell for anyone who manages to pony up the money to get a Oculus Rift.  I’ve been watching another friend Qelric do videos every now and then showing off her beta hardware.  I hope she can somehow end up getting one of the production units, so I can continue to live vicariously through her experiences.  The problem is…  that pricetag… is pretty damned steep regardless.  The other big problem I have with the Rift so far is that I am not really seeing the killer apps other than Elite Dangerous.  Most of the games she has played with feel more like “tech demos” rather than fully fleshed out rich gaming experiences that would sell a unit.  RIGS on the other hand on the PSVR seems like exactly the sort of fun multiplayer hardware pushing experience that will get someone to add a headset to their Christmas list.  I think the Oculus Rift right now is a true “enthusiast” experience, but isn’t quite “consumer virtual reality” just yet, and it is going to take manufacturers building games for the platform to finally make it worth the purchase price.  In the time between however… I am going to continue being interesting in every bit of news I can find.  From what I am hearing the units are apparently sold out through May 2016 delivery, so it seems like plenty of folks are willing to plunk down for purchase, and I am anxious to see the sort of experiences especially the youtubers and streamers showcase using the magic box.

License Portability

Golden Age of Ports

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This morning is going to be yet another stunning example of “Bel Wants a Thing that Will Never Happen”, but I am going to roll with it anyways.  One of my big frustrations over the last several years is when I end up repurchasing the same game for a different platform.  For example I owned Fallout 3 long before Steam existed, but because I wanted the convenience of being able to play that game without having to rummage for discs every single time…  I ended up picking the game of the year edition on a steam sale.  But more often than this there are games that I have on the PC that I wish I could play on a console, or on a console and wish I could play on a PC.  Last night there was a discussion about the new Shovel Knight patch, and one of my immediate thoughts was…  man I kinda wish I had that on my 3DS since I have taken recently to bringing that to work to play.  Sure it isn’t terribly annoying to repurchase a $20 game, but it certainly feels it when you are talking about a $60 game.  Now we get to my wish…  portable licensing.  What I mean by that is the ability to swap licensing between various game systems that a game is available.  Don’t want to play Borderlands 2 on your PC anymore?  Fine trade that license in for the PS4 copy, and when you tire of that the Vita copy.

The problem is you are immediately going to tell me…  “but Bel this is how game companies make money, by releasing their game on every possible platform in the hopes that you will play pokegame with them and buy them all!”  Sure that is how things seem to work currently, but is that really a good model?  For years there was a significant amount of work porting games between consoles.  The Sega Genesis was a vastly different system than the Super Nintendo… and we constantly saw massive differences between the games that ended up on both platforms.  I took the liberty of snagging two screenshots of two different versions of Mortal Kombat II, from the golden age of porting games to multiple platforms.  You can see a bunch of graphical differences between the two based on the limitations of each architecture.  What has changed is the fact that console manufacturers do not have the same sort of pull that they used to.  PC Gaming became a major contender as has handheld platforms, and while console manufacturers still desperately cling to the notion of “exclusivity” this is a dying concept.  Systems are designed from the ground up to be essentially easy to port code to, because they know that the keys to their success is a huge library of popular games.

License Portability

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There are certain games out there that you know will ultimately end up on every single platform.  Take the example of the new Tomb Raider game that Microsoft claims to have exclusivity over.  They have not so subtly chosen their words every single time they have talked about and used the specific phrasing of “exclusive for holiday 2015”.  That means a few months after Christmas 2015 you will end up with a new launch for the PS4 and PC and whatever other platforms seem to matter at the time.  Essentially what I am proposing is to cut through this bullshit and simply sell licenses that you can move back and forth between the platforms.  I can see this going down one of several different ways, but not all of them are terribly easy to implement.  The best scenario is simply that if you purchase the game directly from a developer, you can create an account that allows you to log in and get a new license for whatever platform you happen to play the game on.  That means you are paying a non-discounted rate for the game, directly to the game developer cutting out the middle man…  and for that you gain the privilege of playing that game on whatever platform you happen to desire doing so.  There are a lot of logistics with this one, but I could see it working for someone like Ubisoft that already has their own gaming infrastructure in the form of UPlay.  That would actually turn that system from being a liability into being a positive for users, because as of right now… there is no reason for UPlay to exist other than to annoy us.

Another option would be some sort of a license swap scenario, where you trade in one license key for a new license key for the system of your choosing.  This honestly would work similar to PC software that allows you to install on a fixed number of machines.  In these cases there is almost always an online tool that allows you to unbind a license from a specific machine and install it fresh on another to allow for things like system rebuilds.  The problem being that right now there is no real way to make sure these licenses are leaving circulation, as in once a game is granted through a system like PSN, it becomes harder to revoke the game since you are having to deal with a third party company doing it for you.  The final option I would suggest is probably the easiest.  When you own the game on any platform you could purchase heavily discounted copies of the game for other platforms.  My theory is that you would ultimately end up paying something along the lines of 15-20% of the cost of the original game to get a new copy of the game for another platform. The problem here is that a system like this would be rife with potential abuse.  What is to say that I don’t buy the game on the PS4, and then get a discount key for my friend to play on their Xbox One.  The worse case scenario is after market sales of said discount keys.  None of these solutions are perfect, but I feel like if someone actually solved this solution… it would be a huge marketing point for any games they produce.  I have several PCs, a PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, Nintendo 3DS, PS Vita, Android device, and iOS device if you limit the search to only the more recent systems.  It would be amazing to play the gamesI want to play on whatever systems they are available…  without going bankrupt doing so.