Sony slips old tech issues into a new-fangled gadget (PSVR)

Next week Sony’s Playstation VR launches. VR is in a funny place right now. After TONS of chatter leading up to the oft-delayed launch of the Oculus Rift, and to a lesser extent the HTC Vive, gaming and tech sites have kind of stopped talking about VR now that it is widely available. Here comes Sony to see if its solution can get more mainstream traction than the Oculus or Vive have.

Today Sony posted a FAQ about PSVR and revealed a major issue with the technology, at least for some of us. The PSVR doesn’t pass through HDR signals.

Now let me explain that in case you haven’t been following the product.

First, if you don’t have an HDR TV this won’t impact you yet, but your next TV will probably support HDR, unless you’re buying in the next few months and going low-end.

PSVR consists of two parts: the visor and a small box they call the “Processing Unit (PU).” To hook it up you run an HDMI cable from your PS4 to the PU and then run two HDMI cables out of the PU. One goes to the visor and the other goes to your TV, for the ‘social screen’ (which allows async MP or lets people in the room see what you are seeing) and for non-PSVR content.

Now let’s talk about HDR. You might have used HDR on your cell phone to take photos, and HDR on TVs is similar but apparently not quite the same thing. Honestly I’m no techie when it comes to TV. But I do have a 4K HDR-capable TV and I can tell you that in certain scenes (outdoor scenes in particular) HDR makes your TV seem like it’s a window. The lighting is so realistic if feels like you can reach into it. (Mind you, the content you’re watching has to be coded to provide an HDR signal.)

The problem with HDR is that you have to see it in person to appreciate it. I can’t take a screenshot of my HDR TV and give it to you. If you have an HDR display you already know what I mean, and if you don’t, you couldn’t see the effect. It’s kind of like 3D in that way. Just trust me that if you have an HDR display you probably want to take advantage of it.

OK so NOW let’s talk about the Playstation 4 Pro. When it was announced in early September Sony talked a LOT about how it was 4K and HDR compatible, and there were a lot of interviews with developers who said that for them, HDR was more important than 4K. For one thing, HDR doesn’t require a lot of additional processing power so it has a low impact on the performance of a game. Sony even patched HDR capability into the standard PS4. So yay Sony is excited about HDR gaming! (Microsoft is as well, their new Xbox One S supports HDR and already there are games, such as Forza Horizon 3, that take advantage of it…in this way Microsoft is ahead of Sony in HDR terms.)

Sony wants you to experience the wonder of HDR….unless you’re a PSVR user. Because if you have PSVR hooked up, any HDR signal coming from your PS4 is going to hit the PSVR PU and die. You’ll still see a picture, it just won’t be an HDR picture. Basically PSVR removes a feature that Sony just patched into all PS4s and is including (and promoting heavily) in PS4 Pro.

So if you have a PS4 and want to enjoy both PSVR and HDR content, you’re going to have to disconnect the PU every time you want to watch something in HDR. This is not only an inconvenience (whether a major or a minor one depends on your home theater set up and how easy it is to access the back of your PS4 or TV) but it is going to put a lot of strain on your HDMI ports. Think about how many times you plug or unplug an HDMI cable in a given year. Four or five maybe? Now imagine doing it every day. HDMI ports are fairly delicate, not only the port itself but the solder connecting them to circuit boards inside your device. Constant plugging and unplugging is going to wiggle those solder connections and greatly increase the chance that they will fail. Expect a lot of broken PS4s in households that own PSVR and an HDR TV.

Some have suggested a splitter. Take the output from the PS4, split it and run one side to the TV and the other to PSVR and then to TV. Couple problems with that solution. First it requires 2 HDMI ports on your TV or A/V Receiver. Second you need to make sure the HDMI switch supports HDR: many do not. Third, of the ones that do apparently a lot of them default to the lowest common denominator. In other words the switch would detect that PSVR’s PU doesn’t support HDR so it would disable HDR to both outputs.

Any way you slice it, it’s a problem and a big one for those of us who want both the best TV picture and the experience of PSVR. The best solution I can come up with is getting a PS4 Pro for your regular games and leaving the old PS4 as the PSVR console, but of course then you miss out on the added horsepower that the PS4 Pro would bring to PSVR.

I’m so disappointed that Sony screwed this particular pooch. I was kind of excited for PSVR (weird because I never got that excited about Oculus) but now I’m thinking I might cancel my pre-order and wait for a future iteration that offers better support for modern TV technology.

I guess I should be thankful that Sony didn’t keep this shortcoming secret until after the first units shipped.

A rough Free Realms weekend

Free Realms is having a tough weekend. Yesterday the website (and the game has to be launched from a website) was up and down (or just really really slow) all day, and this morning I’m seeing the same issue.

The geek in me wonders if it’s the game’s login servers or the web servers that are the hold up. If you can get in, the game runs fine (at least this was my experience yesterday…I managed to log in and was playing normally, while Angela couldn’t get the login pages to kick through to the game).

I’ve read a rumor that a stand-alone exe file is planned so we won’t have to launch from a browser. I hope that is the case. Might fix the problem with getting XFire to recognize the game under Vista, too.

On the positive side, when things stabilized last night, we found there were now 8 servers running. I believe there were 4 at launch, then they went to 6, and now 8. And all were a Medium capacity (which is typical of evenings). So it would seem the game is gaining traction. Anecdotally I’ll say it is becoming a lot harder to find ‘shinies’ now, due to more players running around. To me, that’s a good thing; I find myself really wanting the game to be a success so the devs can continue to add to it (the map has several “coming soon” areas on it).

I continue to putter around, doing a little of everything and not getting much in the way of levels, and not caring a whit. Which I continue to think is the ‘right’ way to play Free Realms, if an MMO can have a right way to play.

Angela was struggling with trying to do a 3-pip mission solo last night. I was on the other side of the world hunting for archeological items when she said “I might need help.” I finished my ‘dig’ (mini-game) and teleported to her. It’s been said before but I’ll say it again, getting to a friend in need is so easy in this game…it’s a really nice feature.

We had to try her mission a few times. Wait, let me back up for those who haven’t played. When you enter a combat mission instance, you’ll get a set number of Knockouts to use in order to successfully complete the mission. Most of the time you get 3 or 5. This means you can “die” 3 (or 5) times and Recover (jump up with full health and power), keep on fighting, and still “Win” the encounter. Enemies do not regain health, at all, so you can brute-force your way through some boss encounters by, say, getting him to 50% health before you get knocked out, then Recovering and taking off his other 50%.

Before you snort, I remind you once again the primary demographic targeted is younger kids. The game is designed around not being frustrating.

Anyway back to Angela’s mission. It turns out when a party goes into a mission, the number of Knockouts is for the whole party. So in this case we had 3 Knockouts between the two of us. So the first thing we learned was that if one person gets knocked out and the other is about to join him/her in a dirt nap, the first person should stay down and wait, so both characters can jump back with full health at the same time.

The first time we tried it, we went in as Brawlers since we both had the highest level in Brawling. I had 7 and she was I think 10. We just went into it spamming keys and things did not go too well. Then we tried it with me as a level 3 Ninja and her as a level 3 Warrior. That went even worse, though I think that was my fault. I couldn’t resist flinging shurikens at the oncoming waves of baddies (this mission sent several waves of 3 angry ogres at you) and so I got all the aggro, and I’m thinking ninjas don’t have the best armor… owie! Also, even though encounters scale, before level 5 you only have 1 special power, so fewer tools at your disposal.

At this point we decided maybe we needed a plan. 🙂 We decided to go back to the Brawlers since they have leg sweep, which is an AOE, and Throw Rock, which gives a brief stun at range. Then we headed to a nearby town and bought some health potions. While I was adding the health pots to my consumables bar I remembered I had won some “Root” balls in another encounter (consumables that you throw at baddies to root them) so I readied those.

When the first wave came in, I threw my rocks (the stun from these is really brief) and hit 2 of the 3 charging ogres. Angela waited a few seconds, then threw hers, extending the stun. Then I threw a root ball (that’s not the actual name of the item, btw) and halted 1 of them for a longer duration. In this way the ogres got to us 1..2…..3 and we took them down as they approached without too much trouble. The 2nd and 3rd waves weren’t quite as choreographed (no battle plan survives first contact with the enemy!) but we got through to the boss fight without a single Knockout. And he wound up being not too big of a challenge. Success!

Lots of verbiage to describe one encounter. But I just wanted to demonstrate that some of the 3-pip fights do take a bit more thought and planning than the straight-up button mashing that can get you through the 1 & 2 pip fights.

We’re still enjoying the heck out of the game. I’m certainly getting a lot of value out of the $5.00 I threw down for a month’s membership (and Angela is playing “free” since she has a Station Pass).

$5/month is my sweet spot (Free Realms)

I’ve grumped a bit (both here and on Tesh’s blog) about the monthly subscription model that many MMOs adhere to, and which seem more and more outdated every month. The model seems so limiting. I (and others) have talked about alternatives such as buying bundles of minutes, paying for access to certain content (the Wizard 101 model as I understand it) and so on.

And I griped about Free Realms really not being all that free. But I grudgingly ponied up $5 for a month’s subscription to Free Realms, and I’m finding that all my issues with a monthly model melt away as long as the price is low enough.

Fair or not, I work on the “movie value model” of entertainment. It costs me roughly $10 to see a roughly $2 hour movie, so anywhere that I can get entertainment for less than $5/hour feels ‘cheaper than going to a movie.’ It isn’t a perfect model and honestly I can’t afford to go to movies very often so it isn’t even an accurate model, but it is what I use.

In Free Realms, I paid my $5 and started playing, and probably spent more than an hour in that first paid play session, so the rest of the month is “free” according to my warped model. And I play the game a lot (for now) because I can jump in, do something meaningful, and jump out again, all in 5-10 minutes.

For instance yesterday, waiting for the water to boil for pasta, I logged in, Teleported to that town in the north with the mine (the name escapes me…getting old sucks), and ran in there and played the mining mini-game twice. Got some ore, some gems, some experience, and logged out in time for dinner.

Compare that to EQ2, where I paid $15 for a month about 3 weeks ago and so far have managed to fit in 1 play session of an hour or so. I don’t mean to single out EQ2, most MMOs really require a nice sized chunk of free time to play, and for me these days, those chunks are rare. Now I feel a nagging guilt that I *should* be playing EQ2 rather than Free Realms (or my other current time sink, Lawn of the Dead, aka Plants vs Zombies). I don’t like guilt, even when it is self-inflicted.

I wish to heck XFire would track Free Realms playtime on Vista, because I checked my /played time for this character that I started a week ago, and I’ve managed over 16 hours of Free Realms this week. I know for a lot of you, that’s a typical day. 🙂 But for me, that’s a huge amount of time for me to devote to a game in a week. Where did all that time come from? I guess the 5-10 minute sessions here and there do add up.

$5 for 16 hours (and counting) of entertainment? I can’t complain about that. I do need to shut off the auto-renew, though, in case I lose interest before my month is up (so far not looking very likely).

Now the RMT phase of Free Realms is a different story… but I’m pretty happy to have paid $5 for a month of having access to all the Jobs and all the Quests.

BTW, I finally unlocked Ninja…what a blast! And I had a glowy sword I’d made via Blacksmithing, so I started out uber. 🙂 I’m at work or I’d post a screenie.

And yeah, for now at least, I’m a bona fide Free Realms fanboy.

Seven Free Realms details you may have missed

When you first start playing Free Realms, everything seems pretty straightforward. But after you’ve been playing a while you’ll start to notice little nuances that you might wish you’d picked up on earlier. Angela and I have been comparing notes and here’s a list of seven things you might not (yet) have noticed in Free Realms. Consider it a little nudge up the learning curve, in the event that you’re just getting started and have missed any of these.

Free Realms website: Friends list1) Join a Friend: Let’s assume you managed to get your friends onto your Friends list. On the Free Realms launch page, bottom left, is a panel listing your friends. To join someone online, launch the game by mousing over their name and clicking on Join Friend. This will cause you to not only log into the same server they’re playing on, but to appear in-world at their location (though if they’re running when you log in they will have moved a bit). It’s faster then figuring what server they’re on, logging in, then teleporting to them.

2) Map Zoom: The “M” key brings up a world map, but it can be pretty information dense near ‘hub’ areas. Did you know you could mouse over the big “town” icons (e.g, Sanctuary) and then click on it to zoom into a map of just that area? You can get a lot more detail that way.

3) Status Pause: So you’re playing a mini-game and the phone rings. Ack! What to do? In the top left of your screen is a big STATUS button. Clicking that brings up the ‘goal’ screen and pauses the game. (We haven’t tested this is all the mini-games but it definitely works in the gem-removal game, and I’m assuming it’s there in others, too.)

Preview icon in thumbnail view4) Dressing Room: Got some gear and want to know what it’ll look like when you equip it? From the Job inventory screen, hover over the magnifying glass (bottom right of each icon in icon view, and the far right column in list view) and your avatar will don that gear. This works for stuff that you normally couldn’t equip (i.e., if you’re not high enough level to use it yet). You can preview a selected item in the Station Cash Marketplace by clicking the magnifying glass icon on the right above the “Buy” button. There is no preview functionality in the ‘generic’ inventory mode, though, nor is there at merchants, which seems like a major oversight.

5) Changing Jobs at the Start of an Encounter: When you click on an encounter, before you enter it, you can quickly change Jobs from the icon at the very top of the screen. Can be helpful if you’re in a lower level Job and the encounter looks too tough. Just switch to a Job you’re better at, and have at ’em!

6) Class-Specific Collections: There are tons of collections in Free Realms. Did you notice that some of them are Job-specific? Here’s the thing about those. Unless you’re in the appropriate Job, you won’t see Job-Specific Shinies. It *seems* like Shinies are placed logically… so you’ll find Cook Shinies in and around harvesting fields, and so forth.

Marketplace Pets menu7) Buying a Pet: So you’ve bought some Station Cash and you’re ready to take on the responsibility of buying a pet. But different Pet Stores have different selections of pets. How can you be sure you’re giving the right pet his or her Forever Home? Skip the Pet Stores completely! Open the Marketplace and click on the “Pets” icon from the navbar, and voila, a list of all available pets (as well as all available pet clothing). Now you can be sure you haven’t missed the perfect pet!

Maybe all these are obvious to some folks, but to us they all eluded us for our first couple of play sessions. Hopefully someone will find the list of help. Please feel free to add more tips in the comments!

Top 5 Free Realms irks

I’m starting to smell a whiff of Free Realms backlash on Twitter and, to a lesser extent, around the blogosphere. Maybe I’m just trailing the crowd…I was late to become enthralled with the game so maybe I’ll be grumpy about it later than everyone else, too.

Fact is, I’m still enjoying myself, for the most part. As is Angela.

But not all is perfect! (Is it ever?). So here is my list of things that really irk me:

1) Friends list is borked. Trying to add a real friend to my list is a challenge. They have to be online and on the same server as you, and even then it only works some of the time. I tried to add Angela as a friend and got nothing. Then she tried to add me, and it worked.

On the other hand, if a random person clicks on you and sends a Friend request and you say “NO THANKS” guess what happens? The person gets put on your Friends list. If you try to remove them, you get an error.

So I can’t get my REAL friends on my Friends List, but random strangers can get on against my wishes, and I can’t remove them.

Fix please. This is hugely irritating. [UPDATE: Partially fixed!]

2) I’ve got an inventory full of starter gear. I can’t sell it, I can’t trade it, I can’t delete it. I have no idea if inventory room is limited, but it is cluttered and I’d love to just delete this old gear I’ll never have a use for.

3) Hot bar for consumables is confusing. I can’t access it outside of a battle instance (at least, I can’t figure out how to). Nor can I use items directly out of my inventory. I made some food that is supposed to shrink me, which sounded fun. But I couldn’t figure a way to eat it without going into a battle instance to add it to my hotbar. And then it was greyed out since (I guess) it isn’t considered a combat item. I need to get small! How do I eat my magic food? (And oddly, it wasn’t a mushroom omelet.)

I was also apparently unable to add more than 1 kind of food to the hotbar. That might just be operator error.

4) Sorting inventory is cumbersome (see a common thread emerging here?). I’d like to be able to open “My Stuff” and then from there, sort/filter by Job. Instead, I have to open my Jobs Menu, pick the Job I want to filter by, and then look at equipment from in there. If I’m at a vendor and in my Brawler Job manifestation and want to sell some of my old Cook Job gear, I shouldn’t have to switch Jobs to filter that gear in order to determine what I’m using and what can be sold.

5) No ‘pop-up’ comparison of gear. You know how most MMOs, if you look at the stats of an item, the stats of your currently equipped item will pop up as well, so you can easily compare the two? No such luck in Free Realms.

So yeah, basically…fix the friends list. This is urgent, really. And streamline the inventory stuff. Doing those two things would eliminate my largest frustrations with the game.

Otherwise, I’m still having a lot of fun.

Anyone besides me think they should allow access to mini-games from a web browser? I’d like to spend a few minutes at work, at lunch, working on my mining, for instance (without firing up the full client).

This seems like an ideal way to bring an MMO to a mobile device.

Free Realms Weekend Wrap

Air Guitar EmoteSo yeah, I’ve totally switched sides from dubious to a fan.

The most complex part of Free Realms is reporting your level. I logged off at:

Adventurer Level 2
Blacksmith Level 5
Brawler Level 2
Chef Level 8
Miner Level 6
Pet Trainer Level 8

And level 1 as Card Duelist and both the Cart Racing Careers.


And Angela’s were:

Adventurer Level 5
Pet Trainer Level 8

And level 1 as everything else. 🙂

But she has a ton of Treasure Tickets (she’s done a ton of non-job specific quests), and I only have a few. We’re not sure what Treasure Tickets get traded for yet, though.

One of the Wise TikisWe both played all evening, though not partied up. I was working on mining/blacksmithing (lots ‘o mini-games) and she was just exploring. Every few minutes she’d chuckle or laugh outright and share something new she’d found. And my experience was the same when I was running around.

The game is funny and cute in a lot of subtle ways, but you really need to tune into your inner child for a lot (but not all) of it.

I’m hoping they’ll add more mini-games eventually. The Jewel Elimination game is used in Harvesting Cooking Ingredients, Mining Ore and Jewels and Blacksmithing (and who knows, maybe more..I haven’t seen everything yet). Some subtle differences in the goals, but the mechanics are all the same. And cooling and smelting are pretty similar conceptually, too.

I’ve heard people complain that Free Realms is grindy, and if you approach it in a typical MMO fashion it sure can be. I’ve found the way to play it is just to follow your feet. Allow yourself to be distracted. Start harvesting veggies for a recipe and get side-tracked by a monster to fight and then notice someone wanting a Card Duel and spot some shinies and chase those and just… play.

My one worry is about longevity. It looks like job levels top out at 20 (just from looking at when skills become available) so it won’t take very long to max out everything. Whether that’ll be a problem or not, I’m not really sure. I wasn’t really doing anything to chase levels tonight. Just running around having fun. The levels were a side-effect, really.

Free Realms 2nd look

I spent a bit more time in Sony’s new kid-friendly MMO Free Realms this weekend. I came away pleasantly surprised, now that I’ve broken through the “tutorial missions for half a dozen jobs” barrier.

Let me gripe first, so I can end on a high note. 🙂

Contrary to all the ‘smooth launch’ praise, I’ve been finding the servers are down more often than they should be. And the Friend Server still seems pretty borked. I had some random stranger try to friend me yesterday. I refused the invitation, of course. This morning, he was listed as my friend. I tried to remove him from my friends list, and got a message that the Friend Server couldn’t remove him. So I put him on ignore.

For me this is no biggie, but since this is supposed to be a safe environment for kids, people getting on your Friends list against your will is pretty big. Hopefully this was just a fluke. Maybe it was even user error on my part (I sure hope so) but after all the years I’ve been using computers and playing games, I’d think I could reliably choose “No” from a Yes/No choice. We’ll see.

Some of the mini-games are pretty awful, particularly for old folks like me who worry about RSI issues. I’m thinking in particular about the Cooking mini games. Chopping and carving meat even more particularly. And stirring the pot seems way harder than moving your mouse in a circle should be. My on-screen spoon doesn’t move, then suddenly it’ll zoom in a circle and give me a great rating, then stick in place again for 10 seconds before doing another circle. I’m not sure if this is a problem with my setup or what. Angela was puzzled that I was having such a hard time, so I guess she wasn’t.

OK that’s it for griping. Fix the servers, fix the friends stuff, Sony. I’ll just avoid the cookery bits; that’s easy enough.

So what did I like? The Brawler job, of all things. That’s basic MMO combat, but it had me running far and wide, finding new, very atmospheric areas. Dismal regions full of foul smelling swamps and poisonous frogs. Blech. It was there that I entered by first dungeon/cave area, and it was nicely done! The combat is still very simple, but in a way that had me thinking of Diablo (high praise from me). Using a few skills, slurping potions, getting loot. There’s not a thing in the world wrong with that, as far as I’m concerned.

In a perfect world, I’d love an “aggressive” setting that would allow mobs to come after you. As it is now, you can walk right past a combat encounter and unless you choose to initiate combat, you’re perfectly safe. I get why it works this way — kid friendly! But I’d love an option that would allow those encounters to snare you if you get too close.

There’s also a lot of collecting quests, some pretty funny NPCs (Sal Monella is one of my favorites) and just a fun and interesting vibe for us explorer types.

And I like that one job (cooking) can feed (hah!) another job (brawler). Using your cooking job to make food that’ll heal you when you’re being a cook. Fun! Granted, many many MMOs have this without separate jobs, but it was still a nice touch.

I was in a Target anyway, so I wandered through the game section and sure enough, they had time cards, so I broke down and picked up a couple of sets. One was $0.99 and gives you a 30-day membership, 250 Station Cash and a magical potion (?). I’m assuming you can only apply this to an account once as it says in teeny-tiny text “New Accounts Only.” [UPDATE: This card wouldn’t work with an existing account, even though I’d never applied any codes to the account. I guess it has to be used when you create the account? Oh well, I kind of thought it was too good to be true.] The other was $10 and have 1000 Station Cash and a red pirate hat for your in-game dog. I love that they specify “in-game” dog. 🙂 Of course, you have to spend Station Cash to get that dog…

I suppose once you have that pirate hat, there’s no real reason to go back to Target for additional points.

Oh, one last thing, not related to Sony. Is anything running Vista able to get XFire to detect Free Realms? I can’t, and I don’t seem to be alone in that, from what I’m reading on the XFire forums.

A few random Free Realms thoughts

Free Realms seems to be the blog topic of the week, so since I don’t want to be left out, I thought I’d toss out some cranky thoughts about it.

I played a bit in beta, and now I’ve played a bit in launch. I’m far from the intended audience so I don’t think a ‘review’ from me is really appropriate; it wasn’t designed to appeal to me. So these are more musings than anything.

First, I thought it was interesting that the much-hyped Tuesday launch didn’t happen for most of the US, and no one started spewing hatred and vitriol at Sony. I suppose the free client is a big part of why, but a lot of MMO Rage isn’t based on any kind of logic. Maybe the Rage-types just aren’t interested in the game anyway? It was just sorta nice to see that most people interested in the launch found it in their hearts to be understanding about the delay.

Second, I keep hearing the gathering mini-game as being like Bejeweled. OMG don’t you people play casual games? It isn’t like Bejeweled! In Bejeweled, you swap the positions of gems to connect 3 or more of the same color. In the crafting mini-game, you don’t move anything. You just mark connected gems of the same color, at which point they vanish. This game exists in the casual world but I’m an old man with a faulty memory and I don’t remember the name of it. 🙂 But it ain’t Bejeweled! [Please note tongue firmly in cheek for this point.]

Third, the name still bugs me because it isn’t free to play. Sure, some of it is, but not all. And the $5/month subscription model still doesn’t get you everything; some items require an RMT. This includes Pets. And what’s the very first thing they introduce to you when you leave the tutorial area? Pets! That feels kind of sleazy to me, honestly.

Fourth, I wonder how many gamers will get frustrated by the tutorial because it is so slow moving. You can’t dismiss dialog boxes until the voice over completes. There’s a reason for this…the client is still downloading in the background so they *have* to slow you down in order to give that time to happen. Not being a paid subscriber I only have 1 character slot, so I don’t know if they change this in subsequent runs through the tutorial (or just let you skip the tutorial altogether).

I’m not sure I wouldn’t have pointed out that there’s a reason for the slow moving tutorial. I just worry that some people will get frustrated and leave before they ever start playing.

Fifth, just because a goblin-thingie wears a colander on his head as a helmet, it doesn’t mean he can’t kick your ass. Angela and I grouped up and tried a combat encounter mostly at random. We got *smoked*. I couldn’t see any way to judge the difficulty of the encounter (other than that we’d gone exploring and were a good ways from the starting location).

Sixth and last, Green Armadillo has a post up about points card for the game. Basically you get more for your money if you jump in your car and burn some fossil fuel to go to a retail store and buy a card which you can then throw into a landfill, rather than just downloading points. This sucks. Why not promise to kill a baby seal with every purchase, while you’re at it, Sony?

We didn’t play for long. First the server we were on crashed, then when we got into another server we spent a while trying to find each other, hoping we could ‘friend’ each other if we were in proximity, but we couldn’t. Long after we gave up trying we got a “Friend Server Down” message in the chat.

Angela wants to play more. I’m not as sure. Maybe. I’m kind of on the fence with regard to playing mini-games in a $5/month MMO for levels vs buying them for $5 or $10 on the XBox 360 and playing them for Gamerscore. The combat seems like pretty fun hack and slash casual gameplay, though, so I might give that a go. And just running around the world was actually kind of interesting, chasing bunnies and squirrels and stuff just for grins. So maybe. Maybe not. But again, I AM NOT THE INTENDED AUDIENCE so my playing or not playing isn’t really relevant to the success of the game.

Sony’s Blunders

Is anyone else wondering what the heck is going on at Sony’s Entertainment Division? The past few weeks have seen one mistake after another:

  • SOCOM: Confrontation (an online only game) launched with the servers not working at all well. This is secondhand info but I read enough reports about the problems that I’m confident that they were real and widespred. People spoke of spending more time staring at menus waiting than actually playing the game.
  • LittleBigPlanet got delayed because of the Qur’an lyrics in one of the music selections for the game. How did this only become an issue in the eleventh hour? Wouldn’t you think you’d get a translation of any song lyrics that were going to be in your game, well before launch? The delay took a lot of the ‘bang’ out of the launch; instead of a single launch day when everyone was getting the game, we got a launch window of about 4 days. Which might have been a blessing in disguise because….
  • LittleBigPlanet servers were also borked on launch. Not only did this mean you couldn’t play online, it also impacted the single player game (if you were logged into PSN, which must of us are if our PS3s are internet-connected). I talked about this here; the long and sluggish load times I experienced were indeed caused by the game trying to talk to the servers and not being able to. Not the way to make a good first impression.
  • Last and admittedly least, the Mirror’s Edge demo is hitting PSN and XBox Live Arcade this week. There’s a lot of buzz and anticipation built up around this game, and for once, a demo was coming out first on PSN, and not on XBLA until the following day. Except the Playstation Store didn’t get updated until late evening ET. I’m thinking it was somewhere around 10 pm? I started to download the demo, but (Playstation Store servers being the slow beasts they are) had to go to bed before the download was complete. Advantage squandered.

I love my PS3 and during the prior console generation I appreciated the broader range of games offered on the Sony platform than you can generally find elsewhere. But now the JRPG’s are moving to the 360, and the ‘quirky’ games tend to show up as downloadable titles so you can get them anywhere. The only advantage Sony seems to still have is hardware reliability and even that may be fading as Microsoft finally starts getting the 360 hardware right.

Sony has been struggling and this holiday season is its change to turn that around some, and maybe it can. But it needs to stop making these highly visible blunders if its going to gain (and retain) the confidence of gamers. Fable 2 is only on XBox. Fallout 3 looks better on XBox. And Microsoft’s game servers tend to be pretty reliable. Let’s hope that the Resistance 2 servers are rock solid when that game launches.

Nintendo Customer Support FTW!

Somewhere around July 23rd, our Wii Fit Balance Board started acting wonky, giving crazy readings and drawing straight diagonal ‘COB traces’. I futzed with it for a couple of days, but on Friday, July 25th we called Nintendo to request service.

Later that day we were emailed a pre-paid FedEx Ground shipping label. On Saturday we packed up the Balance Board and on Monday, July 28th I dropped it off at a Kinko’s FedEx Center. It arrived on July 29th (a bit of luck there, we’re in MA and the repair center is in NY so it didn’t have far to travel). By July 30th there was a notice in the Repair System that they would replace the board but it was currently back-ordered.

In spite of this, a new board was shipped via UPS Blue (2nd day air) on July 31st, a Thursday. Today, Monday, August 4th, the new board arrived. It works perfectly. And cost us nothing beyond some packing tape (we sent it back in the original WiiFit box, wrapping it in flattened out brown-paper shopping bags).

I’ve been “fortunate” enough to have to pay to have both an XBox 360 and a PS3 repaired. It took Microsoft almost 5 weeks to turn around the XBox ($100) repair, and it took Sony 3 weeks to turn around the ($150) PS3 repair. And in neither case was anything repaired…the old unit was just swapped out for a refurb.

So I have to rate Nintendo as easily the best of the ‘big three’ when it comes to Customer Service. The exchange was handled swiftly and with no hassles whatsoever.

And we’ve got our little friend back. Oh, how we’ve missed our Balance Board Buddy!