E3 2014: Avery’s Predictions

Ah, E3. With WWDC finally in the past (and thankfully not on the same day as four E3 press conferences), it’s time for us geeks to shift our focus in the direction of the world’s largest gaming event, that delightful mecca of multimillion-dollar, triple-A, shooty-shooty-bang-bang disappointments known as the Electronic Entertainment Expo.

Here’s my predictions for what Sony, Microsoft, and Nintendo are going to show off.

Microsoft
- Expect either Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare or Halo 5: Guardians to open the conference, with the one that doesn’t open it closing it. Microsoft has a penchant for opening its press conferences with Call of Duty games.

- We’ll see an unprecedented push for games. Expect Microsoft to put massive emphasis on major, triple-A titles from its first and third-party studios—especially Insomniac’s Sunset Overdrive, which looks set to be Microsoft’s banner title going into the holidays. Expect a few indie games, too, as the fruits of Redmond’s ID@Xbox scheme finally come to bear and Microsoft sees them to be an important battleground for current-gen supremacy. 

- With this unprecedented push for games, expect a much less emphatic push of the Xbox One’s entertainment capabilities. There totally will be a push for their entertainment features—Microsoft’s still working on a live-action Halo TV series, and has that documentary on the E.T. landfill to push—but don’t expect it to be the snoozeworthy rundown of features that we got back at E3 2012.

- Microsoft will either totally ignore Kinect, or totally ignore that they launched a Kinect-less Xbox One on the day of their press conference. Maybe both.

Sony
- Shawn Layden won’t be as charismatic as his predecessor, Jack Tretton. Sony’s keynote will, overall, lack the punch of Sony’s gutsy 2013 showing.

- Sony will continue to ignore the PlayStation Vita at E3, but will make up for it at gamescom in August.

- PS4 sales will either be close to 10 million, or bang on 10 million, and Sony will point to inFamous: Second Son and Watch_Dogs to explain its success.

- DriveClub will be Sony’s best first-party racer in years, and a worthy competitor to Turn 10’s Forza series on Xbox One. The Order 1886 will be visually impressive, but otherwise disappointing. 

- I don’t think we will, but I’m willing to be surprised by this one: We’ll see a new Final Fantasy XV trailer, and a vague release date—maybe 2015.

- Uncharted 4 will wrap the press conference. 

- We won’t see Sony respond to Microsoft’s $399 Xbox One until gamescom in August.

Nintendo
- This event will be underwhelming.

- Nintendo’s newest IP will make a showing at their digital event, and it will either be mind-blowingly exciting or a reboot of Nintendo’s efforts to “expand the gaming population”. 

- We might see something about Nintendo’s efforts in the health space. 

- We will definitely see some games that were announced last year, including Bayonetta 2, Super Smash Bros. for Wii U and Nintendo 3DS, and that game with the robots whose title I don’t remember. I think it was X

- Nintendo will either focus heavily on the Nintendo 3DS, or heavily on the Wii U. One of the two.

- I will probably be surprised. 

(NB: Laziness prevents me from making predictions for EA or Ubisoft’s events. But there will probably be guns.)

Anyways, a note on how I’ll be covering this. With no games-focused website and killer team to call my home, I’m considerably less stressed about this year’s E3 schedule; however, I’ll be staying up crazy late and tweeting using the hashtag #E3 (so keep your eyes peeled or set your mute filters to stun). Expect to find me being Tweet Jailed, and a level of coverage that will probably sink to my #DrunkWWDC coverage from last week:

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In addition, my good friends (and former/current Blue Sun contributors) Gordon Emmerson and Tyler Anderson will be joining me for a post-E3 Hangout, which you’ll be able to watch—live, no less—on June 14. I’ll post more information when we get a solid time down. 

Have a great E3, everyone!

Thoughts on WWDC 2014

Apple’s DubDub keynote was surprisingly good this year, and a return to form for a company whose keynotes have felt increasingly routine and dull since Steve Jobs’ passing. Here’s some thoughts on the stuff that was announced, and how it was announced.

OS X Yosemite
Yosemite feels like the first major, holy-shit update to OS X since Lion dragged the App Store, Linen and Full-Screen Apps kicking and screaming from iOS 4. The redesign at Yosemite’s core feels a lot better-executed than the one we saw last year on iOS (even the Trash icon looks pretty), though that’s probably because it’s not full of over-the-top animations and we didn’t have to sit through one of those godawful Jony-Ive-Waxes-Lyrical-About-Design videos (more on that later).

The thing I’m probably most excited about, however, is Continuity. Being able to answer all my text messages—regardless of whether my friend has an iPhone, Android phone, Windows Phone, or even dumbphone—and use my Mac as a speakerphone is going to be something I’ll be all over. If Apple can bake Handoff into iTunes (and Music.app in iOS) and Spotify follows their lead, I’ll be all over that too… but if it’s mostly relegated to Apple’s productivity apps I’ll care a little less.

iOS 8
If there’s a word to best describe Apple’s consumer-facing iOS 8 features, it’s “catch-up”. Very few of the features Apple showed off at the keynote felt new, because we’ve seen them before. 

Did iCloud Photo Library seem familiar to you? That’s because Google showed off the exact same feature at I/O last year, under the name Google+ Photos. Actionable notifications? Shown at I/O 2012, with the unveiling of Android 4.1 Jelly Bean and the Nexus 7. QuickType? SwiftKey—and, to a lesser extent, the keyboard Google’s baked into Android since 2010’s Gingerbread release—did it first. A fair bit of what can be accomplished in the new Spotlight can be done from Google Now, also launched in 2012. And those minor, footnote improvements to Siri—finding songs, showing what your phone thinks you said as you say it, and hotwording with “Hey, Siri”—are straight from Google’s search app on both Android and iOS. 

I’m not saying that this makes these features’ appearance on Apple devices inferior, just that it makes it look like Apple’s playing catch-up on the consumer side with its sworn enemy, Android. Apple will expect to receive a lot of praise for, in essence, catching up to its competitors’ efforts from last year, and I don’t think it deserves it that much.

Had Apple ended its keynote with consumer-facing iOS features, I’d have been incredibly disappointed. If anything, it was actually developer-facing improvements in iOS 8 that got me excited—and it’s because they bring the things I love the most about Android to my iPhone. Allowing apps to become extensions to the now-ubiquitous iOS Share Sheet is a Big Fucking Deal, and the advent of Swype for iOS makes me incredibly happy. Touch ID being opened up to third-party apps makes me want to buy an iPhone 5s right this instant. 

I’m sure all those things ending in “Kit” will be huge, too.

Little iCloud Improvements
The two major, consumer-facing improvements to iCloud announced at WWDC were iCloud Drive and massively improved pricing for iCloud storage. 

iCloud Drive feels like an admission by Apple that their initial plan for Documents in the Cloud—where you’d be able to access files stored in iCloud purely in the apps you made them in—was dumb, but iCloud Drive is only a half-improvement. Y’see, here’s the thing: If I were to create a document in Google Docs, I’d then be able to access that file on my MacBook, on my Windows PC, on my iPhone, and on my Android tablet, either through native apps or the web. I’d be able to do the same if I created a document in Office Online, thanks to OneDrive. But if I create a document in Pages on my Mac, I’m only able to access it on my MacBook, my Windows PC, or my iPhone. I get that Android is Apple’s biggest competitor right now, but there are going to be consumers who will own different devices, and they shouldn’t be left out in the cold—it’ll just drive them to competing services.

Speaking of competing services, Apple’s new, aggressively-priced iCloud storage—$0.99 a month for 20GB of storage!—should continue to pile the heat on Dropbox, which is now outrageously expensive for additional storage compared to what Apple and Google are asking. 

Delivery
Is it me, or did WWDC feel different this year? There was an incredible sense of energy in Tim Cook and Craig Federighi’s deliveries, the like of which we haven’t seen at WWDC since Steve Jobs’ iPhone 4-unveiling 2010 keynote. It’s crazy to think that Cook and Federighi are the same executives who bored us to death with Mac sales data and were visibly shaking with nerves to show us OS X Lion four years ago. 

We didn’t have to deal with Jony Ive waxing lyrical about design. We didn’t have to deal with a painful Apple retail update. This is good. Apple needs to keep not doing those things.

More importantly, Apple’s execs looked like they were having fun. Gone was the “Can’t innovate anymore, my ass” of 2013, to be replaced by actual jokes—jokes like OS X Weed, Eddy Cue jamming out with Beats on his head, Greg Jozswiak’s Duckface Selfie, and man-who-explained-Yosemite’s-Markup-and-whose-name-is-Brian taking a chainsaw to Craig Federighi’s hair. Everything gelled, and it felt like Tim Cook’s Apple was starting to come into its own—right down to the whole phonecall-to-Dr-Dre thing.

Overall, it was a fairly impressive conference. Bring on E3, Google I/O, and at least two more Apple Events before the year’s out.

Men Are Pigs: A New Podcast

Men Are Pigs is my third podcast, and my fourth venture into getting other people to listen to my voice.

It’s hard to believe that my first podcasting venture started almost three years ago; entitled The Gamebit Podcast, I sat in a room with my friend Alex Matless and we rambled about video game news and stuff happening on the website we were running at the time. We messed around with themes, did silly little bits, and managed to make that work on a strange setup of two Guitar Hero microphones resting in kitchen utensils.

When I left Gamebit to start Blue Sun, we got the team together on Skype, recorded the call, and then spent forever in editing so it was something listenable. The Blue Sun Podcast followed a lot of the rules and precedents The Gamebit Podcast set; we had a snazzy little theme, we had a genuine structure, and we had the capacity to mess up (and we did, a lot).

Those two podcasts, intrinsically linked to my jobs—as Managing Editor at Gamebit, then Editor-in-Chief at Blue Sun—made me proud to be part of the teams that put those shows together. Every podcast showed off the passionate opinions and strong voices of team members, and everyone had a good laugh to boot.

Just before I left Blue Sun, I got an opportunity to do something even better: live radio. With Midday Media Matters, I’ve been able to get better at talking about things; I’ve been put on the spot a fair few times, and can now successfully have a radio discussion without talking over my co-hosts.

Most importantly, however, MDMM lets me talk about video games, meaning that new things I do can be completely fresh. And that’s where Men Are Pigs comes in.

When Gabriel and I planned Men Are Pigs, we wanted to take something completely ordinary—our ability to be jumping-off points for each other in conversation—and make it work as something interesting. We’ll have no particular remit (Men Are Pigs is, according to the etchings in my Moleskine, “A Podcast About Whatever The Bloody Hell We Want”), but our aim is to make content that is engaging, interesting, concise, and above all funny.

We think we’ve accomplished that with our teaser video, which you can see below, but the real test will be when we put our first episode up on Monday. We hope you’ll tune in, provide words of encouragement, and follow us on the usual social media channels (Twitter, YouTube, and SoundCloud for the show itself).

I can’t wait to get started.

Blue Sun and the future

Yesterday, I got taken by surprise, as I learned that Blue Sun, the website I founded in 2012 with a ragtag bunch of writers, had been taken on by Shawn Wilkins. You’d think that being the founder, and the person who’d spent a lot of time and money invested in the site’s progress, would mean I’d be consulted about the site’s future, but no. This whole thing just kinda happened.

While I had no say in it, and I’m not overwhelmingly happy about that, I’m also very, very excited. 

Shawn Wilkins is a man with a reputation for making websites with quality content, as evidenced by the excellent Culture Milk, and the team he’s assembled thus far is amazing; Tyler Anderson is returning after a successful stint at Blue Sun 1.0, and the excellent Chase Oros is both writing featured articles for the site and heading up The All-New Blue Sun Podcast. There are more writers, but not even I know about them, and more will be revealed in the run up to the site’s relaunch (that’s right, the site’s getting a full-scale redesign, which will probably be good.)

In October, the team—at the time headed up by myself—acknowledged that it couldn’t really keep Blue Sun going. And we just kind of let it die. Now, under Shawn’s leadership, I have the guarantee that Blue Sun will not be left to rot. If anything, the Blue Sun of 2014 will become the insanely great organ I always wanted it to be - and even if I was the last to find out, that is what makes me happy about this whole deal.

Here’s to the future of the site I’ll forever call my baby.