Smells Like Shrink Wrap

Microsoft have announced their disc-less Xbox One S console, launching in a couple of weeks at an RRP (in the UK at least) of 20% less than the one with a disc drive. It appears to have upset a lot of people, who are, in some cases, inventing their own version of the truth to justify their anger at a product that no one is forcing them to buy. Here I’ll tackle a few of the common concerns that I’ve seen raised, with counter arguments in an attempt to balance things.

I would like to point out that I am no fanboy, I have no emotional attachment to the success of one brand or another, and indeed own/have owned every Xbox and PlayStation model, and everything Nintendo has released. So with that cleared up…

1. It’s too expensive – According to Xbox.com (a reasonable source for Xbox information I would posit) the UK RRP for the console will be £199. This sits against an RRP of £249 for the same console with a Blu-Ray drive. Which means they’re expecting £50 for the drive. That’s expensive. The RRP doesn’t necessarily reflect street price of course, and it’s likely both options are available for less money in the real world.

Some are quoting the second hand price of a One S and comparing it to the new price of this version. Wait until this one is available pre-owned, and you’ll have a fair, direct comparison. Others are playing g the RRP against the street price of the other – another indirect comparison.

Ultimately you’ll be able to buy an Xbox One S for a few quid more than a 3DS XL, which is pretty good.

2. A 1TB hard drive is way too small – It’s the same 1TB hard drive that’s in the standard Xbox One S, and will fit exactly the same number of games on it. All Discs on Xbox One (and PlayStation 4) must be fully installed to be played, and take up the same amount of space as the downloaded equivalent.

Additionally, you’re assuming that everyone who owns a console is a “gamer” who buys more games than they’ll ever find time to play. For many, a 1TB drive may well be impossible to fill. For the rest, USB drives are inexpensive (particularly compared to video games) and ultimately essential for larger collections, regardless of what’s inside the console.

One situation in which this may be a concern is in rural areas (thinking particularly of the USA) where internet is a luxury service (see point 4) – people there will be unable to delete and re-download their games as freely as those of us blessed with better internet. Those folk are still going to face difficulties with disc-based games that require multiple GigaBytes of patches, or online activation, and can overcome the concern with the same USB hard drive that we can all use.

3. If this is successful, the next Xbox won’t have a disc drive – I suspect it will. Whilst downloads represent over half of video game purchases, and have done for 5 years now, there is still a sizeable market for physical media. Whilst it’s falling, it’s not gone away to a point that new hardware won’t support it. That time will come. It’s inevitable. Between platform holders pushing for it and consumers embracing it, ultimately a form of digital content (more likely to be based on streaming than downloading) will become the norm in the next decade or two. It’s inevitable.

4. Some people have slow or limited internet – Some people don’t have electricity or clean drinking water. You’re not about to fix that concern, and the people you describe will find that this console is not for them. That’s ok, because they can buy the one with a disc drive. Or not. Free world and all that.

5. There’s a drive bay and eject button inside the case! – I hadn’t considered this until I saw it mentioned, and the subsequent outpouring of scorn, but now that I have it makes a lot of sense. The One S is a beautifully designed system and the disc-less version is a) the same console, without the disc drive and b) inside the same case, without the disc slot. I’d rather they didn’t spend money redesigning the internals of the case, to be passed on to the consumer, and I’m happy as a fan of design to see them maintain a constant look across the range.

6. PSP Go tried this and failed – Yes it did. A long, long time ago. Vita also “failed”, and that had a cartridge slot. A lot has changed in the world, with streaming media services such as Netflix and Spotify replacing physical media for a lot of people in those two arms of the entertainment industry. As much as “gamers” think otherwise, video games are ultimately fulfilling the same need as music and film, and the vast majority of the world’s people see them as just as disposable. According to chats with my local games shop, store credit vouchers and the like account for the majority of sales now, with physical media being secondary. This is fact, and is spreading, and will continue to spread.

Whilst it’s quite possible that this edition of Xbox One will fail – I’m certainly not about to say with conviction that it won’t – one thing I’ve noticed about Microsoft in this generation is their willingness to embrace change led by consumer habits. They led the charge in the previous generation to push people to accept downloading their games, and 14 years later we’re seeing a world with a whole generation of teenagers who grew up with that as their version of normal.

For every person who buys every collectors edition that comes out, pre-ordered for a day one purchase, who spends time every day on twitter to talk about games new and old, there are hundreds who play games who couldn’t give a shit about any of that. They’re the ones who keep the ball rolling (pun intended) for the FIFA series, who buy every Call of Duty game. Then a new sequel comes out, and they buy that and dispose of the previous one.

They’re the target market for this product. Not you obsessive sorts. Ultimately if you’re for some reason angry that a new, optional, version of a console is available, then it’s not been made for you. That goes double for those of you who “would never buy an Xbox anyway”.

7. The three games it comes with are on Game Pass – As are all Microsoft-published games, and a total of 200 games. So what. Stop clutching at straws to find a reason to hate this inconsequential object.

8. Xbox One SAD – Yeah… Xbox One S All-Digital…. someone dropped the ball on that one! At least it wasn’t called the Xbox One S Has 1 Terabyte, I suppose.

This wasn’t meant to be much more than a rant. I’m not particularly concerned either way about this New edition of the Xbox One. I’d definitely buy it and enjoy the £50 saving if my One S dies in the future. I am, however, somewhat triggered by a lot of what I’ve been reading on Twitter concerning it, and in particular the mental gymnastics that have been used to create reasons to hate an inanimate object that you could just, you know, not buy.

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My Guitars

The main thing people that know me know about me is that I play guitar. I have done so since I was about 13, buying my first guitar in 1994, from a school friend called Lloyd Davies. I ended up taking the instrument a lot more seriously than a lot of my peers. I wasn’t necessarily better at it than many of them, but I was into it in a different way, happy to lose whole afternoons and weeks to practicing my favourite songs. Here is a list of all the guitars I ever owned. Because.

Photos to follow later. You know what a guitar looks like, surely.

Encore Stratocaster – The first. After trying my hand at various instruments – violin, trumpet, and piano – I’d been uninspired. I enjoyed the act of making music, but not on these instruments. Then one day my grandad said something that changed everything. “Your dad was always upset that you didn’t follow him in playing guitar.” Well, at this time of my life I was still quite into trying to impress my father, who’d left when I was ten. The idea fermented over the following weeks as I pestered my mum for a guitar. She was adamant, for reasons I’ll never understand, that I should start with an acoustic guitar. No mum, I want to play rock music. At the time I was heavily into Guns n Roses, Iron Maiden, Metallica, Sepultura, and Blur and Oasis were taking a lot of my time, so I needed an electric guitar.

It just happened that my friend Lloyd was also selling his Strat, and to cut a long story short I bought it, for around £100. It came with a hard case and a tiny Marshall amp and set me on a path I still follow.

The guitar itself was, frankly, a piece of shit. Starter guitars in the 1990s were not what they are now. This one was immensely heavy, had terrible pickups, and was not a joy to play. But I didn’t know that at the time, as I hadn’t played another. To me it was a thing of beauty. I ended up replacing it (as we’ll see in a moment), and donated it to a guy who fixed guitars up to give them to disadvantaged kids.

Gibson SG – The only real Gibson I ever owned, my dad gave me his old SG (and a Venom amplifier) on my 16th birthday. The only condition, he said, was that if I ever didn’t want it any more I was to return it to him, not sell it. It was wonderful. Cherry red, like 80% of SGs, this was a beautiful guitar. Fitted with a DiMarzio pickup in the bridge position, with a coil split switch wired in, it sounded perfect and helped me to realise my rockstar dreams – in front of my bedroom mirror at least.

It saw use in several gigs, all my early ones, and always got remarks from people who’d talk to me afterwards. Then my dad took it back, and I never saw it again.

Encore Acoustic Before I’d realised the Strat by the same company was a dog, I bought an acoustic guitar of the same brand. It too was a dog. But it was nice to play along to Oasis’ softer songs on the correct type of guitar. I remember the thicker strings would rub against each other by the tuning posts, such that it was impossible to perfectly tune the thing. It also sounded pretty harsh. But still, I enjoyed it for a while.

Epiphone Les Paul – Before the SG was gone, I bought the first nice guitar of my own. A Limited Edition Epiphone Les Paul, bought (and made) in 2000, in trans amber finish. It became known as the lesbian for reasons that made a lot more sense then than now. It remains my favourite of all my guitars, playing and sounding fantastic. It’s heavy (as Les Pauls tend to be), but once you get used to carrying the weight it is a pure joy. The frets are now worn, and to replace them costs silly money in Amsterdam so I’ll wait until I can take it elsewhere. Even after nineteen years of heavy use they’re not so worn as to make the instrument unplayable – I have newer guitars in worse shape.

This is the last possession I would sell, should it come to that.

Epiphone SG Gothic – Let’s be plain – I bought this for the matte black finish. It was also fairly inexpensive, so when I spotted it during one of my many browsing visits to the local guitar shop I had to have it. Unfortunately once the honeymoon period was over I was left with a guitar that didn’t sound too good, and that I wasn’t able to set up to a standard that matched my Les Paul, so it had to go. I did play a couple of “acoustic” sets with it (I only had that awful Encore acoustic guitar, so I used this instead) and it served its purpose before I sold it.

Epiphone Explorer Korina – Another Epiphone that I noticed hanging in the guitar shop one day. Similar enough to James Hetfield’s guitar, I had to have it, and I still do. I bought this one in 2004, and it is hanging right now next to my Les Paul. It got a lot of use in the mid-2000s, then when a new job (with shift work) ruined any serious band prospects it went unused for most of a decade, as its shape makes it not the easiest to sit down and jam. I did use it for one band rehearsal when I joined a new band in 2015, but the way it hangs made it uncomfortable for my ageing back. It’s a shame, because it sounds great, looks great, just isn’t comfortable for me any more. Still, I won’t sell it. It’s special.

John’s Bass – I was given a bass by the singer of my first ever band. He didn’t want it any more – he had little interest in the effort of getting good at it – so he passed it on to me. I didn’t care about bass at the time, so I passed it on again. The body of the bass had been sanded to bare wood, with flecks of paint remaining – the reason he gave me was that it was used by GWAR, and had been covered in nails (and blood). Whether or not this is true… it’s a fun story. Maybe I once owned a bass from GWAR.

Ibanez Acoustic – The money that I got for the Gothic SG paid for a new acoustic, in 2004, made by Ibanez. I bought it because it was the most expensive one in the shop that I could afford (I think it cost £220). It’s by no means a bad guitar, and with its slim body its easy to play, sounds ok, feels good to play. But lately I’ve been trying to record some songs with it and the sound is a bit harsh and hard to tame in post-processing, so it will be sidelined for something new when I find myself some funds. One that will likely be passed to my son when he’s old enough, and assuming he shows any interest.

Ibanez Jet King II – Eventually I acknowledged that to continue recording my songs I’d need a bass. Using an octave effect to lower my guitar signal wasn’t cutting it, and I was getting better at recording, so I bought the real deal. Because I had no serious intent to use the bass for anything but the most basic additions to my recordings I bought the cheapest bass in the shop, which happened to be this one because it was part of a clearance sale that reduced it below the price of the cheap, shitty basses. Its quite a decent instrument really, with a strong sound and non-standard looks. I don’t play it now, because I have much better options, but it sits in my cupboard waiting for me to fancy another go on it.

Dean Mustaine VMNT – This one was a 30th birthday present from myself to myself. I just fancied it, so ordered one online. The first time I’d ever bought a guitar without playing several options in the shop, but it worked out well. Totally different to anything I’d owned (or played) before, this is a proper Metal machine, as you might expect. A Dave Mustaine signature model, it bears the Rust in Peace album art across its front. When I ordered it I received a call a couple of days later telling me it wasn’t actually in stock and would take a couple of weeks to arrive from the distributor. Well, I wasn’t impressed. It wouldn’t be with me in time for my birthday! Happily for me, the guy on the phone accepted my suggestion that they drop the price from £1200 to £800 (the price of the next model down, that was in stock). Bargain. I like to play Metallica songs on it, just to imagine the idiots on the internet losing their minds.

Epiphone G-400 – Finally deciding it was time to replace my long-lost Gibson SG, and having had a lot of success with Epiphone guitars (ignoring that Gothic), I bought a new SG model of theirs. It was something of a moving present, arriving a few weeks before we left the UK for Amsterdam. It was used for almost every one of the 45 weekly songs I recorded in 2015, and remains my go to for a quick play at home, due to its light weight, comfortable play, and great sound (now that I upgraded the pick-ups!) Playing it proves to me how far cheap, asian-made guitars have come in the last two decades.

Fender Precision – A few months after I moved to Amsterdam I found the nerve to put myself out there and seek a band. It was only a few days before Harry called and told me that he wanted to meet me to discuss his plans. The first rehearsal with him and his friends I played guitar (see my Epiphone Explorer above), but it was clear from the start that his bassist wasn’t playing the same things we were, so he was asked not to come back. Without a bassist, I said I’d give it a go. Of course I felt I wanted something a bit nicer than my Ibanez Jet King II, and so I went browsing for something better, and came home with a Fender Precision. What a beast! A pivotal moment; I came to realise that after a couple of decades of being a guitarist, I’d been missing out on the absolute blast of being a bassist! It quickly took over from guitar for me, and until I started to put together my album a few months ago, bass was the only thing I was interested in. I got pretty good at it too, pretty quickly, to the point that I have been headhunted twice since, which is kinda cool.

Epiphone EB-0 – So the two year itch… that’s on average how long I’ve gone without buying a new guitar, and sure enough it came along again a year or so ago while I was browsing an online guitar shop. I didn’t really need anything, though I figured it would be wise to have a solid backup to my Precision should anything happen to it during a gig (not that I’ve gigged here yet, the bands never get that far!) I saw an EB-0 (an SG-styled bass) for only €220, so went to the physical shop to try it out. Within 3 minutes I knew it was the right choice for me. Like the equivalent electric guitar, it is lightweight, feels great in my hands, has a nice sound, and is well-put-together. And like its equivalent guitar, it’s my go to bass at home due to the comfort in use. It’s also a short-scale bass, with the neck and fret spacing feeling a lot closer to a guitar, making it easier to swap between the two. More proof that cheap guitars today are really worth considering.

Jackson Concert Minion – Another bass, and the last one that I bought, last summer. This one was more for a laugh than anything. I didn’t expect anything serious from it. 3/4 scale, it’s super easy to play, but super hard at the same time as the strings are looser than they should be, and it doesn’t like to stay in tune. The small headstock also houses full-sized tuning pegs, which means that they hit each other during each turn! Still, a fun thing and it’s the only instrument I keep downstairs with a small amp for when I fancy a quick go. Not terrible, but not particularly good. I may look at Jackson though for my next serious bass, as the overall quality is more than decent.

Epiphone Hummingbird – I don’t own this yet, but I’m going to look at it tomorrow. My love for Epiphone is real, and so now I’m in the market for a decent acoustic guitar they are the obvious choice for something with a good price and excellent build quality. The reviews for this one are universally excellent, and whilst I tend to take user reviews with a handful of salt (especially when they all use the same tired words and phrases that don’t really mean anything), there’s one available in the local shop for me to test out, so that’s what I’ll be doing tomorrow!

Thanks for reading. Mine is a modest collection by many standards, though it does equate to one guitar every 1.8 years of playing, which is maybe a few too many! But what I’m left with today is a solid collection of fantastic instruments that make me smile, and really that’s what’s important.

What Do You Want To Do When You Get Older?

I can’t be the only one who got into his late 30s before deciding it’s time to tackle this big question? To this point I’ve not known the answer. Instead of pursuing a vocation or a career, I’ve settled for a string of customer service jobs – in several areas of insurance and, most recently, on London Underground stations – and for the past 5 years I’ve been quite happily unemployed, a househusband and latterly a stay-at-home dad. Recently I’ve been thinking of this question, and considering several answers.

It may sound,in the surface, like a contradiction in terms, but I exist on this fine line lazy and hard-working. That is to say: when I have something in mind that I consider suitably important, or enjoyable, I am quite content to while away hours, days and weeks to perfecting it. But anything else, I’d rather not do. I played guitar for hours every day until I was happy with my skill level with the instrument (though in recent months I’ve been thinking I’d like to take it further now). When I work on a piece of art I can put tens of hours into making as good as it can be, to push myself to the limits of my talent.

For some years I’ve considered a career as an artist. Trying to tap into the tourist market of Amsterdam with my line-art cityscapes makes quite a lot of sense, as I’m sure there is a market for just such posters and postcards. I spend hours drawing the images, but then don’t put in the time and legwork to make it happen.

I’ve been toying with an idea for a comic, to follow 2014’s doomed Deathridge. The latter saw some small success when I self-published, with the majority of reviewers praising it, and a select few readers giving positive feedback always. But I lost heart with the few bad reviews – partly because I knew I could, and should, have done better. I rushed the comic to meet some imaginary, arbitrary deadline, just to push myself unnecessarily. It was stupid, and a shame that I let something so daft get in the way of making the comic perfect. So the new idea would have to be special, really push myself to breaking point with my drawing and writing. And if, after all that, it’s not good, then I know for sure that it’s not something I should pursue.

Both of the above artistic endeavours are still feasible. They can both be worked on in my spare time, using the iPad Pro I bought precisely because it would enable me to sit and draw wherever I am. But they’re just not clicking right now. I’m not in the right frame of mind to get stuck into either one.

Which leads, in a roundabout manner, to my latest self-improvement avenue.

I’ve been toying with the idea of writing and recording a new album. Really this idea came about a couple of years ago the last time I started a band, and we discussed a desire to record some songs. As is always the way, the band got nowhere and came to nothing, so once again I am thinking of recording all parts myself. Which is always fun. I learned a lot in 2015 when I wrote and recorded a song every week as that year’s creative project, and hope I can put that knowledge to use to record a better album than I did that year.

At the weekend I received a call from a guitarist, with whom I’d started my first band in Amsterdam, a little over 3 years ago. He told me he’s come to the realisation he’s getting older (52 this year), and only has one chance to do something with his music other than play alone in a room. He wants to get a band together, write some songs, and record them. So he has something to leave behind.

This final sentiment has been turning over in my head for some days. For my whole life I’ve not been too concerned about leaving anything behind. We’re here, then we’re not, and that’s ok. But not I have a young son, and everything looks different. I said yes to the band, naturally, as I crave to play with others again after a few months without it. It’s actually most of two years since I played in a room with a full band.

Thinking of recording this band-to-be, I realised I have much of the equipment required to mix the album myself, and save many many euros in the process, but of course it needs to be fantastically good, with a professional finish. I’m not at that standard, but I’m certain I could be.

So after that long, pointless message, I come to the point – I am considering a new career, that of Audio Engineer. I am reading up on it all, and at this point you must understand it is little more than a thought. Inspired by a story my wife told me a while back about a man who didn’t want to pay thousands to have his house renovated, he instead paid a few thousand to complete a course, became qualified, and did it himself. And now he runs his own company, getting paid to do it for other people.

I suppose my thinking is, simply, that with the right learning I can mix, perhaps also record, our band, and make the record myself, saving paying someone to do it for us. Then, maybe, the skills will be ingrained enough that I can make a bit of pocket money from it.

Sure, I know it’s not the kind of job that will grant me a sizeable income, but if I can turn it into something to be proud of then that will be nice.

When I imagine my son at school, being asked “what does your daddy do?”, I am sure I’d rather he say “he records bands and makes records” than “he plays PlayStation”.

Into 2019

Another year over. Each one seems to fly by faster than the last. It’s been a good one by all accounts, with many great video games released, some good music, films and TV, and in a personal note watching my son grow to be two and a half has been a pleasure. I succeeded for the first time in completing a daily project without missing a single day (results to be found here). So, what’s next?

The first thing to announce is my next daily creative project. I’ve thought over several options, including a daily webcomic, a weekly song (last done in 2015 with 45 songs recorded) and continuing the daily sketches from this year but with a more focussed theme. I even contemplated taking a year off to avoid burning out. It was the recent purchase of an iPhone XR, with its fantastic camera and large screen, that made up my mind – 2019’s daily project will be one of photography.

There is an accidental, recurring theme in my general photography of paths. The simple act of travelling from one place to another, literally or figuratively, is fascinating to me, and so next year’s project will take that name and concept towards its natural end – “Paths”.

As with all my projects, this one will not be done for its own sake. Instead it will be used to focus my creativity and improve a particular set of skills. In this case the art of photography itself, with framing, composition and so on improving through the year, whilst at the same time learning how to make the most of my iPhone’s camera, associated software and, at least at weekends, teaching me better use of my DSLR (a Sony Alpha 390 that has been stuck in its bag for several years, largely unused.) I have a new battery and an empty SD card waiting for me.

I also intend to purchase various equipment that will help me to learn and improve. In this case this will most likely come in the form of various lenses and (probably the most important) a tripod. I have a desktop one, but not a full-height stand.

All in all by this time next year I hope to have come a few steps closer to mastering photography and to have permanently upgraded my ability to take better photographs.

I mentioned a daily comic as one option for this year’s project, and that idea is not entirely out of the frame. In addition to my new photography project, in addition to finally setting up my Etsy shop and trying to sell some of my art, I intend to start work on a comic.

There’s not a lot to say at this point, except that it will involve a video game setting and will take its name from this blog, and my main social media brand – Bitland.

Watch this space.

So. These are my loose plans for staying busy in 2019. I’m quite excited to get into it all and enjoying the satisfaction in a year’s time of having successfully completed another daily project, and carrying the improved skills that go with it into the future. How about you? Do you have any creative projects planned for 2019? Or maybe you just have a list of video games you’d love to finish this year? Come chat me up on Twitter @BitlandGaming.

Gaming PC? Probably Not

I last built a gaming PC in 2009, to play Left 4 Dead in a clan I had then recently joined. It costs £1000 and lasted until I gave it to a friend near the end of 2014, before I left the UK, still running new games at least at 1080p60 on medium to high settings. It was fun, I always loved to sit at my desk, isolating myself in a digital realm and getting away from the real world, a feeling that console gaming on a sofa doesn’t quite achieve. Since I gave it away I haven’t had much desire to replace it.

Things have changed a lot in console gaming over the last decade. Starting with Xbox’s launch, and continuing through the seventh and now eighth generations of video game consoles, we’ve seen the gap between console and PC gaming close. Once upon a time, games on DOS were quite different to those on Nintendo’s consoles, which were again different to Sega’s. Not just in terms of graphics and sound; the style of gameplay itself was different. As we moved into the early days of 3D gaming in the mid-1990s, things didn’t change. Each manufacturer (including Sony once they joined in, and Sega until they stopped) had their own way of going about things that was reflected in the games released on their systems. Look at PlayStation or N64 for example. Two systems doing much the same thing at the same time, but if you saw a screenshot you’d likely immediately recognise the flavour of the system, and therefore know what system the still was from.

Roll on to today, and there is little to distinguish a game on any of the two major consoles, or Windows. Sure, there will forever be someone running comparisons of graphics across the three, and sure Windows will always win… but if you take this away, the games are the same. No scenes are cut to fit the game onto a disc, or levels reduced due to RAM limitations. The only tangible difference comes down to how important those graphics are to you, and your choice of controls.

This ignores console exclusive games, which may or may not be a selling point. They may influence your decision to choose one system over another, but they don’t fundamentally change the fact that the experience is similar throughout. I’m also discounting Nintendo consoles because they don’t quite fall under the remit of this article; Nintendo have been, and continue to be, on their own path basically since they joined the race.

In respect of the Xbox One, many of the games I play include cross-buy, meaning if you buy a game on Xbox One, it is also playable on Windows 10. This assumes you bought the digital license, and is not applicable to discs for whatever reason.

Ultimately my point is: I don’t need a gaming PC, with its high outlay, to enjoy the games I want to play. Sure they don’t look as nice, but the current consoles sure look great at 1080p, sitting 3 metres away from my TV, even before you consider Xbox One X and PS4 Pro. It’s far more comfortable to sit back on my sofa, controller in hand, with carefully optimised surround sound.

Since I ran a Left 4 Dead team I’ve suffered long-term effects of repetitive strain injury, making keyboard and mouse use difficult, but a controller remains comfortable. Sometimes it helps to turn of vibration, but that’s a small concession. I’ve become quite adept at playing the games I want with a controller, and game developers have at the same time become quite adept at satisfactorily using the controllers.

Thanks to my iPad and my Switch I can also enjoy a game whilst sitting on the sofa with my family – no need to isolate myself in a separate room any more.

My PC used to double as a workstation, using a Wacom tablet (sometimes just a mouse) to create art. When I discovered iPad Pro and Apple Pencil a little over a year ago, this role (that had in any case been perfectly filled in the interim by a Mac Mini) became redundant. GarageBand on my Mac Mini (and at a pinch on iPad) has become my choice of software when recording songs, and my USB interface works perfectly with both. Entertainment is handled by the iPad, with apps for Netflix, Youtube and Spotify keeping me going. I can mirror these apps to Apple TV while I work, or plug my iPad into any HDMI port via an adapter – useful on trips.

I’m struggling as I write this to come up with a single reason to purchase a gaming PC. It seems the only reason is improved graphics. And, if it means anything to you, the use of mouse and keyboard. And maybe a few games that aren’t available on consoles.

Anyway, there’s no point to this post. I just feel like writing. If, however, you feel like sharing your feelings – please do, either below, or find me at Twitter @BitlandGaming. Cheers.

PlayStation Classic – My Thoughts

“Just get a Raspberry Pi, Braaaaaaah.” No. This is not that kind of smug commentary, where I try to prove I know something you don’t, and that you’re stupid for that. But there are some alternatives to the PlayStation Classic, a mini version of the first PlayStation that comes with two replica controllers and 20 built-in games. Here I discuss my thoughts on the machine.

First of all, I feel I should say this is the first of the recent rash of mini consoles that I have had zero excitement for. NES, SNES, C64 all caught me in their hype bubble, but all three ultimately disappointed me. NES Mini was the best of the bunch, but I’m just not that interested in its library. SNES Mini has slowdown in most games I tried, which left me preferring OpenEmu on my Mac, and the C64 Mini… well let’s just say the games have aged, mostly terribly, and the mini has tarnished my fine memories of the system! But this repeated disappointment in reliving games from my past is not the main reason I have no wish to buy the PS Classic – that would be due to the selection of “classic” games being presented.

Sure, these things are subjective, but that list is… disappointing. Resident Evil Directors Cut, Metal Gear Solid and Final Fantasy VII are the only two that really stand out to me, and I have them already on my PS3 (having sold most of my PS discs some time ago). Others may have their eye on a few of the other games, but to me they’re nothing more than curios of a bygone age, where they should stay. Even an old favourite of mine, Syphon Filter, is a mess of a game by modern standards. I tried it recently and got tired of it quickly.

Licensing is clearly an issue for this, and similar units. Activision’s license to sell Tony Hawk games famously expired a couple of years ago (leading to the rushed, awful Tony Hawk’s 5, which can never be released again (with the game actually on the disc rather than downloaded, using the disc as proof of license), nor fixed, because they’re not allowed to sell it ever again. This rules out four fantastic games from the series that were released on PlayStation from appearing here. Undoubtedly other games and series are unavailable to Sony for similar reasons – particularly sports games that rely heavily on short-term licensing, or games with licensed music (remember when Grand Theft Auto San Andreas was updated, removing several songs from the soundtrack even for people who already owned the game. Gran Turismo is another obvious example, with cars and music licensed to appear in the original release.

Other games for which Sony hold a license (Crash Bandicoot and Spyro for example, for which games from both series are available on the PlayStation Store on PS3) are absent presumably for one reason – in an attempt to not interfere with sales of their “remastered” collections. Likewise Resident Evil 2, for which a remake is due in a couple of months. I don’t personally believe that this rings true. In fact, I find it likely that to have included at least the first of each series of Crash and Spyro would add tremendous value to PS Classic, whilst allowing people who haven’t played them to see what they’re all about – and possibly lead to more sales of the trilogy remasters.

The PlayStation was home to a great new breed of rhythm games – Parappa The Rapper, Vib Ribbon, Bust A Groove. Any of these would be welcome additions to the PS Classic, except perhaps Vib Ribbon, which relied heavily on its ability to build levels from your own CDs. There is, however, a bit of a problem. Due to latency issues introduced by modern LCD and similar televisions, the games are largely unplayable today! The few milliseconds of delay in a typical modern television’s processing are enough to through your timing off and lead to a failed song. Want proof? Try and play either Parappa or Patapon Remastered on your PS4 through HDMI. It doesn’t work.

So, there are (mostly flimsy, financially-led) reasons why the game selection is so weak, with many of the true classic of the system being absent. Why Sony decided not to, for example, include more of the Resident Evil or Final Fantasy games is beyond me. Tomb Raider, Soul Reaver, Tenchu, Silent Hill, Parasite Eve (available on the Japanese release!), Doom, Quake 2, Driver, any number of Street Fighter and RPG games are all conspicuous in their absence.

Which leads to a solution, one that certainly works for me, and may perhaps for you too. It’s a simple solution, and one that ultimately grants you exactly the same experience as the PlayStation in terms of using an official controller and a modern HDMI connection to your modern TV set, albeit with a customised list of games.

I simply went onto the PlayStation store and bought myself the games I wanted, which I then downloaded to my PS3 and my PS Vita. I can play the games on my TV when I fancy it, or on the go with the Vita. With PS3 I can, of course, use an official DualShock 3 controller (not too dissimilar to the PlayStation controller) and output with several scaling options at 1080p. Those games that aren’t available on the PlayStation Store, or for those of you who prefer a physical representation of your games library, are widely available to buy on disc – PS3 is compatible with PS discs, and will emulate a memory card to save your progress.

All in all this renders the PS Classic obsolete before it even launches. Which is a shame. If only Sony had put a little more thought and effort into the product, maybe I would have been more excited by it. As it is, it can go sit in a special, dark, damp place previously occupied solely by @Games Mega Drive replicas.

These are my thoughts on the PlayStation Classic. Perhaps you agree with me, perhaps not. Either way, look me up on Twitter to continue to chat @BitlandGaming!

Nintendo Switch Online (and others) – Thoughts

So the other day Nintendo dropped their Switch Online service. After 18 months of online play with the likes of Splatoon 2 and Mario Kart 8 DX, anyone wishing to continue to play these games over the internet must now subscribe to the online service. Here are my thoughts on the service as we’ve seen so far, and further on equivalent services from Nintendo’s rivals.

What you get:

Nintendo Switch – €19,99 per year for an individual, €34,99 for a family account allowing up to 8 members. A handful of online-capable games available, and a library of NES games with added online multiplayer functionality. Discounts on select eShop games are promised soon. Controversially, the online subscription also provides a cloud service for your save games – much like PlayStation Plus (Xbox One provides this for free as standard). The difference, and the reason for the controversy, is that Nintendo provide no local manner in which to back up your saves, so if you don’t pay you lose it all in the event of a broken or lost console.

Sony PlayStation 4 – €59,99 per year gets you online in any game that supports it, discounts on many games on the PlayStation Store. Included games every month include two PS4 and two PS3 titles, sometimes with crossplay which means you get up to 4 PS4 games and many of them also work on PS Vita. Lately they’ve been including PSVR games too. PS3 games will be phased out in the next few months.

Microsoft Xbox One – €59,99 per year. Much like PlayStation Plus, Xbox Gold unlocks full online play on all available games, discounts on select games in the Xbox Store, and included monthly games. Two for Xbox One, and two for Xbox 360. The 360 games always work on Xbox One thanks to backwards compatibility. The big standout is that Microsoft allow you to keep all the Xbox 360 games forever, even if you unsubscribe – so even ignoring the other benefits, for €60 you’re getting 24 games to keep. Nice.

Value for money:

On the surface, It seems Nintendo provides the best value, at one third of the cost, or much less if you sign up with 7 others for the family account. But when you look at what you get for that money, it starts to look pretty weak. Only a couple of games exist with online multiplayer (Splatoon 2 and Mario Kart 8 DX being the main two). For 18 months these have been playable with no additional costs – longer when you consider their Wii U versions.

PlayStation Plus and Xbox Gold may cost a good chunk more, but those consoles also provide considerably more online playable titles, and I would argue much better value in the included games – after all, so far the NES games included with Switch Online include Super Mario Bros 1 and 3 amongst a heap of games I could not care less about (Subjective I know), but anyway most of them are the same games you’ve already bought on various systems previously. “Oh but you can play them on the go”. Well yes, but they’re also available (for individual purchase – which they are not on Switch) on 3DS. Not to mention the ease with which you can emulate NES on various handheld systems. So that’s not enough to entice me. For balance, the games are very well emulated, and look great on the Switch’s lovely screen.

Microsoft are clear winners in the value stakes, for the Xbox 360 library you can build and keep.

Issues of storage:

Both PS4 and Xbox One have internal hard drives, upgradable, to store your game purchases. They also both require full installations of all disc-based games, so if you buy a lot of them you’re likely to need to upgrade quite quickly even if you opt for the larger 1 or 2TB options. Thankfully both consoles make this quite simple, with support for USB 3.0 hard drives – and both provide enough power to their USB ports to support a 2.5″ drive with no additional power.

Nintendo Switch has a paltry 32GB of internal flash memory, and support for Micro SD. I recently upgraded mine with a 256GB Micro SD, which cost €79 – the same as a 4TB (i.e. 16 times the capacity) USB hard drive that I use with my PS4. This simple fact makes the Switch a less viable platform for a downloaded game library, even with the games being generally a lot smaller. Perhaps this is why Nintendo have opted for only NES titles with its online service, which take up almost no space.

Where my money is:

For years I paid for Xbox Gold, from about 2004 to 2010, so I could play Rainbow Six 3 and Links 2004 with y mate mike. Back then there were no additional benefits to the service besides being able to access online servers.

Then I got a PlayStation 3 and Sony started to offer free games with the online service. Whilst I rarely played online, I did enjoy the included games, so I switched to PS Plus until very recently when I let it lapse. There came a point where I felt that the games they gave me had little value – I had by then purchased all the games I really wanted, and many of the extra games that they gave me were of little interest; disposable, short-term fun.

A few months ago I started paying for Xbox Gold, and recently found an online store selling a year for €40, so I jumped on it. I still don’t really play online much at all, so the main benefit comes with the included games which seem to be of a much higher quality than those offered by Sony. And the fact you keep the Xbox 360 games after it all is brilliant. And then I am able to occasionally play Forza online, which is nice.

Conclusion:

So for the time being, my online allegiance is to Microsoft. If I only had a PlayStation then PS Plus is also perfectly serviceable. Nintendo have a lot of work to do before their service provides any kind of value to the consumer. They need to stop relying on their ancient NES games to carry them.

The thing is, if Nintendo provided the games individually on their eShop is probably buy a couple of them. I just bought Sonic The Hedgehog for probably the 15th time. When the price is right it makes sense. But I can play Sonic now basically forever.

All three services provide a free trial period – 14 days on PlayStation or Xbox, 7 days on Switch, so you can have a go at any of them and see what you think.

I haven’t mentioned Steam here. I don’t think a fair comparison can be made, after all Steam is primarily a shopping platform with a front end to organise your purchase and an overlay to help with online play. It’s a great service, one I used to use an awful lot before my right hand gave up and made using a mouse impossible. Whilst online gaming on PC is (for the most part) free, it is also supported by private servers, for which some individual or organisation is paying. Besides, it’s not a closed platform as the consoles are.

Incidentally, those online PC games that do charge, such as World of Warcraft, cost annually more than any of the console services. For one game.