Sony has finally stopped fighting the future: A beta for cross-platform play, including support for Fortnite, launches today.
“The first step will be an open beta beginning today for Fortnite that will allow for cross platform gameplay, progression and commerce across PlayStation 4, Android, iOS, Nintendo Switch, Xbox One, Microsoft Windows, and Mac operating systems,” PlayStation president and global CEO John Kodera wrote on the PlayStation Blog. “We see the beta as an opportunity to conduct thorough testing that ensures cross-platform play is best on PlayStation, while being mindful about the user experience from both a technical and social perspective.”
This is industry shaking news. With this breakthrough, cross-platform play will become a new norm.
Not to belabor the “console wars”, but I suspect this will encourage deeper investment in first-party exclusives (Nintendo’s game) leading to more studio acquisitions (Microsoft’s new game), as well as bigger deals for third-party exclusives (Sony’s game, traditionally).
That’s right, if you have played the game on PlayStation 4—even just once—that’s enough to have got your account locked to that system. It goes the other way too; if you link your Epic account on Switch, you’re locked out on the PlayStation 4.
This is maddening, but it comes as no surprise. To Sony’s credit, cross-network/crossplay is fairly new to the console world. That said, as I noted in my piece Sold on Cross-Network Play, “this is not a technical limitation. It is political.” The fact that Fortnight crossplay is supported across Switch, iOS, Android, Xbox One, macOS, and PC tells you as much.
Sony claims their reluctance of opening cross-network play is out of protection of their community. I think that is a fair stance, but is the Sony community any less toxic than others? I think the real fear is losing an amount of ability to lock in players to PlayStation 4. It’s the same case made for exclusive games and content; the latter I vehemently oppose.
It’s also something that Sony simply isn’t able to offer, given the complexity of the PlayStation 3 hardware and consequent difficulty of emulating its software. And to be clear, Sony doesn’t really need to do it — the PS4 library is more than strong enough to make the console worth buying. If I only owned an Xbox and had the choice of being able to play the likes of Nier Automata, Uncharted, and Horizon Zero Dawn instead of a bunch of games from the last decade, I’d take it. It’s the paucity of Xbox One-exclusive content that is forcing Microsoft to find other ways to get people to use the platform.
That’s actually fine with me. I like that my Xbox One S is now a meaningfully different console to my PS4 Pro, with different use cases and functionality. It’s the box I go to for 4K Blu-rays, Forza Horizon 3 in HDR, or Ninja Gaiden Black with a usable controller. It’s the box I switch on to browse through when I’m not sure what I feel like doing, or when I’d rather play Cuphead on the couch than at my desk.
As I said, I think Microsoft has turned a story-telling corner.
Later this month, we’ll release two batches of Original Xbox games – the first on April 17 and the second on April 26. All of these Original Xbox games will take advantage of the power of Xbox One with up to 4X the pixel count on Xbox One and Xbox One S, and up to 16X the pixel count on Xbox One X. See below for the full list of titles that will be available later this month, and don’t forget to visit https://majornelson.com/blog/xbox-one-backward-compatibility/ for the full list of backward compatible titles available on Xbox One.
This is an impressive list of titles.
Microsoft’s continued focus on backward compatibility is a smart move. It certainly won’t be enough to sell the tens of millions of units necessary to catch up to PlayStation 4’s sales figures, but in conjunction with increasing cross-network compatibility and the impressive power in the Xbox One X (vs. the PS4 Pro), I think Microsoft has turned a story-telling corner.
That said, for the same reasons I think backwards compatibility is a winning strategy for Xbox One, I think the Nintendo Switch will hold the lead on the conversation for a long while. After only 1 year on store shelves, the Switch’s sales trajectory (14 million units) will likely surpass Xbox One’s total 25-30 million units in 2018. PlayStation 4 has a much greater lead at 76.5 million units sold over 4.5 years. However, 14 million units in one year is without Nintendo breaking the seal on their back-catalog. And unless Microsoft or Sony glom on to exclusive licenses for third-party back-catalog — they won’t — there’s no telling who else may hop aboard the Switch train. (Come on, Final Fantasy X and Kingdom Hearts!)
Epic believes that the same process is starting to happen in markets like the US and Europe, thanks in no small part to refinements and improvements made to the Unreal Engine. During State of Unreal, Studio Wildcard’s co-founders Doug Kennedy and Jesse Rapczak came onstage to talk about Ark: Survival Evolved on mobile, and announced that it was being ported for Nintendo Switch. Sweeney also mentioned the mobile version of PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds, which was first announced in November last year.
Another example is, of course, Epic’s own Fortnite, which Sweeney believes is “unique” even within the context of the larger trend; principally because the work Epic has done to make it possible will benefit anyone that uses the Unreal Engine.
“So that they can do the same thing,” Sweeney adds. “And that is build one unified game that runs on all platforms, that is the same experience everywhere, and is a social experience that you can play with friends across all of the different platforms.
“What we have is this one engine that’s supporting AAA production values and game sizes and content bases that runs everywhere. This is going to be a great setup for the games industry, because it means that now you don’t have a divide between casual mobile games and high-end PC and console games.”
For Epic, this all makes complete sense and will give Unreal Engine a massive leg up as a development tool.
I wrote about the need for cross-network play in my piece Sold on Cross-Network Play. Much of the piece — albeit not transparently — stemmed from my frustration of having to hook up my Xbox One to play Overwatch with my friends. It was extremely encouraging to learn that players of Minecraft and Rocket League would be able to share experiences between Switch, Xbox One, and Steam.
Sony claims that their reluctance of opening cross-network play is out of protection of their community. I think that is a fair stance, but is the Sony community any less toxic than others? I think the real fear is losing an amount of ability to lock in players to PlayStation 4. It’s the same case made for exclusive games and content, the latter I vehemently oppose.
Maybe it’s just the era I grew up in, but I believe in exclusive first-party experiences. Beyond the console wars which were somewhat steeped in technology battles as much as publishing and political ones, there is something to be said for the marriage of first-party hardware and software. Nintendo and Apple are prime examples this, creating unique and often stellar experiences by leveraging both sides of the stack.
Sony can hold their own when it comes to exclusives. It’s time to open the network.
During the Nintendo Spotlight: E3 2017, cult favorite Rocket League was announced for the Switch. The announcement included the bullet point “Cross-Network play”, officially detailed on RocketLeague.com, emphasis my own:
Rocket League will also support all of Nintendo Switch’s play modes, including TV Mode (docked), Tabletop Mode, Handheld Mode, and both Online and Local Multiplayer. Online Multiplayer supports up to eight players, and Cross-Network play will be supported as well, allowing Switch players to hit the field with players on Steam and Xbox One.
The idea that I can play the exact same game with a friend on a different console should not be novel. It is a future I’ve been hoping for, and honestly, a no brainer from a consumer’s perspective.
For non-exclusives, I don’t want to have think about shutting out some of my friends based on a console decision. A handful of my friends prefer playing on Xbox One. Another handful prefer playing on PlayStation 4. I’m caught in the middle and certainly don’t want to purchase the game twice. (Nor should I be expected to own both consoles!)
Without the knowledge of different online communities, buying a game as a gift can be a tremulous experience for family and friends. Confusion exists for the non-gaming community. There are horror stories of purchasing Wii U games for Wii owners. Hell, there was confusion between NES and SNES games back in the ’90s. I would argue that purchasing a game for the correct console, but being locked out of playing with friends simply because they own a different console sounds like lunacy to those without gaming knowledge.
It’s very awesome that [Rocket League] has Cross-Network play. You’ll be able to play against players on other platforms. This is just PC and Xbox right now, which is the same for Minecraft. With the new Minecraft, you will sign in with an Xbox Live account to play on the Switch. So this is something it seems like a bunch of different game companies are getting together with one notable absent platform which is PlayStation.
“It’s literally something we could do with a push of a button, metaphorically,” Dunham told Polygon. “In reality it’s a web page with a checkbox on it. All we have to do is check that box and it would be up and running in less than an hour all over the world. That’s all we need to do.”
As an owner of all three consoles, the gesture of Cross-Network play between Xbox One and Switch — even between two games, Rocket League and Minecraft — is enough to push me over the edge of purchasing and playing third-party titles available for both Xbox One and PlayStation 4 on Xbox One.
Cross-Network play is the future for third-party titles and I have faith Sony will follow suit. Until then, whenever I’m debating which “HD twin” to play third-party multiplayer experiences on, Xbox One gets my money, simply on the potential that their willingness will bring more shared Cross-Network play experiences. (Come on, Overwatch!)
What does it take to be moved— deeply and profoundly moved? Stories of grandeur can impress ideas of excellence and glory. Stories of adventure can make us yearn for thill and mystery. Stories of family can reflect the importance of closeness and bonding.
Real life events certainly have the power to move. Novels tackled this ages ago. Music has transformed the world around us for eons. Film figured it out approximately 100 years ago. And within the past 20 years, video games have begun tugging at heartstrings, imbuing wonder, and leaving players in awe.
Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End, the latest and possibly last chapter of suave treasure-hunting protagonist Nathan Drake’s adventures, is certainly not the first video game to entertain the idea that some titles in the medium are closer to film than they are to chess. There have been countless titles that have made the case that the narrative in today’s video games outshines most summer blockbusters— BioShock (2007), Final Fantasy VII (1997), The Last of Us (2013), and Mass Effect (2007-2012) to name a few. As early as 1995, in an abrupt turn of events, players watched the heroic and noble Mega Man turn against Asimov’s first law during the finale of Mega Man 7, holding his Mega Buster up to a surrendering Dr. Wily, exclaiming, “I am more than a robot!! Die Wily!!” While not the most striking piece of dialog, it was a profound moment for a video game at the time.
The Uncharted franchise’s namesake is in big action during gameplay. Gigantic and tightly choreographed sequences unfold while the player is still in control. To this day, it’s something that feels inconceivable to players who grew up with Super Mario Bros. Over the course of four games within the franchise, developer Naughty Dog doubled-down on the technically awe-inspiring moments with each title; be it scaling train cars that are dangling off the side of a mountain (Uncharted 2) or fist-fighting in a battered and rapidly descending cargo plane (Uncharted 3). Story beats and character development didn’t quite take a backseat, but they were never quite at the forefront of the games. By the third entry, Naughty Dog pushed the predefined story boundaries, but was never able to outshine the action.
After Uncharted 3, Naughty Dog stepped away from the franchise, putting it’s effort into a brand new story. The Last of Us delivered what is arguably the most affecting story from a AAA title yet. A survival story of two individuals, the grizzled Joel, who’s young daughter was killed during confused military frenzy amongst a virus-outbreak, and Ellie, a young girl with the only known immunity to the virus. Over the course of the game, the two strangers argue, protect, bond, and fight together, building a relationship unseen in video games prior.
The lessons learned by Naughty Dog and the development of The Last of Us are clear as day in Uncharted 4. Never has the Uncharted franchise felt so human and connecting. While Uncharted 3 swung for the fences, it never quite delivered. But with every turn of a corner, every new setting, every chapter, Uncharted 4’s story beats like a racing heart. Be it the relationship between Nathan and his brother Sam, Nathan and his wife Elena, Sam and veteran treasure hunter and father-figure Sully, or even the tales of Captain Avery and the lost pirate city Libertalia being explored through the game. Every one of these stories delivers and ultimately delivers a whole greater than its parts.
Nathan’s struggle between leaving a life of adventure and exploration for a life of normalcy and marriage is remarkably easy to connect with. The unknown and freedom of one’s past challenged by stability and relationships is something most struggle with. To add, the power of reigniting a relationship with a plundering brother once thought dead adds a significant amount of weight to Nathan’s difficult decisions and ultimately mistakes. Uncharted 4 offers a surprisingly complicated web of relationships that keep the player hungry to find out what happens next. And unlike most lengthy video games, there is a beautiful simplicity to the story that is easy to come back to weeks after setting the controller down.
But what of a video game’s story if the atmosphere isn’t correct. Surely the benefit of experience a story in the medium of a video game must include visuals and music and mechanics. Suffice to say the visuals are outstanding, possibly the best a console has produced to date.
Buying into the world of Uncharted 4 takes little effort at all. Its outstanding graphical fidelity, animation, and motion-capture performance deliver convincing characters and settings. Nathan Drake is as real as any Hollywood hero. And shocking more convincing as a fully CG character than the real actors strewn about the Warcraft movie.
Not to digress into a critique of the Warcraft film, but it’s worth mentioning that Uncharted 4‘s visuals and performance are a great example of the power of strong narrative without the presence of flesh-and-bone. To put it succinctly, the game is captivating.
(While we’re on the topic and to give credit where credit is due, the photorealistic Orcs backed by stellar performances. Like Avatar before it, there are moments that are dumbfounding when one realizes what is unfolding onscreen is fake. Just look at Orgrim!)
It’s not to say that the life given to Nathan Drake by the folks at Naughty Dogs and the performance from Nolan North weren’t incredible in past entries, but there is something truly magically about how Nathan emotes and interacts in Uncharted 4 that makes him believable.
Like the story, the mechanics and fluidity of the game have slowly evolved with each iteration. While the first Uncharted title felt much like a demo of things to come, the level of polish given to the player’s controls during extraordinarily big moments feels just as amazing as it did in Uncharted 2. That said, the overuse of sliding down gravelly paths and using Nate’s new grappling hook felted a bit tired halfway through the game. The repetition of these interactions has a tendency to make story feel slower than it should at time and almost like the player hasn’t progressed much. Slow motion via repetition. There are even moments when Nathan pokes fun at having to slide or grapple again and again.
But if the mechanics are the worst part, and they certainly are not even mildly bad, what of the music? The three previous entries found composer Greg Edmonson at the helm, defining Uncharted‘s iconic and booming theme. Edmonson’s work gave a lift to the sense of adventure and thrill. But like the story, the time Naughty Dog took away from the franchise seemed to open the possibility for new talent and new perspectives. And for a story so strong and rife with conflict, the timbre had to change.
In comes Henry Jackman, composer most recognized by his work on Captain Americas The Winter Soldier and Civil War, X-Men: First Class, and Disney’s Wreck-It Ralph and Big Hero 6. The breadth of Jackman’s work shines in Uncharted 4, adding dark and somber themes to an otherwise epic adventure, namely the heartbreaking “A Normal Life” theme that is sprinkled throughout interactions between Nathan and Elena, displayed most effectively during Chapter 17: For Better or Worse. It’s enough to bring you to your knees.
There isn’t enough that can be said about the impact of the Uncharted franchise. It reimagined what it means to interactive with a digital experience. It’s captivating performances and writing gave life to characters typically seen as avatars. The franchise is a masterclass in the possibilities and power of video games. Most of all, it showed the importance of not rest on your laurels and how care and patience can evolve greatness into something truly special. If this really is the end of the Uncharted franchise, I’m sad to see it go. But better to burn out than to fade away. And what better to burn out on a note that genuinely moves technology, narrative, and players.
Thanks for one hell of a ride, Nate and the Naughty Dog team.
The screen at the top of this story doesn’t look like much. It’s a simple interface that allows you to swap any one button on the Dual Shock 4 for any other button. It’s a screen that makes gaming a much better place.
“Console wide button remapping is a huge deal for physically impaired gamers. One of the most commonly requested accessibility adaptation AbleGamers receives is for custom controller’s that move buttons to more comfortable positions,” Steve Spohn, COO of the AbleGamers charity; told Polygon.
“If you have limited movement in one arm, only one functioning hand, or even limited digit movement, button positioning is everything. And even more so if you have a neuromuscular disease such as muscular dystrophy where you fatigue more easily depending on what buttons you need to press.”
The push for full customization in button mapping has been going on for years, and some companies are better than others when it comes to offering the feature. What Sony has done is make the conversation obsolete by offering the option at the console level. This is a huge deal for many gamers.
According to data provided to Re/code, an April Nielsen study found that 31 percent of PS4 owners did not own Sony’s previous console, the PlayStation 3, but did own an Xbox 360 or Wii. Seventeen percent did not own any last-generation console.
The people surveyed were Americans, age 7 to 54, and were a subset of a total of 1,200 “active gamers” surveyed by Nielsen between February and April.
However, there’s one big caveat to the survey, which is that it asked only what consumers currently owned at the time of the survey, not what they had owned in the past. So, people who sold their PlayStation 3 in order to buy a PlayStation 4 would’ve been marked down as non-PS3 owners.
Assuming that most people didn’t do that, though, the numbers underscore why launching at a $100 lower price point than the rival Xbox One was so beneficial for Sony.
These numbers are much bigger than I would have thought. I knew the PS4 was out pacing both the Xbox One and (not surprisingly) the Wii U, but 17% adding consoles to their homes is astounding. Sure, they may have had PS2s, Xboxes, and Gamecubes, but 17% after the longest generation cycle, I assume it’s safe to say these are new console owners… if we are assuming of course.
Graphically, the new treatment is most impressive with Journey, but maybe that’s because I only played through a brief portion of Swan’s black-and-white intro sequence. Journey was a looker on PS3; it’s somehow even more beautiful on PlayStation 4. The lighting effects, the sand, and the way your character’s robes move and sway make for an aesthetically impressive experience. Journey truly is an incredible, emotional game, and it seems that it’s set to remain so on next-gen hardware. I’m not so sure I actually want to play it again on PS4, but that’s because I promised myself I’d only play it once through on PS3. The game resonated with me so much that I’m afraid seeing it all again would ruin that experience.