Smith: Cycling through the gaming headlines

Playstation Xbox Video Games An Xbox controlled. Photo courtesy of Glenn Carstens-Peters, via unsplash.com

It’s been far too long since I’ve taken an in-depth look at video game news, and there’s plenty to talk about.

Atari announces new video game console

In an industry where new video games and the consoles they run on are anticipated years before their actual release, Atari’s recent declaration that they’re reentering the console wars came out of nowhere.

Little is known about the Ataribox, other than the physical look of the console itself. It looks a lot like the Atari 2600 from back in 1977 (in a stylish way), but no specs or games have been released, other than a promise that the console will be dedicated to classic games and new games. Whatever that means.

For those who only remember the classic era of Atari from the late 70s and early 80s, this likely sounds like exciting news. Atari ruled the video game roost before the crash of 1983, capturing the hearts of teenagers and children who mostly abandoned the hobby after entering adulthood.

I’m up for anything that brings former gamers back into the fold.

Unfortunately, those of who have followed the video game industry for the past 30 years are a bit more skeptical. The Atari the world remembers was chopped up and sold years ago, surviving on life support as a game publishing label and popular T-shirt brand. The last time Atari made news was when they filed for bankruptcy a few years ago, this time surviving through mobile casino games.

At this point, all we can do is speculate about the nature of the Ataribox. Many wonder if Atari is in a financial position to support a game console. If so, how will they compete with the already entrenched brands of Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo?

I’m highly doubtful, but I wish Atari the best. More video games are never a bad thing. Unless….

Sony continues to degenerate consumer trust with shovelware and tone-deaf antics

Sony has been king of the video game world for the past four years, earning a healthy lead over Microsoft through numerous console exclusives for the PlayStation 4. Their consumer friendly attitude concerning used games vaulted Sony to the front of the pack when the PlayStation 4 was launched in 2013, and they haven’t looked back.

But as many kings before them, Sony has grown arrogant with power, and is degrading that consumer trust with stupid decisions. Just take a look at all the shovelware that’s appearing on the PSN store.

The urban dictionary defines shovelware as “software that is hastily made, without proper testing, and ‘shoveled’ down consumers throats in order to make some quick cash.” I couldn’t have put it better myself. Until four weeks ago, you could buy the atrocity known as “1000 Top Rated” on the PSN store — a game that consists of nothing more than sliding tiles designed to give players a ton of achievements in as short a time as possible.

Sony finally had the good sense to pull the game from its marketplace, but the overall lack of quality control has turned the PSN store in a mounting mess that could become as chaotic as the online Steam store for computers. I buy quite a few digital games in the $10 to $20 range, but when it’s impossible to differentiate the crap from the quality, I’m hesitant to spend any money.

Then there’s Sony’s sudden inability to play with others. The popular game “Rocket League” (which has you controlling remote control cars that play soccer) allows players from every other platform — including the Xbox One and PC — to play with and against each other.

But PlayStation 4 owners can only play with other PlayStation 4 owners. The same goes for “Minecraft.” As my favorite game critic Jim Sterling is fond of saying, the lack of functionality has made the PlayStation 4 versions of “Rocket League” and “Minecraft” far inferior.

Sony’s latest act of tone-deaf defiance concerns the company’s seemingly lack of interest in preserving classic games through backward compatibility. While the company is happy to charge you for old PlayStation 3 games through their streaming service (my rural Internet isn’t powerful enough to handle it), they balk at the free backward compatibility offered by the competing Xbox One.

That’s the way it goes in the video game industry. Nintendo lead the pack with the Wii a decade ago, but their follow-up console, the Wii U, was an under-powered disaster that few bought into.

Microsoft stood nearly as high with the Xbox 360, then squandered years of good will with one E3 press conference. They tried to sell the Xbox One as a multi-purpose entertainment box rather than a dedicated gaming console with oodles of exclusives, and the gaming public revolted.

It’s easy for gamers to feel a sense of brand loyalty to their favorite console, but even the biggest fanboys have their limits. In my experience, it’s never a good idea to put too much trust in corporations. They’ll only let you down.

Analyst predicts PlayStation 5 is only two years away

Though I don’t know him personally, Wedbush Securities analyst Michael Pachter seems like a pretty cool guy. He’s a gamer and a numbers guy, and his now-defunct YouTube show about video game financials was fascinating. He isn’t always right, but his industry analysis is always insightful.

So when Pachter recently predicted a PlayStation 5 will appear two years from now, it seemed like a pretty reasonable guess. What I wasn’t expecting him to say is that the new console will likely be a half-measure, much like the PlayStation 4 Pro.

The question is, how much of a half measure will it be? Since the PlayStation 4 Pro provides a graphics upgrade to the base PlayStation 4 without an exclusive library, I didn’t bother to get one. I’m not made of money, and I generally only buy a new console when it gives me access to games I can’t get anywhere else.

I’m assuming the PlayStation 5 will have an exclusive library. If it’s just another graphical upgrade for 4K TVs that doesn’t sport any games of its own, I’ll be taking a pass.

Casey Hudson rejoins BioWare game studio

Now this is a pleasant surprise. After a three year absence, Casey Hudson has resumed his 16-year stint as general manager of one of the most respected game studios in the industry. I’ve been a BioWare fanboy since playing “Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic” back in 2003, and I’ve devoured their long running series such as “Dragon Age” and “Mass Effect.”

It’s the sorry state of the once vaunted “Mass Effect” franchise that likely brought Hudson back to the company. After three excellent “Mass Effect” games (not everyone is a fan of the third one), BioWare churned out the very mediocre “Mass Effect: Andromeda” earlier this year.

The game was so unimpressive that you can now find it for half its original retail price, a few short months after its release.

A lot of gamers enjoyed “Mass Effect: Andromeda” more than I did, and I hear it really picks up around the 30 hour mark. I didn’t make it nearly that far, and since I pre-ordered it, I’m stuck with a game that I’ve invested less than 10 hours into.

I figured the “Mass Effect” series was dead, but Hudson rejoining the team may point toward a meaningful resurgence. If it does, I’ll definitely be renting before I buy. I can only be burned so many times.

Will Smith is a reporter for The Hawk Eye, a GateHouse Media Company in Burlington, Iowa. His column is printed each week in the Sunday edition of The Hawk Eye.