By Matt Birchler
Topic: game
Posts: 140

First Impressions of the Sony Dualsense Controller (without a PS5)

First Impressions of the Sony Dualsense Controller (without a PS5)

I was able to get my hands on one of the new PS5 controllers, the Dualsense controller, and I’ve hooked it up to my PC to play for a while. Here are my impressions.

Current Limitations

I do not have a PS5, so I’m using this with my PC to play games on Steam. There is no official driver available for this controller yet, so all you can do is pair it with your computer and manually map it’s buttons to the standard array of inputs.

This kinda sucks, so I would not recommend jumping in until those are available.

Steam lets me map my buttons, as do emulators, such as Dolphin, but my Game Pass and Epic Games Store games simply don’t know what to do with this thing. And even Steam games are not ideal, since games don’t know you’re using a PlayStation controller and don’t know to put up the names of the buttons to match PlayStation’s branding.

Basically, once there is a driver available, this will all get better and things should “just work” across the board, but that;s going to be a little bit. My fingers are crossed it happens around the same time the PS5 itself launches (November 12) but there’s no reason beyond hope to think that will definitely happen.

Also, you can pair this over Bluetooth woth Android, but iOS has no idea what it is. Since Apple supports the PS4 controller, one would expect that PS5 support is coming (hopefully sooner rather than later).

Hand Feel

“Mouth feel” may be all the rage, but hand feel is super important in a new game controller, and I’m quite happy with the Dualsense so far. It absolutely 100% feels better than the DualShock ever did. I love the Xbox One controller, the Switch Pro controller is great too, and this happily joins their ranks as perfectly delightful as well.

The buttons all feel good, and I continue to really love the D-pad PlayStation has had since the start.

I have not been able to use all the new features, namely the resistive triggers and haptic feedback features, so I’m not even getting the biggest features yet.

One ridiculous detail is in the texture on the back and sides of the controller. Instead of a random pattern for the grain, there are actually the classic PlayStation X, square, circle, and triangle icons. It doesn’t matter at all, and I would bet millions of owners will never notice this at all, but it’s still pretty cool to see.

Design

I really didn’t like the look of this thing when I first saw it online earlier this year, but it looks spectacular in person. The black and white look great, and I never thought I’d say this, but the light bar is stunning: the way it fades in and out around the touchpad are just…it’s just great.

It would be insane if it didn’t, but it’s nice to have a controller that charges over USB-C. This of course means that I have plenty of cables already that work with it, so I didn’t need to get any new cables. It does not come with a cable, so keep that in mind.

I also like that they continue to have a standard 3.5mm headphone jack on the controller, making headphone-gaming super simple.

Takeaway

This is more of a tease than anything else. I don’t have a PS5 to use this thing to its full potential, so there’s tons of stuff left to be experienced. I’m looking forward to the embargo dropping on those with early PS5s to see how all of this comes together. And with luck, I’ll have a PS5 before the end of the year too, and you can be sure I’ll be sharing more about it right here.

Xbox Game Pass Still Isn't Coming to iOS

Xbox Game Pass Still Isn't Coming to iOS

MacStories has a good roundup of the new rules, and this one stood out to me:

Under section 3.1.2(a), games offered via game streaming services must be downloadable from the App Store. Unless changes are made to the services, this precludes apps that would allow console games to be streamed to iPhones and iPads using services like Google’s Stadia or Microsoft’s xCloud, but it would not change the status of game subscription services like GameClub. Services should also be designed to avoid duplicate payment by subscribers and should not disadvantage non-subscribers.

Let's back up first.

In 2008, Apple made a bet that the future of software was local apps. The things people wanted to do one their phones were going to be written as native apps and downloaded to users' devices. Yes, lots of apps would have web components, but they would come more in the form of APIs than interfaces. The Instagram app would sync with a web-based API, but everything in the app would be presented using elements hosted locally in the app's code. If you flipped on airplane mode, then you would expect your apps to run like normal, but without the ability to access new data from the web (obviously).

To put it mildly, this worked well for Apple, and it worked for the computing world as a whole.

The first potential disruption came in the form of progressive web apps, or PWAs. These were a hybrid approach to software, where the app itself lived on and was distributed on the web via a web browser, but could be saved locally as an app as well, giving it the ability to run locally, even in airplane mode. When you got an internet connection again, your data would sync to the cloud and you might even get an update to the app itself. Apple supports PWAs, but not nearly as well as many would like. Of course, PWAs don't seem to be that popular in the first place, so it's not that big of a missed opportunity for Apple today.

Xbox Game Pass doesn't fit into either of these two categories. If allowed, it would consist of a "terminal" style app that basically just logged you into a web service and then that web service would display content to you. When you selected something, that game would run on a remote server and the video from that game would stream to your device over the internet. As I wrote last month, this is almost exactly what Netflix, Hulu, Disney+, HBO Max, and every other streaming video service does today. The only notable difference is that these services can let you download content and play it back locally, while Game Pass would not allow this.

What Game Pass Wants to Do

  1. Microsoft releases an app called Xbox Game Pass to the App Store.
  2. User downloads the app.
  3. User signs into their Xbox account in the app (or they sign up from inside the app).
  4. The app shows the user all the games currently available with their subscription.
  5. User taps on a game and they play that game in the app.
  6. User quits the current game and selects the next one they want to play in the Xbox Game Pass app.

What the App Store Rules Want Game Pass to Do

  1. Microsoft releases 100+ apps to the App Store, one for each game you can stream.
  2. User downloads the app for the game they want to play.
  3. User signs into their Xbox account in the app (or create one in the app).
  4. The app boots straight into the game for that app.
  5. User quits the current game.
  6. User goes to the App Store to download the next game they want to play and installs it.
  7. Repeat steps 2-6.

Why This is Impossible

There are a couple reasons I think that this puts Microsoft in an untennable position, and I don't think that's on accident.

The 100+ Apps

First things first, this makes is to that Microsoft needs to upload and maintain 100+ apps to the App Store on day one. These apps will be exactly the same, but they will have different icons, descriptions, screenshots, and other metadata, and the code would basically have a line something like:

loadGame("Halo");

And this line would change for each app they upload.

This is a bit ridiculous on its face, and I think exposes its silliness when you compare this to the movie/TV app market. If this standard was applied to video, Netflix would have to have an app for each series they run (maybe every episode, depending how strict Apple was about this). Obviously that would be insane, but this is what they're asking Microsoft to do.

Let's move past this point for now, as I'm sure some people will argue that games and video are different, but I think we're splitting hairs, and this is far from the only problem here.

How Does App Review Work?

Apple says they want to review each game, but how is that going to work, exactly?

The app will have basically no content. The content that they are requiring Microsoft to split up is 100% server-side, so would Apple review the game code that runs in the cloud? That is a whole new level of review and does not sound like a reasonable precident to set.

Would they actually play the game in full to see if it passes review? Again, what does this even mean? they're going to play an 80 hour RPG before approving it? Since they can't see the game code, how else would they conduct a proper review? "So sorry app review time is slower than before, our team is currently playing through Cyberpunk 2077 right now." 🙃

Or most likely, would they review the code for the shell of the app, not touch the game at all, and then make the app review completely redundant? Sure, this would prevent Microsoft from sneaking in something nasty into that shell, but wouldn't it be easier on everyone involved if they just had to do this for one app?

The Very Nature of Game Pass

Much like Netflix, Game Pass cycles games in and out of its library on a monthly basis. Every month new games are added and old ones are removed. Also like Netflix, there is some first party content that will be there forever, but most third party content will leave the service eventually.

Let's say Microsoft uploads an app for Jump Force, which is currently on Game Pass. Jump Force is scheduled to leave Game Pass in 4 days. What happens to the app that the user downlaoded? Obviously, it becomes a brick. There's not even a way to let the user pay for the game and keep playing it forever (as they can on Xbox or Windows) since the game physically can not run on iOS. These aren't iOS games that you need a subscription to play (like Apple Arcade) they are PC/console games that simply can not run locally.

If Microsoft was able to have one app that had all of Game Pass's games, then this would not be a big deal, and the app would work so long as the service existed.

What I'm getting at is that this model Apple would ask Microsoft to follow is untennable for all parties, and is the worst possible solution in terms of user experience.

It's bad for the user because they need to download a bunch of "apps", most of which have a timer running from their moment they're installed, counting down to when that app becomes a worthless bundle of bits. It's bad for Microsoft because they have to maintain hundreds of apps that are all basically the same thing, but have tons of overhead with App Store-specific metadata and app review that could cause major headaches. And finally, it's bad for Apple because they're forcing this bad experience on their users and developers, two parties they are striving to make happy.

This rule simply seems like it's trying to force an unusable business model on a category of services they don't want on their platform without actually saying out loud, "we don't want game streaming services on iPads and iPhones".

Where Do We Go From Here?

It seems clear to me that the best solution here is for Apple to let Microsoft do what they want to do and release a single app that lets users play all the games in the Game Pass streaming library. It is consistent with how other subscription streaming content services operate, it gives Microsoft a reasonable developer experience that is consistent across all the platforms they support, it gives users a great experience with a single icon on their home screen that gives them a world of entertainment, and it's good for Apple because coupled with their excellent support for Xbox and PlayStation controllers, would make iPads and iPhones the best way to play the next generation of games on the go.

This rule change is clearly not about allowing the best experience for all parties, and is aimed at blocking this service from existing on Apple's platforms in the first place.

I'm sure some will say this is Apple setting clear rules for how Microsoft can proceed with releasing Game Pass on iOS/iPadOS, but as I've argued above, I would suggest this is more like Apple stating plainly that there is no room for a service like Game Pass on Apple's top platforms.

Game Pass does not fit neatly into the "one app, one function" container that has been the norm for over a decade. I would argue that what it is offering is no different than what Netflix offers in terms of streaming entertainment, but obviously Apple does not agree. You can tell me all you want how "actually this makes sense for Apple's business" all you want, but as an iOS user and Xbox Game Pass subscriber, this makes iOS less appealing to me. I'm not switching to Android tomorrow or anything, but this is definitely a mark against iOS for me.

Flying Around the World, Recreating macOS Wallpapers

Flying Around the World, Recreating macOS Wallpapers

Above is my recreation of the macOS Catalina wallpaper taken in Microsoft Flight Simulator 2020.

And here's a few versions of the Big Sur wallpaper.

And finally, here's an attempt at the Yosemite wallpaper.

I think they all have their own special charm, but in partial to the Catalina one because it looks so damn realistic.

So how'd I get these? Well, as far as I can tell there isn't a centralized place where you can get the GPS coordinates for these places, so you kinda have to figure it out yourself. Thanks fully, that wasn't too hard for a couple these since they were on the coast at very specific places. It was just a matter of:

  1. Finding them in Apple Maps
  2. Taking off from the nearest airport
  3. Flying to the spot
  4. Going into “active pause” mode in the game
  5. Find the position and focal length of the shot in the wallpaper
  6. Shoot

Flight Simulator also gives you full control over the time of day and weather conditions, so I was able to get those pretty close as well.

The final step was taking them into Lightroom to do some edits to get them closer to the versions Apple shipped in macOS.

Flight Simulator is a pretty serious “make your own fun” game, and this was a lot of fun. Mojave and High Sierra are going to be a bit harder but I may give them a shot if I feel inspired again.

My Horizon Zero Dawn PC Performance Review

My Horizon Zero Dawn PC Performance Review

This is my firs try at this sort of thing, but I did a few minutes of commentary on how well Horizon Zero Dawn runs on PC. I specifically tested it on the NVIDIA RTX 2070 Super GPU, since that's all I've got.

I'm not Digital Foundry or anything, but I thought it was a little more fun than my commentary-free videos I've uploaded in the past.

Check it out below!

https://youtu.be/AdwSNflw4fk

The Striking Beauty of Death Stranding

The Striking Beauty of Death Stranding

I know this game isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but good lord, do I love the game’s aesthetic! Below are a few screenshots taken with the game’s photo mode. This game looked great on the PS4, but it’s drop-dead gorgeous at 4K60 🤤

Mario Kart in 4K is Glorious

Mario Kart in 4K is Glorious

So don't ask too many questions about how I got these screenshots 😉 but I was curious how Switch games would look like on this theoretical "Switch Pro" that has been rumored for a year or so now. One of the things I'd love to have on a "pro" Switch is the ability to run games at 4K (the current Switch tops out at 1080p).

As it happens, I had the ability to get some side-by-side comparisons of Mario Kart 8 running at 720p (Wii U resolution) and 4K. Setting aside the fact the Switch version runs at 1080p and has some visual imrpovements of its own, I wanted to see what the difference would be if we took the Wii U game and just increaded the resolution. As you can see (as long as you don't look at this on your phone) is that the difference is massive, and I really hope that we get the opportunity to run these games at 4K for real in the not-too-distant future. Nintendo's games scale up really well to high resolutions, so hopefully we get the chance to do just that.

My Review of The Last of Us Part 2 (SPOILERS AHEAD)

My Review of The Last of Us Part 2 (SPOILERS AHEAD)

🚨 It’s hard to talk about this game without getting into spoilers, so check out this tweet for my spoiler-free, tweet-length review. This won’t even make sense if you haven’t played the game, so really, bookmark this for later and come back when you’ve finished the game. 🚨

I finished The Last of Us Part 2 yesterday, and I’ve been letting it rattle around in my head for a bit before saying too much about it. You likely already know the deal with this game’s reception: basically the critics largely loved it, and it’s getting review-bombed on places like Metacritic. The actress who played Abby is also getting flooded with death threats for things her character did in the game.

As an…ahem…older gamer, this reminds me quite a bit of the Metal Gear Solid 2 drama that happened way back in 2001. That was another case of gamers getting attached to a grizzled middle-aged main character in an instant classic game, only to have the rug pulled out from under them in the sequel as they unexpectedly had to play as someone else. Kojima pulled off this trick really well in 2001, and I recall no one seeing it coming at the time. As you can guess, fans were outside themselves with rage over this bait-and-switch. In a wave of gamers-being-gamers wave of immaturity, fans were upset you didn’t play that game as Solid Snake, but instead you played as this “effeminate” bleached blonde haired character called Raiden. “I didn’t pay $50 to play as this guy!” was a common outcry then. The narrative structure and complexity was derided at the time as well.

As time has passed, Metal Gear Solid 2 has warmed on the fan base, and it’s generally considered a classic to this day. The character of Raiden is much more loved today and the story about online communication/life is more relevant today than it was 19 years ago when it was created.

Similarly, The Last of Us Part 2 pulls a similar trick, although it goes even further than MGS2. The marketing material made it pretty clear that this was Ellie’s game and that you would be playing from her perspective, so that wasn’t a surprise.

What was a surprise was the fact that not only was Joel not in the story for long, but that he was brutally murdered in the first hour of the game. So no, there’s no going back for a Part 3 game where we go back to Joel, there was no chance of Ellie getting in trouble and you shifting over to Joel to go save here, there was nothing, he was gone.

This is a bold move by Naughty Dog, and a credit to Sony for allowing one of the most iconic main characters from their line of exclusive games to be murdered. Joel is gone, and as a player, it was brutally difficult to watch that scene unfold.

But that’s not where the rug-pulling ends.

Much like MGS2 where you get a perspective shift to a player you didn’t know about before this game, halfway through this game, you switch perspectives to play as Abby, the woman who you watched murder Joel just hours before.

This is where the controversy with this game really gets some gas.

Some complain about having to play as the person who killed Joel. Other complain that you play as her for too long. Yet others will complain that they should have intercut between Abby and Ellie’s timelines throughout the game. If you felt that way, then okay, I can’t force the narrative structure to work for you, but I can tell you how it worked for me.

If I could sum it up concisely, I’d say the first half of this game, where youi play as Ellie, is what I was expecting this game to be. The stakes are higher (I didn’t expect Joel to die), but I got to be an older, more capable Ellie from the first game and I thoroughly enjoyed both the story (a woman’s quest for revenge turning her into a shell of a person) and the gameplay, which was everything the early gameplay reveals promised and more. The second half of the game shocked me in it’s audacity in attempting to reshape my perspective on not only the events in this game, but the events of the last title as well.

Snarky tweets will talk about how when you kill someone in combat someone will yell “they got Tommy!” when they find the body, as a cheap way to get you to realize that the people you’re killing in the game are real people. I think this added some realism to the game and I appreciated it, but this is not the part of the game that I thought made me change my views on the whole series.

The fact that you spend 8+ hours playing as the “enemy” is a shocking, brilliant move, and it’s the only way I think this narrative trick could have worked. By spending hours and hours as Abby, you have time to go from, “this is the bad guy, fuck her” to, “I kind of want to kill Ellie.” I don’t think you get that by intercutting 1 hour gameplay segments between the characters, nor do you get that by just seeing Ellie embrace the darkness from her own perspective.

The Abby segment leads up to a showdown with Ellie in the theater that she’s been using as a base all this time. The game keeps you in Abby’s shoes for the fight with Ellie, and I’d be lying if I said it was anything short of one of the weirdest experiences I’ve ever had playing a video game. I assumed I would confront Abby and get my revenge, but the game turned this around on me. I didn’t necessarily want to kill Ellie, but I definitely thought she needed to be stopped.

After this showdown, which results in both women leaving, with Abby warning, “don’t let me see you again,” we flash forward to a farm where Ellie and Dina have adopted a domestic life that appears peaceful and everything we hoped for these characters in the end. They have a baby, you herd some sheep, and when Tommy comes over with a new revenge proposition, Ellie and Dina send him packing. The screen fades to black here and I thought the game was over. It was a satisfying, happy ending and I was ready to watch the credits roll and feel pretty good about life.

Then the game keeps going.

Ellie is not past this, and she can’t resist getting the revenge she failed to get a few years ago. She throws her entire life away to get the justice she has been obsessing about ever since Joel’s untimely demise. Of all the horrible moments in the game, and there are no shortage of these, the one that hit me hardest was when Ellie told Dina “that’s your choice,” whether she waits for Ellie or leaves her forever as Ellie goes on this revenge journey again. I’m sure people think this decision is unrealistic, and clearly Ellie should stay where she is, but people are not purely logical beings and they make self-destructive decisions every single day.

The final hour or two of the game has you play as Abby and then Ellie again. The tone is different now, and this whole final segment is seeped in a melancholy not present in the rest of the game. The rest of the game shows the horrors of this world and makes you wince at the terrible things people do to survive, but the final hours have a sadness of inevitability to them that I find hard to explain. I would say I had fun during much of this game, even if it was a different sort of fun that I’d get from something like a Doom or Halo game, but this final segment wasn’t fun by any means.

The long story short is that Ellie and Abby fight one more time, and this time you’re doing it from Ellie’s perspective. At this point, I think the game misses an opportunity to embrace the interactive medium that it is. Abby doesn’t want to fight, but Ellie forces her to do so. But I, the player, also didn’t want to fight, and yet the game makes me have a fist fight with Abby. I wish that I had the option to not fight Abby if I didn’t want to. I wish that if we were going to fight, the game played from Abby’s perspective so I was also controlling the player who was in a more relatable mental state for me. There was even a moment in the fight were Abby is on her knees in the water and wants me to stop…I wanted to stop too, but I had to hit the square button to hit her again. This was uncomfortable, and while I get what the story was going for here, but considering that I don’t kill Abby anyway, I wish I had more autonomy over how that scene played out.

But then that fight ends and Abby and Ellie once again go off in their own directions, and the lonely walk back through Ellie and Dina’s previously shared home is one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do as a gamer. The loss I felt was immense and even through I knew they were gone, a part of me hoped that Ellie would turn a corner and Dina would be there.

Ellie ends this story alone and unfulfilled. She didn’t get the revenge she wanted so badly. She lost the people she loved along the way, and now she has nothing.

This was a hard ending.

I’m often a fan of stories not taking the easy way out, not giving you the ending you want and instead giving you an ending that makes you uncomfortable, so maybe I was predisposed to like this, but I think that this game will stay with me forever because of how hard it hit me.

I know The Last of Us Part 2 won’t please everyone: people don’t like Abby, they don’t like Joel dying, they don’t like the gay relationship at the center of this story, they don’t like the trans character, they don’t like the violence… For me, this game was hard to play at times, but also had some of the most satisfying combat encounters I’ve played recently and was built on a story and storytelling structure that made to change how I felt about everything in this series. I feel like I’ve been able to say this about so many Sony exclusives in the past couple years, but this game is an absolute achievement.

Horizon Forbidden West Trailer in 4K

Horizon Forbidden West Trailer in 4K

I feel like the PS5 announcement event failed to do the games they showed justice in terms of just how good they looked. Don’t get me wrong, the games lineup was impressive, but the low bitrate of the video did a good job of hiding the clarity of what was on display.

A good example of this is Horizon Forbidden West, which just looks stunning in 4K. I downloaded a 4K version of that trailer and it was night and day compared to what was in the stream, so I really recommend checking that out.

Download the 4K version here (400MB .mkv) or watch it on YouTube.

Psst, I downloaded most of the trailers in 4K, so if you’d like to see another one and YouTube ain’t cutting it, hit me up and I’ll send you a link.