The Future of Dreams on the PS5

PS5 is ‘an obvious progression’ for Dreams, says creative director | VGC by Tom Ivan via IGN

You know, [Dreams] it’s a platform, so ideally in the future we’ll migrate to whatever is relevant. That’s probably about as much as I can say without getting smacked by someone.

– Mark Healey, Media Molecule co-founder in an interview with VGC

Perhaps migrate it as an engine for developers to use? Allow licensing so devs can sell their games made with Dreams?

I would actually hope that it extends the life of the PS4 to be honest with you, then maybe when other companies start making games for it, the community will carry on making games for it, but if it’s as successful as we hope it is then it’s an obvious progression.

Other companies? Making games in/with Dreams? I imagine they’d like to make money too. There sure is a lot of buzz around Dreams now that it has been released worldwide. I think the future is bright for that game and its engine.

PS5 Price Appears to be in Flux

Sony Is Struggling With PlayStation 5 Price Due to Costly Parts – Bloomberg by Takashi Mochizuki

On February 13, Bloomberg ran the article linked above. It discussed Sony’s possible internal PS5 pricing strategy, which is set to launch this Holiday. The thirst for next gen console news is intense and this certainly satisfied some fans’ thirst. I wanted to look at a few choice quotes from the article and share my thoughts: Consider it my contribution to the well.

With the PS5, the company is taking a wait-and-see approach…

This is interesting to hear from the company that is on the top and has been for nearly seven years. I have to imagine that manufacturing, PR, advertising, and more has to be locked in a decent ways out from the launch and reveal itself. To hear that Sony is waiting to see what their competitor does strikes me as oddly, and perhaps wisely, reactive.

The company’s biggest headache is ensuring a reliable supply of DRAM and NAND flash memory, with both in high demand as smartphone makers gear up for fifth-generation devices…

This is not a manufacturing twist I would have though of. Phones are becoming insane; easily settling into a $1,000+ price point. RAM is essential for these devices to do everything they do, especially when folding displays get involved. It never occurred to me that game consoles, phones, and PCs all got their RAM from the same pool. It makes total sense. Speaking of that pool…

Sony has already canceled some previously planned features for a new mirrorless camera due this year owing to the constrained DRAM supply…

Sony may be robbing Peter to pay Paul here. Sony seems to know what keeps them in the black.

…Sony opted to lavish more on making sure heat dissipation from the powerful chips housed inside the console isn’t an issue.

All this says to me is that both the PS5 and the Series X are going to be a couple of powerhouses. No one wants a “red ring” situation on their hands.

Many of the games launched for the PlayStation 5 will also be available to play on the predecessor machine, so revenue from software and related network services is expected to keep the business performance intact.

This could mean a couple of things. My initial thought was that some late generation PS4 exclusives would also have some sort of PS5 version. Ghost of Tsushima was my first idea since it has a Summer 2020 release window. That idea doesn’t entirely hold water though since the PS5 is backward compatible, at least with the PS4. Could Sony sell PS5 versions of their PS4 games? Sure! I don’t think that would garner the good will of the people though. Maybe it’ll work though; Nintendo has done that at least twice with the Zelda franchise.

The back half of that previous quote reminds me of the PS4 launch time. Bloomberg reports that the PS5 is currently costing Sony $450~ to manufacture, which means Sony would have to sell it above that price to make a profit. The question on people’s minds is whether or not Sony would sell the PS5 at a loss. They did with the PS4. If the PS5 really costs $450 to make, Sony may sell it for $400 and bank on PS+ and games sales to make up the difference. It certainly is an option and lends itself to the wait-and-see strategy.

For now, all is quiet on the official front for the next gen consoles. Microsoft is expected to make their big splash at E3 2020. Is early June too late for Sony to make any drastic changes to their pricing plans? I guess we will all have to wait and see.

Uncharted 3’s Chateau and the Art of Escalation

Since I bought my new TV, I’ve been amped for Naughty Dog’s PS4 swan song The Last Of Us Part II. I replayed The Last Of Us last year, but wanted to scratch that Naughty Dog itch before Part II this May. Thankfully, I haven’t played the main Uncharted games since 2016. I only played Lost Legacy when it released in 2017. To top it all off, I’ve never seen what Naughty Dog has been capable of in 4K HDR. Now seemed like the perfect time to replay one of my favorite series.

I’ve always had the opinion that the Chateau in Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception is the best set piece in the entire series. Over the train, over the cruise ship, over the many caravans, I have always placed the Chateau on top. Having just played it again for the fourth or fifth time, I thought I’d break down why I believe that.

The Chateau perfectly captures the entirety of the Uncharted experience. From narrative design with the classic relationship dynamics, unnatural twists, and grand spectacle to the core pillars of gameplay; puzzle solving, combat arenas, and platforming. It is Uncharted distilled down to 90 or so minutes. And due to this distillation, the entire set paced marvelously: elevating it above the rest of what the series offers.

I want to go through the entire set piece and chart out why I believe the Chateau is the best Uncharted has to offer.

The chapters kick off with Nate and Sully arriving in a jungle in the middle of France. There’s no threat, just navigating the space to find a way to the chateau in the distance. This setting allows Nate and Sully reminisce and have their signature banter. Coming off of Uncharted 2, this dialogue and time was sorely missed. Uncharted 3 is a Nate and Sully journey from the get go and the beginning of this level allows for fans to soak in their storied history. It’s a real treat.

Once you arrive at the manor itself, the platforming and puzzle solving begin. Climb your way inside and the first platforming puzzle presents itself. A straight forward affair, you use a pair of chandeliers to reach an upper platform that allows you to open a door to progress.

Beyond this door is more Nate and Sully quality time while quietly exploring the interior of the overgrown house. Naughty Dog shows off their visual design chops as you navigate this dilapidated home. You’ll eventually arrive in a room with a fireplace and four sets of armor.

This is the first “notebook” puzzle. Using Nate/T.E. Lawrence’s notebook, you’ll rotate suits of armor to reveal a secret passage behind a fireplace. The notebook and platforming puzzles, so far, get players into the head space of Uncharted’s frameworks. These ancient places are navigational puzzle boxes to explore and solve.

On the other side of the secret passage, Nate is separated from Sully and falls down into an underground ravine area. The environmental design drapes the cave walls in sticky cobwebs. The mood turns eery. When squeezing through a gap, a few large spiders descend on Drake, but are quickly removed when he stumbles into a pool of water. The rest of this ravine involves navigating the water, flushing the thought of spiders into the back of your mind. Soon enough you find a wall to climb up toward the light. At the top, you emerge into the first combat arena of the level.

Effortlessly led straight into danger, the tension of the level tightens. The villain has somehow tracked Nate and their edge is lost. But, Nate’s enemies are not aware you are right beneath them inside the well. As the player, this puts you in an esoteric position giving you a combative edge. While nearly every combat scenario in Uncharted games up to this point results in open-fire, the option to silently eliminate enemies at the start allows you both the satisfaction of having knowledge the enemy does not and easing into the new difficulty.

After clearing out the area by the well, you are led to a brief tutorial with grenades. After a couple of well instructed explosions, you emerge into a courtyard where Sully is pinned down. With another quick shoot out over and behind you, the pace shifts back toward the puzzle headspace. This stretch of combat has elevated the stakes in both the narrative and the gameplay. The threat of Marlowe’s men is looming like the electrical charge in the air before a storm. The distant clap of thunder to remind you of the impending storm takes the shape of a rotten corpse belonging to one of Talbot’s men; decaying far too quickly for someone who just arrived. The shift back to puzzles gives you time to breath, keep your tension in check, and ponder your narrative situation.

Nate and Sully soon find a small room with Sabean script laid out on the floor. You’ll flip open Nate’s all-knowing notebook and use the pattern inside to determine the order of tiles you need to walk across. I like this puzzle because it warms you up for what lies ahead. It takes your headspace completely out of combat and gives it all back to puzzle solving.

Yet another secret passage reveals itself, this time to a laboratory where alchemy was practice by the occult’s number one fan, John Dee. The underlying pulse of the unnatural speeds up when you slide the altar table/work surface to reveal a shaft down to the family crypt. This unnatural element had always been a part of Uncharted up to this point and Naughty Dog dropping these breadcrumbs throughout the Chateau feeds that narrative appetite. Your imagination starts to run with the possibilities of what is to come.

Inside the crypt is the most intricate puzzle for the level. Combining elements of the previous puzzles, you have to figure out the placement of four animal crests on a checkerboard of Sabean script by manipulating the light around reflective panels on the floor. I think this puzzle is one of the series’ stronger ones due to how it weaves pattern solving, “block” sliding, the notebook, and manipulating the environment to come up with the solution. It’s not a head scratcher—Uncharted is not about stumping its players—but it is fun to solve. It also brings the puzzles of the Chateau to a satisfying peak, brining this element of Uncharted to a close.

Past the crypt puzzle, Drake and Sully find what they came for. In a very “Last Crusade” like moment, a knight of old guards the key to an ancient city, but only half of it. Upon emerging from the hidden burial location, big bad henchman #1, Talbot, arrives and snatches the all-important amulet. That’s when the spiders return in full force.

Talbot locks the duo in the crypt with the rapidly expanding hoard of spiders. Naughty Dog ushers you into one of their signature rear-facing chases. The threat racing behind, you run toward the screen, unsure of where you are going and only knowing where you’ve been. A small touch in the chase is when Sully trips ahead of you and Nate will stop to pick him up. The importance of their relationship is reaffirmed despite there being this wave of deadly spiders that escalates the excitement and tension to new heights.

The game offers a brief reprieve after the chase for Nate, Sully, and yourself. Around the corner, the grand finale awaits.

From your vantage point on the second floor, you can see Talbot’s men below pouring gasoline all over the premises. The stakes (and player thrill) spike back up immediately. A shootout begins right away, but it cannot stop a fire from being ignited. The Chateau begins to become engulfed in flames.

It is here that platforming and gunplay come together to elevate the set piece beyond what one gameplay system would do alone. There is a frantic nature to finding out where you need to go to avoid the flames, while also dealing with the bad guys popping off shots at every turn. You’ll duke it out with a massive brute, you’ll duck and cover against lackies with all sorts of guns: all with the urgency to escape the building that is burning and collapsing around you.

After clearing the foyer, you’ll begin to climb a set of stairs with the fire licking at your heels from below. Nate’s foot will get stuck and force you to quickly kill two enemies while Sully dislodges your foot. Near the top, the stairs collapse. Nate and Sully hang from the burning banister. Right after gaining their footing on the banister, the whole thing falls down again and forces you to make a final climb up before the whole stair set is swallowed.

A few more enemies stand in your way before you make your way to the roof. The entire Chateau is burning to the ground. You run away from the collapsing tower, chunks of the roof crumbling beneath your feet. In classic action movie fashion, you leap away from the explosion and slide down a gutter to land on the ground in one piece.

The duo recuperates and Sully questions Nate’s pride and motivation in this treasure hunt. It is a moment of discord in what should be a celebratory moment, even if only for their lives. It doesn’t take long for it to dawn on them that their friends Chloe and Cutter may be in the same danger on their mission in Syria, encouraging players to stick around for the next level.

The entirety of the Chateau level escalates marvelously. From the friendly jaunt in the jungle to barely escaping a burning chateau, Naughty Dog paces the whole affair with the cadence that defines Uncharted. It contains all the key elements of Uncharted’s signature gameplay and story telling, while proving Naughty Dog knew the PlayStation hardware better than anyone at the time. The Chateau is refined, elegant, ambitious, all while encompassing the soul of a beloved series. There are grander set pieces throughout the series, but I don’t think you will find one more polished than the Chateau.

Calibrating for the Next Generation – LG C9 4K OLED TV Thoughts

Right before Super Bowl LIV, our living room TV died. Just bit the dust out of nowhere. Abby and I were rocking a 2007 JVC LT-46AM73 that we were graciously given for free. The only investment was a $50 stand to put it on our entertainment center. It served us well, but I always had nitpicks with it. It cropped off the image on all sides with no scaling options, had no modern audio out options, and only two HDMI ports that were accessible. It was chunkier than most HD TVs I’ve used before, but at 46” it was a significant upgrade over the 32” we owned before.

While I always wanted to upgrade the TV, we couldn’t argue with the low, low price of free. The TV worked well enough to serve both our watching and playing purposes. I was in no rush to upgrade.

One night, as I turned it on for some regular TV watching, the thing just went kaput. I asked Abby to turn on the Apple TV and the JVC TV just died. I tried unplugging it and plugging it back in: No dice. I turned to Google and found out it was not uncommon for this model. One fix I found involved taking off the back of the TV and heating up a specific capacitor with a hair dryer until the unit powered on. That sealed the deal for me. It was time for a new TV.

I could not hide my excitement at the idea of buying a new TV. I have wanted to make the 4K leap for years. Encouraged by mid-generation console upgrades, a steadily growing 4K movie collection, and seeing my friends make the upgrade, I talked a lot about investing in my own 4K future. We own both a PS4 Pro and an Apple TV 4K, but were never getting the full power out of either of them.

I immediately began researching options. Assisted by my 4K brethren, Logan Moore and Mike Ruiz, I dove into a sea of specs, pixels, sizes, prices, and more.

After sifting through the options and ultra convenient Super Bowl deals, I landed on two options:

The key trade offs were the price difference/deals, the 10” size difference, LED or OLED, and future proofing features (like HDMI 2.1).To spare you all the details of the of my comparison and discussions Abby and I had, we ended up going with the LG C9 55” OLED, which is the one I really wanted.

We picked it up on a Friday night, so I spent most of that evening just rewiring our entertainment center and putting everything in its place. The first thing we watched was Spider-Man: Into the Spiderverse in 4K HDR before I calibrated the TV. My eyeballs couldn’t handle all the colors.

I spent a decent chunk of time Saturday calibrating the TV itself; and I learned a lot. My buddy Logan told me that there was a bunch of settings to tweak when he bought his 4K a couple years ago. I had a hard time picturing that much tedium. Boy, was I wrong.

Breaking news: TVs are like full blown computers nowadays! The LG C9 can remember the settings you select for each HDMI port, which was a totally foreign concept to me. I started with RTINGS calibration guide and began applying their recommended settings to each port. By HDMI 3, I realized that RTINGS suggested settings were more optimized for movies and TV shows than they were for video game play.

I turned to My Life In Gaming and their 4K setup episode. I fused the two sources of information to make each port exactly what I want. I’ve got three game consoles hooked up (for the first time ever!) and our Apple TV 4K. If I watch a Blu Ray disc (or a 4K Blu Ray when I upgrade to the PS5 and Xbox Series X), I will have to adjust the settings to get the video quality I’d prefer for video. That is not something I’m super looking forward too. It would be nice if there were profiles or toggles to switch between custom preset settings made by the user.

Once it was all calibrated, I finally booted up my PS4 Pro. I booted up God of War, Marvel’s Spider-Man, and Tetris Effect.

I never knew how much visual information I was missing. More so than raw graphical detail, the colors and lighting that are capable with HDR is astounding. It reminds me of when I put on glasses for the first time; I was miss out on a whole world of detail.

Beyond the present with only my PS4 Pro, the next generation of consoles is looming on the horizon. The known specs at the time of this writing claim the PS5 and Xbox Series X will be capable of 8K at the max, including 4K 120Hz. While my TV can’t handle 8K, it can handle 4K 120Hz thanks to having the HDMI 2.1 standard. If both the input and output devices are HDMI 2.1 and you use a cable that can handle the bandwidth, you are golden. Being able to handle the upcoming generation was imperative in my research for the TV.

I remember offhandedly saying to one of my friends “I will have a 4K TV by the time The Last Of Us Part II release.” As that time came closer, I knew that was not an active goal I was pursuing. There were simply more important things to save up for that impact far more than my entertainment system. Despite the TV not being a planned purchase this soon, it has amped my hype for the PS5 and Xbox Series X much higher than it was with my standard HD TV. Having this new 4K HDR TV has kicked me back to my PS4 library to check out what the Pro has to offer. Even impending titles like The Last Of Us Part II have had their hype levels dramatically increased.

My new TV is probably the raddest purchase I’ve ever made. It is such a multipurpose device; from the people that use it to the content it can present. I am extremely happy with it and cannot wait to see what the next generation of video games will bring to the screen.

Super NT Black Color Variant Returns

Analogue did a small Twitter thread on some product updates, including that the Black variant of the Super NT is back in stock. I wanted to point this out, since I stated that Analogue does not seem to restock their products in my thoughts on the Super NT. Interestingly enough, the “Classic” variant is now sold out, which is the edition I purchased. The “SF” variant remains sold out as well. The return of the Black variant gives me hope that the others will return some day too.

Analogue also opened up another wave of pre-orders for their DAC accessory. This digital-to-analog converter screams slick 90s design with its see-through plastic shell. The DAC sold out on December 3, 2019. It seems Analogue has created a second run that will ship in April 2020 with no word on how many there are this time around. This second wave also sparks hope for future restocks of their products.

The company also announced that the long-awaited Mega SG cartridge adapters would be available for order at the end of this week. I’m curious to see what the shipping cost on those will be. My bet is it will be $20 UPS in the United States just like the rest of Analogue’s line.

No word on the Pocket. Based off the Twitter replies and my own excitement, Pocket hype is reaching the ceiling.

Phil Spencer Plays The Initiative’s Game

The Initiative’s Upcoming Game is in a Playable State, Phil Spencer Goes Hands-On by Logan Moore at DualShockers

Turns out that Phil’s recent visit to The Initiative was not a one time deal before the launch of next gen. Design Director Drew Murray tweeted out a picture of Phil playing some sort of build of their game on February 5, 2020. If The Initiative’s game is far enough along to be playable, I imagine a reveal could easily happen this year.