Archive: November, 2014

PS4 or Xbox One: which to buy?

With Black Friday and the holiday shopping season days away, I’ve gotten questions from friends and colleagues about which current gen console to buy. I usually first point people toward Kotaku’s recent editorial on the subject; it’s well written and even handed. But I’ve got my own take that’s slightly different.

Let’s start by removing Nintendo’s Wii U from this debate. It’s got a superb outing of Nintendo first party games yet virtually no third party support. If you’re a big Nintendo fan and little from the other consoles interests you, then buy a Wii U (if you love Nintendo, you probably already have.) But for almost everyone else, especially if it’s your only console purchase, there’s just not enough game diversity.

That leaves the PS4 and Xbox One. First and foremost, both consoles are winners. Both have a decent library of quality games. Both refined their UI over the past year to make navigation fairly straightforward. Both are selling well enough to ensure wide game support for the future. Both are evenly priced. Frankly, given the general lack of exclusives this generation, I’d argue most buyers won’t regret their decision. Yet there are a few important, sometimes subtle differences that can sway you towards either Sony’s or Microsoft’s console.

Deal breakers

Be sure to test a console’s controller in person before buying either the PS4 or Xbox One. It’s an underrated difference that’s both very personal and idiosyncratic. Visit a friend that already has a current gen console, or any retailer with demo units set up. Play a game and run the buttons and sticks through a full range of motion. Most critics rightly point out both console’s controllers have excellent handling given their refinement over multiple generations. But there are differences, especially in the triggers and the asymmetrical analog stick placement on the Xbox.

Also, if you care about multiplayer, poll your friends on what current gen system they own or plan on buying. If it’s dominated by either Xbox or PlayStation players, that could have a strong influence on which system to choose.

Finally, exclusive games and content are on the wane, but If you’re a hard core fan of certain franchises, that can make your decision much easier. Obsessed with Halo or the Forza series? Go Xbox One. Can’t wait for the next Uncharted or baseball game? That’s only on the PS4.

Smaller differences

If the controller, your friends list, or the rare exclusive game don’t convince you which way to go, we get into far murkier territory. In short, those that regularly use their console for non-gaming activities may find the Xbox One more appealing. Sony’s strengths lie in raw hardware for games and games alone. To break that down in more detail, for the Xbox One:

  • Those who use a console for streaming, multimedia and other non-gaming activities will find more to love about the Xbox One. The PS4 has the usual streaming suspects like Netflix and Hulu, but the Xbox One adds Plex, DLNA, integration with Microsoft’s OneDrive for cloud storage, and much more. Granted, smartphones, tablets, and streaming boxes like the Roku or Apple TV can already provide much of this functionality. But jumping between apps on an Xbox One is fast, and if you want all of your media in one place, Microsoft’s latest has more to offer than the PS4.

  • Big cable TV watchers could easily find the Xbox One’s cable box integration compelling. Via the system’s “snap” UI you can watch TV alongside a game, and switch between live TV and other apps fluidly. But the integration is controversial; I know several that find the integration too cumbersome (e.g. , occasional signal lag, don’t want to boot up the full Xbox for just TV) and have since decoupled their cable box from the Xbox One.

For the PS4:

  • If graphics are one of your foremost concerns, many third party titles run slightly better on Sony’s console. Yet that advantage usually manifests in subtle ways, like a mildly higher resolution or more detailed textures and shadows. History suggests the gap should close as this console generation progresses, and many today can’t even notice the difference. Yet I still predict the PS4 will have a slight advantage in horsepower over the long run.

Future philosophies

If you’re still on the fence, I’ve noticed a small difference when it comes to the games Sony and Microsoft throw their weight behind (which may or may not match your own preferences):

  • Microsoft leans towards more toward traditional gaming genres like sports, shooters, and driving. If you look at Microsoft’s exclusives so far, they almost all fall within this territory. Content looks similar in 2015, including a potentially innovative “blockbuster” interactive movie experience like Quantum Break and Halo 5. With EA Access, sports fans can get a rotating set of EA Sports titles for a low subscription price; it’s exclusive to Xbox. Microsoft also has strong partnerships for timed DLC, bundles, and advertising on longer running franchises like Call of Duty and Assassin’s Creed.

  • Sony’s taste can run slightly quirkier and more independent. Perhaps it’s a reflection of a more globally based audience, but Sony often invests in games that have a more of a niche following, or provide a twist on an existing genre. Yes, they’ve thrown a lot of money behind the huge Bungie shooter Destiny, but they’ve also supported (and have a timed exclusive with) the 90s adventure Grim Fandango. They’re also promoting a 2015 sequel to the cartoony, humorous Everybody’s Golf series. And while Microsoft’s ID@Xbox’s has been gaining traction, Sony has a deeper, more diverse relationship with indies. Many more indie titles are available for the PS4 than the Xbox One, a lead I don’t see evaporating in the near future.

Slight philosophical differences aside, most games are coming to both platforms, big or small, regardless of genre. And remember, virtually every difference noted above comes down to taste, not objective advantages. Some love their console for streaming ripped Blu-rays alongside their game sessions. Others prefer retro side scrollers by tiny studios. Some just want to play Call of Duty and NBA2K every year. There’s no one right answer; find what works best for you.

The PS4 and Xbox One: cautious optimism

One year into their lifespan, the PS4 and Xbox One deserve a solid B for their efforts. Both platforms enjoy strong sales and some well produced titles. Granted, there’s a sparse selection of “must have” games so far, but that’s in line with release patterns we saw with previous console generations. There’s also initiatives toward “next gen” functionality to stand out in a mobile centric tech world. But these are initiatives that have yet to become fully fleshed-out experiences. For a more casual audience, Sony and Microsoft have a big unanswered question: what makes these consoles essential for newcomers, rather than a repeat of the past?

Each generation starts slow

There’s many complaints about the PS4 and Xbox One lacking essential games, but that argument discounts history. Based on previous console generations, it takes at least a year for games to hit their stride.

To put this pattern to the test, I researched Metacritic for 2005 and 2006 – the opening year of the Xbox 360 and PS3. There aren’t that many titles with exceptionally high score averages. Both consoles had a few critically acclaimed releases during the early months (Call of Duty 2, Elder Scrolls 4: Oblivion), but it took a full year of a console being on the market for some of the most celebrated titles – Gears of War, Rock Band, and Uncharted among them – to be released.

The same pattern is playing out with the PS4 and Xbox One. Both platforms had several decent launch titles (Forza 5, Resogun), a well reviewed, AAA action game a few months in (Titanfall, Infamous: Second Son), then a long gap until the holiday season. We’ve reached a virtual saturation point of strong games over the last two months, primarily third party releases like Dragon Age, Shadow of Morodor, and Far Cry 4. Xbox One holiday exclusives – Halo: The Master Chief Collection, Forza Horizon 2, and Sunset Overdrive – also scored well.

Admittedly, cross generation games (released on both current and last gen consoles) feel more prevalent this year. Some can be weak showcases for a new generation if their feature set is held back to stay compatible with older hardware. But the current gen versions often distinguish themselves. With titles like Titanfall, graphics and frame rates are so significantly improved on current gen it feels like an entirely different experience. Some, like Shadow of Morodor, only add critical AI or gameplay systems for new hardware.

In addition, most “weak games” arguments fail to include strong indie releases that helped flesh out 2014’s slower periods, games like Transistor, Super Time Force, and Velocity 2X. They also underplay remasters of last gen games like Tomb Raider, Diablo III, and GTA V. That’s unfair to more casual gamers where a PS4 or Xbox One is their only gaming device. For them, many indies and remasters can feel like effectively “new” titles.

A cautious future

If there’s any concern about this generation, it’s a lack of commitment to “next gen” experiences. Sony, Microsoft, and the AAA studios have played a conservative hand; most PS4 and Xbox One releases bump up the graphics, yet provide the same gameplay under familiar genres. It’s a repeat of last generation’s promise, except it’s no longer 2005 any more. Advanced mobile OSs and cloud-powered technologies are a given. Falling back on graphics and massive multiplayer networks won’t impress us any more.

Granted, there are hints of ambition. One obvious case was Microsoft’s launch E3 presentation, one that relied on a single, convergent device in the living room tightly coupled with Microsoft’s networks. It’s a move that split the Xbox between game system, Windows PC and home entertainment center. I had concerns, and now it looks like a semi aborted effort, but to its credit, it took chances. Sony has been taking small actions as well. They’ve got a pulse on the diversifying gaming demographic by leaning more on quirkier indie releases. With Playstation Vue Sony broadens into a potentially smart twist on cable TV, if the pricing and availability structure works out (given the involvement of TV networks and Sony’s loony pricing with Playstation Now, that’s a big if.)

There’s also been a few steps toward smarter AI and gameplay. Again, Microsoft deserves credit for Forza 5’s “Drivatar” system, where the racing game analyzes a player’s racing habits and uses them as a more lifelike substitution for traditional computer-generated AI opponents. Shadow of Morodor also pushed gameplay forward with its Nemesis System. It rejects the usual, heavily scripted opponents that only exist as a fixed player obstacle. Instead, Morodor’s enemies battle each other for control independent of the player. They develop rivalries among each other, remember battles with the player and adjust their tactics accordingly.

Yet all the aforementioned initiatives feel like smaller experiments for Sony, Microsoft, and other game publishers. Staying the course of tried and true game genres will satiate the core console audience for a while, especially with an impressive 23 million plus install base this early. But I have doubts that strategy can sustain consoles for the long run.

Snowpiercer – left or right

Every Frame a Painting strikes again with a great three minute clip dissecting how Snowpiercer uses cinematography to convey a character’s choices and propel the narrative forward.

Fighting to make games worse

GamerGate stories have significantly died down in recent weeks, but it’s worth revisiting the topic with tech writer Watts Martin on why the movement is so troubling:

GamerGate’s proponents believe they’re somehow saving video games, as if one too many positive mentions of Depression Quest will cause the next Call of Duty game to spontaneously transform itself into a My Little Pony MMO. This is roughly akin to believing that Michael Bay will start making Jane Austen adaptations instead of three-hour Dolby Atmos test reels if his Rotten Tomatoes average drops another five points.

The real risk to gaming isn’t that GamerGate will fail, but that it won’t fail. No matter what happens, the gaming world will stay safe for the next Grand Theft Auto installment, and it will be as thrilling and wild and morally questionable as ever. But it might not be so safe for the next Gone Home or Revolution 60. Maybe not even for the next Journey or Braid or Papers Please.

108 byte CSS layout debugger

I’ll let Google developer Andy Osmani’s description speak for itself:

A tweet-sized debugger for visualizing your CSS layouts. Outlines every DOM element on your page a random (valid) CSS hex color.


Top tips for Sketch

Wonderful mini tips roundup from teacher Paul Scrivens (Makers Cabin) on a tool I find myself turning to more and more. I’m doubt I’ll ever fully leave Photoshop entirely given the web’s remaining reliance on raster graphics, but it’s exciting to see a focused tool like Sketch gain so much momentum.

Using SVG

I’ve dabbled with the SVG image format over the years, but a serious flow has rarely stuck for a lot of my core work projects. Whenever I need a refresher, this guide by CSS Trick’s Chris Coyier is where I often end up. The “one stop” guide is both fairly exhaustive on both how to generate SVGs and how to implement on the web.

Christopher Nolan’s most-debated shot

Andrew Deyoung on Inception’s well debated ending (mild, oblique spoilers for that film below):

Lost in these either/or debates (which I find to be pretty dull, see also: The Sopranos) is what I’ve always found to be a far more interesting possibility: that this final shot functions less in the world of the story than it does on the meta-level of the film itself—the shared dream-world created by Nolan and his filmmaking crew and occupied, for a time, by the audience, a dream world that comes to an abrupt end with the cut to credits that immediately follows the wobbling of the top.

In other words, I don’t think that is Dom’s totem. I think it’s ours.


Nice auto documentation tool I learned about during a talk at Sass Summit. As the introduction says, SassDoc is to Sass what JSDoc is to JavaScript. Basically, write some smart comments around your Sass functions and mixins, and with a simple call (fully Grunt and Gulp friendly) you can generate a nice looking, fully styled HTML documentation set.

The basic Brockmann Sass grid

Designer Jay Freestone’s argument behind this very simple set of Sass mixins to generate a grid set:

Because you’re using Libsass, which (at the time of writing) rules out the two well established SASS based grid systems, Susy and Neat. Brockmann is designed to be super lightweight and incredibly easy to understand. It’s not a comprehensive system. It’s a set of transparent and reusable mixins that let you built out a pre-conceived grid quickly.