OnLive is here and I’m early adopting.

Posted: December 18, 2010 by ryanlecocq in Off-topic

The future is now.

So for the last couple of years we’ve been hearing about cloud-based game consoles.  I even did a feature on what my dream version of this technology would be in last month’s feature.  What I didn’t know then was how close OnLive’s set-top box release was.  On December 2nd the OnLive Microsystem was quietly released with little press.  It fits almost exactly the description of my dream box and is available now.

Benefits

All of your games are stored on the server so you can continue play on any Mac or PC that is within the last 5 years (as long as it can stream 720p video).  That’s right, you do not need the $99 box to play.  The box just allows you to play instantly on your TV without a PC connected to it.  It also comes with a well-made controller with a built in button for the “Bragging Clips” feature.  This button lets you record the last 10 seconds of any game at any time.  You can then upload these to share with other users.

The service is similar to Steam, with Friends being easy to add and for the most part easy to connect to for multiplayer gaming.  Games play pretty well on a 720p set with a fast internet connection.  You can hook up any USB peripheral, so I was able to test with my Keyboard/Mouse and a wired Xbox 360 pad.  Although there are limited games so far, the beta of the “PlayPack” adds several more that you can play free at any time and 4 new games were just released yesterday.  In the upcoming games section, many major releases are shown and the support of many major companies is listed on the website.

For Mac users OnLive already has Steam in the corner, even with it’s limited games.  But, you may say, Steam has a bunch of Mac games!  Yeah but most of them are Valve games or older games.  Most of the games on OnLive are not available on Mac yet making it the premier choice.  Since new games will come out simultaneously no matter what you play on, new games will finally be instantly available on Mac.  The best part is you don’t need a new Mac or a new version of Leopard to run them.  You can run OnLive on any Mac that has an Intel chip, so even systems that won’t run Spore can run Batman:Arkham Asylum at max settings.  OnLive has just silenced the 20 year Mac jab “yeah, but does it play games?”

Overall the launch titles are fairly limited at about 35 games and 10 or so more that are only on the PlayPack beta right now.  Then again, think of it compared to the PS3 launch.  Most of those games were 6 months to a year old games too and there were a lot less of them on day one.  So if you compare it to Steam which has been up for years, it isn’t that much.  Compared to any other console launch ever it’s pretty damn fantastic.

Limitations

I won’t lie to you, there is a slight lag depending on connection speed.  It also seems to vary between games and input devices though leading me to believe it will get better with software updates.  To give you a frame of reference I am 650 miles from the Dallas, TX server and about 800 miles from the California server.  So depending on which I am being routed through, I am either about 65% or 80% to the max distance the service recommends.  This accounted for I am probably getting about the worst service you can and still be allowed to play and it is quite tolerable in all but the highest lag in the fastest games.

So far there is also no service based voice chat.  Most PC gamers are used to setting up skype or Ventrilo already, but for novice users this is definitely a drawback.  Games have chat built in still work, but there is no network wide chat like Xbox Live.  No achievements yet either, but honestly I’m completely over those for life.   The way people can spectate you and cheer or jeer you is much more rewarding than arbitrary gold stars for mostly pointless actions.

The picture quality on my Comcast 12mbps connection is comparable to a 720p youtube video. It’s not nearly as nice looking as my PC through HDMI 1.4, but it looks very acceptable.  There were some artifacts and lack of contrast on the LCD, but just like in any compressed video, this was dramatically reduced on the plasma set with it’s 600hz refresh and suite of picture enhancements.

I just ordered the set-top (or Microconsole as OnLive calls it, though this is technically incorrect and I will continue to refer to it as a set-top or receiver), so it will be a few days before I can review the hardware, but many reviews are already available.  The main rumor I’ve heard is that the controller has an increased dead-zone to counter the slight lag.  If this is true and it can’t be adjusted, then it would mean that people with fast connections and people with slow ones would be equalized with artificial lag.  I found the response of my 360 pad to be excellent, while my wireless keyboard and mouse were pretty poor.  A wired keyboard and mouse were better, but I need a new gaming set right now for the true test of responsiveness.  Anyway, if the controller forces sluggishness I’ll definitely update on it.

Conclusion

I’m buying it.  Yeah I bought a Dreamcast on day one, but look how much happiness it brought me.  Overall I think OnLive is going to lead the pack on this new technology.  They got the right patents first and although the tech still isn’t perfect, it’s here first and already partnered with companies that own cloud clusters.  As more companies like Netflix and Apple jump on board with their services, the quality and selection will grow and grow.  I also think the intermittent lag and video compression will be quickly phased out as more servers are added and software is improved.  The disparity between the amount of lag in different games with different peripherals clearly indicates this is a software issue.  In the end I think if we all sign up and buy a few games and 1 in 10 people are like me and buy the box just for it’s coolness, this will be the one that takes off.  If too many people sit on the fence, it will give the other companies time to make something less fair and more expensive.  If we support it, so will companies like Netflix, Apple, Valve and Comcast.

The other thing I see coming naturally is World of Warcraft and similar games.  The lag on OnLive is already equal to or less than on WoW’s existing servers and it would allow everyone to run every part of the game perfectly.  Even if you want to do it on your TV, it will only cost $99, waaaaay less than a new PC to run Cataclysm.  The $99 dollar WoWbox is finally a reality, Blizzard just needs to realize it.

Considering you can play it free right now on your PC or Mac, just do it.  If you can spare it spend $10 on Braid or something else just to invest in the future.  I’m going to buy the system, a load of games and get into the PlayPass as soon as possible just because someone finally gave me what I want and I’m going to give them every dollar I can afford to make it last.  I learned my lesson from my beloved Dreamcast.  Belief isn’t enough and neither are words.  You have to buy one for everyone you know and get them to do the same, that’s the only way things exist ahead of their time.

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Comments
  1. ryanlecocq says:

    So I’m almost a week in and I bought Red Faction and Batman:AA and rented Darksiders. I got into the PlayPack beta which gave me access to 10 more games as well as 4 or 5 of the existing ones, totally free. Almost everything on the service just went 50-75% off for the holidays so I’m going to buy Borderlands, Kane & Lynch, Braid, The Ball, Assassin’s Creed II and Trine and it will cost me less than a new console game. My god I love OnLive. I should get Just Cause 2 too just cause it’s actually at a price at which I would feel guilty pirating it.

    I think there have been updates because my games have run progressively better (and no, it isn’t fanboy goggles). Batman and Tomb Raider look especially sharp. Red Faction still looks like ass by comparison for some reason, but it’s so damn good I don’t even care. Every single one of these are games I would have passed up on Xbox for more hyped games. Now I’m playing them more than I’ve played games in years. OnLive, fuck yeah.

  2. lagunawsu2 says:

    This !@#$ is amazing. If you are reading this, sitting there on your laptop/pc/whatever and it can play youtube or the like, you can be playing from a fine (though limited) selection of games, immediately. No this isn’t a dream. It’s free for the first half hour on most of the games. As an additional bonus, you can just back out and reset the timer. This is great for some free multiplayer Red Faction 2. Best part, you and a friend can do it all in less than 5 minutes. Greatest gaming invention ever, hands down…This !@#$ is the sliced bread of gaming.

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