One of the biggest announcements at GDC 2009 was OnLive, the service that intends to reinvent pc gaming as you know it. You already have read all about how OnLive is supposed to make even the most demanding pc games playable on your “outdated” rig, and even on your TV. It’s true – I’ve played Crysis and Tom Clancy’s HAWX not only via a Macbook, but also through a tiny little microconsole that fits in your pocket.
There are a number of industry-changing features OnLive brings to the table. Digital distribution for one, something our very own, Wiseguy, has been calling for Microsoft to implement more widely on the Xbox 360 platform. Digital distribution isn’t just about being able to purchase games online, but to be able to rent them and play them instantly.
The other incredible feature is cloud gaming. The technology they’ve created is far too complex for me to understand, but essentially, the way it works is very similar to how you are able to watch a streaming youtube video on your PC, even in HD, no matter what GPU (graphics processing unit) you have. Though you have to have a decent broadband connection, there are essentially no hardware requirements to play the top-of-the-line games within OnLive’s library.
You might be skeptical of all this. I certainly was, but when I went to the massive OnLive booth, I was surprised to not only meet the man at the head of the operation, Steve Perlman, but several other developers on his team as well. Having spoken with these incredibly ambitious people, I’m very excited about where OnLive can take gamers who are fed up with upgrading or have simply been outpriced of the PC gaming world.
Perlman, who was the brain behind webTV (arguably the pre-Xbox) and Quicktime (streaming vids, anyone?) believes he has the secret ingredients to achieving success with OnLive: algorithms and the right men and women to make it all work. Not only that, but OnLive already has the backing of BIG publishers: EA, Ubisoft, Epic Games, THQ, Eidos, Take-Two Entertainment, WB Games, Atari, Codemasters, and 2D Boy. Let’s not fail to mention OnLive’s huge partnership with Nvidia, the graphics chip makers.
What about the Community? Xbox Live has really set the par when in comes to social identity, and OnLive will be doing a lot in trying to create the same type of social community. Having a persistent identity is something OnLive is working on, and being able to share clips of recent sessions, spectate other gamers, and having a friends list are great steps towards building this community. Part of what makes PC gaming so special is the ability to modify games, and add maps and tweaks to certain games. OnLive is considering this huge part of the PC gaming community, and I would love to see OnLive feature highly requested mods as an option on some of their servers.
Alright so enough about the ideas behind OnLive – how well does it play? The stations set up at GDC were connected to a server datacenter offsite (none of the games were linked to a server on the premises). Also, the entire system is still months away from a public beta test. That said, when I played Crysis Warhead multiplayer, there were some hiccups, but it was far better than I had expected. Playing Tom Clancy’s HAWX in single player showed none of the hiccups I noticed in multiplayer games. I only hope the technology improves enough to eliminate the slight bit of lag – and only time will tell.
I was really amazed at the way OnLive will save your game at any point you leave it, no matter where in the game you are in, and whether you have reached the in-game’s game save or checkpoint. The game state really resolves a lot of problems I’ve encountered with a few games like Dead Rising, for example.
The OnLive dashboard, or “Gamer Space,” is a really swift, graphically impressive interface, offering quick access to a variety of services. One thing I felt like the Gamer Space lacks however is personability and character. It was sort of like staring at a big wall of monitors (like in the Matrix movies). I would love to be able to customize the interface with a variety of themes.
Finally, I was told that I could use any PC controller to play the games – including the Xbox 360 controller for Windows. Indeed, launching and playing these games with a controller made me forget that I was not playing on my Xbox 360, but on a PC game platform!
Pricing is yet to be determined, but considering the cost barrier is something OnLive is supposed to overcome, I would imagine OnLive being priced very attractively – or at least I hope so.
The OnLive team is hoping to set the stage for a bit of a renaissance within PC gaming, giving it a single consular identity, with the barriers of cost and technology being torn down. There is a tremendous amount of potential with OnLive – and hopefully it will be able to live up to its promises when it is released at the end of 2009.