Activision, Ubisoft, EA, Sony, and Capcom all promoting companion apps.
Gaming with a Companion
Console war and fan-boy shenanigans aside, it's a great time to be a gamer. Both the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One have been released into the wild, generating excitement amid generally favorable reception. The technology is here and at our very fingertips. Developers seemed poised with more fluid opportunities to create new IPs, while still contributing to existing franchises. Although things are just getting started, the future is inevitably bright and we're already seeing advancements in the way we play games on this newest generation of consoles.
Sony is living up to its promise of PlayStation Vita integration by allowing a diverse list of games that accommodate for Remote Play. While there are still limitations – control schemes, connectivity – it has so far been an incredible experience to play the likes of 'Assassin's Creed IV' and 'Resogun' (to name a few) on the handheld device.
Microsoft continues to tout the capabilities of the updated Kinect sensor, while delivering new and interesting ways to merge gaming with the "living room" environment by incorporating television, movies, and social media interactions. Although less focused on the gamer, the Xbox One delivers experiences that are intriguing nonetheless.
Where the innovations, increased frame rates, and more detailed visuals are all impressive in their own right, it's the second screen integration that I've been the most interested in and believe will see significant contributions from. More than just remote play, these are the applications that provide further immersion into the gaming experience.
Eye in the Sky
In the latest 'Need for Speed Rivals,' the Need for Speed Network, powered by Autolog, is the second screen application that allows gamers to experience 'Overwatch' – multiplayer interaction from your mobile, tablet, or web interface. After logging into your Origin account, the Need for Speed Network provides an opportunity to view your progression, plan for your next unlock, and interact with your friends.
In addition to a top-down view of the racing map, 'Overwatch' is the system that gives you the power to help or hinder your friend's progress: refill their nitrous, repair their car, or deploy police technology. The choice is yours. Speed points and awards continue to be earned that unlock additional cars and liveries. It's also an easy way to quickly find friends on the map to establish the next race or event.
Death from Above
The long-standing and committed fan-base of the 'Battlefield' franchise have always made use of large areas of open warfare, vehicular variety, and massive competitive matches. For 'Battlefield 4,' 'Commander Mode' takes an already sim-like experience and adds to its realism.
Taking the lead on 'Commander Mode' gives the player a war room experience and feeling of total empowerment. Delivering intelligence, managing support, and deploying war assets to the rest of your squad can all be managed from the your tablet and is optimized by an easy-to-use drag and drop interface. You'll rain hell on your enemies while encouraging your squad with a much-needed resupply of weapons and ammunition.
Swashbuckling at its Best
Both the 'Commander' and 'Overwatch' Apps provide additional options when playing a competitive multiplayer game. But it's the 'Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag' second screen that gives players a greater immersive single player experience. After logging into your Ubisoft U-Play account and running the game on the console of your choice, you'll be able to pinpoint Edward Kenway's position, set waypoints that immediately appear on your television, and view treasure locations from any number of the hidden maps you've discovered; without ever needing to pause your game.
Managing Kenway's fleet – the added mini-game of 'Assassin's Creed IV' – works identical to how it was designed within the game. Clearing safe passage across the seven seas and engaging in ship battles can be done during the game or in between longer play sessions. I've often taken advantage of this mechanic when my children have taken control of the television, reaping the benefits of the returned fleet the next time I fire up the campaign. Earning money and supplies has never been more efficient.
Just a Few
Of course, these are just a few examples of the second screen/companion app approach. Games like 'Knack,' 'Dead Rising 3,' 'NBA 2K14,' and 'Call of Duty: Ghosts,' all have significant companion app experiences, and the mix of games both current and next gen makes it seem like these kind of offerings are not likely to diminish soon.
Whether or not you have a tablet to take advantage of these additional gaming options, there's no denying that the apps have been designed with one purpose in mind – enhance the experience. Some gamers may utilize them on a regular basis, while others will elect to ignore like any other optional aspect of a game. Either way, this is just the beginning, and I have little doubt that we will continue to see more and more as time goes on. But, what's next? Where will developers take this idea?
Although I can see the benefits fans of multiplayer games have with the likes of 'Overwatch' and 'Commander', I've always been a bigger fan of single player experiences. Given the opportunity – time and resources – I believe developers will find greater creativity with more story-based games (at least that's my hope). Here are a few ideas that have made my wish list:
- Video and cut-scene integration – communicating with in-game characters through a video interface that is distributed to your tablet
- Lock picking and safe cracking – the forthcoming title 'Thief' comes to mind. When needing to pick a lock to gain access to a room or safe, utilize the tablet and touch screen functionality to deliver a more hands-on experience
- The RPG equation – games that require intensive resource and character ability management could be done completely off screen, freeing up even more valuable television screen space
- The whole story – collectibles, diaries, and pages from a book are nothing new in video games. Having the option to collect and store these in a separate app to read and sort through, even when not playing the game, could be interesting
These are just a few ideas I would love to see come to fruition the further along we get with this latest console generation. As I mentioned previously, the technology is available. It's up to the creative minds across the development landscape to take advantage of the opportunities laid out before them. Regardless of which direction companion app utilization may go, I'm enthusiastic about the future.
Author: Bill Braun