SmartGlass Could Change My Life And Here’s Why
When Microsoft unveiled their SmartGlass technology at this year’s Electronic Entertainment Expo, they opened the gates of imagination heaven with a concept that for all intents and purposes seemed like something that could not just benefit the Xbox 360 as a medium but introduce a whole other world of interactivity.
Meanwhile gamers the world over yawned as they eagerly awaited the cinematic reveal of the next title in that atrocious series starring that silly man in the green suit. You know, that guy.
Now I’m here today to declare this disinterest from gamers as folly, and it is my hope that by the end of this little adventure, you will be craving if not frothing through every orifice for a piece of the SmartGlass action. For the purposes of this digression, we will assume that there are no connectivity issues to be experienced of the technology and that you own a compatible device and charger.
But first, let’s attempt to understand the technology at work. Just in case any of you skipped over that part of Microsoft’s presentation in order to watch that fucking trailer…
I Didn’t Know Glass Has An IQ
SmartGlass technology attempts to bridge the disconnect between a consumer and their console by allowing some connectivity using a smartphone or tablet PC which contains an application. This application allows the user to use their smartphone or tablet PC as either a second screen or a remote, whatever they might be doing at the time.
In Microsoft’s press conference they showed how one could augment their television experience using SmartGlass, which downloads and provides them with extra content based on what they are watching — in the presser for example, an episode of Game of Thrones was shown with detailed information on the setting, the characters and the story for that episode displayed using SmartGlass. It also showed how players of the Madden games might use SmartGlass to customise formations and tactics on the fly, which I suppose is kind of nice if you’re a fan of hockey.
I think that a lot more can be done with the technology and while I provide no promises that any of this will actually be implemented, you tell me what you think of my ideas and whether they’d be workable. More importantly, you tell me whether you’d want SmartGlass if such functionality existed.
How About Some Save Functionality?
I love role-playing games more than I love chocolate, and I really love chocolate. I’ve play more RPGs and clocked more RPG hours this year than most have spent online, let alone actually playing anything. I have played RPGs on PC although for this year I’ve been doing a lot of console titles as well, whether for review or just for recreation — I refer to Dark Souls for the latter, mind you. As anyone who has spent that much time playing RPGs will tell you, the bane of the console gamer’s RPG existence, besides the dearth of modifications one could install to better their experience, is the lack of quick-save functionality.
Consider if you will: On PC if I’ve just finished a really hectic fight and levelled up, my first instinct is to reach for that F5 button and quicksave before anything. On console if I’ve just finished a really hectic fight and levelled up, I might be tempted to distribute perks, abilities or what have you before saving. In that time I might forget to save and then carry on with the game.
Any person who has played an RPG on console will tell you a story of playing for hours on end, then dying and losing many hours of progress. Worse still if it was your console which froze, or your disc which gave out (speaking from experience on the latter).
And what if you’re about to make a choice in a branching conversation and want to see what happens for each choice? Quick-save, try one, quick-load if you need to, on PC. Easy and quick. On console? Menu, Save, try one, Menu, Load, await full game load. It’s cumbersome and with today’s technology, unnecessary.
My proposal? SmartGlass. Let a certain screen when playing, for example, Skyrim, allow the player to tap their phone or tablet in order to quick-save. Do they want to quick-load instead? Ask them to hold in an arbitrary button and do the same thing, like a toggle, or perhaps double-tap. To aid in accidental quick-saving, multiple quick-saves can be created for the user to go in and manually quick-load if need be.
How much easier would that make our RPG experiences?
Show Me My Achievements
For the Achievement Whores among us, it’s always such a chore having to hit the Xbox Guide Button, then scroll to the left, then to Achievements before selecting the game we’re currently playing. And we have to do this each and every time we wish to see the Achievements list, which is such a pain when you’re achievement hunting.
What if instead we just had a screen on our smartphones or tablets which simply displayed our Achievements List and went one step further by, let’s say linking up with an achievement guides website or TrueAchievements, which I particularly fancy, thereby displaying helpful tips and guides for each achievement, which we may select from the list displayed on our smartphones or tablets.
Quick sidebar: I tire of saying “smartphones or tablets” each time, so from here on in I’m just going to say “smartthings” okay? Cool.
When achievements are unlocked, the player could then opt to share it either on Twitter or Facebook, and add a comment if necessary. The same might apply for if you complete all the achievements for a game, perhaps even an automated message from your smartthing congratulating you and asking if you’d like to share this achievement — pun intended — with friends.
Never will the Achievement Whore be more appeased.
I’d Like Some Back Story
No, not a story about derrieres. If you’re one of those types like myself who spends hours on end reading Codex entries and Journals in the games you play, then you might delight at the possibility of acquiring further detailed information regarding the games (or indeed movies and series) you play.
Imagine if you will that you’re playing through Mass Effect 3 and you desire more information about your current mission and the characters involved. Let’s say you’re doing a mission on the quarian homeworld Rannoch, and you pull out your smartthing to check out what it has to say. It then provides you with further information regarding the characters involved (including your chosen squad members) which might be geth or quarian, the areas of Rannoch that you’re visiting in this mission, as well as some back story on the quarian war with the geth, perhaps including some notable dates and persons of interest.
Let’s go one step further and say you’d really like to know more about quarians in particular. You may browse to the race in this Codex-like interface on your smartthing and then proceed to find out more. Everything from their origins to their body composition to detailed models of their anatomical structure, complete with a full history of their notable endeavours in their homeworld and the galaxy as a whole. It might even offer further trivia such as their favourite food, or how they manage to eat with those body suits on. Imagine that level of intricacy in your games.
And it needn’t even be an RPG, you could get that same level of detail in a first-person shooter. Imagine if you got detailed character bios and information about your current mission as you play through your beloved Call of Duty or Battlefield game.
It would certainly make for interesting reading during load times.
Give Us Maps That We May Blueprint Our Adventure
Every game has a map. Even FIFA has a field mapped out for you (I do so love these puns) in each match. So why not take advantage of this fact and put a map in the palm of your hands?
Don’t get me wrong, I know most games feature a mini-map. No, you’re thinking too small (not a sexual reference). I’m talking about showing a dynamic, constantly updating world map which will always track your position and progress, as well as highlight key points of interest together with projected paths, be they the one you are currently on or recommended paths for a certain type of approach to a situation.
Picture if you will, the first Crysis. Now let’s say your smartthing displays the level’s map and your current position, and you select a specific object or area to create a waypoint, with the touch of a finger. The smartthing will then highlight possible paths towards that waypoint, perhaps one involving stealth while another involves a more full-on assault.
Selecting one of these paths then shows the waypoint and a basic pathway on-screen, for you to follow with your character.
Further than allowing you to create your own waypoints and look into points of interest, the game will also track places you have yet to visit and places you’ve already visited, perhaps even allowing you to fast-travel to these locations with the simplicity of a double-tap on the icon on your smartthing. In a sense this is like the world map menu that we are familiar with in most RPGs, just done better by putting the power of exploration onto something you can keep at your side always, instead of having to break from action to go into some or the other menu. It’s dynamic and flowing.
They’ll never see you coming (again, not a sexual reference).
Fancy Better Inventory And Journal Management?
Here’s another for the RPG nuts. Don’t you hate having to navigate through cluttered and sometimes confusing menus in order to equip the shiny new pair of boots you just looted off some dead body (hopefully not a family member… too far?) after a fight? Don’t you hate having to track tens if not hundreds of quests at a time, each actually requiring you to go into the journal and read up on them before you can even hope to complete them. This one is for The Witcher 2 players, you know what I’m talking about.
Now let’s take these cumbersome tasks, both usually resigned to cluttered menus that are at the mercy of the control scheme, which in this case is a controller, and let’s put them onto your smartthing.
Two easily navigated screens which scroll to show either your inventory items (equipped, owned, or junk) or your quests. Want to equip those boots? Go over to the inventory screen, select the armour tab and find the boots and equip. Just a few touches of your smartthing’s screen and you’re done, then the game updates to reflect the change on your player character. What about those quests? Go into the quests screen, select a quest you’d like to follow and then click to make it the active quest. The game then updates to follow that quest.
Easy and simple, and you didn’t even need to go into a menu. No need for using the D-pad to navigate because the analogues are too clumsy. No need for spending hours first understanding menu navigation before actually being able to do anything. No more fear of going into the journal now in case you break something. Everything is right there on your smartthing for you to enjoy.
Am I the only person who loves the word ‘equip’? E-quip. An online joke… what?
Speak And Ye Shall Be Heard
SmartGlass technology is meant to compliment the Xbox 360 experience but it can also serve as a substitute. Let’s say you don’t have a Kinect sensor, or let’s say you do and it just never seems to correctly pick up your voice commands. How will you scream, “Fus Ro Dah!” in Skyrim? What is life without a dragon shout?
Wait, don’t phones have built-in speech recognition now? Aren’t most smartthings capable of recognising speech and processing it into commands, without too much of a misunderstanding regarding your instruction?
Problem solved. Let’s dance.
Further than this, sometimes it’s just easier having some form of text-to-speech functionality. Let’s say you’re playing online and you really need to send someone a message (they aren’t in your party because they’re random). You could type out that message manually using your hands or use speech recognition and either way, send it to that person straight off your smartthing, which will of course be tracking who you are playing with and who is currently in whatever game you’re playing.
Plus it’s just really awesome to walk into your room, hold your smartthing up to your mouth and go: “Xbox, on.” And then watch your Xbox 360 come to life.
And what would you like to do today? Watch a movie? “Xbox, Videos, Play Movie.” Fancy talking to some friends? “Xbox, Social, Friends, Parties, Join.” Navigate with your mouth… okay that was a sexual reference. Not keen on staying online? “Xbox, power off.”
Your console will sing to your voice.
It’s Reality O’ Clock!
To be fair, a good few of these implementations of SmartGlass could well fit into the current Kinect model and I don’t doubt that Microsoft will outright ignore the possibility of having them on the smartphone and tablet connectivity application for this very reason. It would simply harm the Kinect to do so, and that’s understandable if a little sad. I would much prefer being able to talk to my phone rather than that stalker-styled Kinect sensor module which follows you around your room with its GLaDOS-like eye. Seriously, that’s what it does.
Another problem is connectivity and battery life. Assuming the connection is easily made, that’s not so much of an issue but wherever WiFi is concerned I can’t help but wonder. As for battery life, well, some of these applications are going to be powering through that WiFi connection, possibly even your phone’s processor, so chances are you are going to murder your battery. But we’re going for ideal situations here, dreams and hopes rather than grounded thought. Plus, chargers.
Finally, the last issue to contend with involves developer adoption. Regardless of what functionality is coded into the SmartGlass technology on its own, the onus remains on the side of the developer to bring out the most in the technology. So while all of the above-mentioned ideas are entirely possible, it’s still up to say, Bethesda, to code in a SmartGlass functionality for quick-saving. And they are within their rights to deny you this if they feel it’s unnecessary or overly complicated to program efficiently. This also puts the technology as a whole at the mercy of developers looking favourably upon it.
Whatever the reality might be, these are my hopes for the SmartGlass technology and if such ideas could be implemented (and hopefully I get some reimbursement for thinking this shit up) then I for one will attest to the awesome that is the new way of interacting with your console. You’re free to challenge my thinking with your own or indeed present your own ideas, in the comments.