Better than Streaming: Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within 4K Blu-ray coming out on November 16, 2021

Welcome back, fellow geeks, film enthusiasts and Blu-ray/4K Blu-ray collectors!

All those who love the 2001 computer-generated movie Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within should be aware, and excited, that it will be released in a 4K Blu-ray combo on November 16, 2021. 4K Blu-ray collectors who have not seen the said movie will have their chances to add it to their collection and the good news is that it can be ordered online right now!

The 4K Blu-ray combo cover.

Posted below are key details of Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within 4K Blu-ray combo from its Blu-ray.com page. Take note that as of this writing, it is not yet clear if the visuals will be native 4K or upscaled 4K.

Video

Codec: HEVC / H.265

Resolution: 4K (2160p)

HDR: HDR10

Original aspect ratio: 1.85:1

Audio

TBA

Subtitles

None

Discs

4K Ultra HD

Blu-ray Disc

Two-disc set (2 BD)

Digital

Digital 4K

Digital copy included

Playback

4K Blu-ray: Region free

2K Blu-ray: Region A

Posted below are the special features and technical specs of Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within 4K Blu-ray

  • HDR PRESENTATION OF THE FILM
  • BRAND NEW DOLBY ATMOS TRACK + original theatrical 5.1 audio
  • Original Special Features:
    • Two Feature-Length Commentaries
    • Interactive Documentary: The Making of Final Fantasy
    • Original Opening
    • Aki’s Dream Reconstruction
    • On the Set with Aki
    • Character Profiles
    • Vehicle Scale Comparisons
    • Compositing Builds
    • Joke Outtakes
    • The Gray Project
    • Theatrical Trailers

I first saw Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within on a Friday night at the local theater in July twenty-o-one. While social media was not yet common back in those days, the movie still was hyped a lot through the Internet and traditional media.

As for the theatrical experience, I found the movie to be not so engaging mainly due to the story’s pacing (note: it was directed by Final Fantasy series creator Hironobu Sakaguchi and Motonori Sakakibara), the sentimental stuff within the script, the not-so-interesting characters and the lack of true connection between the vocal performances and the motion-captured moves of the digital characters. Being one of the first major movies to be fully made with computer-generated images (CGI) complete with digital human characters and the approach to achieving photo-realism, Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within was indeed a flashy and fancy looking picture but it really did not have much to appeal to me with regards to my interest in cinema and even with Final Fantasy games. The movie ended up being hollow for me personally.

For the newcomers reading this, Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within was a tremendous box office failure and it led to the closure of Square Pictures. Still the movie could find new life in 4K Blu-ray format and I know it has its own following of dedicated fans. Perhaps the fans of Ming-Na Wen, Alec Baldwin, Donald Sutherland, James Woods, Ving Rhames, Peri Gilpin and Steve Buscemi would be interested to experience the movie in 4K.

For more entries of my Better than Streaming series of articles, check out my pieces on The Beastmaster 4K Blu-rayThe Transformers: The Movie 4K Blu-rayMortal Kombat 2021 4K Blu-raySpace Jam 4K Blu-rayV: The Original Miniseries Blu-ray (read my retro review), V: The Final Battle Blu-rayHighlander 4K Blu-rayThe Suicide Squad, Super Dimension Century Orguss Blu-ray, Unbreakable 4K Blu-ray, Injustice 4K Blu-ray, The Suicide Squad 4K Blu-ray and Terminator 2: Judgment Day 30th Anniversary 4K Blu-ray.

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Thank you for reading. If you find this article engaging, please click the like button below and also please consider sharing this article to others. If you are looking for a copywriter to create content for your special project or business, check out my services and my portfolio. Feel free to contact me as well. Also please feel free to visit my Facebook page Author Carlo Carrasco and follow me at HavenorFantasy@twitter.com

If you wish to join a group of movie enthusiasts and talk about cinema, visit the Movie Fans Worldwide Facebook group at https://www.facebook.com/groups/322857711779576

A Look Back at Flashback (Super NES)

Disclaimer: This is my original work with details sourced from playing Flashback: The Quest for Identity and doing personal research. Anyone who wants to use this article, in part or in whole, needs to secure first my permission and agree to cite me as the source and author. Let it be known that any unauthorized use of this article will constrain the author to pursue the remedies under R.A. No. 8293, the Revised Penal Code, and/or all applicable legal actions under the laws of the Philippines.

We live in an age in which software exclusivity defines not only the relevance of game consoles but also nature of the entire video game industry right down to the many varied communities of very avid fans (and fanboys).

While the Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES or Super NES) and Sega Genesis each had their own exclusive games back in the 1990s, there was one particular game that was made for and released on not just one, not two but rather on more than fifteen different platforms – both consoles and computers – starting with Amiga way back in 1992. That game is none other than Flashback: The Quest for Identity which I first played on our Super NES back in 1994.

The cover of the game box.

For the newcomers reading this, Flashback was a 2D side-scrolling adventure game in the form of a cinematic platformer (note: similar to Prince of Persia and Out of This World) with a strong flavor of science fiction. It was cinematic in the sense that all the in-game animation were rotoscoped resulting unique smoothness combined with hand-drawn backgrounds and the computer-generated cutscenes were used in key parts of the game as the story progressed. Flashback on SNES in America even came with a Marvel Comics-published Flashback comic book and on the rear of the SNES game box were the words “The first CD-ROM game in a cartridge!”

A Flashback remake was released in 2013, followed by a port of the original game released on Sega Dreamcast in 2017, and a remastered version got released for varied platforms in 2018.

I got to play that game at a time when I have not even started playing Final Fantasy II (AKA Final Fantasy IV), Final Fantasy III (AKA Final Fantasy VI) and other great role-playing games (RPGs) of the Super NES. I also remember that Flashback was a nice change of pace for me after playing Super Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back.

With those details laid down, here is a look back at Flashback: The Quest for Identity, released on Super NES in 1993 by U.S. Gold and developed by Delphine Software International.

The start and options screen.

Early story

The story begins with Conrad running away from two armed persons chasing him. He flies away riding a solo vehicle but those chasing him (riding a huge vehicle) managed to get close and blast his vehicle causing to crash into the forest.

Sometime later, he wakes up and accidentally pushes a mechanical cube to fall down. He climbs down to reach it and activates it. The cube displays a holographic video of himself telling him that he recorded it without remembering it. As Conrad watches, he learns that he must contact a friend named Ian who can explain important things to him.

After viewing the message, Conrad sets off to find his way out of the jungle and somehow get to Ian in New Washington…

Game design and quality

You have to pay close attention to what’s going on, what items do you have and what the in-game prompts tell you.

This game is not your typical fast-paced, action-oriented 2D side-scrolling adventure in which you move from left to right to progress. As it is a cinematic platform game by design complete with very specific controls, players will have to be patient, adaptive and strategic in order to learn how exactly you can control your character, what moves will be executed (and when to execute). For one thing, the very fluid 24 frames-per-second animation on your character limits you in terms of control as timing is required.

To do things properly, you have to execute specific controls. To ascend on a lift, you press Up and the Y button. To do a small jump, have your character stand still and then press Up and Y button. To go down on level (on foot, no lift), stand by the edge of a level then press Down and Y button. To run and hang on to a higher floor automatically, have your character stand still, press Right and Y button, press Y button (once your character moves) and watch him pull it off. With controls like these, the usual 2D platforming approach is out of the question. In my experience, these controls are indeed challenging but never impossible to learn and eventually I got proficient with the controls as I played more.

The in-game animation for the characters are very good and there is also a sensation of weight with your character. Falling straight down from a very high place is a big no-no.

Apart from character controls, you don’t just move Conrad from one screen to the next…you also should do key objectives along the way apart from engaging in action scenes (read: shooting). That being said, you must watch out for icons that appear on screen when your character steps on a particular spot that requires interaction. For example, if you stop by a terminal, an icon will appear serving as a prompt to start the interaction. Another example is when your character steps on the same spot as an item located at which you can pick up once prompted.

More on the action on the screen, you will encounter armed enemies as well as high-tech machines (including floating drones). To overcome them, doing straightforward shooting is not recommended as you have to be strategic before firing a shot. You have to learn how each enemy or machine moves, how much physical space is available right there and how you can maximize your limited time and space to overcome them. In fact, you will also be compelled to take advantage of whatever seconds you have while the enemies’ animation (between moves) take place. There will also be times when you need to have your character armed with the gun before jumping to a lower level where an armed enemy is located and on the lookout. Coming down armed gives you an advantage to shoot first at the enemy who

Considering the 24 frames-per-second animation, you will have to time your moves carefully, especially during moments when you face an armed enemy.

Apart from shooting, you can also use grenades which requires opening your inventory to select a grenade and then do your timing and calculation of the distance in order to pull of a successful throw and explosion. You can also throw stones to distract enemies or to apply weight on key platforms in order to open mechanical doors.

With regards to the quality of gameplay, Flashback is enjoyable but only if you get over its rather high learning curve with regards to the controls which themselves serve as the game’s advantage and even as a disadvantage. In addition to being patient and strategic, you will really have to pace yourself, think more and get used to the rather slow pace of the game in relation to its cinematic platformer design. I should state that as you keep progressing, there will be places, or new obstacles or new enemies that will compel you to change your tactics in order to overcome them. Anyone who is used to playing 2D side-scrolling games the fast and easy way might find the high learning curve and pacing of Flashback a turnoff but if they are willing to learn, adjust and pace themselves, only then can this game’s gameplay be really enjoyed.

Cut scenes like this move at a sluggish pace which shows the limitations of the SNES and cartridge technology.

As for the visuals, the obvious highlight here is the 24 FPS animation which is the result of rotoscoping and careful visualizing (note: observe those alien humanoids who morph into moving blobs). The rotoscoped animation, however, would not have been that effective had the quality of the art used for the backgrounds been made of lower quality. I can say that the background artworks here look pretty good even by today’s standards. The standout among them were the background artworks of Morph’s home planet which really looked very alien and creepy at the same time. What hurts this particular version of Flashback is the lackluster (read: choppy) frame rate whenever the computer-generated cinematic cutscenes (obviously they were meant for more powerful PCs) play which, in my experience, took me out of the story. There were also bouts of slowdown during the gameplay, especially when you encounter enough enemies that were animated sophistically.

With regards to narrative, Conrad is literally your avatar to learn, discover and interact with the many elements of the universe he is part of. There is obvious influence that the game makers took from the movie Total Recall as they crafted Conrad to be someone who lost his memory, moves on to regain it and do a lot of things as he realizes his true purpose and what is really at stake. Unlike Total Recall’s protagonist, Conrad himself is not too interesting mainly due to the way the in-game story was structured. Just play as Conrad and do what needs to be done to complete the game.

When it comes to understanding the narrative, you will have to do lots of reading. You will spot and read the short description of the prompts that appear. You’ll also have to read the on-screen text whenever your character talks with someone during the levels of the game. And there are the captions shown during the slow animated cutscenes.

Conclusion

The background artworks during the late stage of the game are great and truly creative with science fiction in mind.

I can clearly say that Flashback: The Quest for Identity on Super NESis fun and engaging mainly to those who are willing to adjust themselves to it. If you don’t have patience, if you are not willing to think while playing, if you cannot pace yourself and if you are not willing to learn all the specific controls of the game, then you should not be playing Flashback. It is a cinematic platformer and that should tell you that you will need to adjust to enjoy it.

Overall, Flashback: The Quest for Identity on SNES is recommended.

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Thank you for reading. If you find this article engaging, please click the like button below and also please consider sharing this article to others. If you are looking for a copywriter to create content for your special project or business, check out my services and my portfolio. Feel free to contact me as well. Also please feel free to visit my Facebook page Author Carlo Carrasco and follow me at HavenorFantasy@twitter.com

What could happen with regards to rumored event related to Xbox-Bethesda deal

Things have been quiet for the past months following the megaton announcement that Microsoft is acquiring Bethesda (through parent company ZeniMax Media) for a staggering $7.5 billion. Since then, Team Xbox has gotten stronger as the deal means pushing their number of 1st party game studios to almost 25.

In recent times, Microsoft created a brand new subsidiary called Vault (a nod to the Fallout franchise) which will serve as a new and temporary home for ZeniMax. The acquisition of ZeniMax and all of Bethesda is up for review by the regulators of the European Union (EU).

In relation to this, Jeff Grub of GamesBeat said in a podcast that an event will be held in which Microsoft will share details about their plans for the future regarding Bethesda. It was stated that such an event might happen in the middle of March 2021. By that time, the EU’s decision on the Xbox-Bethesda deal should be known.

Here’s an excerpt from GamingBolt’s report…

Grubb says it might not be a dedicated Direct-style event, but fans should expect to hear about plenty of new information either way.

“Once the deal closes, they will talk about it in a big way,” Grubb said. “I don’t know if it will be a full Direct-style event, but they will make note of it, and they will talk about it extensively, and they will explain what it means to everybody… kind of talk about the immediate future for both companies becoming one in the future.”

Personally, I can imagine an Xbox-Bethesda event that will done in video format and shown online to many fans and gamers around the world. However, I imagine it to be totally different from the Xbox Games Showcase of July 2020. I don’t expect it to be a lengthy video but still it will be long enough and serve as a makeshift celebration of Microsoft acquiring a major game publisher in Bethesda which itself is a rare event in the business world of video games and computer gaming.

The way I see it, the Xbox-Bethesda event could happen with the following possibilities:

  1. Xbox head Phil Spencer will welcome viewers and confirm that the acquisition of Bethesda has finally been done and the planned projects will push through and ensure lots of fun stuff for Xbox fans, fans of Bethesda’s many game franchises and people who love to play games via Xbox consoles, Windows 10 PCs and laptops, and mobile devices.
  2. Microsoft and Bethesda’s extensive business relationship will be mentioned, if not highlighted.
  3. Starfield will be announced yet again but will be presented by Todd Howard and a video showing the first-ever gameplay footage. Howard or the video itself could announce Starfield as an Xbox-exclusive game with late 2021 release window.
  4. Bethesda games released on previous generations consoles (Xbox 360 and Xbox One most likely) will be confirmed enhanced with FPS Boost when played on Xbox Series S or Xbox Series X.
  5. More Bethesda games of the past and the future will be made available via Xbox Game Pass (XGP).
  6. Ghostwire: Tokyo Deathloop, the temporary exclusives on Sony’s PlayStation 5 (PS5) console, will come to Xbox Series consoles and Windows 10 PC with exclusive enhancements and features some time in late 2022 or early 2023. Xbox Game Pass listing will be confirmed.
  7. Other Xbox game studios such as Obsidian Entertainment, Playground Games, Ninja Theory, The Coalition and others could make an appearance and some of their upcoming games for Xbox Series consoles and PC may be previewed. If this happens, it will symbolize the unity of the teams under Xbox Game Studios.
  8. Most, if not all, new games of Bethesda will be announced as exclusive to the Xbox ecosystem which includes Xbox Series consoles (note: Xbox One could still be supported), Windows 10 PC, mobile devices and Xbox Game Pass subscribers. Meanwhile, old Bethesda games that were released on multiple platforms will still be made available.

I believe that it is inevitable that the new Bethesda games, including those that were in development before Microsoft even started negotiating with ZeniMax, will be made Xbox-exclusive for it is very clear that Team Xbox wants to make Xbox Game Pass attract many more millions of subscribers from around the world much like how the streaming services Netflix and Disney+ attracted so many millions of subscribers globally. XGP alone added a lot to Microsoft’s revenue as its base of subscribers reached 18 million. Making Bethesda’s new games exclusive will add tremendous value to XGP and Xbox LIVE as a whole. That being said, think about the exclusive content that helped Netflix and Disney+ attract so many millions of subscribers.

Making Bethesda Xbox-exclusive also means making the Xbox brand (and its game studios) even stronger than those on PlayStation and Nintendo. Microsoft knows that millions of gamers love playing single-player role-playing games (RPGs) and having Bethesda’s blockbuster RPG franchises like Fallout and The Elder Scrolls ensures big game sales through Xbox consoles and Windows 10 computers. Don’t forget that Team Xbox also has Obsidian Entertainment (which made the popular Fallout New Vegas for Bethesda) to provide such RPGs. Speaking of exclusives, whatever Japanese RPGs Sony could snatch as PS5 exclusives from Square Enix (Final Fantasy XVI for one), Team Xbox can literally fight back with exclusive Bethesda RPGs which are more than enough to make Xbox Series X and Xbox Series S more attractive consoles for anyone who loves role-playing the console way. I should state that Bethesda RPGs have a huge collective following among PC gamers.

As I noticed on social media over the past few months, a lot of PlayStation fanboys, haters of Xbox and some Nintendo fanboys are still feeling uneasy over the possibility of Bethesda games becoming Xbox-exclusive. They are afraid of getting locked out…meaning that none of the new Bethesda games will be released on their PS4, PS5 and Switch consoles.

More on exclusivity, Xbox chief Phil Spencer made things clear in an interview with Kotaku and below is an excerpt for you all…

“Is it possible to recoup a $7.5 billion investment if you don’t sell Elder Scrolls VI on the PlayStation?” I asked.

“Yes,” Spencer quickly replied.

Then he paused.

“I don’t want to be flip about that,” he added. “This deal was not done to take games away from another player base like that. Nowhere in the documentation that we put together was: ‘How do we keep other players from playing these games?’ We want more people to be able to play games, not fewer people to be able to go play games. But I’ll also say in the model—I’m just answering directly the question that you had—when I think about where people are going to be playing and the number of devices that we had, and we have xCloud and PC and Game Pass and our console base, I don’t have to go ship those games on any other platform other than the platforms that we support in order to kind of make the deal work for us. Whatever that means.”

No matter how the haters and opposing fanboys see it – including the Nintendo and PlayStation fanboys working as journalists – what Microsoft owns, Nintendo and Sony cannot touch nor steal. If they really want the new Bethesda games, they will need an Xbox Series console or a capable Windows 10 computer to buy those games and/or sign up for Xbox Game Pass (if they want to save money on new games).

As for those who insist that all new Bethesda games should be released on multiple platforms, they should slow down and look at PS5’s camp. Why is Final Fantasy XVI a PS5-exclusive? Is Square Enix better off releasing their new games only on Sony’s platform while you oppose Bethesda releasing games as Xbox-exclusive? Also, why would a Microsoft-owned Bethesda be obligated or be forced to release games on competing game consoles from Sony and Nintendo after all the $7.5 billion spent on the acquisition?

As for Minecraft remaining a multi-platform franchise, the case of Microsoft’s acquisition of its developer (Mojang) simply cannot be applied to the Xbox-Bethesda deal. Bethesda is a major publisher with almost ten game studios and a wide bunch of games from established game franchises.

The existing market of Xbox console owners combined with Windows 10 users is large enough to sell Bethesda games to. To say that Xbox-exclusivity of new games such as Starfield and sequels or spin-offs to Fallout, Elder Scrolls, Doom, Dishonored and other franchises won’t benefit paying consumers is nonsense.  

From this point on, we can only wait and see what happens next. Will the EU approve the acquisition of ZeniMax/Bethesda? Will the rumored Xbox-Bethesda event actually push through weeks from now? Tell me what you think.

In closing these, here are some relevant videos for your enjoyment and learning…

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Thank you for reading. If you find this article engaging, please click the like button below and also please consider sharing this article to others. If you are looking for a copywriter to create content for your special project or business, check out my services and my portfolio. Feel free to contact me as well. Also please feel free to visit my Facebook page Author Carlo Carrasco and follow me at HavenorFantasy@twitter.com

For more Xbox-related stuff, check out the Xbox Series Philippines Facebook group at https://www.facebook.com/groups/XboxOnePH

Looking good on the way to Xbox Series consoles launch, Part 4

Hey Xbox fans and gamers! Have you been following the recent updates leading to the inevitable launch of the Xbox Series S and Xbox Series X? Let’s start first with these two videos from Colteastwood! Watch, learn and enjoy these because the heavy hitters (hot exclusive games) for the Xbox ecosystem are coming out after the launch of the two Xbox Series consoles!

The launch games lineup for November 10, 2020, which includes cross-generation games that will be optimized for the new consoles, don’t look that red hot but rest assured, the excitement will only begin that day and will only get even better starting 2021. Speaking of 2021 games, check out my article about the Xbox-exclusive The Gunk.

What are the launch games for Xbox Series S and Xbox Series X? Here’s the list:

Assassin’s Creed Valhalla (Smart Delivery)

Borderlands 3 (Smart Delivery)

Bright Memory 1.0 

Cuisine Royale (Smart Delivery)

Dead by Daylight (Xbox Game Pass + Smart Delivery)

Devil May Cry 5: Special Edition 

DIRT 5 (Smart Delivery)

Enlisted 

Evergate

The Falconeer (Smart Delivery)

Fortnite 

Forza Horizon 4 (Xbox Game Pass + Smart Delivery)

Gears 5 (Xbox Game Pass + Smart Delivery)

Gears Tactics (Xbox Game Pass + Smart Delivery)

Grounded (Xbox Game Pass + Smart Delivery)

King Oddball (Smart Delivery)

Maneater (Smart Delivery)

Manifold Garden (Smart Delivery)

NBA 2K21

Observer: System Redux

Ori and the Will of the Wisps (Xbox Game Pass + Smart Delivery)

Planet Coaster (Smart Delivery)

Sea of Thieves (Xbox Game Pass + Smart Delivery)

Tetris Effect: Connected (Xbox Game Pass + Smart Delivery)

The Touryst (Xbox Game Pass + Smart Delivery)

War Thunder (Smart Delivery)

Warhammer: Chaosbane Slayer Edition 

Watch Dogs: Legion (Smart Delivery)

WRC 9 FIA World Rally Championship (Smart Delivery)

Yakuza: Like a Dragon (Smart Delivery)

Yes, Your Grace (Smart Delivery)

With a great mix of 1st party exclusive games, new intellectual properties (IPs) and 3rd party games that cover vast genres and types of games, there will always be something new and fun for gamers who use Xbox consoles and Windows 10 PC. Even gamers who have not yet subscribed to Xbox Game Pass (XGP) won’t be left out.

Remember years ago when PlayStation fanboys criticized Xbox for the lack of exclusives and lack of great games? That is all over and the huge amount of games produced by Team Xbox’s 1st party game studios (including the game studios of Bethesda) will be released once completed…and the beauty of it is that the wait for the hot exclusive games won’t take too long. As reported by Colteastwood in the above videos, Xbox fans can expect exclusives like Avowed and The Outer Worlds 2 from Obsidian Entertainment, the next Doom from id Software, Forza Horizon Festivals from Playground Games, and the Perfect Dark-related 3rd-person action-stealth game from The Initiative. These are just a few of the upcoming heavy hitters coming to Xbox and Windows 10 gamers. As Colteastwood confirmed, Xbox Game Studios are currently producing at least forty games.

Going back to the November 10, 2020 launch, the early batch of games for Xbox Series S and Xbox Series X are not satisfying enough, there is backward compatibility on the new consoles that will not only ensure you get to play games from past Xbox console generations, you will get to play them with visual enhancements (example: improved frame rates reaching up to 60FPS) and much reduced loading times.

In an Xbox.com article dated October 13, 2020, Compatibility Program Lead Peggy Lo confirmed their team’s respect for fans’ gaming legacy. She stated: We believe your favorite games and franchises, your progression and achievements, your Xbox One gaming accessories and the friendships and communities you create through gaming should all move with you across generations. We also fundamentally believe that not only should you be able to play all of your games from the past without needing to purchase them again, but they should also look, feel and play better on the next generation of Xbox consoles.

And then there are the hot details Xbox fans can expect regarding backward compatibility on the new consoles. Here’s an excerpt:

Games play best on Xbox Series X and Series S

Backward compatible games run natively on the Xbox Series X and S, running with the full power of the CPU, GPU and SSD. No boost mode, no downclocking, the full power of the consoles for each and every backward compatible game. This means that all titles run at the peak performance that they were originally designed for, with significantly higher performance than their original launch platform, resulting in higher and more steady framerates and rendering at their maximum resolution and visual quality. Backward compatible titles also benefit from significant reductions in load times due to the massive leap in performance from our custom NVME SSD at the heart of the Xbox Velocity Architecture.

Auto HDR for everyone

Modern games often implement high dynamic range (HDR) to improve overall visual quality. HDR allows a game to render a much larger range of brightness values and colors. This gives an extra sense of richness and depth to the image when compared to a standard dynamic range (SDR) image. For example, the light from a flashlight looks much brighter and red flowers look much more vibrant.

However, thousands of Xbox games shipped before HDR was first introduced with Xbox One S, and even for some Xbox One games, developers simply didn’t have the development resources or time to implement HDR. With Xbox Series X and Series S we are introducing a new feature named Auto HDR. Auto HDR automatically adds HDR enhancements to games which only shipped with SDR. Auto HDR enhances the visual quality of an SDR game without changing the original artistic intent of the game. Auto HDR is implemented by the system so developers don’t have to do any work to take advantage of this feature. Also, since Auto HDR is enabled by the console’s hardware, there is absolutely no performance cost to the CPU, GPU or memory and there is no additional latency added ensuring you receive the ultimate gaming experience.

If you want to play your legacy Xbox games with a much higher frame rate for the best experience, such improvements are also confirmed as part of the backward compatibility feature on the new consoles. Check out the details below:

Xbox Series X and Xbox Series S bring next-gen performance to your favorite games. Higher, steadier framerates make games feel smoother, resulting in more immersive gameplay. Many improvements are the result of the custom designed processor that allows compatible games to play and leverage the increased CPU, GPU and memory from the new consoles. In addition however, the backward compatibility team has developed new methods for effectively doubling the framerate on select titles. While not applicable for many titles due to the game’s original physics or animations, these new techniques the team has developed can push game engines to render more quickly for a buttery smooth experience beyond what the original game might have delivered due to the capabilities of the hardware.

To emphasize the above, Team Xbox showed via YouTube the 2015 game Fallout 4 running at a buttery smooth 60FPS on Xbox Series S! Watch below!

With regards to enhanced visuals via backward compatibility on the new consoles, Peggy Lo wrote: On the Xbox One, we were able to provide a curated list of titles that were enhanced for the Xbox One X via the Heutchy method. This allowed titles from Xbox 360 that rendered at 720p and original Xbox games that ran at 360p to play at 4K on Xbox One X, well beyond the capabilities of their original platform. The Heutchy method continues to be used to bring a variety of titles to 1440p on Xbox Series S and 4K on Xbox Series X.

Improved texture filtering is also coming to backward compatible titles on both Xbox Series X and Series S. On Xbox One X, a portion of the catalog benefited from increased anisotropic filtering, improving image quality of games. On Xbox Series X and Xbox Series S, 16x anisotropic filtering has been enabled for nearly all backward compatible titles so you can experience the very best visuals the games have to offer.

With Xbox Series S and Xbox Series X, the future of next-generation gaming is very bright and promising, even more exciting than what Sony is offering with PlayStation 5 (PS5). Supporting the excitement for the Xbox ecosystem is Team Xbox’s very powerful bridge to the past (legacy gaming) with backward compatibility that also enhances the old games when played on the new consoles.

Peggy Lo further wrote: The backward compatibility team has been working hard to make all the games you love and remember available to you on Xbox Series X and Series S. Playing the games will be just as easy and magical as it’s always been. Simply insert your favorite backward compatible Xbox One, Xbox 360 or original Xbox disc into your Xbox Series X, install the game, and you’ll be ready to play. Your digital library will instantly appear and ready for download on the console when you sign in. If you’ve already installed your games to an external drive, you can bring that with you to the Xbox Series X and Xbox Series S. This all happens with no additional cost to you. And, with cloud saves, you’ll jump right back in where you left off.  For those of you still enjoying Xbox 360, cloud saves will soon be free to all Xbox 360 users, making transferring your favorite games to Xbox Series X and Xbox Series S even easier.

In ending this, posted below are gaming-related videos for your learning and excitement for the next-generation!

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Thank you for reading. If you find this article engaging, please click the like button below and also please consider sharing this article to others. If you are looking for a copywriter to create content for your special project or business, check out my services and my portfolio. Feel free to contact me as well. Also please feel free to visit my Facebook page Author Carlo Carrasco and follow me at HavenorFantasy@twitter.com

For more Xbox-related stuff, check out the Xbox Series Philippines Facebook group at https://www.facebook.com/groups/XboxOnePH

Looking good on the way to Xbox Series consoles launch, Part 3

I should say it out loud. I am a long-time Xbox gamer (and I was once a PlayStation fanboy until I started playing Halo: Combat Evolved, Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic and Forza Motorsport on the original Xbox console) and it is great that the next-generation Xbox Series S and Xbox Series X consoles will have backward compatibility right from the start.

Specifically, I started my Xbox journey (with an official Xbox LIVE account) in 2006 with the Xbox 360 console. I played lots of great games on that console such as Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, Halo 3, Forza Motorsport 4, Lost Odyssey, Assassin’s Creed III, Grand Theft Auto V, Red Dead Redemption, Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim and the Mass Effect trilogy just to name a few.

Even though the current 8th console generation was not too rosy for Xbox due to the weak 1st party game support on the part of Microsoft, I still enjoyed gaming on my Xbox One. The Outer Worlds was one of the best sci-fi RPGs I have ever played. Fallout 4 was just as engaging and as immersive Skyrim in my experience. Also I had great fun playing Red Dead Redemption 2.

That being said, I certainly do not want my past Xbox generation game collection – both physical media and digital copies – to just go to waste. This is why I really appreciate Team Xbox for implementing backward compatibility on the two Xbox Series consoles which will launch less than a month from now. I myself enjoyed replaying my favorite Xbox 360 games on my Xbox One  (a few among them were Red Dead Redemption, Lost Odyssey and the entire Mass Effect trilogy) and having the same feature for the next-generation is a very good thing!

On Xbox.com, Director of Program Management for Xbox Series X Jason Ronald explained the efforts their team made since the big breakthrough of 2015 plus other details about the tremendous addition of value backward compatibility brings to the Xbox Series S and Xbox Series X. Excerpt below:

Our compatibility journey began with the announcement of Xbox 360 Backwards Compatibility coming to Xbox One at E3 2015. I clearly remember that first magical experience of jumping into one of my favorite Xbox 360 games, Final Fantasy XIII, and instantly resuming where I had left off years before as if no time had passed at all. I was instantly transported back to that special time and all the great memories and personal connections I have made through gaming. The energy and passion from the community continues to motivate us to this day.

Through a tremendous amount of hard work, technical innovation, and partnership with the industry’s leading creators we were not only able to bring more than 500 Xbox 360 games to Xbox One, we were able to go back even further into the archives and resurrect some of your favorite franchises from the original Xbox. The very same team who created new innovative ways to preserve and enhance your existing catalog of games on Xbox One is the same team pushing the envelope again with Xbox Series X.

Maintaining compatibility presents a massive technical challenge as fundamental system and chip architectures advance across generations. Developers highly optimize their games to the unique capabilities and performance of a console to provide the best experience for their players. To make the Xbox Series X our most compatible console ever required both significant innovation in the design of the custom processor as well as the unique design of the Xbox operating system and hypervisor at the heart of our next generation platform.

With more than 100,000 hours of play testing already completed, thousands of games are already playable on Xbox Series X today, from the biggest blockbusters to cult classics and fan favorites. Many of us in Team Xbox play on the Xbox Series X daily as our primary console and switching between generations is seamless. By the time we launch this holiday, the team will have spent well over 200,000 hours ensuring your game library is ready for you to jump in immediately.

As seen in the paragraph right above, the 100,000 hours figure is very significant and it shows that no shortcuts were taken with regards to play testing and quality assurance. That figure is only rising and that is great dedication for not only Xbox fans with huge game collections but also consumers in general.

It should be noted that the more affordable Xbox Series S console will run backward compatibility a bit differently since it cannot render visuals in native 4K (it can however upscale in 4K). A September 14, 2020 update to Ronald’s article states:

the Xbox Series S runs the Xbox One S version of backward compatible games while applying improved texture filtering, higher and more consistent frame rates, faster load times and Auto HDR. As for next generation titles, Xbox Series S was designed to be the most affordable next generation console and play them at 1440P at 60fps.

The premium Xbox Series X console, unsurprisingly, has huge advantages for anyone who loves playing past games via backward compatibility. Enhanced visuals? Check! Improved frame rates? Check! Heavily reduced load times? Check! Much better performance? Check! Check out the excerpt below:

Not only should gamers be able to play all of these games from the past, but they should play better than ever before. Backwards compatible games run natively on the Xbox Series X hardware, running with the full power of the CPU, GPU and the SSD. No boost mode, no downclocking, the full power of the Xbox Series X for each and every backward compatible game. This means that all titles run at the peak performance that they were originally designed for, many times even higher performance than the games saw on their original launch platform, resulting in higher and more steady framerates and rendering at their maximum resolution and visual quality. Backwards compatible titles also see significant reductions in in-game load times from the massive leap in performance from our custom NVME SSD which powers the Xbox Velocity Architecture. As I play through my personal backlog as part of our internal testing, all of the incredible games from Xbox One and earlier play best on Xbox Series X.

The team was not content to just rely on the increased hardware performance to improve your playing experience. The team developed new platform level capabilities to ensure all of your games continue to get even better. In partnership with the Xbox Advanced Technology Group, Xbox Series X delivers a new, innovative HDR reconstruction technique which enables the platform to automatically add HDR support to games. As this technique is handled by the platform itself, it allows us to enable HDR with zero impact to the game’s performance and we can also apply it to Xbox 360 and original Xbox titles developed almost 20 years ago, well before the existence of HDR.

In addition, the new Quick Resume feature was designed to not only work with new games, but it can also be enabled for backward-compatible titles. Quick Resume enables players to resume exactly where they left off, across multiple titles, ensuring gamers can get right back to the fun in an instant.

Website Gaming Bolt recently published their own video explaining the so-called secrets of backward compatibility on Xbox Series X.

Going back to Jason Ronald’s article, it should be noted how dedicated their team is towards fans. The excerpt below:

Beginning with Xbox One X, the compatibility team developed brand new innovations that could be applied to a hand curated list of titles to enhance them even further than what was possible when they were first created. Techniques such as the Heutchy method, which enables titles to render with increased resolutions up to 4K, or applying anisotropic filtering to improve the final image quality bring these classic games up to modern standards, better than ever before.

With all of the additional power and advancements of the Xbox Series X, the compatibility team now has a veritable playground of new capabilities to innovate and push the limits of game preservation and enhancement. The compatibility team has invented brand new techniques that enable even more titles to run at higher resolutions and image quality while still respecting the artistic intent and vision of the original creators. We are also creating whole new classes of innovations including the ability to double the frame rate of a select set of titles from 30 fps to 60 fps or 60 fps to 120 fps.

The team also continues to listen to feedback from the community on additional titles you would like to see added to the compatibility program.

With the enhancements confirmed, check out Window Central Gaming’s comparative YouTube video of Monster Hunter World running on Xbox One X (currently the most powerful gaming console available) and Xbox Series X.

As of this writing, the backward compatibility feature on the Xbox Series consoles covers lots of titles of Xbox One, Xbox 360 and the original Xbox. What is expected not to be included are Kinect motion sensor games released on Xbox 360. On the side of PlayStation, PS5 is backward compatible with PS4 games only. Until now, Jim Ryan and Mark Cerny still have not figured out ways to make PS5 a compatible with the many, many games of PS1-PS2-PS3. Perhaps they never tried to do it at all, letting down their fans and consumers in general. It is weird because Sony used to be the shining example of video game backward compatibility starting with PlayStation 2 (PS2). Backward compatibility continued in the next generation with PS3 but only for the initial units. Subsequent PS3 consoles were made without the compatibility.

In ending this article, here are some more videos about Xbox Series X backward compatibility for your learning and enjoyment.

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Final Fantasy Bonanza for Xbox Fans!

When rumors floated online in 2005 that Square Enix was being attracted by Microsoft to release games on what was back then their upcoming game console the Xbox 360, there were some gamers who just dismissed those rumors claiming that the Japanese company would NEVER release its role-playing games (RPGs) – specifically Final Fantasy games – on a console of an American company.

It was a different time back then for console gaming. Square Enix released Final Fantasy X, Final Fantasy X-2, Final Fantasy XII plus some Dragon Quest and Front Mission games on Sony’s highly successful PlayStation 2 (PS2) console. The company even developed a Final Fantasy spin-off for the GameCube with Nintendo as publisher.

For the original Xbox console, Square Enix made no games for it at all.

Things turned during the time of the Xbox 360. Square Enix published several games for it and to the delight of Xbox fans who love Final Fantasy, the company released Final Fantasy XIII, Final Fantasy XIII-2, Final Fantasy XI and other games.

This year Square Enix released several of their classic Final Fantasy games released for Xbox One gamers via Xbox LIVE – Final Fantasy VII, Final Fantasy IX, Final Fantasy X and X-2 and a few others.

The other announced game, Final Fantasy XII (The Zodiac Age), will be released on April 30.

Among these games, I’m currently playing Final Fantasy IX on my Xbox One and even though it has been almost twenty years since I last played it, I can say that I am enjoying it again. The game is technically a port of the PC version (which comes with cleaned-up graphics most evident on the character and creature models) and not a remastered version. More importantly, the gameplay is still fun (even though it has those random battles) and the story has a lot of heart.

With the classic Final Fantasy games available via Xbox LIVE, now is the time for Xbox fans (who love Final Fantasy or those who are very interested in Japanese role-playing games) to acquire them while they can. We should be very thankful to Square Enix (and surely to Microsoft’s Xbox team led by Phil Spencer) for those games.

Final Fantasy X and X-2 were remastered for Xbox One while the upcoming Final Fantasy XII has already been confirmed to run at a super smooth 60-frames-per-second on the premium Xbox One X console.

What is missing from the FF classics is Final Fantasy VIII which continues to puzzle gamers to this day.

If more Xbox gamers buy these classic FF games, then perhaps Square Enix will be convinced to release more of their past hits of their other franchises like Front Mission and Dragon Quest. Perhaps they will consider releasing the older, 2D FF games like Final Fantasy IV, Final Fantasy V and Final Fantasy VI.

Apart from enjoying the varied stories, characters and gameplay styles, gamers will also enjoy the music of Nobuo Uematsu.

For your enjoyment, I embedded below Xbox channel videos of Final Fantasy.

 

Observation of the first twelve hours Tales of Vesperia: Definitive Edition

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Very recently I got to play the first twelve hours of Tales of Vesperia: Definitive Edition on my Xbox One console. As the subtitle showed, this is an enhanced re-release of the game which first came out on Xbox 360 in the year 2008.

This early I can confirm that Bandai Namco delivered its promise on Tales of Veperia: DE as the game’s visuals have been upscaled which means that the anime cut scenes and the in-game cut scenes (cel-shaded polygons and colorful 3D surroundings) look really crisp. More importantly this new version has two additional playable characters with Patty (the little pirate) and Flynn (rival of Yuri).

With Patty and Flynn added, so were the cut scenes and this also meant additional voice-overs, more in-game art and more sound effects altogether. Oh yes, their respective abilities and gameplay features added even more variety to the game’s big mix of features.

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Patty the pirate!

When it comes to the gameplay experience, I should say that this one has proven to be a lot of fun so far. For the first twelve hours the story moved at a moderate to quick pace while still allowing me to get to know Yuri and the main characters, the situations of the fantasy world and how the game plays.

When it comes to battles, they are pretty much low in stress. Unlike most JRPGs, there are no random battles to annoy me as I am given the freedom to decide if I want to fight a group of enemies (portrayed as individuals on the world map) or not. When I need to level up my characters, I engaged in many battles and the good news is that grinding (engaging in back-to-back battles to gain experience points to level up) in this game is not very stressful. Certainly not annoying.

This is because the battles are performed in real-time. Physical combat is done by button mashing which is quick and easy. Using magic uses the menu (which means pausing the game) to select a spell and which character to use. Switching between characters (up to four) is also quick and easy.

I already had my team engage in lots of battles to level-up, help them gain new skills or special abilities and of course raise money (called Gald). The good thing is that I never felt stressed out.

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Battles in the game are fast and relatively convenient to manage. (image from Bandai Namco)

When it comes to storytelling, the game has a wholesome tone comparable with past Tales Of games.

While I still have a long way to go in the game, I can confirm to you gamers and JRPG fans that Tales of Vesperia: Definitive Edition is so far a fun game to play on your modern console. Once I finish the game, I will post a review. When? I don’t really know yet.

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