OnLive Does What Consoles Can't
Over the past two weeks, I’ve been playing a simple indie game on OnLive titled The Maw. OnLive is a streaming video game service, which was publicly released at E3 this year and has been made free for one year for new users. Anyone interested can try the service out here, without a subscription. We’ll be bringing a full review of OnLive shortly, but for now, this one game provided great insight into the service.
The Maw is a quirky game where players must solve puzzles and feed a giant head, aptly named “Maw”. It’s a short game, about six hours to fully complete, and I took my time and completed it over the course of two weeks. The experience was quite different when I first started than when I finished, which may be the biggest reason why OnLive, as a service, has the best chance of being the future of gaming.
When I began playing The Maw, I noticed slight lag; a 10 millisecond pause between my input on the controller and the output on my screen. It wasn’t that bad. Back in January, when OnLive was still in beta, The Maw was completely unplayable, stuttering in almost every instance. Every mouse movement and button press caused a half-second delay, at least. But, two weeks ago, it was 10-20 milliseconds behind, which is fully playable for this slow-paced game.
By the end of my adventure, the actions on screen were one-to-one with my input controls. In fact, I forgot that it wasn’t running natively on my PC. I only remembered that I was streaming the game because of the screen resolution. All games on OnLive run at 720p, instead of the 1200p my game-destroying PC can muster. In the course of just two weeks, it became impossible for me to tell the difference between running The Maw on my PC, or through OnLive.
Another minor detail that made the experience even better is that I wasn’t tied down to a single PC. I started the game on my media center in the living room, where my Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 are plugged into my puny 32” TV. I played with a wireless 360 controller without incident, even though OnLive recommends against using wireless technology, which adds lag. The next time I played, it was on my main desktop, in front of my 24” monitor. After that, it was on my weak laptop, which barely passed on OnLive’s bare-minimum specifications.
The fact that I could play anywhere made the game, surprisingly, worth playing even more. When you can play anywhere without restriction, it’s no longer an event to get to your TV, turn on the console, install updates or patches, etc. Just log in and play, from anywhere. Ironically, I became spoiled through OnLive in just two weeks. With no Wi-Fi support, I couldn't play anywhere. Still, if I’d purchased the game over Steam or Xbox Live, I’d be stuck on that machine, because that’s where the save file is, and no one wants to constantly transfer saves.
Then, at 12:01 PST, Kane and Lynch 2: Dog Days released on OnLive. Subscribers could not only purchase, but immediately play the game others waited in line to get their copies of (were there lines for it?). No install, no wait, no leaving the house, and best of all, no $60 price tag. Console gamers can rejoice by saving $10 per purchase while still retaining the option to play on a gamepad. Or, like nearly every game currently available through OnLive, players can choose between a gamepad and keyboard + mouse.
These two factors – constant improvements of the service and the ability to play almost anywhere – indicate that OnLive may have a very bright future. Such features don't exist on game consoles, PCs, or Macs, for which gaming is a foreign concept. Valve is bringing non-localized savegames to all Steam games, but it may be a while before the feature is fully implemented. Improving a game console is impossible, and upgrading your PC is expensive and time consuming. Additional options of a better price point for new titles, the ability to rent games, and choice of controller devices only bolsters OnLive's potential.
Playing just one game, however - The Maw - and seeing improvements in the short span of two weeks, gives OnLive the air of not only a great service to use, but possibly a better, brighter future for gaming.