The Average Gamer

Gamescom Tech: OnLive

You may have already heard of OnLive, which is another facet of “cloud gaming“. In a nutshell, OnLive run all the games on their monstrously powerful servers newly set up in Europe. You use their technology to stream the video to your rather than buying the hardware and the game to run things locally. Seems a little weird given that so many people have consoles these days but with most people I know being on their second Xbox 360 and/or PS3, this could be a good alternative to the next replacement. No more worrying about graphics cards updates on the PC. No more having to wait an hour while the PS3 installs your shiny new game. No more endless updates and downloads getting in the way of what precious time you can snatch while the family is sleeping. OnLive will take care of all that. All you need to do is just fire it up and play.

Thing is, what about lag? Plenty of games rely on fast reflexes and great timing. Wouldn’t the time to send the picture to your TV and your responses back to the server have a significant impact on the game? I played a few minutes of Split/Second at the OnLive booth and found it to be very responsive. The game looked great and if there was any lag, I didn’t notice it. Response times are faster than with Kinect, that’s for sure.

However, that was me playing it in Germany, connecting to the European server farm in Luxembourg on what was probably a dedicated internet connection at a promotional booth.

Here in the UK many of us have fairly shoddy internet connections. We’ve all seen our video players stuttering away as we try to download the latest 720p game trailer. I know my download speed varies between 1Mbps and 3Mbps for no reason whatsoever. We’ll have to see how it holds up when the service launches in the UK next week.

OnLive have plenty of nice features to go along with the current US catalogue of 145 games. You can flip through the Arena to watch any other gamer as they play online, using the controls to give them a cheer when they pull off something great or a thumbs-down when they crash. You can even heckle the player over your headset. They can respond or choose to ignore you and should you be find yourself to be the hapless gamer on show, you can always mute spectators.

You can also save “brag clips” as they call them and browse other people’s clips. These are short video moments where you were particularly amazing or shockingly bad. Up to you to decide how you want to portray yourself.

As well as being available through your PC, Mac or TV, OnLive will be launching tablet streaming later this year. Those of you with iPads or Android tablets will be able to comfortably relax on the sofa (on the loo?) and play a fully-fledged game using either the dedicated OnLive controller or their specially-designed touch-screen controls. From a technical standpoint you could also play on your iOS or Android phone but in practice, gaming on screens smaller than 7 inches will look rubbish.

There have been some criticisms of the OnLive graphical quality. With the servers being entirely out of your control, there’s nothing you can do to change the settings. Here’s a video put together by YouTuber Saieno86 from August 2011 comparing the quality of OnLive footage against against a PS3 and a moderate-range PC.

As you can see quite clearly in Mafia II, the colours are much dimmer and strangely blue for OnLive compared to the PC and PS3. Skip through to Homefront and you’ll find the colours comparable, but OnLive is clearly less detailed than the PC. For Deus Ex: Human Revolution and Lara Croft and the Guardians of Light, the OnLive and PS3 versions are very similar and notably less detailed than the PC version, at least to this average gamer.

It’s an interesting system and I’m keen to try OnLine on my home connection. We’ll know more about the lag factor and the European pricing model next week, when the system launches on September 22nd.