OnLive, Inc. provides a service that allows people to play console quality games on any Mac or PC equipped with just about any video card. It logs key inputs and streams the resulting actions back to the user’s screen. No hard drive space is required other than 10 MB for the application itself. There is also a unit available called the MicroConsole that plugs into HDTVs. The MicroConsole has a controller much like that of the XBOX 360—it’s comfortable and works well.
The service itself has a wonderful interface where you can watch others playing games in the Arena, view 10 second “Brag Clips” that people have recorded of their gameplay, purchase games in the Marketplace, or launch a game with ease. All loading times are very fast; OnLive has strong processors to run all of the games well. With a very fast Internet connection the video quality is incredible—it looks as if it’s right on the computer and it isn’t streaming. When other people use your network, OnLive detects the signal strength and automatically adjusts the video quality. Despite this, there are occasional frames dropped in the process. The only game so far where this has been a problem is Mafia II. I’ve seen some momentary lag not caused by my Internet quality or video stream, but instead from the processors at OnLive. Loading within the game itself could cause this, or maybe there were a lot of people online—it’s another rare occurrence that was barely noticeable, and did nothing to hinder my gaming experience.
OnLive is free to browse; any game on their servers can be played for 30 minutes. The trial can be played an infinite number of times with no charge. There is an affordable gaming option. It’s called the PlayPack Bundle, a package of 70+ games that costs $10 a month. It can be cancelled at any time, and the selection includes some fantastic games. There are also many games available for a full subscription, providing access to the whole game until it is no longer on their servers, a minimum of three years. All of these games can also be rented for either 3 or 5 days.
While these options are nice, the games are offered at premium prices. There often are great sales; just keep your eyes open. So far, what I’ve seen of the games shows me a lot of great potential, except that the selection isn’t very large yet. I’m convinced this platform is going to be huge, so I think it should gain enough momentum to have a huge library not too long from now.
Now here’s the cool news, OnLive has a playable app coming to iDevices before the end of the year!
Currently there’s an app available for the iPad that lets the user watch Brag Clips and view the Arena, but it’s nothing compared to what’s coming. Soon we’ll be able to carry console games in our pockets, and play them whenever we want! The graphics of these games will blow iDevice games out of the water with options such as Borderlands, Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood, and Batman: Arkham Asylum. It’s also great that the small iDevice hard drives will only need to have a tiny application to launch these games.
There are only a few foreseeable problems with this app: controls, screen size, and signal strength. A solution to control issues is that each game will need it’s own custom set tucked in the sides of the screen. If controls are approached meticulously (as I’m sure they will be) your thumbs won’t cover much of the viewable part of the screen, and each game should feel as natural as any one native to the iDevices.
The games available on OnLive were all designed for much bigger screens and as such they will have a large amount of detail visible at all times. This could potentially be a big strain on one’s eyes when playing on one of the smaller devices. I’ve also noticed that iDevices have a much shorter Wi-Fi range than computers. To get great video quality a strong network connection is needed, and you’ll have to be closer to the source. One can assume that the games will be playable over 3G, and that they will look just fine. The same goes for 4G, but even better.
OnLive is an ambitious and innovative service that brings incredible graphics to systems that couldn’t handle the processing themselves. While all of the video is streamed and is dependent upon a network connection and its strength, the hard drive is not filled with games. It’s coming to the iDevices, and it’s going to be great, as long as the controls are addressed carefully.