"Transfarring", or the Future of Cloud Gaming

"Transfarring", or the Future of Cloud Gaming

The future of gaming is looking up... but...

pocru by pocru on Feb 12, 2017 @ 06:22 AM
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In a pre-E3 interview while still working for Konami, Hideo Kojima introduced the world to a phrase he’s still trying to popularize, called “Transfarring”. This was the word he used to describe the fact that Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker would be the first game ever to utilize the PlayStation 3’s long-forgotten ability to carry over game progress between the PS Vita and the PS3, so you could seamlessly continue playing from your couch to, say, the bus.

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It’s a cool feature, there’s no denying that, and Sony was big on touting it up when it was first announced, but after a few months even Sony couldn’t pretend to be excited about the prospect because there were some serious problems with the system at the time it was implemented. Perhaps the most obvious being that it required a PS Vita, which wasn’t exactly a popular system for a number of reasons. But the problems didn’t stop there: keeping the gameplay between the two systems was a surprisingly complicated and belaboring process, and it was often the case where it was simply too much of a hassle to bother with. While the feature remained in the PS3, very few games took advantage of it, and it certainly wasn’t hyped by Sony following release.

But Kojima, apparently, believed in the concept a lot. He resurrected the term when talking about the Nintendo Switch, which he said was the evolution of the term thanks to its ability to take your home console with you on the go… something he claims is the future of the industry. Or, at least, the ability to hop between many consoles or devices while keeping the same game running.

Okay, fine. Let’s do it, Kojima, if you’re insistent on talking about “Transfarring”, let’s give it the solid look it probably deserves. Or, since I don’t want to keep calling it “Transfarring” and break my quotation key, let’s take a step back and look at what Kojima is really saying: that the future of video games is in the cloud.

The Cloud, for those of you unaware, is basically the notion of storing and processing software on remote servers, rather than whatever device you’re using. When we talk about the Cloud, we’re talking about one of two things: Cloud Processing and Cloud Storage. Cloud Processing is perhaps the more functional of the two: If you were streaming, say, a movie, then the device your streaming on (be it a phone or laptop or what have you) isn’t actually going through the trouble of rendering the whole movie itself: all it’s doing is playing back a recording of another machine very far from yours, which is doing all the actual work.

Cloud Storage is simply storing files, whether they are saved data or word documents, on a remote server, which could be accessed by any device which had the proper link and an internet connection. Emails are a pretty common example, but Google Docs are also stored in the cloud.

Games, of course, could take advantage of both these systems. Cloud Storage, which already exists in some capacity and was what Transfarring was really taking advantage of, is simply storing saved or game data on the cloud, so you could access it either from a different machine (say, a PS Vita or a friend’s console) or just save space on your console’s memory. Cloud processing, meanwhile, is a whole different ball of wax, and far more exciting. Using the cloud, you could theoretically play really high-end games on much weaker systems, because you can make a powerful, distant server do all your rendering and processing for you, while your weak-ass home system merely has to process the stream between the two machines. So you could, theoretically, play the latest games on a seven-year-old laptop, assuming it has enough power to stream without any issues.

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Kojima’s right about one thing, no question: games will continue to implement and improve upon cloud functionality as they develop. But that’s simply because more devices in general are going to start relying on it, which, of course, is due to technology in general growing more and more reliant on operating from the Cloud. When we talk of Kojima’s vision specifically, of a world where you can hop between machines while still playing the same game, is that really the future of gaming?

Well, let’s look at the direct quote again:

“I feel like cloud technology is what everything will eventually move to/ It's further behind right now than I think where people thought it would be at this point, but I think it will go there, and when the infrastructure is ready, you'll be able to play everything, on every device, anywhere. The Switch is the predecessor to this step."


Is that plausible? From a technology standpoint, not only is it plausible, it’s already possible. All you’d have to do is combine the two uses of the Cloud: we’d use cloud storage to keep all the player’s saved data in one central, online location. We could then use Cloud Processing to start playing that game on some remote server, which will then stream directly to whatever, likely weaker machine you're currently playing on. Using this system, you could theoretically be playing Civ 6 on your fancy PC, save and quit, then start playing it from your PlayStation (any number, as long as it’s not the first)… and, if you have to leave the house, you could save and quit, then reload your save file from your phone.

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From a business standpoint, you can see why there would be issues. If there was true cloud-based gaming, it renders consoles completely pointless and largely obsolete… after all, if you could play the latest games from a freaking Ouya, it wouldn’t matter which console you had. Exclusives and specs would be rendered meaningless, and it meant that all the hardware that’s the backbone of the console gaming market would evaporate. Now, Sony and Microsoft might actually be willing to take that loss, since long-term cloud-based gaming would save them money on developing and producing hardware, and a cheap “ez-stream” console would be pretty great for everyone, but if they did, you can bet your bottom dollar that they would offer competing cloud services, and there would be some pretty harsh monthly fees involved in the process, which could either be more or less expensive depending on how frequently you buy new games.

I, for example, don’t buy new games very often, so a 50-buck a month subscription fee would make me seriously reconsider my hobby.

The second problem would be, of course, if Sony or Microsoft would let their cloud service be used on other devices. Microsoft would be more than eager to see their games on the PC, but Sony’s hesitation to enable cross-play suggests they wouldn’t be so quick to let their games run on your laptop or desktop. Both of them would also likely hesitate to let their games stream on your mobile device: Microsoft has never had a great record with mobile devices, and Sony is still technically selling the PS Vita.

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The third problem, naturally, is that would require a constant, unbroken wireless connection to play any games, multiplayer or not. And gamers have not been quick to embrace an online-only future, as inevitable as it may seem, because internet is still unreliable and slow and many gamers don’t have access to it at all times. Plus, it would be the death knell of true mobile gaming, and since oftentimes people want to play those things on airplanes, trains, and boats that don’t have internet access, it would render the whole thing pointless.

Which is why the Switch is a nice “middle ground”, I suppose, and the “first step” that Kojima was speaking of. It doesn’t need to be played online at all times because when you leave the house, you’re taking the hardware and memory with you. It’s not “Cloud Gaming” as you might understand the term, but functionally it acts the exact same way, albeit with some sad limitations that you can’t really get around, and the always-damming fact that it’s being run by Nintendo, which is never a great sign.

Still, the fact that they’re trying to combine the convenience of cloud gaming with the functionality of traditional console gaming is admirable… probably not admirable enough to really sell people on the prospect of an internet-only future, which the next-next step would require, but Kojima’s got a good eye for these things so my faith in the console is restored a bit.

I should point out that despite Nintendo being the one to take this “next step”, I very much suspect they’d be the last company to really embrace cloud-based gaming. I mean, sure, they’re doing mobile now, but that doesn’t mean their control over their IP’s is any less iron-tight. The idea of playing a Nintendo game on a non-Nintendo console? Laughable. I mean, doing it legally.

Doing it illegally is really easy, and a lot of fun too. 10/10, would recommend.

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