Jun 262011
 

I know that bucket list is an overused term these days, but I did not know what else to call it.

I have been fortunate enough to be able to take decent vacations in the last 5-7 or so.  My wife and I have gotten in a bit of a rut though between Walt Disney World and cruising.  So, I am rethinking our vacation strategies.  We have been taking approximately two moderate type vacations per year. I am thinking towards one “staycation” and one big vacation.

Both my wife and I have spent some time (before we met) in Western Europe.  I was fortunate to spend a semester in England and was able to visit Wales, Ireland, Scotland, France, and Italy.  That was 15 years ago.  Getting old stinks. So, here is my list of things I would like to see.  Some may be more realistic than others at this time in my life both in cost and time.

  • Galapagos Islands – Thinking of taking a Celebrity cruise on the Xpedition.  It is a 100 passenger cruise ship.  It is all inclusive.  Considering our last cruise ship had 6200 passengers, it would be quite a change.
  • Machu Pichu – It is possible to wrap this in with a Galapagos Islands tour.  However, that may be too much for me at this time.  I would also like to see some of the lesser known ancient cities that are away from the tourists.
  • The Great Pyramids and cruise the Nile – I think that this one will have to wait with the unrest in the Middle East currently.
  • The Great Wall of China – I would also try to tie in a cruise down the Yangtze river.
  • River cruise through Europe – I would love to do a barge, but that is way out of my price range.  I would like to see part of Eastern Europe and Germany.
  • Grand Canyon – I have flown over it and visited some minor canyons as well as Monument Valley.  I would really love to white water raft it.
  • New Zealand – The Lord of the Rings movies really showcased some beautiful scenery.
  • The French Polynesian – Whether it is a small cruise ship or just doing a little island hopping, I do not think it matters.
  • Angkor Wat – Looks pretty amazing.  I would try to tie this in with other Eastern items such as Thailand.
  • India and the Taj Mahal – It would be pretty hard to go to India and not see the Taj Mahal while there.
  • The Panama Canal – This one is relatively easy to do.  I am just fascinated by the idea of the engineering of it.

So what say you?  What is on your list to see and do? What else should I add?

Ultimately, I am a bargain shopper.  So, I will go where I can get a great deal.  However, I am certainly expanding my horizons in the future.  Of course, if I win the lottery than I will hit all of the above plus more.

Jun 252011
 

If you have been living under a rock and had not heard the news yet, TF2 is now free to play.  You can download it at the TF2 website for both Macintosh and Windows.

The free to play will now be supported by microtransactions within the steam store.  You will be able to purchase new weapons and items.  Valve also claims that they will continue to offer free items as well.

Valve also seems to be taking a pragmatic approach to supporting the community:

“It’s a belief of ours that in multiplayer games it’s generally true that the more people playing the game, the higher value the game has for each individual customer.

“The more players, the more available servers in your area, the wider variety of other players you’ll find, the greater the opportunity for new experiences, and so on.”

This would be bucking the trend of AAA titles coming out at $50-$60 range and support disappearing.  It also seems to be a lesson that some companies *cough* Epic *cough* could relearn.

According to Steam, I only have 2.8 hours played in TF2.  Unfortunately, the Orange Box came out at the same time as CoD4.  CoD4 got a bit more playing time.  However, if more people pick up on TF2, I could certainly see myself devoting more time to it.

Jun 162011
 

Yes, I’m a fan of bad puns, get over it.  After yesterday’s news over Crysis 2 getting mysteriously pulled from Steam and then the assumed demise of future EA games on Steam, we get news that the Crysis 2 deletion was done by Valve, not EA,  over Steam policies.    EA was quick to direct the internet’s wrath directly on to Steam, although I don’t think it’s safe to put your Origin conspiracy hats away just yet.  Here’s a quote from EA on the matter:

“Steam has imposed a set of business terms for developers hoping to sell content on that service – many of which are not imposed by other online game services. Unfortunately, Crytek has an agreement with another download service which violates the new rules from Steam and resulted in its expulsion of Crysis 2 from Steam.”

No word on what “new rules” are in place and what Crytek agreement with another service (Origin?) is at fault with Steam’s terms.  Basically, it’s business deals that most gamers don’t and shouldn’t care about.  It doesn’t have an impact on those who previously bought Crysis 2 on Steam, they will still be able to re-download it if need be — but right now, no new purchases are available, hardly a tragedy on a 3 month old game, except for those holding on for a great Steam deal.  Valve is typically tight lipped about this things, so it’ll be interesting to see if they ever address this issue publicly.

What remains unclear is if this will affect future EA games, since Crytek specifically was called out and not EA in general.  Will this weaken any relationship between EA and Steam, especially with EA pushing it’s Origin service, or will it force the companies to work things out?  It is interesting though that Steam is one of the few places where you can’t pre-order Battlefield 3 today, although previous Battlefield titles remain on the service.

Jun 152011
 

A couple of weeks ago, EA essentially re-branded their EA digital download store as “Origin.”  Nothing exactly Earth-shattering, and it didn’t even feel it was worth discussing at any form here.  Yeah, there was the bit about Star Wars The Old Republic being an Origin exclusive, but for a yet-to-be-released MMO, it didn’t really register as note-worthy.  Now things are starting to get interesting.  RPS posted an article alerting us that Crysis 2 has been pulled from Steam and Alice: Madness Returns is no where to be found on Steam as well.  Also, interesting is that there have been zero hints of Battlefield 3 pre-orders on Steam, especially with EA and DICE pushing pre-orders hard elsewhere, as we discussed yesterday.

Of course the conspiracy theorists already have BF3 as an Origin exclusive, meaning if you want to buy BF3 digitally, direct from EA will be your only choice.  While that may end up being the case, there is one small problem in that logic: you can currently preorder BF3 on Direct2Drive and also on GamersGate (at 10% off).  To make things more interesting, you can still by Crysis 2 digitally on Direct2Drive and Amazon, so it doesn’t appear to have become an Origin digital exclusive, at least not yet.   Is Origin solely targeting Steam?  We’ve heard in the past from other retailers and some publishers that they felt that Steam carried too much weight by dominating the digital download market, and maybe EA is trying to strong arm Steam by not making available some high profile titles there.  They’ve done it on the used game market of console games with “Project $10”, so maybe Steam is their next focus.

I understand from a publisher’s perspective the downside of Steam.  Obviously, Steam takes a cut of the game sales, but that’s true of D2D, GamersGate, Amazon, and even brick and mortar stores like Gamestop and Best Buy.  Steam, however, works a bit differently on the technical side, requiring a somewhat rigorous approval process for not only the games but all patches — and let’s not forget that Steam games need to have separate patches applied to them which isn’t true of games purchased digitally elsewhere (except, obviously, if it’s a Steamworks game.)  So, maybe it’s more about having to maintain two different versions of a game and less about trying to forcefully limit market share of Steam.  Or maybe it’s some crazy argument over fees or other back-room deals that have really nothing to do with anything gamers should care about.  The point is, we really don’t know and I’d wager that most gamers don’t care.  They want to buy the games they want, where they want to, that’s it.

I have some, friends, actual real people, who only buy their games from Steam.  They will buy their games from Steam, even if better deals can be found elsewhere, and many times, will never buy a game simply because it’s not sold on Steam.  The question is, if BF3 is never sold on Steam, will those people buy it?  Between this and the pre-order shenanigans, have you been soured on BF3 any, or are you full steam ahead?  Yes, the bad pun was necessary.

Jun 142011
 

Pre-order bonus are nothing new.  The fact that it’s a trend that upsets many gamers doesn’t seem to be decreasing the wide-spread usage of pre-order bonuses.  Many games, you’d have to buy multiple copies from both brick and mortar and online retailers to compile all the various extra weapons, levels and perks being offered, which is obviously a non-customer friendly practice.  Even stranger, it’s not uncommon to see codes for bonuses sell on eBay for $10 or sometimes much, much more.  Now that details of BF3’s “Physical Warfare Pack” and “Back to Karkand” have been fully explained, many gamers have been fighting back against DICE and EA on these practices, claiming that if you don’t pre-order the game, you’ll be at a disadvantage online because you won’t get the extra weapons pre-orderers will get.  Also, you’ll have to pay extra to get the “Back to Karkand” pack, which includes some old favorite maps like Strike at Karkand and Wake Island, that any BF veteran will want access to.

What kicked it off was a threat of boycotting the game over at Reddit, which then prompted a response by DICE.  Of course, gaming boycotts rarely work — and we all remember the CoD:MW2 Steam boycott group (over lack of dedicated servers) who many of which were found to be playing the game on release.  However, the internet reminds us it was Sarcastic Gamer who promoted a boycott of the original (console only) BF Bad Company game, which tried to pull a similar stunt on pre-order exclusive weapons scattered about various retailers.  After hearing the outcry of the internet, DICE and EA backpedaled on the idea, and everyone was happy.

This time around, DICE doesn’t seem as willing to compromise, stating that pre-order weapons won’t imbalance the game, and will just offer a “more varied arsenal.”  As far as “Back to Karkand” — well, if you don’t pre-order the game, you can still get it post-release at an undisclosed extra price.

I’m definitely not a fan of pre-order shenanigans like this, although I have been known to pre-order games, mostly at Amazon.  My main motivation for pre-ordering is usually monetarily based, due to the plethora of $10 and $20 credits offered pre-release on high profile titles.  I usually won’t pre-order a game that only offers exclusive content as it’s usually just throw-away items — most developers won’t offer “game changing” items because it throws the whole balance of the game out of whack.  DICE says they are most definitely not doing that here, almost alluding to the fact that these extra weapons are worthless.   However, the extra map pack, offering some highly desirable maps, could save you money by not making you pay full retail for the game ($60 on all platforms) plus conceivably another $10 or more for the Karkand pack which includes Karkand (duh), Wake Island, Gulf of Oman, and Sharqi Peninsula which represent the best maps from the previous BF games.

Who’s pre-ordering this one?  I’m still on fence, but don’t appreciate DICE explaining the pre-order bonuses as “rewarding our core fanbase.”  We know what these incentives are for, please don’t insult us.  A better way to reward your core fanbase is to offer these 4 map remakes to all purchasers of the game, included in the base price of $60.

Jun 142011
 

Having finished L.A. Noire last week, I figured I’d follow up my first impressions with a few final thoughts on the game.  Overall, I found the game very entertaining from start to finish although this can definitely be considered a game that is “not for everyone.”

First off, it’s not an action game.  Even though it’s Rockstar who brought you GTA and Red Dead Redemption, L.A. Noire is most certainly not a cops and robbers shoot ‘em up.  There is a bit of shooting, and you’ll get to kill your share of bad guys, but these sequences feel more like afterthoughts or bolt-ons rather than important parts of the game.  Additionally, the shooting in the game isn’t very good, and probably provides some of the least enjoyable parts of L.A. Noire.  Adding to the feel that action isn’t a focus, there is an option to allow you to skip action sequences if you fail them a few times in a row.  I didn’t need that option, but it’s nice to see it available for those who aren’t adept at action games and want to enjoy L.A. Noire for its story and adventure-like aspects.

Second, the driving parts can be quite tedious.  Driving, sometimes long distances, to crime scenes coupled with the fact that reckless driving can hurt your overall case score makes you want to skip driving all together.  Thankfully, this was accounted for, as most of the time your partner can do the driving, which basically amounts to fast-traveling to your destination.  After the first few times, I let my partner drive everywhere, although there are a few instances where you are forced to take the wheel to tail a suspect or chase someone down.

Lastly, the overall case formula can be repetitive.  When you strip it down to it’s core components, each case more or less follows the same pattern.  You start at the precinct and get a case assignment.  You drive (or fast-travel) the to the crime scene, look for clues, question witnesses, follow up leads, interview suspects and charge the one that best fits the evidence.  Sometimes it can end in a shootout or car chase to vary it up, but the basic formula is there.  Without spoiling it, there is no true way to fail a case, just varying degrees of success.  In cases with multiple suspects, you’ll have a sense that none of them are guilty, but some are more worthy of being thrown in jail than others.  There’s always the “popular” choice from the captain and your partner, even though you have suspicions that something larger is going on.  The cases are mostly all tied together and yes, it all will make some sense in the end, so stick with it.

With a bunch of negatives listed above, how is it possible that I enjoyed this game?  The game, at heart, is a very well polished adventure game, like some sort of modern-era point and click adventure.  With the action being forgettable and a repetitive case formula with some deviations, the thing that brings it all together is a capturing story, top-notch voice acting and excellently written dialog.  L.A. Noire unfolds like a great cop drama, sticking with the implied noir theme set in a beautiful 1947 Los Angeles environment where attention to detail was paramount.  And let’s not forget the motion capture tech used here, that has the in-game characters not only voicing their lines, but acting them out as well.  It’s all very well done.

Again, I’ll voice my praise for this game, as I did in my first impressions.  The story keeps you interested all the way through, and makes you easily dismiss the weak parts while you enjoy the experience that’s a bit unique in today’s games.  As mentioned previously, this game also is great for spectators who can play along looking for clues and interrogating suspects, while also enjoying the story much like watching a TV show.  Playing the game a case at a time seems to work as a good pace, as each case can run roughly an hour at a time, depending on how thorough you want to be.  With about 19 cases, there’s a decent amount of content here, and that doesn’t count the side stuff like finding hidden cars, responding to street crimes and doing the free-play modes where you can explore the city, if you so desire.  I haven’t done much of that and concentrated most of my focus on the main story.  It’s probably one of my favorite games of this year, if not the favorite so far.

Still looking to pick up L.A. Noire?  You’re in luck, it’s [amazon_link id=”B002I0J5UQ” target=”_blank” container=”” container_class=”” ]Amazon’s Deal of the Day[/amazon_link].

Jun 132011
 

With the news of both Codemasters and Epic Games recently being hacked, this again serves as a sobering reminder: don’t reuse your passwords.  These include forums and other services both of these companies provide along side their games.  So if you ever raged about the latest UT or GoW game on Epic’s forums, or linked any accounts to Codemasters in games like Dirt, you could be affected.  When these types of security breaches happen, many times your email address and password can be exposed, and in the event you use this same login combo elsewhere, other unrelated accounts can be compromised too.  Using a password manager like Lastpass, 1Password, Keepass, Roboform, Mitto or any other of your choosing can help you generate and keep track of your unique passwords.  The obvious advantage is, if a particular site or service is hacked and/or login details are exposed, that password can’t be used elsewhere (say your bank account or email account).

I am personally a fan of LastPass, and while storing all of your passwords in a centrally located spot has its own risks (online or offline), there are ways you can mitigate the risk — and of course, pretty much anything is better than using your birthday or pet’s name as your password everywhere.  I should have a detailed review of LastPass along with some other easy tips on securing your own data this week.  While it’s easy to rage at the Sony’s of the world, we also have to take some personal responsibility to securing our own information.

UPDATE:  And now Bethesda reports a similar hack attempt was made on them last week.  The overall point stands, especially since there appears to be assault on game company sites.  Spend some time and update your passwords with uniques.

 Posted by at 8:24 am
Jun 102011
 
E3

This is part two of my feeble attempt at analyzing what the analysts have told us about all the excitement at this year’s E3.  Part 1 is here, where I take a look at a few things that I’m looking forward to.   In this part, I take a look at a few games that I’m a bit worried about.  By nature, if I’m worried about a game, it means it’s definitely high on my watch list, and am just concerned that it may not meet my lofty expectations.

Before you go crazy, the first two games I’m most worried about are on my “will buy day 1” list, although I’m pretty sure I’m in the minority with these, as most people seem to be 100% positive these are “game changer” games…or…something.

Mass Effect 3.  Loved the first two, but was slightly disappointed that the second game dumbed down the RPG elements  and focused more on action.  Seeing the promos for Mass Effect 3 worry me further, because it seems to be almost *all* action.  It appears they are billing it as a 3rd person shooter more than anything else.  Yes, I will play it, and I’ll probably enjoy the hell out of it, but I want something more — dialog, character development, universe exploration, and RPG stuff like stats on weapons and abilities.  Hopefully all that is in there, and am hoping the epic over-the-top action is just marketing hype.

Battlefield 3.  What I’m worried about in BF3 probably has to do more with me than with the game.  I’ve loved the previous BF games and sunk hundreds of hours into BF2 and BC2 online.  BF3 looks to take the best parts of the last two PC versions, and do it in the beautiful Frostbite 2 engine.  I’m worried because I can’t seem to get myself excited to the same feverish pitch that friends and the media are about this game.  It could be all the focus they have put into the single player, which is something I don’t want from a BF game.  It looks great, and I’m sure it’ll be fun.  I’ll buy it, even preorder it.  My problem is most likely I’m suffering from modern warfare fatigue.  It’s getting a bit overdone, and the constant DICE/EA trying to out-do Call of Duty is getting old, and even a bit embarrassing.  Maybe by the time BF3 rolls around with its shear awesomeness I’ll be ready to dive back in to the online modern warfare shooter world.

Aliens Colonial Marines:  A game that I haven’t heard much about, but I’m always skeptical of games of some of my favorite movie franchises.   Sounds a bit like Star Wars Republic Commando with the squad-based mechanics and is billed as the “true sequel to the Aliens movie.” Hopefully it gives us the Aliens game we’ve always wanted but that, by nature, sets the bar so high it would be a minor miracle to achieve.  The other factor is Gearbox.  They’re responsible for picking up the pieces and finishing DNF, which isn’t really a good thing.  I’m keeping my expectations low.

I’m probably worried about much, much more than this since I’m cynical by nature, but those are just a few that stand out in the post-E3 rubble.  I’ll be closing my E3 thoughts in part 3 of my Armchair E3 analyst article, where I take a look at the things that just don’t look appealing at all.

Jun 092011
 
E3

With all the big news sites covering E3 from head to toe, it’s hard to avoid the headlines and the hype.  When casually following this year’s E3 news, you tend to make some assumptions, get excited about, lose interest in, and never want to hear again about different things coming to the gaming landscape this fall and beyond.  As a person with no credentials other than actually a player of games, I figured I’d take a look at a few things that I noticed out of E3.  I’ve broken up my thoughts into 3 parts, what I’m excited about, what I’m worried about and what over-hyped stuff I could do without.  These are loosely organized ramblings about what stuck out in my mind about E3.

What I’m excited about:

Batman Arkham City is an easy one.  After having some early hesitation about Arkham Asylum when it was first released but then being completely blown away by it, I’ve been eagerly anticipating Arkham City.  Admittedly, I haven’t seen too much about AC at E3, other than snippets about having a playable Catwoman character that makes me worry ever-so-slightly. I was pretty much sold on this game day one.  Gaming media types tell me not to worry, so I won’t.  This is easily my most anticipated game for 2011 and my only fear is that my expectations are so high, I may only be setting myself up for disappointment.

Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim.  Some people would call me a terrible gamer for not playing any of the previous games in this series.  After playing Fallout 3, I did go back and play some Oblivion, but it just didn’t seem to hold up well even a few years later and I never got very far into it.  Since buying into a bit of media hype and seeing a bunch of Skyrim footage, I must say I’m interested in actually playing an Elder Scrolls game, properly, for the first time.  Looks like the buggy and sometimes ugly Oblivion/FO3/FO:NV engine is gone and new tech is in place.  The potential is there for an epic story that I could end up enjoying more than the last couple Fallouts, which I was pretty happy with, although New Vegas lost its luster fairly quickly and was almost relived to make it to the ending.

Prey 2.  Yeah, weird, huh?  Prey 2, the sequel no one wanted actually looks decent.  It’s hard to tell how it will shake out, but the media all seem to be pleasantly surprised by it, and what videos I have seen look interesting.  Oddly enough, Prey 2 doesn’t have much to do with the original Prey, but hey, you’re some bounty hunter guy in an alien city-world like Coruscant with everything having a Blade Runner-ish feel to it.  Assuming it’s as good as they say it is, this game could be a sleeper hit.  Maybe I shouldn’t have wrote it off the minute I heard that Prey 2 existed.  Go figure.

Assassin’s Creed Revelations.  I basically played the AssCreed games backward.  Dabbled in the first two games and wasn’t all that impressed, but got Brotherhood and absolutely loved it so much, it made me go back and play AssCreed 2, which I loved the second time around.  Again this is another title I haven’t followed too closely, but like Batman AC, I’m mostly sold on it.  It doesn’t even have to do anything revolutionary for me — just give me a tweaked Brotherhood experience and tie up the story and I’ll be happy.

Bioshock Infinite.  Loved the first, found the second to be ho-hum.  Bioshock Infinite is being made by Irrational, who did the first, so that’s reason alone to be optimistic.  Infinite changes up the environment, adds a supporting character reminiscent of Enslaved and looks to have a more varied gameplay experience.  I’m not 100% sold, but I’m definitely interested in it.  Ken Levine also made a compelling argument for PlayStation Move support in Infinite and says they’ve found some good ways to use motion control beyond what you’ve come to expect from games that use waggle.  I guess we’ll see.

Those are the notables that caught my eye.  Look for part 2 “What I’m worried about” coming very soon.

Jun 082011
 

The amount of rumors and speculation about what kind of iTunes cloud service Apple would make available was massive and started to rival new iPhone rumors.  Now that it’s been announced, there’s still a bit of confusion as to what iTunes in the Cloud is, what iTunes Match is, why it costs $25 a year and why would you want to buy it.  Let’s see if we can clear that up a little based on what we know today.

“iTunes in the Cloud” works today, see how to enable it here.  This allows you to do a few things.  One, it lets you go through all your previous iTunes purchases and re-download them on up to 10 devices, no additional charge.  For clarification sake, when Apple says “devices,” this means computers too — the idea behind iCloud is that a PC or Mac is just another “device” in the mix.  Secondly, if enabled, when you buy new music on *any* device or computer, it will automatically put that new music on *all* of your devices.  A simple concept that “just works.”  Third, and probably obvious although easy to overlook, is your iTunes purchases are automatically backed up in iCloud, so there is no risk of losing music files due to hard drive or device failure. Again, totally free, works today, even with purchases made years ago.  To re-download previous purchases on an iOS device, fire up the iTunes app and look for “Purchases” icon.  To do it on a desktop, start up iTunes (10.3 and up) on Mac or PC and again go to the “Purchases” section.

What happens to all the music you didn’t get from iTunes, say music ripped from CDs or purchased from Amazon or elsewhere?  This is where “iTunes Match” comes in.  iTunes Match will scan your library, find all the matches in the iTunes store for your existing music and make them available in iCloud.  This then allows you to download any of it to all of your devices, and automatically “upgrades” your music to the “iTunes Plus” version of 256 Kbps AAC — just like if you had bought it from iTunes in the first place.  In the event there is no match, it will have to upload the actual files from your library, which is the only time any uploading will happen.  The added side benefit is that your music collection, regardless of how it was attained or what sound quality it is, is now completely backed up in iCloud at high(er) quality.  Apple reminds us with over 18 million songs in the iTunes store, they like the odds of having most of your music available to be “matched.”  This provides a significant advantage over Amazon or Google’s solutions since you don’t have to upload your whole library, and also represents why Apple had to negotiate and pay out to the big music companies to offer this service.  That’s where the $25 a year price tag comes in.  The price is a flat fee, regardless of how much music you have.  They say whether you have 5,000 songs or 20,000 songs, it’s $25.  Also note, your music doesn’t count against the 5GB file space for iCloud  (while we’re at it, pictures, apps and books don’t count either).

Should you sign up for iTunes Match when it comes out this fall?  That will depend on your situation.  If you have one device and/or most of your purchases came from iTunes anyway, I don’t see it being worth the cost.  However, if you have many devices and a lot of songs from Amazon or CDs, it could be convenient to be able to grab any song from your iTunes in the Cloud library to put on any device on a whim.   Got a new iPhone?  Use iCloud on the device to load any music you want at will.  Setting up a new PC or Mac?  Same idea, your music library is available without have to transfer it to a thumb drive or external hard drive.  Lastly, let’s not forget the backup aspect of your entire music library is also worth considering.  Unlimited space for backing every piece of music you own?  Not a bad deal at $25 a year if you have a huge library, the price is low enough for many and with no restriction on size or amount of songs, the service compares well to similar solutions.

A few things to consider:

1) At this point, it doesn’t look like there is any streaming going on with your music, it seems to be a straight download of a music file.  While the initial offering of iCloud is solid, it’s probably safe to assume that Apple will only look to enhance it over time, so streaming and additional features may come in future revisions.  Some Apple patents circulating through various news sites have all but confirmed this.

2) To get to your music in iCloud, you have to use iTunes, there doesn’t appear to be any web app or third party application support available.  iTunes on the PC, Mac and iOS devices looks to be the only gateway to your music.  That could change over time, but I wouldn’t count on that.  Music from iTunes Match is DRM free (as indicated by a slide during Jobs’ presentation) so once downloaded, you’ll be able to use those files as you see fit.

3) It’s unclear if Apple will let you upload your non-iTunes music without paying for iTunes Match, basically using iCloud as a big “hard drive in the sky” as Jobs put it.

The good news is, iTunes Match for your non-iTunes purchases is the only part of iCloud that has any price tag on it, and if you’re happy with your current setup in terms of syncing, backing up and moving around music files obtained elsewhere, then this premium service is completely avoidable.

More details are available here:
http://www.apple.com/icloud/features/