Xbox One - What are Microsoft Smoking?

I think its fair to say that Microsoft won the previous console war, sure Nintendo sold more units worldwide but, people who enjoy games, lets call them gamers, you ask any of them and they will tell you the same thing. Sony had been in a place of dominance with the Playstation and Playstation 2, they felt like no one could touch them, they made bad decision after bad decision and it cost them and now they are moving heaven and earth to fix that. Microsoft are in real danger of repeating that exact same pattern, believing themselves untouchable they have gone in completely the wrong direction and it may take a full generation for them to get those users they lose back. Nintendo do their own thing as they always have, we will go into that in another blog but for now, Microsoft.

On Tuesday the 21st of May, Microsoft announced their newest console to the world, the strangely named Xbox One, I say strangely named because in my friend circle we call the old Xbox the Xbox one and the current one the 360, so i have to imagine if im getting confused with such things then non gamers or casuals are going to get really confused. someone on my twitter feed actually went into a store last week to ask about pre-orders for the Xbox one and the staff behind the counter said “oh we don’t sell those anymore”, great going Microsoft!

I’m getting side tracked though, the machine was announced, some games got shown off and we actually got to see the console case, the controller and the new Kinect 2.0 which all looked slick if a little chunky.

The controller actually looks great, it has the same aesthetic as the Xbox 360 controller but with a much nicer looking d pad, they have also added force feedback to the triggers which should make for an interesting experience whilst playing FPS titles. The Kinect 2 has a wider range of vision, can track up to 8 people, has a high-definition camera and can supposedly track expressions and monitor your heart beat. The console looks nice and shiny but it does look really big, the box itself looks like an off market PC and im not convinced it would be welcome sitting under the TV in most non gamers living rooms. Its powered by 8 CPUs, 8GB of memory, a Blu-Ray drive, a 500GB non removable hard drive, built-in Wi-Fi and HDMI In/Out to allow for pass through. It also features USB 3 which can be used for attaching external hard drives and other devices to the console.

The majority of Microsoft’s conference was taken up showing off its non gaming abilities which is understandable considering E3 is right around the corner, however, it’s what they chose to show us that is raising concerns. The whole vibe of the segment seemed to be focusing around the fact that we as a society are much too lazy to have a separate controller for the tv and one for a games console so they are doing us a favour by placing this box in-between that will control everything for us. They where keen to demonstrate how easy it was to switch between internet explorer and a game/movie but really, do we really need this? Isnt that what tablets are for? If im watching a movie or tv show and want to send a tweet off about it, bringing twitter up on my screen whilst the show is relegated to a tiny picture in picture image isn’t going to impress my family or friends much, how much extra work is it anyway to just bring your tablet/phone out of standby and make your tweet? The big Halo announcement turned out to be a tv show, im not a Halo fan but a tv show?

That aside, Microsoft then appealed to the gamers realising that most of them like me had probably started fiddling with their phones or day dreaming and what better way to get our attention that a trailer for Call of Duty….a game that actually doesnt seem to look that much better than anything on the current gen. It was then it hit me, i felt the exact same way during the Sony conference and im getting it again, the graphical leap just isn’t there, the games look sharper, textures look less jaggy but for all their talk, it looks no better than a PC port of a console game and they all looked this way! A lot of people seem to think we will get bigger worlds, better AI etc but ive heard that kind of talk since the Playstation 1 days and my escort missions are still plagued by NPC characters running into walls or directly into the line of fire. Lets not forget that more money than ever before is being spent on games like Call of Duty and the games are not getting bigger, they are getting smaller, the last one only took me 4 hours to finish!

So all that aside nothing was really said about when it was launching, how much it would cost and how the used games stuff would work. They did confirm that nothing i have bought digitally, either xbox live arcade games or downloadable Xbox o…uh..orignal xbox games would work and 360 discs would not be readable either. The disc thing i was expecting but the news about my digital purchases stung me hard, Microsoft in my opinion have made a massive mistake by not bringing this content over, they have pretty much made it clear that when you buy a new machine from them you start again, on everything. Sony havent said anything about PSN but they could easily use this as a reason to buy their machine over the Xbox now, and Nintendo have always allowed users to keep the previous generation of games live on each new console so it baffles me why Microsoft have decided to make all of your purchases on their system null and void. What incentive are they giving us to buy anything from them digitally in future if they wont honor the things we already bought? Do they expect us to rebuy everything again?

If the above paragraph represents the cracks starting to appear in Microsoft’s future plans, then what came after is like an earthquake of errors and misinformation. Don Mattrick would say one thing, Phil Harrison would say something completely different, Xbox live support would say a third thing and then Xbox Live’s Major Nelson would tweet some vague “no comment” thing to try to keep the internet from exploding…it did not work. Here are just a few of the things that they continue to back peddle on even now, a mere two weeks before E3:

- Tech website Wired told users that if they wanted to play pre-ownd games they would need to purchase the game from a retailer such as GAME, get it home and pay a fee of around £25-£30 to activate it. Microsoft Support denied this and said there would be no activation fee, you would pay for the game once and you can play it on your machine or on anyone elses without penalty. Phil Harrison then contradicted this moments later by saying there would be a fee to activate but that they where looking into some kind of trade in scheme with select partners. This all took place in the space of an hour!

- Kotaku reported that the Xbox One would need a constant internet connection to allow the machine to even function, if the machine dropped off the internet it would pause and give the user 2-3 minutes to reconnect before bumping them back to the dashboard. Phil Harrison told Kotaku that the time was in fact 24 hours, not 2-3 mins, he then told eurogamer it was 12 hours before pulling them back in to tell them the correct time, but then Don Mattrick announced it was 48 hours which was then contradicted by Microsoft support who said it could work indefinitely without an internet connection for offline games but that it would need to connect periodically for system and title updates.

Major Nelson, the public face of Microsoft online has since tweeted this, “The ability to trade in and resell games is important to gamers and to Xbox. Xbox One is designed to support the trade in and resale of games. Reports about our policies for trade in and resale are inaccurate and incomplete. We will disclose more information in the near future” which tells us exactly nothing. The whole thing about “reports of our policies” struck me as particularly insulting since the people giving us this information worked for Microsoft and are the guys who are supposed to be in charge. Do the guys running the show even know how their own console works?

So the forums are currently on fire with people wondering just what they are buying into with the new xbox, should they get one or not? The worrying thing for me is that this machine is being pushed as a media centre that also happens to play games, the integration of voice commands is interesting but will that work in the UK with all of our different dialects or will i need to fake an american accent to get it work again? Microsoft are spending a fortune securing deals in the US with NFL and cable providers but nothing was mentioned about anywhere else, given that it was a worldwide reveal that seems very short-sighted, placing a postage stamp sized image of Sky in the top right hand corner of the screen just isn’t enough. Also, what about support for Japan? As a 360 gamer i have missed out on some huge Japanese created titles because Microsoft didn’t concentrate enough effort over there, will it be the same this time around? E3 may go a long way to answering a lot of these questions but will it be enough in the end? Two weeks until we find out…


The Wonderful World of MMOs

There sure are a hell of a lot of mmos out there, everyone of them claiming to be the ultimate online experiance and every one of them promising hugely detailed, deep and engrossing worlds to explore. What makes a good mmo? Does it need to be set in a mystical tolkien-esq world or can it be in set amoungst the Stars flying star ships or even set in modern times? Over the coming months i will be playing them all, from Everquest to Star Trek Online, from Tera to Defiance i plan to visit every game world for a week and from the perspective of a new player, find out just what they have to offer.

I hope you will all join me as i detail my experiances and leave comments on how you found your own time spent there, i dont believe there is an ultimate mmo out there but perhaps i can narrow it down to a top 10 of must play essentials. Week one has already commenced and is due for a write up tomorrow as i finish up a full week of playing Tera, please look forward to it.