Wednesday, December 28, 2005
Use the GameFly link on the left side of my site, and enter coupon code YEAREND05 to save $3.00 off any of their 100% guaranteed pre-played games ($12.99 and up). You can purchase between now and 1/9 (unlimited usage), and "all discs are pre-inspected and come with the original case and manuals in new condition."
"All sales in this period also receive FREE shipping on all pre-played games."
Friday, December 23, 2005
But you're not SOL yet.
Check out at least Circuit City, Fry's Electronics, and CompUSA. As national chains, most of these places are doing some version of "2 for $30" of all titles "$19.99 or less."
Your best bet for some unique titles is at the latter two chains, because they seem to be a little more aggressive about what gets marked down to $19.99 -- and it's not just PS2 Greatest Hits or Xbox Platinum hits. But Circuit City tends to have the biggest selection.
With Circuit City, check out their outlet section of their website, enter your zip code, and see if you can order it online and pick it up within 24 minutes at a local store on Christmas Eve. Check out local Circuit City stores to see what location-specific "Red Dot Clearance" items they have. For example, a lot of them have the Xbox Live accessory kit from ALS for $1.99 to $4.99 (rather than $20).
Going back to Fry's Electronics -- at least in Austin, they're down to only three of the Spherex Xbox 5.1 systems I told you about. Either it's coincidence, or I'm very, very proud of all of you. And a little drunk on my powers of persuasion.
Now go. Shop. Show the Powers that Be a slumping videa game retail season doesn't mean there aren't hard-core procrastinating gamer shoppers still out there.
Thursday, December 22, 2005
I'm thinking more of references to World War I's precursors to shock troops, or maybe I'm thinking of World War II's Gestapo.
And U.S. Congress People are holding the door open for them.
These are great days for gamers. The market and medium is going in new directions for interactivity, accessibility, pervasiveness, and popular acceptance.
These are also important days for gamers. There are new challenges and (I know it sounds a bit "high-horse") important battles for basic freedoms.
So today's post is more serious than usual -- please read the whole thing, and act if you feel led.
Senators Hillary Clinton (D-NY), Joe Lieberman (D-CT), and Evan Bayh (D-IN) have put forth the "Family Entertainment Protection Act", geared to "empower parents by making sure their kids can't walk into a store and buy a video game that has graphic, violent and pornographic content," (according to Clinton). Ostensibly the bill is set up to to penalize retailers for selling games to under-age consumers.
But that's just the beginning.
The bill calls for fining the managers of retail outlets caught selling games rated "M for Mature, AO for Adults Only, or RP for Ratings Pending to children under the age of 17" (ignore the fact that games don't ship with "RP" ratings).
Under the bill, store managers can be fined up to $1,000 (or 100 hours of community service) for the first offense, with $5,000 or 500 hours for each subsequent offense. They can avoid this if they can prove they were shown identification they thought was valid, or if they "have a system in place to display and enforce" the ratings system which passes muster (which smacks suspiciously of "guilty until proven innocent").
The bill would also expand the powers and responsibilities of the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), including requiring an independent annual analysis of the ratings system, create an additional conduit to accept consumer complaints about "misleading or deceptive game ratings", investigate the prevalence of inappropriate hidden material not reflected in a game's rating, and do at least annual secret shopper audits of retailers to see if they're towing the line.
Clinton has cited similar bills in Illinois, Michigan, and California signed into law as precedent, but failed to mention the Illinois laws have been declared unconstitutional, and a District Court judge has ordered the Michigan law temporarily blocked (and "unlikely to survive strict scrutiny").
This law is dangerous precedent. It gets in the way of responsible, concerted industry efforts already underway to self-police the issues, and involves government in a way that doesn't even have a parallel for DVD or music sales (but, interestingly, does have parallels for alcohol and cigarette sales to minors). It has the potential to penalize unintentional violators who can't afford it -- for example, the part-time holiday staff that move the majority of titles for any given year.
The Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) already exists as an independent ratings association, and aggressively rates and markets ratings and related information for parents, developers, publishers, and retailers. Most retailers, including "The Big Three" in the video game space (GameStop/EBGames and Wal-Mart, the latter of whom moves as much as 33% of all video game units) already diligently make use of ESRB materials to appropriately sell -- or restrict the sale -- of video game titles (they already "have a system in place to display and enforce" the ratings system). Oh, and the FTC has twice praised the ESRB, saying, "there is much in the game industry's rating disclosure requirements that merits duplication by others."
And shame on the National Institute on Media and the Family (NIMF) for recent inaccurate news, slipping value to its constituents, a seriously flawed and sensationalistic 2005 edition of its "Video Game Report Card", and undermining mission partners like the ESRB (they recently claimed in the 2005 report card, "the present rating system is broken and can't be fixed").
And double-shame (yeah, I said it) to Take-Two Interactive/Rockstar Games, for their irresponsible hiding of the sex mini game in Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, that set off the most recent firestorm (leading to this pending legislation), and in some ways arguably set the industry's self-policing back to just after the Doom days.
There are others, too, but the truth is games (other than GTA) that make sensationalistic headlines and get the NIMFomaniacs (apologies; that was low road) up in arms don't do well. I seriously question Midway's refresh of it's Narc franchise (who thought a badly done, non-sexy budget "M"-rated title involving heavy drug use as a gameplay device was a good idea?), but the game tanked. Likewise, the refresh of Leisure Suite Larry stroked conservative ire against the games industry, but ultimately, did play out well on a revenue scale. Playboy: The Mansion was evidently a sub-parr Sims-clone game that sold badly, and reprehensible title The Guy Game was recalled after legal action was taken against the company for inclusion of under-age girls.
And the industry (and the ESRB) responds. Thanks to Rock Star, they have now made it mandatory for developers/publishers to admit and submit any hidden or ancilary game content. Self policing works, without Big Government involvement.
In any industry, there are going to be irresponsible offerings. There are also going to be edgy offerings as developers and publishers fish for the Next Big (revenue) Thing. But for every Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas irresponsibility, there are several hundred great games; or at least a handful of great, elevating, inspiring games (like Shadow of Collosus, Beyond Good and Evil, or even the edgy Game of the Year, Resident Evil 4) and a ton of innocuous (but safe) games.
As an aside, according to the ESRB, fewer than 1% of the approximately 1,000 ratings per year are rated "AO" ("Adults Only"), and fewer than 12% are rated "M" ("Mature").
As a further aside, I'm curious as to what -- if any -- effect this will have on political demographics. Gamers are growing up and the "MTV Generation" makes up a cogent voters block. Do the recent, repeated (and largely Democrat-sponsored) anti-game bills sway or galvanize this block? Dunno, but it's something I find interesting to think about.
I said earlier "act if you feel led." I'm writing letters to Clinton, Lieberman, Bayh, and my state officials. Do the same if you "feel led".
Going here makes it easy to do that.
Now, back to your recreation ...
- Halo 3 playable?
- Final Fantasy XI beta in X360OM February issue
- Bioware/Pandemic stock float?
- You can't stop Massive in-game advertising
- Xbox bosses pro(de)moted?
- Oh no he di'n't! ("HD Era"/"Tru HD" smack talk)
1. Halo 3 playable?
Bungie's weekly update talks about a recent in-house "Bungie Fair", where staffers shared what they're working on with co-workers "from our next project". Oh, and "even some gameplay tests, demos and experiments, are surprisingly polished and playable." UI references that "It's amazing what you can do with higher resolutions and lots more power" really seem to nod to Halo 3 on Xbox 360.
This shouldn't be surprising; Halo 3 should be pretty far along (given the Halo 2 delays and the fact THE FIRST PART OF HALO 3 SHOULD BE THE REST OF HALO 2!).
2. Final Fantasy XI beta in X360OM February issue
UPDATE: The FINAL FANTASY XI beta disc will be in the February 2006 issue, hitting newsstands January 17, 2006.
An upcoming issue of Xbox 360: The Official Xbox Magazine will have the Final Fantasy XI Xbox 360 beta packed in for the North American, British, French, Italian, and German editions.
This'll get the popular game (available in 2002 for PC and the PS2 (other than for Europe) in the hands of Xbox 360 gamers months before the game is available.
I'm not sure what issue this will be in, but I expect it'll be in the February issue. I've received the subscription versions of the Holiday and January issues, and the pack-in wasn't included. Oh, and if subscribers are shorted for the pack-in, I'm going to be grumpy (don't worry; you'll hear about it) ...
Xbox 360: The Official Xbox Magazine is the new iteration of The Official Xbox Magazine (OXM). I'm abbreviating the new version as "X360OM". So there.
3. Bioware/Pandemic stock float?
Former Electronic Arts president (and now Elevation Partners board member and deal brokerer) John Riccitiello is now the CEO of the new BioWare/Pandemic Studios, and he told the New York Times he wants the "superdeveloper" to be a publicly traded company. Pandemic president Josh Resnick seems to agree, citing a parallel to Pixar's public success.
I'm no expert, but it seems the new company should be careful going down that route. They're not bringing in the revenue of a Pixar, aren't as diversified in media or IP offerings, and if one of the stated reasons of the merger and cash infusion is to be able to take "the time to nurture top talent, then letting that talent work its magic" -- being accountable to the Street can really nix this goal.
4. You can't stop Massive in-game advertising
Massive Incorporated, the technology behind in-game advertising, is heading hot into the holidays.
After Massive/Activision results were released for previous efforts, showing a growth in ad responsiveness, and a win-win for publishers and gamers, Spark Unlimited (ex-original-Call of Duty staffers) surprisingly signed on for future titles. Now comes the anouncement that THQ has singed a long-term deal to for ads for "several to-be-disclosed AAA titles".
Hey, if it's clever placement that doesn't get in the way of the game (like the well-done Sony Ericsson Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory), I'm fine with it. So the sucky in-your-face Samsung placement in Perfect Dark Zero is not what I'm OK with.
5. Xbox bosses pro(de)moted?
In a leaked internal memo, Microsoft said it's restructuring its Entertainment & Devices group into 4 divisions (including the Entertainment Business division, which will handle music, TV and video; and the Interactive Entertainment Division, which will cover Xbox and PC games).
Previous Xbox boss Robbie Bach will be driving the Entertainment and Devices division in broader terms, focusing on long-term strategies and partner relationships.
Bryan Lee heads up the new the Entertainment Business division.
Peter Moore, corporate VP of worldwide marketing for Xbox, has the new Interactive Entertainment unit, and will oversee the Xbox business and the Games for Windows segment (and contribute to the gaming portion of Windows Vista efforts).
VP J Allard will lead the new Experiences and Design for Gaming and Entertainment Group. This one is interesting to me, because Allard's role becomes broader, and he owns the road map and vision for products and user experiences across all four units of the entertainment group. In some ways, this could be seen as almost a demotion -- taking away some of the direct accountability he had for, say, the Xbox 360 launch. But maybe not.
6. Oh no he di'n't! ("HD Era"/"Tru HD" smack talk)
Rumor rumblings make it sound like developers are struggling to get the HD content for the Xbox 360 on single- or dual-layer DVD discs supported by the console, and one developer is allegedly looking at a 6-disc distribution of an upcoming title.
And though Xbox execs are touting the release fo the 360 as the start of the "HD Era", president of Sony Computer Entertainment Worldwide Studios Phil Harrison says the Xbox 360 "doesn’t have true HD functionality" because it doesn't support 1080p (1080-progressive).
Forget that the Xbox 360 supports 720p and 1080i (interlaced) -- though it likely cheats on this latter resolution -- and both are considered High-Definition. Forget that Sony invented the term "Tru HD". Forget that nothing is broadcast (or on the horizon to broadcast) in 1080p. Forget that though Sony Computer Entertainment president Ken Kutaragi said the PS3 will run at 120fps, but 1080p tops out at 30fps (I think 1080i may hit 50fps). Forget that Sony promised us "lifelike game characters", via the PS2 "Emotion Engine".
All you need to remember is Sony's (via Harrison's) statement: "The HD era really only starts when we are on the market."
Hey, it was enough to kill the Sega Dreamcast.
And I bet Sony will actually come out with a compelling console launch title.
Wednesday, December 21, 2005
I think it's beyond sad for anybody to be missing out on the grass-roots, machinima popculture phenomena, and this is my intervention.
Go to www.redvsblue.com. Check out their videos. Buy Seasons 1-3 on DVD (the guys are in Austin, but I don't know from where stuff ships; they do finally accept Visa and MasterCard and ship via DHL).
Tuesday, December 20, 2005
Well, now the $499 list system is available from Outpost.com for $269.99 after $30 rebate. You might also be able to find it at the Fry's brick-and-mortar store for the same price, but if I find out it's sold out, I will be simultaneously impressed by my power of persuasion, and pissed that I didn't get a set of speakers.
Check out the deal here.
And given that this is nearly half the list price, and since the product is so solidly designed around the original Xbox esthetic, I asked the product guys at Spherex if this is clearing out stock before releasing an update modeled around the Xbox 360.
"The design of the new Xbox 360 is definitely something that has been noticed here at Spherex. While we cannot confirm any details at this time, you may see something to match it in the future."You heard it here, first.
UPDATE: Crap. Forgot to link to the Home Theater Magazine review.
And I forgot to mention you don't need a receiver for these, they don't do THX (so what?) and what makes them cool is their omnipolar feature -- which makes their "sweet spot" a much bigger chunk of the room.
Sunday, December 18, 2005
- Best Buy had Xbox 360s
- Gamer deals before Christmas
1. Best Buy had Xbox 360s
Following up on last Wednesday's post, Best Buy did have Xbox 360s for sale this morning, they evidently sold out within a half an hour of an early 8 a.m. opening for many stores. I called a couple of stores, and if the two's inventory (24 and 42 units) are any indication, Best Buy did OK moving units today.
I'm curious to see what next week's numbers look like as far total units moved.
2. Gamer deals before Christmas
Check out Circuit City for a bunch of multi-platform titles for $5-20 off. In particular, new/recent titles like Prince of Persia: The Two Thrones; Rainbow Six: Lockdown; Brothers in Arms: Earned in Blood; Far Cry Instincts; and the new America's Army are all 30-bucks.
They don't seem to have any Xbox 360 stuff on sale.
Also, Circuit City and Fry's have got all titles $19.99 or less (whether or not they're PS2 Greatest Hits or Xbox Platinum Hits) "2 for $30".
A bunch of places have the new Peter Jackson's King Kong: The Official Game of the Movie for $30 (not $50), plus have packed-in "Movie Cash" to go see the film. Just make sure you buy the one with the movie cash, and be aware that though this game probably has the longest title of the year, it's also one of the shortest play-wise.
Best Buy has got similar game deals, and they've got some third-party Xbox 360 titles (Condemned, Amped3, and NBA 2K6) on sale for $10 off their $60 list; and at least Condemned is worth it.
Best Buy also has the Optoma EZPRO716 SVGA DLP projector for only $499.99 after $200 instant savings and $100 rebate (MSRP $1,099). I don't have direct experience with this projector, but the specs are decent, and review I've seen have been favorable. Check out more at ProjectorCentral.com. And you can probably check out CompUSA to see if they're packaging this projector (at a similar low price) with a screen or other needed accessories.
If you're looking for Xbox 360 accessories, Target stores this week started carrying a couple of third-party wired controllers.
The first-party Microsoft wired controllers MSRP at $39.99, but the Mad Catz Xbox 360 Game Pad Pro MSRPs are $34.99, and the JoyTech Neo Se (or Xe) Advanced MRSPs at $29.99.
The Mad Catz offering has been getting better reviews than Microsoft's first-party controller, but I worry about whether their D-Pad design will work for Dead or Alive 4. IGN ripped the JoyTech controller, probably mainly because their review unit shipped with a stuck right analog stick.
UPDATE: Target also has the Pelican Xbox 360 Controller for $29.99. I can't find any reviews on it (and weirdly, there's nothing on Pelican's site), but I've used their wireless Xbox controllers for years with no complaints.
Wednesday, December 14, 2005
If Microsoft wants to sell 2.75 million to 3 million Xbox 360 systems in the first 90 days after its launch (November 22 to the end of February 2006), they're going to need this boost.
Microsoft company spokesperson Molly O'Donnell is adamant they're firmly on track to hit that target.
My question: Whither come these new Xbox 360s? There's a "low-chip-yield" shortage, and Microsoft execs have been saying they'll be "trickling in units" as they're able. It'd be interesting if these are recast units from the Japanese slow console launch.
Also, from a leaked scan of this Sunday's national Best Buy circular, the electronics retail superstore chain will have Xbox 360s for sale this Sunday (December 18) -- "Limited Quantities. No Rainchecks."
Official Xbox 360 sales figures; don't play "King Kong" on the Xbox 360?; February will be Black ...
- Official Xbox 360 sales figures
- Don't play King Kong on the Xbox 360?
- Black is coming in February!
- Dark Sector gets a publisher and a date
1. Official Xbox 360 sales figures
NPD Group has released the first independent figures for North American sales of the Xbox 360, and it's a might dissapointing.
Sales totaled 325,902 consoles by the end of November, way behind the 556,000 units sold in a comparable timeframe after the first Xbox's launch in 2001 (with direct competition from the Nintendo GameCube, launched only three days later). The low-chip yield (and probably other unacknowledged business decisions) are seriously hurting initial sales.
The bright spot is Xbox 360 software sales, coming in 1.27 million units -- an attachment rate of 3.9 (the original Xbox had an attachment rate of 2.4).
Activision's Call of Duty 2 makes up over 77% of those sales at number 1, with Electronic Arts titles taking up the #2 and #3 slots (Madden NFL 2006 with 178,000 units and Need for Speed Most Wanted selling 108,000 units). Interestingly, first-party Microsoft's Perfect Dark Zero came in at number four (almost 86,000 units).
2. Don't play King Kong on the Xbox 360?
That's what Ubisoft CEO Yves Guillemot told the BBC about the Xbox 360 version of Peter Jackson's King Kong - The Official Game of the Movie.
Evidently, the development team used high-def TVs during development for the Xbox 360 version, so the game plays too dark to be playable on many standard-definition TVs. Whoops.
The game should be fine on high-definition televisions.
I just played the Xbox 360 demo on a 19" LCD (via the first-party high-def VGA cable), and it looks fine.
3. Black is coming in February!
Criterion-developed title Black had a vague "2006" release date, with many retailers and industry publications listing it as available in April.
But that changed yesterday when publisher Electronic Arts announced Black will hit consoles in February.
Black looks to do for the FPS genre what Burnout did for the racing/wrecking genre -- make it loud, ridiculously unrealistic, and a ton of fun.
Based on the premises "if Hollywood can make a handgun sound like a Howitzer, why can't we", and "the bullets are the heroes", Black has been described as "gun porn" and "The Matrix lobby scene".
More info (including movies) here.
4. Dark Sector gets a publisher and a date
Dark Sector was one of the first next-generation games ever teased (way back in April of 2004).
D3Publisher of America (D3) has signed the title for developer Digital Extremes. D3 Publisher is a Japanese developer previously known for its budget-priced games, and opened D3Publisher of America as a wholly owned subsidiary in November 2004 to directly publish and market its parent company's titles in North America.
I'd be more excited about the announcement, but the ship date for the game is Q3 -- of 2007.
And for grins and giggles, here's an excerpt from my April 5, 2004 "Xbox Buddies Newsflash", first mentioned Dark Sector:
XBox Buddies Newsletter (week of 04/04/2004)
- Halo XBox Bundle Confirmed
- First next-gen console game unveiled
- Brute Force for XBox Next?
- PS3 to use Blu-ray Discs?
- Oddworld Seeks New Publisher
- Microsoft "resting" XSN Sports this season
- Preview: Unreal Championship 2: The Liandri Conflict, to kick major b***
- New Releases
2. First next-gen console game unveiled
> Dark Sector, a sci-fi action game by Digital Extremes (PC series Unreal and Unreal Tournament and Unreal Championship for Xbox), will debut on "next-generation consoles". TeamXbox said DE has confirmed the title will be on XBox.
> "Dark Sector is the next step in the first person action gaming experience by blending the intense action elements of first person shooters with the scope and character evolution of a persistent online universe."
> Check out the slick clip, which DE says is all in-game (no cutscene cheating): http://www.darksector.com/.
Tuesday, December 13, 2005
A survey by Japanese Famitsu magazine says only about 62,000 units were purchased on December 10 and 11 -- less than half of the estimated 159,000 Xbox 360 consoles available in Japanese stores. This is also half the 123,000 units Microsoft sold of its previous generation Xbox in the first three days of its Japanese intro the beginning of 2002.
Dead or Alive 4 and RPG eNCHANT arM would have changed opening weekend sales of the Xbox 360. Currently, DOA is the must-own franchise for Japanese Xboxers, and its absence may have seriously damaged the consoles cred.
DOA4 slipping from launch (and now at risk for its end-of-year reschedule for Japan) tells me (A) The game wasn't ready, making rock star game designer Tomonobu Itagaki probably very, very unhappy; and (B) Microsoft doesn't have that much influence over Team Ninja or Tecmo, LTD.
After all, Microsoft did ensure its first-party Project Gotham Racing 3 did make the launch, even after announcing a possible slip.
Sunday, December 11, 2005
First up was the Japanese launch of the Xbox 360 at Tokyo's Shibuya Tsutaya Shopping Center. I'm having trouble verifying concrete numbers, but here's the possible breakdown:
- Units pre-sold before lauch: 320,000
- Attendance at launch: 250 people
- Hours before all units sold out: 3
UPDATE: A survey by Japanese Famitsu magazine says only about 62,000 units were purchased on December 10 and 11 -- less than half of the estimated 159,000 Xbox 360 consoles available in Japanese stores. This is also half the 123,000 units Microsoft sold of its previous generation Xbox in the first three days of its Japanese intro the beginning of 2002.
Dead or Alive 4 and RPG eNCHANT arM would have changed opening weekend sales of the Xbox 360. Currently, DOA is the must-own franchise for Japanese Xboxers, and its absence may have seriously damaged the consoles cred. The game slipping from launch (and now at risk for its end-of-year reschedule) tells me (A) The game wasn't ready, making rock star game designer Tomonobu Itagaki probably very, very unhappy; and (B) Microsoft doesn't have that much influence over Team Ninja or Tecmo, LTD.; after all, Microsoft did get ensure it's first-party Project Gotham Racing 3 did make the launch, even after an announced slip.
Next up was the Spike TV's Video Game Awards 2005. I normally don't like awards shows (maybe my view'll change when I hopefully become an honoree in one), but this year's show was actually a lot of fun.
You can't go to the website yet to get the full list of winners (the "countdown time" hasn't been updated, and is currently counting "up" in negative integers), but the intro video is hilarious, especially for longtime gamers, and emcee Samuel L. Jackson did a great job, and was having fun.
Notable wins were Dave Jaffe as Designer of the Year (Sony designer for God of War) and Peter Jackson's King Kong: The Official Game of the Movie winning for best game based on a movie (with famed Rayman and Beyond Good and Evil designer Michel Ancel accepting (in an entertaining way).
Ancel had some interesting things to say about the future of movie-based games, saying that deeper back-and-forth collaboration between the designers and directors will be key (I'm sure Electronic Arts and Steven Spielberg are listening.
F.E.A.R. stole the FPS crown from Call of Duty 2 (according the Best Buy, the top selling title on the Xbox 360).
Other highlights of the boradcast (and the afterparty) were worldwide premiere clips for new games and movies like (Midway's next iteration of the Spy Hunter franchise (also to be a film next year, and both starring Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson) and The Outfit. I am disheartened by the BloodRayne film, but the Aeon Flux trailer showed badly, but I liked the film. I did not, however, enjoy Kristanna Loken as afterparty emcee, and her exchange with actor Billy Zane was one of my more painful recent experiences.
Though all does seem a little more right in the world with Resident Evil 4 winning game of the year.
I did make the mistake of taking on a third, low-caliber game broadcast this week -- U@Play, a local video game TV broadcast that I stopped watching out of irritation some time ago. I broke the ban today to watch the Xbox 360 coverage, and remembered why I stopped watching the show. Besides the poor production values, the host is pretty insipid ("graphics that will give each eyeball a full-body Swedish massage"; what?), and constantly gets the names of games wrong (it's "Perfect Dark Zero", not "Perfect Zero Dark"; and learn how to pronounce "Kameo".
If someone wants to fund an alternative to this, I'll be your game-passionate (and articulate) TV personality. Contact me.
Saturday, December 10, 2005
- Xbox vs. Xbox 360
- Eibeler named worst CEO
- Back with much Acclaim
- MTV Films
- Xbox 360 shortages due to low chip yields?
- Sony acquires Guerrilla Games
- EA buys Jamdat
- If you build it, they will hack ...
- XBox 360 Marketing (aka, "WTF?")
- X3 Trailer on Xbox 360 Live (**spoilers**)
- I'm playing...
- Blog Updates
1. Xbox vs. Xbox 360
Do older Xbox titles look "better" when played on the Xbox 360? Are titles that have both XBox and Xbox 360 versions better on the 360?
"Yes" for the first question; "It depends" for the second.
Games supported via backwards compatibility emulators on the Xbox 360 are upscaled to 720p widescreen (on compatible hardware), and get the 360's full-screen anti-aliasing. Nothing new for PC game graphics whores, but a huge difference from Standard-Definition TV.
GameSpot has a feature up comparing backwards compatible games on the Xbox and Xbox 360, and -- surprise -- they do look better on the 360.
GameSpot also has a feature comparing games that have Xbox and Xbox 360 versions:
Basically, the feature is looking at whether game versions between the two -- both running at 480p -- are any different (for those majority of folks who still own standard-definition televisions).
It's a decent article, with some nice onMouseOver screen comparisons, and some slight comments to the 720p versions, and any missing functionality dropped in order to make the Xbox 360 launch (ahem, Electronic Arts).
Read the whole article, but Peter Jackson's King Kong and Need for Speed Most Wanted, and many (all?) EA Sports titles have missing content in the Xbox 360 versions of the games.
2. Eibeler named worst CEO
Ouch. Herb Greenberg over MarketWatch is running a commentary, "Worst CEO: Paul Eibeler of Take-Two", saying "[e]arnings misses, game miscues make case". He of course makes a slight nod to the Grand Theft Auto "Adults Only" controversy, but is more focused on the fact that "Take-Two has missed its own earnings guidance for multiple quarters".
3. Back with much Acclaim
Former Activision exec Howard Marks picked up the Acclaim moniker after that company filed for bankruptcy in September 2004 (Check out my "coverage" here). Marks allegedly picked it up for $100K.
The "new Acclaim" will be differently focused. Rather than killing the Turok license, this new incarnation of the company will be bringing casual MMOs -- fueled by an Asian marketplace and micropayments -- stateside.
More info here.
4. MTV Films
MTV Films is on the move. Besides finishing the recent Aeon Flux (check out my thoughts here) and picking up the rights for Midway's The Suffering survival horror franchise, they recently announced they picked up the rights to NY fashion icon Mark Ecko's graffiti-based video game, Getting Up: Contents Under Pressure.
5. Xbox 360 shortages due to low chip yields?
Looks like the shortage of Xbox 360s may be partially or largely due to lower than expected chip yields for the custom 3-core processor that heats up your spare bedroom. How much lower isn't really known, but it is evidently bad enough that Microsoft almost delayed the 360 launch.
So, not much hope of getting a bunch of 360s stateside before Christmas.
6. Sony acquires Guerrilla Games
Sony Computer Entertainment (SCE) has bought developer Guerrilla Games, best known for their non-"Halo"-killer, Killzone, and Killzone 2 (working title) controbversial pre-rendered cinematic at this year's E3. Killzone 2 is targeted for the PS3, possibly as a launch title.
Electronic Arts has played in the mobile gaming space, but arguably hasn't focused on it.
The publishing juggernaut seems to have found the best way to quickly dominate the space: Buy the #1 player in that space. EA bought Jamdat, for $27 cash per share (and assumes outstanding stock options for a total of about $680 million).
8. If you build it, they will hack ...
Some development folks have been able to extract game content from Xbox 360 discs (ISO images) and posted them over at xbox-scene.com. They're caveated with "Note that downloading such releases is illegal and you can't do anything with them yet (they will not boot on your Xbox 360)", but I wonder if someone is losing their job over this -- a helluvalotta work went into the hardening the 360 itself; ya think someone would have focused a little more on the media copy protection and file system?
9. XBox 360 Marketing (aka, "WTF?")
I dunno what's up with Microsoft? Someone seems to be a bit asleep at the switch, content wise, or they're seriously trying to snow folks to try to hype the 360 release. Or both.
There were supposed to be a number of game demos available on launch day -- there was just Kameo: Elements of Power (Microsoft Game Studios). Later, NBA Live 06 (Electronic Arts) and Need for Speed Most Wanted (Electronic Arts) were added. This week, FIFA 06 (Electronic Arts) showed up. No sign yet of Peter Jackson’s King Kong: The Official Game of the Movie (Ubisoft), and no explanation.
Other launch-day content has been disappearing, there was a day when there were duplicates of the Chronicles of Narnia movie trailer, and it looks like they've been attempting to bolster content with interviews with developers (from IGN.com).
Worse, I've been getting Microsoft Emails letting me know games are "now available", peppering my mailbox from November 22 (Launch Day) to today -- even though all of the games were available 11/22 (or before); for example, a notice on December 6 telling me Project Gotham Racing 3 is now available.
And I got a notice today welcoming me to Xbox Live Gold (the Xbox 360 equivalent of a paid Live subscription; I converted my subscription on (wait for it!) 11/22.
10. X3 Trailer on Xbox 360 Live
The new high-defintion teaser trailer for the third X-Men film is available for download over Xbox 360 Live, and here's my initial deconstruction of the trailer for longtime fans and recent converts.
**Warning: Spoilers below.**
It looks like Colossus, Shadowcat, and Iceman have been added to the main team roster. With an impressive Warren Worthington III (aka Angel) and Beast (which I'll need to see more of to decide) on board as well.
On the side of the baddies, I recognized what looks to be Juggernaut, and Pyro's back after his last film's defection. Good. I hate loose ends.
As far as a storyline, it looks to be a mix of comic book arcs "Days of Future Past" (no Sentinels visible, but the effects lead me to think they may be there), Joss Whedon's recent "Gifted" storyline, and the "Dark Phoenix Saga" (though this movie may just be a precursor to that arc in a later film). I'm a little concerned about the Phoenix costuming and her position next to Magneto, though; it almost looks like they may try to kludge a new Scarlet Witch (which would totally rob the impact of that character from the books).
Oh, yeah, and Colossus on the team roster with Wolverine? There's a Fastball Special in the trailer ...
11. I'm playing...
Probably Shamu, but check out my "I'm playing ..." blog to see what I'm playing at the time you're reading this post.
12. Blog Updates
There's an Xbox Live 360 update to support the new Tom Clancy games added to the "Xbox 360 backwards compatibility" list (see the sticky post). Rumor has it was hacking with the Halo 2 support, but Microsoft has released a new patch that supposedly fixes everything -- so download it again.
Also, I updated the Halo movie/Guillermo del Toro rumor with some more concrete info. Check out last week's post, 'Xbox 360 dud titles, "Halo" and "The Darkness" movie news ...'
Saturday, December 03, 2005
- "Don't buy these Xbox 360 games"
- Guillermo Del Toro to direct Halo movie?
- Pang Brothers to direct The Darkness?
- Ubisoft and Free Radical team up on new IP
- New Star Wars Lego game?
- UK Xbox 360 launch as "successful" as US launch
- Digital Anvil no more
- Bungie goes "ARR"?
- Changes to Halo 2 playlists
- Video game deals at CompUSA
1. "Don't buy these Xbox 360 games"
Face it: If you drop 3-to-4 hundred bucks on a new Xbox 360, you don't want to pay for (and play) duds.
Luckily, John Falcone over at ZDNet has put together his list of "duds" -- largely games that scored lower on the 360 than on the Xbox.
The games are FIFA 06: Road to FIFA World Cup, GUN, NBA Live 06, Tony Hawk's American Wasteland, and Quake 4.
At least in the cases of NBA Live 06 and Quake 4, it depends on the review (TeamXbox gave NBA Live 06 and 8.1, and Quake 4 an 8.5).
That's the rumor, coming out of recent King Kong junkets. Guillermo Del Toro, like Peter Jackson, is a fanboy -- which makes both of them great at what they do (didja see Hellboy?
The downside is if Del Toro is picked for Halo, this would likely delay the Hellboy sequel, and Sony Pictures/Revolution Studios may not have the good sense to wait until he's available again, and may bring in an interim (or replacement) director.
UPDATE: Brit movie magazine Empire caught Guillermo del Toro in Madrid (where he's wrapping Pan's Labyrinth), and he confirmed he has been approached by Peter Jackson and Universal for the Halo film. The "bad" news? Hellboy 2 will be the priority if it gets greenlighted (which seems likely, given the Underworld-esque DVD success of the first film), and Halo's no likely to wait.
Read the whole article here.
3. Pang Brothers to direct The Darkness?
In more video game news, Danny and Oxide Pang have been tapped to direct the film adaptation of The Darkness, based on the comic book published by Top Cow Productions, Inc..
The Darkness is currently under development as an Xbox 360 title, by dev superstar Starbreeze Studios, the buys behind the excellent sleeper hit The Chronicles of Riddick: Escape From Butcher Bay.
The Pang Brothers are the guys behind Bangkok Dangerous, The Eye, and the recently completed The Messengers.
The Pang Brothers' Blue Star Pictures has a first-look deal at Sony Pictures and Revolution Studios -- part of the same ingredients behind Hellboy.
4. Ubisoft and Free Radical team up on new IP
Ubisoft is amazing. And Free Radical is the development house behind the TimeSplitters franchise (one of my favorites), and the under-rated Second Sight.
Now the two are collaborating on a new original Intellectual Property:
"Ubisoft is looking forward to working closely with Free Radical, renowned for creating beautiful and engaging gameplay in epics such as the TimeSplitters series. With this game, we plan to take players to a new level of intensity and create an environment at once terrifying, enthralling and impossible to resist."
I'm looking forward to what comes out of it.
5. New Star Wars Lego game?
Hey, my prayers might be answered!
Right, not prayers so much, but at least my flippant blog one-liner:
"Anyway, check out LEGO Star Wars. Look, maybe if enough of you buy it, they'll make a Lego Star Wars of the real trilogy ..."Rumor has it Traveller's Tales is doing another LEGO incarnation, of the original trilogy. Suh-weet.
6. UK Xbox 360 launch as "successful" as US launch
That is to say, the UK launch also had long lines, sold out within hours, and thousands of disgruntled gamers.
7. Digital Anvil no more
Austin studio Digital Anvil, the studio founded by ex-Origin Wing Commander co-creator and game designer Chris Roberts, is no more.
Around the turn of the century (wow, that's weird to say), Microsoft bought Digital Anvil, added it to its Independent Games Studios Label, sold off Frontier Wars and Loose Cannon to Ubisoft.
Microsoft also made Brute Force an Xbox exclusive. The game was ridiculously hyped (and couldn't stand up to it).
And now, in a statement this week from Microsoft:
"Microsoft Game Studios has undergone a redeploying of resources in its Austin, Texas-based Digital Anvil studio and will centralize the studio's resources in Redmond, Washington."As a footnote, I get hassled for this, but I actually think Brute Force is a decent game (though it took me to Level 16 to genuinely like a level's design).
8. Bungie goes "ARR"?
Rumor has it Halo studio Bungie has been working on a new IP that will come out before Halo 3 -- pirate IP.
No details are confirmed, of course -- -- this is the studio that allegedly has its own staff working on component parts of two different Halo 3 storylines, so that they won't even know which one's real.
Whatever. Give me the rest of the story for the Halo 2 game I bought from you last year.
9. Changes to Halo 2 playlists
Bungie's making changes to the Halo 2 online playlists. Check out the December 2nd weekly update for details, but here's the summary:
- Major Clanmatch and Head to Head have been removed.
- Minor Clanmatch has received a change in configuration. It will now be called Clanmatch and will allow for team of 4-5 clan members each. Your Minor Clanmatch ranks will persist to the new Clanmatch playlist.
- Two new unranked playlists have been added, Rumble Armory and Team ActionSack.
- 6v6 Team Battle has been added as a ranked playlist featuring team sizes of 5-6 players each. Big Team Battle now supports only larger team sizes of 7-8 players each.
- Team Snipers is now a ranked playlist and has a total of 15 maps. Your hidden rank will now be displayed.
- No stats were wiped in the making of these changes.
Check out your local CompUSA, but at least in the Austin area, they've got a clearance section of current-gen games -- running from around $4 to $20. Good games, too. I picked up a new copy of Hunter: The Reckoning Wayward -- the sequel to the Xbox-exclusive (and Adam-favorite) Hunter: The Reckoning -- for $9. And for Hunter: The Reckoning, we should bow down to the brilliant folks at High Voltage Software, and forgive them for indiscretions like Leisure Suit Larry: Magna Cum Laude.
Friday, December 02, 2005
Microsoft has taken a nod from Sony, though, and Xbox 360 titles published by them look like they'll be around $50.
This weekend at Fry's Electronics, two non-first-party titles (Call of Duty 2 and GUN, both from Activision), are on sale for $50. At least Call of Duty 2 is supposed to be good.
Ten bucks off a pop isn't bad ... assuming you're not still pissed about the price hike.
FYI, The deals don't seem to be available at the Fry's/Outpost.com online store.
Thursday, December 01, 2005
I was showing the new 'box off to some friends last night, and after hyping the moment with a tour through the new Xbox Live, Xbox Live Arcade (Guantlet and Joust), and some high-definition trailers (The Chronicles of Narnia and Aeon Flux), we watched the intro to Perfect Dark Zero, set up a Dark Ops game, created the game, and ... black screen o' nothing.
Seriously, it just hung. No error message, nothing. I powered off the machine and powered it back on, and the "Ring of Light" blinked the left three quarters in red, and wouldn't load the game or the Xbox dashboard -- even with multiple restarts.
Checking the user manual, the pattern falls into the "Internal problem requires service. Contact Xbox Customer Support." Nice.
It's back online today, but given last night's events (the console and its freaking masonry brick of a power unit are sitting on an open desk), I'm more than a bit concerned.
Remember this fiaso (here) with my last Xbox? I'd be seriously pissed to go through this with a brand-new console.
Tuesday, November 29, 2005
Microsoft's president of their Entertainment & Devices division, Robbie Bach, said, "We are well aware that many gamers are disappointed to have not gotten their Xbox 360 on day one. We are working around the clock to manufacture as many Xbox 360s as we can and are replenishing our retail channel week after week."
Microsoft's corporate vice president of worldwide marketing and publishing, Peter Moore, said, "Our goal is to replenish inventory in the channel every week ... So lots of Xbox 360s are flowing in every single week. It's not like we're shipping and then going dry for two or three weeks."
Hmm, so they can spin on a dime and get new machines from the Far East manufacturing into American retailers a week or two after running out?
More at GameSpot ...
Saturday, November 26, 2005
Fortunately, my sickness is to your benefit.
Some amazing gamer-related sales this morning, but there are some other good ones this weekend. I've tried to list some of the national deals in play (and of interest to me), but check your local stores, and act fast -- some of these are only good through Saturday.
- Current-gen gaming
- Next-gen hardware
- Next-gen gaming
1. Current-gen gaming
Check out stores for $10 versions of Sony PS2 and Microsoft Xbox versions of great games. Best Buy (Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory) and Circuit City (Doom 3, Brothers in Arms: Road to Hill 30, and Prince of Persia: The Warrior Within) have $10 titles, and they and others (Fry's Electronics, etc.) are doing "2-for-$30" Greatest Hits (Sony) and Platinum Hits (Microsoft) titles.
2. Next-gen hardware
So no sitings of new Xbox 360 bundles yet, but that doesn't mean there aren't some next-gen hardware opportunities out there, and you don't have to be as fat-walleted as was once the case.
There were some incredible deals on 26", 27", and 32" HDTV LCDs Friday a.m., but at stores like Best Buy, Office Depot, and Fry's Electronics, you can still pick up a 26-inch or 27-inch LCD widescreen (usually Olevia or Westinghouse), with standard TV tuners, for about $500. And most of them at this size are native 720p (or 1.66:1, with minimal black bar fill-in for 720p).
Want to go bigger? This time of year marks the first time DLP projectors are hitting below $500, and they're great for HDTV gaming. You can find the Toshiba projector I use (the TDP-S26U (or TDP-S25U) for $450 after rebates (Best Buy, but only $499 at other places).
I've also seen the Optoma DS305 (or equivalent) for similar prices, and you should check out CompUSA for their amazing home theater packaging deals, which wrap together projectors, screens, and other stuff (sometimes a DVD player; sometimes a bucket of popcorn; seriously).
Keep in mind at this price these are SVGA (800x600), and while handling 480p EDTV beautifully, often scale to 720p and 1080i. You'll want to look at projectors to see if the scaling is acceptible, and check out projectorcentral.com as a nice resource for all things projector.
Also, part of the reason prices are dropping on these projectors is the new consumer crop of lower-cost, true 720p projectors are out (Panasonic AE900, Sanyo PLV-Z4, etc.), and at "only" around $2,000, are the next big thing in low-budget consumer home theaters.
Disappointingly, I didn't see any great audio deals (receivers/amplifiers, speakers, or cabling) that got me excited.
3. Next-gen games
Xbox 360 games (other than first-party) are expensive at $60 a pop. I'm glad to see Fry's Electronics offering Condemned: Origins (Sega) and Peter Jackson's King Kong: The Official Game of the Movie (Ubisoft) for $40.
Also, check out Best Buy, which has a free, in-store mini-publication about the Xbox 360 from the editors at IGN.com. The thing has a bunch of tech-light articles on the new system (why it's cool, how to experience high-definition, etc.), and $5-off coupons for 11 of the 18 launch titles (and if you're a Rewards Zone member, that totals out to approximately $7.50-off per game). My only gripes about the mini-mag (aside from some minor formatting issues) is it's a little marketing-ish (go figure), and a bit disconnected on some delayed launch titles information.
There. Consider yourself informed. Go forth and bolster the economy.
Wednesday, November 23, 2005
A buddy left me a voice mail yesterday saying that I can't get an Xbox 360, and not respond to voice mail and text messages. I actually think getting an Xbox 360 is an excellent reason to ignore voice mail, text messages, bodily needs, etc.
But I digress.
The blow-by-blow of my "Quest for a 360" is below (in reverse order), followed by my initial impressions of the system.
- The cost of being a gamer
- Circuit City: 7:13 a.m.
- I have an Xbox 360!
- Sam's Club: 5:55 a.m.
- Circuit City #1: 11:13 p.m.
- Wal-mart #1: 10:35 p.m.
- Best Buy #1: 10:22 p.m.
- Target #1: 10:10 p.m.
- Barnes & Noble: 10 p.m.
- Hastings: 9:15 p.m.
- The Waiting ....
- General impressions/analysis
- The launch
- The hardware and accessories
- The games
- The services
Xbox 360 impressions:
1. General impressions/analysis
Let me say that I'm freaking glad I got an Xbox 360. Despite the (mostly unsubstantive) bombastic diatribe between Sony, Nintendo, and Xbox (interestingly, not Microsoft) poster employees and fanboys, the next generation of gaming has begun, and the Xbox 360 is leading the charge.
Who's going to win this round?
In my mind, it's not going to be the company who dominates, but the company who realizes the most profit for their company. Sony (and their acolytes) are big on saying the PS3 will blow away the Xbox 360. Maybe, but what does that mean if developers say it's easier to develop for the 360? What does it mean if both manufacturers are losing money on each console made, but Microsoft realizes economies of scales sooner, so their per-console loss is less, and maybe they even realize a profit-per-'box. What does it mean if Sony's per-console loss is greater than M$, and they see the industry analysts' projected $1 to 1.5 billion loss in the first full year of the console's release? Recent restructuring over at Sony makes me think this wouldn't be well tolerated.
Who's going to win this round?
Probably the console maker with the best mix of tech and games and services. I say "best mix", because they don't necessarily need to "the best" graphics, "the best" console exclusives, AND "the best" services -- they just need the best mix. (Look at the Treo 600 -- sucky phone, middling PDA, and owned (and arguably created) the first part of this smart phone market, and was the "must-have gadget" for the holiday season 2 years ago.)
Best mix so far? Obviously, Microsoft's got the first console out the door, it is waaay ahead of the current gen, and what they've done with the Xbox Dashboard, media connectivity, and services integration (Xbox Live, Xbox Live MarketPlace, Xbox Live Arcade, etc.) is amazing.
Enough. On with it ...
2. The launch
The title of this post is a little harsh, but let me put it in perspective.
I mentioned Microsoft's Peter Moore has been defending the current console shortage, and we'll likely need history to show whether it was the right decision or a cluster**** (I'm grumpy, so I'm going with the latter). You can see from my posts referenced above, though, that consumers were hurt. I also talked to a lot of store and departmental managers who were put in a very bad place, not knowing what their inventory was until the Nth hour, and didn't know their inventory break out of Core and Premium packages.
Worse, Microsoft put high school and young college kids manning midnight sales events in a tough place. I talked to one kid at a Hastings at 10 p.m. before the launch hour, and he was nervous as hell about the midnight sale, because they had reserved a bunch of promised consoles for people, and got ... three. And they didn't get their Xbox 360 games for sale or rent.
What does this mean for this Black Friday? If Microsoft and retailers are telling the truth, the biggest shopping day of the year won't include (if Microsoft has their way) the biggest "must-have" gadget of Holiday 2005. This hurts retailers, consumers, and ... Microsoft (and all of its hardware and software vendors). Arguably hurts the economy, too (look at what happened with PS2 shortages last year).
I understand the business justification for a multi-region launch, and a slow-ramp up on the per-console loss in the first quarter of the fiscal year for the Home and Entertainment division, but ...
Oh, and if a ton of Xbox 360s mysteriously appear this weekend, I'm going to rip Microsoft a new hole. I'm not saying literally, and I'm not say where, but I shall rip them a new hole. Oh yes I shall.
3. The hardware and accessories
The Xbox 360 console itself is sleek (I dare say, sexy), for the most part well-designed, can be used vertically or horizontally, feels solid, is well packaged (I got a Sam's Club Premium bundle), and easy to set up.
I say "for the most part well-designed", because there are a few flaws, mostly minor, but one egregious. The top part of the included removable hard drive is a thin strip of aluminum. On my box, that strip is loose and raised up, making an otherwise solid-looking machine seem a little cheap. Not worth it for me to return it (mainly because it's Sam's Club, and I'd likely have to swap out the entire thing, and not just the hard drive (on which places like Best Buy and Circuit City are much more workable).
I had a brief hiccup with the first-party wireless adapter, because the USB port on the back of the unit is right next the ethernet port, and the same height. Reaching behind the unit, I thought I heard the adapter click snugly into a port, and it was only when the Xbox Dashboard didn't show the adapter that I flipped the thing around and corrected my mistake.
Far and away the biggest (and to me, unforgivable) problem is the fan/innards sound. This thing sounds like a freaking plane taking off. The Xbox 360 is supposed to serve as the center piece of your high-definition home entertainment system, and with this sound, it can't.
I currently only have first-party accessories. With one exception, they are amazing. I haven't seen this kind of quality and attention to detail before in the console space.
The cables (included power, video, additional VGA cable, etc.) are high-quality, have a soft and solid feel, and have everything you need to get gaming. Take the VGA cable, for example. It even includes a VGA gender changer adapter if you need it. Not only does the cable include RCA audio, but it includes an RCA to mini stereo adapter, in the same gray color as the cable. Even the twist-ties on the cables are the same gray color. Nice touch. (And VGA output is hi-def amazing.)
The wireless controller is lighter, better balanced, and more solid feeling (and responsive) than the current Xbox Controller S. Plus, it's versatile -- you can use standard batters (looks like Microsoft wrangled a deal with Energizer to include batteries with all 360 accessories needing them), rechargeables, or proprietary rechargeable (and charge-and-play) packs.
The only downsides to the controller are the triggers are more like buttons (not analog triggers), they're too close to the new shoulder buttons (replacing the Controller S black/white buttons), and the "Start" button is too close to the "X" button. Mad Catz seems to have fixed all of these on their wired controllers, at the expense of a poorly designed D-Pad (which is going to suck for fighting games). I hope they come up with a wireless version, and fix the D-Pad. (Check out TeamXbox reviews of the first-party wireless here, and the Mad Catz controller here.)
The one abysmal failure is the included "bonus media remote" that comes (for a limited time) with the Premium package. The thing is solidly made, but is not the full media remote they sell separately. This smaller remote doesn't have volume or mute buttons, which makes the remote functionaly useless. This is so piss-poor, I have no words (other than the previous).
4. The games
The only game I picked up is Perfect Dark Zero, because I wanted to have an console-exclusive game with decent single-player and multi-player. I'm early yet (check out my initial thoughts here), but so far I'm not real impressed.
The included Xbox 360 Live Arcade game from Alexy Pajitnov (the creator of Tetris), HexicHD, is included on the hard drive, and is a genuinely great little puzzler.
I mentioned in another column (here) Microsoft said there would be a number of demos available on launch day. Turns out they're not yet, with just Kameo and NBA Live '06 available for download. Kameo's a lot of fun so far, but it's the same demo I've played through at the in-store kiosks.
I can't wait for Dead or Alive 4 and Oblivion.
The only current-gen title I've played on the 360 is Halo 2. After downloading the Xbox Live component of the backwards compatibility emulator, and each of the map packs (only the offline emulator is included on the hard drive; come on, Microsoft, put both components and the maps on the drive), I finally got to play.
The game looks and plays slick, except for the proportion being off. It's like the title doesn't get the VGA settings from the console, so I'm hoping I can fix that.
And the play experience last night wasn't that good, because I kept getting killed as I fumbled for the shoulder buttons in place of the black button (for switching grenades) and the white button (for team chat). Also, the Gamer Zone setting (I'm "Recreation") doesn't apply to current-gen games, so there were some a$$wipes that were out to verbally abuse, and their guys on our teams were capping us from behind. People of low character will be jerks and griefers no matter the technology or services.
5. The services
Speaking of services, this is where Microsoft excels.
The new Xbox 360 Live service is slick, well integrated (with the Microsoft Passport services), and intuitive.
The downloads section -- where you can get game and movie trailers, demos, Gamer tag art, themes, etc. -- is pretty robust. Microsoft has done a good job with the points/micropayments implementation, and the credit card and peer-to-peer payments companies really screwed up with not providing this for the new Xbox.
The integration of the Gamer Card with the "rest of the world" is fantastic -- see my card to the right? See my reputation growing? See what next-gen games I've been playing? Nice. Can't wait until Halo 3 shows up on that card (I'm guessing 2007).
Oh, and a word of warning: downloads take freaking forever, and they're serial, and one has to complete downloading before you can set up to download another. This thing's a workhorse, and it can't do multiple downloads like my single-core, single processor computer can do? I want to be able to set up my 360 to download a ton of stuff overnight, or download while I'm playing (even HexicHD) and I can't.
A really slick integration piece is the tie between an Xbox 360 and a PC -- especially a Windows XP Media Center PC. You can go to www.xbox.com/pcsetup and stream your audio and video library to your Xbox 360. I have a Media Center PC, and I'm able to use the guide, and run my PC from another room over wireless, as if it were in the room, and people can still use the computer. There's a more than slight delay between key presses (from the sucky remote) and menu refreshes, but the audio, video, and even live TV play without a hitch. (Wish I had a volume button!)
Again, great system overall, and I'm guessing their will be patches or iterations that update some of the shortcomings; or, they may just nickel and dime us as long as they can, and as long as we let them.
Back to it...
Tuesday, November 22, 2005
Sometimes, I do something that makes me feel somewhat clever. Last night, I opened a business account with Sam's Club (I'm the sole proprietor of my acting business). That gets me in the doors at 7 a.m., rather than 10 a.m. They have 20 bundles (the Premium plus an extra wireless controller and a play-and-charge kit).
I'm customer #20. Let's hope the numbers are right...
Monday, November 21, 2005
Saturday, November 19, 2005
Be sure to check out "Round 1":
- Midnight release: No
- 11/22/2005 Open Time: 8 a.m.
- Kiosk: Yes
- Midnight release: No
- 11/22/2005 Open Time: 8 a.m.
- Kiosk: Yes
first served (no tickets or vouchers). Best Buy had far and away the best accessory
selection (check out the photo below; personally, I'm glad they've got the VGA cable and wireless adapter). And they'll have 46 of both units (not 46 of
- Midnight release: Yes
- 11/22/2005 Open Time: 12:01 a.m.
- Kiosk: Sort of (they've got a playable 360 behind glass and hooked up to the same displays as their other consoles, and they've removed there current-gen Xbox).
A little better tonight than yesterday, but still a lack of knowledge as to concrete details, just a couple of days from launch.
I think Monday night and Tuesday morning are going to be busy ...
Time for me to vent on this.
Microsoft's Peter Moore told the Seattle Post-Intelligencer they aren't "stockpiling" Xbox 360s.
Moore may have felt his comments were necessitated by recent statements Game Crazy's parent company, Movie Gallery in their financial loss posting. Movie Gallery said, "Movie Gallery has recently learned that, its initial allocation of the new Xbox 360 consoles will be below original expectations ... We believe this issue to be industry-wide."
Moore didn't actually answer the question, which is some version of "Is Microsoft causing an intentional supply shortage to hype the product?"
Marketing wise, this could work out well. Think about it: If M$ can create a perceived "gotta have it" penumbra for the console in the first shipment, and the second shipment hits before December 22, the Xbox 360 could become the "gotta have it gadget" for the 2005 Christmas gift-giving holiday.
On the flip side, Microsoft's still losing money on each of these consoles. A slow, multi-territory launch accomplishes a dual goal of initial worldwide penetration, and slow ramp up of financial impacts. In addition, it could be the new Xbox 360 services (Live, Marketplace, and Arcade) aren't ready for a heavy loads, and need some ramp up.
Maybe it's a combination.
In either case, it's hurting retailers and consumers.
Interestingly, this shortage isn't limited to Game Crazy.
Like I said earier, GameStop left me a polite automated message this week, letting me know their shipment of Xbox 360s were "less than expected".
Yesterday, both circuitcity.com and walmart.com listed, sold out of, and delisted Xbox 360s within 15-20 minutes.
I also hit local stores last night to see what the skinny was for next week. A summary is below, but be sure to call and check with your area store to find out their launch plans (and good luck finding someone who knows what the hell they're talking about).
- Midnight release: No
- 11/22/2005 Open Time: 8 a.m.
- Kiosk: No
More importantly, they didn't have their consoles yet, and he said they didn't know how many of each package they'd be getting, if they would be doing bundles, etc.
Check out the picture of Xbox 360 accessories below, and though it looks impressive -- it's not.
Their are 6 columns of first-party accessories, and #1 is all the same wired headsets, #2 is the universal controller (the same one that for a limited time comes with the Premium package), #3 is 3 rows of the same two faceplates, and #4-#6 are just two cables -- S-Video and Component.
Even more, they have empty display banks for the accessories they thought they were going to get (there are no third party accessories, like the Mad Catz or JoyTech controllers, and a massive amount of first-party accessories (wireless adapters, VGA cables, etc. are missing).
- Midnight release: No
- 11/22/2005 Open Time: 10 a.m.
- Kiosk: No
Not only have they not received their consoles, they haven't received their accessories, nor the number of titles they thought they were getting. Two open display banks set aside for the Xbox 360 look pretty dismal. (As an aside, they did have one third-party accessory, tucked behind the current-gen Xbox cables -- a Monster fiber optical cable for the 360 -- which other than color should be the same as a Xbox fiber cable.)
- Midnight release: Yes
- 11/22/2005 Open Time: 9 a.m.
- Kiosk: No
Sure, this is a limited sampling, but the story is "The picture's not great."
The Friday before a Monday midnight launch, and stores don't know what they're getting, and can't make any commitments to their clientele.
Seems like communication could be better.
I'm off to Best Buy, Target, and (shudder) Wal-Mart to see what their area story is. I'll hopefully report soon ...