Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Microsoft in Times Square; The Hard Drive Debate ...

  1. Microsoft in Times Square
  2. Xbox Live 2.0 details
  3. Rest of the Halo 2 maps released
  4. Get an Xbox 360 early
  5. Xbox 360 Guide and Dashboard
  6. The Hard Drive Debate


1. Microsoft in Times Square

Imagine a four-story Xbox 360 retail store in New York City's Times Square. According to a Seattle Times report this week, it's in the works. And though Microsoft "does not comment on rumors", they do, "At any given time, Microsoft evaluates and pursues real-estate opportunities and needs."

Why not? In 2001, Microsoft launched the first Xbox at the Toys "R" Us Times Square.

Besides, Nintendo two-story Nintendo World at Rockefeller Center in Manhattan in May of this year.

2. Xbox Live 2.0 details

Cool, Xbox Live Silver memberships are going to be free, and'll give you access to Xbox Live Marketplace, create a gamer profile, and leave voice messages.

If you want to do online gaming, you'll need Xbox Live Gold, which'll, uh, cost you more. details are a little sketchy, and GameStop and EBGames have got different names for the same packages:

  • One-month: $7.99 (Up $2)
  • Three-month #1: $19.99
  • Three-month #2: $39.99 (includes headset, $10 rebate on a game, copy of Joust for Xbox Live arcade, and 100 marketplace points)
  • One-year: $49.99 (includes headset, 200 marketplace points, $20 game rebate; EBGames makes it a 13-month subscription and the Billiards Xbox Live arcade game, while GameStop has a 12-month subscription and, again, a copy of Joust)

So far, everything's listed as coming out on November 15 from both retailers.

3. Rest of the Halo 2 maps released

The last 5 of the new Halo 2 have been released for free download today. Though available now, the last 5 maps (Relic, Elongation, Terminal, Backwash, and Gemini) will be required to download them by next week's matchmaking update.

4. Get an Xbox 360 early

Mountain Dew is running the "Every 10 Minutes" promotion is giving away an Xbox 360 system every 10 minutes. Winners will get their systems before the launch date, and their choice of Madden NFL 06 or Need for Speed Most Wanted. You gotta buy specially marked beverages, or request a game piece get mailed to you.

5. Xbox 360 Guide and Dashboard

TeamXbox.com has got some details from the Game Developers Conference Europe.

Things that are cool for developers the Xbox 360 Guide is an always-running app handling configuration, device management, common system tasks (Xbox Live log-in, log-out, alerts, Friend’s List, game invitations), plus game saves, controller disconnection, music playback, and error messages. This means developers spend less time writing for stuff outside of their title, and more time on the title itself. Or myabe they get to go home after only 16 hour days.

Microsoft has also (smartly) allowed developers more control over system stuff -- like temporarily delaying system messages during gameplay, or deciding where it's positioned.

For gamers and developers, the Xbox 360 Guide can be skinned with any game when it loads, and add their own banners (uh oh), with things like downloadable content for the title from Xbox Live Marketplace.

For gamers, I'm looking forward to the Gamer Profile. The best thing? Common game settings. No more inverting your thumbsticks for every FPS, or (hopefully) picking a Halo-esque control set every time.

I've talked about the Gamerzone before, and I'm looking forward to joining the R&R zone, and hoping the wankers who hang out on Live and look for me to log in so they can insult me because of my blog content join the Underground.

6. The Hard Drive Debate

So, Microsoft said developers shouldn't count on the hard drive being there. While it looks like Sony may do the same, I think Microsoft is making a dangerous move. I mean, the hard drive is the differentiating attribute of the current Xbox.

It's next gen time, and without an HD media option, Microsoft is saying all of that great content needs to fit on the same sized media as current generation titles.

J Allard made the point that the removable hard drive might not be there, so the title needs to function in the absence of the hard drive. He was saying the console owner may take the hard drive to a friends house, and other family members should be able to still play.

OK, but what do we know won't work with that hard drive gone?

  • Current Xbox games (requires a profile stored on the hard drive)
  • XBox Live Arcade
  • Possibly Xbox Live (I think they'll address this)

At least Gabe Newell, Valve Software’s founder/managing director/head honcho is mad about it, saying that it makes his job harder.

Several recent games, such as the stellar X-Men Legends, don't support memory cards (and it's not because of space limitations; we're talking 4 blocks for a game save, and 510 blocks on a memory card).

Maybe the lack of a hard drive'll be mitigated by the 12x, dual-layer readthrough on the 360 (versus a supposed 1x or 2x readthrough on the PS3 Blu-Ray), and the total abstraction of the storage medium, which means the game'll choose from a variety of storage resources, but doesn't assume the type of storage device -- if there's free space, it can be used. So, if there's a hard drive, a memory card, or (I suspect) remote storage (c'mon, the main feature of Windows Longhorn/Vista will resurface at some point), you can save your games.

I can't help but think that the decision will make the Oblivion experience less on the Xbox 360 than the PC, and I don't know what Final Fantasy XI is going to do -- it required the hard drive for the PS2, and won't work on the slimline PS2. And they're currently developing it for the Xbox 360.

Friday, August 26, 2005

For the love of all that's holy, not again ...

  1. YAARG! (Yet Another Alternate Reality Game!)
  2. More Money You can Spend on an Xbox 360
  3. Halo Triple Pack
  4. Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 tech details
  5. New trends in special editions
  6. Gears of War updates


1. YAARG! (Yet Another Alternate Reality Game!)

It was bound to happen. After the ilovebees alternate reality game for Halo 2, there was the ourcolony.net ARG for announcing the Xbox 360.

Now, there's www.origenxbox360.com, is a new website registered to Microsoft Corp, that's a got a backward-counting timer working its way to September 27, and a bunch of apparent references to Alice in Wonderland. There's a tree, a sillouette of a rabbit, and (recently) a hole in the ground.

Now, even though I tried to get into the ourcolony.net thing, I was getting sick of it. This, however, looks a little more interesting, a little less annoying, and a little more literary.

An interesting sub-game within the ARG is origen360.org, which, unlike the .net (which is a version of the .com site), keeps changing up its content. It's been a googlefight between the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, a Google seach for the terms "Oriental" and "Generation", and other stuff. Though right now it seems to, uh, mirror the .com and .net sites.

2. More Money You can Spend on an Xbox 360

I mentioned recently Microsoft's announcement of the pricing and contents of the Xbox 360 packages, with the Core package running $299, and the Premium package running $399.

Not content that folks will be spending enough money on the 360, EBGames has announced 2 bundles, which add the games Perfect Dark Zero Limited Edition, Dead or Alive 4, Kameo: Elements of Power and Project Gotham Racing 3.

  • Xbox 360 Core Bundle ($599.93) -- Adds to the Core system an extra wired controller and a Memory Unit (the Core system doesn't come with the hard drive)
  • Xbox 360 Ultimate Bundle ($699.92) -- Adds to the Premium system an extra wireless controller, a Play & Charge Kit (for the extra controller), and a echargeable Battery Pack (for the included controller).

Evidently, GameStop decided EBGames's offerings are for financial lightweights, and have offered alternative bundles. All bundles include the titles Perfect Dark Zero Collector's Edition, Project Gotham Racing 3, Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, Dead or Alive 4, Call of Duty 2, and a 1-Year Product Replacement Plan.

  • Gamestop Core Bundle ($699.91) -- Adds to the Core system an extra wired controller and a memory unit.
  • Gamestop Silver Bundle ($799.90) -- Extra Wireless Controller, Play & Charge Kit, and Rechargeable Battery.
  • Gamestop Gold Bundle ($899.88) -- Extra Wireless Controller, Play & Charge Kit, Rechargeable Battery, Xbox Live 12 Month Card, and Kameo.
  • Gamestop Ultimate Bundle ($1199.83) -- Extra Wireless Controller, Play & Charge Kit, Rechargeable Battery, Xbox Live 12 Month Card, Kameo, GUN, Quake 4, Tony Hawk's American Wasteland, Condemned, and Madden NFL 2006.
  • The Omega ($1999.69) -- 3 Extra Wireless Controllers, Play & Charge Kit (1?), Rechargeable Battery (1?), Xbox Live 12 Month Card, Wireless Network Adaptor, Memory Unit, Fuego Faceplates (plural?)Kameo, GUN, Quake 4, Tony Hawk's American Wasteland, Condemned, Madden NFL 2006, Amped 3, Ghost Recon, NBA 2K6, NHL 2K6, Ridge Racer 6, Top Spin 2, Need for Speed: Most Wanted, Tiger Woods 2006, and Frame City Killer.

A couple of observations:

  • GameStop owns EBGames, so WTF?
  • What geniuses at Microsoft missed the opportunity to market the Xbox 360 at, uh, $360?

3. Halo Triple Pack

Somebody help me with the financial incentive for getting Halo, Halo 2, and the Map Pack together for $59.99.

Keep in mind, Halo is a Platinum title that MSRPs (look, I made it a verb) for $19.99 (but you can routinely get it for $14.99). Halo 2 is regularly available for $34.99. And the maps are free over Xbox Live.

This must be for the offline crowd.

4. Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 tech details

Technical info has come out for both the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3.

The Xbox 360 info reveals the transistor count for each part of the two-die design, showing a 330+ million transistor design (versus a 205 million AMD Athlon 64 and PlayStation 3 Cell processor has ~234 million).

IBM, Sony Group, and Toshiba announced tech details on the jointly developed Cell Broadband Engine. The group has an arguably larger goal than Microsoft ("Our console rocks more/harder/faster/longer than your console"), but is trying to build community around adoption of and innovation with Cell (which is available for more than just the PS3).

5. New trends in special editions

So, the Perfect Dark Zero Limited Edition content has been announced. Besides some neat but arguable expected items (Bonus DVD with an art feature, music, the first chapter of the tie-in novel, comic booklet, glyph card), there are a couple of items that stand out as customizations related specifically to the Xbox 360: Perfect Dark Zero "Gamer Tiles" to customize your identity on Xbox Live, and Perfect Dark Zero Heads-Up display (HUD) UI Skin to customize your Xbox 360 experience.

What isn't included (and I find surprising, but wait for it) is a PDZ customer faceplate for the console. Though I expect their to soon be new SKUs for games that are at a level (and cost) above "special editions" that include these faceplates.

6. Gears of War updates

So, over at CliffyB's 1up.com blog, he gives some more details (and a useful paintball analogy) about the Gears of War gameplay that I found kind of nifty.

I recommend checking out the blog in your off hours, and not on a corporate network ...

Sunday, August 14, 2005

Xbox 360 pricing announced; Game trailers you should watch

  1. Xbox 360 pricing announced
  2. Accessorizing and maintaining your Xbox 360 is gonna cost you
  3. Game trailers you simply must watch
  4. X05 in Amsterdam
  5. New Xbox hardware licensing from Microsoft
  6. I'm getting to hate Halo 2 and Xbox Live


  1. Xbox 360 pricing announced

    • After being leaked via the LA Times, Microsoft has formally announced the pricing for two Xbox 360 packages, as well as official estimated MSRP pricing for accessories.
    • Xbox 360 packages

      • Xbox 360 Core System Package
        ($299.99 U.S./€299.99/£209.99)

        1. Xbox 360 console
        2. Xbox 360 Faceplate ("stylish 'chill' (white)")
        3. Xbox 360 Wired Controller
        4. Xbox 360 standard-definition AV Cable (RCA audio/video (red/white/yellow)

      • Xbox 360 Premium Edition Package
        ($399.99 U.S./€399.99/£279.99)

        1. Xbox 360 console (distinguished by signature metallic detailing on the console itself)
        2. Xbox 360 Faceplate ("stylish 'chill' (white)")
        3. Xbox 360 Wireless Controller
        4. Xbox 360 Component HD-AV Cable (high-definition and standard-definition connections)
        5. Xbox Live Silver membership (out of the box, chat with friends online, send/receive voice/text messages, and access content from Xbox Live Marketplace (demos, trailers, etc.) and casual games from Xbox Live Arcade)
        6. Xbox 360 Hard Drive (20 GB). 20 GB and detachable (store games, music, trailers, levels, demos and Xbox Live Marketplace content).
        7. Xbox 360 Headset (initial version will be wired to wireless controllers; wireless headset slated for "2006")
        8. Media Remote (a limited-time bonus, this is a single remote for Xbox 360, Windows Media Center 2005 PCs, and possibly existing Xboxes)

      • Xbox 360 Accessories

        • Xbox 360 Hard Drive (20 GB) ($99.99 U.S./€99.99/£69.99)
        • Xbox 360 Memory Unit (64 MB) ($39.99 U.S./€34.99/£22.99)
        • Xbox 360 Wireless Controller ($49.99 U.S./€44.99/£32.99)-- Range and battery life of up to 30 feet and 30 hours of life on two AA batteries.
        • Xbox 360 Play & Charge Kit ($19.99 U.S./€19.99/£14.99) -- Plug it in for uninterrupted play, and probably includes both a battery pack and charging cable (so, why is this not included with the wireless controller? Oh, it's the mobile phone model.)
        • Xbox 360 rechargeable battery pack ($11.99 U.S./€14.99/£9.99) -- Provides up to 25 hours of gameplay for wireless
        • Xbox 360 Wireless Networking Adapter ($99.99 U.S./€79.99/£59.99) -- 802.11g.
        • Xbox 360 Headset ($19.99 U.S./€19.99/£14.99)
        • Xbox 360 Universal Media Remote ($29.99 U.S./€29.99/£19.99)
        • Xbox 360 S-Video AV Cable (U.S.), Xbox 360 SCART AV Cable (Europe) ($29.99 U.S./€24.99/£17.99)
        • Xbox 360 VGA HD AV Cable ($39.99 U.S./€29.99/£19.99) -- Flat-panel TV or VGA monitors, so this'll likely be a VGA plug -- will their be an adapter for RGB analog component?
        • Xbox 360 Faceplates ($19.99 U.S./€19.99/£14.99)

  2. Accessorizing and maintaining your Xbox 360 is gonna cost you

    • So, Microsoft is creating compelling, well-coordinated accessories for the Xbox 360. More significantly, they're taking a nod from the mobile phone markets, where carriers subsidize handsets, and make money with accessories and value-add services -- The Xbox 360 is the handset, and Microsoft is the carrier.
    • Xbox Live and Xbox Live Arcade will continue and grow as value-added services, but check out the accessorizing -- swappable face plates (like Nokia phones); first-party wireless controllers (finally); Xbox 360 Play & Charge Kit, so you can play while your wireless controller charges (interesting this doesn't come with the wireless controller); rechargeable battery packs (which I'm assuming also don't come with the wireless controller); etc.
    • They've also got at least one example of a compelling add on that services more than just the Xbox 360 -- the Universal Media Remote -- which not only services the Xbox 360, but Windows Media Center Edition 2005 PCs, possibly current Xboxes, and may double as a universal remote, according to some reports. A value-add accessory that services more than its core product is dicey, but nifty if done well.
    • Just watch, though. I expect M$ to catch on to other possibilities based on the mobile phone market -- like quick charging or high-capacity batteries (like we want slow charging and low capacity batteries for our phones or controllers).

  3. Game trailers you simply must watch

    • I talked about this in my rant in my other blog, but there are 3 next-gen game trailers that absolutely floor me. The fine boys and girls in green over at TeamXbox.com have got high-def versions of these trailers available -- and they speak for themselves.

      • WarDevil (from Digi-Guys Studio) -- This thing is going to be short film and video game, and this clip is allegedly real-time renderings (as opposed to the recanted Killzone2 E3 footage).
      • Project Offset (Offset) -- Sword and sorcery that feels real-world? Wow. Somebody fund this game!
      • Huxley (Webzen) -- Freakin' awesome looking MMOFPS with style and meat (I've mentioned this game a few times already on this blog).
      • Add these my oft-mentioned Gears of War (Epic Games, Microsoft Game Studios), and the next generation is looking sweet, indeed.

  4. X05 in Amsterdam

    • X05, Microsoft's international Xbox event will be held in Amsterdam on October 4th and 5th. Chris Lewis, Xbox Europe regional VP made the cryptic statement, "We put a great deal of thought into determining the location for X05 ... To tell you our rational for choosing Amsterdam would reveal some of our plans and we want to keep those as secret as possible!"
    • Uh, when I think "Amsterdam", I think "red lights" (no reason). I'm hoping there's a better reason for the locale.
    • More interesting is Lewis's PR smakc-talk, "Suffice to say that after X05 it will be clear that the next generation starts with Xbox," which is a direct lob at Sony's Ken Kutaragi, who successfully 9arguably) killed the Sega Dreamcast by convincing gamers that the next generation didn't start until the PlayStation 2 was launched, and has made similar comments for the PS3.

  5. New Xbox hardware licensing from Microsoft

    • Microsoft's new royalty program for the Xbox 360 that will only allow authorized third-party accessories to work with the console. Supposedly, the new console will include a security mechanism that will be available to only those manufacturers who pay the royalty to Microsoft. Peripheral manufacturer Mad Catz is already a licensee, but the program smaller manufacturers (some of whom have recently declared bankruptcy, anyway).
    • I've been disappointed by a bunch of the press on this, with folks taking shots at Microsoft for "strong-arming" additional revenue, or that they may use this "to prevent accessories they don't want" (examples have been a mouse and keyboard). The reality is Microsoft is going to encourage as much innovation as possible (a picture of a first-party keyboard was already leaked in a presentation in Spain), and this may improve QA of accessories (I've bought some abysmally bad ones). More importantly, Microsoft has been taking it on the chin, selling consoles at a loss, and third-party peripheral makers have been getting a free ride by offering products, without shouldering any of the platform or licensing costs. They're due.

  6. I'm getting to hate Halo 2 and Xbox Live.