Tuesday, November 29, 2005

More Xbox 360s coming?

Huh.

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?

Interesting.

More at GameSpot ...

Saturday, November 26, 2005

Thanksgiving Weekend sales for gamers

I'm out of control.

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.
  1. Current-gen gaming
  2. Next-gen hardware
  3. Next-gen gaming

DEALS:
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

It's an event; not the 2nd coming

I picked up an Xbox 360 yesterday morning. By "picked" up, I mean I relived college midnight madness, uh ... madness.

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.
And in this post, Xbox 360 impressions:
  1. General impressions/analysis
  2. The launch
  3. The hardware and accessories
  4. The games
  5. 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

The cost of being a gamer

Hitachi Wasabe Xbox Live 360 Gamer Card

  • Xbox 360 Premium Bundle (Sam's Club): $449.42
  • VGA Cable (Best Buy): $35.99
  • Creating my Gamer Reputation from the ground up: Priceless.
Bite me, BigHugeCorp.

Circuit City: 7:13 a.m.

Glad I didn't have to go with "Plan C".

I have an Xbox 360!


Freaking finally! (Do a little dance. Make a little noise. Get down tonight!)

Sam's Club: 5:55 a.m.



Sam's Club.

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

Circuit City #1: 11:13 p.m.



Hmm ... no line yet. Time to call it a night ...

Wal-mart #1: 10:35 p.m.





Waaayyy more people than 360s.

I don't know what the guy is doing with his head stuck in the refrigerator...

Best Buy #1: 10:22 p.m.



More people than 'boxes.

Target #1: 10:10 p.m.



Tons of people, and even a few dogs (seriously; take that, Nintendogs!). And no one even knows how many 360s they'll have at 8 a.m. tomorrow.

Barnes & Noble: 10 p.m.


Coffee break.

Why the hell isn't this issue of the new OXM in my mailbox? I'm a subscriber.

UPDATED: My apologies to OXM; the issue was in my mailbox. Though I normally do get it quite a few days before the newstand ...

Hastings: 9:15 p.m.



They're only getting 3. Freaking THREE!

The Waiting ....

If all goes well, in 24 hours I'll be playing an Xbox 360.

Or, I'll be prepping "Plan B" ...

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Xbox 360 shortage? Yes? No? Sorta? (Part 2)

I did "Round 2" of my local Xbox 360 retailer status check this afternoon.

Be sure to check out "Round 1":
Here's the whirlwind summary:

Target:
  • Midnight release: No
  • 11/22/2005 Open Time: 8 a.m.
  • Kiosk: Yes
Starting at 8 a.m., Target'll issue tickets for the package you want (Core or Premium). Employee Matthew and his co-worker are personally stoked about the 360's release, well researched, and very helpful. They "aren't privvy" to how many units they'll have.

Best Buy:
  • Midnight release: No
  • 11/22/2005 Open Time: 8 a.m.
  • Kiosk: Yes
Doors will open at 8 a.m., and Xbox 360s will be sold on a first-come,
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
each).
Xbox 360 accessories at Texas Best Buy Store

Wal-Mart:
  • 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).
Xbox 360s will be at the layaway counter, and people can line up as early as they want (and inside!). They'll periodically count the number of people waiting to make sure they don't exceed the number of available 'boxes (They think they'll have "forty-ish or fifty-ish"). They had no accessories display whatsoever, though I did find one lone packaged wireless controller.

Summary:

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 ...

Xbox 360 shortage? Yes? No? Sorta?

So, is there an Xbox 360 shortage, or not?

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).

Fry's Electronics:
  • Midnight release: No
  • 11/22/2005 Open Time: 8 a.m.
  • Kiosk: No
I talked to a guy at Austin's Fry's Electronics, and they're not doing a midnight release. They'll be opening at their regular time (8 a.m.), and Xbox 360s will go on a first-come, first-served basis.

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.

Xbox 360 accessory display at Fry's Electronics in Austin, Texas.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).

Circuit City:
  • Midnight release: No
  • 11/22/2005 Open Time: 10 a.m.
  • Kiosk: No
They'll be opening at their regular time (10 a.m.), will be giving vouchers to people who line up to determine who gets their Xbox 360, and who doesn't.

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.)

Hastings:
  • Midnight release: Yes
  • 11/22/2005 Open Time: 9 a.m.
  • Kiosk: No
So, Hastings started, then stopped taking pre-orders on the Xbox 360 this week. Why? because as of Friday, they still didn't know how many of which consoles they're going to have for their Monday release.

Summary?

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 ...

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Xbox 360 initial game review scores

(I've reorganized this post and put the review feeds first -- the legacy Xbox 360 launch reviews are at the bottom, and I'll keep them around for the PS3 and Nintendo Wii launch comparisons.)



OK, Kameo's done all right, and Call of Duty 2 looks to rock online and off, but are titles like Gun and Tony Hawk not good portents of things to come for "next-gen ports"?

I'm going to make this post sticky for a while, and check out the bottom of it for constantly current Xbox and Xbox 360 reviews from TeamXbox.

No Xbox 360 for Adam?

So, I had a nice recorded voice message from GameStop today, letting me know that "the number of preorder Xbox 360s will be less than expected."

[BlahBlahBlahBlah].

"Again, you will not be receiving your Xbox 360 on launch day, but you will likely get it before Christmas. Thank you for preordering. Have a nice day."

Can someone let me know the purpose of preordering, just out of curiousity? I think it's different than my expectation...

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Options for getting an Xbox 360

From the brilliant guys over at Penny Arcade:Yeah, I'm 8 people down the list at GameStop-- for lot #2 (uh, GameStop, I preordered in May).

Thanks, Microsoft ...

Xbox Live Marketplace content available November 22



NEWS:

1. Xbox Live MarketPlace content available November 22

Xbox Live Marketplace "is your one-stop shop on Xbox Live. Download game content, demos, trailers, arcade titles, card/ board games, themes, and gamer pictures."

Microsoft just announced the downloadable content available on November 22 (Much of it for free) with an Xbox Live Silver (free) or Gold (paid) membership.

I'm not so crazy about the game trailers (thanks for sharing the love, TeamXbox!), or the themes or gamer pictures (I've grown out of my "Windows Plus" phase); I am excited about the free downloadable demos of Xbox 360 games: Other (I think) free launch-day content:
  • High Definition Music Video "Show Me How to Live" from Audioslave's Live in Cuba DVD
  • Music Video "Do You Want To" from Franz Ferdinand's new album, You Could Have It So Much Better
  • "Aeon Flux" HD movie trailer from Paramount
  • "Pulse" HD movie trailer from Magnolia Pictures
  • Penny Arcade Gamer Pictures and Themes (OK, so I am excited about these)
  • Red vs. Blue Videos ("You have something blue on you ...")
  • Other High-Def Movie Trailers and Music Videos
  • "...and much more!" (Como?)
Check out the TeamXbox.com article here: Check out the Xbox Live Marketplace here:

Monday, November 14, 2005

Xbox 360 Launch Titles Announced ...

  1. Xbox 360 Launch Titles Announced

NEWS:

1. Xbox 360 Launch Titles Announced

Check out my sticky blog ("Xbox 360 launch titles") for the full list, but here's the short version of changes I made to my list:

Announced as available for Launch Day:
  • King Kong (Ubisoft)
  • Ridge Racer 6 (Namco)
  • NHL 2K6 (?) (Take-Two Interactive) (Which was a mistake on my part, because I knew this title was a likely Launch Day title.)
Slipped to "Launch Window":Check out my sticky blog for the full list:Check out the TeamXbox.com article here:

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Halo, Halo 2 on X360; Kameo's a Podcaster!

  1. Halo, Halo 2 on X360 - at 720p
  2. Welcome, 2XL Games
  3. World Cyber Games broadcast in HD
  4. Kameo's a Podcaster!
  5. More News from this Site
  6. Xbox 360 Backwards Compatibility

NEWS:
1. Halo, Halo 2 on X360 - at 720p

OK, it's a no brainer that Halo and Halo 2 will be backwards compatible on the Xbox 360.

What is cool is Bungie has announced since "the hardware in the 360 can do a lot of nifty stuff, and specifically in the cases of Halo and Halo 2, it can display the graphics in wide screen, at 720p, with full scene anti-aliasing".

Suh-weet...

Now, this isn't Halo 3, but it'll get folks by for a week or two. I think I personally won't be satisfied unless Halo 3 on the Xbox 360 looks like the "desert brigade" concept artwork done by Zoé Brawley -- in game.

'Course, Brawley has moved on from Bungie ...

2. Welcome, 2XL Games

New game development studio 2XL Games opened in Phoenix, AZ, with ex-Rainbow Studios (Motocross Madness, ATV Offroad Fury, Splashdown, MX Unleashed).

They're working on their first title, and hiring. Check out TeamXbox.com for contact info.

3. World Cyber Games broadcast in HD

e-Sports (video game competitions) are heating up, and this year, the World Cyber Games -- the biggest worldwide video and computer game tournament -- will be broadcast in hi-def via HDNet (Mark Cuban's network).

Initial coverage started last week, but here's the rest of the schedule:
  • Saturday November 12, 2005 - 3:00 pm ET & 10:00 pm ET
  • Sunday November 13, 2005 - 5:30 pm ET
  • Monday November 13, 2005 - 7:05 pm ET
HDNet is available through the following providers:
  • Adelphia
  • Charter
  • DIRECTV
  • DISH Network
  • Insight
  • Mediacom
  • Time Warner Cable
  • And more than 40 NCTC cable affiliate companies
4. Kameo's a Podcaster!

Well, not really. But proving that Microsoft is hip, the backstory for the Xbox 360 title Kameo: Elements of Power will be told in an 8-part Podcast.

Good luck finding it on the official Kameo: Elements of Power (despite what news teasings are saying).

I found it on the fan site website:5. More News from this Site

Check out the right side of the site (under "Previous Posts") -- I've added a new "News Around the Web" section, with tidbits served up from other sites.

The goal is to get folks like me more current news that's easy to get to.

The news will cover a variety of areas, and the links will take you to the news providers Websites -- I'm not taking credit for their good journalism!

Sections/providers are as follows:Give me feedback. In particular, I'm looking for Sony PS3 and Nintendo Revolution News/RSS feeds of the same focus and caliber as TeamXbox, so tell me if you know of one.

6. Xbox 360 Backwards Compatibility

Check out my earlier posting if you missed it:

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Xbox 360 backwards compatibility

UPDATE: A ton of new games have been added or updated on the backwards (frontwards? Did they miss a marketing opportunity?) list on 08.28.2006.

This is huge. The "Emulation Ninjas" are earning their Scooby Snacks.

The full list of backwards compatible titles is available at the link below:

Updates on 08.28.2006:


  • Aggressive Inline
  • Aquaman: Battle of Atlantis
  • All Star Baseball 2003
  • All Star Baseball 2005
  • Burnout 3: Takedown
  • Catwoman
  • Crash Bandicoot: Nitro Kart UPDATED
  • Counter Strike
  • Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth
  • Dead to Rights
  • Digimon Rumble Arena 2 UPDATED
  • ESPN Major League Baseball
  • Fatal Frame 2
  • Ford vs. Chevy UPDATED
  • Freaky Flyers
  • Gauntlet: Seven Sorrows
  • Tom Clancy´s Ghost Recon - Island Thunder
  • Half Life 2 UPDATED
  • The Incredibles: Rise of the Underminer UPDATED
  • IndyCar Series 2005
  • Kabuki Warrior UPDATED
  • Lego Star Wars II
  • Links 2004
  • Magatama UPDATED
  • Maximum Chase
  • Mortal Kombat: Deception UPDATED
  • MTX: Mototrax Featuring Travis Pastrana
  • Namco Museum 50th Anniversary Arcade Collection
  • MX vs. ATV Unleashed
  • Outlaw Tennis
  • Over the Hedge
  • Sid Meier's Pirates
  • Richard Burns Rally
  • Rogue Trooper
  • Serious Sam
  • Shincho Mahjong
  • Smashing Drive
  • Sneakers UPDATED
  • Spy Hunter: Nowhere to Run
  • The Legend of Spyro: A Beginning
  • TAZ: Wanted
  • True Crime Streets of LA
  • The Suffering
  • Trigger Man
  • Torino Winter Olympics 2006
  • Vietcong
  • Wrath Unleashed
  • X-Men II: Wolverine's Revenge
PREVIOUS: BLACK, Star Wars Battlefront II, and World Soccer Winning Eleven 9 have are now playable on the Xbox 360.

PREVIOUS: Seven Tom Clancy Xbox titles are now playable on Xbox 360.

PREVIOUS: Microsoft has finally released the initial list of backwards-compatible titles -- and it's a surprisingly big list (roughly 200 titles).

For those that haven't been keeping up, the "backwards compatibility issue" is born out of Microsoft switching the GPU from nVIDIA in the original Xbox to ATI for the Xbox 360.

This means backwards compatibility has to be done with software emulation, which required Microsoft building the emulator, certifying games, working out the kinks, etc. I've gotta think this is a huge technical feat, so props to the bright bulbs over at Microsoft.

Even cooler? According to Todd Holmdahl (Corporate VP of the Xbox Product Group), "Every original Xbox game will be upscaled to 720p and 1080i, and will take advantage of Xbox 360’s anti-aliasing capabilities, delivering a picture that is clearer and crisper than anything available on Xbox."

Also, Holmdahl said backwards compatible titles will be playable between Xbox and Xbox 360 (though he didn't say if this was just over Xbox Live, or system linked).

And in answer to the question, "How far back into the Xbox game library are you going to go?" he said, "When we say Xbox library, we mean the entire Xbox library. This ranges all the way from our launch in 2001 up to games that haven't even shipped yet." (I cannot wait until Black on Xbox 360.)

Downsides? You will need a hard drive for backwards compatibility (come on, what jokers are getting "Core systems"? Don't buy into Microsoft's bad decision). Also, current-gen Xbox Live Arcade titles won't be compatible on the 360. But the new version looks to be amazing -- with titles like Midway's original Gauntlet and Joust playable over Xbox 360 Live.

The offline emulators for Halo and Halo 2 will be shipped on the Xbox 360 hard drive. Other emulators (and Xbox Live support for the Halo franchise) can be downloaded over Live, downloaded from a PC and burned on a CD, or ordered from Microsoft

The full list of backwards compatible titles is available below:

The Bungie article about Halo and Halo 2 support on the Xbox 360 is available here:

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Xbox 360 stuff now on store shelves

  1. Xbox 360 Games/Accessories/Xbox Live on store shelves

NEWS:
1. Xbox 360 Games/Accessories/Xbox Live on store shelves

Starting today, Xbox 360 games, accessories, and "Xbox Live retail offerings" are available (legitimately) at nationwide retailers -- in advance of the Nov. 22 release of the console itself.

So you can buy your copy of GUN, and uh, hold it for two weeks ...

"Xbox 360: Zero Hour"; BioWare + Pandemic; Take-Two + Firaxis ...

  1. Countdown to "Xbox 360: Zero Hour"
  2. Take-Two Interactive buys Firaxis Games
  3. BioWare and Pandemic Merge
  4. Popular Science calls Xbox 360 "Top Tech Home Entertainment Innovation of 2005"
  5. Next Spy Hunter: Nowhere to Run to star Dwayne "the Rock" Johnson
  6. AT&T to support Xbox 360 MMOGs

NEWS:
1. Countdown to "Xbox 360: Zero Hour"

I've talked about hex168.com, and Microsoft's revealed that winners of that Alternate Reality Game (ARG) will join thousands of gamers in at a "gamer's mecca" November 20-22 -- in the Mojave Desert.

At an abandoned aircraft hanger, there'll be "hundreds of gaming stations, live entertainment and around-the-clock gaming at a venue immersed in the Xbox 360 experience."

Can't get people to vote your wonky photos as winners over at hex168.com? You'll have the chance to win tickets (on a first-come-first-served basis) starting November 10, from sights listed on www.microsoft.com/xbox/zerohour.htm.

One of the first-revealed participating sites? Teamxbox.com, where 100 tickets will be available Thursday (11/10/05) at 12:01 am PST, which’ll be distributed on a first come, first serve and random drawing.

More info here.

2. Take-Two Interactive buys Firaxis Games

Take-Two Interactive Software announced yesterday they acquired Firaxis Games. Firaxis is home to Sid Meier, and franchises Pirates! and Civilization.

3. BioWare and Pandemic Merge

Wow. BioWare Corp (Jade Empire, Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, Mass Effect) and Pandemic Studios (Star Wars Battlefront, Full Spectrum Warrior, Destroy All Humans) have merged, "creating one of the world’s best-funded and largest independent game development houses."

Each of the companies' two co-founders will become shareholders and senior executives in BioWare/Pandemic Studios.

Ray Muzyka, joint CEO of BioWare Corp, said, "In a business where developers often must sell out to survive, this deal is refreshingly new: a partnership of equals."

Both companies will keep their separate brands and creative teams, and continue in their respective cities (BioWare Corp in Edmonton, Canada and Pandemic Studios in Los Angeles and Brisbane, Australia), with plans for expansions at these and other locations. I'm going to contact both and say they should consider expanding in Austin. And hire me for voice work.

BioWare/Pandemic Studios is the first investment by Elevation Partners, made up of partners Fred Anderson (former EVP and CFO of Apple Computer); Bret Pearlman (former senior managing director of The Blackstone Group); Marc Bodnick (a founding principal of Silver Lake Partners); John Riccitiello (former president and COO of Electronic Arts); Roger McNamee (a co-founder of Silver Lake Partners and Integral Capital Partners); and Bono, lead singer and co-founder of U2.

4. Popular Science calls Xbox 360 "Top Tech Home Entertainment Innovation of 2005"

The most widely read December issue of Popular Science (on newstands November 15) has named the Xbox 360 the Grand Award winner in the Entertainment category:
"The first of the next-generation gaming consoles, the new Xbox 360 is not just about games -- the 360 is poised to take over the living room as well. The 360 is the first Media Center extender that receives and plays back HDTV from Media Center PCs, and it comes with a free lifetime subscription to the Xbox Live online service."
5. Next Spy Hunter: Nowhere to Run to star Dwayne "the Rock" Johnson

The next iteration of the Spy Hunter franchise from Midway Games, and will star Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson. The game will also take players out of the iconic Interceptor and on foot, adding melee combat to the mix.

Given the last Spy Hunter did so poorly, and Driv3r from Atari did miserably when it diverged from the franchise formula, I hope this doesn't hurt a cool franchise.

And I'm trying to figure out which location is doing the development, but I suspect it won't be the Austin Studio.

6. AT&T to support Xbox 360 MMOGs

AT&T has won a $9.5 million, 3-year managed hosting contract from Microsoft Game Studios. The "Gotham TV" feature of Project Gotham Racing 3 (Xbox 360), and the Vanguard (Microsoft Windows) will be two of the first services hosted by AT&T.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

I just played an Xbox 360!

I was exploring DVD storage options at the Round Rock, TX, Best Buy, when I saw -- illuminated in a focused column of light -- an Xbox 360 kiosk. And there were angels singing.

OK, maybe not angels. And maybe the column of light was just my sleep-deprived eyes ghosting the store's florescent tubes.

But it was an Xbox 360 kiosk.

OK, I had 4 skepticisms answered when I played through the available demos:
  1. That the new controller would be that good (game journalists keep saying things like "it feels like butter" (what does that mean?) and "it feels like a next generation controller should feel")
  2. That Kameo: Elements of Power has risen from the ashes to show that Rare not only has the goods, but is bringing the next-gen heat to set the bar for the 360's platformer portfolio
  3. That King Kong, as a licensed title, even with the involved powerhouses of Peter Jackson, Michel Ancel, Studio Weta, and Ubisoft could really be that good, and
  4. That Call of Duty 2 can be a stellar game, given it's (a) a sequel, and (b) YAWWIIG (Yet Another World War II Game)
OK, so here's how we netted out in my (admittedly brief) play test:
  1. The new controller was so comfortable, so natural, so good, and so ... unnoticeable (in a good way) -- I was shocked. It was well-balanced, responsive, buttons were not too springy, not too mushy. And, thankfully, it felt nothing like butter. It was a wired controller, so I hope the wireless are as great feeling and responsive.
  2. Kameo shocked and pleased me. This thing is stylish, fun, unique, and it didn't have a foul-mouthed squirrel spewing 90s movie rehashes (though, I will say, Conker is the most gorgeous foul-mouthed squirrel on the Xbox)
  3. King Kong is absolutely amazing, and we should bow down to Peter Jackson, Michel Ancel, and Studio Weta. Or at least acknowledge that they're beyond damn fine at their craft. King Kong may be one of the surprise most popular launch titles for the Xbox 360.
  4. I think I need more time with Call of Duty 2, but I am more understanding of Team Ninja's boss Tomonobu Itagaki saying that if he were to make a war game, CoD2 would be what he'd do.
Other thoughts on the "play test":

Oddly, out of twelve games on the kiosk, only the 3 mentioned above had playable demos -- the rest only had videos (which I've seen -- and most of them in hi-def, thanks to the fine folks at TeamXbox.com).

The Samsung displays I mentioned would be part of the kiosks last May look sharp, and are a huge difference in the hi-def presentation of the demos.

One minor annoyance in the whole experience is that if someone grabbed the second controller attached to the kiosk and pressed any buttons, it interrupted all of my playing -- even if I was playing the single-player Kameo.

Summary? Today was a good day to be a gamer ...

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Rare/Microsoft skunkworks? Next-Gen Simpsons? "'Burning Man' meets E3"?

  1. Xbox 360 Launch title updates
  2. The Simpsons go next-gen
  3. More on Hex168.com
  4. New games coming from Rare
  5. Xbox.com/My Xbox/MSN Messenger updates
  6. Share your Gamer Cards (sort of)
  7. Austin Game Conference highlights

NEWS:
1. Xbox 360 Launch title updates

Microsoft continues to be cagey about the final list of "Launch Day" vs. "Launch Window" titles for the Xbox 360, but there have been some recent notable updates.

Check out my sticky blog ("Xbox 360 Launch Titles") for the details, but here's a quick summary:
  • The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion (Slipped) -- This RPG from Bethesda Softworks was one of the marquee launch titles, but has now slipped out of lunch day, may slip out of the calendar year, and is more likely for a February 2006 release.
  • Amped 3 (Confirmed) -- The game from industry solids 2K Sports hopes to "create the most authentic snowboarding experience. Action is interlaced with a hip storyline that encompasses the distinct snowboarder culture, style, music and attitude." (More info here.)
  • Condemned: Criminal Origins (Confirmed) --
This atmospheric CSI meets The Suffering looks to be a solid horror/suspense launch title for the console, but popular response to it is unfortunately pretty lacking.

2. The Simpsons go next-gen

Electronic Arts, Twentieth Century Fox Television and Gracie Films (most ... useless ... website ... ever) brokered a long-term deal for EA to develop multiple videogame titles based on The Simpsons. Though no launch date has been set, the first game will be a next-gen console title.

3. More on Hex168.com

I've talked before about the contest that's coming out from the Hex168.com Alternate Reality Game (ARG).

Turns out it's more than "just" getting an Xbox early. Winners of the contest are going to be part of a launch party somewhere in a US desert location, with an attendance of thousands strong, a "lot of Xbox 360 consoles set up with high definition displays, surround sound systems plus food and drink stations, live entertainment and a one-of-a kind Xbox 360 gift for everyone."

The original Xbox launched in Times Square (which is also where they held the biggest Halo 2 launch event).

But this time it looks like Microsoft is looking to create a cultural event -- billed as "Burning Man Meets E3".

Even cooler? Attendees are going to get the skinny on a number of previously unannounced Xbox 360 titles (my money's on a couple of titles from Rare Games).

I'm gonna submit a couple of hex-candidate photos -- look for a notice here, as I prostitute for votes. I'm not proud.

(More info here.)

4. New games coming from Rare

When Microsoft purchased storied developer (and then second-party Nintendo developer) Rare Games in 2002 for $375 million, folks generally thought one of two things: (a) "Whoa, that's a lot of money", and/or (b) "Is a development house really worth that?"

Skepticism was offset a little bit by Rare's $1 billion in revenue for the 5 years before the acquisition, and solid franchises like Goldeneye 007, Donkey Kong 64, and Perfect Dark.

Then the storm clouds moved in.

Kameo: Elements of Power (due in 2003) never showed. Know information was given on development of the new Perfect Dark title, and fan response to the anime-esque concept art was hostile (at best). Grabbed by the Ghoulies was a middling disappointment. And even the refresh of Conker's bad Fur Day (one of the last great Nintendo64 titles) in Conker: Live & Reloaded was an OK, but short-lived sentimental (if naughty) gaming diversion.

Time for a ray of sunshine.

Now, Joanna Dark's on her way in the Xbox 360 launch title, Perfect Dark Zero, and may turn out to be a Halo-esque title for the 360 (or a more than adequate stop-gap until Halo 3 shows). And the trade press almost across the board has been raving about recent playtests of Kameo.

Not enough? It's recently come to light that Rare's working on 2 additional, previously unannounced Xbox 360 titles. I'm guessing these will be revealed (or at least further teased at) as part of the Hex168 launch event I talk about above.
  • Rare's acquisition: $375M
  • Legacy of $1B in revenue: Apparently also $375M
  • Having one or more next Halos: Priceless (though at least ~$300M a piece)
5. Xbox.com/My Xbox/MSN Messenger updates

I griped about the relaunch of Xbox.com and the launch of My Xbox.

Basically, I was irked at a bunch of Xbox Live/Passport/MSN Messenger functionality being removed as part of the upgrade.

Well, over the course of this week, that functionality has started reappearing. No Email notifications or announcements, but I noticed the Passport sign-in is back for Xbox.com, and I can now see my friends list on MSN Messenger -- and all in one place -- no more dual tab, triple login crap).

MSN Messenger with Xbox 360 Live featuresA lot of the functionality isn't really there yet -- you'll need to wait to start racking up points, stats, and reputation once you're able to log on to Xbox 360 Live on the new consoles.

6. Share your Gamer Cards (sort of)

Part of the new Xbox 360 Live functionality are the new Gamer Cards.

I've added mine to this video gaming blog (to the right, below my picture). You'll notice I don't have any stats, reputation, etc. yet -- because I don't have a new console, yet.

Oh, and some of other hinted at functionality (like custom pictures, etc.) isn't there yet, either. I'm hoping this is because they're waiting for XBox Live Gold membership verifications, and I'm wondering if the MSN Messenger display pict can automatically be the Gamer Card Pict? How easy would that be ...

7. Austin Game Conference highlights

For those folks who need closure from my tease for the Austin Game Conference, Gamasutra.com has a series of articles/impressions on select events from the conference: