Microsoft set up the big tent and finally unveiled the next generation of the Xbox yesterday.
To say reactions were mixed would be an understatement.
I knew going in that their press event wasn't for "us". It was a quick hour-long reveal being broadcast on live television, with all that implies. Microsoft wasn't speaking to the core (ugh I hate that term), they were speaking to a boarder more general audience. I knew that meant we might not see as much detail as we might like. I knew that meant multimedia functions were going to be a bigger part of the event than I really cared about. I figured we might not see a whole ton of games.
I had no idea I'd be so overwhelmingly terribly right.
An hour of sports and trends and internet snark later, the real meat of the Xbox One started to be laid out. But was it already too late?
Good things from the event -
Kinect in the box – Lord knows not everything about the Kinect is great, but I like that it will come with the system this time. Peripherals sold on the side always die. Developers have no reason to develop or innovate for a toy that only a percentage of the install base has. But something that comes packed in with every console is another story. Maybe this time we'll actually see some cool stuff out of the Kinect camp. I'm not a huge fan of jumping around in every game, but I think there has to be untapped potential for cool utilities there.
Mostly, I like what it says about Microsoft learning from past mistakes. If they want to make something essential or vital to the system, they need to bundle it in with every skew. The 360 always felt the sting of that budget launch version that didn't include a hard drive. A lot of games were held back since they could never count on an HD in every console.
Snap mode – When you think about it, Snap mode is actually pretty cool – it was just buried under TV shit during the conference. I'd never use it for the kind of spastic switching between a game, a TV show, a movie, and a Skype call like they demonstrated, but I can see how it might be handy to be able to quickly check something online while playing. Take a quick peak at a guide, check for an important email without dropping out of the game or digging up another device. Handy.
Booting from a rest state – a quick starting silent Xbox? Sign me up. The jet engine I currently own takes almost a minute to churn up. It's a little detail, but it makes the Xbox One seem like some kind of crazy future tech.
Quantum Break – Whaaaaa? I have no idea what Quantum Break is, but my love for Remedy, the studio that brought us Max Payne and Alan Wake, is bone deep. Whatever they're up to, I'll give them the benefit of the doubt.
Puppies! - Call of Duty finally found a way to hook me. If you can customize your dog breed and get a Navy SEAL Eskie pup, Ghosts will be first-day buy for me.
Crappy stuff from the event -
Spoooooorts – Just gotta keep reminding myself that this event wasn't for us. I couldn't possibly give less of a shit about exclusive deals with the NFL or fantasy league garbage. I know intellectually that this is the kind of feature that will sell the Xbox One to the great unwashed football loving masses, that the games I'm interested in will be at E3, but the huge emphasis on sweaty dudes kicking around balls was still a let down for me.
TV, Movies, Trends – It's a topic that has already been beaten to death so I won't labour it, but I'm just not all that interested in the multimedia aspects of the system. The ideas and features aren't terrible and I can see how they would appeal to some people, but it's just not what I'm looking for. The whole "trending" tab thing especially stuck out to me. Have you ever paid attention to what trends on Twitter? I don't really need to know that the latest comedy about a guy in a old-lady fatsuit is making great box office recipes.
Detail light – So when it was all over but the shouting, what did we really learn about the Xbox One? Some much appreciated system specs (although I'd love to hear more), a look at the well ventilated box, a lot of stuff about how much TV we can watch on it, CoD puppies, Remedy being Remedy, and sports. For an hour of content, it was pretty damn light and left a lot to be desired.
- Nice to see the box and some specs, but I would have liked a bit more depth. Some info about Live would have been great.
All the crazy shit after the event -
By far the most interesting info about the Xbox One has been gleamed from interviews and demos that have since taken place after the actual press conference. While the one-hour sportravaganza was a disappointing bore for a lot of gamers, the stuff that we've heard since has been crazy bananas.
I feel like a lot of the hostility and backlash we've seen since the reveal could have been prevented if Microsoft got out in front of it and showed off some of the tech and details that appeal more to gamers. I have to really wonder if a one-hour TV press spot designed to appeal to a largely non-gamer audience was really the best way to present their new game console.
Why didn't they talk about this during the event!? -
Magic Moments and Streaming – The whole time during the event I was like "where is the streaming?" PS4's sharing feature got a mixed response, but it impressed the hell out of me. It seemed obvious that Microsoft would have their own equivalent gun, and the fact that Sony had to go with Ustream instead of the much more popular Twitch had me and a lot of other people assuming Microsoft already had Twitch in their pocket.
Well you know the old saying, when you assume...
While Twitch might still be up in the air, Microsoft has since unveiled their own capture and sharing technology – and it looks great! Very similar to Sony's Share feature, gamers can at any time capture recent game footage from the memory buffer (by shouting "Xbox, capture that" rather than pressing some boring old button) and share it on... Youtube and Xbox Live? Still waiting for that Twitch announcement.
Even more impressive however is the Xbox One's "Magic Moment" feature which will automatically record footage when certain conditions are met. It could record the final hit against an end boss, the moment a particularly impressive achievement pops, or when you go on a particularly good tear in a mulitplayer game.
This is the kind of feature I was hoping to hear about! To me this is way more interesting than being able to Skype and watch a movie at the same time.
Cross-game achievements and challenges – We already heard about the new possible new achievement system a few weeks ago, but now it's confirmed. Microsoft is reworking the entire structure of the achievement system to be more flexible, expansive, and capable of issuing dynamic goals and challenges. Developers will be able to add new achievements after a game's launch and issue random challenges, keeping things fresh and interesting.
Personally, I really enjoyed the weekly challenges in Mass Effect 3's multiplayer or the daily random goals of Injustice. If the Xbox One wants to expand on that concept and even issue gamer points based on it, I'm all for it.
Along with the details on this system, there was confirmation that your current Gamertag and achievement score will migrate to the new system. I didn't think that would be something Microsoft would mess up, but it's nice to hear for sure that they didn't.
Not so great stuff -
Fees on used (and possibly lent) games – I get it. I don't like the glorified pawn shop business that chains like EB and Gamestop run. They get gamers to trade in used titles by the bucket load for a silver of credit then they shave $5-$10 bucks off the price of a new game and sell it again and again, cutting the publishers out of any of the profit. It's a racket that, in my opinion, screws over a lot of gamers who are giving up more then they are getting back and is toxic to the industry. I'm not some toady for EA or any other big publisher, but I'd rather see the money made from games get back to the people actually making them, not some retail chain that leeches off everyone involved. I'm not fundamentally opposed to seeing a new system that moves the money around a bit more equitably.
Strangling the entire idea of the used game market, rentals, and lending games between friends with a steep licensing fee is not my idea of fixing the problem though.
It's early and reports are conflicting all over the place so it's hard to pin down exactly a big an issue this is, but I have to say it put a sour taste in my mouth. With some outlets claiming as much as a $40 fee to activate a used game on an account, Microsoft will have all but killed not only the used market, but any idea of rentals and sharing between friends. Some of this doesn't even affect me personally – I don't buy used games very often and the last time I rented something was years ago – but I know it's a big issue for others.
As far as lending and swapping games, one of the greatest joys I derive from gaming is the ability to share what I love with others. Trucking my copy of Rock Band all over the neighbourhood like some kind of garage band apostle, taking You Don't Know Jack over to the girlfriend's place to introduce her to the sarcastic love of Cookie Masterson, playing Army of 2 the way God intended, drunk as hell with my most fratboy-ish pal. If Xbox One is going to apply some kind of fee that makes those experiences impossible, that is a big blow against the new console.
There are possible solutions. Maybe Microsoft will have their own digital rental system, a sort of temporary download. As long as young gamers can get their fix I'd be alright with that. Some quick damage control has assured us that we can take a game over to a friends and sign in with our own profile to play it there, similar to bringing XBL games to a friends house. That's a start, but what if I wanted to leave the game there? What if I was done with it and wanted to do my brother a solid and save him a few bucks? Will there be anyway to transfer a licence?
Basically there are a lot of unanswered questions that need to be addressed before I feel comfortable with any of this stuff. Hopefully by the time E3 is done we'll have a better idea if this DRM fee scheme is a reasonable way to insure that games remain profitable for publishers without screwing over the consumer, or the herald of a new Orwellian age of digital oppression. Given that Microsoft is already back-peddling on some of these ideas as "potential scenarios" I think it behoves us not to lose our heads just yet, but to make sure they know it would be a bad idea.
No backward comparability (for anything?) - I was shocked to hear that the Xbox One won't support back-compat. I thought this was an area where they would get a real leg up on Sony. The PS4 has to live with the legacy of the goofy and difficult to work with cell-processor of the PS3, but the 360 has always had a much more open and easy to work with PC-like architecture. I would have thought getting 360 games to play nicely with the new box would be a given, but I was wrong.
Even worse though, apparently even downloaded XBLA games might not even work on the new system. That's a big problem to me.
I can live without disk-based back-compat. If I'm being honest I'd have to admit that when I jump to a new console generation, it's pretty rare for me to dip back. My PS2 rapidly collected dust when the 360 hit my home. As a stereotypical gamer, I'm overly fixated on the new and shinny.
But new and shinny wasn't the point of all those digital titles I bought for the 360. Those were timeless. Retro platformers and action games I picked up out of nostalgia. Technologically simplistic but stylish games like Bastion, Castle Crashers, Geometry Wars, and Braid. Classic fighters like SFIII and MvC2 that require an internet connection to be worth playing. I hate the notion that I have to keep my old (and increasingly dodgy) 360 around and plugged into an internet connection, or watch those games plunge into the abyss of progress. It's a huge bungle that I never would have thought Microsoft would make. Hopefully they can find some kind of solution or workaround that doesn't erase the value of my 360's digital library. I know if they don't I'll be more hesitant to make similar XBL purchases in the future.
No mention of Oculus Rift support – Alright, can't blame them for this one. But wouldn't it have been cool?
That press conference eh?
It wasn't what we wanted. A detail-light, mass-market slick, sports filled hour didn't do anything to turn my crank. And some of the news items afterwards – the hostility to the used game (and lending) market, the spectre of an always-online requirement still haunting the Xbox One, the no-go on back-compat – it got easy to be negative fast.
But there were some gems. A slew of new IPs, magic moments, Remedy still treated like a star by Microsoft, puppies. There is promise there. It just got burred under a lot of other features I couldn't care about, or issues that give me pause.
Maybe I didn't give the Xbox One a fair shake. Maybe my expectations were too high. Call it naive, but I expected Microsoft to wow me. After the genuinely impressive showing by Sony and their PS4, I expected my boy Xbox to get in there and trade them punch for punch, to match every feature and then some, to name games that would make Infamous and Killzone blush. We didn't get that. What we got was a press event designed for an entirely different market. A good solid day of actually impressive info couldn't compete with that initial disappointment, even if some of what is getting out there sounds great.
In the end, we'll just have to wait till E3 before passing judgement. I'd like to think the Xbox One is still a contender. I'd love to stick with that eco-system and keep my Gamertag and friends list (and hopefully my XBLA games) but they are going to have to do more to sell me on it.
* - Straight from GlowBear's mind and into your feels. Emotionally despondent Sonic isn't the only one who has trouble getting out of bed some days.
* - Call of Duty Ghosts WILL be a work of art. I mean, it's got puppies right? How could it go wrong?
* - I've actually made a point of sending people on Injustice some "GG" messages lately just to balance out the crazy negativity and rage in that community. Baimhas blog hits home with me. Why do people got to be such enormous douche nozzles online?
A - Digital distribution is the future right? So why are so many otherwise awesome studios so bad at it?
A - Kenneth Cummings has no love for the Xbox One reveal, a big underwhelming wetfart.
A - The menacing floating head of Nicolas Cage does not approve of this Xbox One chicanery.
A - Whoops! Wish I hadn't used that wetfart line before looking at Pedrovay's response to the Xbox One. I don't want to spoil anything, but his opinion isn't very high.
A - AndyLonn takes a good lonn look at the Xbox reveal and finds it doesn't measure up.
A - Everyday Legend asks some tough questions about this new console and comes up with some tough answers.
A - TitusGroan makes some great points – if Xbox One is pushing some tight used-game DRM, you can bet an equivalent system will exist on the PS4, even if they're a little looser on the surface. Then his blog takes a weird turn into a pulp detective novel. I think it's been a long day for the poor guy.
A - I though console reveals were supposed to ignite the passion in a gamers heart, not burn em out. Bummer.
A - EA will be developing for the Wii U after all, that's some good news!
N - It's so sad to see Xbox turn to the Dark Side. If it wasn't for used games a good chunk of us wouldn't even be gamers. I hope they don't totally forget that and provide some kind of lower-cost option for older games.
M - Check out ColtonPhilips indy album! Never before has making a sandwich involved so much aggression.
V - Sadly it's out of audio sync, but Mikki Saturn dives into the recent dust up between Nintendo and the Let's Play makers of the internet. God knows Nintendo of all people should realize the power and potential of dedicated fans that share their passion, I have no idea how they're mucking up so bad.
V - JordanLloyd's video response to the Xbox One. Dudes got the crazy eye – I can dig it.
L - If that lovable puppy dies, nothing will stop me from following a scripted path of high-adrenalin action set-pieces and awkward story exposition until I get my vengeance (unless I get distracted by the multiplayer half-way through).
C - TheKodu gives us a great tour of all the jokes we've already heard done to death yesterday afternoon. Hope that new Xbox doesn't take an arrow to the knee hur hur.
C - Yeesh, more flat tire humour.
C - Hur hur hur.
F - Um, goodbye? It's a shame to see AlexiusY leave, his violence blog was pretty well made and I would have liked to see more. Still, posts where someone declares how they're leaving the community in a huff just irk me.
F - Two 30 second meme clips does not a blog make