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This is part two of three. Yesterday, I previewed Sony @ E3, today is Microsoft at E3, and tomorrow will be ‘Games of E3.’ If you want to read the Sony piece first, you can get at it here.
I remember when the first XBox came out, I scoffed at the horrible, greedy ‘Micro$oft’ trying to ruin everything by getting into the console business with their ‘DirectXbox.’ I laughed, wouldn’t buy one, and then KotOR happened. Hoo boy. I remember almost blowing off a date because of it. In retrospect, I probably should have, since a) the girl was crazy, and b) had no appreciation for learning the complexities of the infield fly rule (the Cardinals were in town, so I took her to see them at Wrigley).
I had to buy an XBox. Yes, I felt like a bit of a sellout, but I quickly forgot that as I was roleplaying my way through the galaxy, customizing everything in sight. And dicing up Sith with dual-wield lightsabers. And trying like mad not to feel dirty for wanting to seduce Mission Vao.
After KotOR threw open the floodgate, I happily played through games like Fable, Jade Empire, and Forza. I ended up loving my XBox, especially once they released a controller that actually fit in human hands. XBox was a weird and wonderful beast for me. It had a native hard drive, its UI made sense, and it was natively connected to broadband. Though XBL was limited at first, it was kinda exciting downloading that token piece of DLC for KotOR.
Then, after what seemed like minutes, the 360 was released, and I finally came to understand what Microsoft was trying to do with XBox Live. I remember blasting through hours of Perfect Dark Zero with my buddies, and then suddenly feeling sad when I saw all of them playing Oblivion instead.
It’s been fascinating to watch the XBox 360 platform evolve from an iteration of the first XBox to that fabled ‘set-top box’ we’ve been hearing about for over 10 years. I can’t say I’ve loved every step of the evolution, and the interface, for a while, was almost as bad as Sony’s, but with the advent of the Metro (or ‘Modern,’ as I think they call it now) UI on the Windows Phone and Windows 8 side, the 360 seems to have settled nicely into a reasonably decent media hub.
What’s been most interesting to me has been how divergent Microsoft and Sony’s approaches have been over the years. They’ve been fighting for the exact same space for the last two generations, but I think, based on what each has shown of their new machines, that they’re starting to tack in slightly different directions.
Where Sony has been working hard to define the PS4 as a game console, first and foremost, Microsoft has been working, for years now, to establish the XBox brand as a media platform that also plays games. At first, I was resistant to that, but then I realized that since I do most of my gaming on the PC side now, I only really play Forza, Fable, and a handful of multiplatform games on my consoles, so I’d really like it to do more than just play games. I WANT the media hub. I WANT to have one device do everything, so long as it does everything well. Hell, hardcore gamers should want this, too. If it plays lots of great games well, AND handles all the rest of your media, why not?
Hell, look at my Microsoft Surface Pro tablet. I installed Nook, iTunes, SWTOR, and a handful of other applications to it, and bam, it’s replaced most of the shit I lug with me when I travel. I can even scribble into OneNote with it, using the stylus that comes with it. I’m blogging on it, listening to an XM stream, and quickly checking stuff on the web. The all-in-one future is great.
It’s effectively replaced nearly every travel gadget I have, and I’m loving that. Like I said yesterday, I know some of you want hundreds of dedicated devices, so that you need to have a pack animal with you when you, just to carry your e-reader, your GPS, your .mp3 player, your PDA, your flip phone for work, your flip phone for personal uses, your Vita, your PSP, your 3DS, your DS, your GBA, your laptop, your beeper, your portable DVD player, your carrier pigeon, etc. Me? Not so much. Gimme one device to rule them all.
If Microsoft can pull off the same feat with the XBox One, I’m thrilled. I hate clutter. I hate wires. I want as small a footprint as possible in terms of my physical media hub.
On top of that, you throw in the fact that they’re implementing a variant of Hyper-V (which, yes, they did with the 360, also) to handle the gaming, and that leaves a lot of options open. It makes me wonder if, in addition to the XB1 gaming VM, they could throw a 360 VM on there, or even the old XBox. Processing might become an issue, given how different the procs are in the machines, but we’ll see.
But, the fact that it’s so cloud connected makes me wonder if they’re eschewing native backwards-compatibilty in favor of allowing us to re-buy our old 360 games to play on a cloud VM. Or maybe it could auth the game disc locally, then stream it from the cloud. Maybe. Maybe.
I forgot to mention this yesterday, but I’m not thrilled by the lack of backwards compatibility in either console. I’m frustrated that we’re back to this, but again, I have a feeling that both consoles will offer a cloud solution for both, even if Microsoft has said, ‘hold onto your 360s.’ That’s something I’ve always enjoyed on PC, and has left me scratching my head here.
Another point of aggravation is that we might be (MIGHT BE; THIS IS ALL RUMOR AT THIS POINT) letting Microsoft take a cut of used sales. We don’t allow that in movies or music, so why are we allowing it here? Granted, most of my game sales are digital purchases on PC, so I’m very, very careful there, since I don’t enjoy any resale market there at all (for now.)
We’ll need to see what Microsoft outlines in terms of their used sales, but I’d guess that it’s something like this: they’re gonna partner with certain retailers. If you buy the used game from those retailers, MS & publisher get a cut, and you get an activation code. If you buy elsewhere, you gotta buy the activation on XBL. If that bears out, the big loser is the authorized retailers. GameStop already marks games up to $5 under the price of new, and I doubt they’re going to go any higher, which means it’s their profits being eaten into. That, or they’re gonna offer even less for trade-in. I don’t know. No one knows yet. We’ll have to wait and see, but I smell a potential civil suit here, if MS does try this. Again, it’s all rumor at this point.
That being said, I’m excited to see if XB1 ties into other MS devices or operating systems. I’d love to see more SmartGlass applications, which they did tease at the announcement, talking about how this console is designed for SmartGlass from the ground up, whereas they had to shoehorn it into the 360.
I also like the cablebox functionality via HDMI-passthrough. That’s really smart. It still lets the cablebox manufacturers get their buck via providing a device, and it inserts the XB1 into the most critical part of most living rooms. Yes, I know you hipster douches ‘don’t watch TV,’ and I’m sorry for your loss, but I love me some cable serials and sports, and my wife really liked the social aspects.
I’m not currently a Kinect user, but I am curious to see what I think of it when I get the XB1. I’m more interested in the voice stuff than the flailing stuff.
Also, if you’ve not done ‘snapping’ on Windows 8, you’re in for a treat with it on XB1. When they showed it at the tech demo, during the Star Trek bit, I was very pleased to see that. It’s a great way to very neatly and quickly organize multiple panes on a single screen, and it’s going to work great in the context of a living room TV.
I’m glad that Microsoft got all the ‘all-in-one’ tech stuff out of the way for the initial pre-E3 showing. That frees them up to just talk games and games and games at their E3 presser. Where I think most people were underwhelmed at the non-game stuff shown at the event before which Microsoft SAID there wouldn’t be a lot of ‘games’ content at the event (and yet people were still whining), I was riveted. I work in virtualization, so it’s always cool getting to see a hypervisor used in unexpected, but totally sensible, places. But I digress.
GAMES! Gimme Forza and Fable, and we’re good. I’ll be talking more about actual games tomorrow, but in terms of XB1 first-party games, those two will about do it. Matter of fact, I think I just heard a rumbling an HD Fable 1 for 360. Could maybe be cool. I’ll have to read up on it more later.
So, what about you? I’ve seen a ton of negativity directed toward the XBox One thus far, and am curious to see if that contiues, after their presser on Monday.
What do you think of the XBox One thus far? What would it take to make you buy one? What would it take to make you buy one on launch day? What do you think of the multimedia capabilities? What features are you eager to start using?
I’ll be back tomorrow with a preview of E3 games, and the ones I’ll be watching closely!
Thanks for reading!
The Filthy Writer: Self-Indulgence Manifested (personal blog)
Untitled Gaming (gaming blog)