Yes, I have entered the ranks of the 1337 gamers. I finally gave into the urge and paid $75 premium to get an XBox 360 off of eBay. Yeah, I could have waited even longer, but frankly, I was sick of the constant monitoring of the unt1tled XBox tracker, the random phone calls to friends to see if they could pick me up one in their area, etc. Anyway, the unit arrived Saturday morning, so I immediately plugged it in and wasted an entire day playing with it.
So what do I think of it? Well, in a word, it is awesome. It outputs beautifully on my 480p HDTV (alas, I don’t think my TV supports 720p – time to buy a 73”) in glorious widescreen deliciousness, and it was brain-dead easy to get logged on to XBox Live. Once there, I downloaded a bunch of Arcade game demos, including the utterly fantastic Geometry Wars, which I bought for 400 Microsoft Points ($5) within 20 minutes of playing. There is so much awesomeness in this sexy little machine that it is tough to write it all down. But there are a couple of areas that really stand out, so I thought I’d write a little about them.
The concept is so simple – set mini goals within games and award players points when they achieve these goals. Then centralize everything on a website so players can compare their results to all players globally, or just amongst their friends. This is what the XBox team has done with Achievements. An example of an achievement in Geometry Wars is the Pacifism Achievement, which is awarded for playing the first 60 seconds of the game without shooting (pretty tough when you first start out). Another is awarded when you earn 100,000 points, and still another when you make it all the way to 100,000 points without dying once. You get the idea. Because achievements are super- public – you can go visit my profile on xbox.com and see all the achievements I’ve attained for a certain game – it adds a huge competitive edge to the games. For example, because I can compare my achievements with my friends, I am more apt to keep playing so that I can keep my edge over other players. It also adds extra incentive to purchase full versions of games, since you can’t earn achievements in demos.
And speaking of demos – the online nature of XBox Live allows publishers to put up downloadable game demos in the XBox Live Marketplace. So if you have the hard drive, you can download demos of games such as Condemned, Fight Night, Full Auto, etc. before you buy them. It’s great – but unfortunately the demos are very large (nearly 600 MB for the Condemned demo), and there is no way to a) queue up multiple downloads and b) download in the background. This actually really sucks – it means that while you’re downloading a demo, or any other type of content, you can’t do anything else on your 360. The only silver lining is that downloads are resumable, so if you get bored downloading something and want to get in another round of Geometry Wars, you can cancel it and resume it later. You’d think with 3 cores on the CPU, they could spawn a background thread to handle downloads in the background, but whatever. Its still freakin’ cool.
The original XBox had a Media Center extender that you could use with your Media Center 2005 PC (I’m ignoring the hacks you could use to get XBMC or Linux on there). Unfortunately, there were two core faults – it required a disc to be inserted into the XBox, and it was pretty low quality because all the graphic processing had to be done on the Media Center PC and then transmitted through the network. Plus the XBox couldn’t be turned on and of remotely (the 360 does this beautifully). In short, I bought it and did not like it at all. The 360 changes that. It runs the media center app natively, and connects up to your Media Center just to start streaming the video/music/pictures. I think all the graphics processing is done on the 360 itself, so it just looks better and is more responsive. Plus, it uses the same remote as a typical media center remote, so you can move your large, loud Media Center PC (which is what you wind up with when you build your own on a budget as I did) into some dark corner of your apartment and use the 360 as your sole media center. Trust me – words cannot describe how freakin’ awesome this is.
Well, there’s a ton more to say about this stunning piece of hardware/software engineering, but I am already suffering Geometry Wars withdrawal, so I’d better get back to it. I have achievements to earn, after all. Look me up if you’re on XBox Live – my Gamertag is Diametrix.