The Xbox360 is more than a box

Posted: 11.28.05
Crackdown cracks up. (Source: Microsoft)

A couple of weeks ago I had an opportunity to get up close and personal with an Xbox360. I had a comfortable chair, a coach, and a dozen new friends as well as a group leader. Microsoft knew I and a few others were not up to speed on the games, and god bless 'em, they wanted to fix that. Oh, and there was music, food, and drink, too, so we weren't in a big hurry to leave.

Microsoft had eight of their games there to play ("Crackdown," "Dead or Alive," "Gears of War," "Kameo," "Mass Effect," "Perfect Dark Zero," "Project Gotham Racing," "Too Human") plus a several other third party games.

But the 360 is a lot more than just a game box. Mind you, it's a damn fine game box—plenty fast, lots of memory, and great graphics, but it can (and does) do a lot more. More than I can probably remember. You can apply any music you want as a background to listen to while playing, or while doing other things on the machine, like organizing, or searching for stuff. The UI is cleverly designed and easy to learn in a few minutes.

Dream car—look at the reflections as it speeds by.
(Source: Microsoft)

The 360 is a universe, a garden, if you will. You can get online and play with friends and strangers (and your parents can limit where you can go and how long you can play). You can download music, rip CDs, drive an HDTV screen, and play untethered with a wireless controller. You can play movies and about the only thing you can't do is watch live TV and/or get time-shift functions—like that'd be hard to add.

When Microsoft releases the 360 this month, I predict they are going to run out of inventory quickly. There are various bets about how many they'll ship, and rumors about how many they can get built (those numbers range from 2 to 5 million). I think everyone, including Microsoft, is going to be surprised.

Lost Coast—can you hear me now?

Had a chance to play with "Lost Coast" the other day, on the X1800 XL: it looked gorgeous. "Lost Coast" is a test bed for Valve. They used it to get HDR (High Dynamic Range) running and to test the water for a captioning trick where the developers can (at your discretion) tell you what they were trying to accomplish and/or how they did it. Gabe Newell says if they get a positive response from the folks who are testing it, then that's a feature Value will include in future games.

The demo has a very short story, and you are God, but even so there are plenty of things and paces to discover, and it's interesting and entertaining enough that I've gone through it three times now, finding something different each time.

I much preferred HL2 to Doom3 for a variety of reasons, story, outside graphics, characters, physics, etc. "Lost Coast" has all that and more. And it is a DX9+++ user—kids, don't try this on your dad's IGP machine.

Sadly, Valve isn't going to have a new game for us this holiday season to take advantage of our X1800 XT or GeForce 7800 GTX 512. Kinda like all dressed up and no place to go.

Nothing casual about this

The monastery where the cannon is—and where the
HDR can be found. (Source: Valve)

As you have read elsewhere in this issue, Microsoft has adopted the phrase "Casual Games." When I recently mentioned that to someone, they heard casual gamer. Nothing I could do would get them off that mindset.

As much as I hate to give Microsoft credit for being clever, this could be one of the cleverest things the company has done with regard to branding. If every-one makes that same connection, Microsoft will be branded as the company that pulled in the casual gamer.

Well, that may be, but there's nothing casual about the games that will show up on the Xbox360, or the ones we're playing now on our PCs. You all know I love the handhelds, got plenty of them, not the least of which is my -shinny new PSP. But none of them are ever going to be what sits under my desk, or in front of my HDTV.

As for the poor starving casual game players, I say, let them eat pixels.