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Submitted by Chris Leyton on November 22 2005 - 13:57

Microsoft's attempt at bringing together media and games may be questionable, however there's little doubt the 360 is a classy videogame console...

Microsoftâ??s first attempt at targeting the kids and not the collars didnâ??t go as badly as many first predicted prior to the North American launch of the Xbox in 2001. In a strange twist of fate Microsoft and Xbox managed to sell itself to a stable hardcore audience, whilst riding on the ripple of the Dreamcastâ??s recent demise. Expanding upon SEGAâ??s design to bring online gaming to a console audience, the belated arrival of Xbox Live has done much to bring gamers together, although the execs at Seattle will be the first to admit thereâ??s still plenty more to do. The inclusion of a hard-drive within the console was rarely taken advantage of from a gameâ??s design, however it did consign memory cards to the past and bring Xbox Live to life â?“ along with the numerous updates and premium content that followed.

Not that Microsoft succeeded at everything it tried, itâ??s first attempt at a joypad met with universal disdain (bar one solitary individual), however the US giant quickly responded bringing the remodelled Controller-S to the market that maintained its predecessors strengths with racers and first-person-shooters but doesnâ??t require gigantism to enjoy. The widespread failure to interest Japanese gamers was also cause for concern, admittedly the Japanese videogame market may be shrinking but the support of Japanâ??s many developers cannot be understated.

With Xbox 360 Microsoft hopes to expand upon its predecessor, targeting a casual audience as the means to getting into more homes. The entire strategy behind Xbox 360, from its MTV unveiling to the two-tiered pricing structure, has been designed around this, but often at the cost of the hardcore â??bread and butterâ? gamers. So with the first stage of the worldwide launch about to commence can the Xbox 360 bridge the gap between hardcore and casual, expand upon its predecessors legacy and make the most of its headstart.

Sleek, Sexy But What The Hell Is That???

Despite its deceptive curves the Xbox 360 shares a similar stature to its bulky predecessor, particularly when youâ??ve got a hulking AC Adaptor to find somewhere to hide. Although the 360 has some of the most durable power and a/v cables youâ??re likely to see outside of a construction site itâ??s a relief to find other wires consigned to the box, with the introduction of wireless joypads, remote controllers and Wi-Fi adaptors. Admittedly Microsoft cannot lay claim to being the first, however theyâ??ve taken it to the next level and generally to good effect. Powered by two AA batteries or a rechargeable lithium battery pack, playing without wires is not entirely new but itâ??s nonetheless welcome and achieved to great effect.

A lot has already been made of Faceplates and the Removable HDD, youâ??ll live in fear the first moment you take a Faceplate from the 360, worrying that the brittle clips will soon snap however the HDD slides on and off with ease and feels satisfactorily snug â?“ not that youâ??ll be doing this a lot. The optional nature of the HDD is of some continued concern and it will be interesting to see how developers fare in the years to come; more significantly Microsoftâ??s intentions will be important, will larger HDD that facilitate full game downloads be too far away?

Much like the console, the pad is sleek, streamlined and white â?“ so about as far removed from the original Xbox as you could imagine. Microsoftâ??s designers have stripped away the remaining bulk from the Controller-S redesign, expanded the curves and replaced unwieldy black & white buttons with PS2 styled right and left bumper buttons. It may offer little revolution to the way we play games but it most certainly feels comfortable, which is all you want when getting stuck into a 9-hour romp of Perfect Dark Zero.

The Dash

The Xbox 360 marks a significant point in Microsoftâ??s strategy towards moving out of the study and into the living room. The dashboard offers far more in terms of console interfaces then anything seen before it and owes much to the design of Windows Media Center. Housing Microsoftâ??s latest source of revenue in the Xbox Live Marketplace (remember to bring your wallet full of Microsoft Points), Xbox Live Arcade, streaming Media capabilities and placing the emphasis on gamers creating their online identities.

Split into four different sections Xbox 360 presents an encompassing experience even before a game has been put in the drive, the dashboard features a sensible and attractive design that masks a wealth of different features.

Importantly the Xbox Live tab allows newcomers to sign up immediately to the online service or take advantage of the free Silver package, whilst veterans can effortlessly transfer GamerTagâ??s and accounts onto the 360 via a quick authentication process. Thereâ??s much more to being an Xbox Live gamer then just a GamerTag with the 360; Profile Pictures provide the type of customisation favoured by forums for the last six years; Mottos the means to sharing some wise words and Rep which is earned and lost on the gaming battlegrounds based upon other gamerâ??s feedback. GamerScore is one of the most exciting introductions to the Xbox 360, pitting various challenges before the player in 360 and Xbox Live Arcade titles to earn Achievement awards and scores. Based upon this the 360 dash also allows you to compare your GamerScore on particularly titles with other gamers, putting an end to the debates as to whoâ??s better on PGR3 or PDZ before theyâ??ve even started.

The biggest addition however is the inclusion of Xbox Live Marketplace, an area for the conglomerate to make even more money but one that serves a worthwhile purpose. Tapping once again into the concept of customisation Xbox Live Marketplace provides a spot to offer a constant supply of Gamer Pictures and Themes to customise the dashboard with, sometimes free of charge often at a nominal fee. More substantially the Marketplace provides the chance to try out new games before a purchase thanks to the Demo and Trailer downloads, along with the ability to download new content for 360 titles such as themed packs for Kameo.

More significantly the Marketplace expands upon the possibilities of Xbox Live Arcade after an ill-fated attempt on the Xbox. Provided the momentum continues Xbox Live Arcade provides the place for indie developers and publishers with rich back catalogues alike to bring their games to you. Initially housing such classics as Midwayâ??s Gauntlet and Joust to GarageGames maddeningly addictive Marble Blast, itâ??s hardly the reason to invest in a 360 but it does provide a new layer to what the console brings. Tied into the concept of Achievements and GamerScores, playing Gauntlet whilst listening to Radioheadâ??s Kid A album proves to be quite a surreal bout of nostalgia and given the catalogue expanding nature could create something very worthwhile to the ageing gamer out there. The level of support for the early titles is surprisingly strong with online multiplayer support, leaderboards and occasionally enhanced visuals. A free trial version lacks the ability to receive Achievement awards, upload scores and other restrictions, however the ability to largely play without the perks for free is a welcoming idea that elevates the service to its true potential â?“ lets just have more Retro classics as soon as possible.

Money, Money, Moneyâ?¦

Attempting to bring an end to the credit card requirements of Xbox Live and streamline the process of emptying out your bank account, Microsoft has invented the concept of the originally titled Microsoft Point â?“ a notion it claims as being â??the new coin of the Xbox Live Marketplace realmâ?. You get quite a lot of Microsoft Points to your money, with charges going straight to a Credit Card account or by purchasing and redeeming vouchers at participating retailers. At the time of writing 500 Microsoft Points costs £4.25; 1000 for £8.50; 2000 for £17.00 and an almighty 5000 Points for £42.50 although thereâ??s little incentive to go for the larger packs; typically Xbox Live Arcade titles cost in the region of 400 â?“ 800 points (approximately £3.40 - £6.80), whilst Themes for the desktop cost 150 Microsoft Points (£1.28) and Gamer Pictures vary from 20, 40 to 80 Points dependant upon complexity. Currently the only downloadable content available via the Marketplace is a Winter Warrior Pack for Kameo, which brings a festive style to the characters attire for 200 Microsoft Points (£1.70).

Thereâ??s little denying the ability to expand upon your favourite game is worth the cost, however whether Microsoftâ??s original vision of user-to-user transactions ever materialises remains slightly more questionable then before.

Music, Games & Videosâ?¦

The various little touches to appeal to gamers are worthwhile and a smart move so itâ??s a little disappointing to find the Media capabilities somewhat restricted unless youâ??re willing to invest in Windows Media Center technology. Split into Music, Photos and Video, if youâ??re an owner of XP and an upgrade to SP2 youâ??ll be able to stream music tracks and photos from a computer on the network and a relatively quick download. To make the most and watch/record analog and HD-TV on the 360 you will however have to own a Windows Media Center PC; a product hanging in the shadows until a penetration surge buoyed by recent Microsoft concessions. Whether or not Microsoftâ??s future vision of entertainment develops along with the penetration of Windows Media Center PCs and later with the release of Windows Vista will be interesting to see, particularly so given the rich claims that occasionally urge forth from Sonyâ??s camp.

Perhaps the greatest aspect of the 360â??s media capabilities so far is Jeff Minterâ??s interactive, trip-inducing visualizer, which allows you to have a certain degree of control over a near limitless number of variations â?“ in the right conditions and setup itâ??s unbelievably mesmerising and without doubt the greatest playback on a console to date.

Connecting iPodâ??s, Digital Cameras and PSPs is an effortless task thanks to the three USB ports and wide recognition, whilst the ability to play your own music in videogames is a smart touch enhanced by the introduction of The Guide.

Popping up as a sidebar whenever the Guide button surrounded by the magical Ring of Light is pressed, The Guide brings essential actions to the player regardless of whether youâ??re playing Project Gotham Racing 3 or watching a DVD, keeping you in touch with Xbox Live

Iâ??ll leave comments about the 360â??s ability to deliver what we expect from next-gen games to the reviews themselves, however thereâ??s little doubt it manages to bring enough of a difference in the 6+ months it will take for the competition, particularly so if youâ??re willing to invest in a HD setup. Rest assured if youâ??ve yet to take the plunge 360 titles still inspire awe, visualising touches such as individual beads of sweat and parallax mapping aplenty. More to the point, the well documented intensity of developers to get titles ready and the alleged dev-kit issues should ensure that 360 titles only look better and better for a while to come.

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User avatar
By: Anonymous

Added:Tue 12th Jul 2011 00:16, Post No: 612

at last normal game talk rather than that supid fanboy crap thats been littering this site a few months ago, keep up the good work.


By: freeradical

Added:Wed 29th Jun 2011 11:55, Post No: 611

@Peter Corr: You'd be surprised actually. I've done TVG's news on a daily basis for nearly 4 years now, and the amount of rumours that end up having some kind of relevance to them is higher than you'd think. I'd maybe estimate it somewhere in the realms of 30-40% of rumours are at least based on something that was true somewhere along the line.

The real problem is the Chinese whispers effect: after a few drinks at a press event, one journalist tells another journalist something they overheard on a recent studio tour, and the whole thing ends up getting misconstrued and overblown in a rumour article. It's why the sources are often referred to as "familiar with the matter" or "close to [the developer]" etc.

In my career, I've held back a handful of potentially huge rumour articles like this (which have turned out to be vaguely true in the end, I might add). It's usually been because my 'source' told me with confidence that I wouldn't report it, or because the story would have been poorly verified and potentially inflammatory unless it was more substantiated. However, many other journalists would just report these kinds of stories anyway.

In terms of the speculation on new consoles that you're referring to, no rumours are going to force console manufacturers into rushing a new system out of the door. One of the Next Xbox rumours suggested that Microsoft has been working on a new system since 2006, and this wouldn't surprise me at all. My boss and I looked through Nintendo's R&D spending a couple of years back, and it's eye-opening to see how R&D spending ramps-up quite a few years before a new console's announcement.

A good rule of thumb is that you can expect a console manufacturer to at least be in the planning stages for a new system within 2 or 3 years of releasing its current machine. If Microsoft hadn't been sketching out ideas for its NeXtbox by 2008, then I'd be very surprised. Make no mistake, there will be a new Xbox machine somewhere within Microsoft's Redmond HQ by now. The only question is whether or not it's in the hands of developers at this point as well.

As far as rumoured images of new consoles are concerned, you're right - more often than not they tend to look nothing like the final product. There's a couple of reasons for this: fake images can be easily mocked-up by NeoGaf users with far too much time on their hands, but also a new console's design goes through numerous prototype stages before it reaches its final form. Rumoured images may have been accurate at one point but simply didn't end up reflecting the final design.



User avatar
By: Peter Corr

Added:Tue 28th Jun 2011 19:19, Post No: 610

haha fair enough.

to be honest though, over all the years, only a small handful of rumours in the gaming industry ever turn out to be actually true.  even before the internet, i have loads of old mags i could show you where they're going on about the next console, even with pics, which have all turned out untrue, or specualtion on the inevitable.

i think it's the media/whoever trying to force sony/microsoft into the next generation earlier than they both plan, which IMO would be a big mistake.  even the best pc hardware isn't AMAZING compared to the 2 current gen consoles.  ps3 is doing most of what a top end pc is doing with battlefront 3 for examples (albeit with a smaller resolution and a slower framerate), but seriously, i don't want to pay £500 for a ps4 for such a small step up right now.  there's not enough additional quality in the tech yet to warrant it.

there's plenty of scope in this gen yet imo.  'next gen' needs to be a much bigger step up.  ps1>ps2>ps3, each one was a huge step up in technology.  there's nothing like that to challenge ps3/360 yet, don't you think?  (don't even mention the wii2, nobody knows the specs yet hehe)


By: freeradical

Added:Tue 28th Jun 2011 15:43, Post No: 609

@Peter Corr: This is the game industry. Publishers and developers will deny whatever they want and call it rumour and speculation until they officially announce it themselves.

That's how it works. They will deny accurate reports to keep their publicity campaigns intact, or because they're under non-disclosure agreements.

For what it's worth, I find this latest round of rumours pretty sketchy anyway, which is why I wrote a couple of paragraphs at the bottom voicing doubt on the whole thing.

I had initially put up resistance to reporting on this latest round of Xbox 720 rumours but, as the rumours started to mount up, I thought it was at least worth bringing it to our readers' attention. To reiterate though, personally I'm sceptical and I think that's reflected in the tone of my writing.


By: freeradical

Added:Tue 28th Jun 2011 15:42, Post No: 608

@Post 607: Sorry, I didn't realise you'd used it first anon :)


User avatar
By: Anonymous

Added:Tue 28th Jun 2011 14:43, Post No: 607

...you stole my term "nextbox"! ><.


User avatar
By: Peter Corr

Added:Tue 28th Jun 2011 13:48, Post No: 606

who wrote this?  they've since denied there's even a timesplitters 4 in production, microsoft has said last week "xbox is half way through its cycle" and EA have quickly called the rumours about them "100% untrue".  this is a complete non story.  surely there's something better to report to us than absolutely made up nonsense? lol


User avatar
By: Anonymous

Added:Sun 08th May 2011 22:10, Post No: 605

now thats just a childish and quite poor responce from what your making out to be a mature adult, i clearly stated there is less chance of getting an infection by using legal web sites however nothing is hacker proof "learn to read please". google OS is or might not even come to light for at least a few years yet and dont expect linux to steal any of microsofts market share, if it really bothers you that much get an apple mac but really is there any need for the quite silly argumenton a gaming website.

 

untill you grow up and act your age please stop filling up these pages with your hate, if you dont like microsoft fair enough your not alone but for the people that do like microsoft please stop trolling them its just childish and the only one your showing up is your self.

 

i dont see any other music producers or games developers with such petty responces such as yours, they have more important things to do than going to gaming websites and sending childish replys, quite obviously you have quite a lot of time on your hands as most developers/music creators have their own blog sites in which to chat when they have some spare time.


User avatar
By: Anonymous

Added:Sun 08th May 2011 21:13, Post No: 604

lmao, i'm a music producer and i produce pc games for the likes of popcap too.  in other words, i do not pirate anything, from movies to music.  it's killing our scenes.  i've had a virus (which the virus software killed, not microsoft's windows or IE) simply from clicking a link from a mates phised account of facebook before.  you can get a virus from any website, especially if a nice hacker decided to leave the code on a normally trusted and active website.  (facebook being a good example).

quite unbelievable that you're calling me a 'fanboy' when you go on too then defend microsoft windows and IE on security with a total falsity of 'dont download illegal things then'.  erm, i dont.  it's no co-incidence that i've not a problem since flipping to google chrome.  i'm just waiting for linux to be more compatibile and/or google to come up with the os that's been rumoured, then i can get MS out my life forever.  and i recommend everyone else do the same.


User avatar
By: Anonymous

Added:Sun 08th May 2011 20:40, Post No: 603

jesus post 600 did your rattle fall out of your pram and post 602 your right post 600 is a hypocrite, the playstation has been hacked loads of times, just cause all the times before sony didnt shut its servers down dont mean its better or hasnt been hacked lol, the only poeople who get seriously bad security breaches in windows and internet explorer are morons who download illegal digital content, the security provided with windows is secure enough for people who dont partisipate in illegal activity such as illegally downloading games, movies, music and software.

 

if you just bought official software, games, movies, music ect you would have far less chance of being hacked, im not saying you wont get hacked just there is far less chance of it happening, nothing is hacker proof you moronic hypocrite.


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