Editorial – The XBox One

Opening disclaimer: This post is written by TK. It is well documented that since the death of Sega in the console market, he has well and truly given his allegiance to the Playstation brand. That said, he has promised to at least try to keep this editorial impartial. Obviously, his views are his own, and do not reflect the views held by the rest of the TigerTails Entertainment Team. – Thomas King (TigerTails Entertainment Website Administrator).

So, at 6pm BST I sat myself down in front of the TV to watch Microsoft’s response to Sony’s unveiling of the PS4’s controller. The Twitter hashtag was #XBoxReveal and even after the event it can make pretty entertaining reading, for both sides of the Playstation/Microsoft fan war, but I was using it to keep up with all the other people on my feed as we watched…

I’m not going to do a blow-by-blow of the event. Every other gaming site is doing that, and picking out their favourite tweets to show either how much the world loves/hates (depending on the site’s agenda) the new addition to the XBox family. I’m also not doing it, because right at the point of reveal, the stream crashed and I missed a couple of minutes while it buffered. So the magical moment of console reveal was lost forever. At least I still have the PS4 one to look forward to, though buffering made me miss the reveal of the PS4 joypad, and they do say bad luck comes in 3s…

The One looks quite nice, in my opinion. Not a work of beauty, but then I can’t name a console that has been. Ever. I grew quite fond of the original “GreyStation” and was a little irked when it shrank and became PSOne. Though I still think the PS1 of old is a work of beauty. Functional, and fitting for the space it has been designed to go in – that’s all I ask, and that’s all the One provides (XBox One, not PSOne… This might get confusing). Still, I like the slot loader and it’s nice to see that Microsoft has decided to ditch trays and join the slot loading party. I just hope Sony keep that party rolling, as the top loading PS3 is not a pleasing thing.

So, knowing that most of the games are being kept back until E3, let’s spend a moment to talk about the couple we did see. Forza Motorsport 5 will be a launch title. It looks really pretty, now I’ve seen the HD trailer (since the livestream dropped resolution as soon as the trailer came on) – but the trailer looked just as pretty as Gran Turismo 6 for the PS3, so I guess either GT6 is stunning, or the quality really doesn’t show over video. I highly expect it’s the latter. So here’s a couple of screenshots. The first is Forza 5 running on the One, and the second is Gran Turismo 6 on the PlayStation 3.

Forza 5 Screenshot (Click to enlarge) - Thanks to VideoGamer.com

Forza 5 Screenshot (Click to enlarge) – Thanks to VideoGamer.com

GT6 Screenshot (Click to enlarge) - Thanks to GTPla.net

Gran Turismo 6 Screenshot (Click to enlarge) – Thanks to GTPla.net

Another game that was very briefly shown as a new IP – and we shall now pause to celebrate a new IP coming to one of the 3 main “next gen” consoles – called Quantum Break, which seems to be a TV show and game merger, in that your actions in the game somehow affect the show – but as they did nothing more than play a trailer, nothing is really known yet. The final bit of the trailer looked a bit “in game”, while the rest was TV Show stuff, including a boat crashing into a bridge. My only hope is that this isn’t the next generation of the (normally) terrible FMV based games that plagued the Sega MegaCD. We will have to wait and see.

15 new games from Microsoft Studios are to appear within the first year of XBox One, apparently, with 8 of those being new IPs. This is great news. The gaming industry needs new IPs right now. Actually, no, the industry needs GOOD new IPs right now, especially if you’re Nintendo. Since these are Microsoft Studios games (unless I’m interpreting that wrong), they should at least be exclusives but (and there’s always a but) how many of them will be crappy shovelware games or Kinect Only titles? Or even worse, more first person shooters? I mean, there’s such a shortage of those around these days, right? Still, the news that there are 8 new IPs coming should be applauded – so credit where credit’s due there.

Now on to the rest of the things… Firstly, it seems Microsoft want to see the One as something more than a gaming console. It’s now an all-in-one media solution with Kinect integration so you no longer need your remote control. Voice commands and gestures are all you need to switch between channels, games, Skype, and everything else the console offers. On paper, that does sound rather awesome. Voice activated Alt+Tab. With the new Snap Mode, you can shrink down the screen size of your live TV and bring up a sidebar to display other content, like fantasy football scores for the NFL, Internet Explorer, or Skype. Due to the aspect ratio, you get a lovely black bar under the TV feed which I can see being filled with adverts (because you weren’t sick of them in the 360’s Dashboard already), but that’s just a little speculation on my part there. There was a lot of TV integration mentioned, all of which is unavailable to anyone outside of the US, at launch at least though since a deal with Sky happened for the 360 here in the UK, integration for Sky on the One seems a no-brainer.

My only problem is this: What’s the point? The chap presenting all this section said that no one was watching TV on their TV anymore because you had to change inputs. I hope that only applies to the US because if the general population of the world is too damn lazy to press a couple of buttons on a remote control to choose between game, media device, and TV then humanity as we know it is screwed. The PC I’m typing this one is hooked up to my TV, as is the PS3, 360, PS2, and and until recently the Wii, a second PS2, and a Dreamcast too (yea, I maxed out the inputs). So to insinuate that I don’t watch TV because I have to change inputs is, to be polite, poppycock. I don’t watch much TV because there’s normally nothing on.

Even if I was too lazy, the One only has a single HDMI In for an external input, and that has to be reserved for the separate TV decoder box because the One doesn’t even have that built in. In fact, given reasons I’ll get to later, it’s awfully presumptuous to assume that the One’s target market is a single-console household when almost all gamers I know have at least 2 consoles at their disposal, even if they’re not both current generation. Therefore they’re going to have to change the channel on their TV sets in the old fashion way – with the remote! By integrating TV into the One, you’re in fact adding to the problem that you’re trying to solve, which didn’t really exist in the first place.

The nice man then sells us Snap Mode on the basis of “you all have wanted to do something else while watching the television? Of course you have!”* Sorry, but no I haven’t. I know it might sound curious to people at Microsoft but when I watch television I’m doing it because I wanted to watch some TV. Crazy, right? Okay, I am telling a small lie there, sometimes I’ll want to make a snack or go to the toilet. Somehow, though, I don’t think that’s what the nice man was talking about. No, apparently he means if I want to load Internet Explorer or Skype. Considering I will no longer touch either product with a 10ft pole, I can’t see me doing that even if I’m on a PC, but I understand his meaning. There’s an actor in a TV show, and I want to know what else he’s been in, of course I’m going to want to look it up. So what I’ll do is grab my phone or tablet and I’ll (here comes the Caps Lock, sorry) OPEN THE SMART GLASS APP AND LET THE CONSOLE TELL ME SINCE THAT’S THE DAMN DREAM YOU USED TO SELL SMART GLASS TO ME! Why would I want to give up any screen real estate to do something that proper Smart Glass integration should be able to do? I love the idea of Smart Glass, and it’s the one feature I wish the PlayStation family of consoles had. So to work against the technology by shifting focus back to the main screen seems like a real backwards step to me.

He also showed us Skype in Snap Mode, which allows you to make HD phone calls while watching TV or films. I’m not sure how many people will make much use of that. I know that when I’m watching TV, the last thing I want is a phone call or someone talking at me and taking my focus away from what I’m watching. However, it’s nice that the feature is there for the people that want to use it.

Something was more impressive was the new Kinect sensor. It’s 1080p now and a vast improvement over the old Kinect unit. It can finally do all the delicate movements PlayStation Move can do, and hopefully will be able to process things faster to reduce the (very) noticeable lag between your actions and the movements of the on-screen avatar. This is a good thing and while I still feel it’s a bit gimmicky for games, if someone can figure out how to interface it with a PC, it could be a game changer. The Kinect SDK for PC was brilliant, and that could be made even better with the Kinect 2. However, its use for XBox One is more than a little creepy. It’s always on, listening to you and waiting for your command, even when the main console is turned off. This is so it can react when you say “XBox On” and fire up the One for you. However, there is nothing stopping Microsoft from effectively listening in to everything you say and delivering targeted ads based on keywords it picks up from your conversations. If you thought Ingress was a great data mining tool for Google, you ain’t seen nothing yet. Microsoft already have patents in place for this very technology, so to dismiss this line of thought as Orwellian inspired paranoia might be ill-placed.

So what else can this console do? Who cares? There’s going to be a Halo TV series! Steven Spielberg is onboard with it. Hopefully it’ll do the story justice, and not fly in the face of canon. With the wealth of books and other media about the Halo universe out there, there is plenty to work with. Plus, I’ve been told the books are pretty good too.

Of course, at these events what isn’t said on the stage tends to be more important than what is said on the stage. To this end, I have to give Microsoft 10 out of 10 for manipulative marketing. Those who watched the event will notice that all the talk of TV and sports integration, Fifa, and of course the Call of Duty segment at the end will appeal to the “chav gamer” demographic. Just that demographic, mind, and no one else. A lot of people might not realise it, but that is the largest demographic of 360 users in the United States presently. This whole reveal was for them. Not for the hardcore gamer. E3 is when the hardcore gamer will get their show – and I’ll get to that just after this paragraph…

Remember when I said I’d get on to the point about having more than one console a bit later? Well, this is that later. According to reports, there is no backwards compatibility in the One. No compatibility for original XBox titles, and none for 360 titles. So until you’re at a time when your collection of One games is in a good place, you’re going to want to keep the 360 on hand for gaming. This was the only piece of the storm that followed the reveal that was not refuted.

What was not said on the stage was the news that the One requires all games to be installed to the (500 gig) hard disk and activated online before play can commence. What was not said on the stage was that a fee would be payable (ranging from “small” to the full price of the game) if you were to then lend your game disc to a friend, in order for them to play it on their own account. Another thing not mentioned was the always-online claims, or how often the cloud-based services needed to sync before the console stopped working properly. There were other things said, and the resulting rage seemed to have contributed to Sony and Nintendo’s stock rising (Sony’s by 8%).

However, Microsoft are at pains to distance itself from most of what was said by executives after the reveal was over. Comments made by Phil Harrison in interviews were quickly dismissed as “potential scenarios” and information, or misinformation, was flying everywhere – but no one seems to have stopped to think for a moment. When you brush the hyperbole aside, and plug your ears to the enraged fans screaming for blood, can you actually say you know anything about the One? Anything the hardcore gamer cares about? Other than the name, no. That’s the beauty of it. While the things revealed I find rather pointless, there is a market for that out there – and by mixing up the hornet’s nest, Microsoft have made damn sure we’re going to be on tenterhooks when E3 comes around and we can finally get some proper answers to the questions. Now the gaming masses are in prime position to be appeased by the news that things aren’t as bad as they seemed, and all that rage was just blowing tiny matters out of proportion. Then a good selection of games will come along and convince us that the One is indeed the console we should have, and all will be right in the world again. They’ve got us gamers exactly where they want us, champing at the bit and with lowered expectations – a master stroke of marketing right before our eyes.

Or at least I hope that’s the plan, because if this absolute mess of a reveal isn’t intentional and Microsoft are now licking their wounds and wondering what to do next, they’ve only got just over a fortnight to figure it out before the E3 train comes and runs them down. Then again, if they are planning on blocking used games and requiring a semi-regular connection to the Internet to use the console, it’ll be a fair more efficient suicide than being hit by a train.

* By telling us that we have indeed wanted to do something else while watching the TV, our marketing man is trying to use a form of manipulation. By that I mean, if he can get you to say “yes” to the question of TV distraction, you’re more likely to buy into what he’s selling to you (in this case, the idea that Snap Mode is just what you need). This was a trick I learnt while training for door-to-door sales of double glazing (a job I ended up turning down after the training), and is just one of many ways they get you to buy stuff at the door. I’m not going to criticise the chap for using the technique, as that’s his job, but it’s something to be wary off – especially with E3 looming. See how many times it’s done during the event. Maybe even make it a drinking game. **

** Remember to drink responsibly.

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