Canadians celebrate new Xbox 360 dashboard, long for Netflix-like partnership

xbox 360Xbox 360 owners should be excited about the announcements Microsoft made today at E3! A number of new games were shown, including Fable 2, Gears of War 2, Fallout 3, and Resident Evil 5 (interesting that the most anticipated games are all sequels). They announced a bunch of new downloadable games, and will finally make community-designed games available in the next update. They’re enabling “play from hard drive” functionality, and have added a few new display support options.

Other new features include the ability to browse Xbox Live Marketplace content on the web, and the Xbox Live Party System which enables up to eight friends to connect to watch a movie, play a game, or share photos. Related to that feature are the new avatars, an extension to gamertags akin to Nintendo’s Mii.

And then there’s the two biggest announcements of all: the dashboard is getting a makeover, and Live Gold members will soon have access to Netflix streaming. When I heard about the dashboard update I thought, “finally”:

“When people turn on their Xbox 360s this fall, they’ll get an entirely new interface and Dashboard, an entirely new Xbox through the magic of software,” said John Schappert, head of Live services.

Microsoft is a software company after all, it’s about time they take advantage of that to do some cool new things with the console.

When I heard about the Netflix streaming feature, I thought “cool”. I agreed right away with MG Siegler:

With one fell swoop, Microsoft may have dealt its strongest blow in the consumer market to Apple in years.

Then I realized I live in Canada.

Netflix only serves U.S. customers at the moment, and as far as I know plans to expand to Canada and the UK were shelved a long time ago. The amount of content on Xbox Live for Canadians is already far behind our American counterparts, and this announcement just means we’re even further behind. As Mathew Ingram says:

If what you like is anything made by the CBC and the occasional CTV show like Little Mosque on the Prairie, then you are probably going to be in heaven. Otherwise, you are out of luck.

Sad, but true. I’m excited for the new dashboard and other features, but once again disappointed that as a Canadian my access to media via the Internet is severely limited.

Two Years of Xbox 360, Five Years of Xbox Live

Post Image It was two years ago today that I lined up at Best Buy very early in the morning to be among the first to snag the Xbox 360 gaming console. So, happy birthday Xbox 360! Kind of hard to believe it has been that long.

Last Thursday was another anniversary – the fifth for Xbox Live! It’s even harder to believe the service has been around that long – it launched exactly a year after the original Xbox console. My latest article at last100 examines Xbox Live:

Xbox Live started out as a multiplayer gaming network, but today the 8 million users with Live accounts do much more than just play games. Users can download movies and television shows, chat with friends, and more. Even Microsoft now describes the service as a “comprehensive unified online entertainment network”. Marketing-speak at its finest, but it’s true – Xbox Live is a key component of Microsoft’s connected entertainment vision. In this post we look at the state of Xbox Live today, and explore some of the ways Microsoft will likely enhance it in the future.

Give it a read, and let me know what you think!

Read: last100

Bring on personalized Xbox manufacturing!

halo3xboxTuesday is going to be a big day for Microsoft. September 25th is the release date for Halo 3, the much anticipated third installment in the Halo video game series. If you thought Halo 2 was a big deal (it sold more in the first 24 hours after release than most movies generate during their entire box office run) you’d be right – but Halo 3 is an even bigger deal.

Everything about Halo 3 is bigger and better than before, but especially the marketing. Heck, there’s a page at Wikipedia dedicated solely to marketing for Halo 3. Microsoft seems to have figured out that blogs like Engadget are important too. Look at what they sent to Engadget editor Ryan Block:

Listen up kids — the holidays have come way early. We’ve got our hands on the special edition Xbox 360 all done up in Halo 3 fashion… but that’s not all. The boys from Redmond sent a massive, massive package our way, including a giant, custom army bag, custom dog tags, two army meal rations, a first aid kit, the Xbox itself, two Halo 3 controllers and a headset, plus some other stuff hidden in the nooks and crannies.

The photo gallery is pretty darn cool, even if you’re not a Halo fan. One photo in particular caught my eye. Not only did Ryan receive a Halo 3 themed console, but it has his name engraved on the side! How cool is that? The bag and dog tags also have his name on them.

That got me thinking. What if Microsoft offered this package for sale, instead of just sending it to the press? I am sure people would happily pay more for a personalized Halo 3 kit. In fact, they could cut out the middleman altogether. Imagine pre-ordering Halo 3 online from Microsoft, with the ability to fully customize the package – colors, your name, etc. I’d pay for that, and I don’t think I’m the only one who would.

The Halo 3 themed console isn’t the first special edition Microsoft has launched – there was also the yellow edition for The Simpsons Movie. So it seems that personalization can be done, they probably just need to perfect the process. Microsoft made a big deal out of software themes and the faceplates for the Xbox 360, but maybe the next version of the Xbox will be truly customizable? Fully personalized manufacturing?

It could happen!

Read: Engadget

Worms coming to Xbox Live Arcade

Post ImageI’ve had my Xbox 360 since the console launched, but I have never purchased a game from the Xbox Live Arcade. I was tempted with Dig Dug, but ended up just playing with the trial for a bit. I might have to lay down some cash this month though, because Worms is coming to XBLA:

I’m very excited to be able to confirm that Worms is coming to the Xbox Live Arcade next Wednesday. This is one of those games that seems like it was designed for the service with easy-to-learn gameplay, attractive graphics, and cute worms who are all out for blood.

Ah yes, good old Worms. I remember playing it on the computer back in high school – what a great game! According to the Wikipedia entry, the first public demo of the game happened back in January at CES. Worms will cost 800 Microsoft Points when it is released.

Also on the topic of upcoming releases for the Xbox Live Arcade, it looks like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is also going to available this year!


Read: Ars Technica

Xbox 360 V2

Post ImageThink Microsoft has been resting on their laurels with the launches of the Nintendo Wii and Sony PS3? Think again. According to Engadget they are working on a new version of the Xbox 360:

Ever wonder why Microsoft hasn’t released an HDMI cable for the Xbox 360, or whether the AV port was really capable of digital out? Well, here’s your answer: we landed pictures of what appears to be the second Xbox 360 — the Xbox 360 v2, if you will — codenamed Zephyr.

The new version apparently has a cooler 65nm processor, an HDMI port for 1080p, and a 120 GB hard drive. They might as well include an integrated HD-DVD player while they’re at it!

I would be lying if I said I wasn’t at least a little perturbed when I first read this, but I realize that I sealed my own fate by purchasing my 360 the day it was released. And I don’t regret it. It makes perfect sense to update components as they improve (and it becomes cost effective to do so). The HDMI port would be nice to have, but I’d need a TV capable of 1080p for it to really make a difference. And I doubt I’ll be getting one of those anytime soon.

Bottom line: Zephyr (if it turns out to be real) is a minor update. Games on Zephyr will be identical to games on today’s Xbox 360, and that’s all that really matters.

UPDATE: Engadget links to some pictures and a video of the HDMI port and HANA scaler.

Read: Engadget

Xbox 360 to offer movies and television via Live

Post ImageMicrosoft has announced that starting November 22nd, which just happens to be the one year anniversary of the Xbox 360, users will be able to download standard and high definition TV shows and movies. This is a big deal, make no mistake about it. Engadget has some more details on the service, dubbed Xbox Live Video. Pricing has not yet been announced, but we do know payment will be made in Microsoft points.

Here are some choice quotes from around the web. From Microsoft Monitor:

Rental is something Microsoft offers that Apple doesn’t. And Microsoft will offer HD content, too, which is really smart. It’s not just differentiating from iTunes or other services, but preserving the user experience. Xbox 360 is very much about the HD experience.

From Don Dodge:

Stay tuned for more Live services. It is going to be tough to keep up with all the announcements coming from Microsoft over the next few months. It just gets better every day.

And not as positive, from GigaOM:

With just 20 gigs in the consoles standard hard drive set-up, youre talking about 10 high definition TV episodes or five HD movies. Most gamers can churn through that content in days.

I would not be surprised if Microsoft announced a larger hard drive in the near future.

All of a sudden, owning an Xbox 360 is about more than being a gamer. It’s great news for people like me, a fairly casual gamer. I knew the 360 would be big on media when I bought it, but I had no idea this was coming. I can’t wait to see what they launch next!


GameDaily is drunk on PS3 kool-aid

Post ImageTomorrow is November, and you know what that means – game console launches! Both Nintendo and Sony will be releasing their latest offerings this month, so don’t be surprised if you hear a lot about it over the next few weeks. Hopefully though, the coverage is more accurate and credible than GameDaily’s latest. Author James Brightman outlines five reasons that Sony will win the “Next Gen Console War”. Here are his reasons, with my comments underneath each one:

1. The Brand
Brightman is right, a “strong brand should not be underestimated.” However, the problem with this argument (that Sony will win because it has a strong brand) is that nothing lasts forever! Indeed, Brightman states, “in the late ’80s and early ’90s Nintendo was king, but on today’s market there is no brand more synonymous with the world of video games than PlayStation.” Too bad he couldn’t read his own sentence and realize that what happened to Nintendo could happen to Sony too.

2. Microsoft (somewhat) Squandered its Lead
Nice to the see conviction in his argument – “somewhat” hey? Microsoft’s goal is to sell 10 million consoles by the end of 2006. They are definitely behind at the moment. But let’s see how the holiday season shakes out, shall we?

3. Japan is Ripe for the Taking
Japan has never been a strong market for Microsoft. The first Xbox did horribly there, and I don’t think MS execs were expecting to do that much better with the Xbox 360. Not that it matters – Sony cannot “win” by simply selling more in Japan. Once again, Brightman neglects to read his own writing: “let’s not forget that this is a global market.”

4. Blu-ray Will Matter
If there’s one good thing about Brightman and his article, it’s that he makes tearing it apart really easy. He writes, “sure some of this is hype, and maybe we’re falling for it…” You better believe it is hype. Anything related to Blu-ray or HD-DVD at this point is hype.

“In one to two years, we think the combination of the Blu-ray medium and the Cell processor will lead to a noticeable difference between the visuals of the PS3 and the Xbox 360, as developers begin to really harness the technology in the PS3.”

Seems to me that Brightman isn’t a very technical person. Developing for the Xbox 360 in such a way that you can extract every ounce of performance is hard. It requires a shift in the way developers think and work (because of multiple cores, etc). There aren’t any 360 games that really do this yet. So, to say that in a one or two years the Cell processor and Blu-ray will lead to a noticeable difference is ridiculous. First of all, 360 games are going to get better. More importantly though, developing for the PS3 is even more complex than for the Xbox 360, so I would expect it to take much more time before we see the best possible visuals.

5. Free Online
This is the one argument I somewhat agree with. Completely free, full online access for PS3 gamers is a big deal. We all know Microsoft has deep pockets however, so if they wanted to make Xbox Live Gold free, they certainly could. I think they’ll wait though, to see what the PS3 online service is like. People will pay for quality.

A few more things
There’s a ton of other problems with this article. For one, what about Nintendo? Brightman compares Sony almost exclusively to Microsoft. The Wii might not have fancy graphics, but I’d argue it belongs in the “next gen” classification. The PS3 is going to have to beat the Wii too. For another thing, there’s no mention of the cost. The PS3 is really expensive, both in comparison to previous consoles, and to its competitors. Brand allegiance is important, but it often falls apart in the case of extremely high prices. Another thing – the Playstation doesn’t have the huge list of exclusive titles that previous versions did. Lots of games are now available for multiple consoles. I could go on.

It’s really easy to make predictions about how the consoles will fare against one another. It is much harder to make accurate predictions. That said, its pretty simple to come up with something better than this GameDaily article.

Read: GameDaily

Xbox 360 Dashboard Update

Post ImageMake sure you’ve got your 360 turned on tomorrow fellow Xboxers, because there’s a big update on the way. Here are some of the most interesting new features (via Engadget):

  • Xbox 360™ HD DVD Player support.
  • Set up automatic downloads of newly released Xbox Live Arcade trial games. (I am such an Arcade junkie…)
  • Support for upcoming release of XNA Game Studio Express. (w00t for developers!)
  • Stream music, pictures and video from a Zune device.

There’s a ton of other stuff coming too. Check out the full list of features here. The update will be available starting tomorrow morning.

Read: Xbox News

More PS3 troubles for Sony

Post ImageYet more disappointment for fans of the Sony PS3. Just think about all the bad news we’ve seen so far: critics had a field day with the early controller, pricing for the console is rumored to be really high, and then there’s the whole Blu-Ray issue. And now? Delays:

Sony will delay the European launch of its PlayStation 3 game console by about four months to March and cut its target for worldwide shipments this year by half, the company said Wednesday.

Flagging potential problems with the PS3 launch, Mitsubishi UFJ Securities last month cut by half its shipment forecast to 3 million of the new PlayStations in the current business year to March, citing Sony’s difficulties in procuring its cutting-edge parts.

Is it just me, or does an Xbox 360/Nintendo Wii combination seem more appealing than ever?

Read: CNET

Soon I'll Create My Own Xbox Games!

Post ImageAh, I have been waiting for news like this ever since I got my Xbox 360 back in November. Microsoft will be releasing a set of tools that let “college students, hobbyists and others create their own games” for both Windows and the Xbox 360 console. The tools will be demonstrated for the first time at Microsoft Gamefest. A lighter weight version of the company’s XNA tools for professional developers, the hobbyist suite is dubbed XNA Game Studio Express:

“The tools we are talking about make it way easier to make games than it is today,” said Scott Henson, director for platform strategy for Microsoft’s game developer group.

In the first incarnation, games developed using the free tools will be available only to like-minded hobbyists, not the Xbox community as a whole. Those who want to develop games will have to pay a $99 fee to be part of a “Creators’ Club,” a name that is likely to change. Games developed using XNA Game Studio Express will be playable only by others who are part of the club.

The current plan is to have a completely open system three to five years down the road, where anyone can make a game, and the community decides what sucks and what rocks. This will drastically change the gaming landscape if Microsoft can pull it off. Finally regular people will be able to build things for a console!

I always figured Microsoft would eventually release developer tools like this for the Xbox 360. They are, after all, a platform company.

Read: CNET