Thoughts on my Kinect for Xbox 360

I got what I wanted for Christmas! Santa, aka Sharon, gave me a Kinect for Xbox 360. It’s one of the hottest gadgets out there right now, and Microsoft expected to sell 5 million units by the end of 2010 (we might hear actual sales figures at CES this week). We’ve had fun playing with it over the last week, and it has proven to be a hit with friends and family too.

We have three games – Kinect Adventures, which came with the Kinect, Kinect Joy Ride, and Dance Central. I like different things about each, but I guess my favorite at the moment is Joy Ride. It’s really fun to steer, drift, boost, and stunt the car around the track! The interface seems to be the most touchy of the games, however. Adventures is also fun, but the downside is that it requires a lot of space in order for two players to play together. We have just enough space in our condo after we slide the couch out of the way. Dance Central is probably the most well-known Kinect game, and it is more or less what you’d expect from the makers of Guitar Hero and Rock Band. It’s fun, as long as you’re not afraid to look ridiculous! It also has a really attractive interface, with Minority Report-style swiping, rather than holding your hand stationary to select as in the other two games.

I have to admit, the Kinect is much more of a workout than I anticipated. There is no sitting down! If you play long enough, the Xbox actually pops up a notification asking if you need to take a break.

Kinect Joy Ride

One of the best parts about Adventures, Joy Ride, and Kinect Sports (which we don’t have), is that each game takes photos as you play. Some of them are just embarrassing! But they are fun to look at, and you can upload the photos to, where you can download them or share them on Facebook. It looks as though that was built specifically for Microsoft’s games, but it would be fun to see it extended Kinect-wide (or better yet, just let me upload straight to Facebook or Flickr).

The picture above is pretty low quality, but I am guessing that is just to save space/bandwidth, because the quality of video using the chat feature is impressive. Sharon and I did a video chat on the Kinect with my parents who used a normal computer with Windows Live Messenger, and it worked flawlessly. Made me wish for Skype support on the Xbox (as that is where the majority of my webcam contacts are).

Another interesting feature of Kinect is the voice recognition. So far it seems to listen to Sharon better than it does to me, but either way it does a decent job of interpreting commands even with background noise. The downside is that it is limited to the “Kinect Hub” – a kind of mini-dashboard within the Xbox 360 dashboard. I look forward to broader voice support, so that I can tell my console to turn off, or launch Netflix.

I love the Kinect, so far! It’s hard to believe that the device I stood in line for over five years ago has changed so dramatically, but it has. And I can’t help but think that this is just the beginning. There’s so much you can do with a Kinect-style interface, and I can’t wait to see what comes next.

Thanks Santa!

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

Bungie splits from Microsoft


Today Microsoft announced that Bungie Studios, the developer of the Halo games, will once again become an independent company. Microsoft will still own part of Bungie, and will continue the long-standing publishing agreement between the two for games developed by Bungie. From the Inside Bungie blog:

Bungie has long been built on creativity, originality and the freedom to pursue ideas. Microsoft agreed, and rather than stifle our imagination, they decided it was in both our best interests to unleash it. We’ll continue to make Xbox 360 games, and we’ll continue to make amazing games for MGS. In that regard, nothing has changed.

It sounds like everyone is happy with this arrangement. Both MS and Bungie seem pretty adamant that nothing will change, and I don’t see much reason to doubt them. I would assume that Microsoft will make slightly less money on future Bungie games, but I think they can live with that as long as the studio continues to pump out winners.

This quote from the Bungie press release made me laugh:

“Working with Microsoft was great for us, it allowed us to grow as a team and make the ambitious, blockbuster games we all wanted to work on. And they will continue to be a great partner. But Bungie is like a shark.  We have to keep moving to survive. We have to continually test ourselves, or we might as well be dolphins. Or manatees,” said Jason Jones, Bungie founder and partner.

Heh, well we can’t have them turning into manatees!

Mary Jo Foley has a good post up with five reasons why the split is a smart move for Microsoft. Her fifth point is the most important, I think:

5. Quasi-independent subsidiaries come up with more interesting ideas. As it has done with Xbox and Zune, Microsoft no longer believes innovation only happens when a unit is physically and psychically locked inside the Redmond headquarters.

I hope that shift in thinking really is happening inside Microsoft. For instance, I’m sure the new Vancouver dev centre will do some great things if they aren’t forced to go through Redmond for everything.

For lots more on this story, check out Techmeme.

Read: Microsoft

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

Frogger on Xbox 360

Post ImageOne of the things I like best about my Xbox 360 is the Xbox Live Arcade, and it’s about to get even better. Microsoft recently announced they will be releasing at least one new arcade-style game for the service every Wednesday:

At a trendy bar filled with gamers and video game press, Microsoft on Tuesday unveiled its lineup of retro hits like “Pac-Man,” “Galaga” and “Frogger” as part of its new Xbox Live Arcade Wednesdays program.

Players will need to connect their Xboxes to an Internet connection in order to download the games, though they don’t need to stay connected to play them.

The first game is Frogger, and it was released yesterday. I downloaded the trial last night to see what it was like – it’s kinda neat! They have “enhanced” and “classic” graphics for the game, which is pretty funny. While the arcade style games don’t utilize any of the real power the 360 has, they are fun for a change every now and then. The games will cost between $5 and $10.

I can’t wait for Pac-man!

Read: CNET

Happy Birthday Tom!

Today is my brother’s birthday, making him “bar age” in the Northwest Territories, not that you’d want to go drinking there but that’s another story. We went to the reptile show today, which was kind of cool though not as big as I remember it being the last time I went. Tom has a few snakes back in Inuvik and has always liked reptiles and lizards and things. You can check out some pictures here (they were quick shots without a flash, so a few are fuzzy).

After the show we came to the office to play some Madden on the Xbox 360 – I was winning by two touchdowns when the Xbox restarted because the cord on the power box had come loose (thats what I get for having cords all over the place). It’s just as well, Tom probably would have made some spectacular comeback!

So we’re partying it up tonight! If you want to come, give me a call on my cell and I’ll give you the address. Things will probably get underway around 8 or 9.

Happy Birthday Tom!

Xbox 360 on HDTV

Post ImageMy brother gave me King Kong the game for Xbox 360 for Christmas, so we hooked it all up to my Dad’s high definition TV and tried it out. And then we played Halo 2 as well, just to see what it was like on the HDTV. Everything you might have heard about the Xbox 360 needing an HDTV, is pretty much true.

Xbox 360 on HDTV is HARDCORE!

The minute you turn the system on, you see the difference. Even the dashboard is much, much better looking on the HDTV. King Kong, while being a relatively dark game, was pretty intense. Even Halo 2 looks much better on the 360 with HDTV than a normal TV on either the 360 or original Xbox.

I really want an HDTV now!