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

Our New HDTV Projector

Post ImageAs Dickson mentioned yesterday, the HDTV projector we ordered about a week ago arrived. The projector is an Optoma MovieTime, and supports HDTV inputs and has a built-in DVD player. Even though it goes against my rules for buying electronics, I think we made a good purchase (and it was a steal of a deal from Costco). We watched Into The Blue yesterday, and I brought in my Xbox 360 from home today – gotta love that widescreen!

The reason we got the projector was work…no really! We are always scrambling to find a projector for our Edmonton .NET Wizards meetings, and we can definitely use it for Paramagnus-related stuff too. Okay, okay, we’ll also use it for the odd movie or gaming session 😉

I’ve got some pictures up at Flickr if you want to take a look.

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!

No more PC gaming?

Post ImageIt used to be that if you wanted the best gaming experience, you’d need to play your games on the computer. There were many reasons for this, including the raw power of computers, the ability to hook up to the Internet, and the ability to upgrade your hardware to play the most cutting edge games. While consoles have always had the advantage of “leveling the playing field” in terms of hardware and thus game performance, many hardcore gamers stuck to the computer.

Since the launch of the Xbox 360, the buzz around the “death of gaming PCs” has gotten much louder. First, from Sottozero:

It’s safe to say the gaming consoles are no longer just gaming consoles — they’re full-blown entertainment hubs. They’ve come of age, and they’ve got an attitude. And they threaten to kick traditional gaming PCs’ collective ass.

The gaming PC upgrade cycle is a rat race, an endless effort. With living room technology coming that’s as powerful as PS3 and Xbox 360 seem to be, it makes less and less sense to hop on the gaming PC carousel, particularly from a financial standpoint.

And second, from Paul Thurrott:

What’s interesting about this to me is that I’m a PC gamer from way back. When I moved to the PC from the Amiga in the mid-1990’s, I had to adapt to keyboard-based gaming and, later, with the advent of Quake and Duke Nukem 3D, to keyboard-and-mouse gaming. I’ve dabbled in video game systems since, but have really been more comfortable with the PC stuff. With Xbox 360 that’s changing. It’s exactly like when I switched from pure keyboard PC gaming.

The Xbox 360 (and the PS3 later next year) boasts raw power far exceeding most home computers for the foreseeable future, and it’s not unreasonable to expect that the next generation of consoles will extend the lead even farther. There’s more to gaming than just power though. Imagine trying to play Team Fortress Classic on the Xbox. I think back to my TFC days and one of the big things that sticks out in my mind is “key bindings”. You basically found a way to use every key on the keyboard – hard to do with a controller that only has a dozen or so buttons. Lots of other games wouldn’t port well to a console either, like World of Warcraft.

On the other hand, I think the fact that Internet connectivity has become so central for gaming consoles opens the door so to speak. I wouldn’t be surprised if consoles do gain the ability to play games like WOW, whether it’s from different controllers (sort of like keyboards) or just unique on-screen interfaces. The fact that Xbox Live is so deeply integrated into the console will definitely make MMO games more likely.

Truth be told, I haven’t really played computer games for a long time now. I have Age of Empires II installed, but it’s been ages since I last played. Maybe Paul is right when he says “I think we’re seeing the beginning of a big transition here.”

Xbox 360 Initial Review

Post ImageI am calling this an “initial review” because I expect that my opinions will change over time as I use the system more, learn more about it, and get some new and interesting games. So far, I am incredibly impressed with the Xbox 360, and here’s why:

Physical Design
The Xbox 360 is a very attractive device, and is definitely more than just an evolution over the original Xbox. Dickson remarked that he thought silver might have been a better color, but I actually quite like the white and silvery-grey color scheme. The 360 is also a very appropriate size, meaning it’s not big and clunky, but it’s not tiny and fragile either. The ability to stand upright or down flat is also a cool design feature, and one that I think more devices should have. Another nice feature is that the console doesn’t feel too heavy. The USB ports are nicely hidden away until you need them, as are the memory ports. The controller feels natural and comfortable in your hands, unlike the original Xbox controller.

Perhaps the only design feature that I really do not like about the 360 is the power brick. The thing is massive, as you can see here. I guess they were really worried about another problem like the original Xbox had, but seriously, the thing is massive. The console itself is smaller, lightweight and perfect for taking from place to place, but that damn power brick would seriously make any trip a lot more work.

I’m sure you’ve heard all about the three cores the Xbox 360 has, the fancy video capabilities, etc. Unfortunately I haven’t really been able to see them in action yet, so I don’t really want to comment. There’s other technology though, like the wireless controllers – easy to setup, comfortable, and you don’t notice any lag or anything. They work great! I like that there are three USB ports (two at the front, one at the back), though I wonder if I could plug in a USB hub – I’ll have to try that. Would have been nice to have wireless Internet integrated, instead of a separate purchase! I have to go to Andrew’s to try the HD features on his fancy TV, but the cable alone makes me want a better TV!

Xbox Dashboard
I really like the Xbox Dashboard (the software that acts as your interface with the device). The interface is extremely intuitive, and it also looks very attractive. Everything seems to be laid out quite well, and the different areas of the console (Xbox Live, Games, Media, System) are color coded. The only oddity is that sometimes an information screen or input panel appears on the right and sometimes on the left. There’s probably a pattern, I just haven’t used it enough to figure it out yet. (I don’t know what they call them, but think of a horizontal toast (those little MSN popups in Windows)).

Xbox Live
The integration of the console with Xbox Live is very deep, and I think it works very well. Xbox Live definitely feels like it’s an integral part of the console, one of those killer features. I only have a Silver membership right now but that will probably change as soon as I get some more games. My gamertag is MAQXBL. I definitely need to explore the Xbox Live Marketplace and some of the other features before I comment too much. So far I have noticed there’s lots of videos and demos for download (I am downloading the Kameo demo now).

Much has been written about the 360 being Microsoft’s trojan horse into the living room – and my oh my were those articles ever correct. I am currently listening to music that is stored on my computer, but is being played through the Xbox 360 (which is hooked up to the big speakers). I can also view pictures that are on my computer on the TV using the 360. If I had a Media Center PC the integration would be even tighter, so I wouldn’t be surprised if the Xbox 360 spurs sales of those computers. The interface is pretty good, and everything just works which is the important thing. Well almost everything. I couldn’t get the 360 to recognize my Zen Touch or my Canon Digital Rebel, though the instructions say I need to change a setting on each of the devices to make them send stuff over the USB. Not sure how to get that working, but I’ll play with it a little more.

Finally I get to the games, which is really what the console is all about right? I picked up Perfect Dark Zero yesterday, and Dickson and I played a few co-op missions last night. It’s a pretty neat game, though in some places it felt as though it was sort of rushed. There is lots more to explore in the game though, so I’m quite happy with it. The 360 also comes with Hexic HD, which is an Xbox Live Arcade game similar to Bejeweled. It’s pretty addicting, even though it’s quite simple.

When you play a game on the Xbox 360, you can press the Guide button (big Xbox button on the controller) to bring up a screen showing your Gamer Card, the music player, links to Xbox Live, and some other stuff. Very neat integration! I need to get some different games to see how it works, because I expect there will be some cool Marketplace integration too. Unfortunately the screen isn’t available when playing an old Xbox game on the 360, but that’s okay.

There’s lots of little things about the Xbox 360 that are just great. Here are some of the things I noticed:

  • The ability to turn the console on using just the wireless controller is a very smart feature.
  • I like how the Xbox Live headset plugs into the base of the controller, which makes sense having a wireless controller and all! Would be neat if it supported Bluetooth though too.
  • The music player has some really intense visualizations!
  • The ethernet cable that comes with the Xbox 360 is very long – much appreciated! I hate when the cables you get are like two feet long.
  • The only impossible to open package was the second controller I bought. None of that annoying hard plastic stuff in the console box, just easy to open plastic bags. Again, much appreciated!
  • The hard-drive is removable. Genius!
  • Halo 2 works as expected.

The lineup yesterday morning at Best Buy was fine until they opened the doors and just let everyone through. It was utter chaos as people pushed and shoved their way to the accessories and games. I was very lucky to have grabbed the second controller. Just a sign that Microsoft has done a great job stirring up interest in the console. I wouldn’t be surprised if Xbox 360 sales shatter the predictions all the analysts are making.

So I’m hooked now. There’s so much to like about the Xbox 360! I can’t wait until I get some different games as well, to see how the Xbox 360 really performs.

Read: Xbox.com

No Xbox 360 Yet!

There was a pretty fancy event going on at Futureshop tonight on Calgary Trail! They had the spotlight truck going, a road hockey setup, booth babes, and of course three or four consoles hooked up to big TV’s. If you preordered, you could stand in line. If you hadn’t preordered you were given tickets with numbers that would be drawn for the chance to stand in line. I talked to a couple of the guys in line and they said that there were people there getting tickets at 4 PM this afternoon, so showing up an hour and a bit in advance like I did was pretty useless (even though the lineup was very short).

So my plan is to line up very early tomorrow at Best Buy. I think the midnight event carries a bit more glitz, and given that it was rather warm out today, I am not surprised people were there so early. There won’t be any fancy event outside in the morning (at least I haven’t heard of anything), so I am hoping my chances are better. Even still, I’m just going to have a quick nap and get there as early as possible. Wish me luck!

And yes, I realize that if it doesn’t work out in the morning, it could be a while…

Interviewed for Xbox 360

Post ImageI was interviewed last week about the Xbox 360 launch, mainly because I had posted about it here on my blog a few times (here’s a search for xbox). At the time of the interview, “Santa” hadn’t yet told me that my wish would be granted (I only talked to my parents this weekend about it). Here’s what I had to say:

Some gamers say the steep price tag will force them to wait for Santa Claus.

“I’ve been telling friends and my parents all I want for Christmas is the Xbox 360. Just pool together,” said Mack Male, a 21-year-old from Edmonton.

“It doesn’t matter to me if I have one at midnight but I want it as soon as possible . . . Part of the fun is being part of the first group, being able to say ‘I was the innovator. . .I got there first.’ ”

Well now I can be there at midnight! Cool thing about that article is that it’s a Canadian Press article, so it’s actually in at least six different newspapers right now. I guess the next couple of days will be very focused on the 360 here, but your regularly scheduled blog will return.

Read: National Post

Xbox 360 Shortage?

Post ImageI am lining up tonight, despite the chance that I may end up leaving empty handed. Seems that lots of stores have already sold out their initial orders simply from Internet pre-orders. I would think that the stores opening up at midnight would have kept some aside though. If it turns out that Futureshop doesn’t have any more at midnight, I’ll line up at Best Buy in the morning!

Wall Street analysts expect a shortage in the United States, with some saying Microsoft has purposely stoked demand beyond the company’s ability to meet it.

Microsoft is “trying to turn this into the Cabbage Patch Kids,” said Michael Pachter, an analyst with Wedbush Morgan Securities. He said he expected Microsoft to constantly publicize stories of stores that were sold out to inspire press coverage and water-cooler talk of when the next shipment would arrive. “It’s brilliant marketing.”

I think I was too young to remember the Cabbage Patch Kids craze, but I would guess it was similar to the Furby or Tickle-Me Elmo crazes that were more recent. I remember searching stores for both, just to sell on eBay. Of course I wasn’t quite old enough to do it myself, so it was a team effort with my Dad.

In any case, such demand would be very good for Microsoft and the Xbox 360.

Read: New York Times

BioWare – a Top 100 Employer

Post ImageLast week BioWare Corp. announced that they were recognized as one of Canada’s Top 100 Employers. From the press release:

“This acknowledgment is a great honour, and we are thrilled to receive this award. It is important to BioWare because it reflects our core value of Quality in our Workplace, and it also demonstrates that BioWare is an employer of choice for prospective employees not only in Canada, but world-wide,” said Joint CEO Dr. Ray Muzyka.

It’s great to see another Edmonton software company achieving great success! Seems to be a really positive wave going for local software firms – hopefully we can join in on the party!

BioWare is hard at work on their next major release, called Mass Effect. It’s a “revolutionary action RPG” being made for the Xbox 360, and it will be published by Microsoft. Looks like a cool game!

Read: BioWare

Xbox 360 Revealed

Post ImageThe November 22nd launch of the Xbox 360 is now in plain view, so naturally more and more details are emerging. Microsoft is opening up too, as evidenced by it’s recent press event that CNET News.com reporter Daniel Terdiman attended:

For all the talk about whether there will be enough games available when the Xbox is released on Nov. 22, few doubt that the games that will be ready will be a cut above anything available for current-generation consoles. And after seeing a handful of Xbox 360 games Monday, I can say with confidence that it’s true.

Over plates of olives, endives, red peppers and other snacks at Dogpatch Studios in this city’s somewhat rundown Dogpatch neighborhood Monday, Microsoft finally pulled back the curtains on the new Xbox for a small crowd of journalists and invited us to try our hands at 12 titles expected to be ready in time for the console launch next month.

Seems as though Daniel left the event feeling confident in the Xbox 360: “I’d tried about five or six games, and have no trouble reporting that the Xbox 360 was the best console experience I’ve ever had.” He also left wondering about the one question those in the gaming industry, and fans of games for that matter, rarely ask:

Yet in the end, I came back once again to wondering if it’s all really necessary. When it comes to enjoying a video game basketball experience, just how real does the sweat have to be?

There’s no question the new Xbox will produce the most realistic games ever. The question then becomes, do more realistic games make for better games? I’m inclined to say yes, but I suppose time will tell. I’m also willing to bet the answer will vary with each person, and each type of game.

Read: CNET News.com