Xbox One: hits and misses

Photo 1

In all its glory: the Xbox One.

Microsoft has finally done it: the company has blown the lid off the next Xbox, called the Xbox One. The event, held on Microsoft’s Redmond campus inside the now-famous @XboxRevealTent, took place at 1 p.m. today. This event showed off what the system is all about: being the ONE device (see what they did there?) in your living room. It can play games, television shows, movies, music. It can connect you with friends, family, and other Xbox Live users. It can help you get ladies*. But what Microsoft wants you to know is it can replace all your other devices.

*Not guaranteed.

The hour-long event was meant to highlight all the amazing aspects of the upcoming system. Other aspects weren’t so hot. Based on the information Microsoft gave everyone who attended or watched the event, here are the top three things I love about the console. Oh, and there are also three other things I’m not too stoked for.

Hit #1: System’s architecture/operating system

Photo 2

The new dashboard for Xbox One. Similar to the last one (which was similar to Windows Metro UI), but with quite a few improvements. Apparently.

What this bad boy can do is pretty awesome, thanks to its operating system. Or operating systems, to be exact. Xbox One has three operating systems, each dedicated to specific tasks. One OS will run apps, like Skype and Netflix, while another will focus on games. The third OS will reportedly assist in allowing the first two to interact with each other as smoothly as possible.

So what’s the point of having three distinct operating systems? The Xbox One will emphasize multitasking like no other console before it. Watching a movie on Netflix and you want to find out some more information on one of the actors? Instead of turning to your phone, tablet, or laptop, you can easily open another window and look it up on the internet. The Xbox One may do a lot of things other devices already do, but its real strength lies in allowing people to do these things using only one.

Kinect, now bundled with Xbox, makes navigation a whole lot easier. Improved gestures and voice control means users can switch between apps and games with little to no downtime. Instead of having to open the Xbox 360 guide and navigating a list of apps to find the one you want to switch from when you’re in the middle of a game, you can simply tell your Xbox One to switch.

Your home screen is much more customizable. While it retains the general look of the current 360 dashboard, it can be changed to reflect what you do most. Pin your favourite app tiles to jump into IGN or Hockey Night in Canada that much more easily. Playing one particular game a lot because you just want to complete it as quickly as possible? You may be able to start right where you left off last time you played all without telling the Xbox One to do just that.

There’s just so much to say here, but I really want to talk about the five other hits and misses.

Miss #1: Sports television/sports games

Photo 3

Who honestly cares?

A lot of people like sports. I get it. Now, this is more a gripe about the event itself, so it’s not entirely indicative of my feelings towards the Xbox One, but why have all this sports talk? I’m not just talking about the games, the Maddens and the Fifas that somehow manage less innovation between annual entries than your average FPS game. I’m including all that talk about watching ESPN on your Xbox One and being able to see how your fantasy sports team is doing.

Who cares? Seriously. This new Xbox isn’t just about games, that much is obvious. But to spend a good chunk of the presentation dedicated to watching sports shows and playing sports games is a joke. I’m aware some people are excited, but save that for the Electronic Entertainment Expo. This is a whole new console, and we’re wasting time showing wireframe models from the next EA Sports title?

It’s more the principle than the content: a huge corporation is showing off its next big product and precious time is wasted on this nerdy trash.

Hit #2: Xbox Live

Photo 4

It might be time for a new logo.

The Xbox One doesn’t need a constant internet connection! Now that’s out of the way, Xbox Live looks to improve upon its foundations. It’s confirmed Gamerscore and usernames will carry over, meaning nobody is starting fresh and they can still show off their Achievements. Microsoft touted something about even more servers, something that will hopefully result in a smoother experience no matter where you are.

A player’s game saves and all their information can be stored in the cloud, so when you visit a friend’s house it’s easy to log in and not feel like you’re missing anything important despite playing on another person’s console. There hasn’t been any word on whether the subscription fee will change or whether non-subscribers can get a little bit more bang for their non-existent buck (like the ability to use Netflix and other apps that arguably should be free).

The biggest change hinted at is Achievements. With gamers now able to capture game video, Achievements may show the crucial moments leading up to the recognizable ping! and accompanying Achievement Unlocked pop-up. There’s so much potential for what the new Achievements can do.

Miss #2: Backwards compatibility/pre-owned games

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Don’t throw it away just yet!

This one is a bit of a cheat, but these are two issues that will certainly frustrate everyone: the Xbox One is not backwards compatible with Xbox 360 games and there will be a fee for pre-owned games. Frustrating, indeed.

The Xbox 360 was somewhat backwards compatible with original Xbox games. It didn’t work for all games and it didn’t work perfectly for games it did support, but it was nice to have in case you sold your original Xbox to put towards purchasing the 360. If there are any 360 games you hold dear to your heart, don’t sell your 360. The Xbox One won’t allow you to play them. It isn’t clear, however, whether some top 360 games will be sold through a sort of Games on Demand feature like the 360 had with certain original Xbox titles. It looks like the Xbox One won’t actually be the one device in your living room if you love 360 games.

The other issue, one that is already causing a miniature storm on the internet, is the game installation requirement. Every game must be installed to the system’s hard drive and is then linked to the user’s account. If the system detects the game was installed to another owner’s account, whether it’s your older brother who uses the same console or you bought the game used at EB Games, you’ll have to pay a small, unspecified fee. This is similar to the online pass for Eletronic Arts games, but it applies to the whole game rather than simply its online features. Buying used may not save much money in the end with this feature’s implementation, and sharing a game between friends may prove costly as well.

Hit #3: The controller

Photo 6

It’s… beautiful!

One of the best console controllers just got better by staying almost exactly the same. Contradictory? Not at all. With touch screens dominating other platforms, Microsoft made the best move of its life with sticking to a traditional controller. Now, touch screens aren’t bad at all. The Wii U controller may prove to be great if anyone actually makes a game for the damn thing and the PlayStation 4 controller looks like a nice mix of traditional and touch sensitive.

But this just makes senses. Microsoft is pushing its Kinect controls, a feature I believe is great for menu navigation and non-core games, so adding a touch screen to the controller would reveal a “me too!” kind of attitude that we’re all too used to seeing in this industry.

The directional pad got a much needed upgrade as it was one of the worst D-pads ever created (if you’ve ever played either Xbox, you’ll see that’s not hyperbole). The analogue sticks and face buttons remain relatively untouched. The central guide button is gone now, but nothing has been revealed regarding its possible replacement, seen near the top of the controller. The Start and Back buttons also look to be gone, replaced with two new buttons whose functions weren’t yet revealed either. The triggers and bumpers have changed a bit to be even more ergonomic, a feat that didn’t seem possible. The new controller is easily the reveal’s biggest hit.

Miss #3: Games and information

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Here’s a photo of all the games Microsoft revealed.

Insert any PlayStation 3 joke here because the Xbox One has no games. Okay, that’s a lie. The event showed off some games: Call of Duty: Ghosts, Forza 5, Quantum Break, and a myriad of EA Sports games. But those didn’t come until at least halfway through the presentation. On top of that, most of the trailers screamed “tech demo!” and didn’t give reason to get all that hyped.

It was clearly explained before the conference there wouldn’t be a lot of games shown, that they would be saved for E3 in less than a month. That doesn’t make it okay. More games were confirmed after the event itself, but many were no-brainers already confirmed to be on the PlayStation 4, making their Xbox One appearance inevitable.

While there was quite a bit of information to ingest from the event, many questions were left unanswered: How much does it cost? Aside from “this year,” when is it expected to launch? What else can you tell us about this pre-owned game fee that was brought up at the last minute after the show? Those are some of the big ones, and the absence of answers is worrying.

Hopefully this entire miss will be fixed come E3. Until then, let the speculation continue!

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