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Archive for the ‘Microsoft’ Category

Do the 360 shuffle

Posted by nfinit on August 7, 2007

With official word of the oncoming price drop of 360 consoles come this Wednesday, it has come to my attention that Microsoft will now feature no less than four distinct SKUs, staggered at price points that defy any attempts at rationalizatinon. Some would call this an embarrassment of riches. Other people, who are not slavering Xbox 360 fanboys, would call it goddamned retarded. In any case, it’s all very confusing, so I, humble servant to the gaming community that I am, will provide the public a breakdown of each SKU, along with the associated pros and cons.

Xbox 360 Core

Price: $279

Pros:

  • Removes money from bank account that may otherwise have accidentally found it’s way to the Church of Scientology
  • Memory card (not included) will one day be shown to your children as a curiosity, much like Sony Betamax videotapes, or Sony PSP videogames.

Cons:

  • No memory card
  • No hard disc drive
  • Wired controller
  • Fumes emanating from back of unit known to cause cancer in lab rats
  • Will make your children cry should you purchase it for them
  • Will make you wonder why you didn’t spend the money on a Wii
  • Instills gnawing feeling of doom as you realize you need to spend an extra hundred dollars on a hard disc drive to get anything done with the stupid thing
  • Really, what the hell are you thinking?
  • Just give me your money, I’ll buy you a nice coat instead. Or maybe one of those official Lord of the Rings Swords.

In one of the more baffling maneuvers Microsoft’s pulled off thus far in the console wars, they’ve managed to release a 360 at a price point that not only is still not competitive with the Wii, but in neglecting to include a savegame card, they’ve managed to produce the only next-gen console on the market today that lacks any form whatsoever of standard game storage or wireless controls. Feature-wise, it is actually a step backwards from the original Xbox, where at least you never had to worry about buying a memory card.

Xbox 360 Pro (nee Premium)

Price: $349

Pros:

  • Actually comes with a goddamned hard drive
  • You can play games with this one
  • Not to mention download stuff
  • Doesn’t lead to a long, awkward pause as you try to justify to your friends why you bought a 360 Core
  • Free headset!
  • Swank dual use composite/component AV input cords
  • As with all 360 units, superheated air emanating from the rear of the unit may be used to power a small hydroponic garden
  • Comes with a free copy of Rockstar’s Table Tennis

Cons:

  • Comes with a free copy of Rockstar’s Table Tennis
  • 20gb hard drive instead of the Elite’s 120gb
  • No HDMI video input
  • As with all 360 units, will eventually melt into a puddle of semisolid plastic and silicone, possibly lighting house and/or small pets on fire

For the most part, the Pro remains the best value of the lot, despite it’s rather tiny hdd drive. Still, 20 gigs is more than large enough if you intend to do nothing more than save games, XBLA downloads and game demos. The choice of free game here seems odd to me– Yeah, there’s a market for Table Tennis, and people other than me seem to think it’s a good game and all, but I have to wonder why they decided to lowball the pack-in here and not include something really enticing, like a Kameo/Perfect Dark Zero double pack. The XB1 Sega GT 2000/Jet Set Radio Future pack was what finally convinced me to buy the first Xbox, and I can’t help but imagine two quality, hyped release titles that have more than served their useful purpose would be a better fit here than an overly complicated Pong update that’s more at home on the Wii anyway.

Xbox 360 Halo 3 Edition

Price: $399

Pros:

  • Features an HDMI a/v port not found on the Core or Pro
  • Comes with a free controller recharge kit
  • Looks… different

Cons:

  • Seriously, we’re talking pea soup and copper here
  • Despite being labeled the “Halo 3 edition” and being plastered in Halo imagery, comes with no actual Halo games.
  • Still has the 20gb hard drive
  • Space beetles, attracted by it’s color and prodigious heat output, may attempt to mate with your system, ruining your Dead Rising save file
  • Will cause one to yearn for the simple dignity of previous game-specific special edition consoles, such as the Pokemon Yellow N64.

I… dunno. I mean, I guess if you’re a big Halo guy and you don’t yet own a 360, this may be tempting, but I can’t help but imagine that in addition to Table Tennis, you can actually buy a full-fledged 360 game using the price difference between this and the Pro. Even if this shipped with nothing more than a double disc of the previous Halo games and their respective map packs I could understand the need for this thing to exist, but as it stands it’s main advantage over every other non-Core 360 is that it’s garish.

Xbox 360 Elite

Price: $449

Pros:

  • It’s black!
  • 120gb hard drive vs the 20 gig drive found in the Pro and Halo 2 units

Cons:

  • You’re paying four hundred and fifty dollars for a system that you’re still expected to buy a separate wireless adapter for
  • No free game
  • Not even the controller recharge kit found on the Halo 3 system
  • Upon learning that you purchased a 360 Elite, an annoyed, sweat-drenched beer truck driver will invade your home, inform you you’ve lost your right to sell Miller High Life and remove all cheap, flavorless beer from the premises. Ordinarily I’d list this as a “Pro”, but the hand trucks will make an utter ruin of your linoleum floor.

Unless you find yourself greatly enamored with the color black and/or find yourself tempted by the thoughts of downloading TV shows off of Live Marketplace and thus need that extra hard drive space, I really can’t see much reason to buy the 360 Elite, even with the price drop. Not many 360 games will make use of the extra resolution brought forth by the built-in HDMI port. This thing only ever really existed to take advantage of the three month gap that the market was without a $500 PS3 option, and now that Sony’s resumed the $500 SKU, it’s hard to find a reason to justify this thing’s existence.

Overall, this price juggling is typical Microsoft– confusing, slightly disappointing, likely ultimately meaningless once all is said and done. If Microsoft was going to keep the Core around, it needed to be dropped to $250 with a memory card– that could have provided Microsoft with a real weapon against the Wii. The 20gb hdd shouldn’t even exist anymore, and the $120gb hdd should take it’s place. The Pro sports an incredibly weak pack-in game– SKUs should at least feature Perfect Dark and/or Kameo at this point– Or any of the other multitude of Xbox 360 launch titles that have long since served their useful purpose. The “advantages” of the Halo 3 SKU amounts to a fifty dollar sticker set; the Elite should, at the very least, include a bundled HD-DVD drive, and there’s no logical reason for all the SKUs not to include wireless controllers and wireless internet adapters.

Of course, any need for any of this juggling exists the moment Microsoft comes to it’s senses and simply releases a 360 w/hard drive at $300, with maybe a stripped down, no-frills Core at $200. This is the only way Microsoft will ever start to catch up with sales of even the original Xbox, not to mention the juggernaut that the Wii is starting to become. Microsoft came out of E3 with the best hype and the best games on the market, and could have parlayed this price drop into some actual momentum– and in typical fashion, they half-assed everything and made the whole affair an even bigger mess.


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Posted in 360, Microsoft | 2 Comments »

The Voice of Gaming

Posted by nfinit on June 12, 2007

(submitted to The Platformers 6-11-07)

You would not be reading this if it were not for Shigeru Miyamoto.

You’d be reading a very different Platformers, perhaps instead called The Flight Sim Pilots, expounding on the genius of Microsoft Flight Simulator or some other dreadfully bland topic. No, this article and indeed this site could not exist if it were not for Miyamoto, for it is without hyperbole when I say his games saved console gaming from the Crash of ’84 and as a result rescued the industry.

Were it not for Shigeru Miyamoto’s work on Donkey Kong, Nintendo would never have entered the home console market with the Nintendo Entertainment System, without the NES there would have been no recovery from the Crash of 1984, and with it likely no further videogame consoles. Console gaming, moribund and lacking Shigeru’s spark of imagination, would have slipped under the waves, videogames shackled to the personal computer, lost in a soulless pit of flight simulations and grognard-obsessed wargames.

He invented the platformer genre itself with Super Mario Brothers, the action RPG in Zelda, mentored the men who created Metroid and Pokemon, was named a Chevalier; time and again hailed as a genius by his peers. He is, if any one man can be called so, our hero.

Meanwhile, Johnathan Wendell- Fatal1ty, as he’d preferred to be called- is very good at Quake. And that’s pretty much the best you can say for him.

I mean, we know he’s good at Quake and Quake clones, he’s won something along the lines of a half million dollars doing so. He has a reputation of something of a primadonna, throwing tantrums when bested. He likes to bill himself as the world’s best-known professional video gamer, and between the money he’s won at Quake clones and his line of “gaming” mice, motherboards and other branded PC parts and accessories, he’s probably right.

Shigero Miyamoto. Savior of Console Gaming.

Johnathan Wendell. World’s Best Advertised Quake Player.

There’s about as much in common in them as John Lennon would have to Fred Durst.

Meanwhile, Time magazine in their recent Fifty Most Influential People issue, decided this connection connection, however tenuous, was enough to justify hiring Wendell to write an article on Shigeru Miyamoto’s influence on the videogame industry.

In Time’s defense, they may have intended Johnathan Wendell as Shigero Miyamoto’s spokesman for the sake of juxtaposition. In the same issue they pegged Conservative stalwart (and former House Speaker) Newt Gingrich to pen an article describing the impact of the thoroughly Liberal current House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. They pegged noted Intelligent Design proponent Micheal Behe to write an article on outspoken atheist Richard Dawkins; coac Lovie Smith, (the guy who coached the Chicago Bears into defeat in Super Bowl 41) to write the article on coach Tony Dungy (the man who would go on to lead the Indianapolis Colts into victory in that same game.). But truth is, we’re talking about the mainstream media here, saying that they get the idea that Newt is to Nancy what Doom Marine is to Mario is giving them entirely too much credit.

No, I think it’s far more likely that in the view of Time magazine- and by proxy the mainstream media in general- Johnathan “Fatal1ty” Wendell isn’t just very good at Quake. He is, in fact, representative of how the public at large view gamers and gaming. Thus, he is now our spokesman.

Not that we should be surprised. The general public- you know, the guys who insist on calling your PSP a Gameboy- still view gaming as a children’s diversion. The only real difference they’ve noticed is that somewhere in between the NES and the Xbox we stopped obsessing over toadstools and turtles and have become foul-mouthed Mountain Dew-fueled reprobates ogling the blue backsides of holographic women. They do not (and perhaps cannot) see gaming as a medium for subtle, sophisticated emotion. It’s as if someone had wiped the public memory clean of Heat, Leon, The Constant Gardner and Blade Runner and left the movie spectrum represented entirely by Chicken Little and The Fast and The Furious.

Now gamers, we know better, we know Johnathan Wendel is a bullshit fraud of a spokesman, that gaming has explored places he’s likely never touched in his six-hours-a-day practice with a railgun. He never knew the joy of rebuilding the cosmos from gumdrops. He never wept as Agro carried him to the last Colossus. He never stood and cheered as he sank the Master Sword into Ganon’s black, black, heart. He never sought his true name amid the streets of The City of Doors.

As for Time, (and by proxy public), how can we expect them to understand the depths of Johnathan Wendell’s duplicity? Ours is an industry fronted by space marines and malcontents with shotguns. The last thing the people in charge of our industry want is art. Art ruins the profit margins for the Madden roster updates. You can’t sell Axe body spray billboards within art. And art makes for lousy sequels. In such an industry Johnathan Wendel, Voice of Gaming doesn’t just make sense, he’s damned near tailor made for the task.

How did we get to the point where the general public honestly believes we are nothing more than a bunch of foul mouth reprobates with a fixation for high explosives and gravity-defying boobs?

I contend the fault is our own. We should have demanded better.

Not that some of us haven’t been trying. There is Jerry Holkins and Mike Krahulik’s Penny Arcade, long a voice of advocacy within the gamer community. There is Edge magazine, one of the last brave bastions left of good game writing. There’s are select few quality gaming news and blog sites such as Four Color Rebellion, Next-Gen and The Escapist.

But for the most part, gaming press is a reflection of the public’s view of us: unprofessional, focused on hype, obsessed with sex and violence. Gaming journalism is nothing more than a tool for the industry itself, used to re-word and disseminate industry-approved PR literature. No real news is ever reported, only the information the industry wants revealed exactly when it wants revealed. Anything more would be breaking non-disclosure agreements. And we’ve seen first hand what happens when you allow the press free reign with actual reporting- a lobotomized, industry-friendly E3, free from any sort of community oversight.

There’s no attempt to raise the public discourse to something that may be worthy of Miyamto’s legacy, or of the artists and dreamers who build games we love. There’s no desire to expose the inadequacies of the industry, no journalistic fire to hold anyone involved accountable for anything that happens within it. There is no great desire, whether it be from gaming press or the retail establishment itself, to promote art over the mundane.

We have sought no voice. As a result, we’ve been assigned one.

Posted in Microsoft, Submissions, The Industry, The Platformers | Leave a Comment »