Category Archives: Xbox 360

Comments and Reviews on Microsoft’s latest (and fun) debacle

Ah Rainbow Six — You’ve ruined all other FPS Games

If you haven’t played Rainbow Six: Vegas yet, you need to. If you don’t have an XBox 360 or Playstation 3 yet, you need to buy one just for this game. While most of the hype has been focused on Gears of War, Rainbow Six: Vegas simply blows away any other game on any platform.

There are plenty of reasons why Rainbow Six: Vegas is a great game. Unbelievable graphics — by far the best of any first person shooter. A multitude of online game modes, including several co-op modes as well as the standard deathmatch-type games. An involving and well-structured single player campaign. An arsenal of realistic guns and weapons to choose from, including everything from the Desert Eagle, to the trusty MP5, to tear gas. You can use night vision goggles and riot shields.
All of these add to the feeling that you are playing as a member of an elite government counter-terrorist unit. All of the items in the game feel authentic (at least, as far as I can tell not being in a counter-terrorist unit myself), and are still a blast to play with, especially in the online game modes. And yet, there are all sort of things you would expect as the latest “next generation” game. So while they are wonderful, that is not what will cause you to look at all other first person shooters with disdain.

It’s this: Rainbow Six introduces a completely intuitive and fluid cover system. You can hide behind corners, tables, under window sills, and behind doors. You can lean around (or over) obstacles to fire off a few shots, and get back behind cover before your enemies can get a bead on your position. You won’t notice that you’re doing this throughout the game — it becomes complete second nature after playing for even a few minutes.

But just wait until you play another FPS game. I was eagerly anticipating Call of Duty 3. An otherwise also-wonderful “next-gen” game for the 360. It has a lot of the same elements — great graphics, cool scripted sequences, good AI characters. Yet, my player character refused to take cover behind rocks and buildings. I couldn’t stack up my fellow soldiers near a door when trying to infiltrate an enemy-occupied building, and coordinate a simultaneous raid on the interior.

In short, Rainbow Six has set the bar for new minimum features for any new first person shooters. Taking cover has become as basic a need as jumping in Super Mario Bros. Any game from now on will be sub-par if it doesn’t allow it, and it will leave a sour, cheap taste in your mouth when you play older games from before Rainbow Six: Vegas came out.

So, if you even remotely like first person shooters, go out and play this game as soon (and often) as you can. And also be prepared that you won’t be able to play anything else for a while.

Amateur XBox 360

In an unprecedented move for Microsoft, they appear to be encouraging amateur developers to produce games for the XBOX 360 and Windows XP / Vista. While Microsoft has talked about encouraging amateur developers in the past, it has taken little action to do so until now.

Microsoft calls their new program “XNA” (which doesn’t stand for anything). Using Microsoft’s C Sharp programming language, developers can write games that will run on either Windows or the XBox 360. Once written, anyone who purchases the XNA developer package from their 360 (about $100 / year) can then upload those games to their 360.

This program is great for independent developers – from small game studios to individual college students. The XNA environment is actually pretty well thought out. Aside from the cross-platform nature of the environment, they also provide what they call a “content pipeline,” which makes it much easier for developers to get 3d models and artwork into their projects.

The community nature of XNA is also a very welcome change for Microsoft. Already, many user-created tutorials and message boards are popping up on the Internet. If this is any indication, there will be a healthy community of amateur game developers for XNA. Microsoft has also indicated that they will talk with the better game developers for publishing their projects on Xbox Live.

The XNA program is also good for game-players. Where else can you get unlimited games for $100 / year, or less than the cost of 2 regular Xbox 360 games. There already about half a dozen games available.

Console Wars: The Fight for Developers is Something of a Myth

When Microsoft released the XBox 360, they added a new feature to their online “live” service called “Live Arcade.” The idea behind the arcade is that smaller independent developers (“Indies”) can develop lower cost games, and market them at lower prices to consumers without having to get shelf space at the local GameStop. In principal, this is a great idea, and it sounds quite helpful to startups or even the home hobbyist programmer.

For some of those paying attention, this might sound sort of familiar — in fact, it is almost exactly the same approach Verizon and Qualcomm used for handset-based games — the ones you play on your cell phone. What happened there was that, yes, in the first 6 months or so, just about anyone could produce a video game. However, as time went on, it became more and more expensive to produce games — not because of your own costs, but due to purchasing a development kit, paying for validation costs which go up regularly, and the increasing costs of attending developer conferences. That last one might sound like a luxury rather than a requirement, but the way things work in the phone software industry is very much like an Adventurer’s Club. You’re either a member or you’re not. And the gates to get your software actually listed on a phone are controlled by a very small number of individuals. Oh, and by the way, they won’t even tell you if they will carry your game until you’ve already eaten all of these costs.

As you can see, it’s not a very conductive environment for small or independent developer. And it’s not meant to be. Despite a lot of talk about how this deployment model “levels the playing field” for large and small developers, take a look at which companies are actually creating the games you might find on your phone. Typically, there are only a handful, and you wont find many you haven’t heard of: Konami, Sony, Jamdat (which is actually mostly owned by Verizon). Virtually no small developers. And why should there be? The phone companies would rather carry several games from one developer than one game each from multiple developers. The paperwork is simpler.

Let’s get back to the XBox 360. Microsoft is pushing the Indie developer thing much harder than Qualcomm ever did. OK then, where are all the games from these Indie developers? The 360 has been out for almost 8 months, and there are hardly any things to choose from. Microsoft has some PR-speak about the issue.

Well great! I’d like to develop games for the XBox! I’ve worked with Direct X before! I have some free time! Where can I get started? As long as I can make something good quality (which is a reasonable restriction), I can expect to have a reasonable chance to get my game on there, right? Sorry, here’s Microsoft’s response:

“The The XBox RDP is open to established professional game development studios with a history of shipped titles and good industry references. If you represent a startup company, you may be considered if the team is made up of experienced individuals.”

Does that sound like they’re encouraging Indie developers to you?

Apropos

Although this news hadn’t been out when I posted earlier yesterday, it seems that I was right on the money. Microsoft has finally reversed its official position on both general availability and backwards compatibility of the Xbox 360. The official word is that:

  1. There won’t be any more XBox 360’s any time soon, and
  2. There won’t be any more backwards compatibilility “for a while”, since apparently that part of Microsoft is on vacation (no, that’s not a joke).

The Playstation 3 is starting to look better and better.

Perfect Dark Zero — Appropriately Named

Microsoft’s XBox 360 is quite the disappointment to me. First off, it still has the potential to be a *great* game platform. The graphics are definitely amazing, even on a regular TV (although I’m on a quest to up grade to HD in the next month or so). However, there are STILL no new games out for it since the original measly launch titles. Add to that, half the launch games were sports games (which bore me to death), and I am left with 4-6 games in the entire world which will work on the thing. It’s been 3 months! What is wrong with you guys? Add to that the fact that most people still can’t even buy one, and you’ve got quite the problem. Don’t worry guys, your not missing anything yet! Hopefully, by the time more XBOX’s come on the market, there will actually be something to play on them.

What about “backwards compatibility,” you ask? It’s a joke. Microsoft has certified about 200 games, out of the more than 750 games available for the original XBox. If a game isn’t certified, you can’t play it. The machine won’t even let you try. And the Microsoft claim that new titles are being added on an ongoing basis is about as accurate as their original shipping policy. This means that, while there aren’t any new games for the XBox 360, you also can’t play any of the new games coming out for the XBox. (Hello — Battlefield 2?). In addition to that, out of the 1 in 4 games which work, some of them have *really* slow frame rates (“Fable,” anyone), and some have since been removed from the list!

This leaves quite the disappointing platform.

“Luckily,” I have to wait for mid-next month before purchasing a Hi-Definition TV. Hopefully, I will have something to play on it when I do.

BTW, if my Wife is reading this, here’s why HD TV’s are worth it!