Opinion Piece

Initial Thoughts And Impressions On Microsoft’s Reveal Of The Xbox One – I’m Disappointed.

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UPDATE/EDIT: this article was originally just going to be my initial reactions from the livestream of the Xbox One reveal event, with my deeper, more thought through views coming in a day or two. However, with major revelations and chunks of news emerging after the event was over I couldn’t wait to comment on them, and so this article is a hodge-podge of my initial reactions and updates based on the latest news coming in. It’s a bit of a mess, but these things needed to be talked about. Keep in mind that even these updates are still my initial reactions to the news, and so haven’t been reflected upon. Updates are presented in red text, while black text is from the original article.

Original article:

As I write this it’s about 8-minutes to go until Microsoft reveal their next-gen console to the world, and needless to say I’m pretty damn excited. A busy day means I’ve literally just thrown myself into my chair and clicked over to a livestream so that I can see what’s going on. The idea of this article is I’m going to try to write it pretty much as the event is happening, so do be warned these are just my initial views and thoughts, written in the spur of the moment, and thus my opinions are likely to change once I’ve had a chance to really mull everything over. It also means the sentence structure and everything else is going to be crap, because I’ve never been that great at speed-writing. Still, I won’t ignore all of the updates coming out after the event from media outlets lucky enough to be on site. But I’ll write up a more comprehensive view in the coming days.

At the moment I’m hoping Microsoft choose to hit hard and fast with the games first and then introduce us to all the social aspects and other abilities of the new console later on. The thing is, I’m just a straight-up gamer, I don’t use my console for anything else except movies, and thus I take the selfish view of the event: I just want it to be about games, and everything else can go burn in a pit for all I care. But just gaming isn’t what consoles are about anymore, really, they’re now social hubs in disguise. It’s no longer just a console war, it’s a war for the future of entertainment.

5-minutes to go.

I hope they’ll hit with the games first. Mostly I’ve got my fingers crossed for several new exclusive titles to be revealed for the next-Xbox, backed up by a couple more exclusives from already established series like Halo, Gears of War, Fable and Forza . At this point I think all four of those names have got a good chance of appearing at the event, or at E3. Of course my hopes are somewhat unlikely as Major Nelson said the full lineup of games won’t be shown until E3. Hopefully that just means they’ll focus on some really big hitters for the event and give them plenty of time to flex their muscles.

A minute to go.

Sony’s event was good. It came off as a little too stiff and formal for me, but they still left me impressed with what they’re planning, especially with  actual game developers getting a say in how the console would be made. They didn’t leave me excited, but they did leave me confident.

30-seconds.

I hope Microsoft will actually announce a price and release date. I’ve been an Xbox 360 only guy this gen thanks to tight money, despite have both a PS2 and Xbox last-gen. This time around I really want to get both consoles so I can expand my site to cover both, but I need to know what sort of cash I need to scrape together.

Shit, it’s started. It’s on.Let’s do this.

——————————————————————————————————-

Hey look, it’s Major Nelson. And a load of marketing garbage, which has yet to actually mention games. My TV will recognise me? Oh god, Skynet. Oh boy. Straight off the bat the livestream isn’t smooth for me. Damn. I’m not getting picture, just sound. Time to switch on the Xbox 360’s Live Event app, then, and instantly I’ve got a smooth picture with not even an iota of lag. I’ve got a few bottles of BrewDog beer at hand, so let’s do this.

The first bit of news to kick off the show is that the new console is going to be called Xbox One. An interesting choice of name, and one that I’m honestly not fond of.  It sounds flat, dull and doesn’t really roll off of the tongue, rather it falls off of the tongue like a leaden weight, smashing into the ground. It also demonstrates an inability to count on Microsoft’s behalf. as I’m pretty sure this is the third Xbox.  Maybe it will grow on me as time passes, but I think I would have much preferred the rumoured Infinity title. Not a good start.

We also get a look at the console is going to look like, and honestly it’s butt-ugly. Aesthetic design doesn’t matter to many, but to me if I’m going to pay out a lot of money on something then it should look good to. This thing looks utterly boring as hell. Just look at the picture at the top of the screen! The current Xbox is hardly beautiful, but it still outshines this by a country mile. It’s like a bloody VCR machine.

I get what they were going for in the simple design, but sorry, in my eyes it just hasn't worked.

I get what they were going for in the simple design, but sorry, in my eyes it just hasn’t worked.

Apparently the new Xbox will be turned on by simply saying the phrase, “Xbox on”. Now that’s a neat feature. Gimmicky, but cool, although considering the price of electricity this days I’m not going to be letting it sit in standby mode so that it can listen out for me uttering that phrase. It will also remember exactly what you were doing when you last had the console on, which is again sort of neat. We’re shown the consoles much improved ability to recognise voice commands via Kinect, a feature used to great effect to navigate around the consoles various menus. I can’t honestly see myself using voice-commands much, mostly because pressing a button doesn’t take much effort, but I admit that I will likely amuse myself for a while by commanding my console to do things. Makes me feel cool.

I also approve of the familiar user interface design shown off. It’s sleek and simple.

Next up on the agenda is to talk about how the Xbox One and watching TV are going to be the focus of the entire bloody universe. By simply speaking to your Xbox you can switch straight to watching TV, and then back to gaming. The Xbox One will also allow you to use voice commands to instantly swap between games, TV, music, movies and more. It seems to be completely seamless, which is impressive, I certainly admit. Still, the ability to watch TV via my Xbox console is not something that I’m bothered about.
Still, they press on with this idea by showing us that Xbox One has a TV listings guide. It’s not exactly a revolutionary idea, but it’s a nice touch. During this, though, the voice commands are impressive, with an impressive amount of sentences recognized.  Hand gestures also used for getting around as well, the first glimpse at the new Kinect system.  For example by stretching out your arms to the sides like your reaching for the edges of the screen, grabbing the imaginary edge and then dragging it inwards will bring up the dashboard. The opposite movement is used to go back to the game you were playing or the film you were watching.

Snap mode is introduced next, which lets you run multiple programs at the same time. This is demonstrated by bringing up Internet explorer on the side of the screen while Star Trek is playing, and using the search bar to go and look up information on the film’s sequel, Into Darkness. Snap Mode is next used in conjunction with a new feature for Xbox: Skype. This enables you to video-chat with friends and family which watching films and playing games, which is actually pretty cool.

Oh my god, it's Johnny 5's head!

Oh my god, it’s Johnny 5’s head!

The Xbox Trending page is shown next, where all the TV shows, films etc that are currently trending are displayed for you to see. I honestly don’t give a rat’s arse about this, but then I’ve also never seen the point of posting my entire life on Facebook and letting people know what I’m having for lunch, so it’s hardly surprising that the Trending page is about as interesting to me as a lecture entitled “The History of Paint Drying”.

Next we get to move on to the actual console itself and what’s powering it. That’s more like it. According to the man on stage the Xbox One is going to boast 8GB of RAM, putting it on par with Sony’s PS4, although Sony’s machine has GDDR5 RAM rather than Microsoft’s DDR3, with an 8-Core AMD CPU, 500GB HDD and built-in 802.11n Wireless and Wi-Fi Direct. As we all expected this new architecture means the Xbox One isn’t going to be backwards compatible with Xbox 360, rendering your current collection null and void unless you choose not to sell your Xbox 360 in an effort to help fund your upgrade to next-gen tech. it was also revealed that the Xbox One is going to have  Blu-Ray optical drive and USB 3.0. The step up to both Blu-Ray and USB 3.0 were natural progressions.

The specs are pretty much what I expected from the machine, so there’s no gasps of surprise here, but it’s good to have it all confirmed. The similarity between the Xbox One and PS4 will also be a boon for developers, making it easier for them to create multi-platform titles. At this point neither console seems to have a major performance advantage over the other, though Sony’s GDDR5 RAM could be made as an argument otherwise.

A report after the event finished also revealed that disc-based games are going to be ripped straight to the HDD, or at least that’s what Microsoft’s wording seems to suggest:  “On the new Xbox, all game discs are installed to the HDD to play.”. This irritates me considerably, as I see little reason why an install of  a disc-based product should be mandatory, unless the design of the game really does demand it. A 500GB HDD isn’t that big these days, either – that space will disappear quickly.

As it transpires, though, Microsoft have a reason for this: the war against pre-owned games. Several reports have come out that Microsoft plan on charging a fee to tie a game to a second account, penalizing people who buy second-hand games as they’ll need to cough up cash so that they can install the game. This single point right here could be the make or break factor for me: I don’t buy much in the way of pre-owned games these days, but it’s still horrible to see those who do having to pay money to activate the game. Let’s be clear, though, I do see where developers are coming from when they talk about seeing potential money going down the drain every time their game is bought second-hand rather than brand new, but there has to be a better way than this. The only good thing is that Microsoft haven’t just outright stopped pre-owned game sales.

The thing is it’s not just people who purchase pre-owned that could be effected by this idea. What happens if I choose to lend a game to a friend? Will he have to pay a fee so that he can play the game? Or what if parents buy a game for their two children? Will they have to pay a fee to activate the game on a second account? And how will this fee work with online connectivity? Microsoft have confirmed that the Xbox One can be played and used entirely offline if you choose, but to pay a fee to activate a game surely you would need to have your console online?

UPDATE: I actually had to change this article as I was finishing writing it up. Clarification has come through on exactly how this system will work via Kotaku. Here’s the idea: when you buy your game you’ll be given a unique code. When you install the game you’ll be asked to input the code, which will then be verified via Xbox Live. By doing this the game will be installed and you can play it for as long as you like. And don’t worry, other users on the console will also be able to play the game, so you won’t need to buy multiple copies of the same game for your entire family. Here’s the catch, though: if you want to lend your game to a friend, you can’t. Instead if you take it to a friend’s house he’ll need to pay an activation fee to play the game. How much is the fee, you ask? The full price of the game, meaning your friend is actually having to buy the game in order to play it, despite you just wanting to lend it to him for a day. Your friend has to purchase the right to play the game, even though you own that game already. Sorry, Microsoft, but that’s a bullshit move.

And there’s something else: you need to be connected to Xbox Live for your install code to be verified, so in other words fuck everyone that doesn’t have their console connected, says Microsoft. Yes, I know I’m being harsh with that sentence, but that does seem to be their attitude. But then some good news came! Microsoft confirmed that the Xbox One didn’t need to always be hooked up to the Internet! HURRAH! And then the joy bubble was burst when another Kotaku report came through in which a Microsoft representative told them that while it doesn’t need to be connected all the time, you will need to connect to the Internet every 24-hours.

Finally, on the topic of pre-owned games, a Microsoft rep did tell Kotaku that they’re planning on introducing a system that will let players sell their old Xbox One Games online: “We will have a solution—we’re not talking about it today—for you to be able to trade your previously played games online,” Harrison said. I may still be in something of a hate-haze regarding install codes, but that doesn’t stop me from feeling quite intrigued by this idea.

Still, we do need some answers about buying pre-owned games from shops or Ebay like we currently do. Are we going to have to pay a code activation fee, like a friend would if I gave them a game? In which case would that fee be full RRP price? if that’s how it will work then that will destroy the Xbox game pre-owned market, forcing people to use Microsoft’s system.

Further details on how this will all work will surely emerge from Microsoft over the coming weeks, as it will likely be a major point of contention and if they’re smart they’re going to want to address fans’ concerns.

It can fly?

It can fly?

Anyway, back on topic. Kinect has been upgraded to 2.0 and will be able to pick up much smaller movements, and even your heartbeat. Contrary to rumours prior to the event Kinect seems to be an entirely separate device, rather than it being built directly in to the console, which hopefully also puts to bed the idea Kinect would always be on, as tthat would be a serious mistake, in my view. Surprisingly not much was really said about the new Kinect, leaving us to wonder if old issues have been fixed. For example, can it now differentiate between people well enough to allow more than one player, something which the old Kinect has been rather terrible at? I wasn’t a Kinect person this generation, and currently nothing I’ve seen makes me want to change my mind and embrace motion control. It’s still cool technology, but not something I want to use. At this point I’m just more bothered about whether Kinect is going to come packaged with every Xbox One, as I don’t want to have to pay for technology I have no intention of using.

UPDATE: IGN have confirmed that Kinect has to be connected to the Xbox One at all times:
“Kinect does require to be connected to Xbox One in all cases, yes,”  said Harvey Eagle. Asked whether the Xbox One will accommodate people who perhaps play in their bedroom rather than their living room, Eagle replied: “Yes, absolutely. We use the living room almost as a moniker – that’s where we assume the best screen is in the house. But if you like to play in any other room in the house, the Xbox One will deliver the same quality of experience whatever the environment.”

You have to be kidding me. You mean to tell me that to simply play a game I have to have a camera turned on, a camera which Microsoft, like they can with the current Kinect, can use to view my living room/bedroom at any time or could be hacked in to at any time? I assume there must be a way of at least turning off motion commands, though, otherwise I’m going to be continuously activated crap I don’t want. I sincerely hope this is just means that Kinect just has to be physically plugged in, but can be placed in a standby mode or something, otherwise this is going to be the breaking point for me.

The controller has also be redesigned with over 40 new innovative features, according to Microsoft. We weren’t told what most of these innovative features actually were but we did get to hear about a few, the coolest being the new impulse driven triggers which essentially mean there’s now tiny rumble motors built into them, allowing  game developers to program another layer of feedback into their titles, making shooters and racing games especially more immersive, I would think. Just imagine being able to feel the shudder of a firing gun through the trigger?  The ergonomics have also been tweaked, but whether that’s good or bad will have to wait until we can all get our hands on it. Finally the D-Pad has been changed to a cross rather than a circle, which should finally make it useful for playing fighting games. It’s actually hard to imagine how you could really make the Xbox 360 controller any better: it’s a work of art, but if Microsoft have managed it the hats off to them.

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Next Microsoft briefly touch upon Xbox Live, saying that it will use the same membership system, which presumably means that our Gamertags and everything will carry over, something which I’d be pretty happy with if it turns out to be the case. They also announced that they’ll be supporting the next generation of Xbox Live with 300,000 servers, while the Xbox 360 currently has just 15,000 servers. More exciting than that, though, is that the Xbox One has a built-DVR, allowing you to record gameplay footage. You can then use the native editing tools to tweak the vid before uploading it. I’ve never gotten into creating Lets Play videos and the like, but I enjoy watching them so I heartily approve of this feature.

Surprisingly EA Sports are next on to the stage to announce a partnership between them and Microsoft, though exactly what this entails I’m honestly not sure. Anyway, Andrew Wilson announces that Fifa, Madden, NBA and UFC will  be coming to Xbox One, and will all launch within the next twelve months. They’re also going to be using the brand new EA Sports Ignite engine which promises to, “blur the line between what’s real and virtual”

EA Sports is frankly a crap way to kick off talking about the actual gaming side of the console. And then we get to see our first ever gameplay footage from games running on the new Xbox One! It should be a glorious, stunning moment, and yet what we get to see is a montage of EA Sports games (UFC, Madden etc.) and they don’t look impressive at all. They look like current-gen games. Microsoft have wasted their chance at a first impression, here. This is not how you first introduce us to games running on a next-gen console.
Phil Spencer, head of Microsoft Studios takes to stage next, and what he delivers is what should have proceeded EA. In fact it should have been the focal point of the first half of the event to sooth the core gamers or it should have been the event’s finale, to allow it to end on a powerful note. I am of course talking Xbox One exclusives. What does he announce first, you ask? Forza Motorsport 5 is going to be a launch title for the Xbox One! Why the hell were EA Sports games shown ahead of this? Even better, we get a brief glimpse of the game, and it looks beautiful, although annoying we don’t get to see any footage of someone actually playing the game. And then after that Spencer announces a brand new exclusive IP from Remedy titled Quantum Break, which is following in the footsteps of Defiance by trying to create a TV show/game hybrid. The trailer shown is vague, to the point where I honestly can’t say anything about it or offer an opinion, but it has me interested anyway. Spencer isn’t over though, he announces that more exclusives are currently in development than they’ve ever had before, with a total of 15 currently being worked on, 8 of which are going to be brand new IPs. We can probably assume Fable, Gears, and Halo games are in the works, but what are the new players on the block? What can we expect from them? We’ll presumably see at E3, which Microsoft are promising will be pretty much nothing games.

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And then just like than we’re back to talking about TV stuff as Nancy Tellem walks on stage. My mind almost immediately switches off as I honestly don’t want to hear anything else about how my Xbox One will help me forge a relationship with my TV, but then she mentions Halo and I perk up. I’m not a big Halo person, but it’s one of Microsoft’s flagship titles so naturally I pay attention. Bonnie Ross takes the stage in order to announce a brand new live-action Halo TV show, one which Steven Spielberg is going to be a part of. Okay, now this is certainly an announcement I didn’t expect. Like everybody else I suspected that if 343 were going to be present it would be for the announcement of Halo 5. I’ve got some mixed feelings here: A Halo TV series has a lot of potential, but is going to be very easy to make a mess of.

Once that’s done we’re back to….oh, TV stuff. Live sports, to be exact. Microsoft are partnering with the NFL. Whoopy-doo. That’s it. I’ve got no other comments here.

Once that’s done it seems to be the end of the event, with the announcement made that Xbox One will arrive later this year.

WHAM!

Not just yet, there’s something else to be seen! My excitement grows. The announcement comes that Xbox One has another big exclusive. And its……….. timed exclusive DLC for Call of Duty: Ghosts? Yup, the big final announcement for Xbox One is that it will get Call of Duty: Ghosts DLC ahead of the competition.

After that we’re treated to a glimpse of the new Call of Duty in the form of what is essentially a developer diary, talking about how there’s going to be a focus on creating relatable characters this around, and reinventing the franchise. The big news, though, is that Call of Duty: Ghosts is going to be running on a brand new, next-gen engine. Models glimpsed in the diary look pretty good.

But then it seems we’re going to get some actual gameplay! Sweet! I’m let down, though, because what we actually get is a trailer filled with cinematic moments. I wanted to see pure gameplay footage. I wanted to see the game being played on the next-generation Xbox One. I did not want to see a trailer. The graphics look nice, but didn’t blow me away.

And then the screen goes black. That’s it. Event over. Done.

UPDATE: My final verdict was also changed to factor in recent news.

So, what’s my closing thoughts? Not good. The overriding thought that I walked away from my screen with is that the Xbox One is a voice-controlled device for watching TV. Oh, and it might play games, too. There wasn’t a single “wow!” moment in this entire event where I felt like Microsoft had shown me something cool or impressive enough to make me want to run out and buy an Xbox One. A good reveal event should make feel like running straight out of my house and buying the new console if it was announced that it was on shelves right now, but after watching Microsoft’s press conference and factoring in the many updates that have come out of various media outlets I’ve not been left with a single reason to purchase the Xbox One. We talked about all these lovely television based features, and sandwiched between all of that we got to see a grand total of three games, two of which barely had a minute of time spend on them combined. And yes, I’m not counting the bloody EA Sports games.

There are people defending Microsoft by saying that all the good stuff will be at E3, to which all I have to say is why the hell didn’t the hold off the reveal until E3, then? This was Microsoft’s chance to bring out the big guns and leave me with a lasting first impression. They needed to hit me hard, leave me reeling until E3 where they could follow-up with a couple more big-hitters and perhaps then talk about some of the other features, like the extensive TV support. Why hold a reveal event if you’ve got nothing big to show at it? What did we get: lots of talk about TV. Nothing about the entire event stands out in my mind.

Worse, we’ve gone on to learn that Kinect absolutely needs to be connected at all times, that people who buy pre-owned games are probably going to get kicked in the teeth, that you can’t just lend the game you paid for with your hard-earned cash to your friend, and that you do indeed have to have an Internet connection.

Meanwhile the only positive things to come out of the event was that it would have extensive TV support, that there would be a Halo TV show, and that Microsoft do have exclusives in development. The exclusives excite me, greatly, but other than that nothing shown at the event is the sort of thing to make me want to buy the Xbox One. Don’t get me wrong, they’re cool features in their own way, but they’re not exactly console sellers, are they? I mean, will you really buy an Xbox One to watch TV on?

As for the for the  games we were shown, one wasn’t even exclusive to Xbox One, although obviously as massive as Call of Duty is there’s no doubt it was good for Microsoft to get the first footage shown at their event, but let’s face it Call of Duty has nothing to do directly with Xbox One. Once again, are you really going to buy an Xbox One solely on the basis that it’ll get Call of Duty DLC first? As for the other two games, Forza looked beautiful, but it’s a straight racing simulation, so it’s not exactly going to blow anybody’s mind in terms of innovation. And Quantum Break didn’t have enough shown to really comment on. And as for EA Sports, why was that given precedence over the exclusives?

Sony’s PS4 event was not amazing, but it was solid. Microsoft’s reveal has been a shambles, in my eyes. Currently neither Sony nor Microsoft are making me excited about the next-gen, but Microsoft in particular have failed, presenting their new console as nothing more than a glorified TV device. 

Maybe E3 will impress me more. I honestly hope it does because I want to look forward to the next-gen! But based on the reveal event solely, like E3 is not going to happen, this has been a very poor showing.

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Categories: Opinion Piece

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6 replies »

  1. I agree. There was so much potential for this, and they start it by dragging on and on about the entertainment components. Just the fact that they’re calling it “Xbox One” as a way to tie-in to the “all-in-one” device phrase shows where they are heading with this device. For die-hard Xbox fans, there was nothing to see here other than what it was called and what it looked like, really.

  2. Hear what you’re saying about developers losing out on pre owned but they are missing the bigger picture entirely. Retailers like Game etc are for the most part hanging on by their fingernails and its pre owned that keeps them afloat (check it out if you don’t believe me). Without that revenue stream they will sink believe it.

    To further make my point why do you think that HMV was saved and why were the big guns of the entertainment world sticking their oars in for them to be saved? Because they knew that with them gone they would not have a single credible presence on the high street!

    Bad move mocrosoft ‘how thee shall sow, now thee shall reap’!!!!

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