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On This Generation and the Next: Part 1: Microsoft

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So the dust has settled, and the first volleys of the new console war are over. Microsoft are following up the Xbox 360 with the Xbox One, while Sony are being all logical (who would have thought!) and making the sequel to Playstation 3, the Playstation 4. There has been some controversy, some great announcements and some interesting ideas laid out, and now that E3 is over for another year, I wanted to take a look at what has happened over the last generation, and why I am excited for the new one.


Microsoft

The day before the Xbox 360 launched, I was made redundant from my job at the time. The HR manager said to me What are you going to do now? I replied, Buy an Xbox 360 tomorrow and play games until I find another job, and that is exactly what I did.

I worked at GAME when the original Xbox appeared onto the scene, and when I bought one, it was fantastic. I loved that thing, so I more than happily plonked down for a 360 way back in 2005, and for several years it was my console of choice, my games nearly always going on the Xbox first. Plus, it had Halo, a big plus for me.

Microsoft seemed to be doing everything right, Xbox Live was now an integral part of the system, the games were great, Indie developers were able to hit up XBLA and provide some great, cheap titles and it really seemed like MS were the console maker for the developer community. Thats despite some unfortunate technical hitches with the actual hardware. I am currently on my fourth Xbox 360.

They kept the interface fresh, improving it every year and making it better and better, providing some technically stunning games and even creating XNA to help bedroom coders create a console game easily. It was a fantastic time, but at some point, something changed, and it started to feel as though the company that I spent so many years loving had forsaken me in the name of advertising dollars.

Shortly after that, Kinect appeared. I remember watching the Microsoft E3 press conference where they announced the device, sitting on google talk with one of the guys that worked at the gaming site I was writing for at the time, just amazed. The thing looked so damn cool, and I couldnt wait to get my hands on it, and I did, on launch day no less. This was a mistake.

The first Kinect was a gimmick, nothing more. It allowed them to extend the life of the 360 for a couple of years, but the thing barely works, a number of factors preventing it properly detecting your body and your movements. These were things that should have been known to Microsoft, things that limited the usefulness of the peripheral. I managed to get mine to work in a small room, but I had to stand right in the corner as far away as possible, at night, with the room light on.

The voice commands do work, and at this point are the easiest way to navigate the 360 interface, especially if you want to find XBLA games, or indeed, anything gaming related. This is where they have forsaken me. The Xbox Live dashboard is more an advertising space than anything else, and as a result I havent switched on my 360 in nearly four months. I dont begrudge Microsoft making money, but there must be a better way.

So what about the next generation? Well I have to admit, the Xbox One looks very cool, even if it is a small form factor PC. Hopefully the kinect will work this time, and the dashboard isnt as cluttered with ads. Maybe even games will be easy to find, especially if they are trying to push an all digital future.

Speaking of, Microsoft had a strong showing at E3 with its titles, such as Titanfall, which looks awesome, Project Spark, Forza 5, Ryse, Dead Rising 3 and Sunset Overdrive all looking very cool indeed. They pushed the TV stuff a little too much, but for the way I will be using my Xbox One it could prove useful. I do like the grab to minimize, it looked slick and gave hope that Kinect will work consistently, also providing a case for the whole three operating systems thing.  

There is, of course, the elephant in the room, the whole DRM stuff. It is my opinion that it has been blown massively out of proportion. At the end of the day, it has always been the case that what you buy is the license to use the software, not the software itself. This has NOT changed, Microsoft are simply being more overt about it. I do, however, get why people are annoyed at the whole check in online thing, it should be longer than 24 hours. I do think that it wouldnt be that hard for them to change that limit though, but I have to also give them respect for having the stones to stand up and say most people are connected to the internet in their homes, so our console requires it.

Its a bold move, and remember, everything they are doing on Xbox One has been happening on PC for years with Steam and at this point no one bats an eyelid. I remember the same controversy happening when that system first launched with Half Life 2, hell, even my own uncle, a programmer himself, found it annoying and didnt like it at all. Now he buys most of his games through Steam.

If Microsoft can follow Valves footsteps and offer games at reasonable prices, with great sales and a non-intrusive system then maybe the Xbox One is the future. I am not going to predict that, but I hope they do. Right now, having a title available for download at the same price, or in some cases, more expensive than what I can get in a retail store is just goddamn ridiculous.

The last thing I want to say is that I hope people start using the abbreviation XBO instead of this stupid XBone thing that has sprung up. It makes soooooooo much more sense, at least to me, and slips off the tongue just as well as PS4, which can only be a good thing for Microsoft, who are getting a lot of flak at the moment and need to build consumer confidence and faith.



Well, this post was going to be about all three companies, but Microsoft has certainly been able to generate headlines going into the next generation, so I have had to split it into three, parts two and three coming later this week I hope. If you want to chat about my thoughts on this or anything else, hit me up on the site, or twitter: @optimusprime223.

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