New Xbox Experience


Along with wireless controllers, upgradeable firmware has to be one of the best things to come out of this generation. The 360 and particularly the PS3 have come on massively since their launches, far beyond the days when a CD player and memory card manager were the best you could hope for. The ‘New Xbox Experience’ is the biggest update yet, completely overhauling the old dash – a good interface stretched thin as more functionality has been crammed in – keeping the bits that worked well and stealing cherry-picking a few ideas from the Wii and Sony’s XMB.

First of all, Avatars. I don’t care for them, and I don’t like the visual friends list because it’s a lot more unwieldy than the text-based version. They don’t have the personality of Nintendo’s Miis, which would justify such a prominent implementation, and once the novelty wears off I just imagine that they’ll just become more screen furniture. But hey, they might not do it for me but they don’t hurt, so whatever.

What I’m really interested with are the two features that are most clearly aimed at gamers like me: installs and system-wide parties.

I hate the forced installs that that are so common on the PS3 – I had a bit of a rant about it here – but the handful of PS3 games that have an optional install that lets me shave off a few seconds of loading if I want to but can also be popped in and played immediately cut a happy medium, and that’s fine.

What the NXE has done is expand this feature to almost every single game on the 360, past and present. Every game can be played completely from the disc, but since I have that lovely 120GB drive and am not inclined to download movie rentals, I can now play with loading times ranging from a few seconds saved to dramatically improved, and, most importantly, without my 360 sounding like a jet engine. The NXE actually makes late-night 360 gaming when everyone else is in bed viable. Never thought I’d see the day. Continue reading New Xbox Experience

Ten Years Ago Today…

Well… ten years ago in a few days, I was stood in the Video Game Centre, waiting for some of the first Dreamcast units to arrive in the country from Japan to be brought down from the supplier in London, hoping to catch a glimpse of what would surely be the future of gaming.

It wasn’t to be, of course, either that day with the disappointing Japanese launch games, or indeed ever, but I couldn’t let the tenth anniversary of one of the greatest systems ever made pass without a mention. Virtua Fighter 3tb, Godzilla Generations, and Pen Pen TriIcelon might not have done it for me, but at that point we were only six months from the Japanese release of Soul Calibur, which would be the one to break my resistance and buy the little white machine that would outlast the PS2, Xbox, and GameCube in enjoying a dedicated spot among my currently active consoles.


I really think it goes without saying that the Dreamcast is pretty much unparalleled for a library of innovative, technically impressive – for the time, obviously – games. It had a network connection as standard three years before the Xbox and four years before Xbox Live, and used it – some of the time with voice chat, no less – in games like Quake III, Alien Front Online, Unreal Tournament, and, of course, Phantasy Star Online: a game so good that Sega still can’t repeat its magic formula. And with 480p VGA and 60Hz PAL games as standard – how long did it take for all major PS2 games to be full-screen/full-speed over here again? – it’s one of the few retro consoles that will actually look good on an HDTV. Continue reading Ten Years Ago Today…

How’s This For a Deal?

Rock Band 2 = £37.99 from Game

– £3 credit for a late price reduction on Fallout 3
– £15 Reward Card credit from the last few months’ pre-orders
+ £3.40 (400 MSP) for Rock Band export key
£0 to rent Rock Band on a free trial of Game’s rental service 

That gives us Rock Band 2 and almost the whole track list for Rock Band – 139 tracks in all – for a total expenditure of £23.39. Admittedly I’m getting by with my Guitar Hero II guitar instead of the Rock Band model, and I had to spend a tad more than I saved to build up that much credit, but it’s still nothing to be sniffed at.

I have no idea what’s been happening with this Rock Band 2 launch, though. It didn’t even seem to have a firm release date at all until a couple of weeks ago, and then after I eventually pre-ordered it I got an email saying that my order wouldn’t be fulfilled for launch day, and neither of the branches of Game in town even had copies, despite their large presence for the first game and its various bundles and versions. This is a major EA release coming out in the run-up to Christmas that’s been promoted on TV and I can’t even see a poster for it?

Probably just a delay in shipping to retail. Blame Somali pirates or something…


I know I really shouldn’t care about them. As an owner of all three consoles it doesn’t matter in the slightest which outsells which because I can buy the games wherever they end up going. Particularly so with American numbers, given that I don’t live there.

And yet… NPD day is like Christmas every month.

At about 11:30pm on the second Thursday of the month you’ll find me refreshing NeoGAF, waiting for someone to post the freshly released numbers and the fanboys to come out to play. The NPD threads are a smorgasbord of gloating, graphs, desperate spinning, meltdowns, animated GIFs, clever Lord of the Rings analogies, historical revisionism, and a terrifying glimpse into the psyche of those with an emotional investment in a brand when confronted with the oft-bitter truth of cold, hard numbers.

I consider this my soap opera. While some rush home for the more socially acceptable pleasures of Eastenders or Hollyoaks, or even the WWE for those men for whom puberty was a purely physical exercise, I like to pore over launch-to-date and year-to-date figures and to know exactly how the PS3 is tracking compared to the GameCube. Seeing just how someone will try to spin the worst numbers into a positive is infinitely more exciting than finding out who killed Liam.

I’m not a smoker or a heavy drinker, and I don’t do drugs, so this can be my vice; my secret shame. I hope I’m not the only one who doesn’t care but somehow really does.

When Worlds (at War) Collide

It wouldn’t be the first time that it’s been suggested that some people at Infinity Ward may not be too keen on other developers messing up working with their colossally successful Call of Duty franchise in the name of annual updates, Activision becoming the new EA and all that, but this is hilarious.

The Infinity Ward community manager, Robert Bowling, made a post on his blog criticising the tendency of one of the Activision producers on World at War for making unflattering comparisons between the new game and the IW games. Here are the choice quotes:

First of all, you didn’t work on “previous Call of Dutys”, so don’t talk as if you’re down with how / why things were designed the way they were. Second, you’re completely fucking wrong.


A rule of thumb I like to use is…. when promoting your game. Promote YOUR game. Don’t compare it to another game, or reference what OTHER games did in the past, pitch YOUR game. I mean, you have lots of cool things you could talk about… like Nazi Zombies….

Can you guys please stop interviewing this guy, talk to someone who actually works on the Dev Team at Treyarch and knows what the fuck they’re talking about. Not Senior Super Douche Noah Heller from Activision – who apparently has never played the game and doesn’t even work at the developer.

That is awesome.

You have to love the dig at the Nazi zombies – for those who don’t know, there is literally a mode where you must defend your position against waves of undead German soldiers (video) – because I couldn’t believe that when I saw it. In a game that’s already treading a fine line with its depiction, however accurate, of Japanese soldiers in WWII, I can’t help but feel like that mode was pushing a boundaries of taste just a bit.

This is hardly Wolfenstein with its BJ Blazkowicz and Mecha-Hitler; the Call of Duty series was originally about being a more realistic gaming depiction of World War II by having the player not be the lone, Rambo-like hero but be one of many. So much for that idea, then…

Fable II is Amazing

Ladies and gentlemen, we have an early frontrunner for my 2008 game of the year.

It wasn’t long ago that I wrote about the poor state of Japanese gaming, with particular mention of how the RPG genre was thriving in Western hands thanks to its splicing with more mainstream genres, and Fable II is an ideal demonstration of this. While JRPG developers are seemingly content to remake their sacred cows until FFXIII comes and shows them what to do next, Lionhead has picked the best tropes of the traditional RPG and discarded the rest, replacing it with cherry-picked elements from straight action games and thereby opening up a staid and traditionally hardcore genre to a new audience.

Fable II

Its simplicity is one way that it does this. Far from over-simplifying things, the controversial one-button combat – actually more like three buttons, to be fair – takes the battles away from both turn-based menu-digging and the mindless slashing of something like Oblivion. The closest comparison I can think of is a fighting game, thinking ahead as you input a three-hit melee combo followed by a rifle blast to the chops and a quick blast of fire to give yourself some room, all with only three different buttons. There’s no memorising button combos for certain spells provided you take the time to get used to how the spell-charging works, and it means combat never becomes a chore.

There’s now a minimal penalty for death, which is a small hit to your experience, and this coupled with the lack of levelling – although you do get more powerful as you trade experience for enhanced stats and spells – means that you’re never fighting the game to progress and it’s not a game that’s likely to sit unfinished because you got stuck.

But if the measure of an RPG is its towns, which is a theory that I definitely subscribe to, Fable II is right up there with the best. Coming off a spell in the wilderness to find a nice little hamlet to do some shopping and rest up has always been the best part, and good ones will guarantee that an RPG lives long in my memory, whatever flaws it may have – who didn’t love Skies of Arcadia despite the obnoxious random battles? The feeling is the same in Fable II, showing off just how beautiful the game looks. Continue reading Fable II is Amazing