Xbox 0.5: An Updated Look at the Xbox One

Microsoft recently made several posts clarifying some aspects of the Xbox One that people had a lot of questions about. This was a good thing, but the content of these posts conirms some good things, and some bad things. Here, I will attempt to summarize the big ones.

Before I do that, though, I want to make one thing clear. I am not apologizing for my first post on the Xbox One. It was right at the time, based on impressions that Microsoft gave us at the time, and I certainly wasn’t the only one that felt that way. We’ll see how much all this new information changes the opinions of gamers.

Firstly, the whole game licensing deal. This has been clarified bigtime, though again, it’s not all good news. Microsoft does allow you to trade in used games, and no fee is charged to the retailer, or the consumer who then purchases your trade-in… Unless the game publisher said so. That’s the big thing to pay attention to here. Yes, Microsoft is now not the evil people saying you have to pay a fee, but such a thing can still potentially exist, as Microsoft has given the publisher powers to block that sort of thing. Secondly, you will be allowed to give your disc-based games to your friends, provided they’ve been your friends for at least 30 days, (and yes i’m talking Xbox Live friends), and, once again, as long as the publisher doesn’t block it. Yep, they can block that too. Also, a game can only be given once even when it is allowed, so if you give your friend a game, they cannot give it back. Currently, you also won’t be able to loan games on a temporary basis, but Microsoft says they’re looking into loaning and game rentals.

Now the next piece of info intrigues me, I admit. Taking games to your friends’ houses is OK, but if I read it right, you don’t have to take your games themselves. According to Microsoft, once your games are installed and licensed to yu, you also gain access to a cloud copy. So you go to your friend’s house, sign into your profile, and then you have access to all your games in the cloud. This may be limited to games installed on your console, but I can’t be sure on that one. To add to this, if you’re on a family plan, everyone on that plan, up to 10 users, will have access to all the games on that plan. So that’s cool, I guess.

Lastly, privacy concerns, which I didn’t talk too much about originally. Microsoft says a couple things about this. First, the Kinect isn’t monitoring in an active sense, so they say. If you’re having a conversation, it is not uploading any data. It will upload communication you have with the Kinect itself, and much of that you have control over. For example, an exercise game can get your heart rate data rom the Kinect, but you can tell the game not to use it. A Poker game can use your facial expression in realtime in the game, but you can say no to that as well. On top of all this, you can apparently pause Kinect functionality altogether, and stick with another input such as your Smartphone via Smartglass, or the controller. This is good news, assuming they’re telling the truth about what gets uploaded and what doesn’t. Remember, none of this changes the fact that you still have to have the Kinect hooked up the whole time while the Xbox One is in use.

Next up, some miscellaneous stuff. First, I’ll go briely back to the whole game licensing thing to address the Always Online concern. No, the Xbox One does not require you to be online at all times, but it does require you to connect to the internet once every 24 hours. If you fail to connect, your Xbox One becomes nothing more than a Blue Ray and DVD player. you can play no games whatsoever. The reason for this is that the Xbox One needs to check and possibly update your licenses. Remember I talked about giving games to your friends, well that’s going to mean a license transfer, and of course you’re not supposed to be playing any game you don’t have the license for, so this little measure is to ensure you can’t cheat the system for more than 24 hours. Cool, huh? No games at all. Awesome. I actually know people who have Xbox 360’s, and don’t have an internet connection. Good to know those folks are screwed.

I’ll be nice and end this on somewhat of a high note. Unlike the 360, and very much like the PS3 of today, all game titles will be available both on disc, and for download day of release. This is a positive step, and a necessary one given all the technologies they’re throwing around now. Games in the Cloud and so on. They can’t be in the Cloud if they’re not digitally available for purchase as well. Or rather they could be, it just wouldn’t make any sense. So uh, yay for that.

So again, some new information on the Xbox One. If you ask me, while this does slightly improve the Xbox One’s score, and I do mean slightly, it still leaves it a cringeworthy system, not to mention all this should’ve been clarified as soon as people started going crazy about it all, not over a week later. Yet even now, I’m willing to say this much. We will see how things develop. If the Xbox One can bring the games at E3, it might be able to stand up on those alone. Time will tell. An speaking of E3, expect much in the way of E3 coverage in the coming days. There will be both blog posts, and Audioboo posts as well. See ya then.

Injustice Kom-Bat: My feelings on the characters and DLC in Injustice

Let me start off by saying Injustice: Gods Among us is a great game. What I am about to say is not meant as a means of detracting from that. In fact, even the characters I’m about to complain about, I won’t hesitate to play as in the game. There are just some frustrations I have with it all, and there is no better place than here to bring them to light. None of this is a complaint about the way the characters play, as most seem to have been designed well. This is about some decisions the developers made that I don’t agree with.

Firstly, what Injustice really is if you want to break it down is a Batman fighting game whichh, oh by the way, features some other DC characters. We’ve got Batman, we’ve got Nightwing, (technically 2 generations of Nightwing), we’ve got the Joker, we’ve got Harley Quinn, we’ve got Bane, and as of the DLC, we’ve got Batgirl too! And that’s not even all, folks. If you count the cameo appearances, we’ve got Scarecrow, Penguin, the Riddler, and Killer Crock! Folks, that’s a lot of Batman. Sure he’s an integral part of the universe, but why not at leat try to balance it out a bit? There’s a Superboy and a Powergirl they could’ve thrown in there. Hey, I’d love to see someone like Booster Gold in the game. Someone not everybody thinks of when they think of well-known DC characters. There is a huge universe from which characters could have been drawn. Sadly that was not the decision that was made, and I am a bit frustrated at that.

Now I’m sure everybody knows where I’m going with my second complaint. The most recent Injustice DLC was the final straw that made me want to write this Blog. Who is it, you may be asking? Which awesome DC character is going to make an appearance? And your answer is… Scorpion. Scorpion from Mmortal Kombat. Now, I am aware that there was apparently a Mortal Kombat comic when the series first began, but I was only made aware of that by an announcement video for Scorpion being in the game, which even admitted that not many know about it. So this wasn’t being marketed toward people who knew Scorpion because of that comic, it was clearly meant for the MK fans.

But why is that such a big deal? Well, when this all started, Ed Boon told us all that there would be no Mortal Kombat characters in the game, which I believed was the correct move. Sure the game plays similarly to MK, but you’re still sort of branching out. You’re expanding on the concepts of Superhero fighting you came up with in MK versus DC< and you're creating a game featuring just DC characters. Well now, that is not the case. I know as well that some in the Injustice community actually wanted an MK character, and some specifically Scorpion, but even then, I find it odd that Netherrealm studios listens to the community on that, but not when everyone found out that Deathstroke is a broken character when you face him online. No, in fact, they made Deathstroke more powerful in the last patch. But I'm getting off topic. Those are my grievances with the game. I think the roster could've been more widely separated over the DC universe, and I dislike the invasion of MK characters in a game that I feel should stick to its own theme. Nevertheless, as I've said, i'll certainly be playing as Scorpion and everyone else, because the game itself is good. Lastly, the DLC cycle is not over. There are rumors about who will be added next, and talk of possibly more than the originally planned 4 characters, but we'll see. You may be hearing more about this from me later, but you should probably start looking for E3-related posts very soon.

Lessons Well Learned: Why Sony is Poised to Win This Console War

When Sony showed us the Playstation 4, they did just about everything right. They focused heavily on games, and features that would improve our gaming experience. They also gave all this plenty of time. About 2 and a half hours. All this was good, but now that I think about it, I realize that it wasn’t necessarily the features themselves that made it good. It was the fact that right there, we watched the Playstation brand pick itself up from its loss to the Xbox360, and proceed to grow. The presentation, and some articles afterward, showed us that Sony had taken great pains to learn lessons from this generation, the results of which all carry forward to the Playstation 4.

Most likely the number one thing people hate about the PS3 is how long it takes to download updates, or to download Playstation Network games only to have to install them once they’re done. Sony has crafted answers to both these problems. Updates to the OS, and to PS4 games will download to flash media in the PS4, then installed when they can be, all in the background. That will save a bunch of time as it is, but then we get to downloadable games. The data for these games is going to be compartmentalized, and when you choose to download a PS4 game, you can begin playing your game within minutes of starting the download, even while the game keeps on downloading in the background. The first packet of data might include the menu, opening cutscene and first game area, and by the time you finish that one, presumeably the next area will have been downloaded, and so on and so on. I cannot wait to see this technology in action, and I really hope it works. I believe games will truly be on demand when that happens. To add to this, Sony has said that it will take almost no time even to launch a game. They’re trying to remove the waiting period wherever they can.

Next up, Social Connectivity. I freely admit Xbox Live got it right when they included a headset with their console, and made Xbox Live a huge social gaming network. Now, Sony is following suit, adding their own flavor as well. Playstation 4’s will also come with headsets now, and the port will be in the controller much like it is on Xbox, but it’s the PS4’s Share button that really shows what Sony is doing this time around. With the PS4, you will be able to capture about 10 minutes of your gameplay at a time, and upload that to Youtube and presumeably Facebook. But if that’s not enough, you’ll also be able to stream directly to Twitch TV right from the PS4. It doesn’t stop there, either. If you’re stuck on some part of a game, you can ask one of your friends for help, and with your permission, they can actually take over your controller, and play that part for you. From what I understand, they can do this even if they don’t own that game, as the video feed from your console is fed directly to them using the PS4’s Cloud technology. Pretty sweet, huh? I thought so.

The last thing I want to focus on when speaking of the lessons Sony has learned is something I’ve talked about before, the PS4’s focus on games, and game developers. First of all, Sony restructured their hardware, no longer using that crazy, proprietary tech that made it so difficult for developers to make games for the system. now, because they’re using hardware closer to a high-end PC, developers should have a much easier time porting their games. Add to that that Sony loves, and prominently features independent game developers, and we have a winner. Developers are singing the PS4’s praises already, and with good reason.

Sony brings a lot to the table with their latest console. It’s powerful, yet simple to use for developers and consumers alike. It sounds wonderful, and in my opinion it’s absolutely the right direction to go in. I am left wondering now what we don’t know yet. Could there be as yet unannounced ways in which the PS4 will improve on its predecessor? I wouldn’t be surprised, and I look forward to finding out more at E3 in just a couple short weeks.

Xbox Unboxed: A More General Look at Where Microsoft Went Wrong

As anyone who follows me will know, this isn’t the first blog I’ve posted about the recently announced Xbox One. My first focused on the implications of the console where blind people like myself were concerned. Still, that leaves a lot unmentioned, and I want to take a step back, and offer my opinion on the console overall, minus all that other stuff. Some of the information here will be similar to that in the first blog, but considered from a different angle. I’ll do my best not to stray from this, and we’ll see where that gets us.

The Xbox One, the one device for all your in-home entertainment. Yeah, it sounds pretty good on paper, but it’s also not true. One of the big questions surrounding the console when it was announced was whether or not it would be backwards compatible with Xbox 360 games. Microsoft has already given us a flat no on this, saying that they expect people with large Xbox 360 libraries to keep their 360’s. In my opinion, this kind of statement does one two things. Either it throws off a vibe that, following the release of the Xbox One, Microsoft will simply cease to care about its enormous library of previous titles, expecting everyone to move forward to their “one entertainment device” plan, or they do care, and they’re just blatantly making a misstatement because someone in marketing thought the Xbox One sounded like a cool name. It’s not true if you still have 360 games you want to play, is it? You need 2 devices then, totally negating that statement. I understand the hardware is diferent and all that, but even Sony has plans to put their entire backlog into the cloud, so at least consumers would be able to play whichever games they desired. I’ll discuss that more in a later blog.

The Xbox One requires the Kinect to be connected in order to function. I touched on this a bit in my last blog, but even speaking generally, I feel this is a big mistake. Microsoft seems to believe that everyone has these extremely large livingrooms, perfect for some fun activity with the Kinect, which requires you to be about 8 feet back from your TV. That is simply not the case, and it is the very reason many people, definitely not all of course but many, avoied the Kinect when it was originally launched. I will say that it’s a bold move from Microsoft. Clearly they have a lot of faith in this tech, I just feel that faith is misplaced. I’ve heard whispers that the Kinect 2 will work in smaller spaces than the previous one, but so far that’s it. Right now I’m inclined to believe things like that were said to try to calm us down.

The Xbox One’s strictness on used games is another big issue. Even to play your games at someone else’s house, you have to sign into your Xbox live profile. This, of course, means you can’t lend games to your friends unless you also lend them your account information, which, ya know, is kind of a nono. But ya know what? People are probably going to do it if they want to let their friends try some awesome new game for a bit. The alternative is that the friend pays a fee, which is as yet undetermined, though I’ve heard that it may be as much as the price of the game, to get their own license for the game. Effectively, you can lend them a game if they buy it. That doesn’t make much sense to me, and it’s a big blow to the sense of community Xbox live is supposed to be known for. It also does a great deal of harm to the used game market, though Microsoft supposedly has plans, plans which they refuse to detail, on how they intend to keep that market alive.

Speaking of the sense of community, though, Xbox One seems to me to have a very minimal focus on games. Oh sure they’ll be showing some games at E3, but first impressions mean a lot, and the first impression of the Xbox One made it seem as though this device as a gaming console at all is strictly an afterthought. It’s all about the live TV and the integration of Kinect and Smartglass. It’s all about video calling with Skype. All things that, in my mind, should come secondary to what the gamers, the ones who should want this device, really want to hear about, which is games. Added to that the way they have chosen to treat the independent community, not giving them their own section of Xbox live anymore where their products can get the exposure they need to succeed on the platform, and I’m pretty convinced that it’s gaming that’s the afterthought here.

What it comes down to is this. When E3 rolls around in just over 2 weeks, we the consumers, we the gamers, need Microsoft not just to show us games, but to show us very good games. We need reasons to buy this console. We need system sellers. More than that, we also need to be told we’re wrong, and that needs to be proven to us. The Kinect 2 needs to work in small spaces, these plans of theirs for the used game market have to be worthwhile for everyone, and they need to change their attitude towards the independent developers out there. That’s a tall order, and that’s not even everything, but right now that’s what they need to do. If they don’t, this console will fail. I said before to friends that the new tech in this console is neat, but Microsoft, neat is not enough anymore.

The Xbox zero: Why the Xbox One may be the wrong choice for blind people

Both major consoles in our next console generation have been revealed, and while we don’t know everything about them, enough information has been confirmed that conclusions can begin to be drawn. There are some worrisome things which I will touch on here, but which aren’t completely clear. If these things are true, though, and some of them are, the blind may need to be wary.

First and foremost, it has been confirmed that the Xbox One requires the Kinect 2 sensor to be hooked up before one can begin playing. It is an integral part of the console this time around. On the surface this doesn’t actually seem like a bad thing. Blind folks do love the kinect’s voice control features, and if we learn the available commands, navigation could be a breeze. However, it still remains true that not everyone has the large space the Kinect requires for its camera, and this could present a couple problems.

I for one, don’t have the 8 feet of space the Kinect wants. This could, for example, result in me accidentally performing some gesture the Kinect recognizes, and the Xbox switching to something crazy without my knowledge, all because I happen to be within range. While we might be able to say “Xbox home” and get out of that situation, it’s a workaround I fear we’d be using far too often.

That is a minor concern, mostly because there is a workaround, but what about this? Consider the implications where games themselves are concerned. Since every Xbox One will come with a Kinect 2, developers can feel confident that everyone will have that technology. I believe this will lead to an increase in the use of the Kinect in games, and believe me, even when developers bring in the Kinect, they don’t have to use every aspect of it. All a developer has to do is start requiring specific gestures for actions in their game, maybe gestures directed at specific parts of the screen, such as grabbing something for instance, not allowing for voice control, and we almost certainly will be barred from playing that game. I could be wrong about the ways in which I suspect developers will use the device, but I can also tell you that most currently existing Kinect games are unplayable by the blind. I think it’s a valid concern.

I know it’s hard to believe, but the thing is, I actually really like the Kinect. I can respect technology even if I can’t take full advantage of it, and yes, voice control is great wen and where it’s allowed. And yet, I have felt ever since it was confirmed that the Kinect being a REQUIREMENT with the Xbox One is a huge mistake, as well as just being bad for the blind folks out there.

Now, the last concern. This is the one that we don’t have full confirmation of just yet, but if this proves true, we won’t be able to play any disc-based gamees at all. It has been confirmed that every disc-based game for the Xbox One has to be installed to the console. Some of us do that anyway with our 360’s, so we’re OK with that. However, one source I read said you would also have to enter a code which came with the game to download a small chunk of data that then registers that game to your console. You must do this before the game can be played at all. Now, if you’re a sighted person reading this, think about that for a second.

These codes, if they exist, are going to be on little printed cards that come in the game box. This means that, in order to play at all, we have to find someone sighted to at least read the code. Entering it isn’t the problem so long as it can be read. Attempting to scan it and perform optical character recognition is one option, but the likelihood of some characters being wrong is quite high, even with today’s technology. Well, nothing against the sighted, but we blind folk tend not to want to be reliant. We want to be able to put in a game, and play it all on our own. ON top of that, some of us live alone, and have nobody in the immediate area to ask anyway. I see this as the biggest potential problem for us.

I am not, by any means, saying this is the final word, and blind people should absolutely not get an Xbox One no matter what. I’m saying that we should be very careful. Watch the updates as they unfold, pay attention to E3, be as informed as yu can be before making that decision. If it turns out I’m wrong abut all this, fantastic. Go for it. However I feel it was worth it to bring all this up, just in case it hadn’t been thought of yet by others seeking to get the console. If things continue on this trend, it will be a major step backward for Xbox, who was the first to give us an accessible marketplace. Time will tell, though, as more information arises. Expect more on this topic in the future.