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.

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.