Thursday, April 13, 2006

Xbox Live Gaming

I recently managed to purchase an Xbox 360 after several months of looking around the local San Diego game shops and electronic stores. Normally, I'm not one to rush out and buy a $500.00 game system, but I was really intrigued by all of the integrated online functionality that I've been reading about.

So far, I've been pretty happy with my purchase.

The really neat thing about the xbox live features is that every game is semi integrated by use of the invisible OS that is running the whole show. It's pretty much a Microsoft Media Center box when it really comes down to it. While I'm playing any game, any buddy that I have on my buddy list will be announced when they log in. We can send messages back and forth, both text and voice, and even set up a voice chat room.

It feels like a virtual couch where all of my friends can come by and sit in my living room, shoot the breeze, and dork out on some videogames. I love that feeling, which has long been missed with my long hours, and generally boring lifestyle.

Along with all of the convenience comes all of the idiots though. In just the one week of my having this system I am already over hearing pothead philosophy, heavy breathing strangers, and people who are yelling back at their mothers while forgetting they have a headset on.

My exposure has been rather limited to Dead or Alive 4, and the convenient demos that are available on the xbox live marketplace. I think the demo download feature is key here. I really enjoy the fact that i can download Tomb Raider and check it out on the 360 without having to leave my couch and look it up on the net. A game I normally wouldn't pick up now has a high possibility of being added t my library just because of this.

Another feature that I find pretty neat is the gamer points. Every game I play earns me achievements that basically raise my "gamer score". Just like everyone else out there I want to be uber, so beating the games and just plain playing them well has a whole new meaning. You just have to respect a guy/gal out there that has double the amount of points than you, thats just hardcore.

I haven't figured out if I like the "microsoft points" to buy extra features type feature. Microtransactions in my opinion are going to lead us down the road of unfinished console titles, which by large are free of the stigma that PC games face. Just about every PC game in existence has a "patch" which supposedly fix issues and offer a free "add-on" which really is just some late content by and large. Allowing this on console games just sounds like trouble to me.

Thus begins the newly soon to be famed Dev Perspective:

All console games are subject to a submission process that they must pass in order to become "gold". A "gold" disk is basically the final product, ready to be mass copied and sent to the stores. In order to get this "gold" approval games have to pass a rigorous series of tests by the console manufacturer which look for game crashes, proper logo usage, major gameplay errors, save game wording, and legals.

Many of the game developers out there are basically running against the submission deadline clock. They know that if they want their game on the shelf by a certain date, they have to pass through submissions by a certain day. Some games make it, some don't. The ones that don't make it through submission, have to be pushed through again as soon as a new submittable build is made.

What many developers do is they push the build through to submission early, hope for the best and use the error report to try and shove their square game through a round hole. The quality of the title usually ends up suffering for this, because the development time is cut short, and features start disappearing. This is how you get a Gran Turismo that can never be beaten 100%, or football games that are missing players from rosters. The game must get out, and passing submission is generally more important.

Why? Shelf space costs money. Advertising costs money. A BUNCH. Every day they have that cardboard character standing at the front of some row of video games in some store, it is costing the company money.

The submission process itsself can be a problem as well, especially around Christmas. If you don't get your product sku into the queue in time, you'll never make it on the shelves in time for Thanksgiving weekend. Thats big money.

Whats the point of all of this? Console game patching makes the square game/round submission process worse. Why worry about a major gameplay error, when you can just patch it right? Why worry about getting that last level when you can sell it for $6.50 in microtransactions a month after the game is released? Not to mention the fact you get that player mindspace just that 5 extra minutes.

While I think getting little 6 dollar games is neat, I worry about the quality of the console games we will be seeing in the future. I've already patched Dead or Alive 4 once, and I haven't a clue what was in that patch. All I know is I'm missing a little bit more of that precious 360 harddrive space.

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