On the plus side, NEXT-GEN DOGGIES!

xbox one

Is Microsoft showing the early symptons of third console syndrome? No. But it sure felt like it last night. The Redmond outfit last night finally unveiled its next-generation machine, called Xbox One (not Infinity, not 720, not just plain and simple Xbox), but while it may have pitched itself as an all-in-one entertainment machine, it may have also ignored the only audience who might end up getting the machine: the gamers.

“That thing’s a PC tower, not a console!”

That strap above was – save for a swear – word-for-word the first thought in my head (and then immediately tweeted) of what Xbox One looked like. My second thought was that Kinect 2.0 was “huge”. At first glance, it looked way bigger than even the first-generation Kinect for Xbox 360.

It’s not a looker too. As well as being big, it looks quite…bloated. I use that word hesitantly, but it’s true! I seen some people on Twitter last night compare it to the fat PS3 launch model, but at least it could fit into my TV shelf. If I were to get an XBO (we’re using this abbreviation now folks, get used to it), I have this sinking feeling I’d probably have to get a new shelf for it.

Cosmetics aside, Xbox One’s specs are mostly similar to those of PS4, but there are differences. One’s specs include a custom-built 8 core CPU, 8Gb DDR3 (PS4 uses 8Gb GDDR5), a D3D 11.1 chip with 32 MB embedded memory GPU, 500Gb Hard Disk Drive, Blu-ray, USB 3.0 and three architectures to power the system: one Xbox-made architecture for games, the other two for everything else will be powered by Windows.

As for how the hardware and new Kinect performed on stage last night, Xbox entertainment boss Yusef Mehdi showed how the system could seamlessly get to the dashboard, then swap between TV, games, music and back to TV. I was actually quite impressed with how smooth and quick it was, but at the same time, there was a sense of scepticism that it was all a bit smoke and mirrors being handled backstage. I do hope not because if how it was shown yesterday works, this could be a gamechanger.

Speaking of entertainment…

Bit dry in here, innit?

Live TV? Good for you. New experiences? I’m sure you’ll love them. Me? With perhaps the exception to Netflix, couldn’t give a flying fuck. For a majority of the time, I’ve not used my Xbox 360 (plus Wii U or PS3) for anything else but games. For me, I care about the games and nothing else. The entertainment aspect comes secondary. And in that regard, last night’s reveal was disappointing.

Yes, Microsoft had said beforehand that E3 would be where it would make its stand in terms of games. But even for what was shown, it was lacking. EA Sports president Andrew Wilson appeared on stage to announce FIFA 14, Madden NFL 25, EA Sports UFC and NBA Live ’14 would all release on Xbox One within the year whilst detailing the new EA Sports Ignite engine that will power all four games on next-gen before showing a video featuring various superstars of sport and a trailer of its games that were running on CG using in-game assets.

Forza Motorsport 5’s debut looked impressive (bit PGR-like, wasn’t it?), but there’s that niggling doubt we should have seen a bit more on it than just a trailer considering it’s effectively Microsoft’s second biggest IP behind Halo.

And Remedy Entertainment, don’t you dare play with my heart like that again. When the Finnish developer was named dropped by Microsoft Studios GM Phil Spencer, my little heart jumped a beat and assumed we were about to see Alan Wake 2. Instead, we got a hybrid live action/in-game video showing off new IP Quantum Break. I’m definitely intrigued to hear more what Sam Lake and team has planned for this at E3, but can’t help but feel disappointed an Alan Wake 2 isn’t on the horizon anytime soon (though Lake himself has said Remedy will return to the series “when the time is right” with more details promised today).

Phil Spencer’s promise afterwards of 15 new games from Microsoft Studios in Xbox One’s first year – eight of which are new IPs – was a welcome vow in my book. New IPs = good. Good stuff, Phil.

Which brings us to Call of Duty: Ghosts. I vowed on Twitter a while back I had no interest in what Infinity Ward was planning for this year, be it a new CoD sub-series or MW4, after being burned hard with Modern Warfare 3. I probably shot from the hip too early: it looks interesting and I’m definitely curious to see where it goes. My only problem with it is I was expecting a live demo last night, not a trailer. Though I guess that’s down to how the term ‘world premiere’ is normally associated with first Call of Duty public demos within Activision. But that said, coming back to the conference in general, when the highest point of the conference is the appearance of next-gen dogs (looks Ma, next-generation doggies!), there’s something wrong.

That Always-On Dilemma

And then we come to the elephant in the room. Actually, not so much an elephant now as it is a skyscraper towering over us. Not once at all did Microsoft clarify on stage if the machine was always-on or had measures to counter second-hand games. Considering how much the always-on rumour flew about for months before the reveal, this had to be clarified right off the bat.

And Microsoft missed it by a mile. Instead, it was left up to Don Mattrick to clarify after if it was always on. He confirmed to Keighley it wasn’t (or at least, not entirely always-on: Phil Harrison told Kotaku the machine would need to be connected online once every 24 hours).

But then, the fun really began.

It emerged during the show from a Wired expose that the system would have counter-measures for second hand games. It wouldn’t actually block used games, but when games are purchased first hand, they’ll need to be tied to your Xbox Live account and installed to a HDD. And here’s the kicker: want to lend a friend that copy of Halo 5? Gonna have to pay a fee. Wanna lend your little bro in the same house a copy of Forza Motorsport 5? Probably gonna have to pay a fee.

But since that Wired piece went live in the middle of last night’s reveal, confusion has now reigned over how it’ll actually work in practice. In a statement, Microsoft said: “We are designing Xbox One to enable customers to trade in and resell games. We’ll have more details to share later.”

How Microsoft manage to clarify this by the time E3 gets round – if they even do at all – will be a miracle to behold because this situation last night was nothing more than a farce.

So to sum up: A weak presentation mostly, but there are sprouts of potential with the games (and maybe even the potential of Kinect 2.0, even if I’m not a big fan of it being a mandatory part of the experience). And now that the entertainment aspect has mostly been handled, it now leaves the Microsoft press conference at E3 to be entirely (or mostly at the very least) be about the games and nothing more. And that will work just fine. But the situation with second-hand games – and I can not emphasise this enough – must be clarified by E3 or this is something that is gonna plague Microsoft up until launch later this year.

The first act may have been a jumbled mess. Now it’s on Microsoft to redeem itself with the second act.

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