XBox One Announced, Rejoice!

My people…the next generation XBox has come forth, and tomorrow shall dawn a brighter day, for it is grand and it is…black! Behold: XBox One.

Better Than A Little Black Dress.

Better Than A Little Black Dress.

For anyone raising an eyebrow at the enthusiastic announcement of the pretty basic name, the logic behind the simplistic moniker became glaringly clear as the fast-paced presentation went on. And fast-paced it was. We literally blitzed through this event, which had a significantly more upbeat tempo than Sony’s early-2013 event announcing the PlayStation 4. XBox One is aiming to be just that: your one-stop shop for gaming, social connectivity, and audio-visual entertainment. I could hardly live-tweet as fast as they kept throwing stuff at us, and I know that this is due to the fact that Microsoft is holding back the bulk of its “OMG WOW” factors for E3. And since that’s going to be a tweetin’ bloggin’ extravaganza, I’ll try to keep this post short, focusing on the points that both excited and depressed me:

THRILLS

The Future Is Now: Voice Control

When Yusef Mehdi, Senior VP of Microsoft’s Interactive Entertainment Business line, said “XBox On” and the screen behind him came to life, I could but utter one word: Finally. Sometimes I stare at my Kinect in disgust because I can’t just turn on my XBox with a simple voice command. I know it’s not Kinect’s fault, but I have issues with misplaced frustration. XBox One aims to alleviate the stress I direct at Kinect by making it possible to turn the console on with just an utterance of “XBox On.” Laziness Level: Expert.

Fifteen Exclusives, Eight New IPs

I don’t even have to go into how great this is, especially with the promise of eight new franchises delivered for XBox One. I’m particularly excited about Remedy’s preview of Quantum Break. Fresh new content is the injection the industry needs, and after the usual suspects being rolled out at Sony’s press-con, I’m happy XBox has locked up some original product for their next-gen offering.

A scene from Remedy's Quantum Break.

A scene from Remedy’s Quantum Break.

Live-Action Halo Series With Steven Spielberg

The only two words that matter in that headline are Steven and Spielberg. I was kind of confused as to Nancy Tellum’s presence, but started to piece it together when she introduced 343 Industries’ Bonnie Ross. Anyone who followed the Halo 4 hype juggernaut watched at least one episode of the web series ‘Forward Unto Dawn.’ I appreciated the way that the story of FUD wove into the actual Halo 4 plot, and so I thought they might be announcing another web series to prep us for an upcoming Halo title. I did not even contemplate the possibility of a live-action series, much less think about the involvement of someone like Steven Spielberg. Needless to say, I’m excited to see what they can create. Forward Unto Dawn was really the best marketing tool I’d seen a game employ in a long time, and the Halo universe stretches beyond just the games, as Ross correctly stated at the beginning of her presentation. Now if only BioWare and EA would take note for Mass Effect…

EA: FIFA, NBA, Madden and…UFC

Far be it for me to say that UFC has no place among the likes of FIFA, Madden and the NBA, but I say, bravo to EA for diversifying their offering. To even be marketed alongside those three heavy-hitters is an accomplishment, and I’m looking forward to seeing the real star of those games, the new EA Sports Ignite engine, shine through on the new XBox One hardware.

Better Hardware, Better Kinect…Better You

One of my gripes, and that of many others, regarding Sony’s PlayStation 4 announcement was the complete and utter lack of hardware present. The only tangible item available was the controller, which was nicely innovative in its own right, but not enough to really sate the blood-thirsty masses. Then yesterday, Sony does what any good marketing department would do, and “blindsides” Microsoft’s event today with a sneak peek of their console…which really just amounted to a strobe-light effect while various bits of it flashed across the screen. I put blindsides in quotation marks because it seemed as though Microsoft (and anyone with a brain, really) had anticipated Sony’s sucker punch, as all through their event today, every presenter seemed to walk with an added spring in their step, as if to say “We got this, ya’ll.”

The XBox One is sleek and, for lack of  a better word, sexy. I really hate using that word and I dislike when marketing professionals use it, but there really is no other word I could use to describe the console, the new controller and the new Kinect unit. The improvements made to the Kinect, which were necessary considering the level of multitasking the XBox One boasts, are a blessing. Also: Skype group calling. Thank you.

CHILLS

Live TV, ESPN Sports connectivity

Of course, any launch event has one or two moments where you cringe a bit and shake your head, as if to say “why would you wear that to a cocktail reception?” I only had two of these moments with the XBox One launch; this is one of them. The industry had already speculated that this console, much like Sony’s PS4, would focus on the entertainment factor as being more integral to the device’s abilities than the gaming factor. I wasn’t surprised to see Microsoft bust out the live TV functionality, and the ESPN Sports connectivity possibilities. The integration of fantasy play had my US friends chomping at the bit.

But for myself, and those gamers who do not live in North America, all that you heard from us was a collective groan. While my brother-from-another-mother in Brooklyn is enjoying switching between a Skype call with me and a live NFL match on his XBox One, I’ll be once again lamenting the fact that European XBox Live subscribers pay the same amount of money as North American subscribers for maybe 30% of the functionality that our American and Canadian counterparts receive. I understand completely the reasoning behind the lack of TV content, and truthfully, Pathe Thuis (movie-streaming service from the theater chain here) is now available on XBox 360, but there is still plenty that we do not have access to, while still paying the same price.

No Price Point

Okay, so I’m nitpicking. But I was really hoping to have a ballpark figure around which to build my plan to give up food, social interaction and possibly electricity. Twitter blew up when they didn’t mention a release date and I really have to say, this argument is getting old. We should all know by now how “the game” is played. I don’t think we’ve ever gotten a release date before E3, unless of course your name is Nintendo. So let’s stop that little bit of nitpicking. A price point, however, is something I think you should be able to hint at…simply to give everyone a chance to prepare their wallets for the Special Victims Unit case its about to become.

THE BOTTOM LINE

XBox One’s spec-sheet reads like this:

– an 8-core CPU.

– 8 GB of RAM.

– 500 GB hard drive.

– USB 3.0.

– Blu-ray drive (Finally! Am I right?).

– Integrated 802.11n Wi-Fi (also finally).

– Thousands more servers to handle online play, and dedicated DVR capabilities for game-capture.

– A new 1080p Kinect camera that detects the slightest movement of your wrist, as well as your heartbeat. Hopefully if you overdo it on Nike Training With Kinect, it will also call 911 for you.

– After the event, Microsoft confirmed that XBox One was NOT going to feature always-online DRM, and everywhere, gamers and retailers sighed in collective relief.

Throughout the entire event, a die-hard PlayStation fan friend of mine kept freaking out as they threw out feature after feature. We followed it live with other gamer friends on Facebook; my notifications are now broken. People didn’t even care that the only games really shown were Forza Motorsport, Quantum Break and the world premiere of Call of Duty: Ghosts. The sheer power of the machine outshone whatever actual gameplay may have debuted. It’s safe to say that this event succeeded where Sony’s faltered: the previously non-XBox fans are frothing at the mouth.

E3 is going to be a hell of a lot more interesting this year, my friends.

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Goodies: Sploder.com

This is going to be a short post, since it’s really late here and I’m currently battling an addiction to BioShock Infinite. Plus, ‘Goodies’ posts are usually just meant to quickly highlight and describe some new nerd-gasm inducing site or item I’ve come across in my daily adventurous trawls through the depths of the Internet.

The other day, during a lull at work, I came across Sploder, a site that allows you to create your own game and publish it online for netizens to play and rate. Talk about the ultimate nerd-out! I registered once I got home and started making myself a platformer, the first level of which (yes, you can add and delete levels to your game) is below:

I call it "Slash Buddy." Lack of sleep = Low Creativity.

I call it “Slash Buddy.” Lack of sleep = Low Creativity.

As you can see from the image, you can add various environment objects and enemies. Those little black squares are vampire bats. Vampire bats, you guys. The interface is easy to understand and even simpler to use, and you can select from platformers, retro arcade, puzzle or classic shooters. You get a basic setup and then it’s all up to your imagination. I found it a neat way to shout out to that old arcade game nostalgia while at the same time prodding young minds to develop a vested interest in game design. If tools like this had been available back in my young mischief days, I would probably be a game designer today. True story.

There’s no rush to complete your game and you can add and remove levels as you wish. In between level design, you can enter into a pretty neat test environment to see if your game functions as you imagine it would. I had quite some fun trying to kill that bastard vampire bat, who flies around dodging every swing you make with your sword. Moving from the test to the design environment is smooth and seamless, just adding to the already impressive interface that Sploder offers. There are resources available for parents and kids alike, which is awesome because it’s one more link in this whole “Teach Kids Code” mantra that Zuckerberg & Co are pushing these days. More importantly, however, is the social aspect of the site. Users can friend-request one another, sharing knowledge, ideas and their proudly built games, and this all puts some extra fuel in the tank for the future of the game industry. Baby steps, ya’ll. Baby step[s.

So go on, give Sploder a try. Publish a game and I’ll check it out, and drop you a review here on What The Frag.

Next week: Microsoft’s May 21 event. Are you guys ready for this? Really ready? Because it’s gonna revolutionize the way we do gaming. Hehe. Until next time, stay classy.