// Internet Duct Tape

How the Xbox 360 Can Reinvented Itself

Posted in Gadgets, Games, Technology by engtech on July 18, 2008

Video Games

The entertainment industry is shifting. Video games dominate all forms of media as an estimated 46 billion dollar industry. Your local video chain likely carries as many video games as it does DVDs. Blueray has beaten HD-DVD as the new media for watching movies at home, but it has the potential to be squashed by digital downloads. Not watching movies on your computer, but rather watching them on a box that is already hooked up to your entertainment system: your gaming console.

Netflix has existed for several years as a DVD-by-snail-mail service. This year they released the Roku box in the US that lets you subscribe to your Netflix service as digital downloads rather than DVDs. 10,000s of movies for $9 a month plus the cost of a $100 box.

I’ve been using my Xbox 360 with a media server for watching movies and TV shows for a few months now and it is so much more convient than having to deal with DVDs. On Monday Microsoft announced that they’d be partnering with Netflix for the Xbox 360. This is huge because Netflix is already a proven movie subscription model that works, and now they’re working with a gaming console that millions of people already own instead of yet another standalone box.

It sounds like the update next fall will fix quite a few other issues that have been bugging me as an Xbox 360 owner. Some of the planned updates:

Netflix

Netflix subscribers who are also Xbox Live Gold subscribers can stream movies from their Netflix queue for free. Unfortunately Netflix still isn’t available to Canadians.

Load Times

Trying to navigate through your Xbox Live arcade games / demos is painful. It can take up to a minute for games to load. Navigating your music library is equally as painful. They should cache the data to the local hard drive.

Xbox Marketplace on the Web

Trying to find something on the Xbox Marketplace is next to impossible. A web interface would be much simpler and would allow for easy searching.

Rip to Hard Drive

Games can be copied to hard drive to play faster (and quieter).

“Live Party”

I’m hoping this will let you set up the equivalent to a “chat channel” amongst your friends. One of my biggest pet peeves with using the 360 for voice communication is that I can’t set up a private group of just my friends when playing a multiplayer game unless that game itself supports that.

I don’t want to talk with people I don’t know online.

What I’d Like To See

There are some big improvements, but there’s still room for more. Here are a few things I’d like to see for my 360 to earn it’s spot in my TV room.

Targetted Content

The current Xbox 360 interface already offers a few advertisement locations. These are horribly used. Microsoft knows my play history for all of my games. They should be data mining that information and targetting advertisement for games I’m likely to want to play based on the games I usually play.

They don’t even do a good job of highlighting that there’s downloadable content available for the games I am currently playing.

Photo Zoom

I’m absolutely flabbergasted that we can’t zoom into pictures on the 360. It seems like it would be a very trivial application to support. Zooming would offer up some interesting 3rd party hacks like reading web comics / downloaded CBZ/CBR files as image files or converting e-books to images.

There has already been a homebrew Nintendo DS web surfer program that works by converting web pages to images on the DS.

Videos

There’s no reason why the Xbox 360 can support more video codecs. I’d really like to be able to play anything I download on the 360 without having to re-convert it.

Video Meta Data

We need something like ID3 tags for video files. I’d love to be able to tag my digitized video collection with director, main actors, and Rotten Tomatoes scores as well as being able to navigate by cover art like I can with my music collection.

Xbox Homebrew

The Xbox 360 already has a homegrew gaming development community, but they’ve starved it by charging a yearly fee to access it. I got to play some of the games when they had a free trial offer a few months ago, and while there were some gems there was nothing to compell me to pay the fee.

This is a huge shortsightedness, by making the games freely available to Xbox 360 gold members they would be giving hobby developers a huge reason to develop games on the play form. Sure, charge developers to have their games listed as that will weed out the utter crap, but at least let them have an audience.

Web Browsing

There’s no reason why the Xbox 360 couldn’t be used as a web browser. There’s even a neat little keyboard attachment you can buy that fits in with the controller. I’d be pretty happy if I could pause a game, check my email, and write a quick response.

I’m surprised Opera hasn’t teamed up with the 360 team to develop a pay browser like they did with the Nintendo DS.

How to Get an RSS Feed for your XBOX 360 Gamertag

Hacking RSS with Yahoo Pipes

My geek want of the day is getting an RSS feed of my Xbox 360 game activity so that I can use it with lifestreaming services. For once I’m not the only person who feels this need. There’s at least two of us! :)

badger-tweet.png

I’m not sure why Microsoft doesn’t make an RSS feed of your Xbox Live activity available. The information is all there, they publish it as a gamercard. But they don’t give you access to the raw data to do with as you please unless you’re a member of the Xbox Community Developers Program. Here are the various ways you can access your Xbox 360 Gamercard to use with other websites.

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What I’m Playing: PC, Nintendo DS, Xbox 360

Posted in Games, Technology by engtech on October 12, 2007

marv sin city

“These are the old days, the bad days, the all-or-nothing days; the sitting at your desk eating entire chocolate bars while trying to debug this bug from hell days.”

– Marv from Sin City

I’m on day 10 of “one of those weeks” so I haven’t had time to fully develop the usual cornucopia of rainbow-coloured blog post ideas. All of my time has been spent on work and family with a smidgen of video game playing to decompress my brain. This isn’t one of those “I’m sorry I haven’t been blogging!!” posts that means it’s time to hit ‘J’ in the feed reader – instead I’m going to talk a little bit about video games. Feel free to interject in the comments with what you’re playing. (It’s Halo 3, isn’t it?)

I currently have three game systems in my household: the PC, the Xbox 360 with the home theatre system and my handheld Nintendo DS. Surprisingly the Nintendo DS gets way more play and games bought for it because A) my girlfriend and I both have our own DS and B) no game company has realized that people might want to play Xbox 360 games sitting on a couch with another real human being. I don’t play online multiplayer games[1] as a rule of thumb because they’re too addictive, but I find it much easier to invite someone over to play a “couch multiplayer” game than to find free time to play with by myself.

This is probably for the best because it pushed me off my ass to get a new roleplaying campaign started with some good friends.

PC Games – Found Interesting

I don’t know what happened to me (oh wait, I’m 30 and have a career and a little bit of a social life) but I can never finish PC games anymore. I seem to always reach a halfway point where the game becomes too sluggish on my underperforming rig and I give up on it. This week marked the death of PC gaming for me when Electronic Arts (boo, hiss) bought out my favorite Canadian game company that I’ve always had a secret fetish for joining: BioWare.

The last two PC games I tried out were Thief 3 and Fallout: Tactics. Thief 3 was amazing to play in the middle of the night with all of the lights off, but kept crashing my computer. Fallout Tactics was a great return to my favorite post nuclear setting and made me realize how much I miss the Infinity game engine (from Baldur’s Gate series). I wish someone would do a Planescape Torment re-release using the latest version of the Infinity engine.

fallout tactics

Nintendo DS – My Favs

I’ve already written about Puzzle Quest before. It’s Bejewelled gem-matching meets 90s styled RPG and the game that got me to buy a Nintendo DS of my own. There were many enjoyable relaxing hours spent playing, until I learned an unbeatable combo of screen clearing spells. It’s out for Xbox Live Arcade now.

nintendo ds puzzle quest

The next win for hours spent playing was Age of Empires: Age of Kings. It was surprisingly challenging as it has the most replayability of all my DS games because of the random maps feature. A definite keeper.

age of kings ds

I’m currently schlocking my way through Rune Factory which is possibly the most accurate Japanese translation I’ve ever seen. I really feel like I’m a factory worker sometimes. The game captures all the nasty power-leveling aspects of roleplaying games: the crafting for no reason other than to see skill increases so you can craft better items, the fighting monsters in hopes of getting a rare drop, and almost literal gold farming with crops you have to maintain. It’s almost a perfect example of all the things I like least about RPGs.

Yet I can’t stop playing.

rune factory ds

Nintendo DS – Her Favs

My lady friend who has the eternal patience to put up with my geekery prefers the new Super Mario Brothers, Brain Age, and Animal Crossing. Brain Age has never appealed to me as I’d rather be doing sudoku with a pen and paper. Super Mario Bros looks like button-mashing fun and Animal Crossing looks like the exact same kind of pointless (yet addictive) time wasting as Rune Factory.

animal crossing ds

Xbox 360 Games

The only real winners for Xbox 360 couch multiplayer have been Small Arms, Marvel Ultimate Alliance, and Lego Star Wars 2 (honorable single player mentions for Amped 3, Gears of War and Crackdown). There’s been a few horrible buys as well because of bargain bin pricing (Kameo, Dead or Alive X2, Table Tennis) – enough that I’ve switched from buying Xbox 360 games to “rent only”.

Small Arms is a 2D death match style game that allows for four person couch multiplayer. It by far has the most hours racked of any game I’ve played on the 360. I wish they’d do an update with more characters and levels. There’s nothing quite like playing the bazaar with four chickens with flamethrowers.

Marvel Ultimate Alliance was a lot of fun because I got to show off my encyclopedic comic book knowledge to my girlfriend (which she finds dead sexy – at least that’s what I keep telling myself). The Xmen Legends game engine is really solid for couch multiplayer, and I’d love to see more games come out using it. Although there’s a strange bug where everyone who plays Wolverine has to steal all the power-ups…

Lego Star Wars 2 is the spiritual successor to the childhood fun I had with Star Wars that the Episodes I – III crapfest almost managed to ruin. It’s got some camera issues, but other than that it’s full of solidly fun gameplay. They’re releasing a combo pack of Lego Star Wars 1 & 2 in November.

Puzzle Fighter on Xbox Live Arcade will most likely be my next buy. I’ve already played the crap out of it using MAME and my laptop, but the Xbox Live version is much more convenient than hooking up the laptop.

Xbox 360 Demos

I think I’ve downloaded and played around two out of five of all of the demos available on the Xbox 360. I really love how the network/hard drive console environment has opened opportunities for try-before-you-buy and game demos are now freely available (and often easier to get running than PC game demos). It does amaze me sometimes that companies put crap demos up (Vampire Rain, Bladestorm). These demos are worth downloading:

  • Amped 3 – snowboarding sim with great wackiness, worth buying
  • Beautiful Katamari – Katamari for the Xbox! demo is too short
  • BioShock – steampunk fps
  • Burnout Revenge – driving smashup
  • Crackdown – convinced me to buy it
  • Conan – solid hack-n-slash action
  • Eternal Sonata – surprisingly engaging turn-based RPG
  • Lost Planet – sci-fi fps
  • Overlord – evil overlord rpg sim, great sense of humor
  • Shadowrun – this would be a strong buy if it was single player – very fun fps, I’ve probably put 40 hours into replaying the demo
  • The Darkness – interesting concept, but poor mechanics
  • Time Slip – fps with time manipulation

[1]: Other than blogging. Blogging truly is a MMORPG.

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