Both of our writers were tuned in to watch Microsoft’s unveiling of their new Xbox this morning, the Xbox One, and both were somewhat astounded at what they say. After some time to digest and consider the events, they’re here to give you their thoughts.
I promised myself I’d use a minimum of profanity and such, but Jesus Christ, what a letdown. Let me start off by saying that because Microsoft did such a terrible job with the name (which, granted, is the least of their problems), I feel the need to lay out names. If I say Xbox One, I’m talking about the new, upcoming Xbox. If I say Xbox Prime, I’m talking about the first Xbox, which is for some reason not the Xbox One. Even though One means first. And if I say 360 I mean the Xbox 360.
Let’s talk visual design. They showed us this box (which Sony didn’t at their press event), and it looks more Xbox Prime than 360- a large, horizontal black box that resembles a server box. I wasn’t a big fan of the 360 as a piece of hardware, but you gotta admit both versions- the original and the remodel- looked slick. When it comes to the shell of the system, it’s really up to personal taste, but the Xbox One looks inoffensive but weak. A rather dull, uninspired design. But ultimately, the box doesn’t matter that much.
What does matter is the system’s priorities, and man did they screw those up. It was half an hour into the hour-long presentation that they showed any gameplay at all. The focus was heavily on movies and television: god knows how many times we heard the phrases “living room” and “entertainment.” For all that bark, though, there wasn’t all that much bite. Their technology did not impress that much, simply demonstrating rapid switching between applications as their “wow” moment- the kind of benchmark I expect from a smartphone, not a console.
When they did show content for games, it wasn’t impressive. A trailer for EA Sports titles with eerie, Uncanny Valley athletes, a nearly contentless teaser for a new game from Remedy called Quantum Break, a Forza trailer that was to my eyes unrecognizable from every other car game teaser ever, and a generic trailer for Call of Duty: Ghosts, as though that series wasn’t outstaying its welcome already. The most exciting moment in the entire conference was when they showed off a new dog companion for Call of Duty, complete with a real life dog doing motion capture. When the best thing you can say about a massive, heavily produced presentation is “awww, look at the doggie,” something is very wrong.
So much of the presentation was “Kinect, Kinect, Kinect.” I can’t hold this against them too much- I couldn’t give less of a shit about the Kinect, but it sold like hotcakes, so clearly I’m out of touch with the market on this issue. My problem with the EyeToy, back in the day, wasn’t that it didn’t perform well enough. It was that I didn’t give a damn about what it was trying to do. For what it is, though, the new Kinect looks like a solid piece of technology, and I suppose people will enjoy it.
The whole thing just felt like a big long letdown, everything I was afraid of. Xbox Live Gold is here to stay, Kinect is the focus of the system, and they don’t give a shit about games. Yeah, I’m lining up to buy one, Microsoft.
During Microsoft’s reveal of the Xbox One, I had flashbacks to the Battlefield 3 event at DICE 2013. Both companies seemed convinced that cramming a bunch of new services, state-of-the-art visuals and social integration would revolutionize the way we play games. I found myself wanting to believe their bold promises, but their carefully crafted buzzwords and the action onstage told two wildly different stories. We always hear the developers wax on about the unique experiences they COULD provide if the machines they were working with were just a little more powerful, but then technology meets their supposedly lofty demands and we get shooters, racers and superhero games that look a tad bit better than the shooters, racers and superhero games on older platforms.
Holding this press conference months after the PS4’s big day in the sun was a mistake; most of the features that mattered were boiled down into “me too” sentiments, while Microsoft’s unique touches were uninteresting at best and detrimental at worst. The TV integration adds yet another layer of clutter to terribly-designed cable interfaces, the “trending” tab is an excuse for Microsoft to shove even more ads on your home screen, and Skype is yet another addition no one asked for because other devices will perform the same task competently.
Microsoft could have used this conference as an opportunity to extend an olive branch of reconciliation to indie developers like Sony and Nintendo before them. They could have shown a sign or made an acknowledgment that the business in its current state isn’t exactly sustainable, and called on developers to make experiences with smaller budgets and audiences in mind. They could have shown something special, something truly groundbreaking that would be worthy of their larger-than-life budget. Instead, Microsoft presented us with the same things we’ve seen every year, hoping the prettier graphics and social integration would be enough to let them continue marching in the same direction. We’ll find out if they were right sometime later this year.