Presenting the Xbox 360

Co-wrote and compiled by Thomas McDermott (Tarantino)

Xbox 360 – Gaming Comes Full Circle?

So, it’s almost here after what seems like an eternity of endless waiting. The 360 console itself no doubt looks beautiful, with Microsoft describing it as a “merger of form and function.” Instead of using Microsoft’s clever wording we think MS had their hands on the hugely successful apple iPod and after some pondering they decided they liked the colours and incorporated it into 360’s design. There is no doubt the outcome is spectacular. The console itself does look very eye catching, with its sleek, clean curves and beautiful design, it should have pride of place underneath anyone’s TV come November. But the real question is will Microsoft’s new baby keep its gloss during the course of its stay under your TV? Will its ambitious jump to thump Sony and Nintendo be worth it? Or could the unthinkable happen and your 360 become a slightly oversized dust gather in less then a year’s time? J Allard has already suffered the same fate with the Dreamcast just a few years ago; surely lightning cannot strike twice, can it?

The Future Is Green!

Under that stylish lily-white exterior lies the beating heart of a beast consisting of three symmetrical PowerPC based CPUs running at 3.2GHz each with an overall system floating-point of 1 teraflops. There is also an ATi graphics processor and more than 512MB worth of memory waiting to create beautiful games crafted with the exciting XNA software. All these specs hail the promises of new unseen gaming experiences that come boasting from every MS executive in every interview they take part in. For a company that was not even a player in the console video game industry a little less than 4 years ago this may be seen as quite a big guarantee to keep, but as MS have already shown us with their original “black beast” they sure mean business. With games like Halo and Project Gotham Racing now well known titles each with long reaching fan bases, it would be easy for MS just to bring over their well known titles to 360 and add a number after their name. They will no doubt be jazzed up with new graphics, new modes and new features and there is no doubt the fan base will make the 360 move with them but Microsoft want more than that, they want to rule the consoles gaming world and it looks as if they are ready to put up one hell of a fight!

Aw360me?

The Xbox 360, designed to stand vertical or lay flat, also offers users a range of different interchangeable fascia that have been dubbed “faceplates.” While Interchange faceplates maybe a first for consoles it’s not the only “first” Microsoft has up its sleeve. The 380 also offers wireless controllers as standard. Although Nintendo were the first to bring us a reliable form of wireless controllers a few years ago it is nice to see this feature is finally becoming a must have for the gaming industry and all those off-putting wires in front of your console and strewn across the living room will now become a thing of that past.

Accompanying the wireless controller is the now infamous “ring of light” on both the console and the controllers which will “talk” to each other telling its users which of them are connected by lighting up a specific quadrant. The light will also flash if a player has received an incoming online message when a friend wants to play an online game. Speaking of the controls, they have got to be upgraded too.

Now the controller is a dazzling pearl white, with slightly modified button placement, it looks as if MS has taken the criticism of its original oversized controller and the “Controller-S” to heart. The back and start buttons have now been place centre-right and centre-left of the pad. the black and white buttons have been completely removed and replaced with shoulder “bumpers.” the d-pad has been given a slight tweaking which will hopefully lead to more comfort for your thumb. The four X, Y, B and A buttons remain almost the same, as do the analogue sticks.

Out Of The Box?

The Xbox 360 is the first console to launch in two separate packages, namely the Core and the Premium. They are different in many ways and targeted at different users. The Core package comes with limited accessories, and therefore is aimed at someone who is new to gaming, or someone gaming on a budget. This package is upgradeable to the Premium package, but it will cost considerably more overall.

The Premium package, includes everything you need to kick start your HD gaming revolution, and mainly the 20GB hard drive that will cut down loading speeds, let you save music, let you save vastly more saves/maps than the memory card would offer and is required to play some bigger online games such as Final Fantasy XI. Microsoft has gone on record to say that the HD is not normally required, but that a small percentage of games will require this accessory.

So which should you choose? Well if you’re new to gaming and want to experience the next gen, go for the Core package, priced at £209.99 (very reasonable for a new high spec console). The premium package will be in 80% of 360 owners homes this Christmas, and costs £279.99 with loads of accessories listed below. It’s mainly targeted at gamers who know about the 360, and are willing to pay a little more to get the better experience.

It must be noted that generally consoles are released resembling the Core package, with the PS2 currently selling along the same lines, with a wired controller and the need to buy additional memory cards. This retails for £99 in the UK (it was launched at £299), so from this perspective, a next gen Xbox 360 with vastly superior technology which will last you the next five years or so, only costs £100 more.

The main differences are highlighted below:

Core Pack Includes
– Xbox 360 Console
– Wired Pad
– Standard AV Cable
– Face plate
– Silver Access to Xbox Live
– Not Backwards Compatible

Premium Pack Includes
– Xbox 360 Console
– 20GB Hard Drive
– Wireless Pad
– Headset
– Face Plate
– Component HD AV Cable
– Ethernet Cable
– Mini Remote (While Stocks Last)
– Xbox Live Silver membership
– Backwards Compatible with selected games via hard drive
– Silver Finish around DVD Tray

Join Our Network – Xbox Live 360

There are now two different versions of Xbox Live; these are graded Gold and Silver. Silver Live is not paid for, it allows access to most online features, but to play against other users, you will need a Gold Subscription, which will cost around £40-£60 per year. There are rumours that with a Silver membership you will be able to play online games at weekends; however this has yet to be confirmed by the guys at Microsoft and therefore might be a special offer for a limited time to entice gamers to go Gold. It is unknown whether or not gamers will be required to pay additional cost to play online MMORPG’s.

Below is a breakdown of the differences in the two services and additional elements to the new Xbox 360 Live experience worth mentioning.

Xbox Live Silver Level
– Create an online Gamer Profile
– Access the Xbox Live Marketplace
– Engage in voice and text messaging
– Talk to a single friend at a time using voice chat
– Receive video messages from Gold level members
– Access massively multiplayer online games (additional fees may apply)

Xbox Live Gold Level
– Paid level of service
– All the features of Silver level, and additionally:
– Play multiplayer games online
– Video chat
– Multiplayer online tournaments
– Participate in Xbox Live online programming, such as Game with Fame, Play and Win, and Prime Time activities

Xbox Live Marketplace

The Xbox Live Marketplace will provide a one-stop shop for consumers to download new game trailers, demos, and episodic content, along with new game levels, maps, weapons, vehicles, “skins,” and other types of new content on demand. The Xbox Live Marketplace is accessible to everyone who connects their Xbox 360 console to a broadband connection and creates an Xbox Live account.

Ubiquitous Chat
You can now voice chat with your friends anytime, while doing anything on your Xbox 360 system, regardless of subscription level. You no longer have to be playing the same game or be in the same game session to communicate; you can be playing a game while your friend is watching a movie, for example. Video chat will be available to all paying Xbox Live members.

Gamer Profile
On Xbox Live, every member will have his or her own gamer profile, which is a summary of their preferences, achievements, and online personality. Your gamer profile can be used for everything from deciding if the person who just sent you a friend request is worthy of addition to your Friends List to creating online matches between players who are more similar in background, styles, and skill. Elements of your gamer profile include the following:

Gamer card: Get a quick look at the key stats for your friend or that new player who just challenged you to a multiplayer match. Like a personal identification card, the gamer card gives you a quick overview of other personalities on Xbox Live: their Gamertag, Gamerzone, Achievements, Reputation, and Gamerscore. Gamer cards let you instantly connect with people with similar skills, interests, and lifestyles, as well as maintain bragging rights over your achievements and scores.
Gamerscore: A cumulative score of all achievements allows you to quickly compare profiles between other gamers.
Reputation: A rating provided by the community indicates how you are perceived by other players. Think of it as the Xbox Live equivalent of a reliability rating.
Gamerzone: Your Gamerzone indicates your style of social gaming. The choices are R&R, for those who just want to hang out and play without undue competitive stress; Pro, for those who are fiercely competitive and must win at all costs; Underground, for those who take an alternative approach to gaming; and Family, for those who want to make sure the environment they play in is kid-friendly.
Achievements: Whether offline or on, you can earn achievements and accolades in all Xbox 360 games to indicate progress, skill, and accomplishment. Taking achievements online lets you compare what you’ve accomplished with your friends, or use them as indicators of skill to new friends. Achievements are bragging rights redefined.

Intelligent Matchmaking
Using profile data such as location, Reputation, Gamerscore, and Gamerzone, the matchmaking system on Xbox Live will help ensure that you are matched with the users you want to play with.

Spectator Mode
This is the “virtual arcade,” a chance for you to watch other gamers compete in supported titles. Games that support this feature will give you the ability to participate online without having to compete. Learn tips and tricks, or just sit back and enjoy the show.

Feedback
With Xbox 360, Xbox Live lets you provide feedback on other players that will determine how frequently you are matched with them. Give them a good rating, and matches will happen frequently if you’re both available. Give them a bad rating, and you’re far less likely to play with them online again.

User Safety and Security
The new, more robust safety and security features in Xbox 360 help parents control the online and offline game experiences of their children by determining whether they can play online and whom they play with, and by locking the console to play only games that meet a certain rating.

Message Centre
All of your notifications, voice and video messages, and even system- and service-based communications will be stored in one location.

Enhanced Friends List
Not only will you be able to review a prospective friend’s gamer card to help determine whether or not to add them to your Friends List, but you’ll also be able to see your friends’ Friends Lists.

Exclusive Programming
Xbox Live is “always on”—something’s always happening. The exclusive Prime Time Calendar is your destination for all information about events on Xbox Live. Play your favourite Xbox Live titles against real-world celebrity gamers through programs like Game with Fame and Mystery Gamer, and participate in unique promotions like “Play and Win.”

Tournaments and Competitions
Xbox Live-sponsored tournaments will continue across a multitude of different titles and genres. More and more games will also support gamer-created tournaments on Xbox Live for Xbox 360.

Accessories

Microsoft has an exclusive royalty system with regards to its new consoles accessories. This means that not just any 3rd party can release anything for the system; it will all have to be up to a Microsoft standard. There are even rumours that Microsoft will not allow any 3rd party to make a wireless controller until at least 2007. Therefore we are probably going to be relying on official products for the near future. Here are the various costs involved:

– Xbox 360 Faceplate (Suggested Retail Price: $19.99 U.S./E19.99/£14.99)
– Xbox 360 Hard Drive (20 GB) (Suggested Retail Price: $99.99 U.S./E99.99/£69.99)
– Xbox 360 Memory Unit (64 MB) (Suggested Retail Price: $39.99 U.S./E34.99/£22.99)
– Xbox 360 Wireless Networking Adapter (Suggested Retail Price: $99.99 U.S./E79.99 /£59.99)
– Xbox 360 Wireless Controller (Suggested Retail Price: $49.99 U.S./E44.99/£32.99)
– Xbox 360 Play and Charge Kit (Suggested Retail Price: $19.99 U.S./E19.99/£14.99)
– Xbox 360 Rechargeable Battery Pack (Suggested Retail Price: $11.99 U.S./E14.99/£9.99)
– Xbox 360 Controller (Suggested Retail Price: $39.99 U.S./E34.99/£24.99)
– Xbox 360 Headset (Suggested Retail Price: $19.99 U.S./E19.99/£14.99)
– Xbox 360 Universal Media Remote (Suggested Retail Price: $29.99 U.S./E29.99/£19.99)
– Xbox 360 Component HD AV Cable (Suggested Retail Price $39.99 U.S./E29.99/£19.99)
– Xbox 360 S-Video AV Cable (US only) Xbox 360 SCART AV Cable (Europe only) (Suggested Retail Price: $29.99 U.S./E24.99/£17.99)
– Xbox 360 VGA HD AV Cable (Suggested Retail Price: $39.99 U.S./E29.99/£19.99)

The Big Launch Titles

Perfect Dark Zero

Joanna Dark is finally set to return to the gaming world in the prequel to the highly acclaimed Nintendo 64 title, Prefect Dark. Perfect Dark Zero will be one of the first hits to grace the disc tray of the Xbox 360. It is well known that some of the recent screenshots have not been up the high standards of many a fan but due to Perfect Dark Zero being such a big game for both Microsoft and Rare there is no way either of them would allow such a highly anticipated title to be a failure?

The story of Perfect Dark Zero sees Joanna and her father Jack entwined in a fight for the planets feature, which on a routine bounty hunting Joanna rips open a global conspiracy that will change Joanna’s life forever. Of course players must play the role of Joanna and lead her on her journey to become a “Perfect Agent”. Rare and Microsoft promise that PD0 will have “revolutionary game design, online play and amazing graphics to deliver an experience that defines next-generation gaming and entertainment”. Let’s hope they deliver!

Kameo: Elements of Power

Two Rare games for the launch of the Xbox 360! That equals their output during the whole life of the original Xbox! Kameo is without doubt a beautiful game with so much happening on screen at the one time. It is also a bright and colourful game, and has been in production for what seems like forever. It has spanned 4 different consoles in its lifetime (Nintendo 64, GameCube, Xbox and now 360) and now will finally get a lease of life as the Xbox 360 hits store shelves. Let’s hope the wait was worth it.

Dead Or Alive 4

Team Ninja are usually the one developer you would guarantee to push everything they can out of a console and even though this will be their first swipe at a game on the Xbox 360 you can already see they are performing the same magic they did on 360’s predecessor. New characters to this incarnation of the series are Kokoro – The black-hair beauty from the trailer uses Hakkyoku-Ken style. This is the same style used by Akira in Virtua Fighter. Eliot – A blonde boy that uses Keii Ken style, which is about quick, single hits and open-palm strikes and finally Mystery Wrestler – Uses pro-wrestling moves and Capoeira, the Brazilian dance/fighting style.

DOA 4 is now more focused on defence instead of offence. With good reflexes needed to anticipate upcoming opponents’ moves, and is set to be a must-have video game to own along with Xbox 360 this holiday season.

Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon 3 – Advanced Warfighter

Wow! That would be the first word that comes out of someone’s mouth the first time they see screenshots for Ubisoft’s new Ghost Recon game, after seeing some type of video, they would have probably been left in a stunned silence. There is no doubt that what Ubi have created looks fantastic. Ghost Recon 3 is set in 2013 following an insurgence in the heart of Mexico City. The U.S. Army’s most elite Special Forces team is deployed to the centre of the conflict to regain control of the city. Will the gameplay hold up to the fantastic visuals? We will have to wait and see!

Project Gotham Racing 3

PGR was one of the new titles MS brought to the market to try and take some of the shine away from Sony’s/Polyphony Digital’s GT series. Instead of taking some GT fans away it created fans all of its own with its newly implemented “kudos” system. PGR 3 has its sights set on creating the ultimate racing experience for the High Definition era, with brand new tracks, cars and brand new modes; the most exciting of these being “GothamTV”. So it goes without saying that the long wait for PGR 3 is getting harder as every day passes.

So When Do We Play?

Microsoft has built a very impressive machine with a multitude of features that everyone should find interesting. You may at first only buy the machine to play the games available but within months, maybe even days, you will start playing around with the media hub and find oodles of more interesting things to do. There is much debate as to when the Xbox 360 will be released. As far as we are 100% sure, the 360 will be released within the years end in the 3 main territories; i.e. America, Japan and Europe. It is expected that the system will launch in America first, with Europe and Japan to follow a few weeks after.

At this time the best bet is on a November 15th launch date in America, and a November 24/25th launch date in Europe. This is pure speculation based on the fact that the original Xbox and Live launched on this date several years ago. Everything is set for the 360 to become one of the biggest gaming consoles ever released, but in the end it iks up to the people who buy it to make it the success it deserves to be. Without the people to create the community Microsoft strives to create, everything could go wrong. But that could not possibly happen, could it?