Like many other gamers, I was pretty surprised to hear that Microsoft would be officially revealing the new Xbox just three weeks prior to E3, rather than just waiting for the yearly electronics event. Many have speculated this was a ploy by the big M to increase the hype around its “Next-Box”, now known to be the Xbox One, before the big event so it could steal some of the spotlight from Sony, or because the Xbox crew wanted to get the big stuff out of the way so their E3 conference could focus on the games; the latter of which is what I hope is the plan. Having watched yesterday’s conference, as well as GameTrailers’ after show, and reading a slew of articles surrounding the big reveal, I think I’m about as knowledgeable as possible to give my sincere opinions of the new system. Keep in mind that this is how I currently see the new Xbox, and my opinions will most likely change throughout the coming weeks and months.
The Big One
First things first, Xbox One is a name nobody saw coming. Barring any confusion one might have when speaking of the original Xbox, I don’t think this is a terrible name, though it is a bit odd. It seems Microsoft is taking a similar road as Nintendo in terms of trying to make the name convey what the system is all about. Much like the Wii was about trying to bring gamers together, the Xbox One aims to be your one central hub for all of your entertainment needs.
During yesterday’s big reveal I couldn’t help but be reminded of the Wii U announcement when Nintendo of America president/COO Reggie Fils-Aime said something along the lines of the company wanting to make a system that was for “we”, but was also tailored to “you”; whatever that means. Another reason for the name is probably to distinguish the new Xbox from its predecessor by letting consumers know that this isn’t just a new iteration of the aging console, but rather an entirely new experience; whereas Xbox 720 sounds like just another game system, Xbox One sounds like something new; a fresh start if you will.
I remember being pleasantly surprised during Sony’s PS4 conference when I heard that the system was, for the most part, sticking to a traditional formula for their next-gen console. Sure, there were a few gimmicks such as the touch pad on the new controller, the share button and the light bar, but these weren’t really selling points, they were just secondary features. In contrast to this, Microsoft touted the Xbox One as some kind of human interface miracle. Simply say “Xbox on” and the system turns on; say “Xbox music” and it will start playing something from your music library. You also have the ability to connect your television programming to the new system so you can say things like “Xbox TV” or “Xbox turn on HBO”. You can also “grab” what’s on screen using the new Kinect 2.0 and resize it so you can do other tasks while gaming or watching TV, such as browse the internet or talk to a friend on Skype.
While it’s pretty cool to control a device with your voice or via hand gestures, the technology still seems too impractical to function well. During yesterday’s conference when Microsoft’s President of Interactive Entertainment Don Mattrick was showing off the Xbox One’s features, he looked very rigid and unnatural while grabbing the screen and resizing it, like he wasn’t quite sure if his gestures would register, though I think this had more to do with the lack of tactile feedback rather than a problem with the device itself.
This is the primary issue I take with the idea of navigating menus and the like via gestures; you will never convince me that waving my hand as if I were lazily swatting at a fly is a better method of cycling through a menu than pressing a directional button on a controller. And speaking of controls, it looks like the Xbox One’s controller is going to be pretty similar to the 360’s. One of the new features is the redesigned D-pad, which is a blessing because I absolutely hate the D-pad on the 360 controller. The triggers on the Xbox One controller are also going to have small rumble motors in them to give the player more subtle feedback from the game.
What games? There were a few, but most of them were already announced titles and are going to be multiplatform. As previously stated, there is a lot of speculation that Microsoft’s E3 press conference is going to focus primarily on the games heading to the Xbox One. Don Mattrick also said yesterday that Microsoft Game Studios is currently working on 15 new titles for release within the console’s first year on the market, eight of which are new IPs. Let’s hope this is the case and that the Xbox One’s first year doesn’t turn out to be like the barren wasteland that is the Wii U.
Another thing I noted was that all of the games they did show will most likely be utilizing a standard control scheme; Microsoft gave no indication if or how these new titles would work with the updated Kinect or through voice controls. Again, Microsoft seems to be falling into the same trap as Nintendo in that they’re making a revolutionary piece of hardware, but then they aren’t supporting that hardware with software that utilizes the system’s touted interface methods.
When it comes right down to it, the Xbox One doesn’t impress me all that much. Although to be fair, neither does the PS4. I guess I’m just an old fashioned gamer who just doesn’t understand the direction the industry is heading in. It’s interesting that Microsoft is willing to go head to head with Sony this holiday season and this is sure to spark a lot of debate over which is the better console.
As of this moment, my prediction is that the Xbox One is going to sell the most units in the first year, but slowly the PS4 is going to take the lead and dominate sales for the remainder of the generation. I think this is the case because the casual gamer is going to flock to the Xbox One for its multimedia focus and novel interface, but the hardcore crowd is going to go for the PS4 because of its focus on games. I’m also a little skeptical about how well the Xbox One is going to work with TV. So far at least, it sounds as though the system will only work with American television programming, which could potentially cripple Microsoft’s worldwide sales. Furthermore, Sony has already stated their intent to make the PS4 a suitable home for indie games and smaller titles, whereas Microsoft has been moving steadily away from that market during the past few years. Historically, Sony has also been easier for indie devs and smaller studios to work with than Microsoft has. Either way, it will be an interesting year and we all may be changing our minds about the two consoles in a few weeks during E3.