Thursday, 27 November 2008

The New Xbox Experience?

Microsoft don't do philosophy. I do. I ask the big questions. The kinds of questions that would leave even closet Satre's flummoxed. One such question is this: what exactly is the New Xbox Experience?

I've spent the last few days pondering about this one. My conclusion is based on literally two hours of intellectual toil. 'NXE' is an odd concept. Microsoft wants you to believe that their recent dashboard update for the Xbox 360 is a major step into new territory, but is it? Let's weigh it up.

Initially, there is clearly a wow factor once you've switched your 360 back on after the update's initial installation. The new design for the dashboard is neat and modern. It really goes to show how, even in the space of just three years, the design of software can move from cutting edge to obsolete. The old dashboard design had clearly done the rounds and needed to go. However, I'm not so convinced it was replaced. In reality, the NXE is a paintjob.

The major new feature is the Avatar. You create a Wii-like alter ego. Clothing and shaping your avatar is a laugh for about five minutes. I spent a good deal of time perfecting mine because I imagined some great 3D lobby beckoned. However, no such 3D massively multiplayer platform exists. The avatars are ultimately the biggest waste of effort I think there has been since Sega launched the 32x.

What is the point of an avatar when there is literally no environment available where you can take them? The answer is there is no point. None at all. The 'friends' blade (are they still called blades??) is random. It's interesting to see how your friends have designed their avatars but this blade is the only section of the dashboard where you can view them. Because of this, they don't seem integral to your Xbox experience. They feel gimmicky and less central than even the old gamerpic you can select for your profile.

About the only thing to praise about the NXE is the new party feature. Finally, you can have up to 8 friends form up in a private party via the dashboard and either migrate into games together or do as you will separately whilst still being able to speak in the party's private chat. Essentially, this new feature equates to the end of trash talking... if you want it to that is. No longer do you need to be in public channels to be able to speak to more than one friend at a time. Expect a good deal more silence when playing games solo from now on.

For me, the NXE needed a really solid 3D world where you and your buddies could chill out independant of any game. The party mode should exist within a 3D private lobby - akin to something like Habbo Hotel's room creation. Omg. I actually just mentioned Habbo Hotel. Kill me now.

I'm sure Microsoft are due to spam us with mini games featuring 'avatar support'. However, we will no doubt have to pay for them. As far as I can see, the NXE will be based in a sadly 2D world. This reality check got me thinking about Sony's Playstation Home. I'm interested to see how Home shapes up once it finally comes out and will certainly be tempted to give it a go if it turns out to be as good as the hype suggests. Like I said in a previous post a while back, I predict Home may well represent the great console shift to the PS3 unless the NXE actually competes with something more than a gimmicky Avatar system thrown into the fray.

In conclusion, my personal take on the NXE is that it's a very convuluted dashboard paintjob. Party mode is fantastic and I cannot stress how happy I am to see this. The problem though isn't with the party mode. It's with the rest of the NXE. There is nothing to behold besides a slightly fancier marketplace front screen and some nice new camera effects if you keep your Vision Camera plugged in when on the dash. The NXE doesn't really seem like much of an experience to me, or particulary new for that matter. Hmm.

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