Tag Archives | Xbox Live Arcade

Bastion and the Slow Rise of Downloadable Console Games

Despite a growing stack of unplayed or unfinished video game discs in my living room, I spent a good chunk of last weekend playing Bastion, a downloadable Xbox Live Arcade game.

It’s a beautiful game, with a grizzled narrator who turns your every move into the stuff of campfire legends, an addictive combat system that strings you along with new weapons and powers, and a colorful post-apocalyptic world that literally reassembles itself chunk-by-chunk as your character trudges forward. I easily spent eight hours playing Bastion from start to finish, all for the Microsoft Points equivalent of $15.

I’ve played some excellent Xbox Live Arcade games over the years — Braid, Limbo and Shadow Complex, to name a few — but Bastion feels more like a full retail title than any of them. And it does so for a fraction of the price of a new game on disc.

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X-Men and the Lost Appeal of Arcade Beat-Em-Ups

A few years ago, my old man and I built an arcade cabinet. On slow weekends in Manhattan, I’d drive to my parents’ house in Connecticut, and we’d chip away at the project, cutting the plywood, fitting the plexiglass, installing the joystick and buttons. The “Arcadium Newmanium” was (and is) a beautiful monstrosity, and with the help of an emulator on an old PC, it can play more than 100 classic arcade games.

But it was the kind of project where the journey was more exciting than the destination. Once I started playing the arcade games from my childhood — primarily, beat-em-ups like X-Men and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles — I quickly understood how little appeal these games had beyond cheap nostalgia.

So forgive me if I’m not excited about X-Men Arcade coming to Xbox Live and the Playstation Network.

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Microsoft Sued Over Xbox Live Points

One major problem with Xbox Live Arcade, Microsoft’s downloadable game service, is that you must deal in “Microsoft Points,” and they come in increments that usually cost more than the price of a game alone. A lawyer has now filed a class-action lawsuit against Microsoft for this practice.

Samuel Lassoff, of Horsham, Penn., argues that the Microsoft Points system effectively charges you for purchases you can’t make, because the leftover points are rarely enough to buy another game, InformationWeek reports. He calls this “a scheme” for Microsoft to “unjustly enrich itself through their fraudulent handling” of his account. It’s not clear how much money he’s seeking.

This issue of point systems — which applies to Nintendo’s Wii Shop channel as well — has been a pet peeve of mine and other gamers ever since Microsoft introduced Xbox Live Arcade. It’s as if you walked into Subway, and instead of paying $5 for a sandwich, you’re required to pay $6.25, and use the rest on a future purchase. And you’re charged $6.25 on the next visit as well, making it tough to escape the cycle of leftover credit.

In fairness, Microsoft lets you pay in exact dollars for its Games on Demand service, which offers large-scale games such as Mass Effect and Bioshock for download, but the company won’t commit to charging dollars for Xbox Live Arcade.

Last week, Xbox group product manager Aaron Greenberg told G4 that the point system was never meant to mislead customers, and that currency fluctuations and technical complexities make a switch challenging. Greenberg dodged the issue of overcharging in points, an issue that has nothing to do with currency.

I’m not a judge, but calling this method “fraudulent” seems like a long shot. “Greedy and unfair” seems more fitting, even though that won’t fly in court. Still, I’m glad someone’s ruffling Microsoft’s feathers over this. The point system can stay if it means consumers can pay exactly what they want, but I’m at the point where the current system is a deterrent, because I don’t want to get stuck with the extra credits. Maybe Lassoff’s lawsuit is the kick in the pants Microsoft needs.


What’s a Game Demo Worth, Anyway?

fable2combatPeter Molyneux, the ever-mouthy creator of the Fable video game series, is spouting off about video game demos and why they’re worthless.

“I hate demos,” Molyneux told Official Xbox Magazine. “I think demos are the death knell of experiences.” He then explains that most demos either show too much, don’t show enough or confuse the player. His solution? Tease people with the first 45 minutes of a game, then pitch them on the full version.

That’s not a groundbreaking idea, as pretty much every Xbox Live Arcade title lets you download the whole game and play a small portion, then charges you to “unlock” the rest. Some PC game portals, such as Big Fish Games, let you download any game and play for an hour.

But Molyneux is alluding to a bigger issue, that downloadable games are more conducive to demos than boxed retail titles.

Partly, that’s because boxed games are often greater in scope than downloadable games. After 10 minutes of an Xbox Live Arcade title, such as Braid, you can get the gist. But 10 minutes wouldn’t do justice to the massive environments of Fallout 3, which is why the developers of that game said a demo was simply not possible. Demos of downloadable games are also more attractive to publishers, as it’s easier to make an impulse purchase when all you need is a credit card nearby to keep playing.

Molyneux’s Fable II is an anomaly, because it was once a boxed title, but it’s now being chopped up into downloadable episodes. A 45-minute demo gives Fable II the best of both worlds, as players will have already downloaded the full game, and will be able to experience a significant chunk before deciding whether they want the rest. Molyneux can be somewhat arrogant with his public statements (see: rating his own game a 9 out of 10), but he may be onto something here.

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