Tag Archives | Xbox

Get an Early Halo: Reach Beta Code

[UPDATE: We’re closing the contest–thanks to everyone who entered! We’ll notify winners soon.]

Want early access to the Halo: Reach multiplayer beta? Courtesy of Microsoft, we’ve got seven codes to give away. These will let you start playing on Thursday, April 29, so you won’t have to wait until May 3 and you won’t need a copy of last year’s Halo 3: ODST. As long as you can download the beta over Xbox Live, you’re good to go.

Here’s what you need to do for a chance at one of the codes:

  • Comment on this blog post with your thoughts about Halo: Reach. Use your valid e-mail address (it won’t be displayed, but we’ll need it to contact the winners).
  • You can alsot Tweet your answer to Harry (who’s @harrymccracken), if it fits in 140 characters including the @harrymccracken.
  • We’ll select people at random and deliver the code on April 29 by e-mail or direct message, so you must follow Harry on Twitter or use a valid e-mail address.

A brief primer on Halo: Reach’s multiplayer: The fundamentals of cat-and-mouse first-person shooting are the same as they’ve always been, but the developers at Bungie added new weapons and tweaked old ones, gave special armor powers that players can choose at the start of match, and created new modes (Ars Technica’s preview has a solid guide to what’s new). The beta allows people to get excited for the game while letting Bungie make adjustments based on how people play in the real world.

Good luck to those who enter. If you don’t win, you can still access the beta on May 3 with a copy of Halo 3: ODST. Either way, you’ll find me playing the beta on Xbox Live as ThePimpOfSound. I’ll destroy you all.


Time to Play Some Original Xbox

As promised, Microsoft will shut down Xbox Live support for the original Xbox at midnight Pacific time, so this is your last chance to play any of your favorite online games from the previous generation.

I’ve pulled out all the online-enabled Xbox games in my library, and while in all honesty I’d rather be playing something newer (and should actually be finishing up my taxes instead), I’ll probably run through all the games for old time’s sake. I’m mostly curious to see if anyone’s still enjoying Doom 3, or whether any players of Mortal Kombat Deception are bad enough to at least let me win a round.

Also, if you fire up Halo 2 today, Bungie says you’ll get “a piece of visual flair” to be used in multiplayer for the upcoming Halo: Reach, and the developer is giving away prizes as well. You’ll also apparently see some funky messages while waiting for games to begin.

Microsoft isn’t doing anything special to say goodbye to the previous console, and that’s okay. But soon after service shuts down, the company should offer more details on what players stand to gain. Microsoft said in February that it needs to make changes to Xbox Live that are incompatible with original Xbox games, without giving specifics.

With online play for original Xbox shutting down, the time for answers is now. The 100-person cap on friends lists will probably be lifted, as that was apparently a technical limitation of the original Xbox, but I hope that won’t be the only benefit for Xbox 360 owners. Not all of us are popular enough to say the trade off is justified.


Xbox 360 Games on Your iPhone? Yes. But Not From Microsoft

On Monday, Novell will demonstrate new technology that will allow Microsoft Xbox 360 games to be translated into iPhone apps. It also has the capability to be used to create Android games, potentially taking some Xbox games to the mobile masses.

Novell, a Microsoft frenemy, is making it possible for you to play Xbox games on other devices now, while Microsoft, which created the platform, will leave you waiting for Windows Phone 7 handsets, due late this year. For whatever reason, Microsoft has chosen to be less than aggressive in supporting two extremely popular smartphone platforms despite obvious consumer demand.

It is worth noting that Microsoft has partnered with Nokia to port Silverlight, a .NET technology, to Symbian phones. But there has been no word about porting Xbox games to Symbian. Thankfully, the Mono team has taken up the slack where Microsoft decides it isn’t going to play.

The iPhone app that Novell created is an open source derivative of an Indiana Jones games that Microsoft is showing off running on Windows, Windows Phone and Xbox. The game is built using Microsoft’s XNA framework, which is based upon its .NET Framework.

Microsoft’s Windows Phone 7 will run XNA 4.0 games, enabling developers of those games to reuse their investment and programming skills for Windows Phone handsets.

Novell is supporting XNA in its MonoTouch technology, which enables developers to translate .NET applications into native code on the iPhone. It has also done something similar for Android, but that solution is in its early stages of development (rumor is Microsoft may be porting Silverlight). Who wants to wager that Novell will bring Xbox games to Android before Microsoft finishes Windows Phone 7?

Interestingly, Microsoft supports the Mono effort. I can vouch that it has a strong relationship with the Mono team, and it views Mono as an insurance policy to protect customers’ .NET and Silverlight investments. Does Novell benefit from that arrangement? Sure. It’s like Microsoft’s pilot fish; it gets the business that Microsoft doesn’t want.

However, Microsoft is losing developer mind share as more and more apps are created specifically for Android and iPhone. Will a broad library of indy Xbox games be enough to differentiate Windows Phone from the rest of the pack? That remains to be seen – we’re not talking Halo.


10 Games You’ll Miss for First-Gen Xbox Live

On April 15, Microsoft will kill online play for original Xbox games. Even if you own an Xbox 360, you’ll no longer be able to play original Xbox games online, including backwards-compatible discs and downloadable Xbox Originals. While it’s probably for the best — Microsoft is promising new, yet-unspecified features that weren’t possible while still supporting the old Xbox — some games are just irreplaceable. Here are 10 original Xbox games that have no equal on the Xbox 360 (which means no Halo 2 or Call of Duty 3):

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Microsoft’s Handheld Entertainment Intentions, xYzposed!

xboxmock2-thumbAs if two rumored Microsoft handhelds weren’t enough, the latest chatter from Redmond holds that the company is designing a new “digital entertainment handheld” to take on Apple’s iPod Touch and Sony’s PSP.

The news comes from Team Xbox’s César A. Berardini, who says he waited months to corroborate and clear his report with sources in Redmond and Santa Clara. One source referred to the device as “xYz,” alluding to a hybrid of the Xbox and Zune, but said the actual name hadn’t been decided on, to the source’s knowledge.

Before we go any further, let’s get all the Microsoft handheld device rumors out on the table. We know that Microsoft is working on a Zune HD, complete with a touch screen and due in the fall. There’s also talk of an iPhone rival, codenamed “Pink,” that involves collaboration with Verizon. This third device seems to fit in the former category simply because it’s entertainment-related, but Berardini writes that newly reported Pink specs “coincide with the scoop I got.” This suggests in a roundabout way that Pink and this gaming device are one and the same.

Except for one thing: One source said the device doesn’t have and “doesn’t need” access to a phone network. Berardini was also explicitly told that the device is not a “Zune Phone.” He speculates that the device will include WiMax, but who knows.

As for other hardware, the “xYz” reportedly has a WVGA touch screen and “features not found on any handheld on the market,” one source says, but the real kicker is in the software. The story says this device will blur the lines between the Zune, Xbox Live and the “Sky” market — supposedly the code name for a cloud-based mobile App store that Microsoft also hasn’t announced yet. It’ll also apparently compete with Google by integrating Live Search services.

Also interesting is the idea of content that’s transferable between each device, including video games. That’s where I get excited.

There’s obviously a technical disparity between handhelds and home consoles, but the simpler games found on Xbox Live Arcade — Braid and Marble Blast Ultra, for example, or classic ports such as Doom and Sonic the Hedgehog — could easily coexist on both platforms. That idea hasn’t been done since the Sega Nomad, a portable Genesis console that was ahead of its time.

The article gives off a vibe that this is all part of a carefully-planned strategy to pull several of Microsoft’s entertainment services under one umbrella. As an Xbox 360 owner, I see the potential in adding a handheld to the mix, but as always, execution is crucial. So now, we wait and see.

(Oh, and before you get too up in arms, please know that the image above is pure fakery.)


A Final Bell Tolls for the Original Xbox

xboxMicrosoft discontinued out-of-warranty repairs for the original Xbox this week, giving a sense of closure to the company’s first stab at video game consoles. If you don’t have a warranty and need something fixed, you’re on your own; perhaps it’s time to upgrade.

Maybe I’m reading too much into this — after all, Microsoft stopped producing the console three years ago, and software is mostly relegated to bargain bins at Gamestop — but it’s a sad day when a company decides that keeping old hardware up and running is no longer worth the trouble.

Thing is, I never found the Xbox to be a particularly endearing console, especially compared to its competition. The Playstation 2 is still a workhorse, putting out new games and transitioning from hardcore platform to family gaming device. Trading mine away just to get a taste of Halo feels like a soulless maneuver in retrospect, a cold means to an admittedly addictive end. The Gamecube, to me, was the unsung hero, hosting some incredible first-party games — Metroid Prime, Super Smash Bros. Melee, The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker, to name a few — but getting a bad rap for being technically weak.

Ultimately, the best original Xbox games became compatible with the Xbox 360, rendering the first console worthless if you owned both. The same could be said about the Gamecube and Wii, but here’s the difference: The Xbox is downright ugly, and a space hog to boot. There was little to lament when I cleared it out of my entertainment center years ago.

And yet, it’s still getting a fair amount of play in the U.S. In 2008, the first-gen Xbox was actually more popular than the Playstation 3 in terms of playing time, though I’m sure this year will be different.

I want to finish this requiem with something profound, but there’s not much else to say. Unlike the many other consoles I’ve owned through the years, the Xbox just isn’t one to get nostalgic over.


Zune’s Swoon–Doom Soon?

Microsoft ZunePodcasting News’s Elisabeth Lewin notes an interesting tidbit in Microsoft’s Form 10-Q SEC filing: Microsoft says that its Zune-related revenue “decreased by $100 or 54% reflecting a decrease in device sales.”

The 10-Q doesn’t seem to say how many Zunes Microsoft sold, and the company has slashed prices. So it’s a little tough to tell whether the plummeting revenue stems from consumers not buying Zunes or from them buying cheaper Zunes. As a frame of reference, Apple reported earlier this week that it sold three percent more iPods in the last quarter than it did a year ago, but made 16 percent less dough doing so.

No matter how you slice it, you can’t turn Microsoft’s Zune revenue number into evidence that the company is making any real inroads on the iPod hegemony. In an era of Microsoft layoffs, cutbacks, and other tough decisions, does that mean that Zune is toast? Tough to say. If you consider Zune to be an MP3 player, it appears to be a disappointing seller that’s in decline, and doing away with it might make sense. But I’m assuming that Microsoft sees Zune as a platform–involving devices, services, and software–and that there’s a good chance it sees it as being strategic enough that’ll continue to invest.

Even so, the Zune name feels permanently tarnished. Suggestion: Microsoft has another entertainment-related brand that’s thriving and which overlaps increasingly with the Zune’s domain. That would be Xbox. Might it be time to retire the Zune name and roll the platform into the Xbox universe?


Nintendo Dominates ’08 in Sales Figure Shocker

Super MarioI can be sarcastic in a headline, right? No matter, retail research firm NPD released last year’s video game sales data today, revealing–of course–that Nintendo’s Wii console and DS handheld were the big winners.

Perhaps there’s some surprise in knowing the DS was the most popular last-minute holiday item, selling 3.04 million units to the Wii’s 2.15 million units in December. Microsoft’s Xbox 360 came in second place, selling 1.44 million consoles last month. Sony’s PSP handheld sold 1.02 million units in December, besting the Playstation 3’s 726,000 units.

Overall, sales of video games, consoles and related products in 2008 rose 19 percent from the year before. I was going to break out the calculator, do some research, and compile a list of total 2008 console sales, but realized the kind folks at Video Game Sales Wiki already took care of that, so here are the numbers:

Wii: 10,151,000

Nintendo DS: 9,951,100

Xbox 360: 4,735,400

PSP: 3,829,600

Playstation 3: 3,544,900

With everything laid out like this, the 1.2 million unit difference between the Playstation 3 and the Xbox 360 isn’t so bad, especially when you consider how handily the Wii stomped both of them.

As for games, Wii Play and its bundled Wii Remote was the top seller of 2008 — you’d know this by standing in a GameStop and seeing the employees pitch it to everyone buying a console — with Mario Kart Wii and Wii Fit taking silver and bronze respectively. Careful, though, because NPD’s counts the same game separately when released for more than one console. Add Grand Theft Auto IV’s PS3 and Xbox 360 sales together, and it’s actually in second place overall.

NPD Analyst Anita Frazier noted that most of the best-sellers were released long before the holiday season. “Get some high profile releases out in the first and second quarters,” she suggested. Some publishers are taking this advice to heart, with big name titles like Lord of the Rings: Conquest and Halo Wars being saved for the first quarter of 2009.

Frazier also noted that as the economy melted in the fourth quarter, people kept buying games. Add that to the list of unsurprising revelations of 2008.


Gears of War 2: A Sterling Sequel for Xbox

If video games are the modern-day incarnation of sci-fi and action films, Gears of War 2 is a true blockbuster. Two Christmases ago, Gears of War became the de facto Xbox 360 system seller when Halo 3 didn’t pan out for a holiday launch. This year, pre-orders for the sequel surpassed those for the original, making Gears of War 2 the one of the biggest video game releases of the season.

Unlike a movie, which delivers a two-hour adrenaline rush, a white-knuckle action game is obligated to stay thrilling through 10 or 15 hours of play. With a sequel comes the added challenge of avoiding rehashes and finding new sources of “wow.” Gears of War 2, predictably, has its saggy spots, but it genuinely tries to keep you entertained throughout.

Marcus Fenix in Gears of War 2

You play Marcus Fenix, a futuristic soldier defined by his unrealistically grizzled voice and unwavering support for his army’s mission. The plot picks up several months after the first game’s conclusion, when the humans of Sera appeared to blow up the underground home of the oppressive Locust race. Naturally, this only riled the enemy, and Gears of War 2 finds the humans on the ropes but staging a desperate offensive.

Gears of War 2, like the last game, has a way of marginalizing its plot. The characters embark on hours-long missions based on what seems like the slightest whim or scrap of intel. By the game’s conclusion, you might still wonder what exactly you’re doing besides shooting things, but this is likely the byproduct of a story that doesn’t linger long before yielding to the action. Like the best Stallone or Schwarzenegger flick, the plot is secondary to the spectacle of guns and gore.

The hallmark of Gears of War is its use of cover. With one button press, Fenix clings to any nearby flat surface, allowing him to hide from walls of enemy gunfire. One trigger button on the Xbox 360 controller makes him pop out of cover to take aim, and the other trigger, obviously, shoots.

The result is a game of territories, in which you’re always scrambling for the best vantage point against your enemies. Fenix’s arsenal hasn’t changed much since the last game, combining standard weapons—rifle, pistol, shotgun, sniper rifle and rocket launcher—with more exotic selections, such as an exploding crossbow and a satellite-guided laser beam. In close quarters, you can slap a grenade on your opponent’s back or slice him in half with a bayonet-mounted chainsaw. The one new feature of combat allows players grab downed foes by the neck and use them as “meat shields.” Parents, take note of the “M for Mature” rating.

As a foundation, Gears’ duck-and-cover action is solid. But even the best game mechanics grate after 12 hours of play. Fortunately, the game is littered with special sequences that defy the series’ famed shootouts. You’ll ride on various vehicles and living creatures, explore the innards of a subway-sized monster, uncover a secret laboratory guarded by long-forgotten security drones and do battle with a beast that strangely resembles the Predator. Indeed, there are times where you’ll even miss blasting Locust grunts.

A Locust Outpost in Gears of War 2

As for those typical shootouts, they do drag in some spots. The first few chapters in particular seem uninspired, causing the game to actually pick up speed toward the middle acts. The same is true with some later chapters, in which you’ll shoot your way through an unusually lengthy Locust stronghold.

It makes you wonder whether a shorter campaign would better serve Gears of War 2’s many other diversions. Online multiplayer isn’t much different this time around, but it’s just as addictive, with teams of five tangling in deathmatch or new objective games. A “horde” mode offers instant action, pitting you against waves of Locust. And you can always bring a friend, online or at home, into the campaign mode, picking up from where you left off on your own. We’ve previously lamented the death of split-screen multiplayer, but Gears of War 2 remains a shining example of how it can still be done. Your best kills and the sweetest action sequences are even better when shared with someone else.

I approached this game with skepticism. Sequels have scorned me before, promising the world but delivering more of the same. In a sense, Gears of War 2 can’t avoid that trap. Despite all the fun I had, the game didn’t floor me like the original. True, it has shinier graphics and epic environments, but neither awakened me to the next console generation in the way the first game did.

But, admittedly, that’s a pitfall in any sequel. At least this one’s a winner.

Sinkhole in Gears of War 2