They Say there is No Killer App

posted on January 24th, 2006 by Anthony

The day my 360 arrived

Well I’ve had my 360 for nearly two months now, so I thought it was about time I wrote something about my experiences with it. I was planning a detailed review of every aspect, but I decided after a few pages that I probably haven’t got enough room on my server… plus it’s all been said before by other peeps.

But as a quick summary:

So it’s all great. Just your average, common or garden next-gen console, i.e. more of the same – times 10.

Loads of power, few new ideas.

And no killer app?

Wrong

Xbox Live Logo

Once your Xbox is set up to connect to Xbox Live it is always there. From the moment you power on (from your couch via the controller – so simple, so satisfying), to the time you shut down, the Live connectivity “just works”.

I’m not just talking about gaming with strangers either – you can do that on anything (but the Xbox does it far, far better than anything else). I’m talking about the fully integral, multi-faceted, online service.

There is nothing else quite like it.

That sounds like a killer app to me?

And here are some of the reasons:

Yeah, it looks that good.

Demos

First and foremost being able to download demos for free on a console is fantastic. Yeah you can do it on a PC, but that can get messy. Through Marketplace it takes a few button presses, a wait of half an hour, then bam – it’s working.

The best example, so far, has been the Fight Night 3 (yes it does look that good – even when it’s moving…) demo. It’s the first game to be featured that isn’t actually out on release yet. It’s a game I would have had very little interest in, but since playing the demo I am very, very interested.

The demos are so good, I find myself checking the ‘new’ list every time I turn the machine on. Even though I know that not are actually due.

Videos

Obviously downloading videos off the internet is nothing new. You can do it on any PC. They look fine on your monitor, but you don’t expect it work in full screen perfection on your TV screen – at least not without having to think about it.

The Live Marketplace allows you to download preformatted, TV ready video clips that just play perfectly on you TV.

There isn’t much to choose from just yet, but the potential for on-demand programming is huge (price/greed dependent).

Microsoft Points and Marketplace

The currency of the Live Marketplace is Microsoft Points, and the system is a joyful piece of evil genius.

MS has to play it cleverly though. There is a high risk they could take the wrong route with the system and get greedy. If they insist on charging for too much cool stuff the Marketplace will cease to be fun.

As it is, it’s fantastic.

The Gamercards

The Gamercard (see mine on the right) is a small detail, but it’s that sort of attention to the little things that makes the service feel so good.

The fact that you can take your Gamercard everywhere, and that people can instantly compare themselves to it, is just a masterstroke.

My pitiful, pitiful score...

And again it doesn’t make you think, it’s just there and does it’s job as being your face in the Live World.

Though I wish they’d ditch the iFrames.

Achievements and Gamerpoints

Going hand-in-hand with the Gamercard, achievements, and the points they bestow upon you, are another great hook.

In each game you buy, the developers are allowed to add in these little bundles of joy for you to unlock along the road to beating a game. Points are also attributed to each one accordingly. (It’s sooo gratifying to see that little alert pop up)

It breaths extra life into the games, even after you might have completed something there is that extra incentive to squeeze out more of the points.

My score of 270 (some people already have 18,000+) is abysmal. I am thoroughly ashamed of it. Because of this I am more driven to play the games I’ve bought to try and raise it.

Integrated Live Leader Boards

PGR3 is the best example of this I have seen.

After every completed race your performance is somehow ranked against the performance of everybody else that has ever completed the same circuit.

That is plain awesome.

Hitting the time trials to try and beat the best times in the world – with their ghost replay as a pace setter – is insanely compelling.

And it’s all so beautifully integrated. Like with the rest of Live, it’s just there, and it just works.

The potential with this sort of thing is, again, huge.

The Live Arcade

Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved

This is probably the biggie of the lot. MS hopes this will snag everybody: from the hardcore l33t, to your granny.

The Live Arcade contains lots of comparatively small games. Retro rehashes, card games, Flash style games, 2D platformers. In other words it is good, old skool fun.

And it rocks.

Up to this point the most successful game is probably Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved. Which is a classic shoot ‘em up in the mould of Robotron – basically, blow the crap out of anything that moves.

Highscore tables are back. Do you remember the ones you used to get in the Spectrum magazines? Or the ones on the arcade machines? Well it’s like that – times a million.

I suck really badly at Geometry Wars. In fact I always have at shoot ‘em ups like that, but it’s still fun. The fact the game was developed as a side project by one of the developers at Bizarre while working on PGR is testament to what can be done. With the right support indie developers should be able to flourish.

You can get more of retro fix by paying Joust, Gauntlet or Smash TV. Or how about a bit of puzzling – Hexic (which comes free, and is surprisingly good), Bejewled or Zuma may be for you. How about card games?

You get to download a demo for all of the games in the arcade. I f you like them you pay to unlock the, with Microsoft Points. They only cost a few quid.

There is expected to be hundreds of games to choose from eventually, and already there is a buzz by some of the forthcoming releases.

How about a online multiplayer capable Street Fighter II for starters?!

Sensible Soccer

I’d love to see some Amiga classics make an appearance – namely Sensible World of Soccer and Speedball II.

Again the potential here is massive.

Overall

I’ve used the word potential an awful lot here. The 360 is absolutely brimming with it. Microsoft has developed an awesome system, which has obviously had a lot of careful, meaningful thought put into it. Everything seems to have a purpose, and to the most part, everything works seamlessly.

Now the developers of the world have got to tap into that potential. If they get it right, Sony and, to a lesser extent, Nintendo had better start worrying.

The silence from the Sony camp is getting to be almost deafening – so little is know about a system that is supposed to be launching in a few moths time. There hasn’t been a final case design unveiled, no real game footage has been shown, there’s been no word on any sort of online service and even Mad Ken has been unusually quiet.

I’m not saying these things don’t exist, but surely we should have seen more by now? All we have is murmurings that they are struggling to pull off their complicated chip design, and that it is going to be very expensive.

With it’s Blue-Ray drive, Cell processor, nVidia graphics chip and all the other gubbins I have no doubt the PS3 will be an awesome piece of kit.

But will it have a killer app to rival Live?