Xbox Smart (gl)Ass.

No, Smart Glass isn’t the next generation, scratch-resistant material being used in the new iPhone. No, Smart Glass isn’t Microsoft’s answer to Google’s Alternate Reality Goggles. Instead, this serves as another way for MS to solve a problem that doesn’t exist.

For those who don’t care to follow gaming and computer news: Smart Glass is Microsoft’s solution for a connected and persistent entertainment environment. To be more specific, Smart Glass allows you to control Der Ecksbox (Xbox 360 and what will become the neXtbox) with your phone/tablet/computer screen. Announced at E3: 2012 they had quite a few hypotheticals to which this technology could be applied, ranging from app launching, aggregating metadata, shopping, turned based games, etc. That is all well and good. However, I only question the need for this service in a world full of alternatives.

Off the top I will quickly admit that I see what they are trying to do and totally give them credit for trying to reach out and control ecosystems where they have little to no presence. Any attempt to combine various activities that all orbit a single-ish activity is commendable. This might have been done out of necessity, but MS doesn’t always do something when necessary, insisting on what is more complicated (Zune ecosystem vs Plays for Sure). For them then to grab at embrace iOS and Android allowing users encouraging them to opt-in and receive advanced-ish features previously reserved for Wintel interoperability is a curious turn indeed.

For me, this whole endeavor comes down to one fundamental comparison: Complementation vs. Supplementation. Does this service add to the Xbox and Xbox Live platforms or does it cover for deficiencies inherent in the current iteration of the service? I lean towards the latter specifically because the Xbox ecosystem is forced to balance more and more outside of its original design and I’ve been forced to deal with it.

That being said, I do conduct some of the very actions that are depicted in the keynote: I’ll hop over to IMDB to see who/what/when was in a movie or T.V. show, I will interact on social networks while engaged in a variety of multimedia experiences, etc. But, as I see it, having a unified system that dedicates an additional device to serve extra content for a single activity is a step in the wrong direction. Hypothetically, for me to use my iPhone to browse and launch a video that can be watched on Netflix via my Xbox or realistically just to launch a game, requires several network handshakes and a cumbersome/ineffective interface to achieve that one action. The problem is that this functionality is already available using the Xbox controller itself or even more simply, yelling at the unit with Kinect. Complaints and inconveniences like these can be changed with a software update or two but it’s 2012 and there is no reason that this is lacking that much finesse. Bottom line, features like these are really targeted towards pushing Windows 8.

To incorporate this at an OS level (Windows 8/Windows Phone) a lot of the barriers to task completion can be removed or mitigated. My qualms are that Microsoft is basically relying on customers to use ancillary products and services to accommodate this “feature” to cover holes in a single product. Behavior like this obviously parallels Apple and their vertical integration with iDevices/Tunes/Cloud/AirPlay and absolutely the ubiquity that Google services enjoy. The industry is migrating to a persistence based experience where all services know about all instances in which they are used. But even here we can see the two sides of this same coin where Apple largely answers this problem with hardware and some software and Google does so almost entirely using software. Where then does MS fit into this structure? They have multimedia hardware such as Xbox, the former Zune and their recently announced Surface soiree. They have software with Windows 8, Windows Phone, Zune Marketplace, Office and Skydrive. With that kind of breadth they seem to be struggling with the patchwork nature of product development and release making them unable to form a coherent corporate direction accommodating every aspect.

Strictly from an entertainment standpoint I don’t require one device being dedicated to supplement another be it information, service or otherwise. I enjoy Netflix across a range of devices where their service tracks and maintains preferences and progress. iTunes and Spotify each remember what songs and artists I enjoy and I can trust them to at least not mess up playing songs. My ability to socialize does not require a 40″ screen to show me friends’ drunken photos or what is currently trending. Again, I question what benefit I would receive where independent devices can’t achieve the same results faster while remaining outside of this whole debacle.

Ultimately I think this is too little, too late for Microsoft. They are doing a decent job pissing off their hardware manufacturers so that they can deliver their services and they are directly competing with services that some of their hardware relies on that customers already use (primarily audio and video delivery). Integration is a great thing and there are absolutely excellent ways to go about that on current and up-coming properties (neXtbox/neXtbox LIVE, Windows 8 and so on) but I think MS is trying too hard to unseat the established heavy-hitters like Facebook, Twitter, Netflix, YouTube. The execution is what is lacking where they are heading towards a “One device, one task” mentality which follows their “Three Screen” approach. This effectively combats a what’s-the-least-this-will-take-to-achieve, resource-limited direction to try to solve a problem where it originally develops.

I continue to struggle with this because they fully understand interactive TV and alternate ways to interact (Kinect/Kinect for Windows). Then instead of innovating outside of just throwing more screens into the mix, why not do more with the one and often times bigger screen that people are using? With methods like the Xbox guide, a persistent and always accessible overlay that can be invoked at the push of a button, why not do more in that space? Have it be a crawl at the bottom of the screen a-la news broadcasts? I’LL EVEN CREATE CRAPPY MOCK-UPS AND DRIVE THEM TO REDMOND MYSELF.


Nerdberg Ahoy: Mass Effect 3

One of the original reasons why I was drawn to the Mass Effect franchise was the epic Sci-Fantasy aspect of it. The original had a lot of micromanaging that one would expect from an RP heavy universe where you feel in control of your actions and that they have substantial consequence. Moreover, that all of the customization choices you make in building your character: looks, equipment, skills and fixating on your team members own character sets made the game entirely yours.

Click for the exploration of space

Nerdberg Ahoy: The Elder Scrolls: Offline

I fully admit that I’m conflicted about an Elder Scrolls MMO. Not because I don’t love the property as a whole. Not because I’m the shy one in a huge community. Rather, I’m conflicted because I don’t particularly care to have other people bumbling about in my epic experience where, as the Destroyer of Worlds or the Master Thief, I single-handedly change the fate of a continent. I argue that, while people can find fun in almost any situation, I don’t believe that the Elder Scroll franchise would benefit by going all massive.

Click one million times for maximum level hack.

Parting Shots: Diablo III Beta Update.

It’s hard to be angry at glitches like this:

Over 43 years? That’s almost as old as the entire Internet. Sweet graphics for 1969 (insert inane tittering here).

Beautiful Bug

Names have been changed to preserve identities.

Nerdberg Ahoy: Diablo 3

After many failed attempts, I was lucky enough to score a code for the Diablo 3 beta. Long story short, it came down to me sitting on Twitter for almost two hours, flanked by two open browsers (Firefox/Chrome) and a window of about 15 seconds for me to redeem the aforementioned code… but I digress.

With roughly an hour of play, Diablo 3 was instantly recognizable. Forgetting that I have not played its predecessor since 2003, combat, magic, inventory, character development ALL CAME BACK within minutes. Needless to say, such a feat is pretty impressive (for Blizzard, not for me so much).

Clicky clicky to continue

Parting Shots: Fill-In-Your-Age Forms

Whenever I am presented with a fill-in-your-age form on a website, I always go for the maximum age possible. If that baby bottoms out at 1900 (as most of them do) then I become a youthful 112-year-old. More than me simply being annoyed at the whole process, I look at it as an opportunity to skew their demographic gathering service so that they have at least one SERIOUS geriatric fan. If people fake their age on LEGAL DOCUMENTS, what makes the site admin think that people are forthcoming with their Internet age?

Is there a legal obligation requiring sites to perform this perfunctory check? Lets be serious, by-and-large, video games, movies and music sites don’t really have graphic images or descriptions on them. Nothing that isn’t already available on T.V., in teen-centric magazines or that they haven’t already seen EVERYWHERE ELSE ON THE INTERNET.

So please, save yourselves a splash page and allow me to reclaim the 5 seconds I drop into my “Wasted Time Bucket”. All of us can get back to our lives and no one will miss giving their age away.

Leftovers are Just as Good

This is an article I wrote for a blog (currently out of use) belonging to a friend of mine, so I have appropriated it for my blog.

I don’t promise to be a practitioner of any organized religion. Hell, even the Church of Sin won’t have me because I won’t pay the dues and I have a deep dislike of wearing a hat. So when the traditional games come to town of Judaism, Taoism, Mormonism, Jehovah’s Witnesses etc, I just tune them out. Those ideals simply do not occupy the same reality as I do. That being said, when something comes along that bucks the trend merely to piss other people off, I tend to take notice.
The Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster does just that. It is a reactionary piece to established religion and those establishments forcing themselves into the lives of people who just don’t want to hear it. Created in response to the Kansas State Board of Education forcing creationism onto those who are too bewildered by evolutionism, CFSM (abbreviated henceforth because I’m lazy) is the insistence that if you make concessions for one thing, you have to make concessions for everything no matter how ridiculous. This is sublime if only to spin an impressive yarn, larger than life or even creation, that encompasses some of my favorite things.

Click for ‘pasghettification!

Explain the Reason Why We are Expected to Pay $30 for a Movie in the Middle of a Recession

3D movies are garbage.

Yeah, I said it. Three dimensional entertainment is a gimmick and fills no consumer-based need. While I am at home, I do not need to wear two different sets of glasses to: A) Look stupid. B) Shame myself to bed. I don’t need to see three-dee cuts of Hoarders, True Life: I Hate You/Myself/the Sun/Music, and Star Trek: Voyager. No value is added and no information is gained. Aside from the novelty of seeing a Klingon ship ‘jump’ off of the screen (and how a fictional spacecraft would jump is beyond me) I receive no benefit to my experience. I am not more entertained by spending $1,000 per entry to a movie so that I may embarrass myself in front of equally idiotic looking strangers. What I take away from a ‘3D-improved’ (I SO copyright that term, oh and 3D + for good measure) film or show is that I paid good money I don’t have to receive a headache.

To reiterate, in the context of a consumer world, 3D has no bearing. Applying 3D to the broad swath of ‘entertainment’ falls down to one of two industries: movies/broadcast television and video games. If one is to apply this technology to video games, an experience can be marginally improved. My belief is that video games are participatory and therefore can benefit in the slightest of ways where films are a passive medium which only rely on a participants mental and emotional involvement to be successful.

Please recycle your 3D glasses here!

What Has Me Terrified Today?

Stop me if you’ve heard this one… I hope we have all, more-or-less, come to the conclusion that Digital Rights Management (DRM, naturally) is ineffectual and annoying. The people for whom DRM targets are MORE THAN CAPABLE of circumventing it in almost every, if not every, instance. People who are conducting themselves reasonably and honestly are instead punished and forced to play by the rules of the software company, Hollywood or the music labels.

To cite the example of iTunes, open standards worth rather fucking well. When iTunes first open it’s music store it had a marginally generous DRM scheme, you could play a track on an authorized device such as an iPod or computer and make up to 7 copies of a track. Great. The only defect was that this could be broken with iTunes itself, a person could simply burn the whole album on a CD, rip it back into iTunes and -boom- it was automagically DRM free. When iTunes eschewed DRM and simultaneously increased the quality of their tracks the world did not come to an abrupt end. Nor did iTunes stop making money thereby feeding the music labels and their artists (we all know that artists don’t make money off of album sales anyhow, they make it from CONCERTS).

Now, take the idea of DRM-less media and throw that into an erupting volcano.

It burns so good!

What’s Wrong with Transformers?

My problem with Michael Bay and his vision for Transformers comes down to one franchise destroying problem: I am interested in a story about Transformers, not about humans.

Now, this is not to say that I do not care about human PROBLEMS, problems that can be solved with big ass mechs charging around and spraying laser-gun fire. If a human falls down and skins their knees, I want to see them pout. If a robot picks someone up and uses him/her to wipe its ass, I want to see them soiled to no end, dripping with oil.

However, I do not care about the establishment of a single human individuals wants, dreams, hopes, desires (esp. in his first Transformer film) because his story is simply boring. Taking the premise of getting LaBeouf a car and then using that as a means of temporarily involving him in War-formers (TM), great. Aside from that, his character can be the first to die while inside Bumble Bee when he transforms, thereby eviscerating his lumpy, both-hands-in-tact, not-crazy-faked-n’-baked body. END OF HIS STORY.

Click to Transform!