Ian Hoar – Passion for Technology – Geeking Out - Technology, Web, Toys, Games, Design, Entertainment, Gadgets, & Geeking Out

Xbox 360, Microsoft punches its users in the face again!

Okay, here we go again with more great news from Microsoft. For anyone following my blog for the past week or so, or Xbox Live’s Major Nelson’s blog, then you know that due to the very long outage over Christmas (or intermittent outage as Microsoft claims) Microsoft will not be refunding us, but instead giving us a game of their choice.

I won’t go on about the details, you can read that in my previous posts titled “Xbox Live, what are we paying for? Could the tides change?” and “Xbox free arcade title announced“. Now today it has been announced on Major Nelson’s site that we have a whole five days to download this title. How is this compensation for an outage? I think they should have given us nothing; it probably would have generated less negative feedback than this. As one poster mentioned in a previous entry here, what about the people with the red ring of death? Or the ones that are away this week? Or… the ones who just don’t know. There is little to no advertising of this free game. Wow, some compensation. This is just to appease the angry hoards and I don’t think its working.

Undertow, the temporarily free and previously released game is also the Arcade game of the week. This has also upset some users who look forward each week to Wednesday’s new Arcade game. People are also still asking about what to do if they already have Undertow. Major Nelson posted in the comments section that people can call Xbox support, but obviously lots of people haven’t read that and will thus miss out. Couple this with the fact that many users are still having trouble connecting to live and that this very game is giving errors to some people when they attempt to download it and you have a sad state of affairs. Now if only the PS3 could get in gear and get some good games out.

Read more comments on Major Nelson’s post.

Call of Duty 4 dethrones Halo 3

Just stopped by a Major Nelson’s blog and saw that Halo 3 has dropped to the number two position on the live charts. The top played Xbox 360 game now is Call of Duty 4. Halo 2 still holds on to the top spot for original Xbox games. It is my opinion is that COD4 is the best 360 multi-player game to date, so it’s great to see it at the top. Think I would rate Gears of War next after it. Halo 3? Meh.

Xbox free arcade title announced

Wow, only two days after my post “Xbox Live, what are we paying for? Could the tides change?” and the free arcade game I spoke of has been announced. Turns out it is a half decent title called Undertow, and it will be available next week. Here’s the official announcement.

While I don’t want to seem ungrateful, I think this is a pretty lame deal. This offer is obviously calculated to have the least impact on Microsoft. I am still amazed that people are defending Microsoft and saying that the people who complain are ungrateful. Since when does a customer have to be grateful for goods and services they have purchased? Since when do customers have to be grateful that their service works? If my new car breaks down for a week and the company that makes it takes a week to fix it and gives me a free tank of gas and a free tank of gas to everyone who has ever test driven the car, why would I be grateful? I still had a week without a car, and why are these other people getting free gas?

Which brings me to the second point, why are Silver members getting the same treatment? They pay nothing for the service that went down, and they don’t even play games online. Their gaming experience is still pretty much 100%. Gold players that usually go online can’t even play! Okay, maybe they should have some kind of compensation since some might have bought live games with extremely strict DRM rules and had a new Xbox 360, which would require them to be online to play the games they paid for. Don’t even get me started on the DRM.

Some people don’t even like Arcade games, most of them in my mind are boring compared to the full blown store games. Now why was this choice made? What people out there that are praising Microsoft probably don’t realize is that this was not done out of the good of Microsoft’s heart. Don’t be naive, Microsoft is a corporation and the last one they are looking out for is you. They want to look good with the least capital loss. The Xbox 360 is already a financial failure so far. I actually do understand this though, as an investor myself I expect a company to balance that fine line between the public relations and the bottom line.

My hunch is that this game was picked for a number of reasons, namely cost. Forums are littered with people saying they already bought this game. Microsoft has said these users can call support and they will sort things out. So basically my time is not important, I have all the time in the world to sit on a support line. How many will know this or even bother? I’m sure this was calculated, since this is a pretty big title and a lot of people probably already own it. The best offer would have been a refund for the horrid month of live service, or free gamer points. This would have upset a lot less people, but it would have cost them a hell of a lot more. With this title, arrangements were probably already made. It never would have sold to everyone using live, whereas points would have been equivalent to every gamer getting a free game.

Anyway, I think the thing that bothers me the most about this whole thing is the Microsoft fanboys. No doubt this game is better than a punch in the face, and even better than nothing, but stop acting like Microsoft cares so much about you. The corporation cares about their bottom line and salvaging their image, that’s it, and that’s all I would expect from any corporation.

I personally think Microsoft is walking a dangerous line with the constant outages, crazy DRM schemes, and constantly breaking hardware. As I post this, a friend of mine is getting ready to pack his 360 in a coffin and send it back to Microsoft due to the infamous red ring of death. As I have mentioned in the past, with a growing number of upcoming block buster titles, I think the PS3 is starting to look more and more like a serious contender, and I’m also no fan of Sony. The red ring of death is becoming a symbol of what the 360 is. It’s too bad, because there are a lot of fantastic games for this system.

Xbox Live, what are we paying for? Could the tides change?

Anyone who is an avid Xbox live player probably knows that it’s been a bumpy ride for the past few weeks. It all started just before Christmas and slowly got worse throughout the holidays. The problem is supposedly now solved and was related to the large number of new users, but myself and several friends are still having trouble staying connected to games like Call of Duty 4. Xbox Live’s Major Nelson had updates during the holidays, but Microsoft in general has been quiet about the issue. Xbox Live gold members have been promised a free arcade game as compensation, but there are no clues as to what this might be. I think the compensation needed to be given shortly after the problem was resolved, but here we are weeks later and still no word.

Anyway, the real point here is not whether we get any compensation. I think not being able to connect at the one time of the year when you have lots of free time cannot really be fixed after the fact. That said, this begs the question of what we get when we pay the yearly subscription fee. Yes, I know it’s not that much, and it’s funny how many staunch supporters Microsoft has over this issue. I have never understood why people become so rabidly loyal to any company. As a customer I think I have the right to complain, and of course the company has the right to ignore me and so does anyone else.

Now in North America we find that two new fairly big demos are not available, The Club and Turok (Yes I know I can create other country accounts and get them, but that’s not the point). I think these are exclusives for game magazines like Eternal Sonata was, so basically if you want them when the rest of the world gets them you have to pay for them. Now if this is over a rating issue like it is in some countries then I can understand. That’s out of Microsoft’s hands, but if this is an exclusivity deal then I’m not okay with it. Let non-paying members buy the disks or wait, don’t make your Gold users wait!

What’s my point? Okay, I admit it; I won’t be cancelling my Live Subscription any time soon because I enjoy playing online with several friends, and Microsoft probably knows this about its users. Remember, pretty much every other gaming service is free. When you play live, the users are still hosting the matches and providing the bandwidth, all you are really getting is the right to connect to other players, that and a pretty good match making service, at least when it’s working. This is why when the host of a game leaves everyone gets the boot. So again, is this service really just for matchmaking and the privilege to share bandwidth?

I am not outraged like some people and I can easily afford the price, but I do think it’s time for Microsoft to seriously take a look at its Gold offerings and server stability. I also think that maybe paying customers should be able to get Demo’s without paying or waiting for them, but hey, that’s just me, I’m sure there’s Xbox Zealots out there that will disagree. I also think that Microsoft is choosing a bad time to rock the boat. Live has been a pretty great service in the past, but it’s also had no real competition, and now the service quality seems to be pretty rocky. There are also a boat load of highly anticipated PS3 games around the corner and the tides could turn very fast. Sure there are the fanboys of both consoles, but then there’s a lot of people like me who are fickle and don’t care about brand loyalty. We will switch at the drop of a dime if we think the deal is sweater elsewhere. So far it’s not, but that is likely to change very soon.

When is free not free? Dishonest and misleading advertising!

Free is not free pretty much always. Case in point: I usually stop by Blockbuster video every now and then to look at games, not because I would actually ever buy their over-priced new and used games, but because I’m a geek, and I pretty much stop at any store that sells games or gadgets just to get a quick fix of what’s new.

I saw the “free game when you trade in 4” all over the place like you usually do at Blockbuster. Then it said something like ask an associate for details. So I walk up and say how does the trade in work and can I use Wii games too; the guy says yes, you can trade them in. I don’t usually trade in my games, and I probably should do it sooner and more often since I’m usually left with a huge pile of worthless games I’ve finished. I’m a bit of a pack rat though. Anyway, I figured hey, why not.

So I scrounge up 4 games that I am pretty sure I’ll never play again and walk into the store and trade them in. The lady gives me a “trading agreement” to fill out and sign, and I do so. She then starts doing something on the computer and makes a call. Once I’m done filling out the agreement she tells me that none of my 360 games are accepted for this deal, they are not worth the minimum which was 14 dollars or something like that. I’m thinking wow, 14, add that up and it’s 56 dollars. Now if I were to bring in newer games the chances of me finding 4 that are worth 14 it’s highly unlikely, some might be 20 or more. Pretty much makes the deal useless since I could get more if I Just sold them separately.

Anyway, I’m not naive, I know that companies are out to make money, and I’m fine with that, I even wondered how Blockbuster could have such a great deal like this. Turns out they can’t, and that’s where I get annoyed. I’m so sick of misleading advertising. Huge posters saying 50% off all jeans and then in seven point font, new arrivals not included. Look people, it’s either a free game when I trade or it’s not, and the “ALL JEANS” means all jeans. If it’s not, stop trying to fool your customers, it only angers them. Let’s just ignore the fact that trading 4 games kind of negates the term free! Last time I checked free didn’t mean you had to give something in return, but I digress.

I know the small print, the misleading “ask a representative” or the all mighty tiny asterisk is suppose to clue us all in that something is amiss and make all well, but this just annoys me more, and when I get annoyed enough I usually complain about it to a lot of people and then avoid the company for awhile. I like honest companies, if a deal is too good to be true, it probably is, and the company isn’t worth wasting your time on. This is one of the reasons I’ve started shopping at smaller independent stores lately, in general I find them more human, but the jeans example was actually a small store, so there are always exceptions.

A similar issue with Indigo books made me switch to independent book retailers. I had one of those 25 dollar irewards cards that allow you to save 10%. Then Indigo had this super sale and I went to use my card and they said I couldn’t. Why? I paid for it. So basically if I shop the big sales I can’t use my card and they pocket 25 dollars. It even says on the card that it includes sales, but if you read the fine print terms & conditions it says “except during selected promotional periods”. No thanks, stop trying to rip us off, and don’t even get me started on expiring gift cards.

Top 10 games of 2007

My personal list of top games for 2007. This is based on games that I played, and coming up with 10 was pretty hard. Until I got a DS Lite the list stood at 8. These are somewhat in order, although a few would be tied.

  1. Call of Duty 4
  2. Eternal Sonata
  3. Crackdown
  4. Super Mario Galaxies
  5. The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hour Glass
  6. Rune Factory: A Fantasy Harvest Moon
  7. Orange Box
  8. Puzzle Quest
  9. Resident Evil 4 Wii edition
  10. Assassins Creed

Call of Duty 4
By far the winner for Multi-player gaming. It has about 95% of my online gaming attention. The game it replaced was of course Gears of War.

Eternal Sonata
The next game, Eternal Sonata has two entries on my blog, the first review and Eternal Sonata revisited once I finished the game. This probably got the majority of my single player gaming in the later half of the year.

A great single and multi-player experience, even if only two people can play it at once. This game had much fan fair at the time of release, because it gave access to the Halo 3 Beta. I personlly think this game is better than Halo 3, and I played it a lot more. The very definition of this game is FUN.

Super Mario Galaxies
Thi game has literally redefined the platformer genera. You really have to play this game to understand it. It’s one of the first Wii games I’ve played that feels like it was designed specifically for the unique Wii controllers.

The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hour Glass
I have only just scraped the surface of The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hour Glass and from the moment you load up this game you know it is a top notch DS title. Again Nintendo innovates on every aspect of game play, from using the stylus to move to blowing out candles through the microphone.

Rune Factory: A Fantasy Harvest Moon
I had never even heard of this game until I tried it and now I’m pretty hooked. It won’t be for everyone, it’s basically an RPG and virtual life simulation. The depth to this game considering it is a DS title is unbelievable

The Orange Box
What more can be said about this package of 5 games. You get Half-Life 2, episode 1, episode 2, Team Fortress 2, and Portal. You have a 1 out of 5 chance of getting a game you like. The sheer value of this game makes it worth it, and the best part is that all 5 games are great. If it wasn’t for Call of Duty 4 I would probably be playing a lot more Team Fortress 2 online.

Puzzle Quest
I actually tried on a friends DS Lite several months ago, and then ended up buying the Xbox Live Arcade version. This game is so under rated. It’s an RPG / Puzzle game combined into one, and it really works well. This is a game that has to be played to truly get it.

Resident Evil 4 Wii edition
While originally released in 2005 the Wii edition came out this year. I had never played the original, and although I haven’t finished the Wii edition, it has been great fun, and it is one creepy game.

Assassins Creed
Here is a game I have very mixed feelings about. If you had of asked me how I felt about it one hour into playing it, I would have said it was the game of the year, but like many gamers, after 10 hours into the game it becomes downright monotonous. I still believe it deserves to be in the top 10 for 2007 because the graphics are stunning, probably the best out there right now, and the game is still a lot of fun, even if you are just looking around the massive cities.

That wraps up my list of great games for 2007. I hope 2008 is as good or even better.

Nintendo DS Lite

Hope everyone had a great time over the holidays. As for me, I got a new toy over Christmas, a DS Lite. I have played with the idea of getting a PSP for awhile, but after looking at the DS Lite and the games, I dropped a hint that I wanted one. The DS Lite is a great little gadget, and the clam shell design is a big plus. It seems that today’s portable devices are designed from the start to either require a peripheral case, or get really scratched up. That said I will probably still get a case in the future if I can find one that doesn’t have cartoon characters all over it. Note to Nintendo and surrounding companies, some adults do actually use a DS Lite.

The first game I picked up was The Legend of Zelda – Phantom Hourglass. This game uses the stylus for everything and just like the Wii, this method of playing games is both innovative and extremely fun. The second game I’ve been playing a lot is Rune Factory: A Fantasy Harvest Moon.

Zelda is 3D while Rune Factory is completely sprite based. Right now both games have got me really addicted, but I’m stuck in Zelda at the moment and putting a little more time into Rune Factory. Over all I am really impressed with the DS. The graphics won’t blow you away by any stretch, but the games are really solid and fun. Using the Stylus feels natural from the start in many of the games I’ve tried, and the form factor and size of the DS work really nicely. I have already popped the thing out of my pocket to play for several minutes only to have to snap it shut and board a bus or train. Once you get back on you snap it back open and away you go. The only real down side to owning a DS is if you are a reader like me, it may cut into that time, since most of my reading is done on transit. I’ll cover the DS in more depth in the future.

Duke Nukem Forever (and Ever)

Yesterday 3D Realms released a Duke Nukem Forever teaser trailer. For anyone who has followed the Duke Nukem Saga, this will mean pretty much nothing. Maybe Duke Nukem will come out in a few years, maybe it won’t, I’m sure no one is holding their breath. The funny thing is, it’s listed for the PC and Xbox 360. The Xbox 360 didn’t even exist when this game started development. In fact, the original Xbox did not even exist when Duke Nukem was originally announced in April 1997.

Another funny note is the posting about the new teaser,

“As promised yesterday (actually an hour earlier than promised), we are proud to finally bring you an all new teaser trailer for Duke Nukem Forever.”

Actually an hour earlier than promised! That’s just classic! Did 3D Realms purposely choose the name Duke Nukem Forever knowing full well it would actually take forever? I think the brand value of Duke Nukem is still pretty strong, a lot of us 30 pluses played Duke Nukem as kids, and if it stayed true to its roots of total cheesiness it could be pretty cool.

The case for PS3 getting stronger

When the PS3 first came out it was a bit of a joke; insanely expensive and very few games. Even today there are very few good exclusives. Everything worth playing on it is usually available on other platforms. That is probably all about to change, but aside from the PS3 finally getting some great titles and more exclusives in 2008, there are many other reasons I am considering a PS3.

The Xbox 360 has a great online experience and the dashboard is nicely done, but when you play in Microsoft’s world you play only in their world. You are locked down and held by the hand at every step of the way. The 360 can sort of play movies if you jump through hoops. It was only last week that they added Divx support, but with no ability to read NTFS external drives, it’s still a no go for some of us. The nice thing about the PS3 is you can install another OS! You can surf the web in HD through the PS3 browser or the OS, something I truly wish I could do with the Wii browser.

Right now I have a big old clunky PC sitting on the floor to play movies and music. It’s basically my media center and I would love to get rid of it. It’s big, it’s ugly, and it’s slow. Sleek media center PC’s are available, but they are rather expensive, and do both more and less than I really need. This is when I started thinking about the PS3. I can have Linux on there, play movies, listen to music, surf the web in Linux or the built in PS3 browser, and check email. I may even be able to get my beloved Wii Remote working on the Linux install. Now you can use a mouse in some games like Unreal Tournament and even mods. It just seems like the PS3 is becoming a lot more flexible than the 360.

That said, Sony has made many blunders in this round of the console wars, but I am a game junky and a geek, and it’s looking more and more like the PS3 could be the answer to get my fix of more games, and more custom online capabilities. At the very least it will be fun to play around with it.

Team Fortress 2 Statistics

Valve, the makers of Team Fortress 2 have released some really interesting statistics, probably of great interest to the more hard core players. Everything from which class gets the most kills to which class lives the longest. There are even coloured death maps showing where players die most frequently, fascinating. If I didn’t spend all my time playing Call of Duty 4 I’m sure this info would be of use to me. Especially knowing where the most dangerous areas on each map are.