Maybe we’re a little biased here, but we think Xbox LIVE is a great service. Sure, other services on other consoles and PC are offered for free, but so much is offered to LIVE members that it seems a small thing to pony up the equivalent of $5 USD each month for it. We get exclusive games, we often get earlier access to digital titles, and we have a plethora of other media outlets like Netflix, Hulu, UFC and YouTube. There’s always room for improvement, however, and there are a few things that for reasons that remain a mystery have not been touched on. We submit these as an official fan letter to Microsoft.

Embrace the original Xbox

When the 360 was released the Xbox team continued to support classic Xbox titles for a short time with an emulated service. The problem is that they quickly dropped support, killing off the emulation program in late 2007. But the fact of the matter is that their major competitors (Nintendo and Sony) have embraced their older platforms, making those titles digitally available or allowing them to be played straight from the disc.

They have one advantage over the 360, though: both the older versions of the Wii and the PlayStation 3 had hardware compatibility–they didn’t need emulation. We can respect that writing an emulator is tricky, but this is an internal job, meaning they have access to original specs, code, everything. Classic games could be emulated to run peer-to-peer through modern Xbox LIVE. In layman’s terms that means that there wouldn’t be matchmaking, but you could play something like Star Wars: Battlefront II or Halo 2 online through an Xbox LIVE party. Then many more of those titles could be offered on the digital market, bridging the gap between old and new. Plus who doesn’t miss the TimeSplitters games?

Stop rewriting the book!

It’s all well and good that Microsoft want to make their interface the same across the PC, 360 and their phones, but why did they “improve” some of the apps with the new update? Netflix is horrid now. With the last version it’d keep up with you while fast forwarding, it didn’t auto-start a show when you just want to read the episode summary, and the interface wasn’t ridiculously cumbersome. AT&T UVerse got the shaft, too. While it was the pilot TV application for the 360, this time around it doesn’t get so much as a custom icon. You can’t even find it in the TV section. It’s buried knee deep on the Apps channel.

And if they’re going to rewrite the book we’d like to make one suggestion: A “My Hub” channel. Something that’s just the player’s favorite “bookmarks” whatever they may be. Visit the Indie Games channel often? You should see that option on your “My Hub”, along with your favorite games and apps. Just sayin’.

 XBLIG C++ support for DevKit developers

I recently sent an email to Vector Unit’s Matt Small inquiring whether we’d see Shine Runner or Riptide GP on XBLIG. His response was that they’d love to, but that the C# XNA system wouldn’t allow them to have enough freedom to push the physics system used. If a company has a DevKit let em’ publish on XBLIG using native C++ code. There seems to be a gap. If you’re a “professional” developer, even if you develop indie titles, you can’t use the full power of the 360 without a publisher. People might ask for achievements, avatar awards, etc, and that’s all well and good, but we’re missing out on a lot of great games from quality developers simply because there isn’t the means for them to publish their works independently using their C++ code.

. . . and a bit more help for XBLIG

It’s a story we hear all too often: Xbox Live Indie Games developers don’t get any help, nor any respect from Microsoft. Before jumping on the bandwagon we would point out again that XBLIG was originally known as Community Games, and wasn’t billed as a way to make a living. That being said a few bits of license could be granted here. First, games at or over 240 MSP could be given 35 gamerscore. It’s not much, but it’s incentive, and gives players a sense of accomplishment as they play through a game. 400 MSP games could also offer one avatar award to the player, giving a bit more value for your purchase. XBLA games get to offer a bit more such as 200G, more avatar awards, and themes. We’re fine with that, but giving players a bit more incentive to pick up and indie game could really rejuvenate a somewhat jaded development community.