Xbox One roundtable: Our thoughts on the big unveiling
Yesterday, Microsoft pulled back the curtain on its next-generation home game console. Dubbed “Xbox One,” the machine will hit retail shelves at an unannounced date later this year. With E3 right around the corner, Microsoft held back much of its next-generation software, among other things. Still, much was shown and discussed during the console holder’s presentation, and XBLAFans has more than a few feelings towards it all. Read on to find out how we’re feeling about the Xbox One’s look, TV and Kinect focus, lack of game announcements and more.
Nick Santangelo: Let’s start with the obvious. Microsoft came right out and showed the new controller, Kinect sensor and console. Sony of course showed its PlayStation 4 controller back in February but not the console, so that was a pretty big departure. Were you guys happy to see what the box actually looks like? Does that matter to you? Did you like the hardware design?
Ryan Thompson: I thought the design was excellent. I especially enjoyed the textured analog sticks on the controller, which are taking a beat from the MLG Pro Controller, it seems.
Shawn Saris: It was nice to see. It looks like what I had expected. They kept it pretty straightforward, although it does seem a little bland, more like a cable box and not a console full of power.
Shawn Ryan: It’s a bit boxy, but I personally love how it looks. I don’t mind the size either. The controller looks like a great evolution of the 360 design, and to me it just looks “next-gen.”
Ryan Thompson: “Like a cable box” is an excellent observation. (Editor’s note: Perhaps “like an alarm clock” is a more apt comparison.)
Nick Santangelo: I’ve seen a few people compare the console to a 1980s VCR, and I think there is some truth to that, but I generally liked the design. I’m not sure that it ultimately matters too much in the grand scheme of things, but obviously people complained a bit when Sony announced the PS4 and didn’t actually show the PS4.
But about the controller specifically, there is no touchpad on the new Xbox controller. I for one am infinitely thankful for that. I think in the PlayStation 4’s case, that touchpad is just a complete waste that will lead to developers shoehorning in unwanted functionality for launch window titles and that it will be gradually forgotten about and all but abandoned within two years. What do you guys think, though? Are you glad or upset that there is no touchpad on the Xbox One controller? Do you think it’s something gamers care about?
Shawn Saris: I am glad it isn’t there. Seems like a waste on the PS4. Besides with Kinect being built in, I can’t imagine why Xbox would ever want you to use a touch interface when you can use a gesture-based one with Kinect.
Ryan Thompson: I think Kinect being shoehorned in instead will be a thing. Less pessimistically, if you have the Kinect hardware, a touchpad is superfluous. Similarly, Microsoft’s SmartGlass program eliminates a need for a touchscreen on the controller — if a game needs that functionality, its developers can presumably program for it and require a tablet.
Shawn Ryan: I couldn’t be happier that it isn’t there. I’ve never been convinced that touch controls do something much better than alternative methods do. Luckily for Microsoft, I think a large part of their market won’t have any care about it whatsoever either. Xbox Smartglass is also mildly innovative on its own, and does a much better job that a touchpad would.
Nick Santangelo: OK, I’m pretty much in agreement with you guys, so let’s talk about games. Microsoft didn’t show a lot of them. Presumably it will at E3, but I’m still disappointed about the lack of software that was shown. There are 15 games being worked on for the machine right now under the Microsoft Studios banner, but we really only saw the one from Remedy, and what we saw was a combination of live action and CG footage. Are you upset that we didn’t really see the games? Or are you OK knowing that we’ll surely get to see some of them in a few weeks at E3?
Shawn Saris: Forza. The end.
Nick Santangelo: That’s true, I’m forgetting about the sports and racing games that were shown. From what I can remember, though, we only saw two Microsoft Studios games. Where were the other 13? Are you OK with waiting until E3 to see some of them?
Ryan Thompson: I think that this places a lot of pressure — even more than usual — on Microsoft’s E3 press conference. Makes me wish I had been invited to attend it, honestly. (Editor’s note: Several other XBLAFans staffers will be in attendance.) As for what was shown, I think it was underwhelming. The one interesting thing is that giving soccer equal attention as football seems like a play towards a European market.
Shawn Saris: Really though, this event was never really about games; Microsoft made that pretty clear. This was about everything else, and I am sure during E3 we will see a nice handful of games. It is better for Microsoft to get this stuff out of the way so when the gaming events like E3 roll around it can spend its time talking games and not some other silly business.
Ryan Thompson: Oh lastly, I don’t think that timed exclusive DLC for Call of Duty helps at all. The game is still coming out on both platforms (and likely PC), and eventually all the platforms will have the same content. Were I a PlayStation 4 owner, waiting an extra month would not get me to spend an extra $400 on the other console. (Editor’s note: The $400 figure is pure speculation. No price point has been announced.)
Shawn Ryan: Microsoft took an interesting approach with the Forza/EA stuff. Showing Fifa was clearly a way for Microsoft to connect with its audience outside of the US, but I think the focus not having those core games was a bad idea. Microsoft is already coming under a lot of heat for other features the Xbox One has/doesn’t have, and I think a couple heavy-hitting titles could have lessened that a little bit. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen.
Nick Santangelo: All right, so we didn’t see too many games. Obviously we’ll see some more at E3. But what we did see was a heavy focus on television functionality. Sony did the complete opposite and, even though it didn’t show a whole lot of games — though, certainly it showed a few — it talked about its commitment to filling the PS4 library with great games a lot more than Microsoft did. As a potential Xbox One buyer, does that worry you? Is the PS4 going to be the core gamer’s console of choice next gen?
Shawn Saris: Well, that is tough to say because if you look at the different regions, core gamers already choose different things. For us in North America I imagine people will stick with Xbox. It is a well-known and liked brand here. Overseas, I don’t think they did much to sway people, and I think PS4 likely has a good chance to further grow its audience.
Ryan Thompson: What worries me the most is Sony’s public dedication to smaller developers, and how that has paid off compared to Microsoft’s relative lack of that as a public goal. It has paid off for Sony in spades with Journey, for instance. I don’t mind the Xbox One having the new media functionality — in fact, I am pumped for it — but for me, it’s the games that will make or break these new consoles. That being said, I do like the idea of being able to “snap in” a Skype call while I am playing games on my console. Overall, I think there will be fewer exclusive games this console cycle, which makes each of them much, much more important.
Shawn Ryan: I can confidently say, as primarily an Xbox guy, the PS4 did a much better job at piquing my interests at what the next-gen could be. Maybe part of the problem here was that we already had some expectations following Sony’s conference, so nothing here felt like that first big “wow” moment that usually comes when a new generation is starting. Sony stole that thunder, and until we see games, I have a feeling that will be a lot of people’s mindsets for the time being.
Shawn Saris: Again, though, this event was not about games. MS took a very different approach, and I think a lot of our gaming concerns will be addressed at E3.
Brandin Tyrrel: I think Microsoft did exactly what it needed to do with this event: reveal the next Xbox. It stated from the beginning that the emphasis was on the complete entertainment package, which is what it got across. Yes, it also plays games, but the target isn’t just the people that want a game machine anymore. Microsoft is reaching out to consumers with a product that has a whole host of functionality — which also plays games. It seems like it’s setting this up to be a gateway device, where consumers who might not be looking for gaming hardware have a reason to pick one up. And when that great game hits the shelves that pertains to their interests…what do you know? They already have a machine that can play it.
Nick Santangelo: Ryan makes a great point about exclusives. There have been less and less of them every year, it seems. You have to ask yourself, “Why am I buying an Xbox One?” And, for me at least, the only answer would be, “So that I can play great, new Xbox One-exclusive games,” but we haven’t seen many yet. Obviously there will be Halo and Fable games. But is that alone enough to bring in the masses? I don’t know that it is. Hopefully some of those 15 titles Microsoft talked about but mostly didn’t show come through in that regard, but I remain skeptical sitting here right now.
Ryan Thompson: I think the most important exclusive of the past year was Journey. Sony seems to have the smaller developers cornered, which is great for them and kind of bad for Xbox users. If you are not a Halo/Gears player, I can’t come up with a recent killer 360 exclusive.
Shawn Ryan: I am very skeptical, but also hopeful. Going out of its way to confirm that eight of those 15 were new IPs got me super excited. This entire console cycle saw an endless amount of sequels, and I personally can’t wait to see some of the new stuff. With that said, showing none of it was disappointing to say the least.
Shawn Saris: I think there is a lot of driving force behind the MS exclusives. Halo, Gears and Forza are all big-ticket things, and I can imagine them moving consoles, but they are also older now, and people could be growing tired of them. These new titles will hopefully generate additional interest at E3 along with whatever else Microsoft brings. Also, Microsoft does have Call of Duty on its side. Multiplatform as it is, most people consider it an Xbox title, which is no small thing.
Brandin Tyrrel: Without trying to sound like a Microsoft apologist: I don’t think we can speculate at this point the potential of the One as a gaming machine just yet. Microsoft didn’t show off any games — which is an issue itself, sure — but the hardware does a billion things, many of them not related to gaming. This was the event to get them out, because if Microsoft had pulled the curtain on TV integration at E3, there would’ve been a riot. With E3 just around the corner, we can start to speculate about what the One will bring to the gaming audience. Today was about introducing the market to everything the Xbox One can bring to the table.
Nick Santangelo: All right, let’s move on from what we didn’t see and talk about what we did see. Microsoft showed a seamless transition between games, TV and other applications through the use of Kinect voice recognition. Are you guys excited about that functionality?
Shawn Saris: It is handy, but beyond that no. I have been alt-tabbing for years on my PC, bringing it to a console is nice but not ground breaking.
Ryan Thompson: I would love to know if I can snap in television while I play a game. That was not shown, unfortunately. Similarly, will we be able to snap in a downloadable tie-in title to a retail game (think Bionic Commando: Rearmed to the retail BC)? As for what was shown, it’s pretty slick, especially choosing specific channels…but I want more. Overall: Great use of the Kinect voice system — something everyone will use when they have it.
Shawn Ryan: I am excited about it, personally. I know I will use the TV feature, probably Skype too. These are things I probably wouldn’t think of using, but with it being so seamless, I will absolutely give it a shot. I can’t wait to be able to watch sports and play a game at the same time, have video chats, or quickly search the internet. Sure, I could use my phone, but if it really works as instantly as it seems, I will use all of it. Frequently.
Brandin Tyrrel: I actually tried to envision myself using the feature in a capacity that pertains to gameplay. Outside of wanting to immediately switch over when Game of Thrones starts or an important national address from Washington…I can’t really think of a reason to use it. I have my phone handy if I want to check an IMDB page.
Nick Santangelo: OK, so we’ve got mixed reactions to it. Speaking of Kinect functionality, though, Microsoft sure did focus heavily on it. Outside of switching apps, what’s the general feeling? Are you disgusted or excited that Microsoft is insisting Kinect play such an integral role in the Xbox One’s life?
Ryan Thompson: As far as a navigational interface, I’m pumped — I think it does a good job there. I am yet to see a AAA title make extremely effective use of it, though. This is an issue I would love to be proven wrong on, though, so it’ll be up to the software to prove that this technology has a place in gaming, and not just as an aid to menus.
Shawn Ryan: I am indifferent. I have no interest in using it for the most part, but it seems like I’ll be forced to. Reports have come out that the Kinect must be connected to play, so none of us will have much of a choice. To me, the controller is more efficient than swiping my arms in the air. I’m sure some of the voice stuff will be nice when multitasking, but otherwise I don’t know. They did say it recognizes the controller this time around, so if they can start finding innovative ways to use it directly in core games, I’ll at least give it a shot.
Brandin Tyrrel: I think we need to know more about how exactly it operates. Reports came in that you can use voice commands to power the system, which would indicate it’s in a state of perpetual “listening.” I have privacy concerns — just like I did with the Kinect the first time around — though, depending on the level of security personalization, I don’t have a problem with it being a requirement since it will ship with the device. Though I will be relatively pissed if I have to cover the camera on my new +/- $500 tech with a Post-it note. Microsoft has to include some sort of customization.
Shawn Saris: When it works, I love the Kinect. If Microsoft has really improved it the way it claim then I am all for giving it a try. With that said, I don’t want to play games where it is forced to fit and ruins the experiences. If it fits in the game, great. If it doesn’t then I don’t want to see it added and forced upon me.
Nick Santangelo: I’m in complete agreement that it hasn’t done anything significant for gaming, and the functionality is often jammed in where there is no need for it. But enough about Kinect. Let’s talk XBLA. The Xbox One is, according to its creators, eight times more powerful than the Xbox 360. Do you think XBLA developers will be able to put all that extra power to use? Are you looking forward to more technically capable XBLA games, or do you yearn for the early days of XBLA when the games were simpler in nature? (Editor’s note: It has since been revealed that there will be no XBLA section on the new Xbox. All games will be sorted together.)
Shawn Saris: This gives developers more room to work with, so I can’t see that ever being bad. XBLA doesn’t have to be small, simple games, and, in fact, some of my favorites are games that go on for dozens of hours. So power wise I am happy for them. We did not, however, hear anything about how, if at all, XBLA will change, which I hope is answered at E3 or else I fear they might lose a lot of ground to Sony.
Brandin Tyrrel: I think it’s great. More resources means creators are free to use whatever they need or want. There’s nothing stopping them from providing touching, minimalistic experiences or simple, independent titles like they always have — this just raises the technology cap. I’m really excited to see how digital titles migrate to the new generation. Especially with the possibility of cloud computing — you could see big games become downloadable in a way they never could under the current limitations.
Ryan Thompson: I need to get a longform article about this topic together for the site. My favorite two XBLA games remain Marble Blast Ultra and Super Street Fighter II Turbo HD Remix, neither of which required more power than a Dreamcast with HD output. You can’t even buy MBU anymore! In any case, this speaks to a differing goal between Sony and Microsoft that I have mentioned before. Smaller developers will continue to make smaller games. Utilizing all of the power of the consoles most of the time means loading lots of polygons, beyond the development budgets of all but the highest echelon of today’s XBLA titles. I do not think that the next generation will be fought on a battleground of graphics, but on experience (which Microsoft clearly understands, given its presentation) and on gameplay innovation (which is why Nintendo is still in business despite its hardware consistently being one generation behind at this point).
Shawn Ryan: I think we’re going to see too much of a merger between XBLA and retail, unfortunately. We’ve seen it recently with the Arcade now, and I think all this extra power and rising prices could potentially get worse. I would love for it to go back to the days of $10 pricing, where most of the games weren’t just watered-down retail releases. I used to love XBLA, because it almost felt like a completely separate platform. The longer the system has been on shelves, the more that feeling has decreased significantly.
Nick Santangelo: Ryan, you mention a game no longer being available. Well, as we all know, no current XBLA game will transfer over to the Xbox One. We’re all going to have to either keep our old Xbox 360s around or say goodbye to our XBLA libraries. So that’s a bummer. Is that a major issue for you guys? Is it a major issue for the public?
Shawn Saris: I think the majority of people will have no issues moving on. Most people finish a game and rarely come back to it. To ensure Microsoft’s console would be backwards compatible would raise the cost of the entire package overall, which I am sure Microsoft is trying very hard to avoid. I would much rather it take this route than release an extremely expensive new unit, similar to the PS3 at launch.
Shawn Ryan: I will not be buying one at launch because of this. I have close to 100 XBLA games, and I have no interest in supporting Microsoft right away because of it. I can understand not being completely backwards compatible, but losing my digital releases just feels…wrong.
Ryan Thompson: Backwards compatibility is actually not a big issue for me. If it keeps the price low, I’d prefer to have the best hardware possible. I think this is at least part of why the Wii U has the specs that it does — it has 100 percent flawless backwards compatibility, better than both the Xbox 360/Xbox and PS3/PS2/PS1 backwards compatibility. This forces a certain amount of compatibility in the Wii U hardware to the original Wii hardware, and I am glad that Microsoft has not made that decision with regards to Xbox One if it would have prevented the new console from being as good as it could otherwise be. Shawn’s previous point about how XBLA used to feel like a separate platform really spoke to my nostalgia for older XBLA titles, incidentally.
Brandin Tyrrel: It’s inconvenient, for sure. But with the escalation of all technology, things become incompatible. It happens with every step up the ladder. I’m not necessarily bothered by it since everyone who owns an XBLA title also owns the ability to play the title, but it would absolutely be more convenient to migrate libraries. As we move to an inevitable all-digital age, the only downside will be titles that require connectivity being discontinued in the long run.
Nick Santangelo: Last question. Shawn jumped the gun on this one, but sitting here right now, ignoring the fact that we will eventually hear more about the console and its games, are you buying an Xbox One on launch day? Why or why not?
Shawn Saris: On a personal level I am not entirely convinced. If it were solely up to me I would likely wait. However, due to work, I will likely buy one at launch.
Nick Santangelo: I hear you, Shawn. Right now I’m only buying one because I write for XBLAFans. I’m not at all sold on a need to have one as a gamer. Maybe that’ll change at E3, but that’s where I’m at right now.
Brandin Tyrrel: As a consumer, probably not. More to do with the issues that always follow early adopters of any new tech. Though, for work purposes, I’ll almost assuredly get one.
Ryan Thompson: At this point I need to wait and let the games speak for themselves, for both Sony and Microsoft’s new systems. Features are really great (and in all honesty, I think MS hit the reveal out of the park with regard to the hardware), but games sell me consoles. This is why I don’t have a Wii U yet either — Nintendo needs to show me something beyond yet another version of New Super Mario Bros. if it wants people to buy an expensive console. Regardless of all that, I am usually a “first price drop” consumer, so I will wait until after the holiday season anyway unless there is a killer deal somewhere.
Brandin Tyrrel: I think we’re the wrong crowd to field this question, judging by the answers.
Nick Santangelo: Well, this is kind of the response I expected to get. I want you to put yourself in the consumer’s shoes, though — the guy that doesn’t write for a website or work in the industry in any capacity. If you’re that guy, are you, right this very second, excited to buy an Xbox One this holiday? I’m not.
Brandin Tyrrel: I’ll be excited after E3.
Ryan Thompson: Not until I see the games. Ask again after E3 and have us compare Sony to MS at that point.
Shawn Ryan: No. I won’t be buying one right away for a couple of reasons. First, after the RRoD incident, I’m not sure I trust Microsoft enough to commit my money right off the bat. Second, the lack of any backwards compatibility is just a bit extreme for me. Like I said, I could deal with no retail, but I don’t love the idea of losing everything and having to start over. From there, a lot of reports are saying that used/rented games will not be playable, which again makes me hesitant. I’m not meaning to be pessimistic, I just feel that if anything that pressure made me less excited in every way.
Brandin Tyrrel: You’re not really losing anything, though, Shawn. You’re just being restricted to where you can access XBLA.
Shawn Ryan: And at least Gamertag/Gamerscore is carrying over!
Shawn Saris: I’m not really excited to pick up a launch One. On the tech end of it, there is still so much up in the air. Microsoft was very vague about what’s inside the box, and the whole internet connection stuff. As a gamer, well, there were barely any games, which will certainly be addressed at E3, so I guess after E3 we can really tell.
So there you have it, our thoughts on Microsoft’s Xbox One unveiling. Though we disagree on a few fronts, we’re all generally feeling lukewarm at best towards the console as of today. Maybe that will all change once Microsoft shows off the games at E3. Maybe it won’t.
But what do you think? Agree with us? Disagree with us? Think we should all be fired and replaced by game show-hosting cats? Sound off in the comments with your thoughts.