October 11, 2005 4:00 AM PDT

Xbox 360 in a league of its own

(continued from previous page)

Again, it was something about the game not being fully ready and his not wanting me to see some of the glitches. It didn't feel too much like "free play" to me.

So I ran the Las Vegas course Fischer cued up, and it was pretty good: Having spent some time there, I have to say they did a pretty good job of replicating Sin City's look and feel, though I began to wonder whether it made any difference what city you were in since the courses seemed to feel more or less the same in each location. Maybe that was because I was so focused on trying not to destroy my car on the walls at each turn.

At this point, I went downstairs, where Microsoft had set up a room with a bunch more Xbox 360s and representatives were on hand from some of the publishers that will be putting out launch titles--Electronic Arts, 2K Games, Rare, Activision, to name a few.

I started out with 2K's "NBA 2K6." Again, the level of detail represented the peak of what a next-generation console can do: realistically shiny hardwood floors, sweat on the players I could almost smell, thousands of fans, each their own individual polygons. Yet precisely because of the stunning graphics, other little things--jerkiness in players' or fans' movements here and there, or the odd rotation of a jump shot--stood out. Perhaps that's the problem with graphics made to look too real: The little elements that don't measure up are the ones that catch your attention.

The problem is that current-generation console games are already damned slick. Are these new ultra-ultra-impressive graphics really necessary?

It's true that looking at an arena filled with tens of thousands of fans--each of whom is rendered individually--sounds good. But does it make for a better game? I think the jury's still out on that.

Actually, maybe that's not true. Analysts have predicted that when the Xbox 360 hits shelves next month, it will quickly sell out. And that's going to be based on the games that are available. EA's "Madden '06," the newest version of the venerable football franchise, is indeed spiffy. I watched a demo and saw the Tampa Bay Buccaneers take on the Atlanta Falcons.

It was raining hard, and the water was pouring off the players. We zoomed in and I could see the stitching on their jerseys. I was almost intimidated as they made their way imposingly up to the line of scrimmage, getting ever bigger on the screen as they did so.

But once again, with all the photorealism, it was the little things that stood out. In this case, it was their eyes, and it was the same in each of the sports titles I tried: The bodies looked right; the eyes looked like those of zombies. It felt very strange.

After four hours of this, I left the event. I'd tried about five or six games, and have no trouble reporting that the Xbox 360 was the best console experience I've ever had. The graphics were nearly perfect, the sounds were melodic, the interfaces mostly intuitive and I even have to say that the launch titles Microsoft has lined up, while not huge, covers the right range to please the hard-core gamers that will be the target market: basketball and football, several racing titles, a first-person shooter or two and some fantasy.

Yet in the end, I came back once again to wondering if it's all really necessary. When it comes to enjoying a video game basketball experience, just how real does the sweat have to be?

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Reviews like this puzzle me and, I'm certain, a lot of other slightly-more-than-casual gamers. Sure, the eyes are quite there, yet. But if you're at all focused on that, you're not that interested in the game play. The new generation of consoles offer an amazing jump in graphics capabilities, but that's just the start. Body movements - and the resulting gains in control - very realistic city, building and arena renderings - providing far more immersion - deeper and broader levels, better sound, more character intelligence, and more, make for MUCH better game play. If you're that kind of person, of course. I also remember the first Coleco and Atari consoles and know this is just another incredible step in development. Given this essentially good review, what should have been covered is how important the console introduction is in relation to what we all think Sony will be doing. With a few outstanding games covering the important genres, the fact that it is nearly 100% backward compatiple, the expected difference in cost, that it is every bit a player in the more general home entertainment market, and getting the jump on the introduction at precisely the right time of year could tip the ultimate sales scales in the other direction.
Posted by jwoji (7 comments )
Reply Link Flag
it's about what details are focused on
I think Terdiman's observations about what areas of realism the
developers focused on are well founded. If the sweat looks more
real than the eyes, that says something fairly strong about what
the game designers are - and are made to be - focusing on.
Some things are probably a cultural difference (studies showing
foreign asian students paying attention to backgrounds followed
by foreground elements, while american students tending to
focus on foreground elements and barely noticing backgrounds)
but other things are likely differences of personality type
(majority of people being people centric - face reading,
empathetically driven - versus a stereotypical computer centric
person with more autistic traits) that are the major contributors
for how the games continue to look, move, and react.

This is true in any form of entertainment. Special effects for
instance.. most of what effects people are doing is working on
the little, subtle visual cues people are used to seeing that fool
the viewer into thinking that what they're seeing is real.

We as humans viewing what are really or representations of
other humans, generally, are wired to pay more attention to eyes
than we are to jersey fabric. If the game publishers are having
these games made with the latest selling point being 'more
realistic humans' to enhance their market, then they'd better
start focusing more on eyes and such than on the sweat and
jersey fabric.

With the industry focus as it is, they're continuing to repel the
general public.
Posted by Hobyx (24 comments )
Link Flag
An interesting take...
Sounds promising! But you would be amazed what developers can do even between now and launch time (I hope)!

When I bought my first XBox I ended up shy AUD$1000 for the unit and 1 game (Halo I think). Have since bought both my brothers an XBox also (they love me!). Postman Pat even got a cool Halo green unit - my current one is a clear unit.
Posted by DoohanOK (51 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Microsoft will spend their way to the top.
Not surprising. Microsoft set the objective of being market leader and they will spend as much as it takes to reach that goal. Although they are likely to makes a profit on the overall lifetime of the Xbox 360. Microsoft have in many ways delivered a better overall product (particularly with Media centre extender and Xbox Live) than Sony's PS3 and are months earlier to market. Sony claim more raw CPU power, but im not convinced it will translate into better games - Microsoft have much better development tools and a graphics architecture almost identical to that on the PC - vendors only need to write the core of a game once to run on both PC and Xbox 360 with little change. So the vast R&D on making PC games look good translates directly to the Xbox 360.

My money is on Microsoft to take the lead in the console market with this platform.

The only thing I think Microsoft should add is a version with an HD DVD player and a DVI output.

With Sony's PS3 you get landed with a Blu-Ray player which is the new 'Betamax' and 2 x HDMI outputs. erm so just how many of us have 2 HD plasma screens to connect? And why would we want to ?
Posted by richto (895 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Why get excited????
The XBox 360 will be obsolete within maybe three years. So will
every other game console. Can't get excited about what is virtually
a dying dog now.
Posted by Earl Benser (4310 comments )
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well with the last Xbox
You could do way more with it then they ever intended. Like a lot of consumer electronics it is exciting not because of the product itself, but the possibilities of the product.

that's my 2 cents anyways.
Posted by Bob Brinkman (556 comments )
Link Flag
Same as your typical PC.....
....obsolete in less than a year, but you don't run out and buy a new one of those every six months, do you?
Posted by Gronar Snaggletooth (35 comments )
Link Flag
3 years is cracking good value for money
If I get 3 years out of this then I will consider it £200(ish) well spent. I personally think that the system will be viable for at least 2 years after that, considering it's potentiol final user base. Am I excited about the games I will be playing until the next gen of nextgen is seen? sure... 5 years is a long time in gaming :)
Posted by vesavius (8 comments )
Link Flag
Microsoft is a major advertiser on news.com
It would be nice if stories that gush about MS products noted the
potential conflict of interest at play.

If news.com's MS stories were less consistently upbeat, I'd be less
inclined to make the comment.

Just my 2 cents. Thanks.
Posted by mgreere (332 comments )
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HA!
Now that's funny! With all the Anti-MS junk news floating around here and the pro-opensource positioning, links to slashdot, and sensationalism over every Microsoft bug, I have no idea where you are coming from. Kinda like a drop of water in the ocean complaining that there isn't enough water....
Posted by David Arbogast (1709 comments )
Link Flag
My prediction: Xbox 360 will gain on PS3
Sony has made several screw ups already with the PS3.

1-Support for Blue Ray, which was a bad move. Blue Ray is already near death.

2-Too much focus on horsepower IE cell processor. For next gen consoles, it's more than about pure horsepower.

3-No Live! like service.

4-Late to the game with PS3. They might get desperate and drop the price to $99 for PS2.
Posted by bobby_brady (765 comments )
Reply Link Flag
uhhh good one
>>Sony has made several screw ups already with >>the PS3.

This should be interresting

>>1-Support for Blue Ray, which was a bad move. >>Blue Ray is already near death.

Why exactly is it a bad move and how is it near death? it has been out for over a year in japan and doing well. not only that why did MS and intel make a last ditch effort last week to support HD-DVD while most major players include PC manufactureres are supporting blu-ray?

>>2-Too much focus on horsepower IE cell >>processor. For next gen consoles, it's more >>than about pure horsepower.

Of course it is now, typical fanboy banter trying to reverse the previous gen, if sony can do so well with a severly under powered machine what makes you think they won't do better or at least hold with an equal or more powerful machine?

>>3-No Live! like service.

There will be online gaming, in its current state it does need some work but i will give it some time

>>4-Late to the game with PS3. They might get >>desperate and drop the price to $99 for PS2.

they are hardly late, perhaps MS is just rushing their junk out the door? MS may end up alienating their userbase if they continue to push out a new system before the product cycle of the previous is done, sega learned this the hard way.

If anything I would say MS has screwed up by selling multiple SKU's, one without the hard drive which was a major selling point before and a decent performance boost as well. They also have not included a high def format of either type which means that they either have to split their userbase again later or never release a game on an HD-DVD disk. agian this is alienating their customer base.
Posted by reedsr (37 comments )
Link Flag
Wait...
So you're saying that the next gen games look better than this gen's games??????

No Way!
Posted by (69 comments )
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Elemental my dear watson
Yes Watson, this is indeed a clear cut case of sarcasam, the lowest form of humor but, oh, the funniest lol
Posted by TimonUK (5 comments )
Link Flag
animation
The reviewer is spot on with the observations about how weird it feels when some parts of the game are realistic and some aren't.
I watched a trailer for the fighting game Dead or Alive 4. It all looks very pretty, but the movements of the characters - and especially the way characters physically respond to each other during the fights - haven't improved since the first Tekken 10 years ago. Honestly, check it out at gamespot or gametrailers.com, you won't believe how bad it is until you see it and think about it.
Most probably, this is because the basic method of animation (motion-capturing a limited number of predefined movements, that are carried out in exactly the same way each time a certain button is pressed) hasn't changed either.
The game developers need to simulate the movements of the characters from physics. They know this already, but think it is too complicated.
It's time for some strategic thinking on the part of the console makers. A physics-based character animation engine is too expensive to be created just for one game, but the mathematics are the same and the characters (human) are the same too across all games. The console makers should employ some really clever people to create an engine that is generic enough to be used for all games on a console. This would surely create an advantage for the console, as it would be easy to create games where the characters actually moved and interacted like they were real physical beings. These games would feel like they were truly a new generation.
A change like this, however, cannot be accomplished within the industry. You need some fresh brains, capable of some real scientific thinking, instead of just creating the prettiest face possible (once again, check out DOA4) and meeting the next deadline.
There will be improvement: physics chips are coming, and third-party engines like Unreal Engine 3. But hey, check out Gears of War  made using that engine. Again, the main character moves around in a rather simplistic manner, which looks strange because hes so graphically detailed.
Whoa, this entry turned out much longer than intended. Thanks for your attention.
Posted by karlengblom (22 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Form over Content
the fact that the quality of animation in games on "next-gen" consoles has been talk of the town since the SNES.
Another recurring subject in the same editorials has always been the gameplay and playability of the games.
Whilst I believe that MS is good enough with a controller to develop one that allows for good playability, I have noticed since playing several games on the xbox that there weren´t as many games with superb gameplay out as I used to find on say a NES or gameboy (not to say that nintendo is the master of this, they have had their share of flukes).

The thing that makes me remember that in this article is the point the writer makes in his experience on the tracks in Project Gotham Racing 3. He claims that the racing does not differ as much from one track to the other and that the scenery is pretty much the only thing to change.
While I know that this is one of the harder things to fix in racing games, I do believe that this is a flaw on the design side. developers focus on aesthetics over content. and we all know that a golden turd still smells like s***.

If I see the way the consoles are going (games quite too expensive to cover R&D costs, and PC-like patches thru live! subscriptions), I´m probably gonna stick with stuff like the Nintendo DS, not because its the most high tech console, but because it gives developers the chance to let the graphics be (crappy) as they want and focus on content and good solid gameplay.
Posted by (1 comment )
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bad prediction...
someone who says blu-ray technology is already dead can not be taken seriouly, Bob.
Time to market is very important but sometimes you get to get things done right before selling it. Take Windows from MS for instance.
Posted by felixms (2 comments )
Reply Link Flag
So, are you all enjoying using your minidisc?
How about your blu-rays?
Posted by vesavius (8 comments )
Link Flag
yes but can you roll a ball
I want to see a super photo realistic Katamari. That would be the shizzle. When is Namco going to port it to the xbox? if Namco did Katamari 3 for the Xbox 360 that would kick Damaci!
Posted by Megustan Salchichas (11 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Not interested
From what I have read, it's the same old crappy games with a prettier face. I'm all for improved graphics however it's the gameplay that is important. Neither Microsoft or Sony has that figured out. They appeal to the numbers people it would appear.
Posted by rkadowns (18 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Touche
I'm a little late in the game in responding to this piece, and I am by no means a MS apologist, but I did want to point out a few items. I too was at the XBOX 360 Preview Event in SF, representing On the Spot Games (www.onthespotgames.com). I'm curious if Mr. Terdiman had the opportunity to speak with some of the development and marketing representatives that were at the event speaking on behalf of the games that were shown. I know that in the case of NBA 2k6 the animations and ball physics weres said to be incomplete and still undergoing development. The same could be said for Madden 2006 and the facial animations, which explains why the eyes " looked like those of zombies."

It's not possible to completely judge these games based on their unfinished builds. It is possible to determine if you will enjoy the gameplay or if the graphics are shaping up, but I don't think the closing paragraph treats these impressive although incomplete games fairly.

Also, it's important to note that Mr. Terdiman does not touch on games such as Kameo (other than referring to the sequence presented prior to the hour long tutorial) Condemned: Criminal Origins, and Call of Duty.

Kameo represents some very impressive gameplay and pays homage to gaming from previous generations. It's very much like playing a NES game on the XBOX 360. The gameplay in Condemned is very impressive because of the AI of your assailants. Though many think COD 2 is no more than a PC port and has been done before, trust me when I say that if you play this on the 360, it will impress you, as will its AI.

I agree with the comments many of you have made in that there may be too much focus on pushing the graphical envelope, but in the same vein, that's one of the benefits of the new technology. This new technology also offers developers the ability to create very realistic AI, which will make the gameplay that much more real. The combination of these two will offer engaging gameplay and I think that we'll see gameplay improve in the very near future. I believe XBOX Live Arcade will be partly responsible for that.

Just my $.02.

Cory
Posted by coryb23 (1 comment )
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Next off New on! Coolest MS graphics product speaks,"Go Gotham." Woodstock.
Sounds to me that an integrated sound card and thinner polygons for wide-screen resolutions make for hamburgers and french fry's off the mezzanine. mezzanine - word for Thursday,13th of April.
Posted by Pop4 (88 comments )
Link Flag
IT WILL BE 5 YEARS
There is always a 5 YEAR gap between consoles, PS1 to PS2, PS2 to PS3, Master System to Mega Drive, Mega Drive to that silly one with the CD Drive, 5 Years, that to Saturn, the list is nearly endless but nether the less, the gap is always 5 years, not 4 or 6, .....5...... Roll on 2010, XBox Forelay and maybe, just maybe, inbetween, THE HANDHELD XBOX??
Posted by TimonUK (5 comments )
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<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.hotboxsports.com/" target="_newWindow">http://www.hotboxsports.com/</a>
Posted by nonsequitur43 (10 comments )
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