Videogame Musings - Part 1 of 5

Xbox 360: Ho-fucking-hum.

A mere 24 hours from now there will be a pack of shivering mopes camped out in front of your friendly neighbourhood electronics store, waiting through the night to try and purchase an Xbox 360 the moment the place opens on Tuesday.

These people are for the most part sad little lemmings, unable to make decisions without the media and advertisers telling them what to do and think, but in this case they deserve our pity instead of the usual scorn and mockery. This is because most of them will come away empty-handed - they have already been turned into an army of disposable PR dupes and lackeys, doomed to go home disappointed by the machinations of the company that tricked them into being there in the first place.

Here's the deal: A few months ago (as noted in These Very Pages) there was a splashy media event broadcast "live" (oh, ha ha) on MTV to unveil the shiny new Xbox. The results were not quite what Microsoft was hoping for, and they came away with a lot of digital egg on their face, finding themselves generally savaged in the gaming and tech press. In an (at this point, apparently successful) attempt to get their buzz back, they have now manipulated the supply chain for the big launch on Tuesday, creating artificial shortages to try and make the new box seem like A Big Fucking Deal. The clueless mainstream media will dutifully have pictures of the crowds waiting overnight to get the life-changing joy of an Xbox 360, there will be shots of happy gamers giving the big thumbs up to the camera as they totter out of the store laden with gaming hardware, and the suddenly hard-to-obtain box will become the object of much lust and desire.

The upshot of this latest bit of disdain for consumers by the trolls in Redmond is that any stores that took pre-orders for the new Xbox will be receiving fewer consoles than people actually signed up for. Not only will the poor morons who wait in line overnight not get the object of their retail lust, but some of the people who put down a deposit on the damn thing will also walk away empty-handed ... stores have been told to give their restricted supply of the precious silicon to the people who pre-ordered with the most accessories. The poor sap who pre-ordered a machine in August will find that his unit has been handed to someone who might have ordered 2 months later but added 2 games, an extra controller, and dance mat to the mix.

Sucks to be you, kid.

It appears that the only way to get a box will be to head out to a store that doesn't do pre-orders ... a vanishing breed to be sure, since even discount department stores are getting in on that act. Those places will also have an extremely miniscule supply on opening day and they have had to agree, we are told, to "sell out" on the first day regardless of how many people actually show up to plunk down some coin. How that will actually be accomplished and/or enforced is anyone's business ... perhaps a faceless droid from Microsoft will show up halfway through the business day and whisk away any unsold units.

And before you ask, no, there are really no shortages of the new box.

Bits and Pieces 1: It is no secret that the "core" system - lacking the hard drive - will not play any of the titles of the original Xbox. But it has now been revealed that the entry-level machine will also not be able to deal with three of the biggest new titles either. Kameo, Project Gotham Racing 3, and Perfect Dark will not run on the lower-priced system, which should make for some amusing moments in living rooms around the country in a couple of days time.

Bits and Pieces 2: Oddly enough, it now appears that some of the legacy Xbox titles will not run on the new system at all, even if you do get the wildly-expensive deluxe model. One of these titles is Project Gotham Racing, one of the franchises that Microsoft is hanging their hat on as a standard-bearer for their videogame division. Strange, that.

Bits and Pieces 3: The 360 is a competent system, and does what it is supposed to do in a fine manner indeed. That said, it doesn't really do anything that the original Xbox doesn't do every bit as well. The pictures are a little prettier if you have a progressive scan TV and, er, that's pretty much it. There are no new gaming experiences, nothing that can't be had on other systems, nothing that will change the way that people think about games, and certainly nothing that will make non-gamers want to come into the fold. The three biggest titles on launch day are a knock-off of something else (Kameo), a sequel that adds nothing to the original franchise (Project Gotham Racing 3), and a port of a 5 year-old Nintendo 64 game (Perfect Dark). This is not a huge surprise, since the biggest seller on the original Xbox was a port of a Macintosh game from 1999 - something some Halo fanboys would probably be shocked and dismayed to learn. Indeed, everything old is new again, but don't tell that to the dopes shivering in the dark on Monday night. Their delusions will probably be all that will be keeping them warm.

Posted: Mon - November 21, 2005 at 04:31 AM