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Opinion: Owning a MacBook Pro for a year

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The end of October marks a while year of me owning my MacBook Pro – which I ordered not too long after Steve Jobs gave his keynote on the Mac – where he introduced iLife 11, OS X Lion, and some new MacBook Airs. I decided to order the 13 inch MacBook Pro (specs here) that was available at the time. I’ve changed a few things in that year though – I changed the standard hard drive that came with the laptop – doubling its storage capacity with a 500GB drive, and I upgraded from Snow Leopard to Lion.

So first of all – why did I make the jump from Windows? To put it simply, my PC running Vista was starting to irritate me – coming up with random problems almost every day for reasons that I couldn’t figure out. I wanted to change Operating Systems – and my experience with Linux (more specifically – Ubuntu) had always left me feeling frustrated because of hardware incompatibilities.

I wanted something I could surf the web with and do some light PC gaming with but with a minimum of headaches. Luckily being 19 at the time and still living with my parents left me with enough disposable income to justify spending the money on a MacBook Pro – and the fact that Valve had bought Steam to the Mac was comforting – knowing that I could play favourites like Left 4 Dead and Team Fortress 2 on my Mac was comforting and besides, I do most of my gaming on my Xbox 360 anyway.

So what were my first impressions of my shiny new Mac? Mostly positive. Everything seemed to work together well – and I was a big fan of using gestures on the big trackpad. One thing that irks me about laptop trackpads is how cumbersome they can feel to use – but even to this day, I couldn’t possibly think of going back to using a regular old trackpad. I do wish that it was a bit wider though – as sometimes I find I run out of trackpad space when I’m trying to drag something to the other end of the screen.

The keyboard is equally comfortable to use – though suffers from a few Americanisms – but it’s something that I got used to in time – but in the future I would like to see a proper British keyboard layout, as it can be a bit jarring when you go back to a standard keyboard for a while.

I was a little irritated when new MacBook Pro’s got released with i-series processors in them (as opposed to my Core2Duo) – but the technology world is such that your hardware is never more than a few months away from being surpassed – but in hindsight I definitely wish I had the patience to wait until Apple released the newer models before parting with my money.

So on the hardware side I’m happy with what I’ve got – though the built-in webcam could benefit from being better, it serves its purpose well enough – it’s just a question of if “well enough” is justifiable when you’re spending £999 on a laptop.

My feelings on the software are a bit more mixed though – I certainly don’t hate OS X, but I don’t think that it’s the holy grail of operating systems as some people would have you believe. There are things about the user interface that make me wonder what Apple was thinking. First of all – there’s no maximise button. Well, that’s not entirely true – it’s complicated.

There’s a maximise button in the sense that it’ll make the window bigger – but it won’t fill the whole desktop as you’d expect it to – to show you an example, here’s Google Chrome “maximised”:

Instead if you want the window to occupy the whole screen you have to click and drag the edges so that it fits – or hit the “full screen” button if you’re using an application in Lion that supports it. Of course there’s a plethora of keyboard shortcuts that you can use – but whether or not you want to go through the trouble of remembering them all is another case all together.

Another source of bother is that over time it feels as though my Mac has become slower – especially as far as startup times are concerned – which is strange considering I upgraded from a 5400RPM drive to a 7200RPM one. Upgrading to OS X Lion doesn’t seem to have helped things out either, and deleting everything and starting on a completely clean install of Lion (as opposed to my initial upgrade) didn’t appear to be of much use.

Speaking of which – I’m not a fan of OS X Lion being discless. Waiting for Lion to download from Apples servers can take a considerable amount of time – and even then afterwards my system was exactly the same – as though nothing had happened at all. It felt like I had to wrestle with the system in order for it to wipe everything so I could start anew again. A most frustrating experience indeed, and I hope this isn’t something that catches on with Windows and other operating systems. Never underestimate the usefulness of physical media.

Of course OS X has its upsides – I’ve grown rather fond of the dock, and it’s nice not having to worry about malware as much as you do with Windows (but of course, you still have to keep an eye out). The App Store is a nice idea, though it seems to be full of the same useless tat that you find on your typical mobile app store. It sells games as well – but with most of these being available on Steam (and with support for multiple platforms) I’m not sure why you’d bother getting them on the app store – how many platforms do you really need Angry Birds on anyway?

Do I regret my Mac purchase? No – I’m pretty satisfied with what I’ve got. But would I buy another one when the time comes? I’m not so sure. Considering I recently built myself a dedicated gaming rig all I really need is a device for browsing the web with – and really, I could just do my research on some laptops, find out which ones have the best hardware compatibility with Ubuntu and save myself £999 – in fact, I may well install Ubuntu on this Mac long before I consider new hardware all together, as I recently tried 10.11 on a USB Stick and things appear to have been greatly improved upon.

Written by Pokeh

October 24, 2011 at 4:16 pm

Posted in Opinion, Tech

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Review: Brink

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  • Developer: Splash Damage
  • Publisher: Bethesda Softworks
  • Platforms: Xbox 360 (reviewed), PlayStation 3, PC

Brink was one of the few FPS games that had my attention for this year – recently I’ve found myself getting fatigued with the genre – especially after last years Christmas releases with Medal of Honor (urgh), Halo: Reach and after having played Battlefield: Bad Company 2 throughout most of 2010. I was so bored of shooters in general that I couldn’t even muster up the motivation to finish playing Uncharted: Drakes Fortune which I rented last month.

So I was interested in Brink because at face value it offered something different from the crowd – team based play, an interesting mix of competitive and co-operative modes, and parkour running which I thought could make an FPS more interesting than simply running through rooms and corridors.

Brink is a team based shooter that plays similarly to Team Fortress 2 – there are four different classes – Soldier, Medic, Engineer and Operative, all with distinct roles to play in a match. Soldiers can plant demolition charges and can replenish ammunition for team mates, Medics can heal and revive injured team mates as well as being able to give them other buffs like increasing their sprint speed or raising the speed that their health regenerates. Engineers can boost the power of weapons and they can deploy turrets and mines. Operatives can disguise themselves as the enemy and can hack in to enemy communications.

It’s unfortunate that with all of this that Brink feels like a rushed mess – it doesn’t take a genius to realise that Brink is a game that could have spent much more time in development. As much as I really want to like Brink, and as much as I really want to tell everyone to go out and buy it I just can’t. Not in its current state.

First things first there’s a campaign mode that you can play with up to seven of your friends. 8 player co-operative play is impressive given that most games only allow for about 2 or 4 players – but it’s not so impressive when you realise that co-operative games are basically player vs bot matches that you’d otherwise play in multiplayer. The campaign is similar to offerings that you’d find in a game like Unreal Tournament 3.

If you find that you can’t get a group of 8 people together then the rest of your team will be buffed out with bots to play for you – but with my experience you’ll almost wish that they weren’t there. Bots consistently walk in front of your line of fire – and although there’s no friendly fire it still stops your bullets from reaching the target. The AI often doesn’t go for objectives – and in some cases I found that the AI would just sit around at unimportant areas of the map rather than trying to help out with the objective.

Enemy AI is a different story though – it’s not the smartest in the world but your foes will stick together and use their numbers as a way of trying to beat you – they can be lethal if they catch you off guard but at times I found that the enemy AI was just staring at me without making an effort to start attacking me. At times I even had enough time to deploy a turret right in front of an enemy that was staring straight at me.

Playing with more than four human players at the moment seems almost impossible due to some of the unbearable lag that the game suffers from – a patch is on the way to fix this, but I’d still hold out on buying Brink until the public can confirm that everything is running smoothly. Regardless – I can’t help but wonder how a multiplayer game got released when you can’t even play it online.

Another baffling design decision are the Command Posts – which are computer terminals placed on the map where you can change your class and your weapons – while this sounds like a good idea at first it never really works out well. The AI will constantly whinge about them, and it doesn’t allow for much flexibility when choosing your class.

There are three body types in Brink – light, medium and heavy. As you might expect the light class is quick on his feet, the heavy is slow but can take more damage, and the medium class tries to give you a mix of the two – favouring neither speed or health. The medium class is the only class you’ll really bother with but there’s no way to change your body type in game – not even when you’re waiting to respawn after you’ve died. If you want to change your body class then you have to quit all the way out to the main menu.

Another odd design decision are the challenges that you can take – which are aimed to teach you how to play the game. However you also need to play these if you want to unlock attachments for your weapons (like red dot sights, silencers and so on). These modes can be played co-operatively but you won’t unlock anything unless you play the game solo – and neither the game or the game manuel inform you of this.

Brink is a perfect example of a good idea executed poorly – the campaign and multiplayer showed promise, but through a lack of maps, modes, and general polish it proves to be a huge letdown – a real shame since this was one of my most anticipated shooters of this year. The performance issues that have plagued the game since release day will no doubt have a negative impact on the numbers of people that play it. Releasing a multiplayer game that you can’t even play with other people is unacceptable – and Brink will suffer as a result. Even when (if) the lag issues are fixed I’m not sure that I could recommend this game to people – I certainly couldn’t recommend paying over £15 for it at the least.

What the game looks like

Brink in action

The verdict

Good: Visual style that’s not commonly seen in shooters, team based gameplay

Bad: Terrible lag when playing with 4+ players, all the weapons are basically the same, small number of levels, parkour system never really comes in to play.

Written by Pokeh

May 26, 2011 at 12:27 pm

Opinion: What does a 10/10 rating mean, anyway?

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It’s a question that I’ve long pondered to myself: What does it mean when a reviewer hands out a ten out of ten score? For one thing it’s obvious that they enjoyed using whatever they reviewed (for the sake of the argument I’ll use video games as examples), but are they saying that what they reviewed is perfect? To say that there’s absolutely nothing wrong with a game – that’s a bold statement to make.

The saying may be age old and yet it still rings true: Nothing is perfect. Game developers know this, consumers know this, and I would hope that journalists know this too – and yet ten out of ten game ratings often feel like they’re being handed out left right and centre.

Grand Theft Auto IV is a game that received a lot of praise from critics – indeed the MetaCritic page for the PS3 version contains 37 10/10 scores – so lets take a look at one of the reviews for the game. Everyone’s heard of IGN, so we’ll take a look at that.

I’m not going to get in to the semantics of whether or not GTA IV was a good game or a bad one in this post – but what does a reader take away from these numbers? It’s obvious that the game is good but in what respect? Is it just excellent value for money? Is it pushing the boundaries of typical game design and bringing in some great innovation? Is it gaming perfection?

It makes me wonder if numerical rating systems are really the way to go for reviews – not only for games either, but for TVs, phones and various other things that you could find a review for out there.

I’ve never liked assigning a numerical value to how good or bad I feel a game is in the reviews that I write because I feel like I’m tying myself in to a system where a reader can (and they will) point out inconsistencies in the ways that I judge games. If that happens then surely the reader loses confidence in what the writer has to say?

I’ve always thought that if the reader doesn’t want to read a full review then a few quick points about what’s good and what’s bad is far more informative than a number ever could be. Everyone who I ask has a different interpretation of what a 10/10 score represents -some think it means the game is perfect, others that it simply offers good value for money, and others that it’s far better than anything else that’s out there at the moment.

And that’s the flaw – a review should inform the reader, and with that information the reader can then decide whether or not it’s right for them. So why not end a review in such a way? A couple of simple, bite-sized infochunks for the reader to digest on. It’s quick, straight to the point, and much more informative than some arbitrary number could ever be.

Written by Pokeh

May 18, 2011 at 7:49 pm

Posted in Opinion

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Review: Portal 2 single player campaign

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  • Developer: Valve
  • Publisher: Valve (Steam), EA (Boxed versions)
  • Platforms: Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 (reviewed), Windows, Mac OS X

Note: Due to the PSN outages I have been unable to play the co-operative mode that comes with the game. As a result this is a review of the single player portion of the game only.

The original Portal started off as a small addition to The Orange Box in 2007 – released along side Valves much bigger titles like Half-Life and Team Fortress 2. Perhaps as a surprise to Valve the game proved to be immensely popular. The Internet became ablaze with comments about Cake and appreciation for the dark humour in the game.

In that respect Portal 2 offers more of the same – more puzzles, humour, and gags that are sure to become popular Internet memes. There’s still a small cast of characters – with GLaDOS and Chell from the first instalment making a return, as well as a new character called Wheatley, who wakes the player up at the start of the game to try and escape the ruined Aperture Science facility.

Of course Chell remains as silent as ever – and it’s mostly GLaDOS or Wheatley who do the talking. GLaDOS retains her trademark passive agressive attitude and witty and sinister personality. Wheatley on the other hand could be considered the polar opposite of GLaDOS – coming across as much more friendly, but also somewhat clumsy.

It’s surprising how much of a bond you get with the two characters – especially considering that the two of them are basically just robots. Valve has done an excellent job at humanising the two and you can feel a real connection to them – it’s difficult to dislike either of them, including GLaDOS – who seems to be perfectly willing to put your life on the line in the name of science.

Beyond this the gameplay is much the same – you’ve got a Portal gun that can fire two Portals at once that you can walk through to complete test chambers and puzzles – but this time around there are more resources to take advantage of like bridges, lasers, and “aerial faith plates” that fling you in to the air.

Portal 2 took me about 9 hours to complete – with the later test chambers really testing my ability to think with portals. It’s just a shame that as soon as the game got challenging that the game was over – I would have really liked to have seen some more test chambers that make more use out of the new obstacles that are present in the game. Though luckily there’s some free DLC coming out to fix this later in the year.

About midway through the game you’ll find yourself mostly wandering the more forgotten parts of the facility and it provides a nice change of scenery – but often you’ll find that you’re not really trying to solve a puzzle – you’re just searching for a wall that you can put a Portal on. It can ruin the flow of the game when it isn’t immediately obvious where you’ve got to go.

Now where do you put the Portal to?

Overall though Portal 2 provides a satisfying and fulfilling experience. Fans of the original Portal will no doubt enjoy what’s on offer here and Portal 2 certainly introduces its own unique challenges that you won’t find elsewhere.

The only real problem is the lack of replay value – once you’ve solved all of the puzzles there’s little that you can do with it since you already know how to solve everything. Of course I have no doubt that Valve will continue to support the game – but for how long remains to be seen.

On the topic of replay value I would have liked to have seen an in game level editor – something similar to Forge in Halo: Reach could have worked really well in a Portal game – instead it seems that only PC players with access to modding tools will be able to create their own levels – a shame since console players have always shown an interest in creating and sharing their own custom content.

Right about now Portal 2 makes for a solid rental – at least until some more content becomes available – but keep in mind that this is a verdict that I’m making without having played the co-operative mode (thanks to the PSN outages).

What the game looks like

Portal 2 in action

Note: This video may spoil the enjoyment of the game, since this gameplay video demonstrates how to complete a test chamber.

The verdict

Good: Challenging puzzles, decent length, notable improvements over its predecessor, PS3 and PC players can play together

Bad: Feels like there should be more, no map editor for console gamers, fantastic voice acting

Review: Defiant Map Pack for Halo: Reach

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Halo: Reach launched last September to much controversy among Halo players. Some people loved Armour Abilities, others not so much – some liked the smaller tweaks like bloom and the removal of the Battle Rifle – others thought it was the worst thing to happen to the series (talk about hyperbole, right?).

Indeed the Halo player base is so diverse it seems that the community can’t seem to agree on anything – so from what point of view am I reviewing this map pack from? I consider myself to be in between the casual and competitive crowd – I’m probably average in terms of player skill, and I generally don’t care if I win or lose a multiplayer game. If you’re the type of person who rages about Armour Lock and Bloom this review probably isn’t for you.

An interesting note to make is that these are the first maps for Reach that aren’t made by Bungie, the developer of the game. Instead this map pack was made by a division of Microsoft called 343 Industries (Or 343i as it’s often called) and Certain Affinity – a developer made up of a number of ex-Bungie employees, and it’s also played a hand in some previous Halo related content – such as the Blastacular Map Pack for Halo 2.

The Defiant Map Pack was released on the 15th March and comes with three new maps: two are traditional multiplayer maps, and the other is a new Firefight map. The Defiant Map Pack will set you back 800 Microsoft Points (approximately £6.85, or $10). So lets get this review underway by taking a look at each individual map:

Highlands

Highlands is the biggest map in the Defiant Map Pack – and it’s suited to 6 v 6 or higher games. Highlands feels like it could be a spiritual successor to Valhalla from Halo 3 – with two bases on either side of the map and key areas in the middle of the map that are worth defending.

On paper Highlands has all the right pieces to be a good map – there are key areas to hold, some vehicles to play with and different paths around the map so everyone doesn’t get congested in to one spot (an issue that Valhalla in Halo 3 used to suffer from). Instead of placing power weapons in the middle of the map, they’re placed on the sides, giving you some breathing room.

The trouble with Highlands is that there’s too many different places to go – the map is generally too big and there are too many places to go. In a 6v6 match (the only way you’re guaranteed to get a match on Highlands at the moment) the map feels empty and I found myself getting bored of wandering around with nothing to shoot. Objective games like Capture the Flag give the map a little more focus, but it’s not enough to save the map from becoming a complete snoozefest. If Highlands was a little narrower things could be better – what’s worse is that the Forge palette for Highlands is extremely limited, so if you want to change the layout of the map by adding in walls or doors then you’re out of luck, so what we’ve got is a map that’s too big for most game modes with no easy fix.

Condemned

Condemned is the second multiplayer map in the Defiant Map Pack and focuses more on infantry combat rather than the more large scale, vehicle focussed affairs provided on Highlands. The general layout of the map is simple: A large circular structure with a small, low gravity room in the middle.

Condemned works well for 6v6 games and is probably the best map in the map pack but it’s hard to imagine it working for less than twelve players unless you’re playing a free-for-all game. The middle, low gravity room is a fun gimmick, but you quickly realise that the entire room is a death trap since you can’t jump (or fall) as quickly as you can in regular gravity, opening you up to fire from all sides.

Condemned features a slightly better Forge palette than Highlands does but it’s still something that could be improved. You can spawn small scenery items and items that change the special effects on the map (Like changing everything to black and white, increased colour saturation, etc) but there aren’t any options for adding in doors or walls to block parts of the map off – so if you’ve got an idea for a cool map varient then you’re out of luck.

While playing I found that Condemned worked particularly well for Elite Slayer (as seen in the video above) and other objective game modes, but I found that the experience fell flat in standard Slayer modes.

Unearthed

Unearthed is the Firefight map that comes with the Defiant Map Pack – and promises to provide a more vehicle focussed take on the survival game mode. Similar to Beachhead (a Firefight map that shipped with the full game) you get a Rocket ‘Hog to ride around in.

Those of you who don’t feel like slaying hordes of xenophobic aliens in a four wheeled death machine with an unlimited supply of rockets (and if you don’t – what’s wrong with you?) can take advantage of the elevated walkways to get the jump on some unsuspecting squid heads. Bip Bap Bam!

Unearthed is a great map – and it’s nice to get some more Firefight maps that take advantage of the arsenal of vehicles within Reach – it’s just that I think that 343i are missing a trick with this one. So far all of the Firefight maps in Reach only have Rocket ‘Hogs, Ghosts, Wraiths and Mongooses – but what about the rest? No Falcons, no Banshees (none that you can use at least), no Revenants, and no Scorpions. I’d really like to see future Firefight maps that properly take advantage of the vehicles in the game, rather than just having Beachhead 2.0.

The biggest problem with Unearthed isn’t necessarily with the map itself, but rather the monumental effort it takes just to get Matchmaking to give you a game on it. It took twelve attempts over the course of about 30 minutes just to get one game on Unearthed – and after that I decided that I couldn’t be bothered any more. Perhaps this is a situation that’ll improve over time as more people get the Defiant Map Pack, but my initial thoughts weren’t positive – what’s the point in a new Firefight map if you never get to play it?

Overall thoughts

The Defiant Map Pack isn’t bad – but it’s not great either – we’ll file this one under “it’s okay”. More Firefight maps are a welcome addition but I feel that these should be bundled separately from the other competitive maps – so that way people who aren’t interested in Firefight don’t get forced in to buying a map that they don’t want.

Beyond that the two competitive maps are okay, but nothing revolutionary or groundbreaking, and at times lack the smooth flow and focus of other Halo maps, with Highlands in particular being devoid of any action in even the most populated game modes.

Only the hardcore Halo fans need apply here – more casual players will probably be content with what’s already on the map, or would be better off buying the Noble Map Pack that was released several months ago. I feel that there’s a serious issue with the value that these maps provide – since outside of the dedicated Defiant Map Pack playlist it’s unlikely that you’ll see these new maps appear in Matchmaking. Is it worth paying 800 points for three maps that you’ll rarely get to play? I’m not convinced that it is.

Written by Pokeh

March 17, 2011 at 1:13 pm

Opinion: Why the Sony Xperia Play could keep me on Android

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I have long bemoaned the state of mobile gaming – the Android and Apple App Stores are chock full of mobile games that I ultimately think could just be free flash games on the Internet. Angry Birds? Yawn. Flight Control? Meh. Heck – the only mobile game that I’ve played that engaged me for more than five minutes has been the fantabulous Game Dev Story – and even with that I thought “This would be so much better on the PC if it let me build my own game studio Theme Hospital style”

The truth is this: the large majority of the games on mobile platforms are casual games – which is fine, but as a core gamer who likes headshots and drifting around corners at 100mph these games have little to no appeal to me. There have been attempts of course to port older games over to these devices but using an on-screen control pad doesn’t feel right. You need the feedback of physical buttons to play properly – something that Android and iPhone handsets to this date don’t have at all (or at least not in the sense in that they’re laid out like a control pad).

Well it seems that someone has finally listened to what people like me are asking for: given that the fine chaps at Sony Ericsson have devised the Sony Xperia Play – also known as the PlayStation Phone. So we’re halfway there – we finally have some decent hardware on a phone that I can use to play games with. But what about the actual games? If the majority of Android phones only have touch screens with which to game with surely all of the games available for it are just going to be the aforementioned casual games?

Well apparently not. Later this year Sony will be releasing the PlayStation Suite for Android 2.3 or higher. With this Sony will be releasing older PlayStation 1 games as well as some new games too. So it can play PlayStation games – cool, but why not just get an NGP for that?

The answer is simple: emulators. The Android Marketplace is full of emulators for the NES, SNES, GameBoy, GameBoy Advance, and a whole bunch of others. I’ve used the free versions of these apps on my HTC Hero and they appear to run games pretty well. Unfortunately due to the Heros slow processor and lack of physical buttons playing games is a bit of a chore – but given that the Xperia Play has a 1Ghz processor and has a traditional gamepad attached to it then playing a whole bunch of games on it will no doubt be a breeze. I see the Sony Xperia Play as the ultimate in gaming convergence to date, being able to play todays casual games, new games arriving on the PlayStation Suite and games from the consoles of yore.

The only thing I’m worried about? The pricing. Sony has been very enthusiastic talking about the hardware itself and all of the features that it’ll have but they haven’t uttered a word about how much it’ll all cost – and to me that sends signs that I’m about to be hit with some bad news.

Written by Pokeh

February 21, 2011 at 1:11 pm

Opinion: How Microsoft might lose me with next-gen consoles

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It feels somewhat difficult to believe that we’re five years in to this console generation – if this were 2006 we’d have just seen the release of the Xbox 360 a few months ago – with the PS3 still to arrive on British shores. Traditionally this is the point in a consoles life cycle where we start to get glimpses of the “next generation” of consoles – the successors of the current lineup that we saw in the mid 2000’s with the Xbox 360, PS3 and Wii replacing the original Xbox, PS2 and Nintendo Gamecube respectively.

And yet with tough economic times it seems that console manufacturers are finding it difficult to justify releasing a brand new £300 games console to the masses – especially since there’s nothing really wrong with the current lineup that we’ve got now. People are buying the software – why bother fruitlessly making them buy a brand new box?

Both Sony and Microsoft have made it clear that they want their consoles to have a ten year lifespan – meaning that the Xbox 360 probably won’t completely die out until late 2015. That gives the 360 about four more years left in it.

Though it may sound odd I’ve already begun considering who I might side with come the next wave of consoles. I had a PS1 but swapped it for my uncles Xbox (I know, right?), and then I just naturally transitioned over to the Xbox 360. Halo was a big franchise for me and, well – I couldn’t go and miss out on finishing the fight now could I?

It was only last year that I bought my PS3 – some time after E3 and over the course of the year I’ve decided that if Microsoft don’t change a lot of things I’ll almost certainly be jumping ship to the PS4, or whatever Sony decide to call it.

Xbox Live needs to be free

Charging for an online service was something that Microsoft could get away with for a while – no other consoles were doing a good job of it in the previous generation of consoles, and the PS3 was suffering from poor sales until a few years ago. Microsoft were dominant because they were so much better than the competition.

But now Sony are starting to catch up with basic online functionality and the PlayStation Store occasionally has some good sales on. Xbox Live seems insistent on giving me more stuff that I don’t want – I don’t want Twitter or Facebook on my Xbox, I’ve got a computer for that. No – all I want to do is play my games online. Why should I stick with Microsoft and pay £40 a year for the pleasure when I can get the exact same service on a different system for free?

This also causes problems for customers – I’m a huge fan of the BBC iPlayer and bringing it to the Xbox 360 would be an absolute joy – but it’s not happening because Microsoft would want to charge you for it (which would be illegal for the BBC to do). The PS3 and Nintendo Wii have been enjoying access to iPlayer for yonks. iPlayer on the Xbox probably wouldn’t even cost Microsoft anything – since the content is streamed from the BBC and the app would most likely be developed by the BBC as well. Thanks for nothing, Microsoft.

Ditch the in-dashboard advertisements

This sort of ties in with Xbox Live being a premium service. I’m paying £40 a year for a service that should be free and on top of that Microsoft deems it appropriate to bombard my dashboard with irrelevant advertising. In the last week I’ve seen ads for Lynx and a brand of Margarine.

Advertisements for music, movies and games are fair enough – by all means point out products that I might be interested in, but everything else strikes me as irrelevant (Margarine, really?). I’d be fine with such advertisements if Xbox Live was free, but it isn’t, so I’m not.

This isn’t the first time that we’ve seen ads like this on the dashboard either – Wired UK editor and chum Nate Lanxon had an almighty whinge about the situation over a year ago and it would seem that things still haven’t changed.

Microsoft points need to be abolished

Does this really need to be explained? Display everything in the users local currency – I’m fed up of looking up how much some DLC costs on the Internet. Just display everything in real money. Simple.

Exclusive games

Each big console manufacturer has exclusive (or first party) titles. These are the heavy hitters – the ones that can be the deciding factor in which console you purchase, and in my honest opinion this is an area where Sony have an enormous advantage: its exclusive titles are generally of a higher quality than those published by Microsoft.

Sure they may be two completely different genres but which would you buy? Peter Molyneux’s bastard child of an RPG or one of the most charming, beloved, and creative platformers of our time? It’s a no brainer. The only “must have” franchises that Microsoft own for me right now are Halo and Gears of War. Halo developer Bungie has gone multiplatform and won’t be making any new Halo games, and you could argue that the PS3’s counterpart to Gears of War is the Uncharted series – so by jumping ship I’m not particularly missing out on anything.

Physical media

We seem to be living in a world that’s pushing digital downloads more than ever – the music industry is doing it, movies are slowly warming to it and with video games it’s already a reality – full games are already sold on services like Steam, Xbox Live, and the PlayStation Network.

Unfortunately digital downloads don’t provide all that many benefits to the customer. Sure you get to play the content “instantly” and it doesn’t take up shelf space, but then I’ve got a degree of patience and am able to wait for the postie to work his magic and as for taking up shelf space then yeah, that’s kind of what shelves are for. While businesses keep pushing for digital downloads I discover just how much I value the real thing.

I like owning my games – rather than a “license”, I like being able to resell them, I like being able to carry a disc around with me to play at a friends house, I like being able to let someone borrow a game from me. Digital downloads let you do none of these things, and for me a console that doesn’t support physical media is a no go – this applies to Sony, Microsoft, and Nintendo.

Thankfully Sony appears to be in favor of physical media – perhaps learning a harsh lesson from the failure of the PSP Go – but that’s a point in their favour, and with Microsoft claiming that digital downloads are “the future” that’s a mark against them – though I’ll have to wait and see if the next Xbox features a physical media drive or not to be sure.

Reliability issues

Through the course of owning an Xbox 360 I’ve gone through two consoles (I had to send one of those in for repairs too), at least seven headsets, three play and charge kits and three controllers just through normal use. Why is Microsofts hardware so hideously unreliable? I can accept the typical wear and tear but come on – seven headsets?  Throughout the course of my original Xbox I had one headset that lasted me longer – and I only had one controller break on me. I’ve never known of a console to have hardware problems this bad and it puts a serious dent in Microsofts reputation. I’m not paying for its mistakes again.

Of course a lot of this stuff is speculative but right now all of the signs are pushing me to favor Sony – a free online service, reliable hardware, better games, and a more open attitude towards what can go on its platform. If Microsoft doesn’t get its act together then I can’t see myself sticking with its platform come the next generation of consoles – and I’m sure that I’m not the only one.

Written by Pokeh

February 11, 2011 at 3:11 pm