Thursday, December 11, 2008

Xbox 360 NXE Review

The Xbox 360 has been around for a few years now and has had a good run of it. It beat the Playstation 3 and Nintendo Wii to the market by a good year and has been going strong since. (It’s my favorite console thus far…and I’ve had ‘em all!)

With Xbox going so strong and no new console on the horizon, I was rather shocked that Microsoft would offer a complete overhaul of the Xbox 360 firmware for free via the Xbox Live service. This update, released this past November 19th is called the “New Xbox Experience” (or NXE for all you hipsters with your acronyms) and offers updates on the old system and a handful of new features.

Let’s discuss.

Updated Features

The Dashboard in General
Gone is the blade system Xbox 360 owners have grown to know and love. It’s been replaced with a navigation system that I can only describe as “iPod-like”. This isn’t a bad thing. I love the iTunes 3D album flipping and the new NXE navigation is exactly like that. It’s a little disorienting at first, having grown accustomed to the blades, but I rapidly got the hang of it.

The basic layout is an up/down menu in the top left of the screen listing the main areas of the Xbox. As you scroll through these, the 3D images change accordingly and you use right/left to select whatever it is you’re looking for. The areas available are:

Spotlight: This is what opens whenever you turn on your 360 and is basically a nice little cross section of updates from al the other categories. My only protest to this area is that you can’t select anything other than this to be your default screen upon powering up. I’d much rather just hop to…

My Xbox: This is where you’ll spend more of your time. It allows you to select from your games, XBLA, your profile, media and system settings.

Video Marketplace: This is exactly what it sounds like. You’re able to view videos that are available on XBL (including the amazing and hilarious web series The Guild…which is bloody FREE for download! Go get it!). Sorry got sidetracked. You can also view videos from your HDD and access the new Netflix feature which I’ll discuss below under “new features”.

Game Marketplace: Again, this is what we’ve come to know from XBL. You’re able to browse XBLA games, demos, game videos and the like and download them to your hard drive. Simple enough.

Inside Xbox: Here you’re linked into Microsoft’s shows like Major Nelson’s Minute and such as well as 360 video previews and movie trailers. The nice thing added here is that you can now browse the archive of past showings. Miss that IGN Insider covering getting the easy achievements? Just hit X and you’re able to browse through all the old shows and watch whatever you like. Keen!

Events: This is a link to upcoming XBL events including Game with Fame, Gamerchix and Family Playnights among others. I haven’t used this at all yet. And lastly but definitely note leastly…

Friends: Shows all your XBL friends and their avatars. If they’re online, they’re awake and waving at you. If not, they’re snoozing. Cool enough and easy to find what you’re looking for.

Shortcut Menu
The last bit of navigation update is the simple shortcut menu accessible by hitting the Xbox button on your controller. This one harkens back to the previous blade design. You just flip left and right to find whatever you’re looking for. You’re able to access games, profiles, themes, active downloads, friends, parties…you name it. Best of all, it can be done while playing a game! Simple and effective.

Yes. You can use your old themes on the new NXE. However, all the cool themes you had with multiple images are all but useless since you’ll only see one image most of the time. The extra images are only seen in certain instances where you are looking at video marketplace or settings and the like. Yeah. Kinda lame but the new premium themes are sweet…check out the info below under “new features”.

Alright…now onward to the…

New Features

This is the one everyone was waiting for and talking about. Sure. It’s a total and blatant rip-off of Nintendo’s Miis from the Wii console but amped up full on Xbox style. As opposed to the Wii, you’re able to customize your Xbox avatar to a crazy degree. You can change not only the look of the character all the way down to what kind of mole you may have on your face (which I wouldn’t suggest advertising to the world) but you have a full wardrobe at your fingertips. There’s enough here to get everyone started no matter your style.

My first thought was that it would be easy to get updates to the wardrobe via XBL Marketplace and I was certain that Microsoft would have us trade XBL points for them. I was proven wrong thus far when a new “winter” wardrobe update was released last week for free.

My only suggestion here would be game specific t-shirts and/or costumes. How cool would it be to have a H.E.V. suit from Half Life 2? One can wish.

This is a cool feature accessible from either the “friends” tab or the Xbox shortcut menu that allows you to link up with your friends and hop from game together without any slowdown or to simply chat when you’re not playing the same game. I haven’t used this much yet since my multi-player experience is usually limited to playing Uno on XBLA.

Premium Themes
As mentioned above, these new “premium” themes are actually really cool and will, in time, replace the traditional “wallpaper” type themes were used to. These themes change more than just the background. This is most noticed on the “friends” tab. Normally, you’d see your friends avatars standing next to a pile of Xbox regalia. However, install a premium theme, and all changes. For example, the “Castle Crashers” theme now has your friends standing next to game graphics like trees, barns and the like. Very cool effect.

The Video Marketplace has added the ability to view Netflix films via your Xbox (assuming you’re a Netflix subscriber of course). This is a cool feature but not one I’ve used yet since I haven’t used Netflix in over a year. I may review this feature in full on a later date but for now, the gist is that all those films you were able to watch instantly on your PC are now available to watch right on your television. See? Cool if you have Netflix. No more waiting on discs or paying XBL points to rent a movie! Huzzah!

Full Game Installs
This feature allows you to install games directly to your HDD. I thought it was an awesome idea until I realized that you still had to have the original game disc in the drive for it to work. (Which makes sense as it would be a game-pirate paradise otherwise.) The objective is to reduce load times with games. I installed Elder Scrolls IV and didn’t notice that much of a difference. There are a few seconds differences here and there but not worth wasting HDD space for. This isn’t something that I’ll probably ever use.

That’s it folks! The New Xbox Experience in a nutshell!

Final Thoughts
Yes. The NXE rips off both Apple and Nintendo. But you know what? It doesn’t matter. It makes for a unique experience that I am very pleased with and one that I’m glad I didn’t have to wait for the next gen Xbox to hit to get. It’s functional, elegant and simple and a huge step above the previous Xbox OS. In the end, it’s well worth getting and, if you’re planning on using XBL, it’s not an option anyway. You have to get it to connect. So…I’m off to play.

See you online!

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Forrest J. Ackerman RIP 1916-2008

Earlier today I first read a twitter from @wilw that announced the death of horror legend Forrest J. Ackerman.

The Ackermonster (as he was lovingly called by his fans...myself included) had been ill of late so it wasn't entirely a shock when I heard this, but it's still a sad day for horror geeks everywhere.

For those of you who don't know, Mr. Ackerman was the publisher of THE horror magazine that started it all...Famous Monsters of Filmland. Any monster kid growing up in the late '70s/early '80s will always hold fond memories of this shrine to all things horrible and fun.

I never had the chance to meet "Uncle Forry" but, nonetheless, he will be missed.

Rest in peace, old friend.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

New Ghostbusters the Video Game Trailer!


Ghostbusters the Video Game finally has an official release date of June 2009!

...and the new trailer is up! OMG! This look so amazing!

I want this so bad that I am currently working feverishly in the lab and searching e-Bay for a DeLorean. Dr. Brown, if you read this, Twitter me!

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Mario Kart Love Song

If you have a geek girl in your life, play this for her. It'll melt her heart. I promise. Frickin' brilliant!

Having a sweet 'stache wouldn't hurt either.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

A Few Quick Changes to the Blog (UPDATED)

I tweaked the blog layout a bit tonight and I hope it'll be a little easier to navigate and fun for my readers. (Who am I kidding? Can it get any more fun than reading the ramblings of an old geek? Nah!)

Look! Over on the right-hand side of the page! No! Not there! Scroll down a bit. There ya go! Yes! I added some new links to websites and blogs that I like! You're welcome!

More importantly, I added a section where I can post from Twitter when I have random news and/or musings that don't require an entire blog.

Enjoy! I'm off to watch The Guild: Season 2 Episode 2 on Xbox Live...and that's something I recommend that you do as well. I can offer a 100% guarantee that it'll make your day brighter!
Update: Bah! Episode 2 of the Guild was not on XBL last night as expected. IS on The Guild website right now! And is still worthy of making your day brighter!

(Oh! And yes...the new Xbox Live Experience is friggin' sa-weet! I'm still planning on posting a full review soon...but don't hold your breath as I'm too busy playin' it!)