Claims and Discrepancies: Xbox One

I was really excited for the first Fable, and then I never listened to Molyneux again. He taught us all about the discrepancies between what a developer will say and how a product will deliver. So when it came to the Xbox One it wasn’t really Microsoft I was turning to for promises. Now that I own an X1 I wanted to check in on the claims so I could talk about the discrepancies. The Microsoft Store has a lot to say about the X1, and after owning the new console for a month myself, I feel ready to respond.

All quoted text is taken directly from the Xbox One page of the online Microsoft Store.

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“Welcome to a new generation of games and entertainment. Where games push the boundaries of realism. And television obeys your every command. Where listening to music while playing a game is a snap. And you can jump from TV to movies to music to a game in an instant. Where your experience is custom tailored to you. And the entertainment you love is all in one place. Welcome to the all-in-one, Xbox One.”

 

This is a pretty great description of the Xbox One. The console does a lot of different things, but like the poorly formatted and grammarless paragraph above, there’s plenty of work to be done making the system easier to use and understand. Turning on the Xbox One for the first time initiates a set up that calibrates the Kinect, creates a profile for the user, and enables commands for any connected cable/satellite box and the television itself. It’s actually a pretty quick process, but it could do more to get users into the swing of things, particularly with voice commands. Unlike, say, Siri, the Kinect isn’t conversational; it recognizes specific words and phrases for specific functions, and it is mostly on the user to know what these are. There is a Kinect tutorial but for some reason it doesn’t come loaded onto the hard drive (despite being only a few MBs), and no suggestion is made to use it – which is a shame, because it is quite helpful (spoiler: “Select” makes everything work).

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“With the best games, TV, movies, music and sports all in one place, you don’t have to compromise. Switch instantly from one to another, or enjoy two at once, so you never miss a moment. And talk with family and friends on Skype while watching TV.”

 

 

 

 

Despite how much this makes me think of Fahrenheit 451, it mostly rings true to the nature and delivery of the Xbox One, which is having the potential and/or experience of simultaneous entertainment. Of course, having “the best games, TV, movies, music and sports” requires the purchase of other products and subscriptions, but the X1 does allow for easy navigation between them. Hitting the home button while playing a game or watching TV instantly transitions back to the home page, where a user can still see their last activity carrying on in reduced form in the center of the screen. From that point, a number of other things can be done while retaining the position of that last activity, including pulling up webpages or running certain other applications. That said, it isn’t very clear how much can be done simultaneously, or which applications will negate each other. Sometimes I have both a game and Skype running in the background while using Internet Explorer, and am able to transition between these three without problem, which is great. At other times, however, I might find that my game has been closed after opening just one other nongame application, and without receiving any kind of prompt that there would be a problem. Snap is similarly unreliable, but we’ll get to that a little later.

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“Xbox One was built by gamers, for gamers. The perfect balance of power and performance, Xbox One takes gaming to a whole new level. Stunning realism. Advanced AI that adapts to the way you play. And a new generation of multiplayer that is both smarter and faster. Xbox One is simply the best gaming console we’ve ever made.”

 

 

That the Xbox One has been built for gamers is certainly debatable; pretty clearly the X1 has a broader focus than just games and gamers, but I’ve still been pretty impressed with my gaming experience on the console. I honestly wasn’t much looking forward to any of the games in the launch line up, but I’m actually really pleased now with the four that I purchased: Dead Rising 3, Forza 5, NBA 2K14, and Battlefield 4. Those last two games aren’t exclusively next generation, but they do look and play better in their next generation forms. Leading up to release I was pretty concerned with reports about upscaled resolutions and struggling framerates, but I’ve been generally surprised with these games in the way that they look and perform (and I’m a PC elitist!). There’s no telling just yet how the X1 is going to fare against the more powerful PS4 or PC market in the years to come, but now that I’ve played these games I’m much more optimistic.

I’m not sure what they’re on about with advanced AI, though, since that hasn’t a thing to do with hardware, but rather the focus of software developers churning out shooting galleries for your angst-stricken kids. More power makes for more potential, sure, but we aren’t there yet.

The X1 similarly does not improve on the state of multiplayer. In fact, I’ve been disappointed by the party system, which hasn’t been as immediate or responsive as I would have hoped. To start a party the user navigates to either the party application (which can be set to the left profile page, but isn’t a feature of the home page itself) from which friends can be invited and chat started (as another step), or through the friends home screen button which can result the same but takes another step or two to get there. When playing a multiplayer game (in my case Battlefield 4), the game usually puts parties into the same game and on the same team, though not always. It isn’t always clear if X1 partied players are also partied within a game, which is mostly a failure of a good party lobby (think Halo 2) and notifications.

The multiplayer is functional, but not yet prominent, which feels underwhelming given what Xbox Live has done for multiplayer in the past, and how this is a new console with such a touted focus on interconnectivity and expanded features. I’d like to see the “View” button (previously the “Back” button, and which now rarely has a function), reconceptualized into a “Multiplayer” or “Community” button that would provide easy access to friends, parties, streaming, and other social features.

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“Why choose between two things you love when you can do both at the same time? Xbox One lets you quickly jump from TV to a movie to a game. And then snap them side by side to do two things simultaneously. Music and games. Skype voice calls and live sports. Split your screen, not your time.”

 

 

 

I addressed the functionality of this claim above – it mostly rings true. Interestingly, the one application I am personally interested in “Snapping” is Skype, which despite being listed here, is not currently “Snappable.”

Other than Skype I haven’t found use for Snap, and while I appreciate the speed of transitions between applications, I’m usually sticking to one thing at a time for a reasonable stretch. I haven’t found myself interested in lessening the immersion of any one game or program so that I can enjoy two things summed less but at the same time. The functionality is there, but my interest is not, and I’m curious to see whether or not these possibilities – and Snap in particular – are well received by users and still featured by MS in the future.

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“Skype has been specially designed for Xbox One. Chat with friends on your TV in stunning HD. Use Skype in Snap mode to chat while you watch TV. Or participate in group video Skype calls with up to three people around the world, all from the comfort of your living room.”

 

 

 

 

I’ve got to come right out and say that the surprise feature I wasn’t expecting so much to love on the X1 is Skype. Skype! I’ve been Skyping on my PC for years and yet the experience of Skype on the X1 has been totally different. I’ve had a number of nights with a few friends over, all of us readying to go out for the weekend, when we call an old friend living in another state. Suddenly, with Skype on the X1, we’re seeing his living room in full view through his Kinect, he is seeing the same for us, and it actually feels like you’re all together, hanging out. The picture quality is good, the sound quality is good; the camera sees and hears everyone – sometimes even tracking them – which makes for an inclusive and organic experience. It’s a small thing, but it’s also one of the few features that really feels like technology pushing forward; it isn’t just better graphics or more memory, it’s offering a new and believable way to connect people.

Then again it still isn’t Snappable.