I Hate Microsoft, Volumes 9 & 10

Last night, I was playing Bioshock 2 when my 360 froze with a funky patterned screen of blue herringbone. After a few reboots I determined that it was now just booting to display a 3/4 red flashing ring. Is this the Red Ring of Death™? I can't keep track anymore. I sort of think 3/4 is different from the full red ring but whatever. The main point is that Xbox #4, old stalwart that it was, has bit it. Well, you can buy a new 360 "slim model" with 4Gb of flash RAM for about what MS charges to service an old model, so let's do that! Off I went to Best Buy.

First note: the new "slim model" has a bare SATA port, and thus won't take the OG 360 hard drives. Really Microsoft? You decide to shaft the early adopters? Well, you decided that years ago, but I guess the shafting is still ongoing. Turns out it's pretty easy to open the case of the old hard drive, extract the bare drive and stick it in the SATA slot. Google it to find the relevant Youtube videos and have your Torx drivers ready. OK, done. (But wait, I hear you saying. Does the SATA drive slot *only* take laptop drives? After all, that's the been the whisker-thin justification all along for the hard drive gouging! No, it takes a full-size drive. The laptop-sized drive I freed from the enclosure just sort of floats in that larger space. But I'm sure the high performance of the drive is well worth the cost! (rolls eyes))

 Second note: Did you buy a memory card to store your account on? Oh sorry, the new 360 can't actually connect original memory cards! D'oh! You'll have to recover your account, which takes about 15 minutes. I don't know what the fuck you do if there is real data on that thing. Sucker! In 2010 people use flash drives like real computers. If you bought the previously gougy memory card than Microsoft will laugh at you all the way to the bank.

 Third note: You need to transfer your licenses to the new console. For whatever reason, Safari didn't work for me and I had to use Firefox. Visit http://www.xbox.com/drm and follow the instructions there.

 Fourth note: Yes, that "4Gb model" you just bought only has 3Gb of storage available. Sucker!

 In conclusion: if you've bought more than zero Xbox 360's? Sucker!

A REAL 360 DRM fix is incoming

Yay!
There have been some high profile complaints on the web about how difficult it is to transfer things like XBLA game licenses to replacement 360s in the wake of an under warranty hardware failure. Would these changes to DRM policy address these issues, letting people who have experienced such failure re-license their purchases on their new Xbox so they don't have to be connected to Live to play? Are there any other sorts of changes to DRM policy being made here that would affect the end-user experience? Yes, this new tool will officially launch next month on Xbox.com and will allow you to be able to consolidate these licenses onto one box so you can access things like Xbox LIVE Arcade games and TV show you have downloaded even if you are not online. Because this involved allowing users to re-download licenses for content that belongs to our partners it has taken some time to work out the agreements with them to allow this, but we have heard the concerns from folks about DRM and are happy to announce that everything is nearly in place to roll this out in June.
From an interview with Marc Whitten - Xbox Live General Manager It also notes they are going to start "delisting" Live Arcade titles, they upped the size limit for XBLA titles, and there is no spring Dashboard update this year.
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GTA IV

I've had it a week, I suppose I should write down something about GTA IV. The capsule review is that I've played it quite a bit and enjoyed almost all of it. The car physics are improved but still feel good for driving about - not realistic but enjoyable. The new aiming and combat controls make gun battles fun now. They've lost the goofy RPG elements of San Andreas. It's still recognizably GTA, it's still awesome. We've been waiting a long time for more GTA (the last "real" installment was San Andreas in 2004, and there were two PSP titles but the last of those came out in 2006), and the magic is still there. Having said all that there is of course a "But". While combat has vastly improved and lots of little things have been improved (you can now retry a failed mission almost immediately for example), oddly it's lost some of the GTA-ness. There are more radio stations (too many really), but the distinctive DJ's are gone. Fiddling with the radio isn't as fun as all three of the PS2-era titles were. The city is prettier and bigger, but it also seems emptier. I've got three islands unlocked now and the population seems very homogeneous. I miss having the gang-controlled sections and the almost cartoonlike "this is the Mafia section of town, over there are the triads" and so forth. Everything is more realistic, but the draw of GTA wasn't realism, it was a particularly stylized world. You don't hop in a cab to run cab missions, or grab in a cop car to run vigilante missions. You can call somebody on the phone and do a cab mission, but the Crazy Taxi mode where you tried to deliver more and more passengers against a timer is gone. You can steal a cop car, then hack the in-car computer and get a vigilante mission, but it's just another mission, not a unique little mini-game. Similarly, there's no strange garage with a big list of vehicles requested. There's a character that wants cars and he'll send you email telling you to get him a particular vehicle, but again it's just a normal mission. Go get this particular car at this street and bring it here. The spontaneity of being on a mission, seeing a car you needed and jacking it and then trying to hang onto it while doing something else is now gone. Perhaps more realistic, but it is definitely less charming and idiosyncratic. There are no ringing pay-phones with crazy little side missions. I haven't found any vehicles that have secret hidden missions where you drive explosive toy trucks around. Everything is now get text message/phone call/email, set waypoint, drive there, grab whatever you need and rinse/repeat. The new multiplayer is fantastic. We played a few deathmatches, a couple of races, and spent most of an evening playing the "Cops and Crooks" mode. In one of the races I got my car flipped almost immediately and ended up in a fire truck. Ridiculous but then it was pretty easy to just crunch a sports car of another racer. There were a lot of "Wow that was super-cool" moments in the multiplayer. In Cops and Crooks I (as a cop) stumbled across the crooks' getaway boat and stole it. We had a great time fooling around with it until I accidentally flipped it on a sweet jump. And that counted as a win since I destroyed the getaway vehicle! All of my complaints are still pretty nit-picky overall. It's a great game so far. I hope they bring the series back to more of the exaggerated gang action of GTA III or Vice City, but I imagine I'll spend a happy amount of time in Liberty City yet.
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Consoles are just dust in the wind

I twittered about this but I realized I wanted to write something more permanent in my blog. Saturday Xbox 360 #3 died - froze playing Assasin's Creed and then Red Ring of Deathed when I restarted it. Some more messing around Saturday established it was throughly borked - if I could get it to turn on at all it would lock up within five minutes or so. Monday I called and spent a bit over 20 minutes dealing with their customer support before they agreed it was under warranty for Red Ring of Death. (Stupid stuff like plugging the console straight into the wall, as well as getting them to read their own computer system.) The sucky thing is that GTA IV comes out in three weeks. I hope they get me a replacement before thing. Xbox #1 was nine days turnaround, Xbox #2 was 18. I'm hoping the trend isn't linear or I'll have to sit around for three or four days after GTA IV comes out. Also, after having not watched a HD-DVD in months of course Netflix sent me a HD-DVD today (sigh). Gotta send that back now. I wish this generation wasn't a choice between sucky, cheaply made hardware (the 360) and sucky, cheaply made online functions (the PS3).
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