Xbox 360: Lots And Lots Of Questions Answered

Free Live for 30 days, RGB costs extra...

We're reminded of a scene from Grosse Pointe Blank. Martin and Grocer are sitting in a café having a polite discussion about killing each other and trying to order breakfast at the same time. Martin's talking to the waitress and wants an omelette. "Nothing on the omelette, nothing at all." "Well, that's not technically an omelette." "Look, I don't want to get into a semantic argument, I just want the protein." You're like that about Xbox 360. You know plenty, and you don't want to have to root around in somebody's neatly structured preview to extract new details. You just want them.

So, having just spent the past two hours or so in a room with Chris Satchell, general manager of Microsoft's Game Developer Group and a man intimately familiar with the inner and outer workings of the next-generation console, here's a rundown of the things he said that sounded new to us, interesting things you may have missed in the recent past, and the answers he gave to specific questions. Provided in no particular order - although the order may become more particular in later revisions as you start pointing out that we've grouped Xbox Live 360 pricing information with the mating rituals of flamingos on dialysis or some such nonsense.

Interface/Functionality

  • The console can be switched on and off wirelessly using the Media Remote control or the wireless game controller.
  • You will definitely need a hard disk to play Xbox 1 games.
  • Wherever you are - whether it's a game, film or piece of music - you can pull up the Guide (remember it from GDC?), which is a bit like a universal Start Menu, that allows you to look for friends, adjust playback and options, and even sort through people you've played against recently - listing them by reputation or what-have-you.
  • The pages of the Xbox 360 user interface are called "blades".
  • The Live blade is the default if you have a Live account, and shows you your gamer-card including a selected image (or photograph), your gamertag, the number of games you've played, your Gamerscore (more on that in a second), your achievements and your reputation.
  • More on Gamerscore - each Xbox 360 game gives out certain points based on accomplishments, and as well as being able to view a list of your individual achievements ("Finished level 10," etc) you are also given a total based on this. Xbox 1 games will not contribute to these stats.
  • The Game blade allows you to manage stuff like save-games, as well as accessing demos and trailers (standard and high-definition versions).
  • The System blade offers greater control over your individual settings. You can specify, for example, that you prefer to invert the right analogue stick camera control and this will then be picked up on in any game you play.
  • Likewise, the System blade allows greater control over family settings. Microsoft thinks this is very important, Satchell said, and will therefore allow all manner of controls at a system or individual profile level. You can choose to allow specific people or the whole system access to certain games, DVDs (based on ratings - apparently "99 per cent" of DVDs now supply that information direct to the console), and areas of Live. Online, you can opt to ban certain friends, voice messaging, video messaging (if the camera is available), downloadables or just control online play.
  • If you yank the hard disk off the top of the Xbox 360 when it's in the middle of doing something, it will not corrupt it beyond repair or damage the File Allocation Table or anything like that - the hard disk uses a "transaction model" so that if you interrupt a transfer the data simply isn't present and the space is presumably reallocated when you next save data to it.
  • The "ring of light" around the power button highlights which wireless controller is being used, highlighting player one's activity in the top-left quadrant. When the console is laid on its side, it senses this and starts using the top-left quadrant as you see it with the console laid flat. What's more, the ring of light motif is spread throughout the Xbox 360 interface, so you can see which player pulled up the "Guide" page as you're watching a film or playing a game and, in the words of Satchell, "slap him".
  • Cross-platform development between Windows and Xbox is being actively pursued - in the future, Microsoft hopes that people will be able to play games against each other using either platform.
  • On the issue of cooling - Satchell said he thought the system had three fans (he said he wasn't sure but thought it was three, so we'd open to correction on that one), and we couldn't hear them at all as he spoke. When you play a DVD, it powers down to just one fan. It's "a lot" better than the "wind tunnel" alpha kits, he said.

Xbox Live

  • Transferring your Xbox Live account to Xbox 360 will be part of the initial set-up procedure when you first plug in your console, and existing users have "Gold" membership.
  • People buying the Xbox 360 £279.99 package - the higher-end one - get a 30-day free trial of Gold membership on Xbox Live. Actual pricing has yet to be announced - although some would beg to differ.
  • Your "reputation" stat is based on your activities online. Rather like an eBay rating, people who have encountered you can rate you positively or negatively, and this is reflected in your reputation.
  • Xbox Live will allow you to play in various Zones - there will be causal, pro, family, and underground (where "anything goes") and perhaps more - and these will allow you to go for whatever kind of experience you like.
  • Marketplace is also accessible through the Live blade. As you know, this is where you can download premium content and, in the future, content created by users and sold to other users via a micro-payment system. Marketplace does not require you to insert individual game discs to see content available for those games.

Multimedia

  • DVDs can be played even if you don't have the remote control, unlike Xbox 1.
  • DVDs will play back in progressive-scan, with the Xbox 360 up-sampling to prog-scan in the case of DVDs that don't support it.
  • When ripping music to the hard drive, album information is now stored on the HDD, with a huge amount there by default and more available from an online source - presumably something like CDDB, which will be familiar to people who rip their own CDs already.
  • The Jeff Minter-created visualisation tool for music accepts input from all control pads and the video camera, allowing you to create various effects on-screen.
  • iPods are detected by default, as are PSPs, and by our watch it took about 2 or 3 seconds for the Xbox 360 to notice they were there. With an iPod plugged in you can play music direct through the Dashboard software, with visualisations, or you can play a slideshow of photographs.
  • For now, you can play music and access photographs on the PSP, but you can't do video yet. That may happen, but Satchell joked that Sony wasn't exactly giving them a helping hand there.
  • Interestingly, you can actually have that slideshow draw photographs from another external device, so - as in our demo - you could play music from an iPod while using a slideshow of photos from a PlayStation Portable simultaneously.
  • All of these devices will be supported by default, and any firmware updates that are necessary - Microsoft is hoping for very few - can be made available via Live.
  • You can also plug in a laptop or PC (or not plug it in - if you're using wireless networking) and play content direct from that. This is through Windows Media Player Extender, the software for which is pre-installed on the Xbox 360. In our example, Satchell first streamed a high-definition Project Gotham Racing 3 trailer, and then drew upon a high-definition recording of Star Wars: Episode II apparently captured on his home TV.

Official Peripherals

  • RGB video output will only be possible if you purchase the £17.99 cable separately - regardless of whether you paid £209.99 or £279.99 for your Xbox 360 console.
  • Video cables from Xbox 1 will not work with Xbox 360.
  • The wireless networking adapter plugs into the USB 2.0 port on the back of the console and is "like a small pack of cigarettes" in terms of size.
  • The camera is a separate peripheral that will plug into one of the USB 2.0 slots and will be released next year - date TBC.
  • While the Media Remote will be bundled with Xbox 360's £279.99 offering, this will apparently only be for a limited time based on available units. We'll get more details on that when we can.
  • You can plug in a keyboard but this is for text input only - including in massively-multiplayer games. You can't use it to play games and that was a design choice.
  • If a third-party peripheral manufacturer or publisher wanted to let more than four players play on one game, Microsoft would be happy to help them create a peripheral to do that.

Offline Content

  • Microsoft also plans to have kiosks available - presumably in game stores and other public locations - where you can download content. Whether this will be to the detachable hard disk itself or a memory card is a detail that wasn't clarified.

So there you have it. Hopefully some of that was new to you. We'll be giving you our thoughts on the system itself and our impressions on it in the near future. Oh, and for those of you currently drag-selecting chunks of text to paste to your forum chums - we're happy for you to do so, but if you could give us a link that would also be very friendly. Come again!

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