XBOX ONE: Can Microsoft Own the Living Room?

On May 21, Microsoft revealed the next generation of their gaming-cum-entertainment console, Xbox. Dubbed XBOX ONE, officials made it a point to talk up the non-gaming aspects of the new console as much as, if not more than, the gaming aspects. Given that the reveal event was limited to an hour, and that this is a console that has not been updated for years, there were many questions raised than answers provided.

Some of the key questions, at least among the tech media revolve around the gaming aspects of the console, and whether it or the upcoming console from Sony, the Playstation 4 (PS4) would be the better device for gamers. The other aspect that has been questioned a lot is the live TV feature revealed by Microsoft. Eyebrows were raised when everyone realized that the live TV feature would be provided via HDMI input and IR blaster as opposed to TV tuners or cable cards.

This is typical of tech media nowadays. For whatever reason, they make anything that Microsoft does seem silly. Here’s my take on what the Xbox One represents for Microsoft and how some of the things that are in the console may make sense.

First, this was the first of many events where the Xbox team will talk about the various aspects of the console. Naturally, since there is so much information to disseminate, it would be too much to do all at once and in a reasonable amount of time. Remember how the Sony event went on for hours because they went into too much detail at a “launch” event? I think, Microsoft learned the lesson and kept it short and left it simply as a reveal event without going into too much (or any) detail with regard to the developer story, the policy for used games, etc. There are at least two known events in June where they will get a chance to talk about the Xbox One as well as Xbox 360: the E3 expo in early June, and the Microsoft developer conference, BUILD, in late June. The timing of the reveal event absolutely makes sense given that they can follow up on the story within weeks of the reveal.

As for gaming aspects, Microsoft did talk about the specs of the console which are a significant upgrade over the Xbox 360. They also talked about how the three OSes in the console work in a way to make it possible to instantly switch between apps and games without having to wait for the game to reload. Some have rightly pointed out that by pure specs, the Xbox One is inferior to the PS4. However, as we know, there is no point in having a higher spec gadget where the software or content cannot or does not take advantage of the higher spec. For example, the iPad with Retina Display had an issue when it shipped, where many of the popular apps were not Retina-ready and looked worse than they looked on the non-Retina iPads. So, we will have to wait and see how much better the graphics look on the PS4 before concluding that it is “better” than the Xbox One.

As for the games themselves, they showed some of the exclusives that are coming to Xbox One from large development shops like EA. Naturally, E3 is the more appropriate venue to talk more about the games that will be coming to the console when it launches, both from large shops as well as indie developers. Also, BUILD is the best venue to discuss the developer story, especially how Xbox plans to accommodate indie developers especially if the “guts” of the console are based on Windows 8. Can a developer, for example, build an app or a game for Windows 8 tablet and with minor modifications (like maybe Kinect support), publish it to the “Xbox Store”? I am of course making the assumption that there will be an Xbox Store, which has not been confirmed by Microsoft but again, between E3 and BUILD we should know for sure.

Now, regarding live TV and wasted resources (hardware and software) to support it via a combination of HDMI passthrough and IR blaster. The argument made is that these methods are backward and it was tried by Google TV and did not succeed at all. Let me just say that Google TV, among many other flaws, did not support voice like Xbox One is supposed to support. The demo at the reveal event showed how you could simply talk to the Xbox and switch from playing a game to watching a channel or a show just by voice. Google TV had a clunky remote that was really hard to use and perhaps the failure of Google TV was not the IR blaster as maybe the user experience itself.

Coming to the choice they made by not including TV tuners or cable cards, the same pundits complaining about these are also claiming that more and more entertainment is viewed without cable. There is evidence that at least in the US, many households are “cutting the cord” and living without cable. These households have not stopped watching TV, they just use services like Netflix, hulu, etc. to consume their content. If that is the case, and knowing that the Xbox console is built for at least a 7-10 years lifecycle, what is the point in supporting a dying technology? Why should the Xbox have the incremental cost bundled into it now, knowing that in maybe 3 years most of the content won’t be consumed via the cable box? The Xbox One has done the right thing by providing the equivalent of a USB dongle for floppy drives when floppy drives were eliminated from laptops. The HDMI-in and IR blaster will help transition away from the cable box. Even though they have to plan for the future, they still have to support the present and that’s what these ports allow them to do. The only issue I see so far, and we don’t know everything about it in detail yet, is the lack of a DVR in the console itself. That too could be a non-issue if the voice commands could bring up the DVR content from the cable box too.

The Xbox 360 has sold 76 million consoles in its lifetime so far, but I am sure Microsoft wants that to expand dramatically. Why wouldn’t they expect to have one in each household? In order to appeal to “non-gaming households”, Microsoft will have to make the console appealing to the casual gamers and non-gamers via their entertainment story as well as the ecosystem story. There is, after all, a potential to see apps written for Windows Phone that may work on Windows 8 and Xbox One (with code modifications to suit each device appropriately, of course). Pure gaming console market is surely on the decline, so targeting just the gamers by simply making the most powerful console on the market would be a waste of R&D resources. Instead, by making it reasonably competitive with the PS4 for gaming, and dramatically improving the other experiences like live TV, snapping two apps, Skype video conferencing in HD, completely overhauled Kinect with wide-angle 1080P camera that can see in the dark, exclusive partnership with the NFL, etc., Microsoft has a shot at becoming a permanent fixture in the living room.

Personally speaking, I am at best a casual gamer. I liked what I have seen so far. I do want to know how they are going to fit the developer pieces together and what are the chances of seeing a spurt in apps as well as the integration within the Windows ecosystem. By the end of June, I will know enough to decide if I am going to buy the console right away or not.

Are you excited about Xbox One? Sound off in the comments!

SimCity for Mac Coming in June; No Repurchase Required

Good news for Mac users who’ve been meaning to play SimCity — EA has announced that the Mac version of SimCity will be released in about 2 months’ time on July 11th, 2013. The Mac version of SimCity was apparently being optimized for the Mac OS X by studio which isn’t Maxis, and will be available as a digital download on Origin.

The good news is that if you’ve already purchased SimCity, you will be able to download the Mac version of it without having to purchase it again. SimCity will require OS X Lion for you to play the game. The OS requirement might be a bit of problem for some — I know of few acquaintances who haven’t upgraded to Lion.

EA mentions that Retina support is ‘yet to be determined’, and going by the timelines, it’s unlikely that SimCity will have Retina support, at least at launch time. SimCity for Mac will be a digital-download only and you won’t see it on retail stores. And since the cities are saved on EA’s servers, you should be able to pick up your existing cities, regardless of  which platform you’ve been playing on.

Need For Speed: Most Wanted (2012) Review [Xbox 360]

Back in 2005, when EA released Need For Speed: Most Wanted, I was hooked to it. I had a pretty decently powerful PC back then, and loved playing the game at Full HD resolution with all the settings to max. Not only did the game look absolutely fabulous, it was insanely fun to play as well. I even went ahead and got an Xbox 360 controller for PC so that I could enjoy playing the game more.

After Most Wanted, the next racing game that I got hooked to was   Burnout Revenge when EA finally released it for PC. I had heard a lot about Burnout on consoles and from my hardcore gamer friends that how much better the series is compared to NFS.

Once I started playing Burnout Revenge, I could not agree less with my friends. The game was really well done, and had more than just ‘racing’ to it. In between, I never tried any of the NFS games that were released including Shift, Run and more. They all got horrible reviews, and I really did not want to spoil all the good memories I had of playing NFS: MW in my mind.

So, when EA and Criterion released Need For Speed: Most Wanted again this year, I was more than excited. So, here is my review of Need For Speed: Most Wanted after playing the game for the last couple of weeks.

The Story/Gameplay

In nearly all the racing games, the gamer needs to win races, or earn bonus/XP/points to unlock better and powerful cars. Most Wanted bucks this trend. You can roam around in the city – Fairhaven – aimlessly and find all the cars you want to. It’s an open-world out there, and it is up to you to explore it!

The game does have a pretty loose narrative though. Winning races will earn you speed points, which will allow you to challenge the top 10 Most Wanted drivers in the city. These top 10 most wanted racers drive the most desirable cards including many concept cars. Keep in mind that only beating a most wanted driver in a race is not enough to earn his car; you need to takedown his car as well.

Winning races also have another incentive apart from earning speed points, you get to unlock mods for your car, including shorter gears, lighter chassis etc. Every new car that you get is completely stock, so you need to win races to not only earn speed points, but also mods for your car. Every car has five different races allotted to it ranging from easy to hard.

One thing, which Most Wanted absolutely nails, is the handling of the cars. All the cars handle differently at varying speeds, with different mods, at different corners.

The Criterion/Burnout effect in Most Wanted is also clearly visible with billboards that can be smashed, hidden corners/shortcuts. The ‘Burnout’ effect is definitely there, and I mean it in a positive way.

Most Wanted also has a very different approach to races. There is no starting line here. Instead, players are greeted with a stunning track intro video, which is different for different tracks, before they are put in control of their car right in the middle of the race.

If it is a city based racing game, cops have to be there, and Most Wanted is no exception. There are 6 different heat levels, and according to the heat level, the cops get tougher by bringing in SUVs or by deploying spike stripes. Evading cops in Most Wanted is no easy task. I actually spent more than an hour trying to evade cops once, before giving up. You can evade cops by either aiming for the horizon and flat-out outpacing them or by taking some quick corners and hiding somewhere underground.

The Good

The open-world, the graphics, the ability to drive a Lamborghini Gallardo right from the start without the need to win a race, the Burnout effect, the EasyDrive navigation system to select mods or races for your car are easily the strengths of the game. The tracks of the game are really well executed as well. They are not only limited to the city roads but include a bit of off-roading and hidden shortcuts as well.

The attention-to-detail in Most Wanted is amazing as well — watching the debris flying from another car and then sending it into oblivion by knocking it with your car — all while driving your car at insane speeds. Each and every car in Most Wanted has been given the treatment they deserve, right from the Ford Focus ST to the Lamborghini Countach.

Don’t expect to win races easily in Most Wanted. The competing cars can sometimes be clearly much more faster than you, and if you miss those barely visible shortcuts, there is a fat chance of you winning the game. In some races, you will be on your toes and will have to make full use of the nitrous boost to rank among the top 3. You may win the ‘Easy’ races on stock cars, but beyond that, if you are not gonna modify your car, the chances of you winning are going to get extremely slim.

The Bad

As much as I like Most Wanted, I am not hooked to it. Blame my lack of gaming experience or the game itself, but there are no indicators or barriers in the racetracks so as to prevent the player from going off-road. Imagine driving an Aston Marin at nearly 200MPH on a flat road in a race, which you are leading, only to realize that you missed a turn. While there is an on-screen map that highlights the racing path, it is simply not possible to take your eyes off the road when you are driving at such high speeds. Do so, and you end up crashing your car.

The baffling part? There are actually virtual barriers present in certain points in some tracks. Why not everywhere? Or a virtual indicator like in Forza? I am fine with a game being very tough to play, but the lack of any kind of indicator makes me absolutely want smash my console or TV out of frustration. Nothing can be more frustrating that losing a race because you took a wrong turn.

This is perhaps the sole reason why I won’t recommend Most Wanted to anyone. The game does have some other oddities as well. If cops chasing you take you down, you will not be busted. Instead, the game resumes from the same place where you crashed. You can wreck you car into pieces, but it will not affect the performance of the car.


If you are a racing game freak, you are going to love Most Wanted. Nearly every aspect of the game has been executed very well, and the several oddities in the game are nothing too much to be bothered about. However, if you are new to racing games or a casual gamer, I will recommend you to not to spend your money on Most Wanted. ‘The Bad’ part of my review clearly sums up my lone frustration with the game and why I won’t play the game and recommend it to anyone.

P.S. – What’s up with the need for an Origin account? Is not an Xbox Live Account enough? I really don’t see the point of creating any kind of accounts for Xbox games, especially when I am already paying for an Xbox Live account.

EA’s Coupon Code Goof Up Results in Free Games Bonanza

Last night, Electronics Arts(EA) decided to be a little generous and offered few select people a coupon entitling them to $20 off, if they would complete a survey on Origin, EA’s digital distribution service. The coupon made it’s way across the Internet, went viral on Reddit and as a result, a lot of people were able to get the $20 off on few games which were retailing at $20, essentially giving them the game for free.

Origin Logo

Now the catch was that the coupon code was supposed to be one-time and applicable for one game — except EA forgot to put in the one-time check. Woops. Few enterprising souls discovered that they could use it multiple times. EA’s servers essentially didn’t bother to validate if the user had applied the code or not. Result: A lot of people got a lot of games for free. The list of games that could be purchased via the coupon code included

  • Battlefield 2 Complete Collection
  • Bulletstorm
  • Crysis and Crysis: Warhead
  • Dragon Age II
  • Dead Space 1 & 2
  • Mass Effect 1 & 2
  • Shank 1 & 2
  • The Saboteur

The exploit was patched nearly 18 hours after the coupon code was live, by means of making the coupon code as invalid. There were fears that people who made use of this exploit might face bans, but EA Community Manager rep confirmed that “they will honor all sales made with the coupon code.”

New Need For Speed Most Wanted Gets Demoed at E3 2012; Release Date Announced

Few days ago, I had written about a new Need For Speed: Most Wanted coming soon. At this year’s E3, EA gave a demo of Need For Speed: Most Wanted and showed us what can be expected from it.

Being developed by Criterion, the sequel to Most Wanted looks like a Burnout Game in Need For Speed clothing. Each race will have a start and finish line; how you reach the line is completely up to you. You can take the tarmac roads, go hunting for shortcuts or even go offroad. Autolog will be available as well and you and your Autolog friends should be able to jump into the race at any point of time. Need for Speed Most Wanted will be released on October 30th in North America and November 1st in Europe for all major consoles (PS3, Xbox 360), PC and portable and mobile devices.

Till then, there’s a short gameplay video of what you can expect

New Need For Speed: Most Wanted Is Coming Soon

Ask any gamer who likes Racing genre of games what their favorite game is and you’re bound to hear about Need For Speed: Most Wanted a lot of times. Need For Speed: Most Wanted was an absolute blast of a game, combining what most people crave – open world racing, car customization, street racing and cop chases.

IGN reports that a new New Need For Speed: Most Wanted is coming soon, and this was outed by TwitchTV’s E3 gaming schedule.  Whether the new Most Wanted will be a reboot of the series or a sequel remains to be seen; there’s no news on what the new game’s going to be like. Come E3 2012, however, this should be clear.

E3 2012 begins June 5th, 2012. And in case you don’t know what Most Wanted is all about, here’s Most Wanted’s trailer to bring you up to speed.

Nokia Provides More Evidence of Being the “real” Windows Phone Maker

Nokia Lumia 900

On May 8, at the CTIA Wireless 2012 show in New Orleans, Nokia announced that they are partnering with a bunch of top-tier brands to bring their various apps and games to Windows Phone, with a lot of those apps and games being exclusive to Nokia’s Lumia line of Windows Phones.

Some of the highlights from their press release:

PGA Tour (exclusive to Lumia for 12 months)

In addition to live tournament scoring, highlights and player information, the app provides interactive, augmented coverage of select events and holes, showing each player’s exact position and scoring information. This allows fans to “get inside the ropes” and follow all players competing on the PGA TOUR.

ESPN (exclusive to Lumia until May 2013)

This app already exists on the Lumia devices, and is in addition to the ESPN ScoreCenter app that is available to all Windows Phones. The Lumia app will see some functionality updates and in addition, the ESPN Fantasy Football app (another Lumia exclusive) will be made available later in the Fall to align with the NFL season.


After a back-and-forth on whether they are going to build Angry Birds Space for Windows Phone or not, Rovio is now building a dedicated design and development team to create games for Lumia and other Windows Phone devices. That’s quite a scoop for Nokia from the rather negative start that the game maker had with Microsoft and Windows Phone.

Nokia and Rovio will partner to develop innovative new consumer products and content exclusively for Nokia Lumia smartphones, alongside cross platform multi-channel integrated marketing initiatives.


EA will be bringing some of their most popular titles to Lumia and other Windows Phones, including FIFA, Madden NFL, NBA Jam, Tiger Woods PGA TOUR®, Mirror’s Edge and Yahtzee to add to the several titles they already have in the Windows Phone Marketplace.

Groupon (exclusive to Lumia for 6 months)

There is already an official Groupon app which is going to get some major updates, including a cool and innovative augmented reality feature to find deals near you.

Tripdots (exclusive to Lumia for 3 months)

Tripdots helps vehicle owners optimize their driving behaviors while connecting with other vehicle owners and sharing driving efficiency achievements via social networks. The app lets users monitor the operation of their vehicles to enable cost savings through better understanding fuel economy.


Yet another “key” app missing in the Windows Phone ecosystem is for the popular PayPal service. PayPal is going to work with Nokia to not only bring their app to Windows Phone, but also use functionality like Live Tiles to enhance the user experience.

AOL Entertainment Hub (exclusive to Lumia for 3 months)

Whether you want to listen to one of 55,000 radio stations via SHOUTcast, stream free music albums with AOL’s Listening Party or view Trailers and Movie listings, the AOL Entertainment Hub delivers everything you need.

Yet another app where Live Tiles are going to be used to enhance the user experience:

“The live tiles on Nokia Lumia helped us create an awesome app that makes it easy to stay in the know on what’s happening in Film, TV, Radio, Concerts and Music right from your home screen,” said Sol Lipman, Director of Mobile First products at AOL.

TIME magazine

Utilizing the stunning Windows Phone UI, the app will enable users to view content, receive breaking news alerts, watch rich media content including video and share stories via the Windows Phone People Hub, while delivering the latest news and stories to users first via Live Tiles.

Newsweek – The Daily Beast

The Daily Beast app delivers the latest content through Live Tiles and combines the unique style of The Daily Beast with the Windows Phone UI to deliver a stunning experience. For users who only have minutes to digest the latest news, the app also delivers The Cheat Sheet – your one stop must have reads from across the world – uniquely designed for Windows Phone.

Box app for Windows Phone

Box, another oft-requested app, will finally come to Windows Phone with support for nine languages.


Rock Band iOS App Has An Expiration Date–May 31st

EA has some really bright ideas about marketing this wonderful commodity called a “video game” to potential buyers called “video gamers”, who have a fairly good idea about what this commodity should be. However EA does not, which has been repeatedly shown throughout its recent debacles. Not a month goes by without EA doing something wrong that is so basic that one wonders just how they did manage to become one of the biggest game publishing houses in the world.


Players (“Rockers”) of Rock Band for the iOS – a $4.99 game on the iTunes – were recently accosted by a friendly popup that said:-

On May 31, ROCK BAND will no longer be playable on your device. Thanks for rocking out with us!

No apologies, no explanations. Just that rather verbose message. What gives?

Many are of the opinion that relicensing the music was too expensive for EA, now that they already had the players’ money, so they just let the game “expire”. See, when you ‘buy’ an app on the iTunes Store, you are just buying the license to use it, which can be revoked at any time by the licensing authority – in this case EA.

So what can you do about it? Nothing much, although you can try to get a refund from EA. You can also email Tim Cook of Apple and tell him how this sort of behavior from a licensing company is atrocious.

[Picture via Reddit]

Download FIFA Street Demo for Xbox and PS3, Pre-order Now

I am a big fan of the FIFA franchise and have played it on the PC and Xbox as well. However, I have been waiting for a while to get my hands on the next version of FIFA from EA Sports called FIFA Street.

FIFA Street

FIFA Street compromises of 5-a-side match which provides authentic street soccer, styles and stars from around the world. It claims to provide an authentic feel to the game which if similar to FIFA 2012 is going to blow you away.

The demo will allow you to play at the at the Amsterdam Square stadium and choose between teams like Manchester City and AC Milan  or real life street football legends.

EA Sports will be releasing the full game on March 13th, but you can pre-order your copy of FIFA Street right now for $59.99 on Amazon. Amazon is also offering a pre-order bonus where will receive in-game access to an Adidas all-star team featuring 13 of the greatest footballers in the world, including Messi, Kaká, Robin Van Persie, Nani, David Silva as well as the Lionel Messi Barcelona venue. FIFA Street will be available for the Xbox 360 and PS3 platforms only.

Origin Auto-Adds EA Game Purchases From Steam

Joystiq reports that the puke-worthy EA has actually gone and done something reasonably intelligent with its Origin digital distribution system. Apparently many users of the Day One Patch forums reported that copies of Dead Space 2 – that they had purchased over Steam – had magically appeared on their Origin game library, with the same CD Key (i.e. an identical copy). While this is slightly unnerving, some more data that surfaced said that it was not all that malicious since Origin is known to look through files of the user’s computers (much like Steam itself does) and send back relevant statistics to EA.


It seems Origin looks through the games and filenames present in the user’s computer, match it with its database and if the user had bought an EA game through another platform, it automatically adds it to its own game library. Of course there are some checks here and there built into its system. While this is actually pleasing for once it is slightly creepy and we would all be a little more comfy if Origin announced that it has found such and such game in your system and will be registering it with Origin as well. That way people will actually like Origin. But this being EA, they again missed out on a lovely opportunity to show how Origin is better than other platforms in this respect.

They still have not convinced me to buy Mass Effect 3 though.