Monday, November 1, 2010

[UPDATED] Things That Need to be Included in a 360 Update

UPDATE: I've only added one new thing, labeled as [NEW] under the Achievements section. Yes, I'm a bit of a bastard for adding something to the list, but it just hit me.

So, we know the 360 is getting a system update soon (I'm in the preview program, myself). However, there are some things that Microsoft is still neglecting, and it's here that I want to make it clear: these are features that we want need.

I've been under embargo since I was a part of the beta program, so since the update is live, I can finally bitch about the things that still aren't in place:

LIVE Enhancements

We've seen a lot of enhancements to Xbox LIVE over - nearly - the past decade. The biggest one was the introduction of the Marketplace, which coined the oft-overused acronym 'DLC' and the term "nickel-and-dimed" has seen a recent upsurge in use. Sadly, it's the driving force behind many of the developer's pockets (I need not even mention You-Know-Who).

Friend Limit Cap Lifted/Increased 100. 100 friends is what we've been accustomed to for the past 8 years. Eight. Years. That boils down to 12.5 friends a year. God help you if you befriend half a person. At that point, you either met a schizo, or this guy. Either way, being limited to 100 people to make their acquaintance is a bit ridiculous; I've got nearly 300 on Facebook. Lift the limit, because  we're overdo. So, this was the first thing I thought of. Sadly, during the drafting phase, the announcement on the Xbox Germany Facebook page let loose that the friend limit would be increased to 1,000 in an update. Major Nelson was quick to dispel it, saying it wouldn't be in the next update, which is currently in beta phase (which should be out around Kinect's release date on November 4), but he didn't say it wouldn't happen.

No Questions Asked If there is free content on the Marketplace, why do we have to "confirm" that download? It's just as absurd as Apple asking for your password everytime you download updates for apps you've previously downloaded. Go head and keep asking us on pay-to-own content (even at the minuscule $1 80 MSP price point), but for the free stuff? There's a reason why I'm downloading free stuff.

Shopping Cart Or, better yet, let us que up a batch of downloads, confirm the lot, then you can download. The only problem is the 6-download que limit Microsoft has imposed on the 360 right now.

Nicknames I have 82 friends on Xbox Live. I only remember a small handful of who they are. I don't usually friend request people I meet online. With that being said, I have no idea who the fuck I'm talking to most of the time. Hell, most of the people on my friend list don't even fill out their name or bio, so it's impossible for me to tell who it is. With this, allow us to "rename" those on our friends list to something a bit more...suitable. We can choose to toggle between their GamerTag or our own Rename, or, better yet, where their name would usually appear below their GamerTag - granted, if they actually filled it out - this is where it would show up. It would help us keep better tabs on our friends, and keep us from deleting the wrong person if we're at the 100 friend limit, or just doing some spring cleaning.



Dashboard Enhancements

The Game Library. The cornucopia of all things Xbox. This is where you keep track of all your games: full Arcade and Retail games, Retail demos and Arcade trials, just Arcade games, just Retail games, Indie games, game videos, and finally, you can view every single goddamned thing you have under - you gottit - All. However, there are problems here. They've been persistent, as well as newly evolved (and they're been around prior to the Fall 2010 update):

All 360 Games Under "Xbox 360 Games" Speaks for itself, right? No? Well, let me explain. Go to [Dashboard] > [My Xbox] > [Game Library] > [Collections] > [Xbox 360 Games]. Here, you'll only see a handful of games. You'll see games you have had installed, as well as those random "apps", like Guitar Hero VIP Pass, or Halo Waypoint. To be honest, I don't consider these as "games". They're more of a storefront or an access point to more content. The 360 isn't made for applications. These need their own section, like, I dunno, Applications; there's enough room there. But back at the matter at hand, any 360 game that has ever penetrated your system's disc tray should be listed here. I'm not going to sift through the metric ass-ton of tiles under my GamerCard. Going to "Xbox 360 Games" should be a master list of all 360 Retail games you have played. Once selected, it will open the game's "portal" that you normally see if you find it in the Marketplace, where you can view your Achievements, check out any DLC in the store and all that jazz. Sadly, right now, you only get a few options: Play Game, Install/Delete Game (depending on it's installed status) and View All Achievements; there's no quick access to the Marketplace. Oh, and the crazy thing about this entire section? This is how is used to be back when the NXE first launched.

"Applications" Section As I stated above, all those applications - Twitter, Facebook, Halo Waypoint, et cetera, et cetera - need their own section. Fuck "My Community". You want to know how long it took me to realize my Facebook app was in the My Community section? 3 weeks. Why? Because it was nowhere else to be found. Hell, I reinstalled it thinking it disappeared, and I left the page up so I could hit "Play Now" to actually use it.

Separate Arcade Trials and Retail Demos Currently, I have 23 items under the "Game Demos and Trials" section, which piles up all of your Retail Demos and Arcade Trials. Out of those 23, only 3 are Retail Demos (I currently have Vanquish, Enslaved and Castlevania: LoS on there). I don't want to sift through all the random Arcade trials I have (side note: I keep them as a reminder to myself to buy them at one point) just to get to one demo. Yes, they're sorted alphabetically, but hey, I want justice!

Search Oh dear sweet, merciful Baby Jesus. The lack of a "Search" option is the utmost bane of anyone using anything. This goes hand-in-hand with the prior two complaints: how in the fuck has the 360's OS survived this long without a universal search option? With the largest capacity HDD out there at 250GBs, you'd think we could do a search function. When viewing any of the aforementioned sections under Game Library, smash [RB] and the prompt comes up, and you can type in a name. Sure, developers will have to insert tags to their games, because searching for "Call of Duty" won't bring up Modern Warfare 2, and typing in "Modern Warfare 2" won't actually bring it up, because Activition had to remind us it's a registered trademark by squeezing the '®' symbol inbetween "Warfare" and the "2". If a search bar is out of the question, then give us a sorting option, like we do in our Friends list. An alphabetic sorting would help us get to the games quicker, as well. Then again, if you're wanting to look at all six release Call of Duty games at once, you're SOL, as Modern Warfare 2 doesn't have the "Call of Duty" moniker attached to it. This goes back to the deal about developers adding tags to their games, making the search function that more viable, or, as in iTunes, having the Sort Name as the game's full name, but the Display Name could be something completely different.

Better Data Management So, we've got our downloads and our shopping cart. What about getting rid of it to clear up space? Sure, we could head into "Deletion Suggestions", but there's no fun by having your system tell you that the game you just installed last week is the top suggestion to be deleted, considering you're playing it every day (Halo: Reach, I'm looking at you). You could also buy a bigger hard drive. However, we're going down the "cost efficient" route. For example, you're cruising through your Arcade games under your Game Library, and you see a couple trials that you downloaded and forgot about, and really don't care too much about. You want to quickly delete a few games, because your friend just sent you an invite to play a game. Seeing as the X button isn't being used under this screen, use that for an Instant Delete option. I mean, the game is already tagged to your profile, so it's not like you just lost it forever. If a one-hit-kill option is too endearing, let's go a better route: Deletion Confirmation. Hit X, the prompt will ask you if you're sure - reminding you that the content can be redownloaded as long as it's still available on the Marketplace - and you hit "Yes", as you probably would anyways. This can apply to everything else in the Game Library: demos/trials, arcade, installed retail games, indie games and even videos.

"Inside Xbox" Videos Go Full-Screen I don't mean "full-screen" as in 4:3, but I mean "full-screen" as in "fill the entire fucking screen." You've seen the Inside Xbox videos with Major Nelson or Tina Wood, right? These videos are played in a smaller window than your TV's screen size, and has this huge black bezel with "Inside Xbox" emblazoned at the bottom. There's a reason I have a 50" TV, and that's to avoid having to watch videos that are 2/3 the size of my TV.

Easier-to-Access Download History Yes, I'm aware you can view your history, but not easily; you have to go [Guide] > [Settings] > [Account Management] > [Your Billing Options] > [Download History]. I want a quicker way to view this, especially from "Active Downloads", or at least the Marketplace blade in the guide. I tend to cue up a lot of videos, and, sometimes, I'm not there for the pop-up saying it's done, allowing me to hit "Play Now" in the prompt. Nor do I want to dig through a ton of menus to get to it. Having a Recent Downloads section will allow me to jump directly to the video I just downloaded. The games already have this as "Quick Launch," so why not videos?

Guide Enhancements

Above: The various iterations of the Xbox Guide menu.

My Eyes! The Guide used to be a nice, bluish color. Now, we're subjected to the Triple 255 across the color spectrum. My eyes hurt when I open the Guide, especially in low-light rooms. Tone it down. Make it, I dunno, gray. Something a little more manageable. A bright white foreground and deep, black background is a bad idea.

Color Customization Sure, you may get a horrible customization of colors by the end-user who doesn't even know how to spell feng shui. However, you'll be able to get whatever you want, no matter what the default color is. Remember how you would be able to customize the color of the Guide from the Xbox 360's original firmware? What happened to it?

Achievement Enhancements

Achievements. The bane of all 360 owners around the world. Deny it or not, you've probably gone out of your way just to add a handful of points to your GamerScore. The way we view them are better than what we used to have. Now, all you get is a grid layout of all Achievements that are locked or unlocked. I want some better sorting. Developers will need to put in some effort here, too.

[NEW] Show Us What We're Missing Simple enough, right? Rather than a bleak, whited-out silhouette of a trophy, why not give us a faded out image of what the Achievements icon is? Thing is, this is already implemented, but in a far corner of the 360. Boot up your 360, drop on into the Dashboard and go to My Xbox > Game Library > Collections, and choose any of the selections there (Arcade games may work better, as the only game I can get to show faded out Achievement icons is AC: Brotherhood). From here, you'll see a grey portion of the screen devoted to showing the Achievements. If the icons load - and you haven't earned all Achievements in that game - you'll see some are bright and popping out, while some are dull and faded. These faded ones are locked Achievements. Make this feature prominent throughout all Achievement-viewing aspects so we can easily spot a still-locked Achievement, or get a glimpse at the icons and see what lies in store for us.

Multi and Single Player Sorting Achievements should be sorted between Multiplayer and Single Player. Don't give a rat's ass about playing online? Good, because neither do I. Sort between the two camps and only focus on the ones you actually care about.

Retail and DLC Achievements Are Two Different Beasts Another way to sort things out, is to separate the retail Achievements (those that come with the game, stock), and all of the DLC-related Achievements. That way, you still get your little icon in the Achievement Progress card. Sony has this implemented into Trophies on the PS3; each separate DLC expansion with Trophies have their own section away from the Retail Trophies.

User-Editable Lists Remember the original Achievement sorting? The Big-O-sized list? Well, it became the Voltron-sized grid. We used to be able to sort by date and point value. Now, it's sorted by how the developer makes the list (sometimes, you'll get one who does the best they can, such as color coding - like Valve and The Orange Box - but others, well, others just don't give a shit, like Radical and Prototype), and it's separated by either locked or unlocked status. Achievements should be sorted a bit better. Hell, we should be able to sort Achievements into their own groups. Story, Combat, Miscellaneous...all that. Kind of like folders. Rather than reaching further down into the menus, they'll have an outline that groups them together. If you prefer digging through your menus, go for it. Something to help us decipher the list that can be 99 Achievements long, and even set aside Achievements we plan on working towards, know damn well we won't be able to get. This would be more beneficial for compilation games, such as The Orange Box, and, yes, even though I've already stated Valve has them color coded for each game, why not have sections already predefined?
Better Friend Comparisons When I'm looking at my Achievements, I should have an option to compare them with a friend on the fly. Looking at Halo: Reach Achievements and wanna see how your buddy is doing? Hit the Y button, and a collection of all your friends with Halo: Reach Achievements will appear, and not just a list of their names. But a preview, as well. You'll see total GamerScore and Achievements. From there, you'll be witness to a list you're already accustomed to, the same list you usually see when you select "Compare Games" when you're at your friends GamerCard.

An Incentive to Finish The PS3 has Platinum Trophies. To the non-PS3, 360 owning gamer, Trophies are scoffed at. You think that they just add to the overall Level (I'm at Level 10/1% with 471 Trophies with 6 Platinums). The Trophies themselves have a hidden point value tagged to them:
  • Bronze : 0-15
  • Silver : 16-30
  • Gold : 31-90
  • Platinum : 180
For the majority of the time, these points can equally transition to the 360's Achievement values; for example, any Achievement worth 15 points or less would then be translated to a Bronze Trophy. The Platinum Trophy is where I'm getting at. Asides from the tile on Achievement Progress that reminds you that you've earned 100% of Achievements, there's really nothing. Your friends can't even see this. Why not give us a 10% boost of the total Achievements earned. If it's a 1000 GamerScore game, give us 100 points. If it's a 200 GamerScore Arcade game, I'll take 20 points. Also, make a notation in the "Compare Achievements" card when a friend is - obviously - comparing Achievements to let them know "na-na na-na boo boo, stick your head in doo doo".

GamerCard Tweak This plays into the above. In our GamerCard, make a notation on how many games we've completed to 100%. Squeeze something in there - we could call it, simply, "Completed" - and it would literally show you how many you've completed. Or, better yet, take on Sony's own Level system, and work with the "10% boost" I mentioned above. Rather than add 10% of the game's Achievements to your GamerScore, add them to the Level progress; 100 points for Retail, 20 points for Arcade. Let's throw a hypothetical out there - say 250 points to level up - and that number increases 25% each Level up, rounded to the nearest tenth; for the first five levels, it would be 250 > 310 > 390 > 490 > 610. So, with me, I've completed 15 games; 7 Arcade, 8 Retail. That's 940 points. Add in the 25% increase per level, and I would be a pubic hair away from Level 8 (requiring a, hypothetical, 950 points). I'm a Level 10 on PSN, as stated above, for comparison's sake.

Two for the Road 

A Fucking Desktop Client Yes, you heard me. I want a goddamned desktop client for my 360. In that sense, it should be a portal to Games for Windows LIVE, something that you can only access while you're playing a game in the GFW lineup. Unfortunately, Microsoft forgets that, even though you're not playing a GFW game, you're computer is still that: a computer. I want to be able to manage my 360's hard drive contents from my computer, because using a controller doesn't cut it. I want to have nearly-full access to my 360's contents so I can sort/delete/cue downloads at my will. Here, you can integrate the Marketplace into it, as they already do on the website. You can also incorporate several things I talked about earlier: create your own tags for a universal search, change how the game's name appears in your Achievement feed (get rid of all of the ®s, ™s and abbreviations/shorthanded names - like "SplinterCellConviction" without spaces, or "Final Fight: DblImpact" with a shorthanded word melded to a full-out word...yea, no shit - that muck it all up), or just change how it's sorted (you can keep "[PROTOTYPE]" as it is, but it will sort as "Prototype" under 'P' and not the bracket that hugs the name).

Microsoft.blog Share If you don't know, Sony has their PlayStation.blog Share, which allows gamers to suggest ideas to Sony to be included across anything PlayStation (PS3, PSP, Accessories, XMB, PSN, PS Store, etc.), and users can either uprank or downrank each idea; the most popular, yet-to-be-implemented idea is Cross Game Chat with 27,800 votes cast, with 19,800 in favor of it (71%). You can thank the blog for Kevin Butler's E3 appearance this year at Sony's keynote. It was launched on March 17 this year, and in the 7 months it's been up, there have been nearly 4800 ideas submitted. 46 have been used (that equates to just under 1%, or 0.958%), but they range across mostly PSN updates and HD collections. This website is something I want both Microsoft and Nintendo to use to gather their gamers ideas to find out what to actually do. Sadly, I can tell you what the top idea will be for both camps: Friend Limit Cap Increased (granted if the aforementioned Xbox Germany facebook thing is actually true) and An Online Infrastructure That Doesn't Suck.