Sunday, July 19, 2015

Look Who's Come Crawling Back: The Xbox 360 E

What is it they say about the devil you know and the devil you don't? I'm experiencing that right now with the recent purchase of an Xbox 360 E, the third model of Microsoft's most successful game console. 

On one hand, it's comforting to go back to the system's familiar interface, after the Playstation 3's less than endearing Xross Media Bar (yes, that's how it's branded) and its needlessly convoluted digital download system. Rather than the laborious process of buying a game, then downloading it, then installing it, the Xbox 360 handles all of that for you after you've made your purchase. You wouldn't go to an auto repair shop for a new tire and install it yourself, would you? Same principle.

The Xbox 360 E, in horizontal position.
Yes, I need to clean my countertop.
On the other... the Xbox experience is maybe a little too familiar for its own good. I've slightly resented the Metro GUI since it was forced on computer users with the latest versions of Windows, and the front end graphics are aggressively plain with a liberal use of green and grey. Maybe a different wallpaper would help, I don't know, but it probably wouldn't distract me from all these irritating advertisements. No, Microsoft, I don't want to see Joe Dirt 2. Frankly, I'm a little astonished they made the first one.

But enough of that. You might be wondering what the difference is between the Xbox 360 E and its predecessors. Beyond a trimming of size and a couple of features, not much. It's the 2600 Jr. or the top-loading NES of the 21st century, with the outer shell given a modern look but the core experience left intact. 

The backside of the Xbox 360 E, complete with
two USB jacks, an HDMI port, and a dial to
adjust the darkness of your English Muffins.
Oh wait, that's my toaster.
Actually, scratch that. The E does have a few advantages over the launch model of the Xbox 360. There's an extra USB port, an internal wi-fi antenna (FINALLY), support for HDMI displays, a 3.5 mm A/V jack, and what else...? Oh yeah, it works, which is more than you can say for the lion's share of older Xbox 360s. In accordance with Moore's law, Microsoft has reduced the internal components to a fraction of their original size, making them more reliable and energy efficient. The system still runs extremely hot, turning into a furnace after an hour of use, but so far, that hasn't translated into system crashes or other serious issues.

I bought my Xbox 360 E used... if you do the same, there's something you need to know about your purchase. Some models of the E have a small amount of storage built in, but not all of them do! If your machine ships without a hard drive, there's a chance it was removed, and you'll have no storage at all for your games. While you can use ordinary flash drives as a stopgap, you're better off with an internal hard drive. They fit inside the system, work more intuitively, and offer more room for your software.

Hey, it saved me fifty bucks!
Luckily, you don't have to pay Microsoft's extortionate prices for one! I just fished a Western Digital out of an abandoned laptop, flashed it with special firmware, and threw it into the 360, using some folded cardboard as a brace. That... may not have been such a great idea considering how hot the E gets, but it'll get the job done until the hard drive shell from eBay finally arrives.

My E may not be cutting edge in 2015, but for sixty dollars plus some pocket change for the hard drive, I can hardly complain. Besides, I've got a secret for you guys... video games on last generation systems still look pretty great! Seriously, check them out sometime. Unless you play all your games on a Jumbotron or have bionic eyes, I doubt you're going to see much of a difference between them and their "definitive" counterparts on next-gen systems.


  1. Truth. Many of the games on last gen's consoles looked fine, and still look fine now. The new systems may technically be more capable, but few devs have the time, money, and/or development know how to take advantage* of that, and the bugs are just getting worse.

    Heck, given how Bethesda open world RPGs are already really buggy, I'm half afraid that Fallout 4 will skip all the subtleties with freezes and crashes and just launch the platform it's being played on into the sun.

    They probably should've just stuck with the 360 and PS3 for another half decade or so. I know they're outclassed by PCs, but game development was already too damn expensive last gen. THQ died and had its remains fought over by vultures, Tomb Raider didn't make enough money even though it sold millions, BioShock's devs got shut down even though BioShock Infinite was a highly acclaimed release many fans applied the rather pathetic "Gaming's Citizen Kane" label to, and so on.

    Better graphics aren't gonna fix the budget issues with modern game development, especially not when barely anyone can afford to take advantage of them.

    * Speaking of, when I heard someone brag about how the Batmobile in Arkham Knight takes up more file space than the entirety of Arkham Asylum I wanted to crack some skulls. Shit like this is everything wrong with modern game development.

    1. Yeah, it's a damn mess. If there's another video game crash (and I've been predicting one for years, but it's never happened), it's gonna be because of this. The law of diminishing returns and the hefty price to take full advantage of this new hardware to its fullest extent will crush publishers. Part of the reason Nintendo has been using seasoned technology is to keep costs low, and while that had a negative effect on the quality of games for the Wii, we're reaching a point where it won't matter quite so much. It's a smart strategy... it's just going to take a while for other developers to catch on. Or maybe they won't, and their hubris will drive them into bankruptcy while Nintendo remains solvent. Either works for me!

  2. Having resurrected the US game market, Nintendo is, in a way, its creator. When the crash comes, they will finally have an opportunity to give it a normal brain. It could work!