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Alan E
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I feel like I should have played or ran a game that this would fit in as written, but I don't think I have.

I'd say my traditional "Yay!  Happy time to start ruining checks for a month or two!" but I can't think of the last time I actually wrote a check.

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Isn't this how about a third of science-fiction disaster films start?  Is someone checking to see if "the Object" is a dragon egg or buried spaceship?

The XBox One

Some of you may have been following the 8th generation of console wars.  Well, I picked my side, and am now obligated to irrationally hate and hope for the failure of all others.

Seriously, though, I can't understand why my having chosen one massive faceless behemoth of a corporation to buy a product from means that I must hope for the failure of another product from a different massive faceless behemoth of a corporation.  It's tribalism, but my tribe doesn't care about me and won't do anything for me other than take my money.

I did buy an XBox One, however, so now I'm going to talk about it.  I will assume that anyone interested in my opinion on this has paid at least a little attention to the console wars, so I won't be describing the basics of each feature in detail, just my impressions.

The short version is: it will be an amazing console in a year or so, but right now it's quite good but flawed.

The hardware is solid.  The controller is well designed, has very good battery life, and excellent range.  There is one way I can hold it which is annoying (the trigger is deep in from the edge of the controller, and has a very long throw, so when completely depressed, the edge of the controller hits my finger near the knuckle joint) but that's easily correctable with a slight shift, and may be due to a funny way I hold the system.

Kinect gesture is almost absent from the system, which is odd, since it was the primary focus of Kinect for 360.  Facial recognition login is present and works pretty well, though I occasionally wait a moment and then sort of crane my neck to get it to pop.  Unfortunately, facial recognition is the only auto-login option, so if connect is off you must manually log in every time.

The big Kinect feature at launch is voice commands, of course.  This is simultaneously a hit and a miss.  Voice commands work at something like 95% accuracy.  I can rattle off a string of commands and get the XBox to do what I want it to pretty well.  It doesn't always register, but that's OK.  Where it goes wrong is when it thinks I issued a command and I didn't.  I almost died in a game because the XBox thought I was talking to it when I wasn't.  That's the kind of mistake you only tolerate once.

Media hub performance is fine, I suppose?  The Youtube app seems better than the 360s, and the Netflix app slightly worse.  I don't have a cable box for the HDMI passthrough bells and whistles, and I use a universal remote, so I'm not using the IR blaster features.

There are places where the OS just feels unfinished, though.  Party chat is a mess, with some games forcing your multiplayer to be with people in your party, other games auto-accepting invites, a strange distinction between being in a party and talking to them, and an utterly mysterious state where you can be logged in and using a controller but not associated with that controller for the purposes of party chat.  The kinect is optional, but programs that shouldn't require kinect say that they do.  And I've had at least one bad crash state that required a hard reset (the system normally just suspends on poweroff).

They also dropped the "I play inverted, so set every single game to inverted" setting.  Why?  Why oh why oh why?

But, the damn thing is a gaming console.  So, games.  I have bought every game as a direct digital download, all of which have been quick and painless to get.

Ryse: Son of Rome

Ryse is about being a Roman and removing the limbs of pretty much everyone you meet.  Historical accuracy is pretty much not (the climax of the game is Boudica leading a barbarian army with war elephants on an invasion of Rome itself) and the game ends with a voiceover that, at least based on what I heard, says that your actions in the game mean that you've created an alternate reality in which the Roman empire never falls.

It's a visually impressive game with simple but fun combat.  You fight different classes of enemies who require different basic techniques to defeat (blocking, dodging, timing attacks, etc).  Whenever an enemy is badly enough hurt, you can start an "execution" which is a sort of quick-time event wherein the limb hacking occurs.  I didn't mind these; they felt more like fatalities than proper QTEs.  There are also actual "press A to not die" moments in the game, which I enjoyed less.  I got eight hours of sollid fun out of the game, beat it, and feel no pressing need to return to it.  I got pretty much what I wanted out of it.

Dead Rising 3

Open world zombie game.  Duct tape pretty much anything to anything else and use it to kill zombies.  This game is an odd mix of lighthearted zombie murder/exploration and a fairly dark and gritty main story about government conspiracies and man's inhumanity to man.  It has two player co-op which is fun, but has gone wrong a couple of times, where one person stops being able to reliably interact with the world.  It also has to take place in one player's world, and he is the only one to earn the story progress.

Forza Motorsport 5

A semi-realistic driving game.  Forza 5 is beautiful, with every car carefully rendered inside and out.  Driving is challenging but a number of customizable driver aids let you ease into the pressures of intense simulation driving.

The brilliance of Forza is the Drivatar system, however.  You almost never race against a stock AI in Forza.  Instead, you race against AIs trained to mimic other players in the game, particularly your friends.  And it seems to work.  The AIs drive like people, not like scripts.  They make mistakes, they show aggression or caution, they seem like real drivers.

How much of this is really in-depth programming, and how much of it is projection?  I don't know.  I do know that when Nathan's drivatar clips me so I miss the apex on a turn and lose two places, I get angry at Nathan, not the game.

Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag

Pirates and neck-stabbing!  What better combo could you ask for?  I haven't played very far into the single player of this game, but it seems much like the other Asscreed games.  Wander around an open world city, get missions involving stealth, building-hopping, fighting, and (new since Asscreed III) sailing and ship-to-ship combat. 

It's the multiplayer that's new, to me anyway.

Assassin's Creed IV multiplayer is essentially Assassin/Who's Your Daddy the physical live action game, rendered in digital form.  Only more fun.

Unlike nearly every other multiplayer combat mode on the planet, engagements are binary.  One person wins and the other person loses with a single button press, based on who anticipated the encounter better.

The key is that the map is filled with NPCs who are outwardly similar to the other players, and you have limited ways of detecting who is actually an enemy.  Points are awarded for closer kills, longer stalks, and killing from hiding or above.  Special powers add to the mix and allow for more trickery.

There are different modes, in which you are assigned a single target, or allowed to find any other player you wish, and a team mode with offense and defensive sides.

The whole thing is utterly brilliant, even when it can be incredibly frustrating to get outplayed.  The worst part of the experience is that the multiplayer is buggy in a funny way that sometimes stops you from entering a match with a friend, but we can't figure out quite what goes wrong or how to fix it.

And Asscreed IV has the single most complicated menu system I've ever seen in a game.  It's not bad, just VERY comprehensive.

So, that's the XBox One.  Nothing about it today makes it a must-purchase.  The games look good and play good, but not so much better than the 360 as to be worth the $500.  I don't regret buying it as an early adopter, but I know that's what I am.

But the potential of the console as the UI is refined and the games get more comfortable with the hardware is pretty incredible.  I can't wait to see what it is doing in a year.

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This is a great idea for a kids toy that combines computer-based play and a physical toy, and is sneakily educational and teaches programming concepts to boot.

I backed it for my nephew, but it's going to need some more help to fund. 

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Coming to an upstate NY  town near you! 
Photo

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The song is meh, the video is OK, but the chyron is awesome.

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(Warning: link contains autoplaying embedded video)

I knew I was preparing for something.  

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A post-apocalypse TV show set after a war between humanity and the Angelic Host.

Awesome, or TOTALLY AWESOME?  You decide.

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It's worth it for the last line.  Skip there if you get bored.
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