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My Thoughts on NXE – the New Xbox Experience

My Xbox AvatarSo, like virtually everyone else with an Xbox 360, I downloaded the "NXE." After checking that Rivet still works (it does), I set about to explore.

Avatars
The first thing you've got to do is set up an avatar (mine's to the right). Frankly, and perhaps because it goes for the "realistic look" more than the Wii's Miis, I'm disappointed. None of the hairstyles quite suited mine1, so I had to settle for a short hair style with a bald spot. I don't have a bald spot! The eyes, eyebrows, and mouths look like they're copied right off the Wii2. The noses are more realistic. Unlike the Wii, you can't adjust the position of the items. You can't move the eyes closer together or farther apart, the eyebrows up and down, and you can't resize your nose and mouth. Female avatars have a pair of rimless glasses available to them, but not male avatars (I wear rimless glasses :-P).

What's worse, some testers report that thousands of clothes were available until about a week before the launch of NXE. Then they were pulled.

The Wii puts everyone in the same goofy outfit, and while the Xbox avatars have actual "clothing" to wear, it's limited. They say they'll be doubling their selection in a few months, but I feel like they're missing a golden opportunity at this point. Millions of people will be logging on and creating their avatars today - sell them clothing expansion packs NOW. Today I'll probably care a lot more about how my avatar looks than in a month or two after I've gotten used to it.

Additionally, and perhaps most glaringly, the clothes are all pre-colored. Unlike the skin tones (which are fine), you can't buy a "baseball cap" and then choose the color. If you don't like red, tough - that's the only one available. How easy would this feature have been to add and how much more fun would it have made the whole avatar deal?

On the plus side, I like being able to take a snapshot of my avatar for use as my gamerpic. I never bought a gamerpic (I was "Ari Gold" from Entourage for quite awhile), but this virtually guarantees I never will. Ah, but I'll probably have to buy some clothes, so they've got me. 😛

Netflix
One of the features I was most looking forward to was the Netflix integration. Now about 10,000 movies and TV shows can be streamed from Netflix right to your TV. I'm already an Xbox Live member and a Netflix subscriber, so I downloaded the Netflix app on my Xbox, entered a five-character activation code, and was watching season 1 of 30 Rock within five minutes.

The streams occasionally started in HD, but then would often crap out about five to ten minutes in. The Xbox would take the quality down a notch and resume streaming. Even when I had only one of the four bars on my quality setting, the video quality was acceptable - not a lot of dynamic range3, but no pixellation or compression artifacts.

Installing Games
NXE lets you "install" games. You've still gotta have the disc in the drive to play4, but an "installed" game will load faster and play more quietly. I installed "Call of Duty: World at War" and the launch time was improved. The game ran more quietly due to the lack of a spinning optical drive. It took about six or seven minutes to copy 6.5 GB of data to my drive. Eh, whatever.

Navigation
At this point, all I can say is "thank goodness for the mini-guide." You get the mini-guide by pressing the middle "Xbox logo" button on your controller. It brings up a smaller but very "blade-like" guide with everything almost exactly as it was… yesterday.

The main UI offers what I would call a two dimensional menu bar. It's like your Mac's menu bar flipped on its side. You can scroll up and down to get through the main areas: "My Xbox" and "Spotlight" among them. You move to the right to select the items in the main menu.

This UI breaks down in two ways. First, certain objects take you into entirely new menu structures, most (all?) of which lack the "up and down" menus. Some display what passes for dialog boxes on the Xbox 360. I've spent enough time with this system already that I'm "comfortable" with it, but that doesn't mean there's not room for improvement.

The second failure is a bit easier to deal with. Certain menu items, particularly those from the "Spotlight" section, jump you to other sections. That's not so bad, but when they also exhibit the first problem, things can get confusing in a hurry.

Other minor nits can be included too. For example, when searching for downloadable content, only the games I've installed (Call of Duty) or downloaded (i.e. XBLA games) were included. What about NHL or NFL or Tiger Woods '09, all of which I've played in the last month? Will they show up? I'm hoping they do after I play them with the NXE installed - but is that necessary? Shouldn't the "My Full Games" option in the Marketplace show all the games your profile shows (including, unfortunately, Frogger and Bank Shot Billiards 2)?

I appreciate that there seem to be less advertisements (after all, I do pay for my Xbox Live account). I find the descriptions of items a bit easier to read. When it works, the navigation is fine.

Friends
I've yet to host a "party" of any kind, but I will say this: who on earth thought up the "Friends" display? I like seeing people's avatars, but two things puzzle me. First, what marks a friend as "online" versus offline? They all look the same to me. And second, what determines the objects sitting behind and around the avatars? Are they customizable? Do they depend on your "Zone" (I'm in "Recreation")?

Advanced Themes
I'm not sure what these will involve, and unfortunately one of the biggest problems with the "extras" in the Marketplace has not been solved: there's no way to preview themes (or gamerpics or some other things). Are they just a background picture? Do they do anything else?

Old Games
Shortly before last year's fall update, I tried the demos to Bank Shot Billiards 2 and Frogger. Unfortunately, those games still live on in my history as "games I've played." I have - of course - 0 gamerscore for both and I'd really like to remove them from my history. Why won't the Xbox folks let me remove games? I don't want Frogger or BSB2 in my list any more. Take them off! Or, really, let me take them off.

In the End…
… it's too early to list a lot of good things. Good things take time to recognize as "good" is often synonymous with "intuitive." Intuitive things take effort to recognize. The bad, however, tends to jump out at you, and probably has above.

Still, I'm curious what your thoughts might be on the NXE. Share them in the comments below.

Footnotes

  1. I have very short hair that's parted on my left.
  2. There's only so much you can do with eyes and eyebrows
  3. Shadows were particularly lacking in detail.
  4. How long until someone figures out an easy hack for that?

7 Responses to "My Thoughts on NXE – the New Xbox Experience"

  1. First, what marks a friend as "online" versus offline? They all look the same to me.

    Yeah, it's a bit difficult to see in the friends view in the dashboard. The mini guide shows them just like the old one did (for the most part). However, as you scroll through, you'll see them sleeping if they're not online. Also, you won't see the graphic for the game they're playing (or the dashboard).

    And second, what determines the objects sitting behind and around the avatars? Are they customizable? Do they depend on your "Zone" (I'm in "Recreation")?

    It seems to be random, and based off of your "theme" - look under My XBox, second pane (I think, where it allows you to customize your avatar). Choose customize theme.

  2. Check out #8 here. 🙂

  3. richard said on November 19, 2008:

    Check out #8 here. 🙂

    Woo!!!!!!!!

  4. An article on IGN's Wii Channel explains things pretty well too, and comes to the same conclusion: the Miis are better at creating a likeness than the higher definition Xbox avatars.

  5. An easter egg for "unusual hair colors" has just been discovered.

  6. Well I think it just sucks most of my back compat games that played pre-NXE don't play right now. I want to remove the f'en upgrade and everyone tells me "You can't you will need it to get online" Well that is BS shouldn't we be able to play online with out it. Or choose Pre-NXE or NXE for the online expeirence I don't even go online I kill all my friends that come over to play anyway so what do I care if I am better then little Goerge in Thailand. using a computer program to say "Buhya" Just isn't as sattisfing if he can choose to leave and not see or hear your taunghts. WHOS WITH ME....................................

    😈

  7. On the plus side, I like being able to take a snapshot of my avatar for use as my gamerpic.

    Thanks. I was wondering how you did that, I somehow missed it in the avatar editor.

    Speaking of which, it really cracked me up when, after discovering that you can use the right stick to make your avatar look in different directions, that you can make it happy, angry or dizzy by nodding, shaking his head or spinning the stick wildly, respectively 🙂 He also loses his balance if you make him turn for too long using the left or right trigger. That can make for creative gamerpics.


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