X-Box 360 – First Impressions

After the annoying retail experience here are the early impressions from my first two days of X-Box 360 ownership (ownage?):

The original X-Box was well-known for it’s enormous Size. Maybe I lack the training but the actual retail box of the X-Box 360 is so surprisingly heavy that I had troubles actually lifting it from the stack in the shop. It is compact but VERY massive. I was foolish enough to buy the box before buying the games so I had to carry it for quite some time across the town. Later, I drove home on my bike. Carrying it for hours and dragging it home tucked under my arm was exhausting to say the least.
The unboxing experience is quite dull and uninspired. Everything is in colorful plastic Bags and randomly tucked inside. The console itself is on top and the accessories below behind a separation but it is a far cry from the lucid and organized Wii package or the lush experience of unboxing of an Apple product.

The worst are additional accessories like the Wi-Fi Adapter or a Controller – they are in those awful translucent hard plastic wraps which you need to laboriously prey open with scissors. Every time I saw somebody open those, by the time they got the product they were literally furious – not a great emotional state for the first impression. People hate this! Why are they using those??!

The X-Box itself is ok. It is big but I saw that the PS3 is even larger. It looks and feels well. The only thing I dislike about the industrial design is the silver CD tray – it looks cheap and doesn’t fit to the white plastic of the case. Also, the flap for the USB ports seems like it might cause problems with more extravagant USB sticks. The flap is there because the X-Box is tapered at the “wast”. I really dislike it when superfluous styling gets in way of usability.

The included headset feels INCREDIBLY cheap and awful. I haven’t actually used it but I expect it to break very soon. It is not the one you can buy separately as an accessory.

I do like the controllers. After all those problems with the first-gen controllers (this one still makes me lough out loud), they finally nailed it. The 360 controllers works very well for me. They feel like they are well-made, the buttons are on the right places. They even look pretty. I’m just concerned that they might turn from white to yellow with some time. I keep you posted. Meanwhile, my second controller will be black.

One thing that is just crazy: the power brick is HUGE. I’m sure it has a higher volume then the whole Wii. I’ve NEVER seen a power brick that big. Seriously, what do they put inside that thing? A whole nuclear power station?

Noise and Heat
I was afraid from what people said about the noisy fans on the X-Box 360. I was expecting something like a vacuum cleaner or a hairdryer. I was relieved when it wasn’t that bad. Yes, it is louder then a Wii or a PS2 but hardy the nightmare I was expecting.

My only concern is that the noise is to cool down the console. So hiding it in my vitrine doesn’t really mask the noise because the X-Box get hotter and the fans must work harder creating even more noise.

On-line Experience
This is actually why I bought the X-Box and I am extremely pleased. The beginning was a bit bumpy. Setting up my X-Box Live account took a while. The interface could be tweaked at a couple of places. Choosing a nickname seems impossible because Mircrosoft had the great idea to put Zune, MSN and X-Box Live accounts together. So basically, every reasonable nickname is already taken. It was too late until I realized that I couldn’t select any of my favorite nicknames because they were taken BY MY VERY OWN MSN accounts.
There are avatars on X-Box live right now which are cheap Mii rip-offs. They are poorly made. They look nice but customization options are very limited. You can select various features but you can’t scale, rotate or even re-position them. So you have just 4 different positions a mole (left cheek, right cheek, left chin, right chin). The selection of glasses is way too limited and the hairstyles seem all to be a variation of a side parting.

Once set up and logged in, I was confronted with the “new X-Box experience”. It is a badly organized rip-off of Apple’s coverflow but I will get used to it. The navigation is much more quick and smooth then the Wii shopping channel. It makes you realize how inferior that part of the Wii is. You can access a lot of information about games, check out nice screenshots, trailers, demos. Every X-Box Arcade game has a free trial version. The downloads are executed in the background so you can continue browsing while downloading.

The biggest difference from the Wii is that everything is integrated. So you will see if friends are online no matter what you are doing – playing a game, watching a move. You can seamlessly browse from the game on your hard drive to the content available online for that particular game. You will have achievements in every game. Although I don’t really NEED them, being able to see which games and achievements your Friends have is great. Being able to see which games my friends own is already a great feature but with achievements I can even see how much time they invested in each game. So I can even tell if they totally mastered a game or if they just tried the first level to check it out. Going back to the crippled friend code system of the Wii will be hard.

There are some things I miss from the Wii. I like how the Shopping Channel shows you exactly how much space and Wii points is needed for a particular download, how much of both you have right now and how much you will have after the download. I’m missing that kind of break-down on the X-Box.
On a more fundamental level, there is not much to do online apart from browsing content and buying stuff. I like how Nintendo is trying to create a couple of apps you can fool around with like the voting channel or the Mii channel. I miss that as well.

But I have great fun with it anyway. The selection of games is awesome. I will comment on them in the future.

I was really blown away when I plugged a USB stick with some XVid videos. After a quick system update, I was able to watch them smoothly in HD quality. The video controls work well and are unobtrusive (unlike the Windows Media Player). Finally, I have a dedicated multimedia device and don’t have to plug my notebook to the TV anymore. This is a GREAT convenience and I think the X-Box is worth just because of this. Again totally different approach from the Wii, which doesn’t play DVDs or even Audio CDs. Nintendo says it is because they are going for a dedicated gaming device but I suspect it is because of licensing problems.

That’s a lot I had to get off my chest. Generally, my first impression is very positive in the end. Buying it was a nightmare, installing had some rough spots but until now it does deliver exactly what I was hoping for and even surprised me a couple of times.

By the way, I was devastated when I found out I could get an X-Box 360 Bundle with BOTH Gears of War on-line. Noooooooo!!!!

Krystian Majewski

Krystian Majewski was born in Warsaw and studied design at Köln International School of Design. Before, he was working on a mid-size console project for NEON Studios in Frankfurt. He helped establish a Master course in Game Design and Research at the Cologne Game Lab. Today he teaches Game Design at various institutions and develops independent games.

2 responses to “X-Box 360 – First Impressions”

  1. Yu-Chung Chen

    Re: Nicknames. That’s extremely stupid to say the least. We have this kind of problems with Gmail et al. already, now on a console? There’s gotta be a better way. Also, off the top of my head, using one’s own MSN handle would make perfect sense to me.

    Re: Avatars. Miis are fun and sometimes you can really nail a person with those simple options, but more often than not, exactly the features you mentioned are also unsatisfying: too few glasses, numerous hairstyles but many of them useless while lacking some common ones. Also asymmetry would be nice.

    Live Arcade and Xvid sound very nice! Does it play H.264? Also how is the noise when using the X360 as a media player where you don’t have feedback/explosion sounds all the time?

  2. Krystian Majewski

    Using one’s own MSN handle – That’s the thing. It seems like you COULD do that but it is not spelled out to you very well when you choose the Nickname. Also, it might lead to problems when you are on-line on your PC and on your X-Box at the same time. Either way – it is solved not well. I heard Microsoft is even CHARGING you if you want to change your Nick because it means creating a new Account and transferring all the data to the new account. Criminals.

    H.264 – I haven’t checked that yet but I expect it to work just like Xvid did.

    Noise when watching media – the X-Box 360 is nowhere THAT loud to interfere with the sound from a movie.


The Game Design Scrapbook is a second blog of group of three game designers from Germany. On our first blog, Game Design Reviews we describe some games we played and point out various interesting details. Unfortunately, we found out that we also need some place to collect quick and dirty ideas that pop into our minds. Hence, welcome to Game Design Scrapbook. You will encounter wild, random rantings. Many of then incoherent. Some of them maybe even in German. If you don't like it, you might enjoy Game Design Reviews more.


follow Krystian on Twitter
follow Yu-Chung on Twitter
follow Daniel on Twitter