My second Xbox 360 is on its way back after flashing the dreaded Red Ring. I felt like a baby ripped from the womb because it died on me during the launch weekend of Halo 3, when I planned on coordinating some serious co-op games with my friends. Having been through this before, I knew the process and wasn't excited about the prospect of starting it again. I called into the repair center the following day. I was pleased to speak with a helpful service representative who processed my repair after lecturing me about using a surge protector with the system. Apparently for both the Xbox 360 and PS3 you are supposed to plug the console directly into the wall outlet or you risk burning out the system faster and voiding your warranty. This came as a rather large surprise to me since there is a substantial market for high end power protection solutions for home theaters.
All of that aside, what I found fascinating is how my gaming habits changed to accommodate the loss of my primary game system. Unrelated to this incident, I recently put together a new PC to replace the one that died on me. I spent a fair bit of time playing The Orange Box with the traditional mouse and keyboard set up. I always intended to do this because the PC is the platform Half-Life 2 was originally developed for. I generally prefer to experience games in the way that is closest to the original vision, which is why I like playing old games on an actual NES rather than through the Virtual Console (although convenience and shelf space are slowly winning me over). In addition to being highly engaged by Portal and Half Life 2:Episode 2, the updated community features of Steam impressed me quite a bit. It's amazing to see this service turn into something truly robust and user friendly. In addition, I installed the free copy of Lost Planet that I received with my video card. It looks gorgeous on the PC and with my Xbox controller it played as well as I remember it, which is to say that I feel has a lot of untapped potential. I also started digging out PC games that couldn't be installed before for lack of hard drive space on my old computer. I managed to play a little bit of Titan Quest, which is by far the prettiest looking game that pushes a magical "I love Diablo" happy button in my brain.
On the console side of things, I went back to the tried and true Persona 3, one of the best RPGs I have played in ages and a severely under appreciated game. I also fired up the Playstation 3 for the first time since MotorStorm was released. After updating to the latest firmware, I decided to give the remote play feature a whirl. I love the concept behind it - this feature allows you to access much of the PS3 functionality remotely via your PSP. You can watch movies, listen to music, view photos, and even play a limited selection of games through the PSP. This hints at the the nirvana of gaming I hope to see in the form of a high quality console console gaming experience that you can take with you on a handheld that plays off the same data and save files. Unfortunately, with this technology there is a fair amount of lag for anything that needs to render images, but music seemed to play reasonably well. I sincerely hope this technology can be improved because I think it's a fantastic idea.
Once I had my fill of remote play, I decided that it was time to get my Playstation Network account properly set up. I was looking forward to checking out the PSN interface and downloading some of the original games including Calling All Cars, Flow, Super Stardust HD, and Everyday Shooter. I also pulled down several larger commercial demos including one for Ratchet and Clank Future. I wasn't sure what to expect having spent the bulk of my online gaming on Xbox Live. As it turns out, I rather enjoyed the interface. It mostly looks like a web site but it was clean and relatively easy to find what I wanted. There are some navigation issues when you want to go back and forth, but the overall time it takes to find an item is relatively speedy.
To round out my gaming, I picked up Castlevania: Dracula X Chronicles for the PSP. I was grinning from ear to ear playing it until I reached stage 4 where the game crushed my soul and reminded me of the good times of classic game difficulty ramps. I've since managed to get further along and have learned the game systems well enough to play better, but the difficulty spike felt like a punch to the gut.
Throughout my recent gaming journey I've missed being logged into Xbox Live and collecting achievements alongside my friends. During this waiting period, gaming felt a little lonely since many of my friends have since finished both Halo 3 and The Orange Box on the 360, and are now rocking out on Guitar Hero 3. I am still looking forward to finishing Halo 3 but I feel like someone who missed the train. It won't be new to my friends anymore and the experience of playing it co-op won't be that novel. My gamerscore has also remained stagnant and is no longer that high relative to my colleagues. All these feelings make me a stronger believer in the notion of a connected playing experience where gaming communities are perpetually online. The one caveat is that I wish there was something even larger than Xbox Live that tied all the services together so that I could be "gaming alone, together", no matter what platform I was on. The timing of the defect and subsequent repair is truly unfortunate because Super Mario Galaxy is guaranteed to turn me into a non-connected hermit for some time. Only after this hopefully joyous experience will I be able to reemerge from my cave and embrace the community I have become estranged to. I only hope that the little man living in my Xbox 360 doesn't decide to throw another temper tantrum after being ignored on his return. The recent journey has been fun, and I now understand the power of a platform to be compelling for more than just the games that play on it.