Ahead of the next Xbox being announced on 21 May, here are five things it would be great to see from the new console.
So it's finally official, a new Xbox, at last. In case you missed the news, Microsoft has confirmed that on 21 May, its next generation game console, codenamed Durango and tentatively named 720, will be revealed in Redmond, Washington.
And that's all we have to go on so far. Despite enough half-truths, maybes and rumours out there to fill a new book by Derek Acorah, Microsoft has given no official word on the 720 other than it's coming. There's chatter about a new Kinect, always-online functionality and a roster of launch titles including Ryse and Forza, but as for bona fide facts, zilch.
So that gives me some room to speculate. It might be based on nothing but good faith, but below are five things I'd love to see from a new Xbox.
1. Games. Just games.
We might know nothing concrete about the new Xbox yet, but looking at the console market as it stands, there's plenty of slack for a really excellent, dedicated game console to pick up. Nintendo is still fluffing around with hardware gimmicks and antique franchises; Sony's like an aging rocker, that's shaved off all his hair, put a white robe on and joined some weird cult called "social gaming." I hate to admit it, but it's precisely the big-shouldered, frat house mentality of a hardcore console like the 360 that the next gen seems to be lacking.
Though the console's image has devolved somewhat, to the point that it will now always be associated with Mountain Dew guzzling gamers, compared to the PS3, in 2006/2007, the 360 was THE console for computer games. I see a similar opportunity for Microsoft this generation, too. Its aforementioned rivals may be drawing contemplative "oohs" from the press, but I'm not sure customers are going to respond. People want to play games on their game consoles; if the 720 is really going to win, then a thick roster of good games is the way to do it. Strip down; throw back; be the PS1. If Microsoft opts for games, games, games it'll make a lot of people interested.
2. Bin the Kinect
It's not working, no-one's interested, get rid of it. That's it for the Kinect. Like Sony with PlayStation Move, it was just Microsoft trying to grab Nintendo's ankles after the Wii went stratospheric. Now, less than three years later, it's useless; it doesn't do anything. Occasionally first party developers like Lionhead shoehorn the Kinect in to try and justify it to consumers, but no-one's interested, no-one cares. Get rid of it.
There's troubling goss that the 720 might need to have a Kinect hooked up in order to even play; unplug the motion controller and the whole console will lock up. That's unconfirmed, so here's hoping Microsoft does nothing like it. Motion control was a gimmick, it's done. It's like skateboards or 3D. The games were rubbish, the technology didn't work and the craze lasted about as long as it's taking me to type this sentence. Realistically, I can see Microsoft launching an improved Kinect and trying even harder to get people to play it, but until it does, I've fingers, toes and eyes crossed hoping motion controls will go away.
3. No bells, no whistles
Even if the game line-up isn't so hot, I hope that at least Microsoft will go easy on the mod-cons. The PlayStation 4 seems like it's going to be bogged down by a lot of perfunctory extras: Social buttons, video sharing, gameplay recording - these are tassles and they're threatening to crowd the PS4's central function of playing games.
I hope the Xbox doesn't have them. A hearty game catalogue is one thing, but nevertheless, I'd happily play a console that had very few games so long as it didn't nag me with push notifications and menu icons. I'm sure marketing execs would treat me and people like me as edge cases, but I'd like the next Xbox to be as lean a machine as possible. One way for that to happen would be to shore up the game releases. Another would be to buck trends and launch a console with as few bells and whistles taped on as possible.
4. Backwards compatibility
This is kind of an ethical thing. I like to feel as if games have a heritage, as if they're worth playing and preserving despite age and new technology. Too often, videogames are treated like mobile phones or cameras: Once a year goes by, people chuck out their old model in favour of the new one. We're used to trading games in, throwing them out; not playing Call of Duty 5 anymore because Call of Duty 6 is out. It's a mentality that keeps games looking disposable; they're treated like technology, when actually they're closer to art.
So, I'd like the next Xbox to be backwards compatible. For me, if it was the only console I was going to own, it would have to play old games. Old games are good, old games are worthwhile; I don't throw out all my CDs when I buy a new CD player. I know that buying a new console doesn't necessitate throwing out your old one; just because I got the 720, doesn't mean I wouldn't keep the 360. But as I said, this is an ethical rather than practical issue for me. Backwards incompatibility is ugly, I think. It seems like the hardware maker wants you to blithely buy new games and be ignorant of the old. It's kind of money grubbing; it's pompous. If the new Xbox plays old discs then I'll take that over the PS4's streaming service.
Finally, the 720's hardware: I'm on the horns of a dilemma with this. Part of me wants it to be the same or at least, negligibly more or less powerful than the PS4's. The graphics, framerate, processing speed arms race that defined the first half of this console generation was tiresome and damaging, and I don't want to see it repeat. If both the console's innards are more or less the same, it's going to mean they're trying to outsell one another with more interesting rather than shinier exclusive games; where pat features like better graphics may have been selling points before, if the PS4 and 720 are equally powerful, the competition to attract consumers will be won with better mechanics, ideas and writing and that would be good.
But that leads to my dilemma: If it's not graphics or sound tech driving sales, and the games don't improve, then it's going to be a bum fight over who has the most additional features like social networking and motion controls. If graphics are an irrelevance, then the only difference between Halo and Killzone will be whichever one lets you share footage of your headshot killing spree the fastest, and that wouldn't be good.
But I think it would be worth the risk; I think games are at a point where they could conceivably be sold on the merits of their ideas rather than their tech. So, yes, in the next Xbox, I'd like to see almost exactly the same hardware as in the PS4. That won't happen of course, but before 21 May arrives there's still room to dream.