How I Learned To Love The Xbox One

The first date I ever had with the girl who is now my wife was a complete disaster.

She was late and I was awkward. I was rude and she, despite being teetotal, somehow got drunk. It was about as far removed from love at first sight as you could possibly conceive.

I guess what I’m really trying to say is this: making some sort of definitive value judgement on a brand new console a week before its release is about as useful as choosing a life partner based on one terrible, awkward first date.

This is the console you’ll live with. The console that will become part of your life. You’ll build a home together, share experiences. You will change, you both will. Your expectations will evolve. As the years drift past you’ll become different people; the initial passion will fade and transform into something more rewarding. You will become inseparable and you will learn to love each other’s flaws.

But right now the Xbox One and I are on a first date. The Xbox One is drunk. We’re arguing over who is going to pay the bill and the whole thing just feels tremendously awkward. Is there potential here? Are we about to embark on a tremendous love affair for the ages? Who can tell? It’s impossible to tell. Who goes home from a first date ready to commit to a long term relationships with babies, mortgages, matching bathrobes and all the responsibilities that come with it?

Idiots. That’s who. Idiots and barefaced liars. At this point I’m not ready to be either.

So the Xbox One and I had a bad first date. Terrible, even.

It started with an update. A sizable update. A mandatory update I spent my first night with the Xbox One unsuccessfully trying to download. I’ve since been informed that the public update most likely won’t be as large or as painful as mine, but it would be amiss not to report that my experience was large and indeed painful.

There will be an update and you will have to download it. That is certain. You have no choice here. And if there were server issues when a few hundred journalists tried to update, it would be reasonable to expect there’ll be teething problems when hundreds of thousands of consumers all decide to start downloading the same thing on the precise same day.

I started and restarted that download about 50 times. At one point I got to 94% before stalling. Probably the closest I’ve come to launching a brand new $600 console over my balcony.

Like I said, a bad first date.

But. But...

The morning after was a little more tolerable. After another handful of attempts, I finally managed to download and install the update on my Xbox One. I had trouble getting my Xbox LIVE Gold account working but before long I was traversing the Xbox One’s new user interface with merry abandon.

As mentioned before, an early, pre-launch console review is about useful as a first date (or the proverbial chocolate torch) when it come to choosing a generation long gaming partner. Attempting to create some sort of definitive, objective review of something that will evolve and, in some cases, completely transform during its lifespan is about as close as we get in this business to a genuine logical fallacy. What I want to do is present how, for the past week, the Xbox One has managed to fit into my life. Hopefully there’ll be some sort of crossover. Hopefully that will be of use.

Let’s start with the bad. Kinect.

Kinect isn’t great.

I was heavily critical of the next generation Kinect a couple of months ago after an early hands on at a local Microsoft event. Now that the device has infiltrated my home (and been slobbered upon by my 10 month old son) my opinion hasn’t changed. It remains clunky, temperamental and, worst of all, frustrating.

Kinect, as a technology, can be a beautiful and revolutionary thing. It has the potential to literally change lives. As part of a piece of consumer technology it’s an irksome pain at best. As part of a video game it’s a liability.

I don’t know how plainly I can put this: Kinect only does what it’s told about 60-70% of the time. During voice control, with my accent, that percentage drops to about 50%. In demos, with a well-rehearsed Microsoft rep barking the instructions in a clear practiced voice, sure, Kinect works well. In real life situations, even when you do know what you’re supposed to be saying, it’s not even close to being reliable enough.

There’s a harsh inconvenient truth here: mainstream controller literacy is increasing at a far faster rate than Kinect’s tech. Kinect is legitimately difficult to use. I can’t think of a single group of people – besides the disabled – who would find it easier to navigate the Xbox One’s user interface using Kinect instead of a controller, and that includes all of my Grandparents. It begs the question: who is Kinect for? What is it for? And why are we paying a premium for it on a games console?

I can only think of one reason.


Surprisingly (or unsurprisingly depending on your perspective) Kinect’s one, solitary killer app has nothing to do with video games.

Using Skype via Kinect is a revelation, to the point where I now find it incredibly difficult to use the program on any other device. For my own personal situation it is a godsend. Your mileage may vary.

Every Saturday morning -- after my son wakes up at some ungodly hour -- I Skype my parents in the UK so they can see their grandson. Trying to maintain a slobbering 10 month old, keeping him in shot whilst holding a tablet/phone/laptop is a generally painful experience. Having Kinect track my movements across the living room, with my parents on the television screen, giving them the opportunity to watch my son crawl across our living room with a dramatically expanded field of vision is a beautiful thing. It has already genuinely improved a small part of my life that’s important to me.

And that’s almost enough to justify the existence of Kinect as a non-negotiable part of the Xbox One package.


Okay now for the games. Yes. The video games. The Xbox One will have video games. Of course it will.

Much has been said about the Xbox One’s focus on attracting a mainstream audience and how the PS4 is ‘ALL ABOUT THE GAMEZ MAN’. It’s all a little bit silly. The only real difference between these two consoles is the manner in which they are being marketed. A handful of exclusives aside, the Xbox One and the PlayStation 4 will play the same games, with largely the same experience and the world will continue to spin on its axis. Yes, the PlayStation 4 appears to be a little more powerful. Yes, early ports appear to run smoother on that machine, but I’d suggest these differences will become increasingly imperceptible as time passes.

My point is this: as long as there are people playing video games on consoles, there will be video games available on the Xbox One. This is not a Nintendo console. Third party games will be available. Developers will place a priority on them. These games will be good. And you will play them. It is all but a guaranteed certainty.

But what about the here and now? Well that’s a different matter entirely. As of November 2013 we have hit a quandary. The best games available on Xbox One are already available on Xbox 360. This will no doubt be the case for the next six months as the gaming public makes the slow transition towards the next generation.

This is what you, the player, have available at the moment: smoother (in some cases) higher resolution versions of games you could play on a console you already own, a handful of passable exclusives and (depending on your tastes) one unmissable launch title in Forza Motorsport 5.

Now this makes the Xbox One seem like a flaccid, flawed proposition, but for many it will be more than enough, myself included. I’ve been holding out on many of this year’s big releases (Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag, Battlefield 4, FIFA 14) because I want to play the best versions of those games and I get the distinct feeling I’m not alone. All things considered, there will be plenty of very good video games for you to play in the lead up to Christmas and beyond.

(At this point it’s my duty to state for the record that Ryse is a very mediocre video game. Forza Motorsport 5, on the other hand, is the best launch title you will play this year -- on any console.)

The Xbox One is big. Very big. To the point where I wonder exactly how it will fit into my entertainment unit. The Xbox One looks nice. It looks modern. It makes a really nice noise when it turns on and an equally nice (but different) noise when it turns off. After a week of use I am not bored of turning the console on and off again to hear those noises. Neither is my son. That’s the reason why my Xbox One is covered in tiny, grubby little fingerprints.

But the build quality feels… I wouldn’t say ‘bad’, but a little flimsy. The console is heavy. There is no way it could suffer being dropped from even the smallest of heights. There are parts of the console I feel like I could rip off with my bare hands if I had the inclination (I don’t) and a couple of sections that feel a little bit shoogly (it’s a technical term) for my tastes.

Mostly it’s just too darn big, particularly when you also have a power brick to contend with. Particularly when the PS4 -- a more powerful machine -- somehow manages to be dramatically smaller and have its power supply unit placed inside the machine.

If Microsoft designed shoes we’d all look like clowns.

But let’s talk about the Xbox One controller, which is basically the greatest thing ever designed ever in the history of ever. As someone who was already deeply in love with the Xbox 360 controller, I’m in awe of how Microsoft somehow managed to take something perfect and make it more perfect.

It feels leaner. In a good way. Some will no doubt argue that the triggers feel a little less malleable and less flexible. I like the change. The addition of ‘rumble’ to the triggers is a legitimate stroke of genius. Forza Motorsport 5 in particular -- and all future racing games I suspect -- will benefit from this addition. It sounds like hyperbole but there really is no other way to say it: the two extra motors adds an extra dimension to rumble. It feels more delicate, it adds depth and subtlety to the effect. It’s not only my favourite thing about the controller, it may be my favourite thing about the Xbox One as a package.

The Xbox One is desperately trying to worm its way into different areas of my life and, so far, it has done so with varying degrees of success.

As a pure gaming machine the Xbox One is already worthwhile. I genuinely believe that. As an all-in-one device using the ‘magic’ of Kinect to bring us together in a merry multimedia ring of roses I am far from convinced. No doubt this is the area where the Xbox One will see the most dramatic evolution in the years and updates to come but, for now -- in Australia at least -- it’s not quite there yet. We have less stuff. Speaking to our US Kotaku buddies there is a gulf there. 'Xbox Watch Comedy Central,' they say and, bingo, you are watching Comedy Central. 'Xbox watch HBO'. One day we will be afforded similar luxuries and a similar wealth of content but today is not that day.

The Xbox One feels like a walled garden in an era where consumer choice is paramount. I can’t stream content from my computer to the Xbox One. Why not? The Xbox 360 already allows me to do this, as does the PlayStation 3. For me, personally, this is a deal breaker. For now it feels as though I’m limited to expensive video rentals and a music service I don’t want to be a part of.

What Microsoft (and Sony and everyone) needs to realise is that most of us have already made consumer decisions about what we want to watch and where/how we want to watch it. I listen to music using Spotify. I like to stream television from my computer to my television. If the Xbox One wants to be a catch all device it should work as a conduit for all these things instead of trying in vain to funnel us down a path that most of us, quite frankly, have no desire to take.

Does anyone want to use Bing when we already have Google? Stop trying to make ‘Fetch’ happen. It is not going to happen.

The first date I had with the Xbox One was a disaster.

The update wouldn't work and I got impatient. I wrote furious, hurried notes onto my iPhone like feverish entries in an angry teenage diary: "UPDATE WON'T WORK". "KINECT DOESN'T WORK". "HAS NO GAMES". "DON'T WANT TV". Soon that furnace of rage was beat into submission by a console that didn't do everything I wanted to do right now but at the very least had the potential to be the 'centre-of-living-room' device Microsoft so desperately wants it to be.

There's a sense of the inevitable about it: the Xbox One is a device that will most likely become a part of my life whether I like it or not.

And that's essentially where the relationship analogy breaks down. Because our relationships with consoles aren't really similar to the relationship you might have with a boyfriend or girlfriend. You don't really have the breadth of choice -- you're stuck with them. There are not plenty of fish in the sea. In that sense the relationship is more like one you might have with an irritating brother or sister. They may do things you don't like, they might frustrate the hell out of you. Yet in the end you have no choice but to love them or, at the very least, tolerate them. The amount of time you actually end up spending with them, of course, is up to you.

So in the end I think I might love the Xbox One. But at one point I might just have to sit it down, in a quiet room, away from the crowds. A safe space. It will bound towards me enthusiastically with a hug that lasts too long and a kiss that feels uncomfortable.

"It's not you it's me," I might find myself saying. "I think I love you more like a brother or a sister."

I think I just friend-zoned the Xbox One.


    Goddammit Mark, now I can never read this website again.

    "Idiots. Thats who. Idiots and barefaced liars."

    Well done Mark, you've just summed up the 'console wars' perfectly.

    So, if the Xbox is like a relationship, does that mean at the reveal people discovered that the console got drunk and cheated on us with some sports jock? Now we're entering a moment where the Xbox is constantly apologising for its mistakes. With some people taking it back to give it a second chance, while some people can't ever forgive them and are trying to move on to their new relationship?

      No, I don't believe it does.

      Considering all that console drama was reversed before it went into action, it's more like the Xbox told you it was going to sleep with someone else, but then you complained and said no, so it didn't, but now you act like it did sleep with somebody else.

        I was actually saying that reversing all those features was the console apologising :P

        I'm very proud of this statement. Well done.

      Nailed it

    I made the mistake of looking up "chocolate torch"...

      So did I.
      For anyone else thinking they will too, maybe wait till you get home.

        Why? I like chocolate. Who doesn't? It's delicious.


          Oh god.

            You learn something new you wish you didnt every day..

        Is it something I want left in my search history? I'm curious and at home, but I'm also cautious. Anyone want to spoil the surprise?

          It involves poop and bum sex and not in that order and much worse than you're thinking.

            So, it a poop covered penis or something? Or worse than that? Oh god, why do I want to know!? Must resist urge to Google...

            You know, this could be a fun new forum game. "Guess the creepy sexual thing" (without Googling). And by fun, I mean soul destroying.

              As I said, much worse.

              I Googled it and found a children's book named The Chocolate Touch.... Typed torch but Google sent me to Chocolate Touch instead.... I think Google was looking out for me!

      Reading the sentence again, I believe the expression Mark was looking for was "as useful as a chocolate teapot". Freudian slip perchance Mark?

      Lucky for me the safe image search is ON!

        LOL I believe you're right. Chocolate Torch doesn't work there at all. Mark? How you doing over there?

      Oh God. I thought nothing could shock me. I stopped reading the definition halfway through and was still nearly ill.
      Take everyone's advice and do not google it.

    Mark it's articles like this that make me keep coming back...

    I spent the night playing pretty much all the Xbox One launch titles and I agree that now I have seen it in action a few times it will take some adjusting to. But I am excited about what it has to offer.. and MAN that controller is good.

    so you has the NBN thingy then?

    Great article, thanks Mark.

    Mark, I'm interested to know what the loading times for Forza 5 are? At EBexpo, they had a demo that seemed to take a long time to load. Specifically they let you choose a car and it's colour before being whisked away to the demo track. After each selection the game seemed to take a long time to offer you the next choice. With a bunch of showroom scenes in between. After sitting through a lot of long load times playing GT5 on PS3, I'm hoping this won't be the case in the release version of Forza.

    I love to race I just wish the games raced me to the track. So what gives? Long load times.

      Forza embargo ends tomorrow, I think.

    I've never understood why companies don't use peer-to-peer download systems (a la bittorrent, but with some central authentication mechanism) for data when they know hundreds of thousands of people will be trying to download the same large piece of data within a relatively short time period. Rather than crippling under the weight of a hundred thousand concurrent download attempts, it would thrive... Imagine, every console a potential source of the update for other users...

    Or at least split the download up (transparently, again, a la bittorrent). I mean, in this day and age, having to restart a download that I already have 94% of from the beginning? Why not just fetch the bits that I don't have yet? Technology companies need to fix how we transmit and receive large pieces of data... /rant

      Depends, I think there should be an option. Like, Blizzard uses bittorrent downloads for WoW patches/downloads, but if you havnt updated for a while/are behind some kind of asshole firewall/routerofdoom, I'd prefer to also have the option for a FTP download from a single source.

      they did this for metal gear online on metal gear solid 4. it was quite magical.

        actually, they let you choose between P2P and HTTP.

    So you can't stream from PC to console in any of the 3 next gen machines??? What are they doing to us - that's one of the best things about the current machines :(

      The Xbox One has native streaming from Xbox Music & Xbox Video on a Windows 8 PC.

        So, usable by 0.1% of the population?

          Don't degrade the thread because you refuse to upgrade to Windows 8 because of your irrational fears of change and having to learn something.

            I have an Xbox music pass, but how does this help me stream my 8tb of video I have via UPNP? I can tell you right now Xbox Video isn't going to transcode any mkv or other 1080p content.

              Oh noes, don't tell me the Xbox is trying to make it that people actually pay for content rather than giving them a vehicle to watch pirated stuff that if they are so determined to steal their content they can buy a WDTV

                Or people who buy content and put it on a NAS so that it can be accessed from any device in the house. Not everyone is pirating content.

                It supports UPNP. The article is wrong. Also stuff disc swapping when I have a server full of all my ISO's, and my dvd/blurays are down in my storage locker.

                I also pay for netflix/hulu since Australia is a backwards overpriced shithole when it comes to streaming options, but nice try!

                Also fuck wdtv, one of the massively appealing features of the Xbox One is to never have to use my TV remote to change input ever again.

            No but if you have a Mac at home...kinda says screw you and your choices ... Exactly the point in the article about the path the new console overlords want to take you ... Their path, and I'm not liking it.

            Way to irrationally fanboy Microsoft and miss the point of the post. I wasn't referring to just the Win8 thing, but also having to use Xbox Music & Video.

              Aren't Xbox music and Xbox video paid services? No thanks - at least the 360 let's me stream whatever using the System Video Player.

              First console to introduce that feature gets my money (including WiiU) well that and whoever can the price under $400

      There were statements from Microsoft as recently as this month saying it supported streaming and DLNA, so I'm not sure what issue Mark had.

        From the polygon review,
        "The Xbox One supports Play To streaming from Windows 7 and 8 PCs via DLNA, but there's no way to pull content to the system from a PC directly (though the Xbox One does support playback of almost any file your Windows PC recognizes as media, whether music or video)."

          The key word is 'pull' - you can't yet trigger the playback of external content from the Xbox One interface, but you can 'push' content from another device to the Xbox One. It's expected that the pull side of it will be added in a future system update.

            I just don't get why this wouldn't be included at the start. My cheap ass smart tv can do it. The xbox should be able to as well.
            I'm buying one anyway but this just puts a damper on my excitement. :(

    So you can't use the xbox one as a media extender like the xbox 360?
    I knew the ps4 didn't do dlna, but not being able to do stuff that my 460 could on the new xbox seems...well, silly...

      You could plug your HTPC into the HDMI port instead?

      I'm not 100% sure. I know you can use the Xbone as a 'play-to' device which I favour on the 360. It's as simple as right clicking a file on your computer and clicking 'play to Xbox'. Try it on your 360 now. It works way better than media centre.

        Media Centre on Xbox crashes whenever I use it - have never tried this play to thing

    Interesting read.. It got me thinking of what a future console could one day deliver. Imagine if a future Xbox would have it's own AI. When you first boot it up, you set it up and give it a name, and it grows with you, develops its own personality. It compliments you on your achievements, suggests an upcoming game you might like, records all your favourite shows. It's main purpose in life is just to entertain you. Consoles these days are focused on creating yourself in the machine, Xbox Avatars, Mii's etc. It would be interesting to actually let the console be a character in itself... so long as it doesn't become too self aware and goes all Terminator on us..

      What if you could download different personalities? I just had a sudden vision of my Xbox congratulating me with "you just got an achievement. Achievements are cool" and shouting "Allonsy!" on start-up.

        Pretty sure an Xbox that said "you just got an achievement. Achievements are cool" would say "geronimo" not "allonsy" ;)

          I want an Xbox One that knows Venusian Aikido.

          And is a bit more silver up top.

          But under the circumstances, what with this being the week-end of time - and Xbox One release - colliding - total enjoyment is near guaranteed.

      ... I would guess that's the ultimate goal. Better, more personalized marketing is why everyone's so upset that their privacy online is being quickly taken away from them.

      Everyone can have their own HAL!!! That actually sounds really interesting, tad terrifying and potentially life threatening but interesting!

      That would be the most amazing thing there is, if it was capable of full on conversation and speech recognition, such as "Hey fred, i feel like some more gears today" "Launching Gears of war Now kingpotato, Also I should remind you you still have some video clips from last nights play to look at".

      Full on Scifi stuff.

      As much as I love the Kinect now its very cumbersome, the mere addition of an extra word like "to" "or" or just saying "go to kinect sports rivals" Missing the pre season at the end makes the machine throw a hissy fit and laod something unrelated or just not respond.
      Don't wait long enough between words and it does nothing wait too long it does nothing.

      Its beyond finicky, but still fantastic for when you have you hands full.

    Man I am SOOOOO freaking excited to get my hands on the Xbone tomorrow night (dirtyness unintentional).
    Cant wait to dig into some actual games and stop worrying about all the pre-launch BS.

    Im really surprised that Microsoft have put such a long embargo on Forza reviews.
    Normally a long embargo is a sign that the game isnt going to get good reviews or live up to the hype. Turn 10 have never made a bad game and by all accounts Forza 5 is brilliant. MS are probably doing themselves a disservice by not getting the reviews for what will likely be the best launch game across both consoles out earlier.

    Any word on when the Kotaku review will be posted Mark?

    What made you try a second date with your wife?

      I wonder if it involved a "chocolate torch"?

        Don't be rude.

    Awesome piece Mark. Also alleviated some angst over Forza. Funnily enough this whole launch I think is coming down to me wanting to drive the Lotus F1 car around Bathurst.

      I don't get car racing people - like the irl ones. I love car racing games, but the scenery/track of bathurst is just sooooo goddamn boring. HOW IS THAT FUN TO WATCH OR PLAY!?!? :P

        I can think of a lot of rev heads that would get a kick out of a virtual Bathurst

    I think it is more the feel of certain corners and straights. Eau Rouge at Spa is a chicane that if a games physics is done right you can feel the car go light and on the edge much like irl drivers recount. Having driven just a shitty Mazda around Bathurst at 60 kms really makes me appreciate the balls of the drivers that hit corners like the dipper at far greater speeds. But each to there own.

    Kinda on-topic: I got onto a crowded bus and saw a spare seat next to a pretty girl and I thought "huh, why is that seat spare" so I sat down and struck up a conversation with her and we got along spectacularly well, we had so much in common. We swapped phone numbers before I got off and as the bus drove off she waved to me and I remember thinking "imagine how crazy it would be if I ended up marrying her, how cool of a story would this be for our kids".

    Next Monday is our 13th wedding anniversary. And yeah, I've told this story to our kids.

      This "wife" of yours, she wasn't an original xbox was she?

        Nah, haha. She's an actual human being. But that would be an elaborate analogy.

      So I should wait to meet my next console randomly on a bus? I'm okay with that.

        It could happen bro, it could happen. Don't give up.

      Kids, this is the story of how I met your mother. On a bus, the end!

        Eh, I'll throw in a ninja fight and a talking animal to spice it up.

    So what's the deal with Foxtel and the HDMI pass through. I imagine it will work as a basic pass through, but will Australia ever see any integration such as you get in the US. I mean will OneGuide provide local (Australian, both free to air and pay) channel guide listings? That would be nice.

    I have a feeling that for a good long time yet our TV options will be something along the lines of "Xbox: Watch rolling tumbleweeds"

    Nice perspective Mark, I really do think these consoles have been rushed. Which is funny because they really didn't need to be. Both could have easily come out next year with all the features they plan on releasing, and more launch titles. I'm not upset that the consoles are here, but I could have waited.

    I love your remark about Microsoft making shoes. I too pondered micro sifts ability to make hardware after seeing pictures of the two systems side by side. It really is a big difference, and makes you wonder why?

    I'm excited for this new generation, but only really because of the games. It's the only way games makers can progress.

    so how big is the Day One update?

      500 mb

    Any review that can work in a Mean Girls reference gets a gold star from me!

    Is it still possible to sidestep region restrictions and install Hulu/Netflix? I'm really looking forward to having everything on one box and would be pretty disappointed if I still had to swap to my PS3 or 360 for Netflix or Hulu.

    Best version of bf4 has been out for a while.


    I kind of visualize this:

    I do expect the Xbone to be a great console, but the only thing I remotely want on it is Dead Rising 3... here's hoping for a re-release on PS4 a long time later!

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