Yesterday I geeked out over Avatars in the New Xbox Experience and promised some more today but Microsoft went and doled out the update to anyone who signed up for the early preview and the official launch is just a few hours away. With that in mind I’ll just mention a few minor things and shut up as most of you are probably sick of hearing about it or already knee-deep in the update.
First off, my heartstrings got a surprising tug when I tabbed through my Friends list for the first time. Avatar or not, each friend is represented standing in front of a white ‘n green backdrop. Though most “set pieces” look like stacks of Xbox boxes or funky spaceships, the one seen above bears an awfully striking resemblance to an original Xbox demo. The likeness isn’t exact but the connection struck me immediately. Another backdrop that made me outright laugh with glee is a large white X with a green sphere in the middle; an unmistakable homage to the very first Xbox prototype. Well played Dashboard Team, well played.
Backing out of the Friends list and onto the main menu, it’s a little startling to see there’s no beginning or end to your choices. Unlike the old Dashboard whose blades slide left to right, the list of options just keeps looping back and is always visible after you make your choice. It’s nice to not be constantly scrolling up and down to get to the top or bottom of the stack and the loop makes it feel like there are endless choices… even when there are only five or six.
The one thing that really strikes me about the NXE is the visual presentation of content. I smiled again as I clicked on the Xbox Originals of all things. I’ve never been very excited about rebuying an old game just to play it without the physical disc and mostly ignored the offerings on the old Dashboard. But seeing the cover box imagery pop up in a browsable row as if lined up on a store shelf made it feel tangible, more real. A few clicks on the title of choice (be it an Xbox Original, an Arcade title or even a retail release) brings up scores of well presented details and even a slideshow of screenshots.
Suddenly I realize that a whole lot more stuff is going to get sold over Xbox Live after the 19th. Microsoft is definitely onto something here and this could be the next eureka moment after the Wii. It feels a little sleazier (all about the money) and less innovative than Nintendo’s motion control interface but as far as embracing and engaging users the New Xbox Experience is pure genius.
That’s not to say I don’t have any complaints. We’re super excited about watching Netflix movies on the TV without rigging up a laptop but the menu seems more hidden than it needs to be. And like the Avatar menu, the Netflix channel technically boots you out of the Dashboard, breaking the image of the always-on, always-connected presentation.
I’m also not too keen on the Spotlight channel. On the old Dashboard it was a single text option that you had to choose, now it’s a full fledged presentation with sliding panes of promos, ads, and flashy glitz that you have to scroll past in order to get to My Xbox… where all your games are.
I appreciate the content and think it’s a great service for some users out there, but an option to minimize it or even turn it off completely would be much appreciated. After all, I’m already paying for a Gold membership and there’s a separate first-time-tutorial Welcome channel that has an option to tuck it away out of sight.
But in the end there’s really no choice in the matter. You’re going to end up with an Avatar and you’re going to end up looking at that Spotlight channel no matter how quickly you scroll by, so it’s good that the New Xbox Experience is overall exceptional. Not only does it streamline the massive amounts of content available and put a more communal focus on gaming, it gives the Xbox 360 a fresh new feel after three years on the market that will hopefully turn the page on all those image problems and Red Rings.
Go grab that update and give me a friendly wave or a dismissive belch next time I see you online!