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Lava Lobsters vs the Xbox One

lavalobster-1000

Now that both new gaming platforms are out and the dust has had a chance to settle, I would like to give my early impressions. While some are focusing on the PS4 outselling the Xbox One worldwide and on the various hardware issues both platforms have had, I have not experienced any hardware issues with our new Xbox One. In fact, we love just about everything about it. The voice command and greatly improved Kinect are both welcome additions. Thus far, I have played Call of Duty Ghosts, Forza 5, Battlefield 4 and Assassin’s Creed IV Black Flag and think that each is well worth adding to your collection.

The first thing you notice are the graphic improvements in every game. Each has its own style and focus and collectively do a good job of illustrating the capabilities of the new technology. The next generation of games such as Tom Clancy’s The Division and Titanfall will undoubtedly take the graphic development even further.

We installed our new Xbox One in our main TV room where we have been playing our Xbox 360 Slim. Both Xboxes are hooked into a surround sound amplifier and the FIOS signal is now passed through the Xbox One. We also have an older white Xbox 360 in the playroom next door. I have been wondering over the past few weeks how the systems would be used now and what my boys would prefer. Thus far, the 360s are still getting a decent amount of use thanks mostly to Minecraft and BattleBlock Theater, neither of which are currently available for the One. When we have had a chance to play together, which has not been that often with the holiday activities, we have concentrated on COD Ghosts. We really are enjoying the online Squads mode. It is perfect for playing with kids (and adults who just don’t need the language, general offensiveness and getting their asses kicked in the standard multiplayer mode).

On my own I have completed the COD Ghosts campaign and am well into the Battlefield 4 campaign. I have made solid progress in Forza 5 and am now at level eleven. I am deep into the world of Assassin’s Creed Black Flag and am really enjoying the experience. Except for a few minor control issues that are most likely more my own fault than that of the game, this latest installment is the best by far. The seamless transitions from land to sea and back, as well as the sheer fun of controlling your ship and fleet – including hunting and diving – it’s a deep and multi-layered world of pirate fun.

While I am very impressed by the graphics and improvements in the interface as well as in the handling and control overall, the most welcome improvement by far, is the load once and flip back and forth ability of the interface. With the previous system, the idea of jumping into a game for ten minutes or less was a bit of lie that we told ourselves. By the time the system booted and you logged in your now bloated player profile and then loaded the game, your ten minutes were now two. But you wanted to play your ten minutes anyway and that’s why you were late to whatever appointment you had.

No more of that. Now you walk into the room and say “Xbox On.” The system loads quickly, recognizes your face and loads your profile – a feature of which I never tire. Once you start the game and it loads, dropping out to the main menu and performing actions like watching television in a split window are instantaneous and at any point you can drop back into the game without the need to refresh or reload anything. This is a profound change to the way you can play and perhaps because it is less glamorous than other new features, has not received much press.

minilobster-1000

My oldest son recently made a new friend who is not a gamer. Yes, there are some 12 year olds that don’t play any video games. He is not without his own obsession, however, and now my son has caught the same bug – fish and aquatic life. His new friend has ten or so salt water tanks with various species of fish. He is focused on his hobby and very knowledgeable. My son, being he sponge that he is, is absorbing all of the new information and diving in, if you will pardon the pun. He now has three tanks in his room, albeit all are fresh water. Two tanks have various goldfish and the third contains the Lava Lobster in the photo at the top of this post. The image below is one of the first two lobsters that he acquired. These were Mexican Mini Lobsters and unfortunately, both have passed. It is not due to a lack of effort as my son has pleasantly surprised me with his dedication and concern for the new biomes he has created.  The Xbox has little to fear of his losing interest. He is still playing games, but there is a balance developing and most surprisingly it is coming from within him

 

Playing with Your Crew

the crew

One night last week while playing Tiny Tina’s new Borderlands 2 DLC, I asked my sister and a friend what I should blog about next. They suggested that my next topic should be our communal gaming. Why not? We have put in more effort to playing as a team lately and with my boys away at camp for a month, this seems the perfect time to review what team gaming means to me and to my friends.

As I have mentioned in the past, until recently, I have been concentrating on single player games a majority of the time. When my boys are asleep and I play whatever I like, this is what I did most often. I admit, I did play quite a bit of Call of Duty multiplayer but those were all deathmatch-style competitions as opposed to the coop games I am currently favoring. My team currently consists of my sister, an avid gamer to say the least, her daughter who is no lightweight by any measure, and a longtime friend of theirs who knows his way around COD like the best of them.

This team has been playing mainly Fuse and the two Borderlands games lately and having a great time. There is nothing quite like the comfort and ease of playing with regulars. I equate it to a bowling league or local softball team where everyone know everyone and the depth of the relationships only adds to the sense of team and camaraderie. My sister and her friend have been playing together for a long time and I am actually the new kid to the group. Their relationship is the kind of success story that is the antithesis of the irritating and often abusive contact that one frequently encounters when playing with unfiltered opponents online. The fact they became actual friends who spend time together offline — from their online contact is really nice to see, but also probably rare as the PlayStation Gran Turismo racer champions who get a chance to sit behind the wheel of a real race car. But it goes to show that just as some of those online drivers end up being quite good at driving real race cars, sometimes you can make a genuine friend from online gaming.

Online, the world of prejudice and stereotypes is as skewed and muted as often as it is amplified.  Just as some players say things in multiplayer games that they would never say to someone’s face, others let go of the differences between us physically and rely instead on the quality of the interaction with another person to determine whom they wish to play with again. Idealistic? Maybe a bit, but true nonetheless.

If you think this dynamic is only true in the gaming world, you’re wrong.

Finally accepting a friend’s offer to meet for drinks with a group of local regulars I asked him why he continued the efforts to assemble at this local bar. To paraphrase his answer, he said that it was obvious — to get a group of friends together who could disconnect from their daily responsibilities, unwind a bit and share some stories. Not one of these adult men were gamers but it seemed that they all knew about “joining a party” to “chat”. I am not trying to convince anyone with the benefits or shortcomings of the social aspects of multiplayer gaming, they seem self-explanatory and to those who do not play games, they seems equally distant and unimportant as the games. To those who use these technologies, the interaction between players, both inside and outside of the game themselves, is a integral element and will only increase as the new versions of the game consoles are sold later this year and bring new levels of potential player interaction with the integrated Kinect and picture-in-picture apps for example.

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