Grumble feature enabled
Edge #184, January 2008
It's fair to say that the Xbox 360 software line-up is pretty much peerless at the moment. I don't think it's necessarily the most varied portfolio of games, but it does offer the sorts of titles I want to play. By contrast, the Wii is a genius machine, but I'm starting to think that it really would've benefited from a little more graphical oomph under the bonnet. And, y'know, a few more AAA games. And as for the PlayStation 3... seriously, what the hell has happened there?! It's a balls-up of Beagle 2 proportions. Except that if Sony had been running the ill-fated Mars lander mission they'd have set up a fake blog run by someone called 'Astrodude 3000', who would post daily about what a "well wicked" success the mission had actually been, and how "phat" and "fly" Colin Pillinger is. And then, having failed to convince anyone that way, Sony would send up another, cheaper, Mars lander, except by that point nobody would even be paying attention.
Back when I used to write this stupid thing called Digitiser I'd usually avoid the question of which console people should buy. I would say stuff like: "Oh, it depends entirely on what sort of games you like, moc-moc-a-moc, stay away from my bins, do you see? Etc."
But today I have no such truck with impartiality, and if someone asked me which console they should buy I wouldn't hesitate to recommend the Xbox 360. Or the Wii if they're an old person or a girl. Or someone who just likes holding things which remind them a bit of their penis (if they have a penis). However, my Xbox-centric faith has been sorely tested in the last ten days, having switched on my 360 to be confronted with the famous 'red ring of death'. This, as many of us will know, represents an unrecoverable hardware failure.
I've never had a console die on me before. I broke my SNES at one point, because I'd drunkenly tried to force a cartridge into the slot, and bent the pins, but that could hardly be blamed on Nintendo. No, that was plainly the fault of the local publican who sold me the alcohol. However, my Xbox 360 - just two years young - has died because it was clearly rather rubbishly made. Visit pretty much any online gaming forum and there'll be a thread dedicated to people whose 360 has busted. Mine had in fact started to die a year ago, when it stopped letting me get online. Over the past six months, it had developed a tendency to freeze in the middle of a game. And then, ten days ago as I type this, it died altogether, those impatiently flashing three red lights around the power button telling me that its guts were irreversibly knackered.
I'm a bit sad, to be honest. There were clearly plenty of anti-Microsoft naysayers when the console was launched, but I always thought it was a solid, attractive-looking system, which did plenty of things right. As it turns out, the old adage about never judging a book by its cover has proved true once again: my Xbox 360 may have looked gorgeous, and it may have done the most brilliantly filthy things in bed, but they blinded me to the fact that deep down it was riddled with crippling personality defects, hewn into it from birth.
I really hope Microsoft has sorted out the architecture, because having a console die on me has really sapped a lot of goodwill. I already hate PCs - I'm typing this (on a Mac) on the day that both our laptop and a desktop PC have also died, with no hope of affordable recovery (according to some fat bloke at the PC shop, anyway). Unfortunately, PCs are a necessary evil; my children need them for their homework, and to talk to paedophiles. I don't need to own a Microsoft console. I've got other, seemingly more reliable, systems to play games on.
I know Microsoft have extended the warranty on 360s, and have supposedly tweaked the hardware in recent models, but it's still pretty much inexcusable. Why should I have to go to the hassle of parcelling up and sending off a machine that should have worked indefinitely out of the box in the first place? Especially when, at this time of year, there's no guarantee I'll get it back in time for Christmas. I mean, how am I supposed to play Call Of Duty 4?
Unfortunately, it's clearly a by-product of the way the industry continues to function. It's that endless pressure to meet deadlines imposed by the financial year, the advice of accountants taking precedence over the wisdom of the engineers. Evidently, the Xbox 360 was rushed to market in time for Christmas 2005, because Microsoft feared the looming, then-still-threatening presence of Sony's PS3 (oh, if only they knew then what we all know now).
Of course, the 360 has built up too much of a head of steam now for this steady procession of hardware failures to do too much damage to its brand. Not when at least one of its rivals continues to sell its console with all the grace of an inbred cake salesman with a bee trapped up his vest. I just hope it's a lesson learned for the future, because Christ knows what it's costing Microsoft to make all these repairs.
Mr Biffo co-founded Digitiser, Channel 4's Teletext-based videogames section, and now writes mainly for television
Do you know of any important moments from the annals of Digi history that have been omitted? If so, then mail me (firstname.lastname@example.org) right now, man. Credit will be duly given for anything that gets put up.