NXE: Microsoft gets it right (for a change)

It’s finally here – the much anticipated New Xbox Experience (NXE). For the remaining few who were too lazy to sign up for the preview programme, a message at 3:30 pm on Wednesday informed that an Xbox LIVE update was available. So is this something which will make you happy? What are the nice features? Read on to find more:

After a short update, the console restarted and the first thing that you see is the new ‘Working’ icon, and a message that the new update was being download. The download is about 120 mb and took 12 minutes. A new flashy video introduces you to the exciting world of the Xbox. It reminded me of Spore a bit, where game colonies seem to spring all over the world and the camera zooms out to display the green X.


Avatar Creation

After the mandatory terms of service message, you are asked to create your avatar. Yes, these are very similar to the Nintendo Mii’s and the Lego characters. But they are oh so cute! The way they run up and down the screen and jump for joy is heartening to watch. There are a number of options available to customise your avatar and I assume the choices for accessories and clothes will keep on growing. Also, I am sure game companies will come up with game-styled additions, akin to themes and gamer pictures. An Oblivion-style character creation system would be really cool though.

Shaking your avatar’s head from left to right makes him grimace and moving the head up down makes him nod in happiness. And twirling the character’s head makes him giddy. That’s fun . . . for about 7 seconds. The avatar can also pose for your gamer picture. Given the choice of customisation you should be able to create someone who looks like you.


Cascading Windows

This is the biggest design change. The blades are no longer there. The navigation scrolls up and down between sections, and each section has windows showing section-specific content. (Tip: Use the triggers and bumpers for quick navigation.)

The movement is pretty slick and quick; almost like the coverflow system.
There’s a LOT more information on the blades than previously available; games show pictures, content is highlighted, friends and parties are shown separately. You get to see a lot more content than before.

The screen uses the real estate really well. Everything seems larger than before, but there’s also a lot more information shown. And there’s a move away from the predominantly text layout; the focus is on graphical information.



This section will be unrecognisable. Each friend has his own screen real estate, where you see his avatar, a nifty background and what he’s currently doing. The new addition is Parties. A bunch of friends can create a Party and they will appear together. When seen online it looks really neat and highlights the community aspect of Xbox LIVE. You can see the same stuff as before for your friends in the friend card, but it’s laid out in a more colourful manner.

Xbox Guide

The Xbox Guide has undergone a lot of change as well. It is a mini-blade system which pops up in the middle of the screen and nearly everything is available right from the Guide.

I personally prefer this Guide because it allows so many more options than before. And you can still quit a game using the Guide + Y buttons. And yes, for those of you who are too lazy to move up from the couch, the Guide button can still be used to switch the console off.


The Good Stuff

  • Install and play from hard drive: This is what has got people really excited; the ability to install games to the hard drive. Xbox 360 games have been plagued with texture pop-in and long load times. Many thought that this is due to the fact that games are run from the DVD drive as opposed to the hard drive. Well now you can choose to install your favourite game to the hard drive, and play directly from there. You will still require the original DVD in the drive for authentication purpose. I installed Mass Effect (a game infested with texture pop-in issues) and the Orange Box (really long load times). Both games showed an improvement in running off the hard drive. Mass Effect shows significantly less pop-in. Unfortunately, the elevator rides still make you want to commit murder. Orange Box showed a significant improvement in load times. Each game will take up anything between 4 to 8 GB depending on the DVD content. For the technically-minded, the actual install process apparently creates a DVD image, rather than the PS3 system of copying files. Also, your DVD life grows as there’s less spinning involved, and dare I say fewer DVD drive errors?
  • Better Guide functionality in-game: This is definitely better. There are more options, and I always found the blade popping a bit weird. Imagine the entire old dashboard available in a mini format and you will know what’s available.
  • Party Groups: Xbox LIVE is all about getting together to play games. Although it is a paid service, it still offers the best matchmaking compared to the other two major consoles. You and a group of friends can now get together and create a Party. How does this help? Well it’s easier to join games. A group of friends can jump from game to game with none of the hassle of creating a new game and then waiting for others to join in. How many of us have lost connection and had to wait for invites before we could rejoin or waited ages for a Gears lobby to become full?
  • Turn off auto-play: There is an option under Settings where you can switch off auto-play. So putting in a game will no longer automatically start it. This helps avoid an interruption if you wanted to only install the game, or if you’re watching a video, or chatting with someone.
  • Availability of community games: Games made by the community will be available for download through XBL. I am pretty excited about this one because this is the equivalent of Indie games and there are veritable gems which come through.


Bottom Line

So there you have it folks, a short introduction to the NXE, and some things which you can start right away. This is definitely not a regular reskinning of the Xbox 360, but a whole new experience – and a good one. You will find some tasks getting easier and probably figure out new shortcuts to the system. I am personally looking forward to the community games and the Party system. Add me up if anyone wants to play some TF2 or Castle Crashers, my GT is taff3r. Game On!

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