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Microsoft's Xbox 360 bucking the sales trend of the typical console lifecycle...

Today, Microsoft announced that "by extending the capabilities of the Xbox platform with Kinect and Xbox LIVE, Microsoft has 'changed the tail' of the typical console lifecycle, showing dramatic gains in the fifth and sixth years of this generation." In addition, they’ve released the following data points:

  • Microsoft has now sold 55 million Xbox 360 consoles across 38 countries and sales are accelerating.
  • Xbox 360 maintains its lead in the U.S. as the top selling console in 2011, and ten of the past eleven months.
  • In the first four months of 2011, Xbox 360 has seen a 29 percent year over year increase in sales, which is more than triple the growth of PlayStation 3 and the largest growth of any console on the market.
  • There are now nearly 35 million active Xbox LIVE members worldwide spending an average of almost 60 hours a month on the service.
    Cumulatively Xbox LIVE members are now logging 2.1 billion entertainment hours a month.
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Electronic Arts and Bioware Release Ultima IV for Free! More to follow?

Hot on the heels of the launch of the new Ultima Forever Website, Bioware and Electronic Arts have made the PC version of Ultima IV: Quest of the Avatar, available for free download (the original Apple II version was released in 1985). All you need to supply is DOSbox to be able to play it. Hopefully additional games in the Ultima series will follow (and more platforms!). Also hoped for is that this is just the beginning of a proper resurrection of the moribund Ultima franchise. Certainly Bioware and Electronic Arts have the necessary talents and resources to do so, and this is certainly a great start.

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Remarkable Auctions: Mattel Intellivision Spiker! Super Pro Volleyball

INTV Corporation's Spiker! Super Pro Volleyball just sold on eBay for a remarkable $1,826.00 plus shipping and handling. This was one of the last cartridges released by INTV (along with Stadium Mud Buggies, known as Monster Truck Rally on the NES) circa late 1989 and is obviously extremely sought after by hardcore Intellivision collectors (though rarely reaching anywhere near what it just sold for, particularly unsealed). The limited releases of both Spiker! Super Pro Volleyball and Stadium Mud Buggies marked the end (1990) of the Intellivision's remarkable 10 year old original commercial run, even though Mattel had given up on the platform less than halfway through.

Check out the video below from "ed1269" to see how all those years of experience with the system paid off in the quality of the late-life games:

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Quick Behind the Scenes in the Creation of My Xbox

As you already know, after completion of Motorola ATRIX For Dummies, which comes out in July, I'm now knee-deep with Christina in writing and developing My Xbox: Kinect, Xbox 360, and Xbox LIVE, which comes out in October. The "My" series books are extremely colorful and visually oriented, with some of the chapters we've written thus far having more than 50 images (in fact, one has 73!). I thought I would briefly share how the development process works from the author side, with some accompanying visuals.

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Issue 50 of the Commodore Free magazine - April 2011, Now Available!

The latest issue, April 2011, of the excellent Commodore Free magazine is now available in the usual .PDF, .txt, .seq, .d64, .html, EPUB, and MOBI formats. Get your copy in the format of your choice here!

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Back in my day we used something called a "desktop computer" that stayed in one place, and we liked it!

I had recently written about what I perceive to be the false notion of console gaming holding PC gaming back (and, frankly, with a recent release like L.A. Noire and future releases like Skyrim, again, it's hard to make that argument outside of a purely superficial (audio/visual) - not contentual - standpoint). Perhaps, as this new article puts forth, it's not consoles, but tablets, that the traditional PC industry has more to worry about?

Of course, as far as I'm concerned, we're actually still at least a few years off from that happening, at least until Apple breaks the required link between their iOS devices and a computer equipped with iTunes (and that's a question of "when", not "if"). Android devices are of course close to completely breaking free of the computer tether, but there are other issues for those classes of devices to overcome first. Other tablet OS's, present and future, are probably somewhere in-between the two.

Interestingly, there's a girl here at my day job who had bought an iPad 2 about a month back and then recently got an iPhone 4, but was frustrated that there was no way to copy what was on her iPad 2 (purchases) over to the iPhone 4. You see, she considers her computer horribly outdated and really didn't want to go through iTunes on her rickety old PC! Obviously, very flawed thinking, but it's very interesting what the non-techies have in their thought processes (and in this case how she wants to basically compute outside of work exclusively on the iPad 2 and iPhone 4)... Definitely a paradigm shift of some type! In any case, it's the old argument that it's not so much computers that are being challenged, it's the limited generalized definition of what a computer is that is being challenged. Does a computer really mean that desktop or laptop many of use a good portion of the day? Sure, but that's not all it means. As an iPad 2 user - outside of the tethering restriction for the occasional iTunes sync - I can argue that my tablet is as much of a computer as most desktops and laptops, with strikingly similar functionality (and in some cases, then some).

Ultimately, I think it's clear we're all headed to a connected eco-system of devices, where a lot of stuff is in the cloud, with minimal need for local storage. You'll simply use whatever device is handy or whatever is best suited to a particular task (say a touch screen or a keyboard). We even already have brilliantly functional cloud gaming services (and of course, VOD, like Netflix), so, outside of artificial bandwidth restrictions by ISP's, there's little reason to think that the future has anything to do with increasingly more powerful traditional computers. For some of us who have been in love with technology since our earliest memories, this is a tough sell, but it's hard to argue that's not where we're headed, and perhaps it's just as hard to argue that it's even a bad a thing. I'm sure even the most hardcore among us have tired of the upgrade/incompatibility/instability cycle at some point, if only briefly.

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In what ways are console gaming holding PC gaming back?

I recently tweeted - to some degree in frustration after reading the same tired complaint yet again - "For all those who insist console gaming is holding PC gaming back, I'd like to know what that might be other than slightly nicer graphics." In other words, we continue to hear talk that this almost six year old console generation is responsible for holding back what the state-of-the-art in PC gaming can be. But really, keeping in mind that both the Xbox 360 and PS3 are capable of 1080p and full surround sound, and have default controllers with lots of buttons, how exactly are consoles holding PC game designs back? Sure, PC's have more memory, storage and polygon-potential, as well as more buttons thanks to its default keyboard, but really, what game designs would be getting exactly if consoles didn't exist? Flashier versions of current games don't count.

What games would PC developers be giving us if they weren't "held back" by consoles? How much more power is really needed given the designs currently being unleashed? I can't think of one game released where I thought, "boy, more processing power/memory/storage would really make this game so much better". If a dev said, "I have this really radical idea, but I can't do it because consoles are holding me back," THEN I'd listen and maybe even agree. Wanting more polygons is not a design issue.

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Two New Upcoming Books from the Armchair Arcade Team

Now that both of our upcoming books have official Amazon listings, I can finally give more details. The first book, due out July 2011, is from Dan Gookin and me, and is titled, Motorola ATRIX For Dummies. It's a full color book that covers all the ins and outs of Motorola's amazing new Android smartphone that, among other things, can turn into a laptop and HD multimedia entertainment center. The second book is due out October 2011 and is from Christina Loguidice and me, and is titled, My Xbox: Xbox 360, Kinect, and Xbox Live. It's a full color book that covers everything Xbox 360, with a particular focus on the non-game features of the platform. As each book releases, we'll of course have more details. We'll also let you know once the covers are finalized, which is why you presently see a placeholder on each of the Amazon product pages. [05/05/2011 Update: There's now a cover image for My Xbox!]

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State of the Nintendo Wii 2 Rumors - What is suggested and my practical predictions

As mentioned a few days back, rumors about a pending Nintendo Wii successor have been flying fast and furious, led no doubt by the dramatic lack of new game releases and overall declining sales for the worldwide console market leader. The first round of Nintendo Wii price cuts has already taken place, going from $199.99 to $169.99 at many major retailers. More cuts, no doubt, will be on the way. So, what is the present state of the rumor mill? Right now, here's what the most ambitious of the rumors are suggesting:

  • An HD console with slightly more power than either the Xbox 360 or PS3.
  • A controller with a 6" HD touch screen and camera that is capable of streaming all content from the console (in case your TV is occupied) and can also act as a secondary display for things like maps, inventory, and anything else that you'd normally have to pause a game to access.
  • The controller will feature dual analog sticks and a full complement of buttons.
  • A Blu-Ray drive.
  • A robust online service similar to Xbox Live.
  • Full backwards compatibilty with both the Wii and GameCube.
  • A renewed focus on the type of core games that are presently found on Xbox 360, PS3, and PC, making cross-platform ports practical.
  • An additional, unknown gimmick/hook similar to the impact the Wii's motion controllers had when that launched.

All this for an "any day now" or E3 announcement, and a Japanese launch in mid-2012, with the rest of the world to follow by late 2012.

With the above pie-in-the-sky rumors noted, here is what I believe would be more like reality if any of that is to be practical, meaning hitting a price point between $249.99 and $399.99, and Nintendo making a nice profit (though I'm suspecting $349.99 will be the actual target):

  • An HD console with slightly more power than either the Xbox 360 or PS3.
  • A controller with a 6" touch screen and camera that is capable of streaming all content from the console (in case your TV is occuppied) and can also act as a secondary display for things like maps, inventory, and anything else that you'd normally have to pause a game to access. Note how I didn't say HD touch screen. I believe it will be similar to how the iPhone 4's screen is just really, really beautiful (reitna display), but not what we'd consider a traditional HD resolution. The "HD" part will simply be marketing speak for a really nice looking screen, like "4G" on cell phones is really just marketing speak for "faster than 3G" rather than descriptive of true 4G service.
  • The controller will feature dual analog sticks and a full complement of buttons.
  • A DVD drive. A Blu-Ray drive would add additional unecessary cost and would really only be a benefit if Nintendo embraced movie playback, which they've never done in the past.
  • An online service somewhere between Sony's offering for the PS3 and Xbox Live, sort of like a souped up version of what is hinted at at present on the 3DS.
  • Full backwards compatibility with the Wii (it will no longer be necessary to be GameCube compatible, as that could be part of the new Virtual Console service; it COULD be GameCube compatible, however, assuming it doesn't present any additional problems or represent unecessary costs, so I'm not really sure on this one since in theory the new controller layout would mitigate needing legacy GameCube controller ports).
  • A renewed focus on the type of core games that are presently found on Xbox 360, PS3, and PC, making cross-platform ports practical. This is a given--Nintendo has mastered the production and sale of evergreen family-style titles, now they just need to seal the deal by catering to fussy core gamers as well.
  • No additional gimmick/hook. This is for practical reasons, because if you have such a sophisticated, costly controller, you need to make sacrifices elsewhere. I find it unlikely they could have such an advanced controller and on top of that include another groundbreaking feature. With that said, I wouldn't consider that type of controller groundbreaking, but it would at least be interesting. The ability to stream to the controller would be pretty much useless in my opinion, outside of the aforementioned ability to display info you'd normally have to pause the console to access or clutter up the main screen with.
  • Storage is not really addressed in any of the rumors. I can see it going one of several ways. First, is include an 8GB - 32GB high speed SD card. Another is to include a 128GB SSD drive. While the former is practical now in volume, the latter will be practical in volume by the time of the system's intended mid-2012 release. A smaller capacity SD card may be a viable option assuming more focus is put on streaming, a la what Netflix or OnLive do, rather than focus on onboard storage. This all depends upon how much Nintendo is willing to gamble on the general availability of high speed Internet.

So, what do you guys think? I'd love to hear your thoughts on both the rumors floating around and my own take on what form the system would have to take given the current scuttlebutt.

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