For The Love of the X360

I've been writing guidebooks for videogames for 6 years now. It's not a profession that is all that easy to come by, nor is it one that is especially easy to keep. But I'd like to think I'm pretty good at it, and I work hard, and I'm sure my excitement about playing new games has something to do with my success. It's that whole love what you do aspect of it that keeps me positive and under contract. The problem is that over the last few months that excitement has been lessening. The new videogames were failing to excite me, the titles I was really looking forward to playing and writing about were all getting delayed, and the constant focus of attention on hardware instead of software had me wondering if people forgot why we play games in the first place.

Microsoft released their Xbox 360 last November and, for the first time since I've began using the words "videogame" and "business expense" together in the same sentence, I declined to get on board on launch day. This time around, I was going to wait until I really wanted it -- until I wasn't just buying it for the sake of doing so. Sure, the system was releasing with the next installment in one of my all-time favorite series, Project Gotham Racing 3 (PGR3), but I didn't care. And for the first half of this year, that sentiment remained strong. And then I attended the Electronics Entertainment Expo (E3) earlier this month. Much of the post-E3 press centered on the upcoming console offerings by Nintendo and Sony (which I've written about previously), but I kept finding myself with an Xbox 360 controller in my hand. My publisher's booth was smack dab between Sony and Nintendo's in the West Hall of the Los Angeles Convention Center, but whenever I had a free moment, I would stroll over to the South Hall, where Microsoft was holding court. Maybe it was the lack of gimmicks or the overwhelming feeling of having been-there and done-that that accompanied the other two console manufacturer's booths, but Microsoft's display made me feel at home.

I bought the Xbox 360 this past Wednesday and can honestly say that I haven't been this excited about a new console since buying the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) in 1987.

Having written the strategy guides for Ridge Racer 6 and Full Auto, I was already familiar with the console's new controller -- the best ever -- and the impressive graphics and audio. But I hadn't taken the new system online yet and was still in the dark as to the wonders of the new-and-improved Xbox Live service and, in particular, the user-friendly Dashboard operating system. Within minutes of arriving home, I migrated my old Xbox Live account to the X360 and was online downloading bonus cars for PGR3. I scrolled through the various demos and arcade games, purchased 2000 Microsoft Points to be used as currency for the micro-transactions that I'll make, and was happily cashing in those points on some of the simpler, old-school style games in the Xbox Live Arcade. Yes, I even downloaded my own digital copy of Uno.

I played with my new toy for several hours before even putting a game in the disc tray -- talk about a first! I downloaded demos for Lost Planet and Test Drive: Unlimited, watched movie trailers, purchased some rare cars for a racing game I'd yet to even unwrap, and played the hell out of a puzzle game called Hexic that came pre-installed on the hard drive. And, of course, a couple games of Uno.

Before putting down the controller to call Kristin and rave about how wonderful the system is, I scanned over to the Achievements page on my Gamertag Profile for the first time. Each and every game on the X360 has an accompanying number of gameplay goals called Achievements. Meeting the requirements for each goal nets you Gamer Points. The people you play with on Xbox Live can not only see your total accumulation of Gamer Points, but even check out which Achievements you've earned in each game. There's even a handy-dandy "Compare Games" feature that lets you see how you measure up with someone on your Friends List. It's ingenious, and as someone who routinely shelves games after just a few hours of play, I welcome it with open arms. It's just the carrot I need to lead me onward to the finish line of games (as proof to this, I finished PGR3 after four days of playing, but am still playing it constantly to try and complete more Achievements).

When I finally did slide the PGR3 disc into that machine, I was immediately greeted with the most impressive visuals my eyes ever did see. Hopping behind the wheel of a Ferrari Challenge Stradale, switching to cockpit view, and zipping across the incredibly-detailed Brooklyn Bridge at 170 miles per hour on my HDTV was truly a "next-generation" moment. And hearing the screeching of the tires and the whine of that fine Italian engine surrounding me in all of that Dolby Digital richness just made my day. I didn't buy the X360 until the week of its six-month anniversary, and I couldn't for the life of me remember why I held out as long as I did.

Or was it the wait that helped lead to such a fine first impression? Possible. After all, there have been updates to the Xbox Live service since November. The demos I downloaded certainly didn't exist prior to E3, and unless I'm mistaken, even Uno was a relatively recent addition. Either way, whether it was the Playstation 2, the original Xbox, the Gamecube, or any other console since the NES, I can't recall a time when I happily whiled away so many hours doing so many different things with a videogame console. And there's still lots to be done. And plenty of games to play. My love of gaming has returned and I owe it to the X360.

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