Mark Mazzei

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Mark Mazzei's avatarAbout two weeks before its final release, Major Nelson’s website for everything Xbox Live updated with a chance to preview the coined “New Xbox Experience.” The testing was limited to the first thousand members chosen at random. MundoRare’s very own Glez was one of the first to be able to try out the NXE. Much to my surprise, Major Nelson updated with another opportunity to allow those that signed up the first time a second chance. Fortunately, I was one of those people.

As with other system updates, this particular update didn’t take that much time to actually do so. After the system restarts, you’re treated to a rather trippy video welcoming you to the New Xbox Experience, with the music at the latter part of the video sounding remarkably similar to Kameo.

You’re then given a little message welcoming you to the NXE. After that, a bunch of differently generated Avatars show up. They’re basically templates that you can use to create (or modify to be) your own avatar. Avatar creation is up to you, but you can’t experience the rest of the Dashboard without saving an Avatar. Creation was mentioned in the E3 impressions, and not much has changed. In addition to the face, nose, eyes, hairstyle, and eyebrows being able to edit in the demo, there’s much more. You can choose the type of shoes, shirt, watch, ring, and even sweatshirt for your Avatar. Unfortunately for me, I couldn’t perfectly recreate myself, as eyebrow piercings are apparently the devil. Or something. Here’s hoping for future possibilities. Again, none of this is necessary to advance to the Dashboard; if you don’t care less, you can just pick a random avatar, accept it, and go into the Dashboard. You can always come back later if the mood strikes. In the New York demo, the L/R buttons weren’t implemented, but as promised, you can rotate your Avatar as needed.

New to the Avatar features is the option to take a picture of your Avatar as your Gamerpic. Fortunately, you don’t get just a still image of the Avatar. It moves on its own will, so with the right camera position and perfect timing, you can get the Gamerpic of your virtual personality with style.

Fortunately, this isn’t something that’s forced upon you, which I’ll elaborate on soon enough. I’m referring to the other half of the update: the new Dashboard. I’ll just come out and flat out say that I love it. I’ve had it for almost a week now, and I haven’t missed the old one in the slightest. Microsoft was right when they said that you could keep your Gamerpic and Themes the way they are; the new Dashboard blends the old and the new. While you can have a picture of your Avatar, you don’t necessarily have to. If you’re perfectly fine with your Gamerpic just like I am with the Exploding Man, it’s all fine and dandy. Same goes for your Dashboard themes. The bottom half of my Dashboard is the color of the NXE by default, but the upper half is the Heroes theme.

Pick an avatar

The menus are easy to navigate, and there are much more windows for convenient looking. For example, when you select a game, you can see the amount of Achievements you have, the leaderboards among your friends, and other miscellaneous game details. The Dashboard of old still exists in a sense. When you press the Xbox button, you’re taken to a smaller menu that looks almost verbatim to the old Dashboard. On the farther left, you have the Xbox Marketplace page, for example, but with fewer options with the most important being present. By pressing the button, you’re able to join a party, and even play a game by highlighting the “Play *Insert Game Here*” menu button at the bottom of the pop-up.

Unfortunately, due to memory space, I can’t specify what or how the method of having 360 games on your hard drive works, only that it apparently makes games load faster. I also wasn’t able to have a Party, a mode where you can have more than one person in the room at a time, due to the lack of people I know having this update.

There aren’t many complaints I have with the new update, except for one, and that’s the Private Chat option. Now, I’m assuming that this is due to different Dashboards, but when I wanted to talk to someone on the old Dashboard, the reception was incredibly static-y. Whether this’ll stay when everyone gets the Dashboard update is something only time may tell, but logically, that was the only reason I could come up with.

It’s difficult to give something like this a score (especially since it’s not even a game to begin with), so I’ll leave you with my final comments. I believe that this update was a necessary change for Microsoft at the most to improve their casual image in a demographic of hardcore gamers. While I can’t speak for every 360 owner, I mentioned above that I don’t miss the old Dashboard update, and I mean that. It’s much more simplified and convenient, and the best part about it is that I wasn’t forced to change anything. I wasn’t forced to make an Avatar if I didn’t want to, I wasn’t forced to make a Gamerpic, and I wasn’t forced to have a plain Dashboard theme. To put it simply, this Dashboard update is a pleasant mix between old and new, and you may end up forgetting the old Dashboard sooner than you think due to how sleek it is.

Jorge Glez's second opinion

Glez's avatarPossibly, only a few months ago the last thing anybody could have expected to see on their Xbox would be some happy cute dummies smiling and sharing photographs with others. Right now, that's not only the perfect description of the new Xbox Live, it's something that really fits with the Xbox brand, and gives some fresh air to the gloomy and already old-fashioned gamertags.

Regardless of whether or not they were inspired from the Miis, the truth is that the Avatars don't allow the same posibilities than their distant relatives from Nintendo. They are more 'normal' due to the lack of customizable options, so it's nearly impossible to do an Avatar of yourself (not just because you'll have to deal with the temptation of wearing a monocle, but due the poor level of detail on each part of the body that makes quite complicated to find your hairstyle of eyes.

For all the haters of the Avatars out there, there are some bad news: the Avatars are here to stay, you can't choose to keep the old Dashboard. The editor is the first thing you see when you download the new update (after an unnecessary presentation video), and there's no way to avoid having a mini-me in your interface.

There's not much to say about this update that hasn't been said already. Everything runs smoothly and loads instantly; you can remove the gamerpoints from games and demos; the Marketplace has been expanded to reach every single inch of the interface, making it easier to download that theme or items for your favourite game; the option to install your games are really worthy even if you still have one of those lovely and outdated 20Gb hard-drives (you'll avoid a lot of noise, despite the loading times aren't really much faster).

Of course, not everything could be so fantastic. The new Xbox guide looks a bit blurred, and the friends list from the main menu is less easy to use, which is a step back in the usability of the new interface. Nearly all the customization options, except for the change of theme, has been lost. Although the design for notification messages of online friends and achievements remain the same, and every time you see one of them pop on your screen you'll slightly miss the horrible interface that we used for three years.

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