Microsoft’s Live Arcade system sounded odd to me. I could see how kids would love these brightly coloured, simple games, but why would grown up gamers part with real cash for these downloadable treats? After sampling several through free demos, it became apparent that much of their charm is actually because of their simplicity, not despite it. While returning to the world of Frogger holds no interest for me, there is something inherently funny about playing a 35 year old card game on £300 console with a 32″ TV (I’m talking about the unreasonably addictive UNO).
But there is more to it than mere quirkiness. The ability to dip into games for a short session has been lost in the mire of overly complex gameplay mechanics that require an investment of several hours at a time. When paired with the frenzied brilliance of, say, Geometry Wars, the winner is clear despite the simplicity of shooting at coloured shapes (though because of the consoles raw power it manages effortlessly to look gorgeous too). Bungie described their job in Halo as finding 30 seconds of perfect gameplay and then repeating it in varied way throughout a game. That 30 seconds may involve complex tactical choices or a finely tuned physics engine. But it doesn’t have to.
Xbox Live’s easy payment system for downloadable content has undoubtedly aided the success of Live Arcade, and although some “retro” games are really just forgettable rehashes (Pacman, Frogger, et al.) others are genuinely great games in their own right and perfect for the older gamer who needs to fit games around his work life and not the other way around. And if you have a 360, check out the Live Arcade within the next week and you can pick up the full version of Texas Hold ‘Em Poker absolutely free. Yes, Microsoft just gave something away.
Meanwhile my laptop has been suffering from hard drive issues. It appears corrupted beyond recovery (even by one of Rav’s signature wipe ‘n’ go routines). Although I wouldn’t expect it from a two year old machine, Dell have, unsurprisingly, taken the “that’s why we recommend customers keep their warranty up to date” line. In many ways I’m actually glad it’s out of warranty — it avoids the hassle of dealing with them, requiring them to confirm the fault and cause, and waiting around for them to ship out a replacement part. Since I know what I’m doing, strolling into a store and buying it myself is both more preferable and speedier. And fortunately I have recent backups thanks to trusty Syndrome so take this as a reminder to do yours too. Depending how long it takes to sort out, however, updates may be scarcer and I may not be able to take it to Germany. I am not unhappy with Dell’s performance in general, but since I intend on purchasing a high-end desktop next, I think this confirms I’ll probably be looking elsewhere.