Category: Xbox

Everything Old is New Again

In February of 2012 I left Microsoft, a company I had worked for ever since I was 21. It wasn’t a bad break, it was a good break. I wanted to go off and experience all new adventures. And I have. In the past year alone I’ve worked for an *amazing* team of engineers and developers at the HBO Code Labs here in Seattle. I can’t say enough about what an incredible experience that was and what they are doing for the future of providing their customers with HBO’s top notch content.

But I am a gamer first and foremost. Have been since I was five. Will be when I shuffle off this mortal coil at the cyber enhanced ripe old age of 120. And in that moment at age 120 I will *still* remember exactly where I was when I first saw this.

I don’t know a console gamer who doesn’t remember that incredible introduction to the world of Gears of War. I was hooked. I was sold. That was a day one purchase for me.

Since then Gears of War is the only title I have played every release through in coop, with my friend Mark. We’ll put off playing the game until we can set aside a week to play it together. I’ve played multiplayer, and done the entire 50 waves of Horde mode for charity with my friend e.

So when the outstanding team at Black Tusk asked me to help them make the best Gears of War experience to date by representing the community and being their advocate, how could I say no?

As of today I am now the Director of Community Engagement for Black Tusk Studios. I’m not sure there is a word that properly expresses my excitement at the opportunity to represent this community. Gearstastic? Lambentocity? AWESOMES OF WAR? I have time to work on it.

I’ve been hiding, I confess. I’ve been shadowing the Gears forums and looking at people’s thoughts. I don’t just want us to make the best next generation Gears of War game ever, I want to make sure that everyone playing the game today feels just as good today and down the road in their investment into our amazing world as we do. There’s a Gears nation out there. I’m a part of it and it’s amazing.

So now it’s out. So hit me. You can email me directly at or or my twitter at or the official Gears of war social media feeds at @GearsofWar and @BlackTuskStudio.

It’s not like we’re just starting out here, we’ve been passionate about the community from the get go. We’re expanding that commitment from the fine work Jack Felling have been doing and going big.

I want to be flooded with your thoughts. I want to hear everything you like, dislike, want, don’t want and hope for in relation to this rich and amazing world. Spare no detail. All thoughts will be entertained. Depending on volume I cannot promise I can respond to everything, but I do promise this: I will forego sleep to try.

It’s a mad world. Let’s get busy and Jump in.

On the Eve of the Playstation 4

It’s become kind of a cliché, because technology is the basis for the delivery method, but there’s never been a better time to be a gamer. I was perusing my game collection on my iPad the other day and in a portable high quality format I have a perfect edition of almost every single solitary arcade video game I have enjoyed since I was 5. On my Xbox and PS3 I have faithful renditions of many of my favorite 90’s PC and console games, and my Wii has me covered with Mario and other titles.

The present console generation has unfolded in a way unlike any previous. 

The Wii managed to illuminate an entire user base no one really had figured out how to tap.  Its lower resolution was almost a comfort to parents who wouldn’t have to upgrade the entire living room, and the motion control paved the way for technologies like Kinect.  Most of all, while Sony and Microsoft were concentrating on connecting distant players, Nintendo reminded us what fun four people in a room could have. To say it sold like hotcakes is a disservice.  Hotcakes could only dream of Wii sales numbers.  “Hotcakes”, to be clear, is not a euphemism.  They are delicious.

The decision to include an ethernet port in the original Xbox over a modem was lambasted by the industry in general. Remember that in 2000 when it was announced Wi-Fi b with its paltry 6 to 12 megabits a second was still a corporate luxury and your average home connection was either dial up or 1-5mb broadband.  But from the beginning the idea of connected services being the long term bet that differentiated the Xbox was firmly cemented in that decision to go with a network port over dial up or some type of adapter. When the Xbox 360 launched in 2005 the whole landscape of home Internet had changed.  And with it a new service launched in Xbox LIVE that incorporated not just multiplayer, chat, and messaging but quickly evolved into video and music. It introduced achievements and system-wide leaderboards. Most importantly, it made the Xbox 360 a general purpose entertainment device by constantly upgrading and changing the capabilities and experience. Today Xbox LIVE is the gold standard all console services are compared to, and many of the services other devices have were pioneered first on Xbox LIVE. Titles that are cross platform sell by far more copies for Xbox because of LIVE’s user base.

The PS3 launched in 2006 with the promise it was a better console than the 360 in terms of raw power, and the strength of Sony’s amazing first party exclusives. But what really resulted in the PS3’s success was a pretty bold choice on Sony’s part to pack in an expensive Blu Ray drive.  A bold bet that paid off, as within 2 years they killed off HD-DVD through the strength of the PS3 sales and the Sony movie catalog. It was the only “future proof” Blu Ray player, as the device was much more powerful than a standalone one.  While some Blu Ray players became quite literally obsolete and had to be replaced due to changes in the Blu ray spec, Sony simply updated the PS3 firmware. Sony also did very well with first party exclusives such as the God of War franchise, the Uncharted series (fantastic games, I’m a huge fan) and wonderful titles like Little Big Planet. But Blu Ray was the bet that paid off the most.

I’m leaving out a lot here, Nintendo had some huge success with their own exclusives, Microsoft took motion and voice control to the next level with Kinect, and Sony adapted their own services to make their moves in video streaming and by far the easiest digital game purchasing system.

The point is, back in the earlier generations people talked about “winning” and “losing” a generation.  The Winner usually sold an outsized number of consoles more than the Loser.  Sometimes the loser flat out killed their console (RIP Dreamcast Never Forget).

This generation all three could be said to have won in some key way, and all are on track to break 100 million units (Wii got there this month I believe) assuming certain price cuts over the next three years as the new generation starts.

And all of this happened in the course of 7 years while at the same time the iPhone and iPad came about, and Android tablets, and oh by the way let’s not leave out PC gaming which is stronger than a lot of people think between standalone titles, Steam, MMO’s, and flash games.

Games are *everywhere*.  Characters play them to unwind in our sitcoms now, and our dramas and movies. Bitching about losing in Words with Friends is reaching an epidemic level. Halo has crossed over to have top science fiction authors like Greg Bear writing in its universe. We now demand even single player games have some level of online capability to issue challenges to friends or check leaderboards. Games are living and breathing forms of entertainment with downloadable content and the capability to provide instant fixes or tweaks on server backends. As of December 31, 237 million consoles have been sold across three platforms not even counting iOS or Android or PC/Mac.

All this happened in this current generation.  What’s going to happen in the next?

There’s only one clear winner of the “Seventh” generation of console gaming.  Us.

Happy Birthday Xbox 360

When the Xbox 360 was announced, I was just as surprised as anyone else.  The original Xbox was only four years old and Xbox LIVE was just starting to hit its stride.  At that time, I was working in the Microsoft Security Response Center handling communications on vulnerabilities and attacks.  But being a gamer all my life, of course my office was outfitted with a TV and Xbox console.

(We had to work some long hours in security response and sometimes you need some Halo.  For testing.  You know.) 

Sure I had a PS2 and a Gamecube as well, but I really thought we’d put out a good gaming machine with the Xbox and was surprised we would “kill” it so quickly in favor of a new one. But as more and more information came out about it, the more excited I got over it.  We tend to forget that compared to what was launched with the Xbox 360, the gaming experiences on other platforms was fairly primitive.  Fun to be sure, but the leap to HD gaming interconnected through LIVE was a pretty watershed moment.

I remember when my Core model showed up at my door bright and early on launch day (everyone was sold out of Pro models).  I’d already bought a hard drive separately to put on it, and I connected it to my then state of the art 720p DLP rear projection TV and wireless network.  I migrated my “Stepto” account over from Xbox 1 to Xbox 360 LIVE Gold.  I began to earn achievements.  I voice chatted with my friends. I played Halo2 upscaled to 720p and looking better than it ever had.  My original Xbox looked at me from the entertainment center.  It knew its days were numbered.  It couldn’t compete with the new hotness.

And now here we are, five years later.  I’ve been working in the Xbox group now for over three years, more than half the life so far of this little platform. Thanks to the Xbox 360 I’ve met so many of my friends and kept in touch with old ones. I get to work on cool stuff and help create experiences that entertain people.

So Happy birthday Xbox 360, and thanks. Here’s to the years to come!

Context. Or, no you don’t get to apply your Internet niche knowledge to me doing my job. :>

[EDIT: I made tweaks to the below entry as I inadvertanly diminished the symbol’s importance outside of its use by the Nazis. My point on the post is not really specific to the swastika, I could have written as much about the word "Fag" being a cigarette in the UK. However one should strive to be accurate so I made some adjustments.]


Tonight I got asked one of those questions that only my job can apparently engender, namely “Hey, I’m not a genocidal hater of Jews but I really love the design of the swastika because its actually used by numerous religions, can I use it as my Call Of Duty: Black Ops logo? SWASTIKAS ARE AWESOME.No really, someone asked me this as a serious question on twitter.  So I of course replied, “no, of course you can’t, we’ll ban you.”




You know the type I mean.  They’ve read an article that’s contrarian to some position widely held, or they’ve found some obscure fact that contradicts common interpretation.  Some of them claim to have known it as innate fact, others claim it to be widespread common knowledge taught to every single person in elementary school. Of course, usually neither is true at all. Most of them are just contrarians.  They would never dare to wear a swastika openly, but they love to argue about how the world has “misunderstood” this symbol. Or they view any opportunity for human interaction, no matter the appropriateness, to push their point. You know, like you do. 

Under some religions, the specific design of the Nazi swastika is certainly not unique to the German Nazi Party.  In some cases, it can be interpreted to mean unity depending on how it is oriented. But somehow, (I know, calm yourself) the prosecution of an entire world war in the 20th century co-opted that symbol for western civilizations into a symbol of evil and hatred. Let’s be clear: no educated human on the planet looks at the swastika symbol on a video game service in “the year we make contact” and says “oh, that symbol has nothing at all in any way to do with global genocide of an entire race and, even if it did, one should totally and reasonably ignore that because it’s a symbol that was stolen or coop-ted from religions.” (If you want to know more about this topic, the wikipedia entry for it is fairly comprehensive.)

Well, no educated human on the planet that is, unless we’re talking about the Internet. Because according to the Internet, certain orientations of the swastika symbol was stamped on all money, food, foreheads, temples, and just about everywhere any reasonable person could find it.  And the Nazi’s effectively won world war two if anyone promotes banning the Nazi orientation of the symbol. I exaggerate of course, but the tone of some of the people’s points made it seem as if it was somehow political correctness gone too far to note that use of the swastika on our service is not allowed. It was bizarre.

Indeed, my twitter stream was filled with people stating that Xbox LIVE should equally ban the star of David, the Christian cross, and yes I am not kidding, the infinity symbol because under various niche interpretations of those symbols, they are as evil as the swastika symbol and I should apply ethical relativism to all symbols on Xbox LIVE to respect all viewpoints because of the United States First Amendment.

Even better? The argument that because the single player of the game is rated mature, the online experience should allow for all manner of horrible genocidal viewpoints. I know the symbols might show up in games, but that’s content that you know that you are getting, because it is rated content.  It’s there as part of the experience, not making a statement.  Using it as your emblem is different.

No really. 

I hate to do this Internet,  I really really do, but let me lay out some level headed reality.

The Xbox LIVE profile and in game content you create is accessible by everyone.  You do not have the context inside of it to explain your long winded contrarian view that your pithy text that violates the Terms of Use or Code of Conduct is actually intended to change people’s minds about a commonly held understanding.

It’s not political correctness, it’s fundamental respect. If you think the swastika symbol should be re-evaluated by societies all over the Earth, I think that’s great.  Your Xbox LIVE profile or in game logo, which doesn’t have the context to explain your goal, is probably not the right place to do that.  And by the way, that doesn’t just go for the Swastika, it applies to many other symbols as well that my team does indeed take action on when we see it.


Yes we can have the discussion in other venues about the double meaning of various terms, something my team does everyday.  But for many topics, its kind of a no-brainer.


TL;DR: If you see offensive symbols in Call of Duty, Black Ops, report them using the in game option and they will be taken care of.  If you want to argue that swastikas are actually AWESOME, go to another forum.  On Xbox LIVE they are not allowed. :>