Xbox 360 1 vs 100 Beta Review

I love my Xbox 360. Despite it’s fragile hardware and the fact that I have to treat it like crystal anytime I move or transport it, it’s still the best gaming system out there- especially if you like online play. (Yes, I own a Wii too- it’s also fun and unique, but doesn’t have the hardcore blockbuster games that the Xbox does: Fallout3, Oblivion, Bioshock, etc. But I digress.) Which is why I was blown away when I learned about Microsoft’s new gaming concept they are calling Primetime. It essentially involves combining primetime TV, namely the game show 1 vs 100 with the online social interaction of video games. You can now directly participate in a live game show!

As a Canadian, I also get a thrill knowing that for once, Canadians get their hands on something cool before Americans do- yes, the 1 vs 100 Beta is Canada only for now. Woot!

I’ve participated in two live 1 vs 100 events so far. The first one was the premiere of the event last Friday. Last night I also played for the first hour. So far I’m impressed and excited about this new gaming experience. I did experience some problems, but the fact that this is beta means I’m going to be patient about them and see how it improves.

The game is fast paced enough to keep you interested. The questions are generally easy with some tricky/tough ones thrown in as a round progresses, and are based on Canadian content which is great. I hope players continue to receive questions that are localized to their country. It’s easy to choose one of the three possible answers by pressing either X, A or B with bonuses for faster responses. In between questions you can cause your avatar to dance by mashing the Y button. Hitting Back allows you to bring up stats for yourself and the game. Including the number of players. Last time I checked before going to bed last night it was at 15,600 players online. That doesn’t give you much of a chance to be in the 101, but maybe they will have simultaneous events in the future.

One thing I noticed was that a few of the actual questions were about upcoming/recent movies or about commercial products- like Skittles. I assume these are sponsored questions which is not cool to me. Billboards and commercial breaks fine- but do we really need parts of the actual game to be a commercial?

During last night’s play I was simultaneously on the phone with a friend who was also playing from his system – we live in the same city. I was curious to note that there were differences in our experiences, though we received the same questions and saw the same One player. While I did not hear live host Chris Cashman at all during my hour of play- he could hear Chris’s commentary a few times. I’m not sure why Cashman rarely comes through and why it’s different for different players. Isn’t having it hosted meant to be a key part of the experience? During my Friday experience Cashman only started coming through sporadically during the second hour. Disappointing- but it’s beta, so I can understand.

Another difference I noticed was that I was partnered up with 3 other random human players so that while we were in the the Crowd we were having a mini competition among ourselves. All four scores were shown on my screen including who was in the lead and we could see each other’s avatars dancing and gesturing. However my friend was not matched with other players and remained solo throughout the game. Not very fun for him at all. I enjoyed having 3 ‘buddies’ to play with, but why wasn’t my real friend paired with me? Instead of random players, the game should have first tried to match me with my real online friends first, then brought in other random players after. If we could have been on the same screen waving and dancing at each other it would have been much more entertaining. Update: Turns out you can invite friends to play with you, but you must do so before entering the lobby. I tried that out once and it was much more fun. Though it kind of took the competition aspect out of it since we were all on chat and collaborating on the answers. *grin*

I made a point of asking him “do you see _____ right now?” throughout the game, and it seems like the advertisements shown were the same for everyone, but the crowd shots are not. I would ask things like – what does the guy below the billboard look like? And his was always different. Matching this to my experience from Friday- and recognizing some of the avatars, I think the crowd shots (other than my own avatar and my 3 ‘buddies’) are randomly generated avatars. I kind of hoped they would be the avatars of other real players, but I guess they aren’t, given the duplicates I saw from both nights. Maybe it would take too much bandwidth to transfer the avatars and their actions across to me? Or maybe I’m wrong and those were really people’s avatars in the Crowd. Update: During the last night of Beta I noticed that in the crowd there were a few avatar triplets (identical avatars) that were in the crowd every single round. I assume these are Microsoft testers playing the game and so they get a special back door into the crowd.

Both nights the event started at 10pm EDT. Which is not great. I realize it starts at 7 on the West coast, and 10-12pm on a weekend is fine but on weeknights is unreasonable. I’m hoping that they eventually stagger the times so us Central and Eastern players can enjoy it during actual primetime.

I saved my comment about connectivity issues for last because this is still beta and I can understand that there will be kinks. But last night I was kicked out about 15 times in the first half hour. Not even able to get two questions in a row because I would answer a question and promptly be kicked back out to the Lobby. Or sometimes to the Xbox Dashboard. It was frustrating as heck, especially since my friend on the phone didn’t experience any problems and I could only listen jealously as he had fun while I kept reconnecting. After half an hour it seemed to stop so I did get to enjoy about half an hour of uninterrupted play last night. I’m hoping that will get ironed out soon. Update: My last couple of times playing had no connection issues.

Overall there are some kinks to work out, and Microsoft needs to release more documentation about how it works and for example – why some players are matched up with 3 random buddies and some aren’t – was he missing a setting? There could also be some improvements made, but for a beta release of a totally new concept, it’s very fun and an exciting example of a new entertainment genre.