Bruce Dawson’s Xbox 360 Prefetch Bug

Bruce Dawson once worked for Microsoft where he found a bug in the Xbox 360 that he was reminded of by the Spectre and Meltdown exploits:

A game developer who was using this function reported weird crashes – heap corruption crashes, but the heap structures in the memory dumps looked normal. After staring at the crash dumps for awhile I realized what a mistake I had made.

Keep reading.

The Xbox One Plays Some Xbox Games Now

Microsoft released a list of 13 original Xbox games that can run on the Xbox One through a disc or download today.

Here’s the list:

  • BLACK
  • BloodRayne 2
  • Crimson Skies: High Road to Revenge
  • Dead to Rights
  • Fuzion Frenzy
  • Grabbed by the Ghoulies
  • King of Fighters Neowave
  • Ninja Gaiden Black
  • Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time
  • Psychonauts
  • Red Faction II
  • Sid Meier’s Pirates!
  • Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic

Xbox backwards compatibility was originally announced only with Crimson Skies at E3 2017. These games won’t have any multiplayer as Microsoft took down the Xbox Live peer-to-peer matching service for the original Xbox years ago.

I’ve hammered on the PlayStation 4‘s lack of backwards comparability enough, but it’s still embarrassing that Sony is charging for PS2 games to be downloaded to the PS4, as well as streaming PS3 games to the PS4 when Microsoft actually has this backwards compatibility program. The only downside to Microsoft’s program is that it requires the original publisher to approve their game being included.

Microsoft also has more in their announcement, like a short list of 360 games that will run even better on the Xbox One X when that console comes out on the 7th. I guess they have to have some reason for people to buy that upgraded console when there really aren’t that many exclusive games coming out for it.

Xbox One Backwards Compatibility

The four most interesting announcements at the Xbox E3 press conference were the Hololens demo with Minecraft, Microsoft’s new Early Access-esque program for the Xbox One called Game Preview, and Xbox 360 backwards compatibility. The fourth most interesting announcement was a lack of any Call of Duty exclusivity. That torch was passed to the Playstation this year, on a Treyarch-running-Call-of-Duty year, it’s clear that Activision knows who can butter their bread with money.

Backwards compatibility came across as an insurmountable goal that didn’t make sense anymore. Who buys a new generation of consoles to play old games? As a marketing goal it didn’t make enough sense to support the engineering effort when interest in games that are from the Xbox 360 isn’t as high as newer games and with no new 360 releases Microsoft wouldn’t generally see a dime from licensing costs. The only direct financial upside for Microsft could be from a very temporary boost in console sales and in purchases of Xbox 360 games online for download through their store.

One more knock against backwards compatibility was the high technical effort. The Xbox 360 was a powerful enough machine with a different enough processor (PowerPC on the 360, x86_64 on the One) that it would be too demanding. Even Sony didn’t attempt it as their switch in console architecture was similar and they had acquired Gaikai and OnLive’s patents so they could offload the task to server-rooms full of Playstation 3’s streaming their video signal to the Playstation 4 at a high price ($180/year for access to 350 PS3 games.)

Almost two years after the launch of the Xbox One, against all of the technical and business hurdles, Microsoft announced backwards compatibility available immediately in an invite-only beta program with a short list of games and more to be added towards the end of 2015 when the feature launches properly for everyone with an Xbox One.

How does it work, and is it any good in this early stage? Eurogamer’s John Linneman has answers.

 

Unlike the spotty backwards compatibility available on Xbox 360, which required a custom wrapper for each individual game, Microsoft has taken a more extensive approach through the use of a virtual machine that runs on the Xbox One as a game in and of itself. This virtual environment includes the Xbox 360 OS features, though they remain unavailable to the user, enabling the software to behave as if it is running on original hardware. The Xbox One then views this “Xbox 360” app as its own game allowing features such as screenshots and video sharing. The emulator supports both digital downloads and original DVDs, though discs simply act as a key, the core data downloading over the internet via Xbox Live.

Even considering its current flaws, the state of the virtual machine’s capabilities is remarkable: those precious few moments when performance actually exceeds the Xbox 360 gives us just a bit of hope that in the long run, we may actually end up with an improved experience in some games.

If I were going to purchase a console today, the backwards compatibility available on the Xbox One might be a deciding factor if it weren’t for one more thing. There was a lot of turnover towards the end of the last console generation with publishers and developers going out of business and spawning many smaller indie developers. With Microsoft putting the burden on developers to approve their games for backwards compatibility, how many are still around to do that and if they are wouldn’t they rather do a re-release to get more money instead of giving it to used-game retailers who will sell old games for pennies? We’ll find out later this year. Even Microsoft announced a Gears of War 1 remake at the same press conference.

Alan Wake’s American Nightmare Review

There have already been two downloadable add-ons for the original Alan Wake. In Alan Wake’s American Nightmare you’ve got a standalone story mode and a half-dozen or so survival mode levels added to the mix as well.

I wasn’t really sure what was in American Nightmare until coverage for the game started picking up prior to the release.

Alan Wake’s story was kind of like Twin Peaks. Alan and Alice Wake, his wife, visit a sleepy northwestern town for a vacation and mystery ensues. Alice’s wife is trapped by “The Dark Presence, ” Alan rescues her only to find himself trapped with the same “darkness” that has been controlling the townsfolk and causing them to turn against him.

In American Nightmare’s the “darkness” is a villainous parallel version of Wake, Mr. Scratch. Each level is presented like an episode of The Twilight Zone, featuring decent Rod Serling-esque narration and a campy plot. The story is engaging and has enough going on to keep you interested until the exciting conclusion. I was definitely surprised a few times at what the developers were willing to do outside of a disc-based retail game.

It sounds awful when you find out that you’re going to play the same three levels three times. The developers have understood how terrible that might play out and instead change each level with each visit. Initially you’re seeing almost everything a stage has to offer, but on repeat playthroughs you’re getting the gist while the developers put in twists for Alan.

Once you’ve completed the game you’ve got Arcade Mode still to play. Nowhere is it more clear that Alan Wake is Max Payne’s literate cousin than in this wave-based survival mode. With ten minutes on the clock Alan has to stay alive until sunrise.  Weapons are more automatic than the previous game, and is still the unique blend of third-person shooting where you’ve got to weaken enemies by illuminating them with your flashlight before lead can do them in. The slow-mo effect from Max Payne is back whenever you’ve cleared a set of enemies. This camera effect also occurs when a foe is about to sneak up on Alan, pulling back to give the player a second to react. The camera can be a little frustratingly inconsistent in giving the player this glimpse of danger. Sometimes you’ll be left wondering why you’ve lost your score multiplier due to a hit that could have been avoided if only the monsters were a little less subtle.

Though entertaining, American Nightmare is short. Despite returning to the same locations over again I only got about 4 hours out of the story mode. This isn’t too little, instead it feels just about right for what I expect from a $15 side-story from the original Alan Wake.

If you haven’t played the first game, I can’t recommend this one. The original game is referenced through manuscript page collectibles strewn around the game but there isn’t any reason why you wouldn’t want to play it when it can be had for about $20.

Speaking of manuscript-page collectibles, one addition to the game is really nifty. Each area in the game has a TV with a short FMV sequence featuring Alan’s nemesis indulging in some of the finest b-grade movie villainy witnessed on the small screen.

One final note, If you do decide to purchase American Nightmare on Xbox Live Arcade, please make sure to switch the HUD to “fading” on the options menu. Otherwise the HUD will obscure your view for far too long.

I loved Alan Wake’s American Nightmare and it is one of the best games to be released on the 360’s downloadable service. While the story-mode content could have made more sense as DLC for the original game, the arcade mode is fun enough to justify the price. Get the original if you haven’t played it, and then have a Nightmare.

TurtleBeach EarForce PX21 Review

Console gaming headsets are in a weird place. On one hand, they’re relatively cheap and plentiful. On the other hand, that low price point means the drivers inside aren’t great. Hardware manufacturers like to cover this up with bass response, the PX21 set is no exception.

Though I don’t think you can even find a headset for consoles that doesn’t color the output, it isn’t any excuse for making cheap junk.

The big downsides are often similar across manufactures and models, comfort for extended sessions and quality.

TurtleBeach’s PX21 headset looks fine on paper, it has a great mic that is super-flexible, and is the first headset from TurtleBeach to support the PS3. It also supports the 360 and PC gaming.

The immediate downside is simple.

There is a terrible hissing noise.

You can minimize it by swapping out the included red/white RCA bypass jacks for going straight to your TV or hi-fi tuner setup’s headphone audio out jack, and then adjusting that system’s volume up. Then you turn the volume down on the PX 21’s built-in amp.

But that still doesn’t eliminate the hiss, and it is extremely annoying during any part of a game that has quiet spots.

Games with quiet spots are why I own a PS3, I don’t play just shooters; I play games like Heavy Rain and I don’t want the quiet points in games to be marred by the ear-piercing whine these produce. Even the recent Red Dead Redemption sounds like crap and gives me a headache due to this headset’s hissing noise.

Of course to hook them up they need to be plugged into the PS3 (or other device) via USB for power. On the 360 you’ve got a special bypass cable to chat through the controller. On the PS3 the connection is simpler since the chat audio goes straight through the USB cable.

This means the headset is really mixing two inputs, the game connection over the RCA (or headphone jack)  input and the chat audio over the USB wire or the supplied 360 bypass cable.

This design of two mixed inputs is either brilliant or stupid. Brilliant because it works around every situation you might want to use it in, stupid because the hardware TurtleBeach has chosen is so cheap it can’t really give you a clean sound.

The PX21 headset is otherwise extremely lightweight & comfortable. It also covers the technical bases of supporting the PS3, 360, and PC gaming. I hope TurtleBeach will go back to the drawing board to design a headset that doesn’t hiss, even if it means raising the price slightly. Maybe in some magical laboratory somewhere these things don’t hiss, but other reviews corroborate my testimony. As it is I cannot recommend this headset unless you only play loud games that have little-to-no quiet points, like Modern Warfare 2.

Even then you should keep your receipt, I returned the PX21 headset to Best Buy after just 24 hours.