So, here is what happened: I got an Xbox 360 as a gift for Christmas. I had requested it as a gift because I knew that to purchase it on my own would mean a few months of saving; something I’m not good at. I’ve got student loans to pay and blow to snort; there’s just no room for savings in my life. I appreciated the gift and received it with the grace of Ernest Borgnine; but, in the back of my head I braced myself for the added expense of having to buy at least one new game a month. (I don’t rent; renting is un-American; I like to own my media.) Now, if Christmas came every month, or if I lived below the Mason-Dixon line, (which comes to the same thing) I’d be set. I could ask people to buy me 360 games for the monthly Christmas. But, no such luck. And so, I readjusted my budget to absorb the extra $60.00 or so every month. I was set…
…or so the Hypno-Toad would have me believe.
I plugged the shiny Xbox 360 into my 21 inch TV and holy shit did it blow goats.
Backtrack time: I’ve had my 21inch Toshiba TV with a built in VCR since my freshmen year of college. Obviously it is not HD. Still, it has served me splendidly through the years. After I got my PS2 it also got the much needed addition of a component that I understand kids these days like to call: the “DVD” player. Whatever the kids call it in their jive talk, it allowed me to watch movies and play games. I had a set up. Sure there were times I wished I had a bigger TV but those were just dreams of a man on the edge of insanity. I wanted a bigger screen but I did not need it.
Fast forward to now: the want has turned into a need – forcibly.
This is something I had no warning about. There was no sign on the box saying: “you must have a sizable HDTV at your house to validate the purchase of the product.” I knew that it was HD compatible but that is a far cry from: “must have a huge HDTV or the product is rendered virtually useless.” No one had mentioned this to me. I did not get a postcard or a fax; I did not even get a text message with alternating capitalized and lowercase letters. I had to find out through bitter experience that next-gen consoles (with the possible exception of the Wii) need, ney require, big screen HDTV’s. I could not see a damn thing on my 21 incher. The set up that had served me admirably through my affair with the PS2 was proving wholly inadequate in handling the ‘extreme!!!’ nature of the 360. I don’t mean that I could not see characters or environments. I mean the dialogue subtitles and the interfaces of all the next-gen games were literally indiscernible. It had nothing to do with sharpness; the damn things were just too small.
I tried to play Assassins Creed, Mass Effect and Oblivion and after about half an hour into each of those games I was more frustrated then Wilt Chamberlain on a Lesbian cruise. I could not see any written designators; I did not know what any sections of the interface achieved; I could not read the dialogue; and sometimes I could not see the enemies until they came to me in a dream later that night. At first I tried to deal with this by placing the TV on my chest so that the screen would be 3 inches from my face. But after my chest caved in and my eyes started to bleed I had to give up on that solution. For a while I thought there was an issue with the console, but then I played some Xbox games on it (KotOR 2, Jade Empire) and those were fine in terms of visibility. (Although, I had played those games before and I was already familiar with their interfaces and game play mechanics. Someone new to those games may have strained their retinas as much as I did with the new games.)
So, it seems to me that the design of the nex-gen games specifically, presupposes that you will have an HD jumbotron in your house that will render those tiny letters and equipment screen components in a discernable size. This suspicion was confirmed when I transported my fun box to my lady-love’s abode and plugged it into her 48-inch-I-want-to-have-babies-with-it-HD-flat-screen-TV. All glory to the Hypno-Toad! Here, finally, I was doing next-gen the way it was supposed to be done.
The problem of course is that now my 360 sits at my honey-munchkins place and I only play it when I’m at her domicile. Why? Because I can’t fucking afford to buy an HDTV with the dimensions of Barry Bonds’ head. I could not afford to buy the console to begin with remember?! And a decent TV that would do it right would cost twice as much.
I say all this not as a pure rant but as a warning to those like me who live normal lives with normal sized non-HD television sets who might be thinking about spending the last of their barely scraped up dough on a next-gen system. Unfortunately, next-gen developers do not go out of their way to ensure that regular TV users can play their games. I’m not expecting the same quality as I would get in high definition but I do expect for my game to be playable. So, be aware folks. There is a catch when buying into the next-gen dream. And unlike my penis, that catch is at least 38 inches long and comes in HD.