Xbox Live Gold, free, only it isn’t

Free as in free, or free as in, you can’t have it?

This was a frustrating experience, but first, a little history. For many years, my most used (and possibly… favourite?) console was my Xbox 360. I’ve over 200 games for it, and I was an Xbox Live Gold member from the very start of its appearance on the original Xbox (let’s call that the, ooh, Xbox 1) until some time in 2013 when it became clear I was spending most of my time playing Wii U games and not 360 games, and I just let Gold expire naturally 1. The Xbox 360 fell out of favour a bit.

The last couple of months of my now unused Gold subscription overlapped with the start of Microsoft’s Games With Gold programme, so I picked up a handful of (still unplayed, and two already owned) titles there, and after that, Gold was Gone. In 2015 I was offered a month’s Gold for a quid and took up the offer to get some cheap games with some free credit I’d picked up, and in January this year I did the same again. Lego Lord of the Rings for £3? Except actually free because the credit was free? Don’t mind if I do.

Which brings us to this week. I’ve still got credit remaining, and I noticed that Forza Horizon was on offer. I’d enjoyed the demo and the free Fast and Furious spin-off, so decided to go for it. I powered up my 360 (which takes about ten minutes these days) and there, on the dashboard, was an offer for a month’s free Gold. Excellent, I thought. I can get that, and a month of Games With Gold (not that they’re inspiring – I’ve already got three free copies of Peggle), and a few quid off the cost of Forza Horizon. Sold.

I click the “Sign Up” button, go to purchase content, aaaaand… error code 80153021. Looking this up:

This may mean one of the following:

  • The Xbox Live service is temporarily unavailable.
  • There’s something wrong with your account:
    • You may have an outstanding balance.
    • You Microsoft account country/region may not match your PayPal country/region.
    • Your billing information might be incomplete.

Great. Live is probably broken. Remember when it used to be PSN that was always broken and Live was rock solid? Anyway, I went through the other suggestions – yes, I have an outstanding balance. I have money in my account. Unless you mean an outstanding negative balance – which I neither have, nor know how that could ever happen. I don’t have PayPal set up. My billing information is incomplete, as I have none. The month’s free (note the word “free”) Gold is free. Free, as in, free.

Of course, Microsoft’s stupid system requires you to have a payment option on file even for free items, even though I have credit in my account. Fine. I’ll add one with the intention of removing it immediately after purchasing my free (note the word “free”) month of Gold. Except of course, I can’t get into the Account bit on my Xbox because I get another error message. I forgot to write that number down though. Clearly Live was suffering some problem, although the status for Live didn’t show any issues, so I left it for half an hour.

I came back to the console and tried to purchase the free (note the word “free”) month’s Gold again. This time, before the option of “confirm” even appears, I get this error code: 80190128. The suggestions to fix this were to delete my cache (so I did that) and redownload my profile (and that too). Obviously these didn’t work.

I went back to the billing problem. My 360 still wouldn’t let me access that section of my profile, but would. I added both my card and my Paypal account, restarted my 360 and tried again.


(At this point, someone at Microsoft shouted House! and won a fluffy Blinx the Timesweeper cuddly toy)

This new error code concerns problems with billing and stuff. Oddly, it comes up before I get the chance to confirm my free (note the word “free”) month’s Gold “purchase”, but doesn’t come up if I get that far buying an actual game. I went through the list of “fixes”, stopping short of actually calling my bank because that seemed ludicrously unnecessary especially since I also had PayPal set up and a pile of credit already on my account. For a free purchase, remember. I removed my card details – from the 360 itself, as that section of it then magically started working – but that didn’t help, and then removed PayPal too. Still I got the error code 83820065. I gave up.

Trawling the internet and Twitter, it seems over the last month there have been one hell of a lot of people who have been offered this free (note the word “free”) month’s Gold membership but haven’t been able to take Microsoft up on their suspiciously broken deal. Most have been getting some or all of the same error messages as me, but I can’t find a single person who has had the problem resolved. It looks to me like the offer shouldn’t appear for me or these other people, but it does, and because it isn’t designed for me to access, I can’t “buy” it.

I put this to the Xbox Support online chat, and they told me I certainly should be able to claim the free (note the word “free”) month. They couldn’t help further, as they couldn’t see a reason for it not working and suggested trying again later (which didn’t work) or use another payment card (I don’t have any others), in addition to the steps I’d already been through.

The deal on Forza ran out soon after these problems so I ended up missing out on it. I’d probably never play it anyway, no matter how good, as the 360 is pretty much dead to me these days. Goodnight, sweet prince.


  1. By “naturally”, of course, I mean I had to change a load of settings in my Microsoft Profile and remove my credit card from my account, otherwise the swines would renew it automatically.

Selling Games

Regrets? I have just one.

(This suggestion provided by @xexyzx)

Have you ever sold a game? If so, why?

I’ve always maintained that I have never actually sold any games, ever, aside from one which I traded in (more on that later), but I when I sat and had a proper think about it I remembered that wasn’t actually true: I have sold games before. A long time ago.

When I asked for Sega Mega Drive for Christmas, my parents said I could have one if I paid for half of it. In order to make some money to do this, I held a garage sale and sold some of my stuff. Not a lot of stuff, and unimportant stuff (to me) at the time, but crucially it included some games. I can’t remember any of them. There was a small number of Spectrum tapes, in a box almost exactly like this:

Cassette Case
Image from here

I think most of them were probably Crash or Sinclair User cover tapes. I kept all my Your Sinclair ones, but never had any affection for the other, lesser, magazines so they were probably those that went.

In addition, I sold what I would later realise was some variant of the Magnavox Odyssey 2, which I’d picked up not that long previously from a carboot sale, with a couple of games. One was some sort of Pac-Man clone, but I don’t recall the other. Possibly a space shooter? It’s likely. I’ve since bought an Odyssey 2 (or rather, a Philips G7000) again though.

Anecdote: The Odyssey 2 was sold to a neighbour, who called me round a few days later to complain the console had stopped working. I assumed it’d be something like a cable was unplugged or they needed to retune their TV (ah, RF!) or something, but on arriving I just couldn’t figure it out. The power was working, it appeared to be outputting something to the TV, but neither game cartridge actually operated correctly.

I asked if it had broken while they were using it, or had they just turned it on and it hadn’t worked, and the dad of the family replied with “Warl, they war 1 playun it and ee (gestures to one of the kids) poured cahfee 2 in the ‘ole there (points at cartridge slot). War that that than?”.

Yes. Yes that war.

Anyway, the game that I had remembered I’d traded in I’ve lamented about here, there and everywhere for many years. It remains the only game I have ever regretted buying and, paradoxically, also the one I regret selling. I’ve since bought it again. Which game?

World of Illusion

World of Illusion for the Sega Mega Drive. When it came out, I’d just reached £45 in my pocket money savings and because it had some fantastic reviews, and I hadn’t yet realised that all 16bit Disney games were terrible 3, I bought it from a local games shop (remember them? All gone now) without a second thought.

Within 4 hours of getting it home, I’d rinsed it.

One of the big selling points of World of Illusion was that it was two player, but also that you could play as Mickey or Donald separately (with slightly different levels for each). I sat down and completed it on my first go with Mickey. Then I did the same with Donald. “Well this is a bit too easy,” I thought to myself for probably the first time ever with a game.

I then played two player with a friend who’d just watched me play through it alone twice. And even though he was useless, we finished it in co-op on our first try together too. I was terribly, terribly disappointed. The game was so easy, it was ruined.

Just for fun (because I’d had none), I decided to play it in two player again, only on my own. I controlled Mickey with my hands, and Donald with my feet. And again, completed it on my first attempt. I was almost in tears at all that pocket money being utterly wasted on such utter crap. £45 for less than 4 hours of gameplay.

So I took it right back to the shop and traded it in for the cheaper (they wouldn’t just let me have a refund, sadly) Lemmings. A game which lasted me years and I wish I’d bought in the first place.

I never sold a game after that. But boy did I buy a lot.

(Featured image is from here, is unmodified, and used under this licence)


  1. Norfolk, innit
  2. Norfolk for coffee
  3. They are, this is a Fact

EE’s missing Fair Use Policy

Devoid of “Ee by gum” and Bacon references.

Last month, I was in London for a couple of days and while I was there I used my phone’s data much more than I would normally. With no wifi, and because I was using Facetime to speak to my family, I quickly racked up over a gig of data used. Not a problem, because my contract is an unlimited data one.

What’s that, you say? EE don’t offer unlimited data packages? You’re right. But my contract is quite an old T-Mobile one, and offers “unlimited internet access”. Note the quotes – I’ll be returning to them.

Soon after I came home, I got a text message from T-Mobile telling me I had hit my data limit:

You’ve exceeded your fair use policy for this month. Unfortunately you will now only be able to browse and email. Other services such as streaming and downloading will be blocked for the rest of the calendar month. We will soon give you the ability to purchase internet boosters to enable you continue to stream and download until your new allowance starts

There’s a fair use policy? I don’t remember such a thing when I signed up for my contract, but OK, maybe there is and I missed it. Surely “unlimited” means unlimited though, yes? I’m sure there were rules about this sort of thing set up a while ago. Whatever though, they stopped me from being able to stream media or download anything over my phone’s data connection. It wasn’t really a problem as it was only for a couple of days, I was back home with wifi, and I don’t often stream or download on my phone anyway.

Something stuck in my craw though: the Fair Use Policy. I wanted to check exactly what this said, but none of the paperwork or emails from T-Mobile from way back when explain it anywhere. When checking the wording of the above text message from them, I noticed another message I’d missed from a few days before:

We’ve noticed that you’ve reached 80% of your fair use policy this month. For more details on our policy, what happens when you reach 100% and how to manage your data usage please visit It’s free to access

It may well be free to access, but it doesn’t work. So the emails they send don’t have the Fair Use Policy, the paperwork doesn’t, their text message links to a non-existent page, and even when I checked my account online I couldn’t find anything anywhere. Searching the internet, and having a moan at them on Twitter, I found this page which links to this document, which states:

All other plans
Subject to a fair use policy set out in your plan’s terms and conditions.
Existing customers can find details of their fair use policy here:

That link, of course, just redirects to EE’s help pages which in this case are of no use at all. I decided to call EE.

The person I spoke to was very apologetic but he couldn’t provide me with a copy of their Fair Use Policy. He could see I’d hit my limit (which is 1.5GB a month, it turns out) but couldn’t see why that was my limit. He tried to suggest I shouldn’t be on this contract as it was too cheap (it was cheap – that’s why I got it and am still on it), couldn’t explain why “unlimited internet” only means “unlimited browsing and email”, and then tried to upsell worse EE contracts to me and then offered me home broadband and all sorts of other stuff. Not helpful.

Immediately after coming off the phone I was spammed with 5 text messages from EE and T-Mobile, asking me to do a survey and trying to sell me more stuff. I filled in the survey and said how I’d not got the answer I was after and then got spammed. I then complained to EE on Twitter again about how this didn’t help and they escalated it as a formal complaint.

A few days later, I got a phonecall from EE to say they had picked up my case and someone from their team would contact me again in a few days to try to resolve this. Someone did ring, and I talked with them for a while about the problem. She was helpful, and said she was sure she’d be able to find the Fair Use Policy I wanted to look at, and she agreed that yes, if I signed up for a contract and said I’d abide by their terms and conditions that I certainly should have seen a Fair Use Policy. She promised to find it and email it to me.

I received an email as promised, but unfortunately, it linked to this. You don’t need to read it – it’s just their terms and conditions again. In section 3.5.9 it states:

3.5.9. You comply with any fair use policy applicable to Your use of the Services and if You are in breach of that policy You comply with any reasonable instructions that We issue to You to enable You to remedy that breach and to continue to use the Services;

Again, mentioning there is a Fair Use Policy but still not telling me either what it is, or where to find it! I replied to the email explaining this, and after a few more days, I got another phone call from someone else at EE.

This lady was also understanding, but was unfortunately also unable to help. In fact, she literally stated that they would not be able to find the Fair Use Policy any more. I asked how I could be bound to a Fair Use Policy that doesn’t exist, and she said she didn’t know but just couldn’t provide me with one. She said she’d found a document which referenced it (here) but that just seems to be a badly formatted version of the one I’d previously been sent.

How can I sign a legally binding contract, and adhere to that contract, if one part of that contract has never been seen and cannot be found? And how do I have an “unlimited internet” limit of 1.5GB per month if it’s “unlimited” except there’s a Fair Use Policy that sets it at 1.5GB but nowhere does it say this AND NOBODY CAN FIND THE BLOODY THING ANYWHERE? It’s an utterly boggling situation. I don’t really mind there being a limit of 1.5GB as this is the first time I’ve ever used that much in a month in the many years I’ve been on this contract, but that’s not what I signed up for. How can EE or T-Mobile or whoever enforce something they can neither find nor explain why they can’t find it? Where did 1.5GB come from then? it’s absurd.

Miiverse vs Tropes in Video Games

Warning: may contain nuts

Miiverse, Nintendo’s answer to Facebook (they would like to believe) is a funny place. You can post screenshots from games, apart from those games that you can’t for no discernable reason (like Monster Hunter), you can draw low-res monochrome pictures, and you can leave messages that you type using the on-screen keyboard.

As you can see from this I Love My Pony post, much hilarity ensues.

Now, way back when Miiverse launched I, like many other people, put things like links to my blog or Twitter account in the Miiverse bio section. As you would with any social network if you want your audience to find what else you do online. This was against Nintendo’s family friendly mentality, so I was asked to remove it – which I did. From then on I toed the Nintendo line like a good boy.

Then I had two of my posts deleted, in quick succession:

Your post was removed because it contained sexually explicit content. For information on the proper use of Miiverse, please see the Miiverse Code of Conduct. Continued violations may result in restrictions on your use of Miiverse.

Sexually explicit? Oh yeah. It was Bayonetta. That’d do it.

Bayonetta is a game made by Platinum which features a witch with glasses and long legs and has guns in her hands and guns on her feet. Also, her clothes are made of her hair and various fighting moves involve that hair morphing into fists and demons and stuff, leaving her temporarily naked – albeit with nothing important actually visible due to “art lines” and camera angles. Because she’s a woman in a video game, she walks in a sexy manner, talks in a sexy manner, and kills monsters with upside down heads and tentacles in a sexy manner, posing in various sexy poses while the camera often tries to “capture the moment” in a sexy way. Yes, it’s sexualising women but the game is fun despite all the sexy stuff. And she’s a strong female character? I don’t know the rules. I digress.

The point is this: it’s a game with inherent sexual overtones, and even though Nintendo have 1) the ability to deny screenshots from certain games appearing on Miiverse entirely (see Monster Hunter), and 2) would be able to lock off – and certainly should lock off – access to adult games when children access Miiverse, it’s possible to post a screenshot from Bayonetta on the service.

The game provides the content, and I share that content using the authorised content sharing method onto the official content sharing network, and then it is deleted. I’m not abusing the system by using cheats or glitches to “hot coffee up” the content, I’m literally just sharing what I see, unedited and unmodified.

Nintendo know the content of the game and not only allow you to share this on Miiverse, they provide a button on the touch screen whose sole function is to do so quickly. Why do this and then complain when people use the ability they provide for the purpose they intend?

Yes, yes, yes. I know I don’t have to post the risqué pictures, but obviously people will. Why let adults be adults and hide 18 rated games from Miiverse for those not old enough? If you’re going to have adult games on your console you can’t wimp out, Nintendo. Embrace the consequences, not punish the users.

As for what got pulled? These, hidden in a spoiler in case children are reading.

Spoiler Inside Show


And yet these aren’t pulled by Miiverse admins:

Miiverse not deleted notdeletedpost2

Both of which I’d suggest were of the same, or higher, rank on the scale. Either go one way or the other, Nintendo, but be consistent!

Questioning my gaming credentials

The Xbox Update; Or Why I Learned to Hate Security

You know there was an update for the Xbox 360 recently? I’ve never enjoyed these updates. They take forever, usually make the console worse and less responsive, and – on one occasion – broke my Xbox.

This new one appears to do two things:

  1. Replace Microsoft Points with actual pound values, and
  2. Make me want to stab people at Microsoft in the face.

You see, there’s now a forced “two factor” logon. Which is good, for security. But the way it’s implemented nearly drove me insane.

After the update, I was asked to sign in to Xbox Live. Which I couldn’t do, as I was already signed in. So I signed out, then tried to sign back in. It asked me for my email address and password again, which is fine, and then asked me for a second email address, a “text”, or a phone call to use as a second authentication contact. Again, this is fine.

I went ahead and gave my mobile number for “text”. I got sent a code, and on the 360 I could type this in. I was then told I couldn’t use this number as I had to authenticate it first on

I duly went to on my computer, and it asked me to sign in. I did, and it told me it needed to send a code to my email address as a security method. I said OK, and got the code. I typed the code into the website, and it asked me to sign in again. So I did, and then it told me it needed to send a code to my email address as a security method. I said OK, and got the code. I typed the code into the website, and it asked me to sign in again. So I did, and then it told me it needed to send a code to my email address as a security method. I said OK, and got the code. I typed the code into the website, and it asked me to sign in again. So I did, and then it told me it needed to send a code to my email address as a security method. I said OK, and got the code. I typed the code into the website, and it asked me to sign in again. So I did, and then it told me it needed to… you get the idea.

I decided to just log into my Live account normally (which worked), and go to my account settings, were, lo, my mobile number was already listed. There was a “verify” link next to it, so I clicked that, and was told it needed to send a code to my mobile number as a security method. I said OK, and got the code, and was told to go to to complete verification.

So I went to and was asked to sign in. I did, and it told me it needed to send a code to my email address as a security method. I said OK, and got the code. I typed the code into the website, and it asked me to sign in again. I did, and it told me it needed to send a code to my email address as a security method. I said OK, and got the code. I typed the code into the website, and it asked me to sign in again.


Returning to my Xbox, I tried to put my number in again and have another code sent to my phone, but now it just says I need to complete verification by visiting which puts me in the same loop as before.

Stupid, stupid system. The upshot is, I’m currently unable to sign into Live on my 360. And why am I signing into Live? Because I want the free Gold-only copy of Magic the Gathering 2013. “Just grab it from!” I hear you cry. Well, I can’t. I can log in there, just fine, but when I go to buy it (for £0) I’m told I have no payment options available. Why I need money or a credit card linked to my account to buy a FREE game (when I don’t need it to “buy” a free demo) I have no idea. I’m certainly not adding a new card to my account for this purpose.

The impending death of gaming

Yes, that’s an overstatement. Gaming is not going to die. It’s going to change, and if it changes how it looks like it’s going to, then it’ll be dead to me.

Much of this concern stems from rumours (most of which have been rubbished), but where there is smoke, there is fire. Rumours come from ideas, and even if they’re not implemented now, or fully – someone, somewhere, thought they’d be a a good idea.

Online only
I don’t want my console online at all times to play. I can’t rely on my internet connection to allow that, even if I wanted to.

No second hand games
I buy about 30% of my games second hand. None of them have required any of this “online pass” nonsense, so when I pay £10 for a game, I get the game (and all of the game) for £10. I bought it for £10 because I thought it was worth £10, and if I need a £10 “unlock code” because I bought it second hand I won’t buy it. I never trade games in, or borrow games from other people, so it wouldn’t bother me for that reason, but when I buy a game – I want the game for the price I pay for it.

There are two reasons I don’t play many iOS games: 1) touch screen controls are rubbish on almost anything approaching a “normal” video game, and 2) you can’t just play games any more – you have to pay to play, or have to wait (minutes, hours, days even) or grind tediously to progress. If this comes to console gaming, I’m out.

Download only games
I’m not adverse to downloading my games (legally, I mean). 42.5% of my spending on games last year was on downloadable games. Every single one of which was under 2GB, and the majority were under 500MB. My internet connection will not cope with bigger games, and although my connection will improve in the future (apparently), the size of games will also increase. Some titles are already 35GB+ – and that ain’t gonna happen, no matter how cheap they are. I had a taste of this when Sony had their “intrusion” and I got two free game downloads. That took me a fortnight to download.

Endless updates
It’s a minor thing, in the overall package, but updates are becoming ever more commonplace. Gone are the days you just put your game in and played, and it was rare a bug was found that prevented you from playing it properly. Now, not only are there updates for the games, but updates for the consoles too. Sure, they add features, but especially in the case of the 360, they add a load of stuff I neither want, nor would ever use. The dashboard is now atrocious, which leads me to…

It’s not all about the games
Remember when games consoles were primarily for playing games on? Microsoft don’t. They’ve moved the Xbox 360 into “entertainment system” territory (oh the irony – Nintendo Entertainment System, anyone?) and don’t even have games as the main focus on the dashboard any more. They’re all tucked away. Yes, I play videos on my PS3, but that’s a side effect, not the main event. With the PS4 cramming Facebook into every orifice and the new Xbox almost certainly moving further away from gaming than the 360 already has, it’s losing focus. And, as a result, my interest.

Kinect? No. Move? No. We’ve already done that with the Wii. We know what worked well, and what didn’t. We don’t need any more of it, and we certainly don’t need them shoe-horned into games.

Where have the games gone?
So many studios closing. So many sequels being churned out – and even those series I enjoy (Assassin’s Creed, for example) are becoming worn and rely upon wrong-footed changes to appear fresh. Pirates in Assassin’s Creed IV? Sigh. Indie games and small studios funded by the likes of Kickstarter seem to be where my gaming is going, but how long will that last before they’re bought up or go bust?

At the moment, only Nintendo seem to understand what a games console is, but how long for? They’ve already got streaming video and TV on the Wii U, along with a web browser. Miiverse is a great example of how to do something new with a console but still be all about the games – but if the Wii U fails where then? Or worse, what if it succeeds because it changes to be more like its competitors? What’s left for me then? The next Playstation and the next Xbox. Or PC gaming, which I’ve never really liked.

As a gamer, it’s the first time I’ve been concerned about the future of gaming.

How I hate PC gaming

Ten years ago, I used to play quite a lot of PC games. Sim City, Tony Hawk, GTA, Rollcage, Half Life. Some of the Tomb Raiders and things like NOX too. I forget the rest. The last PC game I really sank any time into was Anarchy Online, back in 2005. Even that I didn’t play for long. Aside from brief prod at the Phantasy Star Online: Blue Burst demo, that was the end of my PC gaming. There were two main reasons: I couldn’t be bothered upgrading my computer every time a game came out, and I’d rather sit in front of the TV on the sofa with a joypad, rather than at a desk with a mouse. Besides, all the games I wanted to play were console games. My apathy towards PC games was part of the reason I bought a Mac when I needed a new machine – no need for games, so no need for a PC.

However, I have now found my new Mac laptop is pretty decent at playing PC games, and, with a HDMI connector and an Xbox controller, I can play it on the TV sat on the sofa, with a joypad.

Then I saw Batman: Arkham City for £11.60 for the PC. And I bought it. Here is a chronicle of the events that followed. Disclaimer: I have rubbish broadband, which didn’t really help matters.

On Wednesday, I installed Origin (which was a 10 minute download) and bought Batman. I set it to download. 70+ hours later (constantly!), on Saturday morning, it was done, so I excitedly ran it. Up popped a message from Games for Windows Live saying I needed to sign in. So I did. Then it spent over an hour downloading my Live profile. Then it told me an update for Games for Windows Live was necessary, so I set it to download.

It finished downloading about 20 hours later, on Sunday morning. At no point did it tell me how much it needed to download, so I had no idea how long it was going to take. Once the update had installed, I then had to sign in again, and it decided to download my profile again. It “only” took about 20 minutes that time.

Finally! I can play Batman, right?

No. There was another update – this time for the game itself. So I left that to download and install. And, at 9pm, eventually, I could play the game. Just 100-odd hours after I bought it. Hurrah for digital copies and their super-fast delivery mechanisms! Saved me the minutes I’d need to buy it from Asda, at least. Oh, wait.

Sure. My connection is rubbish, and yeah, this is just one game, but I’m wishing I’d bought the 360 version instead. In fact, I still might. I’m not sure slightly shinier graphics is really worth the hassle.

As a related comment to this, I have tried Steam too. I quite like Steam, for what it is, but when you forget to update your games for offline play, then try to play offline (as I have to because my connection is so rubbish Steam keeps detecting I don’t have one) – you can’t. Which is more than a pain.

At least I’ve not had to fiddle with graphics drivers and controller configs (Batman just switches to Xbox Controller Mode, which is nice) yet. I did have to turn the virus killer (Microsoft Security Essentials) off though, as 20 minutes into the game the framerate dropped to nothing as a scheduled scan kicked in…

The new Xbox 360 Dashboard

Rant moan rant rant moan.

That’s all I’ve seen written about the new 360 GUI. It’s rubbish. Everything is hidden. There’s too many adverts. Games aren’t the focus any more. It’s too confusing. Everything is seventeen menus deep and behind carousel images. Rant bloody rant moan moan.

With good reason:

Everything is hidden. There’s too many adverts. Games aren’t the focus any more. It’s too confusing. Everything is seventeen menus deep and behind carousel images.

Of course, it looks nice. It really does – clean and swish, and everything moves around seemingly much faster than before. With my useless Sky “Broadband” connection, the images on everything take a while to load, but at least I can chuck the screens around without having to wait, so that’s not the end of the world. I also like how playing my most recently played games is now a bit easier too, with the disc in the tray a single stab (been playing Assassin’s Creed, sorry) of A away and the ten most recent installed games and demos just down-and-A. Nice.

Unfortunately, it’s finding everything else that’s a problem. Getting to installed content is akin to one of those steady-hand testers, where accidentally veering into the wrong menu or tab or button or whatever the hell else you end up in means you get lost, electrocuted, and essentially have to start again. Finding new content, be it Arcade games, demos, or (worst of all) Indie Games is now five hundred and forty six button presses or more, is displayed in a jumble of nonsense, and even lumps stuff that isn’t new games (like game trailers and videos) in the list of new games. I spent ages last night excitedly trying to download Sonic CD from the New Games bit on the Games Marketplace only to realise it isn’t out – there’s just a video to look at.

Most worst (and most worser than my grammar) is the special offer section. Take the current Ubisoft offers, for instance. There’s an offers section, and within that an Ubisoft section. Fine. Except the Ubisoft section is three screens wide, with only 5 “tiles” on each. And then, on two of these screens, the middle (larger) tile is actually a carousel of several offers which cycle through, meaning you have to watch and wait to find out all the offers. Then move to the other screen and watch and wait there. I was later told (it doesn’t say this on the GUI anywhere) that you could select the carousel and use the right-stick to flick through manually, but even so – why can’t all the offers just be in one big list on one screen, which scrolls if necessary? Or at the very least, provide a “show all” button? They’re going to lose sales because people can’t browse – they essentially have to sit and watch adverts instead.

The browsing thing applies to pretty much everywhere as well. Unless you know what it is you want, finding stuff to buy is a chore. Impulse purchases are going to drop as a result, so it’s not only a bad design issue, it’s a bad business move – especially for the smaller companies who thrive (or throve) on XBLA sales. You can’t stumble upon their games any more, you have to seek it out. Often, when I had five spare minutes having finished a game or something, I’d have a quick nose through the marketplace at new stuff and offers. That’s not going to happen any more.

With the shift in focus from games to “home entertainment”, the menus on the dashboard now have lots of video, music and social “features”, almost exactly none of which I will, or even can, use. As I’ve mentioned, my internet connection is akin in speed to a telegraph machine, so any streaming media from the internet is out. So no Youtube, iPlayer, 4oD, Lovefilm or Zune for me. I have a phone for Twitter, don’t use Facebook, and since they crippled I don’t use that any more either. In fact, the only non-gaming thing I use my 360 for is streaming video from my network. As an aside, there is a positive thing I can say here – the new dashboard finally fixed it so I can stream m4v and mp4 files from my NAS, making my PS3 completely obsolete now.

And the adverts. Oh the adverts. Yes, they’re fairly unobtrusive, but I pay for my Xbox Live Gold service. I don’t need it to be subsidised with adverts thanks – and neither do Microsoft. I don’t even mean the usual adverts for games coming soon or available on the XBL marketplace either – actual proper adverts for Sky TV and Virgin Money. If you must have adverts, leave them for the non-paying members, please.

Somehow, in one fell swoop, Microsoft have gone from having the best console-based “store”, light years ahead of PSN, the Wii Shop and the 3DS eShop, to having this crippled form-over-function one. Consider the old store as a sort of virtual Argos catalogue, where everything is pretty easy to find and well presented, and the new store as an online TK Maxx, where nothing is in any particular place, the things they show on the TV ads are in there somewhere (but where?), and half the stuff is strewn on the floor like a WI jumble sale. Nasty.

tl; dr version: New dash looks nice, fixes playing media files, fails spectacularly at usability, screws over users and providers of XBLA and Indie Games, annoys the hell out of everyone, makes deKay cry.

Games I Hate: Donkey Kong 64

Kill them. Kill them all.

Until the release of the technically fantastic, utterly huge, and gloriously lovely to look at Donkey Kong 64 for the Nintendo 64, I was a big fan of Rare’s stuff. Or at least, I thought I was.

I mean, I did really, really, enjoy Banjo Kazooie. So much so that I almost completed it many times (the end boss proving too much), and even got the XBLA remake – finally 100%ing it. But looking back at their other titles, I’m not sure I was that big a fan.

Donkey Kong Country was a horrible, fantastic looking, impossible platformer. Its two sequels were too. All three I had some fun with, before realising they weren’t really very good and were more flash than actually enjoyable. The Donkey Kong Land Game Boy games were even worse, being just as rubbish but also impossible to see on the low-res, blurry GB LCD display. Mmm, smeary.

Even Banjo Tooie, the follow-up to Banjo Kazooie was pants. Yeah, it was more of the same, literally following on from the first game, but with a larger, more irritating to navigate main “hub” – which the game’s design forced you to traipse all over after almost every jiggy was obtained. Lots of pointless backtracking over the same areas over and over and over again does not a fun game make, so every attempt to play it just resulted in frustration, boredom, or a complete loss as to what needed to be done next.

Donkey Kong 64 then. To all intents and purposes, it’s Banjo Kazooie again with more characters and different levels. It all starts off fun, collecting bananas and reaching level goals, but then new characters are unlocked and you find you have to redo the levels again, albeit sometimes differently, collecting different bananas. And the next character? Same level, more bananas. And again. And again. AND AGAIN. 100 for each character in each level. Seven levels, five apes. 3500 bananas to collect. “Fun”.

You can even see the bananas each character can collect when playing as other characters. But can you pick them up? No. It isn’t just bananas either. There are also character-specific Golden Bananas and coins. Then there’s boss keys, ammo (different for each ape), Crystal Coconuts, special coins and banana medals. Joy.

It became a slog. Levels went from amazing and exciting the first time round to dull and oh-so-bloody-tedious on the third run through,  let alone the fourth or fifth. And that’s assuming you don’t have to redo the level yet more times because you missed stuff. Oh, the merriment of trudging through the jungle for the nth time and spotting some missed bananas, only to realise you’re the wrong Kong and have to go back in as the right one and do it all again to get to them. Even the masochists can’t enjoy that, surely?

Most of all, I hate Donkey Kong 64 for what it marked the start of – a terrible downturn in the playability (not the technical quality) of Rare games. Starfox Adventures. Grabbed by the Ghoulies. The GBA Sabre Wulf game that wasn’t anything to do with Sabre Wulf. Kameo, Perfect Dark Zero, Banjo Kazooie Nuts & Bolts – all far from the glorious days of old. I’ll give you two exceptions – Viva Pinata and its sequel – but even they are less game and more gardening/zoo simulators.

And what of Rare now? Creating Xbox 360 avatar clothes, aren’t they? Horrific.