Xbox 360 Needs a Better Keyboard UI

Update: This post was drafted back in October 2009. I had submitted it as feedback to Microsoft/Xbox 360, but never really heard back. Steam just announced their Big Picture which featured a keyboard system (Daisywheel) very similar to mine (I know there are quite a few differences), so I decided to publish this post.

During the past Xbox 360 beta, I had made the following suggestion to the Xbox 360 team.

I’ve always found the keyboard UI to be clunky and difficult to use with the controller. I understand the chatpad or a keyboard would make it more easy, but I’m pretty sure most people using the Xbox 360 still use the controller to type in text. When I found out I could redeem codes via their website, it was a blessing. Typing those 25 character codes always took an inane amount of time. Now that they plan on releasing Twitter and Facebook and other apps that can require a lot typing, it’s ridiculous to use the existing keyboard UI with the controllers to type.

That’s what got me thinking of a better keyboard UI with the current controllers.

Currently we use the L-joystick for moving the cursor up/down/left/right and hitting A to select a character. To enter 1 character, I may have have to move the cursor up to 15 steps.

One thing I’ve been thinking of is that we have 2 joysticks, each with 4 axis with 8 degrees of control, which we do not take advantage of. 8 x 8 is a total of 64 possible characters. If you consider the center position (joystick in relaxed position) to be another state, that’s 9 x 9 = 81 possible characters.

Here’s a rough sketch of what the UI would look like:

Xbox 360 Keyboard UI Sketch

To type the number ‘1’, all I would have to do is point the L-joystick left, point the R-joystick up, and then push on R-joystick. Each letter would only take 3 actions (move L-joystick, move R-joystick, push on R-joystick).

That leaves the buttons (A, B, X, Y), bumpers and triggers to do other stuff like delete or move the cursor. You can even dedicate a button to switch back to the current keyboard mode. The D-pad would be perfect for this job.

As you may have noticed in my sketch, there’s a lot of empty spaces. I originally thought of putting every single character (symbols, numbers, both upper and lower case characters) on that, which is still a viable idea. Another option would be to drop that down to 5 circles (center, up, down, left, right), each circle having 8 possible characters like it is now, giving me 40 characters, which is about the same amount of characters on-screen today. You would then use the D-pad to toggle between upper and lower case, as well as symbols.

Of course there’s still more stuff to flush out, but I thought the idea was sound.

Also, given that the PlayStation 3 has a similar controller, I could see this being used on their console UI also.

DrawSomething

I’ve been playing a lot of DrawSomething recently to the point I’ve had to scale back. At first I wasn’t sure what the point of the game was as I had assume it was competitive in nature like Words With Friends, but after a round or 2, I realized it was much more of a cooperative game where you get points for both drawing and guessing. The goal of the game is really just to have fun.

There’s coin collecting, but that just really unlocks new paint colors for you.

Sometimes I would spend 5mins or so drawing 1 picture. Others I’d complete in under a minute.

A couple features I really wished they would add:

  • Undo! Many times I screwed up and try to erase and screw up even more.
  • Chat box. Wish there was some way to communicate with your friend w/o having to result in writing text as part of your drawing.
  • Gallery. I wish I could see all my past drawings as well as drawings I’ve guessed on.
  • Switch to another game. Once you’ve started guessing or drawing for someone, there’s no way currently to switch to someone else, unless you kill the app.

Rock Band 3

Rock Band 3 Wireless Pro-Drum and Pro-Cymbals Kit So I’ve finally got my own copy of Rock Band 3 (thanks to Perry and Sathana). But I’ve also been playing it previously over at Chad’s and also at Ryan’s place.

Here’s my initial impressions.

Songs

I wasn’t actually that impressed with the new song list. There were a few I recognized, but I think it’s gotten to the point where most of the popular songs have already been released and the ones that aren’t either are in the works of being released or the rights holder aren’t cooperating.

Existing Song Upgrades
No one was quite sure how’d upgrades would work, but with the recent release of Bon Jovi’s Greatest Hits 12-track DLC, Harmonix has announced the following:

Hey gang,

Sorry for the confusion surrounding the DLC announcement this week. The information I posted earlier may not have been the most helpful, partially because it wasn’t entirely correct. A lot has happened in the last two hours. The long and short of it is that we’re going to have new RB3 files that add keys and harmonies as well as add-on content that enables Pro Guitar and Pro Bass. The new information is that the add-ons for Pro G/B should be available for both the new RB3 file and your existing file.

To be clearer, this means there will be three files you can download in the future for Legacy DLC songs where Pro Guitar/Pro Bass is being made available:

· The new “RB3 Version” of a song, including traditional GBDV, keys (pro and regular) and harmony vocals
· A “Pro Guitar/Pro Bass” upgrade for that “RB3 Version”, allowing you to have the whole experience
· A “Pro Guitar/Pro Bass” upgrade for legacy “RB2 era DLC”. This will skip Keys and Harmonies being added (those are only in the “RB3 Version”, but allow you to purchase the Pro Guitar/Bass add-on without rebuying the core song file.

To reiterate, if you stick with your RB2 legacy track and want to upgrade to pro guitar/bass – you will not have access to Keys, Pro Keys or harmony vocals. If you want that latter content, you need to purchase the “RB3 Version” of the file.

As for the Bon Jovi tracks coming out next week, you’ll currently only be able to get the Pro Guitar / Bass upgrades for the RB3 Versions of the tracks, but moving forward you should see Pro Guitar/Bass upgrade options for legacy re-releases. We’ll update this thread when we have a timeline for those add-ons. Sorry again for the mix up, and I’ll continue to clarify in this thread as more questions pop up.

In other words, people who purchased the original DLC are screwed if they want to get harmony + keyboard support. They’ll have to rebuy the RB3 version at full retail price of $2, rendering the previously downloaded DLC pretty much useless.

Gameplay

The gameplay had a bunch of enhancements which were greatly appreciated:

  • When someone failed, you can continue playing the song in No Fail mode
  • You can change difficulty in the middle of a song
  • It now shows you the difficulty of your instrument for the chosen song when you’re selecting the difficulty for your instrument
  • All instrument mode allows 7 people to play at the same time: guitar, bass, drum, keys, + 3 vocals
  • Song selection has a lot more filters
  • Song rating/recommendation will allow me to play songs I prefer and never show me songs I dislike
  • All songs are unlocked from the get go. No need to play career mode to unlock songs. I think there are still some Rock Band 2 songs I haven’t unlocked yet
  • When the game is paused or settings are changed in the middle of a song, it rewinds back 5 seconds and lets players prepare themselves
  • Players can easily sign in, drop out, and swap instruments

Changes I think would make the game better:

  • Don’t show or gray out modes that aren’t supported (e.g. Don’t allow me to select Harmony if there’s no harmony part)
  • Show the vocal score even if they’re not “considered” 1 of the 4 players

Keyboard

I was originally excited about the keyboard since I used to play the piano. However, I found the Pro Keys experience very lacking and complicated. Maybe because I’m more used to reading sheet music than little notes scrolling down the screen. I also haven’t gone through the training yet (if they have one), so maybe it’ll get better afterwards…

When I first started playing, I treated the keyboard like a computer keyboard. The screen only shows 10 white keys at a time, so armed with 2 hands and 10 fingers, I placed each digit on a separate white key. Unfortunately this made playing the keyboard very boring and I felt like I was typing instead of playing. I was told to actually use one hand instead of 2, which made a lot more sense as I believe the notes they tell you to play are really chords.

A big difference between this and the plastic guitars is that you can hold down notes on the plastic guitar and they’ll tell you which buttons you’re holding. This won’t count against you as long as you’re not strumming. However that option is not available for the keyboard and being disoriented with where my hands are when I’m always staring at the TV screen, I found myself wishing the screen would tell me which keys my fingers were touching, since it does count against you if you push down a key.

Drums

Honestly, the drums is now my favorite instrument. I can’t believe how much more fun adding cymbals would be! Rock Band 3 now supports Pro Drums which actually differentiates between when to hit the cymbals and when to hit the pads. I originally was going to just keep using my original RB1 drum set, but after finding out how much fun cymbals were, I went and purchased the RB3 drum set. $130 was a bit high, but they were just so fun!

The new drum set also supports 2 pedals. Unfortunately (or maybe fortunately), I’m not skilled enough to need to utilize 2 pedals just quite yet.

Vocals

All songs allows 3 vocalists now in both Solo and Harmony mode, which is pretty cool. What’s even cooler is that 3 people can sing a song in Solo mode on expert and as long as one of the singer is on key for each section, you can ace it. We were getting so many 5 gold stars Friday night.

Guitar

Not much to say here yet since neither pro guitars have been released yet. The toy one with 102 buttons will be released on 11/16, retailing at $150. The one I want is the real electric guitar that supports Rock Band 3, but unfortunately that’ll be released in March 2011 and even more unfortunately at a retail price of $280.

I don’t know if I want to wait till March before trying Pro Guitar, but do I really want to spend ~$450 for 2 Rock Band 3 guitars?

Machinarium

If you’ve been following me on Twitter or Facebook, you’ve probably seen me praising Limbo to no end. It’s part of Xbox Live’s Summer of Arcade and it’s an awesome puzzle side-scrolling game with very stylistic art. People have complained that the game’s too short for its 1200pt cost (~$15) and I do agree the game’s a bit short. It took me about 4 hours to complete, but this is probably one of the first games I’ve completed in years and the sense of accomplishment is awesome. The best part of the game was actually dying and seeing it’s death animation sequences. Those were so cool!

Machinarium

But this blog post is really to talk about a new game I recently heard about. Ars Technica had an article earlier this week: Machinarium suffers 90% piracy rate, offers $5 amnesty sale. I decided to check out what the game’s about and it turns out to be a clicking puzzle game containing very beautiful artwork and music. You can play a couple levels via their demo on their website: Machinarium Demo.

For $5, this is an awesome deal and I’m pretty sure I can get $5 worth of entertainment from it. Heck, I probably already got it from the demo. Plus I didn’t realize it also came with the game soundtrack and as I mentioned earlier, the music for the game is beautiful!

However due to my recent acquirement of StarCraft II (belated birthday gift from Perry – thanks!), I’m afraid I have to choose SC2 over Machinarium at the moment. I’ll definitely come back to it at a later time. 🙂

Friday Gathering!

It’s been long time since I invited Perry-tachi (see definition #2: tachi) over for dinner and games. I’ve seen Perry a few times since New Years, but everyone’s been really busy lately. There was that potluck over at Valerie’s sometime earlier this year, which was really fun. I still remember Ike (pronounced EK) shouting “grape tree house” over and over again during Pictionary. Oh yeah, congratulations on Sathana for getting his Ph.D. candidacy! This gathering had been long overdue and I was happy to see everyone again and that everyone was doing fine.

I sent out an email on Monday asking if people were interested in coming over on Friday/Saturday night for dinner and movie/games. I was a bit sad when only 3 people had responded and only Perry and Carolynn accepted. I sent out another email on Wednesday night and got 1 more accept from Sathana. It turns out that somehow my email ended being caught by UW’s spam filter. Here’s the email in full:

Hey guys!

It’s been awhile since we last got together at my place. I was wondering if people were interested in grabbing dinner followed by either a movie or Rock Band.

I recently acquired The Good, The Bad, The Weird, a Korean movie that looks hilarious:
http://www.hd-trailers.net/movie/the-good-the-bad-the-weird/
http://trailers.apple.com/trailers/independent/thegoodthebadtheweird/
http://movies.yahoo.com/movie/1809884000/info
http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/good_the_bad_and_the_weird/
http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0901487/
Of course there’s English subtitles.

I’m open to other movie suggestions as well.

Or we can always do what always do and play Rock Band. Since we’ve last played, I’ve gotten plenty of new songs. Let’s say Friday tentatively, but if people prefer Saturday instead, we can do that too.

//Toland (^_^x)

Maybe I had too many links in my email or maybe krunk4ever.com is considered a spam domain? Saran and Tom found out earlier today and wanted to come. Valerie also found out last minute and came over too. Perry even spoke with Joe and coordinated some Halo 3 over Xbox Live (he currently works in New Mexico). It was a full house once again.

We decided if 4 or less people, we’d have dinner a Sushiland. 5+ and we would go to Yea’s Wok. Only 4 were available for dinner (or found out early enough to join) so we ended up eating at Sushiland in Bellevue. I was surprised that at 7pm on a Friday there was hardly any line. It did get a bit busier later on, but previously on Fridays we had to wait upwards to an hour.

Afterwards we came back to my place and setup another Xbox 360 console using my 24″ Dell LCD. I really need to get that projector for my basement. That’ll be sweet. The few of us who had arrived early played some Beatles Rock Band while we waited for the others to arrive. I noticed that they now show you your friends’ score and I was surprised we actually beat Tekman’s and Angel’s score in Yellow Submarine.

Most of the people arrived and we started some Halo 3 4 vs 4 multiplayer action. It was hilarious hearing Joe and Perry speak over the microphone as it’d be delayed a few seconds on a screen and as someone mentioned Perry sounded like a high-pitched chipmunk. And for some reason, the chat wasn’t blocked per team, so we were able to hear everything they were planning. The teams actually turned out to be quite even after a few matches, but I think Joe was just goofing around after the 3rd round. Having Perry and Joe on the same team originally was slaughter for the 4 of us. Our team was much more even, where everyone would have about the same number of kills. On the other team, Joe and Perry would have 20 kills each, while the others would have about 5 kills each.

Joe called it a night and some people switched over to playing a soccer game. In the meantime, I deep fried some shrimp tempura. Did you know that Costco sells these awesome Panko Breaded Shrimp (Kirkland Signature brand). At first I thought it was shrimp with Panko mix where I would dip the shrimp and deep fry them, but it turns out they come pre-breaded. Yet another win for lazy Toland! The instructions provided actually tell you to use the oven, but after experimenting a few times, I find that 2 minutes at 350F is perfect for 3-8 shrimps. 2.5 minutes is still good, but at 3 minutes you have black charcoal shrimps. People seemed to enjoy them. 🙂

Afterwards, we switched over to Rock Band and tried out some of the new songs I recently got. Rock Band was a blast as usual. Singing Lady Gaga was really fun. We also got to try out OneRepublic, White Stripes, 3 Doors Down and a bunch of other music I’ve acquired since our last gathering. I even tried expert on drums and guitar for several easy songs. Expert on drums can get crazy difficult.

The last of us splitted around 2:30am and ended the night with Silversun Pickups – Panic Switch. Did I mention it’s been a long time since I had so much fun. Few probably know the reason why I setup this gathering. And today was going so well too! Sigh…

Perry’s birthday is next week, so we’ll probably do something again to celebrate.

Rock Band Drum Pedal Starting to Crack

So yesterday while playing Beatles Rock Band with friends, I noticed stepping on the drum pedal felt a bit weird. Upon closer inspection after our gaming session, it looked like the drum pedal was beginning to crack about 1-2″ above the bottom hinge. If I recall correctly, Harmonix was replacing them even out of warranty. So I began the hardware warranty process (page which for some reason doesn’t render under Firefox 3.5; had to switch to IE).

I was reading the requirements of the RMA, even though I mentioned I had a Rock Band [1] drum pedal, it mentioned that in the RMA I needed to include a proof-of-purchase within 60 days:

STEP 3: Providing Proof of Purchase
Because our Limited 60-day Hardware Warranty requires that you are within the first 60 days after purchase, we will need a legible copy of your original sales receipt to determine eligibility. The sales receipt must clearly show the following information:

  1. Item Description
  2. Purchase Amount
  3. Date of Purchase
  4. Point of Purchase

They didn’t mention any specific exception for the Rock Band pedal. So I decided to contact their support:

Hi, I purchased the full Rock Band kit back in Feb. 2008 and my friends and I play about twice a month. Recently my pedal began cracking, about 1-2″ from the bottom hinge.

I recall that Rock Band was replacing pedals even beyond the 60 day warranty period for defective pedals and was wondering how I can start that process.

Thank you.

In the meantime, I found a small flat piece of metal (wrench that came a the toolkit used for building some furniture) and duct taped it to the cracking area, hopefully to prevent further cracking until I can get it replaced.

Got a reply this afternoon:

Thank you for contacting Rock Band Warranty Support!

I apologize about the trouble you are having with your drum pedal. We will certainly be happy to get you a replacement.
To start the process we have two different shipping methods for you to choose from:

With an express order you will receive the new item within five to seven business days, but we do require a $125 pre-authorization hold on a credit card. This is not a charge, simply a hold to ensure that we are going to get the broken item back. When you receive the new item, it will come with a pre-paid shipping label for you to send back the broken item. As long as we get the broken item back within 28 days, we will release the hold from your credit card and you will not be charged.

If you would prefer not to use a credit card, the second shipping option that we have is the standard shipment. With this option we will send you an empty box with a prepaid shipping label that you use to send us your broken item. Once we get this and scan in the label, we will send you your new item

If you would like to do an express order, please give us a call at (650) 628-1001 as we cannot take credit card information over email. Otherwise all we need is your shipping information. We look forward to assisting you!

Please let me know if there is anything else we can assist you with! Additional support can be found on our help site located at http://support.ea.com/cgi-bin/ea.cfg/php/enduser/rockband.php or if you would like to speak to a live agent, please call (650) 628-1001.

Thank you,
Teddy
Rock Band Warranty Support
Electronic Arts

Looks like I’ll have to call in to start the RMA process, which I can then confirm that 60-day proof of purchase is not a requirement to get my drum pedal replaced. w00t!