Okay, it could be his son, back from the war

Buongiorno! Oy. Such a day. A good one, don’t get me wrong; filled to the rim with Brim, but peculiar, in a grindingly banal sort of way. This morning was industrious beyond compare, and after I finished the column I suited up and headed to the office. It struck me, one block from said office, that there are disadvantages aplenty to being right next to the fargin’ Metrodome, and being right next to the fargin’ Metrodome during a Twins playoff game is one of them. I circled the block for three times, a process that has a direct relationship to the nascent pressure building in the bladder, and finally I parked in front of the building in the no-no zone, ran in, obtained relief, then went outside the building to call my editors from the sidewalk to tell them what I’d come downtown to tell them. Then I circled some more, found a spot, went inside, and told my editors to disregard my phone calls. Then what?

Well, the Xbox 360 had arrived earlier that day. Why not go set it up. So after I checked my mail – a process that took 14 minutes, because the PC had to install Service Pack 4 and forbade me to even look at the machine while this was going on. Seriously: DO NOT TOUCH THE MOUSE OR THE KEYBOARD! The screen said. Fine. I won’t taunt the happy fun ball. When all was done I went home, unboxed the device and plugged it in. It’s smaller than I expected, although the power brick is literally that; the dimensions were such that I expected the word HEBRON stamped on the side. (You have to be a NoDakian to get the reference immediately, so don’t feel bad.) I rejoiced at the opportunity to use my HDMI connector, too. Then I closed the doors over the device, because it was a surprise for Gnat.

When I picked her up she asked if it had come. I said we’ll have to see. When we got home she looked in the front entryway, expecting a box; there was nothing, and she was disappointed. Awwww. Then she opened the doors that hold the AV equipment and let out a great squeal of delight: IT’S HERE! She picked up the wireless controller and said “Oh, I could get used to this.” Really.

Can we play it? Now? Huh? I said I had to finish hooking it up; after supper and park time. When she was at the park I turned it on. The intial splash screen was in Japanese. Hmm. I reset it, and got a menu of language options; the default was Japanese. Hmm. Well, no problem finding English . . . there. I set up the accounts, and while I was fiddling with the settings she came back, ready to play.

Keep in mind that we have four Xbox games: a Simpsons driving game, both Halos, and Max Payne 2. Both Max and Halo have peculiar and not-entirely happy memories for me, since I played both here in Jasperwood in the months after 9/11 – Max first, then Halo, in the basement on the old Xbox. That was the end of my console gaming phase, as it turned out. I’d purchased Halo 2, but never got around to hooking up the Xbox again to play it. It goes without saying that Gnat will not be playing Max Payne or Halo. She remembered the Simpsons game, though, and was twitching with anticipation. I put it in.

And it doesn’t work. This old Xbox game doesn’t work on the newfangled Xbox game. Sigh. She was disconsolate; she was so looking forward to this, so much. My wife gave me a look: anything you can do? Well, sure. I got out the old Xbox and hooked it up downstairs – or rather tried to; when I replaced the ordinary RCA plugs with the HD interface I put the old cables in a bin in the storage room, and just last week I went through that bin and threw out the stuff I didn’t understand or need. So the cables sat in the box for three years until the week before I needed them.

She was disconsolate. She was so looking forward to this, so much. My wife gave a look: anything you can do? Well, sure. We can go to the movie store and rent some new games. Gnat bounced up and down with glee: yay! Off we went. The selection of 360 games was small – one copy of Gun? One? – but they had lots of other games. Hadn’t they promised backward compatibility? I asked the clerk, who was sallow and pimply enough for the query, whether the recent Xbox games would work on the 360. He didn’t know. Well, we’ll take a chance. I’ll take Cars and The Incredibles.

At a kiosk two girls operated a Playstation, which was running some sort of hunting game. Gnat picked up a controller, and I had to say no. You’re not going to learn to kill virtual deer. You want to take up hunting when you’re of age, fine, but you’re not going to go directly from My Little Pony to putting a round in Rudolph’s head.

We went home and put the games in the machine. Neither worked. She was disconsolate. She was so looking forward to this, so much. My wife gave a look: anything you can do? Well, sure.  I took the old Xbox upstairs to the other TV with component inputs, disconnected the DVD player, and attached the Xbox. To recap: three TV sets in different locales are now in disarray, unplugged and askew, and the entire purpose of the evening has shifted to making the old Xbox work.

And it did. While Gnat played “Cars,” I went to the Microsoft site suggested by my Xbox screen to check for updates to the games. There were no such updates, but after poking around I found a link to an updater that let the 360 run old games. You download it and burn it to a disc and all is well.

God forbid such a thing should be installed on the machine when you buy it, of course. No, it’s better to make ALL THE OLD GAMES USELESS, then send people to a website where they might, if they have sufficient initiative, find an emulator program they can burn onto a CD and run on their Xbox.

So I’ve burned the disc (and that was fun; never burned a disc in Windows before. Sorry, but compared to the Mac way of doing things, it’s like trying to tie your shoes in the dark while wearing boxing gloves)  and I’m ready to fix the machine . . . except that I’m tired, and have no desire to play anything right now. I just want to watch something that does not require my thumbs, and go to bed.

But no. Press on. I put the disk into the Xbox. According to the MS site, it will automatically begin the update process.

“Unrecognized Disc.”


I examine the original downloaded file: default.xex. What the hell is Xex? Well, the first X probably means Xbox. I double-click to see if I can open it, just for grins, and Microsoft Windows tells me it does not know what this Microsoft-provided file for the Microsoft Xbox is. No idea! I assume the fault’s mine – something in the Apple drivers running the CD burning program, even though I’m running Windows, soured the milk, and the Xbox won’t take the nipple. Max Payne will have to wait until I order the disc from Microsoft, then.

Anyone from Microsoft reading this? Gah! All so I can write reviews of kid-friendly Xbox reviews for the paper!

James Lileks / StarTribune / 425 Portland Av / Mpls MN 55488

Thanks. At least Halo 2 works.

Not that I have the time to play it. But it works.

The downside? Or rather, the additional downside? At one point Gnat had to take a bath, and left the machine running, and I realized a new component had been added to the Jasperwood atmosphere: the looping music of an unattended console game. I’ve dealt with looping music from her computer games for four years, but they’ve always been cheerful, MIDIish, benign. A few months ago I actually took her old discarded games and hovered up the sound files, just so I could have them as audio madeleines, something to bring back the winter of 04 or summer of 03. But Pooh-related music trickling from tinny laptop speakers is different than Incredibles bombast booming from the Boses. How I want a universal remote embedded in my index finger. Pull the middle-finger to crack the knuckle twice, and you can control the amplifier – make counter-clockwise circles with your finger, and the sound dials down. Close your hand in a fist and the picture darkens.

Additional downside, just noted: somehow, while setting up the Xbox360, I managed to disconnect the TiVo and the DVD player. Oh, I could watch “Lost” on the other DVD player, but it was disconnected for the old Xbox.

Everything goes in the trash tomorrow. Stereograms and Magic Lantern pictures for us from now on. 

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c. 2006 j. lileks. Email, if you wish, may be sent to "first name at last name dot com."