Gaming on the cheap

I’m taking a little break from my Developer Relations position at Adobe Systems to work on some of my own projects, which means no money coming in for a while, which in turn means I won’t be dropping $60 on any new Xbox 360 games any time soon. Although I’d really like to be playing the new Ghost Recon, Advanced Warfighter (which I’ve played at friends’ houses and love), I am instead entertaining myself with Xbox Live Arcade games.

If you have an Xbox 360, you need to spend some time checking out the Xbox Live Arcade. It consists of a couple dozen small, simple, downloadable games across six categories which seem to cost anywhere between $5 and $10, and provide hours of swearing and celebration. To get to the Xbox Live Arcade, go to the Xbox dashboard, navigate to the Games tab (or "blade" as Microsoft calls them), and it’s right there.

I’ve played Hexic HD (written in Flash, I believe), Mutant Storm Reloaded, Geometry Wars Evolved, and Joust. My favorite is Geometry Wars Evolved so far. The graphics are simple, but extremely sharp and bright (on an HD TV), and the movement is amazingly fluid given everything that’s going on on the screen at once. Hexic HD is available for free, and is created by Alexey Pajitnov, they guy who, by inventing Tetris, is responsible for decades of accumulated lost productivity.

You can download a free trial of each game which is limited in some fashion, but works well enough to give you a sense of whether you want to spend a little money on it or not. While playing the trials, your Xbox will ask you about 800 times if you want to "unlock" the full version which gets annoying, but the trial technique is appreciated, nonetheless. Unlocking (in other words, buying) the full version allows you to record achievements that your Xbox Live friends can see, and lets you play the entire game through.

The only thing that bugs me about the Xbox Live Arcade is that you don’t pay real money for the games. You purchase "Microsoft Points" which you can then redeem for games, sort of like the Chuck E. Cheese token model. I guess I don’t mind the model itself so much, but they conveniently leave out dollar equivalents next to points. In other words, you might see that a game costs 400 points which you can purchase quickly and easily right through Xbox Live, but there’s nothing there to indicate how much money that actually is. Convenient. Anyway, the exchange rate seems to be 80 Microsoft points per $1, so games will cost between $5 and $10. Check out the Microsoft Points article on Wikipedia for more information.

Of course, there are other ways to game on the cheap. You can pick up an original Xbox bundle for $179.99 at Best Buy (that actually seems a little expensive to me), a PlayStation 2 for $149.99, or a good old Nintendo Gamecube for a mere $99.99. If you’re into mobile gaming, I strongly recommend checking out the new Nintendo DS Lite (videos here and here) which will save you money over the PSP. And if you’re a do-it-yourself type with no moral objections to this type of thing, you might be interested in knowing that the Xbox 360 firmware was recently hacked.