Category: Video Games

The Xbox Failure

Close-up of Xbox 360 Red Ring of Death

On Monday, my Xbox succumed to the Red Ring of Death. I managed to fix the DVD drive on my Xbox, but in doing so I voided any warranty that still remained on it. While I knew that Microsoft would no longer fix the Red Ring issue for free, I didn’t realize that Microsoft will not fix any Xbox that has been opened for any reason, for any price. Any Xbox that has been opened is considered “tampered with” and will not be fixed.

It’s bad enough that so many Xboxes fail, but to not offer a paid repair service is just foolish. I’m sure I’m not alone in being willing to pay to have my Xbox fixed. Fixing what amounted to a minor mechanical problem on my Xbox was frustrating and time-consuming. Fixing the Red Ring issue is considerably more involved and I just don’t have the time or patience to mess with the Xbox’s innards again.

So I just bought a new Xbox 360 Arcade: the easy, expensive way out. I’m planning on selling my old Red Ringed Xbox on eBay as is for somewhere in the $50 range, if possible. Why buy a product that’s already failed once? When it’s working, the Xbox 360 is a great game system. Xbox Live is excellent for online gaming. The Xbox 360 has more games and is much less expensive than the Playstation 3. Unfortunately, it also has painfully defective and unreliable hardware; I imagine it’s designed that way to remind users they’re dealing with Microsoft. Couldn’t make it flawless, could they now?

Xbox 360 on the Cheap

I’ve wanted an Xbox 360 or a PlayStation 3 since the moment they were sold, but I didn’t want to spend $400 or more to own one; I just don’t play video games enough to justify it. I had been leaning towards the PS3 because of its Blue-ray capabilities and the fact that the hardware is more robust, but game selection is still lacking and it’s a more expensive system.

When my brother bought a 360, it pretty much sealed the deal for me in terms of system selection, but there was still the price issue. A few weeks ago, I found out a friend had a 360 with a bad DVD-ROM and was willing to part with the system—including original packaging, power supply, and controller— for $60, if I was able to fix it; no charge if I couldn’t get it working. He said the DVD drive would not eject properly and that the disc would skip while playing because the drive tray was loose.

Let me just start by saying Microsoft really does not want you to take apart the Xbox 360. At all. Ever. I’ve cracked open computer cases, replaced car stereos, and tinkered with other electronics so I figured I could just take apart the Xbox case and have a look around. Yeah. After struggling to get part of the case open and fearing that the force I was using would destroy the Xbox completely, I searched online and found this great tutorial:

I could have done without the generic techno, but the video was a HUGE help. Once I had access to the DVD drive itself, I thought I’d open that and see if any of the mechanics of the drive were out of whack. All of the gears and teeth looked fine; the drive was a little dusty, but no more than expected. I restricted the side-to-side wobble of the tray by bending the metal drive container in a little bit to give it a snug fit. The tray now slid in and out smoothly if you manually ejected it with a paper clip, but the eject button was useless unless you tapped HARD on the top of the drive case while pressing ‘eject’. After a few hours of experimenting, I concluded the magnet was not the problem.

What did fix the weak drive tray motor issue was cleaning the small, black rubber band that connects the two pulleys used to open and close the tray. I used a Q-Tip to clean the pulleys and cleaned the rubber band thoroughly in warm water. I dried the rubber band and put it back on the pulleys; closed up the box and it works great now. No issues with skipping games or ejecting discs. The drive still screams like an aircraft and makes odd clicking sounds so I will likely need to replace it sometime in the next few months, but it plays games just fine now.

Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas

GTA: San Andreas

I spent a few late night hours playing Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas over the Thanksgiving break and loved every minute. It’s amazing that RockStar continues to trump insanely high expectations with each successive installment of the GTA series; they’ve improved on every area of the previous games in big ways.

Before I get into the details, I just want to take a moment and state clearly: this game is not for kids. Emphatic enough for you, Christian Conservatives and deadbeat parents? This game is “worse” than any of the earlier GTA games in terms of violence, language, sex, et cetera. Do you think it’s just a coincidence that the game is rated “M(ature) 17+ for blood and gore, intense violence, strong language, strong sexual content, and use of drugs?” It’s not.


The graphics render smoother throughout every aspect of San Andreas than Vice City: the people, vehicles, buildings, roads, scenery, and vegetation have improved slightly, but the atmosphere at dawn or dusk just blows away the previous GTA’s attempts to recreate the environment. It’s almost beautiful at sunset to watch night descend over San Andreas as “C.J.” flies in a stolen corporate jet. Speaking of the region, it really strikes me as almost unbelieable how objects or scenery do not repeat at all throughout the entire game; previous GTA versions—and many, many other games—look repetitious after exploring a little bit. That just isn’t the case here.

Driving and Traffic

My favorite update to the world of driving that shows up in San Andreas is the very smooth blur effect that happens when your speed gets (more) dangerous; it’s like a type of tunnel vision and shakiness that makes you really feel like you’re in the car or on the motorcycle. The driving control feels more accurate to the vehicles’ real-life handling and accident physics seem much more realistic. However, the most important correction to traffic in this installment is that the AI drivers don’t stop the car and run when you shoot at them or hit them; they do what real people would do: they slam the gas pedal down and weave crazily through traffic. By the way, don’t walk in front of any cars on the freeway or stop your car; the other cars will almost always hit you. Hard.


My third and final section—because everyone loves the rule of three—deals with the actual gameplay in GTA: San Andreas. I’ve touched on a few aspects of gameplay, but I want to specifically address the overall game. As per the norm at RockStar, they’ve managed to tap into a specific world—in this case, that of California in the early 1990s—very well. Ripping into the culture of Bad Boys, COPS, grunge, yuppies, and every gangsta rap video ever produced, RockStar managed to make a game that is both an accurate representation of the culture and a product of that culture at the same time. San Andreas is immersion gameplay. When the digital world is so entertaining that it’s fun to just drive around or watch one of the thousands of different street scenes that play out from busy intersections to peaceful suburbs, congratulations are in order. Don’t get me wrong, the missions are great and vary in difficulties, but the realness of the game makes GTA: San Andreas an instant classic.

Medal of Honor: Rising Sun for PS2

Medal of Honor: Rising Sun for PS2

The game is not MOH: Frontline. That part is simple enough. While Frontline presented a big leap forward in graphics and attention to detail, Rising Sun makes only modest steps in the right direction. One reason for this may be the terrible rendering of trees and other fauna when viewed closely. While horizon-distance and even mid-range trees, plants, people, and buildings are quite realistic, many plants appear choppy or even two-dimensional when viewed up close. The close-up view of soldiers/people is just as poor; they appear fake or even grotesque (Uncanny Valley, I suppose).

The story line of the Campaign modes is also less intricate than the MOH: Frontline plot. Whereas Frontline allowed players to choose their plan of attack, Rising Sun drags the player in the right direction, like it or not, by setting each scene with few opportunities to deviate from the intended action. Example: sniper shoots at you, kill the sniper… now soldiers are running at you with bayonets, shoot the soldiers… etc. Your intended plan of attack usually must follow the only available plan of attack.

However, MOH: Rising Sun is worth its full price for the Multiplayer Mode alone. PlayStation did not offer two (or more) player modes in Frontline (although Nintendo GameCube did) and the addition is much appreciated. You can fight in Free for All or a Team mode that allows you to set up teams featuring live and computer (bot) players. You may also wage a team campaign, but I didn’t find that as interesting as the Multiplayer arena mode.

Its parts are not the top in their areas of game play, but MOH: Rising Sun is a worthwhile choice as a sum of its parts.