Saturday, April 26, 2008


My brother's got a 4-month old baby right now. A baby can do anything -- absolutely anything -- and everyone thinks it's the cutest thing they've ever seen.

Whoever designs the first Nintendogs-style baby game will easily have enough money to fund their dream game.

Let the race begin! ;)

Friday, April 25, 2008

afk... again

My internet access is sporadic right now, since I'm staying with someone without internet for the next couple weeks (yes, such people exist). Once all this travelling stops, I'll be writing every day again. In the meantime, I'll hop on a computer whenever I get a chance.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

guards, snipers, and surveillance

So I'm back from New York, wondering how my trip to see the Pope could be the basis for a post on game design. And the first thing that comes to mind is bodyguards.

Many games have them, though we don't typically refer to them as bodyguards. Instead, we might think of "boss" NPCs and their "minions" or "mini-bosses". Whatever you want to call them, NPCs protecting or following other NPCs is a common sight in video games.

During his visit to New York, Pope Benedict XVI was protected by an unprecedented net of security. I was fortunate enough to be allowed on the steps of the St. Patrick Cathedral during the Mass. To get there, we had to park many blocks away, because a wide area surrounding the cathedral was blocked off and heavily guarded by police and special officers. I had to show my ticket and photo ID three times before reaching the cathedral, as well as walk through a metal detector. I'm told that the CIA did a background check on anyone who had a ticket for that area, but I can't verify that. Once on the cathedral steps, I noticed dogs, police captains and chiefs, helicopters overhead, snipers on all surrounding rooftops, secret service, and plenty of security personnel I couldn't identify. Moving between designated areas required an escort. Oh, and the Pope's bulletproof limousine was escorted by plenty of other vehicles, of course.

So what from that could be applied to game design?
  • Snipers: Guards and henchmen in games are always near to the NPC they're guarding. In some cases, it might prove fun for the player to have to worry about guards out of sight or watching from afar. Such guards might be melee opponents, encouraging the player to defeat his primary target before those guards can finally reach his location. Or the player might need to select a strike position that hides him from snipers. There are countless ways to tweak this idea, but the gist is that the player must include distant objects in his awareness and cannot avoid being flanked during combat.
  • Safe Zones: Security might involve a buffer zone between light security and maximum security. The scope or even existence of such buffer zones might be dependent upon player actions and success/failure. Buffer zones can be empty, blockaded areas or simply involve restricted access. If security personnel look like civilians, or otherwise harmless, then even a thick crowd be a difficult place to hide.
  • Animals: Sometimes, dogs are the smart ones; even sheep. Animals often have sensitivities beyond ours (smell, vision, electrical signatures, infrared, etc.), so they can be a useful dynamic in games. It could be fun to make players worry about detection beyond visibility or noise. And we can't read animal expressions as well as our own, so great tension can be created by an animal's stare ("Is it just passing by? Or does it detect danger?").
  • Choppers and surveillance: Players might have to worry about danger beyond the immediate. That a player has escaped might not mean that danger has passed, if his escape was tracked and his location is known. Surprises are fun. Allow the player to think he's home-free, then pounce on him with a sting operation. Or make him worry about whether or not he is being watched as he makes his way to the headquarters of his faction or some secret location.
  • Hold the Line: Of course, players are not always on offense. With the improved collision detection of modern games comes the possibility of the player participating in a blockade. Players can act as covert guards and snipers, thereby challenged to sniff out danger before it reveals itself. Players can act as drivers and escorts, thereby challenged to adjust escape routes in reaction to dynamic circumstances.
Anyway, I guess it's time for me to catch up on gaming news.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

the seventh day

God rested on the seventh day of creation. Why? He's ominpotent, right? So why would God need rest?

He doesn't. The point of that part of the story, and the reason many of our grandparents did not work on Sundays, is that no work is complete until it is appreciated. A crop is worthless until it is eaten. A symphony is worthless until it is heard. Work has no inherent value. Labor without reward is nothing more than good intentions.

Players need time and encouragement to reflect on their experiences and accomplishments. Cinematics, as they appear today, do not accomplish this. While they effectively pause gameplay, they also require rapt attention. The player is still working. Even a cinematic flashback of the player's own choices and experience is not good enough, if the player must remain actively attentive and cannot pause/review the sequence.

Players need downtime. By that, I mean players need time that is free of any demand on them, that lets them relax and lets the mind wander, reflecting and absorbing those memories at its own individual pace.

The developer's challenge is to encourage such downtime (even demand it) without disrupting the player's immersion in the game. Old films sometimes had intermissions accompanied by music and a static picture. The music helped keep the audience focused on the movie setting, but the removal of dialogue and visual action allowed people to reflect (yes, I know that wasn't the primary purpose of those intermissions). Likewise, game intermissions keep the player focused on the game setting, but offer respite from interaction.

One of the things the original Everquest game did right (though, perhaps, too severely) was to force rest. Resting not only encouraged chatting between players, it also encouraged reflection on each and every experience. Honestly, I complained about it at the time I played EQ. Being used to console games, I disliked the forced pauses. But it grew on me, as it did on thousands. Notice that the resting EQ character (and so, also, the player) remains surrounded by the moving gameworld during rest.

I'm constantly talking about dynamics, and there's one more use for them: scenery. To simply absorb and enjoy one's surroundings is something we all experience at times. Smartly placed and presented, it's a pleasure that makes downtime not difficult to bear.

I'm posting this a little early because I won't have internet access tomorrow.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008


Just some forewarning: I'll be out-of-town for a couple weeks, starting tomorrow, and cut off from the internet at least until Monday. I'll try to post at least something in that time, but I'm not sure how much time I'll have on a computer.

we need bots

There's a good post about opponent bots over at Gaming Verdict.

This is one of those industry changes that has slipped under the radar, I think. My friends and I used to spend a ridiculous amount of time playing with bots in Perfect Dark on the N64. Super Smash Bros. is another great example. I'm always disappointed when games that could include bots don't.

Gaming Verdict mentions the steep learning curve of gaming against human opponents. Just the other day, I was introducing a friend to Call of Duty 4 multiplayer; the game didn't take. He told me that it definitely seemed awesome, but someone like him, for whom games are only occasional recreation and whose reflexes are no longer lightning-quick, simply can't compete. And competing split-screen, just me versus him, is nothing like the gleeful chaos of our Perfect Dark experience.

All games have that problem with competition... not just FPS fragfests that require split-second reactions. I'm a fervent and lifelong gamer, but even I don't try to compete online with my favorite RTS game, Battle for Middle Earth 2. The several family members and friends with whom I've played that game prefer to team up against bots in skirmishes or campaigns.

Michael de Plater, the creative director of Tom Clancy's Endwar, has cited that upcoming game's use of voice commands as a way to counteract the advantage of knowing macros and complex controls, but difficulty of control isn't half the problem (in fairness, de Plater doesn't suggest that it is). Most competitive online gaming networks feel as if professional, college, and high school sports conferences were combined into one. More than a few factors separate the amateur from the professional.

CoD4 admirably matches pros with amateurs in team matches, but I think the amateurs more often feel more useless and outmatched than like they're contributing to the team. That's how my friend felt. That's how I feel sometimes... especially when another player clearly knows the map, and I don't. The greatest sense of accomplishment comes from winning; nearly losing, but winning. Losing occasionally or even half the time is no problem. Losing almost every time is not fun for most people (unless it's to a pretty lady, of course). Relatively few have the personality type that views nine losses as an acceptable price for one win, when he or she is only competing for entertainment. One can view his or her own mild contributions as meaningful contributions, but that is, perhaps, not an automatic or particularly common view.

The skill levels and playstyles of players are hard to quantify, so matchmaking systems only help so much. In fact, matchmaking is downright useless when players alternate between play-options. A player might be good with some weapons/units, but not others; with some factions, but not with others; on some maps or scenarios/modes, but not others. And suppose I've improved my skills in single-player mode since the last time I played multiplayer. Should I now have to begin facing easy human opponents, because I haven't yet proven myself to matchmaking system?

Furthermore, a person's playstyle and desired degree of investment in the game can change from session to session. A gamer can feel particularly competitive one day and be interested in only leisurely engagement the next (perhaps due to being tired after a long day's work).

Remember that the difference between a professional and amateur isn't just skill and experience, but interest. A lot of people play casual club sports -- not because they're not capable of more intense performance -- because they prefer a different pace, different style and rules, or do not consider the game a high priority.

Finally, though I'm generally a big fan of reducing predictability in games, bots can actually offer a deeper sense of strategy than human opponents precisely because they're more predictable. Half of battle strategy is anticipating your opponent's next move. When you're playing against hundreds or thousands, if not millions, of other human beings, then you rarely face the same opponent more than once or twice. As a result, you can only learn and adjust to the broad strategies that are common among players, and not the specific strategies of individuals.

Online multiplayer games are more tactical than strategic... the player must react to momentary events, rather than plan for organized movements. Bots (particularly, campaigns against bots) enable true strategy.

Another thing I had to explain to my friend about CoD4 multiplayer was why one of his matches was ended abruptly when "the host... left the game". Sure, there are plenty of inconsiderate players who cut a game off just because they didn't like the map or the way the match was going, but there are also players answering telephones or doors, being distracted by kids or pets, or having to unexpectedly end their play-sessions.

As Gaming Verdict points out, the ability to pause is easier with bot-driven games. Games could even be designed to automatically replace a player's character with a bot if that player has to leave the game temporarily. Life is unpredictable. A purely logical software program is more likely to understand that than a stranger.

I realize that developing fun and competitive AI is no quick or easy task. But remember that even simple AI can be fun when combined with the right dynamics (ex: Turok shows that even a dinosaur that simply runs straight for you is tough when there's also a soldier nearby shooting at you).

We miss our bots. Give them back.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

raid leaders aren't your friends

In response to Cameron's excellent post on Massively:

General George Patton once said, "I don't want my men to like me. I want them to fight for me." He was right. He got more out of his men than General Bradley, who used honey. But he wasn't talking about fun. He was talking about war.

Raids, in their current form, place unnecessary tension between fun and efficiency... and make me wonder if endgame MMO content is really about entertainment. A sense of achievement shouldn't be confused with fun. A raid (again, in the present form) is basically a group struggle focused on individual reward. Not all struggles are enjoyable.

Basketball and football are rigidly organized. The best coaches are always hard-nosed generals who only loosen up after victory (look at "Bear" Bryant, the coach with the greatest record in the history of NCAA football). But, likewise, those players often don't consider their sport fun during the games... only after the games, in retrospect.

Raids seem similar. During the raid, fun isn't a real value; but it might be considered fun in retrospect.

The sad thing is that all raiding is that way. MMOs include content for a variety of interests and playstyles in their early levels. Why must the endgame always boil down to mechanical guild work and achievement-focused gameplay?

Also, soldiers should be more than mere cogs in a rigidly ordered machine (as they are in reality). Efficiently performing one's role shouldn't negate all individuality.

epic achievement in CoD4!

I try to keep this site solely about design and industry commentary, but I'm going to make an exception.

I was the top player in a Call of Duty 4 Ground War!

I know people do this all the time, but not me. I'm generally not a good competitor in any game, since my playstyle alternates between leisurely and reckless. But reckless is apparently the way to go in 9-on-9 Domination!

Anyway, I was the top player of the battle with 34 kills (courtesy of two airstrikes and a chopper), using the P90 in the Downpour map.

I've actually been hovering around 20 kills per match today, usually keeping me in the top 5 players per battle. It seems to be mostly about aggression. The only time I'm not moving is when I'm reloading (helpless). A good portion of the time, I'm running straight up to someone and stabbing him in the heart.

In the words of the great General George Patton: "My flanks are something for the enemy to worry about, not me. Before he finds out where my flanks are, I'll be cutting the bastard's throat."

As thrilled as I am to have finally secured the top rank in a battle (I've hit second too many times!), that might not even be the coolest achievement of the day. In one deathmatch, my team was doing particularly poorly. Most of us were snipers and playing defensively... and dying. Finally, I decided we needed someone on offense. So I switched to assault rifle and went on the hunt.

I killed every person on the opposing team (5 or 6 people) in a matter of seconds. Half of 'em were holed up in one building, and I knifed them all in the backs. It was a glorious moment!

Monday, April 14, 2008

can MMOs learn from GTA?

A long time ago, I told Bildo I'd explore what MMOs could learn from the GTA series. Well, here it is, finally.

The GTA games certainly contain more than their share of escapism. That's why kind-hearted, conscientious people laugh giddily while stealing cars and beating characters over the heads with baseball bats. It doesn't feel real.

On the other hand, GTA regularly alludes to the real world and participates in satire. Satire is about confronting real issues in entertaining ways. The most common form of satire is reduction to absurdity. A humorous spin can get considerations past people's natural defenses, and works much like myth in encouraging depthful thinking by providing only the right questions and the foundations of greater problems.

The point is: GTA alludes to real and controversial issues, but does so in a way that even people like me, who generally disagree with Rockstar's political and cultural views, still enjoy the games. MMOs don't have to avoid reality or serious issues. It's possible for reality and escapism to exist within the same game, with neither negating the other.

That said, there is such a thing as bad satire. Good satire presents things thoughtfully and without animosity, if also playfully kidding ("It's exactly the ethos our founding fathers had when they wrote the Constitution, and then changed it [emphasis is mine]... which is what makes it sacred now"). Bad satire attacks a viewpoint without respect or honest and just consideration (like some of GTA's other jokes), thereby accomplishing nothing more than preaching to the choir and promoting disdain.

Of course, not all humor has to be satirical. Some game settings (like Warhammer) are more conducive to humor than others (World of Darkness), but humor has a place in all games.

The most memorable MMO quests I've ever experienced were two funny quests in EQ2. One had me running all over Freeport, passing along nonsensical messages because my character was mistaken for someone else and the quest-giver thought I was speaking in code and misdirections. It was hilarious. The other, at the Crossroads of the Commonlands, had me follow an NPC who claimed to hear ghosts so that the quest-giver could denounce her as crazy. When I reported that I, too, had heard the ghost, the guard thought I was crazy as well.

The wonder of humor is that it's the human way of finding joy in the most mundane and unattractive activities and situations. We're wired to search for happiness. The jokes and humorous situations that developers include are not just valuable in their own right. They promote that search for happiness and the use of imagination in players. If you make humor a significant part of your game (even dark humor, as might fit World of Darkness), then players will be encouraged to view game flaws with a smile and turn the least interesting activities into joyful occasions.

Quick, simple kills can be fun
In general, no, it's not fun when every encounter is quick and simple. But there are countless games that prove that gamers can take pleasure from one-hit kills and swarms of lesser enemies.

Some of the most enjoyable combat I ever experienced in MMOs was managing large groups of weaker opponents in Everquest 2 and City of Heroes. Soloing necromancers on rooftops was how I experienced tactical positioning and strategic knockbacks in CoH (knocking one or two enemies off the rooftop to even the odds until those enemies made their way back up). Fighting EQ2 thugs in The Sprawl, I was nearly overwhelmed by the challenge of tactically shifting my focus between enemies (kill the toughest or weakest first? which is blocking my escape route? which was weakened most by that last area-effect attack?).

As server technology improves, it's increasingly feasible to face players with bigger groups of lesser enemies. Experiment.

Toys vs games
A game has defined rules and goals. If you use the board and pieces included in a Monopoly box but change the rules and goal, then you're not playing Monopoly.

A playground merely provides objects which can be made into instruments of fun (toys) through a little imagination. A sandbox is the quintessential playground, because sand can be shaped into anything and the player might not be provided any ideas with which to begin.

The difference between toys and games often blurs, as it does with billiards. MMOs are games, but there are great advantages to including playgrounds in their design, as GTA does:
  • Expansions unnecessary. In a playground, players expect to entertain themselves. Imagination is limitless, and is in need only of fellow playmates to inspire and approve ideas. Provide interesting settings, feed your player's imagination, and you'll have considerably less pressure to expand content through major additions. Carjacking in GTA never gets old.
  • Being is doing. Character customization palettes (ala CoH), class/skill variables, and expansive loot tables will never match the potential breadth of variety and felt individuality that accompanies imaginative and discoverable action. Players feel like individuals when they are capable of unique actions. One of the things that turns GTA players into GTA fanatics is that they can tell their friends about gameplay experiences that aren't common, despite the millions of players. The more dynamics, the more potential for personal stories... and some dynamics are better than others. The single inclusion of sticky grenades in the Halo series has enabled countless personal and enthusiastic stories. To sum up: playgrounds offer more bang for your buck (are more cost-effective).
  • Word-of-mouth is the best advertising. And the enthusiastic sharing of personal game experiences is word-of-mouth advertising. Look at the immense number of player-made videos that have popped up around Halo 3. What pictures are MMO players constantly posting on their websites? Character shots and guild raids (i.e, individually relevant experiences). The more you loosen the reins to allow players to "pause" the game to enjoy its sandbox content, the more you're encouraging personal exploration and the creation of shareable experiences. Just be sure to make the capturing and labeling of experience (screenshots, videos, etc) as simple and accessible as possible.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

gaming with stick figures

My dad has a fierce and unruly temper. I was shocked when my sister-in-law said she had never seen him angry, because I always saw him angry at least a few times every day. It could be from watching a football game he didn't care about, driving, someone interrupting or contradicting him, or dozens of other little things. He's angry all the time... except when entertaining company. He can control his temper; he just doesn't do it around family.

All people are that way. Our behavior and even thinking changes drastically from one social group to another. Different situations call upon different aspects of our personality, and cause us to emphasize one more than another. Each person has only one personality, but each personality contains many faces.

Sadly, game characters aren't that way. For all the progress that's been made in game stories, we're still seeing characters with just one face to show through the entire story. Game writers are still avoiding depthful personalities.

A depthful character isn't merely brave. He is brave in some situations and not others. The man who would readily risk his own life on the battlefield might be terrified of public speaking or mingling at a party. The socialite who effortlessly mixes with strangers might be less sure of herself when facing persons with whom she has deep relationships, like family. The warrior who could wrestle a lion might be afraid of the water, unable to swim.

A depthful character isn't merely loving. What one person considers tough love, another consider cruel. What one person considers acceptance, another considers willingness to condone the other's self-destruction. A depthful character has a specific and personal conception of what love is.

Don't try to offer depth like this through dialogue. Dialogue limits the player to the developers' own preferences and foresight, as Mass Effect did. The player's actions are certainly limited as well, but the fuzzier definition allows the player's imagination to reforge events closer to his or her true intentions. Generally, it not as important that the game know why I choose a particular action as it is that I know why. The story of any game does not exist wholly on the screen.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Voicechat vs music and sound

Over at Cuppy's latest blog, Tachevert makes an excellent point:

"I take music pretty seriously, and I’ve historically ALWAYS left music and sound on in games. Lately, though, I do find myself backing off on MMO music — especially if I’m raiding or otherwise trying to use voice chat. Without sound effects, though, I always feel as though I’m missing too many cues to the action."

Brent pointed out weeks ago that SOE will soon be integrating voicechat software into all of their games, and I expect other companies might be doing this as well.

Are voicechat and music inherently at odds? How about voicechat and sound effects?

playing with fear

The faces of fear
In a college course I took on Gothic literature, I was taught that the readers of Victorian England distinguished between two types of fear: horror and terror.

Horror is the fear from which one flees. It is obvious, bold, and usually aggressive. The creature in the movie Alien is a horror, as most monsters are.

Terror is the fear that paralyzes. There is an element of mystery about it that makes the victim immobile with wonder and uncertainty. Ghosts tend to be terrors, as are cool-tempered murderers and vampires. Terror is often accompanied by what Freud labeled the uncanny... the feeling of something being strange but somehow familiar as well.

Which face to show?
In every aspect of a story's presentation, frightening objects are capable of being either horrifying or terrifying.

A harsh, guttural roar will cause a player to run from the sound. The muted gurgling sound of someone being strangled, on the other hand, will make the player cringe and look for the source of the sound ("Is it a strangling sound? or is it something else?" the player wonders). A snake-like hiss causes the player to recoil and prepare for danger. Heavy breathing and wheezing in the darkness raises the player's curiosity. Screams and whispers evoke different responses.

Slow movements and villainous smiles attract attention, while ferocious charges and the fiery collapses of structures tell the player to get moving. Gargoyles and malevolent artworks invite the curious eye, but spikes and electric sparks encourage one to keep away.

Quick, bitter bursts of angry mutterings raise one's defenses against imminent danger. Slow, graceful, philosophical eloquence invites the player to be caressed by beauty within the darkness. Words can contain fire, or they can contain poison.

Enemies can hunt the player with brute determination, glaring hatred, and barking bloodlust. Or evil can be clothed in charm and elegance, pursuing the player patiently, teasingly, even affectionately. I'm talking about AI here, by the way. ;)

Toying with expectation
Building a particular, fearful expectation in a player and then revealing the source to be harmless can have two effects: (1) it can make the player paranoid, or (2) it can make the player skeptical. Either result can be good. The paranoid player's tension makes even harmless surprises eventful and raises the severity of the scare when he encounters truly fearful beings. The skeptical player's mistrust and constant questioning of her own expectations monopolizes her thoughts and makes her slower to respond to real danger, potentially giving the danger a brief advantage.

An exhaust hose can sound like wheezing. A flap of plastic can sound like a scurrying animal. Scraping metal can sound like screaming.

Doll parts can look real until you see the stuffing. Water and veils can distort things beneath/behind into startling images (such as faces). Crystal and glass can make things seem bigger or smaller.

Language can be ambiguous (intentionally and unintentionally). Personalities and cultures can include misunderstood tone-of-voice, expressions, and customs (a player could be frightened away from allies by such customs, like an assertive tone mistaken for aggression).

NPC actions (scripted or AI) can be purposefully erratic or nonsensical. Why did that young girl gleefully leap to her death? Why did that madman stop chasing me halfway down the hall and start staring wildly up at the ceiling?

Rewarding the steel will
One fun feature to put in a horror-survival game might be to award morale bonuses to either the player or enemy depending on the player's initial reaction. If a monster leaps out of the darkness and the player steps back in response (gives into fear), then morale is given to the monster (or taken from the player). If the player immediately steps forward to face the threat, then morale is awarded to the player's character.

Certainly, this is better suited for sporadic one-on-one encounters than in situations with multiple, simultaneous attacks. But there are probably ways to spin the idea as well.

One of the body's main responses to fear is the pumping of adrenalin, which has three primary effects: (1) vastly increased strength, (2) numbing of pain, and (3) increased perception and reaction time. It's the first and last effect that make adrenalin particularly fit for being a game feature.

A rush of adrenalin slows one's perception of time. Slow-motion cameras work by taking more pictures-per-second than regular cameras. The increased number of photos allows the perceived scene to be stretched out into a slower progression. Adrenalin does the same thing to the brain. It triggers a flood of chemicals to be released in the brain, thereby allowing it to capture experiences in smaller increments... making those experiences seem longer, slower, so the person can react more quickly.

In a game, imagine if dropping below a particular level of health triggered slow-motion, as well as increased strength and speed. Such a feature would not only offer the player one last chance to avoid death, but would also make those dying moments more intense and more memorable.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Press Start


Some traditions have oft-forgotten purposes. The "Press Start" screen is not one of those.

If I realize while watching the title screen that the game I've just booted up is not the disc I meant to play, then why the hell would I want to "Start" before I "Exit"? When I delete a save file, then alright... ask me, "Are you sure?". But don't ask me if I'm sure I want to play the damn game.

Just take me to Main Menu screen, already.

Xbox Live: blatant mistakes

Let me preface this post by saying that Xbox Live is essentially an awesome service.

Is $15 per month greedy or perfectly reasonable? I have no idea. But I do know that being able to download demos and trailers of console games quickly and easily is phenomenal, the Arcade rocks (I have 12 XBLA games now), as does the ability to rent HD movies and TV shows digitally, and I don't mind paying something per month for what is generally a smooth and well-organized multiplayer experience (which includes online co-op for many games -- something not available to console gamers before). I have a lot of respect for Microsoft's game division and its online service.

That said, here are some mistakes that are blatantly obvious and inexcusable after being ignored for so long. I mentioned some of these problems on their official forums over a year ago. I know that some things aren't simple to fix when they seem so, but Microsoft has had so very long to notice these problems and address them.

Volume chaos
There's no universal volume level. Some trailers are louder than others; some games are louder than others. Why must I have to adjust my TV's volume between media so often?

A fundamental step in audio mastering is "normalization" -- increasing a song/track's basic volume to the maximum pre-distortion level, so that it plays at the same volume as everyone else's media and doesn't make listeners worry that the next thing they play might blast out their eardrums. This should be happening with everything on Xbox Live... either at the developers' end or at the host's (Microsoft's) end. Either way, it's Microsoft's responsibility to see that it happens.

No adjusting the queu
There's no user ability to adjust the order in which queued files will be downloaded. So if I'm already downloading a couple demos when I spot a trailer I'd like to watch, then I can't prioritize the trailer without cancelling the demos (and finding them again to download, hoping I won't see anything else I want to view or play before them).

Blockbuster Online, Fileplanet, Gamefly, and every other queu program I can think of includes a capacity for reorganizing downloads. Why not Xbox Live?

No 3-way private chat?
While playing Call of Duty 4, as many as 18 people are automatically included in the game's chat channel. So there's obviously no bandwidth barrier to allowing more than two people to speak in one channel. Yet only one person can be invited to a private chat channel. If I try to invite a second person, the first channel is closed and a new one is opened. Why?

Auto-logging the wrong profile
When I boot up my 360, I have it set to take me to the dashboard. It doesn't automatically log into my user profile, but instead waits for me to log in manually. And I don't mind that. What I do mind is that it automatically logs into the second/guest profile whenever I create one (when someone needs a profile to play with me offline, for example).

Let me repeat: it automatically logs into the guest profile, making me exit that profile before I can log into my own/main profile, but it doesn't automatically log into my main profile. Needless to say, this encourages me to delete my guest profile whenever one's not needed, so I have to recreate one whenever it is needed again.

A minor annoyance becomes a major annoyance when frequent.

Misleading advertisements
Before I bought NCAA Football '08, I checked Microsoft's official Xbox site to find out if it had co-op. Sure enough, the site listed co-op gameplay. What it failed to mention was that co-op in that football game, like so many games for the 360, is online only.

That's no minor qualification... I was more than a little disappointed when I got home with the game and learned that my family couldn't play with me, only against me. It effectively meant there is no co-op in that game for me, because the people who want to play with me don't own their own 360s, I don't know enough people with 360s to play a game with more than one other person at a time (two players online must play against one another), and -- like many gamers -- I don't find playing with strangers as fun as playing with friends and family. Catan is another game that surprised me by not having local multiplayer; only online multiplayer.

Co-op/multiplayer is "online only" or "requires 3-4 players" -- such a brief yet important description that fails to make it into so many of Microsoft's game summaries on the boxes and on their site. This is very basic information that shouldn't have to be found by scouring reviews somewhere. If it's not lying, then it's damn close.

Did I miss anything? Does anyone know a secret to opening 3-way private chat channels on Xbox Live?