A to Z Challenge: (X)Box

XBoxI’ve talked about Nintendo, Sony, and even Sega game consoles, so it only seems logical that I do a little talk about Microsoft’s consoles as well.

We all know – and have a love-hate relationship with – Microsoft as one of the biggest names in PC operating systems, but in 1998 they decided to branch out a bit. A group of employees pitched an idea to Bill Gates, and subsequently formed Microsoft’s first console team. Their plan was to design a console that would be built like a PC and run on Windows 2000, making the console powerful, flexible, and friendly toward PC game developers. They dubbed their creation the “DirectX Box”, but after testing with focus groups they decided to shorten the name to Xbox.

After announcing their new console at the Game Developers Conference in March of 2000, Microsoft proceeded to bring demonstrations to the Electronic Entertainment Expo, and there they connected with Bungie Studios, creatures of ‘Halo: Combat Evolved’. Soon Microsoft purchased Bungie, and Bungie redesigned Halo from a third-person shooter into a first-person shooter. The Xbox’s most successful exclusive game franchise was born.

At the 2001 Consumer Electronics Show the final design of the Xbox was revealed, and that November the console was finally released. Over 1 million Xbox systems were sold over the following three weeks.

My high school boyfriend was the first person I knew to pick up an Xbox, and I remember the first impression of the console was that it was enormous. The console itself was bigger – and significantly heavier – than any video game console any of us had ever seen, and it quickly became a joke that you could seriously hurt yourself if you knocked it over onto yourself. Apparently we weren’t the only ones to think this, because Xbox controllers were designed with a breakaway cable that would detach if pulled too hard.

To match the ridiculously large console, the Xbox also had ridiculously larger controllers. I can remember wondering what they’d been thinking when they designed it, because if a teenager had a hard time wrapping her hands around this monster, there was no way that any kids were going to be able to reach half the buttons.

But despite the fact that it seems like I’m ragging on the Xbox, it was definitely a huge deal when it was released. I mentioned in a previous “A-to-Z” post that my friends and I used to play tons of ‘Halo’ matches back in the day, piled in the aforementioned boyfriend’s basement. Later, when my future husband and I moved in together with two of our friends, I ordered a used Xbox on Ebay and it became a staple of our gaming lives.

Microsoft went on, of course, to design and release the Xbox 360 in November of 2005, and we ended up picking up this console as well. Over time the hubby and I gravitated more toward the Sony consoles because Microsoft’s model seemed to begin leaning toward dude-bro gaming (i.e. nothing but multiplayer first-person-shooters), but we had lots of good times with the 360 as well. In particular I fondly recall playing the Gears of War games together, with only a minimal amount of kicking and screaming at each other.

Pictured: Four monster-killing characters who had no idea the horror that was going on OUTSIDE the TV screen.
Pictured: Four monster-killing characters who had no idea the horror that was going on OUTSIDE the TV screen.

This past Christmas I also picked up the newest Microsoft console, the unfortunately named Xbox One (seriously, how many unaware parents and grandparents do you think are going to be screwed up by the third system being named the ‘One’?). Thus far we are not terribly impressed (what is with the online store? You can’t actually search for what you’re looking for!) but I suppose that’s not really fair since we haven’t actually played much on the system yet. Maybe it will turn out to be awesome, but right now I’m going to keep memories of ‘Halo’ and ‘Gears of War’ in my mind and pretend that Microsoft didn’t try to make their most powerful game console yet look like it runs on a tablet OS.

What is your history with Microsoft’s gaming consoles? Did you have an original XBox? Have you picked up a One? What do you think of them? What are your favorite Microsoft-exclusive games? Please share!

Enjoying the A to Z Challenge? Why not check out some of these other participating blogs?

A to Z Challenge: (H)alo

HaloLet’s take a trip back in time, to the days of the original X-Box and it’s breakaway hit: Halo.

Originally released by Bungie in 2001, ‘Halo’ was a military-style first-person-shooter game with a science fiction storyline. In the futuristic timeline of the game, humanity is entrenched in an interstellar war with an army of aliens called the ‘Covenant’. The player follows the war through the eyes of ‘Master Chief’, who is one of a group of suited super-soldiers called ‘Spartans’. Curious where the term ‘Halo’ fits in? Well the alien Covenant – and their religious leaders, the ‘Prophets’ – worship an ancient civilization known as the ‘Forerunners’. Before those Forerunners died out, they created huge, habitable structures in the shape of large rings – or halos – that were designed to destroy all sentient life on a planet. So the ‘Halo’ in question, is basically a doomsday device.

It ain't no angel halo.
It ain’t no angel halo.

The original Halo game was released during my final year of high school, and it became a quick favorite amongst my group of friends for it’s multiplayer capabilities. Mind, you young whippersnappers, that back then ‘multiplayer’ still heavily meant multiple players sitting on the same couch together and playing on the same machine. My friends and I would get together and play matches of four players at a time, with the losers swapping out to play anyone who was waiting in the wings. We would often play the ‘Gorge’ stage, which was a wide open field with a base at each end and several crags and caves to sneak away into. We would regularly include the ‘Warthog’ in our stages, because it was just plain hysterical to run over each other with the large all-terrain vehicle. My favorite item, however, was the sticky-grenade. If you managed to throw the glowing blue grenades with enough accuracy to actually hit your opponent, it would stick to their armor, making it impossible for them to get away from the blast. It was by far my favorite thing to do to my friends because it was a bit like adding insult to injury.

The Halo franchise only grew and grew after the first installment, with Halo 2 being released three years after the original, soon to be followed by Halo 3. To date there are ten Halo games, with two more in the process of being produced. Personally I only played three of the available games because, to be honest, Halo is one of those series that suffers from the ‘Call-of-Duty-Effect’ – that is, they’re all more or less clones of each other. That said, my friends and I had some good times with the original couple of installments, so for that reason the series holds a special place in my memories.

Have you played any of the Halo series of games? Which one is your favorite? Are you a single-player campaign kind of person, or were you all about the multiplayer? How good is your aim with a sticky-grenade? Please share!

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Gift Ideas You May Not Have Thought Of

Gift shopping can be hard, especially if you don’t have all that much in common with the person you’re buying for. So with that in mind, here’s some random gift ideas you may not have thought of.

Does your recipient like tea?


Go to DavidsTea.com right now. There are dozens and dozens of loose-leaf teas to choose from, in all kinds of different categories, and there are always gift sets available as well. The pricing for the loose tea is based on weight, so the cost depends on what you choose, but considering how many cups you can get out of a bag, the price is actually quite reasonable. They also have a host of tea-related gift options, such as mugs, kettles, steeping nets, filters, tea additives (honey, sugar sticks, etc.), travel kits, and so on. It is literally your one-stop shop for tea, and as someone who has tried many of their teas, trust me when I say that they do their job well.

Does your recipient like nerdy stuff/collectibles?


Consider purchasing them a few months worth of a nerd-and-geek subscription box service. It’s the gift that keeps on giving, and you don’t even have to go to the store to buy it. For between $20 and $35 per month, your recipient gets a monthly box full of nerdy collectibles and fun stuff, and you can order it all online, from the comfort of your own bed. Personally, I suggest Loot Crate, both because I have found it to be the superior nerd box, and because you have the choice of paying monthly, or for three, six, or twelve-month chunks. But beware! Your credit card will be automatically charged when whatever time period you’ve chosen expires, so you have to make sure to cancel the subscription before that happens.

Does your recipient like beauty products?


See above suggestion, but replace “Loot Crate” with “Ipsy“. For $10/month ($15 in Canada) your loved one can get a beautiful little make-up bag with 5-7 beauty products in it every month. I have personally found my Ipsy bags to have a value of about $35 in products, so for a total of $120 ($180 in Canda) your recipient gets a total of approximately $420 worth of products over the course of the year. Just remember, as with the Loot Crate suggestion, that Ipsy charges your credit card monthly, so you have to remember to cancel the service so that you don’t keep getting charged after your gift budget has run out.

Does your recipient like to read…like, a lot?


If you have a loved one who rips through whole books faster than most people can read the summary on the back cover, you may want to look into getting them a Kindle Unlimited account. KU is basically Netflix for readers; for $9.99 per month your reader has access to a library of over 700,000 ebooks and audio books. And they don’t even need an actual Kindle to use the service. If your reader has a laptop, tablet, or smartphone, they can download the free Kindle app and instantly start enjoying the vast digital library that you’ve just purchased for them. And remember, this is another monthly payment gift, so work out with your recipient when you’re going to remove your card from the account so that they can keep their subscription going undisturbed.

Does your recipient like video games…but you know nothing about them?


Clueless parents and grandparents, I’m talking to you. Here’s the first step: find out what game console your recipient has, and make absolutely certain you have it correct. This really isn’t so hard. Just ask, and write it down so that you don’t forget. Don’t give me any of that bull about how you’ll remember. Write it down. Right now. Now that you’ve done the hard part, go to your local Walmart, Target, or wherever you know that has those huge racks of gift cards, and pick out the one that matches your loved one’s console. If they have a Playstation 3, Playstation 4, or Playstation Vita, you want this one:


If they have an XBox 360 or an XBox One, you want this one:


And if they have a Nintendo Wii, Wii U, or a Nintendo 3DS you want this one:


With this gift card your recipient can pay for the online account that is required for most consoles now, or they can buy digital downloads of games directly to their console. And all you had to figure out was the name of the console. You’re welcome.

So those are my suggestions for some gifts you may not have thought of. How about you? Any ideas for gifts that people may not have thought of? Please share!

Things I Know About Kids: Pay Attention to What They Like!

Let me start off this post by asking a question: how many of you can recall at least one birthday, Christmas, or other present-giving holiday where you were disappointed by a present? Maybe you got the cheap knock-off version of the thing you really wanted, or maybe you got something that was way outside your age range, or maybe you got something completely different from what you’d asked for because what you really wanted was deemed somehow inappropriate. Or maybe, just maybe, you got something completely random that you didn’t want, and all you could think was, “Geez, does anyone even pay attention to what I like?”

2nnneNow here’s the thing. I’m not suggesting that kids shouldn’t be grateful for the presents they get, because they should, and it really peeves me when kids are ungrateful little brats. I’m also not suggesting that parents should break the bank when it comes to presents…if you genuinely can’t afford it, then your kids are just going to have to deal (and again, be grateful).

But I am saying this: for the love of god…pay attention to what your kids like.

I bring this up because of my “jobs I’ve had” post a few days ago. Mentioning my previous positions at various department stores reminded me of something I dealt with a lot while working retail: clueless parents. I can’t count the number of times I got questions from parents who had only the basest inkling of a concept of what their child wanted as a present. For example, once I had a mother come into Zellers and ask me for help finding a game that her kid wanted. She said the game was called “Mario”. I had to bite my tongue to keep from screaming as I asked her, “Which Mario?”

A SMALL clipping of the Wikipedia list of Mario games...notice the dates?
A SMALL clipping of the Wikipedia list of Mario games…notice the dates?

A brief discussion thereafter revealed that not only did the woman not know which one of the dozens of possible “Mario” games she was looking for, but she didn’t even know which video game console she was buying it for. She knew that her kid had a “Nintendo”, but not which version, and at the time N64 was still booming, while Gamecube was wracking up new sales. Each system had a plethora of “Mario” games, so I had absolutely no way of advising this woman as to what she should buy. In the end I practically begged her to go home and ask her kid about the game again.

Now seriously, folks…it’s one thing to get a little confused when you find out that there are multiple games with similar titles…but if you don’t even know which system you’re buying it for? Sorry, but you must have your head lodged firmly up your back-end. I know there are lots of parents out there who don’t know a damn thing about video games, but how can you honestly not even know which console(s) your kid owns? Is there really not enough space in your brain to commit the words “Gamecube” or “Playstation 3” or “Gameboy” or “XBox” to memory?

I don’t mean this post to torment parents who are a little out of touch with video games and toys and the newest gadgets. We can’t all know everything about everything. But this is your child (or children) that we’re talking about. Is it really so hard to pay a little bit of attention to what they enjoy? The toys they play with? The TV shows they watch? You have no idea how many times I watched parents struggle over a wall of action figures because they had no idea which superhero they were actually looking for, or how many times I’ve watched a parent pick up some random toy with a look of bewilderment on their face and ask me, “Do you think my kid will like this?”

You have no idea how many returns I’ve seen after a holiday, during which the parent grumbled that they’d, “Apparently got the wrong thing.”

Really, I swear, it’s not rocket science.

Yes, there are an outrageous number of options out there and sometimes it can be a little overwhelming, but you know what works? Ask your kid questions. If your kid is playing with a bunch of dolls, ask them what their names are and which ones they don’t have. BOOM, gift idea. Simple. Direct. Almost 100% success rate. Or you know what else works really well? When your kid asks for something specific, take ten seconds to really listen to what they said. The “Mario” game fiasco above could have been easily rectified if the mother had paid attention long enough to hear the full name of the game and, ideally, write it down so she wouldn’t forget. Bada bing, bada boom.

We can’t all be super-parents, and no parent has a 100% grasp on everything their kid is into…but that doesn’t give us an excuse to be ignorant. Your kids have as much right as anyone else in your life to have your attention long enough for you to be able to buy them nice presents without begging a bewildered sales clerk for help. It’s not difficult. It just takes a little bit of effort. Aren’t your kids worth a little bit of effort?

Shown: Something worth a bit of effort.
Shown: Something worth a little bit of effort.