The lights are on
Today marks the 10 year anniversary of the original Xbox. It’s odd to recall that at one time the system was the underdog in the console race. The idea of Microsoft entering the home console war seemed like a suicide mission a decade ago, but with the help of Master Chief and a few very important innovations, Xbox is now on the top of the console mountain giving both Nintendo and Sony reasons to worry.Most of the innovations brought on by the Xbox were PC standards that we just never thought would work on a console. Microsoft made the investments though, and it paid it off in the end.The Hard DriveTen years ago, I had love for all the consoles, but when it came to multi-console releases, I always went for the Xbox. It wasn’t because I preferred the controller, or thought the graphics were better, it was because of the hard drive. Memory was never a concern for me when it came to the Xbox, but on the PlayStation 2 and GameCube I found myself investing in multiple memory cards and constantly deleting precious game save files. Playing games on the Xbox lead to a peace of mind that didn’t exist on Sony and Nintendo’s console.
Custom SoundtracksIt’s not a feature that many take advantage of for obvious reasons. You wouldn’t change the soundtrack to your favorite films, would you? Why are games any different? Certain games though, I jumped at the opportunity. Plugging my own soundtrack into Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater was exciting, and made the game that much more of a personal journey. It was also nice having a database of music hooked up to my television sound system.System LinkingYou could link the competing consoles together if you had the right hardware, but the Xbox was ready to go out the box. All you needed was an Ethernet cable. And an additional Xbox, two TVs, and two copies of the compatible games, but that’s beside the point. When my brother left for college, I took over his room and convinced my friend to leave his television and Xbox at my house so that we could have a permanent Halo LAN room available to us whenever we wanted. I played so much split-screen, four-on-four Halo between those two Xboxes, that whenever I got the opportunity to play by myself and use the whole screen, it was a startling adjustment.
Affectionately referred to as The Duke, seen below, the first pass at the controller was a misstep when it came to its comedic size. As far as button and control stick layout goes though, there wasn't much that needed to be changed. Microsoft recognized that the d-pad was no longer the first choice when it came to player control, and smartly placed the control stick as the main input on the left side. Eventually the smaller S controller addressed the size of the Xbox behemoth, and the leftover Dukes forever belonged to the player who wasn't fast enough to grab an S.
Breakaway CablesEverything is wireless these days, so this isn’t even a concern anymore, but in a house of heated Xbox competition in a cramped room, breakaway cables more than once saved the longevity of a very heavy, very large console. Where the GameCube and PlayStation 2 would accidentally get pulled out of a TV cabinet for some facetime with the floor, the Xbox would stay perfectly still like a stubborn child as a the controller cable would whip past your face free of its constraints. Losing one, however, was an exercise in frustration.Xbox LiveThe biggest innovation of the original Xbox, and the one that has probably had the most influence on today’s generation of games, was online play. Xbox was not the first to do it on a console, but it was the first to do it in a well organized manner that made online play easy. Hooking up with friends to play Halo 2 or Splinter Cell was relatively headache free, and didn’t require any additional hardware. It was the first time we had a dedicated friends list that could be used across all games, and the first time we could see what other people were playing without calling them up and asking them. Who wants to go through all that?Xbox Live on the original Xbox was also the birthplace of Xbox Live Arcade, and paid DLC. The Arcade was a much simpler affair back then, and DLC was not as common as it is today, but I recall excitedly purchasing the new Halo 2 maps, and less excitedly watching them download. No background downloading back in those days. You had to watch that progress bar move from left to right, and you had to like it. Xbox Live was also an innovator when it came to online chatting. For many of us, Xbox Live was the first console experience to broaden our vocabulary of racial and sexist slurs. It was all under the pretext of some friendly online murdering.With the release of Halo 2, we also had our first and highly successful taste of online matchmaking. It was designed to make the multiplayer process more fluid by automatically joining similarly ranked players to one another.Xbox Live now boasts more than 20 million subscribers, and it all started with the original Xbox.The Xbox pushed console gaming forward in a lot of great ways. Online content and multiplayer would very likely not be the important gaming staples they are today without the opportunity we had to get our feet wet with Microsoft’s first console. Lessons learned in the PC space were adopted for the gamer who likes to sit on the couch to play their games with the Xbox, and we’re all richer for it.
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