This is the first of a five-part series in which N reflects on the definity of Microsoft’s Xbox, released a decade ago. We hope you’ll join us this week in remembering those first bright, moments of Duke controllers, Halo LAN parties, and your first moments screaming at other players online.
THE YEAR OF THE XBOX
It was coat weather on a Thursday. When mom rolled up, I grabbed my blue wallet, lined with four-hundred dollar bills, and dove into her Ford Escort. With the mountains here, you get about an hour less direct sunlight than most anywhere else, so we’d have to be expedient to beat the sun beyond the hills, when it would start to get even colder. This was it, the last step, and I had never been more excited about a product release ever. I’d bought the games and accessories ahead of time, now I just needed the console itself. I’d even hooked everything up ahead of time, ensuring I’d have no downtime when I got home. For the preceding four months, the Xbox had devoured every last ounce of my enthusiasm. I’d even deprived myself of other games (minus Minesweeper) so I’d be that much more starved for games like Halo and Project Gotham Racing. I’d even convinced my Mass Media high school teacher to let me delay my presentation to incorporate the console in a presentation. In a move that would’ve probably gotten someone fired years later, our team held consoles for those who wanted them and everyone knew how excited I was for this release.
As we rolled up to the Best Buy, the store I’d worked at for a year at that point, we were stopped by an older lady in the crosswalk who toted one of the mammoth black and green boxes. My excitement spiked. Rushing into the store, I grabbed a copy of Air Force Delta Storm (the single launch holdout that hadn’t arrived beforehand) and was disappointed we hadn’t gotten in any of the carrier bags. My co-worker James wheeled out with one of the last of our forty-five Xboxes, my Xbox, and he escorted me with the console to the checkout lanes. He was sadly the only one working our entire department, so he was relegated to moving the hardware up one at a time as each customer came in. Hope you weren’t looking for a CD that day.
On the ride home, I read everything on the box at least twice, even the French sections. I’d bathed in the Xbox identity up to this point, so everything on it was familiar. When I got home, Halo was the first disc in the tray. Here I was, proud to be one of the first owners of the first American video game console in decades.
November 15th, 2001 was the day my gaming life changed forever.
I can’t remember how I first heard about Microsoft’s new console, but my best bet was actually from the pages of PC Gamer in 2000. Even though Solitaire and Minesweeper came with every copy of Windows, Microsoft didn’t start a dedicated gaming division until the mid-90s. Even then, it was only put in place to show developers that Windows 95, complete with DirectX (a new API which tossed out the hassles of a galaxy of computer hardware configurations), was a viable platform. Ed Fries helmed the division from its inception and was responsible for the Xbox’s early software lineup. I was hooked with games like Monster Truck Madness and Age of Empires, so them going through the hassle of bringing a console to the world was an awesome prospect. I’d never fallen in love with console gaming, so this seemed like the logical next step to expand my horizons.
The premise was simple: take the more robust architecture of a PC, complete with a hard drive that would allow for some incredibly innovative stuff for console gaming, and shrink it down into a small box. Then take a swath of PC games trying to branch over to a large audience and combine it with a selection of genres that had never found root on the computer (namely sports and Japanese titles) and there you were: the Xbox. Future Media (which published PC Gamer) had an online site called Daily Radar, a contemporary to IGN, that I read on a nightly basis. As news would leak out about this Xbox console, I’d slurp it up. Back then, there weren’t even any rules about how to spell it: was it X-box? or X-Box? or XboX? Microsoft finally came out to settle the score when they unveiled the logo in the fall of 2000.
In those days, we had little actual game to view. We had the Raven and Robot demo, which was a ‘target piece’ intended to show the power of the console and early games like Argonaut’s Malice, featuring a girl running around gorgeous environments with a massive hammer, and the sci-fi military shooter Halo by recently-acquired developer Bungie, who had previously only developed games on the Mac. (The anecdote goes that Steve Jobs was furious at Ed Fries for purchasing the studio, assuaging his anger with the promise that the game would eventually end up on their computers.) I kept close tabs on the Xbox’s development as the Daily Radar staff was ecstatic about the console’s true unveiling at E3 2001. Sadly, the site was closed down a month before this ever happened, a victim of the dot-com crash, and I lost touch for several months.