Xbox: we remember the Duke, the first big controller

Xbox: we remember the Duke, the first big controller


The launch of the first Xbox was quite complicated for a Microsoft that was entering a sector, that of video games, which it only knew sideways and which it had always faced with a lot of superficiality. Not that he hadn't tried to sell hardware (think of PC gaming peripherals like the excellent Siderwinder controller), but in general he had never faced the gaming industry with due determination and, above all, with the necessary investments. to assert itself.

With Xbox it was different, despite the many internal resistances, but the problems were not lacking. For example, who would have thought that within a year he would have thrown away the controller bundled on the console, the Duke, on which he had worked so hard, even hiring specialists to make the design?

The Duke in history

The Duke was gigantic When on November 15th 2001 the new Xbox users opened the box of their new console they found inside a gaming peripheral that had a truly unique feature: it was really great . The Duke was so big, especially compared to the controllers of its direct competitors, PlayStation and Nintendo, that it attracted criticism from all sides and caused many problems for Microsoft, however, earning it the entry in the Guinness Book of Records of 2008 for being the biggest gamepad ever and an award given to him by Game Informer magazine for the most bulky controller of 2001. Later will give him the second position in the ranking of the worst controllers in the history of video games.

Paradoxically, however, the generous dimensions and the not particularly graceful rounded shapes helped the Duke to become an iconic object, also favored by the speed with which it was replaced by a model more in line with those of the competition, the Xbox Controller S, born essentially from the wall opposite the Japanese to the Duke, which we will talk about later. The reason why the Redmond company chose a design of that type are quite well known: they wanted the controller to have all the characteristics of the controllers of the other consoles, including two analog sticks like the DualShock, two memory card slots like the Dreamcast controller. and six front buttons like the Sega Genesis controller.

Duke cables Unfortunately, Mitsumi Electric produced really bulky printed circuit boards for the controller, partly following the projects sent to them by Microsoft, partly because they did not want to copy what was already done for Sony and its DualShock 2, partly for reasons of nationalism. After all, many components, in particular the memory card slots, demanded their price. Except that the final version of the circuits was really much more bulky than it should have been.

When the designer Denise Chaudhari, to whom we owe many of the most iconic elements of the Xbox controllers, found herself working on the Duke, she had to deal with reality and could not help but accommodate those dimensions, working on the ergonomics to compensate. She may sound almost ironic, but by chiseling and bargaining with Microsoft engineers, she even managed to reduce the size of the peripheral. The end result was a much larger device than the PlayStation 2's DualShock 2 and definitely more eye-catching, especially when placed in the living room. Some company engineers should have predicted that a friendly controller called "Fatty" in development would have some difficulty, but sometimes the stars line up to make sure that nothing goes right.

Buttons and sticks supplied with the Duke

Two analog sticks that also act as buttons One digital directional pad Six front buttons (A, B, X, Y, black and white) Two triggers analog The Back and Start buttons Two vibration motors Two memory card slots

The Japanese threaten

He was squat, but he was loved The name Duke was chosen by Brett Schnepf, the PM of Microsoft's hardware at the time of the first Xbox, in honor of his son, as told by the developer Seamus Blackley who collaborated on the design of the peripheral. Blackley is also the person who brought the Duke back to market in 2018, launching a new version for Xbox One and PC in collaboration with hardware manufacturer Hyperkin, after obtaining the rights from Microsoft through the intercession of Phil Spencer himself, who l he idea of ​​a new Duke, revised and corrected, was not a little liked. Commenting on the original controller in 2016, Blackley said, "It was grossly embarrassing. Politically I didn't have the power to change that. They ignored all focus tests. It felt like you could land a helicopter on it."

And the dimensions were not a small problem for the Duke, since it was very uncomfortable for those with small hands, so much so that it practically never arrived in Japan, replaced since the launch of the console, which occurred at the beginning 2002, with the S variant, much more actionable. The reason for this was that the Japanese division of Microsoft refused to endorse it after some focus tests conducted locally, which all gave very negative results. It even came to the threat of blocking the development of Japanese games, if something was not done, complete with a petition signed by well-known names in the local industry, who feared that no one would play their titles with the Duke, because it was too cumbersome to salons and Japanese people.

The untimely demise of the Duke

The Controller S soon became the Xbox standard Soon Microsoft realized that the Duke was not the ideal controller even for Westerners, who also fell in love with the S controller, and so decided to get it out of the way, albeit discreetly. From 2003 the standard Xbox controller thus became the S worldwide. The latter, with its more balanced shape and only four front buttons, will be the model that from then on the Redmond house will faithfully follow for all its consoles, improving it from iteration to iteration. The Duke itself was sold separately, but soon disappeared from the market, without too many recriminations. However, it was a severe blow to those who had worked on it, who saw all their efforts fade in the space of just a year. Despite everything, the Xbox community appears to be fond of the Duke, so much so that today it is almost never talked about in particularly harsh tones. Basically we are always talking about the first controller of the first console from Microsoft. How can you not love him?

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