Xbox: When Microsoft began turning consoles into PCs

Xbox: When Microsoft began turning consoles into PCs


Coming into the world on November 15, 2001, the one that over time would have absorbed the entire gaming division of Microsoft was born from a console but has become, with ups and downs, a real ecosystem that today counts Xbox Series X | S, Xbox Cloud and the PC, all united under the sign of the Xbox Game Pass, not a simple service but a signal, strong and necessary, to tell the world that Xbox is still here. To stay.

Today, faced with sensational moves such as the bulk purchase of Zenimax Media with its 2,300 employees, it is difficult to imagine how Microsoft could have considered the possibility of cutting the entire Xbox branch, but the disastrous debacle of Xbox One has put under pressure the galactic megadirector Satya Nadella who, struggling with a management that is partly very far from video games, has come one step away from closing the shack and puppets.

In that room, however, there was also Phil Spencer, one who made his way into the Redmond company from things like Microsoft Money to the management of European Microsoft Game Studios and was therefore able to underline the importance of entertainment for business, convincing Nadella on the one hand and rebuilding the image of Microsoft's console on the other, finally bringing to fruition that initial vision, that moment in which Microsoft began to transform consoles into PCs by influencing the evolution of a large slice of the electronic games market. In doing so, he never convinced the Japanese, but if today on PC we can play various Sony and Microsoft exclusives it is also thanks to that big green-crusader box.

Hardware: a PC disguised as a console

The first bizarre design of the Xbox Xbox owes its birth to the work of Seamus Blackley, a former employee of Looking Glass Studios who brought the his passion for video games, he put together a team, built a prototype and managed to convince Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer to produce and launch, in just over a year, a Microsoft branded machine, but without a Windows operating system . Having overcome that obstacle, on a stormy night in February 2000 during which it seems that Gates defined the Xbox as an insult to all his work, the DirectX Box got rid of part of the name and was announced, as early as March. , albeit with a completely different X design from what we would have during the presentation of Bill Gates and The Rock's CES 2001. But we will talk about this presentation in the next few days: the hardware and strategy, the same ones that Phil Spencer has taken, albeit in a world even more permeated with video games, were already there.

Xbox was designed to be easy to program, to be proficient for online multiplayer, for downloadable content, for first person shooters, to push graphics and to get ready quickly. In part, the formula behind the Microsoft console was born from Microsoft's experience with Windows Embedded Compact on SEGA Dreamcast, the advanced and unfortunate swan song of SEGA that has already been experimenting with online services for some time, but from a purely hardware point of view. it is probable that part of the choices, although destined in the future to also influence the hardware of the competition, were in turn influenced by the genesis of the prototype. On the other hand, the first DirectX Box, fortunately relieved of part of the name before launch, was assembled by a small team, unbeknownst to the management, with the components available, probably that of a normal PC. Then, from approval to launch, it evolved by focusing on customized components, also for reasons of efficiency, but on balance it remained a full-blown x86 system.

Bill Gates intent on playing with Xbox As for the hardware characteristics we are talking about a 733 MHz Pentium III, a GPU based on NVIDIA GeForce 3, 64 MB of DDR memory at 200 Mhz and, among the most important things, a direct card and a 5400 rpm 8 GB FATX hard drive that gave new tools to developers and opened the way to modders also leading to the birth of things like the Xbox Media Center, a program open source capable of transforming the console into a multimedia center. More versatile, therefore, starting from the music voice in that interface for someone too green but undoubtedly futuristic and capable of transmitting the idea of ​​power and the future behind the whole console.

Xbox Live voice was still missing and support for mice and keyboards would only arrive two generations later, but the system was ready and it was a high-level architecture, inevitably sold at a loss and destined to leave its mark. despite having stopped at 24 million pieces sold, thanks to an overwhelming computational power for the times. Just to understand, there are titles or versions of titles for the first Xbox that still do today. Just think of the first Forza Motorsport, the business card of a software house that has also worked miracles on Xbox One, but among the noteworthy titles there are also Oddworld: Strangers Wrath, Doom 3, Jet Set Radio Future, Morrowind, Half Life 2, The Chronicles Of Riddick: Escape From Butcher Bay, Far Cry Instincts, Dead or Alive: Ultimate, Ninja Gaiden, TimeSplitters: Future Perfect and the spectacular Xbox version of Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory.

Halo and the Duke controller

Refurbished for the Anniversary version, Halo: Combat Evolved is still a very enjoyable game The console market would still have moved towards multiplayer via the internet, molding itself around genres destined to grind millions of copies such as FPS, and to a structure from PC, operating system and storage included. It is no coincidence that Sony rolled out its PS2 network adapter in record time. But the first real step in this direction was made by Xbox which, regardless of the uncertainties of Sony and Nintendo about online gaming on consoles, fell into the market in the form of a coarse and heavy black box with a nice bright green circle in the center that inherited some of the futuristic views on SEGA's online and added a massive but very high-quality, FPS-friendly controller. Something that has proved fundamental to the identity of the Xbox in tandem with the most important acquisition of Microsoft, that of Bungie, and with a series of coincidences that have seen Halo transform from the exclusive real-time strategy for Apple computers presented. by Steve Jobs during the Macworld Expo in 1999 in a spectacular first person shooter that changed console gaming.

First person shooters were certainly nothing new on consoles and could already count on a couple of strong pieces, including Goldeneye for Nintendo 64, but suffered from the limitations of the pad compared to the mouse. Not that Halo has solved a problem that is still relevant today, so much so that it leads to mouse and keyboard support on consoles. On the other hand, the combination of mouse and keyboard still guarantees an impossible reactivity with a pad. But Bungie's work on gameplay, weapons, and close quarters, in certain situations almost like a first-person fighting game, has influenced the FPS genre on consoles. Also from there, as well as from the graphics and the open maps, the success of a title that managed to sell 5 million copies despite the limited circulation of the Xbox and despite the anything but exciting reception reserved for the chubby Duke controller. br>
The dimensions of the Duke controller also stand out near the even voluminous Xbox Big three times a DualShock, the first pad for Xbox, equipped with an 8 MB memory card slot that allowed quickly recover the saves to use other Xboxes, is was mocked by Game Informer with the "mistake of the year" award and was soon replaced by the Controller S, the version developed specifically for the Japanese market. But the design remained and led to the subsequent pads, considered by many to be among the most comfortable of all. Duke himself had his admirers and even returned to the field in 2018 with a special edition by Hyperking and was vital, hand in hand with the stock and online, to make sense of Xbox's attempt to connect the console world to the PC world.

Xbox Live

The first Xbox interface, enriched by the appearance of the Xbox Live voice Designed as a PC, powerful and perfect for clearing FPS and games of Western role on consoles, Xbox was the ideal cradle to give birth to the first true online service for consoles. As mentioned, some experiments had already been done by SEGA and it is evident that Xbox owes a lot to the unfortunate Dreamcast (also thanks to the centrality of Peter Moore in both projects) and while Sony was developing its Network Adapter to allow you to play titles online. such as PES and Socom, but it was Xbox Live that shaped those online services that are now standard, even on Nintendo consoles.

The initial philosophy of Xbox, now dominant Xbox Series X | S, has come to full maturity on Xbox 360, a console based on a custom Power PC and less aggressive in terms of power, given the need to reduce costs, but still easy to program, simple to exploit and inserted in a finally complete online ecosystem. All seasoned with exclusive storms of weight and filings compared to the ingenuity of the first Xbox, starting from the aesthetics to arrive at a pad considered by many to be among the most comfortable ever, which allowed Microsoft to grind impressive numbers, despite the terrible scourge called Red Ring of Death.

Xbox 360 avatars And it is clear how much of the credit goes to Xbox Live, renewed for the new console and destined to reach almost 15 million users in little more three years thanks also to the vigorous push due to the multiplayer sector of Halo 2. But as we have already said, the important step was the first, the one made in November 2002 with the launch of the Xbox Live Starter Pack for the first Xbox, accompanied by a headset and with an annual subscription of $ 49.99 and with the release of titles capable of exalting it.

The Xbox Live Starter Pack was bought by 350,000 users in four months, relentlessly outpacing the PS2 Network Adapter, despite double sales of the Sony console, thanks to a superior ecosystem. Starting from the implementation of the online cooperative in many exclusives, such as the fundamental and sensational Amped 2, to arrive at the voice chat standard for all Xbox Live games, Microsoft has made sure to make the service attractive to everyone, even users. Windows that could play online for free. The idea of ​​a multi-machine ecosystem didn't exist at the time, but Xbox was already looking to PC gamers by selling Xbox as a perfect companion to a computer.

The Xbox Starter Kit, complete with headphones It is no coincidence that with the upgrade of August 2003 the Live Web service was implemented, to be able to see connected friends on the PC without having to access the console and log in to Live Now, which finally allowed access to the friends list without having to enter a specific game. Then in 2004 came the voice messages and in November of the same year also Xbox Live Arcade, with the arrival of one million users. All in preparation for the arrival of the Xbox 360 which also saw experiments like Halo 3's proximity voice chat and continued to lead the other emerging services.

Almost everything in a workmanlike manner, in short, excluding the Red Ring of Death, at least until the time for Xbox One came. Paradoxically, the keyboard, mouse and full integration with the PC arrived with Don Mattrick's console, but the corporate strategies, which also crippled the console from a technical point of view, risked destroying all the previous work. Fortunately, fate would have it that in that room with Satya Nadella, ready to unplug the entire division, there was a guy called Phil Spencer, the one who made PC and Xbox players a big happy family, at least for now. .

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