Rumors of Microsoft working on a gaming console had been going around since late 1998, and at that time most of us either dismissed it or gave it little credence. After all we were just ending the era of everybody and their brother making a console, like I had mentioned in my 3DO article a few weeks back. Besides Microsoft already had PC gaming locked up, so why would they make a console? As it turned out though Microsoft was serious and by the time the PS2 was on it’s way to our shores we had confirmation that Microsoft was going to release a system named the XBox. It would be the first American console to be released since the Atari Jaguar, and Microsoft would fill the gap Atari had left. The XBox would essentially be more powerful than PS2, and for the first time in gaming history (on a console) would offer an online service one could connect to via the console to share score’s, do system updates and even download additional content or entire games. It was going to, and did revolutionize modern game play.
But, what was and is actually even more unique about the XBox, and Microsoft’s reason for even stepping into the console market to begin with is in its name “XBOX”. As you may have guessed the “Box” part refers to the physicality of the console itself basically a gaming box, there is almost a nod to Nintendo’s GameCube here. As for the “X” part though that’s where things get interesting. Coming out of the 90’s most of us thought “X” was suppose to stand for “X-treme” a truly 90’s term, associated with the extreme sports fad of the 90’s, but than later attached to the inanely mundane like Taco Bell food. If not that than “X” had other connotations, like being X for experimental like a NASA X-plane, or that whole X the unknown thing from science fiction. I guess all three of these would have worked to give us the reason behind the “X” but the true reason, although not as exciting, did tell us a lot about Microsoft’s world of gaming in the late 90’s. If you have played any games or have even used some multi-media software on your PC since the time of Windows 95, then no doubt the software program you installed asked to install Microsoft DirectX. Usually the installation of DirectX takes only a few seconds, and the program itself operates behind the scenes as a kind of helper program to make sure your graphics card and/or CPU are working efficiently to create the graphics you are expecting out of your game or multi-media application. After a few years in operation, and after some evolution in the basic program, Microsoft’s DirectX team began to experiment on making the program the backbone for a potential gaming console, which they where able to successfully do. In its experimental stage the system was called the DirectXbox, but later shortened to XBox, for a number of reasons.
With the new XBox in hand Microsoft found itself in a unique position, not only would they sell a console more powerful than that of Sony, but also the only one with online capability, and that had access to PC game developers thanks to Microsoft’s relationship with them through PC gaming. The XBox could (as it still does) offer many of the same games as its Sony counterpart, but could offer many original and unique titles as well. Microsoft would also give the XBox a few other additional features that the PlayStation 2 didn’t have, like an on-board hard drive for saving games and downloading new material, and the capability of adding and saving music to the system via personal CD’s so the system could be used as a make shift jukebox, or so personal music could be used as the soundtrack to some games. The XBox also had a DVD player, setting it on par with the PS2 since that was one of the PS2’s biggest selling features.
Despite all this the XBox entered the market with three huge disadvantage’s. First came the fact that the PS2 had a full year head start on the XBox. The second was that the PS2 had a great deal of momentum at its release thanks to the lead its predecessor the PS1 gave it from its nearly revolutionary status. Lastly, the PS2 gave many families their first access to a DVD player in an era when DVD players on their own where still fairly expensive due to being a new technology. The PS2 was a “two birds with one stone” approach and many jumped on this for Christmas of 2000. So coming into it, things didn’t look good for the XBox, but the system would make it’s mark quickly.
The XBox would release with several great launch titles, but there was one above all the others that would quickly set the system apart. Halo: Combat Evolved was almost an instant success and many of us PS2 owners at the time quickly found ourselves wondering what else the XBox had to offer that we weren’t getting on our PS2’s. Halo, as well as Forza and many other titles began to draw a line separating the XBox from the PS2, and leading the players of Gen 6 systems wanting both systems. Steel Battalion with its massive controller would be another game that would prove just how different the XBox was from the PS2, and almost made it seem like was the platform for the truly hardcore gamer. By 2004, Halo 2 would be released to critical acclaim, and the XBox only franchise would assure the system the success and longevity it needed to spawn a successor in the next generation of consoles, and cause us PS2 owners to continue to question our PlayStation loyalty.
Today, the original XBox, sometimes called that, or sometimes jokingly the XBox-XBox (since the advent of the XBox One), sits in the background of generation 6 consoles. The PS2 walked away as one of the greatest consoles ever, the GameCube has its nostalgia factor as a Nintendo system, and the Dreamcast we hang our heads in sadness over being the last Sega system, but the XBox seems to just be out there on it’s own almost as a harbinger of the changes to come in console gaming.
|3rd party “Duke” controller|
As far as game play and the system itself, I have a Halo edition with the matching controller. Compared to the 360 the home screens seem bare boned, but than again the 360’s home screens seem bare boned compared to that of the One’s. With that said though you can definitely see that the XBox had a lot more going on than the PS2 did just based on its home screen and variety of options. As far as the games themselves everything has a similar look and feel to that of the PS2, although I will say that the look of XBox games do have the hint of being a little clearer and with a little better resolution, which can very well be based on the XBox’s power and extra year of development. One of the biggest treats about playing with the XBox (360 and One included) over the PlayStation is its controllers which even back then where still bigger and feel more comfortable to play on, especially the larger “Duke” variety which came with my XBox as a spare. In addition to its size, the controllers have the thumb analog on the left set higher and above the D-pad, again feeling more comfortable to play on. Last but not least the XBox still had corded controllers, but they featured special break away points about 6 inches up on the cord from the console, that would pull away if someone tripped on the cord or pulled it too hard, preventing the console from being pulled down on the floor.
The games themselves run very smoothly, and look great on the XBox. I have a hard time with the looks of Halo: Combat Evolved and Halo 2 though only because I played the remastered versions of each on the XBox One first so I can kind of pick up the generation 6 nuances. Games like Mechwarrior, and Crimson Skies (originals) do look extremely good, and even shared titles like my personal favorite Defender look awesome too. The very naughty Dead or Alive: Beach Volleyball does look typical for the era though, but lets be honest that one is also just meant to be goofy.
If your looking to add an XBox to you collection, you first have to decide which one you want first. The XBox came in all kinds of editions, like the simple basic black version, the Crystal (clear) version, the Halo (transparent green) edition, and even the Mountain Dew (opaque green) edition and beyond. The basic edition I’ve seen for as little as $40 with one controller, power, and hookups. The special editions on the other hand tend to go for more, especially if they come with the accompanying controllers. The Halo edition with matching controller can cost you in the neighborhood of $100 complete, and other editions such as the Mountain Dew will go for significantly more. As far as games the XBox plays the same role in its generation the PS3 plays in its, whereby you will find titles cheaper on them, even titles shared with the PS2. Most games average between $5-$20, usually on the cheaper side unless…your looking for Steel Battalion which with the controller (you need it, to play the game) will cost you an average of about $275, yeah I don’t have this one yet but I played it at Midwest Gaming Classics earlier this year, its awesome.
Check out the video from Classic Game Room on Steel Battalion: