Can you believe it? The Xbox brand is almost old enough to drink alcohol. Outside of the US at least. But fifteen years man. That’s a hell of a milestone, and something that was celebrated around the world yesterday and this week. The Xbox console will always hold a special place in my heart, for being the machine that made miracles happen.
A groundbreaking piece of design, that defied the odds and splintered an industry that was until then dominated by Japan’s Sony and Nintendo brands. Here’s a quick walk down memory lane, as we look back at some of our favourite Xbox memories from the big green machine.
Thinking that the actual console would be a giant X
I know right? When the Xbox was first revealed, its very name was so on the nose that Microsoft still has one of your boogers resting underneath its fingernail. It was an outrageously ostentatious design, and one that I secretly hoped would be the final look for the new console on the block. Fortunately for the rest of the world, sanity prevailed and the first Xbox console was a modest device that kept the X subtle and refined.
That massive controller
Man oh man, for people born with their mother’s hands (IE: Me dammit), that original controller was the equivalent of trying to hammer in input commands on a tree stump. But even though the design was way off, it was still a fantastic piece of kit. And a step in the right direction, as a newer and far superior controller would soon arrive to slay that giant.
Actual online gaming made real on a console
In the dark ages of the late 1990s and early 2000s, online gaming was pretty much exclusive to PC. Sure, the PlayStation 2 had a device the size of a brick that could create an online portal for you to jump through, but that community only had tens of people using it and even fewer games compatible with it. The Dreamcast had Quake 3 Arena, but required dialing in.
But then Xbox Live came along. Not only could you jump in and play if you were lucky enough to have a decent ADSL connection then, but you could also engage in some friendly banter on the side. It was seamless, easy and hassle-free. And the start of online matches that called the genetalia of your parents into question. Good times man, good times.
The crystal Xbox
This was my first Xbox console. And it was utterly drop dead gorgeous. I’m a complete sucker for seeing the internals of hardware, but Xbox took it a step further by doing just that and adding a frosty cover to protect the innards. If it wasn’t for that limited edition device which I picked up for an utter song in 2005, I’d most likely never have developed my passion for gaming.
I miss it so, so much. Sniff.
Combat evolving with Halo
Years prior, Alien: Resurrection popped up on the PlayStation One and made use of a revolutionary control scheme: Analog sticks for aiming and moving around. It never caught on at first, but the seed had been planted and years later the Xbox console needed a flagship game. Something that everyone could jump into and would provide the bedrock for a franchise that would last for years to come.
Halo was that game, and combined with some tight action and a thriving online presence, helped push Xbox sales to new heights. It’s the game that made Bungie a giant in the industry, created numerous spin-offs and is now already in its fifth core incarnation on the Xbox One. But the first game? That’s one of those rare titles in the history of this industry that managed to forge a legend.
The reveal of the Xbox 360
A couple of years after the Xbox popped up, and it was time to look to the future. The Xbox 360 was that future, a powerful new beast that took what made the original Xbox a winner and refined the formula even further. A sleeker design, options for the cash-strapped gamer and a solid marketing campaign resulted in a sequel device that consumers were hungry for once again.
But the big game-changer in that generation of consoles? Proper wireless controllers. As cool as Nintendo’s Wavebird was, it wasn’t packaged with the console. The Xbox 360 got it right the first time, refining their controllers to near-perfection with a design that had zero tangles and enough range to make couch co-op gaming better than ever. Wireless gaming in the streets and under the sheets.
I don’t care what anyone else says. The Blade UI for the Xbox 360 will always be the best UI. Forever and ever.
That dead sexy slim console
The original Xbox 360 was a curvy and voluptuous creation. But a few years after release, Microsoft got the itch to try something new. The Xbox 360 Slim was another piece of cosmetic crafting that was pleasing to the eyes, an angular console dressed on shiny black chrome and with a power button that needed merely the most gentle of caresses to be…turned on. Just like I was when I first got one.
Oh my yes…
Fine-tuning online play
With the Xbox setting the benchmark for online gaming, the Xbox 360 raised it even higher. This was the era in which every game around offered some form of online incentive, and Xbox Live grew to accommodate this surge in the number of people playing online. Making the process simpler than ever, Xbox Live was well worth a few dollars every month for a chance to get some sweet revenge on that Call of Duty sniper who had been harassing you since the days of the original Xbox.
Ditching the Kinect
Let’s be honest here: Nobody liked the Kinect. It was gimmicky in the days of the Xbox 360, and made even worse for the Xbox One. With Microsoft insisting that the Xbox One could only be used with the Kinect 2.0, something had to give. And fortunately, it was that piece of plastic. While it’s still usable today, having much less of a focus on that peripheral has done nothing but wonders for the brand.
Mine became a paperweight in fact, a function that is arguably far more beneficial in this brave new world.
An even better controller
How do you improve on one of the best designs around? By doubling on the vibrations for a start. The Xbox One controller is the same wireless piece of joy that you’re used to, only more angular and with good, good good vibrations popping up in the triggers like a well-placed Beach Boys single. The result? A subtle but incredibly effective update on some solid design, that was taken a step further with the Elite controller a few years later.
The rise of Phil Spencer
The Xbox One had a terrible launch. Beyond the terrible Kinect, ridiculous DRM measures and Don Mattrick trying to sell you on TV! TV! TV!, the console had somehow lost its way. But Microsoft saw that change was needed, and they ditched Mattrick for Xbox veteran Phil Spencer. A move that was felt immediately. Making sweeping changes to the console and doubling down on providing games, the Xbox One shed its Xbone facade and became the console that fans wanted in the first place.
As the undisputed face of the brand (and a master of T-shirts), Spencer has helped steer the Xbox One into a new era and into the future with an eye on creating a vast eco-system of devices and games. Or play anywhere, as the Xbox One is happy to remind you.
Bridging the PC divide
Which segues perfectly into the next point on this list. With an operating system used by most of the free world and a console that has millions of active people using it at any given time, the Xbox One and PC families have finally begun to merge, with 2016 marking the start of a massive cross-platform collaboration on first and select third-party titles. And really, who can find fault with more people playing more games?
The reveal of the Xbox Scorpio
After three generations of consoles, the time may have finally come to ditch that model of cycles and iterative updates. The Xbox Scorpio is meant to be the first step into that future. A console which seeks to be future-proofed for years to come, and capable of being upgraded to withstand the test of time. It’s still around a year away, but Project Scorpio already has a ton of support as the gaming community looks towards a 4K horizon.
And that’s our list! Don’t forget, we’ve got a rather nifty retrospective here, here and here as well if you feel like doing some more reading. Otherwise, drop us a comment below to let us know what your favourite Xbox memory is.
Last Updated: November 16, 2016