We all know who Microsoft are – the worlds leader in computer software, services and Internet technologies – controlling around 90% of the world’s computer software market. When Microsoft’s Xbox was released in November 2001 in North America , it made a storm. Gamers bought more than three Xbox titles with every console sold. It was one of the most successful hardware launches of all time – and the games attach rate was the highest ever for any console at launch. The Xbox reached our shores on 14th March, 2002 , with a similar reaction – creating the new BIG 3 (even though Nintendo’s GameCube wasn’t released till a few weeks later). With a 733MHZ Intel Pentium III processor and a custom 3D graphics processing unit (courtesy of industry leader NVIDIA), the Xbox has set new standards in power and performance.
One of the advantages of the Xbox is its 8GB Hard-Disk Drive (HDD) with 64 audio channels, 256 Stereo voices and the ability to encode Dolby Digital 5.1 audio in real time – a feature only found on the Xbox – although it doesn’t have an optical out unlike the PlayStation2. The 8GB HDD allows you to save your game data onboard, however the feature can get quite annoying, especially with later titles because of the fact if you want your game data mobile you have to create a file on the memory card at the start, the software doesn’t allow you to move game data to the memory card later, and much later software has removed the option of external memory altogether. The HDD also has the ability to rip music CD’s, enabling you (dependant on the software) to create your own custom soundtracks for your favourite games.
The Xbox also has a DVD player onboard, not unlike the PlayStation2, except the DVD player onboard the Xbox is a far better quality system. However, as at launch, the feature supplied for the Xbox isn’t without added cost, as you have to invest in an Xbox DVD Remote.
In 1999 the industries best developers headed to San Jose ( California ) for the annual Games Developers Conference (GDC), a somewhat disregarded conference by the masses. Unlike the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) or Tokyo Games Show (TGS), the GDC is solely for developers – neither press nor the public are admitted entrance… usually. Bill Gates took the stage, stealing many other developer’s thunder in the wake of the Xbox unvieling. Although little more than the technical specifications and some demonstrations were revealed, the impact the announcement had on the industry cannot be overlooked. The Xbox had arrived, and with no question was the most powerful games console to ever be released to date. The system was found to consist of high-end components normally found in the top-of-the-range PC’s of the day (Intel Pentium III processor, NVIDA GPU and a HDD) – marking a new president for games consoles. At the TGS that year, Microsoft decided not to show anything related to the Xbox, and at the E3, little else was actually revealed. A tech demo of direct music was Microsoft’s main attraction at the show. Despite not really showing anything to the masses, the Xbox won the E3 award for Best Console Hardware; beating both Sony’s PlayStation2 and Sega’s DreamCast.
In June of the same year, Microsoft revealed that they had bought a now incredibly well-renown developer, Bungie Software Products, the company that brought us the award winning Myth series. They became an independent development studio within Microsoft’s games division. Giving exclusive publishing and distribution rights to Microsoft for select Bungie titles – rumour has it that Microsoft were attending a meeting with Bungie to assess the possibility of the team creating multiformat titles with the Xbox in mind, however, when Bungie showed the Microsoft executives Halo: Combat Evolved running on not only PC, but also GameCube hardware, the decision was already made.
Over the next few months numerous developers openly stated their intentions to support the Xbox. Developers such as Dave Perry (Messiah) and Sir. Peter Molyneux (Black And White), both showed a keen interest in developing games for the console (some of the most noted games developers at the time).
Later that year Microsoft announced they had started shipping Xbox development kits in July. Even though they had not revealed any of the developers which were supporting the Xbox, they disclosed that about 1000 Xbox Development Kits (XDK) had been shipped out to about 100 developers.
Microsoft made its development deals officially shortly before the European Computer Trade Show (ECTs) in London . They announced they had signed deals with 18 developers to bring exclusive content to the Xbox, including Sir. Peter Molyneux’s UK based Lionhead Satellites (later renamed Lionhead Studios), also Universal Interactive Studios (Vivendi Interactive), Boss Game Studio and Rainbow Studios among others. On the eve of the TGS in September, in San Francisco Microsoft confirmed the consoles name as the Xbox – and also revealed more than 150 developers would support the system and the first game footage and revamped logo were presented.
Microsoft’s XboxLIVE! service has become the leader in the world of online games. The service allows you to play online, competing against gamers all over the world, and with certain games evolving over months and allowing you to download new levels, weapons and characters.
Only a few months till the first of the next generation is released – Xbox360 – and personally I feel that Microsoft have rushed the development of this system to get it out first, and with quite a large head start. Will it help them to keep that distance when the other systems are finally released (Nintendo’s Revolution and Sony’s PlayStation3), or will it be their downfall? Time will tell, as the future is nearly here…