The launch of the Xbox 360 was a real turning point for Microsoft. The Xbox had been a moderate success, though exclusive killer apps were few and far in between. The Xbox had ridden the success of Halo and Halo 2 through the four years of the original console’s life span. Now, they needed something big and bold to take on Sony’s powerhouse PlayStation 3. That something, was the Xbox 360.
The Xbox limped to the finish line. Microsoft had made the strategic decision to throw the full weight of its first party efforts behind their new console a year in advance of its launch. It was a gambit. The first console had not been a runaway success. Microsoft though had the bankroll to do what Sega could not, be patient. The Xbox division was a small part of a much larger Microsoft machine, and as such, the Xbox did not need to keep the company afloat. Therefore when it came time to look to the future, Microsoft was ahead of the curve.
The Xbox 360 needed to be everything the Xbox was but better, and in virtually every way, it was. That started with the design. The Xbox was a machine built with one idea in mind: raw power. It was a mission it succeeded admirably at. However, the result was a system, and matching controller, that was obscenely large. Its size has spawned numerous memes and the Duke controller is so infamous it has become a meme on a podcast hosted by our CEO, Defining Duke.
The Xbox 360 had the sleek ‘inhale’ form factor as compared to the bulky suitcase of the original console. The controller was made smaller and the black and white buttons were moved to the now classic shoulder buttons. The bold black color scheme was replaced with a subtle white, though the green accent remained. Every part of the Xbox console’s design was thrown out the window in favor of something sleek and subtle. It was an appeal to audiences beyond the hardcore PC audience that the Xbox catered to. It was an appeal that worked.
Xbox Live in the Xbox era was a limited experience. It enabled multiplayer gaming, but that was about it. Xbox Live for the Xbox 360 was a complete revamp that was spearheaded by the all new dashboard. The blade system was far from perfect, but compared to the original dashboard, which can be seen now on Xbox.com, it was a massive improvement. The multiplayer experience gained expanded, easy to access friends lists and player zones. Full games were able to be downloaded from the marketplace. Amusingly, there was a size limit of 50 MB for games at the beginning. Movies, TV shows and music were able to be downloaded from the online Marketplace. Everything the original Xbox Live dreamed of being on the Xbox was able to start to take full shape on the Xbox 360.
All About the Games
While Perfect Dark Zero was supposed to be the headliner, it was a different first person shooter that stole the spotlight. My first time seeing the Xbox 360 in person was at a Best Buy kiosk showcasing Call of Duty 2. Strange as it may seem, Call of Duty was not always the annual juggernaut it is now. While the original game had made headlines as a fantastic World War 2 competitor to Medal of Honor, Call of Duty 2 was the launch game to own.
At the time, it was the graphical showcase of the new console. Since the Xbox 360 had launched a year prior to the PlayStation 5, it served the same purpose as Halo did for the Xbox. It gave console players something shiny, new, and addictive to play at launch. Speaking of addictive, the Xbox 360 launch can not be talked about without the inclusion of Geometry Wars.
It is somewhat ironic that despite all the money Microsoft spent to get Kameo: Elements of Power and Perfect Dark Zero ready for launch, the game that was most well received was a twin stick shooter. Geometry Wars showcased many of the best parts of the revamped Xbox Live system. Online leaderboards, the achievement system, and Xbox Live Arcade all of it came together with fantastic controls and great patterns. However, the irony was a grim portent of Microsoft’s first party woes that started with the original Xbox and have persisted to this day.