With three great consoles under their belt and another powerful console launching in November, I decide to take a look back at what Microsoft has brought to console gaming. Features and functions have been introduced over the years which has pushed console gaming forward and the gaming industry is better for it. When Microsoft entered the console space in 2001, they brought with them all of their experience from the PC world and a huge bank balance to establish themselves as a household name in gaming.
Broadband Standard on Xbox
The original Xbox was not the first console to have have hardware that allowed users to go online. That was the Sega Dreamcast but the Xbox made having a broadband connection the standard. This allowed high speeds for online gaming. Microsoft made every console out of the box be able to connect to its online service and each gamer to have to be connected via broadband. At a time when many people were still using dial up modems, it was a risk but Microsoft made the future arrive early and set it apart from rival systems.
Xbox Live Arcade
This service allowed smaller, cheaper games to be consumed digitally by gamers. Demos were also available for many games which gave gamers a trial. Apart from not having all content, unlocking achievements was not possible. This paved the way for how the indie game scene operates on the modern consoles. The service had many great, fun games for consumers if they didn’t want to spend a large amount of money on new AAA titles.
With the inclusion of broadband as the standard, voice communication was possible during online play. Starting a group chat or ‘party’ was simple and effortless and, again, made it stand out from competitors. The quality of the voice chat was great and made communicating in games so easy. This has evolved to today where we see larger parties being possible. Being system wide, parties can stay in constant communication with each other even when leaving games or playing completely different games.
When achievements were first announced I didn’t give much thought to them. I’m still not an achievement junkie all these years later but they were a great addition to Xbox when introduced with the Xbox 360 in 2005. A system wide awards systems that other people could see. A running tally of what a particular gamer has achieved which lead many gamers to hunt down rare or hard achievements or even complete certain games based on the ease of their achievements. This type of system is something that is expected today.
After the large original Xbox controller nicknamed ‘Duke’, Microsoft introduced the Controller S. A more refined, smaller controller that catered to a wider audience. With the Xbox 360 release, Microsoft took an already fantastic controller and made it even better, including making it wireless. For me, this has further been refined with the Xbox One controller and the expensive (but amazing) Elite controller. The latter including programmable buttons and paddles and a better build quality. Whilst many disagree, I find it great that these controllers have stuck with AA batteries instead of a non-removeable rechargeable. The offset analogue sticks has always been a favourite feature of mine and these controllers are easily seen as some of the best around.
Not the first console to include backwards compatibility, but definitely a great feature to have without adding any expense to the console in order to provide it. With more and more games being added regularly, it gives gamers a chance to play games that they may have missed without needing to keep a second dedicated system. Being able to play the games you have already spent money on across generations is something I hope to see continue in all future systems. With the announcement that some original Xbox games are being added, the service has even more value. Free games are even added to the service each month.
When Xbox Live became a reality it came with one important thing especially – the Gamertag. A single online name that would follow you across any game you played. This made playing online and competing with friends and strangers so much easier. You didn’t need to remember different names for different online games or worry about if the name had already been taken. One unique name for everything. That is the Xbox Live Gamertag. The account tied to the name is of great use with digital game sales even more so today as you can sign in on other Xbox consoles with your Gamertag and play your library of digital games. This is something Nintendo still seems to struggle with…in 2017.
Remember the Dreamcast’s VMU that saved your game progress? Or the PS2 memory cards? Even though the original Xbox also had memory cards (to transport your save games before the cloud) the player rarely needed them ever as the console had a built in hard drive. This made saving your games so much easier and you wouldn’t need multiple memory cards. The drive could also be used to rip CDs with and listen to the music in your favourite games which was above and beyond what other consoles were doing. It was also used to provide different gameplay experiences such as in Blinx: The Time Sweeper.
Having an ethernet port as standard was a great move from Microsoft and its value could be summed up with this – Halo LAN. I lost so many hours during the generation playing Halo over a local network with friends. Four Xbox consoles with four TVs. This was much more like the PC than what had come before on console. Console gaming had grown up.
So there we have it. My list of great features that Xbox has brought us across the three generations.
I look forward to what happens next with X.