As a lifelong gamer in his thirties I’ve been around and seen some things. I played Pong head-to-head in the arcade and challenged friends while eating on a Pac-Man machine that doubled as a table in a pizza place before there was such a thing as gaming nostalgia.
I owned and un-ironically played E.T. on the Atari 2600 (although I don’t remember enjoying even a minute of it), fell in love with Nintendo and all of their classic characters in their very first iterations, and fed a lonely Street Fighter II cabinet in the back of the local mall’s arcade quarters a few months before it became a massive sensation and felt like it was my little secret.
I still remember those experiences as some of my most cherished childhood memories and to this day I still play video games on an almost daily basis while juggling work, family, and several other hobbies on a tight budget.
It was Microsoft that ultimately ushered in the New Gaming World Order.
Like a lot of us I was there when Sony’s PlayStation rose up and smashed the N64 to bits with a whole new console paradigm. Games weren’t just for kids anymore; they could be scary and violent and tell amazing stories with fully voiced characters. Then a new contender entered the arena and kicked things into overdrive.
In 2001 Microsoft delivered unto us the Xbox; a gaming console that behaved like a computer, putting filthy console peasants that much closer to gaming on the level of the glorious PC master race. Since that moment, console wars have been serious business.
Previous contenders like Sega and Neo-Geo had risen and fallen in the past having made dents in the market, but for the first time it was a neck-and-neck three party race in the age of the internet with sides taken and positions defended with religious fervor. It was Microsoft that ultimately ushered in the New Gaming World Order.
So I had a choice to make at that point. After the PlayStation changed the way I look at games as a young adult, going back to Nintendo was no longer an option. I could go with the safe choice and get the PS2, which was essentially a PS1 with better graphics, or I could take a chance on this gambit of Microsoft’s and go with something new and exciting.
The idea of ripping my own video game soundtracks among other PC-esque features had me leaning hard in that direction, although the Xbox was pricier and so many upstart consoles ended up as busts.
In the end, it always comes down to games. Sony had a bottomless pit of JRPG’s (historically my genre of choice) including my favorite franchise, Final Fantasy, in their corner and I heard their call but Microsoft had something that calls to me even louder than something familiar: something different.
With PC-quality Western role playing games like The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind and Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic from Bethesda and BioWare, respectively, the Xbox won the battle for my gaming soul and I never looked back until now.
For well over ten years Microsoft has held this capricious gamer firmly in its grip, a feat only equaled by Nintendo’s epic NES/SNES one-two punch. But in those days, the competition was a lot less fearsome than it is now.
When I first purchased my Xbox, the anticipated RPG’s has not yet arrived. So how was one to kill the time while I awaited epic journeys in a galaxy far, far away and the continent of Tamriel? Like you even have to ask.
I still remember being blown away when I fired up Halo: Combat Evolved for the first time. The firefight on the Pillar of Autumn, hopping into my first Warthog; I still remember being amazed at the way the enemies reacted to my assaults. I could not believe what I was playing. With games like this, Microsoft and I were going to get along just fine.
Pshaw, Nick, you may say. Halo is ALL the Xbox ever had going for it apart from a few early RPG’s! Yeeeeaaahno. Dead or Alive was arguably the best fighting game series at the time, Deus Ex: Invisible War, Far Cry Instincts, Unreal Championship, and Doom 3 were great first person shooters only available to console gamers through the Xbox.
Brute Force had great tactical squad-based third person shooter gameplay, Enclave is a fantasy gem desperately in need of a sequel, Stubbs the Zombie in Rebel Without a Pulse is a legit contender for coolest zombie game of all time, Fable was a thing that was awesome, Kingdom Under Fire was a great strategic fantasy franchise, Ninja Gaiden had your action fix and then some, Sudeki was another RPG I enjoyed very much, Jade Empire for the BioWare Wuxia win, and there were several exceptional mecha games like Phantom Crash and Steel Battalion to help build the case that the Xbox was a force to be reckoned with.
And that run-on sentence included only a few standouts of the exclusives they were working with. In time, classic PlayStation franchises like Grand Theft Auto would migrate to the Xbox as well, narrowing the gap in game choice.
The Xbox 360 took the things that made the Xbox so great and built upon them until the new console was a true multi-media center.
Four years later, Microsoft unleashed the Xbox 360 on the world. They took the things that made the Xbox so great and built upon them until the new console was a true multi-media center built around the emerging online console gaming market.
A year later, Sony struck back by… doing pretty much the exact same thing, but making it more expensive. I’m sure it was glorious to the Sony faithful, but it looked like “been there, done that” from where I was sitting.
I’m sure some would be happy to disagree with me with all of the fury of Hades behind them, but at this point, Xbox meant “innovation” in my mind. While the Wii’s revolutionary motion control certainly fit that bill as well, the fact is that I’m not all that interested in waving my arms around to control kiddie games. No offense.
With the new console cycle, came another signature Microsoft franchise that changed the way shooters are played. Gears of War has seen their cover mechanic become a basic feature of third person gaming.
The franchise with its hyper-gritty violent machismo may have since worn out its welcome as a AAA contender, but the original was still one of the most influential games of this console generation, hands down.
With Valve’s Left 4 Dead as yet another score, the Xbox 360 secured its title as the console of choice for shooter fanatics and brought multiplayer co-op gaming to a new level for me.
Add Dead Rising to that, and their zombie cred was through the roof but there were still Japanese cult exclusives like Ninety-Nine Nights, Operation Darkness (a personal sleeper favorite), and Square’s Infinite Undiscovery to balance them out, so an RPG maniac like me was seldom left wanting. Did I have a great decade plus of gaming with Microsoft? You bet your ass. I don’t regret a second of it.
During this generation, Sony and Microsoft ended up giving up a lot to each other. The Xbox 360 got franchises like Final Fantasy and Devil May Cry, and Sony secured the services of BioWare and Bethesda for the PlayStation 3, gaining access to series including Fallout, Elder Scrolls, and Mass Effect. With fewer exclusives to go around, console choice became less of an objective issue to me, but somehow it increased the fervency of loyal corporate fanboys.
With all of this gushing praise, you know I’ve got to be setting Microsoft up for a fall. It’s what I do. I build them up, buttercup baby, just to knock them down. It’s not a secret that with the 360’s exclusives exhausted, I’ve been fooling around with Sony again. It’s not that Microsoft hasn’t been good to me. I believe I’ve painted a rosy enough portrait of my experiences, but you see there’s this whole Xbone issue that’s come between us.
Despite the future potential of the technology, I’ve never seen a single thing related to Kinect that I desire to be part of my current gaming experience.
Wait, wait, wait there, friend. Don’t be so sure. It certainly seems like Microsoft has taken this approach to marketing their new console.
Adding on tons of unwanted features that horrified gamers and dystopian science fiction fans alike for different reasons and charging a hundred bucks more than the PS4 (which has more powerful hardware by most accounts) without giving any real cause to get excited for it is the crappiest marketing strategy since…since…I can’t come up with anything comparable.
After the massive crash in credibility, Microsoft backed out of a lot of their signature features, but I fear the damage was already done by the sheer audacity of their initial approach. I won’t pay extra for a Kinect, and them forcing the issue was not the way to go.
Despite the future potential of the technology, I’ve never seen a single thing related to Kinect that I desire to be part of my current gaming experience. Not even dancing Han Solo. All I care about is the games, and I haven’t seen much from PlayStation 4 or Xbox One in that regard but given the smaller price tag, Sony is winning by default.
What happened? Where is that company that wooed me away from JRPG heaven with new and exciting titles and innovative features that didn’t involve spying on me and my family and selling the information gathered to corporate third parties? Is it a function of gamers’ manic fanboyism that Microsoft has simply stopped trying, believing that Xbox diehards would buy the Xbox One no matter what?
While I await next-gen price drops and killer apps, avoiding potential early adoption blues as a bonus (I remember you too, Red Ring of Death), I’ve put my 360 into the living room for my son to play and replaced it in my man cave with a shiny new PS3.
It’s the first time I’ve ever had two opposing consoles under the same roof, but it doesn’t feel wrong. My gaming world is at peace and both consoles still have a lot to offer me while I wait for their replacements to become worth my while.
And yeah, the Xbox One situation is still salvageable. All I ask is for games I really want to play. Halo and Gears aren’t enough anymore. Dead Rising and Fable are still on my radar, but at this point neither are system sellers for me. More of the same is not the answer.
If it was, I’d still be playing Zelda and Mario games. Old favorites are always welcome, but my choices in these situations are almost always decided by something new and different. That’s what attracted me to the Xbox in the first place, and that is the best way for them to get me back in their corner.
One thing I’ve realized while writing this article is that Xbox has been one of the most important entertainment brands of my adult life; an equivalent to Nintendo in my childhood years.
Whether or not I pursue the relationship into the future is in the air, but either way I’ve spent nearly a third of my life playing titles that redefined gaming for me on Microsoft’s consoles and that is a powerful bond. Perhaps Sony (or maybe even Valve) has got the next dance, but gaming in the 21st century in my home has mostly belonged to Microsoft until now and that’s a hell of an achievement unlocked.