By Van Davis
US Release Date: November 15, 2001
Information about other release dates is forthcoming.
A war is breaking out, a struggle for your time, your loyalty, and, most importantly, your money. The next-generation console battle is raging and the battles about to get hotter.
It should be common knowledge by now that Microsoft has tossed its hat into the console ring, but how much do you know about the ominously named Xbox? New details have finally been released, so here's the lowdown on Bill Gates' new toy.
Show Me What You Got?
Here's what the Xbox has under the hood: DirectX API game development tools Intel Pentium III 733MHz processor technology with Streaming SIMD Extensions 250MHz custom-designed X-Chip, developed by Microsoft and nVidia 64 MB of RAM (unified memory architecture) Custom 3-D audio processor 10GB hard drive 8 MB Memory card (optional) 2-5X DVD drive with movie playback Four front USB ports (modified) to serve as game controller ports Expansion port Proprietary A/V connector 10/100 MBps Ethernet Broadband enabled Modem enabled (optional)
You might have noticed that these specifications sound like something that belongs more in an office building than in your entertainment center. Despite the very PC description, this is a dedicated gaming machine. Let's see what the components could mean to your gaming experience: DirectX API (Application Programming Interfaces) -- Chances are the last PC game you played used DirectX, Microsoft's own creation that allows easy programming of games from graphics to music. Using DirectX 8, the most powerful version yet, developers can easily create games for the console. Pentium III - 733 MHz is screamingly fast for a console but the catch is the Pentium III, while modified, isn't custom designed for the Xbox like processors for other consoles. The speed should more than make up for the lost in efficiency, though. X-Chip - Supposedly, this graphics chip is several generations ahead of anything nVidia has on the market now. If this is true, then the Xbox will have the greatest potential for the greatest graphics. Hard Drive - Certainly, this is the most intriguing thing about the Xbox. Microsoft has said that they plan to have multiple uses for this device including as a saving device (a big ol' memory card), a place to download playable demos and it even can be used to add extra levels and other goodies to Xbox games. Memory Card - You would think that an 8-gigabyte hard drive would make this obsolete, but the Xbox will support a custom-made memory card. DVD Drive - Of course with this you can play DVD movies on the Xbox, but the most exciting implication of this is the 4 gigabytes of storage that DVDs offer. Developers will have more room to do whatever they want in the game and can even throw in extras similar to the ones available on movie DVDs. USB Ports - No, you can't plug in your favorite PC joystick into the Xbox. The controllers will all be proprietory. Broadband Connection - Microsoft is being mighty presumptuous by assuming that Xbox owners will have DSL or Cable connections in their homes by the time Fall 2001 rolls around. They will sell a modem separately but no one likes to buy extra equipment that should be standard on the console. We'll see if this gambit pays off.
Peripherals coming for the Xbox will be determined by the games released on the system. Thrustmaster, a game accessories maker, has been licensed by Microsoft to produce various peripherals. Microsoft insists that it will not support a mouse and keyboard as possible add-ons. A noble attempt to try and distance yourself away from the computer market, Microsoft, but even Sega and Sony have mice and keyboards available for their systems.
Finally, Microsoft has shown the world what the Xbox's controller will look like. Certainly, it's an unusual looking creation, as if the controllers of the Dreamcast and Playstation got together, mated, infused the Microsoft Sidewinder into their offspring, and added a green bubble for looks. By the way, the bubble serves no purpose other than to look stupid; at least, that's what I think. It doesn't light up or display images like the DC's memory card. And, it's neon green! Good God, they made it neon green! It better glow in the dark or something.
Anyway, the controller sports eight analog buttons (six on the front, two triggers in the back), two analog sticks, and a directional pad. Pretty standard fair for a controller now days. Interesting, though, that they went with six buttons on the face of the controller rather than the typical four used by all other consoles. Perhaps, there trying to make the controller Street Fighter friendly? By the way, "analog" simply means that the buttons are pressure sensitve. For instance, if button A was used as the accelerater in a racing sim, then the pressure applied to button A would determine how fast you would go.
Rather disappointingly, the Xbox itself is rather... square. It looks like a bulky, rectangular black block with an "X" on the top of it. In fact, it's the exact same shape as a Sega Saturn. But, forget the blocky look, it's what's under the hood that counts. Instead of its CD drive being top-loaded, it utilizes a tray mechanism similar to the ones use on most computers. Underneath the tray are the four controller ports spread out evenly over the front of the box. In the center, is the omnipotent power switch and a disc-eject button. In the back, there's the ethernet and USB port plus a relatively massive cooling exhaust. In fact, the various angles I've looked at the system seem to indicate that the entire box is rather large. There are no published dimensions for the system yet, though.
So It's a Kick-Arse Machine?
What about the Games?
Impressive hardware or not, a system has got to have the games to make you want to play it. With over 150 developers on the Xbox train, the system shouldn't be short of games. Check the complete list here and see if your favorite company is on there.
The list of expected games is small but it's continuing to grow. Microsoft expects to have 20 games ready for the launch of the system. Here's a list of some announced games:
NFL Fever 2002
Amped: Freestyle Snowboarding
Knockout Kings (EA)
SSX Snowboarding (EA)
Metal Gear Solid X (Konami)
Futurama (Unique Development Studios)
The Druid King (Sidhe Interactive)
Warzone (Paradox Entertainment)
Blade Of Darkness 2 (Rebel Act)
Crash Bandicoot X (Konami)
Silent Hill X (Konami)
Oddworld: Munch's Oddysee (Oddworld Inhabitants/Microsoft)
Tyco R/C Game (Mattel)
The Thing (Konami)
Armada 2 (Metro3D)
Mass Driver (Amazing Games)
Dragon's Lair (Capcom)
The Devil Inside (Cryo)
X-Isle (Crytek Studios)
Brute Force (Digital Anvil)
Tomb Raider (Eidos)
VIP (Ubi Soft)
F1 World Grand Prix 3 (Video System)
Last Ninja: The Return (Studio 3)
Jurassic Park X (Konami)
Desert Storm (Pivotal Games)
Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 2X (Activision)
WWF Raw is War (THQ)
Madden Football (EA)
Some games to keep your eyes peeled for are Metal Gear Solid X, Halo, Unreal Tournament and even Crash Bandicoot X (wha??). Oddworld Inhabitants' much anticipated Munch's Odyssey should be a flagship title when the system is released in Fall 2001.
As most gamers know by now, Sega has stopped producing their console system, the Dreamcast. However, Sega is now a freelance publisher of games for any console willing to have the best games ever! Sega will produce 11 games for the Xbox including Xbox sequels to Sega GT, Panzer Dragoon, and Jet Grind Radio. Check out GamesFirst! for more news.
Will the Xbox Even Have a Chance?
How should the Xbox do against the other established consoles? Well, hands-down Xbox has the most impressive specs of any system in consideration, but let's take a closer look at the differences: Dreamcast ? With the discontinuation of this system and the new partnership between Microsoft and Sega, a system comparison is mute. The Dreamcast has ceased to be competition for the Xbox (though it was a freakin' cool system). Playstation 2 - Hopefully, PS2s will be plentiful in about a year so the system could have a strong dominance by Xbox's roll out date. However, the Xbox should easily match PS2's games in graphics and should have as many launch games as the PS2 did at its launch. Most of the developers of PS2 games are also developing Xbox games, so the exclusivity of games that the original PlayStation enjoyed will not reoccur for the PlayStation 2. Gamecube - Good ol' Nintendo's newest console, the Gamecube, was just announced a few months ago and details on it are even more sketchy than the Xbox. While its specs aren't as beefy as the Xbox's, it's the only system that is considered the equal of Microsoft's venture. It's interesting to note that the Xbox uses a modified Pentium III chip while the Gamecube uses a custom designed Power PC processor, essentially making this battle comparable to a PC against a Macintosh. Of course, Nintendo has the star power of literally hundreds of mascots and access to some of the most brilliant minds in electronic entertainment. Perhaps Nintendo is the true foe of Microsoft in the upcoming rumble.
Wrap it up, I got Things to Do.
Ultimately, the jury is still out on the Xbox's success, but it is well on its way to the homes of gamers and rapidly gaining a following. Details are coming regularly and we'll be sure to keep you posted.
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