Xbox and Halo: A Console and a franchise bonded for 20 years

Yes, if you can believe it, the original Xbox console released 20 years ago. For those who are freshmen in college now as I was back in 2001, congratulations there is another great innovation you probably missed out on. See, being young doesn’t always have its advantages.

Like many people who had experienced almost every major console to date, I had some skepticism about how Microsoft – a company who couldn’t even program a viable internet browser could manufacture a game console and make their own games. This wasn’t Encarta or Word, something simple. This is a totally new venture. I had my doubts that it would even come out, then when it did, I doubted it would be any good and even if it was, they were asking for $300 for the freaking thing. As a freshman in college with no job, $300 seemed a little bit steep. I wasn’t the only one with this viewpoint either. Many in the industry felt this way too. Not only was Microsoft taking on this monumental task, but Sony had a huge head start as the PS2 console had released the year prior. On top of that, proven video game heavyweight, Nintendo was waiting in the wings with their 4th generation console, the
Nintendo Gamecube days after the Xbox would release. Not to mention Sega’s latest console the Dreamcast had just finished its enormous flop into obscurity and clearance racks everywhere. With the death of the Dreamcast and only two major consoles developers left, there was a void. A void that was to be filled by Microsoft. Cue the eye rolling.

Despite critic’s concerns, ol’ Billy Gates went and took the plunge. The system was really going to happen, but would it be fun to play? Would the games be worth the huge price point? That was a little trickier, but Gate had a secret weapon up his sleeve. A weapon no one saw coming. He bought a small game studio out of Chicago named “Bungie”. Bungie had a stellar reputation within the industry for creating the “Marathon” and “MYST” game franchises. However, it was their latest project that had the video game World buzzing. The project code named “BLAM!” was originally a RTS (real time strategy) game. Think of it as a virtual version of the board game RISK with troops, tanks, etc or maybe chess with more pieces that are all holding guns. “BLAM!” would eventually become known as “Halo”. It was initially set to be released on MAC and PCs. There was just one problem. Bungie was broke. A costly glitch in “MYST II” (that would erase players hard drives) had driven them to the brink of bankruptcy. Enter rich Uncle Billy to save the day. Gates acquired Bungie and with it, the rights to Halo. Microsoft had acquired the rights to the franchise that would turn it from PC software king into a pillar of video games for decades to come.

I’m going to take this console, shine it up real nice, turn it sideways and…well, you know the rest

On November 15, 2001, the Xbox and Halo were released to the masses. They had done it. Word of mouth spread quickly about this exciting new console and more importantly it’s leading title “Halo: Combat Evolved” (“combat evolved” was added by Microsoft to make the title “less confusing”) and its leading man, the Master Chief. Chief quickly became a fixture in college dorm rooms thanks to the innovative multiplayer mode included in the game as well as the system link technology that Microsoft added. System link allowed four consoles to be link together to four TVs to allow a total of 16 players to be involved in a single match. This along with the epic single player campaign and the vast ring World of Halo made the game an all-time classic, but the multi-player is what really hit home with people especially college age kids.

The name’s Chief…Master Chief

College is where I first encountered the console and game that would change my gaming life forever. My suitemate had gotten an Xbox and asked my roommate and I if we wanted to check it out. The first thing I noticed about the console itself was how big the controller was. It was huge and very uncomfortable the first few times I used it. A few of my friends felt similarly. We were not gifted with large hands, but it did speak to Microsoft’s strategy of focusing more on adult gamers. Thankfully, they quickly rectified the situation for those with smaller digits and came out with an alternate controller which is basically the same model they use to this day. While the original controller (a.k.a. The Duke) had its issues, Halo certainly did not. I don’t remember the first words that came out of my mouth that
day, but I’m sure it was something along the lines of “FUCKING AWESOME”. I was never into first person shooters. Guns never really piqued my interest and if I’m being honest, I was kind of scared of them, but something that day when I saw Halo being played for the first time just hooked me. Maybe it was the sci-fi aspect or the funny little aliens (known as “Grunts” in the game), but it was just too awesome. I had to be a part of this so I did what any poor college kid would do: ask his parents. I got it on Christmas of 2001 and the first thing I noticed was how FUCKING HEAVY the box was. I can’t begin to tell you the amount of strength it took to lug this thing back and forth to college every semester. When I came back from winter break with my newly acquired riches IT…WAS…ON! Halo in the morning, Halo at night, Halo on the weekends. Basically, any free time I and/or my friends had was playing that game. It was an obsession. One that has now lasted twenty years, seven games and counting.

Hope you’ve got “man hands”

Yes, a lot has changed. I graduated college (somehow), got married and had a kid (again, somehow) and Bungie stopped making Halo games ten years ago, but without Halo, without that beautiful, near-perfect first game the industry would be in a much different place. Nowadays, the video game market is crammed full of shooters and epics of all shapes and sizes with amazing graphics and all kinds of bells and whistles attached to them. For me though, Halo will always be the one I come back to. The franchise hasn’t been perfect, but the second I pick it up, I go back in time. Back in time twenty years when I first laid eyes on Chief, Cortana, Sgt. Johnson (DAMN RIGHT!), Captain Keyes, the Elites, the Grunts and all the rest. A time when I could forget about all the crap going on in society and just have fun with my friends. That green glowing box with the green armored soldier as it’s mascot will always have a place in my heart.

My inspiration for this video and a great creator Installation00.

Please go check him out

Interview w/Bungie original and Halo co-creator Marcus Lehto by HiddenXperia

Source of most of the history:

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