Twenty years of Xbox and me

On monday , I got a message from my brother Kenny. “They’re making a Halo Series!” . My lack of immediate “I know! I always wanted one, crying-guy-emoji” response must have been a big, red flag. He asked if I wasn’t watching the Xbox Anniversary stream? That’s when I realized I forgot that was happening that night. Whelp.

Why does me missing a stream of Xbox on a Monday evening trigger an alarm? For two different reasons.

  • I don’t think we’ve ever missed one.
  • Xbox, me and my brother go way back. About twenty years back, to be specific.

I think it’s time to go down for a trip of memory lane. It’s entirely possible that some parts of this post were already mentioned in a blog post nobody read. In which case, you can press B to skip those parts. Now it’s time to pick a chair, find an available controller and log in. Let’s go!

You can also listen to me poorly narrate this blog post. I did it as a dare, with myself. Yay!

Before there was Xbox

When I was a young nerd, I started playing games om my dad’s PC. We are talking processors that started with the 86, 186, 286… What is a Pentium? Does the Turbo Boost button do anything? These questions were all mysteries to me.

Back then, we played games on 3’5 disks,, which you younglings might know as the “save icon”. Games like Commander Keen and Cosmic were bought on a disk, and if you wanted to unlock the full game you needed to call a number in the U.S to order them. Of course, that never happened – and as I wrote the draft for this post, I realized I never really finished Cosmic’s Cosmic Adventure.

Through the years, innovations like the CD drive lead to more gaming – which weren’t all equally legally acquired – and to classics such as the original Ages Of Empires. Times were good, and fun was had. Back then, I was more of a gamer than my brother Kenny. I remember one specific event, where I went bonkers one summer day and finished Cosmo’s Cosmic’s adventure in a full day.

Unlike most kids, we didn’t grew up with a consoles, due to monetary restraints. We did get an Atari 1600 at some point, which was a big investment back in the day. Oddly enough I don’t remember us playing it a lot.

The money we could afford to spend on hobbies, mostly went to the family computer. It was both a workhorse and a game center. Why the flashback-flashback? Because the family computer made it possible to become an Xbox nerd.

My dad self-taught himself a bunch of things on his PC, and back in the days he was considered to be a magician because of it. Because he knew how to use a computer, he pivoted jobs from warehouse worker to assistant-accountant to IT manager. He rolled into the IT field, even wrote a book on Office at some point and got connected.

Somewhere before the year 2000, that lead to my dad telling me that he was writing for a website about IT. Okay, cool? They were looking for someone to review games for them, because they were contacted by PR companies and didn’t really have someone to do it. Since i could write and played video games, maybe I wanted to do it? Sure, I guess?

The start of my game “journalism” career was on PC, of course. But one day my dad brought a box inside. Way too big to contain a game. It was sent by Microsoft and we could test it for a few weeks. But what was inside the mystery box?

The box contained the OG Xbox, a console that Microsoft had just launched – a launch I’d completely missed. We hooked the Xbox up to TV, and we were told we could test it for a few weeks. We, because my brother, who didn’t play games as much as me, was suddenly captivated by the black box. That would only get worse once he started playing on it.

I got so excited by the console that I wrote the best article I could. It was probably the longest article that I have ever written, which lead to an argument with the owners of the website / newsletter, because it was so very long. I gushed over the console and the games.

Once the console had to be returned, me and my brother decided to buy our own. From that moment, we were hooked.

The OG Xbox. The 2nd OG Xbox we owned, with the new disc reader. This baby is almost 18 years old!

The OG Xbox was home to some real classics, like Halo, Fable and Crimson Skies. It was also home to Project Gotham Racing and the very first Forza Motorsport games – I’ve got both the retail copy and the demo at home. Monday, I said that my favorite Xbox era was the Xbox 360 era because it was home to the “games I love the most”, but looking at those games that isn’t true. Can I change my answer to the Pre-Xbox One era?

The Xbox 360 era was certainly the longest Xbox era (the proof is in the entire shelf it takes up in my game room) and the one that made Xbox hot. It introduced us to tragedy with the RROD but it also brought us many more games, the original Kinect and introduced DLC

Editor’s note: I initially wanted to write that it was the launch platform for the Forza series, that lead to GOTY Forza Horizon 5, but the Forza series started on the OG Xbox.

Our third(?) Xbox 360. We went through a few, including one who RROD.

During the 360 era I was still playing “gaming journalist” and tested many a game. Near the end of the era, somehow I got fed up with reviewing video games. It started to feel like a chore. What certainly didn’t help was that while my brother was playing and enjoying video games I kinda got addicted to social media instead. As a result I started to blow off gaming and started to look for “likes”. That lead to writing about a niche tool to build websites, because people were responding to that and I rarely got comments on my video game reviews. Oh, how foolish the younger me was.

Looking back, that was a big mistake. I am not saying that I could have made a career out of reviewing video games, but throwing out gaming as a hobby for chasing some likes, was really a dumb thing to do – that took an embarassingly long time to recover from.

While my attention waned, the Xbox One era arrived. And with it, dissapointment. Don “the suit” Mattrick wanted to repurpose the Xbox as a media console and games were an aftertought. The launch of the Xbox One was a disaster. All we got to play was some third party games and some original IPs that were getting stale. Developing new IPs? Does that mean “selling you NFL subscriptions?” Otherwise, we aren’t doing it. Gamers should just accept that the Xbox isn’t a gaming console!

I was still an Xbox hopefull, though. My brother and me bought an Xbox One in Germany because it would take months to come to Belgium (Thanks, Don!). We told ourself we’d just play the 3rd party games, such as Watch_Dogs. Which, if you ask me, is still the superiour Watch_Dogs game because it had the best, gripping story. Yeah, edgy hackers are cool, but they’re not my thing. Sorry, whoever-isn’t-Aiden-from-Watch-Dogs-2.
Buying that console together meant we’d have to figure out some way to “split it up” after my brother would eventually move out, though.

Well, not if I had a say in it. For his wedding gift, I bought him something that many people might frown upon, but which made perfect sense to us. I bought him a brand new Xbox One as a wedding gift, as a reminder for all the good times we had sharing a console. And also so his wife couldn’t object to him buying a new console instead of (insert some married people expense here). Double whammy! He also got me an Xbox-related gift. As a best-man gift, he got me a Titanfall Xbox One controller, the one who set off my small collection of controllers. There’s a golden rule you should know about the controllers on my shelf; They’re on display, so they’re not used to play. Use one of the five “normal” controllers you’ll find somewhere in the house, you animal.

Missing: Forza Horizon controller. Included: the OG, 20 year old “Duke” controller. Also, if you have a pink Chrome Series controller you’re selling…

In Phil we trust

How do you rekindle the spark of Winter-Een-Mas in someone who lost his way in the hunt for likes?

  • By taking them to Gamescom
  • By appointing Phil Spencer as the head of Xbox
  • By making Xbox a games console / great again.

When Xbox announced the Xbox One X I was already excited about games again. Phil Spencer had taken the reigns of the Xbox brand, and was trying to steer it in a new direction. So I ordered the Xbox One X Scorpio Edition, and the healing started. I still thought that Xbox was lacking games, but I got more interested in the hobby again. I even completed games again! Xbox was doing a lot right again, and although I was no longer a hardcore gamer that got me excited to play even more. I didn’t miss an Xbox show – those were a thing now.

At some point, I was into developing and even started developing an app for the Xbox One X. I never got past building the LAB1010 splash screen, but it was so exciting that I could do that with a free version of Visual Studio, a €20 “license” from Microsoft and my own Xbox.

For some reason that I can’t explain, I like to measure the “number of games” for an Xbox console by the number of games that Microsoft first party studios create. I know that’s a weird metric, but hear me out. Multi-platform are just that, multi-platform games. I could play those games on a Playstation or on the gaming PC that I own. Of course I can buy and play them on the Xbox just as well. But when first-party games are lacking, it feels like the console is lacking in games in general.

That made the Xbox One X era difficult for me, since Microsoft was dealing with the consequences of their own decisions during the Xbox One launch. Which meant they didn’t have the exclusives that they used to have. And if an exclusive was launched, such as Halo 5, it was generally accepted that the games were pretty “meh”. There were some other first party titles, but Forza Motorsport is a game that I should have stopped buying a long time ago.

Of course, there were the Forza Horizon Games, of which Forza Horizon 3 was one of my favorites. I prefer the settings and the general game over Forza Horizon 4, but it was hardly a “console seller” for me, personally.

When Forza Horizon 4 arrived, so had Gamepass. For 13 euros a month, you get access to a big library of games. I used that opportunity to not buy Forza Horizon 4. I played some FH4, but I went back to FH3 more than that I’d start up FH4. It’s not that FH4 was a bad game. I just didn’t want to pay full price for very samesy games yearly at that point anymore.

With Gamepass also came the first of the exclusives in the form of “The Outer Worlds”. The scifi RPG from Obsidian was quirky, funny, a good game and entertaining for as long as it lasted. It didn’t do anything jaw dropping and wasn’t the epic game that many people like to make out of it, but it was a start.

A start of what, exactly?

Well, Xbox had started to turn the ship around and wanted to focus on first party games again. But doing so would require a lot of investment. There are two ways you can do this: you can start building your own studios and IPs, or you can acquire them. Xbox chose to to the latter, by buying studios such as Obsidion, Playground Games and the likes. This all culminated in the big “Xbox is going to be great again”.

Xbox dropped a tactical nuke on the game world when they announced they’d bought Bethesda. My mind was blown, for two reasons. One, Bethesda is a huge studio with some big game titles.

Two, I’ve played a shit load of Bethesda games. My most played games, according to the Xbox Museum?

  • Fallout 76
  • Fallout 4
  • Skyrim (the Xbox one version)
  • Skyrim: Special Edition
  • Overcooked 2

That’s a whole lot of Bethesda games played on my Xbox console!

Of course, me and Kenny immediately started to speculate. Would Microsoft dare to make the game exclusives? People from the Playstation camp were saying it would be suicide. Phil Spencer said it could “easily be done”. And then they announced Starfield and likely other games would be Xbox exclusives. And with 19 game studios under the Xbox brand, we could be expecting more of them.

We’re now in the Xbox Series X era. The era where games are staring to come back to the console. It’s also the era where my brother had to put us on a waiting list for a preorder list, 8 months in advance. There was no doubt we’d be buying that Xbox Series X! Because Gamepass, and the games that had been announced, but also because of the true 4K gaming and performance that we couldn’t get out of a game PC for that money (Although I do have a €2300 gaming PC that is capable of awesome things, such as playing Age Of Empires IV. Wololo!)

Xbox has always been “bad” at launching in our market. Remember me buying the Xbox One in Germany (twice)? I figured we’d have to do the same thing this time. Corona made matters worse and lead to more shortages, but we decided that we had to at least try and get the Series X.

While we were both on the shortlist to buy a console, when the first batch arrived there was a problem. They were one console short, so they’d have to put one of the consoles my brother had ordered on back-order. ETA of the next console: Who knows, really? The game store selling them certainly didn’t.

I decided that it would only be fair if Kenny got the new console. He’d skipped on the Xbox One X and the technology leap would be the biggest for him. He was also the most “hardcore” of the both of us, so it was only right that he’d get the console. I could wait a few weeks. Or even a month, or longer. It wasn’t a problem for me. I didn’t have a 4K TV anyway.

The week Kenny got his console, I got a call from him on Saturday. We are not “make a phonecall” kind of people, so I picked up the phone and I wondered what was going on.

I don’t remember the details, but he said something like “You’ll have to pay me back, because I’m picking up your Xbox right now.” Turns out that the game store got a second (small) batch that Saturday, and Kenny decided to race to the city (without telling me!) to pick up the console. We would end up setting it up in my game cave together the next week. The entire setup here is designed by my brother, for the simple reason that I am surprisingly dumb when it comes to technology and setting it up.

With the Xbox Series X arriving, it was time to get some real next-gen games. Not first party games, of course, because they didn’t exist. So for some strange reason, one of my most played games initially ended up being Tetris Connect. Which, in my defense, is a great game with music and graphics and a lot of playing Tetris. Perfect for the filthy casual I had devolved into.

I am not a very patient man. Where some people decide that “one big purchase is enough”, I didn’t want to wait for the purchase of a new 4K TV. After all, my old TV was now close 13 years old and very much not up to date with the latest technologies. My surround system had also commited suicide by fire a while ago, so I wanted to refresh my setup.

Did I mention that, other than setting up technology I’m also not great at buying technology? I can make some purchases on my own, but when they start to make up words to describe the features of their technology, I feel lost. So when I went TV shopping, Kenny volunteered to tag along again. After some deliberation, he decided that an Oled TV would probaby be the best choice.

With a refreshed setup, I was ready to tackle the Series X era. I still felt that the Xbox platform was “lacking”, but was looking at the horizon. Hehe. Horizon. November 2021 promised to be the start of the Xbox “revival” of sorts, because that was the launch month of two first party games: Forza Horizon 5 and Halo Infinite.

The trailers for the games made it clear that these games would hit differently, with true next gen graphics combined with the gameplay that I already loved. I got excited for a Horizon game again, and was cautiously optimistic for Halo Infinite. But thinking “Please don’t suck” is a good thing, because it meant that Xbox games were worth caring about again. Which has been a long while during the drought where exclusives seemed to be a thing from the past.

And behind the cabinet floor, you’ll find… The Xbox One X Project Scorpio

Gaming is now fun again, and I am now conciously making time for it, for the simple reason that it makes me happy. I’m staying away from social media, and Gamepass proviedes tons of entertainment and new classics like Halo Infinite and Forza Horizon 5 while I wait for a new Fable game.

I’m also feeling an urge to create gaming content again. I’m aware I missed the train years ago, and that streaming is the new “written review”. I doubt you’ll see me do that because talking and gaming at the same time aren’t something I excel at, but maybe I can do something with videos? That’s something I’ve gotten excited about as well, which I combined with some tech topics – including the CMS I no longer cover – so that could be something fun. Or maybe I can finally learn how to program and create Pixel Boy 3000(TM), the platform game where you can buy thousands of skins for just €1.

Either way, I think there’s a big chance I’m going full circle soon. So, uhm… Xbox, if you have an extra copy of Halo Infinite that you don’t need anymore, hit me up.

Steven “Torettox84” logging off.