It's amazing how quickly time passes, the excitement leading up to a new console announcement, the reveal and moments of wonder as we look on at a new generation taking gaming beyond expectations. That's how it was in years gone by, with console manufacturers pushing to maximise bang for buck, taking gaming forward, expanding the market and utilising the power of the internet with massively multiplayer titles.
So looking back, it is with a certain sadness that the Xbox 360 ceases production today, not only the last great console launch but one that shook the industry and put Microsoft on near level pegging with Sony, what ever happened to J Allard and the crew? Who knows, but it appears increasingly unlikely that Microsoft will ever see that market share success again for the foreseeable future.
Looking back, 2004 was a transitional year for Microsoft, the Xbox was a decent console locked inside an overly bulky exterior matched by an unattractive controller, and it didn't feel much better until you played it a fair bit, then the controller really started to grow on people. While the console performance outshone the PS2 and the new XBOX live online service was a revelation. Playing PGR 2 or Rainbow 6 - 3 online took additive gameplay to a whole new level and while some publishers such as Electronic Arts held out with their own trashy, bug ridden online system, it was XB Live that won through with its stable online environment, demonstrated at its best when playing the ever addictive Halo 2.
Probably the last time I'll build a physical collection of this size
So it was with a firm foundation that J Allard and crew built on what they had learned to date. Resulting in a more refined console design, a re-engineered controller and supported by a simple yet super effective dashboard interface. With DVD compatibility and my favourite aspect, the introduction of the Xbox Live Arcade. This enabling hundreds of retro games and indie titles to be converted and sold at a cut down rate, reigniting indie game development and granting a new opportunity to release their game to the masses.
Amongst the launch titles, Project Gotham Racing 3 really stood out, the cockpit cam was truly a thing of beauty while the environments and technical accomplishments were never fully appreciated until later in the consoles life. The XB Live Arcade saw another gem, that being the ever addictive Geometry Wars 2. An amazing console but with PS3 lagging behind in its release and developers struggling to make the transition it was a lean 18 months before we started seeing an increased level of releases, with Call of Duty 2, Oblivion and the incredible Gears of War filling the void. Cliff Bleszinski's team doing an incredible job, the art design still superior to the GOW4 gameplay we've seen last week. Both as a one player story and Esports multiplayer the game featured exceptional range and production value, no doubt selling a lot of consoles in the process.
Getting all achievements in Geometry Wars 2, the console in store for the first time and the red ring of death
Call of Duty really became a stable of the console and though available on other formats, the XB360 versions always appeared engineered to perfection, the aforementioned Xbox Live featuring perfect integration. However, despite the success of the console, there were a few casualties. Namely J Allard and crew who were moved onto other projects, no idea what went down here, perhaps they were held responsible for the high failure rate in early consoles, the red ring of death bringing misery for so many. Whatever the reason, things gradually went downhill as the consoles life-cycle continued, with poorly implemented dashboard redesigns making it harder for the indie devs and turning its back on those which had contributed to its success.
In its wake we see Microsoft revert back to a big blocky console in the XBox One, poor on performance and with a controller design that apart from sensitive triggers offer nothing in the form of improvement, I'll stick with my Xbox360 controller please. It's like a big circle, did the Xbox 360 leave a legacy? It certainly did, but it was Sony who took on the lessons and filled that space while Microsoft appear to have lost their way at this time.
Both the PS4 and XBox One were under-powered and initially under-featured, both failed to meet the expectations of consumers and with 1.5's being discussed, it makes you wonder if the industry ever learns anything. But above all, the Xbox 360 gave me 8 years of the best gaming since the PS1, a true successor and a heritage worth remembering.