My name is Chris Rowley and I wanted to introduce you to my documentary on Microsoft’s original Xbox. Launched in November 2001 it represented the return of the United States to the console wars after a long absence. It also marked the beginning of the shift in hardware to a more PC-centric parts base and more development tools. Microsoft joined the hardware race with a lot of money behind it, and the story of the Xbox’ creation is a tale of twists and turns. Many of these stories come from Opening the Xbox: Inside Microsoft’s Plan to Unleash an Entertainment Revolution by Dean Takahashi soon after launch, and Game of X, V. 1 by Rusel DeMaria, a more recent collection of interviews with key players and more. However the full story is more than the creation, it’s the launch in multiple territories, the sales, launch of Xbox Live!, press coverage, advertising, the games and more.
While there will be a traditional documentary geared at a general audience, this is more of a documentary project, including a full website of all material cross-referenced, a longer, director’s cut documentary and many video extras. This campaign is geared at the first step of the process culminating in the documentary in November 2020.
People make documentaries on videogame consoles and games all the time. Many of them are great, but rarely do they look at the history as it unfolded on all levels, from publishers to developers to the media. In order to truly tell the tale of the Xbox you have to dig into the details on all levels then step back and analyze the trends, see where the big stories broke out, and talk to as many people who were there as possible along with showing the media of the time.
To get this master view requires playing and capturing footage from every Xbox game, archiving every magazine, collecting videos and all tangential information available. Cross-indexing this material will lead to people in all the fields, be it publisher, game designer or 3D artist. Seeking out interviews on the console in general and specific software will create a fuller story at the game level. From here genre-specific tales can be told, broad analysis of trends comes into focus and a detailed timeline can be laid out.
Inspired by the documentaries Electric Booglaoo and Not Quite Hollywood a visual style for the documentary will be developed to tell the story of the Xbox, the final product an introduction to the larger project.
Launched in early 2016 Videogame Pavilion was my most recent effort at videogame preservation. While a number sites exist that host scanned copies of videogame magazines, few are focused on the graphic design and advertising. They also stop at the digitized page making research a more difficult proposition even where OCR options are employed. That is the twist Videogame Pavilion offers, magazines converted to modern web pages, images extracted and available for download, and text searchable across public search engines.
The site premiered with nine magazines and has since grown with additional titles and issues. The media component of this Xbox Documentary integrates well with the site, showcasing the writing, imagery and advertising of the day. Official Xbox Magazine, Xbox Nation, Electronic Gaming Monthly, GamePro, Game Informer, Play and more will be scanned and cross-referenced from the earliest rumors of Microsoft’s console to the publishing of the final game. Pages of advertising help track the trajectory of the machine and the games people played through the years.
The foundation of this project is a mix of the games and the media. Every videogame released for the Xbox will be played to capture footage and record full credits where available. Every major videogame magazine of the time will be scanned, ads separated and cross-linked to relevant games.
Games will be played in U.S. release order for a minimum of 15 minutes. Additional games will be played as available. Game boxart, manual and media will be scanned at 600dpi and edited for download at 300dpi.
Magazines will have perfect binding removed via hair dryer. Pages will be scanned at 600dpi and edited in facing pages with export at 300dpi. Dual page ad spreads will be output as one image for advertising cross-reference.
As information is indexed people will be singled out for contact. Interviews with creatives and media persona will be sought discussing the Xbox in general as well as personal stories and projects.
A broad outline of a script will be written and footage from earlier parts of the project matched to sequences to develop a final script. The final documentary will be constructed of all these elements and edited for both physical and digital release.
While I have been thinking about this project for years it was only January 2019 that things began in earnest. Pursuing a number of websites a base data organization was constructed. Games, representing a single playable videogame, were labeled Titles. From here Releases, representing physical boxed games (plus the handful of early Xbox Live Arcade digital releases), were documented, and then linked to relevant Titles. Combo packs and collection releases can be linked to multiple Titles, from simple examples like the Grand Theft Auto Double Pack to collections with a dozen or more videogames like Midway Arcade Treasures. A “folder” image representing a box release or product poster as well as a custom banner background was collected for each Title, and available boxart for Releases. Original versions of these assets were completed for the U.S. launch Titles. In addition work was done on a number of magazines including an early article from TIME Magazine, and the video contents from Official Xbox Magazine and other demo discs were captured.
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I began my videogame journey in 1974 at the age of 8. That was a momentous year for me as I was introduced to both Dungeons & Dragons as well as Pong. I encountered the machine at a local drugstore and pestered my Mom for a quarter. While I was quickly defeated the sights and sounds began a fascination that lasts to this day.
From programming my own games on the TRS-80 Model II, Apple ][, IBM PC and Amiga to publishing magazines about the Amiga, and running various websites dedicated to gaming, there was always the play. A friend and neighbor got an Atari VCS in 1978 and I relished to the opportunity to visit and play. Soon I was reading every bit of material I could find in VIDEO and Video Review magazines where I discovered the impending Mattel Intellivision which I got for Christmas 1980. When the dedicated videogame magazines appeared in 1981 with Electronic Games I collected as many as I could, and a number of those issues were used to launch Videogame Pavilion 35 years later.
Be it coin-ops, consoles or computers I have played and continued to love this hobby from that first encounter and am dedicated to helping share and preserve videogaming history.
The primary challenge to this project is time. I have been working every day to add to content and move the documentary forward since the start of 2019. After my initial announcement on March 15th I have used Twitter to promote work being done on the hashtag #XboxDocumentary with my account @VGBouncehouse on a daily basis. All of this will continue but the speed and quantity of updates is dependent on financing. Your help will guarantee my ability to put as much time into this project as possible.
Even if you cannot financially support this project you can still help!
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Other links: Microsoft launches Xbox, The history of the Xbox, The making of the Xbox: How Microsoft unleashed a video game revolution (part 1), The making of the Xbox: Microsoft’s journey to the next generation (part 2), Ten years of Xbox: a brief history
These simple lists allow access to the currently collected information about the 1,000+ games released for the Xbox between 2001 and 2008. The “All Titles” list includes collected items (such as Dead or Alive and Dead or Alive 2 being part of Dead or Alive Ultimate, or all the coin-ops included in Midway Aercade Treasures). “Standard Titles” includes just the master titles while “Collection Titles” includes only games that are collected or accessible through a master release.
The Xbox launched November 15, 2001 in North America. Twenty titles were availabe on release day:
4x4 EVO 2, Airforce Delta Storm, Arctic Thunder, Cel Damage, Dark Summit, Dead or Alive 3, Fuzion Frenzy, Halo: Combat Evolved, Mad Dash Racing, Madden NFL 2002, NASCAR Heat 2002, NASCAR Thunder 2002, NFL Fever 2002, NHL Hitz 20-02, Oddworld: Munch's Oddysee, Project Gotham Racing, Shrek, Test Drive Off-Road Wide Open, Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 2x, TransWorld Surf
Each issue included a disc, though the first one only had videos. They will all be browsable eventually, for now you can access them from the Magazines pages.
Microsoft released seven demo discs for the Xbox under the Exhibition brand. These discs were for purchase and included demo versions of games and videos. Exhibition: Demo Disc for Xbox (2002).
Though labelled Volume 1 I believe this was the only volume released. It included a number of playable demos and videos.
I found a copy of this catalog with launch title Project Gotham Racing and I believe it was the first game catalog flyer Microsoft produced for the console. The gallery includes 300dpi edits of each page which are also compiled into the .CBZ file. These same files were collected into the Adobe Acrobat .PDF file. Finally, the full 600dpi .PSD dual-page scan edits are available in the .ZIP archive.
I found a copy of this catalog with the first Xbox Exhibition disc, the first of seven Microsoft-produced demo and video compilations. I believe it was the second game catalog flyer Microsoft produced for the console. The gallery includes 300dpi edits of each page which are also compiled into the .CBZ file. These same files were collected into the Adobe Acrobat .PDF file. Finally, the full 600dpi .PSD dual-page scan edits are available in the .ZIP archive.
I found a copy of this catalog with launch title Fuzion Frenzy but it was obviously a later edition. I believe it was the third game catalog flyer Microsoft produced for the console. The gallery includes 300dpi edits of each page which are also compiled into the .CBZ file. These same files were collected into the Adobe Acrobat .PDF file. Finally, the full 600dpi .PSD dual-page scan edits are available in the .ZIP archive.