|The Xbox 360 Uncloaked: : The Real Story Behind Microsoft's Next-Generation Video Game Console|
|summary||A veteran games reporter looks behind the scenes at the creation of a next-gen videogame console.|
The term staggering is meant literally. It's obvious from the tone of the book and the description of the process that the months after the original Xbox's launch were confusing and demoralizing. Many of the principle architects of Microsoft's first console left the company or moved to other projects, and the second generation of executives were hard pressed to restart the process after only a short break. Moreover, the console they'd worked so hard to see launched was only doing so-so in the marketplace. The result is a long period of soul-searching and analysis that lasted two years and covers 25 of the 53 short chapters in the book. This real life confusion and frustration translates into the book in the form of a fractured narrative.
The first 10 or 12 chapters of Uncloaked are very hard on the reader. Takahashi has deliberately used a lot of repetition to drill into the reader basic concepts, events, and characters; This is a mixed blessing. While the repetition results in basic information retention, combined with the muddled events it doesn't make for very entertaining reading. This problem is exacerbated by some lax editing. I read the book in eBook format, so I can't speak to the editing in the final print version, but at least the .pdf edition contained several unreadable sentences and nonsensical paragraphs that the editors simply missed.
I was beginning to be frustrated with the work when, like the executives on the 360 project, The Xbox 360 Uncloaked found a clear path and began driving forward. Right about the time that Robbie Bach and Co. found a way to tackle the project's scope, the writing focuses into the same cohesive voice readers of Takahashi's Mercury News column are used to. The chapters begin to fly by, with each successfully capturing a specific aspect of the 360 production process. From the famous meeting of CliffyB and Ed Fries at DICE 2003, to the exhaustive industrial design phase, all the way through the GDC and E3 events of last year, the tough choices and design decision are laid out for the reader. The final half-dozen chapters deal with the launch and the immediate aftermath.
What makes this book such an informative tome is the depth of information and the balance in the reporting. The author had a great deal of access to the principal figures involved in the creation of the console. What's refreshing, though, is how this access doesn't seem to have clouded his judgment of the events he bears witness to. In the final chapters he speculates on how Microsoft is poised within the console war, with some pointed observations on the console's launch that proves Takahashi is far from a company mouthpiece.
It's this outsider's viewpoint that ultimately makes The Xbox 360 Uncloaked a success. Takahashi looks at the creation of the Xbox with the dispassionate voice of a journalist. Hype and hyperbole surrounded the system's launch to such a degree that it was hard to see through the agendas held by the marketers, advertisers, and the fan press. This surprisingly lively business book condenses half a decade of effort into four hundred pages of mostly understandable prose. It provides insight into the players, the technology, and the corporate culture that has launched two remarkably popular game consoles in a span of six years. I definitely feel it could have been more thoroughly edited. That said, if you have any interest in the business climate at Microsoft or the process of creating a major work of consumer electronics, The Xbox 360 Uncloaked will lay out both the good and the bad of the 360's torturous journey to market.
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