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The Xbox 360 Uncloaked 118

Videogames may be nothing more than evening diversions to most Americans, but the industry as a whole is a multi-billion dollar heavyweight. Microsoft broke ground in the business when the Xbox launched in 2001, and came back swinging last year with the Xbox 360. The war for the seventh generation of game consoles has barely begun, and it's hard to know the score without a scorecard. We can get a good look at the odds, though, thanks to the reporting of Dean Takahashi. The author of the definitive book on the original Microsoft console, Opening the Xbox, offers the complete story of their next-gen offering in the recently published The Xbox 360 Uncloaked. A sometimes exhausting read that could have been more concisely edited, Uncloaked still highlights the human side of a complicated technical and business endeavor. Read on for my impressions of Takahashi's new look behind the curtains at Microsoft.
The Xbox 360 Uncloaked: : The Real Story Behind Microsoft's Next-Generation Video Game Console
author Dean Takahashi
pages 404 Pages
publisher Lulu Press
rating 7
reviewer Zonk
ISBN 0977784215
summary A veteran games reporter looks behind the scenes at the creation of a next-gen videogame console.
When the original Microsoft console launched in 2001, the sequel system was already in the planning stages. Dubbed 'Xenon' as its codename, the Xbox 360 came together over the next four years in a flurry of effort from a series of dedicated teams. The Xbox 360 Uncloaked breaks that process down, takes the reader behind the scenes, and explains the entire process in layman's terms; From the lessons of the first Xbox to the launch day and beyond, the amount of information presented here is staggering.

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.

You can purchase The Xbox 360 Uncloaked from Slashdot welcomes readers' book reviews -- to see your own review here, read the book review guidelines, then visit the submission page.

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The Xbox 360 Uncloaked

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  • Sorta of a Dupe (Score:2, Informative)

    by randomErr ( 172078 ) < minus city> on Tuesday May 30, 2006 @03:48PM (#15430692) Journal
    This is sorta of a dupe. The book has been mentioned here [] before.
  • Microsoft was not a household name in gaming until the Xbox. Before then, the only people who said it in conjunction with gaming at all were mostly heard to say things like "Microsoft is making the next Mechwarrior game? Fuck!"

    Once the Xbox came out, not only was Microsoft a prominent name in gaming, but it was only related to cursing them out half the time (like when your Xbox drive died, or when your Xbox 360 overheated, or...)

  • by Rosebud128 ( 930419 ) on Tuesday May 30, 2006 @07:48PM (#15432016)
    -First Generation-

    (You could not change the games on the first generation of consoles)

    Pong (and all its clones including Ninendo's "Light Tennis")
    Break-Out (a Pong spin-off!)

    Most consoles revolved around Pong this generation. At the latter end of this console cycle, more creativity was being put in the games with some companies putting out racing and puzzle games (as appeared in Japan).

    -Second Generation-

    These are the first consoles that could use cartridges. It took a while for the public to realize the machine could play more than one game!

    Atari 2600 and the Channel F launched near the same time. But with the public bored of Pong, Channel F eventually exited the market deciding that the public had enough of 'video games'. (Channel F's games were awful anyway). This gave the market entirely to Atari 2600 which began to surge when the home version of Space Invaders came out. Newcomers such as Intellivision entered the market. Colecovision, a late newcomer to the market, bundled its console with a sweet exclusive deal with Nintendo's Donkey Kong. Colecovision also somehow legally won a court case to play all of Atari 2600's hundred games as well on its machine.

    With the meteoric profits (Atari, at the time, was the fastest money making business in American history), many 'get-rich-quick' schemers came in who had no business making games (General Oats and Colgate for example). Atari hurt itself by putting out bad games such as E.T. and a poor port of Pac-Man. The market was flooded by games in 1983. With the rise of personal computers and games like Custer's Revenge and Death Race getting bad press, the console market collapsed. Retailers wouldn't even stock game consoles.

    -Third Generation-

    -Master System
    -Atari console (dead anyway)

    Nintendo's Famicom takes over Japan and is re-christened as the 'NES' for America. Nintendo puts in a toy robot and calls it the 'Entertainment System' to convince retailers that it wasn't exactly one of those hated 'video game consoles'. NES sales kept growing and growing with 90% market share. Sega's Master System had whatever was left (not much!).

    Nintendo created lock-out chips and draconian licensing deals to avoid the fate of Atari. Third parties were looking for a console not as draconian as Ninetndo's.

    The Gameboy is included in this generation.

    -Fourth Generation-

    -Sega Megadrive
    -Super Nintendo
    -NEC's PC-Engine (Turbo-graphix 16)

    Sega, humiliated with the Master System's poor performance, stepped up with the Megadrive (Genesis in America). Trip Hawkins of Electronic Arts, annoyed that he missed the NES bandwagon, wanted to be the first third party on the Genesis. However, when Sega tried to put EA under a Nintendo style licensing deal, Hawkins told Sega that EA had reverse engineered the Genesis. They were going to make games for their system whether Sega liked it or not. So EA dictated the terms of their licensing agreement. Afterword, Sega quickly put in lockout codes into future Genesis/Megadrive consoles. Third parties, anxious to leave Nintendo, came but were disapointed that Sega wanted to BECOME Nintendo.

    Nintendo took Japan, Sega took Europe, while both were tied in America. Sega introduced some extremely aggressive and effective marketing but Sega lost its momentum of putting out games. Nintendo stepped up with reclaiming third parties and put out hot games such as Super Metroid and Donkey Kong Country to have the SNES outsell Genesis in America again.

    The PC-Engine from the giant computer maker NEC (NEC's research and development at that time exceeded the ENTIRE companies of Nintendo and Sega) came in second place in Japan and somewhat flopped in America. Nintendo and Sega's fear was that NEC could easily become a vertical monopoly. NEC owned their own manufacturing plants and chip R&D. You just cannot compete with a vertical monopoly. NEC would eventually exit the console market.

    Sega began to put out too many console
  • by apflwr3 ( 974301 ) on Wednesday May 31, 2006 @06:55AM (#15434106)
    I'd argue there was a generation between the 2600 (and Odyssey, which you failed to mention, though it was quite popular) and NES. The Atari 5200 (which, again, you failed to mention) and Colecovision were released a good five years after the 2600 and the systems were roughly as much of an improvement (if not more) as the 360 is to the original X-Box. They certainly considered them to be "next generation" systems back then.

It is not for me to attempt to fathom the inscrutable workings of Providence. -- The Earl of Birkenhead