The Xbox 360 Uncloaked

The Xbox 360 is Microsoft’s second attempt to break into the game console market. It was released in Christmas last year and has been doing better than expected. I picked up The Xbox 360 Uncloaked interested in reading how a game console is created. This book is written by Dean Takahashi, the gaming writer for the San Jose Mercury News. The book follows the 360 through its creation, development upto the launch.

After the lukewarm response to the first Xbox, in early 2003 M$ decided to launch a follower by 2005 end, a year ahead of the PS3 to gain traction among gamers. That is, just 3 years from conception to creation. The new console was codenamed Xenon. They dumped the Intel/nVidia pair from Xbox and instead chose IBM/ATI for Xenon. They concentrated a bit more on industrial design since the first Xbox looked butt ugly and was the size of a suitcase. They planned a simultaneous worldwide launch (this would be a first for any game console). Several gaming companies were roped in to make launch titles in time for the launch. M$ wasn’t going to try anything radical (like PS3’s Cell microprocessor). Later, the Xbox 360 and PS3 would be called Xbox 1.5 and PS 3.5 due to this. In this iteration, M$ just aimed at a launch earlier than the PS3, decent hardware, decent games and an online experience through Xbox Live. The plan went mostly according to plan. The only hitch was that they had massive shortages when they did the global launch. This resulted in loads of bad press and Sony could’ve easily steamrolled them had they launched at the same time.

M$ might want to seriously look at splitting itself into many lean companies. Chapter after chapter of the book reveal an undercurrent of discoordination, lack of communication, bickering and power struggles between the divisions of M$. More than half of the people involved resigned, were reassigned or removed during the making of the console due to conflicts. To even me, this came as quite a surprise. The few people who wished to take the 360 in creative new directions were stomped over or asked to shut up. Even J Allard who seems to have a nice persona tends to be more Ballmerisque on a Gates-Ballmer scale. The only things that M$ did well with 360 were timing, outsourcing and cost reduction.

Now about the book. I was interested in learning about the personal and technical experiments, failures and successes that form the journey of any new product. Instead, this book goes on and on only about the 360’s business decisions. It is endless pages of totally un-exciting, un-interesting, lifeless, numb, tame reporting of facts, figures and events. Takahashi manages to bury a nice story six feet under. In contrast, books with similar themes like Revolution In The Valley manage to be such delightful reads. Also, in a rush to release ASAP after the 360 launch this book has numerous grammatical and editing errors. This is a disturbing trend I’m seeing increasingly in recent books. Where the heck are the editors?! The only reason I stuck on with this book for a month was to see how it all ended. Dean has written about the first Xbox too in his other book Opening The Xbox. I was planning to read that too, but after the bad taste of this one I won’t even think about it. This book is boring and disappointing. Don’t bother.

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