Before I write about why the Xbox 360 and Xbox Live are my favorite consumer/technology products, I feel I need to provide some context by describing a bit of my personal history and journey through the realm of video games.
Like many people my age, my first exposure to video games came when my father bought the family the Atari 2600 when I was roughly in the 1st Grade. Combat and Pac-man were our first games, and I became completely fixated on them. My older sister and I duked it out on 2 player Pac-Man and we played for so long (if I recall, getting to nearly a million points) and got such a high score (my sister beat me), that my father threw us a party complete with a Pac-Man cake.
Many years of enjoyment on the 2600 followed, with games such as Pitfall, Yar’s Revenge, Space Invaders, Pole Position, and Star Wars.
When the 4th grade rolled around, I was introduced to my first real computer, the TRS-80. I remember well Mr. Jacobs who was a guest teacher for computers brought in by my 4th grade teacher Mrs. Kofsky. I was enthralled and learned BASIC (Beginner’s All-purpose Symbolic Instruction Code) and began coding simple programs and games (like text-based Choose-your-own-adventures similar to Zork). As part of Mr. Jacob’s class, I wrote a computer program that displayed the flags of different countries of the world in dazzling black and white. Mrs. Kofsky was amazed and showcased it to the class.
My propensity for programming led my father to purchase for us the TRS-80 Color Computer from Radio Shack (actually, if I recall correctly, TRS stood for Tandy Radio Shack, or at least I always thought so). With this computer, I was able to go all out. I clearly recall a program that would fill the screen with random circles in random locations and fill them with random colors (I guess I really liked the RND function of BASIC). Back in those days, I would save my programs for the TRS-80 Color Computer on an audio tape cartridge. We have certainly come a long way. I yearned to get the joystick and some game cartridges for the Color Computer, but alas, that was never to be.
I used that Color Computer for many years since we didn’t have the means to purchase a more sophisticated computer. I hoped to take computer class at Cunningham Junior High School but was not chosen for the limited classes. Instead I was given typing (which has served me well to this day) and photography. Fortunately, I got kicked out of photography class (a story for another day) and reassigned to computer class. I clearly and fondly remember my first day and first assignment in that class in the 8th grade: Play, solve, and complete the computer video game “King’s Quest II: Romancing the Throne”.
At the time, I was astounded by the graphics and “3D” nature of the game (being able to walk in front of or behind objects) and the clever puzzles based on fables and children’s stories. I became a big fan of Sierra for many years after that (King’s Quest Series, Space Quest, Heroes Quest which became Quest for Glory, etc).
Fast forward to high school. I applied for my working permit when I turned 16 (a little blue card that New York State required of children under 18). I got my first paying job at this age and finally had disposable income. With this job I purchased my next video game console, the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES). Many hours of The Legend of Zelda, Donkey Kong, Super Mario Brothers, and Duck Hunt followed. Still to this day I love the original Legend of Zelda and one of the follow up games, Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. I just recently cleaned out the attic in our house in Brooklyn and found my original NES. I brought it back home with me, and the TSA agents at the airport all had a good laugh about it.
The first computer we got at home at the TRS-80 Color Computer was the Apple IIGS, which my parents were suckered into purchasing by a retail salesman. Within a month of bringing that computer home, Apple had cancelled the series and all support for it. I was fuming when I came home to find an Apple instead of an “IBM PC-compatible” computer. We tried to make the best of it with Deluxe Paint. I went so far as to purchase Space Quest for that computer to get some use out of it. I recall my father being angry that we were using his $2,000 investment for computer gaming. It’s kind of funny now considering that half of his children went into the video game industry.
By the time I was 17, I decided I had enough of this Apple and saved up enough money to purchase a real computer. I went all in knowing that I would need the best machine available for my upcoming college days as an engineering student, so I ordered a 386-25MHz “IBM PC-compatible” computer from Gateway 2000. Aside from my Camaro, this was probably the biggest and most exciting personal purchase I had ever made. Oh how I loved that Gateway. Massive footprint, curved arches, and a full 15”, 256 color CRT monitor! Life couldn’t be better (until the 486 came out a few months later).
This Gateway led to my first true 3D graphics PC game, Wolfenstein 3D, which blew me away (as well as my brothers) and consumed countless hours of my free time. Wolfenstein led to Doom. FPS led to RPG (Baldur’s Gate, Icewind Dale), RPG led to RTS (Warcraft, Warcraft II, Starcraft). I also graduated up from NES to Sega Genesis at around this time, but I slowly lost interest in console gaming and became thoroughly engrossed in the PC gaming world. So fixated was I on the PC realm that I never even purchased a PS One or PS2.
Now this was well before the days of laptop computers, so being on a computer at all was still a treat, which is why I was an avid PC Gamer for so long. Fast forward many years to a point where I owned a bunch of computers and several laptops, and used computers every day at work. It started to lose its luster. The last thing I wanted to do when I got home was to stare at the computer screen for more hours. TV was the preferred medium for entertainment. I also steered clear of World of Warcraft all these years because I knew I would get hooked and lose countless hours of my life.
Enter the original Xbox. When I first read the article about Microsoft getting into the video game space and the specs that were planned for the Xbox, I knew I had to have it. Built-in hard-drive, so no need for expensive memory units. Ethernet connections. The power of a PC. My yearning for console gaming began to resurface and in 2005, I succumbed to the temptation and purchased a used Xbox v1 along with Fable and Halo. Fable gave me confidence that RPGs could work in console gaming, and Halo did the same for First-person Shooters.
Not to long after this, I saw a promotion to get a free Xbox 360 through internet promotions. I was skeptical at first, but gave it a shot. They made one jump through a lot of hoops to fulfill the offer, but I stuck with it and got two good things out of the promotion: a free Xbox 360 Pro console and a subscription to Netflix. Within a week of getting my Xbox 360, I started working at the Xbox group in Microsoft. as a Product Planner. The rest, as they say, is history.