Love Microsoft or hate them, there's no denying Bill Gates and company's 2001 entry into the video game industry altered the console hardware equation forever. Beyond that, Microsoft's Xbox system makes for an incredible story – two incredible stories actually, both spun by San Jose Mercury-News reporter Dean Takahashi.
In 2002, Takahashi's Opening the Xbox gave readers unprecedented access to Microsoft's top management as well as its inner circle of game designers and hardware creators. The book remains a must-read for anyone interested in the creative or business sides of the video game industry.
The Xbox is old news, of course, thanks to Microsoft's November, 2005 launch of its next-gen Xbox 360. Takahashi chronicles the development of the new system in his latest book, The Xbox 360 Uncloaked. Less a sequel than a companion piece, The Xbox 360 Uncloaked lifts the curtain on a Microsoft team weary of multi-billion dollar losses on the original Xbox, yet still determined to become the dominant game console maker. It's an absorbing read.
Readers hoping to dive right into the story of the Xbox 360 will need to be patient. For a solid 90 pages there is little talk of Microsoft's new baby. While updating readers on developments, which happened following the launch of the original system (such as Xbox Live), Takahashi also sketches out general trends in the video game industry.
While initially disconcerting, the opening chapters of The Xbox 360 Uncloaked have a definite purpose, especially for readers unfamiliar with the saga of the original Xbox or the industry. There is, for example, a rather long segment on video game violence and political issues, such as last summer's Hot Coffee scandal.
The pace of Takahashi's book quickens when he recounts Microsoft's early plans to release a portable game system, code-named "Red Jade." The seasoned journalist leads the reader through constant internal debates over projected production costs and profit margins of the proposed next-gen system. It's an eye-opener for those who may think the video game business is just fun and games.
Takahashi's writing style is to the point and readable. His interviews and sources provide plenty of information to keep things moving forward and the access he was granted to Microsoft insiders is quite impressive. Debates on key Xbox 360 issues, such as backwards compatibility, hard drive inclusion, and selection of chip manufacturers, are recounted in gripping detail.
Unlike Takahashi's earlier Xbox book, the sequel includes significant coverage of Sony and Nintendo consoles. The unease that gripped the Xbox design team as they watched Sony grab PS2 share is captured perfectly. Details like this help the reader get a sense of the desperate competition between these two rivals.
In the end, what makes The Xbox 360 Uncloaked required reading for video game fans is the incredible amount of inside information it contains. Readers will continually be amazed at what the secretive Microsoft crew allowed Takahashi to hear and report.
The author deserves high praise for providing us with a comprehensive record of what goes into the development of a video game system. The behind-the-scenes drama makes for a juicy, entertaining read regardless off one's console allegiance.