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Opening the Xbox Book Review

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With a title like “Opening the Xbox,” you should likely assume it’s one of many hacker type books geared towards Microsoft’s game console. It’s not. There’s not a single line even mentioning the hobby. What author Dean Takahashi has written is an excellent history on the console and how it came to be. It’s a great companion to other books like “The Ultimate History of Video Games” which don’t have the space to discuss the latest systems at length.

Following one of the creators, Seamus Blackley, through his disaster “Trespasser” on the PC to his rise inside Microsoft, the book chronicles just about every event leading up to the launch of this system. Turmoil was constant, and Takahashi does a fine job of bringing those heated boardroom meetings to life. There’s a surprising amount of information in the PC and how it became a more viable platform for gaming. You’ll learn plenty of information on those key people as well.

What “Opening the Xbox” does so well is cover all aspects of launching a console. In fact, this is probably the most detailed account of the process, far eclipsing any other book on the history of the industry. He provides very technical terms about the chips, operating systems, stock quotes, total system costs (screws are not cheap), and it’s all done on a simple level so anyone can understand it. It shows excellent research on his part and flawless writing so everyone can get a handle on the situation.

If the history portion doesn’t grab you, all of the trouble caused either by the malfunctioning consoles or by the creators makes for a great read. You simply have to smile at the Microsoft employee who took a prototype Xbox over to the UK and didn’t adjust for their different power current a day before a major show, frying it in the process. The funniest story happened to Horace Luke who did most of the design work. While going door to door to gather information from the public about what they wanted in consumer electronics, he came across this:

“For one example, in one home he asked ‘What does power mean to you?’ The man went into another room and came back with a gun. ‘This is power,’ he said. Luke found an excuse to quickly end the visit.”

Lots of interesting little facts are strewn through the book. Microsoft actually went to both Nintendo and Sony to propose a deal to launch their system through them. Both companies, obviously now, declined. The separate Web TV team inside Microsoft put up a huge fight over the system, almost derailing the Xbox team at a few points. All of this is covered with great depth and detail, almost reaching exhaustive levels at some points.

It’s not just the Xbox that gets all the attention either. Most of the staff gets a few pages dedicated to them and their personal lives. It’s amazing to see just how much of a strain that black box put on these employees. Most of the team doesn’t see it through to the end. It alleviates the book from constantly being about chips and various electronics while giving readers something else to focus on.

Some gamers wonder why more companies don’t release game systems. This book chronicles why. If you ever thought it was just about setting up a piece of hardware and throwing it out there for the public to consume, this is a must read. If you already know the struggles, then the human portion is more than enough to get you through the 350+ pages.

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About Matt Paprocki

Matt Paprocki has critiqued home media and video games for 13 years and is the reviews editor for His current passion project is the technically minded You can read Matt's body of work via his personal WordPress blog, and follow him on Twitter @Matt_Paprocki.
  • Eric Berlin

    Nice review, Matt, touring through the narrative of this book. I just wonder how interesting it would be for non-techies and non-game freaks to read.