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Media Badge Stories: Xbox Unleashed (Nov. 2001)
I’ve been attending video game events for years now, and I recently found my collection of media badges from 2000 until present. It inspired my new series of editorials, called “Media Badge Stories.” You’ll get to read some behind the scenes stories from past events. Today, we go back 10 years: the first time Microsoft showed their new gaming console, Xbox, to the public.
Xbox Unleashed – New York City 2001
Do you remember what was happening 10 years ago in gaming? Playstation 2 was on top, Sega Dreamcast got shut down, and two new consoles were coming out: the original Xbox and the Nintendo Gamecube. I remember attending Microsoft’s 48-hour gaming competition called “Xbox Unleashed.” It was our first time getting hands on time with the Xbox and its games (before they hit retail). They had some pretty good games at this event for this competition:
“Amped: Freestyle Snowboarding,” “Fuzion Frenzy,” “Halo” and “Project Gotham Racing” from Microsoft Game Studios; “DOA3″ from Tecmo; “Cel Damage” from Electronic Arts; “NASCAR Heat 2002″ from Infogrames; and “Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2x” from Activision
The competition’s grand prize? A customized Ford Explorer Sport Trac with Pioneer Audio/Video systems and an integrated Xbox system. Second place got an Xbox console, Xbox games and a spring break trip for four to San Felipe in Baja California, Mexico. Third place got an Xbox console and Xbox games, plus food for a year from Taco Bell and beverages for a year from SoBe. Microsoft was going all out to promote their new console to a tough crowd.
Play a real video game system
During Microsoft’s event, Nintendo crashed the party with their Cube Club truck parked right in front of us and called us to come check out something “pretty cool.” It was the stream team promoting their new console at that time — called Gamecube. They told us to come and play a “real video game system.” They had a demo for “Luigi’s Mansion.” We got to play it for a few minutes, but I wasn’t impressed at all. They also handed out tickets (“Admission Not Guaranteed”) to their Cube Club party. I think this whole “crashing the party” was weak coming from Nintendo. I remember someone at this event saying this about it: “Looks like they’re acting the same way as the kids who’ll be buying the Cube.”
They did mention their event happening a week later, called “Cube Club.” It was similar to Microsoft’s event. They had the following games at this event:
Luigi’s Mansion, Wave Race: Blue Storm, Pikmin, Super Smash Bros. Melee, Star Wars Rogue Squadron II: Rogue Leader and others.
In the future, I’m planning to post some audio content that took place at this event in New York City back in 2001.
Playing Halo for the first time
Microsoft was nice enough to hook me up with a media pass for this event. I went upstairs to the press section, and I got to meet the founders of TeamXbox. We talked a bit about the event and I asked them about this FPS game that they were playing. They answered back with: “This is Halo CE. You should play this game right away.” I got to play it for the first time — and wow, this game completely changed my views about the Xbox. I was hooked since that day. Playing the first two levels was amazing. The only issue I had was that fatty controller. Plus, I wasn’t used to playing an FPS game with two analog sticks. (Remember those single joystick, N64 days?)
But this was the first time I got to play Halo. I had “a goosebumps moment” while playing the first two levels. Epic stuff! That was the day I started to love this system. Some people still had their doubts, but not me. I could see this console changing everything in the next few years. In 1999, Sega Dreamcast did some amazing stuff for their online service. The console came with a 56k modem. No lag! But what about Xbox? I was very curious about their online plans. I started to talk with one of the guys from the Xbox team and got an interview for my old show called “GameVoice.” You can listen to the full interview on Episode #79 (right click save as).The only thing he said to me was “we’re planning to release our online service sometime next year.” A year later, Xbox Live was born.
Free Xbox For Everyone
The competition was over. The three winners won their stuff, and the rest of us were left wishing. It was fun meeting everyone, but having no sleep for 48 hours wasn’t easy. Plus, I was so sick of Taco Bell’s free food during this marathon. I just wanted to go back home and sleep. The Xbox team called us upstairs. They wanted to thank us for staying until the end. Out of thousands of gamers, less then 20 people stayed for 48 hours. Someone else from Microsoft comes inside to the room, and he introduces himself. It was J Allard. He was the former Chief Experience Officer and Chief Technology Officer for the Entertainment and Devices Division at Microsoft: the man behind creating the original Xbox. He surprised us with this news: They hooked us up with a free Xbox gaming console before launch. Everyone got excited and this was the day that changed everything for all of us.
A few weeks later, I got my console and got to play Halo non-stop until the end. I got a call from a Microsoft rep. They invited me to a special launch party in Times Square and wanted us to meet someone very special for this event. They also wanted us to give our feedback about the console to the media. Of course, that “special” guest I got to meet was Bill Gates.
Xbox Not Happy With IGN
After we got to meet Bill Gates and talk to the media about our Xbox impression, we went to the launch party, which was right across the street at the WWF restaurant in Times Square. Once I got outside, Times Square was all green. Microsoft paid millions just to have this area shut down with an all Xbox theme all over Times Square. I went across the street for the after party. Microsoft gave me a VIP badge for this event. I went inside and sat down to eat. J Allard and someone else (can’t remember his name) was hanging out with me and a few other people. They started to ask us questions about the games we purchased for launch. Then we started talking about game reviews from different sites. I asked them about a site that launched a new feature called “Insider.” The only way to view their content is that you had to pay monthly or yearly (around $20). It just so happened that some of that premium content was their reviews for all the Xbox launch titles. It was IGN that did this back in 2001. I remember J Allard telling us he wasn’t very happy about that at all.
Xbox Unleashed was my second gaming event, and it changed my life as a podcaster. I got to interview the team that launched the original console, and I got to meet some great people from the community. About 10 years later, I found my badge, while cleaning at home. I was reminiscing about that day. Some gamers at the event were calling the Xbox a “PC console” instead of a “gaming console,” saying how this will be the next 3DO because they can’t compete with Sony and Nintendo. If Sega failed with the Dreamcast, what are the chances of this system surviving?
Looking at it now, I guess they were wrong about that.