Why you should own an original Xbox in 2020
The Original Xbox, or “OG Xbox” as it is known in many circles holds a soft place in my heart as it is home to many of the games that solidified my life long love of gaming. Of course I have fond memories of Mario and Sonic as a younger kid, but those games did not draw me in like The Elder Scrolls:Morrowind, or Halo 2. The original Xbox was Microsoft's first attempt at a proper gaming console, and they did not attempt to hide their PC gaming roots when they were packing their new console full of features. So what reason would you have to own an Original Xbox in 2020? Chances are you do not have crazy deep nostalgia roots or memories of the Xbox at all. Most people may not know of many games to play outside of Halo which is available in the finally fixed, excellent Master Chief Collection. Today the Original Xbox has become the center of a very helpful modding and collecting community that ranges from wild exterior modifications to perfect preserved rare limited edition systems. You can still buy custom clear shells and LED kits for the Original Xbox, further tying the system to its gaming PC brothers. Who does not need an RGB’d out Original Xbox?
History of the original Xbox
The original Xbox's history actually starts with the ill fated Sega Dreamcast. Microsoft was tasked with creating a custom version of windows to power the Dreamcast. This was their first experience in the home console market, and gave them the confidence they needed to launch the Xbox. The system would run off windows and use Microsoft DirectX for the graphics processing, which is where the Xbox’s name came from. It was known internally as the “DirectX Box”. The Xbox launched on November 15, 2001 and was known for its bulky design and outlandishly large controller, now lovingly known as “The Duke”. From a commercial standpoint, the Xbox did better than most people may think, outselling both the Dreamcast and the Gamecube coming in at 24 million units sold worldwide. The Xbox was a pretty successful first swing at creating a home console and what Microsoft learned would set them up to arguably win the next round of console wars with Sony’s PS3. No one needs to get into an internet battle between the PS3 and Xbox 360. Go buy both for like $100 and be happy with that amazing library of games.
Since Microsoft built the Xbox based on a gaming PC, it is not surprising that it is one of the easiest systems to modify. One of the aspects that set the original Xbox apart from other systems at the time was the inclusion of a hard drive and an ethernet port. These two features allow us to mod these outdated systems to be versatile emulation machines that can be outfitted with large hard drives to play the surprisingly deep original Xbox library, or used to play retro games on emulators that are easily loaded onto the Xbox. This was a lot of peoples' versions of a Raspberry Pi before they were readily available. It blows my mind that my original Xbox from 2004 has a hard drive that is twice as large as the hard drive that came with my Xbox One in 2013.I personally have chosen to focus on Xbox games for my build, filling the terabyte hard drive in my original Xbox with all of the games I ever wanted to play when I had an Xbox back when I was a broke middle school kid. I have loaded some roms on it to test out for this article and it runs Neo Geo excellently. I would not venture into anything past that though. The other addition that allows us to hack the hell out of the original Xbox is the ethernet port. Back in the early 2000’s that port made many Red Bull and greasy pizza fueled LAN parties possible. This port was also vital to the creation of modern online gaming via the introduction of Xbox Live which was about a generation ahead of its time. Today it allows you to easily transfer games from a PC to your Xbox via a process known as “FTP” or “File Transfer Protocol”. Moving onto actually gaming on the original Xbox, one of the best future proofing features that the original Xbox has is that it was the first console to output games in 720p. Admittedly the list of games that can be displayed in HD is small, but everything looks good in 480p at the very least. There are even affordable HDMI cables for the original Xbox that really do a good job cleaning up the rough edges. Compared to a PS2 or Gamecube, the Original Xbox really looks pretty good on a modern TV, especially over HDMI.
Owning an Original Xbox
So assuming I did such a good job in this article selling the joys of Xbox ownership that you ran out to your local Goodwill or pawn shop and picked up an Original Xbox for $25, there are some things that you should know off the bat. First of all, regardless if you are going to mod it or leave it stock, the first thing you need to do is pull the outer shell off the Xbox and clear the almost 2 decades of dust out of it. You may want to do this outside as we all remember Ryan’s cockroach infested PS3 nightmare fuel from the podcast. To do this, we do need to pull the hard drive and disc drive out, but that is only a few screws, and is vital for the next thing we will be doing. Due to a poor parts supplier, one of the capacitors is notorious for leaking acid and causing damage to the motherboard. This is the clock capacitor which is used to keep the internal clock of the Xbox running when powered off. This issue was resolved for the last revision (1.6) which you can find based on the serial number of your Xbox. If you are seeking an Xbox out, try to find a 1.6 iteration as they had worked out most of the bugs by that revision and you will not need to do surgery on those systems. The other common issue is a stuck disc drive that can usually be fixed by replacing the drive belt, or attaching a small magnet to the DVD drive to help hold it up and prevent misalignment. These things are tanks once you make a couple of tweaks and will run for a long time, especially if you mainly play games off a modern hard drive.
Modding Your Xbox
If you decide that you want to mod your Xbox you will have two choices to do so: “hard” vs “soft” modding. Hard modding was the initial method for modding the Original Xbox, using a “mod chip” soldered to the motherboard to trick the system into playing burned games, or stored games on a hard drive. “Soft” modding has become the more popular method, even though it takes a bit of effort to track down all of the things that you will need to do it. Once you have gone through your Nicolas Cage style scavenger hunt and gotten your early 2000’s artifacts, you can get to modding your Xbox. Hard modding does give you a little more flexibility with system options, but is more invasive, and more expensive since you have to find a mod chip from back in the day. If you want to soft mod your original Xbox there are a lot of resources that are way more helpful than what I could write out, but here are the basics of soft modding an original Xbox. If you want help soft modding your Xbox, swing by the Emulate This Discord and we can help you out!
Original Xbox (Duh)
Compatible flash drive
Compatible hard drive
Xbox controller port to USB adapter
Specific Xbox game that allows you exploit a system security weakness
A molex hard drive power cable "Y" splitter
That list may seem like a lot, but once you start some basic google searching, you can find all of these things cheap online, and there are a ton of compatibility lists and YouTube videos to help you along your way. If you can setup a Raspberry Pi, you can do this. The key is to not get in a hurry, and understand why you are doing what you are doing each step of the way. The sketchiest part of the process comes when you need to copy the “BIOS '' information from your old Xbox hard drive to the new hard drive. Even this is not difficult, just a step that if it goes wrong could brick your system. I stumbled my way through the process with a couple snags, mainly from my terrible laptop not cooperating and was rewarded with hundreds of Original Xbox games at my disposal.
As much as we all like to tinker with our retro gaming setups, we are here for the games right? The original Xbox’s game library is deeper than you would think ,and while not as expansive as the PS2’s, or recognizable as the Gamecubes, It does have a lot of games that did not make an appearance on other systems, or have the best version of the generation. Obviously there were some heavy hitters that everyone probably knows about. The Halo games propelled the Xbox into relevance, and kept it selling respectably well. Let's take a look at what you can stuff that shiny new hard drive full of once you get everything up and running! So lets take a look at the games!
Sega Produced Games
The games that I find most interesting are projects that should have landed on the scrapped Sega Dreamcast 2, or released on the Dreamcast, but not in North America. Games like Crazy Taxi 3:High Roller, ToeJam & Earl III: Mission to Earth, The House of the Dead III, Panzer Dragoon Orta, Jet Set Radio Future, Outrun 2, Shenmue 2 and Sega GT 2002. These are the games that we were lucky to get, as Sega was not in the best place financially in the early 2000’s. These games represented some of the most unique experiences that were available during that generation and some of those games are still popular and being remade on current gen systems. Games like JSRF and Panzer Dragoon are cult classics that you really should play if you never had the chance when they came out. The thing I really liked about Sega games from this era was how they captured the magic of their arcade offerings and brought them to the home console user. Playing House of Dead at home was a blast! There are even a few Sonic games that made their way to the Xbox, but nothing that captured the magic of its 16 bit predecessors.
The Xbox enjoyed some of the best sports games of any generation, taking advantage of the last era of sports games before exclusivity contracts became the norm, locking out competition and limiting each sport to one lazy developer whose only concern is seeing how little work they put into the “new” title each year, or how they can best hide micro transactions in each game. Back on the Xbox if you wanted an NFL game, you had four choices. Some of the best sports games available were found in the Sega backed ESPN 2K series, which we got to know back on the Dreamcast, and I was happy to see make an appearance on the Xbox. It's easier to look at the sports games available on the Xbox by developer. Four main studios made sports games for the Xbox which were: EA Sports, 2K Sports, Midway, and Microsoft’s own sports studio, XSN Sports. Each of these studios put their own specific spin on each of the sports titles they put out. The offerings from Midway were some of the most fun sports games that I played across any generation sticking to over the top arcade action titles like NFL Blitz, NHL Hitz, and MLB Slugfest. There are also memorable sports games that fall outside of the traditional professional leagues that really shined on the Xbox. I think that the best of the Tony Hawk Pro Skater(THPS) series landed on the Xbox. On my modded Xbox I can pick from THPS 2x, THPS 3 and 4, THPS Underground 1 and 2, and THPS American Wasteland. Those games alone would make buying and modding an Xbox worth it. Outside of the THPS games there are a slew of non traditional sports games like the SSX Snowboarding games and some other extreme sports games. One of the oddest sports titles that everyone decided they were a long time fan of volleyball for was Dead or Alive Xtreme Beach Volleyball. This is actually a pretty decent game if you can focus on the game play long enough to figure out what this bizarre game is trying to accomplish. If you like sports games, and want to check out the roots of modern 3D sports games, you have a very deep well to pull from with the Xbox library.
Racing games hold some of the strongest memories for me on the original Xbox and probably played a big role in me deciding to go into the automotive industry as an adult. Games that are AAA juggernauts on current gen systems really hit their stride on the Xbox. Games like Need for Speed Underground 1 and 2 and Forza Motorsports, were some of the most iconic racing games of the generation. The Xbox also had some unique well loved titles that would set define racing games for the generation such as the Project Gotham Racing and Ralliart series. Sega made an appearance on the system with one of my favorite racing games of all times, Sega GT 2002. I would personally love to see this game either remade with a fresh stable of cars, or just lazily ported to the Switch like every other title is now a days. This is the generation where open world racers got their start and some were excellent examples of what you could do with the hardware available at the time. If you are into racing games, the original Xbox holds some of the best racing games of the modern video game era.
The Xbox boasts an impressive lineup of fighters that may surprise you with games like Marvel vs Capcom 2, Street Fighter Anniversary Collection, Soul Calibur 2(with Spawn as a playable character), Dead or Alive 3, King of Fighters 2003 and Mortal Kombat Deception. If you are looking for a great selection of fighting games, the original Xbox has something for you. I think that fighting games are what inspired the classic “Duke” Xbox controller. The layout of the black and white and black buttons next to the main four buttons really are reminiscent of a Sega six button controller, or an arcade setup. When they redesigned the controller for normal sized human hands, they moved the black and white buttons to much less convenient locations for these fighting classics. My fighting game controller of choice is actually a special edition Street Fight themed game pad that eliminates the analog sticks, and goes straight fight pad design, taking liberties with button layout to perfectly suit controlling Ryu. I feel like I talk about MvC 2 and Soul Calibur in every article I write, but these two games are worth owning, and modding an Xbox for alone. MvC 2 Is actually the reason I ended up modding my Xbox, Finding an original copy of the game proved to be more expensive than buying an original Xbox and all the things to mod it.
Obviously when you think about First Person Shooters on the original Xbox, everyone is going to think about Halo 1 & 2. However there are some great shooters available on the system outside of what Master Chief has to offer. Games like Black, Timsplitters 1 &2, Counter Strike, Medal of Honor Frontline, Brute Force, Half Life 2, Doom 3. Brothers in Arms, Beyond Good and Evil, and Turok-Evolution are great examples of how good shooters can be on a system from this generation. A lot of these really hold up today, which is not true of everyone’s favorite 64 bit shooter... This is a genre that was not born on the original Xbox, but really grew up on the console. Without the original Xbox, we would not be where we are today with our online shooters. I could write an entire article on original Xbox shooters, LAN parties, and Xbox Live but it's all pretty common knowledge at this point, so let's just leave the rest of the shooter discussions to Discord chats.
The original Xbox housed some of the most immersive RPG’s of the generation. Games like The Elder Scrolls: Morrowind, Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic 1 and 2, Fable, Jade Empire, and Shenmue 2 took advantage of the power of the system and its PC roots to deliver excellent RPG experiences. I sunk God knows how many hours into Morrowind, and Fable and was hooked on both series immediately. The Xbox did not sell well at all in Japan, so you see a lack of traditional “JRPG’s” like the Final Fantasy series, but you can play those games on every modern day console no problem. The top down dungeon crawler RPG also saw a nice bunch of games including the Baldur's Gate and Gauntlet Legends series both having solid entries that I would love to see make a return on current gen systems. There are some major heavy hitters in the RPG world that really took off on the Xbox and they should be in everyone's collection at this point.
There are some games that are found on the Xbox that do not really have a specific genre to throw them in, but are still must have. There are three GTA games that can be had on your Xbox: GTA 3, GTA Vice City, and GTA San Andreas. You could also find the first entry into the Red Dead series with Red Dead Revolver. There is also the well written, Halo engine powered Stubbs the Zombie title that was a rare non Halo game made by Bungie on the Xbox. Other games that are worth a look would be the surprisingly good movie inspired games: Enter the Matrix, The Lord of the Rings:The Two Towers, and Lego Star Wars. There are a lot of games on the Xbox that blended genres to really make unique experiences on the Original Xbox.