What Microsoft learned from Xbox One's many mistakes
This week's best games, stories, and videos from the world of video games.
[Hi, I’m Chris Plante, and you’re reading Postgame, a weekly newsletter collecting the best games, stories, and videos in the video game community into a fun, digestible package on Sunday mornings. Learn more on the Postgame About page. Postgame is edited by Stephie Grob Plante. Want to support Postgame? Please share it with a friend! Or even better, visit my work-home at Polygon.com!]
This week, I published a review of the Xbox One in its sunset.
Frankly, Xbox One may have been hobbled from the start by a nasty mix of hubris, poor timing, and a lame-duck leadership group that bailed within the first couple of years of the console’s life. And yet! In the longterm, Xbox One’s failures have positioned Microsoft to accomplish something genuinely revolutionary. How did the brand pull off a U-turn in broad daylight?
Here’s the intro to my piece:
Even the most talented creators struggle to end a trilogy. Francis Ford Coppola, George Lucas, the Wachowski sisters, David Fincher. By the third entry, a project is established, and the audience expects both more of the same and also that spark of newness that originally attracted them to the series.
The trilogy is a useful template for Microsoft’s video game consoles. The original Xbox introduced Microsoft to the gaming world. The Xbox 360 established the tech company as a legitimate competitor. Then, like so many trilogy endings, the Xbox One struggled to find balance between expectation and ambition.
And like a trilogy, these three consoles will be remembered not only as individuals but as a unit. The future of Xbox will take a different approach to the brand, a creative reboot of sorts of the very assumptions of how we play, buy, sell, and share our experience with video games.
To critique the Xbox One without including its predecessors would be like analyzing The Godfather Part III without mentioning The Godfather and The Godfather Part II. It would be critical negligence, ignoring the unfortunate confluence of ambition, creative freedom, critical expectations, and fan entitlement that comes with the conclusion of something that’s been a meaningful part of people’s lives — for some, from childhood into early adulthood.
The Xbox One has been a messy, disappointing, often frustrating gizmo, but it also, in hindsight, is an exciting misfire that inspired brilliant ideas across the gaming and tech worlds. And it has bridged the gap between the past and the future of the medium.
Perhaps the better comparison is Return of the Jedi, a film that had to follow a masterpiece and set up a universe that extended far beyond film. The Xbox One will be remembered for bridging the hardware era of the brand to something much bigger, less predictable, and potentially revolutionary.
And so, without further ado, my eulogy.
Xbox Series X and S get prices and a date
On Monday night, Microsoft insider Brad Sams leaked news of the Xbox Series S, a smaller, cheaper, less powerful next-generation Xbox. (Brad Sams, YouTube)
By Tuesday afternoon, Microsoft had confirmed the console, its price, and the release date. It will cost $299 (!!!) and launch on Nov. 10. (Nicole Carpenter, Polygon)
The hardware should be good enough to run modern games, albeit with a handful of limitations: 8GB of memory is half of what you’d find in the average gaming PC, 500GB of storage will be enough room for no more than a couple of AAA video games, and the console won’t feature the same performance upgrades to backward-compatible games as the Xbox One X has for the past couple of years. However, Microsoft says the Series S will offer its own enhancements to classic Xbox titles. (Matt Wales, Eurogamer)
But will the average person care about any of those trims?
On Wednesday, Microsoft announced that the Xbox Series X will cost $499 and launch alongside the Series S on Nov. 10. (Nicole Carpenter, Polygon)
Eurogamer Editor-in-chief Oli Welsh has my favorite take on Microsoft’s two upcoming consoles: “What we do know now is that Microsoft’s pitch for Xbox Series S - and to some extent, Series X too - is quite unlike any we’ve seen for a new-generation console before. Instead of aiming to wow the core gamers with new experiences, it is addressing a much broader market and talking about the value offered by Game Pass and the All Access subscription plan - and the affordable, adorable Series S fits that message perfectly, especially in the current economic climate. It might just be the right console at the right time.” (Oli Welsh, Eurogamer)
A little trivia about the Xbox Series S codename, Lockhart:
Some bonus thoughts on Series X and S:
At NoEscapeVG, Adam Clark wrote that “PC gaming doesn’t have to be expensive,” a reaction to the reveal of new graphics cards that cost upwards of $1,500.
If the PC gaming hivemind is to be believed, you must spend thousands of dollars and get hundreds of frames per second to have a real gaming PC. In reality, there’s a much wider world out there open to people wanting to play games on PC, and if you are interested, you can get to work building your own quality gaming PC easily, and at nearly any budget.
The same logic now applies to the next generation of video game consoles. To join the fun at previous console launches, you’d typically need to cough up at least half a grand. The Xbox Series S will cost $299 — that’s the same price as the current Xbox One, a seven-year-old piece of electronics that cost $499 in 2013.
Some folks will want the Xbox Series X and every ounce of power it has to offer. But for most folks, I think the Series S will suffice.
Tony Hawk: the GotY campaign begins
“Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1 + 2 wants you to feel every second of the last 20 years.” (Garret Martin, Paste)
“Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1+2 is one of the best videogames that I have played all year, and not because of nostalgia.” (Cole Henry, Paste)
“Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1+2 is one of the best games of the generation.” (John Linneman, Eurogamer/Digital Foundry)
Two games to play
A Monster’s Expedition
“Charm is so easily overdone or under considered, but for charm to work it has to already be there, in some way, within the material. A Monster’s Expedition has it in spades (a spade is a giant spoon, the exhibition tells me by the way). It’s in the way you can stop and dangle your feet in the water, to the sound of a swelling, but still soothing little groove […]” (Chris Tapsell, Eurogamer)
A Monster’s Expedition is available on PC and Apple Arcade.
“Hotshot Racing is a slick callback to a much-loved era of racing games made by people who are clearly passionate and knowledgeable about the genre. Older players will get all the references; newcomers will enjoy a bright, exhilarating game that forgoes modern frills for pure, seamless racing entertainment.” (Keith Stuart, The Guardian)
Hotshot Racing is available on PC, Switch, and Xbox One.
Three stories to read
As Nintendo’s secrets continue to leak, we’re getting an unprecedented look at the hidden history of the most iconic video game maker. We’re learning so much, so quickly, that the community of archivists, critics, and thinkers can’t keep up. (Patrick Klepeck, Vice)
A reasonable and straightforward request: Video games, please stop making me kill dogs. (Allison Keene, Paste)
A beautiful and vulnerable essay on how depression and the pandemic warp our sense of time, and how video games reflect that distortion back at us. (And how games occasionally allow us a moment to catch our breath on the banks of time’s relentless flow. ) (Chris Karnadi, Catapult.io)
Four videos to watch
Highlight Reel has a new home
Chris Person’s years-long chronicle of video game goofs and glitches has a new home on YouTube. You can support Highlight Reel on Patreon.
The “Tony Hawk for Game of the Year” campaign continues
This is probably the closest we’ll get to a Steep sequel
An extremely watchable summary of the Xbox leaks and price drops
The best of the rest
Marvel’s Avengers campaign tells the story of Kamala Khan, the first Muslim American-Pakistani hero in the Marvel universe. Dean Abdou explains the significance of her star turn: “While Khan being Muslim isn’t a huge story focus for the wider campaign, it’s still a part of the representation of that character. Those small moments throughout the campaign were enough to make me well up, the moments when she would speak with her Abu and the moment where she puts together a makeshift superhero outfit using a burkini.” (Dean Abdou, Eurogamer)
How the name “Karen” got unbanned on Xbox. (Wesley Yin-Poole, Eurogamer)
A promising, unreleased Steam game has pissed off Russia’s state-controlled media. (Patricia Hernandez, Polygon)
“I can’t help seeing Paradise Killer […] as one of the most confident games I’ve ever played.” (Natalie Flores, Fanbyte)
“Crusader Kings 3 made me understand the eldritch madness of grand strategy games.” (Astrid Johnson, Gayming Magazine)
“Apple opens iOS to game streaming, but with major hurdles for Stadia and xCloud.” (Owen Good, Polygon)
Nintendo announced a Super Mario Battle Royale that shared an uncanny resemblance to an indie developer’s creation. From the creator: “It’s honestly really funny that some nonsense joke idea I came up with ended up being yoinked by a giant corporation like Nintendo. They must be really out of ideas over there.” (Patricia Hernandez, Polygon)
Free game of the week: Where the Water Tastes Like Wine (Postgame)
David Byrne’s American Utopia is one of the best live shows I’ve ever seen. I’m delighted everybody will soon have the chance to watch Spike Lee’s documented version on HBO Max. (Karen Han, Polygon)
For every person who tweets “this is a hell site” on Twitter, and then returns to Twitter an hour later, get a pot of coffee brewing. This read’s for you. (Max Read, Bookforum)
“DC’s best comic right now is not so quietly about the horror of the Iraq War” (Gita Jackson, Vice)
A 2020 headline if I ever saw one: “Eric Trump thinks Google is ‘trying to manipulate Americans’ with images of Mob Psycho 100” (Randall Colburn, AV Club)
Remember the mystery seeds that arrived in thousands of US citizens’ mailboxes in July? Some people planted them. (Jason Koebler, Vice)
But what do you think?
Send links, tips, comments, questions, games, and x-bots to @plante.
That’s a wrap. See y’all next time. Wear a mask!