In today’s digital age, it sometimes feels like hardware has taken a back seat to the software that drives our devices. Button of the Month will look at what some of those buttons and switches are like on devices old and new to appreciate how we interact with our devices on a physical, tactile level.
Xbox button (Xbox 360)
There are many baffling design decisions on the Duke, the original Xbox controller. The main one is that the giant Xbox logo in the middle doesn’t actually do anything. It’s the anti-button: big, glossy, attention-grabbing, and completely useless.
Microsoft eventually fixed the Xbox button on the next generation of the controller for the Xbox 360, featuring it as a central part of its design: a 3D button emblazoned with the Xbox logo in all its neon green-glowing glory. The Xbox button was the core of the console’s interface. You pressed it to turn the console on, held it down to shut the console off, and it served as a “home” button of sorts to take you back to the main menu.
One of my favorite things about the Xbox 360 controller was how it dealt with the issue of letting players know which controller was for which player. It’s the kind of thing that was never really a problem before, back in the olden days of gaming: you were player 1 if you were plugged into the first slot on the front of the console, and you were player two if you were in in the second slot.
But when consoles made the jump to wireless controllers, we required a way to tell the controllers apart. Enter Microsoft with a clever solution: a ring of LED lights around the Xbox button that was mirrored on the front of the console, lighting up a slice of the wheel for each controller that was connected.
Nintendo and Sony later added simple LED indicators to their models, but they never had quite the same personality as the Xbox 360’s circle. It seamlessly integrated into the face of the controller and perfectly fit the “360-degree” design motif that Microsoft was shooting for.
When Microsoft introduced the Xbox One, it kept the controller largely the same as the Xbox 360. The new generation was another chance to refine the design further (for example: a functional D-pad). But the player indicator light didn’t make the jump. This is officially because the Xbox One supports up to eight controllers, although my more cynical and couch co-op-mourning self believes that it’s because Microsoft didn’t believe that players would ever play a local multiplayer game on its console again. (I write this as I glare angrily in the direction of Halo 5: Guardians.)
History always comes around, though. When Hyperkin resurrected the original Duke controller for the Xbox One and PC earlier this year, it finally realized what had been imagined all those years ago: the Xbox logo in the middle of the controller is now a fully functioning button, complete with an animated OLED display.
It’s still not as good as a Dreamcast VMU, but that’s a conversation for another time.