The original Xbox controller could have looked very different, and yet familiar to Sega fans. At the time the Dreamcast was the console people were most excited about, despite its size and awkward cord placement. This was reflected in early prototype drawings revealed by Xbox team member Seamus Blackley.
The Dreamcast was an amazing machine, actually running Windows-based software before Microsoft even had a console. However, the controller was quite a hulk in size. This was partly due to the fact that a mini console which doubled as a memory unit slipped into the front of the plastic mammoth. The VMU (visual memory unit), as it was called, used regular watch batteries (CR-2032) to operate as a portable gaming device, enhancing some games similar to the way the PlayStation Vita is supposed to enhance PS4 titles.
The original Xbox controller almost did the same thing. Thankfully in the end, Microsoft decided to put a hard drive in the console, which supported game saves as well as DVD playback and in-game music swapping. The one aspect which remained from the prototype drawings was the size of the controller. Unless you had huge hands, it was difficult to hold when you wanted to play something action-packed.
These Xbox controller prototypes from '99 draw inspiration from Sega's Dreamcast design: https://t.co/VE0OFFAEGZ pic.twitter.com/30wdk9w5qxXbox eventually rectified the problem by making the controller smaller, even though the console itself still looked big enough to have its own zip code.
— Gamasutra (@gamasutra) June 28, 2016
Here's what the original Xbox controller could have looked like. Look at all the prototypes https://t.co/ZKmrdOzQS6 pic.twitter.com/8A2UybN930The first of the original Xbox controller prototype sketches revealed almost a reverse stingray design, with side grips much like the Dreamcast, two analog sticks in the rear, and six buttons sitting on top. The VMU plugged into the front, and the cord leading to the console plugged in behind it like a tail. None of the sketches showed any obvious "triggers," which is odd considering that the most recent console controllers had adapted them, the N64 being the first to make one that felt like a trigger.
— Digital Spy Gaming (@digitalspygames) June 28, 2016
Some original Xbox controller designs from November 1999. Enjoy! pic.twitter.com/cTReQCJ96sNintendo innovated a lot of controller advancements, seen later in competing consoles.
— Seamus Blackley (@SeamusBlackley) June 26, 2016
The second sketch revealed more of a triangular design, foregoing the analog sticks entirely. The cord looked to plug in through the front again, only lower in the vertical plane, with the VMU similarly placed.
The third sketch looked to be more of a half circle with the VMU port in the rear. The analog sticks were back in the rear, and it seemed to take a cue from Nintendo with a four-button control pad array. Again, the shoulder and trigger buttons weren't very pronounced for this prototype of the original Xbox controller.
Sketch number four was the closest to what we actually got, though still lacking the pronounced shoulder buttons and still using the VMU.Eventually they ended up leaving out the mini-console VMU device and built smaller memory units in favor of putting a hard drive in the console itself. Instead of a separate device, it appears they decided to make a massive decoration with an "x" on it. The controller itself still looked like something you could throw to ward off burglars with its massive size, though.
Controllers have evolved since, and are now much more utilitarian and easier to hold. The front trigger buttons have become standard, showing the rising popularity of first person shooter games like Halo and Call of Duty. The original Xbox controller wasn't perfect, but it was a step in the right direction.
[Image via julie deshaies/Shutterstock.com]