We try not to be celebrity-obsessed here at Cracked; we don't know whether Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie are still married, we don't know which leading men are secretly gay and we have no idea why OJ doesn't make hilarious spoof movies anymore.

But some prominent people have permanently changed the culture, and it's worth understanding what made them tick. Especially when you consider the fact that (according to some theories) small, arbitrary events in their lives completely changed the world.

For instance, some say ...

#5. Michael Jackson Acted Like That Because He Was Chemically Castrated



For those of you who only knew Michael Jackson as the washed up, deformed, crazy pedophile with his own amusement park, you should know that at one time he was the most famous entertainer in the world. Not because he was nuts -- he wasn't, back then -- but because the world thought he was goddamned amazing to watch. What we're saying is, in spite of all the other weirdness and chaos surrounding his crazy life, MJ's vocal talent was undeniable.

Hey, speaking of voices, did you ever notice how Michael's voice never really changed?

Here he is at about age 11, singing like an angel sent from Jesus above. And again at 15, same tenor. And here he is at age 22 ... his speaking voice is almost higher.

That's ... kind of weird, right? For comparison (we're so sorry), you should have a few listens to Donny Osmond. Donny was about Michael's age and enjoyed a similar career for a while there. Here's Donny singing with an admirable little baby voice in 1972. Notice what happens, though, two years later when he banters with MJ at the 1974 Oscars.

It's like listening to a mouse and Barry White try to carry on a conversation. A few years later, while Michael was putting together his world-changing Off the Wall album, Donny was serenading Miss Universe contestants with his man-voice. (Once again, we're sorry.)

Via Sodahead.com
Donny's career also suffered from constant attacks by ivory poachers.

So what's the deal?

Well, one professor of vascular surgery thinks that Michael's consistently high voice was the key to understanding everything about his adult career. (No word if it explains the spangly military uniform phase, though.)

The Theory:

It was all due to some medication he took.

Via Okokchina.com
The kind that's been known to grow boobs on male patients.

When Michael Jackson was 12 years old, he started getting zits. Because remember, he was just a normal kid back then, and zits and occasional deodorant misfires are what happen when you're normal and you're 12.

What wasn't normal, according to Alain Branchereau, was the way Michael's entourage dealt with his face volcanoes. Branchereau's theory is that Michael's family or doctor or the devil in a dermatologist mask treated Michael's acne with a hormone called cyproterone. And it's a good thing, because look at this pepperoni pizza head someone tried to pass off as a human:

Via Michaeljackson.com
Don't look at it directly, lest you anger the spirit that laid its curse upon it!

But the thing about cyproterone is that it is a synthetic anti-male hormone -- a drug that knocks the man right out of you by blocking puberty itself. According to Dr. French House, the drug stopped body hair from growing and affected bone growth, leaving Michael with a boyish, narrow, hairless body. Most importantly, cyproterone kept the larynx from growing, which was why Michael's voice never changed, why he kept singing throughout his teens without a hitch and why as a full grown man he had a three-octave range.

In other words, Michael Jackson was a castrato. A eunuch.

Just think for a brief second what this would mean if it were true. All that Neverland nonsense and weird sleepover claptrap wasn't about the gross stuff we all wish we never heard about -- it was about a literal little kid living in a (kinda) grownup body. And the really weird stuff, like the oxygen sleep chamber and the plastic surgeries and the whole drippy hair look, maybe that was just about a very messed up boy with unlimited wealth making horrible decisions -- the same horrible decisions any other 12-year-old with unlimited income would make. Didn't you ever buy the bones of the Elephant Man or share a bed with Corey Feldman when you were a kid?

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Or convince him to become your living clone?

The point is, maybe, just maaaayyyybe all the parts about Michael Jackson that made us uncomfortable had a biological cause. Unfortunately, we'll never know. But wouldn't it be nice to pretend, even for just a moment, that everything that happened after Off the Wall wasn't really Michael's fault?

#4. Kurt Cobain's Left-Handed Guitar Killed Him



As the poster child of the "Musicians Who Died at 27" Club (I Love the '90s Edition), you're probably already familiar with Kurt Cobain's life and legacy: He was a depressed heroin addicted guitarist who committed suicide before he could defeat his own demons. Not that anyone was surprised; as a prototypical self-destructive rock star type, he was destined from birth to live fast and die young, right?

Well ... maybe not.

A human life is more complicated than that. And some biographers have speculated that it was one small, seemingly inconsequential decision that led Kurt Cobain down the road to heroin addiction and death. One decision, made in one moment.

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And no, we're not talking about the sweater OR Courtney Love.
The Theory:

Once Cobain's heroin habit was in full swing, he went on record blaming a mysterious stomach ailment for his addiction (heroin is one hell of a pain killer). He described it in an interview as one of the two major sources of pain that influenced his music. How bad was it? Approximately this bad ...

"Halfway through the European tour, I remember saying I'll never go on tour again until I have this fixed because I wanted to kill myself. I wanted to fucking blow my head off, I was so tired of it."

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Which is saying a lot when your career can produce brilliant moments like this.

In 1993, not long before Cobain broke his promise about not having a gun, a doctor diagnosed the pain in his stomach as a pinched nerve in his spine caused by scoliosis (a curvature of the spine that some people have to get corrected with surgery). So, scoliosis led to horrible pain, which led to Cobain self-medicating with heroin. This diagnosis was probably why he was a rock star, not a doctor.

But let's go back a little further. Years before the burden of back and stomach pain drove Mr. Love to opiates, he took up the guitar. Like, literally picked it up. And the teenage Cobain had a choice to make: left-handed, or right? See, Kurt could go either way -- he was ambidextrous, but learning how to play on a left-handed guitar is a pain. That's why left-handed guitarists like Paul Simon, B.B. King and Noel Gallagher just didn't bother, they straight up learned on the rightie.

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Noel, by the way, is also right-handed at being a complete douchebag.

Not Kurt. Probably for the same reasons he chose the wife he did, he went for the left-handed guitar. Makes sense. He liked doing things the hard way. The problem was that playing left-handed was the worst thing he could have done for his scoliosis:

"Kurt's spine curved out a bit on his right side, but it was made worse by the fact that he played guitar left-handed (and thus held his guitar with his right shoulder). Ironically, Cobain was naturally right-handed, and it's been theorized that had he played guitar that way, the spinal curvature may have corrected itself over time."

A guitar is heavy, and he had that strap on his right shoulder a lot -- think about all the hours spent practicing alone and rehearsing with the band and just messing around. All that time, the strap on the right shoulder, that weight bending his spine painfully further in the bad direction, for weeks, months, years.

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Add to that his decision to constantly jam his guitar into the amps, using his right side.

Over more than a decade of this, the scoliosis keeps getting worse, which leads to his chronic stomach problem, which leads to his heroin addiction, which leads to his suicide. All because he picked the wrong guitar.

That's the theory, anyway.

#3. Thomas Jefferson Had Asperger's



We know what you're thinking: bullshit. Everyone's playing so fast and loose with Asperger's diagnoses you'd think the disease was a pair of boobs. At this point, the list of symptoms for this form of autism is so universal that basically it's "If you're awkward at parties, you have Asperger's."

But despite all of the people casually throwing the Asperger's tag around, it is still an actual syndrome with actual symptoms and actual sufferers. And one guy has made a pretty compelling case for Thomas Jefferson being one of them.

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"Jesus, Tom. Can we talk about something besides anime for a minute?"

First up, we need to make sure you're clear on which Founding Father was Thomas Jefferson. He was the one who wrote the Declaration of Independence, and also the one who was the third president of the United States. He bought us Louisiana Plus and had a long term affair with his slave, Sally Hemings, who was also his wife's half-sister. He also spoke five languages, designed his home Monticello and invented the SWIVEL CHAIR.

Photos.com
Making him the godfather of office shenanigans.

So, no matter what everyone says about his stupid hair, there's no denying he was a smart cookie. Here are some other facts about Thomas Jefferson:

It was these little idiosyncrasies, plus a host of others, that led one journalist/novelist to conclude that maybe our third president had a little case of the autism. The Asperger's autism.

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With an occasional outbreak of leaf-head.

The Theory:

According to Norm "The Legend" Ledgin, and also a few autism experts, there are 13 hallmarks of a person with Asperger's syndrome, and you only need four for a diagnosis. Jefferson met five:

  • Marked impairments in the use of multiple nonverbal behaviors such as eye-to-eye gaze, facial expression, body posture, and gestures to regulate social interaction

  • Lack of social or emotional reciprocity

  • Encompassing preoccupation with one or more stereotyped and restricted patterns of interest that is abnormal either in intensity or focus

  • Apparently inflexible adherence to specific, nonfunctional routines or rituals

  • The disturbance causes clinically significant impairments in social, occupational or other important areas of functioning
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Insistence upon dressing like Prince.

We could start with his eccentricities, which were so pronounced that people who visited Jefferson walked away baffled. Like how he kept an uncaged mockingbird around him while he worked and greeted state visitors in dated, threadbare, worn-out clothes, some of which were too small for his body.

"His setness, for instance, in wearing very sharp toed shoes, corduroy small-clothes, and red plush waistcoat, which have been laughed at till he might perhaps wisely have dismissed them."

You got that right? That people were laughing at him? It's hard to get that when looking at old pictures, but in his day, Jefferson was a bit of a clown. Well, OK, so he was a bit odd. That alone doesn't qualify him for a "syndrome" of any kind -- otherwise half the people reading this have it.
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He also had nightmarishly long arms.

But then you have to combine it with his other traits, such as his obsessing over tiny details for no rational reason. He obsessively recorded everything in writing -- the weather, animal sightings, recipes, gardening crap and every little change he wanted to make to Monticello, which, by the way, he worked on for over 50 years.

For instance, Jefferson didn't just keep financial records, he recorded every tiny little transaction down to the penny. Not because he was careful with money (he spent lavishly and was drowning in debt), but because he was obsessive about tracking it, like if you still had on file the candy bar you bought with pocket change at a convenience store seven years ago. It was a compulsion. One expert says his constant note-taking was such a big part of his life that it "... may have actually contributed to the disastrous legacy of debt ... for it gave Jefferson a sense of control that he didn't know how to exercise."

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But it was mostly about the hair.

Brilliant, yes. Able to dress himself appropriately, stop singing, or stop taking notes on every little thing, or function without a live bird shitting all over the place? Apparently not. And if he did all of that today, his doctors probably would have had a name for it.

#2. Elvis Presley Died From Chronic Constipation



The popularly accepted theory on the death of Elvis Presley is that he died as a result of cardiac arrhythmia (aka irregular heartbeat), possibly brought on by drug abuse and a gut-driven instinct to prove bacon and peanut butter were God's medicine.

And we've always presumed it was that last weakness that ate phat Elvis and left fat Elvis in his place. But one doctor (who also happened to be Elvis' personal physician) doesn't think it was necessarily his heart or his appetite that got him in the end.

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Think lower. And browner.

The Theory:

Dr. George Nichopoulos thinks Elvis Presley died from chronic constipation. Before you say, "Hey, that sounds like a load of crap," please understand, the doctor makes a pretty hefty, odorous case. According to the doctor, constipation plagued Elvis for most of his "fat" years. In fact, he claims that those weren't even "fat" years. They were more like "holy mother of God, that guy has six months of fecal matter in his colon" years.

"It was really a physiological problem. During the last few years we were going back and comparing pictures, some of them were taken just two weeks apart but he looked like he'd gained 20 pounds when the only difference was that he had a good healthy bowel movement and then lost a lot of weight from that."

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"The King needs to fire off a hunk of burning love."

Delicious! An autopsy revealed that his status in the rock community wasn't the only king-sized thing about Elvis. His colon was 5 inches in diameter, a good 2 to 3 inches larger than normal, and it was approximately 8 to 9 feet long. A normal colon is only 4 to 5 feet long. Which was why Nichopoulos was in talks to give the Pelvis a colostomy.

Seeing as how he was sporting a nine-footer, Elvis certainly had colon to spare, but the shame of admitting to poop problems in public was too much to stomach, and the potentially lifesaving surgery never happened. Instead, the man who invented rock and roll (for white people) stuck with a series of more traditional constipation treatments that led to frequent accidents and wardrobe changes on stage. Sad.
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"Oh my God, how'd you get it on your scarf?"

For his part, Nichopoulos believes that the King would still be with us today if the procedure had been done.
Oh, hey, now that this article is about poop ...

#1. Hitler's Sadism Came From a Poop Fetish



Alright, we're not going to lie. Things are about to get nasty. Not only are we going to be talking about supreme devil #1, the big one, the grand slam of evil, but we're also going to be talking about the things that came out of his butthole. And why it gave him a boner.

We're so sorry. We really shouldn't have put this in the article. Editors, make sure to just cut this whole part before it runs.

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The Theory:

In Freudian psychology, all kids have an "anal stage" of sexual development, around the time they start potty training. Supposedly if something weird happens in that stage that makes a kid fixate on the experience, it can manifest itself later as a sexual fetish. Hitler, for instance, was reportedly one of those people. We know because his girlfriend/niece Geli (you read that right) blabbed all about his feces fetish.

We don't have the stomach to write out the manifestations of this obsession, but it was bad. Real bad. Read up if you want, cowboy. But we're not going there. He was Hitler, and he was obsessed with poop, and that obsession got him aroused. Use your freaking imagination.

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He insisted on his photos being taken in brown and white.

Now, here's where things get even weirder, if that's possible. Psychologists have speculated that the fixation came from his mother's harsh methods during potty training. Her abusive tactics apparently instilled in him an obsessive fear of germs and anything dirty (the "forbidden" nature of poop apparently being what turned him on).

Now, when it came to Adolph's feelings about the Jews of Germany, he uses some despicable language that we're obviously not going to repeat here. But you don't have to be a genius psychologist to see this bizarre link that he makes between the Jewish people and all things dirty. His mind not only made this insane connection, it also associated destroying all germs with destroying all "dirty" cultures. The obsession with "cleansing" humanity influenced his politics and made the foundation for his "sadistic character."

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"Oh, man up, baby. It'll wash out."

So, to recap, Hitler's mother instills in him a fear of, and obsession with, excrement and dirtiness. This becomes an obsession with germs and cleanliness. Hitler decides the Jews and all non-white races are unclean. And the rest is horrifying, nightmarish history.

Resurrecting The Crow

James O'Barr's deeply personal comic book, The Crow, is one of my favorites of all time and one of the few comics I consider a perfect ten in every respect. It's one of the most profoundly personal and beautiful works you'll ever find in the comic book medium; you witness the artist's therapeutic exercise in dealing with the tragic death of his girlfriend. The book uses clips of poetry, song lyrics, pin-ups and an array of different art styles to create an overwhelming experience that shows the tragedy of death but more importantly, the beauty of love and life. If your only familiarity with Eric Draven comes from the classic Brandon Lee-starring film, I urge you to check out the comic as well.

The 1994 movie largely kept the source material's plot intact – a young couple is murdered in a particularly brutal fashion, only to have one of them (Eric) brought back from death to enact vengeance. There were things added and subtracted, of course, but for the most part the film was in keeping with the story of the comic book. Plus, it had a killer soundtrack.



Earlier this week, we caught a glimpse of what Bradley Cooper's Crow would have looked like had it come to fruition. While I have no real qualms with the casting or the visual look they were going for (though IGN Australia's Stephen Lambrechts took issue with it), the larger issue at hand is if The Crow is a cinematic property worth resurrecting in the current Hollywood environment. I think the Brandon Lee Crow is a great film, but it's undeniable that the sense of tragedy surrounding Lee's death contributes to the film's appeal, especially considering its subject matter. The issue of its financial success is another matter entirely. Would it have been as successful if Lee hadn't been killed? His performance would have remained largely the same, but would it have drawn in nearly $150 million worldwide on a $15 million budget?

There's a great Entertainment Weekly article from 1994 discussing the crew gathering back together after Lee's death in order to finish the movie, and how there were many rewrites involved to shape the film around what was unable to be shot. Ultimately, it changed the final film pretty significantly. There's one quote in particular that stands out, though its speaker is unknown. They said, "In a way, the film became about something different. It became about how you deal with grief. What happens when someone you love is taken from you? How do you incorporate that into your life?"

In a sad way, it's almost as if the '94 Crow movie was only able to replicate the thematic punch of the original story because the filmmakers went through this experience; as if tragedy is a prerequisite for involvement in the property. Similarly, Lee himself had gone through the very early, tragic loss of his father, Bruce Lee, as a child, no doubt helping him identify with the role in the first place.


The Crow was followed by a set of increasingly miserable sequels (and a TV show), none able to capture the pure emotion that fueled the original comic book and movie. With Hollywood high on the idea of bringing this property back, I'm left to wonder if there's anything more devaluing to an extremely personal work of art than resurrection by reboot. That's not to say that I'm opposed to any and all reboots (read: Why the Spider-Man Reboot Will Be Amazing), but The Crow is special in its place in pop culture and art; it's a work born of tragedy to showcase something beautiful across multiple mediums.

It's unlikely that an attempt at a new film franchise would hold any of that kind of weight. There's a reason that the comic and original film are so widely loved: the emotion involved feels real and genuine. Even if the '94 film began as another Hollywood fabrication of someone else's artistic therapy, by the time it released it had become anything but.


So why is it okay for characters like Batman and Spider-Man (whose own origins have huge helpings tragedy) to be constantly reimagined and revamped for audiences while the Crow is untouchable? The Crow, as a comic book creation, is a singular vision of O'Barr. His experiences alone birthed the character. A DC or Marvel character, though their creations are attributed to one or two people, the characters' status as icons comes courtesy of multiple generations of creators that have added to the stories over time. While the Crow, at a base level, is a superhero (coming in at #37 on IGN's Top 100 Comic Book Heroes, in fact), it's O'Barr's connection to the character that makes it a unique vision, personalized to a level that few "corporate" heroes can match.

As characters, Batman, Spider-Man and the rest have undergone various retellings and updates since their inception. It's the nature of superhero comics. Superheroes themselves are little more than modern updates of classic myths and legends. But with something that consists of such an intense personal connection to the subject matter, there are few that can successfully replicate it to a degree that rings true to the source material.


Of course I could be proven wrong in the end. I just hope it doesn't take another miserable tragedy to make the next iteration of this character something worthwhile. If there was ever a character that should be left standing exactly as he is in this world of increasingly regurgitated content, it's the Crow.


Source:  IGN Hero Worship

Will There Ever Be Another Batman?

If you take a look at IGN's Top 100 Comic Book Heroes, specifically the top 20, you'll notice a trend. It might not be all that shocking, but looked at from a certain angle, it's fairly disconcerting. Only two of the entries come from the modern era – Rorschach from Watchmen (1986) and Dream of the Endless from Sandman (1989). The next closest is Wolverine, who debuted in 1974.

Beyond that, the top 20 is comprised of characters that range from the earliest days of superhero comics, the late 1930s, to the "Marvel Age" – the early-to-mid 1960s. In addition to being comic book icons, a bulk of these characters are also the bankable franchises currently running the Hollywood scene: Batman, Iron Man, Thor, Captain America, and Hulk.



After pondering this list (which I myself had a hand in creating) and writing my Wrestling & Comics: A Perfect Match article from earlier this week, something rather profound occurred to me. Much like pro wrestling has relied on the same big name talent for the past 20 years out of an inability to create new stars, so too have comic books in Hollywood. There are very few examples of newly created heroes in mainstream comics that have blown up to the level of being ripe for a summer superhero movie.

Keep in mind, I'm talking about bona fide superhero here, classic capes and tights action. There are things that fall into that gray area – The Crow, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Hellboy, and Spawn – but in terms of a Marvel or DC superhero that has caught on to the general public enough to warrant a film, there's been nothing (not counting Steel, of course).

What's really interesting is considering the success rate of the films that we have seen. Obviously things like Spider-Man, Batman, X-Men and the Avengers-related flicks have all proved successful, solidifying their viability as box office superstars. But then look at Superman, a character that modern audiences (and comic book readers) often cite as irrelevant to the modern age -- an issue I've discussed in a past Hero Worship -- and you'll see, time and again, Warner Brothers attempting to make him a viable franchise.


Aside from Donner's original Superman: The Movie, and to a lesser degree Superman II, no Superman film has been generally well-received. One has to wonder if the core of the character simply isn't connecting with modern audiences. Why then, are we seeing a constant effort to reshape this character? I'm a huge Superman fan, and as excited as I am for Man of Steel, it's hard not to wonder if we should stop relying on Superman's status as the first superhero and iconic archetype, and try to move onto something inherently more in tune with this day and age rather than trying to shoehorn relevance into a hero that was born in a very different era.

The only new Marvel or DC hero that has achieved some semblance of mainstream success inside and outside of comic books is Deadpool, who was created by Fabian Nicieza and Rob Liefeld in 1991. Deadpool quickly became a hero that the "too cool for superheroes" comic book readers could like, or even those that had become disenchanted with the typical storytelling of Marvel Comics at the time. He's a definitively Gen-X kind of hero, and one that survived the 90s in a way that most other characters from that time have not. He remains an important staple of Marvel's publishing schedule, a mainstay in Marvel video games, a candidate for a feature film, and provides a specific appeal that offers up something different amongst the slew of X-Men and Avengers books that regularly populate Marvel's catalog.

But since moving into an age where summer tent pole movies are growing ever more superhero-centric, new franchises viable for adaptation has grown slimmer. Oftentimes, the best new characters and books teeter on the brink of their respective universes – look at Secret Six for DC or Marvel's cosmic books – and are hardly in the eye of pop culture. In an environment like today's comic book market, it's unlikely that a niche character will catch on fire with fans outside of comics, like Deadpool did in the midst of the '90s boom.


While comic book fans would undoubtedly love to see characters like Catman and Deadshot on screen, the studio mindset of relying on the icons (no different than their love of sequels and reboots) is unlikely to change. But in the case of things like the Green Lantern movie, deemed a failure in most respects (except, of course, by me) Warner Brothers is more likely to try a rebooted Green Lantern movie (a la Incredible Hulk) than a different, lesser known "pop culture franchise" all together.

Inability to change isn't just a Hollywood problem. It's an issue inherent to superhero comics, too. There are exceptions, as there are to every rule, but this is why characters don't stay dead or always revert to their best-known roles. It's why DC Comics needed a jumpstart this past September: change doesn't come naturally in superhero comics.

DC recognized this problem to a degree and took drastic measures to instigate it. Obviously, there was a whole lot more that went into the decision, but the need to shake things up – both in terms of business and characters – was a primary factor. Whether or not it has been successful in those goals is still up for debate.


The truth is that diehard comic book readers make up only a fraction of the general movie-going audience. But considering that comic book publishers are becoming more and more akin to Research and Development departments of the bigger corporations that own them, there needs to be a significant push toward new stories that will lead to new characters. It's unlikely that characters will ever die and stay that way, but the best example I can point to is Dick Grayson -- one of the few superheroes to ever show true progression. He began as Robin, became Nightwing, and eventually Batman. While he's since reverted back to Nightwing, his 30 years before the DC relaunch remains a shining example of building on the past of superhero comics to grow the future.

Highlight Mixtape of Brunei Men's National Basketball Team at the Borneo Cup 2011

Made history by being the first Brunei Men's squad to win the Borneo cup in 13 years. Here are some of the players' highlights.

In Memoriam: The Life and Death of the Original Xbox

It's March in 1999 and Sony is a year away from releasing its recently announced PlayStation 2. From a technological standpoint, the PS2 is a peerless powerhouse. Early demos showcase incredible 3D visuals and beautiful animation. Sony talks about modem support and DVD playback. This is the future of gaming, and we haven't seen anything like it.

Meanwhile, four dudes at Microsoft's Redmond, WA fortress are working on a future of their own. Kevin Bachus, Seamus Blackley, Otto Berkes, and Ted Hase want to create the company's first gaming console. Looking ahead, they see more for video games than higher polygon counts. Their idea would facilitate creative growth, not just fancier visuals. They pitch their idea straight to Bill Gates. Unless Microsoft can do something to differentiate its product from the rest, outdo its competitors, and contribute to the industry in a meaningful way, Gates isn't sure it's a good idea.

He hears 'em out.
He changes his mind.


The Xbox would grow to become synonymous with gaming and cement Microsoft as a key player in the industry.

For the following year, the newly formed console team, joined by Microsoft Game Studios head honcho Ed Fries, talked to developers about what they wanted to do with console gaming. Existing hardware holding back big ideas was a running theme. The conclusion Microsoft walked away with was this: If consoles stifled creativity, games would only see major breakthroughs on the ever-evolving and far more flexible PC. That had to change, and the solution was obvious. Microsoft would build a badass gaming rig and put it in our living rooms.

So what would the guts of its "DirectX Box" -- quickly abbreviated to just Xbox -- look like? Microsoft would run it on its own operating system, of course, using the Windows 2000 kernel. The Xbox would also use (and derive its name from) DirectX 8, a suite of special software systems programmers used to talk to the internal hardware. This way, studios familiar with PC game development (BioWare, Lionhead, and Red Storm, for instance) could understand the architecture without much fuss. Ideally, the exciting opportunities of a new platform would also be easy to work with. This is a luxury many new and complex consoles aren't afforded. With the Xbox foundation in place, the remaining hardware specifications became a matter of would make Microsoft's machine-dreams come true.

After meeting with many suitors, Microsoft struck a deal with Nvidia, whose audio and graphics components would work alongside an Intel Pentium III core processor. At 733 MHz, the 32-bit CPU had more than double the PlayStation 2's processing power and worked with twice the RAM (64MB rather than the PS2's 32). Add an 8GB hard-disk drive to this impressive set of tech specs and you'd have what's easily the most powerful and able home console conceived. It had all the necessary parts to support its grand ambitions while enabling a stronger visual output than its competitors. The Xbox was born -- now to tell the world about it.

Bill Gates took the stage at the Game Developers Conference in 2000 to formally announce the Xbox. He detailed the future of console gaming with the Xbox leading the charge. At the time, online gaming on consoles was both unsuccessful and relatively unknown. The Dreamcast experimented with a modem adapter, but broadband support out of the box, a priority for the Xbox from day one, was unheard of. Downloading additional game content and demos was another foreign concept for console gamers. Storing this media, as well as music ripped from CDs, on an internal hard drive was also new. This was a console, we'd play it on our couch, and we'd use controllers -- but it sure sounded like a personal computer in terms of what it was capable of.

The original Xbox blurred the line between console and PC.

It was important to Microsoft that these PC features and standards not overshadow the importance of bringing a brand-new console to our attention. The Xbox design had to look as unlike a PC as possible. After all, Microsoft was a consumer company in addition to a hardware and software corporation now. The prototype model shown at GDC in 2000 was a chrome cube carved into a literal X. It was a dramatic departure from a computer case, that's for sure. Silly though it may have been, it made a clear point: Microsoft's Xbox isn't just another gaming system. Things would be different.

Shortly after GDC, Microsoft cemented its commitment to the Xbox with its $30 million purchase of Bungie Studios. Its Halo: Combat Evolved transformed from a Mac/PC third-person shooter to an Xbox-exclusive FPS. Halo would take advantage of the Xbox's expanded hardware to present an action game unlike any we'd seen before. The world would be massive in a way that wasn't possible on other systems. Bungie overhauled the game's engine to better suit its new platform, and it became the platform's poster child. The allure of the Xbox was stronger each day leading up to its 2001 launch.

It was hard not to notice the Xbox, really. With a $500M marketing budget, Microsoft wasn't pulling any punches with its new device. Demo kiosks, TV spots, and print ads made up the bulk of Microsoft's marketing materials. 165 companies had been tinkering with some 2,250 development kits, and the future of the Xbox looked bright in their hands. In addition to new IPs like Project Gotham Racing and Halo, Tecmo, Sega, and Capcom showed Japanese support for the platform with exclusives of their own. Munch's Odyssey and Malice demoed well at the 2001 Consumer Electronics Show as well, where Gates unveiled the final Xbox model we'd see in fall that year. By E3, we had a release date, a $299 price-point, and a vague understanding that online gaming would come after what became a monumental launch for Microsoft.

November 15, 2001 marked the company's first console release, and Halo, its premier first-party title, shattered software sales records. By the New Year, the Xbox had sold out nearly everywhere and 1.5 million of the big, black crates found their way into North American homes. Halo continued to crush the competition, it was moving full steam ahead. By April it had cracked one million copies sold, and gained a greater than 50% attach rate.
(Fun fact: Halo sold 5M units by 2005, which was gigantic. How times change -- in 2011, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 sold 6.5M in its first 24 hours.)

With the Xbox exploding, 2002 looked like a hell of a year. The system launched in Europe and Japan, and excitement swelled for Splinter Cell, MechAssault, and The Elder Scrolls: Morrowind. Microsoft made big waves when it purchased Rare, whose Banjo Kazooie and Goldeneye games were arguably the pinnacle of Nintendo 64 gaming, for an astonishing $375M. Oh, and a little sequel called Halo 2 was on the horizon. The industry was buzzing because of Xbox, and it still hadn't even done what it was truly meant to do -- we were still only seeing developers scratch the surface of what great-looking games could really do, and the upcoming online service had only hinted at its potential. Xbox Live was about to knock the industry on its ass.

Xbox LIVE was a huge milestone for digital gaming.

This particular launch wasn't exactly extravagant. At the tail end of August 2002, Microsoft began its Xbox Live beta test. This whole "online gaming" thing was so unfamiliar and unproven on consoles it had to be put through its paces prior to going public. Of more than 100,000 applicants, a lucky 10,000 gained 60 days of early access. Even then, the limited invitations rolled out in small groups over the course of those couple months. It had to be done delicately.

Beta testers paid $49.99 for the Xbox Live Starter Kit we'd all see in November. Along with a headset and a year subscription, which began once Live went live, users received an online-only demo of the RC car racer, Re-Volt Live. The Dreamcast port didn't end up on the Xbox after the test cycle. Weeks later, some time in October, participants also received MotoGP and Whacked! demos. These also wound up packed in with the first wave of Starter Kits.

 Things looked good by November 15, the Xbox's first birthday, and Microsoft launched Xbox Live to the masses. In its first week, 150,000 enthusiastic gamers took the plunge and signed up for Xbox Live. 200,000 additional players joined them four months later. Everyone could send messages and create a unified friends list, which linked to their Gamertag ID. People were interacting with other human beings from their living room for the first time, making friends, and experiencing multiplayer on a new scale. This was a community, not just a bunch of customers. Oh, and gamers finally had an Xbox controller they could use effectively. The Japanese "S" model, a smaller, decidedly Dual Shock-esque version of the game pad, replaced the clumsy, gigantic "Duke" model permanently.


"Duke" was big, clumsy, and eventually replaced, but some of its design choices remain to this day.

Over its lifetime, Microsoft's Xbox, despite its success, had some powerful lows. Bachus left the Xbox team in 2001 (before the thing had even launched) and Blackley bailed the following year. In 2003, EA opted against enabling its games for Xbox Live. The mammoth developer/publisher wasn't keen on the business practice of a subscription-based online service, so it stuck with Sony. The PlayStation 2 would be the only place gamers could play Madden online. This was a harsh blow to Microsoft, but the two companies sorted out their differences. They reached an agreement in 2004 that brought EA support to the Xbox online space. This good news came shortly after Ed Fries, who was responsible for the Bungie and Rare buyouts, left Microsoft. The Xbox needed a pick-me-up something fierce.

In July 2004, Microsoft hit a huge milestone: Xbox Live had one million users, 200 pieces of downloadable content, and more than 100 online-enabled titles. An unprecedented digital distribution service called Xbox Live Arcade was on track for winter as well, and with Halo 2's advertising campaign kicking into full force, the Xbox looked like it was ready to rock once again.

Halo 2 was an event. The time leading up to the game's release saw the exposure and marketing storm typically reserved for, well, the launch of a brand new console. Bungie's sequel had print ads, posters plastered on public transportation, TV commercials, 7-11 slurpee cups got the public's blood pumping, while a viral marketing campaign -- the infamous I Love Bees -- excited online enthusiasts. It was money and time well, spent, apparently. On November 9, 2004, Halo 2 generated $125M in sales, based on nearly 2.5M copies sold, more than half of which were pre-orders. It destroyed the record its predecessor set. Equally impressive are the other properties it outdid -- Harry Potter, Spider-Man, and The Matrix fell beneath Master Chief's big green boots. Halo 2 was the biggest entertainment launch in history, and it became what Microsoft rightfully referred to as "a cultural phenomenon."

Halo 2's I Love Bees campaign was an early example of successful viral marketing in the gaming industry.

Here's the thing about the Xbox up to this point: It wasn't making any money. It haemorrhaged cash so badly and for so long that it didn't turn its first profitable quarter until the back end of 2004. From the start, the Xbox cost more to make than it did to sell, which is what makes this so shocking: six months after launch Microsoft dropped the price by $100 to get more gamers on board with Xbox. It had to rely on software sales to make bank.

Also, the Xbox was failing in Japan. Not just tanking, either -- it had died almost instantly. The console's gigantic size, which goes against the country's small-and-sleek design mentality, is a prime suspect for its miserable 450,000 sales. Most likely, though, it's the lack of Japanese developer support, and few games Japanese gamers actually wanted to play, that killed the brand in Japan. The early dev support from the east didn't last, and American developers dominated the Xbox releases. The appeal wasn't there.

With an Xbox successor on its mind behind the scenes for some time, Microsoft wasn't focusing on its floundering console. When Xbox manufacturing ceased in 2005, after Nvidia stopped bothering to press more GPUs, Microsoft was revving up to release the Xbox 360. It made sense to press on. The Xbox sold respectably well in bursts, but in the end only 24 million pieces of hardware (16M of which belonged to North America) moved in its five years. That's half the 50M-units-sold success Microsoft expected. At the same time, Sony had sold 106 million PS2s. All told, Microsoft lost an astounding $4 billion -- yeah, with a B -- on the Xbox. That's a lot of money to just leave behind, especially when the Xbox had so many obvious strengths. It just wasn't able to capitalize on them like a newer machine could.

In November 2005, just four years after the Xbox hit retail, Microsoft unloaded the Xbox 360. This time, it would release ahead of Nintendo's and Sony's newest consoles. Microsoft was the only name on our minds as we moved into the next generation, giving the successor the early adopter monopoly. While Microsoft left its failed first attempt behind, the original Xbox maintained an impressive amount of developer support. Halo 2, of course, grew into the biggest game on the platform, both in terms of players and sales. It earned more than 8M sales, and Bungie released downloadable Halo 2 maps around the time Xbox Live had six million members. EA, ironically, supported the platform the longest. The last original Xbox release, Madden 09, landed in August, 2008.

Behold the very last game for the original Xbox.

Although developers migrated their attention to the new Xbox, and many studios shut down individual game servers over the years, Counter-Strike, Star Wars: Battlefront, and Halo 2 still had an impressive, active user-base for years after the 360 came around. The original Xbox had a heartbeat until April 14, 2010. This day marks the death of Xbox Live support.

It also marks the moment where we were forced to let go of something that changed a lot of lives, and turned the industry upside down. The Xbox was ahead of its time, and Microsoft paid the price for it. While it failed financially, it was a worthwhile sacrifice for both Microsoft and the gaming industry. The Xbox had so many important ideas early on that they've since become the modern standard. This thing changed what we expect from games. It represented progress and forward-thinking, and it demanded innovation from its competitors to keep up. This is a philosophy that carried over to the Xbox 360, and is responsible for many wonderful things we adore about the industry today.

Thanks for entertaining the idea, Bill.

How To Spot an Art Graduate Among Tourists

The moment has finally come when scientist from across the world discover have discovered the phenomenon that let us spot an art student graduate instead of the regular tourist!

Notice the subtle curvature of the spine, and the parallel frame of the camera gracefully lining above her feet


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