X Factors: Game Developers Reflect on 20 Years of Xbox

Four developers share their their favorite Xbox projects to work on, their favorite games to play, and other memories on the 20th anniversary of Xbox.


Since 2001, consumers have played some of the industry's best games on a Microsoft console. Back in the early 2000s, the idea of Microsoft entering the games business beyond occasional updates to Flight Simulator was a pipe dream. Many players and developers thought differently: Another console would represent an alternative to Sony, Nintendo, and Sega, who was still in the console race when Xbox entered its earliest phases of development.

From Xbox and Xbox 360 to the Xbox One and Xbox Series X|S machines, game developers have brought countless worlds and characters to life through Microsoft's ecosystem of platforms and tools. X Factors has collected memories shared from developers about their time working with and playing on Xbox platforms: their favorite projects as developers, favorite games as players, and other memories.

Christopher Floyd

  • Current: Designer/executive producer at Pillow Castle, founder/owner/designer at Indies Workshop
  • Previous: Designer at Oculus VR, developer/executive producer at Radical Games Corp., technical support at Vicarious Visions, games journalist at Video Game Writers and GameCritics.com
  • Favorite Xbox games: Halo ODST, Dance Central, Steel Battalion, Gears of War
Christopher Floyd.
Christopher Floyd.

The Xbox project that meant the most to me is likely split between two titles that couldn't really be more different: Skylanders Swap Force and Superliminal (I suppose they both start with S!?). Skylanders Swap Force was the first AAA title I worked on at a studio. It was exciting to work with next-gen hardware when the console was still so secret; remember the unique zebra print identifiers? Fast forward to 2020, and my indie game Superliminal just shipped this year on Xbox One after many years of hard work. It's kind of interesting to have shipped two Xbox games, one right at the start and one right at the presumptive end of its life cycle.

I feel Xbox was the console that properly established and legitimized online gaming in the console market. Playing Halo 2 on OG Xbox was thrilling.

My most shameful Xbox memory is taking 2-3 weeks out from university classes to enter the top-scoring in Hexic HD, a game from the Tetris designer that launched with the Xbox 360. I became obsessed with it, playing it for hours each day. I ended up #1 in the UK, #53 in the world. And then I had a lot of studying to catch up on.

I also wrote a thing about obsessively pursuing a Nordschliefe time-trial achievement on Project Gotham Racing 3.

Rashad Redic

  • Current: Chief Creative Officer at Brass Lion Entertainment
  • Previous: Creative Director at RocketWerkz; senior environment artist at Crytek (Crysis 3, Ryse); senior environment artist at Bethesda Softworks (Fallout 3, Fallout 4, Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim)
  • Favorite Xbox games: Mass Effect, Halo, Gears of War, Rock Band, Geometry Wars

What Xbox project you've worked on has meant the most to you?

Rashad Redic.
Rashad Redic.

Skyrim was great. It was just the perfect collection of people at the right moment and we knew we were on to something. We put a lot of passion into the game, and let me tell you this: most of the things that people love the most about the game were not even on the schedule, it just came from the passions to make something amazing. Everybody was all in. I was an environment artist, mostly responsible for building Windhelm, and I also worked a lot on Markarth.

I also wrote books! I wrote the Herbanes Bestiary series, and also concepted the look of and built most of Soul Cairn in the Dawnguard DLC. I did a lot of lighting in the game. But everyone was like that, just wearing a lot of different hats to make a great game. It was unusual in AAA for people to have that much freedom, but I loved it.

Xbox entered the console scene 20 years ago. What do you feel Xbox has offered developers in a business previously dominated by Nintendo and Sony?

Choice! And a different perspective of what games could be from the two Japanese companies. Xbox was the first time that a major western influence really took a foothold as a platform in games and delivered experiences like Halo, Tony Hawk Pro Skater, and Madden, a few titles you wouldn’t see from the two other companies. Remember that original fat Xbox controller? Man, that thing was just different.

Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim on Xbox 360.
Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim on Xbox 360.

Which Xbox platform was your favorite to work with, and why?

Xbox 360 might be one of my favorite consoles of all time. It felt like the Xbox had really matured from the original, and it hit a sweet spot of having enough power to do some really cool things and it came at a perfect moment in my life where I had time and money, so I could chew through a lot of the titles. As a developer, it’s connected to my time of working on Fallout 3 and Skyrim, and I loved those games and especially the team I worked with.

Special shout out to the Xbox One, though. I worked on Ryse: Son of Rome, which as an artist I was like, holy shit, how can a console run something that looks this good!? It was also the first time I worked on a console launch title and man let me tell you that making a game for unreleased hardware is like being a pioneer in undiscovered territory, like you really have no idea what’s gonna happen on your trip to the promised land, but an adventure is guaranteed.

Xbox Series X has been available for a year. How would you like to see the Xbox brand continue to grow?

Xbox Game Pass.
Xbox Game Pass.

Well, the console’s not a console so much as a service now. Have you seen the ridiculous value of Game Pass? Where the hell was this when I was young and broke with all the time in the world to play games? Ya’ll don’t even remember when Final Fantasy III (US) came out on the SNES, the cartridge was damn near $100 in 1994! Adjusted for inflation, that’s like $10,000 to a kid! And now for $15 a month I can play hundreds of games? This is where the future is going when you talk about Xbox, Game Pass, xCloud, and having access to everything everywhere.

What game on Xbox do you count as your favorite, or among your favorites?

Mass Effect. What a master class of world-building! I remember being super impressed by how well thought-out the Andromeda ship felt, and feeling like humans were just a small part of a galactic menagerie. I never get to play games for a long time in one sitting, but I remember I was working on Fallout 3 at the time- I bought ME on release day, came home and popped it into the console at around 11pm, thinking I was gonna play for an hour or two and then go to bed. I looked up and it was 6am and I had to force myself to stop. And when I got to work (late), other people in the office had done the same thing.

What are some of your Xbox memories as a player?

Here’s my life’s Xbox montage:

  1. Getting that original Xbox console with the translucent green case with the X molded into it and thinking, Man, these guys are real literal with the shape of this thing.
  2. Halo: This game is awesome!
  3. Achievements are genius!
  4. Playing Geometry Wars and thinking, This indie game scene might actually become a thing.
  5. Gears of War: Wow. Also, I remember one of my producers trying to play the game and show it off to some artists, and he was getting rocked in the tutorial section. Hilarious.
  6. Being excited to finally play Skyrim at home, putting the disc into the console then thinking, Nah, I think 2,000 hours might be enough for me.
  7. Playing Rock Band with a full group of devs with all the instruments that one time I thought I was an amazing vocalist into my fourth cocktail.

David Edery


  • Current: Co-founder and CEO of Spry Fox, Advisory Committee member for GDC San Francisco's F2P Summit
  • Previous: Principal of Fuzbi, LLC; Worldwide games portfolio planner for Xbox Live Arcade at Microsoft, president and founder of Literal Technology
David Edery.
David Edery.

What Xbox project you've worked on has meant the most to you?

I really only contributed to one thing of significance, which was Xbox LIVE Arcade on the Xbox 360. I was Worldwide Games Portfolio Manager for that service for a couple of years. During the time in which I worked for Microsoft, I played every single game that XBLA released, and many of them were important to me for different reasons.

For example, there was a whole suite of couch multiplayer games, like Castle Crashers, Hexic, Carcassonne, and Geometry Wars, that I loved playing with friends. Those games on XBLA brought me back to my high school and college days back when I'd sit in a room with a bunch of friends and play games until 4am. It was wonderful to have that (one last time, as it turned out; I've never really enjoyed that sort of couch gaming ever since).

Then there were games I loved because I loved the people who were making them - almost all of whom I'd never met before taking this job. The guys at Twisted Pixel, who made games like The Maw and Splosion Man, were some of the funniest, most creative, and most genuine people that I've ever met. They just needed someone to give them a break, and I consider myself very lucky to have been able to do so. And then there were folks like Jamie Cheng from Klei, who showed me the meaning of confidence, and Martyn Brown from Team17, who was larger than life and showed me what it meant to be young at heart no matter what age you are. XBLA was absolutely filled with games made by wonderful people like that.

As platform, XBLA certainly had its share of flaws, but it was such a magnificent community of human beings for a little while, there. I don't think Microsoft ever really understood what a special thing it had created in XBLA.

Geometry Wars on Xbox Live Arcade.
Geometry Wars on Xbox Live Arcade.

Matthew Castellana


  • Current: Unreal Engine consultant for clients including Sony, AMD, Dell, and more
  • Previous: Lead Developer/Production Engineer for Sony's Innovation Studios, Senior Developer on The Walking Dead: Onslaught, Unreal Technical Artist on Injustice 2, Lead Developer on Embers of War, The Halo Kinect Experience for Microsoft, The Lonely Whale VR Experience (3D Live, Dell and Adrien Grenier), 2 of Disney's Magic Mirrors, and more
  • Favorite Xbox games: BioWare's Mass Effect trilogy, Gears of War, Halo

My favorite Xbox project would be hands down the current game I’ve been developing and pushing to get off the ground soon. It’s a project that constantly tests my love and passion for video game development and Microsoft/Xbox have been a driving force and inspiration throughout the entire process. Ever since I was a kid in the mid-'80s, I’ve always wanted to start a video game company and make my own games and it's something I've been working incredibly hard at making happen as of recent. I’ve had to invest and sacrifice a tremendous amount to get to this point, which has led to a lot of amazing highs, but also some of the lowest points in pursuing this dream and working in the game industry.

Days where you’re working 18+ hours for months on end, investing everything you have, not taking a vacation for almost seven years or seeing your family, in and out of debt and most recently losing my dog Sydney, who was my kid, heart, and inspiration by my side throughout it all. These are just some things I’ve gone through or needed to sacrifice while following my heart, and you really need to love what you do to find the strength to push forward.

To help fund this project, I’ve had the opportunity and have been incredibly lucky to work on some amazing games, productions, and experiences to bootstrap things over the past couple of years. I became a consultant thanks to an amazing recruiter who believed in me and genuinely wanted to help me pursue this passion while allowing me to keep my schedule flexible between it and client work.

Even though building this company has been the hardest journey I’ve ever been on, there is nothing I love and am more passionate about than video games. Microsoft/Xbox was and has always been at the forefront and in my corner through it all. A lot of the team specifically at Xbox and Microsoft throughout the years have given me a lot of love, support, and resources in achieving this dream and I personally couldn’t thank them enough.

As a fan and a professional, working on Injustice 2 and getting to work with characters like Superman, Batman, Joker, etc. every day was another amazing moment in my career. I’m a huge fan of Ed Boon and was addicted to Mortal Kombat as a kid, riding my bike into town to the local video rental store to play the one MKII arcade they had. I remember meeting him at my first E3 and losing my mind, yet he was one of the coolest people and still took the time to say hey and shake my hand. Working with NetherRealm on Injustice 2 was an honor and an amazing experience.

Xbox entered the console scene 20 years ago. What do you feel Xbox has offered developers in a business previously dominated by Nintendo and Sony?

One of the biggest things Microsoft did was be the first to empower developers to create games on Xbox 360 who lacked the budget/resources to do so with XNA. I fondly remember wanting the PlayStation’s Net Yaroze when I was a kid; however, Microsoft went farther by allowing anyone to use their own retail Xbox 360 at home to develop and test their games. Xbox Live Arcade also created a marketplace for smaller and more compact titles; this helped facilitate the early rise in popularity and exposure to indie games created in XNA.

In my mind, XNA was the major catalyst behind the indie movement and where it is today. Between all the resources online being updated almost every month, new code samples, blog posts, and Dream Build Play competitions, Microsoft made a major push to support smaller developers and give them exposure well before anyone else. In 2013, XNA was discontinued, which was a sad day for many of us in the community, but that initiative evolved into ID@Xbox, which brings today an even greater level of support to indie developers. Sony did eventually jump on-board and Nintendo thereafter, but Microsoft paved the way. They’ve done a tremendous amount in giving developers an amazing opportunity to chase (and create) their dreams.

Xbox Series X.
Xbox Series X.

Which Xbox platform was your favorite to work with, and why?

Xbox One. I’m sure it’ll be the Series X once I work with it since it’s going to unlock even more opportunities, but right now: Xbox Project Scorpio XDK. As a game developer, I love it! The customizable buttons, the LCD on the front, the extra headroom on the GPU/RAM, the two NICs to split between debugging and online traffic, ability to dial the system back to perform as a retail Xbox One/S/X or go a step higher before optimization--those are just a few things I love about it. I miss the 360, but Xbox Project Scorpio XDK is the coolest and most well-thought-out dev kit I’ve ever worked with.

What game on Xbox do you count as your favorite, or among your favorites?

If I could say the entire series, I’d say the Mass Effect trilogy, but ME1 had the biggest impact being the first in the trilogy and one of the games where the early prototype videos influenced me getting the 360 before the game came out. ME2 (and 99% of ME3) topped that game, but ME1 started everything. Being exclusive to Xbox, it feels the most tied to Microsoft's platform out of the series. I remember finishing ME1 next to my friend and saying that was the one of the greatest games I’ve ever played, and there was no way BioWare could top that in the next one. Then ME2 came out and blew everyone’s minds and expectations. ME3 came not long after, and was a great game for almost all of it, but fell short in the final moments.

Mass Effect also has inspired me greatly as a game developer and also in my current game I'm developing. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve listened to that soundtrack or the extended versions of the Galaxy Map or other songs while I work. It’s seriously like 80-90% of the time (laughing). Halo is always a go-to for many people and I love those games too and I remember getting into the Gears of War trilogy and how awesome and refreshing that was for a new IP, but nothing stands out or even remotely comes close to Mass Effect. Even years later, I can’t stop thinking about Mass Effect. When I go back and play through the trilogy time and time again, it’s only ever on Xbox.

What are some of your Xbox memories as a player?

The top pick would be going through the entire Mass Effect trilogy including the DLC each year or two after each game released. I think I've put over 1000 hours into that game collectively on Xbox. Another was playing the original Gears of War with my father during the holidays and going through the campaign together. Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion also stands out since that was my first time playing an Elder Scrolls game; I remember how often I would get lost and immersed in that world.

I also remember the day I got Halo 3 and my Xbox red-ringed right when I inserted the disc and went to play it. I wrapped the 360 in a towel and let it overheat to re-solder the connections so I could at least play it for a couple of days. Awesome times!

After I moved to California and got the 360, there were games on XBL or XBLA like Uno and others where you could connect using the webcam instead of just the microphone. Many people had it, so in most situations, it was cool meeting with new people and you felt a lot more engaged. My friends and I would also make our own versions of parties before it became a feature. This was when doing something like this wasn’t incredibly accessible or supported widely in games.

Back during the original Xbox, which a friend of mine owned, I remember playing Halo the first time and being shocked how big the console and controller were. Friends in college used to hook up their consoles between dorm rooms and many people used the original Xbox during LAN parties for Halo, which were also always a blast. One of the other coolest memories I had was deploying the game I was working on back then for the first time from Visual Studio to Xbox 360 after getting it up and running in XNA. Holding the controller and being able to able to play that for the first time on a console was a surreal experience for me I won't forget.

Long Reads Editor

David L. Craddock writes fiction, nonfiction, and grocery lists. He is the author of the Stay Awhile and Listen series, and the Gairden Chronicles series of fantasy novels for young adults. Outside of writing, he enjoys playing Mario, Zelda, and Dark Souls games, and will be happy to discuss at length the myriad reasons why Dark Souls 2 is the best in the series. Follow him online at davidlcraddock.com and @davidlcraddock.

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