A new version of the gigantic original Xbox controller, nicknamed “the Duke,” is slated for release for the Xbox One and Windows 10 next month, and Microsoft offered a sneak peek this weekend, along with some inside details.
Seamus Blackley, who was one of the creators of the original Xbox during his time at Microsoft, is spearheading the revival of the Duke by gaming hardware company Hyperkin. Appearing Saturday on the Microsoft show “Inside Xbox,” Blackley told the backstory of the original controller for the 2001 Xbox, which was widely criticized as far too large for most gamers’ hands.
— Seamus Blackley (@SeamusBlackley) February 10, 2018
“I just took an incredible amount of crap about the size of the controller,” he recalled. “It was huge, and people really didn’t like it. I had things thrown at me on stage by people. People were really passionate about it.”
This classic Penny Arcade comic from that era sums up the reaction.
Microsoft went on to release a smaller controller that became the new standard for future Xbox consoles. But that’s not the end of the Duke. A decade-and-a-half later, Blackley was cleaning out some boxes from his old Microsoft office, and he posted a tweet with his son holding the original Duke. That led to calls to revive the old controller. Phil Spencer, the head of Xbox, liked the idea, and the Duke was reborn.
— Xbox (@Xbox) March 10, 2018
Showing the new Duke this weekend, Blackley cited two notable updates. The original Xbox boot animation plays on an OLED screen at the center of the controller. Also, there are now bumper buttons above the triggers to make the controller compatible with modern games. That was challenging, Blackley acknowledged, because the license with Microsoft required the new controller to maintain the original industrial design.
“I know people are going to have different opinions about them, but we did our best, and we’ll see how it works out,” he said. “But I think this controller should be capable of playing any modern game.”
One important note for anyone thinking about buying this beast: the new Duke is a wired controller, with a detachable 9-foot cord, not wireless.
In the end, Blackley sees the whole experience as a lesson in persistence.
“The trick about life, I think, and getting cool things to happen, is not giving up on a cool idea,” he said. “This is the same kind of story. Look, all of these people loved this controller so much, and what a beautiful way to end the story of all of the abuse that I took in 2001 to have all of the people here now be able to pay this controller.”
The new Duke is currently available for pre-order on GameStop for $69.99. Watch the segment with Blackley on Inside Xbox below.