The Xbox Controller AKA “The Duke” | Release Date: November 15, 2001
The controller that would define the early years of the Xbox came about as a compromise. Former Xbox designer Seamus Blackley, whose previous works include Looking Glass Studios’ System Shock and Thief, and artist/designer Denise Chaudhari produced the initial concepts for the original Xbox’s controller. The features of the controller possessed many aspects from the latest trends in gaming around the turn of the millennium, which included two analog sticks, an 8-way directional d-pad, six face buttons, two analog triggers, and two slots for add-ons like memory cards. Due to a variety of factors, which mostly point to bulky internal parts, the released controller was a noticeably large device, which would give the console something of a negative reputation.
While it was known as just the Xbox controller, the device would receive many unofficial names over the years. The one that stuck was “The Duke,” which was named after project manager Brett Schnepf’s son. In an article from engadget breaking down the history of the original controller several of Xbox’s key architects detailed the key moments leading up to the launch of the console. During production, talks with Japanese manufacturer Mitsumi Electric–which produced the PlayStation 2’s DualShock 2– fell through, which meant that potential designs that were smaller weren’t possible to produce prior to the US launch. Microsoft went forward with a design that was ultimately more bulky and larger in size compared to other controllers on the market.
When the console and the controller were revealed at CES 2001, with both Microsoft head Bill Gates and former wrestler Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson introducing the new hardware, all eyes were glued to the device meant for the player’s hands. The original Xbox controller would not only go on to become infamous for its massive size, but it would also become the Guinness world record holder at the time for the largest gaming controller ever. Despite the reception that the controller would have at launch, it did find an audience of players who took a liking to the added size, making it more of a comfortable fit for them compared to the more compact Dual Shock or GameCube controllers.
In 2018, the massive controller had a minor resurgence when Microsoft and third-party manufacturer Hyperkin issued a re-release of the controller for modern Xbox consoles and PC, allowing fans of the console and the original controller to relive the early Xbox days. While The Duke was the controller that most players got to experience with the Xbox in its first year, the Japanese market would see a different controller when the console launched in 2002.