With Microsoft’s smaller next-gen console finally official, there’s not much to do between now and its release but talk about how excellent the machine’s one defining visual feature is. And I’m not talking about its diminutive size.
I’m talking, of course, about the console’s eye-catching “grill”, which you’ve all spent the last 24 hours making fun of, but which I am now here to tell you, drawing upon years of design and visual arts experience, is actually “good”.
We remember consoles for their games, sure, but we also remember them for their looks. And we remember those looks often because they had unique and identifiable features.
We remember the GameCube’s handle, which was quirky and dumb, but so was the GameCube, and so it was perfect. We remember the PS3's Spider-Man font, the 3DO’s “pillars” and the Dreamcast’s “diamond”. They’re all superficial things, sure, but they also weave themselves alongside the actual games into our memories and affections, in the same way start-up sounds and logos do.
I think we’ll remember the Series S for the same reason. Partly because the regular Xbox Series X is so bland, and this really helps it stand apart! But also because it’s already so memorable in its own right, given the amount of shit people have been talking for the last day, and none of us have even seen the thing in the flesh, let along bought one.
The Series S has a very retro-future thing going on. It’s an instrument you’d find on the wall of Aperture Science. It’s a control panel from the corridors of a Mon Calamari Cruiser. It’s an intercom system from the movie Moon.
The combination of sleek lines and a rugged-ass grill makes it look like a piece of indestructible space exploration tech. Something I could dig out of the wreckage of a crashed colonization ship, unscathed, and use to discover what terrible fate befell its crew.
That’s...OK, that’s a grim example, but “futuristic” and “durable” are pretty much the top two things a piece of consumer tech can hope of conveying, and this absolutely nails both of them. (Whether it can actually perform that is of course another matter, but this isn’t a hardware review!)
There’s also a big of legacy design continuation going on. You see this in cars all the time, as new models replace old ones but retain certain visual signatures, like a grill pattern or headlight design to let us know, OK, this is new, but it’s also more of the same. That’s exactly what the Series S’s grill is doing here—it’s actually just a more pronounced version of a very similar thing its predecessor, the small, digital-only Xbox One S, had going on.
Finally, I also love just how much of an ode this is to practicality. Exhaust and ventilation is normally something hardware designers try to hide. Think of any other recent modern console you’ve owned, now try and remember where it had to breathe out. It’s usually some nondescript series of vents tucked away at the sides or back of a console.
Not here. Fuck it. If this lil’ console’s gotta breathe, then behold, here is its mouth.