Breaking Down Xbox one (Part 2: Content and Cloud)
TV integration, entertainment, original content, and original games seem to be the big push for buying an Xbox One. TV integration is accessible through connecting your current cable box through the Xbox One’s built in HDMI-In port. Apps like Skype, NFL apps, music, movies, and more are being used to turn the Xbox One into a the “all-in-one entertainment system”. The final part of the entertainment trio is original content created by Microsoft’s new Xbox Entertainment Studios. As for now the details on what content the studios will be producing is vague; however, announced projects thus far are a Halo show with Steven Spielberg involved, live streaming for events (most likely game conferences and media or entertainment related events), and a TV adaptation of Remedy’s new IP Quantum Break. But gamers buy game consoles for games, not entertainment and media, and the Xbox One seems to have a great year 1 ahead of it with huge games and surprising new IP’s like Halo 5, Titanfall, Quantum Break, Dead Rising 3, Forza Motorsport 5, Ryse, Killer Instinct, Sunset Overdrive, Below, Project Spark, D4, Black Tusk’s Project, Kinect Sports Rivals, and more to come all within the first year.
The Xbox One tries to find value in what’s all included in the package. The new Xbox is bundled with an upgrade to Kinect labeled Kinect 2.0, which is an improvement over the original in every way featuring a 1080p camera (up from the SD camera in the original), a 70 degree horizontal and 60 degree viewing angle (up from 57.5 and 43.5), a depth improvement from 320x240 to 512x424, and IR stream to all Kinect to function in dimly lit areas. Together this means Kinect will work in smaller areas, darker areas, greater voice recognition, and function better with a near 1:1 tracking ratio. The problem is near 1:1 tracking still isn’t 1:1 tracking so regardless of what Microsoft PR says there will still be a bit of lag there, but since more data is being pushed through the upgrade USB port (3.0 instead of 2.0) the lag should be significantly reduced from the original.
The Xbox One will also run 3 Operating Systems (OS) which are Windows RT, an upgraded Xbox 360 dashboard, and a 3rd OS designed to allow the Xbox One’s unique feature “Fast Switching”. Together the 3 OS will allow Xbox One players to switch back and forth between TV, apps, and games seamlessly, all without having to press the input button on your remote.....
The Cloud is Microsoft’s ace in the hole, or so they think. According to Microsoft the Cloud will allow them to enhance games easily over time with automatic developer updates, producing life-like A.I. as the game learns and adapts to your behavior, creating and collecting information on gamers and achievements to allow gamers to find better friends and perfect match-ups in games, and finally moving normally hardware level coding to the cloud freeing up GPU / RAM / and CPU processing for potentially better graphics in games. These are some lofty goals, and could very well give Microsoft the boost it needs to separate itself from the competition. The Xbox brand has set up a consumer image of being the default console to go to for online gaming, and with such evolutions it could continue with that image if the competition doesn’t reveal their online evolution plans soon. But before we praise and campaign the new online experience let’s pick this cloud apart feature by feature.
Developer updates is an easy feature implemented in the Cloud by simply giving developer access to the server. You’ll download updates and patches without ever noticing or having to wait for a download bar as the game itself updates rather than your console downloading an update. That is the full vision of developer updates. This is great in keeping games balanced and running smoothly; however, it also means that minor annoyances could occur. For example; there could be an achievement you want or exploit that you want to take advantage of to gain more money in-game, but with automatic cloud updating that bug can easily be ironed out before you get to cheat. Not a killer by any means, but those who use exploits to get ahead prepare to finally be shut down or work significantly harder.
Game A.I. is something that isn’t often critiqued unless a game is too easy or too hard for the average gamer. But more gamers are craving more challenge to their games and better A.I. is probably the beast way to make a challenging game. Drivatars is the innovation in Forza Motorsport 5. The game learns your play-style and with the cloud it creates an online ID from your ghosting sections and allows you to race against friends with an A.I. that would act like your collective in-game driving behavior. If you drive aggressive and spins cars out your online profile will do the same, if you fumble around corners your online profile will do the same, and so on. It’s the first step in truly innovating A.I. in games. The foundation is there, but the question is what of the evolution of the technology. Making your own online profile is the first step, but what about giving bots and in-game enemies human like behavior by learning from what the collective audience plays like. For example; in a game like Let 4 Dead your A.I. Bots don’t move unless you move or someone ahead or behind gets attacked, so collect the data of gamers play-styles and build an A.I. for the character to progress through the stages as a normal 4 man team would. That kind of evolution seems to still be a ways off, and while it wouldn’t be the greatest victory Microsoft could accomplish it would still be a great start.
Smart Achievements are probably the best use of the cloud for Xbox One in my opinion. Adding in new achievements based on player data is a great way to extend a games life span, and keep achievement hunters busy longer in their favorite games. But the true innovation is finding friends and finding great matches based on achievements. I can’t stress how useful this is spending years on Xbox Live. Your gamer rep is now based achievements and player rating, which means you can no longer be friend attacked (where a poor sport and their friends collectively down vote your for thrashing them in an online match). On top of that you can finally have matches where everyone is on a similar skill level and not having 1 or more people bring the whole team down. And you can finally meet new friends who actually are fun to play with, not people looking for someone to carry them. Smart Achievements could be the single most important aspect of making Xbox Live the place to be when it comes to online gaming for the next generation consoles.
Now we’ve reached the most controversial topic of the cloud, moving code to the cloud. In the mystical hills of Microsoft offices from the perspective of diehards fans the cloud will allow entire game worlds to be generated from the cloud allowing the Xbox One hardware to have 100% of it’s hardware free to focus on improving game graphics. Meanwhile, back in reality the cloud is functioning in the exact opposite way. The cloud is there to support the Xbox One, while the console does all the heavy lifting. Examples of moving code to the cloud so far include moving A.I. Coding, moving save files, and moving updates and patches. In theory Microsoft claims that more code could be moved to the cloud such as lighting algorithms, enemy artificial intelligence, physics calculations, and possibly more, but seeing how none of this is available in any launch titles it’s safe to say that none of this is easily implemented and will need plenty of time to be worked out. On top of that the amount of bandwidth needed to run all the possible benefits of the cloud at once could be costly as you’re streaming data and calculation instead of a simple video image; and as a result, developers may have to pick and choose which calculations they move to the cloud.