Xbox One: Microsoft to prove they’re right about the Cloud

As an owner of all the current-gen consoles, it was the Xbox One which caught my attention for its heaps of Cloud-based promises.

PlayStation fans have rightly gloated about the raw power of their chosen system – but both will offer comparative 1080p/60fps gameplay; so gamers need to look at all the added benefits they’re getting.

Microsoft’s Xbox One just won the “Next-gen gaming tech of the year” ShortList award. When you take a step-back; it’s only the Xbox which offers the unique features – Kinect 2.0, “Snap" apps whilst gaming or watching TV consecutively, instant switching, haptic feedback...

Yet it’s Sony which is looking likely to be the initial winner in terms of sales this generation; with a recent Reuters survey showing 26 percent of people are looking to buy the PS4, whilst 15 percent chose the Xbox One. Of course this leaves 59 percent for both sides to fight for.

So why is this? The most likely point of blame is Microsoft’s reversal of (potentially industry-saving) DRM policies, and mandatory online connection every 24 hours...

It has to be said, Microsoft’s presentation of the Xbox One was an absolute shambles in terms of letting people know the reasons behind their decisions – these aren’t the kind of policies the public will just accept willingly.

Consult our sister-site, Cloud Tech, for examples of how important the technology is becoming for the future; it opens up entire new avenues for almost every industry. With the majority of households in major markets now having a fairly steady internet connection – it’s time to bring some of the newfound functionality to gamers.

Through the radical approach of forcing Xbox users to have to connect to the internet (at least once) over a 24 hour period; developers can start building games which take advantage of the Cloud; knowing the console will almost certainly be connected.

Matt Booty, General Manager of Redmond Game Studios and Platforms, said this to ArsTechnica: "A rule of thumb we like to use is that [for] every Xbox One available in your living room we’ll have three of those devices in the cloud available."

He’s not lying. Microsoft has added 300,000 dedicated servers specifically.

PlayStation developers will lead you to believe this is all just marketing PR; that the Cloud “isn’t powerful enough” or home connections “aren’t reliable enough.”

This is true. At least in the examples they give of generating entire worlds in the Cloud.

Physics modelling, fluid dynamics, cloth motion, lighting, Procedurally-generated effects... these are all examples of things which take up a lot of up-front computation that could be handled in the Cloud; without adding any lag to the actual gameplay.

It will be a challenge, however. Cloud computation data doesn't have to be updated and synced with every frame of game data; developers are still going to have to manage the timing and flow of this Cloud computing to avoid noticeable changes in graphic quality.

As Booty said: "One of the exciting challenges going forward is a whole new set of techniques to manage what is going to be offloaded to the Cloud, and what’s going to come back.”

Another innovation which reduces computation is the incredible audio hardware dubbed SHAPE (Scalable Hardware Audio Processing Engine) – which should do a fantastic job for HD surround (a task that also sucks up lots of CPU time on current-gen consoles.)

Whilst the PS4 was designed for raw horsepower; the Xbox One was designed to be “balanced”, CPU efficient, and future-proof. As broadband infrastructure improves - so can the functionality offered.

Of course whether Microsoft can overcome the bitter taste left from trying to force policies down consumers’ throats without any explanation; leaving journalists like me to try and explain their reasons... is another matter altogether.

Personally, I think they’ve learned the error of their mistakes – maybe too late – but my glimmer of hope comes from company head Phil Spencer’s Twitter account; where he reveals Microsoft is currently building “primarily Cloud-based projects.”

He points towards Ascend: Hand of Kul as an example of the capacity of games powered largely by the cloud. If Microsoft can prove to consumers the requirement of an online connection in some first-party titles; it would be an easier policy to swallow.

It clearly rubbed off on a commenter called ‘Novi Nov’ who wrote: “Very cool experience in my time with the game. This is the first free to play game I’ve actually spent money to get new items in. That cloud stuff could be AMAZING as this develops.”

Whilst ‘Scrutinizer’ gives his thoughts on the potential: “At a track like the Nurburgring, it is possible for a torrential downpour on one side of the track while it remains sunny on the other, leading to drastically different conditions over the course of a single lap.”

“Also, factors like track temperature and wind are also equally important parts of weather conditions, just not as graphically showy as having rain on a windshield.”

He concludes: “More complex weather and track conditions could, theoretically, be computed in the cloud with results streamed to the console, both pre-race and during a race.”

It may take a while for Microsoft to prove the Clouds’ worth, and for developers to take advantage of both this virtual functionality, and the slightly confusing (but beneficial) ESRAM used in the Xbox One’s hardware for improved memory throughput.

What do you think about the Cloud functionality and Xbox One’s hardware?

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