Xbox One’s Cloud is proving itself (and me!)
You may remember a controversial opinion piece I posted last year entitled “Why the Xbox One is actually more powerful than the PS4”? That headline was selected to cause and stimulate some emotive responses; and it worked.
Eloquent comments included: “Stop this cloud crap. It has such enormous inherent limitations for gaming and particularly graphics improvement over even an uber fast internet connection. Only re***** eat this PR crap up.”
Well, now critics have stopped copying and pasting the same comments they’ve heard elsewhere, and had time to form their own opinions – specifically the developers themselves – it’s time to return and see whether the technology has at least started to prove itself and its bold claims.
At launch, the Xbox One had a racing title called ‘Forza 5’. It became widely-acclaimed not because of its gorgeous (1080p/60fps may I add) gameplay – that is available elsewhere. No, it was the Cloud which made it stand-out…
Why? Because Forza added in Cloud-based ‘Drivatars’ which learns your driving-style so even if you’re offline a digital representation of yourself in friends’ games, and them in yours, are scarily representative of how you actually play as if the person was sat right next to you.
Now we come to today, at the launch of arguably the year’s biggest title, Titanfall. Despite having no campaign and being multiplayer-only; it’s already gained the most media-hype because it’s brought something new to the otherwise stale category of first-person shooters.
Whilst each game only has 6 vs 6 “real” players or “pilots”; the rest is populated by AI bots, and of course, the titan-sized mechs – for a total of up to 50 combatants. Every one of those vast amount of AIs is being processed by the Xbox One’s Cloud… leaving local processing-power for graphics.
Beyond this, dedicated servers mean no player “host” has any advantage found in many other games – due to animations happening faster on this person’s console before others; especially critical when talking about shooters and other fast-paced, highly-competitive environments.
Respawn Entertainment made clear the cloud servers were “absolutely essential” to Titanfall… particularly as a small developer.
In an interview with Engadget; the studio’s engineer, Jon Shiring, said that since the beta ended some skeptical devs have already changed their minds about the feasibility of using Azure for the parts of a game traditionally handled by a user's console or PC.
"Back when we started talking to Microsoft about it, everyone thought it was kind of crazy and a lot of other publishers were terrified of even doing it," Shiring said. "I've heard that since our beta ended, they've been pounding down the doors at Microsoft because they're realizing that it really is a real thing right now."
For small developers, affordability is a huge barrier to creating big multiplayer experiences such as Titanfall. Shiring says: “We were coming at them [Microsoft] like 'What can you do? We can't afford this.” At the time, Microsoft was deciding what the next-generation Xbox Live should look like – and this became a big-part of their strategy – to make this more affordable for developers.
A lot of the negative, disbelieving comments coming my way were around latency; which has previously been a big issue. Azure's regional data centers address this by providing a local connection point between your console and the server where it connects.
PC gamers try to select servers that have a ping of 100ms or less. Shiring tells us that when Respawn's offices in Los Angeles connect to the Azure data center in San Francisco, the average ping is 19ms to 20ms. "We're talking barely more than one rendering frame to get a message to the server and back again, which is outstanding," he says.
Now infrastructure has improved it’s fairly-easy to do rendering of aspects such as AI, real-time weather, and procedural effects. As it improves, eventually entire worlds can be generated in the Cloud…
Forget local-processing power, this is the future. And it’s already begun.
So despite critics calling Xbox One’s Cloud “marketing fluff” and falling in with riding the hate-wave caused by Microsoft’s poorly-executed-than-reverted DRM policies (which I may have also been an actual supporter of…) I sat back and watched the commentators debate in amusement.
There were, of course, many (better-written, but let’s not take anything from that…) comments in support of the Cloud for gaming usage…
One in particular caused me to return here today:
"Excellent article, thank you.
I am surprised with all the comments so far. Reminds me of when many uneducated observers poked fun at Apple for introducing the iPad. The self-proclaimed analysts insisted the iPad was a novelty with no real chance of success. Many of the comments on this article manifest the same lack of vision or touch with reality.
When people jab on technology they do not truly understand, it shows. Just read this article one year from now. He who laughs last, laughs best."
Well it may not be a year, but the commenter was already right...
What do you think of the Xbox One’s Cloud? Is it now proving itself as a worthy asset?