Cloudgine is Microsoft’s secret Xbox One sauce

Microsoft made a big deal about utilising the cloud for this generation of consoles to differentiate it from the past. Cloud-based processing can help to scale experiences beyond what local hardware can handle alone.

This is all well and good, but beyond a pretty impressive demonstration on how the technology can be used in the future, the company hasn’t delved into details on how they will help developers implement it for their games.

According to our sources, a company called Cloudgine will play a part in Microsoft’s E3 conference this year. On their website they describe their technology as "delivering rendering and processing power from the cloud, allowing game developers to define new ground-breaking online gaming mechanics".

The founder of Cloudgine is David Jones. Prior to Cloudgine, he was the founder of Realtime Worlds. If you’re an Xbox gamer, you may know of this studio as being the developer of the hit Crackdown franchise. In fact, we also expect Crackdown 3 to be unveiled at E3.

Before this, Jones worked at Rockstar North when it was known as DMA Design. Rockstar are the creators of the controversial Grand Theft Auto series. Jones has a vast and respectable gaming background of open-world titles which are the types of games most set to benefit from cloud-based processing.

It would make sense for Microsoft to display the power of the cloud in a title as renowned and anticipated as Crackdown 3. In a double-edged attack, it would boost sales from consumers while showcasing the technology developers should be using…

The Xbox One’s engineers speak plenty about how they built the console to be perfectly “balanced” to reduce bottlenecks, be scalable, and most importantly be fast. The seemingly odd decision to use eSRAM rather than a more typical architecture boosts throughput to an incredible 192GB/s.

As a result, resources can be pulled in and out quickly. At Microsoft’s BUILD event last year, the team showed hardware-based tiled resource support added in DX11.2. Due to this, 3GBs of textures were able to be stored in 16MB of RAM. This allows 32MB eSRAM to store up to 6GB worth…

In a technical post available here, the poster writes: “Couple the eSRAM's ultra fast bandwidth with tiled texture streaming middleware tools like Granite, and the eSRAM just became orders of magnitude more important for your next gen gaming. Between software developments such as this and the implications of the data move engines with LZ encode/decode compression capabilities on making cloud gaming practical on common broadband connections, Microsoft's design choice of going with embedded eSRAM for the Xbox One is beginning to make a lot more sense.”

Critics have pointed out whether broadband connections are reliable enough for cloud processing to be utilised properly. Between local hardware processing and streaming ahead of time using these latest tools, provided by Cloudgine, it is in the majority of cases. It is sure to be one of the reasons for Microsoft’s original “always online” policy which received much criticism. This policy would have given developers piece of mind when they develop games that the consoles will have the broadband access to support cloud-based functionality.

Hardware-based Tiled Resources have been a standard in most graphics cards since early 2012 and is supported on both the Xbox One and the PS4. What Microsoft is doing, however, is making it more accessible through providing APIs in DirectX 11.2 so developers do not have to find their own implementation. eSRAM is essentially the dedicated hardware for tiled resources and DirectX 11.2 contains the APIs to take advantage of it.

Certain Xbox titles already use cloud processing to some extent. Two of this generation’s biggest titles so far, Titanfall and Forza 5, both take the load off the console’s hardware by processing AI in the cloud. This is small fry in comparison, it will be Cloudgine which helps developers big and small begin taking real advantage of the cloud.

What do you think about the Xbox One’s Cloud processing potential? Let us know in the comments.

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whatup3
20 May 2014, 8:04 p.m.

Your reaching this won't happen now because it will f*ck up games for those who don't have a constant internet connection or maybe just a poor one. I can see this working a few years from now, Games made using Cloud processing would even mess-up games in poor countries where a modest internet connection doesn't even exist.

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Ryan
21 May 2014, 12:48 p.m.

You're right, currently that is the case. As exampled it is already being used for smaller tasks such as AI in Forza 5 and Titanfall which the majority of today's connections can handle. We'll see its abilities scale up alongside improved broadband infrastructure and that's exciting.

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DarthDiggler
21 May 2014, 6:18 p.m.

This could be a way for MS to sneak it's Always Online functionality right back into the XBONE.

Also the cloud in gaming is nothing really new, there have been many online games who use cloud like features but not many have implemented them in a way that directly impacts gameplay. A few have and the results have been mixed but positive.

The thing is there is nothing proprietary about the cloud (in a general sense). Anything that MS does Sony can implement and get a greater benefit from because there is more horsepower in the PS4.

Cloudgine will just up the competition ante and won't necessarily give MS any edge for the foreseeable future. Also it adds costs to the games and additional costs will be hard to swallow.

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Ryan
22 May 2014, 9 a.m.

Definitely see that as the way it's heading. I'm personally not fussed and think the console's biggest markets will have broadband access reliable enough to support at least basic implementations - but it will alienate a minority.

Not necessarily "anything MS can do Sony can". Microsoft has its own proven Cloud platform, Azure. I'm sure you already know it, and with the launch of the Xbox One they added 300,000 dedicated servers worldwide so latency is reduced and able to support such Cloud-based processing. Microsoft has profits in the billions and can afford to build and maintain such vast infrastructure, Sony has losses in the billions and unfortunately can't.

There is more horsepower in the PS4, but it's how long that lasts before the Cloud can take off enough of the tasks locally to turn the scales in the Xbox One's favour. We'll have to see what Cloudgine really entails, but if it's tools for developers to easily add-in Cloud processing to their Xbox One titles using Microsoft's solid infrastructure then we could see results sooner than expected. I'll take a complete guess at the mid-2015/2016 timeframe?

The biggest potential I see is for indie and small developers who may be able to "get going" with the Cloud on a smaller budget.

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Cinn
20 May 2014, 10:36 p.m.

Uh, tiled resources isn't "3GBs of textures were able to be stored in 16MB of RAM."

It's combining individual textures into big cubes, build conference had sheets at 16,384x16,384, and they are broken into regions(tiles) and you stream the pieces you need onto memory. If a complete texture isn't needed you just take the tile data that you're looking at and put that onto the VRAM.

So, it isn't 3GB in 16MB it's 16MB out of 3GB is all you need to actually render your scene.

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zane.mookhoek
20 May 2014, 11:13 p.m.

"Due to this, 3GBs of textures were able to be stored in 16MB of RAM."

Not really how tiled resources works. Instead of treating textures as their own entity you combine them into big cubes and break them up into smaller regions (as MS called it) and you stream those in as needed. So, if you don't need a complete texture on memory you don't bring the whole thing over. Just the tiles that are necessary to render the scene.

So, it isn't 3gb crammed into 16MB. It's 16MB of texture data out of that 3GB is all you need.

And they get to 16MB through an equation 1920x1080 (4bpp +8bpp) x 4x 1.333. 4 and the 1.333 come from mip levels.

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Maturus
20 May 2014, 11:40 p.m.

Cloud computing has enormous potential! I can't wait for Microsoft's E3 presentation.

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Ryan
21 May 2014, 4:24 p.m.

Beyond the Cloud it sounds like Microsoft has a great line-up. Can't wait!

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burnthouse
21 May 2014, 1:55 p.m.

Xbox needs to beore proactive in publicising it's strengths.... cloud computing and Directx12, if they are ready to use then make sure developers can understand how to implement these assets correctly... There is no point having great potential that is never realised.
Keep the Xbox loyal fan base informed and reward their loyalty and there is still time to conquer the next gen fight... squander your talents and become a footnote in gaming history.

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Ryan
21 May 2014, 4:25 p.m.

Typical Microsoft really. As forward-thinking and pioneering as the company is, they're terrible at getting their strengths and vision across to the average consumer.

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ZARBOR
21 May 2014, 3:13 p.m.

I have no problem with MS trying to use the power of the cloud to improve gaming. Personally, I think its a great idea since it will make the console last longer and maybe even compete with the PC since unlike the PC, console hardware is static and can't upgrade.

The problem I have with MS (not just in gaming) is that they like to use their consumers as guinea pigs before they have worked out all the issues and make sure the tech works flawlessly. I personally don't see this technology of using the cloud working flawlessly for developers and for consumers. MS will stumble and bumble around and maybe by generation end or the next gen get it right. As a company it has become their nature.

So color me a skeptic, not in the tech but that MS will get it right on the XB1.

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Ryan
21 May 2014, 4:27 p.m.

Have to say, I think the theory Microsoft was caught a bit off-guard by the PS4 announcement and rushed their own console out has some amount of truth to it. Think it's taken them the year to really get to the point where they wanted it to be at launch (hence the monthly updates!)

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Beingomni
25 May 2014, 5:38 a.m.

Wonderful article. I can't wait till E3. I hope that we are all blown away by cloud computing.

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