For the past few years gamers have been ripping Microsoft apart after each E3 event, held annually in June, for not catering to the hardcore crowd. That’s why, entering the reveal of the next generation of Xbox console yesterday, Microsoft was faced with a win/lose situation. Microsoft could use the reveal to focus on gaming and leave entertainment for E3, again drawing criticism, or they could focus on the entertainment side of the console and use E3 for gaming. They chose the latter. Now, while gamers continue their complaints that the core of the console -- gaming -- was barely touched on, those sitting outside of the gaming world can look on and get excited for a piece of hardware that caters to their own wants and needs. Entertainment took the front seat yesterday and here’s what we saw.
To start, let’s get a little technical. The components inside the system are impressive when compared to the Xbox 360, but don’t forget that console released eight years ago. Now we’re facing an x86 octa-core processor by AMD built around “Jaguar”. The RAM has increased to 8GB, but strangely is only DDR3, whereas Sony opted for DDR5 with the Playstation 4. How it will affect memory access is still to be determined, but undoubtedly the next-gen Playstation will access and retrieve information faster. The HDD caps out at 500GB and, again, the speed is unknown. A hard drive at that capacity is not uncommon, but considering the newly implemented Blu-ray drive will install the games automatically and the disc capacity is 50GB, more questions are presented. Microsoft has confirmed that external drives will be permitted and easier to use than ever, but capacity limits or proprietary hardware have been commonplace for Xbox in the past.
The Xbox One also has an array of ports available for consumers, including USB 3.0. HDMI-in and HDMI-out is included, which plays into the full entertainment experience that Microsoft has invested into. Wi-Fi is available via three separate radios each at 802.11n, allowing connectivity for your tablet, smartphone, controller, or other devices.
As the crutch of the reveal, Microsoft clearly wanted to impose the Xbox One integration with everyday entertainment above “simply gaming”. Evidence of this was clear during the first reveal when those in attendance were presented an image of ‘The Price is Right’ to show off the cable television integration. The aforementioned HDMI in will act as a passthrough to allow consumers to use their Xbox One as a cable box and Microsoft alluded to partnerships with most major cable carriers, though the specifics were not discussed. The Kinect 2.0 was on full display during the presentation, but not in the form of motion controlled games. Voice activation was the ‘good son’ of the show, with presenters often using simple commands like, “Xbox, play MTV,” or “go to ESPN,” in an attempt to show off the ease of transition from channel to channel. Additionally, speaking “Xbox, ON” will turn the console on and go through the boot sequence at an alarming rate, raising issue that the console sets itself into a sleep mode rather than powering completely off.
A point was made to explain that the Xbox One runs off of three particular operating systems. A new, updated version of Xbox Live allows for easy searching of television, music, and movies and provides an option for personal favorites and trending television or movies, ensuring you’re plugged into what’s popular. Xbox Live is also increasing their server numbers from around 15,000 total to an astounding 300,000, partly to compensate for the constant activity that users will have. For instance, while catching up on your favorite episode of Game of Thrones, your Xbox One will be performing a background search for the best lobby of Call of Duty, allowing a seamless transition without waiting for extended loading and searching times.
An abridged version of Windows 8 is also implemented, which is how the Snap feature implements the use of Skype, television, and other features that will have the ability to run concurrently. The Windows 8 metro-style is also apparent, using tiles to place particular apps and access to information on your desktop, similar to what we currently see on the Xbox dashboard. One interesting note is that a portion of the dashboard was noted as “My pins” -- a possible indication that users will be able to customize a portion themselves to deliver a truly customized experience. Finally, a third service, not deeply discussed, is implemented to connect the Xbox Live and modified Windows 8 service. It would be reasonable to assume that this is the service that also connects these two operating systems to the cloud, another change to how entertainment and gaming will be evolving. Your Xbox One will require an internet connection in order to connect a minimum of once every 24 hours, but the reason for that requirement is still unknown. It could have something to do with the cloud service, but it could also be one of the DRM implements to cut back on system tampering and piracy.
Wrapping up the entertainment-focused portion of the reveal was the introduction of an agreement between Microsoft and the NFL, two powerhouses in their respective industries. With the capabilities of Kinect, the streaming services of the NFL, and the power of the Xbox One, users will be able to watch their team and interact by keeping tabs on fantasy stats or using smartglass in other ways. With the current state of television contracts, it’s hard to assume that users can watch any team at any time, more likely it will depend on your local carriers and be subject to blackouts, consistent with television contracts now.
Despite having little in terms of featured titles, gaming was touched on. The current vitriol being streamed on social media fails to see that a lot of gaming information was announced, despite not seeing any gameplay. The controller, to start, now features a less pronounced battery pack and communicates with the Xbox One via Wi-Fi. The thumbsticks have been retextured to compensate for where your thumbs rest naturally and the back button has been replaced with a button used for simply viewing. Inventory during RPG’s, statistics during FPS titles, and other easily accessible map options for future titles. The thumbsticks have been revamped as well, allowing for rumble feedback. This may seem an insignificant feature, considering a rumble on your thumbs doesn’t add much to your gaming experience, but the fact that each trigger is able to be modified individually means that developers will have a better way to introduce physical depth to their titles.
A gaming DVR was also announced, complete with editing and sharing integration, turning everybody into a veritable gaming sensation. With the explosion of eSports, strangely absent from the reveal, gaming personalities have never been more prevalent. The question remains though, if everybody is creating videos, who’s watching? The answer may be limited to your friends list, which has undergone a transformation and increases from the current friend-cap of 100 to an astounding 1,000.
The biggest questions come in the form of what users will be doing with their disc games and what piracy prevention is being implemented. What’s known right now is that games will install themselves to your console automatically and, upon activating (a requirement), will allow users to play the games without the need of a disc. With a large enough external hard drive users may be able to maintain their entire catalogue of titles on one system, accessing them without ever needing to get off of the couch. Despite the increased benefit, the questions still loom regarding what Microsoft will be implementing to ensure that used games can be played (as they claim) and what sort of disc-sharing options will be available, if any.
EA also made an appearance to show off their Ignite engine, being used in NBA Live (yes, it’s back), Fifa, Madden, and future UFC titles. After showing a sizzle reel of some pre-rendered footage, EA noted that the line between real and digital is becoming blurred. Unfortunately the images shown reeked of the same enhancements and upgrades that EA touts year after year, with no real footage to provide a context of their claims. Consumers will have to wait until later this year or, best case, at E3 to see any of the engine at work.
em>Forza Motorsports 5 and a new title, Quantum Break, were also showcased. For Forza, players can expect to dive in on launch day and enjoy the simulated racing experience you’ve come to love. Another flashy trailer was released to get adrenaline pumping for fans of the series, but pre-rendered footage rarely looks similar to the final product and players should still remain sceptical until some semblance of gameplay is actually shown. Quantum Break, on the other hand, introduced fans to an FMV-like sequence where a girl shows off an ability to see through time and relay that information to people. Developed by Remedy Games, the game will undoubtedly be story driven; Remedy is most well-known for the Max Payne and Alan Wake franchises.
Microsoft clearly had a plan going into this reveal and, to the chagrin of hardcore gamers, it wasn’t to appease us. As an Xbox user myself, consuming television, movies, music and games, seeing implementation of added features is a welcomed announcement. The Xbox One is going beyond simply gaming and some entertainment apps to introduce a true experience and turn the console into the one piece of hardware that manages everything in your living room. This reveal wasn’t for gamers, but Microsoft has already noted that E3, less than a month away, will be where the gaming portion of the console thrives. For now, gamers need to understand that Microsoft knows this is a gaming console and is doing everything it can to market it to homes that don’t game as much as you or I. They have proven that they are capable of delivering an experience that extends beyond the controller and onto the remote, tablet, smartphone and to the users themselves. Be enthusiastic for what we currently know, because Microsoft is poised to make E3 a gaming-haven, complete with 15 exclusive titles, eight of which are brand new IPs.
It’s a good time to be a gamer.