Tech Talk : Xbox One Thoughts

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Microsoft finally revealed its much anticipated new console to the world on Tuesday, May 21, 2013 and decided to go with the interesting name of Xbox One. The name is pretty apt as Microsoft made clear they are not just creating a gaming device but are attempting to replace every entertainment unit in your living room with one device to rule them all. In fact, it seemed that Microsoft’s event was not really aimed at Sony as the main competition – but rather at Apple.

For me, the presentation was very good and a welcome return to reality after Sony’s PR event for the PlayStation 4, which was widely panned for not actually having any hardware to show. As a software engineer, I worked on both the Playstation 2 and 3 and the original Xbox 1 and 360 on engine development. Without a doubt, Microsoft products were always much easier to develop for. The tools worked perfectly, the development environment between PC and console was seamless, and the documentation and support were superb. Playstation hardware however was often exceptionally difficult to work with – particularly the Cell architecture in the PS3. This frequently led to PS3 games having less features and a lesser performance than 360 games – simply because they were so difficult to fully exploit.

Xbox One Console

Sony knows this and has pledged to improve their developer relations this time around. So, it will be interesting to see how they do – they have a lot to compete against. Microsoft is offering a single environment that can play next generation games, control your TV, and it also offers incredibly advanced motion detection and voice recognition technology — far beyond anything Sony has demonstrated so far. They are also providing back end cloud services and connectivity with mobile devices. It’s hard to see how Apple or Sony can fight back against such a wide offering in a single package. Despite its critics, Microsoft is definitely moving the industry forward.

The hardware itself is also impressive. Moving from a 3 core system in the Xbox 360 to 8 cores will result is vastly more impressive games. The biggest improvement will be the memory. Even when I worked on Crackdown, one of the first games released for the 360, we were incredibly constrained by the 512mb memory limit. With 8gb the size and detail of the playable worlds will be so much greater.

Compared to a high end PC, the Xbox One is not faster — but when you take all the power and make it exclusively available to a single game the results will be better than what can be achieved on a higher performance PC. This is because game developers on the PC have to aim for what the majority of the market owns — not the top 1%. Since all consoles are identical, it will allow every game to exploit every last drop of power from the machine.

Personally, I was very impressed with the event. Bringing together a new console, amazing advances in motion and voice recognition, TV control, cloud game services, and connectivity with other platforms in a single device is no small feat of engineering. Now it’s time to see how Apple and Sony will up their game. However, the most important mark I predict this device (and the PS4) will have on the gaming landscape is that Nintendo will move to become a software-only game developer. I’m excited to see a resurgence of investment at the top of the industry, which will trickle down and hopefully benefit everyone.

Peter Walsh teaches Programming and Tech Design