xCloud is Coming to Xbox One

Xbox Unveils its Biggest Exclusive Games Lineup Ever by Will Tuttle for Xbox Wire via Tom Warren at The Verge

For the millions of people who play on Xbox One consoles today, we are looking forward to sharing more about how we will bring many of these next-gen games, such as Microsoft Flight Simulator, to your console through Xbox Cloud Gaming, just like we do with mobile devices, tablets, and browsers.

Yours truly with my own 2021 predictions:

I think Microsoft will announce that an xCloud app will come to Xbox One consoles. Most likely the One S and One X, since they both can output 4K video. If my phone can “run” The Master Chief Collection, I think the One S and One X can stream some games. Not only would this technically mean that you can play these games on your older hardware, but it also helps bolster Game Pass Ultimate subscriptions, which is what Microsoft and Xbox really want their customers to sign up for.

And while talking about the cross-generation bottleneck in September 2020:

Xbox could and probably will back out of this two year promise with some games. It’s already had questions pop up around it. Frankly, I think Xbox needs to cut ties with hardware support for Xbox One and somehow transition those consoles (Xbox One S and One X specifically) to xCloud boxes. Then, their hardware cap is mostly removed freeing up developers.

Also in July 2020, when Phil Spencer said you were the future of gaming:

Speaking of xCloud, an official public launch window has finally been given. I wonder if older Xbox One consoles will support xCloud streaming. Say you own an OG Xbox One (like I do) and Halo Infinite runs below 1080p when natively installed. What if you could stream the 1080p version via xCloud? I know that the Xbox One S has 4K video output capabilities. Why not allow users to stream the native 4K version of Halo Infinite to their Xbox One S? Microsoft may lose the initial sale of the shiny new box, but they could be gaining a new monthly subscriber to Game Pass Ultimate. At $15 a month, that may seem like the more appealing choice to folks hesitant to upgrading their box, especially if it can run the newer games through streaming.

I do love it when I am right.

Cross-Generation Games are like Movies at the Theater

It’s vital Sony maintains its PlayStation 4 support | Opinion by Christopher Dring for GamesIndustry.biz

In reality, people will want the best version of these games. Spider-Man: Miles Morales is more popular on PS5 than PS4, and that will be true of Horizon: Frozen West, Gran Turismo 7 and God of War. It’s the difference between watching the new Marvel movie at the cinema compared to getting it on Disney Plus. The hardcore fans will want the big screen experience. But as the film industry also discovered during the pandemic, there’s a huge opportunity in the TV space.

I like this analogy. Movies have totally shifted in the last year, bringing the direct-to-digital future to living rooms sooner than big theater chains ever wanted. I certainly rented my fair share in the last year. Heck, Warner Bros. bringing their movies to HBO Max on day one made me keep my subscription.

And Dring is right about people wanting the best versions. Movie theaters are opening back up. People will buy the PS5 version of Spider-Man or God of War, if they can. They may even opt to wait until they get a PS5 to buy those games (or, as I’m sure Sony hopes, double dip).

I’ve always agreed that cross-generation support makes sense, as a business, especially with an install base of 120+ million PS4 consoles.

In the bloody confusing aftermath of the PlayStation 5 stream, Sony confirmed that Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales, Sackboy: A Big Adventure, and Horizon Forbidden West are also launching on PS4. After believing in generations it seems that Sony also believes in its PS4 install base.

It’s no secret that I have voiced concerns about Xbox’s own public promise to support cross generational support for its Xbox consoles. The wider the range of supported hardware, the more work it is for the developers and the more it can limit the upward potential of the game. Now Sony has promised three major first party titles are cross generational.

This is great (just like it is for Xbox) for those consumers that don’y want to or can’t upgrade to the next gen consoles. You aren’t left behind. Nintendo has done this before with popular Zelda titles. It is definitely a win for consumers.

I guess they should have just confirmed Gran Turismo 7 and God of War were cross-gen too.

My stance is firmly rooted in limited development potential. With such technological strides in next-gen with the SSDs, native 4K, and so on, developing games for nearly decade old hardware has to cut off forward progress and new, previously impossible ideas.

Colin Moriarty pointed out yesterday that the only first-party PS5 exclusive we know about is Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart and that is out in one week. Hopefully, E3 2021 changes that soon, but man that is weird for Sony to have all these games close to the chest after the open-book that was the PS4 catalog.

I’m starting to get a little whiplash from Sony talking out of both sides of their mouth. They need to communicate a clear message. If that message is “We are supporting PS4 and PS5,” then they ought to embrace it, clearly share which games will do that, and incentivize the upgrade to PS5 beyond being new and shiny. Eventually, first-party development will leave PS4 behind and wholly focus on PS5. Sony needs to be better about communicating when that change will happen.

The Cross-Generational Bottleneck: Cyberpunk Edition

Cyberpunk 2077 for Xbox One and PlayStation 4 Review by Destin Legaire for IGN

While I had just as much fun playing Cyberpunk 2077 on PC as Tom did playing for his review, on the base PlayStation 4 or Xbox One it is a different game entirely. It fails to hit even the lowest bar of technical quality one should expect even when playing on lower-end hardware. It performs so poorly that it makes combat, driving, and what is otherwise a master craft of storytelling legitimately difficult to look at. It is not an exaggeration to say that I’ve felt nauseated after playing because of the terrible frame rate. It really is that bad, and it’s very suspicious that CD Projekt Red refused to provide console review copies ahead of launch.

I’d say it is more than suspicious. It was downright intentional. They knew the state the console version of the game was in, deliberately showed PC-only footage, and took people’s money anyway. CD Projekt Red figured it would be easier to ask for forgiveness rather than permission.

Seeing is believing though.

This is the type of bottleneck I feared for cross-generational games. Cypberpunk 2077 “runs” on 11 different platforms (PS4, PS4 Pro, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox One S, Xbox One X, Xbox Series S, Xbox Series X, PC, and Stadia). From a business perspective, I understand wanting to launch on last generation consoles. There are 165+ million PS4 and Xbox One consoles out in the world. I think it is safe to say the vast majority of purchases this past week were for those platforms. CD Projekt Red spent a lot of goodwill this past week.

Halo Infinite is supposed to run on nine different consoles. I think Xbox will slowly kill off their cross-generation support by running out the clock for the promised two years of support. Sony may have made the right call by not promising all their games will be cross-generational and instead announcing them as they see fit.

I bought Cyberpunk for a couple of my friends for Christmas and now I’m starting to think coal would’ve been a better present.

– Logan Moore via Twitter

I was one of the friends. If he bought me coal, at least it’d work as intended. Thankfully, I can wait until the proper PS5 version is released in 2077.

Xbox Series X at First Blush

The next generation of console gaming has begun today with the Xbox Series X | S. I picked up my Series X this morning at Best Buy at 6:00 AM. Despite each customer requiring an appointment before 9:00 AM, Best Buy was not prepared for the 20+ folks that were there this morning. After buckling up and making it home, I was able to set up the Tower of Power before needing to start work. Here are some of my first impressions with the latest and most powerful from Microsoft.

The Console

It may not be as tall as the PS5, but the Series X was far more dense than I expected. It fits well next to my TV and I imagine once the new factor wears off, the console will just fade into the background in my mind.

The Controller

The matte black finish is much nicer to my eye than the Xbox One controller’s more glossy accents. I am curious how oils from my hands will look over the years. The textured grip feels great in my hands, although not as grippy as the rubber grips on Elite Series controllers. The nicest surprise is the D-Pad. Delightfully clicky and comfortable. I’ll have to test a 2D platformer for the accuracy, but it feels like a real treat.

Speed

Coming from an OG Xbox One, I cannot believe how fast the Series X boots. Gone are the 30~ second boot times from “Instant On” mode. Hello blink-of-an-eye start times.

Set-Up

Microsoft wants you to use the Xbox app to set up the console, so I did. The process is slick. While the console updates its firmware, you are logging in, establishing preferences, and deciding if you want to transfer games/info from an Xbox One. I did a clean set up and just downloaded the few games I wanted to play.

I do wish that the app allowed me to see the download status of the games. It simply shows what is installed, which left me to pop into the living room every couple hours to check the status of my installs. I also could not figure out some sort of rest mode, so I left the console on most of the day for the downloads to do their thing. Even though I left it on, the console was dead silent. I’m curious what it will sound like when running a game.

One fun tidbit is that the console identifies itself as “SCARLETT” to the network. A nice little easter egg to the product codename.

Games

The absence of Halo Infinite is a major blow. The only “new” game I am going to play is Tetris Effect Connected and that is simply adding 4K60 support and multiplayer. I am stoked to finally play Forza Horizon 4 for the first time. The updates to the Halo: Master Chief collection sound dope, but those will be released next week. As cool as the hardware side of a launch is, I am feeling an emptiness for games to play on the Series X. Thankfully, the PS5 and its launch lineup will fill that hole later this week.

Now it’s time to go play some games!

Next-Gen SSD Storage Options and Pricing

Best Buy went ahead and listed the custom 1TB SSD memory card for the Xbox Series consoles for pre-order at $219.99. The hardcore gamers will have to pay nearly half the console’s price (or nearly the whole console if buying a Xbox Series S) to double their storage. It’s a steep price to pay to manage your solid state drive less often.

Expanding the PS5 SSD storage is a different story. Mark Cerny revealed that users could expand the storage themselves with NVMe SSDs. The catch was, they’d have to wait until consumer NVMe SSDs caught up with the speed of the PS5’s own SSD. Cerny said that Sony would provide a list of recommended drives when they become available.

It sounds like Samsung’s NVMe M.2 drive that uses PCIe 4.0 has the speed, according to The Verge back in September 2020, with read/write speeds of 7,000MB/s and 5,000MB/s. Those particular drives have 250GB, 500GB, 1TB, and 2TB (the 2TB model is supposed to release later this year). Those are currently priced at $89.99, $149.99, $229.99, and the 2TB doesn’t have a price yet.

Leaving upgrades to the user definitely gives them more options, but can lead to confusion, especially if the installation is tricky. Swapping the PS4 or PS4 Pro hard drive was simple, but we have no idea how easy that will be on PS5. Xbox users can use traditional hard drives, if they are USB 3.1 or USB 3.2, but they will only run and play older games. Xbox Series console games and features require the custom SSD.

It reminds me of SD cards for cameras or the Nintendo Switch. I buy the size I want for the price I am willing to spend. 1TB SD cards run roughly $350~, but a 128GB micro SD card is roughly $20~ and is perfect for my Switch.

I could also see the cost of the NVMe drives going down sooner, since they serve a wider market. More competition to drive the prices down. The Xbox 1TB drive is currently made solely by Seagate and is a proprietary drive, which could lead to it keeping its current price for longer. Either way, upgrading the storage on these next-gen consoles is going to be a tough pill to swallow for the first year or two.

Inside Microsoft’s design of the new Xbox Series S and X – Fast Company

Inside Microsoft’s design of the new Xbox Series S and X by Mark Wilson for Fast Company

“We think about our console as part of the environment you live in as our customer,” says Phil Spencer, executive vice president of gaming at Microsoft. “While there’s an opening of the box and you want that to be fantastic, once you put that console wherever you put it, we hope you never have to touch it again, hope you never have to hear from it again, and it just plays great games. . . . It’s not the center of attention.”

As if to prove this point, Spencer conducted an interview in July, from his home office, before the Xbox Series S design was made public. Look into the background, and you can see the S peeking out between a stack of books. And no one noticed until Microsoft revealed the ruse last week.

I love interviews exploring hardware design and Mark Wilson delivers for the two new Xbox consoles. It’s easy to look at the new Xbox systems and forget their look, which is precisely what Xbox wants. They clearly went function over form, while still sprinkling in some flourishes. My favorite touch is on the Xbox Series X with its green plastic beneath the upper ventilation holes. Gives just the right amount of that iconic Xbox shade of green. Reminds me of the Xbox goo that was apart of the origianl Xbox console’s OS.

On the flipside with the PS5, Sony definitely put more flare out there. It’s unclear the form vs function ratio going on with the PS5, but it certainly does not fade from memory. It is very Sony in its design, which is a positive point to me.

I do enjoy the PS5’s look more than the Xbox Series consoles. I am also excited that we got such widely different looks to pair with the different approach the consoles all seem to be taking technically. Makes for a far more exciting launch and generation than similar specs inside similar boxes.

Will the Xbox Series S hold back next-gen gaming? – The Verge

Will the Xbox Series S hold back next-gen gaming? by Tom Warren for The Verge

Ever since the official announcement of the Xbox Series S, I have been trying to comprehend how it will limit developers and consumers going forward into the next console generation. Tom Warren of The Verge seemed to have the same thoughts.

Microsoft revealed its Xbox Series S console last week, aiming to offer more budget-friendly next-gen gaming for $299. The console is specifically targeted at 1440p resolution rather than 4K, leading to some lingering questions and confusion around just how well it will play next-gen games. There are concerns around the GPU performance, memory, and whether the Series S could hold back next-gen gaming. I got a chance to speak with Jason Ronald, Microsoft’s director of Xbox program management, to dig into what’s really going on with the Xbox Series S.

 

Billy Khan, a lead engine programmer at id Software, shared Gneiting’s concerns. “The memory situation is a big issue on the S,” said Khan in another deleted tweet. “The much lower amount of memory and the split memory banks with drastically slower speeds will be a major issue. Aggressively lowering the render resolutions will marginally help but will not completely counteract the deficiencies.”

Sasan Sepehr, a senior technical producer at Remedy Entertainment, also shared a brief concern. “As a consumer, I love this,” said Sepher on Twitter. “As a Technical Producer, I see trouble.”

It is ironic that some of the quotes from this article were from id Software developers, which were just purchased by Microsoft this week. These concerns don’t seem to phase Microsoft though, at least on the surface.

“We did a lot of analysis of what it would really mean to run a game at 4K with 60fps and then to scale that down to 1440p at 60fps,” says Jason Ronald, Microsoft’s director of Xbox program management, in an interview with The Verge. “The reality is you don’t need as much memory bandwidth because you’re not loading the highest level MIP levels into memory. You don’t need the same amount of memory as well.”

While thinking about all the differences between the two new Xbox consoles, I kept switching tabs and sources to figure it all out. So to spare you the same fate, I whipped up a table below with all the specs for both the Xbox Series S and Xbox Series X officially from their product pages on Xbox’s website. I also threw in the PlayStation 5 specs to put it all in one place.

Xbox Series SXbox Series XPlayStation 5
Processor – CPU8X Cores @ 3.6 GHz (3.4 GHz w/SMT) Custom Zen 2 CPU8X Cores @ 3.8 GHz (3.66 GHz w/SMT) Custom Zen 2 CPUx86-64-AMD Ryzen Zen 2
8 Cores / 16 Threads
Variable frequency, up to 3.5 GHz
Processor – GPU4 TFLOPS, 20 CUs @1.565 GHz12 TFLOPS, 52 CUs @1.825 GHz Custom RDNA 2 GPU10.3 TFLOPS,
Variable frequency, up to 2.23 GHz Custom RDNA 2 GPU
System on a Chip (SOC) Size197.05 mm360.45 mm
Process7nm Enhanced
Memory (RAM)10GB GDDR6 128 bit-wide bus16GB GDDR6 w/320 bit-wide bus16GB GDDR6 w/256 bit¹
Memory Bandwidth8GB @ 224 GB/s, 2GB @ 56 GB/s10GB @ 560 GB/s, 6GB @ 336 GB/s448GB/s Bandwidth
Internal Storage512GB Custom NVME SSD1TB Custom NVME SSD825GB Custom SSD
I/O Throughput2.4 GB/s (Raw), 4.8 GB/s (Compressed, with custom hardware decompression block)2.4 GB/s (Raw), 4.8 GB/s (Compressed, with custom hardware decompression block)5.5GB/s (Raw), Typical 8-9GB/s (Compressed)²
Video Resolution1440p2160p (4K)2160p (4K)
FramerateUp to 120fpsUp to 120fpsUp to 120fps
1 & 2 – Taken from Eurogamer‘s report on PS5’s specs

I won’t pretend to know how each one of these differences measures up in game development. I’ll leave that to the people that actually make games. As someone with their ear to the ground regarding this industry though, I have a hard time hearing and believing the idea that native 4K gaming is a difference of 8 TFLOPS, 6 GB of RAM at significantly lower bandwidth. Xbox One X, which is both more and less powerful than the Xbox Series S, was capable of 4K gaming, a point Xbox used regularly in their marketing. Numbers don’t paint the whole picture, but I feel like they present a clear outline.

The Xbox Series S is the lowest common denominator for third party titles now. Not only do Xbox Game Studios have two SKUs to worry about, but third party developers like Activision and Ubisoft have to reign in their games for Xbox Series X and PS5 to make sure that the games run well on Xbox Series S. Maybe developers will build for the Xbox Series X and PS5, then figure out how to scale down to Xbox Series S, but that jeopardizes that lower-end version’s performance; both technically and possibly commercially.

We won’t really know how hamstrung design and development will be until we actually see the fruits of labor. Even then, it won’t necessarily be this year, especially with third party developers make cross-generational games, thus making the Xbox Series S actually a higher tier version of whatever game. We may get a taste of the restrictions, but probably won’t get a full, juicy comparison until a year or two into the generation. We are only 50 odd days out from the launch of the next-gen consoles, but I can’t help but feel like Xbox is already putting an arrow in the knee of next-gen development.

The Cross-Generational Bottleneck

In the bloody confusing aftermath of the PlayStation 5 stream, Sony confirmed that Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales, Sackboy: A Big Adventure, and Horizon Forbidden West are also launching on PS4. After believing in generations it seems that Sony also believes in its PS4 install base.

It’s no secret that I have voiced concerns about Xbox’s own public promise to support cross generational support for its Xbox consoles. The wider the range of supported hardware, the more work it is for the developers and the more it can limit the upward potential of the game. Now Sony has promised three major first party titles are cross generational.

This is great (just like it is for Xbox) for those consumers that don’y want to or can’t upgrade to the next gen consoles. You aren’t left behind. Nintendo has done this before with popular Zelda titles. It is definitely a win for consumers.

My concern stems from the development process. I may not know the ins and outs of making a video game, but I do know hardware is the determining factor in how far a game can go technically. When Xbox says that Halo Infinite will be playable across six different Xbox-focused platforms and then the practically infinite (heh) possibilities with PC, there has to be restrictions in the game’s design to make it work. It’s been like this in PC gaming forever.

Sony touted a belief in generations and making experiences only possible on new hardware. This gives devs the highest possible ceiling to shoot towards. Then after the PS5 price reveal, Sony announced that some of their new PS5 games would also be launching on PS4. I can just hear the cassette tape rewinding.

It would be entirely foolish for Sony to ignore their install base of 125+ million PS4 consoles. They never were just going to flip a switch and stop supporting their second best selling console when the PS5 launched. It’s the same as Nintendo with the DS, Wii, and 3DS.

Are these new games built on PS4 and crammed with PS5 enhancements or built PS5 and then scaled down for the PS4? It feels like to me that these have to be scaled up from the PS4 based off loading specifications of the PS5 SSD. The PS4 physically cannot match the performance there, creating a huge limitation.

Spider-Man makes sense to me. As I’ve previously pointed out, Insomniac and Spider-Man in particular have had a long lead time with the PS5 and its technology. It does strike me as odd to not announce this compatibility back when Miles Morales was announced. Either way, it’s a slight blow to the list of reasons to snag a PS5 at launch.

Sackboy also makes sense. I can’t imagine this cute platformer is really pegging the PS5 hardware for all it’s worth.

Horizon Forbidden West on the other hand; what a total surprise! I think this reveals quite a bit about Aloy’s next adventure. Right off the bat, I think that Forbidden West is a Spring 2021 game. Pair that with God of War in Holiday 2021 and Sony has a strong first year of PS5 titles. This also indicates that Forbidden West does not have game design and/or mechanics that require the PS5 hardware like a game like Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart and its instant world traveling mechanics.

This doesn’t mean Forbidden West is not goingn to take advantage of the PS5’s SSD or ridiculous I/O speeds or the 3D Audio Tempest Engine. I’m sure the game will run at 4K (possibly 60fps since it will be on PS4 too?). It’ll look and play great.

What it does mean is that Guerrilla is developing three versions (PS4, PS4 Pro, and PS5). They are automatically shackled by the restrictions of the eight-year-old PS4 in how far they can push their design. It also means more time for testing, optimization, and fixing bugs. They have to pour their time, energy, and focus into three versions instead of one. That is a developmental hurdle.

It still is a good transitional move for consumers, if the PS4 versions run and perform well. It would be a real mess if they PS4 versions ran poorly and weren’t even worth players’ time, but I highly doubt that’ll happen.

A key difference between Xbox and PlayStation here is the longevity of this cross-generational support. Xbox flat out promised first-party titles for two years. Sony has promised three launch window games. This gives Sony a blank check to fill in, either with more cross-gen titles or full-blown PS5 exclusives. God of War is a good option for the semi-near future. What check will they write Kratos?

Xbox could and probably will back out of this two year promise with some games. It’s already had questions pop up around it. Frankly, I think Xbox needs to cut ties with hardware support for Xbox One and somehow transition those consoles (Xbox One S and One X specifically) to xCloud boxes. Then, their hardware cap is mostly removed freeing up developers.

At some point, this bottleneck will naturally close. The PS4 will look at the rabbits by the river while the PS5 stands behind it and talks about the great farm where all the PlayStation consoles go. The same will happen for Xbox and the console cycles will go on. Heading into the next generation though, I’m not as confident of a shift transition as I was earlier this year. It was much easier when Cell architecture was involved.

Xbox Series S Officially Announced at 3 AM

It seems that leaking the actual console design, price point, and release date was the leak that broke the dam. After Windows Central reported that the Xbox Series X and S would release on November 10 at $500 and $300, respectively Xbox decided to confirm the Series S’ existence, design, and $300 price tag. They have remained mum on the Series X pricing and the release date.

The Series S is all-digital, supports raytracing, 1440p up to 120fps, 4K upscaling for games, 4K media playback, and has a 512GB SSD. No other specs were officially revealed, but since the Series S has been one of, if not the, worst kept secret for this upcoming generation, I think it is safe to bet on the previously leaked specs.

The key differences between the Series X and S lie in the GPU, RAM, output, and storage. The GPU is reported as having less than half the compute units (20 CUs vs the Series X’s 52 CUs) and only a third of the teraflops with 4TF instead of 12TF. The RAM is reportedly only 10GBs of GDDR6 instead of the Series X’s 16 GB. The Series X does have an interesting combination of RAM though, with 10 GB at a speed of 560 GB/s and the remaining 6 GB at 336 GB/s. I wonder if the Series S’ RAM will be at 560 GB/s or 336 GB/s.

I find the more interesting comparison for the Series S is between it and the Xbox One X. While the CPU and GPU are less powerful on the One X, its GPU does have 40 CUs and 6TF. The One X has 12 GB of GDDR5 RAM at 326 GB/s. It also outputs full 4K gameplay, instead of upscaling it and comes with a disc drive. Unfortunately, the Xbox One X was discontinued in July 2020.

The $300 price tag is going to grab a lot of people’s attention. It will definitely look better on the shelf next to both the PS5 and the Series X, especially when an electronics department employee is giving a weak pitch. Parents and kids will snag these up quickly. I am curious how the different specs will impact performance and development. Microsoft has promised cross-generational support for many of their games. This adds one more combination of hardware to the mix. Despite all the hemming and hawing surrounding the PS5’s price and date, Sony does have clearing messaging between its two PS5 variants: One has a disc drive, the other does not, otherwise the two boxes are identical. While this won’t lead to a price gap like the Series X and S have, it does make for a cleaner message.

On the flip side, having a price tag of $300 is a much louder message.

Halo Infinite Delayed, Xbox Series X Confirmed for November 2020

Today I want to share an important Halo Infinite development update with the community. We have made the difficult decision to shift our release to 2021 to ensure the team has adequate time to deliver a Halo game experience that meets our vision.

Chris Lee, Halo Infinite Studio Head, via Twitter

Citing COVID-19 related impacts to development, 343 Industries and Microsoft had made the appropriate call to delay their biggest incoming title. Halo Infinite was supposed to be a launch title for the Xbox Series X. Immediately after seeing this delay, I told my friends that Microsoft will be leaning heavily into the fact that the Series X can play old games better than ever, if it launches in Holiday 2020. Mere moments after typing that, I saw Microsoft’s official blog post with the headline “Xbox Series X Launches this November with Thousands of Games Spanning Four Generations.”

We have plenty to keep you busy until Chief arrives: There will be thousands of games to play, spanning four generations, when Xbox Series X launches globally this November and over 100 optimized for Xbox Series X titles, built to take full advantage of our most powerful console, are planned for this year.

While understandable and the right course of action, this delay is a major blow to the Xbox Series X launch. With Microsoft’s heavy emphasis on cross-generational support, even allowing controllers to work across devices, this console launch feels less like a generational leap and more like a small hardware upgrade. While on paper it is, in fact, a next-gen leap, the loss of a huge launch title is significant in regards to perception — especially if Sony and Insomniac can keep Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales on track.

Update: Originally, I had Chris Lee listed as the 343 Industries Studio Head. I wondered if Bonnie Ross had a higher title, and made an assumption with Chris’ given title of “Halo Infinite Studio Head” in the tweeted statement. That’s what I get for assuming.

Xbox Game Pass – Leaving Soon [Official Music Video] [with lyrics] – Xbox

Xbox Game Pass – Leaving Soon [Official Music Video] [with lyrics] – YouTube

That game you love might leave, so play before it goes / And check the app for “leaving soon,” its important that you know / Ahead of time, to prepare your last goodbyes… / Load up your favorite game and play it for the final time…/ good bye game…i love you.

I think the ad itself is rather silly. I bet it actually was made in Windows Movie Maker. The ad also raised one of the key issues I have with streaming game services as a whole. I realize this is no different than streaming movies, TV shows, or music, but I do not care for the idea that a game I may be actively playing just exits the catalog one day. Xbox does allow you to purchase a game with a discount if it is in Game Pass.

Maybe I am just stuck in an era where physical ownership has importance with consumers. It’s why I’ll pick a PS5 with a disc drive. But even with digital -only games, I do prefer paying for them and just having access to them at all times. Digital games can go away at any time (look at PT) or completely change over the course of their release; Destiny is not the same game it was at launch. Heck, look at Fortnite or Minecraft. Kids today will not be able to play those games later on in life the same way they are now. Either the game will be dead or won’t even look like what it does today. I suppose I am just an old man who likes owning old things.

Microsoft is Stuck Between Hardware and Services

Apple confirms cloud gaming services like xCloud and Stadia violate App Store guidelines by Nick Statt for The Verge

Apple rejected Microsoft’s Xbox xCloud streaming app from the App Store. Apple’s statement to Business Insider:

Our customers enjoy great apps and games from millions of developers, and gaming services can absolutely launch on the App Store as long as they follow the same set of guidelines applicable to all developers, including submitting games individually for review, and appearing in charts and search. In addition to the App Store, developers can choose to reach all iPhone and iPad users over the web through Safari and other browsers on the App Store.

This won’t last long. The bad press with the backdrop of the antitrust hearings will lead to a change in opinion rather quickly I’d imagine. This is like the Hey email app snafu back in June. Apple has a history of this and the current response is not surprising, in fact, you could have bet on it. Apple wants their cut and they certainly won’t get as much as they probably want when the dust settles. Running to the press will likely come to the rescue once again.

But Microsoft is not some gaming-friendly consumer knight-in-shining-armor here either. Their response raises questions too.

Apple stands alone as the only general purpose platform to deny consumers from cloud gaming and game subscription services like Xbox Game Pass…We believe that the customer should be at the heart of the gaming experience and gamers tell us they want to play, connect and share anywhere, no matter where they are.

I first realized this double standard while listening to the August 7, 2020 episode of Dithering. John Gruber makes an excellent point about Microsoft/Xbox only wanting to provide this cloud gaming service on their platforms if it is the one they own – xCloud. Where is the Stadia or Steam Link or even PlayStation Now app for Xbox? Would Microsoft even allow that if Google or Sony approached them? I highly doubt it. Sure, Stadia and Steam run on PC, but Microsoft owns the operating system there, not necessarily the hardware and not every person that plays games owns a PC capable of running games.

Game consoles are also general purpose platforms these days. They stream movies, music, have a web browser, and plenty of their own apps. Microsoft’s original pitch for the Xbox One was to be the all-in-one box for the living room: Essentially a PC for the TV. That didn’t pan out like they had originally envisioned, which has led to the company doing a complete 180 on their marketing and focus.

If customers should really be at the heart of the gaming experience and should be able play where they want then Microsoft should not solely focus on getting their service and content on every screen. If my games library is in Steam, why can’t I stream that content to my Xbox plugged into my television? Microsoft is trying to expand its own walled garden into Apple’s and other device providers. Phil described walled gardens as a construct of the 90s, but yet, here is Xbox building their own garden of exclusive content under the joint umbrella of Game Pass Ultimate and xCloud.

It’s not unlike Apple Arcade. A subscription service that provides access to a library of games that a user may download and play s long as they are a subscriber and the game is in the catalog that changes regularly. Microsoft is the pot and Apple is the kettle.

Microsoft is transitioning the Xbox brand from a box under your TV to a game developer/publisher and a services provider. It’d be like if Netflix made both the service that provides thousands of films and shows, but also made a television that only worked with Netflix, no Hulu, HBO Max, etc. I don’t think Microsoft can have it both ways. They need to open their own platform to the competition and complete their transition to a services provider.

“You and I might watch Netflix. I don’t know where you watch it, where I watch it, but we can have conversations about the shows we watch. I want gaming to evolve to that same level.” – Phil Spencer in an interview with Wired

Phil wants that conversation for xCloud, not video games as a whole. I don’t see the Xbox console making it to another traditional generation. Now, their service and game development will go on for years to come and a big part of that hinges on being on as many screens as possible.

Nobody Cares About Sound – hyperduker

Nobody Cares About Sound – hyperduker by Stephen Malone

Sony has spent a lot of time talking about the PS5’s new sound technology, and now Microsoft is using Halo Infinite‘s new “acoustic engine” as a selling point (and to distract people from the dull graphics). This is all well and good, except for one thing: nobody cares about sound.

This isn’t 1995, we’re not buying Soundblasters and begging game developers to use MIDI. Good sound is incredibly missable: you can’t hear all that fancy audio when you’re watching trailers on your phone, and you can’t hear it when you’re playing on your TV’s tinny-ass stereo speakers. It’s difficult and invisible, which means it’s bad for marketing.

Nobody caring about sound design is simply not true. Bad sound design sticks out like a sore thumb. Great sound design can entirely change a game. Look at Dead Space, PT, the Kurosawa Mode in Ghost of Tsushima, Return of the Obra Dinn, and even Super Mario Bros. It can make all the difference in a racing game like Forza Horizon. Sound is essential in a game like Rainbow Six Siege. Heck, it even can make a game more accessible to different players.

Sony has put tons of money into developing their own 3D audio engine that claims to change how sound is perceived and experienced across multiple sound output devices—from fancy headphones to “tinny-ass stereo speakers.” This needs to be tested out in the real world, but the potential is immense. And with a company like Sony, that has invested millions and developed countless audio devices and platforms, investing in video game’s audio future, it is easy to imagine it being successful.

Audio is one of the most immersive elements in games. It can blend seamlessly into the setting and subconsciously amp the engagement the developer is going for. It can be right in your face and move you emotionally like Journey. Audio makes truly immersive VR possible, something Sony definitely has stake in.

I think audio is about to get a major and long overdue upgrade in console gaming. I believe this is going to be like the jump from 2D to 3D games for our ears.