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.