May 21, 2013
1. Release Date
3. Media Format
4. Kinect 2.0
5. The Controller
6. The Games
Tonight’s Xbox reveal event (#XboxReveal) was many things. Showy? Yes. Hyperbolic? Definitely. Featuring plenty of green lighting? Naturally. But was it what we were expecting? Questionable.
Sure, no-one really expected it to be particularly games-heavy, given that this is only the first announcement and E3 – representing another opportunity to hype things up to the world’s press – is only weeks away. Still, there were very few surprises among the titles shown tonight, and technical specifications were hardly forthcoming.
So what did we find out then?
Well an early surprise was how quickly we got to the name reveal. There has been much speculation online – from simply “Xbox” a la Apple’s iPad launch last year, to the popular “Xbox Infinity”. I think it is fair to say that no-one expected “Xbox One”.
Perhaps the name tries to reflect Microsoft’s aim to turn the Xbox into the total living room solution they’ve been striving for in the latter years of the 360 – “one console to rule them all”, maybe.
The biggest surprise – and a pleasant one at that I might add – was showing and demonstrating the console itself. Clearly keen to one-up Sony, who only released some abstract photos of their console for the first time yesterday, Microsoft ensured they had a finished product ready for their big day. Taking a much more blocky, sharp design approach than most modern technology, the Xbox One looks less like a games console and more akin to a living room home entertainment system.
And living room entertainment certainly seemed to be the buzz-phrase of the event. “Simple, Instant, Complete” was the ethos Don Mattrick touted right from the outset of the event, and even as person after person came and went, the single-system mantra and social media integration was never far away.
The first obvious observation was the heavy reliance on Kinect voice and gesture commands. No doubt the console will be fully navigational via a controller as usual, however it is clear that a lot of time has gone in to re-designing the Kinect interface to make it more intuitive and responsive. Small wonder then that the console will ship with a Kinect 2.0 sensor, purportedly required to be connected in order for the console to even work (a rumour not confirmed tonight, I should add).
Recent rumours of HDMI/cable TV input ports being included in the console specs meant that the announcement of live TV being viewable via the console came as little surprise. TV channels and the programme guide can all be called up and switched to via simple voice commands, and seemed fairly easy to navigate.
The “instant switching” feature allows not only immediate switching between channels, but whole functions as well. In mere seconds, it was possible to jump from watching live TV straight into a game, to mid-way through a film and back to TV, via the music player for good measure. Multi-tasking is something the Xbox 360 truly dominated in the last generation of consoles thanks to its multiple processors, and it looks like the One has taken this to a very impressive new level.
“Snap Mode” enables screen-in-screen use of other application, such as making a Skype video call while watching a movie or playing a game, or opening the web browser to look something up on the internet (cleverly using your smartphone as a remote thanks to the next version of SmartGlass). This was all very seamless and multi-tasking opens up a left-hand sidebar for the purpose, so that the primary activity is not obstructed.
The console’s user interface seemed very similar to the 360’s, utilising a Windows 8 style tile system but without all the clutter and a darn sight sleeker. Menu screens are customised to each user, which load up with ease thanks to the Kinect 2.0’s effective facial recognition-based auto login. Recently used applications or games are displayed in the primary area, with a second space dedicated to the new “Trending” area for content seemingly pulled from your friends’ social media and Xbox Live profiles.
Clearly social media was going to be a major feature of any new console in today’s world, but surprisingly this Trending area was very much integrated into the Xbox platform – there was not a single mention of Facebook or Twitter at any point during the event; a very welcome breath of fresh air.
Reciprocally, some content can be automatically shared or pushed to other services. A much-discussed example of this is the integration of sports channels with fantasy leagues, enabling stats to be automatically updated over the course of a game.
No mention was made of the rumoured ability to record TV in the same manner as a DVR, however with such a large focus on Live TV it would be very surprising if this functionality is not included.
One very exciting announcement was led by none other than Steven Spielberg, who, in partnership with 343 Industries, will be bringing a live action Halo TV series to Xbox as “premium content”. What this “premium content” means with respect to XBL users is still unclear, however. Will subscribers need to pay for this content? Or will it be included with a Gold subscription? Will the XBL tiers even remain the same?? Perhaps we will discover some of these answers at E3.
The Release Date
Xbox boss, Don Mattrick announced the new system would be released “later in the year” which is unsurprisingly vague but at this point they will be keeping the cards close to thier chest to out manoeuvre Sony who will also be releasing PS4 later this year. Video games are all about one-up-manship after all! As expected no price point was revealed.
Under the hood, Marc Whitten revealed the new Xbox One packs 8GB of RAM which matches up to the PS4 and will no doubt keep developers happy. Recent rumours of this 8GB being DDR3 rather than the PS4’s dedicated DDR5 are still unsubstantiated at this point. Not much else was revealed about the tech but we did find out that the Xbox One architecture comprises of “3 operating systems” to work with its three main inputs.
The Disc Format
The system also utilises Blu Ray as its physical format, which will be a fun talking point for all of us that remember the bitter Sony Blu Ray vs the Microsoft-backed HD DVD war a few years back. This also flies in the face of those who thought that the next gen systems wouldn’t incorporate any kind of disc-based media and operate as digital-only. Good news for Game and HMV (assuming that come the end of the year they’re still afloat, that is).
So this means both the Xbox and PS4 will have parity in both RAM and media format which will be good for developers producing multi-format titles, but is perhaps a little boring for gamers looking for more unique differentiators between platforms.
The updated Kinect which now “anchors the system” has a greater level of fidelity and measures depth, musculature, more skeletal points, weight and balance. Alas – no mention yet of the rumoured eye and finger tracking. The new Kinect is now the main input it would seem for the main UI. Microsoft are shipping every system with the Kinect and will no doubt force/encourage developers to make as much use of it as possible. Hopefully this time around it won’t be forgotten quite as quickly and maybe even used in more innovative ways.
The controller looked a lot like the 360 one crossed with the original Xbox controller, and didn’t have the same number of new features as the Dual Shock 4 – although we were told there were 40 new updates including feedback in triggers. What a tease!
And so onto the games!
So now we know why Turn 10 took a break with Forza Horizon as they unveiled, surprise surprise, Forza 5! Which looks a lot like… Forza 4! Looks like Microsoft will be taking on Sony’s PS4 launch title Drive Club head on.
Swedish developers Remedy showcased their new title Quantum Break which, like Alan Wake, looks like a highly cinematic game where the story and gameplay adapt to the player’s actions and decisions. Looks like Quantic Dreams and Naughty Dog have a challenger on their hands for their “games as movies” crown.
EA reaffirmed their commitment to the Xbox One by announcing what we already knew: EA Sports is coming to Xbox! WOW!
FIFA 14, Madden 14, NBA Live 14 (let’s hope this one actually makes it to retail this time) were all announced, along with their upcoming UFC title which they revealed at least year’s E3. The new EA Ignite engine was presented via some in-game footage of all four titles. They look like the EA Sports titles we all know and (maybe) love, but a little bit better.
This time we were promised better animation and more realism. Which admittedly is what we hear every time, but hey the demos did look impressively detailed.
Bringing out the big guns (literally) Microsoft saved the “best” for last, and what else could it be but Call of Duty: Ghosts, which seemed to basically be slightly prettier standard Call of Duty fare – but now with added dog!
Infinity Ward are developing the game with a script by Traffic writer Stephen Gaghan, and the plot now sees America in ruins and your team more as the underdogs (plus actual dog).
The new engine was demo’d and compared with Modern Warfare 3‘s engine. Much like the EA engine, the main features of the new COD engine (massively increased poly counts, advanced animations, high res textures and volumetric lighting) seem to be what we hear about every time. Managing to keep it all running at a very smooth 60 fps however is undeniably impressive; putting that hardware to good use.
Multiplayer now boasts dynamic maps complete with natural disasters, and a greater level of character customisation.
Continuing the highly successful Microsoft-Activison partnership, Xbox One will see all Call of Duty content premiere first on Xbox One. For many gamers, that fact alone may well be sufficient incentive to buy Microsoft’s new console, possibly even over the PS4.
Phil Spencer, Head of Microsoft Studios, confirmed there would be 15 titles in the first year of launch, and perhaps most impressively claimed that 8 of these would be completely new franchises; a much-welcomed fact given the oft-discussed current lack of new IP. Your move, Sony!
While the Xbox One reveal was undeniably exciting, with a whole host of ideas premiered, it’s difficult to shake the feeling that many of the so-called “innovations” are built upon foundations laid solidly during the current console generation, and that true innovation is really yet to come. Combine that with the relatively short run-time and Microsoft holding a pretty hefty chunk back for E3 – a show which is already touted as being in decline by many industry veterans – the whole affair seemed a little bit… lacking. Lacking in excitement, in innovation and in substance. But then again, how many launch titles since the PS2 era have been truly unique?
Both upcoming consoles have the hardware specs to enable developers to really take gaming to the next level, and both industry giants have a large focus on becoming one-stop-shops for the living room, so whatever your take on things so far, it’s safe to say the best is yet to come.
Bring it on.