Tag Archives: Xbox One

Destructive Environments: Up in the Cloud

During Microsoft’s Build 2014 conference, one of many interesting projects demoed was a prototype game using both local and server resources. Displayed onscreen was, the intricate dismantling of a multi-story building. When one glass pane was destroyed by the operator’s industrial laser weapon, it would shatter into hundreds of pieces. These chunks of concrete would then descend through gravity before shattering into hundreds of additional shards. The demo, later revealed to be a very early build of the next Crackdown title on Xbox One, was demonstrated primarily to showcase one way whereby the Xbox One might supersede its competition on the graphics front. The disparity in performance between the DDR3 memory of Microsoft’s console pitted against the GDDR5 memory in Sony’s PlayStation 4 has been covered in the games media ad nauseam. But having just wrapped up Build 2015, Microsoft has yet to release a title for its Xbox platform with the demoed tech.

Prototypes can sometimes be misleading. So skepticism regarding Microsoft’s claims is understandable. But in this case, the skepticism can be readily dismissed as the enmeshing of local and server resources for gaming purposes has already been accomplished. Titanfall, EA’s multiplayer-only game, delegated real-time enemy AI to an Azure server. NPC spawning, movements, and clean-up was computed “in the cloud” & then pushed to players in real-time. Most importantly, Titanfall executed well. The game performs as expected.

While AI & destructible environments are two different components in a game engine, they each share underlying code. Spatial positioning, placement, and movement are traits both components share. The offloading of these computational intensive tasks to a more powerful server, which then distributes the values for anyone connected to that particular game session, is again a distributable concept.

This technology was examined over a year ago and has yet to show up again in any publicly available games – alphas, betas, or otherwise. So where is it? Perhaps it is in HoloLand, a narrow place where $2 billion Minecraft and $4 billion Nokia acquisitions reside.

Source: Polygon

6/18/15 UPDATE: E3 2015 has just concluded and this graphics enhancing technology is still MIA.

8/04/15 UPDATE 2: Crackdown 3 was finally revealed at Gamescom 2015 with this tech in tow.

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HBO can now be accessed via the Xbox One

Woody Allen once said, “I took a test in Existentialism. I left all the answers blank and got 100.”

This Saturday marks 365 days of Xbox One retail availability. When the console was announced at E3 2013, Microsoft promised HBO GO by the holiday season. Assumption got the better of us silly Xbox owners, thinking such statements implied Holiday 2013. Surely, the announcement, existential in nature, was referring to a full year after the console launched.
One of the most highly sought video-on-demand solutions, Netflix aside, is HBO Go. It is now on Xbox One, but after several delays and blatantly misleading PR, the release seems tainted. Rather than a grateful reception of the service, the sentiment is akin to that disgruntled thanks your incompetent coworker receives as they complete a report which they promised to turn in 18 months ago.

WHY THE DELAYS

In March 2012, an app was made available for the Xbox 360. It took two years for Sony’s PlayStation 3 to receive the service. And when it did, one major cable operator refused to participate, blocking its PS3 customers from using the service through that platform. That carrier, who also blocks Roku devices from accessing HBO GO, is Comcast Xfinity. As America’s largest cable provider, it would be fair to assume they’ve played a large role in the long delays.

Any negotiator will acknowledge that having leverage is to your advantage. In this situation, the only company wielding any power in those talks was the cable provider. In fact, it would seem that relations between HBO and Comcast had become very one-sided, with HBO feeling they needed to offer their catalog directly to consumers. If HBO can be successful with their upcoming streaming package, they will have another fight on their hands as Comcast is also America’s largest internet provider (in subscriptions).

It can further be surmised that Comcast is strong arming Microsoft for stuff, be it discounted licensing, user information, new technology, and vastly greater things beyond the scope of public knowledge.

What were they going to extort Roku or Sony for? Bankruptcy & Walkmans?

HBO GO for Xbox One, the story behind a one-year long delay

Without access to contracts signed between Comcast and HBO, it is impossible to state with full accuracy, the causes behind the year-long delay of HBO GO on the Xbox One. But it is fair to say that this contract has stipulations regarding device restrictions & allowances. The authentication system HBO uses to validate that users are subscribers of their content has been dependent on content providers cooperating. Comcast, the content provider, authenticates all HBO devices with one exception, Roku. This infers that the contract between Comcast and HBO allows for prohibiting certain devices from being authorized to receive streaming services.

Comcast has also refused to authenticate Viacom’s Comedy Central and VH1 apps on the Xbox One. However, Viacom has released the apps anyhow with Comcast subscriber’s left in the dark. The long delay for HBO GO pertains to parity. To avoid confusion, Microsoft and HBO have been aiming for all content providers to be on board before releasing an app. This eliminates superfluous Comcast customer inquires to both Microsoft and HBO along the lines of, “Why isn’t HBO GO available ?”. Comcast’s track record has proven an unwillingness to authenticate where they see competition. As Comcast aims to diversify and become a “technology” company, more manufacturers and technology-related services will be viewed as competitors.

HBO recently announced that they will fore go content providers and offer a streaming plan directly to consumers. The timing of this announcement either indicates it’s being used as leverage, or more damning, talks with Comcast have turned sour. Either way, the imminent release of HBO GO for Xbox One is now here*.

*Comcast TV subscribers potentially excluded. Comcast Internet subscribers can access HBO GO on Roku if they have TV service with another provider such as Dish or DirecTV

UPDATE: Shortly after this editorial went live, an anonymous user on on Reddit posted images of a working HBO Go app on Xbox One. The images have since been removed.

A shorter lifespan for this generation of game consoles

This generation of console war has already been decided. When Sony and Microsoft both displayed their gaming consoles at E3 2013, it was easy to observe both jarringly different approaches. Microsoft was clearly aiming to evolve the living room into an automated hub. This new living-room relied on a freshly installed data center infrastructure to create a continuous flow of information between the people and their technology. It was and still is, a revolutionary vision of what is possible in the always connected world. Sony’s focus was on evolving what worked with game consoles in years passed. Perhaps, such an approach can be insightful to Japanese thinking. Japan’s tradition-based society is well documented in both literature and film. Both machines use very similar components from AMD in order to make cross platform development easier for third party developers. Despite nearly identical architectures, Sony’s PS4 includes one differentiator for relative purposes of game performance, the inclusion of DDR5 memory.

When game consoles process information, that information goes through a series of systems designed to deliver the information most effectively. Some steps in this system pass the information off to another step more quickly. One step in this system is DDR memory. The PS4 uses DDR5 memory which transfers at a maximum rate of 176 GB/s. Xbox One uses DDR3 at a maximum transfer rate of 68.3 GB/s. The Xbox also includes another very small buffer step (0.5 percent of total memory) which has theoretical transfer rates of up to 191 GB/s. This design choice is also insightful. It can be inferred that Microsoft’s mindset emphasizes the efficient transference of information between systems. Performance wise, DDR5 has a stilted leg up on DDR3.

Both companies have unique goals to accomplish with this generation of hardware. Japan’s Sony intends to upgrade the same experience we’ve known since last generation. America’s Microsoft ambitions lied with introducing a wholly new experience. Microsoft has already retracted from many decisions with this console based on consumer backlash. They have struggled with the consumer segment for several years and wanted to publicly grant consumers’ wishes. The problem here was the underlying philosophy with the Xbox One was never geared towards providing the consumer with best experience.

Xbox One was purposefully planned to help Microsoft flesh out new infrastructure and train programmers, who happen to be working on games. The idea of incorporating cloud systems into areas of gaming such as AI, lighting, or geospatial deployments can find roots in “doing more with less”, pooling resources, and good logistical flow of information. The consumer was a secondary consideration here, and money which could have spent on DDR5 memory was used instead to build a few additional servers in Microsoft’s new data centers. The noticeable differences in memory performance are minimal at the moment. But as game developers better harness the power of these new systems, the disparity in quality between games will become more easily discernible. The effects of this will likely be a shorter hardware generation for Microsoft.

Rather than the 8 years between the 360 and Xbox One, a lessened timeframe before the arrival of Microsoft’s next living room hub should be expected. In five years, broadband speeds will have doubled or tripled & UHD televisions will be mainstream. A demand for a console which can take advantage of these leaps in technology will echo consumer forums from the US to Japan. Microsoft will have exhausted less resources than Sony by this time and would have a more viable justification to build anew. Also accountable to decisions this go-round will be better trained developers and the infrastructure to support cloud-based computing for a decade or two out. Sony will retain good brand image amongst consumers but will have done little else in the way of future proofing the company’s other interests or better training programmers for other industries.