For years now, whispers of a next-gen Microsoft console code-named “Durango” have been providing grist for the rumor mills of the world, but today Microsoft laid all of its considerable cards on the table in a massive live-streamed event in which it gave us our first look at the Xbox One, a slick name that I like to imagine is what President Obama uses for his own console. As opposed to the general mystery that surrounded the PS4’s big reveal, it seems like we’ve known quite a bit about the forthcoming console. Were our guesses right on the money? Will Kinect be able to tell me why I lie awake at night? Read on and find out!
Wait, it’s called what?
The Xbox One. Pretty neat, huh? Durango would be all well and good if they were selling us a pair of particularly rugged jeans or a sporty SUV, but the new console is now known as Xbox One, a name which, surprisingly, I like, despite my inclination for snarkiness.
Are you there, Xbox? It’s me, Margaret.
“Can we improve a living room that has become too complex, too fragmented and too slow?” These were the words with which Microsoft Interactive Entertainment Business president Don Mattrick opened the Xbox One press conference. Much like the PS4, Microsoft’s strategy for the Xbox One can be boiled down to two core tenets: integration and interactivity. Microsoft’s CVP of Marketing & Strategy, Yusuf Mehdi took the stage to ask us, “What if a single device could provide all your entertainment? What if that device could turn on your TV and talk to all the devices in your living room?” Through voice integration, reliance on cloud computing and a vastly improved Kinect interface, the Xbox One is meant to be less of a gaming console and more of an all-in-one entertainment device that can run your living room, Smart House-style.
The new Xbox home screen looks awfully familiar, but with a few distinct differences. By saying, “Xbox, on,” the system automatically recognized Yusuf’s voice and took him to a customized home screen. The console will remember what you were last doing. In Yusuf’s case, he was conveniently playing Forza Motorsport 5, listening to Deadmau5 and watching Netflix, which I’ll get to in short order. Still, it seems like Microsoft has put thought into how to make the start-up screen more personal, just as one would with the desktop of their personal computers, especially those who use Windows 8.
The press conference could be summed up in one sentence from Medhi: “You and your TV will have a relationship. It’s going to recognize my name, my voice… using the power of the cloud.”
Most impressive of all was the seamless nature with which Medhi’s voice commands enabled instant switching between the console’s many functions. “Xbox, go home,” will bring you back to the home screen, because, obviously. You no longer need to change inputs to watch live TV. “Xbox, watch TV” will take you to live episodes of The Price is Right (or whatever else happens to actually be on). For those of you who simply can’t focus on one task at a time, Xbox One’s Snap Mode is sure to delight. It allows you run multiple programs alongside each other, an exciting feature that we haven’t seen on other smart devices really. Cell phones let you run programs in the background, but this picture-in-picture mode is pretty nifty. Medhi demonstrated it by watching J.J. Abrams’ 2009 Star Trek while looking up just who the hell Benedict Cumberbatch might be playing in Star Trek Into Darkness on the side of the screen.
You can even Skype on Xbox while using Snap mode. A simple “Xbox, answer call” will enable you to accept calls even while running other programs, so now you can talk to your mother while middle schoolers on Xbox Live insult her in real time. Most exciting is the potential for its integration with live television broadcasts, which Mattrick demonstrated in a video announcing the console’s partnership with the NFL. Not only can you watch live NFL broadcasts, but the Xbox One will allow you to see your fantasy team stats update in real time on the side of the screen, which is only furthering the case that fantasy sports fans are nerds of a different stripe. But what would sports be without talking smack? You can use that Skype functionality to, as Mattrick so sweetly put it, “openly taunt your friends about the success you’re enjoying.” Check out this uncomfortable stiff, infomercial-like video for more detail.
In addition, Xbox’s Favorites area lets you pin content to one convenient screen, where you can aggregate things like the television shows you want to watch most. To discover new stuff, you can head over to the Trending tab where you’ll be treated to a selection of what’s popular worldwide and among your friends, Twitter-style. Centralization and integration are the names of the game for the Xbox One. The next step? Bringing Disney’s Smart House to life.
So, when is the release date?
Unfortunately, all Don Mattrick had to say was that it will be available “later this year.” Most likely, it will be out in 2013. According to Bloomberg and many other outlets, the system will be available in time for the 2013 holiday season, priming this year’s Black Friday to be an all-out slugfest between the Xbox and the PS4.
Get ready, gearheads, because this is what you and I have been waiting for. For a while, the next Xbox has been rumored to run on an 8-core, 64-bit CPU with a 1.6ghz processor, 800mhz DirectX11 GPU and what Kotaku refers to as “custom hardware blocks” which will handle certain individual tasks to reduce strain on the primary CPU. With 8GB DDR3 memory, a 500GB HDD, onboard wifi and a Blu-ray player, Microsoft’s early specs look formidable, but will they improve?
Microsoft Xbox Live VP Marc Whitten came out to tell us about how Xbox Live has been reinvented by the power of the cloud, and the big black box is “elegant and ready” for the future of console gaming, boasting 5 billion transistors, 8GB DDR3 RAM, USB 3.0, 802.11n Wireless with built-in wi-fi, HDMI In/Out (which is crucial for allowing seamless transition between gaming and TV), an 8 core CPU, 500 GB hard drive
Most compelling about Whitten’s talk was his spiel about how “the soul of the new system is the Xbox One Architecture,” which boils down to three operating systems in one. The first is the traditional Xbox OS, which devs are used to. The second is the kernel of Windows, which provides access to powerful apps. The third bridges the gap and connects the two systems to enable instant switching between the myriad functions.
A brand new Kinect sensor paired with every Xbox One comes with the system, and has been redesigned to capture voice and motion in real time at speeds we haven’t seen before. Time of Flight measures the 13 billionths of second to measure photons bouncing off of you to transmit at 2 Gbps/sec for lag-free motion and voice control. Kinect recognizes you and the controller, getting you into your latest game-save instantly. Speak and your troops follow commands, raise your controller and raise a shield. It’s all meant to create a “lag-free and instant game experience.”
The new Xbox Live is built on Xbox One’s advanced architecture to amplify a new generation. Based on your existing membership, it’s “more personal and more intelligent.” When it launched in 2002, it was being run off of 500 servers. With the 360, it increased to 3000 servers. Over the last eight years, it’s increased to 15,000 servers, but the new Xbox Live will run off of 300,000 servers, which is more than the entire world’s computing power in 1999. Achievements have been overhauled and asynchronous matchmaking lets you find the perfect match in one game while you play another which is the ultimate ADHD enabler. The goal is, according to Whitten, to create “living, persistent worlds.”
The controller remains largely unchanged apart from some minor aesthetic upgrades. The handle’s contour is a bit different, and there are off-set analog sticks, the traditional A, B, X and Y face buttons, a revamped directional pad, and two new buttons where Start and Back once were.
In addition, the controller boasts an intergrated battery compartment, impulse triggers, a Wi-Fi Direct radio stack, and a “precision directional pad,” which players of Injustice: Gods Among Us will welcome with open, frustrated arms and bruised thumbs.
TV and Xbox: together at last
One of the major sticking points of the presentation was the console’s integration with your home entertainment system and its ability to seamlessly switch back and forth between gaming and live television broadcasts.
Nancy Tellem of Xbox Entertainment Studios told us a bit about how the console will work with your cable provider to let you swap back and forth while integrating certain console-only features to your viewing experience. Then, she dropped a rather unexpected bombshell. 343 Industries head honcho Bonnie Ross joined Soulja Nancy Tellem on the stage to reveal that they are so excited for the potential of television’s storytelling magic in conjunction with the Xbox One’s robust architecture that they will be producing a live-action Halo premium television series for Xbox Live with none other than moviemaking’s Master Chief, Steven Spielberg, as executive producer.
In a pre-recorded video, Spielberg said, “The Halo universe is an amazing opportunity to be at that intersection where technology and myth-making meet to produce something truly groundbreaking,” While I love Master Chief, here’s hoping that instead of a faceless, emotionless protagonist, they focus their energy on the other members of the UNSC.
Shut up and show me the games!
Believe me, I ‘d really love to show you all 15 exclusive titles (8 of which are new IPs) that Microsoft teased during its press conference, but the fact of the matter is that they didn’t show us all that much. We received a taste of EA Sports’ upcoming offerings, which are powered by their brand new Ignite engine, Forza Motorsport 5, Remedy’s Quantum Break, and Infinity Wards’ Call of Duty: Ghosts, but little else. It’s pretty interesting when you think about it – Sony refused to show us the hardware, but Microsoft refused to show us the software. Either way, we’re predicting a highly eventful E3 for both companies.
Forza Motorsport 5
While it’s difficult to tell if any of this was live gameplay or a pre-rendered trailer, it’s indisputable that Forza Motorsport 5 is easy on the eyes. From the particle effects of dirt flying up from screeching tires to the confetti falling at the finish line to the individual tire tread patterns to the dynamic lighting effects, this is eye candy of the highest order and it looks like the recently announced Gran Turismo 6 is going to have some serious competition against diehard racing sim fans. Also, it’s worth noting that Forza 5 has been confirmed as a launch title for the Xbox One.
You would be forgiven for wondering if you’d accidentally been transported to 1997 while watching Quantum Break‘s trailer. The brand new IP from Remedy (Max Payne, Alan Wake) showed very little gameplay footage, instead leaning on cryptic live-action footage which left me confused as to whether it was a choose your own adventure game done with FMV or equal parts live-action and video game. As someone who has enjoyed the studio’s output in the past, I’m going to give them the benefit of the doubt and just enjoy the general creepiness of the little girl, the massive explosions, and the highly suspicious mom.
FIFA ’14, Madden ’14, NBA Live ’14, UFC and a brand new game engine
Andrew Wilson, executive vice president of EA Sports, came out in his Tuesday finest to tell us all about EA’s upcoming offerings and its partnership with Microsoft and the Xbox One. There’s something beautiful about a British man talking about the “special relationship.” Somehow, I don’t think this means we’ll be getting a Margaret Thatcher simulator anytime soon. Wilson did, however, reveal that we’ll be seeing new installments of FIFA, Madden, NBA Live and UFC all coming in the next twelve months. In his words, they “will be revolutionary and fundamentally change the way you play” because they’re powered by EA Sports’ Ignite, a “brand new game engine designed specifically to blur the line between real and virtual” that delivers 10x more animation to its sports titles than we’ve seen in previous iterations. True Player Motion is the name of the game, utilizing the Kinect’s enhanced motion tracking capabilities to let you flop like your favorite professional athletes from the comfort of your living room. In other words, eat your heart out, Wii Fit.
Call of Duty: Ghosts
While the only peep we heard from Halo was the upcoming television series, Microsoft’s big showstopper was the worldwide reveal of Activision and Infinity Ward’s Call of Duty: Ghosts, which had an eyebrow-raising live action trailer drop recently, too. Set in the aftermath of a devastating attack on U.S. soil which left our military shattered and our power waning, Call of Duty: Ghosts puts you in the shoes of an elite crew of soldiers assembled from the remnants of the United States’ top special forces units. Oh, and there’s a dog this time around, too! They’ve been part of the franchise before, but this time you’ve got one on your team! Honestly, all I care about is whether or not you can play as the paramilitary pooch. In a display of the Internet’s instantaneous response time, the Delta Force-ready doggie, portrayed and mo-capped by a real-life Seal Team canine, already has a parody Twitter account. Frankly it’s about time that Air Bud had some competition.
The dev team worked with writer/director Stephen Gaghan (Traffic, Syriana) to create “emotional reality” and create a cast of characters you’d actually care about. The dialogue we heard in the trailer was pretty schlocky, but then again most grim action movie fare has that tone to it. We were also treated to a few behind-the-scenes videos boasting about the newly implemented features. For example, one dev spoke of improved physics designed to help give you a sense of momentum. They’ve also introduced sliding and leaning, fluid dynamics, interactive smoke, and I quote, “an AI system so that fish move out of the way when you get close to them.” At long last, we can rebuild that fourth wall. Activision’s “throw a lot of jargon at the consumer” approach is similar to my style of spray-and-pray in most Call of Duty multiplayer matches, so it makes sense. As per usual, all DLC will be made available on the Xbox first, so that’s yet another incentive for series diehards to gravitate to Microsoft’s new console.
In addition to these titles, we can also expect Ubisoft’s Watch Dogs, Eidos Montreal’s Thief, Bungie’s Destiny, and many more. For a comprehensive list of confirmed and probable Xbox One games, check out IGN’s well updated Wiki.
New stuff is rad, but can I play my old games?
No, no, you cannot. In an interview with The Verge, Microsoft Xbox Live VP Marc Whitten confirmed that there is no backwards compatibility for Xbox 360 titles, similar to the PS4’s lack of backwards compatibility. “No, there’s not,” said Whitten. “The system is based on a different core architecture, so back-compat[ibility] doesn’t really work from that perspective.” Yikes. Actually, it’s not that surprising from a business standpoint. Why would you deprive yourself of the market share of forcing consumers to repurchase virtual versions of their old favorites from the Xbox Marketplace? That’s money in the bank, even if it does stink to high heaven for dedicated customers who want to play all their Xbox titles – original, 360, and One – on the same system.
Microsoft has a pretty terrific FAQ page already set up to answer those burning questions you might still have about the Xbox One, but we’ll summarize a few of them for your benefit.
1) The Xbox One does not require an always-on Internet connection. This should come as a relief to many after rumors began swirling and apocalyptic visions of a Sim City or Diablo III-level fiasco began dancing in our collective heads. The console has been designed so that you can still play games, watch live TV, play Blu-rays, etc. even if you lose your connection.
2) Your Gamertag, achievements and Gamerscore will all carry over to the Xbox One and the new iteration of Xbox Live, so you don’t have to worry about some Johnny-Come-Lately snatching up your coveted BudLight420 handle.
3) Kinect is now a required part of the platform, although now it seems like you won’t have to purchase it separately. All indications from official sources indicate that the Kinect is an integral part of the new platform, especially in terms of enabling voice commands and instant switching between programs.
Overall, this press conference was much smoother than Sony’s PS4 reveal. It moved at a steady pace and focused on the hardware, which was ostensibly why we were there in the first place. However, the lack of games shown has been a sticking point for many concerned gamers on the Twittersphere. With E3 just around the corner though, I imagine many of these fears will be quickly assuaged by another larger-than-life press conference.
It seems that our notion of a video game console is changing as companies gravitate more towards creating all-in-one entertainment devices. The Xbox One’s Snap mode and ability to seamlessly switch between games, television, films, etc. was seriously impressive and looks like it could be a real game changer as far as what consumers will look for in their devices. While it’s still too early to say which one will come out on top (despite Sony’s apparently skyrocketing shares), it looks like this is going to be one of the most interesting holiday seasons we’ve seen in quite some time.
What do you think of Microsoft’s Xbox One? What would you like to see? Let us know in the comments below or ping me on Twitter.