I’ll say right off the bat, I’m a Sony fan. However, as an aspiring member-to-be of the industry as a whole, I like to think I can peer over the rim of my Sony tinted glasses when required; … a Sony tinted monocle maybe?
So like many others, I was intrigued to see what Microsoft would bring to the battlefield to lock analogue sticks with Sony, once again.
Unlike Sony, Microsoft did actually reveal their console today (more on that later) and confirm it will release later this year. Along with that they also released a slew of other information that was glossed over during the main presentation.
It was confirmed the unit has 8GB of RAM, an 8 core processor, 500GB HDD, USB 3.0, Blu-ray and high-speed wireless; much of what people already knew from leaked and rumoured information.
I believe what most people were interested in was Microsoft’s general direction for the console and what other features it would bring to the table, separating and potentially surpassing that offered by Sony. So what can this new Xbox do?
EVERYTHING. Microsoft’s main goal with the One is to get full control over your living room. More than ever before, this console is not just for gaming. It’s your set-top-box, new Blu-ray player, DVD player, smart tv and social hub all shoehorned into one black box. Microsoft put a lot of time an effort into showcasing the general media capabilities of the One, including Netflix and ESPN integrations to name two; now I’m assuming an existing subscription to all these services is required.
Along with a focus on TV functionality was the new Kinect device. A device that has to be connected to the Xbox One at all times. This new Kinect is greatly improved from the version currently on the market and will be shipped in the box with every new One. Accompanying the improved fidelity of the camera are voice recognition improvements. It was demoed during the presentation that the One and Kinect unit could recognize the voice of the player and load the appropriate user profile. The other general voice commands worked very well during the presentation, navigating to the home screen and swapping functions, such as changing from movies to games etc. In the current tech state we live in voice commands aren’t really ground breaking. That being said, the ability to identify a user was impressive.
Now, I mentioned switching. Another impressive feature of the One was its ability to switch instantly between any form of media. Bringing up internet explorer from within a game, swapping to Netflix and back to your game could all be done in an instant, no need to close down one program or wait any time for the other to load. This is achieved because the One is actually running 3 operating systems. It has the Xbox OS, the Windows kernal and a final system for managing the switching between the two; both Xbox and Windows system run all the time, allowing the fast switching.
Joining these functions together is the ability to snap windows to the edge of the screen, much like that introduced in Windows 7. You could be watching the Superbowl while Skyping a friend or viewing how your fantasy football players are scoring. Another small feature that add together forming a strong social and integrated experience that Microsoft had a lot of success with during the 360’s life; not to suggest the death of the 360.
Some information that was cleared up by Microsoft but not during the stage presentation was regarding ‘always on’, used games and backward capability. The Xbox One will NOT require a constant internet connection. However Microsoft have got as close as they possibly can. When you purchase a new game you will get an activation code. The new game will install onto your HDD, then the code will act as a license between your user profile and One, allowing you to play the game. So you do in fact need an internet connection to activate your new game, without a connection you just have a useless disc. Once you have activated however, you then no longer need to be online. I can’t see many people buying a console without internet access anyway but it would suck if you couldn’t play your new game because you can’t activate it due to an issue with your internet. These codes also open a can of worms for the second-hand game market and surely wont sit well in the throats of companies like GAME and GameStop who live off used game sales.
This method of licensing also stops you taking your games to a mates house and playing on their One. You could install the game but in order to actually play it you need to buy a code. Quotes from Microsoft’s Phil Harrison on the matter “The bits that are on that disc, you can give it to your friend and they can install it on an Xbox One,” “They would then have to purchase the right to play that game through Xbox Live.”. Thankfully other user profiles of the Xbox One will be able to play whatever games you buy, meaning you don’t need to buy multiple copies of a game per house hold; not that this is much of a saving grace, if multiple copies were needed it would be an abomination! So despite all of Microsoft’s success at bring people together in a virtual environment, they are potentially closing off an area where gaming began. Around a friend’s house huddled round the TV playing split screen, gaming together, in person; online is great but I’d rather have my mates in the room than on the end of Skype.
It should be noted here that it isn’t 100% clear what Sony’s stance on the issue of used games is. Personally I hope its more open.
[EDIT: Larry “Major Nelson” Hryb has since cleared this up further by stating that, so long as you sign into the user profile associated with the game, you could play that game on any Xbox One – I think that takes all the sting out of this potentially nasty feature.]
As far as games go, Microsoft didn’t really show a great deal at all. There was a demo for Forza Motorsport 5, which, like all racing games these days looked stunning. Then there was a rather typical Call of Duty demonstration. It was announced that 15 exclusive titles will launch within the first year of Xbox One, however only 8 will be new IP’s and then of that number we don’t know how many will be Kinect titles.
A few fickle points. The name, man!. Xbox One, really? You may have noticed I’ve used ‘One’ as often as I could in this article to convey how odd it sounds, it just doesn’t have the ring to it that the 360 had; that was a good name. I can’t see that anyone is going to refer to it as ‘the One’, it will surely just be known as the Xbox. In which case, that begs the question of, what is the point of having the suffix ‘one’?
To the form factor. The thing looks huge and by god is it ugly, it doesn’t look to dissimilar to an 80’s VCR. The points make no real difference to someones likelihood of purchasing the machine, they wouldn’t be a deal breaker for me, I just wanted to comment on it.
So what are my thoughts on what I saw. The fact that MS put such a focus on the media functions/tv/sports deals/Kinect does make me worry for ‘hardcore’ games. The machine is roughly comparable to the PS4 spec wise, both machines share 8GB of RAM. However the PS4 doesn’t have to run 3 OS’s, reserve computing power for Kinect and the PS4 is running faster GDDR5 RAM, compared to DDR3 in the One; some power might be able to be offset to the cloud but this will only become clear in time. With all these extra functions I can only see it coming at the detriment of the games. Sure, multiplatform games will always look near identical but like this generation, *puts in Sony monocle* Sony will have the edge on quality when it comes to first and third-party exclusive games. The used games and online registration is also very off-putting and something I’m hoping Sony avoids with the PS4.
I guess this is why I’m a Sony fan, they appeal to me, they seem to be catering for gamers. I’m a gamer. I’m also a bit of a graphics whore, so if my social/TV functions are slightly lacking and don’t work as instantly or seamlessly as my Xbox counterparts, or I can’t control the UI Minority Report style and bark commands. Do I care? Not one bit because I’ll be burning my eyes out looking at the insane detail in the next shit hot game from Naughty Dog/Santa Monica Studio or Guerrilla Games.
E3 in a couple of weeks will hopefully clear up any remaining unknowns for both consoles; Hopefully the potential make-or-break prices. So we shall all wait with baited breath to get the full picture of both consoles.
Please comment with your thoughts on the Xbox One, do you agree with me or am I missing the point; did my Sony monocle get in the way? Thanks for reading.