Disc Jam developers help us understand the innards of Microsoft's new console
Yesterday Microsoft revealed the new technical specifications for its next Xbox console, codenamed Scorpio. It's undoubtedly more powerful than the Xbox One or its rival the PlayStation 4, but what do all those CPU and GPU numbers actually mean for the games we'll be able to play on it? We checked in with two developers, former engineers on Call Of Duty who have just built their own multiplayer success from scratch, to find out what the new technology will actually mean for gamers.
"The thing to keep in mind about the PlayStation Pro and the Scorpio is because they have complete backwards compatibility, and because neither Microsoft nor Sony want to leave people who purchased PS4s and Xbox Ones in the dust, these really aren't like new consoles in the way that we traditionally have thought about them," says Jay Mattis, one of the co-founders of High Horse Entertainment, creators of Disc Jam.
We asked Ryan Shrout, host of This Week in Computer Hardware, founder at PC Perspective and principal analyst at Shrout Research, how the guts of the Scorpio actually compared to the PC gaming rigs and laptops currently on the market.
"This is the million dollar question," he says. I would consider Scorpio to be in line with a mid-range gaming PC based around the Radeon RX 460 / GTX 1060. I might give Scorpio the slight edge in GPU performance, but the Jaguar-based CPU is still going to be behind the Core i5 and Ryzen processors on the market today." Shrout says if Microsoft can keep the price around $500, it represents good value performance-wise.
He also points out that the Scorpio's hardware could easily power currently virtual reality technology. "Rated at 6 TFLOPS, Scorpio has higher maximum theoretical compute capability than the Radeon RX 480 and even the GeForce GTX 1060. All indications are that MS is planning to partner with someone rather than push its own VR headset and Oculus would make the most sense."
Both High Horse's Mattis and his partner Timothy Rapp point out that not only is this latest generation of consoles more PC-like than ever before, they're also closer to each other than any previous console generation when it comes to developing for them. That's good news for game makers, but it also means that you're unlikely to see games that will really make the most of the Scorpio's new power.
"There are going to be far more PS4s and Xbox Ones out there, and it hasn't been that long since they were released," says Mattis. "At the end of the day we have to write our software with that in mind. So it's got to run, and it's got to run reasonably and it's got to look decent on the original hardware."
He explains that it's going to be rare to see developers targeting the PS4 Pro and the Scorpio and then trying to backwards port it to the base level consoles. "You're still developing your games for the target hardware, the original machines, and then you're just trying to figure out how you can up the resolution or the frame rate or load higher quality textures." Rapp points out that we're a long way off from 4K televisions being in every home too, so developers will still be working with 1080p visuals in mind.
Basically, developers want their games to look amazing, of course they do, but they want your consoles to be as similar as possible, they can't afford the man hours to deal with some special, sexy feature on just one machine.
"Every time you build a game and it's for multiple platforms, all of these little nuances that make the hardware different are awful," says Mattis. "At the end of the day because you're not seeing anything that's going to be exclusive to just the Xbox Scorpio or just the PS4 Pro, it's always going to be pretty limited."
We'll no doubt see just which games Microsoft thinks will best show off the Scorpio's graphical powers at E3, but the chances of Scorpio-exclusive games are slim to nonexistent. Instead, expect to see Scorpio-enhanced versions of Xbox staples like Gears Of War, Halo, Forza. It's not out of the realm of possibility that we may also see something like Red Dead Redemption 2 with Scorpio features.
And of course, we still need to know just how pretty the box itself will be.