The current generation of consoles is the longest lived of any generation of the past 2 decades. There are many reasons for this but primarily it came from the fact that the consoles of this generation, bar the Nintendo Wii, where light years ahead of their time at release. In a theoretical sense both the Xbox360 and the PlayStation 3 had 10 times the computing power of their PC contemporaries at release and they took several years to catch up. Of course now the amount of computing power available, especially that of graphics cards, far surpasses that which is available in console form and the gaming community is starting to look towards the next generation of consoles.
The last couple weeks have seen quite a lot of rumour and speculation going around as to what the next generation of consoles might bring us. Just last week some very detailed specifications on the PlayStation4, codenamed Orbis, were made public and the month before revealed that the new Xbox is codenamed Durango. As far as solid information goes however there’s been little to come by and neither Sony or Microsoft have been keen to comment on any of the speculation. Humour me then as I dive into some of the rumours and try to make sense of everything that’s flying around.
I’ll focus on Durango for the moment as I believe that it will play a critical part in Microsoft’s current platform unification crusade. Long time readers will know how much I’ve harped on about Microsoft’s Three Screens idea in the past and how Windows 8 is poised to make that a reality. What I haven’t mentioned up until now is that Microsoft didn’t appear to have a solution for the TV screen as the Xbox didn’t appear to be compatible with the WindowsRT framework that would underpin their platform unification. Rumours then began swirling that the next Xbox could be sporting a x86 compatible CPU, something which would make Metro apps possible. However SemiAccurate reports that it’s highly unlikely that the Durango CPU will be anything other than another PowerPC chip, effectively putting the kibosh on a Three Screens idea that involves the Xbox.
Now I don’t believe Microsoft is completely unaware of the foot hold they have in the living room when it comes to the Xbox so it follows that either Durango will have a x86/ARM architecture (the 2 currently confirmed WinRT compatible architectures) or WinRT will in fact work on the new Xbox. The latter is the interesting point to consider and there’s definitely some meat in that idea. Recall in the middle of last year that there was strong evidence to suggest that Windows 8 would be able to play Xbox360 games suggesting that there was some level of interoperability between the two platforms (and by virtue the Windows Phone 7 platform as well). Funnily enough if this is the case then it’s possible that Metro apps could run on the Wii U but I doubt we’ll ever see that happen.
Coincidentally Orbis, the PlayStation3 successor, is said to be sporting a x64 CPU in essence eliminating most of the differences between it and conventional PCs. Whilst the advantages to doing this are obvious (cross platform releases with only slight UI and controller modifications, for starters) the interesting point was that it almost guarantees that there will be no backwards compatibility for PlayStation3 games. Whilst the original PlayStation3s contained an actual PS2 inside them the vast majority of them simply emulated the PS2 in software, something that it was quite capable of doing thanks to the immense power under of the PlayStation3. Using a more traditional x64 CPU makes this kind of software emulation nigh on impossible and so backwards compatibility can only be achieved with either high end components or an actual Cell processor. As Ars Technica points out it’s very likely that the next generation of consoles will be more in line with current hardware than being the computational beasts of their predecessors, mostly because neither Microsoft or Sony wants to sell consoles at a loss again.
The aversion to this way of doing business, which both Microsoft and Sony did for all their past console releases, is an interesting one. Undoubtedly they’ve seen the success of Nintendo and Apple who never sell hardware at a loss and wish to emulate that success but I think it’s far more to do with the evolution of how a console gets used. Indeed on the Xbox360 more people use it for entertainment purposes than they do for gaming and there are similar numbers for the PlayStation3. Sony and Microsoft both recognise this and will want to capitalize on this with the next generation. This also means that they can’t support their traditional business model of selling at a loss and making it up on the games since a lot of consoles won’t see that many games purchased for them. There are other ways to make up this revenue short fall, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they can keep using the console as a loss leader for their other products.
All this speculation also makes the idea of the SteamBox that much more interesting as it no longer seems like so much of an outlier when lumped in with the next generation of consoles. There’s also strong potential that should a console have a x86/x64 architecture that the Steam catalogue could come to the platform. Indeed the ground work has already been done with titles like Portal 2 offering a rudimentary level of Steam integration on the PlayStation3, so it’s not much of a stretch to think that it will make a reappearance on the next generation.
It will be interesting to see how these rumours develop over the next year or so as we get closer to the speculated announcement. Suffice to say that the next generation of consoles will be very different beasts to their predecessors with a much more heavy focus on traditional entertainment. Whether this is a positive thing for the gaming world at large will have to remain to be seen but there’s no mistaking that some radical change is on the horizon.
I’m not usually one to comment on rumours since most of the time they get us no where and have great potential to disappoint, something I like to avoid. Still if there’s a plausible root to a rumour that warrants investigation I’m more than happy to have a go at it since the sceptic in me loves debunking stuff and the geek revels in future possibilities that have their base in reality. Today such a rumour fell right into my lap with the usual lack of any official confirmation (or denial) and just a few tenuous clues as to how this reality could come to be.
That rumour was that Microsoft’s next iteration of Windows would be able to play Xbox games.
Of course the first part of any rumour is to try and track down the original sources to see if there’s any more information you can glean from them. After starting at Destructoid and working my way down the rabbit hole of back links I eventually came to these two sites who don’t even classify this idea as a rumour but give little else on the details. It’s long been known that Xbox Live would be coming to Windows 8 (much like it has come to the Windows Phone 7 platform) but the idea that you’d be able to load up your Xbox games on your PC or tablet device was a new and novel idea that no one had really considered before. Since this information is coming to us via reports of finding Xbox360 code references in the leaked Windows 8 builds it would be easy to write it off as pure rumour milling, but I think there’s a bit more to it than that.
I’ve long talked about Microsoft’s Three Screens vision for the future world of computing, an idea where no matter what your viewing device (being either that of your PC, portable device or TV) the experience remains the same. Windows 8 was the first step towards this with the Metro inspired UI that will be available across both PC and tablet devices alike. One piece of the puzzle was missing however, the TV, and if I’m honest I wasn’t sure what strategy Microsoft was going to go for in order to bridge the gap. The answer, I believe, lies within Xbox Live as with its debut on the PC it will become the very first Three Screens enabled application, being available on all of them with a comparable experience on each. Once the path is paved by Xbox live it should be a lot easier to bring further applications into the Three Screens world, especially if they’re able to bring the .NET platform to those same platforms.
One of the big questions that looms over this rumour is how a PC will be capable of playing Xbox games, especially some of the more recent titles. Many of the games on the Xbox and Xbox360 make heavy use of the specific architecture of the platform in order to gain significant performance benefits. Whilst you could emulate the entire system in software it’s more than likely that any recent title would run quite poorly, to the point of not being playable. Taking this into consideration I believe it’s more likely then that, at least initially, the only games that will be available will be those developed on Microsoft’s XNA framework. It can be argued that most of the games built on this framework are more than likely already available on the PC (indeed this is the main reason many choose XNA in the first place) but since there’s no market currently the visibility of such games is a lot lower than it could be. Thus the introduction of Xbox Live (along with its Arcade section) coupled with the availability of XNA titles is a very real possibility for Windows 8, but how Microsoft will go about this remains to be seen.
It will be interesting to see how Microsoft reacts to this rumour as whilst they’re not usually into playing the rumour game they’re definitely more loose lipped than say, their Cupertino counterparts. Personally I’m more excited about the possibility that Microsoft is pursuing their Three Screens vision with the beach front into this world being one of my passions. Whether this rumour has any shred of truth to it though remains to be seen and we could be waiting up until the betas before we know any more about it. Still with the amount of interest this has generated in such a short time it would be interesting if Microsoft didn’t pursue this at least in some fashion since it would be a massive step towards their platform unification strategy.
The last thing you want as a developer is your code to go out into the wild before its ready. When that happens people start to build expectations on a product that’s not yet complete and will form assumptions that, for better or worse, don’t align with the vision you had so carefully constructed. Most often this happens as a result of management pressure and there’s been many a time in my career where I’ve seen systems moved up into production long before they’re ready for prime time. However the damage done there pales in comparison to that can be done to a game that’s released before its ready and I’m almost ashamed to admit that I’ve delved into this dark world of game leaks before.
The key word there is, of course, almost.
I remember my first steps into this world quite well. It was late 2002 and news began to make the rounds that someone had leaked an early alpha build of Doom 3, the next installment in the series in almost a decade. I was incredibly intrigued and began my search for the ill-gotten booty scouring the vast recesses of e-Donkey and Direct Connect, looking for someone who had the magical files. Not long after I was downloading the 380MB file over my dial up connection and I sat back whilst I waited for it to come down.
After it finished downloading I unzipped the package and waited whilst the crazy compression program they had used did its work, feverishly reassembling the code so that I could play it. This took almost an hour and the eventual result was close to double the size of the file I downloaded, something I was quite thankful for. After a few tension filled seconds of staring at the screen I double clicked the executable and I was greeted with the not yet released version of Doom 3. The game ran extremely poorly on my little box but even then I was awe struck, soaking up every second until it crashed on me. Satisfied I sank back into my chair and hopped onto Trillian to talk to my friends about what I had just seen.
It wasn’t long until I jumped back into this world again. Just under a year later rumors started to make the rounds that none other than Valve had been subjected to a sophisticated attack and the current version of Half Life 2 copied. The gaming community’s reaction was mixed as we had been promised that the game was ready to be released this year but as far as everyone could tell the current build was no where near ready. Instead of jumping straight in this time however I sat back and considered my position. Whilst I was extremely eager to see Valve’s latest offering I had seen the damage that had been done with Doom 3′s premature release and my respect for Valve gave me much trepidation when considering taking the plunge once again. Seeing the files on someone’s computer at a LAN I couldn’t let the opportunity go by and I snagged myself a copy.
The game I played back then, whilst by no means a full game, still left a long lasting impression on me. The graphics and environments were beautiful and the only level I got to work properly (I believe it was the beach level) was made all the more fun by the inclusion of the makeshift jeep. I couldn’t bring myself to play it for long though as whilst I knew that the code leak wasn’t the sole reason Valve delayed Half Life 2 I knew it wasn’t going to bring the game to me any faster. This time around I deleted my copy of the leaked game and waited patiently for its final release.
Most recently it came to my attention that the Crysis 2 source, which apparently includes the full game and a whole host of other goodies, made its way on most popular BitTorrent sites. This time around however I haven’t even bothered to go and download the game, even just for curiosity’s sake. There’s less than a month to go until the official release and really I’d rather wait that long to play it legitimately than diving back into that dark world I had left behind so long ago. The temptation was definitely there though, especially considering how much fun I had in the original Crysis, but a month isn’t a long time to wait especially with the other games I’ve got on my current backlog.
If there’s one common theme I’ve seen when these leaks come out it’s the passion that the community has for these game development companies and their flagship titles. Sure its misplaced but the fever pitch that was reached in each of these leaks shows just how much people care about these games. Whilst it might damage the project initially many of them go on to be quite successful, as both Half Life 2 and Doom 3 did. Crysis 2 should be no different but I can still understand the heartache that those developers must be going through, I don’t know what I’d do if someone nicked off with the source code to Lobaco.
Will I ever download a leaked copy of a game before it’s release? I can’t be sure in all honesty. Although I tend to avoid the hype these days I still do get really excited when I hear about some titles (Deus Ex: Human Revolution for example) and that could easily overwhelm my sensibility circuits forcing me to download the game. I do make good on purchasing the games when they’re released however and since I’m a bit of a collector’s edition nut I believe I’ve paid my penance for delving into the darker side of the gaming world. I can completely understand if game developers don’t see eye to eye with me on this issue but I hope they recognize passion, however misplaced, when they see it.
I’ve been at this geek thing for a long time now, over 20 years since I can first remember sitting down in front of a computer and hammering away at some DOS game. In that time I’ve had my share of ups and downs when it comes to tech and for the most part its always been ups. Games are always looking better, I’m rarely lost for choice when it comes to finding some form of entertainment and I have enough gadgets and gizmos to keep me entertained when even the great Internet fails me. Still for all the good that the tech industry has done for me there have still been times when I’ve cursed some of the companies who are responsible for lavishing such greatness on myself and the wider world.
Take for instance the Sony PSP. Many moons ago I remember hearing about Sony’s foray into the portable gaming market and almost launching myself through the roof with excitement. Having recently purchased a Nokia N-Gage (don’t be hatin’ my sidetalkin’ yo) the rumours that Sony would be releasing a handheld gaming device that, at the time of the announcement, could have a phone in it made me one happy geek. Sure the N-Gage wasn’t a terribly good gaming device or phone but I was sure that Sony could do a better job and waited patiently. You can then imagine my disappointment when it was finally announced that the PSP had no phone and no bluetooth which while it didn’t stop me from purchasing one did turn me towards casting a skeptical eye on tech rumours. It would seem however that getting burnt by my tech dream date wasn’t enough to stop me from getting caught up a recent whirlwind of speculation however.
I was happily suffering in silence over this matter because for the most part the only major offender of this sort of malarky was Apple. Whilst I can appreciate the astronomically successful PR campaigns they put out for every one of their products (their “leaks” are anything but that) the inevitable wave of speculation on the tiniest bit of information manages to drown out actual stories about real products. It had been tolerable for the last couple years since there wasn’t so much of a frenzy over the revised iPhones but their iPad has and continues to create enough fluff pieces to coke a giraffe several times over. I mean come on the thing has only been out for what a couple weeks and already there’s rumours of an iPad Mini set to be released at the start of next year. Frankly I’m sick of hearing about it, and the only news I want to hear from Apple on their iPad is sales numbers and how their media deals are going. That’s the only interesting apart about the device I’ve bashed into oblivion on this blog, yet I’m still flooded with Apple rumour speculation.
What sent me over the edge however was this little piece of non-news:
Confirming the rumors, and after dismissing the iPad as nothing more than a large phone, Google is getting ready its own tablet computer. At least, that was what Google CEO—and Steve Jobs’ own personal Judas—Eric Schmidt is saying.
According to the New York Times, Schmidt told friends about the new tablet at a recent party in Los Angeles. NYT’s sources point out that Google has already been talking with publishers about delivering content for the platform. Surprisingly, Schmidt said it will not run Chrome OS—as recently shown by a Chrome OS engineer—but Android, making it the true big phone Schmidt was mocking. It makes sense to build on Android, since it already has applications.
I wonder if Schmidt told Jobs about it over coffee. The War for the Future of Computing carries on.
So a Google exec told a friend at a party that they’re working on some form of product and a couple people who can’t be named confirmed it. Colour me unimpressed guys, without any real information on the product you’re basically just spreading FUD. Sure it’s quite feasible that Google is fiddling around with something and whilst they’re not as secretive as Apple they have a habit of not talking things up before their release (the first rumours of the Nexus one surfaced around December 13th last year, it was released less than 3 weeks later). So it’s plausible yes, but then again every man and his dog is talking about an iPad competitor, this isn’t news!
Bah maybe I’m just cynical because I’ve been burnt too many times in the past or maybe my new iPhone (review coming!) just serves as a constant reminder of Apple’s shenanigens. I’m sure in a few more weeks the rumours will die down and I can get my teeth into some juicy new tech instead of harping on Apple and everyone who’s trying to be/beat them.