The veil has lifted, the seas have parted, and the goats have been sacrificed. You know what that must mean; Microsoft has officially revealed their next-gen successor to the Xbox 360. Everyone, I want you to meet the Xbox One.
Isn’t she a marvel of modern engineering? Just look at how sleek and…VCR-like it is. What says “The Future” better than a device that gives me the overwhelming urge to shove my VHS copy of Short Circuit into it? Check it out, it floats, too:
Ha, lookit that shit just hovering there. Technology’s wild, man. But there’s way more to Microsoft’s newest console than its totally not made up ability to float a couple of inches off the ground. Read on and we’ll tear open the system’s specs, learn about its leg up over the 360, and hopefully figure out a means to destroy these things before they’re floating a few inches over our children’s mangled corpses.
Similar to the upcoming PlayStation 4’s specs, the Xbox One’s processing unit features eight x86-64 cores backed up by 8GB of DDR3 RAM. 3GB of RAM will already be eaten up by certain applications as well as the three separate operating systems running in conjunction. Shirking the DVD format, the console is equipped with a Blu-ray Drive.
500GB of storage is provided out of box but, unlike last generation, the harddrive will not be replaceable. The only concession made here is functionality with external storage devices via USB. Both an HDMI input and output port is built into the console; 4K resolution and 7.1 surround sound support have both been confirmed. Those who still truck with their faithful tube TV’s – yet bizarrely spring for new gaming tech – should be warned the Xbox One isn’t compatible with SDTV’s, seeing as how AV and Composite ports are missing from the console.
There’s some method to the madness of housing three different operating systems under Xbox One’s hood. It comes down simply to a division of labor. The main OS is one derived from – you guessed it, champ – Windows 8. This pared down version will handle non-gamey features, apps, and downloads.
The second system is being considered sort of an “Xbox OS." Basically, anything and everything games will be managed by this dedicated OS, so developers don’t have to worry about changes to the main OS affecting their titles. When Windows 8 is involved, worry is always close behind.
The third operating systems helps with virtualization, serving as a way for the previous two to keep in smooth, constant communication, the benefits of which allow users to run multiple processes, like two different apps, at once. Basically, it’s the bread to your peanut butter-jelly sandwich or the spit visited upon your burger when the chef "makes it right this time." You simply cannot chow down until all three ingredients are together.
In the Palm of Your Hands
One of the absolute most fundamental, most often used aspects of gaming: the controller. Realizing how important the controller is to a gamer’s overall experience, Microsoft has made radical changes to the Xbox Controller…
…Well, not aesthetically. Get off my ass. In all seriousness (I mean "some seriousness,” I’m not capable of more than that), the Xbox One controller has undergone some positive tweaking. The basic shape of the controller has changed from the 360’s to offer more comfort, the battery compartment is now internalized so as to not get in your way, and the thumbsticks are now “knurled” – a disgusting word Microsoft has coined to describe the textured stick grips. Those who answer to the primordial call “When’s Marvel?” will also be keen on the true blue cross-shaped D-pad. Transforming nonsense need not apply.
The acclaimed Xbox triggers have been reworked to send faster relays, responding to your slightest touch. Beneath the surface, complicated rumble motors can now also be found under the triggers as well as within the body of the controller. Punchier, immediate actions vibrate through the triggers while the body vibrates in reaction to environmental effects and the like. The result is diverse, layered vibrations that make the Rumble Pak look like a goddamned fossil.
If the Kinect is a gimmick – which it completely is – then Microsoft is acting like they didn’t get the memo. Even as someone who needs hands-free gaming like I need elbows in my asshole, I’m floored at the potential that’s being squeezed out of the Kinect. This bastard now owns a 1080P camera capable of registering minute movements like joint rotations and facial expressions. Its field of view is now able to encompass up to six people and will work just fine in close proximity, no longer requiring a man’s length of a distance to read your movements.
But to hell with that noise. That’s not impressive. This is impressive: the Kinect sensor can now adequately scan your body’s biometrics and register your motherfucking heartbeat. That kind of measurement doesn’t end with fitness games. Imagine games that can gauge your emotions. Imagine a horror game that knows when you’re scared. There’s not enough Italics in the world to convey what I’m feeling.
Kinect will be bundled with Xbox One units when it releases later this year, which is a kindness since the console won’t function without it. Also, there’s seemingly no way to turn off the Kinect’s internal microphone eternally awaiting your command. Yes, that’s correct. It’s always listening.
Xbox Live 3.0
The third iteration of Xbox Live, the premier gaming subscription service first introduced with the Xbox…what the hell do I call it now? Xbox 1? Xbox Other One?…returns in its most ambitious incarnation, now bolstered by 300,000 servers (up from the 360’s 15,000).
Let’s nail down the important details: once more your Gamertag is able to carry over to the Xbox One alongside your precious Gamerscore. Achievements of course return but, interestingly, Microsoft detailed plans for “evolving Achievements”; the rough notion being that a developer can add Achievements to a title well after its release. One example given was Bethesda being able to capitalize on the “Arrow in the Knee” meme and add a corresponding Achievement into Skyrim. I forgot to pretense that with “One fucking hellacious example given…”
The significant server space lets users store every single megabyte of information on Live’s cloud. Information can be retrieved “anywhere at anytime.” For the sociable, you’ll be pleased to see the friends’ cap has been upped from 100 to 1000. Also, graciously, having Gold Membership has your online needs covered for both the new Xbox and the Xbox 360.
While specific changes to the Marketplace weren’t detailed at the Xbox Announcement Event, the intention to unify Games On Demand, Xbox Live Arcade, and the Indie channel into one entity was mentioned. Ah, and speaking of Indie…
Independent Means You Can’t Do It Alone
Both Sony and Nintendo have embraced a burgeoning market that’s been turning heads as of late: the Indie gaming scene and the multitude of quirky, innovative, and surprisingly moving games they’re churning out in increasing numbers. Respectful of their – wouldn'tcha knowit? – independence, both Japanese juggernauts have made it a point to allow indie developers to self-publish titles on their consoles in the hopes the practice will attract more and new talent which, in itself, attracts steady clientele like you and I.
Microsoft’s stance on self-publishing in regards to the Xbox One is more or less “Fuck that shit." Despite several high profile developers – including famed designers like Phil Fish and Jonathan Blow – having been very vocal about their dripping disdain for Microsoft’s my-way-or-the-highway approach to dealing with digital distribution, the Xbox One will still require developers to go through a publisher in order to put their games on the new system.
Hard to Get Used, Too
This is where matters get confusing as conflicting reports have made it difficult to peg down. Even Microsoft hasn’t been forthcoming with a firm answer. Likely with good reason: no matter how you word the truth, the Xbox One’s used game fee sounds as awful as it is anti-consumer.
Here’s what we know to be fact: the Xbox One requires all games to be installed to the harddrive. Once installed to your console, multiple accounts can be used with a game through Parental Controls. Okay, here comes the curve ball. Your game can be played on other consoles just fine so long as you’re signed in to your profile.
But! If someone else signs in and attempts to play the same game sans your account, they’ll be prompted to pay a fee before they can access it. How steep of a fee? That’s where info is on the blurry side. Initial reports quoted the fee at full MSRP (!), then it was narrowed to a "small fee,” and finally Microsoft’s damage control wrote the fee off as a “potential scenario” despite its own execs fanning those first wildfires to begin with.
Final word comes from the Xbox One FAQ: “We are designing Xbox One to enable customers to trade in and resell games. We’ll have more details to share later." I would’ve settled for "Of course it plays used games! What are we? Detached assholes?” which basically paraphrases Sony’s sentiment with the PS4.
No Going Backwards
The Xbox One is not backwards compatible. Xbox 360 and Xbox Other One (it’ll catch) discs cannot be recognized by the machine. We could’ve guessed as much – the new system’s architecture is vastly different from the 360’s innards.
Here’s where they pry the wound open, though: downloaded titles from Xbox Live – from retail downloads to digital-only games – are also incompatible with the Xbox One. Those of you, like me, who’ve amassed stupidly huge collection of HD rehashes and remakes will immediately see the irony in having these revivals sink into obscurity on yet another platform.
The Xbox One is not always-online. But, uh, you should really read the fine print first. No, the system does not require a constant connection to function. Watching Blu-rays, playing single-player games; these are functions that can happen offline…For a time.
You see, while the Xbox One doesn’t need a constant flow of internet, it will still need to feed. Reportedly, the system needs to establish connection every twenty-four hours or else it’ll transform into a gremlin and majorly fuck up Christmas.
Actually, the consequence is unknown. It’s strange to think you’d be prevented from performing any offline tasks without a daily update but it’s no stranger than, say, a mounted camera perpetually waiting to hear “Xbox On!” before it can recommence scanning your frail human form for weaknesses. Point is, the system isn’t technically “always-online." But you’d do well to satiate its hunger. Or else.
You may be wondering why I haven’t detailed all those beauteous TV services and fantasy sports apps and – Whew, got winded by my own boredom there. To put it finely: I don’t care. The Xbox One conference wasn’t tailored for me. It wasn’t manufactured for anyone within the typical gamer mindset. How’s that? Well, we only really care about the games, and that, my kindred spirits, doesn’t quite encapsulate what Microsoft wants out of its audience. I’m fully capable of getting excited about the platform my games are being delivered to me on. Whether they were blowing smoke up my ass or not, Sony’s PS4 reveal was billed as a gaming Renaissance, and despite a spotty track record this generation, I feel their bid to draw in the hardcore gamer is sincere.
That’s not quite Microsoft’s bag. They’re poising the Xbox One as the ultimate entertainment device. They’re targeting a crowd tickled at the prospect of their appliances being "All in One." TV, games, movies, music, sports. It’s an all one media-sphere. They want the crowd who’s glued to their boundless smartphones and tablets to consider the Xbox One just as essential; just as connected. Just as cool.
I don’t want a system that happens to do games well. I want a system that aces gaming and happens to do the rest of the entertainment spectrum well. I wanted to want the Xbox One but I walked away from Microsoft’s presser slightly alienated and, worse, disinterested. Of course, we’re assured E3 will drop our jaws – eight brand new IP’s are promised, after all – but something tells me Microsoft is heading somewhere this generation that my ilk will be reluctant to follow.