Xbox Scorpio Tech Details

I’m Hank Scorpio

Eurogamer’s Richard Leadbetter has technical details of Microsoft’s goofy Project Scorpio. Unless Microsoft adds or changes something significant about the functionality of the console before it is launched, it just means a more expensive and more technically powerful Xbox console:

Combining smart design with sheer horsepower, Project Scorpio hits the six-teraflop target set for it as E3 last year, thanks to a custom GPU that has been designed from the ground up for optimal performance on today’s game engines – and that runs at an unprecedentedly high clock speed for a console. The GPU is paired with 12GB of fast GDDR5 memory and a custom eight-core CPU, and the whole thing is housed in a compact body with integrated power supply and, for a console, state-of-the-art cooling.

Performance is remarkable. We saw a Forza Motorsport demo running on the machine at native 4K and Xbox One equivalent settings, and it hit 60 frames per second with a substantial performance overhead – suggesting Scorpio will hit its native 4K target across a range of content, with power to spare to spend on other visual improvements. And while 4K is the target, Microsoft is paying attention to 1080p users, promising that all modes will be available to them.

It’s interesting to me that the upgraded hardware is so similar to the Playstation 4 Pro, although the Scorpio has bigger numbers and will perform well, this re-emphasizes a theme that Microsoft has gone with since the original Xbox of promoting the technical specifications of their hardware over the games that take advantage of that hardware.

Just like with the Playstation 4 Pro, nobody should buy an Xbox until more details of the Scorpio are available like a price, a launch date, and if a game they actually want is upgraded by this hardware revision. I bet there will be a lot of used Xbox One S’, and disappointed people who bought them last year, right before this thing launches.

What a bizarre time we are in where Microsoft pre-announced the Scorpio last year before launching their Xbox One S in order to remain competitive with Sony’s Playstation 4 Pro.

Eventually, if these upgraded consoles sell well enough, it could be that new games don’t support the original revisions of the Playstation 4 and Xbox One.

One other point in the article I wanted to quote, talking about the upclocked CPUs of the Scorpio:

On the CPU side, there’s been much conjecture that Scorpio would feature AMD’s new Ryzen technology – something we thought unlikely, owing to manufacturing timelines, not to mention Microsoft telling us last year that the new console would feature eight CPU cores. All signs point to the upclocked Jaguar cores we find in Xbox One, and Scorpio’s CPU set-up is indeed an evolution of that tech, but subject to extensive customisation and the offloading of key tasks to dedicated hardware.

“So, eight cores, organised as two clusters with a total of 4MB of L2 cache. These are unique customised CPUs for Scorpio running at 2.3GHz. Alluding back to the goals, we wanted to maintain 100 per cent backwards compatibility with Xbox One and Xbox One S while also pushing the performance envelope,” says Nick Baker.

I don’t for a second believe that Microsoft couldn’t upgrade the architecture of the Xbox and retain backwards compatibility. Even if AMD’s new Ryzen platform introduced new CPU instruction, it would still have the old ones. This isn’t like going from a Power PC to x86 processor, or even as big as the 32bit to 64bit, change.

It reminds me of the time when I was still listening to Larry Hryb’s podcast where he and his guests were talking about HDMI and saying that it wasn’t an upgrade over component cables before the 360 had HDMI connections.

In this case it isn’t clear if the idea is a miscommunication of Leadbetter’s or that Baker actually was responding to a question about Ryzen and Leadbetter should have called it out, either way it is total bullshit and stymies an otherwise fine article.

Speaking of things that should have been called out, there is also this choice quote:

During his presentation, Del Castillo literally constructed a pre-production Project Scorpio unit in front of us. Bearing in mind the advanced manufacturing techniques on show here, there’s a very simple, elegant, modular design that makes the most of the space. We saw the hard drive fit into place on dampeners designed to absorb vibration, reducing error rates in and ensuring optimal data throughput.

You know what’s really elegant? Not using a spinning-disk hard drive with fragile platters in 2017. Nobody buys a computer with those anymore. They only continue to persist in consoles. Nothing is advanced or elegant about dampening the vibrations of an old hard drive. It will be a real upgrade when we can get to solid-state drives everywhere.

Metal Gear Solid 2’s False Hero

Richard Stanton has this great article on Metal Gear Solid 2 and how the game was itself an examination of expectations for what a sequel to Metal Gear Solid could be. Here’s a short part about the protagonist, Raiden:

Raiden was MGS2’s big secret, a character visually designed to appeal to people who didn’t play MGS – specifically women. The first game’s audience was largely male, and Kojima believed a good-looking young man would be a pleasant contrast to the gruff chain-smoking Snake.

But the true purpose was different. Before he was ever called Raiden, the character was known by the kanji (Ore) that literally translates as ‘I.’ Raiden was intended to represent the player, specifically the type of player who enjoys war-themed games like MGS. The events at the Big Shell closely parallel the events at Shadow Moses, with one big difference.

The first time you control Raiden, with his mask off and blonde locks flowing freely, the location is designed around a bespoke effect: lots of bird shit. Walk on it and Raiden pratfalls, an initially amusing animation that soon becomes a little tiresome as you search for the way forward.

It’s a little thing but, boy, do they pile up. MGS2 in ways big and small undermines Raiden at nearly every turn, constantly reinforcing to both him and the player that he is not Solid Snake. The Big Shell is Raiden’s first combat mission, and no-one misses the opportunity to remind him of it. When Snake meets Raiden he calls him “green” and “rookie.” Raiden’s first boss fight, against Fortune, cannot be won – and she taunts him for not being Snake. Where Snake stoically bore torture, Raiden ends up crying.

There’s so much more in the article. The upcoming Metal Gear Solid 5 is giving people a great excuse to write about the older games in the series and how awesomely unconventional they were.

Eurogamer Dropping Review Scores

Oli Welsh:

Starting today with our review of The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask 3D, Eurogamer is making the biggest change we’ve ever made to the way we review games. From now on, we will no longer be scoring games out of ten.

In place of scores, we’ll have one-line summaries for every review, and a new recommendation system whereby some, but not all games will be considered Recommended, Essential or Avoid. As a result of these changes, we will no longer be listed on the review-aggregation site Metacritic.

Review scores are important to four groups of people: People making purchasing decisions; people who want their purchasing decisions justified; those who write about games; and developers who want their games reviewed well and scored highly.

Unfortunately for journalists writing about games, review scores have been overvalued by people who play games, and they’ve had too much influence on the careers of the people who develop them.

I spoke with an anonymous game developer about this and he confirmed that there are still some situations where studios receive bonuses based on the review scores the games they work on receive. However, he also elaborated it would be unusual for a specific individual’s contract to include mention of review scores with the exception of an executive like a studio president.

Terrible games have scored poorly in critic reviews and still sell well based on marketing and other pre-release hype. Great games have scored well and not done well enough to warrant sequels, HD remakes, and marketing hype.

It’s good news that Eurogamer, like the dearly-departed joystiq, are trying new things but I still believe that review scores offer something valuable to people who are looking for recommendations. Joystiq attempted to solve that with a short summary at the bottom of the review and awards on an ongoing basis. Eurogamer is doing something similar with awards and other signage to indicate games to look into or avoid.

I think they’re onto something good, but just like everyone else I look at the score first and then go back and read the review. It’s a bad habit, but it’s one that isn’t going away with my generation. Younger people seem to be watching pre-recorded (youtube) and live streaming (twitch) videos instead of reading anything. I definitely watch and listen more these days than I read.

This is a shame for everyone who has lost the opportunity to express themselves with more nuance than you can get on a podcast or in a video. Some games, and some opinions, just don’t get represented well enough on either.