Microsoft’s xCloud Game Streaming Disempowerment

Microsoft is making good on their E3 promises and has announced a marketing name and demonstrated their Xbox cloud gaming streaming service, xCloud in a video and news release attributed to Kareem Choudhry, their Corporate Vice President of Gaming Cloud:

Today, the games you play are very much dictated by the device you are using. Project xCloud’s state-of-the-art global game-streaming technology will offer you the freedom to play on the device you want without being locked to a particular device, empowering YOU, the gamers, to be at the center of your gaming experience.

I hate that we don’t own games today. What we “buy” to download from services like Steam, PSN, Nintendo’s eShop, or Microsoft’s store that doesn’t have a sassy marketing name, is so ephemeral.

Subscription services like PlayStation Now, Plus, and GamePass take that to another level. The second you stop paying them, every game you were enjoying with your friends, and experiencing alone or with somebody on the couch is gone.

It’s the same for Netflix, and Apple Music, and all of the other video and music streaming services.

We own nothing with these services and platforms, nothing lasts, if we can’t pay and keep paying for multiple services we don’t get to continue to enjoy creative works and participate in culture.

I can understand how it could be exciting to work on the technology behind these services, and it will enable some people to access things that they would never be able to, but the real goal is obvious and I’m not excited for it.

Microsoft, Sony, EA, everybody who already has a platform and an audience are all rushing to be the platform that gets your $10 or $15 or $20 a month and hooks you for as long as you can pay. They want to convert us from people who buy a box and a few games a year to people who are just paying them all the time for access to whatever games will work with the latency their service has.

How many services are you subscribed to? I can think of so many that my family uses: Netflix; Hulu; Apple Music; PlayStation Plus; 1PasswordiCloud storage.

Subscription services, and game streaming subscriptions in particular, are the opposite of the “empowerment” Chowdry is talking about. I don’t doubt that Microsoft will come up with a more compelling pitch when there are new games that can only work on their streaming service.

Forza Horizon 4 is a Delightful Arcade Driving Thing

I have only barely dipped my toe into Forza Horizon 4, but it’s already a fun and goofy open-world driving game just like the last few, with the notable addition of changeable seasons affecting the greater British landscape this entry takes place in.

The Horizon offshoot of the Forza series have always been odd games. I don’t really enjoy the racing aspect because I’m terrible at it. Maybe it’s because even the simulated experience differs so much from the regular-ass driving I do in reality, I don’t know. Despite that, I just turn the game down into easy mode and love blasting through town and country hunting for bonus boards to knock down, hidden barn finds, and the absolute thrill that is the missions the game puts you on. The missions have specific goals that sometimes, and the most fun times, turn the game into an almost Tony Hawk Pro Skater-like experience and attempt to get a high score in flipping your car over five hundred times. It’s the only game I’ve ever played where I can spend an hour flying around a construction site and not make any progress but still have had great fun.

The cars are all well rendered and beautiful, I play on my desktop computer or streamed to the TV for big screen car drivin’.

Horizon 4 also includes real-time multiplayer in addition to the Drivatar ghost cars that populate your game and races with your Xbox friends in addition to randos.

It also still has the silly customizable skins you can download or create that can turn your ride into An Anime car or apply a livery full of advertising from your favorite race-mobile as-seen-on-TV.

Perhaps the most ridiculous new thing in Horizon 4 is the addition of unlockable dances for your avatar that appear before a race, after a race, and most ridiculously, whenever you find a vista in the game and you’re offered the chance to stand on or about it and dance.

The one change that is a little concerning is that I understand you can’t just download a new tuning for your car on the fly. That little bit in Horizon 3 let you turn a mediocre cheap ride into something approaching a supercar just before a race.

Keza MacDonald was moved by the seasons while reviewing Horizon 4:

The game even turns our weather into something beautiful. As the seasons change, so does the climate and the nature of the light, along with the driving conditions. Edinburgh’s New Town shimmers in pale spring sunshine, and in winter the snow in the Highlands sucks all the light out of the sky. The cottages in Ambleside are prettiest in the summer, when the trees are so bracingly green you can almost smell them. If you have a 4K television, this is what it was made for. Now and then, such as the first time I drove past Edinburgh Castle in the perfect twilit blue of a summer night in Scotland, its beauty made me quite emotional.

The Forza series meaningful to me for a different reason, the first Forza Motorsport was the last game I tested at Microsoft Game Studios before quitting that job, and I’ve never returned to play the Motorsport line. I’m just not cut out for more serious racers. Horizon’s got what I want in something slightly more earnest than Burnout.

Forza Horizon 4 is out now on the Xbox One and Windows. I recommend getting it digitally downloaded if you can so that you can play on either platform.

Microsoft’s Surface Go Sounded Interesting

Microsoft’s smaller, cheaper, version of the Surface sounded pretty interesting if you ponied up for something better than the base model. Unfortunately the performance is extremely limited for a device running Windows 10. Mashable’s Raymond Wong titled his review “…Barely better than a netbook” and had this to say about the performance:

This Pentium chip is significantly slower than the Intel Core m3 chip inside of the entry-level Surface Pro. Microsoft touts 33 percent faster graphics than a Intel Core i5-powered Surface Pro 3 and 20 percent faster graphics performance than Core i7-powered Surface Pro 3, but honestly, none of these figures really matter because the Surface Go chokes up fast under even light usage.

[…]

…the slowness is noticeable all throughout Windows 10 on the Surface Go. There’s lag when opening photos. There’s lag when launching apps. There’s even lag when opening up the settings to change the desktop wallpaper. Even on my higher-spec’d Surface Go review unit with 8GB of RAM, the slowdown was too real.

I had briefly considered that the Surface Go might be a good replacement for the iPad Mini I sold recently. Even after reading some more charitable reviews, the Surface Go doesn’t seem like a good choice anymore.

It’s a good thing that Microsoft is still working on devices like this, they were ahead of the tablet game years before Apple’s iPad was released, and even as a failure these Microsoft tablets provide a valuable look at what the future of computing could be. Large touch devices are so damn close to being good laptop replacements.

Microsoft’s Surface Go is Almost An iPad Cheap

Dan Seifert for The Verge:

Microsoft is getting back into the cheaper tablet game today with the new Surface Go, a smaller, less powerful take on the popular Surface Pro device. The Go features a 10-inch screen, integrated kickstand, Windows 10, and a similar design to the Surface Pro, and starts at $399. It is available for preorder starting July 10th and will ship in August.

The Surface Go doesn’t change Microsoft’s Surface design philosophy one bit — it really just looks like a smaller version of the Surface Pro design that’s been around since 2014’s Surface Pro 3. It has a 3:2 aspect ratio display (1800 x 1200 pixel resolution), the signature built-in kickstand with unlimited positions, a front-facing camera with facial recognition login, and Microsoft’s proprietary Surface Connector port for charging and connecting to a desktop dock. Microsoft has added a USB-C 3.1 port, capable of charging the tablet or outputting video and data to external devices. It has also rounded the corners a bit compared to the latest Surface Pro, but overall, it’s the same familiar magnesium design Surface users have come to expect.

The thing that kind of sucks about the Surface Go, besides the lack of capable and competitive apps in Microsoft’s app store, is that even Paul Thurott points out how shitty the base model is and you really have to get a more expensive Surface to have an acceptable level of performance:

Sure, the $400 price tag looks compelling. But the PC you’re getting at that price is not compelling, and it’s absolutely not future-proof. The biggest issue here is the same thing that doomed Surface 3 to poor performance: This entry-level Surface Go utilizes slow eMMC storage rather than speedy SSD storage. Combined that with just 4 GB of RAM and a low-end Pentium processor, and you have the makings of a disaster.

The good news? For just $150 more, you get some nice upgrades: 8 GB of RAM and more and faster storage: Not only does the higher-end Surface Go configuration double the storage from 64 GB to 128 GB, that storage is dramatically faster, since it is based on NVMe SSD technology. That’s a device that might actually make it through four years of high school or college.

I’m not sure if the eMMC storage performance, as well as the other cheap parts, are as bad as Apple carrying around 16GB base models of their iOS devices for too long, but it’s pretty bad that you have to go to $550 before you get something that might be functional. I’d probably rather have the 2018 iPad Cheap.