Xbox E3 2017 Briefing Notes

Every E3 has an Xbox press event, this year Microsoft is leading it off with a brief history of different resolutions
that their hardware has supported. Or at least it has upscaled games to that.

If you’re new to my writing, I’ll note here that I worked for Microsoft over a decade ago on the original Xbox, but I don’t think that really matters much anymore.

Here’s what Microsoft announced during this year’s event.

Project Scorpio‘s final name is the Xbox One X

Just last August Microsoft released the first revision to the Xbox One, the Xbox One S enabled playback and upscaling of video to 4K.
It was bizarre that last E3 Microsoft announced two new versions of the confusingly named Xbox One, the S and they also hinted at an upcoming “Project Scorpio.”

Could you imagine Apple announcing an iPhone 9 and hinting at what is to come in the iPhone 10? It would have the potential to tank sales of the 9 especially if the 9 was as meek an upgrade as the Xbox One S was to the original Xbox One.

The Scorpio had its technical details available back in April via Eurogamer, and now it has a release date of November 7, 2017.

While the Xbox One S had the ability to upscale video to 4K, the Xbox One X should actually be able to run games at a 4K resolution without upscaling. Although it will add graphical updates to older games that haven’t been upgraded for the Xbox One X, Microsoft promises “True 4K” with this console and supersampling from 4K to 1080p if you don’t yet have a 4K display. Nvidia calls this feature “Dynamic super resolutions.” Think of 4K as an incredible chef versus a good amateur chef as 1080p. Scaling down from 4K to 1080p is like the amateur chef watching the incredible one and attempting to recreate the same dish. You’ll end up with something better than if the good amateur had simply tried to make it on their own.

Microsoft is all about these specifications, and there is a price to be paid for them at $500. $100 more than Sony’s Playstation 4 Pro, and the Xbox One S can be had for $250 to $300 which leaves a huge price gap between the two Xbox One consoles.

It’s a strange price to pick when Sony’s PlayStation has outsold Microsoft’s Xbox, but it feels like Microsoft is less interested in challenging Sony with this high-end console than harvesting their hardcore Xbox fans for yet another console purchase.

I don’t doubt that this console will live up to its technical promises, but it won’t offer much to anyone who already has an Xbox One, it’ll still play the same games. Unlike an iPhone upgrade, the smaller physical form-factor won’t make the Xbox One X any more pocketable. A more powerful desktop computer can also run many of the same exclusive games in Windows 10. At least it could if my Microsoft Account would work in Windows 10.

That could change later on. In the future this could be the baseline version of the Xbox One and some games could require the Xbox One X to run at all. The same is true of the Playstation 4 Pro, and I wouldn’t recommend buying either of the original Xbox One or the original Playstation 4 at this point.

Forza Motorsport 7

Racing games have always been showpieces for graphical prowess, and that’s why Microsoft’s racing software has a trade-off each year. One year is a game in the Forza Horizon open-world racing series, the next year is Forza Motorsport’s take on competing with Sony’s Gran Turismo. The cars and racetrack and weather effects look pretty. I don’t really care for non-Horizon games in the Forza series. The best part of the Forza Motorsport trailer is the use of K.Flay’s Blood in the Cut. Great song.

Microsoft also unveiled a new physical car from Porche on-stage during this announcement. Weird.

It’ll be out on Xbox One and Windows 10 on October 3rd.

Metro Exodus

The Metro series hasn’t been exclusive to the Xbox. They’re beloved first-person shooters, but I’ve always had a difficult time getting used to the gameplay mechanics. It was always crazy that the standard currency in them was ammunition. This made any combat experience a trade-off. Fight with cheap ammo, or watch money flight out of your guns and be more effective in combat. In Exodus the hook like we’ve moved on to an open-world post-nuclear apocalypse.

It’ll be out in 2018 for Xbox One and Windows.

Assassin’s Creed: Origins

Speaking of games I haven’t finished, I haven’t finished an Assassin’s Creed game since 3. With Origins the game has gone to a historical depiction of Egypt with a new RPG leveling system with skill points and a Hawk companion. It also seems to reject all of the alien stuff from the early games, but still has stabbing. That’s why you play an Assassin’s Creed game.

It’ll be out on October 27th and definitely won’t be exclusive to the Xbox One.

PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds

I love Battlegrounds, and Microsoft has a huge coup here in getting console exclusivity on it. Although the specific wording is not clear. “Xbox One Console Launch Exclusive” could be interpreted to mean that Battlegrounds‘ exclusivity is only temporary.

My hope is that the gamepad controls are improved for the Windows version as well.

It’ll be out in “Late 2017” on the Xbox One. Or you can play it now on Steam for Windows.

Deep Rock Galactic

It’s a first-person digger with space dwarves as another “console launch exclusive.”

No release date or range was given.

State of Decay 2

The zombie shooter with a twist on community-building gets a sequel. There’s a good hint of that twist in the trailer.

It’ll be exclusive to Xbox One and Windows 10 in Spring of 2018.

The Darwin Project

A shouting man appeared on stage to turn this battle royale game into an esport that appears to be completely undeserving. Way to ruin your game reveal. It’s an Xbox Console Launch Exclusive, so at least you know where not to be if you want to avoid someone shouting at you about a game.

Minecraft

It’s Minecraft, but this time they’re going to fix it so that players on many different devices can play together, excepting the original Java version. Because Java is shit.

They’re also adding 4K, other graphics options, and a “Super Duper Graphics Pack.”

This update will be out in the Fall.

Dragon Ball FighterZ

The name is dumb, the cartoon makes anime look bad. This is a fighting game that has so much shouting.

It’ll be out “Early 2018” and doesn’t appear to have any exclusivity to the Xbox One.

Black Desert

Another console launch exclusive, it’s an MMORPG without a release date.

The Last Night

A game that looks very interesting if you watch the trailer and love cyberpunk aesthetics as much as I do. Then you find out the game was created by someone who hates women and loves GamerGate. Apparently this cyberpunk dystopia is also going to have themes of what happens when progressive politics go “too far.” Expect there to be absolutely no nuance to that. I’m gonna pass on this game.

 

The Artful Escape

A side-scrolling game with guitars and dinosaurs and future stuff. Looks like it could be great, no release date and it is another “console launch exclusive.”

Code Vein

Another take on the post-apocalypse is here. Finally.

It’ll be out on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and Windows, some time in 2018.

Sea of Thieves

I feel like I’ve been hearing about the multiplayer pirating in Sea of Thieves for the past 10 years. It’s actually supposed to be out early in 2018 exclusively for the Xbox One and Windows 10 stores.

Tacoma

The next game from Fullbright, developers of Gone Home, is this spacefaring spacestation exploration. After Gone Home, I am pretty excited to see how Tacoma turns out.

It’ll be out on August 2nd on Steam for Windows, Mac, and Linux as well as gog and Xbox One.

Super Lucky’s Tale

This game was originally exclusive to the Oculus VR HMD. No hints were given as to how or if this upgraded version of Lucky’s Tale will be displayed in VR on the Xbox One.

It’ll be out on November 7th for Xbox One and Windows 10.

Cuphead

Exclusive to Xbox One on console, Cuphead still looks amazingly like early cartoons. I hate Jazz and I still want to play this game.

It’ll be out for Xbox One and Steam for Windows on September 29th.

Crackdown 3

I loved Crackdown. You either loved Crackdown or haven’t played it. I hope this game is anywhere near as good as the first.

It’ll be exclusive to Xbox One and Windows 10 this November 7th.

ID@Xbox Games Montage

This is the point in the show where they realize they’re about an hour and 12 minutes in and they need to condense a bit. How about a montage.

Games Montages will be available at every games conference ever until the end of time.

My favorite part of that montage was Ooblets. It’s supposed to be bits of Pokemon, Harvest Moon, and Animal Crossing. Here is a better trailer of it:

Ooblets will be out in 2018 on Steam for Windows as well as the Xbox One. I’d like to see the shouting dude from earlier try and shout about this game. I dare him.

Ashen

Ashen is a little bit like Journey and Dark Souls to me, it’s very mysterious and has “high risk combat” according to its official website. http://www.ashen-game.com/

It’ll be on Xbox One and Windows.

Life is Strange: Before the Storm

Teenage drama is back, and it’s in Oregon. I still need to go back and finish the first game.

Life is Strange wasn’t exclusive, it’ll be out on August 31st, presumably for Xbox One as well as many other platforms.

Middle Earth: Shadow of War
I can’t find the exact trailer used during this press event. Here’s a recent story trailer:

It’s another sequel to a game I haven’t finished. The nemesis system made me want to play a real sequel to Mercenaries. Can J.R.R. Tolkein’s ghost babysit my son while I play through it?

Shadow of War will be out on October 10th on Xbox One, Steam for Windows, and PlayStation 4.

Ori and the Will of the Wisps

A sequel to another fun side-scrolling metroidvania. The game’s composer appeared to be playing the piano live to backup the trailer.

No release date, but it’ll be exclusive to Xbox One and Windows 10. The original was on Steam, so we could expect that as well for this sequel.

Backwards Compatability & Crimson Skies

I’m still surprised at how well the Xbox 360 backwards compatibility program has gone. Despite leaving it up to the game’s original publishers to decide if the game can be made available for the Xbox One it has been very successful in bringing so many games onto the current generation of Xbox consoles.

Phil Spencer announced that the original Xbox would also be emulated on the Xbox One. I’m sure there are even more original Xbox developers and publishers that are out of business and won’t be able to approve their updates for backwards compatibility.

Backwards compatibility for some original Xbox games will be available later this year. Phil specifically pointed to Crimson Skies. There was no separate video available for this announcement online.

Anthem

Bioware’s new game looks a lot like Rage at first, and then turns into an open-world co-op adventure. It’s definitely not exclusive, but it’ll be out in 2018 if it doesn’t get delayed.

Overall
This is another strange Xbox event that hasn’t convinced me that I need an Xbox One when I have a more powerful desktop computer. At this point I am keeping that console around just for backwards compatibility and exclusives that either weren’t brought to Windows or that I can’t play on Windows because my Microsoft Account isn’t functioning correctly with my Windows 10 user account.

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.