Last week, Microsoft announced that it will be unveiling its next Xbox – codenamed “Durango” – in its own upcoming press event on May 21 at its Redmond-based Xbox campus. The announcement is set to start at 10:00am PST, with live streaming coming over Xbox Live and broadcast on Spike TV. It is being set up a few weeks before E3, so it will certainly generate quite a bit buzz leading up to the big conference.
What’s in the Dev Kit?
This is the expensive way to find out what’s in the dev kit…
Microsoft has kept quite a pretty tight seal on what to expect for this next Xbox, and thus far, there really aren’t many confirmations of rumors and speculation out there.
Some information of the details of the Durango’s Alpha kit (a machine sent out to developers to start writing games for the initial launch) was leaked out, and reported on vgleaks (think wikileaks but for video games). We know some of the specs currently, though these are not necessarily the final specs of this next-gen Xbox:
- 8-core CPU (x64CPU)
- 12 GB RAM
- DirectX 11.x GPU
- 50GB Blu-ray Drive
It also looks like a special version of the Xbox 360 Kinect sensor is also available for those who are making games that use the controller specifically.
So far, the rumors from these specs is that the CPU will be made by AMD, and not using the PowerPC chip from IBM which was used in the Xbox 360. This would imply that the current Xbox 360 games would not be backwards-compatible with Durango, however, this would also be the case with the Playstation 4. However, an anonymous source on vgleaks reports that the Durango will also ship with an Xbox 360 SOC (System-on-Chip). If this is true, then Durango will indeed, be able backwards-compatible with the Xbox 360 games afterall.
Always-on connection needed?
A few weeks ago, Adam Orth, then a creative director at Microsoft, made some comments on Twitter that appeared to be confirming that the next Xbox console would require an always-on connection in order to play games. This caused quite a stir on Twitter as gamers worldwide, still with a bitter taste in their mouths with Diablo 3 last year, and SimCity last month. Both games required always-on internet connections in order to play, though neither game is a massively multiplayer online game, and because gamers were locked out from playing the game due to the DRM servers being overloaded.
Microsoft has come out and issued a formal apology stating that “This person is not a spokesperson for Microsoft, and his personal views do not reflect the customer-centric approach we take to our products or how we would communicate directly with our loyal consumers. We are very sorry if this offended anyone, however we have not made any announcements about our product roadmap, and have no further comment on this matter.”
Although this does not confirm that an always-on connection will be necessary in order to play games on Durango, sources have told gaming blog, Polygon, that there will be some form of an always-on requirement, however, this will be up to the publishers to decide whether their respective games will require an internet connection in order to be played.
Video Sharing and Social media
Polygon also reports that Microsoft is working on a system for video sharing, which sounds like it would be similar to the PS4’s share button, where gamers can record, broadcast, and share gameplay on social networks. According to Polygon’s sources, this would work similarly, however, it would have an added feature that allows players to set up recording whenever a specific event occurs in-game, such as a headshot, or collecting an achievement. The recording would also work similarly to a DVR, so players can go back and select highlights from a game, and then upload these to social sites such as YouTube.
Xbox 360 Mini/Lite?
Xbox Mini, You Complete Me…
According to vgleaks, there is also another Xbox 360 in the works, however, this would be a stripped down version of the current model, and aimed towards being a competitor to Apple TV. While games would be playable on this new console, there would not be an optical drive, so games would be downloaded and then run directly off the internal hard drive. The main difference between running games through the Gaikai service on PS3 and PS4 is that the games would run locally, and not through the cloud.
Since this would be set up to be in direct competition with Apple TV, more rumors have surfaced that Microsoft would also be offering exclusive TV content for Xbox, with the first title being a revival of the Heroes TV show.
Vgleaks’ anonymous source has also confirmed that the underlying OS of Durango will be Windows 8, running under the new WindowsRT framework. In essence, any game developed for the Windows app store, after adding in controller support, will be available and playable on Durango. This would essentially make it the most indie-friendly platform of the big 3, and the cheapest, at $60 for a license fee to the Windows Store. No need for expensive dev kits.
Finally, one last rumor of Durango is a new version of the Kinect motion sensor. It seems that Durango will ship with a Kinect device, and this new version will feature a higher field of view, to cover a larger play space, be able to identify smaller objects, ability to separate objects at a closer proximity, feature an IR stream, and improved latency.
My Final Thoughts
While everything that is being leaked is primarily about game play, all 3 next-gen game consoles recognize the fact that consoles to the mainstream could be on their way out. Tablets and smartphones have started taking over the casual games, and could eventually edge out the Nintendo DS. On the core gamer side, while we all have our allegiances to our favorite console, it only takes a hit game on the cloud that is streamed to our cable boxes or TVs before we start wondering whether we truly need a dedicated console. At least from Microsoft and Sony, we are seeing how they are positioning themselves to be the centerpiece of our home entertainment systems by partnering up with cable providers, video and music streaming services, etc. in addition to games. Sony is probably the best equipped for this, with its legacy in home electronics and its movie and music subsidiaries. Microsoft, on the other hand, has been pushing forward with its own video and music services (formerly Zune and Xbox video and music services) and rumored exclusive video content.
With Windows 8 as the underlying OS, what I would be excited to see would be tight integration of games playable on the PC, Xbox, and mobile devices. The ability to take my game with me from the couch, to the desktop, and on-the-go has been something I have dreamed of for years. We kind of see that happening with some of the Facebook games such as Candy Crush Saga, through the use of Facebook sign-ins, however, what I really want to do is to continue questing in an MMORPG no matter where I am.
I guess we will have to wait until May 21 to see what Durango will truly have in store for us, (including its name, and I sure as hell hope it isn’t going to be “Xbox 720” because that just sounds lame) but all of the rumors and speculation thus far, has me hoping that it is all true!