Phil Spencer Talks About Scorpio Being Part of the Xbox One Family, Why Scorpio Didn't Ship in 2016, and More

Phil Spencer talks Scorpio, the Xbox One family, why the console didn't ship in 2016, and more.

April 12, 2017

Recently, head of Xbox Phil Spencer, sat down with Gamasutra for a very lengthy interview about all things Xbox. Out of that interview, some interesting tidbits about the Scorpio (and more) surfaced.

During the interview, Gamasutra asks Spencer if Microsoft will require Xbox devs to support Scorpio and expect them to patch in some level of support. To that, Phil Spencer responded with the following:

“I want to make sure I understand the word support. The games will run on Scorpio. Any hardware peripheral you have, any game, any app; it is part of the Xbox One family”.

“Even — and I tease the hardware team about this, because I’m running takehome now, so I have Scorpio at home — even when you set it on top of your One, it directly portmaps. Like, you literally plug power in, plug HDMI in, it’s all exactly the same.”

According to Spencer, Microsoft wants Scorpio to be as “turnkey” as possible for an Xbox One customer. Spencer adds that Xbox One games will run on Scorpio, and when you ship an Xbox One game two years from now, even if as a developer you don’t want to look at Scorpio and take advantage of it, that’s fine and up to said developer. The executive iterates that it is not mandating developers to do Scorpio-specific work, however, all consoles in the Xbox One family will need to be supported, and as we know, the Scorpio will simply run games better than the standard Xbox One, even if the developers don’t fully take advantage of the system.

Spencer continues, still answering the same question:

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“We are set that Scorpio is part of the Xbox One family of devices. You’re probably gonna get tired of our PR like, answers on that. But it’s true. Like, we have millions of customers that have made a commitment to the Xbox One generation and I want to make sure if you bought the original Xbox One — and frankly, developers want to support the largest install base of consoles that are out there, so from a financial standpoint they totally see it.”

According to the executive, he is often asked — more from game players than game developers — on why Microsoft won’t let developers target only Scorpio. And that by not letting said developers only hit Scorpio, that Microsoft is holding them back. To this point he adds:

 Like, that’s usually the social question I get: aren’t you holding the developer back by requiring they support Xbox One when they support Scorpio?

Which is what we’re going to require: you’ve got to support Xbox One, S, and Scorpio when you launch your game on Xbox One. But the truth is, the only developers that target one platform are first-party. Any other developer out there is building for the PS4, the PS4 Pro, the Xbox One, Scorpio, PC, probably Switch now, with the great start that they’ve had. And developers have learned how to craft their tools and their pipeline to support multiple capabilities as they go build those games.

Even if you just focused on PC, any PC game that you pick up has a recommended config, a minimum config…and like, the engines that are out there, the asset library handlers that are out there, understand how to have multiple LODs [levels of detail]. They understand how to deal with multiple asset bases and multiple rendering targets. So we’re not holding anybody back.

Spencer continues:

But for developers, I want them to support the full Xbox One family. I think what they’re going to see in Scorpio is the best version of the game that they’ve seen on console. And that’s a little bit of ego speaking, but I’ll say, as we designed the console we picked a certain GPU, we picked a certain CPU frequency we wanted to hit, an amount of RAM we wanted, an amount of memory bandwidth we wanted, and I kind of talked about it more as a balanced system.

It’s easier to stand on stage with a 6 teraflop t-shirt, and people kind of focus on one thing, but the platform is obviously much more complex than a single number. I think it’s fair to say we’ve been, um, surprised by the performance gains that Scorpio is giving us. Beyond our expectation when we designed the hardware. The engines that we’ve been bringing through and porting over, one, they’ve ported over fairly quickly, as third-parties have been coming in. And our own first-parties. The porting has been fast.

And this comes from, so many of these games have PC equivalents that if you say hey, can you set a 4K render target for your engine, you can often just say like sure, I just change this .ini setting right here. Boom! The engine knows how to go do this.

And then when we’ve looked at our first-party engines, as the third-party engines have been coming up, the balance of the system is playing out. The amount of RAM we’re giving to developers, the bandwidth, memory bandwidth, so the GPU is always fed, you don’t see stuttering that’s happening on the GPU due to lack of assets hitting the GPU. Which is a big issue. You can push as many teraflops onto the GPU as you want, but if you can’t feed it with assets, the thing’s gonna stall. Because it’s run out of stuff to actually go render. CPUs so that we can hit the framerates that people want to see.

And I think that when teams want to show the absolute best version of their game, assuming marketing deals and other things don’t keep them from doing that, when they show a console version I think Scorpio is going to be the version that looks better than any other version.

Spencer was then asked what he meant when he said he expects devs to support Xbox One if they ship on Scorpio, to which he replied:

The requirements themselves don’t change, other than there’s a new spec and we’re saying hey, you’ve got to support the vertical nature of Xbox One, all the way through Scorpio. When we designed the Scorpio spec, we specifically said games running at 1080p 30 on an Xbox One — what do we need to put in the box for that thing to run at 4K 30

And that was our design goal, from the beginning. To say: same framerate, increased resolution. Let’s make sure that we can go hit that, as a minmum bar.

Spencer goes on to talk about why the Scorpio didn’t ship in 2016, saying that Microsoft didn’t think it would be able to keep its promise of same framerate but increased resolution to developers, citing that “the silicon” on the market wasn’t quite up to snuff. When asked what changed, Spencer replied with the following:

It’s a combination of price and capability from our hardware partner, that we worked with as we described a certain spec that we wanted to hit.

Sometimes I get in trouble when I talk about Sony too much, but, the choice they made on PS4 Pro, I totally get that choice, from their perspective and what they wanted to go do. I’ve said it publicly and I’ve said it privately, I think they’ve built a good 2016 PS4 Pro. With the silicon that was available, they picked the parts that made sense to go and put together a console in 2016.

But the point on not wanting framerate to drop when you go to the higher box, right, if the developers want to push resolution, to say to the player ‘here you bought this higher-end console, let me show you higher-end resolution,’ you don’t want the framerate to drop. And that was something we didn’t think we could deliver with the silicon that was available in 2016.

So some of it was time, as certain things come down in price — some of them not as quickly as we would like. And some of it was hardware capability from our silicon partners, that allowed us to go do that in 2017.

The Project Scorpio is expected to release sometime later this year at an unknown price point. You can check out its spec reveal here. Additionally, you can also check out the newly released Scorpio dev kit as well.

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Tyler Fischer

Tyler Fischer is the Assignments Editor and News Editor at DualShockers. He specializes in writing breaking news, managing assignments, and organization. Born and raised in New York, Tyler studies journalism and public relations at SUNY New Paltz. In his free time he enjoys playing and watching soccer, getting lost in game lore, and writing comedy scripts.

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