Microsoft has begun this generation by stressing rather heavily on what the cloud computing could bring to the Xbox One, but there are still many things we don’t know on how the tech could bring the console to new heights.
Stardock CEO Brad Wardell explained a few scenarios and gave a few details in an interview on The Inner Circle podcast.
Wardell believes that the cloud can “absolutely” bring benefits to the Xbox One, and latency isn’t as much a problem as many think. As an example he mentioned that the DVD drive on the Xbox One is way slower than your average broadband connection in terms of transfer rate.
It’s actually much faster to load things from the cloud than from a DVD drive. Of course the ideal solution would have the data on a solid state drive, but Wardell does not think that’s gonna happen any time soon. Even more than that, the data you receive from the cloud can be created procedurally, getting a much higher level of sophistication than what we have today from static data.
Wardell feels that many are skeptical of cloud tech because they think of it in terms of real time computing, but that’s not the point.
As a really simple example, in a chess game the AI could be done in the cloud and the console would just have to do the rendering. This is a very basic example, but Wardell can think of “endless numbers” of applications.
Looking at a more complex example, for a living and breathing world for an RPG the cloud becomes “pretty darn interesting .” Not for rendering the frames, because that’s done by the console, but for doing the simulation part that is not done in real time.
Another example Wardell brought is Cities: Skylines. The size of a city in the game is limited by the hardware, but it it was cloud-based you could simulate a whole planet. The console would have to render only the part the player is looking at in every given moment, but the whole simulation would be offloaded.
Your ping time could be 200 ,milliseconds in a worst-case-scenario, but it wouldn’t really be a problem. You could have two full seconds of lag and no one would notice.
According to Wardell, if Microsoft manages to get the cloud working “a lot of things become possible.” One of the reasons why the terrain in Stardock’s Ashes of Singularity looks amazing is because it’s procedurally generated: it simulates erosion, cliffs, the mountains and vegetations. It has so much paralelism that they had to use the GPU to compute it.
It couldn’t be done on a console. You’d be sitting there a long time to get into the game. On a PC it’s seconds. If that could be offloaded to the cloud it would be possible on consoles too, because the actual file generated by the procedural engine weighs just a megabyte.
Incidentally, Wardell also mentioned that the Xbox One version of Star Control will be “pretty amazing looking.” It just won’t have 8,000 units on screen.
He also hinted to the fact that one of the DirectX 12 features Microsoft will reveal soon is almost embarrassing, as it was absolutely obvious with hindsight, and should have been in the previous version of DirectX as well. It’s basically flipping a switch and it gives a 20% boost without requiring much work on the developers’ side. Unfortunately this particular feature will not affect the Xbox One at all, and will only bring a boost to PC gaming.
On the other hand, the Xbox One will get some help from the fact that nowadays all the commands from the CPU cores to the GPU compute units are serialized by DirectX 11. On the other hand developers will be able to have those instructions parallelized with the DirectX 12.
Unfortunately no one knows how much of a boost that will be, because there isn’t a DirectX 12-enabled game on Xbox One yet, while we already are seeing practical examples on PC, like Starswarm and Ashes of Singularity.