The Xbox One X release date is quickly approaching, offering players a chance to get a hold of one of the most powerful consoles ever built and play in true 4K on their new TVs.
Xbox has also been championing the power of HDR, improved audio, and improved gaming for people who are sticking with their standard 1080p screens. Microsoft also pushed the backwards compatibility even further during this past E3 promising OG Xbox compatibility to the full Xbox One lineup, adding to the already staggering level of games already in place with Xbox 360 backwards compatibility.
What all these changes and new hardware coming from Microsoft mean for the average consumer. Will these offerings move the needle on the console arms race this holiday season, and will these promises offer real-world advantages to eager players? To answer these questions, CGMagazine sat down with Dave McCarthy, Head of Operations at Xbox, and talked about what fans can expect this holiday season with new firmware, the Xbox One X, and continued updates on the full Xbox One family of consoles.
Dave McCarthy: The Xbox One X is the smallest Xbox to date, which is no small feat. Especially when you think about the 40 per cent more processing power than any other console currently on the market and six teraflops in the GPU. It’s a really interesting historic step for us innovation wise. Not only are you hitting true 4K gaming for the first time on a console—more than eight million pixels—you’ve also got full compatibility across our lineup so all of your games and all of your accessories just work. In fact, the games you own today [may] run and play better on Xbox One X. Then, as you pointed out, a kind of a unique design allows us to put all that power in our smallest Xbox to date—we’re really excited about that.
CGMagazine: When this holiday season hits people will want to know why they want the Xbox One X over the Xbox One S, PlayStation 4 Pro, or whatever else might be out there. The power is one thing, but how do you convince the average person in the street that power matters for their gaming experience?
Dave McCarthy: We take a cue from our developers—the AAA publishers and Indie developers alike—in terms of the sort of storytelling that they think true 4K is unlocking for them. They’ve been doing this level of development for a while in the PC space and that informed a lot of the stuff we did design wise with Xbox One X. It’s a lot about immersion in experiences, you saw it a little bit with the press conference at E3 on that beautiful screen in terms of feeling the heat coming off the car, the materials just really pop, the weather effects really immerse you in the gameplay experience.
Certainly for a lot of games, like Anthem that we saw at the E3 Press Conference from Bioware, but in terms of a holiday choice for customers, it really comes down to what you value and I know you can’t make a bad choice on the Xbox One family right now. I mean with the Xbox One S, you’re already getting HDR gaming support, 4K Streaming support, and 4K Blu-ray. There are only two consoles that support 4K Blu-ray and both of them are in the Xbox One family.
For us, we think it’s something people will put value on. I mean definitely if you go for the Xbox One X you are placing a premium on the high-end experience. You want that 2160 frame buffer to give you ultrahigh definition in your games, you want that special audio over all. But wherever you go to for your home know that all controllers are going to work on all consoles. You know my set up at home literally two months ago when I got the development kit for the first time, I came in I put it on top of my Xbox One S. I took the HDMI cable out, I put it in the One X, I re-synced this controller to that external hard drive, and I was good to go. I was playing in five minutes. It loaded faster, the framerate was smoother, the textures never looked better, and things like High Dynamic Range that developers are already starting to add to their games.
CGMagazine: Now what will the Xbox One X offer to someone that has no intention of buying a 4K TV?
Dave McCarthy: What we do is a technique called Super sampling to 1080p TV and that happens automatically off the box, so they are going to get a better looking, higher quality image on their TV. Even if they don’t have 4K the Xbox One X will offer something better on a 1080p display.
CGMagazine: Where many console makers have avoided the topic of backwards compatibility, Microsoft has embraced it; why was this move made?
Dave McCarthy: It’s due to a few reasons. One is that we have this philosophical belief that games as an entertainment format provide just as meaningful an aura in people’s lives as favourite music, movies, and books. Gaming is the only [industry] that I can think of where we really can’t bring forth those things easily all the time. So for us, as a leadership team, we were really pushing the idea of, “Hey, this format means more than movies, music, and books to some people out there right?”, so being able to bring it across the generations felt like a big deal for us.
We also listen a lot to our users. Not just through our social channels; we have something called “Xbox users feedback request form”. We actually prioritize our fan’s request to the engineering team. OG Xbox support was always near at the top of that list. I think there are games that define a point in person’s life. I remember I played on the OG Xbox with my son when I was working in Electronic arts and I was executive producer for NHL Hockey. I was introducing it to him for the first time. I have this photo still of us playing on the OG Xbox. He’s sitting in my lap, I’ve got a controller, he’s got a controller (his controller is of course unplugged, but in his mind he’s playing brilliantly). It’s those emotional connections for people which is why I think they’re always asking for those things in the system.
CGMagazine: Will you be bringing digital versions of those games to the store or is that discussion for another day?
Dave McCarthy: So, we haven’t gotten into all the specifics of program delivery, [but] I can tell you that we’re keenly aware of an official way to getting into people’s hands overall so we can have a good solution there and we’d also have a library of titles—we just talked about Crimson Skies for the first time but there’d be a whole library there.
CGMagazine: I understand there have been studies that indicate that not everyone fully utilizes backwards compatibility. Is there going to be some attempt by Microsoft to show that it actually has value to the consumer?
Dave McCarthy: I’d answer it in a few different ways for you. One is that I know that over half of our Xbox One users have played a Backwards Compatible title and we see the spikes on the Xbox running the service. I know when Red Dead Redemption comes out or Call of Duty you see the popularity of these. You know, our games catalogues are vast: we don’t go back to these things all the time but they are there and they are meaningful for people at points in time and I see it as part of this larger choice that we’re offering people. We made a really conscious effort at E3 to show every type of game for every type of gamer on Xbox One. You saw 4K showcases, you saw Community Games for the first time really feature broadly at E3, you saw the AAA publishers, and you saw games from around the world including two great ones from Canada: The Darwin Project and Cuphead. I can’t wait.
CGMagazine: I know I’ve been waiting eagerly to play though it fully.
Dave McCarthy: It’s going to be a special experience overall. So I see it as part of that total end to end offering: it’s just one of several great gaming areas that I think Xbox customers are going to flock to and it works across a whole range of devices.
CGMagazine: Was it a conscious effort by Microsoft this year to try to reach out to all kinds of gamers, especially with the showcase? Because as you mentioned there were shooters, there were Indie titles, there were far more experiences than any Xbox press conference from past years.
Dave McCarthy: Yeah it was a very conscious choice on our part. We do several different versions of the show leading up and we practice it in Redmond and see what works. We realized as we were going through it that not only did we want to give a lot more exposure to all these different great types of games that lock that light up in different ways, but we actually needed Phil to come out and do the story more throughout because we had to pause and say, “Okay, we’re going to see a bunch of awesome true 4K titles that show the power of Xbox One X, now let’s talk about Xbox Live and communities and things like Mixer”. They allow you to interact with a great Canadian game like The Darwin Project properly and have interactive moments in there overall. Minecraft is the broadest community in the gaming world and let’s celebrate Indie developers—and by the way, don’t worry, all the AAA third party titles that you love [are] going to be on all of our devices and they’re going to run spectacularly. AAA has already [been] spoken to with Madden and Anthem as part of the Xbox One X lineup of devices. So I’m glad you caught the difference there because it was really purposeful on our part.
Liked this article and want to read more like it? Check out Brendan Frye’s interviews with SJ Mueller, Creative Director at DC Universe Online, and Steve Cistulli, President & GM of TCL Communication North America!
Don’t forget to tune in every Friday the Pixels & Ink Podcast to hear the latest news, previews, and in-depth game discussions!
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