We spoke to developers about the opportunities and challenges presented by Microsoft’s upcoming console

Devs react to Xbox Scorpio: ‘Any increase in horsepower is welcome’

Last night, Microsoft confirmed the many rumours and leaks: Xbox Scorpio is real.

The new device, positioned as “the most powerful games console ever”, will launch at the end of 2017 with six teraflops of GPU power, eight CPU cores, 320GB per second of memory bandwidth, true 4k resolutions, and hardware optimised for virtual reality.

In a teaser video detailing the new console, Microsoft and its partner studios stressed that Scorpio has not just been built not just with gamers in mind, but with developers as well.

”This is the console developers wanted us to build,” one member of the Xbox team says in the video. “They wanted a console that had no boundaries, no limitations.”

So we asked devs if they got what they wanted.

The common consensus is that the move towards 4k gaming is a smart move on Microsoft’s part, giving studios the chance to build games that will take full advantage of the latest in TV and screen technology.

“We’re obviously always super keen to push the boundaries of what we can achieve, so moving into 4k is an exciting prospect,” said IO Interactive art director Jonathan Rowe.

Kwalee’s lead artist James Horn agrees: “As an artist, any increase in horsepower is always welcome – some lovely bandwidth to play with there. I’m really stoked about it. They’re going to have developers queuing out of the door for it.

“Only one question – where was HoloLens?”

The absence of Microsoft’s augmented reality device was just another sign that the industry is becoming increasingly focused on VR instead. Even Bethesda’s Todd Howard appears in the official reveal video emphasising the possibilities for titles such as Fallout 4 to be fully converted into VR – something the publisher announced on Sunday.

Any increase in horsepower is always welcome. They’re going to have developers queuing out of the door for it.

While the standard Xbox One and the newly-announced slim version are expected to handle virtual reality devices, it’s the added power of Scorpio that most interests VR devs.

“We’re following the reveal of the Xbox Project Scorpio very closely especially since the confirmation of VR support,” says Tammeka Games producer Sam Watts. “Considering we are already on Oculus Rift and HTC Vive on PC already and in the process of porting to PSVR for launch later this year, working with a Win10-based XboxVR system is an obvious choice.

“Having more consoles offering VR is a logical step towards mass-market adoption of the VR platform since lower price points are easier to swallow for consumers than current PC prices. Although by 2017 when Scorpio is expected to land, current PC tech would have been surpassed with yet even faster, cheaper hardware, narrowing the performance/price gap.

“It’s certainly interesting times and those who are still on the fence about VR being a fad will be proved wrong time and time again before the release. And that’s without the details around Sony PlayStation Neo or even if the Nintendo NX delay until next year is VR-related.”

All of this is redundant if games for it have to be backwardly compatible with the Xbox One.

Crucially, Scorpio will go some way to closing the technological gap between Xbox One and PlayStation 4 – something developers are thankful for.

“The specs for the Scorpio look impressive enough – at last, some decent memory bandwidth because that seriously sucked on the Xbox one,” says independent developer Byron Atkinson-Jones. 

“However, all of this is redundant if games for it have to be backwardly compatible with the Xbox One – so what it really means is the power will just get used to throw 4k worth of graphics at the screen rather than to deliver better games.”

In fact, while Microsoft wisely reassured gamers that “no one gets left behind” since all games for Scorpio will still be supported by the Xbox One and Xbox One S, some devs are concerned that this could be the beginning of a different and potentially difficult market.

“I hope we’re not entering an era where console fragmentation becomes a trend,” says Rowe. “We’ve watched mobile developers frustrated at the hardware diversity of their target platforms. It might become increasingly difficult to ensure that everyone gets the very best gaming experience if this becomes a ‘regular’ thing. 

“As an example, it makes no economic sense for mobile developers to produce games targeted solely at the latest hardware. The vast majority of the market lags behind – that’s where the sales are. So then it becomes a question of where do you invest your efforts? Chasing fewer sales with a prestige product, or compromising and appealing to a wider audience?”

What are your thoughts on Xbox’s Project Scorpio? Have your say below, or email jbatchelor@nbmedia.com.

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