Microsoft Reveals Xbox One and the World Salivates

As promised, Microsoft’s Xbox team revealed their next-generation console today, the Xbox One at their press conference in Redmond, Washington. It was widely believed that Microsoft was going to be intent on making the next Xbox an all-in-one media machine – something that runs everything entertainment, not just games. Today, Microsoft showed that emphatically.

It will indeed by an all-in-one media machine, hence the name – Xbox One. Xbox One is a sleek, two-tone box (black and grey) and, given the presentation, the new Kinect and the new controller will be every bit as integral to the system as the box itself. In fact, it’s more or less clear from the presentation that the new Kinect will be a must for the new console. The controller has received modest functional upgrades, like programmable feedback on the trigger buttons and a repositioned Xbox button (now at the top center of the controller). Known specs are as follows – 8 GB of RAM, USB 3.0 and Wi-Fi support, Blu-ray support, and 64-bit architecture.

Everything media will be accessible directly through Xbox One. So, you’ll be able to watch live TV, play games, play music, or browse the Internet all through that hub. Switching between those is very snappy, and takes you right back to whatever you were playing or watching before you changed. All of that switching will be done using voice commands, initiated by saying “Xbox.” So, “Xbox, On,” “Xbox, watch TV,” “Xbox, go to game,” and I think you get the idea. The demo at the press conference showed response time and switching time as remarkably fast, and worked with live TV. There are gesture controls, too – you can grab and squeeze to go to the home screen, or grab and put your hands farther apart to go back. These seem more tacked on and not as well integrated as the voice commands.

There are some other minor features, like the console remembering what you were doing last, and a new trending pane showing what’s popular among your friends and the community at large. One big feature is multitasking, which works a bit like it does in Windows 8. Just as you’re able to snap an app to the side of the screen in Windows 8, you can snap things to the side of the screen on your TV. The best illustration of this was Skype – watching live TV or gaming while having Skype running off to the side, and chatting with a friend. The same goes for browsing the Internet using Internet Explorer. This probably won’t be attractive for people with small televisions, but if you have a big screen, it sounds pretty fun to have, especially for gaming. Snapping can also be handled with voice commands – “Xbox, snap Skype,” for example.

The Xbox One Guide will have your local TV listings, which can also be navigated using voice commands. You can use voice commands to go to any channel or television show. It seemed responsive during the demo – there were no on-stage hiccups during the presentation.

Kinect will now have a 1080p camera and a wider field of view. It sounds like it’ll also be more tightly integrated into games, although that will ultimately be up to game developers to implement. An example cited was raising your controller to raise up a shield. There will be some functionality outside of games, though – it sounds like Kinect will be a receptor for Smartglass, the Xbox Live companion app, and the Kinect will load your last save in a game once it sees you pick up the controller.

Xbox also has deals with ESPN and the NFL for exclusive content. They really pushed fantasy sports here – while watching sports (this was demonstrated with both the NBA and the NFL), you can see the game along with fantasy information snapped on the right side of the screen. And, if you’re in an ESPN or NFL.com fantasy league, that information will actually be specific to the players on your team. That kind of a feature isn’t for everyone, but it’s going to be an extremely strong pull for a lot of sports fans out there.

Lest we forget, Xbox One is still a gaming console. Only about a third of the announcement was dedicated to gaming, but there’s a little thing called E3 coming up, and the presenters made it clear they will have plenty more to say there. What they said today was that when Xbox One hits, Xbox Live will be powered by a ridiculous 300,000 servers. That’s a lot of cloud power and storage, and will be used for game saves, game storage, and storage of other purchased media. You’ll also be able to start matchmaking in a multiplayer game, then go off and watch some TV while Xbox Live is searching for a game to put you in. This is also supposed to lead to bigger online matches involving more people, but this must also be up to game developers, to some extent.

Like the PlayStation 4, you’ll be able to save clips or stills from games, and use them to taunt others as proof of your superiority. Those will be saved on the cloud servers, too. But, with all this talk of the cloud, there’s one rumor that needs to be addressed – always online. After the announcement, it was confirmed that playing a single-player game will not require you to be online to play. That comes with an asterisk – Xbox One won’t mandate it, but individual game developers or publishers might. As for another rumor, used games as you know them now (so, from Gamestop) will not be playable – each disc will be linked to an account.

The Games

A few new games were also revealed. EA showed off a little bit from FIFA ’14, Madden, UFC, and NBA Live ’14. These games are running on a new engine designed for the Xbox One, called EA Ignite. There will be greater detail, better AI, and a wider field of vision. There were some close-up shots of in-game footage that showed impressive amounts of detail, in both player models and environments. All of this next-gen power will enable more stuff to be showing up on screen at once, to put it roughly. Near the end of the EA segment, it was stated that at least some of these games or features will be Xbox One exclusives. Again, not everyone likes sports, but if you’re a sports fan first and foremost, the Xbox One looks like it almost has to be your console of choice.

The term “special relationship” was used to describe what EA and Microsoft have, going into the Xbox One release. There are plenty of people who do not like EA, and do not care about who EA aligns themselves with. That said, EA games sell boatloads, and it seems like a “special relationship” here is not a good thing for the Wii U or PlayStation 4. In fact, EA has already stated that they have no games in development for the Wii U at this time, and the Xbox One announcement did a lot to explain why. EA games are going to increasingly thrive on online features (like it or not). It’s no wonder, then, that the Wii U doesn’t feature strongly into those plans.

Other games shown off included Forza Motorsports Live, a launch title which showcased a couple of cars tearing through what looked like Prague. The buildings had enough detail to make them instantly recognizable, and other effects like dynamic smoke after burning rubber and reflections on the cars looked pretty great. That said, it was a pre-recorded trailer, so what you see might not be what you get – we’ll see more at E3. Remedy is creating a new IP called Quantum Break, which will be story driven, somehow. The trailer was heavy on cinematics (which again, looked terrific), but light on details. All told, 15 exclusive titles are in development for the Xbox One. And, here’s a welcome number – eight. Eight of those are new IPs, which should hopefully help cure the sequelitis going around these days.

Call of Duty: Ghosts is the first next-generation Call of Duty, which will introduce a new storyline, wherein the United States has been decimated by someone (please not North Korea again). The ghosts are an elite group of soldiers still soldiering on, haunting whoever it is that did the United States in. The character models look incredible, compared to the previous generation – discrete arm hairs, dirt underneath fingernails, bruises, cuts – and all of this stuff looked good. Of course, it’s all going to look good in a hype-fest, but if this what the Xbox One is capable of, it’s worth taking note.

Ghosts is also going to be more dynamic – fish will swim out of the way when you approach them, smoke will rise if fires are created, and moves like vaulting over obstacles while retaining momentum will be possible. In an intriguing multiplayer addition, maps will also be dynamic – an earthquake or a flood will totally change the playing field while the match is going on, in real-time. Seems like a neat twist to keep standard first-person shooter multiplayer fresh.

The single-player game will be story-driven. On a related note, Steven Gaghan, who wrote the film Traffic, is penning the story – a further indication that games just aren’t a niche market anymore. So, there should be strong characters. And a dog! The dog will be part of your team, and can sniff out bombs. The development team actually did motion-capture with a real dog, and the model for the dog in-game looks far, far more realistic than an in-game dog from Modern Warfare 3. The details, again, are pretty impressive. I’m not sure how much that’s really going to matter once you actually start playing the game and get into the action, but it’s certainly not a bad thing.

And, as a final note, for what it’s worth – Call of Duty: Ghosts DLC will hit Xbox One first, before any other consoles.

There was an extra television announcement in there, too, along with some cryptic messages about the future. Supposedly, television executives around the globe are plotting new ways to integrate some of these new Xbox One multitasking features into new television shows, including dramas, reality shows, and game shows, with the goal of increasing user interaction. One such show was announced – a live-action Halo television series, which will be helmed by none other than Steven Spielberg. I don’t know what else to think about that, because that’s pretty much the only detail that was provided.

There’s no word on how much the Xbox One will cost, but it is slated for release “later this year.” It’s also unclear whether or not Xbox Live pricing will be affected by the release of the Xbox One. What is clear is that it’s going to be a home entertainment machine, first and foremost. The Kinect will be firmly integrated into the system, so much so that the previous iteration of the Kinect probably won’t shed much light on what version two can or can’t do. You will not need to be online to play single-player games, but there are tons of online features that Microsoft will very much want you to use. Used games as they are sold from Gamestop and friends will be a no-go.

The Final Word

Talking about just all-around features, the Xbox One seems much more well-equipped than the PlayStation 4 or the Wii U, although the PS4 still has a lot left to be revealed. The games definitely look next-gen, at least from the early going, and those dissatisfied with the small amount of attention paid to games at this announcement should look forward to E3 for more information. “Gamers,” if that term still has meaning, might chafe at greater Kinect integration, the used games lock, and the extra bits that might end up actually getting in the way of them and gaming. But, gaming isn’t just for gamers anymore. There are no gamers, because everyone’s a gamer. And, for those who are more concerned about having the best way to be entertained, regardless of media, it seems like Xbox One has an early leg up on the competition.