This console generation have been one of the most interesting in recent decades. Sony and Microsoft have been in a very close battle for the last few years since the launch of the Xbox One and PlayStation. Unlike the previous generation when Microsoft launched a year and change before Sony, than Sony shot themselves in the foot by releasing a device nearly twice the price of the Xbox 360; this generation they launched on the exact same day.
In the previous generation the PlayStation 3 was superior in performance and features to the Xbox 360 in every way yet we saw that the gaming experience was superior on the latter. Not to mention that Software development on the Xbox 360 progressed rapidly with improvements in the API and Dashboard over the lifetime of the device. Performance means nothing if one can’t back that up with competent software.
Fast forward to 2013 when the new generation of consoles were announced and we’re looking at two wholly different consoles in every way. Microsoft spend countless years developing their console spending $3 Billion on development and to this date we still don’t know exactly what is powering the console thanks to NDA agreements locking it up. We’re sure they’ll lift the veil soon. Hopefully.
This generation has been marred by every second person and their friend calling the new generation insufficient in power because they’re incapable to run games at 4K (or 1080p 60FPS in the case of the PS4) and game graphics seemingly being that of a basic PC running at High quality. Some have even called for updated hardware pushing for the notion that these consoles will last for 4 years maximum.
Seeing the Wood for the Trees
Microsoft obviously rushed the Xbox One out of the gate seeing that the console design looks like it was designed for mass production at a moment’s notice. The hardware API’s can’t fully take advantage of the power of the console at launch and no matter how many times Microsoft denies this, we know it’s true. The Xbox One is capable of 1080p 60FPS as shown in a lot of games from Forza to Wolfenstein, but the API’s powering the system was generic and not optimized.
The majority of the media and so-called arm-chair critics will say that whatever is running on the Xbox One is already close to the metal. But they’d be wrong. The Xbox One was powered by generic drivers from AMD for the most part of the generation so far and the API and Hardware was designed for DirectX 12 which makes the argument moot. Currently the Xbox One is running a slapped together API mainly because Microsoft didn’t want to give Sony an advantage in sales while they were giving themselves some time to perfect the system and push out Windows 10.
It makes sense mainly because Microsoft didn’t want to be the Sony of the previous gen. But by releasing a console that was unfinished they kind of did that.
The latest generation haven’t seen their maximum potential realized yet. When the Xbox 360 was released it was lacking against the latest multicore PC’s with 1 GB RAM and games like Half Life blew our minds while games on the Xbox 360 looked like they were running on a Wii in comparison to what we have today. By the end of the generation we had games like Mass Effect 3 and Halo 4 showing PC gamers that even if you have 250gFlops of compute you could still effectively compete against a PC with 4 times that power mainly because of efficient coding and optimization.
In 4 – 6 years’ time when the Xbox One is still a thing (the mob won’t like that) we’ll most likely see games always running at 1080p 60FPS (some upscaled to 4K) thanks to highly efficient API’s and some cloud compute offloading on both platforms. The problem is that the media and gamers in general have always been quite narrow-minded and stuck in their old ways like the old man grumbling in the corner of a crowded café.
Slow and Steady Wins the Race
Undoubtedly Sony is winning this console generation so far, but would the first few years be an indication of what is to come? Unfortunately not. With all the shortcomings of the previous PlayStation it still sold as much as the Xbox 360 spare a few hundred thousand units. I believe the Xbox One and PlayStation will be equal in market share by the end of this generation.
Microsoft is focusing on making sure that the games you play on the Xbox platform is exclusive to said platform. And Sony is focusing on making sure that the games you play on their platform have some benefit to them. Not that it’s working so far. The winner will be the platform that gave gamers the best incentives, the best performance and the best content. Microsoft is working on all of these and I for one is quite excited for this generation. Yes it has the foul stench of Windows Vista era hatred thanks to the bandwagon mentality.
What we’ve seen so far this generation will not continue into the night. This is not the last generation for video game consoles and Microsoft is not killing the Xbox brand by slapping it onto PC gaming. Gaming is evolving and these platforms whichever you choose to game on is part of this evolution.
Who will win this generation? It all depends on you.
I need a Hero
With DirectX 12 we’re seeing more and more evidence that the Xbox One is being held back by the slapstick API powering it. Developers have obviously been divided on these benefits of optimizing the API for development because Microsoft won’t release any actual benchmarks thanks to their stringent NDA’s. What we did see is quite impressive. Project Cars developer revealed that we will see a 14% improvement on the Xbox One by just optimizing an existing game for DX12.
But what does this mean for gamers? Well clearly games will perform better. Will we see CGI graphics at 1080p 60FPS running on the Xbox One in 6 years? Nobody knows. I for one am positive about this because I’ve seen what Software optimization can do. And the cloud compute offloading API could do several things for gaming and Microsoft is actively working on making it more of a viable option.
The future is bright for gaming in general and going forward we need to start thinking outside of the age-old ‘Hardware and Software are static entities that cannot improve’ mentality from the 90’s. Microsoft is making massive investments in server infrastructure for one reason alone, and that’s because the future is coming fast and the ‘my dial-up connection won’t allow that to happen’ excuse is becoming increasingly uncommon. The cloud is the future and gamers will adapt. It’s just a matter of time.
I don’t believe in magic
Human nature dictates that anything that we cannot experience today, or anything that does not fit our understanding cannot be true even if we hold it in our hands. We are in the latest generation and we haven’t even scratched the surface of what these consoles are capable of. Yet we still cling onto the old notion that consoles are PC’s. Even when we saw the massive improvements in graphics that the previous gen experienced in just 10 years with static hardware. Mass Effect 1 versus Mass Effect 3 on Xbox 360 was light and day difference, you wouldn’t think that those were the same machines.
Microsoft invested a lot of money in future proofing the Xbox 360 and it paid off. Microsoft spent $3 Billion on a device that they deliberately made underpowered and had no intention of improving it while bloating the architecture with nearly double the transistor count of their rival for no apparent reason just so they can screw with their fan base?
Ask yourself? Was the $349 worth it? I firmly believe it was.