What the cloud is not good for … yet
Following Microsoft’s reveal of the Xbox One, it talked about the potential for using the cloud to handle heavy computational tasks. Many outsiders took that to mean the cloud might boost the graphical power of the machine so that the Xbox One could grow more powerful over time.
That’s not likely to happen for a while.
Turn 10′s Greenawalt explains the issue:
“It is going to be very difficult to use the cloud, with current bandwidth around the world, as something that I can just synchronously update every frame — just always updating because that needs to count on the fact that, one, you need to be connected, and two, you need a really, really good pipe coming out of the back of the box.”
The average consumer’s Internet speeds are too low for developers to rely on the fact that they can push more polygons using the cloud. Remote servers are theoretically capable of this, but gaming is a global business. It doesn’t make sense for a studio to build a version of its game that uses the cloud when many in its potential audience won’t see a benefit.
Slow network speeds would also cause servers to struggle to update anything that updates every frame, according to Greenawalt. That means the Xbox One will still have to handle things like physics and lighting locally as well.
It’s possible that, down the line, developers will feel more comfortable demanding a decent connection from its audience, but no one is taking that risk right now.
GamesBeat asked Microsoft if the cloud will improve visuals. It provided the following:
“Absolutely. You’ve seen some of the amazing graphics that Xbox One games will offer,” a Microsoft spokesperson told GamesBeat. “Game creators can use the cloud to offload computationally intensive operations which will allow more resources on the console to be used to enable higher-fidelity experiences.”
Microsoft is suggesting that developers can offload certain functionality to the cloud and then that the resources that frees up can go back into the game. No developer has stepped forward publicly to say that is the case with their game right now, so we’ll have to see if that’s something that happens eventually.
What about people with no broadband connection?
Microsoft originally planned to require an online connection to use the Xbox One. That’s no longer the case. That doesn’t mean anything for a game like Titanfall, which is an online-only multiplayer shooter.
Titanfall can take full advantage of the cloud because you have to connect to play at all. That’s probably not the case for Forza 5, which will have a single-player offline mode — one that still benefits from the cloud. Turn 10 is still going to have to program that mode to function properly for people who never connect their Xbox One to a broadband connection.
“When offline, gamers may not have access to all features in a game that are powered by the cloud,” a Microsoft spokesperson told GamesBeat. “But when they do log on to Xbox Live, from their console or a friends, they will be able to access these features and updates.”
Microsoft is giving gamers a choice. That means a bit more work for any developer that wants to take advantage of the cloud in their single-player “offline” modes.