One of the new and controversial features announced for the Xbox One is using cloud-based servers to help power the next-gen console. This obviously requires the device to be connected to the internet at all times but Microsoft General Manager Matt Booty explained how Microsoft intend this to benefit games in an interview released Thursday.
Microsoft said it plans to deploy 300,000 Azure cloud-powered servers for Xbox LIVE by the time the Xbox One is released later this year. The idea is that the cloud will help with “latency-insensitive” computations that will lighten the load on the Xbox One’s CPU.
So what exactly are “latency-insensitive” computations?
“Things that I would call latency-sensitive would be reactions to animations in a shooter, reactions to hits and shots in a racing game, reactions to collisions,” Booty told Ars Technica. “Those things you need to have happen immediately and on frame and in sync with your controller. There are some things in a video game world, though, that don’t necessarily need to be updated every frame or don’t change that much in reaction to what’s going on.”
“One example of that might be lighting,” he continued. “Let’s say you’re looking at a forest scene and you need to calculate the light coming through the trees, or you’re going through a battlefield and have very dense volumetric fog that’s hugging the terrain. Those things often involve some complicated up-front calculations when you enter that world, but they don’t necessarily have to be updated every frame. Those are perfect candidates for the console to offload that to the cloud—the cloud can do the heavy lifting, because you’ve got the ability to throw multiple devices at the problem in the cloud.”
This hybrid use of the console and the cloud to power games is a vastly different scheme than has been deployed by services such as OnLive and Gaikai which was acquired by Sony for the PS4. Those services depended on streaming the entire game over the internet which could be a lag-induced nightmare at times. That doesn’t mean the Xbox One is not without potential issues however.
For starters, game developers are going to have to learn best practices in dividing the processing load between the console and the cloud. Additionally, they’ll have to take into account the possibility of connection interruptions and even outages.
The Xbox One will launch later this fall before Thanksgiving. GameStop expects the price to be less than that of the Xbox 360 at launch.
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