Microsoft talks Longhorn, XNA, and Xbox 2

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Windows Gaming general manager Dean Lester updates GameSpot about
next-generation consoles, XNA, and what Microsoft's new OS will mean for PC

Recently, GameSpot sat down with Windows Graphics and Gaming general manager
Dean Lester to discuss the current status of Longhorn, Microsoft's next PC
operating system, which is due in 2006. Lester reaffirmed Microsoft's
dedication to making Longhorn's game functionality as accessible as that of
a modern console. However, he said the company wants to retain the strengths
of the PC platform, which includes high-end graphics and sound hardware,
online communities, post-release community support, and content updates,
like modifications and maps.

Microsoft is already working with major hardware manufacturers, such as
Nvidia, ATI, andIntel (along with OEM manufacturers), to create prepackaged
PCs with varying levels of midrange to high-end hardware with appropriately
varying price points. Under such a plan, prepackaged PCs with certain
processor speeds, certain amounts of RAM, and certain types of video cards
would be given simple classifications or "levels."

According to Lester, the plan is to simplify the process of selecting a good
PC for games without having to be an expert on hardware. He provided a
hypothetical example that compared a PC with a "level 5" designation that
might have a medium processor speed, a medium amount of RAM, and a midrange
video card, to a "level 7" PC that might have a faster processor, more RAM,
and a higher-end video card. As you might expect, the "level 5" PC would
also be less expensive than the "level 7." Either way, the "level"
designations are not final, and they may not even be used at all. However,
Microsoft is considering employing them to help newer users figure out what
PCs they would need to be able to play the games they want to play.

Microsoft is also considering applying this simplified designation system to
a game's system requirements. That is, while game publishers will still be
able to print detailed technical requirements on the back of a game box
(speed of 3.0GHz and at least 512MB of RAM, for instance), these
requirements might also be given a simpler designation. In essence, this
system would let newer PC game players quickly and easily determine that
they need computers of at least "level 5 or higher" to play a game with
certain specific requirements rather than trying to figure out exactly how
much RAM they currently have.

Lester went on to explain other features that Microsoft's Games for Windows
group wishes to improve on or simply wants streamline out of existence. One
example was the conventional game installation system that requires users to
sit through several lengthy loading screens. Lester stated flatly, "We need
to make that go away." Ideally, Microsoft would like to make PC game
installation as easy as the plug-and-play experience of console games, which
can be played the instant a disc is dropped into a drive. Lester also
outlined a more-streamlined display-driver model that would alleviate
confusion with different graphics driver versions. This would be especially
helpful in situations where certain versions of some drivers would work
better with some games than others, depending on the hardware.

When asked about Microsoft's first-party PC game publishing strategy, Lester
replied that although he can't speak directly for Microsoft Game Studios
(currently headed up by MGS executive Shane Kim), Microsoft's plan is to
publish "platform-defining titles" for the PC. Lester clarified this
statement by saying that in previous years, Microsoft's PC game division
attempted to develop games that competed directly with high-end games like
Half-Life 2 or Doom 3. This had the effect of taking away market share from
that game's publisher, and it gave hardcore PC game enthusiasts a tougher
choice about where to spend their gaming dollars. Meanwhile, more-casual
players were put off by said games' complexities and technical requirements.
Citing a much-higher quality crop of PC games this year (including The Sims
2, Doom 3, Medal of Honor: Pacific Assault, and [hopefully] Half-Life 2),
Lester explained that Microsoft's game publishing strategy wasn't
necessarily designed to compete with these high-end games, but its strategy
was to help fill out the PC game roster as a whole--possibly in game genres
that aren't as strong as they once were, such as sports games.

To that end, Longhorn will natively support the XNA development system, and
Longhorn-based PCs will directly benefit from this. "Xbox 2 peripherals will
all work on PC," said Lester, clarifying that Xbox controllers, steering
wheels, and other console-related peripheral functionality will all be
brought into Longhorn's portfolio, as will Xbox Live functionality. For game
players, this will make for, if nothing else, an added convenience, since
playing a game on a PC or an Xbox will [ideally] come down to little more
than unplugging the controller from one and plugging it in to the other. For
game developers, Microsoft hopes that the introduction of XNA will help
standardize development on both platforms--to such an extent that "you won't
have to choose between Xbox or PC" to develop games...and, ideally, so that
players won't have to choose between the two platforms to play these games.

When asked about Longhorn's schedule and the current state of Microsoft's
DirectX API, Lester affirmed that the next full upgrade to DirectX will be
bundled with Longhorn, as previously announced. As such, Windows games
should continue to have DirectX 9 as a stable platform on which to develop
games, which is similar to the way in which console game manufacturers can
stick with and specialize in developing for specific console hardware. The
most recent point release, DirectX 9.0c, was to enable support for Shader
Model 3.0, which is now being incorporated into newer games.

We then asked Lester one final question. Considering how the next version of
DirectX, released with Longhorn, will essentially be a new development
platform--similar to a new console release--would Xbox 2 be based on
Longhorn? Unfortunately, but unsurprisingly, Lester declined to comment.

GameSpot will have additional details on Longhorn, XNA, and Microsoft's
next-generation console as they become available.
4 answers Last reply
More about microsoft talks longhorn xbox
  1. Archived from groups:,,,alt.comp.periphs.videocards.ati (More info?)

    On 9/24/2004 9:51 AM, Xbot spake thusly:

    > MY concern is how they're going to handle progress? Hopefully they'll just
    > add new numbers at the top end as necessary rather than going with regular
    > revisions like "Level 7 2006 is level 6 2007 is level 5 2009 etc."

    Really good point. Without resetting the level system every couple of years
    (which would end up being just as confusing as the current system specs
    system) the numbers would eventually get ridiculously high.

  2. Archived from groups:,,,alt.comp.periphs.videocards.ati (More info?)

    As usual, Microsoft start talking a load of waffle as if the whole world is
    going to change when they release their next product.

    In reality, the only exciting thing is the marketing hype, of which this is
    a classic example.
  3. Archived from groups:,,,alt.comp.periphs.videocards.ati (More info?)

    > As usual, Microsoft start talking a load of waffle as if the whole world
    > is going to change when they release their next product.

    -Yes, absolutely. Why can't they be more like the truth-talking visionaries
    at Apple. Aaah, with their "first 64-bit desktop" and "worlds fastest
    computer". Oh yes, the truth of rdf -men.

    No, wait...
  4. Archived from groups:,,,alt.comp.periphs.videocards.ati (More info?)

    "Xbot" <> wrote in message

    > MY concern is how they're going to handle progress?

    My thoughts exactly when I first read the article. This idea seems pretty
    half-baked to me.
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