Apparently when consumers purchase an Xbox One console this holiday season, they'll actually have four: one physical, and three virtual that will reside in the cloud.
Group program manager of Xbox Incubation & Prototyping Jeff Henshaw recently told OXM that for every console Microsoft builds, it will provision the CPU and storage equivalent of three Xbox One consoles in the cloud. This allows developers to assume that there's roughly three times the resources immediately available to their game. Thus, developers can build bigger, persistent levels that are more inclusive for players.
"It's also been stated that the Xbox One is ten times more powerful than the Xbox 360, so we're effectively 40 times greater than the Xbox 360 in terms of processing capabilities [using the cloud]," added Xbox Australia rep Adam Pollington. "If you look to the cloud as something that is no doubt going to evolve and grow over time, it really spells out that there's no limit to where the processing power of Xbox One can go. I think that's a very exciting proposition, not only for Australians, but anyone else who's going to pick up the Xbox One console."
So what exactly will the Xbox One do with all that cloud processing power and storage? General Manager of Redmond Game Studios and Platforms Matt Booty gave Ars Technica a scenario, describing a scene where the user is moving through a rugged terrain shrouded by volumetric fog.
"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," he said. "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."
He also said that cloud computation could even handle physics modeling, fluid dynamics, and cloth motion which require a lot of up-front computation, without adding lag to the actual gameplay. Thus the server resources Microsoft is dedicating to these calculations will be much greater than what a single, local Xbox One console can do on its own.That's where the 3:1 cloud-console description comes into play.
"Game developers have always had to wrestle with levels of detail... managing where and when you show details is part of the art of games," Booty said. "One of the exciting challenges going forward is a whole new set of techniques to manage what is going to be offloaded to the cloud and what’s going to come back."
Xbox Live corporate VP Marc Whitten recently told OXM that Microsoft dialed back development of the new console until the company was confident that it could deliver a genuine technological leap over the current Xbox 360.
"Frankly a lot of people have said 'hey, stuff looks pretty cool on Xbox 360 - do we need more power?" he told OXM. "Is my TV going to be powerful enough?' And in fact, until we found that we'd got to a place where the stories could be different, the experience could be different, we didn't want to ship a next generation console. We've been using the Xbox 360 to continue to revive the experience, to go deeper. But it is clear that with power the types of stories you can do are fundamentally different."