Today, Microsoft finally showed its hand on what it's been working on for the last few years. Dubbed the Xbox One, Microsoft's new console is slated to make more than just an impact in the gaming world. Over the years, the Xbox 360 continued to evolve into more of an entertainment console than one of sheer gaming, and today, Microsoft's big reveal largely centered on the expanded entertainment capabilities of the Xbox One.
Soon after the event started, the first look at the new console design was prominently featured. The new design is an all-black, largely squared-off design that looks like it was meant to be laid flat. It's a design that is obviously meant to better integrate the Xbox One into a standard entertainment center, aesthetically and in terms of a physical fit. Hardware stats weren't given in any great detail, other than that the AMD-powered console will have 8 GB of RAM (16 times the amount in the Xbox 360), built-in Wi-Fi, a Blu-ray drive, and it comes bundled with a new version of the Kinect.
The new Kinect is capable of capturing 1080p video at 30 frames per second, and in the brief glimpse of the technology, it seemed that the new model was capable of significantly higher accuracy than the previous iteration. While the original Kinect was only capable of figuring out the basic skeletal structure of players, the new Kinect seemed to be able to accurately model the dimensions and depth of a player's body, down to relatively minute detail. The level of actual fidelity remains to be seen and will hopefully be shown more in Microsoft's pre-E3 press event, but the technology looks to have taken a significant step forward.
This is good because the Kinect functionality seems to be a major means of interacting with your Xbox One. Throughout today's event, the Xbox One responded to various voice commands, from booting the console and going back to the home screen to more advanced functions while watching a movie. A new feature is the Snap mode, a sort of picture-in-picture functionality that allows what you were primarily doing to continue playing in a larger portion of the screen on the left while a sidebar opens up on the right. In the demonstration, a movie was playing on the left, and the presenter used voice commands to open and interact with the Snap window on the right to look up information on the web. SmartGlass devices can also be used to interact with the Snap content and control it that way, but the presentation quickly moved onward.
The Xbox One is reportedly capable of displaying live television, though the technical details were completely absent. Press material states that you'll be able to watch TV from your "cable, telco or satellite set-top box," but it also indicates that "Microsoft is committed to bringing live TV through various solutions to all the markets where Xbox One will be available." The Snap view featured here as well, with the presenter using it to look up information on his fantasy team while watching a basketball game and then using the built-in Skype functionality to call a co-worker. A new Xbox One Guide will assist you in finding things to watch, as it allows you to use voice commands to search shows, find ones that are trending, and access a selection of on-demand content. The ability to do this with voice commands was presented as accurate and snappy, but that's assuming that the demonstration wasn't helped along behind the scenes.
The new controller purportedly features 40 innovations, but it doesn't look a whole lot different than the existing Xbox 360 controller. One mentioned addition was that the triggers will have feedback response, which could be amazing for racing games. The directional pad has also seen an overhaul and actually looks more like a proper d-pad rather than some goofy wobbling disc. We'll get our mitts on one at E3 to know for sure, but the new Xbox One controller didn't seem to be a radical departure.
One new feature is the ability to record any game's gameplay with a DVR-style functionality. While nothing was actually shown, it is mentioned that the functionality will allow gamers to record their gameplay, edit it using native editing tools, and then share it online. Achievements have also been expanded in the form of dynamic achievements, which can now stretch across multiple games. For those with impressive (or not) Gamerscores, your score will carry over to the new console.
The first big non-console reveal of the event was that there will be a live-action Halo television show simply titled "Halo: The Television Show." While it loses points for an awfully bland name, it regains some of them because Steven Spielberg is attached to the project. The extent of his involvement remains to be seen, but here's hoping he's more in his "Band of Brothers" form and less of "Terra Nova." 343 Industries is also involved, and its recent efforts with the Halo web series was nothing short of fantastic.
It would have been stupid for Microsoft to not show off new games, and while it didn't seem to be the focus of today's event, it did showcase a few upcoming titles. Turn 10 is once again developing a new game in the Forza series called Forza Motorsport 5, which will be exclusive to the Xbox One and available at launch. Remedy is at the helm of a game called Quantum Break, but only a snippet of gameplay was shown amid more live-action content featuring a creepy little girl and the tagline of, "Time is the fire in which we burn." According to the press release, the game will blur the line between gaming and TV so that "how you play the game impacts the show, and the show informs how you play the game," but there was no inkling of such during the event. This could mean that it ties in to an actual TV show, such as what Defiance is doing, or it could be something else entirely. It was stated that there is a significant number of games in development for the Xbox One, a record for concurrent development for any of Microsoft's consoles. The console will have 15 exclusive games launching on it within the first year, with eight of those being based on new franchises.
Of course, EA Sports is going to develop some new titles for the Xbox One, including EA Sports UFC, FIFA 14, Madden NFL 25 and NBA Live 14. A trailer was shown showcasing the four games, though most of it seemed to be pre-rendered footage rather than in-game footage. The new Ignite game engine is said to have 10 times the animation detail and depth of its current offerings, with other features such as 3-D crowds and dynamic sidelines adding to its games' capabilities. Continuing on the sports front, Microsoft announced that it has entered a multiyear partnership with the NFL. While it was stated that this would, "deliver the ultimate interactive NFL television experiences for the next-generation Xbox One," real details remained scarce during the presentation.
Just before the presentation came to a close, Activision took the stage and formally announced Call of Duty: Ghosts. Developed at Infinity Ward and under a new engine, the game was certainly no slouch in visual fidelity. While it was not stated, there looked to be some sort of tessellation technology at play, making helmet visors and other round surfaces look properly rounded. The character models were fantastic, and the environments looked as detailed and vibrant as anything seen on any platform to date. Graphical features that were mentioned but not shown were dynamic fluids and interactive smoke, but gameplay features, such as leaning and sliding, had their own little segment. The story of the game was written by Stephen Gaghan and centers on the aftermath of the United States undergoing an event that cripples it and throws the government into disarray. Ten years later, you play as one of the Ghosts, an organization that continues to fight back in a guerrilla manner against the occupying forces.
It's no surprise that multiplayer will feature prominently in Ghosts. This time around, character customization was touted, allowing players to customize various parts and gear of their characters. Multiplayer maps are said to be dynamic, with examples such as earthquakes and floods altering the landscape, but there wasn't much shown in that regard. Also curiously omitted was any mention of killstreaks or other multiplayer staples of the series. In any case, it was mentioned that the game runs at a solid 60 frames per second, and it certainly looked fantastic.
At the conclusion of the event, it is certain that Microsoft is really trying to make the Xbox One more than just a gaming console. This path of evolution is hardly new to the company, but it's arguably the first time that it has done so in such a cohesive manner. The console certainly looks powerful, and the bundled new Kinect will hopefully elevate that technology to being more than a gimmick. While the Xbox One is slated for a "around the world" launch sometime later this year, we'll dive deeper into the available games once we attend the Microsoft pre-E3 press event on June 10.
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