E3 2016: Xbox conference highlights – Play Anywhere, and 6 Teraflops of power!

xbox one S header

Microsoft’s Xbox E3 conference finished up late yesterday evening, and it was quite an interesting one. Before you dive in though, I do want to note that I didn’t call the Xbox Live Gold for Windows 10 support correctly – a major disappointment for me, but a relief for gamers everywhere who didn’t want to be faced with the possibility of paying for multiplayer support. Without further ado, let’s address the smash hit that was Microsoft’s conference and check out the highlights.

Xbox One S console at $299 starting August 2016

Here it is, the rumoured slim version of the phat Xbox One. Admittedly I’m going to make cheese grater comments every chance I get until its launch, but it definitely looks interesting. The console’s slim design comes in at 40% of the Xbox One’s size. It’s quieter, thanks to an integrated power supply that runs passively, as well as offering full-blown UltraHD 4K Blu-Ray playback support (which also means full HDCP 2.2 compliance).

There’s also high dynamic range (HDR) support for new TVs that have this feature, suggesting that AMD has done a bit of fiddling in the Xbox One S’s APU to include these new features. Also, yes, there’s a vertical stand included in the box with the new console.

Otherwise, it’s just like an Xbox One inside. The console will retail at $399 for a 2TB model, $349 for a 1TB model, and $299 for a 500GB model.

Each Xbox One S will ship with the new Xbox controller (which I first reported on here), which has Bluetooth capability using the 2.4GHz band, increasing the number of devices that can support it as well as eliminating the need to purchase the Xbox One Wireless adapter for Windows, although I have a strong suspicion that Microsoft won’t be shipping these controllers until well after the Xbox One S launch.

xbox one s new xbox controller bluetooth

The new controller has a textured underside for better grip, shoulder triggers coated in a different gloss finish to increase grip, and a longer battery life thanks to the reworked wireless communications chip. Microsoft already wrecks Sony in terms of battery life compared to the DualShock 4, so this will extend that lead even further.

One interesting tidbit is that this console does not support the Xbox Kinect peripheral. You have to buy a USB adapter to make it work, which suggests that suddenly we might be seeing a lot of people finally being able to use their Kinect as it was always intended – on a PC (no sarcasm, I actually believe that the Kinect is some of the best camera technology to date). Also, this lends support to the idea that Microsoft isn’t throwing Kinect out the window either – it’ll be an important part of their VR offering in the future.

Buy and customise your own controller through Xbox Design Labs

xbox one design labs custom controller

There’s a controller revamp of a different kind as well. If you’re in the US, you can buy and customise your own controller, including adding differently coloured buttons to the controller, custom vinyls to the underside and front face, and you can even have your name printed on the controller for further bragging rights. A fully customised controller will set you back $90, but that’s quite a bit cheaper than the Elite controller, which is still priced at $150. Shipping to South Africa might even be less overall than the price of the Elite controller locally.

This ventures further into Microsoft’s role in providing customisation options for the console and it’s still not clear if their hardware partners, like Razer as well as the custom skin and face replacement companies, are happy with this arrangement. I’d love to see this extend to the Xbox One and One S as well.

xbox one elite gears of war controller

There’s also a new skin for the Elite Controller commemorating the announcement and imminent release of Gears of War 4. It’s quite the looker.

Project Scorpio officially acknowledged

Well, the naming was correct – the Xbox One’s ultimate successor is going to be Project Scorpio – although that’s now clearly a working title. When Phil Spencer announced the console, he talked about it’s power and possibilities (6 Teraflops of GPU compute and VR ready-ness), but skimped on the finer details like the actual hardware. Project Scorpio is projected (haha) to be nearly three times as powerful as the current Xbox One and Xbox One S. It has similar hardware underpinnings, so it’ll also run all the same games as the two systems, and work with all the same peripherals as well.

That’s pretty neat, but there’s also one catch. Developers will be expected to support and target both the Xbox One, One S and Xbox Scorpio for their lifetime on the market. Microsoft knows how tricky this will be to navigate, and to accommodate for this, they’ll only be releasing the Scorpio in a year’s time. That should, in Spencer’s own words, “give our partners and developers time to make great games for this new system.”

Nothing much was said about the console’s launch date either. It’s set for a holiday 2017 release, which is so far outside the normal time frame for a console announcement (in terms of time-t0-launch) that it’s almost putting itself out of the conversation. It supports 4K gaming, but there’s no details about what games its going to run at 4K. One announced spec is a total of 320GB/s of memory bandwidth, but does this mean that Microsoft will be doing away with the current console’s architecture? Will eSRAM still feature? We’ll have to wait another year to find out.

There are also some articles on the net talking about promised minor performance improvements in the Xbox One S, and I think that some of it is thanks to a die shrink from AMD as well as some clock speed improvements. That makes the situation trickier to navigate. With the One S arriving in August this year, any promised performance improvements will only be seen in games coming out around that time. Your existing library probably won’t see much of a benefit aside from higher minimum framerates.

If you were planning on buying an Xbox console in the next month or so, you can go ahead and get one. You can even trade it in near August for an upgrade to the One S. No-one should hold off on their purchase because of the Scorpio coming onto the scene next year. Buy your console now, and get into the games you want to play now. You’ll still have backwards compatibility with all of the new Xbox consoles to keep your growing library intact.

Play Anywhere with Xbox and Windows 10

The bombshell of the stream was announced so curtly that you could have missed it if you were yawning at the right time. “Play Anywhere” is analogous to the Steamplay functionality you get from the Steam client and store, where purchasing a game for one system allows you to install and play that game on any other system you own, even if it’s on another supported operating system. Steam cloud should sync up your stats and game saves and you can pick up and play your game on any system you’re logged into.

That same feature is coming to Windows 10 and the Xbox app. If you own a game on your Xbox console that has a corresponding game on the PC, any game that features the “Play Anywhere” logo will automatically net you a fee copy of that game on Windows 10. Pretty cool, huh? Just about every game published by Microsoft Studios will feature this on the box, and if it doesn’t yet give you an incentive to upgrade to Windows 10, then maybe it should, because it also works in reverse – games bought for Windows 10 with the feature will give you an identical copy on your console.

Xbox Live introduces Clubs, Looking for groups, and Arenas

xbox live forza drifting club

Microsoft announced some interesting changes to Xbox Live that were introduced in order to improve community interaction and assist players with finding new players and friends. Xbox Clubs basically gives you a mini-forum for the game or genre you’re interested in, and allows players to talk about related topics as well as seek help for an issue you might be having.

Looking for Groups is like a Gumtree network for players seeking other players. You can post in the group that you’re looking for, say, three like-minded people of similar region, rank, and beanie colour to join you in The Division to assault a nearby Dark Zone and grief noobs for loot. Not all games will have their own Looking for Groups landing page, but most of the popular ones should.

Finally, Arenas is basically a way to get into online tournaments and leagues on your own or with your buddies. You can even use the Arena functionality to challenge your own friends to online tournaments and challenges. Arenas will be one of the ways in which games like FIFA 17 and Madden will host EA’s online Challenger and Premier events, which is pretty cool.

And now, onto the game announcements…

Killer Instinct adds General Raam for Xbox One and Windows 10

General Raam from the Gears of War franchise made a surprise appearance as a new character for Killer Instinct, Microsoft’s free-to-play fighting game. Raam seems to rely on brute force to get things done, and this might end up overwhelming opponents who aren’t ready for this kind of play style.

Forza Horizon 3 for Xbox One and Windows 10, launching on 27 September 2016

This game looks amazing, and it’s an amazing trailer as well. Forza Horizon is one of Microsoft’s strongest racing franchises and it’s an arcade racer at heart. Some cues from Ubisoft’s The Crew appear here, notably the ability to jump in and out of multiplayer sessions with your friends at will. I like the emphasis on freedom and player choice, and I’d really like to play it on Windows 10 when it launches.

ReCore gameplay trailer released, launching late 2016

Remember this game? We saw its announcement at E3 2015, but so little about the game was known that it was basically eye candy. Now that it has a launch window, Rare can talk about the game more. In ReCore, you play as Joule Adams, scavenger, as she leads a group of Corebot companions on an adventure to save mankind in the dangerous world of Far Eden. There’s a big emphasis on using the Corebots to protect you and solve puzzles, and the game features platforming elements as well.

Minecraft Pocket Edition gains Realms, Mod support, Oculus Rift compatibility

Minecraft for Windows 10 (technically Minecraft Pocket Edition with a different name), received an update announcement to support servers and individual realms that you can create and customise to your liking. One of the problems with playing this version of Minecraft is that your worlds did not travel with you across the devices you might play it on, and thus the engaging multiplayer experience on the regular version of Minecraft is lost.

Microsoft will soon fix this and more, adding in server-side mod support for your realm, as well as working on VR headset compatibiity. It’s weird seeing John Carmack talk about the Rift while playing Minecraft, but it’s cool nonetheless. Minecraft for Windows 10 is available for R115.

Inside, by Limbo creators, for Xbox One and Windows 10, out 29 June 2016

What the hell is it? I don’t know. The visuals suggest that you’re a young child caught in the middle of some strange social experiment that’s gone in the deep end, and beyond that there’s not much else to figure out. Did you like Limbo? Then you’ll like this.

We Happy Few in Xbox Game Preview program, out 26 June 2016

I’m getting strong “A Clockwork Orange” vibes from this. And maybe some “Lego: The Movie” feels as well, but without the “Everything is awesome!” singing montages. We Happy Few is currently in Microsoft’s Xbox Preview program, which is a mixture of Steam Greenlight and Early Access.

In a dystopian, mod 1964 England that lost World War II, the citizens of Wellington Wells are taking a happy drug called “Joy”, and living in denial over their grim existence and a terrible past. Can you survive among them once you stop taking your Joy and become a “Downer”? One thing’s for sure, there’s going to be some dialogue about the meritsdangers of taking drugs to alter your reality to something that’s more preferable than your current situation.

CD Projekt Red announces Gwent Trading Card Game, open beta in September 2016

“We saw the players logged into the game, but they were all in bars…playing a card game!”

I take it that the CDPR developers have never played Final Fantasy VIII. Maybe they shouldn’t play it because having their time sucked up by Triple Triad will only mean that Gwent, the Witcher Trading Card game, will be delayed. Is it a Hearthstone competitor? Maybe.

Tekken 7 to land on Xbox One in 2017

Tekken 7 answers your most burning question: what happens when Heihachi and Akuma are in the same room together? This game, powered by the Unreal Engine, looks sublime. I’m not sure I’ll pick it up though, having skipped Tekken games since the release of Tekken Tag Tournament on the PlayStation 2.

Dead Rising 4 for Xbox One and Windows 10 launching Holiday 2016

Zombies, with a side order of crazy and a weird segment where the main character uses a Microsoft Lumia 950. Dead Rising 4 comes to PC and Xbox One and promises more zombies and customisation options than you can poke a stick at (don’t poke a zombie with a stick because that stick is pointless next to a killing machine that loves brain matter).

Scalebound for Xbox One and Windows 10, out in mid-2017

For a moment there I thought Microsoft had somehow gotten the Shadow of the Colossus developers to make a game for them, but then I remembered that this is Hideki Kamiya’s baby. Scalebound appeared on stage to show off its multiplayer and co-op aspects, and these will no doubt come in handy for those bosses that are super-large and nearly impossible to defeat on your own.

Rare’s Sea of Thieves for Xbox One and Windows 10, launching “soon”

I want this so much. Sea of Thieves looks a bit comical, but it promises you the pleasure of being an actual pirate on an actual ship with actual crew members that need to work together to bring down your enemies. It might not have the glitz and bling of Ubisoft’s sea engine and naval combat, but Sea of Thieves promises accurate, if zany escapades across the seven seas.

Captaining your own ship will require leadership and micro-management skills to make your crew an effective force, and I really want to be a pirate after watching every episode of “Black Sails”.

State of Decay 2 for Xbox One and Windows 10, launching in 2017

Emergent zombie survival horror is not a dead genre after all! State of Decay 2 looks set to bury DayZ Standalone before it even launches on Xbox One, and it features Xbox Play Anywhere and cross-platform gameplay. It looks like a lot of fun, and I know everyone can’t wait to pretend they’re in the “Walking Dead” universe while playing this.

Halo Wars 2 for Xbox One and Windows 10 coming 21 February 2017

Halo Wars returns with a sequel to the original Xbox 360 title, and it looks like Microsoft paid close attention to make sure they were true to the original. I’m not much of a believer of RTS games on a console with a controller, but the original Halo Wars sold over 1 million copies in its launch month.

Full E3 Press Briefing

Microsoft’s E3 briefing was strong and to the point. I look forward to seeing what they have in store for the rest of the year, and I’m probably going to aim for an Xbox One S now that it’s been announced.