FCC Filing Points to New Xbox One Design at E3

With Sony pretty much confirmed to launch a new PS4K/4.5 later this year, the pressure is on at Microsoft to respond. It’s no surprise then that rumours have been consistently popping up about a new Xbox One being in the works. Through digging in the FCC filings, one crafty and intrepid fan has found information that points to a new revision of the Xbox One that Microsoft submitted back in March.

According to the filings, there are two separate devices that might be Xbox Ones. These are part numbers 1682 and 1683. 1683 has an NDA that lasts till June 25th, just a week or so after this years E3. This suggests we may see a reveal at E3 with the launch to come in the weeks to follow. 1683 seems to point towards a slimmed down variant of the Xbox One with improved 802.11ac support added on.

1682 has its own NDA that lasts until July 29th, which means it likely won’t be associated with E3. Interestingly, July 29th is the same day as the Windows 10 1 year anniversary and the drop of the Windows 10 Anniversary Update. Perhaps this Xbox One model might have something to do with Microsoft’s push on UWP. As we’ve noted before in our analysis of UWP, the new programming paradigm allows console like optimization for several different hardware platforms at the same time. The move to UWP would make a Xbox One revision much easier to develop for and ease the burden of having multiple consoles/platforms to target. It will be interesting to see what Microsoft will have for us on July 29th, with so many things happening at the same time.

Phil Spencer Promises Windows Store Launches Will Improve

Microsoft’s attitude towards PC gaming has dramatically shifted in the past few months and they’ve become more open to releasing console exclusives on the platform. The company’s Universal Windows Platform is designed to reduce barriers and allow consumers to play against each other without restrictions. Arguably, Microsoft is doing this to help with Windows 10’s adoption rate and cater to an additional player base after experiencing poor sales on the Xbox One compared to its nearest competitor. In the past, Microsoft has taken the PC market for granted which explains their abysmal reputation among this particular demographic.

Games for Windows Live is the perfect example of Microsoft’s tomfoolery which angered a great number of people. This was one of the worst forms of DRM ever created and it’s the main reason why PC gamers have such a cynical attitude. On another note, promises have been made on a number of occasions about taking the platform seriously but these never came to fruition. Thankfully, Phil Spencer’s appointment has helped the company’s regain its gaming focus and communicate with fans in a much better manner.

Despite this, the UWP’s launch has been far from ideal and featured a number of bizarre omissions including mod support, VSync off, ability to use frame-rate monitoring software and much more! Also, major titles including Gears of War: Ultimate Edition and Quantum Break run quite poorly. Even though the hitching issues in Gears of War: Ultimate Edition were resolved, it’s still not the kind of optimization I’d expect. Additionally, the PC release of Quantum Break is marred by terrible optimization which means users with a high-resolution monitor cannot acquire an acceptable frame-rate. Remedy might not even be able to fix some of these problems because they are to do with the game’s engine.

Clearly, UWP has had a rocky start and Phil Spencer admitted this when addressing a question on Twitter:

Phil Spencer also promised that future releases would improve:

Quantum Break Dev Says Bugs Likely Can’t be Fixed

Over the last week, it looks like Microsoft’s new Universal Windows Platform has claimed another PC game victim. Designed to unify the diverse Windows platforms and bring Xbox One exclusive to Windows 10, it’s turning out that UWP may only port over broken games. This is exactly what has happened with Quantum Break, with the developer Remedy claiming unresolvable problems with UWP and their Northlight engine.

So far, Quantum Break has been running like a dog, with inconsistent performance across all GPUs, especially Nvidia. Even the top end card are having trouble keeping above 30FPS and 60 seems impossible, even on 1080p. This is before you even consider the host of graphical and texture bugs which range from superficial to downright obnoxious. While Remedy promised to look into the issues, it seems like some are out of their hands.

According to PR rep Thomas Puha, texture pop-in are due to the quirks of the Northlight engine and graphical ghosting “just a result of the temporal reconstruction. Just the way we render things”. With the bugs baked into the engine, it begs the question how this game got approved to ship for PC. On the flip side, the game runs perfectly fine on the Xbox One. It seems like UWP just isn’t ready to port games over from the Xbox One over to PC just yet.

Hopefully, the issues that can be fixed will be resolved eventually and future UWP play titles won’t have as many issues. In the end, a console port still is a console port even if it uses the fancy new UWP.

Quantum Break Dev Investigating PC Version’s “Potential Issues”

Quantum Break was the catalyst which sparked Microsoft’s new plans to launch major Xbox One exclusives on their new Windows 10 store. The Universal Windows Platform is designed to bring PC gamers and console players together while offering an alternative to the Steam store. Unfortunately, the UWP’s launch has been pretty disastrous due to the lack of basic features including mod support, an uncapped frame-rate, ability to use frame-rate monitoring software and lots more! Thankfully, Microsoft acknowledged that it’s unacceptable and work needs to be done. However, why release it in such a state? Surely, that’s going to create a negative reputation and it would have been a better idea to delay the UWP’s release.

Not only that, the UWP games thus far have suffered from huge performance problems. For example, Gears of War: Ultimate Edition on launch was full of hitching and became unplayable on AMD graphics cards. The latest title, Quantum Break is an absolutely breathtaking game but the PC version features an abysmal level of optimization. As a result, it’s ridiculous challenging to even obtain 30 frames-per-second using a 1920×1080 monitor with extreme hardware. Increasing the resolution to 2560×1440 and 4K exacerbates these issues even further.

In a post on the NeoGAF forums, Remedy Entertainment head of PR, Thomas Puha reassured fans opting for the Windows version and said:

“We are monitoring the discussion and what is going on. I had written a longer response, but it’s just gonna be misunderstood etc, so what I will say is that, rest assured, lot of work went into the Win10 version and we are looking at the reactions now as well as potential issues.”

Remedy are also working on a bug which covers the screen with intermittent blinking lights. Apparently, this will be fixed in the latest patch. I’m honestly really surprised by the technical ineptitude of Quantum Break considering Remedy’s reputation and love for the PC platform. To me it suggests one clear notion, that the PC version was rushed and approved at the last possible moment.

Xbox Chief Talks “Xbox One-and-a-Half”

Following strong speculation that Sony is to launch an advanced version of PlayStation 4, dubbed the PS4.5, to offer stronger support for the PlayStation VR headset and 4K output, Xbox Chief Phil Spencer has spoken about the potential of Microsoft jumping on the bandwagon and releasing an “Xbox One-and-a-Half”.

Speaking to press following his keynote at the Microsoft Build 2016 conference, Spencer said, “I’m not a big fan of Xbox One-and-a-half. If we’re going to move forward, I want to move forward in big numbers.”

“For us, our box is doing well,” he added. “It performs, it’s reliable, the servers are doing well. If we’re going to go forward with anything, like I said, I want it to be a really substantial change for people–an upgrade.”

While Microsoft may not be revising the Xbox One as the “Xbox One-and-a-Half”, Spencer has spoken in past weeks about offering hardware upgrades for its console as part of the Universal Windows Platform (UWP) initiative.

“When you look at the console space, I believe we will see more hardware innovation in the console space than we’ve ever seen,” Spencer said last month. “You’ll actually see us come out with new hardware capability during a generation allowing the same games to run backward and forward compatible because we have a Universal Windows Application running on top of the Universal Windows Platform that allows us to focus more and more on hardware innovation without invalidating the games that run on that platform.”

Microsoft Will Control Mods for UWP Games

UWP, otherwise known as Universal Windows Platform, is big news for PC gamers. By bringing by the Xbox One and Windows 10 closer together, Microsoft has enabled for more Xbox exclusive to be brought to PC. However, the cost of that is using the Unified Windows Platform and casting away Win32. According to Microsoft’s latest statements, UWP may spell the end of unbridled modding for PC games.

As expected of a unified model for both Windows 10 and mobile devices, UWP is more restrictive than regular Win32 or .NET applications. When Microsoft first revealed their plans for games built on their new model, there was some concern about what that would mean for modding. While Microsoft has allayed some concerns, it looks like modding will have to go with a curated model, with approval from Microsoft needed.

“The mods where we’ll probably have some discussion, is… if I go in and change the executable in a way—if I actually go in and reorder the code or inject code paths the developer didn’t originally intend, [then] the problem is, [we] don’t know if that modification is to fix a broken game, or to add some kind of phishing tool to the game so that now it’s capturing my passwords as [your’re] typing them into Chrome…”

This sounds a lot like Steam Workshop where mods are somewhat curated and are limited in their functionality. This means while skins or character mods might be allowed, more hardcore ones like what Skyrim has seen might not be allowed. Simply put, modifying the executable and changing any code paths won’t be allowed. This severely curtails what mods can do. Honestly, Microsoft has two incompatible goals with a wall-gardened store in UWP and good old open Win32. If Microsoft wants to truly cater to PC gamers, it’s probably best to restrict UWP games to games that are Xbox exclusives and let the rest of us mod as usual.

Microsoft UWP Will Help More Xbox Exclusives Arrive on PC

Microsoft’s Universal Windows Platform (UWP) program – an effort to unify Windows PCs with Xbox One, amongst other platforms – may have been branded a “sneaky manoeuvre” by Epic Games founder Tim Sweeney, but the company has revealed that its new UWP ecosystem will mean more Xbox One games will see concurrent release for PC.

During the keynote at the annual Microsoft Build conference, Xbox Chief Phil Spencer told the audience that the shared UWP code between PC and Xbox One will allow games developed for either platform to be ported to the other with ease.

“We’ve said from the start, we want Xbox One to be a great place for games, and also a great place for developers of all sizes, so you can create new games and application experiences,” Spencer said.

The Universal Windows Platform effectively means that writing code for one UWP platform automatically makes a game, app, or piece of software compatible with any and all systems that fall under the UWP banner. Windows 10 and Cortana have already started to roll out for Xbox One, while Quantum Break is due to hit both Windows 10 and Xbox One next week, which seems to be just the start of Microsoft’s overarching plan.

“With the Universal Windows Platform we’re able to drive it at 4K and 60 frames a second, the highest fidelity we’ve ever delivered,” Chris Tector, Senior Software Architect for Turn 10, said later. “The universal aspect that’s a real true promise for us is the ability to write our code once. We’re still going to tailor that experience so that it’s the best thing you can get on Xbox, the best thing you can get on PC.”

“But what it means is it’s reduced the development time for us and that really surfaces not only in the code that we write, but also the toolset that we get to use,” Tector added. “And that’s the thing that’s going to grow the most over time. Our goal as a first party is to make sure that platform that everyone’s running on is the best one they can deliver games on.”

Turn 10 Creative Director Dan Greenawalt agreed with his colleague, saying, “The Universal Windows Platform is great for the game developers and gamers alike. It’s going to become even more powerful as a way of delivering amazing experiences across all of the devices in the Windows ecosystem.”

 

 

 

Microsoft Releases Project Centennial Windows 10 UWP App Converter

Not content to just let developers create new apps for Windows 10 from scratch, Microsoft announced last year a program to allow current Win32 applications to be ported to the Unified Windows Platform. Dubbed Project Centennial, the app converter has finally been released to the public at this years BUILD, one year after its reveal. Project Centennial will turn existing Win32 and .NET apps into the UWP AppX format.

Microsoft has remained mum on the specifics but it seems like the Centennial App Converter will simply wrap around the existing program and offer the clean install and uninstall of UWP. The Centennial App Converter sounds sort of like the App-V app virtualization offered to enterprise customers. The app remains unbound by the UWP sandbox and is free of the restrictions imposed on native UWP apps.

All of that makes it seem like UWP doesn’t have to be as restrictive as it currently is. Perhaps, the best way forward for game developers is to create a normal Win32 game then package it in the UWP using the Centennial App Converter. This allows both the flexibility and power of traditional Win32 applications while providing a more unified and simpler platform through the Microsoft Store.

By converting existing apps easily with the Centennial App Converter, Microsoft is hoping to address the biggest concern with their UWP store, the lack of applications. By moving current Windows applications to UWP, the Windows system will also become more integrated and unified. There is no word yet when the App Converter will actually launch but expect it soon.

Windows 10 Anniversary Update to Bring More GPU Features to UWP Games

While the release of Xbox exclusives to Windows 10 under the UWP program is undoubtedly a positive, there are still many questions about the Unified Windows Platform. Due to the limitations on UWP and making it universal and more sandboxed, certain features common to games are unavailable. Fortunately, it looks like Microsoft will be adding some of these features to UWP with the Windows 10 Anniversary Update.

According to Microsoft, the changes to UWP are due to the negative feedback when Microsoft first released games based on the platform. Firstly, modding and overlay capability will be added. This will allow PC gamers to mod to their heart’s content hopefully, one of the highlights of PC gaming. Overlays will bring back the ability to have Afterburner or other apps run alongside the game to provide extra functionality.

More importantly, AMD’s FreeSync and Nvidia GSync support will be added. The adaptive refresh rate technology from the two graphics firms has been one of the biggest improvements to gaming in recent years and support should have been built-in from the get-go. While these moves go some way to alleviating some of the more prominent problems, the question remains if UWP is the way to go for future PC games due to their more restrictive and closed down nature.

Future Forza Titles Will Ship for Windows 10 and Xbox

After releasing a slew of Xbox exclusives on Windows 10 earlier this year, Microsoft has demonstrated their commitment to the PC gaming platform. More important than a singular event are continuous actions and Microsoft has taken steps towards this today. Turn 10, a Microsoft studio, has announced that all future Forza Motorsport titles, previously Xbox exclusives, will now also ship on Windows 10 as well.

“Moving forward, all of our games are going to be shipping on Windows 10 (PC) and Xbox”

Of course, Microsoft is doing this partially to push Windows 10 and their Unified Windows Platform. Future Forza titles for Windows will all be based on the Unified Windows Platform to enable easy porting from the Xbox to the PC. This also means that the games will only be available on the Windows Store and likely won’t be available through Steam.

While this ongoing commitment is nice, it’s still unlikely Microsoft will consider allowing their more lucrative titles like the Halo series be released on PC anytime soon. Furthermore, UWP apps are still limited in their functionality, with no support for FreeSync/GSync, modding or overlays just yet. Hopefully, Microsoft will let loose more of their Xbox exclusives for the PC in the near future.

Epic Games Founder Declares War on Microsoft’s UWP Initiative

Earlier this week, Microsoft unveiled its Universal Windows Platform (UWP) initiative, which intends to unify Windows PC and Xbox One under one homogenous strategy, but also forces game publishers to submit to the company’s distribution model. An influential member of the games industry, however, thinks the program could prove a disaster for consumers, and one that must be fought.

Tim Sweeney, founder of Epic Games, developer of the Gears of War series, thinks that UWP is Microsoft’s attempt at monopolising the PC gaming ecosystem, at the expense of developers, publishers, and distributors alike.

“In my view, this is the most aggressive move Microsoft has ever made,” Sweeney writes in a op-ed piece in The Guardian. “While the company has been convicted of violating antitrust law in the past, its wrongful actions were limited to fights with specific competitors and contracts with certain PC manufacturers.”

“This isn’t like that,” he adds. “Here, Microsoft is moving against the entire PC industry – including consumers (and gamers in particular), software developers such as Epic Games, publishers like EA and Activision, and distributors like Valve and Good Old Games.”

“Microsoft has launched new PC Windows features exclusively in UWP, and is effectively telling developers you can use these Windows features only if you submit to the control of our locked-down UWP ecosystem. They’re curtailing users’ freedom to install full-featured PC software, and subverting the rights of developers and publishers to maintain a direct relationship with their customers.”

Sweeney closes his piece with a call to arms, to both gamers and developers: “As the founder of a major Windows game developer and technology supplier, this is an op-ed I hoped I would never feel compelled to write. But Epic has prided itself on providing software directly to customers ever since I started mailing floppy disks in 1991. We wouldn’t let Microsoft close down the PC platform overnight without a fight, and therefore we won’t sit silently by while Microsoft embarks on a series of sneaky manoeuvres aimed at achieving this over a period of several years.”

Image courtesy of UploadVR.

Killer Instinct to Arrive on Windows 10 March 29

Microsoft is really ramping up their Xbox One and Windows 10 collaboration for games. With Forza 6 Apex and Gears of War Ultimate already set to arrive soon  or already arrived, Killer Instinct will be following along shortly on March 29th. The game will be available from the Windows store and what’s more, all DLC from the Xbox One will be available for the Windows version after a pretty quick update process.

As  UWA (Universal Windows Application) based on the UWP (Universal Windows Platform), Killer Instinct comes with all the pros and con, namely it may not feature the full set of usual PC tweaks and features. That, however, is expected of most console ports these days anyways so it really isn’t that much of an issue. The system requirements are pretty tame as well, with only an i5 750/Phenom II x4 965, 4GB of ram and GTX480/HD 5850 being the minimum. The recommended isn’t that much beefier at i5 4670K/FX 4300, 8GB ram and GTX670/HD 7950. Of course, Windows 10 is required. You can see the full spec list below.

Minimum

  • OS: Windows 10 64-bit
  • PROCESSOR: Intel Core i5-750 @ 2.67 GHz/ AMD Phenom II X4 965 @ 3.4 GHz
  • MEMORY: 4 GB RAM
  • GRAPHICS: NVIDIA GeForce GTX 480/ AMD Radeon HD 5850
  • DIRECTX: Version 11
  • NETWORK: Broadband Internet connection

Recommended

  • OS: Windows 10 64-bit
  • PROCESSOR: Intel Core i5-4670K @ 3.4GHz/ AMD FX-4300 @ 3.8 GHz
  • MEMORY: 8 GB RAM
  • GRAPHICS: NVIDIA GeForce GTX 670/ AMD Radeon HD 7950
  • DIRECTX: Version 11
  • NETWORK: Broadband Internet Connection