OPINION – Well, this is a topic that nearly spiraled out of control in terms the so-called „Console War.” Yes, it seems that after many months of back peddling, denial, and outright refusal to comment, both parties have said it finally: A Xbox Station is in the works! No wait I mean, we are getting a mid-generation refresh, none which has anybody seen in the gaming industry. While both sides have fired off their PR and face saving comments on how this will not piss off the consumer (And it is actually for them), we looked at this newly decided arms race for the „Best and Most Powerfull” console ever.
After a while though it seems that the power might be used in a poor way, and crash and burn could be inevitable for both companies. Let’s see what we know as of yet.
Microsoft to me feels like they had too much hubris just like after Sony was successful with the PS2, they felt they could do anything with the gaming community. Enter E3 2013 and watch as the entire goodwill of a worldwide community crumbles down, as Microsoft decided to focus on Media, Sports, and a VHS machine. Some thought it was an effort to concentrate on the American market, but even that shifted away rapidly after the announcement. A year later, and the VHS looking box was not doing so great compared to the PS4. Most of the exclusives would end up on the PC regardless, unlike on the PS4, which did not release any of its exclusives to the PC. Except Halo, but even that was tarnished to hell with the broken release of Halo: Master Chief Collection, and even to a degree Halo 5 suffered. The new IPs while sold okay did not have that punch or gravitas that many gamers were expecting. A narrative had also sprung from the media and gamers alike: The console was underpowered compared to the PlayStation 4 and the design was pure ugliness.
So after nearly three years of messing around Microsoft seems to have decided to „pull the plug” on the Xbox brand by releasing the Xbox One S which is a 40% smaller than the original Xbox One plus it has 4K content playability (movies, streaming), and can also do HDR.
In the end, though this announcement was shattered by the news that entice a new powerful Xbox will be released! The project name is Scorpio and will have eight cores, and 6TeraFlops of graphical performance to be not just the most powerful console (according to Phil Spencer), but to be VR Ready!
Microsoft also announced with support the old console, and old accessories would work on Project Scorpio. No price point has been announced, but we can guess it will be pretty hefty.
On the other hand, Sony has been leaking information all over the place since the beginning of the year. From new machine specs, to release date, and even support method too, and after nearly six months of nail-biting tension, we get confirmation from Sony that yes it is being made. Many people have questioned the company’s sanity as to why would it want to chop up, and piss off its forty million user base with a new more powerful console.
Sony has been lucky, after being able to kick the PS3 out of the mud due to the failed launch, the PS4 was a spectacular success story for the company. It reinvigorated the old bones, and Sony has been kicking and punching Microsoft down to the ground (except in the UI department). Sony has many PS4 exclusive games with unrelenting refusal to port any of their games to the PC or to make it multiplatform. Uncharted 4, EDF 4.1, Bloodborne, Killzone Shadowfall, and The Order 1886. All of these games take advantage of the PS4’s power in some form and also are not ported over to other platforms. We also have upcoming games such as No Man’s Sky, Horizon Zero Dawn, Death Stranding, and even a PS4 exclusive Spiderman game.
It is no doubt that the PS4 in its current form is on a destructive path to kill every competitor in sight, and it has the hardware and software to do it. Still Sony decided to put their money to a new console refresh. While it seems dangerous to do so with such a huge user base, we do not know what the effect will be of this console release.
The Cycle continues
Many people in the gaming industry and even I have commented on the fact that the previous generation was unprecedentedly long in a regular reporting period. The reason for that is due to the financial crash of 2008. A lot of websites do note that at this point we probably should be on the PS5, and Xbox 2 (if we use this numbering). They are right about this, and I cannot help, but think that both consoles were not that powerful, and many news articles cited that both consoles were outdated as hell. So what happened here? Well, most of the multiplatform games at times can barely hold together a 1080P, and the graphical fidelity, and sometimes games lagged to no end such as Fallout 4 or Just Cause 3. These required extensive patches and updates to fix the issues.
The consoles while released at the end of 2013, and will be three years old this year feels like they are around six or seven years old. Not because there are no beautiful games (Uncharted four comes to mind), but because even with the mindblowing graphics of Uncharted or Order 1886 this generation feels a bit awkward. It is a generation where the PSN store is riddled with indie games that are pixelated junk, or if something is not a sequel it ends up being a reboot or a remaster of old games. Which is fine up to a certain point, but this generation took so long to the video game, regarding game output (and bravery from developers) that I feel they are a little bit too late. We have more games than ever yet the only thing everybody is concerned about is graphics. We still get either the same scripted COD games or an open world game that ends up being a shallow mess. While these sound as a generalization, I was hoping that the new console generation of the Xbox One and PS4 would finally provide us with something innovative, or focus on perhaps the number of enemies on the screen without losing graphical prowess, or maybe even smarter AI.
It became clear however that these consoles at the end of the day have no special secret method for the developers to learn. They are easy to program, and most of their limitations have been already tapped out by most developers. The games look awesome, but they could be better in other departments as mentioned above. Maybe if that 2008 crash had not happened, we would be having a different set of consoles now, but to me, some of the decisions made by the videogame companies were disappointing for the PS4 and Xbox One.
A retry, evolution, and misguided steps
The PS4 Neo and Project Scorpio are both an interesting concept. The NEO is (according to Andrew House), trying to keep those players on the PlayStation brand who after a while go off to the PC gaming world since the graphics do not get better suddenly on an „X” Year old console. Meanwhile, Project Scorpio led by Phil Spencer is a tactic to end the narrative that the Xbox is a weak console, while also preparing for the VR craze that is going to hit us in 2017. Oh, and of course 4K…..
Here’s where the problems start to pile up. While I did write a pretty hefty rant against the idea of 4K, it was only just one unique design for the new „refresh” consoles. However now these consoles are supposed to juggle not one gimmick, but multiple? Even the PR people cannot get their stories straight. There’s no clear definition on how the 4K will work, how good the games will look, what restrictions are for the developers.
Well I mean there are a few, but even Phil Spencer flip-flopped on the issue whether 4K is mandatory for all new games on the Scorpio. While the development guidelines clearly point out for Sony’s machine that, you can have better textures, and framerate, but you cannot have PS NEO exclusive game modes or Neo exclusive content.
Even Phil Spencer from Microsoft said that the developers are not mandated to make 4K their priority, they can be creative, and free – except for this bit here:
“One thing we should make sure that everyone understands, every game that comes out of the Xbox One family will run on the original Xbox One, Xbox One S, and Scorpio, so we have had some questions, ‘Are there going to be Scorpio-exclusive games?’ No, the line of games you’re going to get to play is the same.”
Or how about the part where Phil said existing games might not run that better on the Scorpio, and their main aim is 4K fidelity.
The biggest problem I see here is that we will get two very powerful consoles, which are going to waste their energy on gimmicks. Both VR and 4K are in baby steps. 4K is becoming more affordable, and there is content slowly dripping to the consumer, but it is still in its infancy. A lot of the technology is new, and with both companies placing a bet on such idea is risky. Not only that but resolution should not be the ultimate goal of a video game. Second of all VR is less evolved at this point, and many of the headsets are above six hundred dollars. The only real alternative we were seen is in the form of the PlayStation VR and even that is four hundred dollars. Not only that but some of the games available for VR is just downright insulting, and their price too.
The „firepower” of both consoles may not even mean that much in the beginning, as both companies seem to be restrictive of the games that can be made. It is disappointing, to say the least, and I’m not sure why this is being made in the first place, especially since AMD is supplying both companies with the hardware to carry out such revisions.
Not only that but AMD is preparing to unveil their new Zen processors that would be ideal for a next-gen console, or even a mid-gen refresh. If both „new” consoles still have Jaguar cores in them, no matter how much GPU power they stuff in the new boxes, the CPU will still be a bottleneck. A new console generation around 2018 would have been better to get a real next gen experience, as AMD is locking down their new graphics card tech called „Navi.”
Does anyone win in the end?
In the end, speed is of the essence. With Microsoft announcing to the world and their competitors what the machine will be like, and when it will be released a lead was given for Sony. They still have not announced specs for the NEO, and they can decide to opt for a better processor and GPU, which would then make the NEO more expensive a bit. However, the machine would have a full year of advantage against the Scorpio. So a 2016 Christmas release should help boost the NEO’s sale, but the announcement needs to be made soon. Otherwise, the consumer will not be able to prepare with its wallet.
Not only that there is PSVR for the PS NEO, while Microsoft has Occulus? Maybe? They are in a partnership, but I am not entirely sure if an 800 dollar VR headset coupled with a console that will probably cost around 500-600 dollars is a good move. Even if the Neo is 500 dollars, you still end up cheaper with that and the PSVR combo. So unless Microsoft announces MSVR, they might mess up their sales ideas. I cannot decide yet if the consumer will win anything after this battle of mid-gen refreshes. We just have to wait and see what the NEO can offer, and how MS wants to change the market with their console.
Still if that two teraflops difference between the Scorpio and NEO is right, it might not make that much of a difference if the developers are forced into limitations plus VR and 4K. We might not see the difference between multiplatform games at all if this happens. Until we hear more news of these machines, spending money on them does not seem to enticing with so many restrictions, and gimmicks that both companies want to use.
Let’s just hope the future is bright and not too dark for us players.