In a recent article, John Bruno, Lead Program Manager for Xbox Live, detailed some of the advantages to the expanded role of the cloud via Xbox Live Compute, a service created specifically to give game creators more flexibility with the scalability afforded by the cloud. Microsoft is offering free cloud-based servers to game developers to improve the gaming experience for its customers.
Game developers are often forced to make hard choices because of a console's limitations. Hardware in and of itself is necessarily limited. With the addition of cloud capabilities, however, these limits are greatly minimized. While a developer might once have had to settle for very simplistic NPC AI or generic backgrounds in order to devote greater resources to gameplay, the cloud makes those hard choices more and more avoidable. While the game maker still devotes most of the resources to gameplay, the cloud server system picks up the slack in providing much-needed processing power for more detailed environments and smart AI.
Bruno gives us even more specific details about the Xbox One's computing abilities:
Higher fidelity game experiences – As I mentioned before, cloud compute can enable developers to offload computations for all sorts of environmental elements. In a typical game development scenario, the game creator needs to balance resource allocation across each area – world management, rendering, controls, networking, lighting, physics, AI, as well as networking and multiplayer. Balancing the local computing resources for all of these elements often results in developers making tradeoffs that result in more focus on core gameplay, and less on environments, NPC and other elements of world fidelity. However, when cloud compute is available to support the various computationally-intensive elements of the game, these kinds of tradeoffs become much easier for developers to make. Games can afford to provide higher fidelity worlds and deeply intelligent NPC AI all at the same time. These experiences could only be accomplished by leveraging the resources of servers.
Improved multiplayer game experiences – This is perhaps the most obvious example of what is possible with Xbox Live Compute – dedicated servers! If you have played a lot of multiplayer games, you know that playing on dedicated game servers has advantages over peer-to-peer gameplay. With server-based multiplayer gaming, not only can more players play the game (think hundreds of players simultaneously), the gameplay will be much more reliable for the players. No more host migration interruptions, suboptimal experiences for the host, home network NAT constraints, or player cheating! Additionally, Xbox Live Compute can be utilized to persist game state so that your squad can live to fight another day without losing any progress. A great example of a game that is using Xbox Live Compute for their dedicated server multiplayer experience is “Titanfall.”
Adaptive & evolving game play – Imagine the game you play every day improving each time you log in. Imagine joining a match in your favorite first person shooter to find new maps and game modes even though you never downloaded a game update. Imagine playing with your friend even when he/she is not online. When games are powered by Xbox Live Compute, they can be dynamically updated, tuned, changed, and improved continuously. Games will evolve and live on for greater periods of time, continually providing fresh content and new experiences. The flagship example of this application of cloud computing can be found with “Forza Motorsports 5, “and its Drivatar system.
On-demand compute improves game availability – With all of the potentially interesting things that can be accomplished with Xbox Live Compute, one of the most important things is that the resources (e.g. servers) are available when gamers need it most. It is the geographic availability of this service, and its elastic scalability that enables gamers to connect to an available server and play without experiencing busy or unavailable servers. This ensures that games meet the changing demands of their player communities for compute, and gamers experience optimal connectivity based upon their geographic location. Additionally, it means that game creators can be assured that the server capacity they need, in the appropriate geographies, will be there when they need it.
As mentioned in the following ad, Microsoft has over 300,000 servers at its disposal - a goodly number with which to tempt game developers to its new console.
In a separate video, Graeme Boyd interviews Xbox Director of Product Planning, Albert Penello, about how advanced cloud computing, among other things, will work on the Xbox One.
Overall, a great deal of work is going into the cloud system in order for it to take on more and more of the processes of the console, moving not only the next generation console forward, but the future of gaming itself.