There's no question that the next generation of consoles is going to deliver games that look better than the best-looking games on current hardware. But there's only so much excitement you can wring out of the idea of a shooter or platformer or role-playing game that looks better than current games, but plays just like a hundred games you've already played. At PAX Prime in Seattle, we tracked down developers working on four Xbox One games to ask them about how those games are leveraging aspects of the next-gen console--the processing power, the cloud, and yes, even the Kinect--to provide experiences that wouldn't be possible on the Xbox 360. Here's what they had to say.
Josh Bridge, Executive Producer, Dead Rising 3
"We have the opportunity to go to a fully open world, and streaming, which has allowed us to create more of a perpetual sandbox. So let's say you're driving around in a car, you smash it, you leave, go to the other end of the area, then come back--it's all still there. So it becomes more your world that you can manipulate. We've never seen this before, this amount of density. We basically took the volume knobs on Dead Rising and turned them all the way up, and that's the game we've always wanted to make. On the 360, we hit a wall. We had to stop, load, dump everything else, so now that's a big change for us."
"It changes the dynamics of the game, changes how we approach the whole experience, and it pushed us into a position where we were like, 'You know what? Zombies are the enemy.' So we put more investment there, went deeper on them, giving them more awareness, making them more aggressive, and then we went deeper on your ability to fight different types of zombies. The controls feel a lot better now. You can run and gun, you can swipe and melee a lot better, and then we went for crafting. We love customization. Play how you want. Big open world, all these zombies. And then it's like, OK, well, here you go! Here's a whole bunch of stuff, hundreds and hundreds of weapons, and then you figure out how you want to play, on your own."
Torin Rettig, Producer, Killer Instinct
"I'd say that one of the most exciting things we can do is matchmake anytime. On current-generation systems, basically the way matchmaking works is you have to kind of opt into it. So you go into a lobby, and you decide to either automatically search, or you start a lobby yourself, or you just kind of open yourself up to open matchmaking and eventually it happens. And then after that's done, you have to actively opt in again, and then wait until you get a match, and maybe you like that match, or you don't. Then you play a game, then you opt in again, and there's a lot of waiting involved. It's kind of a high-friction experience. It's like, 'I just want to keep playing. You know I want to keep playing, so why aren't you letting me do it?'"
"So with Xbox One, we can do that. We can basically matchmake with you anytime. We can matchmake with you while you're playing Killer Instinct. We can matchmake with you while you're playing some other game. So you can basically just set yourself up, say 'Hey, I want to be matchmade in a player match with these settings, at this skill level,' and it'll just actively search for matches. And when that match is ready, it's like, 'Hey, you want to jump into the match?' Boom, you can just go. It's looking for games, matchmaking with you, while you're in a multiplayer match. So the idea, what we want to happen, we want to get as close to, as soon as you're done with one multiplayer match, bam, you're right into the next one. Hopefully, we've given you options. Do you want to fight this guy? You want to fight this guy? You want to fight that guy? At the very least, we want you to be able to jump into a match right after one is over, and because we can search for matches while you're playing, that allows us to get really close to that really seamless, never-ending battle."
"Another one of the things is the amount of data we're collecting about how players play. So not just how many wins or losses that you have, but what character you like to play with, what kind of moves you like to use with this character. But we can also track on a global scale how the matchups are looking, so we can see if there's a lopsided matchup. It's like, 'Thunder is winning against Glacius eight out of 10 times. It seems a little skewed. What can we do about that?' And then we can look deeper, we can dig into those matches and see, OK, how are these wins happening? Or how are these losses happening? We can use that information, along with actually getting into games and seeing how players are playing to determine, 'What do we need to do about this? Should we do anything about this?' And that's a really important point. Because we also have the ability to just live-update gameplay mechanics, or basically the aspects of how a certain character works. So frame data, priorities, things like that, we don't have to push out a big patch. We have all of these parameters in a config, and we can just tweak characters kind of on the fly."
"The other next-gen thing that we can do is game-DVR. It will record your last five minutes of gameplay, which is cool in itself, but what also exists is upload, and upload is a way to take those clips and splice them together into your own personalized, edited video. You can add commentary and voice-over, you can add picture-in-picture from the Kinect, so you can show your hands. So you can make your own run, your own series of videos. So, 'I wanna do a KI Thunder strategy series.' You can do that, and it'll show up on your own personal upload channel. And that's so key for a fighting game, because there's so much technique out there, and we want players to be able to come in and have a resource they can go to and find out how to play the game better instead of going through the crucible of just getting rocked online match after match, which can be kind of frustrating."
Saxs Persson, Studio Manager, Project Spark
"Project Spark is all about making games. Make whatever kind of game you want to. It's for people to be creative. How we look at it is, 'Well, there are certain things you can only do with touch, that feel great with touch, that are fun with touch.' It's similar with Xbox One. Our Kinect capture option is a key feature there. You can put yourself in the game. That was a request from since we started on this. People would say, 'How can I make this mine? I'm using your animations. I'm using your characters. I want to put more of myself in it.' We were super excited when we first saw the specs for the new Kinect, because we realized that now you can actually do motion capture of full-body animation, but also of faces, opened and closed hands, articulation of the face--all of these things are now available for you to tell your story with, which is really what Spark is about. It's about allowing people to tell their story, their way, with as little compromise as possible."
"The second thing: different people want to create in different ways. If we just gave people the controller and said, 'Have at it,' a certain amount of people are comfortable doing that, but lots of people are not. They need something extra. We've found that a lot of people, with Kinect, say, 'I believe I can act out something funny.' And then all of a sudden machinima opens way up. Machinima is a great avenue for people to express themselves in games without all of the drudgery of coming up with mechanics and goals and all these other things. So when we look at the things people make, because we have an alpha running with about a thousand participants right now, what they make is all over the gamut."
"There's straight-up touch games, there's modern game design, there's odes to the past like '80s RPGs, lots of puzzle games, physics games--you take your pick. And with Xbox One, the way we connect to the cloud is super important to us. So anything you buy on any platform will just show up. When we first made Spark, we thought we were going to be just console. Then people said, 'Well, I can't sit for eight hours in front of my TV; other people want that TV. I want to take it on the bus, on my tablet. I want to use my laptop. All these other places where I'm creative, that's what I want to do. But I want to play it on my console. I want to play it on the big screen. I want to show it to my friends on the big screen. But I have more time I can spend on other screens.' So we spent a lot of time on seamlessly going between the different screens, using the cloud, and migrating all the stuff that you have."
Dan Greenawalt, Creative Director, Forza Motorsport 5
"I think the best way to think about it is, how are we improving the genre with the power of this generation? And there is some amount of graphics, obviously, but it's no longer about poly count and texture resolution. It's now about the play of light. Lens flare, anomalies on the lenses, but more than anything, the imperfections that you see in a coat of paint, or chips in the concrete. We call that the proof of humanity. There's wear in this world that we can relate to. So that does require graphical power, but it's a different take on graphics than just making everything shinier."
"The other thing is, if you think about racing games, you're looking for great graphics; you're also looking for great physics. And there are things we're doing with physics in Forza Motorsport 5 that simply weren't possible on last-generation hardware. We had a very cutting-edge tire engine in Forza 4, partnering with Pirelli. It was a new approach. Now we're partnering with Calspan, and actually the tests that Pirelli ran were called Calspan tests. Calspan invented this. They're a scientific testing organization; they're not a tire company. So we brought them some problems that Pirelli didn't know how to answer. Calspan is actually pioneering new scientific tests to help make the simulation better. The cool thing is, they don't care about games. They're in the business of science. And so it's a cool partnership because we can be on the cutting edge, pushing this hardware, pushing the power, and doing things in the simulation that weren't possible before, not only because of the lack of power, but also because of this new approach."
"And here's where we're really doing things that could have maybe been done last generation, but again, it was both the power and the approach. We're making an AI system that learns, and it resides in the cloud. It's more similar to big data, crunching on all the numbers being uploaded constantly from all the players. So it can actually learn new behavior that we don't teach it. Now, we've blocked it from learning griefer behavior, so it can't drive backwards on the track; it won't PIT-maneuver you. We wanted to replicate the best moments you had in multiplayer in single-player. They work so humanly. They weave in and out, they fake--very human behavior. And it's still evolving. It's still learning right now, which is really cool."
"And I think that's the promise of the new generation. It's not just about what's on the box. It's about the technology we can bring to bear from the cloud. But the coolest part to me as a gamer is, we're launch! So everything I was just mentioning is launch. Think about a year from now, when all of the creatives have started to share ideas. We've played each other's games, and we're starting to bring in these ideas of evolving games, shared worlds. That brings a level of social--some people aren't looking for a social that's competitive, but that doesn't mean they want to be isolated from the world. I'm an introvert. I know that better than most. I love people, in the right doses. So the goal is not to turn everybody into a multiplayer, but to give people a richer, more human experience that's not irritating or intimidating or difficult. That is the promise, I think, of the new generation."'