Later today, Microsoft will unveil its latest Xbox. For months rumors have been swirling around about the hardware, software, and features of the latest box. Today the truth behind these rumors will be revealed. But I don't want to talk about what I think will come today, but instead what I want to see. Most of these things almost certainly won't come to pass, and a couple likely will, but that won't stop me from wanting the best possible box from Microsoft and the best possible presentation.
1. Focus On The Games - We know that Microsoft almost certainly will be pushing the multimedia capabilities of the next Xbox, but if I had my way I would want a system that focuses on games first and everything else second. It is nice to have an all in one box in my room, but if I had to choose between the ease that comes from a single box and the quality that can come from a system designed first and foremost for games, I would always choose the latter. We know the multimedia features are coming. We don't care. Show us the games today and talk about the other stuff at an event focused on people other than gamers.
2. Announce Free Xbox Live - Probably never going to happen, but I would love if Xbox Live took the PSN approach and offered online play for free. Sony's PS Plus service has put Microsoft to shame this generation and with Sony's promise to vastly improve its network on the PS4, Microsoft might lose the current advantage it has as far as speed and ease of use is concerned. I think it's also important for Microsoft to realize that one of the big reasons people stuck with Xbox Live this generation was because they started there and all their friends were there. In the end it didn't matter how much better a game was on a Sony system. For any game that people wanted to play with friends, they played on the system those friends had. In the US, chances are that system was an Xbox. And the reason for that was that Xbox came out first, and in its first couple of years, the PS3 was a pretty awful system with even worse marketing. This time, though, the releases of the systems will likely come within a month of each other, and Sony looks to have fixed many of the key problems with the PS3. Microsoft doesn't have the advantage of a much better start this time. They need to push their features if they want to win back the highly coveted Call of Duty crowd.
3. Don't Announce an Always Online Xbox - Please, please, please, don't make people always be online to play games. Not only is it encroaching on the rights of consumers, but many people throughout the world do not have access to constant internet service and it would be a shame for those people to not be able to use the next Xbox. I expect if Microsoft pushes always online then consumers are going to fight back. We've yet to have a case like this reach the Supreme Court here in the US, but I would definitely expect them to have to issue a verdict on this issue. When buying a game, in theory consumers own that game, or at the very least a license to use that game. By saying that people cannot play their games when their Internet goes down it could be argued that Microsoft is trying to restrict people from using their property. That is a major battle and one I hope Microsoft would not win. In addition, it means that when Xbox Live one day goes down, all those games will be worthless. It's a major issue and one I hope Microsoft will avoid altogether by simply letting people play offline.
4. Put the PS4 Hardware to Shame - Again, not going to happen, but I would love for Microsoft to at least match the hardware in the PS4. All signs, though, point to the next Xbox being a much inferior system from a pure processing standpoint to the PS4. Notably, the next Xbox will supposedly not use GDDR5 RAM but standard DDR3 RAM. While quite a few people don't really understand the signifigance of faster RAM, many would argue that the speed of the RAM is just as important, if not more so, than the overall amount. The vastly inferior RAM that Microsoft will probably use is going to ensure that games will simply always look better on the PS4. Add in the fact that the PS4 is rumored to have a much faster GPU and Microsoft is going to have a really hard time proving their system is worth getting for gamers, especially because both systems are most likely going to use near identical parts. In such a situation it is quite easy to say that one system is more powerful than the other, unlike currently, where the use of different architecture means that direct comparisons are sometimes difficult.
5. Don't Be All About Kinect - Kinect is going to be a focal point of the next Xbox. For things that aren't games it is a great way to control the system. Give it a Siri level of intelligence and it could be a great thing. Watching TV and see an ad for a product you want? Wouldn't it be nice to ask Xbox where to find the product and read reviews and so forth. Ordering food on Xbox is possible even now, but seamless (get it?) integration with an online food ordering service would make dinner and a movie an easy thing to achieve without ever leaving your couch. But as a gaming controller, Kinect is never going to replace a normal dual analogue setup for certain types of games. Yea, the increase in fidelity offered by the Kinect 2 might make things easier, and there are definitely games that can be made with the Kinect in mind, but make it a 10 minute segment of an hour long presentation. I don't want to hear that every game on the next Xbox has to use Kinect in some way. That isn't how it should work. Developers need to make Kinect games with Kinect in mind. Shoe horning additional functionality into an existing game just is never going to work as well as it is supposed to.
But imagine a VR system like Occulus Rift combined with something like Kinect and you could see how a true virtual reality experience might be possible. Even using Illumiroom with other Kinect features could lead to some cool results. How awesome would it be to control an interface like Robert Downy Jr. does in Iron Man? Move an object in real time with your hands, and have that object move beyond the confines of the TV, or use the Occulus to literally make the world evolve in front of you. Imagine combining an Illumiroom type Kinect system with the Occulus Rift. You could literally make a fully working simulated version of the room you are in and what you are doing and view it all in what would seem to be a fully realistic environment. It would be actual virtual reality, and it is possible with Kinect and Occulus Rift. But unless Microsoft is ready to unveil that type of tech later today, then show off a couple Kinect games and then move on. And in all honesty, I don't believe that the next Xbox will have the horsepower to actually do that, speaking to create a 1080p image on an Occulus Rift you actually need a 4k screen and recent tests have shown that not even 3 Geforce Titans in SLI can manage 4k on the most demanding games like Crysis 3.
6. Don't Worry About Backwards Compatibility - I know this is going to rile some feathers and it rightly should, but I'll try to explain why I don't think the next Xbox should be backwards compatible. First off, the thing that makes this hard is that the next Xbox will most likley use an x86 based CPU, unlike the PowerPC IBM CPU used in the 360. This means that the only option for backwards compatibility is putting the actual physical 360 hardware inside of the next Xbox (as Sony did with the original PS3's) or use emulation (as Microsoft did this generation). The first option is simply going to be too expensive and I'd personally rather not spend an extra $75 at least on the system to have a 360 included in it. The second option is going to require some of MS's best engineers to work on emulating a bunch of stuff. That's fine, but I would much rather have those dudes working on software for the new Xbox instead. Look at how much of a graphics boost Sony got when its top techs came up with MLAA. Suddenly, AA, one of the most processor costly effects in gaming, especially on modern deferred rendering engines, was suddenly cheap to use. Games could add in a ton of new effects and increase texture and model detail just because of that simple algorithm. Microsoft, meanwhile, had to wait until Nvidia came up with the similar yet inferior FXAA before they could use cheap AA in their system. Point is, I don't want Microsoft to have its top engineers working on making old stuff work on the next Xbox, I want them to make brand new software that will make new Xbox games look and run much better. Honestly, if I really want to play a 360 game I will play it on a 360. I think the other option is to have some sort of attachable device that you could plug into the next Xbox that would essentially be a mini 360. Doing that though would require a connection with much faster bandwidth than a USB drive. You'd need something like Apple's Thunderbolt tech to make something like that possible, which will again increase the cost of the system, and is honestly pretty useless. I have a 360 now. Why would I sell it and buy an add-on instead of just keeping the 360? Not all that hard.
7. Finally, and maybe most importantly, have some really cool games to show off. Sony really knocked it out of the park with their demonstrations. While Killzone maybe wasn't quite ready for the primetime, the stuff from third parties looked great, and having Bungie on stage was a big coupe. The challenge will be showing off enough big guns at this event to get people talking, while still saving enough surprises to outdo Sony at E3. Of note, Naughty Dog has yet to show off a game, Meida Molecule hasn't shown their PS3 game, Guerilla is working on a new IP they might show, and the Resistance team at Insomniac most likely has a PS3 exclusive under their belt. Add in a probable new Final Fantasy reveal and Microsoft will have some major work to do if they want to show up Sony next month.
But with the next Forza being revealed today most likely, Call of Duty officially on the docket, and a new Kinect game from Rare and Harmonix almost sure to make an appearance, that leaves Microsoft with few reliable names to call on. There's little chance that a new Halo is ready to show speaking Halo 4 launched only six months ago, which leaves Lionhead as the only remaining major internal studio at Microsoft. They haven't released a game in a couple of years, so it is probable they have something to reveal. But the list of games so far doesn't have any huge reveal in it. Forza is nice, but with both GT6 and Race Club coming from Sony, it will take quite a bit for Microsoft to win the racing title. That leaves a couple close second party studios to pick up the slack. I would love to see Alan Wake 2, and have the game be what the first game was promised to be back when it was announced in 2005. And Epic has shown off several great tech demos over the past couple of years, but I would expect and hope that they have a great new IP ready for display, although that might be something to save for E3. I guess the big thing is that Sony has a ton of first and second party studios and a significant number are in a good place to announce a new game, including some of their most acclaimed teams. Meanwhile, Microsoft has only a handful of studios and both Gears of War and Halo saw releases in the last six months. They are in a tough spot and I hope they manage to pull some great tricks out of their hat. A couple other wildcards are Ryse from Crytek which is rumored to have moved to the next Xbox, and possibly a new Crackdown. Really, though, sequels are nice, but Microsoft needs some major new IP if it wants to compete with the more powerful PS4 and its current relationship with both consumers and developers makes that seem highly unlikely.