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BioWare Founder on PS4/Xbox One Upgrades: It'd Be a "Gigantic Pain in the Ass"

"I just think it's bad."


One of the more interesting industry storylines of late has been around the commentary and rumors regarding plans that Microsoft and Sony may have to release new console hardware before the existing generation is over. To be clear, no official announcements have been made. But with the latest rumor suggesting Sony may announce its "ultra-HD" PlayStation 4 before October, it's a topic that's generating a lot of discussion, though there are many questions still to be answered.

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We recently had the chance to speak with retired BioWare co-founder Greg Zeschuk, who said he is not very keen on the idea of a mid-cycle upgrade. If a developer had to support two different platforms at the same time (the latest speculation is that Sony's new PS4 will run ultra-HD games and standard PS4 games), it could create a major headache, the RPG luminary told us, though it wouldn't be unprecedented.

"I'd say that'd be a gigantic pain in the ass that flies in the face of the purpose of consoles," he said. "It's funny, there's actually some stories behind that. For example, the original Xbox...Microsoft actually had multiple different DVD drives. They didn't tell anyone that, but as a developer you discovered that you have different performance and sometimes you'd have these boxes of refurbished drives and different brands and different equipment. It caused incredible variability."

Zeschuk went on to say the benefit of having locked system specs as consoles currently do is that it's clear to developers what they are working with.

"The whole purpose of consoles is the set of requirements that you work against from a hardware perspective," he said. "To change that is complete lunacy."

The discussion around a mid-cycle hardware upgrade stems back most recently to the beginning of March. At an industry event, Xbox boss Phil Spencer was quoted as saying, "You'll actually see us come out with new hardware capability during a generation." He didn't say this generation, however. Still, it's an interesting development, and one that Zeschuk says may come from Microsoft feeling as if its Xbox One was outmatched from a technical perspective compared to the PlayStation 4.

"It's almost like Microsoft may feel that Sony got overpowered versus them at the start, and maybe wants to kind of catch up," he said. "And Sony's like, 'Well, if you want to do that, we'll play this game.'"

Whatever the reason, Zeschuk isn't on board with the idea.

"I just think it's bad," he said. "I think, 'lock it' and let developers do their thing. But at the end of the day, if you can focus your development effort on one set of hardware requirements and target, you are going to get a better result. It's easier than having to split it, adding more people, having to port things across."

"It's like dipping your toe back into the PC pool where you have to consider all these things. It was nice on console not having to consider like performance sliders. But it's just crazy. I guess maybe [Microsoft and Sony] feel the need to."

From a consumer perspective, if Microsoft or Sony were to release a new console in the middle of an existing cycle, that would be "really irritating," Zeschuk said. While Apple may be able to get millions of people to buy new phones every year, and mid-cycle hardware upgrades already have a history at Nintendo with the DS, console upgrades on a short interval may be a long shot.

"I don't think they can pull an Apple and get you to upgrade mid-cycle."

In other recent news on this topic, Spencer recently talked about how he's satisfied with the Xbox One at the moment and that Microsoft is not planning an "Xbox One and a half."

"If we're going to move forward, I want to move forward in big numbers," Spencer said, explaining that he doesn't have any inside knowledge about PlayStation's plans or the rumors currently circulating. "For us, our box is doing well. 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."

Sony's new PS4, according to multiple reports, can handle "higher-end gaming experiences," including virtual reality. Sony's upcoming PlayStation VR headset, which runs on PS4, is due out in October. Sony itself has admitted that PlayStation VR, which is powered by the PS4, may be technically inferior to Oculus Rift and HTC Vive, which run on higher-end PC. The improved PS4 would help close the gap, the latest report said.

What do you make of the chatter around mid-cycle hardware upgrades? Let us know in the comments below!

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