Hi readers! Welcome to LostHammer and thanks for coming to visit with us!
I have an observation that I think bears consideration and celebration in our industry, one that is very easy to skim over and forget about, but one that really will be a gigantic boon to all of us, developer and gamer alike.
This secret sauce is : x86 platform becoming the de-facto standard for serious gaming!
Think about the history of gaming overall, it’s been dominated by drastically varying platforms and architectures. Even when more than one system used the same CPU, a lot of times there were wildly different special supplemental chips to consider which were crucial to making games for the platform. Well, all of that is about to go out the window in a big way!
With the current-gen stuff, you had :
PC with x86 CPU / Direct3D / OpenGL + Varying GPUs
Playstation 3 with Cell CPU + Nvidia GPU
Xbox 360 with IBM Xenon CPU + ATI Xenos GPU
What did all of this mean for developers? To start with, to do things right they had to take into consideration their weakest target platform when planning development, as being too ambitious with the design might make their plans impossible otherwise. Following that, they had to allocate very significant resources into merely getting the title ported to work correctly on each platform, even before any optimizations were undertaken. As far as optimizations, this was another round of expenses and delays, to get the title working optimally on the target platform. For gamers, this meant that there were often delays in getting versions of the titles they wanted released, and that in the $50-$60 that they spent on that title, a decent chunk of that money actually went into the resources necessary to even port the title. Lastly, less ‘proven’ titles, or entries from smaller publishers might not even see releases on multiple platforms due to the obstacles in expense and manpower.
Unification to the rescue!
What we have now moving forward with the Playstation 4, Xbox One, and PC gaming platforms is a dramatic improvement at every level. Both the PS4 and XboxOne have hardware in the exact same families and generations even, and all of it is made up of variants of ordinary PC gaming lineups. There remain differences in capability, and some unique oddball considerations such as Xbox One’s 32MB embedded cache (which remains, sadly, too small and too slow to compete with GDDR5 for top-tier 3D performance), but by and large, one can very easily develop for all of these platforms with a minimum of effort in contrast to the current status quo.
The Playstation 3 was a prime example in the negatives of having a very unique system architecture. Although a handful of titles such as Uncharted 3, The Last of Us, and so on do show the PS3’s full capabilities, far too many are simply disappointing, and this shows most clearly in cross-platform ports. Even the Xbox 360 was fairly unique in it’s own rights, however it was indisputably easier to produce titles on by comparison, and closer to the PC in terms of being able to port over easily.
Both the Xbox 360 and especially the Playstation 3 also held up game development due to their very limiting RAM setups. Even for 2005/2006, 512MB of total memory was already becoming quickly obsolete in the PC gaming world. Even taking into consideration the large overhead of the Windows operating system and APIs such as DirectX, there was still a lot more RAM to work with on PCs. This led to many PC titles showing enormous capability when coded to take full advantage of high end hardware, but much more often what happened were terrible ‘consolized’ ports that were written for systems with tiny amounts of memory, and with barely an effort at all to give PC gamers the advanced modeling/AI/maps/content that their systems were truly capable of achieving.
With the move to 8GB, these consoles are much further ahead of the curve in contrast to the 360/PS3 were at launch, even as their CPU/GPUs are somewhat weaker in the big picture compared to those days. At launch, the 360 and PS3 had GPU power that rivaled the best gaming systems out there, and only eclipsed by super expensive PCs. This time around, the GPU power in the new consoles is a bit more sedate. Still, with the large system ram and hugely updated graphics power, games should look amazing on the new consoles by comparison to PS3/360.
Perhaps the largest bonus, depending on how they roll this into their business models, will be in the reduced costs of porting titles across platforms for the developers. Now, the same budget will allow for a lot less time worrying about system X, Y, and Z, and this will shave dollars, labor expenses, and scheduling allocations out of the equation. Not only will this make more multiplatform titles almost inevitable, but it will make developers more profitable. To a team given the same amount of resources, this should enable a better final product. Instead of spending a huge amount of time optimizing for other systems and architectures, much more time can be spent making a good GAME.
This is great news for everybody. The only outlier in this regard is the Wii U, which remains on non-x86 hardware. This bodes poorly for cross-platform gaming on the WiiU moving forward, but Nintendo above all should be able to rely heavily on top-quality 1st party titles as long as they can move them along. If they get at least one full-fledged Mario/Zelda/Kart/Metroid/Smash/etc every 3-4 months at the longest, they will stay in the game as a very vibrant 3rd place. If they drop the ball, or try too much filler such as the Windwalker remake (hardly a Nintendo gamer alive wouldn’t MUCH rather see an actual new Zelda adventure before they re-skin an old title!), they may find themselves in trouble.
All in all, we’re in for a unique generation, and the potential to have the best gaming lineups in history! Thanks for reading, and comments and feedback are always appreciated!
Youtube personality and overall hilariously awesome guy AlphaOmegaSin has a reaction to the Microsoft’s policy changes regarding their new console. Definitely worth a watch 🙂
Hi readers! It’s been great getting the feedback from the last few posts, and now it’s time to dive into the WiiU.
As someone most known for being a Nintendo champion, one might expect me to have a pretty positive opinion on the newest flagship Nintendo console. Overall the answer is yes, though I really have to explain the reasons why, as well as some issues I have with it. Let’s boil it down into separate sections!
Hardware and History
The Wii U is an oddball in every sense of the word. Compared to the Playstation 3 and Xbox 360, it’s fairly competitive, and even leads them in many crucial ways. If the Wii U had launched instead of the original Wii, it would have made for a very interesting race back in those days. It’s important to realize that Nintendo nearly universally designs consoles to be profitable from the start on a unit-by-unit basis, and has never pushed hardware specs to the limit. This has worked fairly well for them, and the proof is in the profits and respect from longtime gamers. They have some problems though, and that is perception amongst the newer generation of gamers that look at them as childish compared to Xbox and Playstation. There is a serious number of people who dismiss Nintendo as a children’s-only company.
While I agree that Nintendo has a very family-oriented focus, I don’t really see this as a really true criticism. While there may always be something ‘cooler’ than playing Nintendo titles, things like Halo, Call of Duty, etc, tend to come and go over the years, with older titles becoming very stale and not much worth replaying, even ancient Nintendo first-party titles are ludicrously fun with tons of depth. Fire up Super Mario Bros. 3 for a great example. The NES was about as powerful as a pocket calculator, and the CPU wasn’t even 5(!!) MHz, but that game has insane amounts of depth, deft playcontrol, and sublime level and character design. By and large, this has remained true through the years, with some lesser outings along the way, but the overall quality of 1st-party Nintendo titles is VERY high.
Getting back to the hardware for a moment, there is plenty of power on tap to make for some great games. Theoretically cross-platform titles from 360/PS3 should look and play great, but there are some problems with expecting those. For one, the kind of gamers looking for those titles aren’t usually looking for those titles ON a Nintendo console these days. Secondly, it’s a bit late in the current-gen battle to expect many great releases with the devs shifting almost exclusively towards new releases on PS4/Xbox One. Thirdly, with the new PS4/XB1 using X86 and AMD GCN technology along with 8GB of memory, cross-platforming against those guys will mean HUGE amounts of developer work and expense, and it’s just unlikely to expect that moving forward.
In retrospect, I would have preferred somewhat if Nintendo made the ‘tablet’ an option (or simply used 3DS instead), and put those resources into making the CPU/GPU/Memory a little more stout. I guess it’s not a huge deal in the end considering that the existing power will be more than enough to have some great Mario/Zelda/Smash/etc on there, but it’s a thought, and a crucial key in what to NOT expect. Don’t expect many big next-gen titles to show up from PS4/XBox One. That’s okay, they won’t have Mario/Zelda and company 😉
With prices varying from $299 to $349 commonly for the current sets, I have a hard time recommending them as an investment right this minute when the current small library is concerned. I expect a price drop, and perhaps some great new bundles this fall however. Perhaps something like a $229 16GB SKU, along with a drop to $269 or so for the 32GB. This is purely a guess, but prices around there along with a bundled game or two, and of course, more GAMES in the library, will make this pretty attractive to us long-time fans of the Nintendo franchise titles.
Currently we have a side scrolling Mario which is pretty fun, Zombie U, Monster Hunter 3, and a handful of others, but things are about to get a lot better :
Super Mario 3d World
Super Luigi U
Zelda Windwalker HD Remake
Mario Kart 8
Super Smash Bros
Brand new Zelda
Donkey Kong Country
Scribblenauts DC Comics
So, a pretty cool lineup of stuff. If they can keep their price point competitive, and keep their legacy as always having fun titles for all ages, it can be a vibrant and fun platform for years to come. The Wii sold a ton of consoles due to the initial hype, but I think a lot of the buyers simply used the Wii Fit or a handful of games and never went further. WiiU doesn’t have to set sales records to be a profitable platform and a fun place to go for titles that you can’t find anywhere else. If you already have a 360 or PS3, and don’t yet have a Wii or WiiU, it might be worth picking one of these up instead for a lot less than a PS4/XB1, and you can enjoy a great number of fantastic Wii and WiiU titles while waiting for some of the dust to settle on those new consoles. If there’s anything I’ve learned over the years on consoles, it’s that waiting for the platforms to mature and for more games to show up along with revisions and price drops, it’s always rewarding. Comments and feedback always appreciated!
Originally, I posted the bulk of this as a reply to LOSTHAMMER’s Next-Gen Predictions post on facebook, but the MIGHTY THOR has requested that I ‘reblog’ here, and I am honored to do so. 🙂 As I’ve never posted here or on blogs before, to introduce myself, my name is Chris Tang. Where Thor is well-known for being the Nintendo World Champion, I am the somewhat lesser-known SEGA World Champion, having won their world tour and $25,000+ Championships held at Alcatraz and televised on MTV in 1994. (I was also the Los Angeles NWC Champion, and came in 8th in the grand finals for those wondering). I’m also a 20+ year veteran in the game industry and worked at companies like Atari, Capcom, and BPS along the way, having contributed to games and franchises such as Primal Rage, Street Fighter III, Street Fighter Alpha, Resident Evil, Marvel Vs. Capcom, Transformers, and Tetris. Nice to meet you all!
TV Stole Your Memory
Thor’s post on the next-gen predictions is an amazing read – the most comprehensive article on system specs and capabilities I’ve read thus far, before or after the “Xbox 180” of yesterday, in which Microsoft reversed their draconian DRM and daily check in requirements for the system to function. (Wait, was that really just a day ago?) The only thing I found to be missing, was the issue of the Xbox One’s RAM usage in regards to system overhead. We know the RAM in the PS4 is faster than the Xbox One, but one major issue of concern is that due to Kinect 2 and the fancy-schmancy tuner system, the XBOne’s OS takes up a whopping 3GB of that RAM, leaving 5GB or less for developers to actually run the game on. While I don’t have the exact number for the PS4 – it suffers from no such overhead limitation and thus, is more developer-friendly. Also, the PS4’s DDR5 memory is unified so that it can be used for either graphics or the CPU – a unique ability that can lead to some optimizations and future features – providing a potential performance edge that not even PC games can currently utilize.
The First Year
My prediction is that starting out the gate, Microsoft will be at a slight disadvantage due to the $100 price difference, the publicized difference of specs, and of course – the loss of brand trust due to the whole DRM fiasco. There’s also people’s mistrust and apathy towards the “required” aspect of the Kinect sensor, which is one of the last glaring issues Microsoft has to address to get on more equal footing with Sony. I don’t think the gap will be even remotely as big as it could have been if they kept the anti-consumer policies in place, but they are now at least a contender if they play their cards right.
The Seeds of a Stronger Library Have Already Been Planted
For the future beyond the console’s launch year, if I were to put money on a platform with what I know now, I would still bet on Sony. Here’s why… The seeds have been planted in minds – especially at E3 – that the PS4 is more developer-friendly, and has better specs. If a talented developer has the means to make a game on either or both platforms, they will likely choose PS4 due to those factors and larger userbase resulting from Sony’s lower price point. Add to that, Sony’s embracing of indie developers; giving them the means to self-publish makes makes releasing a game possible on PS4 while it may not be economically viable otherwise. Result: the first generation of indie devs will become more comfortable and friendly with PS4 as their platform of choice. What happens to successful indie developers? They can BECOME successful AAA developers, case in point, Media Molecule – the developers of Ragdoll Kung Fu, Little Big Planet, and the upcoming Tearaway. Unless Microsoft finds, then outright buys, pays, or supports promising indies directly, those up and coming stars of the next-next generation will plan to launch their creativity on PS4, not the Xbox One. As an indie developer myself (despite my lengthy career having started at AAA companies), the choice for the current platform is a no-brainer. A year from now, the developer preference will most greatly affect the indie selection of offerings, but in 3 or 4 years it will begin to affect the main library as the talent blooms, grows, and evolves. Microsoft’s insistence on publisher-publishing and outrageous fees for title updates compound this problem that may compromise their game library’s quality and diversity down the road.
You Need to be the Target Platform
The difference in hardware power may not seem like much on paper, but given what happened last generation where the more-difficult-to-develop-for PS3 often produced inferior versions of the same game despite the potential of the system, it is now more crucial than ever to be the “target platform”. Despite what first party console makers may have you believe, multi-platform games DO matter, and not all versions of a multi-platform game are created equal. The repercussions of not being the target platform can be deadly, as the system that sells less software units can easily become a dumping ground for “bad ports”. As we saw in the last generation, secondary platform SKU’s often suffer from low framerates and much less polish and optimization from those that are the target. Publishers tend to show their best SKU off the most, and sweep their quasimodo ugly version under the rug, only to have those flaws revealed by irate customer reviews upon release. This problem tends to multiply itself as gamers who own both platforms generally buy the better performing version, leading to lower sales for the other; lower potential sales means a lower priority for developers and publishers. With PS4’s better specs, lower price = larger userbase, and more generous development policies, the roles for this generation may be reversed; Sony is in the perfect position to claim primary SKU status for the upcoming console generation. The difference in quality may become more apparent as the systems mature, when higher development costs invoke the “bad ports” phenomenon. At some point it becomes economically unviable to spend the extra resources to make the lesser-selling or more difficult to develop version perform up to standards.
A Winner is You
I am very happy that Microsoft reversed their DRM policies, and I can say with confidence that I will own both platforms eventually. Competition is a good thing, and even though I feel Microsoft is at a disadvantage – and deservedly so for attempting such offensive anti-consumer tactics – I’m glad they survived. Even if the Xbox brand loses in this generation, they now have a chance to come back in the next hardware generation. Sony learned from the mistakes they made when they launched the PS3, and now it is Microsoft’s turn to regroup. This epic battle between brands has been unlike anything seen before in the game industry – or any industry for that matter. We saw the creation of evil, heard the plight of the masses, and saw a champion rise to the cheers of the people. What happened here has taught the industry an important lesson and gives players an unprecedented voice, the likes of which have never been heard. The future is promising, and it is empowering to know that as players and consumers, we can make a difference.
It is now a little after E3, Microsoft has dropped a bombshell with their Xbox-180 move away from overwhelming DRM in the face of mass criticism, and now we have a pretty good idea of what to expect from this holiday season. I’ll break things down with what we are looking at with the next-gen consoles here in the US. I will look at new articles relating to the future of the WiiU as well as PS3/360/PC soon as well.
First off, Microsoft’s move away from DRM is a huge victory for gamers, and in particular, Xbox fans. The amount of wrath and ill will, not to mention the disrespect towards our armed services personnel, was simply too much to overcome. Looking at top seller lists, the preorders were dominantly favoring PS4 after we got the bad news about Xbox One being required to have online checks/mandatory game installations/restrictions on resale/trade. It’s not worth spending a lot of time on this issue now that it’s largely irrelevant, but one can’t underestimate how much damage this could have caused the Xbox brand. Think of the tens of thousands of smaller game shops, pawn shops, groups of friends, and so on, who would have been severely hamstrung by such policies. The DRM scheme also followed a faulty course of logic that equated used games as Piracy. Their actual used game policy with the DRM would have completely put pricing in the hands of the publishers and Microsoft. The single-gifting limit was also ludicrous. It’s great that this got shot down, and the ‘family sharing plan’ of 10 people was very suspicious given their overall scheme. It is almost inconceivable that there wouldn’t have been significant strings attached to that setup.
Let’s move on to the actual about-face. Some have said that this was a plan, conspiracy theories abound on this. I do not believe that holds the logic test. If you were Microsoft, and this was a grand scheme, it would have been far better to do the 180 AT E3, which would have completely deflated Sony’s direct attack. Obviously they did not do this. Not only did they stick to the DRM guns during E3, they mixed messages and muddled their message horribly. This alienated many Xbox fans, confused the media, gave rise to rampant rumors, and worst of all : distracted anyone from paying much attention to their actual GAMES. If it was a plan, all it did was anger many, give them TONS of bad press, and result in massive pre-order victories for Sony. Even beyond this, many are hesitant to even trust Microsoft after this wild series of poor communications and reversed decisions. While I can understand such skepticism, I think it’s much more positive overall, and we should celebrate this reversal rather than argue about it and continue to slam Microsoft over it. It’s time to move on. We should be vigilant, and also keep a close eye on what Sony and the various publishers have to say on related issues, but we shouldn’t let that focus distract us from the fun we’re all about to have with the next-gen hysteria.
The Xbox One announced launch price is $499, which comes with the console, the Kinect 2, a controller, and the assorted cables and documentation to get started. This is a fairly good price historically for a flagship console launch, and it’s arguably a good deal for those that want and will make use of the Kinect. It’s more likely for publishers to attempt Kinect integration when every Xbox One will have one, but it’s also a fairly unpopular current peripheral for the 360, not necessarily due to poor quality, but due to gamers not really seeing it as more than a gimmicky gadget than a gaming necessity. It will be interesting to see the reaction and uses that they come up with for K2 in the future, but for now I think it’s mostly an afterthought in gamers minds, or an annoyance at worst. It’s also going to be interesting seeing how a $499 console fares long-term in an economy post-2008 crash. Xbox live remains a necessity for online gaming, and given the acceptance and value perception of it, that’s a non-issue.
The Playstation 4 launch price is $399, which comes with the console, a controller, and the assorted cables and documentation to get started. This was a surprisingly low price given the hardware differences that we will discuss next. Most analysts had expected them to also launch at $499. It’s unknown whether this was pre-planned or a reaction to Microsoft’s announced price. I lean towards it being pre-planned, as the hardware involved in both the PS4 and Xbox One is lower, relatively speaking to launch technology, than the PS3 and Xbox 360 were. It’s probable that both will actually be profitable as-is on a cost basis for both companies, whereas the 360 and PS3 were loss-leader style units chock full of cutting edge tech for the time. Even this price of $399 won’t be an easy sell to everyone though, as noted above, this is post 2008, and the economy isn’t exactly roaring along. A $400 ‘toy’ is not an impulse purchase any more than a $500 toy.
This is where things start to get interesting. I’ve followed semiconductor and computer gaming technology for over 20 years. Very rarely has there been such a significant gap in performance and capability between competing consoles. This usually isn’t much of an issue, but when hardware is extremely weak, it makes cross-platform titles less desirable on weaker systems, and if it’s a large enough gap, makes porting some titles not worth the effort even when the installed base is massive. If you want a great example, go look for Call of Duty series, Madden, etc, on Wii. Some titles showed up, but they universally looked much worse than their 360 and PS3 variants, and as such sold many fewer copies. This led to many titles not being ported whatsoever to the Wii, leaving the Wii to rely primarily on first-party titles and gimmicky throwaway type games that were pretty far from AAA titles.
The PS4 and Xbox One both use an 8-Core AMD Cpu at 1.6Ghz, one that is very low power, one could think of it accurately as a CPU from a mobile phone or tablet with more cores in it. In some respects the 360 and PS3 CPU is faster in some respects for less multithreaded tasks. This overall shouldn’t be a large problem, but it certainly explains why emulation for backwards compatibility was a technical impossibility for this generation. Going with such a slow CPU also allows for lower power usage, lower heat output, and higher reliability. Furthermore cost reductions and requiring less robust cooling apparatus. Think about saving 20 cents on cooling without having to use a heavier-duty cooler, that doesn’t sound like much does it? Well multiply that times 40 or 50 million consoles just in North America (a fair estimate for both sides this next-gen in total sales potential). Suddenly 20 cents means 8-10 million dollars. If you save a bit of $ here, there, and everywhere, well it can add up to hundreds of millions or even billions easily. Avoiding another RROD or even YLOD level of failure also saves many millions (into the billions if the RROD numbers are correct).
The Xbox One variant of that CPU also includes 32MB of SRAM cache, in order to supplement their primary system ram with some extra bandwidth. The PS4 does not have that extra cache. This sounds great, but is actually a bad thing for multiple reasons that I will address in some detail as I go through the rest of the specs.
Both CPUs are actually what’s known in the PC world as ‘APUs’, or Accelerated Processing Units. This is just marketing speak for integrating a CPU with a GPU. There are few tangible benefits outside of saving money and space to this approach, but it’s understandable given the design goals of acceptable performance, profitable manufacturing, and above all reliability. I do not expect reliability for each of these systems to be an issue at all. The problems with the 360, and to a lesser but valid extent to the PS3 with RROD/YLOD were primarily due to the combination of high-power/high-heat processors mounted to the boards with lead-free solder, which was prone to becoming brittle after many heat/cool cycles. This was more of an unfortunate byproduct of regulation and process change than any intentional corner-cutting. Poor solder issues plagued even Macbooks with Nvidia GPUs, many desktop PC gaming video cards, and overall caused a lot of grief in the late ’00s for many companies and customers.
The GPU side of things is the first major contrast point between the systems. They are both using the exact same AMD GCN revision GPU technology, with the same 800Mhz clock speed (hopefully, more on that later), with the Xbox One GPU having 768 shader cores, while the PS4 has 1152. Following this, the Xbox One GPU has 12 Compute Units, while the PS4 has 18. On the PC side of this where this technology already launched in December 2011, this relates to comparing a low midrange card to a high midrange card. This is roughly the gap between having the same title with the same settings run at 720p on the weaker unit, while running at 1080p on the stronger unit. Obviously this is a generalization, but for the sake of simplicity, let’s call the Xbox One GPU a 7780 (as it sits between the PC 7770 and 7790 in power), while the PS4 GPU can be referred to as a 7860 (between the 7850 and 7870 in power). This is not a trivial difference as it is, but it gets worse with the next component in question.
Memory. This is an expensive component, and crucially, both players have opted this time for 8GB of RAM. This will be a fantastic thing, as it really opens the doors for developers to be creative and expansive in their game worlds without having to hamstring development to consider the weaker system too much in game creation. PS3, for all of it’s purported power, had only 256MB accessible to the game, and 256MB for the video side of things. The Xbox 360 having 512MB of unified system memory made development MUCH easier, along with a CPU that was dramatically easier to utilize. The Cell was powerful in theory, and in some titles actually quite profoundly so in practical terms, but the negatives of the small memory size and difficult coding structure was a great barrier to cross-platform development, resulting in poor versions of cross-platform games unless the developer spent a huge amount of time and money towards optimizing to the PS3.
For the Xbox One, they have opted to use 2133Mhz DDR3 memory. This is exactly the kind of main system ram that is in current PC gaming systems, at a fairly good speed. 2400Mhz and beyond are available as well, but somewhat impractical considering the performance gained by moving to 2400 is too small to justify the large price increase. At 2133Mhz, this gives the CPU and GPU (or APU) a total of 68.3GB/sec of bandwidth for system and video data access. This was probably set in stone somewhat before they found out what Sony is using the PS4. Sony has opted to use memory that’s a great leap beyond that.
The PS4 features 8GB of GDDR5 at 5500Mhz, offering a bit more than DOUBLE the bandwidth for the same components, or 176GB/sec. For the CPU side of things, it’s almost irrelevant. For the GPU side of things (how things move around in the 3d/modeling/framerate/texture aspects), this is an absolutely enormous gap. To bring things in perspective, there are various GPUs for the PC that can be purchased in both DDR3 and GDDR5 variants. Similar to how the lower-level GPU can result in lower levels of detail or lower resolution to remain playable vs. the higher end GPU, the DDR3 variants are considerably weaker than the identical GPU using GDDR5. This results in lower framerate, more choppiness, and one has to adjust settings downwards (disabling or lowering resolution, anti-aliasing, texture detail, draw distance, etc) in order to remain playable. Ah, but there’s a final detail. To compensate for the low-speed DDR3 memory, Microsoft has opted to include a small amount of additional memory to attempt to smooth things out, similar to the 10MB of eDRAM that the 360 used. This time around, it’s 32MB of SRAM. There are problems with this idea though. Primarily, the speed of the SRAM is very poor. It’s clocked at 102GB/sec, which is still dramatically lower than the GDDR5 speed of 176GB/sec, and at only 32MB, it’s not even large enough to hold a full frame of a 1080p game in cache. In other words, it’s application is very narrow, optimizing for the 32MB SRAM will take additional effort for very little tangible gain, in contrast to having your entire 8GB of memory being hugely faster.
*Touching on one thing related to this, I’ve seen reports that the 32MB SRAM embedded into the Xbox One APU is causing what is known as yield issues in manufacturing. Without going into extreme details, when yields on a particular CPU/GPU/APU are poor, one can compensate somewhat to use more of the potential products in the wafer by decreasing the clock speeds. This is known in the industry as ‘binning’. For example when Intel makes it’s processors, the i5s, i7s, etc, all typically come off of the same huge wafers, they are cut out, examined, and tested. Those that clock well and have no problems with the HT and cache areas in full can be sold as i7s. Those that clock lower, or have small issues with one component or the other might be binned and cut/sold as i3s or i5s, or trashed altogether. Why is this potentially VERY bad news? Well the answer comes in whether Microsoft opts to stick with it’s current clock speeds and low yield rates, leading to shortages for APUs for the Xbox One launch, or whether they opt to just lower the clocks, increasing the number of viable APUs from the wafers, but also reducing performance even further than it already is. Once the clocks are set and systems are released with a clock speed, there’s no going back and fixing it. To do so would lead to widespread outrage and total chaos in game development. People with launch XB1s might have 1400Mhz CPU/733Mhz GPU, and those with revised XB1s would have 1600Mhz CPU/800Mhz GPU, and that will never fly in the console world. I have seen direct indication from developer leaks that the downclock is actually happening, but please consider this a RUMOR at present, as I do not have confirmation, and I do NOT consider this a fact as yet.*
Combine the sizable gap in GPU power with the massive gap in memory performance (which has a direct and immensely large impact on graphical abilities and performance with APUs), and you end up with two consoles that are much further apart in capabilities than many realize at present. While it is true that raw power often doesn’t play a large role in determining a console’s success or failure relatively speaking, it’s also true as noted in the Wii example above that it can negatively affect cross-platform titles to a large extent. The Wii install base was huge, so why do you think developers avoided it largely in cross-platform AAA titles? The answer is simply the lack of power to do them justice, and those titles that were released looked worse and sold poorly by comparison DESPITE the huge installed user base on Wii.
Somewhat supporting this, is the confirmation at E3 that Microsoft had ‘ringers’ masquerading as Xbox Ones in at least some of the game stations. It’s unknown how widespread this was, but it is a fairly big deal because the hardware in these systems was an order of magnitude more powerful than the actual Xbox One hardware. It’s NOT uncommon at all for trade-show console launch events to utilize dev kits and PC hardware to show off what the console is supposedly capable of, but it’s extremely uncommon for such a staggeringly enormous gap in power to be used. Even weirder was the fact that all levels of the hardware were utterly different. Not an APU, but a CPU + GPU. Not AMD, but Intel for the CPU. Not AMD, but Nvidia for the GPU. Not DDR3 for the whole memory setup, but DDR3 for system memory AND GDDR5 for video memory. And finally, instead of a ~$90ish low-end DDR3 7700 series video card, they had a $650+ Nvidia BEAST of a card that’s about like comparing a supercharged V8 to a Moped. Why is this important? Because the games shown at E3 may not be truthful in any way in terms of what the Xbox One games will actually look and play like. Sony isn’t an angel in this regard either, as they’ve been caught with bogus trade-show ringers in the past. As for this E3, one of the ‘PS4’ systems crashed to the OS, and was shown in fact to be a legitimate dev kit with legitimate hardware of the correct GCN/AMD/etc. In other words, I see this as EXTREMELY deceptive, and if the differences are as large as I’m expecting in final game performance, will be a real example of being directly lied to by Microsoft.
The next component is the hard drive. Both have opted for 500GB hard drives to start with. The PS4 hard drive is user-upgradable, the Xbox One drive is not. There was a recent 4.45 PS3 update that bricked a small number of PS3s which users had upgraded hard drives in, so it’s not inconceivable that such an occurrence could happen again. This is a small advantage to Sony overall, especially if the drive fails out of warranty, but overall pretty much irrelevant in the big picture.
Size/style wise, the Xbox One is notably larger and bulkier. This is something I also don’t think is much of an issue or consideration.
Controller-wise, the PS4 has more of an update, they’ve moved to integrating a share button and touchpad onto the controller. This is cool, but I also don’t think it’s a significant consideration overall. The XB1 controller maintains all the advantages of the 360 controller, with some additional polish and subtle tweaks. A great many people preferred the 360 controller to the PS3 controller, and this doesn’t look like this will change a whole lot. Perhaps the larger size of the PS4 controller will help some that have that kind of reaction. I prefer the analog sticks and triggers on the 360 controller, while I think the D-pad on the 360 controller is garbage. I prefer the overall feel of the 360 controller to the PS3, but vastly prefer the D-pad on the PS3. Either is fine with me, I think that it will basically be another round of the same complaints/preferences on this extremely subjective aspect of these systems. I do think that each looks improved, but that won’t stop people from having valid opinions and preferences one way or the other.
Online services is a big change with the PS4, with online Mp now requiring the usage of PS+. This mirrors the experience that 360 players already deal with. There were common complaints about the PS3’s online services, which were free, but enough users preferred Xbox Live to PS online gaming that they look to have reacted by changing it to a mandatory-fee system and a corresponding increase in capacity and quality. This remains to be seen however, in practice. Given that the issue got a lot of press and feedback over the lifespan of the PS3, I am leaning towards there being fairly large improvements to the network for PS4 online activities. I also believe that people who prefer Xbox Live are unlikely to be easily swayed.
There is the TV and Sports integration for the Xbox One to consider, but I see that as largely a mixed bag between gimmick/irrelevant to most gamers. It may be a plus to some of those that buy an Xbox One, but there are so many cord-cutters and people that have moved away from Live TV (many people I know don’t watch Live TV whatsoever, no Cable/Satellite/etc) that I don’t think this will make a measurable impact. The HDMI input (in order to more seamlessly integrate a 360, PS3, PS4, whatever else) into the entertainment setup is more likely to be a viable plus for most people that I know.
And finally :
Because of the the big news focusing on the DRM and related problems with the Xbox One, the games they showed were largely ignored by most, or the coverage was simply swamped 10-1 by news of the DRM problems.
Xbox One will continue to have outstanding first-party titles, with all of the usual franchises seeing action again with the all new generation of power. This will make the Xbox faithful quite happy, and newcomers to Xbox should have great fun if they are new to the franchises. Cross-platform titles should do quite well also, with many buyers who jump into an Xbox One not likely to want to spend another $400, along with another paid online subscription, to play on both systems, at least for the first year or two. Price drops on the consoles should change this, and more and more players will own both of these beasts.
PS4 is going to have it’s own marquee titles that aren’t anywhere else, it’s unthinkable that they won’t again have entries in all of the big series, along with some new ones. The cross-platform titles for the reasons detailed above, will often look a little to a LOT better on PS4. It all comes down to how much work the devs do in terms of using the available power. It would be a big mistake to think that it won’t get frequently used when it will be such a trivial effort this time around. The PS3 used a radically different architecture, so programming for it was a real hassle in expense, knowledge, patience, and time. PS4 and Xbox One both use the same family of CPU, GPU, same amount of memory, same x86 code base, so porting from one to the other will be child’s play. On the PS4 they will simply be able to push details further, introduce higher-resolution textures, more anti-aliasing, and so forth. This doesn’t mean that games will be poor on the Xbox One, just that they will quite often be noticeably better on PS4 when available on both platforms. During launch I don’t believe this will be a big deal. Later on down the line, as more and more players own both platforms (why miss great exclusives like Forza, Halo, Killzone, etc if you don’t have to?), this could start to lead to cross-platform titles selling in a lot higher numbers on PS4 though.
Prediction? I think these two giants will be pretty evenly matched through this generation. The great competition will lead to fantastic price cuts, and amazing games will come from the huge increase in power, in storage (both on Bluray now + download), in ram, and in innovation. It’s a win/win for all gamers.
Please comment with your thoughts, and I haven’t forgotten the WiiU either. That is for a different article though. Thanks for reading!