The Xbombs Keep Dropping
Microsoft chose to lead their Xbone reveal with a marketing bulletpoint stating that their console’s GPU has five billion transistors [a nonsense point of comparison, designed to confound the casual gamer]. It is funny that Microsoft chose to lead their conference with this information, given that the massively bloated transistor count of the Xbone APU [PS4 has two billion fewer transistors] is the reason that multiple trusted NeoGAF sources have given for confirming that the Xbone GPU is set to receive a substantial underclock, placing it at a further disadvantage to the processing capabilities of the PS4. The five billion transistor count was allegedly making the APU run too hot for Microsoft to be able to achieve sufficient yields from the fabrication process, and so, instead of wasting time and money fixing this problem, Microsoft have opted to further lower the bar of entry to the next generation.
To understand what malign misfortunes led to Microsoft’s current straights, it is perhaps best to start with a truism. As the saying goes: garbage in, garbage out. Microsoft apparently made a number of poor decisions and predictions going into the development of the Xbone, which are now causing the development of their eighth generation video cassette recorder to spiral out of control. Microsoft made the initial prediction that Sony would opt to utilise similar budget hardware in the design of the PS4, and that Sony’s Worldwide Studios would be just as dysfunctional as they were leading in to the launch of the PS3. Even when it came to light that Sony were using fast GDDR5 RAM, Microsoft initially predicted that Sony could not realistically look to ship PS4 consoles with more than 2GB [and later 4GB] of GDDR5. Microsoft’s predictions have not panned out. Sony have aimed their PS4 specification at a substantially higher performance bracket, the company itself is much more of a well-oiled machine this time around, and developments in GDDR5 production have meant that the PS4 is able to ship with 8GB of fast graphics RAM. Making matters worse for Microsoft is the fact that only 5GB of the Xbone’s slow RAM will be available to game developers, which compares very unfavourably to the 7GB that Sony allots them. The Xbone was designed as a casual system intended for the simultaneous running of apps, and it shows.
Microsoft originally counted on having a higher numeric figure of slow DDR3 RAM to serve as a marketing point differential against the PS4, yet the failure of this disparity to materialise [along with the performance shortfall this hands to the Xbone] has left the design team in disarray. The Xbone’s memory bandwidth was originally set to operate at a 68.3 GB/s transfer rate, yet the PS4’s much higher bandwidth of 176 GB/s has led to the team incorporating extra components [32MB of eSRAM and several move engines] within the APU in order to notionally increase the Xbone’s memory bandwidth to over 100 GB/s. Adding these extra elements to the APU has served to massively increase its transistor count, which in turn is very bad for system thermals [while the large physical size of the APU increases the likelihood of chips being unusable on account of flaws]. Were Microsoft to continue their present course it would make the fabrication process an extremely costly affair [with relatively few Xbone units available at launch], to say nothing of the hardware attrition rate. If current rumours are to be believed however, Microsoft are about to underclock the Xbone’s GPU by a magnitude sufficient to reduce its processing power from 1.2 teraFLOPS to somewhere between eight-hundred and nine-hundred gigaFLOPS. Given the PS4’s 1.9 teraFLOPS of processing grunt, this will mean that the Xbone is set to be less than half as powerful.
Milking Snakeoil from an Xbone
The news only gets worse for Microsoft, as the full scope of their dishonesty becomes increasingly apparent on several fronts. Firstly, much like the state of the Xbone’s APU, the console’s operating system is currently a shambles, and nowhere near refined enough to power a piece of consumer hardware at this point. Readers who watched Microsoft’s Xbone reveal may be forgiven for regarding the previous statement as a blatant lie, but that is because the footage which Microsoft demoed was not in fact real, but rather was falsified footage designed to sell consumers on a reality of the Xbone which at this stage is a lie. The first sign that something was amiss was the fact that the episode of The Price Is Right which Microsoft demonstrated was different from the one that was broadcast on that particular day. The reason for this discrepancy quickly became apparent when Wired released a video showcasing their staff demoing the Xbone’s media and interface functionality – The interface is choppy and sluggish [appearing to run at about 5fps], while the television content streamed through the Xbone was seen to be subject to a persistent stutter. The system was clearly running on an operating system which differed significantly from the one that Microsoft deceitfully showcased.
It would seem that rather than trying to get their own affairs in order, Microsoft are now intent on leveraging their resources in order to harm their competition and mislead consumers. To this end still more NeoGAF rumours have surfaced this week revealing that Microsoft has been attempting to pay bribes to third party developers in order to have them refrain from having any of their multi-platform titles running on PS4 hardware at E3 [this includes both on stage and on the show floor]. The reason behind this underhanded stratagem is a feeble intent to dismantle the PS4’s strong identity as a console for gaming and game related activities. Thus, after burning their bridges so thoughtfully with the gaming community during the Xbone reveal, Microsoft now wishes to win back this crowd at the eleventh hour with this clearly panicked plotting. It has never been more apparent that Microsoft have no legitimate place within this industry [and should focus their attention more exclusively upon ruining Windows].
Finally, readers may be aware that several weeks ago during the Xbone reveal many publications relayed Phil Harrison’s explanation as to how the Xbone’s arcane and punitive DRM system is to function, this in turn led to Microsoft accusing these publications of misinterpreting the information. This week the veracity of the reporting was finally able to be judged after Microsoft released the full specifics of how they plan to rape consumer rights, and funnily enough their information differs very little from what was previously reported. Way to control the message.
“I never asked for this.”
Square Enix is gifted with a very rare and peculiar talent for making bad decisions. Case and point, Square Enix heard the strong fan demand for further installments in the Deus Ex franchise, and decided that the best way to go about this was to make it for smartphones. This move appears to be one of the company’s first steps in refocusing their productions on smartphone gaming. While one would like to be able to confidently predict Deus Ex: The Fall‘s dismal failure on account of it burning the existing fanbase so thoroughly, the massive scale of the smartphone market means that all bets are essentially off.
In similar fashion Square Enix have heard the strong fan demand for the continuation of the popular single-player adventure series, Legacy of Kain, and decided that the best way of fulfilling this desire is to palm the franchise off to an external studio in order to serve as window dressing for a multi-player game!
“Nosgoth exists and is in active development, but is not a traditional Legacy of Kain action-adventure game. Nosgoth is set in the same universe as previous LoK games, but on a different branch to the Blood Omen and Soul Reaver series. The community should not be thinking of Nosgoth in terms of a single-player experience.”
In terms of multi-player gaming, the Legacy of Kain series could actually be done justice as an MMO, yet one is very confident in saying that the cost of such a production means that this is almost certainly not the case. Square Enix are not about to spend several hundred million dollars on reviving a long-dormant mid-tier Eidos series, and so fan wishes are set to be realised in the form of an odd and [presumabnly] disposable PSN/XBLA [or iOS?] experiment.