Cloud computing: Microsoft's potential ace up its sleeve

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You're no doubt well aware that cloud computing is one of the Xbox One's big selling points. MS reps often tout the advantages of offloading physics and AI calculations to some server farm located, er, somewhere. The hope is that, in time, the physical computation disparity between the Xbox One and PS4 will mean very little, once more developers tap into the potential of cloud gaming. Up until now, those claims have been extremely difficult to visualize. Unless you're a developer--or someone with a deep understanding of how compute works--you have little choice but to believe what the aforementioned MS reps have publicly stated: that cloud gaming is a very good thing. Now, thanks to a presentation at Microsoft's Build 2014 Conference (video below), you can see exactly the sort of benefits that MS's cloud service, dubbed Azure, provides.

Now, a few things to note about the video above: First, the demo shown is a prototype, not an actual game. Second, the demo is running on a PC, not an Xbox One. But it still serves the purpose of showcasing the power of Azure. Consider the possibilities: what if that exact tech was an integral part of Battlefield 5, and every time you fired a rocket at a building, the impact was calculated to simulate a realistic reaction to the resulting explosion? Pretty nuts, yeah? Too bad it'll never happen unless BF5 ends up being a Microsoft exclusive.

At the moment, we only have two examples of games that really tap into the service: Titanfall and Forza Motorsport 5. In addition to the stability provided by dedicated servers, Titanfall benefits from Azure in the form of AI-controlled minions and titans, whose actions are handled by a server farm instead of your Xbox One. Forza 5 has its drivatar system, which imbues AI racers with driving behaviors that simulated uploaded data from other players. As a result, both games require an Internet connection for these systems to work, which has created some brief but noticeable hiccups in the past.

But what will the future bring? What sorts of evolutions will we see a few years down the road? That's what I'm most excited to hear more about. Microsoft's communications director, Larry Hryb, said on Twitter that "Titanfall was just the beginning." Come this year's E3 in June, perhaps we'll hear about the ways in which Halo 5 will utilize cloud computing, or what's in store for the next Gears of War. It's no secret that the PS4 consistently beats out the Xbox One in terms of resolution--but maybe Azure is Microsoft's secret weapon that, in a few years' time, might prove to be an innovative ace up the sleeve.

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