Microsoft has a bold vision for the future of gaming with Xbox Series X. After 12 months of teases and reveals, we are now just a few short weeks away from seeing it clearly. In July, Microsoft will showcase 343 Industries' Halo Infinite and what many of the other 13 first-party studios have been working on behind closed doors for so long now. Perhaps those Project Lockhart rumours may finally be put to rest and, who knows, we might finally get a better sense of the Xbox Series X price ahead of its launch later this year. Big things are on the near horizon.
For GamesRadar's investigation into the Future of Gaming – as part of the Future Games Show – we sat down with Jason Ronald, the director of program management for Xbox Series X. While Ronald wasn't able to tease what will be in July's Inside Xbox showcase, he was able to invite us into team Xbox's dream for the future of gaming.
Setting the direction for the future
"One of the exciting things about launching a new generation console is you're really setting the direction for the next seven to 10 years of game development. You're going to see entire new classes of games; transformative gameplay experiences that you've never seen before," Ronald tells me.
Setting the direction for the next decade of game development is no easy task. Microsoft says it is in a position to do this because of the Xbox Series X – what it believes will be the most powerful and compatible next-generation console. "The Xbox Series X delivers a level of performance never before seen in console," he continues. "We're really focused on the perfect balance of power, speed, and compatibility, unlike anything you've seen in prior generations."
The Xbox Series X has got the specs to back up that assertion too: a custom processor which includes an eight-core Zen 2 CPU and a 12 Teraflop RDNA 2 GPU to deliver more than four times the processing power and eight times the performance of the Xbox One. Slot high-bandwidth GDDR6 memory into the setup, along with a high-speed SSD (solid state drive) and a slew of other technical innovations that few of us will ever truly understand, and you're looking at a system which could indeed push the frontiers of gaming forward in ways that are difficult to even conceptualise right now.
While we will get into the power and speed shortly, it's worth focusing on the Xbox's commitment to improving compatibility. Ronald tells me that Microsoft wants to break down as many barriers to play as it can with the Xbox Series X. It's blurring the lines between console generations in a way that may look self-defeating to some now, but could ultimately prove to be a domineering feature of the platform in the years to come.
As part of the Future Games Show, GamesRadar has been exploring the Future of Games. More a dozen of the world's leading developers spoke to us about the future of game worlds, graphics storytelling, audio, and design. Click the link above to give it a read.
"Here at Xbox, when we think about the future of gaming, we're really focused on reaching all gamers, all across the planet. Empowering them to play the games they want, with the people they want, on the devices they want – with the console at the center of the living room experience."
"As we move into this next generation with Xbox Series X, we're really committed to tearing down all the barriers that exist in the ecosystem," says Ronald as he details what that commitment encompasses. "That includes things like cross-network play, cross-generational play. The fact that your entire game library – your gaming history, your gaming legacy, your progression, your achievements – all move forward with you. And we want to make sure that players can play together, regardless of what device that they choose to play on. Because, once again, we really want to make sure that everybody's able to play regardless of the device they choose to play on and they have that great shared experience together."
How that vision coalesces is with a launch line-up of thousands of games from across four generations of Xbox consoles available on Xbox Series X from day one. This includes the 100s of first- and third-party games available through Microsoft's subscription service, Game Pass, as well a commitment to ensuring that backwards compatible games run natively on the Xbox Series X hardware – no downclocking or boost modes here, it's the power of a new system being used to enhance graphical fidelity, load times and overall performance of your favourite games.
"It's important that games from multiple generations are all playable and play best on Xbox Series X," Ronald says, "because, as gamers, we all have this love of the franchise's that we played over time, and we want want to make sure that all of these games can move forward with you as you transition into the next-generation."
It's an interesting approach, one that many of us will be watching closely in the months to come. One concern of this commitment to compatibility is in how it could impact the games coming out of the first-party studios. Microsoft has made a lot of noise about services such as Smart Delivery – which will ensure that you only have to purchase a title once, knowing you will get the best version of it on whatever Xbox system you choose to play on – and its support with games such as Halo Infinite, a title designed for Xbox Series X that will also run on Xbox One.
Will we see real innovation in future Xbox games – developers utilizing the full power and tools of the Xbox Series X – if they also need to be engineered and optimised for a platform that is already seven years old? We'll see how valid that concern is when 343 pulls back the curtain on Halo Infinite in a couple of weeks. In the meantime, it's worth considering Ronald's assertion that widening the available playerbase in this way will only embolden developers and empower players.
"When we think about the future of gaming, it's really about providing more options to both gamers and developers. And we've really invested a lot of time and energy in making sure the exact same development tools that you use on Xbox One are the same tools that you use with Xbox Series X. And as a developer, what that really enables you to do is to make sure that you have the largest addressable player base, and that players can choose to play together regardless of what device they choose to play on."
"Accessibility is absolutely critical to the future of gaming and our vision as we move forward. We fully believe in this concept of gaming for everyone. And we believe that when everyone can play, everyone wins. So it's really about bringing more people into the ecosystem, making sure that people have a great gaming experience. And we're committed to that in the hardware that we deliver, the software experiences, as well as the games that ship on our platform," he says, adding, "we believe in the art form of games. And we believe that by empowering players and empowering game developers, we're going to enable experiences unlike anything that you've seen before."
The SSD is driving innovation
That's a lot said on compatibility, then. As Ronald mentioned before, that's just one area of focus for the Xbox Series X team. The other two are speed and power. While it could easily be argued that we've heard enough about specs in the past 12 months to last a lifetime, Ronald is quick to point out that the power and speed of this system isn't just enhancing the ways games look, but the way they play and are made too.
"With past console generations, the primary focus has been on graphics improvements – and with this next-generation we'll continue to see a step change in graphical fidelity. But more importantly, with this generation, is the power that you can feel," he says, before explaining what that means to anybody outside of the Xbox ecosystem.
"Internally, we think about this as 'the power you can see as well as the power you can feel'. When we talk about the power you can feel, this really is about changing how games actually play. Things like ultra-high framerates, ultra-low latency input, and how quickly and easily we can get players to jump into the experience with the virtual elimination of loading times. It's really much more about how games play and how games feel, than just looking at the graphic advancements alone."
While I get the impression that Ronald would be only too happy to spend all day talking about Xbox Series X specs, he's quick to highlight the importance of the SSD – it's a "transformative" component to Microsoft's vision of the future of gaming. "The SSD is the foundation of the Xbox Velocity Architecture, which was a radical reinvention of how game asset streaming works," he says, detailing just one example of how the SSD has left an impression on the Xbox team. "And what that really does, as a game developer, [is] it removes all constraints from how you choose to build the game. No longer do you have to funnel players through individual hallways or elevators, you can kind of unshackle a game developer's creativity to create those large living open worlds that players all want to enjoy."
The Xbox Series X – so much of its toolsets and software – has been engineered around the SSD. As a result, I'm told, the solid-state drive has far-reaching implications. It will help unlock richer and more dynamic living worlds. It enables platform features such as Quick Resume, which will enable you to resume a game exactly where you left off across multiple titles. It will help power hardware-accelerated DirectX Raytracing, and ensure that games are able to run a 4K resolution at up to 120 frames-per-second.
We'll likely see this demonstrated, rather than talked about, (I hope) for the first time in titles such as Halo Infinite, Senua's Saga: Hellblade 2, and Everwild in the July showcase. For now, I'll leave you with Jason Ronald's parting words to describe Microsoft's vision for the Future of Gaming with Xbox Series X: "It's really about putting the power in the hands of the player to make sure that they're able to experience those transformative experiences the game developers have created for the Xbox Series X."
If all goes to plan, we won't have long to wait to see and experience it for yourselves.