The more we hear about the Xbox One’s upcoming Scorpio update, the more it sounds like Microsoft’s effort to upend the idea of distinct console generations completely. The Xbox One ecosystem seems to be morphing into a PC-like space where one piece of software can run at different levels of detail depending on the power (and price) of the hardware it’s running on.
In an in-depth interview with Gamasutra published today, Microsoft’s Phil Spencer gave some strong indications that Microsoft is headed in this direction with the Xbox platform. Spencer cited games like Destiny, Call of Duty, Minecraft, and GTA V to highlight how the biggest titles are starting to maintain their popularity across hardware updates and how Xbox needs to accommodate that.
“So from a development platform, we needed to think about our hardware as multi-generational,” he said. “Because we said, ‘OK, there’s gonna be games that are going to live multiple generations. And our software platform really has to service a developer’s need to service an ongoing set of users.’ As much as it has to serve, you know, how do I get a disc done?”
Spencer also specifically called out PC gaming’s existing penchant for releasing games with minimum and recommended configurations and how that could be easily transferable to Xbox. “The engines that are out there, the asset library handlers that are out there, understand how to have multiple LODs [levels of detail]. They understand how to deal with multiple asset bases and multiple rendering targets. So we’re not holding anybody back [with Scorpio].”
In the near-term, Spencer noted that Microsoft isn’t mandating that developers do “Scorpio-specific work” to take advantage of the more powerful hardware. That said, he noted that many PC developers are already building games to target 4K resolutions at the high end. “So if you’ve got a 4K version of your game on PC, we want to make moving that, those assets, and that capability over to Scorpio seamless for you.”
Beyond that, though, Spencer said many of Microsoft’s existing first-party games have already been built with future hardware in mind. He called out Halo 5‘s dynamic resolution scaling and recent 4K capable PC games in the Gears of War and Forza Motorsport series as examples of titles that should scale up easily on the Scorpio hardware.
That kind of cross-generational software compatibility and improvement is something Spencer called out a few times in the interview. He said he likes that his current PC can “still go boot up Age of Empires 2 and I can go play that game,” something that’s often more difficult to do on consoles. “There are advantages to the console generations, but I wanted to try to evolve our capability to kind of have the best of both. Old games that work well, new games that are innovative, and hardware platforms that could scale.”
Spencer also highlighted how Xbox 360 classic Red Dead Redemption started selling again when it was recently added to the Xbox One’s backward compatibility program. “And when developers see that, they say, ‘OK, there can be a new beat for my game, when it comes out and it’s running at a native 4K on Scorpio, it’s going to bring a new set of interest in my game, that people want to go see it.'”
Gamasutra’s full interview is well worth a read to get a feel for what Microsoft has planned for the future of the Xbox platform as well as tidbits about the company’s VR plans, Spencer’s thoughts on the Nintendo Switch, and the potential for a portable Xbox or low-powered “Xbox stick.” Gamasutra also has a deep dive into the Scorpio technology that expands a bit on last week’s reveal with the first look at the system’s dev kit.