Microsoft's X Box Feature
Microsoft's X Box
Update on July 8, 2000
As I undergo another day of X Box information, I decided to go with a more visual approach to the system rather than just a bunch of words. I have scoured the net in order to bring you the best information along with screenshots as well as new videos for your viewing pleasure. Without further rambling, lets get on to Part 2.
At E3 (Electronic Entertainment Expo) this past May, Microsoft unveiled a bunch of new demos that show the X Box's power. While there was nothing that involved racing games, I decided to look at how racing games might be like on the X Box. Below there will be different sections dedicated to the different demos. You can either choose to download some pictures or some movies of the certain demos in action. After viewing them you can read my thoughts as to how this demo displays an important feature that companies can utilize to create more detailed and accurate racers.
Great demo. Anyway, what this shows is the X Box's pure graphical power. By processing 150 MILLION pixels a second, the X Box out-powers the next-generation console, Playstation 2, by almost 3 times! What can this do for racing games you ask. Well, for one, it can obviously create some kick ass rides that run at smooth, non-flickering rate. Also the automobiles will now be able to be created with many more pixels offering up nice, smooth curves along with out-of-this-world detail.
|Robot/Girl Dance Demo|
What absolutely appalls me is when I come across a game that provides great gameplay but lacks the decent backgrounds and scenes. By showing a woman, dancing like it was her job, moving in extremely life-like manners, shows how the X Box can create believable crowds. No more of this 2D textures that are supposed to represent, what I'm guessing to be, a bunch of people's heads. Now each character can have his or her own mannerisms as well as being completely unique from a crowd of 10,000. Also, if they can get a robot and a women to move like that, just imagine the possibilities of backgrounds in games that pertain not to serious oval racing but to fun cart racing. Dinosaurs walking, birds flying, and fictional beasts can all look more life-like and move in a more fluent manner.
This demo was extremely boring but it did show off some really interesting features that the X Box could provide for simulation racers. First of all, the basic effect of sparks was incredible. It showed a continuous stream of sparks protruding from the ground like a small volcanic eruption. But, in the racing world, that same effect could be used to show collision between two surfaces. That spark would be good for a nice kiss off turn 3's wall or between your bumper and your opponent's passenger side door. More elaborate sparks could be created if the car goes careening into a wall, perhaps, or meeting a car head-on while going in the opposite direction during a NASCAR game (I know you all do it!).
Thanks to IGN.com
Also, the ability to change the different shade of color provides for extended abilities. Shrapnel and flying debris from a recent crash will be more realistic with pieces that actually dislodge from the body. These can be in all sorts of sizes and still be pulled off with incredible detail.
Finally, these sparks would make great weather effects like lightning striking trees and throwing their glowing embers towards the track or as snow and wind effects. As the wind picks up to hurricane-like, trees and other large objects could be thrown all over the place offering up their own spark show to the eye!
Besides being an extremely weird movie, the Ping Pong demo that Microsoft showed at E3 shows incredible promise. By portraying a bouncing ping pong ball slowly starting a huge chain reaction is not only a neat effect but it shows excellent physics models. I am sure you can already tell what kind of feature this adds to racing games. You guessed it, better physics engines. By having an infinite number of different physic models performing at the same time, in the ping pong demo, tells me that there could in turn be plenty of racers on the screen at one time. Also, the physics engine can be more realistic and sophisticated rather than some loose, weak engine that we have seen in previous installments of games.
|Ping Pong Demo|
By displaying a room full of mousetraps with ping pong balls ready to launch at the slightest touch is mesmerizing. Just the shear activity that is present on the screen after many of the balls are up bouncing around. What if the wind was picked up a notch? Would the balls be shot off in a different fashion? That was never explained but if that was a possibility that could change what happened, then we are looking at the true future.
Finally, by having hundreds of ping pong balls in a room, each with its own basic identity and physics engine, would they be customizable? A racing simulation would have a ton of strategy if the physics engine were so detailed that each minor change made a huge difference!
Most games today have the most unintelligent computer AI the world has ever seen. Some racers try to cover their mistakes up by just saying to the computer, "Just get in the way of the player-controlled car." It is almost ridiculous how stupid AI reacts in certain situations. In Driver, for example, it took the pedestrians an hour to change lanes. That's not how actual people think and react. Another situation is when you are in the heat of a race and the computer drone just sticks in front of you and moves with you as you move side to side. Come on, get real. But, the X Box's sweet demo showed some great Artificial Intelligence. For example, some of the butterflies are up flying around and some take a breather. Then again, some are landing on certain lily pads while others mill around admiring their reflection. They all are not doing the same damn thing, which is great! Also, when they all come together to form the "X BOX" letters in the beginning shows that formations etc. can be easily done. Not only does this demo show great AI but it also shows great graphics, as explained earlier, and some great effects. The water at the bottom of the area shows some great reflections, although they are a little pixilated.
This one I cannot really comment on only because I was not able to see a complete movie of it, just pictures. But it seems like it just features a lot of the same stuff mentioned above like graphics, physics, and nice effects.
Microsoft has a long road ahead of them. They have the nice hardware piece but a lot of things are working against them, like the fact that they are a new company. Also, they need to get a lot of the powerhouse developers to back the system so they have a strong showing when it first shows up. Even while having almost a year and a half till launch in the United States, Microsoft needs to get its act together if it hopes on surviving the console wars that are already heating up as we speak. Can the X Box survive? From the looks of it, I think hell yeah!!!
Update on July 7, 2000
The Nintendo 64 has been around since Semptember of 1996. Although it only had two games at launch it still was a big hit. While it was hyped almost two years in advance, the Nintendo 64 had such a strong showing for just one reason--Nintendo's history. By being the very first home console that provided people with endless hours of entertainment, Nintendo made a mark for itself in history. So, when people saw that Nintendo had a new system coming out they went bananas trying to get their hands on it. The launch games could have sucked but there would have been a strong showing behind them. If Nintendo hadn't of had all that publicity and history behind it it might not have reaped the rewards that it did. I'll be the first to tell you that the Nintendo 64 is not that great of a system, especially towards us racing fans. Not one GREAT racing title has hit our hands yet. Anyway, my point is is that console manufacturers have to have a nice history of solid gaming behind them in order to succeed. With Microsoft entering into the already crowded console industry, one has to wonder whether or not they will survive with the giants of Sony, Nintendo, and Sega bearing down upon them.
Since this is their first shot at the console markert, Microsoft has to use their knowledge of PC game development one step further. Ask anyone and they will tell you that there is a huge difference between video games on consoles and video games on the PC. For one, PC games usually have more advanced options and gameplay advantages. For instance, the ability to play over the Internet on a console is no where near the PC's ability. Sega is attempting to utilize the Internet but nothing has shown yet. Also, more and more PC games are coming out that contain more options then a console game. A majority of console games utilize a pick-up-and-play mentality. There is really not a whole lot of detailed manuals and user's guides, plus most can be played without a whole lot of thought. But the PC, however, seems to display a more learn-before-playing mentality. In other words, after buying the game one has to read the manual to get a better understanding as to what the different key functions are and the basic story behind the game. It is going to be quite a jump for Microsoft to make from PC to console.
Finally, another thing Microsoft needs to keep in mind is that many people do not use keyboards to play video games on the different consoles. Many controllers today for the different consoles consist of no more than fifteen fuctions. The keyboard, on the other hand, consists of over 100 different keys (Yes, I have to admit I counted each of my computers keys to figure that out, thank you very much). What will be interesting to see is how Microsoft will handle this. Today, the big M has many peripherals that it has made for the computer. Gamepads, Steering Wheels, and Joysticks have all been created by Microsoft for gaming PCs. Rumor has it that they will be using a new style of the SideWinder for the X Box's controller. I guess we all just have to wait.
Here is the complete list of features that the X Box has...
The "X" Box
- DirectX API game development tools
- Intel Pentium III processor technology with Streaming SIMD Extensions
- Custom 3-D NVIDIA graphics processor
- 64 MB of RAM (unified memory architecture)
- Custom 3-D audio processor
- 8GB hard drive
- 4X DVD drive with movie playback
- Four game controller ports
- Expansion port
- Proprietary A/V connector
- 100 MBps Ethernet
- 300 million micropolygons/particles per second
- 150 million transformed and lit polygons per second
- 100+ million polygons per second sustained performance (shading, texturing)
- 4 simultaneous textures
- Compressed textures available at 8:1 compression
- Full-scene anti-aliasing
- DVD movie playback
- 1920x1080 maximum resolution
- HDTV support
- 64 Audio channels
- 3-D Audio support
- Midi/DLS2 support
- AC3 encoded game audio
If you do not think that is power, then I do not know what is. Basically, the X Box is about 2-3 TIMES more powerful then some of the next generation consoles not released yet. The Playstation 2 cannot even hold a candle to its raw power. Anyway, what I like about the X Box so far is that it will already be able to host a four player party on some of the games. That is what the Dreamcast and Nintendo 64 have placed on their system, the four controller ports, and it worked out great for them. Also, I like the DVD add-on. For those of us who have held off on buying one of the new DVD players, Microsoft has done the job for us. But that, of course, will hike up the price. Unlike the Dreamcast, the X Box will not be released with a modem. But Microsoft has almost a year and a half to decide whether or not to add a modem on there. It would be helpful to add one just because buying more for the system later. Also, Nintendo promised a 64DD but that never came.
One way Microsoft is bridging the gap between PC and console game playing is by creating a console that contains a hard drive. On top of that, the hard drive is 8 GB! Just think of the possibilities of an 8 GB hard drive. Obviously Microsoft is going to have an operating system on the X Box, like Windows. People can go in there, maintain the different files, as well as hold downloaded files, maybe.
This is the end of Part 1, check back tomorrow for the second part which includes screenshots and movies of different demos that Microsoft used at E3 (Electronic Entertainment Expo)