Xbox executive Mike Nichols on Microsoft's new superconsole: Xbox One X

Xbox Head of Marketing Mike Nichols was involved in the development of the Xbox One X from the early days of Project Scorpio.

Xbox Head of Marketing Mike Nichols was involved in the development of the Xbox One X from the early days of Project Scorpio.

When Microsoft finally unveiled the console formerly known as Project Scorpio at its annual E3 media briefing in Los Angeles, the company was keen to brand the Xbox One X as "the world's most powerful console".

Those five words must have been repeated 100 times during the duration of the conference, and after teasing the public with the biggest array of games ever revealed at an Xbox E3 event, the next step was the charm offensive.

The full team of Xbox executives, designers and developers were wheeled out to meet the media at a special event at Los Angeles' Galen Centre on Tuesday (NZ Time). Stuff was lucky enough to get some one-on-one time with Xbox Head of Marketing Mike Nichols, and he talked us through how the company's new machine came together.

Xbox chief executive ran the show at Microsoft's E3 briefing, introducing a new console, 42 games, and 22 Xbox exclusives.

Xbox chief executive ran the show at Microsoft's E3 briefing, introducing a new console, 42 games, and 22 Xbox exclusives.

Congratulations on the show yesterday, the big reveal has made headlines around the world and the reaction seems to have been pretty positive so far. What's been the feeling about how it went internally?

We feel really good, we're proud of our plan so first of all, it was nice to see that people reacted so well to it. We tried a couple of different things this year compared to prior E3s.

Firstly, rather than just focusing on our most popular brands and well-known games, we tried to include an eclectic range of titles that we wanted to share. Games from developers large and small, all different kinds of genres and most of them will be shipping in the next 12 months.

So we didn't have some of the big traditional franchises; we tried to pick some hidden gems and the reaction to that has been really good, for the most part.

The second thing we did was let people know that the other big cross-platform blockbusters they'll see at E3 this year are going to run best on this new Xbox One X console that we introduced. 

We wouldn't usually start with the whole 3-5 minute "let me tell you about the tech specs" presentation but with all the care and craftsmanship that went into this thing and because we felt that it is such a leap forward, we wanted to explain why it's going to make games look so much better. And then that allowed us to get into the games for the rest of the show. 

The Xbox One X runs at 6 teraflops, making it the world's most powerful gaming machine by some margin.

The Xbox One X runs at 6 teraflops, making it the world's most powerful gaming machine by some margin.

For the past year we've known about this mysterious "Project Scorpio" which we now know is called the Xbox One X. Talk us through how the idea for the new console came about.

I just feel very fortunate to have been around when we were evaluating whether we really wanted to make this bet on something we hadn't done before, which was to do what some people are calling a mid-generation console update that was meaningfully different.

What was really driving us at the time were three things. One: we wanted to deliver a level of power and performance that console players have never seen before. We pegged the specifications at a level that we needed to deliver true 4k gaming at up to 60 frames per second.

In order to do that, you need a certain amount of graphical processing power - 6 teraflops. You need a certain amount of memory in the system for developers to take advantage of and I think we've over-delivered on that with 12 gigabytes of it. 

The power is 40 per cent higher than the next highest console [Sony's PlayStation 4 Pro], the system memory is 60 per cent higher. So we thought that's what we're going to spec the system to deliver true 4K gaming.

But we didn't really stop there because we know that the bulk of gamers out there don't have 4K televisions, they have 1080p televisions, and will continue to for some time. We really wanted the device to appeal to them too so we introduced a technique called supersampling that uses all this power and performance to make games on a 1080p TV look even better.

We had the 4k resolution but we knew the smoothness and 60fps was the next major milestone that gamers were really going to appreciate and many of them will have televisions that can display that in its full glory. 

As well as power, we also wanted to bring compatibility. One of the things that's different here is that we have a new generation level of technical innovation while at the same time being compatible with everything you already own.

That;s why we called it the Xbox One X; so if you go into a store and see something with Xbox One on it, you know it will work on any of these devices, but of course it will run best on the Xbox One X.

[Xbox chief] Phil Spencer was keen to emphasise that all these new games will still be fully compatible with the base-level Xbox. Do you think there's a danger that will hold developers back in what they might be able to do with this new console?

Well, there's two things there. Firstly, what we wanted to do was give gamers some choice; If you want the most inexpensive way to enjoy the latest console games then great, we've got amazing value for you with the Xbox One S.

But if you want to experience true 4k gaming or supersampled gaming on a 1080p device, the new console will enable that. 

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The choice basically comes down to how much you're interested in gaming and how much you're willing to invest. That's a choice we want to give customers rather than making it for them. 

The second thing is Microsoft as a PC company has a lot of experience in making games for that plaform too.

Now PCs have many, many configurations and the techniques that developers can use to take advantage of that whatever the local hardware is, we felt we could learn from that and apply that to consoles.

So many of the major gaming franchises are available on PC as well, these game developers are used to techniques like dynamic resolution and variable processing power. So we don't have to worry about different versions of the games depending on the specifications any more

The early response from developers and partners has been fantastic. We've had numerous stories of teams getting a development kit and within 24 hours they're up at true 4K quality - and that's with room to spare to do all the fine tuning.

It's being pitched as "The world's most powerful console" for obvious reasons. How difficult was it to balance squeezing all that performance in there with getting it to a price people could afford?

The first thing we did was decide what level of tech breakthrough did we want to deliver. What's it going to cost to make that and how are we going to get the price down as much as possible?

But we started with delivering that real leap in terms of performance and then worried about the cost afterwards. 

Until the Xbox One X it's been the case that you'd be spending thousands of dollars, not hundreds, to get this kind of performance, so launching at US$499 (NZ$749) is huge, and we think people are going to feel great about their purchase.

One thing that Xbox hasn't got involved with so far is virtual reality. This new machine is obviously capable of running something like the Oculus Rift. Do you think we'll see VR on the Xbox One X at some point?

Well our focus as a company on virtual reality, and I'm speaking in terms of Microsoft here, is really on Windows PCs. We've recently announced Windows mixed reality headsets in addition to things like Oculus, Vive and the like.

We think that Windows and the PC is the best platform for that.  We have several projects in development in that take advantage of mixed reality, it's just that PC is where we're focused when it comes to those titles.

 

 

 

 - Stuff

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