I first started writing about the 'coming soon' Xbox 720 way back in 2008 if my memory serves me well. Every now and then another rumour emerges, supposedly from 'a reliable source within Microsoft' and confirming that the release date has been fixed or announcing the final hardware specification for the latest next-gen-next-gen games console. So far, all of those dates have passed and none of those hardware details have proved to be anything other then specification speculation syndrome.
So why should this story be any different? Good question, and one that I have to admit I cannot answer with any guaranteed authority. I don't work for Microsoft and I don't have any insider contacts within the Xbox division either. However, there has been a persistent rumour for the last year or so that the Xbox 720 will be released in time for the 2013 seasonal rush - which means it should be on the streets sometime around the end of October or start of November 2013. What makes me think that this date isn't just more smoke and mirrors to hide the fact that Microsoft is considered by many to be a spent force in the gaming world, sitting on its laurels with the Xbox 360 and Kinect? Actually, it's a who and a what: the who is known only as DaE and the what is claimed to be a prototype Xbox 720 developer kit.
Over the weekend this user posted images of what he claims is the 'Durango' Xbox 720 development kit to a developer forum, with a price tag of $10,000 if anyone wanted to buy it. At first glance, the device seemed pretty unlikely to be anything close to an Xbox prototype. Indeed, it looked more like a crudely built tower PC with some bog-standard debugging software. But then a funny thing happened, respected games industry journalists started doing some digging and, after talking to both 'DaE' and a bunch of Xbox platform games developers, proclaimed it as being the real deal; alpha hardware for next-gen games developer use. The original posting on that developer forum has vanished, but you can see the hardware photos here as well as a screenshot of Visual Studio supposedly in Durango mode.
If this does, as looks possible, turn out to be true then the Xbox 720, which some have already claimed will be sold as the Xbox Infinity (mainly thanks to Microsoft capturing the Xbox8.com domain) as Durango is just the internal codename, looks like having an eight-core CPU, Blu-ray and native 1080p 3D output. There's still no word on what the final Xbox Infinity will look like, if that's what it ends up being called, but a quick search for Xbox 720 on Google images sure shows up plenty of speculative options.
What do the games developers on DaniWeb make of the Durango prototype pictures, and that Visual Studio screen? Do you think this is the real deal and will you be developing for the Xbox 720?
Without a doubt I do beleive Microsoft is working very hard to bring their next generation product into furution. And I beleive somewhere someone has a working prototype of the system. Do I beleive those images are real? I honestly dont know, but I wouldnt be shocked if it was. I believe its very possible for it to have 6-8 cores. However what really interests me is how many ghz those cores will run out and more importantly what kind of GPU if any the system will carry. (Hopefully a top end purpose built card from Nvidia). But to me what's most important is how long can it hold its own agianst top end pc's before its considered "obsolete" and left in the dust. I feel thats been the one problem for consoles for the last 34 years. They fall behind a little less then a year after their release. Sure Microsoft will probably announce a new and improoved kinect 2 sensor, some nice editions to its streaming media service, and some neat games. One of which im sure will ryhme with mall of booty. But what im looking to see is how concerned Microsoft is with future proofing their system. Im almost positive at the very least Microsft will make sure Sony doesnt have a system that from a technical perspective that will them out of the water. But what Microsoft needs to do to proove to me they are back on their A-Game is to put out hardware that will rival top end computers for the next 5 years at least. Also not to mention Microsoft will need a far stronger line up of new fresh first party ip's (not on arcade and not with kinect).
The last 4 years the amount of trash that has come out for the 360 and how quickly the graphics became dated have been pushing me more and more to jump back into hardcore pc games. And to say the least its becoming more enticing to spend 1500 dollars on a rig and just playing free to play games online. Those games are getting better and better.
Hopefully my prayers will be answered...
I certainly think there will be a GPU in the system. That would strike me as a huge blunder if they didn't put in a dedicated GPU. I think discussing "obsolete" is a little unrealistic. It's literally not possible for anyone to build a system today that can stand strong against the most powerful systems of 5 years from now. Consoles always have and always will release a product that is not even as strong as the strongest PCs on the day that the console hits stores. But like you pointed out soapyillusion, it's been that way for 34 years and the importance of consoles in gaming has grown and grown despite that being the case. (We're now at a point where it's frequent for big publishers to make a game for the console and then port it to the PC.. I feel like it's the PC market/audience that has something to prove here, not the console market anymore; their approached worked.. and quite frankly both of them need to come up with something fresh to stay relevant against the web and mobile gaming segments)
I feel like first party games are nice plusses but that we're getting to the point where they don't sell the consoles anymore. I think the big 3rd party publishers put out the games that move systems en masse. So making sure that the new Madden from EA is looking good and showing off your new graphical capabilities; Getting whatever Call of Duty game that will launch in November 2013 onto your console during that initial launch period; having whatever Rockstar is putting together after GTA V on your console; If Blizzard takes Diablo 3 to consoles, making sure it's for your console or backwards compatible so your early adopters can play (maybe even with graphical enhancements or something); Metal Gear Solid, Final Fantasy, Mass Effect, etc, etc. And then from there I think when Halo 5 and the next Gears of War games drop, they're icing on the cake.
Everyone, including Microsoft, seem to be willing to openly acknowledge that this will be the last generation of consoles as we've known them. Then things will likely head cloud-ward and maybe somebody (perhaps a certain fruit-named company who's doing well in mobile and allegedly entering the tv market soon) will have put together a simple system for taking all of these mobile games (phone and tablet) and making them enjoyable on the big screen tv as a group of friends gathers to play.
As for developing for the 720/Infinity, I think to make me excited to go be an indie developer for the console, Microsoft will need to do a much better job of presenting the indie marketplace and making it easier for the game to be discovered than they did with XBox Live Indie Games on the 360. As a positive, if they have an indie developer initiative, that means XNA version whatever could be seeing some support for DX 11. So that's cool; even if you just use it to develop for the PC.
@soapyillusion Yes, those free to play games and browser based games are constantly becoming more and more astonishing. And it seems every MMO whose name doesn't rhyme with Lord of More Raft is going f2p after launching subscription based (Star Wars: The Old Republic is supposed to be headed there this month). And on top of that more serious players are launching f2p titles from storied franchises (Age of Empires, Quake, Tribes).
Holy wall of text. My bad. It just kept going and going...
I do agree with almost everything you posted Locke, especially on the accounts of things headed cloud based. I could even see Microsoft cutting their looses on new tech by making xbox live more like onLive, and allowing people to play any game in the xbox library they want on their system as a client. And the suscriber just has to pay 20 or so more dollars a month more then they do for the current "gold" suscription. (Although I doubt it cause they dont want to piss off mr wal-mart or mr gamestop). Even so with the games (although I feel having these games and making them that much better then what the competition has makes things that much more compelling.
The onething I'd have a slight arguement on the matter of future proofing. It by no means would be easy.... or cheap but it is doable. Creating propritary tech specifically built for your machine. Hardware specifically designed to run on your consoles propritary operating system. You could have CPUS running that much faster then anything out on pc currently and for that matter possibly for years to come. (Especially if you patten the tech). Now by no means even going this far would guarantee the system strength in the long haul.
However the real question is would Microsoft or any other company for that matter actually take the financial risk to do this? And my honest gut answer is no. Realistically it seems the next xbox is going to sport windows 8 (a horrible Idea in my opinion), in fact the way microsoft has been shoving the terms "intergration" and "cross-device functionality" I'd almost put money on it.
But going this far I feel from a company standpoint I think Microsoft will become less and less involved with the actual development of the games. Hell id even say its very possible the next xbox wont be that great of a step up from 360. Rather they spent all there time putting in more and more "non-game assets" to the system they feel will help sell it better to the general public.
But this is all mere speculation and Ill stop before this becomes a full blown rant :-P
I think, perhaps even fear, that you're spot on about the integration coming down the pipe. XBox's current interface already looks and feels quite Metro (or whatever name that styling ends up being called). We'll probably be flicking videos from our Windows Phones and tablets up to the big screen via a bluetooth-like connection with the Inifinity.
That focus on the general (non-gaming) public will probably have a big emphasis like you described. With Netflix, Hulu Plus, ESPN, YouTube and Amazon having apps on the 360 and the XBox (or is it still named Zune?) Marketplace offering up digital movies as well as rentals, they've got enough to keep me entertained for quite some time.
I do agree with that argument you put up! If a console maker were willing to work out a deal (pronounced pay a boatload of money) to patent the tech that comes out of a partnership with hardware developers, that would enable them to take the power edge for a couple-few years. I figured that since none have been so bold as to try before, they probably wouldn't try now, in the last era of consoles.
As for those likely cloud-type devices, I will be interested to see what the big guns have in store when they get into that arena. Existing and upcoming options like OnLive and Ouya are interesting, but I think when one of these bigger companies that has some experience in designing our living room systems comes into the game, we might see something quite awesome. Or I'm just hoping it'll turn out that way... and think lots of people owning those kinds of machines would lead to fiber optic speed internet coming to my area faster. Yeah, maybe it's that. :)
I agree with you 100 percent. Microsoft needs to add incentive and bring a little more attention to the indie marketplace. I think a huge help would be to allow developers to add games for free and not have to charge for them. I feel too many people dont think these games are worth paying for. And dont get me wrong I understand how hard it is to develop a game. Especially when your only a one man or girl team. (And that one man or girl is no artist :-P). I think if they could allow that more people would download the full versions of these games. And give a chance for these games to get more exposure.
And yes the major problem for these streaming game services is the lack of big publisher support. At best they get the best games for 4 years ago that everyone already bought on release day. It would make for a major turn arround.
But here is me hoping some of our wishes come true and hopefully they are a few people still working at the xbox development team that know what true gamers want, and wont just give us windows 8 for our tv (gawk) X(.
Just to add some closure to the topic the "Durango" Developer kit was sold for 20,000 dollars on ebay. Lets just see if its real or someone just bought the worlds most expensive paper weight....
I went to the microsoft campus in the UK a couple years ago (2009), the entertainment divison was particually intrested in developing applications for the amount of cores you specified!
Elsewhere on campus they were intrested in 16-32 cores!! I can't wait for the future....