Why the needless Microsoft Xbox One X could destroy the games industry Posted by Damien Biddulph on Tue 13th Jun 2017
4K, teraflops and all the rest are no replacement for decent games - when is the arms race going to end?
Xbox One X - a sales blag, and nothing more
Microsoft Xbox Scorpio has officially arrived, and it's called the Xbox One X. The XB1X. The XBoneX. XOX. Aww. We love you too.
Logically broken name aside, the Xbox One X led an E3 showing from Microsoft that the company is carefully trumpeting and retrumpeting contained "42 games" for your delectation.
It's just a pity that the vast majority of them have been in the Steam sale for several years already, and show an alarming amount of 16-bit pixel art inspirations that you could easily run on a Sega Mega Drive, never mind something with this many teraflops and zetafans and isotropic giga-terrain system support Mega RAM.
Otherwise, it's mostly more Forza and stuff. I met Dan Greenawalt once and he was very nice, but the man can't half talk about the relationship between tyres and roads. He was going on about Forza being the most physically realistic tyre-road interface in about 2005, and doing it in 3840 x 2160 isn't really going to change much. It's still just Caterhams going round in circles over and over again, you know.
Anyway, apart from cars, more cars and a load of shooting-exoskeleton-in-dystopian worlds-but-now-in-higher-resolution-than-ever games (alright, and Assassin's Creed with a lovely eagle), what really struck me about the yawnsome, nerd tech bragging-rights of the Xbox One X was Microsoft's furore around 4K Minecraft.
Minecraft. A game about forming worlds out of big cubes, with deliberately low-resolution textures on them. A game about the delight of minimalism and the imagination. Now in 4K.
Could there ever be a bigger indicator that this resurgence of the meatheaded specmania has all gone too far? That the absolutely chronic dearth of good ideas (and reliable sales thereof) in the games industry has now reduced console buying to a hyped, iterative, iPhone-like buying cycle where you're effectively buying a new machine just to post photos of its newer, slimmer, flatter, newerness on Twitter, argue needlessly and incessantly about specs with your snorting "PC Master Race" colleagues on Reddit, and basically become a walking, bickering advertisement for a technology company's desperate attempts to stay relevant and profitable in a market of low concept dudebro waffle that's turning no heads?
Filling up the E3 PR gaps for a 4K, hyper-specced console with deliberately low-tech games like Cuphead and Deep Rock Galactic is just absolutely embarrassing and weird, and heavily underlines the disconnect here.
The fact all of this excited big graphics talk also included word that - after clearly finding that compatibility for a slew of Xbox 360 games was a good selling point - Microsoft is now adding back-compat for original Xbox titles, made everything even more ironic.
This new scheme is starting with Crimson Skies: High Road to Revenge - a game that never looked particularly ground-breaking and fantastic even at launch in 2003, but was just a very good arcade-style dogfighting game with a rich universe attached to it.
You don't need a £449 console to play it, but at the same time you'd be hard-pushed to find anything much better in its genre in the 14 years since its release.
The reason? At some point in time, Microsoft forgot it was supposed to be a games publisher as well as a hardware purveyor, and is now fast dragging all its customers into a ridiculous arms race with its rivals at Sony to keep sticking a few more MHz under the hood, an extra letter or two on the name, and less decent games than ever piped down to the television. R&D could easily have gone on a few more Rare games than creating this fancy behemoth that nobody needs.
If this sort of strategy keeps up, Microsoft and Sony could be the two giants who destroy each other, and the console industry. Sony's profits keep dipping - despite the PS4 almost solely sustaining the company in some quarters - and while Microsoft has the cash reserves to keep going, this driving process of keeping-up-with-the-Joneses is coming with an almost total abandomnent of software innovation for both parties.
For those wondering, I still don't like the Nintendo Switch and I still think it's overpriced and balanced awkwardly between home and portable (just look at FIFA 18 and its weird, old, TV-unfriendly engine).
But at least in concepts like ARMS and whatever the new Mario is going to be (probably great - it's Mario!) Nintendo is actually trying to cue up something to make the most of what it's built here.
For the rest of us, it's a couple more years of upscaled cars, guns, cars ‘n' guns before we're told to upgrade to the next level of terafloppage.
And, by god, Microsoft's grinning executives are going to bang that tech drum and make you think you need this thing (and the next thing after it) in your life while it sits on your shelf - like your Xbox One before it - slowly gathering dust once you've posted enough angles of the newest, blackest, blandest box on Instagram, and resumed your neutral nu-gaming position of aimlessly tapping at Clash of Clans in front of Britain's Got Talent.
Any number of metaphors about emperors and clothes or cars without fuel would serve here, but here's the bottom line: the Xbox One has few decent games, and rereleasing it with the capacity for even nicer graphics while still announcing no interesting games to capitalise on those technological gains is a lousy idea, which wastes development cash for Microsoft and punishes the consumer with the delivery of a big, boring box with no toys inside.
Words like "powerful", "immersive", "smoother" and "bigger" are only as good as the games they support, and from where I'm standing, right now, there's nothing out there except finely-rendered 4K tumbleweed.