The lights are on
At its E3 2016 press conference, Microsoft attempted to reset the console conversation by announcing its next console. Scorpio is coming in approximately 15 months, and we learned a few more details about what to expect.
When Microsoft released the Xbox One, the console had only been formally unveiled for six months. Scorpio will come with a longer lead, in part to give developers more time to prepare.
"We want to talk about Scorpio now to give game developers the heads-up," Microsoft Studios general manager Shannon Loftis told us. "Games that are shipping now can do a couple of small things to give us a free upgrade when Scorpio comes out. If you implement dynamic scaling now, it will just look better on Scorpio. The other thing is to signal to all game developers that true 4K gaming is coming. Typically what happens is almost every game is created in natively 4K or better and then you downsample to fit the specs of the output device. There won't be any downsampling for Xbox Scorpio."
While resolution will most certainly be higher on Scorpio, we can't report the same for frame rate. Loftis says that developers will continue to choose frame rate to fit their gameplay design, and that might not be unlocked or even 60 frames per second. We asked specifically whether there will be different frame rates for the same game running on Xbox One and Scorpio. "No, there wouldn't be a frame rate difference, because typically the frame rate is determined by the game developer and what's right for the gameplay mechanic," Loftis explains. "You don't necessarily want to create two different mechanics for two different configurations."
We asked about what happens when Xbox One games are only capable of sub-60 frame performance and whether Scorpio would be pinned to the lower spec in that regard. "Typically, yes. A good example is Killer Instinct, which is cross-play on PC and Xbox One. We have locked the frame rate to 60 frames per second," Loftis says. "We could do better on super high end PCs, but that ruins the competitive nature of it."
There is good news, though. One of our concerns was that there might not be full feature parity between games running on Xbox One and Scorpio. Loftis says that it won't be an issue, because there is no such thing as a "Scorpio game."
"We don't really think of games as 'Scorpio games' per se," she says. "We think of them as Xbox One games that may take advantage of the 4K rendering abilities of Scorpio. If you put a 4K game in a non-4K box it's going to render at 1080p. It will still look beautiful. Same with HDR. That will all work correctly."
As you might expect, Microsoft isn't talking about price yet. Though we asked if Microsoft thought players could expect the familiar $400 to $500 launch price or if the Scorpio is a more premium item. "We're not talking about price right now, but it is a more premium piece of hardware," Loftis says.
Part of that premium is that Scorpio will support virtual reality. We don't know which formats at this time, as Microsoft doesn't have anything to announce. However, we did inquire about Microsoft's previous stance that VR wasn't a great fit for the living room. That hasn't entirely changed.
"It's hard to see VR being a living room activity on a mass scale, because it's not particularly social," Loftis explains. "It's incredible as an experience. Development partners, developers, and gamers told us they want to have at least the capability of VR. When the time and place is right for VR to go more social and more mass, Scorpio will be there and ready for it."