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Tuesday, December 2, 2014

The Future of Xbox One

It's time for our understatement of the year: the reveal of the next generation Xbox back in May 2013 was not the joyous occasion it could, or should, have been. Instead, it ushered in more PR blunders, negative press and lacklustre convention showings than we care to recall. This wasa time, not so long ago, that we genuinely feared we would be declaring the Xbox One dead on arrival.

But we’ve had the Xbox One in our homes for 12 months now, it has dominated our spare time, won the war for input one and left us questioning what all of the commotion was about to begin with. The Xbox One is cheaper, more versatile, consumer-friendly and game centric than we anticipated. And now? Well, now it’s all about the future. The last generation was the longest in gaming history lasting well over eight years so it should come as no surprise to learn that Microsoft is playing the long game here. What does that entail exactly? Now, that’s the exciting question on all of our minds, isn't it ?


With awesome system updates on the near horizon, rumblings of a VR headset growing stronger every month and an Xbox One-powered holodeck for the living room impressing the pants off us (you can bet your ass we’ll be covering this later in the feature), it’s time to get excited. Oh, and of course, with a line-up of incredible games that will make even the most jaded hardcore gamer weak at the knees, the future of Xbox One is about to blow every pre-conception you may have about the console out of the gaming stratosphere. Microsoft is already making huge changes to the user interface, to Kinect’s integration and to its overall marketing message. The Xbox One is evolving to better serve you rowdy lot, and we’re already starting to see the changes today. The Xbox One has grown significantly, and it doesn't show any sign of slowing down now. It’ll be leaving for big school before we know it.

Lucky for you, we are always thinking about what is next for the platform, and it’s clear what Microsoft is trying to do. The Xbox One is still going for an all-out assault on the living room, but not in the way that we particularly expected it toa year ago. The console has already proved that it has the capacity to rule over the coveted input one slot on the TV, just as it quickly proved that HDMI Pass-Thru and OneGuide was a worthwhile addition to an otherwise core gaming system. The immediate evolution of the console will revolve around simple, but integral, updates to ensuring the longevity of the Xbox One.

That all begins with a massive update to the Apps available on the system. Microsoft already updated its TOS earlier in the year to allow all entertainment services such as Netflix, HBO Go and Hulu Plus to work without an active Gold subscription. The company demonstrated its commitment to becoming an entertainment hub with the shift, though the console is still without major applications to make it the definitive purchase in this respect in fact, it’s still missing a few that the Xbox 360 has had for years. The expected addition of BBC iPlayer, Sky Go and Spotify over the coming months will finally make the Xbox One the unrivalled centre of our entertainment experience.

What’s truly interesting, however, is that there’s been a subtle shift in the company’s priorities of late. Microsoft isn’t content with the Xbox One being an awesome gaming and entertainment hub, it wants your entire life to revolve around interactions with the console. Of course, in this fantasy future, Microsoft is envisioning that we haven't already dumped Kinect in the darkest depths of our cupboards (or left it rotting on a shelf in CEX), but the concept might just be enough to give the troubled peripheral another chance. Windows phones recently saw Cortana Master Chief’s AI compadre from the Halo series become utilised as a Siri-like personal assistant. Phones, tablets and computers now offer a swath of basic day to day information weather, stocks, traffic reports so why doesn't the Xbox One too? Head Of Xbox Phil Spencer sees this as the natural evolution of the platform, “It makes sense that I can get up in the morning and say ‘Xbox, what’s the traffic’ and it brings up something that shows my commute in the morning,” he said in a recent interview. “That all makes sense to me in the long run.”

Not only does the idea of having a conversation with Jen Taylor every morning make us feel like a surrogate Master Chief, but it seems like the natural progression of the Xbox One’s position in the home. Of course, with these sorts of additions, time is the pressing concern and a precious quantity. Microsoft is painfully aware that it needs to keep the focus on the core gaming experience as it rightfully should but that isn’t to say we wouldn't appreciate having another reason to turn on our Xbox One before work. If only Kinect's IR blaster could be used to turn on the kettle… we can dream.

The problem the Xbox One has right now is that it is not equipped to handle new feature sets and Apps. The dashboard is locked down, and that needs to change. Spencer has, again, recently spoken out about how restrictive the UI is, and that we can expect change. Microsoft has done a sterling job at upgrading the system via monthly updates, already improving the Snap, Achievement, Messaging and Friend App integration massively. The next few months will finally see customisable themes and background images join the fray, while Microsoft is looking to bolster its Game DVR functionality with the ability to take in-game screenshots. See, they do listen! Now, if only the Xbox One would run Xbox Music in the background without having to be Snapped in, we’ll be golden.
 “ Microsoft isn't content with the Xbox One being an awesome gaming hub, it wants your entire life to revolve around interactions with the console ”
In streamlining the UI, by making the console the centrepiece of not your living room but your entire daily routine, the Xbox One will be perfectly poised to introduce incredible new technology. The first, and most viable, is the addition of a Virtual Reality headset to the Xbox family. With Facebook’s Oculus Rift steaming towards retail production, and Sony’s Project Morpheus stealing plenty of E3 and Gamescom headlines, Microsoft is undoubtedly playing catch-up here, but the allure of dropping into and being able to interact fully with 3D worlds is surely too great for the Xbox One to ignore entirely. But we aren’t concerned with who makes it to market first. We would rather Microsoft took the time to ensure this isn’t another project with more promise than viable application like the Vision and Kinect cameras have proved to be.

We've heard rumblings of a VR device coming to Xbox for some time now. Way back in 2012 Microsoft filed a range of patents at least a few of which pertained to VR technology but the rumour has only gotten stronger in recent months. In March further patents were discovered for augmented reality glasses for the console, while tech start-up FOVE recently partnered with Microsoft’s Ventures London program. TechRadar has confirmed that Microsoft is looking into providing FOVE with development kits to begin early work on a VR headset with eye-tracking capabilities. Microsoft is
clearly behind Oculus and Sony in the VR race, but Kinect could solve the major problem that both of those devices face: controller input. All we are saying is this: using a VR headset to fully immerse you into the world of Titanfall 2: Fall Harder (TBC, obviously), using your eyes to track enemies, your body to influence movement and Kinect’s support to fire weapons would be awesome.
CORTANA PA
Haven’t you always wanted Cortana to tell you where to get great coffee and what the weather will be like? This is Siri for Windows phones, basically.
Despite seeming a little adventurous for Microsoft, it’s definitely a future that the company is investing its time and money in. Take one look at IllumiRoom, the prototype revealed at last year’s CES that sought to extend games from a TV to the surrounding walls, and how that has evolved into RoomAlive. It’s a full living room take over, a  Star Trek-inspired holodeck for your home. Six Kinect sensors and a projector combine to create an interactive augmented reality experience inside a room. You’d be able to reach out and smash objects in a game, use a light-gun to track and kill enemies from all directions and it’s even smart enough to track multiple gamers at once to render content appropriately for multiplayer.
KINECT
While it isn't required anymore, or even bundled with the console, the Kinect camera is still the easiest way to navigate the Xbox One’s dashboard and applications.
“There’s still lots to explore with RoomAlive as a gaming platform,” explained a Microsoft Research spokesperson. “We envision a future where games can use physical objects as part of the game.” This is a future that’s not coming to us any time soon, admittedly, but it’s an intriguing glimpse into the future of the Xbox One. While it would be far too costly to integrate into homes commercially now, or even in the next few years, this is where Microsoft thinks the future of gaming could lie. Augmented reality is coming, whether it’s being fed directly into your eyes or transforming your living room into an interactive experience.
ROOMALIVE
RoomAlive is an augmented reality experience that transforms a room into an interactive game, but it won’t be commercially available for a while.
The Xbox One is prepared for this future. Small, incremental changes will prepare the console for anything Microsoft could throw at it. The UI design is becoming more streamlined as each month passes by, is this to prepare it for an eye-tracking VR headset? Right now, all we can do is guess and dream. This is the most exciting time to be an Xbox gamer. Sales are on the rise, the price of the console, peripherals and games is lowering. After even just a year, the future is already looking scary, intriguing and goddamn exciting. We can’t wait to see what it holds for the Xbox One.
VR HEADSET
Virtual Reality transports you to a fully rendered 3D world, letting you interact with games in ways you can barely comprehend without trying it for yourself.
MORE STORAGE, FEWER PROBLEMS
The Xbox One’s immediate future is going to see new consoles abandoning the fairly restrictive 500GB hard-drive in favour of a 1 TB drive. The limited edition  Call Of Duty: Advanced Warfare package is the first bundle to include the upgraded space. Perhaps it’s a sign of the sheer amount of DLC coming to the game, or perhaps and more likely it’s an admission from Microsoft that the shift to digital requires more space to hold our Apps and games. Expect to see official Microsoft branded external and internal hard drives coming to retail sooner rather than later.

SMARTGLASS’ EXCITING FUTURE
SmartGlass has quickly become a must-have Xbox One accessory. Running on pretty much any smartphone and tablet on the planet, SmartGlass connects to your Xbox One and lets you interact directly with the system. It was useful in the beginning to quickly type and send messages to friends, but it has evolved significantly in recent months. It can now be used to host the OneGuide, letting you watch TV on your device whilst somebody else in your flat games on the big screen. It’s a smart step, and one that has the potential to rival the Wii U GamePad and PSP Vita.

MOST WANTED
These are the features we're really hoping that we'll see on Xbox One before too long
FAMILY SHARING
This feature was omitted at launch after the internet hate train derailed Microsoft’s original plans for a digital library. We’d love to see it return as Family Sharing would let you designate your favourite few people in the world and give them access to your entire library of digital games. Microsoft’s Head Of Xbox Phil Spencer has spoken out on multiple occasions in the last year to address the request, informing gamers that the company is working to bring it back in some capacity.

TRADE-IN DIGITAL GAMES
Microsoft has already made a massive shift towards an all-digital future. Pre-loading was the latest, letting gamers pre-order and pre-install games to their Xbox Ones ahead of launch. We hope Microsoft continues down this path. While we love the extra space on our shelves, not having any disks to trade in has really hurt our wallets. Trading in digital games would be a great way to encourage us to try new games, not to mention a bit of well-needed positive PR.

GAME STREAMING
Hard drive space is a concern on Xbox One. As great as it is that Microsoft is letting us upgrade the drives ourselves, we’d much rather avoid deleting games altogether and just stream them from the Azure Cloud servers. With Sony making moves into this territory with PlayStation Now coming out of beta on PS3 recently it makes sense that Microsoft would eventually follow suit. Internet speeds
aren't up to the job just yet, but this is something we expect to see in the future.

BACKWARDS COMPATIBILITY
It’s rare that we want to go back and play Xbox or Xbox 360 games these days, but if the Xbox One really wants to be the centre of our lives, it needs to offer us access to our purchased content whenever we want it. Old games could be streamed from the Azure Cloud servers, meaning our huge XBLA library isn’t left gathering virtual dust. Though Microsoft will need to release an adapter for the crazy-huge 50-button Steel Battalion controller for us to be truly happy!

BLOCKBUSTER GAMES ON THE HORIZON
Xbox One is all about the games, and these six are definitely going to dominate your free time
The first year of gaming on the Xbox One has been nothing short of incredible. With exclusives like Titanfall, Dead Rising 3, Dance Central: Spotlight, Ryse: Son Of Rome and Forza Horizon 2 not to mention third-party releases like  Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes, Minecraft and Super Time Force, there really has been something for everybody to enjoy. Xbox consoles have always been wholly dedicated to the hardcore, but the last 12 months have proved that the Xbox One is capable of entertaining more than just that.

There’s no sign of this slowing down as we move into 2015. While there are sequels to Titanfall and Forza Motorsport 5 expected, they remain unconfirmed. But there is still plenty to get excited about, these six titles represent some of the biggest and brightest new experiences coming to the Xbox One platform, and while not all of them are exclusive, they will be available to enjoy from day one. It’s games like these that highlight Microsoft’s commitment to gaming in the next-generation. In hindsight, it’s funny to think we once thought the company was making non-gaming entertainment its priority.

GEARS OF WAR
Black Tusk won’t be delivering a full reboot of the  Gears Of War  franchise. At least, that’s what Phil Spencer recently implied. Instead, we should expect Gears Of War on Xbox One to return to its roots: epic-scale battles, a dark atmosphere and a renewed focus on the people caught in the middle of a desperate war for survival. It won’t likely arrive until 2016, but it’s destined to be a system-seller.

RISE OF THE TOMB RAIDER
Lara Croft’s next adventure is exclusive to Xbox. We never thought we’d be saying those words. That’s right, the sequel to 2013’s  Tomb Raider is making its way to Xbox One in 2015, and it’s promising to be a grander adventure in every sense of the word. The focus is back onto, you know, raiding tombs. A must-have feature when it comes to gaming’s most famous archaeologist.

MGS V: THE PHANTOM PAIN
Metal Gear Solid continues to look like the most ambitious game on Xbox One. We've learnt not to underestimate Hideo Kojima, but  The Phantom Pain is looking bolder than we ever imagined it could be. Big Boss will emerge from a coma to find his PMC empire burnt to the ground; which gives us ample opportunity to stalk open-world playgrounds in search of new glories.

HALO 5: GUARDIANS
Following the events of Halo 4 , Cortana is M.I.A and Chief is questioning his place in the only home he’s ever known, the UNSC. Agent Locke a new Spartan V will be charged with hunting down John-117 across the galaxy as a new playable character. Can Locke reach Chief before he meets up with Dr. Halsey and the Covenant? We’ll have to wait until Q3 2015 to find out for certain.

TOM CLANCY’S: THE DIVISION
We are putting a lot of faith in The Division. It’s dropping us into NYC in the days following a deadly bio attack. It’s tasking us with cleaning up the streets of the five boroughs as violent gangs run wild. Friends will join you co-op is optional, but advised and success is not guaranteed. The Division takes cues from every open-world Ubisoft game made to date, and it could be incredible.

THE WITCHER 3: WILD HUNT
Dragon Age: Inquisition might be here already, but  The Witcher 3 continues to look like the first truly next-gen RPG on Xbox One. From its insanely impressive open world apparently 20% larger than Skyrim’s to its intuitive combat systems, Wild Hunt never fails to impress. As long as the gameplay can match its beauty, The Witcher 3 will be an early contender for GOTY.

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