The "Xbox Cloud" is one of those aspects of next-gen that's still somewhat shrouded in mystery -- and which, if recent reports are to be believed, may cause problems for a few games if not implemented correctly.
iGameResponsibly reports that, speaking as part of a GDC Next presentation yesterday, Xbox Live program manager John Bruno gave some details on how the enigmatic "cloud" would be implemented -- including a few troublesome aspects that are going to have to be ironed out if games want to rely on it in any capacity.
Bruno admitted that the cloud functionality -- "Xbox Live Compute" or "XBLC" as it's officially known -- had been something of a hard sell to many developers, with Ubisoft proving particularly resistant to the idea of using the repurposed Windows Azure-based tech for games. Titanfall developer Respawn, meanwhile, was apparently much more receptive to the idea, believing that Xbox Live Compute would be an ideal solution for offloading processor-intensive tasks such as artificial intelligence routines for non-player characters. Great -- so long as you have a stable Internet connection, obviously.
There's a small problem, though.
You know how Windows' default behavior occasionally causes it to shut down and reboot itself with relatively little warning in order to perform updates? Well, if Bruno is to be believed, it seems that the Xbox Live Compute servers will have to do that every so often -- "rather frequently, actually," in his words. This will happen regardless of whether or not any code is running on the physical machines powering the Xbox Live Compute systems, and Bruno admits, in something of an understatement, that this is "problematic" for games. He does, however, note that the team has "worked very hard to overcome that," but doesn't make any promises as to its reliability. Way to have faith in your own system, Mr Bruno.
This obviously raises something of an issue for titles such as Titanfall that apparently offload computations to the Xbox Live Compute servers. What happens if the servers go down in the middle of a game? Does the game just stop, or are there failsafes in place? Bruno remained elusive when pressed on the matter, but noted that exactly how it would be handled would be up to the individual developers -- one more new consideration for next-gen development teams that simply wasn't an issue with past consoles.
One would hope that the Xbox Live Compute servers that power the cloud processing and the servers that manage multiplayer games will be kept separate, allowing the game to continue even if the XBLC servers have to temporarily take a nap, but it won't be until we see the service up and running in the wild that we can see how well this all works. For now, it's perhaps another reason to be a little cautious about next-gen.