Road to Next-Gen: Storms Ahead for the Xbox One's Cloud?

Cloud-reliant Xbox One games such as Titanfall may be subject to an unfortunate and rather inconvenient quirk of the system.

News by Pete Davison, .

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.

Titanfall, being an online-centric game, supposedly makes extensive use of Xbox Live Compute to take the strain off your console.

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.

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Comments 14

  • Avatar for RandomTerrain #1 RandomTerrain 4 years ago
    Seems there are plenty of issues with next gen, some we've not even considered I would assume. No doubt there will be plenty of complaining in the first few weeks.
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  • Avatar for alexb #2 alexb 4 years ago
    @nimzy I think we know but nobody wants to say it.
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  • Avatar for touchofkiel #3 touchofkiel 4 years ago
    Cloud gaming IS too shrouded in mystery. Both companies' plans are incredibly vague, especially Sony's hints of backwards compatibility/PS3 playback... yeah, I'm skeptical of the whole thing. But I don't think it's a game-changer either way for me personally.
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  • Avatar for #4 4 years ago
    The more I hear the more it seems they would have been more accurate naming the console Xbox: Number Two.
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  • Avatar for docexe #5 docexe 4 years ago
    Ok, let’s be fair here: This isn’t so much an issue of next gen as an issue of the cloud, another one of those new mysterious technologies that everyone touts as the next big thing, yet no one fully understands what it entails. It should be pointed out as well that Sony, despite implementing cloud technologies with Gaikai, has not announced any compute service, focusing only on streaming and cloud saves.

    So, depending on whether or not cloud computing becomes pervasive in the next gen, this might only be an issue for certain online games, with XBOne games being potentially the most affected. Considering games that require a persistent internet connection always (ALWAYS!) have issues one way or the other, I don’t think this might be a big game changer or deal breaker for most consumers. If anything, developers who decide to implement this kind of services will be the ones that have to prepare for new headaches as they learn how to deal with the cloud.
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  • Avatar for Captain-Gonru #6 Captain-Gonru 4 years ago
    @nimzy Or, for that matter, in the future. My biggest issue is that a game reliant on the cloud is only viable so long as there IS still a cloud. Granted, any sort of online multiplayer game will eventually become unplayable once servers are closed. But here we have a situation where even single player games need an outside entity to operate. I just don't want that headache. I can dig out an Atari 2600 and be playing Pitfall! before the end of this sentence, if I chose to. I don't want to not have that option.
    And btw, even in the current gen,some of this is happening. Mercenaries 2 is unplayable if you didn't do an update that's no longer available. Thanks again, EA.
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  • Avatar for Ohoni #7 Ohoni 4 years ago
    Wtf? Can't they just set it to manual updates and only reboot it every few weeks, with plenty of warning that they're doing so?
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  • Avatar for pashaveliki #8 pashaveliki 4 years ago
    @Captain Gonru My thoughts exactly. I like the concept of cloud computing, but I also am a person that spends half my time playing games from my backlog. If the cloud is a requirement for Xbone games going forward, then there goes used game sales years after the fact. A few years ago I dug out my old og Xbox to cross Shenmue II off of my list of gaming white whales. If Shenmue II had taken advantage of Xbox Live Compute, what are the odds of such a niche title still being supported? The retrofuture of games is looking very scary.
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  • Avatar for MrTomFTW #9 MrTomFTW 4 years ago

    My job entails the administration of a cloud for another company so while I'm not familiar with the exact ins and outs of the Azure platform I feel I might be able to give some clarity to the situation.

    You see, our server farm does much the same - after an update is applied the server may need to reboot. Now the beauty of a cloud is that another server in the cloud will then take up hosting duties for the clients connected to the updating server and clients will migrate over without any users noticing a thing.

    But of course we don't live in a perfect world so sometimes that migration may cause connection drops, but it'll be a LOT more rare than successful migrations. It'll certainly be a much more stable experience for users than the current p2p solution.
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  • Avatar for Jonny5Alive7 #10 Jonny5Alive7 4 years ago
    I think this is a load of rubbish to be honest. The servers will be load balanced, so if one restarts then the load will transfer to another server.

    Its not as if they have everyone going onto just one server, they have thousands.
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  • Avatar for rocksteady13 #11 rocksteady13 4 years ago
    Just moved over here from Ign. I got sick of the ign blindly supporting MS for every stupid thing their marketing dept says. Forget about server reboots, MS still has no plan for dealing with the latency/bandwidth issues involving that first hop from ISP to a MS cloud node. Azure will be great for multi-player gaming but you can pretty much forget about cloud processing for games right now.
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  • Avatar for rocksteady13 #12 rocksteady13 4 years ago
    @MrTomFTW, It will help multi-player gaming but we won't see any graphics being processed in the cloud for years.
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  • Avatar for Spazgadget #13 Spazgadget 4 years ago
    @rocksteady13 IGN... oh how the mighty have fallen. Used to be such a great site but has devolved into childish hysteria. You're welcome here, it's a much more civil place.

    As for the topic at hand, while I can't speak with authority about issues beyond the scope of my technical knowledge, Microsoft's various ramblings about "the power of Cloud" always seemed nebulous at best, and a bit of misleading PR-babble at worst.

    Compounding my incredulity, nothing I've read from sources more credible and knowledgable than myself have seemed to suggest that this will reliably or significantly increase the "power" of the Xbox console any time in the near future. I'd love to be proven wrong on this and be shown how this is really a game-changer, but for now I'm chalking much of these promises up to marketing hot air in the face of PS4's more powerful machine.Edited November 2013 by Spazgadget
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  • Avatar for rocksteady13 #14 rocksteady13 4 years ago
    @Spazgadget, Exactly! I have worked in IT/Network administration for 11 years and there is absolutely nothing MS can do at the moment to bypass latency/bandwidth issues created by ISP's. Trying to tell people that transistors in the cloud are just as useful as transistors in the home is a blatant lie. It is what also initially pointed me in the direction of the PS4.
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