Development kits for the next Xbox were shipped to developers in March, Xbox World can reveal.
The first devkits were sent out shortly after Microsoft's supposedly top secret developers' conference in London on 28 February of this year. Crytek's senior technical artist Sean Tracy prematurely Tweeted his attendance, saying: "enjoying the Durango developers summit in London. So far, great swag and interesting talks." An hour later, Tracy remembered the secret part of his secret Microsoft Conference invite and deleted the Tweet, albeit slightly too late to avoid confirming the next Xbox is codenamed Durango, and representatives from across Europe were in Britain for a briefing on the new hardware.
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Similar meetings were held for American developers at San Francisco's Game Developers' Conference over the same week without any leaks or slip-ups from from the considerably more discrete attendees, and the first Durango devkits arrived shortly afterwards.
Many developers are already working on next generation games with standard PC hardware, but the Durango devkits will let those developers transplant their PC experiments directly onto the next Xbox's hardware. The Durango kits don't resemble the final hardware in appearance, however - the original Xbox 360 devkits were Power PCs in standard PC cases - but the hardware inside is representative of the machineyou can expect to see in late 2013 - and it's a monster.
XBW's sources suggest Durango's devkit is powered by a state of the art 16-core IBM PowerPC CPU with a graphics processor on par with AMD's Radeon HD 7000-series graphics cards. The 360's three-core 3.2Ghz IBM CPU is an antique by current PC standards, but a sixteen core CPU is future tech for even high-end home PC users. AMD launched the world's first 16-core processor for the business market in November of last year.
Even if you had a 16-core processor in your gaming PC there are currently no games built to use it, but games for the next Xbox could put all sixteen cores to work on day one for a level of performance far in excess of current gaming PCs. It's a ridiculous amount of power for a games machine - too much power, even. But remember, Kinect 2 could chew up four whole cores tracking multiple players right down to their fingertips, so it'll need a lot of power. Sixteen cores would still leave more processing power than the next Xbox will ever need, even with Kinect's demands.
Durango's AMD GPU is much more reasonable and has been something of an open secret for a while, thanks to leaks at Chinese manufacturing plants. AMD's brand-new 7000-series GPUs hit the consumer market in January of this year, and the higher-end models can run Battlefield 3 in 1080p with Ultra graphics settings at well over sixty frames per second. 360 packs a custom version of the AMD 1800-series GPU, and you already know how that performs - barely managing a consistent 30 frames in Battlefield 3 at a comparatively low sub-720p graphics setting.
Developers expect Sony's PS4 to be even more powerful than the next Xbox, our sources at GDC confirm, but that's nothing for the boys at Microsoft to be scared about. PS3 is considerably more powerful than 360, with an 8-core custom IBM Cell CPU. In the PS3, one core is locked out to improve manufacturing yields, and another is reserved for the operating system, but that still leaves PS3 with double the 360's processing power on paper.
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So why does PS3 consistently fall short of 360 in comparisons of multi-format games? The Cell processor is tough to work with, and Sony's memory bottlenecks frequently hold developers back. It's problems this generation have stemmed from the PS3's tricky architecture, not a lack of power. Next generation, they'll be back to basics.
Sony's old way of thinking died when former SCE boss Ken Kutaragi was replaced by Kaz Hirai late in 2006. Kutaragi took pride in Sony's expensive custom solutions and regarded Microsoft's general purpose Xenon CPU as "only beneficial to general applications." Six years of Microsoft dominance on and Sony appears to be building PS4 to a PC spec. Even if the specs are identical to Durango, PS4 will undoubtedly pack more power so long as Microsoft stick with Kinect. Microsoft are counting on their patents and unique technologies beating raw power, and they'll try to make it to market first too, even if they might not make it to E3.
THE NEXT WAVE
Shortly after GDC, Microsoft laughed off the idea of a next generation Xbox at June's annual E3 showcase. "For us," said their statement. "2012 is all about Xbox 360, and it's the best year ever for Xbox 360. While we appreciate all the interest in our long-range plans, we can confirm that there will be no talk of new Xbox hardware at E3 or anytime soon." Our sources suggest otherwise, and many developers are working towards an E3 debut for their next-generation software whether Microsoft and Sony are ready or not.
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Regardless of whether the next Xbox makes it to E3, the arrival of those Durango devkits is the starting gun for the next generation and once again Microsoft have beaten Sony out of the gate by getting hardware into developers' hands first. Sony keep denying any possibility of PS4 at E3 2012 too, but if they don't move fast Microsoft could roll into June's LA showcase with dozens of next-generation exclusives from third parties.
When Epic show that first Unreal 4 demo they'll only have one console platform to talk about - call it Durango, call it 720, call it what you like, but if Microsoft move fast it might be the only game in town.
Is the next console generation the last console generation?
In the first week of March this year developers from the world of consoles, PC and mobile gathered to network and share knowledge at San Francisco's Games Developers' Conference. You only had to visit any party or listen for long enough to any conversation and you'd have soon heard someone questioning the future of consoles.
Former DICE general manager Ben Cousins claimed consoles were already on their way out. "I'm talking about something that has a significantly smaller market share with no sign of return," he said. "Mobile devices are the disruptive technologies that are going to cut a slice from the Western console market."
GTA V is one of the last big games of this generation, and does showcase what 360 is still capable of
But for every independent developer prepared to write traditional consoles off, there was amainstream developer working on the kinds of next generation console projects that would be totally impossible on a mobile platform. As of March 2012, Starbreeze, Splash Damage, Crytek, Epic, Ready At Dawn, Bethesda, Lionhead, Rockstar, Infinity Ward, Remedy, Respawn, Blue Castle and Visceral are all confirmed to be working on next-generation platforms, and are busily recruiting new staff just for the job.
Before swiftly deleting all related comments from his Twitter timeline, Crytek's Sean Tracy had tweeted he was "seeing some CryENGINE licensee videos" - soexpect a number of next generation games to be powered by CryENGINE 3.
Meanwhile, Epic'sMark Rein boasted GDC's behind closed doors Unreal 4 demo was "blowing people away." Rein revealed last year's "Unreal 3.99" Samaritan demo took a hefty ten times the 360's power to run, and promised Epic would be pushing the hardware manufacturers to deliver true next generation hardware.
"We really like the home console experience and we really like iPad gaming," Rein told CVG. "We like all these gaming experiences and we don't think consumers want them to go away. The only way they're going away is if they don't stay true to what they are. The console gaming experience is about delivering something that's way out past the bleeding edge. If you don't stretch far enough, you don't just have enough of a difference to make people want to take the leap with you... it all falls down. But I don't think that's going to happen - I think the console guys are going to blow us all away."
I checked but didn't see a thread so lock if old.