- Mar 4, 2019
German website PC Games Hardware sat down with Phil Spencer and had a good interview, enjoy. (Translated with Google)
Phil Spencer made an exceptional career with Microsoft: In 1988, he joined the company as a 20-year intern, since 2014, he led, among others, the Xbox and Xbox live teams and Microsoft Studios. Since 2017, he has been named executive vice president of gaming for his Xbox and PC gaming employer, with only Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella in charge.
We talked to Phil Spencer about Microsoft's plans for consoles and PCs at Los Angeles's E3 2019, emulating previous generations of consoles, why Xbox and Windows PC remain separate systems, and why an SSD at a game console is responsible for more than just faster loading is.
Phil Spencer: Well, how did you like our press conference?
➤ PC Games Hardware: Great! But where Sony was not there: Why did you present no less than the 60 games shown, but in more detail, with more gameplay instead of render movies and trailers?
Phil Spencer: Funnily, our goal was not to show as many games as possible. We considered which topics we would like to cover at the press conference. The Game Pass was a big topic, first-party games were another - 14 in-house developments, twelve of which will be released next year, there have never been so many. Then there are PC games, keyword PC Game Pass, then xCloud and Scarlett.
➤ PC Games Hardware: And the new Elite Controller ...
Phil Spencer: ... and the new Elite controller, right. A lot of content. Add to that many topics that people want to see more about - Age of Empires 4. And many more we have not even talked about yet. For example, what our Studio The Initiative is doing right now. Or the second team of Playground Games (Forza). What are Rare, Turn 10 and Compulsion? But when a press conference lasts more than 90 minutes, people get a bit worried.
➤ PC Games Hardware: Okay, nobody can blame you for a lack of content. But to get back to the point gameplay instead of trailer ...
Phil Spencer: We opened with Outer Worlds - Gameplay. Second Game: Bleeding Edge - Gameplay, followed by Ori - Gameplay. Game Number Four: Minecraft Dungeons - Gameplay. Halo? Well, that will not happen until 2020. And sure, personally I would have liked to see gameplay of all games.
➤ PC Games Hardware: At previous E3 events, developers were on stage to play live.
Phil Spencer: But usually not 18 months before release! And now without entering into a debate with the Internet: The fans wanted to see gameplay of Gears 5. But because Rod Fergusson (studio chief of developer The Coalition) did not play a campaign on stage, they say there was no gameplay?
Anyway, people on stage? At home in the stream, the vast majority of viewers only see the screen-filling game anyway. This does not mean that it is not good feedback that players want to see something of the campaign of a game that appears three months after the E3. I understand that completely.
➤ PC Games Hardware: Before we forget it: Hurray for the Flight Simulator!
Phil Spencer: Yeah! And how great did he look like? Two petabytes of big map material assembled over the Azure AI. And that was also gameplay!
"The new Flight Simulator will be the game, with which you can bring a new graphics card to its limits as before."
➤ PC Games Hardware: When did you decide to have him removed ?
Phil Spencer: My colleague Shannon Loftis and Matt Booty had been buzzing the idea for a couple of years. With an external developer named Sobo, we then considered whether and how we could combine the Bing maps with current weather data in real time. I'm not a pilot myself, but Flight Simulator was the game that brought a new graphics card to its limits. And with the new version we wanted to do that once more.
➤ PC Games Hardware: Many of our readers are already getting their aircraft controllers from the attic ...
Phil Spencer: We would not have imagined that the Flight Simulator would be celebrating its premiere at an E3 press conference. But it was perfect: We announce the PC Game Pass and the Game Pass Ultimate, followed by the Trio Flight Simulator, Age of Empires 2 and Wasteland 3. A sign that we are reaping the trust of PC gamers and the PC Really want to show community that we're not just porting console titles to the pc.
"We really want to show the PC community that we are not just porting console titles to the PC."
➤ PC Games Hardware: Keyword Emulation: The team at Microsoft responsible for emulating Xbox and Xbox 360 games for the Xbox One is already in the making of Xbox One games ready for its successor, Scarlett , Would not it be great to get compatibility with more than just a previous generation?
Phil Spencer: The cool thing about the Xbox One compatibility of previous titles is that the games not only run, but also better. We're not talking about it that often, but the fact is, future hardware will make earlier-generation games look better and play better. We have seen this on the PC for quite some time, but bringing something to the console storage was a real sense of achievement. For example, there was recently 4K support for Xbox 360 games like cameo.
For Project Scarlett's design, we've made sure that games emulated today on the Xbox One will continue to work in the future. In other words, Xbox and Xbox 360 titles running on an Xbox One today also work on Scarlett. And our goal is that all Xbox One games are playable on Scarlett as well. Oh, and your Xbox One or Elite controllers will work with the next generation too.
➤ PC Games Hardware: That would mean that Project Scarlett's announced quad performance could be used to make even Xbox One titles look better?
Phil Spencer: That's where you hit the nail on the head - that's why we want the team working on the Xbox One to do it with Scarlett. Because its members are not satisfied when an old game runs on a new console - but ask each title: Can we build the best possible version? They did not do that for all 360 games, and sometimes they had to work overtime to get them at the same frame rate. Compatibility is not an easy task, but I'm convinced we have the best compatibility team in the world.
➤ PC Games Hardware: You may say that a little more loudly, because for many players this is an important decision criterion.
Phil Spencer: Sure. That's a bit like xCloud. I hear from some journalists that I did not say enough about it on stage. But my point is, I've been showing enough videos, now is the time to put it in people's hands so they can write about their experiences. Also questions like "What bandwidth do I need?" and so on - they are beautiful and good. But if someone has tried xCloud and flashed the experience, then he will say, "I really want that, what do I have to do for it?"
➤ PC Games Hardware: Back to Project Scarlett: If we look at the hardware, your next console looks like a modern high-end PC. At the same time, Microsoft is using Windows 10 and the Xbox OS double-tracked. Would not it make sense to summarize the two?
Phil Spencer: Unlike the Xbox OS, Windows 10 needs to cover countless features and applications. Nobody will connect a ten-year-old printer to his Xbox via USB and expect them to talk to each other. However, one huge part of the task of the Windows team is to make sure legacy hardware and software are supported. But we do not have to support an Xbox console the same way. Sure, games have to run, but dot matrix printers and plotters? (laughs) We cleaned up this program code superstructure on the Xbox, even if we share some things with Windows.
"The ability to directly provide CPU and GPU with data through the SSD will enable the creation of game worlds that will not only be richer, but also more seamless."
➤ PC Games Hardware: That's what my question was about: A developer who develops for PC and Xbox is happy if he can use the same APIs and does not have to invent the wheel twice.
Phil Spencer: This is our long-term goal, a project called GameCore. If a developer programs Win32 games today, he will find the API interface of our next SDK very familiar, allowing him to keep as many program lines as possible on both platforms. This is of course different from the OS instantiating the APIs, for example, we do not have to worry about enterprise features.
GameCore beats the trail to the origin of the Xbox name: The console was called that because it sits on DirectX and facilitates the development of games, if you can already program for the PC. Over time, both platforms have moved a little bit apart, but with GameCore we have a chance to bring them closer together again.
➤ PC Games Hardware: By default, Project Scarlett will have an SSD. This ensures as with the PC for shorter load times, no question. But how could game developers use that for their titles? For PCs, they can not build on it automatically, because in some cases even traditional hard drives stuck.
Phil Spencer: Thanks to their speed, developers can now practically use the SSD as Virtual RAM. The access times of the SSD approach the memory access times of the current generation of consoles. Of course, the OS has to allow the developers appropriate access that goes beyond that of a pure storage medium. But then we will see how the address space will increase immensely - comparable to the change from Win16 to Win32 or in some cases Win64.
Of course, the SSD will still be slower than the GDDR6 RAM sitting directly on the die. But the ability to directly supply CPU and GPU via the SSD will allow for the creation of game worlds that will not only be richer, but more seamless as well. Not only in terms of pure loading times, but also in terrain mapping. A graphic designer no longer has to worry about when GDDR6 ends and when the SSD starts. I like the fact that Mark Cerny and his team are also investing in an SSD at Sony for the PlayStation 5 ...
➤ PC Games Hardware: ... the manufacturers of multiplatform games, too.
Phil Spencer: That's right! And the engines and tools can implement appropriate functions. Together, we will provide a larger installed base - and developers will do their utmost to master and support the programming of these hardware capabilities. While I do not have a PS5 development kit, I do not think our Minecraft team even has that. But it will be exciting to see how the industry will benefit from the overarching deployment of such solutions.
➤ PC Games Hardware: Does the already mentioned statement 4x relate to the performance of the complete console?
Phil Spencer: No, that's a pure CPU statement. It would also be a little too simplistic to refer to the whole system, as much as I would like to, because so many components flow into it. Take the Xbox One X: In its development, the memory bandwidth was the bottleneck. It had to be big enough to provide content to the GPU without idle time. We could have brought the console to market a year earlier, but we waited another year to get all 6 of the GPU's TFLOPS up and running.
Our primary goal with Scarlett was to improve the graphics capabilities and GPU of the console. Primarily because another goal was to integrate a CPU into the system that can compete with the GPU. Unlike PCs, consoles have historically been "arm-presses" with a strong arm - the GPU - and a weak arm - the CPU, which does nothing other than change frames calculated by the GPU as fast as possible, often with only a maximum of 30 fps.
"Our primary goal with Scarlett was to improve the graphics capabilities and GPU of the console."
Now we are talking about 120 Hertz or variable refresh rates. Because if the timing of the game loop - the core routines of a game - corresponds to the refresh rate, this reduces the input latency and thus ensures a smooth gaming experience. And that depends largely on the CPU and memory bandwidth. That's why you have to see a statement like "Scarlett is x times faster than Xbox One X" a bit more differentiated.
➤ PC Games Hardware: On a console, I can not run benchmarks very well and then compare Xbox 360, Xbox One X and Scarlett. Motto: If I overclock this core a bit, my console creates a few more frames per second.
Phil Spencer: That would be something, 3D Bench on the consoles. (laughs) But that's why we're on the PC. I love it when people put heart and soul into perfecting their gaming experience. For example, my gaming laptop still runs at 1080p, because a good frame rate is very important to me. I do not need a 4K screen. But that's just my personal taste. And sure, we support Scarlett 8K graphics, but we're not telling any developer to only make games with 8K graphics or only 4K graphics.
➤ PC Games Hardware: Who has an 8K TV at home today?
Phil Spencer: Exactly. Scarlett supports 120 Hertz or variable refresh rates and 8K. But will we see games in 120 Hertz with 8K resolution? Sure, that would work, but then you have to do without other things while playing. Our job is to give the developers a range of tools and choices for players.
For example, if you have a 1080p TV today, the games look better on an Xbox One X connected to it, and super-sampling and co. But if you do not need it, you can buy an Xbox One S and save a few hundred dollars.
➤ PC Games Hardware: Funny, by the way, right before the Microsoft press conference, Intel ran its own press event, one of which was to continue producing the fastest CPU. But in all current consoles are chips from AMD.
Phil Spencer: Lisa Su and her AMD team did a great job. You play in a league above your own weight class, looking at market shares and stock price. And their chips are the backbone of Google's cloud - and they're in the near consoles of Sony and us.
I'm not saying anything against Intel and Nvidia - it's just amazing how AMD has held its own in the last five or six years. And it's good for everyone when several competitors spur each other on to innovation and excellence.
➤ PC Games Hardware: Phil, thank you for the interesting conversation!
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