Halo Infinite is "Visually impressive and more expansive"

Not much is known about Halo Infinite. At Microsoft’s E3 2019 press conference earlier this year, the company revealed that Master Chief’s latest adventure would be an Xbox Scarlett launch title–in addition to releasing on Xbox One and PC–sometime during holiday 2020.

Now, corporate vice president of Xbox Games Studios, Matt Booty, has revealed some more details on the upcoming title during a recent interview with Game Informer.

“The first thing that is really cool and where that game is headed, is how they’re [343 Industries] thinking about expanding the world,” Booty explained. “I won’t go so far to say ‘sandbox’ because we bring up sandbox and people seem to overload that term with a lot of other things. But what the team is doing to build a bigger universe and a bigger set of gameplay scenarios, and sort of more things to explore is awesome.”

Halo Infinite runs on 343 Industries’ brand-new Slipspace game engine, which studio director Chris Lee said is aimed at supporting Halo titles for 10 years to come. “The things they’re working on are really cool. As they bring the Slipspace Engine up to date with where we’re at in terms of graphics these days, there’s just some cool stuff,” Booty went on the say. “Design-wise, it’s been really cool to see them get back to some of the shape-language and design-language of some of the earlier Halos. It could be said that, Halo, when you get into Halo 5, maybe it was getting a little ‘busy’ design-wise. [For Halo Infinite] it feels more modern and more clean, but also there are stronger echoes back to the roots of Halo. I would say visually impressive and more expansive.”

Getting back to the roots of Halo has been a common thread amongst the drip-feed of information regarding Halo Infinite. Earlier this year, Brian Jarrard, community director at 343, shared a blog post revealing the long-awaited return of split-screen support to the series in Infinite. The studio also announced that it would support LAN multiplayer, and confirmed that characters in Infinite will have black undersuits–a small detail, but one that harkens back to Halo’s beginnings.

During the interview, Booty also revealed that Microsoft sees The Outer Worlds as an exclusive franchise.

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Everything We Know About Xbox Scarlett

Microsoft revealed the new Xbox Scarlett during its E3 2019 Xbox press conference earlier this year. Seemingly a codename, Xbox Scarlett releases in Holiday 2020 alongside Halo Infinite. The Xbox One has been around since 2013, which, scarily, is six years ago. Console cycles typically last between five and seven years, meaning we should be due a new Xbox pretty soon. However, there’s the complicating factor that this generation included mid-cycle upgrades, the PS4 Pro and the Xbox One X.

There’s still a lot to find out Xbox Scarlett, but Microsoft boasted about the specs being far beyond that of the Xbox One X. Regardless, we know Microsoft is working on the next Xbox console, and there’ve been a fair few details revealed about what to expect. Without further ado, let’s dig into everything we know about the next Xbox.

While Microsoft discussed its new Xbox during E3 last year, it reiterated at E3 2019 that it’s definitely working on the new console. In fact, it could even be multiple consoles on the way. Xbox boss Phil Spencer said in June 2018 that Microsoft is “deep into architecting the next Xbox consoles where we will once again deliver on our commitment to set the benchmark for console gaming.”

Of course, the pluralizing of ‘console’ could mean Spencer was referring in part to the Xbox One S All-Digital Edition, which was announced just recently. However, the latter half of his quote–about setting the benchmark for console gaming–surely refers to a new generation, where it sounds as if Microsoft wants to come out swinging with the most powerful console available, just as it did with the Xbox One X.

Early reports from Thurrott suggest the new Xbox consoles are being developed under the umbrella codename Scarlett. Two consoles are in the works, say the reports: one is a high-power machine codenamed Anaconda that will be approximately the same price as the PS5, while the other is a budget-orientated machine known as Lockhart. The latter is potentially a streaming-centric device that does not boast much processing power itself; rather, it will ostensibly utilize Microsoft’s nascent xCloud technology to play games via the cloud. Microsoft has so far only detailed one new device, but it could be that a second console is revealed at a later date.

In an interview following E3 2019, Phil Spencer told us that the Xbox Scarlett will focus on high frame rates and fast loading times. He also spoke on the future of cloud gaming, and reaffirmed that Microsoft isn’t working on a stream-only console right now.

Microsoft hasn’t spoken about its specific timeline for the new Xbox consoles’ release date(s). However, the consoles are not expected to launch until Fall 2020. For comparison’s sake, we don’t precisely know when the PS5 will launch either, but in May 2018 the then-head of PlayStation, John Kodera, said that the PS5 was “three years” away. However, plans change, and it’s also possible Kodera was merely trying to keep a lid on the rumors that were flying around at the time which were saying the PS5 would be released as soon as 2019.

Unlike Sony, Microsoft has so far kept quiet about the internal specifications of its new consoles. However, all the reports point to both Anaconda and Lockhart ditching hard drives in favor of the quicker solid state storage option–a move the PS5 is also making. Of course, if those reports are proven accurate and Lockhart is essentially a streaming box, it’s likely the console will eschew a disc drive and state-of-the-art specs, relying instead on Microsoft’s xCloud streaming service for its playing power. Jeux Video has reported the following specs for the two Scarlett consoles:

Xbox Lockhart Xbox Anaconda
CPU Custom eight core Custom eight core
GPU Custom NAVI 4+ teraflops Custom NAVI 12+ teraflops
Storage 1 TB SSD, 1 + GB / s 1 TB SSD, 1 + GB / s

The site also reports the Anaconda price will be around $500, which is the same price the Xbox One X launched with in 2017. Unverified rumors from Reddit place Lockhart, meanwhile, at around $250, which would put it at the same price point as the newly-launched Xbox One S All-Digital Edition, which also forgoes a disc drive. These are yet to be substantiated by any reputable source, however.

Phil Spencer: Cloud gaming is inevitable, but it's not replacing traditional consoles just yet

Phil Spencer, head of Xbox, has plenty to think about, from the next generation of Xbox consoles to helping build new development teams. He and the team are also managing an ecosystem that’s trying to serve the needs of as many players as possible. Cloud-based gaming touches all of those areas, which is why he’s been championing Project xCloud, Microsoft’s game streaming technology that will let you access the power of an Xbox console through your phone via an internet connection. We recently got the opportunity to talk to the head of Xbox about a number of topics, including how he sees xCloud fitting into Xbox’s repertoire, and within an industry that’s traditionally orbited around consoles in the home.

“It’s one of the directions the industry is headed. To me, it’s about what you as a gamer want to do, and I’m not trying to tell you that owning a box that plays video games is a bad thing or that somehow that’s not needed.” Spencer continued, “I think that the cloud inevitability as part of gaming is absolutely true. But we have more compute devices around us than we’ve ever had, whether it’s your phone, a Surface Hub, or an Xbox. The world where compute devices are gone and it’s all coming from the cloud just isn’t the world that we live in today.”

Physical devices are still very much part of the equation when it comes to cloud gaming, but Xbox itself isn’t making a new device specifically for it. “Last year we talked about xCloud and then we said we were working on new game consoles, but that’s all I said.” Spencer clarified, “We didn’t say that [a streaming console was in the works]. I think maybe some people thought that that was the disc-less one that we just shipped. We are not working on a streaming-only console right now. We are looking at the phone in your pocket as the destination for you to stream, and the console that we have allows you to play the games locally.”

“If you bought a big gaming PC and you like playing games there, I want to respect that and meet you where you are and bring the content and services that you want to that device. If you want to buy an Xbox, if you want to play Minecraft on a PlayStation, I want to make sure that comes to you there.”

One of the chief concerns that has always surrounded cloud gaming is lag. Specifically, how fast your controller inputs will translate to action on a screen. It was an issue in some cases for Google Stadia demos, especially for fast-paced shooters such as Doom. Spencer recognizes this and makes no bones about those concerns, saying “I don’t think anybody should tell you that there’s no lag.”

“Going back to our transparency, there’s a truth that I think is always important for us to talk about with our customers. In xCloud, we are building a convenience capability to allow you to take your Xbox experience with you. Meaning, that’s why we focus on the phone, and the experience is not the same as running the games on an Xbox One X. I’m not going to say that it’s an 8k 120 hertz thing. That’s not what we’re doing. We’re going to bring convenience and choice to you on your phone.”

“You can jump in a party, we can voice chat. Everything works the same as it does when I’m sitting with my console from a community and content perspective but you’re running it from a cloud, which is going to feel different.”

Given that he’s been traveling with an early version of xCloud on his own phone playing games on it out in public, it would seem that xCloud is in a feature-complete state. Public trials start in October this year (a month before Google Stadia), but we asked if it’ll launch as a fully-formed service. “We will start in 2019, this year, in certain markets and then we will just continue to roll it out. We’re doing our internal trials with xCloud now, which means people on the team can now install the application on their phone and stream games.”

“One of the benefits we have working at Microsoft is the Azure data centers globally, which allow us to put hardware as close to people as we possibly can. And we can leverage the fact that Microsoft has spent a lot of money establishing data centers to help us accelerate this build. So we’re going to start in 2019 and have people playing Xbox games on their phones, and we’ll get a ton of feedback.”

Project xCloud’s launch this year only marks the beginning for the Xbox game streaming service; Microsoft will continue to iterate on it while its in players’ hands, and Spencer emphasizes that technological shifts take time. “I think this is years away from being a mainstream way people play. And I mean years, like years and years.”

“Let’s take Netflix, which is 20 years old. I think we forget that sometimes because tech moves so fast. It’s 20 years old at this point, so it took two decades for us to get to the point where shows like Game of Thrones and House of Cards are some of the biggest shows in the planet and mainly watched via streaming. I think game streaming will get there faster than 20 years, but it’s not going to be two years. This is a technological change. While it seems like it happens overnight, it doesn’t.”

“It takes time for these services to evolve. We are building for the long-term, but that’s why choice is so critical. I’m not trying to say go sell your consoles today and switch over to streaming because the experience just isn’t the same as playing on your console, but I do think in terms of reaching everybody, the democratization of play and content, it’s important that we don’t lock all of these experiences behind purchasing a certain device.”

“And way over time, we’ll have a global service that can reach everybody and the infrastructure to reach any customer with a consistent and high quality internet service, but that’s going to take time. We talk about Project xCloud and we use words like “trials” not because we don’t believe in our tech–our tech is as good as anybody’s tech out there, and the team is doing really amazing work–but this is about the reality of time and choice for customers.”

Down the road, the evolution of xCloud could lead to some creative uses; we’ve seen hints of it in Crackdown 3‘s multiplayer and how it handles physics. But Spencer and the team are thinking outside of games themselves as they have plans to make it an integral part of the industry’s biggest convention, saying “At E3 [in the future], our plan is to allow people coming to the show to actually play games, play Xbox games on phones at the show.”

Part of cloud gaming’s success, and xCloud in particular, rests in how developers account for the new technology. It’s also an aspect that Xbox is already getting ahead of, and Spencer detailed how the team is doing it. “We’ve already started putting xCloud servers near locations where our largest third party developers are. So now we’re starting to get developers at third parties on it so they can see their game on a phone, which is critical because there are things like font sizes that if you wanted to take advantage and understand how the game runs on the phone, you want to make it available. You want them to see it and experience it themselves.”

“We’ve also already put into the Xbox SDK, because if you’re streaming, a developer might want to do something different if the game was running locally. All the developers that are building Xbox games today have access to that capability of determining whether the game is being streamed or running locally, which I think is a great addition.”

“You’ll have certain developers that will take advantage of it early. We already have some of the early adopters asking for [it], because there are certain things that the cloud makes more possible than happened in the home. A good example of that is our blades right now that have all the Xboxes in the data centers have multiple Xboxes on one blade…basically like a bunch of Xboxes in your house that are hardwired together. So the latency between all of those consoles is negligible. It’s almost a zero because they’re literally hard-wired together. If we were to play games online, there is latency from where you live and I live, right? Our two Xboxes just take time to sync.”