Microsoft Shares a Few More Details about xCloud at GDC

Posted on March 21, 2019 by Brad Sams in Games with 20 Comments

This week has been full of gaming news, first with Google showing Stadia and now we have Microsoft talking a bit more about how games will work with its upcoming services. At GDC today, the company showed how developers can build games for the platform and it reveals a little bit more about xCloud.

Because GDC is a developer conference, the session was not streamed but users on Twitter (like Russell Holly) live-tweeted Microsoft’s content; the company isn’t revealing all the secrets of xCloud but there are a few nuggets worth pointing out. For starters, xCloud is going to be device aware and will adapt to the device that you are playing on, rather than serving up a vanilla experience for every piece of hardware.

What I mean by that is controls can be dynamically changed. Microsoft showed a demo where ‘glass’ controls or users that are playing using a touchscreen instead of a controller, can have different input schemas. Further, if you are using a touchscreen, it’s more natural to be able to support pinch-to-zoom on maps and other zoom-able content; this is all baked into xCloud to support this functionality based on the device that you are using.

Initially, Microsoft is going to be focused on putting Xbox games into the cloud and while PC games are not targeted initially, they will likely come at a later date. This is likely because Microsoft is using actual Xbox hardware in its data centers and also because of the predictability of Xbox games running in a static environment when compared to some of the complexity of PC game development with diverse hardware.

The one thing that Microsoft did show off that will be critical to building out its game library quickly, is that developers will not have to modify the Xbox game that they have already created to work with the service. This means that if it works on Xbox today, it will work on xCloud tomorrow.

That being said, developers are likely going to want to add some new functionality, specifically controls when using a touchscreen interface. Microsoft is trying to make the modification to existing games to add this functionality as simple as possible but in the event a developer does not add the functionality, generic controls are available. The company is also recommending developers consider dynamic controls, meaning that when a user is in a vehicle, the layout should be different than when they are running around on foot.

xCloud is able to detect the device and modify the control setup based on what hardware you are using to play the game. For example, if you are using an Xbox controller with your phone, there’s no need to display on-screen buttons. This is a simple feature but an important one as it means the game can adapt to the user, rather than the user adapting to the game.

But when it comes to gaming, there are additional considerations that need to be made as the company expects xCloud gaming session will be shorter than traditional gaming sessions. Such as in open-world games, where save points are may be in fixed locations, considerations have to be made about how someone who is playing for 5 minutes on a bus ride, is able to save their game.

Microsoft says that the SDK for xCloud is in testing now and will be sharing more about its availability, soon.

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