When the Xbox One debuted, I argued that the console in the box now was going to be very different from the one that came out last year, and that Microsoft would have its graphics problems sorted out. Little did I realize how closely intertwined those two changes actually were.
Today, Microsoft announced a sudden, mysterious increase in GPU power for new development kits. In fact, a 10% increase in GPU power! That’s not insubstantial, for a console that has some problems with resolution and frame rate. And just how did this happen?
According to Eurogamer, and confirmed by Microsoft, it’s because 10% of the GPU’s power was dedicated to that always-on, then sorta always-on, and now completely optional Kinect. And one imagines that it’s about to get rather toasty for Microsoft around the Internet, since an add-on gamers rather vocally didn’t want got in the way of a basic feature they very much did. And made it $100 more expensive, to boot.
On one level, it makes absolute sense that the Kinect would have that much horsepower behind it, because it’s supposed to be driving the entire experience. It’s supposed to allow you to change channels with a gesture and turn on at the sound of your voice. And it’s to the company’s credit that they actually acknowledged this and will take their lumps.
On another, though, you’ve got to wonder what they were even thinking. It’s starting to become clear that the considerable ambition behind the Xbox One blinded those developing it to some fairly basic issues that anybody could have told them was going to bite them, and hard. Compromising the ability of a game console to play video games, solely to install a flashy interface, is a poor design choice even just writing it out.
In the end, it won’t matter. The Xbox One is a sizable hit and will continue to be one, even if the PS4 is still leading. But it’s just another reminder that ambition, in game consoles, needs to be tempered by understanding what your audience wants.