Windows 10 Xbox App: 6 Things to Try

29 Jul 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

10 Reasons Gamers Will Love Windows 10.

Windows 10 is out today, though by “out” I mean you will likely be sitting around waiting for your computer to update until some sentient Microsoft AI deems you worthy enough to upgrade.Although the overwhelming majority of PC gamers run Windows, it would be fair to say that their relationship with Microsoft has been fraught throughout the years.Whenever I think about Windows 10, I hear Russell Watson belting the Star Trek: Enterprise theme song: “It’s been a long road, getting from there to here…” The muchballyhooed new iteration of Microsoft’s flagship operating system is indeed here, available July 29 for anyone bold enough to make the leap.Microsoft’s Xbox chief Phil Spencer opened the ChinaJoy game trade expo with an announcement that the flagship title Halo: The Master Chief Collection will debut in August on the Xbox One in the Chinese market.

When that does finally happen, however, you’ll find a whole host of new features to play with, and specifically, Windows 10 will have a newfound relationship with your Xbox One. It’s a compelling proposition on paper: A free upgrade for anyone running Windows 7 or 8, and an interface overhaul rife with snazzy new features and tantalizing curiosities, many of them aimed squarely at gamers. Windows 8, meanwhile, brought an unfriendly interface and a half-hearted App Store pricing model, which was met with a collective shrug by countless gamers worldwide who stuck with Windows 7. Valve CEO Gabe Newell told The Verge that “Windows 8 was like this giant sadness” that “just hurts everybody in the PC business.” Minecraft creator Notch said, “I’d rather have Minecraft not run on Windows 8 at all than play along” with Microsoft’s attempt to sell games itself.

If you share that conception of Windows — as the beating heart of a souped up, console-shaming, uber-gaming powerhouse — you’re in good company. Spencer cautioned that it could be a “little more challenging” than getting Xbox One games to stream to the PC. “But challenge is good,” he added. Spencer said that this year would be the best ever for Xbox worldwide with the launch of games such as Rise of the Tomb Raider, Forza Motorsport 6, and Halo 5: Guardians in global markets.

There are cool features like a game DVR which lets you chop up footage from your PC or Xbox Games and post it online, but overall I’m a tad skeptical at how useful accessing your Xbox feed on your PC will be in most circumstances. The news comes via The Verge — although regular readers of this column will remember that I predicted this 6 months ago — in which Phil Spencer said “We understand if you’re going to go PC to Xbox, we need to get keyboard and mouse working completely so you could play those games. To break that down and explore some of the less well-known angles, I spoke with Stardock CEO (and Windows insider) Brad Wardell, the guy behind recent PC games like Galactic Civilizations III and Sorcerer King, as well as up and comers Offworld Trading Company, Ashes of the Singularity and Servo. In terms of where we want to go with our platform, those are absolutely in scope of things that we want to do.” This follows an earlier tweet from Spencer which revealed the company’s intention to augment existing keyboard support on Xbox One with mouse support as well. So it’s on this tentative surge of momentum that Microsoft is putting the Xbox brand at the heart of Windows 10, with an expansive new Xbox app and a long list of gaming features. “We’re taking the Xbox team and really thinking about it as the gaming team in Microsoft,” says Spencer. “Where Xbox is our gaming brand and it’s less solely about the console itself and more about the gaming ecosystem all up — whether you’re playing on a PC, whether you’re playing on your phone, whether you’re playing on your console.” Every Windows 10 installation includes the Xbox app, a major attempt by Microsoft to put its stamp on the PC gaming experience.

As I’ve said many times in the lead-up to this launch, for anyone that has a roommate, spouse or a gaggle of children running around, the ability to flip over from your TV to practically any other screen in your house is a useful enough feature to potentially be a gamechanger. DirectX is how games talk to your computer, the crucial “application programming interface” that rests like a byzantine traffic signal between the way a studio wants a game to look and play and the hardware under the hood.

In my original article predicting this feature, I posited that if $99 Android boxes can stream your entire game library to a TV, surely Microsoft would need this functionality to secure the Xbox One’s place in the living room. DirectX has been with us since Windows 95, and Wardell says DirectX 12, the dozenth iteration of the toolset, is as crucial a rethink as Windows 95 itself was when it debuted two decades ago. “DirectX 11 and before were all made before we had multicore CPUs,” say Wardell. “So at the end of the day, all your games were talking to your video card via one core.” That, for modern CPUs now readily sporting four, six or eight cores, creates an enormous bottleneck. It fits perfectly with Microsoft’s vision of an all-in-one entertainment device, and it compliments the company’s emphasis on bringing their ecosystem together with Windows 10.

Remember that the actual hardware requirements for streaming Steam games from your main gaming rig to a client devices like an Intel Compute Stick, Nvidia Shield,Macbook Air, or Razer Forge TV are minimal: A quad-core CPU with built-in H.264 decoding. But the software giant is more optimistic that China, which is expected to become the world’s biggest game market this year (according to market researcher Newzoo) will become an important market like the U.S. and Europe. While Microsoft is currently pretending that Kinect doesn’t exist, millions of Xbox One player still have it connected to their consoles, or at the very least, in a drawer somewhere.

Speaking at the China Digital Entertainment Congress before the start of ChinaJoy in Shanghai, Spencer said he was proud to represent Microsoft in China, and he congratulated the nation on the growth of ChinaJoy, which draws an estimated 250,000 fans and has become one of the biggest game conferences in the world. Eventually, Microsoft would be wise to fashion a version of its Siri-killing AI Cortana for Xbox One users, particularly because she was gleaned from the Halo universe in the first place. He said Microsoft is making huge investments in China when it comes to hardware, intellectual property, and alliances with both large and small game publishers and developers.

While many have written off the Kinect almost entirely, the appeal of issuing voice commands to Cortana, and even having conversations with her in some instances, is a neat potential feature that could be carried over from Windows 10. It’s due to be playable via Steam Early Access next month (It’s also, incidentally, the first game with a DirectX 12 benchmark, adds Wardell.) But it’ll likely have company very soon. And when Microsoft figures out how to stream PC games to Xbox One and integrates mouse and keyboard support, the next logical step is simply beaming your entire PC with full Windows 10 functionality straight to your TV. If I play Ori in Windows 10, there are some things I can do through the Xbox app; pressing Win-G or the Xbox home button on my controller to take screenshots or record footage, for instance. Wardell says it’s “not hard” to go to DirectX 12, and that his developers made the shift with relative ease. “These high-end games, like Unreal Engine or CryEngine, you know, your first-person shooters and such, they will probably have DirectX 12 versions very shortly.

While it’s always been possible to use a PC from your couch in some way or another, Windows 10-to-Xbox streaming could make that process easier than ever, and potentially encourage mass adoption of the practice at long last. A feature like this takes time to do right, but I’d expect to hear more details and even a release window during Microsoft’s Gamescom events next week.

And when they arrive, we’re talking about a pretty huge, instantaneous performance boost.” It sounds counterintuitive, but Wardell told me the performance gains with DirectX 12 will be greater the slower your CPU is. These all may seem like minor points, but over time they could snowball in a way that could pose a threat to Sony , which seems to be pretty content sitting on their PS4 sales lead.

That, to put it simply, is just a reflection of how big a deal activating all those idle cores turns out to be. “The older your box, the better Windows 10 is,” says Wardell. “So if you have like a Core i5 [Intel’s mid-range CPU series] with a decent video card, you’ll actually see a bigger gain than if you have some monster Core i7 high-end CPU.” Again, the game has to be DirectX 12 aware to benefit, but it’s a fascinating, hugely ironic Windows 10 wrinkle that its chief beneficiaries may be gamers running older multicore hardware. “Because it’s using all your cores, DirectX 12 uses a lot less power,” says Wardell. “Whenever you max out a core, you’re using a lot more power overall than if you’re distributing the load across multiple cores. With such a dominant lead in the console race, they’re comfortable adding less features, and even heading into holiday windows without major exclusive games. So that means big power savings, especially for laptop gamers where battery life becomes a vital factor.” The unanticipated flip side of this, Wardell tells me, is that DirectX 12’s core repurposing could actually harm extreme-end overclocked PCs. “Here’s a sneak preview of the first scandal,” jokes Wardell. “All these people who overclocked their machines could in theory wind up frying their computers, because with all those cores going all out, your PC’s going to run way hotter.” How many video cards do you have in your PC?

Xbox Live-enabled games didn’t exactly take off on Windows 8; as of today the store is populated with little more than mobile ports and Microsoft’s new, social versions of games like Minesweeper and Mahjong. The one big Windows 10 game to hit the store today is a new version of Minecraft, ironically enough given Notch’s prior statements on the Windows Store. Add the one on top of the other and, if he’s right, the shift at a developmental level starts to sound like that rare confluence of evolutionary plus the letter ‘r’. The PC’s open nature is one of its biggest strengths — Spencer correctly points out that Minecraft’s success came down to “a dude just creates a Java app, throws it up with a PayPal link, and all of a sudden it becomes massive.” But in practice, most PC gamers are so entrenched in their Steam libraries that almost anything else is an unwelcome distraction. When the benchmarks start showing up in a week or so, it’s going to be so extreme, I think a lot of people are going to think they’re fake.” Windows 8 gamers—the small percentage who made that leap, anyway (Wardell says it’s around 23%)—you can just skip this one, because you’re already enjoying lightning-fast Windows boot times.

But Microsoft believes the Xbox ecosystem has something unique to add to Windows. “Back in the day with Games for Windows [Live] when it was out, really there was a sentiment inside the Xbox group that if we could only get those Windows people to play games on the console, that would help us sell more Xboxes,” says Spencer. “I love selling more Xboxes. [But] more than selling more Xboxes, I love having people have fun on Xbox Live. But if you’ve been living on Windows 7 all this time, Windows 10’s startup times are slightly faster than Windows 8’s, and dramatically faster than Windows 7’s. Microsoft doesn’t seem too invested in the concept of a PC gaming store, let alone the prospect of taking on Steam. “Steam is massive and they’ve been incredibly important to the Windows gaming ecosystem,” says Spencer. “Five years from now I want Steam to be incredibly popular and successful.

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