This week had some exciting new for Xbox fans. Project Scorpio’s internal processing specifications have been released by Digital Foundry with Microsoft’s permission. And though I consider myself a tech-head, a fair bit of the specs are not meaningful to me. I figure they may go over many of my readers’ heads as well. So let’s look beyond the specs at what Microsoft’s decisions since Project Scorpio’s announcement at E3 2016 mean for Xbox gamers.
The era of mid-generation upgrades
Last year, when Head-of-Xbox Phil Spencer announced Project Scorpio, the notion of a mid-generation upgrade was still a fresh idea. Sony had announced, and later released, the PlayStation 4 Pro (previously called “Neo”), and Microsoft announced Project Scorpio, to be released the following year. Both of these console revisions boasted increased power, performance, display resolution, frame rate, etc. over their base-level predecessors. But what would be done with that power? Well, that was less clear
PlayStation 4 Pro “Boost Mode”
Starting at firmware update 4.5, PS4 pro owners can enable Boost Mode, aka “Beast Mode”. Boost mode allows the improved Pro hardware to run PS4 games at higher framerates…sometimes. Boost mode is not intended as a cure-all for old games performance issues, but may help certain titles to run better.
With the announcement of upgraded console hardware came concern that owners of the upgrades would have an advantage in multiplayer games. There was a strong distaste for this idea from vocal gamers prior to the release of Boost Mode, which I addressed an a previous article. The existence of Boost Mode may have played a role in Microsoft’s direction in handling pre-Scorpio titles, which is technically superior in every way.
Project Scorpio doesn’t need a “mode”
Unlike the PS4, there is no Boost Mode for Project Scorpio. Rather, the performance gains are available for every game at all times. This is a win for Xbox gamers. The argument that multiplayer modes should remain unaffected to maintain parity was flawed to begin with. Scorpio’s faster CPU and more powerful GPU will be running even on older games. And the lack of a system setting means one less thing to fiddle with. To ensure compatibility, Microsoft is testing Project Scorpio with all previous Xbox One games, and adjusting parameters to maintain stability.
Scorpio improves the entire Xbox game catalog
While many would be content if Scorpio simply improved games that were designed specifically to scale to its power, Microsoft went the extra mile. Because Scorpio uses the same fundamental architecture as the base Xbox One, Scorpio will run Xbox One games natively. But, thanks to the way the rendering pipeline is designed on Xbox One games, stock Xbox One games will be able to run at increased framerates and resolutions on Project Scorpio.
Course correction or poor phrasing?
Following the E3 2016 Scorpio reveal, we were hungry for information. We wanted to know how Scorpio would handle existing software (games). We wanted to know what performance gains, if any, Scorpio owners would benefit from. Possibly due to lack of direction, possibly due to poor communication, we were told by Microsoft Studios general manager Shannon Loftis that there wouldn’t be a frame rate difference between Xbox One games and Project Scorpio games. It’s possible that she meant ‘there wouldn’t be a target frame rate difference’, but that wasn’t clear from her original statement.
What we know from Digital Foundry’s time with Scorpio is that the games will scale up to the target frame rate without a patch. This simply means that if a game engine was “aiming for” 30 frames per second, Scorpio wouldn’t suddenly make the game run at 60 frames per second. In the cases of games that have unlocked frame rates, Scorpio will run them up to the maximum limit.
Xbox owners win!
The great news about Scorpio boosting frame rates in games that suffered inconsistent frames per second is that this applies to the whole library of “backward compatible” games. In this case, by backward compatible, I mean “Xbox One games and Xbox 360 games”. Scorpio is setting the standard for how console upgrades will be done from here on. Your game catalog moves with you through future console iterations and even performs better on newer hardware.
I’m thankful that Xbox didn’t try to “appease the mob” by restricting Scorpios performance upgrades to single player experiences. And there has never been a better time to get into Xbox gaming than with Scorpio. Scorpio looks to provide the best console gaming experience for years to come, providing that you like Xbox’s game lineup that is.
We’ll learn more together at E3 2017. Until then, God bless and game on!