Project xCloud E3 Demo – First Impressions and New Details

We got a chance to go hands-on with Xbox’s upcoming game streaming service, Project xCloud, at the Xbox booth at E3. We were also able to ask a few questions to one of the developers on the project.

Here are our impressions:

The games we demoed were Gears of War and Resident Evil 7 on an Android smartphone tethered to an Xbox One controller.

While playing Resident Evil 7, the game was very responsive. I always do the “menu-test” while judging latency, and the menu selection seemed instant as I moved the d-pad between selections. Gears of War controlled nicely too, though I could judge a small amount of latency when moving the camera around. It remained very playable, though, and was impressive being on WiFi.

As for quality, the visual quality looked great. The video was very clear and had no visible artifacts. I was told it was running at 720p.

When asked if 4K will come down the road for bigger screens besides mobile devices, he said, “Eventually we will get there. 720p doesn’t look good blown up on bigger screens, so when we launch on bigger screens we will get there.”

When I asked if the hardware being used is comparable to an Xbox One S or X console, I was told that it isn’t comparable to either. The service is using a custom hardware in Azure data centers that isn’t directly comparable. It sounds like it can be upgraded as time goes on to fulfill higher resolutions and more powerful hardware.

As for the gameplay experience, it was smooth enough to be playable. However, there was some noticable stuttering throughout my demo. But I can’t say it will be like this in the consumer version, because it could be the interference with many people in the Xbox booth interfering with the signal. Even so, it was a remarkably playable and nearly lag-free experience, and I came away impressed.

The demo ran on 5Ghz WiFi at their E3 booth. When asked if the 5Ghz made a difference compared to the 2.4Ghz band, I was told it will run well on 2.4G WiFi too. According to the developer, in their solution, the difference between 2.4G WiFi and 5G WiFi is the least important factor in the latency equation for xCloud.

The app we used was a custom app built just for the E3 demo, but when asked, the developer said they don’t yet know what format they will end up packaging xCloud in when it launches and that’s something they still need to figure out. It could be in the Xbox app or have its own standalone app.

Some other details I was told:

The service will launch on mobile first in October, and needs around 10-15mb download speed to run well.

While playing, the phone sees it as just a streaming video, so as long as it the phone can stream video, it will work well.

Final Thoughts

Overall, it appears it is still early days for xCloud, as some of the details have yet to be fleshed out, and it will launch as a mobile experience first. At launch, it has a very different target from other streaming services like Google Stadia.

But what I played at E3 was very promising, and with the fact that the service will be leveraged by potentially thousands of games, and be upgraded down the line to be playable on more devices with higher resolutions, it could end up being the top dog of game streaming in the future. It’s too early to tell at the moment, as all of the tech is still being developed, but I can say with confidence that game streaming services like xCloud will certainly become a viable way to play games in the future.

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Star Wars: Jedi Fallen Order E3 Game Preview – New Details

EA and Respawn held an extended gameplay demo for Star Wars Jedi Fallen Order Wednesday at the Xbox E3 stage. A producer on the game was there to share a 45 min gameplay demo and discussion on the game, where we learned new details.

The demo starts about 10 mins before the 15-min demo shown off on the EA Play livestream, and explains more about how the game’s main protagonist, Cal, finds himself in the land of Kasshyk. He starts off in a forest-like area and we get to see more interactions with the different characters, an epic sequence where Cal takes control of (and then crashes) an AT-AT, and see a brief glimpse of force freeze powers and how skill trees will work in the game. For a detailed write-up on the demo, visit Eurogamer’s story.

In addition to the demo, a short Q&A session was held by the producer after the gameplay session.

Some other details shared with us by the producer follow:

First off, the E3 demo starts approximately 3 hours into the game.

He elaborates that this demo shows off a side mission, not core to the main story of the game, because the team didn’t want to spoil the story so far before release. Because the game is still in alpha development stage, he stated that there is still a lot of work left to do before the game releases.

On the story, he explains that the team crafted the story hand in hand with LucasFilm, and the story will be part of the main canon.

He also said there will be no “BioWare-style” story progression, meaning your actions won’t change the story too much. Therefore, there will not be any “dark side vs light side” choices to affect the story, and no cliffhanger ending.

On the main character, Cal, his story goes like this:

He has just survived the purge of order 66, and goes through what it means to trust again throughout the game.

He is a padawan in training with lots of learning to do, and throughout the game, he learns on the job. The producer explains that Cal takes on a hero’s journey to become a Jedi knight, restore Jedi order

As for the actor who plays Cal, the team wanted someone who was like a young Clint Eastwood. Cameron (the actor) ended up in the “other” folder in their auditions folder, but the lead writer went through and picked him back up from the pile.

As for the gameplay difficulty seen in the demo, the lead producer, Blair, played on 200th plus his playthrough, and the settings were tuned to show off gameplay. However, besides the tweaks, the host told us that the game was set to about normal difficulty.

The control scheme is designed so that the player decides how they want to play. The game is designed so that as the player levels up, you as a player level up at same time by getting better with the game.

On the subject of how long the game will be, the producer told us that the game takes on a metroidvania style design, where if you want to 100% the game, you will need to retraverse previously visited areas.

You will also have many upgrades throughout the game. For example, You can upgrade your Droid, BD1, with a new capacitor to short circuit construction panlea, and throughout the game, you will unlock new abilities to interact with the world.

As another example. Abilities like force push can knock over obstacles to unlock previously unreachable areas.

The game will have at least 7 planets.

Lastly, as for what the demo is running on, we were told the gameplay demo is being played on a development PC with an Xbox controller plugged in.

The team is still exploring PC features like raytracing and optimizing, but he said it should support 4K on Xbox One X.

That’s all the details we have for now.

Stay tuned to Gamer Splash for further coverage on Star Wars: Jedi Fallen Order and more exclusive gaming news.

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15 New Features Coming to Nintendo’s “Switch Pro”

With news that two new Switch models are on the way, with a potential reveal at E3, one wonders what form the new Nintendo Switch model may end up taking.

Through several sources and evidence built up over the past year, here is what we now know about the Nintendo Switch Pro. In this article, we will attempt to differentiate between what we know as nearly certain, what is rumored at the moment, and what we can speculate with good confidence.

Switch Pro: What We Know

As reported by The Wall Street Journal, the “Switch Pro” will launch as early as Summer 2019.

Under our list, find an explanation for each new feature and why we believe they are plausible additions:

  1. The Switch Pro will be revealed as early as E3 2019, and launch by this Fall (Wall Street Journal)
  2. The Switch Pro will be more powerful than the current Nintendo Switch (but not at the level of PS4 Pro or Xbox One X) (Wall Street Journal)
  3. The Switch Pro may use upgraded screens from Sharp. The screen will be brighter than the current model. (Wall Street Journal)
  4. The Switch Pro will have new features suited to core gamers (Wall Street Journal)
  5. The Switch Pro may have a thinner design and a new form factor (Wall Street Journal)
  6. The Switch Pro may offer upgraded WiFi and Bluetooth support (Nintendo job listing)
  7. The Switch Pro (and Switch Mini) may offer a new custom SoC, compared to the stock Tegra X1 chip in the current Switch (Nintendo job listing; Spawn Wave)
  8. The Switch Pro may replace the current Nintendo Switch entirely and remain around the same price point, as Nintendo seeks to move onto new SoC’s.
  9. The Switch Pro may have improved battery life (Wall Street Journal)
  10. The Nintendo Switch Pro may support USB Power Delivery for fast-charging (Nintendo job listing; viaSuperMetalDave64)
  11. The Switch Pro may support parallel and asynchronous video processing (Nintendo job listing)
  12. The Switch Pro may support spatial audio (Nintendo job listing; via SuperMetalDave64)
  13. The Switch Pro may have a new user interface (Nintendo job listing; via SuperMetalDave64)
  14. The Switch Pro will be marketed this time as a “portable first” vs. a “home console first” (Gamer Splash source)
  15. Nintendo’s internal teams pushed for more powerful hardware to utilize for upcoming games (Gamer Splash source)

Point 1: The WSJ report says Nintendo could launch the revised Switch as soon as Summer 2019, which would be roughly 2.5 years into the console’s lifecycle. With console lifespans averaging 5 to 6 years, that makes it perfect time for a mid-cycle refresh. Sony and Microsoft have both executed this strategy successfully without compromising compatibility of existing game libraries, so it’s a sensible move for Nintendo.

We also have heard from our source, as far back as 2016, back when the Switch was called the NX, that there would be more than two SKUs for the Switch, so this information has only become more credible with time.

Point 2: While the Switch has received several AAA third-party games like Fortnite, Doom, and Dark Souls, it still lacks the same amount of third-party support as “full consoles,” such as the Xbox One and PlayStation 4.

It’s been known ever since the Switch launched that the system has not had the power to keep up with many modern games. Take, for example, third-party titles like Assassin’s Creed, Call of Duty, or Resident Evil 2 coming to multiple competing platforms, but not to Switch.

Having a system at least as powerful as the base 2013 Xbox One would net the system much more third-party AAA support, which would therefore increase system sales for Nintendo and keep it afloat even when first-party hits are few and far between (as we saw in Nintendo’s 2018).

Point 3: According to the Wall Street Journal, the upcoming Switch revision will include a “brighter” screen. Personally, we think the Switch screen is bright enough indoors, but outdoors, it could use more brightness. The screen resolution could be bumped to 1080p in handheld mode too, if power allows.

Point 4: According to The Wall Street Journal, the Switch Pro will offer new features for “avid gamers” that are not available on the current Switch. We don’t know exactly what features will be added, but we speculate that Nintendo may enhance the controllers with analog triggers, as well as a headphone jack with better voice chat support – something gamers have wanted for a long time. Analog triggers in particular would be a great addition to the Switch, allowing full support for GameCube games directly on Switch controllers, as well as modern shooters and racing games.

Point 5: The Switch can definitely use smaller screen bezels, so having those would make the design look nicer. But beyond that, what else can we expect from the design? The Wall Street Journal has stated that the upcming model of Switch will be “thinner,” so take that as you may. They also state that a new form factor is possible and it will not “be a simple upgrade like from PS4 and PS4 Pro.” Take that as you may, but to us, we can speculate that there could be a new design tied to new features of the upgraded Switch model.

Point 6: The Switch Pro may be getting improved WiFi and Bluetooth support, thanks to a recent job listing by Nintendo, calling for an engineer to work on new Bluetooth and WiFi protocols for upcoming hardware. WiFi 6 support is possible, which could improve the Switch’s WiFi connection speed and reliability, while also using less power. Improved Bluetooth support could add Bluetooth audio and controller support to Switch while also improving Joy-Con connectivity issues.

Point 7: Here’s a big one. We all know that the Nintendo Switch uses a near-stock Nvidia Tegra X1 SoC (the same one used in the Nvidia Shield TV). But rumor has it, the Switch Pro may be getting a new custom System on Chip (SoC). Nintendo’s job listings have suggested new SoC development for upcoming hardware, which indicates a new SoC is coming. Additionally, according to Spawn Wave, Nvidia and partners are tired of making Tegra X1 chips and are running out of the current allotment, so partners may be pushing Nintendo to come out with their custom Nvidia silicon sooner than later. This new Switch Pro and even the Switch Mini will likely use this new SoC, with the Switch Mini possibly receiving a downgraded version of it.

Point 8: Additionally, the current Nintendo Switch may be replaced with the Switch Pro at the current price point, as production on the current Tegra X1 chip ceases and Nintendo moves onto the new chips. The current Nintendo Switch hardware has been hacked endlessly due to the hardware-level flaw in the Tegra SoC that allows people to bypass the boot security and hack the system — so finally moving all Switch hardware onto a new SoC may solve Nintendo’s hacking problem with Switch.

Point 9: According to the Wall Street Journal, the Switch will see battery life improvements. Improvements to the WiFi chip and having a custom system on chip (SoC) can both increase battery life by operating with more efficiency, even while increasing the system’s performance. Moving to a smaller CPU die size in the new SoC will increase power efficiency, as well.

Point 10: According to a new job listing on Nintendo’s Japanese site, the Nintendo Switch Pro may support USB Power Delivery for fast-charging, similar to today’s modern USB-C Android devices. A new adapter is being developed with new technologies, and with fast-charging a possibility, charging your Switch up before leaving your home may be a much quicker and convenient process.

Point 11: According to a new job listing from Nintendo, the Swich may support parallel and asynchronous processing. This can enable GPU performance gains of 20% while not using much more power, and also increase performance of Switch ports. SuperMetalDave64 explains the concept in detail in his video.

Point 12: Improvements may also be in order for the Switch’s audio. While the Nintendo Switch currently supports 5.1 LPCM surround sound through AV receivers, a job listing from late 2018 suggests Nintendo is developing spatial audio for upcoming hardware. Spatial audio could support more VR titles for Nintendo in the future, as well as better 3D sound for headphones.

Point 13: Improvements may also be in order for the Switch’s UI. Switch’s UI has been barebones up until now, with features like themes and better friend online support lacking. Nintendo may be looking to change that, with a new job listing suggesting Nintendo may be adding a new design to the User Experience on Switch.

Point 14: In discussing with one of our sources, we have learned that the Switch Pro will be the most powerful console Nintendo has released, but Nintendo will market it as a portable console that can connect to your TV, rather than a home console that can be played on the go (current Switch marketing). The benefit of this approach is differentiating it from the current Switch while also capitalizing on the appeal of the mobile lifestyles of current consumers.

Point 15: Discussing with one of our sources has also revealed that Nintendo’s internal teams (especially Retro Studios) have been pushing for more power to utilize for their upcoming games. This would make sense for these studios to run their games with more cutting-edge visual effects and keep stable frame-rates, as well. For titles as demanding as Metroid Prime 4, this makes a lot of sense.

A New Switch is Coming.

Most of these rumors are based on real evidence and have good reasoning to support these things being plausible in an upcoming Switch revision. However, things always change fast, and while we hope all of these features make it into a Switch Pro, we will not know exactly what the Switch Pro will end up being until it is finally shown by Nintendo. One thing is for certain, though: a new, upgraded Switch and Switch “Mini” are both confirmed by multiple sources from around the world to be coming, and regardless of what comes out of it, we can’t be more excited.

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-Noah Sanchez, Gamer Splash

Nintendo Still Has a Lot to Prove in 2019

With the second calendar year of the Nintendo Switch now in the books, it’s now time to look to 2019 and all it has in store for the Switch.

Nintendo has had its share of ups and downs this year. Although Nintendo had some great moments in 2018, like the launch of Super Smash Bros. Ultimate and Pokemon Let’s Go, it’s been a much softer year in terms of first-party content for Nintendo Switch.

2017, in comparison, was stacked with hits throughout the year, with Breath of the Wild, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, Splatoon 2, and Super Mario Odyssey all filling out that year and making the Switch Nintendo’s fastest-selling console. In contrast, due to a lack of first-party hits, the Switch hasn’t sold so fast this year.

Additionally, the ill-received launch of Nintendo Switch Online and the lack of more legacy content (Virtual Console) on Nintendo Switch, have left fans eagerly awaiting solutions to these problems.

With 2018 now over, fans have been looking eagerly to 2019 for Nintendo to release more games, and hardware. While we know another Pokemon game, Animal Crossing, Luigi’s Mansion, and Fire Emblem games are coming next year, there are still many unanswered questions in regards to what else Nintendo has up its sleeve.

Indeed, in 2018, after numerous credible rumors, Nintendo fans expected games like Metroid Prime Trilogy, Metroid Prime 4, Bayonetta 3, The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword HD, and Star Fox Racing to be announced at E3 or The Game Awards. However, many gamers were left in the cold with these games never showing up. Even then, despite these games not coming to light, some of these credible sources have said that these games are real and in development – they just haven’t been shown yet.

Additionally, credible rumors of a much-needed Nintendo Switch hardware upgrade have fueled fans’ desires to see what Nintendo has cooking, even more. With certain Switch games suffering from very low resolutions, bad framerates, or many third-party games simply not being able to make it over from other modern consoles to Switch (Resident Evil 2, I’m looking at you), an upgraded Switch that could potentially handle these games with ease has never felt so necessary.

Thus, we look forward to 2019 with excitement for the new titles on Nintendo’s hardware, but also anticipation for what Nintendo hasn’t shown yet.

Since Nintendo Directs have been a thing, as the important Holiday season comes to a close, Nintendo has always hosted a Nintendo Direct in January to inform fans and investors what they are planning for the new year.

Besides seeing more info on expected games, if Nintendo wants to truly stay competitive and in many fans’ and investors’ good graces, January is the time to finally pull the lid off of some of the surprises it has in 2019.

As we reflect on 2018, it’s never been a better time to be a Nintendo fan, not only for what it has offered thus far, but especially for what it has in store in 2019. If Nintendo’s track record is anything to go by, we will find out very soon.

What do you hope to see on Switch in 2019? Let us know in the comments below.

Nintendo, You’re Doing Cloud Saves Wrong

Ever since the Nintendo Switch came out in March 2017, despite having many modern and lauded features, many have been quick to point out some of its flaws. From launch until today, there has been no cloud save feature for games on the system.

Whereas Xbox and PlayStation have had cloud saves since last generation, 2017’s Nintendo Switch had no such feature. When Nintendo finally announced that the paid Nintendo Switch Online subscription service would offer cloud saves, many gamers rejoiced. No more, many thought, would a gamer who lost his Nintendo Switch have to restart his 300-hour Breath of the Wild game save, from scratch. He would no longer have to grind his way back up to the top in Splatoon 2.

But today’s news that certain games would not support cloud saves came as a surprise. Whereas a rival system like the Xbox One saves every single game to the cloud universally, it appears Nintendo is allowing each developer to “opt-in” to whether they want to use cloud saves or not.

Here is the current list of games that do not support cloud saves:

Splatoon 2

Pokémon Let’s Go Eevee & Pikachu

FIFA 19

NBA 2K19

Dark Souls Remastered

Dead Cells

It’s worth noting that all of the multiplatform games on this list support cloud saves on Xbox and PlayStation. And this list is likely to grow.

Worse yet, Nintendo’s official reasoning behind the change is maddening and confusing, to say the least.

Per Game Informer, here is Nintendo’s response to the issue:

The vast majority of Nintendo Switch games will support Save Data Cloud backup. However, in certain games this feature would make it possible to, for example, regain items that had been traded to other players, or revert to a higher online multiplayer ranking that had been lost. To ensure fair play, Save Data Cloud backup may not be enabled for such games. To ensure that Save Data Cloud backups cannot be used to unfairly affect online multiplayer rankings, the feature will not be enabled in Splatoon 2.

Breaking this down, this response indicates a very important distinction in the way Nintendo is conceptualizing its cloud saving feature. Besides not being available at a system level for each game, Nintendo’s response makes it clear that players’ cloud saves will not be automatically synced to the cloud, like Xbox One’s system enforces. Per Nintendo’s words, this looks more and more like Nintendo will be instead implementing cloud saves with the same thought process as how it implements them on the NES Classic Edition; That is, Nintendo will give gamers different cloud saving “slots,” the same way as it does with offline single player games such as Breath of the Wild. Players can then choose to load up one of, potentially many, “cloud saves” from a cloud save list, the same way players can load up any normal offline save from their offline save list.

There are many reasons having multiple save files are beneficial for offline play in single-player games. Say you got stuck in a tough boss battle with low health and few items, making it near-impossible to get through it. What do you do? Bingo: fire up a previous save and stock up on items before you face that bad boy again. Or say you were near the end of a game and your character suddenly died, the game then forcing you to restart from far back. A save file closer to where you were before is helpful in this situation, as well.

However, there is a good reason online games, such as Splatoon, Halo, and Gran Turismo, don’t give you save slots (at least in the online portions). The reason is because all of the online data is stored in the cloud.

Now, from a certain perspective, Nintendo’s logic in their response is sound. If it is indeed possible to revert saves to alter online play, then it is a good call for Nintendo to not allow cloud saves on Switch.

The issue is that this situation is only possible in the first place, because Nintendo implemented an inferior cloud save model, where it gives players the option to revert players’ local saves to previous cloud saves created at an earlier time. In this case, as unfortunate as it is, Nintendo is making the right decision to thwart cheaters.

But why isn’t this an issue on Xbox One and PlayStation, and how are these platforms able to have cloud saves on each and every game without the same concerns Nintendo has? This is because these systems do not allow for reverting a current offline or online game save to a previous, specifically Online version. The only way Nintendo’s concern makes sense is if it is allowing players to revert their game saves to previous online game saves. So, it’s rather obvious this is the kind of system Nintendo intends to implement here.

This approach to cloud saves makes sense for single-player games such as Super Mario Odyssey or Breath of the Wild. However, it should not be a one-size-fits-all approach, because games that dare to have online components like Splatoon 2 and FIFA 19 become a victim to that decision, Nintendo putting online gaming fairness en masse over individual save data security.

It is also puzzling to me why, if Nintendo does want to stick with its cloud save data reversion feature, Nintendo can’t achieve the technical issue of allowing single-player save data in a game like Splatoon 2 to be reverted without affecting a player’s online rankings. This suggests that a player’s online data is tied to the offline game save data, when it should have been saved in the cloud all along. Now that we know this is the case, it’s another reason Nintendo has done things wrong here and is having to make this decision.

This situation also makes me wonder why Nintendo can’t just make sure that once a console is connected to the internet, it adopts a system like Xbox One’s, where instead of giving the player the option to revert to a previous online save, the system automatically synchronizes the player’s latest game save, whether offline or online, and overwrites the older one.

Nintendo could simply choose to implement this auto-synchronization function for online games and preserve the cloud save function, and if it wants, it can use revertable cloud saves for games such as Breath of the Wild. There’s no reason why the Switch cannot use two different cloud save systems for two very different kind of games, when that framework can allow the benefit of cloud saves to games such as Splatoon 2. Implementing this approach would work, and gamers would benefit.

Not implementing this approach signals to me that Nintendo’s current game save system is out of date, and thus incompatible with this set-up, or Nintendo wants to keep everything simple for gamers and would rather have the same exact cloud save functions across every game. However, the victims of this decision, then, are online multiplayer games.

Nintendo has dug themselves into a pretty large hole here. But they can solve this.

If they simply adopt a universal auto-synchronization system like Xbox One’s, or even do this for only games with online multiplayer, then precious save data for games like Splatoon 2 would be able to be safely backed up to the cloud, and gamers could finally rejoice at the feeling that their save data will be safe, no matter what happens to their Switch.

As it stands now, though, it looks like cloud saves will be a neat feature to have for offline Nintendo Switch games, but a gamer who happens to lose or damage his Nintendo Switch will still have to start from scratch for a game like Splatoon 2.

Nintendo still has time to fix this. If not when the service launches, then any time after. But as of now, fans of online games on Nintendo’s system will still have to be subject to uncertainty regarding their save data. And in 2018, that is not acceptable.

Mega Man 30th Anniversary Panel at Comic Con 2018 – Exclusive

The producers of the Mega Man series hosted a panel on all things Mega Man at San Diego Comic-Con this past weekend. Get an exclusive look at concept art, new gameplay, and a behind-the-scenes look at the making of Mega Man X Legacy Collection 1 & 2, as well as Mega Man 11.

 

For more on Mega Man, Comic-Con, and everything gaming, be sure to follow Gamer Splash.

-Noah Sanchez, Gamer Splash

Resident Evil 2 Panel Recording – Comic Con 2018 Exclusive

Gamer Splash was on hand to record a large portion of the Resident Evil 2 panel at this past weekend’s San Diego Comic-Con. Check out a behind-the-scenes look at the making of Resident Evil 2 remake, including never-before-seen concept art.

Check out the full clip below:

Follow Gamer Splash for more exclusives from Comic-Con and future gaming events.

-Noah Sanchez, Gamer Splash