Turns Out Microsoft’s Cloud Can Be Useful For Gaming

Since it was first mentioned, the potential for using the Azure cloud servers to back up the processing power of the Xbox One and improve the games on the system has become more a running joke than a selling point. Early mentions of what it could add were rather wishy-washy and light on details, so it was only once we saw Titanfall bringing on-the-fly dedicated servers and controlling the AI grunts within the levels that we got an inkling of what it could add to games.

While the usage of the cloud was more for infrastructure and flexibility on Titanfall, a new tech demo from Microsoft’s Build developer conference shows that it could actually add to a single player experience too:

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There are several caveats to this demo, starting with the relatively minor point that this is running on two PCs, rather than Xbox Ones, and the cloud connected PC surely has an idealised internet connection to the server. We also do not know if the code running locally on the PC was being optimised to run the complex physics simulation using the GPU or CPU, with the former much more capable for these sorts of calculations.

However, it is still an impressive example of the ability to offload certain intensive calculations to remote servers in real time, which would free up local resources for other aspects of the game. As long as it’s being used to enhance connected consoles and doesn’t detract from the overall game when not connected to the internet, this can only really be a good thing, and one which will be fascinating to see evolve as developers get to grips with what is possible.

Source: Kotaku via VG247

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27 Comments

  1. still not convinced.

    show it on a console, in a real world situation where there could be thousands of users, then i might be a little impressed.

    and like any cloud based service/title, what happens when your connection goes down?

    • My thoughts exactly. I can’t imagine this working on launch of something as popular as something like COD/Battlefield/GTA/Titanfall…….

      • The Azure cloud is huge and not restricted to being used for Xbox games. There’s tons of processing capacity because developers are simply hooking into the already existing server farms and infrastructure.

        There’s a lot of flexibility to this set up and, funnily enough, we already have this kind of distributed simulation on a host server present in Battlefield 4, with the waves in the oceans are calculated on the servers and networked to all player consoles/PCs at the same time. It’s entirely plausible that this is at the heart of certain rubber-banding issues and their recently stated need to scale up their server capacity…

        But, you know what? If they were part of the crowd, scaling their usage up and down as part of a big pool of users, with server capacity that can handle a heck of a lot more than their need, then maybe they wouldn’t be having some of these problems?

    • Spot on.

      It’s going to take more than a carefully planned tech demo – run on a PC – to convince me the Xbox One will utilise the cloud in any major useful way.

    • Has no hardware requirements, so PS4 {or any other console) could do this in the future, if by some miracle it turns out not to be a huge white elephant

  2. When the “cloud” demolition starts they seem very eager to turn around and look at buildings in the distance.. Something tells me they did that for a reason.

    • They should’ve stayed focussed on it, yes, but all the calculations are still going on in the background. If actually having it shown on screen mattered, then when he similarly turned away just as the explosions were going off on the locally processed PC, then it would not have shown the kind of frame drop it did. He started adding to the physics calculations going on.

  3. Can’t see the big deal here as I’m pretty sure I made some building or object explode like that about 10 years ago in Bryce on a G3 mac when I discovered the random displacement random filter. lol
    It did render at about 1 frame per hour but it looked cool!

    • I’m pretty sure that’s the point? That it can maintain a stable and usable fps while all this is going on?

      • Yeah I kinda get that, but my mac was at a stable 1fph which I found very user friendly as it allowed me to go home to bed, then see the finished product when I got in the office the next day :)

  4. Due to Microsoft ditching always on these features will generally not be utilized.

  5. I’ll wait until a real world open-to-the-public on-console demonstration before dropping my load thanks.
    Yes it looks promising … however now whenever I see tech demo’s from MS regarding new technologies I always think of the “Milo, it’s in real time … it really is … promise … no really … completely ad-hoc … ok fine, it was staged and rehearsed” scenario.
    Same reason I never get super awed by a game until I see the actual release code running.

    Not to mention if this is the best they can do in a closed and strictly controlled environment using 2 PC’s (and I guarantee then won’t be run-of-the-mill ones), it highlights to me just how far away this concept is from on-console application.
    This is basically MS’s attempt to steer the “PS4 is more powerful and games are performing better on it” argument back to “XB1 is better, look at teh powa of teh cloud!”.
    1 – Show this working on an XB1 on public internet connections
    2 – Considering its cloud based show, when this does become publicly feasible, exactly what would prevent Nintendo or Sony from doing the same thing

    • 2 PC’s, one not using the cloud, one using it, not combined :-/

      • I said using 2 PC’s, not 2 connected/combined PC’s, didn’t I? The demo did use 2 PC’s, right?

  6. This is a great demo.
    I am a glass half full guy when it comes to cloud based gaming (assisting local processes). I drool when i think of a persistent online world where my PC/XB1 and (hopefully) even PS4 renders my character/car/mech locally but lets the cloud render the world i play in.

    The drivatar feature in Forza 5 alone has impressed me, especially after enduring the dull AI in Gran Turismo 6. Though not a huge fan of Titanfall, i appreciate the busyness those cloud powered grunts give each game.

    Imagine inFAMOUS Second Son with a fully destructible Seattle, persistent too. The PS4 rendering (what i think) the best console visuals to date, but the cloud deals calculating the destruction and telling our lovely consoles what to display.

    Azure may be exclusive to MS but the technology isn’t, Sony may even rent MS servers one day.

    Either way it is exciting for the industry (as is VR), an industry born from passion, optimism, enthusiasm and risk taking. Glad the sceptics here aren’t making any of the games i’m looking forward too :-p

    • Cloud is not required for a destructible open world. Mercenaries 2 and red faction guerilla did that very well quite early on in the ps360 lifecycle.

      That was with below average RAM capacity and little ability/support for GPU compute. Now we have comparable RAM to pc and gpus with more potential power than a £300+ Intel i7.

      Persistent worlds and fast paced multiplayer games are the greater benefits from cloud power, and having Azure means Xbox are future proofed in that area.

      • It certainly isn’t required but could take pressure off local rendering thus improving the effects.
        Mercenaries and Red Faction were ok but not 6000+ chunks of debris in real-time. Red Faction was impressive with real-time stress calculations on the structures, but what if those calculations could be off-loaded. Frostbite is also brilliant but no where near the destructive level demonstrated.

  7. The simple thing is the more longer or complicated a calculation is, the less likely it can be run within a single game loop, and the more likely you can make the calculation asynchronous, utilising distributed processing on a grid (I’m old school, using the word ‘cloud’ just isn’t right) becomes a good bet to reduce the impact on the CPU, also precalculating results for the most common scenarios is also a good use of off box processing.

  8. It’s difficult to tell from that uneven presentation. A live gameplay scenario showing something which would otherwise not be possible on an offline high-end PC whose specs are known, that might be impressive.

  9. I just don’t get it lol?? I’ve been destroying buildings online and not online for donkeys?

  10. I can easily see the benefits for multiplayer-games already online, but not singleplayer. Too many “if”s and “but”s.

    Is this an anti-Australia and South Africa movement by Microsoft, seeing how they have no servers? “No, you can’t play Halo 5, because you live on the southern hemisphere! “

    • Take Skyrim – large sections of processing for NPCs are done in AI packages which is really just a fancy way of triggering a set behaviour on a certain event, a lot of the side effects of those packages can be run on a grid, with you simply downloading a set of ‘what happened when I waited til 2am’ instead of the local machine figuring it out there and then, also if that kind of processing can be done on line, patches become smaller, because you only download what effects your client side – a patch to the server is instant and available to all simultaneously which also reduces bandwidth requirements for the patch servers,

      Of course, at the same time, you need fallback processing in case of being offline

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