Interview with Avalanche Studios CTO: “Xbox One Cloud Functionality Pushed as a Marketing Tool”

Blomberg explains how Microsoft’s claims of cloud functionality are a little misleading, among other things.

With E3 2013 only a few days away, and the next generation of gaming primed to unfold before our very eyes, the controversies and collateral damage that new technology brings is only now becoming more apparent. Microsoft recently sent out new information regarding its policies for privacy, connectivity and more on the Xbox One, which has effortlessly made people more worried, while Sony gets ready to reveal the PlayStation 4 design that’s been hidden for months now.

We spoke to Avalanche Studios CTO and co-founder Linus Blomberg about the next generation of consoles, including their out-performing the PC, used game sales and how Cloud functionality on the Xbox One is a mere marketing tool.

Linus Blomberg, Co-Founder and CTO Avalanche

I think we need to accept that connectivity is becoming an integral part of our lives. I’m pretty sure people complained about new machinery requiring electricity to function too, back in the days.

Rashid Sayed: You famously mentioned to us in March that the PS4 will out-power PCs for many years to come. Now with the Xbox One revealed, will you say the same thing about it and why/why not?

Linus Blomberg: Many people misinterpreted that quote to mean that the PS4 will outperform every gaming PC for years to come, which obviously isn’t the case. Consoles aren’t designed to outperform high-end PC gaming rigs, they are designed to excel in the price/performance ratio. Looking at surveys on what hardware most PC gamers use to play games on, and which way we’re headed, it’s evident that both the PS4 and Xbox One will outperform the majority of PC’s for years to come.

Rashid Sayed: Xbox One has 8GB DDR 3 RAM and out of that 5GB is allocated to games, compared to the PS4 which has 8GB GGDR5 RAM and out of that, 7GB is allocated to games (reportedly). From a development perspective, will games on the PS4 look and run better compared to the Xbox One down the line?

Linus Blomberg: I think that is too early to say. Naturally it’s easier and cheaper for the developers to develop for the smallest common denominator, but if that difference becomes too large we’ll definitely see specific implementations for each platform.

Rashid Sayed: The Xbox One has a number of constraints. These include Kinect needing to be switched on all the time and an internet connection to work. Microsoft thinks that this will make the system eventually better. What is your stance on this and how does it affect your future game development plans for the Xbox One?

Linus Blomberg: I think we need to accept that connectivity is becoming an integral part of our lives. I’m pretty sure people complained about new machinery requiring electricity to function too, back in the days. Hopefully this development will force internet service providers to shape up and provide cheaper and faster connections. As an open-world games developer it’s very exciting, because it enables us to make our worlds much more social and alive.

But it’s nothing new for us – our open-world hunting game theHunter (www.thehunter.com) has relied on internet connectivity since the launch in 2009. As for the Kinect, my only concern as a consumer is having more hardware cluttering my living room. But as a developer, it’s of course good to have guaranteed access to the Kinect as an exciting input device.

Rashid Sayed: According to a couple of reports, the PS4 is apparently 50% more powerful than the Xbox One. In terms of raw processing power, does that figure really play a part when you actually develop games?

Linus Blomberg: Of course it does. But specs on paper are one thing, and actual performance is another. It’s not just about the TFlops, there are other hardware and environment differences coming into play too. We don’t know what the actual difference – if indeed there is one – will turn out to be yet, as drivers and system software isn’t final at this point.

Rashid Sayed: Just Cause 2 was amazing on the PC (massive JC2 fan here!). The game was extremely optimized even for lower end gaming PCs. The Xbox One and PS4 are following the x86 architecture which means easier development. So in concerns to PC gaming, will this put PC titles on an all-together different level during the era of next generation consoles?

Linus Blomberg: I definitely think so. We pride ourselves on working extensively with optimization, but with such diverse platforms as in the current generation it’s simply not viable to squeeze the last drop of juice out of each platform. There always had to be some compromises, considering constrained development times and budgets. But this time around there’s so much more in common, which enables us to take it to a whole new level on all platforms.

Rashid Sayed: Speaking about Kinect and Move: Do you think you will be using them in future projects?

Linus Blomberg: If we find that it would benefit gameplay in any of our games, then definitely. But never as a gimmick.

The cloud functionality is pushed as a marketing tool to compensate for the less favorable hardware specs. I understand why they feel they need to do this, as the specs on paper aren’t necessarily representative of the actual performance.

Rashid Sayed: There has been a strong reaction towards the Xbox One using DRM for used games. Microsoft says it will charge a small fee if people want to play second hand games. There are also reports of certain publishers supporting this move. On the other hand, smaller retailers that make their business off second hand games will be wiped out due to this. Where does Avalanche Studios stand on the issue?

Linus Blomberg: The economies in games are changing; they have to in order to be sustainable. No one’s complaining about not being able to trade iOS games. Naturally that’s because they are much cheaper, but if second hand games contributed to the income of AAA game developers, then they could become cheaper too. In the end I think it will come down to how big that fee is.

Rashid Sayed: Microsoft believes that the Cloud will make the Xbox One more powerful over a period of time. But there are certain hurdles given that everyone doesn’t possess a high speed internet connection. Do you feel that this is simply a reason to justify an always online environment?

Linus Blomberg: The cloud functionality is pushed as a marketing tool to compensate for the less favorable hardware specs. I understand why they feel they need to do this, as the specs on paper aren’t necessarily representative of the actual performance. But the way it’s presented I feel is misleading at best. It’s just common sense that sending data over an internet connection isn’t even remotely comparable to sending data over a high-speed internal memory bus.

Of course it can be used to perform high-latency computations, but it won’t really increase your FPS or anything like that. That is not to say that the cloud functionality isn’t an advantage, it’s a great advantage! It offloads the burden of running a backend infrastructure for connected games, which is a huge win and opens up for very interesting game designs.

Rashid Sayed: The Wii U was heavily criticized for its lower CPU clock speed. There has been no confirmation, neither from Microsoft nor Sony over the clock speed of their respective next gen consoles. Of course I won’t ask you to reveal the actual clock speeds of the PS4 and Xbox One. But will developers face the same problem that they faced with the Wii U with regards to the same in next gen consoles?

Linus Blomberg: Clock speed isn’t really a very good measurement of performance. Modern processors are capable of processing much more data than last-gen processors, even at lower clock-speeds. Lower clock-speeds also have the benefit of consuming less power and producing less heat, meaning that that hardware can be more silent. What matters the most is the number of processors available, and luckily the PS3 forced developers to become much better at utilizing parallel processing power.

Rashid Sayed: I came across an interesting comparison chart (you can check it over here). It’s interesting to see that the PS4 has a significant advantage of 107.7 GB/s in terms of system memory. How will this matter while developing a game?

Linus Blomberg: I can’t comment on specs that aren’t public yet, but I commend Sony for their bold move of choosing blazingly fast GDDR5 memory. It’s definitely an area where the PS4 has a leg up over PC’s for a while to come, and I’m sure Avalanche Studios will make great use of it in our huge open worlds.

Much of the criticism on the Xbox One launch was around the lack of focus on games, which I think shows that people still see consoles as high-end gaming machines, as opposed to social entertainment systems.

Rashid Sayed: The gaming market and its demographics have changed a lot, especially in the last five years. People are becoming more socially savvy and look out for more connected options. Does the saying ‘Games are all that matter’ still hold in this environment?

Linus Blomberg: I would say that the market has grown into new areas, rather than that it has changed. There are new audiences and new markets now, which obviously is good. But I am confident there is a strong future for the good old high-end core gaming as well. Much of the criticism on the Xbox One launch was around the lack of focus on games, which I think shows that people still see consoles as high-end gaming machines, as opposed to social entertainment systems. For Avalanche Studios, games are definitely all that matters. Even though we’re excited to expand into mobile devices, our core focus will always be epic open-world games for high-end platforms.

Rashid Sayed: From a technical standpoint, what is one the thing that Sony and Microsoft need to do to win their audiences over?

Linus Blomberg: Good games that reinforce consoles as high-end gaming machines. We need to make use of all that power and create fun experiences that simply are not possible on mobile devices.

Thanks to Thomas Wiborgh from Avalanche Studios  for setting this interview up.


  • Fred Fuchs

    Yeah…..electricity and forcing consumers to use the internet is the same thing…er no!

    • AverageHero

      Well when It was revealed many many years ago people thought that it would failed because steam-engines was relevant.
      (sorry for my English)

    • AverageHero

      *electricity revealed*

    • Edonus

      Actually when electricity AC power (The stuff that is connected to all of our homes) the opponents of AC energy they told every body that it was unsafe and could killed and burn down there houses. And to send the message home they electrocuted and elephant in public.
      Basically people have tried to manipulate the weak minded hordes of people to stop progress for ever. This is just another time in history when we will be looking back years from now asking “why didnt I want a fully connect console ?”

    • Elvick

      It can be unsafe and can burn down houses. Even today. An electrical fire burned down the house two lots away from me. Three years later they have FINALLY rebuilt their home.

      And what you describe is complacency.

      If they start charging oxygen tax now, in 100 years people will be used to it. No different than anything else we currently are taxed on. That’s what happens when people roll over and allow bad things to go unchallenged.

      Just because people eventually accept something, doesn’t mean it’s okay.

      Always connected, is not the same as electricity. Always connected provides no real benefits to an individual forced to endure it. Electricity provides many things. Always connected restricts.

  • Stealth

    he should shut up

  • Lemondish

    “I think we need to accept that connectivity is becoming an integral part of our lives. I’m pretty sure people complained about new machinery requiring electricity to function too, back in the days.”

    lol wut

    “Hopefully this development will force internet service providers to shape up and provide cheaper and faster connections.”

    Hopefully? In the future, online services vulnerable to blackouts and disruptions are entirely reliant on wishes.

    “No one’s complaining about not being able to trade iOS games.”

    The expectation that you’re purchasing access to the service with a one time fee is already established on iOS devices. However, console titles have always followed the model that the licence and the physical product were one in the same. Nobody cares about trading in purchased titles straight from any download service because there’s no expectation that you own a physical product there. In the console space, the disc and the licence to play it were the same singular item. Why is it so odd to want to own the things you purchase?

    What people are upset about is a forced change in the status quo that was entirely unnecessary. We’re already transitioning to this new connected life. We’re going from a device that plays games off a disc to a device that plays them off a hard disk, but we’re doing it on the consumers terms by offering the convenience of downloaded games. The proper way to do it isn’t to put more barriers between you and playing games. Convenience is a very potent force. The convenience to shop and purchase at home is desirable. The convenience to pick up a game through an online store on the go and have it available for you to play before you even get home is how you urge this transition along naturally. It began with the last generation and will continue with the current, especially given both the dedication from both platforms to release all titles simultaneously online and in brick and mortar stores. Let the consumer work through this transition themselves rather than forcing it upon them. One way results in them never knowing how important this transition is to maximizing your profit, but it takes longer. Unfortunately, the other method appears greedy with a large helping of anti-consumerism.

    • SONY

      Talking bad about the PlayStation® 4 is very restricted. We always invite you for a pro-Sony conversation, nothing comes close to the supreme Japanese console.

      Any complains flying directly to the PS4 is also a direct offense to the Asian powerhouse. In this case, Sony is indeed the only one which can complain and be heard at any given time. Anything below our superior brains is useless.

      Greatness Awaits…. powered by the Supreme Asians. Hail Kaz!

      4>1

      SONY
      make.believe

  • Edonus

    Gaming bolt is terrible or at least this interviewer is. He called kinect a constraint, an optional input device is a constraint? Bias much.

    These are the people ruining gaming.

    And they love to misrepresent the cloud as well. The cloud is just a way to offload some of the work your console will do. So its not that MS is saying the Cloud itself will process graphic an make your console stronger, it will process other functions that arent as time sensitive store it to the HDD so the system can just use it. This frees up the onboard power to focus on improving or pushing graphics.

    Gaming bolt has just proven to be either hit seeking or extremely bias.

    • GamingBolt

      So I asked something which is a fact and GamingBolt becomes a ‘terrible’ website? What kind of logic is that? :)

    • Edonus

      You laced the question with your own poison and bias. Referring to Kinect as a constraint? The it only add the ability to do more and take nothing away… its the complete opposite of a constraint.

      I know you guys have been on the internet insulting kinect and being overly bias and critical for so long you probably dont even know you are saying BS. And yes that make Gamingbolt a terrible website since you cant get untainted and bias information.

    • frodo

      No MS has been misleading people by using Cloud processing which requires internet to justify there always on DRM, For people who are not technically savvy, they will be oohing and awwing at the white lie that cloud processing will make there Xbox One some kind of monster computer that can generate incredible graphics powered by 300,000 servers in the cloud lol The truth is No, it can’t process anything through the cloud in real time because internet bandwidth is incredibly slow compared to memory bus speeds, so as stated in the article only high latency cpu calculations can be calculated which a simple low priority core task can probably take care of locally for a single player game.

    • Edonus

      The cloud wouldnt be used to directly process graphics so you try to tie it to that function specifically which is very snake like.

      Your system has a certain amount of processing power in it. Among the processes it has to do are realtime processing and non time sensitive processing. So lets say 40% of the processing in your console is used for graphics and other realtime calculations while the 60% is used for the other things like AI environmental effects and what ever else systems use in the background to make a game work.

      With the cloud devs can take that 60% and off load it or portions of it off to servers that calculates processes and sends the data back to the system stored on the hard drive ready to be used. Thus the console itself doesnt have to process that data. Meaning if a dev offloads 40% of what the system would regularly process on the console it would mean your realtime procesing would move from 40% to 80% essentially doubling what the graphics and realtime processes can do.

      I understand why MS wanted every system connected to the internet. They have spent billions of dollars setting up the network and want to limit a persons ability to “not” use it.

      And DRM is just a thing either you are OK with the terms or you are not. That simple

  • DarthDiggler

    “Hopefully this development will force internet service providers to shape up and provide cheaper and faster connections.”

    Forcing consumers into internet connections only raises the demand which will increase prices. The CTO should understand the basic principles of economics.

    • Leif

      Increased demand will increase competition and thereby reduce prices

    • Justin

      Doesn’t work that way, sadly. ISP’s aren’t subject to typical market pressures. For example, in northeast Georgia where I live, Windstream is the ONLY ISP available. It’s much the same across most of rural America. It’s only cities and the surrounding suburbs where the population is more dense that you begin to have more ISP’s and thus competition.

    • Leif

      Sure It’s the same where I live, but that’s bound to change as more and more services require internet connection.

  • DarthDiggler

    The thing is Sony has cloud technology too, so that can be implemented with the 7GB of RAM.

    Microsoft really Effed themselves in the Ay here I think.

    • Bloodthirst

      How exactly does 7GB of memory allow Sony to implement the cloud technology?

    • frodo

      Cloud just means off setting cpu work on servers. World of warcraft pretty much any MMO is using cloud technology already. This is not console specific, its software specific, Xbox360 PS3 can use cloud technology already if programmed for it.

    • Bloodthirst

      I know all that, I was asking the original poster who said “The thing is Sony has cloud technology too, so that can be implemented with the 7GB of RAM.” What 7GB of Ram has to do with implementing the cloud?

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