Is Microsoft throttling VR for Xbox?

“When it ships next year we believe it will be the most powerful console ever built,” said Phil Spencer, head of Xbox, adding that Scorpio would offer over six teraflops of power.

”This is the console to lead gaming into true 4k and high-fidelity VR.”

That was Phil Spencer at 2016’s E3, talking about the then just announced Project Scorpio (now revealed as the absurdly named Xbox One X). Yet this year’s Microsoft E3 presentation featured no mention of virtual reality for Xbox and the company in fact seemed rather determined to avoid talking about the possibility. So what has changed to turn Xbox away from VR?

Back in 2016, Xbox seemed determined to step into the VR field and even went so far as to say that a VR version of Fallout 4 (which previewed at this year’s Bethesda conference) would appear on the then still codenamed Project Scorpio. Exactly what they planned was unclear, as there was no mention of headsets at the time, but there were several options in front of the Microsoft team.

Having previously pushed hard about their partnership with Oculus, it would have been reasonable to assume that there would be a Rift attuned specifically to the Xbox One X on the way. Alternatively, with PlayStation having sold over a million units of PSVR, it was possible that Microsoft might try to compete by creating their own console virtual reality headset.

Yet this year, talking to the BBC, Phil Spencer said, “I don’t get many questions about console and mixed reality in the living room. I think there’s just issues with my TVs across the room, there are cables hanging out. When I do this on my PC, I’m closer to my PC, that seems to be a much more user friendly scenario today.”

The U-turn seems… strange. From boasting about the potential The Xbox One X had as a virtual reality machine to determinedly avoiding even saying the words ‘virtual reality’ (throughout the interview with the BBC, Spencer is very deliberate about always saying ‘mixed’ rather than ‘virtual’), it seems like word has come down that Xbox is to avoid even discussing console virtual reality.

Instead, the words mixed reality seem to put the focus on HoloLens, their holographic platform. The oddness here is that HoloLens is by no means a consumer product (the development edition retails at $3,000) and it’s almost certainly not a gaming platform. While they have somewhat more consumer friendly versions made by their original equipment manufacturer (OEM) partners, it still doesn’t really make sense as any sort of analogue for their VR competitors.

Again, Spencer talking to the BBC, “We are believers in mixed reality. Mixed reality on the pc is something we’re focused on and building first party games. Our mixed reality platform with our OEM partners continues to rollout, we’ll have more to talk about in the future.”

Images courtesy of Xbox

It certainly sounds like Spencer has been specifically told not to mention virtual reality in relation to Xbox. The question remains, though: why? You’d think a more standard response would either be that “we’re not working on it right now” or “we may have something in the works but we’re not ready to talk about”, not this weird divert into saying virtual reality doesn’t belong on console.

Whether or not they want to talk about it, console VR is a thing. Microsoft presumably has a plan here but it’s hard to work out what it could be, unless they’re saving some big reveal for another convention down the line. We best hope so because if not, they’re deliberately choosing to throttle their console’s ability to branch out.

Factor’s top 10 predictions for this year’s E3

It’s that time of year again. E3 is almost upon us so it’s time to delve into the world of predictions as we attempt to make calls on what may happen at the gaming expo. Some are predictable, others mere pipe dreams, but at least we can be reassured we’ll almost certainly see previews for games that are absolutely nowhere near ready to be released.

Project Scorpio: Image courtesy of Microsoft

Likely E3 predictions

Microsoft launches some special Scorpio exclusive: Project Scorpio is coming, we know this. Whether it will make any more significant impact than the PS4 Pro remains to be seen but it’s pretty likely that they’re gonna roll out the red carpet to greet the new console with some sort of special perks. Whether this will come in the form of bundles, special editions up-rezzed just for the Scorpio or some brand new announcement is less clear. Microsoft has already put out a Halo and Gears of War too recently for it to be bringing any new additions to those franchises before the end of the year, but we can only hope that it might have the vision to put out a big title to come along with Scorpio’s launch.

Nintendo properly unveils Super Mario Odyssey: We already know the new Mario game is on its way, though admittedly in the incredibly vague “Holidays” period at the end of the year. E3 is Nintendo’s chance to solidify excitement for the game and help keep the Switch’s sales ticking along until Christmas. What we’ve seen so far has people excited, with gameplay calling back to Super Mario 64, and now it’s time for Nintendo to expand on that excitement and really show us what the game is about. With new rumours suggesting the game will release in November, it’s fairly likely that along with a new trailer (which could either unveil some story or go hard on showcasing gameplay) we’ll get a confirmed release date.

Sony lets slip a new PlayStation All Stars: Maybe not as likely as the others on this list, but there’s a not completely unreasonable chance that Sony may look to double down on its nostalgia run. With remasters of PaRappa the Rapper, LocoRoco and Patapon all coming out the PlayStation camp, as well as the remastered Crash Bandicoot trilogy, Sony is clearly having a bit of a phase with bringing their old games back to fresh life. While All Stars may not be one of their premium titles, and doesn’t have quite the same recognition that some other nostalgia brands may elicit, with the popularity of Nintendo’s Smash Bros. (pretty likely to be getting a Switch remaster announced), it could be a good time for Sony to quietly announce that it’s bringing back its own iconic fighter. While it won’t be one of the headline titles, this is a game that could easily come in the latter half of their presentation alongside various indies and smaller third-party games.

Cyberpunk 2077: Image courtesy of CD Projekt Red

Unlikely E3 predictions

Cyberpunk 2077 makes its debut: The next project from the creator of the Witcher has been gestating for a while now and so far we’ve only been tantalised with a teaser that is now a full four years old. It’s about time that we see more of this game, even if only to the extent of a full trailer. With the Witcher 3’s DLC done, and Gwent in full on public beta, it’s time for CD Projekt Red to show its hand and give us something. Witcher 3 was announced in 2013 as well and we got that game a whole two years ago now. While Cyberpunk, from what little we’ve seen, looks well worth the wait, this E3 is too good an opportunity to waste by not showing any more. Build on the massive cache of love you got from Witcher, Projekt Red, and show me my damn game.

Massive push for the next stage of VR: All the big virtual reality players now have their devices out in the wild, to varying degrees of success. Given how much of a development process these initial efforts alone have had, it may be optimistic to expect much new gear showing up. There’ll certainly be a small host of experiences and games likely to make some appearance or another but what we’re really hoping for is something like Oculus 2.0. It may not be the biggest change but, with some feedback from their initial efforts, it may be that we get to see the VR companies going into the next stage of evolution for these devices, whether or not that’s on any kind of near-future timeline.

New Elder Scrolls announced: Fallout 4 is two years old. Skyrim has been out for 6 years and we are still getting a remaster coming to the Switch. With a five year gap between Skyrim and its predecessor, Oblivion, it’s about time we at least heard something concrete about a new Elder Scrolls game. Where it could be set is unclear though rumours a while ago pegged the game as having you questing around the Wood Elf home of Valenwood. With all this said however, Bethesda’s VP of PR/marketing was saying last year that Elder Scrolls 6 is not currently in development in any way more than it’s on the list of things to do. The studio has actually said it’s working on seven other projects, with two supposedly bigger than anything they’ve done before. While new IP is always great, and hopefully lives up to past quality, it feels like it’s about time for us to dive back into the loveably janky world of Tamriel.

Metroid: Image courtesy of Microsoft

Improbable E3 predictions, but entertaining as all hell

Scalebound returns from the dead to feature on Scorpio: Scalebound died a rather ignominious death earlier this year, canned after four years of development because, well, it’s not entirely clear. It seems possible that the game not only wasn’t ticking the boxes Microsoft wanted for their 2017 lineup but was further behind in development than it needed to be, following a delay already from 2016 to 2017. Could the game come back? Probably not. The complexity of resurrecting a cancelled game in combination with working out where it fits into release schedules etc. means that you’re probably not going to be fighting alongside a dragon anytime soon. But the what if is what if the reason that initial delay came about, “in order to deliver on our ambitious vision and ensure that Scalebound lives up to expectations”, because they were actually already shifting to a Scorpio release? Let the dragon live, Microsoft.

Nintendo goes big on Metroid: Metroid is undeniably a classic in the Nintendo stable. Unfortunately, the series has never quite managed to rack up the sales of a franchise like Mario or Legend of Zelda. So while we’re long overdue a new, true Metroid, it’s perhaps not surprising that Nintendo is somewhat cautious about betting on Samus when it’s still trying to keep things rolling with the Switch. That said, Retro Studios, the maker of the Metroid Prime trilogy, has had a project in the works for a while now and it can’t be too much longer before we find out just what it is it’s working on. A new Metroid? Maybe, but the company also worked on Donkey Kong in recent years, so maybe it’s something slightly more ape-related. While it wouldn’t be a complete shock for Samus to enjoy a rightful return, what we really want to see, but in no way expect, is for Nintendo to go hard and try and build Metroid up to the level of Breath of the Wild. It’s time to put the franchise on the same level as its major stars.

Dreams gets a proper showcase, announced to be launching soon: Dreams is one of those games that’s reached near mythical status. Developed by Media Molecule, the guys behind LittleBigPlanet, the idea of Dreams is to take the creative elements of LittleBigPlanet to the next level. The game, if you can really call it that, is supposed to provide simple tools that allow anyone to build and animate complicated 3D worlds and characters. It’s an ambitious project that, having now been in the works since 2013, is due to get some more real exposure. A beta originally scheduled for last year has now been pushed to 2017 so it’s probably that we’ll hear something from Sony, which is publishing the game, during its conference. The possibilities of a proper launch and showcase of the project’s capabilities? Somewhat less likely.

Death Stranding: Image courtesy of Kojima Productions / Sony Interactive Entertainment

Praise be to Kojima (aka never let realistic expectations get you down)

Death Stranding: Kojima comes out on stage. There are fireworks and a full live orchestra and somehow the CEO of Konami is trailing behind Hideo on a leash. No one questions this. He asks if the crowd would like to see more of Death Stranding. They reply yes, obviously. They know the game is still years off, there were reports of them working on the engine still way too recently for anyone to truly believe the game is coming soon, but they will take any drop of Kojima’s vision that he cares to share. A trailer plays; it is atmospheric and creepy and still reveals almost nothing about the game at all. There are cheers and applause, Kojima breathes it all in with an admirable humility.

Then, just before he leaves the stage, he turns and drops the mother of all mics. The Death Stranding beta just went live and the game is launching in one month’s time. Norman Reedus appears alongside Kojima, crying. As the conference hall burns down in a rapture of fandom, only Guillermo del Toro is left, holding a baby in a jar.