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X-Box Unveiled at GDC!

       For over a decade, gamers have agreed that the war between PC and consoles would end with the merger of the markets. Today, the lines between the two started to fade away as far as the gaming world is concerned. Bill Gates himself announced full specs for the Microsoft X-Box at the Game Developers Conference in San Jose, California this morning, and RPGamer was there for the festivities. The X-Box easily proved to be the most impressive console system in existence, outdoing anything seen on the Playstation 2 as far as beauty and sheer processing speed.

       As for the system statistics, they were also revealed. The system will be powered by an Intel Pentium III chip, not an AMD chip like had been speculated. The system will also include 64 megs of RAM, a custom 3D audio processor, a custom 3D NVIDIA graphics processor, an 8GB hard drive, a 4x DVD drive, four game controller slots, an expansion port, an proprietary A/V connector, and a 10/100MBps ethernet connection. All of these will actually come with the system when it is released in Fall 2001. This sets up Microsoft's X-Box to be a very viable platform for future online RPGs, and Microsoft knows it. Gates went as far as to say such things as the hard drive and the broadband connection that would take advantage of the ethernet connection would be necessary for persistant online worlds, such as Asheron's Call.

       The X-Box began showing its true potential with a series of demos that were shown to the crowd using Microsoft's prototype system--a large X with the console built inside--strictly for show, but an amusing design for a console, nonetheless. As the applause of the initial unveiling of the X-Box died down, the auditorium grew silent in anticipation of seeing what the console could actually do. First to be seen was a simple sparkler test to warm the crowd up for the coming demos. The sparkler would run against a black background, sparks ablaze, and the program could even be stopped at any moment so that the view could be rotated to see the action from any vantage point, or as Bill Gates jokingly called it, "a Gap version," in reference to Gap's latest commercial marketing. This demo took only "one afternoon" and one programmer to code, as all of his time was spent "making it look cool," and none of it spent "fighting the system," Gates explained. This is due to the fact that the X-Box uses DirectX 8 as it's development platform.

       Then it was decided that the time had come for those watching to be wowed as they stared into the presentation screen, watching the X-Box portray an empty arena. Bill Gates sat back as the entire auditorium began to tremble with a low rumbling sound emanating from the many speakers. Suddenly, the rumbling was explained: a gigantic Mech dropped from the sky into the empty arena onscreen and began moving about at lightning speeds, showing off a dazzling array of combat moves in amazingly high-quality graphics, with no slowdown whatsoever. The Mech then finished its routine and the pilot jumped out onto the ground of the arena; a beautifully detailed character model. She then began a workout of her own upon the ground with her Mech following her every move. That combined with the upbeat, fast-paced music the demo was sporting and it made for a truly exhilarating experience.

       After giving the crowd a general feel for what the X-Box is capable of, they thought then would be the perfect time to show a demo boasting the system's pure processing power. A real-time rendered room was created with close to a thousand mouse traps, each one armed with a ping-pong ball. The presenter controlled a single ping-pong ball himself, and then released it over the room so that it would make contact with a mouse trap, causing the ball it was armed with to fly high into the air and land on another mouse trap in the room, causing an impressive chain-reaction of many flying ping-pong balls all at once. For each and every ping-pong ball, the CPU would be processing the velocity and trajectory of flight, as well as speed, and where it would land, possibly triggering even more. And while all of this was happening on the screen, the presenter could rotate around the room to any viewpoint in full 3D, again, without any slowdown at all. Needless to say, this was a very impressive show of the processing power for the X-Box, and it was quoted by Bill Gates himself that the system can handle "1,000,000,000,000 operations per second." Yes, you read that right. One trillion operations per second.

       Finally, the attendees were in store for visual splendor with Microsoft's next demo of what their system is capable of. First shown was a beautifully rendered Japanese garden as the presenter controlled a flyby going along the outer wall. "Oh, a butterfly is that?" he asked. It certainly was, and with a beautifully smooth and accurate shadow below it. He then turned the view more to the left and center of the garden where there was a mass of hundreds of butterflies all piled together, flying about just above a pond of water. Again, each and every one of these butterflies had its own shadow, and even reflection in the water now, as they were fluttering around above it. The 3D flyby was rendered in all real-time with every shadow and reflection, and again, not a notice of slowdown at all. "Even these butterflies are excited about the X-Box it seems," commented the presenter, at which point they all flew together and formed a large "X" above the water. "They're so excited they even took spelling lessons," he continued as they then formed the letters "B", "o", and finally, "x." At that point, the technical demos were complete.

       In case you were wondering if any developers had already jumped on the X-Box bandwagon, the answer is a very hearty yes. Almost all of the big developers have committed to the new platform, including Capcom, Konami, Electronic Arts, Namco, Ubi Soft, THQ, Midway and more. In fact, Midway had a movie of "Ready 2 Rumble Boxing" on X-Box, and it looked far better than the Dreamcast version. In fact, after seeing the X-Box in action, not even the Playstation 2 games that were shown at the conference seemed impressive. The X-box is that advanced, and the big companies know it.

       However, one thing must be cleared up, or at least brought to your attention. In no way was PC compatibility mentioned, and it looks like such compatibility was simply a bad rumor. Gates emphasized that Microsoft was building a console system, not a set-top computer, and that there was a very big emphasis on a lack of load times and not having to deal with both configurations and installations. In fact, such features as a keyboard and mouse were not even hinted at, but neither was a controller or any other kind of accessory. However, these things are taken for granted in this day and age, but actual compatibility PC games, even those designed for DirectX, does not seem likely.

       In conclusion, it is safe to say that the videogame market will never be the same. The most powerful company in the world has gone from providing operating systems and publishing games to developing it's own game system and it's own games. Microsoft will enter a world filled with Pokémon, Sonic the Hedgehog, and Final Fantasy games, and will try to take a piece of the market. Who will benefit the most? Not Sony, Sega, or Nintendo, if the demos and the quotes from the game executives are any clue. Some might say the companies making games have great opportunity to make games like have never been created before, and that's true. However, if anyone is going to win, it will be the gamer. As much as some people despise Microsoft, once this system hits the market, the video game world will be a much better place to be.


by Doug "Stom" Hill, and Dan Calderman
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