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Microsoft XBox E3 2000 Preview

by Robert Stein (bobstein@activewin.com)

So, it seems Microsoft waited until the last minute deciding on bringing XBox to the E3 Expo in Los Angeles this year. The rumors on this machine were great - a majestically fluttering butterfly scene, unbelievable ping-ping balls and mousetraps, and many more. Could Microsoft show the public their new steppingstone in console technology? Well, at the last minute Microsoft “created” the XBox Theater, spun off a few thousand posters and brought the gaming industry what they wanted to see. Here is our view from our private, behind-the-scenes look at the latest creation coming from Redmond.



If it was to be done, Doug Hebenthal (“the gatekeeper” Certification and Playtest Developer) – could do it. And unlike the GDC, Microsoft was prepared to show what the XBox can do as well as give us a glimpse on what was to come in the future. Microsoft was able to give us these demos today in part because current industry components were used for the XBox machine, which was running our demonstration.

We started our XBox screening by taking a look at the “garden” demonstration. This is the infamous scene that includes the plethora of butterflies. This demo had very high-resolution graphics and sound. For E3 purposes, the demo had to options – a few butterflies or full of butterflies. On the full option, there were a thousand butterflies each fully textured and shadowed. We saw this by Hebenthal zooming in on several random butterflies. Each butterfly had a reflection in the pond below – which is pretty amazing. Another thing that caught our eye was the fact if you moved towards the butterflies they would fly away from you. Upon zooming to the end of a flower, he stated the flower tip was 4MB in graphics, but could be 60MB if need be as there is 64MB shared between the CPU and the GPU. This allows artists to create scenes “as they should look” as he put it. The butterflies are also intelligent, that is Hebenthal made them spell out each of the “XBox” letters in the sky. Also if a butterfly should land on a leaf or in the pond, the leaf would move or the pond would ripple respectively.

butter1.jpg (55790 bytes) Bf03.jpg (65534 bytes) Bf07.jpg (55450 bytes)

To our shock the main focus on this demonstration was not graphics, but was sound. The music was dynamically composed by DirectMusic – which means that the sound is dynamically created by the mood in the scene. For example, when more butterflies entered the scene – the louder and faster the music was composed. Whereas when a few butterflies were there, the music was quieter and softer but still nonetheless appeasing. The music never repeats itself – a high annoyance to the avid gamer. He also demonstrated when putting the game on pause – the sound is from the mood of the last scene (but even in pause the music will not repeat).

The next demo we saw was “MixJuice”, also focusing in on DirectMusic. A company in Japan called Inis created this demo of the XBox. (http://www.inis.co.jp/mix_juice/mix_juice_j.html). This demo consisted of a black screen with a yellow ball in each corner “the magnet.” Each magnet contained a style of music. The four magnets we started off with were Drum & Bass, Bossa, Country and Disco. There were several other options for each magnet that were not played. There was also a cursor in the middle of the screen that you could place on a magnet to sample the music. Hebenthal mixed the music – he went from D&B, then to Bossa, then to Country then Disco. The transition was gradual and took more of the next style of music the further towards the next magnet he went. Each sound was Dynamically Composed – just showing how this is part of the overall emotional quality of DirectMusic. Even though this demonstration was great, the composers can go a little farther in developing better sounding music. Hebenthal jokingly said he did not want to be “blamed” for that aspect.

Finally, the last demo we saw was “Two to Tango.” This demo is the infamous Raven and Robot scene. Very high resolution with immense sound, this demo is very dramatic. Raven pops out of the robot, and is standing to the robot. They then do some exercises in synchronization, and jokingly Hebenthal had the Robot & Raven “itch” their bodies. The scene was very detailed, and could be viewed from many different angles that the player could choose. The Raven’s movement was very realistic, and featured self-shadowing as well as a reflection off the metallic surface of the Robot. The Raven then jumped - and the million dollar robot (in this case not so intelligent), jumped off the platform into oblivion. The Raven stepped to the edge and looked down shaking her head. Because of the realism for a moment I thought I was in a DieHard or Terminator movie - but I had to reassure myself it was only a video game!

So, in conclusion – Microsoft did prove that their gaming console is in making significant development and will be in Hebenthal’s terms “awesome” when it is released sometime in the Fall of 2001. Microsoft overdid the hardware in this machine to give to artist’s freedom of making scenes how they should be without cutting back. “This is definitely an art driven platform”, Hebenthal stated.  He also assured that this was only 15-20% of the total power of the XBox in part that the prototype is running on GeForce 2 card. What we saw will be significantly improved by release (and by E3 2001) – and we cannot wait. But now that the rumors have died down – Where is XBox2. J

 


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