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What is Xbox Project Scorpio, exactly? Er, it seems even game developers don’t know…

At its E3 2016 press conference on Monday, Microsoft announced an Xbox One upgrade: Project Scorpio. It’ll be more powerful, have loads of teraflops and that, and be capable of 4K resolution. But it’s confusing. Is it a real, next-gen Xbox? At the press conference, Microsoft’s Spencer said that it would be the most powerful console ever made, which certainly implied that everyone should prep to upgrade. But then later he said some other things that didn’t imply that. And then some more that sort of did. 

Game developers, as we saw in Microsoft’s press conference promo video, are very excited. But are they? Are they really? How exciting is this thing, actually? Just what the hell is going on here? Is the newly announced Xbox One S already dead in the water? Is Scorpio really that big a deal? We hunted some devs down at E3 to ask precisely that - but in a less threatening manner - and also looked at a few more opinions and statements from around the web to try to make sense of it all. 

Spoilers: We made only moderate sense of it all. First up… 

At the press conference, Phil seemed highly excited about the future potential of Project Scorpio, referencing it as ‘the most powerful console ever made’, and spouting most enthusiastically about having six teraflops and ‘the best pixels’. Seemed that Scorpio was being built with a noticeable upgrade in mind, similar to what we’ve heard about the as-yet-unrevealed PS Neo’s graphical upgrades. Sorry, sexy new Xbox S. You’re already obsolete. Or are you? 

Later, Spencer downplayed the power of Scorpio, strongly implying that it was just a resolution-boosting insurance policy against the uptake of 4K TVs and VR, with little value to a 1080p TV player player, other than improving the frame-rates of some current Xbox One games. Ho hum. But okay then. 

And then it was noted that Spencer had said - in an interview with Xbox Director of Programming, Larry Hryb - that developers could use Scorpio’s extra power for anything, really. He talked up 4K, of course, but followed that by stating that “if developers want to use those six teraflops in other ways, they're free to do that”. So is this basically just the current-gen equivalent of an Xbox 360 Elite? Or is it a legitimately valuable upgrade, capable of delivering real differences to games? Who knows? Let’s ask some developers what they think about it. 

“We’re super excited about Project Scorpio. We’ve been a long-time partner with Microsoft, we love working with Microsoft, but the power that’s going to bring to us, it just really starts exciting us. Right now we have thousands of zombies on screen. I can’t imagine how many we’ll get in our next iteration when we go to Project Scorpio. It’s going to be crazy, we’re really excited about it.”

Hmm, now that does hint at increased processing power beyond mere resolution boosting. You don’t get more zombies in your game just by making the screen bigger. 

“They announced a very attractive piece of hardware in the sense that there are going to be consumers who really want the 4K or who really want the VR, and with the current generation of hardware that’s not possible. They really created something that everyone can approach and find different tiers of engagement that each user wants to have with each piece of media. So it’s really attractive piece of hardware and I think it’s good that they're exploring that in different avenues and different ways to deliver content to consumers.” 

Mr. Mega Man, though, seems to think it is more about processing higher resolutions and VR displays. Damnit! 

“I thought that the announcement was really cool, yeah. As a person that works on games I’m really excited. I’m excited to have that power to really just dial up the game.” 

About as neutral as it gets from the brilliantly named Forza man. He makes games and likes having more power to make games with. But what kind of power, Bill? What kind? Oh you’re no help. Let’s ask… 

“I was obviously in the briefing on Monday, [but] I literally had to run and leave as soon as our section finished because I had an interview 20 minutes later, so I didn’t even get to see the Scorpio part of the presentation, so I’m a little in the dark on the technical details. We're not really thinking or talking about Scorpio for us now. We’re focused on our next goal which is getting [Sea of Thieves] into a closed beta.” 

Apparently one of Microsoft’s major first-party studios knows nothing about it. Who are they explaining this thing to? Anyone? Let’s try some third-parties. They’re often a bit looser of lip. 

“I've pretty much been locked up in this room for the past two days. I got off the plane directly into an interview, so I'm looking forward to checking out more about it. There’s nothing at the moment that I can say, but any time there's a new announcement like that, it’s always cool to hear about.” 

‘Cool’ is one word. ‘Really damn confusing’ would be several more. Does the developer of one of the world’s biggest games, at one of the world’s biggest publishers, really know nothing about this thing? Did MS really drop Scorpio on the dev community at the same time as the public? If so, Phil had better make friends with his inbox pretty fast. 

“I don’t know anything about it. I wouldn't be able to comment on it, is the honest answer just because, and this is because I haven't been able, I’ve just been doing this stuff. We’ve announced [Mafia 3 for] Xbox One, PS4 and PC. I’m sure this is something you can talk to Richie about, I honestly don’t know. I’m super focused on finishing this game…” 

We do not know who Richie is. 

“Sure [I’m excited about it] *laughs*. Everyone is excited about it. We can't tell about that but sure, of course we’re excited… We’re not allowed to say that.” 

So it’s exciting, then. “Everyone” though? Bungie and Hangar 13 seemed more lightly bamboozled. And what sort of exciting, anyway? ‘Higher resolution snow’ exciting, or ‘Eight million snowboarders at a time’ exciting? 

I know. Let’s check Twitter. That’s always enlightening. 

Seems some devs did indeed know precisely nothing about Scorpio. Come on, Microsoft, this man invented Gears of War. Where’s the solidarity? 

Broussard seems to find the whole thing a bit ludicrous, but suspects Microsoft felt forced by the ambient pressure of Sony’s incoming mid-gen step-up. A step-up which is apparently way further along than Scorpio, if Broussard’s talk of PlayStation Neo devkits is true, and so many major studios really do know nothing about Microsoft’s machine. 

Much like with everything else here, Rami, we haven’t got a goddamn clue. The answer is a resounding ‘Possibly’. Maybe Microsoft finally just got sick of looking at that giant ‘80s VCR-looking thing, like the rest of us. Either way, it doesn’t really matter, because the Xbox One S is already obsolete. Unless it isn’t. But it might be. Or not. No-one knows. Maybe Project Scorpio was man, all along

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