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While the hype of Windows 11 is understandably controlling the spotlight for Microsoft, the future of gaming is quietly expanding in the background.
Xbox Cloud Gaming – originally xCloud – is the name of the cloud-based gaming program that allows gamers to access and stream games directly to their PC, tablet, or laptop through the cloud. Games are played at an Xbox datacenter instead of locally. This means users’ devices will only have to process video streaming and controller inputs, removing the Xbox hardware requirement and allowing lower-end devices to still get the optimal experience without hogging all the CPU and GPU resources.
As of June 28th, Microsoft’s Xbox Cloud Gaming technology has graduated from closed beta testing and backdoor access to a publicly live beta for the most popular platforms. Xbox released the full web app to the public at xbox.com/play where any device that can use a web browser can act as a virtual Xbox Series X to play any of the 300+ Xbox Game Pass titles. The Microsoft account user must be subscribed to Xbox Game Pass Ultimate to access the full library, but if it is available, the game can be played in any supported browser on any supported device.
Xbox Cloud Gaming is currently supported on Windows 10 PCs, iOS devices, and Android devices through browsers. Tablet and mobile devices may also use an app to access the web app, which was previously the only way to access the service when it was in beta. Many games will require a controller for optimal performance (either wireless or wired depending on the device), but controller emulators are expected to roll out for certain devices to make gaming even more mobile and compact.
How PlayStation Became One of the “Big Three” Home Consoles
PlayStation’s legacy begins with a father, a daughter, and oddly enough, the Nintendo Famicom. Ken Kutaragi, a Sony executive, was first inspired by watching his daughter play on a Nintendo Famicon, a console released exclusively in Japan. You might think that the inception of the first PlayStation was created to compete with Nintendo, but that wasn’t the case. In fact, Kutaragi and Nintendo began working together. He was almost fired for this, but Sony president Norio Ohga saw his potential and let him continue to work with their now competitor.
Kutaragi showed off a new sound processor that was better than anything Nintendo had and was able to sell them on using it for their SNES system. Later on, Nintendo would try to get Sony to manufacture a CD-ROM add-on. It was titled Play Station.
Shortly after, the relationship would start to crumble as Sony was aggressively trying to obtain full rights over all titles of Play Station titles and music and film software for a different console. This new console would be SNES compatible and include a new CD format called the Super Disc. Sony was trying to enter and dominate a new market. As a result, 1991 would be the last year they worked together.
On the day that Nintendo and Sony were to announce the Play Station, Nintendo harshly “betrayed” Sony at CES 1991. Instead of announcing the new system, Nintendo went on to publicly announce their own partnership with another electronics manufacture, Phillips. There were still some negotiations following CES, but ties were completely cut in 1992 when Kutaragi said that there could never be a deal between the two companies. Kutaragi and company would continue to work on the Play Station at Sony Music. Sony would finally announce its entrance into the gaming world late into 1993. They got rid of the space and called it the PlayStation X to distance themselves further from their initial project with Nintendo.
Now on its own, Sony ran into a wall. They didn’t have anybody in-house with game development experience. They instead utilized third-party development studios to create games for its system. Sony would later gain the support (through negotiations) of almost 300 development teams including big names like Konami and Namco.
A launch day was rapidly approaching now. Kutaragi was satisfied with his efforts to complete his vision of PlayStation, an affordable system with great performance. The console was launched on December 3rd, 1994 in Japan. The PlayStation would go on to receive high praise and excellent sales for its Japan release and the United States release a year later thus engraving the system into gaming history.
Sony went on to release the PlayStation 2, which is still the best-selling console ever. They have released three home consoles since then and have emerged as one of the three names in home consoles. PlayStation has managed to outsell Xbox every single generation and it all started with a man watching his daughter play games on a Nintendo Famicon.
3 Budget Gaming Setups Possible with Xbox Cloud Gaming
Xbox Cloud Gaming is an online gaming service from Microsoft which streams game data from a Microsoft datacenter to your device through the cloud. The data centers use the Xbox Series X configuration which allows for the optimal console experience without the same resource requirement to run the games locally at high resolution on your device.
As a result, there are a ton of different ways you can play high-quality Xbox titles without investing in an expensive Series X – including just about any device with a display and web browser or app store access.
3 Affordable Ways to Play Xbox Without a Console
Old Computers with a Controller
When a game is played directly on a console or computer, the device is responsible for all aspects of processing, transferring, and displaying the data from the disc or hard drive. This puts a strain on the device which limits its ability to process the files correctly, resulting in poor performance or quality.
However, when streaming games the receiving computer or console simply needs to render the visual aspect because the data center handles the rest. This means that outside of some light resource requirements to process the image, the device acts mostly as a monitor (with some controller input handling) which means you don’t need a strong computer to play 1080P modern titles.
To make things better, you can connect an old laptop to a new monitor via HDMI for better resolution and quality that the original screen may not be capable of handling.
Your Smartphone with Accessories
You already spend a lot of money on your phone, so why not turn it into a mobile Xbox? Whether through the Android app for Xbox Cloud Gaming or a mobile device’s internet browser, your smartphone can act as a mobile game console (with some help from accessories).
With the simple addition of a Bluetooth xbox controller, you can enjoy a familiar controller-based experience with the phone as the display. You can even get a phone mount to attach directly to the controller for easy viewing. There are also gaming-specific accessories to add on such as the Backbone One that integrates your phone directly into the “controller” (similar to the Nintendo Switch), which contains the joysticks, buttons, D-pad, and console buttons on two controller handles.
If you’re looking for a self-contained, multi-use gaming setup that doesn’t require additional hardware (in many cases), the Surface Duo presents a unique opportunity.
The Xbox Cloud Gaming app for Android includes the ability to emulate a controller directly on the screen. For a 2-screened tablet like the Surface Duo, this means that the bottom screen (when in landscape mode) can be used as a controller similar to the Nintendo DS’s layout.
The result is a tablet that doubles as a mobile Xbox without the need for additional hardware, making it perhaps the most portable option (although it may end up costing close to the Series X).
Why Virtual Reality Games Don’t Work On a Flat Screen
We’ve seen countless games that start on monitors and TVs get ported to virtual reality. Incredible games like Skyrim and Fallout made for some fun, albeit wonky gameplay moments. Getting to actually be in Skyrim was certainly one of the highlights of my time in virtual reality. So why haven’t we seen VR games get transferred to the flat screen? We’ve seen modders do their best to translate VR games to 2-D, but it usually just makes an incredible VR experience into a mediocre video game.
The answer can be kind of hard to pinpoint if you’ve never had the pleasure of diving into virtual reality. Even watching other players mess around in VR doesn’t give you a complete picture. Sure, you can see your favorite streamer have tons of fun, but actually diving in is so much different. These virtual reality games are not designed to just be played, but to be experienced. For example, picking up an object in VR actually serves as a core gameplay mechanic. You don’t just click a button; you drop down to one knee and physically reach out to grasp it. Shooting, reloading, crouching, and catching objects aren’t just parts of the game; they are the game. There’s no need for different and innovative mechanics since physically performing the action is so dang engrossing.
Flat Screen Virtual Reality Games Fall Flat
This is potentially the only reason that VR games just don’t work in 2-D. Half-Life: Alyx, possibly the best virtual reality game the world has ever seen, was modded into a flat-screen game and it turned out to be kind of boring aside from a stellar story. You just can’t be in the world the same way as you can in VR. The wonder came from being transported into City 17 and having headcrabs leaping at your face. You miss out on accidentally shattering a glass bottle which leads you to being attacked by the truly horrifying Jeff monster. It just isn’t the same, the thrill is absent when you can’t be there. We’ve never seen tech like VR before. Only virtual reality could make sifting through trash and opening cabinets fun.
2-D games aren’t going anywhere anytime soon, but let flat-screen games be flat screen and let virtual reality games be virtual reality.