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Head in the Clouds

The Xbox One train wreck has finally ground to a slow, agonizing halt -- and not a moment too soon, as it seems Microsoft was running out of fans to throw onto the tracks. However, as if all memory of the incident has been blocked out by mental trauma, some of the survivors are already dusting themselves off and lining up to purchase their next ticket to ride.

"Why would you get back on that train?" any sensible person might ask. "There's a much safer train over here -- one with a less homicidal conductor. It's a faster, more powerful vehicle, and the tickets cost $100 less, to boot!"

Microsoft has already conditioned their minds against this kind of critical thinkng, though. For you see, it is believed by these unfortunate folk that Microsoft's latest invention will lift them off the rails of reality itself, and into the very clouds!

There's a ridiculous amount of hype going on right now, at least among die-hard Microsoft fans, about the Xbox One using "cloud computing" to "offload processes" and perform dazzling feats that your individual console wouldn't be able to do on its own. Bigger online worlds, and better graphics, are some of the vague promises Microsoft and various twinkling-eyed dreamers are dribbling over. The basic idea is that your game console will be communicating via the internet with distant servers, and having them do some of the computing grunt work for you so that your system can get back to more important things... like, I don't know, keeping tabs on fantasy football scores and streaming reruns of The Price is Right. How much additional graphical "oomph" does this theoretical gimmick really afford the XBO? No one can really say. There's not been any concrete display of this technology functioning in any games yet. Microsoft just wants to plant the idea in your head, because -- while the PS4 will factually have more powerful hardware -- the Xbox One will be fictionally more powerful, through the magic of cyberspace! What's next, "blast processing"?

I'm not saying that cloud computing as a concept is impossible, but consider the examples of some heavily online-dependent games we've seen so far. There's Diablo III, and the latest Sim City, both of which require a constant online connection to function, even in single-player mode. Both are infamous for server crashes and malfunctions which rendered them inaccessible at launch and beyond. And these aren't small, start-up indie companies, either -- this is Blizzard and EA we're talking about here.

Have you ever played an MMORPG for any length of time? Nearly every MMO that ever came into existence has had a pretty rocky launch -- rife with shoddy connections, server crashes and capacity overloads. And further down the road, servers routinely are taken down for maintenance on a weekly basis, even when they're working perfectly (which they don't always). I hope you're looking forward to dealing with such frustrations for every video game, from now on!

The closest thing to a "cloud gaming" service we've seen so far is OnLive, which by all accounts is far from revolutionary. For a monthly fee, you can purchase games to have them rendered on their end and "streamed" to your system, essentially like a video. It's a cool enough concept, and lets you "play" games with graphics beyond what under-powered hardware might ordinarily be capable of, but it's not as if your hardware is really working in cooperation with theirs. It's a far cry from what Microsoft is proposing, where whatever computing gets done on their servers still has to be rendered finally on your $500+ new console.

I realize these scenarios aren't exactly the same thing, but at least these are realistic considerations to take into account. If nothing else, they serve to remind us that we can't just lean on online infrastructures as a crutch for every single gaming application. The internet is not perfect. It doesn't work the way it should 100% of the time, and when your connection has a hiccup, get ready for any game reliant on "cloud computing" to lag or die on you. Hell, never mind complex next-gen gaming computations being calculated off-site and sent back to me instantaneously -- sometimes I can't get a text e-mail right away, or even a phone call. When every online infrastructure we've ever invented has been proven to be unreliable, why would you put so much faith in Microsoft's "cloud gaming" promises?

Sony is looking into similar technology with their Gaikai service on PS4, aimed to go online in 2014. Details are sparse, though apparently it is being intended for uses that aim a little closer to practical reality -- the availability of PS1, PS2, and PS3 titles, primarily. There hasn't been much in the way of hype and pie-in-the-sky promises for what exactly will be on offer, but at least it sounds like something feasible. It's not being pushed as a leg of the PS4's "true" processing power, but it certainly has the potential to be expanded upon in future to enhance next-gen gaming, if that becomes a reality. Of course, Xbox fans refuse to acknowledge Sony's Gaikai as being at all capable of doing anything similar to Microsoft's "cloud" -- even though no one currently has any idea what either service can actually do.

When it comes down to it, you have to base your purchasing decisions on something. Do you want to base them on facts about tangible hardware specs, and real games and policies? Or do you want to blow your fortune on an advance ticket for the train to Cloud City, a place we've only heard about in legend?
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About Fyrebrandone of us since 1:21 PM on 06.01.2009

A wild Fyrebrand draws near! Command?

Hey there.

I have been skulking around Destructoid for years, though I'm not super active in the community aside from commenting on articles. Once in a blue moon, I'll post on the forums.

I'm Canadian. My favorite series are Final Fantasy, Metal Gear, Castlevania, King's Quest, Onimusha, etc. I like anything with a good story, but I'm also a fan of mindless fun like the classic Double Dragon or Contra games.

I fool around with MMORPGs from time to time, and my current fave is Guild Wars 2.

My stance on some hot topics...
FFVII REMAKE: Will never happen
FFXIII: Worst game in the series
JIM STERLING: Thank god for him!
PODTOID: Best podcast around
DAVID HAYTER: Is totally in MGS5
IGA: Only man I want in charge of Castlevania
BEST ANIME: Gankutsuou, Last Exile, Wolf's Rain, Chevalier D'Eon, Claymore, Cowboy Bebop

I keep a gaming/music/nerdy affairs blog here: