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XBox 360 ugly rumours and rumours of single threading explored

Pixellation sensation
Fri Nov 04 2005, 11:13
ABOUT A WEEK AGO, we ran some stories about the XBox360, and there were two major points made here. First, the kiosk an INQ writer spent quality time with looked horrible, and then a Microsoft multithreading guru stood up in front of a room full of reporters and said all Christmas games are single threaded. Well, we received a lot of mail on both, chatted with some Microsoft people, games developers, and other related parties, all in an attempt to get closer to the facts.

The first are the looks of the consoles in Wal-Mart stores. I said they looked horrible, and a long chat with the person who was there confirmed it, blocky, pixellated and generally un-fun games. The fun quotient is subjective, and these are early demos, so don't make up your mind yet.

Blockiness and generally bad graphics are not nearly as subjective, but have a good explanation. Two of the emails we received explained it in great detail:

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As someone who has installed several of these consoles in Wal-Mart, I would recommend that you wait until after you've had a chance to see the kiosks in either a Best Buy or a Gamestop (just as an example). We've had issues in Wal-Marts where we install the consoles, and then someone in the electronics department comes along afterwards and changes the settings.

The TVs are supposed to be set on 720p HD, and the switch on the HDAV cable is supposed to be set for HD. I've had issues in my stores with the old Xbox where someone came along and installed stuff that wasn't supposed to be there, and we've also been warned that there are several Wal-Marts where someone in electronics ignores what is written on the box everything comes in - which is hold for us - and puts it in themselves. They do NOT know what they're doing, and they don't know how to troubleshoot it if the graphics come up bad.

CoD2, Kameo, and the movies for PGR3, NSFMW, and the newest Tom Clancy game all look VERY sharp if the TV is set right and the cable is set right. Go check out a different store, or wait until we've had a chance to get the other kiosks installed.

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Many of the xbox kiosks at Wal-Mart were set up incorrectly. They were set up at 480p or 480i and the screens were 720p HDTVs. I fixed two myself. The Microsoft rep set it up incorrectly herself on the second one I fixed (she had just finished putting up when I got there).

They look like crap at 480. Do your self a favor and go back and change (it is possible that MS rep has been there all ready and changed). You need them to eject demo disc and then go into setup. There is a huge difference.

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So, the Wal-Mart booths are put together by pixel challenged employees, who would have thought it? Makes sense, and if you want to have an idea of the lack of quality, turn the resolution down two notches on your LCD monitor, to makes a good approximation of the effect.

With the crappy looks explained, what about the threading? Checking with the two people on either side of me at the conference, both heard the same words I did. Could I be wrong? Well, yes and no. Some of the early games are indeed single threaded, or more specifically, their core game engines are single threaded. You can always pawn off stupid tasks to another thread, but the meat of the game is the hard part, and most likely to benefit from threading.

Of the 20 or so first gen games coming out this year, I got letters from two of the teams. The first was from David Wu, President/Director of Technology at Pseudo Interactive, and they are doing a game called Full Auto. His response to the threading issue was as follows:

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We are developing Full Auto for XBOX 360 and it uses all 3 cores (and all 6 threads). It will be released in the launch window.

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Short but sweet. The next one was from a programmer on the absolutely astounding looking title Oblivion from Bethesda Softworks. He said:

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The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, being developed for XBox 360 as well as PC, is HEAVILY multithreaded and definitely takes advantage of Xbox 360's multiple cores (and on PC, will benefit from multiple CPUs and hyperthreading as well.) Unfortunately your information source is incorrect.

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Fair enough. Tangent time. This game is really really awesome looking. No, really really really awesome, and I usually don't use three reallys unless I mean it. I said some gushing things during my E3 preview, and it only looks better now. I want this, but until I get my hands on it, Call of Cthulu will have to do. Tangent off.

To explain a little more about threading, I talked to some people at MS, and it looks like it is a problem to do with timing and internal communications. The person who said the threading quote is not an XBox person, but a more generalized MS threading person. He very well could have been out of the loop.

A more in the loop person, 'a representative from the Xbox Advanced Technology Group' had this to say:

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Six months ago, we had only looked at a handful of games. Most of those games were single-threaded. Today, we've evaluated most launch titles and the majority are using multiple threads.

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So, to wrap it all up, who was right? Both, some kiosks did look horrible others did not. We saw a horrible one. Also, a Microsoft rep did say those things to a room full of reporters, but it looks like he was only half right. As with any good story, there are lots of angles to it, shades of grey to the extreme, and no 90 degree angles. Now all I need to do is convince MS to give me a 360 with a correct monitor to use with it. I promise to spend weeks 'reviewing' games to death. µ

 

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