THE Potential OF THE MULTIPLAYER Aid? : Mass Outcome Andromeda

A speculation online video likely about the long term assist of Mass Impact Andromeda Multiplayer.

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Albert Penello: Microsoft’s best pitch for the Xbox One X

If the Xbox One X turns out to be a popular holiday purchase this fall, you might credit a lady bug. The console costs $499, and it delivers 4K HDR visuals for games such as the racing title Forza Motorsport 7.

Microsoft’s team created an interactive demo with a set of lady bugs that show the difference between what the imagery looks like on a big screen TV with the 4K turned on, and how it looks fuzzy and less detailed when the 4K is turned off. Microsoft bills the Xbox One X as the world’s most powerful console.

I happen to have one waiting for me at home (Microsoft sent one to me), to go with a (refurbished) Samsung 40-inch 4K TV. I haven’t cracked it open yet. Meanwhile, I made a trek to Redmond, Washington, ahead of the November 7 launch. I talked to Albert Penello, senior director of Xbox console marketing at Microsoft, and I asked him why people should buy the Xbox One X. He gave me his best pitch, and then we talked about how the console launch is proceeding.

He wouldn’t disclose the exact nature of the Xbox One X launch event, but he said the team is busy getting ready, and he noted there are tons of 4K games that will be available for the console on day one, with other big titles like Player Unknown Battlegrounds coming soon. Here’s an edited transcript of our interview.

Above: Albert Penello is senior director of Xbox console marketing at Microsoft.

Image Credit: Dean Takahashi

GamesBeat: How are you prepping for launch? How do you think you’re convincing people that Xbox One X is for them?

Albert Penello: We’re 16 days away, 17 days away? I think we’ll be sending out announcements in the next few days about our launch event, where all that’s happening. We’ve seen really good uptake on the Xbox One X enhanced program. I think the last official announcement was more than 130 or 140 titles. I think we’ll be over 150 titles by the time we launch, with a pretty significant catalog. These are games where developers have said they’ll either go back and do work to existing games, or ship new titles with specific enhancements for Xbox One X.

If you think about it, traditionally consoles launch with maybe 18 or 20 titles. We think we’ll have 70 within the first week, which makes this a huge launch lineup for Xbox One X. We just released the new dash. That’s been focused on being faster and more personalized, with the ability to add new blocks and keeping Mixer and broadcasting first and foremost.

We’ve had the fastest pre-order sales we ever had, back when we announced Scorpio at Gamescom. The feedback from developers, partners, and fans has been great. Yesterday we announced original Xbox titles coming back, a select few, and we’re going to be making those games better. Those games will have higher resolution, four times their original resolution on Xbox One S and 16 times their original resolution on Xbox One X. They launch today. I think we launched 12 or 13 titles. It’s not upscaled. We’ve actually done work to improve the rendering of the games in the emulator.

We also announced four Xbox 360 games that will be part of the Xbox One X enhance program. The capabilities of the 360 were really amazing, and in some cases developers exceeded the capacity of the displays we had at the time. There are textures and artwork in some games that could never be displayed back in the day. We’ve used the same technology we’re using for our Xbox Originals games to increase the resolution of a handful of Xbox 360 games, and in some cases add wide color gamut and HDR. The artwork was actually authored in 10-bit color, but couldn’t be displayed on an Xbox 360. We’ve enabled that for Xbox One X. Oblivion, Fallout, Assassin’s Creed and Halo 3 for Xbox 360 will all be getting free upgrades that enable higher resolution.

Above: The lady bug demo on the Xbox One X.

Image Credit: Dean Takahashi/Microsoft

This is a demo that we’re going to be releasing for public consumption. We get a lot of questions about 4K and HDR. This is a piece of work that our advanced technology group built for developers. We worked with the ATG to turn this into something we can give to customers. Effectively, it’s a real-time in-engine demo. This is all being rendered by the Xbox One X, but it’s designed to highlight 4K resolution and wide color gamut and HDR.

Today a lot of people still ask, “How do I know that my TV’s in HDR? What does 4K really look like?” Not only do we think this is a gorgeous demonstration, but it’s something you can show to the family over Christmas with your new TV. You can move around and zoom in, and you can turn 4K off. Now the demo is rendered in 1080p. If you pay close attention to the textures on the eye, on the ladybug, you can see when you go back to 4K, the amount of detail that comes back.

It’s not complete yet, but over time we’ll have the ability to randomly change the scene a bit. I can go in and change the color of the ladybug if I want. We have a robot ladybug. Again, in real time, there’s 4K, and now that’s HDR turned off. You can see, when I take it all the way down, the leaves and the petals and how much detail gets lost when you drop down to 1080p. Here, you can see with HDR and wide color gamut turned off, the brightness goes down. It’s another great way to show how the textures and lighting change.

GamesBeat: Have you seen 4K TV sales picking up in advance of the launch? I finally had to take the plunge.

Penello: I haven’t looked at the latest numbers, but I know that feedback from retail has been strong. Something like this, we can have it running in stores. This is the kind of demo that really helps showcase the TV that they’re trying to sell, especially when you turn HDR off. The image quality difference between those two states is pretty significant. That’ll be out for people when the console launches. It’s a small download, just a couple of gigs.

GamesBeat: Do you think it’ll be tough to beat the first holiday season of the Switch?

Penello: I don’t like to predict numbers. [laughs] We’ve seen incredible interest. Talking to people in the press, all the feedback we’ve gotten is that any news about Xbox One X drives a lot of coverage, a lot of interest. I get that pretty consistently from people I know in the industry. Every time they do a story on Xbox One X, it drives huge traffic. The pre-orders were, again, not only the fastest, but also the most for anything we’ve released. I’m feeling like we’re going to have stock problems. Over the holiday it’s going to be a must-have item. Knock on wood, but I’m confident in our ability to sell good volumes of this.

Above: Xbox One X

Image Credit: Microsoft

GamesBeat: I know you haven’t announced the launch event, but is it going to be similar to past launches you’ve done?

Penello: We’re going to do a big launch event for it. We’ve talked a lot about how we’re trying to generate the same level of interest as a new console launch, but without the pains of a new console launch. A lot of this campaign has been treating this like a next-gen console, but changing the paradigm and the business around being part of the family, having complete compatibility, making your existing games better. Obviously Xbox One S is going to be supported and sold alongside it. The same games run on both. We’re not introducing a new generation insofar as we’re trying to get away from the past, but we are going to try and build the same level of hype and interest as we would have for a traditional console launch.

GamesBeat: As far as the slate goes, it seems like there’s a broader set of titles, as opposed to just stuff for the super hardcore.

Penello: We’ve announced that we have a lineup of Disney titles that we’re bringing to both Xbox One S and Xbox One X. The Disneyland Theme Park, the Pixar racing game. We’re also doing an update to Zoo Tycoon. Largely, there’s a very broad set of games available on Xbox One today. The Lego games do very well. Cuphead, Super Lucky’s Tale. There’s a good mix of genres for gamers.

Obviously with this kind of technology we tend to see more interest in the more mature games, because those tend to push the technology envelope a bit more. But from an overall purchase perspective it still has the diverse library of games that you can get on Xbox One as well. It’s great that we have some of those upgraded for Xbox One X. Super Lucky’s Tale and the Disney games are all upgraded.

Above: I would have loved to have done this in PUBG on the Xbox One, but it didn’t happen.

Image Credit: Microsoft/Bluehole

GamesBeat: PUBG is going to be a retail title as well? I think they announced that this morning.

Penello: Okay, that they’re going to ship as a retail SKU? Good. That game is—what is it now? Every time I have a stat it turns out that the stat’s old. 15 million users or something like that? Being able to bring that game to console as a launch exclusive, with all the momentum—obviously on Xbox we have a great online service, a great broadcasting service. All the pieces are in place for that to be an absolute blockbuster. Being able to work with them — since we’re publishing it – having our teams come in and help guide the console development to make sure we get a really strong console version—I think that game is going to do gangbusters this year.

GamesBeat: How did the update go? Fairly smooth?

Penello: At this point we’ve gotten to be pros at shipping console updates. I really am impressed with how ahead of the game the team has been, to get the new console update out weeks before the Xbox One X launches. There are already 4K titles propagating in the system. Gears of War, for instance, is done. The 4K bits are already up online, just waiting for consoles to get sold.

This goes back to the muscle that we built in shipping, by shipping these monthly updates. We have a really strong insider program where we get a lot of feedback. We’ve improved our shipping muscle. And then ease of development on Xbox One X has gotten, as you can see, so much more game support than we’ve had before, than any console’s had before. Games are getting done early. I can’t think of too many times when you have final bits ready to go two and a half weeks before launch. That’s a pretty impressive feat. Things are going smoothly and we’re going to have a strong launch.

Metal Gear Solid V and more games are coming to Xbox Game Pass soon

Xbox Game Pass is a monthly subscription which gives you access to over a hundred Xbox One and Xbox 360 backward compatible games on your console.

The service already has heavy-hitters like Halo 5: Guardians but next month it’s going to get even better. According to a statement on Xbox Wire, the service is getting Halo Wars: Definitive Edition, Mega Man 9, Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain, Oddworld: New ‘n’ Tasty, Resident Evil HD, Sky Force Anniversary, and The World of Van Helsing: Deathtrap.

All of these titles offer unique gameplay so be sure to check them out if you’re an Xbox Game Pass subscriber. The games will be available on November 1, 2017. Almost all of them are standout titles because fan-favorites like Halo Wars: Definitive Edition, Metal Gear Solid 5: The Phantom Pain, Oddworld: New ‘n’ Tasty, and Resident Evil HD will be part of the service. However, not all of these games are permanent additions to the library.

Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain is joining the service for the next three months so be sure to play it in that time frame. It’s only there until January 31, 2018. The game features a lengthy single-player campaign and a multiplayer mode. The story requires you to traverse Afghanistan, taking down an evil organization, while the multiplayer mode focuses on base building. This third-person stealth game will definitely push your skills — and patience — to the limit. Game Pass subscribers get the option to purchase games for a special additional discount too, so if you want to keep it after January 2018, you can do so for cheaper.

Halo Wars: Definitive Edition is the remastered version of the original Halo Wars which launched on Xbox 360 all those years ago. For those who don’t know, Halo Wars is a top-down real-time strategy experience which requires you to master base building, troop deployment, and resources management. This version of Halo Wars runs at 1080p 60 FPS on Xbox One.

Speaking of remasters, Resident Evil HD is the remastered version of the cult classic which released all those years ago. Resident Evil is a great example of the survival-horror genre and is regarded as a pillar from which many experiences, and studios, take inspiration. The game takes you back to 1998, where you assume the role of either Chris Redfield or Jill Valentine, members of a special forces team sent to investigate a series of bizarre murders in a mansion. Resident Evil HD is all about conserving ammunition and gathering resources to survive a seemingly endless onslaught from the undead. They can pop up around every corner, so be careful!

It seems that the remakes and remasters don’t end! Oddworld: New ‘n’ Tasty is an updated version of the cult classic which launched in 1997. For those unfamiliar with the original, Oddworld is an iconic platformer which has a strong focus on stealth. Through the game, you control a lovable Mudokon called Abe. After Abe discovers a plan to convert his people to food, he embarks on a quest to save everyone. Well, almost everyone. You have to sneak your way around the factory and surrounding environments to rescue your coworkers while avoiding hostile creatures who are hunting you.

Who doesn’t know about Mega Man 9? The Mega Man series is on the level of a franchise like Mario or Sonic but we haven’t really heard much about it in years. The series is known for its platforming and fast-paced shooting. Mega Man 9 follows our blue hero as he takes on advanced robots to prove the innocence of his creator. While the story may not be that deep, it’s still a good excuse to blast everything in sight.

The World of Van Helsing: Deathtrap is an action game fused together with a tower defense title. You’re transported to the world of Van Helsing and have to defend the realm of Borgovia from legions of monsters and other terrible beings. Aside from building, you also have to protect your constructs by taking them on yourself or in a co-op setting. One of the most unique aspects has to be the ability to battle your friends online if you so desire.

Did you play games like Tyrian when you were a child? Well, Tyrian was a shoot ’em up which required you to upgrade your ship with incredible weapons by earning credits. Sky Force Anniversary follows a similar concept because you have to collect stars in order to purchase further advancements for your vehicles. While the game may be a little “grindy”, those who love fluid vertical scrolling shooters will be satisfied. If you collect enough coins, you can add devastating weapons like lasers and bombs. The goal is to become the ultimate destructive force by the time you take on the final boss.

Aside from when Xbox Game Pass launched, this month seems to be one of the most memorable because games like Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain, Resident Evil HD, and Sky Force Anniversary are joining it. You shouldn’t miss them! Xbox Game Pass costs $9.99 each month so be sure to check it out if you want a Netflix-style subscription for games.

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In memoriam: Stephen Toulouse, Xbox Live’s former head “beat cop”

Stephen Toulouse, who served as Director of Xbox Live Policy and Enforcement from 2007 through 2012, passed away last night at the age of 45, as reported by a tweet from his brother. A cause of death isn’t being reported at this time, but Toulouse’s recent blogging and social media activity gave no indication of illness or health struggles. In 2015, Toulouse fell into a coma after contracting an infection that doctors at one point did not expect him to survive.

In memory of Toulouse, we’re resurfacing this interview, originally published July 12, 2012, which recapped his long career enforcing Microsoft’s rules for online gaming conduct.

Stephen Toulouse

Trying to moderate a large community on the Internet is not an easy job. Anyone who tries to enforce basic rules of civility and respect in an open Internet community of any decent size is fighting a never-ending battle against John Gabriel’s Greater Internet Fuckwad Theory, which turns usually normal people into complete, well, you know.

Those problems are only compounded on a service like Xbox Live. Anyone who has joined a public match in a first-person shooter on the Xbox 360 knows the platform is infamous as a haven for antisocial, antagonistic, hate-spewing preteen boys pumped up with adrenaline from shooting virtual people in the virtual face.

But Stephen Toulouse, who served as Xbox Live’s head of enforcement for five years before departing earlier this year, said managing Xbox Live’s tide of miscreant behavior was just a matter of bringing consistent punishment to those who break the rules.

“The reason bad behavior on the Internet occurs is because of a lack of consequences,” he told Ars Technica in an interview about his tenure at Microsoft. “I grew up in the world of arcades, and playing sports in a local park, where if I spouted off about some kid to his mother, there could be immediate and physical retribution. There were consequences [for] that behavior.”

The beat cop

Toulouse’s job at Microsoft was to bring consequences to the virtual world, using a team of hundreds of “enforcers” around the world to make sure Xbox Live’s tens of millions of users were sticking to the Xbox Live Code of Conduct. That meant stopping game-breaking problems like unauthorized cheating and console modifications, but also handling interpersonal issues like harassment, abuse, threats, obscenity, defamation, spam, and “racial, ethnic, or religious slurs.”

While many users are under the impression that the entire enforcement process is automated, Toulouse said every complaint sent in by an Xbox Live user is actually reviewed by a human, usually in much less than the targeted 24-hour window. Toulouse said he couldn’t discuss the forensic “secret sauce” his team used to confirm that those complaints were genuine, but he assured me the enforcement tools lead to an error rate that was “ridiculously low.”

They also allowed Toulouse and his team to confront people with the evidence of their misdeeds before bringing down punishments like temporary suspensions or permanent system bans. “It really is one of those scenarios where, when you have to answer questions, it was like ‘Yeah, we really did catch you,’” he said. “They just want to know they were caught.”

Enforcement wasn’t just a matter of reacting to complaints, though. Sometimes, Toulouse’s enforcers would serve as “beat cops” on the Xbox Live scene by jumping in to do spot checks in games that tended to contain the most problem players. More than actually catching rulebreakers red-handed, Toulouse said this kind of active Internet policing provided a valuable visible reminder for players that they needed to stay on their best behavior.

“I can’t tell you how many times I joined games and people would quiet up or go away. Those are the people who were misbehaving… I never had a problem with the entire game going silent, but I’d join a game and then hear one of the players go, ‘Oh, now you shut up’ to the other player.”

Problem parents

But dealing with problem players was nothing compared to dealing with certain parents, who “might have a certain set of expectations and perceptions and they may not match reality,” Toulouse said. Even parents that were very conscientious about limiting a child’s access to the Internet on the family computer often didn’t realize that today’s game consoles were similar general purpose devices. “So they put a game console in their kids room, without quite realizing that if they don’t somehow lock down the router or lock down the Internet connection at night, I guarantee you the child is doing something at 2am that the parent would be shocked by,” Toulouse said.

“One of the biggest problems I ran into is what we called the ‘Christmas morning problem,’” he continued. “We had these great parental controls on the Xbox, and other consoles have them too, but the parent hands the box to the child and says, ‘OK, fire it up,’ and the kid creates an adult account. Six months later, that kid does something horrible and gets punished. The parent comes to us and says, ‘What did my child do?’ and they are shocked and appalled. We tell them about the parental controls and they’re very excited, but they never knew… I think the industry has a long way to go still in educating parents about what has become a general purpose device and how much it interacts with the Internet.”

Changing norms

When Toulouse started in 2007, there was a rule in place banning all discussion of sexual orientation, gay or straight, from the service entirely. The rule’s main purpose was to provide some protection against the extremely common, extremely pejorative use of terms like “gay” as a slur against an opponent in an Xbox Live match, Toulouse said, partly on the theory that such terms just “didn’t belong in a gaming context.”

This kind of automatic punishment started to become untenable, though, when players began complaining about facing punishment for referring to their own sexual orientation as a matter of pride in Gamertags like “theGAYERgamer” and in other areas of the service. So, in early 2010, Toulouse and his team worked with GLAAD to modify the policy to allow for certain uses of sexual orientation terms, while still limiting harassment.

While the blanket rule against sexual orientation discussion might have made sense when Xbox Live was primarily an online gaming service, Toulouse said, things weren’t quite as clear-cut once the service started incorporating more general social networking features like Twitter and Facebook. “Suddenly it became sort of archaic and silly to [punish people who would] just state ‘I love my boyfriend,’ and [have] that person be male,” he said. “The vast majority of [the use of gay terms] was still pejorative, but it was one of those things where you take a step back and say, ‘You know, the population has changed, the function of the service has changed slightly, so we need to go ahead and take on the effort to divine whether something is pejorative or not.’”

And as the Xbox Live player base grew over the years to include more casual players, Toulouse said he found his team had to scale up its capabilities faster than normal to handle an increased rate of complaints. “[The hardcore players] might not complain, and it leads you into a false sense of where people are having safe experiences,” he said. “You find in the hardcore world people are more tolerant of miscreant behavior,” he said. “They either are trash talkers themselves or don’t view that as necessarily against the rules, even though it is. But you start to throw in the casual gamer that plays the occasional Modern Warfare 3 match, and that population expects that there be repercussions for breaking the rules.”

As the public face of Xbox Live enforcement, Toulouse said he occasionally ran into disgruntled players begging to get their accounts unbanned. For the most part, though, he said the feedback he and his team got at public events was overwhelmingly positive, despite the costs it imposed on them.

“If you think about it, it’s sort of a tax,” he said of the enforcement role. “Resources that went into my team are resources that don’t go into doing new things in the avatar marketplace, for instance… People at the end of the day want to have a safe and enjoyable experience, and I don’t see how you can increase those players’ experience without some form of enforcement or contravention.”