In this week’s DF Direct Weekly, the Digital Foundry team spends much of the duration breaking down Microsoft’s Xbox Developer Direct – and to cut to the chase, we’re all agreed that this is the best games presentation we’ve seen from a major platform holder in years.
After years of complaining about how games were presented in practically every E3 media briefing, we’ve got exactly what we were asking for: a proper showcase on the games we’re set to play this year, passionately presented by the people who are making them.
Let’s be clear though: we get why E3 media briefings are the way they are and we don’t envy the likes of Microsoft, Sony or even Geoff Keighley in getting these shows together. Ultimately, they are a shop window for a vast range of games and getting some kind of representation – any kind, to be fair – within a typically tight 90 minutes is going to be challenging. And perhaps for a more casual audience, the presentation works – at least in highlighting awareness for certain games that may not receive coverage otherwise.
However, the end results are rarely satisfying. What we tend to get is a procession of in-game imagery with no context that quickly becomes a blur. That’s if you get in-game imagery (or ‘gameplay’) at all. Although the frequency of it has reduced in recent years, the industry still believes that there’s a place for delivering entirely fictitious CG trailers that have little to no relation to the end product whatsoever. The bulk of the content of many E3 pressers disappears from memory as soon as the event is complete – but the classic E3 trailers all have several elements in common: you get to see the game, time is spent on the content and typically, you’ re seeing actual real-time footage, even if there are some dramatic flourishes. Hideo Kojima’s Metal Gear Solid 2 remains the gold standard, almost 23 years on.
- 00:00:00 Introduction
- 00:00:44 News 01: Microsoft “Developer_Direct” reactions
- 00:41:50 News 02: Forspoken released – and there are issues
- 00:58:12 News 03: Dead Space: our early impressions
- 01:06:03 DF Supporter Q1: Will you be covering the RTX 4050 at launch? What are your pricing expectations?
- 01:08:55 DF Supporter Q2: Could generative AI power an “auto-remaster” feature to upgrade game graphics in real time?
- 01:14:08 DF Supporter Q3: What kind of performance leap should we expect from a Switch sequel?
- 01:20:10 DF Supporter Q4: When will DirectStorage support become the norm for PC developers?
In fairness to Microsoft, it has followed up on its media briefings in recent years with separate shows that go into more depth on certain titles but Developer Direct takes things to the next level in getting the major presentation right. The scourge of press events – CG trailers – are essentially gone. Each segment focused on the games, what the vision is behind them and why the developers are excited about them.
Each title featured also had time to shine. We actually found out Redfall is actually about! We understood why the next Forza Motorsport should be something special. The format also gave developers the space to pitch us on games we may only be dimly aware of, or to pique our interest on titles that we simply didn’t have much information on – The Elder Scrolls Online and Minecraft Legends, for example.
Tango Gameworks revealing a brand new game – and releasing it at the same time – was another high point. Where would a title like that have sold within a traditional E3 media briefing? An ‘oh that looks interesting’ moment is transformed into an actual event – and we’re loving what we’ve played so far. The cherry on top? A tweet from the game’s designer, telling us that our #StutterStruggle should not apply to the PC version. We’ll be looking at the game next week on Digital Foundry.
All of which is to say that the Developer Direct hit the spot, but there is still room for improvement. In fact, there is one more key component that should be an essential requirement and one which was missing: transparency. This is an area of honesty and disclosure where to its credit, Sony has led the way. Whenever game visuals are on-screen, there’s a caption telling you what you’re actually seeing. Is it running on console or isn’t it? Is it a real-time sequence or is it pre-rendered? Will you actually see these visuals in the game or won’t you? For the most part, Sony has even moved beyond the catch-all ‘in-engine’ label that essentially means nothing. Some of Sony’s signage has been brutally honest to the point of hilarity, but it’s important to know whether what you’re seeing represents the actual product in what is, after all, promotional material.
Microsoft made moves towards this in its E3 media briefing last year, but there were still ‘in-engine’ vagaries and even inaccuracies – in-game Forza Horizon 5 footage showing ray tracing effects that are definitely not in-game, for example. However, for Developer Direct, there was no disclosure at all. Was Forza Motorsport running on Xbox Series X? Probably not, based on the mouse pointer seen in one shot. What was Redfall running on? Were those spectacular vista shots actually in-game and representative of the experience we’ll be playing in May? It’s the final tick box in making Developer Direct the best it could possibly be.
You can listen to our various takes on the show, its component games and much more in the latest DF Direct Weekly. We also discuss initial impressions on the PC port of Forspoken (we didn’t get to play it until the game was unlocked on Steam) while we also share some thoughts on the Dead Space Remake. A combination of late delivery of review code paired with significant changes in a day one patch that actually arrived on day one delayed our coverage there, but it should be arriving soon. All of this content, plus a look at Hi-Fi Rush, the DualSense Edge controller and much more will be coming your way over the next few days.