The Xbox One quietly received additional updates to its software development kit (SDK) in November and December that freed up more resources for game developers. A leak of the SDK documentation on Friday, combined with a recent interview with the developers of Dying Light, is yet another example of how consoles are still in development even after they’ve launched.
The latest SDK documentation for the Xbox One was leaked by hacking group H4LT via Twitter. Eurogamer’s Digital Foundry tech experts dug into the documentation and discovered that Microsoft has freed up even more of resources for the console.
At launch, the Xbox One reserved two of the console’s eight CPU cores for the operating system and the Kinect sensor, plus some of GPU was reserved as well. A June 2014 update freed approximately 10 percent of GPU resources that were reserved for Kinect by making use of the sensor optional for games. This allowed games like Destiny and Diablo III to reach the coveted 1080p resolution on the console
The leaked SDK shows that Microsoft has now freed up 50 to 80 percent of the seventh core. The extra access comes with some tradeoffs, however.
Digital Foundry points out that “developers need to give up custom, game-specific voice commands in order to access the seventh core at all, while Kinect’s infra-red and depth functionality is also disabled. Secondly, the amount of CPU time available to developers varies at any given moment – system-related voice commands (‘Xbox record that,’ ‘Xbox go to friends’) automatically see CPU usage for the seventh core rise to 50 per cent.”
In other words, the amount of resources available to developers in the seventh core can fluctuate based on voice commands. That will be true for anyone who has a Kinect and uses some of the common voice commands, but not those who picked up a Kinect-less console. Still, it’s something that developers have to account for.
Meanwhile, Dying Light developer Techland recently revealed that a December update to the Xbox One SDK brought another performance boost thanks to better ESRAM management. This and other improvements allowed the developer to get their zombie survival game up to 1080p.
For those that don’t know, ESRAM is a memory cache for the console that is meant to give its slower DDR3 memory a speed boost. It’s small size and management has proven challenging to developers, however.
“We were using the latest version just prior to the new release that came out on December 12th. In terms of advantages, the main thing is just how much the ESRAM control has improved,” Lead Game Designer Maciej Binkowski told GamingBolt.
“The new API allows you to do a lot more with the ESRAM, things devs have always wanted to do but were not easily accessible. This together with better tools (PIX) allowed us to really improve performance and tweak ESRAM usage,” he added.
Such is the nature of modern console development. The Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 evolved greatly over their lifespans. Expect the same with the Xbox One and PlayStation 4. Microsoft already has something Xbox related with its upcoming Windows 10 release. How much it and the DirectX 12 graphics API will change the console, and how Sony responds for the PS4, remains to be seen.
What do you think of these changes to the Xbox One? Sound off in the comment below.