The lead discussion point in DF Direct Weekly #101 centres on Larian’s announcement that while Baldur’s Gate 3 isn’t a console exclusive, currently there’s no release date for the Xbox Series version of the game owing to technical issues. The game is in development for Xbox, there are no exclusivity deals, but there are challenges in getting split-screen co-op working on Xbox Series S – and that’s causing a hold-up.
“We’ve had an Xbox version of Baldur’s Gate 3 in development for some time now,” a statement from Larian says. “We’ve run into some technical issues in developing the Xbox port that have stopped us feeling 100% confident in announcing it until we’re certain we’ve found the right solutions – specifically, we’ve been unable to get split-screen co-op to work to the same standard on both Xbox Series X and S, which is a requirement for us to ship.”
The key question here is why split-screen co-op is a ‘requirement’, which we’ll discuss momentarily but the developer is quick to point out that “there’s no platform exclusivity preventing us from releasing BG3 on Xbox day and date, should that be a technical possibility. If and when we do announce further platforms, we want to make sure each version lives up to our standards and expectations.”
On the face of it, there is a simple solution to this – and that is to remove the split-screen mode from the Xbox Series S version of the game in the same way that many Series S titles lack ray tracing modes or 60fps/120fps performance modes. However, the difference is that split-screen is a gameplay feature, not a visual feature, and at this point the ‘requirements’ that Larian are describing may not be defined exclusively by the developer, but rather the platform holder: Microsoft.
Going back to the Xbox One X and PS4 Pro era, both Sony and Microsoft had key requirements in how games could scale from base consoles to the enhanced models as part of their technical requirements checklist. Resolutions could increase. Performance could improve. New visual modes could be added. However, both platform holders insisted that there was feature parity in terms of gameplay between games running on their vanilla models and the enhanced counterparts. And of course, you couldn’t publish a game exclusively for the enhanced machine only – it had to be available on the standard console too.
Rules like this are still in place today when shipping games for Xbox Series X and Series S. Of course, you don’t need to deliver RT upgrades or high performance modes on Series S, but you do need to deliver the same gameplay package. Larian’s statement is by no means clear as to whether it’s a requirement it has imposed on itself or whether it’s down to Microsoft’s requirements on what you can or can’t do with Series S. Removing split-screen as an option for Series S would solve the issue, yet Larian is not considering this. It suggests that feature parity – including split-screen co-op – is indeed a mandate from the platform holder, something I’ve confirmed with sources.
- 00:00:00 Introduction
- 00:00:45 News 01: Baldur’s Gate 3 hits Series S snag
- 00:16:27 News 02: Nvidia AI video upscaling tested!
- 00:24:06 News 03: Humanity demo impresses
- 00:30:12 News 04: Final Fantasy 16 gameplay footage showcased!
- 00:41:10 News 05: Luminous Productions merged into Square Enix
- 00:46:56 Supporter Q1: Do the new Pokémon and Chrono Cross patches fix those games?
- 00:50:39 Supporter Q2: Is there a database of Alex’s optimised settings for PC?
- 00:51:46 Supporter Q3: With more games launching in troubled form, do you think consumers will start holding off day one purchases?
- 00:58:00 Supporter Q4: Is this the best time to remake demanding 7th gen titles, now that console hardware has caught up to their ambitions?
- 01:03:25 Supporter Q5: Will this console generation last longer than 7 years?
- 01:08:43 Supporter Q6: If you could banish one gaming-related object or concept, what would it be?
So, what happens next? Obviously, the overall objective should be to get a game as promising as Baldur’s Gate 3 onto the Xbox platform. Both Sony and Microsoft have support teams and part of their role is to aid developers in getting the most out of their hardware. On the Xbox side, ATG – the Advanced Technology Group – plays a key role here, so in a high-profile case like this, assistance from the platform holder may be forthcoming. Obviously, Larian itself will obviously be highly motivated to clear the technical hurdles and maximise the return on a significant development investment too, so may well be looking into solutions independently too.
However, an uncomfortable choice faces the platform holder when faced by scenarios similar to this going forward. Should it allow Xbox Series X and Series S titles to diverge in terms of features? Could split-screen play in particular be classified as a visual feature like a ray tracing or a performance mode? If a change is made, would Microsoft need to relax its rules for other features under pressure from other developers hitting the limits of the Series S hardware with other features? I can’t see that happening and to be honest, I would not like to see it happen.
Xbox Series S might be considered an ‘anti-Digital Foundry’ machine because obviously, it has hardware disadvantages compared to both Series X and PlayStation 5. However, it has sold exceptionally well. By the time the generation is over, there may well be more Series S machines out there than Series X, simply by virtue of its accessibility. I feel that the machine has a crucial role to play in the current climate because gaming hardware is becoming more expensive across the board – especially on PC. Even on consoles, we’ve yet to see cheaper PS5s or Series X machines – even though we’re into the third year of the current generation. If anything, prices are going up.
In a world where Verizon is able to sell a brand new Series S at $150 and where the machine is super-cheap on the used market, it’s clear that the junior Xbox is the outlier and has a crucial role to play in the generation so feature parity is important and even if split-screen co-op perhaps veers more closely to a visual mode, the point is that a line has to be drawn somewhere. Whether that line gets redrawn later on in the generation remains to be seen, but right now at least, feature parity between consoles is a good thing to have on the consumer side, though of course, it is an extra challenge for developers when in terms of critical mass, PS5 is likely to be the main target platform.
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