Microsoft and Bethesda's 2018 E3 Conferences Were the Best in Years

We put on a monster pod tonight, with our impressions from the Xbox, Bethesda, and Devolver press events. We talk about Halo Infinite, Doom Eternal, Gears 5, Fallout 76, Prey (of course), and much, much more!

Discussed: Halo Infinite, Ori and the Will of the Wisps, Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice, Fallout 76, The Awesome Adventures of Captain Spirit, Crackdown 3, Metro: Exodus, Kingdom Hearts 3, Forza Horizon 4, The Division 2, Shadow of the Tomb Raider, Session, Devil May Cry 5, Cuphead, Jump Force, Dying Light 2, Just Cause 4, Gears of War 5, Cyberpunk 2077, Rage 2, Doom Eternal, Prey, Wolfenstein: Youngblood, Starfield.

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This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at
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Regarding the discussion on Microsoft’s “fast-start” technology, I don’t think the crew understood what it did exactly. It has nothing to do with the console waking from sleep, but rather the time-to-play once you initiate the game’s download. Essentially, they use machine learning to identify what modes and content players typically experience first, and then prioritize serving those chunks first in the download to get you playing the game faster. For instance, with Call of Duty, perhaps the machine realizes that most players jump into zombies mode first. So it will instruct the server to send those parts to the player first so that they can fire it up and play zombies while multiplayer and campaign download in the background. It’s essentially a fix for those games that pop up as “Ready to Start” and leave you at the menu screen while the rest of the game loads.

I suppose the end goal with this initiative is to bring the Game Pass experience closer to that of Netflix. Like with Netflix, I don’t have to preload anything before I watch the new season of Glow or Luke Cage, but I do if I want to play Forza Horizon 4. This is just Microsoft trying to close the gap, but who knows how effective it will be.


So what’s the point of using ML instead of just asking at time of download what they want to play first?

I suspect the algorithm will be active throughout the download process. So let’s say the player tries zombies first, but then realizes that they would prefer to start campaign. Based on this, the server can on-the-fly reprioritize what the player needs to seamlessly change over to campaign. Alternatively, when starting a new game, a lot of players will not know what mode they prefer, so going by data of past users for the same or similar game, they can serve the “right” data regardless.

Note that at this point I am in the realm of speculation, so take this with a grain of salt.

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There has been stuff around this topic doing the rounds for a while (some less charitable might say it is looking for problems to throw at ML and then advertise as “AI”) and basically it’s a really fun thing about the scale of development: do the devs know which files need to be loaded first? What if they’re using big archive files that compress lots of things under a single file in the filesystem?

With a rich stream of data from attaching various monitoring services, we can actually find out for sure the probability of each block of data being needed at what time during the playing of the game. So we can prioritise the downloads in such a way as to minimise the chance of having to pause the game. Pretty sure the paper I read (which I can’t find as the search terms for this are useless on Google) some years ago was about the approach of dividing the game up into blocks of equal size to avoid even considering the difference between big archive files and a visible file system. Then just train on the experience of people playing the game and incrementally optimise the download order to ensure most players will not run out of data.

I seem to remember the initial results were quite promising so I’m almost surprised that MS’s initial thing where not all the game downloads first didn’t use it. I guess they wanted to just hand the controls over to the developers under the assumption they’d have a good idea of how to slice files to best achieve it (but that ended up with some pretty poor experiences with them just cutting the menus or the tutorial section into the early load and dumping the rest of the game into the major download without really doing anything to smartly stream it).

Edit: Yep, completely unable to find it but around 2011-ish I was reading a paper on exactly this FastStart ML tech. It was pitched as the natural evolution of things like Guild Wars 1, which was a tiny client that streamed the assets via a priority list of the game files starting with first areas and character creator flagged files (and patched your version up to the server latest via grabbing the deltas of old files you had).

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My favorite part of the Microsoft thing is that they continue to make clear that there is no reason for me to buy an Xbox

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As someone who is one of those Bioware fans who lowkey thinks Bioware The Single Player RPG Dev is dead, does anyone have the link to the dev thread Austin mentioned? I am very interested.

I really loved the long form discussion of these conferences. Thank you for doing them, especially after a loooooongass day of work. Appreciated. At least uh today’s shows seem much less hype so that’s… easier…

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— Mark Darrah (@BioMarkDarrah) June 11, 2018

Edit: If you take a look at his feed over the past couple of days, he’s done A LOT of Q&A on Twitter about Anthem.


There have been more interesting looking games than I’d expected announced so far, but I’m noticing that my game purchasing plans for the rest of the year really don’t seem to be changing all that much. Lots of 2019+ going on this year.