The Verge has a good little report on a supposed “Xbox Surface,” a 7-inch tablet that would be designed just for gaming. Author Tom Warren cites “multiple sources familiar with plans within Redmond,” but they’ve declined to be named, and Microsoft won’t officially comment. The whole thing is shrouded in secrecy–but if true, it could be very interesting for the world of gaming.
The name of the product alone–“Xbox Surface”–induces a kind of confusion, suggesting something in between a console and a tablet. I wonder, too, if the product would end up being something in between the two–and if mobile gaming could be transformed in the process. Like many people my age, I find myself in a funny, in-between kind of place: too busy for the console games that I loved in my youth, too discerning (if I do say so) for games like “Angry Birds,” which insult my intelligence. Could a dedicated gaming tablet nudge casual gaming in a more serious direction, or serious gaming in a more casual direction? In the process, would game makers start making games I’d actually play?
The Verge and others point out that an “Xbox Surface” might have much in common with the Wii U Gamepad, which is something of a hybrid between a console controller and a tablet. So perhaps we’ll have more data about the viability of this model soon. The Wii U and its gamepad will debut in a matter of days.
The Verge adds some specs on the device: probably a custom ARM processor with “high-bandwidth RAM designed specifically for gaming tasks.” It would run on a custom Windows kernel. The site included some leaked specs for the supposed device a few months back.
For me, a major question is whether the dedicated physical gaming controls, in the way the Wii U Gamepad will. That would enable a more dynamic range of input than the simple touchscreen-plus-gyrometer that drives the few iPhone games that have captured my attention long enough to bother with them. (Puzzle games, mostly: I recommend Cut the Rope if you haven’t tried it yet.) With more sophisticated forms of input might come innovations in gameplay and–a pet issue of mine–game writing. Then again, one of most ambitious and intelligent games of all time–“The Last Express,” set on the Orient Express at the dawn of World War I–recently was adapted for iOS, so perhaps it’s not hardware that’s constraining mobile game innovation, but rather the short-sightedness of game designers.
When designing an embedded system choosing which tools to use often comes down to building a custom solution or buying off-the-shelf tools.