When Microsoft's video game streaming service, Project xClou d, began its beta last month, there were only four games available to test. Now it's over 50. I spent a day taking the service with me on the road to see how it works.
Currently, the service streams games from Microsoft's servers to a smartphone or tablet and requires a Bluetooth controller, Xbox One or otherwise, to start playing. In the future, Microsoft plans for xCloud to also stream to computers, support touch controls, and carry data seamlessly from your main Xbox console. While the current version is fairly bare, the simplicity is fine. Just launch the app, select a game and start playing.
As someone who frequently commutes, sometimes long distances ( Kotaku is based in New York City; I live in Philadelphia), I am uniquely situated to take advantage of the convenience and portability of streaming video games. If xCloud can let me take an Xbox One (and eventually a Project Scarlet) with me wherever I go, it can fundamentally change how video games fit into my life. Of course, so would self-driving cars. It is not yet clear how close any of these futures are.
1; The Morning Routine
I'm coming. It starts slowly for me that it is not the weekend and actually only Tuesday. I prepare the coffee machine, put some cereal in the microwave for my partner and set it for three and a half minutes. This is just enough time to start up the xCloud app on my phone, download Borderlands 2 and get through the opening credits. The only thing that feels different is instead of staring at a 40-inch-odd-inch screen in my living room, I stare at my Pixel 3 on the kitchen counter and at the same time notice where the evening's chili has left a mark on formica.
The Microwing pings; I deliver breakfast and take my coffee upstairs to get a shower. Borderlands 2 comes into the bathroom with me, not because I intend to play but because I take my phone everywhere. Usually I sit in the shower caddy and play a podcast. Today I spend my precious few minutes under the scorching hot water and listening to Claptrap make jokes that were never fun but which I have become fond of at least through several impacts. After getting dressed, I take a few moments to run around the game. It is responsive, even if the sound temporarily cuts out here or there. The only place I can detect delayed hair is in the menu system where the analog pins on my Xbox One controller start to feel so slow.
8:00 – The Train
After driving to drop my 5 month old on my parents, who leaves chili in a tupperware container, and generally does a lot of other necessary stuff that doesn't play Borderlands 2 I leave the house to take the bus at the top of my street.
This should be the first major test of xCloud's ability to seamlessly fill the crags of my existence over my phone's unlimited high-speed Verizon connection. Instead, it's a test of whether I can juggle my coffee, backpack, phone and Xbox controller without just one or two dirty looks from the people around me. This means clutching my backpack between my legs, resting my phone on top and connecting the controller in a right-handed death grip. There are no games that can be successfully played this way, but I do manage to load Crackdown 3 's campaign. It also starts with a long cutting scene. Terry Crew's monologue goes smoothly. Then the bus hits a hair loss and displaced coffee easily sprays my installation.
A few minutes later it is time to go to the subway. Once resumed, I drain my coffee and put the thermos away so I can focus on Crackdown . Philly's blue line is above the ground for the first half dozen. During this time, the game sometimes stems, but nothing so bad. Instead of a constant feeling of latency, slowdowns seem to come and go at once. It's not ideal, but it's better than feeling that everything I tell the crews to do is on a second delay. Although there is still a bigger delay than if I played on my Xbox One at home, it is mostly impossible while sketching to the small screen of my phone, surrounded by strangers asking the operator, for God's love, not to go between cars while we is moving.
Then We Go Underground on 46th street. The game is immediately shut down and xCloud sends me back to the main menu. While I can generally stream music, update twitter and send emails underground, Crackdown does not stream my phone. Anyway, I have to be ready to make a crazy dash at my stop to make my train to New York.
On the train I pull down the compartment from the seat in front of me and create a makeshift phone that stands out of my diary and some napkins. This time I start up Halo 5 and choose a fast-paced multiplayer match. I guess it will be a dumpster fire, but surprisingly it works! I have been loaded into a Slayer game with seven other people and somehow manage to get my first death within seconds. Everything works, from shooting to throwing grenades to sprinting. Sometimes the screen melts into a pool of random colors and shapes, after which I am usually killed or find myself running into a wall, but I do not disconnect. What would be terrible for a high-stakes race match feels surprisingly satisfying to be on a train going over 100 miles per hour. I wish I could tear through any number of battle passes on my console games this way.
3:30 p.m. – Office
At work, I switch to office wifi, which works noticeably worse than my phone. I try to smash games between other tasks. Mark of the Ninja a single-player indie stealth game from several years ago, plays flawlessly for the opening level. Ace Combat 7 fights. While it feels impressive to fly through its beautiful sky on such a small unit, the occasional checks send me spiraling into the water.
20:00 – Megabus
After leaving work but before driving to catch my Megabus, I check a GameStop to see if they have any phone brackets for my controller. The guy tells me that they are only really sold online at the moment but suggests I try a Best Buy several blocks away, because I am in the opposite direction to my home, I have to give up.
Fortunately, but strangely, the bus was mostly empty. Does my previous Mega-ites know something I don't have? If I have to go into a glare of double-deck glory, I decide it would only fit if I played Forza Horizon 4 when shit went sideways. The game was wonderful when it came out last year and looks remarkably sharp and vibrant on my phone. The steering has the same problem that I encountered Ace Combat which leaves me to turn off course when I try to over-correct during the delay. I've never set record times in Forza and I certainly won't do it when the image quality is constantly crashing, but during the periods when everything goes smoothly – bits of 10 seconds – it's fun to shoot it down in English the countryside in a McLaren Senna while a 100 ton steel trap will send you through Northern Jersey's industrial parks.