Microsoft’s E3 Xbox One tech demo: 300,000 asteroids, spinal thumbsticks and NFL multi-tasking

Microsoft’s E3 Xbox One tech demo: 300,000 asteroids, spinal thumbsticks and NFL multi-tasking

Microsoft is trotting out several tech demos, ranging from a massive cloud-based asteroid map to the new National Football League (NFL) integration, to the press at E3 in order to highlight what it hopes are the unique selling points of the Xbox One.

Using just the Xbox One hardware, Microsoft engineers showed off a concept application that mapped the orbital velocities of 40,000 asteroids from Mars to Jupiter. The effort required roughly 10 times the computing capacity of any of the current generation of consoles.

By tapping into the scalable cloud computing capability available to the Xbox One, the console scaled up to calculating 300,000 asteroids at once. Orbits were tracked at roughly 500,000 updates per second, creating an impressive visualization of the potential that off-site servers bring to bear on Xbox gaming. Real world applications of the Xbox One’s cloud connection could result in near-infinite and persistent worlds within games.

A second demo showed off possible uses of the new Kinect technology in hardcore gaming. Using a barebones concept shooter, Microsoft engineers programmed “natural human movement”, such as flinching and dodging when playing, as mechanics within the game.

Interestingly, the company’s representatives said that they’ve allowed developers to track spine movement as a third “thumbstick. While such a feature sounds ergonomically dangerous, it is nice to see that Microsoft has made this kind of motion tracking standard for developers.

“We’re able to bring natural intuitive instinctive Kinect-based input into the game that’s thrilling even for the most hardcore gamer,” a Microsoft engineer said during a briefing.

That’s a hefty promise, and one that’s bound to be met with skepticism. Motion tracking has been largely viewed as a gimmick that doesn’t play well with hardcore gaming, so Microsoft will have to work extra to overcome that stigma.

Outside at Microsoft’s booth, the firm is showing off the heartbeat tracking capabilities of the Kinect. The next-generation accessory will be capable of tracking single fingers and facial expressions. Developers are just beginning to tap into the possibilities here, and it seems creativity’s going to be the major limiting factor to the diversity of Kinect experiences on the Xbox One.


The final tech demo that Microsoft showed press this afternoon was a simple run-through of the upcoming NFL integrations. While NFL and fantasy football features will appeal to a niche and mostly American audience, the company was quick to remind that these same applications could be used for other international sports.

This last demo highlights Microsoft’s efforts to pitch this as “the all-in-one entertainment system.” The idea is that Xbox One owners can be watching NFL on live TV at home, switch to Game of Thrones, then snap on an app to keep track of the game and related social channels. For a deeper dive, users could then duck into SmartGlass to get more stats.


The talking points for the demo were that Xbox One can make entertainment “smarter, more personalized and more curated.” Again, that’s a compelling promise, but we’ll have to wait until November to see if Microsoft can deliver.

Microsoft has a number of stations for hands-on time with key Xbox One titles, and the system is looking good. Ryse: Son of Rome looks beautiful and runs smoothly, while Project Spark looks intriguingly immersive. I’ll be circling back to both the Sony and Microsoft booths to get a better feel for the two systems, so keep an eye on TNW’s E3 coverage if you’re looking for more info.

Related: Microsoft’s Xbox One arrives in November for $499, coming to 21 markets and Microsoft showcases Xbox One exclusive launch titles, including Ryse and Forza 5

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