Xbox Secrets: The truth about the Xbox 360 “relaunch”

Microsoft is bringing more to the Xbox 360 than simply a new way to play games; you might be seeing a significant upgrade to the console’s graphics thanks to a couple of new initiatives.

Project Natal, which will launch at some point next year, is set to bring a new way to play video games. Microsoft’s Shane Kim has already stated that the controller-less peripheral will receive a launch as big as the Xbox 360, but Gamezine understands that the company will be providing even more momentum.

You may not know it, but Microsoft shipped a new Xbox 360 development kit to studios earlier in the year. One striking difference was the inclusion of one-gigabytes of RAM. No, this does not mean that Microsoft will be releasing a new Xbox 360 with more memory; the new kit instead makes development a little easier.

Like the PlayStation 3 development kits (with 512MB of XDR, and 256MB of VRAM), the extra memory can be used to properly test your game. This was a problem for Xbox 360 developers before now, since extra memory from the 512MB pool would have to be put aside to test their game engine. Developers could of course disable these test features in order to use this spare memory, but that would mean that they wouldn’t easily be able to test their game.

Therefore, a certain amount of memory would be sacrificed for their retail Xbox 360 game; this could amount to anything from 20MB’s to as much as 100MB’s. However, with the new Xbox 360 kit, this is no longer problem, giving that memory back to developers for the first time since the Xbox 360’s launch in 2005.

So that’s Microsoft’s first initiative. Something else might have surprised developers when they received their new Xbox 360 development kit; a new set of tools, and supposedly a new engine. According to our insider source, Microsoft has been working on a new internal Xbox 360 engine, which has been nick-named the X-Engine.

You see, the most common engine used for Xbox 360 development was Epic’s Unreal Engine 3. It might look great in Gears of War, but the engine does not shine in every developer’s hands and it also doesn’t have key features to take true advantage of the Xbox 360 quirks.

Our source explains that Sony’s PlayStation 3 tools (named Edge) have been picking up steam, and are now taking true advantage of the platform’s make-up, especially the consoles CPU, Kutaragi-san’s infamous Cell. As for the Xbox 360, it was lacking an engine that took advantage of it in the same way; a hole Microsoft hopes to plug with their new X-Engine. We’re told that the engine isn’t just a new set of special effects; it’s actually a whole new way to develop for the system: a new first party engine design.

We’ll bring you more on Microsoft’s X-Engine by the end of the week, but hopefully you can see the significance. Microsoft is hoping to give a boost to its games with extra memory, a new first party engine that takes direct advantage of the console’s quirks, and a new way to play with Project Natal. So no there won’t be a new Xbox 360 in 2010. Instead the current Xbox 360 will be getting a re-birth that’ll hopefully fuel the platform to survive until 2015.