How Xbox Series X Optimization Works - Prima Games

How Xbox Series X Optimization Works

by Thomas Wilde

It’s a big day for Xbox Series X news, including the reveal of a new badge to look for on Series X games. A game that’s Optimized for Series X can take full advantage of Microsoft’s next-gen hardware. Here’s what Optimized for Series X means, for both players and developers.

How Xbox Series X Optimization Works

Microsoft had a big morning, with an Inside Xbox presentation where it showed off some of the games that are coming to the Xbox Series X. The list ranges all over the map on genres and audiences, from a brand-new Madden game for 2021 to a new JRPG from the creators of the Tales series, but all 13 games at the May 7th showcase had one thing in common: they’ll ship with a badge that identifies them as Optimized for Series X.

Microsoft’s Aaron Greenberg, GM of Xbox games marketing, said on Twitter on Wednesday night, in advance of Thursday’s Inside Xbox briefing, that “the bar is high” for a game to receive the Optimized for Xbox Series X badge. Games with that label have been specifically optimized by their developers to run on the Series X as their native hardware. As a result, they’ll feature faster load times, higher resolutions (“beyond 4K,” Greenberg tweeted), more responsive controls, raytracing-powered lighting and reflections, and a steady 120 FPS framerate.

As per Microsoft’s official Xbox glossary, a Series X game that’s labeled as Optimized was either built in the Xbox Series X development environment, or is a previously released title that’s been rebuilt from the ground up for the Xbox Series X.

Microsoft has been saying a lot about load times and the absence thereof with the Series X, but part of the benefit of an Optimized game is the use of DirectStorage. This is a new I/O system that’s making its debut with the Series X, and which was first mentioned on the official Xbox blog back in March.

The point of DirectStorage is to lower the amount of CPU time that’s spent on streaming assets off the system’s hard drive. A current-generation console like the Xbox One X spends much of its processing power at any given moment on rendering the world around the player’s avatar, in order to try and stay one step ahead of the player whenever they try to go somewhere. That ends up leaving comparatively little CPU time for other facets of the game, which is why we’ve seen several open-world games that feature huge, expansive maps and rock-stupid NPCs.

Between DirectStorage and its SSD, the Series X only devotes a relative fraction of its CPU to asset streaming, as opposed to the Xbox One X requiring multiple cores for the job. That frees up more power that the Series X can devote to other features of the game. Examples that Microsoft cited include more reactive physics and the ability to include more NPCs in a scene at once.

Microsoft announced a total of 13 games this morning that will ship with the Optimized for Xbox Series X badge: 

Each game is promised to have “unparalleled” loading times, visuals, control response, and framerates due to being Optimized. However, we didn’t see much this morning besides short trailers, so for now, all we’ve got to go off of is Microsoft’s hype train. It’s going to be an exciting year as we see more information come out, and get a feel on a case-by-case basis for just how much of an improvement that an Optimized game really is.

As we get closer to launch day, we’re tracking all the stories around and about the Xbox. Check out some of our other coverage, like:

Which of the Xbox Series X‘s lucky 13 Optimized games are you looking forward to the most? Are you ready for some football, do you want to be a Viking, or are you going to dive straight into the vampire underworld of Seattle? Keep us posted, so we know which guides to prioritize, via our official Twitter @PrimaGames.

Thomas Wilde

Thomas has been writing about video games in one capacity or another since 2002. He likes survival horror, Marvel Comics, and 2D fighters, so that one part of Marvel vs. Capcom Infinite where Spider-Man teams up with Frank West and Chris Redfield was basically his fanboy apotheosis. He has won World War II 49 separate times.