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Inside Xbox Series X Optimized: The Ascent

When it launches this holiday, Xbox Series X will be the most powerful console the world has ever seen. One of the biggest benefits of all that power is giving developers the ability to make games that are Xbox Series X Optimized. This means that they’ve taken full advantage of the unique capabilities of Xbox Series X, both for new titles built natively using the Xbox Series X development environment as well as previously released titles that have been rebuilt specifically for the console. In our Inside Xbox Series X Optimized series, these creators will share the behind-the-scenes accounts of how they’re optimizing their titles for Xbox Series X and what that means for the future of gaming. Today, we’ll be chatting with Co-founder and Creative Director at Neon Giant Arcade Berg about optimizing The Ascent for Xbox Series X.

What excites you most about developing and bringing The Ascent to life on next-generation hardware?

I’d have to say it’s a three-part answer. As a gamer at the core, it’s always very exciting to leap into the next generation of video games. This time it’s particularly exciting as technology has reached such an almost ludicrous level and the focus is very much on what makes games great. The second part is sheer pride of being able to be part of this transition into next-gen with Neon Giant. The fact that we got in touch with Microsoft and got to go on this journey is humbling. Lastly, this new generation lets us and other developers focus much more on creativity and the aspects of making a game engaging and fun and less about the hurdles and how to get there.

In addition to benefiting from the power and performance of Xbox Series X for quicker load times etc. what Xbox Series X features were you most excited to explore leveraging in the development of The Ascent?

It’s still early days for us with the hardware and we’re experimenting weekly trying to figure out what we can and cannot do. It’s like a new big box of toys and we want to try and play with all of them before saying which one is the favorite. But we’re of course very optimistic about ray tracing and being able to push the envelope even further! It really adds that extra oomph to the world and everything in it. And our cyberpunky sci-fi world is an excellent use case for it as well with all our lights and reflective surfaces. In addition, it feels good to be able to offer crossplay and Smart Delivery to give everyone a richer experience and making sure every version is the right version.

How will these enhancements impact a player’s experience with The Ascent?

More than anything, it makes for a much more responsive gameplay experience. Everything from snappy input to more interactivity in the world makes it nicer. And faster loading means less distractions and it allows the player to focus solely on the game and never have to have the fourth wall of reality hit you in the face when playing. Once in, you can roam around doing what you want to be doing, and we can fill the world with objects and surfaces that react to your every action with physics and by breaking if you stir up mayhem.

Why did your development team choose to focus on 4k resolution, 60 fps and HDR enhancement areas for The Ascent?

High framerate lends itself very well to our type of action gameplay when a lot of things can be going on at the same time with multiple players, several enemies, projectiles, explosions, special abilities, destructible environments and overall total bonanza. Being able to have all that run smooth as butter is what makes it satisfying. And the 4K also means that all of that also renders with crisp detail. We often have a lot of stuff on screen at the same time, and that means that they still can get enough pixels each to look good. HDR then takes all of this and really makes what needs to pop pop and expands the spectrum and the nuances of how good it can all look.

How do you expect fans of The Ascent will respond to playing it on Xbox Series X with these enhancements?

I hope and believe they’ll be pleased and feel very positive. That what they got was a real improved experience. Early adopters to new generations are early adopters because they care a lot and they want the best. As soon as humanly possible. They’ll get the best experience, focused where it matters the most. I hope that they say “I’m glad I got this version of the game.”

What is it like developing on Xbox Series X?

We’re still figuring it out but it’s not Microsoft’s first time making a game machine and definitely not their first-time writing software for it so we’re in very good hands. Some things haven’t changed, and some require a new way of thinking. It was so cool seeing the game on the new hardware for the first time in our office. We’re also leaning very heavily on Epic Games since we’re building our game using their Unreal Engine. So for every update when they put in something new making use of the Series X, we get it too. It’s a very symbiotic relationship in the best of ways.

Which enhancement were you most excited about to explore leveraging for The Ascent on Xbox Series X?

I’m actually very excited about seeing HDMI 2.1 and all that can do for gamers in particular. Just the pure data throughput is amazing, but also things like the variable refresh rate will be a very big step for gamers once TV’s and cables have caught up. Crossplay is also very, very cool.

What does Smart Delivery mean for your game and how you’re bringing The Ascent to fans?

It really is one of the best things to have happened to gamers in a long time. And it’s so simple in its pitch. It does what it says on the tin. And this means you play it the way you want. And while we are very excited about the Series X, it’s nice to see that there’s no foul in playing on current gen, because next gen will be there waiting for you and be ready for you when you are.

What does Xbox Series X/next-generation development enable in current or future projects that you could not have achieved with the current generation of consoles?

Neon Giant is very precious about building fleshed out worlds and I think this is one area where the next-generation really will change things. In the future with games made to be “next-gen exclusive” and development started with the technology available, game worlds can reach new heights of size, fidelity and interactivity. Everything from the small things to large scale destruction. Both as a developer but also as a gamer, I look forward to this very, very much!