Earlier this month, developer Remedy confirmed that the Xbox Series S version of the highly anticipated Alan Wake 2 is missing the 60 frames per second performance mode that the Xbox Series X and PlayStation 5 versions will launch later in October come market.
I’m happy to say that Alan Wake 2 has a Performance Mode on PS5 and Xbox Series Mode. We’ll discuss details later.
– Thomas Puha (@RiotRMD) September 27, 2023
The news was the latest in a series of unpleasant headlines for Microsoft’s cheaper console, which is at the heart of the split-screen problems that have delayed the Xbox launch of the hit Dungeons and Dragons role-playing game Baldur’s Gate 3.
Xbox boss Phil Spencer has insisted that games will be played on the more powerful Xbox Series but the underpowered Xbox Series S is becoming a growing headache for Microsoft as more developers try to make the most of the PS5 and Xbox Series X’s performance.
That’s exactly what Remedy is trying to achieve with Alan Wake 2, a graphical showcase on current-generation consoles. In a recent episode of IGN’s Next-Gen Console Watch below, Remedy’s communications director, Thomas Puha, spoke candidly about the challenge the studio faces in getting Alan Wake 2 to run well on the Xbox Series S.
“The Series S CPU is broadly the same as the Series X,” Puha said. “But the GPU is a problem. It’s really. And then having less memory is a pretty big problem. And we often get, “Okay, you make PC games, you sure know how to scale.” Well, storage isn’t an issue on PC. It really isn’t. And that’s one of the problems when it comes to resolution and frame rate. Lowering the resolution a lot is simply not enough. That’s what we do on the S and we work really hard to make sure the visual quality continues to be maintained.
“People accept that on a weaker PC the graphics aren’t as good and the frame rate isn’t as good. There’s a huge difference between the Series S and Series X GPUs. And of course people can mention that this game did this and all that so well, and every game is different and every developer is different. But you can’t have the best of both worlds. You have to decide what you want to focus on.
“The S series is $250 and the X and PS5 series are $500 to $600. Obviously there’s a huge difference in the performance you get, right? Because of the memory, scaling is much easier on the PC, and it’s not like there’s a super PC and a weaker PC. There are about 300 PC configurations in between, and believe me, that’s a huge battle, but we’ve shipped a lot of PC games so we’re a little better at that.
“We worked really hard to get S running at a solid 30 and tried to maintain good visual quality. But if you want to see the game at its best in its full next-gen glory, you need to play it on the machines that have the hardware to make it happen.”
Puha isn’t the first developer to raise concerns about the Xbox Series S. In October, a VFX artist who worked on an Xbox Series “To drop Series S.”
“Studios went through a development cycle in which the Series S proved to be a pain in the ass to produce, and now that games are being developed firmly with new consoles in mind, teams don’t want to repeat that process,” the developer said.
In interviews with the press, including IGN, Spencer has pushed back on questions about whether the Xbox Series S is holding back developers and dismissed calls to allow developers to release their games only on the Xbox Series X. In an August interview with Eurogamer, Spencer said: “Having a starting price for the console that is under $300 is a good thing for the industry. I think it’s important that the Switch has done that. A kind of traditional plug-in-my-TV console. I think that’s important. So we are committed.”
Alan Wake 2: Dark Place Screenshots
It therefore seems unlikely that Microsoft will allow publishers and developers to release their games on the Xbox Series alone any time soon. In fact, the Xbox Series S has proven surprisingly popular in the Xbox Series sales mix. However, this means engineers face an uphill battle optimizing their games for the S.
In a recent interview with Axios, Xbox Game Studios boss Matt Booty admitted that developing the Xbox Series S alongside the X, PS5 and PC was “more work.” But he also said that developers should have an easier time once they’ve moved on to their second game for the platform, as they’ll be able to “plan better, knowing where some of the sharp corners are.”
However, for Remedy and Alan Wake 2, the Xbox Series S may never be up to the task.
Wesley is the UK news editor for IGN. Find him on Twitter at @wyp100. You can reach Wesley at firstname.lastname@example.org or confidentially at email@example.com.