When rumors first broke about the PlayStation 4 Neo, Xbox head Phil Spencer denied that Microsoft was working on a similar console. Spencer assured fans that when new Xbox hardware debuted, it would be more than just an "incremental upgrade" and that the company wouldn't release an "Xbox One-and-a-Half." Then at E3, Microsoft unveiled Project Scorpio - the codename for a new version of the Xbox One, which Microsoft is boasting as "the most powerful console ever."
As it turns out, Microsoft originally considered a somewhat less robust mid-generation release before settling on Scorpio. That console refresh would have hit stores later this year, but in the end Microsoft decided that it just wasn't the direction that it wanted the console to take.
Speaking with Eurogamer, Spencer discussed the differences between the Xbox One S and Project Scorpio. He confirmed that there would be no Scorpio exclusives, because the company wants to make sure that everyone can play all of its games. During that discussion, he also revealed why Scorpio is a 4K-ready console and how far the company went into plans for a mid-gen refresh before settling on the beefier option:
"They're already building 4K PC games, which is why we went out and talked to developers explicitly about what it takes to build a 4K PC game, to make sure Scorpio was a spec that they could look at what they're doing on PC and say, okay, I understand exactly how I'm going to make the Scorpio version of my game because I'm doing it on PC.
"We just shipped Forza Motorsport Apex on Windows. We shipped that at 4K and we looked at that. We talked to Todd Howard about Fallout and the work he's doing on Fallout VR and said, what is the spec we need to have in Scorpio to make sure we can support 4K?
"So developers today are supporting multiple design points already. That's why we picked 4K and not something kind of weird in the middle. We could have done a new update this year. We actually looked at it. We went all the way to, we had the spec in front of us, should we ship something that's less than Scorpio this year, but in truth you can't do a true 4K console this year. And I just didn't think anything between what is effectively a 1080p console and the 4K console, like, from a consumer television standpoint there's nothing in the middle. So let's go focus on 4K and next year was the right year to do that."
Spencer also clarified that the company saw Scorpio as part of the Xbox One family, and not the beginning of a new Xbox generation:
"That fact that when you buy an Xbox One and start creating your game library and when you buy Scorpio those games and accessories and everything are going to run, make it feel like part of the Xbox One family to me. That's why we communicate it that way. That was also part of the design point of the box."
As more information is revealed about it, it seems more and more like Scorpio isn't going to be an essential piece of hardware for Xbox One owners. This is probably a good thing, as it ensures that existing customers won't be forced into an upgrade and those who can't afford a premium console right now won't be missing out by buying a $299 Xbox One S instead. Even Spencer points out that Scorpio isn't the right choice for everyone, commenting that "Scorpio is designed as a 4K console, and if you don't have a 4K TV, the benefit we've designed for, you're not going to see."
As impressive as the title of "the most powerful console ever" is, Scorpio likely isn't going to be a game-changer in the console industry just yet. It may serve as a benchmark for what we can expect in the future, though, and if it proves popular enough may even provide a boost to the ongoing shift to 4K. Only time (and acceptance by the gaming community) will tell.
The Xbox One S is slated to hit stores later this year, while Project Scorpio will see release in 2017.