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Inside Man: Microsoft's Boyd Multerer on creating the Xbox One

Xbox's Director of Development talks screen resolution, dropping always-online, and courting indie developers

Boyd Multerer is a tired man. He's currently jetlagged, sat in a deserted box in Chelsea's vast Stamford Bridge stadium, on a brief break from demonstrating Xbox One to independent developers interested in signing up to the ID@Xbox program. It's the final stop in a long, long journey to Xbox One's launch, and it'll be followed by a sabbatical in which he finally gets to leave the office and spend more time with his family.

For a bit of context, this interview was conducted around the time of the Xbox One's launch last year, and first appeared in issue 110 of OXM UK.

But despite working seven days a week for almost six months straight, he's still cheerful, enthusiastic, and very keen to talk about Xbox One, the development of which has been his daily job for several years. The last time I met him, in Microsoft's Redmond offices two weeks before the Xbox One was first announced, he spent a fascinating hour discussing the architecture of a system designed to run games and apps side by side. Eight months later, he's still just as enthusiastic, despite the console's early stumbles and the increased workload they created for his team.


Part of the reason he's so engaging is his obvious proximity to the nuts and bolts of development. With a greying ponytail, days of stubble and a detailed technical answer for every question, he's very obviously from a development background rather than the marketeers Microsoft usually sends out to bat, and his CV stretches all the way back to 1997, conceiving the first building blocks of Xbox Live. He then moved on to develop XNA, the programming language that spawned the Xbox Live Indie Games on Xbox 360, before moving on to develop the software for Xbox One.

He's now in a position to look back on what he's happy to admit is "the hardest project I have ever worked on. It was a total slog to get it done." Already ambitious, the console architecture changed dramatically following the poor reception at last year's E3. The always-online requirement was dropped, requiring major changes to an already considerable workload getting the machine ready for launch.

"It wasn't fun," he says. "But actually, now that I'm past it and I can look back - I think that it actually vindicates one of the strategies that we had. One of the goals was to create an architecture that can change over time, so as those changes were happening, we could roll with it without it dramatically effecting the kits we were giving to game developers. We were able to keep that train running and keep the games in development while we were scrambling to adjust to policy changes and business changes over at the other side, and it actually helped to make all that manageable."

App it up

He holds that the app-based interface, on top of a Dashboard that's just a lightweight "shell" has proved its worth too. "The shell itself is quite thin, and it was a design goal to put as much of that functionality into those apps. We want people to be writing apps themselves, right? So we said hey, let's use the exact same thing. That allows us to continue working on those apps and update them individually without having to do the giant 360-style rolled-up update."


This has already manifested itself in this month's improvements to the Party system and other elements of the interface. Other updates will doubtless follow. I ask him if he could address a personal bugbear, the Achievements app not working offline. "I don't know. Achievements have always been closely associated with Xbox Live. They make the most sense in a social context, and when you're dealing with friends. So that may continue to make the most sense, to be in the context of Live. But hey - they've got the ability to change their minds, so if it's not right, and it does not redo the whole thing in the process."

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