Xbox One developers team up with NASA to simulate 35 thousand light years of space

In a small room tucked away at the back of Microsoft's E3 booth, developers behind the company's upcoming and now controversial Xbox One shared a tech demo created with the aid of NASA in an attempt to push the technical limits of what Microsoft's Geoff Henshaw calls the system's "pure horsepower."

The demo itself is largely the work of programmer Frank Savage who with a team began the experiment with the system by searching for a "giant set of data," says Henshaw. The goal: To see what is possible using the pure computational horsepower of the new console.

"So we went to NASA, because NASA has this really cool database. It has every single celestial body in the inner solar system, including planets, moons, asteroids, comets." says Henshaw. The result is a tech demo simulation of space based on out to 35 thousand light years of data which tracks the position, velocity and orbital trajectory of every single subset of asteroids between Mars and Pluto. Each of the 40,000 asteroids are calculated and rendered, presenting its time and place to a high degree of accuracy."

It's an example of the possibilities of the system, which according to Henshaw includes the ability to feature "10,000 or 100,000 enemies in-game" while maintaining a high level of realism and fluidity in the near-field view by offloading it to the cloud. Comparatively, to get the same result from last-generation consoles it would require "10 and a half Xbox 360 consoles all working in parallel" in terms of computational horsepower, he adds.

"This is how the cloud will change the gaming experience," he says. "If a developer wants to do really crazy stuff we can see how he can map and compute 330,000 asteroids in real-time via global cloud computing. There are 500,000 updates per second from the cloud to Xbox One. Developers tell us this is a miracle for them. Even the highest of highest PCs could not do all of this at once, it really takes global cloud computing resources."

Xbox One makes roughly 100,000 servers available and dozens of data centres for developers to use a number that Henshaw says is likely to grow over time.

"We're just scratching the surface of what can be done," he says.

Henshaw previously detailed how Xbox One's built-in Kinect can augment gameplay, in an overview you can read up right here.

More from Polygon

The horror of Five Nights at Freddy's

  • Dark Souls 2: Crown of the Old Iron King Overview

  • Spacecom: a fast 4X built for multiplayer

  • Pillars of Eternity builds on role-playing classics

  • Tour the 1 KB hard drive built inside Minecraft

Latest Discussions

Log In Sign Up

Log In Sign Up

Please choose a new Polygon username and password

As part of the new Polygon launch, prior users will need to choose a permanent username, along with a new password.

Your username will be used to login to Polygon going forward.

I already have a Vox Media account!

Verify Vox Media account

Please login to your Vox Media account. This account will be linked to your previously existing Eater account.

Please choose a new Polygon username and password

As part of the new Polygon launch, prior MT authors will need to choose a new username and password.

Your username will be used to login to Polygon going forward.

Forgot password?

We'll email you a reset link.

If you signed up using a 3rd party account like Facebook or Twitter, please login with it instead.

Forgot password?

Try another email?

Almost done,

By becoming a registered user, you are also agreeing to our Terms and confirming that you have read our Privacy Policy.



Choose an available username to complete sign up.

In order to provide our users with a better overall experience, we ask for more information from Facebook when using it to login so that we can learn more about our audience and provide you with the best possible experience. We do not store specific user data and the sharing of it is not required to login with Facebook.