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Microsoft details how xCloud will let you play Xbox games on an Android phone

Microsoft revealed Monday that it’s testing an Xbox game streaming service, currently called Project xCloud.

Google stolen the show at this year’s Game Developer Conference with its Stadia cloud gaming reveal, but Microsoft is hard at work on its own service, xCloud, that it’s already testing now. Microsoft representatives from the xCloud team gave us a little more detail into how games designed for Xbox consoles will translate over to mobile devices, where players might be used to either a Bluetooth controller or on-screen touch controls.

xCloud, like Stadia, is designed to be a cloud gaming service that will stream high-quality, console and PC-grade experiences to any screen. Microsoft is starting with its existing Xbox library of games, with a focus on first-party titles like Forza Horizon 4, and Android phones, given Microsoft’s willingness these days to work across operating systems and platforms.

Of course, streaming a game designed to be played on a controller to a mobile device, where users might be without a Bluetooth controller and using touch controls instead, will present a bit of a challenge. According to Gus Apostol, a principal program manager working on xCloud, the way that will work without requiring developers to entirely rearchitect their games is through a set of xCloud-specific developer tools, including the Touch Adaptation Kit tool and Microsoft’s cloud aware APIs.

The Touch Adaptation Kit will be a way for developers to easily apply touchscreen controls to a game designed to be played with a controller or mouse and keyboard. Microsoft says all developers will need is a JSON, or JavaScript Object Notation, file to map the required inputs into a transparent overlay, like you’d get with a standard ported mobile game that’s been rebuilt to work on iOS or Android. Although in this case, it’s happening over Microsoft’s Azure cloud platform, and so it requires much less digging into the game’s code than if you were to port the game with native touch controls.

As for the cloud aware APIs, Microsoft says it’s developing them specially to take advantage of how xCloud users might play a game on mobile devices. That includes the implantation of new save states in the event that people register shorter play sessions in a game not originally designed for bite-sized playing. The APIs will also let developers easily adjust visual interface items like text legibility and menu layout, so that they function better on smaller screens.

We still don’t know much else about xCloud in its current form. Microsoft is closely paying attention to the competition.

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