Streaming the Odyssey: A look at Google’s Project Stream

Towards the middle of October, I got accepted into the beta for Google’s Project Stream. Project Stream is Google’s new streaming game platform, where all the gruntwork occurs in the “cloud” (otherwise known as data centers in undisclosed locations around the world) and you receive what is effectively a live video stream of the game. Currently, the only game available on Project Stream is Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey. Considering I’ve already been playing it on my Xbox One X (and have made some considerable progress in it), I decided to use the Project Stream version to make the decisions I opted against in the Xbox One version, such as playing as Alexios instead of Kassandra¬†(I’ve found myself gravitating towards Kassandra more, but I’ve also invested a significant amount of time into my build of Kassandra).

I should also note I used to believe streaming was the future, long before streaming was anywhere near mainstream. I was there for the early days of OnLive and Gaikai (both now defunct and absorbed by Sony to form the backbone of PlayStation Now). I was a huge champion of OnLive. I thought the idea was genius; being able to stream games to any device in the world, regardless of hardware requirements. Brilliant. Over time, though, the cracks started to show. You needed a constant internet connection for the service to even work, something not everyone can achieve. On top of that, you needed a good connection. Those still stuck on dial-up were out of luck (and yes, dial-up still exists to this day). There was also an inherent issue with lag, which will likely always exist with streaming game technology in some form, no matter how much you mitigate it. The problem was that OnLive’s lag always seemed to be significant for me. I remember playing the first Darksiders game on OnLive and having a ton of trouble with the first boss, almost exclusively because of lag. I just couldn’t get the timing right because my button presses weren’t hitting the servers in time.

OnLive went bust and the whole streaming game thing kind of just disappeared for a while. Sure, some companies were still doing it, but not to much fanfare. The focus shifted more to in-home streaming, a technology I barely use. Enter Google’s Project Stream, the newest contender of the streaming games race. Google hasn’t really outlined how project stream’s approach differs from that of other companies, and I can’t really say I’ve noticed much of a difference. I do believe lag has been improved, but I am not a professional and have no means of accurately checking that. My internet was recently upgraded and the connection has been pretty stable with some solid streaming, but there have been some random hiccups. The stream has crashed on me more than once for reasons unrelated to my internet connection (the crash seems to be on Google’s end, not mine). My progress since my last save also goes with the stream crashing. On my Xbox, I almost never have to worry about crashing to the home screen and don’t manually save all that frequently. On Project Stream, though, I can never predict when it will crash. When my internet is getting spotty, I’m given a warning, but when the stream crashes because of an issue on Googles end, I’m not given much, if any, warning.

I’d like to see Project Stream adopt 4K streaming and HDR streaming, but I’m not sure if the technology exists to do that yet. I imagine a 4K HDR game stream would require a significant amount of bandwidth to work. Without these, the stream appears flat to me compared to my One X copy. I can’t blame that as a fault on Google’s part, but because of the quality of the stream, I much prefer to play on my Xbox. Project stream is also limited to computers at this time. It doesn’t work on mobile devices or TVs, the two places I’d want to try it most. If Google is able to implement 4K HDR streaming and compatibility with mobile devices and/or TV’s, it’d become a much more interesting service to me. I’d much prefer to play it on my tv than my MacBook Pro.

It’s not all bad news, though. Project Stream allows you to plug in a variety of controllers, most of which you probably have laying around (Xbox 360, Xbox One and Dualshock 4 controllers are all supported over a direct MicroUSB connection, though I was unable to get my Dualshock 4 to work. My Xbox One controller worked perfectly, though). When Project Stream works, it really works, too. It’s snappy and getting into and starting Odyssey is quick. I haven’t counted my framerate, but I believe I’m getting a full 1080p stream with 60FPS.

I’m not sold on the vision of streaming being the future of gaming, especially because the technology has a lot of work to do before it’s anywhere near that, but if bandwidth requirements can be brought down and higher resolution streams introduced with minimal latency, it could be a viable technology. I find it most useful when I’m away from my console and want to play something. In 20 years, I still envision myself playing on a standard console, but I can see streaming being a supplemental technology to traditional consoles, a way to play when out and about or on vacation and don’t want to lug your console around with you (I’d love to stop lugging my Xbox and playstation to friends places every other weekend).

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