Don’t call them hackers.
Earlier this week, a group of maverick Internet users called H4LT released the entire Xbox One software development kit online. Immediately, commentators drew a connection between H4LT and Lizard Squad, the hacking organization responsible for crashing Xbox Live and PSN this Christmas.
Not so fast, H4LT now says. Unlike Lizard Squad’s destructive aims, H4LT claims that their leak was designed to benefit the community. By sharing the Xbox One SDK, H4LT claims to be fostering innovation; as they put it, “Something kept between us will not achieve anything…. Shared is how it should be.”
In a certain way, H4LT has a point: making the Xbox One SDK available to the general population gives the public a wealth of new information about the console’s inner workings, and Xbox enthusiasts are already uncovering all kinds of previously-unknown information about the machine. For example, Microsoft recently opened up a seventh CPU core to Xbox One developers, dramatically increasing the amount of processing power available to run games (that’s a big deal).
Previously, both the Xbox One and the PlayStation 4 reserved two of their eight CPU cores for operating system functions; with this change, Xbox One programmers can access up to 80% of the seventh core as well. It’s not a perfect solution, of course. Games that utilize the seventh CPU won’t be able to use in-game voice commands or Kinect tracking. However, given that the Kinect was recently demoted to an optional add-on instead of a core console feature, that restriction probably won’t have a major impact on most developers.
It’s possible that gamers have already seen this additional power in action. Assassin’s Creed Unity and Grand Theft Auto 5 both ran better on the Xbox One than they did on the PS4. The CPU power boost is a possible explanation as to why, although the hypothetical timeframe that supports that theory is fairly tight (access to the seventh CPU core was added to the SDK in October, while those games came out just a month later). Still, it’s a change that’ll likely impact upcoming games, and it’ll be interesting to see how the seventh CPU core affects performance of cross-platform titles in the future.
The leaked SDK is full of interesting information, but whether it actually spurs homebrew development remains to be seen. Turning retail Xbox One consoles into development platforms requires a server-side patch from Microsoft, which simply isn’t available to regular users. There’s a lot to learn from the documentation, but there’s still no way to put that knowledge into practical use.
Besides, there’s another wrinkle: hack or not, distributing the SDK is illegal. With authorities tracking down Lizard Squad members, H4LT members should be careful not to get too cocky. Even if their goals are charitable, their movement could still end in the blink of an eye.