Author:
Subject: Editorial
Manufacturer: Quakecon

The Densest 2.5 Hours Imaginable

John Carmack again kicked off this year's Quakecon with an extended technical discussion about nearly every topic bouncing around his head.  These speeches are somewhat legendary for the depth of discussion on what are often esoteric topics, but they typically expose some very important sea changes in the industry, both in terms of hardware and software.  John was a bit more organized and succinct this year by keeping things in check with some 300 lines of discussion that he thought would be interesting for us.
 
Next Generation Consoles
 
John cut to the chase and started off the discussion about the upcoming generation of consoles.  John was both happy and sad that we are moving to a new generation of products.  He feels that they really have a good handle on the optimizations of the previous generation of consoles to really extract every ounce of performance and create some interesting content.  The advantages of a new generation of consoles are very obvious, and that is particularly exciting for John.
 
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The two major consoles are very, very similar.  There are of course differences between the two, but the basis for the two are very much the same.  As we well know, the two consoles feature APUs designed by AMD and share a lot of similarities.  The Sony hardware is a bit more robust and has more memory bandwidth, but when all is said and done, the similarities outweigh the differences by a large margin.  John mentioned that this was very good for AMD, as they are still in second place in terms of performance from current architectures as compared to Intel and their world class process technology.
 
Some years back there was a thought that Intel would in fact take over the next generation of consoles.  Larrabee was an interesting architecture in that it melded x86 CPUs with robust vector units in a high speed fabric on a chip.  With their prowess in process technology, this seemed a logical move for the console makers.  Time has passed, and Intel did not execute on Larrabee as many had expected.  While the technology has been implemented in the current Xeon Phi product, it has never hit the consumer world.
 

Console manufacturers don't want much, just the impossible.

Subject: Editorial, General Tech, Systems | May 27, 2013 - 03:08 AM |
Tagged: xbox one, ps4, consolitis, consoles

So, as Wired editorial states it: hardcore console gamers don't want much, just the impossible. They want a "super-powered box" tethered to their TV; they want the blockbuster epics and innovative indie titles; they want it to "just work" for what they do. The author, Chris Kohler, wrote his column to demonstrate how this is, and has for quite some time been, highly unprofitable.

I think the bigger problem is that the console manufacturers want the impossible.

Console manufacturers have one goal: get their platform in your house and require their hand be in the pocket of everything you do with it. They need to make an attractive device for that to be true, so they give it enough power to legitimately impress the potential buyer and price it low enough to catch the purchasing impulse. Chances are this involves selling the box under cost at launch and for quite some time after.

But, if all of this juicy control locks the user into overspending in the long run, then it is worth it...

... right?

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But Microsoft should be thankful that I cost them money to be acquired as a customer.

Well, looking at the Wired article, not only are console gamers ultimately overspending: it is still not enough! Consoles truly benefit no-one! The console manufacturers are not doing any more than maybe breaking even, at some point, eventually, down the line, they hope. Microsoft and Sony throw obnoxious amounts of money against one another in research, development, and marketing. Redundant technologies are formed to pit against their counterparts with billions spent in marketing to try to prove why either choice is better.

All of this money is spent to corral users into a more expensive experience where they can pocket the excess.

Going back to the editorial's claims: with all of this money bleeding out, Microsoft wants to appeal more broadly and compensate the loss with more cash flowing in. Sure, Microsoft has wanted a foothold in the living room for decades at this point, but the Xbox Division bounces between profitability and huge losses; thus, they want to be an entertainment hub if just for the cash alone.

But think back to the start, these troubles are not because it is impossible to satisfy hardcore gamers. These troubles are because Microsoft and Sony cannot generate revenue from their acquired control quicker than they can bleed capital away trying to acquire that control, or at least generate it more than just barely fast enough.

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The other solution, which I have felt for quite some time is the real answer (hence why I am a PC gamer), has a large group of companies create an industry body who governs an open standard. Each company can make a substantial profit by focusing on a single chunk of the platform -- selling graphics processors, maintaining a marketplace, or what-have-you -- by leveraging the success of every other chunk.

This model does work, and it is the basis for one of humanity's most successful technology products: the internet.

As a side note: this is also why PC gaming was so successful... Microsoft, developers, Steam/GoG/other marketplaces, and hardware vendors were another version of this... albeit Microsoft had the ability to override them and go in whatever direction they wanted. They didn't, until Windows RT.

And the internet might even be the solution. The web browser is capable, today, of providing amazing gaming experiences and it does not even require a plugin. It is getting more powerful, even faster than the rate at which underlying hardware has evolved.

You could, in some browsers today, plug a USB flash drive into your computer; browse to some "index.html" file on it; and run an Unreal Engine 3 (and as Epic stated in a recent interview, soon Unreal Engine 4) game that is programmed in Javascript and is stored on that USB device. Never an internet connection required -- although if you wanted online features, web browsers are kind-of good at that, go figure.

To end on an ironic note, that makes a web browser more capable of offline play than our current understanding of the Xbox One (and Sony has said nothing either way, for that matter).

I guess the takeaway message is: love the web browser, it "just works".

Source: Wired

Next Generation Consoles Likely Not Compatible

Subject: Editorial, General Tech | February 16, 2013 - 02:08 AM |
Tagged: consoles, consolitis, pc gaming

If you really enjoy an Xbox or Playstation game, better hope your console does not die: it is likely that nothing else will play it. This news comes from a statement made by Blake Jorgensen, CFO of Electronic Arts. Clearly EA is a trusted partner of all console developers and not just an anonymous tipster.

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You mean, Devil May Stop Crying?

I tend to rant about this point quite often. For a market so devoted to the opinion that video games are art, the market certainly does not care about its preservation as art. There is always room for consumable and even disposable entertainment, but the difference with art is that it cannot be substituted with another piece of content.

There would be a difference if someone magically replaced every copy of Schindler’s List, including the vaulted masters, with The Boy in the Striped Pajamas. I could safely assume that the vast majority of the audience for either film was not just browsing the Holocaust movie genre. I would expect the viewer was seeking out the one or the other for a specific reason.

This is incompatible with the console ecosystem by its design. The point of the platform is to be disposable and its content is along for the ride while it lasts. They often deliver the console for less than their parts and labor fees: research, development, and marketing costs regardless. The business model is to eliminate as many big fees as possible and then jack up the price of everything else ten bucks here and there. Over time you will not be given a bargain, over time you will give them more than they made you think you saved. They then spend this extra money keeping content exclusively under their control, not yours. Also, profits... give or take.

Again, there is always room for consumable entertainment. The consoles are designed to be very convenient, but not cheap and not suitable for timeless art. Really, the only unfortunate element is how these impairments are viewed as assets and all the while examples such as this one dance around the background largely shrugged off without being pieced together.

As for your favorite game? Who knows, maybe you will get lucky and it will be remade on some other platform for you to purchase again. You might be lucky, it might even be available on the PC.

Source: Ars Technica

John Carmack Believes Next-Gen Consoles Will Continue Targeting 30FPS Games

Subject: General Tech | December 21, 2012 - 12:06 PM |
Tagged: xbox, ps4, gaming, games, consoles, carmack

While Nintendo has continued to pump out new gaming consoles, both Microsoft and Sony have been sitting on the current Xbox and PlayStation hardware for years. For example, the Xbox 360 is seven years old, and yet the Redmond company does not appear to be in any hurry to advance to better hardware with a new console. Sony is in a similar mindset with its PlayStation road map.

There have been rumors for the past couple years on the next Xbox and PlayStation, but there is one thing that is certain. Once gamers do (eventually) get a new console though, it will have substantially better hardware than the current generation. And considering that the latest games on the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 have started to push the hardware to its limit, developers are clamoring for better hardware as their engines outgrow the consoles. Visuals are still increasing on iterative console games but the frame rates are starting to slip as a result. PC gamers have Eyefinity, multi-GPU, AA, AF, higher resolutions, and unrestricted frame rates. Meanwhile, developers that want games on both console and PC platforms have to contend with the fact that the Xbox 360 and PS3 are limited to a frame rate target of around 30 FPS. (And the latest games are jast barely able to achieve that target.)

Unfortunately, while many console gamers likely expect the next generation of consoles to set the frames per second bar higher, a statement by John Carmack suggests otherwise. On Twitter the id Software founder stated that “unfortunately, I can pretty much guarantee that a lot of next gen games will still target 30 fps.”

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It is an interesting statement from the mind of a game developer. When next generation consoles do come out, they will likely push more than 30FPS on average as games built on (tweaked) existing engines will run faster on the updated hardware. However, it seems that developers are more concerned with pushing visual quality instead of framerates. As developers start pushing the new hardware, the framerates will fall towards the 30 FPS target, much like the current generation of consoles are experiencing. I suppose gamers that want unrestricted fram rates will have to stick to PC gaming for the forseeable future. 

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Carmack is much more optimistic about higher framerates on PC games.

Do you think gamers care about higher framerates on their consoles?

Source: Shack News

Who would have thought? Consoles nickel-and-dime.

Subject: Editorial, General Tech | August 1, 2012 - 03:30 PM |
Tagged: xbox 360, consolitis, consoles, console

Polytron and Trapdoor, together responsible for the indie title “Fez”, have decided to not release an update to their software due to certification fees. Microsoft released a public statement to assert that they would be willing to work out arrangements if fees solely prevent the patch from being released. Either way it reiterates serious concerns about content dependent upon proprietary platforms and how that conflicts with art.

Long-time readers of my editorials have probably figured out that I have not been a fan of consoles, anti-piracy, and several other issues for at least quite some time. Humorously it is almost universally assumed that a PC gamer who bashes his head against his desk whenever he hears an anti-piracy organization open their mouths must be a perpetual cheapskate worried about losing his free ride.

I mean, clearly there is no reason for someone who has an education in higher-level math with a fairly strong sense in basic statistics to argue with the ESA, BSA, RIAA, or MPAA. I clearly just prefer the PC to rip off game publishers.

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Measure your dependent variables, control your independent variables.

So then, why do I care?

I have been growing increasingly concerned for art over the past several years. The most effective way to help art flourish is to enable as many creators to express themselves as possible and keep those creations indefinitely for archival and study. Proprietary platforms are designed to hide their cost as effectively as possible and become instantly disposable as they cease becoming effective for future content.

Console platforms appear to be the cheapest access to content by having a low upfront cost to the end user. To keep those numbers low they are often sold at under the cost of production with the intent of reclaiming that loss; the research, development and marketing losses; and other operating costs over the lifespan of the console. Profit is also intended at some point as well.

As Polytron and Trapdoor have experienced: one way to recover your costs is to drench your developers and publishers in fees for their loyalty to your platform – of course doing the same to your loyal customers is most of the rest. This cost progressively adds up atop the other expenses that increasingly small developers must face.

The two main developers for the PC, Blizzard and Valve, understand the main value of their platform: markedly long shelf lives for content. Consoles are designed to be disposable along with the content which is dependent on them. DRM likewise adds an expiration on otherwise good content if it becomes unsupported or the servers in charge of validating legitimate customers cease to exist in the name of preventing casual piracy.

For non-differentiable entertainment that is not a tragic loss as there will always be another first person shooter. Content with intrinsic value, on the other hand, cannot simply be exchanged for equivalent media.

For all the debate about whether videogames could be considered art – you would think it would be treated as such.

Source: Ars Technica

How consoles would have gouged Diablo 3 over $44 million

Subject: General Tech, Systems | May 29, 2012 - 05:04 PM |
Tagged: diablo iii, consoles, blizzard

Matt Ployhar of Intel has posted on their Software Blogs about how much money in royalties would be given to Microsoft, Sony, or Nintendo if Diablo 3 were published on a console platform. Activision-Blizzard along with a couple of other publishers recently pocket the difference -- but unlike the consoles it is not an actual cost so the publishers can, and many do, lower their prices to the $50 point at launch. It really shows how expensive the seemingly cheaper console platforms really are.

So who would make a device for $805 to sell it for $499 after billions in research, development, and marketing?

Sony does and they get that money back from you in good time -- subtly.

The perception of consoles being a cheaper gaming platform than the PC is just a perception. Over the lifespan of the platform you can pay less for a better experience with a somewhat larger upfront cost on the PC. You are paying a premium with the consoles to experience exclusive titles that are only exclusive because you allowed the platform to charge you to pay the publisher to make it exclusive. Imagine how that cost grows if you own multiple consoles?

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But I find good value in paying extra so that others cannot play too.

Matt Ployhar of the Intel Software Blogs does a very rough calculation of how much Blizzard would have paid Microsoft, Sony, or Nintendo had their game been on a console platform. With 6.3 million units of Diablo 3 sold in the last two weeks and a typical royalty rate of $7-10 per game sale for console platforms the platform owner would take $44-63 million away from Blizzard.

This means that you would have been paying the platform owner $44-63 million to have Diablo 3 be placed on a platform which will be unsupported probably long before you finish with your game.

Blizzard has been selling Diablo 2 since the Nintendo 64 era. Consoles are paid to be disposable, the PC is not.

Source: Intel Blog

PC Gaming to Surpass Console Gaming in Revenue by 2015

Subject: Editorial, General Tech, Graphics Cards | September 22, 2011 - 02:26 PM |
Tagged: skyrim, rage, pc gaming, diablo iii, consoles, battlefield 3, batman

During a conference call with NVIDIA this week some interesting information from DFC Intelligence, "a strategic market research and consulting firm focused on interactive entertainment and the emerging video game, online game, interactive entertainment and portable game markets" according to their webiste, was revealed that paints the world of PC gaming in a much more positive light than previously expected.  By anyone's account, the coming fall and winter release schedules are going to be packed with fantastic releases:

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Courtesy NVIDIA

Several of these games, including DOTA 2, Diablo III and The Old Republic are going to be PC-only titles with others (like Battlefield 3, RAGE and Skyrim) that will without question look better and play better on the PC.  This sets up a great time for hardware companies like NVIDIA and AMD to sell system upgrades in order to maximize user experience in these titles.  

And while most gaming pundits have been telling us for years that PC gaming is dying, the report from DFC tells a different story:

games2.png

Courtesy NVIDIA

Based on revenue alone, estimates show PC gaming to surpass the sales of console games by 2014 with steady growth.  How can this be?  Have you stopped by your local Gamestop or Best Buy and seen the shelf space devoted to PC games compared to that devoted to the Xbox 360, Playstation 3 and Wii?

games3.png

Courtesy NVIDIA

Here is the key and it is something we have always suspected but haven't really been able to nail down: packaged sales are dying while digital distribution methods and new monetary game mechanics are increasing.  Because the industry's most prolific digital sales platform is notoriously tight with sales numbers (Valve's Steam), we have to depend on third party reports from DFC and others.  According to this chart, the digital sales of gaming on the PC are skyrocketing and will take PC revenues past consoles in just a few years time.  

One note here: this does NOT just include downloaded games in the traditional sense.  Instead, new pay models like the monthly subscriptions of World of Warcraft and "free to play" models that charge for upgrades and additional features are really going to be pushing the industry forward.  Looking at titles like League of Legends that claims 15 million PC gamers worldwide and others like World of Tanks and World of Planes, this trend is growing and though it differs from the "traditional" PC gaming mentality, it appears to be dominating our future.

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Courtesy NVIDIA

Many a PC gamer has lamented about the "console port" generation of games and this graph demonstrates how the power of the PC and the power of the current generation of consoles have diverged over the years.  By NVIDIA's estimates we are now about 8-9x the performance level of the Xbox 360 when compared to the GTX 580 that currently sells for about $450.  But if you look at the quality difference between something like Deus Ex: Human Revolution on the PC and the consoles, you do NOT see anything close to that kind of improvement.  Game developers have always had their hands tied by having to develop for the lowest common platform and while the PC market (when dominant) meant an upgrade cycle of 2-3 years we are now hitting a 6th year of static console gaming power.

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Unreal Engine

If we want to see games that look like THIS, a screenshot from the Unreal Engine Samaritan demo, then we need to boost the baseline and soon. 

But the numbers that DFC Intelligence provided give hope to those die-hards in the enthusiast and PC gaming community that with the expanding reach and positive growth of the PC market as a whole, developers will see this as their chance to move the medium forward beyond the status quo. 

Source: PCPer

Let us do some math, shall we? The cost of consoles

Subject: Editorial, General Tech | August 7, 2011 - 04:11 AM |
Tagged: pc gaming, consoles

There is a lot of discussion over how expensive the PC is compared to the consoles. I have heard from a number of former PC gamers who switched to the console to escape the large cost of ownership. I have also heard from a number of console gamers who claim that they cannot afford a three-thousand dollar gaming behemoth to just launch the typical PC game. Suffices to say, my head has exploded more times than causality allows for.

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Is your PC bleeding gushes of money?

Let us clarify something straight out of the gate before tl;dr kicks in: the true cost of a console is not the price you pay for the box itself. For proof, look at Sony: the cost of the $499 PS3 at launch was $805.85 according to CNET. That means that for each PS3 they sold they lost $306.85. You may think, “Pfft, that’s fine. They’ll make it up later.” Nope, it was mid-2010 before Sony made any money on each PS3 sales. They were bleeding for 3 years.

So where does Sony and Microsoft make their money? Firstly, Microsoft has that cash-cow Xbox Live that they have been milking for a substantial time now. You may consider $60 per year to be chump change however after 4 years that tallies up to 240$. I want you to consider the following: Xbox Live every 4 years, or a Radeon HD 6950 (Bundled with Dirt 3) for four years without paying a cent more? (Actually, okay -- you pay 3 cents more at $59.99-per-month{{edit: year, typo}}). It is also pretty much given that not only will your games look better than on a 360 by a long shot, you will also still be able to physically play games in four years’ time. You might be turning the quality settings to medium or low near the end of your card’s life cycle, but hey: at least you have the option for quality settings. Also, just because a console claims to run a game at a specific resolution does not mean it actually is. For instance, most Call of Duty games on the consoles are actually rendered at approximately 600p but are up-scaled to their listed resolutions.  To claim an upscaled 600p is 1080p would be like claiming a DVD upscaled is the same thing as a BluRay.

And this leads to our next point: You can buy a three-thousand dollar computer. You can also buy a Porsche. You do not need a Porsche to drive to work, but there are some distinct advantages to owning one that make it viable for a portion of the market. The rest of us can be perfectly happy driving to work with a Hyundai or a Chevy. Besides, it’s cheaper than paying a taxi. For good examples of cost efficient PCs, check out our constantly updated Hardware Leaderboard. Technically a license of Windows is not included, which is the one kink in PC gaming openness. Ideally we would be all running Linux or a similarly licensed OS not just for cost but also for longevity. Videogames will struggle as timeless art so long as the platforms they run on are not timeless. Unfortunately even in the PC gaming sphere there is no guarantee that the platform will just be torn out from under your dependent art. But, at least the PC platform is not designed to be disposable like the consoles. It is the lesser of two evils, and baby-steps to an ideal future.

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A moment of silence for your wallet.

So how much money are we talking about? I personally summed up how much I spent on the first Xbox in $10 per game license fees and $60 per year Xbox Live fees which came to $520 excluding the cost of the system itself and accessories which need to be replaced each generation for no sensible reason. Keep in mind; I was not a very extreme gamer purchasing only five games per year on average. Had I been PC exclusive, however, that would have been $500-some-odd dollars over the price of the system and accessories itself that I would not have needed to pay. The truth of the matter is over the long run you pay more to be a console gamer than a PC gamer unless you physically choose to pay more for your PC. Also, do not forget: due to the existence of proprietary platforms, if you own multiple systems because your games are only available on one or another, you are even further worse off.

There will be a follow-up article to this in the near future discussing what you are paying for with consoles – spoiler: it is, in general, not desirable.

E3 sprouts rumours and facts about the next generation of consoles

Subject: General Tech | July 7, 2011 - 12:46 PM |
Tagged: ps4, xbox, Nintendo, consoles, amd, E3, cell processor

[H]ard|OCP heard quite a bit about the new generation of consoles via the grape vine at E3.  The big winner is AMD, who will be providing the graphical power for all three of the next generation of major consoles as well as being in the running for putting a Bulldozer APU inside Sony's next game system.  IBM is the other competitor for providing Nintendo's core with an updated Cell processor, which also will be running in the next generation XBox.  Nintendo is also going with IBM, though they are looking at a custom built 45nm CPU.  This is very good news for AMD, with a guaranteed presence in every console and a possible hardware monopoly with Sony.

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"Guys talk, you hear things. And at this year's E3 HardOCP picked up a lot of information about the upcoming hardware in the next generation consoles. It will be interesting to see if our rumor mill churns up truth or fiction. We wanted to get this out the week after E3, but we had some I's to dot and some T's to cross."

Here is some more Tech News from around the web:

Tech Talk

 

Source: [H]ard|OCP