EFF Wants Legal DRM Circumvention for Art Preservation

Subject: General Tech | November 11, 2014 - 03:10 PM |
Tagged: pc gaming, gaming, eff, DRM, consolitis

This is something that I have been saying for quite some time now: games are struggling as an art form. Now I don't mean that games are not art; games, like all content that expresses feelings, thoughts, and ideas, are art. No, I'm talking about their ability to be preserved for future society and scholarly review. The business models for entertainment are based in either services or consumables. In the entertainment industries, few (but some) producers are concerned about the long tail – the extreme back-catalog of titles. Success is often determined by two weeks of sales, and the focus is on maximizing those revenues before refreshing with newer, similar content that scratches the same itch.

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DRM is often justified as maximizing the initial rush by degrading your launch competitors: free versions of yourself. Now I'm not going to go into the endless reasons about where this fails to help (or actively harms) sales and your customers; that is the topic of other rants. For this news post, I will only discuss the problems that DRM (and other proprietary technologies) have on the future.

When you tie content to a platform, be it an operating system, API, or DRM service, you are trusting it for sustainability. This is necessary and perfectly reasonable. The problems arise with the permissions given to society from that platform owner, and how easily society can circumvent restrictions, as necessary. For instance, content written for a specific processor can be fed through an emulator, and the instruction sets can be emulated (or entirely knocked off) when allowed by patent law, if patents even interfere.

Copyright is different, though. Thanks to the DMCA, it is illegal, a federal crime at that, to circumvent copyright protection even for the betterment of society. You know, society, the actual owner of all original works, but who grants limited exclusivity to the creators for “the progress of Science and useful Arts”. Beyond the obvious and direct DRM implementations, this can also include encryption that is imposed by console manufacturers, for instance.

The DMCA is designed to have holes poked into it, however, by the Librarian of Congress. Yes, that is a job title. I did not misspell “Library of Congress”. The position was held by James H. Billington for over 25 years. Every three years, he considers petitions to limit the DMCA and adds exceptions in places that he sees fit. In 2012, he decided the jailbreaking a phone should not be illegal under the DMCA, although tablets were not covered under that exemption. This is around the time that proposals will be submitted for his next batch in late 2015.

This time, the EFF is proposing that circumventing DRM in abandoned video games should be deemed legal, for society to preserve these works of art when the copyright holders will not bother. Simply put, if society intended to grant a limited exclusive license to a content creator who has no intention of making their work available to society, then society demands the legal ability to pry off the lock to preserve the content.

Of course, even if it is deemed legal, stronger DRM implementations could make it technologically unfeasible to preserve certain works. It is still a long way's away before we encounter a lock that society cannot crack, but it is theoretically possible. This proposal does not address that root problem, but at least it could prevent society's greatest advocates from being slapped with a pointless felony for trying to do the right thing.

Source: EFF

The Evil Within System Requirements

Subject: General Tech, Graphics Cards | September 27, 2014 - 02:59 AM |
Tagged: rage, pc gaming, consolitis

Shinji Mikami has been developing a survival horror game, which makes sense given a good portion of his portfolio. He created Resident Evil and much of the following franchise. The Evil Within is about to release, having recently gone gold. At around this time, publishers begin to release system requirements and Bethesda does not disappoint in that regard.

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Are the requirements... RAGE-inducing?

A case could be made for disappointing requirements, themselves, though.

Basically, Bethesda did not release minimum requirements. Instead, they said "This is what we recommend. It will run on less. Hope it does!" This would not be so problematic if one of their requirements wasn't a "GeForce GTX 670 with 4GBs of VRAM".

They also recommend a quad-core Core i7, 4GB of system memory, 50GB of hard drive space, and a 64-bit OS (Windows 7 or Windows 8.x).

Before I go on, I would like to mention that The Evil Within is built on the RAGE engine. Our site has dealt extensively with that technology when it first came out in 2011. While I did not have many showstopping performance problems with that game, personally, it did have a history with texture streaming. Keep that in mind as you continue to read.

A typical GTX 670 does not even have 4GBs of VRAM. In fact, the GTX 780 Ti does not even have 4GB of VRAM. Thankfully, both of the newly released Maxwell GPUs, the GTX 970 and the GTX 980, have at least 4GB of RAM. Basically, Bethesda is saying, "I really hope you bought the custom model from your AIB vendor". They literally say:

Note: We do not have a list of minimum requirements for the game. If you’re trying to play with a rig with settings below these requirements (you should plan to have 4 GBs of VRAM regardless), we cannot guarantee optimal performance.

Each time I read, "You should plan to have 4 GBs of VRAM regardless", it is more difficult for me to make an opinion about it. That is a lot of memory. Personally, I would wait for reviews and benchmarks, specifically for the PC, before purchasing the title. These recommended settings could be fairly loose, to suit the vision of the game developers, or the game could be a revival of RAGE, this time without the engine's original architect on staff.

The Evil Within launches on October 14th.

Source: Bethesda

Grand Theft Auto V PC Delayed Until January 27th, 2015

Subject: General Tech | September 12, 2014 - 03:10 PM |
Tagged: gta5 gta online, delayed, delay, consolitis

We finally got the release date for Grand Theft Auto V PC... and it's delayed. But Scott, how can it be delayed if we just now have a firm date? Well, apart from Rockstar claiming that it will be available in the Autumn of 2014, which January 27th, 2015 is not, the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 versions will be arriving on November 18th, 2014 (which is technically before December 21st). To this I say...

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... I hear it's lovely in the winter...

... meh. It's fine. Unless something comes up, or I find out that the port is awful and broken, I will still buy it. As always, delaying the release of your game risks potential customers growing disinterested in the product. Perhaps they had the plot spoiled by a friend or a Let's Play. Alternatively, perhaps they gained interest in it because of a friend or a Let's Play before it was available for their platform, and forgot about it before it could be purchased.

Hopefully the extra time is put to good use.

Source: engadget

Mojang AB Is Subject of Microsoft Purchase Rumors

Subject: General Tech | September 11, 2014 - 03:04 PM |
Tagged: mojang ab, Minecraft, microsoft, consolitis

First and foremost, I would like to remind everyone of the Twitch.tv and Google acquisition rumors. Things are not done until they are done and it could be significantly more complicated than it appears on the surface. And yes, I am speaking from the position of someone who was bitten and wrote a news post on the subject.

Regardless, discussion has been circulating that Mojang AB, creators of Minecraft, were in talks to sell their company to Microsoft for $2 billion dollars. First, this tells us that randomly generated diamond and gold is worth a fortune; second, it tells us that Mojang, like Oculus, is twice the company that Instagram was. I guess all it took was those OpenGL filter effects.

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Joking aside, two billion dollars is a significant chunk of money, about a third of Computing and Gaming Hardware's annual revenue. Minecraft is definitely a valuable asset, especially with the licensed media and merchandise, and would be a good addition to a publisher's portfolio (along with their employees if convinced to stay on). It is not entirely without basis, either. Competing publisher, Activision-Blizzard, allegedly planned to spend $500 million on Destiny, although Bungie denies that, which Activision claims is the cost of launching a new franchise nowadays.

The most interesting part of the rumor, to me, is the Bloomberg report which claims that Notch initiated the discussions. He was quite outspoken against Microsoft for a while, especially with the licensing requirements for Windows Store. Apparently, current head of Microsoft's Computing and Gaming Hardware division, Phil Spencer, is friends with Notch and has been visiting him and Mojang AB.

But until something official is announced, this is all speculation. That said, Notch has been particularly quiet about the topic on Twitter. To me, that strongly suggests that something is up.

Source: Bloomberg

ID@Xbox Has Strings... Go Figure.

Subject: General Tech | December 10, 2013 - 08:59 PM |
Tagged: microsoft, consolitis

This is why certification is bad, folks.

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How bad? In this specific case it is not too annoying but it does limit both freedom of expression as well as business opportunities. On the Xbox 360, indie developers were required to be published by Microsoft and give their console exclusivity or launch date parity. Things are a bit more relaxed on the Xbox One with ID@Xbox permitting self-publish releases. Microsoft will work "on a case-by-case" for games that have already been released on other platforms.

But Australian developer, Witch Beam, is unable to launch on the Xbox One. They had enough resources for a PC release in January followed by PlayStation 4, Vita, and WiiU. They did not have enough manpower to include Xbox One in that second window. As such, unless Microsoft gives them a waiver based on press attention, "Assault Android Cactus" will not appear on the Xbox One.

Microsoft has been improving their policies since the Xbox 360. Still, because of the precedent they set, they can always change their agreements at any time. Retail certification? Yeah, that can be useful for end users. Platform certification? Big problems.

Source: Eurogamer

Call of Duty: Ghosts Official System Requirements

Subject: General Tech | October 25, 2013 - 04:17 AM |
Tagged: consolitis, call of duty

I will preface this with a statement: I neither love nor hate Call of Duty. I completed the first Modern Warfare campaign once on the PC and have not touched the franchise since; the fourth was my only experience (this was due, in part, to Activision being the first to raise PC game prices up to console parity -- too expensive for what it was worth to me). If you like Call of Duty then by all means enjoy it. I even like a couple Michael Bay films (The Rock and the parts of Armageddon with Steve Buscemi and Bruce Willis).

NVIDIA, on the other hand, loves Call of Duty. It was the showcase for several aspects of the GeForce Experience as they were announced, from game optimization to SHIELD streaming. They also announced the minimum specifications for the upcoming Call of Duty: Ghosts before Activision even acknowledged them.

Whoops!

 

 

As it turns out, they were basically spot on (go figure). The only mistake NVIDIA made was accidentally demanding users reserve 50GB of Hard Drive Space when the game only requires 40GB.

The actual minimum specifications are:

  • 64-bit Windows 7 or 8
  • Intel Core 2 Duo E8200 2.66 GHz or AMD Phenom X3 8750 2.4 GHz
  • 6 GB RAM
  • 40 GB Free Storage
  • NVIDIA GeForce GTS 450 or AMD Radeon HD 5870
  • Broadband connection for Steam and Multiplayer.

Needless to say these specifications are... high. It looks, at least to me, like Infinity Ward decided to design the PC version entirely around the Xbox One and PS4 version. I can see this becoming a very big problem for laptop gamers. Of course, desktop users can get more RAM (even Micro ATX LGA 775 motherboards can support 8GB of it). Then again, some users might want to save the $80-or-less buying whatever sticks they need to top up to 8GB. Last Holiday season, 8GB was just $30.

Call of Duty: Ghosts arrives November 5th.

Source: Activision

Xbox Division Lead, Don Mattrick, Leaves to Join... Zynga? Steve Ballmer, Himself, Scabs the Void.

Subject: Editorial, General Tech | July 2, 2013 - 03:33 AM |
Tagged: xbox one, xbox, microsoft, consolitis

Well that was unexpected...

Don Mattrick, a few months ahead of the Xbox One launch and less than two months after its unveiling, decided to leave his position at Microsoft as president of Interactive Entertainment Business. This news was first made official by a Zynga press release, which announced acquiring him as CEO. Steve Ballmer later published an open letter addressed all employees of Microsoft, open to the public via their news feed, wishing him luck and outlining the immediate steps to follow.

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While subtle in the email, no replacement has been planned for after his departure on July 8th. Those who report to Don Mattrick will report directly to Steve Ballmer, himself, seemingly through the launch of Xbox One. As scary and unsettling as Xbox One PR has been lately, launching your flagship ship without a captain is a depressingly fitting apex. This would likely mean that either: Don gave minimal notice of his departure, he was being abruptly ousted from Microsoft and Zynga just happened to make convenient PR for all parties involved, or there is literally no sense to be made of the situation.

However the situation came about, Xbox One will likely launch from a team directly lead by Steve Ballmer and Zynga will have a new CEO. Will his goal be to turn the former social gaming giant back on course? Or will he be there to milk blood from the company before it turns to stone?

I wonder whether his new contract favors cash or stock...

Source: Zynga

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

Dark Souls 2 will be coming to PC, not just ported as an afterthought

Subject: General Tech | April 24, 2013 - 02:32 PM |
Tagged: gaming, Dark Souls II, consolitis, masochism

Dark Souls made a name for its self as one of the toughest and most unforgiving games going and built a huge following because of that.  The sequel will be coming to PC as well but the one major negative comment many gamers had about the original will no longer be applicable, according to the developers this version will not suffer from consolitis.  Rock, Paper, SHOTGUN has about as much information as is available on this game but to truly understand what this game will be like you should check out the YouTube preview below.

"A word of warning: I have never played Dark Souls, and this information is coming from French website GameKult’s interview with a Yui Tanimura, the Japanese game director of Dark Souls II. I am merely an information conduit. A nexus from them to you, with news that the complaints of the horrible, nasty port job of the previous game was noticed and taken into account. Dark Souls II is being developed as a PC game. Hooray!"

Here is some more Tech News from around the web:

Gaming

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