Subject: General Tech | September 13, 2015 - 04:14 PM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: starcraft 2, pc gaming, legacy of the void, blizzard
It has been more than five years since Wings of Liberty was released, which itself was a long-awaited continuation of the StarCraft story. The first game and its expansion had their narrative cut into six episodes, three each, that were released all at once. The three episodes of StarCraft II, on the other hand, were decoupled into the original game and two follow-ups. The third and final one, which focuses on the Protoss, will arrive on November 10th, 2015.
Representatives from Blizzard have said, multiple times, that Legacy of the Void will wrap up the story arc for the main characters. The story may continue, but we should get a solid conclusion. The release date announcement came with a cinematic trailer, above, showing the Protoss holding off against the Zerg. There doesn't seem to be much story in it at first glance, but Blizzard is quite subtle about meanings. Some questions, like who exactly they are fighting and why, might be addressed in the story.
So that's what it looks like to them...
This announcement aligned with the finals of WCS Season 3, which is the last season before Blizzcon. Apart from the two sister tournaments in South Korea, GSL and SSL, there is just one Blizzard-counted tournament remaining, which is DreamHack Open in Stockholm, Sweden. WCS Season 3 was won by Lilbow, a Protoss player from France, which propels him from 18th place to
at most 8th Update Sept 13th @ 8:40pm ET (Part of the points were already accounted for apparently): 13th, minus a few positions once everyone's points are accounted for. Since the top 16 make it to the year's global finals at Blizzcon, this is enough buffer room to guarantee a spot at the tournament.
Subject: General Tech | September 11, 2015 - 07:01 AM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: square enix, pc gaming, final fantasy v, final fantasy
While the upcoming Final Fantasy XV release is still slated as console-only, SquareEnix has been bringing a substantial portion of their back catalog to Windows. The company seems to be slowly marching the Super Nintendo era toward Steam, just recently announcing that Final Fantasy V will join III and IV on September 24th. This leaves just Final Fantasy VI missing from that era, at least from the main series, which suggests that it will join the party (pun intended) in a little while.
A few other titles are still in radar silence. The entire NES era, Final Fantasy I and II, is no-where to be found... unless you count the former's re-release on Windows phone (although, even if you do, a case for “no-where to be found” could still be made). From there, everything has made it to the PC until you reach the aforementioned Final Fantasy VI.
From the PlayStation generation, both VII and VIII launched on the PC back in the late 90s, and both have been re-released on Steam, so those are fine. The only missing title is Final Fantasy IX, which is currently an original PlayStation exclusive. It has not been remade for any other system, period. This is a bit concerning, because it means that a team cannot be set aside to bulk-port a chunk of titles. Every port from that generation stemmed from their PC versions, so this would (at least I expect) need to be a special case. It never had one. Would they think the effort's worth it?
Next is the PlayStation 2 generation. This is a PC dead zone, apart from Final Fantasy XI, the MMO, which launched on Windows alongside Sony's console. We need ports of Final Fantasy X, X-2, and XII for the platform to be complete. Interestingly, the PS4 has just received an HD remaster of X and X-2, but XII is stuck on the PS2 (at least for now).
This brings us to the PS3 generation. The only thing we're waiting for is Lightning's Return, which is the third installment of the Final Fantasy XIII trilogy. It has been announced and, in fact, should have already launched several months ago. SquareEnix has confirmed a delay, re-affirmed that the PC will get it, but a firm date has not been set. Still, I'll count it as “PC”. Final Fantasy XIV was an MMO that launched, a few times, on Windows.
Lastly, Final Fantasy XV and Final Fantasy VII Remake may or may not come to the PC. Who knows?
So, ignoring the offshoots, we are currently missing: Final Fantasy I, Final Fantasy II, Final Fantasy VI, Final Fantasy IX, Final Fantasy X, Final Fantasy X-2, and Final Fantasy XII (plus the future titles). It is funny how SquareEnix seems to be grouping the ports by generation. While it looks fairly random from the Steam search page, the gaps make sense when you consider the work required to port a game. Ressurrecting Final Fantasy IX is a completely different process than VI.
Final Fantasy V will come to Steam on September 24th. Some may argue with the price, but you can wait for it to come on sale if that is an issue. You've waited long enough already.
Subject: General Tech | September 7, 2015 - 07:01 AM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: pc gaming
A few weeks ago, The iBookGuy published a video that explained how early computers struggled to draw information to their displays because they lacked enough RAM to hold a single frame buffer, even without application code. After highlighting the problem, he explained the Color Cells method of bypassing it, which breaks the screen up into eight-by-eight chunks that each can contain at most two colors (or four if you double horizontal pixels).
This video explains the Apple II and Atari 2600 graphics, which did color images a little different. Both systems operated on a single line at a time, rather than an eight-by-eight grid, although their specific methods were very different -- Apples and oranges if you will. The former was quite similar to Color Cells, except that it did seven (sub-)pixels in a single byte with an extra bit to allow for six possible colors. The Atari, on the other hand, didn't store a frame buffer at all. Instead, the CPU continually dumped the current scanned pixel to the monitor as it needed it, which seriously eats into game code time. He then mentioned CPU-driven graphics in the Commodore 64, which typically used the Color Cell method, but noted that basically no game used it because it wasn't worth the CPU time.
Image Credit: The iBookGuy
Apparently the next video in the series, whenever that will be, will deal with audio.
Subject: General Tech | August 25, 2015 - 06:40 PM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: GTA5, GTAV, pc gaming
Triple-A games with a long shelf life, regardless of how pretty they are, will probably get a graphics mod on the PC. A ridiculous number of them exist for Skyrim and Grand Theft Auto IV, which make them (arguably at the very least) look better than titles a whole generation ahead of them. Sometimes this raises controversy, as seen in the Watch_Dogs launch fiasco, but most of the time it is just hobbyists remaking the wheel (sometimes literally) to take advantage of newer hardware.
Toddyhancer, which is apparently a mod for Grand Theft Auto V, already looks impressive. It is not yet released, and the developer claims that it has a significant performance impact of ~10-30 FPS, which would be more useful in units of frame time (ms), but it makes its point. The above video seems to focus on shader effects to give a film feel.
Other screenshots exist, but it is difficult to figure out everything that has, and has not, been changed. The developer claims, “Don't go bananaz! its just Reshade Shaders, ENB series, simple tweaks and some tonemapping with class!”. Still, check it out if interested.
Subject: General Tech | August 19, 2015 - 07:07 PM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: pc gaming
While just the first episode has been released, The iBook Guy is creating a series of videos that explains the limitations of “oldschool” graphics. When you have just a handful of kilobytes of RAM, it is impossible to even store a full-quality frame buffer that the TV requires, which means that something will need to be thrown away.
The first video talks about adding color to frames with tiling and sprites. Using just ~1K of RAM, software developers were able to define background colors on a tile-by-tile basis. This allowed “black and white” to be an arbitrary “foreground and background” combination, which could even vary from one tile to the next as long as each tile only used two colors. This concept is expanded on to allow four colors per tile at a slight reduction in resolution. The video then goes into sprites, and how they are used for movable actors atop the tiles.
Image Credit: The iBook Guy
I don't know when Part 2 will be published, but it seems like they release about once per week.
It's Basically a Function Call for GPUs
Mantle, Vulkan, and DirectX 12 all claim to reduce overhead and provide a staggering increase in “draw calls”. As mentioned in the previous editorial, loading graphics card with tasks will take a drastic change in these new APIs. With DirectX 10 and earlier, applications would assign attributes to (what it is told is) the global state of the graphics card. After everything is configured and bound, one of a few “draw” functions is called, which queues the task in the graphics driver as a “draw call”.
While this suggests that just a single graphics device is to be defined, which we also mentioned in the previous article, it also implies that one thread needs to be the authority. This limitation was known about for a while, and it contributed to the meme that consoles can squeeze all the performance they have, but PCs are “too high level” for that. Microsoft tried to combat this with “Deferred Contexts” in DirectX 11. This feature allows virtual, shadow states to be loaded from secondary threads, which can be appended to the global state, whole. It was a compromise between each thread being able to create its own commands, and the legacy decision to have a single, global state for the GPU.
Some developers experienced gains, while others lost a bit. It didn't live up to expectations.
The paradigm used to load graphics cards is the problem. It doesn't make sense anymore. A developer might not want to draw a primitive with every poke of the GPU. At times, they might want to shove a workload of simple linear algebra through it, while other requests could simply be pushing memory around to set up a later task (or to read the result of a previous one). More importantly, any thread could want to do this to any graphics device.
The new graphics APIs allow developers to submit their tasks quicker and smarter, and it allows the drivers to schedule compatible tasks better, even simultaneously. In fact, the driver's job has been massively simplified altogether. When we tested 3DMark back in March, two interesting things were revealed:
- Both AMD and NVIDIA are only a two-digit percentage of draw call performance apart
- Both AMD and NVIDIA saw an order of magnitude increase in draw calls
Subject: General Tech | August 6, 2015 - 06:18 PM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: pc gaming, wow, blizzard
Shortly after Blizzard has released their financial results, they announced “Legion”, a new expansion pack for World of Warcraft. They are arriving more rapidly than they have in the past. The amount of time between Mists of Pandaria's release and Warlords of Draenor's announcement is a little more than a year and a month. A year later, Warlords of Draenor was released and now, nine months later, Legion was announced. I expect that the stream of content is to either stimulate subscriptions or, less likely, finish the narrative before the game fades out.
Image via PC Gamer
Before we get to the expansion, we'll briefly mention those financial results. In May, Blizzard reported that, while Warlords of Draenor pushed the subscription count to over 10 million, it fell back down to about 7.1 million by the end of the quarter. This is a loss of about 29%. This quarter saw another loss of about 1.5 million subscribers, from 7.1 million to 5.6 million. This is a loss of about 27%. This is a fairly steady, exponential loss of a little more than 25% every 3 months, which is fairly quick. This also means that Draenor was enough to offset about six months. Not much more to say about that -- I just find it interesting.
As for Legion, it will be a fairly sizable boost in content. The level cap has been increased to 110, which will hopefully include new skills and armor leading up to it. A new class, Demon Hunter, has also been added. You will not need to level them up from 1, and they will be capable as either DPS or tank. Of course, new raids will be included. Blizzard seems to have wanted to highlight dungeons, however. The way it was described to PC Gamer makes it sound like they want them to be more interesting as set pieces, with story and an interesting environment.
No pricing or availability information, but we'll probably hear a lot at Blizzcon.
Subject: General Tech | August 6, 2015 - 07:01 AM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: pc gaming, mount & blade ii, mount & blade
TaleWorlds has a cult classic franchise with Mount & Blade. Warband, the follow-up to the first Mount & Blade but didn't earn its own number, placed right behind Skyrim in Ars Technica's Steam Gauge for “Most Played Older Releases (2012 or Before) on Steam”. It is my most played game by far with over 800 hours recorded, albeit over the course of several years. I also participated in (and even hosted) organized events on a regular basis throughout that entire period, too.
The new game looks quite interesting, though. While the previous game's mods were more popular than its default content, its Siege mode drew a lot of attention. Armies were able to push siege towers against fortresses and slowly overtake the defenders -- attackers had unlimited respawns, but defenders did not. Eventually they would take a flag. Mods even played with destructible walls and buildings to force the attackers to create their own ways in, and the defenders to adapt in response. It seems like this version is expanding upon that with battering rams, catapults, and other team-controlled devices. While this is not as effective as a Napoleonic-era cannon, this might lead to the same effect.
They also flaunt time and weather rendering effects, and board games. Still no release date (or even publisher). This information is not even on their website yet. They're not known for rushing, at least.
Subject: General Tech | August 1, 2015 - 10:55 PM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: pc gaming, esports, valve, DOTA, DOTA 2, asus, ASUS ROG
Each year, Valve Software puts on a giant DOTA2 tournament where teams compete for literally millions of dollars. As of this writing, the prize pool currently sits at $17.9 million USD, which is divided between a 6.5 million USD first place prize, down to just under $54,000 USD for 13th through 16th place. Granted, these are per-team prizes, so individual players and their organizations will split the earnings from there how they see fit. It will take place between August 3rd and end with the Grand Finals on August 8th.
Last year, the event was broadcast on ESPN3. While it does not seem to be mentioned on the official website, although the online streaming WatchESPN is listed, ESPN's calendar has The International on its ESPN3 calendar for all six days. That said, you could always watch it online like you obviously watch every episode of the PC Perspective podcast. Right? Live and participating in the chat?
You can also check out an ASUS RoG contest at the JoinDOTA website. The top prize is an ROG G751 Gaming Laptop, a mouse with mousepad, and t-shirt. Second prize gets the mouse, mousepad, and t-shirt. Third and fourth place gets a different mouse (without a mousepad) and a t-shirt. Fifth place has been there, done that, but only gets a t-shirt.
And for the rest of us, maybe someone will snap a picture of a Valve workstation while they're aren't looking... again.
Subject: General Tech | July 7, 2015 - 07:30 AM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: square enix, pc gaming, mac os x, final fantasy xiv, final fantasy
When Final Fantasy 14 launched on the PC, it was plagued with bugs and gameplay problems. It led to Square basically remaking the game and relaunching it as Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn. The relaunch was highly successful, as Square learned from their inexperience with the PC. They recently decided to expand to the Mac alongside the release of their new expansion pack, Heavensward, for the PC. The published system requirements for the Mac version were later retracted by Square... and you can see where this is going.
They have since temporarily pulled game sales and offered full refunds. The game will go back on sale when they update “information on the product, system requirements, and screen resolution”.
The Mac will get the MMO, but Noctis time. Ignis wasn't in the cards.
I guess you could say they'll get on it Prompto? Yes I know I'm punning the wrong title...
In the forum post, Square lists a few reasons for the error. First, a handful of customers were accidentally provided a pre-release build ahead of the official launch, due to a “miscommunication with retailers”. As mentioned though, the official release had performance issues and Square blames that on OpenGL and how it tied into their project. They claim that Final Fantasy 14 developed for Mac OSX's implementation of OpenGL would perform 30% worse than Microsoft's DirectX counterpart. They quickly clarify that OpenGL is not 30% slower than DirectX, but that factor applies to OpenGL on Mac, DirectX on Windows, and specifically for Final Fantasy 14.
An interesting note is that Square claims to have outlined several system requirement candidates, and was waiting on QA and final engineering to “select the correct one”. Yikes. Talking about software coming in hot, they did not even know their target hardware until into the shipping process, if you take their word at face value.
Square intends to ship a functional Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn to OSX at some point.