PC Leading The Crew of Next Generation Platforms

Subject: General Tech | July 20, 2013 - 02:39 AM |
Tagged: ps4, pc gaming, amd

The last ten years were somewhat hostile to PC gamers: DRM forced us into an arms race with companies we were trying to purchase services from; our versions were ported often late and carelessly; and we were told, repetitively, that our money was not relevant to real business-or-something-like-that. The rise of Steam aside, the whole last generation became the mullet of video game history...

Console in the front; PC in the back; console in the front; PC in the back.

The next generation at least demonstrates promise for our platform as we cross the blurry divide. Small and Indie studios push new concepts, and even new business models, almost always with the PC forefront. The growth of mobile, whether cutting into computer sales or not, are often designed abstracted from native hardware which allow software like Bluestacks to include the PC and pave the way toward development in completely open, abstract platforms, such as standards-compliant web browsers.

crew-map.jpg

We will also experience a rebirth, due in part to AMD and their role in the upcoming console architectures, of games developed first on the PC and later ported to other platforms. The Crew, developed by Ubisoft Reflections, is the sum of a large repository of Windows, finally 64-bit, Direct3D 11 source code. From there, the PlayStation 4 version is derived.

Eurogamer goes into remarkable depth about certain aspects of the PS4 architecture and the process of bringing a PC title to its transistors. For instance, we were confused during Sony's announcement about the logistics of attaching Jaguar cores to a unified GDDR5-based memory system. The Eurogamer column, which draws reference to an earlier ExtremeTech editorial suggesting three possible block diagrams describing PS4 memory interfaces, more-than-suggests asymmetry between access rates across the alleged two four-core CPU modules, GPU, and system memory.

ps4-architecture.png

Image Credit, ExtremeTech via Eurogamer

As an interesting side-note: it turns out that just 6 cores will be available to developers, the remaining two are reserved for operating system usage.

It is good to see the PC leading the charge, genuinely this time, into what video games will eventually become. Feel free to market to other platforms as there will be no discrimination against your interested from my direction. So long as my dollars are respected when I decide their best use is for your product, I will be a satisfied customer.

Source: Eurogamer

L4D2 Beta Coming to Steam For Linux This Week

Subject: General Tech | April 29, 2013 - 07:25 AM |
Tagged: valve, steam for linux, steam, pc gaming, linux, l4d2, beta

Users of Valve’s Steam for Linux client will be getting access to the beta version of Left 4 Dead 2 later this week. The L4D2 beta will come with the new Enhanced Mutation System (EMS), which adds advanced scripting options to the multiplayer zombie survival game.

In fact, all Left 4 Dead owners will get access to the new beta release via the Steam client (not just the Linux platform) for free. The beta will appear in the all games list as a separate download from the main Left 4 Dead 2 game. It will allow beta players to connect to beta servers and other L4D2 beta users.

L4D2 Beta with EMS.jpg

The EMS system is the biggest addition to the beta currently. It gives developers access to custom script logic as well as custom spawn points and control entities. New maps, characters, and weapons are beyond the scope of the EMS, however.

Interested gamers should keep an eye on their Steam games list as well as the Left 4 Dead blog.

Source: L4D.com

GDC 2013: AMD Announces Sky Graphics Cards to Accelerate Cloud Gaming

Subject: General Tech, Graphics Cards | March 27, 2013 - 08:16 PM |
Tagged: sky graphics, sky 900, RapidFire, radeon sky, pc gaming, GDC, cloud gaming, ciinow, amd

AMD is making a new push into cloud gaming with a new series of Radeon graphics cards called Sky. The new cards feature a (mysterious) technology called "RapidFire" that allegedly provides "highly efficient and responsive game streaming" from servers to your various computing devices (tablets, PCs, Smart TVs) over the Internet. At this year's Games Developers Conference (GDC), the company announced that it is working with a number of existing cloud gaming companies to provide hardware and drivers to reduce latency.

AMD Sky Graphics In The Cloud.jpg

AMD is working with Otoy, G-Cluster, Ubitus, and CiiNow. CiiNow in particular was heavily discussed by AMD, and can reportedly provide lower latency than cloud gaming competitor Gaikai. AMD Sky is, in many ways, similar in scope to NVIDIA's GRID technology which was announced last year and shown off at GTC last week. Obviously, that has given NVIDIA a head start, but it is difficult to say how AMD's technology will stack up as the company is not yet providing any specifics. Joystiq was able to obtain information on the high-end Radeon Sky graphics card, however (that's something at least...). The Sky 900 reportedly features 3,584 stream processors, 6GB of GDDR5 RAM, and 480 GB/s of bandwidth. Further, AMD has indicated that the new Radeon Sky cards will be based on the company's Graphics Core Next architecture.

  Sky 900 Radeon 7970
Stream Processors 3,584 2,048
Memory 6GB 3GB
Memory Bandwidth 480GB/s 264GB/s

I think it is safe to assume that the Sky cards will be sold to other cloud gaming companies. They will not be consumer cards, and AMD is not going to get into the cloud gaming business itself. Beyond that, AMD's Sky cloud gaming initiative is still a mystery. Hopefully more details will filter out between now and the AMD Fusion Developer Summit this summer.

Source: Joystiq

Xi3's SFF PISTON Gaming Console Now Available for Pre-Order

Subject: General Tech | March 27, 2013 - 12:06 AM |
Tagged: Xi3, valve, Steam Box, piston, pc gaming, gaming

It may or may not be Valve's Steam Box, but Xi3 is the closest thing to a small form factor PC gaming console running Steam on the radar so far. The Xi3 PISTON is now up for pre-order with an intended holiday 2013 launch.

The PISTON starts at $899 and increases in price from there depending on the amount of internal storage included. Basic specifications of the Piston include an AMD APU (likely the A10-4600M) clocked at 2.3GHz (3.2GHz turbo), Radeon 7660G processor graphics (384 shaders), 8GB of DDR3 RAM, and a 128GB solid state drive. For an extra $340, Xi3 will swap in a 256GB SSD, and for $750 the company will include a 512GB option. Of course, that would bring the price of the living room TV up to $1649, which is far from cheap.

Xi3 PISTON.jpg

For that kind of money you could build a much more powerful mid tower that could actually run Steam games at 1080p with all the details cranked up. The Xi3 box will be lucky to average 30FPS at 1080p with the latest games. With that said, it is a start and I hope to see continued development of these "Steam Box-esque PCs. Hopefully once mass production, competing options, and economies of scale kick in, consumers will be able to get their hands on cheaper Steam Boxes!

If you can't wait for the official Steam Box, however, you can head over to the Xi3 website to reserve your own PISTON.

Source: Xi3

Steam Box Prototypes Will Reach Developers Within The Next Four Months

Subject: General Tech | March 8, 2013 - 05:26 AM |
Tagged: valve, Steam Box, steam, pc gaming, gaming, console, big picture mode

In talking with the BBC, Valve CEO Gabe Newell revealed several details regarding the company’s upcoming Steam Box gaming PC. The console competitor will go up against Sony’s PlayStation 4 (PS4) and Microsoft’s Xbox 360 successor. So far we know that the Steam Box will utilize Valve’s Steam distribution service and its Big Picture Mode user interface. Valve will be manufacturing its own reference design, but third parties will also be allowed to construct Steam Boxes that will tap into Valve’s gaming library. Xi3 in particular looks to be at least one of the likely Steam Box partners to produce hardware.

Newell indicated that Valve would be sending prototype devices to customers within “the next three to four months.” The designs are not yet finalized, however, as evidenced by Newell’s statement that the prototypes would be used to gather feedback, and Valve is still working on balancing heat, noise, and performance.

“We're working with partners trying to nail down how fast we can make it.” - Gabe Newell in an interview with BBC before receiving an award for Portal 2.

Further, Valve has not yet determined exactly what it wants the controller to be. It will reportedly be shipping several different prototype controllers along with the Steam Box PCs. One area that Newell is particularly interesting in is in gathering bio-metric data -- such as heart rate -- and using that data to change the game experience for the gamer. This would be one area that Valve could focus on and have an advantage over other consoles. As a fully-fledged PC, the Steam Box could tap into existing bio-metrics technology and easily have the horsepower to effectively parse the bio-feedback. I can only think of a few situations in which such data would be useful (horror games, party/dancing/exercise games), but I do see it as being at least as beneficial as the Kinect was/is to the Xbox.

With that said, we still do not know much about the Steam Box. Much like the PS4, we still do not know what the actual hardware will look like (though we have at least been shown the PS4 controller). Pricing is also one of the major unknowns, and BBC reporter Leo Kelion quoted an industry analyst Lewis Ward (IDC) as noting that Valve will likely not be able to subsidize the hardware nearly as much as the other major console players (Sony, Microsoft, Nintendo) are able to. The Steam Box is inevitably going to be priced more in like with PCs than with consoles, as a result. On the other hand, gamers that buy a Steam Box can look forward to getting games that are much cheaper than the console equivalents. Give Steam Box gamers a couple of Steam holiday sales and they will easily make up the price difference!

What do you expect the Steam Box to be, and will it finally take PC gaming to the masses?

Source: BBC

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.

5-depressing.png

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

NVIDIA Hosting CoD Black Ops II Rivalries Grand Finals on Saturday at NVIDIA HQ

Subject: General Tech | January 16, 2013 - 12:48 PM |
Tagged: tournament, pc gaming, call of duty

NVIDIA is hosting the Grand Finals of it’s Call of Duty Black Ops II Rivalries tournament this Saturday at the NVIDIA headquarters. The gaming competition pits various teams from colleges across the US against each other for NVIDIA graphics card donations to their respective schools and an ultimate prize of gaming PCs with NVIDIA GTX 680 GPUs for each team member on the winning team.

NVIDIA CoD Black Ops II Rivalries.jpg

Currently, it is down to three finalists and two wild card schools. The schools will battle it out on January 19th, 2013 at a live event in Santa Clara, California. CAL, USC, NC State, E. Carolina University, and Oregon State will all be competing at the event. Of course, the game of choice remains Call of Duty Black Ops II and each team member will game on NVIDIA-provided gaming PCs with the option of using a controller.

In addition to the CoD Black Ops II battle, there will be food and drinks provided at the tournament. If you live in the area, you can register for free to attend the event in person on a first come, first serve basis. To RSVP your attendance, head over to this page on the NVIDIA site. The event will run from 1:00 pm to approximately 6:00 pm where one school will be crowned the tournament champion.

You can find more information on the rivalries competition here.

Source: NVIDIA

Bioshock Infinite Will Take Full Advantage of PC Platform

Subject: General Tech | January 15, 2013 - 02:17 PM |
Tagged: pc gaming, interview, bioshock infinite

Despite the yearly proclamations of death, PC gaming is still alive and kicking. 2012 saw a number of developers put more emphasis back on the PC in multi-platform development schedules. It seems that Irrational Games also realizes the advantages of the PC platform with Bioshock Infinite. In an interview with Ken Levine and Chris Kline of Irrational Games, the developers told IGN what the company is doing to develop the PC version of the game. While they encountered several issues during development of the first Bioshock, Irrational Games is giving Bioshock Infinite its own team of on-call programmers to develop the PC version.

welcome_ONLINE.jpg

Reportedly, the developers underestimated the time and effort required to develop the first Bioshock game using DirectX 10 technology and a PC-optimized UI. In the interview with IGN, Irrational Games’ Technical Director Chris Kline stated that “this time around things were done differently.” Irrational Game has a team of programmers, artists, designers, and UI specialists dedicated to the PC development track along with the team working on the console versions.

The PC version of Bioshock Infinite will be able to take full advantage of the higher-end hardware in computers. The game will come on 3 discs and feature:

  • Additional objects and particles versus consoles
  • Longer viewing distances
  • Higher quality textures
  • High precision color buffer
  • DirectX 11 features:
    • Contact hardening shadows
    • HD ambient occlusion
    • Diffusion depth of field
    • Compute Shader
    • FXAA using Shader Model 5

According to the developers, medium quality settings on the PC will be equivalent to the console versions of the game. From there, the PC will have high, very high, and ultra settings that will further ramp up visual quality beyond what the current generation of consoles are capable of. Specifically, the PC system requirements for Bioshock Infinite are as follows:

Component Minimum Requirements Recommended Requirements
CPU Intel Core 2 Duo @ 2.4GHz or AMD Athlon X2 @ 2.7GHz Quad-core processor
RAM 2GB 4GB
GPU ATI Radeon HD 3870 or NVIDIA 8800GT AMD Radeon HD 6950 or NVIDIA GTX 560
HDD 20GB free 30GB free
Sound Card DirectX Compatible DirectX Compatible
Operating System Windows Vista Service Pack 2 (32-bit) Windows 7 Service Pack 1 (64-bit)

It is refreshing to see developers respect the gaming platform that starting it all and is driving the industry (in hardware at least), and take PC gaming seriously. Here's hoping Bioshock Infinite is a success. Considering it is due out on March 26th, 2013 gamers do not have long to wait to find out how well the PC version was done. 

IGN has the full interview with Chris Kline and Kevin Levine that is worth reading to find out the developers stance on the future of PC gaming, the Oculus Rift, and even Valve's upcoming Steam Box!

Source: IGN

Crysis 3 System Requirements Revealed: Can Your PC Run Crysis?

Subject: General Tech | December 3, 2012 - 10:15 PM |
Tagged: Crysis 3, pc gaming, crytek, CryENGINE 3, fps

Today Crytek revealed the system requirements for its upcoming FPS Crysis 3 game. The third installment in the nanosuit-wearing sandbox shooter series looks poised to take full advantage of the latest PC hardware, which hopefully means a return to Cyrtek’s PC roots.

Crysis 3.png

On the low end, users will need to be running at least Windows Vista and have a system with a dual core processor, 2GB of RAM, and a DirectX 11 graphics card with 1GB memory. From there, the game will scale to using at least a quad core processor, 8GB system RAM, and either a NVIDIA GTX 680 or AMD Radeon HD 7970 graphics card for the high performance settings. There is no word on how (if?) the game will further be able to take advantage of multiple 7970/680 graphics cards in CrossFire/SLI to take the graphics to the extreme. Also, Crytek is not yet revealing details on graphical quality and what each of the specification tiers will get you in terms of graphics and framerate performance.

The full minimum, recommended, and high performance system requirements are listed below.

Crysis 3 PC System Requirements
  Minimum Recommended Hi-Performance
OS Windows Vista, 7, or 8 Windows Vista, 7, or 8 Windows Vista, 7, or 8
Graphics Card DirectX 11 GPU with 1GB memory DirectX 11 GPU with 1GB memory Latest DirectX 11 GPU
Processor Dual core Quad core Latest quad core
System memory 2GB (3GB on Vista) 4GB 8GB
Example Processors Intel E6600 or AMD Athlon64 X2 5200 Intel i3-530 or AMD Phenom II X2 565 Intel i7-2600K or AMD FX4150
Example Graphics Cards NVIDIA GTX 450 or AMD HD 5770 NVIDIA GTX 560 or AMD HD 5870 NVIDIA GTX 680 or AMD HD 7970

It is nice to see CryENGINE still being developed, and I look forward to it bringing my PC to its knees as it lies somewhere between the recommended and high performance requirements.

Are you excited for Crysis 3?

Source: IGN

Star Wars: The Old Republic Goes Free To Play

Subject: General Tech | November 21, 2012 - 07:14 PM |
Tagged: Star Wars, pc gaming, gaming, free to play, F2P

Bioware announced on Friday that its Star Wars: The Old Republic MMO is now Free 2 Play. As a result, my productivity over the weekend suddenly dropped dramatically (heh). The subscription option is not gone entirely, but players are now able to create characters up to level 50 without paying anything. This approach is similar to the way World of Warcraft and Star Trek Online handle the Free to Play model.

Star Wars The Old Republic Screenshot.jpg

Installation is simple, and is just a matter of walking through a few standard steps and accepting the EULA. While the initial download for the installer is small, you cannot jump into the game until you download all of the assets -- and Star Wars: The Old Republic is far from a lightweight game with an asset download of about 25GB required to play (plus future smaller patches).

SWTOR.jpg

As a free subscriber you get access to the entire game, but there are several other limitations that might just annoy you into purchasing a subscription. If you are vigilant, it is possible not to pay anything. Some of the larger restrictions include XP-rates, number of characters per account, medical probes, reduced reward choices, and not being able to sprint until level 15 of all things (!). After level 10, the rate at which you gain experience points is reduced compared to paying subscribers. As an alternative, you can purchase XP boosters to make up the difference. Unfortunately, you cannot purchase it with in-game currency. At least it’s another one-time charge instead of paying every month for a subscription. The number of characters per account is restricted to two, so you will need to delete one or pony up for a subscription if you want to play as additional classes to get their stories. That’s unfortunate, but not a deal breaker and something that Star Trek Online also does. Medical probes allow you to respawn in the same area as opposed to respawning at a medical center. This would not be so bad if it was not for the biggest issue I have with the Free To Play version: getting around the game takes forever! With a quick travel that has a 2 hour cooldown and not being able to sprint until level 15, it takes a long time to get from mission areas and back again. This became especially evident on Coruscant where walking from the taxis to the senate tower in particular was a slog.

With all the major limitations out of the way, I will say that the game is just as good as my friend has been trying to tell me since launch. In particular, SWTOR is really fun, and I would even go as far as saying it is addicting. While it is not KOTOR 3, it is really close and definitely fills in a gap. It definitely encourages you to go for the subscription option but it is enoyable enough that the restrictions are worth putting up with, however annoying.

SWTOR_Double Bladed Lightsaber.jpg

When I started out, the combat took a bit of getting used to, as you move around with WASD, aim the camera with the mouse, and also right click to attack. With ranged weapons it will likely not be an issue but when you are running in with a lightsaber, it may take a bit of training before you hurt the enemies more than yourself (heh). I wish that there was a keyboard key to auto-target the nearest enemy, especially since my companion just loves to walk in front of me when I'm trying to target someone with the mouse (KOTOR did combat that way, from what I remember). The force abilities of the Jedi Consular are satisfying indeed.

(Hint, if you go with the Jedi Shadow option as I did when you chose an advanced class, you get a free double bladed lightsaber in a backpack that shows up in your inventory--the game doesn’t make this clear at all and it took me reading on a forum after looking around the game for a couple hours trying to find a double bladed saber that is required for some of the Jedi Consular’s abilities... It ended up being in my inventory the whole time, d’oh).

You can grab the game from Bioware’s SWTOR website. If you are a Star Wars fan, I encourage you to try it out for yourself. The download is huge but ultimately worth it. Just keep an eye on the time as otherwise you may look up and notice it’s 5 AM and you missed all the Black Friday deals!

What do you think of SW:TOR?

Source: SWTOR