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PC Gaming Shakeup: Ashes of the Singularity, DX12 and the Microsoft Store

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Manufacturer: Microsoft

Things are about to get...complicated

Earlier this week, the team behind Ashes of the Singularity released an updated version of its early access game, which updated its features and capabilities. With support for DirectX 11 and DirectX 12, and adding in multiple graphics card support, the game featured a benchmark mode that got quite a lot of attention. We saw stories based on that software posted by Anandtech, Guru3D and ExtremeTech, all of which had varying views on the advantages of one GPU or another.

That isn’t the focus of my editorial here today, though.

Shortly after the initial release, a discussion began around results from the Guru3D story that measured frame time consistency and smoothness with FCAT, a capture based testing methodology much like the Frame Rating process we have here at PC Perspective. In that post on ExtremeTech, Joel Hruska claims that the results and conclusion from Guru3D are wrong because the FCAT capture methods make assumptions on the output matching what the user experience feels like.  Maybe everyone is wrong?

First a bit of background: I have been working with Oxide and the Ashes of the Singularity benchmark for a couple of weeks, hoping to get a story that I was happy with and felt was complete, before having to head out the door to Barcelona for the Mobile World Congress. That didn’t happen – such is life with an 8-month old. But, in my time with the benchmark, I found a couple of things that were very interesting, even concerning, that I was working through with the developers.

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FCAT overlay as part of the Ashes benchmark

First, the initial implementation of the FCAT overlay, which Oxide should be PRAISED for including since we don’t have and likely won’t have a DX12 universal variant of, was implemented incorrectly, with duplication of color swatches that made the results from capture-based testing inaccurate. I don’t know if Guru3D used that version to do its FCAT testing, but I was able to get some updated EXEs of the game through the developer in order to the overlay working correctly. Once that was corrected, I found yet another problem: an issue of frame presentation order on NVIDIA GPUs that likely has to do with asynchronous shaders. Whether that issue is on the NVIDIA driver side or the game engine side is still being investigated by Oxide, but it’s interesting to note that this problem couldn’t have been found without a proper FCAT implementation.

With all of that under the bridge, I set out to benchmark this latest version of Ashes and DX12 to measure performance across a range of AMD and NVIDIA hardware. The data showed some abnormalities, though. Some results just didn’t make sense in the context of what I was seeing in the game and what the overlay results were indicating. It appeared that Vsync (vertical sync) was working differently than I had seen with any other game on the PC.

For the NVIDIA platform, tested using a GTX 980 Ti, the game seemingly randomly starts up with Vsync on or off, with no clear indicator of what was causing it, despite the in-game settings being set how I wanted them. But the Frame Rating capture data was still working as I expected – just because Vsync is enabled doesn’t mean you can look at the results in capture formats. I have written stories on what Vsync enabled captured data looks like and what it means as far back as April 2013. Obviously, to get the best and most relevant data from Frame Rating, setting vertical sync off is ideal. Running into more frustration than answers, I moved over to an AMD platform.

Continue reading PC Gaming Shakeup: Ashes of the Singularity, DX12 and the Microsoft Store!!

Testing the Radeon R9 Fury X proved even more confusing. Try as I might, I could not get Vsync to turn off with Ashes of the Singularity, regardless of what the settings menu claimed I had asked for. I have been quite good at knowing at a glance whether or not Vsync is on or off on a game with the overlay enabled, and capturing video and playing it back frame by frame showed there was never any of the expected horizontal tearing associated with Vsync being disabled.

So what is going on? Is AMD screwing things up? Is FCAT simply an outdated tool that is not properly measuring what it is supposed to? As it turns out, neither of those assertions is true.

What we are seeing is the first implications of a new pipeline for graphics and compositing. WDDM 2.0 (Windows Display Driver Model) is a very big shift from what existed previously with WDDM 1.3. The days of exclusive fullscreen gaming may be on the way out as Microsoft shifts developers and hardware vendors into a standard path through the OS compositor rather than bypassing it. Implications for this change are only beginning to be understood, but let’s see how it affects Ashes of the Singularity today.

Even though Ashes of the Singularity is not a Windows Store application, the behavior we are seeing is part of the push that Microsoft is making to sell games through that store with a unified platform. The debate of app store based games versus free standing and open gaming has been a debate in the community since MS first starting discussing it – we just happen to have a real-world implication of it in front of us today.

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Back on topic to our specific testing scenario, the AMD platform is more closely emulating what Microsoft would like to see done as DX12 gaming progresses. They never want applications to enter into anything that resembles a “Vsync off” state, which front buffer flips that lead to horizontal tearing. Instead, the “Vsync” option in the Ashes settings switches the game engine between two states:

  • Vsync on: Render rate is capped at the refresh rate of the monitor (60Hz is where we’ll discuss this at today) and thus the maximum benchmarked result is 60 FPS.
     
  • Vsync off: Render rate is uncapped, able to go as high as the hardware will allow. The draw rate to the monitor however is capped at the maximum refresh rate of the monitor. Only the most recent frame rendered is shown at the Vsync interval – all other frames dropped from the pipeline.

In fact, this is exactly what Frame Rating and FCAT told us was happening, we just didn’t know why at the time.

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AMD Fury X Capped / Vsync On

This result shows Vsync enabled Ashes testing where the frame times displayed are either 16.6ms or 33.3ms, which equate to 60 FPS or 30 FPS, respectively.

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AMD Fury X Uncapped / Vsync Off

This graph looks very similar to the graph above, though we see frame times hit the 0ms mark. At those points, frames are missing from the FCAT overlay pattern and thus indicate that a frame was dropped from the output queue after the GPU had rendered it. Manually stepping through the recorded output verifies this assertion and as I learned this week, is the expected behavior for a game running under DX12 with these modes enabled.

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Ashes result showing FPS higher than 60, despite running with Vsync

This process of rendering at an unthrottled rate but tossing out any frames that are rendered unnecessarily is how Ashes of the Singularity can self-report frame rates higher than 60Hz (or the maximum refresh of your screen) even though what is being shown on the screen is actually only running at 60 FPS. It is should be noted that this method still introduces judder into the animation, just as you would see with a capped, Vsync enabled scenario.

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NVIDIA GeForce GTX 980 Ti Uncapped / Vsync Off

NVIDIA, on the other hand, doesn’t enter into this state at all and, with the latest version of Ashes, behaves much more like previous gaming titles on the PC have in the past. When you set the game to Vsync on, you get a capped 60 FPS result without dropping any frames as the backpressure from Vsync forces the game engine into the proper stepping. If you set Vsync to off, the game enters into a fullscreen mode that has horizontal tearing and an uncapped render rate, and it displays at that rate with all the standard pros and cons that go along with it. (Side note: if you Alt-tab out of the NVIDIA Vsync off scenario the game will actually switch into the uncapped with Vsync on state, unable to revert until you restart the game.)

(Updated note: I quickly tested this Ashes of the Singularity benchmark with Skylake integrated graphics on the Core i7-6700K and it behaves like the NVIDIA platform, with horizontal tearing and an exclusive fullscreen mode with Vsync disabled.)

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Despite an uncapped frame rate, AMD's Fury X always runs with a synced frame

The obvious question is…why? Why does this behavior we are seeing on the AMD platform with Ashes behave in this way, and why does the NVIDIA/Intel behavior not? The answers are so complex at this point that I have had 4 conversations with different parties from different companies and I’m still not sure I have the full story.

Here’s what I know so far.

Microsoft is pushing DX12 games (and maybe not just those sold in the app store) to render through a standardized pipeline that uses the Windows compositing engine. In fact, from what I can tell, any game that is sold through the Windows App Store will be required to do so. Rendering through the Windows compositing engine is very similar to running in the borderless windowed mode that we have today (in that tearing is impossible but uncapped frame rates are also difficult to deal with). Microsoft has several reasons for this, most of which involve support for the various overlays and integrations that the company would like to integrate with Windows games. MS wants to have an Action bar, a recording bar, on-screen keyboard support for running games on tablets and 2-in-1s and more, all of which require overlay support and pushing games through the Windows compositing engine will allow them to do that in a standardized way.

Down the road, it appears that Microsoft thinks that running all games through the compositing engine will allow for unique features and additions to PC games, including multi-plane overlays. Multi-plane overlays allow two different render screens, one with the 3D game and another with the UI, for example, to be rendered at different resolutions or even updated at different rates, merging together through the Windows engine. Pushing games through the MS Windows engine will also help to improve on power efficiency, a trait that is more important as PCs mobile into the realm of mobile devices. It is laudable that MS wants to improve the PC gaming experience and bring some unique features from the Xbox to the PC – we just have questions on how it will be done and if they will be sacrificing some of what makes the PC, "the PC" to get it done.

But, if that is the direction MS is going, why are seeing the AMD and NVIDIA platforms behaving differently in Ashes of the Singularity? As it turns out, depending on who you ask, you are likely to get a different answer. No one wants to go against the wishes of Microsoft and no one wants to speak for them, but I have reached out to many people in the industry to try to figure out what’s going on. (Everyone wanted to remain anonymous in these discussions, FYI.)

One person told me that the reason NVIDIA’s results show a standard horizontal tearing behavior when Vsync is turned off in the game options is that it enumerates a DirectX feature called FlipEx, which refers to exclusive fullscreen. It is part of DX12 but was introduced prior to it; you can find background reading on it in Microsoft’s API documentation. Based on this person’s information though, the AMD drivers do not enumerate support for that capability in DirectX 12. If it did, the behavior of the AMD hardware would match that of the NVIDIA hardware with Ashes of the Singularity.

Another viewpoint suggests a different direction. This person suggests that AMD’s driver is behaving as Microsoft has laid out DX12 to work in general, not just for universal apps, and that NVIDIA is implementing a workaround of sorts, to get Vsync off status to function as it has in the past, claiming exclusive fullscreen status in DX12.

What is 100% clear is that we are seeing the confusion surrounding a brand new API with very little specific direction to developers (or the media/community) on it. It also doesn’t help that everything we have been discussing has been a moving target since the days of the Windows 10 RTM. In fact, as I was told by several people this week, had we run this test with Ashes of the Singularity prior to the November 10th update to Windows 10, this entire situation would have been handled differently, with no ability for the game engine to run at uncapped frame rates. And it doesn’t appear to be finished yet.

Other Concerns and Observations

In my discussions with various people about DirectX, I also learned several interesting tidbits that don’t necessarily overlap with the debate about refresh rates and vertical sync (as we have discussed above).

First, it should be noted that most game developers actually support the kind of moves that Microsoft is making, at least when it comes to improving the experience and image quality of the games they are building. Tearing looks bad, no one is denying that, and removing it from PC games is definitely a goal to strive for. Talking with a handful of people, off the record, on what Microsoft is attempting to do with DX12 and unified games, the intent to improve the ecosystem seems legitimate, though the implementation and messaging seems to be half-baked at best.

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The Windows Store on Windows 10

Benchmarking is likely going to see a dramatic shift with move to these app-style games on Windows 10, as the sandboxed nature will keep anything from “hooking” into executable as we have seen in the past. This means that overlays, like Fraps, EVGA Precision X, MSI Afterburner and even the FCAT overlay we would like to use for our capture-based Frame Rating testing, are kind of at a standstill. Measuring the performance of each game will necessitate the game developer writing an in-game benchmark mode that exports the kind of information that we want to see measured, and that we trust them to do it correctly, and that it will properly represent the experience the user sees. To its credit, the team at Oxide have done an excellent job of this with the Ashes benchmark, though I still have concerns over how the in-game data output matches up with the experience of watching the benchmark play thanks to those uncapped frame rates and dropped frames we detailed.

It also means NVIDIA is in a tight spot with GeForce Experience – as of now I know of no way that NVIDIA could circumvent the Microsoft App Store system and get GFE to offer the same kind of experiences that it does today with PC games. That includes setting in-game settings, doing gaming captures and integrating Twitch live streaming. Much of the advantage that NVIDIA has over AMD on the software side comes through GeForce Experience and the cohesiveness of the total software package, which could be lost if games distributed in this method really take hold. Obviously, the same restrictions would take place on AMD’s Gaming Evolved Software program.

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Rise of the Tomb Raider, a DX11 game, already has exclusive fullscreen issues from the Windows Store.

How this works for variable refresh rate monitors, including those using AMD’s FreeSync and NVIDIA’s G-Sync, is also still a question mark. Based on a couple of talks I have had, it seems like that Microsoft would like to see that capability “owned” by the operating system as well, which would make sense if games use the unified compositing pipeline that MS would like them too. Chances are that AMD would eat this up – they have continued to push FreeSync as the open standard for VRR and the company could benefit from being the only VRR technology support on MS app store games. NVIDIA, on the other hand, very much likes to keep its technologies to itself, particularly G-Sync. The company has often teased upcoming additional features for G-Sync iterations down the road, which may not be possible or beneficial to develop if NVIDIA has to share the technology with its primary competitor. As for today, does FreeSync and G-Sync work? Well, let’s find out tomorrow shall we?

Also, though maybe not as apparent, multi-GPU technologies like SLI and CrossFire will not work the same way they do today with MS app store games, even if they are not using DX12. Because the executable files are being sandboxed, much of the work that goes into properly doing AFR, including the many game specific tricks from each company, will be unusable. We knew that this new version of Direct X would require game developers to integrate their own multi-GPU workloads, but it seems that even if a game is using DX11 and is sold through the app store, the same requirement will apply.

This post over at the PC Master Race subreddit gives even more examples of things that are going to change for games that are released through Microsoft’s Store implementation. No modding, no custom mouse bindings, no controller support outside of Xbox controllers; clearly this is going to shake up our lives as PC gamers. I also don’t think that you’ll be able to live stream out your games through XSplit and OBS either.

Closing Thoughts

This is clearly a discussion that is just at its beginning. My gut tells me that Ashes of the Singularity is just the tip of the iceberg, even if the AMD exclusive fullscreen issue gets ironed out with another driver update or game patch. Starting this week, you’ll see games hitting the Microsoft Store that are not going to be available anywhere else, giving gamers no option other than diving into this storm headfirst should they want to get their Gears on. At least for now, we still have Steam, Origin and dare I say it, Uplay, to help us create a more open PC gaming ecosystem.


February 29, 2016 | 03:18 PM - Posted by Dictator93

Great article Ryan.

Scary times are ahead for PC gaming if MS's plan about taking away user control for a variety of things goes beyond the products released Win Store. This concept being packaged with architectural changes in DX12 (which has benefits as well of course), makes me think MS is trying to trojan horse its understandings through the API. I really dislike the idea of 3rd party tools, overlays, and even Vsync control being taken away from the user. IMO, if you want tearing, you should be able to have it, that is PC gaming in a nutshell. User control.

March 1, 2016 | 08:09 AM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

So how does this DX12 behavior affect variable refresh displays? Does it introduce other problems?

As gamers, it would see that we need to rally behind Vulkan as much as possible.

February 29, 2016 | 03:26 PM - Posted by Bezzell

Microsoft's need to pigeon-hole everyone into the same tiny box is excruciating (which has manifested itself in physical form via the X-bone). It's why they've always failed in the PC gaming department in the past, and will continue into the future. The Microsoft Store will be another huge flop. Also, their attempts to push their ideas on others will do nothing but slow progress.

PC gamers want choices and the ability to customize their experience on EVERY level. That will never change. Maybe one day they'll understand that. Given their past record, I doubt it.

February 29, 2016 | 08:35 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

Hey Nivida has been doing it for years and its not even thier operating system!

March 2, 2016 | 04:05 AM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

If you think it's bad when Nvidia do it you ain't seen nothing yet, imagine how much worse it would be if they owned the API, the OS, and the Store.

February 29, 2016 | 03:30 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

And the Big IT becomes apparent, and suddenly Gabe does not appear so off in his reasoning! Hopefully Steam OS/Vulkan and a true gaming focused OS built up around the Linux Kernel and free of all potential vendor lock-in will receive the support to allow for all the things that M$ wants to remove from a gamer's and the indipendent gaming industry's list of options like modding games and such. IT is happening now with more features being removed, and more vendor lock-in to a single propitary ecosystem!

February 29, 2016 | 07:30 PM - Posted by Ryan Shrout

I'm not ready to write it off completely yet, but MS needs to be able to address these issues and hopefully come to the conclusion that this community has very specific needs that vary from those of console gamers.

February 29, 2016 | 03:39 PM - Posted by lcarsos (not verified)

Whoa. Thanks Ryan for doing this kind of deep investigation into the topic!

Would Vulkan have to conform to this new render pipeline? If MS is trying to pull the ability to enter exclusive fullscreen mode and let an application directly decide when to flip the buffers, any application that uses Vulkan would render through that pipeline and then have to paste each frame into the Windows compositing engine, which would introduce delays and would mean that any frame not matching up with the screen's refresh would be wasted effort.

Microsoft has an easy way to enforce using the Windows compositing engine for store apps, but it sounds like even if you install applications the traditional way, the only thing you get is the ability for other programs to hook in because of the lack of required sandboxing.

February 29, 2016 | 03:56 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

Windows 10 and its WDDM 2.0 appears to be M$'s way of forcing PCs into a sandbox like windows RT sort of restricted environment. Did M$ learn anything from its TIFKAM/RT fiasco! It appears that Steam OS was the right decision after all for Valve, in order to keep gaming PCs from becoming completely console-ified! Will even Vulkan under the WDDM 2.0 rules be forced under windows 10 to become compositor bound to M$'s restrictive ecosystem. It's time to choose OSs for the future of PC gaming, or be locked down even on your very own PC gaming hardware to emulating the console/XBONE lowest common denominator!

February 29, 2016 | 05:26 PM - Posted by Scott Michaud

Vulkan is designed to be self-contained. That said, Apple doesn't even allow hardware vendors to ship drivers on OSX, which completely removes the possibility of Vulkan even getting on the OS if Apple doesn't grace it.

There's always ways that Microsoft could hinder software on their platform, but the Khronos Group is aware of how often they were jerked around with OpenGL. They learned.

February 29, 2016 | 05:51 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

All the more reason to Support the Steam OS/Debian based distro and Vulkan on the Linux Kernel with a full DE distro that is enabled by Steam OS, and have none of that closed ecosystem vested proprietary interest taking the fun out of gaming. Steam OS embodies the OS as an open standards ecosystem with all the gaming industry able to use Steam OS as a standardized OS for gaming under the control of no one single interest. Vulkan's API/Steam OS will, if enough people use it, be able to offer a competitive alternative to Redmond's agenda of even more proprietary lock-in than Apple/Google could have ever imagined possible!

February 29, 2016 | 05:57 PM - Posted by jpDalamar (not verified)

The Nvidia-written drivers running my GTX 970 beg to differ that Apple doesn't allow hardware vendors to ship drivers on OS X. So do the LaCie drivers and.... You get my point. If you meant ship from the factory then you're right. Otherwise, not so much.

February 29, 2016 | 07:52 PM - Posted by Scott Michaud

I didn't mean that NVIDIA (or others) can never ship drivers on OSX. I meant that Apple can (and I'm pretty sure does) prevent them from shipping drivers, or parts of drivers, as they please.

February 29, 2016 | 03:45 PM - Posted by Barry (not verified)

I'm not falling for this at all. Microsoft has more dead bodies laying around from failed aborted attempts at correcting or taking over an industry then any company in history. Mark my words.. you will end up with a bunch of messed up games if you go this route, once Microsoft admits it is a failure, a mess, and abandons it.

Personally, I'll stick with non-Window stores and the perfect for me, Nvidia Geforce Experience, until it is impossible to do so. While I would like a one-for-all overlay, mic to talk, etc.. Microsoft should have been smart and sought help from Valve.

Only a sucker would jump into this unknown.

February 29, 2016 | 03:53 PM - Posted by funandjam

PSA: just don't buy any game from the app store, and when enough people do so things will change. Even if the game is an "exclusive", don't buy it because there are PLENTY of other games on the other platforms to keep you entertained.

February 29, 2016 | 04:26 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

Steam requires an online connectivity check about once a month or you will be locked out of your account and won't have access to your games. That sucks and I hope microsoft doesn't do the same because not all people have 24 hour access to the internet.

February 29, 2016 | 05:03 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

So the connectivity check will happen once you connect up, it's not about you needing to be connected at a set time/day during the month, just do not go over one complete month unconnected! I'm sure the steam client software checks more often, it's just that it keeps track of total interval between it being able to do the online check, and if it has been over say 31 days then your account gets locked.

P.S. your Post is complete FUD!

March 1, 2016 | 05:35 AM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

Isn't that the same thing that happens with Windows 10?

I thought that if your PC hasn't checked in with the activation servers for 30 days that it deactivates Windows.

February 29, 2016 | 04:32 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

No more NVIDIA crapware? Yesss!

February 29, 2016 | 04:43 PM - Posted by Randal_46

Ryan, thanks for the work. At least now the PC community has time to agitate against these changes and Microsoft has time to retract them from DX12 before release. If not, I can see game developers releasing in DX11 (or Vulkan) for the foreseeable future.

February 29, 2016 | 04:45 PM - Posted by mLocke

does that game have physics based projectiles yet?

February 29, 2016 | 04:47 PM - Posted by Joel Hruska (not verified)

Ryan,

Good article and further investigation on this issue. Since I wrote the ET piece, I'd like to add what I think is an important nuance to the point I was making re: FCAT.

The problem with the FCAT graph as shown / tested isn't that it is literally wrong (though at the time, I did think it was). The problem with the FCAT graph is that it gives the impression that the final output is extremely poor on AMD hardware. The experience of watching the benchmark demo does not correspond to what the FCAT recording appears to show. When NV cards appear to have a steady, "typical" use-case, and AMD cards look like the EKG of someone having a heart attack, people tend to draw quick conclusions about which cards do and don't perform well. If the point of a benchmark is to tell the reader something substantive and important about the experience of playing a game on a particular configuration, I don't think FCAT is doing that well in Ashes, at least not yet.

Given that FCAT was originally designed to do multi-GPU frame latency measurements, I'm not sure how useful it is for single-GPU frame times in the slightest. It may not be great for multi-GPU in Ashes, either, since all presents in multi-GPU mode in Ashes are done using the master GPU. I'm not sure on this point. Clearly more investigation is needed.

February 29, 2016 | 07:37 PM - Posted by Ryan Shrout

Hey Joel!

I would agree that the looks of the graphs from FCAT/Frame Rating look worse than some inexperienced users might expect at first glance, I do think they represent what the "feeling" of the gameplay is like both with a capped Vsync on configuration and an uncapped Vsync off config. If you look at the game demo (or gameplay) and definitely on the main menu with and AMD card you are GOING to see judder in the animation, as a result of either typical Vsync properties or because of the dropping of frames from an uncapped render rate with a 60 Hz draw rate. It's definitely there.

As for the value of capture based testing on single GPU - I think this case exactly proves its value. If we ONLY looked at the results that Ashes was providing in its output it would be very difficult or impossible to find out what was happening in this situation. Frame Rating / FCAT allowed me to find that frames were being dropped. Frame Rating / FCAT allowed me to see that some frames were coming in out of order in the initial Beta 2 release. At the end of the day, even if 99% of the time FCAT only tells us what Fraps / in-game results tell us, there is an inherent value in seeing and measuring the final output to the screen if at all possible.

As for multi-GPU, I think this still applies. But I'll do some digging to find out.

February 29, 2016 | 04:50 PM - Posted by Patrick3D (not verified)

All of the fearmongering I've seen regarding DX12 to-date has stated it forces VSYNC on. Is there any word from Nvidia/AMD otherwise?

February 29, 2016 | 04:56 PM - Posted by tindo

Just speak with our wallets guys and let's not buy from the Microsoft store,

February 29, 2016 | 05:01 PM - Posted by zMeul (not verified)

AMD hired Scott Wasson, formerly of The Tech Report, specifically to deal with FCAT .. guess AMD has to fire him now :D

February 29, 2016 | 05:28 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

It's not really Wasson's fault that M$ wants to dumb gaming performance down to the Lowest Common Denominator with its WDDM 2.0 graphics restrictions! It's just another example of M$ abusing its PC/laptop OS monopoly position! M$ knows full and well that its XBONE system is crap compared to PC gaming, but M$ wants to push PC gaming down to the console level, even for PC gamers on their own hardware!

And how do you Know that FCAT is what they hired Wasson for, it could be for the same reason that Apple hired Anand Lal Shimpi(to keep him from reporting on Apple's A series SOCs with such accuracy). Anand Lal Shimpi had the A series compiler optimization manuals and the knowledge to use the ARMv8A assembly language code to suss out the Apple A series hardware resources that Apple did not want revealed! Have you seen any real discussion of the Apple A series SOCs, post Anand's last and best analysis of the Apple A7 Cyclone custom microarchitecture! Not much CPU core execution resources listed for the A8's and A9's custom Apple SOCs!

February 29, 2016 | 05:35 PM - Posted by zMeul (not verified)

I'm not blaming Scott for anything

and to what AMD hired him for, the word back then was it was because of FCAT

March 1, 2016 | 11:08 AM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

couple of days ago we had again that fcat argument over guru3d and even amd told them that they dont have any support of the fcat on their drivers since wddm 2.0 uses a completly different system that basicly elliminates the needs to flip the image

February 29, 2016 | 05:07 PM - Posted by Lt Kernel

Great article Ryan, important stuff.

Regarding the V-sync issues:
Mike Ybarra from Microsoft tweeted that they will fix vsync (whatever that means) https://twitter.com/XboxQwik/status/703734557774774272
I think he might be mistaken about SLI, since TR supports it in the Steam version but not in the MS store.

Also, Gears of War Ultimate Edition - a DX12 title - supposedly has no framerate lock http://www.pcgamer.com/gears-of-war-ultimate-edition-is-coming-to-pc/
I don't know if this is still the case though.

PC Gamer also said they would have an interview up tomorrow with Phil Spencer, which might address some of these issues http://www.pcgamer.com/microsoft-promises-to-improve-the-windows-store/

February 29, 2016 | 07:31 PM - Posted by Ryan Shrout

Good links, thanks!

February 29, 2016 | 05:18 PM - Posted by Randal_46

Note the recent Ars Technica article of Windows Store vs. Steam versions of the same game: http://arstechnica.com/gaming/2016/02/microsoft-needs-to-stop-forcing-co...

February 29, 2016 | 05:24 PM - Posted by Randal_46

Also, don't forget GoG in your game storefront list.

February 29, 2016 | 07:28 PM - Posted by Ryan Shrout

Very true! 

February 29, 2016 | 05:31 PM - Posted by ImmenseBrick

As long as they dont break gsync man. Dont take it from me, ill fight to to death for VRR.

February 29, 2016 | 05:37 PM - Posted by Ramon (not verified)

Vulkan is here and it's available on Linux, Android, Windows 7, 8 and 10 and soon on the PS4 too. No need for DX12... Microsoft can keep its proprietary API that absolutely requires Windows 10.

February 29, 2016 | 05:53 PM - Posted by remc86007

Great article! It will be interesting to see how all of this unravels. Is there any reason why AFR can't be forced by the OS on all DX12 applications without more sophisticated multi-gpu implementations?

I struggle to understand why AFR seems to require so much effort from game developers, is it because data from one frame is needed by the gpu for the next frame?

February 29, 2016 | 07:29 PM - Posted by Ryan Shrout

Doing multi-GPU is definitely complex, but until now NVIDIA and AMD have shoulder a lot of the work. With a sandboxed design to these games, I don't think that's going to be possible. SLI/CF will have to be implemented entirely by the game developer.

March 1, 2016 | 11:17 AM - Posted by remc86007

Do you think enough of them will do so to make multi-gpu make sense for gamers? I'm already considering switching back to single GPU since games like Just Cause 3 are launching with no SLI support in sight.

March 1, 2016 | 02:24 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

Sandboxed universal apps are just Metro apps under a new name, nothing has changed from the TIFKAM app model but the extra snooping into your personal metrics, and ad pushing, by M$. If you are not ready to make the move over to the open Steam OS/Vulkan API gaming ecosystem, and Linux based gaming then expect even more things to be done in M$'s favor at the cost of your control over your PC hardware.

Say goodby to PC gaming under windows and join the rebel forces to fight the empire! Stick with M$ and you will be RT-ed! The desktop is going under so do not be fooled! Your PC OS will be phone-ified and your gaming experience console-fied! You will forever be a M$ windows gaming peasant!

February 29, 2016 | 05:59 PM - Posted by remc86007

Can you guys do an article on the DOOM Alpha benchmarks that started floating around today?

February 29, 2016 | 06:31 PM - Posted by DJ (not verified)

Wow. This is so much more evidence on why all of us gamers should absolutely stay away from windows 10 and the xbox (aka GFWL) app store.

February 29, 2016 | 07:33 PM - Posted by quest4glory

The answer is clear, simple, and not so simple. As gamers, as consumers, we can and should push back against features we do not want to see implemented which hamper our experiences. Some features are valuable to some but not others, but in the end, it's the wide range of features we each can pick and choose from, buffet style, which gives gaming on Windows, as we know it today, merit.

Pushback is as easy as not purchasing these "AAA" games from the Windows store, and letting the publishers know we will prefer to see the games we want to play in a format we can get the most out of, from mods to custom keybindings to user created SLI profiles, etc. As they pushback, the impasse will be broken as it always is in a capitalist society.

Follow the money, and the publishers certainly will, to wherever they have the best chance of succeeding. If that means porting more games to Linux and, thus, SteamOS, then that's what that means. If that means bypassing DirectX 12 (in its current form) for future titles (those not already in the pipeline with a "sunk cost" variable at play) in favor of Vulkan, then that's what they'll do. The least desirable option is to build more games on DX11, which as we know is going to limit what we'll see in the future to experiences similar to what we've already had today. New gameplay mechanics and interesting concepts in game design notwithstanding.

It's disconcerting to me, having "sunk" so much into Nvidia and G-Sync technologies, as well as Windows and the supporting hardware devices I have at my disposal, reading articles such as this (this is the second one today, and this is much more detailed than the summary I read on Ars before coming over here. Kudos to Ryan and team.)

I do have choices, of course. I own an XBOX One and a Wii U, a New 3DS XL and of course my beloved gaming PC. None are as flexible as the PC, and it's no coincidence that's where I find myself spending most of my time, even when I'm not using my PC for work purposes.

Where we are in a year, it's hard to say, but I feel the past will be very similar to the future in terms of changes Microsoft would like to see either coming to fruition, or not, based on the will of the open market.

If we are "forced" down a path we don't want to go, quite honestly, it's because we are buying the games we shouldn't be buying in the format we really don't want to be playing them in, in the first place.

February 29, 2016 | 10:02 PM - Posted by PJ (not verified)

Best comment I've seen on this topic. Hats off to you.

March 1, 2016 | 01:11 AM - Posted by quest4glory

Gracias.

February 29, 2016 | 07:49 PM - Posted by spartibus

I don't really see these issues as significant, honestly. If games on the MS store are forced with these awful conditions, then people wont buy them, even if they are exclusive. So that means MS either adapts or has another failure on their hands. Either way, it's not really relevant to PC gaming as a whole.

MS is rather pathetic.

February 29, 2016 | 08:46 PM - Posted by J Nevins (not verified)

"giving gamers no option other that diving"
^ N

February 29, 2016 | 08:53 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

This is mostly just a money grab by MS. They see how much Apple makes off their App Store, so they want to lock down Windows to allow them to take a cut on all transactions. Doing it that way has some security advantages for the users, but that is about it. If the only software you can get comes through a well managed App Store, then it makes for a much more secure system. Users will not be able to easily install malware, or anything else Microsoft doesn't approve of unfortunately.

I consider even the current set-up to be bad. The internet has become infrastructure at this point. You just about must have an internet presence to do any kind of business. This is just like public roads. Would it be okay to have Walmart own all of the roads in town? Why is it okay to have a single cable company essentially own all of the Internet access in town?

This has extended to the OS for quite a while. The OS looks a lot like infrastructure also; it is very dangerous to put this under the control of a single company. By locking the platform down, as Microsoft seems intent on doing, they will block a lot of companies from doing business. This would cut out a lot of players; anyone who sells physical media probably would lose that business. There is no room for something like Steam or any other non-MS controlled marketplace either.

I don't see the US government doing anything about this. They are still not even enforcing net neutrality that well. People mostly seem to be okay with Apple having a closed system though. You can't point your iPhone at an alternate App Store without jail breaking it; even possible anymore? Software vendors can't easily get their applications on iOS or even OSX without Apple approval and paying a cut to Apple. The key difference here is that Microsoft does not make the hardware the way Apple does. This may lead to better support for Linux from hardware vendors, since this will take a lot of control away from them also.

February 29, 2016 | 08:57 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

Hi we are Sony... want to come out and play...

M$ is killing themselves
I just posted about how privacy was pointless when dealing with MS and how i was tricked into provided an email address for the MS store. The store and what we buy is their goal.

They want to be Amazon, Apple, & Google now. Too late, just like the zune, surface, windows phone & xbone.

Come on developers, stop supporting this kind of behavior. Switch to SteamOS already

March 1, 2016 | 01:32 AM - Posted by darth_revan43

The more I use Microsoft things, the more I think Microsoft dose not understand why it's user base stick with their operating system. No disrespect.

I understand the need to offer accessibility and different features to future games but this will alienate competitive shooters from the platform. In such a game you would wish for a as high as possible refresh-rate monitor with uncapped frames, even if it means tearing. Getting to see part of the enemy faster is an advantage, and this is where the new WDDM model fails to offer something compelling.

The gaming enthusiast market will move from Windows if Microsoft continues down this path and it's a pity because that's games where always a strong point of the Windows OS compared to others. I hope Microsoft dose not shoot itself in the foot and offer an alternative soon.

March 1, 2016 | 02:25 AM - Posted by TheBigRed978

Good article and nice way of breaking it all down some. All I can say from this is this just looks to me as a way of having a lawsuit for microsoft in the future. If they use the store to lock down games and programs in this fashion to where only stuff they make or sell will work with said games and apps. A glaring part of that being how the article ended saying that only xbox controllers would work for the games on microsoft's app store. That reeks of anti-competition.

March 1, 2016 | 02:59 AM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

Microshaft ruining shit again, god damn it.
If this was any other company but Microsoft pulling this shit, they'd have been broke a long time ago.

March 1, 2016 | 04:55 AM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

Apple sells closed off devices/macs Microsoft sells an OS to put on PC and is trying to do that junk (and failing hard like windows phone shows.

It would also show if apple decided to let anybodu install OSX on any PC and put real game support people would dump windows like a bad habbit. just like windows phone and blackberry for IOS and android.

But nobody is doing that and nobody is trying to hard with linux to do so every body is stuck with 20 years of directx stuff that used to be cool back in the 90's and now its just garbage for game players and game devs that they are stuck with.

Open GL died and it everybody misshandles it there is no options around and nobody wants to give up that huge 20+ year direct x tools and games that run on it.

http://blog.wolfire.com/2010/01/Why-you-should-use-OpenGL-and-not-DirectX

March 1, 2016 | 04:58 AM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

i mean even the dude that wrote directx knows this and knows how they forced devs into using it back in the 90s its on his blog.

http://www.alexstjohn.com/WP/

OH and he also hates the xbone and windows 10 so there you go,.

March 1, 2016 | 05:37 AM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

"though the implementation and messaging seems to be half-baked at best"

That sums up the whole of Windows 10 IMO.

March 1, 2016 | 06:08 AM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

As an average computer user even I doubted myself that I would read this article from beginning to end. But I did. It was worth reading to be honest.

With how my career is going (Computer Science/Programming in general), it's not going in the direction of worshipping Linux and becoming toxic and all the rest of it (as soon as "Windows" is mentioned). But the future for me is open source in terms of actually coding, programming, and having compatible hardware (mostly) for my limited number of games such as Supreme Commander Forged Alliance (and maybe 1 other game).

I am actually concerned about AMD's power consumption issues with CPU and GPU. But after reading this article, just for the sake of not letting AMD get out of the market I will actually start supporting them by buying their GPU(s).

If I see that the ZEN CPUs (in the future) have some kind of improvement especially on the power consumption side of things, then I'm all for it, otherwise I'll be going for their less demanding dual core CPUs because for the games I play, even 2GB of GDDR5 memory is enough for me, and not too much CPU horse power is needed.

What Microsoft is doing is kinda alarming.From my understanding, they're forcing me to move to Windows 10 that's even worse than before with the spying and all the rest of it, and now they're strangling me with this Microsoft App Store thing by the monopoly of DirectX 12. I can't be bothered with extra research, but even I can tell that this monopoly is starting to indicate that Microsoft are struggling and when corporations struggle they almost destroy more than they build.

So I'm all for Vulkan now, and I'm all for Open Source to a large extent. All I'm using of Windows is Office 2010, Visual Studio, Qt Creator, Camtasia Studio, AutoCAD, Sony Vegas, and the 4 games, 3 being Supreme Commander variants and 1 more other old game (all that on Windows 7).

Since my career is heading more towards programming you could say that I won't be having anymore time for video editing and that I'll be using Linux Ubuntu for most of the Youtube watching, my Manga reading, Qt Creator, and as soon as Supreme Commander is available on SteamOS (Linux), I'm out of Windows.

No more Intel motherboards/CPUs (for maximum compatibility with my future AMD GPU, not out of bias, or that's how I interpreted it at least), and no more Nvidia GPUs (for maximum compatibility with open source hardware (AMD) not out of bias). I'm already on my way to buying my Radeon R9 380 GPU.

As long as I'm with an ASUS motherboard and a Seasonic PSU, I'm hoping that I won't have any issues with power since AMD CPUs and GPUs are known for the power consumption and heat issues, I think I'll be fine.

Conclusion

I'm a normal technical end consumer who has chosen Intel and Nvidia for their power consumption advantages over AMD, that prefers Windows over Linux for ease of use, and a person who likes "less obstacles" in his way. As soon as things became as they are, an educated guess/guesstimation kinda like thing for me is to do the opposite. I won't know the outcome unless I try and that's what I will do with the AMD converting thing. Just letting you know Microsoft, Nvidia, and Intel Lol.

March 1, 2016 | 07:02 AM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

I have to dumb this down somewhat...but as i read the article...AMD is going along with all of this..Nvidia was leting you actually change settings...So if there is a bad guy here isnt it amd?

March 1, 2016 | 07:58 AM - Posted by Ext3h (not verified)

It's, once again, not black and white.

The old method does have advantages like allowing FCAT to work, or allowing G-Sync / FreeSync to be implemented trivially.

But it has also severe drawbacks, like hogging your display exclusively. Notifications from other applications or overlays just don't work properly in that configuration (you don't actually want to know what loops 3rd party overlay applications had to jump in the past, ugly(!) details). Plus the annoying tearing issue.

From the user experience, they only differ minimally. It only effects frames which would have been teared, in that edge case the old frame is fully scanned out instead. For every intermediate frame which wouldn't have been teared, the results are pretty much identical. All the way down to input latency, stutters and alike.

So, if you know that the old method is flawed, and you know that your new method is superior in almost all domains - should you still continue supporting the old one? Or even keep it the default?

Before making a definite statement, we should wait for Ryan Shrout or someone else, to clarify if the new methods also works properly with FreeSync / G-Sync. If it does, it is superior in all means, no exceptions. If it does not, there is (at least for now) a reason to keep the legacy method as an option. Until it is made to work with the new method as well, that is.

March 2, 2016 | 03:24 AM - Posted by prtskg (not verified)

Very nice comment. This is what I was thinking.

March 1, 2016 | 10:42 AM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

Feel free to numb down my comment or Ryan's article. The thing that I've been doing most of the time since I bought my first computer that I configured/built myself was I went with what was decent in terms of specs and in terms of power consumption.

And to be honest when I ask technical questions related to computers I rarely take anyone seriously unless they are professionals who can relate to the negatives and positives of hardware and software in a technical and educated manner.

With open source programs and open source operating systems being more compatible with AMD. And with AMD almost getting thrown out of the CPU market (I think they still have a bit of a foothold in the GPU market), I felt it is kinda important to try them out even if just this once because I honestly hate and dread the thought of a CPU/GPU market that does not have competition in it.

As for my own reason for trying AMD's hardware, my career is going the open source route, and if I feel I can trust AMD with ZEN I will buy another AMD build because I really am not fully dependent on an i7 or the i7 PC I currently own in my house.

March 1, 2016 | 10:43 AM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

to *dumb down

March 1, 2016 | 10:46 AM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

or the *i5 I currently own

March 1, 2016 | 07:43 AM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

I'm betting Microsoft has the intent to sell VR content, so this should change.

In the meantime I won't be buying anything from the Windows Store.

March 1, 2016 | 02:27 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

Brilliant article, and yes, this situation is clearly not really possible to discuss with accuracy. Once again, it seems like MicroSoft sucks.

March 1, 2016 | 04:46 PM - Posted by xnor

1/0ms = 0 fps?? On what planet??

March 2, 2016 | 11:37 AM - Posted by Ryan Shrout

Easier to graph that than infinite.

March 2, 2016 | 12:00 AM - Posted by Penteract (not verified)

There seems to be an implication in your conclusion that PC games must use some kind of managing service like Steam or Origin. This has never been the case in the past, and it still isn't true. Many games can be purchased and played without any kind of extra launcher, or whatever you want to call it, involved.

I know veteran PC gamers are fully aware of this, but newcomers, particularly those coming from the console market, may not be. I'm pointing this out in hopes that someone with a misconception about where and how to buy PC games will have more accurate information. :)

March 2, 2016 | 01:35 AM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

Looks like AMD is cheating again on those frame times wtf

March 2, 2016 | 03:28 AM - Posted by prtskg (not verified)

Seems like you didn't read that AMD just followed MS recommendations.

March 2, 2016 | 11:33 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

looks like they failed to follow correctly and now Gears of War broken on AMD too what is going on?

March 3, 2016 | 02:01 AM - Posted by 3R4 (not verified)

Looks like the game is running shyte in general, even some NVIDIA hardware appears to have problems.
Also, they use the same engine as they did almost 10 years ago and just propped it up to run on DX12.
There is just so much you can do with such an old engine.
AND lets not forget that dx12 itself is kinda new and drivers from both amd and nvidia arent finalized at all.
the very fact that the r7 370 does run the game better than a fury x should give you an indication that somethings really fishy about that game.

March 2, 2016 | 12:47 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

Professional shill Ryan spreads baseless panic for benefit of his paymasters.

Sense when did Ryan care anything abut open nature of PC software or hardware? He does not care for linux or Steam OS, he does not care for open standards, always shilling for proprietary solutions as superior. He did not care when M$ started pushing spayware bundle they call win 10 on to costumers.

But suddenly out of a blue he is all hysterical abut M$ putting tighter control on some obscure feature of its already proprietary DX12. He screams bloody murder over some v-sinc bug that will be peached out and forgotten in few months time. Really what is this all abut.

And most of all who is paying him to generate such hysteria.

March 2, 2016 | 09:49 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

If I could give you 1000 thumbs up I would.

March 5, 2016 | 01:32 AM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

Are you a MS sock puppet?

March 7, 2016 | 12:46 AM - Posted by Photonboy (not verified)

Ryan is one of the most professional, indepth persons in the PC computing business.

Your assumptions about his opinion of SteamOS, Linux and open standards are baseless.

He has in fact discussed all of these, including instructions on how to install SteamOS so do some research before spouting nonsense.

Steamos: https://www.pcper.com/reviews/General-Tech/Video-How-Install-and-Configu...

Gameworks: http://www.pcper.com/news/Graphics-Cards/NVIDIA-Under-Attack-Again-GameW...

Ryan says:
"The only conclusion I can come to from all of this is that if you don't like what NVIDIA is doing, that's your right - and you aren't necessarily wrong. "

March 3, 2016 | 09:25 AM - Posted by gamerk2 (not verified)

Remember people: You all wanted new consoles to be released so we could get easier PC ports. Congratulations, you got easier PC ports. With all the additional PC features ripped out.

Enjoy. This is what you wanted.

March 3, 2016 | 01:25 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

We don't need Mantle, Microsoft will save us.

March 3, 2016 | 09:45 PM - Posted by 24nolf

This is terrifying.

I feel like we are just beginning to touch on the ramifications of "Windows Store" on PC gaming. I would love to see a article/video specifically focussed on "Windows Store" as I'm sure many others would as well.

March 5, 2016 | 01:52 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

A friend of mine who is a programmer, went to a MS seminar on programming .NET, when it first came out.
He said afterwards ' MIcrosoft wants to kill gaming on the PC, they are not interested. They only want people gaming on XBox.'

Everything MS have done since then points to my friend being right.

March 6, 2016 | 10:05 AM - Posted by Dewpa (not verified)

Awesome article.
Love to see people really digging into this, ive had a serious bad feeling about this whole thing since i first heard about UWP and microsofts "plan" for pcgaming.

Keep doing what youre doing, and while i understand it might be below your normal level of writing, i think an easy to read "Why this is bad for you as a gamer" article, easily explained with links to deeper stuff like this would do wonders to get some more attention to this. Ive tried sending this to a few gamer friends but for most this is too technical (they know about vsync and generally good understanding of computers but not specifics). Those who get it is rightly concerned though and everybody should be.

For those who say we should trust Microsoft, Why? They have not done anything "right" by the PC gaming crowd since forever. They seriously need to prove them selves 10 times over before that trust is regained...

March 8, 2016 | 08:36 AM - Posted by Forstral (not verified)

So what should gamers do? I recently purchased a 850evo 1TB ssd and am going to do a clean install, I currently own win7 ultimate. Should I just stay at win7 and not do the free upgrade to win10?

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