GDC 15: Valve's GDC VR "Aperture Science" Demo

Subject: General Tech, Shows and Expos | March 14, 2015 - 07:30 AM |
Tagged: vive vr, vive, valve, re vive, Portal 2, Portal, mwc 15, MWC, htc, gdc 15, GDC

At the recent Game Developer Conference and Mobile World Congress events, Valve had a demo for HTC's Vive VR system that was based in the Portal universe. The headset is combined with two controllers, one for each hand, which sound like a cross between Valve's Steam Controller and the Razer Hydra.

htc-valve-vr.jpg

When HTC briefed journalists about the technology, they brought a few examples for use with their prototype. C|Net described three: a little demo where you could paint with the controllers in a virtual space, an aquarium where you stand on a sunken pirate ship and can look at a gigantic blue whale float overhead, and a Portal-based demo that is embedded above. I also found “The Gallery” demo online, but I am not sure where it was presented (if anywhere).

Beyond VR, the Source 2 engine, which powers the Portal experience, looks good. The devices looked very intricate and full of detail. Granted, it is a lot easier to control performance when you are dealing with tight corridors or isolated rooms. The lighting also seems spot on, although it is hard to tell whether this capability is dynamic or precomputed.

The HTC Vive developer kit is coming soon, before a consumer launch in the Autumn.

Source: YouTube

GDC 15: Imagination Technologies Shows Vulkan Driver

Subject: Graphics Cards, Mobile, Shows and Expos | March 7, 2015 - 07:00 AM |
Tagged: vulkan, PowerVR, Khronos, Imagination Technologies, gdc 15, GDC

Possibly the most important feature of upcoming graphics APIs, albeit the least interesting for enthusiasts, is how much easier driver development will become. So many decisions and tasks that once laid on the shoulders of AMD, Intel, NVIDIA, and the rest will now be given to game developers or made obsolete. Of course, you might think that game developers would oppose this burden, but (from what I understand) it is a weight they already bear, just when dealing with the symptoms instead of the root problem.

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This also helps other hardware vendors become competitive. Imagination Technologies is definitely not new to the field. Their graphics powers the PlayStation Vita, many earlier Intel graphics processors, and the last couple of iPhones. Despite how abrupt the API came about, they have a proof of concept driver that was present at GDC. The unfinished driver was running an OpenGL ES 3.0 demo that was converted to the Vulkan API.

A screenshot of the CPU usage was also provided, which is admittedly heavily cropped and hard to read. The one on the left claims 1.2% CPU load, with a fairly flat curve, while the one on the right claims 5% and seems to waggle more. Granted, the wobble could be partially explained by differences in the time they chose to profile.

According to Tom's Hardware, source code will be released “in the near future”.

Maybe GDC 15? Third-Party Unreal Engine 4 Forest Demo

Subject: General Tech, Shows and Expos | March 6, 2015 - 06:08 PM |
Tagged: unreal engine 4, gdc 15, GDC

I am not quite sure if the Game Developers Conference led to this video being released, or if it was just a coincidence. This is the sole work of Alexander Dracott, a visual effects, lighting, and shader artist who has been employed at Sucker Punch and Sony Online Entertainment. He works for a studio in Bellevue, Washington, USA doing VR demos, which sounds like Valve but is probably someone else entirely.

Unreal 4 Lighting Study: Forest Day from Alexander Dracott on Vimeo.

Basically, it is a forest scene that is rendered in Unreal Engine 4. It is convincing, despite a little macroblocking from Vimeo compression (or its source). Even the falling leaves cast appropriate shadows. Granted, he never mentions his computer's specifications, which could make a difference in how many features he could get away with enabling. Either way, the art would even be amazing in a non-realtime scene, let alone Unreal Engine 4.

ue4-thirdparty-forest-autumn.jpg

A couple of days later, he posted pictures of the same scene in an autumn time frame (same link). I guess that I should keep coming back to this thread, just in case it gets a Winter update or something. Awesome work!

Source: Polycount

GDC 15: Microsoft Announces Wireless Xbox Dongle for PC. Controller Refresh Rumored for E3?

Subject: General Tech, Shows and Expos | March 6, 2015 - 03:57 PM |
Tagged: xbox one, xbox, microsoft, gdc 15, GDC, controller

During his keynote speech, Phil Spencer of Microsoft announced a wireless adapter for PC. It can apparently be used to connect any wireless Xbox One peripheral on Windows 10. If you watch the presentation, the statement occurred at about 36 minutes and 30 seconds in. It was just a brief acknowledgement of its existence this year.

Microsoft-Xbox_360_Wireless_Receiver.png

This is the Xbox 360 wireless accessory adapter. Image Credit: Wikipedia
Hopefully the new one will be a stick that pairs via software (vs. the cord and button).

A similar device existed for the Xbox 360, pictured above, and I used it heavily with controller-friendly games (until the adapter died abruptly). I was not a fan of the directional pad, of course, but the rest of the controller suited the games that I play without a mouse and keyboard. I also used the adapter with the Xbox 360 wireless headset, which was surprisingly good (especially at removing speaker noise).

On the same day, Neowin acquired a leak that claims the company is looking to create a new Xbox One controller. They expect that, if the project doesn't get killed internally, we will see the new controller at E3 2015 in June. The design is supposed to focus on first person shooters and driving titles, but nothing else is known about it. We'll see.

GDC 15: Source 2 Is Free But Must Be Available on Steam

Subject: General Tech, Shows and Expos | March 5, 2015 - 10:40 PM |
Tagged: valve, source engine, Source 2, gdc 15, GDC

At the Game Developers Conference, Valve has formally announced the Source 2 engine and that it would be free for content developers. At the same time, they committed to releasing a version of it that is compatible with Vulkan, the graphics API from the Khronos Group that we have been talking about a lot over the last couple of days. Of course though, free can mean many things. As it turns out, there is one string attached: the game must be made available on Steam at launch. It can be available elsewhere too, but Steam must be one of the launch retailers.

SteamLogo.png

I do wonder what will happen if someone makes a title that Steam refuses to publish. Of course, the natural thought is “What if Valve refuses to publish for content reasons?” That is an interesting thought, and maturity is one area that many other engines (like Unreal) do not restrict, but it is not the only concern (and Gabe Newell is quite laissez-faire with his -- albeit loosely defined -- content guidelines). What if your content simply does not make it on Steam? For instance, with is someone creates a title in Source 2 and has a failed attempt at Greenlight because it was unpopular? Are you then unable to publish your content through alternative channels, too? This seems like something that Valve will need to provide a little clarification on.

Try as I might, I could not find a release date for Source 2, however. It will arrive when it does.

Source: Valve

GDC 15: PhysX Is Now Shared Source to UE4 Developers

Subject: General Tech, Graphics Cards, Shows and Expos | March 4, 2015 - 05:52 PM |
Tagged: GDC, gdc 15, nvidia, epic games, ue4, unreal engine 4, PhysX, apex

NVIDIA and Epic Games have just announced that Unreal Engine 4 developers can view and modify the source of PhysX. This also includes the source for APEX, which is NVIDIA's cloth and destruction library. It does not include any of the other libraries that are under the GameWorks banner, but Unreal Engine 4 does not use them anyway.

epic-ue4-nvidia-physx.jpg

This might even mean that good developers can write their own support for third-party platforms, like OpenCL. That would probably be a painful process, but it should be possible now. Of course, that support would only extend to their personal title, and anyone who they share their branch with.

If you are having trouble finding it, you will need to switch to a branch that has been updated to PhysX 3.3.3 with source, which is currently just “Master”. “Promoted” and earlier seem to be back at PhysX 3.3.2, which is still binary-only. It will probably take a few months to trickle down to an official release. If you are still unable to find it, even though you are on the “Master” branch, the path to NVIDIA's source code is: “Unreal Engine/Engine/Source/ThirdParty/PhysX/”. From there you can check out the various subdirectories for PhysX and APEX.

NVIDIA will be monitoring pull requests sent to that area of Unreal Engine. Enhancements might make it back upstream to PhysX proper, which would then be included in future versions of Unreal Engine and anywhere else that PhysX is used.

In other news, Unreal Engine 4 is now free of its subscription. The only time Epic will ask for money is when you ship a game and royalties are due. This is currently 5% of gross revenue, with the first $3000 (per product, per calendar quarter) exempt. This means that you can make legitimately free (no price, no ads, no subscription, no microtransactions, no Skylander figurines, etc.) game in UE4 for free now!

Source: Epic Games

GDC 15: Khronos Acknowledges Mantle's Start of Vulkan

Subject: General Tech, Graphics Cards, Shows and Expos | March 3, 2015 - 03:37 PM |
Tagged: vulkan, Mantle, Khronos, glnext, gdc 15, GDC, amd

khronos-group-logo.png

Neil Trevett, the current president of Khronos Group and a vice president at NVIDIA, made an on-the-record statement to acknowledge the start of the Vulkan API. The quote came to me via Ryan, but I think it is a copy-paste of an email, so it should be verbatim.

Many companies have made great contributions to Vulkan, including AMD who contributed Mantle. Being able to start with the Mantle design definitely helped us get rolling quickly – but there has been a lot of design iteration, not the least making sure that Vulkan can run across many different GPU architectures. Vulkan is definitely a working group design now.

So in short, the Vulkan API was definitely started with Mantle and grew from there as more stakeholders added their opinion. Vulkan is obviously different than Mantle in significant ways now, such as its use of SPIR-V for its shading language (rather than HLSL). To see a bit more information, check out our article on the announcement.

Update: AMD has released a statement independently, but related to Mantle's role in Vulkan

Who Should Care? Thankfully, Many People

The Khronos Group has made three announcements today: Vulkan (their competitor to DirectX 12), OpenCL 2.1, and SPIR-V. Because there is actually significant overlap, we will discuss them in a single post rather than splitting them up. Each has a role in the overall goal to access and utilize graphics and compute devices.

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Before we get into what everything is and does, let's give you a little tease to keep you reading. First, Khronos designs their technologies to be self-reliant. As such, while there will be some minimum hardware requirements, the OS pretty much just needs to have a driver model. Vulkan will not be limited to Windows 10 and similar operating systems. If a graphics vendor wants to go through the trouble, which is a gigantic if, Vulkan can be shimmed into Windows 8.x, Windows 7, possibly Windows Vista despite its quirks, and maybe even Windows XP. The words “and beyond” came up after Windows XP, but don't hold your breath for Windows ME or anything. Again, the further back in Windows versions you get, the larger the “if” becomes but at least the API will not have any “artificial limitations”.

Outside of Windows, the Khronos Group is the dominant API curator. Expect Vulkan on Linux, Mac, mobile operating systems, embedded operating systems, and probably a few toasters somewhere.

On that topic: there will not be a “Vulkan ES”. Vulkan is Vulkan, and it will run on desktop, mobile, VR, consoles that are open enough, and even cars and robotics. From a hardware side, the API requires a minimum of OpenGL ES 3.1 support. This is fairly high-end for mobile GPUs, but it is the first mobile spec to require compute shaders, which are an essential component of Vulkan. The presenter did not state a minimum hardware requirement for desktop GPUs, but he treated it like a non-issue. Graphics vendors will need to be the ones making the announcements in the end, though.

Before we go further, some background is necessary. Read on for that and lots more!

MWC 15: HP Spectre x360 Has Broadwell Core i5 and i7

Subject: General Tech, Systems, Shows and Expos | March 1, 2015 - 11:07 PM |
Tagged: spectre x360, spectre, mwc 15, MWC, hp, Broadwell

HP announced their updated Spectre x360 at Mobile World Congress. Like the Lenovo Yoga, it has a hinge that flips the entire way around, allowing the laptop to function as a 13.3-inch tablet with a 1080p, IPS display. There are two stages between “tablet” and “laptop”, which are “stand” and “tent”. They are basically ways to prop up the touch screen while hiding the keyboard behind (or under) the unit. The stand mode is better for hands-free operation because it has a flat contact surface to rest upon, while the tent mode is probably more sturdy for touch (albeit rests on two rims). The chassis is entirely milled aluminum, except the screen and things like that of course.

The real story is the introduction of Core i-level Broadwell. The 12.5-hour battery listing in a relatively thin form-factor can be attributed to the low power requirements of the CPU and GPU, as well as its SSD (128GB, 256GB, or 512GB). RAM comes in two sizes, 4GB or 8GB, which will depend slightly on the chosen processor SKU.

hp-spectre-x360-broadwell.png

Which pun would be more annoying?
"Case closed" or "I rest my case"...?

Prices start at $899 and most variants are available now at HP's website.

Source: HP

MWC 15: LG Demos WebOS Smartwatch ("Urbane LTE")

Subject: General Tech, Mobile, Shows and Expos | March 1, 2015 - 09:46 PM |
Tagged: webOS, smartwatch, mwc 15, MWC, LG

A while ago, LG licensed WebOS from HP for use in their smart TVs and, as we found out during CES, smart watches.

The LG Urbane LTE is one such device, and we can finally see it in action. It is based around (literally) a circular P-OLED display (320 x 320, 1.3-inches, 245 ppi). Swirling your finger around the face scrolls through the elements like a wheel, which should be significantly more comfortable to search through a large list of applications than a linear list of elements -- a lot like an iPod (excluding the Touch and the Shuffle). That said, I have only seen other people use it.

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The SoC is a Qualcomm Snapdragon 400, clocked at 1.2 GHz. It supports LTE, Wireless-N, Bluetooth 4.0LE, and NFC. It has 1 GB of RAM, which is quite a bit, and 4GB of permanent storage, which is not. It also has a bunch of sensors, from accelerometers and gyros to heart rate monitors and a barometer. It has a speaker and a microphone, but no camera. LG flaunts a 700 mAh battery, which they claim is “the category's largest”, but they do not link that to an actual amount of usage time (only that it “go[es] for days in standby mode”).

Video credit: The Verge

Pricing has not yet been announced, but it should hit the US and Europe before May arrives.

Source: LG