StarCraft II Going Free-to-play on November 14th

Subject: General Tech | November 5, 2017 - 07:13 PM |
Tagged: blizzard, starcraft 2, pc gaming

Over the last few years, Blizzard has been progressively opening up StarCraft II for non-paying customers. These initiatives ranged from allowing whole parties to share the highest expansion level of any one member, unlocking Terran for unranked games, opening up mods to the Starter edition, and so forth.

Starting on November 14th, after a handful of months of the original StarCraft going free-to-play, Blizzard will allow free access to multiplayer (including the ranked ladder), a handful of co-op commanders, and the Wings of Liberty campaign. If you already own Wings of Liberty, then you will get Heart of the Swarm for free (if you claim it between November 8th and December 8th).

If you already own both, then… well, life as usual for you.

In terms of making money, Blizzard is hoping to sell the remaining two-or-three campaigns, Heart of the Swarm, Legacy of the Void, and Nova Covert Ops, as well as the other up-sells, like announcers, co-op commanders, and so forth. If you’re in it for the vanilla (or Arcade) multiplayer, though, then you can jump in on November 14th without paying a dime.

Source: Blizzard

NVIDIA Releases GeForce 388.13 Drivers

Subject: General Tech | October 31, 2017 - 09:38 PM |
Tagged: pc gaming, nvidia, graphics drivers

As we head into another batch of holiday releases, NVIDIA has published another GeForce driver: 388.13. While they don’t explicitly call this out in the release notes, the CustHelp page for 388.10, which was released late last week, suggests that 388.13 will help Kepler users have a more stable experience in Wolfenstein II. If you were having troubles, check these out. The release notes also claims that 388.13 fixes an issue with multiple monitors.

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Otherwise, the driver is mostly game-specific optimizations. The headlining game for 388.13 is Call of Duty WWII. As usual, that franchise is quite popular, although not nearly as much as it was, say… eight-to-ten years ago. Still, there will be a lot of people buying it. The other two “Game Ready” titles for this driver are Need for Speed Payback and the formerly PS4-exclusive, Nioh: Complete Edition.

Oh… it is also the first driver to support the GeForce 1070 Ti.

If you don’t continuously check GeForce Experience, then be sure to open it and check for driver updates. Alternatively, you can just install them from the website.

Source: NVIDIA

Samsung Odyssey VR Headset Announced

Subject: General Tech | October 3, 2017 - 10:00 PM |
Tagged: VR, Samsung, pc gaming, microsoft

The upcoming Fall Creators Update will be Microsoft’s launch into XR with headsets from a variety of vendors. You can now add Samsung to that list with their Odyssey VR headset and motion controllers, which is important for two reasons. First, Samsung has a lot experience in VR technology as they lead the charge (with their partner, Oculus) in the mobile space.

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Second, and speaking of Oculus, the Samsung Odyssey actually has a higher resolution than both it and the HTC Vive (2880x1600 total for Samsung vs 2160 x 1200 total for the other two). This doesn’t seem like a lot, but it’s actually 77% more pixels, which might be significant for text and other fine details. The refresh rate is still 90 Hz, and the field of view is around 110 degrees, which is the same as the HTC Vive. Of course the screen technology, itself, is AMOLED, being that it’s from Samsung and deeper blacks are more important in an enclosed cavity than brightness. In fact, you probably want to reduce brightness in a VR headset so you don’t strain the eyes.

According to Peter Bright of Ars Technica, Microsoft is supporting SteamVR titles, which gives the platform a nice catalog to launch with. The Samsung Odyssey VR headset launched November 6th for $499 USD.

Source: Microsoft

Amazon Web Services Releases Lumberyard Beta 1.11

Subject: General Tech | September 30, 2017 - 05:57 PM |
Tagged: pc gaming, lumberyard, amazon

As we mentioned last week, Amazon has been pushing their Lumberyard fork of CryEngine into their own direction. It turns out that much of their future roadmap was actually slated for last Friday, with the release of Lumberyard 1.11.

This version replaces Crytek’s Flow Graph with Amazon’s Script Canvas visual scripting system. (Think Blueprints from Unreal Engine 4.) This lets developers design logic in a flowchart-like interface and attach it to relevant objects... building them up like blocks. Visual scripting is one area that Unity hasn’t (by default) gotten into, as they favour written scripting languages, such as C#. (Lumberyard also allows components to be written in C++ and LUA, btw.)

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It also replaces Crytek’s CryAnimation, Geppetto, and Mannequin with the EMotion FX animation system from Mystic Game Development. Interestingly, this middleware was flying under the radar recently. It was popular around the 2006-2009 timeframe with titles such as Gothic 3, Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning, and Risen. It was also intergrated into 2010’s The Lord of the Rings: Aragorn’s Quest, and that’s about it as far as we know -- a few racing games, too. I’m curious to see how development advanced over the last ten-or-so years, unless its use is more widespread than they’re allowed to announce. Regardless, they are now in Lumberyard 1.11 as their primary animation system, so people can get their hands on it and see for themselves.

If you’re interested in developing a game in Amazon Lumberyard, this release has basically all of their forward-looking systems in place. Even though a lot of features are still experimental, and the engine is still in beta, I don’t think you have to worry about being forced to develop in a system that will be deprecated at this point.

Lumberyard is free to develop on, as long as you use Amazon Web Services for online services (or you run your own servers).

Source: Amazon

Fallout Is 100%-off at Steam!

Subject: General Tech | September 29, 2017 - 08:12 PM |
Tagged: bethesda, fallout, pc gaming

Until tomorrow (Saturday, September 30th, 2017) at 11:59pm PDT, Steam and Bethesda have the original Fallout game for free. Like EA’s On the House promotion through Origin, this is not just a free weekend. If you “install” the game from the Steam store (although you only need to “install” it to your library -- you can actually install it whenever you like) then it is, apparently, yours to keep.

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Honestly, whenever I get around to it, this would be my first time playing the game, too. Back in the 1997 time frame, I was mostly playing games like Command & Conquer (including Red Alert). I never really got into RPG games, be it Western or Eastern. But, due to the wonders of PC gaming, I can just go back and, you know, play whatever I missed... because old games can be awesome, too.

Okay, I’m rambling. Add it to your Steam library if you haven’t already (and, of course, if you have a Steam account).

Source: Fallout

NVIDIA Releases GeForce 385.69 Drivers

Subject: Graphics Cards | September 24, 2017 - 12:33 PM |
Tagged: pc gaming, nvidia, graphics drivers

New graphics drivers for GeForce cards were published a few days ago. Unfortunately, I became a bit reliant upon GeForce Experience to notify me, and it didn’t this time, so I am a bit late on the draw. The 385.69 update adds “Game Ready” optimizations for a bunch of new games: Project Cars 2, Call of Duty: WWII open beta, Total War: WARHAMMER II, Forza Motorsport 7, EVE: Valkyrie - Warzone, FIFA 18, Raiders of the Broken Planet, and Star Wars Battlefront 2 open beta.

We’re starting the holiday games rush, folks!

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There isn’t really any major new features of this driver per se. It’s a lot of game-specific optimizations and a whole page of bug fixes, ranging from flickering in DOOM to preventing NVENC from freaking out at frame rates greater than 240 FPS.

One open issue is that GeForce TITAN (which I’m assuming refers to the original, Kepler-based one) cannot be installed on a Threadripper-based motherboard in Windows 10. The OS refuses to boot after the initial install. I’m guessing this has been around for a while, but in case you’re planning on upgrading to Threadripper (or buying a second-hand TITAN) it might be good to know.

If you haven’t received notification to update your drivers yet, poke GeForce Experience to make sure that it’s running and checking. Or, of course, you can download them from NVIDIA’s website.

Source: NVIDIA

New NVIDIA SHIELD TV SKU: 16GB with Remote for $179

Subject: General Tech | September 23, 2017 - 10:29 PM |
Tagged: SHIELD TV, pc gaming, nvidia

NVIDIA is adding a third SKU to their SHIELD TV line-up, shaving $20 off the price tag by including just a media remote, rather than the current low-end SKU’s media remote and a gamepad. This makes the line-up: SHIELD (16GB, Remote Only) for $179.00, SHIELD (16GB, Remote + Gamepad) for $199.99, and SHIELD PRO (500GB, Remote + Gamepad) for $299.99.

All SKUs come with MSI levels of uppercase brand names.

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This version is for those who are intending to use the device as a 4K media player. If you are not interested in gaming, then that’s $20 in your pocket instead of a controller that you will never use on your shelf. If, however, you want to game in the future, then the first-party SHIELD CONTROLLER is $59.99 USD, so buying the bundle with the gamepad now will save you about $30 (Update, Sept 24th @ 5:45pm: $40... I mathed wrong.) That leaves a little bit to think about, but the choice can now be made.

The new bundle is now available for pre-order, and it ships on October 18th.

Source: NVIDIA

Unreal Engine 4.18 Preview Published to Epic Launcher

Subject: General Tech | September 23, 2017 - 01:39 PM |
Tagged: ue4, epic games, pc gaming

Epic Games has released a preview build of Unreal Engine 4.18. This basically sets a bar for shipped features, giving them a bit of time to crush bugs before they recommend developers use it for active projects. This version has quite a few big changes, especially in terms of audio and video media.

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WebAssembly is now enabled by default for HTML5.

First, we’ll discuss platform support. As you would expect, iOS 11 and XCode 9 are now supported, and A10 processors can use the same forward renderer that was added to UE4 for desktop VR, as seen in Robo Recall. That’s cool and all, but only for Apple. For the rest of us, WebAssembler (WASM) is now enabled by default for HTML5 projects. WASM is LLVM bytecode that can be directly ingested by web browsers. In other words, you can program in C++ and have web browsers execute it, and do so without transpiling to some form of JavaScript. (Speaking of which, ASM.js is now removed from UE4.) The current implementation is still single-threaded, but browser vendors are working on adding multi-threading to WASM.

As for the cool features: Epic is putting a lot of effort in their media framework. This allows for a wider variety of audio and video types (sample rates, sample depths, and so forth) as well as, apparently, more control over timing and playback, including through Blueprints visual scripting (although you could have always made your own Blueprint node anyway). If you’re testing out Unreal Engine 4.18, Epic Games asks that you pay extra attention to this category, reporting any bugs that you find.

Epic has also improved their lighting engine, particularly when using the Skylight lighting object. They also say that Volumetric Lightmaps are also, now, enabled by default. This basically allows dynamic objects to move through a voxel-style grid of lighting values that are baked in the engine, which adds indirect lighting on them without a full run-time GI solution.

The last thing I’ll mention (although there’s a bunch of cool things, including updates to their audio engine and the ability to reference Actors in different levels) is their physics improvements. Their Physics Asset Editor has been reskinned, and the physics engine has been modified. For instance, APEX Destruction has been pulled out of the core engine into a plug-in, and the cloth simulation tools, in the skeletal mesh editor, are no longer experimental.

Unreal Engine 4.18 Preview can be downloaded from the Epic Launcher, but existing projects should be actively developed in 4.17 for a little while longer.

Source: Epic Games

Crytek Releases CRYENGINE 5.4

Subject: General Tech | September 23, 2017 - 01:10 PM |
Tagged: pc gaming, crytek

The latest version of CRYENGINE, 5.4, makes several notable improvements. Starting with the most interesting one for our readers: Vulkan has been added at the beta support level. It’s always good to have yet another engine jump in with this graphics API so developers can target it without doing the heavy lifting on their own, and without otherwise limiting their choices.

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More interesting, at least from a developer standpoint, is that CRYENGINE is evolving into an Entity Component framework. Amazon is doing the same with their Lumberyard fork, but Crytek has now announced that they are doing something similar on their side, too. The idea is that you place relatively blank objects in your level and build them up by adding components, which attaches the data and logic that this object needs. This system proved to be popular with the success of Unity, and it can also be quite fast, too, depending on how the back-end handles it.

I also want to highlight their integration of Allegorithmic Substance. With game engines switching to a PBR-based rendering model, tools can make it easier to texture 3D objects by stenciling on materials from a library. That way, you don’t need to think how gold will behave, just that gold should be here, and rusty iron should be over there. All of the major engines are doing it, and Crytek, themselves, have been using Substance, but now there’s an actual, supported workflow.

CryEngine is essentially free, including royalty-free, to use. Their business model currently involves subscriptions for webinars and priority support.

Source: Crytek

Amazon Web Services Discuss Lumberyard Roadmap

Subject: General Tech | September 23, 2017 - 12:41 PM |
Tagged: pc gaming, amazon

Lumberyard has been out for a little over a year and a half, and it has been experiencing steady development since then. Just recently, they published a blog post highlighting where they want the game engine to go. Pretty much none of this information is new if you’ve been following them, but it’s still interesting none-the-less.

amazon-2017-lumberyard-startergame.jpg

From a high level, Amazon has been progressing their fork of CryEngine into more of a component-entity system. The concept is similar to Unity, in that you place objects in the level, then add components to them to give them the data and logic that you require. Currently, these components are mostly done in Lua and C++, but Amazon is working on a visual scripting system, like Blueprints from Unreal Engine 4, called Script Canvas. They technically inherited Flow Graph from Crytek, which I think is still technically in there, but they’ve been telling people to stop using it for a while now. I mean, this blog post explicitly states that they don’t intend to support migrating from Flow Graph to Script Canvas, so it’s a “don’t use it unless you need to ship real soon” sort of thing.

One of Lumberyard’s draws, however, is their license: free, but you can’t use this technology on any cloud hosting provider except AWS. So if you make an offline title, or you use your own servers, then you don’t need to pay Amazon a dime. That said, if you do something like leaderboards, persistent logins, or use cloud-hosted multiplayer, then you will need to do it through AWS, which, honestly, you were probably going to do anyway.

The current version is Lumberyard Beta 1.10. No release date has been set for 1.11, although they usually don’t say a word until it’s published.

Source: Amazon