Subject: General Tech | April 21, 2017 - 07:49 PM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: twitch, pc gaming, amazon
While Twitch had quite a large lead as a streaming service, it had a fairly large gap between its regular creators and their “Twitch Partners”. If you weren’t a Twitch partner, you couldn’t directly monetize your stream, guarantee that your stream would be transcoded, and so forth.
That isn’t changing, but they are introducing an easier to obtain, middle tier that will have some, but not all, of the Partner perks. “Twitch Affiliate” is this middle-ground, and, while it is invite-only, it is open to pretty much anyone who intends to stream on a regular basis. Specifically, the threshold is about 500 online minutes in a month, spread out over at least seven days, and an average of at least three viewers at the same time; you will also need at least 50 followers. If you stream a few times per week, this is not a very high bar, but it’s still not automatic.
I should note that Twitch will only consider the previous 30 days, rolling.
The goal of this new tier is to provide some support for streamers, as they try to find their on-ramp to being a Twitch partner. At first, only the (relatively controversial) “Bits” system will be available for monetization, but other revenue streams, like video ads, should follow. Also, while you’re not guaranteed to receive video transcodes, Affiliates get priority access to whatever is left over from the Partners.
Personally, I’d like a guarantee that transcodes would be available, because I don’t want to occasionally alienate some viewers by sending Twitch too high of a bitrate for the, let’s say even just 10% of the time, that lower-quality versions would be unavailable. It still puts pressure on me to lower the quality that I send Twitch, which will often result in worse VOD quality. (I realize that you can use multiple encodes… and I currently do… but certain things, like frame rate, need to be consistent – at least with the current version of OBS Studio.)
Twitch should begin to contact eligible streamers soon, and will continue rolling in new users as they become eligible. Even then. it's not an immediate, automatic thing, though.
Subject: General Tech | April 15, 2017 - 09:57 PM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: pc gaming, microids, ea
I’m apparently about a month late on this one, but it’s better than never for those who, like me, missed the news the first time around. Syberia II is a point-and-click adventure title from 2004 and it is currently “On The House” through EA’s Origin service. These promotions would be the same as if EA had a timed, 100%-off sale: claim it before it’s over and it’s yours for free, permanently.
It might not be around for long, though. I’m guessing this deal is to promote the upcoming Syberia III, which was originally announced in 2009 and should launch in about a week or two (depending on your region). If this sort of game interests you in any way, and especially if you have an active Origin account, then it’s a good idea to add Syberia II to your games library, even if you don’t plan on installing it right away.
Subject: General Tech | April 11, 2017 - 09:09 PM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: pc gaming, UNIGINE, unigine 2
There are quite a few game engines available these days. Unity stepped up its game and Epic Games, Crytek, Amazon, and others entered the market with various free-to-start licensing options. Back in the early DirectX 11 days, UNIGINE released their popular Heaven benchmark to promote their engine, which had a relatively affordable, up-front fee. (I don’t remember what it was at the time, but the engine currently starts at $1495 USD, albeit royalty-free.)
Available up to 8K60, because lol why not?
Today, they have released a new benchmark, called Superposition, which focuses on two things: VR and GPU stress testing. The setting is some old-timey physics lab, and it includes some minigames to keep you entertained after you determined that your overclock is stable and your performance is assigned some value. According to Phoronix, UNIGINE has been looking into Vulkan, but they haven’t added it to the engine yet. On Linux, you’ll be using OpenGL 4.5, but Windows has a choice between that and DirectX 11.
Subject: General Tech | April 1, 2017 - 07:54 PM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: Unity, pc gaming, vulkan
If you are a perpetual license holder for Unity 5.x, then your last free update has just arrived. Unity 5.6 brings Vulkan for Windows, Linux, and Android. I just installed the new version and checked to see which graphics APIs it uses on Windows when you uncheck the auto box, and the list comprises of DirectX 11 and DirectX 9. It’s possible that auto could be choosing Vulkan, but I’m not going to query which process is loading which DLL under a variety of conditions. If you’re interested in Unity development, go to File -> Build Settings -> Player Settings -> Other Settings and choose the load order of your APIs, using the + button to add one that’s not there by default.
The lighting system should be more impressive, though. In Unreal Engine 4, I’m used to having dynamic lighting until I stop everything and start a lighting bake. When it’s done, I have static lighting until I invalidate it with a change (and the level is set to invalidate light maps on changes). In Unity 5.6’s case, though, it will just slowly replace the light maps as they are calculated, getting progressively higher quality. Since you can notice problems at low quality, you only need to wait as long as it’s required to see the errors, which speeds up development.
In terms of platforms, Unity 5.6 adds Daydream, Cardboard, Nintendo Switch, and WebAssembly.
Subject: General Tech | March 28, 2017 - 02:55 AM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: starcraft, pc gaming, blizzard
On the night of the GSL Season 1 finals, and the week of StarCraft’s 19th birthday, Blizzard made a couple of announcements associated with the game. First, the game will receive a patch (1.18a) with an official observer mode, improved support for Windows 7, 8.1, and 10, support for the UTF-8 character set, and a couple of bug fixes.
It will also be made free. Anyone can download and play it.
But... if you want a graphical upgrade, Blizzard also announced the (not free) StarCraft Remastered edition. This will arrive in the summer, and it will include new audio and artwork, bringing the early-Windows 9x graphics up to 4K (with 1080p cutscenes). The gameplay will be the same, to the point of even being cross-play compatible with the original game’s multiplayer. The addition of Battle.net skill-based matchmaking will apparently be exclusive to owners of the Remastered edition, though.
The 1.18a patch will arrive in a couple of days, making the original (non-Remastered) game free. The Remastered edition will arrive in the summer, but no word on price yet.
Subject: General Tech | March 2, 2017 - 02:59 AM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: Oculus, VR, pc gaming
Alongside the release of Robo Recall from Epic Games, which is free of you own an Oculus Rift and the Oculus Touch controllers, Oculus has changed up how you can purchase the Oculus Rift. As was the case since the Touch controllers shipped, the Oculus Rift is bundled with these motion controllers. The difference is that, now, the bundle will cost $598 USD. This is a $200 reduction in price compared to someone who purchased the headset and the controllers separately last week. The controllers, alone, are now $99 USD.
So this is interesting.
According to recent statements by Gabe Newell, who is obviously in the HTC Vive camp, the VR market doesn’t have “a compelling reason for people to spend 20 hours a day in VR”. This assertion was intended to dispel the opinion that a price cut would help VR along. From his perspective, VR will have a huge bump in resolution and frame rate within one or two years, and current headsets are basically the minimum of adequacy.
So, from both a software and technology standpoint, VR can benefit from more time in the oven before tossing it down the garbage disposal. I see that point and I agree with it, but only to a point. A price reduction can still help in several ways. First, the games industry has made some drastic shifts toward the individual. Free tools, from IDEs to AAA-quality game engines, seem to be picking up in adoption. A high entry fee for a segment of that mind share will push those with creative ideas elsewhere.
But, probably more importantly, even if the market is small, pulling in more users makes it grow. The more lead users that you can acquire, the more risk can be attempted, which will make an even better situation for whenever we need to start considering mass market. Imagine if a factor of two increase in user base would be enough for Microsoft (or Linux distros) to consider virtual desktops for VR. If we reach that threshold a year or two sooner, then it will have a more significant impact on the value for mainstream users whenever the technology catches up to their interest.
And yes, this is coming from the guy who is currently surrounded by four monitors...
Anyway, rant aside, Oculus has jumped in to a significant price reduction. This should get it into the hands of more people, assuming the injunction order doesn’t get accepted and drop on them like a hammer.
Subject: General Tech | March 1, 2017 - 08:12 PM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: VR, pc gaming, openxr, Khronos
While the Vulkan update headlines the Khronos Group’s presence at GDC 2017, they also re-announced their VR initiative, now called OpenXR. This specification wraps around the individual SDKs, outlining functionality that is to be exposed to the application and the devices. If a device implements the device layer, then it will immediately support everything that uses the standard, and vice-versa.
OpenVR was donated by Valve, leading to OpenXR...
... because an X is really just a reflected V, right?
Like OpenGL and Vulkan, individual vendors will still be allowed to implement their own functionality, which I’m hoping will be mostly exposed through extensions. The goal is to ensure that users can, at a minimum, enjoy the base experience of any title on any device.
They are aiming for 2018, but interested parties should contribute now to influence the initial release.
Subject: General Tech | February 26, 2017 - 12:13 AM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: valve, pc gaming
When VR started to take off, developers begun to realize that audio is worth some attention. Historically, it’s been difficult to market, but that’s par for the course when it comes to VR technology, so I guess that’s no excuse to pass it up anymore. Now Valve, the owners of the leading VR platform on the PC have just released an API for audio processing: Steam Audio SDK.
Image Credit: Valve Software
First, I should mention that the SDK is not quite open. The GitHub page (and the source code ZIP in its releases tab) just contain the license (which is an EULA) and the readme. That said, Valve is under no obligation to provide these sorts of technology to the open (even though it would be nice) and they are maintaining builds for Windows, Mac, Linux, and Android. It is currently available as a C API and a plug-in for Unity. Unreal Engine 4, FMOD, and WWISE plug-ins are “coming soon”.
As for the technology itself, it has quite a few interesting features. As you might expect, it supports HRTF out of the box, which modifies a sound call to appear like it’s coming from a defined direction. The algorithm is based on experimental data, rather than some actual, physical process.
More interesting is their sound propagation and occlusion calculations. They are claiming that this can be raycast, and static scenes can bake some of the work ahead-of-time, which will reduce runtime overhead. Unlike VRWorks Audio or TrueAudio Next, it looks like they’re doing it on the CPU, though. I’m guessing this means that it will mostly raycast to fade between versions of the audio, rather than summing up contributions from thousands of individual rays at runtime (or an equivalent algorithm, like voxel leakage).
Still, this is available now as a C API and a Unity Plug-in, because Valve really likes Unity lately.
Subject: General Tech | February 19, 2017 - 05:07 PM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: pc gaming, blizzard, windows, EoL
Most companies have already abandoned Windows XP and Vista, including Microsoft once Vista leaves extended support in April, but Blizzard is known for long-term support. This is the company that is still selling Diablo 2, even producing retail disks for it last I checked, almost seventeen years after it was released (including a patch last year).
Later this year, World of Warcraft, StarCraft II, Diablo III, Hearthstone, and Heroes of the Storm will no longer support Windows XP or Vista. This will not all happen at once, even though it would actually make less sense if they did. I mean, why would they coordinate several teams to release a patch at the same time and maximize annoyance to the affected users who cannot schedule or afford an upgrade at that specific time?
Although, if that’s you, then you should probably get around to it sooner than later.
Subject: General Tech | February 4, 2017 - 11:54 PM | Tim Verry
Tagged: windows insider, Windows Game Mode, windows 10, pc gaming, creators update, beta
Last month Microsoft confirmed that a new "Game Mode" would be part of the upcoming Windows 10 Creator's Update planned for a spring release ("early 2017"). Microsoft has recently started rolling out the Game Mode to its beta testers in the latest Windows Insider preview build (for those on the fast track anyway, I am currently on the slow ring and do not have Game Mode yet). Now that it is rolled out in preview form, gamers have naturally started benchmarking it, and PC Games News has posted an article on their testing of the new feature and their findings on two Win32 and one UWP game. Not to spoil the results, but at this point Game Mode does not appear to offer anything and can even result in less frames per second with it turned on with its only saving grace being that in some situations it does offer increased performance when the Game DVR feature is also being used to record gameplay. They tested both a NVIDIA GTX 1060 and an AMD RX 480, and Game Mode in it's current preview software on a preview OS appears to have more benefits for NVIDIA while the AMD card PC Games News tested mostly just did it's thing regardless of whether Game Mode was turned on or off (heh, not necessarily a bad thing).
With Game Mode now rolling out to Windows Insiders, there is more information on how Microsoft plans to implement it. Rather than hiding it in the Xbox app, Microsoft has thankfully put it in the main settings app under the Gaming category and users access it by bringing up a Game Bar menu in-game for those games that support it (PC Games News noted Doom and GTA V did not work). Game Mode is an OS-level feature that will dedicate a certain amount of CPU threads to the game when it is turned on and leaves the remaining threads to be used by background processes (which themselves are reportedly minimized). Currently, this seems to work better with multi-threaded games and older games that were coded to only use one or two threads may not see any benefit in turning Game Mode on (and it may actually result in lower FPS). To Microsoft's credit, they are not over promising with Game Mode and note that it should be good for around 2% better performance when enabled with Game Mode having a bigger impact on UWP titles.
I encourage you to check out the PC Games News article where they have their benchmark results presented in a number of bar graphs. Most of the tests saw little to no benefit from using Game Mode, but not a negative effect. Some games like Hitman saw a 6% increase in average frames per second on the GTX 1060. On the other side of things, Forza Horizon 3 (ironically, a UWP game) performance actually drops when Game Mode is turned on to the tune of 13% to 23% less FPS with the RX 480 and 9% to 15% less with the GTX 1060. As far as Tomb Raider, things are more in the middle and things stay the same or get slightly better minimum frames per second when Game Mode and Game DVR are both turned on (though oddly there is a result in there that shows a performance drop with Game Mode on and Game DVR off).
It ia also worth noting that overall, the trend seems to be that Game Mode is going to be most beneficial at increasing the minimum frame rates on games with the Game DVR feature is being used moreso than getting overall maximum or average FPS out of a game. The biggest hurdle is going to be game compatiblity, especially for older games, and Microsoft tweaking things so that at worst Game Mode won't tank performance (like it currently does with Hitman minimum frame rates when Game Mode is on but DVR is off) and things will stay the same as if Game Mode was not on at all and at best gamers will get slightly smoother gameplay.
Right now Game Mode is not compelling, but it is still a work in progress and if Microsoft can get Game Mode right it could be a useful addition (and incentive to upgrade to Windows 10 is probably why they are interested in pursuing this feature) and could come in handy especially on gaming laptops! I am not writing off the feature yet, and neither should you, but I do hope that compatibility is improved and the performance hits are reduced or eliminated when it is enabled. My guess is that the games that will work well with Game Mode are going to be almost all newer games and especially games that are developed post Creator's Update final release with Game Mode in mind.
Hopefully we can use our frame rating on the final product to see how well it truly works as far as user experience and smooth gameplay. What are your thoughts on Windows 10's Game Mode?