Subject: General Tech | December 3, 2018 - 08:46 PM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: pc gaming, PhysX, nvidia, physx 4.0, Unity, unreal engine 4
NVIDIA has just announced a new major version to their popular physics middleware: PhysX 4.0. They also announced that it (both 4.0 and 3.4) will be re-licensed as 3-line BSD. In terms of open-source licenses, this is about a permissive as you can get. You are basically free to do whatever you want – commercial, modified, unmodified, whatever – if you follow the guidelines (which are things like “no warranty”, “don’t sue us for liability”, “give us credit by leaving a copy of the license in all binary and source releases”, and “we’re not endorsing your product so don’t pretend that we are”).
For gamers? It will take a little while before this comes around to you. Unity is currently preparing to update to PhysX 3.4 with their upcoming 2018.3 release; that was the first major PhysX update since Unity 5.0 upgraded from PhysX 2.x to PhysX 3.3 back in March 2015. Epic Games seems to be a little quicker to update to a new PhysX version, but there’s nothing announced on their side either as far as I can tell.
On the technical side: this release of PhysX is interesting.
As mentioned, Unity 5.0 was the point when their PhysX implementation jumped from 2.x to 3.3. This was not a clean transition. NVIDIA changed the way that many of their solvers worked, making them much faster but also less stable (as in simulation stability – so, like, oscillating and breaking apart). While this was acceptable (because most simulations are cosmetic and, if it mattered, you had more performance to just increase the physics tick-rate to compensate) it upset developers who relied upon the stability of PhysX 2, forcing them to work around the glitches.
According to NVIDIA’s promotional video, this version is both more stable and faster. This means that it should be less work to setup things like ragdolls and ball-and-chain systems, while also supposedly being faster. In terms of stability, they intentionally showed a simulation of three balls and chains with varying masses. In PhysX 3.x, this tends to be a degenerate case where joints freak out and split (unless you compensate with smaller physics time steps). Even if it’s on-par with PhysX 3.x, this is a huge win for indie game developers.
PhysX 4.0 will be available for developers on December 20th. It’s unclear when any given engine will integrate it, however.
Subject: General Tech | November 11, 2018 - 11:28 AM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: pc gaming, square enix, final fantasy, final fantasy xv
Square Enix has announced that plans to update Final Fantasy XV (15) are much smaller than they used to be. The game was supposed to be receive four DLC episodes, Aranea, Lunafreye, Noctis, and Ardyn, but will now only get Ardyn in March 2019; the other three are canceled for both console and PC.
Off into the sunset...
The biggest news for PC gamers: no RTX or Vulkan support (outside that benchmark).
There is also a bit of confusing, self-contradictory discussion about the future of the co-op multiplayer expansion, Comrades. As far as I can tell, it will be split into a $10 (free if you own Final Fantasy 15) separate game on the consoles, but it will remain an in-game option on the PC.
The reason for these changes is that the game’s director, Hajime Tabata, has left the company and the studio that he made less than a year before leaving, Luminous Productions, have been reassigned to a new title within Square Enix.
Subject: General Tech | October 24, 2018 - 08:04 PM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: Unity, pc gaming
Near the end of their keynote at the Unite LA conference, Unity showed off “MegaCity”. This scene, created by their internal Demo team, contains about 4.5 million rendered objects and plays at 60 FPS. About 5,000 moving vehicles are present in the environment as well. They also added 100,000 audio sources, because why not. Spoiler: They then pulled out a (high-end) phone and launched it there too.
This demo was designed to show off two things: Prefab Workflows and ECS.
The Prefab Workflows portion showed attendees, who are developers of Unity-based apps and games, how to cleanly maintain large scenes. The prefab editor allows components to be manipulated in isolation. Nesting allows that “isolation” to be tiered into a hierarchy. Variants allows the artist to override parts of prefabs to tweak without starting from scratch. The punchline is that the entire scene was made in about two months with just two artists.
The ECS side, on the other hand, showed that Unity’s new framework will soon make it a serious performance contender. The programming paradigm diverts from object-oriented principles, instead operating on combinations of lists of thin slices of data that, altogether, represent your system. This is good for CPUs because it allows linear memory access and massive parallelism, including vectorization, which keeps your processor at peak efficiency.
Note that, in terms of draw calls, the system does a lot of instancing to submit them to the GPU together, so this post isn't "Unity does millions of draw calls!" because that's not true. It's distinct objects in the scene that are indexed and sent to the driver in groups. That said, it's still a strong point that ECS is fast enough to effectively batch, LOD, and cull millions of objects into something the driver can handle; the GPU driver just got a lot of attention with Mantle, Vulkan, and DirectX 12. (And yes that's important too!)
Subject: Graphics Cards | October 5, 2018 - 08:06 PM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: nvidia, pc gaming, graphics drivers
Another major version bump has occurred in NVIDIA’s Game Ready Drivers over the span of around two weeks. Typically, although there has been a couple of exceptions, NVIDIA has branches that contain major new features once every two-or-so major version numbers. They then push maintenance releases along the number line, which are probably cherry-picked into various branches. In this case, the 410-series branch, which was embodied in 411.63 and 411.60, brought in support for the RTX 20-series of cards.
This has been superseded by the 415-series branch with 416.16. (Oddly enough, the root branch has an odd version number. This is the first time I remember seeing that, although I have not been paying too much attention.)
What has changed? Even though it is a Game Ready driver, it is not associated with a game launch per se. Instead, it is for Windows 10 version 1809, which includes support for DirectX Raytracing (DXR). It also adds a handful of fixes, such as removing black-square glitches from Quake HD Remix mod and improving the performance of TXAA in Rainbow 6: Siege. So basically, the main advantage of this driver will be for those who are using the RTX 20-series cards when games such as Battlefield V launch, which should have been two weeks from now but has, instead, been pushed back to November 20th. (I don’t know if they said that raytracing would be supported at launch, though.)
As always, feel free to refresh GeForce Experience and update your drivers.
Subject: General Tech | October 1, 2018 - 04:52 PM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: pc gaming, GOG
So this is an interesting promotion. To honor their ten years of existing, GOG.com is planning to give away a free game. The twist is that the free game will be decided by public vote: Shadow Warrior 2, SUPERHOT, or Firewatch. Whichever one wins will be available to claim on October 4th.
The site also has a video and a brief timeline of their parent company, CD Projekt. The site doesn’t just start in 2008 when GOG launched, either. The timeline goes way back to 1994, when they localized games for companies like Interplay. The rest of the sub-pages are 2008-and-on, though.
Not much else to say. Happy Birthday GOG!
Subject: General Tech | September 21, 2018 - 06:17 PM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: pc gaming, telltale
This afternoon, Telltale Games announced that they have laid off all but 25 employees; those who remain are there to “fulfill the company’s obligations to its board and partners”. Various sites are reporting that this equates to the loss of about 90% of their jobs. That number would be even higher if you compared it from a year ago, however, where they had “between 350 and 400” employees, according to an interview that Eurogamer had with Job Stauffer at Gamescom 2017.
The signs were there; I just wasn’t paying attention.
The company has not fully outlined what will happen with their various titles yet. Rumors are that The Wolf Among Us: Season Two and their Stranger Things projects have been canceled. Basically, at least if the rumors are correct, the last 25 employees will wrap up The Walking Dead and that will be it. That said, you never know whether some publisher will swoop in and pick up some licenses. It’s a bit harder in Telltale’s case because their content is licensed from existing franchises (apart from Puzzle Agent and a few card games).
I do hope that someone will swoop in and pick up a bunch of employees, however. The industry, as commonly happens when these things occur, has created a venue to connect those who are affected with potential new employers. This time it is a Twitter hashtag, #TelltaleJobs. If you own a game studio, then you probably already know about this, but, just in case you haven’t, it’s a good place to let people know you’re hiring (if you are).
Subject: General Tech | September 3, 2018 - 03:54 PM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: pc gaming, sales
After summer comes back-to-school. What is the relevance for video games? Well, students will probably need to cut back on them, so might as well use it as an excuse for big sales.
The Back-to-School sale at GOG.com is actually pretty big this year. The gimmick, which is common for the site, new deals come and go. Specifically, it looks like one new deal occurs every hour, on the hour, and it lasts for six hours. These can go up to 90%-off. There is also another batch of sales that are not time limited. In total, over 500 games will be reduced for the event.
Two highlights that got me to click the buy button is Yooka-Laylee ($8.59 USD, 75%-off – Note: NOT Digital Deluxe Edition, although that’s all extras, such as a manual and an art book) and Homeworld: Remastered Collection ($5.29 USD, 85%-off). The former title was one that I was looking forward to during its Kickstarter, but never quite pulled the trigger on. I’ll give it a silly purple Canadian ten-dollar-bill, though.
Find a buried treasure? Let us know in the comments!
Subject: General Tech | August 10, 2018 - 10:45 PM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: pc gaming, discord, Rust, mozilla, steam, GOG
Starting with a slowly-ramping group of ~50,000 Canadians, Discord has begun distributing PC games. Specifically, there will be two services for paying members of the Discord Nitro beta program: a store, where games can be purchased as normal, and a library of other games that are available with the (aforementioned) Discord Nitro subscription.
“It’s kinda like Netflix for games.”
When talking about subscription services for video games, I am typically hesitant. That said, the previous examples were, like, OnLive, where they planned on making games that ran exclusively on that platform. The concern is that, when those games disappear from the service, they could be gone from our society as a whole work of art. (Consoles and DRM also play into this topic.)
In this case, however, it looks like they are just getting into curated, off-the-shelf PC games. While GoG holds its own, it will be nice to see another contender to Steam in the Win32 (maybe Linux?) games market. (I say Win32 because of the developer certification requirements for Windows Store / UWP.)
Dead horse rant aside, Discord is doing games… including a subscription service. Yay.
One more aspect to this story!
Over the last five-or-so years, Mozilla has been talking about upgrading their browser to use a more safe, multi-theaded, functional, job system, via their home-grown programming language, Rust. Turns out: Discord used this language for a lot of the store (and surrounding SDKs). Specifically, the native code for the store, the game SDK (with C, C++, and C# bindings), and the multiplayer network layer are all in Rust. This should make it fast and secure, which were the two design goals for Rust in the first place.
It was intended for web browsers after all...
Subject: General Tech | August 10, 2018 - 10:16 PM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: pc gaming, doom, bethesda
Bethesda, as usual, held a keynote at their QuakeCon event in the Dallas / Fort Worth region of Texas. So far so good. They then revealed DOOM Eternal with over 15 minutes of gameplay spread across three brutal segments.
Even though the reboot had a lot more… airborne activity… than the original, the new “meat hook” ability allows the player to grapple toward enemies. (At least, I only saw them grapple enemies. Maybe other things too? Probably not, though.) While not exactly a new mechanic, it looks like it flows well with DOOM’s faster-paced gameplay.
DOOM Eternal is coming to the PC, PS4, Xbox One, and even the Nintendo Switch. No release date has been announced.
Subject: General Tech | August 8, 2018 - 07:15 PM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: pc gaming, macos, Android, windows, linux, vulkan
Yet another video game engine has entered the market – this time by Google. Filament is written in C++, supports OpenGL 4.1-and-up, OpenGL ES 3.0-and-up, and Vulkan 1.0 on Android, Linux, macOS, and Windows.
It is also licensed under Apache 2.0, so it is completely open-source (with no copyleft).
On the plus side, it supports a lot of rendering features. The materials, like basically everyone else, use a PBR system, which abstracts lighting from material properties, allowing models to be shaded correctly in any lighting environment. Filament goes beyond that implementation, however, and claims to include things like anisotropic metals (think brushed steel) and clear coat effects. They even have a BRDF (the program that defines the outputs of your shader, where all your textures plug in to) for cloth rendering, including backward scattering.
On the negative side? Pages upon pages of documentation and I haven’t seen one screenshot of their editor, which doesn't telegraph the best message for their tools. I don’t have the toolchain set up on my computer to try it for myself, but I’m guessing that developer UX is lacking compared to the other engines. I do like that they chose to limit external dependencies, however. It just requires the standard library and a header-only library called “Robin-Map” for fast hash maps.
Google also tags a disclaimer at the bottom of their GitHub page: “This is not an officially supported Google product”. It’s free, though, so it might be worth checking out.