Subject: Graphics Cards | September 24, 2017 - 12:33 PM | Scott Michaud
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!
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.
Subject: General Tech | September 23, 2017 - 10:29 PM | Scott Michaud
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.
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.
Subject: General Tech | September 23, 2017 - 01:39 PM | Scott Michaud
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.
WebAssembly is now enabled by default for HTML5.
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.
Subject: General Tech | September 23, 2017 - 01:10 PM | Scott Michaud
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.
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.
Subject: General Tech | September 23, 2017 - 12:41 PM | Scott Michaud
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.
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.
Subject: General Tech | September 23, 2017 - 12:22 PM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: pc gaming, Unity
While it’s not technically released yet, Unity has flipped the naming scheme of Unity 2017.2 to Unity 2017.2.0f1. The “f” stands for final, so we will probably see a blog post on it soon. This version has a handful of back-end changes, such as improved main-thread performance when issuing commands to graphics APIs, but the visible changes are mostly in two areas: XR (VR + AR) and baked lighting.
From the XR standpoint, a few additions stand out. First, this version now supports Google Tango and Windows Mixed Reality, the latter of which is tied to the Windows 10 Fall Creators Update, so it makes sense that Unity would have support in the version before that gets released (October 17th). In terms of features, the editor now supports emulating a Vive headset, so you can test some VR elements without having a headset. I expect this will mostly be good for those who want to do a bit of development in places where they don’t have access to their headset, although that’s blind speculation from my standpoint.
The other area that got a boost is baked global illumination. Unity started introducing their new Progressive Lightmapping feature in Unity 5.6, and it bakes lighting into the scenes in the background as you work. This update allows you to turn shadows on and off on a per-object basis, and it supports double-sided materials. You cannot have independent lighting calculations for the front and back of a triangle... if you want that, then you will need to give some volume to your models. This is mostly for situations like the edge of a level, so you don’t need to create a second wall facing away from the playable area to block light coming in from outside the playable area.
I’m not sure when the official release is, but it looks like the final, supported build is out now.
Subject: General Tech | September 2, 2017 - 10:14 PM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: pc gaming, gdq
Sorry that I wasn’t able to put up a post when it started on Friday, but Games Done Quick set up a two-day marathon in support of the Houston Food Bank. Harvey Relief Done Quick is, as you would expect, intended to benefit those who are affected by Hurricane Harvey. They have currently raised almost $110,000 USD.
The current game, as I write this post, is Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, all dungeons and Ganon -- they’re just wrapping it up. It will be be followed by a six-hour run of Chrono Trigger, 100% glitchless (all quests). Tomorrow night ends with a 100% map race of Super Metroid, and a three-and-a-half hour run, give or take, of Final Fantasy IV. As usual, they are streaming around the clock until then.
The next scheduled Games Done Quick is Awesome Games Done Quick 2018 in January.
Subject: General Tech | August 22, 2017 - 09:56 PM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: pc gaming, vive, htc vive, valve, htc, price cut
While it looked like HTC and Valve wouldn’t budge on their launch price, the Vive has just been reduced $200 USD, from $799 down to $599. This is still significantly above the $399 USD price tag during their competitor’s summer sale, but it might be close enough for those who prefer the Vive for one reason or another.
I should note that their website still has payment plans through PayPal, which breaks up the $599 price tag into, they say, twelve chunks.
For me? This price cut came just a week and a bit late. I already picked up the Oculus. For us Canadians, it looks like the Vive sale price is $800 CDN on Amazon, versus the $550 mark for the Rift with Touch and two sensors. That said, if I didn’t jump on the Oculus... would I consider the Vive? At this price, I’m still not sure. I’m wary of a hardware refresh, now that these devices are hitting the one-and-a-half year mark. The Oculus, during its sale, is priced in the “Meh” territory. It would have served its purpose until it’s replaced. The extra couple hundred dollars on the Vive might just push it out of the “eh, if it’s replaced, so what” range.
On the other hand, the Vive can be upgraded with a wireless kit, and I do have issues with the Oculus sensors being obstructed. It’s an interesting move for sure.
Subject: General Tech | August 19, 2017 - 10:00 PM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: pc gaming, oxide, Oxide Games, vulkan
Oxide Games has been mentioned all throughout the development of the next-generation graphics APIs, DirectX 12, Mantle, and Vulkan. Their Star Swarm “stress test” was one of the first practical examples of a game that desperately needs to make a lot of draw calls. Also, their rendering algorithm is very different from the other popular game engines, where lighting is performed on the object rather than the screen, which the new APIs help out with.
Currently, Ashes of the Singularity supports DirectX 11 and DirectX 12, but Vulkan will be added soon. Oxide will be pushing the new graphics api in the 2.4 update, bringing increased CPU performance to all OSes but especially Windows 7 and 8 (neither of which support DirectX 12), and a free DLC pack that contains nine co-op maps. They also plan to continue optimizing Ashes of the Singularity for Vulkan in the future.
All of this will be available on Thursday, August 24th.
Subject: General Tech | August 13, 2017 - 03:14 PM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: pc gaming, Oculus
The Oculus Summer Sale finally gave me the courage to pick up a VR system. In Canada, where the Oculus, with touch and two sensors (something that their website doesn’t highlight very well), is currently $550 CDN and the Vive is $1100 to $1200 CDN, it feels like the former dropped into impulse buy territory, especially as a game development tool. More on that in the coming days or weeks (I hope).
I played around with it over the weekend, mostly Robo Recall, Lucky’s Tale, and Valve’s The Lab. I was a bit surprised at how virtual objects (like GLaDOS and the Robo Recall robots) getting into your personal space feels slightly intimidating. More accurately, I am a bit surprised how effective the “layer of glass” effect that a traditional computer game, on a computer monitor, isolates you from what’s going on. I know this was a hot topic a couple years ago, but I didn’t experience it at the time. Now I did. It could be very useful for expressing ideas...
From a technical side, it’s a bit annoying setting up the sensors. They were a bit picky until I figured out what they were trying to do, and I would probably want a third sensor at some point for when I turn around. Setting up the back end of the play area perimeter is annoying when you’re trying to move your body around to not block the sensor.
Also, the extra USB devices pushes my system to about the limit, showing me a few notifications of my USB hard drive dropping and reconnecting at times. I’ve heard that many people install add-in cards for extra USB ports (if they don’t have a high-end processor platform). That could be useful.