Author:
Subject: General Tech
Manufacturer: SILVIA

Intelligent Gaming

Kal Simpson recently had the chance to sit down and have an extensive interview with SILVIA's Chief Product Officer - Cognitive Code, Alex Mayberry.  SILVIA is a company that specializes on conversational AI that can be adapted to a variety of platforms and applications.  Kal's comments are in bold while Alex's are in italics.

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Always good to speak with you Alex. Whether it's the latest Triple-A video game release or the progress being made in changing the way we play, virtual reality for instance – your views and developments within the gaming space as a whole remains impressive. Before we begin, I’d like to give the audience a brief flashback of your career history. Prominent within the video game industry you’ve been involved with many, many titles – primarily within the PC gaming space. Quake 2: The Reckoning, America’s Army, a plethora of World of Warcraft titles.

Those more familiar with your work know you as the lead game producer for Diablo 3 / Reaper of Souls, as well as the executive producer for Star Citizen. The former of which we spoke on during the release of the game for PC, PlayStation 4 and the Xbox One, back in 2014.

So I ask, given your huge involvement with some of the most popular titles, what sparked your interest within the development of intelligent computing platforms? No-doubt the technology can be adapted to applications within gaming, but what’s the initial factor that drove you to Cognitive Code – the SILVIA technology?

AM: Conversational intelligence was something that I had never even thought about in terms of game development. My experience arguing with my Xbox and trying to get it to change my television channel left me pretty sceptical about the technology. But after leaving Star Citizen, my paths crossed with Leslie Spring, the CEO and Founder of Cognitive Code, and the creator of the SILVIA platform. Initially, Leslie was helping me out with some engineering work on VR projects I was spinning up. After collaborating for a bit, he introduced me to his AI, and I became intrigued by it. Although I was still very focused on VR at the time, my mind kept drifting to SILVIA.

I kept pestering Leslie with questions about the technology, and he continued to share some of the things that it could do. It was when I saw one of his game engine demos showing off a sci-fi world with freely conversant robots that the light went on in my head, and I suddenly got way more interested in artificial intelligence. At the same time, I was discovering challenges in VR that needed solutions. Not having a keyboard in VR creates an obstacle for capturing user input, and floating text in your field of view is really detrimental to the immersion of the experience. Also, when you have life-size characters in VR, you naturally want to speak to them. This is when I got interested in using SILVIA to introduce an entirely new mechanic to gaming and interactive entertainment. No more do we have to rely on conversation trees and scripted responses.

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No more do we have to read a wall of text from a quest giver. With this technology, we can have a realistic and free-form conversation with our game characters, and speak to them as if they are alive. This is such a powerful tool for interactive storytelling, and it will allow us to breathe life into virtual characters in a way that’s never before been possible. Seeing the opportunity in front of me, I joined up with Cognitive Code and have spent the last 18 months exploring how to design conversationally intelligent avatars. And I’ve been having a blast doing it.

Click here to continue reading the entire interview!

Unity Labs Announces Global Research Fellowship

Subject: General Tech | June 28, 2017 - 11:17 PM |
Tagged: Unity, machine learning, deep learning

Unity, who makes the popular 3D game engine of the same name, has announced a research fellowship for integrating machine learning into game development. Two students, who must have been enrolled in a Masters or a PhD program on June 26th, will be selected and provided with $30,000 for a 6-month fellowship. The deadline is midnight (PDT) on September 9th.

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We’re beginning to see a lot of machine-learning applications being discussed for gaming. There are some cases, like global illumination and fluid simulations, where it could be faster for a deep-learning algorithm to hallucinate a convincing than a physical solver will produce a correct one. In this case, it makes sense to post-process each frame, so, naturally, game engine developers are paying attention.

If eligible, you can apply on their website.

Source: Unity

Unity 5.6 Released with Vulkan Support

Subject: General Tech | April 1, 2017 - 07:54 PM |
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.

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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.

Unity 5.6 is available now. The preview of Unity 2017, the next version, should arrive this month.

Source: Unity

Unity 5.6 Beta Supports Vulkan API

Subject: General Tech | December 22, 2016 - 06:54 PM |
Tagged: pc gaming, Unity, vulkan

One of the most popular video game engines, Unity, has released a beta for Unity 5.6, which will be the last version of Unity 5.x. This release pushes Vulkan into full support on both desktop and mobile, which actually beats Unreal Engine 4 on the desktop side of things. Specifically, Vulkan is available for the Android, Windows, Linux, and Tizen operating systems. Apple users should be happy that this version also updates Metal for iOS and macOS, but Apple is still preventing vendors from shipping Vulkan drivers so you really shouldn’t feel too happy.

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At Unity’s Unity 2016 keynote, the company claimed about 30-60% better performance on the new API “out-of-the-box”. I do find this statement slightly odd, though, because Unity doesn’t really provide much access to “the box” without expensive source code up-sells. The most user involvement of the engine internals, for what I would assume is the majority of projects, is buying and activating a plug-in, and Vulkan would be kind-of crappy to hide behind a pay wall.

I mentioned that this will be the last Unity 5.x version. While the difference between a major and a minor version number tends to be just marketing these days, Unity is changing their major version to align with the year that it belongs to. Expect future versions, starting with a beta version in April, to be numbered 2017.x.

Unity 5.6 comes out of beta in March.

Source: Unity

WebGL Leaves "Preview" with Unity 5.3

Subject: General Tech | December 8, 2015 - 07:30 AM |
Tagged: webgl, Unity

WebGL is a Web standard that allows issuing OpenGL ES 2.0-based instructions to compatible graphics cards, which is just about everything today. It has programmable vertex and fragment (pixel) shaders with a decent amount of flexibility. Engines like Unity have been looking toward using this technology as a compile target, because Web browsers are ubiquitous, relatively user friendly, and based on standards that anyone could implement should a work of art benefit from preservation.

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Image Credit: Mozilla

Until Unity 5.3, this feature was in “preview” levels of support. This upcoming release, scheduled for today according to their roadmap, drops this moniker. It is now a build target with official support.

To run WebGL applications that are built in Unity, the vast majority of features target recent versions of Firefox, Chrome, and Edge for Windows 10 Version 1511. (The November Update for Windows 10 added the ability to lock the mouse cursor, which is obviously useful for mouse and keyboard titles.)

We're still a long way from web browsers being equivalent to game consoles. That said, they are catching up fast. You could easily have an experience that shames the last generation, especially when WebGL 2 lands, and you don't have to worry about what happens in 10, 40, or even hundreds of years as long as society deems your art worthy for preservation. I do hope that some artists and serious developers take real advantage of it, though. Shovelware could obscure its power and confuse users, and we know they will be pretty much first out of the gate.

Source: Unity

Hard West is here; get your eldritch western fix

Subject: General Tech | November 18, 2015 - 01:35 PM |
Tagged: hard west, Unity, gaming

If you backed the Kickstarter then you have had a chance to watch Hard West evolve from a single silent map to the recent update which added significant content and changed the beginning of the game significantly.  You are a dead gunslinger, brought back to an undead state in a western setting which incorporates not only natives and townsfolk but dark supernatural creatures and powers as well.  The game plays like the recent XCOM releases, with a similar turn style and cover system but also incorporates unique features such as the ability to ricochet bullets of some items on the map to shoot around corners and a shadow system designed to give you hints about who might be standing around a corner.

Nighttime changes the game dramatically and the optional permanent injury system is the exact opposite of the recent Warhammer games, severely injured members your posse will suffer negatives in the short term but possibly gaining strength once their wounds have fully healed.  You can see what Rock, Paper, SHOTGUN thought of the game here or just pick it up on Steam for $22.

"“Wild West XCOM” is about as good an elevator pitch as you could wish for. After a short delay, as of today we can find out whether Hard West can possibly live up to its glorious high concept. I played an earlier build a few weeks back – some thoughts, plus a launch trailer, below."

Here is some more Tech News from around the web:

Gaming

ARM and Geomerics Show Enlighten 3 Lighting, Integrate with Unity 5

Subject: Graphics Cards, Mobile | March 3, 2015 - 12:00 PM |
Tagged: Unity, lighting, global illumination, geomerics, GDC, arm

Back in 2013 ARM picked up a company called Geomerics, responsible for one the industry’s most advanced dynamic lighting engines used in games ranging from mobile to console to PC. Called Enlighten, it is the lighting engine in many major games in a variety of markets. Battlefield 3 uses it, Need for Speed: The Run does as well, The Bureau: XCOM Declassified and Quantum Conundrum mark another pair of major games that depend on Geomerics technology.

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Great, but what does that have to do with ARM and why would the company be interested in investing in software that works with such a wide array of markets, most of which are not dominated by ARM processors? There are two answers, the first of which is directional: ARM is using the minds and creative talent behind Geomerics to help point the Cortex and Mali teams in the correct direction for CPU and GPU architecture development. By designing hardware to better address the advanced software and lighting systems Geomerics builds then Cortex and Mali will have some semblance of an advantage in specific gaming titles as well as a potential “general purpose” advantage. NVIDIA employs hundreds of gaming and software developers for this exact reason: what better way to make sure you are always at the forefront of the gaming ecosystem than getting high-level gaming programmers to point you to that edge? Qualcomm also recently (back in 2012) started employing game and engine developers in-house with the same goals.

ARM also believes it will be beneficial to bring publishers, developers and middleware partners to the ARM ecosystem through deployment of the Enlighten engine. It would be feasible to think console vendors like Microsoft and Sony would be more willing to integrate ARM SoCs (rather than the x86 used in the PS4 and Xbox One) when shown the technical capabilities brought forward by technologies like Geomerics Enlighten.

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It’s best to think of the Geomerics acquisition of a kind of insurance program for ARM, making sure both its hardware and software roadmaps are in line with industry goals and directives.

At GDC 2015 Geomerics is announcing the release of the Enlighten 3 engine, a new version that brings cinematic-quality real-time global illumination to market. Some of the biggest new features include additional accuracy on indirect lighting, color separated directional output (enables individual RGB calculations), better light map baking for higher quality output, and richer material properties to support transparency and occlusion.

All of this technology will be showcased in a new Subway demo that includes real-time global illumination simulation, dynamic transparency and destructible environments.

Geomerics Enlighten 3 Subway Demo

Enlighten 3 will also ship with Forge, a new lighting editor and pipeline tool for content creators looking to streamline the building process. Forge will allow import functionality from Autodesk 3ds Max and Maya applications making inter-operability easier. Forge uses a technology called YEBIS 3 to show estimated final quality without the time consuming final-build processing time.

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Finally, maybe the biggest news for ARM and Geomerics is that the Unity 5 game engine will be using Enlighten as its default lighting engine, giving ARM/Mali a potential advantage for gaming experiences in the near term. Of course Enlighten is available as an option for Unreal Engine 3 and 4 for developers using that engine in mobile, console and desktop projects as well as in an SDK form for custom integrations.

Ubisoft Responds to Low Frame Rates in Assassin's Creed Unity

Subject: Graphics Cards | November 12, 2014 - 09:03 PM |
Tagged: Unity, ubisoft, assassin's creed

Over the last couple of days there have been a lot of discussions about the performance of the new Assassin's Creed Unity from Ubisoft on current generation PC hardware. Some readers have expressed annoyance that the game is running poorly, at lower than expected frame rates, at a wide range of image quality settings. Though I haven't published my results yet, we are working on a story comparing NVIDIA and AMD GPUs in Unity, but the truth is that this is occurring on GPUs from both sides.

For example, using a Core i7-3960X and a single GeForce GTX 980 4GB reference card, I see anywhere from 37 FPS to 48 FPS while navigating the crowded city of Paris at 1920x1080 and on the Ultra High preset. Using the Low preset, that frame rate increases to 65-85 FPS or so.

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Clearly, those are lower frame rates at 1920x1080 than you'll find in basically any other PC game on the market. The accusation from some in the community is that Ubisoft is either doing this on purpose or doing it out of neglect with efficient code. I put some questions to the development team at Ubisoft and though I only had a short time with them, the answers tell their side of the story.

Ryan Shrout: What in the Unity game engine is putting the most demand on the GPU and its compute resources? Are there specific effects or were there specific design goals for the artists that require as much GPU horsepower as the game does today with high image quality settings?

Ubisoft: Assassin’s Creed Unity is one of the most detailed games on the market and [contains] a giant, open world city built to the scale that we’ve recreated. Paris requires significant details. Some points to note about Paris in Assassin’s Creed Unity:

  • There are tens of thousands of objects are visible on-screen, casting and receiving shadows.
  • Paris is incredibly detailed. For example, Notre-Dame itself is millions of triangles.
  • The entire game world has global illumination and local reflections.
  • There is realistic, high-dynamic range lighting.
  • We temporally stabilized anti-aliasing.

RS: Was there any debate internally about downscaling on effects/image quality to allow for lower end system requirements?

Ubisoft: We talked about this a lot, but our position always came back to us ensuring that Assassin’s Creed Unity is a next-gen only game with breakthrough graphics. With this vision, we did not degrade the visual quality of the game. On PC, we have several option for low-scaling, like disabling AA, decreasing resolution, and we have low option for Texture Quality, Environment Quality and Shadows.

RS: Were you looking forward or planning for future GPUs (or multi-GPU) that will run the game at peak IQ settings at higher frame rates than we have today?

Ubisoft: We targeted existing PC hardware.

RS: Do you envision updates to the game or to future GPU drivers that would noticeably improve performance on current generations of hardware?

Ubisoft: The development team is continuing to work on optimization post-launch through software updates. You’ll hear more details shortly.

Some of the features listed by the developer in the first answer - global illumination methods, high triangle counts, HDR lighting - can be pretty taxing on GPU hardware. I know there are people out there pointing out games that have similar feature sets and that run at higher frame rates, but the truth is that no two game engines are truly equal. If you have seen Assassin's Creed Unity in action you'll be able to tell immediately the game is beautiful, stunningly so. Is it worth that level of detail for the performance levels achieved from current high-end hardware? Clearly that's the debate.

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When I asked if Ubisoft had considered scaling back the game to improve performance, they clearly decided against it. The developer had a vision for the look and style of the game and they were dedicated to it; maybe to a fault from some gamers' viewpoint.

Also worth nothing is that Ubisoft is continuing to work on optimization post-release; how much of an increase we'll actually see with game patches or driver updates will have to be seen as we move forward. Some developers have a habit of releasing a game and simply abandoning it as it shipped - hopefully we will see more dedication from the Unity team.

So, if the game runs at low frame rates on modern hardware...what is the complaint exactly? I do believe that Ubisoft would have benefited from better performance on lower image quality settings. You can tell by swapping the settings for yourself in game but the quality difference between Low and Ultra High is noticeable, but not dramatically so. Again, this likely harkens back to the desire of Ubisoft to maintain an artistic vision.

Remember that when Crysis 3 launched early last year, running at 1920x1200 at 50 FPS required a GTX 680, the top GPU at the time; and that was at the High settings. The Very High preset only hit 37 FPS on the same card.

PC gamers seems to be creating a double standard. On one hand, none of us want PC-ports or games that are developed with consoles in mind that don't take advantage of the power of the PC platform. Games in the Call of Duty series are immensely popular but, until the release of Advanced Warfare, would routinely run at 150-200 FPS at 1080p on a modern PC. Crysis 3 and Assassin's Creed Unity are the opposite of that - games that really tax current CPU and GPU hardware, paving a way forward for future GPUs to be developed and NEEDED.

If you're NVIDIA or AMD, you should applaud this kind of work. Now I am more interested than ever in a GTX 980 Ti, or a R9 390X, to see what Unity will play like, or what Far Cry 4 will run at, or if Dragon Age Inquisition looks even better.

Of course, if we can get more performance from a better optimized or tweaked game, we want that too. Developers need to be able cater to as wide of a PC gaming audience as possible, but sometimes creating a game that can scale between running on a GTX 650 Ti and a GTX 980 is a huge pain. And with limited time frames and budgets, don't we want at least some developers to focus on visual quality rather than "dumbing down" the product?

Let me know what you all think - I know this is a hot-button issue!

UPDATE: Many readers in the comments are bringing up the bugs and artifacts within Unity, pointing to YouTube videos and whatnot. Those are totally valid complaints about the game, but don't necessarily reflect on the game's performance - which is what we were trying to target with this story. Having crashes and bugs in the game is disappointing, but again, Ubisoft and Assassin's Creed Unity aren't alone here. Have you seen the bugs in Skyrim or Tomb Raider? Hopefully Ubisoft will be more aggressive in addressing them in the near future. 

UPDATE 2: I also wanted to comment that even though I seem to be defending Ubisoft around the performance of Unity, my direct feedback to them was that they should enable modes in the game that allow it to play at higher frame rates and even lower image quality settings, even if they were unable to find ways to "optimize" the game's efficiency. So far the developer seems aware of all the complaints around performance, bugs, physics, etc. and is going to try to address them.

UPDATE 3: In the last day or so, a couple of other media outlets have posted anonymous information that indicates that the draw call count for Assassin's Creed Unity is at fault for the poor performance of the game on PCs. According to this "anonymous" source, while the consoles have low-level API access to hardware to accept and process several times the draw calls, DirectX 11 can only handle "7,000 - 10,000 peak draw calls." Unity apparently is "pushing in excess of 50,000 draw calls per frame" and thus is putting more pressure on the PC that it can handle, even with high end CPU and GPU hardware. The fact that these comments are "anonymous" is pretty frustrating as it means that even if they are accurate, they can't be taken as the truth without confirmation from Ubisoft. If this turns out to be true, then it would be a confirmation that Ubisoft didn't take the time to implement a DX11 port correctly. If it's not true, or only partially to blame, we are left with more meaningless finger-pointing.

PCPer Live! Assassin's Creed Unity Game Stream Powered by NVIDIA!

Subject: General Tech, Graphics Cards | November 10, 2014 - 10:07 PM |
Tagged: video, Unity, pcper, nvidia, live, GTX 980, geforce, game stream, assassins creed

UPDATE: If you missed the live stream event: good news! We have it archived up on YouTube now and embeded below for your viewing pleasure!

Assassin's Creed Unity is shaping up to be one of the defining games of the holiday season, with visuals and game play additions that are incredible to see in person. Scott already wrote up a post that details some the new technologies found in the game along with a video of the impressive detail the engine provides. Check it out!

To celebrate the release, PC Perspective has partnered with NVIDIA to host a couple of live game streams that will feature some multi-player gaming fun as well some prizes to giveaway to the community. I will be joined by some new NVIDIA faces to take on the campaign in a cooperative style while taking a couple of stops to give away some hardware.

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Assassin's Creed Unity Game Stream Powered by NVIDIA

5pm PT / 8pm ET - November 11th

PC Perspective Live! Page

Need a reminder? Join our live mailing list!

Here are some of the prizes we have lined up for those of you that join us for the live stream:

Another awesome prize haul!! How do you win? It's really simple: just tune in and watch the Assassin's Creed Unity Game Stream Powered by NVIDIA! We'll explain the methods to enter live on the air and anyone can enter from anywhere in the world - no issues at all!

So stop by Tuesday night for some fun, some gaming and the chance to win some goods!

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New Ubuntu 13.04 Release Upgrades Unity, Ditches Wubi, and Updates Applications

Subject: General Tech | April 30, 2013 - 12:57 PM |
Tagged: wubi, Unity, ubuntu 13.04, ubuntu, openstack, linux, canonical

Canonical released its the Ubuntu 13.04 “Raring Ringtail” Linux distribution earlier this week. The updated operating system incorporates a new Linux kernel, newer pre-installed applications, and a tweaked Unity desktop environment. Enterprise and server users also have updated server software stacks to look forward to, including the latest juju and OpenStack (Grizzly) releases.

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Ubuntu 13.04 continues in the direction of convergence set in motion by Canonical and its founder Mark Shuttleworth. It is the first step towards Ubuntu running on many types of devices (including mobile) as it includes an updated Unity interface. The 13.04 release still uses the X window system, but Canonical has made tweaks to Unity and is offering up an optional download of the new Mir display backend that users can install. Mir is the display server that Ubuntu will be switching to with its next LTS release and that will reportedly enable a cross-platform Ubuntu/Unity experience. The Unity tweaks include disabling Workspaces and the “show desktop” button on the desktop (though they can be re-enabled in settings). There have also been tweaks to Ubuntu’s Dash UI, including a typo-tolerant search function and new result sorting options. It will not be until the next release that users will really start to see Ubuntu’s plans of convergence come together (heh), but even with the small changes present in 13.04, the traditional desktop OS is making considerations for mobile devices.

While the visual changes are minimal on Ubuntu 13.04 compared to 12.10, the new release does update a lot of the underlying software.At least on the outside, Ubuntu 13.04 has not changed much from its 12.10 predecessor. Ubuntu 13.04 is based on the upstream 3.8.8 Linux kernel, and incorporates a number of updates to the pre-installed applications and core software. The updates include Unity 7, LibreOffice 4, and Python 3.3 (future versions of Ubuntu will remove Python 2 completely, though it will still be available as a downloadable package). Gwibber has also been replaced with a new service called “Friends” that takes all of your social networking accounts and combines them under your Ubuntu Online account.

Additionally, Ubuntu 13.04 also no longer includes the Wubi installer, which allowed users to install Ubuntu as a program within Windows and got around the need to mess with partitioning. Although there was a bit of overhead in doing the install this way, it was noticeably easier for new users than other methods. Canonical suggests that users interested in trying out the new operating system should simply use the live media, but installing it in a VM such as VirtualBox or VMWare may be more appropriate as some of the functionality is missing from the Live DVD environment in my experience (at least if you also want to try out functionality or other Linux software that would require a restart). Canonical has also cut the support time in half for Ubuntu 13.04 (and all future interim releases) from 18 months to 9 months. Hopefully the development team puts the reduced support workload to good use by investing the time in quick and stable releases.

So far, Ubuntu 13.04 has been getting positive reviews, though some users have run into issues running the operating system on their particular hardware (a bit of instability is expected with a new release, however).

If you are interested in Ubuntu 13.04 “Raring Ringtail,” you can read more about the changes in the official release notes and grab a download of the OS from the Ubuntu website or the updater if you are currently running Ubuntu 12.10.

Source: Ubuntu