Subject: Systems | January 24, 2017 - 10:30 PM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: xbox one, xbox, Project Scorpio, microsoft
Digital Foundry received an Xbox Project Scorpio whitepaper from an anonymous source, although they were able to validate its authenticity. Basically, they sent it to their own, off-the-record sources who would have access to the same info, and those individuals confirmed it’s an official document that they’ve seen before. Of course, the trust bottlenecks through Digital Foundry, but they’re about as reputable as you can get in this industry, so that works.
Anywho, disclaimer aside, the whitepaper unveils a few interesting details about how Project Scorpio is expecting to provide higher performance. The most interesting change is what’s missing: the small, on-chip RAM (ESRAM). Microsoft claims that the higher global memory bandwidth removes the need to have it on Project Scorpio.
Digital Foundry is still a bit concerned that, while the 320 GB/s bandwidth might be enough, the latency might be a concern for compatibility. Personally, I’m not too concerned. Modern GPUs do a huge amount of latency-hiding tricks, such as parking whole shaders at global memory accesses and running other tasks while the GPU fetches the memory the original shader needs, swapping it back and finishing when it arrives. Also, the increased GPU performance will mean that the game has more room to be wasteful of GPU resources, since it only needs to perform at least as good as a regular Xbox One. I expect that there wouldn’t be enough round-trips to ESRAM for it to be a major slowdown when running on Project Scorpio (and its not-ESRAM).
Seriously, Wall-E with a Freddie Mercury 'stache.
Microsoft does suggest that developers make use of ESRAM on Xbox One and Xbox One S, though. Yes, don’t deliberately throw away performance on the slower machines just because that accelerator isn’t available on higher-end devices, like Project Scorpio or a gaming PC (heh heh heh).
Another point that Digital Foundry highlighted was that the actual number of rendered fragments (pixels that may or may not make it to screen) didn’t scale up by a factor-of-four (going from 1080p to 4K) in all cases. A first-party developer noticed a case where it was only a 3.5x scaling between the two resolutions. (This metric was actually rendered pixels, not even just GPU load, which would include resolution-independent tasks, like physics simulations.) I’m not exactly sure how the number of fragments decreased, but it could be due to some rendering tricks, like when Halo renders the background at a lower resolution. (Yes, I’m using Khronos verbiage; it’s less ambiguous.)
They also assume that Project Scorpio will use pre-Zen AMD CPU cores. I agree. It seems like Zen wouldn’t be around early enough to make production, especially when you consider the pre-release units that are circulating around Microsoft, and probably third-party developers, too.
Project Scorpio launches this holiday season (2017).
Subject: General Tech | November 3, 2016 - 09:14 PM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: xbox, steam, pc gaming, fail
In a few short hours, Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare and Call of Duty: Modern Warfare Remastered will unlock on Steam and Windows Store. If you're intending to get it for the multiplayer, though, then you need to choose your store carefully. According to Activision's support page, Steam users can only play with other Steam users, and Windows Store users can only play with other Windows Store users.
"We need to stick together! I wanted to pad my Gamerscore and you're the only one online!"
They do not elaborate on why this is the case. PC Gamer speculates that it could be an issue with Windows 7 versus Windows 10, but that makes basically no sense. The protocol between computers is just data, controlled by Activision, so the operating system that transfer it from network socket to game application is irrelevant.
I think I know what it is, though. According to the same support page, they note that a Microsoft Account is required to play online with Windows Store. I'm not sure if Activision voluntarily chose to use two different account systems, or if Microsoft pressured Activision to use Xbox accounts on Windows Store, but I'm guessing the incompatibility is due to Steamworks versus Xbox.
Again, I really don't know why Activision chose to, or was forced to, split their user base. We'll need to see if this becomes a trend going forward, though. If it is, I can see this hurting Microsoft more than Valve.
Subject: Graphics Cards | September 20, 2016 - 03:58 PM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: microsoft, xbox, xbox one, pc gaming, nvidia, GTX 1080, gtx 1070
NVIDIA has just announced that specially marked, 10-series GPUs will be eligible for a Gears of War 4 download code. This bundle applies to GeForce GTX 1080 and GeForce GTX 1070 desktop GPUs, as well as laptops which integrate either of those two GPUs. As always, if you plan on purchasing a GPU due to this bundle, make sure that the product page for your retailer mentions the bundle.
Also, through the Xbox Play Anywhere initiative, NVIDIA claims that this code can be used to play the game on Xbox One as well. Xbox Play Anywhere allows users to purchase a game on either of Microsoft's software stores, Xbox Store or Windows Store, and it will automatically count as a purchase for the cross-platform equivalent. It also has implications for cloud saves, but that's a story for another day.
The bundle begins today, September 20th. Gears of War 4 launches on October 11th.
Subject: General Tech | September 7, 2016 - 09:18 PM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: sony, ps4, ps4 pro, microsoft, Project Scorpio, xbox
At today's media briefing event, Sony announced two new versions of their PlayStation 4 console. The first is not even given a new name; they are just referring to it as the “new slimmer and lighter PS4” in their marketing material. It replaces the current version with one that is about 30% smaller, 16% lighter, and 28% more power efficient, according to a press release provided by AMD.
This update will be sold for $299.99 USD ($379.99 CDN) starting on September 15th.
The main topic of discussion was the PlayStation 4 Pro, though. Like Microsoft is doing with Project Scorpio, Sony wants the PS4 Pro to be compatible with the same catalog of titles, but do so at higher resolution and color depths. Sony claims that this generation is basically maxing out what can be done with 1080p. PC developers do not seem to have a problem using performance for new features, but the point that development costs are quickly becoming the limiting factor is valid to some extent.
In terms of specifications, while the CPU got an unspecified speed bump, the main upgrade is a new GPU, which is rated at 4.2 TFLOPs. This is about 30% slower than Microsoft's announced Project Scorpio (6 TFLOPs) but it also will arrive a year sooner. Will this lead time matter, though? The software catalog is already being built up by both companies, and it has been since each console launched in 2013.
Did they ever explain the extra ring on the case?
Also, because Microsoft started with a weaker console, scaling up to 4K resolution should be easier for their game developers. Project Scorpio is about 4.6x faster than the Xbox One, and it intends to draw four times the number of pixels. The gap between the PS4 and the PS4 Pro is just 2.3x. That could be a problem for them. (Meanwhile, us PC gamers can strap multiple 10+ TFLOP GPUs together for true 4K at decent frame rates, but that's another discussion.)
Granted, theoretical is different than real-world. We'll need to re-evaluate the industry in a couple of years, once an appropriate amount of hindsight is available. Also, Sony claims that PlayStation VR will still be available for both consoles, and that it will be a good experience whatever you choose. This is clearly aimed at Microsoft requiring Project Scorpio for their upcoming VR initiative, although likely to prevent confusion in their own fan base, rather than prodding their competitor.
Again, the PlayStation 4 Pro is launching this year, November 10th, and is expected to retail for $399.99 USD ($499.99 CDN). It's not a big jump in performance, but it's also not a big jump in price, either. In fact, I would consider it priced low enough to question the value of the regular PS4, even at $299.
What are your thoughts? Is this actually priced too low for pro?
Subject: General Tech | July 5, 2016 - 05:18 PM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: xbox, windows 10, microsoft
Microsoft is launching Xbox Play Anywhere this fall, which allows games that are purchased on Xbox Store and Windows Store to be available on the other for no additional cost.
To our site, this means that these games will also be available on Windows 10. Moreover, Microsoft has announced that “every new title published from Microsoft Studios will support Xbox Play Anywhere and will be easily accessible in the Windows Store.” So this means that, starting with Re-Core, Microsoft should publish all of their games on the PC.
Update (July 6th @ 3:33pm EDT): Turns out that it was updated to clarify "at this year's E3". So the list of games on XboxPlayAnywhere is all they're announcing so far.
That said, it will all be done through Windows Store, and so we'll need to remain concerned about the openness of that platform. The obvious example is when Games for Windows Live was shut down, bricking all software that the developer didn't patch out (or patch over to Steam). There's also concern about people being able to distribute software independently and anonymously as well.
That said, Microsoft is free to publish their own software however they like, and it's nice to see them supporting the PC again. I just want to make sure a strong, alternative platform exists (like Win32 or a strong Web standard) that cannot be (legally or technically) pivoted into Windows RT (or iOS), which forced all browsers to be re-skins of Internet Explorer (or Safari in iOS's case), forced content guidelines on games, etc. Someone will abuse any restrictions that are made, now or in the future.
Subject: General Tech | January 6, 2016 - 12:05 AM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: microsoft, xbox, recore
ReCore was first announced at the last E3 as an Xbox One exclusive, but Microsoft has recently announced that it will arrive on Windows, too. It is being developed by Comcept and Armature Studio for Microsoft Game Studios. Comcept was founded by Keiji Inafune, producer of Mega Man, Dead Rising, and Lost Planet. Armature Studio was founded by three members of Retro Studios, who made the Metroid Prime franchise. It was supposed to launch in the next couple of months, but it has been pushed to later this year.
It's still unclear what the game even is though, which is odd considering its relatively close release date. It is listed as an action-adventure title, and the developer claims that both Metroid and Zelda have influenced its direction. There also seems to be an element of “robotic cores” that can be moved from skeleton to skeleton, bringing its AI with it. Lastly, the Game Info site highlights a robotic companion element. Neither of those two points seem to fit in a Zelda nor a Metroid framework, which revolve around puzzle solving and re-exploring areas with upgraded abilities, respectively. There's something missing, and it will likely be revealed at E3 in June.
We'll see. It could be a bust, but at least we will have the option to try it.
Subject: General Tech | October 29, 2015 - 09:36 PM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: microsoft, xbox, windows 10
As some have noticed, my recent “Just Delivered” post for the Xbox Elite Wireless Controller was not very... wireless. Simply put, the Elite does not come with a wireless adapter for Windows, because that would be useless for the console-only crowd, and its price was already high enough. While it was released on October 20th, the Xbox Canada website gave a server error for its product page until the 22nd.
It seemed like a bit of a rushed launch, to say the least.
Well, when I popped into EB Games on my walk today, I was surprised to find that they have stock. Yay. Installation was relatively simple. Open the box, stick it into an available USB port, wait for Windows 10 to recognize it, put batteries in your gamepad, turn the controller on, press both sync buttons, and wait until the Xbox logo (on the controller) turns a solid glow. From then on, you just need to turn the gamepad on and off by pressing and holding the Xbox logo, which takes about a count of fifteen to turn off.
A couple of additional notes. First, the adapter is said to support up to eight controllers. This is great, especially for indie developers who are interested in party games. Also, the ability to update controller firmware will be added via the “Xbox Accessories” app from Windows Store, which is the same one used to rebind gamepad inputs. That update will be available on November 12th (see "Headset audio issues through the controller"). Thanks to an anonymous comment for this info!
Also, this means that you pretty much should not get Xbox One accessories unless you're planning to run Windows 10.
Subject: General Tech | October 28, 2015 - 10:02 PM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: xbox one, xbox, pc gaming
The Xbox One Elite Wireless Controller launched yesterday, and mine arrived in the early afternoon by mail. It was not a review unit, I bought it at retail, but I intend to publish my thoughts on the device in the near future. I am currently thinking up tests and benchmarks to run it through. Be sure to look out for that. It will be told from the perspective of a PC gamer who does not own an Xbox One console, and who does not intend to get one.
I have been using it over the last two days, off and on, however. I must say, it is pretty solidly built from what I can tell. The thumb sticks rolls around with basically zero grinding sensation, and the D-Pad feels precise (although that will need to be actually tested). It does feel just a bit awkward for games that center on the D-Pad though, because my left thumb feels more natural somewhere between it, the left thumb stick, and the “view” (back) button. It is certainly better than a standard Xbox 360 gamepad for “16-bit” style games, but probably not a step-up from USB-based knock-off SNES controllers for enthusiasts who go for that sort of thing.
It's definitely the best offering that I've used for titles like Super Meat Boy, though... even as far back as Windows 98/XP era. Granted, I didn't dip too far into the niche companies.
So keep an eye out for our later review. It will probably be one of the few that exclusively focus on the PC, and was written by someone who could potentially see themselves buying one... because I did. A word of warning though -- the controller's firmware still cannot be updated without an Xbox One console (although the Xbox Accessories app to customize it is available for free in the Windows Store). I've reached out to Xbox PR asking for any update on that situation, and the answer will probably be a big part of the review.
Subject: General Tech | September 19, 2015 - 07:29 PM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: microsoft, windows 10, xbox, pc gaming
The Xbox App for Windows 10 was touted as a major feature before launch, but you barely hear about it after. I will occasionally get a notification that I can record game footage, or a little pop-up after pressing the center button of my 360 controller. Other than that, I barely notice that it exists. A lot of the functionality is useful to manage their Xbox One or Xbox Live Gamertag (do they even call it that anymore?) but PC gamers barely have a reason to open it. Granted, I expect Microsoft hopes that will change after enough Xbox-aware games for Windows 10 hit market. It's early days.
Some currently use it though, and it has just received an update for them. Version 9.9.16003.00000 has added four new features, two of which implement automatic updates for friends and their activity feeds. The button to refresh is still present, which is always nice in case something goes wrong, but it shouldn't need to be pressed as the app should be pulling notifications from Microsoft's servers on its own.
The other two features are more interesting.
The Xbox App now supports “Console text entry”. This feature allows Xbox One users to type into the console's search boxes “and more” using Windows 10 devices, and, more importantly, their keyboards or keypads. A chat pad is being launched for the console soon, which plugs into the controller to give it a QWERTY keyboard, but supporting laptops is definitely nice.
The last feature is “Game progress comparison”. In the Achievements panel, you are able to click on the “compare” button to line up your achievement history next to your friends. As it turns out, Ryan has a higher score than me in Halo 3. That just won't do.
Microsoft has also announced that they will be providing a Beta app in the future, which will arrive later this month. You can pick it up from the Windows Store when it becomes available, if you want.
Subject: General Tech, Shows and Expos | June 17, 2015 - 10:24 PM | Scott Michaud
Tagged: xbox one, xbox, Steam Controller, microsoft, E3 2015, E3 15, E3, controller
And, of course, Xbox One... but I can assume who is the bulk of my audience.
Microsoft announced the Xbox One Elite Controller at E3, which includes support for Windows 10. This is part of their initiative to amend relations with the PC gaming industry. They seem to be going about it by focusing on the high-end gamer first. If not, then I wonder why they chose a $150 controller as a leading product.
At that price, you could literally purchase three Steam Controllers from Valve instead of a single one of these, but whether you should... depends. In all honesty, I might end up purchasing both and doing a comparison between them over a variety of games. Of course, my primary input device is the mouse and keyboard for most games, but I occasionally add an early model Xbox 360 wired controller to the mix for Saint's Row, Grand Theft Auto, NASCAR 2003, and a few other titles.
The real disappointment is its D-Pad, though. It just cannot reliably send a single direction without sometimes accidentally sending others. This gets worse in games that are styled in the “8-bit” and “16-bit” era. I actually need to play most of those on a keyboard, which is a terrible experience. Valve's implementation looks interesting with the cross-shaped thumbpad, but Microsoft's new version has options: an old-fashioned cross as well as a nine-sectioned cup, called a “faceted D-pad”.
That leads into the main design of Microsoft's controller: customization. Two switches on the back of the controller allow the range of trigger motion to be limited on the fly. This is designed for games like Grand Theft Auto, where the player wants precise control over throttle and brake, but would prefer to rapidly max-out the trigger as fast as possible when shooting a weapon. With this controller, you flip the switch when you leave the car and, what normally would be some fraction of its range, would be considered “bottoming out” and it would apparently even physically stop the trigger from pushing in further. According to the website, the threshold is user-customizable. I did not use it personally because I wasn't at E3.
Like Valve's controller, it has optional rear paddles near the grips. They are stainless steel apparently, and can be used to compensate for weird button combinations by mapping them to fingers that normally just clutch the device itself. In Valve's version, there is just two while Microsoft's allows for up to four. Microsoft also allows you to detach them, rather than just disable them.
This is when we get to software customization. Valve claims that the Steam Controller can be bound to many events across mouse, keyboard, and gamepad buttons and axises. Microsoft, on the other hand, seems to be keeping within the range of buttons found on a standard Xbox One controller. This is concerning to me because it means that extended inputs will be redundant, which is fine for an Xbox One game but could be annoying for a PC title that has many independent, simpler commands. This might be a limitation of XINPUT, which supposedly cannot address more than 10 buttons. I thought I remembered that limit being extended, but that seems to be true even in the MSDN documentation. Even still, the driver could address the extra functions as a secondary virtual device (keyboards, etc.) but Microsoft doesn't seem to want to. As a final note, Valve also allows the end of both triggers to be considered a clicky button, while Microsoft just recognizes it as a bottomed-out axis.
The Xbox One Elite Controller will ship in October for $149.99. A wireless adapter for the PC will not be required if you use the included USB Micro cable, but add that to the price if you want it wireless. Add batteries on top of that, because it takes AA. They include a pair of disposable AA, but that is obviously not a permanent solution.