Tech

The Demoscene, as it currently stands

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Remember those whacky demo groups back in the late 80s-early 90s? If not, they basically wrote art pieces for the computing systems they had at hand (Amiga, Mac, Win95 etc.).
Write art? That’s a weird choice of words! But yes, they basically code as efficiently as they can, to create audio-visual demos in the tiniest space possible.

I’ll leave it up to you to read more about it, but yours truly is mainly interested in the 64k category. That is, the entries have to be within 64 kiB. This includes the video engine, the audio engine, the audio score, shaders, everything.

So, summing up, the above video is a direct capture of what a 64 kiB binary does. No hidden libraries (well, except for standard ones that are on your machine already). To put it in a neat perspective, that latest Mortal Kombat game comes at a whopping 60 GiB, and it’s basically a 2D game with mostly non-pre-rendered cutscenes.

More entries here.

 

Not necessarily gaming-related, but certainly artsy!

DOOM on Switch – Hands on report and experiment

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Very cool video from DigitalFoundry. I respect them a lot for their comparisons and this one was particularly interesting to me because of the “Switch like PC” they built. The comparison is far from perfect of course but it’s a nice approach. One thing to notice is that on the Switch, shader performance can be increased a lot by using FP16 instead of FP32 for calculations (Half vs Float -> 16bit floats vs 32bit floats) because the shader cores of the Tegra can either process one 32bit shader operation or 2 16bit shader operations at the same time. You lose precision but this precision isn’t even important most of the time (except for something like shadows which you don’t want to look distorted because of lower precision). That’s something especially the NVidia cards on PC can’t do. They would just process one 16bit shader per 32bit core. Current AMD cards are able to make use of that though as well as the PS4 Pro and I guess this is one of the “secrets” of bringing a game like DOOM to the Switch.

Bloom & HDR explained

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Nice explanation, I liked that it accentuated the difference between HDR and HDR displays.

Ready to make the Switch?

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Ever since the WiiU’s fate was sealed, gaming enthusiasts wondered what the next Nintendo console would be like. Would there even be a next home console from Nintendo? A bunch of patents suggested a hybrid between home- and portable console while others showed new gimmicks. When Nintendo then showed of their new console Switch – formerly known as NX – the main feature was immediately understood by everyone. This was very different from the revelation of the WiiU which even more seasoned gamers didn’t understand at first.

The console was released March 3rd this year for $299/€330 and has been a huge success since. It’s still not in stock at Amazon and other big retailers but you might ask yourself if this new thing from Nintendo is for you. I’ve been using the Switch since launch (a bit over 6 weeks at the time of writing) and will now try to tell you if you’re ready to make the switch.

SWITCH_01

If you don’t know what the Switch is, Nintendo explains the Switch like this: the Switch is Nintendo’s new home console, that attempts to make the “home” part optional by giving you the opportunity of taking it with you, wheter you want to play it in your garden, in your bed or on the train. Many people will probably describe the Switch as a handheld console with a docking station to play your games on the TV. The truth is: it is neither one, nor the other.

The difference between the Switch and something like the 3DS or even the PlayStation Vita is the hardware power of the console and the way its makers are going to support it. While 3DS and Vita most of the time got the low-fi games of the best selling franchises the Switch will be Nintendo’s flagship device. As such Nintendo put more power in it than it would have in a regular handheld and it also renounced features like Streetpass that were prominently put in their 3DS devices for the past 6 years.

But the Switch is also not your typical next gen console. To even have a chance of being portable, Nintendo’s engineers had to find a partner to supply them with relatively powerful but small CPU and GPU hardware that would also be easy to program for and be as battery friendly as possible. It found that partner with NVidia which provides a custom Tegra SoC. It’s a powerful chipset – at least 2 times as powerful than what the WiiU is with room for further improvement if early adopter developers are to be trusted – but compared to the PS4 and XO ports will probably need to be noticeably downgraded in asset quality to run well. Some are calling Nintendo out for daylight robbery because of its hardware power and price, but there is one important point that often gets forgotten: form factor. Being a console that you can take on the go the Switch is hardly 1/6 of the WiiU’s size and circa 1/25 the size of a PS4 Pro.

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The picture above shows the PS4 Pro, WiiU and Switch and shows the huge difference in size. This is of course because the Switch can be taken anywhere (a proper case is recommended) and this works beautifully. The Switch has accompanied me almost every time I left the house in the past 6 weeks (except for some jogging workout and visits at the barber because I know I never have to wait long) and I have played games like Breath of the Wild (find my review of it on artsygamer as well), Shovel Knight, Binding of Isaac and others; let me tell you this: I don’t want to take a train ride without the Switch ever again.

The JoyCon controllers work fine for me most of the time, especially using them detached from the Switch is an amazing feeling for me; something that other people might have to get used to admittedly. They can’t compete with the Pro controller though which might very well be the best gamepad I have used so far (disclaimer: I didn’t get the chance to play with the XBox One Pro Controller so far), save for the shoulder triggers which sadly are digital triggers; it would have been difficult to put analogue triggers on the JoyCons – I get it; it would have been a nice feature for racing games nevertheless.

Battery runtime is another important topic as well for portability and I am happy to report that mixing games I get 5 hours out of the Switch most of the time. While this may seem little compared to the 3DS, it actually is close to my experience with the PlayStation Vita’s battery life and somewhat remarkable compared to the battery runtime of smartphones when doing some non-stop gaming. Luckily Nintendo uses a USB type C on the Switch which allows for some cheap battery pack setups that will prolong the Switch’s life on the go easily to something around 8 to 12 hours. I have an emergency battery pack in my bag all the time (mainly because smartphones and friends who may need a quick recharge on the go) but so far never had to use it on my Switch.

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I don’t want to conceal some caveats I have with the system however. The first thing is the system’s management of space and how it doesn’t allow the user to control it. The system’s internal space is 32GB and of course not all of it is useable. The Switch can handle Micro SD cards however which means you can expand the memory by 128GB for as low as €35 (even lower if you access speed is no concern for you). But the way the Switch handles storage is annoying. If there is not Micro SD card present, the system defaults to its internal storage of course. If a Micro SD card is present, the system defaults to the Micro SD card as long as there is space. And the user has no option to transfer data from one to the other. Most of the time this is just fine but if – for example – you want to take advantage of the faster internal storage for a game like Zelda, you need to take out your Micros SD card to force Zelda to download on the system’s memory and then insert the SD card back into the system. I haven’t tried out yet how the save files are created. Of course you’ll want them on a Micro SD card because you can just backup the encrypted data on your PC, but as with the games themselfes the save data can also not be transferred between SD card and device. This means if your Switch breaks your savegames might all be lost. And since there is no cloud saving yet (more on that later) the same goes for a lost or stolen Switch.

There are also no Video On Demand service apps like Amazon or Netflix on the device yet. Reggie Fils Aime told the press that they wanted to focus on getting out a great gaming device first and that apps for the large services will come later so it doesn’t bother me too much. But in the first 4 weeks after the Switch’s release when I was roaming the wild lands of Hyrule, the only reason I turned on other consoles at all was to watch some Netflix or Amazon on them because I couldn’t on the Switch. I also think apps that allow you to download some content and then watch it on the go would be a huge boon for the Switch.

And the last point on my list is all about Nintendo’s upcoming online services. With the Switch, Nintendo will be the last console manufacturer to join the “pay for our online service”-service providers. Currently all online functionality is still free while Nintendo is seemingly still figuring out what the paid service will offer exactly and how much they will charge for it. From my experience, online gaming works pretty good so far with low latency and reasonably fast matchmaking but other than Fast RMX and the Splatoon Testfire Beta there was not much to test so far anyway. April 28th will see the release of Mario Kart 8 Deluxe which will be the first huge multiplayer title to really stress the Nintendo Network for Switch. It should hold up though since Nintendo is using Amazon’s cloud infrastructure which offers high performance and scalability. A bigger questionmark has to be put behind the free retro game offerings and additional features like cloud gamesaves. Nintendo’s plans for voice chat by smartphone app have already been dissed by a lot of players and we will need to wait what and how Nintendo will show and offer.

SWITCH_04

Conclusions: the Nintendo Switch is a device that I don’t want to miss anymore. It is not only the logical step to take for a company that needs to break away from the WiiU’s failure but also a major step forward in respect of product design and feature balance. But it’s also a device that will clearly see a lot of improvement in software short- and mid-term and probably new revisions and price cuts mid- and long-term. If you want a rating, here’s my formula for you to find out:

1. How much do you want to have a unique and new gaming hardware on a scale from -1 to 1?
2. How important is it to you being able to seamlessly switch between mobile and living room gaming on a scale from -2 to 2? -2 would be someone who is only interested in playing high profile games on their 4k TV on the sofa, 2 would be someone who is on the train every day and would love to spend more time with gaming that way.
3. How important are Nintendo games to you on a -2 to 2 scale? 2 would be someone who played Nintendo games for a long time and can’t imagine a gamer existence without them, -2 would be someone who avoids Nintendo games on every occasion.

Add the scores up and you have your personal conclusion (kind of) :) I hope you liked my impressions of the Switch, I will of course try to answer any questions in the comments. I would also love to know the score you’re coming up for the Switch.

Nintendo Switch Spec Analysis

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I’m sorry to hear this :( I was hoping Nintendo would pull of a miracle and surprise with amazing mind-blowing technology inviting hordes of 3rd party developers. Or if not technology horsepower then at least a kind of Android extension/gaming standardization to leverage it’s huge consumer pull to set a standard for gaming and increasing the audience. Seems like they’ve opted instead to go further into their niche.  The question then remains to me: how many Zelda quality games can they release per year?

I wonder if the situation could be saved if as the reviewer implies price is the only problem if they dropped the price 100$ as soon as the initial great excitement/underproduction ends. If now they’re selling as fast as they’re producing but then ramp up production and lower costs they could still create strong 3rd party developer support… but even so, the Fifa example mentioned worries me if developers can’t do multiplatform games but have to do costly custom versions.

World of Horizon Zero Dawn

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I love timelapses and always admire a world alive enough to look good in them.

 

Impressive tech. I can’t wait to see a big open-world Killzone from these devs.

Jedi Outcast – The Movie

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A long time ago, in a galaxy still owned by Lucas….

The 2nd Death Star is destroyed, the Empire is crumbling (spoilers!). A couple of (no ordinary) mercenaries are sent to investigate a remote Imperial Remnant outpost. A menial task, at best… or is it?

Anyone who’s played Star Wars Jedi Knight II: Jedi Outcast (long title, huh?) remembers the story of the morally-grey, ex-Imperial Kyle Katarn, on his path to enlightenment (only because you can’t choose the dark side in this installment). What if some Australians took it upon themselves to bring the story to the big screens?

The group has disassembled the game’s assets and gave them a modern polish, using Unreal Engine 4 for the entirety of the project (shader, animation, dialogue, camera work etc.). Some assets (such as character animations) are lifted from the KOTOR games.

Apart from the new, modern look, the group has managed to create an “asset shuffler” of sorts, allowing for varied character outfits (Jedi Academy character creator-style).

Adobe’s VoCo is expected to be used for this, and for many such other projects.

It is currently not known when exactly the movie will be released, but, according to the team, “not this year”.

Beautiful Smog

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What an atmospheric world!

Destiny’s Engine GDC Talk

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like … WOOOW… i gotta say it again. WOW!

Dissection of a GTA V frame

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http://www.adriancourreges.com/blog/2015/11/02/gta-v-graphics-study/

Fascinating for the technically curious of the magic behind the curtain.

Creating a Doom-style 3D engine in C

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Fascinating! I had wondered for ages about things like this… if only i could send this video back in time to myself about 18 years :D

SketchUp used in Uncharted 2

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I had no idea. Great to hear Robh Ruppel thinking.

Euclidion SOLIDSCAN

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Very impressive visuals. I’m a little skeptical though. Still I’m very happy to see more technical pushes away from the limitations of polygonal information and into more voxel stuff. I find their move to freely scan monuments a smart one for acquiring cool places. I wonder though how they map everything from a technical perspective. Surely somehow it’s mapped onto polygons… right? I’m particularly curious how they handle cracks and hard to see angles and probably most curious about how they handle the distant trees in a forest. My guess would be they’re somehow floating voxels in space… but our current hardware technology/consoles are so optimized towards polygonal rendering (i remember an old Carmack article where he was talking of when games/hardware could’ve taken a different direction) that changing direction so seriously might be impossibly hard. Still, it’s great to see them try!

Why the shift in creative software sales’ model may affect us for the better

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I’m quite excited. I am truly excited! No, I am deeply excited! There is a progressive shift that is happening in software sales’ model that is going to affect a lot of people: affordable or subscription-based licenses, for high-end, professional creative software in particular. I won’t go too deep into the criticisms and caveats of this shift today, but I’ll rather try to explore how it may affect the creative community, if not every creative person, in a positive manner.

More affordable, centralized, accessible tools

When Epic introduced their subscription model for the 4th generation of their Unreal Engine, I… actually could believe my eyes. But, I was facing an example of an incredible shift that’s happening in software nowadays: an engine’s source code that used to cost a million bucks was now available to anyone, for 19€ a month? If game creation in general was already accessible, with this new software generation, it is now high end, very technical creation tools that are at every single person’s fingertips.

And it’s not only Epic! On mobile devices and Mac, productivity tools and entertainment apps have shared affordable prices for a couple of years already. But more recently, this movement has started affecting the whole PC world: Steam, a mainstream gaming platform, now features professional grade creation software! It promotes innovative tools that are used on big productions like Substance, Sonar or even 3d Coat. Even the CryEngine was added to the list lately. New tools released there tend to be [relatively] cheap. And not only that, but they generally offer ergonomic User Interfaces. In other words, we’re getting strong tools, smart tools, and cheap tools centralized in a common marketplace.

I like that compact kind of environment, as it brings the developers and users closer together: Steam provides forums, articles, a newsfeed, and links to get in touch with the software authors rather quickly. In other words, we get the benefits of the social functionality of the platform. This facilitates bug reports, feature requests and other kinds of feedback.

Now, don’t get me wrong on this: Steam is far from being the best platforms for software. I would love to see the Steam Workshop and Guide features used more often to share tutorials and resources among users for example, just like it’s done in games. Content presentation isn’t always structured in the most efficient way for professional users as well, who will often favor the tool’s official website. But I do think that this broader diffusion of software represents a solid step towards open tools, accessible tools, thus smarter tools.

Subscription-based models or the promise of faster release cycles

This trend is a more recent one: to ensure user loyalty, regular revenue, and to prevent piracy, the creators of various tools are choosing more and more to use subscription-based licensing. Adobe product users have made some noise when they got forced to rent their software for a monthly fee (that rattle started in 2013, as Adobe stopped to deliver definitive licenses for all of its tools, increasing drastically licensing fees for many firms and individual users). Microsoft already does this with the Office 365 suite as well.

First of all, I do think that the accessibility in terms of pricing is once again synonym of broader communities. Those tools aren’t priced far less than before though: it is a matter of entry price point. Because the subscription is billed monthly, the cost may feel easier to handle. Only a little amount of money is being charged at a time, and the user can cancel after a month or a year if the toolset just doesn’t fit. The cloud-based licensed tools do come along with nicer packages as well: some cloud storage, a limited access to a subset of companion products… even if those features are meant to retain the user within the brand’s environment!

I do think that the steady flow of income the firm gets from it is not only healthy for it from an economic standpoint, but it forces the development team to accelerate the tool’s release cycle.  We can already see it with the Adobe tools, which get a couple of features added every 4 to 6 months (there was only a release per year before). However, I guess that users deserve to have the choice between subscribing and buying a definitive license, which is still too often not the case. But this is a topic for another article!

 

Did this trend in software sales affect the way you use your computer? Did they permit you to get new tools to express your creativity with? Don’t hesitate to share your experience with us and everyone in the comments below! We are always glad to get in touch with you.

You can also message me directly on social networks (facebook, twitter or google plus)!

Unreal Engine 4 Features Trailer

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Exciting tools. Can’t wait for the great artwork games of the future!

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