Great news for gamers that needs to be celebrated!

June 26, 2013 Comments off

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Hi readers! Welcome to LostHammer and thanks for coming to visit with us!

I have an observation that I think bears consideration and celebration in our industry, one that is very easy to skim over and forget about, but one that really will be a gigantic boon to all of us, developer and gamer alike.

This secret sauce is : x86 platform becoming the de-facto standard for serious gaming!

Think about the history of gaming overall, it’s been dominated by drastically varying platforms and architectures. Even when more than one system used the same CPU, a lot of times there were wildly different special supplemental chips to consider which were crucial to making games for the platform. Well, all of that is about to go out the window in a big way!

With the current-gen stuff, you had :

PC with x86 CPU / Direct3D / OpenGL + Varying GPUs

Playstation 3 with Cell CPU + Nvidia GPU

Xbox 360 with IBM Xenon CPU + ATI Xenos GPU

What did all of this mean for developers? To start with, to do things right they had to take into consideration their weakest target platform when planning development, as being too ambitious with the design might make their plans impossible otherwise. Following that, they had to allocate very significant resources into merely getting the title ported to work correctly on each platform, even before any optimizations were undertaken. As far as optimizations, this was another round of expenses and delays, to get the title working optimally on the target platform. For gamers, this meant that there were often delays in getting versions of the titles they wanted released, and that in the $50-$60 that they spent on that title, a decent chunk of that money actually went into the resources necessary to even port the title. Lastly, less ‘proven’ titles, or entries from smaller publishers might not even see releases on multiple platforms due to the obstacles in expense and manpower.

Unification to the rescue!

What we have now moving forward with the Playstation 4, Xbox One, and PC gaming platforms is a dramatic improvement at every level. Both the PS4 and XboxOne have hardware in the exact same families and generations even, and all of it is made up of variants of ordinary PC gaming lineups. There remain differences in capability, and some unique oddball considerations such as Xbox One’s 32MB embedded cache (which remains, sadly, too small and too slow to compete with GDDR5 for top-tier 3D performance), but by and large, one can very easily develop for all of these platforms with a minimum of effort in contrast to the current status quo.

The Playstation 3 was a prime example in the negatives of having a very unique system architecture. Although a handful of titles such as Uncharted 3, The Last of Us, and so on do show the PS3’s full capabilities, far too many are simply disappointing, and this shows most clearly in cross-platform ports. Even the Xbox 360 was fairly unique in it’s own rights, however it was indisputably easier to produce titles on by comparison, and closer to the PC in terms of being able to port over easily.

Both the Xbox 360 and especially the Playstation 3 also held up game development due to their very limiting RAM setups. Even for 2005/2006, 512MB of total memory was already becoming quickly obsolete in the PC gaming world. Even taking into consideration the large overhead of the Windows operating system and APIs such as DirectX, there was still a lot more RAM to work with on PCs. This led to many PC titles showing enormous capability when coded to take full advantage of high end hardware, but much more often what happened were terrible ‘consolized’ ports that were written for systems with tiny amounts of memory, and with barely an effort at all to give PC gamers the advanced modeling/AI/maps/content that their systems were truly capable of achieving.

With the move to 8GB, these consoles are much further ahead of the curve in contrast to the 360/PS3 were at launch, even as their CPU/GPUs are somewhat weaker in the big picture compared to those days. At launch, the 360 and PS3 had GPU power that rivaled the best gaming systems out there, and only eclipsed by super expensive PCs. This time around, the GPU power in the new consoles is a bit more sedate. Still, with the large system ram and hugely updated graphics power, games should look amazing on the new consoles by comparison to PS3/360.

Perhaps the largest bonus, depending on how they roll this into their business models, will be in the reduced costs of porting titles across platforms for the developers. Now, the same budget will allow for a lot less time worrying about system X, Y, and Z, and this will shave dollars, labor expenses, and scheduling allocations out of the equation. Not only will this make more multiplatform titles almost inevitable, but it will make developers more profitable. To a team given the same amount of resources, this should enable a better final product. Instead of spending a huge amount of time optimizing for other systems and architectures, much more time can be spent making a good GAME.

This is great news for everybody. The only outlier in this regard is the Wii U, which remains on non-x86 hardware. This bodes poorly for cross-platform gaming on the WiiU moving forward, but Nintendo above all should be able to rely heavily on top-quality 1st party titles as long as they can move them along. If they get at least one full-fledged Mario/Zelda/Kart/Metroid/Smash/etc every 3-4 months at the longest, they will stay in the game as a very vibrant 3rd place. If they drop the ball, or try too much filler such as the Windwalker remake (hardly a Nintendo gamer alive wouldn’t MUCH rather see an actual new Zelda adventure before they re-skin an old title!), they may find themselves in trouble.

All in all, we’re in for a unique generation, and the potential to have the best gaming lineups in history! Thanks for reading, and comments and feedback are always appreciated!

A funny but brutal commentary on the Xbox One DRM reversal. (NSFW Language)

June 25, 2013 Leave a comment

Youtube personality and overall hilariously awesome guy AlphaOmegaSin has a reaction to the Microsoft’s policy changes regarding their new console. Definitely worth a watch 🙂

 

Wii U thoughts, facing off against Xbox One and Playstation 4!

June 23, 2013 3 comments

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Hi readers! It’s been great getting the feedback from the last few posts, and now it’s time to dive into the WiiU.

As someone most known for being a Nintendo champion, one might expect me to have a pretty positive opinion on the newest flagship Nintendo console. Overall the answer is yes, though I really have to explain the reasons why, as well as some issues I have with it. Let’s boil it down into separate sections!

Hardware and History

The Wii U is an oddball in every sense of the word. Compared to the Playstation 3 and Xbox 360, it’s fairly competitive, and even leads them in many crucial ways. If the Wii U had launched instead of the original Wii, it would have made for a very interesting race back in those days. It’s important to realize that Nintendo nearly universally designs consoles to be profitable from the start on a unit-by-unit basis, and has never pushed hardware specs to the limit. This has worked fairly well for them, and the proof is in the profits and respect from longtime gamers. They have some problems though, and that is perception amongst the newer generation of gamers that look at them as childish compared to Xbox and Playstation. There is a serious number of people who dismiss Nintendo as a children’s-only company.

While I agree that Nintendo has a very family-oriented focus, I don’t really see this as a really true criticism. While there may always be something ‘cooler’ than playing Nintendo titles, things like Halo, Call of Duty, etc, tend to come and go over the years, with older titles becoming very stale and not much worth replaying, even ancient Nintendo first-party titles are ludicrously fun with tons of depth. Fire up Super Mario Bros. 3 for a great example. The NES was about as powerful as a pocket calculator, and the CPU wasn’t even 5(!!) MHz, but that game has insane amounts of depth, deft playcontrol, and sublime level and character design. By and large, this has remained true through the years, with some lesser outings along the way, but the overall quality of 1st-party Nintendo titles is VERY high.
Getting back to the hardware for a moment, there is plenty of power on tap to make for some great games. Theoretically cross-platform titles from 360/PS3 should look and play great, but there are some problems with expecting those. For one, the kind of gamers looking for those titles aren’t usually looking for those titles ON a Nintendo console these days. Secondly, it’s a bit late in the current-gen battle to expect many great releases with the devs shifting almost exclusively towards new releases on PS4/Xbox One. Thirdly, with the new PS4/XB1 using X86 and AMD GCN technology along with 8GB of memory, cross-platforming against those guys will mean HUGE amounts of developer work and expense, and it’s just unlikely to expect that moving forward.

In retrospect, I would have preferred somewhat if Nintendo made the ‘tablet’ an option (or simply used 3DS instead), and put those resources into making the CPU/GPU/Memory a little more stout. I guess it’s not a huge deal in the end considering that the existing power will be more than enough to have some great Mario/Zelda/Smash/etc on there, but it’s a thought, and a crucial key in what to NOT expect. Don’t expect many big next-gen titles to show up from PS4/XBox One. That’s okay, they won’t have Mario/Zelda and company 😉

Price

With prices varying from $299 to $349 commonly for the current sets, I have a hard time recommending them as an investment right this minute when the current small library is concerned. I expect a price drop, and perhaps some great new bundles this fall however. Perhaps something like a $229 16GB SKU, along with a drop to $269 or so for the 32GB. This is purely a guess, but prices around there along with a bundled game or two, and of course, more GAMES in the library, will make this pretty attractive to us long-time fans of the Nintendo franchise titles.

The Games

Currently we have a side scrolling Mario which is pretty fun, Zombie U, Monster Hunter 3, and a handful of others, but things are about to get a lot better :

Super Mario 3d World

Super Luigi U

Zelda Windwalker HD Remake

Mario Kart 8

Super Smash Bros

Brand new Zelda

Pikmin 3

Donkey Kong Country

Rayman Legends

Earthbound

Scribblenauts DC Comics

So, a pretty cool lineup of stuff. If they can keep their price point competitive, and keep their legacy as always having fun titles for all ages, it can be a vibrant and fun platform for years to come. The Wii sold a ton of consoles due to the initial hype, but I think a lot of the buyers simply used the Wii Fit or a handful of games and never went further. WiiU doesn’t have to set sales records to be a profitable platform and a fun place to go for titles that you can’t find anywhere else. If you already have a 360 or PS3, and don’t yet have a Wii or WiiU, it might be worth picking one of these up instead for a lot less than a PS4/XB1, and you can enjoy a great number of fantastic Wii and WiiU titles while waiting for some of the dust to settle on those new consoles. If there’s anything I’ve learned over the years on consoles, it’s that waiting for the platforms to mature and for more games to show up along with revisions and price drops, it’s always rewarding. Comments and feedback always appreciated!

Viking Fury : A review of Valhalla Rising

June 21, 2013 Comments off

Valhalla Rising is a 2009 film from director Nicolas Winding Refn, who also penned the script along with a relative unknown by the name of Roy Jacobsen. Nicolas Refn is a quickly rising star on the critical and commercial success of the film ‘Drive’, currently in theatres.

This film really is a world apart. Let me first say that this isn’t for everyone by any means. This is a gritty, brutal, sparse, and phenomonally beautiful piece of work. You could probably fit the entire dialogue of the film on a single typewritten page or two, and there are only a few moments of any significant action. If you’re prepared for it, it’s truly a monumental achievement as a film.

The story, for what it is, follows the mute Viking slave known only as ‘One Eye’, who in the opening sequence is shown to possess such qualities of violence and fortitude that he seems hewn from the same craggly rocks and severeness of the very landscape that he inhabits. He does not celebrate, he does not mourn, he simply exists as a silent and resolute testament to the strength of his own will. As he moves through the story, he is drawn by a series of visions towards his destiny, and the sheer magnitude of his character is the undeniable center of the world in which the others revolve around. He is said to have been raised up from hell, and that’s where he aims to return.

The photography is absolutely stunning, the direction impeccable, and the music highly effective. The performances didn’t have any flaws that I noticed whatsoever. There are many scenes and indeed portions of the film with no dialogue at all, it simply is almost a dreamscape that is inhabited by these disparate and mostly violent souls. One can interpret certain elements a number of different ways, and it’s a testament to the skill of Nicolas Refn that this all comes together and works as well as it does.

I can imagine that this was a hard sell, and indeed it never saw a real theatrical release. Without a doubt this is not for everyone, I can’t stress enough that this is NOT a typical film by any measure. Think of it as a two hour exercise in the art of film, and do not expect any conventional elements.

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I rate the film 10/10 for me personally, which aside from Casablanca, Citizen Kain, and Schindler’s List, I have never considered a film utterly perfect as what it was. For most viewers however, I would imagine a much lower reaction, as this couldn’t be more opposite of what dominates the box office.

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ScrewAttack Gaming Convention with Patrick Scott Patterson and Ben Gold!

June 21, 2013 Leave a comment

Hi all!

I’m headed to the 2013 ScrewAttack Gaming Convention later this afternoon. It runs through this weekend Friday, Saturday, and Sunday at the Hyatt Regency in Downtown Dallas, Texas.

I will appear as a guest on a panel featuring the great Patrick Scott Patterson and historic gaming champion Ben Gold. You should check out the SAGC website at http://www.sgconvention.com/ and always check in to see the great stuff cooking and attitudin’ at http://www.patrickscottpatterson.com

PSP

Ben Gold with BM and WD

Ben Gold with BM and WD

Another angle on next-gen predictions: Microsoft will survive, but Sony will still win this battle.

June 20, 2013 2 comments

Originally, I posted the bulk of this as a reply to LOSTHAMMER’s Next-Gen Predictions post on facebook, but the MIGHTY THOR has requested that I ‘reblog’ here, and I am honored to do so.  🙂  As I’ve never posted here or on blogs before, to introduce myself, my name is Chris Tang.  Where Thor is well-known for being the Nintendo World Champion, I am the somewhat lesser-known SEGA World Champion, having won their world tour and $25,000+ Championships held at Alcatraz and televised on MTV in 1994.  (I was also the Los Angeles NWC Champion, and came in 8th in the grand finals for those wondering).  I’m also a 20+ year veteran in the game industry and worked at companies like Atari, Capcom, and BPS along the way, having contributed to games and franchises such as Primal Rage, Street Fighter III, Street Fighter Alpha, Resident Evil, Marvel Vs. Capcom, Transformers, and Tetris.  Nice to meet you all!

TV Stole Your Memory

Thor’s post on the next-gen predictions is an amazing read – the most comprehensive article on system specs and capabilities I’ve read thus far, before or after the “Xbox 180” of yesterday, in which Microsoft reversed their draconian DRM and daily check in requirements for the system to function. (Wait, was that really just a day ago?) The only thing I found to be missing, was the issue of the Xbox One’s RAM usage in regards to system overhead. We know the RAM in the PS4 is faster than the Xbox One, but one major issue of concern is that due to Kinect 2 and the fancy-schmancy tuner system, the XBOne’s OS takes up a whopping 3GB of that RAM, leaving 5GB or less for developers to actually run the game on. While I don’t have the exact number for the PS4 – it suffers from no such overhead limitation and thus, is more developer-friendly. Also, the PS4’s DDR5 memory is unified so that it can be used for either graphics or the CPU – a unique ability that can lead to some optimizations and future features – providing a potential performance edge that not even PC games can currently utilize.

The First Year

My prediction is that starting out the gate, Microsoft will be at a slight disadvantage due to the $100 price difference, the publicized difference of specs, and of course – the loss of brand trust due to the whole DRM fiasco. There’s also people’s mistrust and apathy towards the “required” aspect of the Kinect sensor, which is one of the last glaring issues Microsoft has to address to get on more equal footing with Sony.  I don’t think the gap will be even remotely as big as it could have been if they kept the anti-consumer policies in place, but they are now at least a contender if they play their cards right.

The Seeds of a Stronger Library Have Already Been Planted

For the future beyond the console’s launch year, if I were to put money on a platform with what I know now, I would still bet on Sony. Here’s why… The seeds have been planted in minds – especially at E3 – that the PS4 is more developer-friendly, and has better specs. If a talented developer has the means to make a game on either or both platforms, they will likely choose PS4 due to those factors and larger userbase resulting from Sony’s lower price point.  Add to that, Sony’s embracing of indie developers; giving them the means to self-publish makes makes releasing a game possible on PS4 while it may not be economically viable otherwise. Result: the first generation of indie devs will become more comfortable and friendly with PS4 as their platform of choice. What happens to successful indie developers? They can BECOME successful AAA developers, case in point, Media Molecule – the developers of Ragdoll Kung Fu, Little Big Planet, and the upcoming Tearaway. Unless Microsoft finds, then outright buys, pays, or supports promising indies directly, those up and coming stars of the next-next generation will plan to launch their creativity on PS4, not the Xbox One.  As an indie developer myself (despite my lengthy career having started at AAA companies), the choice for the current platform is a no-brainer.  A year from now, the developer preference will most greatly affect the indie selection of offerings, but in 3 or 4 years it will begin to affect the main library as the talent blooms, grows, and evolves. Microsoft’s insistence on publisher-publishing and outrageous fees for title updates compound this problem that may compromise their game library’s quality and diversity down the road.

You Need to be the Target Platform

The difference in hardware power may not seem like much on paper, but given what happened last generation where the more-difficult-to-develop-for PS3 often produced inferior versions of the same game despite the potential of the system, it is now more crucial than ever to be the “target platform”.  Despite what first party console makers may have you believe, multi-platform games DO matter, and not all versions of a multi-platform game are created equal.  The repercussions of not being the target platform can be deadly, as the system that sells less software units can easily become a dumping ground for “bad ports”.  As we saw in the last generation, secondary platform SKU’s often suffer from low framerates and much less polish and optimization from those that are the target. Publishers tend to show their best SKU off the most, and sweep their quasimodo ugly version under the rug, only to have those flaws revealed by irate customer reviews upon release.  This problem tends to multiply itself as gamers who own both platforms generally buy the better performing version, leading to lower sales for the other; lower potential sales means a lower priority for developers and publishers.  With PS4’s better specs, lower price = larger userbase, and more generous development policies, the roles for this generation may be reversed; Sony is in the perfect position to claim primary SKU status for the upcoming console generation. The difference in quality may become more apparent as the systems mature, when higher development costs invoke the “bad ports” phenomenon.  At some point it becomes economically unviable to spend the extra resources to make the lesser-selling or more difficult to develop version perform up to standards.

A Winner is You

I am very happy that Microsoft reversed their DRM policies, and I can say with confidence that I will own both platforms eventually.  Competition is a good thing, and even though I feel Microsoft is at a disadvantage – and deservedly so for attempting such offensive anti-consumer tactics – I’m glad they survived.  Even if the Xbox brand loses in this generation, they now have a chance to come back in the next hardware generation. Sony learned from the mistakes they made when they launched the PS3, and now it is Microsoft’s turn to regroup.  This epic battle between brands has been unlike anything seen before in the game industry – or any industry for that matter.  We saw the creation of evil, heard the plight of the masses, and saw a champion rise to the cheers of the people.  What happened here has taught the industry an important lesson and gives players an unprecedented voice, the likes of which have never been heard.  The future is promising, and it is empowering to know that as players and consumers, we can make a difference.

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An update on the supposed ‘Family Plan’ on Xbox One

June 20, 2013 Comments off

An update on the supposed ‘Family Plan’ on Xbox One

There was some outcry over the Microsoft Xbox One ‘180’ on DRM, which cancelled the ‘family sharing plan’ where up to 10 users could digitally share titles. I had already said that it probably wasn’t anywhere near as good as it was made out to be. This looks to absolutely confirm those suspicions. Gamers win. Xbox fans win.