Intel has released details of its next -generation Xeon Phi processor and it is starting to look like Intel is gunning for a chunk of Nvidia’s GPU market.
According to a briefing from Avinash Sodani, Knights Landing Chief Architect at Intel, a product update by Hugo Saleh, Marketing Director of Intel’s Technical Computing Group, an interactive technical Q&A and a lab demo of a Knights Landing system running on an Intel reference-design system, Nvidia could be Intel’s target.
Knights Landing and prior Phi products are leagues apart and more flexible for a wider range of uses. Unlike more specialized processors, Intel describes Knights Landing as taking a “holistic approach” to new breakthrough applications.
The current generation Phi design, which operates as a coprocessor, Knights Landing incorporates x86 cores and can directly boot and run standard operating systems and application code without recompilation.
The test system had socketed CPU and memory modules was running a stock Linux distribution. A modified version of the Atom Silvermont x86 cores formed a Knights Landing ’tile’ which was the chip’s basic design unit consisting of dual x86 and vector execution units alongside cache memory and intra-tile mesh communication circuitry.
Each multi-chip package includes a processor with 30 or more tiles and eight high-speed memory chips.
Intel said the on-package memory, totaling 16GB, is made by Micron with custom I/O circuitry and might be a variant of Micron’s announced, but not yet shipping Hybrid Memory Cube.
The high-speed memory is similar to the DDR5 devices used on GPUs like Nvidia’s Tesla.
It looks like Intel saw that Nvidia was making great leaps into the high performance arena with its GPU and thought “I’ll be having some of that.”
The internals of a GPU and Xeon Phi are different, but share common ideas.
Nvidia has a big head start. It has already announced the price and availability of a Titan X development box designed for researchers exploring GPU applications to deep learning. Intel has not done that yet for Knights Landing systems.
But Phi is also a hybrid that includes dozens of full-fledged 64-bit x86 cores. This could make it better at some parallelizable application categories that use vector calculations.
TSMC is reportedly getting the majority of Apple A9 orders, which would be a big coup for the company.
An Asian brokerage firm released a research note, claiming that disputes over the number of Apple A9 orders from TSMC and Samsung are “coming to an end.”
The unnamed brokerage firm said TSMC will gain more orders due to its superior yield-ramp and “manufacturing excellence in mass-production.”
This is not all, as the firm also claims TSMC managed to land orders for all Apple A9X chipsets, which will power next generation iPads. With the A9X, TSMC is expected to supply about 70 percent of all Apple A9-series chips, reports Focus Taiwan.
While Samsung managed to beat other mobile chipmakers (and TSMC), and roll out the first SoC manufactured on a FinFET node, TSMC is still in the game. The company is already churning out 16nm Kirin 930 processors for Huawei, and it’s about to get a sizable chunk of Apple’s business.
TSMC should have no trouble securing more customers for its 16FF process, which will be supplemented by the superior 16FF+ process soon. In addition, TSMC is almost certain to get a lot of business from Nvidia and AMD once their FinFET GPUs are ready.
One of the hottest things we learned at the Mobile World Congress is that MediaTek is working with AMD on mobile SoC graphics.
This is a big deal for both companies, as this means that AMD is getting back into the ultra-low power graphics market, while MediaTek might finally get faster graphics and gain more appeal in the high end segment. The choice of ARM Mali or Imaginations Technologies GPUs is available for anyone, but as most of you know Qualcomm has its own in-house Adreno graphics, while Nvidia uses ultra-low power Maxwell GPUs for its latest SoCs.
Since Nvidia exited the mobile phone business, it is now a two horse race between the ever dominant Qualcomm and fast growing MediaTek. The fact that MediaTek will get AMD graphics just adds fuel to the fire.
We have heard that key AMD graphics people are in continuous contact with MediaTek and that they have been working on an SoC graphics solution for a while.
MediaTek can definitely benefit from faster graphics, as the recently pictured tablet SoC MT8173 powered by two Cortex-A72 clocked up to 2.4GHz and two Cortex-A53 has PowerVR GX6250 graphics (two clusters). The most popular tablet chip Appel’s A8X has PowerVR Series 6XT GXA6850 (octa-core) which should end up significantly faster, but at the same time significantly more expensive.
MediaTek MT6795 a 28nm eight-core with a 2.2GHz clock and PowerVR G6200 GPU at 700 MHz, which is 100 MHz faster than one we tested on the Meizu MX4, which was one of the fastest SoCs until Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 810 came out in late February.
AMD and MediaTek declined to comment this upcoming partnership, but our industry sources know that they both have been working on new graphics for future chips that will be announced at a later date. It’s cool to see that AMD will return to this market, especially as the company sold of its Imageon graphics back in 2009 – for a lousy $65 million to Qualcomm. Imageon by ATI was the foundation for Adreno graphics.
We have been reassured some 18 months ago by some AMD senior graphics people, that “AMD didn’t forget how to make good ultra-low power graphics” and we guess that this cooperation proves that.
AMD Liquid VR is not a retail product – it is an initiative to develop and deliver the best Virtual Reality (VR) experience in the industry.
AMD Liquid VR was announced at the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco, and the company describes it is a “set of innovative technologies focused on enabling exceptional VR content development” for hardware based on AMD silicon.
Developers will soon get access to the LiquidVR SDK, which will help them address numerous issues associated with VR development.
Platform and software rather than hardware
If you were expecting to see a sexy AMD VR headset with a killer spec, the announcement may be disappointing. However, if you are a “what’s under the bonnet” kind of geek, there are a few interesting highlights.
AMD has put a lot of effort into minimising motion-to-photon latency, which should not only help improve the experience, but also keep you from experiencing motion sickness, or hurling over that new carpet that really ties the room together.
Headline features of LiquidVR SDK 1.0 include:
Async Shaders for smooth head-tracking enabling Hardware-Accelerated Time Warp, a technology that uses updated information on a user’s head position after a frame has been rendered and then warps the image to reflect the new viewpoint just before sending it to a VR headset, effectively minimizing latency between when a user turns their head and what appears on screen.
Affinity Multi-GPU for scalable rendering, a technology that allows multiple GPUs to work together to improve frame rates in VR applications by allowing them to assign work to run on specific GPUs. Each GPU renders the viewpoint from one eye, and then composites the outputs into a single stereo 3D image. With this technology, multi-GPU configurations become ideal for high performance VR rendering, delivering high frame rates for a smoother experience.
Latest data latch for smooth head-tracking, a programming mechanism that helps get head tracking data from the head-mounted display to the GPU as quickly as possible by binding data as close to real-time as possible, practically eliminating any API overhead and removing latency.
Direct-to-display for intuitively attaching VR headsets, to deliver a seamless plug-and-play virtual reality experience from an AMD Radeon™ graphics card to a connected VR headset, while enabling features such as booting directly to the display or using extended display features within Windows.
You can grab the full AMD LiquidVR presentation here. (pdf)
What’s next for LiquidVR?
It all depends on what you were expecting, and what the rest of the industry does. AMD hopes LiquidVR will be compatible with a broad range of VR devices. LiquidVR will allow hardware makers to implement AMD technology in their products with relative ease, enabling 100Hz refresh rates, the use of individual GPUs per each eye and so on.
To a certain extent, you can think of LiquidVR as FreeSync for VR kit.
Oculus CEO Brendan Irbe said achieving presence in a virtual world is one of the most important elements needed to deliver a good user experience.
He explained where AMD comes in:
“We’re excited to have AMD working with us on their part of the latency equation, introducing support for new features like asynchronous timewarp and late latching, and compatibility improvements that ensure that Oculus’ users have a great experience on AMD hardware.”
Raja Koduri, corporate vice president, Visual Computing, AMD, said content, comfort and compatibility are the cornerstones of AMD’s focus on VR.
AMD’s resident graphics guru said:
“With LiquidVR we’re collaborating with the ecosystem to unlock solutions to some of the toughest challenges in VR and giving the keys to developers of VR content so that they can bring exceptional new experiences to life.”
A picture is worth a thousand words, so here’s 3300 frames of AMD’s virtual reality vision.
It looks like the Mantle API developed by AMD is slowly reaching its end of its useful life.
Mantle has apparently served its purpose as a bridge between DirectX 11 and DirectX 12 and AMD is starting to tell new developers to focus their attention on DirectX and GLnext.
Raja Koduri, the Vice President of Visual and Perceptual Computing at AMD said in a blog post:
The Mantle SDK also remains available to partners who register in this co-development and evaluation program. However, if you are a developer interested in Mantle “1.0″ functionality, we suggest that you focus your attention on DirectX® 12 or GLnextGLnext.
This doesn’t mean a quick death for Mantle. AMD suggest it will support its partners and that there are still titles to come with support for Mantle. Battlefield Hardline is one of them and it’s a big one.
Back in November AMD announced a Mantle update, telling the world that there are four engines and 20+ launched or upcoming titles, and 10 developers publically announced their support for Mantle.
There are close to 100 registered developers in the Mantle beta program. The Frostbite 3 engine (Battlefield Hardline), CryEngine (Crysis series), Nitrous Engine (Star Citizen) and Asura Engine (Sniper elite) currently have support for Mantle. Some top games including Thief and Sid Meir’s Civilization Beyond Earth also support Mantle.
AMD will tell developers a bit more about Mantle at the Game Developers Conference 15 that starts today in San Francisco and will talk more about its definitions of an open platform. The company will also tackle on new capabilities beyond draw calls and it will remain there for the people who are already part of the Mantle program.
However, AMD suggests new partners should look the other way and focus on alternatives. When we spoke with Raja and a few other people from AMD over the last few quarters, we learned that Mantle was never supposed to take on DirectX 12. You should look at Mantle as AMD’s wish list, that’s what AMD wanted and needed before Microsoft was ready to introduce DirectX 12. Mantle as a low-level rending API and keep in in mind that it came almost two years before DirectX 12.
The Battlefield 4 Mantle patch came in February 2014 roughly a year ago and it showed a significant performance increase on supported hardware. Battlefield Hardline is the next big game to support Mantle and it comes in two weeks. CryEngine also supports Mantle, but we will have to wait and see if the support will ever translate into an actual game with Mantle support.
Spotted by GforGames site, in a GeekBench test results and running inside an unknown smartphone, MediaTek’s MT6795 managed to score 886 points in the single-core test and 4536 points in the multi-core test. These results were enough to put it neck to neck with the mighty Qualcomm Snapdragon 810 SoC tested in the LG G Flex 2, which scored 1144 points in the single-core and 4345 in the multi-core test. While it did outrun the MT6795 in the single-core test, the multi-core test was clearly not kind on the Snapdragon 810.
The unknown device was running on Android Lollipop OS and packed 3GB of RAM, which might gave the MT6795 an edge over the LG G Flex 2.
MediaTek’s octa-core MT6795 was announced last year and while we are yet to see some of the first design wins, recent rumors suggested that it could be powering Meizu’s MX5, HTC’s Desire A55 and some other high-end smartphones. The MediaTek MT6795 is a 64-bit octa-core SoC clocked at up to 2.2GHz, with four Cortex-A57 cores and four Cortex-A53 cores. It packs PowerVR G6200 graphics, supports LPDDR3 memory and can handle 2K displays at up to 120Hz.
As we are just a few days from Mobile World Congress (MWC) 2015 which will kick off in Barcelona on March 2nd, we are quite sure that we will see more info as well as more benchmarks as a single benchmark running on an unknown smartphone might not be the best representation of performance, it does show that MediaTek certainly has a good chip and can compete with Qualcomm and Samsung.
A potential NASA mission to Jupiter’s moon Europa may end up hunting for signs of life on the icy, ocean-harboring world.
NASA officials have asked scientists to consider ways that a Europa mission could search for evidence of alien life in the plumes of water vapor that apparently blast into space from Europa’s south polar region.
These plumes, which NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope spotted in December 2012, provide a possible way to sample Europa’s ocean of liquid water, which is buried beneath the moon’s icy shell, researchers say. [Photos: Europa, Mysterious Icy Moon of Jupiter]
“This is our chance” to investigate whether or not life exists on Europa, NASA science chief John Grunsfeld said here Wednesday (Feb. 18) during a Europa plume workshop at the agency’s Ames Research Center in Silicon Valley. “I just hope we don’t miss this opportunity for lack of ideas.”
NASA has been working on Europa mission concepts for years. Indeed, last July, agency officials asked scientists around the world to propose instruments that could fly aboard a Europa-studying spacecraft.
The quest to explore the 1,900-mile-wide (3,100 kilometers) moon got on firmer ground earlier this month when the White House allocated $30 million in its fiscal year 2016 budget request to formulate a Europa mission. (NASA was allocated a total of $18.5 billion in the request, which must still be approved by Congress.)
NASA is zeroing in on a flyby mission design, something along the lines of a long-studied concept called the Europa Clipper. As currently envisioned, Clipper would travel to Jupiter orbit, then make 45 flybys of Europa over 3.5 years, at altitudes ranging from 16 miles to 1,700 miles (25 km to 2,700 km).
The $2.1 billion mission would study Europa’s subsurface ocean, giving researchers a better understanding of the water’s depth, salinity and other characteristics. The probe would also measure and map the moon’s ice shell, returning data that would be useful for a future mission to the Europan surface.
And now, it appears, NASA would like to add plume sampling to the Europa mission’s task list, if possible. Grunsfeld urged workshop attendees to “think outside the box” and come up with feasible ways to study the moon’s plumes.
If one such idea could be incorporated into the upcoming mission, so much the better. After all, the earliest that Clipper (or whatever variant ultimately emerges) could blast off for Europa is 2022 — and, using currently operational rockets, the craft wouldn’t arrive in the Jupiter system until 2030, Grunsfeld pointed out. (Use of NASA’s Space Launch System megarocket, which is still in development, would cut the travel time significantly.)
And there’s no telling when NASA will be able to go back to Europa. (Europe is developing its own mission called the Jupiter Icy Moon Explorer, which is scheduled to launch in 2022 to study Europa and two other Jovian satellites, Ganymede and Callisto.)
Grunsfeld stressed that he and other NASA higher-ups aren’t pushing to turn Clipper into a plume-centric project; the core goals of the Europa mission will remain centered on assessing the moon’s ability to support life, whatever comes out of the Ames workshop. But he doesn’t want the plume opportunity to slip away for want of effort or focus.
“I don’t want to be sitting in my rocking chair 20 years from now and think, ‘We should have done something,’” Grunsfeld, a former NASA astronaut who helped repair and service Hubble on three separate space shuttle missions, told Space.com at the workshop.
A probe such as Clipper could zoom through the plume, which may rise as high as 125 miles (200 km) above Europa’s surface; the probe could snag material using an aerogel collector, some workshop presenters said. The basic idea was demonstrated by NASA’s Stardust mission, which returned particles of the Comet Wild 2 to Earth in January 2006.
Researchers would of course love to analyze bits of Europa material in well-equipped labs here on Earth, but bringing samples back is likely beyond the scope of the flyby mission currently under consideration. And it may be possible to detect biomolecules onsite, using gear aboard a Clipper-like probe, researchers say.
For example, spotting a set of amino acids that all display the same chirality, or handedness, in plume material would be strong evidence of Europan life, astrobiologist Chris McKay, of NASA Ames, said at the workshop. (Here on Earth, all life uses “left-handed” versions of amino acids, rather than “right-handed” ones.)
“If you get 20 amino acids, all with the same chirality, that would be, I think, compelling,” McKay said, adding that spacecraft such as NASA’s Mars rover Curiosity and Europe’s Rosetta comet probe have the ability to determine chirality in sample molecules.
But collecting enough plume material to perform such analyses will likely prove extremely challenging. Indeed, it may require flying so low and so slowly that it makes more sense to send a lander down to the Europa surface through the plume, said astrobiologist Kevin Hand of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.
And all of this discussion assumes that the spacecraft will be able to find the water vapor when it gets to Europa. At the moment, the plume remains unconfirmed; scientists have pointed Hubble at Europa repeatedly since the initial December 2012 detection, but have come up empty in attempts to spot it again.
So, if the plume exists, it is apparently sporadic or episodic, not continuous like the powerhouse geysers that erupt from the south pole of Saturn’s icy moon Enceladus. (If Europa’s plumes are continuous, they must usually be fairly weak, ratcheting up to levels detectable by Hubble only occasionally.)
The plume discovery team plans a number of additional Hubble observations through May of this year. NASA officials, and much of the planetary science community, are eagerly awaiting the results.
It would appear that the world is rushing to Nvidia to buy its latest GPU at the expense of AMD.
According to the data, NVIDIA and AMD each took dramatic swings from Q4 of 2013 to Q4 of 2014 with Nvidia increasing its market share over AMD by 20 per cent and AMD’s market share has dropped from 35 per cent at the end of 2013 to just 24 per cent at the end of 2014.
Meanwhile, Nvidia has gonr from 64.9 per cent at the end of 2013 to 76 per cent at the end of 2014.
The report JPR’s AIB Report looks at computer add-in graphics boards, which carry discrete graphics for desktop PCs, workstations, servers, and other devices such as scientific instruments.
In all cases, AIBs represent the higher end of the graphics industry using discrete chips and private high-speed memory, as compared to the integrated GPUs in CPUs that share slower system memory.
On a year-to-year basis, total AIB shipments during the quarter fell by 17.52 per cent , which is more than desktop PCs, which fell by 0.72 percent .
However, in spite of the overall decline, somewhat due to tablets and embedded graphics, the PC gaming momentum continues to build and is the bright spot in the AIB market.
The overall PC desktop market increased quarter-to-quarter including double-attach-the adding of a second (or third) AIB to a system with integrated processor graphics-and to a lesser extent, dual AIBs in performance desktop machines using either AMD’s Crossfire or Nvidia’s SLI technology.
The attach rate of AIBs to desktop PCs declined from a high of 63 per cent in Q1 2008 to 36 per cent this quarter.
So in other words It is also clear that the Radeon R9 285 release didn’t have the impact AMD had hoped and NVIDIA’s Maxwell GPUs, the GeForce GTX 750 Ti, GTX 970 and GTX 980 have impacted the market even more than expected.
This is ironic because the GTX 970 has been getting a lot of negative press with the memory issue and AMD makes some good gear, has better pricing and a team of PR and marketing folks that are talented and aggressive.
Today the company is hosting its first-ever mobile developer conference. The daylong event in San Francisco shows the company wants to develop lucrative relationships with developers and put mobile at the center of its turnaround effort.
The event will feature talks by top Yahoo executives, including CEO Marissa Mayer, and deep dives into Yahoo’s technology services for mobile apps. A critical part of those services is Flurry, a mobile analytics and advertising company Yahoo acquired last year. Flurry tracks more than 600,000 apps worldwide, providing information on app performance and users that can aid in ad targeting.
Yahoo needs that data to kickstart its sluggish ad business, especially on mobile devices.
During the show, Yahoo executives will try to sell third-party developers on the value of using Flurry. They will also promote Yahoo Gemini, the company’s platform for mobile advertising, and BrightRoll, a digital video advertising platform the company also acquired last year.
It’s a multi-pronged strategy, and the pieces are still coming together. But by encouraging more outside developers to use Yahoo’s services, Yahoo hopes to gain valuable information about how people use mobile apps.
That information could help Yahoo do its job. “We can help advertisers find the right audience they’re looking for, target the ads they want to target, using strong data from Yahoo, and find users wherever they are, on or off Yahoo,” Mayer said last week during the Goldman Sachs Technology and Internet Conference in San Francisco.
And if Yahoo can freshen its appeal to outside software developers and build new partnerships with them, then all the better.
“Yahoo is working on their own apps, but they will be able to extend their reach and their advertising inventory by getting outside developers into the fold,” said Karsten Weide, an industry analyst at IDC who studies consumer apps and platforms.
Sony is expected to use more MediaTek application processors in upcoming Xperia smartphones.
According to Digitimes, the Japanese consumer electronics giant is planning to increase its reliance on MediaTek chips in entry-level and mid-range smartphones this year. There is still no word on high-end products, and it seems Qualcomm’s 800-series parts will continue to power Xperia flagships for the time being.
Sony is also working with a number of Taiwanese ODMs like Foxconn, FIH Mobile, Compal and Arima Communications. The company’s latest Xperia E4 smartphone was in fact outsourced to Arima.
As for Foxconn/FIH Mobile and Compal, they are said to be developing 4G models for Sony, which means they are supposed to cover the mid-range segment. Most of this new models are expected to be based on MediaTek’s new octa-core MT6752 processor, which packs 64-bit Cortex-A53 cores.
The affordable MT6752 has already found its way into a number of Chinese mid-range smartphones, as well big-brand devices like the HTC Desire 826 and Acer Liquid Jade S.
AMD’s first 14nm processors are codenamed Summit Ridge and they are reportedly based on an all-new architecture dubbed Zen.
Information on the new architecture and the Summit Ridge design is still very sketchy. According to Sweclockers, the chips will feature up to eight CPU cores, support for DDR4 memory and TDPs of up to 95W.
Summit Ridge will use a new socket, designated FM3. This suggests we are looking at A-series APUs, but there is no word on graphics and the eight-core design points to proper FX-series CPUs – we simply do not know at this point. It is also possible that Summit Ridge is a Vishera FX replacement, but on an FM socket rather than an AM socket.
Of course, AMD Zen should end up in more products than one, namely in APUs and Opteron server parts. The new architecture has been described as a “high-performance” design and will be manufactured using the Samsung-GlobalFoundries 14nm node.
As for the launch date, don’t hold your breath – the new parts are expected to show up in the third quarter of 2016, roughly 18 months from now.
Several foreign-based operators of virtual private network (VPN) services said Friday that access to their services in China had been disrupted as a result of the crackdown and users are facing a harder time getting to some foreign websites.
Virtual private networks work by establishing an encrypted pipe between a computer or smartphone and a server in a foreign country. All communications are sent inside the pipe, effectively shielding Internet traffic from government filters that determine whether a site can be accessed. VPNs are used by Chinese citizens to get to external news sources and by resident foreigners and businesses for day-to-day communications.
StrongVPN, a commercial provider that operates a network of servers around the world, said users in China had recently begun experiencing connection problems to some of its sites. Comments alongside a company blog post indicate the list of sites affected is changing and sites that might work one day are failing the following day.
Another VPN provider, Golden Frog, told customers they might have more success connecting to services in Hong Kong or The Netherlands than those in the United States or Australia.
The Chinese government appears to be using two techniques to disrupt service, said Andrew Staples, a spokesman for Golden Frog. One, deep packet inspection, examines the data in Internet packets to try to determine if it’s a VPN connection. The other, IP blocking, shuts off traffic destined for the Internet addresses used by VPN servers.
AMD released its earnings today and one cool question came up about the upcoming Carrizo mobile APU.
Lisa SU, the new AMD President and CEO, told MKM Partners analyst Ian Ing that Carrizo is coming in Q2 2015.
This is a great news and AMD’s Senior VP and outgoing general manager of computing and graphics group John Byrne already shared a few details about his excitement about Carrizo.
There are two Carrizo parts, one for big notebooks and All in Ones called Carrizo and a scaled down version called Carrizo L. We expect that the slower Carrizo-L is first to come but, Lisa was not specific. Carrizo-L is based on Puma+ CPU cores with AMD Radeon R-Series GCN graphics is intended for mainstream configurations with Carrizo targeting the higher performance notebooks.
Usually when a company says that something is coming in Q2 2015 that points to a Computex launch and this Taipei based tradeshow starts on June 2 2015. We strongly believe that the first Carrizo products will showcased at or around this date.
Lisa also pointed out that AMD has “significantly improved performance in battery life in Carrizo.” This is definitely good news, as this was one of the main issues with AMD APUs in the notebook space.
Lisa also said that AMD expects Carrizo to be beneficial for embedded and other businesses as well. If only it could have come a bit earlier, so let’s hope AMD can get enough significant design wins with Carrizo. AMD has a lot of work to do in order to get its products faster to market, to catch up with Intel on power and performance or simply to come up with innovative devices that will define its future. This is what we think Lisa is there for but in chip design, it simply takes time.
Over the last few years, the industry has seen budget polarization on an enormous scale. The cost of AAA development has ballooned, and continues to do so, pricing out all but the biggest warchests, while the indie and mobile explosions are rapidly approaching the point of inevitable over-saturation and consequential contraction. Stories about the plight of mid-tier studios are ten-a-penny, with the gravestones of some notable players lining the way.
For a company like Ninja Theory, in many ways the archetypal mid-tier developer, survival has been a paramount concern. Pumping out great games (Ninja Theory has a collective Metacritic average of 75) isn’t always enough. Revitalizing a popular IP like DMC isn’t always enough. Working on lucrative and successful external IP like Disney Infinity isn’t always enough. When the fence between indie and blockbuster gets thinner and thinner, it becomes ever harder to balance upon.
Last year, Ninja Theory took one more shot at the upper echelons. For months the studio had worked on a big budget concept which would sit comfortably alongside the top-level, cross-platform releases of the age: a massive, multiplayer sci-fi title that would take thousands of combined, collaborative hours to exhaust. Procedurally generated missions and an extensive DLC structure would ensure longevity and engagement. Concept art and pre-vis trailers in place, the team went looking for funding. Razor was on its way.
Except the game never quite made it. Funding failed to materialize, and no publisher would take the project on. It didn’t help that the search for a publishing deal arrived almost simultaneously with the public announcement of Destiny. Facing an impossible task, the team abandoned the project and moved on with other ideas. Razor joined a surprisingly large pile of games that never make it past the concept stage.
Sadly, it’s not a new story. In fact, at the time, it wasn’t even a news story. But this time Ninja Theory’s reaction was different. This was a learning experience, and learning experiences should be shared. Team lead and co-founder Tameem Antoniades turned the disappointment not just into a lesson, but a new company ethos: involve your audience at an early stage, retain control, fund yourself, aim high, and don’t compromise. The concept of the Independent AAA Proposition, enshrined in a GDC presentation give by Antoniades, was born.
Now the team has a new flagship prospect, cemented in this fresh foundation. In keeping with the theme of open development and transparency, Hellblade is being created with the doors to its development held wide open, with community and industry alike invited to bear witness to the minutiae of the process. Hellblade will be a cross-platform game with all of the ambition for which Ninja Theory is known, and yet it is coming from an entirely independent standpoint. Self-published and self-governed, Hellblade is the blueprint for Ninja Theory’s future.
“We found ourselves as being one of those studios that’s in the ‘squeezed middle’,” project lead Dominic Matthews says. “We’re about 100 people, so we kind of fall into that space where we could try to really diversify and work on loads of smaller projects, but indie studios really have an advantage over us, because they can do things with far lower overheads. We have been faced with this choice of, do we go really, really big with our games and become the studio that is 300 people or even higher than that, and try to tick all of these boxes that the blockbuster AAA games need now.
“We don’t really want to do that. We tried to do that. When we pitched Razor, which we pitched to big studios, that ultimately didn’t go anywhere. That was going to be a huge game; a huge game with a service that would go on for years and would be a huge, multiplayer experience. Although I’m sure it would have been really cool to make that, it kind of showed to us that we’re not right to try to make those kinds of games. Games like Enslaved – trying to get a game like that signed now would be impossible. The way that it was signed, there would be too much pressure for it to be…to have the whole feature set that justifies a $60 price-tag.
“That $60 price-tag means games have to add multiplayer, and 40 hours of gameplay minimum, and a set of characters that appeal to as many people as they possibly can. There’s nothing wrong with games that do that. There’s some fantastic games that do, AAA games. Though we do think that there’s another space that sits in-between. I think a lot of indie games are super, super creative, but they can be heavily stylised. They work within the context of the resources that people have.
“We want to create a game that’s like Enslaved, or like DMC, or like Heavenly Sword. That kind of third-person, really high quality action game, but make it work in an independent model.”
Cutting out the middle-man is a key part of the strategy. But if dealing with the multinational machinery of ‘big pubs’ is what drove Ninja Theory to make such widespread changes, there must surly have been some particularly heinous deals that pushed it over the edge?
“I think it’s just a reality of the way that those publisher/developer deals work,” Matthews says. “In order for a publisher to take a gamble on your game and on your idea, you have to give up a lot. That includes the IP rights. It’s just the realities of how things work in that space. For us, I think any developer would say the same thing, being able to retain your IP is a really important thing. So far, we haven’t been out to do that.
“With Hellblade, it’s really nice that we can be comfortable in the fact that we’re not trying to appeal to everyone. We’re not trying to hit unrealistic forecasts. Ultimately, I think a lot of games have unrealistic forecasts. Everyone knows that they’re unrealistic, but they have to have these unrealistic forecasts to justify the investment that’s going into development.
“Ultimately, a lot of games, on paper, fail because they don’t hit those forecasts. Then the studios and the people that made those games, they don’t get the chance to make any more. It’s an incredibly tough market. Yes, we’ve enjoyed working with our publishers, but that’s not to say that the agreements that developed are all ideal, because they’re not. The catalyst to us now being able to do this is really difficult distribution. We can break away from that retail $60 model, where every single game has to be priced that way, regardless of what it is.
Driven into funding only games that will comfortably shift five or six million units, Matthews believes that publishers have no choice but to stick to the safe bets, a path that eventually winnows down diversity to the point of stagnation, where only a few successful genres ever end up getting made: FPS, sports, RPG, maybe racing. Those genres become less and less distinct, while simultaneously shoe-horning in mechanics that prove popular elsewhere and shunning true innovation.
While perhaps briefly sustainable, Matthews sees that as a creative cul-de-sac. Customers, he feels, are too smart to put up with it.
“Consumers are going to get a bit wary of games that have hundreds of millions of dollars spent on them”
“I think consumers are going to get a bit wary. Get a bit wary of games that have hundreds of millions of dollars spent on them. I think gamers are going to start saying, ‘For what?’
“The pressures are for games to appeal to more and more people. It used to be if you sold a million units, then that was OK. Then it was three million units. Now it’s five million units. Five million units is crazy. We’ve never sold five million units.”
It’s not just consumers who are getting wise, though. Matthews acknowledges that the publishers also see the dead-end approaching.
“I think something has to be said for the platform holders now. Along with digital distribution, the fact that the platform holders are really opening their doors and encouraging self-publishing and helping independent developers to take on some of those publishing responsibilities, has changed things for us. I think it will change things for a lot of other developers. “Hellblade was announced at the GamesCom Playstation 4 press conference. My perception of that press conference was that the real big hitters in that were all independent titles. It’s great that the platform holders have recognised that. There’s a real appetite from their players for innovative, creative games.
“It’s a great opportunity for us to try to do things differently. Like on Hellblade, we’re questioning everything that we do. Not just on development, but also how we do things from a business perspective as well. Normally you would say, ‘Well, you involve these types of agencies, get these people involved in this, and a website will take this long to create.’ The next thing that we’re doing is, we’re saying, ‘Well, is that true? Can we try and do these things a different way,’ because you can.
“There’s definitely pressure for us to fill all those gaps left by a publisher, but it’s a great challenge for us to step up to. Ultimately, we have to transition into a publisher. That’s going to happen at some point, if we want to publish our own games.”
AMD has developed facial recognition technology to enable users to organize and search video clips based on the people featured in them.
AMD executive Richard Gayle demonstrated to Tom’s Guide how AMD Content Manager, uses facial recognition to browse through a group of local videos to find specific faces.
There is an index that displays the people’s faces that have been detected throughout the video clips.
The user can edit the names of the people as well as add keyword tags to help improve future searches for specific people.
For instance, if you are searching for videos that feature one person, you can click on his or her respective face to pull up the corresponding videos.
Additionally, if you want to narrow a search to a specific person combined with a keyword tag, you can drag the face icon and click on the desired keyword.
Once you click on the video you wish to view, a player appears in the right windowpane, along with a timeline displayed at the bottom with a list of all the people who appear in the video.
The timeline is separated into various coloured boxes to mark the exact moment in the video when each person first appears on screen, so you do not have to watch the entire video to see the bit you want.
The application also has facial recognition capabilities that allow users to do some basic editing, such as compiling a single montage video of any individual or individuals.
While this is pretty good technology, it probably does not have any major use yet on its own.
Gayle said it is unlikely that AMD will release Content Manager in its current form but will license it to OEMs that are able to rebrand the application before offering it on their respective systems.
He claimed that only AMD processors have sufficient power to operate the application, because of the processor’s ability to have the CPU, GPU and memory controller work closely together.