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Will EA’s Battlefield 1 Be A Hit?

October 21, 2016 by  
Filed under Gaming

The conventional wisdom said that military first-person shooters avoided World War I because it wasn’t a “fun” war. EA DICE set out to prove the conventional wisdom wrong with Battlefield 1, and the initial wave of reviews suggests they succeeded.

As Polygon’s Arthur Gies noted in his 9 out of 10 review of the game, one of the ways DICE accomplished that was by using its single-player War Stories mode as a way to convey just how horrific the war really was.

“Battlefield 1 navigates the tonal challenges of the awful human cost of WWI well, in part by not ignoring them,” Gies said. “There’s a consistent acknowledgment of the abject terror and hopelessness that sat atop the people involved in the conflict on all sides, in part thanks to a grimly effective prologue. There’s also less explicit demonetization of the ‘enemy’ – something that feels like a real relief in the military shooter space, which seems hell-bent on giving players something they can feel good about shooting at.”

War Stories is a mostly unconnected series of short campaigns that total about six hours of playtime in total. The anthology puts players in the roles of different individuals in different combat zones, each one with their own distinct motivations and skill sets.

“Battlefield 1 feels like a move away from military shooter doctrine in plenty of ways,” Gies said. “But the biggest departure is in how little shooting there can be, at least compared to the game’s contemporaries. From tank pilot to fighter ace, from Italian shock trooper to Bedouin horse-back resistance fighter, I was never bored, because I was never doing the same thing for long.”

The change in setting also impacted the multiplayer portion of the game, which Gies appreciated. While DICE made some changes in player classes that Gies seemed to think unnecessary but “mostly fine,” he was particularly taken with the way the series’ signature physics-driven chaos and destruction felt fresh in a new (old) setting.

“Small issues aside, Battlefield 1 marks an impressive, risk-taking reinvention for the series,” Gies said. “That the multiplayer is as good and distinctive as it is is less surprising than a campaign that takes a difficult setting and navigates it with skill and invention. The end result is a shooter than succeeded far beyond my expectations, and one that exists as the best, most complete Battlefield package since 2010.”

Like Gies, GameSpot’s Miguel Concepcion gave the game a 9 out of 10. Also like Gies, Concepcion labelled the game as the best Battlefield since Bad Company 2, praising the War Stories single-player mode and its novel approach to entertaining while also attempting to inform players as to the horrors of the war.

“Beyond these heartfelt tales of brotherhood and solemn reflection, War Stories gracefully complements the multiplayer scenarios as a glorified yet effective training mode,” Concepcion said. “Along with practice time commanding vehicles and heavy artillery, it provides an opportunity to learn melee combat, as well as how to survive against high concentrations of enemy forces.”

Concepcion was also taken with the audiovisual impact of the game, long a selling point for the Battlefield franchise.

“However accurate or inaccurate Battlefield 1 is–lite J.J. Abrams lens effects notwithstanding–the immersive production values superbly amplify the sights and sounds that have previously existed in other war shooters,” Concepcion said. “Examples include the distinct clatter of empty shells dropping on the metal floor of a tank and the delayed sound of an exploding balloon from far away. The brushed metal on a specific part of a revolver is the kind of eye-catching distraction that can get you killed. Beyond the usual cacophony of a 64-player match, salvos from tanks and artillery guns add bombast and bass to the large map match. And many vistas are accentuated with weather-affected lighting with dramatic results, like the blinding white sunlight that reflects off a lake after a rainstorm.

“With Battlefield 1, EA and DICE have proven the viability of World War 1 as a time period worth revisiting in first-person shooters. It brings into focus countries and nationalities that do not exist today while also shedding light on how the outcome of that war has shaped our lives.”

In giving the game four stars out of five, Games Radar’s David Roberts also lauded the way DICE balanced a fun shooter with the horror of war.

“Even though Battlefield 1 skews toward fun rather than realism whenever it gets the chance, it’s as much about the reflection on the real history of these battles and the people who fought in them as it is about the gleeful embrace of ridiculous virtual combat,” Roberts said.

Like his peers, Roberts was impressed by the game’s War Stories single-player mode, but found the anthology format slightly restricting.

“As much as I enjoyed the narratives these missions tell, I wished each one had a little more time to breathe,” Roberts said. “Each chapter is about an hour long, and just when you get invested, they’re over. Battlefield 1’s War Stories barely skim the surface of the history, but – to be fair – this is in-line with the game’s focus on fun over fastidious accuracy.”

As for the multiplayer, Roberts said its “as good here as it’s ever been” for the Battlefield franchise. Even though the setting meant trading in the modern assault rifles of previous Battlefield games for more antiquated rifles and iron sights, Roberts said the overall impact has been an improvement on the game’s online modes.

He also found the franchise focus on destruction was given new meaning by its fresh context.

“When all’s said and done, when the matches end and the dust settles, you’ll see that large portions of the maps have transformed, their buildings pockmarked by blasts, their fortifications turned into piles of rubble,” Roberts said. “Even though bloody entertainment is at Battlefield 1’s heart, the post-game wasteland is a reminder of the toll that conflict takes on the people it consumes. Whether in single or multiplayer Battlefield 1 absolutely nails the historical sense of adventure and expectation before swiftly giving way to dread as the war takes a physical and mental toll on its participants. And this – as much as the intimate, brutal virtual warfare – is the game’s most impressive feat.”

While EGM’s Nick Plessas gave the game an 8 out of 10, he included slightly more critical comments than some other reviewers doling out equivalent scores. He was generally upbeat about the War Stories approach, but said it “misses the forest for the trees somewhat by not giving any story enough time for effectual investment.” He also identified two other issues that hamper the gameplay segments of the single-player mode.

“First, enemy AI leaves much to be desired, so that even on Hard difficulty your foes’ failure to react, flank, or recognize you as a threat syphons some of the fun out of fights,” Plessas said. “Second, the game adds a focus on stealth with a collection of mechanics like enemy awareness levels and distraction tools. While this isn’t inherently a bad thing, the Battlefield games’ fast pace and stiff controls don’t suit stealth very well, and the enemies’ recurring AI deficiencies makes these sections a slog.”

As for online, Plessas said new features like Behemoth vehicles (zeppelins, trains, and warships) were well-handled, as were “elite” classes like flamethrower troops. The addition of cavalry troops and era-appropriate weapons and planes will also require players to adjust the tactics they might have relied on in previous Battlefield games. However, the adjustment may not be as drastic as one might expect.

“These comparisons are integral because they represent the crux of what is truly new in Battlefield 1,” Plessas said. “A World War I setting is novel indeed, but this installment in the franchise is fundamentally the Battlefield game we have played before-and returning players may fall into a familiar groove quicker than expected. This isn’t necessarily bad for those in love with Battlefield, however, and while the setting may be the most significant shift, those invested in the series will find Battlefield 1 as another terrific reason to load up.”


The Xbox One Appears To Be Making A Comeback

October 19, 2016 by  
Filed under Gaming

Microsoft has been making some headway in the generation eight console battle, with the Xbox One celebrating a third month running as the best-selling console in the US. The combined sales of the original One and the new S model also put it at the head of the pack in the UK in September.

US figures come from the NPD group and UK numbers from GfK, although no actual unit values were given. The full US sales report from NPD is due next week.

It’s likely that some of that recent lead is a result of a dip in PS4 sales thanks to the imminent launch of the PlayStation Pro, but the One has also been building momentum too, with sales up across many territories.

“Xbox One was the only gen eight console to see year-over-year growth in September in the U.S., Australia, the U.K and many other countries worldwide,” said corporate VP of Xbox marketing Mike Nichols. “This success was driven by our fans and their support for Xbox One S, which is the only console available this holiday with built-in UHD 4K Blu-ray, 4K video streaming and HDR for gaming and video.”

Did AMD Kill Gaming Evolved?

October 18, 2016 by  
Filed under Gaming

0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-amd-evolvedAMD has apparently decided to discontinue support for Raptr’s Gaming Evolved App which will no longer be bundled with Radeon Software drivers package.

Since it did not come with some of the latest AMD Radeon Software Crimson Edition driver packages, the guys over at contacted AMD which gave them an official response that since September 12th, AMD is no longer bundling the AMD Gaming Evolved App by Raptr with its Radeon Software and will not provide any official support for it, including compatibility testing, install support or general technical support.

Those that still want to use it can get the Gaming Evolved App directly from Raptr or with previous builds of Radeon Software drivers package.

AMD is either making a new in-house app that will replace the one from Raptr or is simply now focusing on hardware and drivers. Unfortunately, this leaves it without any competition for the Nvidia’s Geforce Experience app which recently got completely overhauled and looks quite good.


Sony Joins The Virtual Reality Race With New VR Headset

October 13, 2016 by  
Filed under Consumer Electronics

sony-vr-headset-150x150Sony Corp jumped into the race for virtual reality (VR) dominance with the $399 PlayStation VR, a headset the Japanese electronics group hopes will beat pricier rivals and revive its reputation as a maker of must-have gadgets.

Emerging from years of restructuring, Sony is reshaping itself to focus on lucrative areas such as video games, entertainment and camera sensors – rather than televisions or smartphones where demand is flat, competition acute and margins thin. The games unit is now the single largest profit contributor for the group.

The PlayStation VR headset, Sony’s first major product launch since it declared its turnaround complete in June, will put the company back on the offensive and test its ability to compete in one of the most talked-about spaces in the industry.

Rival offerings in virtual reality headsets include Facebook Inc’s $599 Oculus Rift and HTC Corp’s $799 Vive.

Sony hopes to lure in customers with its more modest price tag and by tapping the 40 million existing users of its flagship consoles – the headset is designed to plug into PlayStation 4, rather than requiring new equipment.

“Sony is well-positioned to build an early lead in the high-end VR headset race,” market researcher IHS Technology said in a report, forecasting sales of 1.4 million units in 2016.

Sony, developer of the Walkman portable cassette player and maker of the first compact disc player, hopes the headset will be a springboard to pull ahead of rivals in VR, gelling with the content portion of its business, specifically music and film.

In an interview with Reuters in September, Andrew House, Sony’s gaming division chief, said he was already in talks with media production companies to explore possibilities for Sony’s VR headset.

“We are talking about years into the future, but these are interesting conversations to start having now,” House said.

Sony, however, will compete in a crowded market. Nomura analysts expect cumulative shipments of all VR headsets to expand more than 20 times to 40 million by 2020, which along with accessories and other non-game content could be worth $10 billion.

Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s chief executive, said last week the Oculus business will spend $500 million to fund VR content development and is working on an affordable standalone VR headset not tethered to personal computers or consoles.

Does Sony See A Rise In Demand For Image Senors?

October 12, 2016 by  
Filed under Technology

There are signs that the smartphone component industry is picking up, after being in the doledrums for a year or so.

Japanese electronics company Sony has said that it is about to throw the switch to 11 on the production of image sensors and move its plants to full capacity in the October-March half-year.

The head of its chip-making subsidiary Yasuhiro Ueda said momentum slowed late last year due to tepid demand for smartphones, but now the plan is to make the combined monthly production equal to 73,000 wafers at Sony’s five image sensor plants.  This is more than double the 70,000 wafers Sony is currently churning out.

He made the comments at a news conference on Friday at Sony’s Kumamoto factory in southern Japan, which was damaged by a series of strong earthquakes earlier this year.

Sony has its paws in about 40 percent of the market for complementary metal-oxide semiconductor (CMOS) image sensors, a type of chip that converts light into electronic signals.

The sensors were central to Sony’s recovery from years of losses stemming mainly from price competition in consumer electronics. A slowdown in the global smartphone market prompted Sony to cut sensor production in the October-March half of the last business year, but demand has since picked up.

He said brisk demand for Sony’s sensors also reflects the firm’s effort to diversify its client base, and pointed out that its clients had recently experienced some ups and downs.


Lenovo Said To Be In Talks To Acquire Fujitsu PC Business

October 7, 2016 by  
Filed under Computing

lenovo-logo-3-150x150Lenovo may be about grab more of the PC market as Japanese IT conglomerate Fujitsu is considering selling its PC manufacturing business, and Lenovo may be the buyer.

As part of a strategy to focus on core activities, Fujitsu in February spun out its PC business as an independent operating unit. Such spinouts are usually a prelude to a sale.

On Wednesday, Japanese media reported that the company was in talks to sell the PC business to Lenovo.

“These reports are not based on any official announcement made by Fujitsu,” the company said Thursday, adding that it “is currently considering various possibilities, including what is being reported, but a decision has not yet been made.”

Once a powerhouse of PC production, Japan has largely retreated from the market over the last decade. Sharp pulled out of PC manufacturing in 2010 to concentrate on the tablet market. In 2011, NEC put its PC business into a joint venture with Lenovo, which went on to buy the majority of NEC’s stake in July. And in 2014, Sony sold its Vaio PC business to an investment firm.

A person familiar with the Lenovo-Fujitsu discussions told the Wall Street Journal that the deal could be structured similarly to the one with NEC, which now holds a 5 percent stake in its joint venture with Lenovo.

Lenovo made a name for itself outside China as a PC manufacturer when it bought IBM’s PC division for $1.75 billion in 2005, vaulting into third place in the global PC market.

Fujitsu targets the data center market with its servers, networking equipment, batteries and cooling systems, and also runs an IT services and cloud hosting business. But it also has other businesses not directly related to that, including smartphones, semiconductors and PCs.

Like IBM before it, Fujitsu wants to hang on to its more lucrative services and servers businesses — although even this could change. Almost a decade after its PC deal, IBM went on to sell part of its server business to Lenovo, too.


DoesThe PS4 Pro Truly Offer 4K Gaming?

September 29, 2016 by  
Filed under Gaming

0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-ps4-proA little bit of clarity can go a long way. A few weeks ago at the reveal of the PS4 Pro, in a staff roundtable I questioned whether Sony’s new console would hurt Microsoft’s chances with the more powerful Scorpio. I also gave Sony an edge because of its HDR rollout to all PS4s. As it turns out, the HDR update is practically useless (no games supported yet and no video streaming) and the PS4 Pro itself will see most games upscaled, according to Sony Interactive boss Andrew House.

While PS4 architect Mark Cerny did make it clear during the conference that the Pro does not render games in true 4K resolution, many fans had no doubt assumed it would and likely glossed over his technical explanation of the Pro’s “streamlined rendering techniques” and “temporal and spatial anti-aliasing.” It’s hard to say how much consumers will care when the Pro goes on sale in November, but Microsoft wasted no time in puffing up its chest to declare its superiority with a console that won’t ship for many, many months.

Microsoft Studios Publishing general manager Shannon Loftis told USA Today, “Any games we’re making that we’re launching in the Scorpio time frame, we’re making sure they can natively render at 4K.” Moreover, Albert Penello, senior director of product management and planning at Xbox, hammered home the point with our sister site Eurogamer, commenting, “I think there are a lot of caveats they’re giving customers right now around 4K. They’re talking about checkerboard rendering and up-scaling and things like that. There are just a lot of asterisks in their marketing around 4K, which is interesting because when we thought about what spec we wanted for Scorpio, we were very clear we wanted developers to take their Xbox One engines and render them in native, true 4K. That was why we picked the number, that’s why we have the memory bandwidth we have, that’s why we have the teraflops we have, because it’s what we heard from game developers was required to achieve native 4K.”

That’s a punch to the gut in true console war fashion, and one that Microsoft is no doubt happy to get in during a console cycle which has seen PS4 dominate. It may not seem like a big deal right now, as 4K TV sales are still relatively minor, but the prices are falling and interest in 4K and HDR is picking up, not only with consumers, but also with game developers and content providers for streaming services like Netflix. This could be a decent holiday for the 4K TV market, and by the time Scorpio actually does launch there will be that many more 4K TV owners to target with the only console that renders 4K natively. That’s a nice feather in Microsoft’s cap.

This week we also featured an interesting writeup on VR and AR from DICE Europe. While VR proponents like Unity’s Clive Downie said there will be over a billion people using VR in the next 10 years, others such as Niantic’s John Hanke and Apple boss Tim Cook cast doubt on the long-term appeal and commerical success of VR. Of course, this isn’t the first time that people have wondered whether VR will ever move beyond a niche category – and indeed, our Rob Fahey talks about the over-investment in the space in his column today – but the idea that VR is merely an intermediary step before AR comes into its own is the wrong way to think about these technologies in my view.

Just because they both offer altered realities and utilize headsets does not mean they should be lumped together. The use cases and experiences are vastly different for VR and AR, and while I agree that AR likely is the better bet from a commercial standpoint, I don’t underestimate VR for one second. I’ve had way too many fun game sessions using the tech already, and it’s early days. Beyond that, serious movie makers are starting to leverage the great potential of the medium. Jon Favreau (Iron Man, The Jungle Book), for example, is working on a VR film called Gnomes and Goblins and he’s even brought on veteran game designer Doug Church (System Shock, Thief) to fine tune the VR interactions.

The fact is VR has enormous storytelling potential and can immerse its users in ways that we’ve never experienced before. “As I work in film, so much has been done,” Favreau commented. “There are technological breakthroughs but there is less and less up in the air.  You’re really writing a song in the same format that has been going on for at least a hundred years. And what’s interesting about VR is that, although I really don’t know where it’s going or if it’s going to catch on in a significant way culturally, I do know that there is a lot of unexplored territory and a lot of fun things as a storyteller for me to experiment with. It’s exciting to have so much fresh snow that nobody has walked through yet. There’s been no medium that I’ve felt that way since I’ve come into the business, where it feels like you can really be a pioneer.”

AR will be tremendously exciting in its own right, and I can’t wait for Magic Leap, HoloLens and castAR, but to think that VR will be cast aside to make way for AR’s ascendancy is totally off base.

EA’s Battlefield 1 Beta Was An Overwhelming Success

September 20, 2016 by  
Filed under Gaming

0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-battlefield-1Looking back to World War I may have pointed EA’s Battlefield franchise to a brighter future, with the beta of the latest game in the long-running series attracting 13.2 million players.

Those players all participated in Battlefield 1’s beta across ten days, between August 30 and September 8. EA DICE has confirmed that the 13.2 million people make it “the biggest beta in EA’s history,” topping the previous record holder, Star Wars: Battlefront, which attracted more than 9 million players.

As big as Battlefront’s beta was, though, it was surpassed in popularity by Blizzard Entertainment’s Overwatch, which pulled in 9.7 million in May this year. The question surrounding Battlefield I, then, is whether it’s the most popular beta of this generation. While EA hadn’t laid claim to that at the time of writing, based on other publicly available figures it seems likely: Ubisoft’s The Division had 6.4 million players in its beta, while Activision’s Destiny had 4.6 million.

In any case, these will be glad tidings for EA DICE, and EA’s shareholders. As Niko Partners’ Daniel Ahmad pointed out on Twitter, Destiny, The Division, Battlefront and Overwatch all demonstrate a clear trend.

One trend I’ll note is that each of the full games above sold to more people than played the open beta’s within the 3 months from launch.

— Daniel Ahmad (@ZhugeEX) September 15, 2016

Battlefield 1 launches on October 21.


Will The PS4 Pro Be A Success?

September 14, 2016 by  
Filed under Gaming

0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-ps4proHalfway through Sony’s announcement event for its new consoles – the redesigned, slimmer PS4 and the new, more powerful PS4 Pro – I found myself thinking about the optics of these events. I’ve seen the announcement events for every console since the PS2, and of them all, this was by far the most muted. The lack of bombast and braggadocio could speak to a quietly understated confidence, or to uncertainty, depending on where you’re standing. I suspect that the truth lies somewhere in the middle – Sony, achieving success it hasn’t seen since the PS2’s halcyon days, is certainly confident, but is also walking out onto uncertain territory with the PS4 Pro. The ground underfoot is no longer familiar.

The slim PS4, of course – perhaps the worst-kept secret in the history of the industry, given the appearance of functioning models on auction websites prior to the announcement – is nothing unexpected. Three years into the PS4’s lifespan, a slimmed down redesign was inevitable; it joins the (arguably rather more attractive) Xbox One S on the shelves as a sleeker model whose launch is somewhat overshadowed by impending obsolescence. Xbox One S, at least, has a year to run before the hugely more powerful Scorpio appears on the market. The new PS4 suffered the ignominy of being quickly announced and forgotten just moments before the unveiling of PS4 Pro, the device destined to replace it.

PS4 Pro, though, is a curious beast. It’ll run you $100 more than the slim PS4, it plays the same games and connects to the same online services. Sony has bent over backwards to avoid fragmenting their playerbase, and in theory, PS4 Pro is really designed only for the small minority of consumers with 4K displays in their living rooms. Yet the company must know the psychology of its consumers; it must know that for a large proportion of them, playing a game on a regular PS4 in the knowledge that an upgrade would make it that little bit sharper, that little bit smoother, is like Chinese water torture. That will only be exacerbated by the “Pro” moniker; so much of the market will feel an involuntary twitch of consumer desire at the very notion of their existing hardware being “amateur” or, god help us all, “noob”.

Ultimately, though, Sony’s cautious approach seems to be pitched just right. Those who will find themselves discombobulated by the notion of a needlessly dropped frame or a disappointingly undetailed hair strand, or quietly fuming at being branded a non-Pro, are precisely the audience expected to upgrade anyway. The benefits of PS4 Pro will be sufficient to keep them satisfied; while for pretty much everyone else, for the enormous audience of more casual consumers that Sony must access in the coming years in order to maintain the PS4’s sales trajectory, the benefits of the Pro seem minor enough not to bother with. The stroke of genius, perhaps, is that every upgrading gamer will release a second-hand PS4 into the market – handed off to a younger sibling or cousin, perhaps, or sold to a late upgrader from the last generation. That ought to do wonders to kick-start the PS4’s demographic expansion.

That’s not an easy balance to strike, and while it feels like it’s been skilfully done, only time and market data will tell. Sony enters Winter 2016 in a position of almost unprecedented strength; Nintendo’s NX won’t launch until next spring (and nobody really knows what it is), while Microsoft’s lovely Xbox One S is overshadowed by the plan to entirely outclass it with Scorpio next year. Both PS4 and PS4 Pro will do great guns this year (while PSVR, about which more in a moment, will undoubtedly be supply constrained). That’s not the real test; the test is how this line-up can fare against 2017’s launches, NX and Scorpio. Sony’s cards are now on the table for the next couple of years of the console war.

The other test, of course, is how this evolves. Much has been made of PS4 Pro representing the end of the console model; a final nail in the coffin of the five, seven or even ten year hardware cycle which has defined game consoles since the 1980s. Incremental updates like the PS4 Pro, maintaining compatibility and continuity while keeping pace with hardware advancements, are the future.

Well, perhaps they’re part of the future. Scorpio, with its dramatic upgrade over the Xbox One – so dramatic that the notion of Xbox One remaining fully capable of playing Scorpio titles seems ridiculous – suggests a somewhat different future. Equally, the muted nature of this week’s launch is suggestive of somewhat different thinking. Sony didn’t want to come out all guns blazing, shouting in triumph about its new hardware, because it cannot afford to alienate the 40 million existing owners of PS4 by implying that their consoles are obsolete. That’s a radical difference from console launches of old precisely because the whole purpose of those launches was to declare everything which came before obsolete. “Here, here is the new thing! All singing, all dancing, making the singing and dancing your existing console is capable of look merely like painful hopping and wheezing! Buy the new thing!” You can’t do that with an incremental upgrade; you can’t alienate your existing market in that way. Even smartphone makers have more freedom in their messaging, knowing that their hardware is expected to run on an 18 to 24 month upgrade cycle; consoles, though, you expect to remain “current” for four years, five years or more.

Incremental upgrades, then, lock us to a much more muted kind of message about new hardware. Does anyone really believe, though, that there’s no PS5 in the works? No grand, sweeping upgrade, that will be unveiled with bombast, and fireworks, and promises of walking on water and improbable feats of catering involving bread and fish? Of course that’s in the works. If PS4 Pro points us at something, it’s at the possibility of compatibility across generations in the very broad sense – perhaps, at last, we have entered a generation of consoles whose games will remain playable pretty much forever, or at least for as long as the capricious DRM gods smile upon us. The reverse, however, cannot remain true forever. Console generations will continue to roll past; it’s just that now, perhaps, there will be more mezzanines and landings between the floors.

Notably absent from Sony’s quiet little event was PlayStation VR. Oh, there was a logo, and there were a few words said, but you’d hardly imagine that this was a massive product launch that’s happening in just a few months’ time. Perhaps that’s because the aspect of PS4 Pro Sony is most anxious about is what impact it’s going to have on PSVR, and vice versa. Ever since the first leaks about PS4 Neo, as then was, hit the wild, there’s been a widespread assumption that part of the raison d’être for the new hardware was to drive PSVR headsets – with the existing PS4 simply being underpowered as a VR device.

If that’s not the case, Sony could have done a better job of pointing it out. Throwaway comments about the PS4 Pro yielding better frame rates for VR software sit uncomfortably with the company’s earlier pronouncements about 120Hz rendering for PSVR. Everything we’ve seen and learned about VR thus far suggests that this tech is all about framerate; if you can’t hit a consistent, high frame rate, users start to get severe motion sickness. If it’s the case that PS4 can hit those frame rates consistently, but PS4 Pro allows more visual finesse at the same frame rate, that’s great. If, on the other hand, PS4 is struggling with frame rate and PS4 Pro smoothes things out, that’s a big problem. PSVR cannot afford to be a poor experience on the existing PS4 installed base; if it is to be a success, it needs to work superbly on the 40 million PS4s already in the wild, not just on the fraction of the installed base which will be PS4 Pro.

Perhaps it does. Certainly, the demos of PSVR to date – all presumably running on PS4 standard hardware – have been fine, for the most part. Again, though, the optics are problematic; if you’re launching a VR headset within weeks of launching more powerful hardware, people are going to assume, not unreasonably, that they’re meant to complement each other. If that translates into users of the headset on stock PS4s getting physically ill where users on PS4 Pro do not, that’s a very big problem – and if that’s absolutely not the case, and there are procedures in place to prevent it, Sony needs to be discussing those things candidly and openly. (If it is the case, they might have been best served by doing something radical like only taking PSVR pre-orders alongside PS4 Pro pre-orders; let VR be the USP of PS4 Pro, and avoid the possibility of backlash from underpowered VR entirely.)

With the cards on the table, now we see how the hand plays. PS4 Pro is undoubtedly a shake-up to how the console business works. It’s one step closer to a world where console hardware is essentially a fixed-spec PC in a nice box that’s updated every few years – but we’re not in that world yet, and whether we ever arrive there will be determined by how Sony and its rivals fare in the coming 18 months.

Xbox One S Goes MediTek

September 1, 2016 by  
Filed under Gaming

0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-XoneSMediaTek has some decent network products and Asus and Xiaomi have a few midrange routers based on its SoC (system on a chip). Now it looks likely that Microsoft’s One S will use two MediaTek SoCs for wireless connectivity. 

It has been a while since IFIXIT tore apart the Xbox One S but no one really noticed that the wireless component of the console came from MediaTek.

The Xbox One S looks like a nice console, worth the investment and was a good design win for AMD as it has an AMD APU inside. There are two chips from MediaTek, inside – firstly, the MT7632TUN, which is probably a variation of the MT7632 wireless chip supporting 2×2 802.11n + Bluetooth 4.0 Module. It is interesting that Xbox uses a 2×2 MIMO approach as this will make the 801.11n wireless much faster than before.

The second chip is MediaTek’s MT7612UN which is likely a variant of 802.11ac 2×2 MIMO that will again make things much faster in the 5GHz band and getting closer to 1Gbps speeds with the ac.

MediaTek won some business with Amazon tablets last year, and adding Microsoft to its portfolio definitely means a lot for the company and boosts its wireless image. 

Xbox One S should be available in the western part of Europe within the next three weeks and Amazon Germany claims to start shipping on the September 22. US customers can get one today and it starts at $269.99 for 500 GB + Halo bundle and it jumps to $349.99 Xbox One S 1TB Console – Madden NFL 17 Bundle or $359.99 for Xbox One S 2TB Console – Launch Edition.  



Do Indie Game Developers Have A Chance In The Mobile Space

September 1, 2016 by  
Filed under Gaming

From the advent of what we might consider modern game consoles in the 1980s through to the point when standard budgets for individual games topped $10 million took around 25 years. Budgets spiked significantly when the PlayStation shifted the industry from 2D to 3D, but that merely drove them from six to seven figures; it wasn’t until the last generation, with Xbox 360 and PS3, that $10 million became the baseline for developing a AAA game.

From the advent of modern smartphones, in mid-2007, less than a decade has passed; so when Kabam CEO Kevin Chou talks about budgets of over $10 million for mobile games, and easily twice that when launch marketing costs are taken into account, it’s a sign of how quickly the world has accelerated.

Only a few years ago, mobile was the platform recommended to anyone starting out in game development; it was a new, exciting and fertile land waiting to be discovered by anyone with a smartphone, a copy of Xcode and a flash of genius. The very lure of mobile was that it was fast, it was cheap and it had no gatekeepers; you could prototype an idea, try it out in the marketplace, and either discard it or iterate upon it in a matter of weeks or months, even with a tiny indie team.

It would be wrong to imply that there’s no room in the mobile space for small teams and indies any more – an inspired game and a bolt of astonishing luck could still create a cultural phenomenon and a smash hit for something developed on a shoestring budget. Short of winning the development lottery in this way, though, it’s pretty clear that the big opportunities for smaller developers on mobile aren’t just shrinking; they’re actually gone entirely.

What Chou is saying merely reiterates what’s been clear to those watching the industry carefully for the past few years. Mobile games have become an enormous business, but most of the activity in the sector is no longer focused on game development, per se; it’s an incredibly marketing led business. The games that dominate mobile in 2016 are, with the notable exception of Pokemon Go, the same games that dominated 2015 and 2014. They’ve been updated somewhat and are constantly tweaking their formulas based on the data fed back from the playerbase, but the real efforts that drive consistent chart-toppers like Clash of Clans or Candy Crush Saga are marketing led – and very, very expensive marketing at that.

Indeed, while Chou’s comments on development budgets may seem intimidating to an indie creator, they’re the part of his message that deserves to be taken with a pinch of salt. Sure, moving to 3D has boosted development costs in mobile, but high quality 3D is not a hard and fast requirement for a successful game – and his claim that mobile games will be running with a graphical quality comparable to today’s home console titles within two years is pure fantasy (and not even desirable, were it possible; any game attempting such graphical quality will crucify its own retention statistics by being an unforgivable battery hog). Mobile development is unquestionably more expensive than it has been in the past and I don’t doubt Kabam’s budget estimations – they’re in line with what I’ve heard from others in the mobile sector recently – but this level of budget is still a nice-to-have, not a must-have.

In two areas, though, budget is non-negotiable. The first is network services. The reality is that even if a small independent developer came along tomorrow with a Pokemon Go beating game (which won’t happen, because Pokemon Go’s primary strength is in its license, but humour me anyway), the game wouldn’t survive a month. Either the game wouldn’t scale to match its audience, and would abruptly fall over and lose all market momentum; or it would scale, but the bills for the cloud services used in the process would reach unsustainable levels before the revenues from players actually started to roll in. Without good financial backing and the ability to sustain some high up-front costs, a runaway hit could be more likely to bankrupt its creator than a mediocre success.

The second area in which budget is non-negotiable, or rapidly becoming that way, is the aforementioned marketing. Chou suggested that Kabam is putting around $10 million in marketing behind its launches, which is a huge figure that’s still dwarfed by the amount big players such as Supercell and King are spending on “player acquisition” (which is just another way of saying marketing, in mobile game parlance) on their behemoth games. The sheer volume of TV, outdoor and online advertising space occupied by mobile games dwarfs the marketing for even the biggest console games, for the simple reason that the equation is different. Mobile game operators know that their existence relies on acquiring lots of players (which costs marketing money), holding on to as many of them as possible for as long as possible, and ultimately making more money out of each player than it cost to acquire them.

As the mobile market has grown, the cost of getting a player to try your game (Cost Per Acquisition, CPA) has risen enormously. That’s a cost that’s right there from day one of a mobile game’s existence; if you don’t have an acquisition strategy, which means expensive, high-profile advertising, you don’t have a mobile game with any chance of commercial success. Far, far more than any boost to development budgets, that’s what’s locking small teams and indies out of the mobile space. There are workarounds to some degree – like getting someone at Apple to love your game and feature it on the App Store frontpage, for example – but they’re a million to one shot.

It is, bluntly, long past time that we called time on the romantic myth of the indie mobile developer. If you’re an indie with good skills and a great idea, you’re far better off peddling that idea elsewhere. PC remains fertile ground for indie developers, of course, but one of the wonderful things that mobile has done for game development is the role it’s played in forcing console platform holders to open up to indies. If you’re talented and creative, getting access to a console development kit has never been easier or cheaper – in some cases, such as Microsoft’s ID@Xbox program, platform holders actually give dev kits away for free to just about anyone who wants one. It’s a far, far cry from the walled gardens of only a few years ago.

At first glance, mobile still looks like a more open platform than console (or even perhaps than PC, where Steam and its dubious Greenlight program act as de facto gatekeepers); everyone has a smartphone, the development tools to make games on them are free and anyone can upload a game to the App Store or the Play Store with ease. In reality, though, the opportunities for a small studio to succeed on mobile have narrowed rapidly to the point of nothingness, while opportunities on PC and on traditionally more “closed” platforms have boomed. Short of finding someone with a genuinely amazing, eye-opening idea for a mobile title, I’d be hard-pressed to recommend mobile development to any indie studio in 2016.

The wheel may yet turn again. Mobile game audiences, if nothing else, are still very new and very fickle; their tastes and desires may well shift, and more commercially viable niches may grow within the mobile space. As these devices get more powerful and capable, they’ll enable new experiences and consumers may come to demand more diversity from their gaming. For now, though, mobile has gone the way of console games around a decade ago; rising costs and an escalating arms race in marketing have killed, or are killing, the low-cost end of the market entirely. Unless you’ve got millions you don’t mind losing on a risky gamble, consider the mobile space closed to new entrants for the time being.

Is AMD Making Gains On nVidia?

August 30, 2016 by  
Filed under Computing

Number crunchers working for Jon Peddie Research (JPR), the industry’s research and consulting firm for graphics and multimedia have noted that during the second quarter AMD gained market share in the add-in board (AIB) market.

But while AMD fans might be cheering, and while Nvidia fanboys work out ways they can beat them up after school, JPR says that over all the AIB market decreased.

For those who came in late, AIBs using discrete GPUs are found in desktop PCs, workstations, servers, and other devices such as scientific instruments. They are sold directly to customers as aftermarket products, or are factory installed by OEMs.

AIBs are the higher end of the graphics industry with their discrete chips and private, often large, high-speed memory, as compared to the integrated GPUs in CPUs that share slower system memory.

The PC add-in board (AIB) market now has just three chip (GPU) suppliers which also build and sell AIBs. The primary suppliers of GPUs are AMD and Nvidia. There are 48 AIB suppliers, the AIBOEM customers of the GPU suppliers, which they call “partners”.

JPR has been tracking AIB shipments quarterly since 1987-the volume of those boards peaked in 1999, reaching 114 million units, in 2015, 44 million shipped.

The news for the quarter was encouraging and seasonally understandable, quarter-to-quarter, the AIB market decreased -20.8 percent (compared to the desktop PC market, which increased 2.5%), the report said.

AIB shipments during the quarter decreased from the last quarter -20.8 percent, which is below the ten year average of -9.7 percent.On a year-to-year basis, it found that total AIB shipments during the quarter rose 0.8 percent, which is greater than desktop PCs, which fell -0.2 percent, JPR added.

In spite of the overall PC churn, which is mostly because of tablets and embedded graphics, the PC gaming momentum continues to build and is the bright spot in the AIB market.

The overall GPU shipments (integrated and discrete) is greater than desktop PC shipments due double-attach-the adding of a second (or third) AIB to a system with integrated processor graphics.

Another reason is the increase in dual AIBs in performance desktop machines using either AMD’s Crossfire or Nvidia’s SLI technology Improved attach rate. The attach rate of AIBs to desktop PCs has declined from a high of 63 percent in Q1 2008 to 34 percent this quarter, a decrease of -22.7 percent from last quarter which was negative. Compared to this quarter last year it increased a single miserable percentage point.

This research said that the global GPU market demand in Q2’16 decreased from last quarter, and decreased from last year, to 83.32 million units.

“In recent years, as the gaming ecosystem is shaping up, software and hardware developers, information service providers, and even governments have been attempting to unearth market opportunities coming from this new arena. However, global PC shipment volume is forecast to fall further,” the report said.


Can Remedy Shorten Its Development Cycle?

August 30, 2016 by  
Filed under Gaming

Last week, Remedy tapped Tero Virtala to be its new CEO and said he would guide the Quantum Break studio’s move to developing multiple projects simultaneously. Virtala recently spoke with to flesh that idea out a little more and provide other details about his vision for the company’s future.

To start with, Virtala acknowledged that Remedy had intended to make a move into multiproject development for a while.

“This idea has lived for such a long time, but naturally, Quantum Break being such an ambitious and big project, it took most of the resources, people, the energy, most of the money the studio has been using for a long time,” Virtala said. “Now Quantum Break has been made and there is a new phase clearly starting for the company. As this strategic path has been discussed, it’s a commonly shared view that going for multiple projects is the way the people at the company want to go. And it also makes a lot of sense.”

Even though Remedy managed to put out the digital release Alan Wake’s American Nightmare and free-to-play mobile game Agents of Storm while Quantum Break was in the works, it’s clear much of the studio’s focus was on its Xbox One title. As Virtala explained, Quantum Break was an immense task for the studio: a new IP on a new platform with new gameplay mechanics and new tech, all paired with a new transmedia approach that would see a four-episode live-action serial created alongside the game.

“You take so many new things at one time and it made sense to focus on just one big project at a time,” Virtala said. “Now when we fast-forward to this moment, there’s so much more experience and skills, competencies that we can use with what we’ve learned. Also, the technology and tools we’ve developed are much further along and much more reusable than they used to be. So that built a base we can utilize, and then you take what else is needed for two projects.”

The studio’s old method of focusing on one big game for as long as five years at a time just isn’t sustainable in the long run, particularly when Remedy prides itself on cutting edge technology and envelope-pushing creativity.

“The industry’s developing so fast,” Virtala said. “On the one hand, there are so many great games out there, so when you’re bringing your game out, it has to stand out. It has to be unique. It has to be [high] quality. And if our studio is focusing on one project only, we’re putting all our people there. It usually means the length of the project grows, and if you take four or five years to develop a game, it’s a very risky game. You start the project with certain assumptions of the market, and in four or five years’ time in this type of creative, technology-driven industry, it changes so fast.”

That approach was also limiting the partners Remedy could work with. Virtala had nothing but great things to say about long-time partner Microsoft, but a relationship like that with a single-project studio would necessarily keep the company from collaborating with other publishers. And of course, Remedy fans would probably like more than one new game every five years or so.

Virtala wants Remedy to make more games, and he wants a shorter development cycle for those games. At the same time, he stressed, “We stay loyal to the strengths we have in this industry,” which he interprets as excellent games with a distinctive quality, visually impressive and immersive worlds populated with compelling characters.

As for how Remedy can deliver content to the same quality on a much shorter time scale, Virtala didn’t give many specifics. The company has a headcount of 125 people with another 15 open positions, but Virtala declined to say if there were plans to dramatically expand the staff size. As for doing more with the same amount of people, he did note that the technology and tools that have been developed for Quantum Break over the past five years can be used in future games, so “we are definitely able to provide AAA quality in a shorter time than we have before.”

He was similarly careful when talking about whether the shorter development cycle would be achieved by changing the types of games Remedy makes. The company is exploring “new game mechanics” that

AMD Bundling Deus-Ex With Gaming Cards

August 26, 2016 by  
Filed under Gaming

0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-0-Deus-EXWe already knew that AMD was one of the launch partners for the new Deus Ex: Mankind Divided game and it appears it will be bundled with some of AMD’s hot FX-series CPUs.

While we were hoping to see it bundled with some recently launched Polaris-based graphics cards, it appears that AMD wants to give some love to those that decide to buy AMD’s FX-series CPUs.

To be available in most popular retail/e-tail stores, the bundle will include a copy of the new Deus Ex: Mankind Divided game with a purchase of a 6- or 8-core AMD FX CPU. According to details provided by AMD, the promotion will run from August 23rd to November 14th or until the supply lasts.

Currently, some of the hot AMD FX-series CPUs like the 6-core FX-6300 or 8-core FX-8320 are selling for as low as US $100 and US $130, so bundling a US $60 game sounds like a really good deal.

Hopefully, AMD will decide to bundle the game with some of its Polaris-based graphics cards after Deus Ex: Mankind Divided gets its DirectX 12 patch later in early September.


EA Appears To Be Going HD With Old Games

August 25, 2016 by  
Filed under Gaming

Electronic Arts has one of the deepest back catalogs in the industry, but to date it has steered clear of mining it for new revenue through remastered and HD editions. That’s likely to change soon, according to a Game Informer interview with EA Studios executive VP Patrick Soderlund from last week at Gamescom. When asked if anything in EA’s stance on remasters had evolved in the last year, Soderlund tipped the publisher’s hand.

“What’s changed is that there is proof in the market that people want it, maybe more than there was when we spoke [previously],” Soderlund said. “There were some that did it before, but I think there is even more clear evidence that this is something that people really want. The honest answer is that we are absolutely actively looking at it. I can’t announce anything today, but you can expect us most likely to follow our fellow partners in Activision and other companies that have done this successfully.”

Soderlund added that if EA were to remaster games, it would “have to be careful in choosing the right brands for the right reasons at the right time.” Part of that would be ensuring the company handles the remasters properly instead of just selling quick and dirty ports.

That attitude is a pretty clear pivot from where the company’s thinking was just a year ago. Last October, Peter Moore said EA wasn’t interested in remakes and remasters because “it feels like pushing stuff out because you’ve run out of ideas,” adding, “I don’t know where we find the time to do remakes. We’re a company that just likes to push forward.”

While EA hasn’t been especially aggressive with remastered games, it has produced HD versions of older games like American McGee’s Alice and Crysis, primarily as preorder incentives for sequels in those series.

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