Thursday, January 31, 2013

Crysis 3 Multiplayer Beta - First Looks

I've never been a big fan of Crysis.  Not because it isn't beautiful or cutting edge (except Crysis 2) I just never got into the whole Sci-Fi alien invasion thing.  The first game was the benchmark by which all others were judged for a long time, however.  It still is a game that can bring even the stoutest game rig to its knees and this latest installment is said to do the same.

So it's with this expectation that I foolishly took advantage of the free 3GB Multiplayer download of Crysis 3.  It took about an hour to download mostly because EA still doesn't let you pick alternate servers and I happen to be on the west coast.  So there's that...

Anyway, My other game rig is a bit less stout than the ideal spec as you'll see from the screen captures on this page.  It's still in line with most higher end mainstream gaming rigs but the hardware is two years old.  Before you ask, yes the lastest 13.1 ATI Radeon driver and Windows 7 updates have been applied.  I don't have any huge overclocks on this system since it pulls double duty as a production pc with just a hard drive swap.

MWave 88x31Hopefully the video is still online as it shows my experiences with the game. 

First off, realize this is a beta.  We're about 3 weeks out from Crysis 3 being officially released so it's 99% there. Still, there are some issues that show up like problems with connecting to servers, game freezes and inconsistent textures.  Also know that some features are disabled like map voting.  Servers are also laggy so don't expect to employ much in the way of tactics.
Now on to my aging gaming rig.  Here's the specs:

CPU - Intel Core I7 860 2.8GHZ 4core with HT
RAM - Corsair CMP4GX3M2A1600C8 DDR31600 2GB x4 (8GB)
Motherboard - ASUS P7P55D
Graphics - Sapphire AMD/ATI Radeon 6950 1GB
Storage - Hitachi Deskstar 7200RPM 320GB
Operating System - Windows 7 Ultimate Service Pack 1

If the video gets yanked off of YouTube it's not much to try out the beta yourself but know this.  On a rig with the specs above the game was playable on high settings at 1920x1080 averaging above 30 frames per second.  I saw more issues with lag than display.  It would probably be smoother if I ratcheted the settings down a bit but with such a visual game that could put you at a disadvantage in multiplayer. 

Control setup is textbook FPS using mouse and keyboard just like BF3 and COD with the added perk of allowing for native support of a gamepad.  An obvious nod toward console gamers but I have to wonder how good the experience will be on what is now 5 year old hardware that isn't due for a refresh till the end of 2013 at the earliest.  Still, consoles sell more volume so I guess I understand it.

FedEx Office Print Online 15%

There's 2 game modes available in the beta, Hunter and Crash Site.  I couldn't get into a Hunter game so most of my video is of the Crash Site game type.  Hunter is basically a team deathmatch mode and Crash Site is just like conquest in Battlefield 3 in case you were wondering.

I didn't plan on a full review of the game, just wanted to make you guys aware of it.  Check out the video if it hasn't been pulled down or try the beta yourself.  Nothing but an origin ID is needed.  Oh yeah, I read the EULA and it looks like there may be some opportunity to buy Beta specific upgrades or items.  I don't know why anyone would but know that they won't work in the released version of the game.  Also realize that the hardcore Crysis guys are already at level 10+ and will likely use you for target practice so don't take it personally, I didn't.

That's it, check it out.

Friday, January 25, 2013

No More Intel Motherboards? Nvidia's Titan and THQ says goodbye

This week No more Intel motherboards, Nvidia's going to unleash a Titan, THQ's says its last goodbye and more!

The sky is falling! The sky is falling!

Ok, I'm no Chicken Little but PCPer got some disappointing news the other day.  Seems Intel is getting out of the motherboard business after Haswell comes out.  That works out to about 3 more years of Intel setting the tone for motherboard makers that use their chipset. 

That Intel is going to stop making motherboards in a declining and increasingly competitive market with razor thin margins is really no surprise.  Intel's board designs tend to be rock solid but not exactly cutting edge.   Intel boards are really just a reference design for everyone else.  As such they tend to not be that exciting except for boutique builders who have to warranty their rigs. 

What concerns me is that without that Intel "reference design," the remaining board makers may have difficulty providing a stable platform for Intel centric designs.

I'm far more concerned, however,  that it may spell the beginning of the end of desktop chipsets from Intel as they focus their designs on mobile and SOC.  Intel's chasing the market and the market says mobile, not desktop.  With the news last week of historically low Desktop PC sales and this week's news of a decline in sales of Mac PC's (Intel based BTW) the writing on the wall says the day of the desktop may be coming to an end.

GameShark Store Logo 120x60What's better than a GTX680? If you said GTX690 you're shooting too high and a little late to the game.  No, there's a rumor out there (and a very strong one at that) that in late February a new Nvidia graphics card called "Titan" is coming.  This is the full GK110 GPU with 2688 CUDA cores, 384 Bit Memory bus and  6 gigabytes of DDR5 RAM at 5.2Ghz.  It's also reported to be 30% faster than a GTX 680 and 85% as fast as a GTX 690.  It's a powerhouse card but it's also likely to draw a lot more power and throw out a lot more heat than a 680. 

It's likely Nvidia held this one back to avoid comparisons to the high heat and high power draw of the previous 4x and 5x cards on Kepler's launch.  Prices are said to be around $900 as well which puts the single GPU card within $100 of a 690.  While this may end up being the fastest single GPU card, the price point is about $200 too high in my view.  I'd still go for the 690, at least while I could as this card is supposed to replace it. 

Now the real question is will Nvidia stick with the Titan name or are we going to see something similar to the 280/285.  685 anyone?

BTW, the site's in Swedish so use chrome to translate it.       

Kotaku has reported on the latest PS4 (Orbis) development kit that may give some hints at the kind of horsepower you can expect from the upcoming console.  Current information still suggests we won't see anything definitive before the 4th quarter, however.  What does seem likely is a new controller with a touch pad, a combined CPU/GPU with graphics based on what's being called an R10xx GPU or roughly a low end 7700 series equivalent. 

What was the one thing most lacking in Skyrim?  Give up? Multiplayer, or rather Massive Multiplayer which is exactly what Bethesda's cooking up with Elder Scrolls online.  Apparently applications for Beta testing are now being accepted.  If nothing else at least we know the game will look better than WoW.

Hey all you urban planner wannabes! The game you've waited your whole life for is opening up its beta this weekend.  Well, at least for an hour since that's all you'll get.  A new SimCity game is coming and since it's on Origin you know it's going to be screwed up somehow.  Hey! that would be just like doing it in real life! 
Wow, the realism....

Well this is it.  Just like my future in IT, THQ is over and done.  Thursday was the last day with remaining employees meeting with former THQ CEO Brian Farrell and President Jason Rubin.  The company's been carved up and sold off to a number of buyers including Sega and Crytek.  At least it's over and the employees can finally get off the rollercoaster that's been the last 3 months at THQ.

Crysis 3's multiplayer beta opens up on January 29th.  IGN got early access this week. Check it out on IGN link below.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Game client updates and a violent video game tax?

The Midaged gamer report for 1-18-2013

This week:

Updates, updates, updates, Video games as straw man, hope for PC gaming and the case for a big case!

Origin had another update this week.  The new Version 9.1.10 patch claims to add an additional custom  security question (whether you want it or not), fix streaming to, add the ability to update account settings via the web ( I thought I could already do that??) and of course the ever mysterious..."miscellaneous" fixes.  Once you log in and add another "security" question you'll probably find you have to verify your email address again.  I'm still waiting for the email to show up from EA but it didn't prevent my login. 

Ya know, I'm getting really tired of having to constantly enter my credentials every time EA patches the Origin client.  If you have more than one PC like I do it's damned inconvenient.  Why bother to save credentials if you're just going to ignore the setting!  Interesting to note, by the way,  that this patch is designated a "Beta" Get yours today, like you had a choice...

In mildly related news Valve's Steam client also received an update this week.  Most of the fixes concerned Big Picture mode.  Seems like they update it every week anyway and it's annoying as well.   So there's that..

By the way, EA has a sale on Battlefield 3 shortcut kits and DLC packs.  The ultimate shortcut bundle is down to $20 from $39.99 and DLC packs are down to $10 ea from $14.99.  The sale is on till January 22nd.  It's available through your Origin client and

There was a time where buying a new game meant getting more than just a cool looking box or another entry in your Steam Library.  Somewhere around the mid 90's even the most complex games started shipping with nothing more than a publicity pamphlet with a direction to a similarly brief PDF file on the game media itself.  That's led to many of us either experiencing a new game for the first time via YouTube or just diving in and hoping for the best in a virtual trial by fire. 

361259_Primer Wireless Headset

If you long for those days of phonebook sized manuals, Steam's trying to meet you in the middle with the official launch of "Steam Guides." These are basically user contributed manuals, walkthroughs and information about Steam games.  It's about time some of that gaming mindshare found a constructive outlet.

You know how I feel about the complicity of violent video games in tragedies like Sandy Hook.  So you also know that I feel that blaming them for some psycho's killing spree borders on the insane.  It's nothing more than a straw man to avoid the uncomfortable reality that a civilized society doesn't depend on laws but rather our desire to comply with them. 

So when I see legislation looking to put a tax on violent video games I can only shudder in my disgust for yet another piece of fluff legislation.  For one thing, what constitutes a violent game?  Do we have to count bullets? virtual pints of blood? If it's a driving game and we bump another car is that violent?  Ridiculous! However, Missouri representative Diane Franklin thinks it perfectly reasonable.  This in spite of the U.S. Supreme court striking down similar measures 18 months ago on 1st Amendment grounds.

In gaming news actually related to a game, there's two developments you should be aware of if you believe the PC is the superior gaming platform with reports of its death premature. 

First, Bioshock Infinite is said to take full advantage of the PC platform and this time around has its own team of developers crafting it instead of just being an also-ran from the console.  Crank your settings to High and apparently no console version can even come close to the graphic goodness.  IGN has the article

If Fallout new Vegas was as disappointing to you as it was to me there may be hope of redemption.  It comes in the way of a mod currently in progress called Project Brazil and borrows nothing more than the core game engine.  Said to be released in chapters the new mod is less about gunning down irradiated baddies as it is unraveling the narrative.  PC Per has a write-up

Finally, in the quest for ever bigger cases to satiate my desires for a chassis that can not only hold any hardware I might EVER buy but also double as a spare room comes the upcoming Corsair 900D.  I'll keep it short.  10 expansion slots, more fans than the walls of a Chinese restaurant and the ability to fit 2 full size power supplies and a huge water cooling setup.  Check it out here.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

The gamification of ... games

It seems you can't buy a can of tuna or go to a movie without someone hawking some kind of "membership" promising exclusive benefits.  Buy a week's worth of groceries, for example, and it's likely you've earned "points" that knock a few cents off your next trip to the gas pump.

It's called gamification and its so prevalent that it's effectively part of the culture. So forgive me if I seem a bit naive but why do we need it in of all things, games?

We already have skill trees, ranks, badges and achievement perks.  Using even more gamification to "enhance" the game experience seems to be more of a crutch than a feature.  I'm specifically referring to triple-A titles using subscription models ordinarily only seen with free to play games.

Something's been lost in the translation when you can buy the same game DLC as is available with a subscription but get an inferior experience.  Battlefield, for example, will offer you all the upcoming DLC for Battlefield 3 with a subscription but also includes additional skill trees and perks unavailable otherwise.  In other words, membership has its benefits.

Purchasing all the DLC and available upgrade packs separately can actually cost more than the current $50 fee EA's asking.  So what's the reasoning behind it if it's not profit? 

We come back to our supermarket example.  Using your discount card provides them more information than the normal customer which ultimately benefits the issuer.  It's far easier to track market trends with a captive audience compared to generic information from the masses.  If most of your "subscribers" enjoy a particular brand of peanut butter, for example, you know how much and when is the best time to stock more of it.  Thus minimizing stale inventory.

Do games suffer the problem of stale inventory? I think not.  We're not talking about perishables here, just bits of code.  If you have to gamify a video game to make it popular something's wrong with the game itself.
It's no secret that most marketing focuses on vanity and ego but it's usually for commoditized products.   Commodity products are meant to be used, disposed of and purchased again.  I don't know about you but I don't plan on buying Battlefield 3 again every 2 months.  I may, however, purchase Battlefield 4 if I have a good experience with its predecessor.  If that experience is diminished by the act of not buying a subscription when I'm willing to purchase DLC without it, it's not a good sales metric.
Postal 3 - Inferior Product :-)

Treating games like peanut butter can only lead to inferior products.  I'm not suggesting that video games are some form of high art but they're at least as important an any other entertainment medium and should rise or fall on their merits not their promotion.

Some may use the example of Team Fortress 2 as the shining example of how gamification works in gaming but remember that TF2 is free to play.  It survives based on revenue from purchases of in-game vanity items and user contributed content.  Triple-A titles don't need it unless the publisher is desperate to crutch the game into legitimacy. 

In the case of Battlefield 3, the "membership" benefit gives you a "premium" badge for all your friends to see, weapon unlocks, dog tags (another badge) and skill trees that allow you to have an advantage over other players. 
In effect, Dice and EA had to offer a legitimate cheat to ensure the sale of their DLC. I suppose the game wasn't good enough to stand on its own.  Regardless of how many hours you have invested in it, EA doesn't find their own product any more important than a jar of Skippy.

It's just a business, we all understand that but the net effect of their promotional efforts provides faulty metrics and cannibalizes their own sales.  I'd rather have a better game than a browser full of badges.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

CES 2013 for the gamer

Midagedgamer Report for 1-11-2013

This Week: NVIDIA's cloudy future, PC Gaming on a tablet, SSD prices coming down? and more!

This week found all the gaming tech pundits scurrying around the periphery of CES in search of something other than smartphone cases and 4K TV's.   So Nvidia demoed their new Shield technology in the guise of a game controller with a 5 inch screen built into its flip top lid.  The device contains a Tegra 4 chip and includes the Android Jellybean operating system and 2GB of RAM.  The best way to describe the device is to think of it as an oversized Xbox controller with a Phone stuck to the top of it.  It's an interesting concept in that it can be paired with your gaming PC and use its resources instead of the onboard Tegra 4 hardware  When paired with a PC, display output can also be seen on the PC's monitor but there is about 100ms of lag roughly equivalent to the best OnLive session.  While interesting this seems like more of a design exercise to show off Tegra 4 than a real product.  See the link below for more information and a video of the PCPer guys checking it out.

In other Nvidia news they're showing off their Grid cloud gaming server with the capability to support 24 HD quality games per unit.  It's meant to support gaming on the cloud and while impressive the problem of cloud latency remains. Apparently 6 cloud gaming companies including Agawi, G-Cluster and Playcast are interested in it.   Most reviews lauded the product but none of them were trying to play Black Ops 2 from their living rooms 800 miles away either.  The problem with cloud based gaming services isn't the hardware on the head end, it's the latency of Internet connections.  The PCPer guys weren't all that impressed with it for that reason and neither am I.  The issue with gaming in the cloud remains to be the "cloud" part.

Thermaltake showed off a new gaming mouse called the Volos that includes the normal high resolution laser pickup and ergonomic styling you'd expect in a gaming mouse but with a twist.  It has 4 colored buttons on the left side just below the left click that resemble gamepad buttons.  In case you haven't guessed, that's exactly why they're there.  Thermaltake wants to combine your mouse with a gamepad.  I didn't see any joysticks protruding though.  I have enough trouble just getting to the right key on my keyboard in BF3 let alone worrying about pressing a gamepad button on a mouse with my fat fingers.  Then again, I'm old.

GameShark Store Logo 120x60I'd love to have an SSD but if you're anything like me you have too much crap to fit within 128GB.  See, that's the only size SSD that most normal people on a budget can afford.  Usually you get a smaller drive to boot off of and then move the rest of your crap to an old fashioned hard disk.  That doesn't work out to well for me especially with Steam and Origin still wanting to put most of their files on the "C:" drive.  Micron may be leading the charge to change that, however.  At CES along with new low profile DDR4 DIMM's they showed off the new M500 family of SSD's which feature MLC chips and a lower cost.  They claim pricing should work out $600 US for a 1Terabyte SSD.  .60 a Gig is definitely going in the right direction.

361259_Up to 75% off Video Game Accessories - Shop GameShark Store NowIntel, AMD and Nvidia were all bragging about their System on a Chip and low power designs that will mostly find their way into tablets.  As such, I don't really care unless you can deliver Crysis at 90FPS with ultra settings outputting photo realistic holograms with a gesture interface.  Tablets aren't going to do that for awhile so, meh. Come to think of it, I want that in a gaming PC period...

A little less "meh" was the Razer Edge tablet that incorporates a Core I5 or I7 CPU with an Nvidia GTX640M into a tablet form factor running Windows 8.  It's basically a "gaming" ultrabook stuffed into a tablet.  I like the hardware but it's still a "mobile" GPU and I've never considered anyone's ultrabook a gaming system.  Oh yeah, and the base model is a grand and only gets you an hour of battery life. See the last paragraph for what would really impress me.

Borderlands 2 has a patch out that fixes some bugs in Steam's Big Picture mode a few game bugs including shotgun damage and gunzerking issues.

United States Vice President Joe Biden is meeting with game industry executives to talk about gun violence today.  I hope they manage to convince him that regularly playing Call of Duty or Battlefield 3 doesn't turn us all into homocidal maniacs.  I mean, cmon without FPS games how could we train for the coming zombie apocalypse!

Speaking of zombies, the new Black Ops 2 DLC called "revolution" has a new game mode called "turned" that lets you play as a zombie and stagger around after your friends.

That's it for this week.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Nvidia Shields CES from the ordinary...

Well, we're one day into the official start of CES.  Although for gamers it seems the interesting information is coming from the fringes instead of the heart of the show.  Case in point.  While everyone is going to be talking about faster tablets and touch screens on laptops gamers could care less.  What gets my attention as a gamer has nothing to do with updating my Facebook page or realtime access to Gmail. 

PCPerspective has been on the ground skirting the periphery of CES for the past few days and among the most interesting back room demonstrations comes from Nvidia. 

It's name is Shield, and what it is a game controller with a Tegra 4 chip running Android Jellybean and a 5 inch android powered 720P display.  Among its interesting features is the capability to play games like any other handheld device but when in proximity to an appropriately configured PC to actually use the PC's resources instead of the Tegra 4 chip. 
It's been explained as being like a localized version of Onlive or GaiKai without the corresponding and sometimes debilitating lag those services introduce.  When in proximity to the PC, the Shield device becomes a remote controller and display for the chosen game while the PC does all the heavy lifting. 

361259_Buy Direct and SAVE on Mad Catz productsRyan Shrout of PCPer spent some time playing Hawken and Black Ops 2 on the device.  Nvidia reps describe the device as being very close to production.  It's a purpose built device meant for gaming so forget about using it for your GoToMyPC sessions or dropbox syncs.  In fact when the PC is working in concert with the Shield device the display mirrors the activity on the controller and is otherwise unavailable.  So much for virtualization.

Check out the video below.  It's an interesting exercise but like the WiiU may struggle to find enough of a market to become viable.  If you already have a 30' display and powerful gaming PC in the same room why bother squinting at a 5 inch screen?  It is portable but on its own its about as capable as a good smartphone but 3 times as large and not as versatile. 

Time will tell if Nvidia is reading the tea leaves or just trying to be cool.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Battlefield's "Premium" grind

EA has decided to bless Battlefield 3 (BF3) players on this post-New year's weekend with a special event.  It's called 2XP which translated to English means "Double Experience."  It means what it says.  During the event, time spent playing BF3 this weekend will get you twice the experience points than normal. 
Why should you care?  Well, Like most FPS games, the more experience you get the faster you rank up.  Higher rank has privileges like access to better weapons, equipment etc.

Just like most shooters, starting out in BF3 doesn't afford you many frills.  "This is my rifle, this is my gun..." and that's pretty much it.  If you plan to spend any time with it you'll want to rank up as quickly as possible.  If for no other reason than to avoid being everyone else's practice dummy. 

Trust me, dying every 30 seconds is no fun.

So Double XP sounds like a good deal right?  Well, it would except for the part I left out.

See, BF3's 2XP event is only for "Premium" players.  You know, those people who thought it was reasonable to effectively pay twice for the same game and get a few maps tossed in for good measure.  Initially the "Premium" Battlefield subscription offered all present and upcoming DLC  (maps) for the game as well as early access to it. 

EA's decided to sweeten the pot, however.  Along with the DLC comes other perks like special weapons, exclusive servers and of course our "2XP" events. 

The problem with that is, as you play BF3 with "Premium" members you frequently find yourself outmatched not on the basis of their experience but their wallet.  Now you may be saying to yourself, " So what, they paid for it so why not give them the perks?"

On a purely economic level that's true but there's a few problems with that. 

First, BF3 has been offering DLC and special "shortcut kits" even before Premium was announced.  That means if you bought all the DLC and other upgrades separately you could pay twice the price of a "Premium" membership and still be left out in the cold.  So it's not really a question of investment.  Second,  EA has effectively invalidated any investment you made outside of the "Premium" program.  That includes game purchases, time and effort because what you do as a "standard" player will never pay off as much as being in the "Premium" program.

570425_Up To 60% Off w/ Free Shipping 120x90Look, multiplayer games are nothing but an exercise in futility if you don't take the gameplay seriously.  That involves a significant investment of time before you start reaping the benefits.  If it were a pastime that could be mastered in a few hours that would be the end of the story but BF3 isn't like that.  It's designed to be a time sink and uses the classic rank and skill tree formula.  That means the more you play the better the payoff.

Therein lies the problem.  In the course of building up your stats you'll find that EA has made a conscious decision to discriminate against you if you're not a "Premium" subscriber.  In doing that, you're going to find it much more difficult to reap the rewards of your efforts.

Want proof? Then consider the following... 

Play BF3 long enough and one day you're likely to find one of your favorite servers has turned  "Premium only."  It doesn't matter if it only hosts the base game maps either.  You already know about the "exclusive" 2XP events.  Finally, let's not forget entire skill trees and upgrades completely "un-obtainium" without "Premium."

There are now two effective classes of BF3 player because of it.

EA has every right to turn a buck and heaven knows they take advantage of every opportunity, nobody  denies them that.  The problem is one of bad faith and betrayal of a loyal fan base of the franchise.  Ultimately it has less to do with any one game than the EA's business practices.  The best way to explain it is an analogy unrelated to gaming.

So here we go...

Imagine you and your friend walk into your local Chevy dealer and decide to buy Corvettes.  Being picky you decide you want a base model that you can later customize just the way you want it.   Your friend decides to get an upgraded model, say a ZR1.  Now you both  happily drive your new Corvettes off the lot and start to head home, satisfied with your purchases.

You both live pretty far from the Chevy dealer so you have to take the freeway home.  You know your friend's Corvette is better than yours but you're perfectly happy with your choice.  You both merge onto the freeway ramp but suddenly you see a sign that says, "ZR1 Corvettes only all others must exit."    
That seems a little strange but you get off the freeway and decide to try another way home but you keep running into that same sign, "ZR1's only."  Your friend's oblivious to your dilemma and just speeds off by the way...

Frustrated you drive back to the dealership to complain that you can't drive anywhere and nobody told you that would happen.  The dealer offers to sell you upgrades that can make your car just as good as a ZR1.  That should work, you think,  even if it costs me more.  So you give them the go ahead to do the work and take a cab home.  A few days later you get a call to pick up the car.  It's all done and it's just as good as a ZR1. 

Happily, you take delivery, marvel at all the upgrades and speed off to show your friend your "custom" Corvette except you still can't get on the freeway.  Your Corvette's just as good as a ZR1 now but it's not a ZR1 and forever after you'll have to drive on dirt roads to get around because only ZR1's are allowed on the freeway.

MWave 88x31That's how it feels to be slighted by EA's "Battlefield Premium" subscription.  You may have already paid more but you're still a second class citizen.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Sony Hates you, THQ woes and Boys behaving badly

The report 1-4-2013

This week:

Sony hates you, THQ can't catch a break, Boys behaving badly and proof that human beings can actually resist shiny objects!

Games are expensive, you know that, I know that and so do the publishers.  It's not uncommon for a so-called triple-A title to cost upwards of $60 and still be a flop.  So if you happen to have buyer's remorse or would like to kick the tires before going all in then the prospect of used games appeals to you.  If so then it appears Sony doesn't like you.  December 9th, Sony filed a patent for a device that makes a used game worthless for resale.  The patent spells out a system that permanently stores the console and player ID's on a tag on the media.  No ID match, no play, that simple.  Sony claims the patents are meant to deter second-hand sales but doesn't specify any products they'd be applied to.  Pre-emptive strike? You decide.

THQ's woes continue.  A group of THQ creditors called the "Ad Hoc committee of convertible noteholders" as well as the U.S. Trustee for the bankruptcy case have objected to the 30 day sale period as being too short.  The current frontrunner (or buyer), Clearlake is currently promised a 2.5 million dollar award in the event their deal gets scrapped.  The creditors also complain that THQ's too concerned about keeping the business afloat instead of paying them back.  At this point it'd probably be best if THQ stopped answering the phone.

361259_Enhance your Game - Shop Video Game Accessories for LESS at GameShark Store Every time I start to actually think the Internet may indeed be the catalyst for the next step of mankind's evolution I find a story like this.  There's a group of WoW players whose mission in life is to harass female gamers.  They've even put out a video highlighting their "accomplishments."  Kotaku has the details.  As for me, I'd really like to see these guys get their ass kicked and I don't mean out of a forum.

Remember when I said the WiiU was DOA? Well the numbers don't lie.  Retailers feared stock shortages for the holiday season but instead 2 days after the new year the best spin analysts can put on sales is "disappointing." After the previous story I'm starting to regain my faith in humanity for resisting this latest "shiny object."

All the pundits are packing their bags and hurriedly preparing for next week's CES in Vegas.  While not exactly an E3, the show does highlight all the goodies we "may" and I emphasize "may" be playing with in the near future.  At your own peril, I invite you to pick your favorite podcast pundit and watch them stagger around the show floor feigning enthusiasm for Iphone 5 cases.   Just try to ignore the bits about "having" to spend a week "working" in Vegas and getting paid for the privilege.  The last time someone tried to get me to work in Vegas it had nothing to do with booth bunnies and free food.  Enjoy guys!

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Hitting the Wall

For years it seems the enthusiast PC market has been concerned with going ever faster.  Faster processors,  faster memory and of course faster video cards.  We're not even happy with our storage anymore.  These days if it isn't a fast SSD you may as well be saving your data on backup tapes.

On the CPU side of things, at some point both AMD and Intel decided that speed was irrelevant.  Clock speeds were quickly climbing toward 4Ghz but the awful truth was that the drag race couldn't continue.  Silicon isn't very stable above 4Ghz unless you happen to own a liquid nitrogen plant.  Since we're still years out from quantum computing at the consumer level something had to change.

The fix? Both Intel and AMD ramped up their marketing departments and started selling the idea that speed wasn't that important anymore.  Instead they pushed the idea of having more processing power that could best their predecessors in benchmark tests regardless of the rated speed. 

More physical (or virtual) CPU core designs soon replaced single core designs and it wasn't long till the software caught up to take advantage of them.  To date there's still not much software out there that can simultaneously load more than 2 CPU cores for the average user but it makes for a good marketing hook at least.  I mean who wouldn't be impressed by having 8 CPU cores running at 3GHz even if 7 aren't doing anything...

361259_Arcade Video Game Sticks - Buy Direct Now!It seems we're now hitting the same wall with Video cards.  This time, however, it's not about the speed of the Graphics processor.  GPU's have taken a cue from their CPU cousins and morphed from simple display translators to multiple IC high bandwidth monsters capable of completely synthetic photo realistic gaming. 
That's all well and good but as the saying goes, beauty is indeed in the eye of the beholder and comparing one video card to another is a very subjective process.  Frames per Second is the standard and it's been around since the days of the first 3D gaming cards.  The problem is that two cards with the same FPS ratings at any given resolution can be wildly different.  Driver tricks, games optimized for one brand or another as well as personal bias can make the numbers moot. 

We've finally arrived at the point with high end video cards that we were at with CPU's not so long ago.  A cheap 3D card can be clocked higher than its enthusiast level sibling but still look pale in comparison.  We're more concerned with streaming processors, shaders and memory bandwidth than how fast it runs.  
Ahhh, all those geeky bits warm the heart but they still mean nothing when you're trying to compare two equivalent cards.  Performance is subjective without some kind of metric but does it really matter?  Remember that with each generation of new video card comes only a fractional improvement in performance.  We usually have to settle for no more than 30% improvement at best and that's under ideal conditions.  Factors like power draw, heat dissipation and even size are becoming more prominent in reviews now.  PCPer is currently evaluating new testing methods that leave FPS behind and instead start evaluating the constituents of the frames themselves at a fixed point in time.  I've linked to Ryan Shrout's article on it below..

It's admirable to seek the holy grail of a truly objective video benchmark but in the end it seems more of an exercise in futility.  Video cards in the same price range generally differ very little in the real world.   Adding more granular datapoints into the mix only serves the marketing departments of AMD and Nvidia.  If you can't discern any real difference between cards outside of a benchmark does it really matter? 

We know the basics, given a good driver (which isn't a given) good GPU design and sufficient memory bandwidth we should be happy.  A frame's difference here and there regardless of the metric cited are irrelevant so long as our games look good and our PC's don't become space heaters in the process.
Another case of much ado about nothing.