Friday, April 15, 2016

You don't need a new video card. Why driver optimizations like Gameworks are bullshit

Ok, so I'm an old man.  Irritable, opinionated and curmudgeonly at times.  Mind you, that's not my general disposition, I only get that way when I'm force fed a load of marketing BS.  

I hate hype, you know that.  What I hate even more is when hype is used to cover something far more sinister.  That being an intentional misdirection to present the subject as something it's not.

I'll suffer the barbs from the fanboys for expecting to get 5 years out of a hardware platform before pronouncing it obsolete.  That's because I know I'm right.  A position vindicated by those few who chose to dig deeper.

One of my first jobs in tech was working for a software development company that made accounting software.  Back when they started, PC's were outnumbered by typewriters and programming meant having a lot more intimate knowledge of the hardware it was expected to run on.

I remember having a conversation with the owner one day.  He was shaking his head as he surveyed a sea of developers feverishly coding the latest release in Borland Delphi.  He said, "When I started this company I could write an entire accounting system in 64K, what a waste."

He hated visual programming environments and the overhead they introduced that in his estimation did nothing to make the code any better.

That was almost 20 years ago.  I understood what he meant but I was also a big fan of "easy."  If he saw the amount of cruft that goes into software development these days, however, he'd just give up.

So who cares about some boring accounting package from 20 years ago.  What does that have to do with gaming??


You see regardless of whether the software is an accounting package, game or hardware driver, there's a layer of abstraction that takes you further and further from optimal use of resources.

That's the case with Nvidia and AMD drivers.  Even if you forego the installation of all that extra Gameworks or Crimson crap you're still dealing with the layer of abstraction introduced by Direct X or OpenGL.  That not only causes extra overhead but allows entry points for hacks and cheats.  Another thing that brings out the curmudgeon in me....

"But Dudz!   All that stuff (that I really don't understand) makes game development easier and makes games come out faster.  Now developers don't have to produce custom code for every possible graphics adapter!  "

Yes and No.  Remember that nothing's free and all that convenience has rapidly become an excuse for what can only be described as sloppy coding.  Add in all of the "customization" that driver add-ons like Gameworks stack on top of it and suddenly we're back to the bad old days of having games coded for specific graphics hardware with the bonus of extraneous crap to slow it down even more.  

I can't accept anything that exists for it's own sake and that's what current gen gaming is.

If you're wondering, the video above does an excellent job of describing one particular vendor's "optimizations" that have effectively built-in an artificial obsolescence.  It's all for no other reason that to sell newer video cards.   There's also the added benefit of making the competition's hardware look bad because it can't use all that "custom" code.  

This goes back to my original point.  If you watched the video above you see an example of a tessellation effect from Nvidia that is marketed as adding greater realism.  Problem is the games have to be coded to take full advantage of the effect which requires using their development kits which only benefit their own hardware.

But the requirement is a fallacy.  Be it the driver mods or sloppy coding the net result is wasting resources for no reason.  For example, rendering an entire unseen ocean when all that's visible is a small lake. I mean c'mon now,  is it really necessary to add tessellation effects to a bare concrete wall or to a texture I can't even see?

Worse, because older hardware may not have the capabilities to deal with this waste of resources you suddenly end up with an artificial obsolescence. 

Meaning for no other reasons than marketing hype and/or sloppy coding, your last generation card (or competitor's card) either won't run the game or run it very poorly.

I cannot and will not accept the rate of hardware churn when there's nothing real driving it.  It's like flattening the tires on your car and telling you the only fix is to buy a whole new car. 

That's insane but that's the model the gaming world is built upon.

I could care less about how much better a 980 Ti runs Witcher 3 versus an R9290X because contrary to the assumption, all things are not equal.  Even so-called "benchmarks" are affected by what can only be described as an artificial metric!

What needs to happen is that drivers need to be drivers and software needs to be software.  We're going to be stuck with hardware abstraction layers and bloated development libraries even on consoles but there should be no need to upgrade hardware just because somebody is too lazy to tighten up their code or worse builds in an artificial limitation for the sake of unit sales.

It seems hardware vendors are as full of BS as game publishers now.  I don't know if there's much hope for the future if it continues.

Monday, April 11, 2016

Latest Gaming adventures: More GTA 5 and back into Path of Exile

I'm a gamer so at some point I should be playing games instead of writing about them right?  So if you haven't checked out my YouTube channel yet drop over there to see me do more than just talk about gaming.  Address is at

I regularly stream on weekends late on Friday and Saturday as well as a few times throughout the week.  Lately it's been a lot of Grand Theft Auto 5 online.  I finished the single player game a month ago so now I'm into building my online fortune in the game.  I'm currently on my third apartment and have about 7 cars in the garage with the latest being a recent acquisition from Benny's Original Motorworks.  

For GTA 5 there are milestones that only come from perseverance (if you don't cheat)  Money is everything in this game and you don't get very far without it.  You can have anything you want but it's going to come at a price.  

Unfortunately, there's been a recent epidemic of modders who don't have the patience to grind their way through missions to claim their riches.  It's made public GTA 5 sessions a very dangerous place with the bad guys doing everything from spawning windmills in player's garages thus destroying their cars to literally stealing player money via a mod commonly known as insurance fraud.  Cheats and hacks can be annoying but in GTA 5 they've crossed over into criminal where a player's real money gets stolen. 

For example, when a modder pulls the insurance fraud hack on an unsuspecting player they drain their in-game bank account including any money obtained via the purchase of a "Shark Card" which allows players to purchase in-game funds with real world money.

So lots of people like me have decided to just play in invite only sessions and those few public missions we find interesting from the mission list on the in-game phone.  

I always make sure to start out from my apartment and use the web app on the in-game cell phone to bank any money I've got on me instead of looking for an ATM.  Doing otherwise can leave you dead and broke.  It's literally too dangerous to walk the streets of Los Santos in a public Free Mode anymore.  

But that's ok.  So long as you stay in private sessions and immediately leave any public sessions you end up in after completing a public session event you should be safe.  Which is what Shotglass and I have been doing.

I'be been up to more than just virtual felonies, however...

"Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in!"

I thought I was done with RPG's for awhile, especially Path of Exile.  I had spent 100;'s of hours in this game across a few characters.  At some point, however, I kept hitting a steep leveling curve that made the experience an unsatisfying grind.  Add to that insult the injury of risking your XP in more difficult game modes( the only way you can level up BTW) and overpowered opponents and I was done with it.  There's also the crafting and marketplace elements that are so complex that I wouldn't be surprised to see some creative college professor create a class for it.

So why did I come back?


I had been logging into the game periodically just to prevent my account from being deleted for inactivity should I have ever chosen to come back.  On one particular Saturday when I was logged in at Shotglass' house I somehow ended up in a PVP match with him using my Marauder and Ranger characters.  

The day after I decided to see what had really changed since I'd been gone (and the Ascendancy patch dropped) so I spent some time with a character that I'd largely ignored to that point, a Templar.  Long story short after a dozen or so hours I was hooked again.  He was new enough to easily fix any problems with his skill tree and balanced enough to embrace any fighting style I chose.  I decided he'd be best suited as more of a battle mage with all the power of my old witch character but a lot more stamina to stand and fight.  

30 hours later I've been pulled back in... 

 Check out the videos below to see what I mean...