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FEATURED VOXPOP oblivion437     In all the talk of graphical downgrades no one seems much preoccupied with 'why?'.  Why build something and then proceed to tear it down, piece by piece, in the hope that ever more diminished expectations about the final product won't be severe enough to...

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The Age of Mutual Bottlenecks or: The Downgrade Story
Posted on Thursday, May 21 2015 @ 03:04:53 Eastern

This member blog post was promoted to the GameRevolution homepage.


    In all the talk of graphical downgrades no one seems much preoccupied with 'why?'.  Why build something and then proceed to tear it down, piece by piece, in the hope that ever more diminished expectations about the final product won't be severe enough to dampen sales.  Is it a bait-and-switch?  Is it impetuousness?  A secret conspiracy by the Five Dutch Bankers?  Unfortunately it's nothing so fun.  It's actually far more mundane than that.

    When building anything, software or otherwise, which must meet multiple sets of restrictions there are basically two ways to do it.  One is to build a different version of it for each set of requirements.  The other is to build a single thing which will fit all the sets at once.  The former option can get hideously expensive but allows for the best fit for each case.  The latter option is preferred in software for its ease of implementation and lack of expense.  What is lost in potential use value for the least restrictive choice is gained in simplified building, testing, polishing and shortened overall development time.

    When The Witcher 3 started production the new consoles were not only not on store shelves yet but had in fact not even been finalized.  CDProjekt RED targeted a high end PC of the time period as their benchmark on the assumption that a new generation of console hardware would be powerful enough to meet that standard.  They were wrong.

    Among the list of design choices and compromises struck in building the new consoles a fair few of them force me to scratch my head in wonder even with my limited knowledge of how the hardware actually works.

    The hard drives in the consoles are slow.  They use SATA 2 interfaces which have relatively limited bandwidth and the drives themselves operate at 5400 RPM.  This introduces latency.  This latency would be a bigger problem if the SATA 2 interface were not so much slower than the newer SATA 3.  One might think the insistence on using cheap off the shelf standards would explain their choice but neither SATA 3 nor 7200RPM Hard Drives are even remotely new.

    So in the interests of saving a poorly chosen buck large amounts of data going to or coming from the drive will be a major issue.  The obvious way to prevent it from getting out of hand is to ensure that the installation of files will place those most likely to get loaded together in the closest physical proximity (which cuts down on active seeking) and to keep the files small (which reduces the possibility of bottlenecking).  The implications are most vivid in terms of visual detail; a 1kX1k texture has 1/16 the memory requirements of a 4kX4k texture.  Dropping texture resolution doesn't just help keep the processor running.

    Both consoles use unified memory pools.  Both use off-the-shelf memory from PCs.  But the memory itself is actually very different.  As the standards grew and changed over the years the GDDR series grew more distinct from DDR.  DDR is system memory and is designed for chewing up and spitting out small tasks in rapid succession.  It is doing many small things so address latency is important.  Imagine an intersection in a large city.  Many small cars going through that intersection means that anything holding their passage up unnecessarily is a major problem for traffic flow.  Video memory has high clock speeds and high latency.  It's more like a series of semi-cabs hauling trailers across a rural highway.  Getting slowed up at the one intersection for hundreds of miles is not going to matter - the truck makes up for it with steady speed on the open road.  The problem is that they're both designed that way to better accommodate the needs of their respective tasks without costing a fortune.  The PS4 rural highway is getting clogged with other traffic while the XBOne has to deal with semi-cabs hauling trailers through that busy street.

    The overlapping flaws of both consoles create a situation in which it is incumbent on multiplatform games to play to weaknesses rather than strengths.

    So if you're wondering why these downgrades are happening it's actually multiple reasons but a big one is that the demands of multiplatform development make it inevitable.  CDProjekt RED isn't guilty to the same extent that Ubisoft is but they do bear blame for poorly communicating with the public.

Further Reading:
Wikipedia: Serial ATA BUS Comparison
Whatifgaming: UPDATED - Developer Insider: The Witcher 3 Was Downgraded from 2013 - List of All Features Taken Out and Why - I include this for relevance.  It's the source everyone goes back to on most of the downgrade claims.  That said I find that editorial extremely suspicious.

[The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect the views of GameRevolution, but we believe it's worthy of being featured on our site. This article has been lightly edited for grammar and image inclusion. You can find more Vox Pop articles here. ~Ed. Nick Tan]

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Old Before Their Time
Posted on Monday, April 13 2015 @ 13:49:44 Eastern

This member blog post was promoted to the GameRevolution homepage.


Bloodborne's apparently successful launch (see note below) has yielded two interesting points, for me.  One is that it's being hailed as the PS4's savior (see note below) and the other is that it seems to have serious technical problems.  Conversations erupting around previous games regarding lowered resolutions, trailers containing content not in the final game, downgrades, PR speak about 'cinematic' presentation and so on are nothing new.  Fountains of lies have erupted about the new consoles and have kept giving generously even as individual wellsprings went dry.  Remember all that talk about 4K gaming?  Well, forget all about that because they were never offering that.  It never happened and if you don't shut up about it, you'll find out what happened to Nikolai Yezhov.

One complaint deals with lengthy load times which are, in part, an optimization issue but the actual bandwidth for data is in some areas very narrow on both the PS4 and the XBOne.  Both stock hard drives operate at 5400RPM and both use the SATA 2 interface.  Hard drives store data on magnetic platters so 5400RPM (which is very low for gaming) basically means every time the software calls up information which requires active seeking (hunting around the platter for the relevant bit of information), latency will creep in more heavily than if the platters were spinning faster.  The SATA 2 interface is limited to a 300MB-per-second bandwidth which is a problem when you consider the size of contemporary game files.  The problem comes together in that the files may not be organized to limit seeking or limit the amount of seeking needed.  It's probably too late to fix the root cause of the problem.  It would require an overhaul of the file structure.  The reason such a bad compromise was struck will be discussed below.

Another is frame rate which proper performance optimization can mitigate but there are serious bottlenecks in the PS4 and XBOne which will make it difficult.  Both use one type of memory for all tasks.  The PS4 uses GDDR5, which is commonly used in video cards while the XBOne uses DDR3 which is used as system memory in PCs.  They're actually quite different; the DDR and GDDR specs are tailored to the needs of their particular tasks.  DDR3 memory has a comparatively low clock speed and low address latency.  It's meant to accomplish small tasks in rapid succession.  GDDR memory, by contrast, has very high clock speeds but high address latency.  Used in their specialized ways the trade-offs for both are completely acceptable - DDR3 isn't as fast as GDDR5, but it doesn't need to be.  The address latency is higher on GDDR5 but it's an acceptable trade off due to the way information runs through it.  The problem, really, is that each console uses one type of memory for everything.  So each has weaknesses the mirror image of the other.
  These consoles were not built for power.  They were built to turn profit per unit sold.  Unified memory pools can, on paper, be smaller while remaining sufficient.  A slower hard drive with a slower interface cuts down on operating heat which in turn removes the need for a more involved cooling solution.  This, in turn, drives costs down.  The consoles are underpowered in ways which cannot be fixed and will only get more troublesome as time goes on.  They were rushed to market and short-term profitability was the only thing which really mattered; both consoles were, initially, sold at a profit.  Given the combination of rush to market with little to no third party support and the weakness of the systems one must consider the possibility this was a deliberate move.  The libraries are still anemic and major titles which haven't already been delayed to 2016 are clearly at risk.  It's looking like the only winner of this console generation will be AMD.
Note: Reliable sales figures for Bloodborne across all markets are currently hard to get.  Some sources say that it sold 150,000 copies in its first week in Japan.  If this were done on a Western AAA development model figures like that would be followed up with an announcement of an impending studio closure.  These aren't system saving sales.  The console having passed the ten million mark some time ago this game's sales are just North of 1% market penetration.  I'm sure the game's gone on to sell more copies and consensus from players and critics both justify it but the celebration seems a little overblown.

[The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect the views of GameRevolution, but we believe it's worthy of being featured on our site. This article, posted on April 05, 2015, has been very lightly edited for grammar and style. You can find more Vox Pop articles here. ~Ed. Nick Tan]  

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A Look Into the Shady World of Stolen Content Scam Apps
Posted on Sunday, April 12 2015 @ 09:38:19 Eastern

In the world of game advice there are basically two models - free and premium.  Premium usually comes in the form of paid advice consultation, subscription services or (increasingly obsolete) print guides.  Free comes in the form of wikis and FAQs hosted on sites such as Gamepedia, Wikia, GameFAQs and even here on GR.  Well, suppose one wanted to make a little money and not have to earn it in any way shape or form.  One could, say, steal content from sites such as The Vault or Nukapedia and then sell it in an App as discussed here.  If one were even more unscrupulous one could not only steal content from those two wikis but also include some tasty viruses to spice things up, as discussed here.

The only advice I can give to anyone reading this is to report such theft and don't pay for something that is legally available free elsewhere.

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A Post-Mortem on the Obsidian Joke Issue
Posted on Saturday, April 4 2015 @ 20:28:01 Eastern

A bit of music to get started:
Van Der Graaf - Cat's Eye/Yellow Fever (Running)

A limerick in Pillars of Eternity touched off a rather silly internet fight.  The limerick was written by one of the project's Kickstar...   read more...

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The Cost of Caving In or: Artistic Integrity
Posted on Sunday, March 29 2015 @ 20:04:27 Eastern

I hate discussing internet fights.  It's the lowest form of anything short of selling human kidneys to buy counterfeit jeans.  As usual for this sort of thing, a bit of nice music to lighten the mood.

https://youtu.be/WDy...   read more...

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Boycott Polygon Reason No. Whatever
Posted on Wednesday, March 25 2015 @ 17:06:32 Eastern

Before we get started a nice piece of music - My Room (Waiting for Wonderland) by Van Der Graaf Generator

Via a thread on r/Kotakuinaction came a link to an 8chan thread which in turn contained a link to an archive.today of a Polygon p...   read more...

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Why Console Libraries are Still Anemic as of March 2015
Posted on Saturday, March 14 2015 @ 09:44:51 Eastern

In the March 13 entry ("Where are All the Great Console Games?") in his running video series "The Point" Danny O'Dwyer considers a serious problem - the drought of worthwhile software for new consoles.  Spending the first...   read more...

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EA Released Its Q3 FY15 Earnings Statements
Posted on Wednesday, February 4 2015 @ 15:16:12 Eastern

EA released some new financials today.

They're available here.

I'm not an accountant and have no training in reading these sorts of documents but a couple of interesting things pop out from the Form 10-Q quarterl...   read more...

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A Means to Disseminate Honest-to-God Leaks
Posted on Monday, February 2 2015 @ 11:31:56 Eastern


Wikileaks, though technically not a wiki, provides an easy means to disseminate information that some find it desirable to share against the wishes of those who find it desirable to keep secret. Aside from the morality of the leaking itself, ...   read more...

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Finally Broke My Crowdfunding Rule
Posted on Monday, January 12 2015 @ 11:26:39 Eastern



I've had a long-standing rule to avoid getting involved in any sort of crowdfunded activities.  I didn't donate to Shadowrun or Wasteland, but I did buy and enjoy both of them (I'm plugging both of those games right n...   read more...

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