Yet Another Nitpicky Essay Whining About Clickbait
Posted on Sunday, November 30 2014 @ 13:03:35 Eastern
In the grand tradition of all my previous whiny nitpick articles I'll begin with something pleasant and go on to cause nothing but misery and it's all my fault.
First, Zappa Plays Zappa with The Black Page 1 and 2
I hope you enjoyed that. This article will not be entertaining from here on out.
On Digital Trends Matt Smith (not that one) posts "How the PS4 and Xbox have Raised PC System Requirements" and it's a real weapons grade improvised stupid device of an article.
It's generally trite and shallow throughout, showing a lack of research and poor judgment by the writer. His first paragraph ends with the following, "What happens in console gaming can drastically affect the PC industry, causing sudden and unwelcome upward shifts in system requirements."
Can anyone name a time this has ever happened in the entire history of ever? When have consoles ever driven hardware requirements upwards for PC games? PC games have to be stripped down, features removed/toned down, levels broken up, dynamic systems simplified, asset resolution dropped and so on in order to fit them on the consoles. This particular boulder rolls downhill one way and gaming PCs have always been on the high side.
"One such shift is sweeping through PC games. Recent titles like Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor, Far Cry 4, and Assassin’s Creed: Unity have massive video memory requirements, rely on quad-core processors, and are full of other technical hitches."
Two of those games are published by Ubisoft, who have a notoriously bad track record for optimizing their PC games, the console versions of Unity are also a mess, newer video cards can handle Shadows of Mordor just fine even though it also appears to suffer from poor optimization, and relying on quad-core processors or having high memory footprints are not hitches; they're requirements. Finally, it should probably be mentioned that PC users are complaining when Far Cry 4 falls below 60hz with maxed out settings at or above 1080p - Most of those settings aren't even approached on consoles nor will anyone playing it on them ever see 60hz or 1080p, let alone ever worry about keeping the game at or above that.
"The Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 both used custom processors much different from the x86 processors in PCs, which made porting a chore. That’s why ports from one console to the other, or from console to PC, were often delayed or buggy."
By the time the 360 and PS3 had come out Core 2 series processors (which are not built in the x86 architecture) were on the market. Expensive as all get out but available. Very few games would take direct advantage of their capabilities for some time. To illustrate - Intel's Quad Core processors first hit the market in November of 2006 but some games which came out two years later, such as Fallout 3, not only did not support more than dual thread processing, they actually had problems with it requiring special workarounds (an ini tweak in Fallout 3's case). Also, the PS3 architecture was extremely heterodox even compared to other consoles. Games made originally for it were rarely ported to other platforms and games made for other platforms first saw severe performance issues which were often never fully ironed out; this was not dev/pub laziness or stinginess. The hardware was just that gnarly. All of this, of course, overlooks the rise of simultaneous multiplat launches for most AAA games.
"Virtually all cross-platform games hit computers and consoles simultaneously and technical issues are less common than with early 360/PS3 ports."
This was true about four years ago. The only games which showed severe differences were ones which pushed hardware to its limits, which was not hard to do with the PS3.
"But the more advanced hardware of the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 is resulting in games that challenge mid-range PCs."
Define 'mid-range' please.
"Two words: Eight gigs"
"The most serious concern is the amount of shared system memory available. Both consoles have eight gigabytes of RAM for all system functions including graphics. Computers can offer more raw memory but have specific hardware assigned to the system (DDR3 or DDR4 RAM on the motherboard) and to graphics (GDDR3 or GDDR5 on the video card)."
There's a lot not said here which needs to be said. For starters, the XBOne only has six GB to play with, the PS4 seven. Second, both utilizing unified memory architecture means that both have suboptimal elements in their design. The PS4's GDDR5 memory is mainly used in video processing outside that system and for good reason - it trades bus speed (which is more important for system-oriented tasks) for reduced latency. This is fine for video; clock speed is not only not everything it isn't even the most pressing bottleneck in most video performance problems so the tradeoff is worth it. When used in non-video processing tasks the trade off becomes an issue. The XBOne's use of DDR3 involves higher bus speed but also higher latency so it basically has the opposite problem - its video processing capabilities are inferior but its system functions are, ceteris paribus, handled more efficiently. Finally, eight gigabytes of system memory is considered entry level for gaming machines. Users with i7 processors installed will likely have 12GB or 24GB installed.
"This means games designed for the new consoles have access to far more video memory than a mid-range computer, and that’s starting to cause problems for PCs."
First, how? How is it 'causing problems'? Second, no they don't. Console games have system memory requirements, too, and video cards with at least 4GB of GDDR5 are pretty much standard now. This essay is being prepared on a computer with 6GB with higher bandwidth. Granted it's an expensive card but still...
"Middle-Earth: Shadow[sic] of Mordor stunned enthusiasts at release by demanding an incredible six gigabytes of video memory for “ultra” textures. Even “high” requires up to three gigabytes, which is more than offered on most affordable video cards."
Define 'affordable'. Also, those are completely uncompressed textures which the console versions of the game do not use, along with all the other bells and whistles which consoles do not support, at resolutions and frame rates they cannot match.
"And it’s not alone. Assassin’s Creed: Unity’s recommended specs call for three gigabytes of video memory and eight gigs of system RAM."
Ubisoft, remember, badly optimized anything runs poorly no matter what.
"Memory is a particularly thorny issue because it tends to cause dramatic shifts in game performance. Everything will seem to be fine for a time, then you’ll turn a corner, more textures come into memory than your card can handle, and serious stuttering occurs."
That first sentence needs a rewrite because as written it's idiotic. The second sentence is simply wrong; the author does not know what dynamic culling planes are (which all three platforms use) and what he is actually describing is a memory leak and that would not suprise me in the case of an Ubisoft game because, again, it's Ubisoft.
"The new consoles also have eight x86 processor cores. Each one is less powerful than even a mid-range notebook processor from AMD or Intel, but they’re formidable when combined, and coding for eight slow cores is not similar to coding for two extremely quick cores."
There are very few applications out right now, more than a year after both consoles launched, which even theoretically take advantage of octo-core processors. None of them are console games. Further, these processors have to take a dual GPU/CPU role where the number of cores cannot fully compensate for lower speed. And if more slower cores is an acceptable tradeoff owners of Nvidia's newer GTX series cards should be sitting pretty; they have thousands of CUDA cores running at relatively slow speeds.
"Far Cry 4 lists a quad-core as a minimum requirement and many owners of dual-core processors have reported the game won’t even launch."
That's what a requirement is for. Applications have specific hardware needs and that which falls below them tends to not be able to run them.
"Assassin’s Creed: Unity, Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare, and Middle Earth: Shadows of Mordor also list quad-cores as the minimum. These games will launch, but users will see occasional frame-rate issues that can’t be resolved by a quicker video card and may persist even with video settings at their lowest presets."
So even below system requirements PCs can still run these games? That's impressive.
"It’s hard to point to a single specific reason why new games need multiple cores."
No it's not. Games are poorly optimized these days and spaghetti code is sickeningly common. Ask anyone who ever made a mod for Skyrim.
"Unlike textures, which can be appreciated at a glance, the gameplay mechanics that strain a CPU are subtle. They include artificial intelligence, physics simulations, and off-screen interactions. Shadows of Mordor, for example, includes a “Nemesis System” that tracks enemy characters even when they’re not near the player. This feature is so demanding it’s disabled completely in the game’s 360/PS3 release."
The first sentence needs a rewrite. As for the rest, the 360/PS3 release not having the system is as much a RAM issue as a processor one as both have multi-core processors. Further, more sophisticated AI has been developed such as the ALife system from STALKER. It was more complex than Shadows of Mordor's AI and it did not break the bank on hardware back in early 2007.
"Console ports have changed the expectations of PC gamers within just a few months."
Yes. They've been dialed even further down whence they were before.
"At the beginning of 2014 an owner of any mid-range rig with two gigabytes of RAM and a fast dual-core or mediocre quad was assured solid performance in most console ports. Issues, when they arose, were the result of poor optimization rather than a lack of raw power.
That’s no longer true."
That was never true. 2 Gigs of RAM can barely run Windows 7. Never mind running a game.
"New cross-platform titles are putting computers to the test because they’re designed for consoles that, in certain ways, are fundamentally better for games than an average PC"
They're 'putting them to the test' due to their lack of proper optimization. Also, please define average. Which kind of average? Data Source?
"New, inexpensive systems are threatened, as well. The base $550 Alienware Alpha has only a dual-core processor; the quad-core starts at $900."
Defendant will please read the highlighted portions of the above text and consider the foolishness of the overall. At $900 a smart system builder who shops around can assemble something far more powerful than either new console with change to spare.
"In the short term these changes will make PC gaming difficult for players on a budget."
What kind of budget? Does the author not understand how PC users get their much higher ROI than console users? It's over the long term; PCs cost more up front but the costs are slowly returned in the form of cheaper games.
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Wish List for Fallout 4
Posted on Monday, November 24 2014 @ 12:38:46 Eastern
This member blog post was promoted to the GameRevolution homepage.
So I promised that list and here it is. It's late and it's not as thorough as I'd hoped. I also wish I had images handy to illustrate every point where helpful. So, in no particular order - a subjective set of desired features for Fallout 4:
Things to keep or expand from previous games
- No level scaling
This may be a controversial choice but the avoidance of level scaling gave a sense of reality to encounter design for New Vegas that Fallout 3 lacked. While 3's scaling model fixed the broken systems of Oblivion, it did not fit well with the setting; it was simply too gentle on the player for an unsanitary environment filled with monsters and wild animals hell-bent on murdering anything which crossed their path.
- The Damage Threshold system from New Vegas
It made the use of such things as armor-piercing ammo an important choice and the need for alternatives (such as the Piercing Strike and Shotgun Surgeon perks or the creation of Max Charge ammo for energy weapons) for various builds increased variety while maintaining viability of player choice.
- Dynamic encounters from 1, 2, and 3
The occasional attacks by Talon Company, Rangers and contract killers were not hand-placed but actually handled dynamically. It was very impressive and the stilted, predictable arrival of various death squads by passing obvious cell border checks in New Vegas was never quite to the same standard. Occasionally getting intercepted by raiders, pressgangs, Enclave patrols, the bridge from Monty Python's The Holy Grail, packs of mutants and so on added variety, life, excitement and danger to 1 and 2's overworld travel and it was, again, done dynamically.
- Survival Features
It does not automatically increase 'difficulty' nor is it necessarily about creating a 'post-apocalyptic feel' (Fallout was never really a post-apocalyptic series but post-post-apocalyptic), but it always does ground the player's relationship with the character and the environment that much more. They should perhaps still be optional but something as severe as survival requirements seen in jSawyer should be available for those who want it.
- Environmental variety
3 boasted an elaborate (though apparently somewhat artistically liberated) reconstruction of much of Washington DC's underground rail network. It also had rolling hills, the remains of small towns, blasted out ruins, vaults, post-war settlements and so on. This, combined with good use of geometry to hide LOD noise and long distance Z fighting, resulted in a world much more interesting to explore and simply poke around in than New Vegas' Mojave desert.
- Environmental coherence
What New Vegas lacked in variety it made up for, some might say more than made up for, in sheer intelligence. While bland the Mojave makes sense. Its environments are realistic and believable. The intelligence comes in caring enough about that to bother and respecting the player enough to assume they would care too. The next game need not sacrifice good spatial design or interesting concepts to get it. It requires an attention to detail both local and global; each area has to naturally make sense and all the areas in the game have to relate to each other properly.
- New Vegas' version of SPECIAL, traits included
In New Vegas all the attributes mattered more than in 3. Charisma is still mainly a dump stat no matter the player build but that can be changed with some modification in a future game. The value of the stats themselves carried weight above and beyond adjusting various skills. Most weapons have a strength requirement and significant penalties to their effectiveness incur in not meeting it. Extreme options such as miniguns, the Fat Man, super sledge hammers, and anti materiel rifles have hefty strength requirements to go along with steep skill requirements (every single item mentioned above required 100 points in the relevant skill to use effectively) to force a player to commit to non-reversible choices and even reversible but difficult ones about loadout. But please remove the New Vegas version of Skilled or replace it with something similar to 1 and 2. In New Vegas it's broke as a joke; the only reason to not take it is for the self-imposed challenge.
- Weapon modifications, ammo crafting, etc.
The modification system gave some low-tier weapons longer viability than they would otherwise have (9mm pistols are excellent varmint guns, the Laser Rifle can do significant damage against most anything) and ammo crafting made a variety of equipment more functional than it otherwise would have been. Additional crafting setups (such as gunsmithing) would further embellish it.
- Sighting systems
Something along the lines of S.T.A.L.K.E.R. with tools such as sight adjustment to compensate for bullet drop at long distances. It could also be an optional feature but it would be nice.
- The faction and karma systems
Providing a 2-dimensional reputation by having a personal renown or infamy for past deeds plus a set of variable attitudes regarding the player's relationship with various groups provides the possibility for many other interesting setups and makes for a more involved playthrough. New Vegas contained content which the player can only experience on multiple playthroughs; it was locked off for believable and logical reasons and it amounted, in total, to more content than was found in 3's main quest.
Things to toss/make optional
- Color washes
Whether the green wash in 3 or the orange and brown washes in New Vegas they are generally an eyesore and serve to pointlessly obscure the often excellent visual design in both games.
- Forced tutorials
There are something in excess of ten million people who have played this game or something enough like it (TES III-V) that making the tutorial optional would not be a bad idea as these same millions will be the majority of Fallout 4's players. Fallout 3's PC users can always install the Wanderer's Edition mod for alternating starts or just skipping the entire prologue, but the tutorials being optional is more than a convenience to longtime players - it's a gesture of respect to every player's intelligence.
- Pre-order DLCs
The pre-order equipment packs for New Vegas didn't really add anything to it but more bugs that could not be fixed by the developer or the publisher due to the file structure. One thing jSawyer.esp did was remove the packs from the player's possession at the start and seed them into various places in the game world. This was a definite improvement and the whole preorder DLC thing was just sleazy.
- The PipBoy 3000 Glove
Some of the most popular mods for 3 and New Vegas involve removing the Pipboy glove (to fix armor textures) and replacing the wrist-mounted computer with a handheld model. It would be a very nice option (or even a mechanically significant choice within the game, e.g. the PipBoy 3000 cannot be used with heavy armors but has other useful features someone not concerned about wearing Power Armor might want more) for the player to have out of the box.
Things to add
- An overhauled difficulty option
Likely an impractical idea but if increased difficulty did not simply buff enemies and/or nerf the player but actually changed how encounters worked altogether it would make playthroughs on different difficulties that much more compelling. Imagine, for example, a Talon Company encounter in 3 but on Hard they provide each other covering fire (which is much more lethal so the player is therefore encouraged to take cover or at least maneuver) so shorter-range combatants (grenadiers and melee) can get in range more easily.
What if Death Claws hunted in packs? What if Raiders appeared as roving bands as well as holding specific locations? What if on Hard all the Very Easy and Easy locks were removed so the player had to invest, heavily, in Lockpicking to get anything? What if the player got fewer perks and a lower level cap? What if firing off even a single shot while in a downtown area surrounded by hostiles of various types carried enormous consequences due to the sound revealing the player's position? What if a lot of things were not so much scaled as rethought in changing the difficulty? Learning to play it on Very Hard would be a very different beast than even Normal. Again it is a highly impractical suggestion but it would be a nice idea.
- Masters and Plug-ins clean on delivery
This is more of a PC-centric issue but the .esm (master) and .esp (plugin) files arriving without any dirty edits would make the implementation of mods and DLC that much simpler and more stable. It would also remove the cleaning step for end users which would make more advanced modding setups more accessible.
- Everything in Peter Thoman's PC Gamer article
Peter "Durante" Thoman (best known for GeDoSaTo and DSFix) lays out a list of features for PC games here and it would be just dandy if the PC version of every multiplatform game and every PC exclusive had all of them.
- Better UV mapping
Even with hi resolution texture packs installed Skyrim looks muddy but mods which fix the UV mapping of those textures onto models fix the issue without affecting framerate at all. The information is there; it's just used inefficiently.
- A Way to 'Write' Previous Games into the Current Game's Backstory
While importing saves as in The Witcher, Baldur's Gate, Dragon Age and Mass Effect is perhaps out of the question (except on PC with some kind of flag-check tool) it is still possible to do something similar to what Obsidian did in Knights of the Old Republic II with early dialog touching on key plot points in the previous game to effectively 'write' one's previous result into The Sith Lords' backstory. Being able to affirm a high-functioning independent ending for New Vegas with optimal endings for all four story DLCs (or even the secret ending for Dead Money nullifying all other possibilities) or to summarize how the Lone Wanderer left the Capital Wasteland before moving on would not only help to cement the new game's ties to the old ones, it would add the possibility of a variety of optional content that players may want to replay just to see.
Things to avoid where possible
- Large scale scripted setpieces
Bethesda's technology has not, from Morrowind on, gotten significantly better at handling them and the insistence on forcing the player to mostly spectate one at the beginning of Skyrim is, by far, the weakest aspect of the entire game. The systems used don't work very well to support it so even though it's about a dragon inadvertently saving the player's life while trying to kill them it is also very boring. To put it another way - the sequence five minutes after the game starts where the unarmed and helpless player must desperately flee for their life from one of the most dangerous creatures in the game who is there to kill them personally is more boring than managing inventory.
- Sequences in which the player is reduced to a passive spectator and/or robbed of agency
Any situation in an open-world/sandbox RPG where the player is suddenly deprived of character control that they may witness some animated spectacle or watch some important event as dictated by the developer breaks the relationship the player has with the game. To the extent that either 3 or New Vegas had done so it was always contextually justified. Anything of that nature coming in now would be less than savory.
- A plot which makes no sense
Fallout 3 really does not get raked over the coals nearly as often or as severely as it deserves in the press for how utterly terrible its story was. It was completely broken - of the few characters who had any motivation at all for anything they did (James, Li, Lyons, Eden, Autumn) their actions made no damn sense: James and Li were both just as incompetent as Pinkerton said they were but there is no way to actually do anything about this, Lyons' desire to hold the purifier is pointless, Eden's plan is self-defeating and a bad recycle of elements of Fallout 1 and 2 and he should already know this as both sets of events occurred decades ago, Autumn has no reason to stop either James or the Lone Wanderer from doing exactly what they intend for he wants the exact same thing and knows it. And this did nothing to further their goals. While the only way to expect writing on par with New Vegas would be to farm the game out to Obsidian, and that's highly unlikely to ever happen again, Bethesda can still learn a few lessons from New Vegas' approach to writing.
- Making the protagonist 'the chosen one' in some sense
In Fallout 1 the Campbellian Hero's journey is brutally subverted while Fallout 2 starts jabbing at such standby RPG conceits right from the start and just keeps lacerating them throughout. Fallout 3's lone wanderer is such a stock 'chosen one' that it's downright absurd. Practically every checkbox for the trope and the flaws with the trope are checked without a single hint of irony in the third entry in a series which never played it straight.
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 October 19, has been lightly edited for grammar and style. You can find more Vox Pop articles here. ~ Ed. Nick Tan
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Ubisoft Tries Potomac Two-Step; Pratfalls
Posted on Saturday, November 15 2014 @ 07:35:20 Eastern
Via Gamespot (but there's no point in reading the Gamespot article because it just repeats what others are saying) comes this BBC news post, "Assassin's Creed: Unity criticised for widespread glitches" in which a Ubisoft PR rep tries to salvage the game's nonexistent good name by lying a lot.
Leo Kelion, the writer of the BBC article maintains a neutral tone and lets Ubisoft (fail to) speak for themselves. The whoppers pass by without comment but anyone even vaguely acquainted with the topic will catch them. A few choice items with some needless snarking by me:
"In a further statement, Ubisoft added that the complexity of creating a multiplayer title, in which players join forces via the internet, was the reason that the game had only became available for review relatively late in the day."
In what universe is this not a bald-faced lie? Dark Souls I & II had multiplayer stress tests prior to launch and had continuous updates following those tests and after launch to continue to improve the games' netcode. 'Relatively late' for a long-form singleplayer game is less than a week before launch. Embargoing the reviews until after launch is meant to keep information out of the hands of people who, if they had it, might make a decision Ubisoft would not like. Some embargoes are not nefarious (they're about keeping the 'rush to print' under control, which would otherwise completely ruin what little credibility the review/preview press has) but this one definitely was.
It quotes Ben Kuchera who says the obvious true thing (the embargoes are shady and etc.) but Kuchera then uses that anti-GG hugbox rhetoric:
"Any embargo past midnight the night before is sketchy as hell. It's a way to weaponise embargoes, and the best thing to do is to hold off until you can read about the game in detail."
There's that word...weaponise. No. It's not 'weaponising' anything. It's crooked, yes, but this is one of the reasons why embargoes exist - it's to keep information from people you don't want to have it, in this case people who would not give you their money if they had the aforesaid information. It dates to the beginning of the practice, it's nothing new, and frankly more benevolent uses of the embargo are news. In other words Ben Kuchera can't rhetoric at all. Sorry for the rant.
Another note about Kelion's writing and how it demonstrates how the British press is generally superior to the American; he sets up the allegation and gives Ubisoft space for rebuttal - anyone who knows anything about the topic will know the rebuttal is a pack of lies but the space is given.
"The nature of games themselves and the way they are being reviewed is changing, as evidenced by games like Assassin's Creed Unity, Destiny and The Crew - games that have significant online components," she said."
Many games, Grand Theft Auto V for example, have 'significant online components' and do not impose these types of embargoes. This vague pseudo-metaphysical rambling is nothing more than blather papering over one nefarious deed with other nefarious deeds.
"Having the online elements available and having populated worlds is essential to creating a representative and complete experience for reviewers."
Give a bunch of reviewers review copies of the gold or final multiplayer build at the earliest possible point and let them experience it with each other. It's worked in the past. From Software does its stress-testing in alpha phases and continues through beta to gold. GTA V had its tests and pre-release periods.
"Achieving this prior to launch is incredibly complex, which is why some games are being reviewed much closer - or as was the case with Destiny, even after - the game launches."
Why is it only games which suck that seem to have this issue?
"We are working to adapt our services and communications with consumers accordingly, both by changing the way we work with reviewers and by offering customers open betas or other early access to some games, all so that they have the information they need and want."
So they're going to keep doing it even though it pisses everyone off. They're losing money, their stock prices are falling, and their projects are falling behind schedule. They got caught and called out for a bait-and-switch. I'd suggest they not do it again but they will.
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Good Old Games is Doing Their Annual Fall Sale
Posted on Thursday, November 13 2014 @ 17:00:02 Eastern
From now until November 25, Good Old Games (GoG) is running a sale on a large number of items.
You might want to give it a look.... read more...
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Posted on Wednesday, November 5 2014 @ 14:06:25 Eastern
The media hoax is as old as media. The bathtub hoax, the spiritual medium hoaxes, Peter Popoff, and even false video game leaks. They come in several flavors but can be broken down into two broad classes - japes and scams. Mencken... read more...
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Amateur Scholar Hour
Posted on Wednesday, October 29 2014 @ 13:48:45 Eastern
On 'Motherboard' Jason Koebler whines about the use of Archive.today and other such services to mirror site content in an article titled "Dear Gamergate: Please Stop Stealing Our Shit". Gamergate activists have latched onto Archive ... read more...
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I Don't Want to, but I Have To...
Posted on Monday, October 20 2014 @ 11:43:07 Eastern
Well, Gamergate has spilled over into the mainstream media and the coverage appears to be nearly uniformly dreadful.
Take "What is Gamergate, and What Does It Say About Gender In Video Games?" by David Konnow as an example.&n... read more...
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A Brief Response to a Recent Upset
Posted on Tuesday, October 7 2014 @ 11:56:23 Eastern
The recent dustup between pissed off gamers of various stripes and pissed off journalists of various stripes has left me cold. Commentary is solidly locked into two camps - one dismissing the complaints about corruption and collusion as either ... read more...
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On the Possibility of a Ninth Generation of Consoles
Posted on Monday, September 29 2014 @ 15:38:04 Eastern
As Mr. Osborn is wont to do, he posted a link to one of Michael Pachter's intellectual...movements and there was some discussion of the merits of his thesis. For our purposes it's fair to note that Pachter's predictive rate is lower... read more...
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Booth Babes as Prismatic Side Show
Posted on Thursday, March 20 2014 @ 12:18:06 Eastern
This post began life as a simple rebuttal to Daniel Bischoff's essay, "Join Game Revolution in the Fight to Ban Booth Babes from E3" and has since grown into something a bit bigger.
Concerns about the industry's image... read more...
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