GWJ Conference Call Episode 74

Conference Call

Patapon, Hellgate Uninstalled, LOTRO, TFL Crushes Us, Ironlore Gone, Competition Complex, Your Emails and more!

This week we eat some crow served up by the Team Fremont community. We also get into the thrill (avoidance) of competition, Ironlore closing their doors and a ton more. We're winging it!

To contact us, email [email protected]! Send us your thoughts on the show, pressing issues you want to talk about or whatever else is on your mind. You can even send a 30 second audio question or comment (MP3 format please) if you're so inclined.

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Show credits

Music credits: 

Intro/Outro Music - Ian Dorsch, Willowtree Audioworks

"Bridger" - Daniel Lawrence Walker - www.daniellawrencewalker.com - 0:25:21
"Terra" - Chico Correa & Electronic Band - 0:53:26

Comments

See, you guys should have reviewed my Podcast on iTunes

I think that needs to be a new perk, to Strap a Midget holding a Glock to your back. I need to send that to Infinity Ward

Mystic Violet wrote:

Patapon is hard. My troops have been decimated more times than I'd like to admit. The demo is a cakewalk compared to some of the later missions. Keeping FEVER is essential. Their stats goes up, Yumipon shoot an insane number of arrows, Kibapon aren't completely useless, Tatepon are more powerful, etc.

I'm so glad to hear that someone else has this problem. The Manual says, basically, that if you're any good you won't lose a single unit in battle. Good grief! I've already tried to use that confounded catapult to take that Zigaton fortress at least half a dozen times. Despite my best efforts, I always end up looking back and saying "WHERE THE (expletive) DID MY CATAPULT GO!?!?!?!" I've tried all different combinations of units (Yumipon, Yaripon and Tatepon. All dead. Yumipon, Yaripon and Kibapon. All dead. Yumipon, Kibapon and Tatepon. All dead. And so on)

I'm sure I'll figure it out-- I probably have to go back and replay the boss games again (and again and again) until I unlock some decent gear.

Still, the game has a difficulty that belies it's cuteness.

pneuman wrote:
Darth Nader wrote:

The more I hear about Sins of a Solar Empire, the more I want to buy it. Unfortunately, I already have a job.

That about sums up my thoughts too That's another game that I'm really interested in, because everyone seems to love it, but I know I won't have time to spend 20 hours just learning how to play it, followed by multi-hour online matches and a god-knows-how-long single-player campaign. I think I can summon the self-control to skip this one.

I'm like the Lost Oddesey emailer-- I always think I'm going to like RTS games, but I never do. I bought Command and Conquer for the N64, because I didn't have a PC (or because I subconsciously knew that I couldnt' handle an RTS) and ended up playing one of the bonus missions over and over, but never playing the campaign mode. I bought Warcraft 2 and lost interest. I bought Warcraft 3 after all the hype about how much better it was than 2, and ended up giving up after the first baby-unit mission (Let's get you used to base building for a few missions, then send you on a mission with three weak units and tell you to kill everything on a map! Have fun!)

I liked Freedom Force, which had RTS elements but was still basically an RPG with a RTS interface. I think I liked it because I only had to keep track of four guys, rather than building a force of a dozens and then trying to figure out where the heck everyone was on a map. ("We're under attack" says the orc. Great. Where?!!?)

After that I tried Evil Genius, which isn't really an RTS, but it has a lot of base-building. I liked that I could just issue orders and someone would do them, rather than clicking on an individual minion and saying "I want you to go find tiberium, or gold, or whatever the heck people in this universe use to build things. And keep mindlessly doing it untill I tell you different."

Where was I. Oh, right.

So you guys have just about got me convinced that I'll like SOASE, even though I know in my brain I'll suck at it. Fortun ately for my wallet and my sanity, I don't think my computer can run it. Dodged an asteroid there, eh?

Talking about the adrenaline of playing CS, i had the same experience playing Capturestrike in the Threewave mod for quake 3 arena. That's still my favourite gametype in any game i've ever played.
The tweaks to the basic gameplay found in Quake 3 Arena such as not taking HP damage from your own weapons (you still lose armour) allowing acrobatics and for you to mitigate fall damage that you might take with a carefully timed rocket really added a level of complexity to being able to capture the flag and (out)manoeuvre around the map (other players). Thus there were three games at play - Team Deathmatch early on in the round when you would all work together to defend or attack, a personal 1v1 mentality type of game because self-preservation really kicked in towards the end of the round and the numbers of people left on your team dwindled and a capture the flag mechanic.

The console to PC port issue has long been lamented and boils down to a one reason: The developer has little to no funds to be able to proceed with the port due to the 'smaller market' available to the game on the PC platform. (Or in some cases the developer is lazy - but i doubt that this is a common occurrance)

Therefore many features will remain 'consolised' or optimised for console play. There isn't enough money or manpower to spare on re-jigging the mechanics of the game or the game engine.
The high specs of the PC port is usually down to the fact that due to the console-style of having cheap, specialised processing parts (including graphics and sound) that require in-order execution of code requires a specialised sort of engine and engine design. This results in the engine that is developed for a console being incompatible in the way it operates for use on PC - each engine essentially needs to be re-written to be able to work on PC, unless you have one of these cross-platform compilers like id's Rage engine or (in theory) the UE3 engine... but even in these cases, the content of the game is ported across to the specific hardware environment and is basically 'plonked down' on top of each separate sub-engine (i.e. PC, PS3, Wii, Xbox). I hope that makes some sense... i think i had a bit of brain splurge whilst writing that...

An example of this is the Assassin's Creed engine. Over at RockPaperScissor's Kieron Gillen pointed to a post by a pirate coder who had been disecting AC pc engine... It turns out that an entire level must be loaded into memory rather than perhaps being dynamically loading like a lot of PC games do with larger environments. Not only that but ALL sounds in the game are loaded into memory regardless of if they are used in the specific level you are playing.

This is obviously some sort of fix to get around the way that the developers have had to access content on the 360 or PS3 which can't be replicated on the PC for whatever reason...or changed significantly without having to re-write even more engine code.

Hopefully, these things might get more realistic with the Rage engine and UE3 engine:

Gears of War doesn't seem so bad:

Minimum specs:
Processor 2.4+ GHz Intel; 2.0+ Ghz AMD
RAM 1 GB
Video Card NVIDIA GeForce 6600+, ATI X700+

Required:
NVIDIA GeForce 7900 series or ATI Radeon X1800/16x0 series

Minimum specs are mid-range really... however i'd be that under Vista, that would be borderline unplayable...

You mean recommended?

The reluctance to attack other human players seems especially prevalent in our Civ4 games. There's a lot of time invested into building your empire and I think we're all (except ranalin ) a bit weary to ruin someone's fun by destroying all their hard work. I've noticed a strong tendency for people to attack AI players rather than human players. The pitboss game 2 has been especially peaceful, except when a non-Goodjer took over one of the slots and Alien13z decided he needed to shake things up and solidify his first place lead.

boogle wrote:

You mean recommended?

Freudian slip?

One thing that I'm surprised no-one's mentioned is that with so many PC games coming out on the 360, the 360 in many ways represents a standard spec. I'm not saying the specs should match, of course, since obviously a PC with 512MB of RAM is no match for the 512MB of RAM in the 360. Instead, I'm referring to a PC that, after all the overheads of running Windows etc etc, can play games about as well as the 360 can. Something like:

* a low-end dual-core CPU
* 1.5-2GB of RAM
* a video card around the 7900/X1800 mark

This is hardly a high-end system, but I think you'll find that a lot of 360 ports, like Gears or BioShock, will run pretty well (at 720p-ish resolutions, at least). While these specs might creep up a little over the years, I wouldn't be surprised if we see future 360 ports still performing reasonably on such a system.

The answer to PC gaming woes is to embrace the Mac! Think about it. You get the advantages of the PC model, but a closed enough system that developers could actually program their games with some assurance that it will run properly. What games have issues on the Mac? PC ports always cause issues. But software written for the Mac first is much better (but rare).

Ok, now I'm living in Rob's fantasy world...

pneuman wrote:

One thing that I'm surprised no-one's mentioned is that with so many PC games coming out on the 360, the 360 in many ways represents a standard spec. I'm not saying the specs should match, of course, since obviously a PC with 512MB of RAM is no match for the 512MB of RAM in the 360. Instead, I'm referring to a PC that, after all the overheads of running Windows etc etc, can play games about as well as the 360 can. Something like:

* a low-end dual-core CPU
* 1.5-2GB of RAM
* a video card around the 7900/X1800 mark

This is hardly a high-end system, but I think you'll find that a lot of 360 ports, like Gears or BioShock, will run pretty well (at 720p-ish resolutions, at least). While these specs might creep up a little over the years, I wouldn't be surprised if we see future 360 ports still performing reasonably on such a system.

One thing to probably note, is the OS running on the 360 (a version based on XP I think) is probably not running anything but what's needed for playing games, as opposed to XP or Vista on a regular PC. There's no anti-virus/spam/pop-up blockers running and so forth. Vista, being a bit of a hog itself, runs many games at noticably less performance than XP, as it has so much running in the background. I've often thought about running a different profile on my OS with very little apps running except for games, to see if there is much of a difference in performance

Jayhawker wrote:

The answer to PC gaming woes is to embrace the Mac! Think about it. You get the advantages of the PC model, but a closed enough system that developers could actually program their games with some assurance that it will run properly. What games have issues on the Mac? PC ports always cause issues. But software written for the Mac first is much better (but rare).

Ok, now I'm living in Rob's fantasy world...

See, but you don't get the nice micro$oft money. Without that, I wouldn't do it.

Jayhawker wrote:

The answer to PC gaming woes is to embrace the Mac! Think about it. You get the advantages of the PC model, but a closed enough system that developers could actually program their games with some assurance that it will run properly. What games have issues on the Mac? PC ports always cause issues. But software written for the Mac first is much better (but rare).

Ok, now I'm living in Rob's fantasy world...

Dear god, no. I don't want to have to shell out $2500 for a new Mac each time the games advance. You folks who are spending $1500-$2000 on each upgrade are doing it wrong. You need to have a forward-looking philosophy on computer upgrades. Of course, that means living with your older hardware longer than you might like to, but it works.

nsmike wrote:
Jayhawker wrote:

The answer to PC gaming woes is to embrace the Mac! Think about it. You get the advantages of the PC model, but a closed enough system that developers could actually program their games with some assurance that it will run properly. What games have issues on the Mac? PC ports always cause issues. But software written for the Mac first is much better (but rare).

Ok, now I'm living in Rob's fantasy world...

Dear god, no. I don't want to have to shell out $2500 for a new Mac each time the games advance. You folks who are spending $1500-$2000 on each upgrade are doing it wrong. You need to have a forward-looking philosophy on computer upgrades. Of course, that means living with your older hardware longer than you might like to, but it works.

So, you do know that people keep their Macs longer than people keep their PC (or at least not upgrading them), right? The resale value of Macs are so much higher than PCs. I've never spent $2500 on a Mac, either. I can play just about any PC game last year's iMac. Crysis runs like garbage, but will run if all settings are at their very lowest. My iMac is the early 2006 version, and it was $1700. It's now early 2008, and all I have added was a gig of RAM. I have no doubt that I will be able to run the vast majority of PC games released this year. I have World in Conflict and The Orange Box on it right now, and they run perfectly.

I'm assuming that developers would have easier time programming for my iMac than the thousands of PC variants that are of comparable specs as my iMac.

My daughter is still using our old 2002 eMac for internet and word processing. I picked it up for $1100 six years ago.

When I switched to Mac in 2002, I was told that Macs remain viable for longer than PCs, and so far, that has been true. If the desire is to get PC game developers to slow down on the increasing system requirements, targeting Macs is a good way to do it. I imagine if they actually wrote for OS X it would be even easier.

You can buy cheaper than what Apple offers, but Macs are a much better value than most PC gamers realize. They are just not great gaming machines right now, but could be if developers targeted their specs.

boogle wrote:
Jayhawker wrote:

The answer to PC gaming woes is to embrace the Mac! Think about it. You get the advantages of the PC model, but a closed enough system that developers could actually program their games with some assurance that it will run properly. What games have issues on the Mac? PC ports always cause issues. But software written for the Mac first is much better (but rare).

Ok, now I'm living in Rob's fantasy world...

See, but you don't get the nice micro$oft money. Without that, I wouldn't do it.

I'm not sure what you mean.

And just because I love my Macs, doesn't mean I'm not offended by using $ in the Microsoft name. It's kind of a juvenile troll tactic. Plus, not only do I enjoy my 360, my brother works for Microsoft. I don't think MS is evil. I just think that PCs have such a wide variance in system specs, that they make themselves a hard platform to program for.

While Macs becoming the focus of the game industry is not going to happen anytime soon, I do think it is worth noting that it really would solve the problem being discussed in the podcast this week.

pneuman wrote:

I'm not saying the specs should match, of course, since obviously a PC with 512MB of RAM is no match for the 512MB of RAM in the 360.

Nope... 512 MB of RAM is equal to 512 MB of Ram regardless. The difference is that the 360 OS doesn't hog memory or system resources in general as windows does. There's nothing stopping MS from releasing a gaming variant of windows that only uses a minimum of system resources whilst providing the framework for playing games on.

[edit] i Should probably clarify this: I understand what you're saying but there where many games that looked comparable with an early 360 game that ran on 512 MB of RAM on windows a few years ago... It's completely possible and always ends in spending more time writing good code....

Instead, I'm referring to a PC that, after all the overheads of running Windows etc etc, can play games about as well as the 360 can. Something like:

Another thing you have to remember (as i pointed out in my original post) is that a tri-core system (like the new AMD cut-down quad core chips) that can execute 6 functions in an out-of-order manner has much greater processing power than an in-order chip with the same number of threads for processing and it boils down to optimisation for the chipset being used. In essence, any console port - unless a complete re-engineering of the game engine takes place - will always be inferior on the PC due to the fact that the way the game was programmed will be incompatible with the PC architecture. It's the reason why the highest moderately well-emulated consoles on the PC are the N64 and PS1...

My P4 3GHz system runs games as well as a 360 unless they are not optimised for the PC. Oblivion, for example, ran smoothly at 1024x768 and med-high settings. Of course, that engine was specifically made for the PC and not completely ported from the 360 version...

Duoae wrote:
pneuman wrote:

I'm not saying the specs should match, of course, since obviously a PC with 512MB of RAM is no match for the 512MB of RAM in the 360.

Nope... 512 MB of RAM is equal to 512 MB of Ram regardless. The difference is that the 360 OS doesn't hog memory or system resources in general as windows does. There's nothing stopping MS from releasing a gaming variant of windows that only uses a minimum of system resources whilst providing the framework for playing games on.

Obviously 512MB of RAM is 512MB of RAM, but in terms of RAM that's directly usable by the developer when making a game, the 360 has more than a 512MB PC running Windows would. Even if you stripped Windows down, there'd still be more overhead -- it simply takes more code to make a general PC, that could have any number of hardware combinations, work, compared to a fixed-function system. There's also the simple fact that there's no real standard for what parts of the OS a game will need to run, so while you may be able to shut down a few services here and there, you can't just go cutting out the non-game-related bits of the API without running the risk of killing compatibility.

To really cut down Windows, you need to standardise the hardware as much as possible, so that you can do away with unnecessary drivers and abstraction layers, produce a cut-down set of APIs, and then have developers code against just those APIs. That's pretty close to a definition of the original Xbox.

Duoae wrote:

Another thing you have to remember (as i pointed out in my original post) is that a tri-core system (like the new AMD cut-down quad core chips) that can execute 6 functions in an out-of-order manner has much greater processing power than an in-order chip with the same number of threads for processing and it boils down to optimisation for the chipset being used. In essence, any console port - unless a complete re-engineering of the game engine takes place - will always be inferior on the PC due to the fact that the way the game was programmed will be incompatible with the PC architecture. It's the reason why the highest moderately well-emulated consoles on the PC are the N64 and PS1...

For general-purpose code, any recent AMD or Intel dual-core system is going to perform a lot better than Xenon, since as you mention, Xenon is an in-order chip. Optimising the speed-critical parts of the engine for in-order execution obviously boosts performance a lot on Xenon, but it doesn't necessarily hurt performance on the PC - the whole point of out-of-order execution is that the CPU can re-order instructions to improve performance, and it can usually do that just as well with hand-optimised in-order code as it can with code straight from a compiler.

I don't think the in-order/out-of-order difference really has anything to do with the lack of decent emulators for last-gen consoles, either -- it's just a really hard problem to solve, since they're far more complex systems than the PS1 or N64. If anything, an out-of-order CPU is much better suited to running the kind of complex, branchy code you tend to get in emulators.

Duoae wrote:

My P4 3GHz system runs games as well as a 360 unless they are not optimised for the PC. Oblivion, for example, ran smoothly at 1024x768 and med-high settings. Of course, that engine was specifically made for the PC and not completely ported from the 360 version...

Well, I think that has less to do with optimisation and more to do with the fact that Oblivion was originally a PC game targeted at systems like your P4. This fits in with what I was saying though -- the specs needed to keep up with 360 games will creep up over time. I don't think they'll increase much more now, but they've obviously increased quite a bit since the early days of the 360. That's to be expected though, since developers squeeze more out of the 360 now than they did at launch, requiring a corresponding jump in PC specs to keep up.

Jayhawker wrote:
boogle wrote:
Jayhawker wrote:

The answer to PC gaming woes is to embrace the Mac! Think about it. You get the advantages of the PC model, but a closed enough system that developers could actually program their games with some assurance that it will run properly. What games have issues on the Mac? PC ports always cause issues. But software written for the Mac first is much better (but rare).

Ok, now I'm living in Rob's fantasy world...

See, but you don't get the nice micro$oft money. Without that, I wouldn't do it.

I'm not sure what you mean.

And just because I love my Macs, doesn't mean I'm not offended by using $ in the Microsoft name. It's kind of a juvenile troll tactic. Plus, not only do I enjoy my 360, my brother works for Microsoft. I don't think MS is evil. I just think that PCs have such a wide variance in system specs, that

Microsoft to large part in the computer industry represents a huge source of capital. They are the 'monied interest' of the industry, hence my use of the $ in their name. I don't view them as evil, my cousin works there. I really respect microsoft. I, even though prevailing internet culture does not, view the $ as a sign of respect and irony at people who view success as evil.

[edit] Oops.. thinking of the wrong console... reply is irrelevant...

Scaphism wrote:

"There can be only one" analysis

I'm been surprised by the talk about publishers and developers pushing the "single console". Basic economic theory (and history) shows us that while a single manufacturer can dominate the market temporarily, a competitor will emerge. Remember that Sony was a nobody in the sea of Nintendo and Sega, and Sega didn't make hardware while the NES owned the gaming world.

The PS2 was essentially the "console standard". They had very little competition (which is why I think the PS3 hubris took them down a bit, but that's another post). Then comes Microsoft, spending billions of dollars trying to break into the market. I think most would consider the XBox mostly fiscal disaster. The GameCube didn't put up much of a fight either.

The 360 is finally becoming economically viable, but it took quite a while. A lot of money, some platform exclusives, and the first great multiplayer platform brought it to be. Still, some exclusives and XBox Live were things that consumers decided they wanted, not something that Microsoft could force on them, or Sony could stop them from buying.

Nintendo was written off for "first party only" death right up until the Wii exploded, not by being more of the same, but by scratching a new itch.

Demand is driving the market. When was the last single platform Madden you saw? EA isn't going to turn down any viable platform that will make them money. When Take Two was making PS2 "exclusives", there wasn't much in the line of competition, and the GTA's came out on XBox and PC later. GTA IV is not a Sony exclusive, as it matters to Take Two this time around.

Consoles and console makers will wax and wane, but absent some sort of poorly conceived government intervention, you will never maintain a "single platform". Even if you can get the big studios to collude, there will always be that economic incentive to cheat. Even the highly collusive RIAA is slowly breaking down. . .

Patapon is done by Japan Studios/Pyramid for Sony. Does that make it second party? That distinction is kind of confusing. It's published by Sony.

As for the one console future discussion - I agree with the direction you started heading at the end of the bit. As the audience grows the push to standardize further will get stronger as well.
Early in the life of a small/niche hobby, one company can have a good idea and enjoy some success with its implementation. As the audience grows and it starts to get more attention, other companies will see room and move in.

Intellivision and Atari weren't competing for dominance - they both wanted to grow.
Nintendo and Sega might have been competing, but they were growing the market as well.
The fight between Sony and Nintendo at one point seemed like Playstation was going to become the defacto standard. It had gotten past the enthusiast stage and challenging one of the established big console makers seemed nearly impossible, but Microsoft stepped up and took their lumps. When they did that, it really closed the door on any other potential console makers. It became a three horse race, and it's become a lot more interesting.
Then Nintendo surprised most of us again by showing how much more potential there still is for growth in the console market.

As long as the market is growing, I think (and I hope) that competition ultimately benefits consumers.
And when the number of homes with consoles is pretty close to the number of homes with movie players (1:0.8 or so is a rough guess) we will probably see a stronger push for a standardized system.

I'm not a film historian, but I bet there's a similar parallel. First you have innovators, then imitators, and a few distinct factions form. Either one establishes a dominant format, or eventually each faction is stable/powerful/profitable enough that they're not going anywhere. When you reach that point, they might all sit down at a table together and hash out some kind of standard.

As you said, I don't think the push will come from Microsoft/Nintendo/Sony. They hold the keys at the moment, and they won't give them up willingly. Developers are the weaker party in any negotiation with a platform holder as well. The push will come from consumers, and maybe EA/ActiBlizzard will be our champions in that fight.

I'm curious though. Do Macs run the likes of World In Conflict with considerably lower specs than PCs do, then?

.

jlaakso wrote:

I'm curious though. Do Macs run the likes of World In Conflict with considerably lower specs than PCs do, then?

No, because they still run it under Windows.

Jayhawker wrote:

.

jlaakso wrote:

I'm curious though. Do Macs run the likes of World In Conflict with considerably lower specs than PCs do, then?

No, because they still run it under Windows.

You're telling me the Mac OS is so good that it can actually lower the raw hardware requirements of a game? I don't buy that, especially now that Mac hardware is essentially the same as PC hardware, just more restricted on what is allowed in the system.

Ah, I got the idea that there were Mac versions available of those titles. Nevermind, then.

nsmike wrote:
Jayhawker wrote:

.

jlaakso wrote:

I'm curious though. Do Macs run the likes of World In Conflict with considerably lower specs than PCs do, then?

No, because they still run it under Windows.

You're telling me the Mac OS is so good that it can actually lower the raw hardware requirements of a game? I don't buy that, especially now that Mac hardware is essentially the same as PC hardware, just more restricted on what is allowed in the system.

Exactly where did I tell you anything?

I thought I was just pointing out that there is no way a Mac could run a Windows game any more efficiently than a PC. As for Mac versions, they are mostly just ports, so I would assume they run less efficiently, which has been my experience. I would assume that a Mac game would run less efficiently if it was ported to Windows, but not because Windows is bad, but because it is a port.

Now, if you were responding to my post about games written specifically for Macs, I think they could be programmed more efficiently, and with fewer issues than PC games, because Macs are more closed system. So it would be developed with a better understanding of the hardware the game will run on. Again, not because OS X is more efficient.

PC gamers are weird breed. They enjoy the limitless flexibility of their hardware, but want developers to stop exploiting all of that possibility, because the games won't run on everyone's machines. Closed systems are better for stable software, so I think Macs would make great platform for games, if people would buy them. Obviously they are a terrible choice right now, because you would be developing for 5-10%of the market.

With an improperly calibrated sarcasm detector, "No, because they still run it under Windows." can sound followed by a silent, "which is an inferior OS and if they just ported it over it would run great!"

Not saying I read that, but I can see it. . .