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title="Permanent Link to Wasteland 2 review">WL2-1







There's a mad monk up ahead. He's wearing little more than rags, his body hunches over with a great burden. His face is twisted and warped. Behind him is a woman with a small pack; ahead of him is a gnarly raider.



My guide through the dusty canyon cautions me against interfering as the raider demands the woman's goods. She begs him to stop, for both their sakes, but it's too late for that. The hunchback monk, a disciple devoted to the nuclear god Titan and The Great Glow, sworn to protect his charge.



He rushes forward, shouting a prayer, and then detonates the small warhead he carries. A mushroom cloud emerges from the blinding light, vaporizing the monk and the raider. The woman, however, now lays legless before me.



"Kill me," she croaks. And I do, but not before I take her scrap.



Wasteland 2 pulls few punches. It shouldn't: as both a post-apocalyptic RPG and the latest in the new wave of 'hardcore' role-playing games, I expected it to be both difficult and dark. It s the sequel to the game that inspired Fallout, and the product one of the most high-profile Kickstarter campaigns ever. That s a lot of weight to carry, and inXile founder Brian Fargo has called it the most important game of his career. That a sequel to a 26-year-old game happened at all is pretty amazing. That it s also a good game, in spite of a few bugs and design issues, is astounding.





Building character

Wasteland 2 begins much as its predecessor did choose or create four new recruits to the shining beacon of law and order in post-nuke Arizona, the Desert Rangers. One of your own has been murdered while investigating strange new radio transmissions, and you must solve his murder and pick up the trail he was on.



inXile provides a nice selection of premade characters, but I enjoyed the characters I created most. Each character has six basic stats that affect a further set of derived abilities. Coordination, for instance, affects your ability to shoot a gun, but also how steady your hands are when jimmying a lock or disarming a bomb. These abilities also tie into your choice of skills. Some are obvious: Brawling affects how good you are at bare-fisted fighting, Handguns shows your skill with a pistol or small gun. Others seem useless at first; who would focus on repairing toasters in a post-apocalyptic world? I did, and I m proud to report that some of my best experiences (and loot) came from bringing life to a discarded appliance.



None of the skills available are useless, which makes focusing on a few difficult. I routinely found myself wishing I had a character or companion with Brute Force who could break open a safe I had permanently locked through a critical failure. Animal Whisper doesn t lead to surreal bunny conversations as in Divinity: Original Sin, but it does help when herding cattle for a quest. I completed one difficult late-game combat encounter with a lost puppy I had used Animal Whisperer on, who followed me into combat and viciously murdered three synthetic enemies. It takes a while to learn how the skills work in the world, but their usefulness is ever present.







Even with four characters under my control, though, I struggled to find a balanced mix of skills and abilities. This is by design, and it nicely complements the companion NPCs inXile has created to join me on my travels. I could add up to three followers for a max party size of seven. Each NPC has her own agenda, and if our goals don t align, they can leave in a huff. A brash warrior named Takayuki joined me after I saved his mom from a mining cave-in, bringing with him strong explosive skills, and with that, a surefire way to disable traps on lockers and chests. Another companion, Pistol Pete, asked me to save his town from an invading gang if I chose to work with the gang instead, Pete would abandon me, taking his valuable firearms and bartering skill with him.



There are a whole lot of companions like this in the game, and I already know I didn t encounter them all. Often, they re normal NPCs who can be persuaded into joining, but could just as easily turn into a foe. Rose, the scientist and doctor from Arizona s Ag Center, joined my party to help solve a mutating plant problem, but I could have just as easily killed her to get the access codes I needed.

Take aim

Combat in Wasteland 2 is turn-based, the new hotness in CRPGs. It feels like a mix of Firaxis XCOM and Black Isle s Fallout: encounter a group of enemies, get a turn order, and then spend action points on moving and attacking. Cover is useful, adding both a defensive and aim bonus, but is also often destructible, so maybe those crates aren t as safe as you thought. Each of the game s many weapons require a certain number of action points to fire or reload, and many can fire bursts instead of single shots, at the cost of your aim. Explosives such as TNT and grenades do area damage.



Some weapons just make more sense than others. Shotguns plagued me as they fire in a cone and can do heavy friendly fire damage. I ultimately stopped using them and focused on energy weapons, which can get heavy but do strong damage in later fights. The weaponsmithing skill let me break down old and unwanted weapons into usable mods, customizing my mid-game and endgame weapons so that I rarely missed a shot and did tremendous damage with sniper rifles. Picking off a mutated honey badger from from 500 meters feels hugely satisfying, and saves me the vicious bastard s up-close attacks, which would mess me up in the early parts of Arizona.







I was never bored by Wasteland 2 s fights, and every battle had the chance to go horribly wrong for me. I liked that, right as my squad started to feel unstoppable, I d encounter a massive cannon-wielding robot that d blow two teammates away. I also love that many skills stayed relevant during a battle to take out an army of robots, I d use my Computer skill to convert them to my side and watch as they bashed each other.



I do wish that inXile had included stealth in the game, however. Its absence means conflicts will always become straight-up brawls, and there were multiple times I d wished I could sneak past an enemy or NPC to set up a more tactical approach.







Neighborhood watch

The people of the wastes are rarely friendly, but they often need your help. There were few easy decisions as I struggled to prioritize one group over another. Early on, for instance, I received distress signals from Hightown and an Agricultural Center, both needing urgent assistance. I saved the Ag Center first, battling mutated plants and giant, man-eating rabbits, but when I got to Hightown, the attacking raiders had killed everyone. Oops.



Once you leave Arizona, almost halfway through the game, you ll meet even stranger people in LA. God s Militia are standard religious fanatic types, punishing sinners down the barrel of a gun. A group of sentient robots lead by an evil AI called Dugan wants to destroy humanity, while the Children of the Citadel and its cyborg leader, Matthias, promise immortality by joining flesh with machinery. The people of Rodina have been enslaved by a raider gang originally hired as protection, and a plague in the town has all but wiped out the farming population. And the people of Hollywood just want to party, be pretty, and take their drugs, which are turning them into zombies.







While the Arizona part of Wasteland 2 is fun, it s made up of areas that long-time RPG fans had explored in the first Wasteland, 26 years ago. It s a nice nostalgia trip, but the LA wetlands is where the game opens up to its full potential, and feels most like the wasteland of Fallout and Fallout 2. The cities are more complex, with more intricate, grey area-leaning side quests that feed into one another, and the factions are more interesting.



Angel Oracle is a stadium taken over by the Mannerites, who believe the key to restoring society is through extreme politeness. On a call-in radio show, their leader, Mr. Manners, councils a wife and mother who must choose to save either her husband or her children from raiders. Manners suggests the husband, since it s not becoming in society to be a widow and, you can always have more kids. Polite does not mean good, clearly.



It s here that Wasteland 2 s writing and voice work shines brightest, in the LA faction s power struggles and competing radio broadcasts. Both the Mannerites and their splinter offshoot rivals, the get-ahead-in-life Robbersons, are inspired by self-help books, and watching the two groups tear each other apart over philosophies that seem trite today is amazing.





Rough rider

The world inXile built is fascinating to explore, but gets blemished by a few outstanding bugs and issues. I encountered a few pathing issues, including one in a late-game fight that required a reload. My review build still featured a few small typos and glitches, such as world interactions that wouldn t actually interact, side quests that would hang if I resolved them in unconventional ways, and camera freezes during battles where I d see the lighting shadows move, but not the camera itself. Most of these occurred in the LA portion of the game, the side that hasn t benefitted from months of intense beta testing. Thankfully, none of the issues hit game-breaking status



Other problems are intrinsic to the game, though. Almost all of the loot is random, which means my time spent carefully de-trapping and unlocking a combination safe would sometimes only reward me with a handful of bullets and a wasted hour. The lack of stealth remains unfortunate particularly in a big encounter in Damonta that took me five tries to get the result I wanted.



Sadly, Wasteland 2 is not the prettiest game. Character models look okay from a distance, but can be ugly up close. Some of that is made up for by the fun clothing you can acquire my sniper walked around in a gorilla suit for a third of the game but there s a fair amount of reused models and assets, and even the wonderfully illustrated NPC portraits repeat for separate characters. Environments also follow some basic patterns here s the desert, here s a ruined village, here s the remains of Hollywood Boulevard and while each area does feel distinct, they never look overwhelmingly impressive. I do appreciate that inXile gives lots of camera controls, though, including a huge zoom-out range.







These are issues, but they re surmountable. In my 50 hours in Wasteland 2, I mostly found myself merely annoyed by them, and almost never felt the bugs were in the way. Weighed against the sheer amount of content in the game my 50 hours skipped entire subplots and side areas they re small problems. I m already planning my second playthrough, imagining the toasters I can repair this time around, or wondering if it s time to merge my body with the cybernetics Matthias cult offers. I want to know what happens if I save the town of Highpool, or retrieve a warhead from the Servants of the Mushroom Cloud, or if I can help the street kids in Hollywood stay safe.



It took Brian Fargo 26 years to get to revisit the world of the Desert Rangers. It took a $3 million Kickstarter campaign to fund inXile s initial development. And it took a welcome resurgence in complex computer role-playing games to make it all possible. Wasteland 2 lives up to its legacy. It s a game that has come full circle from inspiration for Interplay s Fallout, to spiritual successor for that franchise s roots. This wasteland is deep and dark and dangerous, and a great place to get lost in.



Details

Expect to pay: 30/$40

Release: Out now

Publisher: inXile Entertainment

Developer: inXile Entertainment

Multiplayer: None

Link: bit.ly/1mi0ujv
PC Gamer
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title="Permanent Link to Gratuitous Space Battles 2 trailer proves that intergalactic destruction can be beautiful">screen_dreadnought1







Who said large scale interplanetary destruction can't be beautiful? Probably most sensible people actually, but when the question applies to Gratuitous Space Battles 2 the answer is "yes, it can be beautiful". The trailer above is a short teaser concisely outlining what the game is and what it does. Since we already know most of this information, it's probably best to focus on the beautiful, beautiful destruction.



If that's not enough, here's a nine minute video showing some pre-alpha gameplay, complete with commentary. Earlier reports suggest Gratuitous Space Battles 2 will release some time before the end of the year, though the trailer says "soon(ish)" so who bloody knows, really.
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title="Permanent Link to Nvidia’s Dynamic Super Resolution is downsampling made easy">dynamicsuperresolution-teaser







Back in April, Dark Souls modder Durante revealed a new tool he'd written called GeDoSaTo, or Generic Downsampling Tool. Downsampling is like the ultimate brute force anti-aliasing solution--it involves running a game at a high resolution, like 1440p or 4K or even 8K--and then using an algorithm to rescale that image to your monitor's native, like 1080p. Downsampled games look amazingly sharp, but downsampling usually requires some tricky hacks, like adjusting monitor timings or modifying game files. GeDoSaTo made it possible to downsample games more easily than ever before, but it's still a mod tool, and all mod tools require trial and error and tinkering.



Well, Nvidia's been paying attention. One of the major features coming to Maxwell GPUs like the GTX 980 is called Dynamic Super Resolution and it's just downsampling, but with official driver support instead of hacking. The favorite technique of hardcore PC screenshotters is coming to the masses.



A future GeForce Experience driver for Maxwell GPUs (it wasn't yet enabled when I tested the GTX 980 pre-launch) will include a customizable Dynamic Super Resolution option alongside other GFE basics like anti-aliasing and anisotropic filtering. On a powerful enough card, GFE may even click on Dynamic Super Resolution when you press the optimize button.



At release, DSR will be exclusive to Maxwell, but Nvidia's director of technical marketing Tom Petersen said at Nvidia Editor's Day that a rollout to older cards was "very likely." Petersen showed off DSR on stage at Editor's Day using Dark Souls 2 as an example. He demoed the visible scintillation effect that happens when panning the camera around a field of grass. At 1080p, the sample resolution of the screen is too low to capture entire blades of grass, so some parts of the texture slip through the pixel grid and aren't sampled. That leads to a shimmery effect. When the game is running at 4K with DSR, though, the higher resolution sample grid leads to more grass pixels being sampled, which creates a more solid image.







Above and below: Nvidia's demonstration of how sampling more pixels improves image quality.







If you're familiar with downsampling, you knew all of that already. Downsampling is a great way to cut down on aliasing and bring out the texture detail in games you wouldn't see at a lower resolution. Nvidia's implementation is exciting for two reasons. One, it's easy to turn on, which means gamers who have never fiddled with downsampling will now be able to. Two, Nvidia is claiming that its downsampling implementation will be better quality--and more widely compatible--than the downsampling hacks gamers have been using.



We re not using the hardware pipeline to do the scaling," Petersen said in his presentation. "We have a separate stage to do the filtering to bring a 4K image down to 19x10. It s also transparent to the game. It s not sneaking past the game to do supersampling. In the postprocessing framebuffer we scale it down to 19x10."



After the presentation, I checked out a demo of DSR and talked to technical marketing manager Andrew Coonrad to get more details. DSR can be enabled with a single click in GeForce Experience, but it's thankfully a bit more customizable than that. Tinkerers can go into the Nvidia control panel to customize a game's render resolution in steps up to 4K. DSR currently doesn't support high resolutions, like 6K or 8K, which Durante's GeDoSaTo can do. GeDoSaTo is the more customizable tool, but it works with a (relatively) narrow selection of games. It's currently limited to DirectX9.



"This is the big boy corporate version of ," said Coonrad. We have a lot of engineers and a lot of time, and we have access to our drivers. It's compatible with...I'm not going to say all games because I haven't tested all games, but most games. There are some games where even rendering past 1080 is challenging, because the engine itself can't do it, or the INF list of resolutions that are available doesn't work. There are some other complications that can happen with multiple resolutions, but what this does is it tells the driver: 'Hey I have all these other resolutions I can render at, tell the game I have more resolutions.' ... So if the game is compatible with 4K, it will be compatible with this technology."



DSR will come to GeForce Experience with an upcoming driver, with more settings available in the Nvidia Control Panel.



DSR can't fix the issues that certain games, particularly older games, have with downsampling like a non-scaling UI that becomes teensy-tiny at high res. But Nvidia has the benefit of crowdsourcing on their side. While the mod community is constantly collaborating to improve their own homebrew tools, Nvidia can collect data from thousands or even millions of GeForce Experience users.



"We've done a lot of testing, but we can't test every single game out there, right?" said Coonrad. "I'm sure there will be titles where it's like, holy fuck this is amazing, it fixed everything, I can now play Homeworld 1 at 8K or whatever. Fantastic! Great. But if there are issues, that's what so cool about GFE, we have a feedback button, so people can say hey, I tried this, it didn't work, help me fix it. We take that really seriously. We'll go in and look at what happened and try to fix it and try to make it work for every game."



I'm eager to see Nvidia support resolutions higher than 4K with Dynamic Super Resolution, and eager to see them broaden support from their new Maxwell GPUs back to older cards, which can already handle downsampling via modding. The easier downsampling gets, the better. And even if Nvidia says modders weren't the direct impetus for DSR, I think Durante and Dead End Thrills can still safely claim credit for making the PC downsampling community too big too ignore.
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title="Permanent Link to Nvidia GTX 980 tested: SLI, 4K, and single-GPU benchmarks and impressions">gtx980-teaser







The Nvidia GTX 980 is here as in, Nvidia has announced it, you'll be able to buy one soon, and it's also physically here in the PC Gamer offices. I've been playing games on the GTX 980 and benchmarking the card with the help of Maximum PC. We've put our cards together to test dual-GPU SLI performance and thrown the 980s up against a 4K monitor to see how they compare to the GTX 780 Ti, Radeon R9 290X, and other top-of-the-line graphics cards.



The big question: is the Nvidia GTX 980 worth its $550 price tag? According to our benchmarks, absolutely.



First: the basic specs for both 900 series cards compared to some older Nvidia GPUs.











Specs





GTX 680





GTX 780





GTX 780 Ti





GTX 980





GTX 970









CUDA cores





1536





2304





2880





2048





1664









Base clock





1006 MHz





863 MHz





876





1126 MHz





1050 MHz









Boost clock





1058 MHz





900 MHz





928





1216 MHz





1178 MHz









Texture units





192





128





192





128





104









Texture fill rate





128.8 billion /s





160.5 billion /s





196.2 billion /s





144 billion /s





109 billion /s









Single precision





1 teraflop





4 teraflops





5 teraflops





5 teraflops





4 teraflops









Memory config





2GB 256-bit GDDR5





3GB 384-bit GDDR5





3GB 384-bit GDDR5





4GB 256-bit GDDR5





4GB 256-bit GDDR5









Memory speed





6.0 Gbps





6.0 Gbps





7.0 Gbps





7.0 Gbps





7.0 Gbps









TDP





195W





250W





250W





195W





145W









Power connectors





2 x 6-pin





1 x 6-pin, 1x 8-pin





1 x 6-pin, 1x 8-pin





2 x 6-pin





2 x 6-pin









Outputs





DisplayPort 1.2, HDMI, 2x dual-link DVI





DisplayPort 1.2, HDMI, 2x dual-link DVI





DisplayPort 1.2, HDMI, 2x dual-link DVI





3x DisplayPort 1.2, HDMI 2.0, dual-link DVI





3x DisplayPort 1.2, HDMI 2.0, dual-link DVI









Launch price





$500





$650





$700





$550





$330











If you don't speak GPU specs, there are a few noteworthy numbers to hone in on above. The 900 series cards have notably higher clock speeds than the GTX 780, and each CUDA core is 40% more efficient, which makes up for the smaller number of cores. The new Maxwell architecture is also dramatically more power efficient than Kepler the 980 can deliver 30 gigaflops per watt, versus just 15 gigaflops per watt for the 680 and 780. That's allowed Nvidia to bring the card's thermal design point down to 195 watts, and to once again run off two 6-pin connectors.



Some more information from Nvidia: Maxwell is built to work especially well at higher resolutions like 1600p and 4K. Memory architecture improvements and new color compression help Maxwell perform dramatically better than older cards when pushing more pixels. Nvidia's new MFAA is also lower impact than MSAA, which helps deliver playable framerates at 4K (though, at 4K pixel density, you may find you don't even care about AA at all).



That all sounds great, but do these cards perform as well in the wild as Nvidia claims? In a word: yes.



Jump over to the next page for a heap of benchmarks.











Maximum PC's benchmarking actually saw the GTX 980 surpass its advertised boost clock of 1216 MHz, up to 1253 MHz, while topping out at a temperature of 80 degrees Celsius (84 degrees in SLI). A single GTX 980 outperformed the 780 Ti in almost all cases, and beat AMD's R9 290X in most tests (Hitman: Absolution is a notable exception where AMD's cards put up higher numbers). Also, in multiple games, our two GTX 980s running in SLI delivered 10-20 frames per second better performance than AMD's dual-GPU R9 295X.

GTX 980 benchmarks: 2560x1440, 4xMSAA, max settings

Benchmarks courtesy of Maximum PC. Check out their full article, with more testing results, here.





















GTX 980 benchmarks: 3840x2160, 4xMSAA, max settings

Benchmarks courtesy of Maximum PC. Check out their full article, with more testing results, here.





















Keep in mind that these are scores from Nvidia's reference 980. Cards from EVGA, Asus, Gigabyte and so on will likely be clocked higher, and there's definitely room for overclocking above that base clock.



Nvidia's in-house benchmarks also show the GTX 970 outperforming the R9 290X in most cases--we'll have more data and impressions on a Gigabyte 970 over the weekend.



On the final page: wrapping up, and the GTX 980's volume.







One last thing: The GTX 980 is quiet. When I used MSI Afterburner to manually dial the fan up to 100%, it was easily audible through my case, which doesn't have any soundproofing. Still, it was only the volume of, say, a desk fan on a low setting. I didn't do a formal decibel test, but at max speed the GTX 980's fan was far quieter than my Radeon 7950's fan at a heavy load, which usually runs it to only 60% or so of full speed. The R9 290X's fan at 100% speed is also far louder than the GTX 980's.



In normal usage, though, you'll never see the most GPU fans dial up to 100%. Rome 2: Total War's benchmark only had the 980's fan spinning at about 45% speed, and it was inaudible through my case at that speed. Even with two cards being benchmarked in SLI in Maximum PC's lab, with the side panel of the testing rig removed, we couldn't hear the fans. This is not a card that will bother you while you play games.







Wrapping up



Based on our benchmarking results, the GTX 980 is a better deal in every way than the GTX 780 and 780 Ti were at launch, at $650 and $700. Nvidia has been calling it a successor to the 680, and at $550, I think that's a fair claim. If you like to buy a top-of-the-line card every 3-4 years, this is the one you've been waiting for. If you're already on a 700 series card or AMD equivalent, however, you're only going to see modest performance improvements which aren't worth spending $550 on.



All the new features Nvidia is supporting with this architecture, most notably MFAA, Voxel Global Illumination, and DX12, which I covered in detail here, are going to pay off in 2015 and 2016 games. Maxwell is such a big deal for Nvidia, the GTX 780 Ti, 780 and 770 are all being discontinued right now. Nvidia clearly wants to push support of its new technologies and get as many people as possible on Maxwell.
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title="Permanent Link to Nvidia announces GTX 980 and GTX 970 “Maxwell” graphics cards for $550 and $329: here are their new features">dual-maxwell-teaser







At Nvidia Editor's Day last week, Nvidia pulled the shroud off its fresh top-of-the-line graphics cards running on the new Maxwell architecture: the $550 GTX 980 and the $329 GTX 970. Nvidia called Maxwell "the most advanced GPU ever built," but you can say that about almost every new generation of graphics hardware. More importantly, Nvidia also called Maxwell the most power-efficient GPU ever built, and that is a big deal: it delivers twice the performance per watt as Kepler, the architecture used in the 600 and 700 series cards. I've been testing a reference GTX 980 Nvidia sent, and you can read about my thoughts on the card and see our benchmarks including dual-980 SLI benchmarks right here.



This article is about all the new technology Nvidia is rolling out with Maxwell: a new anti-aliasing algorithm called MFAA, new lighting called Voxel Global Illumination, native downsampling support called Dynamic Super Resolution, and reduced latency for VR.



Before we dive into the new graphics features Nvidia has developed for Maxwell GPUs, here's a quick look at the specs of their new cards. You can read much more about them in our 980 testing post.











Specs





GTX 980





GTX 970









CUDA cores





2048





1664









Base clock





1126 MHz





1005 MHz









Boost clock





1216 MHz





1178 MHz









Single precision





5 teraflops





4 teraflops









Memory config





4GB 256-bit GDDR5





4GB 256-bit GDDR5









Memory speed





7.0 Gbps





7.0 Gbps









Power connectors





2x 6-pin





2x 6-pin









Outputs





3x DisplayPort 1.2, HDMI 2.0, dual-link DVI





3x DisplayPort 1.2, HDMI 2.0, dual-link DV











During Editor's Day, Nvidia engineer Jonah Alben made a point of just how much more efficient Maxwell is than the previous generation Kepler. Each CUDA core is 40% more efficient, and Maxwell delivers double the performance per-watt than Kepler: 30 gigaflops per watt for the GTX 980 as opposed to 15 gigaflops per watt for the GTX 680 and 780.

Part of that efficiency comes from a new memory architecture, which includes better color compression algorithms and caching. The performance gains are especially noticeable at the high end, when running games at 4K which makes sense, as efficient compression is more important the more pixels you have to render. 4K gaming is going to be a big push for Maxwell, which is why MFAA, Nvidia's new anti-aliasing tech, is all about improving AA efficiency.

MFAA

You've probably heard of MSAA, or multisample anti-aliasing. It's one of the most common anti-aliasing techniques in games today. It's an alternative to more computationally expensive supersampling AA techniques, which sample multiple locations within a single pixel, then combine those samples into one condensed, sharper pixel. Doing that to the whole rendered image of a game every frame is expensive. MSAA is less computationally expensive, because, as Nvidia's own page on MSAA explains, "each sub-pixel inherits the color value from the sample pixel and only assigns unique depth values to the sub-pixels (whereas supersampling calculates individual color/depth values.)"







Nvidia's new twist on this technique is called Multi-frame sampled anti-aliasing, and it supposedly delivers the equivalent quality of 4x MSAA (where each pixel is sampled four times) at the performance cost of 2x MSAA. Nvidia claims it's 30% more efficient. 4x MFAA takes two coverage samples per pixel instead of 4x MSAA's four to determine what color the pixel should be, but it uses a different pattern per pixel and a filter to combine frames and average out the color of each sampled pixel. Essentially, 2+2 = 4.



Expect to start using it: sometime after launch. While I saw MFAA demoed at Editor's Day, it wasn't enabled in the drivers for the GTX 980 reference card, and Nvidia says it will be enabled in an upcoming driver.



On the next page, the biggest tech announcement of Editor's Day: Nvidia's new global, dynamic lighting system.







Nvidia's Jeff Fisher unveiling the GTX 980

Dynamic Super Resolution

Where MFAA is all about new efficient algorithms to reduce jaggies, Dynamic Super Resolution is a brute-force method to make games look better, by rendering the entire image at a higher resolution and then downsampling it to your monitor's native output. It's Nvidia's version of the supersampling technique mentioned above, and it's actually been possible for years, just not as conveniently.



Check out my separate article on Dynamic Super Resolution, and how it's just downsampling with a fancy name, now built into Nvidia's GeForce Experience.



Expect to start using it: sometime after launch. DSR is exclusive to Maxwell at launch, but Nvidia says it's likely to roll out to older graphics cards as part of GeForce Experience.



Nvidia used a recreation of the Apollo 11 lunar landing to demonstrate Voxel Global Illumination.

Voxel Global Illumination

Of all the technologies Nvidia talked about at Editor's Day, Voxel Global Illumination got the most stage time. It's a dynamic global lighting solution that Nvidia has been working on for years, and it's currently being integrated into Unreal Engine 4 (and other unnamed "major" game engines) for use by the end of the year. Jonah Alben called lighting "the great unsolved problem in graphics," and said "VXGI was our biggest dream going into the graphics for this generation. We couldn t just do it with software. We also had to do things with hardware to enable that."



Nvidia calls VXGI's voxel cone tracing the next step in game lighting thanks to its reflections and support for indirect, diffuse lighting. Nvidia's Tony Tamasi elaborated that VXGI doesn't require light baking, like most lighting engines. "Traditional games will pre-compute or do a bunch of rendering with a raytracer or pather and store a bunch of lighting information for a scene," he said. "You can t possibly pre-compute lighting for Minecraft because you don t know what someone s going to build. can be truly dynamic and we can re-compute it."



Most of the presentation was too technical to easily convey, but Nvidia's white paper on Maxwell helps break it down:



"To perform global illumination, we need to understand the light emitting from all of the objects in the scene, not just the direct lights. To accomplish this, we dice the entire 3D space of the scene in all three dimensions, into small cubes called voxels...In VXGI, we store two pieces of key information in each voxel: (a) the fraction of the voxel that contains an actual object, and (b) for any voxel that contains an object, the properties of the light coming from that object (i.e. bouncing off of it from primary light sources), including direction and intensity.



"...We store information into each voxel describing how the physical geometry will respond to light...The next and final step is to rasterize the scene. This step is largely the same as it would be for a scene rendered with other lighting approaches; the main difference is that the final rasterization and lighting now has a new and more powerful data structure ( the voxel data structure) that is can use in its lighting calculations, along with other structures such as shadow maps.



"This approach of calculating indirect lighting during the final rendering pass of VXGI is called cone tracing. Cone tracing is an approximation of the effect of secondary rays that are used in ray tracing methods. Using cones results in very realistic approximations of global illumination at a much lower computational cost than standard ray tracing."



The lunar scene converted to voxels to calculate lighting.



The main takeaway is that Nvidia has invested a ton of engineering work into global illumination, and we'll hopefully see the payoff from that in Unreal 4 and other engines starting in 2015.



Expect to start using it: In 2015 or 2016, after game engines begin to support it. VXGI won't be available on older Nvidia hardware.

Latency reduction for the Oculus Rift

One last exciting bit of R&D Nvidia talked about at Editor's Day: improvements they're making with Maxwell to reduce latency for virtual reality. Rendering games for the Oculus Rift is seriously performance intensive the image has to be rendered twice, once for each eye, and hit a minimum framerate of around 75 fps. Oculus wants to push both framerate and resolution higher before they release a consumer product. Latency is also a huge obstacle, as any perceived delay between movement and game reaction will break immersion and/or make you nauseous.



Nvidia think they can cut VR latency down from 50 ms to about 25 ms with a few techniques. One is MFAA, which is more efficient than MSAA of course, their figures don't take into account disabling AA altogether. Another is working on zero-latency SLI, which will be great for all dual-GPU users, not just those playing on the Oculus Rift. Nvidia didn't say when that improvement to SLI would be available.







The third improvement was asynchronous or just-in-time warp. "The ideal scenario is that we can sample head tracking right before you see it," said Nvidia's Tony Tamasi. "We ve developed a technique to asynchronously be sampling the head tracking input out-of-band with the GPU input, re-warp it, re-project it, and then display it." More simply: sampling for head tracking won't be slowed down by all the tasks in the GPU pipeline.



Expect to start using it: when the consumer Oculus Rift arrives. Let's hope that's 2015.
PC Gamer
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title="Permanent Link to Heat Signature gains music and art direction, draws closer to becoming a game">heatsignature1







Heat Signature looked promising, albeit barebones, when this lengthy gameplay demonstration released last month, but now Tom Francis (Gunpoint, former PC Gamer scholar) has recruited two composers and an artist to flesh out the space stealth game. Compare the image above with the video here and you'll basically see magic happening.



The artist is John Roberts, who was also responsible for the art direction in Gunpoint. Francis' recruitment campaign attracted 313 applications, which is a staggering amount of content to sift through for a one man studio. "This was extraordinary and flattering, then daunting, then impossible, then exciting once I finally had my decision, then absolutely horrible when I had to tell everyone I hadn t picked," Francis writes. "You don t really know how many 313 people is until you have to say no to 310 of them."



In addition to Roberts, composers Alex Burnett and Ivan Semidolin have been selected to contribute. You can listen to two samples over on the website, and I suggest you do so. Imagine this music combined with the art and you have a very beautiful video game indeed. There's no release window yet, though players will be invited to test the game at some point in the future.
PC Gamer
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title="Permanent Link to Nvidia’s Game24 livestream event is live, tune in here">nvidia-game24







Nvidia's just kicked off Game24, a 24-hour, multi-city livestream event that they've labeled a "PC gaming holiday." I'm in attendance at Hangar 8 in Santa Monica, California for the start of broadcast.



Nvidia's promised a bunch of pre-recorded and live programming meant to inspire appreciation of the PC as a platform, including a 24-hour system modding competition, tournaments, giveaways, and interviews from participating developers like 2K, Boss Key, Epic, NCSoft, Blizzard, Wargaming, WB, Sony Online, Deep Silver, and more. It's a rare instance of a company involved with PC gaming stepping up to produce something that promotes the PC itself as a platform, and I'm interested to see how it's received. Check Nvidia's Game24 page for more details.



If the feed above isn't working, here's the main feed on Twitch:



Watch live video from TwinGalaxiesLive on www.twitch.tv
PC Gamer
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title="Permanent Link to Why Halo: Master Chief Collection isn’t coming to PC (for now)">HaloCollection







Sure, it's an outrage that Halo is a consistent no-show on PC nowadays, but why? Theories abound - both conspiratorial and otherwise - but according to 343 Industries executive producer Dan Ayoub it's simply a matter of resources. Speaking to Kotaku, he says no amount of similiarities between the hardware architecture of the Xbox One and a typical PC can allow for a simple transition. And besides: the studio's focus is entirely on Xbox One at present.



"From a technical standpoint, you look at the architecture of the Xbox One and there are some similarities to the architecture of a modern PC," Ayoub said. "That certainly makes that sort of cross-platform development easier. But beyond that the ease goes away. Master Chief Collection is massive. We have to coordinate four games, 100-plus maps, a lot of new cinematics, and Halo 2 Anniversary."



When reminded that the original Halo still boasts a lively playerbase on PC, Ayoub responded that PC is still a part of Microsoft's business plan, providing some slim hope that there's a future for Halo on the platform.



"That's one of the things I love about the PC community," he said. "You've got so many cool things going on . And then you've got the breadth; PCs are everywhere all over the planet. Obviously as part of Microsoft PCs are part of our business. When you look at that market and community, there's almost limitless possibilities in terms of what we can do."



Check out the full interview over here. In the meantime, here's Chris Thursten making a case for why Halo belongs on PC.
PC Gamer
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title="Permanent Link to Shadow of Mordor interview: lore, exploration and keeping up appearances">Shadow of Mordor





One thing is for sure: there are a lot of games based in Middle-Earth. In the last five years alone there have been twelve across platforms ranging smartphones, consoles and PC. It's obviously a lucrative property, but as a video game it's never reached the heights of say, the Arkham series.

Is that about to change with Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor? It's sensible to remain sceptical of games based on licenses like The Lord of the Rings, but from what we've seen so far Shadow of Mordor looks pretty great. Crucially, it introduces unique systems to the traditional third-person action genre which we've rarely seen in a game of this scale, namely the Nemesis system. You can learn more about it here, but it's basically a dynamic system which generates unique player/enemy interactions. This feeds into the way the world is presented and the way combat plays out.

Ahead of the game's release, I had a chat with design director Michael de Plater and art director Phil Straub about what the open world of Mordor has to offer, and whether it will all prove a bit baffling to Lord of the Rings newcomers.

Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor will release September 30 in Europe and North America, and October 8 in Australia.

PC Gamer: Shadow of Mordor takes place between The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings. Is the region of Mordor different during this period?

Michael de Plater: Yeah absolutely, and that s one of the reasons we were so excited about using Mordor. We do cover some of the same areas that Frodo and Sam see when they go through Mordor later, but this is 80 years before that. This means Mount Doom hasn t erupted, Sauron has been away for thousands of years and Mordor is a lot more overgrown and wild. There s human tribesmen and Gondorians that have been stationed in there.

While it s not the blasted hellspace we ll see later, it s still the most dangeous, intense and active place within Middle-Earth. It s different from the Mordor that people have seen, yet still very iconic and recognisable as Mordor.

PCG: It sounds like you ve had a fair amount of creative license in your approach.

Michael: Yeah, that s definitely correct. I think even more than that, our brief and our mandate and what we wanted to do, was to be very authentic but also to do something new and to show people something they haven t seen before. I just started reading Lord of the Rings again, and the thing that struck me so much is that in every single chapter you re seeing something new. So for us it was really important that this isn t just a rehashing of stuff that people have already seen. There needed to be a sense of discovery and sense of exploration.

Phil Straub: That was part of our DNA when developing: understanding that this was a cornerstone of how Tolkien presented the stories and that there was always this constant revealing of something new. We wanted to follow suite with that in our presentation of Mordor.

PCG: Will exploration be rewarded in Shadow of Mordor?

Michael: Very much so. Within each area you re free to go wherever you want at any time. Each one of the environments is very open, whether you want to go and explore the taverns, climb the towers or unlock secrets. There s so much depth and history and lore within Middle-Earth, so we ve used exploration to reward players by uncovering all of that lore. Exploration will allow the player to dig deeper into how our story connects with The Hobbit and with the Lord of the Rings, and with the deeper history of Middle-Earth as well.

PCG: When the games begins will the whole world be available, or is there a process where areas are progressively unlocked? How will the exploration work?

Michael: Areas are unlocked progressively. We begin in Ud n, just inside the black gates where you start the game. Then you can explore anywhere within that area, which is many hours of gameplay. Then after that section of the story we open up an entire new area many hundreds of miles deeper into Mordor around the Sea of Nurnen. We unlock new areas but then within each area it s completely open. We also put a lot of effort into making each one of those areas into a living breathing place, both with the Nemesis system and in the way the world comes to life.

The AI, eco-system, creatures, orcs and slaves... it's all very dynamic, so there's that sense of exploration. Even if you re revisiting the same stronghold you re going to see new events take place and you re going to meet new characters there. There will be new opportunities to save the slaves there and so on.



PCG: Given the time period in Shadow of Mordor will we see diversity in the world's environment? Can you describe the different environments?

Phil: There is a nice diversity of environments. There are obviously many inspirations - the lore and the films - but another thing we talked about a lot was thinking about this as a wild frontier and thinking about what a place like Ud n or the Sea of Nurnen would look like without the influence of Sauron. What does all that look like when nature has had a chance to return?

We did some early concept paintings where foliage had come back into the Ud n area. Ud n still does have a dark overtone to it, it definitely feels like Mordor, but we also contrast that with a place like the Sea of Nurnen which has a lot more foliage, it s a lot greener, it s along a sea, it has big bluffs. To some extent it s kinda beautiful, and I think that in itself is a bit of a surprise from a player s standpoint, in terms of what they might expect from Mordor.

Weather was also a big thing to us, how we present the presence of Sauron and how we present the passage of time, and the narrative and the tone that we wanted to communicate relative to the gameplay and the story. We have another location which is very sandy, sandstorms happen and that obviously changes the presentation of the world as well.

Michael: Day and night are meaningful as well. creatures come out, the population behaves differently, the ambiance is very different.

PCG: It must be tough to reconcile the influences of the films and the novels. Is the game more influenced by the films or has the studio taken its own route, consulting the novels first and foremost?

Phil: Authenticity is a word Michael and I use over and over again. Everything needed to feel like it was from the lore and consistent to the lore and authentic to the lore, but to take that one step closer, we needed everything to be authentic in terms of how a real world would be presented. In a way, we thought about our world and the presentation as if it were a historical piece. This is not a high fantasy game, it s not a high fantasy IP, and we just really wanted to make sure that everything was right.

For example, we really wanted to make sure the foliage was realistic relative to the type of foliage which would grow in a volcanic area, and we wanted to make sure geography was authentic and was consistent with an area with volcanic activity. The team did some on-location shoots in Eastern Washington, which is awesome for us because it has quite a lot of volcanic history. There s a place called the Columbia River plateau where there s all kinds of volcanic activity, floods and so forth. We looked at yellow stone for the world, we looked at some photography from Iceland and New Zealand.

The lore was important, but we also wanted to take that further and present the world in a way that had never been seen before. There s only so much of Middle-Earth which has been visualised in the films, so we wanted to take that and present something visually new.



PCG: Regarding the Nemesis system, you've spoken about encounters with enemies and how that shapes future interactions. Can these relationship dynamics be experienced outside of the main storyline?

Michael: The short answer is yes. The living world of the Nemesis system primarily exists by itself outside of the story, and then there s certain key beats in the story where the story and the Nemesis system come together, and you interact with it to move the story forward. The most memorable bosses that you ll find in the game are going to be the ones with a character totally unique to your game, and that s been created by the player rather than the authored story that we ve written about.

We re really proud of working with Christian Cantamessa from Red Dead Redemption, but equally we re very excited about giving players a world in which they can create their own stories and their own boss fights and their own memorable moments.

PCG: Given that it s an open world game I m assuming there will be side missions, does the Nemesis system influence those also?

Michael: The Nemesis system, as well as generating unique enemies, also continually generates various side missions. So we have things called Showdown missions which is when you face off against the war chiefs, who are powerful orcs who ve risen to the top command the different strongholds and so on.

We also have constantly created side missions called Power Struggles, where orcs compete against each other to rise up within their society. These can be executions, duels, or they re off on hunts or getting drunks at feasts. We also have vendettas which are social missions, where if you get killed a side mission is dynamically created in your friend s game, where he or she can go in and avenge you.

On top of that we have all the other type of missions, such as hunting and survival challenges, exploration missions, discovering artefacts and more. You'll also be rescuing the slaves. An interesting thing about Mordor during the time of the game is that the humans living there are now cornered and trapped by the return of Sauron and the rising up of his forces. Saving them earns you rewards such as intel and so on. Weapons also have their own side quests, which involves building the legend of each one of your weapons: the sword, dagger and bow.

PCG: How has the team balanced the game for both Tolkien tragics and those who have never delved into the series? Has that been a challenge?

Michael: Yeah, absolutely. We took our inspiraton from Middle-Earth in the sense of making a story that really works as a standalone story. You could read The Hobbit and the Lord of The Rings as standalone stories or you can look at them as part of the big epic history of Middle-Earth. That was important: we wanted to tell a story which, even if you have no previous experience with Middle-earth, still totally works.

Equally, if you ve read or seen The Hobbit it works as a sequel to that: you can explore more of what happens to Gollum after, what happened to Sauron after the battle of five armies and what are the consequences, and aslo as a prequel to Lord of the Rings and setting up that. In particular, getting to see more of Sauron, getting to know the origins of the ring and the power, and unlocking some more of the lore of Middle-Earth which is usually buried deep in the appendices. We wanted everyone to be able to enjoy it.
PC Gamer
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title="Permanent Link to Road Redemption roars out onto Steam Early Access">steamcommunity.com







Road Rash was a fundamentally ridiculous game about hyper-violent motorcycle races in which victory could be achieved either by being faster than your opponents, or by pushing them into oncoming traffic at 120 miles per hour. That's a good description of Road Redemption too, a "spiritual successor" that blasted through Kickstarter and Steam Greenlight last year, and is now available on Steam Early Access.



If anything, Road Redemption is even more violent than Road Rash, which as I recall had neither automatic weapons nor tumbling, exploding cars. But I do very much recall cackling like a fool every time an opponent ran headlong into an American-made sedan and got launched into the stratosphere for his trouble. As you can see from this new trailer, Road Redemption is loaded with all kinds of that silliness, and more.



There are a number of significant differences, however. If you crash out in Road Redemption, you won't just dust yourself off and get back on the road, because you'll be dead. Money collected during races can be used to upgrade your character, your weapons and your bike, and there's even a bit of a story, too, although I'm guessing it won't keep you on the edge of your seat in anticipation of the next exciting chapter in the tale.



Developer Dark Seas Interactive describe the Road Redemption Early Access release as a "10-15 hour experience," and says that it's already been extensively playtested and bug-tested. It's currently being offered at a ten percent discount off the $20 Early Access price tag, which the studio says will go up to $30 or $35 at launch, currently scheduled for early 2015. If you want it, in other words, now's the time to get it.

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