Jan 28, 2013
On the cusp of an open multiplayer beta for Crytek's maximally lustrous Crysis 3, Nvidia released an early version of its GeForce 313.95 drivers today. The GPU giant claims the drivers boost SLI performance for Crysis 3 by up to 35 percent in addition to other "sizeable SLI and single-GPU performance gains" in games such as Assassin's Creed III and Far Cry 3.
Nvidia says users should expect a 27 percent gain in graphics performance while playing Assassin's Creed III, 19 percent in Civilization V, and 14 percent for both Call of Duty: Black Ops II and DiRT 3. Just Cause 2 improves by 11 percent, and Deus Ex: Human Revolution, F1 2012, and Far Cry 3 all improve by 10 percent.
Demonstrating its mastery over orderly green bars, Nvidia also supplied benchmark charts for these games using four of its most recent cards: the GTX 650, 660 Ti, 680, and 690. With the 313.95 drivers, the company declares GTX 690 users can max out all settings in Crysis 3 and still achieve 60 FPS.
Grab the new drivers and check out the charts at Nvidia's website. Also try out the GeForce Experience—which we've talked about at length—to automatically optimize and configure your games based on your PC's hardware.
Jan 27, 2013
This week has seen the release of several pre-rendered cinematic trailers. Exciting though they were, brows were raised, then furrowed, then frowned in the PCG office as we noted how precious little these dramatic scenes reflected the actual action of the game.
It need not be so. Even fully pre-rendered trailers can do a better job of encapsulating the games they promote - and probably do a better job of selling them too. We cast our minds back to our favourite trailers of yore, and picked out the five that we felt best captured the games within, while offering visuals that are every bit as thrilling, powerful and cool.
Save for a snippet of pre-rendered CGI at the beginning, this is pretty much just an expertly-edited grab from the game itself. Not only does this, succinctly explain the action and features of the game, but it creates an epic four-minute trajectory of awesome escalation. Then the camera pans back from what seemed surely to be its climax, to reveal yet another immense level of robotic carnage. Even now, six years after Supreme Commander’s release, the trailer still makes it look like the ultimate future of the RTS.
Deus Ex: Human Revolution
A cinematic trailer done right, Human Revolution’s pre-rendered preamble introduces us to the world with expert scene-setting. It quickly sketches out the themes and setting, establishing Jensen as an embittered cyborg with super powerful robo-arms, a vengeful purpose and uncertain allegiance. And then its action sequences, while slightly more fluid and dramatic than possible in game, do describe powers at the player’s disposal: invisibility, x-ray vision, and retractable elbow chisels. It may have flash camera angles, bespoke mo-cap, and sumptuous subsurface scattering - but it’s an honest evocation of the glories of the game itself.
Team Fortress 2
The jaunty crime-caper music and freeze-frame introductions make it clear: TF2 doesn’t have classes so much as characters. The game’s team-shooter action takes a backseat here to showcasing the vibrant art-style and humour, as well as articulating the distinct roles and capabilities of each of TF2’s nine classes. A multiplayer shooter might normally offer scant cinematic thrills, or struggle to communicate what it’s about without a dry breakdown of its mechanics - TF2 elegantly dances round these problems without being disingenuous about the game’s contents.
There’s no in-game footage here, but BioShock’s trailer nonetheless captures a tremendous amount of the game within its short three-minute running time. Its opening panning shot establishes Rapture - its majesty, its dereliction and the ideals that created it. Then the trailer quickly and unexpectedly segues into a thrilling action scene, witnessed in firstperson. The ferocious combat seen here is more dynamic than that of the game, certainly, but the battle establishes the core relationship of the game: that between the little sisters and the big daddies. And, by putting you in the head of an child-stealing aggressor, also demonstrates the game’s ambiguous moralities.
There’s little in the way of explicit action in this trailer, even though it’s shot within the game engine itself. Action isn’t what the trailer is selling, however - it’s selling the city itself. As Niko struts through its succession of quick cuts, the sheer variety of Liberty City is elegantly illustrated, and Niko’s many guises suggests at the freedom the player will have to self-define within that space. Meanwhile, the exquisitely cool LCD Soundsystem track reaffirms Rockstar as gaming’s foremost tastemakers. It’s a brilliantly simple and boldly idiosyncratic trailer, intriguing and evocative in equal measure.
PC Gamer - PC Gamer
Graham, Chris and Marsh discuss Kentucky Route Zero, Dark Souls, Deus Ex and more in the latest episode of the PC Gamer UK podcast. Also featuring Increpare's Slave of God, NVidia Project Shield, Piston and your questions from Twitter. Marvel as we identify an entire new genre of adventure games! Sigh with relief as Chris looks like he might be starting to talk about Mass Effect again, but doesn't! Shake your head slowly as, at a certain point, we forget entirely how to speak!
You can subscribe to the podcast on iTunes, or download the MP3 directly. You can also listen to it on YouTube. Follow PC Gamer UK on Twitter to be informed when we're putting the call out for questions. Alternatively, follow us as individuals:
Graham - @gonnas
Marsh - @marshdavies
Chris - @cthursten
Philippa Warr's Kentucky Route Zero review and Cardboard Computer's A House in California.
Increpare's Slave of God
Rock, Paper, Shotgun - firstname.lastname@example.org (Nathan Grayson)
Somewhat surprisingly (by which I mean completely unsurprisingly, given the era in which we live), Tomb Raider has multiplayer. Naturally, this has been a source of great outrage among even the least fly-harming-est of gamers, as it’s a distinct disruption of The Natural Order. Granted, it does have two things working in its favor: 1) Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light added co-op multi to pretty great effect and 2) the mode’s an entirely separate, presumably cybernetic leg of the game being attached by none other than Deus Ex: Human Revolution developer Eidos Montreal. Here, now, brown cow, is a video of some finely mustachioed men introducing it to the star of spy dramadey Chuck for some reason.
My flatulence is augmented.
The rough preliminary outlines for Deus Ex described a more brutal world with more aggressive foes than the enigmatic cabals encountered in Ion Storm's cyberpunk RPG. Eurogamer's report goes over the design documents in detail, but a few highlights include an original vision incorporating "X-Files weirdness" and significant personality changes for major characters such as Tracer Tong and Joseph Manderley.
Designer Warren Spector's early iterations of a "near-future science-fiction" game were initially called Majestic Revelations. Instead of corporate intrigue and dystopian societies, Revelations would draw parallels from X-Files' paranormal focus.
Main character and trenchcoat devotee JC Denton existed from the very start as a UNATCO agent, though the organization's first incarnation was the harsher-sounding Terrorist Limitation Coalition, or TLC, which definitely didn't dabble in chart-topping R&B. UNATCO boss Joseph Manderley was a "ruthless bastard" hunting JC across the globe instead of plotting behind a desk, and hacker ally Tracer Tong transformed from a "mercenary" figure into the reclusive data-digger encountered in Deus Ex's second half.
Also undergoing a large shift was Majestic 12, the mysterious group of shadowy puppeteers. Spector initially had Majestic 12's actions become far more public, even planning a Mexican invasion of Texas and the assassination of a White House cabinet. Players would eventually visit these locations, but Ion Storm ultimately scrapped the complex idea.
Some older Majestic 12 level concepts lived on in the final version, such as an underwater base located in a flooded Hollywood valley turning into the late-game research laboratories. Deus Ex Lead Writer Sheldon Pacotti believed the deleted scenes "possibly exist on DVDs in someone's attic somewhere," but he wasn't hopeful of finding them anytime soon. And if you haven't re-installed Deus Ex by now (which always tends to magically happen whenever someone talks about it), grab the New Vision mod before you do to spruce up its aged visuals.
Read more at Eurogamer.
Dec 21, 2012
Running a website called Dead End Thrills (about pictures of grafix), I spend a lot of time playing with visual mods. When PCG asked me to list my favourites from 2012, I agreed thinking I could do it in the style of the prize round from Bullseye. "You'll be up all night 'cause it don't look like shite." "Act well-heeled with this depth-of-field." But that wouldn't work overseas, they said, and stopped being funny after two examples.
Here's a straightforward top ten, then, in no particular order.
Battlefield 3 screenshot by Jim Snook (jim2point0)
No sooner had Nvidia's Timothy Lottes introduced FXAA (a 'fast approximate' antialiasing solution effective, unusually, upon deferred rendering and shader aliasing) than 'some dude' (their username - bet it's a lady) weaponised it into a DLL injector for most DirectX games. Copy it into the same folder as the game's binary and it hooks the calls to DirectX, softening the edges most AA methods can't reach.
Then things got interesting. Tonemapping, digital vibrance, luma sharpening and other neat effects got thrown into the mix, giving us the power to customise the look of most modern games. It's also one of the most reliable, no-nonsense screen capture tools: just hit your assigned hotkey and a lossless image plops into the game's folder.
Christian Jensen's SweetFX is the next evolution. Using SMAA for antialiasing, its features include S-Curve contrast adjustment and a filmic Cineon DPX treatment. Popular presets for these injectors include the Mass Effect 3 'Illumination' mod and James Snook's work with Borderlands 2 and Dishonored. When it comes to cheap, powerful tweaks to colour, image quality and luminosity, PC gamers have never had it so good.
Smarteck's Mass Effect 3 textures
Back in February, the official Mass Effect Twitter account confirmed that “when the full game releases, hi-res textures will be built into the game!” And so we learned that when BioWare uses an exclamation mark, it's because it can't quite believe what it's saying - because it isn't true. Altogether now: 'Crikey, these textures are taking a while to update. Oh, they have updated and the costumes still look like Ceefax.'
Some months later Smarteck, a member of BioWare's long-suffering community forum, has led an effort to retexture not just Mass Effect 3 but all of its DLC as well. Inspired by the sterling efforts of 'Jean-Luc' with his ME2 textures, he's made the game's costumes and environments palatable, if not strictly 'hi-res'. Some detail texturing here and artistic licence there can't always cover the initial upscaling that's gone on.
The other quirk is that you need ancient memory patcher Texmod to actually inject the stuff into the game. It adds something in the region of ten minutes to the initial load time and can cause issues of varying severity if you try and inject too much. All of that said, it has the not-insignificant effect of making the game compatible with your eyes.
Durante's 'DSFix' for Dark Souls
Screenshot by Midhras
I'm going to paraphrase a bit here. From Software: "We can't do it." NeoGAF poster Durante: "I bet I can do it in half an hour." 23 minutes later: "Look at that! Sometimes I surprise even myself." An awkward silence now follows into eternity, save for all the whooping and cheering of users who'd just about written off the PC port of the magnificent Dark Souls.
Unlocking the game's internal frame buffer with his 'DSFix', Durante revealed assets that were clearly fit for more than pitiful sub-720p rendering. Then, among other things, he added ambient occlusion, uncapped the framerate and improved the game's texture filtering. And there was much rejoicing - and nagging for further features.
It's hard to recall a PC version that's been rescued from the brink of utter rejection quite like Dark Souls, and certainly not rescued by players themselves. The wrong lighting model going into Resident Evil 4, the performance tailspin of DX11 Arkham City: such things are usually patched with some urgency by the developers. Souls fans had barely lit the torches, much less found the pitchforks and a way to still type, by the time the game was fixed.
ENB Series for Skyrim and Fallout 3
Outspoken graphics programmer Boris Vorontsov might just be one of the most important people in PC gaming right now. No joke. His ENB wrappers and injectors have brought to many games the kind of generational leap in quality people expect from modern graphics cards, but seldom receive beyond those tech demos where fairies in Nvidia-branded loincloths ride turtles into battle with Decopunk death balloons. Those exist, right?
But where do you begin? Vorontsov has banned the hosting of his core dlls anywhere but on his own website; then you have the community-made presets. That's where effects like indirect lighting, subsurface scattering and complex ambient occlusion are wrangled into something complementing (or wildly departing, depending upon taste) the game's original look.
The last year has seen several masters of this bizarre artform emerge. In one niche you've got Midhras and his deep and luscious 'Midhrastic' presets for Skyrim and Fallout 3. In another, Trillville (aka Anthemios) and his muted but cinematic 'TV ENB', again for both games. And there's the fantastical (but surprisingly GPU-light) Seasons Of Skyrim by Bronze316. There's loads, basically, so get looking.
Sikkmod/Wulfen's Textures for Doom 3
Additional screens: 1, 2 and 3.
Not strictly from this year but here by virtue of significant recent updates. If Rage left you questioning the genius/foresight/influence/marbles of one John Carmack, let the properly modded Doom 3 splash all over your grumpy face like a hyper-demonic poo pump (or whatever those things are).
To put it really crudely, user Sikkpin brings the effects while Wulfen (and to a lesser extent another modder called Monoxead) brings the textures. There's a lot more to it, though. Sikkmod adds a beautifully implemented list of options to the game's menu, letting you toggle but also heavily customise things like ambient occlusion, colour grading, bloom and HDR. The icing on the cake, though, is the experimental parallax occlusion mapping (POM).
Given supporting ultra-quality textures like Wulfen's, POM adds a relatively primitive relief effect to the game's grungy surfaces. It's also an effect, though, that makes you want to reach out and touch all the stuff you really don't want to have on your fingers. The caveat - and it's a big one - is that it's far more demanding and less reliable than tessellation in a DX11 game. When the effect breaks, it breaks bad. Still worth it? Absolutely.
REX: Real Environment Xtreme
Alternative screens: 1 and 2
Of course you're aware that the flight sim community takes things rather seriously. Where modding is concerned, they build planes like they're actually building planes. The manual for one of these suckers is bigger than the manual for my car; in fact, the 2005 Honda Jazz feels less realistic all round. Meanwhile, when these modders are building the weather, they do it better than God. His clouds have been rubbish for years.
You'll get the lot if you invest the considerable time and money required by Flight Simulator X and its biggest mod, Real Environment Xtreme. The latest version is called REX Essential and is soon to be improved by REX Essential Overdrive. Assuming your mind can handle something so essentially overriding, what that gives you is almost 10gb of clouds, runways, dawns, dusks, reefs, waves... an awful lot of photorealistic stuff.
The way the mod works is to build a weather profile for the particular flight you add to your planner. It takes a while to import the necessary textures and runs a background app to keep track of them, but it's well worth the rigmarole. Add it to things like TileProxy and a high-fidelity terrain mesh and you have a game that makes Microsoft Flight look like... well, Microsoft Flight.
Screenshot from Morrowind Overhaul site.
The heart says Skywind but the head says Morrowind Overhaul, the one you can actually play. The magpie in me likes Skywind’s shiny stuff, but the historian bristles at the idea of just transplanting Morrowind into the framework and tech of a really quite different game. Not that it stopped the Dragonborn DLC, but that's not quite the same thing.
The screenshots of Skywind are marvellous, of course, in that specific way that most ENB-assisted shots are. Beautiful art and beautiful technology on occasionally decent terms. Can the authors pull it off without inflicting a violent mood swing on the game? We're a long way from finding out: they just made the difficult decision to take several steps back in order to bypass some serious obstacles, and now there's just a skeletal worldspace to explore.
Morrowind Overhaul has had a lot longer to gather its greatest hits collection of mods for the original game. Crucially, it suffers none of the legal issues surrounding asset-porting that affect Skywind and its Oblivion-based predecessor, Morroblivion, so isn't such a kludge of community-only content. And hey, even if you don't like it, the divine beauty of its installer will still come to you in dreams.
GLSL shaders for Minecraft
When no one can even agree on Notch's motives for the game's look - I want to call it 'Voxel Art' but its polygons won't let me - you can imagine the confusion over how Minecraft should be modded. Maybe that's the beauty of it. At the very least you get the comedy of people striving to make it 'photorealistic', as if waiting for the mod that shrinks each block to 1 cubic pixel so they can make a perfect replica of Crysis.
Better, I think, to flatter the blocks without pretending they're something they're not. I'd love to see realtime radiosity in Minecraft but suspect my computer wouldn't. (You should have heard the noise while rendering these 4K screenshots.) What we do have, though, is the ongoing work on daxnitro's abandoned GLSL Shader mod. Some of it's awful, like the lens flare and depth of field effects, but you can turn those off in the shader files and still enjoy sumptuous light and shadowing.
What I was looking for was a realtime version of the renders described here. It warms me to know I'm still looking at a game. I have to warn you, though, that finding the right shaders for the right version of the mod, for the right version of Minecraft, was an utter chore. Each small update of Minecraft requires a new version of the mod, and each new version of the mod tends to break something, whether it's the lovely new water shader or Nvidia compatibility. It might not even work at all.
You need to learn this stuff for yourself, really, as there's a lot of trial and error. Start by reading the thread for Sonic Ether’s Unbelievable Shaders (SEUS). Then look at Sonic Ether’s updates page on Facebook and figure out why he chose such an abhorrent solution as Facebook for an updates page (hint: you can’t). If, like me at 2AM, you’ve followed all of these instructions and have more questions than answers, you could always try chocapic13’s preset here which I turned to in desperation, and which actually worked.
Crysis 2 MaLDoHD Mod
Screenshot from MaLDoHD site
Real soldiers don't look at the enemy, they look at the floor. They stand by their fallen comrades, lower their guns and think, "That is a dirty puddle, all right, but is it a wow puddle?" Then they get shot. Bleeding out, they look up at the sky and think, "No, those clouds aren't doing it for me at all. This is simply unacceptable."
Thanks to the jargon-tastic MaLDoHD mod, the shoegazing soldier doesn't have to die disillusioned any more. Fears that Crysis 2 would become any less MAXIMUM with age can be safely laid to rest.
He's suffered for his mod, this Maldo. His computer "burst" in October, reveals his blog, and some believed he was dead. So you'll just have to settle for the "1894 textures and 1297 materials" in the existing beta version of MaLDoHD; those, and all the effects such as SSDO, object tessellation and penumbra shadowing. Sucks, huh.
The RAR file is 1.5gb and expands to over 2gb. The configuration process remains, as even MAXIMUM GAMER Craig Pearson had to admit, "a bit of a faff". His install guide still applies, though, so check it out.
Deus Ex New Vision
Screenshot from Deus Ex New Vision ModDB page.
Any visual mod for Deus Ex has its work cut out. My lasting memory of the original graphics is how freshly waxed the floors looked, not how the characters resembled ice sculptures on a balmy day. Accept the rather mathematical art as a style choice, though, or a trade-off for the game’s complexities, and you’ve ticked the first box for installing New Vision.
As well as enabling DX10, New Vision gives most of the game’s textures a fourfold increase in size and quality, bringing them into line with a modern game. It does it by exploiting the seldom-used S3TC standard of the original Unreal Engine.
Installing it is simple, especially if you have the Steam version which includes the required patches. The single installer asks if you want to install a modified launcher (you do if you want FOV options and enhanced resolution options) on top of the new textures, then you just run the game as usual.
Sucked helplessly into Ion Storm's universe for what’s probably the tenth time, you might just realise that old geometry and HD textures aren’t always a bad combination. New Vision is the work of top-tier artists with an obvious respect for the source material, and these are genuine 1024x1024 textures rather than horrid upsamples. Rather than drag the game kicking and screaming into 2012, though, they invite you back to 2000 with augmented eyes.
It's not the officially licensed movie, but this teaser trailer for an upcoming Human Revolution short film is looking mighty impressive. DCode Films are handling the project, with Moe Charif acting as writer and director, as well as playing Adam Jensen. Getting all those cyborg limb augmentations shows some admirable dedication, don't you think?
There's no firm date for the film's release, with the team saying they're hoping to get it done as soon as possible. Presumably they've still got to edit in a filter to bathe everything in Human Revolution's overwhelmingly yellow hue.
Still, the team behind it have created a seriously well-realised slice of Deus Ex. Except... hang on.
That is not the face of a man whose friend is being thrown through a wall.
That's a man who can't remember if he left the oven on.
Dec 18, 2012
Rock, Paper, Shotgun - email@example.com (David Valjalo)
Insatiable film fiend David Valjalo stops by to offer his musings on adapting the unadaptables – how Hollywood has its work cut out for it, what we can read into the studios and production houses attached to silver screen versions of Deus Ex, Splinter Cell and Assassin’s Creed, formalist vs realist styles, the need to make 20-hour, splintered narratives conform to the three-act structure, why auteur directors aren’t the solution we might think they are, and why Russell Crowe is abstractly key to getting game to film right.> (more…)
Hitman Absolution seems set to become the next game to feel the full force of Square Enix's bizarre obsession with cross-game promotion. After shoehorning practically every one of their franchises into Sleeping Dogs, the company has now released Deus Ex DLC for Agent 47's sort-of-assassination adventure.
The Adam Jensen disguise and handgun microtransactions (purchases sold separately, batteries not included) add a silenced pistol and cyborg costume into Contracts mode. None of which is going to fix the many problems that Tom had when he reviewed the game.
It does make you wonder what's next in SE's tireless campaign to tie all of their games together in increasingly silly ways. I'm hoping that future costumes for 47 include the traditional Lara Croft tanktop, or that they look to one of their Japanese titles and dress him up as a miserable teenager with a giant sword and shit hair. Any better ideas?
Dec 3, 2012
Rock, Paper, Shotgun - firstname.lastname@example.org (Alec Meer)
Why distort one beloved franchise when you can do two at once? The latest DLC for Hitman: Ablutions once again fails to add new missions, ideally in a Streets of Hope vein, but instead a new costume and gun which can only be used in the Contracts mode. This new costume is the kevlar’n'metal duds of one Adam Jensen, he of Deus Ex: Human Revolution fame. This happens due to Hitman and Deux Ex being publisher stablemates, of course. As far as I can tell there is no narrative justification for why Baldy McChoke would come to acquire the augmented form of a mopey, bearded cyborg from the future, but hell, if Ridley Scott can contrive to unite the Blade Runner and Alien universes then this is no less silly.
The DXHR togs do make 47 look a bit like Gunther, mind. (more…)