Rock, Paper, Shotgun - (Richard Cobbett)

I must confess, since finishing Siege of Dragonspear the other week, I’ve not actually fired up any RPGs. It’s not for want of them to play. I’m particularly looking forward to finally trying Final Fantasy IX, which I missed back in the day, and Beamdog’s recently announced interquel, Planescape Torment: The Nameless One And A Half. (It’s very similar to the original, only now whenever someone asks “What can change the nature of a man?” a furious little goblin pops onto the screen to yell “#notallmen!”)

The problem has simply been timing – not having a nice satisfying chunk of time to really settle down for an epic experience. So instead, I thought I’d take a look at a few speed-runs, and see how fifty hours suddenly becomes a minute and a half… provided you don’t include the hundreds of hours to get to that point. Here’s a few of them I dug up to make your completion times look like crap, from RPGs old and new.

… [visit site to read more]

Community Announcements - Goldgust

Check out the video for a behind-the-scenes look at the design process of your favorite mare here:
PC Gamer

When Skyrim came out I played it on a pretty sweet rig, running it on its highest settings and eventually adding high-res mods so I could see every twist in every peasant s rope belt. Now I m going back to it on a laptop with an Intel HD 4000 graphics card that struggles to run it on low, dropping below 30 fps whenever a fight breaks out or I absorb a dragon soul in that swooshy display of lights and effects. Fortunately, there are mods for this situation too.

The Shadow Remover mod takes the blocky shadows that distractingly flicker over everyone s faces on low settings and gets rid of them entirely, which gives an immediate performance boost. We can do better though, and with the Ultra Low Graphics mod suddenly I m getting between 50 and 60 fps, even if the world now looks like abstract art and some of the faces are a bit freaky. Everything s smooth and plastic, like action figure accessories. It s fascinating to see a familiar setting warped like this though, and I m enjoying seeing twisted versions of sights that had become commonplace.

It s all thanks to Alex, aka The LowSpecGamer, a YouTuber who makes video tutorials to help people get high-end (ish) games running on low-end PCs. I remember struggling to get games running as a kid on the cheap computer my working class parents could afford, but LowSpecGamer goes above and beyond, demonstrating how to edit .ini files and mess around with mods as well as showing which in-game settings give the biggest boost.

Though he lives in Barcelona now, The LowSpecGamer (as he likes to be called) was born in Venezuela and grew up unable to afford the newest hardware. For him, learning to push games below their minimum settings was the only way to play them. There s always this narrative about PC gaming being about trying to get the best out of the game, trying to get the best graphics and so on, he says. That s the main narrative in gaming culture. That didn t really fit with what I was doing or how I felt and I thought I was the only one.

Obviously he isn t, as the thousands of views on his videos show. In those videos he passes on some of the expertise he s picked up from several years of modifying files and changing priority settings to lowspec games as diverse as BioShock Infinite, Life Is Strange, and Goat Simulator. Even if you re not interested in following his advice, it s fascinating to see him surgically altering the guts of games.

It takes a lot of effort to make these videos, with plenty of time consumed in testing tweaks for games made using the same engine to see if they carry across and trawling forums to check out what enterprising players have already done. I have to try everything because it s very often that I will find a Steam discussion where someone will tell me some magical procedure to increase performance of a game and then I will try it and it will actually make it worse, he explains. I do have to extensively test everything.

Some games are more resistant to this process than others. For the three videos he s made about Metal Gear Solid 5 he did a lot of research in the mod community, eventually hitting gold in a thread on NeoGAF where modders were trying to decrypt its configuration files. I don t know, 40, 50 pages into it some guy started figuring out how to do an ultra high graphics mod and he explained his steps for his research. I saw the files he was tweaking and I thought to myself, Wait, I could use this exact procedure but instead of making things higher I could make them lower. Which is exactly what I did.

One of his most popular videos is about The Witcher 3, with over 500,000 views. Following its advice I installed the Hunter s Config mod and disabled various options, then went into the game s user.settings file and edited it to remove even more effects and drop the resolution below the minimum available in the options menu, all the way down to 800x600.

My PC with an i7 processor and 8GB of RAM but a not-so-hot Radeon 7600 graphics card can normally only run The Witcher 3 at about 15 fps. Now it s jumped up to the high 20s, sometimes nosing up to 32, though it looks like it was released around the same time as Oblivion. Foliage springs into existence as I ride past it, Geralt s shadow is only visible at certain angles and only from the knees up, and most of the surfaces look a bit like they ve been coated in milk.

Some of the commenters on LowSpecGamer videos are strangely angered by the idea people are happy to play games this way.

I don t mind because I remember playing games on my parents old 486 in a tiny window in the corner of the screen, but some of the commenters on LowSpecGamer videos are strangely angered by the idea people are happy to play games this way. They say things like don t buy the game at all if you can t run it and claim that it totally ruins the experience . There s an odd defensiveness, as if they re seeing a mural of Jesus permanently muddled by inept restoration rather than someone turning down textures because they can only afford a mediocre laptop.

I remember one guy commenting, I don t see the point of this, you can get a good computer for X amount of dollars at your local store and put it together so I don t see the point of your channel. I was about to answer him when one person responded, The world doesn t end at your doorstep. It s a good point. What the LowSpecGamer demonstrates is ingenuity that comes from necessity, and it should inspire our respect rather than contempt. It s easy to think that it s easy to get a good computer when you live in a developed country. As I know because of the country I was born in, that is not the case for a lot of people, and judging by the analytics of the channel a lot of people from many countries around the world enjoy or feel represented by this.

Not every game has cracked open and revealed its secrets under his pressure, however. He maintains a list of what he calls the doomed games," and they include a couple of obvious suspects. Batman: Arkham Knight seems to particularly frustrate him. To this day I keep regularly re-downloading the game and trying stuff. I haven t given up yet but it s amazing how it ignores the configuration files for so many things. Even the way the configuration files are set up is messy. The problems with Arkham Knight aren t only superficial, they are very evident everywhere. Then you have games like Assassin s Creed: Unity, which is one I particularly dislike because even when getting into the configuration screen of the game, trying to switch things into low, when you check back into the configuration file it will barely change.

There are a couple of games on that list for better reasons though, ones that don t obfuscate their configuration and instead make it so easy to alter them that there s nothing left for him to do. Games like Saints Row IV and Middle Earth: Shadow Of Mordor are good examples, as both can be changed so dramatically in their own options menu there s no need to push them any further.

And while some players aren t impressed by what he does to their favorite games, the developers don t seem nearly as precious. Recently the team behind Oddworld: New n Tasty!, the remake of Abe s Oddysee, reached out to him personally to offer some advice on how to lowspec their game. To have a developer—especially of that game, I really loved the original Abe s Odyssee—to have the developer help me tweak around the remake to make the video, it makes me extremely happy.

Rock, Paper, Shotgun - (Joe Donnelly)

Distribution platform GOG have been running their Insomnia Sales for quite a while now – where limited numbers of games are discounted round the clock until allocations run out. New games with new deals then pop up, and so restarts the cycle where you get loads of bargains and a distinctly lighter wallet.

The Sleepy Sheep Insomnia Sale is now underway, bringing with it an abundance of deals and “a number of games never before seen on as well as the best-ever deal on our crowning jewel – The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt.”

… [visit site to read more]

PC Gamer

The Witcher 3 is a massive game. It packs in 35 hours of dialogue, each line of which was voice acted and motion captured. If I had been in charge of orchestrating all the moving parts of the game's development, I would've had a breakdown a month in and the dialogue system would've ended up more like Facade. Thankfully, the much more capable Piotr Tomsinski was in charge, and he gave an enlightening talk at GDC on Friday about how much work went into making the characters move and speak so naturally.

The problem going into The Witcher 3 was obvious: they were making a vast, non-linear, fully-voiced RPG. CD Projekt wanted decisions in The Witcher 3 to feel meaningful, and for them to feel meaningful players needed to form emotional attachments with the characters. They wanted to be able to sell drama by showing it, not by telling you up front a scene was supposed to be emotional. Writing 101, essentially.

Doing individual motion capture work for every dialogue scene and then animating them all by hand would've been impossible, or taken up ridiculous resources (Tomsinski showed that a team of only 14 worked on the cinematic dialogue system, including programmers, animators, and QA—other hands likely pitched in, but that seems to be the core team). So CD Projekt built a number of systems, and a huge library of data in the form of reusable and easily modified animations, that could be combined together to create The Witcher 3.

With the systems they created, designers could make their own dialogue scenes without needing to pull models into a tool like Maya to do heavy duty animation. When he first showed off their Timeline tool, it looked overwhelmingly complicated—like a more complex version of Logic Pro or Adobe Premiere. But it's actually not so bad: there are different rows for animations, 'lookats' (which is where the characters in the scene are looking), placement (location in 3D space), and a few other elements.

The real magic comes in how they generated the dozens of hours of dialogue scenes using an algorithm, and then went into the timeline to hand-tune each one instead of building it from scratch.

"It sounds crazy, especially for the artist, but we do generate dialogues by code," Tomsinski said. "The generator's purpose is to fill the timeline with basic units. It creates the first pass of the dialogue loop. We found out it's much faster to fix or modify existing events than to preset every event every time for every character. The generator works so well that some less important dialogues will be untouched by the human hand."

That's right: a bunch of math determined how most of the dialogue in The Witcher 3 was arranged and animated. So how did it work?

"The generator requires three different types of inputs: information about the actors, [some cinematic instructions], and finally the extracted data from voiceovers. We use an algorithm to generate markers, or accents, from the voiceovers, so later we can match the events in animation with the sound. It generates camera movement and placement, facial animation, body animations, and the lookats."

The Witcher 3 has some of the best-looking character interaction in any game, and most of that started with procedural generation. If the animators weren't happy with a scene, they could simply press a button to regenerate it, and the algorithm would conjure up something new with a slightly altered mix of camera movements and animators. Tomsinski showed off some side-by-side examples, and it was easy to see the small distinctions between them; subtle differences between head and body movements, the pauses between movements.

"The generator works so well that some less important dialogues will be untouched by the human hand."

Of course, they didn't let the algorithm run and call it a day. The thing both scenes had in common was that they looked a bit amateurish—really, like awkward actors stumbling over a scene in a film, or the not-quite-natural animation of games that started to really explore cinematic character interactions (i.e. almost everything pre-Mass Effect). Most of the time, the animators would take what the generator had created, then go into the timeline to tweak it by hand, which could deliver a much better scene in just a few minutes. In some cases, they'd add in more elaborate camera movements, reposition characters and facial expressions, and so on, but they already had a great, unpolished base to work from.

The finished example Tomsinski showed adding a lingering camera shot to the end of the scene for a more cinematic transition, and the character Geralt had been talking to made a subtle facial expression as the witcher walked away. It doesn't sound like much, but it's amazing how much more life that gave the scene.

The building blocks for all those scenes were a set of 2400 dialogue animations, but divided between the various types of characters: men, women, dwarves, elves, children, etc., and different poses (standing, kneeling, and sitting), that number gets significantly smaller. They needed to be reusable.

Tomsinski gave an example: a simple gesture Geralt makes with his hand while standing. What if they wanted Geralt to make that gesture while sitting? They could try adding that animation to the timeline after inserting Geralt in a sitting pose, but that doesn't work—he suddenly appears stood up and waves. So they created a system for additive animations, where only the key part of the body will move—in this case, his arm—allowing animations to be combined. Bam! Geralt is sitting down, but making the same gesture. Other tools, like masking, let them further tweak the movement of specific limbs. In this example, they made sure his legs looked natural as he moved.

There were other key elements to the system, like how they designed the lookat animations with attached poses, so characters would lean on one arm when looking in a certain direction, and how the timeline could dynamically scale for localization to account for longer or shorter dialogue in different languages. But to recap: holy cow, the cinematic dialogue in The Witcher 3 is amazing, and now we know why.

Update 3/23/2016: As I wrote above, the algorithmic generation was a starting point for the Witcher 3's dialogue scenes, which designers then turned into better scenes. Piotr Tomsinski sent over a note elaborating on that process.

At CD PROJEKT RED we strongly believe in a hands-on, custom approach to content creation. I'm sure you can tell this from the way how the world Geralt traverses was designed - and our interactive cinematic sequences (dialogues as we call them) are no different. It's not true that "a bunch of math determined how most of the dialogue in The Witcher 3 were arranged and animated".

How does creating a dialogue scene like this look like from cinematic designer's point of view? First of all, it's not only animating. In fact, there's very little animating at all. Animations are delivered to the animation library - a huge set of gestures, moves and facial animations. Cinematic designer working on a scene simply uses those libraries, crafting actor performance from pre-made animation blocks. And it's something no algorithm can do. Does the woman who lost everything in the fire do this or that gesture? Should it happen while she speaks or during a pause? In what pose does she stand? Should she look away? For how long? Should she be expressive or hide her feelings?

We would like to emphasize that creating a compelling scene is more than just animating , which can be seen as the process of constructing the acting. Creating a compelling scene is in fact editing, preparing cinematography, staging and applying other cinematic means of expression. Algorithm didn't compose our shots so that they have depth and balance. An algorithm didn't decide when to cut the camera to show the NPC's reaction or when to move from a medium shot to a close-up. The algorithm didn't decide when characters moved or changed poses. It didn't tell us if a scene should be fast-paced with wide-angle shots or slow shot with medium lenses.

The algorithm or generator as we call it, was used only as a solid base for further development of the scene. It was a shortcut, a tool, but never a goal. More of a production-related thing. It created a rough first pass through a scene, which was always tweaked and adjusted by hand - in all 1463 dialogues. In many, the algorithm wasn't used at all, as they demanded custom approach from the very beginning.

Every cinematic dialogue was approached with the same care, attention and goal - to create the most compelling and emotional scene for given quest and story. Only this way, the characters could ring true and players would want to invest in them, to understand them, to help or condemn them. When they act like humans, not voiceover-delivery machines. Achieving this is a deliberate, careful process. Procedural doesn't get you this. A designer with empathy does. Because you have to put your heart into something to move someone else's.

Rock, Paper, Shotgun - (Joe Donnelly)

The Witcher 3 took home two awards last night at the 16th Annual Game Developers Choice Awards, including the coveted Game of the Year prize. Her Story, after winning big at the IGF Awards hours earlier, captured a further three trophies. Comes see the full list of winners and nominees below.

… [visit site to read more]

PC Gamer

The DICE Awards have rumbled through, giving the cultural arbiters of America a chance to tell you what was good and what wasn't (Fallout 4 was good, for the record). Now it's the turn of the Brits, with The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt and Her Story leading the PC nominees at the BAFTA Games Awards.

They're up for seven awards each. The Witcher is gunning for Best Game, Artistic Achievement, Audio Achievement. Game Design, Performer (for Doug Cockle's Geralt, although for my money James Clyde's Bloody Baron deserves a look-in), Persistent Game and Story. Her Story is looking at British Game, Debut Game, Game Design, Game Innovation, Mobile and Handheld (okay, not PC, but bear with me), Original Property and Story.

Also in contention are stalwarts like Rocket League, Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes and PC Gamer's very own Game of the Year and Twitter-provoker 2015, Metal Gear Solid 5. The full list is colossal, so feel free to peruse it at your leisure. Everybody's Gone to the Rapture has the overall top spot at 10 nominations, but as that 's not technically a PC game yet, enough said.

The winners will be announced at a ceremony on April 7.

PC Gamer

Envision this: An attractive young man is walking down the street, not really paying attention to where he's going, with The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt in his hands. Coming from the opposite direction, a similarly inattentive young woman carrying Fallout 4. Rounding a corner, they run headlong into one another! You got your Witcher in my Fallout! she exclaims. And in reply, he cries, You got your Fallout in my... wait, no, you're right. That's Witcher 3 in Fallout 4, for sure.

The Geralt's Prologue Gear mod adds the Witcher crossbow, Geralt's outfit, and the Witcher wolf mask to Fallout 4. The weapon and outfit are available in different models and colors, while the mask has selectable eye designs. And based on the teaser video, they look great—mainly because they're built on the original models and textures used in The Witcher 3. The mod maker, Renn, linked to an image of an email he received granting him permission to use the assets, something CD Projekt said it normally doesn't allow.

We can make an exception and allow you to use The Witcher assets in accordance with what is in your email below and within this scope. Please just make sure that you do not create any kind of impression that CD Projekt SA is your official partner, co-author of your derivative work, or that it assumes any responsibility for the result of your work, the studio wrote. It also asked that he ensure it's not used for anything racist, xenophobic, sexist, defamatory or otherwise offensive or illegal, and of course that it not be used for commercial purposes.

Solid move, guys. The Geralt's Prologue Gears mod for Fallout 4 is available from Nexus Mods.

Thanks, VG247.

PC Gamer

Did you know that The Witcher 3 is moddable? As an upstanding PC gamer, you ought to—sweeping mods to accompany the official Enhanced Editions have given extra life to every game in the series. These range from the standout Witcher 2 Full Combat Rebalance to the unusual move of replacing every fight in The Witcher 3 with a game of Gwent. Yes, all of them.

CD Projekt Red, in association with ESL, has trawled the Nexus modding community to name its top Witcher 3 mods and compiled them into this rather handy video, including a mix of quality of life improvements and the considerably more odd. And if that leaves you hungering for more ways to make Geralt's adventures stranger, we've got a healthy list of our own.

Rock, Paper, Shotgun - (Alex Wiltshire)

This is The Mechanic, where Alex Wiltshire invites a developer to help him put their game up on blocks and take a wrench to hack out its best feature, just to see how it works. It s about the sweat, grease and genius behind the little things that make games special.>

Here s a question: How do you solve a problem like Geralt? There he is, stern and stalwart, everyone s favourite low fantasy drifter. A man of rank bogs, blasted no man s lands and rugged islands. A man who isn t much of a laugh, or awfully fun to have a drink with.

But what if you want to extend his world, and expose him to new adventures? That s what last October s expansion to The Witcher 3 [official site], Hearts of Stone, aimed to achieve, but it had to get Geralt doing things he d never normally do. So how did CD Projekt manage to get him drunk and dancing at a wedding, robbing a bank, and appraising fine art? Their solution was deft.

… [visit site to read more]


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