Butt Stallion

Sunday, September 30, 2012
This is a few weeks late, and for that I apologize and renounce my belief that education is more important than video games, right next to breathing.  No really guys, I am sorry!  Over the past couple of weeks I've been making tortoise pace progress through Borderlands 2 (Thank you Nvidia!) while watching the reviews come out left and right, even Wall Street Journal had a few things to say (The affront to the gaming community, the attempt at redemption).  My take might sound slightly different from theirs, but I assure you that's not a gameboner, this is more like an OMGGRAPHICSboner.  In a cell shaded game, this is definitely a take that seems to be rare, but I also had the privilege to play this on the PC with a graphics card that can support PhysX (Nvidia GTX 560 (vanilla)).  Let me just say, the little things that are present when running PhysX make Borderlands 2 an entirely new game (OK maybe it's more of a remaining PhysXboner I've had for the past month, I should really get that checked out >.>)!  Simple things, for example, in the cargo holders that are oftentimes used as cover, and probably shelter for the bad guys, there's usually cloth covering the entrance and waving in the wind, and now, my personal favorite particle control:  When a giant, furry four-armed snow ape (to be referred to as bullymong from here on) throws a giant snowball/rock at you, the pieces of the snowball/rock formed from bouncing off of your apparently adamantine skull don't just disappear into the ground, the stay there, as well as the bullymong and its vital fluids which leave the ground an absolute mess from the recent melee!  It's beautiful!  Here have what is probably the same comparison video I posted last.
In my opinion, despite the cartoon-y graphics, the PhysX makes these graphics absolutely revolutionary and adds a surprising bit of permanence and realism to an otherwise otherworldly (both in and out of game) experience.

Next I have to note the dialogue.  Some find it annoying, I find it to be so awful that it is hilarious!  I actually eagerly await Handsome Jack's (the villain) *le sigh* phone calls.  I mean, he calls you, while you're fighting through an enemy encampment, to tell you about his diamond pony named Butt Stallion while simultaneously eating stale pretzels, tell ya what folks, he's a keeper!
("Butt Stallion is best pony!")

Next up, gameplay.  So, I've been playing through as Salvador the Gunzerker, which is actually pretty excellent once you get the Gunzerking skill.  I'm not complaining about regaining 50% health and the ability to use two guns at once for a moment, in fact it's pretty awesome (when I remember to activate it!).  Single player is nice because you can pause at will and take your time.  Multiplayer is great, too!  It works on the same mechanic as the first game so it's quite convenient if you need to help your buddy with something on their game or they need to help you on yours.  Having the characters say reassuring things while patching each other up in battle is an excellent touch as well.

The story?  Well, the story's pretty straightforward, kill the jerk who tried to kill you, and find the new vault.  But really amidst everything else the smaller goals along the way and the way that things are laid out actually make the game feel quite casual, and I really do love that aspect.  I'm not in it to kill some dudes, I'm in it to kill some dudes and have fun doing it, preferably with the help of friends!

World of Warplanes is a Finely Tuned Machine

Tuesday, September 18, 2012
While meeting with the folks from Wargaming.net, I got a little face time with World of Warplanes. Still in closed beta, World of Warplanes takes the concept of world of Tanks and applies it to classic warplanes, from biplanes to early jets. The game looks to become as diverse as World of Tanks, with German, US and Russian planes available now and Japanese planes available at the game's launch.

World of Warplanes isn't a flight simulator, but trying out different planes, I could feel distinct differences even between planes in the same class. Flight games are constantly fighting to find a balance between arcade play and realistic flight. Often, in search of a specific demographic, a flight game will sacrifice one for the other and end up missing out on a larger potential audience.

World of Warplanes has seemingly struck the perfect balance. The gameplay feels authentic without needing a pilot's licence, and accessible without being dumbed down. This balance is furthered by the new "module" system for upgrading your planes.

The modules represent historically accurate configurations of weapons, armor and engines on each of the planes. Each module structures the plane towards specific play styles. This makes it easier for players to upgrade their planes for the roles that best suit them, either focusing or ground or air targets, heavy armor and weapons or speed and maneuverability. Players can also research individual components, as in World of Tanks, and even create their own custom modules should they desire a deeper customization experience.

The planes themselves are divided into various classes, from interceptors to dedicated ground attack planes. Each nation will also have their own specific class of plane. The only ones revealed so far are the Carrier based planes for the US and Japan.

The gameplay is similar to World of Tanks in that two groups of up to 15 players fight across a map to destroy each other or complete specified objectives. Rather than holding and capturing the opposing teams base, players can choose to destroy ground targets such as tanks and airbases to gain points towards victory. Many of these targets are not static and will fight back. Buildings are often defended by AA batteries, making them dangerous but tempting targets. Friendly fire is a reality in World of Warplanes, so luring enemy planes into your AA guns can be a very dangerous tactic.

World of Warplanes promises to be an exciting and fast paced game with all of the strategic elements and customization that made World of Tanks unique. Flight enthusiasts, aviation buffs, action fans and even more casual players should find the game accessible and fun to play. In this way, World of Warplanes is what every online game should be.

Nvidia and the Kepler Architecture

Thursday, September 13, 2012
At PAX, I had the most excellent privilege to view the Kepler architecture (600 series) in action.  It is BEAUTIFUL!  Unfortunately, I was unable to obtain a copy I could unpack and take my own comparison videos of, but the next best thing is words, simple words, no engineering gobbledy-gook this time.  You're right, I'm lying (at least about words being the next best thing), so here you have it, this was my favorite demo to be viewed as it includes all aspects (PhysX, tesselation, and adaptive Vsync) in comparison to not having these things:

See, this is beautiful.  They didn't reveal what the machine without PhysX was running with, but I'd have to assume another 600 card.  I'd imagine it looks just a little bit better than had they run it on a Fermi (500 series) card.

To break down the aspects included, here is what they are.  PhysX is Nvidia's improved physics engine, tesselation which is the process by which a polygonal patch is broken down into higher resolution sub patches, dividing a low polygon count mesh into a higher detail mesh on demand (usually based on distance and angle to the camera)  which means that it's feasible now to, say, round out a character's ears to make them look more realistic.  And adaptive vsync allows for less stuttering on screen during a game.  As I said, I am not going to break this down further, otherwise this article would be difficult to manage!

Overall, the major improvements from the Fermi architecture are the aspects listed above, which are made possible by twice the amount of CUDA cores being present in any derivative of the Kepler architecture, this allows for more threads to be processed at a time, and therefore faster calculations!

Today Nvidia officially announces the 660 and 650 cards.  This is a fantastic opportunity for those more sensitive to price changes in video cards to update, as compared to the 670+ cards the price points are rather low.  You do suffer some functionality from these cards as compared to the higher priced versions, the 650 is not SLI compatible, and the 660 has only slightly fewer CUDA cores than the 660ti.  These seem like they will be good for about a year or more depending on the usage on them, but as a personal opinion I think that for price and functionality the 680 is superior and will at least time proof your machine for a considerably longer time than the 660.

Because I am being a lazy person today, following this text will be a list of the cards' attributes.

GeForce GTX 660ti
GeForce GTX 670
GeForce GTX 680 <-- My personal favorite!
GeForce GTX 690

If you look at these, you should notice that the amount of CUDA cores has deeply impacted the price point on the various models (660 and 650 not listed, but they do have 900+ cores, except 650).  If you look back at Fermi's specs, you'll also see that there will be (as a direct result of ~50% more cores plus the other awesome aspects) approximately a 50% performance increase should you decide to upgrade to Kepler, even if you decide to go for the 650 card.

Happy gaming!

World of Tanks; now with Better Graphics, Realistic Physics, and 100% More Cliff Kills

Thursday, September 6, 2012
I sat down with Wargaming.net at PAX to talk about their lineup of online military action games. I left that room 45 minutes later wiping drool from my mouth, more eager than ever to play the whole suite of Wargaming.net's offerings.

I was treated to a look at the latest update for World of Tanks. Update 8.0 adds a slough of new graphic elements to the game. Realistic lighting, dynamic weather and gorgeous water effects are just a few of the more noticeable effects they've added. Those of you who have been playing World of Tanks for a while now will agree that this looks like a whole new game. The uninitiated should watch the 7.5 update trailer as well as the new 8.0 trailer.

Update 8.0 is more than a just a face lift. The addition of a realistic physics engine aims to do away with a number of exploitative strategies that have been frustrating players for a long time. No more balancing on cliffs to shoot down at players. Try that in 8.0 and you'll find yourself plummeting to your death. Larger tanks can also use their girth to push other tanks and wreckage out of the way, adding whole new strategic elements to the game. You'll also notice the suspension of the tanks move and shift as they cross the terrain. Gather enough speed going over a hill and you can end up airborne briefly. All in all, 8.0 aims to deepen the fidelity and authenticity of the already incredibly detailed game.

If that isn't enough to get you excited, Wargaming.net is also working on World of Tanks: Generals. Generals is a free-to-play, browser based CCG. There will be multiple game modes available when the game launches, but I was shown a mode that closely resembles the basic gameplay mode from World of Tanks. Each player has a headquarters, a number of tank cards as well as events and powerups to tip the balance in your favor. The object is the same; destroy your opponent's forces and/or capture their headquarters.

Most CCG's have you buy booster packs with a random selection of cards that may or may not contain something you can use in your deck. Generals is importing the research system from World of Tanks to let players build a deck specifically tuned to their play style.

Because Generals is an HTML5 based game, it will be compatible on almost any device, be it PC, MAC, or Tablet. You will also be able to start a game on one device and finish it on another.

It was also confirmed that Generals players will share their account with World of Tanks. How exactly the shared accounts and cross over content will be expressed has yet to be revealed.

Wargaming.net is growing by leaps and bounds. The company is growing quickly, as is the player base for World of Tanks. The continued attention to the game and impressive quality of the updates released so far show that Wargaming.net cares a great deal about their community. Update 8.0 is the biggest so far, but I doubt it will be the last. Generals promises to add more to the player experience, something you can pick up and play without having to leave the familiar confines of World of Tanks. If their attention to detail and depth is any indication, I'd say it's fair to expect big things from Wargaming.net in the very near future.