Archive for January, 2008

Half Life 2: The Orange Box Impressions

Before I start going in to any sort of detail about Half Life 2: The Orange Box, I want to remind you about a few choice quotes of some reviews from some big name games sites.

Here’s Eurogamer on some of the problems they encountered with Episode One and Two:

Dipping into the graphically more challenging Episode One, the game initially still manages to impress, matching the 720p/30 performance of Xbox 360 seemingly with few problems. However, the deeper you move into the game, the more the frame rate issues intrude on the experience. Catching falling debris with the gravity gun becomes an exercise in anticipating lag as the frame rate dives dramatically. Fierce firefights can become a slideshow. Death is your constant companion not necessarily because of your lack of gaming ability but because you literally can’t see what’s going on – the PlayStation 3 is simply not giving you enough visual information to work with.

But while Episode One is decent enough and just about bearable even when things go pear-shaped, its sequel is essentially a complete write-off. The Source Engine is pushed to its limits in Episode Two, rendering scenes far more complex than any seen in the previous Half-Life games. It looks absolutely gorgeous, but on PlayStation 3, the drop in frame rate is always with you, kicking in right from the beginning and rarely letting up.

That’s just a taster of their criticism for the PS3 version. Next up is IGN:

The remainder of our criticisms are to blame for the discrepancy in scores between the PlayStation 3 version of the game and the 360 version (the PS3 version, after all, wasn’t handled entirely by Valve). The PlayStation 3 Orange Box performs far worse, and this fact just isn’t up for debate. While framerate issues aren’t as problematic in Half-Life 2 and Episode One, Episode Two suffers a great deal, especially during the episode’s larger battles. We regret to say that some sections border on being unplayable because of the stutters, which often cause your aim to be thrown off and timing shots to be very difficult. The problem isn’t persistent throughout, but when it hits, it hits hard.

More troubling still is the difference in load times. Almost all the PS3 load times are at least five seconds more than the 360, but loading a saved game/loading after death is particularly awful. These clock in at about two to three times as long as the 360 version, which slows down the gameplay considerably. Even though the PS3 Orange Box sports a quicksave feature, any benefit of this option is lost considering the overall abundance of loading.

Gamespot’s HL2: The Orange Box Review doesn’t criticise the PS3 version quite as much as Eurogamer or IGN but it still mentions issues with frame rate and slowdown, not to mention the longer load times in the PS3 version.

And this is where I have a problem. Yes the PS3 version has stupidly long load times on all the games that I played (Team Fortress 2 is the only one I haven’t tried) but the issues with the frame rate and slowdown is greatly exaggerated.

I experienced one major incident of slowdown during Half Life 2, on the Route Kanal mission when I was in the boat. It lasted for under a minute and stopped after I got out of the boat. There were no other incidents of drops in framerate during the rest of HL2.

Next is Episode One. There were very few drops in frame rate during Episode One and when they did occur, it was usually just after I had quicksaved and it would last for 1sec then things would be back to normal. No major incidents of slowdown occurred during open play.

Finally, Episode 2, the much criticised portion of The Orange Box. IGN said it was virtually a complete write off. What a load of bullshit! There was one incident of slowdown during Episode 2, while playing the mission where Alyx was being healed and you had to fend off hordes of Antlions that came through four different tunnels.

It lasted for around 30 seconds and didn’t affect my ability to dispatch the Antlions with my shotgun. There were no other major problems of frame rate drops during the rest of the game, including the epic mission at the end. I won’t spoil it for people that haven’t played it but if you have played it, you know the mission I mean.

I have to question which version of the game IGN and Eurogamer were playing because it wasn’t the same version that I was playing. I almost missed out on experiencing The Orange Box due to these negative reviews. I’m glad I got it because it turns out the criticisms levelled at the PS3 version of the Orange Box were greatly exaggerated.

The game itself was an excellent experience. It took a while to draw me in, probably about halfway through HL2, but once I was it just got better and better.

Episode 2 is definitely the best portion of The Orange Box for me. The graphics are a step up from HL2 and Episode One (hardly surprising) but the pace and set pieces are also phenomenal, not to mention the shocking twist near the beginning that had me pretty emotional.

It’s definitely one of the best FPS I’ve played, with a great story and characters to match. Alyx and Dog make the HL2 so much more enjoyable. I wouldn’t of played the game solidly for over a week if it wasn’t for those two.

I hope more people give the PS3 version of The Orange Box a chance because it would be a shame for people to miss out on such a great experience.

Eurogamer’s HL2: The Orange Box Review

IGN’s HL2: The Orange Box Review

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Long Live 160GB PS3 ???

The net is abuzz with rumours about the 80GB version of the PS3 being phased out in favour of a new 120GB to 160GB PS3. Rumours suggest that this new model will lose all PS2 backwards compatibility but will gain a DUALSHOCK 3 controller.

Lots of people are arguing in the forums about whether or not the discontinuation of the 80GB PS3 in the Best Buy database has any significance. For some reason, some people just don’t believe that this has any significance. I think it does, especially given the fact that Sony has submitted a new PS3 to the FCC for approval. I think that the 80GB is on its way out out OUT!

I don’t care that that the 80GB PS3 is going away, I just care about its replacement’s capabilities. I really like the 4 USB ports on my PS3 (for playing Rock Band), the memory stick support (for copying stuff), and the PS2 BC (which unlike some people, I use a lot).

So I hope that the new uber-PS3 still retains all that stuff that really makes it an uber-PS3 instead of just a 40GB PS3 with a bigger HDD. I already have all that stuff, I know, but if my PS3 dies three years from now, I hope that Sony’s still making a model that I’ll be able to enjoy.

Thoughts?

Mole: 80GB PS3 dead, 120-160GB with Dual Shock 3 incoming

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New Blu-ray movies for the week 1.28.08

Got some comedy, suspense, and a couple music blu-rays. Still no Final Fantasy Advent Children Complete :( Why do you torture me so Sony.


Daddy Day Camp (Sony Pictures)
Damages: The Complete First Season (Sony Pictures)
Dispatch: Zimbabwe, Live at Madison Square Garden (Warner Music)
The Invasion (Warner Bros.)
Justin Timberlake: FutureSex/LoveShow Live from Madison Square Garden (Sony Music)
King of California (First Look Studios)
Monty Python’s Life of Brian (Sony Pictures)

Blu-ray.com

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Naughty Dog Interview

uncharted_drakes_fortune.jpg

Recently we were given the opportunity to ask Naughty Dog, the creators of Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune, some interview questions. Here are the results.

Questions 3 and 4 answered by Pal Engstad, Lead Rendering Programmer. The others were answered by Evan Wells, the Co President of Naughty Dog

Q1: What kind of Home integration are you planning for Uncharted?

A1: Rather than each individual treasure, the Medals in Uncharted are more likely going to turn into Home trophies. We modelled the detail into the treasures just to increase the satisfaction in finding them. We also went to great lengths to make sure that they were authentic items that were from the right time period and location. We will have to come up with new 3D models to represent the trophies when the time comes.

Q2: What kind of tools (software packages) did your programmers and artists use to create the game?

A2: A lot of our tools were designed and created at Naughty Dog including a level editor, a shader and material editor, an asset management system and a scripting language that can be compiled and uploaded to the PS3 on the fly. With all of the development tools that we use, the most important feature is iteration time. We want to cut down the time it takes for our artists, designers and programmers to see their work show up in the game. This means that they will get the maximum opportunity to experiment which is the only way to make a great game.

Q3: Do you find a global queue of jobs to be doled out upon request to be a good approach to paritioning work to the SPE’s, or is it better to assign each SPE it’s own task in the game?

A3: Naughty Dog uses a Job Manager developed jointly by Naughty Dog’s ICE team and SCEE’s ATG group. This means that we can send any type of job to any SPE, and all of the scheduling of jobs is done through a priority system. This works well, since the overhead is minimal and we achieve good load-balancing between SPEs, something that would be hard to do by allocating a whole SPU to a single task.

Q4: With streaming technologies and the included HDD in every PS3, how important is actual memory? I ask because the PS3’s OS takes up so much more of the available 512MB than the 360’s OS does.

A4: Main memory is a cache, but remember that a larger cache enables us to keep more data in memory at the same time, enabling more detail in textures. Therefore, every MB saved improves the quality of our game. We’ve solved most of our memory problems by relying on the SPEs to perform compression, both at load-time and at run-time, using techniques developed by ICE, SCEA Tools&Tech and the SCEE ATG group. So yes, memory footprint is very important to us.

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