Archive for March, 2009
Years ago, in the early days of CD-ROM, live actor video footage was very common. Today, this is almost completely unheard of. Computer generated graphics are the standard. I recently tried the PS3 demo of Command & Conquer Red Alert 3 and was shocked to see live actor footage in a new game.
During it’s popularity, live actor footage had a bad reputation among gamers; it was the quick time events of the early 90′s. Gamers generally disliked it for a few reasons:
- It’s presence implies games that you watch rather than games that you play.
- It creates a discontinuity between gameplay graphics and cut scene graphics. In other words, playing a 3D rendered character and then switching to watch a live actor can kill the immersion of the game.
- Part of the allure of video games is that they are a showcase for flashy technology and programming. CG cut scenes show of the skills of the artists and programming teams. In-engine and in-game cut scenes are common bragging points. Live actor video is the complete antithesis of all of that: it avoids programming and technology.
- The quality of the acting is generally horrible. The field of video games may be known for bad stories and writing, but the live acting is an order of magnitude worse.
The Red Alert 3 acting is a rotten example: it’s purposefully campy, silly, and outrageously stupid.
However, today is a different time. We’ve seen a few games grow by leaps and bounds in delivering quality dialog, humor, atmosphere, and voice over work. I’d like to see a more serious dev team give this a shot and try to deliver something genuinely innovative. What do you think: good idea or is this a technique that should stay buried?
Personally, I thought $1/month for Blu-Ray was an awesome deal. Apparently, it was too good to last. Today, Netflix significantly hiked their Blu-Ray surcharge:
|Discs At A Time||Netflix DVD and unlimited Downloads||Netflix with DVD and Blu-Ray and unlimited Downloads||Blockbuster with DVD and Blu-Ray. Mail Only||Blockbuster with DVD and Blu-Ray and Retail Store Exchange|
Blockbuster doesn’t charge extra for Blu-Ray and Blockbuster also offers the very convenient in-store exchange service, but Netflix offers the buffet style all-you-can-watch download service.
Personally, I disabled the Blu-Ray option on my Netflix account immediately after getting the notification, but the rates aren’t too out of line with what Blockbuster is doing. I’m glad that there are at least two competent services to choose between.
Sony registered the “PS Cloud” trademark on March 24, 2009. Obviously, this is simply a trademark and doesn’t necessarily mean that there are any real development efforts taking place.
But it does raise some suspicion…
(Sorry to beat the cloud computing topic into the ground. Last post on the subject until further developments)
Remember the North American Killzone 2 ad? You’ll be able to control that this coming Thursday for free from the PlayStation Store.
Eurogamer writes an entertaining piece on why Cloud Computing gaming is a fantasy. One humorous excerpt:
More than that, OnLive overlord Steve Perlmen has said that the latency introduced by the encoder is 1ms. Think about that; he’s saying that the OnLive encoder runs at 1000fps. It’s one of the most astonishing claims I’ve ever heard. It’s like Ford saying that the new Fiesta’s cruising speed is in excess of the speed of sound. To give some idea of the kind of leap OnLive reckons it is delivering, I consulted one of the world’s leading specialists in high-end video encoding, and his response to OnLive’s claims included such gems as “Bulls***” and “Hahahahaha!” along with a more measured, “I have the feeling that somebody is not telling the entire story here.” This is a man whose know-how has helped YouTube make the jump to HD, and whose software is used in video compression applications around the world.
To Summarize the Major Technical Hurdles
- Processing: Hardware requirements scale linearly with the number of concurrent users. In order to support a million concurrent users, you would need one million computers at a data center running the games, which would be an outrageously expensive infrastructure challenge and maintenance issue.
- Video Encoding: Movie streaming sites require lots of preprocessing time to prepare videos for download. H.264 video compression is super expensive. Doing that in *real-time* per user would be insane.
- Network Latency and Lag: Movies are non-interactive and buffering smoothes out latency issues. Interactive games can’t buffer video content (beyond sub-second micro-buffering), and any small latency problems directly translate into end-user lag. Extra lag can really ruin high precision reflex games like competitive fighters and shooters.
- Bandwidth: Real time video requires too much bandwidth. What about bandwidth caps and network fees?
- Processing: This is similar to video game lounges, where they have individual gaming terminals available for hourly rental. What happens when a hundred people show up and there are only twenty terminals? Well, they have to wait or leave. And if the lounges are consistently popular, then they expand. An Internet service like what OnLive is proposing can also start small and grow naturally from there. They can also take advantage of many efficiencies of scale like blade servers or similar technologies.
- Video Encoding: Complain all you want about how hard it is to do H.264 encoding, if I can get a rinky old webcam that does live video streaming, I’m sure there are some compression theory hot shots out there that can replicate this decade old technology. Or maybe even improve upon it.
- Network Latency and Lag: Have you played online action games? These games use the exact same Internet with the exact same latency issues. People have been playing tons of Internet multiplayer games for over a decade, and lag is just an occasional annoyance.
- Bandwidth: This type of service requires the same general bandwidth that Internet video and movies do. While this is still an issue, tons of people are already watching tons of Internet video regularly.
Every one of these technical obstacles has already been solved years ago. Live video streams? Latency-tolerant Internet games? Bandwidth intense HD video? Server-side computer clusters? This stuff is beyond wild theories and daring research papers. This is old hat. Climb out from underneath your desks, step out of your closets, and enjoy the future.