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    12 Days of Tested Christmas: Portal 2 Atlas + P-Body

    For the eleventh day of Tested Christmas, Norm shares a recent find: highly detailed articulated figures of Portal 2's Atlas and P-Body characters. These sixth scale figures were made by a collaboration between Valve and 3A, a maker of incredible collectibles. Time to set these figures and their Portal guns up for display in the office!

    Building a Custom Arcade Cabinet, Part 7

    It's about time! Sorry for the lack of updates on the arcade cabinet project, but after a big delay with technical hurdles and busy schedules, Norm and Wes are back with some progress to report. Wiring and testing of the numerous control buttons continues, plus we turn our attention to the CRT monitor and setting it up to run properly on Windows.

    Tested Mailbag: What's in the Second Box?

    First off--we figured out where the power switch is located! After opening the box for Triforce's Gears of War 3 Hammerburst prop replica, we turn our attention to the second package--another massive box. Teamwork is required to liberate its contents: another 1:1 scale replica!

    Tested Plays #IDARB!

    Can game design be crowdsourced? That's the idea behind #IDARB, an upcoming platformer created by friends of ours, Mike Mika and Kevin Wilson. They stop by our office to show off their game, and we're delighted to learn that we're actually playable characters inside it! Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

    Tested Mailbag: Gears of War 3 Hammerburst Replica!

    Cap off your week with another edition of the Tested mailbag! This week's package is probably the biggest to ever arrive at our office, to the dismay of our FedEx delivery guy. It's an incredible 1:1 scale replica made by Triforce, a company we met at this year's NYCC. Thanks to Triforce for sending this massive package!

    Tested: The Show — A Story in 256 Pixels

    As the resolution and pixel density of digital screens are skyrocketing, we take a step back to appreciate the artistry of telling a story with the limitations of 8-bit graphics. Jeremy Williams celebrates the history and potential of pixel art in this presentation from our live show! (We apologize for some of the rough audio in this taping of our live show. The audio mixer at the venue unfortunately distorted audio from some of the microphones.)

    NYCC: Triforce's Video Game Replica Props

    We've met and worked with independent replica prop makers who specialize in video game props, but here's a company working directly with game developers to bring digital characters, armor, and weapons to reality. At New York Comic Con, we stopped by Triforce's booth to check out their newest scale statues and full-size replicas, as well as learn about their production process.

    In Brief: Hacking Star Wars: Yoda Stories

    You don't have to be a video game programmer to appreciate this post by Zach Barth. Like many of us, Barth tinkered with computer game data files and modifications back in the late 90s. Remember how easy it was to dive into .pak files and swap out textures in games like Quake? Open up config files and change variables with Notepad? Well it's not so easy when a game's data file can only be read with a hex editor. That's the case with the LucasArts adventure game Star Wars: Yoda Stories, which stored all its assets in a 4MB file. Barth explains how he parsed through the data--a vast matrix of ASCII--to extract and color correct 2000 game character sprites and maps. I could only follow along a bit of his problem-solving, but what a fun experiment in data archeology!

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    Show and Tell: Astro A38 Bluetooth Headset

    For this week's Show and Tell, Will shares a new bluetooth headset that he's been testing: Astro Gaming's A38. While the company is known for its gaming headphones, these wireless headsets are made to be worn outside the home, with good active noise-cancellation. Here's what Will thinks about them after some use.

    Testing Nvidia's GeForce GTX 980 Video Card

    The final piece of Norm's new Haswell-E system build is the graphics card, and as it turns out, Nvidia has just released its new GeForce 900 series of GPUs. We run through what's new in the high-end Maxwell architecture, how the GTX 980 performs, and give recommendations for practical upgrades. What graphics card are you currently using, what screen resolution do you run at, and do you play games with AA turned on?

    Building a Custom Arcade Cabinet, Part 6

    With the frame of the arcade cabinet constructed, Norm and Wes head back to the garage to begin the wiring of the buttons and other electronics. In this episode, we discuss the different types of custom arcade controls, the hardware to link them all together, and the tiny computer we're going to build to run the software. (This video series was brought to you by Premium memberships on Tested. Learn more about how you can support us by joining the Tested Premium community!)

    My 10 Virtual Reality Takeaways from Oculus Connect

    I've had a few days now to digest all the information that came out of this past weekend's Oculus Connect conference. It may have only been a two-day developer conference, but the keynotes alone had enough information to expand the imaginations (and lexicon) of virtual reality enthusiasts. There was of course the big Crescent Bay prototype announcement and demo, which Oculus unfortunately said that it has no plans to release or show anywhere else. It was also my first time being able to try the Samsung Gear VR and Oculus' current VR UI solution in Oculus Home and the Cinema application. My mind's been buzzing since I got back from LA, and I wanted to distill some of my personal takeaways from the experience.

    Presence is NOT the same as reality

    More so than at any past Oculus event or meeting I had attended before, the Oculus team emphasized the idea of presence--a significant milestone in virtual reality technology. It's this threshold past which your brain's subconscious computing starts to take over and makes you believe that you're in a separate space within a VR headset. Presence was emphasized because the team thinks that they've achieved it for most people in the Crescent Bay prototype. The 10 minute demo I had with Crescent Bay was leaps and bounds better than the DK2 experience, but I'm going to hold off on giving them the sustained presence checkbox until I can get more time with it. More importantly, we now know Oculus' definition of presence, and the specific technical requirements they're targeting for a consumer release (sub-millimeter tracking accuracy, sub-20ms latency, 90+Hz refresh, at least 1Kx1K per eye resolution, highly calibrated and wide FOV eyebox).

    The reason I'm a little hesitant to say that I achieved the full presence in Crescent Bay is that I really have no appropriate point of comparison for that sensation. The feeling of presence in a virtual space should not be confused with the feeling of reality. I think a lot of people will expect that once they put on something like Crescent Bay, what they see inside the headset feels exactly like what the real world feels like. That's not the case at all. It still looks very much like rendered game graphics, with aliased edges and surreal feeling of disembodiment. To me, presence is about the feeling of space inside of the headset--a sense that the virtual objects and environments you're looking at have volume and a distance from you eyes that's not just two inches away on a screen. Stereoscopy and proper mapping of your head movements are a huge part of that. Presence in these VR demos never takes away the awareness of the virtual nature of that space, but you do feel more apart to it.

    Standing in VR opens up possibilities

    The biggest question for me coming out Oculus Connect was whether the consumer version of the Rift would be a sit-down-only experience. I know that Palmer told everyone in interviews that the Rift is meant to be used sitting down, but I agree with commenters that it may just be them working out a legally and ergonomically acceptable solution for a stand-up design. At least that's fun to think about. Regardless, the Crescent Bay demo confirmed that standing up in VR is technically possible with what Oculus has made so far, and that walking around isn't necessary for a stand-up VR experience (ie. we don't need VR treadmills). The square mat we were allowed to walk around on in the demo was sufficient to show how effective positional tracking could be in a stand-up experience. Even the ability to shift your full body and weight around was extremely meaningful--being able to physically crouch and duck in the virtual space felt liberating in a way that I think will have a profound impact in VR game design. Spinning around in a full 360 degrees was less important, or at least emphasized less with these demos.

    Of course, this setup would require more hardware, including a way to mount the positional tracking camera above the standing user, and a cable management system to keep the headset cable out of the way.

    Hands-On with Samsung Gear VR at Oculus Connect

    At Oculus Connect, Norm gets to try out the upcoming Gear VR virtual reality headset, a collaboration between Samsung and Oculus. It uses a Galaxy Note 4 for its brains and screen, with VR software and optimizations designed by John Carmack. Norm shares his opinion of display performance on the Note 4's 60Hz 1440p screen, and whether the phone's technology is sufficient for a good mobile virtual reality experience.

    Building a Custom Arcade Cabinet, Part 5

    We're getting close! In this fifth episode of our custom arcade cabinet build, Norm and John tackle some mistakes made in the original plywood cutting and then work together to assemble the cabinet frame. The challenge of finding a way to mount the heavy CRT monitor inside the chassis requires some problem solving and precise measurements, but this thing is finally starting to look like a real cocktail cabinet! (This video series was brought to you by Premium memberships on Tested. Learn more about how you can support us by joining the Tested Premium community!)

    Hands-On with Oculus Rift "Crescent Bay" Prototype Virtual Reality Headset

    Norm goes to Oculus Connect to get a hands-on demo of the new "Crescent Bay" feature prototype of the Oculus Rift virtual reality headset. We interview Nate Mitchell and Palmer Luckey of Oculus VR to talk about what's new in the headset, reveal some technical specifications, and then walk through the entire demo experience--with 1080p video from the private demo room!

    Three Amazing Games I Played At XOXO Last Weekend

    If you listened to this week's edition of This Is Only a Test, you know that I was in Portland last week for the XOXO Festival. XOXO is a gathering of interesting makers of all types, from game developers to filmmakers to engineers to sculptors and more. Over the weekend, I got to meet dozens of fascinating folks from around the world. (The talks will be online in coming weeks, and I'll post the ones that were particularly relevant to Tested readers on the site as they come online.)

    The daytime talks are really only half of what XOXO is about though. This year, I spent much more time at the evening events dedicated to videogames and board games. While there, I played a bunch of awesome games, but I spent the most time with three that I think you should really keep an eye out for. Follow their makers on Twitter, and if they end up at an indie festival or an arcade expo near you, go play them. You'll thank me later.

    Nvidia Announces GeForce GTX 980 and GTX 970 Video Cards

    The next generation of Nvidia graphics cards has arrived. We first saw Nvidia's Maxwell architecture--the follow-up to Keplar--in the GTX 750 GPU. That $150 card was an entry-level introduction to Nvidia's new approach to desktop GPU design, incorporating power efficiencies learned from generations of Tegra development. From Loyd's GTX 750 review:

    "Kepler has a monolithic control logic unit that managed scheduling for up to 192 cores. Maxwell now allocates a smaller, more efficient control logic unit for each block of 32 cores. This change in the scheduler, a larger L2 cache (2048MB versus 25K in the Kepler-based GTX 650) and a large number of smaller improvements allowed Nvidia to build 640 shader cores on a die, versus 384 on the GK107-based GTX 650."

    More shaders, more transistors, and a larger die, all using less power than the last generation. That's what Maxwell now brings to the high-end, in the form of the just-announced GTX 980 and GTX 970 videocards ($550 and $330, respectively). They replace the GTX 780, GTX 780 Ti, and GTX 770.

    GTX 980 has 2048 shader cores running at a base clock of 1126MHz (1216 MHz with GPU boost). But all that runs on a chip with a TDP of just 165 watts. That's compared to 250W on the GTX 780 and 195W on the GTX 680--the card that many users will be upgrading from, I suspect. The GTX 970, with 1664 CUDA cores, is even more power efficient at 145W TDP. We're talking about high-end GPUs that now only use two six-pin PCIe power connectors. SLI now starts to look a lot more attractive. And there's plenty of headroom for overclocking, if you're into that.

    High-end Maxwell also brings three new features for gaming. First is a new anti-aliasing technology, called MFAA. Multi-frame sampled AA supposedly produces the effect of 4XMSAA with the performance hit of only 2XMSAA. Dynamic Super Resolution is a new feature that is essentially resolution downsampling--you can now tell the GPU to render games at 4K resolution for a 1080p screen. Screenshots and Shadowplay video recording spits out 4K resolution files in this mode, too. And finally, Nvidia is especially proud of a new lighting engine called Voxel Global Illumination. This is the first step in real-time light tracing, with fully dynamic illumination for one light source. Unreal Engine 4 will support VXGI in the fall, and Nvidia has produced a Apollo 11-themed render demo to show off the lighting feature.

    Performance-wise, Nvidia is claiming 1.5 to 2X the performance of the GTX 680 (their choice for point of comparison) in the GTX 980. They're also claiming that the GTX 980 will be better for VR, with built-in optimizations to minimize rendering latency--taking 10ms out of OS overhead and built-in asynchronous warp. Nvidia is calling this VR support "VR Direct", and it's something I'll be asking Oculus about this Saturday at the Oculus Connect conference. As for real-world performance and evaluating Nvidia's claims, I'm getting a review unit in and will be testing it next week on my new Haswell-E system.

    Building a Custom Arcade Cabinet, Part 4

    For this week's episode of our custom arcade cabinet build, Norm experiments with the laser cutter at Adam's shop to design some decorations for the control panels. We also begin prepping the cut, sanded, and stained pieces of wood for the final assembly. That means learning some basics about biscuit joining! (This video was brought to you by Premium memberships on Tested. Learn more about how you can support us with memberships!)

    In Brief: Microsoft Buys Minecraft for $2.5 Billion

    Microsoft today announced that it has acquired Mojang, the Stockholm-based game developer that created and publishes Minecraft. The deal is valued at $2.5 Billion. To date, Minecraft has sold more than 54 million copies across multiple gaming platforms, and Microsoft says that it intends to keep to keep developing and supporting the game in platforms outside of the Windows and PC ecosystem. Phil Spencer, the head of Microsoft's Xbox division, reassures Minecraft fans in a public statement, and Mojang's post about the acquisition answers some looming questions. The founders of Mojang, including Notch, are leaving the company, and the status of Mojang's other project, Scrolls, is up in the air. Plenty of editorial opinions on the deal all over the internet.

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