Last week in Las Vegas while at CES, I spoke with Kan Liu, Director of Product Management for Google’s Chrome OS. In a wide-ranging discussion about the Chrome platform and ecosystem, Liu dropped something of a bombshell on me: the Chrome team is working—very possibly in cooperation with Valve—to bring Steam to Chromebooks. The next question, of course, is just what sorts of games would even be worth playing on a Chromebook when run directly on local hardware. Currently, most Chromebooks have extremely limited 3D acceleration performance, with only the most recent devices like Samsung’s Galaxy Chromebook possessing vaguely passable GPUs. Liu said we could expect that to change: more powerful Chromebooks, especially AMD Chromebooks, are coming. Liu would not explicitly confirm that any of these models would contain discrete Radeon graphics, but told us to stay tuned. This makes a lot of sense. Sure, you won’t be running the latest and greatest AAA titles on Chromebooks any time soon, but Steam has a massive library of less intensive games and older titles that would run just fine on any mid-range Chromebook. On top of that, this would open Chromebooks up to Steam’s streaming feature.
Another choice would be Eric Chahi’s 1991 critically acclaimed” title “Another World”, better known in North America as “Out Of This World” which also happens to be ubiquitous. I would argue it is in fact more interesting to study than DOOM because of its polygon based graphics which are suitable to wild optimizations. In some cases, clever tricks allowed Another World to run on hardware built up to five years prior to the game release. This series is a journey through the video-games hardware of the early 90s. From the Amiga 500, Atari ST, IBM PC, Super Nintendo, up to the Sega Genesis. For each machine, I attempted to discover how Another World was implemented. I found an environment made rich by its diversity where the now ubiquitous CPU/GPU did not exist yet. In the process, I discovered the untold stories of seemingly impossible problems heroically solved by lone programmers. In the best case I was able to get in touch with the original developer. In the worse cases, I found myself staring at disassembly. It was a fun trip. Here are my notes. The first article in this series deals with Another World in genera, while two follow-ups dive deep into the Amiga version and the Atari ST version. Another article about the DOS version will be published over the weekend.
While more and more games support Linux natively, there’s a huge swath of games that now run on Linux thanks to Valve’s Proton, Wine, DXVK, and communities like Lutris that make installing Windows games on Linux a breeze. In fact, I’ve been playing League of Legends on Linux this way for months now. Still, there’s always this nagging feeling that Riot, League of Legends’ developer, might one day mess up its anticheat system and ban those of us playing League on Linux. I’ve read on the League of Linux subreddit that apparently, there’s people inside Riot using Linux and that they try to make sure this won’t happen, but that’s far from a guarantee. Turns out I’m right to be on my toes, since Electronic Arts seems to have issued a blanket ban on people playing Battlefield V on Linux using DXVK. Users are reporting that Battlefield V’s anticheat software reports they’ve been banned, and after contacting EA, they received the following message: Hello, Thank you for contacting us regarding the action that was taken on your account. The action pertains to the following violation: Promote, encourage or take part in any activity involving hacking, cracking, phishing, taking advantage of exploits or cheats and/or distribution of counterfeit software and/or virtual currency/items After thoroughly investigating your account and concern, we found that your account was actioned correctly and will not remove this sanction from your account. Thank you,EA Terms of Service This just goes to show that while gaming on Linux has become something I barely even think about – I stick to buying Linux-only games on Steam, and haven’t had any envy for a long time now – there’s real dangers associated with doing so.
Dozens of PlayStation 3s sit in a refrigerated shipping container on the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth’s campus, sucking up energy and investigating astrophysics. It’s a popular stop for tours trying to sell the school to prospective first-year students and their parents, and it’s one of the few living legacies of a weird science chapter in PlayStation’s history. Those squat boxes, hulking on entertainment systems or dust-covered in the back of a closet, were once coveted by researchers who used the consoles to build supercomputers. With the racks of machines, the scientists were suddenly capable of contemplating the physics of black holes, processing drone footage, or winning cryptography contests. It only lasted a few years before tech moved on, becoming smaller and more efficient. But for that short moment, some of the most powerful computers in the world could be hacked together with code, wire, and gaming consoles. The PlayStation 3 and its Linux compatibility were going to change everything. Back in those days, it was pretty much guaranteed that on every thread about some small, alternative operating system, someone would demand PS3 support, since the PS3 was going to be the saviour of every small operating system project. Good memories.
Ng Wai “Blitzchung” Chung is a professional Hearthstone player who supported the protests happening in Hong Kong against China during a post-win interview for the Hearthstone Grandmasters tournament on Sunday. Hearthstone publisher Blizzard Entertainment responded with a harsh punishment, banning Blitzchung from the digital card game’s esports for a year and taking his prize money from Grandmasters. Blizzard also says it will no longer work with the two casters who covered the event, who literally ducked behind their desk when Blitzchung voiced his support for Honk Kong’s protest. Usually, players are banned from Blizzard esports for cheating. But Blitzchung did not cheat. Blizzard is partially owned by the Chinese company Tencent, and the Chinese market is hugely important for the game maker – as such, it does not want to offend the Chinese government. Like the NBA, yet another American enterprise subjected to Chinese censorship.
Taneli Armanto doesn’t like to tell people he changed the world. In fact, unless you’re a family friend, I’d bet you haven’t heard of the guy. He never usually mentions his greatest achievement, but of course his kids will take any opportunity to brag about it. After all, their dad created Snake. I played so much Snake during high school.
Kyle Orland at Ars: When it comes to emulator design, there’s something to be said for trying to capture the workings of the original system as accurately as possible, warts and all. But there’s also something to the idea that emulators can improve on the original hardware, smoothing problems like frame rate slowdown that plagued the underpowered processors of the day. That brings us to the latest update for storied, accuracy-obsessed SNES emulator bsnes, which adds the ability to overclock the virtual SNES processor. While bsnes is far from the first SNES emulator to allow for simulated overclocking, it does seem to be the first that does so “without any framerate or pitch distortion, and without harming compatibility in 99% of games,” as bsnes programmer byuu puts it.
Spitfire on the Channel F is like the plane mode in Atari’s Combat, except with the option to play it alone against the machine. Also, I found an easter egg in it, which might (might) be the world’s first easter egg in a videogame (maybe idk). That’s one hard to find easter egg.
The vertical scrolling effect in the original “The Legend of Zelda” relies on manipulating the NES graphics hardware in a manner likely that was unintended by its designers. Writing to a particular PPU register while a frame is being drawn can result in graphical artefacts. The Legend of Zelda intentionally causes an artefact which manifests itself as partial vertical scrolling. This post gives some background on NES graphics hardware, and explains how the partial vertical scrolling trick works. Game developers on these older, constrained systems had to resort to some very clever thinking to work around said constraints.
Cities: Skylines is a city simulation game that is complex enough to build universal logic gates in it. Using universal logic gates it is possible to construct any circuit including Turing complete machines. So, just like in Minecraft one can build a computer inside Cities: Skylines. However, it would be very complicated to build a fully fledged computer using these gates, so I will demonstrate a 4-bit adder instead. Everything is done in the vanilla version of the game, no mods or add-ons are required. I’ve played a lot of Cities: Skylines, but I never thought something like this would be possible.
Eve Online is unique among spacefaring games — not just for its complexity, but for its structure. The galaxy of New Eden is composed of nearly 8,000 star systems, each one placed into the virtual firmament by the hand of its creators at CCP Games. Some are easy to find, while others are hidden. Few players have actually visited all of New Eden’s known star systems. Fewer still have visited the thousands more that are hidden from view. But only one has visited all of them without losing a single starship. The journey took 10 long years. That’s quite an amazing achievement, especially considering Eve Online is incredibly boring.
Artifact is a mess. 101 players are in game at the time of writing, with the 24 hour peak being only marginally better at 124. Valve hasn’t said anything about the game since 29th March, when the company announced the team will “be heads-down focusing on addressing these larger issues instead of shipping updates”. The most action Artifact has seen on Twitch in recent months was when people decided to stream full length movies and porn in the game’s section. Artifact, at least for now, is a dead game, and arguably Valve’s most spectacular failure to date. “It was a couple of weeks before the Artifact launch, and I was like, they can’t really launch it like this can they?” Sean “Swim” Huguenard tells Eurogamer. Valve can’t even release a game store client that isn’t slow and buggy garbage, so it doesn’t surprise me one bit they can’t make a card game either. Did anyone really expect Artifact to be any good?
A lot of contemporary video game players take online communications for granted—after all, online services have been a standard feature in consoles for nearly fifteen years at this point. However, before the ubiquity of the internet there was a time when some clever cartridges let gamers run up to the bleeding edge of technology and peer into the future. Today, let’s close out our cartridge series by taking a look at a few cartridges that offered some form of connectivity for otherwise isolated consoles. As always, this isn’t a comprehensive list of everything that existed—it’s just a brief survey at some of the more notable or interesting high points. I really miss the days of whacky console addons.
Sony and Microsoft, bitter rivals in the video game console wars, will team up in on-demand gaming to better compete with newcomers like Google as the industry’s main battlefield looks poised to shift to the cloud, Nikkei learned Thursday. During a recent trip to the U.S., Sony President and CEO Kenichiro Yoshida signed a memorandum of understanding with Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella on a strategic tie-up. While details have yet to be hammered out, the partnership will center on artificial intelligence and the cloud, according to an announcement by Microsoft early Friday Japan time. They must be quite worried about Google Stadia to actually work together to try and counter it. Enemy of my enemy and all that.
Senator Josh Hawley (R-MO) today announced a bill that would ban loot boxes and pay-to-win microtransactions in “games played by minors”, a broad label that the senator says will include both games designed for kids under 18 and games “whose developers knowingly allow minor players to engage in microtransactions”. Loot boxes are clearly gambling, and ought to be treated as such. I’m by no means enough of a lawyer to determine if this specific proposed bill does enough – or possibly too much – to curtail the predatory practices in games, but it’s a good sign people are paying attention. We sure won’t be able to count on Google or Apple, since both of them profit greatly from these predatory practices.
Because Red Dead Redemption 2 seems to offer to let you stop and smell the roses, but there are a thousand roses with five buttons to hit every time, and it won’t tell you that you were only supposed to smell the yellow roses until you’re finished with the task. It’s a game that constantly tries to explain a complicated approach to things that are simple in every other game I’ve played. Rockstar spent a surreal number of man-hours to get the light to glisten just so as it hits a realistically rendered horse scrotum, but it couldn’t figure out how to create equipment menus that I could understand after dozens of hours of practice. It’s a game that requires the self-punishing dedication of a hardcore gamer without actually being a hard game or giving me any sense of accomplishment. It’s a story. One whose writers ultimately knew what they wanted to say, but who also piled on so many of these same ideas over and over that it begins to feel meaningless. In short, it’s a game that wants to pull itself out of the tar pit with its face. This is probably one of the best – if not the best – reviews of a video game, or any other product for that matter, I’ve ever read. It is incredibly long, detailed, and manages to ask – and answer – a ton of very pertinent questions about not just Red Dead Redemption 2 itself, but the gaming industry as a whole. I’ve played Red Dead Redemption 2, and I consider it to be a bad game. The controls are a convoluted mess, the story lacks pacing and is all over the place, and the game forces so much pointless, meaningless, and repetitive busywork on the player I just got frustrated and bored. Parts of this particular review go into great detail regarding these matters, and it’s refreshing to see someone pay so much attention to these things other reviewers and players just ignore because shiny visuals. It’s a long read, and I’m sure many RDR2 fans and players will disagree, but don’t let that stop you from reading this.
The Verge has an article about a very unusual and rare Game Boy accessory. But the link cable was just the beginning of the Game Boy’s wild, bizarre experimentation with the future. In the late ‘90s, Japanese game company Hudson Soft eventually came up with a more radical idea to bring wireless connectivity to the handheld. It would use infrared — built directly into game cartridges. That way, you could transfer data between two games, or even download data from the internet, directly onto the game. And for some inexplicable reason lost to time, I convinced my parents to buy the one and only Game Boy Color game sold in North America to feature this technology. The system itself was called GB Kiss, named after the awkward physical dance two players would have to perform to bring the cartridges close enough to one another to initiate the infrared data transfer. For Hudson Soft, it was a remarkably ambitions idea, a leftover from its attempt nearly a decade prior to crack the home console market through its partnership with NEC Home Electronics on the TurboGrafX-16, a device that failed to gain traction but nonetheless spawned a dizzying number of wild accessories and mods. Few things fascinate me more than rare, unique, and obscure console accessories and expansions from the ’80s and ’90s, so this is right up my alley. I had no idea this ever existed.
This is a Commodore 64 port of the 1985 game SUPER MARIO BROS. for the Famicom and Nintendo Entertainment System. It contains the original version that was released in Japan and United States, as well as the European version. It also detects and supports a handful of turbo functionalities, and has 2 SID support. Impressive and fascinating work.
There’s a war brewing in the video game industry, and it’s getting uglier by the day. Steam, the longtime leading digital distributor for the PC platform, is facing a significant challenge from an equally large and powerful player: Fortnite creator Epic Games, which launched its own PC games store last year. The ensuing competition has morphed into a console war-like debate for a modern generation of players who grew up under the unhindered dominance of Steam, a platform now facing its first real form of competition since it arrived on the scene nearly 15 years ago. I’m glad we’re seeing more and more competition in this space. Steam is a hot mess, both the store and the application itself, and the more competition Valve has to deal with, the better. I’m tired of Valve approving every single garbage reskin “indie” title, leading to an endless stream of terrible “games” that makes it incredibly hard to find the few gems among the pile of feces, and I’m tired of the Steam client being a huge, slow behemoth of an application that regularly crumbles under its own sheer bloat (on Windows – let’s not even get started on the Linux and Mac versions). Valve has had this market all to itself for far too long, and they’ve grown complacent. I welcome the competition from GOG, Epic, Humble, and all the others.
Two bits of related news; the 4.0 release of GlideN64, the most-compatible High-Level-Emulation graphics plugin for N64 emulators: but more interestingly, this story about the struggle to reverse-engineer the GPU microcode used in Indiana Jones and the Infernal Machine and Star Wars Episode I: Battle for Naboo that have eluded developers for decades.