AMD R9 Fury X – Launching this week

For those who are in the market for a super high end video card AMD will be launching the R9 Fury X on 06/24/2015 for an MSRP of $649.00.  Personally, I have my bank account in order and will be buying one immediately so I hope to have some further impressions about it next week.  Hopefully I’ll have it in hand by Thursday because I have that day off from work.  I’ll need to install some benchmarkable games over the next few days…..

 

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The R9 Fury X is going to be the first card to market with HBM memory – something completely different from what we’ve seen before with GDDR5 boards.  Rather than forcing the memory speed through the roof AMD has widened the memory controller up to 4096-bit.  The end result is that – even with relatively slow memory – the R9 Fury X will have more bandwidth than any other card on the market.

 

What do we have to look forward to?  Currently reported we should see:

 

GPU: Fiji with 4096 Stream Processors @ 1.00Ghz
Memory: 4GB @ 500Mhz  4096-bit
Memory Bandwidth: 512 GB/sec

 

 

I’m worried about the 4GB of RAM and that it may impact performance, but leaked press-release benchmarks look very promising:

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I’m willing to take the plunge to experiment Smile  Hurry up, June 24!

Weekend Computer Cleaning ADVENTURE

This weekend I decided to give my computer a good once over – it’s been like a year since I’ve had it apart and the dust has been accumulating plus I wanted to top off my watercooling loop. I decided to take a few pictures along the way.

So this is the loop – you can see it’s pretty caked with dust. The tubing is filthy too but I didn’t fee like replacing it. It’s a double and a triple radiator with two pumps built into the pump and the one radiator. Reservoirs are built into each radiator. This is way overkill for just a CPU but someday I’ll get a GPU block to add into it (the dream!).
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The inside of the beast – looks pretty sparse with everything taken out. I used a full can of air blowing it out right after this photo as well as blowing down all of the components.
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All of my fans in one pic! They’re pretty cheap, but quiet. CFM’s aren’t great but they seem to have pretty good static pressure for moving air through the radiators compared to some others I’ve used in the past.
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The sparse front of the case belies the cable monstrosity that lurks in the back.
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And how do you connect 9 fans and 2 pumps to a single motherboard? With one of these doo-hickies! It kind of surprises me that you can run 7 fans off of a single 12V connector….so I try not to think about it.
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Putting it all back together – video card back in place and CPU covered. The radiator in the front is indeed held in place by Velcro – I got some of those glue strips for hanging pictures and whatnot and they keep it in place with minimal vibration. And it makes it a snap to pull the lower radiator if I ever want to bleed the lines. Front looks pretty spiffy!
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And the back is still a mess. Luckily I can jam the back side onto it and smash that mess down and then never think of it again.
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Success! All the fans are spinning so I didn’t miss any!
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And with the side back on, I’m ready to play WoW again.
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Overall a massively fun endeavor.  Whenever you get to the end you always have this moment where you’re like ,’Will it come back on?  Did I screw the pooch on anything?’ and then when it does it’s beyond satisfying – doubly so when your efforts have it running better than ever.

The Witcher 3–thoughts on the first 50 hours

 

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     So I’m one of the huge horde of gamers who picked up The Witcher 3 recently and I’ve been playing it consistently as my free time allows between raiding in World of Warcraft.  I’m not done with it – in fact I don’t even think I’m half done with it.  But I’m already 50 hours in, level 17, and have 95% of the map cleared for Velen and Novigrad so I think it’s time to put my thoughts down about the game and see if it follows my expectations to the end.

Firstly, The Witcher 3 is an incredible game.  Possibly the best RPG I’ve played in the last 10 years – which puts it above even the nostalgia-laden Pillars of Eternity.  All of the internet complaining about downgraded graphics and dishonest publishers hasn’t touched me in the least – I didn’t go into the game with any specific expectations and I’m not someone who makes buying decisions for ideological reasons.  Purely if a game interests me, I buy it and then I try to appreciate it for what it is.

 

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The Witcher 3 has the best single player quest stories within the main storyline I have seen.  In Velen the quest chains you will go through in your pursuit of first Yennefer and then Ciri will draw you into a world where you’ll be forced to make decisions which will impact the world around you.  You’ll meet characters who are presented initially as villains but come to be sympathetic characters and you’ll have a chance to impact their ties and their futures.  And even if most of the ‘choices’ are canned or not meaningful in the end there’s no denying that in the moment when you play through this game for the first time you will appreciate the portent of every path you take.  The quests, in a word, are mature and rewarding to participate in – something that most RPG’s fail at.

The audio is incredibly good with top tier voice acting throughout.  Very few lines don’t work.  This isn’t like RPG’s of 10 years ago where you could tell the readers had just been handed the script on the day of the recording and couldn’t connect what was going on between the conversations.  For the most part the dialogue flows naturally and helps draw you into the dark fantasy world that is Geralt’s home.

 

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     As for the graphics I don’t find them bad in the least.  People seem to be disappointed in them, but I think it’s worth noting that the great difficulty of creating convincingly high detailed worlds typically isn’t how close you can jam your nose into a corner but rather the density of the data that you can populate the world with while streaming data to the end user.  The Witcher 3 excels at this – the furthest hills will be wrapped in a haze with the lush tree line still sticking up to the horizon.  And if you choose to do so from any place on the map you can run to that horizon and find the same consistent beauty as where you’re currently standing.  It’s hard to explain why this is so compelling, but after modding with games like Skyrim where we know that the whole world is broken down into chunks that get passed through an aggressive LoD system I can say that the world of The Witcher 3 feels refreshingly less constrictive.  The point where we see noticeable level of detail transitions is pushed far far back from the main character to the point where if you don’t actively go looking for it the game world will just feel very cohesive.  To me this is the greatest strength of an open world game, and the Wicher 3 will give you breathtaking panoramas, vistas, ruins, and caves to enjoy your adventuring in.

 

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The great weakness of the game is, in my opinion, CD Project Red’s choice to make the game open world.  Not that I have anything against this as a design goal, but for what it means to the way players are encouraged to play the game.

The main storyline quests are so compelling but the player undoubtedly feel like they’re missing out if they ONLY do the main storyline.  Indeed, the entire map will be dotted with question marks just from your movements through towns and cities where you will overhear countless conversations leading to locations.  And then there is also a reward for the exploration – MANY crafting recipes are hidden at these notable locations even if that doesn’t really make sense from the game world perspective (why was there a recipe for Cat-school Witcher Armor in this random chest that fell from a waylaid merchant’s wagon?).  As such if you want to craft the best armors for your character you’ll feel that it’s practically required to investigate ALL of these markers.  I decided to do this around the time I was doing the Bloody Baron questline in the main story and doing so took me off the trail for about 15 hours.  FIFTEEN HOURS, just to run around, place movement markers on each ‘?’ and go see what there was to see.  It greatly interrupted the main story, and what’s more it felt like a chore.  Like Skyrim – just a bunch of places for me to go and see so I could say I did without any real reasoning or compelling narrative.

 

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     I know a lot of people like this type of feature, they think it adds content to the game for the player to experience which extends their time with it.  But it’s so boring – they would have been better off to create 5 hours of quests with the quality of the main storyline rather than 15 hours of ‘run around and kill monsters to loot chests’.  I see this open world game style as merely a means for CD Project Red to appeal to the OCD-must-collect-everything gamers who invariably devour games in 20 hour play sessions and after 100 hours complain that a game is ‘empty’.  They’re the ones who will incessently talk about your game on social media and create the hype around your game on sites like meta-critic or with Steam reviews – not the average gamer who is more happy to just enjoy a game at leisure and never bother to write reviews because they have lives to get on with.  As an older gamer I wish games were directed more towards quality rather than trying to fulfill these gamers’ demands for quantity that can never be met and only serves to pad a great game with additional bland content.

 

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But on the whole I’m happy with what CD Project Red has given us – their focus on creating this world and a really great story in it filled with convincing characters is a breath of fresh air.  RPG’s in the future will have a new watermark to try to live up to – and the next time we’ll probably see these limits pushed is with whatever Bethesda is working on for the next Elder Scrolls.  I’m glad they had someone come before them to set the bar so high.

And 50 hours in I’m amazed to realize there are entire other areas for me to explore – just as big and dense as Velen and Novigrad.  It’s going to be a wonderful few weeks helping the suffering masses of Skellige and learning about the fate of Geralt of Rivia.

 

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Steam Summer Sale is about to kick off!

It’s that time of year again – the Steam Summer Sale is right around the corner.  To tease us Valve is now letting us see pending ‘mystery’ cards in our inventories.  Every time you craft a badge right now you have a chance to earn a random mystery card.  As of right now the rumored start date for the sale is June 11, 2015 though I can’t verify an original source on the rumor so it could just be wishful thinking.

For myself I just hope to see a lot of great indie deals and pick up some single player JRPG’s and the like.  There aren’t many AAA titles I’m in the market for right now, though Shadow of Mordor and Dark Souls 2 would certainly be nice.  And I’m sure there are plenty of others that will catch my fancy when the time comes.

On a lark I decided to waste some money and craft many of the badges I’ve had languishing unfinished to see if I could get a full set of the mystery cards – I got pretty lucky on drops and pulled it off without too much expense but the badge can’t currently be crafted.  Well I guess I’m ready for when the sale kicks off!

 

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Well, let’s try this blogging thing again

Wow, 2013 was my last post.  It’s strange how quickly time passes, but how little things change.  I guess I’m not the first person to lose interest in trying to keep a blog nor the first to try to pick it up again.

 

Since my last post I’ve been through a lot – changed careers, done some hobbyist studying on programming, drawing, and various topics related to computer graphics, physics, and AI.  I’ve picked up games like Final Fantasy XIV and dropped them only to go back and pick up World of Warcraft again.  I went back to my old raiding guild and was happy to find my old friends had not forgotten me even though I had left for a time.  I’ve beta tested multiple products, bought early access through Steam on some games I believe in, and been involved in a few more kickstarters which I hope to see the light of day (knock on wood!).

 

In short, I’m still just a guy who has an interest in games – in how they’re made, how to best appreciate them, and in playing them.

 

Here’s hoping I can find some thoughts to share about them again even if only for my own satisfaction.

Final Fantasy XIV – Open Beta Phase 4 Screenshots

I’m not going to go into a big article dissecting the game yet, but I will say Final Fantasy XIV is a beautiful MMO and it runs flawlessly on my system.  Nice work, SquareEnix.

Fully Funded, Little Witch Academia 2 Kickstarter

Just a blurb here, but the Little Witch Academia 2 kickstarter has now passed its stretch goals with over $500,000.  Good job folks!  Go donate if you haven’t already!

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It will be interesting to see what impact the success of Trigger’s crowd funding will have on the anime industry, which typically doesn’t have much input from western audiences.

Final Fantasy XIV – A Realm Reborn

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Final Fantasy XIV – now here’s a game that I haven’t played since the original beta, which was so bad it completely put me off of buying the game.  I didn’t miss much.  For those who didn’t follow the original launch of Final Fantasy XIV way back in 2010 it was probably the most badly botched launch of any ‘AAA’ MMO ever created.  There was virtually no end-game content, no story content, the game’s menu system was borderline unplayable, and it had very high system requirements on PC at the time.  It was so bad that SquareEnix immediately (or almost immediately) extended the 30-day free game time that came with the game.  SquareEnix did not start billing people to play the game until 2012, over a  year after the initial release of the game and had already announced intentions to re-launch the game as Final Fantasy XIV – A Realm Reborn.  During this time the original producer,  Hiromichi Tanaka, wrote numerous letters to the community rambling about the state of the game as well as his dedication to fixing FFXIV and his shame at the apparent faults of the game until he was finally replaced in 2010 by Naoki Yoshida.  So for those of us who didn’t buy into the original release it was a fun train wreck to follow.

In fact the game was so bad that Naoki Yoshida could only think of one way to fix it – he literally blew up the game world.

Seriously.

Bahamut summons a meteor and destroys the world.

So what changes take place as we rise from the ashes?  The major ones (stolen from wikipedia) are:

  • The implementation of a completely new server system.
  • A new graphics engine.
  • A redesigning of all field maps into 40 zones (compared to the original version’s 8 zones).
  • Fully renewed user interface.
  • Female Hyur Highlanders, female Roegadyn, and male Miqo’te will be playable.
  • A worldless content finder.
  • Reworking current jobs and adding new ones (Arcanist and Summoner)
  • 1v1 and large scale player versus player content.
  • Introduction of the FATE (Full Active Time Event) system. FATE will allow for spontaneous field events such as hamlet defense.

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After playing for a bit in Phase 3 of the more recent beta for A Realm Reborn (of which I unfortunately took almost no screenshots), this MMO doesn’t feel bad anymore – it’s actually a lot of fun.  The game runs smooth and looks great with great modeling and animation, the interface for keyboard/mouse is intuitive with the genre-standard hotkey setup and a fully customizable UI, the map, journal, and quest objectives are clearly visible and understandable, and the combat system is in-line with what you’d expect from a modern MMO in the vein of World of Warcraft or Rift.   The FATE system makes leveling in lower-level zones feel a lot more exciting.  They’re basically just Rift events, but there’s nothing wrong with that as those were my favorite part of Rift as well.  I also really enjoyed the music in the Phase 3 beta – I was very happy to be listening to works by Nobuo Uematsu again.

Phase 4 of the beta is going to start sometime after August 8, probably a week to 10 days prior to the August 27 launch.  Character progression from the Phase 4 beta will carry over to the final game.  Those who have pre-purchased will also get an early access code that will probably go out 3-4 days before launch.  Until then, you can run the  character creation benchmark if you’d like to see what a great looking game it is and get your character ready for launch.

I’m not sure if this is a game that is worth a subscription yet, but I think it’s worth a look just to work my way up to level 50.

Oh, and catgirls… err… Miqo’te.

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Flex Raids – World of Warcraft’s new content for serious casuals

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The final raid tier for Mists of Pandaria, 5.4 – The Siege of Orgrimmar – is getting closer and with it will come a new raiding tier – Flex Raids.  Personally, as someone who is too time constrained/antisocial to raid in a guild any longer this new system will add a lot of value compared to the slog that is LFR.  So what are Flex raids and who are they aimed at?

Flex Raids will provide a higher level of challenge than LFR, but less challenge than normal modes.  They’ve been likened to the difficulty of Wrath of the Lich King 10 man raids, which I enjoyed back in the day.  They will require you to form a raid so they won’t have the anonymous feeling of LFR groups and will hopefully maintain a higher quality and encourage civil interaction among the participants.  You can form them with cross realm groups so I would expect them to become a big deal on OpenRaid – that’s how I’m planning to get into them.

The really neat part of Flex Raids is that they can be anything from 10-25 players.  Boss health and damage will be scaled directly to the number of players you have in your group.  So if you have 13 friends who want to go raiding together you can do it and not have to force anyone to sit out.  Loot will be done the same way as LFR with per-player loot dropping and bonus rolls with whatever token is introduced in 5.4.

Considering the way that LFR degrades as progression players stop doing it for fill-in items you often find at the end of a raid tier LFR is nearly impossible to do without witnessing huge amounts of name calling, griefing, or players not fulfilling the role they queued for.  Hopefully Flex Raiding, which will have to be managed through Forum groups or a 3rd party service like OpenRaid, will attract a higher level of competence and decorum while giving casual players a good challenge and better rewards.

x265 – a multithreaded hevc encoder

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A new HEVC encoder has been released by MulticoreWare – the x265 encoder.

This tool is not being directly developed by the x264 developers, but they have tentatively thrown their support behind it as it should remain open source software.  Discussion about its release and development can be found on the Doom9 forums.

Tom’s Hardware has also done an early evaluation of the speed/psnr of this release.  They claim it encodes at 4 fps on a Core i5 processor – quite a bit faster than the reference encoder.  However it doesn’t offer near as many options for encoding as the reference encoder and only uses a simple GoP with 4 reference frames using P-frames – I would guess this is just the standard encoder_lowdelay_main.cfg we’ve tested with before.  It does produce good results, but it kind of stinks to be locked into it without the ability to tinker.

I haven’t done a full encode with this alpha yet but I have uploaded a copy of the program along with the release notes: x265 alpha release.

Some things to note are that it seems x265.exe automatically sets IDR to output a closed GoP – so seeking will work fine in these files.  It also has an option to set ‘–gops’ whereby you can set the number of GoPs to encode concurrently, which is essentially the exact same thing we did previously with the reference encoder by cutting our source into individual GoPs.  It’s just much more convenient here!