Monthly Archives: February 2016

Black Desert Project Manager Provides Updated Release Information(Including Cash Shop Info)

In a recent post on the Black Desert forums, Project Manager “Belsazar” has provided additional information regarding the upcoming headstart tonight, and the official launch on the 3rd of March. Here’s a very brief summary:

  • In response to the cash shop pricing controversy, costume sets were reduced to $29 from $32, and are on sale for $25 until March 14, to enable purchasers of the conqueror’s pack to get a free costume with their included pearls. Pets are 20% off during this sale as well.
  • In order to create a server setup that works with the high demand of players, there will actually be 3 servers per region(3 for NA, 3 for EU), as well as a dynamic channel system that expands based on user traffic.
  • A new party looting system has been added. This allows players to roll for items, players to “buy” the item from the group for its market value, or for the item to be listed automatically on the marketplace for minimum value, and have the sale split between all members of the party.
  • A thunderstorm system has been added, which makes the world very dark during a thunderstorm. Thunderstorms can happen up to 3 times a day, and are based on the region in game. Players can use a lantern to see better. Other player’s lanterns are not displayed by default in response to feedback.

The full post can be read here

 

Guild Wars 2’s Next Expansion May Have Been Leaked

A user claiming to have information on the upcoming Guild Wars 2 expansion has leaked possible details regarding the expansion on Reddit. Here is a brief summary of what the upcoming expansion may contain according to the leaker:

  • PVE maps will be split between two types. The first are “battleground maps” which are much like the newer maps seen in the Heart of Thorns expansion, where  there’s lots of mapwide events where lots of players work together to fight against the AI. The second type are “wilderness” maps. These are maps with only 1 waypoint to enter, which is like a town. Upon leaving the town it’s essentially phased/instanced, meaning nobody else except those in your party/raid can assist you in your exploration. As you venture further out, the content becomes more challenging. There’s some feature where you can see the ghost of other players in the map, but can’t interact with them, somehow explained by the lore.
  • The new dungeons will have multiple difficulties to select, and require keys to enter that are earned throughout gameplay, much like Warframe does with Void missions.
  • The expansion implements a new progression system currently called “stolen power”. This involves looting rare fragments, and creating a set much like runes in other games. The fragments can be ranked up  as well, up to rank 10.
  • Their current systems contain a very basic player housing system, but it sounds like a very simple hub. It sounds like this might be taken out since it doesn’t deliver much in its current state.
  • Paid DLC quests are being considered, where you can buy the quest reward for 800 gems, or buy the quest for 400 gems that upon completion gives the reward.

The full leak can be viewed here, however the user claims they plan to delete the post very shortly after posting it, so we decided to report on it.

How Many Cores Does a Game Really Use?

If you’ve discussed game optimization on message boards or forums before, you’ve probably seen people say thing like “this game only uses 2 cores”, this game only makes use of 4 cores”, etc. This is usually a misinterpretation of CPU usage statistics. There’s two ways that people generally interpret the amount of cores used by a game. The first way is simply looking at the % usage on each individual core, and assuming it isn’t being used by the game if the usage is low. The second way is looking at the % usage of the game, and using that to mathematically determine how many cores are being used. For example, if the user has a 6-core CPU, and CPU usage at 50%, they would assume that the game only uses 3 cores.

Neither of those methods accurately reflect how many cores the game actually benefits from. The thing is, people don’t consider is that certain portions of a program may have infinitely parallel code, whereas other portions of it must be operated in serial. You might have some portions of the code where the rate is completely limited by your single-threaded performance, and other portions of the code are limited by complete parallel performance. Essentially, some parts may only use one core, whereas other portions of the code may in theory could use 16 cores or more. This could “average out” in the end to what seems like 4 cores depending many factors.

The task manager and other CPU monitoring programs operate by counting the number of CPU cycles in which the CPU is operating a specific process over the past few seconds. It then creates a percentage based on the number of cycles it was active. The numbers you see are essentially an average usage over the past few seconds. A game loop operates anywhere from 30-200 times per second depending on your computer’s speed and the game, so this means the workload is rapidly switching between parallel and serial workloads dozens of times per second. This is much too quick to be noticed when looking at the task manager, as the overall usage seen is just an average.

Another thing to consider is that the operating system or the program can and may dynamically move threads between different cores. This means that a program with 4 threads could in theory operate on all 8 cores at different times, making it appear that all 8 cores are being used, even though the program only contains 4 threads. This is done for power saving and heat-reduction purposes, as it balanced workloads between the cores in order to avoid pushing a specific core too hard if it isn’t necessary.

How To Know How Much a Program Benefits From More CPU Cores

The only way to truly know how many cores a program benefits from is to benchmark it with different amounts of cores with the same CPU. CPU cores can be disabled in BIOS, or the user can change the affinity of the program in the task manager to set it to only run on specific cores. From there you can evaluate CPU performance on different amounts of cores. You may surprised to find that a game that only uses 50% of your CPU on your 8 core processor actually performs worse when you set it to only run on 6 cores.

How to Disable Windows 10 Lock Screen Ads

Users have reported seeing ads for a game called “Rise of the Tomb Raider” on their lock screen. Luckily, this function can be disabled, so that you set up the lock screen to show a picture of your choice, or even a slideshow of pictures of your choice:

Step 1: left click the windows button, then click settings.

Step 2: go to personalization, and select “Lock screen” on the left.

guide1ads

Step 3: Change Background from “Windows spotlight” to either picture or slide show

guide2ads

Step 4: If you chose the picture setting, select the picture you want to use. If you chose the slideshow setting, add individual pictures, or add entire folders of pictures you want to use.

Step 5(Optional): Turn off “get fun facts, tips, tricks and more on your lock screen” if you don’t wish to see them.

IBM Sponsors “Sword Art Online” Virtual Reality MMO, Alpha Test Coming in March

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IBM has played a key role in the development of an upcoming VRMMO(virtual reality massively multiplayer online game) called Sword Art Online. Based on the popular anime series, the game attempts to come as close to true virtual reality as possible, utilizing all types of emerging technologies to create an innovative game. The world is built off of a technology IBM calls “SoftLayer”, their cloud computing platform. Players are scanned by some sort of device, which then converts their body image into an actual 3d model in game. This means that creating a character that looks just like you has become incredibly easy. It is unclear if they will require the usage of your actual body when creating a character when the game actually releases, although that’s obviously far away.

The terse ‘about’ section of the website seems to imply that the game will utilize cloud computing and deep AI learning to deliver a unique MMO experience.  Judging by the information provided, it seems that they’re not only creating an MMORPG based around virtual reality, but they’re essentially reconstructing the genre from the ground. It won’t just be another themepark MMO that just happens to support VR headsets and carry a Sword Art Online theme, it appears that it will provide unique features and gameplay elements as well.

The game is currently recruiting alpha testers in Japan. 208 lucky participants will be able to test out the project in a venue somewhere in Tokyo between March 18 and March 20 of this year. The exact location is not yet disclosed. Applications are open until the 4th of March. According to the registration information, it seems to be a luck based selection, meaning anyone(that’s eligible) can win. There is a strict criteria for who’s eligible, and it can be viewed here.

You can view the official site(In Japanese) here: http://www.vrmmo-project.jp/

 

Predictions & Possibilities

Here I will cover my own thoughts and give some insight as to what I feel like could potentially happen with this project.

I can personally see a move back to a “pay to play” model, but not in the traditional subscription sense. Virtual reality is extremely expensive to support, which means reaching out to a large customer base is difficult. The cheapest VR headsets sell for $600 currently, and that’s not counting the expensive cost of building or purchasing a powerful PC to support it

On top of that, if the game wants to innovate further, perhaps by utilizing motion tracking to provide more realistic player input, the cost would be even greater. Sword Art Online, as portrayed in the novels and the anime, was built upon the fictional concept that the players were fully immersed in the game, and that their nerve impulses to control their body is intercepted, and taken as input in the game. Of course, that is currently not possible with our existing technology; however, it’s possible to get the next best thing. For example, we can’t send vision information about the game to the user’s brain, but we can put a headset on them with 1 screen for each eye. that essentially covers their entire vision and seems realistic. In regards to realistic input, the device could restrain the user to prevent them from hurting themself by bumping into a wall, and track motion, much like the Microsoft Kinect does(minus the restraining element).

For this reason, I highly expect to see “Virtual Reality Arcades” begin to show up. Traditional arcades are a dying trend as consumer gaming devices became affordable, however I feel that virtual reality will pick up that niche. Another benefit of virtual reality arcades is that if the game is exclusive to authorized arcades, it solves the hacking/botting issue. When a human has to walk in to play the game, and can’t tamper with the files due to being in public/not having permissions, it essentially eliminates the possibility of cheating, which makes for a pure, fair game. If a virtual reality MMO is exciting enough, I feel people would happily pay a few dollars an hour to play at an arcade.

By keeping the game only playable at arcades, it also solves the liability and health concerns regarding with a Virtual Reality MMO. MMORPG addiction is a serious issue in some countries, and people have died due to playing for days at a time without eating or sleeping. Virtual reality could make this worse, since it’s harder to keep track of the real world when you’re literally fully immersed in another. By having the game played at a public facility, any health issues could be addressed safely.

 

Source Engine Vulnerability Allows Third Party Servers to Compromise User’s PCs

A user on Reddit has discovered an exploit that allows third party servers to write files of any type, including executable files, to any location on a client’s computer. The exploit also allows them to spoof the steam id, bypass cmd restrictions, and displaying a higher playercount than is actually true.

By sending a .bat file to startup folders on the user’s computer, as well as additional files, a source engine server could infect any user that connects to their server with a virus. Source Engine games utilizing 3rd party servers include all versions of Counter Strike, Team Fortress 2, Garry’s Mod and more. It is recommended that you only play on official servers until Valve patches this exploit. Single player  in source engine games is not affected, and playing on official Valve servers is not an issue either. You are only at risk when playing on Community servers. Keep in mind that matchmaking in several source engine games such as Team Fortress 2 or Counter Strike: Global Offensive(non-competitive) will place you on a community server.

In a worst case scenario, a community server could infect a user with ransomware, locking the uses computer and encrypting their files until they pay a large fee to recover the files. This can result in users losing tons of important data stored locally or ending up needing to spend enormous amounts of money to pay a ransom to recover it, if they fail to create backups. We always recommend backing up any important data, even if you’re confident in your hardware stability and system security. They could also install spyware intended to hack Steam accounts, steal credit card numbers, or find other personal information.

The user did not demonstrate how to recreate the bug, they only demonstrated that the bug does exist. Even though they recorded 2 videos as a proof of concept, it’s always possible that they could have faked it. There’s still a high chance that the exploit is real, so it’s strongly recommended that you avoid multiplayer until Valve responds. They claimed to have emailed Valve with the specific directions, but decided to go to the public after they didn’t respond after a day. Even though the details of how to recreate the exploit are not public knowledge, simply knowing that it exists will encourage hackers to try and replicate the bug, as they now know there’s a way to do so.

Do not rely on your  Anti Virus software to catch a potential virus install, as anti-virus software very often misses day-one exploits, and can’t catch everything. It’s best to rely on both anti-virus and smart decision making to avoid having your PC compromised.

Source: https://www.reddit.com/r/Steam/comments/46px2w/psa_steamid_spoofing_on_every_steam_product_and/

Intel Plans to Release 10NM “Cannonlake” Chips in H2 2017

Intel has recently confirmed that they intend to release their 10 NM “Cannonlake” CPUs in the 2nd half of 2017. This information comes from Motley Fool, where an Intel PR Rep contacted them stating their “first 10-nanometer product is planned for the second half of 2017.” This statement comes in response to speculation that Cannonlake would be delayed. Intel’s 14 nanometer Broadwell and Skylake CPUs have had serious yield issues, and were delayed significantly. Seeing as manufacturing a semiconductor at 10 nanometers is even more challenging, it’s not surprising for people to expect delays given Intel’s recent history.

Intel has traditionally used a “tick-tock” method of improving CPU performance and power efficiency, where they go back and forth with each generation of CPUs either shrinking the existing architecture to a smaller node, or optimizing the architecture within the same node.

This method of advancing their product line has been disrupted, with a 3rd generation of 14 nanometer processors called “Kaby Lake” being intended to release this year. The cost of shrinking semiconductors is increasing significantly as we get closer to the limits of silicon, and as a result, Intel finds it more cost-efficient to optimize their architecture within the same node than to continue to shrink it. Historically, the usage of smaller lithography has decreased manufacturing costs, as CPUs could be much smaller, and therefore use less silicon per die, resulting in less material costs. However, as yields begin to drop when manufacturing at a smaller node, it may no longer be true that manufacturing smaller CPUs is cheaper.

Intel has previously stated that they intend to continue pursuing the limits of moore’s law and can see themselves developing 7 NM and even 5 NM CPUs within the next 10 years.

In addition to Kaby Lake, we expect to see Broadwell-e and Possibly Skylake-e CPUs hit the market soon, intended for enthusiasts, workstations, and high-end workloads. -e series CPUs are usually binned Xeon’s that contain more cores than consumer CPUs, but lack integrated graphics.

Black Desert Online is Changing the Refresh Rate Settings of 144 hz monitors to 60 hz, 60 hz monitors to 30 hz

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Black Desert Online, currently in closed beta, contains a critical bug that changes 144 hz monitors to run at 60 hz and 60 hz monitors to run at 30 hz if dedicated fullscreen is selected. This change persists even after the game is closed, meaning the desktop as well as other games are now running at 60 hz until the setting is adjusted manually. While this is only a minor inconvenience for a tech savvy user, it can be extremely frustrating to someone that may not understand how to change their refresh rate. Some users may realize that all of their games seem to be less smooth, but may not connect the dots that their refresh rate settings were changed without their knowledge. In a worst case scenario, they may RMA components that are just fine, upgrade components that don’t need upgrading, or something else equally foolish.

If you’re one of the unlucky players to be hit by this bug, it can be fixed by going to windows settings, display, advanced display settings, display adapter properties, the monitor tab, and changing the refresh rate back to your monitors native refresh rate(generally the highest available on the list).
Borderless fullscreen and windowed mode are not affected, and even seem to perform better. Playing in dedicated fullscreen is not recommended until this bug is fixed. You can avoid the bug altogether by changing the video settings in the launcher before playing for the first time. While the game is in closed beta in North America & Europe, a quick google search shows that players in other regions have been experiencing this bug for months. Hopefully it will be fixed soon.

 

Black Desert launches in North America and Europe on the 3rd of March, and users with Early access can play as early as February 28. The game is rumored to have as many as 400,000 preorders, so a very considerable amount of users may be affected by this bug.

 

Edit: Some users are reporting refresh rates being set as low as 24 hz, others are reporting refresh rates of 50 hz, it seems that it’s not 100% consistent. What is known though is that refresh rate settings are being reduced below their full potential.

Edit 2: It seems to be setting monitors to their minimum refresh rate within the list.

Edit 3: Some users are also reporting the bit depth of their colors being reduced as well.

5D Optical Storage Technology Can Store up to 360 TB On A Single Disk, Last Billions of Years

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A sample 5D storage disk. Source: http://www.southampton.ac.uk/news/2016/02/5d-data-storage-update.page

 

Researchers from the University of Southampton have developed a new data format that can densely pack 360 Terabytes of information into a single 1″ glass disk. The disks are much more resistant to damage than existing optical technologies, as 5D disks are estimated to be capable of lasting up to 13.8 billion years, if temperatures remain below 180 degrees Celsius. For storage that isn’t intended to be stored for millions or billions of years, the disks are supposedly safe up to 1000 degrees Celsius.

Traditional optical disks such as CD’s store information by creating tiny bumps on the disk, which reflect information when a laser is shined on it. A bump acts as a 1 in binary code, whereas an absence of a bump acts as a 0. Therefore, CD’s  are limited by the 2 dimensional space of the disk that is written to. This information is stored on the surface of the disk(the shiny part), so they’re very easily damaged by any form of contact such as scratching. They also have a limited lifespan due to environmental factors such as exposure to oxygen and humidity, making them unfit for long term archiving of data that needs to last hundreds of years.

5D disks utilize nanogratings, tiny structures that manipulate the way light is reflected. Instead of only changing if light is reflected, the structures change how light is reflected. The 5 dimensions used are the x, y and z position of the nanostructures, the direction of the light, and the strength of the light refracted.

The writing process utilizes a high speed, highly precise femtosecond laser that creates 3 layers of dots which are only 5 micrometers(5000 nanometers) apart. These dots alter the way in which light travels through the grids, which allow it to be read by a microscope/polariser. The diagram below may help you visualize this concept:

example

Source: http://www.orc.soton.ac.uk/fileadmin/downloads/5D_Data_Storage_by_Ultrafast_Laser_Nanostructuring_in_Glass.pdf

Currently, the technology is in an experimental phase. Proof of concepts have been created, however the storage medium has not yet been commercialized. The laser devices needed to write to these disks are extremely expensive, so it’s unlikely to be seen by consumers any time soon. As research continues and the technology improves, it may be commercialized, and we may expect to see it used in datacenter environments for archiving purposes, as the density offered rivals any other storage medium currently in existence.

Perhaps the most exciting usage of this technology will be for securing records of all of humanity’s knowledge and greatest works. As a storage medium that is both highly dense and highly durable, it marks an important step towards ensuring crucial information is never lost.

Here is a video of the 5D disk fabrication process in action

Primary Sources: 

http://www.southampton.ac.uk/news/2016/02/5d-data-storage-update.page

http://www.orc.soton.ac.uk/fileadmin/downloads/5D_Data_Storage_by_Ultrafast_Laser_Nanostructuring_in_Glass.pdf

Secondary Sources:

 http://www.theverge.com/2016/2/16/11018018/5d-data-storage-glass

http://www.extremetech.com/extreme/160928-five-dimensional-glass-memory-can-store-360tb-per-disc-rugged-enough-to-outlive-the-human-race

Why Some Games Cause the Graphics Card to Run Hotter Than Others

You may notice that certain games of yours cause your GPU to run hotter than others, even when all your games seem to push it to 100% usage, according to GPU monitoring tools. For this reason, it’s best to test several games when overclocking your graphics card, as what’s stable and a safe temp in one game may not work with other games.

The following tests are on my AMD R9 380x 4 GB. Please note that I intentionally reduced the clock rate to 902 mhz from the stock speed of 990 mhz; I prefer quieter gaming and cooler temps over a small increase in performance, and by reducing clock rates by 10% , the graphics card runs 5-10 degrees cooler with lower fan noise as well.

I chose the applications Smite and Planetside 2 to demonstrate this concept. They seem to offer the greatest difference in temperatures among my library of games, while still pushing the GPU to a near-constant 100% usage.

Both applications are running at highest settings at 2560×1440, with the exception of anti-aliasing being off Smite, and shadows being turned off in Planetside 2. Most serious players in Planetside 2 play with shadows off, because they are known to cause glitches with the rendering of enemies at long distances, as well as a massive impact on framerates.

 

smitetemps

When running Smite, GPU usage is almost always near 100, yet it only runs in the mid 60s Celsius.

 

After just a couple minutes of running Planetside 2, temperatures already reach the mid 70s!

Why is There a Difference?

Modern graphics card dies are made up of 3 types of units; Shader Units, Texture Mapping Units(TMUs), and Render Ouput Units(ROPs).

Shader Units do the vast majority of the work in modern games, as they generally rely on complex shaders. As newer games contain high resolution shadows, complex lighting, and detailed materials, they require a lot of compute power from shader cores.

Texture Mapping Units are responsible for computations related to textures, such as mapping out textures onto 3d models, as well as texture filtering such as anisotropic filtering.

 

Render Output Units are responsible for the final pixel operations before sending the image to your display. This can include operations such as anti-aliasing. This means that a graphics card with more ROPs is generally better suited for higher resolutions such as 4K. My Radeon r9 380x is currently the most powerful AMD graphics card that only uses 32 ROPs, and these tests were done at 2560×1440, so it helps push the limits of the ROPs on my card. AMD’s r9 390, 390x, Fury, Fury X, and Nano all contain 64 ROPs. For this reason, I highly recommend at least a R9 390 for playing at resolutions above 1080P. On the NVIDIA side of things, based on the ROPs in their cards, I recommend at least a GTX 970 for resolutions above 1080P, and a GTX 980 TI for resolutions of 4K and above.

Keep in mind that the amount of shader cores can still help improve performance at higher resolutions(shader workload scales somewhat with resolution as well), so don’t think that picking a r9 380x over a r7 370 would offer no performance benefit at very high resolutions, as that’s simply not true. While both have the same amount of ROPs, the r9 380x has twice the amount of shader cores, which will definitely help in most games, even at high resolutions such as 1440P or 4K.

While the amount of each of these units used to be symmetrical, recently GPUs tend to contain significantly more Shader Units than the others. For example, the AMD r9 380x contains 2048 Shader Units, 128 Texture Mapping Units, and 32 Render Output Units.

Different games may rely more heavily on shaders than others. As the shader cores take up significantly more space on the silicon die than the TMUs and ROPs, games that are bottlenecked by TMUs or ROPs tend to run cooler than those that are bottlenecked by the shader cores, since less silicon is being utilized, and thus less heat is generated.

To be clear, “100% usage” as reported by many graphics card monitoring applications isn’t truly 100% utilization. It only means that your graphics card is the limiting factor in your system, and that the graphics card is going as fast as it can. It does not mean that every single Shader unit, texture mapping unit, and render output unit is being fully utilized.

In addition to internal bottlenecks within the graphics card, some games may contain CPU bottlenecks that prevent the graphics card from running at its full potential, or ones that are simply reaching their frame rate cap. This can have an even greater impact on the temperature the graphics card runs at.

For this reason, the GPU benchmarking software Furmark is highly recommended for testing the limits of your graphics card. It pushes your graphics card to use the vast majority of its processing units at once, which creates a “worst case scenario” in regards to power consumption and heat generated.

Hopefully this clears up many misconceptions. Many people will call games poorly optimized or badly made if it causes their graphics card to run abnormally hot. This does not mean a game is well optimized or poorly optimized. It simply means is that the game is fully utilizing their hardware and pushing it to its limit.