Monthly Archives: September 2016

Amazon Announces 3 New Online Games

Today at Twitchcon Amazon announced 3 new online games, all of which will integrate with twitch to enable players to directly live stream their gameplay, and possibly even allow streamers and viewers to influence the game itself through the Twitch platform. These games are built on the Lumberyard engine, an engine Amazon has developed that enables developers to create online games and easily connect them with Amazon’s hosting services and Twitch platform.

 

Breakaway

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Breakaway is a 4 vs 4 esports title/battleground, in which players choose between a variety of heroes with different abilities.

Breakaway revolves around a glowing ball called a relic, that players can grab and pass around while fighting the enemy. The goal is to get the ball into the enemy’s goal(called a relay or portal). In order to achieve this objective, players will fight each other, place structures, and use a variety of abilities to win the game. The ball has different effects based on how long you hold the ball, encouraging players to constantly pass the ball.

Breakaway has 3 ways to win a round:

  • By putting the ‘artificact’ into the enemy’s goal/portal/relay(it isn’t clear what they will call it yet)
  • By eliminating all enemy players at once(which sounds very difficult, as players respawn after a few seconds of dying)
  • When the time runs out, the side that the relic/ball is on loses the game(so at the end you want to get the ball on the enemy side near their goal)

After each round or when you die, players can use gold they earn throughout the match to purchase or upgrade items that influence gameplay. In addition, players can place various structures throughout the battleground that influence the game.

In many ways, Breakaway is much like soccer or football, in that the main objective is to get the ball to the enemy’s goal. Breakaway does away with all of the strict rules and downtime associated with these sports, and instead utilizes moba-style combat and buildable structures to create nonstop, fast-paced action that leaves players and viewers enjoying every second of the match.

You can sign up for the alpha at https://playbreakaway.com/

Gameplay footage is available here

New World

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New world is a sandbox MMO based in the 17th century, with supernatural themes. Players can build civilizations, fight through monster filled wilderness, or fight other players. The game world adapts based on time of day, in game weather, and in game seasons. The game will even include events that Twitch broadcasters can lead, and achievements/rewards to go along with it.

Crucible

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Crucible is a survival game based in an alien world. Players can choose and customize various heroes, form alliances, and betray others. The game will contain dynamic events. Based on Amazon’s description on their site, it sounds like it might even be a game hosted by twitch livestreamers, in which viewers participate in the game while the streamer triggers events and watches the battles unfold.

More info on all the games: https://games.amazon.com/games

Wildstar to Allow Players to Indirectly Purchase Best in Slot Raid Gear With Real Money

In a move to make up for poor sales, Wildstar is adding a new type of item called raid lockboxes. These drop from raids and can be traded on the auction house. These boxes contain a random assortment of items, including best in slot raid gear.  Like most crates in free to play games, they require a key to open.  Players with an active signature status subscription receive one free key a week- in addition, keys can be purchased in the cash shop with real money or with omnibits, a currency earned in game.

This change eliminates the need for players to actually complete raids to gear up their character with best in slot gear. Now players can simply purchase a lockbox from the auction house, as well as a key from the cash shop. In fact, players don’t even need to play the game to get the gear, as they can simply buy in game currency through the CREDD system, which they can use to buy the lockbox.

This feature is likely to upset a lot of players, but with how low Wildstar’s revenue has been, it might be necessary to cover operating expenses. Wildstar generated less than $2 Million in revenue during Q2 2016, which is not nearly enough to pay a dedicated team of developers,  QA, customer support, and other necessary employees. This change is likely to improve sales through creating an incentive for the sale of CREDD, as players need in game currency to buy the lockboxes, and through sales of signature status to receive the keys.

In addition to raid lockboxes, there are also standard lockboxes that will drop from other forms of gameplay, which contain a random assortment of cosmetic items.

 

The official announcement can be read here

California Energy Commission’s Proposed Regulations on Personal Computers Poses Threat to Prebuilt Gaming Desktops and Gaming Monitors

In a move to reduce power consumption and protect the environment, the California Energy Commission has proposed a series of regulations intended to reduce the idle power consumption of personal computers, as well as the overall power consumption of monitors.

The CEC met with stakeholders in the computing industry to discuss how to develop regulations that reduce power consumption in ways that don’t prevent certain types of devices from being sold. While this does help prevent the CEC from passing regulations that cannot realistically be met, it does raise the concern of special interests proposing regulations that provide them an advantage over new competition as a result of proprietary technology or trade secrets they posess the rights to.

The series of rules and regulations are planned to take effect between 2017 and 2021.

Potential Threat to Prebuilt Gaming Computers

To determine appropriate levels of idle power consumption, systems will be classified based on an ‘expandability’ score.

Most desktops will have limitations imposed on power consumption that gaming computers cannot realistically meet- however, “high expandability” systems won’t be subject to these power limitations. Instead, they’ll be subject to a different set of limitations designed for workstations, such as requiring a power supply that meets the 80 PLUS GOLD standard.

To be classified as “high-expandability” without meeting the minimum score of 690, a system must attain a minimum level of frame-buffer bandwidth(memory bandwidth on the graphics adapter). The proposed level is 400 GB/s by 2018, and 600 GB/s by 2020. In addition, the system must use a power supply of 600 watts or greater.

The level of frame-buffer bandwidth required is significantly higher than what is offered in high end graphics adapters today. For example the NVIDIA GTX 1080, which has a MSRP of $600, has a memory bandwidth of just 320 GB/S. This falls 20% short of the requirement slated to go into effect by 2018.

This is an extremely ineffective metric, because memory bandwidth is generally not the main factor that contributes to GPU idle power consumption. In many cases, the necessary memory bandwidth in modern GPUs has gone down due to improvements in memory compression technology.

The size of the die has generally been the contributing factor to the most realistically achievable short-idle power consumption in most modern graphics adapters- the number of transistors is likely not used in the classification of graphics adapters due to the difficulty in testing or verifying such an element(as well as improvements to transistor density as lithography tech improves), but die size is not difficult. Using TFLOPs as a measure of performance is also a poor idea, because performance will continue to improve, and eventually result in low-end devices being categorized as high performance if the specification is not updated.

HBM(High Bandwidth Memory) is an upcoming standard that will provide substantially increased memory bandwidth while consuming significantly less power, with the drawback of currently being very expensive. Obviously, the way in which the system’s drivers interact with the hardware to determine clock speed, power saving states, as well as the architecture of the GPU itself are the most important aspects of idle power consumption, but these are the types of factors that the CEC is seeking to improve through regulation.

If these regulations pass, there will likely be an increase in the cost of prebuilt gaming computers in markets/areas effected by these regulations. High-end graphics cards with HBM will likely meet the memory bandwidth requirements; however, mid range GPUs that will likely still use GDDR5 or GDDR5X are at risk. These GPUs may cause a system to draw too much power to meet the desktop power consumption requirements, but not posess enough memory bandwidth to meet the “high-expandability” metric.

A likely effect would be for system manufacturers to include unnecessary pieces of hardware in order to boost the expandability score of their system into higher ranges. This will increase costs while providing little benefit and less choices to the consumer. If the systems do meet the high-expandability metric, there’s still the costs associated with requiring a 80 PLUS GOLD power supply as well as the cost of testing and meeting regulations.

 

Regulations on Computer Monitors

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In addition to regulations on personal computers/workstations, the CEC also proposed establishing limitations on the power consumption of computer monitors. These limitations will be dynamic based on the resolution and physical size of the screen, as well as a 1 watt increase for touch screens.

The CEC is also considering providing additional allowance for curved monitors, OLED monitors, and gaming monitors with high refresh rates. The formulas/methods used to determine increased power allowances for high refresh rate monitors, curved displays, and OLED displays have not yet been decided.

The CEC states that their proposed power requirements can be met by:

  • using more efficient LEDs
  • establishing and maintaining a standard for the default brightness(since most consumers never change their brightness)
  • including an ambient light sensor for automatic brightness control based on brightness of the room
  • setting standards for the efficiency of the monitor’s power supply.

There is a proposal to create an exemption for monitors with a resolution of 8.2 megapixels or higher. In comparison, the 4K UHD standard(3840×2160) meets this standard at just under 8.3 megapixels. The proposed exemptions also includes KVMs, KMMs, and medical devices.

Small Business Exemption

 

Small businesses are proposed to be exempt from most of the regulations that involve expensive testing fees. The exemption is planned to apply to organizations that meet all of these criteria:

  • Have a gross annual revenue of less than $2 Million
  • Produce 40 or less units of a similar system
  • Assembles and sells the computers at the same location

This exemption only applies to computers manufactured through said business, it does not apply to systems that are purchased directly from another manufacturer or wholesaler for resale.

The “Produce 40 or less units of a similar system” rule does not yet specify a methodology for what is considered a “similar system”. For example, it’s unclear if a manufacturer could simply use a variety of parts in order to avoid selling more than 40 of the same type of computer. In this case, it sounds like an unnecessary regulation that will only drive prices up by punishing small businesses that order parts in large volumes(by making them pay testing fees), and therefore forcing them to source a larger variety of parts in order to circumvent the 40 or less units clause.

This exemption will protect small businesses that sell custom built computers as well as people that build computers as a hobby.

 

Cost Savings or Increased Costs?

The CEC claims that these regulations will save consumers money through reduced energy bills, but these savings do not account for the inevitable increase in prices on computers and monitors that results from the costs associated with meeting this extensive set of regulations. It also doesn’t account for when users inevitably change their settings in the operating system, such as increasing the time before the computer goes to sleep, increasing brightness levels, or increasing the time before the display dims or turns off.

In addition to the costs of using more expensive materials or parts to meet regulations, there’s also the possibility of business finding cheaper alternatives to circumvent efficiency requirements. In this case, a business might spend more on certain types of hardware in order to qualify for particular exemptions or categories that reduce their efficiency requirements, while providing little benefit to the consumer as a result of them exploiting a loophole.

It’s unclear if these regulations will save or cost consumers money, however it is important to consider that the benefits do go beyond cost- reduced power consumption can benefit the environment, especially depending on the type of energy used.

Sources:

http://www.energy.ca.gov/releases/2016_releases/2016-09-09_computer_standards_nr.html

http://docketpublic.energy.ca.gov/PublicDocuments/16-AAER-02/TN213548_20160909T092318__2016_Appliance_Efficiency_Rulemaking_Docket_Number_16AAER02Sta.pdf

https://www.engadget.com/2016/09/11/california-pc-energy-standard/