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Comment Re:Cheap you say? (Score 2) 208

Yes, yes and a million times yes.

What we've seen over the last 18 months or so is a trend from storage drive speed being almost irrelevant in terms of game performance (aside from loading-times), towards it becoming one of the most critical factors. I'm guessing that, as you suggest, it is caused by a combination of the move towards more "open world" games, and an increase in the detail-level, and hence size, of game-assets.

The first game I'm aware of where it was a serious issue was Watch_Dogs. You'll recall that the PC version of that game took quite the hammering at launch. Not just because the game was rubbish (although it was), but because a lot of players were experiencing severe in-game stutter. In fact, I noticed it myself when I first installed the game. While it was ok on the indoor on-foot sequences, the moment I started moving around the open-world city, particularly in a car, it was stuttering constantly. Then I noticed that the timing of the stutter was perfectly in-sync with the activity of my disk-access light. So I reinstalled the game on my solid state drive and, surprise surprise, the stutter was completely eliminated.

There have been a large number of games since then which have been affected to varying degrees. Particular culprits include:

Dragon Age: Inquistion (infrequent but very severe periods of stutter when moving across invisible transition-points when running from a mechanical drive).

Far Cry 4 (at the lower end of severity, but stutter noticeable when opening doors or entering vehicles while running from a mechanical drive).

Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel (mild stutter and long texture-loading delays when running from a mechanical drive - for some reason much more noticeable than in Borderlands 2, which used the same engine).

The Witcher 3 (mild but noticeable stutter when moving at speed on horseback, particularly around towns/villages, when running from a mechanical drive).

Pillars of Eternity (yes, even in a top-down 2D RPG, there's stutter after issuing some commands, particularly for spells whose visual effects need to be loaded, when running from a mechanical drive).

Batman: Arkham Knight (the original unpatched release essentially unplayable due to severe stutter when running from a mechanical drive).

I suspect that poor optimisation is also a factor in some of these cases. After all, the console versions mostly avoid this stutter, despite the fact that they contain fairly slow and crusty mechanical drives. Irritatingly, some of the performance-comparison sites out there, particularly the (formerly excellent) Eurogamer Digital Foundry don't do drive speed comparisons and seem to use SSDs by default, so they don't pick up these issues.

There are still a few major releases that appear to run well from mechanical drives on PC; Shadows of Mordor and Metal Gear Solid 5, despite being open-world games, don't seem to have particular stuttering issues. But we're getting to the point now where if you want a decent experience in PC games, having a solid state drive (and preferably a large one) is as important as having a decent graphics card.

Comment Re:Is such an excessive fine called for? (Score 1) 226

Because that would encourage the spread of an "act first, apologise later" mentality. If the breaches committed by SkyPan were severe and endangered safety, then the simple fact that they have now altered their behaviour should not excuse them from penalties in respect of their earlier breaches.

This is true in any area of law, but is particularly true in safety-critical areas. It only takes one drone getting sucked into a jet engine to endanger or end the lives of hundreds of people. What you absolutely do not want are companies or individuals thinking that they'll do something outside of the current rules (potentially profiting from it) for as long as they can get away with it, knowing that they will be able to wriggle off the hook with an apology and a promise to be better behaved in future when they get caught.

Comment Re:Both types of learning are important (Score 4, Interesting) 307

Few people are fully introverted or extroverted and they shouldn't be encouraged to think of themselves as such. TFA makes a few reasonable points, but I can't help but feel that it is founded upon a false premise. A premise which stems from the way in which people misuse the results of Myers-Briggs and other similar personality-tests.

Running through the article is a belief that people must, in both education and the workplace, be allowed to work in the manner that best fits their personality types. That's not how the world works.

On Myers-Briggs, I show up as a mild-to-moderate introvert. I match some of the descriptors for "introvert" pretty well, but not others. However, what I've always been clear about is that this is not an "excuse" for anything.

Myers-Briggs and the like should be more about enabling the individual being tested to understand how they might need to change their own actions and behaviours to compensate for inbuilt tendencies; not to give them a list of demands for how the world should change to suit them. I found it a fairly useful exercise; I've been able to apply it at work to both play to strengths and compensate for weaknesses. But it's not an excuse.

Back at school, some of my most effective teachers were those who, as I now realise, understood my introvert tendencies and knew how to encourage me to stretch myself beyond what I was comfortable with. We all need that from time to time, especially when we are children. Those on the introverted side need to understand that it's not much use to be able to think if you can't also communicate and work with others. Those on the extroverted side need to be taught that there is a time when you need to sit down, shut up and listen. Most workplaces aren't going to be willing to indulge extreme behaviours on either side.

Group projects and collaborative work are, at best, tools that should be used in only limited roles in the classroom (albeit with wider scope at college level in some subjects). But that's mostly because of the potential for cheating or for some kids to coast by on the efforts of others.

Comment Re:Ten Gauge Power Cord (Score 1) 90

Actually, the power and cooling requirements might not be that bad. When the full-sized version of the 980 first appeared back in 2014, it came as a bit of a surprise. It wasn't, in some respects, the generational leap in terms of raw performance over its direct predecessor, the 780, that some had expected. But it was significantly cooler and more power efficient; startlingly so for what was, at the time, Nvidia's top-end card.

The official specs list the power requirement of the desktop-version card itself as 165W and recommend a PC with a PSU of 500W or higher. That compares with 250W for the card and 600W for the PSU for the 780 (which is where Nvidia's high end cards had been pitched for a couple of generations previously).

My 980 does have a reasonably sized fan on it, but even under heavy load (for instance, in The Witcher 3, which is a real hardware stress-test) that fan rarely operates at full speed. I can't find specs on the official site yet, but by the sound of things, they've managed to get those power and cooling requirements down even further for the notebook version.

Of course, the basic 980 is no longer the top-end desktop card. Nvidia's two higher-end offerings, the (ludicrously priced) Titan and the (significantly more attractive) 980ti are both listed as having a 250W power requirement. Some of AMD's top end cards, meanwhile, more or less require that you hook them up to their own power-plant (coal, gas or nuclear is fine), while seating them at the bottom of a frozen Antarctic lake.

Comment Off-Earth habitation (Score 5, Insightful) 684

Genuine question...

Given the difficulties of getting to Mars, the fact that Mars is barely any more suited to habitation than space and the fact that trips to and from Mars need to deal with the planet's gravity well... why do we assume that the first off-Earth permanent habitation would necessarily need to be on Mars, or indeed on any other planet?

If we want a permanent off-world habitat, would it not be more worthwhile to devote energy to exploring the possibility of permanently-habitable, (near) self-sustaining space stations? These could be closer to Earth , would presumably have rather better access to solar power and journeys to and from Earth would only need to deal with a single planetary gravity well. They would have their own challenges; dealing with radiation and with the effects of zero-gravity on the human body in the longer term, but those don't instinctively feel as difficult as some of the problems highlighted in TFA. Other challenges, such as those around hydroponics and recycling, might not be that different from those associated with a settlement on Mars.

Or is there a good reason why this is in fact more difficult than Mars-colonisation which I've just overlooked?

Comment Re:So not better just cheaper (Score 4, Insightful) 104

It can be both. I've worked in the aviation field and come across quite a few of the issues associated with this.

There are now some seriously busy ATC sectors around the globe; the ones around New York and London are probably the busiest, but there are plenty of others. The problem's a growing one; while global aviation demand fell during the early years of the recession, it is spiking back sharply now and looks set to continue to grow.

Without the IT systems that have already been brought in, management of some of the throughput rates in those very busy sectors today would be pretty much impossible. Going forward, more advanced systems are going to be needed to help manage down the potential for human error as things get very difficult indeed; take a look at London's airspace systems (with traffic flows from Heathrow, Gatwick, Stansted, Luton, London City and Southend all requiring management to maintain both throughputs and separations.

The risk comes from deskilling. No automation system is perfect and, in a safety critical sector like aviation, you need to be able to avoid compromising safety when systems fail. That might not require maintaining those throughput rates (realistically, you are going to accept flight delays and cancellations when you get a major IT failure), but it does involve being able to get aircraft that are in the air onto the ground safely.

To date, these issues have been managed. A major computer failure in the UK earlier this year was managed safely. But as you reduce the number of operators and, in many cases, shift their role to the management of IT systems rather than the management of air traffic, you have to face a real concern about how you keep the skills required to cope when things go wrong.

It's a tough one. But the industry is aware of it. Genuine cost-stripping is very rare in the aviation industry; it has a safety culture like nothing else I've ever seen.

Comment Re:"I promise to not change anything," he said (Score 2) 46

I wasn't implying that the PS3 was a failure. But it wasn't as big a success as it could have been. As console wars go, the seventh generation was a damned close run thing (as demonstrated by your link), and it was much more complicated than the numbers imply.

The Wii "won" the start of the cycle, with a massive sales lead at the 2-year point. But it ran out of steam in the late cycle and Nintendo fell to its first annual losses in the company's history during the closing years of the cycle. Its later years were characterized by a fairly miserable attach rate for games as well - a lot of those consoles sold early on just sat in cupboards neglected after a year or two.

The 360 more or less "won" the middle years, when it closed a lot of ground on the Wii and was comfortably ahead of the PS3 at the mid-point of the cycle. MS were investing a lot of money in exclusive titles at that point and the 360 had a (generally deserved) reputation as the best system for cross-platform gaming.

And the PS3 basically "won" the end-game, when its sales pulled ahead of the 360's, buoyed by a much stronger late line-up of exclusives (MS seemed to lose interest in supporting the 360 once the Kinect wave subsided).

But Sony's performance must have been a disappointment for the company. They had been the "must own" console of the previous cycle (a large portion of Xbox and Gamecube owners also owned a PS2) and they never quite re-took that position. There were certainly signs and statements from Sony during the first half of the PS3's life that indicated it was performing below expectations.

Following up a mega-successful console has historically proved difficult. The SNES dominated its generation, but Nintendo fumbled the successor. The Nintendo DS sold by the bucketloads and yet, despite a massive sales push (and the company moving to the hardware-at-a-loss model for the first time ever), the 3DS has never really broken beyond the kind of sales that the (successful, but to a lesser degree) PSP seemed to manage.

My original post a few layers back was basically about the inability of all three of the major console manufacturers to turn a commanding position in one console cycle into an equally commanding one in the next. There are strong signs that in this particular market, success breeds arrogance and complacency. I don't think any of the responses have refuted that.

Comment Re:"I promise to not change anything," he said (Score 1) 46

Nah, I just checked and they still seem to be doing it for hardware, at least. The release gaps between Japan and the West on the New 3DS were several months.

That's a stark contrast with Sony's strategy. Despite being a Japanese company, they released the PS4 in the US and Europe months before the Japanese release. They could see that the Japanese home-console market isn't really worth a gnat's fart these days.

Funny, really, when MS launched the Xbox 360, they threw a huge amount of effort into breaking into Japan. Their Japanese teams were heavily involved in the design of the console and the controller. They pumped a fortune into Japanese games development, funding exclusives such as Blue Dragon and Lost Odyssey, while paying for (time-limited) exclusive ports of otaku-focussed arcade titles like Idolm@ster and the Cave bullet-hell shooters. It failed. They didn't crack Japan. But the 360 still went on to be a successful console. This time around, neither MS nor Sony has really bothered with Japan.

In Nintendo's defence with the New 3DS, I guess the handheld market is a bit different. That's in decline in the West, squeezed between home console, PC and mobile gaming, but is still fairly resilient in Japan (even the Vita's doing quite well there now).

Comment Re:"I promise to not change anything," he said (Score 1) 46

To an extent, yes, but...

The PS2 managed something like 4 times the Xbox's installed base. Had Sony managed to replicate that kind of ratio in the PS3/360 generation, I suspect MS would have given up and gone home. Certainly, things were poor enough for MS in the PS2/Xbox generation that smaller third party developers often went PS2-exclusive even though they didn't have an exclusivity agreement with Sony; it just wasn't worth the costs of pointing to the Xbox or Gamecube.

And yes, the PS2 was slightly more expensive than the Xbox, while also being a bit harder to develop for. But the PS3 represented a significant escalation in both respects; the price was pretty eye-watering when it launched, compared to previous console launches. Hell, the 360 and even, to some extent, the Wii were pricey compared to past generations, but the PS3 was on another level entirely.

A simpler, cheaper PS3, without the (in retrospect reckless) gamble on Cell architecture might have resulted in a console generation that played out very differently.

Comment Re:"I promise to not change anything," he said (Score 1) 46

The late 80s and early 90s are Nintendo's comfort zone. They absolutely dominated the console gaming scene at the time. Then they made the decision to jerk the industry around with the N64's specs (opting for cartridges over a CD drive at a late stage in the process) and handed most of the third party developer ecosystem, and with them market share dominance, to Sony.

Funny, really, how every time it looks like a console manufacturer might have the console wars "won", they go and shoot themselves in the collective foot. Nintendo did it with the N64 hardware (and with general unpleasantness to third parties). Sony had the competition on the ropes in the PS2 cycle, but then went for a PS3 design which was over-priced and hard to develop for, allowing Microsoft to leap-frog them. Then Microsoft, on the verge of locking up the US as "their territory" and fighting Sony to a stalemate in Europe, goes on to commit a series of entirely unforced errors during the development of the Xbox One. Sony's back ahead these days, but I'm sure it's only a matter of time now until it over-reaches itself.

And yes, don't expect to see any particular changes in direction from Nintendo under its new leadership. What's really sad is that Iwata began talking last year about potentially ending region-locking on future Nintendo consoles, which would mean it would be effectively dead across the industry. What little we know about Kimishima from his time at Nintendo of America would imply that he is one of region locking's biggest defenders, so I don't think we can expect any Glasnost or Perestroika on that front now.

Comment Re:An HR guy as President? (Score 2) 46

It's fairly rare for an HR director to step up to CEO level. In a lot of companies, the HR director isn't even on the board.

I'm only guessing here, really, but it looks as though he was more or less just filling time as HR director, possibly while being groomed as a potential successor. Even though nobody saw Iwata's death coming, there was speculation that another year of poor results could have led to calls for him to stand down, so I'm sure there was succession planning going on.

His time as the head of Nintendo of America (predecessor to Reggie Fils-Aime) is probably more notable. That's a fairly meaty job. It's also one he didn't do particularly well in some respects; Nintendo's US market-share generally declined during his tenure.

He doesn't seem to have a particularly high public profile. From what little I've been able to gleam, he's very conservative in his approach. Don't expect Nintendo to go embracing any radical ideas, or even many sensible modernisations, under his tenure. This is a conservative appointment by a conservative company based in the most conservative city of a country whose business practices tend to default to conservative. The message that this appointment sends is about a commitment to business as usual.

The lack of a real public profile makes it hard to tell, but he doesn't seem to be particularly passionate about games. The closest he's been to the coal-face seems to be during his time at The Pokémon Company, but even there he was very much on the business and marketing side rather than the development side. There's no rule that gaming company CEOs need to be passionate about games. But there are risks from going the other direction; would MS have fallen into so many obvious pitfalls during the development of the Xbox One if they'd had somebody who actually understood gaming and gamers in charge?

There's a chance that Kimishima's tenure might be quite a short one. If the NX doesn't take off (and the odds are against it - mid-cycle console launches have a poor history) and Nintendo doesn't protect or grow other areas of its business (handheld and mobile respectively), then shareholders are likely to look to see him replaced with somebody a bit more radical.

Submission + - Nintendo names Tatsumi Kimishima as new CEO

RogueyWon writes: Following the death of Satoru Iwata in July, Nintendo has announced the appointment of Tatsumi Kimishima as its new CEO. The 65 year old Mr. Kimishima has been serving as Nintendo's human resources director, following a previous stint as the CEO of Nintendo of America and earlier work on the management of the Pokémon franchise. Kimishima takes up post at a time of considerable change for Nintendo, with the company beginning a tentative step into the mobile games market and preparing for the launch of a new console, codenamed "NX", in 2016.

Comment Re:LOTR (Score 2) 167

To an extent, yes.

D&D isn't actually just one universe. It's a number of settings linked by some core board-game source material. The problem in translating it to the big screen is that its best-known settings - Forgotten Realms and Greyhawk, I suspect - are fairly undistinguished "generic fantasy" stuff, with bog standard elves, dwarves, wizards and so on, which are going to seem horribly clichéd to the modern audience used to watching Game of Thrones on TV. It has some more "out there" settings - Planescape in particular is fairly unique - but that probably goes too far the other way. It's hard to imagine anything so eccentric translating into a major commercial movie.

That's not to say there's never been good D&D storytelling - there are, I'm sure, any number of tabletop Dungeon Masters who have managed to make the setting shine. The Baldur's Gate computer games managed to tell a pretty good story in the Forgotten Realms setting, but they had the benefit of having some phenomenally talented people work on them.

For somebody starting out to create a Hollywood blockbuster, there are just more promising places to start than D&D.

In Nature there are neither rewards nor punishments, there are consequences. -- R.G. Ingersoll