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Comment Faster than the Titan... (Score 5, Interesting) 51

The "faster than a Titan" thing has been causing a bit of angst. The early reviews and benchmarks do indeed show that the 1080 Ti outperforms the Titan X (Pascal) in many cases. It's not universal; some games and benchmarks still favour the Titan by a tiny margin, but those are a minority.

But the sheer price of the Titan X (which was unprecedented in the Pascal series) has driven a lot of extra discontent this time around, especially as the 1080 Ti came out with a lower price than a lot of observers had been expecting (there were confident predictions from usually-reliable sources that it would be $200 north of where it actually landed). If you need a bit more salt in your diet, take a look at some of the threads over on the Nvidia forums today from disgruntled Titan X owners.

This is, however, pretty much par for the course in the high-end PC game and it's not as though Nvidia haven't slipped into a predictable cycle over their last few generations (at least since the 700-series) that makes clear how things work. If you want to buy a card that is "top of the range", you've basically got three options:

1) Buy the *80 card that arrives with the first wave of consumer cards in each generation. You will get a few months at the top of the tree, until the release of the (massively more expensive) Titan. This is always the cheapest of the three options, but also the most time-limited.

2) Buy the Titan that comes out a few months after the *80. This will have an absurd price tag - often twice that of the *80. It will be the fastest thing around for, in general, 6-9 months, and even then, the next card may only match it rather than beating it.

3) Buy the *80 Ti that comes out 6-9 months after the Titan. This will generally give you framerates in most games in the +/- 3% range of the Titan, but for a price much closer to the *80. This will hold its place at the top for anywhere from 9 to 15 months, until the release of the next generation of cards. In the next generation, the *80 will outperform the last generation *80 Ti and the *70 will offer broadly comparable (maybe slightly better) performance for around half the price.

I've been going for the *80 Ti route for a while now, on the grounds that the price/performance ratio tends to hold up better over time. I'm seeing complaints at the moment from people who bought a Titan within the last few weeks, which is just bizarre. The 1080 Ti has been known to be close to release since January, so why anybody would take the plunge on a Titan at $1200 under those circumstances is beyond me.

I'm working from home today and waiting for my 1080 Ti to be delivered. I wish I could say I'm not bouncing up and down in my chair going "SQUEEEEEE!!!" like a 12 year old girl at a One Direction concert, but I'm not sure how convincingly I could make that case.

Comment Re:Dead pixels normal... in 2001. (Score 5, Informative) 241

I bought a Switch at launch, more out of curiousity than anything else. The story of the platform across the board is "handful of nice ideas let down by corner-cutting and failure to comprehend basic design lessons".

I haven't personally experienced the most serious issues with the device. That's to say, I have no dead pixels. I do not, under normal circumstances, have the wireless interference problems that is causing the joycons (particularly the left one) to lose synchronisation (though I can replicate them if I try, by switching on more devices). Nor have I yet scratched the screen putting the thing into and out of its dock.

That said, there are some design decisions around the Switch that scream "cheap", some which scream "incompetent" and some which scream both. For a relatively pricey piece of hardware, that's not really acceptable. Let's leave aside for the moment the crap Bluetooth transmission from the joycons and the dead pixels; here are some of the smaller quality-of-life issues with the Switch that should not be an issue in 2017:

- The size of the joycon controllers is way too small for the average Western hand (and certainly for a good proportion of adult males). The shape of the thing provides relatively little support to the hand and, whether it is held on its own or in the grip, encourages a cramped hand posture. This is really, really bad for your hands.

- When the unit is used in handheld mode with the joycons attached, the impacts on hand posture are arguably even worse. The device is reasonably large and, while I wouldn't describe it as heavy, nor is it particularly light. Your hands are supporting a noticeable degree of weight here. But the design of the joycons and the manner in which they attach to the main unit means that you end up crabbing your hands if you want to both hold the unit up and reach the control inputs. Unlike the Wii-U Gamepad and the Vita (both of which were by no means perfect in this respect), there is no grip at the back to allow you to distribute some of the weight more evenly around your hands or improve hand posture. It's worst for your right hand, where the location of the right analogue stick at the bottom of the unit means that you are essentially going to end up holding up that end of the unit by "pinching" it near the bottom.

- The layout of buttons on the joycons is terrible. The + and - buttons are located, for some bizarre reason, "above" the analogue sticks. This means you need a large thumb movement to reach them, which is both uncomfortable and likely to result in an accidental button-press or analogue stick input.

- The charging point's location on the bottom of the main unit means that it is awkward to support the weight of the unit on a table while using it in handheld mode. It also means you can't charge it while using the built-in stand.

- The built-in stand is a cheap, nasty and fragile plastic flap, barely capable of staying upright. Many people are already reporting this has snapped off or failed.

- The cartridge slot cover feels flimsy and fragile. I haven't yet seen reports of these snapping off, but I wouldn't be surprised to. The Vita had the same problem here.

- The dock unit you use to connect the thing to the TV has a cheap and nasty plastic feel. There are numerous reports that the version of the dock shipped with retail units is lower than that which was seen on preview units used for demonstrations and sent out for review purposes (though I haven't seen a preview unit myself yet, so cannot confirm this). Certainly, it is a loose and wobbly fit for the console on retail units and there are many reports of the dock scratching the main-unit's screen.

- The process of attaching/detaching the joycons is a bit fiddlier, and requires a bit more force, than had commonly been assumed.

- It is easily possible to put the joycons on the grip unit the wrong way around. What is rather less possible is getting them off again (at least without a very large degree of force) after you've done so.

- The console only ships with one mains charger. When the console is docked, this needs to be routed through the dock. When it's detached, it needs to go into the bottom of the console. Removing the charger from the dock unit requires, for no good reason that anybody can discern, opening a flap on the back of the dock, which is a pain and, depending on positioning, potentially involves tangling in your Big Mess Of Cables behind the TV more than is convenient. It feels like a ploy to sell the "official" extra charger, which is sold with a huge mark-up. People have had mixed results with third party chargers.

In short, there are a huge mass of ergonomic, design and convenience problems with the unit, mostly stemming from problems that everybody else has long since solved by 2017.

The fact that the hardware is being sold at what looks like a large mark-up (with every possible corner cut on cost) implies that contrary to their rhetoric, Nintendo do not expect a significant third-party ecosystem. This is a console targeting direct profit from sales, not the licensing fees that make up a large portion of the income for Sony and MS's gaming divisions (and almost all of Valve's).

Comment Re:waste of money (Score 1) 117

The Gamecube controller was absolutely awful. The right analogue stick was an abortion... a hideous shrivelled nipple which was of no use whatsoever in-game.

I kinda get what they were going for, with the face buttons. Until the PS2/Gamecube/Xbox generation, there tended to be one controller button that was used more than the others, so why not make it bigger. Unfortunately, they did that just as console games were getting more sophisticated and button usage was getting more evenly spread. So they ended up with a godawful controller where accidental button presses were the norm.

Also, the cable was about 3 inches long. They had this weird, fucked up idea that people played console games sat in a ring on the floor around the TV. The cable just wasn't long enough to reach to the average sofa.

I would personally rate the Gamecube controller as one of the worst ever made. The N64 and Dreamcast ones also had their woes, but the Cube one was just nasty.

Comment Re:waste of money (Score 2, Informative) 117

Meh, it's a bit of a mixed bag. I've found a few things to like about it; the screen is good quality (first time for that on a Nintendo handheld device). The UI is pleasant and functional (compare and contrast with the XB1's). Plus, Nintendo finally step into the 21st century by abandoning region locks and the whole "multi region account switching" thing is pretty easy, which is nice.

But there is also a lot wrong with it, and I'd be lying if I said I don't have a bit of buyer's remorse. The ergonomics are bloody awful unless you have the pro controller. The joycons are so tiddly they must have been designed for toddlers or Trump. The locations of buttons on them, particularly the + and - buttons, makes accidental inputs inevitable. Worse, when holding the thing in handheld mode with the joycons attached, the shape and layout puts stress on all the wrong parts of your hands. In the long term, this thing is an express ticket to RSI-town. Nintendo have forgotten or ignored some basic design and ergonomic principles that everybody else has known about for years.

The pro controller is mostly fine, other than the lack of analogue shoulder triggers, which will screw things up a bit for certain genres (particularly driving games). It's expensive, though, and given the low quality of the joycons, it really should have been a pack-in.

There are a few other niggles with the hardware as well. The little stand on the back for use when the thing is undocked is nasty and flimsy, The cover for the cartridge slot feels like it is going to be very easy to snap off (also a problem with the Vita). The location of the charger port on both the unit itself and the docking station seems to have been designed for maximum inconvenience. Oh, and the undocked battery life is absolutely terrible.

I haven't experienced the joycon sync issues that have been plaguing some people during normal use, but I can replicate them if I switch on a couple of my other consoles and create a bit of wireless interference.

I'm also now seeing reports that the build quality of the docking station and its "fit" with the main console unit is of lower quality than in the pre-release demonstration units. Not sure whether that's true - although it is definitely true that the fit is loose and wobbly on mine - but if it is, it feels like pretty sharp practice.

Comment Re:This card is basically their former 1199$ card (Score 3, Interesting) 151

Everything about this screams "rob Vega of its momentum". Judging by the price and specs, this is probably only slightly above "loss leader" territory.

Another example of competition being good for the end-users. The first round of high-end Pascal cards (1070/1080/Titan) frankly looked a bit over-priced relative to their performance increase over the previous generation, but then AMD just didn't have a viable high-end offering at the time. I'd struggle to persuade myself to buy an AMD card after previous driver woes with them, but I'm relieved to see them looking like they're about to get back into the game.

Comment Re:$700 GTFO (Score 4, Insightful) 151

I'll be buying one. First in the queue.

But then I'm a well-paid professional whose main hobby is gaming and who can afford to splash out on something like this once in a while, while still paying the mortgage, racking up savings etc. I like having all the latest bells and whistles. If I'm going to spend a good chunk of my leisure time doing something, I'd like to do it well.

Gaming can be an expensive hobby, sure. But so can lots of other hobbies. Guy I've known since my late teens is seriously into mountaineering. He got pretty rich during his 20s (combination of being smart, hardworking and in the right place at the right time) then downshifted into a job with an employer who was fine with him taking big chunks of time off. In previous years, he's vanished for 2-3 month chunks of time to Alaska and the Andes. Later this year, he'll be doing his first Himalayan trip. All-inclusive cost for that trip alone is close to $100k (which, given he's British like me, is rather more money than it used to be since Brexit). All of which is to spend a few months cold and miserable in a tent, with no guarantee of a successful summit and a non-trivial chance of dying. Not my cup of tea at all. But that's what he likes to do and he has the money to do it, so frankly it's his business (and his stories are fun, in a hair-raising way).

Even leaving the more extreme hobbies aside, lots of people still sink sums into fairly normal activities that are not out of line with what I spend on gaming. My dad's a golfer and, between membership fees, trips, new clubs, training sessions and all of the assorted gadgets that seem to go with the sport, he likely racks up more on that than I do on gaming. But that's fine; he can afford it without making stupid compromises elsewhere in his life

Cars? I'm friends with a petrolhead at work who spends a fortune on them (his own estimate to me was £10,000 per annum on average, albeit with peaks and troughs), despite the fact that other than a track day every couple of months, his latest road-going rally-monster spends most of its time on supermarket runs. Good god, I know cyclists (the pedal kind, not the motorised kind) who spend more on their bikes than I spend on my PC.

Short version; what adults do with their own disposable income is their own business, provided they aren't inconveniencing anybody else with it. Different things will appeal to different people.

Comment Re:Professional accoutant (Score 1) 369

Are you kidding?

I'm already seeing junior-level accountant positions replaced by software. The sophistication isn't quite there yet to take out the next step up in the food-chain, but it's probably only a matter of a year or two at most. Now, accountancy is a broad profession and there are undoubtedly sub-sets which will hold out for considerably longer, but I'd have put accountancy right at the top of the list of white-collar professions at risk from automation.

Lawyers are probably second placed. Forget the courtroom dramas; an awful lot of what your average lawyer does on a day to day basis is highly subject to automation.

Comment Are Denuvo really that bad? (Score 2, Interesting) 77

Denuvo have become a popular company to hate recently. There are long-standing complaints that their DRM "harms performance" in the games that use it. The time-to-crack on some of the more recent Denuvo-protected releases has been down to around a week or so, which is a big reduction from the "several months" they could boast a year ago. They can also come over as a bit cocky in their public messaging at times.

And yet... are they really that bad? The war against DRM in PC gaming at the conceptual level was lost years ago, the moment consumers (self included) decided that the convenience of Steam and its equivalents (and the general reduction in game prices that came with them) outweighed concerns about ownership and digital rights. There have been battles since then, to be sure, but those have generally been over the extent to which DRM inconveniences legitimate consumers.

So we had (fairly successful) protests against Spore, which limited the number of installs possible from a single key (a practice which is more or less dead now). There is continuing pushback over the inclusion of always-on DRM in games which don't require it, which looks like it still has some way to run. We've had outcries, again generally successful, against DRM schemes which compromise the security of PCs they are run on (see the recent additional of such DRM to Street Fighter V and its subsequent removal).

But Denuvo doesn't really do any of these things. From the end-users point of view, provided they have a legitimate copy of the game, it is pretty much invisible. The rumours of it having a performance impact persist, but when credible sources like Eurogamer's Digital Foundry have investigated, they've never been able to substantiate them. In many cases, Denuvo appear to have become the scapegoat for poorly optimised PC ports.

PC gaming is actually in quite a good place right now. Most major releases find their way to PC; considerably more than did so 5 or even 10 years ago. Previously console-only developers have realised that they can expand their market for relatively little effort by producing a PC port. This has gone hand-in-hand with a general improvement in the quality of DRM, which appears (though I'll admit the link is not validated) to have deterred at least casual pirates (accepting that the hardcore will likely never be deterred). If DRM is here to stay, I would much prefer Denuvo to some of the alternatives.

Comment Re:Always assumed (Score 2) 45

I don't think that's likely to be the case with the PS4. You can already remove the hard drive from the machine pretty easily (and replacing the hard drive is an officially authorised modification that doesn't void your warranty). PS4 hard drives, like PS3 hard drives before them, use an encrypted structure that locks content to the console in question. I'm guessing there will be a requirement to format any external hard drives used in the same way.

This, incidentally, means it is really important to keep backups (cloud or USB stick) of your PS3/PS4 saves. If your console fails, you will not just be able to stick the drive from it into a replacement console or a PC and get the data off it. Happened to me with my old PS3. Lost five years worth of savegame data.

Comment Re:I'd agree (Score 4, Informative) 231

Same here, to be honest. AVG became unusable due to bloat a couple of years ago. Avast can have some serious issues when presented with a combination of Windows 10 with Anniversary Update and a Skylake CPU. The remainder all seem to be as bad as much of the malware they ostensibly protect you from.

I confess I spent a while feeling paranoid after I finally gave in and uninstalled Avast, but a few months on, I've had no problems with a combination of Windows Defender and a weekly Malwarebytes scan.

Comment The value of "proper" games (Score 3, Insightful) 77

The big challenge for "alternative" ways of playing video games has always been "can you play a proper game that way". We've seen supposedly revolutionary new technologies come along before and then falter when it turns out that all they are good for is playing casual or party-games.

The Wii's motion control sold a hell of a lot of consoles on the basis of Wii Sports. However, before too long, it dawned on people that Wii Sports was pretty much the limit of the device's capabilities. Similarly the Kinect had a lot of early success on the basis of some party games, but every attempt to integrate it into a proper game was either irrelevant or disastrous (Steel Battalion says hi). It's becoming increasingly clear that if any of these new technologies are going to "stick", then they need to be something you could realistically use to play a major AAA title; a Dragon Age or a Call of Duty (not that I'm a big fan of either of those).

VR had looked like it was headed in the same direction as the Wii/Kinect; an initial burst of hype, then growing disillusionment. It generated a load of pretty but thin tech demos, a handful of novelty party games and, until recently, not much else. RE7 is interesting because it's an attempt to do a major release, from a well-known franchise, via VR, without diluting the thing beyond recognition. I've held off from buying a VR set myself so far; even if it takes off, the number of mutually-incompatible offerings on the market at the moment makes it a bit too likely I'd end up on the Betamax side of the divide. But I'd like to see it succeed and it's good that serious efforts are being made to adopt it in major games.

I also find it interesting that it seems to be Sony that is spearheading this effort via PSVR (RE7 isn't even their first attempt; there were some "proper" games, even if not of the same profile, among the PSVR launch titles). While technically superior, the Oculus and Vive still seem to be mostly pushing minigames and tech demos so far.

Comment Re:London Too (Score 1) 726

I'm in an outer London suburb - and a fairly wealthy one at that ("leafy Tory suburbia" pretty much nails this place). Back at the start of December, a huge number of Deliveroo drivers started congregating on the market street every evening, and then drifting off to a nearby park as the night goes on. It's not quite become a permanent encampment yet, but it's well on its way. From what I've observed, very few of these guys have more than a few words of English. It doesn't really feel like a healthy situation for anybody.

There's only one local takeaway that I use and it's an old-fashioned one that still employs its own driver. For all I know, he's horribly downtrodden and oppressed, but at least he's not part of that slightly creepy pale-green army.

Comment Re:Tough sell (Score 5, Interesting) 167

Almost every word of your post is factually incorrect.

The Wii-U did not out-sell the XB1. Not even close. The most recent "units shipped" numbers for the Wii-U are at 13.36 million, as of September 2016. The most recent equivalent number on the XB1 is 19 million, from January 2016 (so the gap has likely widened significantly since then, boosted in particular by the XB1-S release over the summer). Both numbers are "shipped" rather than "sold".

And don't mistake the fact that Nintendo sell hardware at a profit (which they don't always these days anyway and haven't consistently since the first 3DS price-cut) with them being profitable. Nintendo hasn't been consistently profitable since FY2010-11, which was the last year in which it reaped Wii-led mega-profits. Since then, it has flipped between loss and (small) profits, but with the main deciding factor being currency fluctuations. When Nintendo has reported an operating profit over this period, it has generally been on the basis of the 3DS. The Wii-U may not even have recouped its development costs, particularly after its abandonment by third parties led to licensing fees all but drying up and a number of first party titles such as Starfox Zero crashed and burned.

Moreover, the gaming section of Sony has been very profitable indeed since the launch of the PS4 (and, indeed, since the company got its house in gear in the latter part of the PS3 cycle). In fact, while Sony was a bit of a basket case until a couple of years ago, the company has bounced back strongly in recent years, almost entirely on the basis of its gaming division. Remember, whether a console is sold at a profit or a loss is not actually all that relevant - licensing fees are where the real money is. How MS's Xbox division is doing is a bit harder to judge, but they seem to have turned things around a bit over the last 18 months and are likely at least no worse than Nintendo now. As of late last year, Nintendo was posting some pretty awful financial losses.

It would be good if we could start to ditch some of the 2007-era narrative now. Nintendo's position today is a lot weaker than it was then, but we still hear the same old clichés trotted out.

Comment Tough sell (Score 4, Interesting) 167

It's hard to see this being a major success, outside of the (aging, shrinking) Nintendo hardcore. The consensus on gaming sites (and their forums) seems to reinforce this. So do the markets; Nintendo's stocks have fallen around 5.75% since the reveal.

The stock price shift will almost certainly have been driven by the price. It's higher than expected by at least $50 (and realistically closer to $100). Sony and MS got away with even higher prices when they were launching the PS4 and XB1, for sure. However, those consoles were significantly more powerful than their predecessors. They also launched at the same time as each other. So in essence, there were two expensive consoles without many games in direct competition with each other, which actually negated those disadvantages a bit. Nintendo are launching a less powerful console against two cheaper and well-entrenched mid-cycle consoles with extensive games libraries. That's going to be tough.

The launch games line-up is also poor. Zelda looks pretty good, but there is a cheaper Wii-U version also available that doesn't look appreciably worse. The rest of the launch window looks pretty pants. The XB1 and the PS4 had the same problem, of course, but again, their near-simultaneous launch actually offset that as a problem.

Beyond the launch-window, the games lineup is nothing special. The same first party range that didn't do much to help the Wii-U. A couple of more interesting (but still niche) second party titles like Xenoblade 2. Third party support from a few companies with a long-standing relationship with the Nintendo DS line (like Atlus), whose games aren't yet even confirmed for release outside of Japan. And a tentative dip of a toe in the water from EA. The poor specs, eccentric hardware and unusual control configurations are going to put a lot of other third party developers off.

I think the console itself is also going to be very hard to market. It's not quite clear what the USP here is. The thing looks large and clunky by handheld standards; more awkward than a tablet or even a PS Vita. As a home console, it's badly underpowered compared to the competition. Nobody has quite explained yet why the hybrid configuration is such a good thing, and the attempts to date to do so have been toe-curling.

On the plus side, it's region-free. That's actually pretty huge news and is a sign that even the most authoritarian of the platform owners is now being forced to open up a little. I might actually buy one just to reward that, because the fear is that if the Switch fails horribly (as I fear it might), then Nintendo will swing back to region locking in future. But it is really hard right now to see a pathway to this thing being a success.

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Journal Journal: Games of the Year 2016

So, another year gone, and another opportunity to talk to myself about my favorite (and otherwise) games of the year. It's not been a particularly bad year, all told, with plenty of perfectly solid games and just enough surprises (pleasant and otherwise) to keep things interesting. I've missed a few of the year's big releases: Civilization VI (I've learned not to touch this series until the first few expansions are out) and Dishonoured 2 (the original is still on my backlog-of-shame) in particul

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