||Ramblings 3: Hardware, Graphics, and More
February 01, 2002 Paul Sullivan
Summary: It's time for another Random Ramblings, with Paul's take on the wide world of games, hardware, and more. In this issue, tackled topics include force feedback, LCD screens, corporations, and our own News Comments system.
| Introduction||Page:: ( 1 / 6 )|
Off To The Races
I have been thinking about all the flash and sizzle that people hype, and how little of it is actually worthwhile. For instance, people have been talking about Force Feedback controllers for years now, and even though Iíve had and used them, I still donít get what all the fluff is about. A vibrating joystick does nothing to immerse me in the world of MechWarrior. All it really seems to do is screw up my aim whenever it activates. I love, absolutely love my Logitech WingMan RumblePad, but it sure ainít for the vibration effects. About the only controller Iíve used that seemed to add value (ever so slight) was the ACT Labs driving wheel. But the vibration only really worked on the wheel and it ended up shaking my desk more than it did me. The pedals did not pulse and shake when you hammered down on them either. Same basic idea with the MS wheel. Great wheels, but hey, I have only my trusty analog wheel from Thrustmaster, which has the analog F1 style shifters on the back. First wheel I got sometime ago, and nothing else is as simple and effective for driving games.
Iíve checked out those new iFeel mice, and again, they really donít do anything but screw up my shot-aiming and make my hand feel numb after hours of Q3A and UT sessions. Even on my beloved Sega Dreamcast, the jump packs do little to add to the gaming experience. Really, when I crank up POD Speedzone, the little effects do nothing useful at all. Same thing with fighting games. The reality does not live up to the hype at all with these devices. Do any of you actually think force feedback is all that?
More Hardware Thoughts
I donít particularly care for wireless keyboards, mice and controllers. When I used to test hardware, I had two pointing devices on two computers in the same room and they kept interfering with each other. What a pain that was! One would move, the other would stall and when the batteries wore down, it would get even worse. I was glad to get those things off the machine and plug regular corded products back in.
Wireless keyboards can be annoying too. Iím a wicked fast typist (took 2 years in high school so I could meet chicks) and the things canít keep up with me and stay accurate at the same time, especially if you use the microwave, turn on the vacuum or some such thing. Even if you type slowly, the lag on wireless devices is still noticeable. We have a cordless 2.4 ghz phone for Ďconvenienceí and believe it or not, that thing interferes too. I always fall back to the corded phones. They sound so much clearer and never cut-out. If your phone cuts out every now and then, imagine what it might be like for wireless devices on your computer? Wireless networks? You probably have to do a lot more CRC checking to ensure data integrity, and that can slow things down. Not to mention that if it is wireless, some Radio Shack jockey may be listening in with his $49.99 wavelength scanner. Throw on your wireless headphones to listen to music and maybe little Radio Shack boy will start piping satanic messages into the audio stream and the next thing you know it, youíve sacrificed your kid sisterís Barbie doll to the all-powerful Beastie Boys! Yeah, security is a concern too, but putting the smack down on Barbie is no small potato.
There are tons of other hardware issues that bug me. Iím getting sick of specialty hardware. I like games like Comanche 4 and Mech Warrior 4 that work great with WASD and the mouse. They make it so darn easy compared to the old days. Iím tired of all the Dolby 5.1 sound hype on the PC. How many games do you know of that really take advantage of Dolby sound? Heck, I still have my Aureal SQ2500 (and two Diamond MX 300ís) cranking out in Stereo x 2 and it sounds awesome. 4.1 kicks total tail, even if it is not positional sound. Immersive enough for me, and a whole lot cheaper than these 5.1 setups. I donít want to have to rip out my Ultra ATA for Serial ATA. I still want a dedicated port for the printer because I donít want to suck up USB bandwidth and take the performance hit with cross-directed traffic. Iím tired of all these new connectors. If they would just spend more time making our existing hardware work the way it was supposed to, Iíd be a lot happier.
SIDEBAR: Donít you get sick and tired of buying bleeding edge hardware and waiting 6 months for it to end up working the way it was supposed to in the first place? More quality control, less focus on new gadgets please.
| Visual Hardware||Page:: ( 2 / 6 )|
I just canít stand these LCD flat panels I see at the stores. Almost all of them ghost whenever you move anything on the screen, and very few of them allow for decent viewing at anything other than the optimal resolution. Not only that, but they seem low-resolution for the size. I want the flexibility to have 640x480, 800x600, 1024x768, 1152x864, 1280x960 and maybe even 1600x1200 on the same display. Perhaps allow the user to customize things so that each resolution is properly proportioned and centered on the screen so that you can effectively use each of those resolutions as required. How do they ever expect gamers to embrace these things if they not only have a very, very slow refresh but everything except the ďpreferredĒ resolution looks like junk?
Has anyone thought that maybe LCDís are not the best way to do things? Plasma can be a good option, because itís more scalable, size-wise. LCDs are also more prone to distortion, particularly when temperatures vary. Plasma displays should have a more uniform configuration but also tend to look washed out. I mean, I walk through CompUSA and watch DVD playback on these LCD screens and it looks horrible! The ghosting is so bad it is almost unbearable. Try the Matrix dojo scene on your average LCD and tell me that it looks as good as it does on a CRT. The technology just isnít there.
By the way, it really is about time they started quoting Actual screen size instead of some kind of fake number like CRTís have had for years. You buy a 25Ē TV, it is actually 25Ē diagonally, but not with monitors. 22Ē may be 20Ē in reality. What a lame rip-off idea. LCDís all seem to be the proper size they claim it to be.
Oh, and thereís more. Why do we have to hassle with odd screen sizes and aspect ratios? Iím a 4:3 kind of guy. Everything I do is 4:3, from CAD to bitmap to digital photography to camcorder shots converted to AVI. They only thing these 16:9 ratios are good for are DVDís, which I still donít want to watch on the computer. Why have oddball resolutions like 800x400 or 1600x1024? I donít get it, donít want it and donít need it.
Does anyone have a reason why these resolutions are needed? What about when we start playing console or PC games on HDTV sets? For the life of me, I donít understand whey every TV made does not default to 4:3 automatically and only go to 16:9 for DVD playback. Movies have always been a pain because so many people shoot films in different aspect ratios. Why should I have to carve out some obscenely huge rectangular space in my entertainment area so I can stuff one of these gargantuan boxes up against the wall and watch my TV shows stretched out all funny? Why are they pushing 16:9 as the de facto standard instead of a 4:3 with a 16:9 option? Canít they just encode DVDís to force a switch to 16:9 mode and then have it auto switch back to 4:3?
Iím also confused as to why the HDTV specification is so inconsistent. Walk into a Good Guys and ask a bunch of questions and they will tell you different things. How come 1080 has to be interlaced instead of non-interlaced (progressive)? How come some have 480p and not 600p or 768p? Why 1080 instead of 960? Just who thought all these specifications up anyway? If your digital camera takes 4:3 ratio pictures and your Quicktime movies are all in 4:3, what do you do when you want to show it on your handy new HDTV? Doesnít anybody just get sick and tired of there being no standards in the TV world anymore? Digital cable, digital satellite, HDTV broadcast signals, Standard Digital Television signals, analog broadcast, why does it all have to be so darn convoluted?
SIDEBAR: DVDís have caught on very, very fast, maybe because they are all done with one standard in mind. Theoretically they are 720x480 in resolution, but because of Anomorphic stuff, they vary somehow. Even with that, they catch on a whole lot faster than these lame HDTVís do, in spite of the built in copy protection.
| Pictures||Page:: ( 3 / 6 )|
I've never gotten into lossy texture compression either. I want my graphics to look their best, not to be all mangled by graphics compression schemes. Remember the skies in Q3A? If not, check out the shots below for a refresher. We have great hardware now, thanks to Nvidia and ATI, and we should not have to put up with lossy texture compression any more. More speed, yes, but not at the loss of image quality please!
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Speaking of image quality, good graphics artists are hard to come by. Rich, vibrant, flowing graphics can be a wonder to behold, and I wish I saw them on every single game. Unfortunately, it seems like even the best companies have their troubles now and then. Assuming the 3D architecture and lighting is all good, the biggest impact is usually textures. Some games are really able to pull this together, with intricately detailed and shadowed brick and stone work - the illusion of depth is incredibly well-implemented. Other games, for some reason or another, succeed only in looking a bit flat, lacking that special touch creates a more photo-realistic illusion of depth to a flat image.
The ironic thing is that unlike extra special effects, having high-quality (as in well-done) textures does not add to system requirements or rendering time. It is certainly less taxing than generating bump-mapping on the fly and in fact will let you enjoy it regardless of the particular hardware support of your graphics card. Looks the same on a Geforce as it does on a Radeon.
A technology that never seems to pan out is Anti-Aliasing. I guess it is a nice option to have if you are lucky enough to use one of the high end cards from Nvidia or ATI, but I'd rather use that extra speed and processing power to kick up the resolution as high as it can go. To me, games look a heck of a lot better at 1600x1200x32 with no anti-aliasing than they do at 800x600x32 with 2x or even 4x anti-aliasing. ATI can't seem to get it right at all, and Nvidia is still working on it. The only form I've tried that worked as advertised seemed to be on the 3dfx Voodoo 5500. That was a cool card, and the fact that you could toggle the anti-aliasing on and off in hardware rocked the house. Still, all that messing with Level Of Detail and the like to get the image to stop looking so fuzzy was just a pain and kind of defeated the purpose. I'd rather see developers focus on fast, efficient engines that can be cranked to 1600x1200 or higher so that we can have rip-roaring frag-fests with crisp, clean lines and rich textured graphics.
SIDEBAR: Back in the day, I was all into AutoCAD. Then I got into Corel Draw, which is a whole different world. Then I became a big Paint Shop Pro guy, and later into animations. First simple, then more advanced using Animation Master from ( Hash, Inc. ). Playing around with all those goodies is a whole lot of fun.
| Fave Games||Page:: ( 4 / 6 )|
Games That Keep On Giving
You know, I see a ton of these "Flash and Sizzle" type of games that get hyped up like there's no tomorrow, but when push comes to shove, a lot of folks I know (including myself) end up putting some of them on the shelf and going back to playing our favorite games. I used to have all this time to explore titles that had these deep, engrossing stories, but now, I don't seem to have many spare moments. The days of Kings Quest, Myst & 7th Guest are long gone.
I find that when I do have a little extra time, I'd rather play something you can just jump right into and play, sort of like an arcade style game. For example, one of my favorite titles is Roll Cage: Stage II. The first Roll Cage was ok, but hard to control. The second one seemed to hit on all cylinders. The screen shots below show this fast and furious title from three different perspectives, and I have to tell you, every one of them is a blast to play. I just fire up the title in 1600x1200x32 and use my Logitech RumblePad with the sliding throttle and the left-right triggers and I'm off! The game plays so fluid it is ridiculous, and has enough play modes to keep you happy for a long time. Seems to have some great replay value too, thanks to the varying AI between tracks.
|<% print_image("03"); %>||<% print_image("04"); %>||<% print_image("05"); %>|
More Mindless Fun
Many games made today seem to have this notion that they have to be massively involving, with deep plots, lots of team based or strategy based play and huge cinematic cut scenes that push the story along. I don't know about you, but in all honesty, I'm getting sick and tired of every game trying to be a novel-like adventure. I don't want my first person shooters to have complicated team objectives. I want a Q3A blast fest! One of the reasons I think Diablo was so popular was because it did not try to do too much. It was simple, easy to play, and easy to jump into at a moments notice. Same with the Sims games. Games like Undying, that are more cinematic and involved, just don't seem to sell to well. Maybe there are more people like me than I realized (scary thought)Ö
I really like the updated multiplayer game selector in the new Serious Sam: The Second Encounter demo. It is slicker looking than the one in the first game, and it's easier on the eye. Co-op mode on this thing is just monster awesome, and it reminds me so pleasantly of the old Heretic days. My wife caved in and agreed to play over our LAN and after one evening, she was kicking monster tail like nobody's business! She was not a FPS player either, but I think the coolness of the game, the fun factor and the fact that I was cracking up whenever those "Sam Statements" came rolling out of his mouth got her interested. Q3A and the like were always too dark and dreary for her tastes. I'm just glad it all worked out, because it is an awesome, awesome demo. Can't wait to snag that $20 gem when it hits the shelves.
SIDEBAR: Because of all the different gameplay modes in Unreal Tournament, as well as the four official "expansion' packs, it is this game that I probably end up playing the most. It has ended up being one of the very best gaming bargains I've ever experienced, and I think I may be hooked on this same title for years to come.
| Titanium Follow-Up||Page:: ( 5 / 6 )|
It's All Good...
I'm all into this Leadtek Titanium 500 card that I got a few articles back. These 23.11 drivers work awesome with Windows 98 SE too. But one of the long-standing problems I've had with Geforce cards involves the inability to have certain Direct 3D titles see resolutions above 1280x1024, even though my systems have done 1600x1200 and now 2048x1536 for some time. It was quirky things like this that kept me down on the Geforce drivers. Since I have thrown all this cash into the product, I decided to work hard to figure out what the heck the problem was and how to fix it. It wasn't as easy as I thought, but I think I've figured it out.
As those of us with high resolution monitors know, video cards can kick out a boatload of valid resolutions that show up on that ever-so-cool "Quick Res" icon that you can activate in Windows 98 SE. It is a totally awesome little tool, especially for those of us who do page layout, graphics and web design. I was overwhelmed at how many options there were now that I have a 21" monitor and the Leadtek card and did not want all those strange resolutions listed and taking up space on my little Quick Res pop-up. So, after exploring on the Google Groups (Usenet archives), I found the approximate registry location where Nvidia stores their resolution information. The posting said that all you had to do is delete the entries you didn't want listed, and you would be good to go after a reboot. So, I traveled down the registry, found the entries and nuked the stuff I'd never use. The results are shown below.
I've inset a capture of my Quick Res list after the changes were made. As you can see, all of the whack 16:9 resolutions are gone, as are all the others that looked unfamiliar. I'm a pretty strict 4:3 kind of guy, because I want to maintain the proper ratio for graphics design, text layout and vector editing. I did include 1280x1024 because it is such a common resolution, but I don't use it much. That is, except for those programs that don't allow resolutions to go any higher when I use an Nvidia card.
A Surprising Result
So here I am, all tidied up and looking good on the desktop. I pop into Links 2001 to check things out and am poking around for video information and the like when what should happen? I notice that now, resolutions above 1280x1024 are listed! Odd... So, I fire up Unreal Tournament (where the same problem occurred) and I find that I can now see every single resolution above 1280x1024 that my card can manage!
Just to be sure of things, I went ahead and did a clean install of Windows 98 SE on my formatted hard drive (after backing up of course) and then the only thing I added was the Geforce drivers and the two games. If I left things as is, neither game would allow selection above 1280x1024. If I went into the registry and deleted the extra resolutions that I did not like and rebooted the machine, suddenly both of those games had no trouble going to 1600x1200. Looks like I tripped over a solution here to a problem I've been messing with for a long time, so I thought I would share it with the kind folks who read the articles I push out of my brain. Hope it helps!
SIDEBAR: I miss having things in text based INI files. It used to be so easy to backup the SYSTEM folder in Windows 3.1, find and tweak INI settings and put things back to normal if you botched something. Now, if you goof up your registry, it can be a pain in the tail to deal with the fallout. Do you like the Registry vs. INI?
| Endgame||Page:: ( 6 / 6 )|
Oops, They Did It Again
Why is it that big things only want to get bigger? Why do these fat corporations have to gobble up all the little guys all the time? Isnít there a place in this world for small businesses? After all, it is from these small shops where much of the off-the-wall creativity comes from, right? Doom came flat out of nowhere and caught the big companies flat-footed, and luckily the company that started the craze has been able to stay independent. But there are many other companies, in many different industries that have not been so lucky.
Weíve seen companies like Dynamix be bought and folded, weíve seen Digital Anvil be gobbled up and the founders pushed out and weíve seen Bungie go from a Mac gaming company to a console company. Thanks to consolidations and the shifting sands of the market place, weíve seen good games get cancelled or lost in the shuffle, good programmers and artists bail for a better situation and weíve seen publishers butcher really good opportunities.
I sat by and watched the transition when G.O.D. Games took ownership of titles I was high on, like Jazz Jackrabbit 2, which got dumped on and left in the corner. I tried to get copies of the only official expansion pack, but the U.S. distributor decided not to market it here, and the European distributor was precluded from selling it to me because of trade agreements and the like. I saw games like Roll Cage: Stage II also get the shaft when it came to distribution, and I had to scramble like mad just to get a copy from some very kind reviewer out there.
It seems that when gaming companies merge, customer service gets the shaft, as does continuity. Those teams that worked so well together on major projects when the company was small get shuffled around by mid-level managers who really donít have a clue how important chemistry is in such a team. Small companies that had a clear focus get sucked into a whirlpool of politics and changing priorities that nobody bothers to explain. In fact, I canít seem to think of any such mergers that have worked out well for all involved, including consumers.
I often browse about in the comments sections of articles to see what the feedback tends to be for the different topics and stories written on the site. I canít seem to help but notice how hostile and off-point so many of these posts are. It amazes me that people are so rude and angry people seem to get in the digital world, and I wanted to talk about it here if for no other reason to vent.
First, I will say, Iím a fan of anonymous posting. I think it helps people feel more relaxed when they are discussing a controversial topic, particularly if their opinion is not all that popular. However, I get really, really annoyed when people stay anonymous and feel that it is ok to start ripping people to shreds with foul language, insults and even threats. If you are going to call someone out, at least have the guts to do it with a real identity and preferably an email address so you guys/gals can take it off-board.
I think people who are too afraid to make threats with an identity are immature cowards, and I can understand why people have expressed a desire to ďhunt them down and beat them with a baseball batĒ as one poster so kindly put it. If you would not have the guts to say something to someone face to face, then donít bother saying on the forums or comment areas. Lively discussion is fine, and disagreements are the norm for some of these topics, but the brutal name-calling is a bunch of Kindergarten garbage, and people beyond the age of five should be able to express themselves with a bit more civility and intelligence, donít you think?
Calling someone a fanboy is no big deal, but spouting off claiming that peoples opinion does not matter because it happens to be different from yours is just not a good thing. Nobody knows it all, no matter how much they think they do, and coming off like an ďArrogant PunkĒ is not conducive to a mature discussion.
Try opening your mind just a little and realizing that there is a world of information out there that you donít know, and maybe, just maybe, someone else who is posting might have another, equally valid way of looking at things. Try listening for a change instead of putting your foot in your mouth. Even proís like the folks who write for FiringSquad are not immune to a little bit of overconfidence. All of us can learn to be a bit more humble and talk with somebody instead of down at somebody. Besides, Iím probably smarter than all of you put together anyway, so donít waste your time! :P (kidding folks...)
SIDEBAR: Do you think force feedback is a waste of time? Is Anti-Aliasing all itís cracked up to be? And just how do you feel about the different types of graphics implementations in some of todayís hot titles? Even if you just want to post an anonymous ďYou guys all suck,Ē let us know your thoughts in our Comments Section.