PC Gaming & Tech News – March 25, 2016

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Dying Light finally adds a chromatic aberration toggle, Hitman developers defend their anti-consumer online-only DRM, and a virtual desktop simulation for VR shows tons of promise.

Virtual Desktop 1.0 – Desktop Visualization for VR

[ Windows 8.x and 10 Only ] Virtual Desktop ($14.99 through Steam) is an upcoming application for VR HMDs (Vive and Oculus) with an impressive number of functions and potential uses. The 7 minute long ‘trailer’ below showcases many of it’s functions. For a quick glance, I’ll list most of the features out as well.

  • View your desktop and anything you could otherwise run on it in a wide variety of environments
  • Hardware accelerated 360 video playback, incl. YouTube 360 videos (simply copy over a link)
  • Browse and view 360 photos
  • MilkDrop support for audio/music visualization
  • 3D side-by-side video and 3D game support; can send the left and right frames of 3D imagery to each eye separately
  • Game launcher with voice commands
  • Multi-monitor w/ no bezels; it’s possible to create additional and/or larger virtual displays via various means
  • Environment Editor to create custom environments
  • Move and resize your display(s) in virtual space, with toggling between curved (best for isometric/parallel games and desktop use) and flat (best for rectilinear games) panels

It claims to use DirectX with minimal performance cost (being very important when using this for demanding games), though there are a lot of specifics here that could make or harm the experience. Does it support exclusive fullscreen games and applications? If not, anything that doesn’t support borderless windowed modes is out. How is V-sync being handled, and are there any issues or latency caused by various matchups of game output framerate vs what is sent to the HMD?

I hope this pans out into something really nice, as it has the potential to be a massive selling point for early VR adoption. Because of the current comfort levels of the HMDs on offer, you probably aren’t going through your workday in something like this for a while, but I still think there are tons of potential uses of this that could get people into VR outside of just games/experiences that explicitly support it.

Dying Light FINALLY Adds Chromatic Aberration Toggle

Chromatic aberration (commonly referred to as CA), used very subtly, can add to the perception of depth as well as act as anti-aliasing for vertical edges, especially when properly masked by a depth pass of the rendered image, or when implemented within a game’s depth of field effect. More extreme examples however, can absolutely destroy not only the clarity of a rendered image, but the illusion of a 3D space. The natural effect as seen in various photographs and video, is a failure of camera lens technology. Emulating that just makes games look like footage from mediocre camera, detracting from any realism or sense of space they’re trying to achieve otherwise.

Star Wars CA
Star Wars: The Force Awakens – [TOP] Extreme wide-angle lens = CA and severe blurring. [BOTTOM] Very next shot; same area of the frame w/ standard lens.
The problems seen above (shots aren’t resized, simply cropped) are noticeable, but that kind of average example pales in comparison to the ridiculous extent games like Dying Light and Lords of the Fallen took it to in their original releases. Lords tied it in with it’s other post processing effects, and while they as a bundle could be disabled easily in the options, that meant it was all or nothing. A month after launch, they separated CA properly in response to the feedback they’d gotten.

Dying Light’s implementation was far more severe in multiple respects. The effect itself was extremely apparent, the bundle of post processing effects could only be disabled via modding (which would come to get people VAC banned later on when they flipped the switch without warning), and in general the sheer amount of feedback about it was far higher. Somehow, even with all that, it took Techland 14 months to finally release a patch allowing users to disable just the hideous CA effect. The fact that it took so long for them to even bother came as a surprise to me considering just how much effort they’ve put into the game otherwise over those 14 months, the overall quality of the initial PC port, the modding tools & workshop support, the lack of microtransactions, and very recently the release on GOG. There’s SO MUCH GOOD there, it just seemed off that they would ignore one of the most requested simple tweaks…

Dying Light CA
Dying Light – CA Enabled vs Disabled AFTER Patch 1.11.1 – Previously, mods to disable it had to remove the entire post effects package, incl. color correction, making major tonal changes.

Chromatic Aberration is just one of a number of processing effects that can notably harm clarity of a moving and/or still image. A statement I made previously covers it:

Implementing extreme post-processing effects should ALWAYS come with a toggle. Motion blur, film grain, SSAO, more than subtle lens flare/dirt or bloom, etc. All of those are capable of completely destroying clarity of a still and/or moving image, and none are integral to the core game design/code. It takes VASTLY less effort to implement a toggle for these effects than it does to implement the effects in the first place, so it only makes sense to implement the effect AND the toggle, or to just not do anything at all and put the time into something else. FOV and camera bob/shake are often under the same umbrella, but can run into more complex complications as they aren’t done in post.

Hitman Developers Push Online-only DRM – Consumers Need to Stand Up

In an interview with Eurogamer, the developers made these ludicrous claims:

“When we announced Hitman, we explained to fans and to gamers everywhere how we are creating a live game,”

“This is a constantly evolving, living world of assassination, that will grow alongside the community with frequent content updates in between the launch of each location. This live content includes new contracts, escalation contracts, elusive targets, and even additional challenges.”

“It is possible to enjoy the locations offline, but in order to ensure player-progress of the live content is correct and up to date, the save states for online and offline are kept separate.”

In a shameless and desperate effort to prevent piracy, IO Interactive utilized Devnuvo Anti-Tamper (which would have done the job without harming paying customers) AND online-only DRM beneath that, governing all portions of the game. They previously claimed that “you can play the full game offline after you have downloaded an episode“, but that was a bald-faced lie. All progression through the ENTIRELY SINGLE-PLAYER CONTENT absolutely and completely requires a constant connection. If you drop for even an instant, you are kicked out of your current session and all progress you have made, and are left with the ability to simply enter the levels, but cannot customize anything or progress in any way. They claim this is all to facilitate their “live content“… It’s one of the weakest and least accurate justifications I’ve heard for such an anti-consumer practice in a long time.

Hitman 001

This is absolutely detrimental to the life and playability of the game in the grand scheme, and is very capable of ruining the experiences of many paying customers. However, when the original hint of online-only DRM broke, I made the claim that the year-long piecemeal release structure they’ve chosen for the game is a godsend in this instance because of what it does to the probability of this DRM being revoked/reworked. Their roadmap for the majority of the content that would make up the final game won’t be complete until January 2017, when the physical copies of the game are planned to ship. That is a hell of a long time to have to stick with such an offensive and ignorant decision, and the more consumers force their hand by speaking out and refusing to pre-order (buying the game at any point before it is content complete, is pre-ordering…), refunding purchases (I know many who have already), the sooner they’ll change their mind and deliver just the excellent game they promised AND AN FOV SLIDER like any competent developer would…

This has even less moral grounds than Sim City did, and we all know how that turned out. Do not reward their greed. Do not let this slip by.

For full disclosure, I have no stake in any of the games or companies mentioned and the opinions shared are entirely my own.

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