Michael Zucchi

 B.E. (Comp. Sys. Eng.)


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Tuesday, 04 January 2011, 12:32

Gran Turismo 5

I finally got over being angry at Sony and played a bit of Gran Turismo 5 on the weekend (it had nothing to do with the discovery of the broken PS3 security over the same weekend - but yay for that).

In a word: unfinished.

Compared to GT3 - which I consider the pinnacle of the series - there are so many graphical issues, slow loading times, poor models and frustrating game-play mechanics.

Some of the models are really bad - almost certainly direct PSP imports. If as reported they spent 6 months on modelling each of the 200 'premium' cars then it was mostly a waste of time - you can barely see much of the interior if you do drive from inside, and there's little reason to anyway. The sounds are pretty weak too.
1080p@ under 50 fps
The sharpness and crispness only shows up how plain some of the models and race-tracks are. I'd rather 2x AA on 720p, so at least the frame-rate could keep up and you could improve the textures (also allow simpler models). It makes the screenshots look bare, and the moving game less than impressive.
Screen tearing
Tearing tearing everywhere. Trying to do too much AA or too high a resolution is all lost as soon as tearing rips the screen in two. I've definitely seen worse tearing ... but that was in games that weren't gran turismo.
Pop in
There's just too much pop in. Occasionally a whole road's worth of shadows pops in while you're driving on it too.
Shadow mask is way too low a resolution, as are the environmental maps used for reflections (additionally they have low temporal resolution). Again this looks particularly bad at 1080p.
Volumetric mist/dust
I think the dust and mist actually looks quite nice - at least you can't see it as a bunch of layered animated sprites. Except at the edges that is - where it looks like total shit. Nice algorithm, simply unfinished or simply unsuitable for such a high screen resolution.
Slow/inconsistent menus
Obviously different teams/individuals work on every separate menu system in isolation as they still have the problem where they all look and work differently.
OK pox
Way too many 'are you sure' 'ok?' boxes and so on. Win some money - click ok. Win a car - click ok. Then go to the ticket, click on it, click ok to get it added to your garage. Click ok after it shows it driving up in the dark. Click ok/cancel to 'use it now'. I mean ... really? Its even worse when one considers this is the only game these guys have been working on for well over a decade, and yet the basic navigation mechanics haven't progressed at all - or gotten worse!
Loading slog
This is supposed to be a `next gen' console, why does it still have so much loading delay? Loading a track is one thing but almost every action from going to the car settings to the options to changing menu's triggers another load. I don't consider a 10G `install' a viable option to mitigate this poor design and reportedly it's hardly greased lightning with it anyway. These sort of delays had a reason on the PS2 with it's tiny RAM but there's no such reason on the PS3 - only excuses.

I really can't see where all the time went to come up with this result. Although the modelling and engine coding no doubt took a long time, all of these things can be done in parallel and they would have been playing with the PS3 as early as Evolution Studios anyway (Motorstorm devs who are now polishing their 3rd game), so it can't be the coding. There doesn't seem to be any obvious delay on the 'critical path' that could have caused such a long release cycle for such an unfinished game. Apart that is from poor management. Sony for letting them get away with it and Polyphony for fucking around too much. I'm not counting the over-detailed modelling here either, i'm talking about the engine and menu systems.

It just looks like Sony demanded that they stop fucking around and release it by xmas 2010, perhaps because the PS4 is coming up, or simply to ensure the PS3 hadn't hit it's inevitable decline.

It's only beta quality - a decent beta, but still lacking all the polish we should all expect from such a triple-a game. If I were to review it I wouldn't give it more than 60% given all of the above (a low 'C'/'Pass' grade), and the fact the game itself isn't much other than `GT4-HD'.

If it was a launch title then there would be good excuses for all of these problems, but it isn't.

Tagged games, ps3.
Wednesday, 31 March 2010, 02:49

Bye bye CELL

Well, I guess that's really the last nail in the coffin for CELL.

Sony's just announced that the next firmware `upgrade' for the PS3 will drop Linux support (and it's so important, that's all it will do). This is very, very disappointing. They blame it on crackers or 'security', but it's obvious it is just a cost cutting exercise. Sony have been hurting financially for a while now, and the razor gang is out with their daggers looking for savings.

After the `ps3 slim' dropping support (due supposedly to lack of resources to write the hypervisor drivers), and then IBM dropping CELL for HPC ... I guess the writing was on the wall. I'm glad I gave up development on CELL BE some time ago and got hold of a beagleboard instead - overall it's been a more satisfying experience if only because things are simpler. The whole CELL thing was just a costly mistake for all by the looks of it - being a bit ahead of it's time lead to a few limitations that people couldn't cope with.

Even though I rarely use it anymore, the whole thing plainly stinks - this is not a device I rent, I bought it. And for them to come into my home and remove functionality (advertised on the box no less) from a device that I paid for in full (well over-paid) should simply be illegal, if it isn't already.

I can't even log onto the Sony blog to fruitlessly whine about it because they've changed the login system to some horrid mess that takes ages to load and only shows blank pages (I bet it works on ie6 though, if the comments in the page are anything to go by). Well if they don't want me as a customer it isn't really my loss is it?

Time to remove CELL BE from the subtitle of this page at least; not that it has had much point in being there for quite some time.

Tagged ps3, rants.
Thursday, 31 December 2009, 14:35

It beat me, another year on, and what happens next?

I gave dragon age one more go. Started from scratch and spent my upgrade points wisely rather than wasting them on turning a rogue into a fighter (it's been a while since I played a WRPG). Things were going swimmingly for the first 5 hours or so, even managed to do things I couldn't before like get the two horny elves together, but then I hit a too hard part again and I got sick of retrying or wandering back and forth looking for something I could manage. I switched to easy mode.

Well, it's a little too easy but it's ok, at least I can see the story out now (which is playing out differently - this time i'm a human rather than a whiny sickly looking elf) and make some progress.

Ahh yes, another year on. It's not ending very well, I'm barely sleeping and feeling generally pretty miserable. Blah. Reading too much stuff on the intarwebs doesn't seem very healthy, it's all just so depressing. The world is going to shit really and observing that isn't as fun and interesting as I thought it would be, at least for me. Hmm.

I still have work to do in the yard, which I haven't touched for two weeks, but at least I now have a wheelbarrow, so it should go a bit faster once I get back into it. It's been a bit too hot the last couple of days to even consider it - if I had the energy to go that far anyway.

I'm still thinking about projects to work on. It's a tricky prospect however, as all of the interesting stuff is just too complicated to get involved in anymore. Or it's already done. Or it seems like a dead-end waste of time - although perhaps that is what I need, just a hobby again. I'm thinking of just doing some isolated hacking on the beagleboard - at least I have almost complete documentation for it - all 3 516 pages of it, not including the CPU. First I think I'll try and get u-boot booting something which can display to a frame-buffer. That should be doable at least. Still, not holding my breath on that one.

Tagged biographical, games, ps3.
Friday, 18 December 2009, 16:26

Too many late nights, Dragon Age

Well i've been losing the plot a bit lately - staying up till 5:30 playing games, watching tv, commenting on blogs I should probably not be commenting on. Had a strange episode last night too - possums were running across my roof about 3am making a terrible racket - well that happens almost every night. I went to go outside to shoo them away but caught sight of some guy on the road with what looked like a golf club. I snuck back inside and went back to what I was doing. There was quite a bit of screeching going on before everything went quiet. Must say i've thought of doing the same myself (or what I imagine he did, I didn't look), but they are a protected species. Yard has gone no-where all week, although i've been keeping the plants alive and eating lots of button squash. I did a couple of hours of work this `morning' but tired out pretty fast (should've had breakfast first). I was contemplating doing a bit more this afternoon but after I had some lunch and sat back down on the computer I might just give it a rest for another day.

The 5:30 sessions have been for Dragon Age. It's a strange game, i'm still not sure if I really enjoy it yet, or if it's more like work and I think i've spent more time talking than fighting so far. I guess that's ok in and of itself, and it is mostly done pretty well (it's ALL spoken - most of the voice acting is good too), but it's a bit of a change from other RPG's i've played where the dialogue is just a plot device and not a past-time in itself. Although there's been a couple of times - like when the busty wild mage starts going off about turning into a spider - that were quite confusing, since there didn't seem to be any reason they were talking about it at the time. Also feels a bit funny when, after chatting with some NPC cordially for 5 minutes, you accidentally do one wrong thing and they wont talk to you ever again.

It's big and open and non-linear, although that usually means you don't know where you're going at some points. There also seems to be long-term consequences to how you treat allies and alternative ways to solving things - which is a nice change from 'it doesn't matter what you do/the order you do it in, it always goes through the same steps' (well it seems that way, who knows in the end). Which party members you have active at a given time seems to affect conversations too - but that might've been a coincidence. One problem is that you're often not in the possession of enough information to know if you're doing 'the right thing', and sometimes the decisions are made unknowingly - like turning the wrong corner and getting stuck in a fight you didn't intend. I need to save more often - but why does it take so long to save! It takes about 30 seconds, 10 of which you're paralysed cold and the rest runs mostly in the background. And there's a lot of reading - all the writing (and there's a LOT of it to read if you want to) is too small too for a TV game, and light-on-black which is difficult to read.

The combat system isn't too bad, although a bit clumsy at times - being real-time makes it hard to keep track of all 4 characters and I keep losing them since they don't drug themselves up with health `potions' automatically - I guess I have to investigate the `gambit' system further. Final Fantasy 12 did a nicer job of introduction this programming system I think, made it more accessible, even if it took a lot longer to become useful. For potions, you have to change your current character to the one you want to take the drugs - which is clumsy in the heat of battle. Often when you do, the guy you were playing decides to rush in with his sword when he was quite safely firing arrows - or he just wanders off and forgets to fight! Also I don't know why (nor do I like it) how the current character keeps saying 'yes i will do it', 'as you wish' and crap like that every time you hit X to swing their axe or pick a lock! It completely removes the third-wall for no apparent reason. Isn't this meant to be 'role playing', not 'god playing'?

Early on I didn't get a back-pack at one of the shops (and they're very rare) and now i'm permanently down 10 'weight points' of carrying capacity since that shop has vanished (unless I go back 10 hours of playing) - and it's a constant pain. Mechanics like that are just frustrating and pointless. It adds an unnecessary level of micro-management whereas this is the sort of knowledge you'd expect the players to just know and take care of themselves. Be better if it was just experience and/or strength based. The inventory/status screen seems to overlay on the the live image (whilst pausing it). This seems like a really odd decision, and all it means is sometimes the menu system runs somewhat slower than it should, and uncomfortably so. It is mapped to the controller quite well though, making good use of all of the buttons and sticks - not just a PC port where they map a pointer to one of the sticks, and X to the left mouse button.

Technically it is no Uncharted 2 by any stretch. The stills may look ok (and some look fantastic) but there's a fair amount of popin and the framerate is very unsteady which detracts significantly from how it feels when wandering around. Add some very lo-res textures for things like the ground or tables which are part of canned cut-scenes and conversations which you are guaranteed to look at closely, and it looks more dated than it should. There are very long (10-20s) loading pauses between areas or if you die, even with a big (and painfully slow) copy-to-hdd bit when you first run it. Naughty Dog shows it can be done without the pauses, so it's a pity most developers are too lazy to do it and stick to the crappy 'pc way' of stop, load everything (again), continue, which doesn't translate well to optical storage. Traditionally I put this down to two things - 1, it's easier, a lot easier - and it's not just code, it involves art assets too, and 2, PC hardware can't do two things at once, like loading off a slow disk and keeping number crunching going, but there's no excuse in this day and age and hardware and gigantic budgets for such a naive implementation.

Well over-all it's a pretty decent and involving game so far, even with those criticisms. And it's nice to have a half-decent RPG on my PS3.

Tagged games, ps3.
Tuesday, 23 June 2009, 00:11

Another cell tutorial

Just uploaded another Cell tutorial ... they've just about come to an end, and although there's probably things I could write about, the urge to do it only comes in spurts. I just introduce an absolutely bare minimum library for accessing the ps3 frame-buffer.

And otherwise ... I had some strange thought at the pub one night that I should 'write a game', and unfortunately sobering up didn't dispel such a silly idea (it's not like I don't already have plenty of other ideas floating around to keep me busy). A mate of mine has wanted to write one from before I met him (damn, was it already 15 years ago), so I asked him to join me, and maybe we'll get somewhere this time. Perhaps - he's a bit of a rabid Ninty fan (which I am not) so it may not end up something I'd play; but i'm not particularly worried about what comes out. I've never written one either, so it's the journey and not the outcome that counts. It's a whole new set of basically unfamiliar problems so it's pretty much starting from scratch.

Tagged hacking, ps3.
Monday, 15 June 2009, 18:43

On stuff, and other stuff.

Well I've updated the cell tutorial with another entry. This rounds out the optimisations for the Mandelbrot Set generator, with I think some impressive results.

I spent most of the weekend (another nasty cold and wet one) plugging away at my renderer and reading up on bits and pieces. As I suspected `it was harder than that'. Oh well. Losing interest on that track, so I think I will play with some Cell code for a while - I started work on completing the IPC chapter again which I'd abandoned a couple of months ago. Then I might go back to the freetype renderer or maybe agg (the freetype renderer I was looking at turned out to be based on that).

It's amazing how much ones productivity changes from day to day. When things are kicking along you can write several thousands of lines of code in a week, and a lot of it can be good code. When you hit a wall everything seems to grind to a halt. I spent all weekend writing 50 lines of ... total worthless crap.

Oh well, another week gets under-way.

Tagged graphics, hacking, ps3.
Tuesday, 02 June 2009, 19:36

Cells and ratty rodents

Got off me arse and posted a new intro to Cell tutorial. It gets into SIMD coding so it's one of the more interesting ones.

And I managed to get a ps2 mouse driver working, of sorts (well, i'm getting the bytes from the port). And what a pile of shit the PS2 AUX port is. There doesn't seem to be any official documentation, just a few old text files from the days before the internets. Anyway, after a lot of mucking about I got it to work on bochs, qemu and and old PC I have - so that's good enough for me and it didn't take too much code. I'm still not sure if I should combine the keyboard and mouse 'devices' since they share the same io port.

Of course, in the process of testing on real hardware I found everything was broken. Everything. Ho hum. After much frobnication I found the APIC maybe wasn't as easy to use as I thought - or it's just buggy. And my old laptop doesn't even have one (early celeron). So I had to remove all the APIC code so it booted (i'm not doing any run-time stuff yet). And then I moved to using the RTC for timing instead. But that didn't work on real hardware either. Arg. In the end I got it to work but i'm not sure if it was just setting values directly (rather than read-twiddle-write) or clearing the interrupts first.

The apic thing is a bit of a bummer, I guess I'll need to use the pic instead for timing. Which sucks because it can only measure very short periods of time. I suppose if I use the RTC for longer periods - either by just using the 64Hz signal to count down, or the alarm function, and just resort to the pic for the last bit if more accuracy is required, it should be an ok balance between accuracy, overhead, and simplicity.

Hmm, wonder what to do next. A framebuffer would be nice - i'd really rather piss off the text mode entirely. And a disk driver - although then i'd need a filesystem too. Maybe it'd be less effort working out the hypervisor on the ps3 ... Hmm, perhaps a forth based monitor? Something to think about ...

Tagged hacking, os, ps3.
Thursday, 16 April 2009, 13:58

More Cell Tutorial

Part 3 of my Cell tutorial is up. Not much in this round, but more to come of course.

I've been doing pretty much SFA on hacking for the last week or so; the weather's turning to winter here and that always seems to such some enthusiasm out of you; at least for a bit. As did a few hang-overs and so has being stuck with writing documentation for so long.

Tagged biographical, hacking, ps3.
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