Eye Catching, 23-27 September 2013

Gamer News

With the first day of Autumn (in the northern hemisphere), comes crisp days, warm drinks, and the next stage of the console wars.  Which console, and more importantly, which games will win big this holiday season?  Articles comparing and contrasting Xbox One and the Playstation 4 have inundated the internet.  Yannick LeJacq of NBC News added his voice to the debate, comparing the two consoles and reminding his readers that regardless of the machine’s power, what matters is if that power is used by the game developers.  One of the more amusing articles related to these two consoles was also penned by LeJacq: “Yes you CAN plug a PS4 into an Xbox One, but please don’t.”

To read these stories, one would be forgiven if one thought Nintendo was not an option this holiday season. A quick scan of recent headlines would appear to support this impression, with one of the more recent stating that Nintendo had “Fallen on Hard Times.”  Yet, hope springs eternal in the fight for gamers’ attention.  Earlier this week, Valve announced that they were continuing their push to enter our living rooms, despite the pessimism shown by the business community.

As a gamer, I’m very excited about Steam OS – I get tired of sitting at a keyboard all the time (first at my job, then while I game).  Bringing the Steam Library to my living room will make things more comfy.  But this returns to LeJacq’s original point.  What matters are the games.  Steam OS is attractive more because I can play games from my steam library away from my desktop.  The PS4 and Xbox One are powerful, but only as good as the games made for them.  Over the next few weeks, we’ll be treated to a greater showcase of which games will be available on which system, along with exclusive titles and bundle deals.  And that is what will decide the winner of this iteration of the console war. ~ Star

* Xbox One vs. PlayStation 4: How do they measure up under the hood?NBC News

* Microsoft: Yes, you CAN plug a PS4 into the Xbox One, but please don’tNBC News

* Once Dominant Nintendo Falls on Hard TimesTwin Cities Pioneer Press

Community Interests

Some of you may have seen Wired’s slideshow guide to Comic-Con’s street preachers earlier this summer.  One of the groups featured in that show contained a positive, inviting message which, in my opinion, is sorely needed from more professed Christians.  Now, in the interests of full disclosure, I will say that the group from the St. Andrews-by-the-Sea Episcopal church is in the same diocese region where I worship.  I’m not afraid to say that I’m a gamer and Christian, nor do I find the two to conflict, so when James McAteer’s article, “God Loves Nerds,” came across my desk this week, I was thrilled.   What McAteer and the group from St. Andrews show is that, despite the noise and hatred spewed by other churches and church groups, this is not a majority sentiment across Christian churches.  Others just happen to yell more loudly.  The encouragement and compassion shown by the St. Andrews group is highly welcome and, in this Christian’s opinion, reflects the character of God and believers more accurately. ~ Sandra

* From Christ to Cthulu: A Field Guide to the Street Preachers of Comic-ConWired

* God Loves Nerds – John McAteer @ Video Ut Intellectum

On Our Gaming Radar

A heads up regarding the new MMO, Nosgoth.  Where have you heard that name?  Oh yes, the Legacy of Kain and Soul Reaver series.  I admit it, I played every game multiple times.  I had a poster of Kain on my wall through the late 90s, and I even have favorite lines.  (“I AM the night shift.”)  Will I be playing this MMO?  Well, it’s free to play, so perfect for my budget.  But!  Will there be micro-transactions?  Will it really not be pay to win, as the developers claim?  More importantly, can Square Enix and Psyonix successfully translate the world of Nosgoth into a PvP MMO?  Can it stand on its own without Kain and Raziel and their deeply layered story?  Time will tell.  The developers are currently taking applications for the closed alpha and beta. – Star

Next week’s Guild Wars 2 patch sees the return of the game’s most recent villain, Scarlet Briar.  And the patch is coming in with a lot of promotional fanfare.  It began today with an MLP PvP invitational tournament, a week long free trial, a sale on the Digital Heroic edition, a 30% off sale in the in-game store on the Recovery Package, and two contests sponsored by Alienware for North American free trial users.

Hype much?  Well probably, but we’re still pretty excited about this next patch.  Scarlet’s invasion at the end of August was a lot of fun as her minions invaded a different region every hour.  Being able to fight with hundreds of other players at once was quite taxing on FPS, very good for farming nice loot, and did I mention a lot of fun?  We stayed out of the Tequatl Rising both because of the difficulty in coordinating with others on our server during our normal playing times, and because the reports of FPS pain didn’t seem to bode well for our gamer-on-budgets machines.  Twilight Arbor, though, should be a bit more manageable since it’s a dungeon, even revamped and extended as they’re promising, which means our small guild will be able to coordinate more easily (we hope!) to face Scarlet again.  Bring it on! – Sandra

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The High Art of Game Play Videos

Crafting quality game play videos is a high art.  For example:

Vintage Beef playing Skyrim

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Note the beautiful colors, the commentary, and the smooth video presentation.

For nearly six months now, I’ve spent most of my “leisurely viewing time” watching YouTube and Twitch TV.  In fact, I ditched most of my television channels simply because I wasn’t watching it any more.  And having spent so much time watching others make game play videos, naturally I started toying with the idea myself.  At the same time, other family members began researching how to broadcast speedrunning* videos from a console to the computer and Twitch TV.

Guess what?  If you want to do it properly, figuring out how to make these things go on a budget gaming rig is hard work!  Oh sure, anyone with a few spare thousand dollars can run out and buy the best motherboard, CPU, Titan graphics cards and internet upload speed.  But for the rest of us, it becomes a quest for the middle ground – somewhere between “ooh shiny” and “look ma!  No lag!”

For your edification, I present a summary of our journey onto the YouTube and Twitch.TV Stage:

Of course, anyone with a webcam can broadcast to YouTube and Twitch, I know you’ve seen them as well.  But, we wanted to do this properly, so we set out to learn how the pros did it.

The first thing we discovered is that if we wanted to make quality video, we had a bit of investing to do.

Pieces of the puzzle

Broadcasting Software:  There are several to choose from but the one we chose is Open Broadcaster Software aka OBS.  We have found it to be readily accessible with a shallow learning curve.  Being free, open source software is an added bonus.

Recording Software:  Again, there is a vast array of choices, both free and paid, open source and proprietary.  Luckily, most of the pay ones also have free trials.  I chose to download every one that looked interesting until I found one that felt robust, didn’t murder my budget, had community support, and was easy to learn through trial and error, which is how I learn best.  I won’t make a recommendation on this one as it really is up to you and your budget.  Suffice it to say that I think nearly every trial version I used produced roughly the same quality result.  So it’s more about the bells and whistles, community support, and learning curve, rather than the quality of the editor.  For those interested in a starting place, look into Adobe Premier, Corel Video Studio, and Avidemux.  Then, branch out from there.  It may also do some good to look at separate sound recording and mixing software.  For that, I will recommend Audacity as I’ve used it for several years.

Video Capture Device:  Only required if you wish to stream or record console games.  This is where I bogged down in my research.  The number of options combined with the technology required to capture analog video and digitize it is a bit overwhelming.  There are two main groups of hardware that can be used for this: internal cards and external USB devices.  We went with an external device as it felt more portable.  Ultimately, we looked to the advice of others who were already speedrunning games for their opinions and recommendations.  I found in my research that Hauppauge is highly recommended.  It also seems that the “broadcast your gameplay” market may attract …well, shovelware – Products that are thrown together to make a quick buck. Read several reviews before committing to a particular device.

After much handwringing, we went with an Elgato, if you’re curious.  In addition to the capture device, be prepared for the wiring work that may be required.  In order to stream a console game, you may need to split the signal between the capture device and the television.  It’s likely that you’ll be taking a trip to the local Radio Shack, or regional equivalent, for A/V splitters.  (You can use RCA stereo equipment for this.)

Additional patience is a must as well, we have found, in that all the pieces are fickle and may need to be unplugged, plugged in, rebooted, etc. before they all talk to each other properly.

setup

click to enlarge

Oh, but wait, there’s more!

Your computer also needs to meet certain requirements in order to stream.  As Twitch TV warns, being able to stream is a combination of your CPU speed and RAM, (I would add, “and upload speed”), not necessarily your graphics card.  The latest greatest graphics cards are fine and dandy, but if you’re trotting along on a slow connection, chances are your upload speed is going to dash any hopes and dreams you have for streaming in HD quality.  (Streaming, mind you, not recording.)

Additionally, running even a lightweight recording program will tax your system and may lower the game’s fps (frames per second).  If the fps drops too low, your recording will be laggy.

The Responsible Adult budget I live on allows for halfway decent RAM and a mid-grade CPU for our computers.  (A minor note here, I have not yet reached the point of feeling comfortable with overclocking, so do not address it, but I know it’s a possibility.)  My budget also allows us gaming quality internet with a nicely above adequate download speed.  However, our upload speed is dreadful.  So, after grabbing all our software and hardware, we began our journey to find the middle ground, looking for average quality, from average machines, and an average upload speed.

…Good thing we have winning personalities.

By way of example, here are my test videos, the random … Practice Pieces…as it were.

Original computer build:  AM3 CPU, onboard Graphics card, 4Gb RAM

Guild Wars 2 “maxed out” at a whopping 25 fps, dropping to 15 fps when OBS was turned on.  It was never pretty, but I could play.

Disco, because, seriously, that armor is so 70’s!

With my upgrade, a mid-range graphics card one step up from onboard and still not enough RAM, I was able to play at 50fps, game graphics on medium.  But, again, when OBS was on, the fps tanked.  I just don’t have enough brain power in my CPU.  OBS recommends an AM3+ CPU, which will require a motherboard upgrade on our computers.

Still, I was able to tweak graphics settings and test again.  With enough compromising, I managed to get medium textures, 25fps, and a decent recording.

I don’t know about you, but I’m exhausted!  I’m not even going to try streaming yet, although I want to.  For our streaming partner, check out Wyrmtalon on Twitch. He’s just starting his speedrunning adventure, currently working on the classic Playstation 2 game Suikoden.

As for me, I’ll be happy making videos and watching others stream…Dreaming of the day when I can upgrade my motherboard.

~ Star

*Speedrunning – playing through a video game as quickly as possible without cheating — manipulating glitches, bugs, tricks, and path optimization instead.  If you haven’t seen a speed run, check out SpeedRunsLive.com and SpeedDemosArchive.com.  For an example of how these players use glitches to beat games, see Cosmo’s most recent record-setting Zelda game here.

Blood, Iron and Ash – Guild Wars Poetry

Shaymar Cloudwatch wasn’t your ordinary Charr.  Where others were brash, strong, and daring, she was charming, frail, even soft-spoken.  The other cubs of the Fahrar used to tease her, appalled by her love of daydreaming — Cloudwatch, they called her, eventually forgetting her real name.

Yet, like all Charr, she found a home in the legions and struck out into the world, into the endless war.

Along the way, she found her heart…and it was poetic.