Counterpart

Counterpart is a wonderful show. What a rock solid two season run. The fact it was not renewed for a third season leaves you with a wondering of what could have been. I think that’s awfully poetic considering one of its core themes.

I highly recommend going in blind. I knew absolutely nothing and I think that made for a even more fun and engaging experience. Counterpart is included with Amazon Prime Video or can be bought on iTunes for $15 a season.

Thanks again to Jason Snell for recommending the show on his podcast Upgrade.

PS5 Controller Revealed as the “DualSense”

Out of the blue on a Tuesday afternoon Sony has revealed the controller for the PlayStation 5. They have decided to call it the DualSense rather than the DualShock 5. It is inline though: DualShock was to convey the addition of rumble and Sony seems to be leaning into the senses of touch and sound with the PS5.

Right away, the two-tone color scheme slaps your eyeballs. It’s not ugly, but it certainly isn’t great looking. I decided to whip up a rough concept of the DualSense if it was mostly one color, but mucrush on Twitter shared a better mockup. I think this looks cleaner.

As for the physical design of the controller, it reminds me of a Switch Pro controller. Where the DualShock 4 was lean, the DualSense looks hearty. I love a controller with a good weight behind it, instead of feeling light and cheap. Hopefully it feels as weighty as it appears. 

The sticks are in the traditional spot, which I prefer over the offset sticks of the Xbox and Switch. The touchpad is wider and has the lightbar (more like lightstrip) outlining its surface. I find it very interesting that the lightbar is not on the back of the DualSense at all considering that PS VR is compatible with the PS5 and Sony is presumably working on a PS VR 2 system. what does this mean for controller tracking for that revision?

As far as features go, Sony reconfirms the addition of haptic feedback and adaptive triggers. The haptics in the Switch controllers is fantastic and I hope Sony can replicate or even advance that quality of rumble. Rumble is well past its due for refinement. I am extremely curious to feel these motors in action.

The most glorious addition to the controller is the USB-C port. I wish Microsoft would join the USB-C train. Sony also claimed the DualSense has a strong battery life. It shouldn’t be too high a bar to reach, since the DualShock 4’s battery life is rough. There is also a microphone array in the controller, further removing the need for a PlayStation Camera. you can use it for chat; probably OS level voice commands too. 

Sony closed out their blog post with a statement from SIE’s president, Jim Ryan. He said that Sony would be sharing more about the PS5, including its design in the “coming months.” He also reiterated the PS5 Holiday 2020 launch. Considering the Road to PS5 presentation was nearly a month ago, I wouldn’t be too surprised if we see the console design early next month.

While I was initially jarred by the color combination, I quite enjoy the physical design. I like the raised bumpers and triggers. The grip on the sticks will be much appreciated. As we creep closer to the launch of these next-gen systems, it is always exciting to get news. The hype train is chugging along.

Remembering SWAT and Factions

Recently, I’ve been replaying quite a few old games. In a time where the backlog should be tackled or actually playing new games I bought like Animal Crossing: New Horizons or DOOM Eternal, I’ve been going back to last generation classics.

My friends Logan Moore and Michael Ruiz have been talking about replaying the Halo series probably since Halo Infinite was revealed. They’d been slowly chipping away over time. I wanted to join along, but the first three games don’t have 3-4 player co-op campaigns. They recently beat Halo 3 and my time to join arrived with Halo 3: ODST. We beat ODST through Halo 5: Guardians in just one week. Not that these games are particularly tough or long, but the current world environment gave us a little more flexibility in our schedules to finish the fight.

While waiting for either of them to log on when we planned to play, I’d boot up multiplayer for a few matches. My bread and butter was SWAT, a mode with headshot-only instant kills, one gun per match. Those guns happen to rotate between my favorites too; the DMR, the Pistol, and the all-mighty Battle Rifle.

SWAT is snappy, tactical, and a balance between team and self performance. It’s crucial to know the maps and how your character can move in that space. Reflexes must be sharp and precise. I love SWAT.

Another game I’ve been playing recently is The Last of Us. I actually replayed it last year, but ever since I started working on Chasing the Stick, I haven’t been able to kick the urge to ply again. I’m playing slower this time, with my wife watching along. She hasn’t watched the game since we started dating seven years ago.

I have been entertaining the idea of actually getting the platinum trophy. I’ll never be able to get it on PS3 due to the multiplayer servers being shut down. Those trophies are tough to get and have been my main deterrent in getting the platinum previously. To scratch my the itch I have to play when Abby isn’t in the mood to watch, I’ve decided to dive back into the Factions multiplayer mode in pursuit of the two crucial multiplayer trophies.

Factions is so flipping tense. It’s another spacial multiplayer game with a tactical core fused with speedy reaction time. It is methodical and reactive at the same time. The maps in Factions are so well designed. Every sightline is intentionally placed and there is no perfect camping spot I know of. The maps are wonderfully balanced, giving both teams fair terrain to engage on. They are designed to allow for truly memorable encounters.

I’ve been rather enjoying my time back in these multiplayer modes that I love so much. They are mechanically so different. SWAT is a first-person shooter with an insanely low time-to-kill. Factions is slow and riddled with preparation and limited lives. Yet, I enjoy them in the same way.

I believe it is the tactical nature of each game that marvelously balances effective teamwork with decisive lone-wolf actions. They are modes where you can shine as both a team player and as a solo player. The team can also suffer greatly if you do not understand what role to be in when it is necessary. You (should) be constantly learning in these games. If you are not, you are likely on the losing side.

You have to constantly think about what the other team’s players may be doing and properly adjust and plan. You also have to be prepared for the moments you did not correctly guess their plan. It’s equally important to plan ahead and think on your feet. I have a ton of fun doing that.

These modes excel at making me feel good and smart, whether I am or not, which is the whole point of a game. I have a blast ripping through Spartans and getting a Killtacular. There isn’t a rush quite like flanking an enemy in Factions for the win. They teach and reinforce the core mechanics of the game, while allowing me to see how far I’ve come. Other multiplayer modes like Spies vs Mercs in Splinter Cell or the original Trials of Osiris in Destiny do the same thing. I’m glad to have this time back in SWAT and Factions. I didn’t realize how much I missed it.

Announcing Chasing the Stick

I’ve been writing the history of Naughty Dog during the PS4 era. It is far and away the largest editorial I have ever written. I’ve been working on it for a month now (two months if you count replaying the Uncharted series in my research) and still have another two to go, if The Last of Us Part II releases on time in May. I’ve wigged out my pal Logan by sharing the ever increasing word count.

It started out as “I should write a history on The Last of Us Part II.” Not an entirely foreign format for myself: I wrote a history on The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and one for Super Smash Bros. before Ultimate released. I love chronicling and researching games. I’ve been doing it since I made Power Points to convince my parents I was old enough to play Zelda and Pokémon.

My curiosity swelled my ambition. So it has turned into a history, analysis, and commentary on my all-time favorite game studio and their development during the years 2013-2020. I can’t wait to share it with you around the time The Last of Us Part II releases. Thanks.

The King of Custom – PS5 Specs Revealed

The Road to PS5

Sony finally gave their own presentation regarding the PlayStation 5. After the two Wired articles last year, details surrounding Sony’s next-gen system have been scarce. In what was supposed to be a GDC 2020 talk with developers, Mark Cerny shared his guiding vision that helped shape the PS5.

By now, you may have seen the headlines comparing teraflops between the PS5 and Xbox Series X. All the hot takes have been spewed out onto the Internet. I wanted to take my time (mostly since I was working during the presentation) and share my thoughts on the tech power ing the PS5. If you want the hard, cold numbers, Digital Foundry whipped up the essential table over on Eurogamer. For a technical discussion of the specs revealed, their video does a bang up job too.

Custom and Approachable

The through line for the whole talk was how customized the PS5 actually is. The SSD is custom. The CPU and GPU are custom. The I/O board is custom. Beyond parts you’d need to build a gaming device, Sony has developed and incorporated their own custom silicon to aid those cornerstone components. There is a custom flash controller for the SSD, which helps prioritize and free up lanes for information to go through. There is a custom “Kraken” decompressor. Kraken is a compression tool that is supposed to be popular amongst many game developers. This custom decompressor unpacks that format with the power of nine Zen 2 cores. These are not chips you can buy off the shelf and slap into a PC.

All of these custom components surround the cornerstone chips that make game consoles possible. Instead of forcing developers to conform to a custom standard, this hardware seems to alleviate hardware work loads and assist developers. It strikes me as the inverse of the PS3 and its Cell architecture. It took developers quite a bit of time to adapt to the Cell processor: It was notoriously tricky to work with. The PS5 is using a custom AMD  Zen 2 processor, which seems to be an industry standard.

Even with storage and expanding it, Sony seems to be taking the same custom, but approachable design. The SSD sounds blazing fast with a 5.5GB/s RAW data throughput (which is more than double the Series X, for the number crunchers out there). Apparently, commercial NVMe drives on the market right now can’t match that speed. So where Microsoft went the proprietary memory stick route, Sony is going the consumer choice route. The catch there is that the NVMe cards need to meet the requirements/specs of the PS5. So it won’t be locked to some Sony exclusive card, but it is locked to the standards. Not quite a catch-22, but we will have to see how the options unfold.

I thought the most custom element was the 3D audio tech that Mark detailed. Sony wanted to offer great audio for all players, not just those with fancy sound systems or headphones. So they went ahead and built custom hardware to help create 3D audio from any set of speakers (eventually). Headphones are the gold standard due to one speaker per ear, but Mark even talked about generating 3D audio from TV speakers. With it included in every single PS5, that gives all players and all devs the opportunity to experience/use 3D audio. It reminds me of the leap from standard definition to HD, but for our ears. Pardon the pun, but it sounds bonkers.

Future Proofing the Baseline

The big, immediate comparison is the calculated teraflops. Bo Moore wrote a great piece for IGN one what teraflops actually translate to for the end user by interviewing multiple game developers. What I understand to be the other side of that coin is the managing the power consumption and cooling of the CPU and GPU. For the PS4, Sony opted for a constant frequency with a variable power supply; power increases or decreases based off the needs of the system. This fluctuation in power generates different levels of heat, which is why your PS4 Pro sounds like a jet engine when you play God of War: The fans are trying to cool the hardware. For PS5, it seems that Sony has gone for a constant level of power and a variable frequency. They know what level they have to cool and optimize noise for, while having a slightly varying frequency on the processors. Mark talked about how the frequency will adjust as needed, but not by much and it won’t impact performance in a significant way, as far as I could tell. I like the way Ryan McCaffrey put it on Twitter.

My “Xbox is a V8, PS5 is a turbocharged V6 – both get to a similar overall performance place” analogy from an earlier tweet seems like it’s probably gonna hold up pretty well…

What Developers are Saying

When it comes down to it, these decisions have to empower developers to make great games. The response I’ve noticed on Twitter seems to be overwhelmingly positive from first to third parties. I wanted to round some of those tweets up here.

PS5 details will finally be made public tomorrow. My TLDR version – It’s awesome.

Billy Khan, Lead Engine Programmer @ id Software via Twitter

This is just days before DOOM Eternal released.

Dollar bet: within a year from its launch gamers will fully appreciate that the PlayStation 5 is one of the most revolutionary, inspired home consoles ever designed, and will feel silly for having spent energy arguing about “teraflops” and other similarly misunderstood specs. 😘

Andrea Pessino, Founder and CTO of Ready at Dawn Studios via Twitter

Ready at Dawn has made some great PlayStation second-party exclusives on both console and handheld. While a dollar is not a lot of money, the language is significant. “Most revolutionary” catches the eye, but I am certainly willing to join the “misunderstood specs” club. I’m not trying to decide which box is better before we even see what they can do, but others certainly are.

As I’ve been saying, this is the sentiment I keep hearing from people who make games:

Jason Schreier, News Editor at Kotaku via Twitter

While not a game developer, Jason does have sources to talk to. His tweet I quoted is in regard to Andrea’s dollar bet. I like this because Jason calls out that first, second, and third party developers are sharing similar sentiments. Plus, its from actual people who make games, not brand loyalist.

Just saw the new @PlayStation #PS5 presentation. Great job @cerny! Since I routinely have to explain to people why I’m excited for an SSD for rendering I thought I’d write a little thread to explain. Case in point: Uncharted 1 to Last of Us transition:

Andrew Maximov, Founder and CEO of Promethean AI, Former Technical Artist at Naughty Dog via Twitter

Andrew whipped up a chart that showcases what Naughty Dog was able to do on one generation of hardware then goes on to explain the potential with being able to load highest resolution assets in immediately.

Thinking about that PS5 SSD. #gamedev

Michael Barclay, Game Designer at Naughty Dog via Twitter

There’s a pretty good GIF attached to this tweet.

100x loading speeds? Bruh.

Kurt Margenau, Game Director at Naughty Dog via Twitter

A few dogs from the Kennel got in on the PS5 praise train.

Still tripping about this #PS5 SSD spec. Like, people don’t even know how big of a leap in terms of game design can be made, especially for 1st party that doesn’t have to design to lowest common denominator. By far the biggest leap in my career. Can’t wait.

Kurt Margenau, Game Director at Naughty Dog via Twitter

Kurt elaborated a bit later. The fact first party won’t have to design for a lowest common denominator is incredibly exciting, just like it always has been. First parties, at any platform holder, always find a way to squeeze all the power and performance out of the hardware. Look at Nintendo and Mario Kart 8 Deluxe; a six-year-old Wii U game looks and runs beautifully on a tablet, better than plenty of games on PS4 and Xbox One.

Most crucial part of the @cerny presentation imo. The SSD in the PS5 (and all the associated IO hardware) is going to fundamentally change how we design videogames by removing limitations we’ve been working around the last two gens.

Anthony Newman, Game Director at Naughty Dog via Twitter

“Fundamentally change how we design videogames” sure is an exciting idea!

This is just a small sample from tweets I caught over the passed two days. The sentiment revolving around how revolutionary the PS5 will be is drumming up immense hype. When I think about the PS5, it’s not the numbers on a sheet of paper, but the games it will let me play. Naughty Dog will eventually harness every ounce of power out of this box. Second parties will make fantastic exclusives. Third parties will be able to make games across both boxes that have never been done before. It’s all about the games and the people making them seem pretty excited.